Archive for November, 2011

IOGA Unhappy With Extension of Fracking Comment Period
November 30th, 2011

The Department of Environmental Conservation announced today that it is extending the public comment period on its fracking impact study by one month. The DEC is holding its final hearing on the study in the city today.

Environmental advocates were fairly pleased by the extension but the gas industry is not. The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York issued this short statement:

While todays extension of the comment period may seem inconsequential to some, it is in fact a continuation of the existing four-year ban on economic opportunity for Upstate New York.

By on November 30, 2011, 4:29 pm
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Boyland In Trouble Again
November 29th, 2011

Assemblyman William Boyland was found not guilty on federal corruption charges just two weeks ago. It was surprising to many observers that the jury said they couldn’t connect the dots between a no-show health care job the Boyland had and the lobbying he was doing in Albany. Today Boyland was arraigned on charges that he took $250,000 from a carnival promoter and two FBI agents who were masquerading as real estate developers.

The charges against Boyland show that the legislator promised to use connections in the city government to make things happen for these developers. He also indicated he controlled a non profit that could buy up high-priced real estate. These charges could be bad for a slew of other folks connected with Boyland.

By on November 29, 2011, 4:04 pm
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Quinn Sues Bloomberg
November 29th, 2011

The New York City Council today will ratchet up its efforts to block the citys proposed change in eligibility requirements for homeless shelters. At its meeting this afternoon, the council will take steps to file suit against the controversial change, which will require homeless adults seeking to enter the shelter system to prove they have no other place to go.

The suit is the first filed by the council against the Bloomberg administration since Christine Quinn, a frequent ally of the mayor, became speaker in 2006. In addition to highlighting the policy itself — which Quinn has called inhumane and cruel — the suit also takes aim at the way the city has attempted to implement the change. By most accounts, council members learned of the new rules through a report on WNBC less than two weeks before the change was to take effect.

I cannot just turn away when it is clear the City of New York has not followed rule making requirements, Quinn said.

The shift has come under sharp attack since it was announced earlier this month. While a similar policy exists for homeless families, council members and advocates note that homeless single adults are a far more vulnerable group — with high levels of substance abuse and mental illness. Under the change, these individuals would have to document any places they had stayed and show why they could not return to that bed. People would risk being denied a shelter slot if they had a relative with a spare bedroom — even if that relative refused to take them in.

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homless have already filed suit to block the change, prompting the Department of Homeless Services to postpone its implementation pending a court hearing. In addition, the state has raised serious concerns about the new policy and the citys apparent rush to put it in place.

In the face of this, the city has stuck by the policy, saying it makes the best use of scarce resources.

Youd rather not end up in court, Quinn said yesterday. Weve exhausted our other options, and thats why were here.

By on November 29, 2011, 2:44 pm
In category: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

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Testing the Wonkster
November 26th, 2011

There are some changes in the back end taking place at Gotham Gazette, changes we don’t think readers will even notice. But just to make sure everything is working, this is a test of the new system.

By on November 26, 2011, 4:31 pm
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Citizens Union Pushes for Redistricting Reform
November 21st, 2011

Citizens Union has issued a report detailing how it sees the current redistricting process as having undermined democracy in New York state. (Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union’s sister organization, Citizens Unions Foundation.) The report offers evidence that the current redistricting system has provided a safety net for incumbents — 96 percent of incumbents have been re-elected since 2002. The report’s executive summary calls for legislators to return to Albany for a special session to enact independent redistricting, so lines would be redrawn district lines without partisan influence.

“The state legislature needs to return to Albany in a special session to pass legislation which ends the political manipulation for partisan advantage of the drawing of district lines and establishes an independent redistricting commission to draw lines before the 2012 elections. The politically balanced and impartial commission would use fair and sensible criteria and be guided by clear guidelines in drawing the maps to ensure the process serves all New Yorkers and their communities rather than preserves the Albany status quo,” reads the executive summary.

But not all good government groups think there is time for legislative action. Common Cause split from Citizens Union and the ReShape NY campaign to propose a compromise. Meanwhile, it is unclear whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo actually wants to make good on a his threat to veto any lines drawn by the legislature. It seems negotiations have been taking place between Cuomo’s office, the legislature and good government groups that would avoid a veto all together. It is unclear what kind of compromises that sort of deal would hinge on.

