Monday, November 28, 2011


Albany, N.Y.-- The New York Library Association has released the details of their Legislative Priorities for 2012. CSEA represents tens of thousands of workers in educational or library settings throughout New York State.

Library Aid

Seek restoration to 2010 levels of $84.45 million or at the very least maintain $79 million level from 2011.

BOCES‐Libraries Internet Partnerships

This bill (S.1573 Oppenheimer/A.464 Gunther) would authorize BOCES to contract with public libraries or library systems for Internet services. 2011 Status: reported to Senate Floor 6/7/2011.

Library Card Info Distributed to Students

This bill (S.4174 Oppenheimer/A.6239 Bing) would require school districts to disseminate informational materials about applications for public library cards to students if they are provided by their library. 2011 Status: Passed Assembly 6/23 and reported to Senate Rules 6/13/2011.

Expand Eligibility for EPE Funding to Include Libraries

This bill (S.4100 Farley/A.6385 Reilly) would expand eligibility to receive Employment Preparation Education (EPE) funds to include libraries. There is currently $96 million in EPE funding available. 2011 Status: Passed Senate 6/20/2011.

NYS Comprehensive Information System

The bill (S.3297 DeFrancisco/A.4997 Russell) would authorize the state library to coordinate the bulk purchase of electronic resources like databases for state agencies, libraries and other governmental entities that would save the state and local government’s money. 2011 Status: Passed Senate 5/9/2011.

SUNY/CUNY Procurement Flexibility for Electronic Resources

This bill (Farley/A. 8673 Paulin) would expand flexibility provided to SUNY/CUNY to purchase products like books to also include electronic resources like online databases, which are a growing component of academic library collections.

System Funding Flexibility

This bill would give more local control to library systems on how to allocate reduced funding from the state to the meet the needs of the libraries and communities they serve.

School Library Materials Aid

This bill would require schools to have a certified school librarian in order to receive school library materials aid.

Library Elections

This bill would clarify that library elections are covered by Education Law.

MTA Payroll Tax

This bill (Martins/Abinanti) would add public libraries to list of entities exempt from MTA pay roll tax.
To upload the NYS library advocate's 2011 Voter's Guide to see how your local Assembly and Senate representatives are doing, you can go here.


Danny Donohue
Albany, N.Y.-- The head of the state’s largest public-employees union took to a labor website today to blast New York’s property-tax cap and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s position on a state millionaires’ tax, calling the governor’s economic policies “indefensible.”

On, state Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue said Cuomo’s policies—particularly the 2 percent tax cap—“make it harder for localities to manage their budgets and diminish the quality of life in our communities.”

“The reality of the tax cap initiative is very different from the perception that was sold to the public last spring,” Donohue wrote. “It does not reduce taxes, it simply limits the ability of local governments to address their budget challenges by imposing an artificial cap on their budget growth. The result is now being felt by counties, cities, towns and villages who face the hard reality of service cuts, closures and other pain.”

The emotion behind Donohue’s op-ed is different from comments he made after CSEA came to a deal on a five-year contract with the state, when he said he hoped the union could work together with the governor on various issues.

Labor unions, meanwhile, have made clear they’re going to fight for an added tax on New York’s higher earners. A surcharge on those making more than $200,000 expires at the end of the year.

“Think about it: localities are hurting, state operations have been cut to the bone, public workers have already sacrificed, retirees have been charged more for their health coverage, state revenue projects are alarmingly lower than expected,” Donohue wrote. “But Gov. Cuomo is still hell-bent on giving a $5 billion TAX CUT to the super rich!"

He added, “Indefensible is the only polite way I can describe it.”

-original post by John Campbell, Politics on the Hudson

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


CSEA Local 828 President Bess Watts
photo: Watts family
This Thanksgiving, when my family and I gather to give thanks for all that’s important to us, we’ll be especially grateful for our labor friends like you.

Our local governments and state legislators across our nation rely on our nationwide network of progressive supporters and activists, and you’re a big part of that. Your energy, votes, your volunteerism, and your contributions make it possible for labor friendly advocates to win elections and push for progressive change in the workplace.

Your activism helps shine a spotlight on workplace democracy, provide key votes and actions by policymakers and make our communities stronger. Your voice amplifies the voices of millions of other workers – including those who are often silenced by fear. Together, we want progressive issues and progressive values to define our national debate to move our country forward.

In short, there is no union without you.

As the upcoming meetings, campaigns and programs unfold, working families everywhere will be counting on you once again. And we’ll continue to be thankful, as always, for everything you do.

Happy Thanksgiving, to you and yours.


Bess Watts
President, CSEA Monroe County Local 828


Dear Newt,

Our country outlawed child labor. Almost a hundred years later, in the middle of the worst unemployment crisis in decades, you want to bring it back. Seriously?

Doing janitorial work in a school entails sanitizing toilets, handling hazardous cleaning chemicals, and scrubbing floors hunched over a mop for hours. It's hard to imagine a nine-year old doing any of those tasks. Come on.

The US outlawed child labor because it denied children the chance at a real education and allowed employers to exploit children — and because children were often injured or killed on the job. That's why labor unions fought to pass laws outlawing child labor and protecting all workers.

And the people you want to fire and replace with kids? A lot of them are parents. That job puts a roof over kids' heads, food on the table, and provides them with health care and the chance to get an education. That job is the only thing between a kid and poverty.

Firing someone's mom and hiring the kid for less money isn't exactly the "process of rising." It is, in fact, the process of falling. It is the process of exploiting and destroying working families. The fact that you don't get that makes you not only out of touch, but utterly unqualified to serve in any elected position, let alone President of the United States.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


photo: Ove Overmyer
Rochester, N.Y.-- The supercommittee negotiations have failed. Why? Because elected Republicans simply refused to make billionaires and big corporations lift even one finger to help reduce the debt. In fact, they’re still demanding perks for their biggest benefactors, the top 1 percent. The same people who put them in office and same people who pull their puppet strings.

Instead, here’s who elected Republicans think should shoulder the burden-- seniors on Medicare. Middle class families who want to send their children to college. Every American receiving Social Security. The unemployed and all those who are suffering the most in this economy. Whose is left? If you or your loved ones fall into any of these catagories, and I think you do, it's time to get into the streets and make some noise.

There’s no other word for GOP behavior but disgraceful. Democratic senators didn't stand for it. We at the Voice Reporter won’t stand for it. And I know you won’t, either. It’s time to unite with one clear voice and demand that Republicans stop putting the wealthy at the head of the line. Please expose them for who they truly are-- they are minions for the world's richest CEO's and America's wealthiest bankers and could care less about democracy and the common good.

When we look back on this supercommittee's exploits, we’ve ended up at this stalemate because these radicalized Republicans refuse to think rationally. If we don’t stand our ground now – and if we allow them to take the White House and the Senate in 2012 – we will lose our ability to stop them from unraveling our social safety net right out from under the Americans whose lives depend on it.

