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The following is a press release from the offices of the Community Education Council of District 21:

Last Thursday’s announcement regarding the continuance of charter co-locations at I.S. 96, Seth Low, and I.S. 281, Joseph B. Cavallaro, is a major setback for our community.  There was such hope that Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina would finally listen to the voices of parents and community members.  Many of us now feel only disappointment and frustration. In the fall of 2013, the Community Education Council District 21 passed two resolutions opposing both co-locations, we have rallied, gone to both PEP meetings and still our voices were not heard.  2014 had such potential for parents and yet again, we have been pushed to the side.  We have been given a promise that they will do things better in the future.  What about the children and their families that are already attending I.S. 96 Seth Low, and I.S. 281, Joseph B. Cavallaro, don’t they count too?  I understand that they based their decisions on families that applied for seats for September 2014 and the deadline was coming.  Our children’s educations should not be about deadlines.  We provide excellent educational opportunities for all children in this district and have seats in our traditional public schools for the children who have applied.  More time should have been taken to visit and speak to schools, families, and community members regarding the co-locations. There is no need to rush putting two more elementary schools in our district. We have and always will supply a high quality education for every child in our district’s traditional public schools.   Mayor de Blasio’s plan is to provide full day, high quality Pre-K programs to 53,000 students in 2014. With two elementary Charter school co-locations opening in 2014 in our district, what middle school space can the Chancellor guarantee will be available for these students in the future?

It’s time to come together once again as a community! Let our voices be heard loud and clear “We say NO to the co-locations decisions on I.S. 96 and I.S. 281, Joseph B. Cavallaro”. The Community Education Council District 21 calls on Chancellor Farina and Mayor de Blasio to reverse the decision to implement co-location plan for I.S.96, Seth Low and I.S. 281, Joseph B. Cavallaro.

The Community Education council of District 20 & 21 invites all community members to join them at I.S. 96 Seth Low to Rally on Friday, March 7, 2014 at 2:30 PM.

Today's snow, as seen from West 4th Street near Avenue T (Photo by Michael Louis)

Today’s snow, as seen from West 4th Street near Avenue T (Photo by Michael Louis)

A staffer in one of our elected officials’ offices pitched me an idea earlier today: start a registry on our website of volunteers willing to help elderly and disabled residents dig out from the snow storm.

The staffer told me that they’ve been receiving calls all morning, but that their office couldn’t do anything – including recommend a pay service, since such a recommendation from a public office would be inappropriate.

But why should I create a registry? The City of New York already has one.

It’s right here on the New York City Service website. I knew that but the staffer didn’t. Because the city has done a shoddy job publicizing it.

And, as a result, it’s totally useless at the moment. I called the most local partner listed on the website, the Brighton Neighborhood Association, and the one person in the office – who was closing up shop – said they never once had a volunteer come through it. And so I called the number at City Hall to register as a volunteer just to see how the process went – and they, too were closed.

With the number of snow storms we’ve already had in 2014, it might be time for the city to reactivate that program and make a big push. The point is to help elderly and disabled residents – both by ensuring they have a clean path to walk on, and also to prevent them from receiving fines from the city. That’s a great goal, and with virtually no cost to taxpayers.

My hope is that this post spurs a few kind, generous individuals to register for service in future snow storms, and also to get local elected officials’ offices to sign up as partners to help direct and mobilize the volunteers. It’s not unheard of – Bronx Councilman James Vacca and Staten Island Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis both use their offices in this way.

I look forward to seeing our local elected officials join that list very soon, and also help in the recruitment of local volunteers. If they do, this site commits to publicizing the registry in future storms. How’s that for a deal?

grimm

Congressman Michael Grimm’s threat of violence against NY1 reporter Michael Scotto after last night’s State of the Union is not an isolated incident.

I know because he’s gotten in my face, too. And those of much more veteran reporters than Scotto or me.

Earlier this morning NY1′s News Director Bob Hardt published a statement online demanding a response from House leadership about Grimm’s behavior. In it, he described another exchange in 2012 with Grimm that wasn’t caught on camera:

Following an interview with NY1’s Errol Louis in December of 2012, the congressman blew his top – off-camera. Again, at issue was the fact that Louis had the temerity to ask Grimm about an investigation that recently led to an associate of the congressman being arrested and charged with illegally donating $10,000 to his campaign.

