2015-01-28 / Political Page

Should Silver Quit Or Stay?

BY JOHN TOSCANO

On Monday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver returned to Albany weighted down with a mountain of legislative work, mainly getting started on next year’s state budget which must be approved by April 1.


But that hardly compared to the personal problem he faced last week when he was charged by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a five-count criminal complaint of fraud and extortion charges against Silver that could send him to jail, if guilty, for about 100 years, or 20 years on each count.


Silver stated as he left the courthouse where he was charged: “I’m confident that after a full hearing and a due process, I will be vindicated.


The feds say that the charges against the 70-year-old lawmaker stem from referrals he has made to law firms for each of which he was paid a fee. By their count, he was paid over $3 million over a 10-year period from 2005 to 2014.


The talk in Albany has been centered around the question that in view of the charges against him should he resign the speaker’s job he has held for 21 years. Basically those who say he should stay cite the basic reason: he’s only charged with a crime and is innocent until proven guilty.


Reportedly, Democrats in the Assembly caucused and voted he should stay. Silver also said he will continue to serve. Those who feel he should not remain cite the nature of the charges made against him and say he should not be entrusted with the sensitive function of helping create a billion-dollar budget.


Another argument made that he should quit cite the possibility that Silver may not have paid taxes on the work he did outside of his Assembly duties. The obvious answer to that is “let’s wait and see.” Actually, the same answer applies to the overall question. If there is no reason for him to leave, based on any Assembly rule or condition, then he should stay, we believe.
Just in case Silver should step down before the matter is settled, The New York Daily News announced Assemblymember Catherine Nolan is being considered as an interim successor to Silver. A very close associate to Silver, and chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Education, Nolan has 30 years of experience in office. She has chaired the Assembly’s Committee on Banks from 2003 and currently she serves on the Ways and Means Committee.

GOP STATEMENT ON SILVER’S CASE: The following statement was released by the NY GOP last week and signed off by a NY GOP spokesman: “Assembly Democrats’ continued support for Sheldon Silver in the wake of such outrageous corruption charges is beyond embarrassing: it shames our entire state.”—NY GOP spokesman David Laska

SOME LAWMAKER REACTIONS TO GOV. CUOMO’S SPEECH: DISTRICT ATTORNEY RICHARD A. BROWN
“The Governor has my full support on his proposed grand jury reform involving police encounters involving unarmed civilians. It provides the transparency to which the public is entitled while maintaining the integrity of the grand jury process.”

ASSEMBLYMEMBER ARAVELLA SIMOTAS (D–ASTORIA)
“Today, Governor Cuomo laid out an ambitious and comprehensive vision for New York state in 2015 that focuses on growing our economy, improving access to education, and ensuring justice and equality for all New Yorkers. I am eager to work toward achieving these goals with the governor and my colleagues in the Assembly.


“In an effort to boost our economy, the governor has proposed a tax break that will lower rates from 6.5 percent to 2.5 percent over a three-year period for 42,000 small business owners. This measure will cut taxes by approximately $32 million, providing much needed relief and opportunity for reinvestment for job-creating small businesses that are the backbone of our community in Astoria.


“Like the governor, I am committed to providing our children with the best education possible from pre-kindergarten through college so that they can be prepared for the jobs of the 21st century. We must ensure that New York’s young people are prepared for college by strengthening our public schools. As the sponsor of legislation that offers personal income tax deductions for students loan payments, I applaud the governor’s plan to help our young people acquire the tools they need to succeed by covering two years of student loan costs for qualified graduates of New York State colleges.


“I stand with Governor Cuomo in his efforts to raise New York’s minimum wage. New Yorkers who put in a full day of honest labor deserve the dignity of a living wage. No one who works hard and plays by the rules should be poor.


“It is essential that we pass the full Women’s Equality Agenda immediately. In past years, New York’s women were asked to relinquish this cherished goal, ignoring the lynchpin of real equality in the interest of ‘getting something done’. I was proud to stand with my colleagues to fight for full equality, rather than giving in to watered-down half-measures, and I will continue to stand in support of passing the entire agenda.


“The governor’s goals to reduce the tax burden on business owners, help students succeed, and ensure a level playing field for all New Yorkers are laudable points of departure for the 2015 legislative session, and I look forward to fighting for a brighter future for all New Yorkers in the year to come.”

