makes his own case.
VOL. 2, NO. 14
Susan John and George Onorato
seek to rework construction worker classification.
reflects on where she sits now.
february 15, 2010
andrewscwartz schwartz andrew
Voting to keep Monserrate,
FEBRUARY 15, 2010
Defending Monserrate, Running Into More Trouble And Pondering His Own Future Kevin Parker’s tense, quarrelsome day in a world he says is out to get him BY ANDREW J. HAWKINS oon after arriving in his office at the Legislative Office Building, State Sen. Kevin Parker orders his staff to “huddle up.” Eleven hours before the Senate voted to expel Hiram Monserrate, Parker wanted to give a pep talk. “Today is going to be crazy,” he said, after everyone had filed in and the door was closed. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen at this point. But it’s going to be pretty intense.” Last year, Parker was indicted on assault charges related to an attack on a New York Post photographer outside his home. A year before, he was arrested after punching a traffic officer during a dispute over a citation he was receiving. And later on this particular day, Parker would again make headlines for reportedly “charging” State Sen. Diane Savino in a closeddoor conference before Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Klein stepped in his way. The impending vote was clearly weighing heavy on Parker, a garrulous Democrat from Brooklyn with his own illicit record. One thing he would not talk about, though, is how his situation relates to Monseratte’s. There are no parallels, no connections between them Parker said, pushing back on every question. But there are many who believe that by expelling Monserrate, other scandal-prone legislators could soon follow, including Parker, who is trying to work out a plea deal with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office. A bill was recently introduced that would make any misdemeanor conviction grounds for immediate expulsion. “I would take a close look at that bill,” said State Sen. Marty Golden, one of the more vocal supporters of Monserrate’s removal. “That could have some implications for some of our members who commit crimes like this.” As for Parker, Golden said, “I think he may have a problem.” But despite the ominous tones of the day, Parker was in a lively mood. “You’ll be happy to know I’m not making any statements to the media,” he said to his staff. They responded with a resounding cheer. This would turn out to be false. Over the course of the day, Parker spoke to reporters from NY1, the ABC affiliate, the New York Times, the Times-Union and the New York Daily News. “The charges filed against me are totally different and have nothing to do with this,” he told a reporter from CNN when asked how today’s vote relates to his own legal situation. “It’s an unrelated issue.” Even at the Codes Committee meeting
Now that Hiram Monseratte has been expelled, State Sen. Kevin Parker may be next in line. that morning, tensions were high. Parker and Golden sparred (verbally) over a bill that would penalize businesses that did not post signs displaying a list of workers rights. “This is not cumbersome,” Parker said. “Take the sign the Department of Labor gives you, take some thumbtacks and stick it up.” “You are putting good businesses out of business,” Golden interrupted, “they can’t afford the fines!” Their voices rising, Parker and Golden continued to try to talk over one another.
Eric Schneiderman, the committee chair, attempted to head off the fight, but not before State Sen. Stephen Saland chastised them both. “I have never seen behavior like this,” Saland said. “Those types of exchanges have no place in this committee.” That evening, in conference committee, Parker took things a step further in the latest near-fistfight between the Senate Democrats, yelling “You want a piece of me?” at Klein. The day after, Parker said he apologized to the people involved. But when pressed
for an explanation, he worked up a version of events that had him valiantly defending the Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson with suggestions of another coup—which others in the room dismiss as another invention from a nervous colleague. “There are some people who tried to make a move against the leader,” Parker said, referring to Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson. “Some people who were conspiring to get together with the Republicans and try to take away the Democratic majority. I wasn’t going to stay quiet or silent while that happened.” Just as he believes the people who kicked out Monserrate were still angry over the coup, Parker says his own detractors are motivated by revenge. And he traces it all back to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Who’s bringing the charges?” he asked rhetorically. “The Post. Who owns the Post? Rupert Murdoch. And who’s friends with Murdoch?” Bloomberg, according to Parker, is orchestrating his indictment on assault charges and the resistance to a plea deal in retaliation for the senator’s opposition to the mayor’s congestion pricing proposal in 2008, in addition to his decision to block the vote to reauthorize mayoral control of schools last year. Not to mention the Bloomberg-backed primary challenge from then-City Council Member Simcha Felder in 2008, a race Parker won, he said. “It’s the mayor’s people,” he said. He also attempted to tamp down the characterization of himself as a hot-head prone to flying off the handle. The charges against him for punching the traffic agent, for instance, were dropped after Parker agreed to enroll in anger management classes. “I must be the worst bully in the history of America,” he said. “I can’t even get a lucky punch in.” Parker was one of only eight votes against expelling Monserrate. He said he understands why his colleagues are angry, but he disagrees with their methods. After years of Republican rule, the Democratically controlled chamber is trying to improve itself—62 imperfect senators striving for perfection, he said. “Take the Sphinx,” Parker said, who, between days in Albany and his travails is a part-time professor of African-American studies and political science at Brooklyn College. “The notion of the Sphinx is the idea of a human face on the body of an animal. What makes you human is your ability to control your animal instincts.” Democrats, he said, are trying to control their animal instincts, through ethics reform and rules changes, and yes, even by expelling one member who had become too much of a liability. “This is an idea of becoming better and being better,” said Parker who, later this year, could face seven years in prison if convicted of assault. “Everybody wants to be better.” email@example.com
New York Needs Ultra Low Sulfur Heating Oil Senate Action Needed! • ULS Heating Oil is Much Cleaner And Can Replace New York’s Nearly 2 Billion Gallons of #2 Heating Oil • ULS Heating Oil Is Better For the Environment and Public Health - It Contains 99% Less Sulfur, Dramatically Reducing SOx Emissions and Fine Particulate Matter • ULS Heating Oil is Affordable – Often the Same Price as Regular Heating Oil. It’s More Efficient and Requires Less Equipment Maintenance • ULS Heating Oil is Readily Available – It is Already Used in the Trucking Industry and East Coast Inventories are 35% Ahead of Last Year
This Reform is Overdue.
Pass S1145: The ULS Heating Oil Bill Today! American Lung Association in New York Empire State Petroleum Association Environmental Advocates Environmental Defense Action Fund Hudson Valley Oil Heat Council Natural Resources Defense Council New York League of Conservation Voters
New York Oil Heating Association Oil Fuel Institute of Central New York Oil Heat Institute of Eastern New York Oil Heat Institute of Long Island Teamsters Joint Council 16 Teamsters Local 553 UPROSE WE ACT for Environmental Justice
FEBRUARY 15, 2010
Where There’s Smoke, There’s A Stand-Off Over Indian Cigarette Taxes Legislators debate costs, benefits, racial tensions in collecting reservation money BY ANDREW J. HAWKINS rying to avoid stoking racial and cultural fires, the Paterson administration has delicately proposed taxing cigarettes sold on Native American reservations to help close the $7 billion deficit. Though the collection process would take at least six months to begin implementing, no revenue from the proposed tax was included in the executive budget. That has led some legislators in favor of the tax to say that the governor is simply blowing smoke when it comes to serious commitment to going through with collection. “We do not need to wait months,” fumed State Sen. Carl Kruger at a recent press conference in lower Manhattan. “The budget is void of one dollar of revenue that could be collected from those taxes. And we have a gaping hole.” Kruger was joined by Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, as well as State Sens. Joe Addabbo, Jeff Klein and Assembly Members Richard Brodsky and José Rivera. The state’s tribes claim that the proposed new taxes would infringe on their rights as a sovereign nation, violate centuries-old treaties and further decimate the depressed economic reality for many on the reservation. In the 1990s, the last time state officials tried to tax Indian-sold cigarettes, there were a series of skirmishes, complete with burning-tire road blocks. Since then cigarettes sold on reservations remain tax-free. Harry Wallace, chief of the Unkechaug Nation on Long Island, said that lawmakers rely on over-inflated revenue estimates provided by business groups to make their case for collecting the tax. “The data that they’re throwing about is intended simply to incite and provoke confrontation,” Wallace said. “The last thing in the world we want is that— because we know when that happens: it’s a dangerous situation for everyone. People get hurt, they feel intimidated.” Kruger is among those Wallace accuses of grossly inflating the amount of revenue at stake. The Senate Finance Chair says there is over $1 billion a year at stake if officials begin collecting cigarette taxes from Indian retailers. Kruger said the need to step up enforcement on reservations is especially important in light of Paterson’s proposal to increase the state’s overall tax on cigarettes by $1.50 per pack. “To add insult to injury, the theory of the day is we should tax further those
WARNING: Collecting cigarette tax may violate centuries-old treaties with Native American tribes people who are already paying cigarette taxes,” he said. “We are not going to allow that to happen in the Senate.” Administration officials agree with Wallace that Kruger’s estimates of over $1 billion-a-year in revenue from taxing Indian-sold cigarettes are wildly off base.
