House bill has Lyme measures Gibson and Maloney sought

Reps. Chris Gibson and Sean Maloney both celebrated this week the House of Representatives’ passage of a medical research bill with bipartisan support, highlighting its inclusion of a proposal they introduced last year that is meant to speed the development of treatments for Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Gibson, a Kinderhook Republican who retires from Congress at the end of this month after six years in office, said in a statement,  “Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have met with Lyme sufferers who are coping with a litany of often chronic health problems, gut-wrenching stress, and astronomical medical expenses. Dated treatment guidelines and a lack of coordinated research among federal agencies have hindered the delivery of effective care and given insurers a green light to refuse payments to physicians who treat Lyme.” He thanked patients and advocates for helping him push the legislation, saying “their voices made a difference.”

Maloney, a Cold Spring Democrat who won a third House term last month, said, “My neighbors in the Hudson Valley know how debilitating Lyme disease can be, and I’m proud that by working across the aisle with Congressman Chris Gibson we have passed the most important piece of Lyme disease legislation ever written.”

Their 2015 bill, The Tick-Borne Disease Research Transparency and Accountability Act, was incorporated into a broader medical bill called The 21st Century Cures Act, which the House passed, 392-26, on Wednesday. They Lyme section orders the creation of an interagency working group to coordinate the federal government’s research on tick-borne diseases and gather input from doctors and patients. It also requires the secretary of Health and Human Services to meet with the group and give Congress a report within three years on combating tick-borne diseases.

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Lawmakers may revive panel to give them raises

There was a lot of chatter and angry recriminations this week about the possibility that state lawmakers will return to Albany for a special session this month to resuscitate an expired salary commission that failed to give them raises last month, along with a growing list of legislative demands Gov. Andrew Cuomo was making as an apparent exchange for the panel hiking their $79,500 base pay.

There was no indication by Friday whether there would in fact be a special session, nor what proposals the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly might agree on, other than reauthorizing the panel to hike the salaries of the members of both chambers before Dec. 31 – the last chance they have to get raises for the next two years. Also unclear was just how much more money they would get if legislative leaders and Cuomo are able to hash out a deal.

The only available evidence is in what had been proposed a previous meetings of the salary commission and what was said before it dissolved in rancor on Nov. 15. Roman Hedges, a legislative appointee and the only commission member to throw out any actual numbers, suggested 47 percent raises in July, which would boost legislators’ base salaries – not including the stipends most members also get – to $116,900. He then argued in September that raises for lawmakers and state commissioners should actually be as high as 76 percent. By November, when decision day had arrived, the figure he put on the table was 43 percent.

Cuomo’s appointees blocked the proposal that day by refusing to vote. But Fran Reiter, who spoke for them, suggested raises higher than 47 percent – and maybe than 76 percent – were in store if lawmakers would agree to limit or forsake the outside income they are now allowed to earn. She even dangled the salaries of U.S. Congress members – $174,000 – and New York City Council members – $148,500 – as considerations. Here’s the quote from Freiter to keep in mind in case lawmakers pack their toothbrushes for a pre-holiday session:

“Accordingly, should the legislature pass reforms that mirror those of the United States Congress, including a cap on outside income, we are prepared to recommend and approve at a reconvened meeting of this commission a salary substantially higher than any discussed so far by this commission, taking into consideration Congressional and New York City Council values.”

 

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Cuomo vetoes bill to put solar panels in Montgomery park (updated)

Among the 72 bills Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed in a late-night massacre on Monday was a seemingly innocuous and hyperlocal proposal from Orange County, one that would authorize the Village of Montgomery to install solar panels on 4.75 acres in its Veteran’s Park.

Legislation was needed because the village effectively would be “alienating” a patch of parkland by giving it a non-recreational purpose. And the governor had no objections in principle, noting in his veto message that he had signed “dozens of parkland alienation bills over the past several years.” But the rub, he said, was that the village got funding through a state bond in 1998 to build ball fields and trails in Veteran’s Park, and the terms of that grant required the village to replace any part of that park it later alienates with parkland of equal size.

