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Road reopened after crash

Albany Times/Union - 8 hours 21 min ago

Route 67 between Requate Road and Riverview Drive in Rensselaer County was closed at approximately 9:24 Saturday night due to a crash in the Town of Pittstown, according to the state Department of Transportation It was reopened later in the evening.

No more information was available as of late Saturday. -- Rick Karlin

Categories: State/Local

Prison set to close, but not quietly

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 7:07am


By the end of Saturday, Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in Wilton will have closed its doors for good, along with several other upstate prisons, as the state's inmate population continues to shrink.

The closing, in the works for more than a year, will come after several last-minute efforts by local lawmakers to keep the prison open as a source of stable and relatively well-paying jobs.

Inmates were moved to other prisons in April. The shutdown of the medium-security facility will follow a mandated year-long notice period designed to give employees and their unions time to make plans.

Many of the 322 people who had worked at the prison, including correctional officers, have been or are being transferred to other facilities: About 120 are headed to jobs at Comstock in Washington County, about 30 miles away; 29 have transferred to Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie, Greene County, about 65 miles south, according to state data.

Employees also transferred to Hale Creek at Johnstown in Fulton County; and Adirondack in Ray Brook, Essex County, as well as to the Corrections Department main office and other state agencies, including the Office of General Services. Forty three others chose to retire.

Also closing on Saturday are Butler in Red Creek, Wayne County; Chateaugay in Franklin County and the Monterey shock facility in Beaver Dams, Schuyler County.

The Mt. McGregor facility's final days were not without a bit of drama. On Thursday, reporter Mark Mulholland of WNYT-TV was threatened with arrest after a correction officer said he shouldn't be filming from the prison access road.

The officer, a lieutenant, told Mulholland and his cameraman to leave because they didn't have permission to film on prison property.

Another prison guard tried to block the TV crew from entering Grant Cottage, an historic site on the prison grounds where former President Ulysses S. Grant died of throat cancer in 1885.

State officials said the station had earlier been denied permission to shoot video on the prison grounds for what officials said were "security reasons." They also cited prison policy.

But Mulholland said prison personnel went too far. "They called the State Police. They wanted us arrested," he said.

A State Trooper showed up but didn't arrest them,

The confrontation prompted The Associated Press to send a letter of protest. "We believe that the Channel 13 crew is owed an apology," read part of a letter from Ken Tingley of the Glens Falls Post Star, the current president of the New York State Associated Press Association.

WNYT News Director Eric Hoppel said Mulholland was reporting that the Grant Cottage site is scheduled to stay open after the prison closes.

Another crew from a production company was on the prison grounds that day, shooting exterior scenes for a drama. State officials wouldn't divulge details about the production. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Congressional race: Doheny drops third party run in bid for GOP unity

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 1:07am


Congressional candidate Matt Doheny shut down his third-party run in the 21st Congressional District on Friday, a month after losing to Elise Stefanik in the Republican primary.

Doheny lost the GOP line by 22 percentage points in the June contest, but picked up the Independence Party ballot line in the race to replace Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who is not seeking re-election.

Doheny made the announcement in Watertown, where he noted, "I'm not Doug Hoffman."

In 2010, Hoffman lost the GOP primary to Doheny but continued to run on the Conservative line.

Hoffman ended up dropping out a month before the general election, but his name remained on the ballot, siphoning votes away from Doheny and allowing Owens to squeak out a slim victory.

Stefanik said that she was grateful for Doheny's decision, which allows the GOP's forces to unite against Democrat Aaron Woolf.

"Matt waged a hard-fought primary, and we respect and appreciate his decision to give Republicans their best opportunity to win back our seat for the North Country," Stefanik said in a statement.

During the primary, Stefanik and Doheny fought bitterly over over who was the more authentic resident of the sprawling district.

Stefanik was raised in Guilderland, attended Albany Academy for Girls and graduated from Harvard before working in Washington, D.C. as an aide to President George W. Bush and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

In a statement, Rep. Greg Walden, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, echoed the need for unity.

"Throughout his career, Matt Doheny has always done what is best for the North Country," Walden said.

Matt Funiciello of Glens Falls is running on the Green Party line.

Categories: State/Local

Filing deadline dustup in state Senate race

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 1:07am


As Democrat Brian Howard challenges Republican state Sen. Kathy Marchione in the 43rd Senate District, he's raising the issue of campaign finance.

"If we don't reform it, it's such a corrupt system that we're not going to have one person's vote be equal to another person's vote," Howard told WAMC in June.

Perhaps trying to throw the issue back at the candidate, Saratoga County Republican Committee Chairman John Herrick took Howard to task this week for not submitting a campaign finance filing to the state Board of Elections by the July 15 deadline.

"One week past the filing deadline and Howard still hasn't done it," Herrick said. "His campaign finance disclosure statement is a mystery, which begs the question: What is Brian Howard trying to hide? Howard gets a well-deserved 'F' in the critical subject of transparency."

Howard's defense was a simple one: Until late last week, he didn't have a campaign committee.

Howard started gathering support to challenge Marchione in late May, but created his committee to solicit donations on July 18 — three days after candidates were required to file itemized financial disclosures.

According to an official at the state board, Howard can't be sanctioned for failing to file a disclosure form for an entity that hadn't actually been set up during the filing period.

Though Howard has been talking up his challenge to Marchione, his campaign spokesman Randy Koniowka pointed out that the candidate only officially announced his run on July 8.

Koniowka said there were no campaign expenditures or contributions prior to the July 15 filing deadline. None of the campaign staff had been paid, and a volunteer designed Howard's website. The only expense incurred since the filing deadline has been for campaign signs. Koniowka said that cost would show up on the next report, which is due in early October.

"This is just the type of dirty politics that people are sick and tired of," Koniowka said. "People want to hear about the issues. ... With (Marchione), all you have is mudslinging."

Herrick was unmoved: "When you look at the filings after the deadline and see nothing is reported even though he has a website and campaign signs, you have to ask the question," he said.

Marchione's filing showing her with close to $265,000 in her campaign coffers.

Matt Hamilton contributed.

Categories: State/Local

Moreland Commission shut down as panel mulled Senate subpoenas

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 1:07am


The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was poised to issue subpoenas to the treasurers of several state Senate campaign committees when Gov. Andrew Cuomo abruptly shut down the panel at the end of March, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

It's unclear whether the governor or anyone in his administration was aware of the commission's plans to issue the subpoenas at the time he said the panel would be disbanded. Earlier that same month, at a meeting in Albany, members of the anti-corruption effort formulated a plan — at what would be their final meeting — to obtain the treasurers' records of various Senate campaign committees as part of a months-long investigation of the accounts.

Their discussion included a proposal to set up a law enforcement task force to refer any potential criminal cases of campaign-finance violations to the appropriate prosecutors across the state, according to interviews with two former members.

"All (the commission's nine) district attorneys were going to get together and review these cases, subpoena records from the treasurers and then have meetings with U.S. Attorneys and have a summit to determine where the best jurisdiction lies," said one of the former panel members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to an ongoing investigation of the panel's shutdown by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of Manhattan.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi declined to say whether the governor's office was aware of the commission's plans to issue subpoenas to the treasurers when Cuomo said on March 29 that he was ending the commission's work. By that time, the commission had subpoenaed dozens of financial records from various Senate campaign accounts, as well as the "housekeeping" campaign committee accounts of state political parties.

"It is correct that those subpoenas were discussed," said Onondoga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick, who co-chaired the Moreland Commission and was part of the group that discussed issuing subpoenas to individual senators' campaign treasurers.

