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How Bright is the Smart Schools Bond Act?

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 1:00am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)

In addition to selecting state representatives in this November's election, registered voters will also get to decide on three ballot propositions, one of which is the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 (Proposition 3 on the back of your ballot). If approved, the Act would allow the State to borrow up to $2 billion for school-based capital projects.

If Prop 3 passes, what will the money be spent on?
The (very quiet) pitch to voters has been primarily focused on the technology benefits of the proposal. School districts could spend the bond money on new equipment such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, and desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. They could also use the money to beef up internet access by installing high-speed broadband or wireless service.

Additionally, schools could choose to install high-tech security features inside buildings or on campus.

In what has been a less-discussed option for the bond money, school districts could opt to spend their allotment on two non-tech initiatives. Districts could "construct, enhance, and modernize educational facilities to accommodate pre-kindergarten programs" or provide space to replace portable classrooms (also known as trailers).

How much would my school district get?
Part of this year's State budget included a way to calculate how much each district would receive if the Smart Schools Bond Act is passed. The State will allocate the same proportion of the district's share of school aid, excluding Building Aid, Universal Pre-kindergarten Aid, and the Gap Elimination Adjustment. For example, if a district received two percent of the total State school aid in the budget, then they would receive two percent of the $2 billion (assuming the State maxes out the bond), which is $4 million, minus the amounts from those exception categories.

Note: Several very small school districts (under eight teachers) would not receive any funding in this initiative.

The interactive map below allows users to see how much money a school district stands to receive. The amounts assume the full $2 billion bond.

Smart Schools Bond Act Allocation By District
(click to zoom & move)

Who decides how the money is spent?
If voters approve Prop 3, the Smart Schools Review Board, which is comprised of the Chancellor of the State University of New York, the Director of the Budget, and the Commissioner of Education (or "their respective designees"), will issue guidelines.

Using the guidelines, each district will be required to submit a Smart Schools Investment Plan.

According to the rules, school districts are required to consult with parents, teachers, students, community members, and other stakeholders on how the money will be spent. But it is unclear when the public will be given the opportunity to provide input (i.e. before or after a district draws up a plan).

Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for Prop 3, though he has not been actively pushing for its passage. Gotham Gazette reached out to the governor's press office for clarification, however calls were not returned. In the governor's campaign ad, "Education," released on Monday, he says, "I want to invest $2 billion to build the new technology classrooms of tomorrow," but does not directly name Prop 3 in any way.

A New York State Education Department (NYSED) Office of Facilities Planning Newsletter issued in September encouraged districts to "review district needs in relation to these project categories and have a plan to proceed if funding becomes available." The newsletter includes limited information on how to put together that plan, saying "more information will be provided as it becomes available and once a successful bond act is authorized."

The Smart Schools Commission
In April, Gov. Cuomo announced the members of the Smart Schools Commission: Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google; Geoffrey Canada, former president and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone; and Constance Evelyn, superintendent of the Auburn School District. According to the press release the commission will be charged with "advising the State on how to best invest" the $2 billion.

Since April, the commission has hosted three public symposiums around the state. At these events, the benefits of technology in education were the topic, with leading industry experts speaking at each. The public was invited to submit suggestions to the commission.

The commission will file a report this fall with recommendations and the individual districts will submit proposals for funding. It is unclear what role the commission report will have in how the smart schools bond money will be allocated to districts. Gotham Gazette sought clarification from the governor's press office, but calls were not returned.

Other voting considerations
-The governor has spun this proposition as a tech initiative, a way to "transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow," as he said in his January State of the State speech when he first pitched the Smart Schools Bond.

New York City stands to receive up to $783 million from the bond, which is by far the most money of any district (it being the largest). Buffalo would be the next highest, at $56 million. Just over 300 of the state's 674 districts would receive under $1 million in funding. But how much of that money will actually go toward technology in each district remains to be seen.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had hoped to secure $340 million annually for his pre-k program through a tax hike on the city's top earners. But Gov. Cuomo did not back the tax, choosing to allocate $300 million to the city from the state's budget instead. That left de Blasio $40 million short annually, and the windfall from the Smart Schools Bond Act would be used to help to cover the difference over the next several years.

The mayor plans to allocate roughly $310 for the restructuring of existing buildings to create additional seats for his pre-k initiative, according to a spokesperson for the mayor.

As the proposition is currently written, there is no requirement that a certain percentage of the money be spent on technology.

-The legislation that authorized the bond act assumes an eight-year shelf-life for the technology products. That is a very generous estimate considering how quickly technology changes and pieces of it become obsolete.

For some technology perspective: the first iPad was released in April of 2010. It was discontinued in March of 2011. In less than five years since the introduction of the iPad there have been five iterations as well as three versions of the iPad Mini (introduced in November 2012) and an iPad Air. Unless districts are able to work out leases with manufacturers, schools could be dealing with outdated equipment for years.

-The debt this $2 billion bond will create is no small amount in the annual budget. E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, puts the total at roughly $130 million per year, but that figure could change drastically depending on how long the note is for.

The State Comptroller will make that determination using a weighted average, assuming 30 years for pre-k investments, 20 years for connectivity investments, and eight years for technology hardware. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's April 2014 preliminary budget report issued a warning on this issue, saying, "mandating the use of the weighted average method could result in higher overall borrowing costs for the State's taxpayers even though annual debt service payments in the early years may be less."

In addition, approving the bond will push the state very close to its statutory debt ceiling. If the entire $2 billion is authorized, the capacity under the cap will shrink to just $366 million, or 0.3 percent of capacity by fiscal year 2017, according to figures provided by Citizens Budget Commission (CBC). In fact, given its analysis of the proposal, CBC is now encouraging New York voters to vote "no" on Prop 3.

At $2 billion, the Smart Schools Bond Act is the largest authorization of debt in the fiscal year 2015 budget. But as Comptroller DiNapoli noted, the public will get a say.

"Engaging the public in borrowing decisions is a positive step," DiNapoli said in his budget report.

Recently, DiNapoli declined to say if he thought voters should approve the proposition, citing his office's involvement in issuing the bonds. He did say, though, "certainly to improve the infrastructure for our schools, especially those that need expanded classrooms with regard to implementation of pre-k, a lot of value in that."

-There is no shortage of lobbying in education, but when it comes to the Smart Schools Bond Act, the regular cast of characters seems to be surprisingly quiet.

"I know of no state education groups—or any groups, for that matter, that are actively advocating for passage of the act," David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, said, according to Capital New York.

Gov. Cuomo's official state website has plenty of information about the proposal, but he has been quiet publicly in regards to Prop 3. Asked about it at the Columbus Day Parade on Oct. 13 in New York City, Cuomo said, "I'm supportive. I've spoken publicly on the bond issue...I support."

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

Proposal asks $2B for school tech

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm


New York voters will decide whether the state should borrow $2 billion so that schools can buy computers, connect to the Internet, install high-tech security features and build classrooms for prekindergarten students.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the Smart Schools Bond Act — Proposal 3 on the Nov. 4 ballot — during his State of the State address in January as a way to "remake our classrooms for tomorrow."

School districts see the proposal as a way to upgrade and install technology without relying on tax increases. About 56 percent of New York's schools have insufficient broadband capacity, including 31 schools with no broadband at all, according to the state Broadband Program Office.

Critics, however, oppose going into debt for things like iPads, interactive white boards and laptops that have a relatively short shelf life.

"To create state debt up to the amount of $2 billion for the purchase of technology equipment that will be outdated long before the eight-year bond is repaid is not reasonable or practicable," a statement from the Conservative Party said.

Districts would have to meet with parents, students and community leaders to decide how to spend their share of the money, which would be allocated based on the school aid formula, and get plans approved by the state before receiving funding.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Auburn School District Superintendent Constance Evelyn and Geoffrey Canada, president of Harlem Children's Zone, were appointed by Cuomo to an advisory Smart Schools Commission which has overseen a series of public forums since spring. Speakers said the technology was crucial for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction to support the state's nanotechnology, biotechnology and energy industries.

