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Children's center faces abuse lawsuit

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/05/2015 - 1:07am


A venerable Schenectady-based institution that started as a 19th-century orphanage and has since expanded its services is among those being sued for alleged abuse of a developmentally disabled youngster who lived in one of its facilities.

The suit claims the boy, then 12, suffered serious injury after workers at Northeast Parent & Child Society choked him with the power cord of his PlayStation device.

Filed on behalf of a boy identified as "R.W.," the lawsuit names Northeast as well as the affiliated Northern Rivers Family Services Inc. and Parsons Child and Family Center as defendants.

One Northeast employee, Tajeer Uln, is identified in the court papers, while 20 individuals are unnamed. Uln couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

Among the unnamed "John and Jane Doe" defendants are employees of the state Justice Center, the agency that investigates allegations of abuse committed against the disabled.

"His mom says he liked basketball and swimming. Now he's inside and just stares,'' said plaintiff's attorney Aaron DePass of the youth's condition after the alleged incident.

The suit was filed on behalf of the child by DePass, Robert Santoriella and Brad Gerstman in Albany's Northern District federal court.

It seeks unspecified damages. Also involved in the case is the Disability Rights Project, which includes disability activist Michael Carey as a member.

Court documents allege R.W. was "brutally assaulted on numerous occasions by several of the staff."

In a statement, Northeast Child & Parent officials declined to comment in the allegations.

"As an organization dedicated to preserving the privacy of the children and families we serve, we do not confirm nor deny that anyone is or has been in our care," spokeswoman Darlene Raynsford said in an email. "Our practice is to fully cooperate with all investigations conducted by authorized external oversight bodies."

According to the complaint, R.W. was one of four siblings brought by their mother, identified as A.W., to Parsons in 2012 as she "sought to gain stability in her life and the ability to once again provide a home for her children."

In 2014, R.W. — who has developmental disabilities — was transferred to a Northeast Parent & Child facility in Schenectady.

There he was allegedly struck by Uln, who also mocked and threatened to kill him.

The suit claims R.W. recorded the threat on video with the handheld gaming device. Police were called, but there was no arrest. The video was shown on a local newscast, said the lawyers.

One of the videos posted Monday on YouTube by the Disability Rights Project, an advocacy group critical of the safety net protecting the disabled from caregiver abuse, shows the boy addressing the console's camera in close-up, his right eye swollen.

"Mom, this is what it looks like — you see this? My eye? He slammed me," the boy says in the 37-second video.

The suit claims Uln and others subsequently choked the boy with the cord of the child's PlayStation. He did not receive immediate medical care after the assault, according to the complaint.

Later, though, the youth was hospitalized and transferred to a disability center in the Hudson Valley, where he remains.

The state Justice Center, which oversees facilities caring for the disabled, was notified. The lawsuit states that allegations about R.W. being physically and psychologically abused and choked with the cord were found to be "substantiated."

Because they are named in the suit, officials at the Justice Center declined comment.

It wasn't immediately clear what happened to the employees who were allegedly involved in the abuse.


Categories: State/Local

First things first, Astorino insists

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/05/2015 - 1:07am


With the 2018 rumor mill already revved up, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino maintained Wednesday that he's still open to running for governor again — though for now he just wants to govern.

In making those comments at the state Capitol, Astorino also kept the door open for a run for re-election as Westchester County executive in 2017.

He said such a run would not indicate he has no interest in running for governor for a second time.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo soundly defeated Astorino in last year's election.

Among the other politicians discussed as the GOP's possible gubernatorial candidate is Rep. Chris Gibson, who will hang up his congressional spurs at the end of 2016. As he has flirted with a gubernatorial run, Gibson has said his focus currently lies on trying to build the Republican Party in deep-blue New York.

Yet in saying that he is looking forward to just governing for the next several years, Astorino said Gibson should be focused on the same until he leaves Congress.

"The constant three years of outwardly campaigning for something is not what we should be doing," Astorino said.

His comments come days after Gibson questioned in the Daily News how the county executive could run for re-election in Westchester County, then turn around to run for governor in 2018. Gibson argues that proper fundraising and build-up of name recognition needs more than just a year's time.

Of course, there is a statewide election coming up sooner than 2018. Asked about a run in 2016 for U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, Astorino was blunt: He made a buzzer noise and gave reporters a thumbs down. 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 10/04/2015 - 4:07pm

Candidates kept off WEP ballot in rulings

ALBANY — Amid confusion surrounding the future of the Women's Equality Party, court decisions levied in the past two days are bringing at least some consistency: Candidates are being kept off the party's ballot line.

State Supreme Court justices in Albany, Saratoga, Warren and Broome counties have denied access to the WEP line to at least 15 candidates running for various local offices. At least nine of those candidates are running in the Capital Region or in judicial districts that touch the Capital Region.

In denying the nominations of three judicial candidates Wednesday in Albany, a judge used the same rationale as he did a day earlier, tossing the nominations for not including all of the proper legal paperwork with the petitions. The judge in Broome County cited the Tuesday decision as his rationale for denying the nominations.

In Warren County, a judge's ruling was among the more broad: It stated none of three groups trying to take control of the party have the authority to nominate candidates.

A copy of the decision from Saratoga County was not immediately available.

— Matthew Hamilton

The Legal Project up for attorney general aid

ALBANY — The Capital Region-based nonprofit The Legal Project is set to receive funding from the state attorney general earmarked for continuation of services that help homeowners prevent foreclosure and rebuild communities hit by the 2008 housing market crash.

In total, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman plans to hand out $11.5 million won in settlements following the housing market collapse to 28 legal service providers statewide. It was not immediately clear how much of that money would go to The Legal Project will receive roughly $700,000.

