The end-of-the-year due date for the completion of the Health Department's report on the potential impacts of hydrofracking isn't Gov. Andrew Cuomo's deadline.
Clarifying what the governor said in last week's gubernatorial debate, his office on Tuesday said that acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker was the one who determined the timeline for the submission of his agency's work on the controversial natural gas drilling technique.
"The health commissioner indicated that the study will be completed by the end of the year, so that's when the governor expects it," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.
An administration official said the report would be made public by the end of December, as well.
In the Oct. 22 debate, Cuomo observed that his two principal opponents, Howie Hawkins of the Green Party and Republican Rob Astorino, were seated to his left and right — a fair approximation of their respective stances on the safety of fracking, he said.
"I say, 'I'm not a scientist — let the scientists decide,'" Cuomo said. "It's very complicated, it's very controversial, people have very different opinions. Academic studies come out all different ways."
"Let the experts decide," he continued. "Now I've asked the expert commissioner of the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation, 'Give me a report — it's due at the end of this year.' Whatever the experts say is right; that's what I will do. Because frankly, it's too difficult for a layman."
The state has been weighing the question of whether to allow fracking in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation since Gov. David Paterson was in office.
In September 2012, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens asked then-Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to review the DEC's work on fracking's potential health impacts. Despite statements of imminent completion, that worked has gone on for more than two years.
Shah resigned in April without completing the assignment.
Cuomo has been harshly criticized by Astorino as being "politically paralyzed" on the issue, which continues to receive a split opinion in many polls. The drilling industry insists that hydrofracking, which uses a small amount of chemicals and a large amount of water to crack open gas-bearing shale deposits, is safe and points to booming regional economies in dozens of other states, including Pennsylvania.
Environmental groups, however, see the technique as a perilous threat to land and water.
"If Gov. Cuomo truly listens to the science, the only way he can protect the health of New Yorkers and our water is with a statewide ban on fracking," said Isaac Silberman-Gorn of Citizen Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking.
email@example.com • 518-454-5619 • @CaseySeiler
Andrew Cuomo, right, & Rob Astorino (photo: Gary Wiepert/AP)
All three major statewide elected positions are held by Democratic incumbents asking New Yorkers to renew their contracts for four more years. Voters will go to the polls on Election Day - Tuesday, November 4 - and decide if Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli deserve such an extension.
There's a lot at stake on Election Day: not only who holds those three offices (along with the other statewide post of Lieutenant Governor, which is voted on in conjunction with Governor); but also control of the State Senate, which will have a major influence on the legislation that comes through Albany over the next four years. The other house of the State Legislature, the Assembly, is heavily Democratic and certain to stay that way. Voters will be able to select their local representatives in these two state houses - although in many cases incumbents are actually running for re-election unopposed.
Key issues at stake next year include the Dream Act, the Women's Equality Act, campaign finance reform, the future of state and local minimum wage levels, the cap on charter schools, renewal of rent regulation laws, and much more. If the Democrats were to take control of both houses of the State Legislature and return Gov. Cuomo to his post, a large swath of progressive legislation could move through Albany. That is a very big "if," of course.
Additionally, on Election Day voters will be choosing their local members of the U.S. House of Representatives. In New York City (and around the state and country) many are watching to see the outcome of the race in New York's 11th Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Grimm is facing Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia. Grimm is the only Republican representing New York City in Congress. There are several other highly competitive congressional races happening around the state.
And, don't forget to turn your ballot over: there will be three ballot proposals on which New Yorkers will be able to vote "yes" or "no" to amend the State Constitution. More on all of the above below; use our Gotham Gazette-WNYC Election Guide if you want to see who will be on your ballot or just explore:
As we always do, we'll help you get caught up and prepared to vote on Tuesday; a more detailed rundown of where things stand and what to look for:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears set to cruise to victory over Republican challenger Rob Astorino and yet this isn't how it was supposed to happen. If Cuomo had his way he would be currently riding the wave of a bestselling and critically acclaimed memoir, stoking talk about his position on the national scene. He would be enjoying massive bipartisan support, influential with the press, feared and respected by his fellow pols.
Instead, Cuomo's re-election went off script this spring when growing liberal dissatisfaction with the governor boiled over leading up to the Working Families Party (WFP) May convention. Cuomo faced a quandary - agree to support Democratic Senate candidates and a slate of progressive legislation he had previously stalled on or face a WFP-groomed challenger to his left. Cuomo chose the former and agreed on video to the WFP demands.
And still, WFP challenger Zephyr Teachout opted to continue her candidacy and take Cuomo on in the Democratic Primary. Her campaign revealed deep dissatisfaction with Cuomo among liberal Democrats and a general lack of enthusiasm for the governor. But that wasn't the worst part for the incumbent. It also came out that Cuomo is facing a federal investigation for meddling in his own anti-corruption commission.
Cuomo refused to debate Teachout and even snubbed her attempted handshake at a parade. Then, amid the general election race, Cuomo's book has been critically panned and sold few copies in its first weeks of release. He's been largely written off by national pundits (for 2016, at least) and faced harsher scrutiny from the press, with further revelations of questionable conduct by him and his administration.
Instead of debating Astorino one-on-one or launching much of a campaign, Cuomo took a trip to Israel and one to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Leading up to Election Day, Cuomo has also tripped over himself to out-lead President Barack Obama and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Ebola response. In doing so Cuomo questioned the heroism of a doctor who volunteered to treat Ebola patients in Guinea, contradicted the CDC's guidelines, angered the White House, and faced an immediate public backlash on quarantine guidelines that appeared rushed and ill-considered.
Thats the bad news.
The good news for team Cuomo is that the governor remains the most powerful politician in the state and is likely to win re-election by a fairly wide margin. His reputation as a modern Machiavelli is still well-deserved: Cuomo has successfully splintered New York Republicans by earning the support of major GOP electeds, keeping Republican State Senators from supporting Astorino with the threat of his own inevitability. He has also outmaneuvered the Working Families Party - creating the Women's Equality Party, similar to the WFP in name (WEP) and target audience.
If the WFP doesn't reach the threshold of 50,000 votes it could lose its ballot status and Cuomo isn't doing anything to encourage anyone to vote for him on the WFP line - in fact he appears to be working against it, encouraging supporters to vote for him on the WEP line. Cuomo has even made several statements, including comparing the public schools system to a monopoly, that angered and possibly alienated WFP voters. The WFP has attacked Cuomo for his comments while launching a campaign asking voters to hold their noses and still cast a vote for Cuomo on the WFP line.
What alternative do disappointed WFP and Democratic voters have? Not many for those who want the WFP to make it to 2015 with any semblance of strength. But, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, who talked policy in the lone gubernatorial debate instead of sniping, supports major liberal policies and has been moving in the polls. Meanwhile de Blasio appears to be fighting a losing battle to oust Cuomo's Republican allies in the Senate.
Cuomo appears to have positioned himself in a Godfatheresque final scene where all his rivals are dealt a comeuppance while he ascends.
Cuomo has positioned himself as the centrist in a race where he faces challenges to his left and right. The governor touts his conservative fiscal policies, which he calls responsible, that have led to on-time budgets and reduced spending on public employees, Medicaid, and education, while he reminds voters of his liberal civil triumphs on same-sex marriage and gun control.
Republican Rob Astorino has dogged Cuomo on his premature shuttering of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption and the federal investigation into his interference with it; slammed Cuomo for supporting Common Core learning standards; and insists that he, unlike Cuomo, will approve hydraulic fracturing to boost the upstate economy. Astorino has seen his campaign sputter as Republican support has been tepid and cash has not flooded his coffers.
On fracking, Cuomo has continually insisted he will "let the science decide," a strategy that has amounted to extending supposed Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) studies into the process over a period of years and recently pledging to release the results after the election.
Green candidate Howie Hawkins has pledged to ban fracking, implement public financing of elections to get rid of the corporate cash that has infused Cuomo's campaign, and introduce a Green New Deal where every New Yorker would be entitled to a job. He's polling well for a third party candidate at around 10 percent.
It is no secret that there is no love lost between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, so it is a tad bit ironic that Cuomo's interference in the Moreland Commission has come back to haunt Schneiderman in his race against Republican John Cahill, a former top aide to Gov. George Pataki. Cahill has insisted that Schneiderman should detail his involvement in the commission and should have done more to prevent Cuomo's interference and closure.
Cahill argues Schneiderman has made the office a political tool and should spend less time focusing on Wall Street and banks and more time on consumer protection. Schneiderman's camp insists that he has a robust portfolio of fighting discrimination, getting justice for workers who are victims of wage theft, and rooting out mortgage fraud. Schneiderman also touts the major settlements he has won from big banks, his work regulating gun shows, and his protection of women's rights.
Incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli was thought to be the most vulnerable statewide elected before the election season began. Gov. Cuomo appeared to have it out for DiNapoli by introducing into budget negotiations a last-minute pilot public financing system only for the comptroller race. However, Democrats have rallied around the DiNapoli, who refused to take part in the pilot due to its haphazard construction. DiNapoli has seen strong support from virtually all of the Democratic establishment.
DiNapoli's Republican challenger, Bob Antonacci, has failed to raise enough small donations to qualify for the public financing program. Antonacci has run a generally friendly campaign, but has criticized DiNapoli for being a "shareholder activist" by using the state's pension fund to weigh in on issues of social justice. Few New Yorkers seem to be paying any attention to this race and Republicans have been hesitant to come out behind the challenger.
Control of the State Senate
Despite efforts from de Blasio and Cuomo and a theoretical power-sharing deal between mainline Democrats and the Independent Democrats, it appears that Barack Obama's low approval ratings and a national Republican surge could have more affect on who controls the New York State Senate next year.
Republican control of the State Senate could be very bad news for Cuomo, who has promised to deliver on a number of progressive issues like The Dream Act and campaign finance reform. Cuomo founded the Women's Equality Party on a 10-point legislative agenda that was blocked by Senate Republicans for two years after Cuomo announced it with great fanfare during his 2013 State of the State speech. If Republicans are able to capture a senate majority it is likely the the WEA will have to wait at least two more years.
However, if Republicans do win control of the Senate it could help Cuomo on other issues.
The races to watch on which control of the chamber hinges are mostly Upstate, on Long Island, and in Western New York.
A rematch between Democratic Sen. Cecelia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore in the newest district created by gerrymandering is one key race to watch as their prior contest was decided by just 18 votes.
The contest in the Hudson Valley between Democratic Sen. Terry Gipson and Republican Sue Serino is expected to be close as the district leans Republican.
The seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Greg Ball, who opted not to seek re-election, features a contest between Democrat Justin Wagner and Republican Terrence Murphy. Wagner waged a failed challenge to Ball two years ago.
In Rochester, Democratic Sen. Ted O'Brien faces a serious challenge from Republican Rich Funke.
There are several Long Island races also in play.
There are also plenty of uncontested races, of course.
