2017-03-22 / Political Page

Clear Of Charges, De Blasio Sees Path To Reelection

You couldn’t blame Mayor Bill de Blasio if, last Thursday, he was whistling “the sun will come out tomorrow” after he was cleared of charges that he had been slightly heavy-handed in soliciting campaign funds for his first mayoral victory four years ago.

But the charges that were cleared by federal prosecutors had cast a cloud or two over his upcoming reelection bid this November, so de Blasio was anxious that the bad publicity would disappear, and he could then approach next fall’s reelection comfortably, as the dark clouds had disappeared, along with the investigation.

Upon hearing the good news, the Mayor buoyantly announced, “The exhaustive investigation has come to a clear conclusion. Lots of allegations and no charges brought.”

Meanwhile, possible Democratic and Republican challengers, who awaited the decision with hopes that de Blasio would get a stern rap across his knuckles and give them some hope, went back to their Ouija boards to look for other signs of hope against the campaign favorite.

Among the Democrats awaiting a possible crack at de Blasio in a primay election are: the city’s Public Advocate, Letitia James; Ruben Diaz, the Bronx Borough President, and city Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, although he’s made himself a lukewarm choice.

On the Republican side, Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich is the Queens County GOP choice, and Paul J. Massey, Jr., who’s got a pocket full of cash fuelling his desire to run. In a recent poll, it was reported the incumbent mayor has a 30- point edge on Massey. But Massey is letting his bankroll do the talking, raising $850,00 in an earlier two-month period, during which de Blasio raised $394,000. But de Blasio, with that pesky probe behind him, should see an appreciable upturn in his fund-raising fortunes. De Blasio will also benefit from the city’s matching funds program. Massey opted out of that program.

Also considering getting into the Republican mayoral field, we’re told, is John Catsimatidis, the millionaire supermarket owner. “We’re still looking at the race,” says Catsimatidis.

SECOND MUSLIM BAN BLOCKED; TRUMP SEETHES: For the second time in a month, President Donald Trump has been rebuffed in attempting to ban Muslims from entering the US. The ban applies to 6 countries, one fewer than the original, after Iraq was dropped from the list.

Trump appears to have become increasingly angered by the refusal to allow the second ban from being approved by a lower federal court, judging by the president’s shouted reaction to the announcement, in which he pledged that this time he will carry his appeal to the US Supreme Court in getting the ban approved.

QUEENS SCHOOLS SET FOR PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING VOTE: Queens school board members are preparing for a vote to allow District 19 residents to choose among capital improvement projects ranging from upgrades to library meeting rooms, gyms to include fitness equipment, and upgrading current computer labs. The voting will take place between March 25 and April 2 at various school locations.

Participatory budgeting will be used for the first time on different proposals. City Council Member Paul Vallone, (D-Bayside) explained the process, stated on circulars his office is distributing:

“Through Participatory Budgeting, you can decide how at least $1 million is spent on community improvements to parks, schools, libraries, streets and more, make your voice heard by voting on which projects should win funding this year. Anyone who lives in District 19 (Auburndale, Bayside, Bay Terrace, Beechurst, College Point, Douglaston, Little Neck, Malba, North Flushing and Whitestone) and is at least 14 years old, can vote during the week of March 25th – April 2nd, even if you’re not registered or eligible to vote in electoral elections. Visit www.council.nyc.gov to verify that you live in the district.

There are 21 separate capital projects listed to be voted upon in District 19, according to the material being distributed by Vallone. The list is broken down into sections, such as Arts, Culture and Community Facilities; Education; Parks and Recreation; Public Safety; and Street. And each of the 19 projects listed by Vallone bears an individual dollar value, ranging in cost from $75,000 for PS 209 Computer Lab Renovation to $650,000 for Bayside HS’s 3,200 Student Locker Project and Basketball Court Renovations at MacNeil Park, but most are under $500,000.”

For more information on Participatory Budgeting, visit council.nc.gov/pb, or call 718-619-8611, e-mail District 19 @ council. nyc.gov

STAVISKY, SENATE DEMOCRATS ROLL OUT EducateNY PLAN: Senator Stavisky, Ranking Member and former Chair of the Higher Education Committee with the Senate Democratic Conference, announced on March 13 a comprehensive package to help millions of New York families who earn up to $150,000 receive free tuition to SUNY and CUNY institutions, and increased aid for New Yorkers attending private colleges and universities, as well as help with housing and living costs for the neediest New Yorkers.

