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Democrat opens bid for Skelos seat

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 10:07pm


Todd Kaminsky, a freshman assemblyman from Long Island's south shore, made official Sunday a bid for the state Senate seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

The former federal prosecutor, a Democrat, was immediately endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said Kaminsky "fought to uphold the law and bring justice to those who break it as a former federal prosecutor, and he's continued that commitment by fighting for stronger ethics laws in the state legislature."

Cuomo on Saturday called a special election for the seat for April 19, which will coincide with the presidential primaries and special elections for three Assembly seats, including former Speaker Sheldon Silver's. (Silver lost his seat after his November conviction on corruption charges)

"We are at a pivotal moment for Long Island and for New York," Kaminsky said. "If we don't fix what's wrong with our government, we will not be able to fix what's wrong with our cities, villages and towns. Today is when we start. Today we stand together to bring integrity back to Albany, to take our government back, and to make it work for Long Islanders."

Kaminsky faces Republican Christopher McGrath, a personal injury lawyer and former Nassau County Bar Association president who was picked by Nassau County Republicans as their candidate last week.

Kaminsky's official announcement was far from unexpected. He has telegraphed his intention to run for the seat since Skelos lost his seat upon his conviction following a federal corruption trial in December.

Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif bashed Kaminsky in a statement ahead of the afternoon announcement.

"While he presents himself as a reformer, the reality is he's a fraud and a phony who supported Sheldon Silver," said Reif, who also tied Kaminsky to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a go-to Senate GOP talking point.

The Senate's 32-vote majority currently teeters by a vote onto the Republican side. Given the math, a Kaminsky victory in April would not necessarily flip the majority back to Democrats unless new agreements were struck between mainline Democrats, the Independent Democratic Conference (which has a coalition with the GOP) and Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who votes with the Republicans. A rock-solid agreement is highly unlikely ahead of the November legislative elections.

Between now and November, Capitol observers will watch closely what kind of help Cuomo gives to Kaminsky and Senate Democratic candidates after extending limited support to them in 2014. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Cuomo's 2014 running mate, told reporters last week she would not predict what kind of support the administration will offer.

Support from Cuomo doesn't necessarily signal eventual victory. The governor lined up behind Democrat Barbara Fiala, his former Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, in the 2015 special election for a Southern Tier Senate seat, yet Fiala lost to Republican Fred Akshar.

Cuomo's endorsement on Long Island may go further than it did in the Southern Tier. Separate October Siena College polls showed that while just 37 percent of voters in the Southern Tier Senate district viewed Cuomo favorably, he was viewed favorably by 56 percent of voters across Nassau County. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Billboards aid corruption fight

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 10:07pm


Each workday, thousands of state workers commute from their suburban neighborhoods to the many state buildings scattered throughout New York's capital city. Based on Albany's remarkable penchant for corruption, odds are that at least a few of them have a story the feds would be interested in hearing.

That's where the billboards come in.

Authorities have turned to using digital billboards along the interstate to urge citizens to report crooked politicians, dirty bureaucrats and other bad actors, the latest indication of just how big a problem political corruption has become in Albany.

The signs, which went up earlier this year, are emblazoned with the words "REPORT CORRUPTION," all in capital letters, above the number for a telephone tip line and FBI website. They went up only weeks after the Legislature's two top leaders were convicted of trying to cash in on their positions.

The idea came from the New York Public Corruption Task Force, which includes the FBI, the state comptroller and the state attorney general.

"Public corruption erodes New Yorkers' faith in their government and in our shared commitment to equal justice under law," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement issued in response to questions about the billboard. "I am committed to working with my partners in law enforcement to crack down on public corruption."

Billboards have long been used to locate fugitives and missing children, or warn about the risks of domestic violence, drunken driving and child abuse. Their use in the fight against corruption, however, is a relatively new idea.

"We got a call from the local field office, and we worked with them to design it," said Matt Duddy, vice president and general manager in the region for Lamar Advertising, which operates the billboards and offered the space for free.

The FBI tried out anti-corruption billboards last year in Kentucky and Connecticut.