On the *BACK* of your ballot: 3 Constitutional Amendment Proposals
Prop 1: Reform of the process by which state legislature and congressional district lines are drawn
The language on your ballot will begin, "The purpose of this proposal is to reform the process of establishing new state legislative and congressional district lines that the Constitution requires every 10 years. If the proposal is approved, a redistricting commission will be established to determine lines for legislative and congressional districts, subject to adoption of the commission's plan by the Legislature and approval by the Governor. Under the current provisions of the Constitution, the Legislature is the entity responsible for establishing these lines." [More]
Prop 2: Allowing bills being brought to state legislators to be shared electronically instead of being printed
The language on your ballot will begin, "The purpose of this proposal is to allow electronic distribution of a state legislative bill to satisfy the constitutional requirement that a bill be printed and on the desks of state legislators at least three days before the Legislature votes on it. Under the current provisions of the Constitution, this requirement can only be satisfied by distribution of a physical printed copy." [More]
Prop 3: Allowing the Smart Schools Bond Act, $2B in state bond sales toward providing money to school districts for technology purchases and school infrastructure
The language on your ballot will begin, "The purpose of this proposal is to authorize the creation of state debt and the sale of state bonds in the amount of up to two billion dollars ($2,000,000,000) to provide money for the single purpose of improving learning and opportunity for public and nonpublic school students in New York." [More]
***As you prepare to vote on Tuesday, please visit our Elections Center; use our Gotham Gazette-WNYC guide to find out exactly who will be on your ballot; read articles from our election coverage; and/or peruse other resources we've put together like this page of debate video and editorial board endorsements***
Tweet us @GothamGazette and good luck deciding as Tuesday approaches!
by David King and Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
Howie Hawkins speaking at this year's gubernatorial debate (photo: AP)
Howie Hawkins has one man to thank for giving his campaign a boost: Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Hawkins, the Green Party's New York gubernatorial candidate, is not going to come close to winning the highest seat in Albany. But his polling numbers are strikingly good for a candidate who gets little press, is not from a major party, and has little money to run on. Cuomo's support for charter schools, tax cuts for the wealthy, and indecisiveness on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has fueled progressive discontent with his reign.
"Cuomo is my best campaign worker. His record is my best ad," the 61-year-old Hawkins quipped in an interview after an October 25 Manhattan fundraiser featuring Ralph Nader, the most famous Green Party member. Nader helped raise at least $5,000 at the event held at the Unitarian Church of All Souls for the Syracuse-based candidate.
Hawkins, a United Parcel Service (UPS) truck loader who believes in socialism and is running on a tax-the-rich and renewable energy platform, is trying to harness liberal anger over Cuomo, a Democrat—and he's having some success. An October Siena College poll showed that Hawkins had support from nine percent of voters, with Cuomo garnering fifty-four percent and the Republican candidate Rob Astorino getting thirty-three percent.
"I think those numbers could be real," said Grant Reeher, Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University's Maxwell School. Reeher has watched Hawkins over the years as he repeatedly campaigned for various seats.
Historically, the number of votes for a third-party candidate is less than what polls predict. But Reeher added that Hawkins is seen by some voters as a candidate with specific, creative ideas, a posture that draws a stark contrast with other candidates. "That's what appeals to a lot of people. And then the question is do they carry that appeal with them into actually flipping the lever for him—I think in this case there's more of them that will."
If Hawkins gets anything approaching his polling levels at the ballot box—a tough task—he would make history and cut into Cuomo's margin of victory. Green Party gubernatorial candidates typically receive about one percent, give or take a few decimals, of total votes at the polls.
In 2010, Hawkins ran for the New York Governor seat and received about 60,000 votes, enough to secure his spot on this year's ballot early. Under New York laws, parties have to receive 50,000 votes in the previous gubernatorial election to receive a guaranteed spot on the ballot for the next race. (If a party fails to do so, they must collect at least 15,000 valid signatures on a petition.)
Hawkins' poll numbers reveal the depth of liberal anger at Cuomo. Progressives who would normally back the Democratic Party candidate say Cuomo is a pro-business leader whose backroom dealings represent the worst of Albany. The support for Hawkins from Democrats—he has received endorsements from six New York City Democratic clubs, some minor Democratic officials and a handful of teachers' unions—is the latest sign that liberals in the party are asserting themselves against centrists. The Siena poll had thirteen percent of Democrats supporting Hawkins.
Cuomo was challenged by Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor who campaigned as a liberal populist, in the Democratic primary in September. The Working Families Party, an influential minor party that backs liberal Democrats, considered endorsing Teachout. But the party leadership decided to strike a deal with Cuomo in exchange for the governor's pledge to back Democratic control of the State Senate and a push to raise the minimum wage, among other issues.
Nevertheless, Teachout ran to Cuomo's left in the Democratic primary and received a little over a third of the vote, enough to chip off Cuomo's luster. Teachout has refused to endorse Cuomo for the general election, and Hawkins is making a direct pitch to voters who backed Teachout in the primary.
Hawkins said that Teachout backers were "telling us even before the primary: Teachout for the primary, Hawkins for the general. There's a lot of disaffection among progressive Democrats with Andrew Cuomo."
Still, the question is whether liberals will vote for Hawkins or for Cuomo on the labor-backed Working Families Party (WFP) line. Under New York's "fusion" laws, minor parties are able to back the same person that a major party is running. The Working Families Party is pushing supporters to vote on their line for Cuomo in the hopes of pressuring the governor to move left post-election. Cuomo will actually appear on four ballot lines: the Independence Party, Democratic Party, and WFP lines, as well as the Women's Equality Party line, for a new party Cuomo started this year to highlight his push for his Women's Equality Act. The creation of this party and Cuomo's major push to encourage supporters to vote for him on its ballot line has angered and worried some WFP loyalists - and even some who simply want the Democratic governor to run as a regular Democrat.
Hawkins' platform includes a call for public works jobs for the unemployed; a pledge to make New York run only on renewable energy sources by 2030; taxing the rich; a $15 an hour minimum wage; and publicly funded healthcare for everybody. But the two issues that have animated voters the most are fracking and education.
Hawkins has vowed to ban fracking—there is currently a moratorium on it in New York—and take aim at charter schools, privately run public schools that operate outside of state education regulations and are typically not unionized. His running mate, lieutenant governor candidate Brian Jones, is a former public school teacher who is strongly opposed to charters.
The term fracking refers to a process where companies, using water, sand and chemicals, drill deep into the earth into rock to extract natural gas.
Gas companies' rush to frack has sparked pushback from residents in communities around the country where fracking occurs. Environmental activists point to cases of fracking-linked water contamination and studies that warn of air pollution.
Cuomo says he is waiting for a state health department report on fracking to make a final decision. There is no timetable on when that report will be issued, though the governor said during the only gubernatorial debate it would be released before the end of the year. Hawkins is warning that Cuomo will allow fracking in at least some areas of the state, and has seized on a Capital New York article revealing that the Cuomo administration edited and delayed a key federal water assessment of fracking. "Some of the authors' original descriptions of environmental and health risks associated with fracking were played down or removed" after state officials weighed in on the report, Capital New York's Scott Waldman revealed.
Cuomo has also stoked anger from teachers for his pro-charter school stance—a stance that has intensified this year. Supporters of charter schools say they give parents more choice, hold teachers accountable, and perform better than traditional public schools, though detractors say they weaken public schools and unions, siphon off top students and, in fact, don't perform better than public schools.
Wall Street donors who are big backers of charter schools have given large sums to Cuomo's campaign. In the winter, Cuomo told pro-charter school activists to organize a rally, and they did, bringing thousands of people to the capitol in March to push for more money and space for charter schools. The New York Times reported in April that Cuomo was a driving force behind pro-charter school legislation passed in Albany that increased funding for charter school students and mandated that New York City give charter schools space in public schools or pay most of the cost for charters to operate in private facilities.
Cuomo's appearance at the pro-charter rally in March was the last straw for Mindy Rosier, a registered Democrat and teacher for seventeen years. Rosier, who plans on voting for Hawkins, teaches children at the Mickey Mantle School in Harlem, which caters to special needs students. The building where the school is located also provides space for another public school. Yet another school came to be located there in 2006, when the Harlem Success Academy, part of a charter network run by former City Council Member Eva Moskowitz, was granted space at the school. The new legislation has led to fears that students will be displaced by more Harlem Success Academy expansion (the network was approved recently to open over a dozen more schools in the next two years).
Teachers like Rosier say the charter school co-location has taken away resources from their students. Cuomo has "turned his back on our schools," she said in an interview after the fundraiser for Hawkins. "[The charter school] literally gutted my school, almost in half."
The Hawkins campaign is now hoping to capitalize on Rosier's and other voters' anger. Many credit Teachout's strong primary showing (she received over 192,000 votes to the governor's 361,000-plus) to those upset with Cuomo on fracking and education. A turnout for Hawkins that approaches his poll numbers could further boost the Green Party by displacing the Conservative Party's Row C ballot line for the next election.
If he gets close to what his poll numbers predict, "that would be an historic vote for an independent progressive party. It means we would be part of the political conversation going forward," said Hawkins. "We want to follow up in the wake of this campaign, win or lose the office, and organize our party and our movement so we can exercise the power that that vote demonstrated."
Alex Kane is a New York-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Mondoweiss, AlterNet, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane
Comptroller candidates debate (photo: @InsideCity Hall)
We're helping you prepare for Election Day 2014 in New York. In that vein, we bring you our best attempt to collect video ads, debate footage, and editorial board endorsements in the three statewide races as well as the race in New York's 11th Congressional District.
To see who will be on your ballot and find lots of information about races, candidates, and ballot proposals, use our Gotham Gazette-WNYC Election Guide.
To read our ongoing coverage of the races of 2014 as well as other New York politics and policy, see our most recent articles. This includes our report on the very high number of uncontested general election races for New York State Legislature. But, the three statewide races are not uncontested, and we're bringing you more information on the contests for Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller (plus New York's 11th Congressional District). See below for all the video advertisements that campaigns for those three offices have put online on Vimeo or YouTube. We've also put links to televised debates. But first, editorial board endorsements:
Do newspaper editorial board endorsements matter to voters? Do they impact elections? Most say they have historically. Some say they don't matter much these days. It's hard to tell. Candidates certainly love to tout them when they get them and downplay them when they don't. While we can debate and analyze their impact - and some exit polling would be nice! - we can certainly track to whom these endorsements go and some of the interesting things said in support of the so-honored candidates as well as those not chosen.
We're collecting editorial board endorsements in the 2014 races for the three statewide offices of New York Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller, as well as NY's 11th Congressional District, one of the most widely-watched congressional races in the state and country. Note: Gotham Gazette does not make endorsements. Send us additions for this page any time: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Editorial Board Endorsements for New York Governor: Incumbent Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo v Republican challenger Rob Astorino v Green Party challenger Howie Hawkins
(Flashback: NY Times Democratic Primary non-endorsement)
Editorial Board Endorsements for New York Attorney General: Incumbent Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman v Republican challenger John Cahill
Editorial Board Endorsements for New York Comptroller: Incumbent Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli v Republican challenger Bob Antonacci
NY Times and Queens Tribune both went for (Schneiderman &) DiNapoli - see last two links in AG section above
Editorial Board Endorsements in New York's 11th Congressional District: Incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Grimm v Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia
Debates in the races for NY Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, and the 11th Congressional District (note: these are televised debates):
Gubernatorial Debate, October 22 on PBS
Broken up by question by the Buffalo News
Attorney General debate, October 30 on NY1
Full debate video
Comptroller debate, October 15 on NY1
Full debate video
NY-11 debate, October 28 on NY1
Full debate video
NY-11 debate, October 17 on ABC-7
Full debate video
Video Advertisements Posted to Candidates' Vimeo or YouTube Channels (note: candidates may run TV ads and not post the video to Vimeo/YouTube):
Gotham Gazette YouTube Playlist of 2014 Video Ads for NY Gov, AG, Comptroller:
Because New York's comptroller serves as the state's top fiscal watchdog, it's no surprise that this year's race for the job turns on the use of public funds — but not in the way you might expect.
In what many describe as an example of the forlorn state of campaign finance reform, the only 2014 contest for statewide office with a public financing option won't see that mechanism tested.
Incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli, long a proponent of changes in the campaign finance system, is not participating in this year's pilot program, which was worked out as part of this spring's state budget deal between legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Republican challenger and admitted underdog Bob Antonacci, currently Onondaga County comptroller, signed up for the program but hasn't raised enough money to activate the money infusion. A candidate who opts in first needs to raise at least $200,000 from 2,000 small donors before they're able to tap into a 6-to-1 match of public funds.
Critics of the pilot program who want a more sweeping campaign finance reform said they weren't surprised that Antonacci hadn't qualified.
"It was designed to fail, and it has," said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. DiNapoli, who was incensed about the program's launch just eight months before the election, has expressed similar sentiments.
Despite the heat generated by the debate over campaign funding, DiNapoli and Antonacci have run a relatively cordial race, with each staking out what could be viewed as typical Democratic or Republican stances.
Antonacci has criticized the management of the state's public employee pension system, contending it is unsustainable and will force property taxpayers to bear excess costs. He favors offering future employees 401(k)-style options in which they would take more responsibility for their retirement investment.
DiNapoli argues that, unlike pension funds in many other states, New York's pool of money is well-funded. DiNapoli, who maintains close ties to public sector unions, opposed the 2012 creation of a less-generous Tier VI pension plan for newly hired public employees.
Antonacci has also criticized DiNapoli for his office's role in approving financial settlements for women who sued the Assembly over alleged sexual harassment by former Democratic member Vito Lopez — a hammer that Republicans have used against a wide range of partisan opponents
DiNapoli has insisted that his staff had no discretion over how those deals were structured. "We can't pick and choose when there's a legal settlement," he said in a recent debate.
The two men come to the race from differing backgrounds.
Antonacci, a lawyer and CPA, points to his private-sector experience. "I know how hard it is to make a payroll in New York state," he said earlier this month.
DiNapoli served as a Long Island assemblyman from 1987 to 2007, when he was elected by his fellow lawmakers to replace former Democratic Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who stepped down after pleading guilty to misusing public resources. Hevesi subsequently pleaded guilty to corruption charges related to the "placement agent" scandal, in which access to investment business with the pension fund was swapped for campaign cash and other favors.
After taking office, DiNapoli implemented reforms including the banning of placement agents, the paid intermediaries or lobbyists who previously played a role in steering investment work.
In league with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a fellow Democrat, DiNapoli has uncovered abuses by public officials and private firms that take taxpayer dollars. His administration has seen the creation of Open Book New York, a website that shows active contracts with the state.
DiNapoli has also set up a "fiscal stress monitoring system" for municipalities in an effort to draw attention to the cost crunch facing communities around the state. He has clashed with Cuomo at times, pushing back against the elimination of the comptroller's preapproval powers over certain contracts and an effort to "smooth," or amortize, municipal pension payments. He lost on the first issue, but achieved concessions on the second.
He has also used the power of the pension fund's investments to push large corporations on issues ranging from LGBT rights to pollution, attracting praise from progressives and brickbats from pro-business conservatives who say the state's investment strategy should prioritize profits over politics.
Antonacci has hit DiNapoli for what the Republican describes as a reactive attitude to corruption in the Legislature, such as in recent cases of alleged per diem abuse by lawmakers. He would streamline the contract approval process and mount a top-to-bottom analysis of the comptroller's operation to see where efficiencies could be found.
The polls have suggested that Antonacci faces a steep challenge — one made more difficult by the fact that his most recent campaign filing, submitted Friday to the state Board of Elections, shows him with $119,350 on hand. DiNapoli reported $1.8 million.
Last week's Siena Research Institute survey showed DiNapoli holding a 27-point advantage over Antonacci (58 to 31 percent), the largest lead in any of this year's three statewide races.
Casey Seiler contributed • email@example.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU
The checks are in the mail.
Close to Election Day, the state Department of Taxation and Finance began earlier this month mailing out school tax freeze rebate checks to homeowners across the state.
These checks should not be confused with this fall's other election-season kindness from state government: a $350 child tax credit.
Under this year's freeze rebate, homeowners whose school districts kept their tax levies at or below the state's tax cap get a rebate that represents the real-dollar increase that schools are collecting per property.
The state's tax cap is pegged at 2 percent, although it's less in some districts and more in others. It can be as low as the inflation rate of 1.46 percent but can exceed 2 percent due to the exemptions to the cap such as rising employee pension costs.
The idea was to create an incentive for schools to stay within their districts' caps since taxpayers would be more likely to vote no on their budgets.
There are some limitations: The rebate is means-tested and limited to those with incomes of $500,000 or less, and applies to the primary residence.
That's similar to the School Tax Relief of STAR program that lowers the assessments upon which the taxes are based.
And since school taxes vary depending on location and value of the homes, the rebates can be as low as $20 or less or as high as hundreds of dollars in expensive areas such as Westchester County or Long Island.
The child tax credit is given to families with children younger than 17 as of 2012 and whose incomes were between $40,000 and $300,000.
The vast majority of school districts this year stayed under or at the cap, so most STAR-eligible homeowners should get rebates.
Still, fiscal watchdogs have questioned both of the checks.
"It's not going to get to the underlying problem, which is sky-high local taxes," said Elizabeth Lynam, deputy research director of the Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group.
"It doesn't really address the structural problem: the high cost of local government.''
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino's spokeswoman said he supports the tax cap but believes the rebate amounts to an election-year gimmick.
"The freeze is just taking people's money and giving it back to them," said Jessica Proud.
Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, countered that the rebate acts as an incentive for localities to control their costs.
"This is tax relief for New Yorkers now that also incentivizes local governments to cut costs, share services and make the changes needed to keep property taxes down in future years'' Azzopardi said in a statement.
The rebate also will apply to municipalities, which generally complete their budgets by the end of the year — that set of rebates will go out next fall.
In year two of the program, the rebates will apply to schools and municipalities if they adhere to their cap and also develop a cost-saving plan for the future.
That demand has raised questions about what would happen after the two-year, $1.5 billion rebate program ends; the tax cap presumably would remain in place.
Taxation and Finance spokesman Geoffrey Gloak said in an email that the "program is administered using existing resources."
Earlier this year, The Post Standard of Syracuse estimated it would cost $1.6 million in postage to send out all the checks for both the child and tax credit.
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The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday recommended new restrictions for people at highest risk for coming down with Ebola, and symptom monitoring for those at lower risk. But some state governors — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and even an Army commander have gone beyond that guidance.
As contradictory state policies proliferate in response to Ebola fears, the CDC's recommendations mark an effort to create a national standard.
The CDC now says even if they have no symptoms and are not considered contagious, people should stay away from commercial transportation or public gatherings if they have been in direct contact with the body fluids of someone sick with Ebola — say by touching their fluids without protective gear, or by suffering an injury from a contaminated needle.
Absent that direct contact, simply caring for Ebola patients or traveling in West Africa doesn't warrant quarantine conditions, the public health agency said.
But quarantines are determined state by state in the U.S., and the CDC is only empowered to issue guidelines. And even within the federal government, authorities were improvising Monday: a U.S. Army commander in Italy said he and all his troops returning from Liberia would remain in isolation for 21 days, even though he feels they face no risk and show no symptoms.
A nurse who volunteered with Doctors Without Borders in Africa was released after being forced to spend her weekend in a tent in New Jersey upon her return.
CDC Director Tom Frieden criticized mandatory quarantines because he said they could create undesired consequences. Health workers may choose not to volunteer to care for Ebola patients in West Africa, for instance, or they could lie about their possible exposure.
A spokesman for Cuomo referred the Times Union to remarks he made earlier in the day in Nassau County.
"I disagree with the CDC, and at the end of the day, I'm the governor of the state of New York, and my No. 1 job is to protect the people of the state of New York," Cuomo said.
The state's policy, as announced by the governor over the weekend, is to require health workers who have cared for Ebola patients to remain at home for 21 days, the longest amount of time it takes for symptoms to develop after exposure to the virus. The state will compensate people under quarantine who would otherwise lose pay, the governor said.
New York is the most common entry point for travelers returning from West African nations where there is an Ebola outbreak, Frieden said.
Claire Hughes contributed to this report.
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo becomes more vocal in his support of a bond issue that he created, he's been more subdued on another brainchild of his that also will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Cuomo appeared on Long Island on Monday at the unveiling of the Smart Schools Commission's report on how to spend $2 billion for educational technology and facilities improvement.
He also used a recent television commercial to advocate for voter approval.
With a week to go until Election Day, his full-throated support of the bond act — Proposal 3 on the ballot — contrasts with Cuomo's activism for a much-discussed redistricting proposal that will appear in the first position. With voters deciding on the complex amendment to the state constitution, advocates supporting the measure are hoping to see Cuomo show some passion.
"The governor clearly supports it but has been less than visible in promoting its passage," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a good-government group that's supporting the measure.
Proposal 1 is a constitutional amendment that would retool the state's redistricting process, taking it out of the direct control of lawmakers and giving it to a commission chosen in large part by legislative leaders. If approved, that commission would redraw the state's political maps starting in 2022.
Because lawmakers would still have to approve the lines — and tweak them after two rejections, with limits — other reform groups are opposing the measure.
Getting the Legislature to agree to a reworking of the redistricting process was considered a victory by Cuomo when it first passed in 2012.
To get it, he compromised with legislators by withholding his threatened veto of their 2012 line-drawing.
"This agreement will permanently reform the redistricting process in New York to once and for all end self-interested and partisan gerrymandering," Cuomo said in March 2012.
But he's said little in recent weeks about the proposal. Instead, he's focused more on Proposal 3, first introduced in his 2014 State of the State address and approved by the Legislature this year.
If approved, that proposal would provide $2 billion worth of bonds to help fund technology upgrades for school districts statewide.
While Cuomo has reiterated his support for the redistricting amendment in recent interviews, in many cases it has been in response to reporters' questions.
Considering the nature of electoral politics, this might not be surprising: While redistricting is complex and seemingly faraway in its effects — the next round of redistricting occurs in 2022 — Proposal 3 would have a more immediate impact.
At Monday's unveiling of the Smart Schools report, he wasn't asked about Proposal 3. Instead, he was grilled for nearly 20 minutes about the state's response to the Ebola crisis.
"I think the challenge is that this is an issue that not many New Yorkers know about, which is why having the governor's public advocacy for it at this point would be helpful," Dadey said.
"The governor commands a platform that would draw attention to the need for this reform amendment to the constitution."
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Residents of Oneonta as well as those involved in upstate New York's higher education community were shocked to learn over the weekend that a longtime college administrator and current mayor had apparently shot himself to death.
Police in Oneonta said that Mayor Richard "Dick" Miller died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Saturday morning.
He shot himself in the head with a .22-caliber handgun. Police found his body in the garage.
Miller, 71, was in his second term as mayor. He was first elected in 2009 and prior to that he served six years as president of Hartwick College.
Miller, who was a decorated Vietnam veteran, also served as an administrator with the State University of New York as well as the University of Rochester.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said in a statement, "Dick was a true servant to our state and a real champion of higher education.
"Whether he was focused on the needs of the people of Oneonta as their mayor, on the achievements of the students and faculty of Hartwick College as their president, or on the success of the citizens of New York as chief of staff at SUNY System Administration, Dick was always known to be intently focused on bringing people together," she said.
A note on the Hartwick College homepage from President Margaret Drugovich said "Dick Miller was an energetic force for change in all of the communities with which he engaged.
Whether as a college administrator or a city mayor, he occupied his roles fully, with enthusiasm and optimism."
Police were continuing to investigate the death on Monday.
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Poll shows Stefanik maintains a lead
ALBANY — A new poll shows Republican Elise Stefanik continuing to hold a lead in the 21st Congressional District.
The WWNY-7 News-Siena College poll shows Stefanik leading by 18 points over Democrat Aaron Woolf and 39 over the Green Party's Matt Funiciello.
