The MTA and the union representing city subway and bus workers appear close to agreeing on a new contract more than two years after their last one expired. The 34,000 transit employees of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) are likely to receive a significant raise, according to officials. The Daily News reports it to be an 8 percent raise over five years. To help close the deal, the union has asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to get involved in the discussions. Talks between the MTA and the union began last fall, and the Authority appears to have backed off demands for a three year wage freeze after the union threatened to strike.
New from Gotham Gazette
Cornegy: Right the Economy Through Small Business - part 2 of a video interview of Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr. by Gotham Gazette
Park Equity Begins with a Better Public Budget
an op-ed by Tupper Thomas, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks
ICYMI from Gotham Gazette
Cornegy: My Bill Will Save Lives - part 1 of a video interview of Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr. by Gotham Gazette
New Rule Gives Homeless Added Time in Shelters (Capitol Confidential)
City Comptroller Launching Audit of Build it Back (Daily News)
Councilmember Asks Obama to Investigate Shooting (NY Observer)
Lawmakers Push for Higher Wages at Big Businesses (NY Observer)
Richard Ravitch Chronicles Life in Government (Times Union)
Fewer Commuters Take Cabs to Work: Study (NY Post)
New York's Long-Running War on Weed (Village Voice)
The Judeo-Christian holiday calendar, including Monday's beginning of Passover and the Easter observance, will make this a quiet period for state government:
The deadline falls for New Yorkers who own newly classified assault weapons to register them with the state according to the provisions of the SAFE Act gun control law. For more information, visit http://www.governor.ny.gov/nysafeact/gun-reform.
The New York state Department of State's Albany Regional Board of Review, which handles requests for variances to state building code, meets at 9:15 a.m. at the Department of State, 99 Washington Ave.
In an unsparing critique of Republicans, President Barack Obama on Friday accused the GOP of using voting restrictions to keep voters from the polls and of jeopardizing 50 years of expanded ballot box access for millions of black Americans and other minorities.
"The stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago," Obama said in a fiery speech at civil rights activist and television talk host Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference.
Obama waded into the debate over voting access in an election year where control of the Senate, now in the hands of Democrats, is at stake, as is Obama's already limited ability to push his agenda through Congress.
Republicans say the voting measures guard against voter fraud, but Democrats say they erode the landmark 1965 law that helped pave Obama's path in politics.
"Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote," he said, relating anecdotes of voters turned away because they didn't have the right identification or because they needed a passport or birth certificate to register.
"About 60 percent of Americans don't have a passport," he said. "Just because you can't have the money to travel abroad doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to vote here at home."
Obama's speech to a crowd of about 1,600 in a New York hotel ballroom came a day after he marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, where he praised President Lyndon Johnson's understanding of presidential power and its use to create new opportunities for millions of Americans.
Obama pinned efforts to curb access to the ballot box directly on the GOP, declaring that the effort "has not been led by both parties. It's been led by the Republican Party." Mocking the Republicans, he said, "What kind of political platform is that? Why would you make that a part of your agenda, preventing people from voting?"
Republicans have argued that they voter laws seek to safeguard the voting process and are not an attempt to limit Democratic turnout.
New York is inching toward legalizing some form of medical marijuana as support grows in the state Legislature and is likely to become one of a handful of issues taken up when lawmakers return later this month.
But it remains unclear where the drug would come from for either Gov. Andrew Cuomo's limited research program or broader, legalized use under a proposed medical marijuana bill.
Marijuana for clinical trials comes from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has a contract with the University of Mississippi to grow marijuana for studies, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said.
"Obtaining marijuana for research along these lines is notoriously difficult, but not impossible," said Gabriel Sayegh, the New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for a public health approach to drug abuse rather than relying on the criminal justice system.
A spokesman for Cuomo referred questions to the state's health department, which would oversee New York's medical marijuana program. A spokesman for the agency said this week that a "senior-level team" within the department was developing the framework for the research program, but calls seeking elaboration weren't returned.
It is unclear how particular strains of the drug could be brought into the state without violating federal law, which prohibits transporting marijuana across state lines. Calls made to the sponsors of the medical marijuana bill, Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, weren't returned.
In neighboring New Jersey, Tom Prendergast, a manager at one of that state's three dispensaries, said in an interview that the initial seeds and plants came from out of the state, but would not elaborate for legal reasons.
