A state Supreme Court justice dismissed a New York State United Teachers challenge to the state property tax cap.
The union, however, was offered a chance to amend its lawsuit.
NYSUT filed the action against the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Education Commissioner John King in February 2013, claiming that the tax cap legislation was unconstitutional as it applies to public schools. In a 16-page ruling released Thursday, Judge Patrick McGrath dismissed the suit, citing numerous earlier court decisions as precedent.
NYSUT pointed to five areas of error by the state when it imposed the cap in 2011, but McGrath rejected each claim, including the cap erodes local control of education spending, potentially limits educational opportunities and impacts the poorest school districts disproportionately.
McGrath wrote the plaintiffs "are arguing that the state has created a statute which makes it harder for a district to raise funds above a certain threshold. Since the decision to raise funds lies with the voters, the state itself is not withholding any resources that deprive students of a sound basic education. A complaint so framed cannot withstand a motion to dismiss."
He ruled that local control is still served if a budget exceeding the cap is rejected by a school district's voters. He also rejected NYSUT's claim that the ballot notice deters school boards and taxpayers from seeking a tax levy higher than the cap.
The union said it was reviewing the decision, and noted that the ruling lets them amend the lawsuit.
NYSUT had already moved to amend its suit to incorporate the so-called tax "freeze" enacted in the latest state budget. The union could get a chance to essentially start the case from square one.
The tax freeze means homeowners who live in municipalities and school districts that hold their taxes below or at the state's 2 percent property tax cap will receive a rebate check equal to a homeowner's property tax increase. The checks are scheduled to be mailed next month, a few weeks before November's general election.
"The tax freeze, we believe, only exacerbates the serious financial struggles districts statewide face as a result of years of budget cuts, the loss of tens of thousands of education positions and the inability to raise adequate revenue locally as a result of the tax cap," NYSUT spokesman Matt Smith said in a statement. "The tax freeze takes away local control by providing a financial inducement to stay within the cap and punishes people for their vote to go above the cap by denying them a tax credit."
The cap and this year's freeze were priorities of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Spokesman Rich Azzopardi called McGrath's decision a victory for property taxpayers across the state.
"Gov. Cuomo's tax cap has successfully reined in out-of-control property tax increases and has been a key part of this administration's efforts to restore fiscal sanity to this state and bring accountability and rigor to our education system," Azzopardi said.
Reaction from other groups reflected their positions on the issue.
"Local governments have to address the needs of their citizenry and taxation is exclusively how we do that," said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties.
He said when the ability to tax is limited, cuts to local services result.
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In an apparent rebuke to an earlier decision by the state Board of Elections, its new chief enforcement counsel requested and received the complete results of an internal poll conducted by Republican John Cahill's campaign for attorney general.
The poll prompted controversy last week after Cahill's campaign sent a letter to donors that referred to results suggesting the race against incumbent Democrat Eric Schneiderman was tightening.
After news reports pointed out that such disclosure requires the filing of poll results with the Board of Elections, the Cahill campaign released selected data to the board and media.
Though election law experts said the intent of the law required the filing of the entire poll and not just excerpts, a Board of Elections spokesman on Sept. 18 said that "we are satisfied the Cahill campaign has meet the requirements of the board's regulation," and cited a 1984 advisory opinion to back it up.
The "we" apparently did not include Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman, who on Tuesday wrote to Cahill's campaign manager, Ed Lurie.
" ... I do not believe that you have complied with the requirements" of the statute in question, she wrote. "Further, I do not believe that the Board's Opinion rendered in 1984 controls in this situation." She said the opinion concludes by saying it is "not intended to be a broad interpretation of the regulation," and that the question of what to disclose "must be decided on the merits of each individual case."
Sugarman requested "the entire poll" by the close of business on Thursday.
In a Wednesday letter that accompanied the complete poll, Lurie complained that Sugarman's missive "suggests that the scope of a require disclosure under the regulation should vary due to the circumstances of any specific case. The content standard for required disclosures needs to be consistent and level."
A spokesman for the board didn't respond to an email seeking comment about the move by Sugarman, whose independent enforcement office began operations Sept. 1. Its creation was one of the ethics fixes worked out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders as part of this spring's budget negotiations, and was paid for in part by Cuomo's decision to mothball his Moreland Commission on public corruption.
Bill Mahoney of the state Public Interest Research Group, a harsh critic of the Board's previous enforcement record, said Sugarman's action was "certainly a promising omen for her office's future performance."
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US District Attorney Preet Bharara (photo: @SDNYnews)
Preet Bharara smirks a lot. And you might too if you were him.
The United States District Attorney's sharp wit, which he deploys regularly, along with his powerful position and track record of high-profile indictments, provides cause for a knowing, confident air about him. At public appearances, Bharara often wears a look that those on the receiving end of his work would surely call smug - or worse - but brings reciprocal smiles to the faces of those who see him as a white knight.
The crowd of well-dressed New York business and civic leaders who gathered on Tuesday morning for a Crain's New York Business forum featuring Bharara appeared an impressed, captive audience. Unlike many others Bharara has dealt with, though, they were free to leave when he was done with them.
As Bharara, who is rumored to be on the list of candidates to be the next U.S. Attorney General, spoke for about twenty minutes and then answered questions from two moderators for another thirty, he repeatedly flashed his disarming sense of humor right alongside no-nonsense talk about rooting out corruption. The Bharara routine, during which he comes across wholly at ease, goes something like: clever remark, half-smile, straighten up, talk tough (and smart). Repeat.
While they only accounted for a portion of his remarks, Bharara's comments on Tuesday about government corruption, specifically that which is committed by those who work in Albany, had a special sense of I'm-not-done-with-you-yet.
Whether he was discussing financial institutions, the criminal justice system, or politics and government, Bharara hit on the theme of cultures of corruption and the need for institutional leaders to prevent them from forming. "We do a lot of political corruption cases, public corruption cases," he said, adding, "You have a culture problem in some places in the political sphere...whether it's in Albany, and there was a time in the City Council, hopefully that's a little better now."
And then the Bharara smirk. He was referring, of course, to his own handy-work in prosecuting corrupt members of the New York City Council.
However many cases he has made, Bharara has repeatedly argued that he and his merry band of prosecutors can't do all the cleaning up of politics that's needed.
"I say all the time," he implored, "that these are not problems that prosecutors alone can solve." Bharara argued that policy-makers, as urged by the public, must make the real change.
He did say, though, that when prosecutors have turned up enough cases, "a byproduct of our work" is that it can cause "commissions to be established," and, in trademark Bharara fashion, "however long they remain in existence." Referring here, of course, to the short-lived Moreland Commission on Public Corruption that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo established and then disbanded just nine months later.
Bharara's office is now continuing investigations that Moreland began, along with new investigations of Cuomo's potential obstruction of the commission's work and influence over the public relations spin in its aftermath.
On Tuesday, Bharara reiterated that he felt it was essential to pick up on the work begun by Moreland and that it is indeed ongoing. "For a period of nine months or so a bunch of work has been done and you don't want that work to go into the dustbin of history or down the drain," he explained of his mindset. "And so the commissioners, basically the two remaining chairs, asked us to take all the files and we did, and we're working on them and we're working on them in our own time and not according to anyone else's political timetable or schedule." A statement he made with a completely straight face.
Bharara explained on Tuesday that he sees significant problems with New York law that are contributing to all of the state's political ethics issues. He outlined the need for more regulation of lawmakers' ability to earn outside income in addition to their government salaries and the need for stricter disclosure rules and rules enforcement.
"After thinking about this for a long time, especially in recent months," he said, there is a "really serious problem" with "the influence of outside money and the way in which people can be associated with outside firms in a way that makes it very difficult to figure out what they're getting for that pay when they're otherwise legislators and supposed to be answering only to the people of their district and their state."
He went on to say there "should be a no-tolerance policy" regarding violations of disclosure requirements related to outside income (and, presumably, conflicts of interest).
"It is a very difficult thing for prosecutors like us and in other parts of the state to figure out what's illicit money and what's not illicit money," Bharara said. "And on top of that, when you have a disclosure problem where people are not disclosing in a way that they should, I think that's a real problem that should worry everyone."
Bharara told a story of speaking with an Indian journalist in town to cover the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi - events around which Bharara wryly noted he had not been invited to attend, sort-of-grinning as he said the invitations must have been lost in the mail.
Talking about public corruption in India with the journalist, Bharara said that the reporter told him "there's a law in India whereby if you can show that a public official has disproportionate assets you can put them in jail." He recounted further explanation from the journalist: "The law is if you are a public servant and you make X dollars in official salary, but they can show you have a lot more money in the bank, you can go to prison for that."
To which Bharara said he replied, "Wow, if we had a law like that here (pause) that would not solve our prison overcrowding problem," and laughter filled the room.
That is until Bharara sharply said, "Public corruption is a problem everyone should care about. This issue, joking aside, of outside money, I think is a big problem. I think that the United States Congress does a better job of it because it is very difficult to be an outside consultant or outside lawyer and have all this outside income if you're in the United States Congress because the ethics laws are different [from New York's]."