By on November 21, 2011, 3:17 pm
In category: Albany,Crime & Safety,Eye on Albany | Comments Off on Citizens Union Pushes for Redistricting Reform

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Occupy Albany Marches on
November 17th, 2011

The Occupy Albany movement is celebrating the 2-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street with a march to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office today. Buses full of protestors from across upstate have helped swell the ranks of Occupy Albany and they are planning to deliver petitions opposing Cuomo’s economic policies to his office. Protestors from across the state are invited to stay at the Occupy Albany encampment and will be provided with blankets and tents. We could see more arrests tonight if protestors stray over onto state-owned land.

Here is their schedule for the day:

“11:30am Buses arrive at Occupy Albany with supporters from across upstate NY. Occupy Albany welcoming committee will greet them and give tours of our encampment.

12:00pm Joint rally/assembly in Academy Park in front of Old Academy Bldg. by Joseph Henry Monument.

12:45pm March begins. Will stop off at least one corporate lobby target en route to the NYS Capitol Bldg.

1:30pm Action at Gov.s Office, 2nd Fl, of Capitol to deliver letters of protest against Cuomos economic policies.

2:15pm A peoples assembly/session outside of Senate lobby 3rd floor of Capitol Bldg.

3:30pm Bus pickup on State St. outside the LOB.

5:30pm Anyone who can stay is invited to attend the Occupy Albany General Assembly and spend the night at Occupy Albany (tents and blankets will be made available).”

By on November 17, 2011, 12:34 pm
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Rodriguez on His Arrest
November 16th, 2011

For the second time in less than three months, reporters, members of the City Council and other public officials clustered under the overhang at City Hall in the rain to hear a City Council member describe his alleged mistreatment by the New York City Police Department.

This time it was Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who spent about 20 hours in police custody after being arrested by police near Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning. Rodriguez, who has emerged as a major supporter of Occupy Wall Street, said he received a text message at about 1 a.m. Tuesday alerting him that police seemed to be moving in on the protesters in Zuccotti Park. After his wife repeatedly cautioned him to avoid getting arrested, Rodriguez said he proceeded downtown to see what was happening.

A couple of blocks from Zuccotti Park and across Broadway from the plaza — Rodriguez said he was confronted by a group of police officers who began pushing him. Even after, he said, he identified himself as a council members he also said he was wearing a suit, not exactly the standard garb of the Occupy Wall Street crowd the police kept pushing. Rodriguez said he fell, sustaining a cut, and was arrested.

In the time that followed, Rodriguez said he was kept in a van for two hours. He eventually was taken to 1 Police Plaza, where his lawyers were not allowed to see him in keeping with police policy that apparently lets attorneys visit their clients in other jails and station houses but not police headquarters. He was finally released at around 8 p.m. after being charged with resisting arrest.
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By on November 16, 2011, 4:01 pm
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Shelter Rules Delayed
November 10th, 2011

Correction: Apparently contrary to what we originally reporterd, the court did not order the delay. The city postponed its plans after the Legal Aid Society filed suit to block the new rules. The item has been corrected to reflect that.

The new intake procedures for single adults seeking to enter the city’s shelter system apparently will not go into effect Monday after all. Although we could not confirm this, a statement from the City Council said that a court has order postponement of After the Legal Aid Society filed suit Thursday, the city reportedly agreed to postpone implementation of the rules until next month. According to the Wall Street Journal, the city did this “because of the possibility of a state judge issuing a preliminary injunction.”

Arguments in the case are now scheduled to begin Dec. 9.

In a statement issued Thursday evening, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, “I am pleased that, as a result of todays court hearing, the city’s dangerous new policy changing the intake procedure for single adults seeking shelter will not go into effect on Monday. I am encouraged that this matter will be heard by the court, and I continue to call on [the Department of Homeless Services] to permanently reverse course and prevent these harmful changes from going into effect.

And City Council General Welfare Committee chair Annabel Palma hailed the move as well. “I am pleased with the court’s favorable decision to stop the city from implementing its proposed eligibility changes for single adults. Absence of leadership from the administration on this issue, once again, has the city;s homeless policies shaped more by the court system rather than through collaboration and partnership with stakeholders,” Palma said.

By on November 10, 2011, 6:50 pm
In category: Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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State Does Not Support New Shelter Rules After All
November 10th, 2011

At yesterday’s acrimonious hearing on changes in the city’s procedures for admitting single adults to homeless shelters. Council Speaker Christine Quinn pressed Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond over whether the state had - as Diamond contended — actually approved the change.