Advocates for the legalized medical marijuana say that the drug can ease nausea, appetite loss and pain associated with such illnesses as cancer, AIDS or epilepsy. Certain strains that are low in THC have also shown seizure-fighting properties, and in October, the FDA approved testing of a British pharmaceutical firm's marijuana-derived drug that contains a property that may combat seizures.
Savino, member of a group of breakaway Democrats that control the Senate with the Republicans, has said she has more than enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate. The Democratic-led Assembly has passed the bill.
A Siena poll released in March found that 47 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing marijuana while 31 percent support Cuomo's plan to allow medical marijuana research in 20 hospitals.
ALBANY — A 48-year-old parolee and registered sex offender was arrested after he allegedly approached a 15-year-old high school student and tried to get her into his car on Thursday, Albany police said Friday.
Carl Barton, 48, of Albany, was arrested shortly after the incident and charged with endangering the welfare of a child and third-degree stalking, according to police.
The girl told authorities that she was walking home from Albany High School when a vehicle pulled up alongside her on the 300 block of Ontario Street. The victim told officers that the driver of the car tried to engage her in conversation and asked her to get into the car but she ran for help instead.
Barton was arraigned in the Albany City Court and sent to the Albany County Jail, according to reports.
Police added that he is a Level II sex offender under the supervision of state Division of Parole until Jan. 25, 2018.
An early springtime sun was shining down on Seward Park as Mayor de Blasio introduced Mitchell Silver as New York City's next parks commissioner last month on the Lower East Side. It was an inspiring day for park advocates across the city, as both the mayor and incoming commissioner offered thoughtful, even-handed commentary centered on a clear goal: a fairer park system for all New Yorkers.
Now, with budget season upon us, we're pleased to see that the mayor's preliminary budget for parks not only baselines many of the important restorations made over the past few years, such as street-tree care and stump removal, but funds items up front that are usually subject to the annual budget dance, such as Playground Associates and seasonal workers to staff pools, among other facilities.
This good news gives the parks community the opportunity to turn its attention to the larger issue of addressing inequities across the park system – including at a city council hearing next Wednesday, April 23rd. The solution is complex and nuanced. While many of the large park conservancies are ready to work with the commissioner on bringing more private resources – financial and otherwise – to parks in need, it's clear, as council parks and recreation committee chair Mark Levine noted recently in the Huffington Post, that addressing inequities must begin with the public budget. There are several specific budget and policy reforms that the administration and its Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) can undertake in the name of equity and fairness.
On the expense side, fostering greater equity will require addressing the top concern of many local park advocates across the city: there simply isn't enough full-time staff assigned to the parks that need them most. Rather, 75 percent of DPR's maintenance staff is made up of Job Training Participants (JTP) who work at DPR up to six months but are almost never given an opportunity for permanent employment once their training is complete. "Almost as soon as they're really up to speed on the park, they cycle out," a local advocate told us recently. Her comment rings true across the city.
At the same time, many advocates tell us that having full-time staff – a familiar face in the park – goes a long way toward improving the overall park experience for users. These issues offer Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Silver an opportunity to both address park equity issues and create good entry-level jobs.
What would those jobs be, where would they make the most immediate impact, and how much money is needed to create them? A good place to start would be to create a neighborhood parks fund of $10 million, which would allow Commissioner Silver to work with the Council on a plan that really starts to address needs in underserved parks. Here are a few ways such a fund could be spent in high-need areas:
- $4 million for 100 full-time workers to staff playgrounds with comfort stations.
- $3 million for 50 skilled full-time gardeners to help maintain midsized neighborhood parks.
Our organization learned first-hand how important these positions are when we helped lead the Neighborhood Parks Initiative almost 10 years ago.
Not only would these new positions start making a difference for parks most in need right away, but they'd offer an opportunity for DPR's part-time workers to gain full-time employment through a new, robust training program to help transition JTP staff into full-time maintenance workers and gardeners.
- $3 million for park-tree pruning and stump removal. Though DPR has shortened its street-tree pruning cycle thanks to recent budget restorations, it still prunes very few park trees.
- $2 million would allow DPR to prune at least about 25,000 trees in parks: a good start toward a pruning cycle.
- An additional million dollars would allow DPR to remove approximately 4,000 more stumps.
There is also an opportunity to address park inequities through the capital budget. In recent years, the Department of Parks and Recreation has not had a meaningful discretionary budget to really enable it to plan for and fund capital projects over time across parks citywide. Rather, DPR has been reliant for funding for the majority of its projects on piecemeal discretionary allocations from city council members and borough presidents. Cobbling together allocations over multiple fiscal years from different elected officials is inefficient, leads to inequitable results, and often means the nuts-and-bolts needs of parks across the city fall through the cracks.
