Editorials from around New York

October 3, 2018

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:


The Post-Standard on the legacy of Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney.

Sept. 29

The speed of the national news cycle has nothing on Onondaga County. Just last Monday, County Executive Joanie Mahoney announced she would resign to take a job at SUNY. By Tuesday, a mere eight days later, the county Legislature is poised to select Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon to fill out Mahoney’s term.

That will end Mahoney’s 11-year tenure as county executive. Looking back, her career as the county’s most powerful elected official had more highs than lows.

On the plus side of the ledger:

(asterisk) Mahoney’s first big decision upon taking office in 2007 was to cancel a sewer treatment plant that was going to be built in Armory Square, as part of the county’s consent agreement to clean up Onondaga Lake. Instead, Mahoney created the Save the Rain program, relying on “green” technologies like living roofs, porous pavement and rain gardens to keep stormwater out of the sewers and prevent sewage overflows when it rained. This, along with upgrades to the Metropolitan Sewage Treatment Plant, resulted in a noticeably cleaner - dare we say, swimmable - lake.

(asterisk) Mahoney grew up in Syracuse, served on the Common Council and, as county executive, she consistently said the county cannot thrive if the city is allowed to wither. Her support came despite friction with then-Mayor Stephanie Miner and resistance from suburban legislators. The 2010 sales tax sharing agreement between the city and the county boosted the city’s financial position. She supported the renovation of the Hotel Syracuse. The county also is a partner in the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, whose work to combat blight largely benefits the city.

(asterisk) As the provider of social services in the county, Mahoney’s support was critical to the success of Say Yes to Education, which guarantees college tuition to Syracuse City School District graduates. The county provides “wrap-around” services to schoolchildren and their families, for their well-being and to help them focus on succeeding in school.

(asterisk) As CEO of a $1.3 billion enterprise, Mahoney kept the lid on property taxes, reduced county payroll, reorganized the provision of social services and merged the operations of the Jamesville Penitentiary and the Onondaga County Justice Center jail.

(asterisk) Love it or hate it, the St. Joseph’s Amphitheater at Lakeview would not exist but for Mahoney. It was part of her long-term strategy to boost tourism and grow sales tax revenue so as to lighten the burden on local property taxpayers. The Amp also became integral to the wholesale revamp of the New York State Fairgrounds, replacing the fair’s grandstand as the venue for large concerts. Mahoney’s cross-party endorsement of Democrat Andrew Cuomo for governor in 2010 - and his feud with Miner - made her Cuomo’s go-to person in Central New York.

Her close relationship with Cuomo has cut both ways. The Cuomo administration promoted economic development ideas in Onondaga County -- the film hub and Soraa factory in DeWitt -- that were poorly envisioned and executed. Later, they were revealed to be wells of corruption. Mahoney took on the film hub as a county liability after the state couldn’t make a go of it.

Also on the minus side of the ledger:

(asterisk) Mahoney’s rupture with Miner over Cuomo’s proposal to build a stadium for Syracuse University in the city was a low point. The acrimony spoiled a collaboration on economic development and ended any further talk of city/county consolidation.

(asterisk) Mahoney could not persuade the Legislature to adopt her plan to curb suburban sprawl without population growth. It was not in the interest of the suburbs to stop the flow of new property tax revenue.

(asterisk) Despite her years as a public official, Mahoney chafed at criticism. Her administration was top-down and tight-lipped.

(asterisk) We wish Mahoney had announced her intention to resign in time for a special election to have been called. By waiting, she deprived voters of an opportunity to choose her interim replacement. That gives McMahon a year in the job to raise money and consolidate support for a 2019 run at a full term.

As Onondaga County’s third county executive, Mahoney had big shoes to fill. Her predecessors, John Mulroy and Nick Pirro, were responsible for tapping a stable water supply from Lake Ontario, building Onondaga Community College, acquiring and expanding county parks and the zoo, and creating a downtown convention center. Mahoney was a good steward of their accomplishments, and built a legacy of fiscal responsibility that positions the county well for the future.

Online: https://bit.ly/2NmjPhx


The Albany Times Union on gun reform in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting.