The attorney general's office said the state comptroller is reviewing the one-year grants. An additional year is possible.

The money is going to support the Homeowner Protection Program, which is a network of almost 90 housing counseling and legal services agencies that provide free assistance to at-risk homeowners to help them avoid foreclosure.

— Matthew Hamilton

Categories: State/Local

Planned Parenthood chief, lawmakers spar

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 10/04/2015 - 12:07pm


The head of Planned Parenthood defended the women's health organization Tuesday before a Republican-run Congress bent on slashing its federal funding, telling lawmakers that accusations against her group fed by stealthily recorded videos are "offensive and categorically untrue."

In Planned Parenthood's first appearance before Congress since those videos emerged this summer, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee argued that the group needs no taxpayer financing. They cited Planned Parenthood tax documents showing it spends millions on political activities, travel and exorbitant salaries.

"That's money that's not going to women's health care," said committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "It's a political organization, and that's something that needs to be ferreted out."

Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood's president, told the lawmakers that her group has fallen victim to a "smear campaign" based on videos in which its officials coolly describe how they sometimes harvest tissue from aborted fetuses for scientific research.

Conservatives and many Republicans say the videos, made by abortion foes posing as private purchasers of fetal organs, show Planned Parenthood has broken federal laws including a ban on for-profit fetal tissue sales. The organization says it's acted legally and says the videos were deceitfully edited.

"The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue," Richards said.

Richards also said the videos have inspired an increase in threats against the organization's clinics.

The recordings have pumped Planned Parenthood and the abortions many of its nearly 700 clinics provide into an political issue. Conservatives' demands that Congress cut its federal payments — for which Republicans lack the votes to succeed — contributed to the GOP unrest that prompted House Speaker John Boehner to announce his resignation.

Categories: State/Local

Better cell signal for next storm at Gilboa dam complex

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 10/04/2015 - 1:07am


In an attempt to avoid the communications blackouts caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, the New York Power Authority board on Tuesday authorized $3.5 million for new cell tower construction and improvements to guarantee a connection between the outside world and the rural Gilboa dam and power plant in Schoharie County.

"The Power Authority recognized that we needed to build in more redundancy to our communications," NYPA President Gil Quiniones said in a prepared statement after the board's decision.

As an added bonus, residents of the rural, sparsely populated area west of the Capital Region should have better cellphone connectivity once the towers, which will be operated by Verizon, are retrofitted with microwave and transceiver equipment.

The two towers slated for improvement are along Route 30 between Middleburgh and Grand Gorge. A third 260-foot tower will be erected by the power plant reservoir.

"They've given us a start toward more robust (cellphone) coverage in the area,'' said Republican Assemblyman Pete Lopez.

Cellphone providers have historically been reluctant to invest in towers to serve regions with low population density.

North Country residents, for instance, pushed nearly a decade ago for Verizon to put up towers along rural stretches of the Northway. That effort was galvanized by the 2007 death of a Brooklyn resident who along with his wife became trapped when their car went off the road in frigid temperatures and they were unable to summon help.

In Schoharie County, the immediate objective is to ensure that workers at the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Plant can stay in communication with authorities in the event of a disaster.

The memory of Irene, which brought destructive flooding to Schoharie County and a scare at the NYPA dam, remains fresh in many people's minds, Lopez said.

During Irene, the power reservoir floodgates had malfunctioned. And at the nearby Schoharie Reservoir — which feeds New York City's drinking water supply — floodwaters were 8 feet over the spillway, Lopez recalled.

Officials feared a catastrophic breach, which would have flooded into the Mohawk River and downstream into Amsterdam and Schenectady. That didn't happen — but the episode prompted repairs and a hard look at the complex's infrastructure, including its cellphone coverage.

Quiniones, who was NYPA's acting CEO when Irene struck, was trapped at the power complex during the storm. He had traveled there to greet Gov. Andrew Cuomo and an inspection team to examine the dam after a 2.5-magnitude earthquake had rattled nearby Altamont.

The quake, which caused no damage, was detected just before Irene swept through the area.

On Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey registered a 3.0-magnitude earthquake at the Gilboa complex. No damage was reported, but as in 2011 the temblor came as a tropical storm was approaching.

On Tuesday, forecasts for Tropical Storm Joaquin called for heavy rains Tuesday night, with showers continuing into the weekend.

There's no indication that Joaquin will approach the size of Irene, which smacked into New York City before wreaking its worst damage upstate. But Lopez couldn't help but note the eerie similarity.

"A number of us are a little skittish," he said. "We had another earthquake under the Power Authority (dam), and now we have a tropical storm bearing down on us."


Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 5

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 10/04/2015 - 1:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will include a focus on what the city can do to stop gas-related explosions after another such explosion occurred this weekend, this time in Borough Park; education politics and policy, as the pro-charter, anti-de Blasio group Families for Excellent Schools will hold a large rally; a continuation of negotiation and criticism between city and state entities over MTA funding; and more.

Oh, and it's the Major League Baseball playoffs, with both the Mets and Yankees in the post-season for the first time in a long time, with many hoping for a "subway series" World Series between the two, a la 2000, when the Yankees defeated the Mets.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: With the threat from Hurricane Joaquin abated, Mayor de Blasio decided to go through with his trip to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore on Friday and Saturday. The mayor delivered remarks at a reception for the State Innovation Exchange Conference on Friday, then attended the United States Conference of Mayors Fall Leadership Meeting on Saturday. The mayor then headed back to Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he attended to the emergency gas explosion that tore apart a building, killing at least one and injuring several.