On Wednesday, The New York Times published a story alleging an effort by Cuomo's office to control the commission and limit subpoenas that it sought to issue as part of its mandate to investigate public corruption. The governor's office responded to The Times in a 13-page statement, saying the administration acted appropriately in guiding the commission's investigative efforts.

The governor had touted the panel as an independent body when he appointed its members a year ago.

Former commission members or employees interviewed by the Times Union in recent months expressed concerns about what they viewed as interference by Cuomo's office, and apparent attempts to manipulate their probes of state legislators and especially companies with ties to Cuomo or his campaign accounts. Cuomo's office has denied the allegations and said the commission was formed by the governor to push his agenda for campaign finance overhaul.

One of the former members said the commission's former executive director, Regina Calcaterra, allegedly tried to dissuade their efforts to meet during a three-month stretch between January and March — a critical time when Cuomo was negotiating the state budget with legislative leaders who were eager to see the panel shut down.

In February, the commission's former chief investigator, Danya Perry, prepared a detailed report outlining questionable campaign expenditures by 28 state senators that was shared with the panel.

Damien LaVera, a spokesman for Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, on Thursday said that Perry's files were not turned over to the Attorney General's office when she left her position in February. It's unclear whether Schneiderman's office will pursue any of the Moreland Commission's investigations.

"Our office cannot comment on ongoing or potential investigations arising out of the Moreland Commission, whether being pursued by our office or other prosecutors," LaVera said.

In the months leading up to the internal report prepared by Perry, members of her investigative team used subpoenas to sift bank records from the campaign accounts of the 28 state senators whose campaigns had credit card or unitemized expenses that exceeded $10,000. Sources familiar with the findings, but not authorized to comment publicly, said the information showed large amounts of money flowing from campaign accounts into the hands of elected officials, their staffers and campaign workers. In many instances, the money flowed from the accounts through unitemized payments made from debit cards, ATM withdrawals and checks made out to "cash" — with no explanation of where or how the cash was spent.

The Moreland Commission's members discussed the need to subpoena the various bookkeeping records of the senators' campaign treasurers to decipher whether any of the expenditures were potential criminal violations, or simply a result of shoddy record-keeping.

"There was not much more, really, other than subpoenaing the treasurers' reports and then tracking down the expenditures to determine if they were political in nature," one of the former commission members said in an interview last month.

Bharara, whose office took the Moreland Commission's records in April, has pursued the Senate campaign finance investigation initiated by the Moreland panel. In May, his office began issuing subpoenas to campaign workers and now-former staff members of state Sen. George D. Maziarz, who unexpectedly said two weeks ago that he would not seek re-election after nearly two decades in the Senate. A spokesman for Maziarz, a Republican whose district includes Niagara and Orleans counties, denied knowledge of the subpoenas three weeks ago.

None of the senators examined by the Moreland panel had more unitemized expenditures than Maziarz, whose campaign expenditures are being investigated by the Justice Department.

Fitzpatrick, who co-chaired the commission with Milton L. Williams Jr., a former assistant U.S. Attorney, said the panel discussed how to handle criminal cases, including referrals to Albany County District Attorney David Soares.

"We devised a plan to have David Soares with the (Attorney General's) assistance review all our potential cases and either retain them or refer them out to appropriate state DAs," Fitzpatrick said. "That plan was superseded by Milt Williams and I deciding the cases needed to be referred to Preet immediately."

Soares declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the governor's disbanding of the commission is murky. Its members received neither written notification of the panel's demise or a letter of appreciation from the governor's office for their work. The Times Union requested the records, if they exist, under a Freedom of Information Law request filed June 12. The governor's office has asked for extensions to respond to the request.

"I honestly don't know what the procedures are for that," said Azzopardi, Cuomo's spokesman, when asked if the administration had documented its disbanding of the commission. He said he would check, but could not get clarification by press time on Thursday. • 518-454-5547 • @blyonswriter

Categories: State/Local

Remains of soldier killed in '53 identified

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 1:07am


Lawrence Jock's surviving relatives in northern New York knew next to nothing about the Army combat veteran who was declared missing in action at the end of the Korean War more than 60 years ago.

Now that his remains have been identified and will be brought back to the North Country for burial, his relatives have learned that he was decorated veteran of World War II who enlisted before America entered the conflict in December 1941.

"He was a patriot even before the Japanese attacked us. That was something I could tell the family," said 1st Sgt. Ronald Spanton of the New York Army National Guard.

Spanton, a casualty assistance officer in northern New York, researched Jock's military background after his remains were identified on June 25, the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. He learned that Jock joined the service in the 1930s, served as an infantryman in Europe with the 100th Infantry Division during WWII and was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for Valor. Jock also served with U.S. occupation forces in Japan.

The 37-year-old master sergeant was serving as a forward observer with a field artillery battery in the 8th Army when his position was attacked on July 15, 1953, by Chinese forces in Kangwon Province, North Korea. A day after the battle, Jock was listed as MIA, and a year later, he was declared dead.

Military officials said his remains were among those of 350 to 400 U.S. servicemen turned over by North Korea between 1991 and 1994.

Categories: State/Local

New Advocacy Guide Maps Path to Improved Parks

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 07/30/2014 - 1:00am

Parternships for Parks' Leah Worrell presents a new advocacy guide (photo: Katrina Shakarian)

Four years ago, Faye Hill retired from a career as a legal secretary and decided to get involved with improving and maintaining her local park. She joined forces with volunteers in her community to form Friends of Springfield Park, Queens. Since its inception, the group has secured funding to make improvements like restoring flower beds and installing watering equipment.

Last week, Hill shared the group's experience making inroads for Springfield Park with over 100 attendees at the launch of "How can I Improve My Park?", a step-by-step, illustrated guide to park advocacy. Park enthusiasts, including members of several community and advocacy groups, gathered to celebrate the publication of the guide and move the flourishing park advocacy movement forward, hoping to broaden involvement across the city.

As Hill explained, navigating the path of effective park advocacy is not simple, even for the most determined park lovers. Between City Council Members, Borough Presidents, Community Boards, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), and a myriad of local community organizations, it's difficult to know where to start, who to contact, and what resources are actually available for neighborhood parks.

In order to lift that fog, two New York City parks organizations, New Yorkers for Parks and Partnerships for Parks, collaborated with the Center for Urban Pedagogy, an organization that promotes public understanding of complex policies through design, to produce a graphic roadmap for navigating the city's bureaucracy on behalf of local parks. The goal of the new poster is to elucidate the park advocacy process and empower concerned citizens to make a difference in their communities.

"Park advocates contact us all the time to ask: 'where do I start?'" said Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P), Tupper Thomas. "It's a complex process, so we we wanted to create a guide that eliminates any of the confusion and makes the process much smoother for those who know their local parks best, but may not know how to navigate the city's budget process. This poster will really empower park advocates across New York City to make a difference in their communities."

Gathering on the eastern edge of Central Park at DPR's historic Arsenal headquarters, advocates and legislators lauded the unveiling of "How can I Improve My Park?" Attendees mixed and mingled in the 19th century building, designed in the likeness of a medieval fortress, over drinks and neatly cut sandwiches, before DPR Commissioner Mitchell Silver delivered opening remarks, which were full of praise for the effort.

The 8 x 11 inches booklet, designed by Elana Schlenker and illustrated by Brooklyn artist Leslie Wood, unfolds into a busy poster of colorful animations and flow charts that lay out courses of action for penetrating the city's bureaucracy.

The poster includes descriptions of:

  • The two general categories of parks improvements: capital projects which include infrastructural changes like building a new playground or dog run, and maintenance and staff issues which include upkeep and procedures like fixing broken park benches or mowing lawns.
  • The civic entities involved in either pursuit: NYC Parks Department, Community Boards, City Council Members, Borough President, Mayor's Office among them.
  • People to contact along the way: borough-based Partnership for Parks (PfP) Outreach Coordinators, individual Parks Managers, etc.
  • Actions to take: Coalition building, letter writing, phone calls, scheduling meetings, etc.