We are pleased to see that our call for increased discretionary capital funding, as highlighted in our Parks Platform 2013, seems to have been heard: the initial fiscal year 2015 budget contains a significant amount of capital funding for parks, and it appears to be at the discretion of Commissioner Silver. We call on the Council and administration to ensure that this funding remains in the final budget. At the same time, our recent research on improving the timeliness of capital construction shows that funding should be added to the budget for additional full-time positions in the capital division.
The introduction of Mitchell Silver, an urban planner, ushered in a new era not only for New York City's parks, but for its neighborhoods. After all, parks lie at the heart of city neighborhood life, in every corner of each borough – infrastructure as essential as housing, sewer lines and roads. The community building impact these spaces have extends far beyond their boundaries. Park issues are neighborhood issues.
As Commissioner Silver takes office, we're hopeful the administration and Council will supply him with the budgetary tools needed to really address inequity – and, in turn, lift the park system as a whole.
Tupper Thomas is the Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, an independent research and advocacy organization.
Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. at a council hearing (William Alatriste)
A few months into his first term as a member of the New York City Council, Brooklyn's Robert Cornegy Jr. has tapped into his experience in city government and community activism to embrace his role as chair of the Council's small business committee and pursue legislation to help those in his district and around the city. Recently, the council member, who represents Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights neighborhoods, sat down with Gotham Gazette to discuss two new pieces of legislation he has introduced to the Council, his role as committee chair, and much more.
In part one of the interview, Cornegy discusses his proposed amendment to the new paid sick leave law and his audible alarms bill.
In part two, Cornegy outlines his expectations of the new Department of Education leadership; his efforts to help small businesses, reduce unemployment and underemployment; and more with Gotham Gazette's executive editor Ben Max:
Stay tuned to Gotham Gazette for the other parts of our interview with the council member on a wide range of topics.
Video production generously donated to Gotham Gazette by GZIPUSA.HumanityCode.com
The NYPD has disbanded the controversial unit that spied on Muslims and reassigned its officers, officials said yesterday. The Demographics Unit, later renamed the Zone Assessment Unit, was a secret program that sent undercover officers into Muslim communities to build detailed records on them. No lead was ever generated from the extensive surveillance. The NYPD's chief spokesperson, Stephen Davis, said that information “probably could have been just as readily obtained through other community outreach programs.” Mayor Bill de Blasio had promised to discontinue the practice while he was running for office, and officials say the unit has been largely dormant since he was elected and appointed police commissioner Bill Bratton. Muslim groups welcomed the change but still worry that spying and information gathering will continue.
New from Gotham Gazette
Cornegy: My Bill Will Save Lives
In part one of a video interview, Brooklyn City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. discusses his latest legislation with Gotham Gazette.
Deportation Deferred: Why Are NYC's DACA Application Rates So Low?
Hayley Camacho reports on the barriers to immigrants applying for Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Why Democrats Have Turned Against Cuomo (The Atlantic)
Unpaid Interns Gain the Right to Sue (NY Times)
Espaillat and Rangel Neck-and-Neck in Money Race (NY Observer)
Cuomo's New Book Helped Boost His Salary to $358,000 (Daily News)
Cuomo Signs 'National Popular Vote' Bill (Associated Press)
The 5,700 employees of the state Unified Court System who are represented by the Civil Service Employees Association have reached agreement on a contract proposal that would run through March 2017.
The previous contract for this group — including clerks and court reporters as well as other administrative posts — expired in March 2011, leading to what the union in a Friday news release called "a long and challenging set of negotiations" with the state Office of Court Administration.
The agreement, if ratified by rank-and-file members, would bring 2 percent across-the-board salary increases in October, April 2015 and April 2016, as well as a $750 bonus in March 2017, when the contract would expire.
The deal would also move workers from a two-tiered longevity system to one with three tiers, and bring about a variety of more minor work rule changes.
"This was a very difficult negotiation that demonstrates a fair agreement can be reached when both labor and management work in good faith," said CSEA President Danny Donohue. "The result addresses management's need for long-term reform of the compensation structure while maintaining the rights and benefits of the CSEA members who work hard every day."
