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Cuomo and De Blasio Making Presence Felt in Battle for Senate Control

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 1:00am

Gov. Cuomo, Kathy Hochul, and Mayor de Blasio march together (photo: @BilldeBlasio)

The coalition formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and labor interests to help Democrats win control of the State Senate is making its presence felt in a number of contentious races as the group intensifies its efforts heading into the final five weeks before November's elections.

According to a number of Democratic sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the coalition has been actively providing Democratic Senate candidates with talking points as well as opposition research. The State Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC), which is controlled by the notoriously hands-on governor, has been providing direct mail support of Democrats in key Senate races including in the 46th Senate District which features a contentious rematch between Democrat Cecelia Tkaczyk and former Republican Assembly George Amedore.

Sources say that certain races will see a bombardment of attacks against Republican opponents and the state committee will begin airing TV and radio ads in some contentious districts. Races that are staffed with relative newcomers and volunteers are suddenly finding themselves bolstered by a veteran, if not impersonal, political operation.

Operatives stress that Cuomo and de Blasio are personally involved in strategizing along with some of their top advisors, and the 1199 SEIU (healthcare workers) and Hotel Trades Council (HTC) unions.

"You've got the two best political strategists in the business running your campaign," said one source of Cuomo and de Blasio. "Its like Bill Clinton being your campaign manager. These two guys learned at his hips and having people with that kind of expertise can really be a game changer."

A number of extremely seasoned Democratic political operatives are also involved in the effort to win back the Senate for Democrats. The SDCC has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the state's top consultants, though it isn't clear how much has been spent specifically on Senate races.

When asked about the mayor's commitment to winning a Democratic Senate, Dan Levitan of Berlin Rosen said, "The Mayor is fully committed to building a progressive Democratic majority in the State Senate this November."

Emma Wolfe, a top de Blasio aide highly credited for de Blasio's electoral success, is using personal time to work on electing Senate Democrats.

However, some Democrats insist that it is unfair to call the efforts a partnership between de Blasio and Cuomo. They say de Blasio has been ramping up his efforts while Cuomo has remained on the sidelines. There is a sense among some Democrats that Cuomo would rather work with a Senate that will enable him to push through more conservative fiscal measures, as he has done during his first term.

"I think he's trying to embarrass the governor into action," said one Democratic senator of de Blasio, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I don't think the governor wants to work with us."

Cuomo has seemed noncommittal to a Democratic majority in the Senate even though he committed to work for one in exchange for the Working Families Party endorsement in late May.

"They elect a Legislature – Democratic, Republican, whatever they elect," Cuomo said of voters. "I think the job of the Governor is to figure out how to make it work," he told reporters at the gathering of The Business Council of New York earlier this month.

Former Gov. David Paterson, who Cuomo hand-picked to head the State Democratic Committee has also issued lukewarm statements on the possibility of Democrats winning the Senate.

Cuomo has indicated that he may endorse Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo who lost his primary bid to his more conservative opponent Kevin Stocker. Grisanti voted for two key Cuomo wins in same-sex marriage and gun regulations via the SAFE Act. Cuomo promised political support to Republicans who backed him on the same-sex marriage vote and Grisanti is the last one of those left. Cuomo told reporters that he faces a "personally difficult" decision in whether to endorse Grisanti or Democrat Mark Panepinto.

Grisanti has been courted by Independent Democratic Conference head Sen. Jeff Klein in recent weeks and many Democratic operatives believe Grisanti will end up caucusing with Democrats if he is re-elected - despite some of his conservative leanings.

Some liberal activists have been outraged by Cuomo's lack of public enthusiasm for Democratic Senate candidates and his flirtation with Grisanti. Bill Samuels, who helped finance Democratic efforts to win the Senate in the past, has called on Cuomo to spend $10 million of his own campaign cash on Senate races and slammed him for considering endorsing Grisanti.

"It's political malpractice for Cuomo and Hochul not to endorse Marc Panepinto, a strong and talented Democrat whose victory in November will play a crucial role in helping the Democrats take back the State Senate and enact a real statewide progressive agenda," said Samuels.

Cuomo has generally been stingy with his endorsements and is loathe to endorse candidates unless they are a sure thing. Some insiders insist the governor doesn't want to stick his brand on an uncertain cause while jeopardizing his bipartisan record. Those close to the Cuomo-de Blasio effort say they don't expect to see personal endorsements until late in the game when the groundwork has been laid with paid and earned media.

Sources involved in the Cuomo-de Blasio effort say that the governor has been absolutely hands on in strategizing and fundraising. They say a massive win in November will give Cuomo a mandate to move progressive legislation. Operatives working for the Democratic Committee indicated that Cuomo understands that the public and media are focused on issues like the Women's Equality Agenda, the minimum wage, and The Dream Act, and that an improving economy and extra cash in the state budget mean he can focus on moving that kind of legislation.

Operatives say they are looking to defend Democratic seats in the the 41st district race in the Hudson Valley between Terry Gipson and Republican Sue Serino, and the 55th district race between Sen. Ted O'Brien and Republican Rich Funke. Democrats are looking to pick up seats in the 40th district in Westchester where Republican Sen. Greg ball has decided not to run for reelection, the 3rd senate district on Long Island where Republican Sen. Lee Zeldin is not seeking reelection, and the 7th senate district on Long Island where Republican Sen. Jack Martins faces Democrat Adam Haber.

A number of skeptical insiders and activists insist that Cuomo has talked himself into a corner and now has no choice. "I don't know how he can back Grisanti, who has insisted he won't support the Women's Equality Agenda, when he is running on passing that very piece of legislation and created a party just to get it passed," said one advocate. "The governor will look impotent if he goes into the next legislative session having touted all these issues but doesn't have the votes to pass them."

However, there has been consistent speculation that the governor has enjoyed the current power-sharing arrangement between the IDC and Senate Republicans so that he can govern more from the middle without having to veto more progressive legislation that would come through a Democratically-controlled Assembly and Senate. And Cuomo may be in favor of continuing to be able to put the blame on a split legislature when certain progressive legislation is stalled.

Democrats skeptical of Cuomo's efforts note that the governor's Women's Equality Party (WEP) has been an embarrassment. Democrats Tkaczyk, O'Brien, Gipson, and Justin Wagner, who are all in extremely close races that are key to Senate control were all bounced off the WEP ballot line after the majority of their petition signatures were rejected by the Board of Elections. Most of the rejected signatures came from out-of-district signees. Angry Democrats are in disbelief that such an error could have been an "honest mistake" when Cuomo is known to run such a tight ship.

This is an unusual year for Senate Democrats because of the number of groups involved in trying to win a Democratic majority. Klein is looking to bolster his own IDC ranks and has tepidly pledged to work with Democrats if they win the appropriate number of seats. Sen. Mike Gianaris, who heads the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and has a notoriously frosty relationship with Klein, would like to grow his influence with the conference. Naturally, both the mayor and governor are also looking to grow their influence in the Senate through the candidates they help elect.

All this maneuvering will come into play, of course, when post-election jockeying starts for agenda items, rules changes, committee seats, and resources. Insiders expect senate rules changes to come up quickly as the IDC and mainline Democrats look to encode their relationship just as the IDC and Senate Republicans did two years ago. Staffing and resource allocation will be hot topics in a new Democratic alliance - if it happens. Loyalty, allegiances, and campaign debts will almost certainly come into play.

What do Cuomo and de Blasio get out of it? "The governor has committed to these big progressive items," said one operative. "And he is going to deliver. The mayor has come up against Albany and he knows what it is like to have your issues gummed up. He wants to be able to have people he can count on up there."

by David King, Albany Editor, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

State, jail health care provider settle for $200,000

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 1:07am


A corporate health care provider used by three Capital Region county jails entered into an agreement with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that requires it to pay $200,000 in restitution and penalties and submit to monitoring in 13 upstate counties.

According to terms obtained by the Times Union, the settlement between the attorney general and Correctional Medical Care resolves claims of dangerous practices as well as unsatisfactory and unqualified staffing that arose after six deaths of inmates in CMC's care at five county lockups from 2009 to 2011. A probe found serious deficiencies that included unlicensed and inexperienced staff, understaffing, lack of medical oversight and failure to adhere to medical and administrative protocols.

Sheriffs in Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and 10 other counties paying CMC a combined $32 million a year are scheduled to be briefed Thursday about the resolution, according to two of the law enforcement leaders. The agreement, reached Monday, will require CMC to set up a separate company to provide medical care.

