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Many Voting Opportunities for New Yorkers in 2015 and 2016

Gotham Gazette - 15 hours 11 min ago

Newly registered NY voters (photo: @NYCVotes)

When New Yorkers vote for president in November 2016, it could be their sixth trip to the polls in 14 months. While the city's resources will be stretched thin by the cost of these elections, those committed to cast their votes may be stretched to the point of fatigue.

Elections set to take place in New York City during 2015 and 2016 are for local, state, and federal posts, including district leaders, City Council members, judges, district attorneys, and state Senators and Assembly members. And, along with the rest of the country, New Yorkers will also be voting for members of Congress and, of course, president. Some of the city and state-level contests are special elections, wherein voters in certain districts will select a candidate to fill a vacant post, which is the case with two City Council seats, for example.

Whether the contested post is for local, state or federal government, the city's Board of Elections administers the election. The city pays entirely for local elections. For state and federal elections, the cost is divided, but the city still pays a share.

With the city bearing costs for all elections, some argue that it would make financial sense for consolidation by holding federal, state, and local primaries on the same day in any year possible. During an executive budget hearing in June, Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, talked of the benefits of consolidating election dates.

"There is some talk that the state may be coalescing around a merged date around both the presidential and the federal, but as they say, it's a long way from the lip to the cup," Ryan said, using a golf saying. If it happens, he said, "that will certainly be a significant reduction in the resources necessary."

Despite the advantages of consolidation, this is not something that has received too much support in the state Legislature where election dates are decided. Ryan and Ben Kallos, chair of the City Council's Committee on Governmental Operations, have both spoken of suggestions in the past to merge election dates. "There was no consensus from the board of commissioners, with respect to any exact date or preferred time of year," said Ryan. "However, it's clear that the same date is better than multiple."

While some dates in the upcoming election cycle have been moved, these changes were to accommodate religious holidays and there appears no serious talk of consolidation at the moment.

Frequent elections also result in voter fatigue, causing a dip in turnout. Voter participation has been dropping in all 50 states but New York's turnout rates are among the lowest in the country. In the 2014 elections for state-level positions, only 29 percent of eligible voters went to the general election polls in New York, making it the third worst performing state in terms voter turnout according to a report by Nonprofit Vote. With elections every few months over the next year and a half, voter fatigue is likely to be a factor - at least for those with the interest in voting at all.

Add to the mix concerns about wait-times at certain polling places and it might be enough to turn some ambivalent potential voters away. According to Capital New York, the state Board of Elections recently voted to "request a formal plan from the New York City board by September 30" that outlines its plans to comply with the state-mandated wait-time limit of 30 minutes by the 2016 election. The presidential contest is again expected to see a bump in voter participation, as it has in years past, while the so-called "off-year" or "mid-term" elections are not expected to see anything resembling heavy turnout. City BOE's Ryan has said that reforms are already taking hold to make the voting process efficient.

There are just six weeks until the first of these many election days, while changes in dates are still possible for some of the upcoming votes. As of July 28, the following are the New York election dates and general state of the races at play:

September 10, 2015
New York City voters will cast their votes in several primary elections for local posts on Thursday, September 10, 2015. In a break from tradition, these elections will be held on a Thursday due to Rosh Hashanah falling on the Tuesday of that week.

Due to Democratic City Council Member Mark Weprin's resignation in June, his District 23 seat in Queens is up for grabs. Contenders for the Democratic nomination include Barry Grodenchick, Rebecca Lynch, Ali Najmi, Satnam Singh Parhar, and others. The Republican field is much less crowded; retired NYPD Capt. Joe Concannon will probably be the Republican candidate.

There will also be a primary to replace William Scarborough, the former State Assembly member from Queens who vacated his seat in May after pleading guilty on charges of fraud. There are several Democratic contenders for the seat but the Queens Democratic Party is backing education activist Alicia Hyndman. State Committeewoman Scherie Murray is likely to be the Republican candidate in this overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Primary Elections will also be held for vacant posts for Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York (4 in Queens, 3 in Manhattan, 4 in Brooklyn, and 2 in the Bronx).

On the same day, there will also be primaries for the district attorney races in Queens, Bronx and Staten Island, though none of them will be competitive and one or more may not even occur if they are uncontested. Both the Queens and Bronx district attorneys are long-time incumbents who will cruise to reelection, but the Staten Island seat is open after former DA Dan Donovan was elected to Congress in a special election earlier this year. The general election for Staten Island DA looks like it will be competitive.

Lastly, voters will be asked to decide local races for district leaders in Manhattan and Staten Island, and for State Committee.

November 3, 2015
On November 3, 2015, general elections will be held for the DA races, Civil Court judge positions, as well as special elections for vacant seats in the state Assembly and Senate. There will also be special elections to fill the City Council seats of Weprin and Vincent Ignizio of Staten Island who stepped down on July 10.

Because of the timing of Ignizio's resignation, there will be no primary for that seat in September, just an open general election in November - followed, due to a quirk in election law, by another race in 2016, and then another in 2017 when all of the Council seats will be elected. Only Joseph Borelli, a Republican Assembly member and former Ignizio chief of staff, is running for the seat in the 2015 special.

Also on this day is a special election for State Assembly District 46, in Brooklyn, previously represented by Democrat Alec Brook-Krasny. Because of the date on which Brook-Krasny resigned, election rules call for parties to decide on their candidate without holding a primary. On the Democratic side, Brook-Krasny is supporting his chief of staff, Kate Cucco, who is expected to replace him. Other Democrats interested in the seat are reported to be Andrew Gounardes, Pamela Harris, Michael Nelson and John Gangemi. On the Republican side, speculation is focused on District Leader Lucretia Regina-Potter.

The guilty verdict against Deputy Senate Majority Leader Thomas Libous, on July 22, has also resulted in a special election to fill his state Senate seat as he is automatically forced from office due to the conviction. Within a day of the verdict, Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed Barbara Fiala, former Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, as the Democratic candidate for the seat vacated by Libous, a Republican. This election for the Binghamton seat is sure to be hotly contested, and will occur on Election Day 2015.

A special election for Senate will also take place for the seat of former Brooklyn State Senator John Sampson, found guilty of several corruption charges on July 24.

In the district attorney races, Queens DA Richard Brown and Bronx DA Robert Johnson are running unopposed. The Staten Island DA seat vacated by Dan Donovan's election to Congress will be contested by former Congressman Michael McMahon, a Democrat, and Republican Joan Illuzzi, a Manhattan assistant district attorney.

April 19, 2016 – Presidential Primaries:
After some confusion, the New York state Legislature decided on April 19, 2016 as the date for both the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. They changed the originally proposed date of April 26 as it fell during the Jewish holiday of Passover.

June 28, 2016 – Congressional Primaries:
Voters in New York will decide on their party's candidates for all Congressional races in the state on June 28, 2016. This includes the primaries for all 27 of New York's members of the House of Representatives. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer will also be running for reelection on this day.

September 13, 2016 – State Legislature Primaries:
On September 13, 2016, there will be primaries for all 53 members of the New York State Senate and all 150 districts of the New York State Assembly. There will also be elections for district leaders in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

November 8, 2016 - General Election:
On November 8, 2016, voters across the country will vote on their choice for the President of the United States. In New York, votes will also be cast for one US Senate race (Sen. Schumer), 27 races for the House of Representatives, and all State Senate and Senate Assembly seats. Democrats in New York are hoping that a presidential election, specifically a Hillary Clinton wave, will help them regain control of the State Senate. Stay tuned!

And, once the 2016 elections are through, expect the 2017 elections for New York City-level offices, including mayor, to heat up.

[Register to vote & find other voting related info here]

***
by Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Categories: State/Local

Silver loses bid to get charges wiped

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 1:07am

New York

Former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver lost a bid Friday to have corruption charges against him thrown out.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan dismissed the Democrat's efforts to portray behavior that earned him millions of dollars over the last decade as innocent conduct that, at most, stretched the limits of ethics rules.

"Evidence that Silver went to lengths to conceal his allegedly ill-gotten gains is evidence both of Silver's knowledge that the money that he received constituted 'criminally derived property' ... and evidence of Silver's consciousness of guilt regarding his allegedly fraudulent and extortionate activities," the judge wrote.

Silver is free on bail after his January arrest on charges that he collected $4 million in kickbacks by abusing his powerful legislative position. The 71-year-old Silver faces a Nov. 2 trial, where he has vowed to be vindicated.

His lawyers said in a statement Friday that they were studying Caproni's decision.

"We look forward to a trial of this case in which Mr. Silver will clear his name," they said.

Caproni noted that prosecutors plan to prove that Silver used his power and influence to obtain millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

"The fact that the payments Silver allegedly received as 'bribes' or 'kickbacks' were funneled through entities in which he had an undisclosed interest does not transform the bribery or kickback schemes into 'undisclosed conflict-of-interest' schemes," she wrote.