Labor leaders who support the GOP should step aside

We thought twice about sharing this publicly, but it's high time we air some dirty laundry in our local labor circles. Someone had to eventually say this, so why not us? Also, there are some folks that have left us no alternative. That’s why today we are speaking out, and saying “no more.” It's a brand new day.

It’s time for Republicans to listen to the vast majority of Americans and stop putting billionaires before the rest of the country. It's a simple request. Will that ever happen? Maybe, maybe not. But until that happens, it's time for folks in the labor community to stop supporting Republicans. The line in the sand has been drawn a long time ago and you better make sense of it right now. We have said this before and we will say it again, if you don't consider yourself a "wealthy" person, you have no business supporting the GOP at any level of government. Period. Even if it makes your personal job that much easier.

In 2011, the political fulcrum has shifted so far right that Ronald Reagan couldn't even get elected as a Republican. And while we're at it, shame on the working families, labor leaders and folks who voted for Republican candidates this past election cycle. Obviously, you can not see the forest through the trees. You are only contributing to your own demise. You slapped the face of every hard working union and family member we collectively represent. Whatever your reasons for voting for GOP candidates, they will never trump the "bigger picture" aspect of moving the American Labor Movement forward.

The question remains, when will you sidestep your own personal, petty predicaments and understand you have a collective principled responsibility to a higher order of things? Our recommendation to these labor leaders is get out of the way or switch to an organizing model of operations. For some of you, your time has come and gone. It's almost 2012-- it's a whole new ball game now in case you haven't noticed.

-Commentary by Ove Overmyer
This op-ed is the expressed written opinion of the author only and does not reflect the view of CSEA as an organization.


MSNBC's Chris Hayes broke the story on Saturday morning.
Should Americans really be surprised?
Washington, D.C.-- Now we have the smoking gun. On Saturday morning, November 19, Chris Hayes, broke the story on his weekend MSNBC show, Up With Chris Hayes, that the Washington D.C. lobbying firm of Clark, Lytle, Geduldig and Cranford (CLGC), sent an unsolicited memorandum to the American Banker's Association outlining a plan to neutralize any impact the Occupy Wall Street movement might have upon the upcoming 2012 elections. You can find that short video segment click here and can read the memorandum itself click here.

If you need further proof that Congressional Republicans are putting big Wall Street banks before middle class families, look no further than this explosive memo that was ironically prepared by former John Boehner staffers-turned-banking lobbyists.

This just-leaked memo details an $850,000 “message war” plan to attack and discredit grassroots citizen movements working to hold special interests accountable.

photo: Ove Overmyer
Republicans and big corporate backers may have Washington special interests, but we have an army of grassroots union activists made up of committed citizens like you standing with us. There is no doubt who the real obstacles are for moving our country forward-- what more proof do you need than this memo?

Why are Republican lobbyists panicking? One of the overriding concerns of the memo’s authors is how it will look for their executives to collect multi-million dollar year-end bonuses at a time middle class families are struggling to make ends meet. This is just another example of the misguided priorities of the Republican Party.

The memo goes on to describe a Democratic victory in November as detrimental to Republican special interests. They know a Democratic Majority in Congress will fight for middle class families, and make sure that millionaires pay their fair share and close corporate tax loopholes.

The message is quintessentially Republican; it seeks to instill fear in the Banker's Association that Democratic candidates will embrace "the growing and increasingly organized Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement to prevent Republican gains in Congress and the White House next year."
The memo notes that such a tactic by Democrats is unsurprising because they historically adopt "extreme positions and movements to increase base voter turnout... ." Apparently, this tactic is not to be feared. Rather, it is the nexus of the Tea Party and the OWS movement, the overlapping interests of both movements in their "angered populism" which should terrify the banking industry since that nexus could result in Republicans failing in their role as minions for the banking elite. Republicans may no longer defend Wall Street, "and might start running against them too."

Monday, November 21, 2011


A RIT student is lead away in handcuffs in Washington Square Park, Rochester, N.Y. in the early morning hours of Oct. 29, 2011. 32 people were eventually arrested for violating park curfew laws. Those ticketed will appear in City Court in early December. photo provided
Rochester, N.Y.-- With Congress no longer observing its sworn role to defend the US Constitution, the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee and the Partnership for Civil Justice recently filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) asking the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA and the National Parks Service to release "all their information on the planning of the coordinated law enforcement crackdown on Occupy protest encampments in multiple cities over the course of recent days and weeks."

According to a statement by the NLG, each of the FOIA requests states, "This request specifically encompasses disclosure of any documents or information pertaining to federal coordination of, or advice or consultation regarding, the police response to the Occupy movement, protests or encampments."

The rapid-fire assaults on occupation encampments in cities from Oakland to New York and Portland, Seattle and Atlanta, all within days of each other and the similar approach taken by police was not a coincidence. The attacks included overwhelming force in night-time assaults, mass arrests, use of such weaponry as pepper spray, sound cannons, tear gas, clubs and in some cases "non-lethal" projectiles like bean bags and rubber bullets, the removal and even arrest of reporters and camera-persons, and the justifications offered by municipal officials, who all cited "health" and "safety" concerns, all pointed to central direction and guidance.

The Occupy Movement, which is now in over 170 cities around the U.S., "has been confronted by a nearly simultaneous effort by local governments and local police agencies to evict and break up encampments in cities and towns throughout the country."

You would have to be living under a rock not to know that the severe crackdown on the occupation movement appears to be part of a national strategy. The operatives of the 1 percent want to crush the movement in an action we describe purely as political insanity.

The Occupy demonstrations are not criminal activities and police should not be treating them as such.

Rochester Occupiers peacefully protest in Washington
Square Park in downtown Rochester. photo provided
The police conducting these coordinated raids look more like Imperial Storm Troopers than cops in their riot gear get-ups. The attacks show how the nation's local police are becoming more of a national paramilitary force, curiously akin to the widely despised and feared Armed Police forces that do the heavy riot-control and repression duty in China.

Equipped with federally-supplied body armor and military-style weapons like stun grenades, sound canons and of course assault rifles, domestic US police forces responding to even garden variety, peaceful protest actions often look more like an occupying army than a local police force.

Meanwhile, anti-occupy actions have even been condemned by the Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans who are increasingly coming to and supporting the occupation movement. These vets say the police are employing tactics that they themselves were not even permitted to use in dealing with unrest in occupied or war-torn lands.

