When $15 is No Longer Enough

Tompkins Lawmakers Back Higher-than-Hochul Living Wage

[And Posted After: The Legislature’s Maddening, Second Wind Muddle]

“I’m tired of second jobs, 60-hour work weeks and living in McLean.” Living Wage advocate Ken Sabone and supporters, rallying before the County Legislature, March 21.

by Robert Lynch, March 25, 2023

Liberal activists from Bernie Sanders on down not that long ago touted $15 an hour as the goal to reach.  But based on comments and action this week at the Tompkins County Legislature, a $15 hourly wage is simply Old Thinking, tossed into the dustbin sometime during the last decade.  Maybe eight per cent inflation killed it.  Or much more likely, the goal of 15 fell victim to aspirational vision-creep; you know, once you climb the first mountain, why not simply scale the next?

Regardless of the reason, placard-holding progressives at last Tuesday’s Legislature meeting sprinted past $15 an hour, and then past 20.  Now the goal is $21.25, a “Living Wage,” they say.  And when do they want it?  Of course, they want it NOW!

“I am tired of working 60 hour weeks and carrying  a second job just to survive,” Ken Sabone, an Ithaca City School District custodian, exasperation in his weary voice, told the Legislature Tuesday.  Ken, who said he earns $17.39 an hour, was among nearly a dozen who spoke to the issue that night, all but two of them endorsing New York’s “Raise the Wage Act,” a bill backed by progressive New York legislators.   It would propel New York’s current minimum wage beyond its current $14.20 per hour level upstate and even beyond what Governor Kathy Hochul proposes in her this year’s Executive Budget.

“I cannot live in Ithaca as much as I would love to be part of the community,” Sabone continued.  “I would love my boys to go to this (Ithaca) school district.  I cannot afford it.  I have to live in McLean, in a trailer park, and it costs me $1,100 a month to keep that trailer, and it’s killing me.”

Ignore for the moment that this school janitor, who no doubt enjoys full government benefits, already earns more than the $16.61 per hour that a local credit union last year set as a “Living Wage” in Tompkins County.  He’d just rather not slum-it in Tompkins County’s rural reaches, but rather, maybe, live in Fall Creek, where real estate bidding wars have pushed prices for century-old homes to over a half-Million. 

Those in the visitors’ gallery applauded Ken that night.  And so, too—with their votes—did a majority on the County Legislature.  By a margin of 8-6, with all support coming from Democrats, the locals we elect endorsed the Raise the Wage Act, a vote that carries absolutely no impact beyond its power of persuasion.  It states a preference—and maybe makes certain liberals on the Legislature feel good about themselves in the process.

This week’s was the second meeting in a row where the Tompkins County Legislature expended its time and effort attempting to do Albany’s bidding.  Two weeks earlier, it endorsed a bill that would ban an oil furnace or a gas range from any new home built as soon as next January.

Shawna Black: The Governor’s Budget is “laughable and insulting” when it comes to the minimum wage.

Governor Hochul’s alternative wage bill, advanced in her executive budget, would index New York’s minimum wage to inflation. (The minimum wage is already $15 an hour in New York City.)  By contrast, the bill proposed by Jessica Ramos in the State Senate and Latoya Joyner in the Assembly, would set solid numbers.  It would hike the minimum wage upstate to $16 next year, $18 the year after, and $20.00 in 2026, with inflationary indexing thereafter.

Note that the bill’s text does not explicitly call for a $21.25 upstate wage.  County legislator Veronica Pillar told Tuesday’s meeting that sponsors expect the upstate minimum to reach $21.25 by 2027. (The Ramos/Joyner bill would set the 2026 New York City wage at $21.25. Perhaps the placards were printed in Brooklyn.)

“Workers should not be living in poverty, especially in a country of plenty,” Pete Myers, Director of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, told the Legislature.  Myers claimed upstate minimum wages have risen 55 per cent since 2016.  “I’m not sure the sky has fallen in terms of business interests,” Myers opined.

Two notable Ithaca politicians addressed the issue as well.  Former Republican mayoral candidate Zach Winn provided the public’s only significant pushback.  

The increase, Winn asserted, “will disproportionately affect small business, exacerbate already out of control inflation,” and “create an even more hostile environment for businesses seeking employees.” Winn predicted that catapulting wages would accelerate automation and even lead to foreigners from South America taking your restaurant order in cyberspace.

First Ward Ithaca Alderperson Cynthia Brock, locked in a tight reelection battle against a progressive opponent, supported the County Legislature’s endorsement for its symbolic impact.  “It sends a strong message to your community that you understand what our community is going through,” Brock said.

Brock claimed that four-in-ten Tompkins County workers earn less than a living wage.  That figure, she said, rises to 50 per cent among Latinos and 75 per cent for Blacks.

“There is a disproportionate impact of this disparity on our communities of color,” Brock said.  The bill’s $16 next year’s wage is still less than a Living Wage, she observed.  As a result, “We’re still going to be behind the 8-ball.  We’ll still be coming back asking you for more support for our workers.”

“We’re still going to be behind the 8-Ball.” Ithaca Alderperson Cynthia Brock saying the bill is better, though still not enough.

“We are doing business in a global economy,” the evening’s other skeptical voice, Jennifer Tavares, President of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, warned legislators.  She called the much-lower federal $7.25 minimum wage “a huge enemy to any state that is trying to do better by increasing wages.”

Tavares argued that lower wages in neighboring states, those in which local firms may operate or where competitors exist, create “a very different economic situation, whether we like it or not.” 

Armed with a local business survey, the Chamber president reported that 63 per cent of respondents said the higher minimum wages would “impact them.”  42 of the 73 predicted they’d cut jobs or downsize through attrition.  A third would raise prices.  Ten employers warned they might close.

Once the public had its say, the legislators weighed in.  And they took the better part of an hour of talk-time before reaching a vote.

“I think we have an affordability issue in our community,” Dryden’s Greg Mezey said, Mezey one of only three Democrats to oppose the wage resolution.  To him reigning in the cost of living locally—and also throughout New York State—matters just as much as does the minimum wage.  Mezey mentioned specifically the rising costs of food and child care.

“What can we do to make it more affordable?” Mezey questioned.  “I don’t know if raising the wage is the way to do that.  I think there are other levers that we can look at within our purview.”

“This is a significant amount of money,” Republican Mike Sigler argued, Sigler predicting that if entry-level rages rise, everyone else on the payroll will demand a raise too.  It’s called “wage compression.”  And for Tompkins County government alone, Sigler said, a $4.64 hourly wage increase for everyone would translate into a budget bite of $7.2 Million, all of it borne by the taxpayers.  “This is a kind of state mandate upon our budget,” Sigler said.

“We have one of the highest minimum wages in the world,” Sigler said of New York’s current $14.20 upstate rate.  He claimed that only Australia’s minimum wage stands slightly higher.  And many other places, he noted, set different minimums based on age and skill level.

“I like going to the local ice cream stand,” Sigler commented. He claimed his daughter works at one.  “I don’t know whether the ice cream stand could absorb that kind of cost,” an hourly wage of $20 or more.

Or for that matter, the farmer. 

Groton’s Lee Shurtleff said he doesn’t have a Wegmans or a Walmart in his district.  Groton’s industry has left.  Only farmers and small businesses remain.

“Most of the owners of these small town small businesses and agricultural operations many months of the year aren’t essentially realizing a livable wage themselves when they get done making payroll, paying their property taxes, paying the heat bills, trying to keep things afloat,” Shurtleff asserted.

Groton’s Shurtleff: “The farmer, himself, may not earn a livable wage, once he keeps things afloat”

And without mentioning the Groton Health Care Facility directly, Shurtleff cautioned that the bill’s wage increases, without higher offsetting federal and state reimbursements, could “put it out of business.”

An unresolved mystery during the evening’s debate concerned how state legislative sponsors of the $21.25 minimum wage actually arrived at that number, a wage some 28 per cent above the supposed Living Wage that locals calculate.  Supporters had no ready answer, other than to say that living costs might rise roughly in tandem with the pay raises proposed.

“I’d sure like to understand it better before I vote for it,” Ithaca’s Rich John said.  John joined Mezey and Dryden’s Mike Lane as the only Democrats to oppose Tuesday’s action.

“I think it’s the wrong time to do this,” Lane said.  “We’re in a time of economic uncertainty.  He rattled off all sorts of business setbacks; like inflation, bank failures, a doubling of nursing home costs, and Borg Warner’s recent decision to send 1,500 of its Lansing plant’s manufacturing jobs to Mexico.

But Legislature Chair Shawna Black closed the debate by turning Lane’s argument on its head, Black countering that if now’s not the right time to raise wages, then when is?  During the pandemic, she argued, the poor got poorer, and maybe the rich got richer too.

Have no doubt where she stands. Hand-made signs Ulysses-Enfield legislator Anne Koreman placed upon her desk during the debate.

And then, the local Legislature’s Chair unloaded on Governor Hochul and the state Executive’s more modest wage increase her Executive Budget proposes.

“I personally have found the Governor’s Budget laughable and insulting,” Black said.  “I think that this effort demonstrates really her lack of connection with the people.”

But last Tuesday’s debate also demonstrates the governmental, political, and philosophical divide between all of us, the wide gulf that puts Shawna Black and Ken the custodian on one side, and business interests, Mike Sigler, and maybe also Governor Hochul on the other.  Is the payroll pot a bottomless jar to be spooned with abandon?   Or does dipping out too much from the top then empty it all too quickly and leave resources too few to replenish it?  When Ken the custodian benefits, do farmers suffer and fail?  And when well-intentioned, approval-seeking legislative Democrats overreach, does the (once great) Empire State shed jobs to other places, with Living Wages guaranteed to the fortunate few who benefit, but with unemployment assured for the remaining rest?

On the date of this writing, the last weekend of March, with action on a state budget due—though not expected—within seven days, the Raise the Wage Act sits in each House’s respective committees.  Both our local legislators, Assemblymember Anna Kelles and State Senator Lea Webb, stand as the bill’s proud co-sponsors.  Should you hold your own opinion based on what you’ve read, please weigh in.  Depending on the bill’s fate, you may win… or lose.


More on the County Legislature; Posted Previously:

Take the Money… Please!

Second Wind Funding takes maddening, muddling twists

“So we’re going to have to withdraw our application.” Second Wind’s David Shapiro to the County Legislature Tuesday.

By Robert Lynch, March 22, 2023

At 9:00, the pizzas arrived.  Hungry, debate-weary lawmakers devoured them.  But the nourishment did little to make sense of a most confusing, marathon meeting, a session in which those at the mic often chose simply to talk past one another.

In a surprise announcement to the Tompkins County Legislature, one that seemed more certain when light still lit the sky than it did five hours later when the meeting finally adjourned, Second Wind Cottages Tuesday withdrew its recently-revised request for Tompkins County Community Recovery Funds, moneys it would have used to expand its controversial homeless encampment in Newfield.

But a majority of legislators refused to take “no thanks” for an answer.  Following extended debate, and after first tossing out legislator Randy Brown’s initiative to defund the project altogether, a split Tompkins County Legislature adopted member Anne Koreman’s competing measure that accepted Second Wind’s amended plans and advanced the project to environmental review.

The pair of conflicting actions left Second Wind in a confusing muddle.  Second Wind Executive Director David Shapiro advised the Legislature late in its deliberations that he’d return to his Board of Directors and let them decide whether to rescind their earlier-directed withdrawal. 

“I’m hoping it will pass.” It did. Anne Koreman (l), with fellow 2nd Wind supporter Veronica Pillar, refusing to pull her Resolution despite Shapiro’s announcement.

Nonetheless, two sources close to the controversy each indicate that most likely the organization will hold firm to its intentions and drop the project’s $510,000 request in the interests of instilling harmony with Newfield.

“Relationships matter,” Shapiro told lawmakers as he availed himself of brief floor privileges at the meeting’s start, remarks that concluded with his stunning announcement of the application’s withdrawal. 

“Our whole programmatic philosophy is how to be good neighbors,” Shapiro explained.  “And I know the Town of Newfield’s position that they don’t support us right now in expanding.  And that hurts.”

“But what that tells me,” Shapiro continued, “is that we have some relationship building to do.” 

“So we’re going to have to withdraw our application,” the agency’s Director concluded.  “And I just want to thank you for considering us.”

Normally, that would be that.  Second Wind’s half-million dollar request would drop out, leaving other applicants—most notably the Town of Enfield and its Community Council, rejected in an earlier funding round—an opportunity to tap Community Recovery moneys now up for grabs   But not Tuesday. Not for Ulysses-Enfield legislator Anne Koreman, nor for the Democrat-dominated majority behind her.  They pressed ahead for Second Wind’s support.  And they prevailed.

“I’m not going to take it out,” Koreman insisted, referring to her Resolution to accept Second Wind’s proposed application revisions, even though they suddenly seemed irrelevant in light of Shapiro’s announcement.

Koreman reasoned that Second Wind pulled its application only because it had feared a legislative defeat.  “I’m hoping it will pass,” Koreman said.  “So I would like to keep my Resolution in.”

“I am amazed that the Legislature is pushing forward with this.” Supervisor Allinger, following 2nd Wind’s surprise withdrawal.

And it did pass… just barely.  With seven Democrats joining Koreman and all three Republicans in opposition, the Ulysses Democrat’s measure to accept Second Wind’s revised application passed eight votes to six.  Legislator Brown’s competing Resolution to defund Second Wind lost five votes to nine.  All Republicans supported Brown’s position.

Koreman’s adopted measure overruled an early-March recommendation of the Legislature’s Community Recovery Fund Advisory Committee.  The committee would have denied Second Wind’s request to substitute the construction of an additional 12 tiny “cottages” to house homeless men at the Newfield site, building them to replace the 25 “campsite:” shelters first proposed.  Second Wind’s plans changed after the Town of Newfield in February imposed a one-year moratorium on new campgrounds in the Town, a move directly targeting the Second Wind initiative and a step that effectively made the agency’s first plans unbuildable during the time frame the Recovery Fund allowed.

But passage of Koreman’s Resolution in no way assures the dozen cottages’ construction, even should the agency’s Board reverse course.  The project still needs environmental approval.  The Town of Newfield will likely oversee the report’s writing.  And Newfield’s review will likely be brutal, given the lopsided opposition expressed by Second Wind’s neighbors.

Three and a half-hours into Tuesday’s meeting and better than an hour into the Second Wind debate, Dryden’s Mike Lane had had enough.

