Sunday, May 30, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
The measure was opposed by fourteen Republicans. The push to increase the Charter School limits was championed by the Republicans two years ago during the last election cycle. Now, faced with actually voting for it, half bail on the measure. This certainly exposes the hypocrisy and lack of substance behind the GOP's position on the issue. What happened to Skelos and his caucus? Didn't they just make a recent plea to raise the limit themselves?With half of the Republicans voting against the measure, doesn't that galvanize the public's perception that they are once again the party of NO? How did anything get done when they were in charge? Oh, that's right...They did whatever Bruno told them. I forgot; My bad.
I stole a list off the State Dems Website showing the list of naysayers from yesterday's vote, and the list of Democratic challengers fighting to replace them in November.
- Farley - Susan Savage
- Golden - Mike DiSanto and Claudio DeMeo
- Griffo - Maria Pavelock and Mike Hennessy
- Owen Johnson
- Larkin - Harley Doles and Larry Delarose
- LaValle - Regina Calcaterra
- McDonald - Joanne Yepsen
- Padavan - Tony Avella
- Saland - Didi Barrett
I guess we should count our blessings that there were only 14 NO votes?
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Washington, DC - Building on the success of a recent sting operation that marshaled federal, state and local enforcement resources to indict 78 gang members in Newburgh, Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Congressman John Hall (D-NY), U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), today requested that action be taken to designate Orange County as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
The HIDTA designation, which would be granted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), would enhance future coordination of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies by providing equipment, technology and additional resources to combat the drug trafficking on which these gangs thrive. The House and Senate members sent a letter to NY/NJ HIDTA Director Chauncey Parker requesting that he work with local law enforcement officials to initiate the petition process necessary to secure the designation. "As you know, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program allows for increased collaboration between the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to increase communication and information sharing and allows for more effective policing," the House and Senate members wrote in a letter to Parker. "HIDTA is highly effective in its mission to funnel federal resources, such as equipment and technology, to counties with high crime and low resources.
It is crucial that Newburgh receive this designation and be eligible for the federal resources necessary to combat this ongoing problem of drug and gang-related violence in Newburgh." Relative to other municipalities across the country, Newburgh has seen disproportionally high rates of assaults and murders per capita in the last several years, making the city among the most violent in the nation per capita. The violence in this small city of 29,000 residents is so pronounced that it has drawn the attention of the Obama administration.
I would remind everyone here in Ulster County that what happens in Newburgh affects every municipality in the Hudson Valley. Crime has a way of creeping it's way into our neighborhoods and unless treated, will infect the whole region. As for Ulster, I think we have URGENT to thank for the delay in the northbound spread. Keep up the good work troops.
This of course begs the question; What do they actually do in Albany?
Monday, May 24, 2010
The article states: Paterson met with lawmakers Saturday to his talk about budget. I would expect that with the State in the mess it's in, they'd meet every day until they figured this out.
We have heard NYRA's announcement that it would have to close racing as soon as June 9 and lay off up to 1,400 employees because of cash flow problems. I know this sounds like a state size version of a corporate bailout, but...Paterson's proposal lays out a plan that not only insures the return of the people's money, but leaves the revenue stream in place years later.
The TU offered no glimmer of hope for the budget any time soon, but it does get to highlight some of the issues Dave has asked for in the past as sources of revenue. Like allowing mixed martial arts in New York, which could generate $30 million annually, but can't convince the Assembly to sign on to legalize the sport. It's legal in other states and broadcast on cable in New York, why not bring the revenues into the state?
I know some local Assembly members were voicing concern over the NYRA loan when the State parks were threatened closure, but if you read the news today, even that has become a non issue. You'll see in today's Record, Assemblyman Ron Canestrari expects his chamber will approve Paterson's latest proposal but they'll have to agree to cut $6 million from the Environmental Protection Fund. That's a tough pill to swallow, but they swear it should be temporary.
State Senator Sampson indicated that this could work. I would have to agree considering how much of an economic factor our parks play within our communities. Lets see where this ends up before the two houses merge an agreement on the two issues.
Our local representatives may have been uninformed of the continual talks at the Governor's Mansion when they spoke over the weekend. But we'll forgive them if this budget issue ever comes to a fruitful end.
