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NYC subway system seeing record ridership

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 1:07am

NEW YORK — If it seems as if New York City's subways are getting more crowded, that's because they are.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says the subway system broke its previous single-day ridership record on five separate days last month.

The MTA said Wednesday that 6,106,694 customers rode city subways on Sept. 23.

That's the highest number since daily figures were first recorded in 1985.

Ridership also topped 6 million on four other days last month.

The previous ridership record of 5,987,595 was set on Oct. 24, 2013.

The MTA says subway ridership is approaching levels last seen in the 1940s when far fewer people owned cars.

—Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

The Bronx's Growing Affordable Housing Problem

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 1:00am

The author, middle, in the Bronx (photo: @JoinJoyner)

Affordability of housing is a growing problem for Bronx residents and families, more so than any other New York City borough. Having grown up in the area, and now working as a court attorney for a New York City Civil Court Judge, I have seen firsthand the troubles Bronx residents and families are facing. This is one reason I decided to run for the New York State Assembly in the 77th District.

The Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness said recently that the Bronx is in dire need of intervention. For instance, the number of homeless families in the Highbridge and Concourse sections increased 37%, to 633 families, from 2005 to 2010. Meanwhile, Bronx median rents increased by 10.5% to $954 per month. And the office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer pointed out in April that housing affordability – computed by rent-to-income ratios – decreased for every income group in the city. The hardest hit are those New Yorkers earning less than $40,000 a year. The Bronx median household income is $34,300.

Overall, the 1,084 homeless Bronx families make up the bulk of the city's homeless population, according to a recent Daily News report. And surging rent increases are partly to blame. As an active member of Community Board 4 and the Neighborhood Advisory Board, I know how integral affordable housing is to the lifeblood of this borough. Meanwhile, it's unclear whether current City policies are headed in the right direction. The Rent Guidelines Board voted 5-4 in June to raise rents by 1% for one-year lease agreements for the nearly one million city homes regulated under the stabilization law. If you plan to sign a two-year lease, your rent will rise by 2.75%, according to the board's decision.

But the families protected under these guidelines make up only 45% of all rental units in the City, according to a 2011 New York City housing survey conducted by the Census Bureau.

There may be some light at the end of the tunnel for tenants, however. Mayor Bill de Blasio's laudable "Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan" to create or protect 200,000 affordable housing units over the next decade is a refreshing source of hope. According to the Community Service Society of New York, the city lost about 385,000 units of affordable housing between 2002 and 2011.

More than ever before, housing and rent regulations need a tune-up to address the current and future needs of Bronxites. With rent regulations up for renewal in Albany in June 2015, I will advocate to strengthen existing laws that will preserve and protect affordable apartments.

***
by Latoya Joyner, Democratic candidate for State Assembly in the 77th Assembly District. Find her on Twitter.
***

Note: publishing this op-ed is in no way an endorsement of Ms. Joyner's candidacy. Any candidate for office is welcome to submit a substantive op-ed to our editorial desk.

On the November ballot, Ms. Joyner, a Democrat, is opposed by Republican Esparanza Reyes Acosta and Conservative Party nominee Benjamin Eggleston.

Categories: State/Local

New York officials: Doctor has Ebola, 1st in city

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 1:07am

NEW YORK (AP) — A Doctors Without Borders physician who recently returned to the city after treating Ebola patients in West Africa has tested positive for the virus, according to preliminary test results, city officials said Thursday. He's the fourth confirmed case in the U.S. and the first in the nation's biggest city.

A further test by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will confirm the initial test results.

A law enforcement official and a City official received notification of the preliminary test results and told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Thursday night but weren't authorized to discuss the case publicly before a city news conference.

Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old emergency room doctor, returned from Guinea more than a week ago and reported Thursday coming down with a 103-degree fever and diarrhea. He was rushed to Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital, a designated Ebola center, and was being treated in a specially built isolation ward.

The CDC has dispatched an Ebola response team to New York, and the city's disease detectives have been tracing the doctor's contacts to identify anyone who may be at risk.

City officials say Spencer acknowledged riding the subway and taking a cab to a Brooklyn bowling alley in the past week before he started showing symptoms.

His Harlem apartment was cordoned off, and his fiancee, who was not showing symptoms, was being watched in a quarantine ward at Bellevue. The Department of Health was on site across the street from the apartment building Thursday night, giving out information to area residents.

Health officials say the chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person, are slim. Someone can't be infected just by being near someone who's sick with Ebola. Someone isn't contagious unless he is sick. Symptoms are similar to malaria and cholera.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has killed about 4,800 people. In the United States, the first person diagnosed with the disease was a Liberian man, who fell ill days after arriving in Dallas and later died, becoming the only fatality. Two nurses who treated him were infected and are hospitalized.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said proper protocols were followed every step of the way and it didn't appear the doctor had been showing symptoms for very long.

"The patient is in good shape and has gone into a great deal of detail with our personnel as to his actions the last few days so we have a lot to work with," de Blasio said earlier in the day. "We have a patient who has been very communicative and precise and who has only been back a very short time and has been quite clear about individuals he had close contact with."

According to a rough timeline provided by city officials, Spencer's symptoms developed Wednesday, prompting him to isolate himself in his apartment.

When he felt worse Thursday, he and his fiancee made a joint call to authorities to detail his symptoms and his travels. EMTs in full Ebola gear arrived and took him to Bellevue in an ambulance surrounded by police squad cars.

"As per the specific guidelines that Doctors Without Borders provides its staff on their return from Ebola assignments, the individual engaged in regular health monitoring and reported this development immediately," the international humanitarian organization said in a statement.

As of Oct. 14, the organization said 16 staff members have been infected and nine have died.

The international ER doctor works at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. He had not seen any patients or been to the hospital since his return, the hospital said in a statement.

Spencer is a "dedicated humanitarian" who "went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population. He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first," it said.

Four American aid workers, including three doctors, were infected with Ebola while working in Africa and were transferred to the U.S. for treatment in recent months. All recovered.

Health care workers are vulnerable because of close contact with patients when they are their sickest and most contagious. In West Africa this year, more than 440 health workers have contracted Ebola and about half have died.

The New York doctor is from Michigan and attended Wayne State University School of Medicine and Columbia's University Mailman School of Public Health.

According to his Facebook page, he left for West Africa via Brussels in mid-September. A photo shows him in full protective gear. He returned to Brussels Oct. 16.

"Off to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders," he wrote. "Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history."

———

Associated Press writers Frank Eltman, Cameron Young, Jake Person, Tom Hays and Deepti Hajela and researcher Susan James contributed to this report.

Categories: State/Local

Badge, 'raunch' become issues

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

In races across the state, candidates are arguing about the usual topics — the Legislature's inability to get things done, rampant corruption and taxes.

But there's a twist in the race for the 111th Assembly District, where the fight is also centering on what one party calls raunchy websites tied to a top staffer of incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara. The incumbent's camp, meanwhile, is knocking GOP challenger Pete Vroman for what it describes as an unseemly reliance on law enforcement symbolism.

Both topics have been aired in mailed literature and radio ads. The district runs from the Schenectady-Rotterdam area west into Montgomery County, including Amsterdam.

The raunch-related charges come from surrogates for Vroman, a retired federal marshal who is taking on first-termer Santabarbara.

His mailers contend that Santabarbara's chief of staff once operated what they describe as a "raunchy" modeling agency.

"Assemblyman Santabarbara has some explaining to do," reads part of the Vroman mailer.

The Santabarbara camp admits that chief of staff Gerard Parisi had been a partner in MainStreetGirls.com, but insists the group did nothing more than organize modeling contests.