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo to reveal pick on top court

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm


After giving himself a two-week extension of the legal deadline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is on Friday expected to announce his nominee for a slot on the state's Court of Appeals.

The space is created by the imminent end of the term of Judge Victoria Graffeo, who was originally nominated by Republican former Gov. George Pataki.

GOP appointees currently hold a 4-3 majority on the state's highest court.

Earlier this month, the Democratic governor said he would ignore the deadline — a transgression that carries no punishment — rather than make his pick in a way that would require the narrowly divided state Senate to return to Albany for confirmation just before the Nov. 4 election.

Cuomo's desire to keep the nomination untangled from electoral politics might not be realized: Advocates on the left and right have spent the week advocating for and against the possible renomination of Graffeo.

"I commend Judge Graffeo for her years of outstanding service, however my hope would be that the governor chooses someone from the new recommendations to continue the forward momentum of our state," said Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement.

"New Yorkers deserve the most qualified Court of Appeals Judge regardless of their political affiliation," said Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos.

"Judge Victoria Graffeo, who has served New York with distinction for the past 14 years and is well regarded by legal scholars and her peers, certainly meets that standard."

Graffeo, Skelos noted, has received the highest rating from both the New York State Bar Association and the New York City Bar Association.

Similarly polarized arguments were issued by reproductive-rights groups and LGBT advocates in opposition to Graffeo, and conservative organizations such as New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms in support of maintaining her on the court.

If re-elected next month, Cuomo will have the opportunity to select several additional members of the Court of Appeals due to mandatory retirement rules.

A constitutional amendment that would have pushed back the rules was on the ballot a year ago, but was defeated.


Categories: State/Local

New York Now: Cuomo memoir, Ebola response

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm

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

Innovation Trail correspondent Jenna Flanagan looks at a new company with roots in the Capital Region and has dreams of traveling to Mars.

Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio talks to E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center about his opposition to a $2 billion education bond act that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

TU state editor Casey Seiler convenes the Reporters Roundtable with Ken Lovett of the Daily News and Laura Nahmias of Capital New York to discuss Gov. Andrew Cuomo's new memoir and the state's response to Ebola fears.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday

— Casey Seiler

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo: State on alert for Ebola

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm


Gov. Andrew Cuomo gathered state officials on Thursday to assure New Yorkers that the transportation and health care systems are on guard for the potential arrival of the Ebola virus in one of the world's most densely populated metropolitan regions.

"We're preparing if the situation presents itself — which we do not have any reason to believe is going to happen," Cuomo said in a Thursday briefing. He described New York as one of the best-prepared states in the nation for such a crisis.

There are no identified cases of Ebola in New York, though the governor said he would not be surprised if one were to occur.

"The anxiety is higher than the probability right now," he said from the Manhattan briefing, citing a degree of "semi-hysteria" surrounding the disease.

Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said eight hospitals, most of them in the New York City area, were being designated as special centers in the event of an outbreak. SUNY Upstate and University of Rochester Medical Center were the only upstate facilities, though more may be added to the list.

All 200 of the state's hospitals are being prepared to identify possible Ebola cases, Cuomo and Zucker said. Once identified, the patient would be transferred to one of the eight hospitals that will receive enhanced training in treating the disease.

"You don't get one mistake, you don't get one breach of a protocol, and that's been the problem with this disease," Cuomo said.

Two health workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to develop Ebola symptoms in this country, have contracted the disease. Federal officials have blamed breaches in protocol for the disease's spread to the workers, though they have not identified the specific problems. Ebola is spread through contact with an infected person's body fluids.

The workers' illnesses prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to announce earlier this week that it would dispatch within hours a specialized response team to any hospital in the country that has a confirmed case of Ebola. The teams would then determine whether the patient should be transported to a hospital that has successfully treated Ebola patients, such as Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Zucker also issued an order Thursday detailing actions medical facilities must make within 10 days to prepare for Ebola cases. The order applies to hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers, satellite emergency departments and ambulance services.

Among other things, the order requires health institutions to:

Establish written patient registration protocols for identifying, isolating and evaluating anyone with a history of travel in the previous 21 days to a country that has a widespread Ebola outbreak and who has symptoms consistent with the disease. These include fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or unexplained hemorrhage.

Post signs prominently in at least eight languages asking all patients to disclose their international travel history. The required languages are English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Korean and Haitian Creole.

Designate a room, close to the registration area, for isolation of a patient being evaluated for Ebola.

Maintain a list of all people who come within three feet of a potential Ebola patient, even before evaluation.

Take the temperatures twice daily of all workers who come within three feet of an Ebola patient or perform laboratory tests on specimens from the patient.

Provide workers involved in an Ebola patient's care with protective gear and give them in-person training on how to don and remove it.

Hospitals must also develop written protocols for either the continued care of confirmed patients or safe transport of a patient to another facility.

The order also requires funeral directors to comply with rules regarding the safe handling of human remains of Ebola patients.

State officials said they would help prepare medical responders to address an Ebola case at transportation centers, including upstate airports and train stations, and work with schools and colleges to protect students from exposure to the virus. Many students at New York's universities travel here from other countries, Zucker said.

Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, said personnel at JFK International Airport have since Saturday been conducting special screenings of travelers from the three West African nations grappling with widespread Ebola outbreaks. He said officials were in close contact with staff from the CDC, and had a comprehensive plan in place to transport and treat any potential Ebola patient.

With less than three weeks to go before a general election, it was inevitable that Ebola would be taken up as an issue. Cuomo's Republican opponent Rob Astorino on Thursday called on Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (a Republican leader who has not been helpful to Astorino's campaign) to shut down flights from the West African nations most affected by the outbreak.

"America must err on the side of caution and take an all-of-the-above approach to protecting U.S. citizens, airline employees, and health care workers," Astorino said in a statement. " ... If the FAA won't act, New York and New Jersey must. Why wouldn't we do everything possible to stop Ebola from coming to New York?"

In the briefing, Foye said there are no direct flights from those nations to any part of New York. Most people arriving from those regions, he said, are coming via Brussels and Paris.

"That would have to be a federal determination. ... The governor of New York has no authority to do that," Cuomo said, adding that a nationwide suspension of such flights was being discussed in Washington.


Categories: State/Local

House debate offers civility after ad blitz

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm

North Greenbush

Despite an increasingly bitter campaign for the 19th Congressional District seat, Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson and Democrat Sean Eldridge kept their attacks civil and on-message in a prime time debate Thursday.

The WMHT Ch. 17-hosted debate was a chance for the candidates to address each other face-to-face after months of back-and-forth advertising and swipes at each other in media coverage. The two stuck to their talking points but took shots at each other wherever they could. Perhaps the one place they agreed was that the debate could only help both of their campaigns.

"I think it went well. I think some important differences between the congressman and myself came out," Eldridge said, later adding that the debates are an opportunity for him to introduce himself to voters in a campaign against a well-liked incumbent.

Gibson said, "I appreciate these debates because I don't have as much money as my opponent, so he can run these commercials (but) nights like this, where he's sitting next to me, he can't run."

Gibson came across as a seasoned-political veteran and stuck to his everyman tone, while Eldridge came across as an exuberant newcomer, though he showed experience beyond his years. While both spent the evening playing offense, Gibson seemed to play more defense, trying to dispel misconceptions he says Eldridge has put out there about him.

The candidates taking swipes at each other started from the first question, which played to one of the central themes of Gibson's campaign: That Eldridge is an outsider who hasn't lived in the district for long enough to be a good representative.

Eldridge pointed to the work he's already been able to do in the district, whether it's with Planned Parenthood or through his Hudson River Ventures, a small business investment fund, while saying Gibson has focused on personal attacks because he doesn't want to talk about his voting record. Gibson responded by saying he is proud of his record and his legislation has been constituent-driven, pointing out legislation he has passed for constituents, including a bill to help boost Lyme disease research that has become a cornerstone of his campaign. He then shot back that Eldridge registered to run for office before he registered to vote in the district.

