Brigid Bergin


Brigid Bergin appears in the following:

Weiner Tweets: "Kudos to GOP. Car Talk Defunded."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D - NY) took to the House floor to chime in on the debate over federal funding for NPR. The bill, H.R. 1076, "blocks all federal funding to NPR affiliates and to special content production for NPR."  Rep. Weiner, not exactly known for his restraint, took a mocking tone in his remarks saying:

"What a relief. We've got the economy back. We've secured out nuclear power plants. I'm so glad Americans are back to work. We've finally found out our problem. We discovered a target we can all agree on. It's these guys. It's Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers."

Check out the whole speech, and the bad Boston accent:

The House voted 228-192 to approve the bill.

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Even More on Moreland Commissions

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Empire reader asked if the Moreland Act would apply to the state legislature. This comes a day after Governor Cuomo issued a pointed statement calling for the passage of ethics reform legislation, lest he convene a Moreland Commission on public integrity.

The Moreland Act applies to New York State's Executive Law and specifically to the office of the Governor. But what that Commission might do when it comes to looking at the legislature is up for debate even among the experts.

"The use of such a commission to investigate the legislature branch would raise serious separation of powers issues," said Peter J. Galie, director of the Raichle Pre-Law Center at Canisius College, via email. While there have been at least 58 Moreland Commissions since 1907, Galie said he does not know of any that have targeted the legislative branch, per se.

The power to convene a commission is granted to the governor under section 6 of the Executive Law, which states:

"The governor is authorized at any time, either in person or by one or more persons appointed by him for the purpose, to examine and investigate the management and affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the state."

But it also applies to section 63 of the Executive law, according to Stephen Gillers, of NYU Law School. Here's the relevant portion:

"Whenever in his judgment the public interest requires it, the attorney general may, with the approval of the governor, and when directed by the governor, shall, inquire into matters concerning the public peace, public safety and public justice."

"The first provision does not envision investigation of the legislature or legislators, but only executive agencies and the like," said Gillers via email, "The second one includes the elastic phrase 'public justice,' which could include the legislature -- or not. Any effort to investigate the legislature itself will be met with a challenge based on the separation of powers doctrine."

But it's still not that simple. Here's more from Giller's email:

But on the other hand, no senator or assemblyperson is immune to investigation personally (as opposed to the legislature as an institution of government). "Each can be investigated by a prosecutor just like anyone else. And prosecutors are executive branch persons.

So the governor is on solid ground if his Moreland Commission investigates individual members of the legislature and that would be an easy jurisdiction to define.

"Also, the governor would be on solid ground if the commission was charged to investigate any agency or board of the state government or any local government or private person and that investigation encompassed the behavior of a legislator."

The only sticking point, where the legislature may claim the law does not allow a commission, is if the investigation is into the legislature as an institution. But it will be very easy for the governor to frame his charge to any commission in a way that steers clear of any implication that the charge includes an investigation of the legislature as such.

So exactly who or what would be the target of Governor Cuomo's Moreland Commission?  We're still hoping for that answer from Governor Cuomo's office.

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More on Moreland Act Commissions

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shortly after two state lawmakers turned themselves in on federal corruption charges, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement calling on the legislature to, "pass comprehensive ethics reform - now."  Cuomo has made ethics reform a key part of his agenda, although meetings with state lawmakers seem to have yielded little but talk so far.

Today's statement went on to say:

I reaffirm my commitment to clean up Albany and state clearly that either ethics legislation will be passed or I will form a Moreland Commission by the end of this legislative session.

With apologies to all you policy wonks who talk causally about things like Moreland Commissions, some of us had to look up exactly what that was. Since we (e-hem, I) went through the effort to find out, here's the scoop.

As it turns out, a Moreland Commission gives the Governor the power examine and investigate the management of state bodies (he's looking at you, state legislature!). The law, introduced by Sherman Moreland, the Republican leader in the assembly, at the urging of Governor Charles Evans Hughes, was passed and signed way back in 1907, according to the New York State Archives.