The plan is an example of Stavisky’s commitment to increasing access to higher education for all New Yorkers. It is the Senator’s belief that students should be able to attend a public college or university without fear of accumulating debt that will follow them well into their adult years, she explained.

“This plan is the most comprehensive college affordability proposal and will provide real help to more New York families than alternative options and plans,” she stated.

Stavisky, sponsor of the EducateNY Plan, said, “A college degree has become a necessity for young people to be competitive in the job market and yet it remains out of reach for so many of our students. We need to change our approach to funding our state colleges and universities because the right to an education should not be determined by socio-economic status. A prospective student should not have to apply for burdensome student loans and spend years paying off the debt. The EducateNY package, which includes my bill to eliminate tuition for state residents at CUNY and SUNY schools, will level the playing field for middle-class families across the entire state.”

The Senate Democratic Conference’s legislative package includes:

 Free SUNY/CUNY Tuition through EducateNY Grant Program.

 A new Scholarship Program for New York students attending in-state private colleges and universities.

 Allows undocumented students to be eligible for tuition assistance

 Increase community college base aid.

 Additional funding for SUNY/CUNY to hire more full-time faculty.

 State coverage of all SUNY/CUNY Maintenance of Effort costs.

 Expansion of the STEM Incentive Program.

 College Student Success Initiative to combat student hunger and homelessness.

 Restoration and Expansion of Higher Education Opportunity Programs.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said, “Our SUNY, CUNY and community college systems are a gateway to the middle class and the most affordable way for New York students – no matter where they live -- to gain the knowledge and skills they need to climb the economic ladder. We appreciate the Senate Democrats’ recognition that a greater state investment in public higher education is the key to all efforts to expand opportunity and access. More state support would allow our SUNY, CUNY and community colleges systems to add more full-time faculty and enhance course offerings, giving students, once they enroll, the best chance to graduate on time and without the burden of crushing debt.”

Dr. Barbara Bowen, President, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY said, “The Senate Democratic Conference proposal makes the essential connection between college affordability and college resources. The 27,000 professors and academic staff represented by the Professional Staff Congress commend the SDC for including new funding to address the acute shortage of full-time faculty at CUNY and allow the University to support both fulltime and part-time faculty. By investing in faculty, the SDC invests in students. Nothing has a greater proven effect on student success and graduation rates than access to time with individual faculty. While we would like to see even faster movement to increased funding for community colleges, we applaud the SDC initiatives to support the neediest students and to include undocumented students in eligibility for financial aid. It is not uncommon at CUNY for students to be forced to choose between buying lunch and paying for a subway ride. The SDC proposal would go far toward alleviating this cruel dilemma. As the final budget is negotiated, we call on the legislature and the executive to address the needs of all students and to recognize that increased resources for faculty are essential for student success.”

United University Professions (UUP) President Frederick Kowal said, “It is encouraging to see the state legislature engaging fully on the issues faced by public higher education institutions in New York state. With these proposals, Senate Democrats are addressing the need for expansion in the ranks of fulltime faculty and staff to meet the educational needs of all students, while also providing the means by which families, regardless of their economic resources, have the chance to take advantage of world-class educational opportunities. As we move through the next several weeks of budget negotiations, I am hopeful that public higher education will continue to receive the attention it needs so that New York’s public universities can continue to provide affordable, accessible, and high quality education for all.”

SENATE PASSES PERALTA’S BILL TO FIGHT IDENTITY THEFT AND CYBER CRIME: State Senator Jose Peralta’s bill to include cyber crimes and identity theft in the New York Enterprise Corruption Statute passed the State Senate on March 13th. The bill, referred to as the 21st Century Gang Crime Bill, will give prosecutors additional tools to combat these new-age crimes.

“Organized crime and gangs are becoming more involved in computer crimes, identity theft and money laundering. This legislation will provide a common-sense tool for prosecutors, and it will bring the statute into the modern era,” said Peralta. “Years ago, stolen credit card information was traded in the dark, but now that information is up for sale on websites,” Peralta stated and added:

“This legislation also eliminates duplicative legal proceedings. Currently, prosecutors charge a defendant with two separate indictments when perpetrating a larceny through the use of identity theft or computer crimes, creating two different prosecutions for same offenses. This means a defendant gets two arrest numbers, two indictments, is arraigned twice, and will get tried for the same criminal conduct twice,” noted Senator Peralta. “This current system is not efficient and we must modernize it.”