The company was criticized for shifting workload from doctors to less-qualified staffers — including a nurse with a felony conviction — and for employing people without the required licenses. The resolution requires its operations to be overseen for three years by an independent monitor that will be paid up to $200,000 a year by CMC. It will also have to submit to annual audits, and must pay Tioga County $100,000 and the state $100,000.

The deal ends a probe by the attorney general that was requested by the state Education Department and the state Medical Review Board. Private lawsuits have been lodged against CMC in connection with some of the jail deaths. Schneiderman said the settlement does not protect the company from new public claims for restitution.

"Tax dollars meant to cover medical care of our county prisoners must not be wasted — and substandard care and mismanagement are not an option," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Shortchanging medical services provided to jail populations can lead to direct harm to individuals and misses a public health opportunity to provide care to individuals who often have undiagnosed, untreated medical needs. We will bring to justice contractors who line their pockets while failing to uphold their obligations to the people of New York."

The company is considered a good contractor by Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple and Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino, according to interviews.

It was, however, in charge of prison health care in Monroe County's jail when deaths occurred in 2009 and 2010. That county has already received restitution of $340,000 as a result of CMC cutting the hours of top health professionals, particularly physicians and nurses, in violation of the terms of its contract.

An inmate under CMC's care also died in 2011 in Tioga County. And an Onondaga County inmate suffered life-threatening infections and required 44 days of hospitalization due to CMC's inadequate dental treatment.

State Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried called the settlement "an important victory that matters not only to jail inmates, but to all New Yorkers." He has called outfits like CMC fronts for professional medical companies that are supposed to be controlled by doctors.

CMC is a for-profit enterprise owned by Maria Carpio and run by Carpio's spouse, Emre Umar. Neither are licensed medical professionals, Schneiderman said. The pair are now required to set up a separate professional medical corporation to provide care in New York.

Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, said the state had to hold CMC accountable for "improper care" of incarcerated people, who tend to have extensive medical needs.

Apple said CMC has done a good job working in the Albany County prison running the infirmary, and providing all sorts of medical treatments and screenings to the 885 prisoners.

"I don't have any problem with them," he said. "We've never really had an issue with them."

The county contracted in 2012 with CMC in a deal that expires after 2015 and pays $3.7 million a year. Apple said the company is providing 10 extra doctor hours a week at no cost.

Apple said he recognizes that CMC has a tough time getting top-notch help and replacing people when they leave.

Dagostino said the Schenectady County prison, with 325 inmates, is served well by CMC, which has been in place for more than five years. "We're actually quite pleased with them," he said. "They're very responsive to our needs."

The company's lawyer did not return a call or email for comment.


Categories: State/Local

Council Looks to Improve Veterans Services with New Department

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 1:00am

MOVA Commissioner Sutton presents a mayoral proclamation (photo: @nycveterans)

For the City's 216,000 military veterans, the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs (MOVA) is the only centralized city-run resource center to help find things like healthcare services, employment opportunities, and educational training.

But MOVA itself has extremely limited resources by which to help veterans. For fiscal year 2015 MOVA is set to receive just $549,112 in funding, which pays for five staff members and an additional $25,000 in non-personnel costs, according to figures provided by the Office of Management and Budget. With more and more veterans expected to return home in the coming years, those resources are not going to be enough, according to veterans advocates who already see MOVA's reach as too short.

For City Council Member Eric Ulrich, chair of the Council's veterans committee, the solution is both simple and necessary: make MOVA into its own department.

On Monday Ulrich's veterans committee will hear Intro. 0314, which would abolish MOVA and create the New York City Department of Veterans' Affairs in its place. Having a department instead of an agency under the Mayor would give the Council more budgetary and operational oversight, which could lead to more funding and better execution of however much funding exists.

Nothing in the bill sets any sort of minimums for funding or staffing of the proposed department. In fact, the language of the bill laying out the responsibilities for the new department is nearly identical to the language in the City Charter that created MOVA in 1987. But by creating a separate department, the Council would, for the first time, be allowed to hold budget hearings for veterans' affairs, much like it does with all the other big name departments such as Police, Parks, Transportation, and Education.

These budget hearings would give the Council multiple opportunities each year to get a performance assessment from the Veteran's Affairs Commissioner as well as listen to advocates voice concerns about what services funding is (or is not) providing. The Council can use that information as leverage when pushing for additional funding during budget negotiations with the Mayor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been vocal about support for veterans, often evoking the personal story of his father, who was a WWII veteran. De Blasio's father lost part of his leg in the Battle of Okinawa and later, after being diagnosed with cancer, took his own life.

Despite his personal connection and expressed support for veterans, de Blasio's first budget as mayor did not include additional funding for MOVA. In its April response to the mayor's preliminary budget, the Council asked for $400,000 in added funding for MOVA. The request was denied. However, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Council used $400,000 of its own discretionary funding for veterans initiatives. Individual Council members allocated $207,250 of their discretionary funding toward veterans services as well.

Using discretionary funds as a way to circumvent the lack of funding provided by the mayor is not necessarily a sustainable or fool-proof plan. Because MOVA is not its own department, that discretionary funding must go through other departments (primarily DYCD, DFTA, or SBS). This process can be much slower than the mayor directly funding initiatives through a department and in some cases the funding does not actually make it to the targeted group at all.

In fiscal year 2014, which ended on June 30, the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) received 20 requests to process council member discretionary funding related to veterans for a total of $97,357. As of Friday, September 26, nine of those requests totaling $61,857 had been filled, with another four totaling $22,400 in process. Of those not in either category, a request for $5,000 was not filled because the organization never submitted the paperwork.

But checks for six requests totaling $8,000 could not be written because those requests each did not meet the department minimum of $3,500. DYCD spokesperson Mark Zustovich said it was not efficient to consider contracts for smaller amounts due to the volume of contracts the department receives. He added that in some cases groups who have multiple requests under $3,500 with DYCD could be combined. Groups applying for funding of less than $3,500 can go back to the City Council to see what other options exist.

Creating a separate Department of Veterans' Affairs would not be a panacea for this problem. There is currently no language in the bill specifying that there be no minimum request amounts, but this could be something council members consider during negotiations with the administration on the bill.

In addition, while creating a new department would provide another avenue for discretionary funding, it would not necessarily mean all discretionary funding is funneled through it.

Newly appointed MOVA Commissioner Loree Sutton will be testifying on Monday, per a City Hall spokesperson. If her boss' comments during the Aug. 18 press conference announcing her appointment are any indication, it doesn't appear the administration is warm to the idea of a separate department just yet.

"We think that the model we have now is an important and effective one and we can do a lot more with," de Blasio said when Gotham Gazette asked about the plan. "It's certainly something we would entertain going forward, but I think the way I look at this is we wanted to bring in a new leader, get going with the model we have now, and then we'll judge from there."

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who helped push for more funding for veterans services, has not taken a firm position on the bill.

"I have to look at it more carefully, and obviously I look forward to the testimony," Mark-Viverito said at an unrelated Sept. 23 press conference. "We believe strongly that we have to do all we can to figure out how to bring together and galvanize existing resources of the city to benefit our veterans."

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 28

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 1:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

The week ahead is sure to include more action in the hotly-contested races for Governor, Attorney General, and New York's 11th Congressional District, along with key State Senate districts - Tuesday is five weeks 'til Election Day. This week will also include the convening of the grand jury in the Eric Garner case on Staten Island and a lot of action at The New York City Council [read our previews of Monday's education committee hearing on guidance counselors and veterans committee hearing on forming a new veterans' affairs department]. All this and a whole lot more:

Governor Andrew Cuomo spent his weekend overseas, where he's remaining until Tuesday, he said by conference call Sunday: the governor is in Afghanistan after heading to Washington, D.C. for briefings, then Germany to visit injured soldiers. According to a release from Cuomo's office, the trip is "a bipartisan delegation of governors at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Defense, which is sponsoring the visit. During the trip, Governor Cuomo is receiving a series of briefings from senior U.S. Department of Defense officials on counterterrorism issues, the evolving global threats that affect New York's security at home, and other matters. Governor Cuomo will also meet with New York and other American troops who are currently stationed in Afghanistan – including those from Fort Drum, New York's 10th Mountain Division – to thank them for their service."

