Sussman supports sale, replacement of Government Center

Goshen attorney Michael Sussman has offered a proposal for the sale and replacement of the Orange County Government Center that he contends could knit together the various interests of the county’s office and court needs, the Village of Goshen and its downtown businesses, and groups that have fought to preserve the 45-year-old architectural landmark designed by Paul Rudolph.

Sussman, a Democratic activist who has spoken out before during the long debate over the fate of the closed Government Center, held a press conference about his suggestion last week, and has since released a statement and video of his announcement. He said he supports architect Gene Kaufman’s plan to buy the Government Center and convert it into an arts center, but suggests he pay $15 million rather than $5 million, with the added condition that Kaufman then be given a contract to design a new Government Center that would be built nearby to house county offices and courts.

Sussman said his idea would preserve Rudolph’s design and head off a $74 million plan to overhaul and expand the complex that includes a four-story addition Sussman described as “hideous.” It also would allow the county to commission a modern complex while directing some cash to both the county and the Village of Goshen. Of that $15 million suggested purchase price, Sussman said $3 million should go to the Village of Goshen and $12 million should go to the county (about the same amount as the current operating deficit).

“I think it gives the village a double whammy,” he said, meaning the combined foot traffic that both a government complex and an arts center would bring.

He opposes the idea of selling the Government Center and continuing to lease space for county employees in three buildings on Matthews Street. “I don’t believe we should have ‘government by diaspora,’” he said. “I don’t believe we should have government spread out in four, five or six locations.”

County officials are preparing to solicit bids to demolish one of three buildings in the Government Center complex and gut the other two — the first stage of the $74 million project that will proceed unless at least 14 of 21 lawmakers decide otherwise. It would take a supermajority vote for the Legislature to override Neuhaus’ veto of a law that would have authorized the sale of the Government Center and to accept Kaufman’s purchase offer.

Sussman said in his announcement that Kaufman should have first rights but that the county should solicit another round of bids if Kaufman was unwilling to raise his price under the terms Sussman suggested.



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Pro-choice organization criticizes Hudson Valley GOP senators on Women’s Equality votes

KINGSTON — NARAL Pro-Choice New York has taken Hudson Valley GOP senators to task for leaving out the abortion-rights bills from the state Women’s Equality Act agenda.

State Senate Republicans passed eight parts of the 10-part Women’s Equality Act on Tuesday, choosing to leave out segments that would have strengthened abortion rights. The bills has now gone to the state Assembly for action.

The bills passed include provisions that would ensure equal pay for equal work, strengthen protections against human trafficking, prohibit discrimination in the work place based on familial status, end pregnancy discrimination and more.

But the parts that the GOP-controlled Senate passed leave out provisions that pro-choice advocates say are essential. They say the left out provisions would move state abortion laws from the penal code to the public health code, nullifying conflicts with Roe v. Wade and further protect doctors. Opponents argue it would expand abortions into the third trimester, an argument supporters say just isn’t true.

The 10-plank Women’s Equality Act has been stalled in the last two sessions by the Democratic-controlled Assembly, where they argue the abortion-rights planks are essential and refuse to separate the bills. In the past, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also signaled he wants to pass all 10 pieces of the bill.

“Continuing the campaign of misinformation that started with their elections, anti-choice Sens. Bonacic, Larkin and Amedore disregarded the views of the overwhelming majority of their constituents who support full equality,” said Andrea Miller, president of NARAL.

Miller accused Senate Republicans of taking “half-steps while leaving a critical part of women’s equality behind by failing to codify in state law the health protections guaranteed under Roe v. Wade.”

Larkin and Bonacic have noth called for the Assembly to pass the parts of the Women’s Equality Agenda that both sides agree on. After the passage of the bills, Amedore, R-Rotterdam, said he was happy the state senate prioritized the package of bills.

“These bills have bipartisan support, and women in New York have waited long enough – they deserve these protections,” Amedore said..” It’s time for our colleagues in the Assembly to put women’s health and safety above politics and pass this package of bills.”

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Brescia blames Neuhaus for “spinning wheels”: the video

A video is now available of the Orange County Legislature meeting last week at which Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia let loose for almost 10 minutes on County Executive Steve Neuhaus, whom he accused of leading lawmakers on “a year of spinning wheels.”

