Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Right On Track For The “Gift-Away”

It was a convoluted plan. The players agreed to the time span. They may have been coached as to what to say and do. They were also told that this would take time. Like every plan Mr Feiner hatches, he is rarely, if ever, stopped. We blame that mostly on the willfully ignorant electorate. We’ve written about them before. They are what we call OIMBY’s, only becoming involved when something crops up in their neighborhood, or Only In My Back Yard.

The Town acquired the former Frank’s Nursery property through foreclose at 715 Dobbs Ferry Road. As required by County and State law, any municipality that acquires property through foreclosure must sell it. Except in Greenburgh. Why the exception? If Mr Feiner doesn’t like a law, he simply ignores it. Knowing he was required to sell, Mr Feiner could have just done a private sale with his friends from GameOn 365 and be done with it. But that would have cost GameOn 365 much more money than was agreed upon. So he offered to illegally lease the property to them. This illegal charade was uncovered and Mr Feiner had his hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar, he put the lease up for referendum in the last election.

We can imagine the Town Board going into Executive Session high-five-ing Paul with his strategic genius. It’s easy to see him as a genius when you are not. GameOn 365 then populated the Town with less than forthright yard signs, promising amounts of money to the Town that were simply fictitious. The referendum passed, giving Mr Feiner the fodder he needed to push his illegal deal. But still, he was unable to proceed. The Town never got the title for the property due to a bank lien. That’s why Mr Feiner went the route of an illegal lease!

The G10 pointed out that the property had contaminants on and in it and insisted the property be remediated before anything be done with it. In fact, the G10 pointed out that the Town had wanted to utilize the property as a temporary library while the award winning, wasted space, ski-jump was being built. There was an uproar then that the property was contaminated and could not be used. Think of the children - the horror, the horror. The same thing was said when it was suggested that the Town police station and courts could be located there. Again, the Town did nothing. They didn’t remediate the property nor did they relocate the police department, the library or courts there.

The G10 Town activists who attend Town and other Board’s meetings and community neighborhood meetings, challenged Mr Feiner and his complacent Board at multiple meetings, ultimately threatening another lawsuit to stop him. Undaunted, Mr Feiner forged on. That is, until the date of a court appearance was upon us and he finally acquiesced. But he now had the attention of the media and that was his goal all along. There were periodic deflections along the way, but his grand plan to gift the former Frank’s Nursery property to GameOn 365 was on track.

Once Mr Feiner threatened to take bids on the property, Elm Street Sports, owners/operators of the House of Sports in Ardsley surprised everyone when they offered almost twice the amount of money in cash ($3.5M) for the property than GameOn 365 ($1.8M). Plus, Elm Street Sports promised to assume full remediation of the property. Mr Feiner began a smear campaign that Elm Street Sports’ offer was not genuine. Say it enough times and it will become the truth. Eventually, the complicit media began purporting what Mr Feiner had been saying, helping his smear campaign against Elm Street Sports.

After being pushed and prodded by the G10, neighborhood civic associations and residents, Mr Feiner announced there would be an auction for the property “as is”, meaning any remediation needed would be paid for by the purchaser. After numerous excuses, delays and postponements, the auction is off again. Our original contention was that an auction would force Mr Feiner to forfeit the ability to control who is awarded the property. Since he had promised GameOn 365 the property back in about 2010 (maybe earlier), he is doing what he can to thwart the sale by normal means.

After hiring Harold Bordwin of GA Keen Realty, the Town’s chosen auctioneer for the property, he informed the Town that prospective bidders were reluctant to bid on the property because of the contamination and the lack of extent, effort and money that would be required to remediate it were they to purchase the property. Residents, G10 and assorted stakeholders all insisted the Town remediate the property to make it whole before trying to do anything with it. Mr Feiner and the Town Board ignored those suggestions.

It has been our contention that this was all part of Mr Feiner’s grand scheme after concerned residents derailed his illegal lease. We envision his new scheme to be the rope-a-dope he is currently doing. He offered the property for lease and was shot down. Then he tried to sell it directly to GameOn 365 and Elm Street Sports loused up that deal. Then he said it would be auctioned off and all types of stipulations, caveats and conditions were embedded in the deal and it waned. Then we believe Mr Feiner told GameOn 365 to go to the press and say they have an “option to purchase” the tax-evading Visioli’s Golf Range. It’s not really a sale, just publicizing that there could be one. Purely semantics. During all of this, Mr Feiner kept insisting that the property would be sold “as is” and adhere to the current zoning that’s in place, per the request of the area civic associations.

During all of this, GameOn 365 began canvassing the neighborhoods to garner favorable support from residents and they’ve started doing it again as of last week. They began donating money to different events to make it appear that they are community oriented and involved. For a paper company, they were doing just as we believed Mr Feiner might have told them to do. Mr Feiner on the other hand, continued to say many people/businesses have expressed interest in purchasing the property. But, as usual, he wouldn't divulge who – a typical ploy he uses so often that many no longer believe what he says is true.