Without even a hint of a smile, Bharara was sure to drive home his key point related to political corruption: "We can cause people to pay attention, we can cause voters to care about these issues," he said of himself and his fellow prosecutors, "but we're not policy-makers, we're not going to solve these problems."
by Ben Max, Executive Editor, Gotham Gazette
Don't miss this week's episode of "New York Now," the state Emmy-winning coproduction of the Times Union and WMHT. Highlights include:
WMHT's Matt Ryan surveys the week's headlines, with a look at marathon sessions of public comment on where upstate casinos should be sited.
Times Union state editor Casey Seiler talks to Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, about the 40th anniversary of the state's Freedom of Information Law.
Ryan convenes the Reporters Roundtable with Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio and Jon Campbell of Gannett News Service to discuss topics including what the latest polls say about the race for governor.
"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday on WMHT Ch. 17.
PEEKSKILL — The beer is hoppy. The name is fishy.
A new brew developed to benefit the environmental group Riverkeeper has been named Lucky Sturgeon for the endangered Hudson River fish that the group is trying to save.
Voters on social media chose the name over Clean River, Estuary, Save the Hudson and Watchdog.
Profits from sales will go to Riverkeeper, which campaigns for a clean Hudson.
The river has been home for centuries to the shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon, both of which are on the federal endangered species list. A new bridge is being built in the river in the New York City suburbs, and measures are being taken to protect the fish from its impact.
The beer, from Peekskill Brewery, will debut Oct. 4 at Peekskill's Hop and Harvest Festival.
The season of giving is coming early for more than a million New Yorkers — in the form of a child tax credit.
The first batch of $350 "Family Tax Relief Credit" checks went out in the mail on Tuesday, according to state officials. And the checks will continue rolling out well into October, which means they will land in recipients' mailboxes just weeks before Election Day.
Included in this year's budget, the credit is expected to go to about 1.2 million state taxpayers.
About $400 million in checks are due this year in the $1.2 billion three-year program.
While the money will be welcome news for eligible families, critics say the payout represents a textbook example of tax policy bent to the service of politics.
The credit is available to families with adjusted gross incomes between $40,000 and $300,000 who had at least one child under age 17 during the 2012 tax year or later.
Lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo hailed the measure when it was put in the budget as a way to help middle-class families.
"It's just bad tax policy," said Elizabeth Lynam, deputy research director at the Citizens Budget Commission, which advocates for tax benefits that are fair, simple and capable of making an economic impact. She said this mechanism fails on all counts, and looks more like a pre-election handout.
"It's not particularly well-targeted because they wanted to reach a lot of people," Lynam said. " ... The income ranges are broad and the relief is shallow.''
The measure might have had more impact by focusing on the lowest-income households, or expanding the existing but modest "circuit breaker" that constrains the percentage of household income that can be consumed by property taxes.
Nor is the break particularly simple.
Geoffrey Gloak, a spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, said qualifications had to be based on the 2012 tax year since the state is, even at this point, still getting late returns from 2013.
Also, the checks are being sent by mail at a time when the state has been encouraging people to file their returns online in order to save on paperwork and postage.
"What was in the law was the mailing of the checks; that's what we are doing," Gloak said.
The largest payout by county are in New York City (a total of $68.8 million in Kings and Queens counties) and on Long Island (a total of $73.2 million in Nassau and Suffolk counties). The four-county Capital Region will take in slightly more than $18 million from the family tax credit.
This isn't the first time that rebates or tax breaks have been sent as a check rather than in electronic form. The state from 2006 to 2008 sent out checks for its enhanced School Tax Relief or STAR rebate program.
State Senate Republicans pushed the idea after a consultant, former White House adviser Frank Luntz, urged them to focus heavily on tax issues.
The STAR rebate checks for the first two years came with notes saying they were "approved by Gov. George Pataki and the state Legislature." The checks and the rebate were eventually phased out.
This year's Family Tax Relief Credit checks don't list the names of Cuomo or any lawmakers — though Tax Commissioner Thomas Mattox is named on the envelope.
The note that will arrive with the check simply says, "Last year's State Budget included this Family Tax Relief Credit. This tax relief is part of New York State's new effort to reduce taxes."
Named or not, lawmakers and Cuomo defend the credit.
"Our position is that we should drive as much taxpayer relief to hard-working New Yorkers as possible, Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif said.
"This much-needed relief for families is one of many steps taken by Gov. Cuomo to control and reduce taxes, and came as a result of four years of smart fiscal discipline," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in an email. "As the governor has repeatedly said, New York has no future as the high-tax capital of the world."
The Family Tax Relief Credit isn't the only check that New Yorkers will be getting this fall. Next month, checks fueled by the state's new property tax "freeze" will be going out as well.
As part of a deal worked out this spring between Cuomo and legislative leaders, homeowners in school districts that kept the rise in their tax levy under the state cap — 1.46 percent this year, with some exceptions — will get checks covering the increase in that bill. As a result, those property tax rates would be effectively frozen for the homeowner.
The state Tax Department is currently finalizing information from localities that forward the individual tax bills to the state in order to calculate the rebates.
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State to auction vehicles, equipment
ALBANY — If you've ever dreamed of owning a 1997 Chevy Blazer with high mileage and fire damage, here's your chance: The state Office of General Services will auction off hundreds of surplus vehicles, plus highway equipment and more, around the region next week.
Auctions are scheduled for:
9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the state Department of Transportation, 21 Ninth St., Waterford;
9:30 a.m. Oct. 2 at the Department of Environmental Conservation's Saratoga Tree Nursery, 2369 Route 50, Saratoga Springs;
1:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at Harriman State Office Building Campus, 1220 Washington Ave., Albany.
Complete lists of the items for sale — ranging from cars and trucks to wood chippers and a tow-behind seeder — can be reviewed at the OGS website, http://ogs.ny.gov.
— Casey Seiler
Cuomo, Christie set increased security
NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced increased security across their states. The measures are being taken in the wake of increasingly active terrorist groups overseas.
Cuomo said Wednesday they are not linked to a specific threat targeting the New York City region.
The governors appeared at 7 World Trade Center to sign a bistate memorandum of understanding. They say it will lead to further cooperation between the two states' law enforcement agencies.
More uniformed officers are set to be deployed at transit hubs and on trains. Security also will be increased at the area's bridges, tunnels and ports.
The men did not provide a cost for the security expansion. They said it would remain in place for as long as needed.
New York reaches cigarette settlement
NEW YORK — New York City's Law Department on Wednesday said it had reached a $5 million settlement with Virginia-based package delivery company LaserShip Inc. over deliveries of untaxed cigarettes.
The city had filed a civil lawsuit against the company in late 2013, saying LaserShip had delivered more than 120,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes throughout the city between 2011 and June 2013. The city said those deliveries to stores, residences and offices violated federal and state law. There were more than 23,000 deliveries.
LaserShip had been part of a network of companies that delivered untaxed cigarettes around the country. The distribution system was created by online distributors in upstate New York after Congress passed a law that took effect in July 2010 banning cigarettes being shipped through the U.S. Postal Service. Major shipping companies like FedEx and UPS also agreed to stop. Other shipping companies, like LaserShip, were brought in.
Under the agreement, LaserShip agreed to end all cigarette shipments and make its compliance practices stronger. The city said the $5 million settlement more than covered the actual $1.9 million loss in taxes from the untaxed cigarettes.
— Associated Press
Council members announce major expansion of PB (photo: pbnyc.org)
The New York City Council website got a small, but significant upgrade on Tuesday, one that makes getting information about Participatory Budgeting a little easier.
The council home page now has a dedicated Participatory Budgeting (PB) tab where visitors can click to see general information on the process and constituents can find out if their council member is running the PB program.
The FAQ page was launched earlier this year, but now the council site includes an events page which lists all PB events by district. Citizens can also sign up to receive email updates or volunteer as a budget delegate, meeting facilitator, or interpreter, or to help with outreach.
This fiscal year, 24 council members will run Participatory Budgeting in their districts, up from four when the Council first adopted the practice in 2011. PB allows members of the community to choose how to spend roughly $1 million in capital discretionary funding on things like computers for schools, cameras in public housing, or parks improvements. This year the Council will allocate over $25 million to PB projects in total.
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was among the first group of four Council members to use PB (prior to her becoming Speaker) and has embraced the practice as an effective way to engage the community in the budget process.
"Participatory Budgeting is a priority for this Council and we're excited by the new website which will help people better navigate and participate in the process," council spokesperson Eric Koch said by email.
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
Red Hook in the aftermath of Sandy (photo: Vanessa Bertozzi (CC license))
High-Risk Neighborhoods of Red Hook, Lower East Side Are Focus of Live Coverage, Climate Crowdsourcing
Streets and buildings flooded, power out, trains down, lives disrupted and taken. No, we're not talking about the effects of Superstorm Sandy two years ago. We're talking about New York's future, with the kind of extreme weather experts warn could hit the city in the years ahead.