To some in the audience it may have seemed as though Quinn was splitting hairs. Diamond certainly seemed peeved at her approach.

Now, though, it looks as though she was correct. In a letter to Diamond dated yesterday and released this morning by Quinn’s office, Elizabeth Berlin of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, says that any suggestion that her office approved the new eligibility procedure is “inaccurate.”

And Berlin went further:

Moreover, this office has serious concerns that DHS failed to submit this proposal to the New York Supreme Court for review. For over 30 years, such a review process has been DHS’s practice when making a policy change relating to the Callahan Consent Decree. Given DHSs failure to share this policy with the court, OTDA finds the Nov.14 implementation date a mere 10 days after the policy change was announced to be completely unreasonable and is not supported by the state.

The Callahan decree, reached between the city, state and advocates in 1981 provides a right to shelter for adults who qualified for welfare or who are homeless “by reason of physical, mental or social dysfunction.”

To read more on the issue and the debate over it, go here. And more on the exchange between Quinn and Diamond after the jump.

At the hearing yesterday, Diamond told the council that the state had informed his office that the change, which seeks to compel people to find alternatives to shelters including staying with relatives or even leaving the country, is “consistent with state rules.” Quinn countered that that did not mean the state approved it. “Our understanding from the governor’s office is that they have not approved it,” she said.

Diamond responded that the department did not need approval. “We have the flexibility to implement procedure that are consistent with state laws and regulations,” Diamond said, adding he believed his office had “what is needed to allow us to go forward.”

Berlin’s letter explicitly addresses that point. “OTDA has not commented on the substantive merits of the proposed change, but instead determined that the proposal was not inconsistent with state law,” her two-paragraph letter said,

We’ll try to get some reaction and pass it along.

By on November 10, 2011, 11:54 am
In category: Albany,City Hall,Housing,Social Services | 2 Comments »

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Schneiderman Weighs in on Federal Fracking Regs
November 8th, 2011

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is not pleased with hydrofracking regulations that were put forward by the Delaware River Basin. Commission today. Schneiderman filed a suit in May against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to force a full environmental review of the impact of fracking on the Delaware River Basin. Here is what Schneiderman had to say about the new regulations:

By issuing these modified draft regulations, the federal government continues to ignore New Yorkers concerns about the impact fracking may have on our environment, health and homes. Though modified, these regulations still lack the benefit of a full environmental impact study, which is required by law and dictated by common sense. Without it, the federal government does not have a complete understanding of the health and safety risks fracking poses, even as it stands to open up the Delaware River Basin to thousands of new gas wells. These regulations are both inadequate and illegal, and I will continue to use the full authority of my office to require that the federal government meet its clear legal obligation to fully study the environmental impacts of fracking in the Basin.

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

By on November 8, 2011, 3:31 pm
In category: Albany,Environment,Eye on Albany,Law | 2 Comments »

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The Races for DA
November 6th, 2011

Three of New York City’s five district attorneys are up for re-election this year, but for only one — Staten Island Daniel Donovan — is the contest’ outcome in any doubt.

(For more on who can vote and how this year, go here. For more on the judicial contests, go here.)

Two of the veteran prosecutors, Richard Brown in Queens and Robert Johnson in the Bronx — will appear on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative lines and will not face any opposition.

Brown, who will turn 79 later this month, is headed to his sixth-term.

Johnson, who already is in his sixth term, was the first black district attorney in the state. In a somewhat strange twist, he received a rating of “not approved” by the city bar association this year. Johnson attributed the rejection to his not agreeing to an interview with the association and said he thinks it make little sense for the group to rate candidates in uncontested elections.

“If they think that I have not demonstrated the qualifications to hold this office,” Johnson told Reuters, “they must have been stuck in a cave for the past two decades.”

The bar does not explain or amplify on its ratings although they do not endorse candidates they can’t interview.

The Staten Island race offers a reprise of the 2007race in which Republican Donovan defeated Democrat Mike Ryan with about 70 percent of the vote. Donovan has the backing of the Independence Party too, while — perhaps owing to a long-standing rift between Donovan and Conservative Borough president James Molinaro, Ryan has the Conservative Party line.
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By on November 6, 2011, 9:58 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing,Law | 6 Comments »

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Here Come the Judges
November 6th, 2011

Occupants for 29 seats on the bench in New York City will be selected Tuesday — at least theoretically. In many cases, though, the primary process and political insiders have filled the posts already — leaving voters with nothing more than the opportunity to ratify the choice.