Montgomery had been working with the state to identify such land, but had not done so by the time Cuomo was handed the bill and had to decide its fate within 10 days.

This sounded like a slight dig at the Legislature for dumping a pile of bills on his lap on Thanksgiving week.

The memo read: “Unfortunately, the decision to deliver the bill at this time did not provide the Village with sufficient time to complete this process or amend the legislation to comply with existing law.” Cuomo went on to say he would “gladly revisit this issue” if Montgomery finds “an appropriate replacement panel” and the bill to alienate parkland for solar panels returns to his desk.

Update: There was similar tsk-tsking in another veto message Cuomo issued that night, for a bill that emananted from Orange County but had statewide application. That proposal, sponsored by Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh, would have required registered sex offenders to report to the authorities any and all places where they live so that each of those addresses could be identified on the state’s sex offender registry – a resource for the public to know if someone convicted of sexual offenses lives nearby.

Wallkill Town Supervisor Dan Depew had suggested the legislation in 2013 after discovering that a sex offender had been living in town without public notice – someone who had served 11 years in prison for having sex with a teenage girl over four years and videotaping the acts. The man was on the registry but only with a home address in Rockland County, even though he appeared to spend much of his time in the rural, western Wallkill — at the very residence where the alleged sex crimes occurred years earlier.

An initial version of the bill requiring offenders to report multiple addresses if they have them passed the Senate but died in the Assembly in 2014. Both the Senate and Assembly passed a revised version in June 2016.

Cuomo took exception to the potential consequences of the bill wording in his veto message, contending the proposal “creating significant public safety concerns” by letting offenders avoid registering “by living continuously in a temporary residence or shelter.” Since neither would be considered “fixed” or “permanent,” the words used in the bill, offenders who live there could be absolved of the registration mandate, he argued.

Then he went on: “Despite my efforts to negotiate an amendment to address these concerns, we were unable to reach a resolution with the Legislature before delivery of the bill. I am therefore constrained to veto this bill.” Again, Cuomo said he would reconsider the proposals if it returns to him, in this case after the bill is reworded to “define residence in a more comprehensive manner.”

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Sussman “seriously considering” county executive run

Attorney and Democratic activist Michael Sussman says he’s “seriously considering” running next year for Orange County executive, an office he sought in 2001 but not since then.

Sussman, who’s been involved in a series of prominent county issues as attorney or activist – or both – for the last several years, said in a phone interview that he’d run on an agenda that emphasizes environmental protection and a different approach to job creation than the one represented by the proposed Legoland theme park in Goshen, a project he opposes. He said he hopes to announce his decision whether to run by mid-January, leaving enough time for another Democrat to start campaigning in case he doesn’t run.

“I’m weighing the efficacy of any run and have not made a decision,” Sussman said.

Sussman ran for county executive 15 years ago, beating former (and now current) Cornwall Town Supervisor Richard Randazzo in a Democratic primary and losing the general election to Republican county legislator Ed Diana, who went on to serve 12 years as county executive. Diana was succeeded in 2014 by Steve Neuhaus, a Republican and former Chester town supervisor who beat former county legislator Roxanne Donnery in the 2013 election.

Neuhaus confirmed this week he plans to run for reelection in 2017.

Sussman said one factor he’s weighing is how unified Democrats would be behind him, given the split in his party when he ran in 2001. “I’m certainly not interested in a fractured Democratic Party,” he said, adding that Democrats need a strong challenger in 2017.

No other potential candidates for county executive in 2017 have surfaced. Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton, who competed with Neuhaus for Republican support to run in 2013 but didn’t wage a primary, said this week he has no plans to run next year.

Sussman has clashed with the Neuhaus administration on two major issues that spilled over from Diana’s reign: the overhaul and expansion of the county Government Center, and the attempted privatization of the county-owned Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation. Sussman fought unsuccessfully in court to stop the partial demolition of the 46-year-old Government Center, which is an architectural landmark, and won a separate court fight to block the sale of Valley View.

