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Albany Times/Union - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 12:07am

Cuomo up, Silver down on 'New York Now'

Don't miss this week's episode of "New York Now," a state Emmy-winning coproduction of WMHT and the Times Union. Highlights include:

WMHT's Matt Ryan surveys a furious week at the Capitol, from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's unveiling of his "Opportunity Agenda" to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's arrest Thursday on federal corruption charges.

TU State Editor Casey Seiler convenes the Reporters Rountable with Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio and Ken Lovett of the Daily News to discuss whether Silver can survive politically, and what his arrest means for the impending state budget negotiation.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. on WMHT Ch. 17.

Cops: School bus drags student about half mile

AVOCA — State Police say a student was dragged by a school bus for nearly a half mile before the driver stopped.

Troopers say the student from Avoca Central School in the Finger Lakes region suffered minor injuries to a foot Tuesday when she got stuck in the door while it was traveling on a two-lane highway.

Investigators believe the girl was hung up by her book bag and the driver didn't realize it right away. She was treated at a hospital and released.

It's at least the third time that's happened in the past month in upstate New York. The first two were in Madison County in late December, but neither child was hurt and neither driver charged, though one resigned.

— Associated Press

NYC schools revamp management structure

NEW YORK — Chancellor Carmen Farina is reorganizing the management structure for New York City's 1.1 million-pupil public school system.

Farina announced Thursday that she'll do away with a system of 55 school "support networks" put in place by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Under the new system, accountability will be returned to local superintendents for each of the 32 districts.

During the Bloomberg administration, each school was a member of one of the 55 networks.

The networks were supposed to provide support and mentoring to principals.

Critics said the networks were ineffective, especially for struggling schools.

The networks will be replaced by seven geographically based Borough Field Support Centers.

Farina said the new system will create consistency and clarity.

It will go into effect in the 2015-16 school year.

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

Speaker Silver said to face charges

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 12:07am

Federal authorities are expected to arrest Sheldon Silver, the powerful speaker of the New York state Assembly, on corruption charges Thursday, people with knowledge of the matter said, in a case that is likely to throw Albany into disarray at the beginning of a new session.

The investigation that led to the expected charges against Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who has served as speaker for more than two decades, began after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in March abruptly shut down an anti-corruption commission he had created in 2013.

Details of the specific charges to be brought against Silver were unclear Wednesday night, but one of the people with knowledge of the matter said they stemmed from payments Silver received from a small law firm that specializes in seeking reductions of New York City real estate taxes. The total amount of the payments was unclear, but another person has said the payments were substantial and were made over several years.

Silver failed to list the payments from the firm, Goldberg & Iryami, on his annual financial disclosure filings with the state, as required.

Several months ago, prosecutors in the office of Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, subpoenaed documents from a personal injury firm that also paid Silver, income that he did disclose, one person with the knowledge of the matter said. Like others, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because the charges had not been announced.

Silver on Wednesday was in Albany, where he attended Cuomo's State of the State address and had a prominent seat on stage next to the governor. It was unclear when and where Silver, 70, would be taken into custody.

His lawyer, Joel Cohen, declined to comment Wednesday night.

Last month, Silver did not respond to questions about the investigation or his relationship with Goldberg & Iryami, including how he had been paid by the firm, when the payments had begun and what work he had performed. In the past, he has maintained that he properly disclosed all of his income.

A lawyer for Jay Arthur Goldberg, a partner at the law firm, did not respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment. J. Peter Donald, a spokesman for the FBI, and James Margolin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined to comment.

State lawmakers who are arrested can continue to serve. Upon conviction of a felony they must leave office.

The investigation involving Silver picked up where the anti-corruption panel that Cuomo shut down, the Moreland Commission, had left off. The inquiry focused on the outside income earned by New York state legislators, who are allowed to hold part-time jobs in addition to their legislative duties.

Silver has long been the most powerful Democrat in New York's Legislature. His arrest would immediately turn on its head the annual legislative session that began only this month, as well as the long-established hierarchy in the Assembly.

The speaker since 1994, Silver is a consummate backroom player, one of Albany's "three men in a room," along with the governor and the Senate majority leader, who negotiate the state budget and work out deals on important legislation.

During his career, he has developed a reputation as a skilled negotiator as well as an inscrutable and unmoving force in a capital that has seen governors and other powerful legislators felled by scandals and missteps.

Along the way, Silver has been a lightning rod for criticism, including accusations that he has been tolerant of sexual harassment in the Assembly.

He has also been criticized for his outside law practice, a lucrative career that supplements the $121,000 he earns as speaker.

In 2013, Silver earned at least $650,000 in legal income, including work for the personal injury law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, according to his most recent financial disclosure filing.

But what he does to earn that income has long been a mystery in Albany, and Silver has refused to provide details about his work.

The New York Times reported in December that federal authorities were investigating substantial payments made to Silver by Goldberg & Iryami. Silver is not known to have any expertise in the specialized area of the law in which the firm practices, known as tax certiorari.

Earlier this month, asked to shed light on the federal investigation into the payments, Silver responded by saying that there was simply "nothing to shed."

Amid the investigation, there had been no serious signs of dissent among Democrats in his caucus. Silver was easily re-elected speaker this month when the Assembly gathered in Albany to begin the new legislative session.

"To all of you, I humbly offer my heartfelt thanks, and my promise to honor your support and your friendship at all times," Silver told his Assembly colleagues.

Silver promised to "uphold the tradition of this body and honor at all times the legacy that we have inherited."

Categories: State/Local

Assembly Democrats Move to Oust Silver, Establish Replacement Plan

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 12:00am

Sheldon Silver (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On Monday, Feb. 2, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's 20-year reign as leader of the Assembly's Democratic majority is scheduled to come to an end. Albany, as many have come to define it, will be changed drastically without Silver's domineering grasp around the chamber's throat.

Silver has come to represent many things to many different people. He was vilified upstate as some sort golem of greed and corruption manifested to represent New York City; for others Silver was a champion of progressive causes who listened to the people. For still others Silver served as a symbol of all the corruption and detachment of the state capital, a hypocrite who stifled democratic conversation, smashed any inkling of opposition, and unceremoniously turned on members whose scandals were causing him too much trouble.

Now, he faces several federal corruption charges of bribery and kickbacks, which have finally led to his seemingly imminent ouster.

Rochester Assembly Member Joseph Morelle, who currently serves as majority leader, is scheduled to become interim speaker until a vote on Feb. 10, Democratic Assembly members determined on Tuesday. Good government groups have called for a "transparent" selection of a new leader. Some members insist they want to use the next two weeks to vet speaker candidates. The Assembly is already discussing a change to its rules so that the speaker serves at the leisure of the members, not a two-year term.