On the Sunday conference call, the governor said that it had already been a "really educationally fascinating trip," full of briefings on "Middle East issues, terrorism specifically." "Classified briefings," he said, from the Department of State, Department of Defense, and USAID, among others. The governor lauded U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan, but on terrorism said generally that "as Governor of New York, New York is at the top of everybody's threat list" and that his administration continues to spend a lot of time on homeland security. "I'm telling you, we're going to be the most prepared," Cuomo said. "My goal is to have the most sophisticated homeland defense system ever designed by any state, period." Cuomo added that while terrorists are becoming more sophisticated, so would the response, and that New York would "stay one step ahead." Cuomo repeatedly said that efforts must be made to understand the source of growing terrorist groups and threats, not simply to try to stop terrorist efforts. He did not elaborate further on the topic.

The Mayor, the Speaker and the Comptroller
Coming off of a Sunday on which he had no public events scheduled (no word on whether he wound up taking another baseball game road trip), Mayor Bill de Blasio starts his week with a 10 a.m. press conference at the "John F. Kennedy Campus in the Bronx to make an announcement" and later in the day "he will meet with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz."

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito begins her week with an appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC at 10:30 a.m. Monday morning. She will then deliver an opening statement at a city council hearing looking at efforts to provide legal representation to unaccompanied immigrant children - both according to her public schedule.

Comptroller Scott Stringer starts his week hosting a conference "Families and Flexibility: Reshaping the workplace for the 21st century." Details below.

Elections Watch - just over 5 weeks until Election Day
Good news and bad news, gubernatorial campaign edition: The bad news is that The Rent is Too Damn High's Jimmy McMillan is off the gubernatorial ballot - BUT - the good news is that four other candidates who will be on the ballot are going to debate at least once. "I am just going to bow out and support anybody to beat Andrew Cuomo," McMillan said, according to The Daily News.

Word from the campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is that the governor and his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, will debate at least twice: once one-on-one over the radio (in New York City via WNYC and The Wall Street Journal) and once along with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Party candidate Michael McDermott on TV from Buffalo. Dates have not been determined yet, but the debates are expected to occur in mid-October. It's unlikely there will be others, and the Astorino campaign is not happy that there likely won't be a one-on-one TV debate. (There are going to be five candidates on the gubernatorial ballot in November, the fifth is Sapient Party candidate Steve Cohn).

Speaking of debates, the campaign of Republican attorney general candidate John Cahill continues to challenge incumbent Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman to debates, putting out a statement on Saturday that read, in part: "Today, Governor Cuomo agreed to two debates - that's some good news for New Yorkers who deserve to hear from the candidates on their records and vision for the future of our great state. Now the ball is in Eric Schneiderman's court, after almost four years of acting like he is in a witness protection program it's time he faces the voters....the Cahill Campaign has challenged him to 11 debates, one state wide and one in each region...To date, the Cahill Campaign has accepted four debate offers and more are in the offing."

As the week begins, New York politicos will keep an eye on the campaigns, and there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of.

The run of the week in more detail:

On Monday, the grand jury will convene as called by Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan in the case of Eric Garner's death while being taken into police custody in July. As City Council Member Rory Lancman, an attorney, explained weeks ago, there are "legal gaps" when it comes to chokehold laws that could make criminal prosecution difficult in the case against the police officer involved.

The City Council's Committee on Education will meet Monday morning with regard to guidance services for students and the establishment of a comprehensive college preparation program, "based on the college readiness model proposed by the Urban Youth Collaborative." [Our report on the issue and preview of the hearing] Before the education committee hearing, there will be a 9:30 a.m. rally on the steps of City Hall calling for improved college-readiness programming in city schools led by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, the Urban Youth Collaborative, and others.

The Monday council schedule also includes a meeting of Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, "a local law to amend the New York City Charter in relation to a comprehensive cultural plan."

The Committee on Courts and Legal Service will hold a joint meeting with the Committee on Immigration with regard to the "crisis of unaccompanied immigrant children" and what New York City is doing in relation to it. Speaker Mark-Viverito will give an opening statement (earlier in the day she will be a guest on The Brian Lehrer Show).

The Committee on Veterans will hold a hearing in relation to the establishment of a Department of Veterans' Affairs to replace the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA). [Our report on the issue and preview of the hearing]

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a forum to discuss workplace flexibility on Monday: "Families and Flexibility: Reshaping the Workplace for the 21st Century," an event following up on a report Stringer's office released earlier this year. "If we want to remain a global economic power, we must support policies that see family and work as complementary, rather than competing interests."

And, according to Council Member Andy King's office, "Discovery for Justice and community leaders will host a rally and press conference on Monday Sept. 29th, at 11 AM to advocate for open, early and automatic discovery of evidence. Discovery for Justice and community leaders will also demand that the New York State Legislature repeal Criminal Procedure Law 240 and enact Criminal Procedure Law 245."

On Monday, (new grandmother) Hillary Clinton is scheduled to headline a lunchtime fundraiser for 10 Democratic congressional candidates running in NY and NJ (NY candidates include Domenic Recchia, Sean Patrick Maloney and Dan Maffei). No word on if Clinton's plans have changed due to the weekend birth of her granddaughter.

On Monday afternoon, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina will "deliver remarks at the Learning Partners Program Fall Kick-Off" at the Brooklyn Marriott, according to her public schedule.

After he chairs the council education committee hearing, CM Danny Dromm is set to be in his Queens district Monday afternoon to announce "Implementation of Jackson Heights Slow Zone" according to his office. "The Jackson Heights Slow Zone will improve pedestrian safety from 69th to 87th streets between Roosevelt and 34th avenues. Throughout the whole zone, the speed limit will be reduced to 20 mph and traffic calming measures will be installed....Jackson Heights is a busy pedestrian corridor...there are thousands of students who attend the schools and afterschool programs in the slow zone area who need to be protected. Over the last few years, Jackson Heights has seen an unfortunate increase in the number of traffic related fatalities including those of seniors and children."

Tuesday is five weeks until election day! Visit our Elections Center for a lot more info.

Several interesting events and conferences on Tuesday morning:
The Crain's Business Breakfast Forum series continues with Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to discuss "corruption and the Moreland Commission and the current probe of Rikers Island" as well as "Wall Street, tax evasion and cybercrime."

City & State NY is holding its Public Projects Forum featuring Rick Chandler (Commissioner, NYC Department of Buildings), Joan McDonald (New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner) and Ramanathan Raju (New York City's Health and Hospital Corporation President and Executive Director) regarding the "current public project construction landscape, major upcoming RFPs and bids, and the ever-expanding role of technology in construction."

The New School is hosting "Ferguson + Staten Island: The Roots, the Reality, and the Response" with moderator Jeff Smith: "In this discussion, law enforcement, policy makers, advocates, journalists, and community leaders will come together to explore the events in Ferguson -- and ask how New York and other cities are responding. What political and economic conditions in Ferguson and minority communities nationally underlie the anger that exploded in Ferguson? What kinds of policy changes are necessary to prevent more tragedies from occurring - and to prevent continued escalation of tension between police departments and minority communities? And how do we go about making this policy change happen?"

Fordham Law School, fittingly - or is it ironically (or both)? - will host "Is Prof. Teachout A Real New Yorker? Weiss vs. Teachout: Do Residency Requirements Still Matter?" on Tuesday at lunchtime.

The WCC (Women's City Club of New York) will be hosting a luncheon event on Tuesday with newly-elected Council Members Corey Johnson (Chair of the Health Committee), and Carlos Menchaca (Chair of the Immigration Committee and Chair): "Don't miss the opportunity to exchange thoughts about legislative priorities and learn more about health, immigration, and more in New York City."

Tuesday's busy City Council schedule includes a meeting of The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises "to review different Land Use Applications"; The Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet to inspect the (ongoing) redesign of Medicaid; The Committee on Higher Education will meet on "reducing the cost on college textbooks"; and The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to look at "Land Use Applications."

On Tuesday Council Member Donovan Richards will co-host an environmental event with Speaker Mark-Viverito at City Hall to mark the "close of New York Climate Week" and "push for a greener, greater NYC" - and there will be live jazz music.