In court papers, defense attorneys had argued that the indictment made allegations that weren't crimes, but instead constituted "longstanding features of New York state government that the U.S. attorney finds distasteful."

Silver, a Manhattan resident, resigned from his Senate leadership post after his arrest but retained his Assembly seat.

First elected in 1976, he represents a district on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where he was born and raised.

Categories: State/Local

Despite alcohol test, DWI charge still holds in Cutchogue

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 1:07am

Riverhead

A New York prosecutor said a misdemeanor DWI charge remains in effect "at this time" for the pickup truck driver who police say slammed into a limousine in Long Island wine country, leaving four women dead and four others injured, even though his blood-alcohol reading was below the legal limit.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said Friday that a lab report revealed the driver, Steven Romeo, had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.066, below the legal standard of 0.08 for a driving while intoxicated charge. The prosecutor said Romeo's blood was taken one hour and 40 minutes after the fatal crash on July 18.

Spota said toxicologists have indicated Romeo's blood-alcohol level "was most likely over 0.08" at the time of the crash, but that the investigation remains ongoing and no final determination has been made on whether to proceed with a DWI prosecution. He said he is still awaiting the results of drug tests, as well as an accident reconstruction report to determine the speed of the pickup truck and other factors.

Spota also said none of the surviving women involved in the crash have been interviewed by authorities yet.

Eight friends were in a limousine after a day touring eastern Long Island's wine country when the vehicle was slammed by a pickup truck while making a U-turn at an intersection along Route 48 in Cutchogue. Police said a pickup truck driven by Romeo broadsided the car. Three of the injured women remain hospitalized, as does Romeo, Spota said Friday.

Romeo, a 55-year-old businessman from Southold, has pleaded not guilty. Bail was initially set at $500,000 but was reduced Thursday to $50,000, in part because of the revelations about his blood-alcohol level, Spota said.

One of his lawyers, Dan O'Brien, said in a statement Friday that Romeo "is devastated by the loss of those lives and the injuries sustained," but insisted that his client was not drunk at the time of the crash, nor did he cause the accident.

Authorities have said that Romeo was making a legal U-turn at the intersection. Southold town Police Chief Martin Flately has said limousine drivers are ticketed about a dozen times a month for backing into the intersection on the four-lane roadway while maneuvering the turn, but the limousine driver involved in the fatal crash was not issued a summons.

Categories: State/Local

Remains of WWII pilot from Herkimer are identified

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 1:07am

HERKIMER. (AP) — The remains of a World War II pilot from New York have been identified and will be buried in his upstate hometown more than 70 years after he died in a crash in the southwest Pacific.

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Thursday that the remains of 2nd Lt. Edward F. Barker of Herkimer have been identified from circumstantial evidence and DNA provided by his niece and nephew.

Barker was a 21-year-old Army Air Forces pilot when he failed to return from a training mission on Sept. 30, 1944, in Papua New Guinea.

In 1962, a U.S. military team discovered the wreckage of Barker's P-4 Thunderbolt in a mountainous region. His remains weren't recovered until 2012.

Barker will be buried Aug. in Calvary Cemetery in Herkimer, 60 miles east of Syracuse.

Categories: State/Local

City's Veterans Community Meets to Assess Policy, Build Cohesion

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 1:00am

From Tuesday's event (photo: NYC Veterans Alliance via Facebook)

A steady stream of hands shot in the air as the speaker asked audience members to indicate if they had served their country, beginning with Vietnam and ending post-9/11.

At a forum on New York City Veterans Policy Tuesday night, hosted by the New York City Veterans Alliance, veterans and veteran advocates of diverse ages and backgrounds gathered to discuss the issues facing their community, including homelessness, funding for employment, healthcare and other services, and even how to define the term 'veteran.' The event occurred amid ongoing debate over how well city government is attending to veterans' needs and organizing its resources to best provide support to the hundreds of thousands of veterans living in the city.

"I would say different era veterans are having much different experiences in NYC. A lot of the student vets, there's a lot more support for them with the new GI bill, they're doing a lot better overall. And they're a lot more active in honing the community and helping with various student organizations and veterans associations at schools," said Vadim Panasyuk, who served in Iraq and works at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "But other era veterans that are struggling— from more forgotten conflicts, Korea, Vietnam— those vets are still struggling, and find themselves in legal whirlpool of all the different VSOs [veteran support organizations] and dealing with misinformation from one service provider to another and it becomes very discouraging to seek out help."

Iraq War veteran Tireak Tulloch, a spokesman for IAVA, agreed. "If you're a veteran from a different era, [service providers] don't know what to do with you," Tulloch said.

Vietnam veteran Lee Covino, who recently served as Vice-Chairman of the City's Veterans Advisory Board, described witnessing an "identity crisis."

"You have people who are separated by campaigns...you have a huge population out there and one of the things that irks me is when a vet tells me, 'I'm not a vet,'" Covino said. "That's nonsense. You're an era and you need to organize that way."

The efficacy and availability of resources for veterans was a key part of Tuesday night's discussion, with NYC Veterans Alliance interim director Kristen Rouse noting in her opening remarks that the city committed to a "notable" increase in funding for veterans in the fiscal year 2016 budget.

"I think there's been tremendous progress and the city has come together, but...There's a real sense to me of a lack of cohesion of all these different efforts," said Coco Culhane, the founding director of the Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center. "And there's not a whole lot of infrastructure they can turn to at the city level and especially for veterans who are not eligible for these federal VA dollars. The city is their safety net and we need to be there for them so I think we have a long way to go, even with just acknowledging veterans."

There is conversation at the city level over whether the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs, or MOVA, should become its own city agency, removed from within the mayor's office, but still under the mayor's purview. Creating a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, as called for by a City Council bill that has had one public hearing but does not have Mayor Bill de Blasio's support, would likely give work to support veterans more clarity, resources, and oversight.

"You need people who know what they're doing to serve this population and having experts but also having oversight. If we're going to address all of the issues that are included in that report," Rouse told Gotham Gazette referring to the report NYC Veterans Alliance recently released, "if we want to properly address this stuff, there has to be an accountable agency that has programmatic oversight of what these different city agencies are doing." The report, which surveyed almost 500 veterans in the New York metropolitan area, identified veterans' key concerns, including improving access to the VA suicide hotline and increasing oversight of veteran service organizations that receive city funding.

Comedian and television host John Oliver delivered opening remarks describing his experience being married to a veteran. "It's hard being married to a veteran because you can't complain about your day," Oliver quipped. "'Oh, you had a bad day writing jokes? Shut up!'"

But Oliver also took a more serious turn, underlining the importance of doing more than just saying "thank you" to military veterans.

"It's too easy to say 'thank you,' but you're not actually doing anything. There can be a real seduction in people having lovely commercials on TV, introducing veterans at football games, but it's not doing anything to fix infrastructure," Oliver said.

Moderator Phoebe Gavin, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, commented that "the average American is just not very connected to the [military] campaigns that have occurred," adding that many might not have a veteran in family. "There's just not as much connection to campaigns as there used to be...we've been at the mall all this time," Gavin said of most Americans going about their business, like shopping, while a small group serves in the military or has a family member doing so.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette prior to the forum, Oliver highlighted the work organizations Team Rubicon and Mission Continues do to assist veterans' transition back to civilian life. Team Rubicon unites military veterans with first responders to deploy emergency response teams, giving veterans the opportunity to put the skills they learned in the armed forces to use responding to natural disasters.

"They are a good example of providing practical assistance," Oliver said. "And most veterans don't want help, they're not a group that will complain, they don't want to be treated like a charity case. They want to be given opportunities."

***
by Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette
@CatieEdmondson

Categories: State/Local

Despite Unprecedented Scandal, Calls for Special Ethics Session Fall on Deaf Ears

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 1:00am

Recently convicted former Sen. John Sampson (photo: @SampsonVictory)

It would reason to think that the conviction of two legislative leaders would lead to a flurry of anti-corruption activity in any state capital. But in Albany, where the new normal appears to involve multiple convictions and indictments of sitting lawmakers every year, last week's crime blotter appears to have barely turned a head. The convictions of Republican Senate Deputy Leader Tom Libous and Democratic Sen. John Sampson, a former Majority Leader, on charges of lying to the FBI (Sampson was also convicted of obstructing justice) don't appear to have had much of an impact at all on reform efforts, despite ongoing calls for action from those who don't work at the capitol.

Good-government groups including the New York Public Interest Research Group, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Union have reiterated calls for a special session on ethics reform, calls that began in June at the end of the legislative session. That was the session that saw the indictments of Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos - and that produced little by way of reform.

"Normally, in a rational world, these indictments would shock the legislative body into action, but it ain't gonna happen, not in New York," said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, the man who could compel the Legislature to return to session, made it crystal clear during a radio interview last week that he has no intention of doing so. "A special session to do what? I mean, we've proposed every ethics law imaginable," Cuomo said in an appearance on The Capitol Pressroom. "We've proposed and accomplished unprecedented disclosure," the governor added, referring to what did get done.