The latest ploy by Mr Feiner is to play up the fact that interested parties whom might be interested in purchasing it won’t because of the remediation required and the lack of information provided. Eventually, he will drag this out until the playing field (pun intended) is down to two and maybe even just one player, Elm Street Sports and/or GameOn 365. OR, he will say there is no interest and GameOn 365 will take the contaminated property off of the Town's hands, paying taxes, offering jobs, etc., pave it, effectively sealing the contamination from the public and have done the residents and Town a great favor. And, like WestHelp, the lesser amount of money we now make will be someone else’s fault, not his. In the end, this has only been about making sure GameOn 365 gets the former Franks Nursery property. It’s time for this kind of thing to end. Only then will we get A Better Greenburgh.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Inaction and Incompetence Guarantees More Damage

While the rest of us wait for the next drop of precipitation that will eventually build into the latest flood for our neighborhoods, our Town Board keeps busy by focusing on everything except properly running our Town. They certainly are ignoring real storm and disaster preparation. Countless people throughout the Town have complained to Mr Feiner and his Town Board, to our County Legislators, State leaders and the media about the need for flood mitigation. All of them have ignored these appeals for preparation to help the ever-increasing list of neighborhoods now flooding.

First, Mr Feiner seems to only be interested in flooding if there is a press conference or press release that can get his name in the media, or, if there is a flood and he can be interviewed with the destroyed beachfront property behind him, saying how terrible this is and he will contact every other elected leader to do something. He won’t actually do anything himself except stave off those nagging residents with copies of emails sent to others. Politics: why fix it when we can talk about it?

Second, in a meeting held with several Greenburgh Civic Associations, county Legislator Alfreda Williams stated the County’s Flood Mitigation Committee (we’re sure there’s a more formal name) hasn’t met for almost a year. So while the weather has been conducive to cleaning out the rivers, removing debris, and helping improve the flow of water, nothing has been done. Several residents at that meeting gave numerous ideas to improve the status quo to help mitigate some of the future flooding. In fact, our own Victor Carosi, Greenburgh’s Commissioner of Public Works, is a co-chair of the committee. And, even after he has seen the devastation caused by the flooding, he and others remain impassively disconnected to residents’ plight.

Third, some say it’s the homeowners problem that they bought a home in a flood zone. While this may be true to a miniscule degree for a very few of these homes and businesses, there are many areas that now flood that never flooded before or when residents purchased their homes years ago. In fact, in canvassing different neighborhood residents and discussing water issues with them, most said its only in the last 15 years that they had experienced some water in their basements, crawlspaces or businesses. The common thread has been while nothing has changed to expedite the flow of the two rivers that parallel both sides of the Town, Mr Feiner’s non-stop over-development in our Town has all of these new projects emptying their storm and other drainage into either the Saw Mill River or the Bronx River. With nothing being done to accommodate the runoff water that would have been absorbed into the ground, the surrounding low-lying areas flood. Many are anxious to see what happens to the 9A corridor after the new construction in Eastview is completed.

A study published in Nature Climate Change warned that the annual costs from flooding in the world’s largest coastal cities could grow from about $6 billion to $1 trillion  by 2050. Granted, 2050 may be some time away, but its that kind of thinking and lack of planning that has currently landed us in this morass of finger-pointing and lack of action. Sure, many politicians will say this is going to cost money and take a lot of time. They've been saying that about the 9A corridor for the last 50 years - maybe longer. The current National Flood Insurance Program is $24 billion in debt! This deficit will not be washed away (pun intended) without reform of the system. It’s also a bonafide indicator that increased investment in mitigation efforts prior to an event is imperative before we are hit with the costs of the next disaster which promise to be overwhelming.

True story: One neighborhood is a “A” rated flood zone (worst) neighborhood. A young couple with a young child from the Bronx purchased their first home here. They never knew that Mr Feiner held a press conference in their driveway after Hurricane Irene. They didn’t know he promised the couple living there to have FEMA purchase their home from them so they could leave. They didn’t know Mr Feiner was lying when he told them that. The young couple’s sale went through without much fanfare - although for them it was a pretty exhilarating moment. At the closing, however, they learned that the bank holding the mortgage requires them to have flood insurance. The sellers might have neglected to mention that. Regardless, while their checkbook was out, they wrote a $2,000 check to the bank for flood insurance. Closings are like that. Bring your checkbook, be prepared to empty it on fees and payments that would shame an IRS agent.

The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) underwrites the National Flood Insurance Program. Yes, the Federal government. As mentioned earlier, they are $24 billion in debt. These are the same people who run Social Security, who don’t have enough money to pay retirees; the Veterans Administration, who can’t take care of our heroes; the Post Office, who has its own $8 billion deficit; Medicare and Medicaid, which both do everything not to pay benefits and are rife with corruption; Education, which many believe amounts to indoctrination – or just day care, and many more but you get the point. Back to FEMA. They charge homeowners thousands to pay back hundreds when you place a claim. By the way, there’s a mandatory $5,000 deductible. Government at its best?

We just had elections. Mr Feiner wasn’t running. It doesn't matter - he’ll get re-elected next year. Job performance in Greenburgh doesn’t matter. What does matter is we keep the same people in office so we can get more proclamations, plaques with our names on them and “atta boys” from Mr Feiner and his ilk. Ms Williams is content to coast along for her base salary of $49, 200 and various stipends. And what of Mr Abinanti, handily re-elected as our “environmentally concerned” NYS Assemblyman? He remains AWOL during all of this. Why tackle something he’s impotent to fix? In fact, he used to live in Greenburgh until Mr Feiner started making too many bad decisions and moved to a safer area to distance himself from real issues. We keep electing the same people who do nothing but pander to us.