After the interview, Grimm became red-faced and started yelling at both Louis and me, alluding to settling the issue by “taking it outside” with our political anchor – acting as if he were in a bar instead of a TV studio. He’s also complained to me when our reporters on Staten Island asked him about the probe when he was running for re-election in 2012.

I already knew this story. Shortly after that incident, Louis, a veteran and highly regarded member of New York City’s political press corps, was leading a workshop at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism. I was in attendance when Louis began describing the incident – but left out the congressman’s name.

After the workshop, I went up to Louis.

“It was Grimm, wasn’t it?” I asked.

He confirmed.

I knew it because the events matched up almost exactly to an encounter I had with Grimm on April 30, 2012 – the first and last time I spoke directly to the congressman.

I met Grimm during a meeting that evening of the Bensonhurst West End Community Council. I introduced myself before the meeting began. He mentioned to me that we ran an article that day about the investigation into his fundraising that he felt was outdated, and so misrepresented the facts.

After reviewing the post from my phone during the meeting, I didn’t feel there was anything that misrepresented the facts, although I did concede to his argument that our version didn’t make clear that most of the information came from reports that were a few weeks old (and later that night added a clarification, because it was the right thing to do).

I approached Grimm as he was leaving the room, and began with an apology, to get on good footing, and planned to ask him if the situation had changed – basically, if there was an actual update to the story, if he had a response, or if he was just bellyaching that we were writing it up at all.

We stepped out of the  Harway Terrace Community Room and into the empty hallway. Just as I began to speak, Grimm spun on his heel, turned to me and shoved his face in mine. He began shouting, spittle raining down on me, and jutting his index finger into my chest.

Quite frankly, it happened fast, and I don’t remember much of what he was shouting, other than I should have called his office for comment. I tried explaining it was an aggregated report – and that I’m asking him for comment now.

He kept shouting. One of his goons was stooped over behind him, face next to Grimm’s, nodding along.

I said again that I’m asking for comment now. “Has anything changed, congressman? Is the report factually wrong? Are you still being investigated?”

He charged down the hallway, two staffers in tow. I called after him, “Has anything changed, congressman?”

No answer.

Grimm didn’t verbally threaten me like he did Louis and Scotto, but like Scotto, I’ve never seen an elected official so angry, and his behavior certainly conveyed the message well enough. He didn’t want me asking that question. I didn’t report on it at the time as it’s a rather serious allegation, and I had turned my camera off (a mistake I will never make again).

That kind of outburst is classic schoolyard bully material. Move fast, get in someone’s face, shout over them, run away before they come to their senses. (And, in the video, you can see the shock come across Scotto’s face and slow his reaction. He recovered well and defended the questioning.)

I expect in the next few days you’ll hear more stories like this. Grimm is a hothead – even his staff says so - and it’s been just a matter of time before someone caught it on tape.

There have been other examples of Grimm’s short fuse, including one notable incident from 1999 that could hint to a troubling abuse of authority.

A retired NYPD officer came forward in 2011 and claimed Grimm abused his authority when he got into a bar brawl with his date’s husband. According to the retired cop, Grimm told the man he would “disappear where nobody would find him.” He allegedly left the club and returned back with FBI and NYPD personnel, waved his gun around, verbally abused patrons, and ordered “all the white people, get out of here.” Grimm has denied the allegations, but the police report and Justice Department investigation have  been withheld from the public.

Grimm continues to defend the despicable behavior he displayed last night to Michael Scotto as “verbally [taking] the reporter to task” because he was “disrespectful.” But Grimm needs to realize that the media plays a vital role in informing the public, and holding our elected officials accountable. Scotto was doing his duty as a reporter in asking a question that the congressman has been successfully dodging for years (he has never fully commented on the investigation other than to claim his hands are clean, and that this is a media hit).

Threatening a reporter with physical violence isn’t “taking a reporter to task.” It’s a violent threat pure and simple. Any decent reporter is open to criticism and discussion, but Grimm is attempting to chill speech and silence journalists in the same brutish, primitive way as any two-bit tyrant.