Now's a good time to go Pro with Capital New York, especially if you're in Albany: Tuesday night in Albany will see the "first-ever Capital Pro Trivia Night...on all things concerning New York policy, politics and media" - questions from Capital Albany Bureau Chief Jimmy Vielkind. (RSVP to for location details)

There are two events on Wednesday that may feature both candidates in New York's 11th Congressional District: incumbent Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, former City Council Member Domenic Recchia: the Bay Ridge Council on Aging holds its annual candidates forum Wednesday morning and the Middle Class Action Forum Wednesday evening. One or both events could also feature the candidates in State Senate District 22, incumbent Republican Marty Golden and his Democratic challenger Jamie Kemmerer.

Other interesting events Wednesday morning:
New York City Housing Commissioner Vicki Been will discuss her priorities for affordable housing at a Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) breakfast forum.

Westchester County Executive and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino will speak at an Association for a Better New York (ABNY) breakfast forum, discussing the state budget, taxes, and other issues.

Crain's Health Care Summit: Transforming New York's Health Care Industry: "After lengthy negotiations, the federal government agreed to give New York state $8 billion for a five-year overhaul of the state's health care delivery system. The money is targeted at the state's expensive Medicaid program—but what most New Yorkers don't realize is that the changes ahead will affect health care delivery in New York well beyond the one in four New York City residents who receive Medicaid benefits. Crain's will address how the $8 billion will act as seed capital for radical transformation. The state is planning changes that will have a profound impact on employers, commercial insurers, hospitals and patients. We explain the transformations ahead—including more hospital closures—before they broadside New York businesses."

Fordham Law School is hosting NYC Directors of Admission Panel: "The Enrollment landscape is ever changing. Increased competition, media scrutiny, new technologies, and a tumultuous economic climate are just of few of the most pressing issues of recent admission cycles. Columbia, Cooper Union, CUNY, Fordham, NYU and SUNY invite you into a dialogue on these and other topics that impact the work that you do and the families you serve."

Wednesday's city council schedule includes a meeting of the Committee on Housing and Buildings that will look at introduction of local laws "in relation to the alternative enforcement program" and "inspection fees for certain recurring violations of the housing maintenance code"; a meeting of the Committee on Transportation to consider a local law "in relation to reducing citywide speed limit to twenty-five miles per hour"; a meeting of the Committee on Technology on a local law to create "a website to produce and sign petitions seeking particular actions by city government"; a joint meeting of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor and the Committee on General Welfare regarding oversight of "proposed changes to HRA's Employment Programs." [Read our look at the Civil Service Committee and Chair Daneek Miller and our look at the General Welfare Committee and Chair Stephen Levin]

Council Member Andy King "will be hosting a job recruitment session for the companies CareRide of Queens and GVCII of the Bronx, carriers in the MTA's Access-A-Ride program" on Wednesday at his Bronx office. "Both companies are looking to immediately hire drivers for their company."

On Wednesday evening, The New York Democratic Lawyers Council presents: "Why Don't New Yorkers Vote? A discussion about fixing New York State's restrictive Election Laws and how you can help...featuring panel experts Benjamin Kallos (CM, 5th District), Brian Kavangh (Assemblyman, 74th District), Douglas Kellner (NYS Board of Elections, Co-Chair) and Susan Lerner (Common Cause NY, Executive Director)."

Also Wednesday evening, there will be a Sunset Park Town Hall on Police Conduct and Accountability, hosted by the New York City Congress for Puerto Rican Rights : "Join us as we invite local NYPD & Elected Officials for a public conversation on police accountability, conduct and the rights of citizens when dealing with police confrontations."

On both Wednesday and Thursday, there will be the NAN Education Summit (In Celebration of Rev. Sharpton's 60th Birthday) at NYU: "Addressing the Civil Rights Issue of the 21st Century...Rev. Al Sharpton and NAN will be convening leaders in education, including teachers, students, parents, policy makers, administrators, artist and other performers, to demand equality in education."

Wednesday and Thursday will also see the "New York State 4th Annual MWBE Forum" at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany.

Thursday's city council schedule includes: a meeting of The Committee on Land Use at which council members "will consider all items reported out of the Subcommittees at the meetings held on Tuesday, September 30, 2014, and conduct such other business as may be necessary"; and the Committee on Economic Development will meet and be "evaluating the effectiveness of tax benefits offered by the New York City Economic Development Corporation" (EDC).

The Coalition for Education Equality will rally "to end systemwide failure in NYC public schools" on Thursday morning in Manhattan's Foley Square.

Friday and the weekend
As usual the end of the week and weekend look like as of Sunday evening, but things are always sure to pick up. Yom Kippur does begin on Friday evening, so the city could be a bit more quiet, especially on Friday and Saturday, as a result.

One key event on our radar for Sunday, though: "What's Next for Public Schools?" 5-7 p.m. at The New School. "Progressive educators and parents have been highly critical of the school reform agenda that emphasizes standardized testing and charter schools. But what kind of change are we for? In this free and public discussion based on a forthcoming special issue of The Nation, leading voices in education will explore a progressive agenda for public schools in New York City and nationwide. Following a special appearance by New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, the panel discussion moderated by MSNBC's Chris Hayes will feature AFT President Randi Weingarten, best-selling author Dana Goldstein, New York University Professor Pedro Noguera and the Advocacy Director of the AQE, Zakiyah Ansari. Sponsored by The New School for Public Engagement and The Nation."

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

by Rati Mukhuradze, Katrina Shakarian, Kristen Meriwether, David King, and Ben Max

Categories: State/Local

Tribute for Jeter to light up tower

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 09/27/2014 - 1:07am


Derek Jeter's professional baseball career, which included early work for the Albany-Colonie Yankees, will end with a special Capital Region tribute: Albany's Corning Tower will be lit up to form Jeter's iconic No. 2 on Thursday night, when the shortstop is scheduled to play his last home game at Yankee Stadium before retirement.

As part of the send-off, a screen will be set up under The Egg to show that night's game against the Baltimore Orioles, scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m.

Food vendors will be on-site offering traditional stadium fare. (Jeter's last road game is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.)

"Whether it's the backhanded flip to home plate, the diving foul ball catch in the stands, or his clutch homer as 'Mr. November,' Derek Jeter will always be remembered as a New York icon who played the game with dignity and hard work," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a release announcing the special event. "He never bragged, never showboated, he simply played hard and played well. ... As the lights of Yankee Stadium shine on him for the last time, we will light up the Captain's iconic number for all to see."

Fans should bring a lawn chair. Free parking will be available in the Plaza's East Garage after 5 p.m.

Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito encouraged attendees to "don their Yankees gear and come cheer on the captain. Number 2 will always be No. 1 in our hearts."

The rain location will be in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. For more information, visit


Categories: State/Local

Rivalry remains bitter

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 09/27/2014 - 1:07am


Democratic State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore met in their first head-to-head debate of the 2014 race for the 46th Senate District seat Tuesday night, and there didn't appear to be any love lost between the two foes from 2012.

Both were critical of each other's records, policy stances and even their preference in ice cream flavor at the Daily Gazette-hosted debate at Proctors GE Theatre.

After just 18 votes separated the candidates in the 2012 race, the debate served as a window into what will likely become an increasingly back-and-forth campaign.

Both offered stances on casinos, upstate economic revival, ethics and women's issues and differed often, including from the first question, when they were asked which flavor ice cream they prefer: vanilla or chocolate? Tkaczyk went first and chose chocolate. Amedore, after some thought, picked vanilla.

"He just wants to be different," she said, setting a tone that would continue throughout the night.

There was some agreement on the far more serious issues, though not much.

On casinos, both agreed that there needs to be local control and say in where they are sited. On job creation, Amedore stressed a need for college and career ready education, especially the vocational training. Tkaczyk pointed to the need for more funding for workforce development programs that will help businesses with employee training cost, in turn allowing them to look to hire more workers.

On ethics, neither said yes or no to if Gov. Andrew Cuomo interfered with the work of the Moreland Commission. But both expressed disappointment that the commission was disbanded.

Women's issues have been among the most divisive in the race.

And while both candidates took pointed shots at each other throughout the night, one of the more heated exchanges came over Amedore's Assembly record on pay equity.

"The Women's Equality Agenda is something we've been discussing for a while," Tkaczyk said after being asked if all 10 planks of that bill should be passed as a whole or piecemeal. "What people don't realize is George voted 10 times against one of those planks — equal pay for women. Ten times."

"I was only in the Assembly for four years, five years, so I didn't do it 10 times," Amedore shot back.

"As you know, I have one minute," Tkaczyk responded, citing the debate rules.