Albany, where more than 30 lawmakers have faced criminal charges or left office because of allegations of ethical misconduct, would seem to be an obvious choice.

Last year, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon and ex-Senate Leader Dean Skelos, R-Long Island, were convicted of corruption. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was found guilty of taking more than $4 million in bribes. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, was convicted of extorting payments and jobs for his son.

Authorities involved in the effort say the billboards are just one example of an increasingly creative, collaborative effort to address a problem long seen as intractable.

"By cooperating and sharing our diverse expertise and resources, we've created a strong collaboration to fight public corruption," said state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Authorities won't say whether they've seen an uptick in tips since the signs went up, or whether they've led to new investigations. Evidence from other states, however, suggests the signs could yield results: the Police department in Janesville, Wis., reported calls tripled after the department started putting information about wanted suspects and anti-crime messages on billboards.

In New York, the tip line is 518-431-7200 and the website is

Categories: State/Local

Joe Biden joins Cuomo to push for paid family leave

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 10:07pm


Speaking at times in starkly personal terms, Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined Vice President Joe Biden on Friday to headline a rally pushing the governor's plan for a Paid Family Leave law that would provide New Yorkers with 12 weeks to care for loved ones, from newborns to aged parents.

The talk extended Cuomo's outreach to progressives and expanded on a key point in his State of the State address. Just four months ago, Cuomo and Biden teamed up to push for a $15 minimum wage. While a boost in the wage may be the centerpiece of Cuomo's legislative agenda this year, the governor is also pressing for a paid leave law, which organized labor and progressives have been seeking for years.

The men spoke at a New York City YMCA before a crowd of activists, parents and union members as well as other elected officials.

Both Cuomo and Biden have suffered personal losses over the past year: The governor's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, died on Jan. 1, 2015; Biden's son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died at age 46 after a battle with brain cancer on May 30.

Both alluded to those events, saying paid leave would allow families to spend precious time with dying loved ones.

"If you have a family member who is passing away, you should be there," Cuomo said. "I know the feeling. I went through it last year with my father. That is the time you need to say things that need to be said. You should have that option in life.''

Biden said, "How do you choose between leaving the bedside of your dying son or daughter who doesn't want you to leave, who just wants you to hang on?''

" ... If you don't go to work for a while, you may not be able to turn the lights on," Biden said.

Model and activist Christy Turlington Burns, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Sen. Jeff Klein joined Cuomo and Biden.

Klein's IDC remains aligned with the Senate's majority Republicans. While the Democrat and his swing conference have identified paid family leave as a priority, it remains unclear if the Senate GOP would support it in its current proposed form.

GOP Majority Leader John Flanagan has previously said he supports the concept, but has cautioned that he doesn't want to impose undue costs on businesses. GOP staffers repeated the position on Friday.

Under Cuomo's proposal, the cost of leave could be supported by an employee payroll deduction.

Workers using the benefit would get 35 percent of their pay beginning in 2018, with that amount rising to 50 percent by 2021.

Business advocates worry about the associated costs and the burden it could impose on small operations.

"There's a difference between a guy that has four people working for him at the corner deli and the CEO of a major corporation,'' said Mike Durant, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. He also worried that the cost could drive up disability insurance rates since it might be funded from the state's disability funds.

The entire topic, Durant added, has "a lot of moving parts."

At times, Cuomo and Biden sounded like they were channeling the sort of voter anger coursing through the presidential election. (Biden pondered running, but announced in October he would sit out the contest.)

"Working men and women are angry," Cuomo said. "More than angry, they are frustrated. They are scared. They feel they've been abandoned. They feel they are on their own."

"The rich are getting richer and the working men and women of this country are going backward," he said.

Biden noted that according to current measurements, only 49 percent of the U.S. population is considered to be middle class.

While federal law has included a family leave component since the 1990s, an estimated 40 percent of the workforce is excluded due to various exemptions.


Categories: State/Local

Feds: Don't drink water

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 10:07pm


The federal Environmental Protection Agency is advising Rensselaer County residents whose private water wells show a toxic substance in excess of 100 parts per trillion that they should not drink their water or cook with it.