According to the National Gang Intelligence Unit of the FBI, gangs are becoming more involved “in white-collar crimes, including identity theft, bank fraud, credit card fraud, money laundering, fencing stolen goods, counterfeiting and mortgage fraud, and are recruiting members who possess those skills sets.” And in 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 16 million Americans became victims of identity theft, which represents 7% of the U.S. residents 16 years of age or older.

“Cyber crime is on the rise, but this bill will allow law enforcement to take gangs down more efficiently,” said Senator Peralta. “The law has not kept up with technology and we must act to fight against these crimes more effectively.”

Senator Peralta hopes the New York Assembly will follow suit and pass the bill.

REP. CROWLEY BLASTS LOSS OF COVERAGE FOR 24M UNDER GOP HEALTHCARE BILL: House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-NY) released the following statement after the Congressional Budget Office confirmed on March 13th that if a healthcare bill proposed by President Trump and congressional Republicans were to go into effect, 24 million Americans would lose insurance coverage and premiums for older Americans would be “substantially raised.” Crowley stated:

“Now that the devastating impact of the healthcare repeal bill proposed by congressional Republicans and President Trump is known, the legislation should be immediately discarded. The Congressional Budget office estimate is far worse than expected, with 24 million Americans at risk of losing their insurance coverage over the next decade and many others facing an immediate spike in premium costs – including seniors who will be particularly affected by premium increases. In addition, the CBO score makes clear that working Americans will be forced to subsidize tax cuts for the rich.

“It is abundantly clear why congressional Republicans wanted to rush their healthcare bill through committee during two middle-of-the-night mark ups – they know it is a fundamentally bad deal for Americans. This proposal does nothing to help working families or the sick. Instead, President Trump and congressional Republicans focus their energy on giving massive tax breaks to insurance companies and making insurance more expensive for all.

“House Democrats fought to block this dangerous Republican healthcare bill last week during a series of committee sessions. That fight isn’t over. I’ll continue to push to protect quality healthcare that remains affordable for seniors and working Americans,” Crowley concluded.

ADDABBO, ALLIES OK BILLS VS. HATE SPEECH, GRAFFITI, VANDALISM OF RELIGIOUS PROPERTY: With bias-related graffiti, cemetery vandalism and criminal acts against religious institutions on an apparent upswing, Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr recently voted to pass two pieces of legislation that would raise penalties for those who vandalize or otherwise damage houses of religious worship, desecrate burial grounds, or create graffiti featuring swastikas or other recognized symbols or words of hate.

“While there have always been despicable people who take pleasure in robbing institutions of religious worship, knocking down gravestones and writing hate-filled messages on buildings, fences, and other private and public property in our communities, it seems like incidents of this nature are becoming more common,” Addabbo said. “We might not be able to cure thievery, or stop people from hating others simply on the basis of their religious, racial, or other differences, but we can take steps to make sure that their criminal activity receives the harsh punishment it deserves.”

The first bill (S.1786), which Addabbo co-sponsors, would raise penalties to the felony level for a variety of crimes that damage houses of religious worship, sacred items, and the final resting places of New York residents. Punishment would also be increased for stealing religious items from houses of worship and cemeteries, Addabbo explained.

Continuing, Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said that the second bill (S.4777) would include certain graffiti – such as writing that includes swastikas, recognized racial slurs, and other hate speech – under New York’s bias-related crime laws. Under current law, offenses that may now also constitute a hate crime, depending upon the circumstances, include assault, menacing, manslaughter, criminal sexual acts, and a variety of other serious crimes. Creating hate graffiti would be a Class E felony, carrying up to four years in state prison, he emphasized.

Addabbo pointed out: “According to the New York Police Department, incidents of bias crimes in the city were up 35% in 2016 from 2015, with a spike of 115% at the end of the year. In addition, the NYPD also recently announced that the number of anti- Semitic hate crimes reported to the Department so far in 2017 represents an increase of 94% from the same period a year ago.

“It appears that many people who are prejudiced against others based upon their religion, race, culture, sexual orientation, national origin or other identifying characteristic have become more emboldened to turn their hateful thoughts into actions. We must have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior, and better safeguard our religious institutions and properties from thieves and vandals.”

Having passed the senate, the bills are now under consideration by the Assembly Committee on Codes.

