Archive for July, 2011
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Indigent Defense Aid to Start Flowing to Counties
July 29th, 2011

The State Office of Indigent Legal Services, which was created by the legislature last June, has taken one of the first steps to fulfill its role in overseeing and boosting the state’s indigent legal services.

The agency is charged with doling on $4.4 in aid to counties to help them bolster their public defender system. The agency solicited proposals from counties on ways to streamline their legal aid work and the agency decided which ideas to fund. Now the ILS is set to start handing out the cash. William Leahy, director of the ILS tells me that the first 11 contracts have been sent out to counties across the state–once they are signed and returned the counties will receive their part of the $4.4 million.

Counties that should be expecting contracts soon are: Chenango, Delaware, Franklin, Herkimer, Livingston, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, Washington, Wyoming and Yates. Leahy said a steady flow of contracts to the rest of the state’s counties should begin in the next few weeks. Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 29, 2011, 2:20 pm
In category: Albany,Crime & Safety,Eye on Albany | 1 Comment »

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Summer School, Summer Scores
July 29th, 2011

(Jason Lewis filed this post.)

With the beginning of the school year only a little more than a month away, thousands of New York City public school students remain unsure whether they’ll be promoted to the next grade in the fall.

Back in June, the New York City Department of Education recommended some 34,000 students in grades three through eight attend summer school based on the city’s preliminary analysis of the statewide math and English language arts exams. Students who do poorly on the exams have to try to improve their performance in summer school or face having to repeat a grade.

Some 39,244 elementary and middle schools students were mandated for summer school though not all of those had to attend in order to move up a grade — and registered. Of those, about 84 percent actually attended class last week.

The determination of who faces being left back, though, remains a bit fuzzy since the city education department still has not received final test scores from the state.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 29, 2011, 12:48 pm
In category: Education | 11 Comments »

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Brennan Center Warns LATFOR
July 27th, 2011

The Brennan Center For Justice has sent a letter to the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) a letter informing them that they are breaking the law by not counting prisoners in the communities where they were arrested instead of where they are incarcerated–and encouraging them to start.

Critics of the previous counting technique say it inflated the census of rural districts–artificially giving upstate more representation than it deserved and bolstering Republicans. Regardless–a law was passed in 2009 that changed the counting method and LATFOR has so far ignored it.

Here is the text of the letter: Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 27, 2011, 4:32 pm
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Teachers on Tenure
July 27th, 2011

Following Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement on the results of the city’s new teacher tenure process (see below) the United Federation of Teachers is expressing reservations about how the city now awards, or denies, teachers tenure. In a brief statement issued this afternoon, union president Michael Mulgrew said, “The process of granting tenure must be rigorous, but it also must be consistent and transparent. We have serious questions about how the DOE reached these conclusions and concerns that they failed to base these decisions on pedagogy or job performance.”

The major change under the new system is that many more teachers are having their tenure decision delayed, or, as the UFT puts it, their probation period extended.

The union released a letter it sent to Chancellor Dennis Walcott earlier this month saying it has received “troubling reports of teachers and other pedagogues having their probation extended for reasons entirely unrelated to performance.” The letter went on to cite reports of teachers who did not receive a final tenure decision because the principal did not complete the classroom observation or was new to the school. It also accused the department of using teacher data reports, which, the union charged, are “based on flawed tests and [have] a margin of error of more than 50 percent.

The delays in the process, the Daily News reported a few weeks ago, has the greatest effect on the same high-quality new recruits whose jobs Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he wanted to save during this year’s fight over how to determine teacher layoffs.

By on July 27, 2011, 4:23 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | Comments Off on Teachers on Tenure

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MTA Budget Proposal
July 27th, 2011

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s outgoing head Jay Walder released his 2012 preliminary budget and four year financial plan. The headline from the MTA says quite a bit in itself

“Unprecedented Internal Cost Cutting Limits Fare Increase to Agreed 7.5% and Protects Service Quality; MTA’s Financial Picture Remains Fragile with Many Risks; Labor Participation Critical to Plan.”