In a statement Thursday afternoon issued in response to a Times Union query, the EPA said people in the Town of Hoosick and the Village of Hoosick Falls whose water shows levels of perfluorooctanoic acid higher than 100 ppt should take advantage of free bottled water that has been made available at Tops Market in Hoosick Falls.

A few hours later, a state Department of Health spokesman said the agency would use the EPA's guidance as it conducts its "risk analysis to determine an appropriate health guidance value."

PFOA is a man-made chemical used to make nonstick and other household and commercial products that are heat-resistant and repel grease and water.

Under an agreement reached with the EPA a decade ago, major PFOA makers have phased out its use. Exposure to PFOA has been linked to a range of adverse health effects, including cancer and thyroid disease.

Although the source of the contamination has not been identified, officials have focused on the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant, which is located near several wells that supply Hoosick Falls' water treatment plant. The company is the community's largest employer.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration took action to designate the Saint-Gobain plant as a Superfund site, a status that allows the state to fast-track environmental remediation and legal actions.

At a Wednesday news conference announcing the move, DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker repeatedly said his agency would start with a safety baseline of 400 ppt safety measure, the EPA's maximum allowable level for short-term PFOA exposure, as it began its health assessment of the contamination.

"We're going to work from there and identify what point how far down we're going to go," Zucker said.

On Thursday, the agency said it would use the 100 ppt metric determined by the EPA.

Several wells around the community have shown elevated levels of PFOA. Saint-Gobain recently recorded levels of 18,000 ppt in the groundwater under its McCaffrey Street plant.

The EPA advised that residents in the town and village whose water has not yet been tested should contact the state Department of Health. Until testing takes place, the free bottled water should be used for drinking and cooking.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer on Thursday released a letter he sent to Tom Kinisky, president and CEO of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, calling on the company to comply with all state and federal actions.

"While it is possible within the enforcement process to stall for time, to litigate, to stonewall, to stall and to frustrate — as other polluting companies have chosen that route — the urgency of this situation cries out against Saint-Gobain using that option," Schumer wrote. "From experience in other similarly-impacted communities in New York, I know that working cooperatively and transparently to confront this challenge is in the best interests of both the people of Hoosick Falls and Saint-Gobain."

Also Thursday, the personal injury law firm Weitz & Luxenberg announced it would bring environment activist Erin Brockovich, who works as a consultant for the firm, to the beleaguered area.

Brockovich's work on behalf of plaintiffs who brought suit against Pacific Gas & Electric in the 1990s was dramatized in a 2000 film starring Julia Roberts. She has worked with Weitz & Luxenberg before, on projects that included a 2009 visit to Ravena to discuss mercury emissions from a concrete plant.

On Saturday, Brockovich and a team of Weitz & Luxenberg attorneys will tour the community and host a public meeting in nearby Bennington, Vt.

Until last year, Weitz & Luxenberg employed former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as an "of counsel" attorney. Federal prosecutors successfully argued in a November trial that Silver did no actual legal work for the firm outside of attracting mesothelioma patients from a physician who received legislative favors from the powerful Manhattan Democrat.

The firm itself was never charged with wrongdoing. Silver, who took a leave of absence from Weitz & Luxenberg following his arrest last January, is appealing his conviction on seven counts.

Brendan Lyons and Rick Karlin contributedcseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619

Categories: State/Local

The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 1-5

Gotham Gazette - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 12:00am

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday February 5, 2016

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: In Iowa, Mayor de Blasio makes calls on behalf of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, via @Chirlane; De Blasio delivers his State of the City address, via Michael Appleton, Mayor's Office; De Blasio tours the downtown Manhattan site of a crane collapse, via Ed Reed, Mayor's Office.