ASSEMBLYMEMBER PHILIP GOLDFEDER (D–ROCKAWAY)
“Governor Cuomo has laid out a sweeping vision for rebuilding and strengthening New York’s infrastructure to create jobs and boost our economy. I am particularly pleased with plans to invest in our local airports. However, to make this ambitious vision a reality, we must take advantage of the infrastructure already in place. We can quickly create a true north-south public transit link in Queens by investing in our existing rights-of-way and restoring the Rockaway Beach Rail Line. Reactivating this train line is the best and most cost-effective way to boost economic activity for our local small businesses, create real access to our airports, and improve transit options for thousands of Queens families and every resident of New York City.”


STATE SENATOR JOSE PERALTA (D–JACKSON HEIGHTS)

“In my mind, no true Opportunity Agenda would be complete without the New York State DREAM Act, which would level the playing field for access to higher education and empower a new generation of taxpayers and job creators. And our governor clearly agrees.
“So I take great pride in saying today, thank you, Mr. Governor. Thank you for stating unequivocally that passing the DREAM Act is a top priority for your 2015 agenda.


“Today I voted ‘NO’ on an Education Investment Tax Credit bill that is also a priority of the governor and which news reports have linked to the DREAM Act. However, the two proposals do not exist in a vacuum. My understanding is that Governor Cuomo will be including both in his proposed Education, Labor and Family Assistance (ELFA) budget bill along with other proposals.


“Like every year, the ELFA bill will be negotiated over the next two months, and all legislators will be asked to vote their consciences on the totality of the final bill. But for now, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Governor Cuomo for taking the lead on making this DREAM a reality in 2015.


Passing the DREAM Act will send a clear message that New York is still a place that values hard work, a place that is willing to do what it takes to grow its middle class and solidify its economic future. It will not only provide hope and opportunity to thousands of hard-working young New Yorkers, but also create jobs, boost future tax revenue, and give our state the kind of diverse, educated, multi-talented workforce we will need to compete in tomorrow’s economy.


“In football terms, Gov. Cuomo has just put the ball in the red zone and it’s first down and goal to go. Now it’s up to every New Yorker who believes in equality, who thinks hard work should be rewarded, who wants to see New York continue to thrive in this young century, to do their part to push the DREAM Act over the goal line.


“Over the next two months, we must do everything in our power to make sure the DREAM Act is included in the final enacted budget. These hard-working young New Yorkers have done everything we could ask of them, and they deserve an opportunity to live their dreams.”

COMPTROLLER SCOTT M. STRINGER
“Governor Cuomo’s 2015 Opportunity Agenda is an ambitious blueprint for improving the lives of all New Yorkers. This budget invests in the infrastructure and human capital needed to create an economy of shared prosperity across the Empire State.
“Building out high-speed broadband is essential to growing New York’s economy. Expanding tax credits that encourage youth employment and boosting need-based financial aid for students will create new on-ramps of opportunity for our young people. And supporting the export economy and setting higher goals for M/WBE utilization will leverage New York’s diversity to improve our neighborhoods and grow jobs in every community.

CROWLEY, MALONEY BACK OBAMA’S SPEECH PROPOSALS: Congressmembers Joseph Crowley and Carolyn Maloney registered their full support for the programs laid out by President Barack Obama last week in his State of the Union address.
Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx), the Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, stated following the address:


“Tonight, President Obama laid out a clear path to grow our economy, strengthen our middle class and expand economic opportunity to help every American succeed. Now Congress must get to work and partner with the president to achieve real results that will have a meaningful impact on American families.”


SCHUMER’S COMMENT ON OBAMA’S SPEECH: The following is Senator Charles Schumer’s comment on President Obama’s State of the Union speech:
“This was a speech that appealed to the better angels of our nature; it was optimistic, forward-looking and non-partisan. President Obama didn’t point any fingers, and without any anger or negativity, he simply said ‘let’s come together for the good of America and the good of the middle class’. President Obama’s speech was uplifting for Democrats and for the country, and we hope our Republican colleagues will join us in coming together in the spirit of the speech.”


MALONEY-PRESIDENT ROSE TO CHALLENGE’:
In a statement issued following President Obama’s State of the Union address, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney stated:
“2014 was a banner year for our economy. We experienced the strongest private sector job growth we’ve had in 17 years. We’ve now had 58 consecutive months of private sector job growth, the longest stretch on record. Inflation is tame, the federal deficit has been slashed, home values are rising, and people’s retirement accounts are growing, thanks to a record breaking stock market.


