my name: Andrew Cuomo is greeted by supporters in Rotterdam.
candidates for Eliot Spitzer’s job embrace the accomplishments
Cuomo, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary for state
attorney general, is a man haunted by the legacies of other
men. But Cuomo was not afraid to wrap himself in those legacies
last Wednesday, when he took part in a town-hall meeting of
attorney general candidates put together by News Channel 9.
Cuomo brought out the big guns early, invoking the name of
Bill Clinton, the man he says he “made the country better
with” while he worked as director of the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development; the name of his father, former
Gov. Mario Cuomo; and, of course, the name of the man he hopes
to replace, Eliot Spitzer.
was greeted with embraces from Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings
and Albany Police Chief James Tuffey. Schenectady Mayor Brian
Stratton was also present.
Cuomo left the stage after his comments, choosing not to listen
to his challengers whose comments were broadcast by satellite.
He also chose not to sit in a room full of his own supporters.
known him for many, many years prior to his public involvement,
and I’ve worked with him throughout his tenure at HUD, and
he understands what urban America is up against,” said Jennings
as he left the meeting with Cuomo.
have to change things around, and he has a very clear understanding
of the issues we are confronted with,” Jennings added. “We
don’t have to educate him.”
Cuomo’s opponents beg to differ.
At a debate at Pace University last Thursday, candidates insinuated
that Cuomo does not have enough courtroom experience to be
attorney general; he has not prosecuted a case since 1984.
However, Cuomo countered that Spitzer has not spent a day
in a courtroom during his eight years as attorney general.
He insisted that the job calls for someone who is good at
managing lawyers, something he says he did effectively during
his tenure at HUD.
But Cuomo’s performance at HUD has drawn some sharp criticism.
And he has gained a reputation in some circles as a difficult
boss. However, Jennings said that this reputation is unwarranted.
“What I think you’re gonna see—like myself—they criticize
us. We micromanage, we want to know what is going on. That
is our job. We are the guys out in the front. People want
to work with us, and all we ask of them is that they do the
right thing. It will come from the top down. He will have
to get educated to a lot of the issues that are going on in
the attorney general’s office.”
other attorney general candidates pointed to their experience
as qualification during the debate, Cuomo reached out again
to someone else’s legacy.
me,” he said, “Eliot Spitzer’s legacy is ‘deliver results.’
Don’t just talk about the problem—solve the problem. And that’s
what I’ve been trying to do all my life.”
Opponent Mark Green moved to drive a wedge between Cuomo and
Spitzer. Green cited a 2004 lawsuit filed by Spitzer against
HUD, the organization that Cuomo headed between 1997 and 2001.
The lawsuit alleged that HUD did not enforce a law that banned
the use of pesticides at public-housing units. Green insists
the lawsuit cites violations back to 1996 and covers Cuomo’s
time as director. Green declared that, if elected, Cuomo will
have to prosecute a case against himself.
Despite critics’ accusations that Cuomo does not have the
qualifications for the attorney general slot, many say that
no matter who is running, the race will be overshadowed by
the legacy of Spitzer’s success.
Critics also say that if the race does come down to Cuomo
and Republican frontrunner Jeanine Pirro, both might have
a hard time facing their most recent history: Cuomo’s abandoned
run for governor in 2000 and Pirro’s recent abandoned campaign
against Hillary Clinton.
all that talk of a phased withdrawal from Iraq?
Remember how a small number of troops began returning
to the states earlier this year? Well it looks
like that might have been a mistake. The Marines
have begun an involuntary recall of troops who
finished out their four-year term of service.
The recall will occur in groups of 2,500 Marines
at a time. No cap has been given for the total
number of troops to be recalled. Officials said
that a higher troop presence is needed to manage
the escalating violence in Baghdad.
Detroit judge became the first to rule on the
legality of President George Bush’s warrantless
surveillance program, striking it down and calling
for its immediate halt last week. U.S. District
Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the program,
hailed by the White House as necessary to fight
terrorism, violates constitutional guarantees
to free speech and privacy, as well as the separation
of powers. The Bush administration said it would
ask for a stay while it appeals the decision.
Bombs Don’t Do Cease-Fires
week, the United Nations reported that Israel
dropped cluster bombs on more than 170 villages
in southern Lebanon. Since the Aug. 14 truce between
Israel and Hezbollah that ended the bombing of
Lebanon, eight people had allegedly died from
contact with these bombs. And nearly 25 have been
wounded. The small, cylindrical bombs blend in
with rocks and therefore are easy to step on and
detonate. Tekimiti Gilbert, operations chief of
the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Centre in Lebanon,
accused Israel of deliberately dropping the bombs
in populated areas, in violation of international
a five-part series, the Los Angeles Times has
taken a look at the stress humans have placed
on the oceans. Quite disturbing, the paper reports
that there has been a change to the basic chemistry
of the ocean. According to Jeremy B.C. Jackson,
a marine ecologist and paleontologist at the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, “We’re
pushing the oceans back to the dawn of evolution,
a half-billion years ago when the oceans were
ruled by jellyfish and bacteria.” This is bad
news for the more advanced forms of sea life,
such as fish and marine mammals, who can’t survive
in the ancient conditions.
vetoes a bill that would have protected consumers from aggressive
rate hikes on their credit cards
Last week, Gov. George Pataki vetoed a bill that would have
made it il legal for credit-card companies to raise interest
rates based on cardholders’ other financial activity. The
bill enjoyed nearly universal support from both Republicans
and Democrats in the state Legislature and was heralded by
experts and consumer-rights groups as a common-sense protection.
