Vol. 2, No. 9 | MAY 13, 2013
The Return of the
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BAD APPLES Last week at City & State’s Considering that up Albany Power 100 list cock- until this year there were tail reception, a veteran 212 members of the Legislalawmaker repeated to me ture—the added 63rd Senate a trope I have heard often seat brought that number in recent days from elected to 213 this session—and o ff ic ia l s factoring about their in the high colleagues re-election felled by rate of incumscandal: “a few bents and the bad apples.” low turnover You have in Albany, let likely been us generously subjected to assume that this common over the past assertion seven years yourself; roughly 350 all but a Morgan Pehme people have handful of our EDITOR served either lawmakers in the Legislaare good, honest people ture or in one of the three who unfortunately have to statewide offices. By this endure ill repute in the eyes conservative estimate, over of the public because of the 9 percent of our elected disproportionate attention officials are “bad apples”— given to the small number and that’s only counting the of their fellow legislators folks who got caught. who go astray. Furthermore, at this It’s a notion many of point, with a slew of us are eager to accept. ongoing investigations While a fair share of people swirling around the Capitol, certainly dismiss all politi- only the most naive or opticians as crooks, most New mistic observers would Yorkers want to believe conclude that there are not that the elected officials in more indictments on the whom we have invested our way. It is easily conceivable vote are faithfully repre- that in a matter of weeks the senting our interests in count could balloon signifigovernment. cantly. The problem with the So, what percentage “few bad apples” argument of our elected officials in is that the facts don’t back Albany are rotten? Ten it up. percent? Twenty percent? According to a tabulation More? We will never be able this week by Bill Mahoney to arrive at a truly accurate of the New York Public number, but whatever it is, Interest Research Group, a clearly the “few bad apples” total of 32 Albany legisla- are more like a bushel, if not tors and statewide elected a whole festering orchard. officials who have served If we are ever to root out in the past seven years have the pestilence of corrupbeen arrested, censured or tion that has taken hold in brought down by their own our state government, we misdeeds, including former must level with ourselves Gov. Eliot Spitzer, ex–State about the magnitude of the Comptroller Alan Hevesi epidemic. Cheery clichés and three of the past four may console us, but they Senate majority leaders. will never cure our ills.
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AROUND NEW YORK The best items from City & State’s political blog City & State’s political blog is your key source for political and campaign developments in New York. Stay on top of the news with items like these at www.cityandstateny.com.
ALBANY U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (below) has spent a lot of time at the Capitol recently. He announced a $1.7 billion plan to help state homeowners recover from Superstorm Sandy with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and then addressed the Assembly Democratic Conference in a private session, touching on a number of federal issues, including federal disaster relief and gun control, before greeting members on the floor during a vote. Schumer’s first cousin once removed, Amy Schumer (above), was also having a big week in the state with the debut of her new show on Comedy Central, Inside Amy Schumer. “She’s my cousin! I didn’t know that,” the senator said, and an adviser confirmed. When asked what advice he would give to her, Schumer said, “Keep it clean.”
MANHATTAN Public safety was the topic for the first televised debate among New York City’s Democratic candidates for mayor. The morning of the debate Council Speaker Christine Quinn (right) outlined her public safety agenda, saying she would not support a bill before the City Council to prohibit racial
profiling by the NYPD. During the debate, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio challenged Quinn, saying the city “needs” the racial profiling bill as a step toward “healing and strengthening the relationship between police and communities.” Quinn defended her position, saying, “Let me also be clear on the racial profiling bill: Profiling is illegal in the City of New York, and it’s something that we all need to have zero tolerance for.” The candidates were also asked whether legislation for an inspector general to oversee the police department reflected poorly on the City Council’s oversight of the NYPD. Some candidates agreed that the Council bears responsibility, especially in curbing the proliferation of stop, question and frisk policing. “The issue of the City Council’s record on stop, question, and frisk I think is very clear,” Quinn responded. “The only reason we know the numbers is because of law passed by the City Council that requires documentation and reporting from the police department. The only reason there has been retraining of police officers is because of advocacy by me and the other members of the City Council.”
RAMAPO State Education Commissioner John King (right) has held several meetings with East
Ramapo school district leaders to straighten out its finances, but the state has not discussed taking over the town’s school board. The school district was the subject of a recent New York magazine feature detailing the divisive consequences of a Hasidic school board takeover in the Rockland County district. The board laid off teachers and cut school programs, actions that have roused students to demonstrate at board meetings. King singled out the school district’s failure to pay a bill to the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and to meet special education requirements. “We’re working with the district to help them make decisions on their budget,” he said. “They have a requirement to meet education law and regulations, and with respect to special education, we did identify some problems, and we will require collective action.” The state is also considering a bill to allow the Board of Regents to replace the authority of a school board with an education oversight board, although it is not specific to the East Ramapo school district.
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“My name is April Rodriguez. I am a lifelong NYCHA resident and a proud member of Laborers Local 79” Working together the Laborers and the New York City Housing Authority created a career path for April, and hundreds of other NYCHA residents. Today hundreds of NYCHA residents are union Laborers, Carpenters, Bricklayers, Painters and members throughout the building trades. These careers provide good wages, safe working conditions, health insurance, benefits, and dignity and respect on the job. April Rodriguez - 5 year member of Laborers Local 79 Instructor - Mason Tenders Training Fund Proud mother of three.
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www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
“Pervert Alert! Serial sexter @anthonyweiner has promised to use twitter as a ‘tool.’ Parents, make sure your children have him blocked.” —Donald Trump, tweeting in response to comments made by former Rep. Anthony Weiner about his return to Twitter, via the New York Daily News
BY THE NUMBERS
In The Game New York’s racetrack casinos have had a hot hand lately, seeing revenues increase by more than 5 percent in the first quarter of 2013. And the racinos have been touting their performance—and the millions of dollars diverted to education—in the hope that they will get a piece of the even larger pie if full-fledged casinos are legalized in the state.
TAX REVENUE NEW YORK First Quarter 2012 $301.3 million First Quarter 2013 $316.8 million
What was the worst political scandal ever in New York?
with a prostitute and used a check. That’s something that probably happens all over the place. I would reiterate the comments of my colleagues: The biggest crime that we have here is if you come LARRY NORDEN from a minority district, a Republican DEPUTY DIRECTOR, BRENNAN district in the case of the Assembly, you CENTER FOR JUSTICE can’t get your bills to the floor because The past 10 years have been really they’re held up by the leadership. We just bad for Albany. We’ve had at least 13 want an up-or-down vote. The people convictions of elected officials, many more have a right to an up-or-down vote, and I indictments, including three of the last think it would be beneficial to allow that five Senate majority leaders. That’s not a to happen. You want to talk about juicy single event, but it’s been a bad decade for scandals? I was here when Michael Boxley Albany. The sheer volume, and the fact that was taken out, back when he was charged it’s apparent that big with rape. There was money has corrupted a perp walk that was the culture in Albany, very dramatic when TALKING has been striking. they dragged him out of POINTS here, and I happened to LIZ KRUEGER just be a staffer here. I DEMOCRATIC remember that being a STATE SENATOR huge scandal. The outside-funded Republican coup of DIANE SAVINO the Senate Democratic majority with the STATE SENATOR, IDC cooperation of two Democrats but also We tend to get caught up in whatfunded by a trade association and a private ever the scandal of the moment is, but individual named Tom Golisano. So you Tammany Hall has to have been the biggest had the RSA and Tom Golisano standing scandal in politics in New York State. there watching and waiting to applaud Anything that has occurred now, while it their successful purchased coup of the is completely unacceptable, I think it pales state Senate in 2009. I’m not sure you in comparison to what Tammany Hall was could find another one. Somebody bought about, which really was about government a coup in the Senate. That seems like a for sale at every level. It was pervasive. pretty big deal. It wasn’t individuals acting in their own interest at the expense of the taxpayer. That CLAUDIA TENNEY was a systemic process of political parties REPUBLICAN ASSEMBLYWOMAN controlling state government, where legisI know you want to hear Spitzer—he was lators really were just puppets of the polit-
MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
ical party of Tammany Hall. That was a scandal.
RICHARD GOTTFRIED DEMOCRATIC ASSEMBLYMAN I don’t know if it ever got written up as a scandal, but my first year in the Legislature, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (was) getting his budget passed in the Assembly. He was facing very right-wing Republicans, and despite the fact that his budget was a pretty severe one, but he essentially bought off a couple of Democrats to vote for the budget, people who were subsequently pretty quickly rewarded with jobs in the administration. I always thought that was pretty blatant, but it never really got recognition as a scandal, which was part of the stature of Nelson Rockefeller.
DAVE PALMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR WORKING FAMILIES I wouldn’t claim to be a historian, and I live in the here and now, but I feel the biggest scandal happening right now is the biggest scandal in history, in part because it’s providing the best opportunity we’ve ever had to put forward real reform, comprehensive campaign finance reform with public financing at its core. It is starting to feel we’re reaching a tipping point where it can’t be tolerated. Year after year there are more convictions. The Brennan Center released a statistic showing that following the passage of a public financing program in Connecticut, the number of convictions of corruption has dramatically declined. I’m hopeful we can do that in New York and see the same results.
PENNSYLVANIA First Quarter 2012 $217.4 million First Quarter 2013 $208.6 million
–4% NEW JERSEY First Quarter 2012 $49.2 million First Quarter 2013 $ 42.2 million
CONNECTICUT First Quarter 2012 $79.4 million First Quarter 2013 $ 70.3 million
SOURCES: NEW YORK STATE GAMING COMMISSION, CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF CONSUMER PROTECTION, NEW JERSEY CASINO CONTROL COMMISSION AND THE PENNSYLVANIA GAMING CONTROL BOARD, VIA THE NEW YORK GAMING ASSOCIATION
THE KICKER: A CHOICE QUOTE FROM CITY & STATE ’S FIRST READ EMAIL
www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
T H E F I V E B O R O U G H B A L LOT
TOTTENVILLE, STATEN ISLAND W’S BAR & RESTAURANT COULD WEINER RISE IN STATEN ISLAND? BY NICK POWELL “You guys see the headline in the Post? ‘Weiner Rising’?” It’s late afternoon on a Monday at W’s, meaning it’s “hit or miss,” according to the bartender, in terms of the number of customers who might file in for a postwork beverage. There are six men sitting at the bar having what passes as a political discussion for the W’s crowd. They bandy about some of the names mentioned as potential successors to Michael Bloomberg. Because of some pun-soaked headlines and a recent surge in press coverage, former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s name comes up, as well as that of Christine Quinn. “Here’s to our next mayor, Christine Quinn,” one patron says, lifting a shot glass to toast the City Council Speaker and current Democratic front-runner for mayor in the polls. The discourse on politics does not extend much beyond a cursory roundup of the most visible candidates. It is still early in the mayoral race, with roughly four months to go until the primary election. For those who follow New York City politics with a passing interest, the candidates to replace Bloomberg are little more than names and faces at this juncture. Weiner, however, is one name that is diffi-
cult to forget. jest, it reflects a larger mistrust of politi“Everybody makes mistakes,” says cians that was reinforced in recent weeks Matt Moore, a retired New York City fire- with the arrest of state Sen. Malcolm Smith fighter and current groundskeeper at the and Queens Councilman Dan Halloran on Monmouth Race Track in New Jersey, bribery and corruption charges. referring to Weiner. “It’s fifty-fifty with politicians right Most of the men at the bar respond to now,” Moore says. “They get in [office] and questions about politics with a certain wanna do good, but once they get that wariness, or simply don’t want their taste of power…” His voice trails off in a names printed foreboding manner anywhere other than before he adds, their driver’s licenses “And they get their and Social Secupension? I think it’s rity cards. Moore wrong.” is the exception, Moore says he is “They should put an approachable, nostalgic for a time the disgraced genial man eager when citizens could to converse. At the truly hold their politicians in front mention of Weiner, leaders accountof City Hall and let he brings up another able for their public name from disgraced us throw stuff at them missteps. congressional “They should like the old days.” lore, Vito Fossella, put [the disgraced holding him up as politicians] in front an example of a of City Hall and let politician who, like us throw [stuff] at Weiner, fell victim to them like the old his own extracurricular activities. days.” “[The personal troubles] wouldn’t Circling back to Weiner, Moore says it’s prevent me from voting for him,” Moore no surprise he is considering running for says. Still, he makes it clear that he is very mayor. He says the expectation of public much undecided on whom to vote for this officials who make mistakes is, “We’re fall. politicians; they’ll forgive us.” Moore is a unique voter in that he not With the paucity of women patrons at only eschews party lines to cast his ballot W’s, it’s difficult to get an accurate take on for whichever candidate he feels serves how female voters would view Anthony his best interests, he also makes sure to Weiner as a mayoral candidate. It’s fair write himself in as a candidate in every to assume that some might think twice election. While this move is partly done in about voting for a married man who
text-messaged lewd pictures to several different women. As the bartender empties ice buckets behind the bar, she doesn’t seem to show much interest in the discussion at hand. Asked if she would have a problem voting for Weiner in an election—hypothetically, that is, being that she’s a New Jersey resident—the bartender offers a blunt assessment of politicians like Weiner who become embroiled in sex scandals. “It’s no different than what any of these other guys are doing,” she said. “As long as he shows that he can run a city, it shouldn’t matter.” Reinforcing this opinion about Weiner, a New York City public schoolteacher named Loretta, who was loading groceries into her car in the parking lot adjacent to W’s, said that she would be open to hearing what he had to say rather than dismissing his candidacy altogether. “I don’t know,” she said. “I would have to see what his credentials are, rather than what he did on his Facebook or Instagram or whatever it was. I didn’t really know anything about his credentials until that incident. I’d have to learn more about him before I made a decision. He obviously made a mistake.” It’s difficult to say whether the opinions of these few voters in this small corner of Staten Island are an indication of a larger forgiving view on Weiner’s infidelities, but if nothing else, it’s clear that thanks to his well-timed media blitz, the former congressman is registering in the minds of voters as a face and a name that commands attention.