Environmental and energy issues were a constant theme throughout the evening. Gibson said he supports the reduction of emissions at power plants and repeatedly said he supported a reduction of energy costs, while opposing energy taxes. Eldridge continually bashed the Republican for signing a Koch brothers' climate pledge, which includes a promise to oppose legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue, and said he supports capping carbon and methane and other greenhouse gas emissions at the source by taxing the companies producing them.

Among the more divisive issues in the campaign is abortion rights. Gibson was adamant that he does not support late-term abortions or taxpayer funding of abortions, save for cases of rape, incest and the mother's safety, adding that he thinks he is where the districtwide view is on that issue. Eldridge countered, saying that in 2014, a woman's right to choose shouldn't be controversial in New York state.

Among Gibson's most used were bipartisan and moderate.

"I'm a pragmatist. I get to that place by experience in life," he said following the debate. "When you're leading paratroopers in Iraq, you can have any theory you want, but at the end of the day, you better be able to get your mission done. You have to deal with the reality that you're in. ... When you take a look at where our district is, they want a leader that will be able to work together with both sides. That's who they have in me."

Eldridge took a different view of Gibson, drumming away at his point that Gibson is part of "the least productive Congress in the history of our country."

Gibson enjoys a cushy lead over his opponent in both public and internal polling. A September Siena College poll had him up 24 points. Internal polling released by Gibson Thursday showed a 26-point lead for the incumbent.

"The poll that I'm really focused on is the poll on Nov. 4," Eldridge said. "I think this is very much going to be a turnout election." 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Senate race: Delivering the message, dead-tree style

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:07am


You've got political mail — lots of it.

Voters in the 46th Senate District have been inundated so far this election season with stacks of campaign mailers, most of them related to the race between Democratic state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore. The avalanche of oversized postcards flows into mailboxes from various political committees, whether playing up their side or trashing the opposition.

The tone of the other mailers ranges from straightforward to nasty and mildly humorous. One piece from the state Democratic Committee depicts an altered image of Amedore wearing '60s country-folk garb and strumming a guitar next to text that reads, "George Amedore's Economic Plan: TAKE THIS JOB AND SHIP IT" — a reference to the former assemblyman's opposition to a bill that would have punished New York companies for moving jobs out of the state.

Another from state Republicans features warm then-and-now photos of Amedore with his daughter, Bria, and provides information about his desire to pass women's rights legislation — although Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 10-plank Women's Equality Act, which Amedore opposes due to a controversial reproductive rights measure, isn't explicitly mentioned.

Tkaczyk is targeted in a state Republican Committee mailer showing a baby wearing a graduation cap surrounded by stacks of money: "While it will take this little guy 20 years to pay off his college education ... Cecilia Tkaczyk wants to use your tax dollars to give FREE college tuition to illegal immigrants." The Democrat supports the DREAM Act, which would enable the children of such immigrants to tap into education assistance funding.

At least one political action committee has gotten in on the mix: New Yorkers Together, funded by the Communication Workers of America union, sent around a "Wheel of Fortune"-themed mailer bashing Amedore for taking campaign donations "from the wealthy and well-connected."

In an age in which digital technology seems to have the edge over dead-tree methods of doing pretty much everything, campaigns still view non-electronic mail as one of the most effective tools for reaching voters directly. And even in the polarized world of state politics, both parties agree that paying for postage is worth it.

Mailers "are much more targeted to an individual voter, whereas TV speaks to everyone who has got their television on at the time," said Sen. Michael Gianaris, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. "Mailers are sent to an individual at their own address, so the messaging can be much more specific and tailored. It's also more cost-effective."

"Irrespective of the march of technology, as long as mail is delivered and as long as people look at their mail before they throw it out, it'll be an effective tool for political communications," said state Republican Committee spokesman David Laska. "Mailboxes are a place where people still expect to see political ads. ... In the age of DVRs and streaming content, a lot of TV advertising has become obsolete, maybe even a little anachronistic — maybe not quite, but it's certainly getting there."

Because of the ability to target voters geographically, mail can be especially effective in so-called "down-ballot" races, including state legislative contests with limited volunteer and cash resources.

Still, there's a risk that voters could be turned off by the sheer abundance of mail — positive or negative — piling up on the kitchen counter, or ending up unread in the recycling bin.

While acknowledging the risks, Gianaris said that after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision unleashed the floodgates of independent-expenditure campaign spending, "there is no way of knowing what other organizations are doing."

With three weeks until Election Day, it's also hard to know if voters in the 46th District are tossing the mail aside as junk. In the Tkaczyk-Amedore race, each side blames the other for any overkill — and emphasized that it was the other guys who were spreading lies and distortions.

"We have had a huge response from residents who are tired of the negative and disrespectful tone of Cecilia Tkaczyk's mailers," Amedore campaign spokeswoman Eileen Miller said.

Senate Democratic Conference spokesman Gary Ginsburg said Amedore's campaign "has been littering the mailboxes of the 46th Senate District." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:07am

Gibson and Eldridge to debate on television

ALBANY — Republican Rep. Chris Gibson and Democratic challenger Sean Eldridge will debate live on WMHT Ch. 17 at 8 p.m. Thursday as they vie for the 19th Congressional District seat.

In addition to questions from a panel of regional reporters, this special edition of "New York Now" will cover topics raised on social media. Ask them on the "New York Now" Facebook page or Tweet to @NYNOW_PBS using the hashtag #NY19.

The debate can be viewed live on the Capitol Confidential blog, Times Union Capitol Bureau reporter Matthew Hamilton will be tweeting at @matt_hamilton10.

The 19th District includes parts of the Hudson Valley and Capital Region, including all of Greene, Columbia and Schoharie counties and parts of Rensselaer and Montgomery counties.

— Staff report

Comptroller candidates square off in debate

ALBANY — New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Wednesday night in a candidates' debate that his office is continuing to review expense payments to state legislators, like the audit that led to criminal charges against an assemblyman two weeks ago.

Republican challenger Robert Antonacci is seeking to replace DiNapoli as New York's chief financial officer. In their debate, DiNapoli was asked if he was doing a broad-based review of the 213 state legislators' expenses.

"We do it in a careful way. We don't do it in a cavalier way," he said. "If we find a problem we work with prosecutors because we're not prosecutors."

One current and one former legislator were indicted from the work that came out of the comptroller's office, among 80 officials were charged and $12 million was recovered from criminal cases, he said.

"We are doing it right. We do continue to review payments in this area," DiNapoli said. "If we find others who are violating the rules of per diem, they are going to be hearing from the prosecutors as well."

Assemblyman William Scarborough, a 68-year-old Queens Democrat, pleaded not guilty Oct. 1 to state and federal charges that he improperly spent campaign funds and expense money.

Antonacci, a certified public accountant and lawyer in his second term as Onondaga County's comptroller, said DiNapoli should have been doing more with his former colleagues.

"It's very easy to go in and see money that is stolen after the fact," Antonacci said. "It's how you set up internal control apparatuses so money is not stolen in the first place."

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

All N.Y. hospital workers to learn use of protective gear for Ebola

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:07am


Hospitals around New York will soon receive a directive from the state Health Department requiring that all staff be trained in the proper technique for donning and removing personal protective equipment.

The action will be taken in the wake of Wednesday's news that a second health worker from Dallas has contracted the Ebola virus.

The state Health Department will send personal protective gear to hospitals that require more supplies, a department spokesman said.

The imminent directive will also stress that hospitals follow protocols for identifying, isolating and evaluating patients who arrive for care, according to the spokesman. In a telephone news briefing Wednesday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection Director Tom Frieden said health workers most likely to use protective gear correctly are those who have repeated practice with it. Those who do not use it regularly may do something that seems like a good idea but actually increases their risk of contamination.

Some health workers at Dallas' Texas Presbyterian Hospital, for instance, put on triple or quadruple layers of protective gear, or taped down parts of it.

"They were trying to protect themselves better," Frieden said. "But by putting on more layers of gloves or other protective clothing, it becomes harder to put them on and take them off. The risk of contamination in the process of taking these gloves off gets much higher."

A site manager is now monitoring all activity at the Dallas hospital, Frieden said. On Tuesday, the CDC announced it would dispatch expert response teams within hours to any hospital in the country that had a confirmed Ebola diagnosis in the future.