Friday, May 21, 2010
The Democratic electorate has been showing a strong survival instinct lately. Surprising us by not only nominating candidates who look like winners, but actually making some wins. Since Obama took office there have been special Congressional elections in NY-20, IL-5, CA-32, CA-10, NY-23, FL-19, and now PA-12. How many of them did the GOP win?
In West Virginia, Democratic State Senator Mike Oliverio (pictured left) is poised to maintain the Congressional seat that he took in a primary. That's not the only example, there's also Kentucky's Attorney General Jack Conway who is now facing Rand Paul. As Rand begins his Tea Party meltdown, Jack looks better each day.
PA Congressman Joe Sestak gave up a safe seat to challenge Arlen Specter and won that as a long shot, but did win. It pains me that the White House invested so much in the Specter camp for that one. I expect that to be a win in November, just to say there's a Democrat in the seat rather than an opportunist.
It was assumed that the Murtha seat was going to GOP hands during this special election since the call to arms after the Health Care was so recent. That didn't happen either. Critz beat Burns 54% to 44%. Our friends at Fox News had beat that drum to death leading up to the election only to focus on Lindsey Lohanns DWI case the next day. Like it didn't happen.
If Rand Paul is the new face of the Republican party and continues to get plenty of press, I doubt the movement toward a GOP sweep is going to happen like they hoped. We can only wait and see.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Just as we saw the amazing win by Rand Paul in Tennessee, we now have another challenge to Maurice Hinchey. A man by the name of Ihor Procyk.
Ihor was handing out fliers along Broadway in Kingston when I happened upon him speaking to a small group outside Monkey Joes roaster. Claiming to make real change in Washington, Ihor plans to collect enough independent signatures on the designating petitions to actually run in this years general. I followed up with Kathy Mihm and got confirmation that Ihor had indeed been in the elections office seeking information for such a run.
I asked the gentleman what he was running against Hinchey for, and he told me some of his platform. He insists that our Congressman should be here in the district more rather than in DC. He also noted that he would have voted NO on the "socialist" health care bill. As he spoke, I heard some familiar soundbites but had to think on where I had heard them before. Then it dawned on me: George Phillips!
George has run against Maurice before, didn't get very far when he did, but that hasn't stopped him from running for Congress again. Now we have another candidate to make the race that much more fun!
Ihor says in his flier: I've been an area resident since moving here in 1967 as a boy from the Lower East Side in Manhattan. My parents owned a small Ukrainian boarding house called Graystone Farm at the corner of Yeagerville and Sholam Road above the Rondout Reservoir in Wawarsing. I have three adult children, as well as a fourteen year old son.
I showed my legislative friends (who know that area) and they confirmed that Ihor is who he says he is and that he is serious in his campaign. Having similar campaign platforms and just as much experience and drive to unseat our Congressman, I would say both Ihor and George have equal qualifications and pose an equal threat to the great Maurice.
Running on the Clean Sweep Reform Party line, Ihor Procyk is the challenger to watch this November. I would warn Hinchey that a real candidate has finally emerged and gaining on him.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Both Congressmen Maurice Hinchey and John Hall were presented Distinguished Service Awards by the committee with introductions by their respective Assembly representatives Skartados and Gunther. It was your typical affair, with a cocktail hour, followed by light buffet, plenty of speeches and finally a dinner that surpassed our ability to finish.
Tom DiNapoli, our State Comptroller rounded out the evening with his anticipated speech focusing on the financial state of the state, how chaotic the budget talks have become and where we stand as Democrats heading into the 2010 elections. All expected at a political function.
The hall was littered with candidates running for AG, State offices and some local judgeships. Nick Woerner was in attendance to help support candidate Eric Dinallo, shown here being walked around by Elliott Auerbach. Sean Coffey and Kathleen Rice were working the crowd as well. No sign of Brodsky, Schneiderman or Holtzman.
What was unusual, was an endorsement letter placed at each setting at every table. With Frank Skartados' heading at the top, it was an endorsement of Harley Doles for Senate. It was on paper I had seen before. I used it myself my first run as Alderman here in the City of Kingston. It might be OK for a City Council or Town Board election, but for an Assemblyman? Not so much.
Here's the best part...I wander over to where Frank is talking about the Assembly with Nick Woerner and Vince Bradley, where the issue of the endorsement letter comes up. Nick picks up the letter to show him, where Frank says: "Whats that?" We come to find out that Assemblyman Skartados didn't know that his staff whipped up an endorsement letter for Doles, signed his name to it, and dispersed the copies to the tables before the event.