Retired firefighter Matt Moore believes that former Rep. Anthony Weiner deserves a second chance. 6
MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
OPEN LETTER TO THE NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION
Protect New York Jobs, In-State Power Generation & Taxpayer Dollars: Reject the Champlain Hudson Canadian Power Line Dear Members of Congress: On behalf of tens of thousands of hard-working, middle class union families across New York State, we urge our Members of Congress to stand up for New York jobs and oppose the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) project and any subsidies for this 330-mile transmission line from Quebec to Queens. The developers of the project made a business decision to propose a power line that denies access to power plants located within New York State, effectively blocking them from supplying New York City and the surrounding region with in-state produced electricity. As such, the project provides no economic opportunity for New York power generators, particularly those located in economicallydistressed upstate communities, which would relish the chance to supply electricity to other parts of the state. The Champlain Hudson transmission line also does nothing to relieve the existing electric transmission bottlenecks that imperil the economic future of many New York power plants. Instead, it bypasses the entire New York State transmission system with a one-way, one-customer power line that is off limits to New York generators and the tens of thousands of workers they employ. Further, because the project is un-economic by design, it can only move forward with subsidized power purchase agreements that put New Yorkers on the short end of a one-way “energy highway,” mainly benefitting its Canadian investors and Wall Street backers. This Canadian power line is the wrong project at the wrong time and should not be subsidized by New York ratepayers or taxpayers. From Buffalo to Binghamton and Utica to Long Island City, this project will outsource New York jobs and economic opportunity. Let’s say YES to New York jobs and economic development. New York must pursue energy projects that create jobs and improve the quality and reliability of our electric system to ensure economic growth and prosperity. We oppose the Champlain Hudson Power Express project and we respectfully urge you to stand united with your fellow New Yorkers and contact the President to let him know this harmful project is not in the best interest of the great State of New York. Sincerely,
Richard Roberts Business Agent at Large Enterprise Association of Steamfitters Local Union 638
Michael Cavanaugh Vice President New York City District Council of Carpenters
James Slevin Vice President Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2
Steve Ludwigson Business Manager / Secretary-Treasurer Boilermakers Local 5
Don Daley Patrick Dolan, Jr. President Enterprise Association of Steamfitters Local Union 638 CITY&STATE
Anthony Saporito Executive Vice-President Mechanical Contractors Association
Don Daley Chairman International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Utility Labor Council State of New York www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
T H E F I V E B O R O U G H B A L LOT
MOTT HAVEN, THE BRONX CAMAGUEY RESTAURANT
Voters in Mott Haven are undecided about the mayor’s race, but they know what they want in their next mayor: the good of Bloomberg without the bad. BY MATTHEW J. PERLMAN
On a sunny Saturday in April, Gloria Cruz walked past St. Mary’s Park in Mott Haven on her way to Camaguey Restaurant. Kids were playing outside. Mothers went by pushing strollers. Cruz was talking about gun legislation and the recent debate in Washington. “It’s a national issue now,” she said. “But it’s been a problem here for a long time.” A stray bullet killed her niece in 2005, only blocks away. The next year Cruz began helping organize the Bronx chapter of the Million Mom March, an event that honors those lost to gun violence and raises awareness about the issue. Inside Camaguey Restaurant on 138th Street, sitting in a booth along the mirrored wall, Cruz talked about recent setbacks to national gun control, and the frustration it made her feel. “I spent the whole afternoon talking to crying mothers,” she said. Closer to home, Cruz feels Mayor Bloomberg is doing a better job. “He’s addressing the needs he needs to address,” she said. “He wants to make the city he
loves better, safer and viable.” She doesn’t know which candidate she’ll support in the upcoming mayoral election. She doesn’t know them well enough yet. “I haven’t heard their visions for the future,” she said. She says that’s because the candidates haven’t come to her community. “We’re the bottom of the barrel,” she said. “If they want to know what’s going on in the community, they have to be here.” Whoever gets elected, there are a few things she hopes they know a lot about: education, business and city planning. “Or they should surround themselves with the right people,” she added, something she said Bloomberg has done well. Cruz also appreciates the mayor’s pragmatism, citing his Young Men’s Initiative, a private-public partnership that connects black and Latino young men to educational, employment and mentoring programs. Cruz sees it as an example of the mayor perceiving a need and finding the money to get it fixed. “I’m hoping the next mayor is just as proactive,” she said. On a different day in Camaguey, the television plays a soap opera as customers order plates of yellow rice with roasted chicken or bowls of savory orange stew. Bernard Aguero, an electrician from Woodside, finishes his lunch and fiddles with his cell phone. “My ideal mayor would fix the education system,” he said. Aguero’s daughter is hearing-impaired, and he sends her to a private school so she can receive the attention of a specialized program. “The public standards are so low,” he
said about special education in the city. “I understand that my kid is my responsibility, but if the city could help…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “I hope it changes.” For Aguero, the problems with city schools are related to a wider sense that Bloomberg’s New York City caters to the upper crust—a common refrain in Mott Haven. “He’s helping the high class of New York, but he’s doing nothing in the boroughs,” he said. The music in Camaguey in the late afternoons fades in and out like the stream of regular customers. It alternates between salsa and pop songs. A familiar fixture sits on one of the counter stools: Vicente Mino, 68. Mino, a retired mechanic, lives in an apartment above the restaurant. During a lull, he talked about the possibility of former Rep. Anthony Weiner entering the mayor’s race. “These guys always make mistakes,” he said. “They’re never going to change. That’s it.” Mino said that a business background is good preparation for a mayor. “They know how to run a company, so they know how to run a city,” he said. But, he adds, he has had enough of Bloomberg. “What is he? A dictator?” Mino moved from Ecuador about 40 years ago, and has lived in Mott Haven for three decades. He says the neighborhood used to look like World War II. It’s gotten better, he says, but problems persist. “Number one,” he said, counting on his hand, “has to be the drugs. It keeps young people on the streets.” He has yet to choose a candidate for the election, and also said it seems like the campaigns are all focusing on Manhattan. “None of them come here to see what’s going on,” he
said. Later in the evening, as the music in Camaguey grows louder and more consistently salsa, Angel Ortiz, 53, makes small talk at the counter. The television plays a movie, but the volume is either turned off or completely drowned out. The bad thing about picking somebody to make decisions for you, he said, a smile breaking across his face, “is they aren’t you.” To make the process better, he said, the candidates should talk to all the communities they want to represent. “Politicians are the ones who create the environment that people live in, and people need to know about the decisions being made for them,” he said. Ortiz doesn’t have many specific requirements for the next mayor. He just hopes he or she will try to understand the needs of all New Yorkers, not just people like him- or herself. “A good mayor will recognize his shortcomings, and invite people into his cabinet that reflect the poorer communities,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”
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To follow this series as it unfolds, check back regularly at www.cityandstateny.com and www.citylimits.org, and subscribe to City & State’s morning email, First Read.
LEFT: MATTHEW PERLMAN/CITY LIMITS; RIGHT: MARC FADER
MOTT HAVEN UP FOR GRABS IN MAYOR’S RACE
Vicente Mino, a regular at Camaguey, says a business background is appealing in a mayoral candidate. But he’s had enough of the current businessman mayor. 8
MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
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E V E N TS
CEPTIO E R T S I L R 100
WE O P Y N A B AL
PHOTOS BY SHANNON DE CELLE
Some of the state’s most powerful political figures mingled at City & State’s “Albany Power 100 List” cocktail reception, an event last week hosted by the Parkside Group at Taste’s rooftop penthouse. The next day, City & State hosted its State of Our State conference, featuring lively discussions on casino gambling and energy policy and a sit-down with Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the Department of Financial Services. The event was sponsored by McKenna Long & Aldridge, the Business Council, Con Edison, NY AREA, the New York Gaming Association and ACCA.
New York Gaming Association:
A record of results
Since opening the first facility in 2004, the member casinos of NYGA have made a significant impact on NY’s economy, including:
$3.8 Billion for Education
$170 Million to Local Governments
(Top right) Kristin Legere, Heather Briccetti and Suzanne Jensen of the Business Council of New York State; (middle right) Angelica Katz, an aide to Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, with Julie Miner and Jaime Venditti of J Strategies; (above left) Angel Vazquez, an aide to Assemblyman David Weprin, talks with Joshua Jones, a staffer in Sen. Adriano Espaillat’s office; (above right) The New York Times’ Jesse McKinley, NY1’s Zack Fink and the Daily News‘ Ken Lovett; (above) Seth Lamont of CNA Insurance joins Patrick McCarthy, Pat Tinto, Zach Hutchins and Chris Bombardier of Patricia Lynch Associates. 10
MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
New York’s racetrack casinos: A reliable partner for New York State
for Racing and Breeding Support
E V E N TS
New York State is costing businesses millions of dollars.
City & State hosted its annual “State of Our City” conference on May 7. Top, the New York Gaming Association’s James Featherstonhaugh discussed casino expansion with state Sen. John Bonacic and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow. State Sen. George Maziarz and Jerry Kremer of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (bottom) talked about energy initiatives with Con Edison’s Kevin Lanahan and Matthew Cordaro, a LIPA board member (below left). Benjamin Lawsky, the superintendent of the state’s Department of Financial Services, gave an update on his office’s efforts to police the banking and insurance industries (below right).
High taxes, burdensome regulations and overbearing mandates tear away at your bottom line.
We need reform.
Join The Business Council. We are the voice of business.
www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
COV E R
The Return of the
Behind every New York City mayoral candidate, there’s a woman: our next potential First Lady. But who are these partners, and what impact will they have on the race?
By MEGAN FINNEGAN BUNGEROTH
MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
Photographs by BESS ADLER
COV E R
mid the blur of constant campaigning and fundraising, Tamra Lhota, wife of Joe Lhota, the former MTA chief turned Republican candidate for mayor, maintains she has given little thought to the idea of possibly becoming New York City’s First Lady. Lately, though, she has been forced to give the subject quite a bit more consideration. “It’s a question I get asked a lot,” she said with a laugh. “This city is in a different time and place—culture is, women are, spouses are—than it was the last time there was a family that lived full-time in Gracie Mansion. So for me, I think that it offers a remarkable platform. But how that looks, I feel like it’s too soon to say.” Come this November, New Yorkers will be facing a major readjustment in their daily lives. Not only will they be waking up in a city governed by someone other than the bachelor mayor to whom they have grown accustomed (for better and worse) for the last three terms, they will experience for the first time in more than a decade what it means to have a spouse in Gracie Mansion. New York has not had a bona fide First Lady in over 12 years. Diana Taylor, Mayor Bloomberg’s long-time live-in girlfriend, has had the luxury of playing the role of First Lady in many ways, fulfilling its ceremonial duties from time to time, while still retaining the ability to step out of it. She is not married to the mayor, and much like the current quasi-First Lady of the state, Sandra Lee, girlfriend of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Taylor enjoys her own separate and successful career. When she was asked recently by The Daily News what she plans to do once her boyfriend’s final term is up in January 2014, she said that she is definitely taking a vacation—with or without Mike. If Taylor’s story is a modern one reflecting the liberal sensibilities of the New York City electorate, the tale of her predecessor is an all-too-familiarly sordid one. Donna Hanover enthusiastically embraced the mantle of First Lady when her husband Rudy Giuliani became mayor in 1994. A seasoned television reporter, she also became the first First Lady to work full-time outside of the home, drawing attention for her dual persona as a wife, mother
and matron of Gracie Mansion, as well as a professional working journalist. By 1996, however, her role had changed. Hanover stopped using the Giuliani name and was rarely seen in public with her husband. By 2000, Giuliani began making public appearances with his girlfriend, Judith Nathan, and filed for divorce from Hanover. (Giuliani and Nathan were married at Gracie Mansion by Mayor Bloomberg in 2003, following the conclusion of Giuliani’s messy and expensive divorce proceedings.) Hanover stopped being a First Lady long before her husband left office. In many ways, Hanover’s retreat from the public eye brought about a return to the status quo for New Yorkers. Hanover’s predecessor, Joyce Dinkins, the city’s first and only African-American First Lady, was a private person who largely eschewed the limelight during her husband’s lone term in office. Over the 12 years prior, the closest the famously single Ed Koch came to having a public partner was through his association with former Miss America Bess Myerson. Thus, for most of the last three and a half decades—since Mary Ingerman, who called her husband, Abe, “Mr. Beame”—there has been no woman to define the role of the First Lady of New York City in private policymaking and public ethos. Despite this long gap, the fact that the media have been so eager to anoint First Girlfriends Diana Taylor and Sandra Lee as nominal First Ladies reflects the public’s hunger for and fascination with someone to fill that traditional role. Of course, times have changed. In 2013 when a woman is currently polling as the front-runner for the mayoralty, the questions arise: What does it mean to have a First Lady? Is it just about the pageantry, like our fixation with royalty? How important is the role? Is it still even relevant, or is the idea it represents passé? One thing is certain: We no longer expect a First Lady to bake cookies, cut ribbons and kiss babies at hospital openings. But do we want a First Lady to be an activist partners to her chief executive—a co-president in the mode of Hillary Clinton—or do we prefer a highly qualified professional who subordinates her own talents and expertise to adhere to a conventional image and play second fiddle to her spouse, à la Michelle Obama? Or
maybe even an unassuming, standby-your-man type of first spouse like Laura Bush? Perhaps we look to First Ladies to get insights into their partners; possibly we expect them to influence their mates, to inspire them to reflect upon their convictions, as some believe Lee did in nudging Cuomo to his proactive stance on marriage equality. Do we define our own families by the families of our leaders? Do we want them to have lives that reflect something about ourselves? Is it that we associate monogamy with moral fiber? Do we consider the traditional view of marriage essential to defining the character of our elected officials? Are voters ready to translate that In 2013 when a same traditional perspective woman is currently to a same-sex partner? The importance of having the polling as the first African-American First front-runner for Lady in the White House the mayoralty, the cannot be underestimated; what of the effect of having questions arise: a lesbian First Lady of New What does it mean York? to have a First Lady? No matter what box we want to fit them in Is it just about the to, of course, there is no pageantry, like our discounting the distinct and fixation with royalty? varied personalities of the women themselves. Council How important is Speaker Christine Quinn’s the role? wife, Kim Catullo, and City Comptroller John Liu’s wife, Jenny—both of whom declined to be interviewed for this article—have adamantly steered clear of public exposure, seeking to preserve their privacy even as their profiles become increasingly public. (Huma Abedin also declined to participate, though she is not yet technically a First Lady in the running.) Then there are women like Tamra Lhota and Chirlane McCray, who are central to their husbands’ bids for office, not just from an emotional standpoint but also from a political one by bringing their professional expertise in the arena to bear for the benefit of their spouse. What model of First Lady the Big Apple will wind up with come January of next year remains to be seen, but what is clear is that for many New Yorkers the role still has significance, and that what it means in the immediate future will largely be defined by the woman who comes to fill the role next.
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olitical spouses sometimes reinforce or double their h u s b a n d ’s or wife’s persona, offering voters more bang for their buck. They can also act as the counterweight, bringing attributes— sensitivity, accessibility or family-first sensibilities—that the candidate struggles to display. Chirlane McCray, the wife of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, accomplishes all of these ends. McCray has a long history as a political activist. The fact that she is African-American and her husband is white has served as a talking point for the couple, a way for de Blasio to discuss racial issues with a greater legitimacy and build a bridge to minority voters. Both have written and spoken about the challenges they have faced as a biracial couple, and de Blasio has placed his family at the forefront of his public persona, prominently featuring them in his literature and presentation. When de Blasio officially announced his candidacy for mayor, he passed on the traditional setting of the steps of City Hall and instead held a press conference outside the front door of his home in Park
MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
Slope, Brooklyn. He also did not roll out a political heavyweight to introduce him, instead giving that honor to his teenage son, Dante, whose oversize retro Afro became a story in and of itself. The location was an obvious choice, said McCray: “Our neighborhood has been central to everything we’ve done. We worked from home when [Bill] ran for school board, when he ran for City Council; we’ve had a lot of meetings with pizza and bottled water in our living room with our kids and other people’s kids running around.” The portrait of Bill de Blasio as a grounded family man is one the campaign has been eager to push, and McCray has been an important supporting character in conveying this persona. Late last year, when the Politicker blog unearthed a 1979 essay that McCray had authored 12 years before she met her future husband, entitled “I am a Lesbian,” the couple met the disclosure head on with a calm and unified front. McCray released a statement, saying simply, “In the 1970s, I identified as a lesbian, and wrote about it. In 1991, I met the love of my life, married him, and together we’ve raised two amazing kids.” After the initial hubbub, the story eventu-
“De Blasio’s wife is really in the center of his campaign, and she’s the most interesting politically. She will have the most effect on the vote. The assumption is that Bill Thompson is going to get the black vote, but I don’t know about the idea that black women will vote for him. You don’t have another serious candidate who has been in a biracial relationship.”
COV E R ally died down, in part because the couple and the campaign made sure that even this seemingly taboo revelation instead contributed to the narrative of an unassailable, family-centric union. McCray is no stranger to the political game, and she plays it well. She has been a speechwriter for former Mayor Dinkins, ex-State Comptroller Carl McCall and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who also happens to be one of her husband’s leading opponents in the race. Aside from enthusiastically supporting de Blasio on the trail, McCray may be the only spouse who has the potential to impact the electorate in a meaningful way, some political insiders believe. “De Blasio’s wife is really in the center of his campaign, and she’s the most interesting politically,” said Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs and an authority on voting behavior and city politics. “She will have the most effect on the vote. The assumption is that Bill Thompson is going to get the black vote, but I don’t know about the idea that black women will vote for him. You don’t have another serious candidate who has been in a biracial relationship.” Now on the short list for the job of First Lady, McCray deflects questions about what it would be like for her to assume the position, artfully bringing the subject back to her husband’s campaign whenever the subject arises. “It’s pretty impossible to imagine at this stage in the game,” she said. “I don’t spend time thinking about that. I use every moment helping Bill get elected to the office.” Like many political spouses before her, McCray often invokes her own feelings about her husband as a family man and uses them to articulate why their relationship should make voters embrace him as a candidate. “I really trust him,” she said. “When you go through life together, you’re really confronted with a lot of difficult choices.” McCray insists that her support of de Blasio isn’t just the obligatory endorsement from a wife—it’s the endorsement of a savvy, informed New Yorker— who also happens to be in love with the man. “Because I have knowledge
Chirlane McCray, the wife of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, has a long history as a political activist.