So why did Pataki veto the bill?
According to a statement from Pataki’s office, the bill was
too vague. But the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera
(D-Bronx), and his staffers argue that the outgoing governor
had an ulterior motive.
know for a fact the bank lobby is the largest contributor
to the Bush-Cheney campaign,” said Rivera staffer Guillermo
Martinez. “They beat out every other interest group in the
country in terms of donations.”
know Pataki has his eyes, as far-fetched as it is, at being
the president of the United States,” Martinez continued, “and
he would need to follow the model. He has to appeal to the
right wing and be very pro-business. That would fit that model.
There were millions of possible dollars to his campaign at
stake. It was the factor.”
default” is the term used to describe credit-card companies’
practice of raising your interest rate when you incur more
debt or don’t pay another bill. The companies say they measure
the risk of cardholders by monitoring how they manage the
rest of their credit. If a cardholder misses a payment on
any bill, they are then considered higher-risk, and the issuing
bank will raise the interest rate on their credit card. Not
all credit companies use this practice, but those that do
usually have this measure included in the small print of the
The practice is ridiculous, said Linda Sherry of Consumer
Action, because it hurts the companies as well as the consumer.
say it is ‘risk management,’ but it’s making the consumer
much more risky,” she said. It becomes less likely someone
will be able to make all their payments on time if their interest
rates keep getting jacked up.
She also pointed out that it is not an obscure practice that
affects only a fraction of consumers. “We hear from many,
many people about this. This is not rarely heard of. I was
looking through complaints in our database—some poor guy had
a 44-percent interest rate.”
Martinez said the practice “is an outrageous intrusion into
personal, private matters. We wouldn’t allow people to do
this to us, but we’re allowing business to.”
There is more at stake, however, than the financial well-being
of New Yorkers.
Martinez and Sherry both said that the bill would have bolstered
states’ rights; New York state would have been able to protect
consumers from harmful banking practices and, at the same
time, challenge federal authority over interest-rate regulation.
This would have been a precedent that Martinez thinks other
states would have rallied behind. Martinez said the bill would
have likely wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
are saying we [the states] have the authority over this,”
he said. “The federal government is not doing much to protect
the consumer. This bill would be the beginning of larger,
national debate, and would likely wind up in Supreme Court,
where they would rule in favor that this is a state issue.
It is state protections for citizens. This is classic American-government
But Sherry said the full implications of the bill, which had
drawn the ire of national banking interests, made her doubt
it would have become law. “It was always a kind of a question
if it would fly for national banks. They have been kind of
working overtime to protect federal preemption of state laws.”
However, Sherry said she thinks this is the kind of issue
a governor would want to take on. “If I was governor, I would
want to step out ahead of the country and get ahead of a really
egregious anti-consumer practice.”
Martinez said that universal default is a petty practice driven
by an industry that actually goes out of its way to abuse
consumers. “You don’t use your card, you get a fee. . . .
It’s amazing! There are guys that sit there over a keg of
beer in someone’s summer home saying, ‘How do we screw them
now?’ They can’t come up with enough ideas on how to get the
consumer. I can see these guys sitting around laughing about
it. They all go skiing in the summer, to the Bahamas in the
winter, and, you know, everyone else works for everything
Martinez said bill supporters plan to ask for an override
and hope to see the bill get past the governor in September.
He noted that the Assembly has passed the bill three years
in a row.
However, if they can’t get the bill through the current governor,
Martinez said, he thinks he knows someone who might want to
approve it. “I would definitely think, with Attorney General
Spitzer’s pro-consumer stand, this is right up his alley.
As governor, he would actually make a big splash across the
country as the first governor to put this into play, as the
first governor who really puts up a wall to protect consumers.”
reports of local pharmacists refusing emergency-contraception
refills fan flames, national debate about the drug persists
Allegations of discrimination, breach of professional duty,
and unlawfulness surround a report that three pharmacists
at stores in Saratoga Springs and Gloversville recently refused
to honor refills of emergency-contraception prescriptions.
The incidents, which are described in a complaint issued last
week by the New York Civil Liberties Union, added more fuel
to ongoing debate about the accessibility of EC.
While reports of pharmacists refusing to honor EC prescriptions
due to moral or religious objections speckle the national
map, the uniqueness of the incidents described in the NYCLU
complaint has to do with the nature of the objections.
is different because they’re refusing to fill refill doses
of emergency contraception,” said Linda Scharf, director of
communications for Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson. “They’ve
filled the first script, but they just objected to the idea
that a woman might need EC more than once.”