“How long are we going to go on tonight, folks?” Lane interrupted.  “You have three-quarters of the agenda that we haven’t even gotten to.”  Fortunately for Lane, the final vote on Koreman’s Resolution came four minutes later, after members first rejected another lawmaker’s effort to toss the Koreman resolution back to committee.

“How long are we going to go on?” A frustrated Mike Lane, annoyed by the Tuesday meeting’s snail’s pace.

The Second Wind discussion felt longer-winded than it actually was.  That was due largely to a second item that legislators tackled Tuesday.  It addressed state-proposed Living Wage laws, an issue that packed the visitors’ gallery and drew the number of public comments to more than two dozen. (See separate story soon to be posted.)  Because of the meeting’s near record-setting length, the Legislature took the unusual step of throwing some agenda items overboard, including the County Administrator’s otherwise-newsworthy update on the potential building of a downtown Center of Government.

But where, exactly, does Second Wind’s withdrawn application now stand?  In the heat of Tuesday’s debate, Budget Chair Deborah Dawson sought an answer.

“Is there an application or is there not an application?” Dawson asked Second Wind’s Shapiro.  “Because if there is not an application, we are wasting our time.”

Still sitting in the gallery, Shapiro answered as definitively as he could.

“I was asked to come here and deliver a message that we don’t want to be in a posture where we’re defending ourselves and the work we do with our guys where we’re further stigmatizing the guys that live with us,” Shapiro answered.  “And we don’t want to have animosity with the Town,” he continued, the Director signaling that for those reasons his governing Board had asked him to withdraw the application.

But then, Shapiro continued.  “What I’m hearing tonight would make me want to go back and talk to them (the Board).  I can’t tell you what they’re going to say, ‘cause they told me to come to withdraw the application, and that’s what I came here to do today.”  

Rescind our withdrawal? I can’t tell you what the Board will say. Second Wind’s Shapiro leaving the agency’s stance uncertain.

“I believe David and I are on the same page,” Newfield Supervisor Michael Allinger later stated, Newfield’s chief executive welcoming further dialogue with Second Wind, yet mystified by the County’s continued insistence on Community Recovery funding.

“I am amazed that the Legislature is pushing forward with this when this is something that David has stated that they don’t want to have happen to them,” Allinger told lawmakers.  “Newfield certainly doesn’t want the animosity of the Legislature or ill will toward Second Wind,” the Supervisor continued.  “They are a part of our community.  They’ve been a part of our community for 13 years.  And I expect they’ll continue to be a part of our community, and hopefully a more integrated part of the community, and one that the people who live in our community will come to understand and have time to make their own decisions about how to move forward with this.  I don’t know how I can put it any other way.”

Newfield’s continued objection to Second Wind’s expansion took fire Tuesday on a couple of fronts.  Ithaca legislator Travis Brooks compared the town’s stance to the redlining that he, a Black man, experienced in his youth.  But it was Dryden’s Greg Mezey who leveled the strongest criticism.

“This is a painful conversation,” Mezey said, responding when Brown suggested that should Second Wind’s cottage expansion replace its campground concept, Newfield might just enact another moratorium to block it.

“People live there.  These are people’s homes,” Mezey said of Second Wind’s present and future residents.  “We’re trying to create more homes for more people.”  Yet those residents, he asserted, “are being sort of talked about and traded around like a commodity in conversation.”  Mezey labeled Newfield’s campground moratorium a “targeted, malicious approach.”

“That’s painful for me to listen to,” the Dryden legislator stated, “because that says that our local government, who is supposed to be there for the people, by the people, is taking a targeted approach  to kick something out of their community, to make sure people don’t have homes.  Like, find a way.”

“Right now, right here, this is our chance to do something,” Mezey concluded.  And if the Legislature votes Second Wind down, “then we should just take the unhoused conversation off the table because we really are just failing to do anything at all.”

Newfield’s is a “targeted, malicious approach.” Legislator Mezey pained by the Town’s moratorium against Second Wind.

Caution found support from some corners at Tuesday’s meeting, and not just from hometown legislator Brown and his Republican colleagues.

“I heard Dave Shapiro loud and clear,” Legislature Chair Shawna Black said as she attempted to steer debate toward acceptance of Second Wind’s reluctance.  “It sounds like they don’t want to pursue this, and I want to be respectful of that.” 

Those comments aside, Black still voted in favor of Koreman’s supportive motion and against Brown’s efforts to defund.

Budget Chair Dawson took the strongest stand in Newfield’s defense.

“If Second Wind and the Town of Newfield came up with a proposal that they both found agreeable, I wouldn’t have any problem with that,” Dawson said.  “But I firmly believe that Newfield, like any other municipality, has a right to make a decision about what it wants within its community.”

“And I don’t feel we as a county should violate the comity we owe a constituent municipality by forcing something on them that they don’t want,” the Lansing Democrat added.  Dawson voted in support of Brown’s motion, and against Koreman’s.

With Second Wind’s funding standing for the moment very much in a “no man’s land,” the next chapter, if not written by Second Wind’s own Board of Directors, may play out at the Community Recovery Fund Advisory Committee’s next meeting April third. 

“If we hear from Second Wind that they are continuing to withdraw their application, then the topic for that day will be reallocation of that money,” Advisory committee chair Dan Klein told a meeting whose members found themselves all too weary to consider the Recovery Fund for even one more minute.  But if Second Wind changes its mind, Klein surmised, “we probably don’t have a meeting.” as there’d be nothing to discuss April third.

And if Second Wind does, indeed, bow out, Randy Brown is prepared to pounce.  Brown has identified the $206,000 application by the Enfield Community Council and a pair of lower-priced Town of Enfield funding requests as prime candidates to soak up some of the $510,000 in Recovery Funds that Second Wind would likely shed.  But his efforts may not prove a slam-dunk.

“I want to be very clear that if that is what happens, and there’s $510,000, it’s not going to automatically go to Enfield and Newfield,” the Town of Ithaca’s Amanda Champion cautioned.  “It’s going to go to the best applications.”

Champion pointed to the comment of one speaker, namely this Enfield Councilperson, who’d earlier promoted those two towns’ eligibility, given that Enfield had been shut out the first time around.  Oh, to be sure, in some circles, the funding battle stands far from finished.


Posted Previously on this Story:

Enfield may Gain from Second Wind’s Stumble

by Robert Lynch, March 10, 2023

It’s early.  And to make it work, all the moving parts would have to move just right.  But a vote this week by a legislative oversight committee could free up Tompkins County Community Recovery Funds for some of the Enfield projects frozen out of downtown-administered moneys last December, including a mental health wing sought by the Enfield Community Council.

“They need to take a step back; evaluate.” Newfield’s Michael Allinger, pleading legislators not to approve Second Wind’s change.

“I’ll be fighting for Enfield,” County legislator Randy Brown told the Enfield Town Board Wednesday night.  Brown’s remark came two days after the Tompkins County Legislature’s Community Recovery Fund Advisory Committee rejected, two-votes-to-four, the application by Newfield-based Second Wind Cottages to substitute a dozen more tiny houses— so-called “cottages” for the homeless— to replace the 25 campsite-type shelters Second Wind had earlier proposed for Community Recovery funding.

A one-year moratorium on new “campgrounds” enacted in early-February by the Newfield Town Board, in response to local opposition to Second Wind’s proposed additions, has effectively nixed the campsite idea.  By the time the moratorium would eventually lapse, the Recovery Fund moneys would likely have dried up.

“Functionally, it’s dead,” County legislator Deborah Dawson predicted Monday just before the Advisory Committee voted down Second Wind’s proposed swap of one building proposal for the other.  Dawson opposed the Second Wind revision, as did Newfield’s Brown and two others.  Only Committee Chair Dan Klein and Ithaca legislator Veronica Pillar would have permitted the homeless advocacy group to apply its earlier-recommended $510,000 for the 12 new cottages instead.

After Monday’s meeting, and again to Enfield’s Board Wednesday night, Brown promised he’ll ask the full County Legislature, at its next meeting March 21st, to remove Second Wind’s pricey proposal completely from the list of eligible projects set to earn a slice of the county’s $6.5 Million Recovery Fund.

And if Second Wind drops out, Enfield projects could then drop in. 

“I will make my priority Enfield applications,” legislator Brown promised the Enfield Town Board in his pre-meeting written narrative Wednesday. 

The most likely candidate to snag leftover funding—since it barely missed the Advisory Committee’s funding cut last December—is the Enfield Community Council, with its $206,000 request to replace a dilapidated mobile add-on at its recently-purchased Community Center with a stick-built, multi-purpose wing designed, in part, to provide offices in Enfield for first-ever mental house counseling.

Also mentioned by Brown as potential candidates are three projects advanced by the Town of Enfield itself.

In its applications filed with the County’s consultant last October, yet never recommended for funding by the committee, the Town sought $26,591 to purchase communications radios for the Enfield Highway Department, and also $97,040 for a “Main Street Revitalization of Municipal Buildings” fix-up package, the latter application to include replacement of the Enfield Town Hall’s roof.

The Town sought an additional $225,000 to build an unheated storage building for Highway Department equipment.  But this “cold storage building” is now perhaps the longest of long shots.

Seizing the moment, the four attending members of the Enfield Town Board unanimously adopted a Resolution Wednesday supporting Brown’s efforts to advance the ECC, the portable radios, and the roof replacement measures both in the Advisory Committee and then before the full County Legislature.

“I’ll be fighting for Enfield.” Legislator Brown, before casting his vote Mar. 6 against Second Wind Cottages’ proposed application change.

Earlier-proposed—and committee-rejected—Enfield projects not mentioned by Brown for revived consideration in light of Second Wind’s rejection included the $1.2-1.6 Million Enfield Food Distribution application to build a new Food Pantry, and a lesser-priced request by the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company to be used, in part, to construct a bunk room.

Observers acknowledge that approval of legislator Brown’s late-day wish-list is far from a done deal.  First, the full Legislature later this month would need to drop Second Wind’s $510,000 allocation from its tentatively-approved funding roster.  Only then could Brown ask the Advisory Committee in early April to move the Enfield requests into contention.  Committee endorsement would later require the full Legislature’s endorsement.  And scores of other non-profit agencies and governmental groups—shut-out, as Enfield was, in last fall’s money-quest—stand equally eager to snatch the money that would be made available should Second Wind falter.

Newfield Councilperson Heather McCarty, perhaps her Town Board’s most progressive Democrat, sounded a whole lot like Republican legislator Brown Monday when she co-opted the talking point that Brown had spoken on the County Legislature’s floor in January.  McCarty maintained that the views of her neighbors too often get overlooked by Ithaca-centric lawmakers who may have all the best intentions, but yet a tin ear for listening.

“There’s a perception in the Town of Newfield,” McCarty said, “that while the County Government and county residents  have a lot of concern for many people who deserve help, that the rural residents of the county are considered second-class citizens, and that their opinion and needs do not matter.”

McCarty added, “I’m here today to request that the committee  and the County Legislature extend their consideration and compassion that they laudably have  for certain segments of the population, to the Town of Newfield as a whole.”

McCarty, like Town Supervisor Michael Allinger and Councilperson Joanne James—together a full three-fifths of the Newfield Town Board—who  all spoke at Monday’s meeting, stressed the lack of full-time supervision at the current 18-unit Second Wind Cottages site.  They also cited problems of  inadequate police and emergency medical presence and community resistance in their collective call for the Advisory Committee to turn down whatever Second Wind’s expansion might be.

Supervisor Allinger told the meeting he’s gotten “dozens of phone calls from the community speaking out unfavorably about the expansion.”

“One caller, Allinger said, “noted that she had young daughters and had concerns for the fact that there was a Level Three sex offender in residence there.”

Allinger also stated that Second Wind’s neighbors complain that the cottages’ residents strew garbage in neighbors’ yards along Route 13 and troop along the highway to a nearby convenience store where they then buy beer and patronize a “head shop.”

“We feel they’re at their capacity,” Allinger said of the homeless encampment, speaking at a meeting that Second Wind’s owners and organizers failed to attend, but to whom the Town Supervisor hoped they’d still listen.

“They need to take a step back, evaluate where they are,” Allinger said.  “The mission is fine.  I have no problem with reaching out to help the homeless.” 

Yet Newfield’s top elected official also saw Second Wind’s effort to date as an opportunity lost.

“I don’t think that they are doing the job that they could be doing with the numbers that they have currently, and that is the feeling that I’ve heard over and over with every person I’ve talked to,” Allinger said.

And yes, numbers did factor into the Advisory Committee’s Monday decision.  A spreadsheet shared by the Recovery Fund’s consultant compared how many might benefit from Second Wind’s 12 new tiny houses compared to the more transient-focused campground the applicant had first proposed.

The revised concept would house within an average year only enough homeless to fill the dozen new cottages.  Campsite shelters, by comparison, could provide temporary residence for up to “100 unique individuals.”

“The impact on folks that it would serve is much less,” Ithaca legislator Travis Brooks observed.  “That does create some problems for me in terms of supporting this,” Brooks said.  He cast his vote to reject Second Wind’s re-do.

“It’s an awful lot of money for twelve people,” Deborah Dawson echoed.  She calculated the drain on Recovery Fund money at about $50,000 a person.

“It doesn’t seem like we’d be getting an awful lot of bang for our buck,” Dawson said.

$50,000 a person? “Not a lot of bang for our buck.” Advisory Committee member Dawson.

Despite the Advisory Committee’s turndown this week, the originally-recommended $510,000 Community Recovery Fund handout to Second Wind Cottages technically still remains alive.  It’s just that the Newfield Campground Moratorium likely makes the project unbuildable.  That’s where legislator Brown’s March 21st defunding initiative would kick in.  But unless and until the full Legislature tosses the 25 camping shelters into the ashcan, the Town of Enfield and the ECC will just have to bide their time and wait their (possible) turns.

Still, the lesson learned for the moment is that hometown outrage and community advocacy makes a difference.  And any attempt by Second Wind Cottages to win back Tompkins County Community Recovery Fund support would certainly become a steep, uphill climb.

“I don’t think we as a county should be funding a project, encouraging a project, that the local community is so much against,” Dawson said Monday.

She probably has her finger on the pulse.  And Enfield would surely like to pick up any of the greenbacks that may litter along the Route 13 roadside should the Second Wind application meet its death later this month on the Tompkins County Legislature’s floor.


Posted Previously:

Tompkins’ Green New Divide

by Robert Lynch, March 8, 2023

When Tucker Carlson warns of Big Government barging in to confiscate your gas stove, maybe this is where it starts.

“It’s not going to be life as we know it now.” It’ll be “disastrous.” And what about my grandkids? Former County legislator Martha Robertson predicting climate doom Tuesday.