The deal also presents the possibility of a two-day payroll "lag" in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 state fiscal years "to avoid layoffs in the event that the (Unified Court System) budget is not approved by the state legislature and the governor as submitted."
CSEA-represented workers comprise approximately 40 percent of the court system's work force.
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MOHAWK — A Montgomery County man was arrested Friday for allegedly having sex with a child and trying to arrange for a youth to have sex with another man contacted over the Internet, State Police said.
David A. Andrews, 61, of Tribes Hill faces felony charges of rape, criminal sexual act, predatory sexual assault and a misdemeanor charge endangering the welfare of a child, police said.
Andrews made arrangements with a man online and provided the man with a child younger than 13 for sex, according to police reports, which cited two occasions.
Police also say Andrews engaged in sex with a child younger than 13 over several months.
Andrews was arraigned and jailed in lieu of $50,000 bail. He's due in court Tuesday.
State Police arrested two women for allegedly misrepresenting their incomes and household compositions to get food stamp and Medicaid benefits.
Nicole A. Cogswell, 32, of Cairo faces grand larceny, welfare fraud and filing a false instrument charges. Police said she fraudulently obtained Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid benefits totaling $14,818 between 2010 and 2013, officials said. She was arraigned and ordered to attend court at a later date.
In another case, Karyn A. Baker, 31, of Catskill, is accused of illegally getting $1,841 in SNAP and Medicaid benefits in 2012. She is charged with grand larceny, welfare fraud and offering a false instrument, police said. She was arraigned and must appear in court on May 1.
If Douglas MacArthur or Ulysses S. Grant attended the U.S. Military Academy today, they might be testing their defensive skills hunched in front of a computer screen.
A team of caffeine-fueled cadets is spending long days this week in a computer lab trying to fend off threats cooked up by experts at the National Security Agency. The annual Cyber Defense Exercise will determine which of the five service academies can create computer networks that can best withstand the four-day barrage.
The 14-year-old exercise lacks the lore of Army-Navy football but not the intensity. Not only does the exercise dovetail into the military's broader strategy of staying ahead of the curve in cyber operations, but the West Point cadets also relish the chance to test their computer skills against their peers.
"This is the Army-Navy game for our electrical engineering and computer science departments," said Cadet Jason DeCoursey of Little Rock, Ark.
DeCoursey was one of about 30 senior cadets crammed in a windowless computer lab at the academy on Wednesday. The exercise is essentially a high-tech game of capture the flag: The NSA team attempts to capture "tokens" embedded in the academies' networks. The academies for Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine compete.
An immigration reform rally (pbs.org)
On June 15, 2012, Kurt was interning at his mother's insurance brokerage firm in Long Island, having wrapped up a rigorous freshman year as a finance major in the Macaulay Honors Program at Baruch College. He got a text from his aunt saying, "Did you hear the news about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)?" Kurt went online and read about President Obama's immigration initiative that allows undocumented young adults who grew up in the United States a two-year deportation reprieve, work authorization, and the ability to obtain a driver's license. It was Obama's response to immigration reform stalling in Congress after the 2010 defeat of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
"I actually started crying," Kurt said. "I couldn't contain myself. Now there will be so much opportunity that will open up to me."
A twenty-one-year-old Guyana native, Kurt came to the United States when he was five years old. He has been active in the New York State Youth Leadership Council, lobbying and organizing for the recently defeated New York DREAM Act. Kurt attended a DACA orientation sponsored by Atlas DIY, an advocacy group for undocumented youth, and asked it's executive director, Lauren Burke, to handle his application. He was her first approval. This summer he will have an internship with JP Morgan.
Kurt is representative of the first wave of college bound and college enrolled "dreamers" who are invested in immigration reform and rushed to apply for the DACA program when it was launched nearly two years ago.
Nationally, applications for DACA peaked in October 2012, with 116,222 applications that month alone, but they have steadily dropped since, dipping to a total of 36,309 for the final three months of 2013. In New York City, an estimated 79,000 people may be eligible for DACA, 16,000 of whom lack the necessary education qualifications, notes the New York Legal Assistance Group, which provides free legal services to DACA applicants. According to immigration analysts and advocates, misunderstanding about eligibility and barriers that many immigrants face in meeting DACA's requirements are behind the drop and have kept a large segment of the city's immigrant population from applying.
The latest version of the federal DREAM Act, introduced on May 11, 2011, would allow students who came to the U.S. at age 15 or younger and at least five years before the date of the bill's enactment to qualify for conditional permanent resident status upon acceptance to college, graduation from a U.S. high school, or being awarded a high school equivalency certificate in the U.S.
