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Here’s where the NYS gubernatorial candidates stand

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The race for the next governor of New York is underway and WCBS 880 is speaking with the candidates to hear their stance on issues that most matter to New Yorkers.

This is an ongoing series. Keep an eye out for the rest of the interviews:

JUMAANE WILLIAMS

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams debates in the race for governor at the studios of WNBC4-TV June 16, 2022 in New York City. Early voting starts June 18 ahead of the June 28 primary.

Photo credit Craig Ruttle-Pool/Getty Images

Jumaane Williams is the public advocate for New York City, a role meant to act as a watchdog on behalf of New Yorkers. He’s running as a Democrat. Before his election to the position in 2019, he spent a decade as a New York City councilmember for the 45th district in Brooklyn. A self-described Democratic Socialist, Williams has long been a champion for progressive causes. In the past he’s worked on initiatives to curtail police misconduct, reduce gun violence and build affordable housing. In 2018, Williams narrowly lost the election for Lieutenant Governor to Kathy Hochul, who has since become Governor after Andrew Cuomo’s ouster.

Why should the voters choose you?

“We keep hearing our leaders our leaders like our current Governor saying we have to return to normal,” said Williams. “I want to go back to where we were. I want to go back better than that… We are the only campaign that represents a new New York from where we were.”

On The Supreme Court ruling striking down New York’s conceal carry gun law

“It’s terrible. We knew It was coming. Our state has been caught flat footed.”

Williams has called for a billion dollar to be set aside in the budget for gun prevention. He claims the Governor’s plan doesn’t deal with street violence.

“We want people to be safe and we want people to feel safe… We need the investment day one.”

On Homelessness

“Housing and homeless have to be spoken about together… Most people need housing at an income they can afford.”

“I have a plan to put in place right now – 1 million units of housing where no one pays more than 30% of their income in rent”

On Congestion Pricing 

“Congestion pricing is needed and it’s needed right now… There is a part of Manhattan where too many people come into every single day. During rush hour those parts should have congestion pricing it will help loosen some of the vehicular traffic.”

“It will help us with the traffic. It will help us with the climate and it will also get funding to make the MTA better.”

ROB ASTORINO

Rob Asterino is the former Westchester County executive and an independent director for two company boards. He’s running as a Republican. He ran against former Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race. As county executive he pushed through tax cuts, pushed back against affordable housing by maintaining rigid zoning laws, promoted public-private partnerships and vetoed a bill that would make Westchester a sanctuary city. Before making his entry into politics, Astorino worked in media for a Catholic radio station and ESPN.

Why Should Republican Voters choose him

“I’m the most trusted, reliable, experienced conservative Republicans in this race.”

“I can win this race not just the primary but In November.”

On Reducing Crime

“It starts at the top. Kathy Hochul is coddling criminals. She is emptying prisons. She supports no cash bail.”

“Stop, Question and Frisk, which is constitutional, and Broken Windows. The small things matter, and they become the big things if you let them happen.”

“We’re going to get tough on crime, because we have to because people are not going to spend their money or go into the or live in the city the suburbs by the way are also effected.”

On Proposed Gun Reform

Astorino says he would “follow the law, follow the constitution.

“We need to get guns out of the hands of criminals.”

“Unfortunately mental health is a major issue… That’s a crisis that we are facing that we need to deal with.”

“The issue in New York is less of a gun control issue and more of a criminal control issue.”

On Abortion Rights 

“Nobody thinks abortion is going to go away in New York, but we can have a reasonable discussion on some reasonable restrictions.”

On Congestion Pricing

“Congestion pricing will not happen under Governor Astorino.
It is another nickel and dime and actually worse than that expense on hard working New Yorkers.”

ANDREW GIULIANI

Andrew Giuliani addresses press outside of his father's apartment.

Andrew Giuliani addresses press outside of his father’s apartment.

Photo credit Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

A former Trump Administration staffer and son of former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Andrew Giuliani said he has seen where New York has had its downfall. Giuliani is running for governor of New York, campaigning with a plan to reinstate crime policies from the 90’s and believes in the effectiveness of the stop and frisk policy. “I’ve seen where New York unfortunately has gone awry over the last decade plus with four democratic governors now that have taken Albany [really] into a train of corruption,” Giuliani said. The republican candidate looks up to his father as a role model for his politics, telling WCBS 880 his father is a hero who has saved many lives. “Rudy Giuliani is a great American, I’m very proud of him as a son, and I’m very proud- very happy that he’s been here giving me advice day in and day out.” Giuliani spoke with WCBS 880 about his stance on other major topics.

Concealed Carry Permits

Giuliani wants to fund law enforcement so they have the resources to go after criminals and is in favor of funding a $5 billion pot for police so they can tap into the budget if local or municipal law enforcement organizations have lost some resources over the last couple of years.

“I think it’s so important that we continue to focus on funding our law enforcement,” Giuliani said. “We need to make sure we’re doing everything possible to give them the resources to go after the criminals that are using guns for the wrong reasons”

Bail Reform

Giuliani wants to get rid of bail reforms and says crime has spiked since the bail reform was passed.

“We need to do better for New Yorkers and getting rid of bail reform is a priority on day one for Giuliani administration that I will start to execute”

Abortion

Giuliani is anti-abortion and wants to go after late term abortion while also making sure there are more choices for pregnant women so they have better, more “attractive” options than abortion.

“I’m pro-life and I think about my daughter Grace, my 6-month-old, and I think about the first time I ever saw her on an ultrasound machine and I knew the most important thing in my life was protecting her life,” Giuliani said. I think we can all agree that we need to go after late term abortion”

“We’ve lost a certain level of morality in our state,” Giuliani added. “I will make sure that we do everything to fight against late term abortion and make sure we have more options for pregnant women so that way abortion becomes less and less of an option, or I should say less and less of an attractive option because I really think preserving life is the most important thing we can do.”

Public Health for COVID-19

Giuliani wants all COVID-19 mandates gone. He believes all workers should go back without a certain vaccination status and said it should be best for individual health. He also added that he is pro science, not an anti-vaxxer.

“All covid mandates, the vaccine mandates, on day one will go into the ash pit of history,” Giuliani said. “We followed the political narrative for far too long on this. We need to follow the actual science”

“I take the caveat of getting vaccinated off the table. Again, I want to see the science and the data lead the way on this and unfortunately I think the political narrative has led the way on this,” Giuliani added.  “I’m pro science and I think the left has classified this as anti vax. I’m pro science on this and I wish the left would be pro science on this. Look, the same people on the left that are calling me anti vaxxers are also saying that there are I don’t know 37 different genders”

The Economy

Giuliani has a crime reduction plan and wants New Yorkers to feel safe to come into New York City. As the highest tax state and as an “over-regulated state,” he wants to signal to companies that New York is open for business.

“First and foremost, it’s got to be a crime reduction plan. I will make sure New Yorkers feel safe coming into New York City,” Giuliani said. “Highest tax state in the country one of the most over regulated states and you can see why job creators unfortunately are choosing places like Florida ,like Texas, rather than the Empire State”

Homelessness

Giuliani believes drug addiction and mental health leads to homelessness and said there needs to be a compassionate push of people towards shelters and the mental health they need.

“I know directly what opioids and what drug addiction actually does with regards to homelessness,” Giuliani said. “Pushing people towards shelters that we are trying to get them the mental help that they need. But also to let them know, that look, the sidewalk is not a place that you can domicile on this is a place for all New Yorkers”

TOM SUOZZI

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) debates in the race for governor on June 16, 2022.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) debates in the race for governor on June 16, 2022.

Photo credit Craig Ruttle-Pool/Getty Images

Congressman Tom Suozzi, who previously served as mayor of Glen Cove, New York and later county executive of Nassau County, decided to run for governor of New York because he’s concerned about the state. Worried about the “crime crisis” and high taxes, Suozzi said we “have the most corrupt state in the United States of America according to the Washington Post.” Suozzi believes his previous experience has prepared him for the job of governor at this time. The democratic candidate assured constituents he would not “pan it to the left” nor “back down to the right.” Suozzi spoke with WCBS 880 about his stance on other major topics.

On Kathy Hochul

“I look at the 4 B’s,” Suozzi said. “Number one is bail reform: She refuses to make crime an issue, it should be the number one priority for the governor right now. Number two is the Buffalo Bills: Billion-dollar giveaway of taxpayer money. Number 3 is her hand-picked lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin who was indicted after 8 months in office for bribery and corruption and number 4 is the budget. She’s spending money completely irresponsibly. We’re facing a fiscal downturn” 

Bail Reform

Suozzi has a 15-point crime intervention and prevention plan that includes mental health, getting the guns off the street and helping kids in troubled schools.

“Give justice to consider dangerousness, New York is the only state that does not permit that,” Suozzi said. “People are scared and we have to treat it seriously.”

Leaving House of Representatives for the Governor

Suozzi said he is sick and tired of everyone fighting with each other and wants to work together and have a national voice. Suozzi said he cares about crime and taxes and wants to fight for the people.

“We have got to turn NYS around,” Suozzi said. “I’m concerned about my democratic party. I’m concerned that we’re not talking about the issues that people care about. We’re going too far to the left”

Gun Control

Suozzi has an F-rating on guns from the NRA while Suozzi said Hochul was endorsed by the NRA and voted to allow concealed carry.

Referring to Hochu, Suozzi said she is the “Height of hypocrisy” and  “She changes with the political wind.”

Abortion

Suozzi is 100 percent pro-choice. Advocating for safe, legal and accessible abortion and thinks the state should be a leader. Suozzi wants to help prevent unwanted pregnancies through contraception and education.

“I’m 100 percent rated by Planned Parenthood. Abortion must remain safe legal and accessible,” Suozzi said. “We should also be a leader in helping to prevent unintended pregnancies though contraception and education”

The Economy

Suozzi wants to address the crime rate in the city as he thinks it is the reason many are not coming into the city.  He also thinks we should change vacant office space into affordable housing and help bring nicer housing in the city too through private-public partnerships. Suozzi also supports 421A but wants cap rate of return for developers to 9 percent.

“The reason people aren’t coming back to the office is they’re afraid to come into the city and take the subway,” Suozzi said.

Homelessness

Suozzi said the state lacks comprehensive plans to address homelessness. He said the state needs to help the people who are not taking medication off the streets and get them the help they need. Also thinks we need to do a better job of mental health and homeless services so people feel safe and secure.

HARRY WILSON

Harry Wilson is a businessman who served as an advisor to Barack Obama’s Treasury Department and is now running for the Republican nomination. In 2010 he lost the state comptroller race against Thomas DiNapoli and worked as a fundraiser for the failed congressional campaigns of Matt Doheny and Wendy Long. While he doesn’t have a track record in state politics that could indicate how he would govern, his campaign has focused on anti-corruption measures, reducing crime and tax cuts.

Why Should Republicans choose him

“I am a person who grew up in a working class family… First in my family to go to college … that launched me into a business career of fixing broken companies… saving hundreds of thousands of jobs … and that’s exactly the skillset I think we need to turnaround the most broken state in the country.”

“Everyone else is a career politician. I am a business guy.”

On Reducing Crime

Wilson has a 14-page plan on reducing crime built on four pillars: Repealing bail reform, funding law enforcement, firing “rogue” district attorneys and miscellaneous policy changes. It’s worth noting that district attorneys are elected in New York, but the governor does have the power to remove them from office.

On Gun Reform

“I am a gun owner today.”

He supports red flag laws and background checks that will not make it too difficult for law abiding citizens to have access to guns.

“It’s too easy to soundbite the issue and attack both sides.”

On Abortion Rights

“I am the only candidate of the four of us that is pro-choice.”