Tuesday night, on what was intended to be just another routine, rubber-stamp endorsement of a liberal green initiative in Albany, the Tompkins County Legislature split down party lines on whether state lawmakers should ban you from putting an oil furnace, a wood stove, or even a gas cooktop in any new home you build anywhere in New York as soon as next January.

“I would just like to remind the Legislature that this is a Resolution that doesn’t talk about something that we’re enacting here in Tompkins County,” Legislature Chair Shawna Black cautioned as lawmakers—and earlier, the public—took turns to weigh in on the issue and then run to their ideological battle stations.  “This is one of those resolutions that we send on to representatives…. It’s important.  But I don’t know if we need to go so deep in these resolutions,” Black maintained.

No matter.  This was about principle; and passion… and politics.   And moreover, did anyone in legislative chambers that night really believe a local recommendation would change any minds?  Ithaca’s Assemblymember, Democrat Anna Kelles, is among the “All-Electric Building Act’s” key co-sponsors. Democrats stack the State Senate and Assembly.  The building code’s ban on new gas stoves will likely pass, like it or not.

The Tuesday debate drew former County legislator Martha Robertson out of retirement, the Dryden Democrat clearly espousing the global warming doomsday scenarios that so many on the Left embrace without challenge, and that so many of their counterparts on the Right challenge without apology.

“This is going to be hard.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, nobody said it was going to be cheap,” Robertson, known when in the Legislature for her run-on monologues, said in floor privileges remarkably kept within their allowed three minutes.  But Robertson continued, “The fact is the alternative.  It’s not going to be life as we know it now.  The alternative is going to be harder and more expensive and disastrous for all of us.”

The retired legislator tried to envision what sort of climate her grandchildren might face when they reach her age by 2080.  “That’s a terrifying idea,” Robertson warned.  “What’s the world going to look like?  What’s the world going to look like in ten years?”

Former Tompkins County Environmental Management Council Chair Brian Eden shared Robertson’s concern.  Eden called climate change an “existential issue,” and welcomed the All-Electric Building Act as a means to an end.

“It actually is a climate emergency,” Eden insisted.  “But it’s not recognized as such by most people.”

And one of those in legislative chambers who refuses to accept the climate crisis as Eden views it is Lansing Republican Mike Sigler.  He, Newfield-Enfield’s Randy Brown, and Groton’s Lee Shurtleff, all Republicans, voted against the Legislature’s climate-conscious Resolution.  They were the only ones who did.

“They’re not making any more Niagara Falls.” Lansing’s Mike Sigler arguing for a supply-side solution, as legislators address state climate bills.

“The problem with this whole thing is,” Sigler told legislators, “it talks about demand…. We’ll tell people we’re going to electrify houses, we’re going to electrify cars.  And frankly, none of that matters.”

And, Sigler maintained, the argument doesn’t matter because electrical supply is lacking to meet the expected increased demand electrification will require.

“Right now in this state, 71 per cent of your electricity comes from fossil fuels,” Sigler said.  “That means 29 per cent comes from renewables.  But what they don’t tell you is that more than half  of that renewable  is made up by Niagara Falls.  And they’re not making any more Niagara Falls.”

Sigler’s remark revived a pro-nuclear argument he’s raised at prior meetings.  Tuesday it ignited a sidebar debate that Shawna Black eventually attempted to reign in.  Before she did, legislator Rich John conceded that as to nuclear, “We have to be open to have that conversation.”

Dryden’s Mike Lane put his opinion crisply.  “No to nuclear,” Lane said.  That remark, with Sigler, touched a nerve.

“Then I would have to question if is this actually an existential crisis?”  Sigler responded. 

“We can take this into any single thing that was an existential crisis like World War II,” Sigler continued, “when we were willing to sacrifice people on a beachhead to get into France.  So if this is an existential crisis that’s going to kill us all, and we are not willing to look at something that is tried and true and improved over the last 50 years with not a single U.S. death, and we’re not willing to look at that and the new technology that’s come over since the last half-century?  Then yes, it is not an existential crisis.”

Now it was time for the Legislature’s liberals to get incensed.  Ulysses Anne Koreman was one of two who quickly called to shut down the nuclear debate and bring matters to a vote.  When she did, the climate Resolution passed, 11 votes to three.

“I’m against fracking completely, I think it’s a bad idea,” Newfield’s Randy Brown remarked before casting his vote on Sigler’s side. “But I also think there’s a value for natural gas.”  And as for the resolution on the floor, Brown had this opinion: “I think it’s too aggressive.”

The “All-Electric Building Act,” sponsored by Manhattan’s Brian Kavanagh in the State Senate and Brooklyn’s Emily Gallagher in the Assembly, is one of those Albany bills that’s easy to ignore until it turns around and bites you.  The measure would speed up implementation of green building initiatives already advanced by Governor Hochul in her State of the State Address.

The bill’s “too aggressive;” I vote No. Randy Brown to the Legislature, Tuesday.

Put plainly, and giving no exception for single –family residences, the legislation would direct “the state fire prevention and building code council to prohibit the installation of systems that can be used for the combustion of fossil fuels in new construction.”  Governor Hochul’s timetable for the mandate would require any newly-constructed building less than seven stories tall to be all-electric by 2026, with taller structures to be the same by 2029.

The Kavanaugh/Gallagher bills that the County Legislature endorsed Tuesday would move up those dates by two years each.  Should they pass, no new home could have a fossil-fueled energy source after this December.

Lost, of course, in the debate is the fact that fossil fuels still generate most of our electricity, and that the initiatives Martha Robertson and Brian Eden so fervently support carry more of an aspirational feel to them, rather than arguments based on cold, hard logic.

Tuesday’s adopted resolution also backed other pending green initiatives in Albany, including one that Lansing’s Sigler termed a “cap and trade” payment system that Sigler argued would only mean higher power bills to consumers.

“This necessarily increases the cost of electricity on every single constituent I have,” Sigler argued.  “And frankly, they’re tapped out.”

To be truthful, no one’s coming after your existing gas cook stove or oil furnace… at least not quite yet.  But if the measure endorsed be Tompkins lawmakers Tuesday night becomes law, don’t expect to put one of them into any new home you build next year.  That’s freedom of choice, New York style.


Posted Previously:

Hearing Set; Questions Remain

Enfield’s “Breezy Meadows” to go to the People in April

Outside one of 13 long (and long-abandoned) poultry barns on the former J.W Kinney Farm

by Robert Lynch, March 4, 2023

In the minds of many, it may be the Enfield development that few really want, yet nobody knows exactly how to stop.  And even if the town had a razor-sharp zoning law, any effort to halt it might not fare much better.

Wednesday (March 1st), the Enfield Town Planning Board, by unanimous vote, advanced the proposed “Breezy Meadows Farm” large-lot rural subdivision to an April 5th Public Hearing.  By a similarly unanimous vote, planners designated their own Board to act as the lead agency in a state-mandated environmental review of the project, sandwiched between Podunk and Halseyville Roads. 

As it appeared from this observer’s vantage point in the room that night, Board members saw little alternative to doing what they did.  Yet one could infer that if New York Land & Lakes Development had never come forth with its plan to carve up the former John William Kinney farm into building lots, planners would not have shed one tear.  But Land & Lakes has played by the book.  And to deny developers a hearing now would most likely prompt a lawsuit.  That’s the dilemma.

The Planning Board’s scheduling of the April hearing Wednesday followed a laborious, more than two-hour review of Land & Lakes’ preliminary “Breezy Meadows” subdivision plan.  It included a property plat more refined than that first disclosed to planners—and to potential neighbors—three months earlier.  Review also included the developer’s 145-page Environmental Report.

“I don’t have a problem with the plat as it is,” Chair Dan Walker said near the close of the Planning Board’s review.  “All the lots meet the minimum requirements,” Walker said, “and there’s more than enough frontage.”

Walker asked other Board members if they had any concerns about the subdivision’s configuration.  None said they did.

Instead, Wednesday’s Board concerns trod a different path.  Members questioned how the proposed 33-lot subdivision, taken in aggregate, would impact local roads in handling increased traffic;  how new housing would affect the water table, and  how anyone would enforce the deed restrictions that Land & Lakes intends to write into every sales contract it signs.

Not since perhaps the infamous Black Oak Wind Farm debate of a decade ago has a proposed Enfield development prompted more public concern than has Breezy Meadows.  In early-December, residents of the town’s northwest quadrant flocked to the Planning Board’s monthly meeting after an anonymous someone stuffed Breezy Meadows’ initial site sketches into mail boxes.  Some voiced critical comments to the Planning Board December 7th.  However, since that year-end session, public outcry has quieted.  Only three prospective neighbors attended last Wednesday’s meeting.  They offered brief questions, but gave no public statements. 

The Planning Board’s March agenda provided no privileges of the floor.  By contrast, the April Public Hearing will be publicly advertised and noticed widely.  Expect a robust public turnout then.

Standing prominently—albeit sadly—within the 337-acre Breezy Meadows tract are 13 long, low-slung poultry barns, metal structures long-abandoned, deteriorating, and a few falling in.  The Environmental Report’s narrative states that the barns were built by the former Babcock Poultry farm in 1972, then leased to a swine-raising operation 12 years later.  Abandoned since 1994, the barns stand either empty or filled with junk.  The land around them has grown to brush.

“They’re pretty substantial buildings.  I don’t see the point in tearing them down,” Land & Lakes Project Manager Alan Lord told the Planning Board Wednesday.  Lord said the future opportunities for the buildings have led his firm to designate the development’s four lots facing Podunk Road for possible commercial use.  Each lot would encompass three of the large barns, some of them 500 feet long. 

“So if anyone wanted to develop this into commercial, they’d need site plan approval,” Board Chair Walker cautioned.  A future agricultural use, however, might be exempt.

Tucker Road:  Planning Board review of the Breezy Meadows subdivision began with discussion of what could become the greatest concern for Enfield taxpayers town-wide.  The Board addressed how the developer’s plans to add more than 20 new building lots along Tucker Road would impact the lightly-traveled, poorly constructed dirt and gravel road that bisects the project site.

“Fibber McGee’s Barn?” Inside one of the abandoned hen houses at what may become “Breezy Meadows.”

“The road is not very strong.  It’s a pretty soft road,” Walker remarked.  He indicated he’d discussed Tucker Road’s status with Town Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins. 

“It’s a public road; it’s a legal road,” Walker conceded.  “But the Highway Department says that with lots more traffic, it will need additional maintenance,” the Board Chair continued.  “We have provisions in the Subdivision Regulations to demand improvements on the road.”

But do they?  Nuance could become the basis for legal argument here.

When a developer plans to sell building lots fronting a newly-built road, Enfield rules require the developer pay to build the road and then deed it to the Town.  But when lots front on a road that already exists, any municipality’s demands for an upgrade stand on shakier soil, and in more ways than one.

“I look at it as a Town Road,” Land & Lakes’ Alan Lord responded. “We do not have a budget” for that kind of improvement, Lord added.

Lord did not categorically rule out contributing to Tucker Road’s improvement, but neither did he commit to it.  A similar upgrade of Aiken Road—used Wednesday as a benchmark comparison—cost the Town of Enfield $160,000 when undertaken in 2020, according to budget documents.

“We’re not going to instantly build houses,” Lord advised the Planning Board, the project manager signaling that Breezy Meadows’ traffic growth would be gradual, not sudden.  Lord said his firm’s experience is that within the first ten years of a development, only one-quarter of the parcels get built out.

Only three homes stand alongside Tucker Road right now.  Walker estimated that Tucker  presently gets  “4-10 vehicle trips a day in and out.”  The Board Chair said he’d contact Rollins to obtain updated cost estimates for recommended improvements.

“I don’t think we need an adversarial process,” Board member Mike Carpenter remarked, suggesting negotiation with the developer should come before confrontation.

“We’ll talk offline about it,” Walker told Alan Lord, putting Tucker Road’s fate to bed for the evening.

Deed Restrictions: “This seems like a really bad way to do things,” Mike Carpenter observed as the Planning Board addressed another troublesome aspect of the Breezy Meadows plan: deed restrictions and whether there’d be any easy way to enforce them.

Ghosts of the poultry past. A Babcock pouch the Environmental Report’s authors found inside one of the Breezy Meadows’ barns.

Project developers propose to condition sale of  every lot they sell on about a dozen and a half restrictions that would, among other things, prevent the placement of single-wide manufactured homes on a lot, prohibit a purchaser from further subdividing a lot, and also—rather subjectively—require a purchaser’s outdoor lighting to be kept to a minimum and directed mainly downward.  At a prior meeting, Land & Lakes had admitted that many of the proposed Enfield rules were lifted as boiler-plate from restrictions imposed at the company’s subdivision in more heavily-regulated Dryden.

“Who enforces them?” Carpenter asked of Alan Lord and his partner Bob Esperance.

“One of the other property owners could stop (a breach of the covenant),” Lord answered.

“It seems so uninformed as a plan,” Carpenter responded.

“If there’s a better way, I’m all ears,” Lord rebutted.

Much as they’d like to think they could, planners admitted the Town of Enfield holds no enforcement power. Only other subdivision purchasers—or Land & Lakes itself—would hold legal standing to enforce what amounts to a private contract, not a government regulation.

“Can the Town pass a law to enforce these covenants?” Board member Henry Hansteen asked.

“Not to just these lots,” Carpenter answered Hansteen.

“You’d be zoning just one corner of the town,” Lord explained.

The project manager couldn’t recall any of his company’s purchasers ever having to take a neighbor to court in the past 20 years for a covenant violation.  Enforcement comes more likely, he said, through one-on-one discussions as well as from how a violation could cloud a title or pose problems in securing a mortgage.

Of the restrictions proposed, Lord said, “We’re just trying to remind people to be good neighbors.”

Greg Hutnik, the Planning Board’s newest member, raised another problem.  New York State regards single-wide mobile homes as residences, Hutnik claimed.   As a result, he said, it’s hard to screen them out.

“I’d want to keep the mobile home restrictions in these,” Managing Partner Lesperence, responded.

“It’s not legally enforceable by the Town,” Hansteen reminded the developer.

One resident asked briefly about whether 33 new homes would reduce groundwater supplies to neighboring properties.

Lord did not see a problem.  He said he’d checked data the state has required well drillers to supply since the start of the millennium.  “There are quite a few wells in the inventory,” Lord claimed.  Many, he said, are pumping 8-10 gallons per minute.  That, Lord said, is “pretty good.”