On Tuesday, Cuomo reiterated that a special session is not in the cards. Speaking to reporters after an event near Lake George, Cuomo said, "I haven't heard anything from the Senate or the Assembly saying, 'Our minds are changed, we now want to pass a bill that we didn't want to pass.' So for the taxpayers to spend a lot of money to bring the legislators back to Albany for the same outcome they had several weeks ago makes no sense," according to Capital New York.

Cuomo's stance has a number of advocates concerned that he has abandoned reform efforts because the public has grown numb to the cloud of scandal that hangs around the state capitol - a cloud voters appear to be attaching to the governor in public opinion polls. Advocates also worry Cuomo has gone as far as he is willing to go on reform and is digging in to defend the reforms he has made, despite the fact that they haven't quelled the tide of indictments.

"It sounds like he's throwing in the towel," said Blair Horner of NYPIRG, one of the reform groups calling for a special session to deal with corruption. "He is trying to create an environment where action is not on the table. He dreamt up the current system, so it could be that he is trying to protect it."

Muzzio said that Cuomo is making the only play he has at the moment. "The upper house is going to come back and do nothing," Muzzio said of the Republican-controlled Senate. "The governor is making a sound governmental argument - he's asking what would the purpose be of having a special session when we know the bottom line is nothing is going to happen."

Other Democrats, including Cuomo rival Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have been advocating a special session to take on an overhaul of ethics enforcement. Schneiderman has been touting his "End New York Corruption Now Act" that would create a system of public campaign financing, eliminate outside employment for legislators, extend legislative terms, and allow the AG to prosecute public corruption, among other things.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and constant advocate for reform, told Gotham Gazette he thinks a special session on ethics reform is desperately needed. "I can't think of anything that would better help excise the opprobrium from last week's twin state Senate convictions than a special session entirely devoted to ethics reforms," said Hoylman. "No more piecemeal fixes or trimming around the edges; it's time for Albany to address ethics comprehensively and head-on. Let's come back from our vacations and get to work closing the LLC loophole, restricting outside income, and rationalizing our campaign finance system. If this effort isn't begun now, it'll have to be addressed in January when we return."

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins indicated during an interview on The Capitol Pressroom on Monday that she would be more than willing to bring her conference back for special session should Cuomo call one. But she said she doubted Senate Republicans would be interested. "I have not, he has not, we collectively have not been able to get our Republican Senate colleagues to actually be serious about real, strong ethics reforms," Stewart-Cousins said, referring to the governor.

It isn't just the indictments and convictions that have reformers concerned. They point out that recent campaign filings show that candidates are taking in increasing amounts of campaign cash through the LLC loophole that allows corporations to flout donation limits by the creation of multiple LLCs. Developer Glenwood Management was the largest abuser of the system before it became entangled in the corruption cases against Silver and Skelos.

Both Cuomo and Schneiderman, who have decried the loophole and called to close it, were major beneficiaries of it in the last election cycle. Now, filings show that Schneiderman took in over $260,000 from LLCs since January; Cuomo took in $1.4 million from LLCs in the same period.

Meanwhile, two ethics enforcement units created under Cuomo's watch appear either slow to action or crippled by infighting. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, has been criticized for being the puppet of Cuomo and legislative leaders and its board has seen repeated turnover in its leadership. Legislative appointees are currently fuming over what they say is outside interference from the executive.

Four legislative appointees wrote the Albany Times Union expressing dismay at recent executive hires and appointments and stressed that the next JCOPE director must be found outside of state government (i.e. without direct ties to Cuomo). "If the next Executive Director is not hired from outside State government after an exhaustive search, the public trust will be inexorably destroyed," reads the letter.

"JCOPE is disintegrating," said Horner of NYPIRG. "What better time to act on a new system?"

Cuomo's enforcement counsel at the Board of Elections has also been criticized for being slow to move on the most basic enforcement issues. And the Board recently declined to close the LLC loophole, which it had created years ago.

Muzzio said he believes there will have to be major public outcry before the Legislature gets serious on reform. "You need someone charismatic enough to carry the message, because people forget about it unless they are forced," said Muzzio. "That kind of messenger just ain't there. The governor has been gun-shy since the SAFE Act hurt his poll numbers. I don't think he's gonna push it. It's gotta be another guy. There's Schneiderman, but he doesn't have the same cache as the governor. He can't deal."

Horner said it is obvious to him that New York does have a new, charismatic, corruption-fighting figurehead. He says Cuomo relinquished his status as "conductor of the reform train" to the U.S. Attorney responsible for many of the Albany indictments. "The new conductor's name is Preet Bharara, and New York will go wherever he takes us," Horner said.

A July 15 Siena Poll, taken before the convictions of Libous and Sampson, found that corruption is still on the minds of voters and that legislators should probably be concerned about the issue if they want to keep their jobs. The poll found 90 percent of voters felt state government corruption is a serious problem. Meanwhile 49 percent of those surveyed said recent scandals make it less likely they will re-elect their representatives in 2016.

Horner said he doesn't have much reason to believe Cuomo is going to return to ethics reform, but he does have some hope.

"We often see governors run as reformers in their first terms, and in their second terms become defenders of the status quo - because they become the status quo," said Horner. "Now, perhaps [Cuomo] thinks he will have more leverage next year around the budget. I would argue there is no better time than now. I don't think we've ever seen two legislative leaders convicted in the same week."

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

Categories: State/Local

Ex-DMV chief gets backing to run

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 6:07am

Albany

A state lawmaker's "sad, sad personal tragedy" could prove to be a former state Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner's chance to run for state Senate.

As he lamented the conviction of prominent Republican Tom Libous on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo endorsed his former DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala, a Democrat, to run for the now-vacant Southern Tier seat that Libous occupied for 26 years.

The endorsement was of statewide import for a few reasons — particularly because the governor said he'd do "whatever I can" to get Fiala elected to what has long been seen as a safe Republican seat in the closely divided Senate.

"She knows Albany, she knows Broome County, she knows the district — she would be fantastic, I think, as a candidate," Cuomo said on WCNY's "The Capitol Pressroom." " ... She has 100 percent integrity and 100 percent performance."

Cuomo's encouragement came less than 24 hours after Libous, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, was convicted of lying to FBI agents. He faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 30.

A few hours after the governor's interview, Fiala told Gannett News Service she would formally announce her candidacy next week. That would give her roughly three months before an off-cycle election for the seat is held this November.

While Cuomo's support for a former commissioner wasn't surprising, it represented a turn from what Senate Democrats perceived as his lukewarm support from the governor in the 2012 and 2014 cycles.

His words were of special note for a race in the 52nd Senate District, where voter registration favors Republicans by roughly 10 percent.

"He's saying the right words, and in the next couple of months we'll see if those words have any meaning," said one Democratic source.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement the conference is excited for "such an accomplished and qualified candidate" to run for the seat. She indicated her conference has been talking with Fiala for several months.

Raw politics aside, Cuomo expressed sadness for Libous' fall.

"I've been in his district with him; he's a hero in his district," he said. "He's not well. He's been battling cancer and showing up for work and showing the strength and the courage that frankly I found admirable. He never stopped serving the people of his district even though he had tremendous pain."

Wednesday's conviction provided more fodder for good government groups who have been calling for a special legislative session to address ethics reforms.

Cuomo scoffed at the idea, and pointed to the ethics fixes passed since he took office.

"Special session to do what? We've proposed every ethics law imaginable," he said. "We've proposed and accomplished unprecedented disclosure of law firms and conflicts of interest of clients."

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

Categories: State/Local

Operator of Subway shops sued after manager allegedly propositioned job applicants

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued the operator of two dozen Subway shops in the Capital Region two years after a manager allegedly offered two female applicants jobs in exchange for sex.

The suit claims Nick Kelly, manager of a Subway at Rotterdam Square Mall, separately propositioned two 17-year-old women through explicit text messages, EEOC said in a release.

The women refused, and were not hired.

The action names Draper Development of Albany as defendant. The company's CEO Lawrence Jasenski said Thursday that Kelly was fired the day after the first young woman brought the incident to the company's attention.

The incident was reported at the time by CBS 6 news, which spoke to the initial complainant, Alysha Rizzicone. The texts she provided to the station included Kelly allegedly asking "would you sleep with the manager to get this job?" and "bang my brains out the job is yours."

The second complainant was uncovered by the EEOC several months later, Jasenski said, after the commission sent "hundreds and hundreds of letters" to three years' worth of Draper's employees, former workers and job applicants. The alleged incident involving the second young woman had occurred three months prior to Rizzicone's encounter.

"We never received any information about her from the EEOC," Jasenski said.

The federal commission filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Albany after attempting to reach a settlement with Draper. Jasenski said the commission's proposed settlement, submitted to the company six months ago, was "unrealistic."

The lawsuit seeks "monetary relief for the two applicants in the form of back pay, compensatory and punitive damages," plus a permanent injunction against any future sexual discrimination or harassment.