Oct. 1

A year after the Las Vegas massacre, the device the sniper used remains legal.

What will it take for politicians to put protecting people above protecting the firearms industry and their own NRA ratings?

One year ago Monday, a sniper opened fire on a crowd of people at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. The massacre claimed 58 lives. More than 850 people were injured. The shooter fired over 1,100 rounds in just 10 minutes.

We don’t know Stephen Paddock’s motive, but we do know his method. He was able to shoot so many bullets in such a short span of time because of a device known as a “bump stock.”

A year later, that device is still legal under federal as well as New York law. It’s a testimony to the power of the National Rifle Association and to the cravenness of politicians afraid to enact any common-sense gun control.

Simply put, a bump stock attaches to a semi-automatic firearm and enables it to perform like a fully automatic one. When the trigger is pulled, the recoil pushes the weapon against the bump stock, which “bumps” it forward; if the shooter keeps their finger in place, the trigger is automatically pressed again and again, and so on.

While automatic weapons are highly restricted under federal law and by many states, bump stocks are not covered by federal statutes. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives repeatedly ruled over the years that existing law did not apply for a variety of reasons, including its conclusion that each contact of the trigger was a separate shot.

After the Las Vegas shooting, several bills to ban bump stocks were introduced in Congress — by normally gun control-averse Republicans who control both chambers, no less. President Donald Trump said he supported such a ban as well. A rare moment of common sense seemed to be at hand.

Not so fast, the NRA said; why not do this by regulation?

So rather than quick congressional approval, the matter became mired in the regulatory process. The rule wasn’t introduced until March, and bureaucrats spent months slogging through tens of thousands of comments. Only last week — with the massacre’s anniversary putting the spotlight back on bump stocks — did the Justice Department submit the rule to the Office of Management and Budget. That step that will take many more months, at least.

To its shame, New York hasn’t banned bump stocks either. Despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s claim that they are already illegal under state law, it is perfectly legal to possess them, State Police say. Mr. Cuomo, who has been strong on gun control, doubtless knows that even this obvious a measure wouldn’t pass the Republican-controlled Senate. And a state law has limited effect if they are available elsewhere.

The strategy here is obvious: For lawmakers, especially Republicans but also Democrats in conservative and rural districts and states, stall and hope public outrage fades. For the NRA, don’t risk letting lawmakers get in the habit of passing anything resembling gun control, even restricting a deadly accessory that makes it possible to more easily kill dozens of people without reloading.

And citizens? Duck. Or call your lawmaker and ask what happened to common sense.

Online: https://bit.ly/2O4ECLK


The Post-Star on tax issues and other problems in New York.

Sept. 30

Gov. Cuomo believes the sun and fun of Miami Beach has New Yorkers packing their bags.

He says upstaters want more sunshine.

He believes they might want to fish more.

He mostly believes it is not because New York’s economy is a burden.

The governor is convinced happy days are here again and his administration is the reason.

It is not the taxes fueling the exodus or the shortage of good jobs.

It’s the snow and long, gray winters that have New Yorkers leaving at a greater rate than in almost any other state in the nation.

It must be nice to live in that fantasy world, but we think Gov. Cuomo might be more in touch with the reasons for the exodus if he actually lived up here.

It is no secret the governor is a city guy. He only stays in Albany when he has to, and we believe he has no grasp of the problems that really face upstate residents. Perhaps he will consider relocating to a warmer climate himself sometime soon. We might all be better off.

We on the editorial board have the greater luxury of decades of living experience in upstate. We kind of like the weather, the changing of the seasons, knowing how to drive in the snow and the ability to operate a snow blower.

And we’re not getting wrinkles from too much exposure to the sun.

We acknowledge that New York is bleeding residents.

More people moved out than moved in — 191,367 more — between July 2015 and July 2016. That was the largest decline for any state in that time period, and the state lost 846,669 people to other states between 2011 and 2016.

But we’re not buying it was so they could fish more.

We know better.

We’ve watched our property tax bills climb every year, and as we get closer to paying off the mortgage, we worry the tax bill will be just as high once when we are on a fixed income.

