Newsday. January 31, 2021.

Editorial: Delve deeper on nursing homes

12,743. It’s the answer to a question that has been asked for months: How many nursing home residents died in New York State due to COVID-19?

That’s 46% higher than the total the state had previously reported, which included only residents who physically died in the homes themselves. It took a scathing report from Attorney General Letitia James on Thursday to force state officials to release their own statistics — something they should have done months ago.

James’ interim report, which looked at a number of issues related to nursing homes, is deeply troubling. It paints a picture of long-term care facilities that were ill-prepared before the pandemic, with staffing shortages, a lack of personal protective equipment and inadequate infection controls.

Accountability for such significant shortcomings falls not only on the nursing homes, but also on the state, which is supposed to serve as regulator and enforcer. Yet, in a 1,600-word response last week, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker took no such responsibility, instead standing up for the state and blaming the Trump administration. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has defended his actions for months, didn’t take direct responsibility for the findings, dismissing criticism over the issue as a “political football.”

But it’s not. James is a Democrat, and the critiques have come from both sides of the aisle.

James’ report extrapolated from a sampling of nursing homes that the discrepancy on the number of resident deaths could be as high as 50%. It noted that in one case a facility reported, as of May, deaths of 16 nursing home residents to the state Department of Health. But as of July, DOH had published on its website just one death in that home. The death toll was later changed on the website to 11, which did not reflect one suspected case and four more who had died in the hospital.

The report also addressed Cuomo’s controversial March directive that told nursing home operators to accept patients with COVID-19 from hospitals as long as they were able to. Such guidance, James said, may have led to an “increased risk” to residents.

Among James’ other disturbing allegations: that for-profit nursing homes may have made financially motivated moves, especially related to insufficient staffing and resident care, in part because the state had enacted provisions that gave the homes immunity.

James’ investigation must be only the beginning. She should dive deeper to understand what happened at each home, and audit the data on deaths. The State Legislature must push Zucker for answers during hearings next month. Other issues, like the how nursing homes are managed, the limited resources some are given and the differences between for-profit and not-for-profit models must be addressed, too.

In this crisis, there’s plenty of blame to go around. But the state must take the lead in making necessary reforms, improving enforcement and data collection and making sure facilities are prepared for the next pandemic.

Thousands of our most vulnerable residents died, leaving behind thousands more family members who continue to grieve. The state owes them more.


New York Daily News. January 31, 2021.

Editorial: Throwing away our shots: New York City and State must learn from vaccine rollout mistakes, now

New York is rounding the bend toward week eight of COVID vaccinations. In hindsight, it’s clear neither city nor state were ready to efficiently, equitably distribute the lifesaving shots. A raft of problems must be ironed out quickly if the coming months of inoculation are to work better than the unacceptably slow, clunky, frustrating start.

Distribution has gone slowly in almost everywhere; the Trump administration’s refusal to offer states aid last fall didn’t help, but that’s no excuse for the fact that supplies have taken far too long to work their ways into the arms that need them most.

How has the job been botched? Let us count the ways.

State and city officials can’t seem to make up their minds what’s most important — getting as many shots to as many people as quickly as possible or ensuring equity in vaccine distribution. There isn’t a simple right answer; the key is to prioritize speed without compromising equity.

So it is unhelpful to limit locations where any of the millions of New Yorkers eligible for vaccines can go to receive them. Gov. Cuomo’s rule that pharmacies may vaccinate only the elderly, and county governments may only vaccinate eligible categories of essential workers, is counterproductive.

Meanwhile, both the city and state created sign-up systems that have made it hard for those who most need the shots and also tend to be least internet-savvy — the elderly, nonwhite and non-wealthy — to snag a spot in line. Navigating sign-up websites is obscenely complex, and in some cases requires the ability to read and write in English.

It’s a colossal civic embarrassment that the only website where New Yorkers can find all available vaccine appointments citywide is created not by the government, but by a gung-ho group of volunteers.