The young couple who only last year bought their new dream home? Here it is a year later and they now know who Senator Chuck Schumer is. He co-sponsored a bill that increased the cost of flood insurance. You see, after having to pay out claims for Hurricane/Tropical Storms Irene and Sandy, the program went broke. Naturally, the politicians did what they do best: they raised taxes, in the form of flood insurance premiums, but only to the people who get flooded. So they hammer the people suffering the most, again.

And what of our new homeowners formerly of the Bronx and now living in the A-rated flood prone Greenburgh? Their flood insurance went up a whopping $20,000! The Town needs to address the flooding issue they created with over-development, poor planning and developer carte blanche. It may be part of the solution to cause the Federal government to readjust the flood maps and reduce the young couple’s flood premiums. Although it’s not likely because we continue to fail ourselves by electing the same people over and over again and they always seek the latest tragedy for publicity. This guarantees them that publicity. This has to change. Only then might we get A Better Greenburgh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Frank's Nursery Debacle: Board Tables Auction Again

The former Frank’s Nursery property on Dobbs Ferry Road has been Mr Feiner’s personal political monkey, whether on his back or out in front dancing with him since the property was acquired by the Town through foreclosure. The property has been used by him for deflection from critical issues as well as grandstanding whenever possible. In fact, it has been the one property where his only goal seems to be to gift the property to his friends from GameOn 365, a paper company with no assets, no investors and no hope - save one: Mr Feiner’s largess.

The first attempt at gifting the property to GameOn 365 was in the form of an illegal lease shortly after the Town acquired the property through foreclosure. When residents rallied through the threat of another lawsuit, Mr Feiner withdrew his lease offer to his friends. You see, foreclosed upon property must be sold by the municipality that acquires it. Mr Feiner, a non-practicing attorney probably knew this but forced the residents to vociferously point it out.

Mr Feiner then placed a referendum on the election ballot promising the Town $5-million if the public would pass the referendum. They did, giving Mr Feiner new ammunition to sidestep another law he didn’t like nor wanted to obey. What he hadn’t explained was the $5-million was over the course of 13 years and would allow GameOn 365 to “flip” the property once they purchased it. Mr Feiner insisted they wouldn’t do that. Hmm, how could he know what they would do in the future? Ultimately though, GameOn 365 decided to not move forward with leasing the property.

Regardless, he then tried to sell the property to them and at the 11th hour, another offer, in cash and twice as much was submitted to the Town with another threat of a lawsuit. During all of this, residents kept informing the Town of various contaminants and possible carcinogens that would be found on the property if they only looked. Mr Feiner ignored them all. The public insisted the Town remediate the contaminated property and Mr Feiner said, “No, we’ll make remediation a condition of the sale by the purchaser.” What he never publicly told anyone was the the Town may have acquired the property through foreclosure, but the Town never received a clear title for the property. Consequently, they could not sell it. This partially explains Mr Feiner’s initial attempt to illegally lease the property than to sell it.  

Under the guise of pretending to care, the Town authorized incredibly limited environmental testing be done where the two old heating oil storage tanks had been. Surprise, surprise, they found the soil in that area contaminated with, you guessed it, heating oil. Keeping their heads in the sand, the Board went along with Mr Feiner's scheme to now sell the property as is, requiring the purchaser to clean up the contamination. Ironically, Town Attorney Tim Lewis insisted the remediation would not cost any more than $100,000. Forget remediation. The testing alone blew right past pseudo-environmental expert Lewis’ number of $100,000. Unfortunately, while residents continued to clamor for more testing, Mr Feiner and crew just dug their heels in even deeper.

Amazingly, the Town Board continued the ruse by saying we should sell it to initiate the testing required for a sale. Sounds a bit like the famous Nancy line, “We have to pass it so we can find out what's in it.” Lo and behold, Harold Bordwin of GA Keen Realty, the Town’s chosen auctioneer for the property, said that prospective bidders were reluctant to bid on the property because of several unknowns. Unknowns such as what contaminants are on the property, how much of it is there, what the cost for remediation would be (Mr Lewis’ “expertise” aside), and then what steps would need to be taken to make the property whole again for development. The other consequential issue is the ever-present power lines that run adjacent to the property. As such, the figures for the property being discussed by developers were significantly less than the $3.5million offered two years ago by House of Sports in Ardsley for the property.

Another key factor in the entire debacle with what could have been a simple sale if Mr Feiner had followed the law is that of zoning. But out of the 60 or so developers expressing any kind of interest in the property, only 15 have signed confidentiality agreements to move forward with participating in the auction. But between the property’s soil contamination, groundwater contamination and zoning limitations, there was a lot of information that was intentionally not provided by the Town for bidders to move forward. Additionally, the neighborhood residents are adhering to their desire for the property to be used within the zoning that is currently in place for the property (R-30), which can be used for single-family housing, assisted living, public safety oriented buildings, libraries, and such.

