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Local officials have edge in trust

Albany Times/Union - 7 hours 58 min ago

Albany

A majority of New Yorkers may not place much trust in any level of government, but if they have to choose, they're trusting their local elected officials the most.

A Siena College poll released Thursday shows that 43 percent of voters trust their local government most or all of the time, compared to just 28 percent who place the same level of trust in either the federal or state government.

Upstaters are among the most trusting of their local officials, the poll shows, with 47 percent of voters saying they trust local government at least most of the time. Another 36 percent of upstaters say they trust local government some of the time.

Job performance ratings mirror those thoughts. Forty-two percent of voters statewide say their local government is doing either a good or excellent job, compared to 27 percent who say the same about the federal government and 30 percent who say the same about state government.

"While we are enthused by the comparatively high grades local governments receive from taxpayers, we know that more must be done to build trust and increase satisfaction among all New Yorkers," the directors of the New York Conference of Mayors, the New York State Association of Counties and the state Association of Towns, all of which partnered with Siena on the poll, said in a statement.

The new data comes at a time when trust in state government has taken a major blow with yet another scandal. In the wake of former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver's arrest in January, 92 percent of voters said in another Siena poll released earlier this week that corruption in state government is a serious problem.

While a majority said corruption also is a serious problem at the local level, the percentage was 32 points less (60 percent).

Thursday's poll surveyed 815 registered voters statewide. The margin of error is +/- 3.4 percent.

mhamilton@timesunion.com 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Outside Experts, Inside Employees Agree: Cuomo's Email Purge Misguided

Gotham Gazette - 9 hours 5 min ago

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)

Governor Andrew Cuomo's new 90-day email deletion policy for all state agencies is being met with widespread disapproval. Experts say it is terrible for transparency; the people who have to abide by the mandate say they don't feel qualified to implement it and that it isn't good for their productivity.

According to a number of state workers who spoke to Gotham Gazette on the condition of anonymity, regular work habits have been disrupted by the policy that sees emails purged after three months. They say that the policy costs them time because to abide by it they are forced to weigh the State's monumentally large email retention policy against the purge policy, and then ferret out and save important emails.

There is also concern that losing emails will disrupt workflow because employees won't be able to refer back to previous conversations by searching their inboxes, as people often do.

The State began the program after consolidating a myriad of email systems into Microsoft Office 365. Capital New York reported the start of the program last week. The program actually gives the administrator the ability to purge employee emails after one day. A coalition of technology- and transparency-minded groups including Reinvent Albany and the NYCLU wrote the governor last month to oppose implementation of the program, arguing that it would cripple Freedom of Information Act laws (FOIL).

"This policy was adopted without public notice or comment," reads the letter. "Furthermore, we are extremely concerned that the inevitable destruction of email records under your 90-day automatic deletion policy directly undermines other public accountability laws like the False Claims Act."

Cuomo's IT chief Maggie Miller was grilled about the policy during a budget hearing last week. She defended the policy, saying in part, "It's also a matter of, actually, encouraging good behavior, prudent and responsible use of state resources." In terms of concern over space issues and expense, Microsoft Office 365 offers decades worth of email retention.

The Cuomo administration has billed the deletion program as a way to improve efficiency, but workers say it's a hinderance and that they don't feel qualified to decide which emails should be saved in case of lawsuits or FOIL requests. "This just isn't my job," said one employee.

State rules pertaining to what emails should be saved are extensive - they take up 118 pages and 215 separate categories.

State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, told Gotham Gazette that she learned of the policy during that budget hearing and was "horrified."

"How many state employees understand the language in the policy about what should be preserved?" Kruger asked. "I asked three FOIL lawyers how complicated it is and whether a layman could interpret the rules and they laughed."

Krueger has a bill in the works that would overturn the 90-day policy and establish retention timelines for different areas of government. The bill would add electronic communication to the state's archive laws. She says her legislation will be complicated because it covers so many areas, but takes some inspiration from the Federal Capstone Email Management Policy. It would also make all branches of government, including the Legislature, subject to FOIL. Krueger said she expects bill drafting to be complete in about a week.

There is concern among some legislators and advocates who want to stop Cuomo's policy that Krueger's bill is too far-reaching to actually pass. One legislator told Gotham Gazette with condition of anonymity that they felt making the Legislature subject to FOIL is actually a "poison pill," and virtually guarantees it will not pass.

Krueger said that her bill is not designed as an attack on Cuomo. "I hope this is a situation where the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Maybe the governor made a mistake. This isn't a spat. I'm not here to go 'Ha, ha! I caught you screwing up!' I am here to repair [the situation] because I care about the democratic process."

Although the uproar over the policy has been sudden and sharp it isn't exactly surprising that the Cuomo administration implemented it. The administration is known for being extremely secretive, and has been working on the implementation of the program for years.

Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo's primary opponent from last year and author of a book on political corruption, has slammed the policy and pointed out that Cuomo is under federal investigation for tampering with The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.

"Everyone knows that Albany - all of it, executive and legislative - has a corruption problem. Some of it's legal, some of it's illegal," Teachout told Gotham Gazette. " At this particular moment, with such low trust in Albany, there's no excuse for an email deletion policy. He should be opening the books, not burning them after three months. Transparency isn't the full answer. X-rays don't cure patients. But you need them to figure out what's going on."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Categories: State/Local

Union Paradise: As industrial jobs fade, unionized public sector workers grab a larger share of the workforce

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

The Capital Region is tops in the nation for per capita union membership, according to a new national survey.

An estimated 40 percent of working people in the greater Capital Region statistical area are covered by union contracts, according to the latest figures compiled by two economics professors in Georgia and Texas.

The "metropolitan statistical area" used in the data covers Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schoharie counties. The survey suggests roughly 169,000 people are covered under union contracts.

Moreover, New York state as a whole is the nation's most heavily unionized state, with almost 26 percent, or 2 million workers, covered by organized labor.

The reasons for the Capital Region's high rates is straightforward: As the number of traditionally unionized industrial jobs in the region and state continues to dwindle, organized public-sector workers make up a larger proportion of the workforce.

The data, available at UnionStats.com, shows 29 percent of the region's private-sector workers are unionized, while a whopping 77 percent of those in the public sector work under a labor contract.

"Our three biggest sectors are government, education and health care, and all of those three are heavily unionized," said Rocky Ferraro, executive director at the Capital District Regional Planning Commission.

Health care may play a growing role in the union movement, added Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research and a senior lecturer at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

In contrast to the factories of yesteryear, many of today's union members, she said, work at relatively low-wage jobs such as health aides or janitors.

The survey is conducted by Trinity University's Prof. David Macpherson and Georgia State University's Prof. Barry T. Hirsch.

Their survey collects responses from U.S. Census data, including questions about whether people live in households with unionized employees. They then extrapolate those responses.

In an email, Hirsch cautioned that the Albany area has a lower population than major urban centers.

The survey began in 1986, and Macpherson said one could plot out trends in union membership nationwide since then. When the first set of data was compiled, 32 percent of the region's workforce was unionized.

Overall, nationwide union membership and unionization has fallen steadily since the 1970s.

The national workforce was roughly 12 percent unionized in 2014, compared to 27 percent in 1979.

The data reflects regional differences: Union participation is higher in the Northeast, upper Midwest and West Coast and lower in the South.