As for the future of Breezy Meadows, the early-April Public Hearing will tell us more; whether neighbors in the area will accept the presumed inevitable slicing and dicing of a once wide-open chicken and hog farm, or whether they’ll choose to stand and fight.  But even if Enfield were to change course and abandon its long-held community resistance to zoning, a ready remedy may not remain easily at hand.  Breezy Meadows’ proposed lots are generally three-30 acres in size.  It’s hard to block a housing subdivision with that much open space and with building lots that large.

New York Land & Lakes reportedly paid $1.6 Million for the J.W. Kinney farm.  And when big money meets a limited supply of land, turning open fields into building lots becomes a hard thing to stop.


Posted Previously:

The “Death” of a Good Judge

LaSalle, the Democratic Party, and Me

[And Now, Posted After: ECC may ask Town Board to close $20K Budget Gap;

Plus: CMC COVID Sampling Site to remain at Mall; Exec says lives saved; ]

“We can’t walk away from it because it’s hard…. and uncomfortable” Senator Mayer, opposing Judge Hector LaSalle and promoting an activist judiciary, February 15th.

Analysis and Commentary by Robert Lynch, February 20, 2023

Lea Webb, my State Senator, disappointed me last week.  So did 37 of her Democratic Party colleagues, members of New York’s upper chamber.  Each of them put politics above principle, innuendo over intelligence, and rejected a skilled, experienced jurist, Hector LaSalle, to become Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, New York’s Highest Court.  When they did, dismissing the choice of their own—and my own—party’s governor, Kathy Hochul, they betrayed the public’s trust.  And they betrayed mine as well. 

With LaSalle’s rejection, I have lost confidence in the majority party that governs our Empire State. The wound that the majority Democrats inflicted on me, and on us, cuts deep.  It may never heal.  And because the party that holds the votes in Albany to enact our laws and confirm our judges has chosen to walk away from me, I may choose, in time, to walk away from them.  The choice of a Chief Judge matters to me.  It matters a lot.  Hector LaSalle’s rejection may force for me a pivotal course correction.

Governor Hochul, with minimal fanfare, nominated Hector LaSalle to the Court Appeals a few days before Christmas.  An expanded State Senate Judiciary Committee, packed last-minute with Hector-hostile partisans, rejected the Chief Judge nominee January 18th.  By just one vote, it failed to advance LaSalle’s name to the floor.  For weeks, the Majority Leader, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and her Democratic allies blocked any prospect of bringing the LaSalle nomination to the Senate floor and to allow all 63 Senators to decide the judge’s fate.  Republicans sued, arguing the State Constitution demands a floor vote regardless of the committee’s recommendation.

Suddenly, surprisingly, Stewart-Cousins relented.  Last Wednesday, Democrats hastily moved the nomination to the Senate floor, and just as hastily, hugging party allegiances, they voted the nomination down.  The 20-39 defeat saw all but one of the Democrats present opposing LaSalle.  Just one attending Republican opposed his advancement.  Hooray for Democrat Senator Monica Martinez of Long Island.  She, alone, had the courage to buck her party and support LaSalle.  Ms. Martinez, I do not cast you in with the rest of your sorry lot.

Raising the bar of public discourse. His opinion. Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal.

“Haven’t we changed the game in Albany?” Senator Brad-Hoylman-Sigal, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, crowed Wednesday during a partisan-poisoned pre-vote debate.  “This is a new beginning for the way we review judicial nominations, all nominations, legislation, all matters of public import.  I think that’s something we should be proud of.”

Maybe for you, maybe for Democrats, but not for me.  Hoylman-Sigal proved particularly hostile to Hector LaSalle during the committee’s January confirmation hearing.  He often snarled at the nominee, never smiling, pointedly faulting LaSalle, and doing so particularly harshly, for LaSalle’s accepting cross-endorsement by the New York Conservative Party in a prior campaign for a lower court’s elective office.  One suspects Hoylman-Sigal lives for political combat and for little else.  I suspect he has more political sycophants than he has genuine friends.

“We can find a better nominee to lead this Court.  And we need to do it ASAP.”  Hoylman-Sigal said before he cast his vote against Hochul’s nominee, “because we have a court system that is teetering on the brink of disaster.”

His opinion.  Not mine.

Senate rejection puts the nomination of Chief Judge back to square one.  An advisory panel will come up with a new list of seven finalists for the appointment, from whom Governor Hochul will select a new nominee.  Many on that new list could be some on the old list from which Hochul chose LaSalle.  The process could take months.  Our seven-member Court of Appeals could remain one jurist short into summer.  The Court’s remained short-handed since the prior Chief Judge, Janet DiFiore, resigned under an ethics cloud last July.

Back when Hector LaSalle barely mattered. Governor Hochul, announcing the appointment, last December.,

“Now that the full Senate has taken a vote, I will work toward making a new nomination,” Governor Hochul dictated in a transparently terse three-paragraph statement, spilled from her office’s press room after Wednesday’s vote.  It had a lick-your-wounds quality to it; focusing on the majority’s concession to a floor vote, rather than lamenting LaSalle’s rejection. 

“This vote is an important victory for the Constitution. But it was not a vote on the merits of Justice LaSalle, who is an overwhelmingly qualified and talented jurist,” Hochul stated.  She was right.

Some pundits have suggested that the Senate’s rejection of LaSalle could poison the well of intra-party political discourse in Albany, where Democrats hold veto-proof supermajorities in both the Senate and Assembly, and upcoming budget discussions often devolve to those secretive “three men (and now, women) in a room,” smoke-filled confabs, absent the nicotine.

“There’s other issues where you find common interests,” the Governor told an Albany radio host just prior to Wednesday’s vote.  “I think that’s what New Yorkers want to occur. Not to have us in our respective corners with our gloves up and ready to fight.”

We’ll see.  New York’s bloated, proposed budget weighs in at $227 Billion.  It’s due for adoption April 1.

A “Liberal Lion” is what Senate Democrats seek, I wrote in a January 24th commentary on the nearly five-hour confirmation grilling that led to Hector LaSalle’s rejection by the Judiciary Committee.  Legal observers see the Court’s residual bench as evenly-split; three judges confirmed liberals, the remaining trio somewhat to their right.  So the Chief Judge appointment, to Democrats, becomes an opportunity for a much-sought lurch-to-the-left. 

No doubt, last year’s rejection of the Legislature’s Democratic-gerrymandered redistricting maps is not lost on the majority’s mind.  Former Chief Judge DiFiore, a perceived centrist-conservative, cast the deciding vote to invalidate those maps.  Liberals want nothing more like that in the future.  Their progressive agenda, they’d argue, most deserves a true believer to carry their water.

Quiet that day, but still voting “No.” Our State Senator, Lea Webb.

During that hour and 15-minute Senate debate last Wednesday, the shadows of Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas repeatedly loomed about the chamber.

“We know that at the federal level, our Supreme Court is a complete mess,” downstate Senator Andrew Gounardes asserted.  Gun rights have been expanded; abortion rights restricted.  “So at a time when this is happening at our national government, it’s even more important that state judiciary, that our state government, be both a bulwark and a beacon, in protecting and advancing the same rights that our federal Supreme Court is so quickly eroding,”  Gounardes emphasized.

In Gounardes’ opinion, Hector LaSalle stands too cautious and conservative amidst this legal onslaught.  “He saw the law as a narrow tool, and not as an expansive tool, sword and shield to protect the rights of litigants, to protect the rights of workers, to protect the rights of women, and so many others,” the Senator insisted.  But note how Gounardes cherry-picks the subset  of litigants who matter most to him.

“I met with the judge, and I thought he was extremely nice,” Albany-area Democrat Neil Breslin observed. “I thought he was capable, but he didn’t pass the total test in my estimation.”  Breslin, too, voted no.

“There is a context in which the people of this state woke up to realize that judges really matter,” Westchester Democrat Shelly Mayer said in explaining her opposition.  “What happened in my district is that people woke up and said, ‘Are you kidding me?  Who we pick as a judge really matters.’”

New York Courts should be a “bulwark and a beacon.” Democrat Gounardes.

“We’re not asking for a judge who calls balls and strikes,” Mayer tellingly stated, employing the baseball umpire analogy others used.  “We’re asking for judges who apply the law and understand the context of what the implication of a decision means for millions of New Yorkers.”

Mayer, like Senator Gounardes, viewed Judge LaSalle’s legal outlook as too narrow.  “And a consistently narrow interpretation of the law,” Mayer stated, “really is a risk to our individual constituents.” 

Mayer called the day’s decision “impactful and so important.”  “We can’t walk away from it because it’s hard; because it’s uncomfortable,” she said.  But neither can Mayer, Gounardes or their three dozen fellow Democrats walk away from the political agenda that underlies their action. 

Their words clearly amplify intent.  They seek not so much a competent, knowledgeable arbiter of legal fairness as they do a loyal judicial lapdog, someone who will stretch statutes like an elastic band regardless of precedent and bend the state Constitution so as to amend it from the bench in ways that liberals find too messy or unpopular to enact through the will of the voters.

And either through ignorance or artifice, LaSalle’s Democratic opponents suggest something else.  They seek to hoodwink voters into thinking the New York Court of Appeals holds some magical power to countermand the U.S. Supreme Court.  In truth, it works the other way.  Yes, a state court may expand constitutional liberties beyond federal standard.  (That’s how the Court of Appeals in 2004 invalidated New York’s Death Penalty.) But federal supremacy prevents New York from constricting liberties that the Supreme Court insists the U.S. Constitution protects.  The likes of Shelly Mayer may hate the overruling of New York’s concealed carry law.  But even if state courts affirm Albany’s patchwork replacement to the law that Justice Thomas and his majority last year struck down, the Supreme Court’s majority could always declare the new law null and void.  Mayer doesn’t tell you that, though I’m sure she knows it.

“New York has a broad constitution.” But broad enough for a crisis pregnancy center? Senator Ryan, who obscured LaSalle’s stand on abortion rights.

Senator Sean Ryan would impose a straight-jacketed career litmus test upon the next Chief Judge, one Hector LaSalle, a former prosecutor, could never meet.  “My prism is someone who’s spent most of his career as  a lawyer helping the dispossessed,” the Buffalo-area Democrat told colleagues.  “New York State  needs a Chief Judge who has a broad vision of the law, has a broad vision of how law affects society, and knows that the decisions of those courts affect everybody in society.”

I’ll credit Senator Ryan for at least being factually correct—albeit evasive—in raising for his rebuke Judge LaSalle’s handling of the one case which liberal critics most distort.  It’s Evergreen Association Inc. v. Schneiderman.  “The judge went out of their (sic) way to assert the rights of a crisis pregnancy center to somehow give them equal footing to spread disinformation to people in our society,” Ryan stated.

LaSalle’s opponents would like us to think that Evergreen was a holding hostile to abortion rights.  When they do, they twist the truth, and it’s time to set the record straight. 

When it decided Evergreen in 2017, the mid-level court on which Hector LaSalle sits ruled that the First Amendment’s Right of Association limited the State Attorney General’s reach to subpoena a Christian-aligned crisis pregnancy center’s operational and staffing records in his effort to evict center operations from a medical office building.  The Appellate Court’s unanimous holding only limited—it did not block—the A.G.’s efforts to probe whether a volunteer-staffed center that provided sonograms and pregnancy tests amounted to unauthorized practice of medicine.

To assert, as LaSalle’s critics have so brazenly done, that Hector LaSalle’s joining a unanimous bench in this most diminutive crumb of legal procedure somehow makes the nominee anti-choice and unfit to serve, is to steer public sentiment on the basis of a boldfaced lie.  Moreover, the strategy postures the anti-LaSalle Senate majority as not so much pro-abortion rights, as actually pro-abortion itself.  Taken to its logical conclusion, Senator Sean Ryan and his liberal allies would seem to prefer that medical alternatives to abortion simply should not exist.  And by citing LaSalle’s Evergreen holding as a disqualifier for promotion, Senate Democrats imply just that.

Majority Democrats would rather you read only their bumper-sticker, not the case itself.  In Evergreen, Judge LaSalle had wisely sought to expand reproductive options, not limit them, albeit on fine-spun procedural grounds. 

State Senate Republicans number just 21, their ranks only strong enough to raise a polemic rejoinder. By and large, they backed LaSalle.

“He has applied the law that has been passed by the Legislature,” Nassau County Republican Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick said in defense of Judge LaSalle and his record.  “And that’s the job of the judiciary; to apply the law, not to legislate.”

“I support this nominee.  I worked with the nominee.  He is an incredible jurist who calls balls and strikes,” Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Anthony Palumbo said in support of LaSalle.  “And he’s a plain old liberal Democrat, which apparently isn’t good enough.”

The Democrats’ solution? “We’ll pack the Court with activists.” Republican critic Palumbo.

Suffolk County’s Palumbo is the Senator who filed suit to bring LaSalle’s nomination to the floor.  The case was argued in court last Friday, with the judge then reserving decision.  Some suggest the suit twisted Democratic leadership’s arm just enough to bring about last Wednesday’s vote. 

“We seem to have a group of members who think that, well, if we can’t change the Constitution, then let’s change the courts,” Palumbo chided his Democratic opposition.  “So we’re now going to pack a court with activists who choose not to follow the law, unlike Justice Hector LaSalle, who simply calls balls and strikes.”

Indeed.  “This is a conversation about changing the strike zone, Palumbo’s Long Island Republican colleague Steven Rhoads echoed, Rhoads continuing the debate’s frequent throwback to baseball.  “Because what the majority is doing, they’re not interested in somebody calling balls and strikes; they’re interested in somebody who’s going to call balls and strikes the way they want them called.”

Senator Rhoads called the majority’s handling of the LaSalle nomination “an embarrassment.”  Staten Island Republican Andrew Lanza agreed.

“I think people are sick of this kind of politics,” Lanza asserted.  “I think it’s wise that people back home don’t trust us, any of us, either party, because they see these types of games being played.”  The downstate Republican stands wisely aware of how cynical we voters can be.

Dems want a “wink-and-nod” judge on the bench.” Republican Lanza.

“We all know why the nominee did not come to the floor” in a timely manner, Lanza continued.  “It’s because the nominee refused to give the old wink-and-nod that when he’s on the bench, he would refuse to honor the Constitution, and he would pass and support whatever radical agenda that came to his decision-making desk.”

Democrats Luis Sepulveda of the Bronx and Kevin Thomas of Long Island had each supported LaSalle in committee, yet neither attended Wednesday’s session to cast their votes.  Perhaps their absence reveals the power of Andrea Stewart-Cousins to close ranks.  Or perhaps it reveals something else.  No matter.  Even had they been present, Hector LaSalle would have lost.

