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New York Politics

Five Stories for the End of a Heatwave

By Sarah Laskow
Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Rep. Michael Grimm

When temperatures rocket over 100 degrees and don’t drop below 80, even at night, most of us don’t have the wherewithal to care about any news other than when the heat will dissipate. But now that the mind-numbing heat that swept New York last week has left, State Room rounds up the stories that passed in the haze.

Same-Sex Marriage Challenged
Hundreds of couples wed this weekend after New York State’s new same-sex marriage law went into effect. City clerks made a special effort to open their offices up on Sunday so that couples could take advantage of the law as soon as it came into effect. Opponents of the law, on the other hand, had to wait until Monday to register their disapproval. But on the first day the courts were open after the new law took effect, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms and a rabbi filed a case challenging the law on the grounds that the state had violated open meetings laws.

New York Freshman Reps Have America’s Future in their Hands
If Congress doesn’t pass some piece of legislation dealing with the debt ceiling and soon, we’re all going to be screwed. But freshmen, in particular, who are apparently still somewhat dewy-eyed about the role of ideas in Washington, are having a tough time dealing with the reality of D.C. compromises. New York frosh Michael Grimm pointed out he’d had an actual gun to his head before and “didn’t blink then; won’t blink now.” The DCCC knows what to do with that sort of intransigence: the national Democratic group is robocalling the districts of Grimm and four other freshman Republicans and saying they’re gong to “protect tax breaks for big oil companies and billionaire jet owners.”

State GOP Rolling in It
But on the state level, at least, the GOP is doing fine. NYPIRG’s Bill Mahoney crunched some campaign finance data and found that Republicans (candidates and the conference committee) had raised more than $6.6 million — three times more than Democrats, who raised about $2.17 million.

Bloomberg Rolling in It
The mayor is finding ways to spend his millions. He just bought a $20 million mansion on 35 acres of the Hamptons. The property’s secluded and right next to a golf course. But he also gave $50 million to the Sierra Club for its anti-coal campaign, which in the grand scheme of things at least makes up karmically for some of the carbon his private planes have expelled on weekend flights to the Bahamas and whatnot.

Economic Development Overhaul
We already know that Gov. Cuomo digs consolidation. He announced last week that he’d  brought together and reorganized a slew of state economic development programs. The result is a pool of $1 billion in development grants that should be easier to apply for. With all that money in one place, the governor said, communities will be able to strive for long-term visions, rather than competing to fund one-off projects.

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Five Stories Not about Rupert Murdoch

By Sarah Laskow
Friday, July 15th, 2011

Council Speaker Christine Quinn

The most scandalicious story this week — the closure of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World — had nothing to do with New York politics, per se. But any story about Rupert Murdoch is distracting. With Albany out of session and the New York City budget passed, the most exciting political news this week was finding out which politicians have the most money to spend on their reelection campaigns (although legally sanctioned graft — otherwise known as fundraising — is inevitably less fun than illegal graft).

Christie Quinn Raised the Most Money
Therefore, she will be mayor in 2013. Or so conventional wisdom would suggest. She raised $1.32 million in 2011 so far. John Liu, her closest competitor in the money race, raised $1 million. But in total, Quinn has $4 million to blow on the mayoral race.

As a rule, the candidate with the most money to spend on election wins. And in New York media markets, campaign ads are expensive. Successful candidates do have to raise the money themselves: self-funders break the maxim. In politics, $4 million isn’t $4 million unless you’ve spent hours on the phone and in posh banquet halls asking people for it.

Bloomberg Gives Other Mayors a Financial Boost
Mayor Bloomberg’s Bloomberg Philathropies gave $24 million to five mayors still within the first 18 months of office. One of those mayors was Rahm Emanuel, who generally doesn’t need help finding money. That $1.32 million that Christie Quinn came up with is chump change to him: He raised $1.4 million just in the last 10 days of 2010.