Given the forecasts and the lessons of Sandy's massive impact, do residents in some of the most climate-vulnerable New York neighborhoods think they're any safer than when Sandy hit? Has the City made progress in fostering a more climate-safe New York?
To find out, we and a group of partners are launching a multi-faceted special project this week.
First, on Thursday morning, we plan to send teams of journalists to report in real time from two of New York's highest-risk neighborhoods - Red Hook in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Both communities were slammed during Sandy and are now bracing for more.
At the same time, we plan to launch a crowdsourcing initiative that will be asking all of you the same question: Do you believe you're safer?
The project is a joint reporting initiative between Gotham Gazette and AdaptNY, which covers how the city is adapting to climate risk, along with the independent non-profit environmental news outlet NY Environment Report, and more than 30 reporters from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
It's not the first time Gotham Gazette and AdaptNY have joined forces. Last year, we partnered on an investigative report highlighting the disconnect between the city's planners and some of its most vulnerable communities in the planning for greater climate resilience.
What's at risk for Red Hook, Lower East Side
Red Hook, home to Brooklyn's largest public housing complex and a mixture of businesses and industry, was inundated when Sandy hit, causing severe infrastructure damage and affecting thousands of residents. Many remained without power, heat, or running water for weeks. Because of its low-lying geography and climate-induced sea-level rise, Red Hook remains increasingly vulnerable to coastal flooding.
The Lower East Side (LES) also felt Sandy's force, with more residential units affected there than in the rest of Manhattan combined. Many LES residents lived without power or access to basic utilities for four days after the storm, some for much longer. The area was also at Sandy's epicenter in another way, when nearly half of the two million New Yorkers who experienced outages in the hurricane's wake were left in the dark by the explosion of a ConEd substation on 14th Street.
Both neighborhoods remain similarly at risk for future flooding. So much so that the city plans a massive project to shore up a low-lying ring around southern Manhattan with 10 miles of dual-use parks, berms and protections - a $335 million plan known as the Big U.
Tell Us What You Think About Climate Safety
We're launching a two-pronged interactive effort to hear from New Yorkers directly.
Find out what residents and others in these communities think about their climate safety, especially relative to two years ago when Sandy hit. Track our live coverage from Red Hook and the Lower East Side on Thursday morning beginning at 10 a.m. EST.
Meanwhile, you can also take part in the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by using the #AreYouClimateSafe hashtag.
Second, beginning Thursday, we will invite you to take part in a crowdsourcing project that will run for two weeks following the live event, through Oct. 17. You can take a quick survey about climate safety in New York. And you can help create a mosaic of community sentiment about climate safety by sharing comments, photos, videos or soundbites. Stay tuned for more information.
Our special project will culminate during the week of Oct. 20 with a major overview to address the central question: Are we safer? That analysis will make extensive use of your contributions from our live reporting and the crowdsourcing projects and look into what progress the City has made with its own climate resiliency planning process, particularly for these vulnerable communities.
This report prepared by David Gershgorn, Eric Levitz, Derek Scancarelli and Marguerite Ward
The Death Star petition on The White House's We the People petition site
September 22 marked the three year anniversary of We the People, the White House's online petitioning platform. In an effort to increase public engagement, the site is designed for citizens across the country to bring issues to the federal government and receive public responses.
New York City does not currently have a government-sponsored online petitioning platform, but a newly proposed law may change that. On Wednesday, the City Council's Technology Committee will hear Intro. 471, a bill that would create a local version of We the People.
The bill, introduced by Council Member James Vacca, chair of the technology committee, would require the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to create an online platform where New Yorkers can create and sign petitions. Just like with We the People, once a certain number of signatures is reached on the city platform, a city agency or public authority would be required to issue a response.
"On major public issues we don't have an opportunity to gauge how citizens collectively feel," Vacca said in a recent phone interview. He added this bill would provide "citizens in New York City an opportunity to register how they feel about public policy and legislative issues, collectively."
The idea is not just to provide a new place for New Yorkers to complain to government about something they want fixed, but to begin a public, online dialogue with elected officials about issues in specific communities and around the city. Think of it as the 311 for policy ideas and discussions.
The idea for a platform like this took off last year when BetaNYC, America's largest civic technology and open government community, released its "People's Roadmap to a Digital New York City." Of the recommendations the group called for is the creation of "We the People of NYC," an online petitioning platform similar to the We the People platform at the federal level.
While the legislation was not picked up in the 2013 election year session of the Council, a non-government sponsored site called Ask Them got the ball rolling locally. Ask Them, created by David Moore of Participatory Politics Foundation, has been running since February 2014 (former New York gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout is on the advisory council). The site works by allowing a user to find a verified elected official, ask them a question, get others to support the question by signing the petition, and then have the elected official answer the question publicly.
Moore says he and other members of the civic tech community spoke with Vacca's staff prior to the introduction of the bill about how Ask Them works and that he even offered the City the code to build the platform. He says he doesn't consider a City-sponsored site in competition with his, but more of a useful complement.
"It is a validation for the ground work we laid with Ask Them to create more dialogue with your local council members and be able to petition the people who represent you," Moore said in a recent interview.
Recipe for Success
The bill is aimed at increasing civic participation, and if the site catches on, it would create a unique way to communicate local problems and propose solutions directly to elected officials. But simply creating a site does not guarantee its success. In fact if history is any indication, a lot of resources will need to be spent to foster its success: maintaining the technical side, ensuring politicians or agencies respond in a timely manner, and (perhaps most difficult) creating and maintaining public engagement with the site.
That is a tall order for any municipality. But David Karpf, Assistant Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, argues if a platform like this is going to succeed, New York City could very well be the place to do it.
"New Yorkers care enough about their city that I think there is a real chance that if they come to know about this site, they will use it to voice concern about what they are seeing in their neighborhood and in their city," Karpf said in a recent phone interview.
He cautioned, however, if New York City's platform does succeed, it would be a first for a government-run site of this kind. Karpf did an analysis in April of We the People, which saw only 85 petitions posted that month. None of them hit the current threshold of 100,000 signatures to get a response. By comparison, during the same month 7,393 petitions were created on Change.org and 2,053 on Moveon.org - neither of which are government run. Both sites had several petitions that reached the 100,000 signature threshold, according to Karpf's analysis.
To get a site like this to work, Karpf says making it easy to use will be critical, but the key will be to drive people to use the site once and get them to come back a second time. While that may sound easy, We the People has shown that it is not—even with an Internet hit like the now-infamous "Death Star petition."
We the People struck PR gold when the "Death Star petition" was created in November 2012, asking the government to secure funding and begin construction of a Death Star (yes, like the one from Star Wars) by 2016. It became an Internet and media hit, driving 34,435 people to sign (the threshold to receive an official response was then 25,000 signatures). In January 2013 the Obama administration issued a comedic response which drew nationwide press coverage.
While that petition was able to generate a spike in new users and even press coverage of the site, many of those people who signed on never went back to We the People to continue to engage. Karpf said that while a big hit like the "Death Star petition" is the type of thing that drives early adoption, the We the People site failed to follow successful marketing models used by Change.org and Moveon.org.
We the People does not have a strong social media campaign where it pushes popular petitions. It relies more on homepage web traffic, which as a universal trend has dropped significantly in the last several years thanks in large part to the rise of social media.
Change.org and Moveon.org also use push notifications like emails to entice users to sign other petitions based on what they have already signed. While that may be one of the best ways to get more people to interact with the site, it leaves a lot of questions as to what role government should play in pushing certain petitions over others, or pushing any at all.
Soliciting participation on a city site is among several areas to be explored during Wednesday's hearing, including if the City will allow citizens to create or sign petitions for issues in a district they don't live in and how to mitigate groups flooding support for a petition that may or may not have true community support.
While there may be obstacles to creating and ensuring the success of the site, it does not appear a failed local version of We the People would actually even be all that bad.
"The worst case scenario is you build a website where New Yorkers can register their opinions and then not a lot of New Yorkers show up," Karpf said. "As government boondoggles go, that is a pretty small one."
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
Note: this article has been updated to include information about BetaNYC's roadmap
Indian Prime Minister Modi at Madison Square Garden (photo: Casey Tolan)
New York - In a major speech at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, newly-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed an adoring audience of Indian-Americans.
They cheered when he talked about his rags-to-riches story, his plan to clean the Ganges river, and his country's successful Mars satellite.
But the 19,000-strong crowd roared loudest of all for a slightly more mundane issue: visas.
Modi announced he would implement "lifetime visas" for Americans of Indian descent and a new visa-on-arrival system for all American citizens – top priorities for many Indian-Americans frustrated with the country's dysfunctional visa processing system.
The pledges are a sign of how focused Modi is on the Indian-American diaspora, and how he wants to make it easy for people of Indian descent to come home and invest.
"There was a time when people knew our country as a country of snake charmers," Modi told his audience, members of which had traveled to New York from across the U.S. "India has created a positive identity in the whole world, and you have an important part in that."