“I think we should be providing alternatives to abortion, but I would not make any effort to change the law as it stands today.”

On Congestion Pricing

“It’s the wrong policy at a particularly bad time.”

On Strengthening the Economic condition

The core of his plan has two prongs — “reducing income taxes and property taxes by 20% each” and “repealing regulations in Albany that unnecessarily increase the cost food energy and housing.”

LEE ZELDIN

Lee Zeldin

Photo credit Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Lee Zeldin is a congressman, veteran and attorney who is running as a Republican. Before his election the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, Zeldin served a four-year term as a New York State Senator. As an elected officials, he’s worked to cut taxes, flesh out veteran services, limit abortion rights and undermine environmental protections that tightened fishing quotas on Long Island.

Why leave Congress to run for Governor

“We have to save our state. This isn’t rock bottom. It could get worse.”

“I’m all in… I’m not in this race to come in second.”

“This is a last stand moment for the state… on the safety issues, the economic issues, education… there is a lot on the plate right now that we have to go all in on to save the state.”

On the Supreme Court Striking down New York’s gun permit law

“I agree with the Supreme Court’s decision. We should be respecting, protecting, and defending the second amendment rights of law-abiding New Yorkers. We should be going after the crimes of people who are committing offenses with illegal firearms, people who are not law abiding New Yorkers.”

On Fighting Crime

“We need to repeal cashless bail, give judges discretion to weigh dangerous, flight risk, past criminal record and seriousness of the offense on far more offenses.”

“Overhaul the parole board… give victims’ families the ability to weigh in on these decisions”
“After I get sworn in as Governor I will use the constitutional authority that exists in New York for a governor, and I will fire Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.”

On Getting People Back to Work

“I do believe that people should get back to the office, but we should be careful how we do it.”

“We do need more people back into work inside the city because there is so much more of a benefit from it.”

Why are you the best choice?

“I know how to win.”

“We have the ideas and the experience.”

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Letters to the Editor: June 25 | Letters to the Editor

Roe overturned

My husband and I have never felt the need to share our opinion on any political topic until now. This ruling will have far-reaching consequences and is only the tip of the conservative political agenda iceberg. Lookout LGBTQ minorities! According to the Pew poll taken this March, 61% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal and 37% think it should be illegal. That being said, how can a minority of opinions set public policy on women’s bodies? This is taking away a woman’s right to have freedom over her body, and it will not stop at abortions! Republican strategists have politicized this issue fueled by religious zealots. We are horrified by this decision.

Arizona gun laws

By Arizona state law (ARS 13-3102) a person violates the law by knowingly possessing a deadly weapon on school grounds. However, this does not apply to a firearm that is not loaded and is carried in a vehicle. If the adult exits the vehicle, he/she must leave the weapon inside, out of sight and the vehicle locked. Thus, an 18-year-old adult can bring an AR-15 assault rifle onto school grounds in a vehicle with a fully loaded magazine that is not inserted into the lower receiver of the rifle and has not violated the law. Once he knowingly inserts the magazine into the AR-15 and gets out of the vehicle, he has violated the law, which is a misdemeanor and not a felony. It will take him about two seconds to insert the magazine and charge the weapon (action of putting a bullet in the chamber) before he can begin shooting. Thank your legislators for making it easier for school shooters here in Arizona.

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Disuniting the states

Given that the political divide in this country will only grow wider, and I fear a form of civil war looms, I propose we cut our losses and break into two countries. Let’s call one “Trumpland” and the other “Obamaland.” Trumpland is characterized by lower taxes, an established Christian religion, easy gun access, strict border control, for-profit services (schools, prisons, security) and no climate change mitigation. Conversely, Obamaland is characterized by higher taxes, no established religion, strict gun control, lenient border access, government-run public service (schools, prisons, security) and climate change mitigation. The two countries can establish a shared non-political military like the countries of Great Britain. States will vote via referendum which country they’d prefer. Citizens of each state will be given sufficient time to migrate (or not). People will sort themselves according to their political and cultural values.

I wish it didn’t have to come to this, but I fear these two countries already exist and are done talking.

Where to escape?

Re: the June 14 letter “Guns, guns, guns.”

This letter ends with a most important question that everyone should ponder — “What is wrong with this country?” Great question. Incredible division, hate, racism, nastiness, horrendous gun violence, glorification of guns and more than a few politicians who are not too upset about the massacre of little kids and other innocents merely going about their daily lives. The greatest country on Earth? One way I escape our madness is by watching NHK World — Japan TV, which gives interesting glimpses into life in Japan, its people and culture. What I see is a civilized country filled with respectful, peace loving, nature loving, non-violent people. Gun deaths in that country average 10 or less per year. Number of gun owners? Around 0.1% of the population. A civilized country — imagine that.

Gun control

There is currently a vocal and insistent call for stricter gun control laws, including some who wish to banish all guns. However, it is interesting to note that there are strong laws against driving under the influence, yet over 40,000 people a year are killed by drunk drivers. In addition, it is illegal to use unregulated drugs, but over 100,000 mostly young people have killed themselves in the last year with overdoses. The fact is that laws only are viable if people elect to abide by them, either as good citizens or from fear of the consequences.

Warp speed for oil, gas

During the COVID pandemic, Trump announced Operation Warp Speed to develop vaccines. The operation combined government and private industry working together to rapidly develop vaccines. In only 10 months, Pfizer and Moderna had their COVID vaccines developed and approved by the FDA. A great success by Trump.

Under Biden, gasoline prices have doubled from about $2.25 a gallon on Election Day in 2020 to $5 a gallon now. This has severely financially hurt ordinary people at the pump and caused increases in transportation prices, thus increasing costs of goods at stores.

So where is Biden’s Operation Warp Speed to increase domestic production of oil and gas? It is nowhere to be found. He just announced use of the Defense Production Act to make more solar panels. How brilliant! In July, Biden is traveling to Saudi Arabia, which he called a “pariah” country, and will likely beg them once again for increased oil production. Thanks to Joe, we are again dependent on dictator countries for our oil and gas supply.

Dump TB testing

An open letter to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Arizona is just one of a few states that require residents and staff of ALFs and nursing homes to be tested for tuberculosis annually. The test is not covered by health insurance or Medicare. It is time-consuming, requires record keeping, and the facilities do not feel it is worthwhile when you consider that in 2021 there were less than 200 cases reported statewide.

Call or write your state senator and your state legislator and ask them to “Dump mandatory tuberculosis testing in assisted living facilities and nursing homes in Arizona.”

Idling at red lights

Mercedes Benz has it. Honda has it. Kia has it. They all have the technology to shut the engine off when stopped at a red light and turn on again when the gas pedal is pushed. Why can’t our local and national governments start making this feature mandatory in all new vehicles? Can you imagine the millions of gallons of gas saved each day in our country and others? It’s a start to smart consumption.

Fraud claim with no proof

Re: the June 15 article “Trump’s election night choice doomed Arizona.”

Tim Steller’s article is good. He writes that Trump made his decision to claim fraud without any proof on election night. Indeed, he’d been making that claim for months before the election. Either he wins, or it’s fraud. From then until today, he never offered the slightest evidence of any such claim — in court or anywhere else.

However, he used the claim of fraud to raise a quarter of a billion dollars saying it would be used for legal expenses. It is now shown that it was not. Much of it ended up directly in Trump’s pockets. He defrauded his own supporters.

Required EV charging

Re: the June 12 article “Proposed EV rules called too aggressive.”

I saw in the Star that our City Council is preparing to require electric vehicle (EV) charging stations be either pre-wired or installed on new business parking areas. Of course, the cost of this is passed on to customers. So now I must help pay for the charging station for the expensive, government subsidized, EVs for rich people. I must have moved while one was on vacation. This is the type of action supporting the rich I would expect of a one-party Republican City Council, not our one-party Democratic, people’s, City Council. The rich people could actually either ride the dreaded “public transportation” or charge the limo before they go out.

Gun control

The real problem is not guns, gun owners, access to guns, mental health, the Second Amendment, or thoughts and prayers. It’s money. In order to change the laws we must change the lawmakers. This requires money. To be frank, it means buying more congressmen than the NRA can buy.

‘Detached from reality’

Former U. S. Attorney William Barr suggested Trump’s election result beliefs are “detached from reality.”

Trump’s beliefs aren’t “detached from reality.” His “reality” is getting what he wants anyway he can. He knows he lost the election. As long as Republicans send his PAC money and support the nonsense he lost, he’ll contest the results. So far, that’s worked to the tune of $250 million.

Shattered bones, exploding organs

Re: the June 12 article “’Children,’ ‘guns’ don’t belong in same sentence.”

I am sickened that this is what happens to those gunned down by AR-15s. Unlike being shot with a handgun, which we may or may not survive depending on the shooter’s accuracy, AR-15s are lethal. Period. The shrapnel from these high-velocity weapons send shock waves throughout the body. Bones shatter. Organs explode. DNA testing is required to identify the dead. AR-15s turn grocery store and school shootings into what they really are, a massacre.

There’s no place in a civilized society for wartime military weapons designed to kill so ruthlessly. Grocery stores and schools are not war zones. Ordinary citizens living their lives and innocent children studying their lessons are not enemies.

It’s chilling to think we or someone we love could be caught in the crossfire of the next deadly massacre.

Assault rifles do not belong in the hands of civilians. Legislators who refuse to protect us from them must be replaced by those who will.

Is democracy safe?

You read the newspaper daily, always opening it up to the editorials first to compare your views with others. You know the current events — Russia advancing in Ukraine, the Fed raises the rate .75, the Dow is down, etc. Watching the primaries for trends helps you to predict the outcome of the November elections. A concerned citizen, you’re now watching the hearings. You have every intention of voting in your state’s primaries and then, the November elections.

So far, Republicans are feeling good with their results. For the Democrats, it appears “steady as we go.” Now, if you want to really know the outcome of the elections, ask your neighbor or ask a stranger, someone waiting in line next to you, “What do you think about the hearings?” They’ll likely answer, “I don’t know anything about them.” That’s reality. And that is the best predictor of our elections, which is really scary for those of us who want to continue to live under a democracy.

Prioritize carbon pricing

Re: the June 19 article “Big CAP cuts may begin by next year.”

The mega-drought continues in Arizona and this article shows CAP is approaching drastic cuts. Tucsonans are likely to have large cuts to the 144,000 acre-feet annual allocation. The hotter and drier climate reduces the winter snow pack, and the rivers and lakes receive less runoff as a result.

Climate change is a result of burning fossil fuels. Fully pricing carbon and providing citizens a dividend is a market-driven solution that will slow the warming trend. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the best answer to the issue of the water supply problem. It is possible to become carbon neutral by 2050 with this bipartisan solution. Sens. Sinema and Kelly and our representatives must make carbon pricing a priority in the budget reconciliation.

Primary candidates

Recent letters to the editor have been very encouraging. Many letters have expressed displeasure with the actions of the Arizona state Legislature, which has been controlled by the GOP (by the slimmest of margins: Senate 16-14 and House 31-29). Some of the letters have encouraged Independents and moderate Republicans to support Democrat candidates in an effort to oust some of the more far-right incumbents and hopefully wrest control of one or both state houses from the GOP. I say to moderate Republicans that if your fellow party members call you a RINO, you should consider that a badge of honor.

Several letters are calling for the ADS paper to list the candidates running for the coming primary election (Aug. 2). This information can be found at the Arizona Secretary of State website. Click on “2022 Primary Election Candidates” on the upper right of the home page. To find your voter district, go to the Arizona Clean Election website.

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What is Kathy Hochul’s Gubernatorial Campaign Platform?