Jasenski insists the company had acted appropriately at every turn, including its swift investigation of the initial incident and its cooperation with the EEOC's probe.

Efforts to locate Kelly were unsuccessful.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

New York shortens turkey hunting season

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 1:07am

ALBANY (AP) — New York regulators have shortened the fall turkey hunting seasons because of a declining turkey population across the state.

The new fall seasons are two weeks long with a statewide season bag limit of one bird of either sex.

Season dates vary regionally with the season in the Northern Zone running October 1-14, the Southern Zone running October 17-30, and Suffolk County running November 21-December 4.

The Department of Environmental Conservation received about 120 comments on the regulatory proposal, almost all expressing concern over the decline in turkey populations over the past 15 years.

The new fall hunting season changes will be evaluated as part of a four-year research program.

Categories: State/Local

Queens Library Scandal Spurs Nonprofit Oversight Bill

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 1:00am

CM Crowley at a City Hall rally (photo: @magghayes)

On the heels of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer's report on Queens library executives engaging in questionable practices, Queens Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley is renewing her push for greater oversight of officers of city-funded nonprofit organizations.

Crowley's bill, introduced to the Council's contracts committee and currently in preliminary stages, would require officers of nonprofit organizations— defined as chief executive, operating and finance officers— that receive 50 percent or more of their funding from the city to file conflict of interest disclosure forms to the city agencies that fund them.

"This [bill] just came from my frustration learning about this and understanding that this corruption was happening and the city had no idea," Crowley told Gotham Gazette, referencing former Queens Borough Public Library President Tom Galante.

Galante was fired in December after the library board of trustees reviewed his expense account and discovered lavish spending on pricey meals, alcohol, and furniture at the same time the library cut staff. Stringer's audit and investigative report into the library's finances— released in July— found a series of abuses: Galante failed to disclose his outside businesses on government filings and recorded "time spent performing part-time services for another public employer" that conflicted with his library schedule. Stringer's report also questioned the practices of the current interim library president Bridget Carey-Quinn, who served as chief operating officer under Galante.

"If we only had extended this law, that we extend to all elected officials, to those that are top management at nonprofits getting most of their money from the city, then we would know if there was a conflict and we would've known already that Tom Galante was abusing his privileges as CEO of the library," Crowley said.

Crowley introduced the bill in April 2014, a month after the Council convened a special oversight hearing on library executives' compensation following a series of articles scrutinizing Galante's salary. A hearing for the bill is expected in September or October in the contracts committee, which is chaired by Manhattan Councilmember Helen Rosenthal.

"Every time he answered another question, we were more and more horrified by what he had to say," Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette of Galante's 2014 testimony, "and what we unearthed is that there was very little oversight for the Queens library president."

Rosenthal indicated she is eager to have a hearing on it this fall. Questions exist, though, about the burdens the bill would place on nonprofits if enacted into law. These questions are likely to be raised at the planned hearing.

Lauren George, associate director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, said the bill will require nonprofits to do some additional work in order to prevent future malfeasance.

"It will pose an additional burden, on small nonprofits especially, which have very limited staff and resources," George said. "Though increased public disclosure can't be a bad thing, and could help deter bad actors abusing access to city funds in the future, with the appropriate oversight and watch-dogging."

To what extent the bill will prove burdensome for nonprofits is not yet clear. For Doug Sauer, the CEO of the New York Council of Nonprofits, the bill overreaches in trying to regulate private organizations like public employees.

"If you look at Boeing industries and see how much money they get from the federal government, does the federal government come in and control how Boeing operates at the officer level, who their CEO is, or require all this personal information?" Sauer asked rhetorically. "So the basic premise— and there's gray area—is that the vast majority of not-for-profit organizations are independent, private not-for-profit corporations with boards of directors that share responsibility for the organization."

Sauer predicted the bill, if passed, will have a chilling effect on nonprofits and their ability to attract and retain employees in leadership positions.

"A lot of the City Council contracts are for small organizations so this would be tremendously onerous already on a talent pool that's very limited, that they can't properly compensate to begin with," Sauer said. "People won't want to do that [file disclosures], they're applying for a job where they may make $35,000. If they're a public employee they're in the pension system, they get good healthcare, they get good benefits. That's not the case for the majority of nonprofits."

Sauer also took issue with the 50 percent threshold the bill uses to determine whether officers of nonprofits will have to file conflict of interest disclosure firms.

"If you're talking about 85 or 90 percent of government money, you're talking a little bit of a different story, is this really more of a quasi-governmental entity? And that's a different debate," Sauer said. "But this is a real low figure and most organizations are community, grassroots organizations, not institutions, the vast majority don't have adequate funding as it is."

Rosenthal said that once taxpayer money is involved, nonprofits open themselves up to public scrutiny. "Taxpayers have the right to know what [their money] is being spent for," Rosenthal said.

It is also unclear how many nonprofits would be compelled to file disclosures if the bill is passed— an issue Crowley said will be looked into at the hearing in the fall but doesn't foresee as providing a significant burden. Representatives of the nonprofits that received the most money from the Council's pot of discretionary funds, the Hispanic Federation and the Catholic Charities Community Services, Archdiocese of New York, were not available for comment.

"I think that we'll see a clear benefit by rooting out corruption, you know when I file [my conflict of interest form] every year, I file electronically. I don't know that it would be so burdensome," Crowley said.

The bill currently has nine sponsors, including Crowley (but not Rosenthal), many of whom are from Queens. Indicating her support, Rosenthal lamented the need for the bill, but says it is necessary to ensure ethical practices are occurring at these nonprofits.

"It's always the bad apples that ruin it for the rest of us," Rosenthal said. "And I think that we are often as lawmakers dragged down to the lowest common denominator and it's too bad that we should be in this situation, but given that what [Galante] was doing was so egregious, it raises the question, is this happening in other sectors as well— so you want to check that out."

**
Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette
@CatieEdmondson

Categories: State/Local

A Call for Equitable Development in Southeast Queens

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 1:00am

Rev. Wilkes, middle, leads a prayer & voter registration drive (photo: @andrewjwilkes)

Jamaica needs development that benefits long-term residents, workers, and the families of Southeast Queens. Development is a multidimensional process. At best, the process not only supports real estate firms, but also expands the availability of affordable housing opportunities and family-sustaining jobs that pay a living wage. Although we applaud the efforts for improving Jamaica, we are concerned that current plans are not going far enough to guarantee equitable development of jobs and housing for local families.

Under the Bloomberg administration, New York City witnessed rezoning to facilitate development in industrial neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Long Island City. With that process came the escalation of rents, leases, and the overall cost of living. While some individuals benefited from this process, wide scale displacement of residents and the local workforce occurred, especially among people of color. In 2007, under the same administration, 368 blocks of downtown Jamaica were rezoned for higher-density development, meaning more units of housing, office, or retail space for the broader community of Southeast Queens. As the economy crashed in 2008, much of the anticipated development was stalled, but a real estate boom is kicking in now with estimates of more than 3,000 units of housing in the coming years. As faith leaders of Southeast Queens, we're lifting up our voices to ensure that our community promotes equitable development of job and housing opportunities for individuals and families whose labor makes this area such a vibrant constellation of neighborhoods.

We recognize and appreciate the contributions of other voices to this conversation. Participants who created the "Jamaica NOW" action plan, for instance, have championed valuable – and viable – ideas for improving Jamaica. The plan intends to do three things: increase quality jobs and small business support; promote commercial growth and economic development; and improve livability for both residents and visitors. Already, the beautification of Rufus King Park is making a difference in the recreational and cultural life of Jamaica. The plan, however, doesn't specify a comprehensive vision for equitable development. Without such details, our concern is that modestly inclusive projects will benignly, but mistakenly, be heralded as successes and the best we could do for our communities.

Two examples illustrate our concern. Let's start with the NYPD lot development project on 168th and Archer Avenue. The city's Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act defines a "living wage" as just $11.50 per hour and notably applies to construction workers on this project because the property is receiving more than $1 million in subsidy from the city Economic Development Corporation. However even if two members of a family were working full-time, with no vacations, at this wage they would still be ineligible for the affordable housing within the project because they would not make enough to meet the income threshold accorded by the zoning of the area.

Another example drives from the de Blasio administration's plan to rezone East New York. In that community, the administration recently announced a plan for 50 percent of new housing to be affordable at neighborhood-based incomes, yet in Jamaica we are talking about just 20 percent of affordable housing being produced – and that only within a smaller "special inclusionary zone" in which the builders are only required to build if they take additional subsidy. Yet even this 20 percent is not truly affordable - a family of three would need to make at least $62,150 to be eligible for the housing, while the median income in Community Board 12 representing Southeast Queens is $50,857 per year.

Given the dynamics outlined above, our question is: what can be done differently? How can we ensure that we advance equitable development in Southeast Queens, that we build it right in our community?