that amount of money.” As recently as last October, administration officials were casting doubts over efforts to collect taxes on cigarette sales on Indian reservations. “The governor has been advised the costs of law enforcement would offset whatever gains might be achieved by tax collection,” said Peter Kiernan, Paterson’s chief counsel, in testimony to the Senate last October. “And that is without trying to assess the cost of physical injury or the loss of life or possible property damage.” Administration officials say they are more interested in achieving “price equality” in cigarette prices, which they hope will help nearby non-Indian stores while also encouraging smoking cessation programs. Under such a plan, cigarettes sold by Indians would be set at prices Kiernan
“We will hunt them down, we will find them, we will close them down, and we will arrest them,” said State Sen. Carl Kruger, of tobacco tax violators. “I would definitely call Senator Kruger’s position on this issue overly simplistic,” said Morgan Hook, upstate press secretary for Paterson. “There’s nothing to indicate that the state would collect even a fifth of
THE CAPITOL said would be “roughly equivalent” to those charged by non-Indian sellers by forcing a minimum price for sales made on reservations. The difference between the actual price and this price floor would then be turned into a revenue stream to fund local economic development project run by the state—though this would not officially be called a tax. Store owners have long complained that customers often choose to buy cigarettes from Indian reservation retailers, where prices are much lower. Kruger argues that enforcing the tax would not require tax collectors to set foot on tribal land since fees would be collected from the stamping agent at the wholesalers before the cigarettes are even shipped to Indian land. Wholesalers who do not affix the stamp to those products would be prosecuted, Kruger vowed. “We will hunt them down, we will find them, we will close them down, and we will arrest them,” he thundered. Kruger’s fervor in pursuing taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations have irked some of his colleagues, who call the Brooklyn pol the “king of the one-shots” for his reliance on temporary revenue generators. But some are more concerned about disturbing the racial and cultural sensitivities surrounding the issue. State Sen. Eric Adams, a Democrat from Brooklyn, said he was concerned that other legislators were stirring up racial tensions through their pursuit of this issue. “Hidden under this conversation is some serious racial stereotypes and a disrespectful approach to the Indian community,” said Adams, who acknowledged that he was one of the few in the Legislature who opposed taxing Indian sellers. “I don’t know if we want to be in the position of searching cars and putting state troopers in that position. You don’t need cigarette police.” Adams, a close confidant of Senate Conference Leader John Sampson, said Sampson is interested in bringing members of the Indian tribes to the table to negotiate these and various other issues, so as to avoid further inciting any anger. A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver declined comment on the issue. But Wallace said that he and other tribal leaders are growing increasingly dismayed by the rhetoric coming from Albany. Wallace, who was born in Queens and worked for years as a lawyer before opening a smoke shop on the Poospatuck reservation on the South Shore of Long Island, said he is tired of cigarette taxes being portrayed as a cure-all for the state’s financial woes. “I think they’re trying to look to blame someone for the deficit, and we’re an easy target,” Wallace said. “I am so fed up with this political posturing at the expense of the Indian people. Haven’t they done enough?” firstname.lastname@example.org
FEBRUARY 15, 2010
Environmentalists Split Over Marcellus Shale Hydrofracking Clean air vs. contaminated water in latest plan to meet state energy demands BY ANDRĂ‰ TARTAR or years, environmentalists have been big boosters of natural gas drilling, seeing it as a way to wean the state off dirty fuels like coal and oil. But not in the case of the controversial proposal to drill in New Yorkâ€™s Marcellus Shale gas reserves, a geologic formation stretching across New York through Pennsylvania and estimated to contain enough to supply the entire countryâ€™s natural gas demands for 15 years. But with the shale in the same part of the state that supplies much of downstateâ€™s water supply, many green groups are opposed to the project, prompting an internal debate about competing environmental priorities. Despite the Natural Resources Defense Councilâ€™s general support of natural gas drilling, the organization is opposed to drilling the Marcellus Shale said Kate Sindig, a senior attorney at the organization. â€œThere are certain areas where we take a strict no-drilling stance, and the New York City watershed is one of those,â€? she said, suggesting the state instead use more efficiently the stateâ€™s existing 13,000 conventionally drilled wells. â€œAll gas is not created equal.â€? At the heart of the concerns is the method of drilling known as hydrofracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in which huge quantities of water treated with powerful chemicals to help release the gas are injected into the ground. Hydrofracking has not been used in drilling the stateâ€™s other wells, but the depth of the Marcellus Shale and the density of its rock demand the non-traditional method, experts say. According to environmentalists, though, the chemicalinfused hydrofracking water could seep outward and contaminate the New York City watershed. Also raising concerns: naturally occurring radioactive material in the Marcellus Shale rocks could be released into the water and the surrounding environment. Since New York City is one of only a handful of major United States cities that does not pre-filter its water, there is no safeguard against dirty drinking water. In Pennsylvania, where hydrofrack wells have been used in the Marcellus Shale since 2005, many towns are suing drillers over water that is so contaminated that water mains and drinking wells have exploded from the methane that is captured in the process. Constructing a filtration plant to purify the contaminated water could cost $10 billion, according to New York Cityâ€™s Department of Environmental Protectionâ€”an agency already struggling
under the weight of spiraling capital debt. There are also concerns in the Finger Lakes region, where residents fear their water supply could also be contaminated by Marcellus Shale wastewater. Nonetheless, Dan Hendrick, of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said that
even as his organization shares these concerns about water quality, it should not be environmentalistsâ€™ only concern. Given the broader goal of combating global warming, he said environmental groups should not simply reject the idea of drilling the Marcellus Shale out of hand. â€œIf we just go status quo and donâ€™t
drill in the Marcellus Shale, wonâ€™t the air quality be worse than if we had a natural gas source close to home and online?â€? Hendrick said. â€œFor organizations that take a broad view on sustainability, I think youâ€™re going to see more splits on this issue.â€? Direct letters to the editor to email@example.com.
Jimmy Gripper was a trailblazer in CSEA, achieving a series of â€œfirstsâ€? that stand out in the unionâ€™s history. Gripper began his career in state service at what was then known as the Brooklyn Developmental Center in 1972, working to establish the CSEA local there and becoming its founding president in the bargain. A colorful activist in CSEA for 30 years, Gripper was the unionâ€™s ďŹ rst AfricanAmerican region president when he was elected to lead the New York City Region in 1980. â€œIt was being in the right place at the right time,â€? Gripper said in a 2009 interview. â€œI was an activist in the region and I got involved with the state contract negotiating team and built a lot of relationships. That was a big stepladder. By that time I was also an elected mental hygiene representative on the CSEA statewide Board of Directors and that also helped. It all happened so fast. Throughout his career as a CSEA activist, Gripper was always in the thick of the fight, armed with contract and legal language and his own inimitable style. â€œI always felt those were fights that had to be had, â€œ Gripper said. â€œUsually they were campaigns for issues that meant something. I enjoyed the fights if you want to know the truth- I enjoyed getting out in the street campaigning for what was right- for the little guy. I always thought that I was the little guy; I never felt like I was a big guy.â€? Gripper retired in 1999. â€œI really donâ€™t have anything bad to say about CSEA. It was a growing experience all the way through,â€? Gripper said.