The $12 billion 2012 budget does not have any fare increases but relies on a three-year pay freeze for the Transportation Workers Union, and borrows billions to fund its capital plan. Unions, so far, are not hot on the plan.

However, the MTA does plan on 7.5 percent fare and toll increases in 2013 and 2015 and expects major funding shortfalls in 2014 and 2015.

Walder will be leaving his post in Oct. for a job in Hong Kong.

The full release from the MTA after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 27, 2011, 2:00 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Transportation | 3 Comments »

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Delaying Teacher Tenure
July 27th, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long criticized the almost automatic granting of lifetime tenure to teachers in the New York City school system. Today he announced results of his efforts to change tenure as we know it - and, while there are significant changes, the effort falls a bit short of a revolution.

Using what the city calls a “new framework for measuring teacher effectiveness” instituted in December, principals approved fewer teachers for tenure this year — 58 percent of 5,209 teachers as opposed to 97 percent of those eligible in 2006-7. Looking at the figures, it seems apparent that many teachers who might previously have gotten tenure after three years, saw their decisions delayed. Thirty-nine percent of the teachers fell into that category, compared with 2 percent in 2007. While the number of those denied increased, it remains small: 3 percent this year, as opposed to 1 percent four years ago.

Bloomberg expressed pleasure with the results, saying in a prepared statement, “Making tenure an earned distinction rather than an automatic right will help our teachers get better and ensure that more of them can develop into not just good but great teachers. Thats what our kids deserve and our parents expect.

All teachers are eligible for tenure review after three years.

Under the new system, principals evaluate teachers based on classroom observation, student work, test scores, student attendance and feedback from students and parents. They receive ratings on a four-point scale in three categories: teacher practice, student learning and contributions to the school community. To get tenure, the teacher must score at the top two levels effective or highly effective in all three areas for two consecutive years.

By on July 27, 2011, 12:57 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City,Work and Labor | Comments Off on Delaying Teacher Tenure

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A New Chief for Parent Involvement
July 26th, 2011

Probably no aspect of the Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education changes has received as much criticism as the Department of Education’s attitude toward parents. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein wanted parents to help kids with their homework and vote for the mayor they saw real parent input as an inconvenience, possibly threatening their reforms.

Consulting with parents can create gridlock, Klein once said. “For every issue in which you think there is parent agreement … there are wide ranges of very different views.”

Bloomberg and Klein even went so far as to try to stop parents from baking cookies.

Upon becoming chancellor last spring, Dennis Walcott vowed to change that, while at the same time praising the department’s efforts during the time Klein was chancellor (and Walcott deputy mayor).

Today the Department of Education announced yet another retooling of the Office of Family Information and Action. Walcott made the executive director of the office a “cabinet-level” post and appointed Bronx native Jesse Mojica to fill it.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 26, 2011, 3:11 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Cuomo Administration Suspends Licenses For 8 Bus Companies
July 25th, 2011

The New York State Department of Transportation has issued suspensions for the operating licenses of eight charter bus operators. The move comes during heightened scrutiny of the industry following a number of fatal bus crashes.

“The frequent, and at times flagrant, violations of state and federal safety regulations by charter bus companies has gone on for too long and put too many lives at risk,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.

The eight companies are:

BEST TRAILS AND TRAVEL CORP

PARTY RIDE

A & W TOURS, Inc.

Touch of Class & Coach, Inc.

Silver Star Limo Company, LLC

Zoladz Limousine Service

Long Island Limousine Service Corp

Big Apple Bus Charter, Inc.

Here is the full release from the Cuomo administration:

Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 25, 2011, 6:32 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Transportation | 9 Comments »

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Walder Out
July 21st, 2011

Metropolitan Transportation Chairman Jay Walder abruptly announced his resignation today. Walder is taking a position as CEO at the MTR Corporation in Hong Kong–the company provides rail service in Europe and Asia.

