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Letters to the Editor

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Orange County Pay-to-Play

In 2013 Orange County Legislator Mike Anagnostakis sponsored a bill that received overwhelming bipartisan support by a 20 to 1 vote and was enacted into law. It is a 'pay-to-play' local law that caps campaign contributions to Orange County at $4000 over a four-year term. This contribution limit applies to donor companies that seek and/or have contracts with the county. This is a very reasonable law that makes inroads into the pay-to-play culture and closes the door, to a noticeable extent, on conflicts-of-interest that can lead to political corruption. The legislature showed county residents and Albany it was serious about properly addressing the pay-to-play culture problem that is a plague throughout the political landscape.

Sadly and not surprisingly there will be an upcoming legislature vote on the law's possible repeal. County attorney Chapman together with the legislature's counsel Antoinette Reed and County Executive Neuhaus all agree the law is unconstitutional. Funny but attorney Reed helped craft the pay-to-play law and defended it at the time.

This law has been on the books for 4 years.  It has never been challenged as to its constitutionality. It is only unconstitutional if so ruled in a court of law. I doubt it would be challenged.

A multitude of municipalities have similar pay-to-play laws that have never been ruled unconstitutional.

If the law is repealed, the county would adhere to the state finance law permitting an $11,000 cap replete with loopholes allowing additional campaign contributions opening up the gates to possible corruption.

My friend who is cynical and distrustful of government says it's a done deal. The election is over. Neuhaus gets another 4-year term. The Republican Party's substantial gains give it a supermajority in the legislature. Now it can do the county executive's bidding. The law will be repealed and replaced with the state's campaign finance law expanding the parameters of the pay-to-play culture in our county government. I told him no. He is wrong.

My friend's cynicism will not be confirmed; his distrust of government not deepened. County resident-taxpayers will look with pride on our law-making body when it votes on March 1 and makes my friend a liar.

John Lown
February 27


Funding for Mental Health and Supportive Housing

Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year would include only a modest investment in supportive housing for individuals living with mental illness. The mental health housing system has been underfunded for many years, but it is an essential component of the social safety net for our most vulnerable citizens.  In the absence of safe, affordable and appropriately supportive housing many individuals face homelessness, rehospitalization, incarceration or other adverse outcomes.

New York boasts one of the most robust supportive housing networks in the country, but it has been plagued by chronic underfunding that now poses a grave threat to housing operators throughout the state.  According to one analysis, these programs have lost approximately 40% of their financial support (when measured in real dollars) during the past 25 years.  Amidst dwindling resources these operators are serving individuals with increasingly acute and complex needs.  They struggle to retain qualified personnel to deliver essential services, as compensation cannot keep pace with a rapidly rising cost of living.  Consequently, our region’s mental health housing system is on the brink of a financial crisis.

Our Governor and state leaders must stand up for these vulnerable members of our communities and adequately fund community-based mental health housing. It is the single best way to put New Yorkers on the path to recovery and to avert a public health crisis.

Ashley Brody, MPA, CPRP
Chief Executive Officer - Search for Change, Inc.
February 23, 2018


A Request to Senator Terrence Murphy for a Town Hall

These are deeply troubled times for our democracy.  Our political parties are enemies and our communities’ cohesion at risk.  Trump’s so-called leadership is subversive, divisive and antagonistic.  Senator Terrence Murphy’s obvious resistance to arrange open Town Halls provides us with no reassurance that his leadership is any more authentic.

Town Halls are the best way for officeholders to explain their positions on various issues and to openly engage with their constituents. This is a democracy.  We are entitled to meet regularly with our representatives to converse about issues.  We expect our lawmakers to facilitate civil public discussion.  So, where is Senator Murphy?  If Senator Murphy has genuine confidence in his record, why would he avoid opportunities to deepen our appreciation of his work? 

Calls to Murphy’s office requesting Town Halls are answered by his staff with:

  • The Senator is on his way to Albany.
  • The Senator is unavailable right now.
  • The Senator cannot say when he will schedule one.
  • Uh, we’ll get back to you on that. (Hasn’t happened)

These are deeply troubled times for our democracy.  A Senator is a statesman who should have the ability to build consensus among constituents and not rely on ads, Dog & Pony shows or superficial newsletters.   Where are you Senator Murphy?  We’re waiting…

Gail Sasso
Croton on Hudson
February 23


Governor Cuomo: Stand by Your Promise to SUNY

I’ve been teaching at the State University of New York at New Paltz since 2000. I’ve seen a lot. I think the world of my students and colleagues, and, based on all kinds of success stories that I can tell, I believe 100% in SUNY. As I’ve written about before, I’ve seen multiple instances of students of mine who started at community colleges, transferred to New Paltz, thrived, and went on to get graduate degrees at ivy league institutions. This is the American Dream.