"Everything in this publication, I had to learn it through almost 10 years of [volunteering] and getting involved in my local parks committee at Community Board 12 [and] going to workshops. Any workshop that Partners for Parks sent my way, I took it," said Obed Fulcar, a New York City public school teacher and founder of Friends of Sherman Creek, who attended Thursday's event.

"This publication can help an individual that wants to get involved and do something about their local parks," he declared enthusiastically of "How Can I Improve My Park?"

The publication launch doubled as a free Partnerships Academy Workshop, featuring a panel of speakers addressing the question, "How New Yorkers Can Work with Government to Support our Parks?" Partnerships Academy by Partnerships for Parks (PfP) trains community-based organizations to navigate city agencies and nonprofits on behalf of their local green spaces.

The evening's panelists were First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation; City Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Council's Committee on Parks and Recreation; Hill, of Friends of Springfield Park, Queens; and Brad Taylor, of Friends of Morningside Park, Manhattan.

Before the poster was unveiled, panelists discussed a wide range of parks topics such as safety, litter, initiating renovations, and the role of grassroots activism in keeping city officials abreast of constituent needs and new trends in the city.

Citizens advocating on parks "keeps us connected to the community," said Kavanaugh. "It's easy when you're in government to become somewhat wrapped up in your day-to-day business activities...the priorities that either you or City Hall has determined we should be focusing on, and you do lose track of what's important to the people you're supposed to serve."

Despite Kavanaugh's ode to community involvement, the celebratory mood of the event, and the publication's warm, cartoonish aesthetic, panel members were frank about the difficulties inherent to the process of facilitating changes in their communities.

Hill described the slow and steady ascent of her group on the advocacy trail. It began by completing a small flower bed project, getting other residents, particularly families and children, invested in the space, and launching what she described as "an attack" on elected officials to steer money toward the park.

Levine affirmed the need for Hill's persistence and tenacity. "You're gonna have to be assertive for your park and for your cause in a world of competing priorities," he said, referring to the process of dividing council members' discretionary budgets among causes in their districts. Levine finds himself at the center of the 'park equity' debate, wherein some parks advocates and legislators are pursuing ways in which all city parks can be well-funded and maintained. The new guide offers help to any park advocate looking to pursue improvements for his or her favorite park.

"How Can I Improve My Park?" is part of Center for Urban Pedagogy's (CUP) ongoing "Making Policy Public" project, a series of foldout posters that aim to elucidate public policy through graphic design. Past projects include multi-lingual guides to rules and regulations for New York's 10,000 street vendors and to personal money management, targeting immigrants.

Deputy Director of CUP, Valeria Mogilevich, described the organization's role in generating the posters as managers of the collaborative process. "We work as art directors, project managers, editors, and help advocacy groups and designers speak the same language and talk to each other," she said.

Currently, the new parks advocacy guide is only available in English. CUP plans to publish a Spanish version in the coming months.

NY4P and PfP have already distributed over 1,000 guides to community groups and parks enthusiasts across the boroughs. PfP will continue distributing the posters through its network of borough based Outreach Coordinators, whose role is to connect people and community groups with information and networks to support their local parks.

Although , "How Can I Improve My Park?" is not a silver bullet for all neighborhood park problems, its sponsoring organizations hope that it will empower people with information and courses of action to make a difference in their communities.

by Katrina Shakarian, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

GOP jumps on Moreland scandal

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 1:07am


Republicans have wasted no time slamming statewide officeholders over what is perhaps the juiciest piece of news they've had to run on during this election cycle: the unfolding Moreland Commission meddling scandal involving the governor's office.

But while Rob Astorino, John Cahill and Robert Antonacci already are using on the campaign trail the revelations printed Wednesday in The New York Times, polling of voters about corruption and specifically the Moreland Commission seems to point toward a small impact.

Only 1 percent of likely voters statewide — and 1 percent of upstaters — said government corruption and ethics is the top issue on their minds when choosing a gubernatorial candidate to support, according to Monday's Siena Research Institute poll, taken before the Times story was published.

An April Siena poll showed the term "Moreland Commission" was the antithesis of a buzzword, with 72 percent of voters saying they had heard not much, if anything at all, about the disbanding of the panel and 68 percent saying they weren't following the news about the commission closely, if at all.

"Voters are much more focused on their everyday lives than they are on what's happening in Albany, particularly so given that there is this jaded view of elected officials and politicians," Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg said. "Over the last several years, with great regularity, they read about or hear about an elected official being convicted or indicted or arrested."

Despite the data, Republican statewide candidates are pushing to get out their message about cleaning up Albany. Astorino and Cahill have been making the media rounds, with both doing multiple radio interviews over the last two days. Astorino also held a Wednesday afternoon conference call with reporters and said the governor is "knee-deep in scandal."

Comptroller candidate Antonacci also has gotten in on the action, lambasting in a statement Thursday state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for not auditing the commission.

All three Republican candidates trail the incumbents and are unknown by a relatively large number of voters, something Astorino has admitted about his own candidacy.

Greenberg said it's too early to tell if the Times story and the continued follow-up coverage will change public opinion and knowledge about corruption. But will the issue have the longevity to turn into something voters think about in the booth?

"Certainly Rob Astorino and the Republicans are going to do everything they possibly can to ensure it has legs," Greenberg said. "The governor and the Democrats are going to try to do everything they can to try to make this a one-day or at least a very short-lived story. Who is successful? We don't know that yet."

Greenberg said the wild card is U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara and where his investigation into Moreland-related matters takes him. Bharara's take on corruption is the one spot where voters tend to voice a stronger opinion. Sixty-one percent said in April that they agreed with the federal prosecutor that the commission should have been allowed to continue its work. • 454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 1:07am

New York Now looks at 'zombie properties'

Don't miss this week's episode of "New York Now," the state Emmy-winning co-production of WMHT and the Times Union. This week's highlights:

"Innovation Trail" correspondent Jenna Flanagan looks at how the state and municipalities are using technology to combat the scourge of blight caused by "zombie properties."

Times Union state editor Casey Seiler gets a guided tour of what lies beneath the Capitol complex, and the elaborate system that keeps it cool in summer and warm in winter.

Seiler is joined by the TU's Matt Hamilton to discuss the controversy over a New York Times report on the Cuomo administration's meddling with the Moreland Commission's corruption investigation.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday on WMHT Ch. 17.

1,803 public workers paid more than Cuomo

ALBANY — The Empire Center for Public Policy reports 1,803 local government employees outside of New York City have been paid more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $179,000 salary in the past year.

The report from the fiscally conservative group for the year ending March 31 shows 47 of the 50 highest-paid municipal employees working for police departments or sheriff's offices and each taking home more than $250,000.

According to the report, topping them all is Charles Ewald, a jail warden paid $414,527 by Suffolk County.

The 22 police officers of the village of Kings Point are the highest-paid group of local government employees in the state, with average pay of $196,143.

Westchester County employees show the highest pay on average, with $184,865 for police and $76,652 for other workers.

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

Vacant restaurant at Plaza gets face-lift

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 1:07am


The former site of the Sign of the Tree restaurant, vacant since 2006, is getting a face-lift in the hopes of attracting a new eatery.

The space, just south of The Egg on the Empire State Plaza, has been empty since the state Office of General Services evicted restaurateur Michael LoPorto for not paying rent amid a long-standing dispute over parking.