This is behavior unbecoming of United States congressman. If Grimm doesn’t like the public spotlight, or can’t handle the scrutiny required to keep our legislators clean, then it’s time he reconsider running for office.

This was not yesterday’s snow. This was much worse.

When it snowed in the beginning of the month – the first challenge of the new de Blasio administration – we received a slew of e-mails, phone calls and social media comments claiming that the city was botching the job and streets remained unplowed.

When it snowed yesterday, we heard nary a peep from our readers.

On the surface it would seem that residents appeared more satisfied with the city’s response to yesterday’s snow than they had been to the previous winter storm. But the New York Post disagrees. On the front page of the paper today, an all-caps headline reads “SHAMBLES! Turmoil as Blas botches ‘early’ snow.” The story claims that the Sanitation Department was caught off guard because the snow fell earlier than predicted, and zeros in on “tony” Upper East Side residents who claim they were neglected because they didn’t vote for Bill de Blasio. At the core of that claim is the Sanitation Department’s plow tracker map, which showed that the neighborhood had not received timely plowing. The New York Post, being the New York Post, neglected to mention the huge swaths of the outerboroughs that showed the same thing. (The Sanitation Department claimed that it was due to a broken GPS, and the Upper East Side had indeed been plowed. That’s comforting, right?).

Here in Southern Brooklyn, major streets were plowed regularly and side streets less frequently, as is the routine. As anyone who put shovel to concrete yesterday knows, it took about five minutes for the snow to again completely blanket the sidewalk. On our little side street, we did see the plows running regularly, even if it didn’t make much of an impact, but we haven’t seen any salt spreaders which would be useful in ridding ourselves of that last two inches of impact snow on the asphalt.

So our take is this: we’ve seen worse snow, and we’ve seen worse management of the snow. It could be better – more regular plowing and some salt would be nice, as would enforcement of laws requiring homeowners and businesses clear their sidewalks.

What do you think? Where does the city’s snow management need improvement?

Source: jasoneppinke via Flickr

Is this all Brooklyn and Staten Island have in common? (Source: jasoneppinke/Flickr)

It’s not even 2014 yet, but the 2014 Congressional election is already well underway in the 11th Congressional District, where incumbent Michael Grimm faces a challenge from Democratic Councilman Domenic Recchia.

To put it frankly, the race is already shaping up to be a disappointment for anyone hoping for civil discourse. From the get-go in February, when Recchia announced his run, the mud was flying through the air.

We’ll save the historical overview with all the dirty little back-and-forths for a future post. But one thing I just can’t let go of is the overarching narrative put forth by Grimm and Staten Island Republicans that a Brooklynite just can’t represent Staten Island.

For the most part, that kind of chatter has been coming from the sidelines: folks in the Staten Island GOP or political commentators looking to fill editorial holes on a slow news day. It’s also been an undercurrent in some of Grimm’s own statements, but never outright expressed as far as I know.

Until Monday.

Congressman Grimm’s campaign put out a statement attacking Recchia for his Brooklyn residency.

“How can we expect a career politician who lives in Brooklyn to put Staten Island first, when his voting record says otherwise?” Grimm’s spokeswoman, Carol Danko. “The City is constantly dumping things on us that we don’t want – whether its toll hikes, property tax increases, a juvenile detention center or a landfill – and Domenic is part of the problem. It’s because of politicians like Domenic Recchia that Staten Island has become the forgotten borough, and why he is unfit to serve.”

I can’t help but note that Grimm has previously attacked Recchia for putting Staten Island first with his City Council discretionary funds as Finance Chair. But whatevs.

(I don’t care to run it in full, but Recchia responded with a statement with a litany of other things Grimm did that he doesn’t believe is in the best interest of Staten Islanders. You can read the whole exchange on Politicker.)

The point here isn’t who puts Staten Island first. If you ask me, Staten Islanders are spoiled enough as it is, what with their free ferry and all.

No, what bothers me is the logic of Grimm et al’s statements leads to a disconcerting, and wholly ridiculous conclusion. If a Brooklynite can’t represent Staten Islanders, isn’t it logical to conclude that a Staten Islander can’t represent Brooklyn? And wouldn’t that mean Grimm is suggesting that he’s been screwing his Brooklyn constituents all along?