Moreover, the website for the venture — which featured photos of swimsuit-clad women — has been offline since 2010, noted Paola Horvath, one of the partners in the site. It was folded into another business that promotes products and events.

Meanwhile, Schenectady County Democratic Chairman Joe Landry has written to the U.S. Marshals Service, contending that Republicans shouldn't be using images of an official badge in its mailings for Vroman.

"Albany is messed up. It's time to send in a former U.S. Marshal," reads part of one mailer.

Landry's letter points out that Vroman took the marshal badge insignia off his website after an earlier complaint.

U.S. Marshals Service officials couldn't immediately comment on the imagery or "likeness" in the mailers, but they did say it was all right for Vroman to wear a marshal lapel pin in a photo that appears in a Facebook page.

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

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 1:07am

State spending up, debt down, report says

ALBANY — New York's comptroller reports that state government spending increased 3.3 percent to $137.5 billion in its last fiscal year, while its debt declined slightly to $63.3 billion.

The report on the state's fiscal condition for the 2013-14 year, which ended March 31, says spending increases have been in line with inflation, growing 8.4 percent since 2010.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says budgeting and the strengthening economy have helped address New York's structural financial imbalance, with a better cash outlook than a few years ago. But he said more progress is needed.

The report notes that state spending has been partially paid for through borrowing $17.1 billion since 2010, including a total of $2.7 billion in 2014.

— Associated Press

Cuomo memoir sales off to a slow start

ALBANY — A couple of days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tempered expectations about how well his new memoir is selling, the first results are in.

About 900 copies of "All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life" sold in the first week after publication.

That's according to data Wednesday from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks industry sales and covers about 85 percent of the U.S. print market.

By contrast, Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Hard Choices" sold 100,000 copies in the first week and 247,000 since its June release.

Cuomo said Monday he's been too busy running for re-election, and running the state, to do a full-fledged promotional tour.

BookScan reports Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's "Off the Sidelines" has sold about 11,000 copies since Sept. 1 and about 78,000 copies of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "A Fighting Chance" have sold since April.

-— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo, Astorino clash at Buffalo debate

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 1:07am

Buffalo

In what is slated to be their only debate before Nov. 4, Gov. Andrew Cuomo broke from his predicted script to directly address Republican challenger Rob Astorino and went toe-to-toe with harsh criticism from the Westchester County executive.

Cuomo and Astorino also faced off against Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian candidate Michael McDermott.

In the beginning, the top two candidates followed their campaign scripts. Cuomo addressed tax relief under his administration and mentioned an "ultraconservative" but didn't use Astorino's name. Astorino immediately hit on his central campaign theme: New York is losing.

Though the Buffalo News-WNED/WBFO- sponsored debate featured the four candidates on the ballot, Astorino and Cuomo addressed each other early and often.

On hydrofracking, Cuomo compared Astorino to Sarah Palin — "drill, baby, drill," he said — when addressing some and actor Mark Ruffalo, an anti-fracking activist, when addressing others. Astorino called Cuomo politically paralyzed on the issue.

On if extreme conservatives have a place in New York (a reference to a Cuomo radio interview from earlier this year that has repeatedly been used against him), Cuomo flipped the question around on Astorino, saying his platforms prove the Republican is anti-various groups, including women and minorities. Astorino responded by saying Cuomo disrespects women by supporting Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose chamber of the Legislature has been marred by sexual harassment allegations.

"I think tonight you saw the very angry Andrew," Astorino said after the debate. "The filthy, disgusting, race-card playing Andrew Cuomo. That's what he's been used to his whole life. Unfortunately, he's just void of any ideas."

Cuomo quipped: "I had fun. I think he was angry."

The two did talk policy in between the jabs.

On controversial hydrofracking, Cuomo made news by saying that the state Health Department's long-gestating review of its impacts is "due by the end of the year."

"I'm not a scientist — let the scientists decide," he said.

Astorino said he'd OK drilling immediately.

Cuomo defended his shuttering of the Moreland Commission in April, saying there was no abrupt stopping of the panel's investigations and arguing that it was always intended as a spur to achieving reform through legislation. He repeatedly referenced Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick's avowal that the panel was independent; the two other co-chairs of the Moreland panel have never spoken publicly on that question.

Astorino claimed that Cuomo "is swimming in the cesspool of corruption" and said Cuomo could "very well be indicted" as a result of Bharara's investigation.

The two third-party candidates were more issue-focused.

McDermott, whose opening statement thanked Cuomo for demanding he be included in the debate, frequently fell back on assailing the other candidates for attacking each other instead of trying to draw the public into the political process. "Vote Libertarian — what do you have to lose?" he said.

As the candidates gave their finals statements, Hawkins bemoaned the fact that this would be the only debate of this race.

"We barely touched on the issues," he said.

The debate on the shores of Lake Erie was preceded by the release of new polling data Wednesday morning that showed Astorino still has a virtual electoral mountain to climb before Election Day.

The Republican is down 21 points to Cuomo, according to Siena College. The one silver lining appeared to be that despite the large gap he must still overcome, Cuomo's numbers have gone down since July (60 percent to 54 percent) while Astorino's have gone up (23 percent to 33 percent).

Astorino gave his usual response: He won in "deep-blue" Westchester in 2009 after being down by a large margin.

Wednesday night's debate also was preceded by another debate: That over where, when and on what platforms the candidates would actually square off.

Astorino had repeatedly called on the governor to accept any debate — the Republican accepted all television invites extended his way — while Cuomo deferred to the campaigns to work out the details. Then the governor accepted two debates (Wednesday's and another on public radio in New York City) that the Republican's campaign made it seem like they were blindsided by.

Astorino obliged the invitation to come to Buffalo but turned down the offer of a one-on-one debate on the radio, citing the lack of a TV camera.

So after weeks of back-and-forth, did Wednesday night live up to Astorino's expectations? He said he got his message out about needing to cut taxes, adding later when asked why there aren't more debates, "You'll have to ask him."When asked, Cuomo said twice, "I did offer two. He turned it down."

Casey Seiler contributed. mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 •

Categories: State/Local

Council Hearing Reveals Transparency Gaps at Veteran Advisory Board

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 1:00am

Monday's city council veterans committee hearing (photo: @NYMetroVets)

NEW YORK—The Veteran Advisory Board (VAB) has been a staple in the New York City veterans community since 1987. But it has not always been a smooth ride, with legislation needed in both 2002 and 2006 to improve the board.

On Monday, the VAB was back in front of the City Council with council members looking for ways to improve the usefulness of the board and some advocates questioning the board's transparency.

"While we recognize and appreciate the work our board members do - most importantly, on a volunteer basis - some veterans are of the belief the board could do better," Council Member Eric Ulrich, chair of the council veterans committee said on Monday. "A lot of folks in the veterans community, those at home and those returning from abroad in the coming years, all need the support the city can give them."

The VAB, which was expanded from five to nine members in 2002, is charged with advising the Mayor's Office of Veteran's Affairs (MOVA) on all issues related to veterans. In 2006, the Council passed Local Law 10 which required the VAB to meet quarterly and issue a report to the Council annually.

Those reports have been submitted to the Council, but finding them has proven an arduous task—until recently. In the spring, after outcry from veterans advocates, the reports were finally published online on the MOVA website along with the names of the board members, who appointed them (Council Speaker or Mayor) and when, and when their term expires.

But the required quarterly meetings still remain a mystery. According to testimony from Vincent McGowan, chairman of the VAB, a meeting was held on September 16th. There was no announcement the meeting would be taking place on the MOVA website or through its social media accounts, something that drives at the heart of the issue many advocates take with the VAB.