OGS had solicited bids for a new establishment in the space with floor-to-ceiling windows and a picturesque patio without success.

Now that contractors have removed the "Cheers"-era bar, pulled out a nicotine-stained ceiling and ripped up carpeting, prospective operators will have what OGS spokeswoman Heather Groll called a "vanilla box" to work with. The agency's investment makes it easier for new management to put its own mark on the location, she said.

Restaurateurs who had previously looked at the space were put off by the inconvenient location, but it has direct access to the concourse and the P3 lots where a number of parking spots would be allocated for customers.

Almost 75 percent of Sign of the Tree's sales came from catering.

OGS will begin seeking bids for new proprietors in a few months, after the refurbishment is complete.

On Thursday, all that was left of the old haunt's former look was a Bass Ale sign leaning against a newly painted wall. It will be auctioned off on the state's eBay site soon.

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo panel to mull tip issue

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 1:07am

A panel representing unions, business and government will try to determine how much workers who rely on tips should be paid per hour.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed through a minimum wage hike to $8 from $7.25 per hour at the start of the year, but pay for workers who get tips, such as waiters and waitresses, remains at $5.

At the time, Cuomo said he would address increases for tipped workers administratively through the Department of Labor. On Thursday, he convened a department wage board to examine the issue.

Labor Commissioner Peter Rivera will oversee the board, whose members are Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of the state Business Council; Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel Trade Council; and Timothy Grippen, retired Broome County executive.

They will hold public hearings and issue a report by February.

Advocates had high hopes for the board.

"The new wage board assigned by Governor Cuomo has a historic opportunity to address income inequality in New York, which is the worst in the country," said Claudia Leon, a tipped worker and member of Make the Road New York, a non-profit group that advocates on behalf of Latinos and working-class communities.

"As we push for the state to set a higher minimum wage for workers that accounts for regional costs of living, it would be unacceptable for some workers to be left behind," said Michael Stewart, executive director of UnitedNY, which advocates for low-wage workers.

While restaurant workers get a $5 minimum wage, hotel workers who get tips get $5.65 per hour.

There are about 229,000 such workers in both categories in New York, according to Make the Road.

Under the deal worked out by the governor and lawmakers last year, the regular minimum wage will rise to $8.75 on December 31 and to $9 on Dec. 31, 2015.


Categories: State/Local

Did Cuomo cross line?

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 1:07am


Following a New York Times report on the Cuomo administration's meddling with the Moreland Commission panel on public corruption, one question could prove crucial: While the governor has the legal right to involve himself in the workings of a Moreland panel, do he or his staffers face steeper legal peril because this panel was also empowered as deputy attorneys general?

The Times story detailed attempts by the second floor to steer the panel, including efforts to wave off subpoenas to entities with connections to Cuomo's campaign. It described attempts by Cuomo's Secretary Larry Schwartz to block one subpoena issued to a media ad-buying firm used in the past by the governor, and commission Executive Director Regina Calcaterra's efforts to put the brakes on a subpoena to the Real Estate Board of New York City, a group that includes many generous Cuomo donors.

Wednesday brought a barrage of criticism for Cuomo from both left and right.

The good-government group Common Cause called the behavior described in the story "a shocking rebuke to the principles of our democracy," while Cuomo's Republican gubernatorial opponent Rob Astorino told reporters the administration was "knee-deep" in scandal.

Cuomo's camp contends his office had the right to guide the panel under the language of the 1907 Moreland Act, which allows the governor to investigate any executive branch agency or related entity. While past governors have used the statute to examine the inner workings of government and specific industries, it does not give the governor power to directly investigate the Legislature.

But Cuomo's public corruption panel, created a year ago and scrapped in March in exchange for a reduced package of ethics reforms tucked into this year's state budget deal, was special: By allowing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to give the lawyers who served as commissioners the powers of deputy attorneys general, Cuomo argued that he had created a body that could look into the scandal-scarred Legislature.

It's a tactic that legal scholars and others contend effectively stripped the executive branch of its lawful ability to steer the panel.

"This entity was never a Moreland Commission — it was a hybrid," Richard Brodsky, a former assemblyman and senior fellow at the public policy organization Demos. "Part of it was a Moreland Commission; part of it was an attorney general investigation. ... These folks had a legal obligation to make independent judgments and not do what they were told."

In a 13-page response to the Times' questions for its story, the governor's office insisted no Moreland Commission could ever be independent from the governor's office. "It is purely a creation of the governor's power under the law, which vests subpoena power in the governor or his designee," the statement reads.

The question yet to be answered is if a share of oversight power would have gone to Schneiderman because of his ability to deputize commission members. The attorney general's office has stayed away from Moreland-related work since Schneiderman deputized the select commissioners when the panel was convened.

Former Republican Attorney General Dennis Vacco said it was "improper" for Schwartz to get involved in the commission's activities, and believes Schneiderman should have played a more involved role.

"It appeared to me at the time (the panel was announced) that Schneiderman was a partner in this and had appointments on it in order for them to have the clout of a prosecutor," Vacco said Wednesday. "... Because these were his deputies, Schneiderman had a greater responsibility to the investigations than just a passive appointee to the Moreland Commission. He had an obligation to effectively manage them and their investigations. ... If they were being thwarted, he had an obligation to speak up."

Schneiderman's office declined to comment.

Even considering the hybrid nature of this Moreland panel, Albany Law School professor Vincent Bonventre said Cuomo and his aides likely won't face legal repercussions for simply trying to steer its work.

"Politics is a lot about giving and taking and compromising and making deals," Bonventre said. "If we're talking just about that, there's no criminal conduct. If on the other hand what the evidence shows is that a politician made a deal to cover up evidence of political corruption that is criminality, then you'd have sufficient evidence for an obstruction of justice charge and other kinds of charges having to do with political corruption."

Distinguishing between the two acts can be difficult, he said.

What isn't currently up for legal interpretation is the fact that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara is looking into Moreland-related matters. While it's unclear if he is eyeing possible manipulation of the panel's work, Bonventre said the prosecutor's interest is not something to shrug off.

"That's probably the most prestigious federal prosecution office in the country," he said. "They don't bring charges lightly. They have a history of an extraordinary office with extraordinarily capable people."

Casey Seiler contributed.

Categories: State/Local

SED will put out school data early

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 1:07am


It's only July, but state Education Commissioner John King Jr. says he wants to help schools get a jump on the upcoming academic year by releasing in early August the "instructional reports," or detailed breakdowns, of this year's English and math exams for grades 3 through 8.

They would normally come out at the start of the school year.

That doesn't mean the aggregate test scores are being released, so it's still too early to say if scores as a whole are going up, going down or staying the same.

Instead, these reports, which will be sent to regional data centers affiliated with BOCES, offer granular views of individual test questions and students performance.

Aggregate test score results will be released later in the year.

"We heard from teachers, principals and superintendents who asked us to put these reports out as early as possible," King said about the exams. "We listened, and we acted. These reports have been available in prior years, but by releasing the instructional reports early, we're giving educators more time to use the assessment results in their planning for the next school year.''

While most teachers are on summer break until the new school year begins around Labor Day, superintendents and curriculum supervisors who work during the summer will be able to start analyzing the data.

"Having that information going into the new school year is important," said Terry Pratt, a lawyer and lobbyist for the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "They'll have some extra time now."

"The department's early release of the grades 3 through 8 math and ELA instructional reports is very beneficial,'' said Jackie Starks, superintendent at the Madison-Oneida BOCES.

Doing so allows strengths and weaknesses as reflected by the test scores to be pinpointed.

If students in a particular school, for example, did poorly on a fifth-grade math question about decimals, educators will know they need to spend more time on that area or examine how it's being taught.