But while many attendees said they were proud of Modi, protesters outside the arena showed that the Indian-American community is still divided. Some accuse Modi of doing too little as chief minister of Gujarat state to stop religious riots in 2002 that killed over 1,000 people, most of whom were Muslims.
Modi finally made it to Madison Square Garden, where he was supposed to speak nine years ago, in 2005, but the State Department denied him a visa due to questions surrounding his involvement in the riots. The Obama administration made it clear after Modi won election in May that a visa would no longer be an issue – and on Sunday, many U.S. officials, especially from New York, seemed eager to put the past behind them.
Promises to cut red tape
Modi's speech was part of a six-day trip to New York and Washington, D.C. that also includes appearances at the U.N. General Assembly and the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. This week, he will meet with President Obama at the White House.
The Madison Square Garden event at times resembled more of a rock concert than an address by a foreign leader. It featured folk dancers, flashy videos, and bollywood songs, and was emceed by Miss America 2014, who is Indian-American.
In a speech that was more than an hour long, Modi - who is fasting for the Hindu holiday of Navratri and only drinking tea and lemonade - promised to revamp India: helping the poor, cutting government waste, and making it easier to do business in the country.
He drew a line between himself and the previous administration, which was hit by corruption scandals, and said he wanted to create a government that would make Indians abroad proud, not ashamed.
"Ever since I have taken the responsibility of this job, not even for 15 minutes have I taken a vacation," Modi said, adding that he would "never do anything for which you feel you have to look down."
New York State has the second-largest Indian population in the U.S. behind California, with more than 313,000 Indians, according to census data, although New Jersey's population is close behind and growing rapidly.
The large Indian diaspora, especially in the United States, is important to Modi's plans because of the potential of Indians to return to India and invest in its development. Indian-Americans were also big contributors to Modi's political party during the election campaign earlier this year.
"He has a vision for how Indians around the world can contribute to India, through business and charity," said Persis Khambatta, an analyst with Bower Group Asia, which studies Asian politics. "People are energized. This was a much more high energy event than I've ever seen for an Indian government official."
The visa issue is key. Now, New Yorkers wanting to travel to "mother India," as Modi put it, have to stand in line, sometimes for hours, at the disorganized visa processing center on East 30th Street.
After Modi's proposals take effect, Americans will be able to get a visa when they arrive in India, instead of having to apply ahead of time. Indian-Americans will get a permanent visa, instead of dealing with the current, bureaucratic registration system.
About 30 members of the United States Congress joined Modi on stage, perhaps a testament to the growing political power of the Indian-American community.
"Cutting of the red tape... is something that's tremendously important to a lot of my constituents," Rep. Grace Meng, whose western Queens district has one of the largest Indian populations in New York, told Gotham Gazette. "We're thrilled that they're making it easier for them to travel."
"The Indian diaspora is quite excited," said New Jersey Assembly Member Upendra Chivukula, one of the first Indian-American elected officials in the country. "They can go back to their villages and try to invest and bring some investment from America. America speaks in dollars, and those dollars are going to go a long way."
Not everyone was so happy about Modi's visit. A group of several hundred protesters assembled across the block from Madison Square Garden, holding up signs like "Convict Modi" and "Prime Murderer of India."
They said the Obama administration should never have approved his visa, and that the 2002 riots were being swept under the rug.
"There is evidence against Modi that he was involved, and we think he needs to be held accountable for his role," said Robindra Deb, an activist with the South Asia Solidarity Initiative, one of the groups that organized the protest.
Deb said that Modi's rhetoric about helping the poor was undermined by his pro-business policies that disproportionately benefited the upper class.
"We wanted to make clear that the Indian-American community is not in any way united in their jubilation of Modi's victory," Deb said. "There are a lot of Indian-Americans who find this victory very troubling."
Last week, a federal court in New York issued a summons to Modi over his role in the riots – a decision that was basically symbolic due to the prime minister's diplomatic immunity.
But for many U.S. officials who attended the speech, the riots and the dispute over Modi's visa were squarely in the past.
"We're looking forward, and I know the prime minister is as well," said Nisha Biswal, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs.
"Many of us here felt he should have had that opportunity to come to the United States [in 2005]," said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee.
Royce noted that an investigation by India's Supreme Court found no culpability for Modi. "It is the responsibility of leaders in the United States to accept the decision of the court," Royce said - although human rights activists have questioned the validity of the investigation.
While it's unclear what percentage of the Indian-American population supports Modi, supporters get more attention than those who oppose him, said Maritsa Poros, a CUNY professor who studies Indian immigrants in New York.
"The Modi supporters and the people who have...really supported him abroad are very vocal, and those are the voices you hear for the most part," Poros said. "They do drown out a lot of the dissent."
Excitement in Queens
A 7 train ride away in Jackson Heights, the heart of New York's Little India, Modi's visit was big news, and many people were excited about the prime minister.
Saifullah Bhuiyan, who runs a travel agency on 74th Street, said he hoped the reforms Modi announced would make travel easier for his many customers heading to India.
Currently, "there's no fixed time for getting a visa back," said Bhuiyan, who is from Bangladesh. "People wait and wait and wait."
Travelers are often confused about the complicated visa procedures, and some have had their passports lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, Bhuiyan said.
Down the block at Patel Brothers, a large grocery store that stocks imported chai tea and shelves of Indian spices, a large poster of Modi hung on the wall.
"He was well-prepared for the audience of New York," said Ravi Rachit of Forest Hills, who had come from the speech to go shopping. "He got the results for us – the visa process will be better."
"He's trying to have us come back to India and help out," added his son, also named Ravi. "I like that."
The manager of the store, Nandu Patel, said he does business in India and thought Modi's reforms would make it easier.
"I'm proud of him," Patel said. "Narendra Modi is great for India, for all Indians."
Signage for Modi in a Queens store (photo: Casey Tolan)
by Casey Tolan, Gotham Gazette
A Chicago media company has been paid more than $14 million this year by New York Democrats, most of it by the state Democratic Committee and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's re-election campaign.
AKPD Message & Media, founded by David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama on the campaign trail and in the White House, crafted a popular ad featuring Dante de Blasio that helped his father win last year's New York City mayoral race.
The Cuomo campaign has paid AKPD $6.9 million in 2014 and the Democratic Committee has spent $7.5 million on the company's services, according to disclosures filed with the state Board of Elections.
Cuomo paid AKPD $7.6 million in 2006, when he successfully ran for attorney general.
Other democratic groups are also using the business. Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein spent nearly $180,000 in campaign cash on TV ads through the company. The conference's PAC, the IDC Initiative, paid $40,000 for professional services.
The Erie County Democrats paid AKPD more than $30,000, according to the committee's 10-day, post-primary filings. The outlay is the committee's largest single expense of the year to date.
It's unclear what that money — paid on Sept. 10 and listed as office expenses — purchased, though the transaction occurred around the time the county organization released a TV ad that painted Cuomo as a Buffalo Bills NFL team fan and Republican Rob Astorino as a fan of the Miami Dolphins.
Erie County Democratic officials did not return requests for comment on Wednesday. A call to AKPD's New York City office was not returned..
In 2010, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's campaign was AKPD's biggest Democratic client, paying $1.5 million for TV ads, campaign consultant work and professional services, according to Board of Elections filings. Democratic attorney general candidate Eric Dinallo, who lost the primary to current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, paid the company roughly $761,000 for its work.
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Homicide charges have been dismissed — at least temporarily — against a couple accused of killing the woman's severely disabled daughter by withholding food and medical care.
A Westchester County judge ruled this week that a detective's testimony to the grand jury that indicted Nicole Diggs and Oscar Thomas was inaccurate in several respects. The judge also said the detective improperly suggested that the girl's $2 million trust fund was a motive in her death.
"The integrity of the grand jury was impaired so that prejudice to the defendants may have resulted," Judge Barbara Zambelli said. She said prosecutors could start over with a new grand jury.
Diggs, 32, a special education teacher, and Thomas, 29, who married after the girl's death, had pleaded not guilty after being charged with negligent homicide and child endangerment in the 2012 death in Yonkers of 8-year-old Alayah Savarese.
Because of complications at birth, Alayah could not walk, talk or eat and had cerebral palsy and seizures. She was the beneficiary of a trust fund created when a malpractice suit was settled.
Prosecutors said the girl did not receive proper nutrition or medical treatment, was often left unattended and was frequently kept home from school, depriving her of physical and occupational therapy.
The judge said the detective was misleading about what Diggs told him about the trust fund. He told the grand jury the couple planned to use money for a new home and a Mercedes-Benz, "contentions for which there is no evidentiary support whatsoever."
The district attorney's office is expected to decide by Oct. 21 whether to take the case to a new grand jury.
John Cahill, Republican Party attorney general candidate, said Wednesday that if elected he would use the department's organized crime task force to vet casino applicants.
