Schneiderman Working With JCOPE on Lopez Scandal
August 31st, 2012

If true, the actions of Assemblyman Lopez are reprehensible, and the decision of the Assembly to keep secret the provision of ‑ and even the existence of ‑ a settlement agreement was wholly inappropriate and contrary to the public interest. Our office policy requires that agreements of this kind do not include confidentiality provisions. On May 30, 2012, an OAG attorney provided the Assembly’s counsel with a copy of a model pre-litigation settlement agreement which included no provision mandating secrecy or confidentiality.
Our office has already been in communication with Ellen Biben, the Executive Director of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. We have already provided the Commission and the press with copies of all communications with the Assembly in our possession relating to this matter, and stand ready to work with JCOPE to ensure a full and fair investigation.
BACKGROUND ON OAG ROLE IN EMPLOYMENT LITIGATION
The Office of the Attorney General serves as litigation counsel for the State including state agencies, the Governor, the Comptroller, the Legislature, the Office of Court of Administration, some authorities, and state employees and officers, including members of the legislature. That is, we are the State’s trial lawyers, as opposed to the lawyers within agencies and the Legislature who act as general counsel.
We act primarily as defense counsel representing these entities when they are sued. In this matter, because no litigation was initiated, the Office of the Attorney General did not represent the Assembly in its internal employment dispute.
We defend the State, state agencies as well as individual state employees in employment litigation which does not include administrative proceedings, or pre-litigation investigation, or alternative dispute resolution.
In the course of litigation, we analyze whether it is in the best interests of the state to settle matters before trial, taking into account, for instance, saving taxpayer money.
The OAG settlement policy provides that all Settlement Agreements be public in accordance with the principles of Open Government except for compelling reasons, including public safety.
Accordingly, the OAG standard settlement terms do not include confidentiality provisions. Further, our policy is that when defending the state in litigation, we do not enter into any confidential or secret litigation settlements, and we would not view a sexual harassment case as a compelling exemption to this policy.
In employment litigation, clients often request that the terms of the settlement be confidential and we regularly reject such requests based on our policy.
State agencies, including the Legislature, consult with us from time to time on matters where we have expertise such as bankruptcy, employment, and contracts in a non-litigation context, or in anticipation of litigation.
We do not, in our work defending the State:
(1) make agency management or business decisions;
(2) participate in agency internal investigations or ethics determinations;
(3) participate in the internal workings of the Legislature or their proceedings as it relates to employment issues;
(4) negotiate agency agreements with employees outside of the litigation context; nor
(5) represent agencies or employees in administrative proceedings such as the State Division of Human Rights, other than representing ourselves.

Everyone involved in the settlement between the Assembly and Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s accusers are now facing major scrutiny. The office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had to sign off on the sexual harassment settlement and as such they are also under the lens. In a statement just released by Schneiderman’s office the AG says he is cooperating with the Joint Commission on Public Integrity:

If true, the actions of Assemblyman Lopez are reprehensible, and the decision of the Assembly to keep secret the provision of ‑ and even the existence of ‑ a settlement agreement was wholly inappropriate and contrary to the public interest. Our office policy requires that agreements of this kind do not include confidentiality provisions. On May 30, 2012, an OAG attorney provided the Assembly’s counsel with a copy of a model pre-litigation settlement agreement which included no provision mandating secrecy or confidentiality.

Our office has already been in communication with Ellen Biben, the Executive Director of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. We have already provided the Commission and the press with copies of all communications with the Assembly in our possession relating to this matter, and stand ready to work with JCOPE to ensure a full and fair investigation.

By on August 31, 2012, 3:38 pm
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Let the Battle of Maps Begin
August 30th, 2012

Deliberations over how the New York City Council’s district lines will be drawn for the next decade is getting communities and advocacy organizations into a map-making mood.

One coalition of civil rights organizations released a map today of how they think the Council’s district lines should be drawn to account for shifts in demographics and to protect the voting rights of blacks, Asians and Latinos.

The mapmakers say they followed the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the city Charter to come up with their Unity Map. They also say they sought to protect “traditional and emerging neighborhoods.”

The Unity Map is the work of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Institute for Latino Policy and the Center for Law and Social Justice of Medgar Evers College.

Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, called it a “fair map.”

“We must ensure that the Latino community has the opportunity to elect members who will pay attention to their needs and concerns,” he said in a statement.

Many more maps are expected to be forthcoming in the next few weeks from various interest groups as the city’s Districting Commission weighs tough decisions about how to shape the Council lines.

By on August 30, 2012, 4:19 pm
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Sanders: Quinn Should Bring Paid Sick Leave to Vote
August 30th, 2012

New York City Councilman James Sanders Jr. is imploring Speaker Christine Quinn to bring a stalled paid sick leave bill to a vote.

“There is nothing harder to stop than an idea whose time has come,” the councilman said in a recent interview with the Gotham Gazette.

Quinn has refused to bring the bill to a vote, both in an earlier form in 2010 and after it was revised and reintroduced in recent months. In both instances, she has argued that the bill would negatively affect businesses in a weakened economy.