Kim Catullo, who married Council Speaker Christine Quinn last year, could make history as New York City’s first lesbian First Lady.
of this field of government and politics, I know a lot of the players, and I know who they are and how they perform,” McCray said. She laughed, adding, “Maybe I’m not completely objective.”
hat Kim Catullo is perhaps most likely to become New York’s next First Lady, according to the polls so far, makes it all the more striking that she has succeeded up until now in remaining largely out of the spotlight nearly a year into the campaign. Despite her wishes to remain in the background, it is unlikely that Catullo will be able to do so for long, since if her wife, Christine Quinn, makes history by becoming both the city’s first woman and first openly gay mayor, Catullo will too achieve a landmark as New York’s first lesbian First Lady. In some ways it has been easy for Catullo to elude the media’s glare to date, since her wife bubbles over with enough personality for two. Aside from a few strategic press leaks, like the release of their wedding photos last May and a handful of quotes in a New York magazine profile of Quinn, the campaign has kept Catullo away from the press. She attends social functions and events with her high-profile spouse, but Catullo has for the most part avoided talking to the media. According to Mariellen Dugan, who has known Catullo since they met in law school in 1988, Catullo is by nature simply unac-
customed to talking about herself. When the focus is on herself, Catullo is shy and quiet, but only then. “Kim is a lawyer; she’s a litigator. When she has her lawyer hat on, she is confident, and she’s not shy. She’s the type of person who doesn’t use a lot of extra words or feel the need to fill space with words. But when she says something, it’s always something worthwhile.” Dugan said that Catullo has been extremely supportive of Quinn’s campaign. She is an important advisor and sounding board for Quinn, noted Dugan, and theirs is a mutually supportive relationship, with the two tackling their challenges and opportunities together. “I think she’d make a wonderful First Lady,” Dugan said. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Kim Catullo. People are drawn to her. She grew up in a very humble place with a very humble family, so in that way she connects with people.” When Catullo and Quinn met they first bonded over having lost their mothers early in their lives, and both are extremely close to their fathers. When Quinn went to Albany to encourage the Legislature to pass the same-sex marriage bill, she invoked her desire to marry Catullo while both of their fathers would still be alive to see it. Moments like those—and the photos of their wedding ceremony—help to soften Quinn, reminding voters that despite her loud and forceful reputation, the Speaker has another side, one that is reflected in her mate. As the campaign heats up, Catullo will likely feel the pressure to make public appearances and give interviews— www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
COV E R not least of all because she can paint a portrait of Quinn that the campaign may find it needs to present.
nother enigma as far as her public life is concerned is City Comptroller John Liu’s wife, Jenny. An engineer who according to her husband prefers to remain far away from politics, Jenny Liu rarely appears at campaign events and little beyond what her husband lets slip is known about her. Similarly adamant about maintaining her privacy—within its own particular bounds—is Huma Abedin, wife of former Rep. Anthony Weiner. Abedin’s professional credentials are impeccable; she has spent her career working as one of the closest aides to Hillary Clinton—who understands what being a First Lady entails as well as anyone. In addition to Abedin’s keen intelligence and relentless work ethic, she also has in common with Clinton the unfortunate distinction of having to grapple with her mate’s very public sex scandal. While, of course, this predicament has forced her to endure extraordinary personal and public torment, it also has likely endeared her to the public and cast her potential assumption of the position of First Lady in a more essential and intriguing light. If Weiner does end up entering the
mayoral race, Abedin will also likely attract attention for her religion. Abedin would be the city’s first Muslim First Lady, a fact that is likely to make her an instant role model for some New Yorkers, and a lighting rod for others. Up until now, however, Abedin is best known for how she has handled her husband’s scandal. After Weiner, then a congressman and promising Democratic mayoral candidate, got caught tweeting sexually explicit photos of himself to several women, Abedin stood by her husband as he initially denied culpability, then opted ultimately to forgive him after he admitted his actions and resigned from office. Amid the media maelstrom dragging down her husband, it soon came out that Abedin was pregnant with the couple’s first child, and the two retreated from the public eye save for a photo spread in People magazine when their son was born. At the time of his resignation, pundits declared that Weiner’s political career was flatter than his abs—and many still do. But nearly two years later following a “redemptive” New York Times Magazine cover story, a barrage of television interviews, some moderately encouraging poll numbers, and a few million dollars sitting idly in a soon-to-expire campaign account, the prospect of Weiner’s return no longer appears like the longest of longshots. Having publicly stated that he is considering a mayoral run, Weiner has made it clear that Abedin’s support is absolutely paramount if he decides to move forward,
not just personally for Weiner but politically as well. Of a possible Weiner campaign, Muzzio said, “You’ve got to shift the narrative. Back off, do something positive, play up your family. You don’t hide from [the scandal], but embrace it, which they’ve done—very honestly, I thought.” More likely than not Abedin has taken a page from her boss and mentor, Hillary Clinton, who has played the roles of political spouse, wronged wife, and forgiving political spouse on the largest stage in the world. “Huma’s key,” Muzzio said. “Their story seems to be, ‘My wife, who’s brilliant and smart and loving, forgave me. So can you. ’ ”
p until now, Elsie McCabe Thompson has also been largely out of the public eye, but she is looking to be more engaged. If anyone is taking a page from Michelle Obama’s playbook, it is Thompson. Her primary motivation, she says, is to support her husband and to be a great mom to her 15-year-old twins. She may downplay her own career, but Thompson also has a remarkable record of her own as a civil rights attorney, former chief counsel to Mayor Dinkins and, until last fall, the longtime executive director of the Museum of African Art, a position she held for 15 years. When she was working at the law firm Sherman & Sterling, which
Elsie McCabe Thompson, who is married to former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, has had a remarkable career of her own, working in the Dinkins administration and as a museum director.
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COV E R she calls a “term of servitude” to pay off her student loans, she sued The New York Times for fair housing discrimination after it ran a series of ads depicting picturesque suburban communities—with white people as residents and people of color only as servers and employees. She won. In the Dinkins administration she led a delegation to South Africa and met Nelson Mandela; she proudly displays a photo on her iPhone of her kids flanking Mandela when she took them to meet him several years ago. “Bill’s wife has been in the public arena,” said veteran political consultant George Arzt. “She had a powerful role in the Dinkins administration at City Hall, and she ran a museum. Then, she has a great personality. She will be very, very helpful for Bill. Elsie is more outgoing than Bill is, and so will be very appealing.” Thompson is the only one of the wives of a top candidate who has been through the whirlwind of a mayoral race before. Her husband came within a few percentage points of ousting Mayor Bloomberg as the Democratic nominee in the 2009 election. And she really thought her husband would win, she said. “He thought long and hard about it. Should he just take the easy way out, and not stick to his highest principles, and run for comptroller again?” Thompson said of the 2009 race. “That would have been easy. He was unopposed before; he would be unopposed again.” While Thompson kept a low profile during her husband’s last campaign, this time around she is more accustomed to being his wife, and the unique position that puts her in. In 2009, the couple had been married for only a month when Thompson jumped into the race. Elsie’s first husband died shortly after her twins were born. She and her late husband had been good friends with the twice-divorced Thompson, and she had remained so for years before they started dating. “I never thought I would have fallen in love with a politician,” she said, laughing. Having gone on a lot of first dates with high-powered, self-absorbed men, she was looking for a good father figure for her kids and for a man who cared more about the world around him than for himself. “There are other elected officials who are doing it for the right reasons; there aren’t enough,” Thompson said. “Bill is among a special few who are doing it not for selfaggrandizement.” An accomplished woman who could easily tout her own credentials on the campaign trail, Thompson instead sticks to championing her husband’s. “It’s more about me representing Bill,” she said. “Candidly, if through learning about me they learn something about the person I’ve chosen as a life mate, then that’s good, too.” Were she to become First Lady,
Thompson said her focus would be on her priorities: children, culture and animals. But for now she is spending her time “dialing for dollars,” and filling in for her husband at events. “I wear the ‘Thompson for Mayor’ buttons, and I am stopped by so many,
particularly black women, who say to me, ‘He came so close before! Things would have been different: The school system wouldn’t be the way it is, had I had faith back then.’ I’ll say, ‘Actually, you’re right. And it’s not too late to have faith now.’ ” ell along the road of being fully engaged in
Cuomo’s failure to commit to the future of SUNY Downstate Hospital puts lives at risk By Danny Donohue
t’s unthinkable that the Governor of New York would continue to place the lives of millions of New Yorkers at risk. Yet, that’s exactly what Gov. Andrew Cuomo is doing by failing to commit to a solid future for SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which serves more than 2.5 million Brooklyn residents. SUNY Downstate, the crown jewel of Brooklyn hospitals, serves as a safety net facility, accepting patients regardless of their ability to pay. It also happens to be the Borough’s fourth largest employer. There’s no doubt that the hospital has been mismanaged for a long time through successive administrations. Yet, we all know that neither the workers nor the patients are at fault for the SUNY administration’s bad choices and resulting fiscal woes. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s recent audit confirmed what we’ve been saying all along: “The acquisitions of Long Island College Hospital and Victory Memorial with no financial analysis or future financial projections in the midst of known underutilization and recurring operating losses suggests an overall lack of leadership and governance.” Clearly, it’s SUNY’s senior administrators and the Cuomo administration who now need to be held accountable for good, fiscally responsible management while maintaining the hospital’s mission. SUNY hospitals were created for the purpose of serving the public good. That purpose has not gone away.
Danny Donohue is president of the nearly 300,000 member CSEA – New York’s Leading Union – representing workers doing every kind of job, in every part of New York.
8947_Advertorial 7.458x10 CS.indd 1
While it’s encouraging to hear that the plan to close SUNY LICH, located in a more affluent section of Brooklyn, was withdrawn, we cannot and will not stand idle and watch Gov. Cuomo abandon the people of Central Brooklyn. Too many lives are at stake. Death rates from diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and HIV/AIDS are especially high in neighborhoods surrounding the hospital. The death rate for infants is also alarmingly high. What’s more, where is Cuomo’s commitment to diversity in the health professions? At SUNY Downstate, 55 percent of the students are people of color who go on to stable careers as doctors, nurses and other health professionals. We’re moved that a dynamic coalition of workers, community leaders and clergy have taken it upon themselves to save the healthcare services in this predominantly African American and Caribbean community. The Governor and SUNY must reach out to its workers and the community to develop a sustainability plan that ensures that it will continue to be a public hospital that provides essential healthcare services. Brooklyn has lost too many hospitals in recent years. We cannot afford to prolong Central Brooklyn’s healthcare deficiencies. We urge all New Yorkers to call the Governor at 1-888-833-7428 and demand that adequate state funding and long-term commitment be made available to SUNY Downstate.
LOCAL 1000 AFSCME, AFL-CIO DA N N Y D O N O H U E , P R E S I D E N T
5/8/13 2:52 PM
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COV E R ahead, and as a seasoned campaigner she knows the role a spouse can play. “People are electing a mayor, and the fact that there’s a spouse who will join them in Gracie Mansion is a plus across the board,” she said. “I guess I come to this with the benefit of having a number of citywide campaigns, and the lovely thing about New York is it has such a full and vibrant media market across the board. You never know what the stories are going to be.”
Tamra Lhota, the wife of former MTA chief Joe Lhota, was already a top fundraiser before her husband entered the race.
the mayoral race, Tamra Roberts Lhota is another top contender for the First Lady spot. And she acts like one, fighting fiercely for her husband’s chance to run City Hall. If current polling holds—a big if—Lhota’s husband, Joe, is in position to wind up in a head-to-head match-up with Christine Quinn in the general election. Having worked in politics for many years, Lhota serves as one of her husband’s major fundraisers, raking in big bucks for him behind the scene. Juggling the public role is the only part of the process that is new to her. The couple met while she was working in Washington, D.C. After marrying Lhota in 1988, she moved to New York, diving right into New York City politics. She volunteered for Rudy Giuliani’s first mayoral campaign in 1989, which he lost to Dinkins, then worked as chief fundraiser for Giuliani’s successful 1993 bid. Her new role finds her in uncharted territory. “It’s very personal, in a good way,” she said. “As a staff person you can stand behind the candidate; you’re there to do your job, you’re asking on behalf of the candidate. When you’re a spouse, it’s much more personal, and so it’s different.” Her husband, who recently resigned as chairman and CEO of the MTA, served in both Giuliani administrations in various capacities, including director of the office of management and budget and deputy mayor for operations. His experience in both the private and public sector make
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him a serious contender in the race. Some wives might concentrate on their husbands’ personal attributes, but Lhota is finely attuned in her husband’s political qualifications. “I have friends who have known us for decades,” she said. “When I told them that Joe was thinking about [running for mayor], one of them said, ‘Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe it’s taken you so long. Don’t you know that he is made to do this?’ ” Unlike other First Ladies-in-waiting whose pet issues would spill over into their new role—advocacy for the homeless, say, or children’s initiatives—Lhota is currently focusing solely on one thing: getting her husband elected. (Indeed, becoming First Lady would open up a giant hole in her schedule.) For now, she’s bracing for the months
“It’s very personal, in a good way. As a staff person you can stand behind the candidate; you’re there to do your job, you’re asking on behalf of the candidate. When you’re a spouse, it’s much more personal, and so it’s different.”
here Lhota is quite comfortable in the public eye, Lorraine Albanese would find herself returning to the spotlight after many years away. Albanese could in some ways be the reincarnation of one of New York’s last First Ladies: Joyce Dinkins. Dinkins was a retired grandmother when her husband took office in 1990. After 12 years of Koch rule with nary a lady (First or otherwise) in sight, the spotlight focused on Dinkins when she assumed the role was particularly strong. Should Albanese’s husband, Sal, confound the pollsters and win the Democratic nomination, as well as the general election in November, Lorraine would find herself in a similar situation. At 62, she is retired from her job as a secretary at a public high school. Her focus since then has been largely on her family: caring for her mother-in-law, who lives with her and her husband in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and spending time with her married daughters and grandchildren. The couple is accustomed to uphill battles. After serving in the City Council for four consecutive terms, Sal Albanese ran for mayor, for Congress and for the state Assembly, all unsuccessfully. His wife may be far removed from his days in office now, but she has had her share of working on political campaigns. Fiercely supportive of her husband of 40 years, Albanese expresses ardent admiration for his progressive agenda. “He has such a breadth of life experience,” she said. “He wasn’t someone that hung out in clubhouses and was looking to run for office.” Though she has given considerable thought to the great mayor her husband would make, she has not dwelled much on her own potential role. “I guess there’s a ceremonial hat you could wear,” she noted about the mantle of First Lady. “You could be more active in issues.” Causes she speculates she might take an interest in include education, animal rights and public health initiatives. She isn’t sure how she would feel about living in Gracie Mansion. “I could see myself doing both,” she said, expressing a desire to continue living part time in Dyker Heights. Albanese has no illusions about her husband’s chances. “I’m not rubbing my hands together waiting to get in there,”
COV E R she said, before adding, “I do want him to win.”
qually low-profile, Harriet Karr-McDonald is another contender for the First Lady seat who would be almost entirely new to the vast majority of the public. If current fundraising dollars and poll numbers are to be believed, her husband, George, has a serious uphill battle in his quest to win the Republican primary, which is something of a shame, because Karr-McDonald is a fascinating figure in her own right. Before marrying McDonald and becoming a prominent activist for the homeless, Karr-McDonald lived a whole other life in Hollywood. At the age of 15 she was “discovered” on the beach at Fire Island; within two years, she had moved to California and was married to Abby Mann, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of the film Judgment at Nuremberg, who was 47 at the time. In 1988 Karr-McDonald came to New York to write a screenplay about a real-life 19-year-old crack-addicted homeless girl living in Grand Central Terminal. Getting to know the subject of her piece, KarrMcDonald hoped to help her, but the girl committed suicide shortly after the first
draft of the script was finished. The event that today employs 700 people, many would change Karr-McDonald’s life in formerly incarcerated men of color. Karrmore ways than one. McDonald is executive vice president “I came to her funeral,” Karr-McDonald of the organization. Were her husband recalled. “I’m Jewish, but it was in a Cath- elected she would continue to do the work olic church. The man I thought was the to which she has devoted her life, using priest gave this incredible eulogy about the First Lady platform to advance soluhow she was ‘a shining star in the night tions to the city’s homelessness problem, sky.’ Afterwards we arranged to meet for she said. a drink. And I’m thinking he’s a priest, but “I want to help disenfranchised youth, here he’s rubbing my leg—but of course he [including those who] are not even homewasn’t a priest: He was a homeless advocate named George McDonald!” At the time McDonald was spending his nights feeding homeless people outside Grand Central, on Vanderbilt and 43rd Street, something he famously did for 700 nights in a row. “I decided to change my life, and I moved to New York and gave up the glamour to really work on homelessness,” said KarrMcDonald. Within six months the couple was married. Soon after they hatched the idea for Lorraine Albanese, a the Doe Fund. Taking 70 homeless men retired grandmother, might split time between from the floor of Grand Central Gracie Mansion and her and giving them rooms and Dyker Heights home if jobs in Bedford-Stuyvesant, her husband, Sal AlbaBrooklyn, the Doe Fund trans- nese, comes from behind to win. formed itself into a company
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COV E R and waterfront planning, community health and wellness, and criminal justice reform.”