The conditional permanent resident status would last six years and count toward the residency requirements for naturalization. During that time, unrestricted lawful permanent resident status would be granted if the applicant had graduated from a two-year college or certain vocational colleges, studied for at least two years toward a B.A. or higher degree, or served in the U.S. armed forces for at least two years.
The educational requirements for DACA are broader than those of the DREAM Act and reflect the range of immigrants' educational experiences. The memo that created DACA says that to qualify, a person must show, among other things, that he or she is "is currently in school, has graduated from high school, or has obtained a general education development certificate." U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has interpreted the "currently in school" language to include literacy and job training programs.
Still, for many immigrants, DACA is equated with the DREAM Act, the main beneficiaries of which would be college students. "People who were extremely plugged into the pro-immigration movement had the most to gain from DACA," said Dr. Arianna Martinez of LaGuardia Community College in Queens, who specializes in local impacts of immigration policy. "People who fit the age and other requirements about how long they've lived here but don't have a high school diploma and are working don't see themselves as eligible for DACA."
Along with eligibility confusion, the steep application fee of $465 has been another barrier, particularly in homes where more than one person is eligible. "If there's going to be a fee, it was hoped it would go toward a permanent solution that would lead to a green card or citizenship," said Bridget Splain, Project Coordinator, Office of New Americans Opportunity Center at Mercy Center in Mott Haven, the Bronx.
It's this segment of the city's immigrant population, the under-educated and poor youth, that the New York City Council set out to reach through its January infusion of an additional $18 million into literacy education and high school equivalency (HSE) programs specifically for undocumented immigrants. The funds also cover the cost of legal assistance and DACA application fees, as well as outreach efforts by community organizations.
Betsy Plum, Outreach Coordinator for the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), is working with over 200 immigrant services organizations to get the word out about DACA. Where in the past immigrant services groups rarely connected with each other, NYIC is liaising to increase awareness of the range of services offered throughout the five boroughs.
"It's really wonderful to get adult education, legal providers and outreach providers all in one room and say, "How do you navigate the issues with someone who would legally qualify for DACA if you can get them into an adult education class?" said Plum. "It's making connections with different programs, knowing that program X is really great for individuals who work nights."
Reaching the "hard to reach" involves a mix of traditional and newer tactics such as posting flyers in native languages, advertising in the immigrant press and using social media. "We have a YouTube channel with 2 or 3-minute segments where we answer people's questions about DACA and it's utilized by a lot of older people who can't go to a workshop at 2 o'clock in the afternoon but they can access the internet 24 hours a day," said Atlas DIY's Burke.
There's also a lot of pavement pounding. Outreach workers who speak the target population's language and are often from the same country go to Mexican day-laborer sites, Chinese restaurants in Sunset Park and Korean churches in Flushing.
For education providers, the additional City funding has already made a difference in meeting the huge demand for free English as a Second Language (ESL) services and high school equivalency education that many foreign-born seek. The Highbridge Community Life Center in the Bronx has been able to add three additional ESL and HSE classes. "Where we're located in the Bronx, there's a large immigrant population and there is always more demand than what we can provide," said director Echo Shumaker-Pruitt.
The Chinese American Planning Council, located in the heart of Chinatown on Elizabeth Street has also been able to expand its ESL services. "Yes, we're offering more classes due to the City Council funding," said Simon Chiew, Director of the Workforce Development Division. "We can offer over 100 more slots this year."
Pruitt added that while they offer the necessary educational services to help individuals qualify for DACA, it's not up to the educational providers to determine eligibility. "We just take people that have the potential of being eligible because they meet the age requirement, then we refer them to legal providers who determine if they are eligible for DACA if that is something they're interested in pursuing," Pruitt said. "There might be some people who are interested in DACA but maybe they can apply for citizenship or a green card."
Another hurdle the DACA-eligible face is difficulty establishing continuous residency in the United States, something that is less an issue for younger applicants still living with parents. "As an undocumented person the number one thing you learn is you have to stay in the shadows and try not to establish a paper trail of your presence here," said Elisa Gahng, Staff Attorney with MinKwon Center For Community Action in Flushing. "Now in order to apply for DACA you have to prove your presence through documentation."
Finding documents that prove continuous residence can take some ingenuity. "We've used sonograms, mammograms, birth certificates of children born in the U.S. and children's vaccination records," said Splain.