1. State of the City: Mayor de Blasio emphasized building strong neighborhoods and city management during his third State of the City address on Thursday, and focused on acknowledging the work of everyday New Yorkers and the city’s uniformed workforce, and improving conditions across the five boroughs. New initiatives highlighted during the speech include a streetcar running along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, development on Governor’s Island, a new private sector employee retirement fund, and a $91 million investment to revitalize Far Rockaway. [Read: De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision & Muslim Immigrant Family of NYPD Captain to Lead Pledge of Allegiance at State of the City]

2. Council Votes on Raises, Reforms: On Friday, the City Council approved a package of legislation to raise the salaries of all the the city’s elected officials and reform how Council members are compensated. The reforms, including eliminating stipends for chairing committees and making the position full time, have been praised, yet the higher than recommended salary increase the Council is seeking and the timing of the vote have been criticized. [Read: Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms]

3. Critical Time for Housing Plan: On Wednesday, the City Planning Commission passed two major components of Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, sending them to the City Council, which will hold two hearings on the proposals next week. The two proposals - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability - have received mixed reactions and aim to adjust the city’s zoning codes to allow what the administration says will be more responsible development. At the same time on the state level, calls for Governor Cuomo to move on new program to incentivize affordable housing production continue. [Read: Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council & Calls for Public Discussion of New Affordable Housing Incentive Program]

4. Horse Carriage Deal Collapses: Mayor de Blasio’s controversial plan to shrink the horse carriage industry collapsed after facing intense criticism from several sides, including the horse-carriage drivers, pedicab drivers, park advocates, Council members, union leaders, animal-rights activists, and more. After the Teamsters union withdrew its support for the deal, the City Council cancelled its scheduled vote on the plan.

5. Subway Slashings: In the wake of several separate slashings in the subways in January, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced Wednesday that the NYPD will now wake up sleeping straphangers. Transit crime was up 36 percent in January, according to Bratton. Speaking on Hot 97 radio, Mayor de Blasio said there is no pattern to the random attacks and pointed to an overall downward trend in crime.

$148,500 is the new salary for City Council members, up from $112,500, and $10,185 higher than the $138,315 salary a commission tasked with reviewing the compensation levels of elected officials recommended, Gotham Gazette reports. (The salaries of the Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents, and District Attorneys will all increase too)

21,401 open code violations at homeless shelters around the city at the end of 2015, an overdue report released by Mayor de Blasio shows.

6.4% increase in the number of jobs in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx from the end of 2013 through the middle of 2015, the Daily News reports.

$91 million will be invested to revitalize Far Rockaway, DNAinfo reports.

$2.5 billion is the estimated pricetag for a new streetcar that will run between Brooklyn and Queens along the East River, the Times reports.

89% of New Yorkers say corruption in the state government in Albany is a serious problem, according to the a Siena poll.

It was a good week for New York City’s elected officials, all of whom will receive at least a 12 percent salary increase after the City Council approves a package of legislation Friday that will enact the raises (although Mayor de Blasio will not accept a raise for the duration of his term).

It was a bad week for City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been widely criticized after he called the $36,000 raise he and other Council members are about to get a “big compromise,” and insisted that they “deserved” to make $175,000. Rodriguez was also the sponsor of the horse carriage bill, which fell apart this week and has also been the source of much controversy.

Around this time 103 years ago, on February 2, 1913, about 150,000 people visited Grand Central Terminal for its opening day. Now, about 750,000 people visit Grand Central every day for travel, dining or shopping.

Around this time 4 years ago, on February 2, 2012, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by police officers in the bathroom of the apartment Graham lived in with his family. The officers followed Graham into his home from a bodega after they thought they saw Graham with a gun. No gun was found, and the officer who shot Graham had the manslaughter charges against him dropped. On the anniversary of Graham’s death, his parents delivered a letter to City Hall officials urging Mayor de Blasio to fire the NYPD officer who shot Graham.

Around this time 52 years ago, on February 3, 1964, 460,000 students refused to go to school in order to protest the segregation of New York City’s schools. Students gathered and chanted “Jim Crow must go!” in front of the Board of Education building, calling for immediate action to be taken to desegregate the schools.