Silver told reporters on Tuesday that he will not resign his Assembly seat. "I will be a member of this house," Silver said. "I was elected by my constituents and I do not intend to resign my seat in this house. I believe very deeply in the institution. I hope they can have somebody here who can carry on the good work that has taken place." He also added, though, that he would not hinder a replacement process. In fact, he may very well vote on his replacement as an ordinary member of the Assembly.

Almost a full week into session the only "good work" the Assembly has officially done this year is to vote Silver in as speaker. That is something Assembly Republicans don't want anyone to forget. They paced back and forth on Monday waiting to see if session would happen. Republican Assembly Member Jim Tedisco carried around his "research" on how to remove a speaker. "This could really hurt budget negotiations," he said of the distraction and power shake-up.

Exactly who will succeed Silver in the long term is not clear, but jockeying for the position is intense with New York City-based Keith Wright of Manhattan, Carl Heastie of the Bronx, Cathy Nolan of Queens, and Joe Lentol from Brooklyn all appearing to be actively campaigning for the position. They, or whichever emerge as frontrunners before Feb. 10, will have to overcome Morelle.

Wright faces opposition from members who are annoyed by his ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo - the governor named Wright a co-chair of the state Democratic Party in 2012. Carl Heastie is thought to be the leader at the moment and has hired two veteran aides to help his effort, though he is thought to carry baggage from his duty as Bronx County Democratic Chair and issues related to his campaign spending.

Other members have begun to focus on reforming the speakership with term limits and other changes that will allow individual members more control over what bills come to the floor. Under Silver, the Assembly has become notoriously autocratic.

Labor unions, lobbyists and elected officials from across the state are all weighing in on the process. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appears to be backing Heastie despite comments he made to the press on Tuesday.

"I'm not talking to Assembly members at all," de Blasio said. "We're trying to keep abreast of what's happening because we have a lot of things that really matter to us, like the budget and a lot of other things. We're trying to stay close to what's happening so that we are able to act on the substance of the situation."

De Blasio made it clear, though, that he sees it as essential that the next speaker is also from New York City. "I think it is crucially important to New York City to have leadership in the Assembly that wants to be fair to New York City - and let's be clear, we often don't get our fair share from state government," de Blasio said.

On Monday Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. issued a statement insisting just that. Many city legislators from both houses agree with Diaz being that the Senate is controlled by Republicans who mostly hail from the suburbs and upstate and "Cuomo is Cuomo," as one legislator put it.

But Diaz has a specific city-based speaker in mind. He has long allied with Heastie who is also the Bronx County party chair. A number of lawmakers close to the pair say they have shared a dream of Heastie becoming speaker and Diaz becoming mayor.

Silver's colleagues met in closed door meetings on Monday and Tuesday rather than holding scheduled legislative session and debated what to do about their embattled speaker. Last week, when Silver was first arrested some members jumped to his defense claiming he faced "flimsy charges." Some went as far as to suggest there was a conspiracy against Silver.

Members emerged from their first conference last week having decided to back Silver - without having read the charges against him and with his chief of staff in the room. The unity began to crumble over the weekend as editorial pages slammed Silver and the members who were so willing to defend him. The only Assembly Democrat to call for his resignation was Charles Barron, who has long been outspoken had had no help from Silver in his election.

On Monday legislators met for five hours behind closed doors with Assembly staffers pushing reporters further and further back from the meeting. Members debated Silver's proposal that he temporarily cede power to five colleagues until he was cleared of his charges. Eventually that proposal was disregarded and members appeared to announce that they had agreed that Silver should step down as speaker.

"I and other members of the conference expressed the idea that the speaker can no longer serve as the speaker and he must resign," said Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who met with a breakaway faction of young legislators during the day and had been set to make an announcement that was nixed by Silver's arrival.

Silver left the capitol seemingly defiant, declaring "I am the speaker."

Members met again for hours behind closed doors on Tuesday without Silver. They finally emerged appearing to have Silver's agreement to resign the speakership - though his comments indicated otherwise. The Assembly members indicated that if he did not resign by Monday they would move to formally remove him.

Despite being known for protecting his members, in recent years Silver was forced to become more reactive to protect his own image. It was only May of 2013 when Silver led an effort to boot entrenched Bronx Assembly Member Vito Lopez from his seat. Lopez faced a number of sexual harassment charges from interns - some of the cases were settled in secret with state money at the behest of Silver. It wasn't until new victims came forward that the old cases were revealed and Silver began to feel the political blowback. Silver faced calls to resign from editorial boards, women's groups, and politicians, but he survived partly by focusing on punishing Lopez.

Silver stripped Lopez of his committee chair and staff and launched ethics probes. Lopez announced in May that year that he would resign from the Assembly at the end of the session and run for City Council (a race which he lost). Advocates were outraged - feeling the pressure, Silver drafted a resolution to vote Lopez out of the chamber and Lopez resigned before the vote. Silver went on to pressure Assembly members Micah Kellner and Dennis Gabryszak to resign after they faced sexual harassment accusations.

The Assembly has lagged behind most government organizations in transparency for years. The Senate, which has been notoriously opaque in its legislative practices, have a website that allows users to search for detailed legislative information and watch session live. The Assembly website has only recently come close to catching up. 

A number of legislators said privately that they maintained public support for Silver because of the issues he represents and his negotiating power. He was expected to be the Democratic counterweight to Cuomo's education reform plans, push for a higher minimum wage, and ally himself closely with de Blasio's agenda. Silver, however, hasn't always delivered for the city. In 2008, without much explanation, he killed a push to enact congestion pricing in New York City.

In 2009, after Senate Democrats took control of that chamber after four decades in the minority the absurdly decadent infrastructure implemented by long-ruling Sen. Joseph Bruno was revealed. From a fully-staffed printing plant to a TV station used exclusively by Republican candidates to record campaign ads, the GMC van outfitted with captain's chairs and a meeting table known as the "Brunomobile," it was clear to everyone that it had been good to be the king. Sources indicate that Assembly Democrats are eager to keep their demons in the closet. Silver is reportedly negotiating to protect the jobs of his long-term staffers.

However, Assembly Democrats won't be able to control how much damage Silver's fall does to their reputations. Some insiders theorize that with Silver removed from power he might be more inclined to share the Assembly's dark secrets with the U.S. Attorney prosecuting him (U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is also performing ongoing investigations of other Albany-related matters that are yet to be made clear).