Sanders is running against Shirley Huntley in the Democrat primary for the 10th State Senate District.

By on August 30, 2012, 3:25 pm
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Silver Thinks JCOPE Investigation is a Great Idea
August 29th, 2012

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is facing tremendous scrutiny for his role in settling sexual harassment claims against Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Everyone and their Governor has expressed interest in having the newly-formed Joint Commission on Public Ethics investigate the allegations against Lopez and the deal that led to his censure. You can now add Silver’s name to that list of people.

“I would welcome a JCOPE investigation, as a JCOPE inquiry would supersede any confidentiality agreements that exist and allow all of the facts to come out,” said Silver in a statement. ” Those facts will show that any decision by the Assembly to enter into any settlement agreement was both legal and ethical and made out of deference to the wishes of the complainants. In addition the Assembly has written to counsel in any previous settlement asking for a release from any confidentiality clauses that may exist so that we can legally and properly release to the public all information relating to any settlement and how it was reached.”

By on August 29, 2012, 6:33 pm
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Ethics Board to Get Earful on Vito Lopez
August 29th, 2012

Sonia Ossorio, President of NOW NYC said:
“Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s reported acts of sexual harassment against numerous employees make him entirely unfit to serve the public in any capacity. Just as disturbing is Speaker Silver’s cover-up of Lopez’s earlier transgressions, which demonstrate an ongoing acceptance and tolerance for sexual harassment. It is absolutely unacceptable that in the hallowed halls of government, women demanding the fair and equal treatment to which they are entitled under the law should be met with secrecy and muzzled. JCOPE must investigate the full extent to which members of the Assembly staff, and of Mr. Lopez’s former and current staff, were aware of his conduct, and the Speaker’s role in burying these egregious charges. We will not allow the New York State Assembly to disregard women’s rights.”
Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY said:
“Sexual harassment is illegal and revelations that it was handled secretly to protect a powerful member of the Legislature in 2012 in Albany are shocking. In a democracy, government must be held accountable to protect all of the state’s residents, yet only in the last week has the Assembly acted to protect its female employees based on the information provided by the very brave women who, refusing to accept Vito Lopez’s sexual misconduct, reported it to the relevant authorities. JCOPE must investigate the extent of Lopez’s misconduct, every thwarted attempt to report it, and the failure of process which resulted in that conduct being hidden, tacitly accepted, and allowed to continue. Voters require a public airing of the facts. JCOPE is the appropriate entity to investigate, inform the public of what actually happened and hold the responsible individuals and entities accountable.”
Citizens Union is also sending a letter to JCOPE calling on them to investigate.Th

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics should be expecting quite a few complaints regarding Assemblyman Vito Lopez and the allegations that he sexually harassed women working for his office.

The National Organization of Women NYC and Common Cause are filing a joint complaint with JCOPE asking them to investigate the scope of Lopez’s “misconduct.” Citizens Union which is the sister organization to the Gotham Gazette, is calling on JCOPE to investigate, as is Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s reported acts of sexual harassment against numerous employees make him entirely unfit to serve the public in any capacity,” saidSonia Ossorio, President of NOW NYC, in a statement. “Just as disturbing is Speaker Silver’s cover-up of Lopez’s earlier transgressions, which demonstrate an ongoing acceptance and tolerance for sexual harassment. It is absolutely unacceptable that in the hallowed halls of government, women demanding the fair and equal treatment to which they are entitled under the law should be met with secrecy and muzzled. JCOPE must investigate the full extent to which members of the Assembly staff, and of Mr. Lopez’s former and current staff, were aware of his conduct, and the Speaker’s role in burying these egregious charges. We will not allow the New York State Assembly to disregard women’s rights.”

Lopez has denied the allegations, saying that he intends to prove “the political nature of these accusations.”

I have worked tirelessly over the years to bring important programs and services to the poor and working poor,” he said in a statement. “This could not have occurred without the support and time commitment of dedicated staff, many of whom have benefited from the positive work experience in the positions they currently hold and in the subsequent careers that they have pursued.

By on August 29, 2012, 12:25 pm
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Hunger Action to Cuomo: Raise the Wage
August 29th, 2012

