Avella Asks Silver To Resign Speaker’s Job
About a month ago, the surprising fall of the powerful Assemblymember Vito Lopez startled Albany and the political establishment, and also revealed the major role played by powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who then became the central focus of a Joint Commission on Public Ethics investigation probing the secret payment by Silver’s office of about $103,000 of state funds to Lopez’s accusers to quash the sordid mess.
The major issue everyone had been wondering about was whether Silver would be able to weather the storm without losing the powerful post he has held for the past 18 years. While it seemed no one in the Assembly would dare speak out and call for Silver’s ouster prematurely, last week a member of the legislature’s other house, namely state Senator Tony Avella, broke the silence and called on Silver to step down as speaker.
In a statement issued by Avella, an outspoken Democrat who during his City Council career and now, in the senate for the past two years, has constantly flouted the authority of speakers, declared:
Avella acknowledged that “Silver has had a great career serving our state,” but added, “he is now seen as the classic example of the dysfunction and back room deals that have plagued Albany for decades. If ever there was a time for change—it is now.”
Continuing to press his point, the Bayside lawmaker stuck to the central message, adding, “We will never make any progress in cleaning up Albany if the same ‘old school’ politicians are allowed to maintain control by secrecy and intimidation.
Continuing to press his point that change is necessary, Avella said:
“We must also once and for all begin to address the inherent, almost omnipotent, power that a speaker can exert on a legislative body. Whether it is the speaker of the Assembly, the temporary president of the senate or even the speaker of the City Council, despite being chosen by their memberships to serve in those positions, they are elected by and represent the same number of people as their counterparts.
“Limiting their power and empowering individual legislators with more independence and autonomy would dramatically improve Albany (and the city council).”
Although there have been no similar calls for Silver to step down, since the ethics investigation is still ongoing, it is significant that someone in the state’s political establishment—and a Democrat, no less—has spoken publicly and on the record for Silver to give up his post.
Meanwhile, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has reportedly voted to issue subpoenas in the case.
Also last week, the state Republican Party announced the start of a petition drive to exert pressure to ensure Silver’s departure because of the Lopez case.
The petition asks: “Are you outraged? We at the New York Republican Party are certainly outraged. The New York Republican Party says, ‘Enough is enough’. We don’t think it too much to ask for ethical leadership in Albany.”
Besides the Ethics Commission, the Staten Island district attorney is also conducting an investigation into Lopez’s alleged sexual abuse of women working in his office. Besides Silver’s handling of the matter and issuing a $135,000 settlement, the investigations also include the roles played by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
FLUSHING DEMS FORM UNITY SLATE: Democratic candidates in heavily East Asian-populated Flushing joined together after they scored victories in the recent primary elections to announce they would coordinate their campaigns for the general elections in hopes of winning all three races.
Involved in the team effort are Grace Meng, running for the 6th CD Congressional seat; state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, seeking re-election in the 16th District; and newcomer Ron Kim, running in the new 40th Assembly District.
Meng is opposed by Councilmember Dan Halloran (R–C–Whitestone); Stavisky by Attorney J.D. Kim; and Ron Kim by Phil Gim.
Meng, who is completing a term at the Assembly representing the area, said at the rally announcement: “Toby Stavisky is a dedicated public servant and someone who I’ve worked well with for years. Ron Kim brings youthful enthusiasm to public office and possesses a strong understanding of state government. I look forward to working alongside both of them as a member of Congress.”
The Democrats’ unity slate should help Stavisky the most. While Meng and Ron Kim are expected to reap the benefits of running in their heavily Asian districts, Stavisky faces the hurdle of running against J.D. Kim, who bills himself as the “first Korean candidate” to seek a state senate seat, and it’s obvious he will make his greatest effort in his campaign to attract Asian voters’ support.
However, Stavisky, a veteran campaigner with a reputation of serving her constituents’ interests and reaching out to them, figures to benefit from her strategy in the primary, in which she defeated John Messer, who is married to an Asian woman and campaigned with her.
In the primary campaign, Stavisky co-ordinated much of her campaign with Meng and together they made it their business to ring the door bells of about 50,000 Asian residents to introduce Stavisky. It’s a good bet that that strategy will be repeated in the upcoming general election campaign.
MORE DELAY ON GAS DRILLING DECISION: After four years of studying the question of whether or not to allow digging for natural gas in the state and creating much-needed jobs upstate, the Cuomo administration is adding to the delay again. Last week it announced that no decision will be made until a study of the potential health effects of any such digging is completed.