Here's a full description:

The Moreland Act, now Section 6 of the Executive Law (formerly Section 7, 1907-1909, and Section 8, 1909-1951), authorizes the governor, "either in person or by one or more persons appointed by him for the purpose, to examine and investigate the management and affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the state." Investigators were empowered to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, hold hearings, and subpoena "any books or papers deemed relevant or material." Moreland Act commissions derive their power from that act and from Executive Law Section 63.8.

Basically, if the lawmakers don't come to a mutual agreement on ethics reform by the end of the session, Cuomo is threatening to form a commission that would dig deep into the inner workings of the Assembly and Senate.

Now how is this different from that standing state agency called the New York State Commission on Public Integrity? "We have no jurisdiction over the legislature," said Walter Ayers, a spokesperson the state agency. The New York State Commission of Public Integrity has jurisdiction over lobbyists, state officers and employees in the executive branch of government. Cuomo's potential Moreland Commission could shine its spotlight on the legislative branch.

So are two of the men in the room making strong statements on the future of the ethics reform legislation to buffer against the threat of a Moreland Commission?

From Speaker Silver:

Hopefully, today’s events will fuel a three-way agreement on ethics reform legislation.

And from the senate spokesman Mark Hansen, on behalf of Majority Leader Skelos:

Discussions on ethics reform are ongoing with the Governor and the Assembly.  Senator Skelos is in favor of increased disclosure and transparency and we expect that an agreement will be reached.

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Same-Sex Marriage on Cuomo's Agenda

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Supporters of same sex marriage met with Governor Cuomo for a closed door strategy session in Albany for more than an hour today. Held in the governor's Executive Chamber, or Red Room, it was described as, "one in a series of many meetings to discuss a marriage equality bill," according to a statement issued by the Governor's office.

The meeting reaffirmed Cuomo's campaign pledge to push for legislation that would legalize same sex marriage in New York State, according to those in attendance.

Cuomo's statement went on to say:

Same-sex couples deserve the right to join in civil marriage, and it is simply unfair to deny them the freedom to make this decision for themselves and their families. To me this is more than just a piece of legislation. This is about the lives of people who I have known for many years, who currently are without the rights to which they are entitled. I look forward to working with lawmakers and stakeholders to make sure that New York joins the growing number of states that allow the freedom to marry for all couples.

The strategy session was called somewhat hastily, with some being told just yesterday that they were invited to meet the Governor today. Today's session comes a day after the Governor met with leaders from New York's Catholic Conference yesterday, who planned to lobby against, "the redefinition of marriage," according to their agenda.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, and State Senator Tom Duane were at today's meeting along with representatives from several groups that advocate for same-sex marriage including the Empire State Pride Agenda, Freedom to Marry, Equality Matters, and the Human Rights Campaign, many of whom described the meeting as a positive step.

"The Governor reiterated his firm personal commitment to getting this done," said Brian Ellner, senior strategist for the New York Chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, "we could not have a more supportive advocate on this issue."

"We were pleased to hear Governor Cuomo and other leaders affirm their strong commitment to ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, and putting New York law on the side of families, where New York should be," said Evan Wolfson, President of Freedom to Marry, "New Yorkers should not have to go to Niagara Falls, Canada to have the protections they should have in Niagara Falls, New York, and throughout the state."

Advocates are hoping to get a bill passed this year, but many think it's unlikely to come up before the budget season winds down in April (assuming an "on time budget"). A bill that would have legalized same sex marriage was defeated by the State Senate in 2009, when Democrats controlled the chamber. Advocates say they need 6 votes in the Senate for the bill to pass this time around.

While Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos is personally opposed to the legislation, Senate Spokesman Mark Hansen said Skelos plans to discuss the issue with the members of the Republican conference to decide whether to bring it to the floor for a vote. "If it does, it will be a vote of conscience," said Hansen's statement.

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Cuomo Sets CD 26 Special Election for May 24th

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A special election has been set for May 24th to fill an upstate Congressional seat left vacant after Republican Chris Lee resigned last month.

