Thursday, July 28, 2005

Keith Wright

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The New York Times February 20, 2005 Sunday

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

The New York Times

February 20, 2005 Sunday

Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 14; Column 1; The City Weekly Desk; Pg. 11

LENGTH: 538 words

HEADLINE: That Pesky New York Nickel

BODY:

Until this year, most committee meetings for the New York State Legislature were gaveled open and closed in the blink of a chairman's eye. The sessions were often so brief that members barely had time to devour the bagels and coffee dutifully provided by the staff, much less the subject at hand. Not so these days in the new reform-minded Albany. In important new ways, the public has been invited to the table -- at least for now.

The Assembly Codes Committee meeting last week was an excellent example. The issue was reforming New York's bottle redemption law, and for once nobody knew in advance how the committee would vote on this vast improvement to a valuable state law.

The bill includes two very good ideas. One is to add bottles containing tea, water and fruit juice to the law, which now covers bottles holding beer and carbonated drinks. It makes no sense that a bottle that once held fizzy water can be redeemed for a nickel but a bottle that contained flat water cannot.

The second improvement involves serious money. Many redeemable bottles don't get returned to the store, and the nickel deposits that consumers paid stay with bottlers and distributors. Those nickels add up to about $100 million a year or maybe more. The new bill would take back those nickels for unredeemed containers and put the money to public use -- in recycling programs, for example.

Unsurprisingly, those who keep the nickels now do not want to give them up. Lobbyists for the soda, beer and grocery industries think this bill is, as one grumbled after the vote, "an abomination.''

Last Tuesday, in a long, narrow committee room, lobbyists from both sides hovered over the committee members. On one side were the men in dark, expensive suits. On the other side was a small army of environmentalists, bright bottle-bill stickers on their lapels. The clean-environment crowd clearly had the numbers. The suits had the clout -- campaign donations to be given or withheld.

As everyone watched breathlessly, all but six committee members voted to send the bill on to the next level, a success for the environmentalists. Two assemblymen said to be wavering, Kenneth P. Zebrowski of Rockland County and James Gary Pretlow of Westchester, decided in favor of the bill. Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright of Manhattan, who had also declared himself undecided, was among those who voted against it. Mr. Wright said later he was worried about the small stores that would have more redeemable bottles to deal with.

The bill offers relief to smaller businesses in several ways. It increases the handling fee that bottlers must pay to stores that accept recycled containers. It also offers incentives to communities to create redemption centers so consumers can bypass the grocery stores altogether. In New York City, stores near redemption centers could drastically limit the number of containers they accept.

As the lobbyists from both sides know all too well, this is only the first punch in a very long fight. But it will be a fair fight only if it's in the open, and openness is something new in Albany, especially when legislators are forced to make a public choice between a good cause and campaign donations.


The New York Times, April 27, 1996

Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company

The New York Times

April 27, 1996, Saturday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 1; Page 22; Column 1; Editorial Desk

LENGTH: 390 words

HEADLINE: Ending Sexual Abuse in Prison

BODY:

The relationship between prison guards and the inmates they control clearly presents opportunities for abuse. That is why a proposed bill to criminalize all sex between guards and prisoners -- coercive or consensual -- deserves approval by New York's State Legislature.

Inmates depend on guards for the minimal comforts of prison life and, in some cases, their very survival. Guards provide food and safety, help insure that inmates receive proper medical attention and guarantee timely visits and packages from relatives. Women's rights advocates and others believe that as the number of female prisoners in state prisons has increased, largely because of mandatory drug-sentencing laws, guards have increasingly abused their position of power to demand sex from inmates.

A bill sponsored in the State Senate by Michael Nozzolio, an upstate Republican, and Catherine Abate, a New York City Democrat, and in the Assembly by Keith Wright, another city Democrat, would henceforth classify all sex between prison employees and inmates as rape.

Though male guards are most likely to take sexual advantage of female inmates, abusive relationships between guards and prisoners include homosexual as well as heterosexual liaisons. Nor are guards the only abusers. Some inmates use sex to demand special privileges and favors of guards. That can cause resentment among other prisoners and destabilize the prison environment. At present, the only deterrent is disciplinary action against a guard -- including dismissal or suspension -- or, in the case of a prisoner, transfer to another facility.

The legislation is supported by the State Department of Correctional Services, which runs the prisons. The correction officers' union would support the bill if it included an amendment that would guard against false accusations by making them a felony rather than a misdemeanor. But Ms. Abate, a former New York City Commissioner of Correction, resists the amendment, arguing that further penalties on inmates may increase their reluctance to come forward since many women already submit to sex as a "condition of confinement."

Prison officials in Connecticut and New Jersey report that laws in those states criminalizing sex between inmates and prison employees have been effective deterrents. New York would do well to follow suit.


The New York Times, January 20, 1996

Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company

The New York Times

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January 20, 1996, Saturday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 1; Page 22; Column 1; Editorial Desk

LENGTH: 568 words

HEADLINE: Harming Their Own City

BODY:

The New York State Legislature is normally a slow-moving body. But right now a special-interest bill sought by New York City's police and fire unions is flying through the Assembly and Senate. The measure could cost the city millions of dollars it can ill afford. Yet its own state legislators, in a shortsighted bow to the unions, are leading the fight to ram it into law.