The decision was announced by the Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens, but he did not give any indication of how long the health study will take. He said potential health concerns resulting from “hydrofracking” had not adequately been assessed. Early on, there were reports that the digging method used could damage the quality of water sources and render them unhealthy to drink.
“Only after this evaluation is completed will a decision be made about whether to permit hydraulic fracturing in New York. Obviously, if there was a public health concern that could not be addressed, we would not proceed,” Martens said.
Besides the contamination of drinking water concerns, there were those concerning air pollution produced by the drilling equipment and the danger of accidents from sharply increased truck traffic.
But natural gas and other industry sources were seeking a go-ahead with the drilling to fulfill promises of thousands of jobs to spur the economy in economically depressed areas upstate.
MAYOR SIGNS BILL FOR NEW GAS LINE: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in announcing U.S. Senate passage of legislation on Monday authorizing a new natural gas pipeline in Brooklyn, stated:
“The legislation passed this morning in the U.S. Senate is not just about the construction and operation of a natural gas pipeline and the jobs it will create—it is critical to building a stable, clean-energy future for New York City and improving the health of all New Yorkers. I want to thank Senator Schumer, who sponsored this important legislation, as well as Senators (Jeff) Bingaman (D–New Mexico) and (Lisa) Murkowski (R–Alaska) who helped make passage possible. I would also like to acknowledge the important role of the National Park Service in this process and look forward to the members of the House re-passing this bill when they return in November.”
VAN BRAMER (PARTLY) AGREES WITH HILTON: Socialite Paris Hilton was humiliated recently when her comments to a friend about gay men during a cab ride were secretly recorded then given to the Radar Online Web site where they were posted a few days later.
The embarrassed Hilton drew support from openly-gay Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D–Sunnyside) who said passengers who ride cabs in this city should feel free to talk freely without fear of being recorded by the driver.
“At a minimum, I think that anybody who’s ever taken a cab ride expects it to be private. Maybe the cabdriver overhears, but no one expects it can be taped and broadcast.”
But he didn’t appear to agree with Hilton’s reported remarks. In the same story where Van Bramer agreed about the right to talk freely in a cab, he said. “I’d never defend ignorant statements as a gay man who’s an elected official.”
Stories quoted her as saying, “Gay guys are the horniest people in the world. They’re disgusting. Dude, most of them probably have AIDS.”
But her spokesperson said Hilton stated “It’s dangerous for anyone to have unprotected sex that could lead to a life-threatening disease.” But the conversation became heated, continued the spokesperson, “after a close gay friend told her in a cab ride a story about a gay man who has AIDS and is knowingly having unprotected sex”.
DROMM WANTS ACCOUNTING OF ASIA PACIFIC AMERICAN COMMUNITIES: Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D–Jackson Heights) has introduced legislation that will require city agencies to accurately account for the diverse Asia Pacific American (APA) communities.
At a City Hall press conference, Dromm said improved data on New York state’s growing APA communities will help city agencies to properly identify, monitor and address social service needs. “Disaggregation and public reporting of data related to APA communities are practices that should be instituted across all relevent agencies,” he said.
The adoption of standard approaches will improve the delivery of vital services to New York’s residents, he said. Agencies will be able to rely on information that reflects the diversity of demographics and service needs in the city’s population, Dromm explained. This is especially critical to develop vital programs in a timely and efficient manner, he said.
VALLONE: ‘TOUGHEN PENALTIES FOR LEWD BEHAVIOR’: Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, has called on lawmakers in Albany to increase the penalties for lewd behavior and to create a “Wall of Shame” with photographs of those convicted of lewd acts.
Vallone made his demands following a judge’s recent ruling of no jail time for Darnell Hardware, who had masturbated on three subway riders.
“Yes, the court was wrong,” Vallone declared, “but Albany should not leave it up to the courts. There are many actions Albany should have taken that they have not. They need to write a law that fits the sort of heinous crime perpetrated by Darnell Hardware and provides strong punishment, put those convicted of lewdness on the sex offender registry, and make multiple acts of lewdness a felony. The longer they wait, the longer our women are left at the mercy of these sexual deviants.”
Vallone, who was outraged by the ruling in the Hardware case, previously had increased the penalties for serial lewdness in the city from a B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in prison to an A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and introduced a resolution last year calling on state lawmakers to make a second sexual attack a felony.