This is probably one of the biggest political miscalculations of recent memory. The Occupy Movement is not going anywhere—and conducting coordinated raids will not stop the 99 percent from peacefully assembling and speaking their minds.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Occupy Rochester has struck a deal with the City of Rochester to maintain a 24/7 presence at Washington Square Park and avoid any violence or arrests. Photo above shows CSEA officer and Pride At Work member Ove Overmyer at a rally last night Nov. 16 in the park. photo: Bess Watts
Rochester, N.Y.-- Demonstrations of Occupy Wall Street protesters popped up from coast to coast today to mark two months since the movement's birth in a lower Manhattan park. Dozens of protesters were arrested by midday near Wall Street in New York, while hundreds of protesters marched in the financial district in Los Angeles.

A few hundred demonstrators paraded through lower Manhattan for several hours Thursday morning, and about 50 to 60 were arrested as they thronged intersections near the New York Stock Exchange, brokerage houses and banks.

"All day, all week, shut down Wall Street!" the crowd chanted.

Helmeted officers hauled several occupiers to their feet after they sat down in the street to block traffic. Most of the crowd then assembled in Zuccotti Park, from which the protesters' camp was evicted this week. There were more rallies planned later in the day.

About 500 sympathizers of the Occupy movement marched in downtown Los Angeles. The Occupiers, chiefly a coalition of labor unions, gathered between the Bank of America tower and Wells Fargo Plaza, chanting "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out."

Occupiers in Las Vegas vowed to pitch tents in front of a federal building. In Albany, N.Y., Occupiers from Buffalo, Rochester and other encampments around the state were coming in by bus to join a demonstration in a downtown park. A rally was held last night at the Rochester Occupy site to garner support for the bus trip.

Violence inexcusable

Just a few short weeks ago, the 99 percent offered criticism of the 1 percent. Remember, we have only been at this since September 17. We struggled peacefully and artfully to inform and mobilize public opinion. We won huge numbers of hearts and minds. People can understand 99 percent. The message is clear. And, the 1 percent in the United States did what their counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and so on did earlier this year-- and that answer was resort to violence.

Mahatma Gandhi said it best, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

So now, the weapon of criticism wielded by the 99 percent is suffering now that the counter criticism of violence has been delivered by servants of the 1 percent. In the days to come, no one will probably be able to distinguish which side resorted to the organized, massive violence first. It is all so unnecessary-- but extremely important that we define the debate on our own terms and remain a nonviolent movement.

As in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, having failed to win hearts and minds, our very own government agencies and local municipalities cover their failure by resorting to violence and attacking the very citizens they were sworn to protect and serve. The irony can not be overstated.

OWS and the Occupy movement will come back even stronger. One popular sign that has been popping up lately that sums things up nicely reads, "When you screw with us, we multiply."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist
photo provided by CBS.
Rochester, N.Y.-- First of all, let’s get something straight. In Republican Abraham Lincoln's words, our government was instituted "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Government is not "them." It is "us." Government is not inherently good or evil; it's how we choose to govern ourselves is the real investigation.

So, why the hell do we need to continue to write in defense of good government? Well, unbelievably, right-wing ideologues and politicians have vilified government to the point that rational people are asking themselves this very question. Under their relentless attacks, government is portrayed as the evil-doer-- something anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist and his tax reform cronies relish. Norquist, perhaps the most evil and uncivilized person in America, says that he and his organization wants to reduce government, "to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

Norquist is not an insignificant figure. He founded Americans for Tax Reform, and is a key strategist behind the Republican Party attack on government. This assault on government is not a compassionate attempt to serve the public good. Norquist says, "Our goal is to inflict pain. It is not good enough to win; it has to be a painful and devastating defeat. ... It is like when the king would take his opponent's head and spike it on a pole for everyone to see."

Inflicting pain on others does not further the values of democracy. Contrary to the public's desire for civility, Norquist says, "We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals-- and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship." This guy is perhaps the most despicable political operative on the planet. He has personally done more to create the unparalleled divide between the have and have-nots than anyone we know. He has literally ripped apart the fabric of our nation and distorted our nation's understanding of what good government really means.

Norquist's relevance in doubt

But his power may be on the wane. For a quarter-century, Norquist has bullied politicians, mostly Republicans, into signing a no-tax pledge. The pledge is supposed to be for a lifetime, longer than a Rush Limbaugh marriage or Mitt Romney's position on any issue.

But some good news came earlier this month when 40 House Republicans signed a letter urging the congressional "super committee" to consider revenue increases as part of the solution to the debt problem. The 12-member committee has a few days yet to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the budget over the next decade.

Many of them had also signed Norquist's pledge in the past. Norquist, flippant as ever, responded to the news by telling media sources, "Consider anything. Just don't vote for a tax increase."

The Wall Street Journal, official record of right-wing thinking, recently reported that 236 of 242 House Republicans have signed the Norquist pledge, as well as 40 of 47 Senate Republicans. And you wonder why nothing rational gets done in Washington?

Norquist rose to power during the Reagan era, when anti-government rhetoric was ascendant. He was a major pusher of the Bush tax cuts that turned Clinton-era black ink into Bush's red river. Norquist is also a member of the board of directors of the National Rifle Association, a group whose policies assist mass murderers.

Like the NRA, Norquist uses one-issue leverage with deadly efficiency to scare the common sense out of elected officials. He represents the hard core of right-wing radicalism in American politics with roots in the crackpot philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Rand, a Russian-born atheist, wrote the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, more than 1,100 tedious pages propagating greed and selfishness while disparaging the poor or unfortunate as parasites, looters and moochers.

Despite some of the most turgid prose and plodding plotting in the history of the English language, Rand's book was -- and still is -- extremely successful and influential.

She helped warp the thinking of Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chairman whose "greed is good" attitude led to the disastrous financial bubble of the Bush era. He was a personal friend of Rand who attended indoctrination sessions at her home.

"I engaged in the all-night debates and wrote spirited commentary for her newsletter," Greenspan wrote. "I'm grateful for the influence she had on my life. I was intellectually limited until I met her."

Another power broker swayed by her book was Republican Paul Ryan, the scheming Wisconsin congressman who wants to attack Social Security so that wealthy people can have more money.

These people treat Atlas Shrugged as holy scripture. They are part of a cult and, like some cults, can be extremely dangerous. Nevertheless, the book has been made into a movie that even conservative critics have panned.

But that didn't discourage Norquist from this Twitter post on Nov. 9, tweeting, "Atlas Shrugged, Part 1... Worth seeing."

Perhaps, in a way Norquist did not intend, it is indeed worth seeing. The book is worth reading, if only to understand the malicious wrong-headedness of powerful people who threaten to drown our nation in a bathtub filled with red ink. If you haven't read the book, we suggest you go to your public library and check one out.

