By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — The year ending Tuesday has been a tough one for proponents of gun rights and advocates for public nursing homes across New York.
While Gov. Andrew Cuomo heralded the passage of the New York SAFE Act in January, sportsmen groups railed at the legislation, arguing it unfairly limited the rights of law-abiding citizens to weapons that had never been defined as assault rifles.
Some counties — including Otsego and Schoharie — went so far as to tell state government in no uncertain terms that their county seals were not to be used in connection with a SAFE Act web site created by the New York State Police to facilitate the recertification of handgun permits.
Cuomo proclaimed the measure New York’s response to the massacre of school children and teachers at a Newtown, Conn., public school in December 2012. His press release announced that the state’s new ban on assault weapons was the nation’s first response to the shooting rampage, coming even before the Obama administration could muster its own federal legislation.
Critics of the legislation — such as the New York State Sheriffs Association and organizations representing New Yorkers who obtained their firearms through legal channels — said they were not given ample time to review the bill before it was hurried through the Legislature.
In February, scores of gun owners crowded into three buses parked in Oneonta for a trip to Albany where they and thousands of other Second Amendment proponents demonstrated outside the state Capitol against the SAFE Act.
“Why do we have to give up our guns that we enjoy?” Jim Losie, owner of Losie’s Gun Shop and one of the organizers of the rally, told The Daily Star.
As the year winds to a close, there are five pending lawsuits challenging varying facets of the SAFE Act. Two are filed in U.S. District Court, and the other three are awaiting action in state Supreme Court.
For public nursing homes in eight counties across the state — including the 174-bed Otsego Manor just south of Cooperstown — 2013 could end as the last full year they were in pubic hands. All are taking steps toward privatization.
On May 1, the Otsego County Board of Representatives overwhelmingly agreed to set up a local development corporation to handle the sale of the Manor. The move came after deficits began to pile up to the point where county Treasurer Dan Crowell declared the county could no longer afford to operate it.
“We cannot financially support this anymore,” county Rep. Catherine Rothenberger, D-Oneonta, said at the May meeting. “We built a Cadillac.”
Among the reasons cited for the growing gap that needed to be filled each year to run the Manor were escalating employee pension and health care insurance premiums as well as a decline in the reimbursement rates for patients eligible for Medicaid or Medicare benefits.
This month, the local development corporation, after getting eight bids on the Manor, narrowed the list of suitors to two. A decision is expected to be made in late January.
In November, after a major lobbying blitz by the gaming industry in Albany and an aggressive effort by Cuomo, New York voters agreed to amend the state Constitution by permitting up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos, four of which would be opened in the first seven years.
The ballot proposition was favored by 57 percent of voters, though it was turned down by a majority in Otsego County. Voters in Schoharie and Delaware counties favored it.
Four gaming companies are set to compete for licenses that will be awarded in the Catskills region — Empire Resorts Inc., Foxwoods Resort Casino, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and the owners of the Nevele, a hotel in the Ulster County community of Ellenville that closed in 2009 and would re-open there if it is awarded the casino license.
Other potential sites being discussed in the Catskills are the Concord Resort Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, a parcel nearby the Concord, and a site next to Grossinger’s, a storied resort in Liberty. Those sites are all in Sullivan County.
In the two years leading up to the vote, there was a barrage of spending on lobbying by special interests tied to gambling, according to Common Cause New York. The good-government group found that gambling interests spent $14.7 million on lobbying in that period while contributing $2.4 million to political action committees. Meanwhile, Cuomo’s re-election campaign took in some $242,000 from casino-related donors, Common Cause said.
The passage of the ballot question made New York the largest state in the country to welcome casinos on non-Indian land. Cuomo insisted it was in the interests of the state’s citizens.
“This vote will keep hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year in neighboring states right here in New York,” Cuomo said in a statement.
While 2013 was an off-year for aspirants of statewide elected office and congressional candidates, there was still plenty of political activity, some of which brought about degrees of change.
The Otsego County Democratic Committee had hoped for more than that. Going into election season, its leaders said they felt they had a strong shot at capturing majority control of the county’s Board of Representatives. Not only did Republicans stymie those ambitions, they ended up gaining ground in districts where Democrats said they hadn’t expected to lose.
“I know I worked very hard,” Oneonta businessman Craig Gelbsman, a Republican, said after winning the District 12 seat that Rothenberger will vacate on New Year’s Eve.