This said, I want people to know that SUNY is under attack - and it’s up to all of us as a community to help set things straight. Let me explain: 10 years ago, New York State provided approximately 60% of the funding for SUNY while tuition dollars accounted for approximately 40%. Remember, SUNY starts with “State,” so this is, to my mind how things ought to be. States should, by definition, support public higher education.

Each year since 2007, this ratio has gradually shifted. In 2015/2016, funding for SUNY was like this: 64% from tuition and 36% from the state. And employees at SUNY, who are famously paid less than their counterparts in most adjacent states, have had no pay increases in years. In fact, thousands of SUNY employees have been out of a contract for about two years now. And our prior contract included little in the way of increases.

Hey, I’m not one to complain under most conditions. But I’m a huge believer in higher education as a key to developing the future leaders of this world. I care deeply about our nation’s future. And I care deeply about the next generation. From that backdrop, I say this: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. When it comes to higher education, New York State has enormous room for improvement. We are lagging when we should be leading. And that is not OK.

In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo committed publicly to “Provide a consistent level of state general fund support” for SUNY. Here we are in 2018, and we haven’t yet seen this promise make it to fruition.

My call to Governor Cuomo, and to all our elected officials in New York, then, is this: Invest in SUNY. Invest in the next generation of leaders.

Glenn Geher
Professor of Psychology; SUNY New Paltz
February 19


Ulster County tobacco age

I recently read that Ulster County is considering raising the age to purchase cigarettes to 21. I know this is a bold step but I think it would be the right one. It’s something nearby counties are doing such as Orange and it’s something endorsed by the American Heart Association and Lung Association. 

Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Diseases like COPD reduce quality of life. Smoking, a main cause of small cell and non-small cell lung cancer, contributes to 80-90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women and men, respectively. Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer. Women are 13 times more likely, compared to never smokers.Not only does cigarettes cause significant health problems to smokers themselves it also have negative effects on those around the smoker.  

To those who argue it could have impact on local busineses. I think we should value good health and lives saved vs the minor loss of business. Businesses shouldn’t be relying on youth purchasing harmful tobacco products for business. I’m sure they can be helped out other ways. Research shows that close to 95% of people start smoking before age 21. Clearly factors such as peer pressure are much more prevalent in your teen years. If it could save one Ulster County resident from sickness or death I believe it's worth it.

Robert Davis
February 19


Proposed Stewart International Airport name change

This is the same public issue of 10 years ago. Have we not learned anything?

Years ago, the Stewart family donated land for a regional airport.  The contract honors the family’s surname by declaring it will remain “Stewart International Airport” for the length of the 92 year contract.

I am not in favor of changing this historic name to “New York International Airport at Stewart Field”. It’s too long for signage. “Stewart Field” will be dropped and “Field” is an antiquated image reminiscent of the 1930’s dirt airfields.

Everyone knows where “Stewart” is located but “New York” has no meaning or location. You don’t take a well known product’s name like: Harley or Pepsi and change it to get more customers. You use the familiar name, improve the product, and extend your outreach, services and prices so customers can rely on a familiar, trusted name, bringing in customers and overall wealth for future improvements.

Recent facility upgrades have increased enplanements. It has the longest airstrip, away from NYC bird attracting wetlands and less congestion with many more advantages. Even a past US president’s plane landed here.

Money should be reallocated from the NYC airports to Stewart for further upgrades for US and International plane routes. Let’s give it the love and attention it needs to grow to make air flight transportation better for everyone.

So don’t change the name!

Linda Keeling
Red Hook
February 14


Stewart Inernational Airport: What’s in a name?

They’re at it again. This time it is the Port Authority that wants to change the name of Stewart International Airport.

This was tried before in 2007. At that time significant popular and political opposition was evident. If memory serves, the Town Councils of Newburgh and New Windsor voted resolutions against the name change as well as both the Republican and Democratic parties of Orange County and other entities as well. The end result was a proclamation by Governor Patterson that the name of the Airport would remain as it was for the next 93 years. This was formalized in the language of the current lease, article 5: “In recognition of the importance of the contributions of the Stewart family to the community and the Airport, the Tenant shall not change the name of the Airport from “Stewart International Airport” at any time during the Term.” The term of the lease extends through the year 2099.

The name suggested is ridiculous. They want to change it to “New York International Airport at Stewart Field”, knowing full well that that will never fit on any sign or monitor and that it will soon be shortened to New York International. This is a perfect example of the disdain with which those in power view the common man. If the Airport were named Rockefeller Airport this issue would never have been raised. If you don’t believe that, here is a test: see whether Governor Cuomo is willing to rename The Governor Mario M Cuomo Bridge to become The Tappan Zee Bridge Dedicated to the Memory of Governor Mario M Cuomo. When that happens, then we can consider renaming the Airport.