Cuomo Should Use Labor Day to Raise Minimum Wage
(Albany, NY) Hunger Action Network of NYS called today for Governor Cuomo to raise the state minimum wage by using Labor Day to convene a minimum wage board.
State Labor Law Sec. 653 gives the Governor the power to raise the minimum wage without the need for legislative approval if the Labor Commissioner in reality, the Governor determines that the minimum wage is inadequate to support workers.
Hunger Action also said that Cuomo should convene a Labor Day extraordinary session of the State legislature to deal with a host of outstanding issues critical to NY workers, including raising unemployment benefits and strengthening Farmworker rights.
It is time for Governor Cuomo to listen to New York voters who overwhelmingly believe low-income workers deserve a pay raise. Low wage workers may not contribute to the Governors various political committees like the casinos do but they contribute to the states economy. Rather than yet another photo op on Labor Day, the Governor and legislators should be in Albany taking concrete action to help workers, noted Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network of NYS.
Hunger Action Network of NYS has called the Governors office and Labor Commissioner Peter Rivera weekly since the legislature adjourned to discuss administratively raising the minimum wage but have received no response. Hunger Action filed a petition under Sec. 653 of the Labor Law to begin the process of convening the minimum wage board but so far the Labor Department has failed to rule on whether or not the minimum wage is adequate. The Cuomo administration has acknowledged to Hunger Action that it does have the power to raise the minimum wage unilaterally.
Hunger Action has told the Governor and Rivera that it is willing to circulate a new petition, which must be signed by 50 individuals impacted by the minimum wage, if they are unwilling to act on the petition initially filed during the Paterson administration. Until recently, Patersons labor commissioner Colleen Crawford had continued under Cuomo.
Once the minimum wage is determined to be inadequate, the administration appoints a minimum wage board of labor, business and civic representatives to recommend within 45 days what the minimum wage should be increased to. The Labor Commissioner can then order a hike.
There has been speculation that the legislature would raise the minimum wage in a lame duck session after the November elections as part of a deal to raise state legislators and Commissioners salaries (an issue of concern to Cuomo). However, the escalating scandals involving the indictment of legislators for corruptions, patronage jobs and sexual harassment and overwhelming public opposition – has made a legislative pay raise much less likely.

The minimum wage in NY isnt even a poverty wage. The majority of New Yorkers who support a minimum wage hike want it to be raised at least $10 an hour so workers dont have to flood food pantries looking for food to feed their families. It is time for Governor Cuomo to step up to the bat for low-income workers, added Dunlea.

Mark Dunlea of Hunger Action wants Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take executive action to increase the state’s minimum wage. Dunlea thinks Labor Day would be a perfect time for Cuomo to convene a special board that could recommend an increase in the minimum wage that the governor would implement.

State Labor Law Sec. 653 gives the governor the ability to raise the minimum wage without legislative approval if the labor commissioner recommends it.

It is time for Gov. Cuomo to listen to New York voters who overwhelmingly believe low-income workers deserve a pay raise,” Dunlea said in a statement. “Low wage workers may not contribute to the governors various political committees like the casinos do but they contribute to the states economy. Rather than yet another photo op on Labor Day, the governor and legislators should be in Albany taking concrete action to help workers.”

Dunlea also wants Cuomo to convene a special session of the Legislature to address various workers issues, including raising unemployment benefits and addressing farm workers rights legislation.

The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Here is Hunger Action’s full news release:

Cuomo Should Use Labor Day to Raise Minimum Wage

(Albany, NY) Hunger Action Network of NYS called today for Governor Cuomo to raise the state minimum wage by using Labor Day to convene a minimum wage board.

State Labor Law Sec. 653 gives the Governor the power to raise the minimum wage without the need for legislative approval if the Labor Commissioner in reality, the Governor determines that the minimum wage is inadequate to support workers.

Hunger Action also said that Cuomo should convene a Labor Day extraordinary session of the State legislature to deal with a host of outstanding issues critical to NY workers, including raising unemployment benefits and strengthening Farmworker rights.

It is time for Governor Cuomo to listen to New York voters who overwhelmingly believe low-income workers deserve a pay raise. Low wage workers may not contribute to the Governors various political committees like the casinos do but they contribute to the states economy. Rather than yet another photo op on Labor Day, the Governor and legislators should be in Albany taking concrete action to help workers, noted Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network of NYS.

Hunger Action Network of NYS has called the Governors office and Labor Commissioner Peter Rivera weekly since the legislature adjourned to discuss administratively raising the minimum wage but have received no response. Hunger Action filed a petition under Sec. 653 of the Labor Law to begin the process of convening the minimum wage board but so far the Labor Department has failed to rule on whether or not the minimum wage is adequate. The Cuomo administration has acknowledged to Hunger Action that it does have the power to raise the minimum wage unilaterally.

Hunger Action has told the Governor and Rivera that it is willing to circulate a new petition, which must be signed by 50 individuals impacted by the minimum wage, if they are unwilling to act on the petition initially filed during the Paterson administration. Until recently, Patersons labor commissioner Colleen Crawford had continued under Cuomo.

Once the minimum wage is determined to be inadequate, the administration appoints a minimum wage board of labor, business and civic representatives to recommend within 45 days what the minimum wage should be increased to. The Labor Commissioner can then order a hike.

There has been speculation that the legislature would raise the minimum wage in a lame duck session after the November elections as part of a deal to raise state legislators and Commissioners salaries (an issue of concern to Cuomo). However, the escalating scandals involving the indictment of legislators for corruptions, patronage jobs and sexual harassment and overwhelming public opposition – has made a legislative pay raise much less likely.