"These are sophisticated deals, potentially involving offshore investments, foreign players and incredible sums of money," Cahill said. "The organized crime task force has the expertise and the personnel to make sure New Yorkers are safeguarded from fraud, crime or even terrorist activities."
The soonest Cahill could direct the unit would be Jan. 1, if he defeats Democratic incumbent Eric Schneiderman. By then, four licenses may have been awarded by the state Gaming Commission, which is currently vetting applicants using the $1 million fees put up by each bidding group.
The commission is required by law to use the State Police to investigate "the suitability" of an applicant. The commission received bids for 16 projects upstate in the first phase of proposed legalized gambling expansion; up to four casino licenses are available.
More casinos projects could be considered in future years. Up to seven are authorized under the constitutional change approved by voters last fall. The crime task force is jointly administered with the governor's office. A spokesman for Schneiderman didn't respond to a request for comment.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and MOVA Commissioner Loree Sutton (photo: @servicewomen)
NEW YORK—If there is going to be a new Department of Veterans' Affairs in New York City, it is isn't going to happen anytime soon.
On Monday, the City Council's Committee on Veterans held the first hearing on Intro. 314, a proposed local law which would create a new Department of Veterans' Affairs to replace the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs (MOVA) as a central source for helping veterans get services in the city. While there was much support for the bill during testimony, the timing does not appear to be on the side of those who favor the move, including Council Member Eric Ulrich, chair of the veterans committee and sponsor of the legislation.
Newly minted MOVA Commissioner Loree Sutton gave very brief testimony, but, noting she had only been on the job for 29 days, was not ready to commit to her full support for the legislation.
"Introduction 314 deserves all due consideration as we dedicate ourselves to the historic journey that lies ahead," Sutton said during her testimony. "After completing my assessment and sharing my findings with Mayor [Bill] de Blasio, I look forward to following up with the New York City Council Committee on Veterans to discuss this important proposal in further detail."
She added that the five person staff at MOVA is currently overhauling its website to make accessing relevant resources and services easier. The 2014-15 Agency Liaison list, a "contact MOVA" form, and Sutton's bio have already been added. In October MOVA will launch a "Commissioner's Blog" section, according to mayoral spokesperson Marti Adams. Adams said additional design changes and "other improvements aimed at increasing MOVA's capacity to engage with the veteran community" should be expected soon.
Sutton did not, as some commissioners have on other pieces of legislation, submit any objections to the bill. Sutton's testimony politely implied she had not been on the job long enough to make a qualified assessment.
The council members present did not press her on her stance on the bill, agreeing she had not been on the job long enough.
"She is new, and we have to give her a little time to settle in to her job," Ulrich said on Monday. "But she wants to listen, she wants to learn, and she wants to lead. As I stated before, I don't think Mayor de Blasio could have picked a better person."
Sutton stayed through the entire committee hearing, listening intently and jotting down notes as members of four different panels spoke - an unusual move for a sitting commissioner.
Support for the bill was widespread, with affirmative testimony from organizations like Helmet to Hardhats and Legal Services NYC, as well as the chairman of the Veteran's Advisory Board (VAB), Vincent McGowan. Testimony echoed the perils of underfunding MOVA and all saw the creation of a new department (replacing an office under the Mayor) as a way to increase funding.
But not all groups saw Intro. 314 as the best way forward—at least not the way it is currently written. Rob Cuthbert of the Urban Center Veteran Advocacy Project gave the most impassioned testimony of the hearing, offering constructive criticism and specifics areas of improvement.
"Unfortunately, the proposed law does not provide enough detail on the duties of the new department," Cuthbert said during his testimony. "Without a clear mission, the department could do little to improve the lives of New York City's veterans."
Cuthbert suggested that if the Department of Veterans' Affairs was made, it should not stop its focus at just employment, as it has been at MOVA, he said. He suggested four separate pillars: health, legal services, housing, and education.
In addition, Cuthbert suggested the annual report provided by the Veteran's Advisory Board (which is required by law) be much more substantive than it currently is. VAB reports currently only list meeting minutes "providing little to no policy guidance to the public, veterans advocacy groups, or New York City's government," Cuthbert said.
Ulrich said there will be an oversight hearing on the VAB in October that will specifically deal with that issue.
Monday's was only the first hearing on the bill and Ulrich said it was just the first conversation of many with veterans on the bill. He said one change already being considered is changing the name from Department of Veterans' Affairs to Department of Veterans' Services so as not to be confused with the federal agency.
"I can assure you and all the stakeholders, we will definitely engage the veterans community before any further action or consideration is made on this bill," Ulrich said, "We don't want to pass something that nobody really knows anything about."
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
Note: this article has been updated with comment from the mayor's office.
Gov. Cuomo, Kathy Hochul, and Mayor de Blasio march together (photo: @BilldeBlasio)
The coalition formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and labor interests to help Democrats win control of the State Senate is making its presence felt in a number of contentious races as the group intensifies its efforts heading into the final five weeks before November's elections.
According to a number of Democratic sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the coalition has been actively providing Democratic Senate candidates with talking points as well as opposition research. The State Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC), which is controlled by the notoriously hands-on governor, has been providing direct mail support of Democrats in key Senate races including in the 46th Senate District which features a contentious rematch between Democrat Cecelia Tkaczyk and former Republican Assembly George Amedore.
Sources say that certain races will see a bombardment of attacks against Republican opponents and the state committee will begin airing TV and radio ads in some contentious districts. Races that are staffed with relative newcomers and volunteers are suddenly finding themselves bolstered by a veteran, if not impersonal, political operation.
Operatives stress that Cuomo and de Blasio are personally involved in strategizing along with some of their top advisors, and the 1199 SEIU (healthcare workers) and Hotel Trades Council (HTC) unions.
"You've got the two best political strategists in the business running your campaign," said one source of Cuomo and de Blasio. "Its like Bill Clinton being your campaign manager. These two guys learned at his hips and having people with that kind of expertise can really be a game changer."
A number of extremely seasoned Democratic political operatives are also involved in the effort to win back the Senate for Democrats. The SDCC has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the state's top consultants, though it isn't clear how much has been spent specifically on Senate races.
When asked about the mayor's commitment to winning a Democratic Senate, Dan Levitan of Berlin Rosen said, "The Mayor is fully committed to building a progressive Democratic majority in the State Senate this November."
Emma Wolfe, a top de Blasio aide highly credited for de Blasio's electoral success, is using personal time to work on electing Senate Democrats.
However, some Democrats insist that it is unfair to call the efforts a partnership between de Blasio and Cuomo. They say de Blasio has been ramping up his efforts while Cuomo has remained on the sidelines. There is a sense among some Democrats that Cuomo would rather work with a Senate that will enable him to push through more conservative fiscal measures, as he has done during his first term.
"I think he's trying to embarrass the governor into action," said one Democratic senator of de Blasio, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I don't think the governor wants to work with us."
Cuomo has seemed noncommittal to a Democratic majority in the Senate even though he committed to work for one in exchange for the Working Families Party endorsement in late May.
"They elect a Legislature – Democratic, Republican, whatever they elect," Cuomo said of voters. "I think the job of the Governor is to figure out how to make it work," he told reporters at the gathering of The Business Council of New York earlier this month.
Former Gov. David Paterson, who Cuomo hand-picked to head the State Democratic Committee has also issued lukewarm statements on the possibility of Democrats winning the Senate.
Cuomo has indicated that he may endorse Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo who lost his primary bid to his more conservative opponent Kevin Stocker. Grisanti voted for two key Cuomo wins in same-sex marriage and gun regulations via the SAFE Act. Cuomo promised political support to Republicans who backed him on the same-sex marriage vote and Grisanti is the last one of those left. Cuomo told reporters that he faces a "personally difficult" decision in whether to endorse Grisanti or Democrat Mark Panepinto.
Grisanti has been courted by Independent Democratic Conference head Sen. Jeff Klein in recent weeks and many Democratic operatives believe Grisanti will end up caucusing with Democrats if he is re-elected - despite some of his conservative leanings.
Some liberal activists have been outraged by Cuomo's lack of public enthusiasm for Democratic Senate candidates and his flirtation with Grisanti. Bill Samuels, who helped finance Democratic efforts to win the Senate in the past, has called on Cuomo to spend $10 million of his own campaign cash on Senate races and slammed him for considering endorsing Grisanti.
"It's political malpractice for Cuomo and Hochul not to endorse Marc Panepinto, a strong and talented Democrat whose victory in November will play a crucial role in helping the Democrats take back the State Senate and enact a real statewide progressive agenda," said Samuels.
Cuomo has generally been stingy with his endorsements and is loathe to endorse candidates unless they are a sure thing. Some insiders insist the governor doesn't want to stick his brand on an uncertain cause while jeopardizing his bipartisan record. Those close to the Cuomo-de Blasio effort say they don't expect to see personal endorsements until late in the game when the groundwork has been laid with paid and earned media.