Around this time 17 years ago, on February 4, 1999, West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed by police officers in the entrance of his Bronx apartment building after the officers mistakenly believed Diallo was the serial rapist they were searching for, and that he was reaching for a gun. Diallo, 23, had no gun and was in fact reaching for his wallet when four NYPD officers fired 41 shots, hitting him 19 times. His death sparked demonstrations against racial profiling and unfair treatment by the police. The four officers involved were eventually acquitted of all charges.


De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision, by Ben Max

Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council, by Maggie Calmes

Calls for Public Discussion of New Affordable Housing Incentive Program, by David Howard King

After Iowa: Debates & Voting Dates Until New York, by Ben Max

Muslim Immigrant Family of NYPD Captain to Lead Pledge of Allegiance at State of the City, by Samar Khurshid

Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms, by Meg O'Connor

Planning Commission Vote Will Send Zoning Proposals to City Council, Ben Max

As Council Begins Oversight, McCray Reports Progress in Mental Health Roadmap Implementation, by Meg O'Connor

What To Do When the L Train Closes, by Alex Armlovich (opinion)

As Federal Aid System Advances, Our Outdated Way Leaves New York Students Behind, by Sue Mead and Kevin Stump (opinion)

The City's Next Steps to Ensure Vibrant, Creative Communities, by Adam Forman (opinion)

A Good Deal for Horses, by Allie Feldman (opinion)

Reducing Organic Waste Without Increasing Costs, by Carol Kellermann (opinion)

To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers, by Lauren Hersh (opinion)

Four Decades of Dedication: City Limits’ Story, by Jarrett Murphy ( City Limits)

Homeless Young Adults Can Fall through a Crack in Shelter System, by Genia Gould (City Limits)

40 Stories, 40 Years: City Limits and the History of Today's New York City, by Jarrett Murphy (City Limits)

Council Member Brad Lander spoke with Errol Louis on NY1 to explain raising Council members' salaries and to discuss the controversy surrounding it.

Dick Dadey, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens Union, spoke with Brian Lehrer on WNYC about the package of legislation the City Council voted on Friday that will raise the salaries of all of New York City’s elected officials for the first time since 2006, as well as the controversy surrounding the larger-than-recommended salary increase for Council members and the timing of the vote.

Mayor de Blasio appeared on Hot 97 radio to talk about the presidential race, violence in the subway, the newly announced streetcar line that will run between Brooklyn and Queens, running for re-election, and legalizing marijuana.

Current and former New York Daily News columnists Harry Siegel and Bill Hammond joined Alexis Grenell and Nick Powell on the NYSlant podcast to discuss JCOPE’s controversial lobbying decision, and the equally controversial pay raise proposals from the City Council.

NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max:

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

Categories: State/Local

De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision

Gotham Gazette - Fri, 02/05/2016 - 12:00am

Mayor de Blasio delivers his State of the City (Mayor's Office)

Strong neighborhoods are essential to a just city, Mayor Bill de Blasio argued from the Bronx Thursday evening, delivering his third State of the City address. De Blasio's speech was long on markers of progress and acknowledgement of the city's uniformed workforce, and included several new proposals ranging from the nitty gritty of city management to major innovations.

The theme of the speech, according to the mayor, was "one New York: working for our neighborhoods," and de Blasio made the case that the city is on the right track, while also outlining new ways in which his administration would improve conditions for New Yorkers, especially those living in long-forgotten places.

The banner items are plans for a streetcar along 16 miles of Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the development of Governor's Island into a multidimensional attraction, and a new private sector employee retirement fund. These grander items came amid announcements about new efforts to scrub graffiti, prosecute gun dealers, and invest $91 million to revitalize Far Rockaway.

"So two years in, we are building one New York," de Blasio said after going through the highlights of his first two years in office: safer and smoother streets, lower crime, expanded worker benefits, a popular municipal identification card, universal pre-kindergarten and other education programs, and "the most ambitious affordable housing plan in the history of this nation" with strong initial progress.

"The changes we've made are working for our neighborhoods," he said, "and today, we are capturing the momentum of these first two years to push harder, to go farther."