According to the state Health Department, New York hospitals continue to identify and train staff who would care for Ebola patients, identify areas where Ebola patients would be cared for, and conduct exercises to assess their ability to identify the likelihood of Ebola and address it correctly.

Albany Medical Center spokesman Jeffrey Gordon said that the hospital's staff are carefully following the regularly updated guidelines from state and federal officials.

"There are a lot of infectious diseases that we have to be ready for on a daily basis," Gordon said. "This is obviously a very serious disease, and we have to take every precaution."


Categories: State/Local

N.Y. awards tech firms for making health data user-friendly

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:07am


The California-based developers of DocSpot, a website to help consumers choose doctors, were poised for something just like New York State's Health Innovation Challenge.

They were already working on software applications that would allow consumers to compare doctors using a variety of measures, said company founder and product manager Jerry Lin. Then New York made all kinds of data on doctors available, and offered a prize to developers to come up with ways to make it useful to everyone.

Seizing the opportunity, the developers used the New York data to get a beta version of DocSpot online, and Wednesday were awarded the $30,000 prize to help launch the website commercially.

The prize was awarded at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, where state health officials and researchers were involved in a day-long event on innovative uses for health data.

Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker highlighted the need for making the data usable to consumers, noting that few Americans spend as much time shopping for doctors as they do for cars or televisions.

"New York state wants to change all of that. And now we have the data that will allow citizens to take better control, greater control, of their health care options," Zucker said.

(Zucker did not linger after his prepared remarks, referencing his need to focus on the developing Ebola virus crisis emanating from Texas as his reason for leaving.)

In the world of software development, $30,000 won't go far, Lin said. But the startup tech firm expects the publicity from the state challenge will get them the notice they need to propel forward.

The challenge was announced in March, a year after the Health Department made information available through Health Data NY, part of the state's OPEN NY initiative. Coders and developers were invited to create solutions to help consumers access the great mass of information about the quality and cost of health care services.

In addition to data from the state Health Department, DocSpot uses information from Medicare, state medical boards, hospital and clinic physician directories and reviews from the web.

The website currently allows users to search for doctors by specialty and rank them by patient reviews or distance from their home. The developers hope to be able to refine the search function and integrate more data, Lin said.

The second- and third-place winners, awarded $10,000 and $3,000 respectively, were prototypes of applications that allowed consumers to search for hospitals using various criteria. The prize money came from a New York State Health Foundation grant, according to Pat Lynch, Health Data NY project manager.


Categories: State/Local

The Cuomo Record: Government Reform

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:00am

Gov. Cuomo with Kathy Hochul (photo: John Kenny @jjk607)

The following is part of our series, The Cuomo Record, examining incumbent Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo's first term as he seeks re-election heading to Election Day, November 4

Ask good government groups what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has done on ethics and reform in his first term in office and you will get strikingly different accounts.

One version goes that Cuomo is a dedicated public servant who has slowly and carefully worked for reform and achieved some important changes to how the state polices legislative corruption, but has ultimately been defeated on major systemic reform by a recalcitrant legislature.

"He has been the most active governor in recent memory on pushing wide-range reforms," said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, who notes that Cuomo implemented a new ethics commission with joint oversight (JCOPE), mandated legislators disclose their outside income, secured tougher bribery laws, and got some concessions from the Legislature on issues "that are core to their power."

The other version is less kind. It goes something like: Cuomo is a governor who has broken many promises because he is unwilling to risk political capital for major reform.

To hear Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters tell it, Cuomo has "Squandered opportunities for reform that we won't see again for a generation." Bartoletti insists Cuomo has failed to capitalize on openings where he could have used his bully pulpit to push the Legislature harder or galvanize the public on full public financing of elections and ending loopholes in New York's campaign finance law that allow unlimited corporate donations; given the attorney general more power to pursue legislative corruption; or addressed the Board of Elections' lack of enforcement of existing campaign finance laws.

Despite some differences in assessment of Cuomo's first term, just about all in the good government community agree that Cuomo has not clearly communicated whether he intends to pursue any sort of ethics or campaign finance reform agenda should he win a next term.

"It seems he is trying to argue he has solved Albany's problems and he is not saying what he will do going forward," said Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). "He said he was going to stop Albany from being a punchline, but the minute Preet Bharara starts handing down indictments Albany will be a punchline once again."

Dadey of Citizens Union agrees that Cuomo has been quiet on his second-term agenda noting that "ever since the Moreland debacle the governor has not been visible on reform issues or second-term plans and I think it has been a loss."

Dadey contends that "the big black eye of Moreland has clouded some people's memories of the significant reforms this governor achieved during his first term."

Bartoletti, who served as an advisor to Cuomo's Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, says that the governor promised massive systemic reform in his 2010 campaign policy book and was handed major opportunities to achieve it.

"It started with a chance to reform redistricting and he gave it away and the Legislature said: 'This guy is all bark and no bite. He isn't serious about reform.'" From there Bartoletti notes that Cuomo has seen a swath of legislators indicted during his term (11 according to NYPIRG's Mahoney) and had the backing of a major, monied push to reform the state's campaign finance system, but rather than hitting the stump and rallying the voters for change, Bartoletti says Cuomo "Moved the ball maybe 10 yards...There wasn't a touchdown."

So what did Cuomo promise voters during his 2010 campaign?

"We must fundamentally reform our system to give voices to all New Yorkers, not just the special interests.To accomplish this, we must enact a voluntary system of public financing, make sure legislative lines are drawn independently of self-interested legislators and enact other campaign finance laws to give New Yorkers a real voice in their government," Cuomo's policy book read.

The 250-plus page briefing book criticized the loopholes in New York's campaign finance law that allow major donations to party coffers but rather than offering a specific solution the book simply asserts "New York State needs a system of public campaign financing."

Cuomo has not reformed the state's loosely regulated campaign finance system - instead he is the largest beneficiary of it - raising over $45 million for his 2014 campaign, mostly from large corporate donors.

On the campaign trail Cuomo promised he would give the Attorney General a blanket referral to investigate legislative corruption if he was unable to stop it with other reforms. Despite a tidal wave of legislative indictments Cuomo has not issued such a referral. Instead he empaneled the Moreland Commission, which he eventually bargained away for a set of reforms that good government groups regarded at the time as "small potatoes."

Cuomo's first major action on ethics came in June 2011. After long negotiations with the Legislature a deal was announced that replaced the state's old ethics watchdog with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Staffed by legislative and gubernatorial appointees the ethics commission quickly came under fire because legislative appointees can easily team up to vote against investigations.

Furthermore, Cuomo's appointees all owed their careers or political position to the governor. JCOPE quickly ran into trouble over the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal. It was reported that JCOPE members blocked an investigation into Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's handling of the matter. JCOPE has also seen turnover of members who have expressed frustration about how the body operates.

Further troublesome to good government officials is that JCOPE often operates behind closed doors and without any transparency.

The JCOPE deal also included major reporting requirements relative to lawmakers revealing their outside income, with lawyers also required to reveal their clients if they do business before the state.

Mahoney describes that point as "a real step forward." Legislators' outside income has certainly become more public, but there's been little movement in terms of further regulating it.

Moreland and beyond
In the spring of 2013, after a rash of indictments, Cuomo held a press conference announcing a series of reforms he wanted to help fight corruption. Good government groups were unimpressed as his plans did not include major items like a new campaign finance system. The Legislature didn't seem to think the reforms were minor as they balked at the idea of enacting any of Cuomo's proposals into law.

Later in June Cuomo moved to create his long-threatened Moreland Commission. Despite the months of investigations, public hearings, and an initial report that detailed how Albany's campaign finance laws allow for corruption, Cuomo quietly announced the commission's demise over an atypical conference call to discuss a budget deal.

What Cuomo got in exchange for ending the commission was not insignificant, but was far weaker than what many had hoped for and Cuomo had promised from the Moreland Commission. The deal included stronger bribery laws, a trial campaign finance system that only impacted the 2014 comptroller's race, and a new position at the Board of Elections (BOE) that oversees enforcement issues. Legislators rejected tighter restrictions on campaign donations and a larger campaign finance system that Cuomo had proposed in his budget.