"There has been no real measure of accountability in how and when the board meets with the community in their respective boroughs, who they report to with issues, how those issues make it up the city's chain of command, or even how the public can give input into the board," said Joesph Bello, a Gulf War veteran and advocate who runs NY Metro Vets.

[Related: Public Conversation on New Veterans Department Begins]

VAB Chair McGowan testified that at the September 16th hearing the board unanimously voted to keep the current chair (himself) and vice chair for one term (three years). The fact that a decision of this magnitude was made without public outreach about the meeting was not lost on Bello. He suggested to Council Member Ulrich that the appointment process become more transparent.

Bello, along with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) suggested publishing when the meetings were going to take place online, as well as the minutes from the meetings.

Ulrich noted VAB members don't have access to update the MOVA website and that cooperation from other City-run agencies would likely be needed to accomplish this.

In addition to the transparency issues, some advocates believe the board could be doing more to reach out to the veteran community, particularly the younger veterans of the latest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans are often digital natives and find the antiquated system ineffective in providing them with what they need to access services.

[Related: High Expectations, Limited Resources for Mayor's New Commissioner of Veterans' Affairs]

"Unfortunately, many veterans in New York City are not aware of the VAB and the role it plays within city government," said Jason Hansman, senior program manager for IAVA. "For our members who are aware of the group, many believe that historically it has not been taken seriously and that it has not had the impact on the lives of veterans and their families that it should."

Hansman suggested there be better representation of student veterans on the VAB. The board currently does not have any students. The make-up of the board is hard to discern because according to the MOVA website six of the nine members' terms have expired.

Gotham Gazette reached out to MOVA to clarify. Questions were referred to City Hall, but were not immediately returned by press time.

[Related: Council Looks to Improve Veterans Services with New Department]

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

Categories: State/Local

The Cuomo Record: Economy

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 1:00am

Gov. Cuomo at a Start-Up NY event (photo: @SenTedObrien)

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

If you've glanced at a television this year you've probably seen a commercial for Start-Up NY, a state program that gives tax-free status to certain businesses that locate in or around a New York college campus. "The new New York is open" touts the announcer over the images of opening factory doors, technicians in clean suits and men in hardhats pointing at computer screens.

This is the image Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants not only New Yorkers but people all over the country to get of New York: a state with a newly revived, thriving business economy. It's a message Cuomo so badly wants to convey that records show the State has spent over $30 million on commercials airing both in and out of the state to promote "the new New York."

In 2011, Cuomo took office promising to get the state's fiscal house in order, reduce taxes, and create a better business climate.

According to some, including the governor himself, Cuomo has successfully done all those things. As he seeks re-election, Cuomo touts having overseen a renaissance of the New York economy by implementing a property tax cap; creating regional councils that have allocated $2 billion in state cash for local economic development; attracting new businesses with Start-Up NY; addressing upstate's flagging economy by allowing for casinos; and infusing $1 billion into development in Buffalo.

On October 21, the Cuomo administration announced 17 more businesses that would be expanding or locating in New York under the Start-Up program. Since it's launch, the administration noted, 41 businesses had joined the program, "supporting 1,750 new jobs and $77 million in investment."

During the lone gubernatorial debate, on October 22, Cuomo cited "500,000" jobs created during his term. A recent statement from the Cuomo administration noted "511,900 private sector jobs added since Governor Cuomo took office."

In that October 16 statement, Cuomo said, "When this administration took office four years ago, taxes were out of control and jobs and businesses were leaving as a result. Today, we're seeing a different New York: one that has put its fiscal house in order and is continuing to create new opportunities every day."

The Cuomo administration touts that the governor has overseen the lowering of the unemployment rate from a 16-year high of 8.2 percent in May 2009 to 6.2 percent this month, guided the state to improved bond ratings, and delivered four on-time budgets, giving the business community much more confidence in the State. New York was famous for going months past the April 1 budget due date for decades.

In fact, Cuomo, a Democrat, won an award from the conservative Tax Foundation this month for his administration's "commitment to expanding the corporate tax base and reducing the income tax rate to its lowest level since 1968. As these reforms phase in, New York's ranking for its corporate tax system as part of the State Business Tax Climate Index will improve from 25th place to 4th best in the nation."

The same foundation named New York the least friendly state for business in 2013 and was slammed previously as a 'right-wing think tank" by Cuomo's close advisor.

Rob Astorino, Cuomo's Republican opponent, has run on a slogan that "New York is losing," citing a high-tax climate that he says has killed small business and driven New Yorkers to leave the state in record numbers. Astorino says that the state is 50 out of 50 in terms of being "business friendly."

Astorino and his supporters have attacked Cuomo's investment of $1 billion of state funds in Buffalo as a political shell game wherein Cuomo is diverting state cash to an area where he was politically vulnerable in his last two statewide elections.

Cuomo supporters paint a picture of a governor who has used fiscal austerity and prudence to turn around a dreary state economy made worse by the national recession.

Cuomo critics insist that no single elected official can take credit for the rise or fall of the state's economy, that the nation's economy has improved as a whole since 2008, and that jobs created in the state mostly originate from New York City, which was not nearly as damaged by the recession as the rest of the state or country and where Cuomo has not necessarily focused policy.

Critics argue Cuomo's fiscal austerity measures have actually restricted job growth upstate, where local governments are hamstrung by the property tax cap, and that Cuomo has used state funds in a political manner to boost his standing in upstate and western NY - where the economies have remained stagnant despite what some say are superficial investments.

"I never give elected officials broad credit or blame for the economy," said James Parrott of the non-partisan Fiscal Policy Institute. Parrott says it's clear to him that "most job growth occurred in New York City and Long Island. There was very little upstate or north of the Bronx. So there is a real unevenness in the recovery."

Kathryn Wylde of The Partnership for New York City, a pro-business group that has supported a number of Cuomo's economic initiatives, said that she thinks one of Cuomo's biggest accomplishments has been improving the state's business climate by simplifying taxes and focusing on collaboration between the State and businesses in economic development.

Wylde says Cuomo's decision to end the previous state economic development strategy called Empire Zones that handed out state cash to businesses was welcomed by the business community.

"He took a non-transparent approach doling out state largesse to developers without evidence of return on investment and put in place a far more transparent method of handing out billions through regional economic development councils around the state where community interests actually get to see the process. These councils have a role in the selection of projects and there is accountability in the process."

Parrott said that he thinks Cuomo's overhaul of how the State doles out economic development cash has been a net positive. "Its certainly sensible to have these local councils advocate for these projects," said Parrott.

Parrott is also encouraged by Cuomo's commitment to drawing high-tech to the state through investments in nanotechnology and the innovation hotspot competition, but he says he isn't sure current efforts are enough to bolster cutting edge industries and that the State should be looking to ensure return for its investments.

Astorino has slammed Start-Up NY as "a joke" because it doesn't address the needs of existing business in the state. Wylde however, insists the program has been a smashing success. "Start-Up NY has come under attack, but it is a brilliant program and it is key in an innovation economy to create partnerships between universities and industry. This is a game-changer because the state's universities have been remote to what's happening on the frontlines of industry."

Parrott said that he appreciates that Cuomo thinks government can have a positive impact on the economy. "Its very positive that the governor has a perspective on the economy that what he does makes a difference compared to [former Gov. George] Pataki, who kept cutting taxes until the economy improved and it never did."

And yet, Parrott is concerned that Cuomo thinks he too can cut taxes to improve the economy. Parrott said he thinks Cuomo's property tax cap and two percent cap on budget growth has actually damaged the economies of a number of upstate communities - as have his tough negotiations with state unions that have seen layoffs and cuts to benefits.