Of course, that’s nonsense. It is not such a world of difference between this part of Brooklyn and Staten Island, especially on the federal level. And good ideas know no borders between boroughs.

At least that’s what I believe, and I want these two to stop acting like petulant children and begin having an actual conversation about the future of the district – Brooklyn and Staten Island, both.

But that’s just me. Do you think a Brooklynite can represent Staten Island? Do you think a Staten Islander can represent Brooklyn? Is this all just BS?

Andrew Gounardes (Photo by Carol Dronsfield)

The following is an opinion article submitted by Andrew Gounardes, a local attorney, vice president of the Bay Ridge Democrats and 2012 candidate for State Senate

Last week, the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption released a report detailing an enraging, though not surprising, level of corruption in our state government. The Commission’s report identified so many illegal activities, and incredulous abuses of legal activities, they can’t all be listed here. Here’s just a sampling of the worst offenses:

  • Pay-to-play politics – High-powered donors contribute to political campaigns in exchange for legislation that would reap a windfall on their business interests. One developer received a real estate tax credit worth $50 million last year just to build one luxury building in Manhattan.
  • Campaign finance loopholes – New York has some of the highest campaign contribution limits in the country, and yet many donors skirt those rules by donating through different corporate and LLC accounts. One donor was found to have used 25 different corporate accounts to make $3 million in contributions.
  • Misuse of campaign funds – There are no meaningful limits on what politicians can spend their campaign dollars on. Members of the legislature routinely use campaign funds to pay for personal expenses such as car leases and personal mortgages.

So what can we do to limit, if not outright stop, such blatant corruption? The answer is pretty simple and we already do it in New York City: public financing of elections.

Currently, the campaign finance system rewards big donors and the politicians they donate to. If we lower the amount of money someone can donate to a campaign, incentivize small-dollar donations through a public matching system, and limit how those campaign dollars are spent, we can break the corruption cycle of wealthy donors buying off politicians and politicians using campaign funds to pay for vacation homes and luxury cars.

Public financing will also make politicians more responsive to voters. Under New York City’s system, any contribution up to $175 gets matched by city dollars at a rate of 6:1; a $175 donation is really worth $1050. Under the current rules in New York State, one donor who contributes $1000 has more influence than five donors who each contribute $175. That’s ridiculous. If we replicated the New York City program at the state level, those five donors contributing $175 would outweigh the one donor contributing only $1000.

Opponents of campaign finance reform say that it costs too much money. They feign outrage at spending tax dollars on political campaigns and hope that if they scream loud enough, you won’t notice why the really oppose reform: because they benefit enormously from the status quo.

Here’s the truth: public financing of campaigns will cost approximately $41 million a year, or just $3.20 per taxpayer in New York per year. In other words, getting rid of corruption in New York State will cost $9 million LESS than the $50 million tax break that our politicians gave to that luxury building developer last year. Think about that: one fewer tax break to a wealthy donor can pay for a more honest government.

To me, the answer seems clear. Let’s start cleaning up Albany and start restoring faith in state government again by enacting true campaign finance reform.

Andrew Gounardes is an attorney, vice president of the Bay Ridge Democrats and 2012 candidate for State Senate

Councilman Vincent Gentile, Source: council.nyc.govCouncilman Vincent Gentile won his third full-term to the City Council on Tuesday, but his re-election carries with it a promise to voters to bring home more resources for his district. A failure to deliver on that promise would make him unfit to serve in public office beyond his final term in the Council.

It was a heated, drawn out campaign, but Gentile beat his Republican opponent John Quaglione by nearly 30 percentage points. In nearly any other corner of the nation, such a wide margin would represent a mandate from the public to keep on keepin’ on. But in Brooklyn, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by five to one (although it’s probably closer to three to one in Southwest Brooklyn), that’s a rebuke from constituents. Here we’re much more accustomed to larger margins benefiting Democratic incumbents. Take, for example, the victories of David Greenfield, who won with a 64-point margin, or Jumaane Williams, who won with a 93-point margin.

Gentile’s victory seems a little diminished next to those stats.

