want you to see me at work: Assemblyman Bob Reilly.
the future, New Yorkers may be able to eavesdrop on their
representatives with a touch of the remote
television has opened a window into the lives of some of our
more eccentric, interesting, and in some cases despicable
celebrities. Millions have watched the dysfunctional Osbornes
lumber around their mansion, chronic bankruptee Donald Trump
fire overambitious losers, and the fortune-by-crime Gotti
family exercise their accents. But what if New Yorkers could
tune in to something that directly affects their lives—would
they actually watch it?
Members of the New York State Assembly are looking into a
C-SPAN-like New York channel. C-SPAN delivers true reality
TV: coverage of the decision making that impacts our lives
the most. It is where Americans can see their representatives
in hearings, debating issues, giving testimony and voting
on new laws. While it would not offer the drama of celebrities,
a New York equivalent of C-SPAN would, supporters say, allow
citizens to see what we pay our representatives for.
C-SPAN-like broadcast in New York state would be of great
interest and tremendously beneficial to New Yorkers, so they
can actually see how government functions in Albany,” said
Russ Haven, legislative counsel with the New York Public Interest
Research Group. Haven said the current interest in legislative
reform shows it would be worthwhile for the public. “This
is particularly important, now more than ever with the public’s
concerns about government access.”
Generally, reporters are the only ones who sit in on legislative
proceedings, while the public catches only the glimpses the
press offers on televised news and in papers. The public misses
the heated debates and the way politicians react to tough
questions or roll over soft ones. They don’t hear entire speeches
or whole answers, only sound bites with context provided by
the media outlet. They don’t see the angry reactions, flustered
moments, or occasional arguments. Sometimes expressions say
more than words.
The public has expressed a desire to see change happen in
Albany. If government is televised, say advocates, the public
can, literally, see change happen, or fail to happen.
Members of the good-government group Common Cause New York
have been contacting their legislators this week to push for
televised government. Executive Director Rachel Leon said
New York is the only one out of the 10 most populous states
in the nation that does not have a televised system, and that
now is a good moment to start. “Technologically speaking,
the time has come. They’re already filming it, they just need
to find the cable outlet, the means to get it out to New Yorkers,”
she said, adding that the talk of reform has increased the
amount of debate among lawmakers, making open access even
Assembly’s initiative in doing this is really part of the
reform package to open up to people, provide access to what’s
happening in the Legislature,” said Assemblyman Bob Reilly
(D-Colonie). “I think there will be support for it.”
A representative speaking for Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon
Silver (D-Manhattan), said that Silver and Minority Leader
Charlie Nesbitt (R-Albion) are both in favor of this initiative.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures,
live proceedings were available to the public, via different
forms of media, in 45 states as of February 2004. Twenty-seven
states air their sessions on TV, including Connecticut, New
Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Ohio. Legislative happenings
are put on the Internet as well, sometimes only with audio,
but often by streaming video. The New York Legislature currently
offers Internet access to our representatives via streaming
Between 1986 and 1992, a channel called NYSCAN provided some
televised coverage of New York’s state government, but only
to Capital Region viewers. It ran on a budget of $500,000
with 10 employees. Gov. Mario Cuomo had it canned, claiming
it would be fiscally responsible to use the funds elsewhere.
In 1999, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Brunswick) and
Silver created a joint Senate-Assembly task force on televised
sessions to research restarting some form of direct government
access. The task force came up with an estimate of $20 to
$30 million for creating an independent outlet to air sessions
and other in-Capitol happenings.
When the task force was first researching the issue, digital
cable was not available in most of the state. The task force
saw this as a major obstacle because analog cable’s channel
capacity is limited, and it was likely that not all cable
providers would be on board with devoting a channel for such
a project. They decided to start with Internet audio broadcasts
and eventually video.
technological advances allow us the historic opportunity to
open state government up to millions of people throughout
New York and the entire world,” Silver said in a 2000 press
release announcing the Internet feeds.
While this claim is true, television broadcasts are still
likely to reach larger numbers than Internet ones. Internet
connections are still not as reliable, or as common, as TV,
and sitting in front of a computer is less comfortable than
on a couch. Also, most people don’t flip through channels
on their computer, so you basically have to know when you
want to watch it and what you want to see.
In 2000, the task force predicted that channel capacity would
grow, and with digital television it has done so tremendously.
And so, as an outgrowth of this year’s reform package, a committee
of Assembly members is again working to put the Assembly on
the committee will be doing in the near future is visiting
with various potential broadcasting partners,” said Reilly.
Besides finding distribution, another issue is production.
Reilly doesn’t think everything would necessarily be live,
mostly because of the amount of dead air that would result
while the members go into conference, or votes are being taken
and tallied. Working out what gets edited and what is aired
will take some time and guidelines, he said.
Reilly said the committee has not reached the stage where
the members can predict the cost of setting up this project,
but he seems to think the initial production-end start-up
will be most costly. “The House and the Assembly are already
well set up for the production of proceedings,” said Reilly.