Senate Democrats later cited 10 no votes on pay equity bills from then-Assemblyman Amedore between 2008 and 2012, though some of the bills he voted on appear to have changed little, if at all, from year to year.

Once the scuffle ended, Tkaczyk said she wants to see the 10 points of the Women's Equality Agenda passed. Amedore said he would make it his first priority to pass nine of the planks. He has opposed the controversial abortion provision that has been stymied by Senate Republicans.

The back-and-forth between the two was largely confined to their answer and rebuttal periods, though the audience grew rowdy often and cheered for both candidates. There also was some booing and heckling, so much so part way through Tkaczyk's closing statements that she had to pause while a mix of boos and cheers were hushed.

"It went well. It went very well," Amedore said after the debate. "I think the moderators brought out some very important issues that are hot topics for this year's election and the audience got a chance to ask some questions and that was great."

Tkaczyk called the mood of the room a little rude and raucous, adding that next time it hopefully will be a little more respectful.

"I thought it went well," she said. "There was a lot of ruckus from the audience, so it was a little hard to concentrate on the questions. But I think I did well, and my record speaks for itself." 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Elisa Stefanik gains Independence line

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 09/27/2014 - 1:07am


Mark Elise Stefanik's name down on another line.

The Republican picked up the state Independence Party's endorsement Tuesday in the 21st Congressional District race.

She adds the minor party to her GOP and Conservative lines.

The line was originally held by Stefanik's Republican primary challenger Matt Doheny, who had promised not to campaign as an Independent after his loss in June.

But the Conservative Party helped open up the Independence line by nominating Doheny for a state Supreme Court judgeship in Brooklyn.

"I am honored to accept the Independence Party nomination," Stefanik said. "I'm committed to working with leaders across our district to unite the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party to ensure a new generation of leadership representing the North Country in Washington."

State Independence Party Vice Chairman Tom Connolly said the party is proud to be supporting Stefanik.

Tuesday wasn't the close of a political fairy tale chapter for everyone.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee criticized Stefanik and the Independents, calling the switch on the line "the latest proof that Elise Stefanik and the Washington insiders who are pulling her campaign's puppet strings are resorting to shady backroom deals."

"Leave it to a professional political operative like Elise Stefanik to make a backroom deal to get her opponent nominated off the ballot," DCCC spokesman Marc Brumer said.

Aaron Woolf's name will appear on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines. Matt Funiciello has the Green Party line. 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Astorino made $100,000 on side

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:07am

White Plains

Andrew Cuomo isn't the only candidate for governor of New York who's making money on the side.

Republican candidate Rob Astorino's campaign said Tuesday that he has earned $100,000 for consulting work with a media company during his first four years as Westchester County executive.

The outside income came from Townsquare Media of Greenwich, Conn., which owns more than 300 radio stations, including more than 35 in New York. Astorino, who is battling the incumbent Democrat Cuomo, acknowledged in July that he earned $30,000 last year from Townsquare but said he did it in his spare time. He said then, "I basically look at the AM or talk-radio stations — the formats, the programming. ... I'll give them advice when they're looking at buying a station in a market."

His campaign said Tuesday he also earned $30,000 from Townsquare in 2012 and in 2011, and $10,000 in 2010, his first year as county executive.

Astorino's four-year total is less than Cuomo made in outside income last year alone. The governor's 2013 tax return showed he received $188,333 on an advance for his book, due to be published next month.

Astorino, a former radio producer, has said he cleared the consulting job with the county attorney.

But Peter Kauffmann, a spokesman for the Cuomo campaign, said questions include "whether or not his outside work interfered with his duties as county executive."

Astorino's spokesman said in July that Astorino is not involved in the stations' news departments or editorial decisions.

The company did not immediately return a call Tuesday.

Astorino released his 2013 tax return, which showed that he had $31,800 in outside income. Of that, $1,800 was from Clear Channel Communications for six appearances on radio station WOR. Clear Channel has a county contract involving bus shelters, but Astorino spokesman Bill O'Reilly said, "I think Rob Astorino can do a radio show for $300 and not be conflicted."

Astorino also released his Westchester County financial disclosure forms, which showed he had been working for Townsquare since 2010, and his campaign released specific income amounts.

Kauffmann criticized Astorino for releasing just one year of tax returns. Kauffmann said five years "is the minimum standard" for a candidate. Cuomo has released 22 years of tax returns, his campaign said.

O'Reilly said: "The disclosure forms cover it. He's not a complicated guy, taxwise."

On his tax returns, Astorino and his wife reported $193,294 in total income, including his $157,010 salary. They paid $28,097 in federal taxes and $10,413 in state taxes. They paid $15,304 in property taxes on their home in Mount Pleasant.

The Astorinos reported donating $2,518 to charity.

Categories: State/Local

Lab that tested Dewey Loeffel water hit with fine

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:07am

The state Health Department has quietly settled a case with a privately operated laboratory that, due to a flaw in test procedures, may have underreported the level of pollutants at the Dewey Loeffel Landfill Superfund waste site in Nassau, Rensselaer County.

There's no evidence that major new pollution hot spots were overlooked or that the level of toxic substances such as PCBs was deliberately played down.

And Larisa Romanowski, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing cleanup at the site, said the time period in question preceded the start of a water treatment plant designed to clean groundwater before it flows into the Valatie Kill.

"Water quality data from the treatment plant is not impacted," she said in a written statement.

But the size of the $525,000 settlement between the state Health Department and Pace Analytical Services suggests the magnitude of the case was high.

The settlement was reached in June, but is just now coming to light.

Pace is a national firm based in Minneapolis.

In 2010 they purchased Northeast Analytical, a Schenectady based testing lab and took over many of their duties.

Pace as well as Northeast performed water quality tests for a number of customers, but the state Department of Health regulates and inspects the lab.

According to the agreement obtained by the Times Union under the Freedom of Information Law, Department of Health inspectors during visits to the lab in 2009, 2011 and 2013 found that it was using the wrong type of solvent to check the efficacy of their water quality tests.

Those tests were done between 2006 and 2013 and included 2,713 "reports'' of water samples.

According to the agreement, Pace and Northeast, should have used what's known as a "water miscible'' solvent such as acetone that would have created a uniform solution when mixed with water. Those are the specifications laid out by the EPA.

Instead, they used hexane, which is a "non-miscible'' solvent.

Hexane is commonly used in testing for substances such as PCBs in the fatty tissue of fish, but not necessarily in water.

The agreement didn't say which pollutants or substances, referred to as analytes,' were being looked at.

But PCBs as well as benzene have been a concern at Dewey Loeffel, which for years served as a dump site for various manufacturers, including General Electric and Schenectady International Group.

Residents around the Dewey Loeffel landfill have long worried about the impact of the site on the surrounding environment and on their health.

Many of the worries focus on pollutants getting into nearby groundwater supplies.

"There has been a lot of controversy over Dewey Loeffel," said David Carpenter, director of the University at Albany Institute for Health and the Environment.

While not familiar with the June agreement, Carpenter said there have been ongoing worries about the concentration of PCBs in the water there.

He added that Pace labs generally has a good reputation.

Pace officials declined to discuss the settlement.

The fine is broken out into two components: a civil penalty of $275,000 and $250,000, which will go toward environmental cleanup in Schenectady County where the lab is located.

Additionally, the settlement, which was completed "with prejudice'' calls for monitoring by a third party.

Those who have followed the Dewey Loeffel issue say they weren't aware of the settlement.

"This is the first I'm hearing about it," said GOP Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, who along with other lawmakers has called for an extensive health study in the area.

Likewise with Kelly Travers-Main, who heads a local group that wants the landfill dug up and removed.

"It's been saturating the area for years," she said.

Romanowski said the EPA last November reached agreement with General Electric and Schenectady International Group to conduct comprehensive studies of the site, which will include an assessment of cleanup options for the landfill and the groundwater below.

They will also look at long-term cleanup options for the "ponds, streams, and other water bodies that have been impacted by the site."

Department of Health officials stress that the water in the area is safe to drink and that water from private wells is monitored and treated to meet state and federal standards. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

DEC: Drivers should watch out for moose

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:07am

ALBANY (AP) — Love is in the air for Adirondack moose, and state officials are urging drivers to watch out as the animals wander in search of mates.

The Department of Environmental Conservation says early fall is the breeding season for moose in northern New York, leading them to travel into areas where they're not typically seen — and increasing the danger of highway collisions.