Bloomberg (and Many Others) Give Mark Grisanti a Financial Boost
Mark Grisanti voted to legalize same-sex marriage, and that vote could have hurt his chances of re-election. But to salve that wound, money helps. Mayor Bloomberg chipped in $10,300 to the state senator’s campaign fund, as did the investor Robert Ziff and the banker Frank R. Selvaggi, The New York Observer reported. LGBT advocate Tim Gill donated $10,000. Overall, Grisanti raised $148,325 in the last fundraising period.

Same-Sex Marriage Fallout
Not everyone made out so well from the same-sex marriage vote, of course. The clerk of the Town of Barker resigned her position, because she didn’t want to sign marriage for same-sex couples. She wrote in her resignation letter, “The Bible clearly teaches that God created marriage between male and female as a divine gift that preserves families and culture.”

Sandra Lee’s petroleum-Based Income
We know how Gov. Andrew Cuomo feel about hydrofracking now, but where does Sandra Lee, our unofficial first lady, stand? And what sort of income might she be getting from the petroleum industry? She spoke in March at a meeting of petroleum executives, but it’s not clear what group that was. Food & Water Watch, a D.C.-based group, wants to know more. Cuomo wouldn’t characterize her relationship with the industry.

Lots of people do like Sandra Lee, but it’s not entirely clear what interest petroleum executives would have in her. State Room’s best guess is that it has something to do with petroleum-based plastics for a product line.

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David Weprin in Brief (But Not Briefs)

A look at the Democrat's refreshingly tedious 2011 record
By Sarah Laskow
Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Assemblyman David Weprin

David I. Weprin, the Democratic Party’s candidate to fill Rep. Anthony Weiner’s now vacant seat, is supposed to be interested in the position because his political career stalled out in the state assembly. The NY-9 seat could very well be redistricted out of existence, but before it’s gone, Weprin could use it to vault himself out of anonymous ranks of junior assemblymen and into the hearts of enough New Yorkers to make him a successful candidate for city-wide office — perhaps the comptroller seat he ran for, unsuccessfully, once before.

State Room examined Weprin’s 2011 record in the assembly and found that, like any rank-and-file lawmaker, the bills he introduced were many and the bills that went anywhere were few. One bill that’s passed through both the assembly and the senate and is waiting for additional assembly action reveals the parochial concerns of a state lawmaker: a law that went into effect in 2006 required that certain property in Queens pass to the parks department within one year; Weprin’s bill extends that deadline to “within nine years.”

As city councilman and as an assemblyman, Weprin has worked on decreasing gun violence, including a bill of his that extends the definition of “criminal possession a weapon in the fourth degree.” In current law, a person convicted of a felony or a serious offense who possesses a rifle or shotgun is guilty of that crime; under Weprin’s bill, convicted felons or serious offenders would also be guilty of the fourth degree of criminal possession if they had an “antique firearm, black powder rifle, black powder shotgun, or any muzzle-loading firegun.”As an assemblyman, he has also pushed to outlaw smoking in cars or trucks carrying a passenger less than 14 years old.

Weprin did sponsor one bill that made it to Gov. Cuomo’s desk. It was a measure introduced at the request of the state’s insurance department (Weprin serves on the assembly’s insurance committee), and it amended the definition of insurance fraud. As far as State Room can tell, the amendments include tiny grammatical changes that including adding “or she” to one clause previously referring only to “he” and substituting letters for the lower case Roman numerals organizing the statute’s subclauses. Oh, snap!

A freshman congressperson likely doomed to be redistricted out of power, Weprin would not have the clout to turn out much more exciting legislation at the federal level. But he’ll benefit from the unusual amount of news coverage of the NY-9 election. The Democratic Party doesn’t need a person in that seat who will draw attention to himself and try to make a name for himself in the House of Representatives. They’ve had enough of that. As if to calm nerves further, Weprin has mentioned in his first round of press that he does not use Twitter. That’s not entirely accurate: he or his campaign staff set up an account in his name during his 2009 race for comptroller. Sample tweets: “Statement from Corey Bearak, Weprin for Assembly Campaign Manager”; “Thank you everyone who worked, volunteered and supported the effort that culminated in the good results last night. I am most appreciative.” It’s not particularly scintillating stuff — thank goodness.