After much anticipation, mostly awaiting the excuse that would be used to delay the auction this time, the Town Board held a special Friday meeting on October 31 to again postpone the former Frank’s Nursery property auction! It has already been postponed several times and many in the Town were curious when he would announce this postponement and the reason why? ABG staffers were convinced as were many others that the auction would be postponed or canceled because Mr Feiner could not control gifting the property to friends at GameOn 365. Regardless, this postponement was a fait accompli, a done-deal never going to see the light of day. It seems that several months will be needed to complete the real testing of the Frank's Nursery property before an auction or sale can take place. It’s disappointing because after the months pass, Mr Feiner will return to say the zoning must change for the Town to sell the property.

Many people with the best interest for Greenburgh at heart repeatedly told Mr Feiner and his Town Board that further, more encompassing testing and remediation would be needed before we could proceed. Mr Feiner and his Board refused to listen, instead believing Mr Lewis because his was the answer Mr Feiner told them they sought. Again, it’s disappointing. We as taxpayers deserve and should expect better from the Town’s elected officials. If we don’t receive it, we should vote differently in the next election. Only then will we get A Better Greenburgh.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Resident’s Crusade Wins Lawsuit Against Town Arrogance

Lawsuits against our Town seem to be a dime a dozen. Some are frivolous in the hopes of exacting small sums of money from the taxpayers’ coffers. After all, many in the Town are fed up with paying for everything for everybody and having Mr Feiner get the credit as though it was due to his largess. Then there are the people who will file suit against the Town and Mr Feiner in particular because they honestly believe wrongdoings were committed. Such is the case this time.

What began as a simple FOIL request from one resident would soon become her crusade. In February of 2014, Worthington Woodlands Civic Association President Dorrine Livson, requested a copy of the Town's email list, known as the GBList from Mr Feiner and the Town. The GBList contains approximately 2,500 email addresses that are the property of the Town but that Mr Feiner uses as his personal list at his discretion. This time, Mr Feiner had once again sent out another one-sided email and she wanted the other half of the story told, allowing for a balanced discussion with her organization's members.

Mr Feiner uses this list to push issues with only his point of view, go after residents and taxpayers who disagree with him as well as shield himself from the media with his one-sided accounts of his facts. Mr Feiner and Town Attorney Lewis turned down Ms Livson's request. As usual, the Town Board remained silent during all of this. No need to bite the hand that feeds them.

Ms Livson FOIL-ed the list under the Freedom Of Information Law which allows citizens to officially request files, documents and such from their community, county, state and federal government. Her FOIL request should have to be fulfilled by the same people now refusing to supply her the file. She then filed an appeal with the Town Board again, who would once again be the decision makers from which she was requesting the file. No surprise here, the appeal request was also denied. There was only one thing left for her to do.

Telling Ms Livson “No” to all of her requests caused her to become more determined than ever to get a hold of this elusive GBList. With the refusals and the appeal denial under her belt, she knew she was being forced by Mr Feiner and Mr Lewis to file an Article 78. An Article 78 allows individuals who have been refused FOIL requests to appeal the denial in court. Knowing the key players with many of the lawsuits against the Town, Ms Livson reached out the uber-legal team of Keane and Beane, who has successfully won the Fortress Bible Church Discrimination lawsuit against Mr Feiner with a $6.5million dollar fine that Unincorporated taxpayers must pay! Ms Livson had hoped it would never come to this and always held hope that Mr Feiner would change his position. Since he would not, and armed with the facts, Ms Livson and her legal team went to court referencing a 2008 case which ruled in favor of the Committee on Open Government that email lists are Town records and must be disclosed!
 
One piece of evidence used in court was an email from March 3, 2014, from Town Clerk Judith Beville on behalf of other Town officials who wrongly denied Ms Livson’s FOIL request saying there was not a print or extraction function on the software that can reasonably create a list of email addresses. Ms Livson contacted
the vendor who maintains the GBList, Cit-e-Net, and found out that pending Town approval, the list could in fact be printed and the email addresses supplied. Ms Livson again approached the Town Board with this new information only to have Mr Lewis fabricate new concerns and deny her appeal.

In the end, the judge dismissed most of the Town’s positions as either incorrect or not germane. Mr Lewis, the head of the legal department for the Town, did not cite the correct cases, did not address whether the GBList was a private list, and that concerns about sharing the list with Ms Livson were never invoked as reasons for the denial in court. Basically, the Town Supervisor, Attorney and Clerk were telling Ms Livson one thing and the court something else. 

The Town “leaders” routinely and arrogantly deny many people or groups access to information - unless you're in their golden circle. Ms Livson finally got through all of their illegal maneuverings because they forced her hand. She never wanted to have to go to court and always hoped the Town leaders would do the right thing. They would not - until now. Disappointingly, they will be forced by the court to do the right thing because they are being told they must. It’s a shame that Ms Livson had to go to court to be proven correct.