On Monday as legislators began to gather to discuss Silver's future, Assembly Members Wright, Deborah Glick, and Barron waited for one of the Capitol's ornate elevator cars to arrive. A sign on one door read "Out of service." As the wait grew longer someone in the legislators' entourages joked, "Shelly's out and the elevators aren't working already."

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

Categories: State/Local

New York Must Strengthen Sex Trafficking Laws

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 12:00am

Manhattan DA Cy Vance (photo: DA's office)

Sex trafficking is a lucrative criminal enterprise in which youthful looks are in high demand and actual children command top dollar. Yet, gaps in New York State's sex trafficking laws limit prosecutors' ability to convict traffickers of high-level felonies, making sex trafficking of children in New York a relatively low-risk proposition.

Forty-six states in this country recognize that prostituted children are victims of sex trafficking. These states acknowledge that vulnerable children innately deserve the strongest protection, and their laws enable prosecutors to seek tougher convictions and prison sentences for those who traffic minors. Currently, New York is not one of those states.

Traffickers are not merely common criminals, but often calculating heads of criminal enterprises that rake in thousands of dollars over the course of months – or even years – before their rings are dismantled. They know that Sex Trafficking is often difficult to prove, given the unwillingness of victims to testify against their abusers due to the trauma they have suffered, fear of retribution, and the complex psychological bonds many have developed.

In New York State, Sex Trafficking convictions require proof of force, fraud, or coercion, even if the victim is under 18. According to data compiled by the Polaris Project, New York is one of only four states where that is the case. That means, for instance, if New Jersey prosecutors prove that a defendant sold a sixteen-year-old girl for sex, that defendant would be convicted of Sex Trafficking – but in New York, prosecutors would additionally have to prove that the defendant used fear, fraud, or coercion to compel that teenager into trafficking. New York's laws are similarly weaker than the federal and international definitions of sex trafficking. That must change.

As national Human Trafficking Prevention Month draws to a close, I am calling on New York State legislators to give our prosecutors the same tools, allowing us to better protect the children traffickers target for sexual exploitation and profit. The penal code must be changed to recognize the fact that children do not have the legal, psychological, or emotional capacity to consent to sexual activity, as reflected in our statutory rape laws. This view of children should not change simply because there is an exchange of money.

Of course, New York takes trafficking very seriously. Recently announced state legislative initiatives include many significant proposals, such as changing Sex Trafficking from a nonviolent to a violent felony, and offering more support and services for victims. But there is a gaping hole in our State's laws governing the trafficking of children – one that would be simple to correct. We need to amend our penal code so that Sex Trafficking can be proved without evidence of force, fraud, or coercion when the victim is less than 18 years of age.

Law enforcement in jurisdictions that have this proposed statute, such as New Jersey and our counterparts in the Southern District of New York, are better able to secure high-level felony convictions and correspondingly lengthy sentences of traffickers. In contrast, New York State prosecutors have occasionally found that the only way we can bring a trafficker to justice is to seek prosecution in another jurisdiction.

Let me give you an example. Royce Corley, who also went by the name "Ron Iron," ran a prostitution ring in Manhattan in 2011 and 2012 that included underage girls. He photographed the children – including three 16-year-olds – in explicit poses, advertised them on backpage.com, and made thousands of dollars by selling them for sexual services. Working with our partners in the NYPD, Corley was arrested after an undercover sting.

Despite the fact that Corley was prostituting children, my office's Human Trafficking prosecutors were unable to charge the defendant with Sex Trafficking under current New York State law. So, we asked the Southern District of New York to take the case, and to seek appropriate justice where we could not. Following his trial conviction under Federal sex trafficking statutes, Corley was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 years of post-release supervision.

Prosecutors should not have to hand-off cases to ensure that victims in New York get justice. My proposal would not only ensure that offenders could be convicted of higher felonies and therefore receive stronger sentences, but would also ease the traumatic experience a victim may face if a case goes to trial.

Eliciting testimony about sexual conduct and force, fraud, or coercion is incredibly difficult for any victim, let alone a child. With the proposed changes, a child's testimony could essentially be boiled down to two questions: How old are you? And, were you prostituted by the defendant on trial?

At its core, this proposal is an acknowledgement that a child sold for sex is a victim, plain and simple. Let's follow in the footsteps of the overwhelming majority of other states, the federal government, and the international community. Let's ensure that those who profit from selling children will face consequences commensurate with their crimes. Let's do what is just for the most vulnerable among us.

***
Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. is the Manhattan District Attorney.

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

Categories: State/Local

Jail boss fires 6 NYC guards in 2012 inmate beating

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 1:07am

NEW YORK — The New York City jails commissioner has fired five correction officers and a captain an administrative law judge recommended be terminated for the 2012 beating of a handcuffed Rikers Island inmate in a now-shuttered dorm for mentally ill inmates.

Joseph Ponte's decision Wednesday comes nearly four months after the judge was swayed by the city Department of Correction that Hinton was beaten after being carried hogtied into a cell for refusing to be escorted. Hinton was left with a broken nose, a fractured back and a badly swollen face. The judge found the guards fabricated a story that Hinton put one of them in a chokehold to justify the use-of-force.

"The vast majority of correction officers perform their duties with the highest level of integrity and my decision makes clear that there is no room for this type of behavior on Rikers," Ponte said in a statement. "We must have a higher expectation of performance in situations like this, and while acknowledging how difficult the officers' job is, we must also accept the need to earn back the faith and trust of the community we serve."

Surveillance video apparently shows the 6-foot-3 Hinton — described by the judge as a Bloods gang member with an attempted murder conviction — carried into his cell by Capt. Budnarine Behari and other guards where they beat him while an officer stood calmly outside the cell, the judge wrote in her decision.

Correction officials have not released the video, which was played publicly at the officers' administrative disciplinary tribunal, despite requests and an appeal by The Associated Press under state open records law.

Behari's attorney, James Frankie, called Ponte's decision "disappointing" and said he would appeal.

Norman Seabrook, who heads the 9,000-member Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, said union lawyers would appeal the decision either in the state courts or to the civil service commission to get his members' jobs back.

"The commissioner has made a decision, and we will vigorously defend them," he said of the officers.

Martha Kashickey, who is representing Hinton in a civil lawsuit against the city, said she hoped Ponte's decision would send a message that inmates' lives matter. Hinton is currently serving time in state prison for a parole violation.

"We sincerely hope that this is the beginning of justice not just for Robert Hinton but for the hundreds of inmates who are abused and ignored in our jails," she said.

Rikers, the city's sprawling jail complex in the East River, has come under increased scrutiny in the past year and federal prosecutors last month sued correction officials to speed up reforms to quell what they've called a pervasive "deep-seated culture of violence."