The Albany area's 40 percent is followed by Modesto, Calif., with 35 percent unionization, and Atlantic City, N.J., at 32 percent.

Locations like Charleston, S.C., and Waco, Texas, for example, reported having less than 1 percent of organized workers.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

7 Capital Region schools failing

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeks to wrest control away from what his administration claims are underperforming schools, his office released a report Thursday naming 178 "failing" schools, including seven in the Capital Region.

The report says three schools in Albany, two in Schenectady and one each in Troy and Amsterdam fail to meet standards for success. All are in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide in combined English Language Arts and math scores; have not shown test performance progress; or have a graduation rate over the past three years of less than 60 percent.

More than 4,700 students attend the schools.

"This is the real scandal in Albany, the alarming fact that state government has stood by and done nothing as generation after generation of students have passed through failing schools," Cuomo said in a statement.

The largest of the failing schools is Albany High School, which the administration's report states has been failing for 10 years. Albany's Hackett Middle School has been failing just as long, the report states.

The report notes that per-pupil spending at each of the schools during the 2012-13 school year was well over the national average of $10,608. The Albany City School District spent the most of the Capital Region schools at $19,891 per student.

Cuomo, who wants to make it possible for failing schools to be taken over by outside receivers, has insisted for years that fixing failing students isn't a matter of money.

Albany Superintendent Margeurite Vanden Wyngaard disputed the claim, saying that more state funding would allow the district to extend its school day, offer more professional development for teachers, and create better opportunities for student achievement.

"The premise of receivership is that other folks can do that better," Vanden Wyngaard said in an interview Wednesday. "And I understand that notion — but we are not a business model. We are not creating a factory or parts; we are trying to develop human beings."

Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter school policy group funded by the Walton Family Foundation, operators of Wal-Mart, said on Wednesday it would urge Cuomo and state leaders to take control of the 178 underperforming public schools deemed "priority" by the State Education Department.

The Albany, Schenectady and Troy schools highlighted in the Cuomo report also were flagged by SED.

Cuomo is calling for implementation of a program similar to one in use in Massachusetts that would allow for takeover by a nonprofit, another school district or a turnaround expert if a school has failed to meet standards for three years.

Cuomo's Director of Operations Jim Malatras recently sent a letter to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch urging her to assign SED to conduct "comprehensive data and field analysis" of the Massachusetts program

Public education advocates aren't buying the administration's solution for failing schools, though.

New York State United Teachers union President Karen Magee said the report was Cuomo's "thin-skinned" response to recent rallies supporting public education.

Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, whose daughter attends Albany High, called the report "yet another negotiating ploy to distract us from the serious challenges faced in high-need urban areas."

Staff writer Brittany Horn contributed mhamilton@timesunion.com 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Grand jury debate gets start

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

New York lawmakers on Thursday began debating grand jury reforms meant to restore public trust when police are investigated.

The issue got increasing attention following last year's death of an unarmed black Staten Island man who got into a videotaped confrontation with white police officers. When no officers were indicted in Eric Garner's chokehold death, there were major protests across the city.

At a hearing on the state's criminal justice budget, several legislators questioned reform proposals by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who would establish oversight by a special prosecutor or judge, respectively, when police are accused of wrongdoing.

Lippman would also peel back the secrecy surrounding grand jury proceedings, which originated in medieval England, when no charges are brought in cases of significant public interest.

Individual legislators raised other options. Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat, said prosecutors should have to disclose publicly what charges they have grand juries consider.

He said he understood the reasons for secrecy, where witnesses should be able to speak freely.

"But a DA's an elected official. And if the people of Staten Island don't like what he charged to that jury, then they can choose to un-elect him," said O'Donnell, a former public defender. "Most crimes require intent to commit the crime. But there are some that have nothing to do with intent."

Based on his experience and the public comment by the accused police officer that he didn't intend to hurt anyone, O'Donnell said he's sure the prosecutors didn't charge any non-intentional crimes in that Staten Island grand jury.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office declined to comment on O'Donnell's remarks.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, now running for Congress, has said that New York law prohibits prosecutors from disclosing details about proceedings, with an exception for compelling and particular need.

He told The New York Times this week that he never entered the grand jury's chambers or met any of the 50 witnesses, that the case was handled by eight staffers and they did everything properly.

Garner's family has sued, trying to obtain the grand jury transcripts.

Categories: State/Local

Mail Your Vote, Then Track It?

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 12:00am

CM Kallos at a recent press conference on traffic safety (photo: @BenKallos)

NEW YORK - There is a voter turnout crisis in this country, this state, and this city. Causes abound, including mistrust of politicians and barriers to easy voting. As elected officials, advocates, and experts look for solutions, some argue an inefficient system handling absentee ballots has caused thousands of New Yorkers to miss the opportunity to cast their votes.

"We received numerous calls from frustrated voters who had not received their absentee ballot and had no way of finding out where in the process their application was," said Lauren George, associate director of Common Cause New York, an advocacy organization that promotes civic engagement.

Voter participation has been steadily declining for decades, and continues to find shocking new lows. Last November, New York was the fifth worse state in the country for voter participation, with a staggering 29.5 percent turnout. In New York City, the turnout was just above 21 percent.

"In this age of devastatingly low voter confidence in our elections," said George, "making voting easy and convenient for citizens is of critical importance."

Now, two bills introduced by members of the New York City Council aim to do just that.

Tuesday morning, the Committee on Governmental Operations, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, a Democrat from Manhattan, discussed two new pieces of legislation that could help re-engage thousands of voters in the election process.

"We want every eligible voter to register and cast a ballot," Kallos told Gotham Gazette. "Absentee ballots are essential to maximizing turnout."

Currently, a voter who wishes to cast an absentee ballot has to follow a three-step process: register to vote; request an absentee ballot; vote.

Right now, it's impossible for voters to complete the first two steps at the same time.

One of the Council's proposed bills, however, would allow New York City residents to register to vote and apply for an absentee ballot together, eliminating the usual time that slows the voting process.

The second bill, meanwhile, would require the Board of Elections to provide a website through which voters can track their absentee ballots in every step of the process.

By accessing the website, voters would know whether their application for an absentee ballot has been received, and whether it has been approved. Then, it would be possible to check if an absentee ballot has been mailed and delivered. After completing an absentee vote, New Yorkers would be able to check if their completed ballot has made it back to the Board of Election and, finally, if it has been counted.

Amy Loprest, executive director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, said in her testimony that technology already exists allowing the U.S. Postal Service to track the absentee ballots of members of the military and citizens living overseas.

A handful of states including Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Virginia already have set up a similar technology to track the absentee ballots of domestic voters as well.

"We can all track our packages online, and we should be able to track our votes in the same way," said Loprest, who spoke emphatically in favor of the bill.

"This legislation provides an opportunity for New York City to be a local leader in the use of technology to boost confidence in our elections," she added.

It is still not clear how much the City will have to spend to implement the tracking system.

Seth Flaxman, the founder and executive director of Democracy Works, a nonprofit organization that could be contracted to get the new Board of Election website up and running, said a ballot tracking feature would be easy and quite inexpensive to put in place.

"We wanted to ensure that good election technology would always be affordable for the government," said Flaxman. "It will cost what will be affordable to New York City."

Beside the costs involved in improving the absentee voting system, voters' participation seems to be a concern that goes deeper than partisan distinction.