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Frack Yes? New York Ready to Compromise on Natural Gas

By Sarah Laskow
Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Machine used for hydrofracking (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)

The day before Americans took off to celebrate  the July 4th weekend, the governor’s office owned that Gov. Cuomo supported hydrofracking in New York State — under certain conditions. Hydrofracking or, simply, fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique that allows natural gas companies to get at long-sequestered sources of gas. The horizontal hydrofracking technique that the gas industry wants to use in New York involves drilling deep into the ground and turning the drill sideways into shale rock formations. By creating cracks in the shale, this technique releases gas, and drilling companies pump tanks of chemical-laden water into the holes in order to keep the cracks open and allow gas to bubble up to the surface.

In Pennsylvania, Colorado and other states where fracking has been used, communities near drilling sites have found their water contaminated with methane and other noxious gases. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study on the connection between fracking and such environmental degradation. Gas companies claim there is none.

New York has waited longer than most states to permit gas companies to start mining its gas resources. Gov. Cuomo says he believes fracking can be done safely and that New York’s approach will be a balanced one. The Department of Environmental Conservation will release to the public this week a 900-page draft document detailing the potential environmental impacts of fracking. The agency’s decision to allow fracking in some areas of the states “was based on rigorous testing, research, facts and science, not politics or ideology on the issue,” Gov. Cuomo said last week. The members of the High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel, appointed by DEC Commissioner Joe Martens could also be said to be a balanced group: It includes business leaders, former politicians, industry representatives and environmentalists.

At first glance, it seems that the panel is weighted towards environmentalists: seven of the panel’s 13 members are affiliated with environmental groups that include the National Resources Defense Council, the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Environmental Defense Fund, and President Clinton’s White House Council on Environmental Quality. On closer inspection, however, the panel is weighted not so much towards environmental advocates as towards people committed, like Cuomo, to a balanced approach to fracking.

On fracking, environmentalists divide into two camps. Larger groups that work on a national or international level (Greenpeace, NRDC, Sierra Club) support increased natural gas production although, like Cuomo, they want a close watch kept on gas companies and strong regulations governing the process. These groups see natural gas as a low-carbon alternative to coal. It is often referred to as a “bridge fuel” that will help slow climate change. Smaller groups voicing environmental concerns about hydrofracking, like the Coalition to Protect New York, tend to oppose it completely. They are not ready to sacrifice their communities’ air and water quality or to change inalterably the landscapes they live in for an energy solution that even its supporters admit is only incrementally better than coal.

The environmentalists on the DEC advisory board come from the first camp. NRDC, for instance, has been a strong national ally to local anti-fracking groups, but its institutional outlook on fracking is that “Natural gas has an important role to play in America’s energy future.” Like Cuomo, NRDC is looking for balance on natural gas policy. The New York League of Conservation Voters also believes “that natural gas will play a critical role in the eventual transition to a clean energy future.” Environmental Advocates of New York is the only group native to New York that has been enlisted in the advisory board and the only group that echoes the fervor with which local opponents to fracking have been fighting against the practice.

Fracking opponents now have three angles from which they are fighting back against gas companies. As the state government moves to open up land to fracking, it will open up a 60 day comment period: In the last round of study, the comment period attracted more than 10,000 contributions. Local groups have also despaired of finding a sympathetic ear in Albany or in Washington and have been working to institute fracking bans town by town, city by city, county by county. And Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is also taking seriously the possibility that, unlike national environmental groups, natural gas companies are not interested in balance. He’s pursuing a case against the federal government that digs into the potential health and safety impacts of natural gas. Gov. Cuomo has said he would not support fracking unless he believed it could be done safely. He’s apparently convinced; Schneiderman, it seems, still has questions about whether a balanced approach is possible.

