Albany

Amid Overcrowding, DEC Forms Planning Group For High Peaks

From the Morning Memo:

Concerns stemming from overuse and overcrowding in the high peaks region of the Adirondack Park has led to creation of a planning group to address the issue and potential solutions by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

State officials on Thursday announced the formation of the panel, which will include representatives from environmental groups, local businesses and local government officials.

“DEC and our partners are working hard to address impacts associated with increased use of the High Peaks because we all recognize the tremendous opportunities that will be created when we ensure this majestic region is sustainably managed for the enjoyment of both current and future generations,” Environmental Conservation Commissioner Seggos said.

“DEC has assembled a team of talented and committed people to work together to provide advice on a strategic approach that will support the Adirondacks’ local economies, protect the environment, and provide safe, quality recreational experiences for visitors.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday acknowledged overcrowding in the Adirondacks, which was preceded by an aggressive state tourism campaign promoting the area, is a problem the state needs to tackle.

“Parking issues, traffic issues and there’s a real question of what’s the maximum use of the resources without damaging the resources,” Cuomo said, adding there needs to be a balance between tourism and maintaining the resources in the park.

Officials have floated changes that include potentially charging for permits to park or use areas of the high peaks, a popular hiking and sightseeing destination. The state has also sought to encourage people to use less popular trails on especially busy holiday weekends in the spring and summer.

“We applaud the Governor and DEC for recognizing that New York’s successful investment in tourism promotion has led to significant recreational pressure on some areas of the Adirondack Park, threatening natural resources and the wild character of the landscape,” said William C. Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council.

“We are eager to work with and support this effort, bringing to the discussion current data and information on the latest techniques and best practices for user management and public education that can sustain our precious and fragile wilderness areas for generations to come.”

Brindisi And Stefanik Seek State And Federal Recovery Support

A bipartisan push is underway for flood relief aid from the state and federal governments.

Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi and Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik in a joint letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged state action following last week’s storms that devastated parts of central and northern New York.

Specifically, the lawmakers want to see the state undertake a joint Preliminary Damage Assessment with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We understand the state is currently in an assessment phase in order to get a better understanding of what will be needed to fully recover,” the congressional lawmakers wrote.

“We greatly appreciate all the time and energy you and your staff have put into the recovery effort. However, due to the extensive damage to homes, properties, and critical infrastructure in many of our communities, we believe further steps must be taken to determine if federal assistance may be available to aid in the recovery process.”

Cuomo last week declared a state of emergency in multiple counties affected by the storms and subsequent flooding: Cayuga, Chautauqua, Dutchess, Erie, Essex, Hamilton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Saratoga and Warren.

Less Than A Quarter Of Voters Cast Ballots On Election Day

From the Morning Memo:

Turnout on Election Day in New York was nothing to brag about.

Only 22.7 percent of eligible voters headed to the polls on Tuesday, casting some 2.6 million votes, according to the state Board of Elections.

The Board of Elections this week previously reported 256,251 voters took advantage of early voting this year, held for the first time in the state, or about 1.9 percent of eligible voters.

Voting advocates the first year of early voting, while light, can offer a roadmap to improving it in 2020, when turnout will likely be much higher.

Turnout is usually light for off-cycle elections, when mostly local races are on the ballot. In New York City, voters there faced only a handful of contested races and ballot questions for overhaul the city’s charter.

NY Bar Association Makes Parole Change Recommendations

Changes to the state’s parole system should include the creation earned good-time credits for good behavior, an increase in the number of parole board commissioners and an end to pre-adjudication detention for non-criminal violations, according to a report released Tuesday by the New York State Bar Association.

The proposed changes come amid a broader debate over criminal justice law reforms in New York, with end to cash bail and discovery law changes taking effect in the coming weeks.

The recommendations from the bar association’s Task Force on the Parole System included input from judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

“NYSBA’s Task Force on the Parole System has developed actionable solutions to the woefully high reincarceration rate of parolees in New York state, which we urge the legislature to consider when it reconvenes in January,” said NYSBA President Hank Greenberg. “This includes eliminating mandatory detention for alleged technical violations of parole, establishing a system of ‘earned good time credits’ and increasing the number of parole commissioners.”

The revocation of parole for technical violations resulting in re-incarceration for thousands of people. Of the 21,675 people sent back to a state prison in 2016, 29 percent were jailed for technical parole violations.