Three ambitious, yet achievable goals stand out for our community, congregations, and city. First, we can lift up the moral imperative of our faith traditions to make the case for equitable development. Our religious traditions teach us that laborers deserve to be paid; that what's done in the dark – negotiation of terms and deals – should be brought into the light; that attending to the weighty matter of justice is central to our convictions and congregations. Second, we can use city subsidy and the leverage that it brings to infuse parity into the production of affordable housing. Instead of settling for developments whose housing is 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent affordable, we can pursue an even division of residential opportunity: 50 percent market-rate and 50 percent affordable for local residents. Third, we can ensure that strong legal protections prohibit harassment and displacement among tenants living in downtown Jamaica and surrounding communities.

We celebrate the resurgence of downtown Jamaica and the surrounding community. In many respects, this resurgence is a belated recognition of the tremendous legacy and potential of Southeast Queens. We invite you to join us as we learn, pray, and take action together for a renewed call for equitable development in Southeast Queens tonight, Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m. at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York. Our best days await us, and we look forward to continued collaboration with elected officials, labor unions, congregations, and other community groups to create deeply affordable housing and family-sustaining jobs in our neighborhoods.

***
Rev. Andrew Wilkes, the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York
Bishop Joseph Williams, Christ Church International
Pastor Brian Ellis Gibbs, Queens Baptist Church
Father Jeffry Dillon, Christ the King & St. Mary Magdalene

Categories: State/Local

Uber growth unhampered in surprise deal with NYC

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 11:07am

NEW YORK (AP) — Uber cars can continue to be a growing presence on the streets of New York City now that an agreement has been reached between the ride-hailing company and the city.

Just before a City Council vote that could have capped the number of cars Uber can have on city streets, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration announced late Wednesday that Uber agreed to a four-month study on the impact of the cars on the city's traffic and the environment.

The agreement contrasts sharply with the legislation the council was set to vote on Thursday, which called for a 1 percent cap on the San Francisco-based company's growth within New York City during a yearlong study. Uber has steadfastly opposed any cap, and the company and City Hall had traded increasingly nasty barbs over the past week.

Under the deal, the city will not cap Uber's growth during those four months. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a growing number of public officials who had been calling for the council to delay the vote, instead cheered the agreement. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that the study will be passed Thursday but no longer carry a cap.

The surprise arrangement also included a commitment to turn over far more data to the city on the location and duration of its rides. The company also agreed to discuss working toward making more of its vehicles handicap-accessible and contributing to the region's mass transit network.

"The city received a willingness on the company's part to make sure there was no effort to flood the market with dramatically increased rates of growth," said First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris, who is in charge at City Hall as de Blasio returns from a conference at the Vatican. "The company eventually agreed to what we've been asking for a while."

"We are pleased new drivers will continue to be free to join the for-hire industry and partner with Uber," Josh Mohrer, Uber NYC's general manager, said in a statement. "Together, we can build an even better, more reliable transportation system."

The $40 billion company has become a dominant force on the streets of New York, dispatching 25,000 cars — up from under 100 just four years ago — compared to 13,000 of the city's iconic yellow taxis.

Uber rider Kryzsztof Anton of Queens said he was pleased the two sides reached at least a temporary halt on the city's plan. The Long Island City resident said he has been riding in taxis in New York for more than a decade and now always chooses Uber.

He said Uber travel is a more comfortable experience and believes the drivers are more courteous and polite because they are being rated by the customer.

"It's a completely different experience," he said. "I'm a big fan."

In pushing for a cap, the de Blasio administration cited concern over increased congestion on Manhattan's clogged streets. When talks broke down last week, sniping between City Hall and Uber reached a frenzy with the ride-hailing service launching an expensive TV ad campaign that depicted the mayor as too influenced by the yellow taxi industry, which ranks among his biggest donors.

———

Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.

Categories: State/Local

State Sen. Tom Libous latest state official to fall to U.S. attorney Preet Bharara

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 11:07am

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Albany lobbying firm Ostroff-Hiffa & Associates covered the vehicle lease on a Range Rover for Matthew Libous. It did not cover that lease. A previous version also stated that Ostroff-Hiffa & Associates is defunct, which is correct, though Albany firm Ostroff Associates still exists.

Albany

The deputy majority leader of the state Senate was tossed from office Wednesday by a federal jury that found him guilty of lying to federal investigators about his efforts to secure a job at a law firm for his son.

The felony conviction — prompting his immediate expulsion from the Legislature — marked an end to the long political career of Sen. Tom Libous, R-Binghamton, who was first elected to the chamber in 1988 as the handpicked candidate of then-Majority Leader Warren Anderson.

The 62-year-old lawmaker, who has battled prostate cancer since 2009, was found guilty by a federal jury in White Plains in a case brought by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara.

"Public corruption is a scourge," Bharara said in a statement after the verdict. "Every New Yorker wants us to work as hard as possible to end it. But lies to law enforcement make the job of fighting corruption doubly difficult."

The case turned on what Libous said in a 2010 meeting with two FBI agents inquiring about the circumstances that led to the hiring of his son, Matthew Libous, by a politically connected law firm, Santangelo Randazzo & Mangone.

Former attorney Anthony Mangone, who was disbarred after being convicted in a Westchester County political corruption case, testified that Libous had pressed for his son's hiring by the firm. According to testimony, Libous said the firm would have to "build a new wing" to accommodate the business he would send its way.

Mangone also testified Libous wanted his son to be paid $150,000 and said $50,000 of that cost would be picked up by an Albany lobbying firm, Ostroff-Hiffa & Associates. Neither the firm nor the lobbying outfit was charged with wrongdoing. Ostroff-Hiffa & Associates is now defunct.

According to testimony at trial, Libous told the FBI agents he had no involvement in his son's hiring by the law firm, and was unaware of its relationship with the lobbying shop.

The lawmaker, who was indicted a year ago, did not take the witness stand.

On Wednesday, Bharara said Libous "told lie after lie to hide the truth from federal agents investigating corruption in Albany. Libous' lies have been exposed, his crime has been proven, and Albany will be the better for it."

Matthew Libous was convicted six months ago of underreporting income on his federal tax returns from 2007 to 2009. He was sentenced in May to serve six months in prison.

His father now faces a sentence of up to five years when he is sentenced on Oct. 30.

Libous, a former high school wrestler whose style could shift from avuncular to ferocious, has in recent years described his cancer as terminal. He missed almost all of the 2015 legislative session after undergoing back surgery that resulted in an infection.

Despite his imminent trial, the lawmaker was greeted warmly in late June when he made what turned out to be his final appearance on the floor of the chamber as a member.

Libous will perhaps be best remembered for his central role in the June 2009 Senate coup in which the then-minority GOP sprang a procedural trap after secretly securing the loyalties of two members of the Democratic conference, Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate.

The plan backfired when Monserrate's commitment wavered, prompting weeks of gridlock that ended with Espada's return to the Democratic fold.

Espada and Monserrate were both convicted on corruption charges related to their public service.

The verdict in Libous' case came less than 24 hours after Bharara's office announced new charges against the Senate's former majority leader, Dean Skelos of Long Island, in a case that also turns on accusations of a powerful father's corrupt efforts to secure a livelihood for his son.

Despite the razor-thin majority held by the Senate GOP, Libous' conviction is unlikely to upset the balance of power in the 63-seat chamber. Without him, the Senate's 31 Republicans can still count on the loyalty of Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who since election in 2012 has conferenced with the GOP.

The seat will be filled in a special election in November. Libous' Southern Tier district gives Republicans the voter enrollment edge by slightly less than 10 percent.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said: "Sen. Libous and his entire family have been through a difficult ordeal and have faced numerous personal health challenges. They will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers in the weeks and months ahead.

"The Senate Republican Conference continues to hold the majority in the Senate and we are 100 percent confident that we will win the special election in the 52nd Senate District."

Federal corruption charges against former Democratic leader Sen. John Sampson are being weighed by a jury in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

mhamilton@timesunion.com518-454-5449@Matt_Hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Fast-food wage board recommends phased-in raise to $15 per hour

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 8:07am

Albany

New York's fast-food workers are on track for a raise to $15 an hour — but unlike fast food, the increase will be served up in several courses.

On Wednesday, a wage board empaneled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in May to look at this sector of minimum-wage workers recommended the increase, which will affect roughly 200,000 workers statewide.

The panel's resolutions are subject to approval, rejection or modification by acting state Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino, though an outright rejection is highly unlikely amid the considerable praise Cuomo heaped on the decision.

If approved, the appetizer would come on Dec. 31, with the minimum rising to $10.50 in New York City and $9.75 in the rest of the state. Annual increments would follow until the hourly wage hits $15 in New York City in 2018 and in the rest of the state in July 2021.

"This is work of value," said Mike Fishman, the labor representative on the Fast Food Wage Board, just before the three-member panel voted to recommend the increases.

The board was put together by Cuomo after lawmakers failed to raise the state's $8.75 (soon to be $9) minimum wage.