The look on Frank's face: Priceless.
Considering the damage to Frank at this point in both "choosing" one candidate over another and using the faded flag stationary in his name, Frank made a point to reach out to Larry in what looked like serious conversation in the back of the hall. I can only imagine what happened after the event when Frank got to engage our friends Phil and Trish Schacter on the issue. Personally, I don't know that I would tolerate a juvenile stunt like that had I been the Assemblyman, but then, I am speaking from the perspective of the opposing candidate. I might be biased?
The Ulster County conventions cant come soon enough to put these petty insider fights to rest and we can get on with the election season.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
In recent months there has been some drama concerning the over payment in services by the City of Kingston for Assistance and Care of persons utilizing Social Services of any kind. Seems people from other towns of close proximity had their services billed to the City of Kingston because the Department didn't have the wherewithal to know the difference and the city officials didn't double check. They assumed Westchester resident Roberto Rodriguez, our Health Dept Commissioner, knew where the town lines were way up here in Ulster County.
This drama prompted the alternate discussion regarding the "Safety Net" as a whole, and how to remedy the inequitable policy that is currently in place. You see, the only county in the country that provides these services and bills the municipalities in this fashion is Ulster County. None of the other 61 counties in New York handle the billing the same way. Here, the municipality that houses the homeless and subsidized, have to pay 50% of the cost. Other Counties cover those same costs for this county service.
This places a financial dis-incentive for towns other than Wawarsing and Kingston to increase low income/subsidized housing in their districts for fear that they would have to assume half the costs of the service. If someone falls on hard times while living in Woodstock, Saugerties or Lloyd, the townsfolk will put you, your family and whats left of your belongings on a bus for Kingston or Ellenville.
As proposed by Legislators Donaldson and Laughran, the County would phase in the proper assumption of the cost of the county service over a two or more year period. Eventually; with the understanding that towns would nolonger see that providing emergency housing and assistance for townsfolk who fall on hard times will dictate that they leave the towns they raised their families in.
From what I've gathered in my short four months on the Legislature, the subject of realligning the "Safety Net" costs back to the county where it properly belongs, usually took place during the last hours of the budget discussions in December...destined to fail significant discussion upon arrival. This year, with the screw-up in billing causing such a stir, the subject is now front & centre.
The City of Kingston is on the verge of suing the County to correct the inequitable billing practice that has caused undue burden on the city infrastructure and the taxpayers. Kingstonians are faced with paying for a county service they take no part in. Nor want to. A taxing system plagued with discriminational undertones simply because of where persons on the service may reside. It doesn't look good.
Voting in favor: Rob Parete, Wayne Harris and Joe Stoeckler. Voting against: Laura Petit, Walter Frey and Ken Ronk. It should be noted that Mr Harris voted in favor for the purpose of allowing it to get to the floor. He intends to vote "No" when it gets there.
Afterward, Ken, Walter and I had some passionate banter in the county parking lot. Not enough to warrant security, it was quite fun actually. But we did get to express ourselves on the issue and bring our perspective into view between the three of us. We all agree that it is unusual that this issue comes up so early in the year, allowing it to become an animal in its own right rather than a footnote during the budget process.
My former bandmates on the Council asked that I play a role in the "Safety Net" discussion when I got to the Legislature; since they felt it never went anywhere with the members we had in place for the last two decades. Perhaps the combination of the billing mishap and the new face with an agenda has sparked a much needed conversation.
I don't know the outcome of Resolution 147, but I do like being engaged in what could be "equitable tax distribution modification" which may help Kingston and Wawarsing in the future. Lets hope for an enlightened outcome.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
"City planners paved the way Monday night for a developer of a large-scale housing project to begin the first significant construction work at the waterfront site."
That's the first line in the Freeman article in today's edition. Did you have to read it twice to comprehend the news? I did. My Council colleagues and I were engaged with the project the whole time I served on the council. We signed off on the final plan only months before I left. To read that the planning board has given AVR the go-ahead to start grading the land for access is such a thrill.
The vote was unanimous. Months from now you'll see excavators start moving some earth. Making way for other equipment. It shouldn't be long before they submit the plans for whatever they think they can build and sell during these rough economic times. I almost cant wait. I'm a firm believer that "If you build it..." simply because people trying to get out of New York City will always want to relocate within the 90 minute radius.
