Upstate NY

Mitchell Given 7 Years For Role In Prison Break

Former Dannemora prison worker Joyce Mitchell was sentenced on Monday to seven years behind bars for her role in the escape of David Sweat and Richard Matt.

Mitchell had pleaded guilty in this summer to assisting Matt and Sweat in the breakout, which led to one of the largest manhunts in upstate New York history.

Matt was shot and killed by law enforcement, while Sweat was later apprehended by State Police.

Mitchell has acknowledged her role in the breakout scheme, but her attorney has pointed out that she did not provide the convicted killers with the power tools used to tunnel out of Clinton Correctional Facility.

She briefly addressed the court and asked for leniency.

“If I could take it all back I would, I can’t begin to explain how sorry I am for all this — to my community, co-workers, my family, the all the families of the officers who were taken away from their families in this search, while these two men were on the loose. I never intended for any of this to happen. As hard as it was to come forward, I knew I had to,” Mitchell said.

The breakout and the aftermath is being reviewed by both the state inspector general and the federal investigators.

Miner, Contractors Push For Increased Infrastructure Spending

minerSyracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and a coalition of construction advocacy organizations on Thursday called for the state to boost spending for infrastructure projects, especially in upstate cities that have struggled to keep up with needed repairs.

“Every driver in the City of Syracuse has seen a record number of orange barrels and sawhorses filling our streets this year,” Miner said in a statement. “Sewer and water leaks have caused cave-ins of streets all over this City. These are challenging and expensive to repair and inconvenience our residents. We need the State of New York to step up and support our communities—as they have historically done—to help us meet our infrastructure needs. Syracusans are New Yorkers too and our State must help us to have a long-term, comprehensive, and sustainable way to repair our roads, water systems, and sewers.”

Miner pointed to the crumbling infrastructure in her city: 60 street cave-ins have occurred so far this year in the city, with 28 incidents occurring on Oak Street alone.

Only a year ago, 158 street cave-ins were repaired by the city’s public works crews. The cave-ins take at least a day to repair, but the more severe incidents require outside contractors and sometimes need up to a week to repair, Miner said. More >

Pro-Fracking And Gun-Rights Groups Push Secession

upstatenyA coalition of groups that support high-volume hydrofracking and gun rights are pushing a renewed effort to have the upstate region of the state break away from New York.

The groups — led by the Second Amendment advocates at S.C.O.P.E. — are planning a rally on Sunday at the General Clinton park on Route 7 in the town of Bainbridge.

“Why secession? Secession is about reclaiming the economic opportunities Upstate has lost and restoring the liberties Upstate residents once enjoyed,” the groups said in a news release announcing their rally. “Downstate has dominated Upstate for decades and Upstate has no future in a state controlled by New York City’s needs and desires.”

The advocates are clearly upset with two major issues that have popped in Albany in recent years: The fights over a ban on hydrofracking, a controversial natural-gas extraction process, and gun control, which has been championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. More >

Seward And Flanagan Tout ‘Common-Sense’ Changes To SAFE Act

safeactsignThe memorandum of understanding reached by Senate Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to not enact an ammunition purchasing database was a common-sense reform to the controversial SAFE Act gun control law.

That’s according to Sen. James Seward and Majority Leader John Flanagan, who met earlier this morning at the Otesaga Resort and Hotel, part of the downstate leader’s re-introduction to upstate New York.

“Until anything changes in the future, that section of the law under agreement is suspended,” Seward said of the two-way agreement.

The MOU has done little to assuage the concerns of some gun-rights advocates, who have pushed for a full repeal of the law — a prospect that is unlikely given the Democratic control of the Assembly as well as the governorship.

But given the political realities, Seward said the MOU was at the moment the best the GOP conference could achieve. More >

New York Lawmakers: Fort Drum ‘Spared’

While the U.S. Army is moving toward a 40,000 reduction in its numbers, only 28 positions will be eliminated from Fort Drum in northern New York — a move that’s being cheered by New York’s senators and area House Rep. Elise Stefanik.

“Fort Drum is a critical installation for our community, our state and the security of our nation, and I am grateful that the Army has spared this pivotal installation and the 10th Mountain Division from significant reductions in force structure like those seen at other bases across the country,” Stefanik said in a statement.

It’s not clear how many civilian jobs will be cut from the Jefferson County installation, which is home to the 10th Mountain Division.

Still, the lack of deep cuts in the military force compared with reductions elsewhere

“Given what we were up against, this is a victory for Fort Drum and the whole North Country, and we can all breath a huge sigh of relief,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said. “This wise decision by the DOD brass duly recognizes that the United State Army of the future nimble, highly-trained, and rapidly deployable – is living, training and working right here, right now in the form of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division.”

