Andrew Cuomo opens once-guarded sections of the Capitol to
For some, the Capitol Building has become a grim metaphor
for the current condition of the state’s government. Though
for the past decade the edifice has been in various stages
of renovation, both within and without, scaffolding and construction
equipment have served as constant reminders of the building’s
age and deteriorated condition. Meanwhile, security gates
and barricades at high- traffic entrances erected post-9/11
gave a visit to the building all of the charm of an Eastern
European border crossing circa 1960.
created an atmosphere which was foreboding,” said Assemblyman
John McEneny (D, Albany). “People felt that they were suspect;
not welcomed in their own Capitol.” In his first official
act as governor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a symbolic step toward
healing the perceived divide between the government and the
public by ordering that the 29 Jersey barriers on State Street
be removed for tour bus’ sake in an effort to invite people
back into what he has called “the people’s meeting place.”
The act, announced during his inaugural address, follows Cuomo’s
campaign agenda to empower the public and pursue openness
and transparency in government.
It’s very important philosophically that people are physically
at ease in the building that they own, with the people whose
salaries they pay,” said McEneny. “I think it’s an egalitarian
level of security that people have. They feel ownership for
their building rather than feel like they’re intruders.”
Cuomo also ordered that the south side of the second floor,
also known as “The Governor’s Floor” be opened to the public.
Originally closed by Gov. George Pataki 16 years ago, this
area contains the Governor’s office and the Executive Chamber,
as well as the art collection within the Hall of Governors.
This public collection of portraits by world-class artists,
such as Thomas Cole, contains paintings of nearly all that
served in the office, including U.S. presidents Martin Van
Buren, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore and Franklin Delano
Roosevelt as well as U.S. Vice Presidents George Clinton and
Now, a lone State Trooper is stationed at a desk in the hallway;
the only visible security measure seen from Gov. Clinton’s
portrait at one end of the gallery to Gov. Pataki’s portrait
at the other.
It’s a great metaphor for the fact that we’re going to care
more about the people who should be the most powerful voices
in this democracy: the taxpayers,” said Assemblyman James
Tedisco (R, NY-110). “It’s a good symbolic first step for
empowering the people who we represent.”
According to McEneny, the new governor also seeks to ensure
that the four-phase Capitol restoration effort that began
in 2000 continues to completion, and in the most cost effective
The project, now in phase four, has already restored the Assembly
Chamber and the skylight over the Great Western Staircase
and has repaired the building’s badly deteriorated ceiling.
By the project’s projected completion in 2014, the skylight
over the Senate and Assembly staircases should also be restored.
I think Gov. Cuomo has a real sense of the Capitol as a symbol
of the state of New York,” said McEneny. “A shabby, lackluster
capitol could indicate that your best years are behind you.
One that’s vibrant and valued and taken care of sends the
exact opposite message.”
Other executive orders signed by the governor this month have
included establishing teams to evaluate government programs
and spending as well as an order requiring ethics training
for all New York State officials.
If we want to go beyond the symbolic effort of empowering
people and making them the most important voices, we’ll follow
through with [Cuomo’s] agenda,” said Tedisco. “That is downsizing,
reducing the size and cost of state government, and not passing
unfunded mandates.” Tedisco also expressed the importance
of spending caps, as well as property tax and ethics reform.
Much like the renovation to the physical Capitol, Cuomo’s
mission to rebuild government and restore the public trust
will be a work in progress for at least the early part of
his administration. The first real test of these ideals will
come with the governor’s budget proposal, due to be released
next week on Feb. 1.
Though supportive of Cuomo’s early initiatives, Tedisco was
quick to point out that it is still too early in the administration
to determine if the governor would be true to his promises.
merit and the quality of the real openness and transparency;
the ability to take tough questions, answer tough questions,
and deal with difficult situations is going to come a little
bit later,” said Tedisco. “We’ll be better able to judge in
six months or so . . . or a year. The devil’s in the details.