Hinton's case provided a small window into the world of internal discipline at the department of correction, where most cases are settled in exchange for the forfeiture of vacation days and unpaid suspensions while the details of what occurred and the names of those involved remain secret. The Associated Press reported in September, based on data obtained via a public records request, that of 2,007 administrative cases brought before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings in the past 4 ½ years, only 97 resulted in a written report and recommendation.

Wednesday's decision is the first time Ponte fired corrections staff after an administrative law judge recommended it in a use-of-force case. He has fired eight other employees on the recommendation of a law judge for other charges.

Categories: State/Local

Dealing for dollars in plan

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's combined State of the State address and budget proposal described a $141.6 billion spending plan and revealed his approach to two of the most pressing topics of the political season: public education and criminal justice reform.

In the plan's most attention-grabbing element, Cuomo handcuffed $1.1 billion in education funding to passage of a set of reforms. Without passing the changes — to teacher evaluations, the current cap on charter schools and more — school aid funding would go up just $377 million, the amount it's set to rise based on the state's regular formula.

The budget also includes Cuomo's plan for spending $5 billion in financial settlement funds that represent a one-time shot of cash. The largest chunk (slightly more than $3 billion) would go to infrastructure and other investments, including $1.3 billion to help the Thruway Authority hold tolls steady while paying for part of the new Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project. Another $1.5 billion is earmarked for Cuomo's proposed upstate revitalization competition, and $850 million would pay down federal expenses.

"One of my colleagues, who is an assemblyman, we were talking about this outline of these issues the other day, and the assemblyman said, 'Wow, this is going to be really hard because these issues are not New York issues. These problems are all national problems,'" Cuomo said in his address Wednesday afternoon at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. "He's right; they are national problems. But he's wrong if he thinks that we can't solve it."

Cuomo's "Opportunity Agenda" was a one-of-a-kind presentation that wrapped together the kickoff State of the State and the down-to-business executive budget presentations. Wednesday's speech was largely budgetary, with education and criminal justice as its big policy reveals.

Criminal justice has been a Cuomo focus since a Staten Island grand jury decided in December not to indict a New York City police officer in the choking death of Eric Garner. On Wednesday, Cuomo proposed a seven-point justice agenda that included the establishment of an independent monitor to review cases of police-involved unarmed civilian deaths and potentially recommend to the governor a special prosecutor for such cases; allowing district attorneys to issue a grand jury reports for such cases; and funding replacement bulletproof vests, body cameras and bulletproof glass for police cruisers.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos seemed cautious of some of the proposals.

"I think the grand jury system the way it is right now functions fairly well," Skelos said, noting that without any details or legislation it was difficult for him to comment.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she was happy that the governor is touching on issues like education and criminal justice.

"Clearly, the fact that he is talking about people needing equal access to justice and feeling that they're getting it is an important part of what we've been saying as a conference," she said.

The state District Attorneys Association offered cautious praise, while advocates — including rapper Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter — called Cuomo's justice reform package a huge step forward.

Still, there was opposition to the moderate governor's overall priorities from both his left and his right.

Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary last year, compared the Cuomo address to President Barack Obama's Tuesday-night State of the Union speech. "Barack Obama starts off with populism, really engaging questions about the widening divide," said Teachout, "and Andrew Cuomo starts off sounding like Ronald Reagan — it's about trickle-down ideology. They're both talking about the economy, but they're two totally different visions."

Rob Astorino, the Republican Westchester County executive who challenged Cuomo in November, said that while there were positives such as a proposed small business tax cut, a regional airport plan and education reform, there was a lack of rhetoric on cutting state-mandated expenses piled on local municipalities and schools.

"His proposal is nothing more than just games — it's just gimmicks, it's taking and giving, it's moving around pieces on a puzzle," Astorino said. " ... It's not going to stop the increases on property taxes and why people are moving out of the state."

Many pieces of Cuomo's speech were revealed in a steady stream of leaks and news conferences over the past week, including his property tax credit program, a new minimum wage boost and the establishment of a legislative/executive pay commission.

In the coda to his speech, Cuomo left policy behind and offered an emotional tribute to his late father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, that included a snippet of his famed 1984 Democratic National Conference speech and a direct address to the former governor.

"Pop, wherever you are — and I think I know where — for all the ceremony and the big house and all the pomp and circumstance, please don't let me forget what makes New York New York," Cuomo said.

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

Categories: State/Local

Breaking down Cuomo's budget

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 1:07am

Local Impacts

The proposed budget includes $15 million for the Port of Albany for enhancements to its southern dock designed to make it ready to handle the projected increase in volume of containerized cargo resulting from the Panama Canal's planned 2016 expansion. Increased grain capacity will be one of the results.

The wages of "management/confidential" state employees, a non-unionized class that has complained for years that their pay has not matched those of their colleagues, would see a 7.18 percent salary increase over the course of the next four fiscal years.

The New York Racing Association, which operates Saratoga Race Course and two more tracks, will spend another year under state control. Cuomo engineered the takeover of the troubled entity in 2012.

The state University at Albany will be the home to a new College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity. The school, projected to open next year, will grant advanced degrees in both academic and professional aspects of law enforcement, public and international affairs, counterterrorism and forensics. "It's a big deal for us ... a game-changer," said UAlbany President Robert Jones, who said the college will use $15 million in planning money, which was appropriated last year to build the college and create the new curriculum. The new building will likely be located near the Harriman State Office Campus adjacent to the State Police Headquarters, Jones said.

Previously announced, Cuomo will propose $152 million in improvements to the Harriman campus, including demolition that will allows the state to seek proposals for private development on 30 acres.

Economic Development/Taxes

Cuomo said that holding the line on state spending at 2 percent was essential to his economic development agenda, which focuses on lowering property taxes, bringing high-speed Internet service to every corner of the state and using the state university system as a job-creation engine.

The governor said it was local property taxes — not corporate income taxes — that was killing the business environment in the state. The governor is proposing a $1.66 billion property tax credit program that would result in an average savings of $781 for 543,299 upstaters who qualify.

Cuomo would further increase the minimum wage, now set at $8.75 per hour and slated to rise to $9 per hour next year, to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state by 2017.

He also suggested lowering the income tax rates on small businesses from 6.5 percent to 2.5 percent over a three-year period.

Cuomo also pushed his previously announced plan to entice telecom companies to install broadband Internet everywhere in the state with a $500 million incentive fund. Cuomo said 4,000 businesses in the state have no access to high-speed Internet, and that the worst areas are in rural upstate areas and poor New York City neighborhoods. "Let's get New York state fully wired," Cuomo said.