Walder was confirmed as head of the MTA during the Paterson administration and was thought very highly of for his work as finance director for Transport of London. Gov. Andrew Cuomo chose to keep Walder on when he began his administration.

I want to thank Governors Cuomo and former Governor Paterson for the honor of serving the people of New York State, Walder said in a statement The MTAs transportation system is the foundation of the metropolitan region and we are fortunate to have thousands of dedicated men and women who work so hard to provide these critically important transportation services to millions of people each and every day. I believe that we have accomplished quite a lot in a short period, with the support of two Governors, the Mayor, a hard-working Board and many others.

By on July 21, 2011, 3:57 pm
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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State Unemployment Rate Rises
July 21st, 2011

The State Labor Department is reporting that the jobs picture in New York is not exactly pretty. The state unemployment rate increased to 8 percent in June from 7.8 percent in May. The national unemployment rate for June was 9.2 percent. The number of unemployed also increased from 751,600 in May to 760,500 in June. The state gained 13,600 jobs in June or .2 percent.

“In June 2011, the New York State economy continued its recovery from the effects of the last recession, adding 13,600 private sector jobs. Like the nation as a whole, our state unemployment rate increased over the month, and now stands at 8.0%. However, we remained significantly below the nation’s jobless rate, which increased to 9.2% in June,” said Bohdan M. Wynnyk, Chief of Labor Statistics, Division of Research and Statistics in a statement.

By on July 21, 2011, 2:52 pm
In category: Albany,Economy,Eye on Albany,Work and Labor | 3 Comments »

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Skelos Calls For Tax Cuts if Good News Continues
July 20th, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos issued a statement in reaction to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s report that tax collections are better than expected. Skelos wants to monitor the situation but if it continues he would like to see tax cuts. That stance certainly flies in the face of Democrats and advocates who still hold out hope for a return of the millionaires tax or at least restorations to cuts made to numerous programs.

“If this positive trend continues, the Governor and State Legislature should focus on cutting taxes so businesses across the state can use the resulting savings to create new jobs, grow their companies and invest in New York,” said Skelos in a statement.

“This years state budget, a responsible spending plan that eliminated a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes, was widely recognized as the first step in showing job-creators that New York was once again open for business.”

Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 20, 2011, 3:50 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany | 1 Comment »

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DiNapoli: Good News and Bad News
July 20th, 2011

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli reported today that income from both personal income tax and business tax is ahead of schedule for the year. $799 million ahead of where the state was budgeted to be at this point. But DiNapoli issued a warning that the state is not exactly on steady fiscal legs.

Revenue collections in the first quarter were strong, but our fiscal health is tenuous, DiNapoli said. We received the last of the significant federal stimulus funding in June, and the temporary PIT surcharge ends in the third quarter this year. The federal debt limit crisis, weakness in the housing market, and international financial and political instability continue to pose threats to the recovery. The Blue Chip consensus economic forecasts for growth continue to be revised downward. State leaders need to focus on diversifying our economic base, creating jobs, and rebuilding reserves to prepare the state for any fiscal difficulties ahead.

The state’s general fund also did better than expected–ending June with $2.5 billion–$2 billion more than estimated in the enacted budget fiscal plan.

By on July 20, 2011, 2:18 pm
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Previewing the Special Elections
July 20th, 2011

As we’ve reported, special elections in New York City have all the drama of voting contest in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Without the benefit of secret police or threat of torture, party leaders control the process giving the voters a chance to ratify their choice.

But, so far, at least one of the Assembly seats up for grabs in the Sept.13 special election is showing signs of being a real contests. The Republicans are challenging the Democratic choice — and likely winner, given the registration figures — in three others. And a couple of intrepid hopefuls are even trying to get on the ballot through the petition process — and without the blessing of party leaders.

As we’ve noted previously, the most hotly contested race appears to be in the 54 Assembly district, formerly represented by Darryl Towns who stepped down to join the Cuomo administration.