"The cuts to state government employment and the two percent spending cap and property tax cap are bad news for local governments. They are losing middle income government jobs in areas that aren't seeing private sector job growth."

Wylde said that Cuomo was brave to come in and cut tough deals with unions while capping property taxes and budget growth.

"The governor came in with a very honest and open assessment of what was wrong with Albany from a budgetary and fiscal standpoint," said Wylde. "He committed to restrained budget spending when it had been growing by 10 to 11 percent a year and kept it down to two percent a year. Upstate he capped property taxes as a way of disciplining local governments and he was clear about the need for negotiating pension reform and labor contracts to a significant political cost in some sectors. He laid out this agenda going in and he stuck to it."

Cuomo felt significant backlash from unions and the Left during his Democratic primary against Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout. A number of Cuomo confidants blamed his loss in several upstate counties, including Albany and Ulster, on his tough deals with unions. Both those areas are also home to strong progressive blocs whose members feel Cuomo has been on the wrong side of debates over the minimum wage.

Cuomo resisted a major increase to the minimum wage during his first term in office - finally agreeing to raise the wage to $8 an hour and an end-of-2015 increase to $9. He also dismissed Mayor Bill de Blasio's initial push to allow municipalities to increase their minimum wage independently of the State. However, Cuomo reversed himself in an agreement to receive the Working Families Party endorsement this spring. Cuomo now says he supports raising the wage to $10.10 an hour (a number President Obama has suggested nationally), indexing it to inflation, and allowing localities to increase the wage up to 30 percent over the state minimum.

Parrott's group steadfastly supports the increase. "I think he's been too conservative," said Parrott on Cuomo and the wage. Meanwhile, Wylde's group stands against allowing localities to set different minimum wages. Wylde said most employers agree New York's cost of living justifies a higher wage but they want it to be consistent across the state.

The Partnership for New York City does not feel Cuomo took care of all their concerns in his first term. Most importantly, Wylde said the business community would like to see the governor work on cutting regulatory red tape. "There is concern that the regulatory environment in the state is stifling. The State has been slow to update regulations and some of this stuff goes back to the pen and pencil days."

It so happens that Astorino has championed regulatory reforms and has pledged to ban any new regulations.

Wylde and Astorino also see eye-to-eye on simplifying the state's eight tier income tax brackets.

In his recently-released campaign policy book Cuomo outlines a number of business initiatives - some of which are leftovers from his first-term pledges and others that promise to expand on them. Cuomo plans to introduce $500 million in incentives to get local governments to consolidate and reduce property taxes; an infrastructure bank that will create "self sustaining" funding for major infrastructure projects; and plans to expand global exports.

Cuomo also wants to expand Start-Up NY, something that Wylde sees as inevitable. "They've really done a great job, they've gotten thousands of applicants and the program has been very responsive to what the industry is saying is needed."

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

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 26

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 10/26/2014 - 1:00am

New York City Hall

Highlights of what we're watching this week include:

  • The latest on Ebola in New York: what will happen with Dr. Craig Spencer, diagnosed this past week with Ebola, those he came into close contact with who have been under quarantine, and those caring for his health? Will there be other diagnosed cases of Ebola in New York?
  • How will new quarantine measures announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday - and adjusted on Sunday - play out? When people who have had exposure to Ebola return from West Africa, the eyes of the state, if not the country and world, will be watching.
  • Wednesday is the two-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting New York City: assessments of recovery and planning ahead continue, local leaders look to gauge communities - see below for more detail.
  • Will there be any news from the Eric Garner special grand jury, which convened several weeks ago on Staten Island?
  • The latest action at the City Council as hearings will take place this week on a variety of bills and issues - see below for day-by-day details, there are several interesting hearings this week.
  • A whole slate of specific political and civic events around New York City this week - see below for day-by-day details.

Elections Watch:

  • Who might former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout endorse in the general? She has said she'd make an announcement on October 28, which is Tuesday and one week til Election Day. Seems like it'll be Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins or no one at this point. Whatever Teachout decides, it'll make at least a little noise this week.
  • NY-11 debate on NY1 Tuesday night: watch incumbent Republican Congress Member Michael Grimm and his Democratic opponent Domenic Recchia joust.
  • Attorney General debate Thursday night, also on NY1 (and other channels): watch incumbent Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman and his Republican challenger John Cahill spar in their lone debate of the race.
  • What will the last polls before Election Day show in the three statewide races, NY-11, and other pivotal contests of New York's 2014 election cycle?
  • How much more drama will there be surrounding the Working Families Party and the Women's Equality Party leading up to Election Day?
  • Will any candidates do or say anything particularly bold (or desparate)? Will U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara make any more noise?

[Read: Gotham Gazette's series The Cuomo Record looks at the first term of incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo]

The run of the week in more detail:

Monday
Mayor de Blasio starts his week Monday morning speaking "at an ACS Leadership Forum in Manhattan" and then, "later Monday morning, the Mayor will host a press conference in Manhattan and sign Int. 466-A, in relation to reducing the citywide speed limit to 25 miles per hour," according to his public schedule released Sunday evening.

On Monday evening and as the two-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, Council Members Donovan Richards and Eric Ulrich will host a "Hurricane Sandy Town Hall and Resource Fair" meeting in Rockaway Park, Queens - 7:30 p.m. at Beach Channel High School: "Two Years Later... What has been done... and what still needs to be done?" The two council members will be joined by several other city officials, including Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver; Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Emily Lloyd; Build-it-Back Director Amy Peterson; and Mayor's Senior Advisor for Recovery and Resiliency Bill Goldstein. [Read Gotham Gazette's report on at-risk communities and City resiliency efforts as the two-year anniversary of Sandy approaches]

Earlier in the day...
On Monday morning, Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs Julie Menin will participate in a "Small Business Town Hall" meeting at the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

Monday's City Council Schedule includes: Public Advocate Letitia James and the City Council Committees on Civil Rights, Public Safety, Higher Education, and Women's Issues will hold a joint oversight hearing on "sexual assault on New York City college campuses," which will include looking at two resolutions calling on the federal government to act; the Committee on Veterans will convene for an oversight hearing on the "Veterans Advisory Board"; and the Committee on Technology will meet for an oversight hearing on the "New York City Open Data Portal."

Prior to the council hearing on campus sexual assault, James and others will hold a "Combating College Sexual Assault Press Conference" at City Hall. Later in the day, James will attend "SHINE: Equality Event Celebrating the Leadership of New York Women in the LGBT Immigration Movement" and "South Asian for Right Choice (Diwali Celebration)," according to her public schedule.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a longtime tech advocate, is set to testify at the technology committee hearing Monday. Then, at 2 p.m., Brewer will host a press conference on the steps of City Hall regarding "improving technology in schools....outlining reforms for improving (or even merely introducing) technology in public schools. It's a topic made more important by the presence of Proposition 3 on the November 4, 2014 General Election ballot." [Read Gotham Gazette's report on Prop 3: How Bright is the Smart Schools Bond Act?]

On Monday evening, the Contracts Committee of the Panel for Educational Policy will convene for a public meeting at 6 p.m. at Tweed Courthouse.

Participatory budgeting neighborhood assemblies on Monday will be held by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Andrew Cohen, Paul Vallone, Costa Constantinides, Karen Koslowitz, Carlos Menchaca, Daneek Miller, Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams and Mark Treyger.

Associate Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health Sam Miller will speak about Ebola preparedness in Queens and around the city at the Queens Borough Board meeting Monday evening being hosted by Borough President Melinda Katz.