A Department of Labor official who had overseen statistical studies for the panel said that it actually costs more than the wage paid by a $15-an-hour full-time job to support a family in New York state.

Board members had struggled to settle on a clear definition of fast-food restaurants, but they decided the mandate would apply to operations which have 30 or more locations nationwide.

They also reached a geographic compromise regarding the differential between New York City and the rest of the state.

Earlier, board members said they didn't believe downstate wages needed to be higher, but in the end they sped up the rate at which the increases will be phased in for the city.

Along with Fishman, the panel included Kevin Ryan, founder of the Gilt shopping website, and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who served as chairman.

News of the pending hike, which had been sought by a variety of activists and unions, was cheered by supporters, both upstate and in New York City, where Cuomo and other elected officials appeared at a labor rally.

"This is really one of the great days of my administration," Cuomo said as he offered praise to several labor organizations, including SEIU and the AFL-CIO, for their work on raising the wage.

"There's a lot of injustice," Cuomo told the crowd, referencing the income inequality that has become a rallying cry for many Democratic politicians. "We are standing up to fight that injustice and to say we are not going to take it anymore."

In contrast to the raucous Manhattan event, a viewing party for the wage board's meeting in Albany went from joyous to deflated within seconds when it was announced the upstate wage wouldn't reach its peak until 2021.

About 50 people watched the proceedings at the offices of Citizen Action, a progressive advocacy group.

"I don't know how I feel about (a six-year phase-in), if that's what the case is," said Trivell Caruth, an Albany Burger King worker. "But at least it's still a victory."

Stacey Ellis, an Albany McDonald's employee, was more blunt. She called the delay devastating, adding that the minimum wage will need to be even higher than that by then anyway.

"I feel kind of conflicted," Ellis said. "Six years down the road is too long. We fight for $15 because we need it now, not six years down the road. We're no different than New York City — I'm sorry: I still can't pay my rent; I still can't buy my kids food; and I still can't put sneakers on their feet. This is not OK. ... It's a small victory — mainly for New York City, to be honest."

Amanda Monroe, a Colonie McDonald's employee, came to the front of the room to console a visibly upset Ellis as she finished speaking. The two hugged as Monroe told Ellis, "That's why we're going to stick together and we're going to keep fighting."

Progressive leaders also cast the announcement as a net win and a first step toward a higher wage for all sectors.

"This is a huge victory," Citizen Action Executive Director Karen Scharff.

"A year ago, we were talking $10.10 over five years. Just this past spring we were talking $10.50, $11.50 in New York City also over many years," she said. "Now we're talking $15 — and the fact that we've established $15 as the minimum that has to be achieved is a huge historic moment for this movement and for everyone in this room."

As they had previously, business groups and those representing fast-food operators criticized the looming mandate, predicting that it would lead to job cuts in the industry.

"Today's decision will hurt the very people Gov. Cuomo is purportedly trying to help," said a joint statement from the Save NY Restaurants Coalition. "Restaurants will be forced to streamline labor costs through automation and attrition or close their doors completely."

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

Categories: State/Local

Search to resume for kayaker presumed drowned in Ephratah reservoir

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 1:07am

EPHRATAH, N.Y. (AP) — Police will resume their search for the body of a 56-year-old man who is presumed to have drowned while kayaking in an upstate New York reservoir last weekend.

The Fulton County Sheriff's Office says the search for Daniel Smith of St. Johnsville started after a woman he was kayaking with reported that he had gone into the water around 8:15 p.m. Saturday while on the Donald G. Hill Reservoir in the town of Ephratah (yoo-FRA'-tuh), 45 miles northwest of Albany.

Officials say the woman had tried to help Smith but he nearly capsized her kayak. She got to shore and walked to the nearest house to call for help.

A search conducted Monday failed to find Smith's body. Police say the search will resume Tuesday.

Categories: State/Local

Disney hit 'Newsies' gets $1M grant

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 1:07am

Schenectady

A stage musical about impoverished street urchins that lit up Proctors last fall has received a $1 million state economic development grant, primarily because its producers were unable to take advantage of a tax credit program that premiered later than expected.

The grant to the Walt Disney Company from Empire State Development Corp. was announced Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration as part of almost $17 million in development grants around the state.

The touring production of "Newsies" held a month of technical rehearsals at Proctors in Schenectady in September and October before playing to local audiences; the road show is currently embarked on a North American tour. A surprise-hit Broadway adaptation of a 1992 Disney film that was a flop on its initial release, the production spins off an historic 1899 strike by New York City newsboys who went up against the power of press barons Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

The $1 million ESD grant was chased by $4.3 million from Disney to mount the show, with costs including $2.4 million for the physical production and $1.9 million in salaries, according to ESD.

The staging "created approximately 155 temporary jobs including the cast, crew, musicians, administration and other personnel in Schenectady," according to ESD's staff report, which was submitted to the corporation's board by Howard Zemsky, the new chief of the state's development arm. Sixty additional jobs were created elsewhere.

ESD does not plan to make stage musicals a regular recipient of development grants.

The factors behind this unique boon relate to last year's creation of a tax credit designed to lure the touring versions of complex Broadway shows to upstate theaters to hold their technical rehearsals — an elaborate, expensive process that results in scores of personnel and truckloads of equipment taking up temporary residence and boosting local economies.

Proctors CEO Philip Morris was the leading advocate in the artistic community for the tax credit, which was hammered out in the spring 2014 state budget negotiation. That $4 million program was originally intended to go into effect at the beginning of the 2014-15 fiscal year — a start date that would have allowed "Newsies" to be eligible.

But the enacted budget pushed opening night for the tax credit to Jan. 1, 2015.

Morris said Disney "knew they were taking something of a gamble" committing to Proctors before the credit was locked in, but "from everything we heard from our lobbyists and other people, we felt strongly that it was going to happen," he said.

The $1 million grant for "Newsies," he noted, totes up to roughly 19 percent of the show's overall production cost, as opposed to the 25 percent it could have earned under the tax credit program.

Morris said the "Newsies" grant and the credit were instrumental in keeping a homegrown business sector — the complex razzle-dazzle of Broadway — rooted in the Empire State.

"These are New York industries that have been nicked as a result of other states taking away the business," Morris said, referring to generous tax benefits for touring shows that in recent years have been offered by states ranging from Rhode Island to Louisiana.

In September, Proctors will host tech rehearsals for a touring production of "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," which won a 2014 Tony Award as best musical. Local audiences can see the result of their work in performances Sept. 19 to 26.

Morris said the theater expects more shows — perhaps two a year — to hold their shakedown stagings in Schenectady in 2016 and 2017.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

At 'Begin Again,' Signs of New Approach to Broken Justice System

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 1:00am

DA Thompson, center, with Council Members Williams & Cumbo (@JumaaneWilliams)

During Father's Day weekend, hundreds of individuals received the gift of a new beginning. The Brooklyn District Attorney's office held a 'Begin Again' event to lift open arrest warrants related to summonses for low-level offenses ranging from public intoxication, the most common violation, to being in a park after closing. In total, 1,039 individuals from across all five boroughs attended the two-day event and 670 warrants were cleared.

The 'Begin Again' initiative is part of a larger summons reform movement that aims to make it easier for individuals to respond to summonses and ultimately, avoid arrest warrants. While the total number of summons filings in New York City has decreased significantly in recent years, the system remains strained, with a citywide backlog of over a million summonses.

In Brooklyn, District Attorney Ken Thompson's office indicated that the success of the event would lead to another in September, and that while similar events were held under former District Attorney Charles Hynes, the Father's Day weekend initiative saw the greatest number of warrants cleared in Brooklyn during comparable time periods. Other district attorneys do not appear quick to follow suit.

City leaders from Thompson to Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police commissioner Bill Bratton, the City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others, are discussing summons reform.

"New York City's criminal justice system is overburdened with severely backlogged courts and millions of New Yorkers with outstanding warrants for low-level, minor offenses," said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a statement sent to Gotham Gazette.

"District Attorney Ken Thompson's Begin Again initiative is a forward-thinking approach that tackles this issue head on," Mark-Viverito said, "enabling individuals to resolve their warrants and move on with a clean slate without the threat of impending arrest."

Thompson's office is quick to stress that warrants and the summonses that led to them were not simply dismissed wholesale, but that each individual who wanted to 'Begin Again' was given a fair hearing, with most warrants adjudicated and summonses cleared - as is the case when people show up to their summons-dictated court appearance.

While the initiative has received widespread support, some expressed reservations. "It does create a moral hazard that sends the message that people can expect such amnesties in the future," said Heather Mac Donald of The Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. "It's a real issue and it has to be weighed against the public good in clearing these backlogs of warrants."

By using the term "amnesty," Mac Donald gets at a key issue for critics, who say that people should follow the law in the first place and pay the consequences for breaking it and for missing any mandated court appearance. People, including NYPD Commissioner Bratton, are hesitant to give the appearance of amnesty, believing that if New Yorkers believe there are no consequences to their actions, law-breaking will likely increase.