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The First Six Months: Cuomo’s Top Four Accomplishments

By Sarah Laskow
Friday, July 1st, 2011

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

In the past six months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has led the state through passing a budget on time, “redesigning” Medicaid, accepting ethics reform, renewing rent regulations, agreeing to a property tax cap and mandate relief, and doubling the number of people in this country who live in a place where same-sex couples can wed. It seems that every political entity in New York State has bowed to the governor’s wishes at some point: Even Mayor Bloomberg, who normally gets what he wants, couldn’t convince Albany that the “last in, first out” teacher hiring policy needed to go.

Over the summer, members of Cuomo’s cabinet will fan out to communities across the state to tout their boss’s accomplishments. But State Room is one step ahead of them! Here’s our list of Cuomo’s top four accomplishments in his first six months.

Convincing New Yorkers He’ll Do What He Promises
Every major initiative that Andrew Cuomo has started on, he’s finished. For months, he focused on the budget, and against all historical odds, it passed on time. The Post’s Fred Dicker criticized him for letting an early opportunity to pass ethics reform — the fall of State Senator Carl Kruger — float on by. But Cuomo passed ethics reforms in his own sweet time.

Cuomo has proven skilled at getting people on board and giving them reasons to work with him. But he’s also made promises that have a decent chance of passing the Republican Senate, the sticking point for any progressive policy he might offer. But instead of fighting with Skelos and his caucus, Cuomo has focused on legislation like the property tax cap that Republicans wanted anyway and that he can argue are good for citizens in a down economy. He also has a knack for avoiding public discussion and debate of knotty problems (*cough* Medicaid *cough*…also mandate relief) by kicking them over to special commissions.

Showed He’s Not Afraid to Barbecue the Democratic Party’s Sacred Cows
Andrew Cuomo has not been a friend to unions. The teachers’ unions got very little, if anything, they wanted out of the budget process. Public employees unions are facing lay-offs and benefit cuts. He’s embraced ideas normally associated with Republicans: the property tax cap, pension reform, streamlining government and mandate relief are all policies that argue that government should be doing less (or at least spending less money).

But in a national field of governors that includes Scott Walker and Chris Christie, who aren’t just Republican governors but blood-red conservatives, even a Democrat who’s been called a Rockefeller Republican can still be talked about as a leading contender in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

Showed He’s not Afraid to Champion Progressive Social Policy
Same-sex marriage didn’t have to pass. It did.

Escaped the Shadows of Spitzer and Cuomo, Sr.
Andrew Cuomo has accomplished at least as much in his first six months as Spitzer did the entire time he was in office. And people still like him! Chatter comparing the current Governor Cuomo to the first one has died down, and our current governor has formed his own identity as a pragmatic get-’er-done leader. The comparison won’t end for good until Andrew Cuomo’s had a chance to get on a campaign plane to New Hampshire (and actually does it), but as far as Albany’s concerned, he’s made his own mark.

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Same-Sex Marriage: What Happens Now?

By Sarah Laskow
Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

The Empire State Building, decked out in its rainbow finest for the annual Gay Pride events.

On the grand, historical level of accounting, this past weekend’s victory for same-sex marriage advocates represents a victory for equality and for civil rights. The wavering senators who provided the last votes for the legislation put their decisions in moral terms: they wanted to “do the right thing.” They doubled the number of Americans who live in a place where same-sex couples can wed and provided safe-guards for religious institutions that want to stand outside this shift. And because New York is such a big state, the vote made it that much more likely that other states will follow suit.

But what does it mean on the practical level? What happens now?

New York is not the first place in the world, not even the first place in the country to legalize same-sex marriage. The Netherlands first adopted the idea in 2001, a decade ago. Massachusetts began performing same-sex marriages in 2004, after a court decided that to deny same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional. Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. followed suit.