On Monday evening, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito "Hosts Voices of New York: An Evening of Music, Poetry, Dance and Spoken Word" at La Mama on E 4th St, according to her public schedule (it is the only event on that schedule as of Sunday evening).

For his part, Comptroller Scott Stringer's only public event scheduled for Monday (as of Sunday night) is his attending "the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center Fundraiser" in the evening.

Also Monday evening, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will host his borough's Italian-American Heritage celebration.

Tuesday
One week til Election Day!

Tuesday evening will see the aforementioned debate between Rep. Michael Grimm and Domenic Recchia, hosted by NY1/The Staten Island Advance.

Earlier in the day...
JCOPE - the NYS Joint Commission on Public Ethics - will hold an open meeting on Tuesday morning at 10:30 in Albany.

Also on Tuesday morning, DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña will hold a professional development meeting with her newly assigned superintendents in Brooklyn, according to The Daily News.

PROP (the Police Reform Organizing Project) will release "Everyday: How Often NYC's Cops and Courts Inflict Harm and Hardship," a follow-up to its summer publication, Broken Windows Policing: A True Tale of Two Cities, that presented the initial findings of the organization's court monitoring efforts.

Tuesday's City Council schedule includes: he Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet regarding oversight of "DSNY's 2015-16 Snow Plan," and to consider a bill "Requiring snowplows to be fitted with lights and audible warnings to prevent pedestrian deaths," one mandating the "Removal of snow, ice, dirt and other material from fire hydrants," and one "Requiring the department of sanitation to issue an annual report concerning the condition of roadways and pedestrian islands after snow events"; the Committee on Education will hold a hearing with the Subcommittee on Non-Public Schools regarding oversight of "Special Education Instruction and Student Achievement" and introduction of a bill "in relation to requiring the department of education to report information regarding students receiving special education services"; the Committee on Consumer Affairs oversight of "Used Car Sales in New York City: Ensuring Consumer Protections and Safety in the Sale of Used Vehicles Recalled by the Manufacturer" and introduction of bills in relation to "price displays for used cars" and "prohibiting secondhand automobile dealers from failing to repair automobiles that have been recalled by the automobiles' manufacturers."

Tuesday participatory budgeting meetings will be held by Council Members Ritchie Torres, Mark Weprin, Karen Koslowitz, David Greenfield, Corey Johnson, Helen Rosenthal, and Mark Levine.

The New York City Voter Assistance Advisory Committee will hold a public meeting in the NYC Campaign Finance Board's offices.

The de Blasio family will host a Halloween event at Gracie Mansion on Tuesday, with all New Yorkers aged 12 and under welcome to attend (under adult supervision): "Gracie Mansion Halloween: Spooky Walk and Trick-or-Treating with the Mayor and First Lady of the City of New York," 5:30 PM to 6:30 p.m., "As a special treat for City Harvest, please bring a non-perishable food item for our Halloween Food Drive!...Come join the de Blasios, if you dare, for some trick-or-treating, and perhaps a slight scare. So don your best costume, be creative, go crazy; We're celebrating Halloween at Spooktacular Gracie!"

Wednesday
On Wednesday morning, Commissioner of the Department of Probation Ana Bermudez, joined by other experts on the topic, will address the age of criminal responsibility at the forum "Raise the Age: Changing Youth Justice in NYC" hosted by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

The City Council schedule for Wednesday includes: the Committee on Housing and Buildings will look at bills that detail "Amending the obligations of owners to provide notice to their tenants for non-emergency repairs," a "Provision of housing applications in multiple languages by the department of housing preservation and development," and "Installation of safety covers on electrical outlets in public areas of certain multiple dwellings"; the Committee on Small Business will hold a joint meeting with the Committee on Consumer Affairs for an oversight hearing on "Earned Sick Time Implementation and Business Education"; and the Committee on Transportation will meet to consider two new bills regarding "increasing the number of accessible pedestrian signals" and "'Rounding up' parking time."

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer will headline Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce's upcoming "Annual Membership Meeting and Trade Show" on Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, Capital New York will host "TAMI Talks: Tech and the City" forum, that will focus on "the critical issues facing leaders of Technology, Advertising, Media and Information (TAMI) businesses in New York City." Featured speakers will include: Counsel to the Mayor & Director of MWBE Program Maya Wiley; Executive Director of NY Tech Meetup Jessica Lawrence; BuzzFeed CFO Mark Frackt; Personal Democracy Media Founder Andrew Rasiej and President and CEO of Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde.

Council Members Corey Johnson, Andrew Cohen and Julissa Ferreras will hold participatory budgeting events in their districts on Wednesday evening.

State Assembly Member Deborah Glick is holding an anti-fracking town-hall meeting on Wednesday evening in Manhattan: "Let's Protect Our Drinking Water: Fighting Hydraulic Fracturing in NYS."

Also Wednesday evening, Council Member Ben Kallos will host a town hall meeting with reps from city agencies.

The Panel for Educational Policy will host a public meeting Wednesday evening to vote on recently proposed changes by Chancellor Farina, among other things.

Also on Wednesday evening, City & State NY is hosting this year's edition of "New York City 40 Under 40 Rising Stars," honoring "40 talented individuals under the age of 40 who work in New York City government, politics, and advocacy. Rising Star members have already distinguished themselves in the eyes of their colleagues and are on their way to amassing many more noteworthy accomplishments."

BetaNYC is hosting "Civic Hacknight and Sandy Anniversary" 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.

Thursday
Thursday will be highlighted by the debate between Attorney General candidates: Democratic incumbent Eric Schneiderman and his Republican challenger John Cahill. The debate will take place near Buffalo and be broadcast on Time Warner stations include NY1. [Read our latest report on the AG race]

Earlier on Thursday...
Thursday's City Council schedule includes: the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will meet jointly with the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency to discuss bills related to emergency preparedness issues; and the City Council Committee on Aging will convene for an oversight hearing on "Age-Friendly NYC Aging Improvement Districts." [Read our report on new 'age-friendly' initiatives planned by Speaker Mark-Viverito and the Council]

Success Academy will host a daylong seminar to share some of its best practices with city public elementary school principals: "Driving Excellence: A Daylong Seminar That Shares Success Academy Best Practices with NYC Public Elementary School Principals...Since opening its first school in August of 2006, Success Academy has been the subject of keen interest: How do these schools -now 32 of them- continue to produce strong academic results among all segments of their enrollment: children with special needs, English Language Learners, and low-income children of color. In this overview of key elements of Success Academy design, principals can expect to learn the innovative approaches to teaching and learning as well as actionable take-away lessons that can be applied in any school."

There will be a mid-day webinar on participatory budgeting: "A People's Budget: A Research and Evaluation Report on Cycle 3 Participatory Budgeting in New York City...Join us for a webinar presentation of key research findings and a panel discussion exploring this unique community-driven budgeting process."

Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer, Ben Kallos, Ydanis Rodriguez, Andrew Cohen, Daneek Miller, and Ritchie Torres will discuss participatory budgeting in their districts on Thursday.

On Thursday evening, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host an Ebola Community Forum at City College: "In its first initiative, my African Immigrant Task Force is joining with community partners and NYC elected officials to present a free public forum to address the Ebola epidemic as it relates to NYC - "Ebola: What You Need to Know but are Afraid to Ask."

The Arab American Association of New York will host its 13th annual Benefit Gala event on Thursday evening in Brooklyn.

Also Thursday evening, the celebration of Brian Lehrer's 25th annviersary on the air at WNYC: "Hosted by Brian himself, the evening will include a news and history quiz with a special guest quiz-master and a panel discussion on the theme of 'progress' in New York and America over the past 25 years." [Watch our video interview of Brian Lehrer during which he discusses his start in journalism favorite on-air moments, and much more]

Friday and the weekend
The last weekend before Election Day will, of course, see lots of campaign canvassing and phone banking. Watch out for those pesky campaign workers!