Do better. Now.


New York Post. January 31, 2021.

Editorial: Double standards abound at The New York Times

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times, decided to give science reporter Donald McNeil a second chance despite finding that he’d made offensive (allegedly quite racist) remarks on a trip with schoolchildren. Fair enough — but how does that square with the Times’ crucifixion of ESPN’s Doug Adler a few years back?

Adler’s only “crime” was to describe Venus Williams’ play at the net as “guerilla” tactics. But, as our own Phil Mushnick has reported repeatedly, a Times critic took it as “gorilla” — and that was enough not only to get ESPN to fire Adler, but to destroy his career.

And no matter that “guerilla” is used often enough in tennis talk that Nike made an ad with Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras playing “guerilla tennis.”

McNeil, meanwhile, faced claims from multiple sources that he made sexist and racist remarks on a Times-organized 2019 student trip. He allegedly used the N-word and insisted white supremacy doesn’t exist.

Yet, after an investigation, Baquet decided that McNeil’s intentions weren’t “hateful or malicious” and so opted to “formally discipline” the ace science reporter.

Again, that’s perfectly reasonable. Depending of course on the full circumstances, we’re all good with people getting a second chance rather than professional execution. But the Times has never returned to the Adler case — surely Baquet owes the guy at least an apology?

Then again, heads rolled in the Times’ opinion section last year after it published an oped by a US senator arguing that military force should be mobilized to prevent Black Lives Matter protesters from rampaging in Washington DC, on the grounds the argument was intrinsically racist.

Ironically, the paper now seems perfectly happy to have DC militarized for weeks in the wake of the Jan. 6 right-wing rampage at the US Capitol. Double standards seem to abound at the Gray Lady.


Albany Times Union. January 31, 2021.

Editorial: Necessary scrutiny

Far too few state standards regulate forensic evaluators, whose work has the power to reshape families. But there’s hope that may change.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a “blue-ribbon” commission to examine the role of forensic evaluators in Family Court, where they’re tasked with assessing parents locked in custody battles. Their reports can carry a lot of weight with the judges who decide these difficult cases.

But as reported by the Times Union’s Chris Bragg — who has written extensively about the deaths of children in the Family Court system, and the flawed protocols that allowed young victims to fall through the cracks — the role has no statewide training requirements. There are no state-issued criteria for writing forensic evaluation reports, except that the child’s “best psychological interests and well-being” must be considered. The secretive nature of the reports — even parents’ access to them is limited — also makes it nearly impossible to judge their merits or hold evaluators accountable if their work is flawed.

So the governor’s announcement is a welcome development. The panel should convene quickly and, we hope, recommend changes that will help the system get better at protecting these vulnerable children.

Good idea, poor implementation

Schenectady County has moved to protect local restaurants by clamping down on the fees that third-party delivery apps charge eateries — fees that can run as high as 30 percent. But the County Legislature’s measure came out only half-baked.

The county recently capped delivery fees at 15 percent of the cost of the food order, and pick-up fees at 5 percent. The problem: Those aren’t the only fees the companies — apps like Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash — charge restaurants. They also collect marketing, listing and advertising fees — and without any caps on those, the apps are able to shuffle their charges from one category to another and go right on gouging restaurants. That’s a loophole big enough to pass a smorgasbord through.

The restaurant industry would like to see all non-delivery fees capped at 5 percent, and delivery fees at 15 percent. Albany County recently adopted that model. Schenectady County lawmakers should get back in there and try again.

Cause, meet effect. Action, meet consequence. Town of Milton, meet Old Man Winter.

Milton’s Town Hall has been empty since March, when a leaky roof was found to be feeding mold growth. In December, pipes burst in the building, soaking ceilings, carpets, walls, and insulation. Why? No one had turned on the heat.

The town facilities committee had talked about it, but no one mentioned it to the folks in the building department. Though you might think it would have occurred to them on their own, winter being cold and all.