The current policy is that individuals whose cases are under consideration for DACA will not be referred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The policy also covers the applicant's family members and guardians.
"One of our jobs is to make sure we inform people so that they really understand what this process is," said Splain. "Certainly people are anxious, but once they understand how the process works, I don't feel that fear is at the forefront. There's more hope than fear."
The extra City Council funding and the push by outreach and education groups to inform potential applicants is paying off. "There are just 21 counties throughout the country that had more than 1,000 applicants in the first months after DACA's 2012 launch, Martinez said. "NYIC told me they've screened 650 new people since the funding got rolled out just a few months ago. That's pretty good when I think about it in that larger context."
Although DACA recipients are ineligible for health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, NYIC sponsors workshops on how to access New York State Medicaid and other local healthcare resources. "It's not just you got your DACA, so now go about your business," said Martinez.
Martinez added that immigrant outreach organizations are working beyond DACA for more comprehensive immigration reform. "It's very important to a lot of community-based organizations that while they're trying to process more people into DACA, they're simultaneously pushing for the New York DREAM Act. There's concern about what happens when we've helped all these people move through ESL or the HSE and then we want to help them move toward higher education and they just can't afford it. It's important and connected." The recently defeated version of the New York DREAM Act would have expanded state tuition assistance to DACA recipients and undocumented students.
For 30-year old DACA applicant Angel, inability to afford costs without access to State aid caused his college plans to derail. "I had to stop attending college because I couldn't afford it so I was forced to work," he said.
The Dominican Republic native came to the United States at the age of 9 for what he thought would be a visit with his parents. Once here, his parents told him the U.S. would be his new home.
Angel said that during his elementary and high school years his parents encouraged him to study, but as he neared the end of high school, he realized that his immigration status was an issue that needed to be resolved.
Angel now works part-time off the books teaching martial arts to high school students in his Brooklyn neighborhood. He hopes to resume his college studies and major in architecture once his DACA application is accepted.
"DACA will give me work authorization and I'll pay taxes," he said. "That will be just a start. I'll be able to find a better job, get paid a little more, save money, go back to school, get a degree. I think that's perfect."
by Hayley Camacho for Gotham Gazette
CM Robert Cornegy Jr discussing his audible alarms bill (William Alatriste)
A few months into his first term as a member of the New York City Council, Brooklyn's Robert Cornegy Jr. has tapped into his experience in city government and community activism to embrace his role as chair of the Council's small business committee and pursue legislation to help those in his district and around the city. Recently, the council member, who represents Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights neighborhoods, introduced two pieces of legislation to the Council: an amendment to the new paid sick leave law to ease the burden on small businesses devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and a bill that calls for audible alarms on the outward-leading doors of schools housing students in pre-K to fifth grade or District 75 (special needs) students.
Council Member Cornegy sat down with Gotham Gazette to discuss these two pieces of legislation and much more. In part one of the interview, Cornegy discusses these two initiatives with Gotham Gazette's executive editor Ben Max:
Stay tuned to Gotham Gazette for the other parts of our interview with the council member on a wide range of topics.
New York State and the federal government have come to a deal to use $8 billion in Medicaid savings to, in part, help revive Brooklyn hospitals. Struggling hospitals will receive $500 million of the funds for short-term survival, while $6.42 billion will go to help hospitals and other institutions across the state find long-term solutions. Brooklyn hospitals including Interfaith Medical Center, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center and Brookdale University Hospital are expected to be saved by the funds. Mayor Bill de Blasio made saving Brooklyn’s hospitals one of his major campaign platform planks. Last summer, De Blasio was arrestedprotesting the closure of Long Island College Hospital, which is still open. A tentative deal on the Medicaid savings was reached between the feds and the State in February, but a final agreement was announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "We will finally be able use the billions in savings we generated by reforming the state's Medicaid system to protect and improve health care services for millions of New Yorkers," Cuomo said in a statement.
The latest from Gotham Gazette
The Week Ahead in New York Politics A preview of what to expect this week from New York City and from Albany. De Blasio 100: What the Mayor Said, and Didn't Analysis of Mayor de Blasio's hundredth day speech, which was titled "On the Future of New York City" Kill Fee: The Price of Silencing Moreland A look at how much the now-disbanded Moreland Commission on Public Corruption cost New York taxpayers and what they may get for the investment.