County Execs, DAs And Senate Specials: It’s Election Day

Election time in New York on odd-numbered years can inspire a bit of yawning.

It’s a local race! Why should it matter? But there are both patterns to watch for today and potential dominoes that might fall that could have reverberations into the 2020 election.

Next year, the power divide in the state Senate, now held by Democrats, will once again be closely watched. Competitive races for the House of Representatives on Long Island, Staten Island and in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys are already expected, with the contours shaping themselves impeachment.

And of course it’s a presidential election year, making whomever is at the top of the ticket for the Democrats, and President Trump himself, a focal point for a platform that will flow down the ballot.

But first we’ve got the local races to watch.

1. The county executive races.

More so than any other election in an off-cycle year, the county executive races can be bellwethers for the next year. Remember the Democratic bloodbath in 2010? It was preceded by Republican successes at the county executive level. The same held true in 2017, when Democrats won the county executive offices in Westchester and Nassau counties. Voters are deciding whether to re-elect Republicans in Dutchess, Onondaga and Monroe counties as well as Democratic incumbents in Erie and Suffolk counties. These are key county posts for both parties, especially Suffolk County, which President Trump carried in 2016.

“Usually they’re a bit of a talisman,” said Bruce Gyory, a former gubernatorial advisor and now a SUNY Albany adjunct professor. “The county exec races tend to predict what’s going to happen in some of those key counties in terms of partisan balance.”

2. Republicans and George Soros.

A campaign in Monroe County is testing just how much voters on the local level care if liberal financier George Soros is involved. A political action committee linked to Soros, the New York Justice & Public Safety PAC, has spent a combined $800,000 Republican District Attorney Sandra Doorley or supporting her challenger Shani Curry Mitchell. Soros has been a boogeyman for Republicans in the past. Democrats, however, have cast any effort to inject Soros as a negative into a race as a veiled anti-Semitic appeal. What the controversy tell us is this: In an age in which criminal justice policy is a major battleground, district attorney races perhaps matter more than an ever as a means for how that policy can be carried out.

3. The state Senate.

Oh, you thought we were done with the state Senate for at least one more year? You’d be wrong. In western New York, Republican George Borrello and Democrat Austin Morgan are running for the seat vacated earlier this year by Sen. Cathy Young. Meanwhile, another vacancy in the Senate could be created if Republican Sen. Bob Antonacci wins a judgeship in central New York. Antonacci’s seat, held previously by Sen. John DeFrancisco, has been viewed as a potential pickup by Democrats.

4. What’s up with Troy?

The small city on the Hudson River just north of Albany has seen its share of hard-nosed politics. But 2019 is a standout year for Troy politics, where Republican Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, using colorful language, has sought to squeeze the GOP candidate Tom Reale out of the race. In a recording published this week by the Times Union, McLaughlin was heard profanely pushing Reale out of the race, a move meant to benefit independent candidate Rodney Wiltshire against incumbent Democrat Patrick Madden.

Miscellany

-Ranked-choice voting is being considered by voters in New York City, part of a slate of ballot referendums as part of a package of proposed charter revisions. If approved, voters would be able to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. The idea has the backing of presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who has said he will vote for it.

“There are historical periods of bipartisanship that we can learn from. We can also learn from states that have undertaken structural reforms – such as ranked-choice voting – intended to help government better serve the people,” Yang said in a statement.

“If we’re bold enough to consider and adapt even a fraction of these changes, we can take a significant step in restoring trust in our federal government.”

-What will turnout be like? This was the first year of early voting, with voters heading to polling locations nine days before Election Day itself. Preliminary numbers show turnout was 1.9 percent, according to the state Board of Elections. It will take a few more years to potentially bump that number up or if that’s simply a baseline for who will turnout early. Overall, voting tends to be lower in off-cycle years, when many voters are considering races for judge, voting for candidates they’ve never heard of, and many local offices uncontested.

Cuomo Signs Measure Enabling Water Authorities To Sue Polluters

A measure that allows public water authorities to file lawsuits against polluters was signed into law on Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The new law is meant to provide public water authorities more to collect damages when a water supply is found to have been contaminated.

State lawmakers and environmental advocates who backed the legislation hope it will create needed revenue for communities when treating contaminations 1,4 dioxane, PFOA and PFOS.