Vallone had also requested that those convicted of certain types of public lewdness to be included on the sexual offender registry and called on the MTA to institute a Wall of Shame with the pictures of those convicted of lewd acts.
In another matter, Vallone announced that following numerous requests by him, the Department of Transportation had agreed to program all new muni-meters to shut down on Sundays to prevent the machines from accepting money. Despite meter regulations being suspended on Sundays, he explained, machines have continued to accept money and issue parking receipts, at an unnecessary cost to residents.
In addition, Vallone has asked that munimeters be turned off at all times that parking is free, and he said that DOT is conducting a pilot program to test the requirements needed to implement a “start and stop” program citywide.
He stated: “We cannot accept the city’s munimeter behaving like broken arcade games, wrongfully eating peoples’ money. It only makes sense that meters don’t accept money when parking is already free.”
MALONEY PLEDGES TO FIGHT CUTS IN 9/11 HEALTH FUNDS: Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) has pledged to oppose any cut in federal funds for the World Trade Center Health Program and the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) that would be triggered by the automatic sequestration of federal expenditures should Congress fail to enact deficit-cutting measures by next January 2.
Maloney was also speaking for Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler (D–Manhattan) and Peter King (R–L.I.), the authors of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act.
She noted that although many federal health programs, including many of those benefiting veterans, were exempted from the sequestrationtrigger, the 9/11 health program and the VCF were not, despite the fact that a dedicated funding stream to support the latter two health programs had been enacted under provisions of the Zadroga Act.
Maloney and her colleagues said that the 7.6 percent spending reduction would cut the World Trade Center Program by approximately $118 million over the course of its current projected existence, and the VCF will be subject to cuts of about $211 million should Congress fail to strike an agreement before next January.
Maloney, Nadler and King issued the following statement pledging to work in a bipartisan manner to prevent the program cuts:
“Considering how long it took Congress to act, we cannot allow those receiving the care they need and deserve from the Zadroga Act to be stranded by a sequester. This is one of the many compelling and urgent reasons why we pledge to work together in a bipartisan manner to prevent deficit cuts from jeopardizing these vital programs.”
COUNCIL HEARING ON REDISTRICTING: On Wednesday, October 10, the NYC Districting Commission, which is drawing up new City Council district lines to be used in next year’s city elections, will hold a public hearing for Queens residents. The session will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., at LaGuardia Community College-Little Theatre, 31-10 Thomson Ave., Long Island City.
Individuals wishing to pre-register for speaking time or submit written testimony in advance may do so by signing up online at: nyc.gov/districting. Each speaker will be given three minutes.
Prior to the meeting, you may submit written statements to: NYC Districting Commission, Attn: Jonathon Ettricks, 253 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10007.
Send an e-mail to: hearings@ districting.nyc.gov before 5 p.m. on the date of the hearing. Within your correspondence please indicate the date of the hearing for which you are submitting your comments.
The Districting Commission will be holding other hearings in each borough from October 2 to October 11.
GIANARIS COLLECTING SCHOOL SUPPLIES: State Senator Michael Gianaris
(D–Astoria) is collecting school supplies for a Salvation Army drive to benefit underprivileged children in Western Queens. Now that the academic school year has begun, the Astoria branch of the Salvation Army is running an afterschool program for underprivileged children, which includes a drive for school supplies and change of weather clothing, such as sweaters and jackets.
All donations may be brought to Gianaris’ district office located at 21-77 31st St., Suite 100, Astoria. For information call 718-728-0960.
Gianaris stated, “It is vital that our children be provided with the necessary tools to learn, and in hard times it is important that we help those in need. I commend the Salvation Army for its ongoing work and encourage everyone willing to donate school supplies and clothes to bring them to my office to help less fortunate children. They deserve the same opportunities to excel as everyone else.”
While any and all school supplies and cold weather clothes are appreciated, he added, the Astoria Salvation Army is in particular need of backpacks, jackets and winter coats.
LIU DUBS NEW TAXI DECISION ‘WRONG-HEADED’: Commenting on the approval of the “Taxi of Tomorrow”, last week City Comptroller John C. Liu commented: “The failure to make the entire fleet wheelchair accessible is a wrong-headed decision that should concern all New Yorkers, not just the current 60,000 wheelchair-users in our city. People can become disabled at any point in their life. Perhaps if the Mayor [Bloomberg] required the use of a wheelchair he would see the issue differently.”