No doubt it’s because of the the viability of his opponent’s message. While Greenfield’s opponent, the somewhat manic Joseph Hayon, ran a campaign of hate, singularly focused on Greenfield’s misconstrued support of LGBT causes (an argument shamefully made by presenting a continuous parade of photos with Greenfield standing next to Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is gay), and Williams’ opponent was an unfunded third-party candidate, Quaglione seized upon a compelling narrative: “Where’s our share of the money?”

By and large, any traction gained by the Quaglione campaign can be credited to his relentless hammering away at that most primitive and resounding of sentiment in New York City politics, the sense that someone else is getting more than you.

Certainly, Quaglione didn’t make in-roads with his 24-item “To-Do” list, which was little more than wishful thinking, mostly shared by Gentile, with no roadmap to accomplishment. And it wasn’t the insufferable campaign tactic deployed at the beginning of Quaglione’s run, which one insider likened to “pointing out a candy wrapper on the street and acting like it’s hell on Earth, and Gentile’s the devil.” And it wasn’t his claims that Gentile was absent on this or that issue – the X28 weekend service or community cleanups being good examples – because they just weren’t true; we have two years of press releases in our inbox to prove it.

While you can lure a few votes with that kind of approach, most of the electorate is intelligent enough to see through it.

No, Quaglione’s most effective weapon to win votes was also Gentile’s, and that was the incumbent’s record.

The Republican, an aide to State Senator Marty Golden, consistently won applauds at debates by pointing to the inarguable fact that Gentile is 50th on the list of 51 members of the City Council in receiving discretionary funds for his district.

These funds are the most flexible of any in the city budget, doled out to members based on favoritism, and allowed to be spent on a wide range of community projects, parks, schools, groups, clean-ups, et cetera. It’s not very much money, averaging about a million per district each year, but it’s enough to make much needed improvements to the neighborhood’s quality of life and sense of community.

Now, to say that Quaglione’s attack was effective is not to say it was fair (well, all’s fair in love, war and politics, but we mean fair in the factual sense). The upstart frequently compared it to his boss Golden’s record in the Council, claiming that even as a minority member of the Council, he received the most funding of any district. We found that claim to be unverifiable, having even poured through a few old budget documents to no avail. It rested solely on Quaglione and Golden’s word.

And while Quaglione argued that the lack of funding showed the incumbent was a do-nothing, Gentile argued the opposite. And this is where he made his promise to voters.

He pointed out, although with a frustrating lack of eloquence, that his influence in the Council had been diminished by a principled stand on issues in opposition to a vindictive Council leadership. Most prominent of those issues is the extension of term limits without a public referendum, for which he was denied funding and committee appointments.

Furthermore, Gentile was aided in his defense by simple math. With 21 new members in the Council, and Gentile’s decade of experience in the body, he would be the chamber’s most senior and knowledgeable member. He would know his way around, while others are still learning the ropes. And he would be of the same political makeup as the majority (which, after Tuesday, is swinging further leftward, making Quaglione an even odder duck). Finally, he was one of few legislators who supported Bill de Blasio from the start, which will give him sway in the mayor’s office.

Even if Quaglione’s argument were true that Golden, as a minority member of the Council, had secured impressive funding, that was a different era, more than a decade ago, which might as well be the Dutch era of New York City governance. Quaglione never would never be able win influence in the Council today.

Gentile has already proven that he’ll take a principled stand on behalf of constituents, even if it’s to his disadvantage. And he told voters that as the most senior member of the Council, he will be able to secure more resources for the neighborhood.

It’s on that promise that voters sent him back to City Hall. The 30-point victory was certainly an affirmation of his record, but it was also predicated on his commitment to bring home the bacon.

The next four years should be flush for Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bath Beach. He may not be able to keep every commitment – stopping the Gravesend Bay Waste Transfer Station seems unlikely – but he ought to be able to rise to the highest echelons of Council leadership, and bring home the bacon for his district. In that, the community has won an extraordinary victory – a council member with a history of sacrificing for the greater good (term limits) and a future in which the community is rewarded for its past deprivation.

Now, with the election behind him and every advantage before him, if Gentile fails to deliver despite his seniority he will, unfortunately, prove himself an ineffective leader unworthy of future public office.