-Commentary by Ove Overmyer
This op-ed is the expressed written opinion of the author only and does not reflect the views of CSEA as an organizaton.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


A rally is scheduled at Washington Square Park at 4:30 pm on Wednesday, Nov 16. The event is sponsored by the Rochester Chapter of WE ARE ONE and Occupy Rochester. photo: Ove Overmyer / Voice Reporter
Rochester, N.Y.-- On January 1, millionaires in New York State will receive a huge tax cut if the Legislature and the Governor do not act. This tax cut will create an additional $5 billion hole in the New York State budget. Just yesterday, state lawmakers were lamenting that taxpayers should expect a huge shortfall in next year's budget-- bigger than what anyone has previously predicted.

Cutting taxes for the wealthiest New Yorkers does not create jobs, it kills them.  While we all pay our taxes, the wealthy and corporations get a break.  It's time to change the rules of the game.  It's time that millionaires pay their fair share.

For the working class to be subjected again to decimated services and a lower standard of living should outrage everyone. Enough is enough. Giving a tax break to those who are insulated from any harm at a time when so many New Yorker's are struggling just ain't right!

We need this money to invest in good paying jobs in our community!

Our message is simple:



When: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 4:30 pm

Where:  Washington Square Park bandstand north end, the site of Occupy Rochester

This event is organized by the We Are One - Rochester Network

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Rochester, N.Y.-- The Voice Reporter visited Washington Square Park today and talked with Occupiers. Spirits are very high. We are getting more organized every passing day. Many of the Occupiers were raking leaves, cleaning up the park, conversing in break out sessions and just sitting comfortably. Rest assured, we are in it for the long haul.

This photo essay identifies local folks who are exercising their first amendment rights with the full knowledge that we all now have a greater sense of purpose in our collective fight to reclaim our stake in the American Dream. Photos were taken over the past two weeks by Anne Tischer and Ove Overmyer.

The following is a press release written by Bruce Popper that serves as much needed timeline for what has transpired in our local community since the beginning of this year.

Occupy Rochester - NYCLU Press Conference
Washington Square Park
Rochester, NY

November 11, 2011

B. Popper

Remarks of Bruce Popper, Executive Vice-president, RGVALF, AFL-CIO and Vice-president, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

On March 2, 500 people gathered at Rochester City Hall in the bitter cold to protest the attack on the rights of teachers and other civil servants in Wisconsin. On March 17, 500 met at the Liberty Pole to object to State cuts in education funding. And on April 4, we marched on Genesee Street on the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination because income inequality and racial disparities had returned to levels not seen since Dr. King walked among us.

We walked in front of Congressional offices in the summer and picketed the IRS on Labor Day to demonstrate that the wealthy do not pay their fair share of taxes.

Then came Occupy Wall Street. Its spark lit the flames of protest across the country and here in Rochester. The message was clear: while Main Street suffered, Wall Street sucked all the wealth from our economy. And when it all went bust, Wall Street was too big to fail while unemployment, foreclosures, and misery increased to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

We in the union movement greeted the Occupy movement with open arms because its theme resonated with our members, the victims of the current crisis.

So we reacted with anger and outrage when Occupy protesters were arrested here in this park two weeks ago, including many of our young union activists.

We asked to meet with the Mayor and said the arrests must stop. We said that he should consult the mayors of Buffalo and Syracuse where accommodations with the Occupy movement were made that enabled 24 hour demonstrations. We asked that he come back with an alternative.

The New York Civil Liberties Union weighed in and challenged the constitutionality of the City’s actions.

And when all was said and done, an agreement was reached yesterday, approved by the Occupy General Assembly and the Mayor that will allow this protest to continue.

We give credit to the Mayor, to the police, and to Occupy participants for reaching this historic settlement. And we give credit to all those who kept this dispute peaceful. It was a vital ingredient in reaching a meeting of the minds.

I proudly carry two union cards in my wallet. One is from 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the other is from the American Civil Liberties Union. Both organizations, together with the Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO, defend our democracy by fighting for the rights of the people.

Yesterday was a win for those rights, a win for our community, and a win for the First Amendment.

Now it is time to return to our main message: that we are the 99%, that millionaires must pay their fair share, that corporations have become vastly too powerful, and that we must restore our country for all its people.


Just recently, city officials and the Occupiers came to an agreement to allow citizens to occupy Washington Square Park in downtown Rochester 24/7. The agreement has over a dozen restrictions for campers. photo: Ove Overmyer
Rochester, N.Y. -- Before the Occupy Wall Street movement, we at the Voice Reporter exclaimed there was little discussion of the out sized power of Wall Street and the diminishing fortunes of the middle class.

The mainstream media blackout was especially remarkable given that issues like jobs and corporate influence on elections topped the list of concerns for most Americans.

Occupy Wall Street changed that. In fact, it may represent the best hope in years that “we the people” will step up to take on the critical challenges of our time. Here’s how the Occupy movement is already changing everything:

1. It names the source of the crisis.

Political insiders have avoided this simple reality: The problems of the 99% are caused in large part by Wall Street greed, perverse financial incentives, and a corporate takeover of the political system. Now that this is understood, the genie is out of the bottle and it can’t be put back in.

2. It provides a clear vision of the world we want.

We can create a world that works for everyone, not just the wealthiest 1%. And we, the 99%, are using the spaces opened up by the Occupy movement to conduct a dialogue about the world we want.

3. It sets a new standard for public debate.

Those advocating policies and proposals must now demonstrate that their ideas will benefit the 99%. Serving only the 1% will not suffice, nor will claims that the subsidies and policies that benefit the 1% will eventually “trickle down.”

4. It presents a new narrative.

The solution is not to starve government or impose harsh austerity measures that further harm middle-class and poor people already reeling from a bad economy. Instead, the solution is to free society and government from corporate dominance. A functioning democracy is our best shot at addressing critical social, environmental, and economic crises.

5. It creates a big tent.

We, the 99%, are people of all ages, races, occupations, and political beliefs. We will resist being divided or marginalized. We are learning to work together with respect.

6. It offers everyone a chance to create change.

No one is in charge; no organization or political party calls the shots. Anyone can get involved, offer proposals, support the occupations, and build the movement. Because leadership is everywhere and new supporters keep turning up, there is a flowering of creativity and a resilience that makes the movement nearly impossible to shut down.

7. It is a movement, not a list of demands.

The call for deep change—not temporary fixes and single-issue reforms—is the movement’s sustaining power. The movement is sometimes criticized for failing to issue a list of demands, but doing so could keep it tied to status-quo power relationships and policy options. The occupiers and their supporters will not be boxed in.

8. It combines the local and the global.

People in cities and towns around the world are setting their own local agendas, tactics, and aims. What they share in common is a critique of corporate power and an identification with the 99%, creating an extraordinary wave of global solidarity.

9. It offers an ethic and practice of deep democracy and community.

Slow, patient decision-making in which every voice is heard translates into wisdom, common commitment, and power. Occupy sites are set up as communities in which anyone can discuss grievances, hopes, and dreams, and where all can experiment with living in a space built around mutual support.