Sources involved in the Cuomo-de Blasio effort say that the governor has been absolutely hands on in strategizing and fundraising. They say a massive win in November will give Cuomo a mandate to move progressive legislation. Operatives working for the Democratic Committee indicated that Cuomo understands that the public and media are focused on issues like the Women's Equality Agenda, the minimum wage, and The Dream Act, and that an improving economy and extra cash in the state budget mean he can focus on moving that kind of legislation.
Operatives say they are looking to defend Democratic seats in the the 41st district race in the Hudson Valley between Terry Gipson and Republican Sue Serino, and the 55th district race between Sen. Ted O'Brien and Republican Rich Funke. Democrats are looking to pick up seats in the 40th district in Westchester where Republican Sen. Greg ball has decided not to run for reelection, the 3rd senate district on Long Island where Republican Sen. Lee Zeldin is not seeking reelection, and the 7th senate district on Long Island where Republican Sen. Jack Martins faces Democrat Adam Haber.
A number of skeptical insiders and activists insist that Cuomo has talked himself into a corner and now has no choice. "I don't know how he can back Grisanti, who has insisted he won't support the Women's Equality Agenda, when he is running on passing that very piece of legislation and created a party just to get it passed," said one advocate. "The governor will look impotent if he goes into the next legislative session having touted all these issues but doesn't have the votes to pass them."
However, there has been consistent speculation that the governor has enjoyed the current power-sharing arrangement between the IDC and Senate Republicans so that he can govern more from the middle without having to veto more progressive legislation that would come through a Democratically-controlled Assembly and Senate. And Cuomo may be in favor of continuing to be able to put the blame on a split legislature when certain progressive legislation is stalled.
Democrats skeptical of Cuomo's efforts note that the governor's Women's Equality Party (WEP) has been an embarrassment. Democrats Tkaczyk, O'Brien, Gipson, and Justin Wagner, who are all in extremely close races that are key to Senate control were all bounced off the WEP ballot line after the majority of their petition signatures were rejected by the Board of Elections. Most of the rejected signatures came from out-of-district signees. Angry Democrats are in disbelief that such an error could have been an "honest mistake" when Cuomo is known to run such a tight ship.
This is an unusual year for Senate Democrats because of the number of groups involved in trying to win a Democratic majority. Klein is looking to bolster his own IDC ranks and has tepidly pledged to work with Democrats if they win the appropriate number of seats. Sen. Mike Gianaris, who heads the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and has a notoriously frosty relationship with Klein, would like to grow his influence with the conference. Naturally, both the mayor and governor are also looking to grow their influence in the Senate through the candidates they help elect.
All this maneuvering will come into play, of course, when post-election jockeying starts for agenda items, rules changes, committee seats, and resources. Insiders expect senate rules changes to come up quickly as the IDC and mainline Democrats look to encode their relationship just as the IDC and Senate Republicans did two years ago. Staffing and resource allocation will be hot topics in a new Democratic alliance - if it happens. Loyalty, allegiances, and campaign debts will almost certainly come into play.
What do Cuomo and de Blasio get out of it? "The governor has committed to these big progressive items," said one operative. "And he is going to deliver. The mayor has come up against Albany and he knows what it is like to have your issues gummed up. He wants to be able to have people he can count on up there."
by David King, Albany Editor, Gotham Gazette
A corporate health care provider used by three Capital Region county jails entered into an agreement with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that requires it to pay $200,000 in restitution and penalties and submit to monitoring in 13 upstate counties.
According to terms obtained by the Times Union, the settlement between the attorney general and Correctional Medical Care resolves claims of dangerous practices as well as unsatisfactory and unqualified staffing that arose after six deaths of inmates in CMC's care at five county lockups from 2009 to 2011. A probe found serious deficiencies that included unlicensed and inexperienced staff, understaffing, lack of medical oversight and failure to adhere to medical and administrative protocols.
Sheriffs in Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and 10 other counties paying CMC a combined $32 million a year are scheduled to be briefed Thursday about the resolution, according to two of the law enforcement leaders. The agreement, reached Monday, will require CMC to set up a separate company to provide medical care.
The company was criticized for shifting workload from doctors to less-qualified staffers — including a nurse with a felony conviction — and for employing people without the required licenses. The resolution requires its operations to be overseen for three years by an independent monitor that will be paid up to $200,000 a year by CMC. It will also have to submit to annual audits, and must pay Tioga County $100,000 and the state $100,000.
The deal ends a probe by the attorney general that was requested by the state Education Department and the state Medical Review Board. Private lawsuits have been lodged against CMC in connection with some of the jail deaths. Schneiderman said the settlement does not protect the company from new public claims for restitution.
"Tax dollars meant to cover medical care of our county prisoners must not be wasted — and substandard care and mismanagement are not an option," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Shortchanging medical services provided to jail populations can lead to direct harm to individuals and misses a public health opportunity to provide care to individuals who often have undiagnosed, untreated medical needs. We will bring to justice contractors who line their pockets while failing to uphold their obligations to the people of New York."
The company is considered a good contractor by Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple and Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino, according to interviews.
It was, however, in charge of prison health care in Monroe County's jail when deaths occurred in 2009 and 2010. That county has already received restitution of $340,000 as a result of CMC cutting the hours of top health professionals, particularly physicians and nurses, in violation of the terms of its contract.
An inmate under CMC's care also died in 2011 in Tioga County. And an Onondaga County inmate suffered life-threatening infections and required 44 days of hospitalization due to CMC's inadequate dental treatment.
State Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried called the settlement "an important victory that matters not only to jail inmates, but to all New Yorkers." He has called outfits like CMC fronts for professional medical companies that are supposed to be controlled by doctors.
CMC is a for-profit enterprise owned by Maria Carpio and run by Carpio's spouse, Emre Umar. Neither are licensed medical professionals, Schneiderman said. The pair are now required to set up a separate professional medical corporation to provide care in New York.
Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, said the state had to hold CMC accountable for "improper care" of incarcerated people, who tend to have extensive medical needs.
Apple said CMC has done a good job working in the Albany County prison running the infirmary, and providing all sorts of medical treatments and screenings to the 885 prisoners.
"I don't have any problem with them," he said. "We've never really had an issue with them."
The county contracted in 2012 with CMC in a deal that expires after 2015 and pays $3.7 million a year. Apple said the company is providing 10 extra doctor hours a week at no cost.
Apple said he recognizes that CMC has a tough time getting top-notch help and replacing people when they leave.
Dagostino said the Schenectady County prison, with 325 inmates, is served well by CMC, which has been in place for more than five years. "We're actually quite pleased with them," he said. "They're very responsive to our needs."
The company's lawyer did not return a call or email for comment.
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MOVA Commissioner Sutton presents a mayoral proclamation (photo: @nycveterans)
For the City's 216,000 military veterans, the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs (MOVA) is the only centralized city-run resource center to help find things like healthcare services, employment opportunities, and educational training.
But MOVA itself has extremely limited resources by which to help veterans. For fiscal year 2015 MOVA is set to receive just $549,112 in funding, which pays for five staff members and an additional $25,000 in non-personnel costs, according to figures provided by the Office of Management and Budget. With more and more veterans expected to return home in the coming years, those resources are not going to be enough, according to veterans advocates who already see MOVA's reach as too short.
For City Council Member Eric Ulrich, chair of the Council's veterans committee, the solution is both simple and necessary: make MOVA into its own department.
On Monday Ulrich's veterans committee will hear Intro. 0314, which would abolish MOVA and create the New York City Department of Veterans' Affairs in its place. Having a department instead of an agency under the Mayor would give the Council more budgetary and operational oversight, which could lead to more funding and better execution of however much funding exists.
Nothing in the bill sets any sort of minimums for funding or staffing of the proposed department. In fact, the language of the bill laying out the responsibilities for the new department is nearly identical to the language in the City Charter that created MOVA in 1987. But by creating a separate department, the Council would, for the first time, be allowed to hold budget hearings for veterans' affairs, much like it does with all the other big name departments such as Police, Parks, Transportation, and Education.
These budget hearings would give the Council multiple opportunities each year to get a performance assessment from the Veteran's Affairs Commissioner as well as listen to advocates voice concerns about what services funding is (or is not) providing. The Council can use that information as leverage when pushing for additional funding during budget negotiations with the Mayor.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been vocal about support for veterans, often evoking the personal story of his father, who was a WWII veteran. De Blasio's father lost part of his leg in the Battle of Okinawa and later, after being diagnosed with cancer, took his own life.
Despite his personal connection and expressed support for veterans, de Blasio's first budget as mayor did not include additional funding for MOVA. In its April response to the mayor's preliminary budget, the Council asked for $400,000 in added funding for MOVA. The request was denied. However, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Council used $400,000 of its own discretionary funding for veterans initiatives. Individual Council members allocated $207,250 of their discretionary funding toward veterans services as well.
Using discretionary funds as a way to circumvent the lack of funding provided by the mayor is not necessarily a sustainable or fool-proof plan. Because MOVA is not its own department, that discretionary funding must go through other departments (primarily DYCD, DFTA, or SBS). This process can be much slower than the mayor directly funding initiatives through a department and in some cases the funding does not actually make it to the targeted group at all.