Gelbsman’s victory was not the only bright spot for the GOP. Rep. John Kosmer, D-Fly Creek, lost his seat to Rick Hulse Jr., a Republican, and Oneonta Town Councilwoman Janet Hurley-Quackenbush, also a Republican. cruised past Democratic newcomer Dan Buttermann.
Those GOP gains more than offset the loss the party sustained when Democrat Ed Lentz of New Lisbon, a Democrat, won the seat with the most weighted votes in the county in a close race against Milford Republican Jamie Waters.
Though Otsego Democrats were left licking their wounds in the battle for control over county government, the party’s incumbent county treasurer, Dan Crowell, won handily over GOP-backed challenger Edward Keator Jr. Crowell thus escaped paying any price on Election Day for his own miscue of initially trying to get his name off the ballot while Democrats briefly rallied around then-acting-Treasurer Russ Bachman, who had filled in for Crowell while the latter was activated for military service.
After Bachman’s nominating petitions were found invalid, Crowell reassured voters he would serve a full second term. He will begin that term on New Year’s Day.
In Delaware County, the GOP retained its dominance of the county Board of Supervisors, though there will be some new faces on the board come next week.
In Sidney, R. Eugene Pigford will take over as town supervisor after defeating William Heath, a Democrat. Pigford replaces Supervisor Bob McCarthy, who did not seek re-election.
In Andes, voters denied another term to Town Supervisor Pete Bracci, replacing him with Mark E. Tuthill, a Republican who had defeated the incumbent in the GOP primary and won the general election with help from a third-party line.
Change will also take place in Meredith, where Town Supervisor Keitha Capouya, a Democrat who supported a town-wide ban on heavy industry— a measure that was ultimately adopted — was defeated by Republican James Ellis, a State University at Delhi professor.
Schoharie County government, still coping with the destruction unleashed by the flooding of 2011, had a rocky year after a consultant retained by the county board at a cost of more than $300,000 issued a scathing report that criticized alleged abusive actions of county Personnel Director Cassandra Ethington.
Several candidates for re-election who were tied to the county Conservative Party or to Ethington fared poorly at the polls in November.
Among those being shown the door by voters was Cobleskill Town Supervisor Tom Murray, a Democrat with close ties to the Conservatives. Murray was spanked in the general election by his GOP opponent, Leo McCallister, who racked up 71 percent of the votes in the general election.
Also soundly beaten was Jefferson Town Supervisor Dan Singletary, a Republican active in Conservative circles and a backer of Ethington. He will be replaced by Sean Jordan, a former county employee who is also a Republican.
Following the election, Schoharie County Treasurer William Cherry, a Republican, said there are many good Conservative Party members in the county but they paid the price for a party that was “taken over by a faction of disgruntled Republicans using extreme tactics.”
With congressional terms only two years long, incumbents find themselves in a cycle of either running for re-election or girding for their next challenge. Such was the case for Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who came under frequent attack from Sean Eldridge, a Democrat who moved into the district this year after marrying wealthy Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.
It remains unclear whether Eldridge, a native of Canada who was raised in Ohio and now lists his address as Shokan, will be the Democratic Party nominee, though Otsego County Democratic Chairman Rich Abbate said his organization is poised to back him. Because the district is viewed as competitive, the contest is expected to attract a deluge of campaign donations for both sides.
Not much was settled in 2013 in the ongoing debate over draft state regulations that would allow the gas drilling industry to begin cracking through layers of shale to tap trapped deposits of natural gas.
The Cuomo administration assigned state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to study the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Shah told reporters this month he does not know when the study will be completed.
Meanwhile, numerous towns throughout the state adopted bans and moratoriums against gas drilling, following in the trailblazing footprints of the Otsego County town of Middlefield. Its ban on fracking has been upheld by lower courts, and along with a similar ban imposed by Dryden, now faces review by New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. A decision is expected in 2014.
Many of the same local activists opposed to fracking have also been riveted on the proposed Constitution Pipeline. The fate of the nearly $700 million project is expected to be determined by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, possibly as early as 2014.
If the natural gas transmission line is approved, advocates say, it could supply natural gas to many local institutions, businesses and households. Opponents argue it will harm the forests and fields through which it is constructed, and its gas could end up being converted to liquified natural gas for overseas export.