2017-05-24 / Political Page

I On Politics

SPECIAL COUNSEL NAMED TO OVERSEE RUSSIA/TRUMP ANGLE: With not many signs that President Donald Trump’s first administration has gotten off the ground as May nears an end, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein took the initiative last week to appoint former FBI Director Robert G. Mueller III as special counsel to head the investigation into the question: did Russia have any involvement in last November’s election, in which Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

Mueller is being tasked with heading the Russia/Trump probe and Trump’s firing of James Comey, the former FBI director, but it will likely broaden into other areas. Trump immediately started looking for the best lawyer he could find.

It’s expected that Trump’s firing of former FBI head Comey could be a problem for Trump because Comey would be able to produce some documents that might place Trump in an embarrassing position, some observers stated.

CUOMO APPEALS TO TRUMP: Pointing to “crisis conditions” at Penn Station, Governor Andrew Cuomo appealed this past Sunday to President Donald Trump to recognize the situation as “an emergency” and provide funding for construction and transportation alternatives for commuters.

Cuomo also called on the federal government to finance “long-term solutions” at the facility, saying he did not think that Amtrak, the owner of Penn, should continue to operate it. Regarding that last point, he said, possibly a new owner might take over some construction and management of the station. On a broader scale, Cuomo also called for creation of a new train tunnel to New Jersey, among other improvements.

“While this is not a hurricane or flood, it will affect as many people or businesses with dire consequences,” Cuomo stated.

CROWLEY RENEWS CALL TO DEPORT NAZI: Congressman Joseph Crowley is appealing to Republican officials to deport a former Nazi death camp guard who has been living in the United States as a war refugee since 1949, after World War II ended.

In a recent letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Crowley (D–Elmhurst) explained time is running out to deport Jakiw Palij, 92, who is believed to be the last of several Nazis who immigrated to the U.S. after the war. In a story in the Daily News recently, Crowley explained “time is running out to do the right thing” and deport Paliz.

Crowley continued, Palij, who resides in Jackson Heights, was a death camp guard in Germany and Jews were killed there when Paliz was assigned there, as part of Palij’s training. Crowley said in his letter to Tillerson, “The United States has long acknowledged that Nazi crimes were beyond heinous, and I urge you to proceed quickly in this matter.”

Three weeks earlier, Crowley had sent similar letters to U. S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, both recent Republican administration appointees, stressing, “If action isn’t taken, it could mean that this individual may never face any form of justice.”

According to Crowley, Palij is believed to be the last of the living Nazis who immigrated here after the war. Palij dodged deportation about 13 years ago when no one in Germany or Europe agreed take him. Crowley pointed out to Tillerson, “There needs to be a strong diplomatic push behind this effort.” In previous letters, Crowley asked federal officials to make sure Palij was not receiving Social Security benefits wrongfully. As a war criminal,

Paliz falls under the No Social Security for Nazis Act, passed in 2014.

DE BLASIO, MASSEY IN VIRTUAL TIE FOR CAMPAIGN CASH: According to recent reports of campaign contributions received by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his main challenger thus far, Paul Massey, the pair are in a virtual tie. DeBlasio recently reported his cash support at $660,000 and Massey’s campaign says he logs in at $555,000 for the two month filing period of March 12 – May 11.

Previously, Massey led in the count, but the mayor hit a hot streak which gave him an edge for the filing period ending May 11.

The mayor’s contributions have come mostly from out of state and mostly in small denominations. Elana Leopold, de Blasio’s Finance Director, stated, “Our campaign’s focus on grassroots, small-dollar donors has powered us to more than 11,000 contributions, and we are now fully funded for a primary campaign.”

Massey, a businessman, has been endorsed by the Independence Party of New York State and Queens Republican Party. He issued a statement which stated in part:

“I am pleased with how our fundraising is going. I am the only candidate not using taxpayer funds, and I am not beholden to special interests. I built and ran a highly efficient, highly profitable business, which was possible because we hired the best management team we could find. I look forward to winning this race in November and bringing my vision of innovation, inclusion and integrity to City Hall.”

