Editorial Roundup: New York

Albany Times Union. September 21. 2022.

Editorial: High court secrecy

The Court of Appeals’ refusal to reveal the vote for an acting chief judge is unbefitting an open justice system.

Imagine if an election was held and a winner declared, but the government refused to say what the vote tally was, or if anyone other than the winner had been in the running.

It sounds so undemocratic. So opaque. So surreal.

It’s also essentially how Judge Anthony Cannataro was just chosen as the acting chief judge for New York’s highest court.

How the six judges voted and whether anyone else was considered, New Yorkers are told, is none of their business. Nor is the court offering any explanation for why three judges with more seniority — all people of color – were passed over in a departure from past practice. As the Times Union’s Rob Gavin reports, the court says the choice was the result of “confidential deliberations.” And the court says it’s exempt from a Freedom of Information Law requirement that state agencies keep records of vote tallies by their members.

This secrecy is unbecoming for a host of reasons, starting with how offensive it is to the entire notion of open government. Other than certain sensitive national security matters, requests for search warrants, and grand jury proceedings — all of which have compelling reasons for secrecy — most of what occurs in our state and federal courts is open to public scrutiny. It’s how we seek to keep honest a branch of government with enormous power over our lives. The Court of Appeals certainly recognizes the need for that openness in every case it rules on.

We also don’t choose our leaders in secret, and that includes judges. Whether they’re elected, as in the case of county, town and village judges or state Supreme Court justices, or chosen by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, as is done for the Court of Appeals and Court of Claims, New Yorkers know who is doing the choosing and what the vote was.

And the chief judge, acting or permanent, is the most influential jurist in the state. He or she oversees and speaks for the entire state court system, sets policy and initiatives, and delivers an annual “state of the judiciary” address, among other things. This is the role Judge Cannataro will fill until Gov. Kathy Hochul nominates a successor to former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who left Aug. 31.

Against the case for transparency, the court system offers no reason for secrecy other than the logical fallacy of begging the question: It’s secret because it’s confidential. The court should be embarrassed to proffer such a lame excuse — an excuse, incidentally, that we hear far too often from government these days when it comes to what one public official or another decides is a question they’d rather not answer.

The fact is, the court is perfectly capable of commenting on this. It just doesn’t want to. Why, New Yorkers can only wonder.

At the very least, if the judges feel secrecy is so imperative, they owe it to the public to say exactly why. And they owe it to the institution of the court, whose public trust is diminished by what, for all appearances, is an arbitrary and capricious bit of secrecy.

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Auburn Citizen. September 21, 2022.

Editorial: Inaction by state allows prison violence to fester in New York

The union representing corrections officers in New York state says a new law prohibiting the extended use of solitary confinement in state prisons has given incarcerated individuals one less reason to bother obeying the rules and exacerbated an increase in assaults against both inmates and staff.

But prison reform advocates recently cited state data showing that the maximum allowable time in solitary is routinely being violated inside state facilities. If that’s the case, then this failure to follow the new law undermines the argument that recent increases in assaults are a direct result of the new mandate.

The truth is that we don’t know enough to say what the impact has been, because the state seems content to let others argue about it publicly while trying to stay out of the fray.

At the end of the day, the blame for that lies with the state corrections department management. For far too long, they’ve deflected hard questions from both sides, prisoner advocates and the corrections officers union, with generic statements and promises of further study.

We have said in the past that the state should explore different alternatives for curtailing violence in prisons, because the use of solitary confinement certainly shouldn’t be the only option. Some nine months ago, Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state was going to do just that, with the establishment of a Prison Violence Task Force that would meet to brainstorm solutions.

If that group has made any progress, we sure haven’t heard about it, so we urge the Department of Corrections to expedite the work of that group and make it much more transparent so that the goal everyone should have — a safer and more effective corrections system — can be attained.

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Advance Media New York. September 18, 2022.

Editorial: Our state of many emergencies; redistricting squeaker; rival coach’s kindness

We call to your attention a milestone that passed while most of us were sleeping. At midnight Monday, Sept. 12, Gov. Kathy Hochul quietly allowed one of her COVID-19 “disaster emergency” declarations to expire. It’s about time.

The order allowed the state to enter into contracts outside of normal competitive bidding rules. It went into effect Nov. 26, 2021, and Hochul had renewed it every month since – until now.

On Monday, in response to a reporter’s question, the governor said she would not be renewing this particular order, Gothamist reported. “We have been following the normal procurement rules for some time, but this allowed us some other extraordinary measures that we won’t need right now,” she said.

It’s also causing her some political headaches she doesn’t need right now, as Election Day approaches. Hochul’s Republican challenger, Rep. Lee Zeldin, has been hammering on the state’s $600 million purchase of overpriced COVID-19 tests from a campaign donor under the now-expired executive order.

In August, the editorial board called on Hochul to let all COVID emergency orders expire. Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo used his broad emergency powers to issue more than 400 orders during the COVID pandemic – until the state Legislature revoked those powers in March 2021 to stop his executive overreach.

For now, Hochul is keeping the executive order allowing out-of-state healthcare providers to practice in New York and allowing paramedics to administer the Covid-19 vaccine. It expires Sept. 27. If there’s a good argument for extending it again, we haven’t heard it.

Even if that order goes away, there’s always another emergency just around the corner. Hochul declared a disaster emergency due to polio on Sept. 9 and continued the state of emergency for monkeypox on Aug. 28. A statewide gun violence disaster emergency declared by Cuomo on July 6, 2021, also remains in effect… at least through today (Sept. 18).

