Statements on Metro-North crash

Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, issued statements last night on the horrible Metro-North crash in Westchester in which six people were killed after a train crashed into an SUV that had stopped on the tracks at a crossing and burst into flames.

Schumer said:

“Our hearts go out to those lost, we pray for those injured and our hats are tipped to the brave first responders who came to the scene of this tragic crash so quickly. I have spoken to Tom Prendergast, who has assured me that a full and thorough investigation has already begun.

“At this early stage, it is premature to point any fingers of blame, but there are many important questions that must be answered in the coming days.”

Here’s what Maloney had to say:

“I’m simply heartbroken.  All of us who ride Metro-North are moms, dads, brothers, and sisters and with every accident, a family is torn apart by an unspeakable tragedy. My thoughts and prayers are with all the victims, families and first responders.

“As MTA and NTSB looks into this horrific incident in the days to follow, we need to know how and why this happened and then take real steps to prevent another tragic collision from ever recurring.”

Coincidentally, Maloney, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, had released a video clip earlier in the day of a hearing at which he probed a different train-safety issue: the vulnerability of oil-bearing train cars to a terrorist attack. One of the potential defenses he mentioned — positive train control — is something he has pushed for in the past for Metro-North and other rail lines, although it’s unclear if such technology could have prevented Tuesday’s horrific collision in Valhalla.

Here’s the clip of Maloney’s questioning in Washington.

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Locals dems support Heastie to become Speaker of Assembly

Democratic Assembly members from our region threw support behind Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie Tuesday, who won the day and has replaced Sheldon Silver as speaker.

Assembly members Frank Skartados, D-Milton, Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, James Skoufis, D-Woodbury and Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh, all voted to support Heastie. He replaces Manhattan Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, who resigned as speaker in the wake of federal corruption charges and arrest.

GOP Assemblymen Karl Brabenec, from Deerpark, and Peter Lopez, from Schoharie, both voted for longtime Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb, Canandaigua.

Lastly, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, voted for Preet Bharara, the hard-charging U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who brought the charges against Silver. Bharara, obviously, isn’t a member o the Assembly.

Heastie, who took the speaker’s seat with the word “wow,” acknowledged the Assembly was facing “trying times” and promised to pursue reform. He’s the first African American speaker in the history on New York.

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Pennsylvania state troopers union endorse new DA as Eric Frein trial looms

As Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin gears up to prosecute one of the most high-profile criminal cases in the country against Eric Frein, an alleged cop killer, the Pennsylvania  state police union has thrown political support elsewhere for the upcoming Republican primary.

The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association has throw their support behind Kelly Gaughan, a partner at Levy, Stieh & Gaughan, P.C., specializing in family law. The Association says it represents more than 8,000 retired and current Pennsylvania state troopers.

Tonkin is seeking the death penalty against Frein, 31, of Canadensis. He’s accused of ambushing the state police barracks at Blooming Grove late on Friday, Sept. 12, shooting to death Trooper Bryon Dickson and seriously wounding Trooper Alex Douglass. Freind has pleaded not guilty.

After a massive manhunt that involved more than 1,000 law enforcement officers and cost the Pennsylvania State Police more than $11 million, Frein was apprehended on Oct. 30 at the abandoned Birchwood Resort in Pocono Township.

Now, the union that represents state troopers wants to go with another district attorney.

In late January attorney Gaughan received the endorsement of the John Hancock Memorial Lodge 46 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which is part of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association and is made up of of current and former state troopers from northeast Pennsylvania. The Association, with more than 8,000 members, followed with an endorsed Gaughan last Thursday.

Tonkin, is a press released Monday, called the endorsement a “back door union deal.” He also questioned Gaughan’s experience in front of a jury, something that would likely be needed on a death penalty case, though the DA might not try the case them self.

“The fact that the union who represents state troopers rubber stamped the prior union FOP (fraternal order of police) endorsement of a candidate for District Attorney who has very little experience in criminal law and has no experience before a jury in any criminal case, but whose husband is a former state trooper, clearly demonstrates this was a back room union deal,” Tonkin said.

Gaughan’s husband, Marty, is a retired state trooper and undercover narcotics officer and now resource officer at Delaware Valley High School.

Tonkin criticized the union, saying they did not have any endorsement forum and didn’t ask him to discuss his experience of prosecuting criminal jury trials “including five first degree murders. ”

“Further, the union did not inquire at all about my experience as a prosecutor for fifteen years and having prosecuted cases from robbery and burglary to drug dealing and sexual assault,” Tonkin said.