The latest results are a boost from Stefanik's numbers last month, when she led her two challengers by 13 points and 36 points, respectively.
Stefanik's numbers appear to be continuing to benefit from Democrats giving 11 percent of their support to Funiciello, which contributes to the fact that Stefanik polls better among members of her party than Woolf does among Democrats.
The candidates are vying for the seat being vacated by the retirement of Rep. Bill Owens.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to lead Republican Rob Astorino in the district 43 to 39 percent.
The poll surveyed 670 likely voters. The margin of error is 3.8 percent.
— Matthew Hamilton
Pastor Connis Mobley in his Sandy-wrecked Coney Island church (photo: Chauncey Alcorn)
CONEY ISLAND - There has been much attention this week on still-suffering Sandy victims and efforts to rebuild their homes. Nearby many of those homes, the wrath of the 2012 superstorm was also felt by houses of worship, many of which remain in disrepair.
Marking the two-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, local political leaders led by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens) gathered in Coney Island Wednesday where several houses of worship severely damaged by the storm remain in disrepair two years later.
Jeffries called on the banking industry to help save these storm-ravaged churches, mosques, and synagogues, but local clergyman like Connis Mobley, pastor of United Community Baptist Church on Mermaid Ave., say slow-moving government aid programs are as much to blame for their troubles as private banks, and that endless bureaucracy is hurting his congregation.
Mobley's church has existed in Coney Island for 43 years and is considered by locals to be an important part of the community. Prior to Sandy, the church had about 100 active members. Now it only has about 30.
"This past Sunday, I celebrated my 17th year as pastor of this church and had no service. I couldn't. I had no place to go," Mobley said at a press conference outside his unfortunately vacant and dilapidated church. "I don't know any pastor in all of the U.S. that [has] a service for their anniversary and isn't able to be inside their building."
Inside, the pastor's church looks like a scene from the Chernobyl disaster. Naked concrete, paint chips, dust, and debris line the floor while peeling paint and exposed brick decorate the walls. Stacks of trash bag-encased supplies and plywood stand where pews should be. The words, "Catch the vision," sit ironically below a dead clock embedded above the church's former pulpit. Outside, the pastor points to a rust-colored line running about six feet from the ground along the front wall of the church's exterior.
"That's how high the water was," he said sternly.
In stark contrast, a few blocks away resides the fully-restored – and profitable – Coney Island boardwalk, where on Wednesday squealing thrill-seekers could be heard taking advantage of the unusually warm October weather by riding the Cyclone and catching views of the Atlantic Ocean from the apex of the famous Luna Park Wonder Wheel, which re-opened right on schedule following Sandy in March of 2013.
"It's a shame," said Jeffries. "Houses of worship have been largely ignored in this assistance equation. Two years into the recovery process, it's just time to publicly say, 'That's a shame,' and we're going to do everything we can to assure houses of worship get the assistance that they deserve."
Jeffries, State Assembly Member Alec Brook-Krasny, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams want the banking community to create low interest loan programs for religious institutions like Mobley's, which they said do not qualify for federal aid.
Prior to the press conference, Jeffries sent letters to the CEOs of four major U.S. banks – JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citibank – asking them to develop the programs to assist local religious institutions.
Chase, Bank of America, and Citi did not return calls for comment. In an email response, Spokesperson Kevin Friedlander said Wells Fargo has no retail banks in Brooklyn, but did send "mobile response units" to aid and answer questions for mortgage customers in Sandy's aftermath.
"At the federal level, unfortunately, we are prohibited from providing direct financial assistance to houses of worship because of the separation of church and state doctrine," Jeffries said at the press conference, adding that Congress attempted to pass a related bill that ultimately was blocked by the Senate. "We have to do other things to get our houses of worship back up on their feet."
For Mobley, who emphasized he's grateful for the congressman's advocacy, church and state separation is not an issue. His biggest problem has been delays from the SBA, a federal agency, which lends money to Sandy victims who operate small businesses, including religious institutions.
After battling the SBA for months, Mobley said he was approved in August for a $416,000 loan, but he doesn't know when he'll receive the money. While waiting, he said the church has been forced to pay about $20,000 for attorney fees to file building, plumbing, electrical, and demolition permits.
"We've paid that out of pocket because the SBA [loan] was so slow being released," he said. "We were denied three times before being approved."
SBA Spokesperson Carol Chastang said the agency does grant physical disaster loans to charitable and religious organizations like Mobley's, but that the maximum payout for those loans is $200,000.
Private banks have offered no help either. Mobley claims clergy members throughout Coney Island have been denied loans from banks because traditional businesses, viewed as less-risky ventures, received priority for Sandy recovery-related loans over religious institutions.
Mobley said he was denied a loan because his church was not in debt.
"We own the building, been paid off since 1984," he said. "We've been debt free since 2005. Banks say to me, 'You need to be in debt to show something, that you're able to pay something.'"
Other clergy members at the press conference said, unlike in Mobley's case, that by using charitable donations from their own congregations, their houses of worship have rebounded since Sandy – minus some critical repair needs.
"We didn't get help from no banks or anything like that. It was just really donations and fundraisers at the church," said Ruth Morales, community coordinator for Coney Island Tabernacle, whose congregation was displaced for about a year following Sandy.
"Our church is a lot smaller than [Mobley's] church. This church has history and I guess with the new [building] codes and where [the church is located] and being hit twice [by Irene and then Sandy]...Mr. Mobley has been in the community for a very long time. It's not just a place of worship. They do a lot of community service here."
Morales commended Jeffries for trying to help Mobley.
"I'm actually very proud of him, that somebody finally decided to come out of the box and say this is a shame," she said.
Imam Mahdi Din Muhammad, leader of the Bab-Us-Salam Mosque on Neptune Ave., one block from Seagate, said his congregation was displaced by Sandy for more than six months, but membership has actually increased since the storm.
He added that his mosque still needs renovation and a new boiler system, but its small size allowed it to recover faster than Mobley's relatively large church.
"We were able by the grace of Allah to come back," Din Muhammad said. "We still need some assistance from anyone who can help us re-establish the [mosque] in Coney Island like it was before Sandy came."
by Chauncey Alcorn for Gotham Gazette
Commemorative baseballs for the fourth-straight on-time NYS budget (photo: @ridiamond)
The following is part of our series, The Cuomo Record, examining incumbent Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo's first term as he seeks re-election heading to Election Day, November 4
Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration were so excited about delivering a four straight on-time budget that they printed commemorative "Grand Slam" baseballs to hand out to legislators to memorialize the accomplishment.
In fact, Cuomo's roundly lauded record of timely budgets has become the simplest argument the governor and his supporters have made for giving him a second term. Clear, responsible leadership, they say: four on-time spending plans, keeping state agencies functioning, workers paid, and infrastructure maintained.
It might not seem like much to those unfamiliar with New York politics, but for years the state was known for knock-down, drag-out budget fights between the Governor and Legislature that left the state without a spending plan far past the April 1 deadline.
What's more, in a state that has seen recent budgets that grow spending by about 8 percent most years, Cuomo delivered each budget with relatively flat spending: 2 percent increases to match inflation. That is no easy feat considering it is basically the Legislature's job to demand more spending. Not to mention, Cuomo took office right as the federal stimulus money that had been used to prop up State spending was drying up - Cuomo had to make hard cuts without millions in federal cash.
And yet Cuomo faces criticism from both those who want to see the State cut spending and those who want it to spend more on things like education, healthcare, and transportation.
"The first year the governor came in with $6 billion in federal stimulus that just disappeared overnight," said E.J. McMahon of The Empire Center, a non-partisan think tank. "Federal cash propped up school aid, Medicaid, and it was coming to an end. It was foreseeable, but that doesn't lessen the fact that the governor had to cut spending...he simply could not afford to replace the federal stimulus."
Facing major cuts in Medicaid spending Cuomo called in the hospitals and healthcare unions to figure out how to spend the money that was available. "That kept them busy so that they weren't out there attacking him," said McMahon.
Cuomo also cut school aid spending and drove hard bargains with public employee unions, cutting pensions and benefits, and putting workers on furlough.
Kathy Wylde of The Partnership for New York City, a pro-business group, called Cuomo's first-year efforts "courageous" because he was willing to risk political capital to make drastic, needed cuts.
McMahon said that while he was impressed with Cuomo's first budget, the following three years saw the governor getting creative in ways to hold spending to a two percent increase without actually balancing the budget: "You look at the first year and the governor really had success in holding spending on Medicaid, school aid, and [making] other cuts, but in his second budget he lets out his belt."
McMahon says that Cuomo has used "gimmicks" to patch holes in the budget. The State has deferred $1 billion in pension payments, tapped into the State Insurance Fund for $1.75 billion, and also reclassified debt to make things look better for current budgets. "Even with keeping spending flat, not making cuts, the governor needed taxes and spending gimmicks that aren't recurring. So the budget isn't balanced," McMahon asserts.
Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has expressed concern over the State's raid of the State Insurance Fund and other practices. In his 2013 budget report, DiNaopli praised the governor and the legislature for enacting another on-time budget, but criticized a lack of transparency around a few big-ticket items and warned of a budget containing "temporary resources and revenue assumptions that may fall short." He indicated that the State should reduce its "reliance on backdoor borrowing."
Specifically, DiNapoli's report noted, "The enacted budget relies on more than $4 billion in temporary and non-recurring resources, excluding $5.1 billion in extraordinary federal assistance for Superstorm Sandy expenses. At least $467 million in new temporary resources to be used in 2013-14 – including a $250 million transfer from the State Insurance Fund (SIF) – are included in the budget. In total, the enacted budget authorizes the transfer of at least $1.75 billion from assessment reserves held by the SIF to the General Fund through SFY 2016-17."
At the start of this year Cuomo began talking about the state having a $2 billion budget surplus - something that baffled McMahon and other budget experts. McMahon has described it as an "aspirational" surplus and yet in August Cuomo announced a $4.2 billion surplus thanks to legal settlements reached with big banks. The State took in $3.2 billion in a settlement with French bank BNP Paribas. Earlier in the year Cuomo and the Legislature came to a budget deal to strip control of a $613 million bank settlement away from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
And While McMahon is concerned by lack of cuts to members of the public employees unions, education advocates and transportation experts are concerned that the governor isn't spending nearly enough.
James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy institute told Gotham Gazette that Cuomo's cuts to the state workforce and two percent property tax cap have hurt upstate New York because middle income public sector jobs are disappearing in areas that don't have private sources of similar employment. "The cuts to state government employment and the two percent spending cap and property tax cap are bad news for local governments. They are losing middle income government jobs in areas that aren't seeing private sector job growth," Parrot said.
Susan Kent, president of The Public Employees Federation (PEF), continues to insist that Cuomo's cuts to the public workforce have damaged the ability of state agencies to fulfill their basic tasks. "Many state agencies are understaffed, services are being cut in communities, and expensive privatization is on the upswing," said Kent in a statement reacting to Cuomo's proposed 2014 budget. "We believe the public-sector workers we represent, the governor's own workforce, should have the same expectation of job growth and stability as those workers in the private sector."
PEF endorsed Cuomo's Democratic primary opponent Zephyr Teachout, who ran to Cuomo's left and struck a populist message.
Education advocates, while happy to see Cuomo commit to a state-wide pre-kindergarten plan, say that governor has not addressed the gap in quality between poor schools and rich schools. In 2006, well before Cuomo's tenure, the State Court of Appeals found for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in its lawsuit against the State that accused New York of failing to live up to its constitutional and financial obligations to fund education. The court mandated increases in funding for K-12 with a floor of at least $1.9 billion annually. Gov. Eliot Spitzer took office in 2007 and with the Legislature, implemented a plan that increased education spending for New York City by $3.2 billion and the rest of the state by $4 billion. However, in 2009 following the economic collapse, Gov. David Paterson implemented a spending freeze. Then the state cut $2.7 billion in education aid in 2010-2011.