The Town has about a month to appeal the decision against them. ABG is convinced they will although this case has significant ramifications. While Mr Feiner will say he disagrees with the court’s ruling but will comply, it also opens up the path for civic associations, neighborhood groups and individuals to gain access where none has previously existed. Mr Feiner may put a line mentioning this decision in one of his daily email blasts to the 2,500 or so addresses he has. Ms Livson will now be able to add more than one line and help balance the arguments, discussions and information. This is yet another black eye for the Town of Greenburgh. It’s sad to see these leaders behaving badly. They must go. It’s the only way we'll get A Better Greenburgh.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Too Much of One Thing

The political pundits are transmitting in high gear now that the elections are over. Republican wins have shifted the balance of power once again – although not here in Greenburgh. In fact, when nothing changes things usually seem to get worse for the electorate, just as we’ve seen in Greenburgh. Without a balanced Town Board, Ethics Board, Planning Board (insert the Board of your choice), we do not get the best of what the Town (cities, villages, hamlets, etc) could offer. There is no creative thinking, no new ideas, little variety, limited progress and never any challenge to do more or better for the taxpayers. Quite the contrary.

Mr Feiner decided to discriminate against the Fortress Bible Church when the Church purchased property near Dobbs Ferry Road. While his reasons to discriminate may have only been known to himself, his attack on the Church was not only morally wrong, but after a protracted court battle and opportunity to settle, finally cost the taxpayers $6.5 million. Had the first Town Board had a mix of parties and personalities when Mr Feiner’s crusade against the Church began, and the subsequent Town Boards had more of a variety of members with a backbone to stand up to Mr Feiner, perhaps this disaster could have been averted. It’s one tremendous black-eye for Greenburgh.

Mr Feiner, convicted for discrimination, decided to not renew the lease at WestHelp on the Westchester Community College campus, costing Greenburgh taxpayers $1.2 million per year. This project for affordable housing was the brainchild of then HUD Chairman Andrew Cuomo, who was appointed to the position without any “housing” or management background. After insulting the NY public with several derogatory comments during his now-forgotten first gubernatorial campaign, he was told to accept the job from President Clinton, keep his mouth shut and in a few years they would let him be governor. He needed to make a name for himself and did so offering subsidized housing in Westchester for those in the DSS system. It was supposed to transition into senior housing after ten years. The state made the project happen and construction was done. Cuomo now had something to show on his HUD resume. The County gifted it to the Town. And for years, the Town raked in $1.2 million per year with little or no effort on our part. Cuomo towed the line and was anointed governor. You have to love New York.

But Mr Feiner decided to try to win votes from the Valhalla community by not renewing the contract when it came due, allowing it to languish into disrepair, in hopes of necessitating the demolition of the facility and delivering what Valhalla had wanted. Mr Feiner hoped for said votes. But by doing this, he stopped the largest non-tax income-producing revenue stream to the Town, forcing taxpayers to make up the difference. Had any of our Town Board members been of another political party and not dependent on Mr Feiner for re-election and feared being “Sonya’d”, we may have seen this move curtailed or at least brought to the public’s attention and be stopped before the damage was done.

According to County Legislator Alfreda Williams, the County subsequently told Mr Feiner and the Town Board to rent the apartments or else the County will terminate the lease with the Town, take back the facility and do with it what was planned. The Town would continue to lose $1.2 million with no chance of ever getting that money back. Currently no action has taken place but Mr Feiner’s repeated attempts to gift the management to unqualified companies (see Cuomo above) who promised more than could be delivered and tried to re-negotiate the contractual terms. Eventually, he was dropped as Mr Feiner’s preferred management vendor.

Mr Feiner insisted on green-lighting the Brightview Assisted Living (and Stop and Shop, and Westhab, and Deli Delicious, and the Central Avenue car dealerships special treatment, and Ferncliff, and Taxter Ridge, and well, you get it) project on what is considered by many as an inappropriately-sized piece of land. And now, as the construction of the building glaringly hovers over the intersection of Rt 119 and Benedict Avenue, we think they were right. Not only did Mr Feiner endorse and promote this project, he knowingly allowed them to turn Greenburgh residents on Medicare away from this upscale and private organization!

The point is a simple one in that having elections is part of our heritage and is a good thing. As the saying goes, too much of something isn’t always a good thing. We’ve had twenty-two years of Mr Feiner’s mismanagement, illegal actions and not enough creativity, open government and new ideas. It’s time for a change. Only then will we get A Better Greenburgh.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

No Change In The Status Quo

The elections are finally over. Enough money was spent on advertising the candidates to balance many local budgets. In Greenburgh, we could pay off all the guilty verdicts brought upon us by Mr Feiner's illegal activities. Accusations flew and junk mailings found postal employees lining up at chiropractic offices in droves. Let's hope the candidates will pick up and properly dispose of all of their yard signs. literature and assorted paraphernalia. In the end though, nothing really changed.
 

The governor's race found Cuomo defeating challenger Astorino. The voting percentage was 55% to 42%. The television and political pundits all said Cuomo handily took this (re)election. But did he? Cuomo received 114,533 votes and Astorino received 86,493. The numbers don't lie but they do tell a story. Given the roughly two to one ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the state, the numbers tell us that Astorino crossed party lines and was attractive enough to some Democrats that they voted for him; or that some Democrats were dissatisfied or mad at Cuomo (and others) and simply voted against the status quo.
 