FEBRUARY 15, 2010
Millions In Misclassified Workers’ Taxes May Be Available To State Resources to track and collect money from 10 percent of workforce remain scarce BY CHRIS BRAGG n 2006, Tony LaCava stood outside a construction site in the Bronx for two days and filmed as 40 people worked on the scaffolding. But when LaCava, a representative for the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, examined the payroll sheets for the project, he found only 15 people listed as having worked those days. LaCava said he reported the problem and submitted the video and pay sheet to numerous city and state agencies, but heard nothing else. Three years later, Lettire Construction—the same general contractor used at the Bronx site—was awarded the first federal public housing stimulus contract in the nation for a project in Manhattan. The company has since come under federal investigation for allegedly underpaying and misclassifying full-time workers as general contractors. Across the construction industry, employers who follow the rules say they struggle to compete for bids against employers who misclassify workers. Businesses in compliance, they note, have to pay higher taxes for full-time workers. At the same time, unions have trouble competing for jobs when businesses can hire illegal immigrants and skirt around a host of laws designed to protect workers. “The employers can’t compete and the unions can’t compete,” LaCava said. But cracking down on these violations has proven difficult. In the construction industry, 15 percent of the workers are misclassified as independent contractors, according to a Cornell University study. Assembly Labor Committee chair Susan John and Senate Labor Committee chair George Onorato have introduced legislation that would shift the burden of proving employee status from the construction workers to the employer, in an effort to crack down on such employers. First offenses would cost $10,000 per employee, second offenses would cost $20,000. These fines would go into a fund to pay for more Department of Labor inspectors. Any excess money would go to the Department’s budget for the next year. Employers could also be subject to a criminal misdemeanor charge. Though no one has testified against the bill at either the Senate or Assembly hearings against the bill, its backers insist opponents in the business community do exist. A spokesman for Gov. David Paterson declined to comment on the bill, since it has not yet reached the governor’s desk. The problem goes beyond the
Susan John and George Onorato have introduced legislation that would fine employers who misclassify construction workers. construction industry: an estimated $400 million in taxes will go uncollected from employers who dodge payroll, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation taxes. Over 10 percent of the state’s total private-sector workforce is misclassified, according to the Cornell study, which found misclassification to be most prevalent in the construction industry. Many lawmakers see recovering the funds as a big step towards restoring the health of the state’s heavily indebted unemployment insurance trust fund and its nearly-broke workers’ compensation fund. Getting the resources to catch tax cheats, however, has proven difficult so far. Last year, a team of 40 investigators at the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board uncovered $32 million in unpaid taxes from employers that had erroneously listed their workers as independent contractors—or about $800,000 per investigator. That was only the beginning, said Robert Beloten, chairman of the state Workers’ Compensation Board. “I think it’s just a drop in the bucket, what’s been uncovered,” Beloten said, pointing out that the 40 investigators are responsible for all of the state’s 62 counties. In 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer set up a task force to coordinate and share information between the agencies that enforce the law—the Workers’ Compensation Board, the Department of Tax and Finance and the Department
of Labor. There has been a marked increase in the number of labor violations reported to the state since, but task force leader Jennifer Brand said she only has the manpower to make examples of the worst offenders. With the budget crunch limiting enforcement capabilities, state agencies have been getting creative in trying to enforce the existing laws. One Department of Labor pilot program, New York Wage Watch, has sought to coopt labor organizers and activists to do outreach to onsite workers, and to report
any violations to the agency. Paterson’s budget has brought further concerns, with 10 percent cuts to the overall budgets of the three agencies that work together to crack down on the scofflaws. “In a budget crunch, we should cut the things that don’t work,” said Assembly Member Rory Lancman, who serves on the Labor Committee. “But when you’re getting $32 million from 40 investigators, that’s the kind of investment that Goldman Sachs would buy shares in.” firstname.lastname@example.org
Conflicting School Closing Criteri BY NICK PANDOLFO ast November, the federal government ordered all states to compile a list of their “persistently lowest achieving” schools so they could become eligible to receive federal money—up to $500,000 per school in improvement grants and possibly more in Race to the Top funding. In mid-January, the New York State Education Department identified 57. The following week, the New York City Department of Education released its own list of 19 schools facing closures. Thirty-four of the schools on the state’s list were located in New York City, but only seven of those 34 appear on the city’s list of 19. Confused? So are education advocates, labor groups and school admin-
istrators around the state, who say that in an effort to tighten standards and get a piece of federal money, state officials have failed to give clear guidelines on how districts can avoid closures. “There are too many lists,” said Syracuse Schools Superintendent Dan Lowengard, who has three schools on the state’s list. “Besides superintendents and some principals, people don’t understand these lists. It’s way too complicated, and it doesn’t improve performance.” Making matters worse is the fact that there is still another list coming, the School Under Registration Review list, or SURR, which contains yet another group of schools up for closure. SURR is the previous process through which the state closed schools in the preObama administration days, and for the meantime remains in operation. To avoid
Tenant Activists Call For Espada To Get His Housing Committee In Order With elections looming, tensions mount over inaction on vacancy decontrol, Urstadt repeal BY ANDREW J. HAWKINS n Feb. 1, State Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr. gaveled in a meeting of the Senate Housing Committee, allowed for a brief statement from State Sen. Daniel Squadron, referred a bill to the Senate Finance Committee and gaveled out. “Thank you very much for attending our first meeting of this Housing Committee,” Espada said. No witnesses. No debates. Blink (including on the announced webcast), and you could have missed it. For over a year, tenant activists and housing groups have watched bill after bill sail through the Assembly, only to come to a screeching halt in the Senate. Most of the blame is falling squarely on Espada. Democratic leaders first appointed Espada as Housing chair after the Amigo stand-off in early 2009, passing over State Sen. Liz Krueger, who was seen as a fierce advocate for rent regulation. Since then, dozens of pro-tenant bills have been held up in his committee, including vacancy decontrol, Mitchell-Lama reform and a repeal of the Urstadt law. Even less radical legislation, like closing loopholes that allow property owners to increase rent after making major capital improvements, have stalled. That could turn out to be a liability for the conference as a whole, with several politically potent groups threatening to
State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada has vowed to unveil a major housing bill that he says will freeze rents for hundreds of rent-regulated apartments across the state. withhold support from Democrats this year if nothing is done to advance housing reforms. “We can’t wait until 2011,” said Michael McKee, formerly treasurer of Tenants PAC and now executive director of Housing Here and Now. “They have to do these bills this year.” McKee warned it would be difficult to convince housing activists in New York City to campaign for Senate Democrats in battleground districts this year without concrete action on housing reform.
Meanwhile, two days after Espada’s lightning-quick Housing Committee meeting, Senate Finance Chair Carl Kruger convened an epic budget hearing with no fewer than 14 witnesses from all corners of the housing and development world. This is no accident, according to some sources close to Espada. Since becoming Housing chair, Espada’s one goal has been to maintain the status quo, sources charge. In a sense, he has sloughed off the responsibility of the committee to Kruger, who has promised the real estate industry that he would flag any housing bills that could favor tenants over landlords
ia Perplex Officials, Teachers, Unions, Advocates getting on this list, schools must meet different criteria than from the current school closure list. With all this uncertainty, schools, teachers and parents are growing frustrated with what they see as a Byzantine process. “I have no idea about the criteria of the city,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a non-profit that advocates smaller classes. “That hasn’t been made clear in any of their statements. Closures were not imposed on [schools] with the worst grades.” Many see the state’s move to pursue federal stimulus money as one made in haste, further complicating a process already seen as inaccessible to and misunderstood by the public. “The disconnect between lists and factors being used points to the need to be much more careful about evaluative statements we make about school
districts, schools, parents or students,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers. “Jumping for federal dollars before looking at all the factors should be looked at. Lists should match if there was a clearer way of identifying low- and underachieving schools.” But according to Ira Schwartz, deputy commissioner of accountability at the State Education Department, things are clearer than some people have been making them out to be. “This is a list of persistently lowachieving schools that the state has identified in order to be able to access considerable federal resources for New York State schools,” he said. “This is not a list of schools that must be closed.” The state’s criteria requires that local school districts outline to the commissioner how they plan to improve a school on the commissioner’s list. Districts may respond by replacing the
principal, firing half of the staff, converting into a charter, or, as a last resort, shutting the doors. The state does not, however, provide a timeline for when schools must make these kinds of changes. The seven schools that appear both on the state’s and the city’s list do not have such flexibility. A spokesman for the New York City Department of Education said they are waiting for the State Education Department to formulate a plan for them. But according to people like James Williams, the Buffalo schools superintendent, all that has been achieved so far is confusion and frustration. “Chasing money is all we’re doing,” Williams said. “Every year it’s the flavor of the month. Educating children is not complicated. It’s about teaching and learning.” Direct letters to the editor to email@example.com.