But Dawn Ryan, attorney-in-charge of The Legal Aid Society's Brooklyn criminal office, notes a distinction between the clearance of warrants and actual amnesty. "To me, amnesty is telling those who received the summonses that they may throw them away and forget they ever received them," said Ryan. By contrast, at 'Begin Again,' "they're still being held accountable in terms of showing up in response to the summons and having this matter resolved before a judge."

At 'Begin Again' events, those with outstanding warrants are assigned a Legal Aid attorney and brought before a judge, who hears the reason for the original summons and for not appearing in court, thus earning the warrant.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's office hailed 'Begin Again' a success and Ryan stated the event attracted so many people on its second day that the line remained open for an additional 45 minutes beyond the scheduled time. But the 670 warrants cleared barely make a dent in the 1.2 million open warrants related to unanswered summonses throughout New York City.

"It's just a drop in the bucket," acknowledged City Council Member Rory Lancman, who chairs the Council's courts and legal services committee. An estimated one in seven New Yorkers have an outstanding summons warrant and with less than one tenth of one percent of open summons warrants resolved thus far through the 'Begin Again' initiative, the need for further reform measures becomes evident. "I thought it seemed to be a great success for what it was," said Lancman. "But in the scheme of things, it's not really a sustainable strategy for getting at the over one million warrants that are outstanding."

The staggering number of open summons warrants is one of the reasons why Lancman, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, and New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman are among those advocating for certain low-level criminal offenses to be reclassified as civil penalties. A reclassification of some offenses would lessen the burden on the summons court system while also granting a reprieve to individuals who have committed non-violent, so-called 'quality-of-life' infractions. Proponents of such measures have argued that summonses are disproportionately issued to poor people of color and that arrest warrants resulting from failure to respond to a summons can have grave repercussions that far outweigh the original offense.

But even certain summons reform measures, it would seem, are backlogged. Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced "Justice Reboot," an initiative including a planned overhaul of the summons process. Among the proposed changes were a new summons form making the court appearance date more prominent, robocall and text message reminders for those with summonses, and a more flexible system allowing individuals to appear in court up to a week in advance of their scheduled court date. While these measures were originally scheduled to begin this summer, they are now slated to start in early fall.

Sarah Solon, chief external strategy officer at the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, stated that the timing for the proposed reforms remains unchanged and that the measures will go into effect sequentially. "The new summons form has to roll out first, because it will collect the cell phone numbers that will allow for text message reminders and contain information about the flexible appearance dates," said Solon via e-mail. That new form will be released citywide within the next few months, Solon said, and going forward the form will collect data on an individual's race/ethnicity in order to ensure transparency in the summons process and provide important data.

The next Begin Again event is also scheduled for the fall-it will be held on September 12 in East New York. The flyer for the event - which will be posted around the borough and shared on social media as the one advertising the last one was - says, "we can help you take care of that old warrant." The literature seeks to reassure people: "over 1,000 people attended the last event," it says, followed by "no one was arrested" and "everyone got help."

Ryan said she and her colleagues at The Legal Aid Society hope other DA offices will follow Brooklyn District Attorney Thompson's lead in hosting such events.

So, apparently, does Thompson. In a July 15 letter addressed and hand-delivered to Mayor de Blasio with Chief Judge Lippman copied, Thompson urged the mayor to take the Brooklyn 'Begin Again' initiative citywide. Of the current way of doing things, Thompson wrote, "We simply cannot continue down this path any longer."

***
Brooke L. Williams is a freelance multimedia journalist based in New York City. She reports on the criminal justice system with an emphasis on those wrongfully convicted. You can follow her on Twitter @williamslbrooke
@GothamGazette

Categories: State/Local

New claims in Skelos case

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 07/26/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

The son of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos allegedly threatened to "smash in" the head of a supervisor who failed to grasp that he was a no-show employee, a new federal indictment alleges.

Dean and Adam Skelos were arrested in early May to face a six-count indictment that charged the Republican lawmaker with performing legislative favors for companies with business before the state in an attempt to enrich his 32-year-old son. Both men have declared their innocence.

A superseding indictment, returned Tuesday by a federal grand jury, adds two new charges of extortion and solicitation of bribes related to Adam Skelos' employment by a medical malpractice insurance company, allegedly at the request of his father.

Though unnamed in the new indictment, the company in question has been identified as Physicians Reciprocal Insurers, a Long Island-based firm. CEO Anthony Bonomo was nominated in April by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the chairman of the board of the New York Racing Association, but announced he would take a leave of absence from that post after PRI was referenced in the original indictment.

Neither Bonomo nor PRI have been accused of wrongdoing.

Bonomo's name does not appear in the indictment, though there are ample descriptions of events involving a CEO at the medical malpractice firm, which is described as facing financial challenges. In April, lawmakers passed a state budget granting a significant benefit to medical malpractice insurance companies — including PRI — that are operating in the red, a measure Cuomo reportedly opposed but eventually agreed to at the insistence of legislative leaders, including Skelos.

The new indictment alleges that beginning in 2012, Dean Skelos made repeated pitches to the CEO in an attempt to provide his son with income. In addition, the lawmaker pressed the company to send business to a court reporting company where young Skelos' girlfriend — later his wife — worked.

Adam Skelos was eventually hired by the firm in early January 2013 at an annual salary of $78,000. "From the outset of his employment, however, (he) regularly failed to report for work," the indictment states.

Just a week later, a manager identified as "Supervisor-1" called the new hire to discuss his schedule, including the fact that he had only worked one hour in the previous four days.

The indictment suggests the exchange did not end well.

"Shortly after that phone call, Adam Skelos called back Supervisor-1 and threatened to 'smash in' Supervisor-1's head, and told Supervisor-1 that Supervisor-1 would 'never amount to anything,' and that 'guys like' Supervisor-1 'couldn't shine [Adam Skelos'] shoes,'" the document states.

Skelos allegedly told Supervisor-1 that he "did not have to come to work regularly because his father ... was majority leader of the Senate."

That analysis, the indictment alleges, was completely accurate: Dean Skelos subsequently called the CEO to demand to know why his son was being "harassed" by his supervisor.

A lobbyist for the firm was recruited to talk to Skelos about his son's alleged non-attendance, and was told the younger man "needed money, including because (he) had recently purchased a home," the indictment says.

The indictment notes that Supervisor-1's records for the first four months of 2013 reflect that Adam Skelos "worked for three or more hours only on five days," though the CEO took no action due to his fear of legislative retaliation.

That fall, Adam Skelos approached the CEO about "converting his employment to a consulting agreement" that would pay him $36,000 annually in exchange for making at least 100 sales calls a week. Though the arrangement was ultimately extended through March of this year, the company "never sold one medical malpractice policy to a single doctor" as a result of Adam Skelos' work, the indictment states.

The two new counts charge father and son with extortion and soliciting bribes — charges similar to those already levied against them in regard to Adam Skelos' employment by an environmental technology firm that sought to obtain a $12 million stormwater remediation contract with Nassau County.

Attorneys for Adam and Dean Skelos didn't respond to requests for comment left Tuesday afternoon.

Dean Skelos' fall from the powerful position he held for seven years was brought by the office of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara, who in January secured an indictment against Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Like Skelos, three months later, Silver was ousted from his leadership post days after his arrest.

Both remain as rank-and-file members as they fight their respective charges.

Two other state senators expect to hear their fate from juries in the days ahead: Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous of Binghamton, facing a single felony charge of lying to investigators about his own alleged efforts to secure employment for his son, and former Democratic conference leader John Sampson of Brooklyn, who has defended himself from a long list of corruption charges including obstructing an investigation into alleged embezzlement.

A felony conviction prompts immediate expulsion from the Legislature.

Matthew Hamilton contributedcseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 27

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 07/26/2015 - 1:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

BIDEN IN NY: Monday starts off with a bang as Vice President Joe Biden is in New York, first events with Governor Andrew Cuomo in Rochester, then New York City. According to Cuomo's office,  Biden and Cuomo will appear at 11 a.m. at SUNY Polytechnic Canal Ponds in Rochester, where they "will deliver remarks on the economy" and then at 2:45 at the Sheraton New York on 7th Avenue, Biden and Cuomo will make a "major infrastructure announcement." The latter is at an event being held by the Association for a Better New York, a business group. Cuomo was long-planned to speak at ABNY's luncheon, but it appears the specific agenda changed as things came through for Biden to join him and announce new plans for LaGuardia Airport. For the former, the Democrat and Chronicle is reporting that Biden will be announcing a $110 million grant from the Department of Defense to bolster the work being done at the Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: The mayor will not be with Biden and Cuomo for the LaGuardia announcement, it appears. De Blasio starts his week with a noon "press conference to make an announcement at the American Museum of Natural History" which will be in collaboration with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, according to her public schedule. "Later, the Mayor will host a meeting with M/WBE developers at City Hall," according to his public schedule. Meanwhile, over the weekend de Blasio marched in the Dominican Day Parade on Sunday and, on Saturday, he attended and spoke at "the Northern Caribbean University Alumni Association Homecoming" in Brooklyn and made "remarks at the Staten Island Democratic Party Boardwalk Bash."