Governor Cuomo made the announcement today, after signing a law that gives members of the military serving overseas more time to receive their ballots and cast their votes.  The bill passed both legislative chambers unanimously last week.

Until now, special elections were held between 30 and 40 days from their announcement. The new law  increases that time to between 70 and 80 days.

Lee represented the 26th district near Buffalo until February. He stepped down after a website published a photograph of him posing without a shirt that the married Congressman had purportedly sent to a woman he met on Criagslist.

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A.G. Helps Women Without "Curves"

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

As if getting to the gym weren't tough enough, imagine if you showed up and your gym was gone!  That's exactly what happened to women who prepaid for memberships at 60 Curves Health Clubs across New York State. Nine of those clubs were here in New York City.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a settlement today with Curves International, a multinational health club franchisor. Under the agreement, Curves will set up a reimbursement fund for people who paid for health club services that were discontinued. While anyone can pay for a membership, the clubs serve only women.

The A.G. began investigating the franchise after it received complaints that a Suffolk County location had closed without notice and had refused to provide refunds to its members.

From the AG's statement:

“If you do business in New York, then you have to play by the rules. Curves International – like any franchisor operating in the state – must refund the customers who prepaid for memberships they ultimately could not use,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office will continue to ensure that consumers are treated fairly, and I encourage New Yorkers to learn their rights and report offenses to our office so that we can take action.”

Curves International did not honor its obligation to provide refunds when independently owned Curves Health Clubs franchises went out of business without reimbursing its members. Curves International will establish a restitution fund for the consumers who requested a membership refund from any Curves club that closed in 2009. Curves will pay up to $100,000 into a reimbursement fund, which will be overseen by the Better Business Bureau. It will pay an additional $60,000 to New York State for the costs of this investigation.

Consumers who believe they are entitled to a refund from Curves International should contact the Better Business Bureau at 212-358-2857 at 30 East 33rd Street, 12th Floor, New York, New York 10016. New Yorkers who have had a similar experience with a different business and would like to file a complaint are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's Consumer Helpline at 1-800-771-7755.

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First Review: One Catholic Praises Cuomo Meeting

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Members of New York State's Catholic Conference, including New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, met with Governor Cuomo in Albany today. Whether the meeting would happen at all was a question (H/T Celeste Katz).  But after confirming he did have room in his schedule, Cuomo is getting positive reviews from at least one of the pontiffs.

Here's a recent tweet from the Diocese of Buffalo (note: @BuffaloDiocese's profile: 690,000 Catholics in the eight counties of Western New York.)

The meeting comes in the wake of some controversy over the comments from a Vatican adviser over Cuomo's live-in girlfriend, Sandra Lee of the Food Network.

Here's a snapshot of the agenda for today's "Catholics on the Capitol" lobby day and their full list of legislative priorities:

Participants will gather for 10 a.m. Mass at the newly renovated Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception near the Capitol, then meet with their legislators and attend workshops, including one on continuing advocacy at the diocesan and parish levels. This full list of issues for the day is as follows:

  • Oppose the radical “Reproductive Health Act” abortion bill and support for alternatives to abortion
  • Support comprehensive conscience protection for individuals and institutions
  • Preserve Catholic schools
  • Protect the poor and those severely impacted by the economic downturn
  • Maintain the health care infrastructure and health care coverage for low- and moderate-income individuals
  • Support juvenile justice reform that results in a system that better serves youth and community
  • Oppose the redefinition of marriage
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Cuomo Names New ESDC Chair

Monday, March 07, 2011

Governor Cuomo has named Julie Shimer Chair the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). Shimer lives in Skaneateles, NY, bringing her upstate perspective to the state agency.