"The idea that we have a voter turnout crisis transcends parties," said Paul Westrick, legislative aide to Kallos. "This is something that helps people across the city, across the party lines."

The bills may be tweaked and then, possibly, voted on at a governmental operations committee meeting in the near future. Each has just a few sponsors, but that does not necessarily fully measure support. If passed by the committee, they would head to the full Council.

***
by Marco Poggio, Gotham Gazette
@mrcpoggio

Categories: State/Local

The Perfect Parking Spot for Congestion Pricing

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 12:00am

(photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

New York City can achieve the goals of a long-vanquished congestion pricing plan through the management of its own parking property – all without making a single call to Albany.

New York is famously a city of contradictions and contrasts. Perhaps the most fundamental duality is its status among the world's most important cities and the fact that it yields much of its own governance to a hamlet up the Hudson River. Battling Albany is the oldest pastime in New York City politics. However, as Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to lobby for home rule and maneuver legislative alternatives, there already exists a latent opportunity to turn around one of the major defeats of the previous mayoral administration: congestion pricing.

A rare crushing defeat of the Bloomberg Administration, congestion pricing is a policy that attempts to lessen congestion in central urban areas by charging a fee to enter a demarcated zone. Following the lead of other major world cities, Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to enact a congestion pricing plan in 2008, but Albany brought the mayor's plans to a halt when Speaker Sheldon Silver could not secure enough Democratic votes to bring the plan to the floor of the Assembly - where Democrats have long-held a wide majority - before the legislative session expired.

Other professionals and advocates have renewed efforts at securing more measured transportation policy from Albany. But in the meantime, New York City can pursue many of the same goals of congestion pricing through the administration of its own property: parking spaces.

At its core, congestion pricing operates with one simple mechanism: attaching a higher cost to the activity of driving into the city center. Parking is an inherent cost associated with driving – and not just a monetary one. While the City may not have comprehensive power to demarcate congestion zones or raise tolls on Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) bridges and tunnels, parking is still inevitable at the end of every trip, and can serve as an effective proxy for raising prices on the activity of driving.

There are three main ways that New York City can lower congestion, stop subsidizing personal car ownership, and raise revenue through the management of its own parking spaces. While I go into further detail on all these reasons, and the data behind them, in a white paper published by the Roosevelt Institute, here is how the City should do so in brief:

Raise parking meter rates, and ideally enact "smart" demand-responsive pricing systems
In New York City, parking simply remains far too cheap, way below market price for how valuable a resource it is. While the rate for one hour of parking in a private garage in Manhattan can easily hit $30, the most expensive street parking in the city is $3.50 an hour. This discrepancy encourages drivers to cruise around in search of dirt-cheap street parking, and constitutes a surprisingly large portion of overall congestion. Correcting the underpricing of metered street parking has proven effective at removing this particular source of congestion in other cities, in addition to raising revenues.

The most thorough manifestation of this concept is the dynamic pricing system put into effect in San Francisco, where a "smart" grid of electronic meters allows prices to be changed based on demand in nearly real-time. New York City already administers a less precise, lower tech version of this with its "Park SMART NYC" program, which raises prices during business hours based on demand in certain neighborhoods. The Department of Transportation should expand such pricing schemes until installing the kind of infrastructure in San Francisco is viable.

Residential parking permits
While metered parking is a great illustration of how parking is subject to supply and demand pressures, it ultimately constitutes a very small percentage of all parking spaces in New York City – by some estimates, a maximum of 2 percent. The vast majority of the parking stock is completely free parking spaces on residential side streets. Such an egregious underpricing of residential spaces represents a de facto subsidy for personal car ownership within the city. In addition to removing this subsidy, a residential parking permit would raise revenue from an untapped source of rentable city property, and offers residents increased certainty that a parking space will be available when they return home – a crucial factor that helps gain support from residents.

Dedicating public spaces for car-sharing vehicles
A final solution involves careful public-private partnerships to dedicate on-street parking spaces for the exclusive use of vehicles in a car-sharing service, such as ZipCar or Cars2Go. Car-sharing services provide many benefits that have already proven popular in New York. For those who cannot afford the high costs of purchasing, insuring, and fueling a car, paying a small subscription rate and hourly fee for when they actually use a car is a viable alternative. Car-sharing can also ease the decision to move to a carless lifestyle - which should be encouraged - by providing an alternative for bigger trips such as errands to big box stores or moving.

Traffic congestion remains a critical problem in New York City. In addition to the dangers of pedestrian casualties, environmental emissions, and low quality public space resulting from car-centric design, traffic congestion is estimated to have cost New York City $1.9 billion in logistical, inventory, and personnel costs, and up to $4.6 billion in unrealized business revenue.

A comprehensive congestion pricing plan should remain a goal for anyone interested in a better New York City. But while Albany continues to seethe and combat its own corruption, there is nothing holding back a self-described progressive mayoral administration and City Council from managing the city's own public space in a smarter way.

***
Brit Byrd is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a Columbia University student.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Categories: State/Local

Akai Gurley's Neighborhood, Three Months Later

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 12:00am

Mitchel Aimss of Brooklyn (video screenshot)

EAST NEW YORK  - Tensions between the NYPD and the city's communities of color remain high, even as Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and other leaders work to ease them.

Bratton has recently addressed the issues of racial bias and police brutality in more direct terms, while calling for calm and understanding as the city continues to heal in the wake of the tragic deaths of Akai Gurley and Eric Garner, unarmed black men killed by police, and Police Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, shot by an assailant targeting cops.

Three months after the shooting death of Akai Gurley, killed in the stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing complex by NYPD Officer Peter Liang, Gotham Gazette visited Gurley's neighborhood to speak with residents. With Liang indicted and preparing for trial, and proposed police reform efforts still being debated at the city and state levels, many New Yorkers remain skeptical about police-community relations and unsure about how to fix the problem going forward. 

Akai Gurley: Three Months Later

***
by Chauncey Alcorn for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Categories: State/Local

Legislature honors Sox great Martinez

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 1:07am

ALBANY — Pedro Martinez traded in his Major League uniform for a baby-blue plaid suit Thursday as he was honored by the Legislature for his on-field accomplishments and his contributions to the Dominican community.

Martinez, who was a part of the Boston Red Sox's 2004 World Series-winning club and called Queens home a year later as a member of the New York Mets, was honored with a pair of resolutions in both the Assembly and Senate, the first Oscar De La Renta Excellence Award and a string of laudatory statements as he stood on the sidelines with a broad smile that did not fade. Meanwhile, fans waited in the galleries of each chamber and outside, clutching Dominican flags, baseballs and autograph books, hoping for a chance to meet their idol.

The honors were done as part of Dominican Heritage Week.

Sen. Adriano Espaillat said he is "a pinstripe guy," but added "who could forget the day (Martinez) struck out 17 Yankees?"

In the Assembly, Mets fan Marcos Crespo, who represents the Bronx, lauded Martinez's body of work as incredible.

Some legislators had a bit of fun, too. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, an admitted Yankee fanatic, asked the soon-to-be Hall of Famer point blank, "Who's your daddy?" The reference was to Martinez's famed quote calling the Yankees his "daddy" after getting knocked around late in the 2004 season. Martinez and the Red Sox got the last laugh when Boston beat New York in the American League Championship Series en route to the World Series.

Martinez, wearing that broad smile, pointed back at the speaker with both index fingers and laughed.