FEBRUARY 15, 2010
and reroute them through the Finance Committee. Espada was not made available for comment. A spokesperson for Kruger simply replied, “Nonsense.” Espada, meanwhile, continues to portray himself to donors as gatekeeper of housing policy in the Senate, which has netted the Bronx Democrat tens of thousands in contributions from real estate interests, according to recent campaign filings. While his majority leader title is generally viewed as ceremonial, his chairmanship—especially under new rules adopted by the Senate after the coup he helped instigate—gives him major influence over which legislation comes to the floor. In recent weeks, Espada has vowed to ITAL City Limits ITAL to unveil a major housing bill that he says will freeze rents for hundreds of rent-regulated apartments across the state. But tenant groups are suspicious of the yet-to-be-unveiled bill, given what they see as Espada’s closeness with real estate interests. “There’s no question Pedro Espada is in the pockets of landlords,” said Mario Mazzoni, lead organizer at the Metropolitan Council on Housing. “He’s made various promises to the tenant community and then stabbed us in the back.” Landlord groups argue that tenant activists are turning the issue of Espada’s chairmanship into a political issue in an effort to push their far-left agenda through a divided Legislature, despite not having enough votes to pass most of the bills in question. “Most of those types of groups are more interested in politics than housing,” said Frank Ricci, legislative director for the Rent Stabilization Association. “I think the senator deserves a lot of credit.” Ricci said that Espada has been diligent in his role as housing chair, convening a three-hour public forum at New York University last year with various representatives from the housing community. But with Espada under investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, some theorize that Espada could begin to move housing legislation through his committee at a faster pace if an indictment appears in the works—especially if the Working Families Party views him as a viable target and is able to help recruit a viable challenger. Ever since the failed Senate coup last summer, political observers of all stripes have learned not to underestimate Espada’s intense desire for self-preservation. In the heat of the coup, Espada hinted that one explanation for his temporary defection was the Democrats’ push to overturn the rent stabilization laws. “Espada’s a pretty wily guy,” said one tenant activist. “He could double-cross the real estate people. Who knows what the guy will do?” firstname.lastname@example.org
FEBRUARY 15, 2010
Dede Scozzafava’s View, From A Small Office On The Fifth Floor Lonelier, frustrated and still a bit bitter, the woman whose name became a verb reflects BY CHRIS BRAGG ede Scozzafava’s new office on the fifth floor of the Legislative Office Building is a little cozier than her old one. But that was okay, she insisted. More privacy. “I like to look at things with the glass half-full,” she said. Scozzafava has put on a brave face after the resignation she felt compelled to make as the speaker pro tem—the second-ranking Republican in the Assembly— taking an $11,000 salary cut. A few months ago she was leading floor debates. Now she sits so far back in the chamber that she is practically in the gallery. “I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say I came back here a little disillusioned,” Scozzafava said. “I took a cut in pay, position and prestige.” Last fall, she dropped out of her Congressional race at the last minute and endorsed Democrat Bill Owens over Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. She became a pariah. Her name became a verb. And the rest of her career was defined for her. But she insists she has no regrets. “At the end of the day, I don’t care if someone likes me,” she said on a recent Monday morning, at just about the moment when Hoffman, the new star of the right wing, was taking the podium in front of a fawning audience at the Conservative Party convention held at the Holiday Inn by the airport. “I’d rather that they respect me.” Life has slowed down now, although Sean Hannity does still invoke her on television with some frequency. (“Why can’t he just give it up?” she asked.) The e-mails, both positive and negative, have also gotten less frequent. But they still come. And so do the thoughts of what might have been, of her campaign’s mistakes, what could have happened if the national Republicans had jumped in earlier. Over an hour-long interview, they popped up constantly, along with the last traces of resentment—toward the national media, the Conservative Party she perceives as sexist—and, more generally, a frustrated resignation that political ideology now trumps substance. She still feels the need to defend her voting record on abortion, and noted that Scott Brown, who is also pro-choice, received much different treatment from the Tea Party movement than she had. Plus, she noted, she drove around in a pick-up truck first.
Instead there were more humiliations once she landed back in Albany. She loved being speaker pro tem so much that she used to spend the weekends reading all the bills coming up on the floor calendar. Now her title is gone, her big office taken away, her days lonelier.
“If I could go to Haiti, I’d go to Haiti right now,” Scozzafava said. “If I could go to Afghanistan, I’d go right now.” She became the ranking member of the Energy Committee, but that has yet to meet this session. She was appointed vice chair of the conference’s steering committee. According to her, putting together an agenda for the Assembly Republicans has not taken much of her time either.
She has been asked by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to join the Democratic conference. Sure, that would probably come with a bigger office and more member items, but Scozzafava said she never seriously considered it. “People say politically, it would be easier if I was a Democrat,” she said. “But philosophically, I’m a Republican.” Scozzafava is now not even sure she will run for re-election. Four Republicans have expressed interest in running in a primary against her, though she believes she would win handily. In fact, she insisted, her constituents actually resent all the outside forces that descended on the Congressional race. Scozzafava resisted offers to become a de facto national spokesperson for moderate Republicans, turning down a number of chances to appear on cable television. Scott Brown’s election was a good moment for her, proving that moderate Republicans could still win elections, as upset as she was by the hypocrisy she saw in the Tea Party backing him and not her. She is a fan of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (she likes that he wholeheartedly embraced the stimulus
package), himself facing a Tea Partybacked candidate as he runs for Senate. Scozzafava might give up on politics, but not because she is still crying over the brutal Congressional campaign or scared by a primary. Her interests have shifted, broadened. Getting ready for a life in Congress, she started studying up on Iran-Israel relations. She read Stanley McChrystal’s paper on Afghanistan strategy. The former mayor of Gouverneur found she had a thing for foreign policy. So if the Obama administration wanted to thank her for throwing it all away in backing Owens by giving her an ambassadorship or even a job in the State Department, she would jump at the chance. “If I could go to Haiti, I’d go to Haiti right now,” she said. “If I could go to Afghanistan, I’d go right now.” Still, she is not exactly waiting by the phone for another call from Bill Clinton or Chuck Schumer. “I don’t know,” she said. “People’s memories are pretty short in this business.” email@example.com
Democrats Split On Whether To Push Abortion Referendum Ahead Of November Proponents say ‘up or down vote on Roe v. Wade’ could mobilize independents, divide GOP
During their tight 2008 State Senate battle, Queens Council Member Jim Gennaro frequently made an issue of Sen. Frank Padavan’s record on abortion rights. BY CHRIS BRAGG rom the budget to the MTA bailout, suburban Democratic senators have taken one tough vote after another over the past year. In an effort that would give their Senate Democratic allies stronger talking points going into the November elections, pro-choice advocates are now pushing a sweeping piece of legislation that could drive a wedge in the Republican conference while shoring up support for these embattled suburban Democrats. The New York Reproductive Health Act would move the state’s abortion law, passed in 1970 (three years before Roe v. Wade) from the penal code to the health code. Abortions are illegal under state law in New York after the 24-week mark except in cases when a woman’s life is in danger. This has created fears among providers that they could be criminally prosecuted for providing an abortion if questions arise about the true threat to a woman’s life. By having abortions classified under the health code, the penalties for performing them after 24 weeks would be significantly less severe. The Reproductive Health Act would
also lift restrictions on abortions after 24 said. “This issue is important among those weeks of pregnancy if a woman’s health— swing voters who tend to be more fiscally rather than only her life—is deemed at conservative but more socially liberal.” risk or if a fetus is found to have a fatal But a vote on the legislation this year genetic anomaly. remains in limbo, with Senate Democrats Sabrina Shulman, political director currently engaged in heated discussions for NARAL Pro-Choice New York, said over their strategy this session. the bill, sponsored by State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who has been Stewart-Cousins, should be viewed as a referendum on “Women have all the lawmakers’ fundamental views rights they need in New of abortion rights. “This would really force them York,” said Mike Long. for the first time to take an up- “They run the risk of the or-down vote on Roe v. Wade,” public understanding that Shulman said. this is a political game.” Doug Forand, who ran many of the races for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2008, pushing this issue for years, does not said a vote on the bill this year could also want to harm the legislation’s long-term shore up support for potentially marginal chances if the votes to pass it are not Democratic senators such as Craig there, according to a Senate Democratic source briefed on the discussions. If the Johnson and Stewart-Cousins. Voting against the bill, meanwhile, bill goes down because of election-year could hurt marginal Republicans in politics, she and other proponents fear districts with a number of pro-choice this could derail its future momentum. Others, such as Johnson, want to see swing voters, including State Sens. Owen Johnson, Kemp Hannon and Joe Robach, a vote on the bill this session regardless, since this would help drum up support Forand said. “This would be most critical in suburban among the Democratic base, according regions, both upstate and downstate,” he to the Senate source. Those in this camp
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fear a repeat of the 2009 elections, when Republicans turned out in much higher numbers in Nassau and Westchester counties than Democrats. Stewart-Cousins and Johnson did not return phone calls seeking comment. The situation mirrors in some respects the same-sex marriage debate last year. Then, some Democrats hoped to bring the bill to the floor in order to rally a key Democratic constituency, even as some gay marriage advocates feared that the bill did not have enough support in the Senate and that rushing a vote would delay hopes for eventual passage. However, pro-choice issues poll far better than same-sex marriage issues. In early February, Global Strategy Group conducted a poll for NARAL that showed 72 percent of New Yorkers favoring the legislation. Regina Calcaterra, who is running against State Sen. Ken LaValle and has already received the earliest endorsement in NARAL New York’s history, is pushing for a vote. She noted that LaValle abstained from voting on a bill last year that would have increased penalties for acts of physical violence against abortion clinic workers. “It’s important that voters know exactly where he stands,” Calcaterra said. According to Shulman, there are four Democrats unlikely to vote for the legislation: State Sens. Darrel Aubertine, George Onorato, Bill Stachowski and Ruben Diaz, Sr. Meanwhile, Shulman said four or five Republicans had privately promised that they would vote for the bill before the Senate coup last June, though she declined to disclose their identities. But any Republican who voted for the bill would risk losing the support and ballot line of the Conservative Party, which demonstrated the vengeance they could carry out on socially liberal Republicans last year in the special election to replace Rep. John McHugh. Conservative chair Mike Long said that although his was not a single-issue party, it would be difficult to support a candidate who voted for strong prochoice legislation. He portrayed potential Democratic efforts to drive a wedge through the Republican conference as cynical, especially with all the more pressing economic issues facing the state. “Women have all the rights they need in New York,” Long said. “They run the risk of the public understanding that this is a political game.” Some pro-life Democrats agree, saying that if Democrats do decide to take up a vote on the legislation this year, they are misreading the political winds, given all the recent Republican victories across the nation. “This is a tragedy. Who is advising the Democratic Party?” Diaz, Sr. said. “If they vote on this issue this year, they are putting the final nail in the coffin of the marginal Democrats.” firstname.lastname@example.org
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Ste Th Re ve L e vol evy
Tea Party. Anti-Incumbent Rage. Democratic Turmoil. Why the Suffolk County executive believes this really is his moment.