On Friday morning, Commissioner of the Office of Labor Relations, Robert Linn, will be the featured guest at a CityLaw breakfast event.

On Saturday, Chancellor Carmen Farina will host one in the "Chancellor's Parent Conference Series," this one for elementary school and pre-k, at Tweed: "Topics to include: Pre-K Activities Parents Can Do at Home; The IEP Process Step by Step; Why You Should Read to Your Child."

On Saturday, Council Member Daneek Miller hosts his third participatory budgeting neighborhood assembly of the week.

And on Sunday, the city host it's 2014 marathon, always a major event.

***
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: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Rati Mukhuradze, Katrina Shakarian, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Categories: State/Local

WMHT to broadcast Cuomo, Astorino debate

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/25/2014 - 1:07am

BUFFALO (AP) — A debate between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Republican Rob Astorino and two third-party candidates is likely to be the only opportunity voters have to see the candidates for New York governor interact before Election Day.

The hour-long exchange begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday and will be broadcast statewide on public television. In the Capital Region, the debate will be broadcast on WMHT.

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Michael McDermott will participate alongside the major party candidates.

Viewers can expect to see the contenders grapple with education policy, taxes, gun control, upstate economic development, Albany corruption and whether New York should authorize hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

More debates had been proposed by each of the candidates, but Wednesday's debate invitation was the only one that was accepted by both Cuomo and Astorino. Cuomo suggested a radio exchange between him and Astorino; Astorino wanted a series of televised debates with the governor.

Cuomo, who is widely believed to hold national ambitions, is well ahead in the polls. He is campaigning on his pragmatic approach that has coupled tax cuts and upstate economic development initiatives with liberal victories like gun control and same-sex marriage.

Astorino, the Westchester County executive, argues that Cuomo hasn't done enough to improve the economy. He opposes a gun control law championed by Cuomo, supports fracking and has criticized Cuomo's administration for allegedly meddling with an anti-corruption commission.

Hawkins, who finished third in the 2010 race, opposes hydraulic fracturing and supports a $15 minimum wage

The debate is sponsored by The Buffalo News, WNED-TV and WBFO-FM.

Categories: State/Local

No-tax plan on track

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/25/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

The Capital Region has its first tax-free business under the START-UP NY initiative: ClassBook.com plans to greatly expand its current Rensselaer County operation by moving into space at 418 Broadway in downtown Albany. In announcing the designation on Tuesday, the Cuomo administration said the company would create 72 new jobs over the next five years.

The START-UP program, created last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to spur economic development around higher education centers, will allow the company's new operation to go without paying state and local taxes for 10 years — including state income tax for the employees whose jobs are created under the program's auspices.

ClassBook, an online provider of textbooks and other educational resources, applied for START-UP status through an affiliation with UAlbany. It will maintain offices and a warehouse in Castleton.

Although ClassBook currently employs fewer than a dozen full-time workers, its expansion plan calls for adding 62 jobs plus 10 full-time equivalents over the next five years, according to Michael Shimazu, UAlbany's associate vice president of business partnerships and economic development.

Shimazu said ClassBook has worked on recent research projects with the school's psychology department.

The company will invest $227,600 in setting up the new workspace over the five-year period, he said. It's likely that some of the newly created jobs will be based at other spaces designated to receive START-UP status. Those locations are currently being discussed.

Although the START-UP program was initially pitched as a way to attract business in clusters around campuses, designation can be conferred on any site located within a mile of any property owned or leased by a school — in UAlbany's case, nearby leased space at 99 Pine St.

Even more far-flung locations could be approved for tax-free status under certain conditions.

"At the end of the day, it's about attracting new jobs," said Jason Conwall, a spokesman for Empire State Development Corp., which administers the START-UP program.

The building to be occupied by the first wave of ClassBook's expansion is owned by T.L. Metzger & Associates, whose president, Tracy Metzger, is chair of the City of Albany Industrial Development Agency.

Linda Hillman, president of Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce, took a big-picture view of the company's decision to expand across the river.

"It's business — they have to do what's right for them," Hillman said. "... They're still in our region; they didn't move to South Carolina or anywhere else."

Anthony Pfister, CEO of ClassBook, said in a statement that he was pleased to be able to "expand close to home and create new senior-level professional positions and economic growth in the area."

The company will have to navigate one unique personnel hurdle: Current employees of the 22-year-old company will not be eligible to reap the substantial reward of not having to pay state income taxes for a decade. START-UP's rules make it clear that only those employed in new jobs — positions that don't result from the demise of an existing one — can tap that benefit.

"It can create a challenge, but the employees in place now are proud to be part of ClassBook.com and making the learning experience for students a better one, and they are excited about the growth of our company," Pfister said in an email. "And that sense of excitement overcomes any challenge."

The local news was part of a larger announcement that a new batch of 17 businesses will arrive or expand statewide as a result of START-UP. The new round of designations comes with a total investment estimated by officials at $14 million and job-creation commitments of at least 464 new jobs affiliated with UAlbany, as well as SUNY Buffalo, Cornell University, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, the University of Rochester and Stony Brook University on Long Island.

Tuesday's announcement brings the total number of businesses participating in START-UP NY to 41, representing what the administration projects as 1,750 new jobs and approximately $77 million in investment.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Public defender program gets a boost

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/25/2014 - 1:07am

A leading civil liberties group and the state reached a last-minute agreement Tuesday in a 7-year-old lawsuit over legal representation for the poor in parts of upstate New York, including Washington County.

As a result, lawyers for the New York Civil Liberties Union believe they have taken a crucial first step toward reforming a statewide system that has historically put indigent or low-income people at a distinct disadvantage when charged with crimes.

"Our settlement overhauls public defense in five counties and lays the foundation for statewide reform of New York's broken public defender system," Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, said in a phone conference laying out the settlement.

Initially, the deal ensures that defendants will have a lawyer present when they are charged with a crime; it sets the limit on caseloads carried by often overburdened public defenders and sets up a way to measure caseloads and the quality of defense.

That first phase should cost at least $5 million over the next two years, and lawyers hope it would quickly lead to an expansion for all counties statewide.

"It lays the groundwork for a strong state system," said Corey Stoughton, the NYCLU lawyer on the case.

The agreement focuses on Ontario, Onondaga (Syracuse), Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington counties. They were chosen because their public defense systems were each different, and represent a mix of urban, suburban and rural communities, all of which had flawed public defender programs.

The suit started in 2007 when Kimberly Hurrell-Harring, a 31-year-old nursing assistant and mother of two, was arrested for trying to take a small amount of marijuana to her husband in prison.

Her court-appointed lawyer met with her just minutes before her court appearance and she pleaded guilty to a felony even though what she did was a misdemeanor, Lieberman said.

She spent four months in jail, and lost her job and her home.

The NYCLU found a lawyer to appeal at no charge and got the conviction overturned.

Her original public defender, Patrick Barber, was later disbarred for other reasons.

The NYCLU took up the cause and filed suit on Hurrell-Harring's behalf in 2007 in state Supreme Court in Albany County. The trial had been set to start Wednesday.

In a statement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he welcomed the deal. "Today's agreement is a positive step for New York's judicial system that addresses long-standing inequities," he said.

And David P. Miranda, president-elect of the State Bar Association, added,

"Today's settlement is welcome," noting his group has called for a statewide state-funded indigent defense system since 2007.

"I congratulate Governor Cuomo and the New York Civil Liberties Union for reaching a settlement," added Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who also supports a statewide system.