The minimum wage in NY isnt even a poverty wage. The majority of New Yorkers who support a minimum wage hike want it to be raised at least $10 an hour so workers dont have to flood food pantries looking for food to feed their families. It is time for Governor Cuomo to step up to the bat for low-income workers, added Dunlea.

By on August 29, 2012, 11:47 am
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The Fallout from the Assembly Scandal
August 29th, 2012

The New York Post is reporting that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has launched an investigation into the secret taxpayer-funded settlement of the sexual harassment complaint against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver yesterday ceded fault for authorizing it.

Silver went on to repudiate the policy, which he approved, that calls for privately handling complaints against lawmakers instead of sending the matter to an ethics committee.

It was revealed yesterday that the secret payment had been reviewed by the attorney general’s office and approved by the comptroller’s office. Lopez announced he’ll resign as Brooklyn Democratic party boss.

Former Assemblyman Frank Seddio has been called a frontrunner to replace him in that post. Others are pushing for Assemblyman Karim Camara.

By on August 29, 2012, 10:28 am
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Silver Regrets "Confidential" Lopez Settlement
August 28th, 2012

In July 2012, two employees in Assemblymember Vito Lopezs district office filed a complaint about sexual harassment in the Assemblymembers office. We referred the complaint promptly to the bipartisan Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance and acted swiftly on their recommendations last Friday.
However, it has been the opinion of Assembly counsel, which I endorsed, that if an employee or employees represented by counsel request a confidential mediation and financial settlement, the Assembly would defer to the employees desire for mediation and confidentiality and that this precluded referring their complaints to the bipartisan Committee on Ethics and Guidance.
While that opinion is both legally correct and ethical and can result in a resolution sought by complaining employees, I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency. The Assembly (1) should not agree to a confidential settlement, (2) should insist that the basic factual allegations of any complaint be referred to the Ethics Committee for a full investigation and (3) should publicly announce the existence of any settlement, while protecting the identity of the victims.
I am deeply committed to ensuring that all of our employees are treated with respect and dignity and I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the Ethics Committee. Going forward I will work with independent experts and our Counsels office to ensure that we put in place policies that both protect the interests of victims and provide adequate transparency and accountability to the public.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been facing intense scrutiny about the Assembly secretly reached a financial settlement with two women who claim to have been sexually harassed by Assemblyman Vito Lopez. The Assembly paid the women $103,000 and the Assembly ethics committee laterrecommended Lopez be censured. In a late evening press release Silver’s office explains the series of events and says from now on financial settlements with employees should be made public.

“While that opinion is both legally correct and ethical and can result in a resolution sought by complaining employees, I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency. The Assembly (1) should not agree to a confidential settlement, (2) should insist that the basic factual allegations of any complaint be referred to the Ethics Committee for a full investigation and (3) should publicly announce the existence of any settlement, while protecting the identity of the victims,” said the statement from Silver.

Of course other questions about the whole affair linger–like, “Why wasn’t the entire matter referred to the newly formed Joint Committee on Public Ethics?” Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for JCOPE to look into the charges against Lopez.

Silver’s statement says his office was alerted to the allegations in July 2012 but the New York Times has reported that the settlement was paid on June 13 2012.

Lopez resigned his position as the head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party earlier today but refused to resign from the Assembly. Here is the full statement from Silver’s office: Read the rest of this entry »

By on August 28, 2012, 7:11 pm
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Shirley Huntley Faces Charges in Corruption Case
August 27th, 2012

State Sen. Shirley Huntley told reporters over the weekend that she expected to be arrested and low and behold the senator turned herself in today to face a number of federal charges.

Huntley is accused of helping to defraud New York out of nearly $30,000, including forging a document to make it appear as if a nonprofit she had formed was using taxpayer funds to help the community as intended, according to state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

Huntley’s aide and a niece are both accused of submitting false documents to the state in an attempt to win funding for the nonprofit, according to an indictment made public today. The aide and niece received the funding pocketed the money, prosecutors said.

Huntley faces felony charges of tampering with physical evidence and falsifying business records in the first degree, as well as conspiracy in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor. Each felony carries a maximum sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison. If Huntley is convicted, she would be removed from the state Senate automatically.

She had told reporters on Saturday that she wanted her day in court.

Huntley is facing a primary challenge from Councilman James Sanders, and has said she plans on staying in the race.

“Falsifying documents, conspiracy and deliberately tampering with an open investigation are serious crimes. The individuals who schemed to profit at the taxpayers’ expense and cover it up will be held accountable,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office’s partnership with the Comptroller is designed to combat corruption in the public sector, and we will continue to work tirelessly to protect every penny of taxpayer money.”
“Public service is a privilege and a trust that should never be violated,” Comptroller DiNapoli said. “I will continue to partner with Attorney General Schneiderman to root out public corruption and safeguard the use of public funds.”