As he often does, de Blasio fit nuts-and-bolts programs and so-called quality-of-life concerns into his overarching focus on creating equity in New York. He promised new health centers in underserved neighborhoods like the South Bronx, expanded WiFi access through sidewalk kiosks and broadband at public housing complexes, and more frequent cleaning of city streets.

The mayor got a thumbs up from business leaders. "Mayor de Blasio focused on investing in the city 's future, ranging from building new centers of innovation and economic activity to developing a novel transit connector between Brooklyn and Queens and creating a network of health centers serving the South Bronx," said Partnership for NYC President and CEO Kathy Wylde in a statement. "These are priorities that the business community shares – practical and achievable. They will contribute to the city's vitality and stimulate private investment."

Meanwhile, progressive lawmakers and advocates are excited about the retirement savings program, which the mayor will work on with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and others. City Council Member Ben Kallos, who helped develop the model for the program while working with liberal activist Bill Samuels at EffectiveNY, will introduce legislation so that "any New Yorker working at a business with ten or more employees to automatically enroll in a retirement plan."

Unfortunately for de Blasio, his State of the City address was sandwiched between the collapse of a deal he had orchestrated to reform the carriage horse industry and the shooting of two NYPD officers, who were shot during a patrol in a Bronx housing complex while de Blasio was speaking a few miles away. The mayor was quickly briefed after finishing his remarks and went to the hospital, where he and NYPD officials reported that both officers were in stable condition.

During his speech the mayor went to great lengths to praise the NYPD, as well as the other uniformed city workers: firefighters, correction officers, and sanitation workers.

This workforce is essential to a safe and clean city, de Blasio explained, adding that the successes in these areas made possible the city's vibrant economy and efforts to ensure that others would be able to share in the prosperity. Still, he promised continued efforts to bring police and community closer together.

"Now, if making New Yorkers safer is the first and foremost of our efforts to improve quality of life," the mayor said, "then helping New Yorkers get around our city swiftly and easily comes next." He then introduced measures to build the streetcar route - which is estimated to cost about $2.5 billion and be finished in 2024; allow people to pay for parking using a mobile app; and the expansion of bus arrival countdown clocks.

Canopied by talk of neighborhoods, de Blasio gave an almost block-by-block explanation of how he is leveraging the tools of city government to improve New Yorkers' lives. While the mayor's approval rating hovers around 50 percent, it is on a recent upswing, and notwithstanding a recent weekend trip to Iowa to campaign for Hillary Clinton, de Blasio appears to have gotten the message that New Yorkers want him focused on running the day-to-day operations of the city.

On Thursday, de Blasio said that his vision for a growing and fair city "means we need to manage government effectively for a safe, clean, economically strong city with an improving quality of life. And it means we must innovate for the future in all our neighborhoods, always pushing the envelope for new ways to keep New York the greatest global city of the 21st century."

{module Author Ben Max}

Categories: State/Local

Environmental spending questions are local, global in nature

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 02/04/2016 - 11:07pm


Thursday's legislative hearing on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's spending plan for the environment covered the landscape, with lots of talk and questions about local items such as invasive species in Lake George.

But there were big picture topics too, mostly centering on how the budget addresses global warming.

Overall, lawmakers and environmentalists said they like the $300 million allocated to the state's Environmental Protection Fund, which can pay for purchases of new parkland or woodland protection as well as the upgrading of sewer plants and historic sites.

GOP North Country Assemblyman Dan Stec asked for a statewide approach to invasive species while his counterpart in the Catskills, Pete Lopez, said the state should crack down on trash collectors who appear to be ignoring the recyclable items and dumping everything in landfills.

GOP Sen. Betty Little, whose district covers a good deal of the Northway, said they need more electric car charging stations.

Manhattan Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger agreed, adding that densely populated downstate regions are ideal for electric cars, since the commuting distances are relatively short.

Public Service Commissioner Audrey Zibelman said getting more charging stations is a "chicken and egg issue."

Some legislators, including Democratic Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and Sen. Brad Hoylman, plugged away on the larger question of what the state is doing to combat climate change.