The incident is another in a string of gas explosions, including East Harlem and the East Village, that has many worried and talking about a need for new measures to combat the deadly incidents. Gov. Cuomo announced he was deploying representatives to investigate and city officials are calling for action. This explosion appears to have been caused by mistakes made during the removal of an oven.

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will be on Staten Island for the groundbreaking of The Staten Island Family Justice Center, at which the mayor will speak around 10 a.m. Read more from the Staten Island Advance, including that Staten Island will join the other boroughs, each of which already has such a center, which "provide comprehensive criminal justice, civil legal and social services free of charge to victims of domestic violence, elderly abuse and sex trafficking in the other boroughs."

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

At 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Bronx County Courthouse, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "will announce a major crackdown on distributors of synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs."

On Monday morning, "State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan joins state Sen. Martin Golden on a walking tour and media availability in Gerritsen Beach, starting in front of 3078 Gerritsen Ave., Brooklyn," according to City & State NY.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will announce the "launch of MonumentArt, an International Mural Festival hosted in East Harlem and the South Bronx," from La Marqueta.

On Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James "will travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Funders' Committee for Civic Participation conference."

Monday evening, First Lady McCray will be among the honorees of a Feminist Power Award from the Feminist Press.

At 8 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer "Receives the Pacesetter Award at The National Association of Investment Companies 45th Annual Meeting & Convention Welcome Reception."

Monday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 pm
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 6:30 pm
  • CM Julissa Ferreras (District 21, Queens) 7 pm

Tuesday, at 10 a.m., a press conference in PACE University's downtown campus will mark the beginning of Poverty Awareness Week, which is co-sponsored by Pace University and The Mayor's Office. The week will include a series of events. Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. will be one keynote speaker; Shola Olatoye, Chair and CEO of NYCHA will participate in a discussion on "Local Initiatives to Eradicate Poverty."

On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio "will deliver remarks at the ribbon-cutting for the Brooklyn College Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School for Cinema at Steiner Studios."

At 5 p.m., the Mayor will appear on WCBS Newsradio 880.

In the evening, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and many others will attend a birthday celebration for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host "Why New York? Our Broken Bail System." The event will be moderated by New York Times journalist Shaila Dewan, with panelists: Judge George Grasso, public defender Josh Saunders, criminal justice reform advocate Glenn E. Martin, and an individual who couldn't afford bail.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NY Tech Meetup will be held at NYU, with a number of New York companies presenting demos of technologies that they are developing.

Tuesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 4 pm
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6 pm
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 6:30 pm
  • CM Brad Lander (District 39, Brooklyn) 6:30 pm
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 8 pm

JCOPE is set to meet Wednesday morning in Albany.

Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., City & State NY holds its fifth annual "On Energy" event, inviting leaders in government, advocacy and business to speak on a number of topics related to the future of energy. Among the topics of discussion will be Governor Andrew Cuomo's regulatory overhaul in New York, Mayor de Blasio's 80 by 50 plan, and more. The event includes a panel with Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director of Center for an Urban Future; Nilda Mesa, Director at NYC Mayor's Office of Sustainability; Kathryn Garcia, Commissioner, NYC Department of Sanitation. Other notable speakers to appear include: Richard Kauffman, NYS Chair of Energy & Finance; Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, Chairman of New York AREA; Ambassador Ron Kirk, Chairman of CASEnergy; Kevin Parker, a New York state Senator and ranking member of the Energy & Telecommunications Committee.

On Wednesday, The Families for Excellent Schools rally, postponed from last week because of weather and "to demand equal opportunity in our schools," will take place, starting mid-morning at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, followed by a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, and a 12:30 p.m. press conference at City Hall. The rally is, in essence, to promote more more charter schools and criticize Mayor de Blasio's education agenda, which does not include more charters. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is expected to headline the rally, along with several high-profile performers, including Jennifer Hudson.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., The Committee on Transportation will meet to discuss a bill that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a study on the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists along bus routes. DOT would then institute new safety measures based on the data. The Committee will also discuss a bill that would require the identification of dangerous intersections based on incidents involving pedestrians, and implement curb extensions in such areas. The Committee will also make a decision on resolutions that would require the MTA to instal rear guards on bus wheels and to study ways to eliminate blind spots for buses.
  • Also 10 a.m., The Committee on Aging will hold an oversight hearing on older adult employment.

At 10 a.m. The East 50s Alliance will hold a community rally to protest the planned construction of a 900-foot tower in the 58th street residential area. The residents are "deeply concerned that the tower will diminish the safety, accessibility and livability of a narrow side street during a lengthy construction process and forever after." City Council Member Ben Kallos will speak.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Vivertio, along with Council Members Paul Vallone and Vincent Gentile and others, will hold a Celebration of Italian Heritage at the Council Chambers in City Hall. The event will also celebrate Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday.

From 6 to 8 p.m. at Fordham Law School, The Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center and the Women's City Club of New York will host "This Bridge Called My Back: Women of Color and the Fight for Economic Security", on "how gender intersects with economic and racial inequality in New York City." Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University, will moderate the panel, with Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York; Luna Ranjit, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Adhikaar; Joanne N. Smith Founder and Executive Director of Girls for Gender Equality; and Margarita Rosa, Executive Director of National Center for Law and Economic Justice participating in the discussion.

Wednesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 6 pm
  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 pm
  • CM Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn) 6:30 pm
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens) 7 pm

On Thursday at the City Council:

  • 9:30 a.m., Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss three land use applications in Manhattan.
  • 10 a.m., Committee on Finance will meet regarding the Department of Finance's Office of the Taxpayer Advocate.
  • 11 a.m., Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to discuss a land use application in Brooklyn
  • 1 p.m., Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to discuss another land use application in Brooklyn

Thursday at the New York State Legislature: the Assembly Standing Committee on Health, Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health, and Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities will hold a joint public hearing regarding Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment and Services. "The Committees are seeking oral and written testimony from patients and their families, clinicians, service providers, and the Department on topics including the incidence, severity and consequences of TBI; treatment and service appropriateness and availability, including the rights of patients sent out-of-state; and issues relating to the transition of the TBI Waiver program to managed care."