The early release comes in response to criticism of the tests, which are tied to the new Common Core learning standards.

Teachers, administrators and parents have complained that they haven't gotten adequate guidance on how to get kids ready for the new tests.

With those complaints in mind, the state Legislature intervened earlier this year, pushing through a delay in the use of exam results for evaluating teacher performance.

This week, the Education Department said it would give out 50 percent of the questions and answers from the 2014 exams. In the past, the department released 25 percent.

Released test questions will include detailed annotations that explain correct and incorrect responses.

King and the Education Department had requested funding that would allow them to release virtually all scored test questions, but that money didn't end up in the budget. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Schneiderman's Share of the Moreland Mess

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 1:00am

Eric Schneiderman and Andrew Cuomo (Mike Groll/AP)

A plethora of questions surround Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's involvement in the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. Both Democrats and Republicans have called on Schneiderman to reveal all he knows about the commission, to launch an investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo's interference, and to pick up where the commission left off in rooting out corruption in Albany.

With the legalities and the politics unclear, pundits wonder what Schneiderman can and will do next in the ongoing Moreland saga. Interested parties are asking if the attorney general (AG) signed off on the abrupt end of the commission and its investigations, and if Schneiderman can pick up on investigations begun by Moreland if he indeed wants to. For all the questions there is one thing experts do agree on: the AG's office has very little constitutional power to investigate and prosecute corruption in state government - and this fact seems to suit both the legislative and executive branches just fine.

"It's the eternal question," says Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG): "Did Schneiderman go along with Cuomo's decision to shutter Moreland? Did Cuomo have the power to shut it down if Schneiderman deputized these guys? And if Schneiderman didn't go along with it, did he just appear to while continuing to investigate? We just don't know."

Schneiderman's entire involvement in the Moreland Commission mess, both past and present, remains a question mark as the AG has only commented to say he shouldn't comment - something that is becoming a familiar refrain for many of those involved with the commission, especially now that subpoenas have been handed down from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Sources close to Schneiderman's office says his role has in some sense been distorted. They insist that Schneiderman did not name nine (of the twenty-two) commission members as has been reported, instead he was tasked with recommending nine who were eventually approved by Cuomo. From there they say he stood back and let the commission do its work - because otherwise Schneiderman, who served in the state Legislature for years, could have been charged with interference, allegations Cuomo himself now faces.

Despite calls for action by those dismayed by Cuomo's actions, legally Schneiderman may not have many hands to play as the state constitution severely limits his power to investigate corruption in state government. The role of the AG is to act as the legal representative of the governor and protect state laws; the AG's office can pursue civil cases of corruption involving public funds, but does not have the constitutional authority to pursue criminal corruption. Unless the Governor directs the AG to do so.

While the Moreland Act gives Cuomo broad authority to appoint a commission to investigate the executive branch, it does not give him authority over the Legislature. To circumvent that, Cuomo brought in Schneiderman to deputize Moreland members so that the commission would have jurisdiction over the state Senate and Assembly.

It's a move that multiple members of the Moreland Commission admit they aren't sure they ever understood the legal implications of.

SUNY New Paltz professor of political science Gerald Benjamin said it is unclear exactly what the deputization means. "The governor could have invoked his capacity to put the attorney general to work on investigating public corruption," Benjamin said. "They made no specific reference to any statute or constitutional provision or law. It seems like they were trying to give people who were already able to investigate criminal acts (district attorneys) the ability to expand their jurisdiction to state officials. But it isn't clear that is what it actually did."

However, Benjamin believes, "the governor did this to involve the attorney general without giving him any power." The tactic Benjamin alleges points to both the rivalry between Cuomo and Schneiderman and the efforts of the governor to make Moreland appear to be more independent than he seems to have actually let it be.

Before Cuomo's favorite threat to the Legislature became the word "Moreland," he was a proponent of promising to give the AG a "blanket referral" to investigate government corruption - and sought this when he was AG. But after taking office Cuomo backed away from that approach and his aides have insisted it is actually illegal.

The question of legality is extremely important when trying to understand what exactly Bharara might look into when it comes to Cuomo's interference with the commission - and in terms of Schneiderman's role.

Cuomo's Democratic primary challenger, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, asserted on Monday that Cuomo did not properly shut the commission down because he did not issue an executive order to end it, and that Schneiderman could continue to investigate corruption in the Legislature as well as Cuomo's interference with the commission's investigations.

"This was a referral to the Attorney General's office, not just a Moreland Commission." Teachout said in a statement. "The Executive Order changed the nature of the investigation. Counter to what the Governor may say or want, he can't just declare an Attorney General investigation over."

A spokesperson for Schneiderman responded to questions on the subject, "Our office cannot comment on ongoing or potential investigations arising out of the Moreland Commission, whether they are being pursued by our office or other prosecutors."

A look at the executive order creating this Moreland Commission shows that there is very specific language detailing who Moreland was supposed to refer cases to. The order states district attorneys may be referred cases as well as the State Police, though the State Police is ultimately controlled by Cuomo. It doesn't appear that the creation of Moreland gives Schneiderman any more power than he had before - which may explain Schneiderman's silence.

Teachout insists Schneiderman is one of the only Democrats in the state with the nerve to challenge Cuomo. "While most elected Democrats have remained silent, the Attorney General has shown a willingness to challenge the Governor in the past, and has the power to continue the investigation - this time looking at the Cuomo Administration's interference in the work of his deputies," she said in a statement. "In the wake of the scandal, Attorney General Schneiderman has the opportunity to take leadership and restore faith in government."

Teachout told Gotham Gazette "it is dangerous" for too much power to be invested in the executive branch and that a strong Attorney General is key to fighting government corruption.

Controversy over Moreland interference seems set to dog Cuomo throughout his re-election campaign and now Schneiderman is beginning to see the commission at play in his.

Thus far, Schneiderman has also remained quiet in the face of blistering attacks from his Republican opponent John Cahill.

"He has an absolute responsibility as chief law enforcement officer of the state to get out there and say what he knew, when he knew it, and what he did about it," Cahill said on Binghamton Now last week. "This is going to be a major issue, not just for the campaign, but for the future of the State of New York."

Schneiderman's office has responded by touting his success in reaching political corruption settlements and noting his office's limitations. "He's done all this despite the absence of original jurisdiction covering public corruption — a statutory weakness he's fought to change — and helped overcome that constraint through an innovative and unprecedented partnership with the state comptroller, Operation Integrity," said a campaign spokesperson.

Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli have partnered to fight public corruption, but their combined powers still don't allow them the kind of power a blanket referral from the governor would infer.

So what is Schneiderman to do now? The likelihood is that he tries to weather the storm, though any action he takes may depend on how much he does know about Moreland and what legal powers his office determines he has. Also how much traction his opponent, Cahill, seems to be getting. Cuomo and Schneiderman may not get along, but for now their fates may be tied together. Early polls have indicated that neither is in much jeopardy in his re-election bid, but after all of the recent Moreland fallout, subsequent polls could begin to tell a different story - and there's no telling what further fallout is still to come.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette


Categories: State/Local

Hopes harnessed to casino sites

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 1:07am


While the state Gaming Commission focuses on siting four new upstate casinos, investors who want to bring a new harness track and video lottery terminal parlor to the North Country are waiting. It's a condition that could last for years.

Mark F. Bohn and his partners want to build a track, a video lottery terminal parlor and an off-track betting facility on 660 acres outside the Jefferson County village of Alexandria Bay, though that deal is contingent on winning state licenses. In order to qualify for a VLT license, a bidder must have some sort of racing license as well.