The governor also continued his emphasis on taking advantage of the economic development potential of the SUNY campuses, noting that Stanford University was behind much of the success of Silicon Valley. "That was an academic exercise," Cuomo said. "That can happen here in New York."

NYSERDA, the state's energy division, would create a $20 million clean-energy technology competition called 76West that would be designed to attract clean-tech companies to the state's Southern Tier.

And Cuomo said that New York should push hard to establish business ties with Cuba as the Obama administration eases up restrictions on trade with the island. "We want to be one of the first states into Cuba," Cuomo said. "Let us open the markets."

K-12 Education

Cuomo wants to change the formula for teacher evaluations. Under the existing system, 20 percent of a teacher's score is based on state testing, 20 percent on a local standard and 60 percent on qualitative measures such as classroom observation. The governor wants to see the formula changed to one depending 50 percent on state testing (or, in certain cases, some other standard that measures work over an academic year) and 50 percent based on at least two observations performed by an administrator, an independent evaluator or an appointed faculty member at a SUNY or CUNY school of education.

While teachers can now attain tenure after three years, Cuomo would push that to five years and require them to maintain ratings of "effective" or "highly effective."

On teacher removal, Cuomo would reform the "3020-A" hearing process by creating a presumption in favor of administrators in cases of educational incompetence — teachers would have to prove their evaluation score was fraudulent — and an expedited 60-day process for teachers accused of physical or sexual abuse of a child.

The $100 million Education Tax Credit would benefit individuals or businesses who donate to "public schools, school improvement organizations, local education funds, and educational scholarship organizations."

Cuomo wants to increase the cap on charter schools by 100 schools (to 560) and end regional caps to make the number a statewide tally. New York City has only 24 charter slots remaining under the existing system.

His plan would set aside $20 million for a "Teacher Excellence Fund" that would provide supplemental pay of up to $20,000 for high-performing teachers who work in "struggling" schools.

Cuomo will propose legislation that would give the State Education Department the power to put failing schools or even districts into receivership, with broad power to overhaul the institutions.

Higher Education

Cuomo called for passage of the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented immigrants or their children to be eligible to apply for financial aid when entering New York state schools.

Increase partnerships between local colleges and their communities to better provide students the experience and skills they need to enter the workforce and fill job openings. Some schools are already doing this, but this specific proposal would encourage community colleges to push for more collaboration with local businesses.

Beginning the partnerships through programming that begins in early stages of education and continues on into the career. Cuomo cited Pathways in Technology Early College High School or P-TECH as a great way to help students build college credit and establish a career path.

Making experiential learning a requirement during college through internships, cooperative education and other learning opportunities. This would provide students with the "real-world" experience they need to move from college to career, according to Cuomo's proposal.

Consolidation of administration for both SUNY and CUNY, which is set to be completed by the end of the year in an attempt to save money and be more efficient with university programming. The changes would integrate human resources, information technology departments and others into one staff.

Public Safety

In the wake of last year's riots in Ferguson, Mo., and unrest related to the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, Cuomo proposed establishing a statewide Reconciliation Commission to address police-community relations in affected neighborhoods, and wants to craft programs that assist law enforcement with minority recruitment.

District attorneys would be given the power to issue a grand jury report or letter of fact in cases of police-related deaths of unarmed civilians that results in no indictment from a grand jury, or in instances when the case is not presented to the grand jury. Also, an independent monitor with criminal justice experience — such as a retired judge — could be empowered review such cases. The monitor, who would be provided with access to police files and grand jury information, would be allowed to recommend to the governor the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Race and ethnic data on summonses, misdemeanor arrests and other police actions would be tracked and made public.

In response to December's killings of two New York City police officers, Cuomo called for funding to provide replacement bulletproof vests, body cameras and bulletproof glass for police cruisers in high-crime areas.

Environment

To pay for state safety planning efforts related to a surge of crude oil trains coming from the Midwest, the state would raise the tax on oil shipped through the state, as well as on oil imported for refining in New York. The fee would increase to 13.75 cents per barrel, from 1.5 cents for trans-shipped oil and 12.25 cents for imported oil. It would be the first such tax increase in 15 years, and would help support the state Oil Spill Fund, which cleans up petroleum spills when owners will not.

Eight new workers at the Department of Environmental Conservation and six new workers at the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services will be dedicated oil spill planning.

Also, the plan would increase the Environmental Protection Fund from $162 million to $172 million for a variety of programs, including solid waste, parks and recreation, and open space protection. The EPF, which held $153 million in 2013-14, is funded primarily through the state Real Estate Transfer Tax, which is expected to generate nearly $1 billion in the current fiscal year and continue to grow as the real estate market recovers.

In addition, the budget would set aside another $50 million to protect farmland from development pressure through purchase of conservation easements from property owners. $20 million would be targeted to farmers in Hudson Valley and $30 million would be aimed at farmers in the Southern Tier.

Another $100 million would be added to the state Superfund program, which pays to clean up polluted industrial sites.

Spending at DEC would increase 1.2 percent, from $887 million to $898 million; increase 8.5 percent from $292 million to $317 million at the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; and decrease 9.4 percent from $127 million to $115 million at the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Support for the EPF boost came from environmental groups including The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Farmland Trust, The Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, and National Audubon Society. The groups had been pushing the governor to increase the fund to $200 million.

The New York Farm Bureau welcomed farmland protection funds, but called for a "statewide approach, committing resources to better infrastructure, greater market access and critical research and development."

Health & Human Services

The budget calls for a 3.6 percent increase in state spending on Medicaid, to $17.1 billion. State Health Department spending would rise 6.2 percent to $4.3 billion in 2015-16. A 3.8 percent decrease, to $8.9 billion, is proposed in human services funding through seven other agencies, including those that provide cash assistance and other supports to low income, elderly and disabled New Yorkers.

$400 million would go to upstate health systems to support debt restructuring and capital projects that promote regional consolidation among hospitals and physician groups.

An increase in all health insurance premiums, which the budget says would average less than $25 per policy annually, would provide revenue to sustain the state's online health exchange without federal subsidies.

The plan seeks investments to connect electronic health records statewide, and investments in services to help caregivers, including in-home programs and respite services.

To help end the AIDS epidemic, funding would go to programs that identify undiagnosed New Yorkers and link them to treatment.

There is $440 million in investments for new housing programs, including $183 million on services for homeless New Yorkers, with funding from the JPMorganChase mortgage settlement.