Gov. Hochul (photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)


Governor Kathy Hochul is running in this year’s election, including this month’s Democratic primary, to win a first full term in the job she ascended to in August of last year. Hochul is seeking more time to fulfill promises she has made throughout her many months in office thus far and as she asks New Yorkers for their votes.

Since she took office last August after the resignation of disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state’s first female governor has staked her early tenure on transforming the culture of Albany politics and shepherding New Yorkers through the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The people of this state want us to look forward and not backward. That’s what my leadership is bringing to the people, to the state of New York, as their governor,” Hochul said in the last of two Democratic primary debates attended by all three candidates on June 17. In the primary, Hochul is facing Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Hochul came into the race with significant advantages as the current office-holder with immense governmental and political powers, strong name recognition, and a massive fundraising advantage — Hochul has out-raised her nearest opponent four-fold and also has a strong lead in polls). If not for those, her fate as a candidate would more likely hinge on how well she has fulfilled her commitments so far and the vision she is setting for the coming months and years.

Hochul’s campaign platform, unsurprisingly, reflects the political agenda she has outlined as governor. It draws largely on goals set in her Day One address, January State of the State agenda, and executive budget, making it more extensive than the published platforms of her Democratic opponents. But Hochul has made few commitments or proposals on the campaign trail that she hasn’t already made as governor, and she has not set out a four-year vision.

In stump speeches and official pronouncements the Buffalo native frequently rattles off a litany of accomplishments and works in progress. That list includes actions on healthcare, economic development, gun violence, education and childcare, government ethics, and more – many of them taken during the April state budget or the packed end of the legislative session that concluded early this month. As gun violence and abortion rights have dominated recent headlines, Hochul has discussed the package of gun control bills and reproductive health protections she signed at the close of the legislative session, while promising additional actions in light of Supreme Court rulings that just came down.

“We got so much done that had been hampered and unfulfilled for a decade,” Hochul said in her first primary debate appearance on June 8 of the gun control measures. “I’ve been the governor for nine months. I got it done in record time.”

Hochul regularly touts large, long-term initiatives passed in the budget like a $25 billion, five-year affordable housing plan or a $10 billion healthcare workforce development project.

“You look at the short-term, the mid-term, and the long-term, and we are working hard every single day to try and solve this problem quickly,” she said of the dearth of affordable housing around the state, during the June 8 debate. She also cited the recent enactment of legislation to foster hotel-to-housing conversions but would not comment on the failure of Good Cause Eviction legislation days earlier.

Despite spending $13.1 million over the last six months and having more than $18 million on hand, Hochul’s campaign does not appear to have made the effort to update its website since the end of the legislative session on June 4, where it boasts a number of legislative goals that never came to pass and calls for the passage of items that did indeed make it to the finish line.

For example, as of June 23 it said Hochul is “enacting two term limits for Statewide elected officials, banning outside income for Statewide elected officials, and replacing the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) with a truly independent ethics watchdog that answers to New Yorkers, not to politicians.” The first two were not completed this year and, while Hochul and the Legislature established a new body to replace JCOPE, its members will continue to be nominated by Hochul and legislative leaders.

“The progress Governor Hochul has made during her first ten months in office is just the beginning,” wrote Jen Goodman, a spokesperson for Hochul’s campaign, in an email. “New Yorkers need a governor who is laser focused on delivering on the issues that matter most from gun safety to abortion rights to affordability and that’s why Governor Hochul is running for a full term.”

Hochul came into office on the heels of scandal teeming around Cuomo and promised “a new era of transparency.” A video featured prominently on Hochul’s campaign website lists a number of steps the governor made in her first few months in office, including a commitment to government accountability. It ends with the slogan, “New governor. New day,” attributed to an Albany Times Union editorial from her first day in office.

Hochul won praise from corruption watchdogs for transparency efforts early in her administration, like directing state agencies to expedite the Freedom of Information process. But she has been dogged by ethical questions, including the indictment and resignation of her first lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, on federal corruption charges. Questions also swirl around Hochul’s secretive and generous negotiations over the construction of a new Buffalo Bills stadium with $850 million in tax dollars. The deal also raised questions about Hochul’s lack of recusal given her husband is a senior executive of a major stadium concessions company that has the contract at the Bills’ current stadium.

Hochul addressed both topics at the June 8 debate, saying of Benjamin: “I promised the voters of New York and the people of the state that I would do everything I can to restore their faith in government and that was a setback.” She has said she undertook a stronger process with and is proud of her new lieutenant governor and running-mate, Antonio Delgado.

On the Bills stadium, Hochul has said there is no conflict of interest between her family and the stadium deal because she and her husband comport to high personal ethical standards. “I worked hard to structure the best deal I could to the benefit of the taxpayers,” Hochul said at the debate. She did not comment on whether her husband’s company, Delaware North, should be barred from seeking a concessions contract in the new stadium.

In her short time in office, Hochul has been confronted with myriad challenges – from Hurricane Ida to the mass shooting in Buffalo, to the ongoing pandemic, housing affordability, inflation, the humanitarian crisis in prisons and jails, and a succession of U.S. Supreme Court rulings – to name only some. She has taken budgetary and legislative action on a number of fronts, including via the $220 billion state budget she negotiated and passed (though it was more than a week late).

With her administration assembled and her first legislative session as governor behind her, Hochul now wants four years to execute her vision, though she has provided few details as to what her plans are beyond what she has already put in motion or pledged to do earlier in her tenure but didn’t yet accomplish.

“I have put together a leadership team that is second to none, and it’s mostly driven by women because they see the world very differently in a way that has not been part of a leadership team of the state in its history,” she said at the June 8 debate.

Economy and Jobs
Hochul’s economic recovery plan is focused on affordability for taxpayers, support for small businesses, and investments in growing industries like healthcare, life-sciences, and renewable energy.

She frequently talks about accelerating $1.2 billion in tax cuts to the middle class that were passed in previous years and enacting a temporary gas tax holiday this year. Hochul’s website says the state is providing $100 million in relief to 200,000 small businesses and $1 billion in property tax rebates for 2 million households (checks from the state that prominently feature Hochul’s name began to arrive in mailboxes this week, just ahead of primary day and amid early and absentee voting). It also touts a $75 million investment in childcare worker wages.

Asked at the June 17 debate whether she would include new state money for the Excluded Workers Fund in next year’s budget, Hochul claimed it was no longer necessary. “Excluded worker program was designed intentionally to be immediate relief for people suffering from the effects of the pandemic when their jobs were lost,” she said of the roughly $2 billion program largely for undocumented New Yorkers locked out of massive federal pandemic aid. “People who worked in hotels or hospitality or in the entertainment fields, the jobs are coming back. So the temporary relief granted at the time is not needed [again].”

Earlier this year, Hochul pushed through generous subsidy packages for a number of industries. That included the Buffalo Bills stadium deal, a $1.3 billion, three-year film and TV tax credit extension, and a $10 billion tax break over 20 years for manufacturers of semiconductors used in microchips. Critics have decried the spending as giveaways to profitable corporations with few proven public benefits. Hochul has maintained the subsidies will create jobs and help spur regional economies throughout the state, while ensuring that industry and jobs stay in New York.

Hochul is proposing or implementing a number of infrastructure projects likewise intended to create jobs, stimulate the economy, and meet regional needs. Many of them will require years and billions of dollars to complete, as well as buy-in from numerous entities and the public.

She wants to build a new mass transit line connecting Brooklyn and Queens, using existing unused rails for one of three types of new transit. The volume of commuters between those two boroughs has surpassed travelers entering Manhattan from them, MTA Chair Janno Lieber, who supports the idea, told Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max in a recent interview.

Hochul secured $1 billion to expand high speed internet in underserved areas and has discussed undoing the damage of past urban designs that blighted Black, Latino, and immigrant neighborhoods in the mid-twentieth century. Her website reads: “She is also focused on reconnecting neighborhoods across New York that were severed by asphalt highways, disproportionately impacting communities of color.”

Hochul has also offered ideas for or promised to advance major transit projects, while pledging better management of the MTA. She re-nominated Janno Lieber as Chair and CEO of the MTA and has both taken clear state ownership for the mass transit systems it runs while providing support and limiting interference. She has put forth the Interborough Express for a new transit line (rail or rapid bus, TBD) connecting parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and she’s slightly altered and pushed ahead a plan to redevelopment Penn Station and the surrounding area, while also moving ahead on other mega-projects that are much further along like the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, Gateway, Bronx MetroNorth expansion, and congestion pricing for Manhattan.

Health Care
The center of Hochul’s health-care plan is a $10 billion, five-year investment in health-care workforce development, to expand the labor market by 20%. The proposal includes $4 billion for wages and bonuses and incentives for recruiting workers from out of state. It also includes funding to make it easier to get a nursing degree.

The state budget included a 5.4% cost of living adjustment for human services workers, which won praise from labor groups and providers. The budget also included a higher minimum wage for home care workers.

Hochul was a strong supporter of continuing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health-care workers as well as masks in school, for a time.

“It’s all about being ready, treating it like a military operation, and that’s what I’ve already had to do during the time I’ve been governor,” Hochul said at the June 17 debate of the ongoing pandemic recovery. She has said similar things with regard to preparing for additional covid surges or the next major disease outbreak.

After pressure from public health experts and legislators, and reporting from Gotham Gazette, Hochul announced her administration was launching a full after-action review of state government’s response to the pandemic. The governor has said that the review will inform preparedness for the future.

Hochul has touted her support, as a member of Congress, for the Affordable Care Act and wants to reduce prescription drug prices. She has not publicly supported the controversial New York Health Act, which would create a statewide single-payer health-care system.

Guns and Public Safety
Hochul has signed several pieces of gun control legislation since taking office. Most recently she enacted a package of ten laws advanced in response to mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and elsewhere that would raise the legal age to buy an assault rifle, strengthen the state’s Red Flag law, and make it easier for police to forensically trace bullets, among other things.

This past week Hochul vowed to call a special legislative session to pass additional gun control bills after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York’s concealed carry law, and did so on Friday evening for June 30.

Much of what Hochul implicitly and explicitly promises to do if elected for a full term is to implement the programs and laws she’s passed in her short but productive time as governor, including better implementation of the Red Flag law, other measures passed or about to pass on gun control, violence interruption, and community interventions.

That also includes partnerships with other governors and New York City Mayor Eric Adams on a number of public safety initiatives, including on an interstate gun trafficking task force and Adams’ “Subway Safety Plan,” which includes a greater police and social service-provider presence underground.

As part of the state’s partnership with New York City on “subway safety,” Hochul rolled out so-called Safe Option Support teams, which pair social service workers with the NYPD to push unsheltered people to seek city services. Those teams, in part funded by the state, will be in action as soon as the state bids out the contracts, Hochul said.

Her “Jails-to-Jobs” proposal focuses on education behind bars and re-entry employment. The proposal includes reorienting parole officers on career planning and coordinating DOCCS and the Department of Labor on workforce development reentry services. In the state budget, Hochul and the Legislature removed a ban on Tuition Assistance Program funding for incarcerated people.

In her State of the State agenda this year, Hochul also said she would propose legislation to expand so-called educational release, and a state constitutional amendment to allow “public-private partnerships that would enable hybrid work-release programs within prisons” that are “voluntary” and “would pay good wages.” These were included in the Executive Budget but didn’t make it into the enacted budget, according to administration spokesperson Shams Tarek, making for the possibility of another attempt next year depending on the election results.

Hochul also proposed to create some transitional housing for formerly incarcerated individuals and eliminate parole supervision fees, both of which did make it into the final budget.