Republicans have held the Orange County executive’s position for every term except one since the position was created in 1970. The only four-year interregnum in Republican rule was 1990-93, when former assemblywoman Mary McPhillips served as county executive.

All 21 county Legislature seats also are up for election next year. Republicans have controlled the chamber every year but one since 1970.

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Open-primary advocates want Sanders’ support

Activists seeking to overturn rules limiting participation in New York’s primaries to registered party members are calling on perhaps the country’s most recognizable independent to stand with them in court in Manhattan next month.

The non-profit Open Primaries organization announced this week it had sent Bernie Sanders a letter signed online by more than 3,400 voters, urging him to attend a hearing in state Supreme Court on Dec. 6 for a case challenging the legality of New York’s closed primaries. New York City lawyer Mark Moody filed the lawsuit in April after being unable to vote in New York’s Democratic presidential primary. Moody used to be an unaffiliated voter and registered as a Democrat in March, but New York’s arcane election laws required voters to switch parties by the previous Oct. 9 in order to vote in that party’s 2016 primaries.

Moody’s complaint noted with irony that Donald Trump’s children, Ivanka and Eric, were unable to vote for their father in the April 19 Republican primary for the same reason. His lawsuit, pending before Justice Arthur Engoron, argues that New York’s closed primaries disenfranchise voters and should end.

New York currently has 2.5 million active voters with no party affiliation, only slightly fewer than its 2.6 million registered Republicans. Several hundred thousand other voters are enrolled in minor parties and are therefore ineligible to vote in Democratic or Republican primaries.

Sanders, the Vermont senator and registered independent who competed with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, lost the New York primary by around 300,000 votes, primarily because of Clinton’s margin in New York City and the suburbs (Sanders beat her in most upstate counties). The letter Open Primaries sent Sanders reminded him of what he said on the date of the primary: “Today, 3 million people in the state of New York who are independents have lost their right to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary. That’s wrong. You’re paying for this election. It’s administered by the state. You have a right to vote. And that’s a very unfortunate thing, which I hope will change in the future.”

John Opdycke, president of Open Primaries, said in a statement, “It is a problem that independent voters are being excluded from the political conversation at precisely a moment in our country’s history that their voice is most needed. This lawsuit is important. We need more open doors, and more participation, not less, to grow our state. I hope Senator Sanders will support it.”

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Social security checks set to rise – $5 a month

Late last month while everyone was focused on the upcoming election, Sen. Chuck Schumer put out a little-noticed press release advocating a year-old bill to compensate social-security recipients for their stagnant income – a proposal that suddenly had renewed relevance.

When. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois introduced the SAVE Benefits Act in 2015, seniors had just learned they would get no increase in their social-security checks in 2016 because inflation had been so low. It was the third time in seven years their payments stayed flat. The bill Warren and Duckworth proposed would have given onetime checks of around $580 to recipients of social security, disability payments and veterans’ benefits, who all were getting no increases, and paid for those checks by closing a corporate tax loophole.

Only Democrats supported the bill, and it went nowhere. Fast forward to October 2016, and the latest inflation calculations brought more grim news for seniors, the disabled and veterans: checks would go up in December but only by 0.3 percent, or about $5 a month.

“There is nothing worse than delivering a flat Social Security COLA to our seniors,” Schumer said in a press release, referring to the cost-of-living adjustment in federal payments. “Millions of New York City seniors, veterans, and individuals who are disabled, need and deserve a fairer amount of money in their Social Security checks to help pay for the ever-increasing cost of rent, medicine and groceries.”

The bill’s advocates contend the COLA formula is grossly unfair to seniors because it’s skewed by factors like low gas prices that don’t have much effect on them and undervalues factors that do, like medical care and housing. They want the COLA changed, but also support making emergency payments as an interim step.

The flat COLA touches a lot of households in the region. When the Times Herald-Record wrote about the SAVE Benefits Act in January, about 140,000 people in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, or more than one in five residents, received Social Security, SSI payments or veterans’ benefits and pensions, according to federal statistics.

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Susan Sarandon weighs in on Wawayanda power plant

Actress Susan Sarandon has released a video urging people to call Gov. Andrew Cuomo and tell him to stop a $900 million natural-gas fired power plant that’s being built Wawayanda.