Legislation passed in 1940 initially set the number of harness racing tracks in New York at seven. After World War II, legislators created another license to accommodate the surge of interest in the sport. The eighth harness track license that Bohn is seeking has been up for grabs since 2006, when the Syracuse Mile track stopped running parimutuel races.

Three different bidders tried and failed to win the license in 2011, including one proposal on the same tract of land — roughly 30 minutes from the Canadian border — on which Bohn would like to develop the gaming center along with an outlet mall, 128-room hotel and 500-seat convention center.

The state's harness tracks are preparing for changes to the regional gaming landscape. This fall, the state is expected to award four licenses for upstate full-gaming casinos, a competition that several experienced racino operators — including those behind Saratoga Casino & Raceway and Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier — have jumped into with proposals.

It remains to be seen what effect the new competition will have on racino business once the new gaming halls open.

Even as the national gaming industry worries about flagging revenues, Bohn thinks his project can appeal to the cross-border market; the closest harness racing competitor would be 200 miles south at Vernon Downs.

"The location really is the key to us," said Bohn, a Rochester businessman with roots in the North Country.

Alexandria Bay falls within the St. Regis Mohawks' exclusivity zone around the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in Hogansburg. That zone was negotiated by the tribe and Cuomo last year in exchange for the renewed flow of revenue payments to the state, which had been suspended during a long-standing dispute.

"The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe would oppose any development that may jeopardize our established gaming operations," said tribal spokeswoman Allyson Doctor. "As for development in Jefferson or St. Lawrence counties, we would of course be concerned with substantiated discussion of development — however, to our knowledge these proposals do not yet have political support."

According to an official at the Gaming Commission, the state's agreement with the Mohawks doesn't prohibit a harness track or VLT facility from operating.

According to Bohn, the proposed project would cost $89 million, create 500 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs in hospitality, gaming and entertainment once the facility is completed.

Bohn wouldn't name the other members of his development group except to say it includes heavy hitters in the financial, gaming and horse racing industries. An outside consulting firm performed a market study for Bohn and his partners, and that data makes them think there's room for another harness track in New York.

Bohn isn't alone in his desire to tap into the destination-tourism potential of the area: Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that a lodging and conference facility 30 minutes away from Alexandria Bay would receive $3 million in funding from the Regional Economic Development Council initiative.

The state Gaming Association, the trade group that represents harness racing facilities, said 2013 data show the racinos contributed $878 million in revenue to education funding.

Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, said that if this bid can bring in enough VLT revenue, it could offer sizable purses.

"When there's money involved," Faraldo said, "horsemen will go anywhere."

He said the proposed track could also attract riders who race in Ontario or Montreal. Still, he didn't necessarily believe that this track's location would keep consumers from crossing the border to the nearby Canadian casinos.

Right now, Bohn can only hope for a swift decision on the four upstate casinos. And even then, it's unclear how quickly the Gaming Commission will begin the procurement process for the eighth license.

"We'll be more than ready for the day when (the Gaming Commission) gets to the Request for Application," he said. • 518-454-5619 • @boreskes

Categories: State/Local

Husband in murder rap

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 1:07am


A New York mother and daughter whose bodies were found in different states and remained unidentified for 19 years were killed by a close relative who is now in custody and will face murder charges, authorities said Wednesday.

Seventy-year-old Robert Honsch, of Dalton, Ohio, faces murder charges in the death of his wife, whose body was found in Massachusetts in 1995, and the death of her teenage daughter, who was found dead in Connecticut that same year.

Authorities allege Honsch shot 53-year-old Marcia Honsch in the head. Her body was found by a hiker in October 1995 near an entrance to Tolland State Forest in western Massachusetts. A week earlier, the body of a young female was found in a parking area behind a strip mall in New Britain, Conn. She also was shot in the head.

New Britain police said Wednesday they and Massachusetts State Police have separate arrest warrants charging Honsch with murder.

According to a 2009 Times Union story, a series of developments in the case led police to the Capital Region. Three pieces of evidence — a sweatshirt, a New York state tobacco tax stamp issued in or around the Albany area and a chemical hair analysis — prompted detectives to suspect the campground victim was in the Albany area in the months before her murder.

The first lead came after the victim in western Massachusetts was found on Oct. 6, 1995, eight days after the Sept. 28 discovery of the other body in Connecticut. Massachusetts investigators tracked her Trends brand sweatshirt to a New York City-area distributor, who told them the clothing was sent to just three locations in the Albany area -- the now-closed 9.99 Stockroom stores in Schenectady, Wilton and Colonie.

Several rounds of DNA testing determined they were mother and daughter, but they remained unidentified until a woman from Virginia Beach, Va., contacted New York State Police in June looking for relatives unaccounted for since 1995.

Troopers began a missing-persons investigation into the disappearance of a mother and daughter from the New York City suburb of Brewster, and collaboration with authorities in Massachusetts and Connecticut determined the victims were Marcia Honsch and her daughter Elizabeth, 16. They had last lived in the Putnam County town of Brewster with Robert Honsch.

Authorities said examination of items found near Elizabeth Honsch's body connected him to the scene.

Categories: State/Local

State fine for pet theft raised to $1,000

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 1:07am


New York on Wednesday raised the fine for trying to steal someone's pet to $1,000.

The amendment to state law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo was effective immediately. The old maximum fine of $200 was set in 1970, according to the governor's office.

"For many New Yorkers, a pet can be an extension of their family, which is why pet theft is a particularly heartless offense," Cuomo said. "Increasing the penalties for stealing or harming dogs, cats and other animals is an important way that we can crack down on this crime."

It's a crime under the law to remove a collar or identification from a pet without the owner's permission, to seize an animal under its owner's control or to transport one without authorization in order to sell or kill it.

The American Kennel Club says it tracked from news and customer reports more than 590 pet thefts last year, ranging from puppies stolen from pet stores to purebreds snatched from parked cars and shelters.

Other New York legislation signed this week makes shining a laser light at an airplane that can disorient the pilot a crime. It's already illegal under federal law.

A new statute against aggravated harassment, defined as communicating threats of physical harm against people or property by computer or other means, replaces one struck down this year by the state Court of Appeals as unconstitutionally vague. Sponsors cited 7,600 open cases statewide where it was the most serious charge.

Other new laws expand the definition of criminal stalking to include the unauthorized use of a GPS or other electronic device to track someone and increase the penalty for public lewdness when an adult intentionally exposes himself to a child under 16.

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 27

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 07/27/2014 - 1:00am

New York City Hall


"The de Blasio family will return to New York City this afternoon, and will spend their first night at Gracie Mansion," emailed a top aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday afternoon. So, Mayor de Blasio's back from Italy and sleeping at Gracie Mansion, we know that. And, we know that City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and a council delegation are en route to Taiwan, landing there in the wee hours of Monday morning, local time.

But, we don't really know where Governor Andrew Cuomo is.

That's not exactly true, of course, but the governor's whereabouts have been a source of speculation as he has not made a public appearance since The New York Times published revelations of his office's interference in the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption this past Wednesday. According to reports, the governor will be in Buffalo on Monday talking job creation.

This week we're looking to see not just where the governor is, but what, if anything, he has to say about Moreland. It seems the governor's strategy thus far has been to stay out of public, let the 13-page response that the governor's office sent to The Times speak for itself, and send out a whole bunch of press releases about non-Moreland topics (a whopping 22 releases from Wednesday to Friday of last week). Also keep an eye out for Moreland-related news not from the governor, but from other investigators and commentators - of the journalist, legislator, candidate, and prosecutor varieties. The governor's opponents remain active - see below for more detail.