 
Some gay rights advocates are worried that with the normalization of same-sex marriage, other hard-won rights might be lost.
 

Same-sex marriage followed a similar pattern in all of these places. In the year following legalization, the number of same-sex marriages surged as pent-up demand and delayed weddings were finally made real. In D.C., the first year of legal same-sex marriage saw as many requests for marriage licenses from same-sex couples as from straight couples. But in each of these places, the number of marriages dropped off dramatically in the next year: In Britain, half as many same-sex couples were married in 2007 as in 2006, the first year same-sex marriage was legal in that country. And so, wedding curmudgeons, if you get invited to an extra helping of weddings in the next year, fear not: By 2012 or so, the excitement will have died down.

In the longer term, New York could see an increase in the number of same-sex couples identifying themselves openly. In the years following the legalization of same-sex marriage, Massachusetts saw an increase of same-sex couples, wed or unwed, across the state. It’s not clear that more couples moved to the state because it had allowed same-sex marriage, or if couples already living there felt more comfortable being open about their relationships.

Some gay rights advocates are worried that with the normalization of same-sex marriage, other hard-won rights might be lost. The gay community has fought hard for the acceptance of relationships outside of what has been considered “normative,” and they argue that marriage for those who want it doesn’t obviate the need for greater flexibility, both culturally and legally, on how people build relationships. In The New York Times last week, Katherine Franke of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, worried that as in other states that have adopted same-sex marriage, rights for domestic partners (gay or straight) in New York will disappear. It is worth remembering that many conservatives — David Brooks, Andrew Sullivan — were instrumental in forwarding the case for same-sex marriage. They were less interested in giving respect and legitimacy to people across the full spectrum of possible relationships than in sussing out, from any two people who’ve been together for long enough, the answer to the question: “So, when’s the wedding?”

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Three Stories Not About Same-Sex Marriage

By Sarah Laskow
Friday, June 24th, 2011

Michael Bloomberg

Whether you’re hoping your two wonderful friends might be able to tie the knot, or just crossing your fingers that the same-sex wedding boom might get you a job, if you’re anything like us, you’ve probably been refreshing Albany political blogs madly — only to find that there is zero actual news about the same-sex marriage bill.

Other things have been going on in New York politics this week, though! Here are three stories that have nothing to do with people of the same gender in loving relationships gaining equal protection under the law.

The legislature did pass some actual bills
A law dealing with the location of power plants will fast track approvals for plants who are reducing the amount of pollution they emit. The law also lowers the threshold for the size of plants exempt from review: only plants generating 25 MW or less of energy can skip the approval process. Also, the legislature got on board with a deal that Governor Cuomo hashed out with the Civil Service Employees Association, a public employees union. Under the deal, CSEA members will dodge impending lay-offs.

Taxi cab and livery cab drivers now both annoyed at Bloomberg
Mayor Bloomberg tried to advance his proposal to have livery cab drivers legally pick up hails in outer boroughs fast-tracked through Albany, where lawmakers won’t have to listen to pissed-off taxi drivers every time it rains and they want to catch a cab home. The Assembly ok’d the idea, but the Senate was not as excited about it. Hordes of yellow cabs and their drivers were in Albany to protest the bill, which they say would deprive them of business. Livery cab drivers, who in theory will benefit from the bill, have so far only received a rash of tickets for taking the very action — picking up street hails — that the mayor wants to legalize.

Bike lane opponents need a month to read boring emails
Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, the Park Slope group that opposes bike lanes, is trying to have the lane bordering Prospect Park removed through legal actions. This week, when the parties in the case met in court for the first time, NBBL asked for and received an additional month to search through Department of Transportation emails they obtained through a freedom of information request. As anyone who’s ever received a pile of government emails knows, most of them will likely be quite dull. But Transportation Nation has a few excerpts that might get bike conspiracists’ blood boiling.