The paper repeated the plans we knew about the North Street and Rt 32 entrances as well as the number of units they expect to launch in Phase One. Each phase of the project will need site plan approval by the Planning Board.
I would have to agree with the Mayor when he says he'd like to get the first shovel in the ground. This project has been in the works for quite a long time. Not that there's anything wrong with the process. The current plan is so much better than the original and the input from the public and interest groups have played a significant part in the final plan, but it has been a long time and has cost Tom Perna and Company allot of money to get to this stage.
Expect to see pictures of the progress as its happening right here on the Blog.
Friday, May 07, 2010
So I took a bunch of pictures this afternoon just to whet your appetite before making the trip. Here are some shots as it was being worked on...
I should point out that much of what we've seen could only have been accomplished with heaps of money through federal and state grants. Most of which (well over $1 Million) was brought to us by our Congressman Maurice Hinchey. DOT funds as well as Brownfield Remediation funds were diverted to this area as well as $200K of the Federal Stimulus money from early this year.
But like most municipal projects funded by taxpayer money, we have to make the investment and development choices that best utilize what has been offered in good faith. This walkway doesn't mark the end of our effort to revitalize our waterfront, it marks the beginning. In the decade to come, our Kingston leaders had better stay focused on the opportunity we've been given.
Here are some shots of the finished product:
Thursday, May 06, 2010
The intent was to cut spending on personnel and decrease the cost of maintainance. Their short sighted plan backfired. The way the contracts are written, everyone from dispatchers to rail mechanics made out big time through overtime and other perks. So much for cutting costs.
Hogging a huge slice of the overtime were LIRR employees, who benefit from arcane union work rules that allow everyday engineers and grease monkeys to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars above their salaries while barely lifting a wrench. Railroad employees account for more than half of the top 100 overtime earners in 2009. And of those,
Officers and ranking members of the MTA's police force and Bridge and Tunnel officers rounded out the top overtime list.
Since Larry Delarose is running for the State Senate and portions of the 39th district depend on rail service, I asked him for his perspective. He said: "Well, the MTA is in the news again for sloppy financial management and wasteful spending....gee what a surprise. The latest boondoggle is the revelation that there are MTA employees who because of antiquated work rules and access to excessive overtime are making six figure salaries...some as high as $250,000 a year. Are any of the state senators in the mid-hudson region....where we constantly whine about being abused by the MTA and sometimes rightly so....aware of this?"
So I rummaged through some other articles on the MTA and the overtime mess and found the best example of abuse I could find. Not counting employees who retired and cashed out sick and vacation days in 2009, the person with the biggest difference between his stated salary and total compensation is Michael P. Castro, a senior accounting analyst at MTA Bus. Castro made $228,000 on a $72,100 salary; a difference of $156,252. The MTA disputes that number, saying Castro's W-2 forms only show him making $77,490.
I threw this little tidbit back to Larry to get his response: "Mike, I have called several times in the past months for the Governor to appoint a financial review board to oversee the MTA's financial operation until they get their financial house in order. As a civilian, that all I or any of us can do. It would be nice to know if any of these gentlemen are aware of the above mentioned situtation and what they intend, if anything, to do about it.
As for me, I can tell you that I have found nothing from our current State Senator in the press regarding the MTA overtime costs and frankly don't expect to. This issue has been brewing for decades and well, if he's been in that office for 21 years with little influence on our commuting experience and costs thus far, I doubt he ever intends to.
Just another reason for a fresh perspective in the New York Senate.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
The title is"Operation Green Pastures" because that's what the FBI initially called the case when this whole investigation started. Seems appropriate considering the interconnected horse trading that was going on behind the scenes, both figuratively and in reality.
I found this statement in the Albany Times Union: In January 2009, seven months after Bruno abruptly resigned his Senate post, he was indicted on eight felony counts of theft of honest services. The allegations handed up by a federal grand jury charged Bruno with using his political muscle to secretly enrich himself through business deals riddled with conflicts and hidden from the public.
Fast Jets, Fast horses and fast labor deals are what finally caught up with Bruno. He has been in one of the most influential positions in New York State for decades where he obviously thought nothing could hurt his reputation or threaten his freedom. Now at 81, he is facing possible jail time coupled with over $280,000 in restitution to cover court costs and fines.