The agency says 10 moose-vehicle accidents were reported in New York last year, but there hasn't been a human fatality from a collision with a moose.

DEC advises motorists to be alert for moose at dawn and dusk, especially during September and October. Slow down if a moose is standing near the road, as it may bolt into the road at the last minute.

Categories: State/Local

As Democrats come together, caution about Senate remains

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:07am


Democrats lined up behind a progressive agenda at Monday morning's state Democratic Committee fall meeting at The Desmond.

But the committee's chairman, former Gov. David Paterson, took what seemed to be a conservative approach to discussing the chances that a unified Democratic conference will take control of the state Senate, the last bastion of Republican power in state government.

"I think that because of a very coordinated effort that the state party is making ... their whole ability to drill down voters makes this election too close to call right now who will take the Senate," Paterson said.

The morning session of the meeting, which saw Paterson accept a formal nomination for his new post, offered a glimpse at how Democrats are approaching the general election now that the primary is two weeks past. The strategy discussed wasn't anything new: Paint Republicans as extremist conservatives, play up women's equality and minimum wage issues to the Democratic base, and make use of get-out-the-vote efforts.

The battle for the Senate does not seem to be as certain as other key races. There are myriad ways each conference's membership numbers could end up, and pundits have questioned if Gov. Andrew Cuomo really wants the rogue Independent Democratic Conference to realign with mainline Senate Democrats pending the outcome of the general election in hopes of giving the party the majority.

Cuomo's running mate, Kathy Hochul, said she and the governor are optimistic that a drive to get candidates to sign a pledge affirming their support for the 10-point Women's Equality Agenda will help lead to a unified Democratic majority in January.

"I think what people need to understand is there's a difference between governing and campaigning," Hochul said of Cuomo appearing alongside Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos as recently as Friday's security announcement. Cuomo said at the time that funding for stepped-up security efforts were worked out as an advance on next year's budget — a budget that would have to be worked out with Senate Democrats if they take the majority.

"When the governor is appearing at government functions and continuing to work on issues that were already pre-existing before the campaign, it makes sense for him to be working with Republicans," Hochul said. "I did the same thing in Congress. But when you're in a campaign mode, he's also committed to helping elect Democrats, which is why I'm being sent all over the state as well to help make sure that we have the support they need."

Adding fuel to speculation about Cuomo's commitment to helping bring a Democratic majority is the "tough situation" the governor finds himself in regarding who he will endorse in the 60th Senate District race. There, Erie County Republican Mark Grisanti is running on the Independence line following a primary loss to Kevin Stocker, and Democrat Mark Panepinto is challenging both. Grisanti was one of four Republicans to vote for marriage equality in 2011, and he's the only one still in office.

"I think that's the governor's choice," Paterson said. "Senator Grisanti — just showing that there are Republicans who can think differently than other Republicans — took a very courageous vote some years ago." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Wine store uncorking lawsuit

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:07am


A popular Capital Region liquor retailer is uncorking a lawsuit against the State Liquor Authority, claiming the regulatory body is overstepping its powers by seeking to shut down the store's sales to out-of-state customers.

Empire Wine, located in the Northway Mall off Central Avenue, plans to file suit today in state Supreme Court in Albany. The action comes seven weeks after the SLA hit Empire with a letter saying it was in violation of a regulation that allows the state entity to revoke, cancel or suspend a liquor license due to "improper conduct by the licensee," in this case shipping wine to customers in 16 states — Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, Louisiana to Arizona — that bar direct sales to consumers.

Empire doesn't dispute shipping the grog, but its lawsuit argues that there is no New York state law or regulation barring the shipment of wine to customers in other states. Moreover, the suit claims that the "Commerce Clause" of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government and not individual states the power to regulate interstate trade.

"In attempting to prevent Empire from shipping wines to customers in other states, and penalizing Empire for allegedly doing so, SLA is acting without constitutional or statutory authority," says the suit. It also argues that the regulation cited by the SLA is unconstitutionally vague and gives the body "unfettered discretion" to determine what constitutes improper conduct.

SLA spokesman William Crowley said he could not comment on Empire's action, which the authority had not received on Monday, but noted that Empire had been charged with "selling directly to consumers in 16 states where direct sales to consumers are illegal."

Speaking generally, Crowley said although the customer was in another state, the retailer's location in New York places its actions under the jurisdiction of the SLA. He said abundant case law backed up the SLA's contention that such practices fall within the legal definition of "improper conduct," which has also been used to shut down not only retailers, but also bars that fail to meet regulatory standards.

In an interview, Empire owner Brad Junco said the state's action would accomplish nothing more than hindering the New York's ability to compete with retailers in other states for the burgeoning online market.

"The decision they're making would do nothing more than put New York behind," said Junco, who opened Empire in 2007. He said out-of-state online sales amounted to "a few thousand" transactions annually. New York's relatively low excise tax and "unsurpassed" selection, he added, made its online outlets popular resources for wine aficionados.

Empire's website notes that it can't ship to 13 states, including Massachusetts — one of the states cited in SLA's Aug. 1 letter.

All-Star Wine & Spirits in Latham, another large and popular Capital Region retailer, also ships out of state. Its website lists 11 states that can't receive its wares.

All-Star's owner Craig Allen described out-of-state sales as "a real gray area," a forest of shifting laws, permits and enforcement practices that retailers were constantly trying to stay abreast of.

Allen sympathized with Empire, but said the SLA's action against it wasn't unique. "The Liquor Authority, like the NFL, says that even though you're not violating our laws ... if you're violating laws in other states it's still a hit," he said.

The SLA's Crowley could not reveal who had made the initial complaint against Empire. Allen speculated that it must have come from an out-of-state retailer who became aware of Empire's prices.

New York's policies toward mail-order wine sales have an illustrious history. The 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision Granholm v. Heald found that the Empire State and Michigan couldn't restrict shipped sales from out-of-state wineries while allowing for direct sales from in-state producers.


Categories: State/Local

Showdown on casinos

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:07am


Two pictures vividly emerged before the state Gaming Commission's casino siting board on Monday, one of a rural community crying for a big gambling house as a neighbor and another of a suburban region repelled by the notion.

Dozens of people donning yellow T-shirts called for "opportunity" for Schoharie County during a public comment hearing. They supported a project the owner of Howe Caverns and his partner, Full House Resorts, propose. They came in buses or ran 37 miles from Howes Cave or rode in caravans on motorcycles or Cobleskill firefighting trucks. They cheered "What time is it?" and chanted "It's our time!" frequently during the first of three sessions the state is conducting on the proposed expansion of legalized gambling. The board heard presentations from the bidders earlier this month.

The loud support from the western gateway to the Capital Region at the home of the Howe Caverns tourist attraction contrasted sharply with the heavy opposition from scores of people from the eastern gateway of the region. These "Save East Greenbush" members held signs and paraded representatives to the microphone to urge the five Gaming Facility Location Board to rule out a casino license for their suburban town.

Jennifer Corso, one of the opponents of the Capital View Casino project proposed by Saratoga Harness and Churchill Downs, displayed a letter showing that the state attorney general's public integrity bureau recently wrote that they accepted her complaint and would look into actions of East Greenbush government in endorsing the Capital View project.

The differing campaigns overshadowed largely supportive pitches for projects proposed in Schenectady and Rensselaer, which had their own individuals with different T-shirts applauding and telling stories of depressed urban areas needing help.

The Howes Cave casino proponents loaded the hearing room for much of the day. Some of the anti-casino group in East Greenbush began chanting with the Schoharie County residents, saying they deserve the license.

Kevin Law, chairman of the location board, joked that it appeared a "coalition" had been built.

He told a reporter that the passionate speeches for and against projects are important to the deliberations of his board members, who intend to make recommendations next month. But he said it could take a little longer to complete due diligence on up to four casino licenses in three zones of upstate. The board is considering four applications in the Capital Region, three in the Finger Lakes/Southern Tier and nine in the Hudson Valley/Catskills.

"I've learned a lot today," Law said. He noted that 70 percent of the ranking of a project involves its economic development impact, 20 percent on how the locale will be affected and 10 percent on workforce issues. "For that 20 percent, hearings like this are tremendously helpful," Law said.