Mahoney of NYPIRG says it is important that the BOE now has an individual whose job it is to speak out about enforcement issues. However, Mahoney also contends that it is concerning that the head of the unit that investigates election law violations keeps in regular touch with Cuomo's aides.

Mahoney calls the trial campaign finance system for the comptroller's race "an unmitigated disaster" (incumbent Tom DiNapoli opted not to participate and his challenger is unlikely to qualify for the program).

Dadey, however, insists that Cuomo has often fought the good fight and been hamstrung by a legislature that is determined to maintain its power. "The governor was an effective champion on campaign finance reform. To place the failure of the movement entirely at his doorstep is wrong because he did do a lot given the Senate's opposition."

When asked about criticism that Cuomo did not expend as much energy on campaign finance reform as he did on same-sex marriage or gun laws Dadey responded, "I think that misses the point. The core power of the Legislature is at stake with redistricting and campaign finance reform in a way that it is not with marriage or gun laws. Those issues are not core to where they draw their power."

The main spot of contention among good government groups surrounds Cuomo's promise to enact independent redistricting and veto the Legislature's lines if they are partisan. Rather than making good on those promises, Cuomo cut a deal with the Legislature creating an amendment that would have a separate redistricting commission largely appointed by the Legislature draw lines. To go into effect, the plan must be approved by voters via a ballot proposal, number one ("Prop 1") on the Nov. 4 Election Day ballot.

According to the proposed amendment, the Legislature would review the lines drawn by the commission and if it twice rejects plans from the commission it could then change the plan to its liking - within certain legal parameters that those in favor of Prop 1 call extremely important. Common Cause NY and NYPIRG have come out against the amendment saying that it provides window dressing that allows the Legislature to continue controlling who its members represent and helping them win re-election.

Citizens Union and The League of Women Voters, on the other hand, back the amendment saying that Prop 1 is progress because it allows for a separate commission to draw the lines rather than the Legislature and that it includes key language preventing the drawing of lines "for political advantage" that would open gerrymandering up to significant legal vulnerability to court challenge.

Despite supporting the amendment Bartoletti believes Cuomo has mishandled the endeavor. "Prop 1 is supposedly being backed by the governor but has he been out there supporting it on the stump or in TV ads? I've not seen it. And if that goes down some people will say 'good, we can do better,' but it's just as likely the governor will say, 'we tried and the people have spoken so go away.'" Dadey says Cuomo's absence on Prop 1 has just been par for the course for the governor, who has avoided ethics and reform issues since the Moreland scandal and is not indicative of his support for the amendment. Cuomo recently reiterated his support for Prop 1 when asked, but has not been an active advocate for it - yet, anyway.

Mahoney disputes that permanent damage has been done to the chances of good government reform, but he agrees that Cuomo has missed major opportunities to rally the public. "He had a big opportunity in 2013. It seemed like there was an indictment every other week, and there were many groups who had his back on campaign finance reform. He could have used that time to rally the public but he really didn't push hard," Mahoney said.

Bartoletti acknowledges that corruption issues don't poll as well as economic issues with voters and that it will take "A governor who is willing to go to the mat for principles and we haven't seen that. 'Present company' included."

Bartoletti said she had deep belief that Cuomo's Moreland Commission would effect change. "Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats were scared to death of what Moreland might reveal and this is what we get," she said, disappointedly referring to allegations that Cuomo interefered with the commission when it started investigating interests he was close to and then traded it away for minor reforms.

Of course, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office has picked up on Moreland's initial work and may still bring about further results - though these would be in the form of indictments, which require a far higher bar, not necessarily recommendations for reform. As Bharara has said, often the real scandal is what is legal, not what is illegal. Moreland was on track to expose the many problems involved with the legal systems in place that indictments from Bharara and others often help highlight, but only when legislators have taken things even past what is legally sanctioned.

Asked whether she thought the fallout from Moreland would damage future attempts for reform Bartoletti responded, "I can't really imagine a positive scenario. The governor alienated an awful lot of people from the Working Families Party to my colleagues in good government. I don't have an awful lot of optimism anything is going to happen on reform in the next four years. I think we are going to have to wait for an entirely different governor and an entirely different legislature."

This article is part of The Cuomo RecordGotham Gazette's series looking at the governor's first term. Find the other articles in the series here.
by David King, Albany Editor, Gotham Gazette

Note: Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation, the sister organization of Citizens Union

Categories: State/Local

Cahill: Revisit drug laws

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 10/19/2014 - 4:07pm


Following through on a pledge earlier this year to develop a comprehensive plan to combat heroin if elected, Republican state attorney general candidate John Cahill on Wednesday released a five-point plan that includes a review of the 2009 rollback of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

"As a father especially, I recognize that taking a proactive approach to tackling this issue is critical," Cahill said in a statement. "As attorney general, I vow to partner with law enforcement, advocates, health care professionals and experts across the state to put a stop to heroin's deadly scourge."

Cahill's Democratic opponent, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, has taken an active role in a statewide crackdown on heroin addiction by introducing funding to provide law enforcement with the heroin antidote naloxone.

The attorney general's office also has joined with attorneys general and law enforcement in three other northeastern states to form a task force to crack down on trafficking.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature also zeroed in on heroin at the end of this year's legislative session, passing bills that include stepped-up treatment options and new penalties for selling heroin and opiates.

Cahill's plan leads with "a top-to-bottom review" of the 2009 rollback of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which included mandatory minimum sentences that critics had for years been describing as excessive. At the time, Schneiderman was a member of the state Senate Democratic majority.

Cahill would also push for passage of a law that would place strict liability for drug-induced deaths on everyone in the supply chain, and enhance penalties for "possession with intent to sell" heroin for those found with more than 1 gram, 20 individual bags of heroin or a street value threshold of $300.

Cahill would also push for more inpatient treatment beds and new limits on the size of pain medication prescriptions for controlled substances.

Schneiderman's campaign said he was "leading the fight against the heroin epidemic plaguing our state."

Spokesman Peter Ajemian pointed to the work of the office in major cases against 18 drug rings statewide, and statistics that show overall crime and prison incarceration on the decline since he took office. "That's why Eric has widespread support from both the law enforcement and drug abuse prevention communities," he said. "Cahill's attacks can't distract from the fact that he has zero law enforcement experience."

Casey Seiler contributed.

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 19

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 10/19/2014 - 1:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

What looks like will be the one-and-only debate of the governor's race is set to take place this week, Wednesday night in Buffalo. Details below on that and a whole lot more to look for this week.

Recent campaign activity
On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo was following up on his quick trip to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico by holding two events with Hispanic leaders in the Bronx and Washington Heights. Cuomo was "joined by leaders in the Hispanic community for campaign rallies at Hostos Community College in the Bronx and the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Center in Washington Heights," according to his public schedule.

Cuomo had jetted to the Caribbean to impress Hispanic New York voters and announced plans to increase trade between New York and those two places.

On Saturday, Cuomo's lieutenant governor running mate Kathy Hochul was back on the Women's Equality Express, this time without Cuomo. Together they announced their endorsement (via Saturday press release) of Justin Wagner, who is a Democrat running for State Senate in the Hudson Valley and was aboard the Express on Saturday, and incumbent Democratic State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk.

Meanwhile, Cuomo's two main opponents, Republican Rob Astorino and the Green Party's Howie Hawkins have continued traversing the state attempting to pick up on or create anti-Cuomo sentiment and offer their policy proposals to voters.

Cuomo, Astorino, Hawkins, and Libertarian Party candidate Michael McDermott are set to debate on Wednesday night.

Also this week
Along with anticipating the big debate, we'll be watching this week to see how much of a push Cuomo makes for these Democratic Senate candidates and others. And for the two (of the three) ballot proposals he has expressed support for: Cuomo has said New Yorkers should vote "yes" for Prop 1 (redistricting reform) and Prop 3 (Smart Schools Bond Act). Hochul expressed support for all three ballot measures (Prop 2 moves the state Legislature toward e-bills as opposed to printing them at all times).