McMahon argues that Spitzer gave up the most important thing he had control over in budget negotiations, education spending, and set a bad example for a legislature that is always demanding more education money. "When Cuomo came in and cut education spending, everyone lost their mind," said McMahon.
But education advocates insist that Cuomo is hell bent on privatizing education and isn't interested in increasing education funding to make up for the inequalities the court found in 2006.
"After four years, the governor has totally failed to address the massive inequality in education between rich and poor schools," said Billy Easton, of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, in 2014 reacting to Cuomo's budget proposal. "If this budget is enacted it will mean students will see cuts on top of cuts."
While Easton is concerned with cuts, McMahon is concerned that Cuomo decided to step in to Mayor Bill de Blasio's push for universal pre-k and have the State fund it because it is another "entitlement" the State has to afford.
Transportation experts insist that Cuomo has avoided dealing with the Metropolitan Transportation Agency's inherent cash problem. While the agency has good ridership and decent income, it still faces labor and healthcare expenses it can't keep up with and has a capital plan that isn't totally funded.
In September, the MTA issued a $32 billion capital plan with a $15.2 billion gap. The budget now goes to the State where a skeptical governor is waiting. Cuomo has insisted when questioned that the initial budget request by any agency is always inflated. "The first budget from every agency always calls for $15 billion extra," Cuomo responded to a reporter in October. "That's part of the dance that we go through. That's why I say it's the initial, proposed budget. The DOT budget is going to ask for $15 billion. The second floor budget is going to ask for $15 billion. That's just how it works. We'll then look at that budget and go through it, and we'll come up with a realistic number. But we have a very real $4 billion surplus, and we have a two percent spending cap that I still follow. So that's the discipline that's in the process."
Experts, including McMahon, expect that without new funding sources the MTA will issue more debt and hike fares this year. "The MTA is facing a yawning hole and something has to happen," said McMahon. The governor can't keep pretending he doesn't have anything to do with them."
Cuomo will face a major revenue quandary should he win a second term, which is expected. The state's millionaire's tax is set to expire in 2017. McMahon points out that the state's top two income tax tiers are temporary and will expire. When Cuomo ran in 2010 he insisted that continuing the millionaire's tax would count as "a new tax" but he quietly extended it in a deal with the Legislature. The fruits of the extension were seen this fall as rebate checks went out to middle income families with children just in time for the election.
Members of The Business Council of New York State, which endorsed Cuomo again this year, discussed just how likely it would be for the state to let the tax sunset during their September meeting in Bolton Landing. The consensus? Not likely at all.
"The temporary millionaires' tax raises a lot of money...It's hard for me to see the political situation accommodating a $3 billion tax cut which is just going to go to the top half-percent of the population," James Wetzler, a retired tax consultant who served in the administration of Mario Cuomo, was quoted as saying by Capital New York. "The question is, how are you going to pay for this tax cut, assuming you want to do it. There's no attractive way to do it."
Cuomo continues to campaign on his fiscal successes - in his lone debate with Republican opponent Rob Astorino on-time budgets were one of the first things he mentioned. But some experts worry Cuomo is sending mixed messages. Cuomo has suggested to more liberal audiences that now with the state's fiscal house in order he can afford to spend on more progressive initiatives like The DREAM Act. McMahon said Cuomo's second term will be far more testing because he is being pulled in multiple directions politically. "It is absolutely true that in his first year he made a series of tough choices but it gets increasingly more difficult in the second term, given his political choices."
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
PC Bratton gives a briefing (photo: @NYPDNews)
This week's report on the frequency and distribution of misdemeanor arrests from 1980 to today from John Jay College of Criminal Justice provides clear evidence of what many have known for years. The NYPD is engaged in a wide-ranging social experiment in the mass criminalization of poor non-white New Yorkers.
The report shows that misdemeanor arrests have increased from about 60,000 a year in the early 80s to almost 250,000 today. Last year the arrest rate for whites was 1.2 percent, compared to an arrest rate of 6.4 percent for blacks and 4.4 percent for Hispanics.
Misdemeanor arrest rates for all three groups almost doubled from 1990 to 2010. White rates rose from 0.7 percent in 1990 to a high of 1.4 percent in 2011, black rates rose from a low of 3.6 percent in 1990 to a high of 7.5 percent in 2010. Hispanics saw a smaller increase, from 2.5 percent in 1990 to a high of 4.7 percent in 2010.
The bulk of the charges seen in this massive expansion involve low-level drug enforcement, especially of marijuana, prohibitions against commercial sex work, the many disorderly activities associated with living on the streets, and a variety of minor offenses mostly engaged in by young people such as graffiti and riding a bike on the sidewalk.
A shocking 25% of all misdemeanor arrests since 1980 have been for low-level drug violations, including 1 million arrests for marijuana.
The impact on the youngest New Yorkers has been the starkest. 16-17 year olds, who are treated as adults in New York State, saw their rate of arrest jump from 3.2% in 1980 to over 10% in in 2010. That means one in every ten 16-17 year olds was arrested for a misdemeanor in 2010.
Since these arrests are heavily concentrated in communities of color, in some places closer to 3 in every 10 young men in this age group face arrest each year. While that rate has since declined some, we are saddling these young people with permanent arrest records for low level drug involvement, jumping the turnstile, and playground fights in mind numbing numbers. The involvement of police in school safety enforcement has only worsened that trend by criminalizing schoolroom misbehavior as well.
During the 30-year period covered by the report, there has been an explosive increase in poverty and homelessness in New York City, especially among communities of color. African-Americans in particular are poorer and more socially isolated. Our City's response to this profound growth in inequality has been mass criminalization through the War on Drugs and the drive to eliminate "quality of life" problems through heavy-handed zero-tolerance policing, spurred on by a slavish adherence to the unproven "Broken Windows" theory. There is no substantial evidence that this massive expansion in misdemeanor arrests for drug violations, sex work, youthful misbehavior, and the activities associated with living out of doors is responsible for what is an international drop in crime. Hundreds of cities around the world have enjoyed major decreases in crime during this same period without relying on these techniques.
There is, however, clear evidence of the negative consequences of the increased usage of misdemeanor arrests on those arrested and the communities they come from. While disorderly behaviors have been reduced by aggressive policing, it has also torn apart families, destroyed livelihoods, and alienated many from the police, work, and city services.
In addition, the social problems being criminalized by the NYPD have shown no signs of improvement. Unemployment among young men of color remains at very high levels—in some communities topping 50%. Homelessness has increased throughout the period of the report. At the same time, drug use and drug availability remain pervasive, as does access to commercial sex. In other words, life for the poorest New Yorkers remains desperate and their problems are typically compounded by intensive criminalization.
Even if the massive increase in misdemeanor arrests was somehow responsible for a part of the crime decline, the social and financial costs are too high. The high costs of police time, court time, and over $100,000 per bed per year to run the prison on Rikers Island, means the arrest and jailing of people for even short periods is a gross misuse of limited city resources. The intensive criminalization of almost entirely minority populations flies in the face of any effort to reduce inequality, create equal opportunities for all, and improve the real quality of life in minority communities.
We must find lasting solutions to inequality that don't rely on criminalization. Drug use and drug dealing, sex work, and the disorderly behaviors associated with living on the streets are very real social problems, but criminalization at best papers over these problems and in some cases makes the problems and the lives of those involved worse. Resources devoted to criminalization must be repurposed to initiatives designed to create pathways out of homelessness and poverty. We must stop relying on homeless shelters, emergency rooms, and jails to deal with people living on the streets, we must find real economic opportunities for young people of color that take into account the challenges of educational failure, discrimination, and long-term poverty.
We can start with increasing permanent housing with transitional support services for those most in need, a massive expansion in public housing, and reforms to make living conditions better could improve life for hundreds of thousands. We need a major increase in the minimum wage to ensure that those who are working make enough to steer clear from participation in black markets. We need an increase in the standard of living for city employees, who have endured decades of austerity contracts, which has contributed to a thinning out of the middle class in the city, and we need further investment in non-punitive anti-violence initiatives for young people with wraparound services.
Finally we must decriminalize drugs and sex work and address whatever concrete harms are associated with them through community-based initiatives that don't rely on the police, courts, and jails.
The mayor is beginning to pursue some of these strategies, but the needs are huge and resources limited. He should stop wasting precious resources on criminalization and put them where they will do more good than harm.
Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to hte Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale
State Sen. Jose Peralta is one of many uncontested incumbents (photo: @SenatorPeralta)
The strength of a democratic government is in its citizens' ability to choose their representatives. But if the choices are limited, is the process truly democratic?
On Election Day - Tuesday, November 4 - more than a third of all races for seats in the New York State Legislature, 74 out of 213, feature a candidate running unopposed. The same holds true when you zoom in on New York City, where 21 of 63 races are uncontested.
Looking at this startling democratic mutation, Gotham Gazette spoke with experts seeking answers as to why such a phenomenon exists and what can be done to make New York elections more competitive. The theory goes, of course, that more competition for office moves candidates to further engage with voters, explain specific policy positions, and remain more accountable to constituents if victorious.
Along with its partner for this project, City Limits, Gotham Gazette also spoke with New Yorkers in several sections of the city where voters will not have candidate choice on Election Day.
In a section of Astoria, Queens that is part of Senate District 13 and Assembly District 36, both feature one-candidate races - incumbent Democrats Jose Peralta in the Senate and Aravella Simotas in the Assembly. Residents of the neighborhood expressed disappointment in the situation. "I don't think this is a democratic way," said Hector Algarroba. "There hasn't been a lot of campaigning because of that reason. Since they don't need to campaign, they don't need to spend the money in advertisement."
Another resident, Yannis Bacalis, a 26-year-old master's student, said there is a lack of a personal touch in the campaigning. "I would like to see a nominee coming to Astoria, rather than sending flyers and ads on the news. I would like to know why I should be motivated to vote for him or her. So it's lack of PR and human relations basically," he said.
"Well, I wasn't aware of the elections... but after what you told me, I think someone needs to step up, because this is not democratic," said Ourida Victorin, 25, a student living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which falls under Assembly District 57. The District is represented by Walter Mosley, who is running unopposed this year.
"I feel it's not fair there is just one person running. What if the person is not good for the position?" Victorin added.
Contested and Uncontested Races for the State Senate, 2014
Contested and Uncontested Races for the State Assembly, 2014
In a state with no term limits for state-wide or state legislative offices, incumbent candidates are nearly impossible to beat. Of course, they can't be beaten if they aren't even opposed. In New York City alone, two-thirds of incumbents in the September primary elections did not face an opponent.
Incumbents enjoy strong name recognition, and can mobilize extensive resources (chiefly financial) to solidify their position. It is an uphill task for any challenger to enter the ring. Good government advocates, political operatives, and political scientists seem to agree on the reasons that so many races are run unopposed: imbalanced campaign financing, unchecked gerrymandering, and the absence of term limits.
"Either one party is so dominant in a district that it discourages opposition, or the incumbent has acquired so many resources that it's daunting for opponents to run," said Gerald Benjamin, director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz. "Resource gathering has more to do with discouraging competition than actually campaigning."
Benjamin seems to hit at the heart of the issue. Opposition can be deterred before it even becomes a reality. Uncontested races, says NYPIRG research coordinator Bill Mahoney, are "partially from the natural partisan divisions of New York State. In other cases the races are made unnaturally uncompetitive when a company lends hundreds of thousands of dollars to a candidate. Some candidates are deterred at the realities of that."