Brescia, a Montgomery Republican and veteran lawmaker, delivered his speech on Jan. 6 shortly after his colleagues had unanimously elected him chairman for a second year. His main grievance against the Republican county executive was his recent veto of an asset-forfeiture law that District Attorney David Hoovler had originally proposed and that Brescia said lawmakers had spent roughly 10 hours discussing and amending, only for it to perish in Neuhaus’ office. Republicans had stood by the proposal in the face of strong public opposition, while Democrats had opposed it.

The salvo begins at around the 12:30 mark. Brescia, clearly irritated, said, “All the county exec had to do is tell us that he had a little bit of doubt about that asset forfeiture law — not at the last minute. Not at the last minute after his public hearing, because there was enough public comment at this Legislature, and we wouldn’t have spun our wheels. The Republicans wouldn’t have moved forward with that.”

Brescia went on to say that he had been one of Neuhaus’ strongest supporters on the Legislature and would continue to support him when he was right. But he said the county executive also was wrong to block a proposed quarter-point increase in the county’s sale tax rate, an idea that had originated with Neuhaus. Republicans took up the suggestion in December as a fallback measure after Neuhaus’ plan to sell the county nursing home failed, leaving the 2015 budget $12.1 million short on revenue. Neuhaus refuses to forward the request to Albany for approval.

Looking at the budget problems ahead, Brescia said, “There’s going to have to be collaboration and communication — on his part. And I hope he hears this loud and clear.” He asked that Neuhaus attend at least two or three legislative committee meetings each month and stay for their entirety.

Brescia’s tone was testy enough that Chris Eachus, the New Windsor Democrat elected at that meeting to be the Democrats’ new leader, joked immediately afterward, “Can I leave that voter enrollment form for when you want to change parties?”

Calling 2014 a “roller-coaster year” for the county government, Eachus added, “I need not say anything about the county executive because you stole my punch. We agree. We don’t need to be insulting, we don’t need to be denigrating. But we need him here.”

Brescia’s remarks prompted a pointed series of responses last week from Neuhaus, who said he vetoed the asset-forfeiture law in response to the loud public outcry against it at a hearing he held, and rebuked Brescia for not attending that hearing — which took place after the Legislature already voted on the law.

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Brescia rips Neuhaus in public rebuke. Neuhaus rips back. (Updated)

Steve Brescia

Simmering tension between Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and county lawmakers from both parties spilled out in an unusually public fashion on Tuesday, when Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia — a fellow Republican — laced into the county executive for blocking an attempted sales-tax increase that he had initially proposed and vetoing an unpopular asset-forfeiture law that originated with the District Attorney’s Office and that Republican lawmakers had supported in spite of a storm of protest.

Brescia vented his frustration during the Legislature’s annual reorganization meeting, a normally short and newsless gathering. As reported afterward by the weekly Chronicle newspaper and confirmed by Brescia, the legislative leader accused Neuhaus of causing lawmakers to “spin our wheels” during his first year in office, and demanded Neuhaus begin attending committee meetings and stay for their entirety, rather than send a delegate.

“I think it was the collective frustration of the Legislature that I spoke about,” Brescia explained on Wednesday.

He said the Legislature had spent 10 hours discussing and revising the asset-forfeiture law out of support for District Attorney David Hoovler and law-enforcement agencies, with no hint that Neuhaus would veto it until the “midnight hour,” long after Republicans had taken the political risk of supporting it. Similarly, he argued, Republicans took up Neuhaus’ own suggestion for a quarter-point increase in the county’s sales tax rate and rushed to forward the proposal to Albany for consideration, only for the county executive to reject and criticize the idea.

“His office encouraged us to get it done quick so it would get on the calendar in Albany,” Brescia said. “His office is the one that pushed that. That’s why we did it.”

Brescia added: “He wants to make himself look good and us look bad.”

Steve Neuhaus

Neuhaus unloaded back in a long, caustic response that the Chronicle published in full. He accused lawmakers of mangling the proposed asset-forfeiture law into something he couldn’t support, and sniped at Brescia for not attending two public comment sessions he held before vetoing the law, during which residents roundly denounced the proposal.

“Mr. Brescia earns a full-time salary at his two government jobs, plus benefits,” Neuhaus wrote, referring to Brescia’s dual roles as Legislature chairman and Montgomery mayor. “If he cannot find time to attend public comment sessions, that is unfortunate.”

Tensions were compounded at Tuesday’s meeting by an unexpected request for the Legislature to confirm Neuhaus’ selection of Mental Health Commissioner Darcie Miller to run the county’s Social Services Department as well. Lawmakers from both parties reportedly praised Miller and supported her appointment, but complained that it had surfaced without the committee review that would normally precede it. They voted overwhelmingly to defer confirmation until after this month’s committee meetings.

