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Health care is a right: Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.

Photo: Chris Mueller

Universal Need

Health-care advocates converge in Albany to press for statewide reform


“I still have a dream, today, in 2008,” breast cancer survivor Brenda Frost bellowed over the heads of almost 200 people at the Legislative Office Building, “a dream of a brighter future, of a place where I will not be judged by my wealth in society.” Frost’s dream was shared by the 35 people who told their stories before a panel of state officials on May 28 in hopes of convincing legislators of the importance of moving universal health care forward in New York state.

The dream is to fix what Frost called “a broken health-care system,” by implementing a plan for universal health coverage for all New Yorkers.

“Lobbyists representing Big Pharma and HMO’s flood the halls of the Legislature day and night opposing fundamental reforms of our broken system. This hearing is designed to make sure that for once, the experiences and views of average New Yorkers are heard in this debate,” said Jessica Wisneski, campaigns director coordinator for Citizen Action of New York. Citizen Action, along with Health Care for All New York, sponsored the hearing.

After nearly a year of studies and hearings, a task force created in by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer will be releasing at least three proposals for universal health-care coverage in New York later this month. The task force, in interdepartmental committee known as Partnership for Coverage will release at least three models for universal health care, said Joseph Baker, the assistant deputy secretary for Health and Human Services, and make them available for public comment.

“These are just the proposals, and then we have to work with the legislators,” said Baker. “I don’t want to create false optimism; there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the chair of the Assembly Committee on Health, also spoke at the hearing. He said that the stories further illustrated the need for universal health care in the state. He briefly outlined his own proposal, “New York Health Plus: Better Coverage for All of Us at Lower Cost,” based on the current New York Family and Child Health Plus plans.

Family and Child Health Plus is a nonprofit health-care program that makes comprehensive health coverage available to low-income, uninsured families. Gottfried’s proposal basically takes the widespread program and makes it an option for every resident in the state.

“By offering publicly sponsored, publicly funded coverage as a choice available to everyone,” said Gottfried, “we can make New York dramatically more employer-friendly and job-friendly by eliminating the need for any employer to provide health coverage for its workers. When employers and individuals don’t have to be ‘taxed’ by insurance-company premiums and deductibles, most people’s take-home pay will go up.”

Under Gottfried’s proposal, New Yorkers would be able to keep their private health plan, and would receive a “tax benefit” to insure that they do not pay for insurance coverage twice.

Gottfried’s proposal, said Richard Kirsch, director of Citizen Action of New York, “would offer quality affordable health care to all New Yorkers. It will make New York a much more healthy place to live, work and do business. It sets a high standard that we hope other reform proposals will also reach.”

Plus, Gottfried claimed, his plan would save $4 billion of the $63 billion spent per fiscal year.

“I was out mowing the lawn, and I had a heart attack,” said John McCallen. “Now all of my money goes toward paying my bills.”

He said that after his heart attack last year, he began paying $780 per month for prescription drugs and still does today. On top of the money spent on drugs, McCallen pays numerous medical bills associated to the heart attack as well as internal injuries he suffered from a separate car accident.

McCallen, a professor at Broome Community College in Binghamton, came to the People’s Public Hearing in Albany May 28 to get an idea of how many New Yorkers are uninsured. “There are 17 full-time teachers in my department, and eight of them are uninsured.”

“I want universal health coverage,” McCallen said. “But you have to have a choice, [universal health care] has to be affordable, and it has to be so they can’t cancel it. I am one of the working uninsured, and there are a lot of them in New York”

—Chris Mueller

What a Week


Ready to Run?

Will former Albany District Attorney Paul Clyne try to reclaim his seat from the man who defeated him?

If you believe the rumors that have been floating around Albany this week, Paul Clyne has a Machiavellian plan to orchestrate his political resurrection and challenge Albany County District Attorney David Soares for the Democratic nomination in a heated primary battle. However, if you believe some of the people closest to Clyne, he has decided that a possible primary challenge would get lost in the shuffle during a busy primary season that has the press and the public consumed with the tangled race for the 21st Congressional district.

Clyne was defeated by Soares in the 2004 Democratic primary and then later Soares bested Republican Roger Cusick in the general election. Soares had worked under Clyne in the DA’s office and was fired by Clyne after Soares informed him he would be running for his job.

Democratic Election Commissioner Matt Clyne said that although he can not speak for his brother Paul, the time just simply may not be right for Clyne to try to reclaim the seat Soares took from him. “There might be too much going on in other areas. There is a heated congressional race, and there are committee seats and lots of different things going on. The DA’s race might just get lost in the shuffle.”

Rumors suggested that Clyne would utilize allies in suburban Albany County to petition and canvas for him. It was suggested that petitions for Clyne were already being circulated in certain areas. However, according to some insiders, Clyne signaled this week that he would not challenge Soares in a primary and that his possible supporters were free to carry petitions for Soares.

Karen Scharf of the Working Families Party said, “Regardless of opposition, we were confident David Soares would be reelected this year.”

Grumblings about Soares’ performance as DA peaked in recent months leading many to believe that Soares would face a stiff primary challenge, despite Soares’ status as a local media darling who enjoys strong popularity. Most assumed that challenge would come from Clyne.