10. We have reclaimed our power.

Instead of looking to politicians and leaders to bring about change, we can see now that the power rests with us. Instead of being victims to the forces upending our lives, we are claiming our sovereign right to remake the world.

Like all human endeavors, Occupy Wall Street and its thousands of variations and spin-offs will be imperfect. There have already been setbacks and divisions, hardships and injury. But as our world faces extraordinary challenges—from climate change to soaring inequality—our best hope is the ordinary people, gathered in imperfect democracies, who are finding ways to fix a broken world.


Rochester, N.Y.-- Americans and citizens of the world are taking to the streets like never before. This is a photo essay that weaves together historical and recent images that may suggest we really haven't changed all that much in the past 50 years.  The images date from the 1960's to present day occupations in NYC and Rochester, N.Y. The soundtrack was published in 1970 and could of been written yesterday.

Photos by Anne Tischer, Ove Overmyer and Getty Images.

Saturday, November 12, 2011



Rochester and Monroe County now have the distinction of being the 3rd largest city in America with the highest poverty rate, according to the Brookings Institute. Image provided.
Rochester, N.Y. -- November’s elections around the country were brought to you by the word "overreach," specifically by extreme conservatives who were testing the limits and boundaries of good government. Here in Rochester, N.Y., Democrats won two out of three county-wide races despite the local GOP spending millions of dollars more than Democrats to push their anti-worker and anti-equality agendas.

The big story locally continues to be voter turnout. Of 423,833 registered voters in Monroe County, a paltry 32.5 percent bothered to cast their ballots. In the city, just 25 percent of its 92,000 registered voters went to the polls. Not many media sources make the connection between poor people being adequately represented in local elections. To the contrary, it is the objective of the GOP to make sure they stay home on Election Day.

Our bigger problem here in Monroe County is not under performing elected officials and the bureaucrats they surround themselves with-- its voter apathy and an unengaged electorate that keep people like Maggie Brooks in public office. To put it mildly, our county government was hired by a motivated minority of voters.

Let's be clear-- in Monroe County, we do not have a true representative government. In fact, the GOP did not run candidates in most city races to suppress the vote. Voter suppression efforts are tactics politicians employ when they can’t win elections democratically.

photo: Ove Overmyer
Voice Reporter
Under Brooks’ reign, we have endured a net loss of more than 22,000 jobs, according to state Labor Department statistics. County tax levies have risen seven times in seven years. She even cut day care and lead poisoning prevention funding, which hurts children, families and all taxpayers. Her handpicked salaried protégés have all received hefty pay raises over the years, while thousands of Monroe County workers have gone without a contract since 2008. Don't even get us started over the defunding fiasco for the Center for Disability Rights. Revisit her politically movtivated decision here. The hypocrisy here cannot be overstated. There is clear evidence that these uneven policies have disproportionately hurt the poor and working class members of our community.

Coupled with the fact that Rochester and Monroe County now have the distinction of being one of the poorest communities in the nation should not sit well with anyone fighting the good fight.

Poverty increasing in Rochester

Poverty is becoming more concentrated and enveloping more of Rochester and other U.S. cities. The number of people living in neighborhoods in which 40 percent or more of residents are below the poverty line increased by one-third nationally in the past decade, according to a Brookings Institution report released earlier this month.

Rochester has the third-highest poverty rate among the nation's largest cities. For the metro area, defined by the Census Bureau as including Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans and Wayne counties, it's 22 percent, ranking 13th nationally.

To be sure, poverty is not confined to those highly impoverished city neighborhoods. In the Monroe County suburbs, for instance, the number of people living below the poverty line went from about 24,500 to about 34,500 — an increase of 40 percent — between 2000 and 2009, when the collection of Brookings' data was completed.

The total number of people living below the poverty line in the city rose from 54,700 to 57,900, or 6 percent. This is totally unacceptable.

photo: Ove Overmyer
Voice Reporter
Someone please tell us that the County Executive’s office shouldn’t shoulder some of the responsibility here? Under a Maggie Brooks administration, just like the national GOP model, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Now, income inequality has never been greater since the day’s right before the Great Depression. That’s true nationally and that’s true in Rochester, N.Y.

These new statistics should not be surprising given the policies that have been implemented by federal, state and local governments-- but they should shock you if you care about inclusion, opportunity and democracy.

Furthermore, this year’s election results underscore a momentum behind the power of labor unions and populist politics, the danger to conservatives of social-issue extremism and the fact that 2010 was no mandate for Republicans and right-wing policies. The Tea Party is now officially over. The 2011 elections also mean that if Republicans don't back away from an agenda that makes poor, middle-class, middle-of-the-road Americans deeply uncomfortable -- and in some cases angry -- they will no doubt feel the wrath of an angry populace come 2012.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Sandy Frankel
photo: City Newspaper
Rochester, N.Y. -- This past election may not have carried with it all of the drama and excitement that we can expect for a 2012 presidential matchup. However, there is plenty of reason for Rochester and Monroe County residents to appreciate and applaud with respect to our candidates who stepped up and ran for public office.

Elected officials decide everything from whether to pave a road in your neighborhood to where you can pick your child up from school. They decide how many police officers we need to protect us and what our local community hospitals should do to care for us and remain viable.

They decide when we need new fire trucks and whether our libraries should extend their hours of operation. They make decisions about how your city handles retail centers and industry within its borders and how to care for public spaces such as parks.

They decide how to protect our communities from natural disasters and set the rules on how this area should grow.

And in times like these, they make difficult decisions about what's most important when there isn't enough money to do it all. Those priority decisions will always make someone unhappy, so in many ways, their jobs are thankless--- no matter what actually gets done or enacted.

One person who accepted this challenge was Brighton Town Supervisor Sandy Frankel. Despite being outspent 6 to 1, Sandy had the winning message in her attempt to unseat incumbent Maggie Brooks. Sandy Frankel has dedicated over 20 years to public service in our community and we have a better standard of living because of her skill, desire and strength as a leader.

Our County Executive Maggie Brooks has failed on issues of integrity, taxes and jobs. Local Development Corporations like Upstate Telecommunications Corp. have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars. Cronyism and nepotism, suspected bid-rigging and political paybacks smack of corruption during this administrations rule. Brooks also has tried, illegally, to take money from children in our school districts. Court-required repayment is has been extremely expensive too.

Frankel pointed out that past performance is the best predictor of future performance, but none of that helped determined the outcome of this election. Our problem here in Monroe County is not under performing executives and bureaucrats-- its voter apathy, and an unengaged electorate if you will, that puts people like Maggie Brooks in office. Our county government was hired by a motivated minority of voters.