— Matthew Hamilton

Categories: State/Local

3 arrested in NY, Florida in plot to join Islamic State

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 1:07am

NEW YORK (AP) — Three men accused of plotting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State and wage war against the United States were arrested on terrorism charges Wednesday, federal officials said.

Akhror Saidakhmetov, a Brooklyn resident and citizen of Kazakhstan, was arrested at Kennedy International Airport, where he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul, authorities said. Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, a resident of Brooklyn and citizen of Uzbekistan, had a ticket to travel to Istanbul next month and was arrested in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said. Abror Habibov, 30, accused of helping fund Saidakhmetov's efforts, was arrested in Florida.

They are charged with attempt and conspiracy to provide material support. If convicted, each faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The men were in custody, and it was not clear if they had attorneys who could comment on the charges. They were scheduled to appear in federal court later Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors say Juraboev, 24, first came to the attention of law enforcement in August, when he posted on an Uzbek-language website that propagates the Islamic State ideology.

"Greetings! We too want to pledge our allegiance and commit ourselves while not present there," he wrote, according to federal authorities. "Is it possible to commit ourselves as dedicated martyrs anyway while here?"

Officials said they believed he planned to travel from Turkey to Syria to join the terror group. Prosecutors say he, along with Saidakhmetov, 19, also threatened an attack in the U.S. if they were unable to join the Islamic State. Juraboev's plans included attacks against President Barack Obama or planting a bomb on Coney Island, officials said.

Federal officials say Juraboev identified Saidakhmetov as a friend and co-worker with a shared ideology. The two exchanged messages on how to get overseas, and Saidakhmetov and an informant watched videos of Islamic State training camps in Syria, according to court papers.

Habibov operates kiosks that repair phones and sell kitchenware in malls in Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Philadelphia. He employed Saidakhmetov last fall and winter and said he would help fund his travel, though he did not mention a specific sum of money, prosecutors said. The two were spotted in Brooklyn purchasing a ticket for Saidakhmetov to travel to Turkey, officials said.

The Islamic State group largely consists of Sunni militants from Iraq and Syria but has also drawn fighters from across the Muslim world and Europe.

Federal officials have expressed alarm at the idea that Americans could travel to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State or train there and return to the United States to carry out attacks against the homeland.

Categories: State/Local

Queries to Cuomo veer far off-topic

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

The official topics at Gov. Andrew Cuomo's cabinet meeting on Wednesday at the Capitol were his previously announced proposals to fight rape and sexual assault on college campuses and his desire to devote $25 million to expanding prekindergarten programs for 3-year-olds.

But most reporters' questions concerned public corruption — not surprising, perhaps, on the day after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's arraignment on charges brought by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara.

Bharara is reportedly looking into the demise of Cuomo's Moreland Commission panel a year ago. Cuomo was asked if he, his staff or his attorneys had been subpoenaed or contacted by federal investigators.

"Not myself," Cuomo said, adding that he might not be aware of all contacts with members of his staff: "You'd have to ask people individually."

Later in the day, his director of communications, Melissa DeRosa, said in a statement that "no employee of the executive chamber" has received a subpoena; she referred any future questions on the investigation to Bharara's office.

Cuomo said the public shouldn't worry that his administration would be swamped by the sort of ethical tsunami that rolled over the Assembly after Silver's arrest in January on fraud and extortion charges. He emphasized that the state had made "tremendous progress" in disclosure of elected officials' outside income and private clients, and talked up the five-point ethics package that he has demanded be included in the state budget.

"If you look at the genesis of most of the (corruption) cases, it is because you have a part-time Legislature, and the part-time legislator can also have an outside business," Cuomo said. " ... Many of them are lawyers. They can represent private clients, and you don't know who the private client is, and that private client can basically be represented on anything. And the case that keeps being made over and over and over is there was a conflict between who the legislator represented privately versus their public interest."

As a result, he said, public policy is often made or stymied in the shadows.

"Why doesn't tort reform ever get passed by the Legislature? Why not? These little secrets that never sit right," he said.

Asked if the executive branch should be subject to the same level of disclosure as legislators, Cuomo said, "Structurally, you don't have the conflicts with the executive because you don't have the opportunity for the conflict."

When it was pointed out that the governor has not yet released the full details of his book deal with HarperCollins, an arm of media giant News Corp., for his memoir "All Things Possible," he said: "I have released the income I have gotten from the book deal."

Cuomo's tax returns, which were made available to reporters last year, show that he received $188,333 from the publisher in 2013; his most recent filings with the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics show that he is in line to be paid deferred compensation of between $550,000 and $650,000 from the deal. He has refused to give the full scope of the contract.

"Hang around next year and you'll see the other payment," he said. " ... Be real: It's a book company, that is News Corp. You know that company, you know who owns it. ... You come up with some theory on how there was a conflict writing a book, then we'll talk about it at that time."

The International Business Times reported Wednesday morning that News Corp. had lobbied the executive branch for measures that benefited its bottom line — including a sales tax break for online publications.

"I have no idea that they lobbied for it," Cuomo said. "I don't even know what it is, by the way."

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

At Initial Hearing, Council Members Question Budget Transparency

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:00am

CM Ferreras questions administration officials (photo: @JulissaFerreras)

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio calls his budget fiscally responsible, progressive, and honest. But is it transparent? According to members of the City Council, it needs some improvement in that regard.

On Wednesday, the Council held its first in a series of hearings on the mayor's fiscal year 2016 preliminary budget. Gone were the muffins and soft lines of questioning from the initial council budget hearing last year, the first budget cycle for the new mayor and largely revamped council. Instead, Council Member Julissa Ferreras, chair of the Finance Committee, and her colleagues came armed with pointed questions, particularly related to transparency.

Ferreras cited the continued use of broad units of appropriations, lack of detail about key proposals, such as the City's housing plan, the council receiving delayed access to information, such as the Education Five Year Capital Plan, and the lack of clarity around how the administration will find savings without the use of mandated cuts across agencies.

"The lack of transparency in the budget and the administration's failure to timely provide budgetary information to the Council impedes the Council's ability to make informed decisions about the City's current fiscal condition, properly assess past and current proposals, and adequately make long-term planning decisions," Ferreras said at the budget hearing on Wednesday.

In its budget response last April, the Council demanded large units of appropriation, particularly around education funding, be broken up into specifics to better track spending and progress on initiatives.

"We are greatly concerned with the lack of transparency in units of appropriation in the Executive Budget," the April 2014 response reads. "Dividing funding for Universal Pre-Kindergarten, Elementary and Middle Schools and High Schools into smaller units of appropriation would increase accountability and transparency in a massive budget, making it easier to track categories of spending and ensure that all school funding is scheduled in the appropriate budget code."

Council members were hoping to curb the transparency issues that had plagued the Bloomberg administration, where including overly broad units of appropriation was common place. The Council asked the de Blasio administration to expand units of appropriations (U of A) in six areas. As of the preliminary budget, the de Blasio administration has complied with three of the six: renaming the U of A in the Miscellaneous Budget to "Reserve for Collective Bargaining," moving networks and clusters from the Schools to Regional Administration, and moving charter support costs to the Charter U of A.

The request to clean up U of As for Disease Control and Epidemiology is expected by the executive budget, but a new U of A for Early Intervention and a new U of A for Universal Pre-Kindergarten has not been complete.