“Investments in infrastructure, public education and health research, action on immigration reform, and innovative job training programs, are exactly what we need right now to unleash new opportunities for the middle class.”


Maloney pointed out,, “It’s also an especially promising mix for New York City, where infrastructure investments like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access will transform how we get to and around our great city, where our world-class hospitals conduct cutting-edge research and where schools like Cornell-Technion on Roosevelt Island will revolutionize how we prepare students for a tech-centric world.”


Maloney declared “I’m also particularly thrilled that President Obama has made paid family leave and workplace flexibility priorities and endorsed legislation similar to my Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act and Flexibility for Working Families Act.
“The U.S. is the only country in the world besides Papua New Guinea that lacks a paid family leave policy. It rings hollow to claim that you support family values, if you are not willing to show that you value families. It hurts our economy by forcing people to choose between a pay check and caring for a loved one. And it’s long past the time for the U.S. to show real leadership on this important issue.”


CROWLEY TO JOIN OBAMA ON INDIA VISIT: Congressmember Crowley described plans last week for his trip with President Obama aboard Air Force One to India last Saturday. The delegation held a series of meetings, including participating in the country’s Republic Day celebration, which marks the enactment of India’s constitution. The delegation also sat with Indian officials to discuss strengthening and expanding the U.S.-India strategic partnership.


Crowley stated: “The principles of India’s democratic constitution serve as a shining example for the world, and what better time for the President of the United States to make this historic visit than to join India in celebrating its Republic Day.


Crowley, the Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus and former chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, added: “It is an honor to join President Obama on this trip and I look forward to robust discussions on how we can open the next chapter in U.S.-India relations. I strongly believe that the United States-Indian relationship should and will serve as a key building block of U.S. foreign policy in the decades ahead. Working together, the United States and India can be a transformational force in meeting global challenges.”


Crowley, the former chair of the House India Caucus, is a recognized leader on Indian issues. Formed in 1993, the caucus is a bipartisan group that is dedicated to championing strong ties between the U.S. and India and supporting the Indian-American community. During his term, Crowley helped grow the India Caucus to become one of the largest caucuses in the House and initiated several key events, including the first ever Congressional Diwali celebration in 2013.


Crowley also led the Democratic effort and Congressional push to secure enactment of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement which strengthened relations between the two countries, and is a recognized leader in Congress on issues related to the Hindu and Sikh-American communities.


GIANARIS, MENG SUPPORT LAG AIRTRAIN PROPOSAL: Congressmember Grace Meng and state Senator Michael Gianaris came out in support last week for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for an AirTrain from the Mets-Willets Point stop on the 7 line to LaGuardia Airport.


Meng (D–Flushing) said, “Building an elevated AirTrian to LaGuardia Airport would be a huge boon for Queens and I enthusiastically support this important proposal.”
Gianaris (D–Western Queens) stated, “Getting to LaGuardia by train has been a dream for decades, but past proposals have been unworkable. This concept is the most optimal because it would avoid ramming another elevated train through the backyards of western Queens residents. I look forward to working with the governor to make getting to LaGuardia by train a reality.”


Gianaris noted that the AirTrian would have to be supplemented by improved 7 train service, which is often unreliable, And perhaps increased express 7 train service in order to be “optimally efficient.” In addition, Gianaris said, he believes the AirTrian proposal should not diminish focus on the continued improvement of the M60 line, which takes riders through Astoria to LaGuardia by bus.


Meng recalled that during her first campaign for Congress in 2012, she highlighted the need to improve mass transit access to LaGuardia, and the governor’s initiative is “a bold step toward accomplishing that critical goal”.


The lawmaker added that an elevated AirTrian “can make public transportation more attractive to those traveling to and from LaGuardia,” and it would expand the potential of the number 7 train and the Long Island Rail Road and reduce congestion, promote tourism, and boost Queens’ economy.


Meng said that last October, she joined the governor and Vice President Biden in Queens to discuss modernizing LaGuardia Airport. She thanked Biden for acknowledging the issue and applauds Cuomo for “stepping up to the plate”.


“Upgrading our airport infrastructure has long been talked about, but thanks to the governor’s vision and determination, an effort is finally underway to make it happen,” Meng stated.


The governor has said that the project, built parallel to the Grand Central Parkway, would cost approximately $450 million to build, would take about five years to build and would be built by the Port Authority and MTA.