“For far too long, formerly incarcerated New Yorkers have been forced to deal with the lifelong consequences of criminal convictions that deny them a second chance to reclaim their role as an equal member of society,” her website said. Despite these sentiments and a State of the State commitment to “push to pass” the Clean Slate Act this legislative session, the governor and state lawmakers failed to advance the legislation that would allow for criminal records sealing of most offenses after time served and an additional waiting period without re-offense.

Hochul was a strong proponent of revising recent changes to the state’s bail and discovery laws and age limits on criminal responsibility. Many of her proposed changes passed, including expanding the list of bail-eligible offenses. Hochul also successfully pushed for the expansion of Kendra’s Law, which allows for court-ordered treatment for mental illness. Lawmakers did not give judges more full discretion to consider a defendant’s “dangerousness” when setting bail, a measure supported by Hochul and others and rejected by many Democratic lawmakers and criminal justice advocates, but in passing some of Hochul’s proposals took steps in that direction given that judges can now incorporate defendants’ past arrest records and other factors.

Reproduction Rights
Hochul has been a proponent of strong reproductive rights in New York, and became even more vocal since the draft U.S. Supreme Court decision threatening to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, a forecast that then came to fruition on Friday.

At the end of the legislative session earlier this month, the state passed a number of protections for abortion seekers and providers, but fell short of passing an Equal Rights Amendment that would enshrine the right to abortion in the State Constitution – something Hochul called for “this session” in her State of the State agenda back in January.

She also directed state agencies to change regulations to allow for abortions using medication to be conducted via telehealth and announced a state fund to pay for abortion services for those who cannot afford them, though she has said she does not support using state funds to help provide transportation and housing costs for those coming from out of state for abortions in New York.

Hochul has called for the creation of a “Patient Bill of Rights” that would include information on abortion rights. In September, Hochul asked Facebook to post information on abortion and block misinformation. Outside of the letter, Hochul does not appear to have exerted significant pressure on the tech giant in public.

Housing
Hochul’s housing platform revolves around a $25 billion spending plan to create or preserve 100,000 affordable units over five years. That would include 10,000 units of supportive housing, which are designed to accommodate a range of needs of vulnerable populations and typically come with social services. Other details of the plan are fairly limited, but much of the money appears to go toward housing subsidies for new affordable housing or to extend the terms of existing affordable housing.

She regularly touts relief for renters and extending the pandemic-era eviction moratorium last year (she then let it expire in January). The state budget passed in April included $800 million more for the Emergency Rental Assistance Programs, $250 million to go toward “pandemic-related” utility debt for low-income households, and $125 million for the Landlord Rental Assistance Program.

Hochul has vowed to try again after failing to pass proposals that would lead to more (affordable) housing in the suburbs of New York City, which build very little new housing.

Asked whether she would have signed Good Cause Eviction legislation — which would set major limitations on both evictions and rent increases on the private rental market, and died in the Legislature to the chagrin of housing rights advocates — Hochul told debate moderators on June 17: “I am focused on what the Legislature gives to us then I’ll analyze it,” adding of the rent relief programs, “as I said, let’s keep focusing on getting the money out the door as quickly as we can.”

Environment
Hochul has set a number of clean energy goals, and, if elected to a full term, will be charged with implementing both her own promises and the mandates of the state’s major climate law, the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. As governor, Hochul has set out elements of a vision to reach the clean energy mandates of the CLCPA.

Her State of the State set goals to invest in wind, solar, and hydro-electric power, double the state’s energy storage by 2030, create net zero emissions in state investment portfolios by 2040, electrify the state fleet and school buses by 2035, and phase out fossil-fuel plants in New York City, among many others.

In the state budget this year, lawmakers approved a Hochul-backed $1.3 billion increase to the Clean Water, Clean Air, and the $4.2 billion Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, which will go before voters in a ballot referendum this November. Hochul has made a series of clean energy project announcements since becoming governor and has major projects to see to fruition if she is elected to a full term, including two transmission lines from Canada and upstate New York that will bring renewable energy to New York City.

Hochul failed to find agreement with the Legislature on an environment-focused proposal to eliminate gas hook-ups in new building construction, which could make for a marquee plank if she is given a full term and returns to offer an agenda in January 2023.

Hochul has refused to comment on whether she will sign a two-year moratorium on new fossil-fuel crypto-mining until after the election. Opponents have called attention to the thousands of dollars in campaign donations Hochul and Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado have received from Super PACs backed by crypto-currency executives who opposed moratoria on mining.

Education
Hochul secured increases in School Aid in the budget this year, totaling $31.5 billion, including $1.5 billion in Foundation Aid increases, and hundreds of millions on pre-K and other programs. Hochul declined to seek any changes to school aid formulas despite critiques from some that the state sends too much money to wealthier districts and from others that the state should send more to those districts if they agree to reduce the property taxes that lead to the influx of local school funding that the former group of critiques says makes so much state aid unnecessary.

The budget also included over half a billion dollars in operations funding for SUNY and CUNY and another $2.2 billion for capital projects at the public university systems.

Hochul’s campaign touts efforts to expanding early access to childhood education and plans for $2.1 billion in additional School Aid to go to public schools to hire more teachers, bus drivers, and support staff.

Hochul sought a four-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools but the Legislature only agreed to two years, in part because Mayor Eric Adams did not make a satisfactory case to legislators around his vision for the school system. Hochul is expected to sign that bill soon, while she has been non-committal about signing a companion bill that will mandate smaller class sizes in city schools.

Hochul completely avoided the charged issue of charter schools, even as the state’s cap on charter schools in New York City has been hit.

Transparency and Government Ethics
When she came into office, Hochul promised a government-wide review of information sharing policies and the establishment of strong ethical guardrails. Shortly after, she directed state agency heads to report on their open government policies and ways to improve transparency, including speeding up the FOIL process. Good-government groups applauded that move, as well as her decision to publish a conflict of interest and recusal policy for matters involving the work of her husband. Then-Lt. Gov. Benjamin and Hochul’s top aide, Secretary to the Governor Karen Persichilli Keogh, whose husband is a lobbyist at an influential firm, also signed recusal policies. All three are non-binding and self-enforced.

Hochul also promised to require ethics training for state employees following the cascade of sexual harassment accusations against Cuomo.

This legislative session, Hochul and the Legislature negotiated the replacement of JCOPE, the state’s troubled ethics body. The new entity, like JCOPE, will be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders with a significant additional layer of input from the state’s law school deans and other changes to improve its independence and teeth.

While promising a more collaborative and open relationship with the Legislature, Hochul upset a number of lawmakers for introducing and forcing through major spending and policy changes in the final stages of budget negotiations. Good-government groups called the budget process one of the most secretive in recent memory.

Hochul proposes instituting term limits on statewide elected officials but it did not pass.

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San Diego’s GEO Group jail given sudden 90-day extension before closing

A week before its closure, a controversial federal jail in downtown San Diego was granted permission to stay open for another 90 days, multiple sources confirmed to inewsource.

The sudden reversal surprised attorneys and employees who are now left wondering what will happen when the expiration date approaches again in three months.

Why this matters

The U.S. government pays more than $50 million a year for a private company to manage a federal jail in San Diego.

The jail has faced a litany of complaints over unsafe conditions for detainees, many of whom are from the San Diego area.

Western Region Detention Facility was preparing to shut down on March 31 in response to a 2021 executive order to phase out federal private detention centers as their contracts expire. An international private prison company, The Geo Group Inc., houses pre-trial detainees at the San Diego jail for the U.S. Marshals Service.

This is the second reprieve offered to Western Region since the federal order went into effect. The detention center was first scheduled to close in September when its original contract came up for renewal, but shortly before the deadline, the Marshals Service granted a six-month extension through the end of March.

In the weeks leading up to expected March 31 closure, the GEO Group sent termination letters to staff warning them of their end dates, and the Marshals Service transferred most detainees to other locations. 

But during that time, neither GEO Group nor the Marshals Service would confirm with inewsource that the jail would close at the end of the month. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was also unable to get clear answers, prompting a lawsuit against the Marshals Service that is ongoing. 

After the contract was extended again on Friday, the Marshals Service continued to stay silent. Spokespeople did not explain what will happen to the detainees who were already transferred out of the jail or clarify the long-term plans for the facility.

The announcement was considered a victory by the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents 300 workers at Western Region who could lose their jobs if the jail closes.

Randy Erwin, national president of National Federation of Federal Employees, speaks during a press conference on the closure of the Western Region Detention Facility in downtown San Diego at Hotel Republic on March 29, 2022. (Courtesy of Kristian Carreon)

Randy Erwin, the national union president, first told inewsource Friday evening about the contract extension. He said he was “ecstatic” after learning the news, but added that he is still hoping for a more permanent solution.

“I think there is a chance,” Erwin said. “It’s never over until it’s over.”

A debate over beds

The lack of detention space in Southern California is central to the debate over Western Region’s future. 

The Marshals Service works with local, state and federal agencies — as well as private companies — to house people in its custody. If the number of contracts it has in the region drops, defendants will be sent farther away from their attorneys and families while they wait for their court cases to process.

Even though the Marshals Service tries to house people within 50 miles of their courthouse, few options remain in San Diego County.

The Marshals hold a limited number of detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, a privately run immigration detention facility, but those defendants might also have to relocate because of the executive order when the jail’s contract expires in 2029.

In the last few weeks, the Marshals Service has transferred Western Region defendants to facilities in El Centro, about 115 miles away from downtown San Diego, and Victorville, about 150 miles away.

View of the Western Region Detention Facility along Front and C Street in Downtown San Diego on Feb. 12, 2022. (Sandy Huffaker/inewsource)

A month after Biden signed the federal order, the Marshals Service wrote an internal memo calling privately run jails “integral” to its mission, and the decision to phase them out “detrimental.” 

The Marshals Service houses roughly 8,000 people in 16 private facilities. Another 31 detention centers holding Marshals detainees are run by state or local governments that contract with private companies to manage them.

“There simply is not enough bed space,” the memo says.

Attorneys at the federal public defender’s office, which represents many clients at Western Region, have spent significantly more time traveling since the Marshals Service started transferring defendants to other counties. 

Cassandra Lopez, a supervisory attorney at Federal Defenders of San Diego, said the Marshals Service had been working with her office to help prepare for the closure on March 31. She wasn’t aware of the 90-day extension until inewsource told her Monday morning. 

“We’ve been kept in the loop as to the Marshals Service’s plans for how they’re going to house people in light of the fact that there’s going to be one facility that’s no longer available,” Lopez said on Friday, before the extension was announced.

Even with longer travel times, Lopez said she believes her clients are better off in a facility like the one in Victorville, which seems to offer better medical care, programs and living spaces than Western Region.

Public defenders have complained about conditions inside Western Region, and so have workers and detainees. Activists have argued that financial incentives drive prison companies like GEO Group to cut costs and provide poorer services. 

Biden’s executive order states that private detention facilities “do not maintain the same levels of safety and security for people in the Federal criminal justice system or for correctional staff.”

inewsource recently reported on the spread of COVID-19 among people incarcerated at Western Region, resulting in at least one death. Another detainee with the virus was forced to clean up a flood of wastewater in his cell after returning from the hospital, and wasn’t given gloves or hand sanitizer, court records state. 

GEO Group is also facing three class action lawsuits for its management of the San Diego jail.

Lopez said the public defender’s office didn’t object to the executive order, because she and her fellow attorneys believe it is “well founded.”

The office is advocating for judges and prosecutors to use the order as an opportunity to lower bonds and offer pre-trial releases to more clients — most of whom are facing nonviolent charges — rather than forcing them to wait for their court dates in jail cells.