Ferreras asked de Blasio's Budget Director, Dean Fuleihan, what is causing the delay, to which he responded that the City is committed to releasing the fourth detailed U of A by the executive budget, due in April.

"That's still not six. And that is still in fiscal year 16, as opposed to fiscal year 15 as we had discussed," Ferreras fired back, exemplary of a somewhat surprisingly tense session, even as the Council is largely supportive of the mayor's policy and budget plans.

Ferreras added the expanded U of A for universal pre-K, a $340 million state-funded program, was very important to the Council.

"We made a commitment and we will make sure that we keep that," Fuleihan said.

Ferreras noted that the Council is expected to make more requests related to U of A, and Fuleihan said that his team would work to make it happen.

PEGs
When de Blasio released his first budget in early 2014, he did away with Programs to Eliminate the Gap (PEG), which had become infamous during the Bloomberg years, when the mayor required agencies to identify ways to cut spending. The Council would expend enormous energy to restore proposed PEG cuts to things like firehouses and libraries, cuts which rarely made it into the executive budget.

Instead of PEG programs, de Blasio decided to use agency efficiency programs, asking each agency to take a look at their departments and propose cuts. But that process has not been made public and the agency efficiency proposals for FY16 are not in the preliminary budget.

"We want to make sure when we are here in FY17, we can follow whether the efficiency failed or not," Ferreras said.

Fuleihan noted the administration will be presenting that information soon and is open to discussing the format in which the Council would like to receive it. When presenting his preliminary budget, de Blasio told reporters that the cost savings identified by agency commissioners would be made clear in the April executive budget.

Capital Plans
The City Charter requires the administration to release a 10-year capital plan every two years. The plan allows the administration to showcase its vision for building things like schools and parks. This document is typically filled with dense narratives, charts, and graphs.

But this year, the first in which a 10-year capital plan is due for the de Blasio administration, the plan was not as detailed as it has been in the past, at least according to Ferreras, whose opinion was challenged by Fuleihan. He argued the administration included major agency zeroes and significant reductions in the Department of Education for the second five-year period, something not done in the prior administration.

"I would argue what we presented you was much more detailed," Fuleihan said. "We are happy to work with you and discuss the merit, but we believe this was a more realistic plan than the last 10-year capital plan that was presented."

Fuleihan noted it was a preliminary plan and several items would be affecting it that had not come down the pike yet, including the new PLaNYC, which is due in April, as well as state education funding, also due in April, and federal funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which is set to expire in May.

"They would like more transparency," Fuleihan said following the hearing. "We agreed to additional provisions last year in the adopted budget and we will continue to work with them. There is no reason not to work with them."

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

Categories: State/Local

Money to Run: Past Fundraising of Donovan & Gentile

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:00am

Donovan, left (photo: Staten Island Advance/Rachel Shapiro) and Gentile (@VGentile43)

The May 5 special election for NY's 11th Congressional District approaches, and two seasoned New York politicians face off for the privilege of filling the seat vacated in January by Michael Grimm. The candidates to represent the district, which includes Staten Island and a small portion of Southern Brooklyn, are Democrat Vincent Gentile and Republican Daniel Donovan.

A sitting New York City Council Member representing Bay Ridge, Gentile was first elected as a New York State Senator in the 1990s, representing a district that included part of Staten Island. Gentile was defeated by City Council Member Marty Golden for the Senate seat in 2002 and then won Golden's vacant Council seat in the special election held in early 2003. Gentile was re-elected to the Council in 2005, 2009, and 2013. He will be term-limited out at the end of 2017, unless he vacates the seat beforehand.

Daniel Donovan, the Republican of Staten Island, has been District Attorney for Richmond County, New York, since 2004, after winning the open seat in 2003. He was re-elected in 2007 and 2011, with an unsuccessful 2010 run for Attorney General in between.

The geography of this congressional district is already known to be unfriendly to any Brooklyn contender, and also to Democrats; Staten Island contains the lion's share of the district, and Democrats tend to find it tough going in this well-known Republican enclave of New York City even though there are actually more registered Democrats on the island. Golden has held onto his state Senate seat against numerous spirited challengers after taking it away from Gentile, so Bay Ridge, in Brooklyn, has similar political qualities.

With Election Day just two months off, each is surely scrambling to raise the funds needed to run an effective campaign. With that in mind, an examination of their past fundraising is instructive.

Both Gentile and Donovan are new to federal fundraising, but they have thick campaign finance files with New York State. Analyzing their New York campaign finance data, the biggest contrast that can be drawn between Donovan and Gentile, is that Donovan is a county-wide official, who received spirited support for a state-wide run in 2010.

Vincent Gentile's campaign finance operation, on the other hand, has not required the same kind of "portability." He's been asking for support in Bay Ridge and surrounding communities in his council district. mostly.

To produce the charts below, Gotham Gazette examined donor-ship transactions filed by the following committees: DONOVAN FOR NEW YORK , DONOVAN FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL, DONOVAN FOR D. A., DONOVAN 2010. GENTILE FOR NEW YORK, GENTILE FOR THE FUTURE, GENTILE NYC.

The chart above includes 3,287 days, from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2014. With the graph scaled for Donovan's Attorney General campaign in 2010, Gentile's activity becomes nearly invisible. Because he did have this statewide run, Donovan's fundraising history skews any direct overall comparison.

Gentile, whose expenditures were capped during this time period by city campaign finance law, was able to rely on public matching funds for his races. Those matching disbursements are not counted here, just what the candidate received from donors. The council member has been fundraising on an ongoing basis, his most recent activity peeking out near the very end of the chart, a year after his election to a third and final full council term. This activity may be largely about paying off NYC Campaign Finance Board penalties - Gentile has been penalized for a variety of filing issues.

The bar chart above demonstrates the comparative difference in scale of Donovan's and Gentile's fundraising, while also segmenting the cumulative sum by donor type.

Other Contributors (Schedule C) is where contributions from labor organizations tend to be recorded. While filers do not all behave the same way in discerning Schedule C from Schedule B (Corporations), Gentile's reliance on Schedule C is 37.28% of his haul, while Donovan's is 22.85%.

With the chart above, Donovan's top ten zip codes from which he receives funds, representing 34.97% of his overall haul, are shown. In addition to including three Staten Island ZIP codes in his top ten, he has tapped Manhattan extensively.

Gentile's top ten ZIP codes (above), meanwhile, reflect much more locality - again, likely a function of Donovan's run for a statewide seat. Gentile has also relied more on his own top ten to make up the whole than Donovan.

While seven of Donovan's top ten ZIPs are actually in Manhattan and three are on Staten Island, six of Gentile's top ten are in Brooklyn. Five are local to his council district while one is in Downtown Brooklyn. Three of Gentile's top ten ZIPs are in Manhattan and one is on Staten Island.

When looking at the top 20 donors to each candidate (seen in the two charts below), both individual and institutional, the fact that Donovan has campaigned under a different set of rules further emerges. For this reason, these charts are not meant to be compared side-by-side. They are simply meant to show who these two candidates have relied on to fund their campaigns. Gentile has been able to make substantial personal contributions to his own campaign, and he has done so. Gentile's top 20 individual and institutional donors, 2006-2014:

 

Something to look for when the federal fundraising picture begins to emerge is whether Gentile is reaching outside of his neighborhood, into more of the NY-11 turf, as well as whether he is beginning to tap major capital sources. Put another way, to what extent has the city campaign finance system limited Gentile's measurable fundraising prowess? In what ways does a Congressional race open up new fundraising opportunities? We might also ask how much of Bay Ridge is coming along with him and donating. Do his labor backers take the same level of interest in the U.S. Congress as they have in his local bids? Is he out-performing his city record? (Gentile's lists go to 19 rather than 20 because there are multi-way ties for individual donations at $2,000 and institutional donations at $3,000.)