Lifton, for example, asked Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos about a "climate action plan" which has been previously discussed.

"Is there a plan in the making?" Lifton asked.

"We are now focused on action,'' said Seggos.

Long Island Democratic Assemblyman Steve Englebright referred to that region's recent blizzard, describing it as ''Thirty six inches of snow in a coastal storm powered by an overheated ocean.''

"Climate change imposes costs in the form of storms,'' he said.

One point of contention centered on the state's use of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, funds, which come from a fee that power plants pay for the amount of carbon they are releasing. It's on track to generate about $180 million for New York this year.

But $23 million of that money is going indirectly to pay for tax credits to homeowners and businesses that adopt renewable energy sources such as solar or wind. The trouble is, those tax credits until last year came from the general fund, noted Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates.

Seggos, though, maintained that tax credits are in keeping with the program's overall aim of reducing carbon emissions. They help promote more use of renewables, for instance, such as solar panels that homeowners can buy and get credits for.

"The goal of it is to reduce carbon emissions." he said after his testimony.


Categories: State/Local

AG: Public loses out on hot show tickets

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 02/04/2016 - 11:07pm


State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Thursday that the concert and sports ticket industry has engaged in practices that hamper consumers' abilities to score passes — if tickets are available at all.

The results of a multi-year investigation show that for top concerts, a sizable chunk of tickets are never made available to the general public. An average of 54 percent are reserved for industry insiders, such as promoters and artists, (16 percent on average) or non-public groups, such as holders of certain credit cards, for pre-sales (38 percent on average), according to Schneiderman's office.

"Ticketing is a fixed game," Schneiderman said. "My office will continue to crack down on those who break our laws, prey on ordinary consumers, and deny New Yorkers affordable access to the concerts and sporting events they love. This investigation is just the beginning of our efforts to create a level playing field in the ticket industry."

The investigation also revealed information that venues and ticket sellers tack on extra fees and third-party brokers resell tickets well above face-value.

Schneiderman's office said venues and sellers, such as Ticketmaster, added fees of more than 21 percent on average to the face-value. Brokers using sites such as StubHub and TicketsNow resell tickets averaging 49 percent above face-value.

The investigation showed some brokers also use illegal "ticket bot" software to gobble up tickets when they go on sale to resell at a significant markup.

One resale marketplace, TicketNetwork, praised Schneiderman "for taking a stand against venues and teams that prevent fans from freely selling their tickets, place price floors on tickets, and refuse to disclose what tickets actually remain on sale for the public to purchase."

Schneiderman's office also highlighted the practice of speculative ticket sales, which he sought to crack down on before tickets for Bruce Springsteen's 2016 tour went on sale. The tour stops in Albany Feb. 8.

The report included recommendations for the Legislature to take up, including putting an end to a "de facto ban" in state law on nontransferable paperless tickets and capping the markup price resellers can charge.

Also on Thursday, Schneiderman's office announced settlements with brokers MSMSS, LLC and Extra Base Tickets, LLC that were illegally operating without a ticket reseller license.

MSMSS was fined $80,000; Extra Base Tickets $65,000. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Democrat to challenge Sen. Hugh Farley

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 02/04/2016 - 9:07pm

Schenectady's deputy city clerk formed a campaign committee this week to raise money in a bid to unseat longtime Republican state Sen. Hugh Farley, and expects to formally announce his 2016 campaign soon.

Chad Putman is so far the only Democrat to emerge to take on Farley, and said he recently got the endorsement of the Saratoga Democrats.

"(Farley's) been there for 40 years, and I'm 40 years old," Putman said. "I've had a front row seat from city government, and seen that he's been an absent advocate here in the city."

Putman moved to the Capital Region in 2003 to attend graduate school.

Before joining local government, he worked for a decade in human services, including counseling HIV and AIDS patients, and those with drug and alcohol issues. The district — as shown by Farley's long tenure — leans Republican. Farley, of Niskayuna, also faces two Republican primary challengers, Christian Klueg and Nancy Nugent. • 518-454-5303 • @chrisbragg1

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