EC, also known as the morning-after pill, or by the brand
name Plan B, prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive
failure. It contains the same hormones found in ordinary birth-control
pills, but in a concentrated dose. Although the drug can be
up to 95 percent effective if taken within 24 hours, its success
decreases as time passes. EC cannot terminate an established
pregnancy and therefore differs from the abortion pill, RU-486.
Yet, the definitional line between whether EC is contraceptive
(preventing conception) or abortifacient (inducing abortion)
has been muddled by uncertainty about the method by which
the drug prevents pregnancy. Pro-lifers argue that once a
sperm and egg unite at conception, a life has been created,
and any unnatural interference thereafter constitutes abortion.
Of the three principal explanations about how EC prevents
pregnancy, one leaves open the possibility that pregnancy
is inhibited after conception. This method involves disruption
to the uterus, which prevents a fertilized egg from attaching
to the womb.
implementation makes it abortifacient,” said Dennis Wolterding,
a director of the Capital Region anti- abortion organization
Citizens Concerned for Human Life.
This method also is the most improbable explanation about
EC’s function, according to Claudina Owen, a family nurse
practitioner at Planned Parenthood of Saratoga Springs and
one of three complainants in the NYCLU case.
most likely way that emergency contraception works is by delaying
ovulation,” Owen said. “There’s always out there this question
of the possibility that there’s disruption of the uterine
lining that makes it impossible for a fertilized egg to implant,
but it’s not likely that that’s what’s happening. We’re not
sure, but we’re pretty sure that it’s delaying ovulation.”
If a woman already had ovulated, she probably would become
pregnant, Owen said. That is, unless EC were taken soon enough
to thicken the cervical mucus and block sperm from reaching
the egg, preventing conception and thereby also constituting
No matter the odds, the chance that EC might inhibit pregnancy
after contraception is enough for anti-abortion organizations
to rally against the drug and declare it a form of abortion.
It’s this definition, said Wolterding, that negates NYCLU
allegations that pharmacists named in the complaint violated
state pharmacy laws, regulations and professional guidelines.
Such claims, he said, are trumped by a legal protection allowing
for their refusal.
A New York Civil Rights Law provision allows persons to object
to performing or assisting in abortions when contrary to their
moral beliefs. The law also requires employees to provide
their employers with written documentation of their refusal
prior to the objection. It is unknown whether the three pharmacists
named in the complaint had submitted such a refusal.
This law was tested in court during the late ’90s when two
Albany Medical Center nurses, with help from CCHL, sued the
hospital for discriminating against them when they refused
to participate in abortions. The decision solidified the right
of employees to refuse to assist in abortions and, according
to Wolterding, extends to pharmacists who object to filling
the pharmacists say that because these are abortifacient they’re
not going to fill a refill because they don’t want to perform
or assist in an abortion, we believe they are on the strongest
legal ground,” he said. “This may have to be tested in the
courts again, but we stand ready to help them test it.”
New York is among a majority of states in which a prescription
is required in order to obtain EC from a pharmacy. However,
the frequency of pharmacists refusing to fill EC prescriptions
and the lack of consistent pharmacy policies has created a
situation that falls short of guaranteeing those prescriptions
will be honored.
pretty common,” Owen said of refusals to fill EC. “We have
certain drugstores that we don’t deal with at all because
we know there’s a pharmacist there that won’t fill our prescription
if we call it in.”
Even more frustrating to the professionals who prescribe EC
is scientific evidence that they say demonstrates EC is safe
to provide without their signature.
no reason [to require a prescription],” said Marc Heller,
medical director of Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson, who
also is named as a complainant in the NYCLUS case. “I think
it should be available as possible. There are no medical risks.
It should be available to every sexually active woman, if
they want it.”
New York state legislators made an effort toward achieving
that in 2005, when a bipartisan bill designed to decrease
the obstacles to obtaining EC passed both houses. Proposed
as a means by which to minimize the number of unintended pregnancies
in the state, the measure was vetoed by Gov. George Pataki
in August 2005.
Had Pataki signed the legislation, the new law would have
followed the actions taken in at least eight other states.
The New York bill would have allowed pharmacists and registered
nurses to dispense EC through non-patient-specific prescriptions,
increasing access by abolishing the need for women to first
visit a doctor or clinic.
In his veto message, Pataki noted that the bill would have
made EC available to minors as a reason for vetoing the measure.
Age has proved to be a sticky wicket at the federal level
as well. In 2003, the FDA agreed to review an application
from Barr Pharmaceuticals for nonprescription sale of the
EC brand Plan B. Since then, the only decision FDA officials
have made has been to not decide, as they pushed back self-declared
deadlines for a verdict.
At the end of July, the FDA announced it would again review
the request, this time insisting nonprescription sales be
limited to women 18 and older. A decision is expected soon.
While the country awaits FDA clarification, states continue
to debate access to EC. During the 2005-06 Legislative session,
New York representatives again approached the EC question,
pushing a revised bill through the Assembly. Since February,
the legislation has been sitting in the Senate’s higher education
loose ends this week-