“This law will equip public water authorities with a desperately needed tool to hold corporate polluters accountable for contaminating our drinking water and ensure these deep-pocketed polluters, not ratepayers, pay the costs of removing contaminants like 1,4-dioxane from our drinking water,” said Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Long Island where water quality issues have been especially key for voters.

The measure is meant to address, in part, what is considered ambiguity in the law over lawsuits against polluters due to the ambiguity over when the date of contamination occurred. The measure clarifies that the statute of limitations begins within three years of the detection of contamination. It’s a chance from when the contamination is alleged to have occurred.

“Protecting drinking water is becoming more expensive as we grapple with the legacy of industrial pollution,” said Julie Tighe, the president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “Giving water suppliers more legal flexibility to hold polluters accountable will help ensure that cleaning up our drinking water is paid for by the people responsible for contaminating it, not ratepayers and taxpayers.”

The First Year Of Early Voting, By The Numbers

From the Morning Memo:

More than 256,000 people voted early for the first time in New York this year, according to unofficial numbers released on Sunday by the state Board of Elections.

New Yorkers this year were able to cast their ballots prior to Election Day after state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year approved the change to the state’s election law.

It’s a major shift in how New Yorkers vote and catches the state up with nearly the rest of the country, both Republican and Democratic-leaning states alike.

Turnout for the nine days early voting was in effect was 1.9 percent of the electorate for a year of nearly all local elections, according to the Board of Elections.

It’s not clear if that should be considered high or low turnout and more people are expected to vote next year, given the presidential race.

In the first weekend alone, 50,000 people voted. There was a daily average of 26,5000 people who voted early over the nine days, Oct. 26 through Nov. 3.

New York City averaged 6,700 voters a day, with turnout at 1.4 percent. Unofficial turnout there was 2.4 percent.

Turnout was heaviest on the final day in some counties, with 795 voting in Albany, 1,215 people voting in Dutchess and 2,033 people voting in Monroe County.

Voting advocates, including the League of Women Voters, have been watching how people have voted in the first year to determine if any changes are needed.

Already some lawmakers want to make changes to the law to ensure polling sites are located in densely population areas after Rensselaer County did not make the city of Troy, which has a mayoral race, a voting station.

Former Cuomo And Obama Aide Launches Public Affairs Firm

From the Morning Memo:

A former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and special assistant to President Barack Obama is launching a new public affairs firm.

Rob Diamond has started Stratagem Public Affairs, a New York City-based firm that will focus on lobbying, issue advocacy, community engagement as well as campaign strategy and corporate social responsibility. The firm will also have a communications and digital strategy component.

Diamond most recently was a managing director of public affairs at Tishman Speyer.

CSEA Swears In New President

Mary Sullivan has become the new president of the Civil Service Employees Association, one of the largest public-sector labor unions in the state.

Sullivan is succeeding Danny Donohue, who announced this summer he was stepping down from the post he has held for the last 25 years.

She is the second woman to fill the president’s office at the union. She will serve out the remainder of Donohue’s term, which runs until Feb. 29 next year.

“I’m proud to be leading our great union forward as president,” Sullivan said. “Under my leadership, we will build on our many accomplishments, be even more inclusive, and even more engaged with our members.”

Sullivan as been a union activist for 35 years, starting as an employee in the Herkimer County Department of Socail Services. She served for 25 years as the union’s executive vice president.

NY Lawmakers Lobby For Climate Change Bill In Massachusetts

The state lawmakers who successfully pushed for the passage of a package of measures meant to curtail climate change in New York are turning their effort to one of New York’s neighbors.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Steve Englebright this week urged Massachusetts state lawmakers to pass a version of the New York law, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by shifting the state to renewable sources of energy in the coming decades.

Both lawmakers are chairmen of the legislative Environmental Conservation committees in the Senate and Assembly. The lawmakers framed the effort as something that’s been left up to the states with inaction in Washington, D.C. on the issue.

“While D.C. denies it, climate change poses a serious threat to our State, nation and the planet at-large,” Kaminsky said.

“The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act will tackle the unprecedented environmental challenges we are facing head-on by investing in green, renewable energy and creating good-paying jobs for New Yorkers. It is essential that we exchange ideas with our regional colleagues and work toward a solution to the most pressing issue of our time.”