Other things we're watching for include the latest crime stats from the NYPD; any sign of news from the Department of Justice or NYPD on the investigations into the conduct of officers involved in Eric Garner's death; further developments in the saga over how the MTA capital program will be funded; and the latest in the special elections set to take place for two City Council seats vacated by members taking new jobs and several seats in the state Legislature vacated due to corruption.

As always, there's a good deal happening all over the city this week, though the City Council has no public hearings or meetings scheduled this week after last week's lone July Stated Meeting and all of the Uber drama that led up to it. Regardless, read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 8 a.m. the Division of Local Government and School Accountability from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Office is hosting a seminar for municipal and school district officials.

At 9:45 a.m. Monday U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer will join AT&T and NYU to announce nine winning tech solutions from the ‘Connect Ability’ Challenge and present over $100,000 in prizes for the winning recipients. Victor Calise, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and Marissa Shorenstein, New York State President of AT&T, will attend.

On Monday morning in Lake Buena Vista, FL, New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver "remarks at GE Foundation's 2015 Summer STEM Conference," according to her public schedule.

At noon, Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Mark-Viverito and others - including Manhattan BP Gale Brewer - will make an announcement at the Museum of Natural History. Brewer is also set to join Cuomo and others for their 2:30 announcement...

At 2:30 p.m. the Association for a Better New York is hosting a lunch event with Vice President Joe Biden and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who will be making a “major infrastructure announcement” together. A live stream will be available via the governor's website. Governor Cuomo and Vice President Biden will also be in Rochester Monday to announce that “the region won a nationwide competition as the site for an Institute for Manufacturing Innovation.” City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Tish James, and Council Speaker Mark-Viverito are scheduled to attend the Biden-Cuomo announcement in New York City. According to the Daily News, "it will focus on the rebuilding of LaGuardia's central terminal building. It's expected Cuomo will announce the winner of a design competition. Cuomo is also expected to touch on initiatives, including the construction of an Air Train to LaGuardia, a high speed ferry connecting the airport to Manhattan, and a new airport hotel and business center."

Earlier Monday, Public Advocate James will speak at a Queens press conference with Congressman Steve Israel calling for a "review of security measures at reserve bases."

At 5:30 p.m. there will be a public meeting of the Contracts Committee of the panel for educational policy at Tweed Courthouse.

At 6 p.m. Monday City Council Member Corey Johnson and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are hosting “Rat Academy...a free training on safe and effective methods for rat prevention in your building and neighborhood,” at Hudson Guild's Elliot Center.

Tuesday
At 10 a.m. the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs is hosting an information session on the borough-specific processes of applying for and securing City funding for arts and cultural nonprofits in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. On Tuesday, August 4 at 12pm the Brooklyn and Queens borough-specific processes will be covered.

At 11:30 Tuesday morning on the steps of City Hall, "Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at a press conference hosted by the Hispanic Federation, urging support for Puerto Rico as it confronts its economic challenges." Council Speaker Mark-Viverito will also attend - she has been outspoken on issues relating to Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised.

At 6 p.m. the NYC Veterans Alliance is holding a forum on NYC Veterans Policy. John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, is set to make opening remarks. A panel discussion will include panelists Phoebe Gavin, U.S. Army Veteran, Freelance writer; Lee Covino, U.S. Army Veteran, Former Vice-Chairman of the NYC Veterans Advisory Board; Brett Morash, U.S. Navy Veteran, Vice President of Veterans Services for Services for the UnderServed; Tireak Tulloch, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, Veteran Advocate; Julienne Williams, U.S. Air Force Veteran, Veteran Transition Manager for New York at IAVA's Rapid Response Referral Program; and Coco Culhane, Founder and Director of the Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center.

At 6 p.m. there will be a “Red Tape Commission” meeting hosted by Comptroller Scott Stringer, with commission co-chairs Jessica Lappin and Michael Lambert, and Red Tape Commission Members. The Commission is “dedicated to helping success in business by finding ways to help you cut through the red tape.”

At 7 p.m. there will be a “Queens: Contracts for Excellence” public hearing hosted by the Department of Education.

Wednesday
At 8 a.m. City & State will hold an awards breakfast for “Technology, Telecommunications & New Media.” There will be a panel discussion with keynote speaker Minerva Tantoco, Chief Technology Officer of NYC; featured speaker Jay Hershenson, Senior Vice Chancellor at CUNY; and emcee Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum. There will be a "Thought Leader Discussion: City & State and partners convene leaders in technology and new media to discuss best practices and trends in corporate social responsibility" moderated by Rasiej, with George Fontas, Capalino and Co.; Manhattan BP Gale Brewer, Neil Giacobbi, AT&T; Guy Franklin, Israeli Mapped in NY; and possibly others.

At 8 a.m. there will be “Uncovering the Code: An Update on NYC’s New Energy Code,” an event on the 2015 New York City Energy Conservation Code. Gina Bocra, Chief Sustainability Officer of the Department of Buildings, will be attending.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday the New York City Housing Authority is holding a board meeting.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board is offering a Compliance & C-SMART training session for the 2017 election cycle at 1 p.m. Wednesday. “Compliance trainings cover campaign finance laws and CFB rules. C-SMART trainings provide an overview of the CFB’s web-based application, which campaigns must use to manage and disclose financial activity. The candidate, treasurer, campaign manager or other individual with significant managerial control over the campaign is legally required to attend both a Compliance and a C-SMART training.”

At 2 p.m. there will be a public meeting for the Department of Transportation on revocable consents.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Department of Education is holding a panel for educational policy meeting at Taft Educational Complex in the Bronx.

At 7 p.m. BetaNYC and Coalition for Queens are hosting a civic hacknight.

Also Wednesday evening, at 7:30 p.m., Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz speaks to the Ansonia Independent Democrats about inequality and his new book, "The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them" - at the Lincoln Square Synagogue.

Thursday
At 9 a.m. the Equal Employment Practices Commission is holding its July public meeting.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, July 30 at 9:30 AM."

At 10:30 a.m. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is holding a land use hearing.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, ten of City & State’s veteran and military honorees will be celebrated for going “Above & Beyond.” Loree Sutton, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Veteran Affairs, will make the keynote remarks. Honorees include Welby Alcantara, USMC, Military & Veteran Services Coordinator, John Jay College; Joseph A. Bello, Founder, NY Metro Vets; Walter Bridgers, Team Leader, Harlem Veterans Center; Kenneth Curley , President & CEO, Raymond Associates LLC; Tom Gray, Senior Vice President, Capalino & Company; Aaron Leonard, Executive Director, Project Rebirth; Dan McSweeney, Incoming President, United War Veterans Council; Regina Marengo, President, Ensign Engineering; and Kelly Saeli, Director of Operations, NYC Helmets to Hardhats.

Friday and the weekend
Nothing on our radar yet for Friday or this weekend, but stay alert!

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Erika Wang and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Categories: State/Local

Adult business rules rejected

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 07/25/2015 - 1:07am

New York

A court gave a green light to what's left of the city's red light district on Tuesday, turning aside the city's desire to further restrict its racy adult establishments by finding new rules are unconstitutional.

The 3-2 decision from the state Supreme Court Appellate Division was derided by two dissenting judges as resulting from a "mechanical and mathematical approach" to analyzing changes the city has tried to make for 14 years in a 1995 law that reduced the number of businesses offering sexually explicit materials and chased others from residential areas.

The city has claimed that adult bookstores, movie houses and strip clubs were "superficially complying" and have made a sham of rules requiring that they limit the space devoted to a sexual focus to no more than 40 percent of their space if they want to exist in areas where sexually explicit businesses are otherwise not permitted.

The appeals ruling conformed with the conclusions of a lower-court judge who analyzed 13 stores such as Thunder Lingerie, Blue Door Brooklyn and Video Excitement, finding they did not have graphic signage such as "XXX" and there were "almost no garish neon lighted signs, no hardcore sexual images or language on them." The judge also sided with dance clubs including Bare Elegance, Lace, Private Eyes, Pussycat Lounge, Vixen and Wiggles.

The city went after sex trade establishments in 1995 after a study begun two years earlier by the city planning office concluded that the rapidly growing number of adult businesses led to increased crime rates, deteriorating community character, reduced commercial activities and decreasing property values. New zoning rules banned the establishments from residential districts and manufacturing and commercial districts where residential development also occurred and required they be located at least 500 feet from churches, schools and day care centers.

New rules approved in 2001 would have made it more difficult for businesses to qualify as non-adult establishments by imposing tougher restrictions regarding signage, displays of merchandise and booths for viewing adult movies.

The additional restrictions had not been enforced because of a lengthy legal battle.

The city's law office said it was reviewing the ruling.

Categories: State/Local
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