The state would achieve savings of $1.2 million by discontinuing the Physical Profile Website, which allows consumers to look up information about their doctors. Much of the information is duplicated on other publicly accessible websites, according to the budget proposal.

A change in the Mental Hygiene Law would allow for local directors of community services to authorize immediate placement of someone abusing alcohol or drugs in a hospital or other treatment facility.

Cuomo wants to explore state regulation of electronic cigarettes, and urges the Legislature to pass the Child Safe Products Act to regulate toxic chemicals in children's toys.

Civil Rights

The governor's agenda calls for enacting juvenile justice reforms recommended by a Cuomo-convened panel, including raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 16 to 18 and taking all 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult jails and prisons..

Cuomo repeated his call for the Legislature to pass the full Women's Equality Act, including a codification of Roe v. Wade that Senate Republicans have rejected for the past two years.

Cuomo also wants to take SUNY's recently adopted policy for campus sexual assault and rape, including the adoption of an "affirmative consent" policy for sexual encounters, and apply it to all colleges and universities statewide.

Cuomo wants to amend the state's human rights law to add gender-identity and -expression protections.

He would also amend human rights law to allow all students in public and private schools equal protections against discrimination and bullying.

Contributors: Larry Rulison, Brian Nearing, Casey Seiler, Brittany Horn, Claire Hughes, Matt Hamilton, Keshia Clukey

Categories: State/Local

Education aid tied to changes

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 1:07am

Albany

Better public education starts with better teachers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his 2015 State of the State address, as he called on the state Legislature to adopt new education reforms if they want their school districts to see a significant increase in funding.

In an 11-point list, Cuomo detailed his plans to increase the rigor of public education through higher standards for teachers and reforms to teacher tenure, plus bonuses for high-performing teachers, increasing the number of charter schools and the expansion of mayoral control over failing school districts, among others.

There was a carrot to go with the stick: The reforms would result in an increase of $1.1 billion in state aid if the Legislature accepts his package of reform proposals. But if they reject it, schools will only see $377 million.

"For too many, (education) is now the great discriminator," Cuomo said. "Students in failing schools lag well behind in almost every academic category. ... Over the last 10 years, 250,000 children went through failing schools while the New York state government did nothing, and that has to end this year."

Cuomo cited the teacher evaluation system as ineffective after recent data showed that 98.7 percent of high school teachers were rated "effective," yet only 38 percent of high school students were found to be college-ready.

But what the governor called his "Opportunity Agenda" was seen by many as a mixed message to teachers and the students they educate.

New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee said she found the proposals "ridiculous."

"The statistics that the governor showed today as it related to teacher evaluation model and student success actually speak to the fact that the governor doesn't really understand what's going on in the classrooms," Magee said. "It doesn't speak to the English-language learners. It doesn't speak to the students with special needs. It fails to speak to where those students started and the amount of progress or growth these students achieved."

Cuomo's new evaluation formula would place half the teacher rating score on state test performance and the other half on at least two in-class observations.

Teachers that receive two ineffective ratings in a row could be removed from their job, unless they can prove that the data is factually inaccurate, Cuomo said.

"Who are we kidding, my friends?" he said. "We need real, fair, accurate teacher evaluations."

Many of the proposed reforms fall in line with a recent set of policy proposals from the State Education Department, which was responding to the Cuomo administration's request for more information on the public education system and the policy driving it.

In a 20-page response, Chancellor Merryl Tisch and the Board of Regents said many needed changes could only be accomplished by Cuomo and the Legislature.

Cuomo referenced the Education Department's suggestions repeatedly while announcing his reforms, and reiterated his belief that more money doesn't necessarily equal better programs.

School districts across the state are performing poorly while receiving more money per student than the state average, he said.

Various organizations took issue with his funding numbers, including Alliance for Quality Education, a labor-supported group that advocates for increased school aid.

Its executive director, Billy Easton, said that while Cuomo's budget proposal increases money for education, it is only half of what the Regents and more than 80 legislators have called for.

The proposal "slams the door on the education of thousands of students across the state," Easton added.

Within the Legislature, many already saw the need for increased state funding to public education. As many noted after Cuomo's address, no one wants the state to have a bad education system.

"I think everybody agrees we want great teachers, we want our students to have the best, and we all believe that funding matters, especially in high-needs districts," Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

But she acknowledged that money — in large amounts — is needed in order to help get students where they need to be.

"There are so many things that resources would help, so we can't say money doesn't help — because on some levels it does," Stewart-Cousins said. "But we also have to realize that we do have a problem in terms of making sure our kids our competitive in this very, very global and competitive market. We have to do things differently, and we have to do things smart."

It's uncertain how Cuomo's package will be received in the Republican-controlled Senate or the Democrat-dominated Assembly, where special interest groups will be pressing for and against numerous elements of Cuomo's overall education package.

In a bid to balance support, Cuomo included the Democrat-backed DREAM Act, which would open up high education aid for the children of undocumented immigrants, and a tax credit to encourage donations to public schools as well as educational entities that's been sought by backers of charters and religious schools. Cardinal Timothy Dolan supports both measures.

Some observers, including 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, are still waiting for Common Core standards rejected as a whole — something Cuomo didn't mention in his speech.

Astorino acknowledged that in the meantime something must be done.

"People are failing at too much of a high rate," said Astorino, the Westchester County Executive. "Inner-city schools are not performing to where they should be."

And for now, the teachers will bear the brunt of that weight. John Ewing, president of Math for America, an organization that looks to further educate teachers, praised Cuomo's proposed expansion of the Master Teacher Program.

Cuomo touted the success of the new program, which now has more than 500 teachers who have participated, and received an introduction from one of its alumni.

But Ewing feared a draconian teacher evaluation system could do more harm than good.

"In the process, (Cuomo's) also going to get rid of good teachers because he's making teaching not very attractive," Ewing said. "Who would listen to that part of the speech and want to be a teacher? I can't imagine anybody."

bhorn@timesunion.com 518-454-5097 @brittanyhorn

Categories: State/Local

2 sunken canal boats from mid-1800s found in Lake Ontario

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 1:07am

OSWEGO — A team of shipwreck hunters say they've found two 19th-century canal boats on the bottom of Lake Ontario, an unusual discovery since such vessels typically weren't used on open water.

The three underwater explorers from the Rochester area say Wednesday that they discovered the boats last year while searching for shipwrecks on Lake Ontario's eastern end. The sunken canal boats — one 65 feet long and the other 78 feet long — were found within a few miles of each other about midway between Oswego and Sackets Harbor.

Two divers captured video images of the wrecks, located in more than 200 feet below the surface.