We're also watching for word from Mayor de Blasio about what his next, post-trip moves are - including his latest thoughts on the death of Eric Garner, which occurred in police custody just before de Blasio left for Italy, leading the mayor to delay his departure a day. One New York City Council Member has made clear his intentions to propose relevant legislation. And, word from the office of Public Advocate Tish James is that this week she will extend her push for videorecording of all police encounters.

And, campaign season is in full gear as more and more endorsements are made (the Amsterdam News and the Stonewall Democratic Club recently endorsed in several races, to name two major organizations), so we're watching campaign news this week - Tuesday is six weeks from primary day! On the campaign front, aside from campaigning, candidates are spending time, energy, and money this week fighting challenges to their petition signatures or residency statuses to ensure that they are actually on the ballot come September 9th - notable among these challenges are those against the residency qualifications of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout and against 79th Assembly District candidate Michael Blake.

Another thing to keep in mind: New Yorkers have until the end of the month (Thursday) to give feedback to the City's Vision Zero initiative on dangerous intersections and other hotspots of traffic danger via an interactive map.

With the City Council's speaker and delegation in Taiwan, there are no official council committee or full-body meetings this week. Many council members will, of course, be active in their districts. No council committee meetings are scheduled until August 18th as of now - and the August full-body Stated Meeting is set for Thursday, August 21st.

The run of the week in more detail:

Speaker Mark-Viverito and the council delegation land in Taiwan early Monday morning and have two public events scheduled Monday afternoon, according to the speaker's public schedule: they will meet with Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation and then tour Beitou Taipei Public Library. The council delegation includes members Mark-Viverito, Peter Koo, Robert Cornegy, Julissa Ferreras, Vinny Gentile, and Vanessa Gibson, along with staff member Erica Gonzalez and a security detail. The council members will be abroad until Saturday and are there to meet with leaders in high tech industries, learn from Taiwain's renowned sanitation systems, discuss civic engagement through technology, and consider ways to strengthen ties between New York City and Taiwan.

Mayor de Blasio has no public events scheduled for Monday.

But, union allies of the mayor will be taking notice on Monday, as families organized by Campbell Brown's education-related advocacy group will file a lawsuit in Albany court aimed at taking down teacher tenure in New York. Per The Daily News, "seven families will charge that their children are underserved in schools due to incompetent teachers — who only kept their jobs because of tenure rules that violate the kids' constitutional right to a sound education. The suit is backed by the politically connected journalist-turned-education advocate Campbell Brown."

According to Stephen Miller of StreetsBlogNYC, Council Member Stephen Levin and Transportation Alternatives will be holding an event on Monday morning to discuss the G train shutdown, which just began and is slated to last five weeks.

Per City & State NY, elected officials including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Grace Meng and Rep. Elliot Engel will hold a press conference on Monday at 12:30 p.m. with Jewish leaders "to show support for Israel's right to defend itself, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, Manhattan." New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer will be speaking.

On Monday, the Samuel Field Y will host a Women's Economic Summit. The event, which will feature Congressional Reps. Steve Israel and Grace Meng, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Assembly Member Nily Rozic, will include input and questions from Brooklyn Queens NOW, Center for the Women of New York, Sanctuary for Families, and the Korean American Family Service Center. The Summit will include discussions concerning a range of financial topics.

On Monday at 5:30 p.m., the Contracts Committee of the Panel for Educational Policy, which consists of 13 appointed members and the Chancellor, will hold its second meeting of the month at the Tweed Courthouse building, main headquarters of the Department of Education.

And on Monday evening, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams hosts a Martin Luther King, Jr. Concert Series night at Wingate Park, and at which Comptroller Stringer will give remarks.

It's six weeks until primary day! Get up to speed on the 2014 New York State elections through our Gotham Gazette Elections Center.

Council Member Corey Johnson will hold a participatory budgeting (PB) information session for his council district on Tuesday. The session, which is Johnson's second PB informational event, will provide residents of the district with information concerning the new process and its allowing them to decide how to spend roughly $1 million in discretionary funds. Read more about the City Council's expanded PB.

On Tuesday night, City & State NY will host its State of Brooklyn Reception at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The event "will play host to Brooklyn lawmakers, leaders in public policy, business and the media" and include interviews with Brooklyn Borough President Adams, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, and others.

On Wednesday, there will be a public meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, which consists of 13 appointed members and the Chancellor.

Marsha Michael, a candidate running to replace disgraced former assembly member Eric Stevenson in the 79th Assembly District, will host a campaign fundraiser on Wednesday evening.

Also on Wednesday evening, The St. John's Office of Community Relations will be sponsoring the 16th Annual Great Lawn Summer Concert in Queens on Wednesday night. The event will feature Willie Martinez, La Familia Sextet, and members of the Queens Symphony Orchestra, as well as a performance from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

On Wednesday evening, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino will be in Suffolk County at the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge in Lindenhurst from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal and Community Board 7 will host a "Public Meeting for the West End Corridor" on Thursday night. The meeting will include a presentation from the New York City Department of Transportation to the Transportation Committee of Community Board 7 for the redesign of 35-block portion of West End Avenue. The new design is a response to the traffic pattern problems that surfaced after two pedestrian deaths in the neighborhood in recent months.

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins will hold a campaign organizing conference call on Thursday. Additionaly, Hawkins tells Gotham Gazette that he is planning a significant campaign schedule in New York City for the week of August 3rd.

On Thursday evening, the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) will host a public forum to discuss policing in New York City. The event, Broken Windows Policing: A True Tale of Two Cities, will be moderated by Jeffrion Aubry, Speaker Pro Tempore of the State Assembly. It will include a panel discussion of the changing NYPD practices under Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton, and "will focus on this Administration's 'broken windows' policing." Panelists will include Robert Gangi, president of PROP, Linda Sarsour of Arab American Association of NY, Professor Alex Vitale of Brooklyn College, among others.

Also on Thursday, Astorino will be in Suffolk County at East by Northeast in Montauk from 6 to 8 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
It's the summer - and Friday is August 1st(!) - so of course Friday and the weekend are sparse - but if you have intel on events, please let us know!

Here's one: On Saturday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will open a multi-media exhibit: Bringing the World to the Fair: The Port Authority's Role — Trade, Travel and Tourism in Queens, the Region and the World. The exhibit, which will be at the Queens Botanical Garden is part of a series of 2014 events celebrating the 1964 and 1939 World's Fairs.

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: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Kristen Meriwether and Ben Max in New York City and David King in Albany




Categories: State/Local

Stonewall Democrats Vote to Back Cuomo, Rebuke IDC Members

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 07/27/2014 - 1:00am

(photo: @NYGovCuomo)

On Wednesday night more than one hundred members of the Stonewall Democratic Club, the city's first and largest LGBT Democratic organization, gathered to endorse a slate of statewide candidates. The club delivered two clear messages: Gov. Andrew Cuomo has their support and members of the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, do not.

Cuomo's likely primary opponent, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, showed up personally to ask the club for its endorsement and while she enjoyed some support in the room many members wondered why they would switch allegiances when Cuomo has delivered on a number of major LGBT issues.

The morning of the endorsement, the Cuomo administration announced the creation of a statewide taskforce to better collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity in an effort to improve services to LGBT New Yorkers. On June 29, Pride Day, the Cuomo administration announced its "Bending The Curve" three-point program to end AIDS in New York. Arguably Cuomo's biggest achievement thus far as governor was shepherding a same-sex marriage bill through the state Senate in 2011, where it had failed before, and into law.

These achievements and others were fresh on the minds of many a Stonewall member Wednesday night. Teachout looked to take advantage of fresh revelations reported by The New York Times on Cuomo's manipulation of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, but she faced questions about what she had done for the LGBT community. "In the next few days he has an obligation to the people of New York to explain what happened," Teachout said of Cuomo and Moreland. "To share the e-mails, to say what he knew and when he knew it. And he has a chance to come clean, and a chance to come clean at this moment even if he failed to clean up Albany."