“We think that there’s an overuse of detention in the Southern District of California,” Lopez said. 

A domino effect

Since the executive order was announced, local and national coalitions have sent letters asking the federal government to reconsider closing Western Region.

Last year, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council and the National Association of Blacks In Criminal Justice urged the White House to grant an exception. So did Rep. Scott Peters, whose district includes Western Region.

Dozens of the jail’s employees have sent postcards to Biden explaining how losing their jobs would impact them, some of whom are single parents or supporting ill family members. 

“If my employment is terminated, I will lose my house and everything,” one postcard says. “I support my elderly parents. I am the main provider. Please note that if (the) facility closes, a lot of lives will change.”

Erwin, the employees federation president, said the union has tried hard to convince the White House and lawmakers to intervene.

Postcards sent to the Biden administration by employees at Western Region Detention Facility in downtown San Diego. (Courtesy of Randy Erwin)

“We’re pulling every connection we have with this administration,” Erwin said. “We’re maxing out.”

Erwin and others hoping to keep Western Region open have argued that the executive order should not apply to federal jails, which house pre-trial defendants, as opposed to federal prisons that hold people who have already been sentenced.

So far, at least one federal jail in Leavenworth, Kansas, has closed due to the presidential order, but the majority remain open. 

If Western Region shuts down, Erwin said, he fears more federal jails might follow.

“I do worry about a domino effect that will be very bad for working people,” Erwin said.

Until a few days ago, plans to close the San Diego facility were still underway, and the union was prepared to ramp up its efforts. 

In the past two months, GEO Group has sent letters to Western Region employees telling them their last day of work would be March 31. The notices — required under the federal WARN Act — contained details on applying for future GEO Group openings and filing for unemployment benefits.

As staff grew increasingly concerned, union leaders planned a press conference that would take place across the street from the jail two days before the closure date. And corrections staff circulated a long text message encouraging one another to call the offices of local Congresspeople and ask for their support.

Last week, GEO Group spokesperson Christopher Ferreira told inewsource the workers’ termination letters “remain accurate.” 

Three days later, the company’s contract was extended.

Katrina Gutierrez, whose husband was transferred to a facility in Arizona, becomes emotional during a press conference on the closure of Western Region Detention Facility in downtown San Diego at Hotel Republic on March 29, 2022. (Courtesy of Kristian Carreon)

The employees union went through with its press conference on Tuesday to ask the White House for a permanent fix that would save workers’ jobs. Three current Western Region employees spoke about the effect the jail’s closure would have on the San Diego community. 

So did Katrina Gutierrez, whose husband used to be detained at Western Region. Since his recent transfer to a facility in Arizona, he has not been able to see his family or his attorney, she said.

“The facility needs to stay open, not only for the employees, but for the families of the inmates,” Gutierrez said. “And my husband made a mistake, but my children did not.”

In the shadows

Geo Group has searched for ways to keep Western Region open indefinitely, but it has yet to solidify a long-term solution.

Early last year, the company approached former San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore to ask if his office could take over the federal jail. Gore told the company his staff didn’t have the capacity. 

The Sheriff’s intake at the San Diego Central Jail is shown on March 11, 2021. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

A few months later, GEO Group made a similar request to the city of McFarland, located 250 miles north of San Diego.

Records show McFarland was considering signing a contract with the Marshals Service to operate Western Region, then subcontracting all operations back to GEO Group. The city would receive $500,000 as an administrative fee for serving as an intermediary, and the private company would continue its work at the San Diego jail.

The proposal was lambasted by the ACLU, which accused GEO Group of undermining the president’s executive order. In the months that followed, McFarland, the Marshals Service and GEO Group refused to provide information about the negotiations.

In a document handed to media at Tuesday’s press conference, the employees union wrote that GEO Group has approached at least four municipalities about taking over its contract: McFarland, the city of Adelanto, the Riverside County government and the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. 

According to the handout, the San Bernardino sheriff’s office has declined to participate.

GEO Group has refused to answer any of inewsource’s inquiries pertaining to the contract, referring all questions back to the Marshals Service.

In February, the local chapter of the ACLU sued the Marshals Service after it failed to respond to public records requests about its plans for Western Region, insisting the public had a right to the information. 

But the news of the sudden contract extension on Friday came as a surprise to the nonprofit.

“It just reiterates the lack of transparency in the entire U.S. Marshals detention empire,” said Bardis Vakili, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

“It doesn’t feel like that’s the way democracy should work, with the incarceration of hundreds of people operating in the shadows,” he added.

The ACLU has also sent public records requests to McFarland that are still being processed.

On Friday, a McFarland city official told inewsource that the conversations about the Western Region contract took place six months ago, and the city has not received more information since then.

“The city was advised this would be an extremely long process and as of today the city has not received an update from GEO,” City Clerk Francisca Alvarado said.

Editor’s note: March 29, 2022 at 3:30 p.m. 

This story has been updated with additions from an employee’s union press conference held Tuesday in downtown San Diego.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

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Lawmakers tackle final issues of session

The Arizona Legislature is expected to wrap up its session Friday and has two major bills to consider, $1 billion in spending to shore up the state’s water supply and a massive expansion of taxpayer-funded vouchers to all schoolchildren.

Lawmakers passed a nearly $18 billion spending plan with bipartisan support as the sun rose Thursday. The budget was approved exactly one week before the deadline, as the fiscal year begins July 1. It now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey, who already has signaled his support for what he calls a budget that “will truly leave Arizona better than we found it.”

The 55th Legislature is likely to adjourn sine die (for the final time) after these and other final bills are considered.

Follow coverage at the state Capitol by Arizona Republic reporters here.

5 takeaways: What to know about Arizona’s nearly $18B budget

Set for Friday vote: Arizona on cusp of largest school voucher program in the US

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April is Second Chance Month

For the third year in a row, in 2021, President Biden declared April as Second Chance Month for former prisoners who have reentered their local communities.[1] Prior to his proclamation, efforts have increased to bring more attention to this critical issue, especially as the number of prisoners released from incarcerating institutions across the country continues to grow. Right now, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates that between 650,000 to 750,000 people are released every year. Many of them face major reentry challenges.

Despite its current importance, prisoner reentry is not a new issue as it has been part of American society since 1790. That year, the first known U.S. prison opened in Philadelphia. It was called the Walnut Street Jail, and was built according to principles espoused by Quakers who advocated for a regulated correctional environment, discipline, solitary sleeping cells, and measures to restore defective minds. The purpose of these principles was to change the spirit and habits of the incarcerated, but also set in motion three interrelated issues: incarcerating people was intended to be temporary; serving time in prison was expected to rehabilitate defective minds; and prisoners were to be released, eventually. While the goal of rehabilitation has waxed and waned since 1790, incarceration and reentry have remained constant.

Due to the increasing number of prisoners returning to society, the DOJ held an inaugural National Reentry Week the last week of April in 2016. It sponsored hundreds of events to raise awareness, encouraged partnerships, and educated the public about the importance of having people succeed at reentering society after serving time in prison.

Momentum from 2016 carried into the following year when the Prison Fellowship declared April Second Chance Month, which was devised to harness the national movement and turn National Reentry Week into a monthlong series of events. In 2017, the nationwide effort was supported by the U.S. Senate, which passed a resolution, and several proclamations were passed by state and local communities. In 2018, the White House declared April as Second Chance Month.[2] In 2019, official proclamations and bipartisan support increased to name April Second Chance Month, and in 2020, national and local events were adapted to virtual platforms.

Second Chance Month is designed to bring increased nationwide media attention to “prisoner reentry” —  a phrase used to describe the process men and women undergo when released from an incarcerating institution, such as a federal or state prison, and return to society. In theory, adults reentering after serving time in prison should follow a path that leads to making meaningful and productive contributions to their family, community, and society. This theoretical path includes finding legal employment, securing stable housing, and reuniting with family. It also includes participating in educational programs and activities aimed toward personal improvement, like counseling, and leading a crime-free life.

In practice, however, this path is followed by only a small number of returning adults. Instead, most adults’ reentry experiences consist of many hairpin curves and dead-ends. Reentry experiences for the majority of adults are challenging because when exiting prison, individuals have access to differing levels of financial resources, familial support, agency, social capital, coping skills, job and/or vocational experiences, and educational backgrounds. They also have diverse levels of emotional and psychological well-being. Research shows that criminal justice-involved populations contend with the burden of chronic health and medical conditions, as well as increased rates of mental illness, which are exacerbated while incarcerated. When adults return home, those who can rely on familial support, access financial resources, and find stable housing, tend to reenter successfully. They are rarely, if ever, involved in the criminal justice system again. For those who are unable to access resources or do not have families able or willing to support them, individual burdens and deficits follow them home to rural, suburban, and urban communities. Once home, these individuals encounter the collateral consequences of a felony conviction.

In 2019, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ report titled Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption, and the Effects on Communities,[3] reviewed various collateral consequences at the federal and state levels that are implemented after someone has served time in prison. Collateral consequences refer to a range of policies outside of the criminal justice system that restrict, hinder, or disqualify individuals from accessing public and private benefits. Collateral consequences are connected to one’s past felony conviction(s), and include barriers to public and private housing, public assistance such as SNAP or TANF, voting and jury duty, getting a driver’s license, parental rights, and access to employment opportunities including occupational and professional licenses. These policy restrictions vary across jurisdictions. When implemented, punishment is extended beyond the original criminal sentence while successful reentry is limited to those who were privileged prior to being incarcerated (i.e., Martha Stewart).

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights argues that collateral consequences increase recidivism rates by barring reentering adults from accessing needed resources, and the range of policies that limit access to legal jobs, housing, and public assistance are not related to protecting the public’s safety. Instead, collateral consequences make reentry harder because they have no time limit and operate as an extended punishment beyond the sentence imposed by the criminal courts. The collateral consequences lead to a large percentage of former prisoners remaining unhoused, unemployed, and disconnected from social institutions, resulting in high recidivism rates. Approximately 67% of released prisoners are arrested again within three years — a percentage that has remained steady for over 30 years.

For more information that explores the connections between public policies and lived experiences of returning citizens, you can read my book, Convicted and Condemned: The Politics and Policies of Prisoner Reentry (NYU Press), which demonstrates how policies extend punishment rather than help returning adults successfully reenter. During this important month, it is crucial to understand problems facing reentering prisoners and establish policies that put them in a better position for success.

Footnotes

  1.  A Proclamation on Second Chance Month, Presidential Actions, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/31/a-proclamation-on-second-chance-month-2021/. (Back to top)
  2.  President Donald J. Trump Proclaims April 2018 as Second Chance Month, https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/presidential-actions/president-donald-j-trump-proclaims-april-2018-second-chance-month/. (Back to top)
  3. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2019 Report, Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption, and the Effects on Communities, https://www.usccr.gov/files/pubs/2019/06-13-Collateral-Consequences.pdf. (Back to top)

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Conditions at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman violated constitution, Justice Dept. finds

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The Justice Department announced Wednesday that a two-year federal investigation into the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman has determined that unconstitutional conditions — including a lack of mental health services and an overreliance on solitary confinement — contributed to a spate of deadly violence among inmates.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said that 10 inmates have been killed and 12 have died by suicide over the past two years, beginning with a prison riot that started Dec. 31, 2019, and lasted for weeks. The total prison population was about 3,255 when the riot began.

State prison officials were unprepared to respond to the violence, despite widespread news reports and other warnings of rising tensions, unsanitary living conditions and major staffing shortages, said Clarke, citing a 59-page Justice Department report.

A disabled man left prison after 27 years. Then he went missing.