In an email on Thursday, Neuhaus said that Legislator Michael Amo, the chairman of the committee that oversees the Social Services Department, had asked for a vote on Miller’s appointment at Tuesday’s meeting, not the administration, and that there was a 40-day deadline for confirmation that the Legislature now can meet only by holding a special meeting. “I know an awful lot of Orange County residents who, for $50,000 a year would find time to schedule a meeting,” he wrote.

He also continued his counter-attack against Brescia:  ”The bottom line is Brescia is frustrated out of guilt and wrongdoing.  Guilt — because he’s been part of the gang of Legislators who spent away the County’s surplus with nothing to show for it.  Wrongdoing because he voted for the asset forfeiture law while ignoring the will of the people — Conservatives, liberals and everyone in between — who said it was a bad idea.  … Mr. Brescia is angry because he didn’t listen to the will of the people on this — I did.  The fact is Mr. Brescia asked me not to veto the forfeiture law because he didn’t want to lose face. ”

After reading Neuhaus’ statement in the Chronicle, Brescia said on Thursday, “I’m kind of surprised that the county executive would launch a personal attack.” On “skipping” Neuhaus’ hearings on the asset-forfeiture law, Brescia said he had heard “ample viewpoints from both sides” during the committee discussions and the public-comment period that preceded the Legislature’s vote. And on Neuhaus’ argument that he had responded to public sentiment by vetoing it, Brescia pointed out that Neuhaus had no such change of heart last year after an even larger tide of opposition to his push to privatize the county nursing home.

The Legislature’s public hearings on the privatization proposal lasted more than seven hours, Brescia said, and Neuhaus “wasn’t there for one minute of it.”

Update: In an email message on Friday, county spokesman Dain Pascocello stressed that Neuhaus broached the idea of raising the sales tax rate in October as one for several future options, but did not include that in his 2015 budget and never formally proposed it. He also forwarded a Dec. 3 memo to the Legislature from County Attorney Langdon Chapman, which shows he advised lawmakers — in response to a request from Brescia — that raising the sales tax rate by March 1 would be “a challenge under all circumstances” and virtually impossible to accomplish if they waited until January to get their initial request to Albany.

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Gibson votes against Boehner for House speaker

Rep. Chris Gibson took a surprise vote against re-electing Rep. John Boehner as Speaker of the House Tuesday, on the same day he  announced he wouldn’t run for a fourth term in 2016. 

According to Talking Points Memo, Gibson joined 24 other Republicans who chose to stray from Boehner as their choice for leader of the House of Representatives.

Gibson instead voted for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, according to reports. Boehner survived the upset and became speaker.

Gibson, R-Kinderhook, announced Tuesday that he won’t run for a fourth term in the House, though he’s left open the possibility of running for a statewide office in 2018.

The move is a shift for Gibson, who supported Boehner in 2012. Just last September, Boehner headlined a fundraiser for Gibson in Sullivan County. Gibson ended up trouncing wealthy Democratic opponent Sean Eldridge.

Though Gibson rode the tea party wave into office in 2010 as one of 84 freshman Republicans in Congress, he’s been seen more as a centrist. By 2012 he shifted into the bluer 19th Congressional District through re-districting.

After the vote Tuesday, the co-founder of the national Tea Party Patriots group listed Gibson and those who voted against Boehner as those who would one day lead the party by standing up “against the status quo of the Boehner establishment.”

Gibson’s office did not return an email for comment.

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Tenney calls for Silver to step down

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated where Assemblyman Joe Morelle is from. He’s from Rochester. It has been corrected in the story.

Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney has wasted no time in calling for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to step down in the wake of a New York Times story saying federal authorities are probing his finances.

Tenney, R-New Hartford, said Silver, D-Manhattan, should step down from his seat as one of the most influential politicians in New York politics in the wake of the investigation.

“He has been plagued by ethics claims for some time and even admitted he bypassed our own rules in the secret payoff deal concerning sexual harassment claims against then Assemblyman Vito Lopez in 2012,” Tenney said in an email Wednesday. “I was the first to call for his resignation as Speaker then and renew my call over continued and deliberate violations of ethics rules.”

Tenney said as the Speaker who presides over the Assembly’s Ethics Committee and a sponsor of the bill that formed the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, he shouldn’t be allowed to continue in his position if he violated rules.