“Falsifying documents, conspiracy and deliberately tampering with an open investigation are serious crimes. The individuals who schemed to profit at the taxpayers’ expense and cover it up will be held accountable,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

Schneiderman served in the Senate with Huntley and, in 2010. As a senator, Schneiderman was the chair on a special investigations committee that moved to expel former Sen. Hiram Monserrate after he faced charges of assaulting his girlfriend. The Senate voted 53-8 to expel Monseratte. Huntley voted for Monserratte’s expulsion at the time. The Senate would not have to vote to expel her if she is convicted of a felony.

By on August 27, 2012, 4:04 pm
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Calls for Lopez's Resignation
August 24th, 2012

The New King’s Democrats, a group that has been battling Brooklyn political boss Vito Lopez for political power on the local level have called for the embattled Assemblyman to resign following his censure by the Assembly for sexual harassment. “Yet again, Vito Lopez has embarrassed Brooklyn and the Democratic Party. We have long been used to stories about his corruption, cronyism and nepotism,” said Alex Low, president of NKD. “Today’s news marks a new low. Vito’s time has come. We encourage other leaders to join us in demanding his resignation and calling for fresh leadership.”

The tide of calls for Lopez to resign seems to have started. Scott Stringer tweeted: “Assemblymember Vito Lopez has violated any trust that voters placed in him, and he should step down immediately.

Common Cause issued a statement , stating: “It is clear that Assembly Member Lopez should resign not only from the Assembly but also from his chairmanship of the Kings County Democratic Party.”

Here is Common Cause’s full statement: Read the rest of this entry »

By on August 24, 2012, 4:14 pm
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Williams and Cabrera Comment on Shootings
August 24th, 2012

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this mornings shooting and their families and friends. It was a terrible act of gun violence and thankfully many more people were not hurt in midtown Manhattan. But its not the only act of gun violence in our city this summer.
Just last night, a 13-year-old child was heading to the store in Brownsville when he was gunned down and killed. We should be outraged and frightened by each and every one of these incidents, and they should strengthen the resolve of every elected official to do whatever necessary to pass meaningful and common-sense gun control measures. We all need to find ways to end gun violence in our city. Whether its on 34th street in Midtown Manhattan, a playground in the Bronx or a school yard in Brooklyn.

Councilman Jumaane Williams and Fernando Cabrera want to remind New Yorker’s that gun violence is an everyday reality for a number of their constituents. The men co-chair the Council’s Gun Violence Taskforce and issued this statement in reaction to the shooting at the Empire State Building:

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this mornings shooting and their families and friends. It was a terrible act of gun violence and thankfully many more people were not hurt in midtown Manhattan. But its not the only act of gun violence in our city this summer.

Just last night, a 13-year-old child was heading to the store in Brownsville when he was gunned down and killed. We should be outraged and frightened by each and every one of these incidents, and they should strengthen the resolve of every elected official to do whatever necessary to pass meaningful and common-sense gun control measures. We all need to find ways to end gun violence in our city. Whether its on 34th street in Midtown Manhattan, a playground in the Bronx or a school yard in Brooklyn.

By on August 24, 2012, 2:47 pm
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Brooklyn Boss Lopez Rebuked by Fellow Lawmakers
August 24th, 2012

Longtime Brooklyn party boss Vito Lopez will be stripped of his committee chairmanship and lose his seniority after an ethics committee found he violated the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced today that Lopez will be removed as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Housing, banned from any other committee chairmanship or leadership position and stripped of his seniority.

Silver also said that Lopez’s staff allocation will be reduced through attrition to the amount of a first-term member. Lopez will also be forced to undergo sexual harassment training. His office will be prohibited from employing staff under 21 years old or interns.

The bi-partisan Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance recommended the sanctions after reviewing allegations of sexual harassment brought against Lopez.

The Assembly has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment and we are committed to ensuring a safe and respectful workplace for all our employees, Silver said in a statement. The committee on Ethics and Guidance has been diligent in thoroughly and fairly investigating the allegations made in this case and I will immediately implement its recommendations.

Lopez’s office has yet to return calls for comment.

The letter from Silver to Lopez contains graphic detail of the allegations against Lopez. The Assembly committee unanimously found that the allegations were “credible.” And the allegations include that Lopez groped between a staffer’s legs, forced them on a trip to Atlantic City where he made aggressive sexual advances and made inappropriate comments about their bodies and attire.

Here is an excerpt of the letter: Read the rest of this entry »

By on August 24, 2012, 2:03 pm
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NY Pols React to Shooting at Empire State Building
August 24th, 2012

At least one person was killed and 10 people shot today when a gunman opened fire at the Empire State Building today. The incident will surely spark more debate about preventing gun violence in the wake of the shooting at a theater in Aurora Colorado and at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. A number of New York’s elected officials have issued statements on the shooting.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

“Today’s shooting near the Empire State Building is a tragedy for New York City and our entire state. My administration, including members of the State Police, is actively monitoring the situation and working closely with city law enforcement agencies to ensure that the safety of New Yorkers and those visiting New York City comes first. I commend members of the New York Police Department, as well as the first responders and civilians, who acted bravely and took swift action to save the lives of others and prevent this tragedy from becoming much worse. Our state has no tolerance for senseless acts of violence that harm our people, and we will do everything possible to ensure that law enforcement officials have the tools they need so residents of the city and tourists can enjoy everything New York City has to offer without fearing for their own safety and security. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I send my condolences to the friends and family of the innocent victim who died in this attack, and wish those who were injured in today’s shooting a speedy recovery.”