The ATU also had this: Initially, federal authorities this began as an examination by FBI agents in Albany of private jet flights Bruno received from Abbruzzese, a millionaire telecommunications consultant who had a stake in Bruno's legislative powers and a shared interest in race horses. Abbruzzese was part of a group that pursued the state's multi-billion-dollar contract running the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga horse tracks, which was part of the reason the FBI tied the case's code name to thoroughbreds.
This is where the public is suspect of some of the other state officials who had ties with Bruno. People who serve on boards, State Senators connected to the gaming industry and the horse breeders themselves. The whole circle of corruption has placed even more negative connotation on an already frowned upon Legislative body.
FBI Agent-In-Charge John Pikus was quoted: "It's always tough and a challenge to investigate an individual who has made a profound impact in the community." It;s true, you'll find many a building, stadium or park with Joe Bruno's name on it peppered across the state. However, it is important to remember, these places, as fabulous as they are, are paid for with New York taxpayer funds and not out of his personal accounts.
Will Sharpe give Bruno the full eight years that federal prosecuters are asking for? I doubt it. Considering his age, the fines, and tarnished reputation, he will probably get much less and be forced to live out his days with the title of ex-con. I should point out, If sentenced to prison, he will have six months to report to a facility. Will he wait until the weeks leading up to election day so we can replay the connection to Larkin and the rest of the Bruno 22? That would an appropriate "screw you" to the many who reaped the benefits of their actions without paying the price...don't you think?
UPDATE; Judge Gary Sharpe has given Joe Bruno a two year sentence.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
That's quite the list for any President to pick from, but it's the Supreme Court nomination that makes this so important. From what I've read of the final four, (sounds like American Idol) I prefer Diane Wood.
She has a progressive record on issues that are sure to generate political opposition from social conservatives, but finds herself admired from both camps for her mainstream jurisprudence, tempered by a respect for precedent and a narrow focus on the facts at hand.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Wood, who is about to turn 60, has been a friend of the President since their college days, so she doesn't come to this final four list as a stranger. It doesn't mean that her long road toward eligibility was without hardship either.
In a Miami paper it was mentioned that retiring Justice John Paul Stevens also attended Georgetown U as an undergraduate, a college where Wood still teaches a class in civil procedure part-time. That article went so far to say Students privately describe her courses as tough but very fair, and say Professor Wood is a knowledgeable, hands-on teacher and good listener. Will these attributes help as a Supreme? I'm going to stick to her ability to properly interpret the law.
I stumbled on a list of pertinent opinions from decades of judiciary history. I'm not going to fill space with that here, but what I can tell you, It's extensive (as you'd guess) and I'm more than willing to bet our President will chose Diane Wood for his nominee.
Will there be debate? Sure.
Will it turn into a fight? You becha!
Saturday, May 01, 2010
Beltane marks the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were driven out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands. The lighting of bonfires on mountains and hills of ritual and political significance was one of the main activities of the festival. The herds would be guided through a valley between the fires to purify them for the year. Up until the 1950's, it was common for priests here and in Europe to light two fires and pass people through much for the same reason.
Also known in much of the northern hemisphere as "Bright May Day", in Ireland it is referred to in a common folk tale as Luan Lae Bealtaine; the first day of the week to emphasize the first day of summer. Today you'll find most celebrations on the evening with the closest full moon. In the US, where many of the participants follow a modern revision of the holiday, stick to the May 1st calendar day to coincide with the May Day celebrations associated with Wiccan and Neopagan religions with ties to old Europe.
The lighting of a community Bealtane fire from which individual hearth fires are then relit is also observed in modern times in some parts of the Celtic diaspora, though in the majority of these cases this practice is a cultural revival rather than an unbroken survival of the ancient tradition.
With a high density of immigrants from Ireland and the rest of the UK located here in Ulster County, you are more likely to see the occasional bow of Mountain Ash tied to doors and windows during the first week of May. Not much different than the tradition of pine wreaths around the winter solstice. Usually decorated with ribbons, garland and colored eggs.
The holiday closely related to Beltane in America is Samhain, Also known as Halloween and coincides with the Beltane celebration in the southern hemisphere for the same reason we celebrate here.
For those who follow these traditions of Celtic origin, I wish you well on this high holiday and hope for the purest year to come.