Fort Drum and the communities surrounding it had been bracing for larger cuts similar the 1,500 reduction in 2012.

Meanwhile, deeper cuts could be in the making should sequestration figures not be adjusted next year as the Arm moves toward reducing its numbers from 450,000 to 420,000.

“Fort Drum’s troops are not only among the best prepared but they are also among the most heavily deployed,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said. “The fact that Fort Drum is seeing minimal cuts at a time when the Army is downsizing significantly across the country underscores that Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division play a unique and critical role in US national security.”

Stefanik will be a guest on Capital Tonight this evening.

DOCCS Names New Superintendent At Clinton

State corrections officials on Wednesday announced a new superintendent would assume control at Clinton Correctional Facility following the escape of two convicted killers from the Dannemora prison.

Michael Kirkpatrick, most recently the first deputy superintendent of the Elmira Correctional Facility, will take charge after the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision placed 12 prison employees on administrative leave after the resolution of the three-week manhunt for David Sweat and Richard Matt.

The FBI, along with the state inspector general, are investigating both the circumstances of the escape, security protocols at the prison and potentially broader corruption at the facility.

Along with his appointment, Kirkpatrick will be charged with helping implement interim security protocols that have been in place since June 6 at the prison, which includes eliminating the so-called “honor block” where Sweat and Matt lived.

New rules are being put in place that would require securing job boxes of contractors in a locked trailer that inmates cannot receive access to.

Security gates are also being installed in the facility’s tunnels, which Matt and Sweat used to escape after gaining access to power tools.

Matt was shot dead on Friday, while Sweat was taken into custody by State Police on Sunday after he was wounded by Sgt. Jay Cook.

Former prison employee Joyce Mitchell is being charged with providing help to the men, while Corrections Officer Gene Palmer is being investigated for also providing support to Matt and Sweat.

DOCCS Places 12 On Administration Leave At Clinton Correctional

As the FBI begins to investigate the circumstances of the June escape at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora as well as broader corruption concerns, the state Department of Corrections and Community Service on Tuesday placed 12 prison employees, including members of its leadership team, on administrative leave.

The leave includes three members of the prison’s executive team and nine staff members of the prison’s security team, DOCCS said in a statement.

Assistant Commissioner for Correctional Facilities James O’Gorman will oversee the leadership transition this week.

“Staffing for the security positions will be addressed through procedures outlined in the union contract,” DOCCS said. “Due to the ongoing review and investigations, additional information is not available at this time.”

In addition to the FBI probe, the state inspector general is conducting an administrative investigation of the escape of convicted killers Richard Matt and David Sweat.

Both men conducted a daring escape from the prison on June 6, which resulted in three-week manhunt across the North Country. The manhunt ended when Matt was shot and killed on Friday and Sweat was wounded and captured on Sunday by police.

Upstate Housing Fund May Wait For Next Budget

A fund aimed at establishing more affordable housing in the upstate region may have to wait for next year’s budget, Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle said in an interview on Tuesday.

“We’ve had a lot of talk about it. Whether or not it gets through the process, I don’t know. It requires more dollars,” Morelle said. “Since we’re not doing the budget now, it’s a little harder to do.”

The $150 million fund came up as lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly discuss the fate of rent control regulations for New York City and the surrounding area as well as the 421a tax abatement, which Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing for an expansion of affordable housing.

Both rent control and the abatement lapsed at midnight, and lawmakers at the Capitol on Tuesday continued to negotiate both measures.

Even if the upstate housing fund falls out of the end-of-session talks and waits for the next fiscal year, Morelle said the issue of upstate housing is on the radar.

“But it’s something that a lot of the members upstate, myself included, a very interested in,” he said. “So whether it happens now or it happens in the budget, I think there’s a much greater focus on the needs of upstate housing.”

Lawmakers are due to leave the Capitol for the rest of the year on Wednesday, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will keep lawmakers in Albany should an agreement not be reached on rent control.

It’s unclear how long the session may extend into the rest of the week, Morelle said.

“We’re going to stay here as long as need to resolve these issues, but I feel confident we’re going to get it done by the end of the week,” he said.

Western New York Conservatives Angered Over Flanagan Selection

Despite the fact the newly minted Senate Majority Leader’s son goes to the University at Buffalo, John Flanagan hasn’t exactly gotten a warm reaction from Western New York so far.  Senate Democrats, as you would expect, are less than enthused about the choice, while Conservatives are downright livid.

“Nothing good is going to happen for Upstate New York with this change,” said Buffalo-Area State Assemblyman David DiPietro.

DiPietro, a gun rights advocate, said Flanagan’s vote in favor of the SAFE Act alone should have disqualified him as a candidate for Senate Majority Leader.

“Totally upset that we’re going to get no movement from our own Republican Senate because the leader is pro-SAFE Act,” DiPiertro said.