As part of Gaughan’s platform she’s  said she wants an “open relationship” between the district attorney and law enforcement officers, in which the DA listens to officers’ opinions on cases. She said she also wants “open communication” between the district attorney and such organizations as Pike County Children and Youth Services and Safe Haven, a domestic violence prevention agency.

James Seamon, vice president of Pennsylvania’s state troopers union, said in an email Monday that Tonkin didn’t ask for the union’s endorsement but they do not discuss their endorsement process other than the final outcome of the vote, which was unanimous.

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Cuomo: I won’t sign budget unless there’s ethics reform

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he won’t sign a budget this year unless he gets ethics reform and is willing to shut down state government to do it.

“I will not sign a budget that does not have an ethics plan as outlined in my proposal that addresses the current problems in the system,” Cuomo said.

Speaking in New York City today, Cuomo spoke about the shut down of the federal government in the mid-1990s and signaled he may go that far to get what he wanted.

“It was ugly but sometimes ugly is necessary,” Cuomo said. “Change is disruptive, and transformative change is highly disruptive. And make no mistake, this will be highly disruptive.”

Cuomo, who has taken pride in having four on-time state budgets in a row, threw the idea aside and said “in all probability that we will not have a fifth on time amicable budget” and that he’s OK with that.

Cuomo suggested that the congressional model of making legislators full-time was the “cleanest solution” but, absent that, proposed a five-point “Clean up Albany” agenda. Here’s the agenda:

1. We will propose what we call “total disclosure” – the most extensive disclosure of outside income in the United States of America. You have heard the phrase “follow the money”. We’re creating a new expression, “explain the money.” Officials will have to disclose to the public all the outside income they receive, from who, for what and whether there is any connection to the state government or the office that they hold.

2. Public officials who are convicted of public corruption should not have taxpayers pay for their retirement. Therefore, we are proposing a constitutional amendment to require public officials convicted of corruption to forfeit their pensions. Also, the rules of the State Assembly centralized power so that individual members are virtually powerless to move legislation. This is the Assembly’s opportunity to enact a new fair and open system. They should not merely change the ruler but they should use this as an opportunity to reform the rules.

3. Per diems have become backdoor salary supplements. Legislators travel to Albany because they make money on the per diems, believe it or not. We must ensure that per diems are only for actual and necessary costs or paid as a fixed amount. Nothing more. The days when officials make money on per diems must be over.

4. Campaign funds are called campaign funds because they are supposed to be spent on campaigns – hence campaign funds. However, personal use of campaign funds has become another way to supplement income. This is wrong and it must stop this session.

5. Our campaign finance laws are outdated and porous. Housekeeping accounts and LLC loopholes are glaring. Public finance is the only option to ensure democratic access to the system. After the federal Supreme Court case, Citizens United, a state cannot stop money from coming into the electoral system. Independent expenditure committees which are now allowed under the federal law, institutionalize unlimited donations. Fortunately the one things a state can do is require disclosure. It must be a transparent donation system. We must be able to see the contributions and be able to follow the money. We are proposing the strongest campaign finance disclosure rules in the nation by increasing the frequency and the detail of campaign and independent filing expenditures.

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Cahill blasts proposal to merge Thruway and Bridge authorities

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, says talk about merging the state Bridge and Thruway is a “non-starter.”

“Let me be clear,” Cahill said in a press release Friday. “Mid­-Hudson Valley residents will not finance the Tappan Zee Bridge reconstruction with increased tolls on our local bridges. Some of the communities my colleagues and I represent are already paying for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority without getting any service. This suggestion to double down on our residents is a non­-starter.”

Cahill says the proposed merger was discussed at at a Transportation Budget Subcommittee hearing Thursday.

Newly appointed Thruway director and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former budget director , Robert Megna, said joining the Bridge and Thruway authorities under Cuomo’s proposed consolidation plan wouldn’t be a large cost savings to the state or taxpayers, Cahill said.

Megna pointed out that the $1.3 billion committed to the Thruway Authority in the 2015-­2016 Executive budget will be solely allocated towards capital expenses, most namely the Tappan Zee Bridge project. This would leave holes in the operation portion of the Authority’s spending plan that would have to be made up by either toll increases or by cutting costs internally.

“Suggesting that we ask  our residents to take a disproportionate share of the Thruway burden is just unfair,” Cahill said.