LOST MY JOB over a year ago,” said Al Giuliano. “My wife has had to take a second, part-time job. I was the bread-winner, and now I’m depending basically on her to survive.” Giuliano, an unemployed construction worker and father of two from Middle Island, was standing in a conference room in Hauppauge, addressing the scattered reporters and local politicians who had gathered to see Steve Levy present Giuliani and his wife with a $500 check. The money was part of a siganture Levy initiative to help middle-class families pay for heating oil. The Giulianos had resorted to using a wood-burning stove to heat their home. “It’s baffling,” Al continued. “Now they’re asking for money in Washington for more social programs—up in Albany for social programs—but, you know, they’ve still got their hands in my pocket, to take my money, and they don’t want to help me!” Levy nodded. If there are enough Al Giulianos in New York this year—if people continue to lose their jobs and their homes, if property taxes continue to skyrocket, if Wall Street bonuses continue to swell, if nuisance fees continue to rise, if politicians continue to dispense billions in bank bailouts
and stimulus funds, if desperation takes hold—then, come November, there could be a lot of people nodding with him. And theirs, says the proudly contrarian Suffolk County executive, are the votes that could make him the next governor. “These are the folks who are trying to get by with two jobs, they’re trying to send their kids to state universities so that they can get a leg up, and they’re having a real hard time,” Levy said after the press conference, eating a slice of cherry pie at a diner down the street from his office. “People are looking for someone, not from the Beltway, to turn this state upside down and inside out.” Last time around, in 2006, there was another attorney general who had been anointed the next governor. And there was another suburban county executive in the race, billing himself as a fiscal conservative and crusader for the forgotten middle class. There was a lot of noise, a lot of expectations. But come September, Tom Suozzi got just 19 percent of the vote. This year, Levy argues, will be different—and not just because there is an incumbent governor in the race who will make a split in the Democratic primary inevitable. The Giulianos of the world are the X factor. In Massachusetts, they elected a virtually unknown state senator in a pick-up truck to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. In Westchester, they toppled a three-term county executive by double
digits. And acroos the river in New Jersey, they put another average guy in the governor’s mansion. Levy believes he could be next. “Four years ago, a county executive saying he’s got a good record was a ‘blah’ story,” Levy said. “This year, when the state is on the verge of fiscal collapse, there is a longing for someone to come in on a white horse and save the day.” Levy is the prototypical anti-politician. He rails against “the media elite,” “academia” and the “Blame America First crowd.” He slams municipal unions and illegal immigration. At the Conservative Party convention in January, he was still hitting hard against Rudy Giuliani’s squeegee men. He has been fighting the fight from the beginning, when he kicked off his political career as a 26-year-old law student running against a party-backed candidate for county legislature. He was dismissed as “not a true Democrat” for his views on government spending by Dominic Baranello, the iron-fisted county boss at the time. He knocked on every door in the district, he said. He won. And he won again, and again, appealing directly to the white ethnic voters of Huntington Station and Babylon. He developed a talent for pushing voters’ emotional buttons, appealing to them through acute self-interest rather than broad-brush philosophical values.
By Sal Gentile
FEBRUARY 15, 2010
They sent him to the Assembly in 2000, but he only served a term and a half before returning to Suffolk in 2003 to run for county executive. He slammed a proposal to spend taxpayer money on a “hiring hall” for Latino day laborers, and his primary opponent tried to use it against him. Levy’s incredulous reaction: “You want me to tax people to build a hall, so that a contractor can come up and pick up an illegal alien to obviously do something illegal?” he said at the time. “Are you kidding me?” He won by a two-to-one margin. As county executive, Levy continued to stir Suffolk’s simmering racial tensions, introducing bills to deputize local officers to enforce immigration law and penalize government contractors that hired undocumented workers. His critics in the State Legislature threatened to bottle up a crucial sales tax extension unless he moderated his hardline stances. Even his advisers suggested that he back down, fearing the issue would destroy his career.
When Levy ran for re-election as Suffolk County executive in 2007, he was on all five major parties’ lines—Democratic, Republican, Independence, Conservative and Working Families Parties. He cruised to re-election with a Castro-like 96 percent of the vote. “Here’s an elected official who has made his career on race-baiting,” said Suffolk Assembly Member Phil Ramos, a Democrat and one of Levy’s most vocal critics. “Steve Levy comes out and demonizes one segment of the community, blaming it for all the ills of society.” And yet, when Levy ran for re-election in 2007, he appeared on all five major parties’ lines—Democratic, Republican, Independence, Conservative and Working Familie. He cruised to re-election with a Castro-like 96 percent of the vote. Even his appearance has helped him relate to the middle-class, middle-aged property owners that make up the bulk of Suffolk’s electorate. Levy looks nothing like the typical politician. At best, his moustache is a Magnum P.I. throwback. His ties are longer than his frame. And his height (or lack of it) can make him seem more like the awkward dad of a Little Leaguer than the CEO of a county bigger than 11 states. In any other year, Levy’s inflammatory views on illegal immigration, his passé looks might be disqualifying. But in 2010, if the Generation Y voters who catapulted Obama into the White House stay home, if the Tea Party brigade stages a revolt, if suburban voters once again banish anyone who looks or talks like an incumbent, Steve Levy’s routine might just work. “There has been nobody in the history of the county who is more in tune with the attitudes of the voter,” said David Bishop, a former colleague of Levy’s in the county legislature. “He’s a wild card.”
n a Monday morning in late January, Levy addressed the annual meeting of the New York Water Environment Association in midtown Manhattan. He was there to accept the Frank E. Van Lare Award for his “exceptional support of environmental projects, programs and initiatives.” Surrounded by a mellow crowd of aging naturalists, civil engineers and water treatment enthusiasts, he gave a subdued speech about preserving open spaces and sewer
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infrastructure. Then he hit the road, driving up to the Conservative Party convention at the Holiday Inn near the Albany International Airport. Addressing a few dozen Tea Party diehards in the Phoenix Ballroom, he took a more fiery tone. Forget about “political correctness,” he said, tearing up a piece of paper to illustrate his point: “This is what it’s going to look like if I’m ever in Albany again, I’ll tell you that!” On his way out, an aging Conservative activist approached him. “Are you the loneliest guy in the Democrat Party?” the man asked, clearly a little star struck. Later, surrounded by reporters in a hallway outside the ballroom, Levy was asked if he would consider breaking with the major parties and running on his own ballot line. “The Steve Levy Party?” he joked, nearly doing a spit-take with his Diet Coke. Then he paused, letting the idea leap to life in his head. “You know, I often think about that,” he said. Levy could scramble the Democratic primary, serving as anything from darkhorse to spoiler. Or he could go after the Republican nomination, which State Chairman Ed Cox has encouraged him to do. Even without Cox’s help, Levy’s advisers imagine a scenario in which Rick Lazio fails to raise money and gain traction by the May convention, prompting rankand-file delegates skeptical about his prospects to stage a revolt. Party leaders could ease him out, turning to Levy, with his vast war chest, as a replacement. As Levy and his advisers note, Bill Weld thought he had the Republican line sewn up in 2006, before it slipped away from him at the convention and an uprising among party leaders vaulted John Faso to the nomination. Cox and Levy’s key political adviser, veteran GOP consultant Mike Dawidziak, have reminded Republican county chairs of that scenario in recent weeks in an attempt to keep them from endorsing Lazio. Or, perhaps, Levy could cobble together some multi-party, Septemberand-November Strategy. As controversial as he has been, Levy has often managed to be many things to many people. Exciting liberals, he signed an executive order extending health benefits to samesex partners of county employees. And he has said he supports prevailing wage legislation. Exciting conservatives, he won unprecedented concessions from municipal unions by threatening thousands of layoffs, and balanced the county budget for eight years without a single tax increase. Even his own advisers are not sure where Levy falls on the political spectrum. “People see him as extremely fiscally conservative,” said Lou D’Amaro, a county legislator and close ally.