At 9 a.m. Thursday New York State Assembly Members Latoya Joyner and Marcos Crespo will kick off "Let's Put Our Cities on the Map," sponsored and hosted by Google at the Bronx Museum of Arts, which will offer free counseling for small businesses on how to reach local customer bases, specifically by using "SmartLogic" online tools.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, October 8 at 10:00 AM."

At 5 p.m. Thursday, EmblemHealth and LaborPress will honor 12 labor union members, from eight different labor unions, for their remarkable contributions to the labor communities at the fourth annual "Heroes of Labor Awards". EmblemHealth has invited many city elected officials to speak, several are expected.

At 6 p.m. Thursday in Washington, D.C., the Brennan Center for Justice and Vox will hold "The Politics of Participation: Building an Engaged Citizenry for Millennials and Beyond," including City Council Member Eric Ulrich. It is billed as "a candid conversation about what the shifting demographic landscape means for grassroots movements, political action, and civic engagement; how can we shape our democracy into one that is truly representative of the people being governed?"

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold "The Changing Face of Activism," which will explore the historical progression of activism from the 1960s desegregation movement to the present day Black Lives Matter movement. Moderated by Alethia Jones, a leader of 1199 SEIU, the panel will feature activist Barbara Smith; Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform; and Jose Lopez, Lead Organizer at Make the Road NY and member of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Dan Abrams of ABC News will talk with Ray Kelly, the longest-serving NYPD Commissioner, at the 92nd Street Y. Kelly will hold a book signing for his new memoir Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City, after his talk with Mr. Abrams.

Thursday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Steve Levin (District 33, Brooklyn) 5 pm
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens) 7 pm
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 8 pm

Friday and the weekend
Friday at 8:15 a.m., NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton will speak at New York Law School, as part of the CityLaw breakfast series.

Weekend participatory budgeting:

  • Friday, CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 1 pm.
  • Saturday, CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), time TBA.
  • Sunday, CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), time TBA.

*Note: we'll publish our next 'Week Ahead' on Monday, October 13 given the Columbus Day holiday

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

by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max

Categories: State/Local

Fate of Women's Equality line remains cloudy

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/03/2015 - 1:07am


In the war for control of the fledgling Women's Equality Party, confusion remains the only clear winner.

An acting state Supreme Court justice in Albany County ruled on Tuesday that a state Senate candidate from the Southern Tier and an Albany County legislative candidate can't hold the line, though that ruling turned on a technicality unrelated to an appellate court decision from last week that left more ambiguities about the party's future. Meanwhile, yet another court ruled Tuesday that Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane can retain the third-party line.

Control of the WEP is being contested by a team backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and two rival efforts: one supported by former state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, the other by Western New York Republicans.

In Albany, acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin ruled that neither Barbara Fiala, Cuomo's handpicked candidate for the Senate seat recently vacated by the conviction of Republican incumbent Tom Libous, nor Albany County legislative candidate Wanda Willingham may hold the WEP line because neither candidate's nominating paperwork included a required affidavit.

Observers noted that while Platkin dismissed the nominations, he did so without answering the central question of whether any of three groups vying for control of the WEP can legally nominate candidates to run on its line in November. Instead, Platkin deferred to the appellate court ruling handed down last week that said lower court can rule on specific nominations to the party's line without deciding the larger question of who controls the WEP.

The appellate ruling reversed a lower court's decision that said none of the three groups trying to take control of the party could nominate candidates because none had the support of a majority of the WEP's four statewide candidates from the 2014 election. Cuomo's group claims only two of those candidates: him and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Meanwhile, state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Sise of Montgomery County allowed incumbent mayoral candidate Ann Thane, a Democrat, to remain on the third-party line.

Citing the same appellate court ruling, Sise wrote that if one of the competing groups has secured the support of at least one of the statewide candidates while other contenders have none, then it has the ability to nominate candidates for office — even if the larger question of party control remains unresolved.

The Cuomo-backed group says it wants to put some 400 candidates across the state on the WEP line.

As these and similar cases wend their way through the courts, it's unclear if the WEP line will play any sort of decisive role in the Nov. 3 elections.

In last year's gubernatorial race, the WEP earned 53,802 votes for the Cuomo-Hochul ticket — only 3 percent of a tally that also included support on the Democratic, Independence and Working Families Party lines.

Applying the same percentage to, say, a city council race in which a candidate earns 500 votes, the Women's Equality Party would account for only 15. 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Schneiderman calls for liquid nicotine warnings, childproof packaging

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/03/2015 - 1:07am

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has joined his counterparts in Indiana and Illinois to call on federal officials to take action to prevent poisoning of children from liquid nicotine and other novel tobacco products.

In a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the attorneys general requested that the agency develop standards for child-resistant packaging and to put warning labels on the liquid used in e-cigarettes as well as nicotine-based dissolvables, lotions, gels and drinks.

The FDA itself issued a notice in July requesting information on whether it should propose such rules.

The request comes in the midst of a surge of use in e-cigarettes, which tripled among middle school and high school students from 2013 to 2014, according to a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports a recent uptick in calls resulting from exposure to e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine. There were nearly 3,800 such calls last year, up from about 1,500 the year before. Half those calls related to children under 5.

Liquid nicotine is highly toxic and must be diluted before it can be used in e-cigarettes. A single teaspoon of liquid nicotine can be lethal to a child, and smaller amounts can cause severe illness, often requiring trips to the emergency room.