The Academy Award winning actress and environmental activist  has released a video saying that although Cuomo has put a ban hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, natural gas infrastructure is continuing to be built in New York.

Competitive Power Ventures is currently building 650-megawatt Valley Energy Center in Wawayanda.

“This plant is going to lock us into fracked gas dependency for the next 40 years,” Sarandon says.

Sarandon says that the power plant’s green house gas emissions will “ensure that Lower Manhattan is eventually going to be swallowed up by the ocean.”

In September a former CPV executive, Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr., was charged by federal prosecutors with providing a $90,000 low-show job to the wife of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, in exchange for Percoco’s pledge of assistance on the project.

In exchange, Percoco was supposed to help secure a lucrative state deal for the plant, which never came to fruition, according to the federal complaint. Prosecutors say Percoco collected $287,000 from Kelly. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

CPV Vice President of External Affairs Thomas Rumsey has previously said that the charges do not call into question the power plant’s permitting process and that the plant is still scheduled to be operational by February 2018.

Sarandon in the video asks for Cuomo to halt construction on the power plant. She also asks viewers to join her and Pramilla Malick to call on state leaders to push for halting construction and any further permitting.

The video was posted by the Facebook page “Protect Orange County,” a group headed by Malick, , a Westtown Democratic activist who recently lost a race for state Senate against Republican Sen. John Bonacic. She ran on a platform of clean energy and against natural gas infrastructure.

Sarandon joins former Democratic Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and academy nominated actor James Cromwell, who lives in Warwick, in prominent faces who are against the project.

You can find the video here.

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Maloney’s 10-point victory was biggest of his three races

Rep. Sean Maloney’s 28,000-vote victory over Republican challenger Phil Oliva on Tuesday’s was the Cold Spring Democrat’s largest margin by far in his three congressional races, a comfortable cushion of 10 percentage points as opposed to his four-point defeat of former Rep. Nan Hayworth in 2012 – or the two-point squeaker in their rematch two years ago.

But there was a silver lining for Maloney’s underfunded opponent this week. The 10-point gap in their vote tallies represented the closest any congressional challenger came to winning in New York on Tuesday, when incumbents from both parties scored huge victories. Outside the 18th district, the next closest race with an incumbent was the Rochester-area 25th District, in which 34-year Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter beat Republican challenger Mark Assini by 34,000 votes, or 11 percentage points.

The unofficial vote tallies from the state Board of Elections for the four-county 18th District was 149,056-120,967. The state scored that as a 51 percent to 41 percent victory for Maloney, after factoring in the 24,816 18th District voters – or more than 8 percent of the total – who skipped over that race while voting. Exclude voters who ignored the congressional race and you get a 55 percent-45 percent victory for Maloney.

Here are the 18th District vote tallies by counties. The district encompasses all of Orange and Putnam and pieces of Dutchess and Westchester.

Orange: Maloney, 74,674; Oliva, 58,133

Dutchess: Maloney, 36,438; Oliva, 28,054

Putnam: Maloney, 19,827; Oliva, 21,031

Westchester: Maloney, 18,117; Oliva, 13,749

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Kiryas Joel blocs played small role in election (updated)

Both factions in bloc-voting Kirays Joel supported Republican Sen. Bill Larkin on Tuesday in his re-election race against Democratic challenger Chris Eachus, generating a lopsided, 5,849-129 vote in Larkin’s favor inside the Hasidic community. But that was hardly the deciding factor in the 88-year-old incumbent’s rout of his opponent, who trailed Larkin by nearly 17,000 overall votes.

Kiryas Joel’s majority faction – Anash – backed Democratic challenger Aron Wieder in an Assembly race, enabling Wieder to collect 4,598 votes in the village, according to Kiryas Joel’s counts. But the minority faction – the Kiryas Joel Alliance – canceled out some of that support by endorsing Republican incumbent Karl Brabenec, who won 1,498 votes in the village and wound up beating Wieder by more than 8,000 votes overall.