Donovan's top 20 individual and institutional donors, 2006-2014:

Similarly to with Gentile, there's a long list of major players and institutions who may reflect growing or shrinking enthusiasm for Donovan as this race develops. For many of those who have given to Donovan in the past, the stakes are very different with a district attorney or an attorney general than with a member of Congress. Are the usual stakeholders still interested in Donovan? Do they invest in Congressional races? Stay tuned!

***
by Jon Reznick for Gotham Gazette
Data analysis performed using FTMSQL2 by Competitive Advantage Research, LLC

Note: this article has been updated - a previous version mentioned that Gentile's fundraising was capped by the CFB, but it is in fact his expenditures that were capped.

Categories: State/Local

Council Members Push to Speed Reform at Human Rights Commission

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:00am

Council Member Brad Lander (photo: William Alatriste)

NEW YORK—Much needed change is on the horizon for the City's Commission on Human Rights, but just how quickly that change will be implemented is up in the air.

On Tuesday the City Council held an oversight hearing on the Commission (CCHR) and heard a package of bills aimed at providing greater insight and transparency to the agency. For years advocates have decried the lack of funding and staffing of the CCHR, the city agency charged with enforcing the Human Rights Law.

In fiscal year 1991 the CCHR had a staff of 241 and a budget of $9.5 million, according to budget documents. In fiscal year 2015 there are only 66 positions, and a budget of $4.5 million. In her State of the City address last month, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito vowed to increase funding by $5 million and boost staffing by 65.

On the legislative side, the Council has proposed three bills: Intro. 421 would establish additional reporting requirements regarding CCHR investigations; Intro. 690 would establish an employment discrimination testing program in an attempt to proactively root out employment discrimination; and Intro. 689 would establish a testing program to root out housing discrimination. All three bills would take effect immediately after being signed into law.

CCHR Chair Carmelyn Malalis, appointed to the position by Mayor Bill de Blasio in November, is supportive of resurrecting the Commission, of course. As a seasoned civil rights attorney in the private sector prior to her appointment, she saw the protection the Human Rights Law provides.

But on the bills proposed by the Council, Malalis is less supportive, saying at Tuesday's hearing that she agrees in principle, but is unsure on the timeline.

"I am concerned that placing any additional obligations on the Commission with short timelines—such as those included in the proposed legislation—may actually be counterproductive to making the commission more effective, more visible, more accessible, more transparent, more responsive, or more impactful," Malalis said at Tuesday's hearng.

While she was named chair of the Commission in November, Malalis has only been on the job for two weeks. She said she is just beginning the process of reviewing the agency's operations, policies, and procedures. Following the review she will implement a multi-pronged strategy, she said, which will take some time to complete.

Specifically related to the bills requiring testing, Malalis said, "I am concerned that the timelines imposed in the bills may actually be counterproductive to the Commission expanding an effective testing program, which includes community partners and advocacy organizations that can help with a thoughtful expansion."

When asked what would be an appropriate timeline, Malalis said that being in her position such a short time, she could not give a deadline.

Council Member Deborah Rose pressed Malalis on the issue of the timeline, arguing if she has only been on the job two weeks, how could she know the timelines wouldn't work.

Malalis opened up, saying she was eager to engage in the community and with her staff, a time consuming job as it is.

"I am fairly concerned about having to spend much more of that time on fulfilling the reporting obligations that would be necessary under the bills," Malalis said.

She also tipped her hand at what appears to be the administration's fear of statistics that could be interpreted in a negative way. Her testimony reflected a desire to look at stats in 2016 or 2017, after a new strategic plan will have materialized.

"If these three bills were to become effective immediately, I fear that the reporting would not be reflective of what is down the pipe and what is underway," Malalis said.

That answer did not sit well with Council Member Brad Lander, who is a lead sponsor on Intro. 689.

"If it were just about you, we could definitely be patient," Lander said. "But we, and I really mean we, have let this agency deteriorate long past the point of patience."

He added, "I would like to point out that you are only in week two, but the de Blasio administration is in month 15. That was too long to wait to appoint a new commissioner, to get a new commissioner in place and to start to have a strategic plan."

Lander also argued the majority of the reporting requirements for Intro. 421 are likely already being kept and that if testing programs are already in place, the data likely already exists.

"For that information to be meaningful, more time needs to pass so that some of the information it requests, for instance our work with Corporation Counsel, has time to develop," Malalis responded.

Civil rights advocates, who have been pushing for CCHR reform for years, are even less eager to wait longer for data on the Commission's work enforcing the Human Rights Law.

"You really want to get a baseline now. No one is going to be blaming the new crew for what has gone on," Craig Gurian of the Anti-Discrimination Center said during his testimony. "It could not be less burdensome. If, in fact, the Commission is currently testing, it is, in fact, complying with two of the bills [already]."

It appears the Council and the administration are not far apart on the goals of revamping the CCHR, meaning negotiations should yield some changes to the bills sooner rather than later. Malalis will be testifying later this month during budget hearings where these bills, as well as staffing and funding issues, will be addressed.

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

Categories: State/Local

Wages to rise for tip work

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

Attention, tipped workers: You're getting a raise.

The state's Acting Labor Commissioner, Mario Musolino, on Tuesday accepted a state board's recommendation to raise the cash wage for tipped workers to $7.50 per hour beginning Dec. 31, their first minimum wage raise since 2011. The minimum wage for non-tipped workers will rise to $9 per hour.

Musolino accepted four of the five recommendations made by the wage board. He approved putting all tipped workers in one class, allowing New York City to raise its minimum for tipped workers by $1 if the Legislature approves a separate minimum wage for the city, and reviewing whether to eliminate the cash wages and tip credits system.

Musolino rejected a recommendation that the tip allowance be increased by $1 per hour when the weekly average of cash wages and tips equals or exceeds the applicable hourly minimum wage rate by 150 percent in New York City and 120 percent in the rest of New York.

By classifying service workers (such as waiters and hotel maids) as one type of employee under state guidelines, New York will abolish the current three-tier wage system for those types of workers. Current minimum tipped wages are set at $4.90, $5 and $5.65, depending on the type of service job an employee does.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday at a labor rally in New York City that his father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, would have been proud of Musolino's decision.

The announcement was cheered by labor supporters and criticized by restaurateurs and hospitality industry executives.

"What we're talking about is $2.50 an hour, which comes to, if you work eight hours a day, $20 a day," state Labor-Religion Coalition Director Sara Niccoli said. "This could mean the difference between paying your rent or not. It means the difference between buying healthy groceries or living on ramen noodles. It makes a big difference."

The restaurant industry saw the move as unfriendly to business.

"It's troubling that the acting commissioner ignored legislative precedent and the pleas of nearly 1,000 hospitality industry representatives who asked him for a moderate increase phased in over time," state Restaurant Association President and CEO Melissa Fleischut said in a statement. "By rubber-stamping an extreme, unprecedented 50 percent increase it becomes hard to believe New York is really 'Open for Business.'"