Massey’s most recent filing with the NYC Campaign Finance Board, like his record filings in January and March, demonstrates the significant crossover appeal of his candidacy, showing support from a broad coalition of Republicans, Democrats and Independents (as distinct from the Independence Party of New York State).

Massey also released his public safety plan on May 16, the latest piece of his Urban Innovation Agenda, “which reflects the best thinking from across the political spectrum, as well as Massey’s experience founding and running a successful business that operated in all five New York City boroughs.” He previously released his education plan.

In the coming weeks and months, Massey will continue to release additional detailed policy plans on his priority issues, which include: jobs and the city budget, infrastructure, quality of life, housing and homelessness.

CROWLEY, BONAMICI, ENCOURAGE RETIREMENT SAVINGS PLANS: Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D–OR) and Congressman Joe Crowley (D–NY) introduced legislation on May 18 to give states and cities the authority to create and run retirement savings programs for workers in the private sector who do not have plans through their employers.

Across the country, 40 million private sector workers do not have access to retirement savings plans at their jobs. Several states – including Oregon, California, Connecticut, Maryland, and Illinois – have developed innovative solutions that will help more workers save for their retirement. New York City and other municipalities have expressed interest in developing these plans as well. These plans administered by states or cities are designed to lessen the burden on small businesses that want to give their employees options to save for retirement.

“There is a growing retirement security crisis threatening millions of Americans and jeopardizing their ability to retire with dignity,” said Bonamici, a leader on the House Workforce Committee. “We should be supporting states like Oregon that have created innovative programs to help workers save for retirement and carry their savings from job to job. Our legislation simply clarifies federal law, so plans administered by states or cities can give more workers the opportunity to save for a secure retirement.”

Bonamici and Crowley introduced the Preserve Rights of States and Political Subdivisions to Encourage Retirement Savings (PROSPERS) Act to clarify when retirement savings plans designed by states and cities comply with federal law, and to encourage and provide guidance to states and cities that are interested in developing similar plans to help workers save for retirement.

“With one-third of American workers not saving for retirement, and private-sector pensions dwindling, the retirement security picture in the U.S. is bleak. We should be doing everything in our power to give American workers the opportunity to save for retirement,” said Crowley, Chair of the Democratic Caucus. “After Republicans and President Trump made it significantly harder for working Americans to save, I’m proud to join Congresswoman Bonamici to ensure there are no barriers for workers to save their own money, in their own accounts, for their own retirement.”

On Wednesday, President Trump signed legislation to block Obama-era Department of Labor regulations that clarified the establishment of state-sponsored retirement savings programs and provided guidance for those already in existence. Bonamici led the opposition in the House to protect the Obama-era regulation. The Department of Labor regulation clarified that states and localities were able to implement voluntary retirement savings plans while still complying with federal law.

Earlier this month, Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

NEW YORK HEALTH ACT ENSURES COVERAGE: Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D–Western Queens) announced she voted for the New York Health Act. This legislation would create a universal single-payer plan to provide health coverage to every New York resident (A.4738). Nolan stated:

“The threatened repeal of the Affordable Care Act in Washington requires New York to act on the state level. This Assembly legislation takes a stand to ensure health care is available to everyone.”

The New York Health Act would establish a universal health care system within the state, known as New York Health, and expand coverage eligibility to include all residents, regardless of wealth, income, age or pre-existing condition. The plan would provide comprehensive inpatient and outpatient care, primary and preventive care, maternity care, prescription drug costs, laboratory testing, rehabilitative care and dental, vision and hearing care. Out-of-state health care would also be covered, both when the need for services arises during travel, and when there is a clinical reason to receive care outside the state.

The system would be publicly funded, based on a shared 80/20 employer/employee payroll tax contribution that would be progressive and based on the amount the employee is paid. Employers would no longer be responsible for paying premiums – saving them money – and they would also no longer have to sign contracts with insurance companies and deal with the administration of health plans. Further, small businesses wouldn’t be forced to compete with the health plans offered by their large corporate competitors, Nolan explained.