Even for the five counties covered by the agreement, the changes will take some time.

For example, the agreement says the state has 20 months to guarantee that indigent defendants in the five counties be represented by a lawyer.

Nor will the improvements be cheap.

The deal orders the state to pay $2.5 million to the NYCLU and $3 million to the Schulte Roth & Zabel law firm for their work on the suit.

And while the agreement calls for several million dollars to start with, a related report earlier estimated that if all of upstate were to provide an adequate number of defense lawyers for the indigent, it would have cost $106 million per year in 2013. (New York City has a separate system of public defenders.)

As well as hiring more lawyers, the agreement calls for adequate non-lawyer services such as investigators and translators when needed.

Despite the court settlement, participants will be watching at budget time.

The Cuomo administration plans to put the initial funding in his 2015-16 budget plan, but that will have to be agreed upon with the Legislature.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

U.S. expands Ebola checks on travelers

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 8:07pm

Washington

Fending off demands to ban travel from Ebola-stricken West Africa, the Obama administration instead tightened the nation's defenses against Ebola by requiring that all arrivals from the disease-ravaged zone pass through one of five U.S. airports.

The move responds to pressure from some Congress members and the public to impose a travel ban on the three countries at the heart of the Ebola outbreak, which has killed over 4,500 people, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, since it emerged 10 months ago.

Beginning Wednesday, people whose trips began in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone must fly into one of the five U.S. airports performing fever checks for Ebola, the Homeland Security Department said.

Previously, the administration said screenings at those airports covered about 94 percent of fliers from the three countries but missed a few who landed elsewhere.

There are no direct flights from those nations into the U.S; about 150 fliers per day arrive by various multi-leg routes.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said "we currently have in place measures to identify and screen anyone at all land, sea and air ports of entry into the United States who we have reason to believe has been present in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea in the preceding 21 days."

Since screening started Oct. 11 at New York's Kennedy airport, 562 people have been checked at the five airports, according to Homeland Security. Of those, four who arrived at Washington's Dulles airport were taken to a local hospital. No cases of Ebola have been discovered. The other airports are Newark's Liberty, Chicago's O'Hare and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson.

As the U.S. closed a gap in its Ebola screening, an Ebola-free African country said it would begin checking visiting Americans for the disease.

Rwanda's health minister said Tuesday that travelers who have been in the United States or Spain — the two countries outside of West Africa that have seen transmission during the Ebola outbreak — will be checked upon arrival and must report on their health during their stay. No Ebola cases have been reported in Rwanda, which is in East Africa. The U.S. Embassy in Rwanda said that country is banning visitors who have recently traveled to Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone, the three countries at the heart of the outbreak, as well as nearby Senegal, which had a single case

The change in U.S. policy falls short of demands by some elected officials and candidates for a ban on travel from the West African outbreak zone. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described the action as an "added layer of protection against Ebola entering our country."

The change comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention works to spread the word about its new protective guidelines for medical workers. The advice, released Monday night, had been sought by health workers after two Dallas nurses were infected while caring for a Liberian traveler, the first person diagnosed with the virus in the United States.

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo campaign rents email list to book publisher

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 7:07am

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's re-election campaign rented its email list — containing contacts for Cuomo supporters as well as at least a few people who signed up for long-ago gubernatorial events — to HarperCollins, the publisher of his new memoir "All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life."

"In a series of compelling, behind-the-scenes stories, he recounts his dramatic personal and political setbacks, how he overcame them when he was written off," the promotional blast reads, "and reveals what he's learned about effective political leadership that enabled him to enact marriage equality, gun safety, and balanced budgets."

The email, zapped out Tuesday morning, included links to the bookselling sites Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Idiebound as well as HarperCollins' own portal.

HarperCollins publicist Tina Andreadis said in an email that the publisher "did rent a list from Gov. Cuomo's campaign for one-time use." She said the company paid "market value."

Bill Mahoney, a campaign finance analyst at the state Public Interest Research Group, received the email via an account he used to sign up for Gov. Eliot Spitzer's 2007 inaugural open house at the Executive Mansion on behalf of a colleague.

Election law prohibits the use of campaign resources for personal gain; Mahoney said the fact that HarperCollins paid for the list seemed to alleviate that ethical concern, though he added that it would be beneficial to know how much was paid to the campaign for the list, and whether it would be similarly available for any other commercial purposes.

Cuomo campaign spokesman Matt Wing did not respond to an email inquiring about the fee, and whether the list had been rented out before.

Cuomo was paid $188,000 by HarperCollins in 2013, according to tax returns. He has refused to disclose additional details about his deal with the publisher, an arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Cuomo isn't the only current or former gubernatorial candidate selling a book this fall: Cuomo's Democratic primary opponent Zephyr Teachout's tour for "Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United" is promoted on the website for the Teachout-Wu campaign.

Michael Murphy, a consultant for the campaign, said that the website hadn't incurred any maintenance costs since the primary.

Teachout is creating a new "social welfare" nonprofit, the Washington Park Group, to further the goals of her progressive agenda.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Astorino unveils plan

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino on Tuesday released an "empowerment and opportunity" plan that fits with his education and jobs policies, and places a focus on family involvement — specifically that of fathers.

Astorino was joined at the plan's unveiling by state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a conservative Bronx Democrat who has endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's GOP opponent.

The plan starts with allowing "last resort" scholarships for children to attend a private or parochial school in their neighborhood where schools are failing, and an education investment tax credit that failed to be taken up for a vote during the most legislative session despite a push from state Catholic leaders and others.

Astorino also would create mentoring programs to assist inner-city entrepreneurs in starting and developing a small business in underserved communities.

He would use "performance-based tax incentives" to create micro-enterprise zones in inner-city neighborhoods to attract retail and other commercial uses.

The plan would also require that the name of a newborn child's biological father appear on the birth certificate, and relaxes penalties against some juvenile offenders while strengthening penalties against others.

He would encourage policies that would allow fathers to maintain relationships with their children even in the event of a significant unpaid child support debt.

The plan calls for treating first-time nonviolent juvenile offenders through community service and programs that would lead to a high school diploma, or a six-month "boot camp"-style incarceration for other young nonviolent, nonsexual offenders.

The plan would crack down on habitual criminals, calling for a law that would create a felony conviction for anyone with three misdemeanors in five years.

Astorino's plan would crack down on gun-related offenses, too: On top of any other sentence, it calls for an additional 10-year prison term for use of a gun in a crime, an additional 20 years if it goes off, and an additional 25 years to life if it injures or kills someone.

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

Categories: State/Local

Casino hopefuls work out labor deal

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

The developers of a proposed casino in Johnson City on Tuesday became the last of 16 bidders for a gaming license to secure a labor peace agreement, union and development team officials said.

The agreement between the Traditions Resort & Casino and the New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council concluded a bumpy negotiation that included the union's top officer, Peter Ward, alerting the Gaming Commission earlier this month of the failure of Traditions to meet the required labor peace part of the application for a casino license.

Three sticking points that held up an agreement for weeks were removed by the development team, said Tradition's Project Manager John Hussar. He said the obstacles included wanting to know the length of time that an organizing campaign could last, wanting an unsuccessful campaign to be followed by a cooling off period and wanting both sides to agree not to speak ill of each other.

The Traditions project in Johnson City is one of three proposed in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes zone. The operator of the casino would be the Seneca Gaming Corp., an arm of the Seneca tribe, which owns three western New York casinos.

The commission's siting location board met in executive session in New York City with consultants on Monday for more than two hours.

The stated reason: to discuss the financial history of the 16 applicants for up to four casino licenses upstate. The five-member board may announce its finalists for licenses before the end of October.