He told the crowd during a day of 145 speakers and 11 hours of testimony that "we have no doubt that Schoharie County wants a casino," drawing hurrahs from the crowd of Howes Cave backers. He also said he got the message from opponents of the East Greenbush plan for Thompson Hill, thanking one of the foes of the project for educating the board. The Schenectady project received about three dozen endorsements, many from elected leaders and economic development officials from Schenectady and Montgomery counties.

Robert von Hasseln, Amsterdam's economic development director, said the City Council and mayor of Amsterdam enthusiastically back the riverside project in Schenectady as a regional job creator that would benefit many hard-hit regions.

A centrally located casino in Schenectady, he said, would provide "economic justice" for the western outskirts of the Capital Region, which are often overlooked.

Many speakers came to praise Rush Street Gaming and its proposed project along the Mohawk River, a $330 million investment to create the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. But Unite HERE, the union that's been trying to organize Rush Street casinos in Pennsylvania and Illinois, brought in a few workers who faulted the company for allowing racist comments or being uncaring about family needs or about their community. Rasaura Villanueva, a Mexican-American woman who works as a dishwasher at a Rush Street casino in Illinois, where her husband, a Mexican, works as a cook, choked up, telling how she couldn't enroll her baby on the company health plan until an open enrollment 10 months in the future.

Other employees of Rush Street gambling operations, whom the company brought to the hearing, spoke glowingly about their workplace, emphasizing that employees have voted their casino repeatedly as a best place to work. "I love what I do, and I love working for Rush Street Gaming," said Sarah Hensley, a former Philadelphia Police Department officer. She stopped working as cop after an injury and became a uniform manager at the Rush Street property called Sugarhouse Casino along the Delaware River. "I think they would be a great partner and a great thing for this area," she told a reporter.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan drew boos from opponents of an East Greenbush casino when she spoke well of that development. She has entered into an agreement with the project's developers that would result in $11 million going to a city economic development arm over 10 years from Capital View revenues.

"The only applicant that has met the letter and spirit of Governor Cuomo's directive that casino projects target areas of highest need is Capital View in East Greenbush," she said. The competing Rensselaer project along the Hudson River that would be a Hard Rock-branded casino drew the fewest people to comment.

A key supporter, Rensselaer Mayor Daniel Dwyer, testified that the project would be transformative and would very much be in keeping with the intent of Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help an economically challenged region. Albany Common Council member Ron Bailey also spoke about the importance of the Rensselaer casino's employment opportunities.

Several East Greenbush residents agreed that Rensselaer would be a better choice.

Others were not in favor of any more gambling options at all.

Susan Price, a town resident who works as an addiction counselor, said the "alleged" benefits of a casino, such as jobs, could happen at any of the sites. "If you choose to award a casino license in the Capital District, and I hope you don't, please choose a site that at least is suitable and where it's actually wanted by the residents," she said. "East Greenbush fails both conditions miserably."

Ed Gilbert, East Greenbush's deputy supervisor, said opponents' hyperbole — such as saying the project is close to a Girl Scout camp or near a private school — is astounding. He said the casino would benefit public education and provide property tax relief.

"I believe the majority of people in East Greenbush support the casino," said 30-year resident Rita McLean, one of the last speakers and one of a handful of supporters against four dozen opponents of the Capital View plan who spoke. • 518-454-5083 • @JamesMOdato

Categories: State/Local

Next Steps for the City's Campaign Finance Sysem

Gotham Gazette - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:00am

Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: @BenKallos)

New York - Earlier this week, the City Council's Committee on Governmental Operations convened a hearing to review the Campaign Finance Board's (CFB) comprehensive report on the money raised and spent during the city's 2013 elections.

At the hearing, city council members, CFB leadership, and good governance groups discussed the possibility of raising spending limits for candidates participating in the CFB's public matching funds program and lowering campaign contribution limits for all candidates. These proposed changes come, in part, as response to the deluge of independent expenditures that rattled the last electoral cycle's financial playing field - floodgates opened by the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the now-infamous Citizens United case.

Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the government operations committee, cut straight to the chase when he asked the CFB's executive director, Amy Loprest, "Do you think matching funds did enough, in those races with significant outside expenditures, to allow candidates to fairly respond?"

Kallos was referring to the $15.9 million in outside spending that inundated the election cycle. According to CFB's report, $8 million in independent expenditures poured into the mayoral race and $6.9 million into city council primary races alone. In 17 of the 41 city council primary races, outside organizations even outspent candidates themselves.

Although Loprest maintained that the program did provide candidates with enough matching funds to "get their own message out" - noting that some of the highest outside spenders did not meet their electoral objectives - she acknowledged the dilemma that the spike in outside spending poses to campaign finance programs in general.

"In New York City, most candidates participate in the Program and agree to abide by a spending limit. Outside spenders face no spending limits, and voters cannot hold them accountable for their campaigns, " her prepared remarks read.

Council Member David Greenfield further probed Loprest on the issue of independent spending. "Have you looked at the possibility of raising those spending caps [on candidates] to deal with the influence of outside funds?" he asked.

The CFB's election report does indeed include the possibility of raising spending limits for participants in the program, along with the possibility of lowering the amount of money that any candidate, whether participating in the matching funds program or not, can accept from donors. The suggestion is listed as a point for consideration, and not as one of the report's 14 explicit legislative proposals.

The good governance groups who testified at Monday's hearing had different opinions on the possibility of changing those limits.

Common Cause NY, via testimony provided by Associate Director Lauren George, is "reluctant to encourage a money race between independent expenditure committees and public matching funds," and believes that the idea "merits further analysis and discussion." Meanwhile, Citizens Union supports altering limits, in conjunction with other changes such a move may necessitate to maintain balance and equity within the complex campaign finance ecosystem.

In testimony from its Director of Public Policy, Rachael Fauss, Citizens Union proposes increasing spending limits on candidates who receive public funds "from $182,000 for the 2017 cycle to $290,000, an increase about equal to the largest independent expenditure spent in opposition to a Council candidate during the 2013 primary elections."

The CFB's 14 legislative proposals include implementing instant runoff voting and stemming the role of intermediaries, or bundlers, who raise funds for candidates yet do business with city government at the same time, thereby violating campaign finance regulations. The latter is in direct reference to the Campaign Finance Act's intent to stop "play-to-play" corruption.

The hearing included discussion of the CFB's recommendations, but also concerns brought up by council members, such as the process of receiving matching funds for contributions made by credit card and how to mitigate the difficulties faced by first-time and "grassroots" candidates in navigating complex campaign finance rules.

Kallos inquired about new rules the CFB is formulating around the matching of contributions received via text message. Local Law 116 of 2013 allows voters to make contributions to campaigns by text message, a development which may broaden the pool of campaign contributors to include more lower income constituents, Kallos said. The CFB's codification of this process is due out in December.

All told, the most fervent discussion at the hearing surrounded what action should be taken to maintain a fair financial playing field in the face of monumental levels of spending by outside organizations, such as political action committees (PACs) and unions, that seek to influence electoral outcomes.

Hearing participants appeared to be unanimous on the indispensability of the city's campaign finance program, which is seen as a model that the state should follow, with council members taking turns lauding the CFB. Praise was given for the board's efforts to strengthen the Campaign Finance Act and ensure fair city elections in which the influence of local voters is propagated and that of bigger interests diminished.

"[The CFB has] been on my mind a lot this week, said Council Member Mark Levine, before praising the CFB in the unlikely context of this week's climate march.

"Time and again I've heard that we're not gonna be able to address the climate crisis until we change the fact that oil companies have outside influence on American politics with their unfettered campaign contributions," Levine said. "And boy, isn't it great that here in New York City, we have a robust, progressive, and overwhelmingly effective way to eliminate that kind of outside influence. [More than] we have on the federal level, and for that matter, even the state level."

by Katrina Shakarian, Gotham Gazette

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union

Categories: State/Local

Youth-Led Summit Aims at Amplifying Student Voice

Gotham Gazette - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:00am

Zak Malamed, founder of Student Voice, left, speaking on a panel (photo: @SusannaDW)

"I can't tell you how many conferences, events, and meetings...I have to go to where there are no students, even though we are talking only about education," said Amanda Ripley at the opening session of this year's Student Voice Live summit in New York City.

Ripley, who is an investigative journalist and the author of the book The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, was one of the hundreds of event attendees who share the collective goal of amplifying student voices within the education system. Participants gathered in Manhattan on Saturday, September 20 to engage in a series of discussions on a wide variety of topics. In its second year, the event again had several corporate sponsors, including Dell and Microsoft.