Additionally, state funding would be combined with federal funds that are currently received for Medicare, Medicaid and Child Health Plus to create the New York Health Trust Fund. The state would also seek federal waivers that will allow New York to completely fold those programs into New York Health. The local share of Medicaid funding would be ended, offering major property tax relief for New Yorkers, Nolan added.

“An inability to pay, or a pre-existing condition, should never stop you from going to the doctor’s appointment, receiving the tests and getting the treatment that could save your life,” said Nolan. ”In the long run, this single-payer system may improve care, and save taxpayer money.”

In 2009, the state Department of Health published a report showing that a single-payer system would provide the lowest cost for universal coverage when compared with private and employer-based insurance. Moreover, in light of federal legislation attempting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and dramatically cut support for Medicaid, the possibility of millions of New Yorkers losing coverage has become a very real, life-or-death concern, noted Nolan. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act could leave as many as 2.7 million New Yorkers without health insurance coverage.

“Here in New York, we look out for one another, and it’s about time our health care system truly reflects that,” said Nolan. “We need a system that provides the seniors who depend on prescription medication or the parents whose baby was born with a pre-existing condition with the health care they need, no matter what.”

E. CROWLEY BILL SEEKS INSPECTOR IN HOMELESS SERVICES DEPT.: “Time and time again, New York City is faced with another crisis within a homeless shelter, ranging from health violations to life threatening, dangerous building violations. The Department of Homeless Services’ (DHS) most recent scorecard shows roughly 16,000 open violations in city shelters,” stated Council Woman Elizabeth Crowley.

Taking action, Crowley has introduced a bill that would create an inspector general (IG) responsible for monitoring DHS policies and practices, and ridding the agency of corruption. This bill (Introduction 1591) was officially introduced in the City Council at this week’s Stated Meeting.

“Far too many of the city’s shelter population are placed in substandard housing, in buildings with a wide range of dangerous conditions,” Crowley said. “The city contracts with non-profits for these shelters and pays them top dollar, yet the locations are crawling with thousands of violations that haven’t been addressed,” the Glendale lawmaker explained.

Under the legislation, the inspector general would staff an office with a director and personnel dedicated to investigating DHS and the Human Resources Administration (HRA). Currently within the DOI (Dept. of Investigation, the IG for the city) there is an inspector general with oversight over HRA as well as the Division of Youth and Family Justice and the Administration for Children’s Services, leaving little room to focus solely on DHS’ flawed practices, noted the Council Member.

However, through Crowley’s legislation, this IG role would be responsible for protecting against corruption, fraud, waste and misconduct only within DHS, and the non-profit organizations that it contracts with to operate city shelters.

“We have a record number of homeless people in the shelter system, and too many families right now are in dangerous situations because DHS isn’t doing its job properly,” said the Council Member. “The city must put measures in place to keep a watchful eye exclusively on this crisis,” Crowley concluded.

PERALTA BILL OK’D, CALLS FOR STUDY OF SLIDING DOORS ON SUBWAY STATION PLATFORMS: The New York State Senate approved Senator Jose Peralta’s bill requiring the Metropolitan Transit Authority to conduct a study regarding the feasibility of installing sliding access doors on all subway platforms to improve riders’ safety. The sponsor of the bill in the Assembly is Assembly Member Michael DenDekker (D–Jackson Heights). The study will also examine the impact of the installation of the sliding doors, including its fiscal impact.

“The MTA should examine all possible mechanisms to improve security and safety for millions of riders, and examine the possibility of installing sliding doors on the stations’ platforms,” said Senator Peralta. “We must ensure the safety of New Yorkers and visitors is guaranteed, and currently this is not the case.”

Each year, more than 100 people are struck by oncoming subway trains in New York City, and dozens lose their lives. In February, two New Yorkers died within a seven-hour span after being hit by subway trains, and last month, a teenager was killed when she jumped onto the tracks to retrieve her cellphone.

Large cities overseas have already installed sliding doors in their subway system, including London and Paris.