Other Stories We're Following
Moreland Chair Defends Commission (Daily News)
Cuomo Staffer Wrote Moreland's Report (City & State )
Mark-Viverito Still Hasn't Opened Bronx Office (NY Observer)
Landlords to Repay Over $1 Million in Fees (NY Times)
Espaillat Picks Up Bronx Endorsements (NY Times)
Cuomo Accepts Pro-Charter Role (Times Union)
We've heard of Storm Recovery funds to help communities rebuild after events like Hurricane Irene or Superstorm Sandy.
Now, there are Pothole Dollars.
The funding stream is dubbed Extreme Weather Recovery and the Capital Region will get more than $2 million in the recently approved 2014-15 state budget to help rebuild the area's winter-battered roads.
That's the region's share of a $40 million addition to the state's $438 million road and bridge fund, called CHIPS or Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program.
The money isn't explicitly earmarked to fill potholes. But local lawmakers last month started pushing for the extra money because the unusually cold and snowy winter had turned many local roads to rubble.
"This past winter took its toll on New York's infrastructure, but the state is stepping up to help municipalities make necessary repairs," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in statement.
The decision to add the funding was made before the budget was finished, but the governor announced the breakdown of how much will go to the various counties, cities and towns in the state on Thursday. "These resources will go a long way toward helping local governments sturdy their infrastructure for future winters.''
The money is being allocated using the same formulas that distribute the regular highway funds.
Lawmakers are not in session next week.
Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk of Duanesburg earlier in the week said she's driven more than 20,000 miles in her 46th district, which runs from the Amsterdam area down past Kingston.
Local highway budgets, she said, "were already being wiped out by overtime payments for plow drivers, as well as the costs of road salt."
GOP Sen. Greg Ball, from the lower Hudson Valley urged people to list potholes on his website.
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A downstate lawyer has gone to federal court seeking an injunction against Tuesday's deadline for a key provision of the SAFE Act gun control law to take effect.
"We're not challenging the ban," Robert La Reddola said of the 2013 law that outlaws certain kinds of assault style weapons and sets an April 15 deadline by which owners must register such guns if they were "grandfathered'' or purchased before the ban took effect last year.
"But there is some really bad stuff in there that has come to light," La Reddola said of the law.
He believes the law and accompanying guidelines for its enforcement would allow local authorities to go to a home and confiscate non-assault weapons such as hunting rifles or shotguns if that person were to be denied a pistol permit or have one revoked, or if the owner had difficulty keeping the grandfathered assault weapons.
New York requires locally issued permits to own handguns under a law that has been in place for years.
But La Reddola believes the SAFE Act opens the door for allowing police to piggyback confiscation of so-called "long guns" like shotguns or hunting rifles if an owner loses a pistol permit.
That, he maintains, is a violation of due process rights because a gun owner should have a hearing or legal proceeding before those guns are confiscated.
"If you do register an assault rifle and already lost or surrendered a pistol license ... you are now subject to mandatory removal of all rifles and shotguns," La Reddola said in a web post on his injunction request.
"Some supervision by a court needs to take place prior to police enforcement.''
He has filed an application for a restraining order in federal Eastern District Court against the deadline.
La Reddola filed on behalf of Gabriel Razzano, a Freeport, Long Island, man who lost his pistol permit and numerous rifles that police took from his home after he had a run-in in 2007 with U.S. Rep Carolyn Maloney outside her offices.
Razzano, according to court papers, had 15 registered handguns as well as nine rifles and shotguns. He was member of the anti-immigrant "Minute Man" movement and kept a noose in his minivan.
The courts found that police violated his 14th Amendment rights to due process when they took his rifles and shotguns as well as his handguns after that license was revoked.
La Reddola stressed that his case focuses on due process rather than the Second Amendment.
Part of the problem, he said, stems from inconsistency in how handgun permits are issued in New York.
They are generally issued by judges upstate, but police oversee the permits in some downstate jurisdictions including Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk counties.
"New York state is a patchwork of local laws for pistols," he said, while the SAFE Act covers the entire state.
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State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah, the man at the center of growing frustration over the state's failure to rule on a controversial form of gas drilling, is telling people he will leave his post in June, a state official said.
Shah, a Buffalo native, is leaving to become senior vice president and chief operating officer for clinical operations for the southern California region of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, the official said.
Shah's pressing business will be handed off to Dr. Howard Zucker, who joined the Department of Health as first deputy commissioner in September after working as a professor of anesthesiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist at Montefiore Medical Center.