Student Voice is a not-for-profit organization created for students, by students. The organization was founded in May of 2012 by now-Executive Director Zak Malamed, a student at The University of Maryland. Over the past two-plus years, Student Voice has implemented programs that have catalyzed school and community improvement, ensuring that students' voices are more heard when their education is being discussed.

StuVoice, as it is often called, began with Twitter chats, now held each Monday, in which youth lead virtual dialogues (find them at #StuVoice). Past online conversations have touched upon topics such as expanding digital infrastructure to all students, reshaping curricula to make room for entrepreneurship, and reducing barriers to higher education.

The issues addressed by panelists at the summit ran the gamut, including student rights in the classroom, diversity in STEM, and health and wellness both in and out of school. The youth in attendance were from varied backgrounds, ranging from scientists to actors, all of whom were engaged in revolutionizing education from their particular vantage point.

Jaxson Khan, who served as a panelist on the global student movement, is leading the Student Voice Initiative in Canada. In proposing solutions to the agreed-upon problem of limited student say in education policy-making, Khan said, "From the start, it's building a system that's encouraging students to get active and involved and self-directing their own learning." Khan went on to say that students having a sense of ownership of their learning experiences is paramount.

The notion of ownership that Khan highlighted was the common thread that tied the conference's diverse panels together. The absence of that control and independence is familiar to Jordan Howard, who began working on youth advisory boards for nonprofits and corporations when she was 15 in order to claim more agency in her education. At 22, she is now a co-founder of GenYNot and a Dell Youth Innovation Advisor, and the solution she poses in education reform is simple. "Have a conversation," Howard said, when asked how education stakeholders can engage students. "And sometimes, they don't understand that it's that easy. What if we recognized that young people are the experts of their own experiences?"

Nikhil Goyal, a 19-year-old activist and author of a forthcoming book on alternative education, wants to see sweeping change. In expressing a prevailing sentiment among youth activists at the conference, Goyal asserts that "the solution is not top-down; it's bottom-up. It's through the people who are leading this movement and leading social change."

Goyal continued, "It's not just about bringing youth voices to the table, it's about bringing power to young people, giving them more responsibility, giving them privileges and rights, and allowing them to have the freedom to express their voices."

Student Voice is one such example of this work being done, and it is just one among several youth-led initiatives and organizations that have sprung up as a result of the lack of youth voices in discussions about issues that directly affect young people. Youth activism has served as a powerful presence in social movements, evidenced by the turnout of youth at Occupy Wall Street in the past, as well as the recent People's Climate March.

Goyal's advocacy of the bottom-up approach applies to the student voice movement as much as it does to the youth rights movement as a whole. Civic engagement among youth is a global movement that has exerted such influence on Scotland, which allowed 16-year-olds to vote in the referendum on national independence. Other countries that have extended nationwide voting rights to youth under 18 include Austria, Brazil, Nicaragua, Indonesia, and Sudan, among others.

This is largely not the case for Americans. The National Youth Rights Association reports that a total of 12 states allow citizens under 18 to vote in state elections, though often only in primaries or caucuses. Over the last decade, however, 12 other states have seen movements to lower the voting age on both state and local levels.

Amid talk of bills that would invite more youth to participate in local politics, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation last month lowering the minimum age of community board members from 18 to 16. The passage of the bill has met both support and considerable pushback from incumbent community board members, some of whom feel that the work is too hefty for youth. The passage of the bill, however, could potentially allow students to hold a larger stake in policy-making and offers new avenues for youth engagement.

As the New York State general election approaches, education will certainly be among the key issues debated by candidates, as it was in the primaries. Those participating in Student Voice Live are likely to be paying attention and remembering promises made - while also looking to influence the discussion.

Ruby Karp, who just began her first year of high school and was a host of Student Voice Live, has reiterated familiar advice on how to get youth involved in the education conversation: "If you want students to be engaged, engage them."

by Alex-Quan Pham, Gotham Gazette


Categories: State/Local

Education Committee Seeks More Guidance

Gotham Gazette - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:00am

Members of the Urban Youth Collaborative at a protest march

The role of guidance counselors in schools is increasingly being recognized as an essential factor in student support and key driver to help prepare students both for graduating from high school and succeeding in higher education.

On Monday, the New York City Council's Committee on Education will consider a bill and a resolution centered around the counseling that students receive and aimed at improving student support services, college enrollment rates, and college-preparedness among high school graduates.

The proposed legislation, Intro. 0403, would require the city's Department of Education (DOE) to send annual reports to the Council on the state of guidance counselors in city schools, including guidance counselor to student ratios at each school. For these purposes, 'guidance counselors' includes a variety of student service providers such as traditional guidance counselors as well as school psychologists and others. With growingly diverse and needy student populations, many have renewed calls for an increase in counselor staff at schools.

The accompanying resolution, which also mentions counselor-student ratios, is focused on the creation of a comprehensive college preparation program based on recommendations by the Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), an umbrella body of local youth organizations.

Former New York City Comptroller John Liu released a report in October 2012 highlighting the need to increase the number of counselors in city schools. The report also addressed the issues that the Council will be taking up on Monday, including an early intervention system to keep students on the right track to college, summer programs for college-bound youth, and training peer leadership in education.

The issue of skewed guidance counselor-student ratios is not new. A 2010 study by nonprofit research organization, Public Agenda, for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that students considered high school counseling systems inadequate and at times even detrimental to their interests. Those who felt they were badly counseled in school suffered later when they headed to college.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends that there be one counselor for every 250 students (Liu's report set the caseload goal at 100 students). According to the latest statistics from 2010-11, the national average was 471 students per counselor. New York State had a better figure, 392, but nonetheless higher than the optimum ratios set by ASCA and others.

"In the past few years, that number has just gotten worse," said Amanda Fitzgerald, director of public policy at ASCA. Fitzgerald says a countrywide trend has begun of addressing college and career readiness through increases in staffing ratios and that local governments are at the start. "It's definitely an important piece of the puzzle. We support the Council's resolution."

Unfortunately, the data for New York City is inadequate, which is one of the reasons behind the bill in front of the education committee. "Students are getting very little attention," said Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a sponsor on the bill.

(A 2005 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that counselors were spending an average of 38 minutes annually per student on college advising. Back then the average counselor-student ratio was 315-1)

"The first step to improve the situation is to get a report from the Department of Education. Then hopefully we can find a solution and figure out how to change the system," Reynoso added.

Late last year, the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School highlighted the issue in a report titled Creating College Ready Communities. Certain students, the report noted, had even missed out on admissions to colleges of their choice because of mistakes by overburdened counselors. Of note, the Center analyzed data provided by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the union representing guidance counselors. New York City had seen, per the data, certain improvements in staffing ratios, but it varied greatly in different schools.

Scott Noon, executive director of business development at the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) says the Bloomberg-era small schools initiative helped improve the situation in New York. "Most of the high schools are small," he said. "It leads to tight-knit relationships between students and adults. When that happens, students get better counseling."

The resolution before the education committee is aimed at addressing the more general problem of college access for students. According to DOE data from November 2013, only 49.7 percent of the class of 2012 enrolled in a two- or four-year college, vocational program, or public service program after graduation. Keeping this figure in mind, the Council's resolution is pushing the Urban Youth Collective's "Get Us To College" platform, which recommends that the city undertake an assessment of the support systems for high school students to transition into post-secondary education.

Among other measures in the resolution, the UYC has particularly stressed the need for creating student leadership and training peer counselors through Student Success Centers. "Young people are excited that the Council understands the youth have solutions and can play an important role in implementing them," said Kesi Foster, incoming UYC coordinator. "There is a broken pipeline in between high school and college graduation. The standards are changing and it's important to get students ready academically, especially first generation college goers," he added.

One method the resolution suggests, which the ISA agreed is effective, is distributed counseling. The model, which has already seen success in schools, relies on small groups, usually of 15 students. As opposed to the traditional model of hiring counselors, distributed counseling creates a network of counselors out of all teachers. "It's a safety net," said ISA's Noon. "It's a whole foundation of social and academic support to ensure no student falls through the cracks. It's about creating a college going culture by getting the students excited to go to college and ready to do so."

DOE Chancellor Carmen Farina created the office of Guidance and School Counseling at the department. Their representatives declined to comment for this story, but will be at the hearing on Monday to testify before the committee.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local
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