All candidates for Manhattan judgeships — including places of the state Supreme Court and Civil Court — face no opposition. All have the Democratic Party line; a few also have the GOP nod. In no case, though, have the Republicans — or any other party for that matter — put forth candidate who is not the Democratic standard bearer. In the one judicial race on Staten Island the sole candidate — Acting Judge Joseph J. Maltese — has support from the Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Independence parties.

The contested elections come in Brooklyn and Queens. There are no judicial races — contested or otherwise — in the Bronx.

(For more on who can vote and how this year, go here. For more on the district attorney contest, go here.)

More on the individual judicial races after the jump.
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By on November 6, 2011, 9:54 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing,Law | 2 Comments »

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A Quiet Election Day
November 6th, 2011

Even by the standards of the off-off-year election — those contests in odd-numbered years when there is no mayoral race — this is a non-election election year.

There are no contested races of any kind in the Bronx or Manhattan, according to the Board of Elections’ lists of candidates. In Queens and Brooklyn, the sole seats up for grabs are judgeships. Only Staten Island residents will have the chance to vote for or against someone they might actually have heard of: Republican District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who faces a challenge from Democrat Mike Ryan. It’s a repeat of their 2007 contest.

(For details on the district attorney race, go here. For more on the judicial contests, go here.)

Sleepy elections occur about once every four years in New York, Unlike the one in 2007, this year’s features no ballot measures, fewer contests for the bench and no particularly high profile ones. As is often the case in general elections in New York City, many candidates including those for some important posts face no opposition.

More voting details after the jump.
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By on November 6, 2011, 9:39 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing | 6 Comments »

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Mayor Vetoes Contract Bill
November 4th, 2011

As expected, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vetoed the Outsourcing Accountability Act. The measure, passed by the City Council last month, would subject city contracts to a kind of cost-benefit analysis and require agencies to publicly disclose what services they plan to contract out in the coming year.

The veto represents the latest in an escalating fight over the city’s growing contract budget between the Bloomberg administration on the one hand and City Council members and municipal employee unions on the other. As city spending on the contracts has increased, a number of scandals have erupted, particularly with technology contracts.

The mayor, however, has said contracts help cut costs and reduce government efficiency. “To put impediments to us getting the best deal for the taxpayers particularly during this economy is something we can not tolerate. We are just not going to have this bill,” Bloomberg said after it passed.

In her statement on the veto, though, Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the measure would save money. “The council simply wants city agencies to consider costs and thoughtfully review decisions to outsource,” she said. “These tough economic times demand nothing less.”

Since the bill passed unanimously, the council has the votes to override the veto. Bloomberg, though, has said he thinks the measure could be unconstitutional, meaning the whole issue could end up in the courts.

By on November 4, 2011, 4:16 pm
In category: City Hall,Public Finance | 3 Comments »

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Change for the Homeless
November 4th, 2011

Advocates for the homeless and some City Council members are reacting with alarm to reports that the city will institute a policy later this month that will make it more difficult for single adults to gain admission to city shelters.

According to WNBC, which first reported on the move, workers will subject people applying to stay in shelters to more questions about where they have lived recently and whether they have another place to stay. This could create a problem for someone who, say, lost her apartment, doubled up with a sister for a short time and then was asked to leave.

The move apparently an effort to save money has been in the works for a while but needed state approval. City officials told NBC they received the OK yesterday. The city already conducts similar reviews for homeless families.

Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond told Reuters that many people applying to shelters these days may have other options. They include, he said, “a lot of people who are working or capable of work, who may have gone through a little bit of a rough time — their employer may have reduced their hours, or they may have lost their jobs.”

But advocates dispute such arguments. “The city is playing with fire by implementing this policy, particularly in the winter,” Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society told WNBC. “It’s certainly going to result in vulnerable New Yorkers ending up on the streets. He said the society would go to court to try and block the change.

Earlier today, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and General Welfare Committee chair Annabel Palma. Issued a statement condemning the move. “This policy is cruel, risky, unacceptable and will not reduce homelessness in the city of New York. Denying people shelter because they have found another option for some period of time is punishing people for trying to do the right thing,” they said.

The council will hold an emergency oversight hearing on the policy at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
By on November 4, 2011, 3:28 pm
In category: City Hall,Gotham City,Housing,Social Services | 3 Comments »

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City Council Takes to the Streets
November 4th, 2011

On the same day, it tackled the issue of undocumented immigrants (for that story, go here), the City Council took on something really controversial: the battle for spaces on the city’s crowded streets.