While opposing a merger, Cahill supports a study that would explore cost-savings and consolidation between the two entities.  He’s introduced a bill yesterday that would have the two do a joint study, though there’s no Senate sponsor.

Cahill also suggested swapping Kingston’s Wurts Street Bridge, owned by the state Department of Transportation, for the roads leading up to various Bridge Authority crossings. The bridge carries traffic from Kingston to Port Ewen and, Cahill argues, would save both the DOT and the Bridge Authority money by allocating expenses better.

“It is important to note that this is the only suspension bridge in the entire state of New York for which the DOT is solely responsible,” Cahill said. “It is also no longer on a state-­owned or operated highway. On the other hand, roads leading up to the Mid­-Hudson toll bridges are maintained by the Bridge Authority, often with DOT trucks stopping right at an arbitrary line where jurisdiction changes.”

 

 

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Gunther and Skartados sign on to Assembly reform letter

Two local members of the state Assembly’s Democratic Conference have signed on to a letter posing reform ideas to whoever becomes the new Speaker.

The letter, dated Jan. 29, is addressed to candidates vying to become speaker of the Assembly in the wake of federal corruption charges against Speaker Sheldon Silver, who ruled over the body for more than 20 years.

So far, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh, and Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Milton, have signed on.

“After careful consideration, we have determined that reform can provide greater transparency, increased Member participation, changes in leadership selection, reform in staffing decisions and staff authority,” the letter reads. “We urge the Speaker Candidates to commit to reforming and modernizing our institution, and we seek your input on the following reform ideas.”

Members seem to be suggesting potential reforms as opposed to endorsing then whole-heatedly. then pose a series of potential reforms in the form of questions. and ask for input on the questions from Speaker candidates. Here’s a few of the questions posed:

“Should the Assembly be more transparent?”

“For example, should Members know how decisions are made inside of conference?”

“Should Members have the ability to get bills voted on in committee and on the floor if there is broad support among colleagues? ”

“Should factors aside from seniority be considered in allocating Leadership positions and committee/subcommittee chairs?”

“Should Members have an equal staff budget?”

The letter goes on to ask that candidates for Speaker commit to appointing a task force on reform, representing the diversity of the conference and that the task force meetings be open to all members of the conference (though it doesn’t say the full public.)

Silver, D-Manhattan, has said that he won’t get in the way of the Democratic Conference choosing a new Speaker after he was pressured to step aside in the wake of his arrest. Local Democratic legislators in the Assembly initially backed Silver but his support eroded quickly. After two days and almost 11 hours of closed-doors talks, members announced Silver would step aside and legislators praised the move.

“Any change in leadership must be accompanied by substantial reform in the way the State Assembly functions. Now is the time to move forward to build a better, stronger Assembly,” the letter says.

I’m having trouble embedding it, but here’s a link to the letter:

Updated Reform Letter to Speaker Candidates

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Rep. Maloney announces committee seats for new term

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney announced today that he will remain on the House Agriculture Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for his second term in Congress and keep his subcommittee assignments as well, with the addition of a seat on a new Ag subcommittee in charge of “Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credits.”

Here’s the announcement from the Cold Spring Democrat:

“In my first term, I hit the ground running on these committees by passing an historic Farm Bill and securing key local infrastructure investments, but we still have a lot of work to do to grow our local economy. Whether it’s making the Farm Bill work for our farmers, expanding Stewart Airport into a cargo facility or passing rail safety provisions, I look forward to working across the aisle to get results for the Hudson Valley.”

On the Agriculture Committee, Rep. Maloney will serve on the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management and the Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit. These subcommittees have jurisdiction over the implementation of the Farm Bill as well as numerous crops including fruits and vegetables, crop insurance, and commodity exchanges.

On the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Maloney will serve on the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Subcommittee on Aviation and Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.  These subcommittees have jurisdiction over highway and transit facilities, National Transportation Safety Board, aviation facilities like Stewart Airport, water infrastructure, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

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Skoufis, Brabenec condemn DEC decision on annexation case

Both assemblymen representing the Monroe-Woodbury area issued statements on Wednesday condemning the decision by the head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation to let the Village of Kiryas Joel oversee an environmental review for a proposed 507-acre expansion of the village through annexation.

DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens chose Kiryas Joel over the Town of Monroe as lead agency, a role that governing boards in both municipalities had sought. As the two municipalities that would be ceding and gaining land and voting on the annexation petition, they were deemed to be the other contenders for lead agency — not Orange County and not the DEC itself.