“Today’s shooting near the Empire State Building is a tragedy for New York City and our entire state. My administration, including members of the State Police, is actively monitoring the situation and working closely with city law enforcement agencies to ensure that the safety of New Yorkers and those visiting New York City comes first. I commend members of the New York Police Department, as well as the first responders and civilians, who acted bravely and took swift action to save the lives of others and prevent this tragedy from becoming much worse. Our state has no tolerance for senseless acts of violence that harm our people, and we will do everything possible to ensure that law enforcement officials have the tools they need so residents of the city and tourists can enjoy everything New York City has to offer without fearing for their own safety and security. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I send my condolences to the friends and family of the innocent victim who died in this attack, and wish those who were injured in today’s shooting a speedy recovery.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims of todays tragic shootings and their families. For those of us in government, and in law enforcement, the news of yet another mass shooting so close on the heels of the massacres at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and in Aurora, Colorado, should make it crystal clear that our current laws have failed to protect the public from gun violence. We must redouble our efforts to protect public safety so that New Yorkers dont have to live in fear of the next deadly attack.

Rep. Charles Rangel:
“I am shaken by the news that a man randomly shot at innocent people at the Empire State Building, especially at an hour when many New Yorkers are starting their workday and hundreds of tourists are visiting. My thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and the families and friends who lost their loved ones. I hope that those who are wounded will heal quickly and recover from the psychological harm that they endured.
This year, our nation has been plagued by frequent and senseless gun violence that has taken the lives of so many people across the country. These arbitrary shootings are acts of terrorism that are paralyzing our communities. We must unite to focus our policies on enacting stricter gun control laws that will prevent potentially harmful individuals from accessing such deadly weapons. It is the only way to make certain that our communities safer.”
Sen. Michael Gianaris:
My prayers go out for the victims of this mornings horrific incident caused by yet another act of senseless gun violence. It is long past time to fix our gun laws to prevent future tragedies from occurring. To the victims families, stay strong and know our hearts are with you.
By on August 24, 2012, 1:31 pm
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Coalition For Homeless Blasts Bloomberg
August 23rd, 2012

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was recently quoted as saying that the sharp rise in the length of stays at city homeless shelters has to do with “more pleasurable” shelter conditions. The Coalition for the Homeless called the comments “shocking.” and their executive director Mary Brosnahan issued this statement:

“The Mayor’s assertion that homeless New Yorkers are staying in shelters longer because they are ‘much more pleasurable’ is shocking and offensive. Mayor Bloomberg systematically closed every single path to affordable housing once available to homeless families with vulnerable children. His failed policies are the major factor leading to the record shelter population this summer. Blaming homeless families and suggesting they are luxuriating in ‘pleasurable’ accommodations shows just how badly the mayor is out of touch.”

By on August 23, 2012, 2:07 pm
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DC 37's Interesting Endorsements
August 22nd, 2012

The city’s largest public employee union, DC 37, has released its slate of endorsements for the Sept. 13 primary. And, boy, are there are some interesting ones.

Perhaps most noteworthy is their endorsements of Assemblyman William Boyland, who is facing an indictment for federal bribery charges for allegedly soliciting $25,000 from an undercover FBI agent to cover legal expenses from his previous indictment.

Boyland is also being investigated for falsifying travel records for reimbursement, and has earned one of the least admirable records in the legislature. Boyland had one of the worst attendance records of any legislator last year. He introduced no bills in 2011, and only sponsored three this year.

DC 37 is also endorsing Assembylwoman Naomi Rivera, who has recently come under fire for allegedly giving cushy government jobs to her ex-lovers.

“The DC 37 Executive Board endorsed this list of very qualified candidates, following a recommendation by the DC 37 Screening Committee, because of their proven record in support of the issues important to the men and women we represent who work so hard to serve New York,” said DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts. “We firmly believe that these candidates will best represent the interests of the labor community of our city and our state. Our endorsement brings with it a pledge to work diligently on their behalf with our powerful, sophisticated field operations to get out the vote. We have a proven record of successfully supporting our endorsed candidates”.

“The DC 37 Executive Board endorsed this list of very qualified candidates, following a recommendation by the DC 37 Screening Committee, because of their proven record in support of the issues important to the men and women we represent who work so hard to serve New York,” said DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts in a statement accompanying the endorsements.

A spokesman for DC 37 said they would respond to my inquiries about Boyland’s qualifications “as soon as possible.”