Harriet Karr-McDonald was a Hollywood actress before marrying George McDonald and becoming an activist for the homeless.
less,” she said. “I would like to be able to speak to my knowledge about that, and If Lorraine Albanese expand what we are and Harriet Karrdoing and what other McDonald are people are doing.” Her husband’s modest potential involvement in candidates for the First addressing the issue Lady mantle, and Linda of homelessness could help him get Baldwin prohibited from taking on a more elected, but it is KarrMcDonald’s passion active role, Margo that would focus the Catsimatidis is far from issue for the adminreticent about throwing istration. She knows, however, that the her hat into the ring. possibility is slim. “I’m a realist,” Karr-McDonald said. “And George is in many ways a people’s candidate.”
nother potential First Lady, Linda Baldwin, has little choice but to keep a relatively low profile in her husband’s campaign. The wife of former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, the Independence Party’s nominee for mayor, Baldwin said she plans to attend some events with him during the campaign, but her position as an appointee of President Obama’s in the Justice Department comes with restrictions on participating in partisan politics. As the director of the department’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring,
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Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking, she also spends much of the week away in Washington, D.C. The limits to her involvement are a change of pace for Baldwin, who has campaigned alongside Carrión since his first race for City Council in 1997, and even stood in for him in his first campaign for borough president when he was in jail for protesting the bombings in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Just don’t call here a “political spouse.” “Adolfo and I have each maintained full-time careers throughout our marriage,” said Baldwin, who met Carrión when they were both working as city planners in the Bronx. “We managed to do so by supporting each other and, like other working couples, by having the good fortune of having an excellent child care provider for our children when they were younger. Now that the kids are older, I am fortunate that my family has continued to be supportive of my work, even though it takes me away from home a good part of the week each week.” If her husband were to win, Baldwin said she would be “thrilled” to play a role as the First Lady, perhaps focusing on empowerment of women and girls, educational reforms or other areas in which she can draw from her own experience and expertise to make a difference. “Although I have not yet put much thought into the role I would play,” she explained, “I can say that I would look forward to participating in as many activities that my work and family schedules permit, particularly in areas that I know something about, such as urban
f Albanese and Ka r r- Mc D o n a l d are modest potential candidates for the First Lady mantle, and Baldwin prohibited from taking on a more active role, Margo Catsimatidis is far from reticent about throwing her hat into the ring. Based solely on her appearance, Catsimatidis might be mistaken for a trophy wife. In press photos with her husband, billionaire supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, she stands in slim, blond, elegant, even glamorous contrast to his frumpy figure. Appearances notwithstanding, the couple has been together for the past 39 years, by all accounts quite happily, belying any easy narrative explaining their pairing. To the press, Margo gushes about the wonderful man to whom she is married and the terrific mayor she is certain he would be. Her husband enthusiastically proclaims that she would be the First Lady New Yorkers deserve. “He believes in family; he understands people,” Margo said. “He understands day in and day out the aggravation that everybody has—the big businessman, the small business guy, the shoeshine guy—he cares about everyone.” The Catsimatidis family has worked hard to cultivate this “Everyman” persona since the campaign started. At the press conference announcing his candidacy, Catsimatidis bragged that he was wearing a cheap suit. “I think my wife paid $100 for this jacket,” he pointed out. It’s a tough sell. This year Catsimatidis ranked No. 132 on the Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America; his estimated net worth coming in at $3 billion. Furthermore, the family is now part political royalty. In 2011 the Catsimatidis’ daughter, Andrea, then just 21, married Christopher Cox, grandson of Richard Nixon and son of state GOP chairman Ed Cox, in a ceremony that cost a reported $2 million. Margo insists her husband’s wealth doesn’t matter to her—and shouldn’t matter to voters. Asked to contrast him with the billionaire mayor currently in office, she said, “I’m with my husband 40 years, and I never wake up one day to even think that he’s a billionaire. To me he’s the man who’s trying to make a difference.” Catsimatidis has done a great deal of significant charity work over the years. She sits on the steering committee of the Alzheimer’s Association and the board of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. She has also raised millions for children’s diabetes research. In addition, she runs her own publishing and printing firm—which produces all
COV E R John Catsimatidis has argued that New York City has gone too long without a First Lady— and that his wife, Margo Catsimatidis, “would make a great First Lady.”
“I’m with my husband 40 years, and I never wake up one day to even think that he’s a billionaire. To me he’s the man who’s trying to make a difference.” the ads for her family’s companies—but these days she spends much of her time supporting her husband and concentrating on her philanthropic work. What would she do as First Lady? “I never thought about it,” she said. “I kind of joke around and say, ‘Well, maybe I’ll have a little staff so I can do more charity work and help more people with my time,’ because there’s only so many hours in the day.” Admirable, but vague—much like her husband’s platform. Yet the Catsimatidis strategy is to beat Republican front-runner Joe Lhota by rising above the wonkish mundane policy details the former MTA CEO has mastered, countering Lhota’s government experience with Catsimatidis’ “real life” experience. According to the narrative of his campaign, Catsimatidis is just an average guy (with a couple of billion in the bank) and his wife is just an average supportive political spouse. Unlike the billionaire currently in office, the Catsimatidises would even move from their Fifth Avenue home to Gracie Mansion if elected. That, Margo says, would be for the people of New York. The only change she’d make at Gracie Mansion? “To have a flower garden for everyone to enjoy.”
Linda Baldwin, the wife of former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, is an Obama appointee in the Justice Department.
www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
S I O WH
DOV ? N O D R O G City Councilman David Greenfield is behind favorable Yeshiva World stories, sources say.
By NICK POWELL
or nearly two and a half years, a Yeshiva World News blogger who goes by the name of Dov Gordon appears to have been one of New York City Councilman David Greenfield’s biggest fans in the local Jewish media. Gordon wrote in 2010 that the city’s potential restoration of funding for afterschool vouchers was a “major victory for the newly elected Greenfield.” This past fall, Gordon wrote in a “Backroom Deals” column that the councilman’s “strong endorsement” of an individual in a Civil Court judge primary helped the candidate shoot “to the front of [the] race.” And in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Gordon dubbed Greenfield a “winner” in another “Backroom Deals” column, writing that the councilman’s office was “open through the storm” and that he was “working 24 hours a day and burning up Twitter (@NYCGreenfield) & Facebook helping his constituents with their problems.” “Bonus: Greenfield was one of the first to call for Mayor Bloomberg to cancel the marathon,” Gordon added. But sources say that behind at least some of Gordon’s “Backroom Deals” columns is Greenfield himself, working in tandem with Yeshiva World publisher Yehuda Eckstein,with the councilman a primary source for “inside” political information. “I’m not insinuating that David is the only person that uses the Dov Gordon pen name, but as it pertains to politics, he is far and away the only person writing about inside baseball,” Stefanie Fedak, Greenfield’s former chief of staff, said in a recent interview with City & State. Fedak, who was laid off by Greenfield in
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the fall of 2011, said that Eckstein was intimately involved in the editing of the Dov Gordon stories, and that the publisher and the councilman would conduct all of their editorial business through email, with Greenfield using his private Google email account. A source close to Greenfield, who did not want to be named for fear of political retribution from the councilman, confirmed Fedak’s account to City & State. The source said that Eckstein had final say over any content that was published, but with heavy input from Greenfield. “Yehuda Eckstein, he has ultimate editorial purview and editing capabilities, but what he’s done is David supplies him with information, and he makes it readable for the most part,” the source said. “David doesn’t actually pen the entire column or write it word for word, but he’s as much of a contributing editor as you can possibly get.” In a written statement, a spokesperson for Greenfield said there is no connection between the councilman and Dov Gordon, and attacked the credibility of Fedak, Greenfield’s former chief of staff. “Your story is a vicious lie being spread by an obsessed and disgruntled former staffer who was fired nearly two years ago,” the spokesperson said. “The Clintons have Vince Foster nuts, President Obama has his crazy birthers and Councilman Greenfield has lunatics who think he writes daily news columns while maintaining a very public 70-hour-a-week work schedule. All of these conspiracy theorists should be institutionalized.” Greenfield refused numerous requests to go on the record to respond to specific allegations, but another source close to him said that the councilman has rela-
tionships with many different publishers in the Jewish community and speaks with them occasionally on a variety of topics. This source said that it is a common practice for Yeshiva World and other publications to run press releases from elected officials as their own, under the byline of their own reporters. Fedak said she first became aware of a Greenfield-Gordon connection in 2010. Pulling double duty as Greenfield’s communications director, she had to familiarize herself with the network of media that serves the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn in an attempt to cultivate a working relationship with these outlets. She discovered that most of Greenfield’s constituents rely on specific publications that cater directly to the interests of their community, such as Hamodia or The Jewish Press. Yeshiva World News was one such trusted outlet, with a reputation for reliability within the community. According to Fedak and other sources, its publisher, Yehuda Eckstein, had become friendly with Greenfield after he won his election in 2010. Fedak would often send press releases from Greenfield’s office to Yeshiva World, which the website would then publish, sometimes verbatim, though sourced as a press release. Through Yeshiva World, Fedak came to know the name Dov Gordon as one of the website’s primary bloggers. Fedak said she walked into Greenfield’s office in June 2010 to find him writing something on his computer. When she pressed him about what he was writing, Fedak said, Greenfield played coy, telling her only that he was working on a piece. Peeking over his shoulder, Fedak said she saw that he was writing about Priority 7 school vouchers. Shortly afterward, Fedak later came across an “exclusive” article on Yeshiva World under the Dov Gordon byline. “According to several reliable sources, Priority 7 vouchers, which were eliminated from this year’s budget, have been restored by 50 percent,” Gordon wrote. He ultimately concluded, “If this is in fact correct, it would be a major victory for the newly elected Greenfield in a year that the city is facing a $3.2 billion deficit.” When she confronted Greenfield about the article, Fedak said that he laughed and admitted that he had penned the story and submitted it to Yeshiva World under the “Dov Gordon” pen name. After Greenfield acknowledged using the Dov Gordon pseudonym, Fedak said, he would occasionally have her edit and draft certain Gordon columns, all on city time. The pieces she wrote were rarely submitted to Yeshiva World without Greenfield’s heavy editing, Fedak said, and the stories were never published the way she had written them, but similar content would surface as “Gordon” articles.