MALONEY ON CBO SCORE, REPUBLICANS’ ‘MERCILESS’ AMERICAN HEALTH CARE ACT: Following release of the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the House Republican American Health Care Act, Congress Member Carolyn B. Maloney (D-Queens, Manhattan) released the following statement:

“Today, the independent Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the house Republicans’ plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and its findings were just as bad as many of us had feared. According to this nonpartisan report, the Republican bill would strip 24 million Americans of their insurance, including 14 million alone next year.

“It would destabilize the insurance market, and significantly raise the cost of premiums for seniors. Under this GOP bill, a 64-year-old in the individual market with an income of $26,500 will pay $12,900 more in premiums each year.

“Millions of women across the country will lose access to care, including to cancer screenings, contraceptives and family planning services, because the Republican bill cuts off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood for a full year.

“For New Yorkers, this bill is an especially bad deal. The GOP bill eliminates federal funding for our state’s Essential Plan, taking away a popular and successful insurance option for more than 600,000 of our neighbors who don’t qualify for Medicaid, but still need help affording insurance. It means hard hits to New York City hospitals that will lose much-needed federal funding that they have gained through Medicaid expansion. It means billions of dollars of loss to New York State, as the Medicaid federal contribution is reduced over time from 90% to 50%, forcing New York to cut back care for older Americans, children, and individuals with disabilities.

“Now, we know why House Republicans have been racing this disastrous bill through congress, to pass it before the real consequences for the American people were spelled out in real numbers. This bill is a merciless attack on the most vulnerable among us, a setback for seniors and a disaster for our medical providers. It will destroy all the progress we have made over the past 8 years. It is simply unacceptable, and I will not stop fighting until we have a real solution for providing affordable healthcare for all Americans,” Maloney concluded.

COUNCIL’S CROWLEY UNVEILS PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING OF $2M FOR DISTRICT 30 SCHOOLS: City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley has allocated $2.1 million for the first ever “Participatory Budgeting in Schools” process in New York City.

In an effort to expand Participatory Budgeting, reach a greater number of local residents and empower students and parents in the democratic decision-making process, Crowley is funding $100,000 in capital upgrades for each of 21 school communities in and near City Council district 30, totaling $2.1 million, to vote on capital upgrades for their school.

“This project will not only provide upgrades for local schools, but also give a lesson in civics to our students,” Crowley said. “Nobody knows the needs of our schools better than the students and parents. Ultimately, I believe participatory budgeting in schools will empower the student community in a way that has not been done before. And when they participate, students and parents will see, firsthand, how their vote can make a difference.”

Each school will have three proposals on its ballot, and will vote for two. Elementary and middle school students will vote during the week of March 24th, and high school students the week of March 27th. Proposals include capital projects such as:

water bottle refill stations,

surveillance cameras,

smartboards,

laptops,

smart tables,

auditorium renovations, such as audiovisual upgrades, lighting, curtains and seats, and

gym renovations: floors, bleachers and scoreboards.

All ballots must be returned by March 31st to be counted.

MALONEY REQUESTS HEARING ON BIPARTISAN GUN TRAFFICKING LEGISLATION: Congress Members Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Robin Kelly (DIL) sent a letter to Chairman Jason Chaffetz requesting that the Committee hold a hearing to consider bipartisan gun trafficking legislation the members introduced after the acting director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified that a federal firearms trafficking statute “would help deal with the gun violence in America.”

Maloney stated that H.R. 1475, the gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2017, would – for the first time – make firearms trafficking a federal crime, and impose stronger penalties for straw purchasers who buy guns on behalf of others. This bipartisan legislation was introduced on March 10th by Democrats Cummings, Maloney and Kelly, and Republicans Patrick Meehan (PA), Peter King (NY) and Daniel Donovan (NY).

When this bill was introduced previously, it was supported by numerous organizations representing law enforcement and prosecutors across the country.

“We have made it too hard for law enforcement to stop guns from getting into the hands of criminals, and too easy for criminals to get their hands on guns,” said Maloney. “Federal law must treat gun trafficking and straw purchases as the dangerous crimes they are before we needlessly lose more lives! The bipartisan Gun Trafficking Prevention Act would provide the tools law enforcement has asked for to put gun traffickers and straw purchasers behind bars.”