Binghamton’s Lea Webb, Tompkins County’s State Senator, spoke not a word during the February 15th floor debate, the 52nd District representative casting her vote in opposition to the LaSalle nomination, but offering no statement on her office’s website to elaborate on why she did.


So Hector LaSalle, New York State’s here-today, gone-tomorrow nominee to lead its Highest Court, retreats to relative obscurity. He continues his role as Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division’s Second Department, one of four regional, mid-level appellate courts in the state, LaSalle’s covering part of New York City and the counties surrounding it.  LaSalle won’t serve us, except through the overlapping precedents other regional courts may choose to observe.

Senator Palumbo, meanwhile, presses forward with his lawsuit to demand future judicial nominations reach the State Senate’s floor regardless of how Hoylman-Sigal’s committee treats them.  Majority leader Stewart-Cousins’ lawyers asserted in court Friday that the issue is now moot and that Palumbo lacks standing to sue.  Palumbo’s counsel counters that the case remains alive as Hochul’s next nomination could repeat the process. 

News reports say State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan expressed interest in the case during oral arguments Friday.  The judge termed it a “constitutional crisis,” assigning the judiciary “the duty and the obligation… to rule on the constitutional solution.”  Though Whalen’s ruling on the merits is imminent, an appeal of any decision remains probable.  It could rise to the now ideologically-split Court of Appeals.

“Everybody is paying attention, riveted, to who’s sitting in these seats, who’s sitting in the judiciary, who’s making these decisions,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters following the full Senate’s vote. “So it was not inappropriate for us, with the eyes of the nation and the eyes of the state on us, to look for a nominee that was able to lead the court in this really, really critical time.”

Leaving the gallery as the votes were cast. Justice Hector LaSalle. (photo courtesy Will Waldron, Albany Times-Union)

But look at a nominee what way?  Should a judge be merely a judge?  Or must he also serve as a legislator of last resort?  New York Democrats count on your inattention and political outrage to permit them to impose their supermajority muscle over a separate branch of State Government, and to do so in a way that weakens the independent judiciary and transforms the courts into a reliable enforcer of liberal will.  Separation of powers matters.   Democracy matters.  Quite plainly, in the war of words February 15th, Republicans made the better argument.  The GOP sought blind justice.  Democrats revealed they’d prefer that “wink-and-nod” from behind the blindfold.

Hector LaSalle drove up the Hudson from New York City last Wednesday and sat more or less alone in the Senate gallery, high above the floor, to watch the career opportunity of a lifetime evaporate before his eyes.  He sat in silence.  He declined reporters’ questions afterward.  LaSalle knows he fell victim to an ideological agenda engineered by perfectionist zealots within his own party, Governor Hochul’s own party—and sadly, also, my own party.  I hope Hector LaSalle took a deep breath of fresh air as he exited the State Capitol that day.  Because inside the chamber, the room truly stunk.


To Enfield:

Community Council Faces $20K Budget Gap

By Robert Lynch, February 24, 2023

“It’s not a balanced budget, and I’d like a balanced budget,” Enfield Community Council Board member Debbie Teeter told the ECC’s Board of Directors at its annual meeting Thursday.  Teeter presented—and the Board then approved unanimously—a 2023 Budget containing a nearly $20,000 shortfall between projected revenues  and expenses.

Awwww, Love! Unidentified couple at the Community Council’s Grown Up Gala, Feb. 11 (as posted on ECC’s Facebook Page.)

Teeter indicated she intends to ask the Enfield Town Board to close the funding gap with a special, one-time appropriation.  She said the funds could be drawn from money given Enfield under the federal government’s American Rescue Plan.  Teeter said she may have the request ready for the Town Board’s March 8 meeting, or else present it in April.

“We need some money this year, and I will probably need some money next year,” Teeter acknowledged.  She later suggested ECC might request a $10,000 special appropriation in 2024.

ECC President Cortney Bailey blamed the pandemic for revenues lagging behind costs.  “We’re getting there,” Bailey claimed, “but we should have been there two years ago.”

Bailey and Teeter explained that the several years of COVID-related shutdowns and social restrictions reduced projected event bookings for ECC’s recently-purchased community center, the former Living Water Church.  And COVID also substantially cut the number of participants at ECC’s summer day camp, or else suspended the camp altogether.

As adopted by the agency’s Board Thursday, the ECC Budget projects this year’s expenses at $163,930, and revenues at $144,502.  Projected revenues would rise by nearly 26 per cent from moneys received in 2022.  Budgeted expenses would climb by only 1.5 per cent.

The ECC Board has taken an optimistic outlook for its year-ahead event bookings.  Its budget projects a more than seven-fold rise in building revenues.  Rental for the community center’s “Great Room,” the former church sanctuary, would rise from $700 collected in 2022 to $7,150 projected for 2023.  ECC predicates the increase, in part, on its hopes to host five weddings and five “celebrations” during the current year.

While ECC’s leadership regrets the need to seek a short-term Town Board bailout, Teeter acknowledged that the recent past has proven far worse than the near future appears to look.

Largely due to depressed revenues, ECC incurred a more than $46,000 financial shortfall for the year just ended.  Teeter said the Community Council had to dip into long-held financial reserves to close last year’s gap.

Under its multi-year contract with the agency, the Town of Enfield, according to the budget, will provide the ECC $52,456 during 2023.  This taxpayer subsidy constitutes ECC’s largest single revenue item.  Camp fees, at a projected $41,275, would provide the second-highest revenue source.

Any supplemental Town funding would be in addition to the assistance provided under contract.


Also at its annual meeting Thursday, the ECC Board amended its bylaws to expand agency Board membership from its current nine members to a maximum of 11 directors.

“This building is a huge responsibility,” Debbie Teeter explained.  “The Board is too small now for the building.”

Some on the Board, including Teeter, briefly considered an expansion to as many as 13 directors, four more than at present.  But ECC President Cortney Bailey preferred a go-slow approach, observing that expanding the board too much too fast could lead to problems obtaining a quorum at meetings.  Under its rules, at least half of those appointed directors would need to attend a meeting for ECC to conduct business.

“There are things (like) too many cooks in the kitchen,” Bailey remarked, the president saying she’d prefer more active volunteers participating in ECC activities rather than appointment of an exceedingly large Board.  “I’d really rather go slow and get the quorum we need,” Bailey said.

As part of its annual business, the ECC Board reappointed six of its current members to new, two-year terms.  No one was appointed to the two additional slots the ECC created.

And annual meeting attendees took time to bask in the success of ECC’s most recent event, the “Grown Up Gala,” a semi-formal prom for adults, the Gala held for the first time February 11.  Some 40 people attended, including up to a dozen couples.

“This qualifies as a very large hit,” Bailey proclaimed.


CMC Exec claims testing efforts saved 181 Lives

Sampling Site to stay put as Tompkins subsidies end

by Robert Lynch, February 22, 2023; expanded reporting February 23, 2023

Despite a momentary scare blamed on a CEO’s inadvertent twist of the tongue, Cayuga Medical Center made clear Wednesday it has no plans to shutter its much-heralded and heavily-used COVID-19 Sampling Site at the Shops at Ithaca Mall in Lansing.  The testing Site’s operation will continue despite declining numbers of patient samples drawn and the ending of Tompkins County Government’s subsidy to the facility.

Investments were made and lives were saved.” CMC’s Stallone to the legislative committee, Wednesday.

Talk of the sampling site’s future emerged as Cayuga Health Systems’ President, Martin Stallone, praised the three-year old sampling effort and his hospital’s role in it to the Tompkins County Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

“We were several times more tested and had a several times lower positive rate than the next highest county,” Stallone said, the executive blanketing the committee with comparative statistics and a step-by-step timeline chronicling how Cayuga Health’s local sampling effort began in March 2020 and wound to the present three years later.

Though Tompkins County financial support for the mall-based sampling center ended in December, Stallone did not at Wednesday’s meeting ask County lawmakers for any more money.  And neither did committee members raise that possibility. 

Rather, the direction of Stallone’s half-hour briefing became one of COVID viewed through the rear-view mirror.  He reported Cayuga Health performed more than 2.7 Million COVID-19 tests during the nearly three-year period.  279,000 of those samples were drawn at the Lansing mall’s drive-through site.  Many more were performed on college campuses.  Tompkins County funded the cost of more than 75,000 of the tests.

“Those funds that came through those tests paid for more than simply the test,” Stallone explained, the administrator revealing, now in hindsight, the rather fungible nature of Tompkins County’s subsidies.  County funds paid, he said, for “the development of the test.  It paid for the drive-through.  It paid for a lot of the vaccination efforts that we undertook.”

Tompkins County began subsidizing the CMC testing program in August 2020; five months after the pandemic began.  The Legislature initially transferred $300,000 from its Contingent Fund to the testing program for what started as a 10-week trial run.  The subsidy enabled local residents without qualifying insurance to obtain COVID-19 tests free of charge, thereby avoiding trips to state facilities in distant cities. 

Over time, the federal government assumed a sizable, nearly total, share of the cost.  Yet periodic local appropriations still proved necessary.  Tompkins County made its last recorded draw from the Contingent Fund, $200,000, in June of last year.  In July, Washington scaled back its subsidies, and Tompkins County ended its own contributions at year’s end.

The lack of governmental support, coupled with the declining numbers of patients requiring the tests, had raised the prospect that CMC might scale back its efforts, or perhaps even close its mall-based facility altogether.  During a conference call with municipal officials February 2, County Administrator Lisa Holmes said she was not aware of what CMC planned to do.

In his presentation to the legislative committee Wednesday, CMC executive Stallone maintained that the testing program has returned quantifiable rewards not only in community health, but also in economic resiliency.

“A positive test is a positive test,” Stallone conceded.  “But what it (the testing program) really did was equip a public health response that allowed those individuals to confidently isolate or confidently not isolate.  And so they allowed our economy to continue to run.”

The statistics most likely to break out from Stallone’s half-hour legislative briefing remain figures one must accept with a degree of caution and the clear  recognition that Tompkins County stands in a place far apart from the rest of this state because of the overwhelming dominance of college students.

The CMC-collected figures showed Tompkins County with the highest COVID testing rate in the state and the lowest per capita percentage of COVID-19 deaths.  The data showed that, on average, a Tompkins County resident was tested for the disease more than 29 times, and that the positivity rate of those tested was only 0.87 per cent, far below the statewide average.

“The cumulative positive rate was the lowest,” Stallone said, “because we did more surveillance testing than anyone else.”

But CMC cannot take all of the credit.  Recall that for most of the period, Cornell demanded its students—many of them healthy students—get tested for the disease, sometimes weekly.

How it all began. The Lansing Mall Sampling Site, 2020. (photo courtesy The Ithaca Voice.)

And our county’s low mortality rate—only 100 persons died in a county of 105,000 (0.095 per cent)—also deserves clarification.  Yes, testing matters.  But so, too, does Tompkins County’s high vaccination rate, its residents’ masking compliance, and the fact that so many of us here are so young.

Comparing Tompkins County’s COVID mortality rate to the statewide average led Stallone to claim that local efforts saved nearly 200 lives that would otherwise have been lost.

“If our COVID mortality was average, we would have lost 181 more people than we did based on our population,” Stallone told the committee.  “So I think that’s something that I think this body should take credit for.”

“This is an example of where investments were made and lives were saved because of that investment,” the hospital CEO asserted.

But did age matter?  Newfield legislator Randy Brown asked the question.

“So you do generally have a younger, healthier population,” the hospital chief conceded.  “But I don’t think that accounts for everything.”

Martin Stallone advised the committee—albeit erroneously—that college undergraduates generally don’t count in Tompkins County’s population totals, except, he said, when they live locally or attend graduate study.  That may have been true when Dr. Stallone, as he recalled, resided as a student in Cornell’s Clara Dickson Hall.  But the census now counts undergrads as local residents in its totals.

Martin Stallone made a second error.  And when he did it briefly led any observer (including this writer) to infer that the mall-based sampling will imminently close; or for that matter, that CMC had already shuttered it surreptitiously.

At the end of his presentation, with his PowerPoint slide indicating progress made in February 2023, Stallone stated, “We actually closed the COVID testing at the mall with the (testing) totals that I listed before, 2.77 million tests.”

This writer dutifully reported the CEO’s words, inferring probable closure, only to retract that implication later Wednesday afternoon after the hospital corporation’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications clarified.

“If I said it incorrectly, I apologize,” Melissa Tourtellotte conveyed her boss’s correction and contrition.  “What Stallone meant to say,” Tourtellotte rephrased, was that the analysis of sampling results—not the sampling itself—is being transferred from a Cayuga Medical site on Brown Road, its “Innovation Lab,” to CMC’s hospital on West Hill.

“It will be an invisible change to the public,” Tourtellotte said. She indicated that sampling for COVID-19 will remain in place at the mall for the indefinite future.

Tourtellotte’s reassurance ended two hours of journalistic bewilderment arising from the fact that the site’s potential closure didn’t square with information posted on the CMC website.  And staff at the sampling center’s registration call center knew nothing about any locational change.


In the County Legislature’s chambers, committee members never acknowledged the administrators gaffe, nor reacted to the potential news.  Instead, they showered CMC with praise for its accomplishments.

Tompkins County’s COVID response and its vaccination effort was “kind of thrilling on top of this terrible thing that was going on,” Health and Human Services Committee Dan Klein offered as a rather odd kind of compliment for a pandemic response.

“People working in those labs, that’s so amazing.” Amanda Champion (left), with Dan Klein.

“People have used the word ‘hero’ when it comes to the pandemic,” committee member Amanda Champion remarked.  “And as you were describing it,” Champion told Stallone, “I thought, like, my gosh, there were people in these labs like actually doing the work, like that’s so amazing.  And I’m so grateful that our county was supportive of that.”

What lessons were learned, Randy Brown asked.

“We certainly have lubricated our agility joints,” Martin Stallone responded.  “We have practice in thinking out of the box and being bold.”

“You’re always fighting the last war,” Stallone acknowledged.  “So the most challenging public challenge is the one we’re not expecting.  I think if COVID happened again, we’d do very well.  I hope we would do as well with a novel threat that we haven’t experienced yet.”


And Now to Money, Mandates, and the Tompkins County Legislature:

Hey, New York: You Owe Us!

Locals move to block Albany’s Medicaid money-grab

by Robert Lynch, February 21, 2023

There’s an old tax-time adage:  “What Washington giveth, Albany taketh away.” And now, with one costly, soon-to-be-assessed mandate, it’s as plain as the eye can see.  And you may feel the bite next January when you pay your county tax bills.