Zucker's portfolio will include the agency's 18-month review of the potential health impacts of the gas-drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking.
That review began in September 2012 with no set end date.
Shah's departure is said to have been in the works for some time, and he began notifying people of his decision on Tuesday night, the official said.
But news of it broke on the same day that Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino called on him to step down over the Health Department's alleged lax approach to inspecting abortion clinics and over Shah's refusal to say when the department's hydrofracking review will be complete.
Amid mounting frustration from pro-fracking interests who insist Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration is squandering the chance to capitalize on the economic boom of shale gas drilling, Shah has insisted the study will take as long as is necessary and will be transparent "at the end, not during" — a statement that only further incensed his critics.
Shah is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale School of Medicine. He was tapped for the post shortly after Cuomo took office in January 2011. He came to the job having studied ways to improve care by digitizing patients' medical records.
To that end, the state budget adopted last week by the Legislature includes $65 million to continue the development of a statewide electronic medical records system.
Howie Hawkins of the state Green Party is pitching himself as the only truly independent gubernatorial alternative on the left side of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who in recent months has received brickbats from some progressive advocates.
After four years, "I think there's a lot more discontent with Cuomo among certain constituencies," Hawkins said at a Wednesday news conference at the Capitol. "Teachers feel disrespected; state workers feel under attack; parents are really upset about Common Core and this whole agenda."
Hawkins' platform, a "Green New Deal" that's largely carried over from his 2010 run for governor, offers a sweeping progressive and environmental wish list. It ranges from a modern Works Project Administration-style job corps to fight unemployment and the implementation of a single-payer health care system to tuition-free higher education and a shift to 100 percent clean energy by 2030.
Hawkins also wants to see a "Clean Money" system for public financing of elections that goes a step beyond the plan pushed by Cuomo and other Democrats. While that plan creates a 6-1 public match of small-donor contributions, Hawkins' plan would make non-matchable private donations off-limits to candidates.
"The bottom two-thirds of us really have a hard time making ends meet, and our political representatives — representing the 1 percent, the big banks and the corporations — have utterly failed to solve these problems," said Hawkins, a longtime activist who maintains his day job as a worker at UPS in Syracuse.
Hawkins had a message for members of the state Working Families Party, another progressive party that's reportedly contemplating fielding a candidate.
"I think they should run against Cuomo," Hawkins said of the WFP. "I think they should nominate me."
He said this would require the Green Party to change its rules to allow him to accept cross-endorsement from a party that also cross-endorses Democrats and Republicans.
"We're ready to talk" with the WFP, Hawkins said. "Unfortunately, I think their whole strategy is to be a lobby within the Democratic Party. ... It's going to be hard for some of their leaders to come out against Cuomo."
In the 2010 election for governor, Hawkins pulled almost 60,000 votes — enough to win his party a ballot position for four years — while the WFP followed its habit of cross-endorsing the Democratic candidate, drawing 155,000 Cuomo votes on its line.
Without naming names, Hawkins referred to third parties that engage in "political ventriloquism — where we say, 'Vote for the old parties on our line and we'll send them a message.' I think the message to the politicians is, 'We can take (those voters) for granted: They're going to vote for us anyway.'"
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Politicos are marveling at the fact that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing a problem he can’t make easily go away now that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has seized the files of The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption and made clear that he is willing to investigate the governor’s influence on the commission as well as broader legislative corruption. Capital New York writes that Cuomo won’t be able to disembowel Bharara like he has his political rivals in the Democratic Party because Bharara’s position is so powerful and independent of the governor. Members of Moreland continue to speak anonymously about the Cuomo Administration’s meddling and “bullying” and a group has launched an ad blitz attacking Cuomo for abandoning his fight against corruption. The trouble comes for Cuomo as he gears up for reelection and tries to keep the dissatisfied Working Families Party from endorsing a challenger on his left. Cuomo already faces the criticism of Republican opponent Rob Astorino and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, as well as good government groups and other activists.New this morning from Gotham Gazette The Week Ahead in New York Politics A preview of what to expect this week from New York City and from Albany. ICYMI from Gotham Gazette De Blasio 100: What the Mayor Said, and Didn't Analysis of Mayor de Blasio's hundredth day speech, which was titled "On the Future of New York City" Kill Fee: The Price of Silencing Moreland A look at how much the now-disbanded Moreland Commission on Public Corruption cost New York taxpayers and what they may get for the investment.
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