Cuomo convened the wage board in July, requiring it to submit its recommendations by this month. At the time, he said he wanted to build on the momentum of the minimum wage increase phase-in that the Legislature had agreed to.

The governor now will look to parlay momentum from Tuesday's decision into another minimum wage boost. He proposed earlier this year raising the state wage to $10.50 per hour and New York City's wage to $11.50 per hour by the end of 2016. Critics in the business community have said a two-tier system would be difficult for businesses to implement.

The $1.50 increase in just one year also has left some wondering what it would do to jobs numbers. The last time lawmakers approved an increase in the minimum wage was 2013. At the end of that year, the wage increased from $7.25 to $8 per hour, then went up to $8.75 at the end of last year. That type of phase-in is something the state Business Council wanted with the tipped wage.

At the labor rally, Cuomo said the phased-in increase was done because the economy was on the rebound, and with it continuing to trend upward, it's time to increase things again.

"The concept of the minimum wage was if you work full time, you will be out of poverty and you can live with dignity and take care of your family," he said. "When it's $18,000 in New York City, you can't get there. And business doesn't have the excuse of saying, 'We can't afford anymore. We're broke,' because we know they're not. They're making record profits."

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Cold workplace sends state employees home

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

State workers on the lower reaches of the Empire State Plaza's Corning Tower, which houses the Department of Health, were allowed to leave early Tuesday due to a heating malfunction that caused temperatures indoors to fall as low as 45 degrees in the morning.

"It took them a little while, but (Governors Office of Employee Relations) gave them permission," said Craig Hammer, a DOH employee and health and safety steward for the Public Employees Federation union.

The problem affected floors 2 to 5 of the tower — the tallest structure between New York City and Montreal.

GOER can make the call to release workers early in the event of a heating failure or other problem in the workplace.

Hammer said the go-home decision was made at about 1 p.m., and employees learned of it about a half-hour later. They were able to go home without using their own time accruals, which are generally saved for vacation or personal time.

GOER officials couldn't be reached late Tuesday.

Hammer said that the middle and upper floors of the tower were adequately heated.

Workers on the lower floors noticed the lack of heat first thing Tuesday, and Hammer said one individual with a digital thermometer recorded the 45-degree temperature.

Office of General Services spokeswoman Heather Groll said in an email that the agency has already fixed the problem on some lower floors.

"We continue to address the issue on a few of the others," she said in an email.

She later added that the temperatures have been rising; OGS anticipates that things will be back to normal on Wednesday morning.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the problem.

Tuesday was not the first time that state employees have been released early due to adverse indoor conditions.

Sporadic plumbing failures have led to some office releases in recent years. In 2001, the state sent home more than 50,000 employees in the Capital Region due to rising temperatures and the need to conserve energy during an August heat wave.

Such problems will likely have to wait, as temperatures in Albany aren't expected to rise above freezing until Monday, with overnight lows remaining in the single digits or below zero.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Bratton Assures Manhattan Business Community NYPD Staying Vigilant, Improving

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 12:00am

Commissioner Bratton addresses Manhattan Chamber of Commerce members (Ben Max)

NEW YORK - NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton's job requires him to appear in front of audiences of all sorts. To his credit, Bratton is remarkably consistent no matter who he's speaking with, whether it is NYPD officers at a promotion ceremony, city council members at an oversight hearing, or, as was the case on Monday morning, representatives of the business community. He's been at this a long time, after all: not only is Bratton in his second stint heading the NYPD, but he's on the verge of 50 years in law enforcement. Still, a skilled politician in his own right, Bratton knows how to appeal to an audience without betraying his principles or coming across as disingenuous.

So it was on Monday in Midtown, where Bratton addressed a room of about 75 guests of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, assuring representatives of the business community that his NYPD is the best it's ever been and only getting better, crediting them for the role of their tax dollars in creating the safest big city in the country, and attempting to allay any fears that there would be disruption to business while he's in charge.

In remarks and question-and-answer sessions with new Manhattan Chamber Board Chair Ken Biberaj and audience members, Bratton displayed his typical calm intensity. He's exactly what you want in a top cop: sharp, serious, confident, and even a little compassionate. He has Clint Eastwood-esque crow's feet and pitch, and he exudes you-can-rest-easy-on-my-watch competence and dedication. On Monday, he went into great detail making sure that Manhattan business people know the city is safer than it's ever been, and that he is not standing pat nor patting himself on the back, but that he is leading the NYPD forward.

Introducing Bratton, Biberaj framed the commissioner's appearance just right, saying, "Everyone in this room recognizes that the success of your business is directly tied to the success of our police commissioner and the brave men and women of the NYPD."

Bratton took to the podium to promise that his police force would continue to protect quality of life, attributing the city's record safety to preventing major crimes by paying attention to smaller ones. "We will continue to address broken windows policing in this city," he said. But, Bratton followed that by adding that the NYPD would do so even more carefully than it has, saying that "like a doctor...we want to police in a way that we do no harm."

In his remarks, Bratton explained that officers are being retrained, and that professional development will be constant. He said that the trainings and other efforts were being made, in part, to improve trust between the NYPD and the communities it serves. "We have to regain trust where we've lost it, we have to make new relationships where we never had it, and we have to work in all of our various communities in the world's most diverse city," he said.

"[W]e will get it right. We will regain that trust. We will improve on that trust," Bratton continued, in perhaps the most impassioned portion of his speech. "And particularly in the area of race relations - particularly with our black residents and our growing Latino and Asian populations - there is a need for the police department to be seen as legitimate, to be seen as collaborative in their relationships with the communities they serve, to be seen as responsive. And we will be all those things."

Bratton's point was two-fold: one, the work of building trust in all communities is important to doing good, fair police work; and two, the flaring up of racial tensions is a form of disorder, and disorder is not good for business and we won't let things happen that hurt business.

Bratton said it was the obligation of police to do their jobs "constitutionally," "compassionately," and "consistently." But along with all of the lofty rhetoric, the commissioner told his audience that he is especially focused on terrorism and cyber crime, that he has new polling capabilities that give him "the ability to access very quickly 17,000 people, 200 per precinct, down to a block, down to a street level." This way, he said, he's able to "keep my thumb on the pulse of every precinct in the city, how are we doing." He told the crowd that he's in constant contact with the mayor and leaders in Washington, D.C. with regard to robust anti-terrorism efforts and that he's meeting with the city's five district attorneys next week.

In what is a typical refrain for Bratton, he returned time and again to broken windows policing, his trademark. "I under no circumstances intend to retreat on the importance of quality of life policing," he said. "[I]t was essential in taking back this city to get rid of the squeegee pests, get rid of the aggressive beggars, to stop people from evading the fare on the subway, to stop people from urinating and drinking in public parks. All these things that deteriorated the quality of life."

But as is also usual for Bratton, he quickly moderated: "I will commit that we will in fact be sensitive, we will be well-trained, we will be well-focused, we will not be abusive, we will not be excessive...we are not driving a department focused on quantity, we're focusing on quality. And so effective, quality-of-life-type policing is absolutely essential."