We’ll be watching and, we hope, reaping the rewards of a thriving, fairly-funded district at the forefront of Brooklyn’s renaissance.

Ned Berke is the editor and publisher of Bensonhurst Bean.

Ken Thompson announcing his campaign; inset: David Greenfield

Ken Thompson announcing his campaign; inset: David Greenfield

What’s more important in an election than good ideas, strong qualifications and an unyielding dedication to the public good?

In Brooklyn politics, the answer is party loyalty and backroom deals. And nothing has made that clearer than the current race for Brooklyn District Attorney.

Exhibit A? Yesterday, Councilman David Greenfield swapped sides in the race, endorsing Democratic nominee Ken Thompson.

Greenfield had previously endorsed incumbent Charles Hynes in the Democratic primary, and spoke forcefully against Thompson in a campaign of fear, telling constituents that Thompson would “target the Orthodox Jewish community” if elected.

So what’s changed? Oh, just the political parties. After suffering defeat in the Democratic primary to Thompson, Hynes regrouped and is running on the Republican and Conservative tickets.

And now, in the general election, the field remains the same. The same two men, the same records, the same qualifications, the same ideas.

It’s the same race.

But while Southern Brooklyn legislators by-and-large backed Hynes in the primary, touting his record, experience and judgement, they’re now forced to eat crow. Thomspon beat their man and sits on their party line.

So do they show conviction and stick with the man they previously said had better ideas and a stronger record?

Nope, they jump ship and rally around their party.

Greenfield’s not the only one. He’s just the latest in a long list of Democratic elected officials bending over backwards to not sound ludicrous.

Some other examples? Councilmembers Vincent Gentile and Lew Fidler, Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny and Democratic county boss Frank Seddio. In fact, the only Southern Brooklyn Democratic legislator we know of who continues to back Hynes post-primary is Councilman Michael Nelson.

He’s term-limited out. And I suppose he’s not looking for a job with the party come 2014.

Greenfield, meanwhile, said the change of heart came after sitting down with Thompson and getting to know him personally.

“I will tell you that I actually have had the opportunity on several occasions now to get to know Ken Thompson,” Greenfield said at a press conference yesterday, according to Politicker. “Consistently, across the board, the feedback that I’ve gotten has been incredibly positive and I, myself, have been impressed. Ken is somebody who has a stellar background as a law enforcement official.”

Of course, Thomspon had a “stellar background” before the primary, too. But it seems Greenfield didn’t do his due diligence before the primary endorsement. Instead he saw opportunity to undermine his rival, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, and score points with the county party.

And this is the way endorsements work. It’s rarely about who’s the best qualified to serve the community, but who’s in the best position to benefit the endorser. Today, that’s Ken Thompson.

To the candidates reading this: this is why I ignore your endless pleas to cover your endorsements. Call me when it means something.

Source: Jamie Adams via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Jamie Adams via Wikimedia Commons

Earl Grinols, a distinguished professor of economics at Baylor University and author of Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits, penned an op-ed in today’s Daily News urging New York State residents to shoot down casino expansion in the state when it comes to voters in November, saying a better cost-benefit study needs to be done.

We agree. The existing proposal remains far too vague, the benefits far too uncertain, and a new proposal can be brought before voters once our legislators have done proper due diligence on our behalf.

Yesterday we reported that lawmakers and Cuomo struck a deal to place four casinos upstate and three with locations to be determined seven years later. While word originally got around that the later three would be in the New York City area, the text of the bill ultimately wiped out any mention of New York City while establishing the seven year moratorium. After that seven years, three could still come to our neck of the woods – with Coney Island being a proposed site – and legislators have decided to keep all options open.

According to Grinols, siting is an important factor in determining the cost and benefit of a casino to the local economy, and to put a bill before voters without that included will be asking voters to make their decision blindly.

“This is bad government, because gambling has questionable economic benefits and serious known costs,” Grinols writes.

Moreover, Grinols said, it’s very hard to find a location where the benefits outweigh the costs.

Studies demonstrate that for a gambling operation to increase economic activity, money must be drawn in from outside a region, and a sizable proportion of its revenues must represent new demand. Economists know that a lucrative casino does not guarantee economic development, which is the increase in well-being of the existing residents of an area.