We know our kids can get a job anywhere if they want to work in a restaurant or amusement park, but while that is great for high school, it is not good enough to build a professional life.

We know friends, acquaintances who are selling the homestead, downsizing and heading south.

But the weather is just a fringe benefit. The real benefit, the real reality the governor does not acknowledge is that their buck goes further in North Carolina, Florida and just about any other place in the country than it does in upstate New York.

They are also watching their community infrastructure fail and an increasing number of neighborhood homes deteriorate around them.

The blue collar jobs are mostly gone while the service industry jobs have taken their place at a fraction of the pay scale.

We could also argue — according to the governor’s own Department of Environmental Conservation — that the weather is getting better. The average temperature statewide has risen about 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 — 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months.

To be honest, by February we’re ready to pack our bags and move to Miami Beach as well.

But we want to come back after a couple weeks.

We want to stay in upstate, if we can.

We would like our kids and grandkids around us and a chance to have the type of lives we have had in this wonderful community.

Gov. Cuomo needs to know the taxes are killing us.

The fees are too much.

The crumbling infrastructure is keeping good businesses away.

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. We’d feel better if Gov. Cuomo admitted there still is a problem, instead of congratulating himself for solving it.

Online: https://bit.ly/2IukcpH


Newsday on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and rape culture.

Oct. 2

When hotlines and help lines that provide support for victims of rape and sexual assault were flooded with an unprecedented volume of calls last week, it wasn’t because women across the nation wanted to promote liberal political agendas or ruin men’s lives.

It was because they needed to give voice to their pain.

The call volume at the National Sexual Assault hotline spiked 201 percent Thursday during the Senate questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, because sexual assault of women and girls is devastatingly common. It often goes unreported. It can be ignored or minimized if it is reported. It can go unpunished even when victims seek justice.

Women responded to Ford’s halting, compelling testimony last week by finally letting their own stories out. And many men responded with rage not against men who attack, but against women who speak out.

Tuesday, in answering questions about Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump said, “It’s a very scary time for young men in America.”

It isn’t.

In a TV interview that aired this week, Donald Trump Jr. said he is more worried about his sons being falsely accused of sexual assault than he is about his daughters being sexually assaulted. That’s nonsense.

About 400,000 rape kits taken from the medical examinations of traumatized women who filed reports are sitting untested.

It is these sexual assaults, and the efforts to diminish and dismiss them, that are a tragedy. For the Trumps to say that the real worry is an epidemic of false accusations, which does not exist, is a brutal kind of madness. A man who did nothing wrong rarely has anything to worry about.

Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh may be clarified by the FBI investigation being conducted this week. Those who want Kavanaugh’s confirmation stymied believed Ford when she said he pinned her with his body, tried to pull off her clothes and covered her mouth to stifle her screams, as a friend of Kavanaugh’s looked on, behind a bedroom door the boys had locked. Those who want Kavanaugh confirmed say they believe that Ford’s trauma was not at Kavanaugh’s hand. With Ford’s memory gaps about an event from 36 years ago, a lack of corroboration from others she said were there, and Kavanaugh’s absolute denials, it’s not clear what happened.

Unfortunately, many say the assault does not matter even if Kavanaugh did it.

In a Marist Poll for NPR and the “PBS NewsHour,” 54 percent of Republicans said Kavanaugh should be confirmed even if Ford’s accusations are true, and only 34 percent said he should not. So the fear of many, then, is not that even false claims will undermine the lives of men, as the Trump father and son claim, but that true allegations will.

In the past year, women have courageously spoken out about being sexually assaulted, at times against powerful men. Careers have been ended, criminal charges have been filed. The accounts of false claims are comparatively few. The fight is over whether our society is ready to end its open tolerance of sexual assault.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2PcmDQp


The New York Times on President Donald Trump’s business record.

Oct. 2

“I built what I built myself.”

This boast has long been at the core of the mythology of Donald Trump, Self-Made Billionaire. As the oft-told story goes, young Mr. Trump accepted a modest $1 million loan from his father, Fred, a moderately successful real estate developer from Queens, and — through smarts, hard work and sheer force of will — parlayed that loan into a multibillion-dollar global empire.