On Monday, Cuomo will be hosting Vice President Joe Biden, for "an event to discuss infrastructure modernization, where the Governor will make an announcement." The event will take place at 11 a.m. in Flushing, Queens at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, according to a release from the governor's office. Word is Biden is also due in Syracuse for a campaign rally on Monday with U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei, according to

Back to election news: as we approach the two weeks until Election Day mark, incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Grimm and his Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia debated on Friday (and aired on ABC-7 Sunday morning). The debate was a contentious one, with each candidate accusing the other of lying on numerous occasions and quite a bit of arguing and interrupting. There was some substance involved, too, as the two do differ starkly on a good deal of policy - things like the Affordable Care Act, taxes, and immigration policy. Despite Grimm being under indictment, Recchia is having a hard time capitalizing, leaving many unimpressed and questioning his candidacy.

The Mayor, the Comptroller, and the Speaker
Last week was a quiet one for Mayor Bill de Blasio, as was this weekend - on Sunday the mayor's public schedule did include (only) a closed-press meeting with "Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon of Likud in Manhattan." The Mayor continues to work his way through (or around) the controversy surrounding Rachel Noerdlinger, the top aide to his wife. On Monday morning, "Mayor de Blasio will host a press conference in Broad Channel [Queens] to make an announcement related to Hurricane Sandy recovery...[in the] afternoon, the Mayor will hold a public hearing at City Hall on Int. 466-A, in relation to the speed limit reduction, and Int. 295-A, related to transportation benefits." On Tuesday night the mayor is a featured guest at a fundraising event for incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Meanwhile, Comptroller Scott Stringer spoke on Sunday at a rally "with local elected officials and tenants against rent de-stabilization" at 545 Prospect Place in Brooklyn, according to his public schedule. And on Monday, Stringer is set to testify at the city council hearing on the controversial Astorica Cove development project.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joined for the Cuomo-Hochul rally in the Bronx on Sunday, speaking at Hostos in support of the ticket. On Monday, Mark-Viverito will deliver opening remarks at a city council joint committee hearing on domestic violence and run a participatory budgeting event in her district.

On Wednesday, the Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting at which it will vote on several bills and send them to the mayor for approval, while also seeing the introduction of others. As always, the stated meetings are full of legislative action.

Council members like Mark-Viverito who are running the program are in full participatory budgeting swing. See below for more details.

As always, there's a whole bunch of interesting political and civic events this week, including at the end of the week this year's annual Municipal Arts Society (MAS) conference on Thursday and Friday, featuring many interesting speakers and panels dealing with city innovation, infrastructure, and more. See below for more.

The run of the week in more detail:

Along with Vice President Biden being in town for an event with Gov. Cuomo, Monday will see:

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and a delegation representing 'Dot NYC' will attend the NYSE Opening Bell Ceremony "to celebrate the public launch of .nyc, the new top-level web domain."

On Monday, Rep. Michael Grimm and his challenger Domenic Recchia are set to appear in front of the Staten Island Advance editorial board.

Also on Monday, the City Council is back in action with the following committee meetings: the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will convene to review several land use applications; the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will hold a joint meeting with the Committee on Women's Issues and the Committee on General Welfare for an oversight hearing on "coordination of services for victims of domestic violence" and to consider a bill "requiring the department of homeless services to grant a presumption of eligibility for applicants to the shelter system who are exiting human resources administration domestic violence shelters or department of youth and community development runaway homeless youth shelters"; multiple resolutions related to protecting and helping victims of domestic violence and a "resolution recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the City of New York"; the Committee on Immigration will meet to review two new bills regarding "persons not to be detained by the department of correction" and "persons not to be detained by the police department"; the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to review a landmarks land use application; and the Committee on Education will meet to discuss a bill "requiring the department of education to report information regarding guidance counselors and social workers in schools" and a "resolution to establish a comprehensive college preparation program" for New York City schools.

On Monday morning, Pace University will host the second part of its "Summit on Resilience." The conference will address recovery after Superstorm Sandy and try to provide analysis of what strategies need to be implemented to further increase resiliency "through improved cooperation and communication among public and private organizations and the public."

Participatory budgeting neighborhood assemblies on Monday will be held by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Andrew Cohen, Jimmy Van Bramer, Karen Koslowitz, Brad Lander and Mark Treyger.

The New York State Liquor Authority and NYS Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, NYS Assembly Member Ron Kim, and NYC Council Member Peter Koo are hosting an mid-day event in Queens: "Small Business Seminar: What does the NYSLA do? What is the process to obtain a liquor license for a restaurant, liquor store, or grocery store?"

On Monday evening, Chancellor Carmen Fariña will attend a Community Education Council town hall meeting in Brooklyn.

Tuesday marks just two weeks 'til Election Day!

Tuesday night, Mayor de Blasio is headlining a campaign event for incumbent Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. DiNapoli and his Republican opponent Bob Antonacci held their only debate last week.

Also on Tuesday evening, Gov. Cuomo is set to attend the film preview of the PBS documentary "The Italian Americans" at The Picture House in Pelham.

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, Council Member Donovan Richards and the "BRT For NYC" Steering Committee will host an event to support city council and community support for bringing Bus Rapid Transit to Queens. The "BRT For NYC" Steering Committee includes reps from ABNY, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, Riders Alliance, Working Families Party, Pratt Center for Community Development, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, TWU, Transportation Alternatives.

The City Council's Tuesday schedule includes: the Committee on Transportation meeting to consider at a bill "requiring signs regarding penalties for assaulting taxi and livery drivers"; the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations will meet on a resolution "to establish the Smithsonian American Latino Museum and designate Arts and Industries building as its future location in Washington D.C."; the Committee on Land Use will meet regarding the "Land Use Calendar - Week of October 20, 2014 - October 24, 2014; Deferral of the Meeting of the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions"; the Committee on Community Development will see the introduction of a bill "in relation to worker cooperatives"; and the Committee on Waterfronts will hold an oversight hearing on "examining of the City's Clean Waterfront Plan."

On Tuesday morning, City & State NY hosts its third annual "Panel on Diversity," featuring keynote addresses by Comptroller Stringer; NYS Chief Diversity Officer Mecca Santana; Counsel to Mayor Bill De Blasio Maya Wiley; and the NYS Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights, Alphonso David.

Also Tuesday morning will be "Food Policy for Breakfast: Can Campus Food be the Next School Food? Making University Food Services a Force for Food Change, A Look at What's Happening at CUNY and SUNY" - "In New York City more than 600,000 young adults attend college. How are universities feeding their students? What are the facilitators and obstacles of healthier campus food and food environments? What promising strategies can be learned from other places? In this session in honor of National Food Day, the following panelists will discuss these questions."

City Council Member Andy King is holding a news conference Tuesday afternoon outside John Philip Sousa Middle School, where he "will be joined by school officials, parents and announce a bill that will implement an important mandatory program for all New York City public school children," according to King's office.

Speaker Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James, joined by other city council members, will celebrate the upcoming Hindu festival of Diwali at City Hall on Tuesday evening.

Council Members Corey Johnson, Ydanis Rodriguez and Karen Koslowitz will hold neighborhood assemblies to discuss participatory budgeting in their districts on Tuesday.

Former candidate for Lieutenant Governor in the Democratic primary, Tim Wu, will speak on "political corruption and the 1st Amendment" during an event at Columbia Journalism School on Tuesday evening.

Tuesday night is also the Manhattan Young Democrats' monthly meeting, this one featuring special guest Council Member Mark Levine.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal is set to participate on a Tuesday evening panel on "the contemporary minimum wage movement, local politics and the future of labor" hosted by The Roosevelt Institute at Columbia University. The panel will also include Dorian Warren, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, Roosevelt Institute Fellow, and MSNBC contributor.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will host her borough board meeting on Tuesday morning and on Tuesday evening will host her annual Italian Heritage Month event at St John's.

Rep. Michael Grimm and Domenic Recchia are set to debate at the Iron Hills Civic Association on Wednesday evening.