Categories: State/Local

Pitch for airport tax-free zones

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

In a joint appearance with Vice President Joe Biden in Queens Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced downstate airport improvement plans that would include new START-UP NY zones at two smaller airports.

The primary reason for the announcement was plans for modernization and possible expansion at two of the nation's largest airports, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International, that have been expected since Cuomo's State of the State address in January, when he said the state would assume from the Port Authority management responsibility for construction at the airports.

But Monday's event also brought good news for Newburgh's Stewart Airport and Long Island's Republic Airport, where in addition to other improvements the state is proposing creating new tax-free zones under the START-UP program.

The initiative, which creates 10-year tax-free zones for businesses that establish new operations in the state, has primarily been focused at sites around SUNY schools and some private colleges and universities. The idea is for businesses that are brought in to fit with educational goals of each institution, and for the schools to potentially provide future employees for those businesses.

Though it has been less publicized, the program also allows for tax-free zones to be created at up to 20 strategic state assets — assuming they become affiliated with a college or university, according to the memo for the bill that established the program.

It's not clear what college either airport might partner with, or what companies might be brought in as tax-free tenants. A slide show presentation that accompanied Monday morning's event said the tax-free zone at Stewart would be used to attract businesses tied to the airport's distribution capacity and allow companies to move back-office manufacturing into one connected major distribution center (another upgrade would be creating a shipping hub at the airport).

The tax-free zones would still need to be approved by the START-UP approval board.

The airports aren't the first strategic assets to be earmarked for possible START-UP zones. Four shuttered correctional facilities, including the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Wilton, were made eligible for that status when their closures were approved in this year's state budget.

The others are Butler Correction Facility in Wayne County, Chateaugay Correctional Facility in Franklin County, and Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County.

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

Categories: State/Local

High school students get career training options for their exams

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

High school students will have the option of taking tests about automotive schematics, carpentry or farming instead of the policies of Louis XIV or Jomo Kenyatta, according to a plan moved forward Monday by the state Board of Regents.

In a nod to the time limits schools face in this era of standardized testing and ongoing concerns about job readiness, students starting this spring will be able to substitute a career/technical exam or certification for one of the two Regents social studies tests now needed for a diploma.

Also envisioned in the swaps: certifications in the arts and foreign languages.

Education officials said the change was part of an effort to get more kids ready for jobs, and to build on some of the state's more successful vocational-oriented schools such as Aviation High in Queens or Ballston Spa High School's "P-Tech" program, which helps train students in clean or sustainable manufacturing techniques.

"We will want to replicate what we know is working," Education Commissioner John King Jr. said in a Monday news conference.

Currently, high school students need to pass English, math, science and two social studies Regents exams — in U.S. history and global studies — to graduate. Under the new plan, they can opt out of U.S. history or global studies, although those subjects will still be taught.

There should be more than a dozen alternates to start with, said King.

The idea is backed by the state Business Council as well as the New York State United Teachers union.

"We commend the board for recognizing the urgency in offering students robust, alternative pathways," Business Council president and CEO Heather Briccetti said in a release. The council had earlier endorsed the concept of more science, technology, engineering and math training — referred to as STEM subjects.

"Providing additional pathways to a high school diploma for all students, including those in CTE (career and technical education) programs, is the right move," NYSUT President Karen Magee said in a statement.

The plan has been in the works for several months, and should be finalized in January. Earlier reports cited social studies teachers as being unhappy with the move, which they feared could de-emphasize what they teach.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch stressed that students will still have to take and pass courses on global studies and U.S. history in order to graduate.

"We have not said that you do not need to pass these courses to be a high school graduate," Tisch said.

Local educators say they have long pushed for multiple routes, or pathways for students to earn their degrees, while allowing them to focus on their interests and play to their strengths.

"This is the kind of change we've been advocating for," said Ballston Spa Superintendent Joe Dragone.

The district's P-tech program allows students to work toward an associate degree in fields like clean manufacturing and energy or engineering.

Statewide, the move could come with costs as existing career programs gear up for the new standards.

King said funding would likely be funneled through BOCES programs, the regional service centers throughout the state that have historically operated vocational programs.

Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, joined King and Tisch to announced the new approach.

Businesses have retooled their manufacturing industries with automation and digitization, Brindisi said, requiring that today's factory workers be fluent in math, software and other academically rooted skills.

"They have very well-paying jobs available, but they have a hard time finding skilled labor to meet the job requirements," he said. "We're not providing a qualified workforce.''

The newly dubbed SUNY Polytechnic, which grew out of the University at Albany nanotechnology program, is expanding in the lawmaker's district.

And in the Capital Region, it appears that demand for tech workers could grow following Monday's news that GlobalFoundries will be taking over IBM's computer chip-making center in Vermont and Dutchess County. The chip maker currently partners with Ballston Spa students in several programs.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Clear path for justice

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Republican state Sen. John Bonacic, who chairs the chamber's judiciary committee, said in a Monday statement that while he's "disappointed" Gov. Andrew Cuomo chose not to renominate Court of Appeals Justice Victoria Graffeo, he doesn't anticipate any problem with the nomination of Cuomo's choice of Appellate Judge Leslie Stein.

"This is the governor's choice as he sees fit," said Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, who added that Stein "has the necessary qualifications to sit on the Court of Appeals. I do not think there will be a problem with her confirmation."

Cuomo's decision not to renominate Graffeo, an appointee of Republican former Gov. George Pataki, was criticized by some who saw it as a partisan rejection. The governor delayed announcing his choice two weeks past the legal deadline in order to push the timeline for the Senate's nomination vote beyond the Nov. 4 general election.

On Friday, Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos said in his own disappointed reaction to Cuomo's pick that he and Bonacic, among others, would embark on "an earnest and thorough review" of Stein over "the next few weeks."

Bonacic praised Graffeo's "wisdom, experience and exemplary service to the bench during her tenure."

Categories: State/Local

Astorino looks to bar travelers

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino wants Gov. Andrew Cuomo to shut down gates at John F. Kennedy International Airport to stop any traveler from the three West African nations most affected by the epidemic.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Astorino went farther, saying that everyone else on those planes should be turned away and returned to the flight's point of origin.

Astorino has been calling on the Port Authority to shut down all flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. On Thursday, the Port Authority's Executive Director Patrick Foye noted in a briefing with Cuomo and other officials that there are no direct flights from those nations into the metropolitan area.

Most travelers from that region, Foye noted, arrive in the U.S. via Paris or Brussels.

"It has to be dealt with in a severe and serious way immediately," Astorino said of the possibility that Ebola will arrive in New York.

As to how this shutdown should be accomplished, Astorino initially said that passengers from the affected nations should be turned away, and later expanded that to say that everyone on the flight — including, conceivably, American citizens who hadn't set foot in West Africa — should be prevented from disembarking rather than risk the possibility that they had become infected simply by being on the plane.

Ebola can only be contracted through direct contact with bodily fluids. So far, only two Ebola patients are confirmed to have contracted the disease in the U.S.: Two Dallas nurses who treated Liberian Thomas E. Duncan, who subsequently died of the disease. (Six other confirmed cases involve individuals who contracted the disease overseas.)

Astorino said that he would be willing to test the question of whether the state has the legal right to turn away international flights.

The candidate, who was briefly joined on the call by Republican Rep. Peter King, said Cuomo seemed to view the Ebola crisis as "a nuisance during his book tour."

A state Health Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Speaking to the media at an event in Queens, Cuomo was asked about the prospect of a federal flight ban on citizens from the three affected nations.

"That's up to the federal government," he said. "I think it's something they should seriously consider."

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local
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