“He’s got a lot of liberal in him,” said Brian Beedenbender, a former aide and protégé. The ideological alchemy has led Levy’s critics to accuse him of picking and
choosing his positions out of political expediency. “Steve has been known to take advantage of public sentiment and come out on the side that seems to be
THE CAPITOL most popular,” said Frank Tantone, the Republican chair in Levy’s hometown of Islip. But for every ally Levy has won in his anti-establishment crusades, he has made multiple enemies. And the optics of his most quixotic fights have not always been in his favor. Take, for instance, his protracted war with the local Police Athletic League over what he claimed were inflated salaries for youth sports coaches. Hundreds of adolescents in football helmets surrounded his office in protest, accusing him of neglecting children and endangering a sacred pastime. “Other people might have backed down,” Levy said. “I stuck to my guns.” He won. Levy takes pride in these battles. He has a deeper, more intimate connection to his politics than most professional politicians. Everything gets filtered through an us-versus-them mentality, every question framed as a confrontation. He has told legislators that bills undercutting his authority “emasculate” him. Former colleagues have said he “enjoys” draconian cuts. He holds grudges for every slight, from an implied criticism in a press release to a perceived lack of credit for something he did. “With Steve, there’s really no clear line between the personal and the political,” said one Suffolk lawmaker who has a good relationship with Levy. “And that’s probably his single biggest shortfall.” When he was in the county legislature in the 1990s, Levy carried a small black notebook and took “copious notes,” as one former colleague put it, on anything anyone ever did or said to him. Not that they forgot what he did, either: Old colleagues still make a point of noting that when they went out for beers after caucus meetings, Levy always left less money than he owed. His no-holds-barred style would offer a stark contrast with either Andrew Cuomo (cautious and calculating) or David Paterson (amiable and bumbling), both creatures of Albany who will somehow have to run against the culture of the town where they have both spent most of the last two and a half decades. That will not be a problem for Levy, nor will getting his message out to voters, with his already $4 million war chest dwarfing both Paterson’s and Lazio’s. With that kind of cash behind him, Levy could draw attention to his firebrand views on everything from health care to education aid. Like it or not, Cuomo and Paterson could be forced to respond, drawing the kind of attention and sound bites that will frustrate and enrage the party bosses and labor leaders even more. But as Levy points out, he has little to lose—a fact which makes him even more threatening. “We’re playing with house money,” he said. “You can say what you really believe, and not be constrained that every comment you make is going to tick off some special interest group. People like
Senate Democrats may have another agitator on their hands. Lou D’Amaro, a Suffolk county legislator and close ally of County Executive Steve Levy, said he is strongly considering a challenge to Republican State Sen. Owen Johnson. Johnson has held the seat, which runs along Suffolk’s afﬂuent South Shore, since 1972, but the district has grown to now have more registered Democrats than Republicans. Local Democratic leaders, including Suffolk Chairman Rich Schaffer, have encouraged D’Amaro to run, hoping he will draw some Republican ﬁre away from vulnerable Democratic incumbents. And with his conservative streak and appeal to white ethnic voters, many feel D’Amaro could pull off a win. “I think I would bring some fresh ideas and a reform mindset,” D’Amaro said. “Clearly, if I run, it would be a competitive race.” D’Amaro, a Levy protégé, vowed to run as an insurgent candidate, slamming Democratic leaders in Albany for their votes on property taxes and the MTA bailout. “If I did run, it would be independent of what’s happened in the past and, frankly, independent of the leadership and the direction they’ve taken us in the state so far,” he said. But D’Amaro’s close connection to Levy has made leaders of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee nervous, and some say the Senate leadership is unlikely to support a candidate who could upset the Democrats’ fragile unity if he wins. “At the moment, there’s no appetite for a Levy guy to be in the State Senate,” said one Senate Democratic source. “Can you imagine what a pain in the ass [Levy] would be if we had somebody carrying his water?” Senate Democrats have attempted to lure other candidates into the race instead, including Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone and David Bishop, a former county legislator. But Bellone is said to have his eye on the county executive’s ofﬁce, and Bishop said in an interview that he was unlikely to run unless Johnson retires. Democratic leaders are angry at Levy for his very public feuds with Foley over the MTA payroll tax, which is widely unpopular in Suffolk. Republicans in the county have made the vote a centerpiece of their campaigns, and local Democrats have begun to distance themselves from Foley. “There would be quite the contrast between a State Senator Lou D’Amaro and a State Senator Anybody Else from Long Island who may share his party,” said Brian Beedenbender, a former county legislator and Levy aide who lost his bid for re-election last year. As for whether he would tout his connection to Levy in the campaign, D’Amaro said: “I would count on his support.” —SG
that. They resonate towards that.” He added: “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
fter a 25-year career battling pretty much everyone he has encountered and having even the most casual remarks become fodder for his critics, Levy has grown highly protective of his image. His cluttered desk is off limits to photographs. Walking to his car, he refuses to be pictured with a scarf on, even in belowfreezing weather. Chatting in the diner in Hauppauge, Levy asks the commander of a local American legion post to shift, so that his profile is not on display. Turns of phrase and off-the-cuff remarks that might earn other politicians a slap on the wrist take on outsize significance when Levy is the source. After an Ecuadorian immigrant was brutally murdered by a gang of white high school students in Patchogue, Levy dismissed it
Levy Ally And Fellow Agitator Weighs Owen Johnson Challenge
as a “one-day story.” His spokesman said later that the remark “haunts us every day.” Under Levy, Suffolk has been a tinderbox for racial tensions. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center last year found that the county had become a breeding ground for ethnic hatred, and claimed Levy’s comments had exacerbated the situation. But his base of white, middle class property owners has only hardened in its outrage. In 2007, a county legislator from one of Suffolk’s more conservative towns said that if day laborers were to gather in his neighborhood, he would “load my gun and start shooting, period.” “Because it’s such a hot-button, controversial issue, that’s what gets in the New York Times,” Levy said. “The public is with me overwhelmingly. Not necessarily the academia and the media elite … but the vast public is with me, nine-to-one. It’s not even close.”
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Fairly or not, the tensions have come to define Levy’s image outside of Suffolk. And he is painfully aware of that reality. In interviews, he stresses that he wants the chance to fully respond to his critics. When he hears other people have been talking about him, he calls unprompted, explaining that he wants to know “what other people are saying.” On the day that he posed for photographs in his Hauppauge office, Levy was being battered by critics for what many perceived as yet another racially insensitive comment. Championing a bill he had signed banning housing discrimination to an audience at a Martin Luther King Day event, Levy referred generically to the name “Shaniqua” to explain that African-Americans could now get housing in Suffolk. His rivals immediately pounced. Aides to Cuomo called up Levy’s usual critics, including Ramos and Cuomo’s 2002 running mate, Charlie King, to drum up public indignation at the “Shaniqua” comment. To those in the Levy camp, the Cuomo effort is as sure a sign as any that, for all their dismissive talk, there are people taking Levy seriously. He may not have much support among the Upper West Side liberals, but he has an unquestionable knack for connecting viscerally with the voters who are likely to matter this year. They see him as one of their own—the “real deal,” as Albany Republican chairman John Graziano put it. Levy’s politics emanate directly from his personal story: a second-generation New Yorker whose father owned an appliance store in Bushwick and moved the family out to Suffolk in search of safer streets and better schools, Levy saw his father—who had only a high school education—struggle under the crushing burden of property taxes, while others somehow managed to game the system. All along, taxes continued to skyrocket, while the county deficit—which reached $230 million by the time Levy was elected county executive—spiraled out of control. Now, the pattern is playing itself out again. White, suburban voters, fairly or not, have made a connection between the federal government’s trillion-dollar debt and the 10 percent unemployment rate. They see the numbers of illegal immigrants growing, bank bailouts swelling and politicians trying to spend another $800 billion on government-run health care. In a healthy economy, those trends may be uncontroversial, even acceptable. But in places like Wyandanch, Amityville and Middle Island, they are an outrage. And Steve Levy gets it. As governor, he said, he would pursue a radical overhaul of the state’s economic development agenda. He would waive capital gains taxes entirely for firms investing in New York, and revive the much-
maligned Empire Zone program, which Paterson has said should be scrapped. He would declare a “fiscal emergency” in the state, empanelling a commission of budget experts to eliminate government programs at will. He would seek the power to unilaterally impound as much as 10 percent of the state’s revenues, and change the law so that his executive budget would automatically take effect on April 1, denying lawmakers the opportunity to stall and stave off budget cuts. And he would urge New York’s congressional delegation to dump its advocacy of federal health care legislation, saying the bill would impose too many burndensome mandates on New York.