The four main gubernatorial candidates are also set to meet Wednesday night: in Buffalo for a debate that will be televised on Time Warner.

Wednesday afternoon will see a City Council Stated Meeting, prefaced as always by a press conference held by the Speaker. Before the Stated, the Committee on Finance will convene on Wednesday morning to discuss the "establishment of the West Shore BID" and to approve "the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget."

Also earlier on Wednesday, Council Member Andy King "will hold a news conference...on the steps of City Hall to announce a bill to be introduced that afternoon in Stated that will influence thousands of New York City public school and charter school students by helping to deter bullying, mitigate the tendency of children to form cliques, and is cost effective for parents."

Wednesday evening New York City Council Member Ben Kallos will host a "Bike Safety Forum with the NYPD."

Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Andrew Cohen, Paul Vallone, Costa Constantinides, Jimmy Van Bramer, Karen Koslowitz, Eric Ulrich, Stephen Levin, Brad Lander and David Greenfield are holding neighborhood assemblies to discuss different aspects of participatory budgeting in their districts on Wednesday night.

On Wednesday evening, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is hosting a "town hall on Ebola and Enterovirus" at Borough Hall with "experts from the Brooklyn Hospital Center, Centers for Disease Control, Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, Doctors Council SEIU and Office of Emergency Management." In a release, Adams said, "I want Brooklynites to be aware and prepared for any emergency or disaster. Because of recent medical concerns, and in order to prevent an unnecessary mass panic, I aim to educate our residents..."

The Geraldine A. Ferraro Democratic Club launches at an event on Wednesday night in Queens. Various Democratic organizations and leaders, including Council Member Karen Koslowitz and Borough President Melinda Katz will help launch the club.

Democratic nominee for State Assembly in the 76th District, Rebecca Seawright, will hold a fundraising event on Wednesday night.

BetaNYC is hosting a Civic Hacknight on Wednesday: "technologists, data scientists, developers, designers, map makers, and activists" meet for the latest installment of this work, billed as "a study hall or office hours to improve the city."

Eleanor's Legacy Fall Luncheon will feature special guest US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on Thursday. Kathy Hochul and State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins will both be in attendance. "Every luncheon attendee will receive a complimentary copy of the Senator's new book, Off the Sidelines."

Thursday's City Council schedule includes: the City Council Committee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing with the Committee on Contracts to discuss "conflicts of interest in city contracts"; the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet regarding oversight of "agency-based voter registration" and "improving compliance with the city's pro-voter law" and "expanding agency based voter registration to additional city agencies; the Committee on Health meets for an oversight hearing on "NYC and the Affordable Care Act: Where Are We Post-Roll-Out and How We Can Boost Access to Care"; and the Committee on Environmental Protection will hold a hearing on a new bill aimed at "reducing greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050."

Crain's New York Business will host a day-long "Made in New York Trade Show" at the FIT on Thursday, which will showcase products from "unique New York businesses in the food and beverage industry."

Thursday is "Pro Bono Day NYC 2014: Connecting Passion to Purpose" - an event dedicated to making sure "that non-profits..have access to the pro bono they need." Keynote speakers are to include Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, Richard Buery and New York City's Chief Service Officer, Paula Garvin.

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen will speak at "Competitiveness of the Cities" afternoon panel on the first day of the two-day Municipal Arts Society (MAS) Summit for New York City: "Now entering its fifth year, the 2014 Summit will focus on the themes of Equity, Place, and Opportunity, addressing the need to create an urban environment that supports economic growth and opportunity while also fostering a sense of place and community. With more than 100 speakers representing a range of civic, cultural, social, and economic sectors from across the city, the country, and the world, the 2014 MAS Summit will offer a dynamic mix of sessions ranging from in-depth panel discussions to Smart Talks."

Council Members Johnson and Koslowitz will hold participatory budgeting events Thursday night.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson will hold a town hall on Thursday at Liberation Diploma Plus High School in Coney Island.

Council Member Kallos will deliver remarks at the "Civicmakers - Building a Better Democracy with Technology" event on Thursday evening: "We live in an age of broken politics, overwhelming civic cynicism, and vast disparities in wealth and justice. At the same time, grassroots interest in rebuilding democracy abounds, from the maturing open government movement, to a proliferation of new civic engagement and empowerment platforms...Now is the time for a new conversation about what kind of society we wish to live in, and what solutions will move us most quickly in that direction. Join New York's civic tech luminaries for a night of thought-provoking ideas and deep discussion more salon than meetup, more world-changing than networking."

Friday and the weekend
Comptroller Stringer hosts a Polish Heritage Breakfast Friday morning at the Polish and Slavic Center, 177 Kent St., Brooklyn.

The second day of the MAS summit will feature more keynote speakers, including: Sen. Charles Schumer on "The Future of New York City's Large Scale Infrastructure: How the Federal Government Can Help"; Chairman of New York City Planning Commission, Carl Weisbrod on "Building a City for all New Yorkers: Affordable Housing and Economic Development"; among others. On Friday afternoon Manhattan Borough President Brewer serves on a panel, "Growth in the Boroughs" with other Borough Presidents.

Ralph Nader will campaign with gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins in New York City on Friday.

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

by Rati Mukhuradze, Katrina Shakarian, and Ben Max

Categories: State/Local

Yogurt rises to the top

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/18/2014 - 6:07pm


On Wednesday morning, yogurt became New York's official state snack.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the so-called "Yogurt Bill" to coincide with the kickoff of a conference on dairy and yogurt issues at Cornell University.

"This designation is a fitting recognition of the importance of this state's yogurt industry, which has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, making New York the top yogurt producer in the nation," Cuomo said in a statement. "We will continue to work with New York producers and dairy farmers to build upon this progress and further strengthen this critically important industry."

The popularity of Greek-style yogurt has been a boon for the state's dairy industry. The state estimates that New York produced 741 million pounds of yogurt in 2013, up from 695 million pounds in 2012, accounting for 15.7 percent of the total U.S. yogurt production.

Even so, the bill prompted debate — including concern for the lactose-intolerant and the reputation of pretzels — and even ridicule from Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and David Letterman after it came to the floor of the state Senate for a vote in early May.

The measure was sponsored by Western New York Republican Mike Ranzenhofer, who backed it after a group of fourth-graders in his district pitched the idea.


Categories: State/Local

Cuomo chronicles success, setbacks

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/18/2014 - 5:07pm


In his 2010 bid for governor, Andrew Cuomo released the 200-page campaign manifesto "The New NY Agenda: A Plan for Action."

On Tuesday, he released what amounts to his 2014 campaign-season book: a 500-page autobiography that glowingly recollects his accomplishments while detailing what he calls his "fall" — the wilderness years between his failed 2002 gubernatorial bid and his 2006 run for state attorney general.

"All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life" (HarperCollins, $29.99) chronicles decades of state political history from Cuomo's point of view, running all the way back to his father's work as a mediator during a Queens housing dispute in the late 1960s. As he grows to adulthood, the narrative tends to play up his accomplishments, portraying him as moderate, nonpartisan and goal-oriented.

"It is from these sometimes stirring successes and always searing setbacks that I have come to believe that all things are possible if we, each of us together as a country, are willing to challenge and change the status quo, in our own lives, in our business, and in our politics," Cuomo writes by way of introduction.

The book's three-act structure begins with his professional relationship with his father as a campaign staffer during Mario M. Cuomo's mayoral and gubernatorial runs, and continues with his work in President Bill Clinton's administration. His portrait of his father balances admiration for his drive and political skills with occasional criticism of a public style that sometimes conveyed arrogance.

The second section recounts Cuomo's fall, and is perhaps the most humanizing part of the book. He details pulling out of the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary race against Carl McCall in the face of almost certain defeat, as well as his split from Kerry Kennedy — including the phone call from a New York Times reporter that informed him of his wife's decision to seek a divorce.

The pain from both losses was acute. "I was sad, angry, scared. Alone," Cuomo writes. "Separately, my political debacle and divorce were each devastating. Together, the combination felt dreadful."