“[Greenfield] was very attuned to stories that would play well in the Jewish media, and stories that were more for the mainstream media, so as we would brainstorm these concepts I began to notice that sometimes they would appear as Dov Gordon stories,” Fedak said. One of the hallmarks of the Dov Gordon columns is the praise bestowed upon David Greenfield, and by contrast, the criticism of Greenfield’s political opponents— namely Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Though Greenfield and Hikind serve similar—often overlapping—communities, they are political rivals. In 2002 Greenfield was hired as Hikind’s chief of staff, but according to sources the two did not get along and Greenfield left not long after Hikind hired him. The political gamesmanship between the two continued when Hikind allegedly attempted to direct $30,000 from his own campaign account to Joe Lazar, Greenfield’s opponent in his 2010 Council race, as City & State reported in April 2011. In a Sept. 10, 2012, column, Dov Gordon wrote about Hikind’s primary challenge from Moshe Tischler, a 20-year old student at Touro College. Gordon quoted an unnamed “political consultant” as saying, “Moshe has put Dov on the defensive, especially on the tuition issue. Moshe’s argument that in 30 years, Dov has done nothing to provide tuition relief for yeshiva parents is resonating.” Gordon then concluded: “Insiders agree that Dov is likely to win this race but needs to crush Tischler to maintain his political relevance.” Hikind would go on to win the primary handily, with 3,138 votes compared with Tischler’s 586. Two days later another Dov Gordon column alleged that Hikind might have made deals with the Democratic Party to support candidates who are not observant Jews for a Civil Court judge seat in his district; its only sources cited were “several political observers who had contacted this column.” In the article, Gordon wrote that Shlomie Mostofsky had “shot to the front of this race for Judge after receiving the strong endorsement of Councilman David Greenfield.” A later Gordon article, published after Mostofsky won the primary election, touts Greenfield as “the main force behind Mostofsky’s ‘come from behind victory.’ ” Hikind defeated Tischler by a considerable margin, but Dov Gordon named him a “loser” in one of his “Winners and Losers” column recapping the 2012 primary election. Hikind, the author wrote, had to “stoop to the level of his opponent’s banter,” while insiders “tell us that we may be witnessing the twilight of Hikind’s political career.” In that same column, Gordon named Greenfield a “winner” for backing
POLITICS Mostofsky. “Maybe it’s because he works harder than anyone else in the community, maybe it’s because he delivers more than anyone else in the community, or maybe it’s because he’s very good at bringing together coalitions within the community,” Gordon wrote. “Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Greenfield has emerged as one of the most important Jewish political players in New York.” The source close to Greenfield who backed up Fedak’s account suggested that the root of the negative Hikind coverage— in contrast to the positive Greenfield coverage—might only be Eckstein, although the councilman likely did not
protest or put a stop to the bad press about his rival. “Eckstein has issues with many different politicians, religious groups and not-for-profit groups. So when he wants to deal with those issues he uses his website as a way to do it,” the source said. “Now I’m sure David didn’t go out of his way to make sure [Eckstein] published negative things about Hikind, but any loss for Hikind is a win for David. David’s a political animal, like all people in politics are.” In an interview with City & State, Hikind called Yeshiva World’s coverage of him “mean-spirited” and “degrading.” Hikind said he had wondered whether Dov Gordon was one person or
“Maybe it’s because he works harder than anyone else in the community, maybe it’s because he delivers more than anyone else in the community, or maybe it’s because he’s very good at bringing together coalitions within the community. Whatever the reason, ... Greenfield has emerged as one of the most important Jewish political players in New York.” -Dov Gordon
“You can criticize me— that’s not the issue, we can all be criticized at times,” Dov Hikind said. “This is way beyond that … This is someone with an agenda. … One of the most interesting things is, there’s one person who’s always very popular with Dov Gordon: David Greenfield.” CITY&STATE
several people adopting the pseudonym, and that he had noticed a bias in Gordon’s coverage. “You can criticize me—that’s not the issue, we can all be criticized at times,” Hikind said. “This is way beyond that … This is someone with an agenda. … One of the most interesting things is, there’s one person who’s always very popular with Dov Gordon: David Greenfield.” Hikind said that he even called Eckstein into his office at one point to try to get to the bottom of the negative coverage. Eckstein “really didn’t say anything,” Hikind said, “and I thought maybe after sitting with him, something would change.” The articles critical of the assemblyman kept coming. In recent months, the Dov Gordon “political insider” columns have become noticeably scarce. In December Pete Appel, a blogger who runs the news blog Perpetual Voices, suggested that Greenfield might be Dov Gordon, claiming a slant in Gordon’s “Backroom Deals” columns. Another blogger, Gatemouth, then analyzed Dov Gordon columns for similar patterns of coverage, but came away unconvinced, questioning whether Greenfield could serve as a councilman and still have time to write all of the Dov Gordon posts on Yeshiva World. Gatemouth also noted that some of the posts did not serve Greenfield’s interests. The final “Backroom Deals” column was posted on the Yeshiva World site on Nov. 21, 2012. Articles with the Dov Gordon byline continue to appear sporadically, however, covering mostly local news. According to Fedak, the nonpolitical Dov Gordon articles are an attempt to distract readers from the true identity of the “political insider” version of Gordon. The fact that stories with a Dov Gordon byline were published prior to Greenfield’s election to the City Council also suggests that he has not been the only one to use the pen name. “[Yeshiva World] would write pieces about weather in Jersey or fires in Lakewood to kind of make it seem like [the Dov Gordon stories were] coming from someone else,” she said. City & State searched public records for people named Dov Gordon, but was unable to identify anyone with that name who admitted to writing for Yeshiva World. A report by journalist Ross Barkan refers to a Dov Gordon as the spokesperson for an organization called Save Flatbush, which ran an ad in the Jewish newspaper Hamodia condemning the City Council’s proposed redistricting of south Brooklyn. The report, including an interview with this Dov Gordon, was posted on Barkan’s blog in February, two months after Pete Appel had speculated whether Greenfield might be Dov Gordon. City & State sent an email to Save Flatbush
asking if the Dov Gordon that worked for the organization also wrote for Yeshiva World, but received no response. The Flatbush Jewish Journal also posted a letter to the editor from someone named Dov Gordon in late January. The letter criticizes unnamed elected officials for failing residents in a redistricting process that had allowed the community to be divided up. “David [Greenfield] definitely has a lot to do with Yeshiva World, he’s very friendly with Eckstein and he has a lot to do with the political content that is put on the ‘Backroom Deals,’ ” said the source close to Greenfield who confirmed Fedak’s account. “Is it a pseudonym? Possibly, who knows? But I don’t think it’s one person who that pseudonym is actually attributed to; it’s multiple people.” City & State reached out numerous times to Eckstein to request an interview with Dov Gordon. In an email response, Eckstein called the request “unusual” and said he would review the idea with counsel. He did not make Dov Gordon available for an interview. Eckstein also declined to comment on the alleged link between the blogger and the councilman. After she was laid off from Greenfield’s staff, Fedak sent an email to acquaintances, which was picked up by several blogs, in which she wrote that she “was no longer able to support David’s agenda, nor willing to tolerate his growing ego” and that she was “immensely relieved” to be leaving his office. Two years and two time zones removed from working for Greenfield, Fedak has been disconnected from New York City politics in any professional capacity. She took a sales and marketing job out of state and recently married. Fedak said she expects some to question her motives for waiting two years before sharing her account of a connection between Dov Gordon and David Greenfield. Fedak insists that she never wanted to be the source of the story; only after some in the New York City political blogosphere began to sniff around the GordonGreenfield connection did she decide to speak about it, as one of the few people who had been close enough to Greenfield to know about the Dov Gordon columns. “David wanted to be a public figure,” Fedak said. “Within the Hasidic community, it’s a little bit like being a celebrity— which sounds weird, but if you think about it, there’s no sports, there’s no movies, you take out that world from the equation. So they look up to politicians.” Editor’s note: Before becoming City & State‘s editor-in-chief in 2012, Morgan Pehme worked on the campaign of Joe Lazar, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council against David Greenfield in 2010. Because of this past connection, Pehme recused himself from this story.
www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
EXERCISING POWER State pols fret about putting on the pounds, but Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg wants to pump them up! By AARON SHORT • Photographs by SHANNON DeCELLE
he temptation for gluttony in Albany is hard to resist. Towers of sandwiches and cookies confront lawmakers in members’ lounges at the Capitol every morning before they vote. Then they nibble on bacon-wrapped scallops, shrimp cocktails, Swedish meatballs, chicken fingers and the dependable cheese plate at fundraisers in the evenings, followed by a round or two at local pubs. The next morning they’re chowing down on doughnuts and croissants at their committee meetings. This never-ending smorgasbord has many legislators packing on pounds without even realizing it. “They call it the ‘freshman 40,’ ” Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino said. “I have five events a night sometimes. There’s food everywhere—and it’s all fried.” Demanding schedules make it a challenge to lose the extra weight. Legislators spend long hours on the road to reach the Capitol, and attend plenty of fundraisers and rallies while they’re here. During budget season, many public officials and their staffs work 16 to 20 hour days, arriving at their offices before dawn and leaving well past midnight. Excuses to eat poorly and avoid exercise seem limitless. “You have dinners with colleagues, there’s a lot of food laying around, whether it’s in the lounge or elsewhere, and there’s a lot of opportunities to reach out and snack,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris said. “So you need discipline on the intake and discipline on the workout, which is not as easy as it sounds.” State Sen. Kevin Parker said he tries to use a treadmill every day, but his schedule is packed with visits from constituents, lobbyists and staff who demand his attention. “Sometimes it’s hard to find time because we have so many meetings,” he said. “Sometimes during the day it’s hard to fit it in, just like it is for everyday people.” Even veteran lawmakers can have trouble managing time—and their figures. “It’s very hard to exercise, especially with all of the time that we spend at events where we eat,” Assemblyman Joe Lentol 24 MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg jogs past the Capitol.
said. “So I try to stay away from the food as much as possible when I go anywhere. That’s the first and foremost thing that you do. As you can tell, it doesn’t matter, because I gained a lot of weight this session.” Legislators have a lot in common with the broader population; in New York, nearly 60 percent of all adults are overweight or obese. But one man—an assemblyman— wants legislators to treat their waistlines like a fiscally responsible state budget. For decades Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg of Long Island has made it his personal crusade to keep his colleagues in good health so they can function at their peaks. The 79-year-old lawmaker encourages Democrats and Republicans to get regular physicals at the Albany Medical Center, and he recruits them to join the Legislature’s “members only” gym on the fifth floor of the Legislative Office Building. “You have good health, you feel good, you function better—that means you have a healthier mind,” he said. “God knows people in the state of New York need legislators with a healthy mind.” Weisenberg has always pursued a fit lifestyle. Growing up in Long Beach, he served as a lifeguard; in high school he played three sports. He set a state record in the quarter-mile relay before attending Niagara University on a basketball scholarship. He then returned to Long Beach to teach physical education, and eventually became a police officer. “When you’re brought up in Barrier Beach and you lifeguard for most of your life, you have an obligation and responsibility to yourself to try to stay healthy,” Weisenberg said. “It’s a ‘beach mentality,’ I call it. People in Long Beach have an expression: ‘To have sand in your shoes,’ and to be a lifeguard means you have the responsibility to help and save people’s lives. You better be in good shape to do that.” Elected to the Assembly in 1989, Weisenberg was struck by the poor health his colleagues tended to be in. He watched one die of a heart attack on the Assembly floor after a particularly long debate. Now he urges co-workers to lift weights with him and walk at least 20 minutes a day. Lawmakers pay $100 a year to use the
PERSONALITIES gym’s treadmills, dumbbells, exercise “It’s an opportunity to not think about bikes, free weights and fitness stations. a lot, let your mind go and do someWeisenberg jokes that the machines are thing good for yourself,” he said. “I look “as old as I am,” but thanks in part to the forward to it every day. I wish I could say septuagenarian’s persistence, the gym I was there every day, but I try to get there has a loyal following on both sides of the as often as I can.” aisle. Weisenberg’s workout routine, which Republican Assemblyman Joe Borelli, involves running up the steps of the state who uses the elliptical and stair-climbing archives and a regimen of arm, chest and machines before or after work, said he leg lifts and curls that he calls “mainteenjoys the camaraderie during his exercise sessions. “It’s a good place to socialize and network about legislation and other happenings,” he said. “You get exposed to people you normally wouldn’t get exposed to. It’s a great way to meet people from the opposite house and talk about issues. And it’s a great place to joke around, have a laugh and bond with people at a different level.” Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle said Weisenberg works out in a small gym he enjoys using the gym on the fifth floor of the Legislative to relax and recharge. Office Building.
nance,” inspires his younger compatriots. “Just look at Harvey—the man’s incredible,” Morelle said. “I wish to be in half the shape Harvey is when I’m 20 years younger than Harvey.” Others have been guilted into joining. “I have taken a membership in the gym, and in between sessions I am going to go in there and work out so I can be a better senator,” state Sen. James Sanders
said. “I want to get my mind and my body together for the people in the 10th senatorial district.” Weisenberg hopes more members will follow his example. “I’m concerned about the health and safety and welfare of the people that are here,” he said. “Good health is a gift if you follow with what God has given you. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
All-Car Rent-A-Car Locally-Owned and NYC-Based Advocating for the Small Business and Fairness in the Insurance Replacement Market! As reprinted from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle – May 9, 2013 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle “Baby, you can drive my car,” the old Beatles song goes. You just can’t park it in my garage! That’s what the owner of Brooklyn-based car sharing company said he was told by a garage owner in Downtown Brooklyn. Gil Cygler, founder of Carpingo, a car sharing company, said that his firm had entered into a month-to-month lease agreement with the owner of a parking garage at 215 Jay St. in September to park a couple of his company’s cars at that location. But in mid-December, the garage owner suddenly informed Carpingo that the agreement was not being renewed. Only a vague explanation was given, Cygler said. “We were told that we didn’t fit into their business model, whatever that means,” Cygler told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The garage is owned by Car Park Systems of New York, a Manhattan-based company that operates parking garages all over the city.Cygler said that up to that point, there hadn’t been any sign of trouble and that Carpingo was happy with the service it received from the garage. “Even as far as they were concerned, nothing was wrong. We paid on time. We paid at the beginning of the month,” he said. The Greenpoint Gazatte reported that Carpingo paid $250 a month to rent space at 215 Jay St. Adding insult to injury, Cygler said, the garage owners apparently wanted Carpingo out in a hurry. “They told us that if we were willing to leave early, they would give us a refund. It’s obvious they wanted us out of there,” he said. http://www.allcarrentacar.com
http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/can%E2%80%99t-find-parking-space-neither-can-car-company CARPINGO is the Car-Sharing Division of ALL-CAR RENT A CAR. Contact Gil Cygler at 7187-209-1404 x122 for more information.
www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
S P OT L I G H T INSURANCE
Public officials debate change amid complaints about insurers’ slow response By ADAM JANOS In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, New Yorkers have struggled to recover and rebuild. But for some residents living in flood zones, the unprecedented natural disaster has been compounded by man-made challenges, judging from the deluge of complaints about neglect from insurance companies. In response, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring insurance adjusters to respond to complaints within six business days instead of the 15-day period previously allowed. Cuomo also launched an investigation into Narragansett Bay, Tower and Kingston, three particularly poorly performing insurance companies. Furthermore, he issued an online report card detailing complaint data from homeowners so that New Yorkers could see which companies were providing lackluster service. “I think for Governor Cuomo, in these kinds of situations, he rightfully feels that increasing transparency has numerous positive effects,” said Ben Lawsky, Superintendent of the Department of Financial Services (DFS). “When consumers know these companies are performing, it incentivizes compaines to perform better, and creates more of a race to the top and not a race to the bottom.” Those regulatory actions—and other measures still in committee in the Assembly—have the insurance industry worried that an overly reactive government could cause companies to flee for less regulated markets. “What’s in our real best interest is that we have insurance carriers that want to write business in New York State,” said state Sen. James Seward, a Republican who chairs the Senate Insurance Committee. “That’s in the best interest of consumers. If we make these difficult, expensive, onerous new regulations, that could very well scare carriers out of the market. So we have to strike the right balance here. Certainly some of these measures go overboard.” Much of the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy is flood-related, and insur26 MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
ance coverage for the damage is at the Rights is designed to address that issue, by rations page,” said Ellen Melchionni, center of the debate. Unlike typical home- mandating that the insured get a simpli- president of the New York Insurance Assoowner’s insurance, flood protection isn’t fied explanation telling consumers where ciation. “No matter what font it’s in, no carried on a state level. A federal program they are and aren’t protected. matter how big the font … it won’t make a run by FEMA called the National Flood “I understand what he’s trying to significant difference.” Insurance Program (NFIP) provides flood accomplish, but we already have a declaMichael Whyland, a spokesman for insurance but because it is federal, the governor and state Legislature have no impact on policy relating to it. There has been considerable confusion among homeowners regarding the relationship between the national flood insurance they do or do not own and the details of their coverage, in part because FEMA’s “Write Your Own” policy allows insurance carriers to offer the NFIP’s services under the umbrella of a single homeowner’s insurance policy. Nonetheless, despite the “buy in one place” nature of the insurance, the regulatory agencies involved in the two groups are distinct. This means, for example, that when the state’s Department of Financial Services demanded that adjusters cut their inspection times on damage The Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, formerly the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, was flooded during Supercomplaints from 15 to six days, storm Sandy last year. Some New Yorkers struggled to get insurance claims processed in the flood adjusters were not affected, wake of the storm. even when the insured’s coverage was purchased under one carrier. Flood adjusters continue to have 60 business days to respond, no matter what Cuomo, Superintendent Ben Lawsky or the state Legislature demands. Where the state government does have a role, however, is in addressing the mass confusion that occurred in the language of their coverage. “The vast majority of New Yorkers do not know what’s in their insurance policy,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who chairs the Assembly Insurance Committee. “Misleading statements are being made all along the way; on the declarations page [of a policy] it says something is covered—then 60 pages later, it says there’s an exception. And we’re trying to get to the root of why there are all these complex legalese exceptions.” The storm damaged houses on coastal areas, including this beachfront home in the Far RockaAssembly Speaker Sheldon ways. Widespread flooding raised questions about flood insurance coverage and has prompted Silver’s Homeowner’s Bill of lawmakers to consider changes to the insurance industry.
BOTTOM: AP PHOTO/MARK LENNIHAN; PHOTO: METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY / PATRICK CASHIN.