Let's be clear-- in Monroe County, we do not have a true representative government. In fact, the GOP did not run candidates in most city races to suppress the vote. Voter suppression tactics is what politicians employ when they can’t win real democratic races. Unfortunately for the majority of citizens, the GOP has a stranglehold on the electorate.

Under Brooks’ reign, we have endured a net loss of more than 22,000 jobs, according to state Labor Department statistics. County tax levies have risen seven times in seven years. She even cut day care and lead poisoning prevention funding, which hurts children, families and taxpayers. Her handpicked salaried protégés have all received hefty pay raises over the years, while thousands of Monroe County workers have gone without a contract since 2008.

Brooks wasted tens of thousands of tax dollars to frivolously appeal the Martinez v. County of Monroe decision, and Appellate Court ruling that states municipalities must recognize out of state marriages for County workers who are in a same-sex relationships.

file photo: Voice Reporter
And, we are still waiting to hear developments from the NYS Attorney General’s subpoena and final details to the State Comptroller’s audit. Truth has no agenda. When it’s all said and done, history will be the final judge of the Maggie Brooks legacy. And as far as we can tell, history will not be kind to Maggie Brooks.

If anything, people should be focused on praising Sandy Frankel and her campaign team for the hard work and dedication she has shown throughout her career. They are the true heroes here. Frankel only wanted to restore integrity, trust and transparency to our local government and didn’t have the resources to get her message out to the voters. When you look back on the past several months, Frankel is the true local hero of this election cycle.

We thank you Sandy Frankel for your vision, leadership and good sense of humor. By mounting this county executive campaign, you have given a voice to those who would have ordinarily remained silent due to retaliation or punishment. You have given hope to citizens who otherwise would have just accepted the status-quo. You have already made such a difference in the lives of many working families that it is almost impossible to measure. Words kind of fall short, so we will just say thanks again. And, we say bravo Sandy Frankel, well done.


President Bess Watts (red shirt) facilitates the business meeting at Buckland
Park Lodge, Westfall Rd., Brighton, N.Y. on Nov. 9, 2011. photo: Ove Overmyer
Rochester, N.Y.-- On Wednesday Nov. 9, over 80 Monroe County Local 828 members and guests convened in a Town of Brighton Park for a general membership meeting. Vendors who attended the meeting included Christine Grosse, Worker's Compensation liaison for Olin, Fine & Anderman, Carmela McHugh, CSEA Benefits Specialist, Union Plus, Charley Schwartz and others.

Special guest speaker was Ron Deutsch, spokesperson for New Yorkers For Fiscal Fairness. NYFF is an affiliate of a larger progressive group pushing for the continuation of the so-called millionaires tax on wealthy New Yorkers. Deutsch says the tax is not driving away residents. Gov. Cuomo and those who would like to end the tax say the year the tax went into effect, there was an increase in the number of high-income tax filings. Mr. Deutsch discussed the growing public support for keeping the surcharge and gave attendees a brief overview of the NYS Property Tax Cap.

President Watts also announced some important dates coming up, including a Veteran's Day Ceremony November 12 at the Buffalo Naval Museum, 11 am, a Health & Safety Committee Meeting on November 15 and a Next Wave Committee meeting on November 30. Please consult the meetings and events page for additional details.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Rochester, N.Y. -- This week's elections around the country were brought to you by the word "overreach," specifically conservative overreach. Given an opportunity in 2010 to build a long-term majority, Republicans instead pursued extreme and partisan measures and got their butt kicked. On Tuesday, right wing ideologues reaped angry voter rebellions all across the nation.

Here in Rochester, N.Y., Democrats won two out of three county-wide races despite the local GOP spending millions of dollars to push their anti-worker and anti-equality agenda.

For the labor movement, the most important happenstance was in Ohio, where voters overwhelmingly defeated Gov. John Kasich's bill to strip public employee unions of essential bargaining rights. A year ago, who would have predicted that standing up for the interests of government workers would galvanize and mobilize voters on this scale? Anti-labor conservatives have brought class politics back to life, a major threat to a GOP that has long depended on the ballots of white working-class voters and offered them nothing in return.

In Maine, voters exercised what that state calls a "people's veto" to undo a Republican-passed law that would have ended same-day voter registration, which served Maine well for almost four decades. The GOP-lead legislatures are trying to manipulate future elections by making it harder for young and minority voters to cast ballots, and by trying to break the political power of unions. The votes in Maine and Ohio were a rebuke to this strategy.

In Mississippi, perhaps the most conservative state in the union, voters beat back a referendum to declare a fertilized human egg a person by a margin of roughly 3-to-2. Here was another example of excessive overreach by the right-to-life movement, which tried to get voters to endorse a measure that could have outlawed popular forms of birth control.

And in Iowa, Democrats held their state Senate majority by winning a special election that had been engineered by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. A Republican victory over Democrat Liz Mathis would have opened the way for Branstad to push through a cut in corporate income taxes.

Mathis' defeat could also have allowed conservatives to amend the Iowa Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Mathis prevailed with 56 percent despite robocalls from an obscure group instructing voters to ask Mathis which gay sex acts she endorsed. And who says the GOP has put the culture war behind them?

Tuesday's results underscored a momentum behind the power of unions and populist politics, the danger to conservatives of social-issue extremism and the fact that 2010 was no mandate for right-wing policies. The Tea Party is over. The 2011 elections also mean that if Republicans don't back away from an agenda that makes middle-class, middle-of-the-road Americans deeply uncomfortable -- and in some cases angry -- they will no doubt feel the wrath of an angry populace.

-Commentary by Ove Overmyer


City officials and Occupy Rochester folks have come to an agreement so
"occupiers" can encamp overnight. photo: Ove Overmyer/Voice Reporter
Rochester, N.Y.-- Moments ago, organizers of the Occupy Rochester protests at Washington Square Park say the group has agreed to conditions set forth by the city and will now be able to legally camp overnight.

"We have an agreement! We can now occupy 24/7! No more arrests needed!" the group posted on its official Twitter account. About 75 Occupy supporters were on hand at the park tonight.

City spokesman Gary Walker confirmed the agreement, and Mayor Thomas Richards and Police Chief James Sheppard arrived at the park around 6 p.m. today. The agreement was signed by Richards and members of Occupy Rochester.

The agreement expires Jan. 11, 2012 -- about two months from today and beyond the coming holidays.

Among the conditions are that the south portion of the park can be occupied during all hours but the right for everyone to use the park must be respected. There can be no barriers or obstructions placed in the park. The park must be kept clean. No weapons, fireworks, alcoholic beverages, glass bottles or containers will be allowed.

photo: Ove Overmyer
The Voice Reporter
Any campers younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Mayor Tom Richards previously had said that while he appreciates the demonstrators’ right to protest, he would not allow an encampment. The reason he had cited was concern that, ultimately, the protest would result in a clash with police. Rochester is one of the few cities — perhaps the only city — in New York state that has not allowed overnight encampments.