It’s a classic American tale of ambition and self-determination. Not Horatio Alger, exactly, but appealing, and impressive, nonetheless.

Except that, like so much of what Mr. Trump has been selling the American public in recent years, this origin story was a sham — a version of reality so elaborately embellished that it qualifies as fan fiction more than biography. Also, as we’ve come to expect from Mr. Trump, the creation of this myth involved a big dose of ethically sketchy, possibly even illegal activity.

As an in-depth investigation by The Times has revealed, Mr. Trump is only self-made if you don’t count the massive financial rewards he received from his father’s business beginning as a toddler. (By age 3, little Donald was reportedly pulling in an annual income of what today would be $200,000 a year.) These benefits included not only the usual perks of hailing from a rich, well-connected family — the connections, the access to credit, the built-in safety net. For the Trumps, it also involved direct cash gifts and tens of millions in “loans” that never charged interest or had to be repaid. Fred Trump even purchased several properties and business ventures, putting ownership either fully or partly in the names of his children, who reaped the profits.

As Donald Trump emerged as the favorite son, Fred made special deals and arrangements to increase Donald’s fortunes in particular. The Times found that, before Donald had turned 30, he had received close to $9 million from his father. Over the longer haul, he received upward of what, in today’s dollars, would be $413 million.

Along the way, it seems that certain liberties were taken with tax laws. The Times found that concocting elaborate schemes to avoid paying taxes on their father’s estate, including greatly understating the value of the family business, became an important pastime for Fred’s children, with Donald taking an active role in the effort. According to tax experts, the activities in question show a pattern of deception, a deliberate muddying of the financial waters. Asked for comment on The Times’s findings, a lawyer for the president provided a written statement denying any wrongdoing and asserting that, in fact, Mr. Trump had little to do with the dizzying transactions involving his family’s wealth.

Everyone can understand the impulse to polish one’s background in order to make a good impression. For Mr. Trump, whose entire life has been about branding and selling a certain type of gaudy glamour, this image-polishing has been all the more vital to his success. And he has pursued it with a shameless, at times giddy, abandon.

Veterans of New York news media still laugh to recall how Mr. Trump would call them up, pretending to be a publicist named John Barron, or sometimes John Miller, in order to regale them with tales of Mr. Trump’s glamorous personal life — how many models he was dating, which actresses were pursuing him, which celebrities he was hanging out with. As gross and tacky and bizarre as this all seemed, it was aimed squarely at fostering the image of Donald Trump as a master of the universe who, as the cliché goes, women wanted and men wanted to be.

This mythos was burnished and expanded by Mr. Trump’s years on “The Apprentice,” where he played the role of an all-powerful, all-knowing business god who could make or break the fortunes of those who clamored for his favor. Occasionally he could be harsh or even insulting, but it was always in the context of delivering the tough love that the contestants so needed to hear. And who was more qualified to deliver those lessons than Donald Trump? As with all reality TV, it was total bunk. But it promoted precisely the golden image that Mr. Trump — with a multimillion-dollar assist from his father — had carefully cultivated for his entire life.

With this glimpse into the inner workings of the Trump family finances, some of the grimier, ethically suspect aspects of Mr. Trump’s mythmaking begin to emerge — and with them, many questions about all that we still do not know about the man and his business empire. Seeing as how that empire and his role in building it are so central to who Mr. Trump claims to be — the defining feature of his heroic narrative — the American public has a right to some answers. For starters, now would be an excellent time for Mr. Trump to hand over those tax returns on which he has thus far kept a death grip.

In his 1987 memoir “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump famously offered his take on the origins of his success: “I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”

But increasingly, Mr. Trump’s willingness to bend the truth — and the rules — in the service of his myth looks less like innocent exaggeration than malicious deception, with a dollop of corruption tossed in for good measure. It’s not the golden, glittering success story he has been peddling. It’s shaping up to be something far darker.

Online: https://nyti.ms/2zMzqU4


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