INSURANCE Silver, disagrees. “The bottom line is this legislation directly addresses concerns we have been hearing from thousands of homeowners who had to wait too long for their claims to be processed after Superstorm Sandy, and were taken advantage of in their time of need,” Whyland said. It’s not hard to understand why the insurance industry would oppose such a bill. Breed vs. Insurance Company of North America, a case decided in New York in 1978, established that any legal ambiguity within a coverage dispute of an insurance claim favors the insured. So the more specific insurance companies can make their contracts, the less the chance that resources will be lost to the gray zone each individual case can bring up. Another big source of stress for homeowners fighting to recoup damages through their policy are so-called “anticoncurrent causation exclusions.” These exclusions state that, in the event that
Any legal ambiguity within a coverage dispute of an insurance claim favors the insured. So the more specific insurance companies can make their contracts, the less the chance that resources will be lost to the gray zone each individual case can bring up. there are multiple causes of property damage, a homeowner is only covered if all causes of damage are insured. With Sandy—where high speed winds led to rising tides, which in turn led to flooding— homeowners were only covered for damage if they had both wind and flood insurance. Those with only one of the two were left out in the rain. “We are looking at regulating, limiting or requiring [anticoncurrent causation exclusions] to be more prominently displayed,” Cahill said. Seward offers a more cautious take. “I am open for discussion in that area, but … we need to strike the balance between additional consumer protection and not driving New York insurance carriers out of the market,” he said. In addition to Silver’s bill, legislation introduced by Assemblyman James Skoufis would codify the executive order that mandates adjusters respond to claims within six days. While Silver’s and Skoufis’ bills look to address future problems for homeowners, Democratic Assembly members Helene
Weinstein and Matthew Titone have introduced legislation to help provide consumer protection in the courts. Titone’s bill would expedite insurance claims once they got to the court system, and Weinstein’s would establish a private right of action for insured homeowners who allege unfair claim settlement practices by insurance companies.
“All these proposals are efforts, brought out of frustration, brought out of the devastation that occurred,” Melchionni said. “I feel for these people. [The Department of Financial Services] completely diverted our resources [during the storm] to comply with data reports, and made it all completely burdensome. The provisions they’re considering will create an
S P OT L I G H T
availability crisis.” Skoufis dismisses Melchionni’s arguments, saying that the data requirements are beside the point. “Paperwork as the reason to oppose a bill that ensures timeliness is illogical,” Skoufis said. “For insurers it’s about the bottom line, and for us it’s about doing the right thing.”
We’re here for You NeW York— Before, durINg & After SANdY Sandy presented New Yorkers with a multitude of challenges. Insurance companies were there for their policyholders from the very beginning—settling claims as quickly as possible. Now as we press forward and prepare for the possibility of future storms the New York Insurance Association feels it is important to note the following information. Did you know? Insurance companies deployed 35,000 adjusters in response to an unprecedented 442,000 claims in New York, paying $10 billion to New Yorkers with the number of complaints received standing at only 1.2%. Did you know? A mere 8% of Northeast households have purchased flood insurance. flood coverage is not part of a standard homeowners policy, but is readily available through feMA. flood policy terms and claim protocols are determined by the federal government and greatly differ from typical insurance offered by the private market. Did you know? More than 20% of all flood claims are filed in areas with minimal to moderate flood risk. It is crucial that individuals, no matter where they live, consider purchasing flood insurance. Did you know? Property and casualty insurance companies paid more than $33 billion in claims to New Yorkers in 2012. Insurance provides families and businesses with financial security and assistance during times of need—a commitment the industry takes very seriously.
www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
S P OT L I G H T INSURANCE
LICENSE to DEFRAUD It’s a fraud so ubiquitous it hardly gets recognized as one. In New York City it’s everywhere you turn, and the criminals involved proudly display their work for all to see. Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia license plates line the roadways of New York State—and in some cases, it’s the result of private citizens crossing borders to get their vehicles insured for a fraction of the cost they would pay in the city. More than one in 10 automobiles in New York is fraudulently registered elsewhere, according to an estimate by the advocacy group New Yorkers Stand Against Insurance Fraud. This abuse in turn causes premiums to go up on legally registered vehicle owners. It’s rate evasion, and it costs insurance companies—and by extension, New Yorkers—millions of dollars. “Some may think insurance fraud is a victimless fraud and that it’s only a crime against the insurance company,” said state Sen. James Seward, who chairs the Senate’s
Insurance Committee. “But the fact of the matter is, anyone who insures their vehicle correctly is a victim.” Car insurance is determined not by state but by ZIP code. Drivers in the five boroughs of New York City pay 60 percent higher combined insurance premiums than the state average, according to a 2011 report commissioned by the Independent Democratic Conference. Albany and the Capital Region pay the state’s lowest premiums. As a result of the high costs, drivers in high-premium ZIP codes are those most likely to register with fraudulent addresses. The IDC study found that 1,650 vehicles in New York were registered to 14 residential Pennsylvania addresses, or 120 vehicles per locale. Fraud reduces the total number of people insured, premiums inch up and car owners increasingly have the incentive to purchase insurance illegally due to a progressively more expensive market. Auto insurance fraud cost drivers $229 million nationwide in 2009, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Where was fraud the most
d u a r f o t au
28 MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
BY ADAM JANOS
common? New York City. State Sen. Jeff Klein, the head of the IDC, and Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson have introduced legislation that targets rate evasion by making the penalties stiffer. The bill, which makes false reporting of addresses a felony for both insurance companies and individual drivers, is further along in the state Senate than in the Assembly, where it remains tied up in committee. A similar version of the bill passed the Senate last year. “We get this bill out of the Senate routinely,” Seward said. “I applaud Senator Klein for getting involved in this issue. The Assembly seems reluctant to increase penalties or create new crimes in New York State.” Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who chairs the Assembly’s Insurance Committee, said auto insurance fraud should be addressed comprehensively. “We’re looking at all areas of fraud and no-fault insurance,” he said. “We don’t think it should be done on a piecemeal basis. It’s a program that wasn’t created on a piecemeal basis, and legislatures past have tried to address one issue at a time. All the wheels have to turn at the same time.” Out-of-state licenses can create problems for law enforcement, as well. New York motorists who are registered with
out-of-state plates have an easier time evading parking tickets and speed-camera ticketing. A large reason for the widespread rate of evasion rests in a lack of enforcement of the law. Like Internet piracy, it is commonly understood among drivers that there is not much effort placed on cracking down on the rule breakers. One potential snag is that it is a federal issue. To deter rate evasion, other states’ insurance companies and motor vehicles departments or registries would have to create a more stringent proof of residency. Once motorists have their out-of-state plates, the battle is largely lost. Other auto insurance fraud legislation in committee primarily deals with no-fault insurance fraud, an altogether more insidious affair. No-fault insurance pays out medical expenses to insured motorists in the event of a crash, regardless of culpability. The insurance grants up to $50,000 to injured motorists, and has prompted crime rings to stage accidents. Seward has legislation that makes staging auto accidents a felony. According to industry estimates cited by state Sen. Marty Golden’s office, there were 400,000 no-fault claims last year in New York. Some 80,000 of those claims were fraudulent; the overwhelming number of these involved staged accidents. Legislation introduced by Golden and Assemblyman Carl Heastie would also grant insurance companies the right to retroactively cancel policies that were purchased fraudulently, such as with bad checks or illegitimate credit cards. By granting that retroactive power to insurers, con artists would no longer be able to implement autoaccident schemes risk-free. They would, at the very least, need to register their insurance with legitimate credit cards at the outset of their conspiracy. “My bill is to help to bring down the insurance costs in the city … go after the bad payers, lock them up, and you’ll see more registering here,” Golden said. “Klein’s got a good bill—I’ve got a better bill.” Heastie noted that he represents the Bronx, where motorists pay the highest insurance rates in the nation. “Anything that can be done to lower insurance in the Bronx is a great thing,” he said.
Rate evasion and the vulnerable auto insurance market •
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S P OT L I G H T INSURANCE
Superintendent Ben Lawsky carves out DFS’s place in the regulatory arena By MORGAN PEHME As the first superintendent of New York State’s Department of Financial Services, Ben Lawsky has not just had to lead the agency, he has also had to help define DFS’s place in the regulatory arena of banking and insurance. “If other regulators are doing a good job in a particular area and we’re just a little old state regulator, we’re never going to be able to bring the kind of resources to play in those areas that are already being taken care of, so we tend to… and I think the governor tends to, concentrate on areas where there is not as much focus and there might be problems,” explained Lawsky in a sitdown with City & State at the newspaper’s recent State of Our State conference in Albany. “If everyone is playing in right field, second base, shortstop and they’ve got the infield covered, but no one’s in left field, we’ll go play in left field.” Since DFS was formed in October of 2011 through a merger of the New York State Banking Department and the New York State Insurance Department, Lawsky and his team have zeroed in on a number 30 MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
of practices that have been either ignored or inadequately pursued by other regulators, such as force-placed insurance, anti-money laundering enforcement and the rapidly growing practice of private equity firms buying annuity companies. In delving into these areas, DFS has aimed to spark what Lawsky calls a “healthy competition among financial regulators.” “In the run-up to the financial crisis, for many years we had a system where it was a competition to see who could have the lightest touch as a regulator, and rather than create a race to the top for better regulation, which I think healthy competition does, another form of unhealthy competition can exist which creates a race to the bottom, who can be the least effective,” Lawsky said. “I think post-financial crisis that has changed quite a bit… but I still think there are areas of, for lack of a better term, complacency.” Despite only being a year and a half into its existence, DFS has already scored some significant victories in consumer protection. For example, investigating the practice of force-placed insurance— where banks are allowed to take out an insurance policy on behalf of a homeowner who has failed to maintain the insurance mandated by the terms of their mortgage—DFS revealed that rather than
Superintendent Lawsky joined City & State for its “Newsmakers” series of one-onone discussions as part of the newspaper’s State of Our State conference. The event, held on May 7 at Taste in Albany, was co-sponsored by McKenna Long & Aldridge, The Business Council, The Parkside Group, Con Edison, New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, and New York Gaming Association.
LAYING DOWN the LAWSKY
seeking out the most favorable policy for homeowners already struggling with great financial difficulties, banks were actually seeking out high priced policies, because the force-placed insurers were kicking back a large portion of those premiums to the banks in the form of commissions. By exposing this abuse, DFS was able to get the nation’s two largest force-placed insurers to agree to major settlements with the state, including restitution for homeowners, and to reform the way the industry operates. Another DFS investigation uncovered that the U.K. bank Standard Chartered had helped Iran, Libya and other nations launder at least $250 billion and obscured tens of thousands of transactions in violation of U.S. sanctions against those countries. As a result, DFS ended up winning a $340 million settlement from the bank and opened the door for the U.S. Treasury Department to assess the bank an additional $327 million in penalties. For Lawsky, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted terrorism cases, pulling back the curtain on this type of malfeasance was particularly important. “No matter how bad financial shenanigans are they don’t have the potential catastrophic consequences that money laundering by terrorists, for example, could allow,” Lawsky said. Most recently, DFS succeeded in bringing about a settlement earlier this month in the long-standing dispute between Bank of America and the bond insurer MBIA over mortgage-backed securities. The $1.7 billion settlement, which relates to Bank of America’s purchase of
Merrill Lynch and Countywide Financial during the financial crisis, cancels out all of the litigation between the companies, keeps MBIA solvent, and makes BoA an equity investor in MBIA’s holding company and a major lender to the insurer. “This is an example where the regulator was helpful in reaching a settlement that is actually good for business,” Lawsky said. Now Lawsky is taking aim at the area of so-called “shadow insurance,” a practice where insurance companies shift assets to other entities in order to exploit looser reserve and oversight requirements in other states or countries. “This is something we’re watching and it’s growing and it’s becoming more complex,” Lawsky said. “It’s not transparent enough and our worry is that’s another area where you could have a blow-up and we’ll all sit around two, three, four years from now and say ‘Why didn’t anyone blow the whistle on this back then when everything was fine and dandy?’ At DFS one of things we try to ask ourselves is, ‘Is this something we’re going to regret five years from now not having said that is a really bad idea?’ ” Despite his earnestness to protect the public and curb abuses in the banking and insurance industries, Lawsky is careful to heed the criticisms of those who argue that regulation can stymie economic growth and impede job creation. “Yes, there’s a cost of regulation, but there’s also a cost to a lack of regulation, and at certain times we take actions that may slow business down or may it a little harder at times, but you also have to ask what the cost of another financial crisis would be,” Lawsky said. “In this last one, what did we lose? Millions of jobs, trillions of dollars in savings to Americans? So there’s a cost on the ledger as well and I think the key is just to be thoughtful and weigh those costs carefully and realize that as regulator you don’t have a monopoly on the truth. Just because we have a good idea, we also need to talk to a lot of different people, including the industry and other stakeholders, to decide we’re right, before just saying ‘I know the answer’ and regulating willy-nilly.” Continued Lawsky, “Regulators need to be humble and realize that you always have to balance the unintended consequences of what you’re doing versus what you think is the right thing to do.”
Life Insurance Council of New York, Inc. When the Unthinkable Becomes Reality
John Ogonowski grew up on a farm and never wanted to give up that life, even as he pursued a distinguished military and civilian flying career. While a young pilot for American Airlines, John began buying land in his hometown of Dracut, Mass., and eventually developed a second career as a hay farmer. John’s wife, Peg, was a flight attendant at American, and they knew her salary would not be enough to support their three young daughters and keep their farm going if something were to happen to John. So John bought life insurance to supplement the coverage provided by the airline. On Sept. 11, 2001, the unthinkable happened. Terrorists hijacked American Flight 11, commanded by Capt. Ogonowski, and flew it into the World Trade Center. In an instant, Peg found herself at the center of the worst terror attack in the nation’s history, her grief compounded by concerns about how she would manage without John. A few days later, the Ogonowskis’ insurance agent, Richard Bourgault, CLTC, LUTCF, came by to offer condolences. The oldest daughter, Laura, then 16, approached him apprehensively and asked whether they would have to move out of their home. No, he said firmly. “That made all the difference in the world,” he recalls. With the insurance proceeds, Peg was able to pay off the mortgage on her brother, Jim. Peg recently retired after a 30-year career with American. “I can’t begin to home, retire all of the debt on the farm and set aside college money for her tell you how huge it was to have had the insurance and to know that we were completely girls. Today the 150-acre family farm is still in business, operated by John’s covered,” she says.
The Kids Are Alright
By the time he was 28, Steven Tedesco was ready to be his own boss. Along with a partner, he purchased a blacktop paving business in Corinth, N.Y. The bank loan they got required each of them to carry life insurance. Steven consulted Robin Davey, CFP, a financial advisor. As they talked, Robin quickly discovered that the business was not Steven’s only financial obligation. He had a wife, Natira, and five children. “That’s a lot of mouths to feed,” Robin remembers telling him. “Have you thought about how they would get by if something happened to you?” Because of Steven’s age and good health, he obtained a $1 million, 20-year term life insurance policy at a very affordable rate, in addition to a separate policy to cover the business loan. A few months later, Steven came down with what he thought was a bad case of the flu, but it turned out to be much more serious: He had leukemia. Steven courageously battled the disease, but died two years later. By then he and Natira had six children. The youngest was just 4 months old. Thanks to the life insurance, Natira, a stay-at-home mother, has been able to continue in that role. Insurance proceeds were also used to move the family out of a cramped rental and into a home of their own—a five-bedroom, three-bath house. Robin also set up education accounts for the children, and helped Natira with a retirement savings account and a life insurance policy of her own. The family is getting back on its feet. Natira recently remarried. She spends her days caring for the younger children and shuttling the older ones to football games. “If it wasn’t for the insurance money, I’d be working three jobs,” she says.