The phenomenon is one that has not gone unrecognized, particularly in New York City where public financing rules can make for a more equitable distribution of campaign resources and more competition in races for municipal office - though incumbency still almost always prevails.
"Certainly, incumbents have the access to this institutional money," said Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs, New York CIty Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB). "Political committees, labor organizations, lobbyists -- those groups are looking at incumbents, but challengers rarely have access to those big contributors."
Even without contests, incumbents raise - or are simply given - campaign funds. The aforementioned incumbent State Sen. Peralta's re-election campaign received $147,925.25 since January; contributions to Assembly Member Mosley's campaign are more modest at $33,828. Another unopposed incumbent, David Valesky, State Senator for District 53, raised $173,681 (it is typical that Senators outraise Assembly Members). Candidates are known to spend campaign cash even when unopposed. There is also, naturally, the inclination to raise funds in preparation for a challenger that could emerge.
The collection of resources and their utilization seem to be the chief factors in deciding candidates for seats. "We have to spend our resources carefully," said David Laska, communications director, New York Republican State Committee. "Every County Chair has to decide where resources are best spent," he said, asserting that just as there are seats where Republicans have not put up a candidate, Democrats have also failed to run in certain Upstate districts.
Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of the Political Science Department at Hunter College, CUNY, cut exactly to that chase: "No one wants to spend money on a race they know they're going to lose."
Carving out wins
Redistricting has been one of the prominent issues of this year's election with a ballot proposal ("Prop 1") that offers voters a chance to approve redistricting reform. Advocates are split about the promise that Prop 1 holds for large-scale reform, but all agree that so-called gerrymandering is anti-democratic.
Districts have historically been drawn by sitting legislators to advantage incumbents. The carefully-crafted district lines allow for skewed voter registration balance, one of the bricks in the foundation of incumbency and one that all but eliminates competition.
"One reason (for the many uncontested races) is, of course, the outrageous gerrymandering of the State Legislature which creates a very large number of districts packed with only one party and designed to be non-competitive," said Sherrill. "The appearance of party competition in New York State is maintained only by virtue of the malapportionment of the Legislature."
Sherrill added that local political clubs and organizations are dying out and failing to recruit younger potential candidates.
Reinvent Albany's Kaehny said, "There are fewer contested districts because of gerrymandering working for incumbents. Over time it is not a surprise that they have so many built-in advantages. The fact that the State Senate has an agreement to effectively have a peace treaty of sorts and the governor has not done anything to change the gerrymandering proves that we have an incumbency-protection plan."
In fact, the trend appears to be worsening. According to a new report by good government group Citizens Union, released on October 29, the percentage of incumbent state legislators running unopposed was 28% in 2012 and is now 38% in 2014.
The redistricting of the state - often into bizarrely drawn districts - by those in power creates niches of concentrated supporters and helps win seats in general elections. "When you look at general election races in particular, when you have a system when the majority party is drawing lines favoring one party over another, the seats are not competitive," said Rachael Fauss, director of public policy at Citizens Union.
Uncontested Races, New York State Legislature, 2012 & 2014
Limits and Signatures
Incumbents have several significant advantages, among them being the fact that there are no limits on the number of terms they can serve. And for challengers who are new to the system, simply entering the fray is fraught with technicalities that are hard to navigate, particularly obtaining ballot signatures.
"Election law in New York State is very onerous," said Daniel Isaacs, chair of the New York Republican County Committee. "I think it's more so an uphill climb in challenging an incumbent. But the arduous process of getting on the ballot is also taken into account. It definitely deters candidates."
Jerry Skurnik, founder of Prime New York, a political consultancy firm, said "It is true that in some states it's easier to get on the ballot than New York. If you needed less signatures there probably would be more candidates running in districts."
Kaehny concedes that these "terrible rules" need to be fixed but doubts whether they play a big role in the number of uncontested races.
However, to Sherrill's point about the death of local political clubs, if those clubs are indeed withering, that may actually remove one advantage incumbents often have: club mobilization for gathering ballot signatures. Old-school political clubs are very often the mechanism by which incumbents easily attain more than enough signatures to make the ballot each election cycle.
Competitive spirit lacking?
Uncontested elections relate closely to another common New York phenomenon: elections so one-sided that they are "contests" in name only. The same factors foster both problems, and the latter can lead to the former--as it has in Staten Island's 62nd Assembly district. A solidly Republican district, the seat was open in 2012 when Republican Lou Tobacco departed, so Democrat Anthony Mascolo made a bid to defeat GOP nominee Joseph Borelli. The Republican romped to a 69-31 victory, and this year Mascolo didn't even think of challenging the incumbent.
Mascolo says he had a difficult time raising money and had to spend a lot of his own resources on the race, but doesn't blame a small financial disadvantage (Borelli raised $89,000 to Mascolo's $69,000) for his defeat. Instead, he feels the local Democratic Party did nothing to support him.
"I started to get the feeling that Staten Island is carved up among the parties by district," he recalls. "I received no help from the Democratic Party at all, which was a little surprising to me. I couldn't get a Democrat to stand with me out here, even for a handshake."
Did his quixotic campaign make an impact, just by giving voters a choice? Mascolo doesn't think so. And in case he wants to run for something else in the future, he recently registered as a Republican.
Uncontested Senate Races by Borough, 2014
Uncontested Assembly Races by Borough, 2014
Cookie cutter solutions?
Where these different experts and analysts stand divided is the solution to the systemic problems in New York's electoral process that create such limited choice in so many districts.
New York City's Campaign Finance Board and many others see the city's system as a model for publicly matching small contributions to enable more competition in the State Legislature.
"There are lot of different proposals for reform, but what I think works best is at the city level," said Friedman of the NYCCFB. "That matching of funds ensures candidates can raise small contributions from neighbors and have resources to run a viable campaign against incumbents. Incumbents have been beaten in city races because the resources are available for candidates that have significant neighborhood support."
In 2013, New York City saw perhaps its most competitive, democratic election cycle since 2001. More than two-thirds of the total amount of individual contributions collected by candidates came from residents that contributed $175 or less. The system provides incentive for candidates to reach more voters. And for more people to run. Because New York City is so heavily Democratic, this often manifests itself in party primaries - but to an extent that does not happen in races for state legislature. While the public campaign finance system is part of this trend, term limits also plays a key factor. Nevertheless, in the 2013 race for City Council in the 7th District, the eventual winner, now Council Member Mark Levine, faced nine opponents in the primary. Seven candidates battled it out in the 42nd District primary before Inez Barron won. In District 48, Chaim Deutsch won in a tight contest of five candidates.
Prime New York's Skurnik said public financing can help. "Candidates do feel they don't have to spend so much time raising money and they can spend time on the issues," he said, although with one caveat. "It definitely is increasing the amount of candidates in the primaries to create seriously contested primaries, but less so in the general election."
Skurnik's point again returns the conversation to the issue of unbalanced party registration - New York City is heavily Democratic with an approximate registered voter ration of 6 to 1 Democrat to Republican.
There are those who are wary of implementing the city's public campaign finance system across the state. "Campaign finance reform might help," said David Laska, of the New York Republicans. "But, if you look at New York City, the Campaign Finance Board, in the 2013 mayoral race, actually kept people from running [more competitively], such as John Liu and Bill Thompson. There's been a lot of misuse of public financing, so I would be cautious of state-wide adoption of it."
With reforms to campaign finance and term limits, long-standing incumbents are more likely to be pressed on residing issues by unlikely opponents instead of riding out an uncontested race.
"The only way these guys leave Albany is either in handcuffs or on a stretcher. Term limits and public financing will change that," said Daniel Isaacs.
His colleague at the state level, Laska, added, "Term limits are a good thing. New Yorkers would like to see fewer career politicians and more citizen legislators."
Yet again, every reform has it's skeptic. "Term limits will simply have the effect of rotating which members of the dominant party hold the seat," said CUNY's Sherrill.
Finally, many agree that non-partisan independent redistricting would be a key reform to fostering more competitive, democratic elections. Disallowing incumbents sway over swathes of the state comprised largely of their supporters or party affiliates would be a major step forward, advocates agree.
With the election around the corner, there has been much clamor for and against Proposition 1, which will appear on the back of ballots and offers reform of the process by which district lines would be drawn in the future. The extent to which the proposal offers positive reform continues to be the source of much debate.
While divided over solutions, experts generally agree with freelance cameraman Webster Antoine, a freelance cameraman living in Assembly District 57, where Walter T. Mosley faces no opponent next Tuesday. Antoine said the lack of choice on his ballot is "pretty messed up."
"I was planning on voting, but it's not like I have a choice. I haven't seen a lot of commercials or campaign events either now that you mention it," he added. "I didn't think about it before, but of course if you don't have an opponent, you don't need a campaign, do you? This is just wrong."
by Lisa Autz and Samar Khurshid with reporting contributed by Danielle Cruz, Jarrett Murphy and Ana Pastor.
This report is part of a collaboration between Gotham Gazette and City Limits looking at the troubling lack of competition in New York elections.
Note: Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union
It took 73 extra days for the freshly redistricted 46th state Senate District to officially have its representative for the next two years.
Election Day 2012 came and went without an official winner as legal challenges dragged out the vote count. Seventy-three days later on Jan. 18, Amedore, who had already filed an oath of office, had lost — by 18 votes to Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk, a Duanesburg sheep farmer who started off with little name recognition and was helped by big super PAC spending.
Nearly two years later, things are shaping up in a similar way. Amedore, whom public polling showed led by three points in the days before the 2012 election, held at 10-point lead in an early October Siena College poll. Shortly after, word came down that Tkaczyk would again be spent on by a super PAC, Friends of Democracy, which is funded by Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire financier George Soros.
Possibly a product of an acrimonious battle for control of the Senate between Democrats and Republicans, the race for the 46th also has been among the most bitter across the state.
Women's issues have been perhaps the most divisive between the two campaigns. Tkaczyk, sticking with the Senate Democratic Conference, has been a staunch supporter of passing all 10 pieces of the oft-debated Women's Equality Act. She has voiced opposition to passing breaking up the act and passing the first nine planks piecemeal while leaving out the controversial 10th plank, which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law.
That's where Amedore, who says he is a supporter of the first nine planks, differs. He says he's concerned that late-term abortions would be allowed to be performed by non-doctors, adding that he is concerned about the safety of all women.
The two have some semblance of agreement on other issues. Both have expressed concern about the way the SAFE Act was passed and the need for some form of background checks when purchasing firearms. In a debate last month, both agreed that there should be local control and say in where casinos — possibly coming to the district — should be sited.
But with the implications on the Senate power structure of this race, those agreements have been overshadowed by the bitterness.
The Senate Republican Conference and the Independent Democratic Conference have held co-control of the Senate for the past two years. But that fragile power-sharing structure has been threatened by politics that extends to statewide races.
In late May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a deal with the Working Families Party that he would push for Democratic control of the state Senate in exchange for the party's endorsement. Then in June, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was instrumental in another deal that leaves the IDC poised to rejoin the Senate Democrats in hopes of holding a majority come January.
Polls show that those dreams of a Democratic majority coalition are threatened, though. Republicans, including Amedore, lead in hotly contested Senate districts statewide. At the beginning of the month, when polling data was released, Democrats tried to spin the numbers as indicators of where their candidates were before they even started spending their money on individual campaigns. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said upstate Democrats were in serious jeopardy of losing their seats.
The division between the candidates and the Senate conferences is mirrored by a division among voters back in the 46th District.
Tkaczyk said she didn't know why voters are seemingly as divided as they were two years ago.