Some critics have accused Soares of not delivering on his campaign message of fiercely fighting the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Others have said Soares has taken time to bolster his image with high-profile cases, and his public integrity unit, while ignoring street crime. Others, like Matt and Paul Clyne who are supporters of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, take issue with Soares for other reasons.

“I couldn’t care less if someone is using steroids in Florida,” said Matt Clyne, referring to Soares’ high profile prosecution of an Internet pharmaceutical ring based in Florida that sold steroids. “But even in Albany, I don’t feel threatened by people using steroids, and I don’t think anyone else does either. You have to wonder; where is his sense of direction?”

Matt Clyne said that Soares’ liberal approach to prosecuting criminals has resulted in emboldening local criminals.

Scharf said Soares’ will have a chance in his second term to build on past successes and address areas of interest that he may not have devoted as much time to as he would have liked in his first term.

Clyne, who admittedly has a jaded opinion regarding Soares, complained that the DA has largely received a pass from local media and enjoys the popularity he does because of it.

“The New York press has been critical of his performance and have asked him some tough questions,” said Clyne. “They have drawn the opposite conclusion from the Times Union and the biggest obstacle facing someone challenging Soares is a lack of any objective reporting on the part of the local press.”

Clyne insisted that Soares is young and has yet to come to the conclusion more seasoned prosecutors reach—that the only way to deal with criminals is severely. “Like the communist system in the economic realm ultimately it collapsed because it is not grounded in reality,” said Clyne. “I don’t feel that having a liberal approach to criminal justice is grounded. It is either too expensive or too dangerous.”

“David is running with the strong support of the Albany Democratic Party and that shows that they recognize his strong list of accomplishments,” said Scharf.

Although Matt Clyne said he was fairly certain Soares would face no great challenge in a primary, he felt a general election challenge by an as-yet-unnamed candidate may certainly be possible. “I think it would be difficult to get something going for a primary, said Clyne, “you’ve gotta have the political organization and foot soldiers, and at this point, I don’t think its realistic that anyone could mount a credible campaign in a few months. But in a general election . . . it is conceivable.”

Paul Clyne did not return calls for this article.

—David King

New Recommendations on Old City Hall

After five months of meetings, Troy’s City Council officially hears from the City Hall committee

The election-year shine is off Troy’s City Hall Review Committee. In front of a sparse crowd of Troy city officials, including Council President Clem Campana (D-At Large) and Mayor Harry Tutunjian, as well as a few print reporters, the committee reviewed, point by point, the report it will be handing off to the Council today. It is a 14-page recommendation, the product of months of meetings and research, which concludes what Ken Zalewski, first-time councilman and the committee’s chair, has been saying for months—the committee’s resources in manpower and time could not properly match the scope of reviewing a project of this size.

What does this mean for the city’s much-maligned, 37-year-old hall of business?

“It’s a good report,” said Zalewski. “And it is a good starting point.”

Tutunjian and a few members of the committee, however, pointed out that a report is one thing, but it has gotten the city nowhere closer to an actual solution to the City Hall dilemma.

“I’ll never see anything done in my lifetime,” said one frustrated member.

“The more people you get involved in a project, the longer it is going to take,” said committeeman Red Griffin. “You ask a private company to be involved in a public project, and then subject them to this?”

It is no wonder Judge Development, the company whose initial proposal for City Hall Tutunjian announced and campaigned on last year, has withdrawn its interest.

“Time is money,” Griffin said, “and the more time it takes, the less profit.”

And now the city is left with only two proposals entered during this year’s RFP process. One, offered by NADC, the company that attempted to re-imagine the Mooradians building on River Street as high-end rental lofts, makes no mention of money, but does include a heady rebuke of the Tutunjian administration.

“The NADC proposal is critical of the initial absence of a project RFP, the scarcity of information being made available to interested developers,” the report summarized, “and the lack of public input and engagement in the process.”

The second bid is from an individual, Seymour Fox, and it drew snickers and chides from the committeemen and audience: Fox offered to buy City Hall for $500,000, make the needed repairs, then lease the building back to the city, but only after he had it painted in an “impressionist style,” which, according to some sketches provided, translates into a river scene splashed across the building’s facade.

The report ends with a series of recommendations for the council and mayor. These include the finding that City Hall is not, in fact, at threat of imminent collapse, yet it is in need of a $2.7 million investment, and if the city decides to remain housed at One Monument Square for longer than a year, then those serious infrastructural concerns, such as the parking lot, roof, and HVAC unit, must be addressed. However, if the city intends to continue along the path of selling One Monument Square and moving its offices to a new location, the report concludes: the RFP process must be “open, competitive,” and nationwide; the public must be involved in every step; a comprehensive plan must be developed for downtown; and a detailed analysis of cost, accessibility and community impact must be performed before moving city offices into any other building.

Further, any action undertaken to sell or move City Hall must remain nonpartisan.

“Any attempt to politicize such a project only serves to decrease the city’s chance of success,” Zalewski read from the report, drawing a hardly restrained laugh from some of the onlookers.

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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