“We have concluded that the conditions at Parchman are severe, systemic and exacerbated by chronically deficient staffing and supervision, resulting in serious harm and substantial risk to people confined at the prison,” Clarke, who oversees Justice’s civil rights division, said at a news conference. She was joined by U.S. Attorneys Clay Joyner of Mississippi’s Northern District and Darren J. LaMarca of the Southern District.

Neither the Mississippi Department of Corrections officials nor the office of Gov. Tate Reeves (R) responded to requests for comment.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who joined civil rights groups in January 2020 to ask the Justice Department to investigate the prison, said in a statement that his office has routinely forwarded complaints from constituents about the facility to federal investigators.

“Hopefully, the results of this investigation will push the state to do better and fix the unconstitutional conditions,” Thompson said.

The Justice Department opened “pattern or practice” investigations into Parchman and three other state-operated Mississippi prisons in February 2020 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. The probes into the Southern Mississippi Correctional Institute, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility are ongoing, Clarke said.

Federal investigators determined that state officials had committed systemic violations of the prisoners’ civil rights under the Eighth and 14th amendments, including offering inadequate mental health and suicide prevention measures, allowing uncontrolled violence and improperly restricting prisoners to solitary confinement for months at a time. In lieu of adequate oversight from prison officials, federal officials said, gangs moved in to fill the void.

Federal prisons placed on lockdown after two Texas inmates killed

The Justice Department investigation — which included interviews with prison officials and inmates, tours of the prison facilities and a review of thousands of documents — found evidence of “an abundance of weapons, drugs, gang activity, extortion and violence,” Joyner said.

He told reporters that Burl Cain, a former state warden in Louisiana who was named commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections in May 2020, has already implemented some changes intended to improve prison safety. Clarke said the Justice Department will seek to negotiate additional changes with Mississippi officials, who she said had cooperated with the investigation. Clarke did not lay out a timeline for that process.

Parchman’s largest facility is Unit 29, which can house up to 1,500 people, the Justice Department report said. Following the rioting, the corrections department moved 375 inmates from Unit 29 to a private prison elsewhere in the state, and Reeves instructed the agency to work toward closing Unit 29. Parchman’s average daily population has dropped from 3,255 in December 2019 to about 1,989, according to the report.

The Justice Department found that inmates were kept in restrictive settings, under dilapidated conditions, for long stretches — in some cases for years. During those periods, some harmed themselves, including cutting themselves and ingesting excess blood pressure pills or other medications. Prison guards and staff failed to conduct mental health evaluations, the report said.

The facility routinely struggled to fill open positions, with staff vacancy rates consistently above 40 percent and peaking at 53.5 percent in February 2020, shortly after the weeks-long riot that began after a fight broke out on Dec. 31, 2019.

The report determined that the fight and other violence in the prison was connected to gang affiliations. Three homicides took place in a single week in January 2020; one inmate was stabbed 89 times and another 75 times, while a third died of strangulation, the report said. Investigators found evidence of more than 100 assaults inside the prison from 2018 through May 2020, and they concluded that many more attacks probably went unreported.

“Mississippi has the third-highest incarceration rate in the country but provides few resources to ensure that the people held in its prisons are treated humanely,” the ACLU of Mississippi said in a statement Wednesday. “People who are incarcerated still have Constitutional rights. Yet the DOJ report found that MDOC violated those rights at Parchman Prison by failing to protect people from violence and provide them with necessary medical care. Mississippi leaders must take this as an opportunity to fix our broken and inhumane prisons.​”

Rapper Yo Gotti and Team Roc, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z’s social justice advocacy group, had filed lawsuits on behalf of inmates at Parchman. In a statement, Yo Gotti said: “My heart goes out to the incarcerated men who have suffered without access to clean water, food and healthcare and the families that tragically lost loved ones in the process. … I’m grateful for the U.S. Department of Justice’s thorough report to hold the Mississippi Department of Corrections accountable for the cruel and inhumane treatment of the incarcerated population.”

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Annual report of Georgian Prime Minister

The annual report on the Government’s work presented on Wednesday by the Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili in the Parliament.

“Dear Speaker of the Parliament! Dear Members of Parliament! Dear Members of Government! Mr. Mayor! Let me greet you all and media representatives. I am honored to present our Annual Performance Report, which has been submitted in writing prior to this meeting. I wish to speak in detail about the achievements that our country had in the past year. Naturally, I wish to start with our main achievement, which we all witnessed several days ago. Namely, the European Commission made a historic decision on June 17 by a much desired entry in an official document. I wish to remind everyone again that this entry was indeed a historic decision of the European Commission. First time ever, entry on our European Perspective. The European Commission clearly worded out its recommendation addressed to the European Council in a document for granting a European Perspective to Georgia to eventually let us accede to the European Union. It is a historic decision of the European Commission.

Secondly, what I wish to say is that our expectation was a candidacy status to be granted to Georgia, as Ukraine and Moldova did. It is understandable that we witnessed a different approach. I wish to explain it in detail for our people and honorable MPs.

Our team in the authorities did its best to address the heavy legacy what we witnessed when coming to power: dictatorship, authoritatian regime used to be practiced in real terms, whereby people were slautered, tortured, raped, while businesses and assets were foreclosed, families were smitten. After such a heavy legacy with no sign of democracy and no media freedom in the country, no independent judiciary existed before we came to power and the entire governing scheme and system was operating as a repressive system to suppress and destroy people and their livelihood. This was a legacy we witnessed when coming to power on October 1, 2012. I wish to remind everyone that the judiciary operated as a mere notary service and whatever instructions came from the prosecution the same court rulings would be issued by judges. It was the legacy you left us, honorable ones. As for media freedom, no opposition channel existed in the country back then.

I heard a complaint that we should talk with ordinary people about what we did during the past 10 years. Of course, we will once again remind them and our dear people what we have been doing during these 10 years. However, I wish to remind it to all within a context of EU integration. We need to remind our population and partners – foreign friends – that we truly inherited a most devastated legacy. Of course, we know it well that no sign of democracy existed in the country. No real, strong opposition channel existed in the media landscape of the country, but we hear the same people talking about media freedom. It is great merits to our planned and implemented reforms that any broadcasting company may be incorporated within 10 business days nowadays. With this indicator we are much ahead of others, including some of the EU member states.

Now, I wish to once again remind the results of past 10 years to our dear citizens manifesting in specific ratings: Georgia ranks 1st among the Easten Europe and Central Asia in the Rule of Law Index of the World Judiciary Project (WJP); our country is in Lead 5 of the Middle Income Countries; our country is ahead of the many member states of EU and NATO, as well as post-soviet countries according to the governance indicators of the World Bank, following Baltic countries and ranking 4th; Global Governance Effectiveness Index ranks Georgia 21st among 180 countries, thus being ahead of France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Portugal and other leading countries; Open Budget Survey ranked Georgia 1st for the first time ever in the world. When our friendly Moldova and Ukraine have public administration reform recommended as priorities for EU access, thereby referring to transparency and a lot of recommendations are indicated thereby, for comparison. With these achievements, when Georgia ranks 1st by open budget and transparency, being ahead of such countries as Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Italy, UK and others. When I am asked what we did and what the achievements of Georgia are, this is exactly the summary of specific 10 years expressed in ratings. In line with the Economic Freedom of the World – an annual survey published by the Canadian think tank Fraser Institute, our country is among the 5 leading economies of the world with Singapore, Switzerland and similar countries. According to the Index of Economic Freedom released by the Heritage Foundation, we are ranked 18th in Europe, being much ahead of such countries as Belgium, France, Spain, Italy and many other member states of the EU and leading economies of the planet.

As for the fight against corruption, Trace International ranks Georgia among 20 Best Countries of Europe and 30 Best Countries of the World, being the first in a sub-component of Low Risk Degree of Corruption in Dealing with Authorities. According to the Global Corruption Index, Georgia advanced by 9 position points in 2021 and was ranked 41st in the world. Our country is ahead of such member states of the EU and NATO as Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Turkey. According to the Transparency International, Georgia is ranked 45th among 180 nations and 1st in the region by the Perception of Corruption. For comparison purposes, let me say that Georgia was ranked 51st by the Crime Index of NUMBEO. In 2022, i.e. this year our country is regarded as one of the safest countries of the world, being ranked 14th in the world. Georgia is ahead of such countries as Czeck Republic, Austria, Finland, Danmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, France and others. In contrast with 2012 and with an advancement in the past 10 years, Georgia ranks 2nd in the world by Global Peace Index in 2022, irrespective of the most severe situation in the region and ongoing occupation. In 2012, as a comparison, let me say that we were in the Bottom 20 by the Global Peace Index and even with no war the system was brutal, offensive and criminal, which implied killing, torturing and raping of people. It is the aim of our government, our team to be ranked in the Top 5 of the world in every key global rating. If we compare Georgian data to those of Moldova and Ukraine, it becomes clear that our European friends know it all well and the entire world knows it well. Ratings that I listed here are known to all. It is measured and assessed by them – European, American, international, global reputable organizations in their ratings.

We know it well that we are an unconditional leader of the so-called Associated Trio. In the Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project (WJP), Georgia ranks 49th in the world and 1st in the region among 14 countries. I wonder if you know where Ukraine stands. In the global rating it ranks 74th and 7th in the region among 14 countries. We are in first place, my friends. Moldova ranks 73rd in the world and 6th in the region. Here too, Georgia is an unconditional leader in the Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project (WJP). We are ranked 1st among 14 countries of the region” stated Irakli Garibashvili, Prime Minister of Georgia.

“Let me continue with the Economic Freedom of the World Rating issued by the Fraser Institute. Georgia ranks 5th in the world, while Ukraine – 129th and Moldova – 66th. According to the Index of Economic Freedom issued by the Heritage Foundation, Georgia ranks 26th in the world and 18th in the region, while Ukraine ranks 130th and Moldova – 78th.

As for the risks of corruption and comparison of this index of Georgia with those of Moldova and Ukraine, our country ranks 29th, while Ukraine – 104th. According to the Business Bribery Risk Index, Georgia ranks 29th, while Ukraine – 104th and Moldova – 115th. Global Corruption Index by Transparency International ranks Georgia 41st, Ukraine – 123rd and Moldova – 114th. According to the Corruption Perception Index, Georgia ranks 1st in the region and 45th in the world, while Ukraine – 122nd and Moldova – 105th.

Now, as for the security rating, here as well Georgia ranks 14th in the world, while Ukraine – 81st and Moldova – 84th, dear friends, honorable colleagues and distinguished Europeans.

This is a set of specific results brought by our performance, outcome of our work during these ten years, which was depicted in referred ratings published by the World Bank, Transparency International and others – I will not list them all as you have heard everything.

We all had an expectation and if anyone deserved it from the Associated Trio, not merely by emotions and perceptions, but rather results of performance… I heard from our European friends that their main rationale was merit-based, which we sadly failed to see and it is very saddening for me, for all of us, for each citizen of our country. We also heard assessments of some, claiming that geographic location and geo-political condition was different. We also heard that Ukraine was given the status because it is at war. You remember that two weeks ago I publicly announced at the Executive Government Meeting that I had information from European colleagues. They said it straight that as Ukraine is at war, this factor will be taken into account and with this motivation the country will be given a status. Irrespective of Georgia being an unbeatable leader by all the listed parameters and performing ahead of not only the Associated Trio, but many current member states of the EU and NATO, my friends. I wish to explain to our citizens that war in Ukraine turned out to be the decisive motivator of the status being granted to it.