“We need to underscore how serious this is.” Administrator Holmes.

With limited debate and by a unanimous vote, the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday urged New York State to preserve the intent of Congress and not allow state regulators to hijack supplemental federal Medicaid spending that locals insist counties like theirs were always supposed to be paid.

“We received notice recently from the Association of Counties that based on their recent conversations with the Governor’s Office (that) it does not appear there’s an appetite to restore these pass-throughs for 2023 or at any date in the future,” County Administrator Lisa Holmes notified the Tompkins County Legislature at its Tuesday night session.

“This is not pretty,” Dryden Legislator Mike Lane later observed.

Holmes’ financial warning was sobering, and the consequences of what we taxpayers could suffer are dire.  A Department of Social Services number-cruncher told Holmes that should State fiscal managers hold true to their plans, approximately $610,000 or more could be cut beginning in April from New York’s Medicaid disbursements to Tompkins County.  An additional $1.5 Million could be cut in 2024.

“If enacted,” said Holmes, this year’s cut “would mean the consideration of hiring delays, or a hiring freeze, stopping  the purchases of larger pieces of highway equipment, and it will also impact projections for what we can afford going into negotiations with our bargaining units.”

And beginning next year, Holmes warned, taxpayers, too, could feel the pinch. 

In 2024, “we’d start out the budget process immediately with a three per cent increase in the tax levy without some further action being taken,” Holmes said.  Keeping within the state-specified (and largely aspirational) tax cap, she said, could prove next to impossible.

“We need to underscore how serious this is for our county’s budget and all county budgets across the state,” Holmes warned.

The circumstances that led to this suddenly-erupted financial crisis are of the kind bound to make any tax-weary New Yorker mad as Hell.  And they stand as just another example of Albany’s budget-balancing, pass-the-buck greed. 

Legislators were told that when Congress adopted, under the Affordable Care Act, its “Enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage Fund to Counties” (or so-called “ACA E-F-Map Funding”), Washington intended that the states, including New York, that require counties to share a portion of Medicaid burdens, would themselves pass some of the ACA supplements down to the local level.

“And in fact, New York State agreed to do that when they first received this money,” legislator Rich John told his legislative colleagues.   

But something changed along the way, he said.  Somehow, all those millions in county pass-through funds got gobbled up in the inner-works of Albany’s internal bureaucracy.  And now it seems the State has simply chosen to keep the money for itself.

They call it “reconciling the payments.” And now they just keep the money. Rich John

“They’re saying they’re reconciling the payments,” John stated, the legislator employing one of those typical eye-glazing terms bureaucrats use.  “But that has been a completely opaque process,” he continued.  “We haven’t seen the money.  And now the current proposal is to just have the State keep all the money, while asking for more services; enhancing the services.  And we’ll be paying the cost locally.”

“So the hit comes in more than one way,” Rich John concluded.  “And it’s not what the federal Congress intended.  So that’s why it’s pretty upsetting.”

One week before many on the Tompkins County Legislature will troop to Albany for a meeting of the New York State Association of Counties, those same legislators adopted the Resolution Tuesday calling upon the State to reverse-course and restore Congress’ intended pass-through of the ACA money to local coffers.

“The Resolution you will be considering tonight is an important step in advocacy to try to stop these cuts from taking place,” Holmes said.

“Lisa’s comments were pretty compelling,” Budget Committee Chair Deborah Dawson, a fiscal hawk, told Tuesday’s meeting.  “We’re just going to have to put as much pressure on our State Legislature as possible to override this proposal by the Governor,” Dawson said.

“We’re just going to put the pressure on legislators.” Budget Chair Dawson.

But in typical Albany it-wasn’t-my-fault fashion, Governor Kathy Hochul may have slyly kept her fingerprints off this major-impact money grab.  The Executive’s proposed budget, we’re told, never referenced the funding holdback, and all the real blame may be buried down in some regulatory rabbit-hole, virtually impossible for the Legislature to excavate or ever correct.

“This may be out of their hands,” Mike Lane worried.

Lane pointed out that New York is one of only two states in the nation where local counties still bear a partial burden for Medicaid funding, subsidies that underwrite medical care for low-income residents.  And of those two states, New York counties, Lane said, pay the highest percentage.  The Dryden Democrat equated New York’s mandated county contribution to an effective statewide property tax, but a tax for which Albany-based lawmakers never get the blame.

New York’s counties, Lane complained, “get treated like poor relations.” And when it comes to assessing the cost, he said, Albany’s message handed down is this:  “You do this, and you raise the money.”


Posted Previously:

Newfield Imposes Campground Moratorium

Town Board Acts to Stand in Second Wind’s Path

by Robert Lynch, February 9, 2023

The mood: “I’m against this,” Rick Bryant told a firehouse room full of his neighbors Thursday.  “You could build the Taj Mahal here; you’re still going to be bringing the same people up here.”

“I’m against it,” another man concurred.  There’s no local enforcement.  “Once you get ‘em here you can’t get rid of them.”

Hearing the public; Taking a vote. The Newfield Town Board, February 9th.

The public sentiment was unanimous Thursday night, and so was the vote, as the Newfield Town Board, following a much-awaited Public Hearing, adopted a “Town-Wide One Year Moratorium on Campgrounds.”  It’s a local law unapologetically aimed at halting Second Wind Cottages’ plans to expand its 18-unit tiny house complex for the otherwise-unhoused by adding 25 campsite cabins intended to draw many more of the homeless to Second Wind’s site off Route 13.

And while word surfaced earlier this week that Second Wind may alter its campsite plans in a transparent effort to circumvent what the Newfield Board would adopt two days later, Newfield’s leaders and the residents they represent have signaled that the changes developers propose remain to them unacceptable.

The original campground project, which already has won initial funding support from a majority on the Tompkins County Legislature, would provide a so-called “low-barrier” encampment; an unpoliced, minimally-supervised collection of cabins, which many in Newfield fear could draw to Second Wind’s site serious substance abusers, lawbreakers, and sex offenders.

“I’m worried about the property value of my home,” one Newfield woman told Thursday’s hearing.  “Please protect citizens who pay their taxes,” she begged the Board.

And the Town Board responded.  It did so quickly.  While the Public Hearing consumed about 35 minutes’ time—shorter than had been expected—the Town Board’s response was surprisingly swift.  Before voting, Board members confined their remarks to just one or two crisp sentences apiece. Apart from the hearing, the Board’s discussion and vote took less than five minutes.

“We definitely need breathing room,” Newfield Councilperson Joanne James told Board colleagues and her audience before casting her vote to support the moratorium.

“We didn’t hear anybody objecting to this moratorium,” Councilperson Heather McCarty observed.

Councilperson Christine Laughlin, the Newfield Board’s lone Republican, appeared most adamant, critical of Second Wind founder Carmen Guidi’s plans to scatter the campsites behind his auto body shop north of the Newfield hamlet.

“Carmen’s heart is in the right place,” Laughlin acknowledged during the public hearing, “but he’s not looking at the bigger picture.”

“It’s hurting our residents” Laughlin maintained.  “Get out of their bubble,” she pleaded of Second Wind’s leadership.

Some of those who gathered to speak out on Second Wind.

While nearly 30 Newfield residents filled the audience for Thursday’s meeting, only about a half-dozen spoke.  Most notable among them was Newfield-Enfield representative Randy Brown, the Tompkins County legislator most critical of both the Second Wind expansion and a legislative advisory committee’s recommendation to allocate $510,000 in County-apportioned Community Recovery Fund grants to construct it.

“Carmen’s heart is in the right place, but it’s bad for Newfield,” Brown said of the campground.  “I think they will back away from this proposal and ask for more cottages and the same amount of money.”

And Brown’s prediction is more than just idle speculation.  In a surprise announcement at the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday, County legislator Dan Klein, reading from a prepared statement, disclosed that Second Wind would likely scale back its plans, exchange its campground vision for construction of more stick-built housing on Guidi’s site, and retool its application for continued County support.

“Rather than building 25 structures in a campground-like setting,” Klein informed legislators Tuesday, “they (Second Wind) are planning to add additional cottages to their current 18 cottage facility.” 

“The current version of the plan is to build 12 new cottages,” Klein’s statement said.

Klein said the Community Recovery Fund Advisory Committee—of which Newfield’s Brown is a newly-appointed member—would convene March 6 to review a revised funding request that Klein expects Second Wind to submit.

But neither the revised construction configuration nor the special favor granted Second Wind to let it take a second bite from the Tompkins County funding apple please legislator Brown.  The Newfield rep says he’ll oppose Second Wind’s expected resubmission, and he asked those at Thursday’s Public Hearing to join him.

Exasperated about funding decisions. Randy Brown at the County Legislature

“Come to the meeting and voice your opinion,” Randy Brown told hearing attendees.  “They need to hear from more than just me.”

Brown’s key concern about Second Wind’s expansion, a concern shared by Newfield Supervisor Michael Allinger, involves the community’s perceived inability to provide the emergency services that vulnerable Second Wind residents might need, along with the unwillingness of Second Wind to provide them itself.

“I’ve heard from a lot of neighbors,” Allinger informed the hearing.  “I’ve often heard concerns of lack of supervision.”

Of Second Wind’s campground project, Allinger opined, “It can’t move forward without better supervision.  They’ve lost control.”

As the Town Supervisor’s sees it, Second Wind’s homeless population needs “supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”  And Allinger insists that Second Wind doesn’t provide it.

Underlying the concerns of many in Newfield is the fear that by adding the proposed campsites and likely more than doubling Second Wind’s population, Tompkins County, with the City of Ithaca in hand, is unloading Ithaca’s unsolved homeless problem—centered at Ithaca’s so-called “Jungle” behind Walmart—onto their rural community using the rationale that out-of-sight is out-of-mind.

Regarding the Ithaca homeless problem, “the County is solving it by sticking it in Newfield,” resident Aaron Miller told the Town Board Thursday.


Disclosed publicly only a month ago, and tweaked during a Town Board meeting January 26, Newfield’s one-year moratorium would direct Town officials and employees not to “begin or continue to review applications for or grant any approvals relating to a Campground within the Town.”  The adopted law defines “Campground” as “any parcel or tract of land including buildings or other structures under the control of any person, where five or more campsites are available for temporary or seasonal overnight occupancy.”

Second Wind Cottages’ tiny houses as they look today.

The adopted Local Law imposing the Newfield moratorium directly references the originally-proposed, 25-unit Second Wind homeless encampment.  The law’s text acknowledges that the campground proposal “has generated significant concern in the Town based on health and safety concerns for people of the Town and those individuals that may be housed in such camps.”  Those concerns list “lack of local police, EMS, and other social services in the Town” as well as “the relatively lengthy response times for police and medical services.”

Seeking a legal foundation, language often necessary to stave off a court challenge, the law asserts that the moratorium will give Newfield officials time to rewrite the Town’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan, a document that the law maintains never anticipated the sort of encampment that Second Wind proposes nor the “health, safety, and sanitation concerns that attach to developments that have a substantial number of persons living in a small area.”

Now ratified by the Town Board, the Newfield Campground Moratorium will take effect as soon as it’s filed with the Secretary of State.  After Thursday’s meeting, Newfield Town Clerk Karen Miller Kenerson said she’ll file the papers Friday.  She said the Tompkins County Planning Department, whose review the law requires before adoption, has already given its consent.

Residents and Newfield Town Board members departed their meeting Thursday in general agreement they’d done all they could, though they remained anxious that despite their best efforts, more battles may need to be fought.

“It’s nice to know we all feel the same way about things,” Councilperson Laughlin told her assembled constituents.


Posted Previously:

“We’re Not Ulysses”

Enfield Planners chart contrasting course in Subdivision Rewrite

by Robert Lynch, February 6, 2023

Iradell Road might as well be the 38th Parallel when it comes to land use regulation.  Members of the Enfield Planning Board made the point clear last Wednesday night as they devoted more than two hours’ time pondering intricate, often in-the-weeds revisions to Enfield’s decade-old Site Plan Review Law and Subdivision Regulations. 

And Boy, is it! Just ask Enfield planners.

The Planning Board’s months-long effort stands far from finished.  The February 1st meeting produced no firm recommendations.  But the session did draw a clear dividing line between the mindset of those in un-zoned Enfield to the south and those who govern ultra-zoned Ulysses to the north, Iradell Road their towns’ common border.  The Enfield message was clear:  What happens in Ulysses should stay in Ulysses. 

“I’m also concerned with making it easier for people to build houses in the Town of Enfield,” Planning Board member Mike Carpenter, a builder, told colleagues Wednesday, cautioning them against over-regulation. 

“I know that having just tried to build a house in Ulysses for a young family, gone through the Zoning Review Board, gone to the Planning Review Board, and having their new zoning regulations make us have to build a $75,000 bridge over an existing creek in order to fit into the structure of the zoning thing ruined a really good piece of land because the people on the Zoning Board didn’t want to have houses with less than 400-foot frontage in their Town, which is just crazy,” Carpenter said.

Why was it done?

“I believe the Ulysses stated purpose was to preserve the farmland, and they ruined it,” Enfield Planning Board Chair Dan Walker responded.  “That’s Ulysses, and we’re not Ulysses,” Walker stressed.

The Town of Ulysses’ revised Zoning Law, enacted amidst controversy in late 2019, has not proved popular, especially with farmers and with those who seek to build homes in Tompkins County’s most northwesterly town.   And it has raised the question of when does a law make a minimum-sized building lot simply too big?  When does a supposedly well-intentioned rule run counter to a town’s stated desire to preserve rural character?  And when do local politicians’ ulterior motives drive their decision-making? 

In effect, when does the lot’s size become so huge that it carves up the cornfields and cow pastures that it was supposed to preserve, turning former farmland into super-sized lawns?

The 2019 Ulysses law, according to Enfield planners, demands not only a 400-foot frontage, even on an off-the-road, so-called “flag lot,” but also sets a minimum lot size of five acres, much larger than the average home requires.  And as Carpenter sees it, Ulysses couples misguided regulation with arbitrary application.

“When I went to the Board in Ulysses,” Carpenter complained, “and I said I want a variance, the five old white guys on that Board said, ‘This is what the law says.  This is what you gotta’ do.  We don’t want to give exceptions.  It’s a law.  We made it.  This is what you got to do,’”

So Carpenter’s client had to build the $75,000 bridge.

“That destroys open space,” Walker replied.

“That’s what it does,” Carpenter confirmed.

Why the no-exceptions Ulysses intransigence?  Carpenter inferred Ulysses’ leaders had little interest in protecting rural character. “I heard ‘We are protecting our property values;’ that’s what they were saying,” Carpenter told his Board.