The Stewart family donated the land for the Airport to the City of Newburgh with no expectation of profit. But if you are simply an average citizen with no political connections and wish to do something to benefit the Community, you can expect to have your contributions ignored.

Thomas F Hafer
(Grandson of Archie Stewart)
Arlington VA
February 12


Don't change the name of Stewart International Airport!

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey reportedly is about to approve changing the name of Stewart International Airport to "New York International at Stewart Field."  The purported reason is to better identify the airport's location.  I completely disagree with that rationale, and oppose any name change. 

First, the word "Field" is passé and conjures up the 1930s, when airplanes actually did take off and land in fields. Is that really the image that the PANYNJ wishes to convey for a modern, international, airport?

Second, FAA official records already identify Stewart as one of only 15 primary New York commercial airports.  Newburgh is shown as the city served, and is on the list directly below the 2 New York [City] airports, JFK and LGA. Adding "New York" to Stewart's name will not change the name of its city, nor pinpoint its locale: is it New York City, or somewhere - anywhere - in New York State?
Third, there is a relevant precedent for not adding "New York" to Stewart's name. JFK is one of a very few airports that both changed its name and had its airport code changed by the FAA (previously IDL for Idlewild, as it was commonly called, a former golf course that became the airport). And no one seems to have objected when the airport's name was changed from New York International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport - and the words "New York" were deleted!

Finally, the 2008 amended operating lease states unequivocally that the name will remain Stewart International Airport for the 92-year duration of the lease. Instead of trying to change the name, perhaps the PANYNJ could use its considerable influence to try to attract better domestic connecting flights to the west. Stewart desperately needs non-stop flights to ORD (Chicago) as connecting flights on American through PHL (Philadelphia) are cumbersome at best, and usually involve a bus ride weaving around the tarmac to the connecting concourse. And going west on Delta through Detroit, DTW, the flights to and from Stewart are scarce, with poor timing, and fewer connecting flights than ORD.

Carole McDermott
February 12


Not One More

The crowd chanted these words three times, each time louder than before. Opioids & the Quest to Save Lives was a public conversation led by N.Y.S. Assemblyman Frank Skartados in the Newburgh Armory on January 20th. We were a distinguished neuroscientist, a former police officer, local professional caregivers and policymakers, a data analyst and some 120 residents gathered on a Saturday afternoon to explore proven yet neglected ways to prevent deaths from the misuse of opioids.

Notably, the majority of Orange County’s political leadership were absent. So were leaders of the Town and City of Newburgh. Where were Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Commissioner of Mental Health Darcie Miller? What about District Attorney David Hoovler, who has gone to great lengths to position himself as a regional leader in this crisis? Newburgh Town Supervisor Gil Piaquadio? George A. Green, Supervisor of the Town of New Windsor? City of Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy? No members of the Newburgh Enlarged School District’s Board of Eduction were present. These elected leaders appeared not even to send a representative.

My son Zane was a 22-year-old college graduate who grew up in the Town of Newburgh. Zane died after using an opioid last fall, so he can no longer hold our officials accountable in their duty to help protect those who elect them. But I can—and so can you. Our panel offered feasible solutions for preventing these tragedies so that not one more mother loses a child, not one more bright light is extinguished. Not one more.

Lauren Mandel
(January 27)


Tax impacts on New York

With the recent changes to federal tax laws, there has been a renewed focus on the impact of high property taxes in New York.  We need to address this issue in three ways:  making the tax cap permanent; reconsidering how we fund education and provide mandate relief; and tackling out-of-control tax exemptions and abuses.

The Senate has again passed legislation to make the tax cap permanent, which has to date saved taxpayers $23 billion statewide.  This bill passed overwhelmingly in 2015, 2016, and 2017* but has not been brought for a vote on the floor of the Assembly.

However, simply capping the rate of growth of property taxes is not enough – we must reduce the main driver of our high property taxes – school taxes.  That is why I have reintroduced legislation to allow school districts, at voter option, to phase out school property taxes on primary residences over five years and replace the lost revenue with increased state aid**.  This legislation has also previously passed the Senate and died in the Assembly.

Finally, we need to address the issue of out-of-control property tax exemptions.  Based on year 2013 assessment rolls, $826 billion in property value, nearly one-third of the value of all the property in New York, is exempt from taxation.  In order to reform these property tax exemptions, I have long fought for a package of bills to reign in the abuses in the system***.

I look forward to working this session to bring real relief to the taxpayers of New York.

Senator John J. Bonacic
New York State Senate District 42
January 22


Voting reform needed

Democracy is a system of government in which people choose their rulers by voting for them in elections. NY needs voting reform now.