It’s redistricting, by a nose

Cheers to the Syracuse Common Council for adopting new district lines drawn by an all-volunteer, citizen-led, nonpartisan commission. The vote was a squeaker – 5 to 4 – with four district councilors voting no, four at-large councilors voting yes, and the tie broken by the newest member, 5th District Councilor Jimmy Monto.

2nd District Councilor Pat Hogan, who opposed the new map, said the real problem was too few district councilors to handle the volume of neighborhood needs and complaints that flow their way. The five new districts have roughly 30,000 voters each.

The redistricting vote was not the right forum for that discussion — but it may be a discussion worth having before redistricting rolls around again in 10 years. Is there a proper balance between at-large councilors, who represent the whole city, and district councilors, who represent the parochial concerns of their neighborhoods? Are constituents leaning on district councilors because other parts of city government are not as responsive as they ought to be? Would a bigger council be too unwieldy? Are there enough qualified, interested people willing to run?

The makeup of the council is set forth in the city charter. Changing it is no mean feat, ultimately requiring a public vote. Before embarking on that path, councilors should see how their workloads change as their new districts shake out.

A small gesture with big impact

We expected Syracuse University Head Football Coach Dino Babers to sing the praises of sixth-year senior fullback Chris Elmore after an injury ended what could be his final season in college football. We did not expect it from the head coach of a conference rival.

In a handwritten note to Elmore, Wake Forest Head Football Coach Dave Clawson expressed his sorrow at the injury and piled on the compliments about the player’s athletic ability and leadership qualities. “I wish you all the best in your recovery,” Clawson wrote.

Elmore tweeted out the note, writing, “at the end of the day it’s bigger than football. Much respect coach.”

Some things are bigger than sport. Clawson’s small, surprising gesture showed the humanity behind the game face, and recalled every time a parent rooted for someone else’s kid to succeed.

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Jamestown Post-Journal. September 21, 2022.

Editorial: State’s Rush To Make A Political Point Places Veteran Firing Squad Traditions In Jeopardy

It’s ludicrous that a three-volley salute during Chautauqua County’s commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack had to take place in a gas station parking lot rather than on county property.

But is anyone surprised that a hastily passed state law would have an unintended and ludicrous side effect? We’re not.

The last time New York rushed to pass a gun law, the state made it illegal for its own police force to carry their sidearms. Now, gun laws passed in a rush in July to make a political point mean ceremonial weapons can’t be fired on public property — meaning the familiar firings during Memorial Day observances, Jamestown’s traditional ceremonial firing in the heart of downtown on Veterans’ Day or graveside services for veterans — are now a violation of the letter of the law.

In their zeal to show their anti-gun bona fides, Democrats in the state Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul wrote a law that so broadly limits where weapons can be carried that it puts an end to some of our nation’s longest-held traditions. It’s not as if the ceremonial rifles used in a 21-gun salute in a cemetery are found every day at crime scenes or have been used to commit a mass shooting. It’s not as if the veterans firing those weapons during these ceremonies haven’t been trained in the proper use and care for their weapons — they were trained by our own armed forces to carry and use those weapons in situations much more tense than a ceremonial gun volley in a public park.

Obviously, July’s gun laws should be amended to allow these ceremonial firings in public places. They are an important part of some of our most solemn ceremonies and should be allowed to continue legally. They should not come to an end because a political party had to rush to score political points.

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New York Post. September 19, 2022.

Editorial: How much in favors does $34 million in donations buy, governor?

Just how much are New York taxpayers spending to goose Gov. Kathy Hochul’s obsessive pay-to-play fundraising?

We now know the state overspent $286 million for COVID tests sold by the company whose owner’s family wound up giving $300,000 to her campaign. At that rate, the $34 million-plus she’s raised translates to billions in quid pro quo favors.

And emails unearthed between the Accidental Governor and her buddies show just how ugly the connections are.

Take Robert Trobe (himself a Hochul donor), a former city agency bigwig who in December 2021 was trying to organize a high-dollar fundraiser for Hochul. The price tag? A naked demand for Hochul to back a pay bump for certain state contract workers.

Hochul, unsurprisingly, delivered: come January, her bank-busting budget kicked in half a billion for that raise. The gov’s coffers grew, connected insiders got served and taxpayers got hosed.

Liquor kingpin Wayne Chaplin wanted a new law mandating that all alcoholic beverages imported into New York make a day-long pit stop at a distributor’s warehouse before sale to a customer.

He showed at a 2021 Hochul fundraiser near Rochester; on the same day five different LLC’s all attached to his company’s corporate address donated to Hochul a total of $25,000. He followed up with the gov’s office in an email, openly admitting he had hocked the governor about the bill at the pricy party.

Not even a terrible tragedy can slow Hochul’s drive to raise money. Per public records, she spent at least 14 hours on “private” tasks in the days after after the grocery-store massacre in her hometown of Buffalo. The tasks were clearly fundraisers, as she took in some $1.19 million.

We’ll grant that not all of the gov’s $34 million comes at direct cost to state taxpayers: sometimes it just means people and businesses evicted to clear the way for a donor’s megaproject, or higher costs for consumers and retailers who can’t directly import some hooch.

But it’s all too certain that this governor puts her donors’ desires first, with not a thought to what’s best for the people she supposedly serves.

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