Club members had other things on their minds. "We have a lot of straight allies who were advocating for marriage, I didn't hear your voice come up once," said one club member who detailed Cuomo's AIDS efforts and gender task force . "So why should we fire somebody with his LGBT record?"

Teachout responded by invoking Cuomo's alliance with Senate Republicans and his failure on ethics initiatives. "The core, root problem here is we have a governor who is serving presidential ambitions and serving his wealthy donors, and not serving the core traditional Democratic values that I share," Teachout said to some applause.

Both state Senator Daniel Squadron and Assembly Member Matthew Titone addressed the crowd on Cuomo's behalf and listed his liberal bona fides.

Eunic Ortiz, president of the Stonewall Democrats, said the following day by phone that there was a sense among members that Teachout wasn't connected on important LGBT issues. "People remember who was there on big issues and they remember if you weren't," said Ortiz.

Cuomo faced a stiffer challenge in securing endorsements from other city-based LGBT clubs earlier this year. The Jim Owles club, which touts itself as a citywide club, endorsed Teachout quickly after she began her campaign. The LAMBDA Independent Democrats of Brooklyn had an intense debate where members were called from their homes because the vote was so close. Stonewall does not disclose vote totals, it is unclear by what margin Cuomo took the endorsement.

For some members of LGBT Democratic clubs, what Cuomo hasn't done on their issues combined with his right-leaning fiscal policy is enough for them to support someone else. For years the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act (GENDA) has passed in the Assembly and been buried in the Senate. LGBT advocates would have liked seeing Cuomo push the Senate Republicans he partnered with to bring the issue to a vote. The fact that he succeeded where others failed on marriage equality indicates to them that he simply wasn't committed to the issue.

Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles club, has said it would be "condescending and demeaning" to base support on the issue of same-sex marriage alone.

"The governor has expressed support for both bills and he remains committed to supporting both bills through passage in the legislature," Cuomo campaign spokesman Peter Kauffman told Gotham Gazette when asked about Cuomo's backing of GENDA and a bill to ban gay conversion therapy for people 18-years-old and under.

The board of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID) voted unanimously earlier this year to back Cuomo. Club president Julian Kline said the club is still energized by Cuomo's success on marriage equality and looks forward to his future accomplishments. "Since our endorsement, our members' views of the governor have definitely been validated, with his announcement during Gay Pride for an unprecedented and ambitious plan to greatly reduce the AIDS epidemic in New York State," said Kline. "Also since our endorsement, Governor Cuomo has committed to seeing the Senate IDC and Democrats work together for a more productive majority - a move that will clearly help advance the legislative process for GENDA and conversion therapy."

When it comes to the IDC, Stonewall showed its disappointment with the breakaway Democrats by endorsing two primary challengers to IDC members. Stonewall delivered an endorsement to insurgent candidate John Liu, former New York City comptroller and mayoral candidate, who is challenging IDC Sen. Tony Avella for his Queens seat. Avella abruptly left the Senate Democratic conference earlier this year to caucus with the Independent Democrats. The two groups have since decided to work together after elections in the fall, but Liu has maintained his challenge to Avella and has outraised Avella by a significant margin, while also collecting many union, club, and other endorsements. Many Democrats say that Liu's campaign is sending a clear message to Avella. One Senate Democrat said, "We are sending a message that you don't just walk away from the conference without even a courtesy call to the leader."

Liu addressed Stonewall after thunderous applause to his introduction. "I'm running for the state Senate in Northeast Queens against somebody who was elected as a Democrat but has voted for the Republican leadership, thus, stymying some very progressive legislation that if the Democrats had control would have passed a long time ago," Liu said before expressing his support for GENDA. Liu said he almost wished that marriage equality had not been passed so that, "I could vote for it once I get there."

Avella was not in attendance.

Stonewall also endorsed former city council member Oliver Koppell in his challenge to IDC head Sen. Jeff Klein. Klein, who was in attendance on Wednesday night, faced hostile questioning from the Stonewall crowd, with one member asking, "Although you're running as a Democrat, you're caucusing with Republicans, you're the reason Dean Skelos and not a Democrat is running the conference in the Senate. Because of you GENDA won't come up for a vote. Why the [expletive] should a Democratic club endorse someone like you who is keeping the Republicans in power in the Senate?"

"You are forgetting your history, sir," Klein shot back, insisting that the IDC had helped bring stability back to the Senate.

The exchange got testy and when Klein faced a question on GENDA from former Stonewall president Melissa Sklarz, Klein blamed the Democrats for not having enough votes.

And, Stonewall endorsed in the race between incumbent Bronx Democratic Sen. Gustavo Rivera and City Council Member Fernando Cabrera. The race is particularly important to LGBT clubs because Cabrera has supported anti-gay groups, has strong conservative ties, and appears to have had major fundraising help from Klein, although Klein has distanced himself from Cabrera.

Rivera has donated $250 from his campaign funds to Stonewall Democrats and $500 to the Jim Owles club.

Roskoff said that his Jim Owles club formed because it has different priorities than Stonewall and declined to comment on their endorsements.

One major difference between Stonewall and Jim Owles is that the Owles Club makes independent expenditures on behalf of candidates - mailing their endorsements to residents across the city. Roskoff told Gotham Gazette that the club will likely mail on behalf of Liu and Rivera this year. The club has not met to decide exactly which races they will mail in or how much they will spend.

Stonewall's endorsement doesn't come without perks, as members routinely get involved in races that are important to them. Ortiz said that the group has not yet decided which races they will target. However, it is expected the group will be active in the race between Rivera and Cabrera as well as the Klein-Koppell race.

"I think it is telling that our members chose to endorse against IDC members who they perceive as responsible for blocking progress on the issues that are important to us, like GENDA," said Ortiz. "They backed a candidate in the governor who they felt had tried to move those issues and who will move forward on them in the future."

[More on the race for New York Governor]

by David King & Karina Shakarian, Gotham Gazette




Categories: State/Local

Gender identity to aid services

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 07/26/2014 - 11:07pm


State agencies have begun adding gender identity to their data collection, part of an effort Gov. Andrew Cuomo said will help the state better meet the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers.

A new report Wednesday identified eight agencies, including the Department of Health, collecting or updating their data systems to gather those demographics.

"New York Ssate has a long history of advancing progressive ideals," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "By being more inclusive with how state agencies monitor the demographics of those they serve, we can address health and financial disparities, safety concerns, and a myriad of other issues that impact LGBT New Yorkers."

New York's Office of Mental Health in 2011 began including sexual orientation and gender identity questions on admission forms at state mental health facilities, using it in a training curriculum for clinicians intended to improve treatment for LGBT people.

In 2012, the state Office for the Aging updated its system to ensure including LGBT seniors, whom research indicates are likelier to live alone and lack vital support systems.

Jonathan Lang, director of governmental affairs and community projects for the Empire State Pride Agenda, said the information "will allow us to create more tailored approaches to effectively reduce the well-documented health disparities adversely impacting our community."

The advocacy group said transgender New Yorkers still face disproportionate disadvantages for basic needs and services, most have been mistreated on the job, half have been harassed in public accommodations, and many have been denied a home or apartment.

Rochester this week clarified its local law against transgender discrimination, while 10 others statewide now have similar measures, Empire State Pride Agenda spokeswoman Allison Steinberg said. Others are New York City; Albany, Tompkins, Suffolk and Westchester counties; and the cities of Buffalo, Binghamton, Syracuse and Ithaca.

Categories: State/Local
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