“Rural Gentrification,” Walker quickly branded it.

But Ulysses need not get all the blame.  Carpenter argued that other rural Tompkins County towns, Caroline and Danby in particular, are doing much the same thing.

So how should Enfield do things differently?  How should hometown planners protect rural character—a stated priority in Enfield’s Comprehensive Plan—while not cutting off Enfield’s nose to spite its face?  Carpenter, a former Town Board member, led Wednesday’s debate.  And Carpenter looked not only to the future, but also to common sense.

The Enfield Planning Board’s meeting February 1st. Chair Dan Walker (masked with hand raised); Mike Carpenter (at picture’s far right edge.)

“People are building in Enfield, for one reason, because it’s cheaper in taxes; and for another reason, because of the guy sitting over there,” Carpenter said.  He pointed to Enfield Code Enforcement Officer Alan Teeter, sitting in the audience.

“Because he is a sensible building inspector,” Carpenter said of Teeter.  “He interprets the laws carefully so that his people do safe things and good things, but so that they don’t get pushed out being able to build in the Town by regulation that is so inappropriate that you can’t do it.”

Though not discussed at Wednesday’s session, Tompkins County this year embarked on a consultant’s study into possibly County Government assuming and consolidating code enforcement duties; taking them away from individual towns. 

In commissioning the study, County planners and politicians had said they’d envision municipalities’ opting-into unified code enforcement only if they wanted to.  Those who’d prefer to enforce their own codes could continue to do so. Nonetheless, the rules could always change.  And the prospect of mandatory countywide enforcement worries some in Enfield (not the least of whom is this Councilperson-writer.)  We need only look at how Tompkins County’s unique, half-century old, county-wide property assessment bureaucracy has grown increasingly detached from local control.

As those who are expert in the code enforcement field observe, New York imposes a common, state-wide building code.  Localities can add to Albany’s rules only minimally.  The key lies in enforcement.  Does the building inspector enforce those mandates with a velvet glove or an iron fist?  Most in Enfield like how Alan Teeter does it.

“Enfield is one of the last holdouts,” Carpenter said, contrasting his town with those neighbors that seek tighter regulation. “And we’re not doing a zoning law.”

During a Planning Board meeting in June of last year, Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond made an offhand remark that town-wide zoning “is something we should consider.”  But Redmond later backtracked, apparently sensing zoning’s local unpopularity.  Planning Board members also last year expressed reluctance to zone.  And while Redmond and some Councilpersons have since called for modestly-increased land regulation, they’ve avoided mentioning the “Z-word,” perhaps respecting the term’s toxicity.

During Wednesday’s Planning Board discussions, Supervisor Redmond offered few comments as she ran the meeting’s streaming controls.  No other member of the Town Board participated. State law discourages their input.

“There’s more young people having babies, and the world is just getting way, way bigger,” Carpenter told the Planning Board.  “And for me, being one of these reformer people, I’d say let’s put Enfield 50 years ahead of what the world is going to look like, and let’s start making our regulations in keeping with what the world’s going to be looking like 50 years from now, or 20 years from now, or whatever we can deal with.”

Carpenter did not offer specific suggestions Wednesday on how to fulfill his futuristic goal.  But he did warn of what to avoid.

“Let’s not look at what happened in the past.  Let’s not go to other people’s laws,” Carpenter said.  “Let’s think ahead and say, how can we make Enfield a good place to live for everybody; for the new people coming in, for people that have lived here for a long, long time; and not make it the Republican method or the Democrat method, or the ‘I’ve-already-lived-here’ method, or the ‘I-need-someplace-to-live’ method.”

“I’d like at least to think about what do we want Enfield to look like in terms of residential properties in the future,” Carpenter added. “Enfield is a great Bedroom Town right now.”

Board member Henry Hansteen asked what that term meant.  Carpenter replied that “Bedroom Town,” to him, meant “a whole bunch of residences, not much business, and there’s no shopping malls here.” 

If that’s the definition; yep, that’s Enfield. Carpenter estimated three-quarters of his town’s morning commuters head east, toward Ithaca and Cornell.

Vision eventually stepped aside to make way for substance at the Planning Board meeting.  Most carefully examined—in part, an outgrowth from the Ulysses discussion—was how a revised Site Plan Law should treat “flag lots,” those with minimal road frontage but with greater width away from the road and behind other parcels.  Board Chair Dan Walker would tighten Enfield’s rules and require any new lot to have as much as 150 feet of road frontage to qualify for review as a “minor” subdivision.  Any lot with less road frontage would demand more exacting review as a “major” subdivision.  Right now, a subdivided flag lot with as little as 15 feet along the road—a state requirement—can be treated as “minor.”

“I don’t understand the road frontage, 150 feet… why that’s needed?” Hansteen asked.

“I’m not saying you can’t build lots that have 50 feet of frontage or 20 feet of frontage,” Walker said.  “But you’re going to go through the major subdivision review process.”

Walker based his proposed revision, in part, on a preference that a flag lot, perhaps one from which many other homes would later branch, should be wide enough to accommodate a future road, and also allow planners’ review to consider future growth. 

But Carpenter worried that such heightened subdivision review could burden the builder.  “They have to do a whole lot of stuff and spend a whole bunch of money,” Carpenter warned. “And I don’t see that we need to do that.”

Homes set back from roadways are common in Enfield, and they’ve become more common with each passing year.  Supervisor Redmond pointed out that she, herself, lives at the back of a quarter-mile driveway.

“It’s happening all over,” Dan Walker responded, noting vacant land’s increasing scarcity. 

“People are trying to find a place to build a house,” Carpenter chimed in.  He, too, lives far back from the road.


The meeting ended with Walker’s road frontage issue unresolved, though the Planning Board did appear headed toward widening a new lot’s required road frontage to at least 20 feet, so as to marry the requirement with that imposed by the state’s Fire Code.

“I think it needs at least 25 feet,” Carpenter interjected.  Indeed, the width could widen to 50 feet before the Board’s work is done.

The Enfield Planning Board has set no deadline for completing its Subdivision and Site Plan Law overhaul.  Any changes require formal approval by the Town Board.

For the Planning Board, patience and precision appear to outweigh expediency in revising the law so as to suit Enfield best. 

“I am just concerned that if we’re going to do this in Enfield, let’s get it right,” Mike Carpenter said.

And of course, the unspoken edict, don’t mimic Ulysses.


Confirm Judge LaSalle… and Fight

Update; Posted February 10, 2023

Marking the first significant action to move the nomination of Hector LaSalle off dead center, Republican State Senator Anthony Palumbo, ranking member of the State Senate’s Judiciary Committee, filed suit Thursday (Feb. 9) in State Supreme Court to force Senate leaders to bring Judge LaSalle, Governor Hochul’s embattled Court of Appeals nominee, to a floor vote.

In the 19-page legal complaint, filed in the Senator’s home district of Suffolk County, Palumbo’s suit names as defendants each of ten State Senate Democrats who opposed the LaSalle nomination to become the Court’s Chief Judge, as well as Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Palumbo’s suit asserts that both the New York State Constitution and the Judiciary Law that oversees judicial appointments require a gubernatorial Court of Appeals nomination to proceed to the full Senate floor and not die when rejected by a committee.

“A vote of a mere committee of the Senate—here, the Judiciary Committee—does not satisfy the constitutional requirement of advice and consent,” Palumbo’s complaint alleges.  “The (New York) Constitution does not delegate that authority to a committee.”

“A mere committee of the Senate, including the Judiciary Committee, is not empowered to ‘confirm’ or ‘reject’ a gubernatorial appointment,” Palumbo’s complaint continues.  “Consequently, according to the plain language of the Constitution, the Senate is required to hold a floor vote on an interim appointment,” such as Judge LaSalle’s.

In the three weeks since the Senate’s Judiciary Committee rejected the LaSalle nomination and declined to send it to the Senate floor  for a vote (see story posted below), Governor Hochul has weighed the option of bringing a lawsuit similar to Palumbo’s in order to force the full Senate to act on the nomination. 

As of Friday (Feb. 10), the Governor had not commented publicly on the Republican lawmaker’s suit.  But in many ways, Senator Palumbo has done Kathy Hochul a great favor; doing her dirty work for her without forcing the Democratic governor to confront directly legislative leaders of her own party.

The online publication City & State Thursday quoted an unnamed source as observing that in the paper’s words, “Hochul’s fingerprints seem to be all over the lawsuit.”

“Everything I’ve heard is that she’s stubborn and insisting on not backing down,” the source told City & State of the Governor’s position on the LaSalle nomination. “What other reason is there to drag it out?”

Though court papers are already on file, a spokesperson for Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins Thursday declined comment, claiming the Senator’s office had yet to be served.  But the spokesman, Mike Murphy, got in a partisan dig. “It is embarrassing but not surprising that the Senate Republicans have no basic understanding of law or the constitution” Murphy said in a statement.

Senate Democratic leaders insist they stand on firm legal footing, and that the Judiciary Committee’s rejection of LaSalle remains the final word, leaving the LaSalle nomination, in their opinion, dead.


Previous Status Report: Posted February 6, 2023

At this writing, it’s been nearly three weeks since the New York State Senate’s Judiciary Committee, by a one-vote margin, refused to advance Hector LaSalle’s nomination to the Senate Floor to become Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.  All of us wait… and watch.

Governor Hochul, nominating Hector LaSalle to become Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, Dec. 22, 2022.

Governor Kathy Hochul continues to weigh her options.  She may take the State Senate’s leadership to court, arguing that the New York State Constitution demands a gubernatorial nominee for Chief Judge advance to a floor vote regardless of how the nomination fares in committee.  Hochul has legal firepower on her side.  Former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman supports Hochul’s position. 

But the State Senate’s Democratic leadership remains convinced that the Judiciary Committee’s rejection constitutes the final word.  Both sides are dug in.  Hochul declines to reveal her next move.

On January 30th, I wrote Governor Hochul, expressing my support for Judge Hector LaSalle’s elevation to preside over the Court of Appeals.  Here’s what I wrote:

Governor Hochul: 

I strongly support your nomination of Judge Hector LaSalle to become Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.  And I urge you to take whatever steps necessary, including litigation, to bring Judge LaSalle’s nomination to the Senate floor for a vote. 

I watched Judge LaSalle’s grace under pressure during his confirmation hearing January 18.  I observed his command of the law and his judicial temperament, both outstanding.  The criticisms leveled at him by his critics, allegations based on narrowly-drawn procedural decisions he’s made in cases chosen for their political impact, encourage one to draw erroneous inferences as to his judicial philosophy.  And they distort Judge LaSalle’s opinions on the larger issues which those decisions purport to represent. 

I write as a politically-active and engaged follower of the law, a Town Board member in Enfield, New York, and a person who believes that those who possess the intellect and judgment to interpret our laws should be permitted to do so and not fall victim to the partisan agendas of others.  As I have written, “Hector LaSalle’s only sin is that he is not a left-wing absolutist.” 

I believe that raw partisanship, ideological extremism, stands as the only reason that your party’s majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Judge LaSalle.  The majority’s persistence in seeking to skew New York’s Highest Court leftward, to seek some sort of “Liberal Lion,” should not deter you in securing confirmation of a Chief Judge who would decide the law based on how it is written and render justice objectively, even-handedly, and for the benefit of all New Yorkers.

Please, Governor Hochul, do what is right.  Do everything within your power to secure Hector LaSalle’s confirmation as Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Lynch, Councilperson,

Town of Enfield (Tompkins County)


Now, the original report on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s action:

The Confirmation Battle:

Dems, call off your hunt for the next Liberal Lion

Cool under withering Democratic attack; Judge Hector LaSalle at his confirmation hearing, January 18.

Analysis and commentary by Robert Lynch, January 24, 2023

I will be blunt.  I will state the words that few, if any, New York Democrats have the courage to say as Governor Kathy Hochul’s nomination of Judge Hector LaSalle to become Chief Judge of New York’s Highest Court languishes; as it heads toward its uncertain,  albeit likely and ignoble, death. 

My words are these:  Andrea Stewart-Cousins, you’ve become Albany’s Mitch McConnell.

In 2016, Kentucky’s McConnell stood in the path of Merrick Garland and for more than nine months blocked his elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court after President Obama had nominated the federal appellate judge to replace the late Antonin Scalia.  And on January 18th, Stewart-Cousins, New York’s Senate Majority Leader, refused to schedule a Senate floor vote on LaSalle’s nomination to the Court of Appeals after the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly refused to endorse him or to advance his nomination further.

You can argue the legislative distinctions on the margins, but only there.  LaSalle’s nomination reached committee.  Garland’s did not.  But to variegate the circumstances ignores the common thread.  Each nominee, arguably, was (or now is) a judicial moderate.  Each nominee knows the law.  Each has a measured temperament.  Each nominee would have served us well.  That should suffice.

Yet in each instance, raw, rough-hewn partisan politics triumphed—or at least appears to have triumphed—over thoughtful, open-minded deliberation.  Democracy took a hit last week in the New York State Legislature.  New York Senate Democrats—including our own district’s Lea Webb—should be ashamed.  Sadly, they won’t be.  They’ll congratulate themselves.  They’ll high-five.  They’ll gloat.  That’s politics.  That’s New York.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (from her official website)

“The nomination was lost,” Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins said following the January 18th rejection of LaSalle in a quick, raise-of-hands vote that capped a grueling five-hour hearing during which the Brooklyn-based judge never lost his cool.  “And I’m hoping that we can move forward and really work to find the chief judge that is reflective of the majority of what the conference, what New Yorkers, expect in a chief judge,” Stewart-Cousins continued, giving the signal that LaSalle just didn’t have the activist bona fides that liberals like she—and Senator Lea Webb—demand.

Ideological intransigence and political gamesmanship:  Sounds a little like McConnell, doesn’t it? 

And Stewart-Cousins’ admonition underscores what this Albany battle is all about.  New York legislative Democrats demand a Liberal Lion to steer their progressive ship; to lead their High Court, rather than some precedent-respectful, intellectually-balanced centrist.   Plainly stated, Hector LaSalle’s only sin is that he is not a left-wing absolutist.  He’s not the kind of judge who—implausible and legally-infirm as the argument may go—has the guts to take on the likes of Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas and spit them both in the eye.

For nearly a week, Governor Hochul has been weighing her options.  She could always concede defeat, withdraw LaSalle’s nomination, and settle on somebody else.  Or she could pick a fight.  It becomes increasingly likely she will do just that.  And she should.