Tenney said it’s time to elect a leader outside of New York City and Long Island to provide more balance to the Assembly. She suggested Assemblyman Joe Morelle: A Binghamton Rochester Democrat and majority leader of the Assembly.

“He is a practical and viable choice to lead New York in a new direction,” Tenney said.

The New York Times article published Monday says prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office of the Southern District and the FBI are looking into payments made to Silver by a New York City law firm over about 10 years that he hadn’t previously disclosed.

Tenney represents the 101st Assembly District and was elected to her third term in November. She represents municipalities in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties and up into Utica.

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Dems choose Eachus as caucus leader

Orange County Legislator Chris Eachus of New Windsor will become the new leader of the Legislature’s nine-member Democratic caucus in January, replacing Middletown’s Jeff Berkman, who decided to step aside after five years as minority leader but will remain on the Legislature.

Eachus, who teaches physics at the Newburgh Free Academy, joined the Legislature in 2006 and represents District 15, which encompasses the eastern half of New Windsor. Berkman revealed at the end of Thursday’s Legislature meeting — the last session of 2014 — that Democrats had chosen Eachus to succeed him.

The current Legislature has 11 Republicans, nine Democrats and one Independence Party member. Melissa Bonacic of Greenville leads the Republican majority. Republicans have controlled the 21-member board every year except one since it came into existence in 1970, replacing the Board of Supervisors as the county’s lawmaking body. Party leaders earn around $36,000 a year, instead of the $30,000 pay for rank-and-file members.

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Lawmakers confirm Diana’s appointment to IDA

Orange County lawmakers approved the appointment of former County Executive Ed Diana to the county’s Industrial Development Agency board on Thursday, but not without some jabs at the retired politician who once spurned their subpoenas to testify before two investigative committees they created to extract information.

Kevin Hines, a Republican legislator from Cornwall, reminded his colleagues that they had been forced during Diana’s final term to take the unusual step of forming special panels to examine the finances of the Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation and the condition of the county Government Center, and that the three-term county executive had refused to testify under oath before those committees. He also said Diana had “handcuffed this county” to the former Camp LaGuardia property through a 2009 sale contract that required the county to provide the buyer with sewer service — a condition that helped put the sale and redevelopment plans in limbo.

“I think it’s a terrible choice,” he said.

Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia, a fellow Republican who serves on the IDA board and had asked Diana to replace a departing board member, cited Diana’s long tenure as county executive and a county legislator before then, and said he would be an asset to the IDA, which makes decisions about awarding tax benefits to induce businesses to locate or expand in Orange County. The Legislature voted 17-3 in support, with Hines, Republican Mike Anagnostakis and Democrat Roseanne Sullivan casting the dissenting votes.

Legislators also approved the reappointments of IDA board members John Steinberg Jr. and Henry VanLeeuwen at Thursday’s meeting.

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Gibson attending holiday bash with fellow GOP members

Rep. Chris Gibson will be a special guest at an $85-a-person holiday cocktail party and fundraiser hosted by the Dutchess County GOP next Thursday.

Gibson, R-Kinderhook, is listed as a special guest at the party, that will be held at Christo’s catering hall at 155 Wilbur Boulevard in Poughkeepsie. Gibson will be joined by state Assemblyman Kiernan Lalor, and state senator-elect Sue Serino and Terrence Murphy.

The cost is $85 a person, $160 a couple and you can also “sponsor” the dinner for up to $1,500 for four tickets. The cash is going to the Dutchess County GOP.

Gibson represents the 19th Congressional District, that includes Ulster, Sullivan and Dutchess counties.

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Brabenec wins Assembly race by 38

Republican candidate Karl Brabenec has won the protracted Assembly District 98 race by 38 votes after attorneys ended a six-day court battle over disputed absentee and affidavit ballots by dropping their remaining objections and counting the votes.

Lawyers for Brabenec and Democratic candidate Elisa Tutini are due to return to state Supreme Court Justice Elaine Slobod’s court to confirm their ballot agreements at 3 p.m., but there are no ballot challenges left for the judge to decide. All of ballot haggling on Thursday took place in private in a court jury room, as the two sides whittled down 178 votes that Brabenec’s attorneys had challenged in the Village of Kiryas Joel until Brabenec had reached an insurmountable lead. As expected, most of the Kiryas Joel votes went to Tutini, who had the support of the Hasidic community’s main voting bloc.

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