“We’re playing with house money,” Levy said. “You can say what you really believe, and not be constrained that every comment you make is going to tick off some special interest group. People like that. They resonate towards that.” “We should be doing this state by state. Let’s try one aspect of this in one state and see how it works. Try another aspect in another state and give it two years,” he said of the health care bill. “This way you’re not locked into having totally revolutionized a system that might be better, but it might be a disaster.” Those views, Levy says, are why his candidacy has generated so much curiosity in recent weeks. In the Hauppauge diner, in between making the rounds and chatting with the waitress (“Now they’re going to have a picture of me with a cherry pie on my face,” he says), Levy explained why this might be his moment. “Two years ago, I don’t think people would be talking about me like this. Two years from now, they might not talk like this again,” he said. “People have seen me in action. I go head-on in front of any obstacle to get where we have to get, because that’s needed to help the county and state. They really believe me when I say it, because they can see I’ve done it. I’ve taken on the municipal unions. … I’ll take on a politically correct group. I’ll take on a party leader. I’m not fazed by it.” He paused to finish his pie. “We need a revolution in this state,” he said, taking a bite. “So, we’re going to get attention.” email@example.com
FEBRUARY 15, 2010
Emphasizing The Importance of Task Force on Medicaid Fraud BY SEN. KEMP HANNON t more than $50 billion, Medicaid spending in New York State has almost doubled since 2000 when total spending was $29.9 billion. Today, Medicaid spending represents more than one third of the entire state budget. In addition, enrollment is projected to increase in the 2010-11 fiscal year to 4.7 million, a 9.5 percent increase over the current year. In 2000 enrollment was 2.7 million. Spending and enrollment increases occur for a variety of reasons, such as program eligibility expansions, new programs and the current economic downturn. As spending and programs expand, opportunity for fraud also increases. The sheer size of our Medicaid program provides ample opportunity for fraud. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has previously cited estimates depicting 10 percent of Medicaid expenses being diverted through fraud. In our state, where the 2010-11 Executive Budget proposes spending of more
than $53 billion on Medicaid alone, this means as much as $5 billion of our costs could potentially be the result of fraud. Additionally, in December of 2009, three Medicaid audits released by the state comptroller identified as much as $92 million in Medicaid overpayments, billing errors and other oversights.
Whether or not all of these reports are accurate, it is irrefutable that millions of dollars are wasted and need to be recouped to protect New York taxpayers. It is imperative that we act immediately to amend the process and ensure that taxpayer dollars are not slipping through the cracks of a potentially flawed system. Therefore, in an effort to strengthen the state’s efforts to fight Medicaid fraud and protect our taxpayers, my fellow Republican colleagues in the New York State Senate and I announced the creation of the Task Force on Medicaid Fraud this week. In 2006, Albany enacted legislation to combat and remove fraud and abuse in the Medicaid system. Initiatives set forth by the law included: creating the new, independent Office of Medicaid Inspector General, providing county governments with new incentives and access to information to become more active partners in the fight against Medicaid fraud, and providing new Health Care Fraud offenses to aid in the criminal prosecution of Medicaid fraud. However, in implementing the 2006
law, the State has fallen short in achieving the goals of its sponsors. That’s why this Task Force was created: to discover where the ball is being dropped in the process, to determine the prevalence of fraud and to develop better tools and refine the existing tools for fraud prevention, prosecution and recoveries. My goal as Chairman of this critical, analytical Task Force, is to ensure that a proper investigation is conducted pertaining to whether or not the fraud prevention system is working at an optimal level. If the suggested, colossal amount of fraud does indeed exist within New York’s Medicaid system, there is no excuse for tolerating it. My colleagues and I remain dedicated to the mission of the Medicaid Fraud Task Force and are prepared to enact the necessary amendments to the system in accordance with the findings of our investigation. Kemp Hannon, a Republican representing parts of Nassau County, is the ranking member of the Senate Health Committee.
Sugared-Beverage and Higher Cigarette Taxes Provide Chance for Budget Triple Play BY RICHARD DAINES besity and smoking are two of New York’s greatest public health challenges. These avoidable conditions impair happiness, inhibit life success and cause many chronic and debilitating conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, lung and other cancers, and emphysema. Obesity and smoking are particularly prevalent in lower income populations already burdened with other difficulties and victimized by unscrupulous marketers. The estimated costs of treating health problems related to obesity and smoking are staggering – more than $15 billion a year in New York State alone. We all pay these costs through insurance premiums and through taxes that support Medicaid and Medicare. In his proposed executive budget for 2010-2011, Governor David Paterson has challenged New Yorkers to support a smart strategy that will begin to turn the tide on obesity and make further gains against tobacco. His sugared-beverage and cigarette tax proposals employ the power of economic incentives to influence consumer choices and offer the added advantages of reducing future private and government costs and raising revenue for health care. We all know that economic incentives
profoundly affect our choices as consumers. When prices rise – whether due to production costs, corporate profits or taxes – sales drop. Marketers call this “price elasticity” and know that it operates most powerfully for elective purchases, such as cigarettes and sugared beverages, for which there is no actual necessity and for which there exist many competing and better choices. Many public health leaders, including Dr. Thomas Frieden, now director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), support the use of taxes to reduce the consumption of sugared beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute at least one-third of all added sugar in our diets. All but the most conflicted authorities confirm that sugared beverages are a principal and easily identified source of the excess calories that are the principal cause of the country’s rising obesity rates. The Governor has proposed an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages that will increase the prices of covered products by about 17 percent, or one cent per ounce. He has also asked for a further $1.00 per pack tax on cigarettes, restoring cigarette taxes in New York to the highest in the nation. We estimate that the Governor’s beverage tax will reduce sugared beverage consumption by 10-15 percent, a range that is amply supported in the
beverage industry’s own marketing data and elasticity models. Reductions of this magnitude will begin to make major inroads against obesity, save future health care costs, and are not achievable by other means such as public education campaigns. Families reducing taxed beverage consumption by 15-20 percent and substituting other, healthier drinks such as water and low fat milk will have little or no net economic impact. The special beverage excise tax also would be a significant revenue generator for New York, raising $465 million in new revenue for health care in 2010-11, and $1 billion in 2011-12. Without this additional revenue, the governor would have been forced to recommend drastic reductions to health care services in his budget. While the precise price elasticity models of the beverage industry are closely held trade secrets, we have ample historical precedent to make very accurate predictions of the effect of a further $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax. It will reduce adult smoking in New York by about 50,000, cut current youth smoking by 10 percent, prevent approximately 100,000 children from developing the nicotine addiction that would condemn them to lifetime smoking habits, and will save an estimated 48,000 New Yorkers from premature death. Tens of millions of dollars in future health care costs will be averted, and $200 million in
new annual revenue will be raised, also for investment in health care services. The Governor has shown considerable political courage in making these tax proposals in an environment as tax-averse as today’s. But these are not just ordinary, lamentable tax increases on productive activities. These carefully targeted taxes are a chance to pull off a brilliant “triple play” that will make people healthier, save health care costs, and provide revenue for health care services. Let’s not ask Governor Paterson to make his health care triple play unassisted by informed public opinion. Richard Daines, M.D., is New York State Commissioner of Health.
FEBRUARY 15, 2010
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f some form of health care reform happens in Washington, then we in New York will have the opportunity to improve on it. If national legislation doesn’t happen, there will be an even greater need for New York to tackle health care reform. Either way, this is a time to think about what values and social policy ought to guide reform. At the heart of the debate is the question: who should pay for health care? It is not that difficult. Think about education. It’s a parent’s responsibility. But we demand that our government provide free quality education for every child. We figured out almost two centuries ago that education is a public responsibility. No one suggests that parents be required to pay a deductible and co-payments to send their children to public school, or have to prove they are low income to get a public school subsidy. We pay for education with broad-based taxes, roughly based on ability to pay. Back then, when America decided universal public education is a government obligation, no one would have thought to apply that idea to health care. In those days, health care was little more than leeches. But health care has come a long way, and health care costs along with it. Unfortunately, our public policy has not. Today, people who earn less or have health problems pay a far greater share of their income for health insurance and out-of-pocket health costs than people who are wealthier or healthier. We pay a high and regressive “tax” to insurance companies – premiums and deductibles they set – not based on ability to pay. Small businesses and people who buy insurance on their own pay a lot more. Low-income people can get publicly funded health coverage. That’s fair. But fairness should apply to all of us. For the average working family, the cost of premiums, deductibles, and copayments, or the cost of health care if they are uninsured, can be a crippling burden. For many things, we accept having different alternatives available to upperand lower-income people – you can get by on cheaper food, cheaper clothing, and cheaper housing. But access to quality health care is a matter of life and death. Some say: “This is America; you’re
on your own.” I say: “This is America; we believe in community; we help one another. And some problems are so large that we demand that our government take some responsibility.” What about individual responsibility for our own health? Well, parents have responsibility to raise their kids and homeowners to keep their home electrical wiring safe and the door locked. But we recognize education and public safety as human rights. They’re things we demand from our government; we as a community all contribute, and the cost is distributed, using the tax system. Health care should be a right, not a privilege, and the cost should be fairly distributed. If we start with that principle, working out the details is really not that complicated. For me, I think this means a system that offers health coverage like Medicare and Child Health Plus, but available to all of us, with public funding based on ability to pay. My New York Health Plus proposal (Assembly bill A. 7854, Gottfried; Senate bill S. 4884, Duane) would create such a system for New York. The legislation we can achieve this year might not get us there right now. But if we keep our values in mind, then what we enact will move us in the right direction. Richard Gottfried, a Democrat representing parts of Manhattan, is chair of the Assembly Health Committee.