He also writes about his relationship with his three daughters, and his attempts to become a more involved father. The third section recalls his triumphant election in 2010, with separate chapters devoted to the legalization of same-sex marriage, the passage of the SAFE Act gun control law and the ensuing backlash, and the responses to devastating storms, including tropical storms Irene and Lee and Superstorm Sandy.

With slightly less affection, Cuomo shares tales from his often contentious relations with the media.

"The press is increasingly challenged by their changing industry, which has made them desperate to grab scoops and 'make' news," he writes. "Some reporters live to create a scandal to get them on the front page. You are guilty until proven innocent."

One passage in particular created buzz among the Capitol press corps Tuesday: Cuomo makes brief mention of a story written by Ken Lovett of the Daily News during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign in which Lovett used information from a campaign strategy session he had listened in on after former Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto had unknowingly kept Lovett on the line after trying to decline his call.

"The story quoted liberally from our 'private meeting,' saying that we were strategizing counterattacks," Cuomo writes. "It was bad, but I saw it as just a bump on the campaign trail. It was almost funny."

He adds, "It was a curious stunt by Lovett, given that he was violating the New York criminal law against eavesdropping."

On Tuesday, Lovett recounted his version of the events on the Daily News' political blog. He wrote that he took notes, doing "what I felt most reporters would do." His attempt to seek on-the-record comment ultimately prompted a call from Cuomo himself warning that Lovett was breaking the law.

"I laughed then and I laughed now after reading it," Lovett wrote Tuesday. "I didn't plant listening devices. Just a call."

Unsurprisingly, Cuomo's book release received a cold reception from his Republican challenger Rob Astorino. The Westchester County executive posted a $1,000 reward to anyone who attends Cuomo's Wednesday book-signing at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan and asks him five specific questions — on video — about the Moreland Commission, a subject left out of the book's index.

By contrast, there are chapters about both marriage equality and the SAFE Act.

State Democrats countered with an offer of their own: $2,000 to any New Yorker who takes video of someone asking Astorino three questions about his refusal to release additional years of tax returns. 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Official accused of $24,000 theft from tribal kids

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/18/2014 - 1:07am

An official of the state Office for Children and Family Services was arrested Tuesday after allegedly stealing money that had been held in trust under treaty mandates for youths who were members of the Cayuga Nation in western New York.

Kim Thomas-Muffoletto, 56, of Getzville, was arrested Tuesday on a grand larceny count and arraigned in Buffalo City Court, said state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott.

Thomas-Muffoletto has been employed as a Native American affairs specialist and the director of Native American services for OCFS in that agency's facilities in Buffalo, the inspector general's office said.

OCFS had previously suspended Thomas-Muffoletto.

"The defendant's alleged actions were an egregious and deplorable abuse of her authority," Scott said. "She was entrusted with the safekeeping of funds belonging to children — and she violated that trust so she could pay her own personal expenses. This alleged misconduct was shameful and inexcusable."

Thomas-Muffoletto worked for Native American Services at OCFS since 1991. One of her duties was to administer trust fund accounts for select Cayuga Nation minors, which included moneys paid by the state to Nation members in accordance with treaty obligations. During the relevant period of this investigation, Thomas-Muffoletto was the only person with authority to deposit or withdraw money from the accounts.

The investigation found that between April 2007 and January 2014, Thomas-Muffoletto allegedly stole $24,687 from 15 accounts. She used money to pay personal expenses such as insurance and car payments. She also paid traffic fines for family members.

Thomas-Muffoletto admitted to the inspector general taking money from the trust accounts without the permission of OCFS and using the money for her personal benefit and the benefit of others.

She will return to court Nov. 14.


Categories: State/Local

Trip details aren't final

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/18/2014 - 1:07am


It's unclear if Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plans to travel to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the near future will involve any other elected officials.

Like jaunts to Ireland, Italy and Israel, a trip to the islands could be viewed as a standard stop for any New York governor keen to reach out to significant ethic groups.

Cuomo on Monday stressed that he hasn't finalized details of the upcoming trip. "I'd like to visit before Election Day just as a sign of respect to those communities," he said.

Also not yet finalized: Whether he'll be accompanied by members of the state Senate's Democratic conference with Puerto Rican or Dominican roots.

An informal poll suggested that none of the Senate's half-dozen Hispanic members who are either Puerto Rican or Dominican had been contacted about a possible trip.

"I would say, instead of going to Puerto Rico he should go to the South Bronx," said Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a socially conservative Democrat who grew up in Puerto Rico. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino accepted his endorsement at a recent meeting for ministers in the Bronx.

Other lawmakers who would comment said they didn't know of any plans to accompany the governor. To be sure, these senators are in safely Democratic districts, and none appear to face serious challenges in November. For New York City Democrats, the real battles are in the primaries.

And the question of who may or may not accompany the governor on an offshore trip is more about political alliances than ethnic identity.

When Cuomo made a 29-hour trip to Israel in August, he took Senate Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — both of whom are Jewish — as well as Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who is of Greek extraction. No members of the mainline Democratic conference went on the trip.

Cuomo this year has said he'll be working to bring the Senate Democrats into the majority, although his efforts have not yet been vigorous.

"Governors historically take care of their own needs," said Jerry Kremer, an assemblyman turned lobbyist. Most governors — including Mario M. Cuomo — "basically avoided getting down and dirty into street politics."

"He's really operating on his own level in this campaign, divorcing himself from a lot of the local stuff," Kremer added.

That's true even if "local" is a four-hour flight south.

While not expecting an invitation, Diaz said he would be happy to join the governor on a trip to Puerto Rico, where he would like to bring him to his hometown of Bayamon, and have lunch with the city's mayor. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Aid coming to 3 local land banks

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/18/2014 - 1:07am


In a Tuesday meeting with the Times Union's editorial board, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman made his case for another four-year term and briefly discussed the controversy over the Moreland Commission on public corruption.

The Democrat, who deputized many of the members of the prematurely mothballed panel as deputy attorneys general, has taken heat from his Republican opponent, John Cahill, for allegedly not doing enough to preserve its independence in the face of what's been widely reported as the Cuomo administration's attempts to steer the commission's activity.

Schneiderman reiterated that he couldn't talk about what happened within the commission, citing U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's ongoing probe into its operations and its findings.

"I thought the goals were laudable," he said of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to convene the panel.

"I deputized them, and then I treated it as an independent commission," he said.

Schneiderman demurred when asked if he would have preferred to see the commission complete its planned 18-month mission instead of being dismantled in late March.

"I know it's sort of frustrating sometimes to journalists — you guys all want to know everything — but there are really important reasons for confidentiality when there's an investigation," he said.

"I think at some point in time down the road I will be able to talk more about it," he said, "but I'm not going to compromise ongoing investigations."

On less controversial matters, Schneiderman said his partnership with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has borne fruit in dozens of corruption cases against public officials. It should, he noted, become a permanent part of the office's operation.

He said the amount of activity in the office was the result of years of effort tinkering with the different arms of the attorney general's operation.

"In the last year or so, I think all the bureaus are firing on all burners now — I look forward to doing more," he said.

Schneiderman discussed his settlements with large banks and financial services companies (including JPMorganChase, Citibank and Bank of America) including sums that are now being directed to homeowner protection programs.

He pointed to the support his office has offered to land banks, which battle blight by allowing communities to take ownership of dilapidated properties.

"The Capital Region has been more aggressive than any other part of the state" in that regard, Schneiderman said.

On Wednesday, the attorney general's office is slated to announce $20 million in additional funds for land banks statewide, including a two-year commitment of $3 million for the Capital Region Land Bank, which covers Schenectady and Amsterdam, to renovate 43 properties and demolish another 208 severely distressed parcels.

The Albany County Land Bank will receive $2.8 million over two years, funding the demolition of up to 20 blighted structures, the rehabilitation of a dozen properties, the initial stabilization of up to 40 homes, and the clearing of the same number of vacant lots for repurposing.

The Troy Community Land Bank, which received its designation only last month, will receive more than $1.25 million in this round of awards.

Categories: State/Local
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