The wrecks' identifications haven't been determined, but the explorers believe the vessels were built in the mid-1800s when the Erie Canal was widened to accommodate larger boats.

Categories: State/Local

Oddo as BP: Less Pomp, More Circumstance

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 12:00am

 

SI BP Oddo (left, foreground) with constituents (photo: BP's office)

STATEN ISLAND - Borough President James Oddo is on a mission to make local government more relevant to Staten Islanders. Rather than give a speech about his first 13 months on the job and the year ahead, Oddo opened up his office to residents on Sunday afternoon for handshakes, hugs, and information on what borough hall can do for them.

"There's a certain level of apathy that Staten Island has been known for. People just don't want to interact [with government] and we want to change that. We try to change it every day," said Oddo.

So, instead of giving a State of the Borough address, Oddo, a Republican, did something far more interactive: yesterday, he hosted "DIrect Connect Sunday" at Staten Island Borough Hall. It is one indication of Oddo's attempt to focus his borough presidency, now in its second year, on constituent services.

Many of the nearly 350 people who attended had never been past the 109-year-old building's lobby. On Sunday they explored the restored marble halls, looked at New Deal-era murals depicting the island's history, and learned more about the topography department's vault of more than 4,000 maps dating back to the 1700s. The key to the event, though, was the more current information Oddo and his staff were providing: display boards and personnel were on hand to showcase the island's current challenges and how the borough president plans to fix them. Oddo and his delegates were also there to listen.

"This is a big deal, because he doesn't have to do this," said John Healey, an accountant from Oakwood.

Visitors included the island's official NASA ambassador, an American Baptist minister, representatives of the 9/11 Flag Football League, a young boy from the Little Dolphin School, and many more.

Those who knew Oddo as minority leader in the City Council, or member of a local community board before that, said this type of accessibility is normal. The borough president is active on social media and his secretary said he responds to people with handwritten letters.

"He's such a good guy. Nothing he wouldn't do for you," said Mario Rapaglia, owner of Bario's Caterers. Rapaglia recently lost 50 pounds and Oddo excitedly complimented him on his trim jawline.

As borough president, Oddo has been using his gregarious nature to get more people engaged and make them rethink stagnant perceptions about their community. Turning around old feelings of neglect may be difficult, but he claims to be up to the task. A bust of Superman tearing open his dress shirt to go save the day sits on Oddo's wooden conference table and may serve as encouragement.

"We love to wallow in 'the forgotten borough' and we too often highlight the shortcomings that we have," Oddo said of Staten Islanders. "I am more keenly aware of our challenges than anyone, and we have them just like any other community, but we also have lots of great things."

One of Staten Island's biggest challenges is the health of its residents. In addition to some of the city's highest rates of obesity, smoking, cancer, mortality, and heart disease, the island is in the midst of a prescription drug and heroin abuse epidemic. According to Rose Kerr, Oddo's director of education, there are only 12 substance abuse counselors serving the island's 70 schools. Oddo has started many health initiatives, but the problems are too large to be fixed quickly. Kerr said the work needs to start at home.

"The families really need to know that this is a serious issue, whether it's in their backyard or somebody else's," she said.

Despite these issues, Oddo said Staten Islanders have a lot to be proud of. Once completed, Freshkills Park will be three times the size of Central Park and is expected to attract people from far beyond the city. Tech companies have begun scoping out the island for development and the North Shore will soon feature the world's largest ferris wheel, along with a new outlet mall.

Of course, any future waterfront development will be tinged with the bad memories and ongoing recovery from Superstorm Sandy. While Oddo said he's cautiously optimistic about Mayor Bill de Blasio's plans, the rebuilding process is taking far too long. He blames much of this on poor decisions made immediately after the storm and an overly complicated bureaucracy created by the Bloomberg administration.

"The results don't reflect the amount of energy we've all put into it, and until the results do none of us should be thankful or satisfied with anything that's happened," he said.

Though he's one of the few Republicans in local government, Oddo is open to ideas from all sides. He fondly recalls a strong working relationship with former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat, and the books on display in his office include authors ranging from David Plouffe to Rudy Giuliani.

Oddo said he also has strong ties to all of his fellow borough presidents. Inspired by a recent wall ball challenge between Eric Adams and Ruben Diaz Jr., Oddo may soon reignite a sports rivalry of his own. Former Borough Presidents Marty Markowitz, of Brooklyn, and James Molinaro, of Staten Island, used to compete over which of their local baseball teams won more games. The victor got to keep the Borough Cup, a trophy shaped like the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, for a year. The competition was forgotten, but Oddo may look to start it up again this summer.

[Related: our look at Queens BP Melinda Katz's State of the Borough speech]

Until then, he has more serious matters to handle. Without a congressman, and potentially soon without an Assembly speaker that can bring as much money into the city, Staten Islanders will need more of a voice than ever.

Oddo has remained mostly neutral in recent political dramas. Mayor de Blasio, on the other hand, has come out strongly against former Rep. Michael Grimm while backing Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

"Individual elected officials should say or not say what they feel, but if they do say, they should be consistent every time they say. I don't engage in that. I didn't engage in it with Republican Grimm, I'm not gonna engage in it with Democrat Silver," said Oddo.

While Oddo wouldn't get any more specific than that, he made it clear that his long term priorities haven't changed.

"Eventually there will be a new speaker and we as Staten Island electeds will have the same mission we had in the previous iterations, and that is to get the rest of government to treat us fairly."

[This article is part of our ongoing 'State Of's series in which we're reporting on early 2015 assessments and initiatives by a variety of elected officials, from the President to the Governor, Mayor, and Borough Presidents]

***
by Cole Rosengren, Gotham Gazette
@ColeRosengrenNY

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 26

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 12:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

As this week begins, we're watching the following storylines, with others sure to emerge (oh, and if you haven't heard, there's some snow coming - please keep in mind that any events listed below are subject to cancellation!):

  • The latest in the Sheldon Silver saga, which will cast a cloud over this year's Albany legislative session. Silver announced on Sunday evening that he is (temporarily) ceding power to a quintet of Democratic Assembly members. The Assembly is back in session on Monday (Silver is expected to be there) and joint budget hearings begin this week (and last about a month) as lawmakers analyze Gov. Andrew Cuomo's FY2016 proposals, which he outlined this past Wednesday.
  • De Blasio starts his week dealing with the impending snow storm - expect updates from the mayor (and from Governor Cuomo throughout the first couple of days of the week - and also expect plenty of scrutiny of how the de Blasio administration handles the storm).
  • Comptroller Scott Stringer begins his week with an appearance at ABNY in the morning (details below) and then on NY1's Inside City Hall and Al Jazeera's "Real Money with Ali Veshi." 
  • In the meantime, we're also watching to see if there's movement in the relationship between de Blasio and the police unions - things seem to be thawing a bit in this cold war. And, will there be further criminal justice reform protest?
  • Who will the Democrats field in the race to replace Michael Grimm as the rep from New York's 11th Congressional District? Will Gov. Cuomo set a date for a special election? The Republicans have already chosen to field Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan as their candidate. Arguments in the case pursuing more info from the Pantaleo grand jury will begin in court on Thursday of this week.

