Editorial Roundup: New York

Albany Times Union. August 17, 2021.

Editorial: Lead the way, New York

THE ISSUE:

The gerrymandering of election districts is harmful to democracy.

THE STAKES:

New York’s upcoming redistricting will test whether lawmakers are committed to fairness.

Newly released census numbers contained a pleasant surprise: New York added population in the decade following 2010.

The small gain, though, wasn’t enough to keep the state from once again losing a congressional seat. Meanwhile, downstate has generally gained residents while many areas upstate remain locked in a long slide.

Among the consequences of the changes is this: The upcoming redrawing of legislative and congressional districts is likely to be contentious — and the temptation to play games in drawing them will be strong.

Gerrymandering, of course, is how politics has long been played by both political parties, leading to districts with notoriously absurd shapes. And with Republicans controlling most state legislatures nationally, there are predictions that congressional districts redrawn to favor the GOP will be all the party needs to retake the House.

For Democrats in Albany, then, the temptation will be to fight fire with fire. Rather than draw fair districts that are compact, contiguous and make visual sense, they’ll be tempted to gerrymander out a Republican or two.

Self-interest will also be at work, of course, given that legislative districts drawn to the benefit of Democrats could solidify party majorities in the state Assembly and Senate, perhaps guaranteeing one-party rule.

But Democrats must resist the temptation. They must let New York’s “independent” commission, tasked with fairly redrawing the lines, do its work without interference.

After all, it’s an abuse of power when a political party manipulates how election districts are drawn and essentially chooses which voters it wants. Worse, the scheming contributes to a sense among voters that a rigged system isn’t worth trusting, or participating in.

Uncompetitive districts also lead to extremism and discourage bipartisanship, because they require politicians cater only to their base. Even a glance at Congress shows how destructive growing partisanship has been. Competitive districts, by contrast, are good for democracy.

New York can show the nation a better way. Lawmakers can say that in this state, at least, elected officials are committed to fairness.

Yes, we know that probably sounds pollyannish. History tells us that politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, can’t be trusted with this process.

But voters have said they want something better, approving a system in 2014 that creates a commission composed of both Democrats and Republicans to draw proposed maps. The Legislature can either approve the lines — or draw them anew.

There’s a big role ahead for incoming Gov. Kathy Hochul, who could veto the maps chosen by lawmakers. As part of the new and more ethical tone she says she intends to set, Ms. Hochul could insist lawmakers set gerrymandering aside.

Doing so would be good for New York. It would also be good for democracy.

___

Newsday. August 15, 2021.

Editorial: Use new tools for safer roads

Five weeks ago, Richard Riggs, 75, of Holbrook, died in a car crash reportedly caused by other drivers recklessly weaving in and out of lanes near Exit 39 on the Southern State Parkway in Babylon Town. A police probe of the details of the catastrophe remains active.

Long Islanders will do well to remember this every time they see cars racing in traffic, a serious public safety threat on numerous byways and highways.

One enforcement follow-up could come on a state level. Three Long Island lawmakers recently contacted the state Department of Transportation about a proposal that might help catch the purposely reckless in the act and prosecute them.

For the first time, feeds from video cameras could be recorded and used by New York law enforcement where appropriate. So far, three Long Island state lawmakers — Assemb. Michaelle Solages and State Sens. Todd Kaminsky and John Brooks — have called for the change. Their colleagues in both parties should get behind that and push for it, or propose strong alternatives.

With video cameras already posted on many roads over the years to spot accidents, locate snarls and project travel times, you might well ask why their use wasn’t extended to bearing witness to motorists who deliberately pose real-time lethal threats to blameless citizens.

Due to cautions about broadened public surveillance, the original agreement authorizing the cameras barred recordings for use in such investigations. But that “privacy” commitment makes no sense since the roads are public. How would recording the reckless impinge on privacy any more than mass-transit agencies retaining surveillance feeds of crimes on, say, train platforms?

The legislators’ letter asks the DOT “to require all footage from traffic cameras be recorded and maintained for a period of time so that law enforcement agencies can access it . . . to apprehend perpetrators of traffic crimes and keep motorists safe.” Some states don’t have recording restrictions. In New Jersey, the period of time to keep the footage is seven days. That sounds like it might work here.

Highway police can’t be posted everywhere, and even if they witness dangerous weaving, chasing miscreants seasoned in making evasive moves in traffic sounds neither practical nor safe.

The DOT has yet to respond to the lawmakers’ appeal but is said to be working on one. Prepare to be disappointed; the agency doesn’t have much of a track record of reacting quickly or creatively to problems.

Newsday has reported that since 2016 state police have issued less than 100 tickets for reckless driving, a misdemeanor. Perhaps they should consider video taken by drones that could patrol the roads. Regardless, those who patrol the highways must be more aggressive in apprehending reckless drivers.

The death of Richard Riggs reminds us once again how dangerous driving on Long Island has become and how the efforts to combat it have failed to keep pace.

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New York Post. August 18, 2021.

Editorial: Albany better move fast to get federal funds to tenants and landlords

Albany is sitting on billions in federal money meant for tenants and landlords, a new audit out Monday from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli shows. Yet instead of moving to hand out the funds faster, lawmakers are simply eyeing a new ban on evictions, which will only further hurt both groups.