Town Supervisor Benny Zlotnick said that insurance will cover the damage and that the burst pipes won’t add much to what the town was already planning to spend on renovations. Really? What’s a few thousand here and there among taxpayers?

There are lessons here for Milton, about communication, yes, but also this: When you let a building sit empty for most of a year, it rarely gets better, no matter who owns it.


Adirondack Daily Enterprise. February 1, 2021.

Editorial: Give independent redistricting a chance

The Independent Redistricting Commission approved by state voters back in 2014 (do you remember doing that?) is not perfect, but it should be given a chance to work as is.

For time out of mind, New Yorkers let state legislators redraw their own districts after every new 10-year census tracked population shifts. That seems crazy, doesn’t it? They came up with some pretty wild-looking gerrymandered shapes as they drew safe havens for themselves — Republicans in rural areas, Democrats in cities — and tried to isolate their opponents, maybe even eliminate their districts. But the Independent Redistricting Commission takes that power away from the politicians themselves, which is great — and it needs to be preserved.

This independent commission has never been used before, as redistricting occurs once every 10 years and we established it six years ago.

Nevertheless, now that Democrats have majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, they are trying to change a bunch of the redistricting rules to benefit them, before the rules even get used for the first time.

They have passed a constitutional amendment with various rule changes and put it on the ballot for the November election. Voters will have the final say — again.

The Democrats’ move shouldn’t be surprising. “To the victors go the spoils,” goes the old saying, and in this case the Democratic victors are going to find a way to draw legislative district boundaries in a way that benefits them. Republicans did it for decades when they controlled the state Senate. Democrats now want to take their turn.

This change reeks, though, in part because the Independent Redistricting Commission has not yet been given a chance to work. It was created after the last set of district boundaries were drawn, and this year was to be its trial run. Here in New York state, the appearance of independent redistricting hasn’t gotten off the ground yet.

The commission has 10 members, non-politicians chosen by Legislature leaders of both major parties: four chosen by Democrats, four chosen by Republicans and two chosen by the other eight.

They will draw redistricting maps, which must be approved by the Legislature — and that’s where it gets political.

If the Legislature passes the commission’s proposal, fine. If not, the commission gets a second try. But if lawmakers reject two versions of the commission’s maps, yep, you guessed it — they get to draw up and pass maps of its own.

Republicans, back when they held the Senate majority, wrote a rule into the approval process to help them stonewall a redistricting plan they didn’t like. The rule says that if the Senate and Assembly are controlled by different parties, a plan can pass with a simple majority, but if one party controls both chambers — something Republicans feared the Democrats might get, but which the GOP had little chance of anytime soon — the new districts would need a two-thirds supermajority to pass. Now that Democrats do, in fact, have majorities in both houses, and they are trying to nix the supermajority requirement.

But that’s not the only change in the amendment. Democrats are also trying to count incarcerated people as residents of the last district they lived in before being imprisoned rather than as residents of the prison itself. People in prison can’t vote, but they’re used as political tools. Count them in their prison towns, and they give more numbers — and ultimately more representation — to rural areas. Count them in their former homes, even if they haven’t lived there for years, and they will necessitate urban areas to get more representatives and rural reps to be spread more thinly.

Democrats are also trying to rewrite rules about how many of the 10 commissioners are needed to pass a redistricting plan, and several other changes you can read about in our Jan. 25 report by Aaron Cerbone.

While there is room to quibble over each of these changes, we don’t like to see the party in power flexing its muscles to rewrite rules that have never even been used. How about we try them out first and see how they work?

Rather than reintroduce partisan politics into the process, the state should try to uphold a redistricting system that is truly independent.

At a time when Americans are asking politicians in Washington to tone down their partisan attacks, here in New York we politely continue beating the drums.

One-party rule is a bad idea. So is letting politicians draw their own districts. An independent redistricting process is a worthy ideal. Let’s move forward in that spirit.