Here is the full list of primary endorsements: Read the rest of this entry »

By on August 22, 2012, 4:44 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany | 3 Comments »

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NYPIRG looks for Board of Election's Teeth
August 22nd, 2012

The New York Public Interest Group went looking for the state Board of Election’s teeth and they didn’t find any. Thanks to two freedom of information requests NYPIRG discovered that the only action the BOE took against violators of campaign finance law over the last year were “modest” fines against committees that disclosed late.

NYPIRG points out that the BOE isn’t really doing its job when it comes to fining late-filing committees. “An examination of committees that havent filed recently shows that even in this area, the Board has not met its responsibilities to enforce the law,” wrote Bill Mahoney of NYPIRG. 2,328 active committees with $31,181,363.85 in the bank have still not disclosed any transactions made during the six months covered by the July filing period. Many of these missing in action committees have not filed in a year or more. The fact that the Board does not perform any audits raises the disturbing possibility that some of these candidates have simply pocketed the money. While the vast majority of these filers may not have engaged in serious violations of the law, the Boards anemic oversight and enforcement creates the impression that non-compliance with the law carriers little risk of real consequences.”

Anyone familiar with the escapades of former Sen. Pedro Espada and his long delayed campaign finance filings can recall the BOE’s no-so-dogged approach to getting Espada to file. Espada would miss a deadline and offer an excuse and the BOE would start waiting for him to file by the next agreed upon deadline, which usually resulted in another excuse for not filing. In fact NYPIRG’s report points out that Espada’s committee hasn’t filed in a while. Of course he has bigger things to worry about at the moment.

Update:

The Board of Election has issued this statement in response to NYPIRG’s report:

While we share NYPIRGs view that the enforcement of campaign finance disclosure is vitally important to the electoral process, we dispute the conclusions in the campaign finance report issued by NYPIRG today. They allege wrongdoing by candidates and inaction by the State Board of Elections that is just not true.
Since 2006, we have initiated 5,042 lawsuits against candidates and committees seeking more than $1.5 million in court-assessed fines for failure to file campaign finance disclosure reports. While we are criticized for seeking fines of only $1,000, that is the maximum allowable under current law. In addition, we average more than 4,000 enforcement actions each year which stop short of litigation because the committees or candidates make their filing.
With regard to persistent delinquents, between 2007 and 2010 the Board made more than 900 referrals to the Albany County District Attorney for failure to file. During that same period 239 referrals of corporations were made to other District Attorneys around the state for corporate over-contributions.

While we share NYPIRGs view that the enforcement of campaign finance disclosure is vitally important to the electoral process, we dispute the conclusions in the campaign finance report issued by NYPIRG today. They allege wrongdoing by candidates and inaction by the State Board of Elections that is just not true.

Since 2006, we have initiated 5,042 lawsuits against candidates and committees seeking more than $1.5 million in court-assessed fines for failure to file campaign finance disclosure reports. While we are criticized for seeking fines of only $1,000, that is the maximum allowable under current law. In addition, we average more than 4,000 enforcement actions each year which stop short of litigation because the committees or candidates make their filing.

With regard to persistent delinquents, between 2007 and 2010 the Board made more than 900 referrals to the Albany County District Attorney for failure to file. During that same period 239 referrals of corporations were made to other District Attorneys around the state for corporate over-contributions.

Since the law was changed in 2005, and local filers were required to file with the State Board, our total number of filers has increased more than seven-fold, going from 1,716 in 2004 to more than 12,300 last year. During that time the resources allocated to the Board by the state have not kept pace with that increased workload.

The suggestion that we have not asked for additional resources is simply untrue. The Board consistently seeks significant increases in staffing and funding from the Division of the Budget each year but as everyone knows the budget process is difficult in a bad economy. This is also a persistent theme expressed during our Board meetings which are broadcast to the general public and anyone who has attended a budget hearing will hear that same request for the State Board from other advocacy groups.

Our goal as an administrative agency is compliance. Even NYPIRGs own figures obtained from the State Board demonstrate that a vast majority of filers are compliant with state law.

By on August 22, 2012, 12:28 pm
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Bike Share Delayed, Software Blamed
August 17th, 2012

NEW YORK The much-touted bike share program that some speculated would transform public transit in New York City has been delayed until March 2013.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says bugs with the software that runs the planned system of thousands of two-wheelers is to blame for the hold-up. The program was supposed to launch this summer.

“The software doesnt work. Duh, Bloomberg said on his morning radio show earlier today. Were not going to put it out until it does work.

Shortly after Bloomberg made his announcement, the Department of Transportation sent out a news release saying the system, known as Citi Bike, would go live with 7,000 bikes next spring.

“New York City demands a world-class bike share system, and we need to ensure that Citi Bike launches as flawlessly as New Yorkers expect on Day One,” DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said in a statement explaining the delay.

In the news release, the DOT said the bike share operator “continues work to conclude manufacture and testing of the high-performance software necessary to operate the new system, which is being tailored for New York City. The system uses new solar power arrays and circuit boards, and engineers will continue to thoroughly test data communications, power management and payment systems to ensure overall system performance.”

While the $41 million system is privately funded, Sadik-Khan acknowledged a growing public interest in the program.