Keeping a Family and a Business Afloat
Brigette Hunter was just 27, and a new mother, when she was widowed. Her husband, Matt, was killed in a car accident. To compound her pain, she had to borrow money from her parents to pay for Matt’s funeral as he had no life insurance. Just six months later, friends introduced Brigette to Anthony. She wasn’t looking for a relationship, but Anthony was persistent. “He could sell snow to an Eskimo,” Brigette says. They married and soon opened their own electrical business. With the business and three children to support, the couple bought small life insurance policies. Lisa Rinehart, a financial professional, met them several years later, determined that they needed considerably more life insurance, and helped them through the buying process. A year later, Anthony found a bump on his chin. He had recently walked through a spider web at a job site and assumed it was a bite. But it didn’t go away, and Anthony learned it was melanoma, a cancer he had battled as a teenager. It soon spread to his lungs, brain and bones. Still wanting to provide for his family, Anthony invoked a provision in one of his life insurance policies that allowed for an early payout to a terminally ill policyholder, and used part of his death benefit to buy a nicer home for his family. He oversaw renovations and was able to spend a month in the house before he died at 34. The remaining money from Anthony’s policies helped Brigette pay off medical bills and meet her household expenses. It also kept the business afloat. She could make payroll and pay vendors while she and her foreman reassured clients that the business would continue. “Without the money I would have had to close,” she says. 551 Fifth Avenue—29th Floor New York , NY 10176
111 Washington Avenue—Suite 300 Albany, NY 12210
These articles have been reproduced by the Life Insurance Council of New York, Inc. with the permission of the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping consumers make smart insurance decisions to safeguard their families’ financial futures. LIFE does not endorse any insurance company, product or advisor. © LIFE 2013. All rights reserved.
www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
S P OT L I G H T INSURANCE
EXPERT ROUNDTABLE JAMES SEWARD Chair, New York State Senate Insurance Committee
Q: What is your top priority this year as chair of the Insurance Committee? JS: Auto insurance fraud is a half a billion dollar a year criminal enterprise in New York. This pervasive abuse of the insurance system is a burden on insurers, a hit on the wallet for consumers, and has even cost lives. The Senate has passed multiple measures that would target criminals and reform the system. The Assembly and governor must join the fight. Q: You have introduced legislation that would allow the formation of excess line insurance companies in the state. What would these companies do, and why is that important? JS: Under current law, excess line admitted carriers cannot write coverage on the New York portion of a multistate surplus line policy. Subsequently these companies are forced to take their business out of state. Several states have changed their laws to accommodate such instances, and my legislation would add New York to that list. The measure would help us maintain a competitive edge, spurring job growth while leading to efficiencies for insurers and cost reductions for policyholders. Q: You also have a bill dealing with unclaimed life insurance benefits. What would this legislation do? JS: Legislation that has now been enacted requires life insurance companies to do regular matching of their in-force and lapsed life insurance policies against the Social Security Administration Death Master File to identify potentially missing beneficiaries. This is added peace of mind for anyone who purchases life insurance. While life insurers on the whole are diligent in paying out benefits, this legislation provides an enhanced guarantee that the wishes of the policyholder will be fully respected and loved ones will be taken care of when they need help the most. Q: Is your committee looking at the implementation of federal healthcare reform, which has a 2014 deadline for many provisions to go into effect? JS: The recently adopted state budget included several provisions necessary to comply with the Affordable Care Act. Past that, I am directing my attention to the establishment of a health insurance exchange. While the governor has taken initial steps to create the exchange, legislative oversight will be needed prior to full implementation. There are questions and concerns surrounding the expense of an exchange. Affordability for businesses and individuals is key, in my mind. Protection for brokers and chambers of commerce currently offering coverage is also vital so they are able to continue providing service to clients.
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Chair, New York State Assembly Insurance Committee
Q: What is your top priority this year as chair of the Insurance Committee? KC: One of the first issues I undertook was examining insurance claims practices in the aftermath of [Superstorm] Sandy. I held a hearing and roundtables in the regions hit hardest by the storm. As a result, we have a better picture of the problems that arose as we work toward solutions needed to address them. In the coming months the committee will focus on educating consumers on types of coverage included in their policies and making these policies easier to understand. Q: What stood out? KC: A big concern was consumer confusion over flood coverage, provided through the National Flood Insurance Program. I will be lobbying the NFIP and our senators and representatives on suggested changes to the program to ensure that policyholders are adequately covered in the event of a future disaster. Q: How has your approach differed from that of your predecessor as chair of the Insurance Committee, Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle? KC: Majority Leader Morelle is highly praised for his tenure as chair of the committee. His predecessor, Pete Grannis, came at the issues from a slightly different perspective, but like Joe was admired for the intelligence, grit and attention to detail he brought to the job. They set the bar very high. As a newcomer to insurance policy, my focus has been on gaining a full understanding of all issues in play and getting a handle on the needs of consumers and insurers alike. Q: Are there any bipartisan bills you are working on together with Sen. James Seward, your counterpart in the state Senate? KC: Jim Seward is one of the most respected legislative authorities on insurance matters in this country. We consult regularly and work together to advance sound legislation that recognizes the important role insurance plays in every facet of New York life. A bill we are currently collaborating on would allow life insurers to credit additional amounts on equity-indexed universal life insurance policies every three years, rather than annually. This will help stabilize and expand investment gain opportunities for policyholders. Q: Is your committee looking at the implementation of the landmark federal healthcare reform, which has a 2014 deadline for many provisions to go into effect in the state and around the country? KC: Seamlessness, continuity, comparability and transparency are the principles I am working toward when it comes to the ACA. I have confidence that the state agencies taking the lead are doing a good job. Now it is up to us to ensure the public knows everything they need to comply.
ROBERT DOAR Commissioner, New York City Human Resources Administration
Q: What impact will federal healthcare reform have here? RD: New York City is a national leader in providing health insurance coverage. Virtually all children—over 95 percent—have health insurance coverage here, the best rate of any big city in America. The Human Resources Administration provides over 3 million New Yorkers with public health insurance through Medicaid. Over many years the federal and state governments have simplified the Medicaid rules to make it easier to get and to cover more people. Federal healthcare reform will take this a step further. In New York City this will mean that people with higher incomes than before will be eligible, either through Medicaid or by using tax credits to purchase private health insurance. They will also need to apply through a new insurance exchange operated by the state, not through HRA. New York State’s move to a new system and set of rules is a big undertaking. We at HRA are working with the state to help them ensure that New Yorkers don’t lose coverage during the transition and to prevent fraud, waste and abuse in the new system. We also are discussing ways to ensure that people who are eligible for the new coverage learn about their options and know how to get coverage. It is important to recognize that many uninsured New Yorkers are undocumented immigrants who will not be eligible for insurance through the new exchange—so a significant population of uninsured will not gain coverage under healthcare reform. Q: In what ways is New York City ahead of the curve in covering the uninsured? RD: We have created innovative systems that allow HRA to receive and process Medicaid applications and renewals more efficiently. We educate New Yorkers about their health insurance options and connect them to coverage. We have also created tools that allow New Yorkers to look for and make decisions about their health insurance coverage—like NYC Health Insurance Link, our online resource for finding public and private health insurance. They can use our ACCESS NYC to screen themselves for potential eligibility, and to renew their existing public health insurance coverage online, without having to come into an office. Q: Is the city prepared to meet increased demand under federal healthcare reform? RD: Most of the expected increased demand will have to be addressed by New York State, not the city. The responsibility for the new exchange is theirs, and they are also taking over enrollment responsibility for many Medicaid beneficiaries. At this point, I don’t think the state is quite ready but they are getting closer. Q: Anthony Weiner’s policy book calls for a city-run single-payer healthcare program. RD: President Obama and Congress chose a different approach than the one you describe. We need to see how that works before we try another approach.
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S P OT L I G H T INSURANCE
THE PLAYERS The New York Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky has taken steps to hold insurance companies accountable in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, while also targeting other insurance-related issues, such as reforms to force-placed insurance. In the state Legislature, state Sen. James Seward has focused on combating auto insurance fraud, among other issues, as chair of the Insurance Committee, while Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who took over as Seward’s counterpart in the Assembly this year, has held a hearing and convened roundtable discussions on insurance coverage post-Sandy.
THE ISSUES Superstorm Sandy The devastating natural disaster prompted the Cuomo administration and lawmakers to closely scrutinize the insurance industry, including claim settlement practices and the overall performance in paying out claims to victims. The state’s Department of Financial Services has taken the lead in prodding the industry to pay out claims promptly, while lawmakers have looked into why many buildings have yet to reopen or be rebuilt, as well as exploring how to streamline the claims process in the future.
“While we won’t be satisfied until every single victim gets every single dollar to which they’re entitled, some banks have continued to lag especially far behind the rest, and it’s well past time for them to pick up the pace.” —Gov. Andrew Cuomo, last month, on banks with the worst performance in terms of paying out insurance claims to Superstorm Sandy victims
34 MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
Affordable Care Act Some parts of President Barack Obama’s landmark health care reform law have already gone into effect, but 2014 is the deadline for much of the law to be implemented. Among the key requirements that must be met in fewer than eight months is that each state have a health care exchange in place. While some states delayed or deferred to the federal government to set up an exchange, New York agreed to set up one on its own. Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in April 2012 establishing the state’s exchange, and in December the governor received conditional federal approval.
Force-Placed Insurance The Department of Financial Services in late 2011 launched an investigation into force-placed insurance, a type of insurance taken out by banks or other financial institutions whenever a borrower fails to obtain the insurance required for a mortgage. The Cuomo administration in March announced a $14 million settlement with Assurant, the country’s largest force-placed insurer, in its efforts to combat abuses, such as exorbitant premiums imposed on homeowners who are often already struggling financially.
Auto Insurance Fraud The auto insurance market continues to be a target for fraud, from the staging of accidents to defrauding the no-fault insurance system to the registration of cars in other states to avoid higher auto rates. The insurance industry has called for a “zero tolerance” policy to crack down on fraud, and lawmakers are debating legislation that would increase penalties for some offenses and require heath providers to prove that medical treatment is needed when billing through the no-fault insurance system.
BY THE NUMBERS INSURANCE ASSURANCE The landmark federal health care reform law will have a significant impact on New York’s uninsured population. According to the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center, the state’s new health care exchange and the federal mandate to buy health insurance will increase by about 1 million the number of nonelderly New Yorkers who are insured.
Employer (nonexchange) Employer (exchange) Nongroup (nonexchange) Nongroup (exchange) Medicaid/CHIP Other (including Medicare)
9,603,000 65,000 32,000 113,000 4,067,000 349,000
8,987,000 453,000 270,000 615,000 4,580,000 349,000
www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
PERSPECTIVES NICOLE GELINAS
RUNNING FOR NEIGHBORHOOD MAYOR
he mayoral candidates are having trouble distinguishing themselves. The best way for one aspiring mayor to break away from the pack, though, may be to run on something that seems boring: improving bread-and-butter public services, from transportation to noisecode enforcement. As they slog through primary debate season, candidates on both sides of the ballot are learning the perils of a crowded race. On the Democratic side, the way to get attention is to say something crazy. Comptroller John Liu promises to abolish the NYPD’s stop, question and frisk practices— not to improve them. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson says it’s “disgraceful” for the NYPD to watch for potential terrorists among alienated young Muslims. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio runs TV ads attacking popular Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has decided that if she can’t say something insane, she won’t say much beyond small-ball stuff like advocating subsidized day care. On the Republican side, the two viable candidates are bickering in obscurity. Former MTA chief Joe Lhota and supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis have spent a month now arguing over Lhota’s 2012 bridge-toll hike. Catsimatidis knows that conservative voters in remote parts of the outer boroughs hate tolls. But the positive ideas he’s presented—more vocational schools and more tech investment—are things that Mayor Bloomberg is already doing. Lhota has been mum on big policy, too. When the candidates get around to proposing something sane and original, they may find themselves stymied. What do the people want? At first glance, the results of a recent poll commissioned by the Manhattan
BRUCE N. GYORY
IDC FACING CONFIDENCE VOTE AS SESSION COUNTS DOWN
he bipartisan coalition governing the Senate has held together. This coalition faces a major test as we head toward the close of the Legislature’s session in June; therefore, now is a good time to assess how it has worked so far. Back in January, I wrote that a coalition government is easier to form than it is to maintain, and that the key to the success of this one would be legislative productivity. The gun control debate was divisive in the Republican Conference, but the coalition worked well under Klein and Skelos to pass the SAFE Act. Despite the controversy surrounding it, the act enjoys 2-to-1 support statewide, according to April’s Quinnipiac poll. However, the pressure from the right ideologically and upstate regionally coming out of the gun control debate put great pressure on Skelos to deliver for his conference in the budget. Skelos passed the test, holding the line to secure Long Island’s “share” of school aid. Skelos’ enacting of the property tax rebate in return for passing minimum wage was another victory. Despite conventional wisdom, both ends of that trade were quite popular with the GOP’s blue-collar electoral base upstate. The net effect was that Skelos delivered big-time for his Republican Conference on the state budget. The budget—and the fallout from the Malcolm Smith scandal—was less kind to the Independent Democratic Conference. Not only did the Black, 36 MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
Institute may not offer much help. One thing was clear: Voters don’t think New York is in crisis. “Majorities say the subway is safe, the city is clean, and the police can be trusted,” concluded pollster John Zogby. Beyond that, the public is either divided or inconsistent. People like Bloomberg’s performance (48 percent) and they don’t (49 percent). They think public sector retirement benefits are too expensive (44 percent) and they don’t (40 percent). They favor the NYPD’s stop, question and frisk policies (47 percent) and they don’t (48 percent). Even on a supposed lightning-rod issue like bike lanes, there’s no consensus: 40 percent favor them and 24 percent don’t, while another 30 percent object to their (cheap) cost. As usual, people are disappointed with public education. Sixty-nine percent think students emerge unprepared, and 40 percent think education is our biggest challenge. The public’s remedy for this problem, though, is for the city to spend more (59 percent). But the education budget has doubled during the Bloomberg years. And with only 16 percent of people polled thinking that the mayor’s office should play the largest role in education, it’s unclear what the voters want here, anyway, besides more money. Moreover, all of the candidates are already duly promising to fix education—just as all candidates always do. But that still leaves them in a draw. The public did give a clear answer in a couple of cases. One: mass transit. A vast majority of city residents—62 percent—think
the outer boroughs are poorly served by transit and believe, too, that “investment should be made to expand existing services and create new ones.” (On Staten Island 73 percent of respondents desired such investment.) Another big one: noise pollution. A whopping 78 percent said that it’s a “major or minor” problem—making this issue clock in behind only panhandlers (83 percent) as a quality-oflife challenge. Finally: public employee health benefits. Respondents may have been divided on retiree benefits, but a full 60 percent think that public workers should pay the same premiums for healthcare that private sector workers do, compared with 28 percent who disagreed. A mayoral candidate could succeed by proposing one grand vision—a 21st-century transit system—with one small vision: better enforcement in reducing nuisances like idling buses, panhandling and club-land noises. And how to pay for the former? Force public employees to pay something for their healthcare (right now, 95 percent pay nothing). When there’s no acute crisis, people focus on everyday issues. Candidates risk looking irrelevant if they’re railing against manufactured outrages when voters are wondering why their smaller-scale complaints aren’t addressed.
Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, under Chairman Karim Camara, and the New York Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force, led by Felix Ortiz, bristle at the lack of “foundation aid” formula funding under the CFE settlement in the budget, but they were seething when the Dream Act did not seem to get serious consideration. Those criticisms were compounded when the IDC had to boot its only member of color, Smith, amid scandal. The pressure has therefore shifted to Jeff Klein and the IDC to deliver at the end of session. The IDC will have to prove that it can make good on its promise that its involvement in the coalition would result in progressive legislation, first, coming to the floor and then, passing in the Senate. Just as Skelos needed to reestablish his conference’s bona fides with the Republican base in the budget, Klein and the IDC need to do the same with Democratic voters, with time running down quickly to the close of session at the end of June. When the coalition was formed, Klein justifiably received kudos for negotiating joint and equal authority over all Senate action between his IDC Conference and the larger Republican caucus. No one should count Sen. Klein out. He is a shrewd and supple political leader. In addition, the governor is likely going to demand that Klein and the IDC stand and deliver on his priorities: campaign finance
reform and a package of women’s rights measures. So far the IDC has appeared to be doing its part. State Sen. Diane Savino, an IDC member, has stepped out boldly as an advocate for the Reproductive Health Act, while Klein has been on point regarding campaign finance reform. The nub of the question is this: Will Skelos and his conference block campaign finance reform and the Women’s Equality Act from coming to the floor for a vote? If the GOP blocks those votes, the joint and equal authority Klein negotiated will lie in tatters. If the Senate GOP does not allow even for votes on the floor, that would pose a gut check for the IDC. The Senate’s GOP Conference needed political cover from the budget; now that need for political cover is on the IDC. It is premature to predict how these issues will be resolved. But those who don’t realize how significant the political accounting will be for the IDC when the session’s ledgers are closed in June are being unrealistic. In the parlance of what was dubbed the “Knesset on the Hudson” when this coalition first formed, Klein’s IDC faces a de facto vote of confidence by June.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. The analysis of the poll results is her own, not her employer’s or the pollsters’. @nicolegelinas on Twitter.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political consultant with Corning Place Communications and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.