However, after careful consideration and some nudging from the NYCLU, labor officials and city residents, Richards and Occupy Rochester folks came to an understanding much to the benefit of everyone concerned. To date, about 50 have been arrested at the Washington Square Park site. The daily activities can be only described as extremely organized and peaceful.


November 9, 2011

Danny Donohue
photo: Tom Campbell
Dear AFSCME Sisters and Brothers:

Yesterday's election results in Ohio are an enormous victory for union members everywhere. Ohio voters sent a loud and clear message: Taking away rights from public workers is the wrong way to ensure public safety and provide the quality public services that citizens need and deserve.

I want to thank our AFSCME sisters and brothers in Ohio who led this fight, with support from a united labor movement and concerned citizens in Ohio and across the country.

We're proud that AFSCME members from all over the United States - including members from CSEA/AFSCME here in New York - joined the fight by traveling to Ohio to knock on doors, make phone calls, and help get out the vote.

Ohio's massive grassroots campaign has provided a shot in the arm for the entire labor movement in our country.

Ohio Gov. Jon Kasich had piles of money from corporate interests and rich individuals - but working families had people power on our side, and that's what made the difference.

"We Are Ohio" has reminded us all that no matter how large and powerful the forces against us, the voices of hard-working middle class families, who earn their income providing essential public services, can be heard. And it sent a strong message to politicians from both political parties that there is price to be paid for scapegoating workers.

I know that AFSCME members all across the country, just like those of us in New York, are facing ever-greater challenges every day. We can all take inspiration in those battles from the unity and incredible resolve that has been demonstrated over these past months by our brothers and sisters in Ohio.

We will face the struggles before us with renewed vigor and determination thanks to their trailblazing victory.

This vote shows that Americans want real solutions that include the voices of everyone. The only way we move this country ahead is if we work together to build a better future.

In solidarity,

donohue sig
Danny Donohue

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Rochester, N.Y.-- A week after Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks unveiled her 2012 budget proposal that included a deluded notion that it would keep the property tax rate flat for a seventh straight year, Democratic legislators introduced a plan to cut the rate.

The plan involves lowering the rate by 1.6 percent, from $8.99 per $1,000 of assessed value to $8.85, through a combination of salary rollbacks for non-unionized managers and other professional staff, ending county lease agreements on property in downtown Rochester, reducing the number of professional service contracts and cutting cell phones and courtesy cars for county workers.

Legislators said the combined spending reductions would yield $5.4 million in savings that would be passed on to taxpayers.

“We need to do everything we can to reduce taxes, and this proposal represents an important first step to that end,” said Legislator Richard Beebe, D-Greece.

Pugnacious County spokesman Noah Lebowitz countered with his usual drivel. Lebowitz said many of the salaries in question are reimbursed by outside sources, such as Medicaid, and that cutting cell phones and cars would make county operations less efficient. What planet is this guy living on?

He added that the leased building houses government functions and that it was impossible to respond to cutting back on professional service contracts without knowing more specifics. The truth is, this a system by which they handsomely reward their political construction and real estate donors with government contracts. For several years, county taxpayers spend a five-figure rent sum monthly on a building on West Main Street owned by a republican operative. The thing is, the gigantic building only housed 3 county employees.

As the minority party in the legislature, Democrats rarely get traction on any of their proposals because Republicans only care about protecting their own interests at the expense of others.

Maggie has no problem giving her folks raises while public services diminish
The most politically sensitive element of the Democratic legislators’ plan is the proposed salary rollback, which they estimated would cut almost $1.5 million from the budget. Their proposal is the third of its kind in two years.

County management and professional staff, which include appointed positions like the director of parks, transportation and human resources and many of their top aides, were guaranteed raises of at least 2.5 percent annually in addition to any step increases in pay they may be entitled to receive under legislation passed unanimously by the legislature in 2009.

Step increases typically amount to slightly more than 2 percent, and many employees climb one or more steps each year until they reach the top step.

Democratic legislators said they voted for the salary increase legislation in 2009 because it was tied to a contract for workers in the Sheriff’s Office. They have since twice tried to repeal that portion of the legislation with no success.

The latest rollback attempt comes as negotiations between the Brooks administration and two unions representing the bulk of county workers, the Civil Service Employees Association and the Federation of Social Workers, are languishing.

Those workers, who combined number about 2,600, have not received raises aside from step increases they may be entitled to since 2008.

The proposed 2012 salary for the lowest-paid professional staffer ranges from $58,555 to $75,511. Without a new contract, the salary for the lowest-paid CSEA worker in 2012 would range from $18,240 to $23,672.

Cris Zaffuto, president of CSEA Unit 7400, which the county recently filed an unfair labor practice complaint against, said the raises for management were unfair.

“The county executive thinks nothing of giving her management and professional people raises every year. Where’s the sacrifice?” Zaffuto said.

Under a Brooks administration, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. Go to a video tribute to our County government, called Monroe County GOP: Nice Work If You Can Get It.



A Letter from Sandy Frankel: A Call to Action

Dear Friends,

We are now at the end of the campaign. Although we have been outspent 5 to 1, so many people have told me that they want change. They realize that Maggie's last term in office is going to be more of the same: more scandals and deception, more mismanagement and waste of taxpayer dollars, more closed and inaccessible government, and more corruption and nepotism. In addition, I understand that she is planning on running for Congress next year against Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. The result is not going to be good for Rochester or Monroe County.

Elect Sandra Frankel
for County Executive
This election typically has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the four year election cycle. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Monroe County and by two-to-one in the City of Rochester. Not only do Democrats have this advantange, but many Republicans are fed up with the status quo and unaffiliated voters are looking for change as well. Wth little attention paid to Tuesday's vote until the last two weeks, we have the opportunity to win with a final effective push to get Democrats and like minded voters to the polls.


I am, however, asking for one extra, important action in support of the campaign. Sit down with your email address book, and with your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter contacts now, and forward this message to all your friends in Monroe County--Democrats, Republicans, Independents and unaffiliated voters who you believe may support me.

Yes, this is a chain letter. A chain letter in support of the democratic process and a better future for Monroe County. If each of you send this to 25 friends (or more) and your friends do the same we will reach over a hundred thousand Democrats and others, and if they actually go to the polls and vote, this will make all the difference on Tuesday.

Thank you all for your wonderful support. Continue to do all that you are doing to get out the vote, but also ask your friends if they will take an active role in Monroe County's future BY VOTING AND BY ASKING THEIR FRIENDS IN TURN TO VOTE. Please see my website at or my Facebook page at and then commit to a vote for transparency and ethics in Monroe County politics. We can clean up county government and end corruption and nepotism, get the county's financial house in order, make our government open and accessible, and restore leadership, sound management and vision for a bright future for Monroe County. It's time to give county government back to the people.