The village’s voting blocs are often able to swing results of close races, with voters turning out in force and faithfully voting in disciplined fashion for the endorsed candidates highlighted on sample ballots the two factions distribute outside of polling stations. But they played no such role in this year’s 39th Senate District and 98th Assembly District races, both of which were blowouts.

Nor did they provide the margin of victory in this year’s race for New York’s 18th Congressional District, which Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney won by about 28,000 votes. Anash supported Maloney over Republican challenger Phil Oliva, and the Alliance made no endorsement; the voting outcome in Kiryas Joel was not available on Wednesday.

Anash’s endorsed candidate in the Assembly race – Wieder – won three times as many votes in Kiryas Joel as the Alliance’s candidate – Brabenec – on Tuesday, a wider gap than usual and a potential bragging point for the majority faction. But one leader of the minority faction argued Wednesday that the outcome didn’t accurately reflect the relative voting strength of the two voting blocs. He said the Alliance had no serious stake in Tuesday’s races, did little to mobilize voters and made no effort to dissuade its voters from supporting Wieder instead of Brabenec. Wieder, a Rockland County legislator from Spring Valley, would have become New York’s first Hasidic state legislator if elected.

Neither party endorsed a candidate in the presidential race on its sample ballots, following what an Anash leader said was a longstanding policy of staying neutral on presidential candidates. Voting tallies for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in Kiryas Joel were not available on Wednesday.

(Update: It should also be noted that, in spite of their party’s endorsement of Larkin, four Kiryas Joel Alliance members each gave the Eachus campaign $2,500 on the Friday before the election, a $10,000 total contribution.)

(Second update: Slightly amended tallies for the village are 5,852-140 for the Senate race and 4,598-1,491 for the Assembly race. In the presidential race, there were 1,592 votes for Trump, 1,291 votes for Clinton, 247 votes for Gary Johnson, 66 write-in votes, 21 votes for Jill Stein, and around 3,000 voters who skipped over that race. In the 18th Congressional District race, there were 4,382 votes for Maloney and 257 votes for Oliva.)

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Trump won Orange, Sullivan counties and lost Ulster (updated)

Voting in the presidential race varied sharply among counties in the region on Tuesday: president-elect Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 6 percentage points in Orange County and a whopping 14 points in Sullivan, a county in which Democrats hold a huge enrollment edge; and yet Clinton prevailed by 9 points in Ulster, another heavily Democratic county.

The same contrasts occurred elsewhere in the Hudson Valley. Clinton crushed the Republican nominee by 32 points in Westchester and won Rockland by 5, while Trump had a 2-point edge in Dutchess and a huge lead of 17 points in Putnam.

Here are the percentages in each of those counties:

Orange: Clinton, 43; Trump, 49

Sullivan: Clinton, 40; Trump, 54

Ulster: Clinton, 51; Trump, 42

Dutchess: Clinton, 46; Trump, 48

Westchester: Clinton, 64; Trump, 32

Rockland: Clinton, 50; Trump, 45

On Long Island, Clinton won Nassau County, 50-45, while Trump won Suffolk, 52-44.

When Siena College did its final poll of likely New York voters on the Thursday and Friday before the election, the two candidates were tied at 45-45 in the New York City suburbs, a region that included Long Island, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange.

Clinton led Trump statewide by 51-34 in that same Siena poll – a margin she beat in the actual 58-37 results in heavily Democratic New York on Tuesday – and was even ahead by 42-37 upstate, a snapshot that Trump’s victories in Dutchess and Sullivan defied.

Update: For comparison, here are vote totals from Orange, Ulster and Sullivan from this week and the 2012 presidential race to show how much better Trump did than Romney (and worse Clinton did than Obama).

Orange

2016: Clinton, 63,037; Trump, 72,129

2012: Obama, 73,315; Romney, 65,367

Ulster

2016: Clinton, 40,010; Trump, 32,962

2012: Obama, 47,752; Romney, 29,759

Sullivan

2016: Clinton, 10,939; Trump, 14,581

2012: Obama, 15,268; Romney, 12,705

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