HAVE A QUESTION FOR JEFF? EMAIL EDITOR@CITYANDSTATENY.COM
DO AS I SAY A political advice column
If you were Anthony Weiner, would you run for mayor? —L.G., Brooklyn Full disclosure: Not being a native, I’m just learning New York City politics. I always find irony—and sometimes tragedy—in the stories of disgraced pols who rush for immediate reinvention in the same ego-nurturing and soul-crushing arena that initially got them in trouble. It’s as if the Weiners and Sanfords of the world have determined that the artificial politico personas they have so painstakingly created are the only versions of themselves that they can still recognize. But true By JEFF redemption requires you to hit the pause button, to sublimate ambition and reflect on what truly matters. That said, if I were Weiner and felt that I’d done the necessary reparative work in my personal life, I’d run for either comptroller or public advocate. Though comptroller candidate Scott Stringer is familiar to Manhattanites, no one in either race has high citywide name ID, so both would be easier races and would be outside the blinding glare of a mayoral campaign. Of course, Weiner would still get more press than just about any candidate in the country, except perhaps the two who make the mayoral runoff. In a nutshell, if he loses his next race, he’s done. So if he wants a career in public life, he should pick a race without a well-known front-runner like Christine Quinn. Then he can get time in a low-profile office where he could rehabilitate and position himself for a mayoral race in which his chances are better. Given his skills at self-promotion, this would seem reasonable. But right now just seems too soon to go for the Big Enchilada.
I’d like to run for office in the next decade, but I’m a Democrat in a Republicanleaning area. I could move a few towns over and run as a Democrat, or I could switch parties and CITY&STATE
stay where I am. What would you advise? —K.G., Location fluid! You might also have noted in your signature that your principles are fluid. I understand party affiliation can be easily shed—hell, look at Mayor Bloomberg. And I’m not averse to the concept; I helped an old friend switch parties years ago, and he may end up becoming Missouri’s next governor. But you seem a bit too malleable—willing to move, willing to switch parties, whatever it takes. Ideally, a candidate needs a strong set of principles and a deep commitment to his community. Often candidates have one or the other. You appear to be lacking both, which is troubling. It’s one thing to be a hungry candidate. It’s another thing to be starving. If SMITH I were you, I’d try to nail down exactly why you’re a Democrat, and then do some civic work in your community. Then write me again in a few years and I’ll be glad to help.
How should a staffer proceed if the campaign she’s working for refuses to pay staff what they are owed? —F.S., New York City For the purposes of clarity I’ll assume this staffer is you. Not paying staff indicates some serious deficiency of character and/or management skills on the part of the candidate, assuming she/he is aware of the problem. And so my gut instinct is that this is not someone with whom you will want to be involved in the future. Should you wish to continue working for the candidate, go directly to the person who controls the checkbook and ask for the money owed, if you haven’t already. If that doesn’t work, approach the candidate. If that doesn’t work—and you don’t care about continuing to work for the candidate—you have another alternative if you work in finance, giving you access to fundraising lists: Call everyone who had pledged but not given money every day for a week and give them
a chance to make good on their pledges. Collect what you can. Then, assuming it will cover what you are owed, tell the candidate if she/ he still refuses to pay you, you’ll go to the press. That could have serious professional consequences if you want to continue working in politics, but it also might get you the money, if that’s what you really care about. If that doesn’t work, then you need to decide if it’s worth suing over. (It probably isn’t.) But again, if you plan to continue in politics, remember that future candidates may shy away from hiring someone who has sued a previous employer.
I’ve heard your expertise as a candidate was in field operations. I don’t mean to be rude, but what’s so complicated about knocking on doors, tracking your supporters, and then urging them to vote? What did you do that was different in any substantial way from what, well, everybody else does? —N.D., New York City In my view, field isn’t a technique as much as it is a mentality. Sure, there are tactical improvements we made to a typical field program; for instance, I canvassed walking down the middle of the street with two volunteers leapfrogging each other on each side, enabling me to hit 250 doors a night. And—this was back in 2004, so technology was limited—the weekend before Election Day we gave each identified supporter a tag to hand our volunteers at each poll site so that we knew by midday exactly which supporters hadn’t yet voted and could focus our resources on getting them out. Tactics like those helped on the margins. But what really made the difference was that every time any of our seven staffers or 18 full-time interns or 650 volunteers met someone in a grocery store or bowling alley or Cardinals game who commented on their campaign button, those staffers/interns/volunteers asked for the person’s name and address, and quickly passed that information up the food chain. The campaign wasn’t something they did at work. It was something they lived. That enthusiasm is what made it unusual, and it’s what I saw in the 2008 Obama campaign, but it seems pretty rare in American politics. www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
# W I N N E R SA N D LO S E R S
WINNERS & LOSERS
GET YOUR COMMENT IN THE PAPER. TWEET US @CITYANDSTATENY
After the Boston bombings, state Sen. Greg Ball stood up for torture—with a baseball bat. His tweets and Albany interviews went national, and he used the attention to belittle CNN’s Piers Morgan. We can’t tell what that makes Ball, but here are the winners and losers who made the list. Go to cityandstateny.com each week to vote.
WEEK OF APRIL 22, 2013
WEEK OF APRIL 15, 2013
WINNERS SADIK-KHAN 42% ISRAEL 23% PRENDERGAST 20% LEE 9% ELDRIDGE 6%
Sean Eldridge: Campaign finance reform back in spotlight Steve Israel: Raises most $ of any Dem in Congress Tom Prendergast: Praised as he takes over MTA
MILE HIGH Sandra Lee: First the governor redefined what marriage means in New York State. Now he’s redefining what benefits a girlfriend can get, too. The governor’s “domestic partner,” Sandra Lee, was cleared by JCOPE to fly on his state-owned aircraft at taxpayer expense when Cuomo is traveling on official business. We’re glad JCOPE is vigilantly tackling the tough ethics issues in Albany and that this pressing concern has finally been resolved.
THOMPSON 29% DÍAZ JR. 27% BRAMSON 18% MORRIS 17% KATZ 9% Noam Bramson: Watch out, Rob Astorino! Steve Katz: Plea deal on marijuana possession Hank Morris: Getting paroled
SLAP SHOT Ruben Díaz Jr.: If you’d
ALLAN 30% DE BLASIO 21% MYLER 1%
Bill de Blasio: Another aide in trouble for tweets Sharon Lee: Former Liu spokeswoman risks perjury Colin Myler: Daily News doctors bombing photo
POST HASTE Col Allan: The New York Post screwed up crucial details of the Boston bombing, botching the number of fatalities and misidentifying two suspects on its cover. One of them, a 17-yearold track star, took to the airwaves immediately to discount the story, and now Allan may even have a libel suit on his hands. How could the Murdoch-owned tabloid be dead wrong in such an audacious fashion twice in one week? Was Col Allan sleeping through the news meetings?
38 MAY 13, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
Malcolm Smith: Smith returned to the Senate but found that his co-workers didn’t want him to be there, and weren’t shy about telling him so. Jeff Klein and his cohorts immediately voted to kick him out of the Independent Democratic Conference, while Senate Democrats said they didn’t want him either. One senator told us that Smith’s options were to go to trial, cop a plea or flee to South America. We hear São Paulo is nice this time of year.
YOUR CHOICE CUOMO 34%
RANGEL 5% WEINER 28%
Rob Astorino: Feds push on fair-housing settlement John Liu: Campaign on trial, “marathon” email Charlie Rangel: Challenges House censure
OVEREXPOSURE Anthony Weiner: Ques-
Bill Thompson: The private sector treated Thompson well last year, with income returns revealing that the former city comptroller took home $774,621 in total earnings in 2012, significantly more than his Democratic rivals. Aside from stacking paper, Thompson received a notable assist from Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who announced that she would be serving as chairwoman to his campaign. With their combined account balances alone, Tisch and Thompson could make it rain in this race.
told us five years ago that you could figureskate or play hockey at a world class ice rink complex in the Bronx, we would have put you in the penalty box. But the Bronx BP fought off another plan for the Kingsbridge Armory and put forward a vision to turn it into the world’s largest indoor ice skating center, and officials reached an agreement on the project. Is the Bronx Winter Olympics next?
YOUR CHOICE: SMITH 45%
Janette Sadik-Khan: It wasn’t long ago that it seemed that New York City’s bike-share program would be relegated to mothball status after several false starts. Well, credit SadikKhan for her persistence in seeing through the project, which will provide 330 docking stations and over 6,000 bicycles available to rent from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Registration for the bikeshare system has only recently begun, and already the sign-up numbers have exceeded expectations.
tioned in a cavalcade of television interviews about his sexting scandal, Weiner said that while there weren’t 20 more compromising pictures of him, more could be forthcoming. How many would that be? One? Nineteen? The difference may mean more to voters than the former congressman would like. Not that he seems adequately focused on what people think of him. Weiner was hardly able to contain his haughtiness with some reporters, and looked haggard in several on-camera interviews.
Andrew Cuomo: The governor was criticized for conducting a radio interview on policy issues while the city of Boston was shut down to conduct a manhunt for its bombing suspect. Columnists took shots at Cuomo for untrustworthiness and running misleading TV ads about the state’s economy. And he also faces more fracking headaches after environmental advocates asked the state to redo its economic impact study because of a potential conflict of interest.
B AC K & F O R T H
THE ULTIMATE INTERVIEW A Q&A WITH LORENZO FERTITTA
orenzo Fertitta, the 46-year-old chief executive of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has become a billionaire thanks to his foresight in turning a fringe athletic league into one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.
There are mixed-martial-arts matches in 48 states as well as in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, but the sport has not been sanctioned in New York State. Fertitta has been lobbying the state Legislature for six years to legalize mixed martial arts, arguing that it would bring a windfall in tax revenue to the state and in cities where the fights occur. City & State’s Aaron Short spoke with Fertitta about his love of Albany, his frustrations with the political process and why he thinks the state has not sanctioned mixed martial arts. The following is an edited transcript.
City & State: How is MMA fighting different from boxing, wrestling and other sports? Lorenzo Fertitta: Boxing is essentially one of the martial arts, and what mixed martial arts is, is exactly what it sounds like. It takes the rules from boxing, kickboxing, tae kwon do, karate and Olympic-style wresting, combines those and lets the athletes essentially use whichever technique they choose from those different martial arts. There are rules. There are regulations. It’s just a mix of those sports that are already legal. C&S: Why has the state had so much difficulty sanctioning MMA? LF: I wish I had the answer. The reality is that we have been coming up here for five years, educating legislators on our track record. We have an impeccable track record from a health and safety standpoint. Currently 48 of the 50 states have mixed martial arts. New York and Connecticut don’t. We’ve successfully passed out of the Senate four times now by a wide margin. We believe we’ve had the votes in the Assembly for a number of years now. We have just not been able to get a vote in the Assembly. We believe the votes are there, though—that it would pass. C&S: Does that have to do with unionization questions? LF: We tie [it] to this directly, and this is not something we’re making up, because the Culinary Union of Las Vegas Local 226 has come out publicly. They are the only people—the only organized group—opposing our legislation. By way of background, me and my brother own a company called Station Casinos, one of the largest gaming companies in Las Vegas, about 14,000 team members. For 30 years they have tried to organize our team members—and up to this point our team members have decided they do not want a third party to represent them. Because they have not been successful there, they have followed us around in all our business endeavors, whether it is the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] or other companies we own, to try to put pressure on
us to, in a word, hand our employees over to them. It’s sickening that the legislators would allow politics from Las Vegas [to] have any kind of influence in the State of New York. C&S: Do you have a sense that is happening here? LF: Oh, we know it is. They bus people up today. The fliers said “Local 226 UNITE Here,” which is a culinary union from Las Vegas. The RSVP was a culinary union email address. They’ve sent letters to legislators and they buy promoted tweets using union members’ dues to fight us in New York. The ironic thing is we do most of our big fights in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand, the largest employer in Las Vegas for that union. They haven’t called the CEO of MGM to protest us. They haven’t called the governor of the State of Nevada to protest us. They haven’t called anybody on the City Council to protest us. Why? Because MMA is really not an issue for them. It’s about something else. C&S: What kind of revenue would the sport generate for New York? LF: We have third party independent studies done that measure the economic impact that our events bring. We have these studies that show an excess of $100 million over a two-year period, and we believe that’s a very conservative estimate. C&S: Will this finally be the year that MMA passes? LF: It depends whether or not we can get out of conference in the Assembly and get a vote. We feel confident [that] if we’re able to get a vote, there’s enough support there, but we have no idea of knowing whether we’ll get a vote on the floor. C&S: How many times have you been up to Albany so far to lobby? LF: Probably too many times to count. I’m usually up here two to three times a year for the last five years. Fifteen, 20, somewhere in that neighborhood. C&S: So what do you think of the place? LF: I’m getting to know it pretty well. I like Albany. The frustrating thing for me is the next time I come, I would like to be doing it under the vein of doing an event at the Times Union Center, filling that place, filling the hotel rooms, filling the restaurants and creating jobs for union workers in Albany. That’s what needs to happen. C&S: What do you do when you’re up here? Where do you eat? Where do you stay? LF: I’ll show you my room key…74 State. It’s a nice hotel. It’s small; it’s fine. Ate at a nice steakhouse last night. I’ve been to an Italian restaurant here. It’s a nice town. Honestly, like I said before, the next time I come, I want to be doing a fight here. C&S: Have you been paying attention to other issues the Legislature has been discussing? Say, legalizing casinos? LF: I’m not out in front of that, but I can tell you this: If the state does legalize casinos and they want to build resorts and create tourism, the first people that those casinos are going to call to do events are going to be us. They’re going to say, “We want the UFC because we want to drive tourism.” At some point this all works together. www.cityandstateny.com | MAY 13, 2013
N EW Y ORK S TATE T RIAL L AWYERS A SSOCIATION Protecting New Yorkers Since 1953
March 3, 2013
Many New Yorkers’ lives have been destroyed by medical malpractice, and then…they are victimized a second time by an absurd state law that prevents them from getting justice in the courts.
Victims of medical negligence don’t deserve to lose their rights. New York’s statute of limitations governing medical malpractice is one of the most unjust in the country: 2½ years from the date of the negligent act, even if the victim is unaware it has taken place. Under current law, the victims of a misread test—such as a mammogram, PAP smear or prostate test—or a botched surgical procedure often face fatal consequences. Uncaught or misdiagnosed, a curable disease becomes a symptomfree killer. Treatment is foregone. When the symptoms do appear, the disease may be so advanced that treatment is futile.
The law, however, says no one can be held responsible and victims lose their access to justice. Only a handful of states (AR, ID, ME, MN, SD) are like New York—lacking some rule that says that the clock starts running when the wrongful action is discovered, either specifically to medical negligence or generally to all cases. RIGHT THIS WRONG - SUPPORT THE DATE OF DISCOVERY LAW (A.1056 - WEINSTEIN / S.744 - FUSCHILLO).
It’s Time for a Change. A message from the New York State Trial Lawyers Association Michael E. Jaffe, President 132 Nassau Street New York, NY 10038 Tel: 212-349-5890 www.nystla.org
© 2013 NYSTLA
Published on May 13, 2013
CIty & State profiles the wives of the leading candidates to become Mayor of New York City. This issues also features a special spotlight on...