To assess whether economic development will result from a casino, we need answers to many questions: Will locals in each area own their casino? How will the profits and revenues be used? How many pathological gamblers will be produced, and what will be done to grapple with those afflicted by this condition?

At the moment, the only question of those that has been answered is the first: No, locals will not own their casino. International mega-corporations like the Malaysia-based Genting Group will. Other than that, all we have are glaring question marks.

One thing is for sure, though. An individual’s gambling problem becomes the problem of every taxpayer.

In fact, as a general rule, the social costs of gambling exceed its social benefits by a factor of 3 to 1, and each pathological gambler is associated with annual social costs on the order of $13,000.

A study of Iowa in 1989, before that state introduced casinos, found that 1.7% of the population suffered from problem gambling (0.1% were pathological gamblers). The comparable numbers for Nevada, measured in a 2000-01 study, are 6.4% (3.5% pathological). New York and most of the country would probably lie between these numbers depending on gambling availability and demographic factors.

Already, legislators including our own Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz are pushing to allocate potential casino revenue to programs for gambling addiction.

But will casino revenue be enough to cover the cost of addiction programs, and will we still have enough left over to “spur economic development” or invest in education?

Under the current proposal, 39 percent of slot revenues and approximately 10 percent of table revenue will go to the state. Assuming that $13,000 cost is spot on, and not actually more expensive as everything in New York seems to be, for an individual problem gambler to be covering his own social costs while at the casino, he’d have to lose nearly $34,000 a year at the slot machines, or $130,000 at the tables.

Of course, that’s not likely. And, sure, his costs will be subsidized by the other losers at the slots and tables. But the question is how many of the people at the casino will be problem gamblers? And are there enough “healthy” gamblers to sufficiently subsidize their problems as well as leave enough revenue for other spending?

Under the current proposal, which rushes to place four casinos upstate and three at yet-to-be-determined sites (which should be a scary proposition, especially considering pro-gambling lobbyists doled out $2 million to lawmakers to ensure such ambiguity), no one can answer that question.

Which is why every voter should say “No” when casino expansion is on the ballot this November. Our legislators can always go back to the table and do their due diligence on our behalf, and offer us a more detailed referendum. Casinos can always come later.

But if we roll the dice on casinos too soon, our gamble will be irreversible.

Source: nesnad via wikimedia commons

The fight over speed enforcement cameras is getting nastier. Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg personally called out State Senators Marty Golden, Simcha Felder and Dean Skelos for having blood on their hands in refusing to include funding for speed enforcement cameras in the state budget. In response, Senate Democrats are trying to reinvigorate the effort to get the cameras approved. However, in their recap of the week’s events, the New York Times included this interesting tidbit of closed door negotiations between Governor Andrew Cuomo, Bloomberg, Felder and Golden.

Senator Felder, too, has no use for cameras. He represents a district dominated by Orthodox Jewish voters, and his priority this session was to persuade the city and state to foot the bill to bus any child past 4 p.m., which in effect means mostly children who attend yeshivas. Mr. Felder and Mr. Golden succeeded in pushing through this legislation, which will cost the city $5.6 million this year.

As the state senators are not unreasonable men, they even offered to bargain: they might allow speed cameras if Mr. Bloomberg agreed to foot the bill for this busing program.

The mayor said no. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said no. But when his state budget emerged from behind closed doors in Albany it included this new and costly busing program.

The Orthodox, who are adroit at pulling the levers of power, and their political allies claim all children could benefit. But that argument is evidence-starved. The state paid for a pilot program this year, and city school buses have picked up 1,000 children — from 29 yeshivas and one charter school.

Senator Golden, who has charted the growth of the Orthodox population in his district, shrugs off criticism. It is, he said, “the new normal.”

So Golden and Felder would have been happy to approve the funding for speed enforcement cameras as long as yeshiva students who attend private Orthodox schools got free busing? Huh…so, using Golden and Felder’s logic, I guess this means that the safety of responsible motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians is less important than free transportation for private schools provided on the taxpayers’ dime.

It’s the “new normal” after all.

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