VAN BRAMER RETURNS $20,000 STIPEND:
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, the city council majority leader, announced last week that he is returning his 2015 annual stipend of $20,000 to the city. Van Bramer is entitled to receive the funds, also sometimes called a “lulu,” because of his role as majority leader and chair of the Cultural Affairs and Library Committee.


“Returning my $20,000 stipend as majority leader of the New York City Council the right thing for me to do,” Van Bramer stated. “While donating the stipend to charity may be noble, not taking it at all is consistent with a pledge I made when I first ran for the City Council in 2009. I serve in government out of a desire to help others and build up the people and the neighborhoods I serve. That is what drives me to work hard and it always will.”


Van Bramer (D–Sunnyside) was commended for returning the stipend by Citizens Union, and for his “commitment to reform this lulu system in the City Council,” according to Dick Dadey, the CU executive director.


Dadey added, “Citizens Union does not support lulus, except for senior leadership posts. Lulus are an outgrowth of the Council’s creation of too many committees to justify the need to provide extra income to almost all of its members.”


CROWLEY LEADS CELEBRATION OF FDNY’S 150TH ANNIVERSARY:
While the origins of New York City’s Fire Department go back to the early 1600s and the city’s first firehouse was constructed in 1736, according to Congressmember Joseph Crowley, it wasn’t until 1865 that the FDNY was established as a paid, professional organization.


Since then, said Crowley, over 1,150 members of the FDNY have lost their lives serving the people of New York, according to the FDNY.


Now Crowley, the Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus and the New York City Congressional Delegation are commemorating the founding of the modern Fire Department and pay tribute to its history of service on the occasion of the departments 150th anniversary.
To mark the occasion and to pay tribute to the men and women who have valiantly served it, the department is carrying out a series of events throughout the year.


Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) said the resolution notes, “For over a century and a half, New York City’s Bravest have been a source of great pride—and for good reason. Time and again, and during our city’s most difficult moments, the FDNY has answered the call of duty with valor and unwavering commitment. This resolution serves as a symbol of our deep appreciation for the sacrifices they have made to protect countless New Yorkers in harm’s way.”


New York congressional delegation members joining Crowley in introducing the resolution included: Grace Meng (Flushing), Jerrold Nadler (Manhattan), Paul Tonko (upstate) Carolyn Maloney (Queens/Manhattan), Peter King (Long Island) Gregory Meeks (Southeast Queens), Steve Israel (Queens/L.I.), Eliot Engel (Bronx), Nita Lowey (Westchester), Sean Patrick Maloney (Manhattan), Lee Zeldin (Suffolk), Hakeem Jeffries (Brooklyn), Nydia Velazquez (Brooklyn/Manhattan), Jose Serrano (Bronx), Yvette Clarke (Brooklyn), Charles Rangel (Manhattan) and Kathleen Rice (Nassau).


MALONEY BLASTS GOP ATTEMPT TO DENY WOMEN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE: A Republican bill that would undermine women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care was blasted by Congressmember Carolyn Maloney last week.


Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) charged the GOP-sponsored H.R. 7, entitled the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, would, if passed, restrict women’s private health insurance coverage; hurt millions who work for small businesses; and hurt women who buy insure under Obamacare from a health care exchange.


Maloney explained the bill “places restrictions on private health insurance coverage of abortion,” despite the fact that the “longstanding Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funding of abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of a pregnant woman.”
Maloney also said, “The bill will result in millions of women who work for small businesses losing access to private health coverage,” explaining that under H.R. 7, “a small employer cannot use the small business tax credits created by the Affordable Care Act to provide employee health coverage if the coverage includes abortion services.”


Maloney said, “The likely result is that almost no small employer would offer such coverage. Currently, more than 80 percent of employer-provided insurance plans include coverage of abortion.


The lawmaker added that H.R. 7 would result in “millions of women who buy insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplaces having no access to comprehensive health coverage. She noted the bill provides that families buying insurance in the marketplace cannot receive a premium tax credit if they have enrolled in a health plan that covers abortion. “The likely result is” Maloney said, “that families would not buy such coverage and quickly there would be no policies covering abortions offered in the marketplaces.”


Maloney was struck by the fact that, “Despite the lectures from Republicans about how creating jobs and growing the economy should be the number-one top priority for this Congress, here they are again hammering away at a woman’s right to control her own body…”


She attacked this as being “insulting to women, and it does not create a single job.” And, she added, “This bill will not grow our economy and goes way beyond current law which already prohibits tax dollars from being used for abortions.