ADDABBO CALLS FOR ‘RESPONSIBLE GAMING TASK FORCE’: In an effort to combat problem gambling in New York as new casinos continue to break ground around the state, New York State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. is continuing to push his legislation (S.3067) to create an 1-member Task Force on Responsible Gaming within the New York State Gaming Commission.

“When New Yorkers voted four years ago to permit non-tribal casino gambling in the state, it allowed for the construction of up to seven new gaming facilities. Four sites have been selected so far, and the casinos are already up and running or in various stages of completion in upstate Schenectady, Sullivan, Tioga and Seneca counties,” said Addabbo, who is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering. ”While we expect our casinos to provide an economic boost for our state, we also need to consider strategies to head off a potentially devastating upsurge in problem gambling. My legislation would create a framework for this effort.”

The bill was recently approved by the Senate Racing Committee, and is now under review by the Senate Committee on Finance. It would create a special Legislative Task Force, with some appointees chosen by the Senate and Assembly. Other members would include the leaders – or their designees – of the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), the New York State Gaming Commission, the Division of the Lottery, and the Division of Horse Racing and Pari-mutuel Wagering. The Task Force members, who would serve without compensation, would need to have expertise in problem gambling treatment and prevention, as well as insights into problem gambling programs administered by gaming facilities. The group would make recommendations to the Legislature and Governor regarding the best strategies to address gaming disorders among New York residents.

The Assembly companion bill to Addabbo’s legislation is currently under consideration by the Ways and Means Committee in that house, Addabbo (D–Howard Beach) said.

“New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services has estimated that one million state residents have a gambling problem, including 5% of adults over the age of 18,” said Addabbo. “In addition, the 2013 National Survey of Problem Gambling Services found that, in 2012, New York ranked second in the nation in combined lottery sales, commercial casino gaming revenues, and Native American gaming revenues. With more gaming facilities now in the mix, we need to realize that greater opportunities to gamble may lead to increased incidences of problem gambling, which can ruin lives in any number of ways.”

Addabbo noted that the Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Raceway, in his district, has had a positive impact in terms of job creation, community involvement and revenues raised to support public education in New York, and that the facility has taken a number of positive outreach steps to promote responsible gaming. “I will always continue to be supportive of Resorts World as an asset in our area,” he said. “But on the larger scale, we can’t close our eyes to the needs of individuals and families who are being negatively affected by uncontrollable urges to roll the dice or take on the ‘one-armed bandit,’” he said.

Addabbo pointed out that there are a number of organizations available to help people with gambling disorders, including the Queens Center for Excellence, which is affiliated with the New York State Council on Problem Gambling. The website for the group is www.queenscfe.org, and information about services is available by calling 1-347- 551-2913.

MALONEY: ‘DISGRACEFUL ABUSES OF POWER BY THE PRESIDENT’: Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), senior member on the House Committee for Oversight and Government Reform, released the following statement on May 17 following news reports that President Trump asked then FBI Director Comey to end the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

“Presidents should never, under any circumstance, obstruct or interfere in any way with an ongoing criminal investigation. Yet, that is exactly what President Trump did when he asked then-FBI Director Jim Comey to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Beyond this outrageous request, when Director Comey ignored the President’s request, the President fired him. These are disgraceful abuses of power by the President.

“It is past time for Congress to create an independent commission and for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate not only Russia’s attempts to influence the Presidential election, but also to investigate the White House for any attempts to cover up any Russian connections with the Trump campaign or inappropriate contact with Trump White House officials.

“Tomorrow, I will be signing the discharge petition to force the House to vote on H.R. 356, a bill to establish an independent commission. Later this week, I will be voting, once again, to require President Trump to release his tax returns. I will also be working with my colleagues to renew the independent counsel statute that expired in 1999. But, it is critically important for Republican leaders to loudly condemn this behavior by the President and support these independent investigative efforts.

“In no world are the President’s actions acceptable. Condemning them should not be a partisan issue. Respect for the rule of law and our democratic institutions must always come first and we, as Members of Congress, have an obligation to uphold the Constitution, no matter our political affiliations,” Maloney (D– Queens-Manhattan) concluded.

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