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Overtime in Albany: Closed-Door Sessions Take on Big-Ticket Items

By Sarah Laskow
Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

For two days now, the three most important people in Albany — Andrew Cuomo, Dean Skelos, and Sheldon Silver — have been retreating behind closed doors for marathon sessions of haggling. They emerge every once in awhile to toss a bone to the gathered throng of reporters. It’s usually Skelos or Silver or both who speak; Cuomo has been more reticent, although last night he allowed that “no obstacles” to same-sex marriage have arisen. They’re still working on it.

As politicians dribble legislation around, everyone is losing stamina. These are long nights. Some legislators, The New York Times noted, are running out of clean clothes. Skelos looks tired. Every time he emerges to speak to the press the bags under his eyes seem darker.

Getting pieces of legislation through at this point means tweaking details, throwing in less-considered language, making laws strung with important clauses that no one will notice until their impact sneaks up. No one can guarantee that same-sex marriage will pass, but other big ticket items — rent regulation, a property tax cap, mandate relief, and tuition bumps for SUNY and CUNY schools — should go through.

The bills laying out the principles that negotiators have agreed on, though, have yet to come out. The press has been given the outlines of the deal: Rent regulation will be renewed for four years. Apartments will not exit the system until their monthly rent tops $2,500 and their occupants’ income tops $200,000. In some buildings, landlords will be able to pass on a smaller portion of renovations to newly entering tenants. SUNY and CUNY schools will be able to raise tuition by $300 a year for five years. The property tax cap will be at 2 percent, also for five years, with limited carve outs for pension spikes.

But that’s just what reporters have been told. Until the bills come out, with the legal language available to read, that’s all the information available. But if it were that simple, the bill containing these provisions could have been printed and voted on by now. They’re talking about something in those long meetings! By the time the bills do come out, legislators and reporters, advocates and aides will be ready to crash.

Deadlines can be motivating. The deal on the property tax cap, for instance, does appear to have changed much in the past few months. Why wait to vote on it, then? The end of session deadline means that legislators can use that piece of lawmaking as a tool to bargain on other measures — with more on the table, there’s more to haggle over. Everyone wants to get home and bask in the summer heat, but since there’s a deadline, to pass nothing would be to admit failure.

But deadlines can also be too motivating. Students might tell themselves that the conclusion they wrote at 5 a.m. the night before a 25-page paper is due ranks among the most brilliant, beautiful pieces of writing they’ve done. But inevitably, after 10 hours of sleep or so, it’s clear that it’s only passing. At least, though, it’s finished. Lawmaking works in the same way. At least lawmakers will be finished. Will the laws be any good? We can hope they’ll at least get a passing grade.

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New York’s Rent Regulation Laws Expire

By Sarah Laskow
Thursday, June 16th, 2011

A tenement in the Lower East Side.

New York’s rent regulation laws have expired before. In 1997, the legislature did not pass a new version of the law until five days after the previous iteration had run its allotted course. As the deadline neared, tenant advocates and the media warned that landlords could bring burdensome rent increases down upon their tenants or evict them en masse. The Metropolitan Council on Housing provided tenants with a list of actions that would help them hang on to their apartments for as long as it would take for the rent laws to be re-enacted.

As of last night, at midnight, there is no active rent regulation law in New York State. If nothing changes, the system that has helped keep millions of New Yorkers in their homes during a decades-long housing shortage will end. Tenants and their advocates are protesting the legislature’s lack of action. But they are not freaking out. They know the legislature will renew the law, in some form.

Yesterday Gov. Cuomo said in a release that the session would not end until the legislature renews the law. The open question is what the law will look like when it passes. The Senate favors a simple re-up of the current law; the Assembly favors rent regulation reform, tweaks to the current system which strengthen renters’ protections and keep more apartments under regulation, for longer. Senators tend to agree more with the landlords’ argument that current protections are too strong and that rent regulation is keeping building revenues too low to keep up with growing costs.