Yes, Astorino still lost. But did he? As we just said, the numbers don't lie and Cuomo did win. However, this election wasn't as much about Astorino winning as it was to position himself for the next gubernatorial election. Compared to New York's last election's upstate Republican candidate Carl Paladino, Astorino has that Richie Cunningham, aw-shucks demeanor and is very likeable. Having his adorable family in tow doesn't hurt either. He's comfortable with a variety of media and he is fluent in Spanish. He now has name recognition throughout the state, a cadre of people who are willing to stump for him the next time around, greater statewide awareness of state-wide issues and ties to the big money donors. Ultimately, he now has a wider breadth of supporters than he had before.

Locally, we saw sitting Democratic Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, sponsored in part by big Pharma, defeat Republican challenger Mike Duffy. The tally was 62% to 38% (20,765 to 12,787 respectively). In this race, the numbers are pretty much what they were when Thomas Bock challenged Abinanti in 2010, telling us two things: Abinanti has a Greenburgh Democratic base willing to vote the party line regardless of any wrong-doing or lack of knowledge on the issues. Or, simply, the democrats vote for their own and the Republicans do the same. Everyone continues to try to figure out how to capture the Independents and undecided voters to side with them without much success.

In other races, there were a few close calls but nothing radically different. We were watching the Attorney General race because the outcome could have been important for Greenburgh taxpayers. There have been several attempts by different organization to have our Supervisor investigated for multiple wrong-doings with little success. Had incumbent Attorney General Eric Schneiderman lost, we may have been more likely to finally make some headway than previously attempted. 

Propositions 1, 2, and 3 all passed - no surprise there. Each time propositions are put forth, the media blitz to convince the electorate to support them on behalf of the incumbents is untiring and often bereft of information that presents both sides of the argument. ABG wrote about the three Propositions and tried to give the counter-points to make the case to the voters to really think about not voting in favor of them. 

Overwhelmingly, the votes for either status quo or a populace that is unhappy with the dysfunction of government proves at all levels that people want change and deserve better .The northeast seemed to be entrenched and a bit immune to the wave across the nation for change. With Democrats holding onto their seats but spending much more money than ever before to do so, this should be a wake up call for many of them. Contrary to Mr Cuomo's ads, NY and New Yorkers are not doing better and people are still leaving. Now that the shift in the US and NY Senates has happened, our leaders may really be forced to cross the aisle and actually work together. Isn't that what they all tout before they get elected? Let's hope they do. Then, maybe we'll see A Better Greenburgh.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Just Say "No" to More Games From Albany

egistered voters will have an opportunity to change New York state's Constitution, and another to approve or deny $2 billion in borrowing. They just have to remember to flip their ballots first. The first time flipping the ballots in our 1930's style voting "improvement" was an issue was over Mr Feiner's referendum for approving the illegal Game On 365 lease. He was so disturbed to learn people weren't voting for it that he sent out an email blast and had numerous media outlets post a letter on their websites reminding voters of the need to look on the back of their Kandahar style ballots.

It's expected that about 4 million people will vote in New York tomorrow, but far fewer will actually weigh in on three proposals that will appear on the back of every ballot statewide. Many, unaware of the issues will simply unknowingly vote for the propositions without understanding their ramifications. In 2013 — a low-turnout year with no statewide races — a total of 3.3 million people cast a ballot in New York. Of those, about 2.8 million voted on the first ballot proposal that year, a high-profile amendment to allow up to seven private casinos. Now we see casinos everywhere either struggling to stay open or closing, proving that casinos are not the panacea our current crop of politicians had hoped for.

This year, voters will be asked to decide three issues, though none rise to the profile of the casino amendment last year. But their impact remains as the proposals will decide how the state draws its legislative districts and whether it will borrow to fund technology upgrades in schools.

Proposition 1
The first proposal traces its roots to 2012, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature struck a deal on a set of congressional and state legislative district lines for the next decade. Cuomo approved the district lines that year despite protests from some minority-party lawmakers and good-government groups who alleged they were drawn by the Senate's Republican and Assembly's Democratic leaders in a way that strengthened their hold on power.

If approved in this election, a new commission would be created to re-draw the lines every 10 years based on updated census figures. In and of itself, by law, this is going to happen anyway. Here's the rub: the panel would have 10 members: Two each appointed by the Senate's majority and minority leaders, two each from the Assembly's majority and minority leaders, and the remaining two picked by the other eight appointees. This has political nepotism and cronyism written all over it and promises to further ensure redistricting that benefits the incumbent, not the voter..

This panel would be required to hold public hearings across the state before drawing districts that would be subject to approval from the Legislature. If the Legislature twice rejects the proposed lines, legislative leaders would be permitted to alter the proposed districts and vote again. Here again is the rub: After the paper hearings are held, the legislative leaders will redraw the district lines themselves and the public, known for their waning interest and distrust in politicians will simply acquiesce or throw up their hands in frustration, walk awy and the politicos will get what they set out to do.

Passing Proposition 1 does not ensure any reform or an improved process that will benefit voters. ABG recommends voting 'no' for Proposition 1.

Proposition 2
The second ballot proposal deals with the amount of paper used each year by the Legislature to print bills and place them on lawmakers' desks. Under the current New York state Constitution, a bill can't become a law unless it has been printed and placed on all 213 lawmakers' desks at least three days before it's put to a vote. With state budget bills totaling thousands of pages and thousands of bills introduced each year, the amount of paper used piles up quickly. Proposal 2 would alter the constitution to allow the bill to be deemed "printed" if it's provided to lawmakers electronically.

Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, Schenectady County, pushed legislators to support the amendment saying, "You're going to save forest land.. You're going to save money." While there has been little opposition because every legislator knows its good to "play green", we agree with Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers, who said she was wary of making it easier for lawmakers to vote on bills without reading them. Still, there's been little opposition to the amendment, which was sponsored in the Legislature by Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining. While lawmakers would still be able to print the bills, if they so desired a hard copy, the printing industry has proven with facts and figures that more trees are planted to replace those used in the paper-producing process than are cut down. So, while not printing bills might work, the better amendment might be to have the legislators voluntarily opt to use electronic copies with a trial period and monitor whether electronic versions work out; plus have an increased time to review them instead of three days. Since that is not the change on the ballot, ABG recommends voting 'no' for Proposition 2.

Proposition 3
The third proposal would authorize a $2 billion bond act that would fund technology upgrades in schools and refurbishing or acquiring space for prekindergarten programs. If approved, the state would borrow the money and make it available to school districts who submit a plan to implement the money to buy equipment upgrades, improve broadband Internet access or make other technological improvements, including to school security equipment. Purchasing or refurbishing facilities to house expanding prekindergarten programs or replace trailer classrooms — said to be found in New York City — are also approved costs.

Here's the rub: This is another way for legislators to ensure backing from the teachers unions across the state! Do pre-kindergarten kids really need internet access? Probably not. What this does do is remove the control from the parents and local school districts to decide what they do and don't want to fund for their kids' schools. This becomes another unfunded mandate that will simply grow and grow. Using bonds to specify and limit high-tech purchases for equipment that will be obsolete before the equipment arrives is not smart. The New York State United Teachers Union, has spent $200,000 on television ads urging a "yes" vote. The state School Boards Association, however, has remained neutral on the issue. There's a good reason for this. It's a bad idea. Although, we're sure our favorites saying can't be far behind the urging for approval, It's for the children." This is another New York State boondoggle whose time has not come and will cost us all more and more money via increased taxes. ABG recommends voting 'no' for Proposition 3.

ABG often speaks of the willfully ignorant voter in Greenburgh. This isn't about being a Democrat or Republican. Rather, this is about being a smart, informed New Yorker. Just say, "No!" and send another message to Albany. Then we might see A Better Greenburgh.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Quid Pro Quo: A Learned Skill

Which politician made this statement:

“This legislation will eliminate big money from campaigns and make local residents the sole concern of local candidates for offices. It will make it clear to local residents that their participation really matters.”

One would naturally believe it’s our Town Supervisor as this is Greenburgh, where Mr Feiner knows what to say to the press but does not have the ability to practice what he preaches. No, this statement is from another politician who actually got his start in Greenburgh, moved up the food chain as a County Legislator and is now the sitting Democratic NYS Assemblyman. That’s right, this statement is from Tom Abinanti, regarding campaign financing for political candidates.

Why is this important? Because Mr Abinanti just imposed another NY State unfunded mandate upon us via our school taxes. Second, because on October 30, 2014, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law two bills that New York State Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh/Mt. Pleasant) sponsored/co-sponsored. The first bill is the one we are taking issue with. It's not because of what is accomplished with this unfunded mandate of helping students in need of this medical treatment. Rather, because it reeks of Quid Pro Quo in a Town that sees approvals passed for fire truck donations and lawsuits when the approvals are denied because a donation is refused.

The first bill (A.7791) authorizes schools to stock and administer EpiPens to any student in an emergency even if the student doesn’t have a prescription. Assemblyman Abinanti drafted, sponsored and pursued this legislation in response to increasing reports of deaths in schools due to anaphylactic reactions. 

As we were looking into the financial records of Mr Abinanti during this election, we were stunned to find that he may be receiving payments in the form of campaign contributions from the drug company Pfizer to introduce legislation that could financially benefit their company. Knowing the inculcation of how things get done in Greenburgh, we thought we would take a look and see what else we could find.

We took a look at the Pfizer website and found that not only do they donate a lot of money to a lot of people on both sides of the aisle, they even have a political PAC set up to do so. They claim it is set up so their employees can help their local politicians. We did a search of 2014 and lo and behold, there is Mr Abinanti’s name with a $1000 donation from the Pfizer drug company (see picture below). 
























Before we made a judgement, we went to the Campaign Financial Disclosure of the New York State Board of Elections Contribution web page and sought Mr Abinanti’s donation information. Not surprisingly, it listed the donations from Pfizer along with other businesses, PAC’s and individuals (see picture below).




Further investigation to previous election filings showed many of the same supporters routinely coughing up donation money to Mr Abinanti. But not the drug company Pfizer. Here’s the rub: Pfizer pays Mr Abinanti $1,000 through his campaign finance account in two increments of $500. Mr Abinanti sponsors and get passed a bill requiring schools to purchase EPI-Pens from a drug supplier. The drug supplier may or may not be Pfizer. Of course, many will champion that this is acceptable because after all, “it’s for the children.”