More on the race there and in the other three districts after the jump.
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By on July 20, 2011, 10:21 am
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Eye on Albany | 4 Comments »

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Getting Ready to Redistrict
July 18th, 2011

Common Cause/NY said earlier this year that they were planning to release their own maps to help LATFOR draw up district lines. Now they are following the mapping debate with a blog that will provide readers with demographic information and issues facing districts across the state.

LATFOR has announced public meetings across the state to take input and discuss possible changes to local districts. Now Common Cause has launched a blog called Mapping Democracy that will highlight the concerns of each part of the state that LATFOR is visiting.
“In Mapping Democracy, we’ll discuss and provide illustrative maps on aspects of the current district lines and the demographic issues that should influence where the new district lines should be placed, ” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY in a statement.

“We’ll do that for each locale in advance of each of the public hearings which LATFOR has scheduled around the state starting on Tuesday. Of course, we’ll also discuss political developments which may have an impact on the redistricting process or the new maps themselves, but our purpose in starting the blog is to help shift the focus from the political horse race to the important substantive issues which effect how communities will be reflected in the new districts.”

“Our maps will illustrate how communities have often been arbitrarily divided by the current, highly partisan districts. In order to maximize the effective representation and participation of communities in the political process, New York’s new district maps should look very different than the current set,” said Brian Paul, Research & Policy Coordinator at Common Cause/NY in a statement.

The group plans to have information on the blog about Syracuse and Rochester–the next two places LATFOR will visit.

By on July 18, 2011, 3:25 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Governing | Comments Off on Getting Ready to Redistrict

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Cuomo In the Money
July 15th, 2011

Preliminary indications were that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign war chest is brimming with dough despite the fact that he is an incumbent in a non-election year. Now we know just how full. According to filings made today–he has over $9.2 million on hand. Cuomo raised $6.4 million in the last 6 months–a large amount of that money came from political action committees or PACs.

What does Cuomo need all that cash for? In a recent interview with the New York Times Cuomo said his main priority for next year is to cut public pension benefits. That will likely lead to an ugly war with public employee unions. Cuomo had the help of pro-business groups last year who helped him campaign for budget cuts and no new taxes. It is likely that Cuomo is gearing up for a similar campaign next year.

As filings have rolled in we’ve learned that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been very generous with GOP members who voted for same sex-marriage.

Republican Sens. Roy McDonald, James Alesi and Mark Grisanti who all voted for same-sex marriage received the maximum allowable contribution from Bloomberg–$10,300. Sen. Ruben Diaz–an extremely outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage accused the three of selling their votes.

By on July 15, 2011, 2:12 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany | 1 Comment »

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No Clear Sailing for Cuomo
July 14th, 2011

Vicky Plestis filed this post.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should feel comfortable, but not too comfortable a panel of experts on a panel at Baruch College agreed yesterday. While the 2011 legislative session, exceptionally productive by Albany standards, was lauded as “historic,” John Cahill, a former secretary to Gov. George Pataki, warned, “Power changes, interests change over time.”

The panel identified the Marriage Equality Act as Cuomo’s bigest success. “He cemented his own personal legacy really in six months,” said Cahill. Other achievements for Cuomo included an on-time budget agreement, a cap on proprty taxes and an ethics reform bill — all on the governor’s agenda.

But Cuomo’s success, according to the panel, is larger than the sum of these individual achievements.

“We’ve had a historic last couple of months because we have had a governor who’s been able to bring leaders together,” said Charles O’Byrne, a former secretary to Gov. David Paterson. “I think it presages a really important cultural shift, which brings us back to a way where government works.”

Cuomo, who is fiscally conservative, has been able to negotiate with a Republican dominated senate, in particular Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Republicans, said Abe Lackman, a former advisor to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, are “totally delighted with their relationship with Gov. Cuomo. For the first time in years they actually can have someone listen to them.”