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Patient-Centered Medical Homes: A Model for Better Health Care BY SEN. THOMAS DUANE n our nationâ€™s capital, the extensive debate over federal health care reform focused attention both on how best to provide health insurance as well as how best to deliver highquality, affordable health care. One way in which New York State is taking a lead in the latter is by focusing our resources on developing and strengthening primary and preventive care. To achieve that goal, we are encouraging the development and support of the emerging patient-centered medical home model. The theory behind this model is simple: people who have a regular source of health care services will receive ongoing preventive care and chronic care management rather than episodic, symptom-based, and crisis care. Each patient within a medical home has a relationship with a personal physician and a team of other professionals who coordinate his or her care. This results in more cost-effective care and better health outcomes. In December, in my role as chair of the New York State Senate Health Committee, I hosted a roundtable on medical homes that brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including consumer representatives, community health centers and hospitals, physicians, nurses, hospice and home care providers, public and private health plans, and New York City and State government. Representatives from medical homes in rural areas, urban centers, early adapters and those who have been working for over a decade shared their expertise and discussed the challenges of providing care when and where patients need it most. What we learned was instructive. In practice, successfully implementing the patient-centered medical home model requires years of hard work, the reorientation of health care staff at every level, the embracing of health information technology, and a top-to-bottom change in the culture of delivering care. For this model to work, the health and insurance sectors need to come together to develop a shared sense of priorities and agenda, including shifting from a reimbursement system that pays for particular services or procedures toward one that pays for case-based care management. We need to retrain our entire health care workforce, including those in behavioral health, so that the transformation of the delivery system is fully understood and realized. Private physicians will require resources, technology and training to reorient their practices and coordinate information technology and electronic medical records. Importantly, health
education and patient self-management skills and techniques need to be developed and incorporated into the primary care model. One of the greatest challenges we face in moving toward the medical home model is the current shortage of primary care providers, which can be attributed, in part, to financial incentives that encourage medical specialization. To address the challenge, New York Stateâ€™s medical homes initiative provides incentive payments to those practices and providers that are recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. We will also have to increase the use of non-physician providers to meet the need for expanded and accessible primary care. New York is in the early stages of development and experimentation with medical homes. We are still learning what works, and what will make a difference in the way care is delivered. In the same way that federal health care reform will encourage providers to challenge established models of medical care and delivery, we too must be willing to change the way that we think about health care. A successful transformation in the culture of medicine to promote health - rather than cure sickness - will not be easy, nor will it likely reap immediate benefits. But long-term, the movement toward accessible, integrated care that patient centered medical homes provide will yield better outcomes for our patients while improving our entire health care delivery system. Thomas Duane, a Democrat representing parts of Manhattan, is chair of the Senate Health Committee.
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Line Operator om Reynolds was first elected to Congress in 1998, and quickly shot through the ranks of the GOP leadership. He retired in 2008, following the 2006 Democratic wave, which some blame him for, given his role as head of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee that cycle. But now Reynolds has taken on a new electoral challenge. As vice-chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee, he is tasked with getting Republican state legislators elected ahead of the redistricting fights looming in 2012. He spoke with The Capitol about his new job, why the GOP has seen such losses in New York, and what makes redistricting fights such a blood sport. What follows is an edited transcript.
The Capitol: You retired from the House of Representatives in 2006 after 10 years in Washington. Why did you decide to take the job with the Republican State Leadership Committee? Tom Reynolds: Well, because first of all, I was a state legislator who went through redistricting in the ’90s and I was a federal legislator in Congress and went through redistricting in 2002, and I know firsthand how important the state legislature is, which I look at as the backbone of our party. ... There are 18 chambers [around the country] where a difference of up to four seats, either plus or minus, makes the difference in which party holds a majority in the state. Republicans have to defend seven majorities across the country; Democrats have to defend 11. It brings it right home to New York. … If the elections of 2010 bring about the opportunity to help the New York State Senate come back to a Republican majority, then the Republicans, first of all, are setting part of the public policy in 2011. Also, they are going to be at the table for what redistricting will be for the next decade, in both the state legislature and Congress. … This is a 50-state project. There are 21 states that are widely viewed as battlegrounds for congressional redistricting that could control as many as 281 congressional seats. Think about that. When you look at the election, 21 states—depending on how the state legislatures are made up—will have an impact on 281 congressional seats. TC: New York has seen serious Republican losses since 2002, losing eight congressional seats and the State Senate. What happened? TR: Let’s take the two special elections that just recently happened in Congress. … So when you look at those two elections, they should be in the Republican column. NY-20 is the best Republican seat in the state of congressional seats, and NY-23 has been held by a Republican since the Civil War. Where do we look? We can’t look totally in the past, so we have to look to the future. I think the first thing is that the State Senate, for whatever
reason, throughout this past decade lost seats—and it cost them the majority. Some of us think it’s maybe how they ran their campaigns, but nevertheless they lost those seats.
to be a Republican governor, senator, or congressman in 1994, it was a pretty good time to run. There were waves going on both sides. Most other times, there’s a little wind to your face or back, but you are out there in how the race affects you by district. This year, it’s yet to be determined if there will be a big wave like a tsunami, or will there be a little wave, or will it be settled out by a miraculous redirection by the president and the Democratic party.
more money in the state to make the difference because they have a great organization, because they need more dollars to get their message out, that’s what will happen in that state. If it’s some place where they need to find particular talent to strengthen what the state political operation may lack, then we look to identify how to make that happen. … It may be that the RSLC itself chooses to do an independent expenditure in order to make a difference. What I think brings about the best result and the track record of what the RSLC has been about is, we figure out what you need and try to help you out with it, if possible, and if we can make a difference. So with that, I think part of the strength of the team is to have the field organizations that are helping identify the problem and bring about a recommended solution.
TC: What can you do to reverse the tide? TR: Well, first of all, Minority Leader [Dean] Skelos is busy making sure that Republicans have a message of what they TC: What will happen to the stand for in the State Senate. state GOP if the Democrats The second thing, I would “There are 18 chambers hold on to the State Senate? hope, is that they are able to Will we see large Democratic keep their incumbents running [around the country] where majorities in both houses and for re-election and they’re out a difference of up to four in Congress for as far as the there recruiting candidates for seats, either plus or minus, eye can see? every seat, but particularly in makes the difference in TR: If it is strictly the Democratic those seats that they must win Party by majorities in the in order to get a majority. The which party holds a majority Assembly and Senate, as well as next thing they need to do is in the state. … There are the governor, then we will find that develop good campaign teams 21 states that are widely New York is projected to lose one and organizations in each one viewed as battlegrounds for congressional seat after the 2010 of those districts. Finally, they Census. You can take to the bank need to have enough money to Congressional redistricting that it will be some Republican get their message out. As they’re that could control as many hide taken out of there. Their in the minority, they’re going as 281 Congressional seats.” strategy will be, can we weaken to have to raise that money by the existing officeholders and candidate and by party. TC: These legislatures operate so take away one? Redistricting politics TC: How does your experience as head close to the ground, and the districts is the toughest form of politics I know of the NRCC in ’06, overseeing a year are so small. How can an organization after 40 years of being in the business. I’ve seen labor politics straight-on in New with many Republican losses, inform like yours help? what you do for this job? Do you do TR: I think that the New York State York. I’ve seen state legislative politics, politics, presidential legislature and the California legislature congressional anything differently? TR: Well, there’s nothing better than in particular are so sophisticated they’re politics and gubernatorial politics. experience to help anyone. Some have almost one step from congressional races. Redistricting politics is the toughest of all given me credit that I saved 20 seats ... In today’s races in the State Senate, of them, and I’ve seen three of them. from being lost in ’06 that came in the ’08 where they represent about 300,000 cycle. I don’t know if that’s true or not, people, the similar mechanics to that TC: Why? but did I know that Republicans would race would go to a congressional race in TR: Well, you’re talking about both have the wind at their face for many our state representing 654,000. You’ll see survival of the individuals, but also different reasons in ’06? You bet. We the employment of mail, telephones and the makeup for what the next 10 years ended up with New England only having electronic media as part of the strategy is projected on the sophistication of but one representative in Congress out to deliver a campaign message, and demographic research that goes into of 22 seats, and he was picked off in ’08. that’s similar to other types of races like trying to draw boundaries. We don’t have a commission in New York—it’s done by I think my presence at the committee Congress. legislators. States like Iowa and Arizona helped in the ’06 elections in keeping Jim Walsh and Randy Kuhl in Congress. If you TC: But there are differences between have commissions, so they have neutral were running as a Democrat that wanted electing Republicans in Nebraska and mapmakers. Whoever’s got the majority in New York has the pens. to seek public office in the Congress, New York, right? Senate, or governor’s races in 2006, it TR: That’s what I love about this particular —Andrew J. Hawkins was a good time to run. If you wanted organization. … If it takes just a little bit email@example.com
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Published on Feb 16, 2010
The February 16,2010 Issue of The Capitol. The Capitol is a monthly publication, targeting the politicians, lobbyists, unions, staffers and...