“We’ve heard from multiple law enforcement agencies and prosecutors that they are ill-equipped to crack down on illegal gun trafficking organizations,” said Cummings. “This bipartisan bill will give them the tools they need to combat illegal gun crime, and I urge my colleagues to support this critical legislation.”

“Our law enforcement leaders have been blunt: a federal firearms trafficking statute is needed to combat gun violence. Criminals are using lax gun laws in one state to fuel criminal syndicates in another. Congress needs to give law enforcement the tools to fight back against this illegal activity,” said Kelly. “I urge Chairmen Chaffetz to do something and hold a hearing on this common-sense, bipartisan bill that will save lives and undermine national criminal networks.”

TRUMP’S FY18 BUDGET PROPOSAL: CROWLEY, MALONEY, MENG WEIGH IN: House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley issued the following statement the day President Trump released his $1.1 trillion budget proposal, that makes deep cuts to education, innovation, veterans, and assistance programs that Americans value.

“It stands beyond reason that a president who claimed to be concerned with working Americans, expanding the American economy, and keeping Americans healthy would author a budget that makes sweeping cuts to all these critical areas. It is abundantly clear that instead of investing in early education, skills training programs and medical research, President Trump is only interested in inflicting deep cuts to the programs Americans rely on – which amounts to an assault on working families and the poor.

“Nothing abut the fiscal year 2018 budget puts America on the path toward long-term security. Pumping up defense spending while stripping funding for peacekeeping and other diplomatic efforts is extremely misguided. The budget proposal also has far too little support for veterans, as it would make deep cuts to the National Institutes of Health and job training programs tailored toward returning service members.

Crowley stated, “This is not how responsible leaders should govern.”

Following President Trump’s March 16th release of his proposed budget for FY2018, Congress Member Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), released the following statement:

“President Trump’s proposed budget would do tremendous harm to working families in New York and across our country. With devastating cuts to education and the arts, affordable housing, the Environmental Protection Agency, medical research, and other vital programs, this budget threatens the health, safety and economic security of working families and should be soundly rejected.

“New York City in particular would be hard hit by this budget. Our Department of Housing Preservation and Development would see $20 million disappear, meaning loss of rental assistance to 39,000 New Yorkers. Nutrition assistance and early childhood education for low-income students would be slashed. The National Institutes of Health, which funds critical research at New York City hospitals to diagnose and prevent cancer, heart disease, and dozens of other illnesses, would be cut by nearly $6 billion or about 18%. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is leading the cleanup of Newtown Creek and is charged with enforcing laws to reduce air pollution, keep our water clean, and combat climate change, would be cut by more than 30%.

“This is a budget that our country and New York City cannot afford. It will do nothing to put our country’s fiscal house in order while causing great harm for millions of hard-working Americans.”

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) today issued the following statement opposing President Trump’s budget proposal:

“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, there is absolutely no way I can support President Trump’s budget request as it stands. His budget claims to put “America First,” but I fail to see how slashing funding by $54 billion for our most vulnerable citizens is patriotic. The budget calls for a complete elimination of essential programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low income families, particularly those with children or senior citizens in the home, with energy costs during cold winter and hot summer months. This program provides critical heating and cooling support to over 1 million New York households. Other programs will have their funding restricted, such as the Meals on Wheels program, which provides food to impoverished older and disabled Americans who can’t leave their homes.

“Every single American would be negatively impacted in some way by this budget, whether it be through the elimination of community development programs that assist at-risk communities both rural and urban; deep cuts to the National Institutes of Health, which conducts research to find cures for devastating diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease; continued exposure to toxic waste due to slashed funding for the Environmental Protection Agency that cleans up these waste sites; or the termination of before- and after-school programs, particularly in high poverty areas.

“My constituents deserve better than this budget. America deserves better than this budget. And I will not stop until I see something workable on the table.”

CHAIRMAN CROWLEY STATEMENT ON FESTIVAL OF HOLI: Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley (D – Queens, the Bronx) issued the following statement in recognition of the festival of Holi:

“The festival of Holi, known as the Festival of Colors, is a time for the communities to come together to celebrate the arrival of spring. During this joyous festival, family and friends will join together through dance, music, meals, the lighting of bonfires, celebrating goodness over evil, and the tossing of vibrant colored powders into the air, all in a grand celebration of peace, friendship and harmony. The festival has become a tradition celebrated by many in New York City and around the country. I wish a happy Holi to all those celebrating this joyous festival.”

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