 More to be aware of:

  • Deadlines for applying to community boards are looming in the next week or two - consult your borough president's office for details.
  • The City Council application process for discretionary funding from council members in the next fiscal year is ongoing. Consult the City Council or your local council member for more info.

As always, there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of. The week ahead in more detail 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***

Monday - please note that Monday evening and Tuesday events are very much subject to cancellation due to the snowstorm
Monday morning, the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) will host New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer for a breakfast discussion of his "first year in office," and his "vision for building a city of shared prosperity and economic growth." [Read our report on Stringer's first year as Comptroller, including an interview with Stringer and other experts, such as former Comptroller John Liu]

As we mentioned, the Assembly is back in session on Monday (and Tuesday). So is the State Senate.

Monday's City Council schedule consists of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services meeting jointly with the Committee on Public Safety for an oversight hearing to examine "how the City Evaluates the Effectiveness of the Provision of Indigent Defense."

Monday afternoon, Council Member Ben Kallos, in association with the City's Department of Health, will host "Safer Sex Seminar for Seniors" at the Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center.

*There have already been a variety of Monday evening events cancelled - be on the watch for Tuesday cancellations as well!

(Side note: Monday's a week from Groundhog Day, so watch out for lots of talk about the passing of the groundhog Mayor de Blasio mishandled last year)

Tuesday - be aware it is likely that all Tuesday events below are cancelled/postponed due to the weather!

On Tuesday, the City Council's schedule *was* set to include a meeting of the Committee on Education for an oversight hearing regarding "overcrowding in NYC Public Schools"; a meeting of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency jointly with the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services for oversight "Examining the City's Enhanced Emergency Response Plans post Superstorm Sandy"; a meeting of the Committee on Higher Education regarding a bill relating to "Information and city services to reduce college sexual assault"; and a meeting of the Committee on Economic Development for an oversight hearing regarding "economic development in Sunset Park." [Read our preview of this hearing and its controversial backstory]

Joint Legislative Budget hearings commence on Tuesday, Jan 27 in Albany. Tuesday's hearing will concern "Local Government Officials/General Government."

Tuesday morning, the Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development, will convene for an oversight hearing in Albany "to review the implementation of the State Budget and its impact on the programs under the purview of the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development."

The New School's Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy, will host an all-day conference, "Disaster Recovery & Resilience: The Tips, Techniques and Best Practices for Public and Private Organizations" - "a full-day program drawing upon the lessons learned from the World Trade Center, Hurricane Sandy and other occurrences."

NYCEDC Nonprofit Capacity Building Workshop: "This will be a full-day training made up of four modules, each approximately one hour."

On Tuesday evening, Brooklyn Independent Media will present a live broadcast of their next community town hall event: "Brooklyn for Sale: The Price of Gentrification." Comptroller Stringer is set to deliver opening remarks and the event will feature Council Member Robert Cornegy, among other panelists moderated by BRIC's Brian Vines; 7:00 p.m. BRIC House Ballroom.

Wednesday
Wednesday's City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management regarding a bill aimed at "Reducing permitted capacity at putrescible and non-putrescible solid waste transfer stations in overburdened districts"; the Committee on Transportation will meet jointly with the Committee on Aging and the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services, for an oversight hearing on "How Access-A-Ride Serves the City's Seniors and People with Disabilities"; a meeting of the Committee on Consumer Affairs to oversee "Education and Outreach on Financial Literacy for Young Adults," and to discuss a bill aimed at targeting "young adults with outreach and education regarding consumer protection issues."

State Senate public safety hearings commence: The Senate Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction will meet jointly with the Senate Standing Committee on Civil Service and Pensions, the Senate Standing Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, and the Senate Standing Committee on Codes; to examine "police safety and public protection in New York City."

There will be a Wednesday Joint Legislative Budget Hearing in Albany on Environmental Conservation.

On Wednesday, Manhattan BP Gale Brewer will attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the first academic building of phase 1 of the Cornell Tech Roosevelt Island Campus.

"Prospects for Election Reform in the Digital Age: One Year after the Presidential Commission on Election Administration," Wednesday evening at New York Law School: "Robert Bauer, Partner, Perkins Coie LLP, former Co-Chair of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and former White House Counsel, Michael Ryan '95, Executive Director, New York City Board of Elections, and David Becker, Director, Election Initiatives, The Pew Charitable Trusts discuss the impact of technology on the voting process. Anthony W. Crowell, Dean and President of New York Law School, moderates the discussion."

Wednesday evening is also the "Riders Alliance Citywide Membership Meeting" - "We'll meet together with other Riders Alliance members and friends, eat dumplings, and strategize for a year of progress toward better public transit for all New Yorkers."

Thursday
Thursday's City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Housing and Buildings for an oversight hearing on "A Review of the 421-a Tax Benefit Program"; a meeting of the Committee on Parks and Recreation to review "the Annual report on non-governmental funding for NYC parks"; and a meeting of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations regarding a bill in relation to "cultural liaisons."

Thursday's Joint Legislative Hearing in Albany will focus on transportation.

Thursday evening will see a "Public Meeting of the Contracts Committee of the Panel for Educational Policy" at Tweed.

City Council Member Costa Constantinides will give his State of the District address on Thursday evening in Woodside, Queens: "All are invited to join me as I give my State of the District address and discuss our upcoming priorities. I'll examine the successes of our neighborhood and my vision for our community."

According to Public Advocate Letitia James, "New York State Supreme Court Justice William Garnett will hear oral arguments in the Garner case on January 29th. The Public Advocate will continue to work to bring police and communities together and increase transparency and accountability in our justice system."

Friday and the weekend
Friday's City Council schedule is a meeting of the Committee on Juvenile Justice for an oversight hearing, "overview of the Division of Youth and Family Justice's services and programs for remanded youth."

Manhattan Community Board application deadline is January 30th (Friday); Brooklyn's is the 31st (Saturday).

The City's Department of Consumer Affairs is organizing "Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day Phonathon" for Saturday, with several events throughout the city.

***
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 Rati Mukhuradze and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Categories: State/Local
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