A little background on Dr. Shimer from the Governor's statement:

CEO and President of Welch Allyn, in Skaneateles Falls, New York, is a nationally recognized leader in the computer networking and wireless communications industries. Dr. Shimer was named CEO in 2007 - becoming the first woman to hold this post in the 95-year history of the company. Prior to joining Welch Allyn, Dr. Shimer served as President and CEO of Vocera Communications, a leading wireless communications company based in Cupertino, California. Dr. Shimer also held executive positions at 3Com Corporation, Motorola, AT&T Bell Laboratories, and Bethlehem Steel Company. Dr. Shimer currently holds board positions with Welch Allyn, Netgear, the Engineering Information Foundation and Centerstate Corporation for Economic Opportunity. In addition, she is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and Society for Women Engineers. Dr. Shimer holds masters and doctoral degrees in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University and a bachelor's degree in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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Slow Down, Big Spender...NYS Refunds Take...Time

Friday, March 04, 2011

Spring is just around the corner.  That means warmer weather, looser clothes, and taxes!  Signs and mascots have already been spotted around the city.

Liberty Tax Service

Liberty Tax Service (Photo: Bowery Boogie)

For the DIY-ers, the IRS announced Friday that 19 million tax returns have been filed from home computers so far this year, an increase of almost 6 percent compared to the number of returns from the same time last year. In New York, 3.3 million returns (in total) have been filed, with more than a $1B in refunds paid out so far. But word to wise, don't rack up big bills counting on your refund check to cover it, at least not right away.

The IRS has a website called, "Where's My Refund?" that filers can use to check on their refund information 72 hours after you've been notified that your return has been received if you file electronically, or or three to four weeks after you mail your paper return.

Here in the Empire State, the Department of Taxation and Finance also gives a nod to e-filing, but it's tougher to tell exactly how long the refund process will take. From their site:

Generally, you'll get your refund in six to eight weeks from the date we receive your income tax return. You'll get it faster if you use e-file and have your refund deposited directly into your bank account. If we identify an issue with a tax return, our review may take longer than six to eight weeks.

To check the status of your refund, see Income Tax Refund Status.

Now, there are some Type-A people who like to get things done as soon as possible. Say they filed their taxes the first week of February. Their federal return came back without a problem. But say, for example, their New York State return seemed to be taking longer. Perhaps they went back to a certain online tax site and found that several users were commenting about that very same issue. Then maybe said person went to New York State's website to check on the status of their refund. This is message that comes up:

We received your return and it's in the final stage of processing. While most returns are completed within 2 weeks, it may take up to 4 weeks.

So how long does it take -- two  to four weeks or six to eight? Are those two conflicting messages confusing? Absolutely not, according to Brad Maione, the Department of Taxation's Public Information Officer. "The key word there is 'processing'," said Maione.

Maione said New York State has already processed $1B in refunds so far this year, and he said there are no processing delays expected this year, like there were last year.

But not everyone agrees things have been moving along so swimmingly, and there's plenty of fault to spread around. "So far things are petering very slowly," said Barry Horowitz, a Certified Public Accountant and partner at the firm EisnerLubin LLP.  "That's because the brokerage houses haven't released their 1099's or have just released them, so tax information is coming in very slow. Tax season is getting really compressed into a five or six week period."

Horowitz also said that he thinks that there's a refund threshold that automatically triggers an audit for some state filers.  For example, he said he had a client last year who had large medical deductions and real estate taxes. "They held up the return until we proved that they paid them which is unheard of, that a return is being audited as it's being filed."  Horowitz said his client ultimately verified all the filing information, and received the return.  But he said similar things are happening this year, too.

There are several factors that may cause the NYS Tax Department to "stop and review" an individual return, according to Maione, like the validation of withholding information.  But he said that's not the same thing as an "audit."

When asked if the state had a certain threshold that triggered a "stop and review" or "audit," of an individual return, like say the amount of the refund, Maione said, "No comment."

Filed your taxes?  Tell us how it went.

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Special Election Law Change; 26th CD Same

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Good news for overseas military personnel is bad news for the residents of the 26th Congressional District near Buffalo.

Lawmakers in both chambers unanimously approved a bill that would change the law that governs New York's special elections.  The legislation, sponsored by Senator Thomas O'Mara, (R-C, Big Flats) and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D, Brooklyn), doubles the amount of time between the governor’s proclamation of a special election and the date of that election -- from thirty to forty days, to between seventy and eighty days.