As for Moldova, you saw that it lags behind Georgia similar to Ukraine by many indicators and parameters. Moldova is regarded to be in a situation, which is equalized to war, as it is a neighbouring state. They have more pressing challenges in terms of economy and security. Moldova will be granted the status by taking into account other political factors. Though, let me stress and explain to our citizens that conditions – recommendations, i.e. priorities – are set to all three countries. They are highlighted in our case. I will not tire you much, but will say that one of the first priorities and recommendations is to end polarisation – it is not reduction that is recommended, but ending it.

I hope European leaders and our media, the entire Georgia, saw what is the degree of desire among our opponents to end the polarization in the country, when they attempted to create such a scandal from the moment of entry. I also wish to say that irrespective of the conditions, which is a regular practice, as the European Commission has used similar approaches to its already member states. We know of a number of cases, including Lithuania and many countries, which were subject to conditions. The only difference is Ukraine and Moldova. They are given the status as an advance or an incentivizing gesture and motivation, bonus in a way. They are told to meet all the conditions afterwards. In our case, it is the other way round: we are told that we are given a European Perspective. Yes, we deserve the European Perspective to become a member state of the EU. The European Commission is also recommending the European Council to eventually grant a status of an EU candidate country with a number of conditions. That is, in our case it is the other way round, which is saddening, of course. I wish to hereby recall and pay tribute to our heroic servicemen, who sacrificed their life to the Euro-Atlantic idea. Back then nobody remembered our geography or different geo-political conditions or situations. We sent a record-high number of soldiers to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Central Africa and we were represented everywhere in a dignified manner. General Chachibaia is here. Our 35 heroic servicemen sacrificed their lives to the idea of world peace, fight against international terrorism, integration with NATO, idea of integration with EU. Almost 500 servicemen are heavily wounded and irrespective of all these, Georgia seems to be punished for not waging war today? How shall we interpret this, my friends? They said it straight and publicly. It was said straight that Ukraine is given the status for being at war. I wish to address our citizens and say that we understand it well that this is an emotional decision. Of course, it is saddening and every person, every normal human being supporting the European idea, is saddened at heart. Nevertheless, we should look at this process in a very peaceful manner.

Now, as for the process, as we see and imagine it managed. We expect the final decision to be made and greatly hope that the European Perspective, being a historic entry, will be endorsed and approved by the European Council, by member states of the EU. I also wish to say what I stated at the Executive Government Meeting and repeat it again in front of you: naturally, our government together with you – Parliament – our entire team stands ready and is motivated to continue with every reform that is needed for our country, our people. We have said it many times before. Also, I wish to remind everyone that a major part of reforms was already included in the Association Agenda, which we agreed with Brussels merely 1 month ago. This generated even more questions to me on why it was needed to word it out as conditions and only afterwards grant the status. Of course, it gives rise to a lot of questions, but irrespective of all these, we should demonstrate wisdom, of course. We need peace. Process should be managed calmly and firmly to lead the country to a safe harbor. Main entry, which was publicly announced by Ursula von der Leyen, is that the EU has wide-opened its doors to Georgia. Europe has wide-opened doors to Georgia! This is the most vital achievement.

Photo: Government’s Administration.

I wish to remind everyone, including the opponents hereby that the EU Association Agreement was only a process-in-making before 2012. However, it was very prolonged in time. If I am not mistaken, this process started in 2010. Does anyone recall at all why was criticism missing and from any side or why was Georgia not leading, including in the format of the Eastern Partnership and why it got ahead of Ukraine or why was a Draft Association Agreement given to it much earlier, why did they start the process earlier than we did or why did Ukraine start the visa liberalization process earlier than us, if I am not mistaken? We came to power on the grounds of elections held on October 1, 2012. It was a breakthrough that made the entire world see that dictatorship ended in Georgia and people started to breathe freely. They do not like to be reminded of this heavy malpractice, but I will do it. No media freedom existed in the country before October 1. No integrity existed in the judiciary either. There was no sign of it. Day after day country was getting in greater dictatorship and authoritatian regime of one maniac and his criminal team that routinely tortured, suppressed and killed our citizens. Don’t you remember the situation back then? How come these people talk about human rights? They have no ethics at all. How do you dare to remind us of human rights?

Second thing that I wish to remind everyone is that the maniac, slaughtering and suppressing system of Saakashvili charged 300 000 people. Three hundred thousand people! We are only 4 million in the country! What was the stance back then? Khatia Dekanoidze was a Rector of the Police Academy. Inmates were tortured, killed and raped with sweeping broom handles and batons at prisons. Situation was devastating! People had no protection whatsoever! Thousands of cases – thousands of cases! – were sent to the Strasbourg Court. Statistics published a few months ago are alarming. Now the litigation in Strasbourg is brought to a minimum. Only 152 cases are considered nowadays, while 5000 – were in those times. You understand well that a suppressed, tortured, humiliated people had no prospect of fair trail and justice. That was the legacy we witnessed when coming to power, dear Europeans! I wish to address the 300 MEPs that supported the draft resolution. Now, these MPs here were the ones who went door-to-door, my fellow citizens. I wish to say with full responsibility that some of the MPs present here were visiting the EU, European Parliament and everywhere to harm the country in a hostile manner. This information was readily shared with me by our European friends. Dear Speaker, it was said that it is a lie, but let me explain that it is not. Every word said by these MPs to our citizens is a lie, while I say the truth in contrast with you.

European People’s Party the so-called EPP or can you remind me which is your main supporting party, Khatia? EPP, right? The European People’s Party designed their recommendations with the most shameful text. It was a fest of injustice! It was a clear manifestation and evidence of these people wanting not to grant the candidate status to Georgia. Now, let me tell you why. UNM led by Saakashvili did not and does not want the country to get the candidate status. I am telling you this with full responsibility. I am sharing evidence-based information to our citizens.

As for Salome Samadashvili, who is very nervous, as she knows that I will now refer to her. Salome Samadashvili was personally visiting Brussels and begging them not to give the candidate status to Georgia. You now know who the traitor of the country is!

Of course, it is a decision of European leaders. It is their wisdom that manifested in the European Perspective that was recommended for Georgia. It is most welcoming and makes us all happy.

As for the criticism of our opposition at large and their augmented agitation. I wish to refer to the topic of war in Ukraine, as it is one of the main topics related to all, not only to Ukraine, but the entire Europe, world, our region, our country and everyone, our citizens. From the very first days of the war, you may all remember it well that Georgia was one of the first countries to send humanitarian cargo to Ukraine. I personally had a communication with my colleague – Ukrainian Prime Minister. I personally let him know that we sent aid on behalf of the Georgian people and government. Since then, as of now, we gave consent to 260 resolutions. We practically supported every political document. Georgia joined every political, humanitarian and solidarity document – everywhere, be that UN, EU, OSCE and others. Everywhere!

Reference was made to sanctions and reasons were inquired behind Georgia staying away from imposing economic sanctions against Russia. Naturally, it is a legitimate question. People are interested in why we decided not to join the initiative and we explained it in the very first days. Significant part of the Georgian population – about 1 million people – lives in Russia. We remember how disgracefully our citizens were treated in Russia as a result of the unjustified, meaningless policies of the UNM, when they were sent back home in cargo planes and their businesses, houses and assets were foreclosed. They were subject to a horrible experiences and terror. Saying nothing about the war – our war – which I will elaborate on now. Afterwards, you remember how the fuss augmented about the sanctions. We said very simply that we have trade and economic relations with Russia and they are affecting a big part of our citizens. Whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not, it is a reality. Dear friends, take this into account. Huge part of our citizens relied on these trade and economic relations, which was craved to be restored before 2012. Criticism is heard nowadays. What I mean when referring to 2012: after the war, i.e. as soon as the war ended, in several months – well, the war is a tragedy and misfortune at large – what we were subject to and the shame we experienced with the crawling person who happened to be our Commander-in-Chief, fleeing Minister of Defence and escaping MPs, who hit the borders to leave the country. Who was at war? Army and police. Not one, but dozens of names are publicly known. I stayed in Tbilisi. Our army fought heroically in the August War. Here is General Chachibaia. This information is well known to all. It was a topic of many footages that people saw and specific facts are known on who crossed the border of Georgia to escape the war in those days. Russian troops left the country in 2007. Last unit existed in Georgia in 2007. Unjustified, unwarranted steps of Saakasvhili and his rule made the Russian army return to Georgia.

After the war, we remember it well that Georgia, being under their rule and leadership, signed an agreement, which was in essence a capitulant resolution. After the war, their team decided to sell strategic assets to Russian state corporations. Vano Merabishvili would make a public appearance and say that Russian money did not smell. This is a famous phrase, which is remembered by all. It all happened after the August War. Now, why did I tell you all these? I wish to remind them everything, whether they like it or not. They should hear and hear the whole story of their crimes.

We are called upon today and asked why we stayed away from joining the sanctions. They are curious about us staying away from imposing economic sanctions, i.e. they wonder why we decided not to impose sanctions on our own people. Sanctions would actually mean punishing our expatriates living in Russia. By taking these risks into consideration and remembering the harsh experience of the past, I wish to ask a question to dear opponents. What did you do after the war to impose sanctions on Russia? Zero! Nothing! You did nothing! No action was taken to alert the world. We saw nothing! On the contrary, they signed a capitulant resolution and seold strategic assets -dozens or greater number of energy facilities – to Russian state corporations. Afterwards, your team led by Saakashvili, introduced a visa-free regime for Russian citizens. Great sanctions, right?

After the war, no work was done anywhere to mobilise the international community and impose sanctions on Russia. Does anyone recall anything of this sort? Nothing, because they did nothing. On the contrary, you signed a capitulant resolution and sold dozens of strategic energy facilities to them in the months following thereafter. During the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili and with his decision, you removed the visa requirement from Russian citizens unilaterally. This maniac and clown personally went to the border and welcomed Russian tourists after the war. And now, they are calling upon us to impose sanctions on Russia. It would mean sanctioning our own people, rather than Russia, dear friends. They apparently wanted to launch a second front line here. It was their wish and craving of their colleagues in Ukraine. It was their desire and their friend Arakhamia, along with Security Council Secretary Denilov made public appearances to openly declare it. They literally made a confessional testimony, claiming that a second front-line was desired in Georgia to avoid only Ukrainian women and children dying in war. It was their somewhat confession and after all these, we well remember their demands. They wanted economic sanctions to be imposed on our own people and charter flights to be authorized to Ukraine. Government was supposed to send fighters – contracted volunteers – in a televised broadcast, of course. It is your signature practice, dear opponents. Lastly, let me summarise and say that culmination or climax came with your harmful performance at the EU. Everything was done and succeeded through lobbyists and their main supporter – EPP – European People’s Party to mobilise three hundred MEPs for an anti-Georgian, anti-sovereign resolution. It was done by you. This is a sabotage and enmity of Georgia! You represent a party of traitors, MP Khabeishvili! You and all others in the party, led by Saakashvili, are traitors!

I wish to say the main thing: our authorities, our government, our parliament, our team did their best to bring our country closer to Europe in a real sense. I wish to single out several main achievements that are great merits to Mr. Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream. These are the EU Association Agreement and DCFTA, Free Trade Agreement, visa-free travel arrangement that they are benefiting from as well. By the way, it is not a historic entry about the European Perspective and candidacy status. Thus, my friends, if there was any jeopardy in the process, it is all related to their harmful performance starting from the process preceding the visa-free travel arrangement. David Bakradze, who used to chair the parliament and sat in this chair, was personally visiting Brussels. I am saying nothing about MP Kandelaki, who conveyed shameful accusations and blunder to our European friends. He was begging and urging them to keep away from giving visa-free travel arrangement to the country during the rule of our team of Georgian Dream in government. He wanted to punish Georgia and Georgian people. This is what you stand for! This is the evil and enmity of our country!