37 states have some form of Early Voting. NY doesn’t. We must make voting convenient to all voters. According to a 2018 Siena poll, 65% of New Yorkers support some form of Early Voting. It is not a partisan issue.

10 states have Automatic Voter Registration. NYdoesn’t. NY ranks in the bottom 5 states of eligible but unregistered citizens, with about 33% unregistered. The national average of 25%.  In 2010, NY had the lowest turnout of all states.

49 states have Flexibility to Change Party Affiliation through open primaries or by allowing change of party close to Election Day. NY has neither.  According to Let NY State Vote, in 2016 NY ranked second to last with only 21% of all eligible voters turning out in April's Presidential primary and a single digit in the Congressional primaries.

Finally, Gov. Cuomo has failed to call for special elections for the two vacant NYS Senate seats in time for the budget dealing. Over a half-million voters have been disenfranchised of their representation. I’m sick of politics as usual.

Contact Gov. Cuomo and your state legislators and tell them to Let NY Vote!
Find your elected official: www.elections.ny.gov
Write Cuomo: www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form

Voting matters. NY needs voting reform now.

Valerie Carlisle
Pleasant Valley
January 22


Supports Kesten

For the past decade or so, we, the citizens of the 40th senate district, have been ill-served by our Republican senators.  Vince Liebell went to prison for corruption; Greg Ball fled the area under an ethical cloud; and incumbent Terrence Murphy flits about the district posing for photo op after photo op while important legislation, already passed by the Assembly, languishes ignored in Senate committees.  We deserve better!

Robert Kesten wants to change all of that.

Kesten, a South Salem Democrat, has challenged Murphy for the Senate seat in the 40th district.  His unique life history and experience have given him a deep understanding of your concerns and how state government can and must respond to them.  He knows that we must look to the future, not the past, if New York is to regain its status as a national leader, to the benefit of your community, your family, and yourself.

In Albany, Robert will work diligently with like-minded colleagues to pry critical legislation on health care, taxes, election reform, ethics, education, environment, energy, etc., etc., from committee and bring it to the floor for debate and ultimate passage.   He will focus on improving your life, rather than just sending you slick brochures (at taxpayer expense) that attempt to convince you that he is actually doing his job.

Now that the Trump administration has effectively declared war on New York, it is even more important that we have a state government that is honest, effective, and responsive to its citizens.  Robert Kesten will deliver this to you; Murphy offers just more of the same stagnation.

Learn more about Robert, his background and experience, and his plans for New York at his web site: www.rkesten.com, and on his Facebook page, RobertKesten4NYSSenate.  Once you get to know him, I’m sure you’ll agree that he merits your full support and that, together, we can launch a new era for New York.

Joel E. Gingold
January 22

Indian Point is already too dangerous - it can’t make due with a skeleton crew

Last week Entergy made clear that it wants to operate Indian Point even if the workers who normally operate the plant go on strike. Entergy asserts that managers could cover the duties of their staff. This is a new low in Entergy’s disregard of safety at Indian Point. 

Indian point is an old plant nearing the end of its life. It has multiple ongoing problems that have caused unplanned shutdowns, such as leakage of corrosive water through the O-rings that are supposed to seal the joint between the reactor vessel and the reactor head. A similar O-ring leakage issue caused the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986. This problem and others led to a two-week plant shutdown just before the holidays.

Amid the recurrent critical malfunctions, allowing “management” to expand their duties to fill the roles of multiple employees and directly operate the plant is asking for trouble. If workers are not available to operate the plant, the solution is simple. It should be taken offline until Entergy and the workers can resolve their differences.

According to press reports, one of the key sticking points between Entergy and the Utility Workers Union is “what role utility workers will have in the years-long decommissioning process that will follow the shutdown.” The Union wants guarantees that the experienced workers will stay on to do the decommissioning. This is something that Riverkeeper also believes is essential. Common sense dictates that the workers who have run Indian Point for years must remain on the job throughout the decommissioning process. The workers have familiarity with the idiosyncrasies of the old plant and are established members of the surrounding communities.

Entergy’s refusal to commit to retaining experienced workers to do the decommissioning seems to indicate that the company intends to offload its financial liabilities by allowing an under-capitalized third-party to take over the decommissioning of Indian Point and potentially delay the process for decades. As we made clear at our recent forum, this approach is not acceptable for multiple reasons. Most relevantly, it fails to appreciate the key role experienced workers should play in ensuring a prompt, safe, and effective decommissioning of the plant. In addition, allowing the current plant workers to leave would undermine local communities, affecting tax revenues and housing values. To protect its profits, Entergy is trying to shirk its responsibilities on safety, to its workforce, and to the local community. New Yorkers must stand united to ensure that does not happen.

Mike Dulong
Riverkeeper Staff Attorney 
January 22



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