At one point, lawmakers in Albany were considering packing rent regulation renewal into the budget. But the budget contained few controversial decisions, and an agreement on rent regulation was punted forward, to this, the last possible moment to take action.

Rent regulation laws are meant to be a response to a housing shortage. But the crunch for housing in New York has lasted longer than anyone imagined. Even when vacancy rates have gone up, they are still well below the threshold that ensures that a person living in New York can find a decent apartment to live in, at a reasonable price. Although tenant advocates point out that rent-regulated housing serves as affordable housing, creating affordable housing is not a goal of the rent regulation law. Its goal is to keep rental rates from shooting up so fast that apartments leap out of their tenants’ price range. It creates stability, not affordability.

In an ideal world, legislators might step back from rent regulation laws and consider how they might best address a long-term housing shortage. But it’s unlikely that even a modicum of legislative soul searching will happen while legislators are stuck in Albany, putting off their summer, while struggling with this beast of a law. They need a deal. They’ll get one. And in a few years, they’ll face the same problems, when whatever version of the law they come up with now runs its course.

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Five Stories You Missed Because of Anthony Weiner

By Sarah Laskow
Monday, June 13th, 2011

Rep. Peter King's second hearing on the “radicalization of the Muslim-American community” will focus on prison populations.

Even before Anthony Weiner confessed his sins, Washington blogger Matt Yglesias laid out the strategy for him to stay in office: Don’t resign. Weiner is trying his best to stick with that strategy, and after seemingly endless news cycles of coverage, by Friday he was off the cover of one of the major tabloids. Alas, just as the scandal seemed to be dying down, it kicked back up this weekend, as pictures of a half-naked Weiner in the congressional gym appeared, Nancy Pelosi called on him to resign, and he announced he’d be seeking treatment for his unnamed problem. (Boredom? Vanity?)

Despite all appearances to the contrary, the world has gone on while many of us obsessed over one man’s crotch shots. With no judgment in our hearts, State Room presents five stories that readers might have missed while reading racy chat transcripts or, out of disgust, avoiding the news altogether.

Free Wi-Fi in New York City Parks!
Bloomberg announced this initiative last Thursday. Thirteen parks already have Wi-Fi; 19 more are having Wi-Fi installed. Manhattan has the greatest number of spots receiving service, but major parks in every borough are on the list.

Cuomo’s Stab at Pension Reform
The governor’s plan would raise the retirement age of new state workers and teachers to 65 and require that six percent of their salaries go towards funding their pensions. There’s little time in the legislative session left for him to get this one (and same-sex marriage and rent-regulation reform) through, but State Room is out of the business, for now, of doubting Cuomo’s ability to get what he wants.

Albany Layoffs Will Begin in July
The Albany Times-Union obtained a memo that identified July 15 as the date for the first round of layoffs for state employees. According to the memo, the Budget Division will release today a list of the positions targeted for elimination so that more senior staff can work to move laterally (a practice also known as “bumping”) into job that have a chance of surviving.

First Steps Towards Fracking Ban
The Assembly passed a bill that would keep the state from issuing new permits for natural gas and oil drilling using hydraulic fracturing until June 2012. This drilling technique allows companies to access gas resources that would be otherwise inaccessible and is driving the natural gas boom in New York and neighboring states. But worries about the environmental impact of the technique, particularly concerns about contaminated water, have convinced some legislators, at least, that it would be wise to wait for more information before giving the energy industry the go-ahead to transform upstate New York into a gas field.

Peter King Is Still Worried About Radicalized Muslims
Last time the Long Island congressman held a hearing on this issue, it was all the media could talk about for weeks. But it did prove rather tame in the end, and this time reporters had so much more important things to think about. King’s second hearing on the threat Muslims pose to society will focus on radicalization in prisons. It’s scheduled for Wednesday.

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