One of the key topics they are agitated about is de-oligarchization to be achieved in the country. They refer to the oligarchs and abstract role of oligarchs in our country. I wish to remind everyone that this topic – de-oligarchization – was indicated in the case of Ukraine and Moldova as well. In real terms, this is an issue in Ukraine more than in Georgia. We do not have a problem of this kind at all. We never had and will neither have it. One exception though: real oligarchs – and MP Ana Natsvlishvili was most joyful about it – are found in the party of MP Natsvlishvili. Her party belongs to Mamuka Khazaradze, who wanted and intended to become an oligarch and govern, run politics, government, parliament and so on. I wish to remind you all who MP Natsvlishvili is representing. Khazaradze is a businessman and banker, who failed to build the Anaklia Port because he did not spend money and has only invested 3 MLN USD as of today. I want our citizens to know how much is claimed in court disputes by Mr. Khazaradze for failing to build the Anaklia Port. Do you know? MP Natsvlishvili, do you? He claims 1.5 BLN USD as compensation. This is you. This is what your party stands for. That is why you got 1% of votes. It is one of the real, clear examples of a politician or businessman craving to become an oligarch.

Now about Mr. Kezerashvili. Who is he? Today he is a genuine oligarch, who finances all three broadcastings – Mtavari TV, Formula TV and TV Pirveli. He carries the cost of their payroll and routine operation every single month. Mr. Kezerashvili is doing that with stolen, extorted money. Why does nobody ask a question, including those 300 MEPs representing the EPP? This person used to be a Minister of Defence. General Devy Chankotadze is here and listening. He knows what I am going to say. Kezerashvili was a Minister of Defense during the war. He knows what I will say now. The entire army saw the fleeing Minister of Defense, who ran away with his convoy. Kezerashvili left the government accumulating several hundred million dollars on his account. Don’t you have any questions about it, my friends? Do the somewhat European friends have no questions about it? Kubilius, Carl Bildt, Fotyga and others are invited and made to talk here. Company owned by Kezerashvili had 1 BLN USD in revenues according to the audited financial statements. Audit Opinion was published in 2013. Deloitte and Touche audited the financial statements of the company. We all saw the report. Company owned by Kezerashvili had a turnover of 1 BLN USD in 2012. Now, let me ask all of you pretending to be great supporters of European democracy and I want to address your lobbyists: how come that Minister of Defense who was poor at the appointment becomes owner of hundreds of millions of dollars? Kezerashvili is an oligarch!

Who said and where was it said that Ivanishvili is a main oligarch? It is a lie. Resolution was passed with wording drafted with your help. I want to tell the main thing to our people, over 80% of our country and our population expected a historic decision, while these ones managed to have their partner party pass an anti-Georgian, anti-sovereign resolution several weeks before and I want every citizen of the country supporting the EU integration to know this. You did it and I will keep on reminding it to you!

As for Saakashvili, he is the main oligarch together with his family. Saakashvili’s maternal uncle – Temur Alasania, who handled the President and Saakashvili’s mother, who is an oligarch as well. It is confirmed that she owns assets valued at 100 MLN. Giuly Alasania is confirmed to have hundreds of millions and Saakashvili is the main problem for our country! Your party is the main problem of our country and our people!

As for their main anxiety, claiming that we are instructed to de-oligarchize our country, names I listed are, of course, the problem. Main issue is Saakashvili and your party causes threats to the stability of our country. Main factor of destabilization is Saakashvili and his party, i.e. you. Saakashvili and his party are the main problem of peace and stability of our people. As for the lie shared by you, Bidzina Ivanishvili is the greatest philanthropist, the greatest benefactor that Georgians have ever known and you know it all very well, my dear friends. I wish you knew the definition of the term – oligarch. Do you know what it means, when you shout out loud here? I will tell you. I listed the names: Khazaradze, who was their partner and literally extorted money from private businesses when entrepreneurs were brought to his bank and title ownership was transferred to him to secure a loan and when appraisal of the pledged property was artificially made marginal. He is the one. Another one is Kezerashvili, who made a fortune by consuming public funds, stealing literally from the army budget. Third one is Saakashvili, who came to power with one apartment, but ended up owning hundreds of millions in assets of his family. He has no citizenship till present. Imagine a person serving as a President for 9 years and leaving the country by refusing his national passport. If it were done by any of our MPs, you would go wild. I can imagine what you would do in that case. Bidzina Ivanishvili does not need my evaluation, but I wish to remind them of this.

I wish to say briefly by responding to the allegations and blunder. They visit Europe and – as they say – create presumption. According to the information conveyed by them, Bidzina Ivanishvili is allegedly a main problem of our country. However, this man is a co-organizer and co-creator of all these achievements; he defeated and changed the maniacal, criminal system. Bidzina Ivanishvili did his immeasurable charity quietly and calmly during the rule of Saakashvili. He did it with no publicity. At least know the definition of an oligarch. Person, who did not make even a penny in Georgia and earned money in other countries with his hard work, talent to bring and spend it in our country, including during their rule on reforming the police, army, their payroll, salaries of civil servants, rehabilitation of schools, theatres, museums. All of these are associated with the name of this person. Later he came to politics, defeated you and kicked you and your criminal regime out of power. You could not stand this. Person officially left his political position, status and everything. You do not have any argument and claim that Bidzina Ivanishvili has a reputation. Excuse me, my friends. I wish to remind our as-if most constructive opposition that a lot of people returned to the Administration of President Biden from the Administration of President Obama in the United States of America. They returned to the White House and other public institutions. It is the same as claiming that President Obama has oligarchic governance and informal rule. Main argument that they have is that Ivanishvili’s people are at every position. Do you imagine Saakashvili’s people to be there? Which country of the world rules with opposition? Of course, we are a team created by Ivanishvili, his political descendants and this is understandable to all. Main thing is that if Bidzina Ivanishvili had not come to politics, you would have staged a second Mariupol here sacrificing the country and people, destroying and trading Georgia. Dear opponents, in contrast with you, we serve our country – Georgia. I did ask you a question and you need to provide an answer: who do you serve? Glory to Georgia! Glory to Georgian people!”

Performance Report of the Prime Minister of Georgia

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Posts to Facebook groups not private

A woman who posted comments to a Facebook group had no privacy interest in the posts, despite her belief that the group restricted access to the postings.  That’s the recent decision by an Arizona-based federal court. 

Carol Davis sued HDR, Inc., an architecture and design firm based on their accessing certain information from two Facebook groups – -“Ahwautakee411” and “Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children (PARC).”  HDR has designed over 275 jails and prisons.  In addition to its architectural services, HDR offers its clients “strategic communications” services. These services involve gauging public sentiment and developing media campaigns to help clients manage the risks associated with proposed or existing projects. 

According to Davis’ complaint, Ahwatukee411 is a Facebook group “that enables local residents of the Ahwatukee Foothills area to privately discuss issues concerning the community.”  PARC is a Facebook group that was “formed to protest the construction of a highway that cuts through the Moahdak Do’ag Mountain (South Mountain) . . . [and] enables its members to privately discuss local issues.” 

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CommonWealth Magazine

THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE is set to vote on language this Thursday that would impose a five-year moratorium on new prison construction. 

The language is tucked into a large government bond bill, which would authorize state government to borrow $4.88 billion for a wide range of building projects touching on myriad facets of state government. But, the bill makes clear, that money cannot go to prison construction or expansion projects.  

The moratorium is an initiative of a group of prison reform advocates who oppose the construction of a new women’s prison to replace the aging prison in Framingham.  

The bond bill was reported out of the House Committee on Ways and Means with a unanimous vote, 31-0, with no members abstaining.  

The bill is “an important vehicle to seek justice” and “I am proud that we are uplifting our values around incarcerated individuals every chance we get to do so,” said Rep. Chynah Tyler, a Boston Democrat who sponsored a stand-alone bill in the House to impose a moratorium on prison construction, in an email. “We hope to redirect the narrative on prison reform to focus on what we can do to ensure folks are rehabilitated upon release and not on a trajectory to go back to prison.”  

The inclusion of the moratorium indicates that it has the support of House leaders. House Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz is supportive, his spokesperson confirmed. Tyler said the bill is an effort of Michlewitz, House Speaker Ron Mariano, and House leadership. 

Sen. Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat, sponsored a similar bill in the Senate. The House bill has 37 cosponsors, and the Senate bill has 25, though several lawmakers signed onto both versions.  

“I congratulate House members,” Comerford said of inclusion of the moratorium in the bond measure. “I’m hopeful that the Senate will see the momentum in the House, and we’ll be able to meet that momentum and bring this over the finish line.” Comerford said it is “synergistic” to insert the moratorium into the same bill that proposes spending money on capital projects. 

The bond bill would not allow any public agency to “study, plan, design, acquire, lease, search for sites or construct new correctional facilities.” The state would also be barred from expanding current facilities, converting any part of a dormant or existing facility to be used for detention, renovating a correctional institution beyond what is needed for maintenance or building code requirements, and repairing a facility for the purpose of expanding it or increasing its bed capacity.  

The House plans to vote on the bond bill on Thursday. 

Although the moratorium would affect any new prison construction, the most immediate debate is over the future of MCI- Framingham. Prisoners, advocates, and state officials have agreed that the Framingham prison, which opened in 1877, needs major repairs to address substandard conditions, which is why the state has been exploring options to relocate those women and either renovate or build a new prison. State officials have not made a final decision. 

Comerford said the effort to move women out of prisons was underway even before COVID-19 hit, as a way to advance the Legislature’s criminal justice reform work, but the pandemic made it more acutely needed as Massachusetts tries to “build back more equitably.” “That really calls for investment in truly significant terms on alternatives to incarceration, jail diversion program, after-incarceration support,” Comerford said. “That’s the kind of work we should and could be doing, not investing these enormous sums into expanding a footprint for incarceration.”  

Mallory Hanora, executive director of Families for Justice as Healing, which has been leading the campaign to oppose construction of a new women’s prison, said a five-year moratorium would provide “an opportunity for us to pause as a state and reconsider our spending priorities and take this opportunity to invest in what we know actually creates safety and wellbeing.” Hanora argued that the state should invest in community-based solutions for female offenders, like housing, health care and treatment, rather than building a new prison. 

Hanora agreed that the current conditions at MCI-Framingham are intolerable but said she worries that if the state launches into a building project, officials will continue focusing on incarceration rather than moving more women into community-based and treatment options.  

“We know it’s impossible for women to heal and advance their lives inside of a prison, so we don’t want to launch a massive construction project where the first answer is going to continue to be incarceration,” Hanora said. “We should focus first on decarceration, releasing women from Framingham. If we spend five years doing prison construction, that’s not what’s going to happen.” 

Meet the Author

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state’s foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association’s 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state’s foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association’s 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The state has not made public any other prison expansion plans. In fact, with the prison population now the lowest in 35 years, the Department of Correction recently announced plans to suspend housing operations at MCI-Cedar Junction. There are plans to improve existing facilities included in the state’s capital plan – for example, upgrading facilities at the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center to provide more programming spaces and patient privacy. It’s not clear from the bill’s language if that kind of renovation would be allowed under the moratorium or not. 

Rep. Peter Durant, a Spencer Republican who is on the House Ways and Means Committee, said there was not a lot of discussion of the moratorium by the committee, but it was pushed by progressive members seeking to reduce incarceration. He said he is not necessarily personally supportive of the moratorium, but he is not hugely worried about it either. “I don’t think we’re clamoring to get new prisons built,” Durant said. “If things change in the future, we can always revisit this issue. But at this point it’s not giving me a lot of heartburn.” 

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