Of the state’s $2.6 billion in federal rent-bailout money, less than $100 million has been doled out, the report found — only 4% of the total. Just 7,000 families have received help, of 168,000 applications for assistance.

“There are billions in federal aid to help renters who fell behind on payments in the pandemic, but this money isn’t getting to them,” DiNapoli said. “The state can and must do a better job getting this aid into the hands of New Yorkers that could face evictions.”

Yet rather than pushing the Cuomo administration to speed up payments, Albany lawmakers are contemplating an extension of the state’s current eviction ban, which expires at the end of the month. That will leave landlords hanging.

Last week, the US Supreme Court blocked a portion of New York’s eviction moratorium. And on Monday, a half-dozen lawmakers called for an emergency session of the Legislature to pass a new eviction moratorium. Meanwhile, landlords have their own bills to pay; they get no such moratorium.

Besides hurting building owners, a failure to get out the money by Sept. 30 puts it at risk, under a federal use-it-or-lose-it deadline.

“There is enormous need from tenants who fear losing their homes and landlords who need rental assistance to keep their buildings running,” pleads Judith Goldiner, the top attorney at the left-leaning Legal Aid Society. “And it’s simply horrifying that months after applications began, only 7,000 households have gotten rent paid.”

She’s right. And another eviction ban would only make matters worse. Get moving, Albany.

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Advance Media New York. August 18, 2021.

Editorial: NYS Fair opens in the space between summer and surge

The New York State Fair opens Friday. The fair is an apt metaphor for where we are in the Covid-19 pandemic: stuck in an uneasy limbo between a desire to squeeze every last drop of fun out of summer and the risks of doing so amid another surge of the virus.

That adds a layer of decision-making on top of the usual fair choices: sausage or gyro, Ferris wheel or flying swings, fried dough or fried thing on a stick. This year, fairgoers will be evaluating how crowded is too crowded, whether to bring the kids, if taking the bus with a bunch of strangers is the best way to go, or if it’s wise to skip the fair entirely.

Given the crowds at other summer events, we expect fair die-hards will not be deterred. Just know before you go: Everyone must wear a mask indoors, by order of the county executive. If you’re not vaccinated, the advice is to wear a mask indoors and out to protect yourself (and others) from the highly contagious Delta variant. Kids under 12, too young to be vaccinated, should wear masks, too.

The fair is doing what it can to mitigate the spread of Covid-19: offering on-site testing and vaccinations, spacing out vendors and rides, cleaning high-use areas frequently, eliminating cash sales of tickets and parking passes, and spreading out musical acts between the Chevy Court stage and the relatively new Chevy Park stage. The gates will open later, at 11 a.m., and close earlier, at 10 p.m.

Fair Director Troy Waffner says the fair will be ready Friday when the gates open — and the gates will open whether he’s ready or not. Under Waffner’s steady leadership, the fair is rolling with the many curveballs Covid-19 has thrown its way.

Start with waking the fairgrounds from a yearlong slumber. Then, finding replacements when some longtime, iconic vendors dropped out. Unlike other fairs in other states, the New York State Fair remains a celebration of locally grown and prepared food. Despite the uncertainty of touring schedules, the fair managed to book dozens of musical acts in a variety of genres, and for a variety of audiences.

For now, it’s full steam ahead, with no limits on capacity and a full 18 days planned. Waffner and his staff will be ready to react to changes in the trajectory of the pandemic and any new public health directives from New York state and Onondaga County. The rest of us should be, too.

If you decide to go, it’s up to you to protect yourself, your loved ones and your fellow fairgoers. Get vaccinated, if you haven’t done it already. Wear a mask. Play it smart. Have a good time.

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Auburn Citizen. August 15, 2021.

Editorial: We don’t need another week of Cuomo at helm

In a manner typical of his condescending and ego-driven style of governing, Andrew Cuomo put a timetable on when he would step down from office in disgrace.

In his resignation speech delivered Tuesday, the current governor announced he would walk away from the job in 14 days. He said he needed to stick around for a while so his successor, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, could have an orderly transition into the highest state government office.

But the truth is the governor just can’t stomach the idea of walking away immediately. But he is only hurting the state, because the truth is he no longer has any practical ability to lead the state. The Legislature has no interest in working with him, and rightfully so. His agency commissioners are figuring out their own personal futures. And the public has lost all respect and interest in heeding his words.

This all comes at a time when the COVID-19 virus is starting to rage again, thanks to the Delta variant and a still-too-low vaccination rate, among other issues.

Two major pandemic-related matters in New York state should be dealt with in clear and decisive actions coordinated by the governor’s office and the state Legislature: A strong science-driven policy on reopening schools and legislation to fix an issue with the state’s eviction moratorium cited in a recent Supreme Court decision. Neither can happen with Cuomo in charge, and that’s a tremendous disservice to the people of New York.

Kathy Hochul is among the most prepared people to take over as governor as we’ve ever had. She’s held elected public office at the local, federal and state level, so she knows how the executive branch should interact with Washington and town and city halls. She’s traveled the state and made important connections for several years; she’s on a first-name basis with scores of local leaders in New York state who are eager to have her in charge.

There is absolutely no good reason she should not be Gov. Kathy Hochul today.

We urge all of our elected officials to call for the governor to move up his resignation effective date, and allow New York government to have some badly needed stability as soon as possible.

END