At its stated meeting Thursday, members enacted two measures.

One reflected concerns that the Bloomberg administration, in its zeal for bike lanes, has sometimes ignored wishes of local residents. Intro 412, which passed unanimously, would require that the city Department of Transportation provide community boards with at least 90 days notification of any planned bike lanes in their area, allowing the board to hold hearings. If the board wanted, transportation officials would have to make presentations to the affected boards.

This does not mean the board could veto bike lanes, but simply that it be informed and consulted.

More on the bike law bill and residential parking permits after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on November 4, 2011, 1:20 pm
In category: City Hall,Gotham City,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Commissioner Now Says he is a Commissioner
November 3rd, 2011

Richard Emery now considers himself a member of the Commission on Public Integrity. Earlier this week, though, Emery told me that he was not a commissioner because he believed that when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the law creating the Joint Commission on Public Ethics it “terminated” him and his colleagues.

Emery told me this when I asked him about his firm registering to lobby for the Metropolitan Taxi Cab Board of Trade. The registration form at the time had not been made public.

He claimed that his partner had registered as a lobbyist after Cuomo signed the JCOPE law and therefore he believed he was not an ethics commissioner and not doing anything unethical. Later, after claiming he wasn’t a member, he called and left a message telling me that other commissioners have firms that do lobbying before the state.

Today the filing went public on the Commission for Public Integrity’s website and it shows that the contract between Emery’s firm and the Taxi Board was effective Aug. 4. Cuomo signed the bill creating JCOPE on Aug. 15. However, Emery has now changed his tune. I called him today and Emery was aware that he is still a commissioner but argued that it didn’t matter because, “there are a number of commissioners whose firms lobby.” I asked him to name those commissioners but he declined.

Emery told me he was mistaken when we spoke on Tuesday, “Apparently I am [a commissioner] but it doesn’t meet. I assumed we were terminated.”

I then pointed out that contrary to what he said earlier his firm had begun lobbying work before Cuomo signed the JCOPE legislation. “That may well be but we made the determination that we could do this without me being a lobbyist. We were very careful about that,” Emery replied.

So what kind of lobbying work was this?

According to the filing Emery’s firm billed $11,340 in lobbying expenses for one phone call. They were also reimbursed $472 for legal research on July 31. 2011. Expenses for non-lobbying employees was $29,659.

Why would Emery’s name be familiar? Not only was he Sen. Malcolm Smith’s choice to sit on the CPI but he also sits on the State Commission on Judicial Conduct thanks to Smith.

Emery helped Smith out when he was in a bind. Despite being members of the Commission on Public Integrity, Emery and his law partner Andrew Celli both represented Senate Democrats in their legal battles with the Republicans during the 2009 coup. That move put good government groups up in arms but Emery told the Times Union that, “We thought about this a lot before we took the case.”

By on November 3, 2011, 4:03 pm
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The Union on School Cuts
November 1st, 2011

With the city facing a multibillion dollar shortfall and the Bloomberg administration demanding further cuts, the United Federation of Teachers went on the offense today, with a study it says shows that fiscal constraints already have taken a toll on the city’s more than 1.1 million students.

A survey of union chapter leaders (perhaps not the most objective of sources) found, the UFT reports, that 74 percent of elementary schools have seen class size increase this year. The number of students in a class rose at 61 percent of the middle schools reporting and 59 percent of the high schools.

More than half of elementary schools responding have scaled back services to help academically struggling students, and almost two thirds cited reductions in supplies. In general, the chapter leaders at high schools cited fewer effects from cuts than those in elementary schools. And despite Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s pledge to focus on improving middle schools, 63 percent saw their afterschool programs curtailed and 59 percent lost extracurricular activities.

While the administration enthusiastically supports charters schools, which often offer after school and or weekend programs, it has ramped back efforts to expand instructional time for students in its conventional public schools, according to the report. About 60 percent of schools at all levels reported cuts in afterschool programs, and about 40 said weekend programs had been reduced.

In a statement on his union’s report UFT president Michael Mulgrew said, “Based on our survey, an estimated 91 percent of our school population — nearly 1 million children — are in schools where budget cuts are having a direct and immediate effect on their education.”

By on November 1, 2011, 2:09 pm
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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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