We just need to see how he reacts when his feet are put to
holds hearing on cement plant upgrade
final public hearing on La farge Ravena’s cement plant modernization
took place on Jan. 20. All who spoke accepted that Lafarge
Building Materials, Inc. will get its permits. But like limestone
dust, questions hung in the air about how strict and detailed
the permits will be.
certainly looks like Lafarge will be building a new plant,”
said former state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone, who has
found elevated heavy metal levels in wildlife and soil nearby.
“Tonight a lot of people here are interested in money and
Several people objected that the Department of Environmental
Conservation is only requiring one year of air monitoring
after the new plant comes online. Emissions could change if
the plant ages or starts burning tires, they said. Air monitoring
should begin while construction workers are dismantling the
old plant, they said.
plant is going to be operating for a lot longer than one year,
so we think the air monitor should be operating for the life
of the plant,” said Elyse Kunz, cofounder of Community Advocates
for Safe Emissions. “It’s the only way to find out what’s
really going on. It would provide peace of mind for those
who are concerned.”
Several people raised the issue of fugitive dust that escapes
from storage areas, trucks and the conveyor belt between the
Lafarge quarry and plant.
result in respiratory damage to people living around the plant
and the people who go to this school,” said Hayley Mauskapf,
representing the 47-year-old organization Scenic Hudson. “They
need to be adequately addressed in the plans to modernize.”
Landscaping should also be required, she and others said.
we are in a scenic area, the visual impacts should be mitigated
to the extent possible,” she said. “I know the stack is supposed
to be somewhat taller than the current stack. Having some
kind of green screen around it would help with the visual
impact and noise.”
Friends of Hudson Director Susan Falzon called upon the DEC
to make Lafarge’s permitted pollution limits independent of
stringent federal limits, which face court and legislative
in the community exist in a cumulative toxic stew,” she said.
“We want to make sure Lafarge plant, when modernized, does
as little to add to it as possible.”
Mary Driscoll, who has lived in Coeymans for more than 45
years, protested against the recent “assault” by researchers
looking for heavy metal poisoning near the plant.
integrity has been questioned, our privacy invaded, and our
reputation has been slandered all over the Capital District,”
she said. “Do we have illnesses in our community? Of course
we do. But I don’t believe there are more than in any other
Modernization advocates included Lafarge Ravena’s environmental
manager John Reagan, cement plant workers Dan Baker and Chris
Ricciardi and Ravena resident Jerry Dunn. Also voicing support
were Diane Ehrlich from the Albany Chamber of Commerce, Ken
Pokalsky of the Business Council of New York State and local
steelworker’s union president Richard Strattman.
Strattman read a letter from Albany County Executive Michael
Breslin that called Lafarge Ravena “an outstanding corporate
neighbor.” Congressman Paul Tonko’s district director Sean
Shortell read a statement from his boss applauding Lafarge
“for taking the steps necessary to modernize their plant in
a fashion that will produce the cleanest, most energy-efficient
plant in North America.”
Several other office holders commented favorably, including
108th District Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin, Ravena Mayor
John Bruno, Ravena Village Board member Bruce Roberts and
Coeymans Town Councilman Tom Boehm.
Written comments on Lafarge’s permits will be accepted through
Feb. 22 by Sarah H. Evans, Project Manager/Environmental Analyst,
NYS DEC, Region 4 Headquarters, 1130 North Westcott Road,
Schenectady, NY 12306. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Fax:
Jan. 21, President Barack Obama made his second visit to the
Capital Region to talk about technological innovation and
the benefits of sustainable energy production at the General
Electric Plant in Schenectady. Obama championed education
and infrastructure improvements, as well as technological
innovation and expanded international commerce, as essential
for the U.S. to remain globally competitive, create more jobs
at home and ensure sustainable economic security. Plants like
the one in Schenectady, he believes, exemplify the direction
that we need to take as a country.
has undertaken a variety of initiatives that resonate with
the administration’s plans, prompting Obama to tap GE CEO
Jeff Immelt to chair his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Projects launched by GE include a new eco-friendly Renewable
Energy Global Headquarters, a state-of-the-art digital mammography
production facility, a renovated Global Research Center and
the impending battery plant. Upon completion, these projects
will have added more than 1,300 jobs to the region and will
represent more than $300 million in local investments.
loose ends this week-