But Lackman cautioned that whether this productivity and cooperation will continue is “an open question.” Historically, from Hugh Carey in 1975 to David Paterson in 2008, a promising first few months has not guaranteed much in New York.
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By on July 14, 2011, 4:00 pm
In category: Gotham City | Comments Off on No Clear Sailing for Cuomo

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Law on Pregnancy Centers Blocked
July 13th, 2011

A federal judge yesterday threw out a city law regulating so-called pregnancy crisis centers, only hours before the measure was set to take effect. The law, passed by City Council in March and signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would require these centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions. They also would have had to post signs indicating whether they have medical professionals on staff.

The centers clearly have an anti-abortion agenda and try to encourage women to bear the child — either to keep or put up for adoption. Their attempts to conceal that, New York Civil Liberties executive director Donna Lieberman has said, misleads women and so can “pose serious health risks”

From the beginning, though, people affiliated with the center said the bill infringed on the centers’ rights to free speech.

Yesterday, Judge William H. Pauley III agreed, calling the law “offensive to free speech principles” and saying it was based on an “overly broad definition of commercial speech.”
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By on July 13, 2011, 10:15 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Health,Law | 2 Comments »

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Judge Orders Another Look at Atlantic Yards
July 13th, 2011

Opponents of the massive Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn have filed suit after suit to try to block the arena and residential complex - largely without much success. Meanwhile Bruce Ratner has moved ahead on his project, reaping government help, razing buildings and building much of a basketball arena for the still New Jersey Nets.

Now, though, Ratner’s rivals have won a victory. Today Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn announced that state Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman has ordered the Empire State Development Corp. to conduct additional environmental review of the project, including a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. (The ruling is available here.)
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By on July 13, 2011, 4:49 pm
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Publisher Runs for Mayor
July 12th, 2011

With Mayor Michael Bloomberg set to exit the city’s political scene in 2013, another wealthy albeit not nearly that wealthy — publisher has started eying his job.

Tom Allon, publisher of Manhattan Media, which owns neighborhood weekly, City Hall and the New York Press, among other publications, has told Crain’s he wants to run for mayor.

Whatever else Allon’s candidacy might or might not do, it raises interesting campaign finance questions, Azi Paybarah of the Observer reports. While the papers can continue to cover the news , including politicking by their boss, they could raise questions, Eric Friedman of the Campaign Finance Board, told Paybarah “if they put him on the front page and say, Here’s why this guy is going to be a great mayor.”

In their morning email, City Hall and the Capitol, its sister publication said, “We’re putting up a wall between Allon’s aspirations and our coverage of New York politics, and well cover him like any other candidate — which means well wait to see if he’s taken seriously before we do.”

Expressing skepticism on that very point, the email said, “What seems like a vanity run to push his pet issue of improving city schools is a long shot at best.”
Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 12, 2011, 7:09 pm
In category: City Hall | Comments Off on Publisher Runs for Mayor

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Raising Money for 2013
July 12th, 2011

The reporting period for contributions to city campaign ended yesterday, and some candidates have already filed their reports.

Two declared candidate for City Council - Helen Rosenthal in the sixth district in Manhattan (now represented by Gale Brewer, who is term limited) and Ari Hoffnung in the 11th district in the Bronx (now represented by Oliver Koppell, also term limited) have filed their reports. Hoffnung has raised a total of slightly more than $79,000 going back to 2008. Rosenthal has brought in almost $55,000.

Both candidates originally contemplated council bids in 2009 but pulled back when the mayor and City Council extended term limits, letting the incumbents in their districts run for another four years.

Several candidates considering bids for mayor also will file their disclosures forms in the next few days. Crain’s reports several will report substantial war chests, with Christine Quinn expected to have about $4 million - some $1 million of it raised in this six-month filing period. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer apparently has amassed $2.5 million and Bill de Blasio $657,000.

This will also be the first filing period since 2009 where Bill Thompson the former comptroller and unsuccessful 2009 mayoral candidate shows up. He has reportedly raised about $82,000 (though its not on the Campaign Finance Board web site yet.)

By on July 12, 2011, 6:31 pm
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