"We haven't had the election," she said after being endorsed by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer last Tuesday. "I think it's clear I've done a really good job. I think you'll have to wait and see what happens on Nov. 4."
Amedore pointed to division in the last election. Amedore suffered a major blow in Ulster County in 2012 (losing 21,726 votes to 12,922 votes) while winning Schenectady, Montgomery and Green counties and losing by a smaller margin Albany County.
Even if Tkaczyk is the incumbent who squeaked through and Amedore is up in the polls, neither is resting on their laurels.
"I ran not because someone asked me to run or someone gave me lots of money; I ran because I wanted a common-sense voice going to Albany, and that's what I'm bringing and that's what I'll continue to bring," Tkaczyk said.
Amedore said: "I lost by 18 votes. We are taking nothing for granted."
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MOVA Commissioner Loree Sutton & Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: Yeong-Ung Yang)
*Update: this story has been revised to reflect comment from Mayor Bill de Blasio given at an unrelated press conference on Wednesday, October 29, when asked by Gotham Gazette about his approach to the VAB
The nine-member Veterans Advisory Board (VAB) acts as a policy liaison between the New York City veterans community and the Mayor's Office of Veteran's Affairs (MOVA). The mayor is responsible for appointing five members, and the City Council Speaker four.
A review of those currently serving on the VAB shows six of the nine members are serving under expired terms, at least one of which has been expired since 2005 and another since 2012. These gaps open questions as to who is doing the critical job of VAB member, the integrity of the appointment process, and the attention being paid to the VAB by the elected officials in charge of these appointments.
Two speaker-appointed VAB members, Patrick Devine and John Rowan, show their appointments expired on November 19, 2005, according to information recently published on the MOVA website.
The accuracy of the information regarding Rowan, however, is in question. The website shows his appointment date to be November 20, 2012, making his term expiration date November 20, 2015. He appeared and testified at the Council's veterans committee oversight hearing on Monday. Gotham Gazette contacted the mayor's press office to find out if the information on the site was accurate and which members are still active on the board. Multiple emails were not returned.
Gotham Gazette asked Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's office to find out if Devine, the only VAB member representing the Bronx, is still an active board member, and if so, when and how was he reappointed. The speaker's office would not answer any questions regarding Devine or Rowan, only saying the speaker's office is reviewing the appointments. Requests for more information in follow-up emails were denied.
VAB appointments under the purview of the mayor's office also show a lack of attention. There are four outstanding mayoral-appointed members of the VAB, three of which expired under Mayor Bill de Blasio on August 23, 2014: Lee Covino of Staten Island and Manhattan's Marvin Jeffcoat and Vincent McGowan.
The MOVA website indicates Paul Rieckhoff's term expired on February 17, 2012. Gotham Gazette reached out to Rieckhoff, who is CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), to ask if he was still serving on the VAB and if he had attended any of the quarterly meetings since his term expired. Emails were not returned by press time.
Lee Covino, a VAB members since 2002, said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon that he had not seen Rieckhoff at recent VAB meetings, but had seen Devine. Covino, whose own term expired in August, said he told the board that due to family issues he did not wish to be reappointed.
Gotham Gazette contacted the mayor's press office to see when the mayor would be filling the vacant VAB positions, or reappointing current members. Multiple emails were not returned by press time.
Gotham Gazette looked at the annual reports submitted by the VAB from 2002 to 2013. The reports listed issues brought up at each of the quarterly meetings and while some reports mention a "full board was present," neither an attendance sheet or roll call was listed. The reports never make mention of when board members were appointed or reappointed, however, there is mention when new MOVA commissioners were appointed.
When asked about the reappointment process, Covino, who was reappointed twice, said, "I don't think there was any process."
He said under the Bloomberg administration he told the board he would continue to serve and then got a letter saying he had been reappointed. Covino was quick to note that simply being interested didn't guarantee a reappointment—the Mayor or the Speaker had to approve.
Joseph Bello, a Gulf War veteran and veterans advocate, testified at the City Council on Monday that his name had been submitted, along with at least one other veteran, however, neither veteran was approved to be on the board. He said he was never given a reason why.
Gotham Gazette reached out to both the mayor's office and speaker's office for clarification on how they handle VAB appointments and reappointments. The mayor's office did not return multiple requests for comments. The speaker's office declined to comment.
Update: Reached for comment by Gotham Gazette at an unrelated press conference on Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio said, "You will see in the coming weeks and months, a number of boards and commissions will have new appointees that will reflect our values." He did not specify regarding the VAB or a date.
When asked what criteria he would use to choose appointees to the board, the mayor spoke more broadly saying his administration would focus on mental health issues suffered by veterans and eliminating veteran homelessness.
The opacity regarding who is actually serving on the VAB, how they are appointed or reappointed, what they do, and when they do it plays into the call for reform that city veterans advocates have been making in recent years.
MOVA, the city office tasked with helping veterans connect with services on the city, state, and federal levels has a small budget of $549,112 for five staff members and operating expenses. Mayor de Blasio appointed former Brigadier General Loree Sutton to head MOVA in August and she is conducting a review of her office. Five people tasked with helping a city veteran population of roughly 200,000 is clearly problematic, leaving some to call for a separate Department of Veterans Affairs. As it stands, though, the VAB is a key tool for MOVA to discern what is going on with veterans - especially on the ground, in the boroughs.
Board members appear to be very connected to the veterans community, with many of them holding positions at other veterans organizations. But how they are using their networks to better connect New York City veterans to much needed services is not clear.
As was made clear at Monday's council hearing, VAB information is hard to come by. Meeting dates are not posted online, so if a veteran wants to bring an issue to the board, it is especially difficult to do so. If VAB members host or attend community events, that information is not published on the MOVA website, making direct outreach a matter of chance, not strategic policy. Up until the spring, VAB board member names were not even published online.
"Unfortunately, many veterans in New York City are not aware of the VAB and the role it plays within city government," Jason Hansman, senior program manager for IAVA, testified at the oversight hearing on Monday. "For our members who are aware of the group, many believe that historically it has not been taken seriously and that it has not had the impact on the lives of veterans and their families that it should."
The board has advocated successfully for several initiatives that were implemented including Veterans Treatment Courts, permitting issues with the Department of Consumer Affairs, and support for Junior and Senior ROTC programs in the City.
But as veterans continue to come home from current and recent conflicts, the VAB will need to play an increasingly critical role in helping veterans gain access to services for employment, housing, education, and healthcare.
"My hope is the people who they appoint [next] is not just a guy with a chest full of medals," Covino said. "We need someone who is familiar with direct services to veterans."
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
Rob Astorino on the campaign trail (photo: @RobAstorino)
In the last few months, Governor Andrew Cuomo has pummeled his Republican challenger Rob Astorino with TV ads describing him as "ultraconservative."
Cuomo and Astorino certainly have very different positions on hot button social issues like gun control, abortion, and immigration reform, with Astorino more conservative on each. But as Westchester County Executive, where he is now serving his second term, Astorino's tenure has been less focused on social issues and more defined by pocketbook concerns like taxes, spending, and budgets.
Astorino touts his tax cuts and reductions in county spending, and the new private sector jobs created under his watch. He argues that his record on these issues will make him a better steward for the state's economy — but his critics say his social positions are out of step with New York and that he's been a shortsighted leader.
What Astorino supporters and opponents agree on is that he's someone who doesn't often change his mind. To admirers, that means he's principled. To his opponents, he's overly ideological.
Astorino's administration has also been sidetracked by a major lawsuit filed before he took office over what the federal government says is discriminatory housing practices in the county. Astorino's vocal opposition to oversight by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which he calls "radical social engineering," is seen by some as emblematic of his uncompromising style.
Recent polls show Astorino down by 20 to 30 points, and Cuomo retains a huge financial advantage with less than a week until Election Day. But Astorino says he's optimistic.
"People are giving Cuomo a good look now and they're not liking what they see," he told Gotham Gazette. "I think most people think we're going in the wrong direction in the state."
Astorino, a former radio announcer who lives in Mount Pleasant, served on the school board, town board, and the county board before being elected county executive in 2009. He started his career as an elected official at age 21, when he won a seat on the Mount Pleasant Board of Education.
He came from behind to win his 2009 county executive election, and won re-election by 13 points in a county that is two-to-one Democratic — about the same proportion as New York state.
Astorino, who speaks fluent Spanish, says he won 60 percent of the Latino vote and 25 percent of the African-American vote in Westchester, although his campaign has declined to release the internal polling behind those numbers.
"I never could have been elected and re-elected with a large margin without a good number of Democrats, African-Americans, and Hispanics supporting me," he said.
He's been in office with a majority Democratic board of legislators, which he said has taught him the importance of working across the aisle.
"We've had to work very collaboratively in a bipartisan way to get things done," Astorino said. "That's the same thing I'd bring to state government."
But Catherine Borgia, the Democratic majority leader on the county board, disagreed, saying Astorino was hard to work with and shortsighted. As chair of the board's oversight committee, she said she had trouble getting information from his administration.
"If he can't find a way to get along with 17 legislators, he's really going to find it impossible to get along with the New York State Assembly and New York State Senate," she said.
John Testa, the board's Republican minority leader, said he thought Astorino's tenure could be characterized by "frankness" and his "matter-of-fact manner of what needs to be done and how to handle it."
"Rob Astorino is quite frankly not a panderer," Testa said. "He cuts out the politics and tries to get results."
Fight with the Feds
In 2009, Astorino's predecessor settled a federal lawsuit accusing the county of lying about its compliance with fair housing mandates after a judge ruled the county had "utterly failed" to comply with those regulations.
Under the settlement, Westchester is required to build 750 units of affordable housing in 31 towns that are mostly white by 2016 and then market the housing to people of color. It must also push municipalities to change zoning laws that restrict affordable housing. Those zoning laws only allow single family housing in some areas, for example.
But since Astorino came into office in 2010, the county and HUD have fallen into a rancorous debate. The agency has withheld more than $20 million in housing grants to the county, citing lack of compliance.
"This is the one perpetuating issue that seems to always have a piece in just about everything we do in the county," Testa said.
Astorino says he supports building affordable housing and he's complying with the settlement, but that he's also stood up against federal overreach. In his view, the county is a test case for HUD.
"The federal government wants to take over zoning in Westchester and every neighborhood around this country and put apartment buildings in every neighborhood," he said at the lone gubernatorial debate, on October 22. "I'm going to fight that tooth and nail."
"They're going into your community next," Astorino added.
Craig Gurian, the attorney who filed the 2006 discrimination lawsuit, said the county was failing to comply with the settlement because it was building the affordable housing on the least desirable land, disconnected from more affluent white communities.
Astorino has worked "for surface or window dressing instead of going for the substantive structural changes that the decree demanded," Gurian said. "The county is not meeting its obligations."
Gurian says the county has abdicated its responsibility to take municipalities to court if they don't alter their zoning.
While Astorino calls the push "radical social engineering," Gurian responds in kind.
"It's social engineering to maintain homogeneity that perpetuates segregation," Gurian said. "Dismantling that kind of social engineering is entirely appropriate and long overdue."
Astorino is "playing to racial fears," he said.
The county executive has stuck to his guns. "It's impractical and extremely expensive to do what they would like to do with their pie-in-the-sky ideas," he told Gotham Gazette.
In a court motion earlier this year, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told the judge that Mr. Astorino had made "numerous false and misleading statements" about the settlement, the AP reported. The county's federal monitor, James E. Johnson, also said Astorino had "spread misinformation" about its requirements.
But Gurian said that HUD and Bharara were also to blame for not actually forcing Westchester to build more housing. And he noted that Cuomo, who lives in Westchester, had never spoken out about the issue until the campaign.