Last year, an 18-month-old Montgomery County boy died after ingesting liquid nicotine left in a bottle within his reach. His death is believed to be the first in the country from liquid nicotine poisoning.


Categories: State/Local

Judge dismisses felony charges for 2 accused in baby's death

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/03/2015 - 1:07am

FORT EDWARD (AP) — A New York judge has dismissed two felony charges against a man and woman charged in the overdose death of a 13-month-old girl.

Twenty-seven-year-old Rachel Ball and 35-year-old Joshua Bennett are charged with second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter and other charges in the death of Ball's daughter. A tentative trial date has been set for Dec. 7.

Authorities said Kayleigh Cassell died Feb. 22 in a home in the Washington County town of Kingsbury where Bennett was staying.

A forensic pathologist said Kayleigh died of pneumonia and respiratory failure stemming from acute heroin and cocaine intoxication.

The Post-Star of Glens Falls reports ( ) a Washington County judge found insufficient evidence to support tampering with physical evidence charges against the couple.


Information from: The Post-Star,

Categories: State/Local

Cops: Burned woman's death an apparent suicide

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 10/03/2015 - 12:07am

DEWITT (AP) — Authorities say a woman whose burned body was found on a central New York college campus had bought fuel, a lighter and a gas can before apparently setting herself on fire.

Police in the town of DeWitt say surveillance footage from a gas station shows the woman making the purchases before her body was found late Sunday morning in a wooded area on the Le Moyne College campus.

Officials say they're investigating her death as an apparent suicide.

Police say they've learned the woman in her 50s had a history of depression and mental illness. Her name hasn't been released.

Officials say the woman lived near the college located just outside Syracuse but had no affiliation with the college and no relatives in New York state.

Categories: State/Local

A jackpot in your pocket?

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 1:07am


Buying a lottery ticket now requires the same amount of motion and effort as sending a text message.

A new smartphone app called Jackpocket lets New Yorkers play lottery games without ever having to set foot in the corner bodega. The minds behind the app, released Monday, see it as a sign of the future of lottery gaming, and a way for states to tap into what's seen by some as an underutilized millennial market that isn't playing Powerball at the same rate as their parents and grandparents.

The app also arrives as the state considers what to do with another digital form of gaming: online poker, which has become part of the larger debate surrounding gaming expansion in New York.

Jackpocket's developers say their intentions are simple: Make sure state lotteries can afford to continue contributing to public causes (proceeds from the New York State Lottery go toward education) and to keep state lotteries alive as that segment of the gaming industry fades in some markets.

"Everything has now become the touch-a-button kind of economy," said Jackpocket CEO Peter Sullivan, citing the explosive growth of apps like Uber and smartphone-based commerce in general. "Particularly governments move slow and they have other things to focus on rather than technology. ... I think what you need is someone to help assist them."

The app works like this: Users verify their ages (you must be 18 to play) and input payment data similar to other e-commerce platforms. Users can then select their game (Powerball, New York Lotto, Mega Millions, etc.) and their chosen numbers, and they receive a scan of the ticket purchased through an established list of state-licensed retailers.

The ticket's actual purchase is made by a Jackpocket employee.

Players who win can choose to either transfer winnings of up to $600 to a bank account or store it for future play. For bigger prizes, Jackpocket will send the ticket to the buyer.

For now, there is no surcharge for New York players — meaning a $1 ticket costs $1 through the app, Sullivan said, adding that the company hopes to expand its retailer base.

Jackpocket makes money in a deal with lottery retailers to share the retailers' 6 percent commission on ticket sales.

Jackpocket would appear to be the first app of its kind. Illinois is currently the only state with its own online portal for lottery ticket sales.

"I think it's just gambling diversifying with new technologies and new ways to buy things," said David Schwartz, the director of the University of Nevada — Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research.

Lee Park, a spokesman for the state Gaming Commission, said the state is aware of Jackpocket and is reviewing the app, which he noted is in no way affiliated with the New York Lottery.

Lawmakers have most recently been trying to figure out what to do with online poker companies that want to set up shop in New York. But proposed legislation sticks to regulating companies that would offer the games, and leaves unanswered whether it's currently legal for players to participate.

The same would appear to be true with Jackpocket, though some form of state regulation may be inevitable. Sullivan said talks are ongoing with New York's regulators. No legislation dealing with online lottery gaming has been introduced so far in the 2015-16 legislative session.

In New Jersey — a state in which Jackpocket would like to made inroads — legislation passed the state Assembly in August that would allow for lottery courier services, with the idea that companies could deliver lottery tickets to customers' doorsteps.

But if the New York State Lottery — which contributed $3.11 billion to education in the most recent fiscal year — is recognized as one of the nation's largest and most successful, why would it need to move into the lottery courier realm?

The gaming industry as a whole may have a millennial problem.

"It seems like (young people) are not gambling as much," Schwartz said. "Social gaming is popular. (The app) seems like something that would be a good idea to get the group involved."

During Jackpocket's testing phase, Sullivan said, the company found that 60 percent of users were under age 35.

"Their player base is dying off," he said of traditional lotteries. " ... It's funny, though, because New York's lottery still has such a strong brand — it's one of the biggest brands in the state. So people are willing to purchase the tickets, (but) I think they just need a new mechanism to do it." 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Research center gets new name

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 1:07am

New Paltz

Governors come and go, political parties rise and fall, and for nearly half a century Gerald Benjamin has watched it all as New York's pre-eminent political scientist.

It's not a role that has always endeared the SUNY New Paltz professor to those in charge.