A bike share program in Chattanooga, Tenn., operated by the same company charged with getting the city’s rolled out, Alta Bicycle Share, also was delayed because of software bugs. The program launched month.

By on August 17, 2012, 4:04 pm
In category: Transportation | 8 Comments »

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Cuomo unveils online voter registration
August 16th, 2012

New York ranks 47th among all states in voter registration. Over sixty percent of the eligible voters in the state are not registered to vote. After months of discussion Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled sweeping changes at the Department of Motor Vehicles designed to make it easier for voters to register. The DMV will now offer online voter registration and allow voters to change their party alignment or address online.

“Today, we are knocking down longstanding barriers that have prevented many New Yorkers from participating in the democratic process, while creating a more streamlined and more efficient system that will save taxpayers’ money,” Cuomo said in a statement. “At the DMV, or in their own homes, New Yorkers will now have a convenient and secure way to ensure they are able to register and exercise their right to vote.”

Currently drivers fill out forms at the DMV to register to vote and the DMV processes about 300,000 applications a year in what is described by the governor’s office as a “cumbersome process.” The new site https://my.dmv.ny.gov will allow secure registration from home, while new electronic data entry devices at DMV locations will allow New Yorker’s to register to vote quickly.

Here is the description of the changes from Cuomo’s office as well as supporting comments from various good government groups: Read the rest of this entry »

By on August 16, 2012, 2:25 pm
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DiNapoli: MTA tipped Apple bid on Grand Central space
July 30th, 2012

The Apple store’s arrival in Grand Central Station was greeted with much ballyhoo, its unveiling like something out of a science fiction novel appearing out of nowhere to stun the masses.

Well, according to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, there was something extraordinary about the Apple store’s arrival in Grand Central.

He says Apple had an unfair advantage in the bidding process for the space thanks to help from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. According an audit by DiNapoli, the MTA worked with Apple for a year before issuing an RFP for the bidding on the space.

While Apple may turn out to be a good tenant, the MTA set a troubling
precedent when it played favorites and gave Apple a competitive edge over
others for the Grand Central space, DiNapoli said. Apple was directly
involved in setting the terms of the lease and given exclusive access to
information more than a year before any other vendor knew the Grand Central
location was available. The company even signed a $2 million agreement with
the current tenant to vacate its space five days before the MTA issued the
RFP.

While Apple may turn out to be a good tenant, the MTA set a troublingprecedent when it played favorites and gave Apple a competitive edge overothers for the Grand Central space, DiNapoli said. Apple was directlyinvolved in setting the terms of the lease and given exclusive access toinformation more than a year before any other vendor knew the Grand Centrallocation was available. The company even signed a $2 million agreement withthe current tenant to vacate its space five days before the MTA issued theRFP.”

DiNapoli is recommending changes to the Public Authorities Law to allow for a more transparent bidding process.

The current law only calls for certain contracts to be reviewed by the state Comptroller’s office. DiNapoli’s proposed change would make all contracts over one million dollars eligible for review. DiNapoli’s office was not allow to review the process that led to the Apple lease before it was finalized because it was allegedly a competitive process.

MTA chairman Jay Lhota is a Cuomo ally and DiNapoli has a contentious relationship with the governor.

Cuomo never endorsed DiNapoli in 2010 and DiNapoli has been working with another one of Cuomo’s rumored political rivals Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Here is a timeline of events provided by DiNapoli’s office: Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 30, 2012, 12:30 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Land Use | 1 Comment »

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City Gives Columbia $15M for Applied Science Institute
July 30th, 2012

The city will support Columbia University’s new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering with up to $15 million in financial aid, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation projects that the new institute will generate $3.9 billion of nominal economic growth over the next three decades, with more than 4,000 permanent jobs created.

Columbia will spend more than $80 million of its own money on the project, and part of the city’s contribution comes from debt forgiveness, discounted energy transmission costs and lease flexibility.

It will create tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity, and it will encourage the growth of the tech sector in New York City and solidify our leadership in the innovation economy for decades to come, Mayor Bloomberg said in a press release.

This comes as part of the larger Applied Sciences NYC initiative, which aims to increase performance of fields like data science in the city, as well as bolster the city’s economy. Other efforts include the city’s collaboration with Cornell University to create a tech campus on Roosevelt Island.

“The discoveries produced by the Data Sciences Institute will establish a foundation for significant contributions to society and to the marketplace, Professor Kathy McKeown, director of the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, said in the release.

By 2016, the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering is expected to add 44,000 square feet to Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, with construction starting almost immediately. The university also plans to add approximately 75 faculty jobs in the next 15 years.

However, advocacy groups do not have full confidence in this initiative’s economic promises, seeking full transparency throughout the project.

“More and more, these large universities are running like large corporations,” said Bettina Damiani, project director at Good Jobs NY. “They should be under the same due diligence and expectation to create good jobs.”

By on July 30, 2012, 12:21 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City,Public Finance,Tech | 2 Comments »

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