If you want change, then I ask for your voter on Tuesday, November 8th. By forwarding this message to your friends, we can change our community for the better.

Thank you for your faith in me and for your hard work to make Monroe County the best place to live, work and raise a family.

Sandy Frankel

Candidate for Monroe County Executive

Friday, November 4, 2011



Sterling Comfort: A public
employee who lives in Rochester, N.Y.
Rochester, N.Y.-- Hey! Sterling Comfort here. You know something is seriously wrong in America when average everyday people who have the option of sleeping in the comfort of their own beds instead choose to sleep in parks all across our nation. That takes courage and that takes character. If you ask me, we need to embrace all those citizens who overtly represent us by showing a sign of solidarity. Where ever you live, drop off some food or stop by and just say hello to the occupiers. Better yet, join them. After all, they are doing this for you.

Bravo to all those who are braving the elements and subjecting themselves to police arrest and brutality! It takes huge personal sacrifice to commit to something so important-- and when there is risk involved it only complicates the matter. Considering what's been happening to the middle class for the past decade, it's about high time people took to the streets. You know the old saying: desperate times require desperate measures.

Of course, the main reason the protests are so necessary is because governments across America -- at the federal, state and local levels-- have, to varying degrees, failed to deliver for the American people.

It's not because our representatives are spending money that we don't have, or that things can never be fixed. It’s just that we have misplaced our collective priorities. As a nation, we are not broke-- far from it. There is a widespread sense that government does not reflect the will of the majority. Really, it is a type of modern-day colonialism.

photo: Ove Overmyer
And like the colonial masters of old, here too we have mayors and police chiefs cracking down on those who dare to challenge the status quo. Frankly speaking, it is so ironic that such a progressive city like Rochester, New York has a mayor that is doing just that.

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards is a nice guy but his uncompromising stance against our citizens, the same people he took an oath to protect and serve, is mean-spirited and dangerous. You know it’s kind of funny-- when I was in New York City last month while the NYPD clashed with demonstrators, I heard one angry grandmother say to a cop, “please don’t mace me or arrest me. I’m here to peacefully save your union pay.”

Not finding common solutions and remedies while ordering the arrest of peaceful occupiers is reprehensible. The irony here can’t be overstated. Our mayor is perpetrating crimes on the very people who are oppressed to begin with. These folks are not criminals-- they are occupiers who are demanding someone listen to them. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: occupying is one of the bravest and most patriotic things any American can do to show love of country.

The alleged justification for the heavy-handed tactics and the many arrests stem from violations of access, sanitation, camping equipment and a curfew law in Washington Square Park. Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard said what looked like excessive use of force was necessary as a matter of public safety and security. That is one of the stupidest things I have heard. Chief Sheppard, please do not insult our intelligence again.

Just for the asking, I’m sure the bordering churches of Washington Square Park would oblige occupiers any way they can. And, I’m sure there would be public support to install portable johns in the park if necessary.

If people are peeing in the bushes write them a ticket. If local governments and occupiers have converging viewpoints, let them convene, talk it out and come up with a remedy that suits everyone. Sending in the riot police violates the very principles upon which this country was founded and any public official with responsibility for ordering such action should seriously consider a future working in the private sector.
On Nov. 2, 2011, Occupy Rochester was joined by hundreds of
residents who marched from Washington Square Park to  City Hall to ask
Mayor Tom Richards to go easy on demonstrators. photo: Anne Tischer 
Sure, our public spaces are for every one's use, but that includes people exercising their First Amendment rights whether or not the rest of us find them agreeable or to their disliking.

Elected and appointed officials who fail to grasp the broader message of the Occupiers are playing with fire. Not just with their political careers, but when they engage in overly-harsh tactics, they risk fomenting greater unrest. There is a deep unease across this country, grounded in the fear that the American dream has slipped through our fingers.

We have the right to free assembly and free speech in this country and absent a genuine threat to public safety, such as typhoid plague, there is no justifiable reason to remove demonstrators from a public space.

If only Rochester's very own civil rights icons Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass were alive today to witness what our local government was doing to our residents. I wonder how Mayor Richards would handle those emails and phone calls? This is also a wake-up call to our city council-- can you help to facilitate change and a remedy? Why are you so silent? And, while I'm at it, three cheers to Monroe County legislator Carrie Andrews-- she happens to be one of the most principled elected officials to walk the hallowed halls of the County Office Building.

Well, right now I’m off to bring some bagels and coffee to the occupiers in Washington Square Park. See you later. Look me up again sometime, ok?

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Denis Hughes
Albany, N.Y.-- Denis Hughes, the powerful president of the New York AFL-CIO that serves as the state’s umbrella group for 2.5 million union members, has told multiple associates he is not planning to run for re-election, according to three sources with knowledge of Hughes’ plans. Sources said he would likely step aside by the end of the year.

Hughes, whose well-liked 12-year tenure will be honored at a labor gala on in Staten Island on Thursday, did not respond to requests for comment made through his chief of staff.

Ed Ott, the former executive director of the Central Labor Council, said Hughes would be missed.

“Denis Hughes is the most highly regarded union leader in the state,” said Ott. “He’s a unifier and a go-to person on a lot of stuff. He runs a world-class union and has played a leading role in passing a lot of good legislation.”

Hughes was seen as a key figure in keeping the labor movement unified after the 2008 financial collapse battered both private-sector, and to a lesser extent, public-sector unions. Labor sources with knowledge of Hughes’ departure were uncertain of his post-AFL-CIO plans.

If Hughes steps down before the end of his term next August, as expected, the state AFL-CIO executive committee would likely select a replacement for the remainder of the term, sources said. The replacement would then have to run for election to a full term at the state AFL-CIO convention next summer.

In discussions among labor insiders, Mario Cilento, Hughes’ chief of staff, has come up frequently as a possible replacement. As Hughes’ right-hand man, Cilento has built a strong reputation for with many in the labor world — and a strong relationship with Hughes.

Cilento has never himself run a union, which some labor insiders cite as a potential drawback. Then again, Hughes was elected as New York AFL-CIO president in 1999 after working as executive assistant to the New York AFL-CIO president.

Another name that has come up among labor insiders is that of Terrence Melvin, the state AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer and No. 2 official. If elected, Melvin would be the first African-American to lead the organization. He has also run a union: in 1981, at the age of 21, he became the youngest CSEA local president when he became head of CSEA Local 427, representing over 2,000 members. On the other hand, he is also seen as having a less-close relationship with the AFL-CIO executive committee.

Ott said he is sure there would be others jockeying for the coveted post.

“These are big shoes to fill, there’s going to be long conversations, and where things initially seem headed don’t always end up heading that way,” Ott said. “And the big unions are also certainly going to want to weigh in.”