ABG cannot prove an ulterior motive between the financial payments made to Mr Abinanti and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. But there is certainly a link that exists between the two! There's no two ways about it, the legislation he sponsored and got passed will benefit big drug companies such as Pfizer. Quid pro quo? In an economic climate as bad as what we have, shouldn’t Mr Abinanti be trying to help small businesses prosper instead of creating legislation guaranteeing humongous drug companies even more money?  Of course he should. But, if he’s obligated to Pfizer and any other companies, can we really expect anything else?

He also sponsored campaign finance legislation that would allow incumbents a gold-mine of money for campaigning if passed. This year Mr Abinanti showed that he raised $49,201.01 as of his last campaign finance filing with the Board of Elections. His legislation, if passed, promises to give him a lot more of our money so he can continue to run for office and find new and improved ways to waste our money. Would he stop taking payments from drug companies if the bill were passed into law? There's no way to tell. However, while past performance is no guarantee of future results, we think the results are kind of easy to guess. Mr Abinanti should be trying to curb taxes for the everyday person instead of trying to find new ways to waste our money for his benefit?

This Tuesday is your opportunity to make some of this right. Mr Abinanti has spent 24 years in public office and is a career politician whose primary interest has been proven to be Mr Abinanti. It's apparent he's gotten very comfortable in office. It's time to think differently. Make the right decision and maybe we can start to see A Better Greenburgh.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

It's Getting Dark Again

No, this isn’t about Daylight Saving Time - although you will need to set your clocks back an hour tonight when you go to bed. Rather, it is about Mr Feiner making more maneuvers under the cover of darkness. In an almost daily email campaign from Mr Feiner, he writes about the Edgemont Community’s desire for sidewalks. He fears Edgemont. He knows all too well not to ignore or disrespect them. This is because he understands they’re poised to secede from the Town by incorporating, becoming a Village and get out from under Mr Feiner’s bad decisions, costly and horrible management of the Town. So when they tell him to jump, he asks how high and for how long? He’s what he sent out:

“The Greenburgh Town Board discussed a letter that I received from Bill Darger President  of the Edgemont Association to construct sidewalks on Seely Place at our Town Board  work session meeting on October 28th.  Our Tuesday morning work sessions are archived on the town website: www.greenburghny.com.
We decided to  hold a work session discussion on Tuesday December 2nd at 9:30 AM. The next possible steps: retaining the services of a firm to review options and to design a sidewalk that complies with ADA standards and has the least negative impact for residents of Seely Place.
The Police Chief has expressed his support for sidewalks at Seely and at other locations in Edgemont (Fort Hill Road and Ardsley Road).  
You are invited to join us at this meeting. Let’s work together to improve safety of our children.”

Numerous residents and civic associations from various neighborhoods throughout the Town have requested sidewalks from the Town to make their neighborhoods, residents, and oh yes there it is in the last sentence, the children, safer. They’ve all been ignored by the Town. Let’s briefly recap a few of those requests:

1) North Elmsford Civic Associations (there are two different ones involved) requested sidewalks near Payne Street, both north and south as well as beyond Sam’s Club so people walking north of Sam's Club would be on a relatively protected space, as opposed to walking in the street. After two people were struck by automobiles walking on 9A, still nothing has been done.

2) Fulton Park Civic Association asked for sidewalks on Old Kensico Road as well as Hillside Avenue beyond Town Hall. This time we can’t say Mr Feiner did nothing about sidewalks on Old Kensico Road. Oh don’t worry, the Old Kensico Speedway is still without sidewalks, but Mr Feiner did take the opportunity to send a letter and email to the Fulton Park residents saying the Civic Association’s Vice-President requested installing sidewalks and that it be paid for (installation) and maintained by the residents where the sidewalks would be. Not only was this reprehensible behavior on Mr Feiner's part, it was totally inaccurate. Mr Feiner suggested sidewalks at a Town Board meeting and asked if the civic association representatives would be able to poll the residents to see if they wanted them. The vice-president said due to the assumed legal issues surrounding a project like this, he would defer to the Town to discuss this with residents. More deflection by Mr Feiner.

3) Requests for sidewalks have come from the Dobbs Ferry Road area during countless Town Board meetings. Sidewalks would benefit people that often walk along Dobbs Ferry Road at all hours of the day and night and in all kinds of weather, creating an extremely dangerous situation. Their request fell on deaf ears.

4) The Broadview Civic Association has continually petitioned the Town Board to mandate the installation oif sidewalks from the "new" Greenburgh Community Health Center on Knollwood Road per the construction agreements made with the Town by the developer of the failing condominiums just south of the health center. Again, they are being ignored by the Town.

As you can see, Edgemont is not the only community in need of sidewalks. In fact, if Mr Feiner and his Town Board were doing the right thing during his 22-years in office, he would have been insisting on infrastructure investments which would promote walking and a safer way for people to get around in our Town. But because Mr Feiner is a terrible manager, he’s neglected what is important to residents - infrastructure, lowering taxes and improving services, not eliminating them. It would also be an attractive marketing point for realtors trying to sell homes and/or rent space to businesses as it would promote more foot traffic. Instead, we have Mr Feiner cancelling $1.2M yearly leases (WestHelp), being found guilty of discrimination and fined $6.5M (Fortress Bible Church) and going after our fire department taxes which have nothing to do with him and he doesn’t even pay. It’s time for Mr Feiner to leave as this needs to end. Only then will we have A Better Greenburgh.