Lawrence Levy, the dean of Hofstra University's Center for Suburban Studies, said the HUD dispute could help both Astorino and Cuomo win votes.
"For Astorino, this is a winner of an issue. It's one of the few that he has a chance to gain traction with suburban swing voters," Levy said, while noting that elections were never won on a single issue. Even some Democrats "don't want the federal government telling them what to do in their own backyards," he said.
Meanwhile, attacking Astorino on segregation plays to Cuomo's liberal base, which he has at times had a rocky relationship with. While he was silent on the issue during most of the campaign, Cuomo, who once ran HUD, has turned it into an attack line in the last few weeks.
"Discrimination is the purview of the federal government. The Civil War was fought. [The federal government] has authority over the states," Cuomo said in the debate.
[Related: Read our series on Gov. Cuomo's record]
'Ultraconservative' or pragmatic?
As county executive, Astorino mostly avoided the hot-button social issues that Cuomo is now attacking him on. But he has clearly taken more conservative positions than Cuomo.
Soon after he was elected, Astorino brought back gun shows to the Westchester County Center, overturning an 11-year ban. He canceled the shows in 2012 after the Newtown, Conn. school shooting, though. That shooting was also the impetus for a defining piece of Cuomo legislation.
While Astorino initially signaled interest in the SAFE Act, Cuomo's signature gun control law, saying that it did some "interesting things and important things," he has since changed his tune, the Journal News reported. He chose Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, an outspoken SAFE Act opponent, to be his running made.
"The SAFE Act made no one safer in New York," Astorino said in a March speech. "All it did was make criminals out of law-abiding citizens."
On abortion, Astorino vetoed a bill that would have created a buffer around abortion clinics where no protesters would be allowed. The bill would also have "increased penalties for threatening or violent behavior," according to the Journal News. Astorino, who is anti-abortion, said the bill would have infringed on protesters' first amendment rights and led to lawsuits against the county.
Astorino opposes Cuomo's Women's Equality Act, or at least its tenth plank, which would codify Roe v. Wade in state law. Astorino says it could open the door to increasing abortion and allowing later term abortions, which Cuomo denies.
"Abortion is not going anywhere in this state," Astorino said. "It's used as a boogeyman by the governor so he doesn't have to talk about...why this state is in rapid decline."
And on immigration reform, Astorino opposes the DREAM act, which would let some undocumented college students receive state financial aid. Cuomo has expressed support for the bill, which narrowly failed to pass the State Senate in March.
The two candidates also disagree on same-sex marriage. Cuomo played a crucial role in making same-sex marriage legal in 2011. Astorino opposes it, although he says it is settled law.
In a state where voters are becoming more liberal on social issues, Astorino could be seen as out of step. Unlike his opposition to HUD, "his position on guns, on abortion, and other conservative issues doesn't play nearly as well with moderate swing voters, especially women," Levy said.
One possible winning issue for Astorino, Levy said, is Common Core, the new public education standards. While Cuomo supported Common Core in the past, he has distanced himself from the standards after parent outcry surrounding tests associated with them. Astorino, whose wife is a public schoolteacher and whose kids go to public school, says he would drop Common Core. He even created the Stop Common Core ballot line, on which his name will appear in addition to the Republican and Conservative Party lines.
Taxes and spending
Astorino said the issue he was proudest of as county executive is reducing taxes.
"We brought a healthy balance back between what we can afford and what we want," Astorino said. "Taxes were going up exponentially each year. We brought some stability."
As county executive, Astorino cut or froze county taxes each year. But Westchester still has the highest property taxes in the nation, with an average tax burden of $9,647 a year, according to the Tax Policy Center.
Cuomo has attacked Astorino for not meeting his campaign promise of cutting county taxes by 20 percent. But Astorino says he's cut county taxes more than any other county in the state.
"He should be thanking me—I'm his county executive," Astorino said of Cuomo, who lives in Westchester, at the debate. "His county taxes went down. The other taxes went up."
Astorino reduced the county workforce and cut spending in Westchester by 5.2% over his tenure, although that invited controversy when he raised contributions required of low-income parents for subsidized childcare.
Borgia, the Democratic legislator, said Astorino's cuts to county engineers could harm Westchester's infrastructure in the future.
"He's always thinking of cutting, cutting, cutting now, not the long-term impacts of his decisions," Borgia said.
The county's credit rating was also downgraded by Moody's during Astorino's administration, from its highest to its second highest ratings. But Westchester still has the highest rating from Standard & Poor's and Fitch, and retains the highest credit rating of any county in the state.
As governor, Astorino says he wants to reform state regulations, reduce some optional Medicaid services, and cut taxes for all New Yorkers further than Cuomo has. His two-tier tax plan would get rid of some tax credits and result in the largest savings for millionaires. He also hopes to end the estate tax by 2020 and enforce a property tax cap.
A longshot with a political future
Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said Astorino was a longshot at best.
"The polls suggest he has really not gotten any traction, he doesn't have the resources for the TV ads ... and he's in a state where there's two Democrats for every Republican," Miringoff said. "It may have been just too uphill a fight to expect anything different."
Republican George Pataki was also down in the polls just a few weeks before his upset victory over incumbent Democrat Mario Cuomo in the 1994 gubernatorial race, Testa pointed out. Mario's lead was much lower than his son's is now, however, and New York is more Democratic than it was 20 years ago. No Republican has held statewide office since Pataki left in 2006.
Even if he comes up short next week, Astorino will retain his seat as county executive, and could very well have political influence in New York in the future.
"He's a smart guy," Levy said. "If he does well enough, even losing, he can set himself up to be his party's leader in one of the nation's largest states."
[Related: Read our series on Gov. Cuomo's record]
by Casey Tolan, Gotham Gazette
SYRACUSE — Police in Syracuse identified a 20-year-old man shot dead while sitting in a parked van. Police say Adon Boatwright of Syracuse was killed just after 7 p.m. Saturday.
Sgt. Tom Connellan says Boatwright was sitting in the vehicle when someone approached on foot and shot him. Police have made no arrests.
Eight days left until Election Day. But until Nov. 4 finally comes, here's a look at some events coming in the seven days ahead.
The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics meets at 10:30 a.m. at its offices on Broadway in Albany. The session will be webcast at http://www.jcope.ny.gov.
As part of the Picture: Recovery art show hosted by the state Office of Mental Health, artists host a guided gallery tour and discussion of the artwork. 1 p.m., Empire State Plaza, South Concourse
— Casey Seiler, Matthew Hamilton and NYSNYS.com
Rob Astorino is yearning for bygone days — Nov. 3, 2009, to be precise.
That's the date when the Republican upended polls that had showed him trailing by a wide margin, and beat Democratic incumbent Andrew Spano to take power in Westchester County, where enrolled Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.
Whether his victory was the result of political magic or old-fashioned hard work, Astorino hopes for another come-from-behind win five years later, this time in 2-to-1 Democratic New York state. On the campaign trail, he repeats the story in an attempt to woo voters wondering if a vote cast for him will actually matter on Nov. 4, when his main opponent — based on polls and campaign resources — is Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
At a Ballston Spa farm last weekend, Astorino summed up what they might be thinking: "'You can't win. Why are you even running? You've got no shot.' Well that's what they said in 2009 when I chose to run for county executive in a county of a million people, 49 percent of which are Democrats, 24 percent Republicans."
While Astorino has repeatedly said he doesn't focus on polls, data from the last 11 months show Cuomo heavily favored.
In a November 2013 Marist College poll, Rensselaer County Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin edged out Astorino in head-to-head match-ups with Cuomo, earning 24 percent to Astorino's 23 percent. In a Quinnipiac poll from February — just before Astorino announced his run — the wide gap between Astorino and Cuomo was only three points tighter than the margin separating Cuomo and Manhattan business mogul Donald Trump.
A Siena Research Institute poll released last week showed Astorino still down 21 points to the incumbent, with his name recognition at 73 percent compared to Cuomo's 97 percent.
The Republican has struggled for resources. Astorino's fundraising has been dwarfed by Cuomo's prolific numbers, which shot upward of $40 million this year. The governor has raked in millions from large donors: 331 of his supporters handed over $40,000 or more. By contrast, Astorino took in just 17 donations worth that much.
That's left the Republican running a comparatively shoestring campaign. He's been on television with ads, but between spending by Cuomo's campaign and the state Democratic Committee, the barrage of TV ads have come mostly from the left.
National Republicans haven't been quick to assist Astorino, either. There was a spat as campaign season heated up between Astorino and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chair of the Republican Governors Association, who said he doesn't invest in "lost causes." Even with the recent letters and visits from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain, none have actually donated to Astorino's cause this year, state Board of Elections data show.
Enrollment numbers also favor the incumbent governor, with 2.1 active Democratic voters for every Republican in the state. There's another 43,369 voters from the Working Families Party — with which Cuomo made a deal to secure the party's endorsement that includes pushing for a Democratic Senate — though the Conservative Party's enrollment more than doubles that (148,006). Astorino holds that line.
The silver lining for the Republican is that September proved there is discontent on Cuomo's left from a small but dedicated chunk of the state's Democrats. In the party primary for governor, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout outpaced projections by claiming 35 percent of the vote. While significant in the low-vote primary, the number represented just 3 percent of all state Democrats.
The governor again faces a left-leaning challenger in the general election: Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, who kept the party on the ballot by securing nearly 60,000 votes in 2010. Hawkins, who is running on a "Green New Deal" that includes tax increases on the wealthy and large investments in infrastructure through the creation of a statewide job corps, wants to be a beacon for progressives who are fed up with Cuomo's centrist policies.
"Upstate they were the progressive activists, but I think all over the state where (Teachout) got a vote they're the most aggressive and issue-oriented Democrats — so I'm their logical choice," said Hawkins, a Syracuse activist who works unloading trucks for UPS. "I just can't see them voting for Cuomo or Astorino. It's either stay home, or come out and vote for me."
Libertarian candidate Michael McDermott and Steven Cohn of the Sapient Party, which advocates for a flat tax, are also on the ballot but are not expected to draw significant numbers on Election Day.
In parallel with Teachout, Astorino has taken advantage of the scandal surrounding the demise of Cuomo's Moreland Commission on public corruption, a scandal that ate up more than 6,000 words in the July 23 edition of The New York Times. Cuomo has denied meddling in the commission's work, and insists its short existence led to passage of ethics reform in March. The commission's work has been taken up by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is also looking into the way it was managed by the governor's staff.
In Wednesday's gubernatorial debate, Astorino claimed that Cuomo "is swimming in the cesspool of corruption" and said Cuomo could "very well may be indicted after this election day comes" as a result of Bharara's investigation.
Two other issues have taken center stage in the race, and generated new lines on next month's ballot.
Opposition to the Common Core educational standards prompted Astorino to create a separate ballot line to focus voter anger. Alongside his running mate, Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss, the Republican has hammered the implementation and associated standardized testing. His education plan calls for the standards to be scrapped.
Cuomo has heeded some of the criticism of Common Core, and in a recent TV ad said associated tests should be used to help make student advancement decisions only "if our children are ready," and in any case not for at least five years.
Cuomo has his own customized ballot line: the Women's Equality Party, led by Cuomo and his running mate, former Buffalo-area congresswoman Kathy Hochul. The WEP was set up to push for adoption of the omnibus version of Cuomo's Women's Equality Act, including a reproductive rights plank that has yet to pass a sharply divided state Senate that's co-led by Republicans who, with Astorino, claim the controversial plank represents "abortion expansion."
In recent days, Astorino has begun invoking another stunning win: Next month marks the 20th anniversary of George Pataki's victory over Cuomo's father, Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Since Pataki left office in 2006, no Republican has held statewide office in New York.
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