In fiscal year 2014, which ended on June 30, the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) received 20 requests to process council member discretionary funding related to veterans for a total of $97,357. As of Friday, September 26, nine of those requests totaling $61,857 had been filled, with another four totaling $22,400 in process. Of those not in either category, a request for $5,000 was not filled because the organization never submitted the paperwork.
But checks for six requests totaling $8,000 could not be written because those requests each did not meet the department minimum of $3,500. DYCD spokesperson Mark Zustovich said it was not efficient to consider contracts for smaller amounts due to the volume of contracts the department receives. He added that in some cases groups who have multiple requests under $3,500 with DYCD could be combined. Groups applying for funding of less than $3,500 can go back to the City Council to see what other options exist.
Creating a separate Department of Veterans' Affairs would not be a panacea for this problem. There is currently no language in the bill specifying that there be no minimum request amounts, but this could be something council members consider during negotiations with the administration on the bill.
In addition, while creating a new department would provide another avenue for discretionary funding, it would not necessarily mean all discretionary funding is funneled through it.
Newly appointed MOVA Commissioner Loree Sutton will be testifying on Monday, per a City Hall spokesperson. If her boss' comments during the Aug. 18 press conference announcing her appointment are any indication, it doesn't appear the administration is warm to the idea of a separate department just yet.
"We think that the model we have now is an important and effective one and we can do a lot more with," de Blasio said when Gotham Gazette asked about the plan. "It's certainly something we would entertain going forward, but I think the way I look at this is we wanted to bring in a new leader, get going with the model we have now, and then we'll judge from there."
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who helped push for more funding for veterans services, has not taken a firm position on the bill.
"I have to look at it more carefully, and obviously I look forward to the testimony," Mark-Viverito said at an unrelated Sept. 23 press conference. "We believe strongly that we have to do all we can to figure out how to bring together and galvanize existing resources of the city to benefit our veterans."
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
New York City Hall
What to watch for this week in New York politics:
The week ahead is sure to include more action in the hotly-contested races for Governor, Attorney General, and New York's 11th Congressional District, along with key State Senate districts - Tuesday is five weeks 'til Election Day. This week will also include the convening of the grand jury in the Eric Garner case on Staten Island and a lot of action at The New York City Council [read our previews of Monday's education committee hearing on guidance counselors and veterans committee hearing on forming a new veterans' affairs department]. All this and a whole lot more:
Governor Andrew Cuomo spent his weekend overseas, where he's remaining until Tuesday, he said by conference call Sunday: the governor is in Afghanistan after heading to Washington, D.C. for briefings, then Germany to visit injured soldiers. According to a release from Cuomo's office, the trip is "a bipartisan delegation of governors at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Defense, which is sponsoring the visit. During the trip, Governor Cuomo is receiving a series of briefings from senior U.S. Department of Defense officials on counterterrorism issues, the evolving global threats that affect New York's security at home, and other matters. Governor Cuomo will also meet with New York and other American troops who are currently stationed in Afghanistan – including those from Fort Drum, New York's 10th Mountain Division – to thank them for their service."
On the Sunday conference call, the governor said that it had already been a "really educationally fascinating trip," full of briefings on "Middle East issues, terrorism specifically." "Classified briefings," he said, from the Department of State, Department of Defense, and USAID, among others. The governor lauded U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan, but on terrorism said generally that "as Governor of New York, New York is at the top of everybody's threat list" and that his administration continues to spend a lot of time on homeland security. "I'm telling you, we're going to be the most prepared," Cuomo said. "My goal is to have the most sophisticated homeland defense system ever designed by any state, period." Cuomo added that while terrorists are becoming more sophisticated, so would the response, and that New York would "stay one step ahead." Cuomo repeatedly said that efforts must be made to understand the source of growing terrorist groups and threats, not simply to try to stop terrorist efforts. He did not elaborate further on the topic.
The Mayor, the Speaker and the Comptroller
Coming off of a Sunday on which he had no public events scheduled (no word on whether he wound up taking another baseball game road trip), Mayor Bill de Blasio starts his week with a 10 a.m. press conference at the "John F. Kennedy Campus in the Bronx to make an announcement" and later in the day "he will meet with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz."
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito begins her week with an appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC at 10:30 a.m. Monday morning. She will then deliver an opening statement at a city council hearing looking at efforts to provide legal representation to unaccompanied immigrant children - both according to her public schedule.
Comptroller Scott Stringer starts his week hosting a conference "Families and Flexibility: Reshaping the workplace for the 21st century." Details below.
Elections Watch - just over 5 weeks until Election Day
Good news and bad news, gubernatorial campaign edition: The bad news is that The Rent is Too Damn High's Jimmy McMillan is off the gubernatorial ballot - BUT - the good news is that four other candidates who will be on the ballot are going to debate at least once. "I am just going to bow out and support anybody to beat Andrew Cuomo," McMillan said, according to The Daily News.
Word from the campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is that the governor and his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, will debate at least twice: once one-on-one over the radio (in New York City via WNYC and The Wall Street Journal) and once along with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Party candidate Michael McDermott on TV from Buffalo. Dates have not been determined yet, but the debates are expected to occur in mid-October. It's unlikely there will be others, and the Astorino campaign is not happy that there likely won't be a one-on-one TV debate. (There are going to be five candidates on the gubernatorial ballot in November, the fifth is Sapient Party candidate Steve Cohn).
Speaking of debates, the campaign of Republican attorney general candidate John Cahill continues to challenge incumbent Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman to debates, putting out a statement on Saturday that read, in part: "Today, Governor Cuomo agreed to two debates - that's some good news for New Yorkers who deserve to hear from the candidates on their records and vision for the future of our great state. Now the ball is in Eric Schneiderman's court, after almost four years of acting like he is in a witness protection program it's time he faces the voters....the Cahill Campaign has challenged him to 11 debates, one state wide and one in each region...To date, the Cahill Campaign has accepted four debate offers and more are in the offing."
As the week begins, New York politicos will keep an eye on the campaigns, and there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of.
The run of the week in more detail:
On Monday, the grand jury will convene as called by Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan in the case of Eric Garner's death while being taken into police custody in July. As City Council Member Rory Lancman, an attorney, explained weeks ago, there are "legal gaps" when it comes to chokehold laws that could make criminal prosecution difficult in the case against the police officer involved.
The City Council's Committee on Education will meet Monday morning with regard to guidance services for students and the establishment of a comprehensive college preparation program, "based on the college readiness model proposed by the Urban Youth Collaborative." [Our report on the issue and preview of the hearing] Before the education committee hearing, there will be a 9:30 a.m. rally on the steps of City Hall calling for improved college-readiness programming in city schools led by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, the Urban Youth Collaborative, and others.
The Monday council schedule also includes a meeting of Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, "a local law to amend the New York City Charter in relation to a comprehensive cultural plan."
The Committee on Courts and Legal Service will hold a joint meeting with the Committee on Immigration with regard to the "crisis of unaccompanied immigrant children" and what New York City is doing in relation to it. Speaker Mark-Viverito will give an opening statement (earlier in the day she will be a guest on The Brian Lehrer Show).
The Committee on Veterans will hold a hearing in relation to the establishment of a Department of Veterans' Affairs to replace the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA). [Our report on the issue and preview of the hearing]
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a forum to discuss workplace flexibility on Monday: "Families and Flexibility: Reshaping the Workplace for the 21st Century," an event following up on a report Stringer's office released earlier this year. "If we want to remain a global economic power, we must support policies that see family and work as complementary, rather than competing interests."
And, according to Council Member Andy King's office, "Discovery for Justice and community leaders will host a rally and press conference on Monday Sept. 29th, at 11 AM to advocate for open, early and automatic discovery of evidence. Discovery for Justice and community leaders will also demand that the New York State Legislature repeal Criminal Procedure Law 240 and enact Criminal Procedure Law 245."
On Monday, (new grandmother) Hillary Clinton is scheduled to headline a lunchtime fundraiser for 10 Democratic congressional candidates running in NY and NJ (NY candidates include Domenic Recchia, Sean Patrick Maloney and Dan Maffei). No word on if Clinton's plans have changed due to the weekend birth of her granddaughter.
On Monday afternoon, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina will "deliver remarks at the Learning Partners Program Fall Kick-Off" at the Brooklyn Marriott, according to her public schedule.
After he chairs the council education committee hearing, CM Danny Dromm is set to be in his Queens district Monday afternoon to announce "Implementation of Jackson Heights Slow Zone" according to his office. "The Jackson Heights Slow Zone will improve pedestrian safety from 69th to 87th streets between Roosevelt and 34th avenues. Throughout the whole zone, the speed limit will be reduced to 20 mph and traffic calming measures will be installed....Jackson Heights is a busy pedestrian corridor...there are thousands of students who attend the schools and afterschool programs in the slow zone area who need to be protected. Over the last few years, Jackson Heights has seen an unfortunate increase in the number of traffic related fatalities including those of seniors and children."