The bill would give the power to resolve local police contract disputes to the state-run Public Employment Relations Board, which unions regard as more sympathetic than the city's own Office of Collective Bargaining. The city board is required to take into account the city's ability to pay for new wages and benefits, but the state's is not. Instead, the state board would compare the city's contract offers with those of neighboring jurisdictions, where police and firefighter salaries are higher.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association has made no secret of its hope that by switching to the state board, it will win the juicier benefits awarded to officers in Long Island or Westchester County. In a world of unlimited resources, that might be a reasonable goal. But the city is desperately short of cash, and the Giuliani administration estimates this bill would spark a series of escalating demands from all the city unions that could eventually mean up to $200 million in additional labor costs.

At a time like this, when New York City is facing a series of multibillion-dollar shortfalls, it is incredible that the legislators are falling over one another in their eagerness to pass a bill that will divert more of its scarce resources to the cost of union contracts. "If the police are happy, crime rates go down," said Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Manhattan Democrat who is one of its sponsors.

Virtually all the sponsors of the bill are from New York City. They include Senator Guy Velella, a Bronx Republican, and Democratic Assembly members Joseph Lentol of Brooklyn, Joseph Crowley of Queens, Eric Vitaliano of Staten Island and Daniel Feldman of Brooklyn.

This willingness to do an end run around the collective bargaining process is one of the worst traits of the State Legislature, which is happy to please powerful lobbying groups like the police and firefighters by passing bills that the city will have to pay for. The Office of Collective Bargaining, which now arbitrates city contract disputes, was not forced down the unions' throat. It was established by a labor agreement. Now the unions feel they can get something better without giving up anything in return.

Everyone in New York knows that police officers and firefighters have a hard job. In return the city gives them its support, and salaries and benefits that are good enough to attract a horde of well-qualified applicants for every available opening. Under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the city has devoted a disproportionate amount of its available funds to the police and fire departments.

Rank-and-file state legislators traditionally support anything their committee chairmen bring to the floor. If the measure comes up for a vote, it will pass. The Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, who has no connection to the city, will not move to protect its interests in this matter. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan should save his members from their worst failings by keeping the bill from ever coming up for consideration.


The New York Times, September 10, 1992

Copyright 1992 The New York Times Company

The New York Times

View Related Topics

September 10, 1992, Thursday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 22; Column 1; Editorial Desk

LENGTH: 594 words

HEADLINE: For Assembly: Manhattan, Queens

BODY:

Because of redistricting, New York voters will face an unusually large number of Democratic primary contests for the State Assembly on Tuesday. Here are our recommendations for Manhattan and Queens races in which the primary winner is all but guaranteed election in November.

MANHATTAN.

72d District. John Brian Murtaugh is a diligent and dedicated lawmaker who has earned a seventh term. He understands the ethnic complexities of his district and can stand up to pressure. Despite opposition from the Catholic Church and anti-abortion activists, he opposed a bill that would have impeded young women's access to abortion by requiring parental notification. He is opposed by William Alicea, a former housing official, who has electoral appeal, and Julio Hernandez, recently with the Mayor's office of Latino Affairs. But neither offers a compelling reason to unseat Mr. Murtaugh.

68th District. With 17 years in office, Angelo Del Toro is in a position to use his seniority to help his impoverished district but has not been notably effective. His pattern of favoring relatives and allies with state grants is disturbing. Either Nelson Antonio Denis or Bethsaida Colon-Diaz is preferable. Mr. Denis, a former editorial writer for El Diario/La Prensa, offers valid criticism of the Legislature and is well versed in education and economic development. Ms. Colon-Diaz, a former official with the city's Community Development Agency, has an impressive background in community and social work. In a close call, we recommend Mr. Denis.

70th District. In this crowded race, we enthusiastically endorse Peggy Shepard, a former state housing official who has a feel for the district and a command of issues. Helen Daniels, a social worker active in her neighborhood, and Keith Wright, a lawyer, offer great promise as future candidates.

QUEENS.

31st District. This race pits two appealing candidates, Gregory Meeks and Hulbert James. Mr. James, a former Dinkins administration official and longtime political activist, understands the political system and could be an effective legislator. But Mr. Meeks, a worker's compensation board official, has deeper roots in the district and reflects a better feel for its needs, and we prefer him.

33d District. Barbara Clark, seeking her fourth Assembly term, faces a challenge from Anna Thompson, head of a home care agency. As an advocate for her community, Ms. Clark can be so stubborn she has alienated other officials. We endorse Ms. Thompson, whose knowledge of health care issues and concern for her district could make her an effective lawmaker.

34th District. Ivan Lafayette, a legislator since 1977, is unusually serious about his job, serves full time and runs a solid community office. We recommend him over Michael Crowley, an insurance executive active in community affairs.

36th District. Denis Butler has compiled an unremarkable record during 16 years in office, but his opponent, the Democratic District leader Archie Mavromatis, does not make a convincing case for change. We prefer Mr. Butler, but with criticism for his offensive attempt to throw his opponent off the ballot.

38th District. The incumbent, Anthony Seminerio, has grown grouchy and rude in office, to the point of heckling Gov. Mario Cuomo. He cares for his constituents, but that does not excuse his willingness to obstruct legislation of citywide importance to achieve narrow local goals. We recommend his opponent, Frank Sansivieri Jr., a public school teacher with a strong background in civic activities.


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