Here’s the statement from Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury: “Given the Village of Kiryas Joel’s propensity to disregard environmental laws and regulations, as well as the Village’s indifference towards the Open Meetings Law, I strongly believe KJ’s government is completely incapable of leading such a critical environmental review.  I will continue working with all local stakeholders in holding the leadership of Kiryas Joel accountable during this lengthy process.”

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, a Deerpark Republican who took office in January and sounded open to the idea of property owners being allowed to move their land into Kiryas Joel during the campaign, said Wednesday that he opposed letting either Kiryas Joel or Monroe control the environmental review, even though that seemed to be the only two options.

Here’s his lengthier statement on the matter:

“I respectfully and completely disagree with the commissioner’s decision. It’s almost impossible to expect that the Village of Kiryas Joel will submit an unbiased environmental assessment because they strongly favor annexation.

“The Commissioner says, in effect, that his hands are tied by the law. This is valid only if he applies a narrow interpretation, as he has done, that limits selection of Lead Agency to parties directly involved in the proposed annexation–in this case, Kiryas Joel or the Town of Monroe.

“As the Assembly member representing many citizens of Orange County who will be affected by this proposition, including the Town of Monroe specifically, I cannot in good faith allow this to happen. Commissioner Martens’ decision would deprive too many of a voice in this disagreement and I contend that the law should be interpreted more broadly for the benefit of all concerned. Therefore today I have asked the Commissioner to send a program bill to the governor, state Senate, and state Assembly to permit Counties or DEC Regions to serve as Lead Agency in any large municipal annexation.

If the Commissioner does not introduce such legislation promptly, I will do so myself.”

 

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UPDATED: Auerbach, on run for county exec: Non-commital

Ulster County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach won’t say whether he’ll run for county executive this year.

Auerbach, a Democrat from Ellenville, came to the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday where Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, was the guest speaker.

I asked Auerbach, 62, about the race for county executive this year. He said he’s been approached to run and when I asked him directly if he’s interested in running, he wouldn’t comment directly.

Auerbach has held the county comptroller’s position for six years and would trigger a primary if he chose to run.

Current Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, 49, a Democrat, is widely believed to be running for a third term.

If Auerbach did choose to run, he would conceivably need to start fundraising soon. While Auerbach reported $1,397.95 in his campaign account in his most recent filing,  Hein had $174,195.30.

UPDATE:

So after I wrote this piece, Auerbach has since called me and said that he plans to support Hein. As a matter of fact he said it would be “his honor” to support him.

But…

Auerbach didn’t rule out running for higher office in 2016. Specifically, he mentioned a state senate or congressional seat. While Auerbach works in Kingston, he lives in Ellenville which is represented by Sen. John Bonacic, a powerful Republican from Mount Hope. Bonacic hasn’t given any indication he’s leaving office.

But Gibson has said he won’t run again in 2016, which would leave the seat wide open. Already, state Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, and state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, have said they’re thinking about running for Gibson’s seat.

 

 

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Cahill: Me? Speaker? Naaah.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a senior member of the state Assembly, says he’s not interested in throwing his hat in the ring for Speaker.

At least five senior assembly members are already jockeying for the spot expected to be vacated by current Speaker Sheldon Silver next week.

Cahill, D-Kingston, says he hasn’t thrown his support behind any candidate yet but is most interested in a candidate that can keep the Assembly’s agenda front and center and benefit his constituents.

So far, the names bandied about to head the Assembly have been mostly from New York City.

Bronx Assemblyman Carl Hestie, Queens Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Manhattan Assemblyman Keith Wright, Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Rochester assemblyman and soon-to-be interim speaker Joe Morelle have all been mentioned as candidates. The conference expects to vote for a full speaker on Feb. 10

There hasn’t been a new speaker in the Assembly for more than 20 years. The opening comes after Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested and federally charged with pocketing more than $4 million in kickbacks and bribes. On Tuesday, he said he wouldn’t get in the way of the conference finding a new Speaker.

Cahill said he expects the wrangling to be a “fairly open process. ” He also said he’s been approached by a coalition of lower Hudson Valley Assembly members from the Westchester-area to join them and form a caucus. Cahill said he declined because he didn’t see the advantage to his constituents.

Between the seven assembly members who’s districts cover the politically diverse Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, four are Democrats and three are Republican.

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