Some scholars believe New York’s Constitution requires a Governor’s judicial nomination to reach the Senate floor regardless of how it fares in committee.  If courts were to affirm that reading, the LaSalle nomination would go before all 63 Senators despite the committee’s rejection.  And if it were to do so, minority Republicans could join moderate-leaning Democrats and provide Hochul’s nominee the 32 affirmative votes, the edge, which he needs.

“While this was a thorough hearing, it was not a fair one, because the outcome was predetermined,” Hochul said following the Judiciary Committee’s ten-to-nine vote that denied LaSalle further consideration.  “While the Committee plays a role, we believe the Constitution requires action by the full Senate,” the Governor said.

Among the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic majority, only two that day supported Hector LaSalle’s nomination.  A majority, all Democrats, opposed it.  Seven Senators, six Republicans and one Democrat, would have advanced the nomination without recommendation.

And “kids tables” down in front. The overpacked Senate Judiciary Committee, Jan. 18.

Perhaps what incensed Hochul most was how Senate leadership stacked the deck against her nominee last-minute.  Leadership expanded Judiciary Committee membership by four prior to the hearing.  Three of the four new appointees are Democrats, each of them already on-the-record as opposing LaSalle.  Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins defended her suspected committee-packing on grounds that in the wake of last year’s sweeping U.S. Supreme Court decisions, her members were clamoring for committee assignments so as to  “change the trajectory” of New York’s Highest Court.  Certainly, for Senate leadership, the timing proved convenient.  And indeed, so far, it’s worked.

“You’d have to question why there was unexpectedly four more votes added to that committee,” Hochul said last Thursday.  “I think if you look at the original composition of that committee before it was changed, there were enough votes to go forward.”

A count of legislative noses would confirm Hochul’s suspicion.  And at the hearing, the committee’s last-minute expansion proved almost comical.  Too few seats existed at the panel’s dais. As many as six members had to sit at a couple of improvised “kid tables” sandwiched between the podium and the press gallery.

Stay tuned as to Kathy Hochul’s next move.  For now, she remains coy.

“You’re jumping ahead in your own analysis,” Hochul told reporters Tuesday in Albany after an unrelated event, according to Politico.  “You will all know everything you need to know in due process and due time.”


If Brad Hoylman-Sigal dislikes you, he shows it.  He contorts his face into a grotesque grimace, and he almost snarls his words at you.  Hoylman-Sigal does not like Hector LaSalle.  And during the 15 minutes he allotted to himself at the confirmation hearing last week, the Chair of the State Senate Judiciary Committee turned his questioning of LaSalle into an inquisition.

“Do you know the Conservative Party’s agenda?” Chief Interrogator, Sen. Brad Hoylman- Sigal.

You could ask a potential chief judge many weighty legal questions.  But should you consume precious time faulting the nominee, a Democrat, for years ago accepting cross-endorsement from the New York Conservative Party?  For Brad Hoylman-Sigal, it mattered.  It mattered a lot.

 “Do you know about the Conservative Party’s agenda?” Hoylman-Sigal questioned La Salle, the chairman rattling off the Conservative Party’s alleged stands against reproductive rights, gay rights, and gun regulation.  “Do you consider those to be main stream values?” Hoylman-Sigal asked.

“Main stream values?  Those are values of the Conservative Party,” Judge LaSalle politely replied.  “But I run as a judge….  And I make decisions based on the law and apply the law the same to everyone regardless of political party, regardless of ideology.”

That response did not satisfy the chairman.  During the questioning’s second round, Hoylman-Sigal picked up where hours earlier he’d left off:

“I’m heartsick to hear that you continue to state that you would be honored to run on all the party lines that you have run on,” the chairman lamented.  “As an LGBTQ person, the Conservative Party stands for everything I’m against; against my right to marry, against my ability to have kids, against transgender youth…. It’s hurtful.”

He wasn’t through:  “I think, frankly, candidates should know what parties stand for.”  The chairman pondered whether “willful ignorance” had led LaSalle to accept the Conservatives’ endorsement.  “So frankly, I don’t know what you stand for given that party line that you took,” Hoylman-Sigal concluded.

“Senator… every statement you just made that you assigned me to the Conservative Party, I repudiate,” LaSalle responded.  “I do not agree with any statement that treats you or any of your rights any different than anyone else’s.  So I share your concerns for those positions.”

Compare the questioner to the respondent.  Who’s the voice of reason here?  And who’s just constructing a phantom platform to rationalize rejection? Who should be confirmed Court of Appeals Chief Judge?  And who should the voters dispatch to the political dustbin in the next Senate election—if only they had the courage to do so?  Pardon me, Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, but the New York Conservative Party is not the KKK.  Its members are not the Proud Boys.  And no, Hector LaSalle is not Robert Bork.

Mind you that back in 2008, one of two times he’d accepted both the Democratic and Conservative endorsements, Hector LaSalle also secured support from the Working Families Party, the same liberal partisans who also endorse Hoylman-Sigal.  Republican Senator Jack Martins alleged at the hearing that the Working Families Party wants to legalize heroin, opioids and prostitution. 

“You’re a Democrat.  I’m a Republican.  You are politically to the left of where I sit and certainly wouldn’t be a choice I would make to the Court of Appeals,” Martins told LaSalle.  Despite that reluctance, Republican Martins voted to advance LaSalle’s nomination to the Senate floor, albeit without recommendation.  Democrat Hoylman-Sigal did not.

Republican Martins: You “certainly wouldn’t be a choice I would make,” but I’ll send your name to the Senate floor.

For a Democratic Party that professes tolerance, Hoylman-Sigal’s line of questioning, his efforts to establish guilt by cross-endorsement, leave a lingering aftertaste among the few of us—the very few of us—who watched the five-hour hearing.  Senate Democrats realize that most New Yorkers never saw the partisan grilling that Hector LaSalle received.  They did not see a political attack machine in high gear. Nor did they witness the nominee’s grace under pressure. The bumper-sticker propaganda will resonate.  The truth will be lost to the ether of apathy and inattention.

Hector LaSalle’s critics will assert that he’s anti-union, anti-choice, and unsympathetic to criminally-accused minorities.  They place their accusations on the slimmest of reeds; case-specific, majority opinions to which the judge joined others on his mid-level appeals court; cases decided on the most intricate of procedural grounds, and parsing technicalities that tell us next to nothing about how LaSalle would rule as a Chief Judge.  To amass their ammunition, opponents scoured the record for issues designed to play best in the only court that really matters; the court of public opinion.

The much-discussed Evergreen case (Evergreen Association Inc. v. Schneiderman), did not deal with a woman’s right to have an abortion, but rather with an attorney general’s power to subpoena a Christian-run crisis pregnancy center that had the audacity to rent space in a medical office building.  And LaSalle’s alleged anti-union Cablevision decision (Cablevision Systems Corp. v. Communications Workers of America Dist. 1) involved a defamation suit granted appellate review during only its most infantile stage; before trial, even before deposition.

Partisans have assailed Judge LaSalle for his failing to dissent in Cablevision, for his not blocking a cable company from pressing suit against union activists for what they may have said as private citizens during an online town hall.  This was a ruling not on the case’s merits, but on procedure alone. Moreover, while Senate Democrats are quick to fault LaSalle for his acquiescence, they care too little about the problem itself to enact legislation to cure it.

As Zack Fink of Spectrum News reported Monday, “not a single Democratic state Senator has put up a bill to remedy that decision or counter the court’s ruling—even though it happened nearly eight years ago.”

Yes, Hector LaSalle’s detractors want only the issue to wave in his face.  Its solution disinterests them.

But what may trouble Senate Democrats most is Judge LaSalle’s refusal to defy precedent, to right society’s wrongs to the point of rewriting statute; to chart the progressive course after no one else steps in first.  It may not be what judges are supposed to do.  But it may be what Senate liberals want them to do.

OSHA’s “Duty of Care:” Judge, should you have extended it farther? Senator Jessica Ramos.

Jessica Ramos, Chair of the Senate’s Labor Committee, zeroed in on an employer liability case, Campanelli v. Long Island Lighting Company, a case where a father’s lead dust contamination may have injured an unborn child while maybe still in the womb.  LaSalle’s court held that the federal OSHA law’s “duty of care” did not extend to a worker’s family members.  Ramos wondered why not.

“So would it be safe to say that you don’t consider a broader reading of statutes that are designed to protect people, like OSHA?” Ramos quizzed LaSalle.

“I read statutes as they’re written,” the nominee answered.  “And there’s nothing in that statute that I remember… that indicated that the child would be protected under OSHA.”

LaSalle went on to say that he’d welcome a more expansive state or federal law to protect workers’ children.  But this was not a hearing aimed at crafting legislation.  This was a hearing choreographed to derail a judge.

Yes, a Liberal Lion is what New York Democrats truly seek.  They also seek a rock star.  And the search they take reaches far beyond the State Senate’s traditional role of advise and consent.

“How do you see the Court of Appeals improve its reputation?” Toby Ann Stavisky asked, the Queens Democrat recalling the memorable tenure of Benjamin Cardozo, the legendary jurist who served a century ago, first as Court of Appeals Chief Judge, and later on the U.S. Supreme Court.  “How do we return to those days where people looked at the Court of Appeals, and said, Wow?”

“I think the way we do that,” Judge LaSalle replied, “is by making it accessible.”  The nominee referred to his own trial-by-fire as a prime example.

Perhaps the ghost in the hearing room. Former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.

“I think in time with hard work, with scholarship, and with decision-making that everyday New Yorkers can appreciate and understand, we will have the Court that you will expect to have,” LaSalle replied.

This reply from the aspirant to the Cardozo throne may not have satisfied Senator Stavisky sufficiently.  She, like most other Democrats, recommended against LaSalle’s confirmation. Or then, of course, it may not have mattered.  Likely the latter.

And that reaches the final point.  Hanging over the January 18th confirmation proceedings was the ghost of the Chief Judge that Hector LaSalle would most immediately replace, Janet DiFiore, an Andrew Cuomo nominee, who joined the Court as Chief Judge in 2016 and resigned last summer.

Many, including Brad Hoylman-Sigal, saw Judge DiFiore, a former prosecutor, as too conservative.  And with LaSalle, another former prosecutor, the chairman viewed the current nomination as a course correction lost.

“I and many of my colleagues want this Court to go in a different direction,” Hoylman-Sigal remarked early in the hearing.  “But your alliance with the former Chief Judge raises some questions.”

Hoylman-Sigal asked LaSalle whether he considered DiFiore a “professional mentor.”  The nominee said only that DiFiore was “a colleague and someone that I worked with.”

“Justice and fairness must go hand in hand,” Hector LaSalle told Senators at his confirmation hearing.  “Our society must do better, and if I have the honor to serve in the role of Chief Judge, I will do what I can to help lead that effort, to ensure that the arc of our law bends toward greater justice.”

Hector LaSalle’s calmly-spoken, fervently-felt words should be those remembered from his confirmation hearing.  Sadly, other, more strident voices will drown those words out.


So Hector LaSalle’s nomination is stalled.  Governor Hochul may attempt to jump over the legislative barrier Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins has thrown in front of her.  Hochul’s reportedly retained outside counsel, Caitlin Halligan, a former New York solicitor general, now in private practice, according to Peter Sterne of City & State

The same publication reports Stewart-Cousins is digging in her heels, and that Hoylman-Sigal is describing the prospect of a Hochul-launched lawsuit as “ludicrous.”

“How does the Court of Appeals even decide the case, when several of them applied for the job?” Hoylman-Sigal told the publication.  “How does the Court of Appeals even seek enforcement? What, we’re going to have state troopers with bayonets forcing us into the chamber? I mean, the whole thing on the surface seems absurd!”

Absurd, perhaps.  New York, yes.  Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Lea Webb, please call off your lion hunt.  And please, don’t make “Moscow Mitch” your role model.


Now, What I said about the Community Recovery Fund before the Enfield Town Board:

“It was not a pleasant meeting”

Enfield Councilperson Robert Lynch, addressing the Enfield Town Board during Privilege of the Floor Comments, December 27th, discussing an earlier meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature and its decisions on distribution of Tompkins County’s Community Recovery Fund:

“I just wanted to take a couple minutes to talk about nothing that happened at this Board, but something that happened about six or seven miles away to the east.  And that was a week ago, downtown at the Tompkins County Legislature.  They had a decision to make, and they made it.  They appropriated nearly $6 Million in money under the Community Recovery Program.  The Town of Enfield and its agencies that applied didn’t get a thin dime of that.

“And I could sit here and pontificate for three minutes about what that means for Enfield and what that means for what some people in Tompkins County Government and their consultants think of the Town of Enfield.  But I’ll just put the words of our—one of our elected County legislators, Randy Brown, on the record.  Because he spoke up in favor of Enfield and his own Town of Newfield that also got slighted in many respects

“He (Brown) said at that meeting, I quote, ‘Enfield is completely ignored by the County; Newfield, completely ignored by the County,’ In terms of government funding.  He continued, ‘Nothing happens there.’

“Brown told colleagues that in Enfield, quote, ‘They’re pinching pennies every day; the poorest district in the county.  They’re buying used equipment ‘cause that’s all they can afford.  And yet nothing got funded.  In recognition of all the problems in the county, you didn’t even think about Enfield and Newfield in my mind.’

“He went on in that meeting, quote, ‘I respect what the committee did,’ —that is, the Advisory Committee that made its recommendations and did not  recommend Enfield be funded—He said, ‘I respect what the committee did, and this is definitely water that’s never been paddled through before,’ Brown told legislators moments before he cast his lone dissenting vote.  And he continued, ‘But I feel that the committee didn’t even understand the transformative processes that Newfield and Enfield attempted to do.’

“’Enfield is feeling the exact same way,’ as Newfield is, Brown said.  ‘They’re on their own,’ end of quote.

“There may be opportunities for some applicants, probably most likely the Enfield Community Council, to get something, because there’s one big project in Newfield which would draw about $500,000 in Community Recovery funds.  It’s the Second Wind Cottages proposal.  It’s become controversial down in Newfield.  The Newfield Town Board has resolved against funding that particular proposal.  I’m not going to get into Second Wind tonight.  That’s really not the purpose of what I said.  But if there is money left over, if Second Wind is taken out, of if the County Legislature decides later, next year, to put more money in the pot to fund agencies, we may get some funding—for ECC, maybe the Fire Company, and maybe even the Food Pantry.  We’ll see.

“That’s all I have to say on this.  But it was not a pleasant meeting one week ago.  I attended it.  And Randy Brown spoke up.  And he was about the only one.  And I’ll leave it there.”