The public safety data is indeed almost all rosy, supporting Bratton's theories and his leadership - as well as his mayor's. But, Bratton was asked by an attendee about the fact that shootings are up. He responded, "We have an increase this year in shootings and we have an increase in homicides. Shootings are principally located in Brooklyn, the Bronx." Bratton went on to list specific precincts where "the disease," as he put it, has been isolated, but festers. "[T]he shootings and the murders, while they're concentrated in...relatively small areas of the city, they have a citywide impact and they have the potential to have an impact on perceptions of safety in the city," he acknowledged.

But, he promised that he and his force are on the case, and intently reminded the audience that "The city is a very safe city. We are truly the safest large city in America."

***
by Ben Max, editor, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

Categories: State/Local

Governor’s Student Loan Relief Plan Helps Less Than One Percent

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 12:00am

Governor Cuomo (photo: @NYGovCuomo)

Just over 2.8 million New Yorkers hold nearly $74 billion in student loan debt. Governor Cuomo’s Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program wouldn’t even help one percent of them with their debt, even when fully phased in.

The proposal would apply to New York State residents who graduate from college in the state, continue to live here, and make less than $50,000 per year. It would allow those New Yorkers to pay nothing on their student loans for the first two years out of school. Instead, the State would make loan payments so long as debt holders are participating in a federal program - the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) income-based loan repayment program – an option that forgives the remainder of a federal loan after 20 years of consecutive monthly on-time payments or 10 years if you're enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

It’s great that Governor Cuomo is thinking about the student debt crisis by helping a few recent graduates get on their feet. However, without addressing the high and rising cost of going to college, which is the root cause of high and rising student debt levels, debt will continue to cripple an entire generation’s ability to fight ever-growing inequality. Some are referring to bleak employment prospects, unemployment rates, and low wages for young people as the “Lost Decade” effect.

This unprecedented student debt crisis continues to impact economic markets like housing. According to a report by Young Invincibles, the average single student debtor is likely ineligible for a typical home mortgage due to their debt-to-income ratio.

It’s important to note that this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the Great Recession, homeownership rates of those with a history of student debt were substantially higher than those without. This is because earning potential is higher for those with degrees. However, despite it being a buyer’s market, student loan debtors are still less likely than non-debtors to buy a home.

The biggest growth in student loans came in the past decade, as student debt rose an average of 14 percent per year from $364 billion in 2004 to over $1 trillion today, according to the New York Fed. To be fair, total student debt has ballooned in part because more people are going to college and therefore taking out student loans. It’s good that more people are earning college degrees. However, that’s not the only contributor to the ballooning of student debt. The cost of getting a bachelor’s degree is 12 times higher than it was 35 years ago, far outpacing medical care, housing, and all other commodities – and that’s accounting for inflation.

New York is no outlier. State tuition has increased by nearly 130 percent at New York’s public four-year colleges over the last two decades. Tuition at the City University of New York (CUNY), which was once free for all city residents, will increase nearly 60 percent from 2008 to 2016 alone. Meanwhile the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) remains grossly inadequate. This is why 60 percent of New Yorkers graduate owing student loan debt with an average amount of $26,381.

To seriously address the student debt crisis in New York, Governor Cuomo must:

  1. Inject general resources into SUNY and CUNY so the universities can rely less on tuition revenue. Decades of disinvestment has made higher education either inaccessible for many or comes with an unsustainable and long-lasting cost.

  1. Rollback the annual tuition increases made since the Great Recession. Raising tuition through a recession and the years that followed unfairly burdened families during difficult times while also reducing the multiplier effect we could be realizing if dollars weren’t being drained into paying high tuition and then paying off student loans;

  1. Bring TAP into the 21st century through a number of common sense reforms. This includes streamlining the rules of the program to open access to students in need and increasing the maximum award to $6,500 to keep up with rising costs associated with going to college.

  1. Integrate rewarding and incentive-driven loan forgiveness programs in all economic development initiatives to help address the more than 2.8 million state residents with student loan debt. This includes expanding the reach of initiatives like the NY SUNY 2020 Grant Challenge Program, STARTUP NY, and others to reduce and forgive the student loan debt of employees as a baseline of doing business in the state and benefiting from these very rewarding programs.  

The shared value in the above four policies that the state requires is simple: an increase in the capital that can be reinvested into the New York economy in other ways by reducing the monthly and overall amount of student debt that New Yorkers are paying.

It’s time for the governor and state policy-makers to start thinking differently about higher education and student debt. Most of the conversations happening around student debt policy don’t actually reduce payments or forgive debt. Instead they make loans cheaper or easier to repay - this type of thinking will only further fortify the crisis that is already having long-term negative effects on millions of people and the American economy.

But, implementing policies that reduce debt owed and forgive total debt will dig us out of this hole, and propel us into a brighter economic future.  

***
Kevin Stump is Leadership Director at Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

 

Categories: State/Local

Corrupt leaders big issue in state

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 7:07am

Albany

A new Siena poll out Tuesday shows that voters think corruption is a problem — a big one.

Ninety-two percent of voters said corruption in state government is a serious problem (51 percent say very serious; 41 percent say somewhat serious) in the wake of the arrest and indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Voters don't think corruption among their local representatives is quite as much of a problem, though a majority still see it as a concern. In all, 60 percent of statewide voters said corruption is a serious problem among state legislators from their area (21 percent described it as very serious; 39 percent said somewhat serious).

But more voters place importance on passing the state budget than they do on passing the ethics reforms Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will require for on-time approval of the spending plan. Fifty-three percent of voters said passing the budget on time is more important, while 37 percent opted for the ethics reforms — even if that means the budget is late.

Fifty-one percent of voters said passing the Cuomo ethics plan will reduce corruption, though 44 percent believe the new measures won't have any real effect.

On education, 48 percent of respondents said they generally side with teachers unions on education issues, while 36 percent said they tend to stand with the governor. As for why voters think not enough students graduate high school ready for college or a career, 37 percent blamed insufficient parental involvement, while just 10 percent said the quality of New York's teachers is to blame.

Cuomo's favorability rating maintained its recent levels: His numbers are at 59-37 percent, compared with 60-35 percent in January and 58-37 percent in December. The poll surveyed 810 registered voters statewide. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percent.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449

Categories: State/Local

Advocates ask Albany to vote for increased Alzheimer's spending

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

Nearly 200 advocates representing Alzheimer's Association chapters from around the state gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to vote for $25 million for caregiver respite and support services in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed state budget.

The proposed spending would increase the amount the state pays out for such services by $23.7 million over this year, advocates said.

"New York state has historically underfunded Alzheimer's services," said Elaine Sproat, co-chair of the NYS Coalition of Alzheimer's Association Chapters and CEO of the Hudson Valley chapter. "We're reaching a small portion of people with Alzheimer's at this point."

About 380,000 New Yorkers suffer from Alzheimer's disease, which causes a decline in mental ability, including memory loss.

Current state spending on Alzheimer's services amounts to $3.06 per person with the disease, according to the coalition. California spends nearly $50 per person with Alzheimer's; Florida and Ohio each spend more than $200 per person.

The proposed spending increase includes $16.5 million in respite and support services for caregivers. These include one-on-one consultation services for families, support groups for patients and caregivers, social day programs and respite care.

Such services have been shown to allow patients with Alzheimer's disease to stay in their homes and delay going to a nursing home by up to 1.5 years, Sproat said.

chughes@timesunion.com518-454-5417@hughesclaire

Categories: State/Local
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