“I think we can easily move into televised hearings. The question
becomes staffing and editing, and I’d imagine they’d have
to move into digital equipment. That would mean some capital
cost to get started.”
Although it seems the Senate supports the idea, that body
doesn’t appear to be taking the initiative the Assembly is.
Reilly said he believes the Assembly is ahead when it comes
to working on televising sessions, but he expects the Senate
will follow. They have not come to any decision on whether
the two will share a channel or use separate feeds.
it! You talk the way Southern blacks were taught
to talk to whites. You don’t look people in the
man talking to a white woman at intermission of
a Capital Repertory show, in the midst of a longer
explanation about her conversational habits.
Faces Make Friendly Questions
Taking a page from The White House Guide to
Public Interaction, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings
recently opted out of the standard Q&A format
for the monthly Albany Roundtable luncheons, choosing
(for the third consecutive year) to pick which
audience members could provide questions rather
than simply answering submitted questions selected
by moderator Paul Bray for relevance. The hard-
hitting questions Jennings chose to address during
this election-year forum included whether he was
related to Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings
and if he planned to serve longer than former
Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd.
Create the Truth
Mediabistro, an online resource for media professionals,
recently included among its job postings a call
for a new “fact writer” for Fox New Channel’s
24-hour television news network in New York City.
Responsibilities include the ambiguous task of
“writing on-air facts and press conference quotes.”
Sure, it sounded like it should be a reporter’s
job to us, too, but it makes sense when you think
about it: When the real facts don’t match your
agenda, just write new facts.
President Bush recently nominated John Negroponte,
the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to the newly
created office of director of national intelligence.
Negroponte previously served as ambassador to
Honduras from 1981 to 1985, and has been linked
to some of the shadier aspects of U.S. involvement
in Latin America, including reports of U.S.-trained
death squads killing activists and other gross
violations of international human-rights laws.
Negroponte has also been accused of altering reports
to Congress about human-rights violations in Honduras
in an effort to preserve U.S. funding for operations
Just hours after G.W. Bush signed legislation
shifting class-action lawsuits from state to federal
courts (thereby placing such lawsuits under the
jurisdiction of federally appointed judges rather
than their more consumer-friendly state counterparts),
the FDA announced that the controversial painkillers
Celebrex, Bextra and Vioxx won’t be removed from
U.S. markets, despite the drugs’ link (through
earlier reports by the FDA) to increased likelihood
of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular
dangers. Of course, it’s all probably just a coincidence.
Really. Just a coincidence. We’re sure of it.
aren’t motorcycles allowed to park at the Rensselaer Amtrak
their riders don’t get harassed about driving below the speed
limit quite as often as bicyclists, motorcycles still experience
some of the same harassment as their nonmotorized two-wheeled
brethren, from being refused service at drive-throughs to
being run off the road by careless car drivers. So a sensitive
biker might at first be apt to read something sinister into
the notices at the Rensselaer Amtrak Station long-term parking
area that say that motorcycles are prohibited for your safety
A customer-service representative for the station didn’t know
about the ban (employees get parking spots in the short-term
parking area right in front of the building it seems), but
Les Arras, a manager for Maiden Lane parking systems, who
was chatting with a parking attendant at the lot, was able
to clear it up.
The parking gates that Maiden Lane, which runs the station’s
parking, uses are triggered to open by the presence of a certain
amount of “metal mass,” Arras explained. Motorcycles aren’t
quite large enough, and either won’t trigger the gate to open
or may “lose” the signal early, leaving the gate to drop and
bash some poor motorcyclist on the head. OK, so they weren’t
kidding about safety reasons.
An article on the American Motorcycle Association Web site
confirms that many magnetically triggered gates have problems
with not opening for motorcycles, which are not only lighter,
but are made with a higher aluminum-to-steel proportion than
most cars. It’s not clear if the closing-on-someone’s-head
problem has actually happened, since once a gate opens its
closing is controlled by a timer, but it is apparently a commonly
cited reason for banning motorcycles from parking garages
and paid parking lots.
The AMA recommends that concerned bikers ask parking management
to adjust the sensitivity of their sensor, which is usually
possible; add an optical trigger rather than a magnetic one;
or shorten the arm so motorcycles can get around a closed
gate. Still, “the real problem,” said Imre Szauter, AMA legislative
affairs specialist, “is the fact that these manufacturers
aren’t designing gates for motorcycle use.”
Amano, the makers of the gates used at the Albany-Rensselaer
station, and the administration of Maiden Lane Parking, could
not be reached by press time. An incensed representative from
another parking-gate manufacturer, Cincinnati Gate Systems,
responded to the question of whether gates could be made motorcycle-safe
by saying that they already were, and it was all a problem
of insurance underwriters and revenue control, not safety.
(He also said, however, that asking the question was tantamount
to being “against American business,” so it may be a sore
In any case, Amtrak-riding motorcyclists can take heart. Arras
said there are plans to add a “concrete pad” out in front
of the gates for motorcycle parking some time in the next
year or two—and it’ll be free.
Loose Ends this week