The lawmakers said the change was necessary to make sure that there is enough time to get ballots to those serving in the military.

“This legislation will help ensure that every ballot is counted in special elections," said Millman in a statement, "most notably the ones cast by the brave New Yorkers serving in the military services who sacrifice so much to protect our loved ones, our nation and our democracy.”

Check out O’Mara touting his first legislative victory.

Governor Cuomo also released a statement saying he plans to sign the bill into law.

Now what this means for Buffalo? The fine people of former Rep. Christopher Lee's district will have to continue to leave their representation in the hands of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Lee resigned from Congress on February 9, 2011 after a certain Craigslist photo scandal.

Candidates, take your mark.

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Christie Folds 'Em: Online Gaming Vetoed in NJ

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Garden State residents won't be trading Atlantic City's green felt tables for their laptops anytime soon.  Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill on Thursday that would have made online gambling legal in New Jersey.

First reported in the WSJ, Christie's veto is seen as a blow to the gaming industry, which was looking to expand from brick-and-mortar casinos in Atlantic City to click-and-play sites online.

In a press conference before the veto was made public, Christie said he would veto the bill if he had legal or constitutional questions. “I’ve got to make sure that if I were to sign something like that that it would both be legal and constitutional,” he said.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Salem/Cumberland/Gloucester), the prime sponsor of the bill, issued a statement saying he would review Gov. Christie's veto, adding, "Still, the reality is that Internet gaming is coming and we need to figure out a way to make it work to benefit Atlantic City casinos. I hope to work cooperatively on new legislation that ensures New Jersey remains competitive for years to come in all aspects of modern gaming.”

The bill (A-2570) would have allowed all games, including poker, that are played at a casino to be offered through Internet wagering.

Any bets on a revised bill?

-Brigid Bergin

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Cuomo: Cut State Contracts

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Governor Cuomo issued his tenth Executive Order on Wednesday which would reduce the costs of personal services contracts used by state agencies by 10 percent.

From the announcement:

Under the order, agencies will be permitted to renew certain PSCs only if the contractor agrees to the reduction or with the approval of the Director of State Operations.

"My proposed budget calls for significant savings from State agencies and reducing the cost of contracts those agencies enter into will help achieve our goal," Governor Cuomo said. "My administration will continue looking for ways to save taxpayers' money across all sectors of our government, and asking companies that do business with the State to find new efficiencies and lower their costs is a critical part of the process."

The state uses PSCs in areas including research and analysis, data processing, computer programming, engineering, environmental assessment, health and mental health services, and accounting.

State agencies will also be required to examine the roles currently assigned to PSCs and take all reasonable measures to ensure that the same services could not be acquired at a lower price.

These measures include discussing lower price options with current contractors, deciding whether re-bidding contract would achieve cost savings and working with the Director of State Agency Redesign and Efficiency to determine if savings could be achieved through bundling with other state agencies currently utilizing the same contractor.

The Spending and Government Efficiency Commission, created by Executive Order No. 4, will continue to review the state's practices regarding contracts for personal services to identify additional ways to reduce their number and cost.

Citizen's Budget Commission President Carol Kellerman, after thanking me for pointing this out to her, called this move "a positive statement."

"It's like [Cuomo's] saying, 'I'm cutting the salary of managers. I'm capping the salary of superintendents. I'm showing I'm cognizant of the fact that there are also consultants," explained Kellerman. "It's about putting agencies through hurdles."

-Brigid Bergin

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State Official Warns of Impending Layoffs

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Supporters of the so-called "Millionaires' Tax" (a higher tax rate for those earning over $200,000) held rallies at City Hall and in Albany today, at the same time the Cuomo administration's director of operations testified at a hearing on workforce issues about the potential for close to 10,000 layoffs of state workers if union contracts aren't sufficiently renegotiated.