"The phone rings, I pick it up, and a voice says, 'Professor Benjamin, this is Hugh Carey,'" Benjamin said, recalling the first time a sitting governor called after reading one of Benjamin's critiques in a news article. Thinking it was a colleague's prank, Benjamin replied with some colorful language. "There's a little silence, and again he says, 'This is Huge Carey' and I knew it really was."

Benjamin, 70, will be honored Wednesday when SUNY New Paltz renames its Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach the Benjamin Center. Named a professor at New Paltz in 1968, Benjamin has published reams of research, led the SUNY Rockefeller Institute in Albany and was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Since 2008, he has directed the center that will soon bear his name. It works to leverage the college's research and educational strengths to serve the Hudson Valley.

He's also directly participated in government: Benjamin served on the Ulster County Legislature from 1981 to 1993, and was chairman for two years.

Benjamin is married and has four children — one is Albany journalist Liz Benjamin — and splits his time between residences in New Paltz and New York City.

"He jokes about retiring, but he would just end up doing this from his living room," said Joshua Simons, a research associate at New Paltz who went to work for Benjamin after having him as a professor.

Categories: State/Local

Woman who aided escapees sentenced

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 1:07am


A sobbing former prison worker who helped two murderers escape from a maximum-security lockup said she regretted her "horrible mistake" as she was sentenced Monday to up to seven years behind bars as part of a plea deal.

Joyce Mitchell apologized profusely as she was sentenced to 2 1/3 to seven years in prison, saying she acted in part out of fear. She also might have to contribute to the $120,000 in restitution the state is seeking for damages to Clinton Correctional Facility from the brazen June 6 escape. The judge showed little sympathy as he handed down the sentence and set a Nov. 6 restitution hearing.

"If I could take it all back, I would," she told the judge. "I never intended for any of this to happen."

Mitchell entered the courtroom in tears and cried throughout most of the 35-minute sentencing. She apologized to the community, her former co-workers and law enforcement officers for the weeks of fear and disruption the search for the killers caused.

Mitchell, 51, had pleaded guilty to charges related to providing hacksaw blades and other tools to inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat.

Matt was serving 25 years to life for the killing and dismembering of his former boss. Sweat was serving life without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy in 2002.

The pair eluded more than 1,000 searchers who combed the thick woods and bogs of northern New York for much of the next three weeks. Matt was killed by a border agent June 26. Sweat was wounded and captured by a state trooper two days later.

Mitchell admitted becoming close with the pair while she worked as an instructor in the prison tailor shop. She told investigators she agreed to be their getaway driver before backing out after suffering a panic attack. The escapees were forced to scrub plans to head to Mexico and instead fled on foot after emerging from a manhole.

Judge Kevin Ryan noted that the resulting search disrupted life in a wide swath of the region for three weeks. "A large portion of the local population were terrorized," he said. "Many were forced to flee their homes."

Mitchell said she didn't tell anyone about the inmates' escape plan because Matt had threatened to harm her family, particularly her husband, Lyle, who also worked in the prison.

"I was fearful of Mr. Matt threatening to kill my husband and wanting to know where my son and mother live," she told the judge.

But the judge rebuffed her claim that she was protecting her family by not divulging the escape plot to authorities.

"I just don't find that explanation credible," Ryan said.

Categories: State/Local

The Week That Was in New York Politics, Sept. 28-Oct. 2

Gotham Gazette - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 1:00am

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

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday October 2

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio does some road repaving on Staten Island, via the Mayor's Office; Gov. Cuomo checks out the beer at the Anheuser Busch brewery, via @NYGovCuomo; Public Advocate Tish James welcomes Ahmed Mohamed to City Hall, via @TishJames


1. NYPD Use of Force: On Thursday, the NYPD announced a set of new guidelines and a tracking system to document officers' use of force. Officers will be required to detail every instance when force is employed, not only during arrests but brief detention-and-release incidents. The NYPD will also track use of force against officers. The announcement comes after City Council members have introduced legislation to require an "early warning system" be put in place to identify officers who use force inappropriately and on the same day as a new NYPD Inspector General report on use-of-force was released.

Read: Next Steps After Eye-Opener NYPD Inspector General Use-of-Force Report by Council Members Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander

2. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion Under Federal Investigation: Federal investigators are looking into how contracts were awarded in Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo economic development program. The Buffalo Billion program is intended to infuse $1 billion into the upstate economy and create 14,000 jobs, but has become the focus of a corruption investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has issued subpoenas to major entities involved.

Read: Alain Kaloyeros, Powerful Centerpiece of Buffalo Billion, Could Become Household Name

3. Chief Judge Takes On Bail: On Thursday, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced a series of initiatives aimed at addressing what he called the “unsafe and unfair bail system,” including automatic review of bail for misdemeanor cases.

4. Debate Over Rezoning of Brooklyn Schools: The Department of Education came under fire on Wednesday at a hearing on the rezoning of two Brooklyn schools. The DOE’s proposal is intended to ease overcrowding one school, but the proposal has sparked debate over race, school equity, school quality, and school desegregation and integration. The de Blasio administration has done little to explicitly address school segregation, but the rezoning at play in Brooklyn is at least somewhat inadvertently moving the issue.

5. Movement on MTA Funding: The de Blasio administration appears to be moving toward meeting more of the funding requests made by the MTA, a state agency, even as the Cuomo and de Blasio administrations continue to spar publicly about responsibility, funding levels, and other aspects of the issue.


  • $1.8 billion is how much prosecutors are investigating Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials for diverting from the Hudson River rail tunnel. The funds were spent on state-owned roads instead.
  • 18% decrease in the number of incidents where New York police officers fired their weapons thus far in 2015 compared with the same period last year.