The member of the Assembly with the most conservative voting record, Rochester-area Assemblyman Bill Nojay directed his ire at the reported five Upstate GOP Senators who voted for Flanagan over Syracuse-Area Senator John De Francisco.  Nojay took to Twitter to vent his frustrations.

“Q (question) for the 5 Upstate GOPers who voted for Flanagan: what price to sell your soul?  Biggest winner today in Senate: Andrew Cuomo. He got a RINO he can control.  Biggest loser: Upstate NY, which is now politically irrelevant,” Nojay wrote.

The vote for Senate Majority Leader happened behind closed doors but most Western New York Republicans told us they supported DeFrancisco, including Michael Ranzenhofer, Rich Funke, Robert Ortt and Joe Robach.

Ranzenhofer confirmed the SAFE Act was a part of the closed door conversation. Ortt, an Afghanistan War Veteran and consistent advocate for repealing the controversial gun control measure, seemed optimistic Flanagan will move to the right on the issue.

“I think Senator Flanagan knows he’s going to have to work toward that (repealing the SAFE Act) to be successful as a leader and I think he’s going to do that and I’m willing to work with him on that issue,” said Ortt.

“John Flanagan voted for the SAFE Act. The people from his district knew it and voted to send him back to Albany.  I think he respects the Second Amendment.  I don’t see it as an issue,” Robach added.

Watching from outside the GOP conference, Senate Democrats in WNY saw the move as a lifeline for Skelos to hold on to some kind of power.  Buffalo-Area Senator Marc Panepinto even suggested Skelos “extorted” his own conference.

“Dean Skelos threatened his colleagues on Friday and said if you don’t do John Flanagan I may resign my seat and that may put the leadership up for grabs,” Panepinto said.

Still, it’s the way Flanagan ascended to Majority Leader that bothers conservatives as much as the fact he’s there.  Several sources suggest it was two Upstate New Yorkers who sided with the “Long Island Nine” to tip the scales in Flanagan’s favor.

“It was Cathy Young and Mike Nozzolio who sold us out,” said Former GOP Gubernatorial Candidate and outspoken Skelos critic Carl Paladino.  “The votes are here (Upstate) and this is where the Majority Leader should come from.”

Senator Young did not reveal how she voted behind closed doors.  In a statement Monday night she would only say:

“Every single member of the Republican Conference united behind Senator John Flanagan to ensure balance in state government and safeguard the future of the state.”

Senator Mike Nozzoilo’s office said he was not available for comment Monday night.

“Senator’s Young and Nozzolio sold their soul,” DiPietro said.  “If one of them would have voted against him (Flanagan) we could have had a different leader.  I’ll tell you up here in the Assembly right now we’re just beside ourselves.  We feel like we’ve been sold down the river,” DiPietro added.



Strength In Numbers

ICYMI from the Morning Memo today:

Upstate Democrats’ numbers have been steadily increasing in the Assembly majority conference, but they remain outnumbered by the downstate members, who continue to control much of the agenda in the Legislature’s lower house.

Case in point: The downstaters and Democratic party leaders in the five boroughs recently used their clout to select a new speaker, Carl Heastie, who hails from the Bronx, over Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, a Rochester Democrat.

A handful of upstate members have realized they’re likely to have better luck at seeing results on their priorities, which often differ from those of their more liberal downstate counterparts, if they band together – much like the black and Latino members have done by creating their own caucus.

Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, a Utica Democrat, says a small group of upstaters – maybe five or six who hail mostly from urban areas – started meeting last year to strategize about education funding.

This year, Brindisi said, the number has grown to about 15 or so members from several regions – including the Upper Hudson Valley, Capital District and Buffalo – who have met several times so far to discuss a wide range of topics. They’re currently holding their meetings in the office of Central NY Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli.

Brindisi was reluctant to call this loose coalition a formal “delegation,” noting the formation of such a group was frowned upon under the former speaker.

“Any time you had large groups of member meeting, it certainly was cause for concern,” Brindisi recalled. “We lost out on certain things because of that.”

But the new speaker, Carl Heastie, doesn’t seem to have a problem with the idea of Democratic conference members forming special interest groups.

In fact, several of these coalitions formed during the brief but intense fight for the speakership after Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s corruption scandal cost him the post, and Heastie even met with some of them. (The newer members, the so-called “reform” caucus, etc.)

Brindisi said the upstaters have broadened their focus to include transit – “something we all agree could use more funding” – and addressing the needs of immigrant/refugee populations that have popped up in certain urban centers.

“We don’t want this to look like a downstate versus upstate effort; it’s not,” the assemblyman said. “It’s just that we have common issues – particularly in our urban areas – and we realized that when we work on the budget, it’s helpful for members to work together and advocate as one voice.”