“Instead, this bill would prevent women from spending their own money on their health choices if they get insurance through a federal or state insurance exchange. That is just outrageous.”


ROZIC: THESE LAWS IMPROVE CHILDCARE: Assemblymember Nily Rozic (D, WF-FRESH MEADOWS) has announced changes and improvements to childcare and social services laws that were passed in 2014 and went into effect on January 1.


“With each new year, we look forward to opportunities to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” she explained. “These new laws will benefit Queens families by keeping our community healthy and providing protection and safety.”


Regarding the first of these laws or change, Rozic stated: “To ensure working families have access to adequate childcare, Rozic backed legislation that requires local social services districts to notify affected families 30 days prior to a reduction in the financial eligibility level or an increase in parental copay amounts—up from just 10 days. With this new law, parents who receive childcare assistance will have time to explore other options should there be a change in their eligibility or an increase in childcare costs.”


Going on to the second law change, she stated, “Today’s ever-changing technology raises additional concerns, and keeping our children protected can be a difficult task. Under another law that aims to protect kids early on from fraud and identity theft, parents are able to place a credit record freeze on children under the age of 16 so someone cannot steal their identities to enrich themselves.”


In addition, Rozic supported legislation that provides tax credits for businesses that hire veterans and for those businesses that employ developmentally disabled individuals. “These tax cuts will help improve the local economy and help ensure more people have the opportunity to work.”


Summing up, Rozic logic stated, “These new laws are important steps forward for our state. This year, I will continue fighting to pass legislation that contributes to a strong, sustainable Queens.”


ROCKAWAY BRIDGE GETS BACKUP POWER FOR EMERGENCIES: In response to Assemblymember Phil Goldfeder’s persistent phone calls to the MTA and Con Edison, permanent on-site backup generators have been installed on the Marine Parkway Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and the Rockaways, to provide power when the regular generators fail, as they did during Hurricane Sandy, which rendered the span useless in a locked open position.


That left thousands of Rockaway and Breezy Point residents stranded with no way to get home, Goldfeder recalled. What had happened, he explained, was that damage to a Con Ed electrical feeder cable led to the power outage, leaving the bridge locked in the open position for six hours and leaving thousands of motorists unable to get from the Brooklyn end to Rockaway.


“Installing generators at the Marine Parkway Bridge comes as a great relief to the thousands of families who rely on the bridge every day to travel to work or school,” Goldfeder (D–Breezy Point) explained. “I want to thank MTA Chairman Prendergast and the MTA for their swift action to ensure that the bridge will be powered at all times.”


In response to Goldfeder’s initial letter, Con Edison Vice President for Government Relations John H. Banks responded that both Con Ed and the MTA, which operates the bridge, were able to dispatch portable generators to lower the bridge. but, the lawmaker, reminded them permanent backup generators had to be installed to deal with any future losses of power.


This past week, Goldfeder continued, the Community Affairs unit at MTA Bridges and Tunnels informed his office that generators had finally been installed at the bridge. “Thanks to Assemblymember Goldfeder’s efforts, we won’t have to go through this problem again,”: said Artie Lighthall, General Manager of the Breezy Point Cooperative. “These generators will provide families with some peace of mind as they travel the bridge to get to work or school.”


The bridge, which links the west end of the Rockaway Peninsula to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, is only one of three access points to the Rockaways, together with the Cross Bay Bridge and the Nassau Expressway. In 2012, the bridge served as the primary evacuation route for tens of thousands of families in the days leading up to Superstorm Sandy.


“The lesson we learned from Sandy is that we need to be prepared,” concluded Goldfeder. “This includes ensuring our vital infrastructure is up to the challenge at all times.”


FLUSHING TOWN HALL SALUTES KATZ: Following Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’ delivery of the annual State of the Borough address last week, Ellen Kodadek, executive and artistic director of Flushing Town Hall issued the following statement:
“We are deeply grateful to the borough president for her longstanding and consistent support of cultural and arts institutions in the city. For more than 35 years, Flushing Town Hall has served New York City with performing and visual arts from around the world. It is clear that Melinda is a committed partner, a person who cares deeply about investing in Flushing Town Hall and the other cultural gems that make Queens shine so brightly on the world stage.”





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