  • It was a good week for Staten Island commuters, as the city's ongoing repaving efforts continued, with some help from Mayor de Blasio, under the supervision of Borough President James Oddo; and the official start of expanded Staten Island ferry service, by which the ferry will run every half-hour all the time.
  • It was a bad week for gun control advocates, in New York and elsewhere, whose frustration continues to grow amid news of another mass school shooting, this one in Oregon. Governor Cuomo has had especially harsh words for federal officials who refuse to act on gun regulations such as expanded background checks.


  • Around this time last year, on September 30, 2014, Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order to expand New York City's living wage law to cover thousands of previously exempt workers and to raise the hourly wage itself for workers who do not receive benefits. The move was criticized by Comptroller Scott Stringer.


Report Shows Need for Elementary After-School Expansion, by John Spina

Cuomo Takes Additional Executive Action on Criminal Justice, by David King

Alain Kaloyeros, Powerful Centerpiece of Buffalo Billion, Could Become Household Name, by David King

Absent from Cuomo's New Education Task Force: A Student, by Ben Max

Do New York Elected Officials Deserve A Raise? by Meg O’Connor

Will New York Be Last to 'Raise the Age'? by David King

Amid Federal Brinkmanship, New York City Officials Redouble Support for Planned Parenthood, by Meg O’Connor

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

Next Steps After Eye-Opening NYPD Inspector General Use-of-Force Report

Gotham Gazette - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 1:00am

(photo via NYPD on flickr)

Officer James Frascatore is working behind a desk after assaulting James Blake last month. But if history is a guide, there's far too strong a likelihood that he won't be held accountable for his action.

That's the key finding of the report released yesterday on use-of-force by the NYPD Inspector General: From 2010 to 2014, the NYPD failed to impose discipline in 35.6 percent of cases with substantiated evidence of excessive force. If we are honest, we know that this problem pre-dates Commissioner Bratton and this Administration, but we must rightfully look toward the Commissioner and the Mayor to take corrective action.

The 62-page report digs deeply into NYPD use of force, with a strong set of recommendations for how to fix the problems identified.

We are pleased to see Commissioner Bratton quickly adopt a number of the policy recommendations in the report, including a far more rigorous tracking system for use-of-force incidents, clearer definitions of use of force, better training, and an annual use-of-force report.

These are necessary and important steps in the ongoing effort to improve police-community relations. They must help officers better understand essential procedures and eliminate instances of excessive force like those that resulted in Eric Garner's death and James Blake's assault.

The key remaining issue, though, is accountability when excessive force is used. The NYPD Inspector General's report identifies this as a clear area of concern, and calls for specific and appropriate reforms.

Commissioner Bratton has indicated that he is creating an internal unit to monitor officers with frequent complaints against them and he has voiced his commitment to work more closely with the CCRB on its disciplinary recommendations.

At the same time, however, there is still no explicit acknowledgement of the reality that the IG's report demonstrates clearly: in far too many cases, NYPD officers have faced no accountability for excessive use of force. The real proof of effective reforms will be seen when there are fewer officers inappropriately using force and when officers who use excessive force are held accountable for their actions.

That is why establishing by law an NYPD Early Intervention System for overly-aggressive police officers, as proposed by Council Members Williams and Garodnick, is so important. By establishing a system to quantify excessive force complaints, our city can better understand which officers may be prone to excessive force and who may need additional training, supervision, or other consequences.

We look forward to working with Commissioner Bratton to codify by law the early intervention work he is doing, to consider other legislation before the City Council, including the Right to Know Act, and to adopt the remaining recommendations in the Inspector General's report. While the issues at hand are decades old, span many police commissioners, and are not confined to New York City, there is real opportunity for us to lead the way, and to do so now.

This report - data-driven, thoughtful, and constructive - demonstrates the value of the Office of the NYPD Inspector General, just as we hoped when we passed the Community Safety Act in 2013. In a short time and to the contradiction of critics, the NYPD IG has already made real contributions toward improving public safety and advancing civil rights.

Jumaane D. Williams and Brad Lander are New York City Council Members from Brooklyn who co-sponsored Local Law 70 of 2013, which established the Office of the NYPD Inspector General.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max:

Categories: State/Local

Amid Federal Brinksmanship, New York City Officials Redouble Support for Planned Parenthood

Gotham Gazette - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 1:00am

NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray at a Planned Parenthood rally (photo: @Chirlane) 

In the face of federal debate and brinksmanship over funding for Planned Parenthood, many in New York City have doubled down on support for the women's health care organization.

In the past month, the city has seen the opening of a Planned Parenthood health center in Queens (expanding the organization's presence into all five boroughs), two large rallies during which numerous elected officials championed the importance of Planned Parenthood’s health care services, and one leading Assembly Democrat calling for the state to boost its financial support for the clinics if conservatives in Congress were to cut off the organization's federal funding.

“The attacks against Planned Parenthood, we all know, are attacks against women and, in particular, low-income women and women of color who rely on Planned Parenthood for vital services - medical services that are comprehensive,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a large rally in Manhattan Tuesday. The speaker and others rallied in support of Planned Parenthood, repeatedly attacking conservative Republicans for their efforts to defund the organization.

The city government’s strong support for Planned Parenthood, seen at Tuesday’s rally, which featured several elected officials, and in budget dollars that go toward supporting the organization, help cement New York City’s national reputation as a liberal capital.

On Wednesday, Congress avoided a government shutdown by passing a temporary spending bill that will keep federal agencies operating through December 11. The threat of a potential shutdown over funding of Planned Parenthood loomed for weeks, spurred by the release of secretly filmed videos this summer which showed Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the preservation of fetal tissue for medical research.

The Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group that filmed the videos, claims that they show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the illegal sale of aborted fetal tissue. The videos have prompted an ongoing investigation by Congress into Planned Parenthood’s practice of donating fetal tissue for medical research. A forensic analysis of the videos commissioned by Planned Parenthood found evidence of manipulation, "intentionally deceptive edits, missing footage, and inaccurately transcribed conversations," according to Politico, which obtained a copy of the report.

Four states - Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah - have ordered state agencies to cut off federal funding to local Planned Parenthood chapters, leading those branches to file lawsuits. According to the Associated Press, in court documents, the Utah branch said the governor's decision to cut off funding is based solely on unproven allegations that took place in other states, by other arms of the national group.

New York City government sends approximately $850,000 a year to the city’s central Planned Parenthood branch in the forms of various grants, namely for health care services and sex education, according to an official from PPNYC. The city also allocates capital awards to Planned Parenthood each year, which have ranged from $75,000 to $400,000.

Speaking about the services that Planned Parenthood provides for New York City residents, PPNYC CEO Joan Malin told Gotham Gazette, “Roughly 85 percent of our services are preventative care - birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing, STI testing, annual exams - we do the full range of reproductive health care services for women and men.”

Malin explained that Planned Parenthood New York’s funding comes from a combination of “private donors, public funding from the city, state, and federal government,” and an endowment, “but for our patient services, we rely overwhelmingly on Medicaid and Title X family-planning grants, which allows us to provide services for anyone who needs our care regardless of their ability to pay. Out of a $44 million budget, $9 million is federal funding. If that were to go away we would be sorely challenged to continue to provide our services."

Mark-Viverito, joined on stage at Tuesday’s “Pink Out NYC” rally by fellow Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Brad Lander, said, "We are proud as Council members to ensure that we direct your taxpayer dollars and invest your taxpayer dollars in Planned Parenthood, to make sure that they are able to provide vital services throughout the City of New York. We expect the federal government to continue to do the same thing."

The rally on Tuesday in lower Manhattan was one of nearly 300 events held in 90 cities across the country in support of Planned Parenthood’s work, organized as negotiations continued in Washington, D.C.

"Congress should be ashamed!" New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray shouted to the crowd of some 500 pink-clad supporters, just hours before it was announced that government funding would be extended until mid-December. "Congress should be ashamed to punish women who have no other health care options. I know firsthand that Planned Parenthood provides excellent services!"

McCray continued, “Planned Parenthood provides services to "2.7 million women, men, and young people....Did you realize that? We need Planned Parenthood and we will not allow the funding to be taken away!"

McCray, Mark-Viverito, Rosenthal, and Lander were joined at the rally by Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and state Senators Daniel Squadron and Liz Krueger.

"Our bodies will not be used as an organizing strategy for the right," Public Advocate James shouted, eliciting cheers from the crowd. "This is nothing more than a distraction from the issues that we care about — a need to educate girls, a need to end income inequality, and a need to end poverty in this country."

James pointed out that the bulk of services Planned Parenthood provides have nothing to do with abortion, despite the national conversation being focused on the abortion issue. "Let me tell you the facts,” James said, “80 percent of Planned Parenthood clients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancies. Planned Parenthood provides nearly 400,000 pap smears, and 500,000 breast exams every year. These tests detect life-threatening cancers. Planned Parenthood provides nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections and diseases, and Planned Parenthood educates and provides outreach to 1.5 million young people."

On Thursday, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues, emailed Gotham Gazette to call Planned Parenthood of New York City a long-time “staunch advocate, educator, and provider of reproductive health care to 50,000 patients annually.” PPNYC “has received funding from the New York City Council to expand services to support family planning, curb teen pregnancy and STDs through education.”

When asked what might happen next for Planned Parenthood, even with a temporary compromise in Washington, PPNYC CEO Malin replied, "This issue is going to remain in the public discussion, unfortunately. As all of our speakers said, there are so many issues that we need to be talking about - greater access to health care, immigrant reform, Black Lives Matter - there's so many issues we need to be talking about. Focusing on reproductive health care is important, but the way [opponents are] talking about it is a distraction. I would say that that distraction is going to continue throughout this election, and Republicans are going to look for ways to keep this issue at the forefront."

Not all Republicans are looking to keep the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood in the spotlight, however. Republican strategist and president of Somm Consulting, Evan Siegfried, told Gotham Gazette, “Until we know what the facts are, the calls to defund are premature.”

Congressional investigation is ongoing, and as analysis of the incendiary videos showed the footage had been drastically altered, Planned Parenthood Federation of America CEO Cecile Richards testified before Congress just this Tuesday. Richards defended the $450 million in federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood, explaining that 87 percent of it comes from Medicaid and Title X family planning monies. “We, like other Medicaid providers, we are reimbursed directly for services provided,” she said.

“No federal funds pay for abortion services, except in the very limited circumstances allowed by law. These are when the woman has been raped, has been the victim of incest, or when her life is endangered,” Richards explained (abortions account for just three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services nationally, according to the organization’s most recent report).

Hard-line conservatives like Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz are committed to defunding Planned Parenthood to the point that they would rather plot to shut down the government than allow the organization to continue its work through federal funding.

Cruz recently decried the state of his divided party, saying that the more socially liberal Republicans, specifically the “New York billionaire” donors who insist candidates are pro-choice, hate the base and hold the party back from really fighting on key social issues. It’s part of the intra-Republican conflict that led to House Speaker John Boehner’s recent resignation announcement.

Speaking anonymously with Gotham Gazette, New York Republicans have indeed expressed frustration with the far right wing of their party, with one saying it is “on a crazy quest that will kill [Republicans] with the swing voters in 2016.”

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local
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