Tuesday is five weeks until election day! Visit our Elections Center for a lot more info.
Several interesting events and conferences on Tuesday morning:
The Crain's Business Breakfast Forum series continues with Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to discuss "corruption and the Moreland Commission and the current probe of Rikers Island" as well as "Wall Street, tax evasion and cybercrime."
City & State NY is holding its Public Projects Forum featuring Rick Chandler (Commissioner, NYC Department of Buildings), Joan McDonald (New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner) and Ramanathan Raju (New York City's Health and Hospital Corporation President and Executive Director) regarding the "current public project construction landscape, major upcoming RFPs and bids, and the ever-expanding role of technology in construction."
The New School is hosting "Ferguson + Staten Island: The Roots, the Reality, and the Response" with moderator Jeff Smith: "In this discussion, law enforcement, policy makers, advocates, journalists, and community leaders will come together to explore the events in Ferguson -- and ask how New York and other cities are responding. What political and economic conditions in Ferguson and minority communities nationally underlie the anger that exploded in Ferguson? What kinds of policy changes are necessary to prevent more tragedies from occurring - and to prevent continued escalation of tension between police departments and minority communities? And how do we go about making this policy change happen?"
Fordham Law School, fittingly - or is it ironically (or both)? - will host "Is Prof. Teachout A Real New Yorker? Weiss vs. Teachout: Do Residency Requirements Still Matter?" on Tuesday at lunchtime.
The WCC (Women's City Club of New York) will be hosting a luncheon event on Tuesday with newly-elected Council Members Corey Johnson (Chair of the Health Committee), and Carlos Menchaca (Chair of the Immigration Committee and Chair): "Don't miss the opportunity to exchange thoughts about legislative priorities and learn more about health, immigration, and more in New York City."
Tuesday's busy City Council schedule includes a meeting of The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises "to review different Land Use Applications"; The Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet to inspect the (ongoing) redesign of Medicaid; The Committee on Higher Education will meet on "reducing the cost on college textbooks"; and The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to look at "Land Use Applications."
On Tuesday Council Member Donovan Richards will co-host an environmental event with Speaker Mark-Viverito at City Hall to mark the "close of New York Climate Week" and "push for a greener, greater NYC" - and there will be live jazz music.
Now's a good time to go Pro with Capital New York, especially if you're in Albany: Tuesday night in Albany will see the "first-ever Capital Pro Trivia Night...on all things concerning New York policy, politics and media" - questions from Capital Albany Bureau Chief Jimmy Vielkind. (RSVP to email@example.com for location details)
There are two events on Wednesday that may feature both candidates in New York's 11th Congressional District: incumbent Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, former City Council Member Domenic Recchia: the Bay Ridge Council on Aging holds its annual candidates forum Wednesday morning and the Middle Class Action Forum Wednesday evening. One or both events could also feature the candidates in State Senate District 22, incumbent Republican Marty Golden and his Democratic challenger Jamie Kemmerer.
Other interesting events Wednesday morning:
New York City Housing Commissioner Vicki Been will discuss her priorities for affordable housing at a Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) breakfast forum.
Westchester County Executive and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino will speak at an Association for a Better New York (ABNY) breakfast forum, discussing the state budget, taxes, and other issues.
Crain's Health Care Summit: Transforming New York's Health Care Industry: "After lengthy negotiations, the federal government agreed to give New York state $8 billion for a five-year overhaul of the state's health care delivery system. The money is targeted at the state's expensive Medicaid program—but what most New Yorkers don't realize is that the changes ahead will affect health care delivery in New York well beyond the one in four New York City residents who receive Medicaid benefits. Crain's will address how the $8 billion will act as seed capital for radical transformation. The state is planning changes that will have a profound impact on employers, commercial insurers, hospitals and patients. We explain the transformations ahead—including more hospital closures—before they broadside New York businesses."
Fordham Law School is hosting NYC Directors of Admission Panel: "The Enrollment landscape is ever changing. Increased competition, media scrutiny, new technologies, and a tumultuous economic climate are just of few of the most pressing issues of recent admission cycles. Columbia, Cooper Union, CUNY, Fordham, NYU and SUNY invite you into a dialogue on these and other topics that impact the work that you do and the families you serve."
Wednesday's city council schedule includes a meeting of the Committee on Housing and Buildings that will look at introduction of local laws "in relation to the alternative enforcement program" and "inspection fees for certain recurring violations of the housing maintenance code"; a meeting of the Committee on Transportation to consider a local law "in relation to reducing citywide speed limit to twenty-five miles per hour"; a meeting of the Committee on Technology on a local law to create "a website to produce and sign petitions seeking particular actions by city government"; a joint meeting of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor and the Committee on General Welfare regarding oversight of "proposed changes to HRA's Employment Programs." [Read our look at the Civil Service Committee and Chair Daneek Miller and our look at the General Welfare Committee and Chair Stephen Levin]
Council Member Andy King "will be hosting a job recruitment session for the companies CareRide of Queens and GVCII of the Bronx, carriers in the MTA's Access-A-Ride program" on Wednesday at his Bronx office. "Both companies are looking to immediately hire drivers for their company."
On Wednesday evening, The New York Democratic Lawyers Council presents: "Why Don't New Yorkers Vote? A discussion about fixing New York State's restrictive Election Laws and how you can help...featuring panel experts Benjamin Kallos (CM, 5th District), Brian Kavangh (Assemblyman, 74th District), Douglas Kellner (NYS Board of Elections, Co-Chair) and Susan Lerner (Common Cause NY, Executive Director)."
Also Wednesday evening, there will be a Sunset Park Town Hall on Police Conduct and Accountability, hosted by the New York City Congress for Puerto Rican Rights : "Join us as we invite local NYPD & Elected Officials for a public conversation on police accountability, conduct and the rights of citizens when dealing with police confrontations."
On both Wednesday and Thursday, there will be the NAN Education Summit (In Celebration of Rev. Sharpton's 60th Birthday) at NYU: "Addressing the Civil Rights Issue of the 21st Century...Rev. Al Sharpton and NAN will be convening leaders in education, including teachers, students, parents, policy makers, administrators, artist and other performers, to demand equality in education."
Wednesday and Thursday will also see the "New York State 4th Annual MWBE Forum" at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany.
Thursday's city council schedule includes: a meeting of The Committee on Land Use at which council members "will consider all items reported out of the Subcommittees at the meetings held on Tuesday, September 30, 2014, and conduct such other business as may be necessary"; and the Committee on Economic Development will meet and be "evaluating the effectiveness of tax benefits offered by the New York City Economic Development Corporation" (EDC).
The Coalition for Education Equality will rally "to end systemwide failure in NYC public schools" on Thursday morning in Manhattan's Foley Square.
Friday and the weekend
As usual the end of the week and weekend look like as of Sunday evening, but things are always sure to pick up. Yom Kippur does begin on Friday evening, so the city could be a bit more quiet, especially on Friday and Saturday, as a result.
One key event on our radar for Sunday, though: "What's Next for Public Schools?" 5-7 p.m. at The New School. "Progressive educators and parents have been highly critical of the school reform agenda that emphasizes standardized testing and charter schools. But what kind of change are we for? In this free and public discussion based on a forthcoming special issue of The Nation, leading voices in education will explore a progressive agenda for public schools in New York City and nationwide. Following a special appearance by New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, the panel discussion moderated by MSNBC's Chris Hayes will feature AFT President Randi Weingarten, best-selling author Dana Goldstein, New York University Professor Pedro Noguera and the Advocacy Director of the AQE, Zakiyah Ansari. Sponsored by The New School for Public Engagement and The Nation."
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? Email Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: firstname.lastname@example.org (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).
by Rati Mukhuradze, Katrina Shakarian, Kristen Meriwether, David King, and Ben Max
Derek Jeter's professional baseball career, which included early work for the Albany-Colonie Yankees, will end with a special Capital Region tribute: Albany's Corning Tower will be lit up to form Jeter's iconic No. 2 on Thursday night, when the shortstop is scheduled to play his last home game at Yankee Stadium before retirement.
As part of the send-off, a screen will be set up under The Egg to show that night's game against the Baltimore Orioles, scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m.
Food vendors will be on-site offering traditional stadium fare. (Jeter's last road game is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.)
"Whether it's the backhanded flip to home plate, the diving foul ball catch in the stands, or his clutch homer as 'Mr. November,' Derek Jeter will always be remembered as a New York icon who played the game with dignity and hard work," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a release announcing the special event. "He never bragged, never showboated, he simply played hard and played well. ... As the lights of Yankee Stadium shine on him for the last time, we will light up the Captain's iconic number for all to see."
Fans should bring a lawn chair. Free parking will be available in the Plaza's East Garage after 5 p.m.
Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito encouraged attendees to "don their Yankees gear and come cheer on the captain. Number 2 will always be No. 1 in our hearts."
The rain location will be in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. For more information, visit http://www.ogs.ny.gov.
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