“Our drop dead date before we must begin planning for layoffs is April first,” said Howard Glaser, director of state operations. “If we don’t have an agreement in place on April 1st, we must begin planning for workforce reductions at that point. When those reductions might take place is a consequence of many factors.”

The president of the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) also testified at the hearing. PEF President Kenneth Brynien told legislators that for the sake of fairness, the Executive Budget should not require New York public employees to pay the entire price for the state’s deficit.

From Brynien's testimony:

“Public servants didn’t cause this deficit, and it begs the question why state workers, school employees, and health care workers should be asked to bear the brunt of the sacrifice to address this fiscal crisis,” he said.

[H/T Jimmy Vielkind]

-Brigid Bergin

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Cuomo Names Labor Negotiating Team

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this morning that Joseph M. Bress and Todd R. Snyder will serve as his Labor Negotiating Team.

From the announcement:

Mr. Bress was the Vice President of Labor Relations at the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) from 1997-2010. Prior to working at Amtrak, he was appointed head of the Governor's Office of Employee Relations, under Governor Mario M. Cuomo. The office was responsible for labor relations and human resources policies for over 200,000 New York State employees. He also served as Chair and Executive Director of the New York State Ethics Commission. Mr. Bress holds a B.A. from Harpur College, Binghamton University and a J.D. from Buffalo Law School, SUNY Buffalo.

Mr. Snyder is a Senior Managing Director of Rothschild Inc. and Co-Head of Rothschild's Restructuring and Reorganization group, a leading international investment banking and financial advisory firm. He has been an advisor to Rothschild Inc.'s companies in restructurings and reorganizations for twenty-three years. He has been instrumental in a diverse selection of complex transactions including reorganizations, restructurings, financings, workouts, exchange offers, mergers, divestitures and management led buyouts. He advised the Bush and Obama administrations on the restructuring of the auto industry. Prior to joining Rothschild Inc., Mr. Snyder held a series of positions in restructuring and reorganization. Prior to his move to investment banking, Mr. Snyder practiced law in the Business Reorganization department of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Mr. Snyder graduated with honors from Wesleyan University and received a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In addition, Mr. Snyder is an adjunct professor at New York University Law School and New York University Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

Our friends at Capitol Confidential note that Bress is an alumni of Gov. Mario Cuomo's administration.

-Brigid Bergin

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Senate Passes LIFO Reform Bill

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

In a win for Mayor Bloomberg, the state senate narrowly approved a bill that would end seniority protections for teachers in New York City. But its fate in the state Assembly is less certain.

The bill would do away with the so-called "last in, first out" rule requiring school districts to lay off new teachers first when cutting back staff, regardless of how good they are.

Mayor Bloomberg in a statement says the bill "puts the needs of our children first."

Earlier today, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said he thinks the bill isn't necessary. He says the state is coming up with a new teacher evaluation system that will make it easier for districts to keep good teachers and get rid of bad ones.

-Beth Fertig

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Snow Fatigue Sets in After City Endures Sixth Storm

Friday, January 21, 2011

The ritual is not new to Gary Dawoit. After each storm, he and two colleagues, armed with scrapers and shovels, have the unenviable task of clearing the snow from around three company cars.

Comments [5]

New Sheriff Comes to Town

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Even the big city needs a sheriff, and New York has a new one. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has passed the honored badge to Edgar A. Domenech, a former deputy director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


Spotlight on Broadway’s Emergency Preparedness

Monday, December 06, 2010

Seven months after an attempted car bombing in Time Square, local leaders are shining a spotlight on the Great White Way’s emergency preparedness. And as the theater season hits its holiday peak, those who work on Broadway are giving themselves mixed reviews.

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Unemployed New Yorkers Facing Sudden End to Benefits

Friday, December 03, 2010

Unemployment figures released today paint a somber picture for job seekers. The nation's unemployment rate climbed to 9.8 percent in November, a seven-month high.


Workplace Violations Cited at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The newly renovated Koch Theater at Lincoln Center is facing $51,000 in fines for workplace safety violations. The theatre is home to the New York City Ballet and the New York City Opera.

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