DA's fate rests with Hochul

17 Min Read

With help from Shawn Ness

New from New York

Happening now:

  • Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley’s future after she disobeyed police will fall to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
  • A victory came today for an Albany-area birthing center engulfed in state squabbles.
  • New York City Mayor Eric Adams celebrated the lowest Black unemployment rate in five years.
  • The latest from efforts at Columbia University to break up the pro-Palestinian protesters.

DA DILEMMA: Monroe County’s district attorney wants you to know she’s “been humbled by my own stupidity.”

Sandra Doorley, the top prosecutor in Rochester and its suburbs, released an apology video this morning after she was caught on police body camera footage evading a traffic stop.

Now it will fall to Albany to decide what happens next, in part through the newly founded and longtime struggling Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct to decide the Republican’s fate.

Elected officials — Assembly members, a state senator and Rochester City Council members — are calling for a host of investigations into her conduct, stopping just short of calling on Doorley to step down.

She hasn’t budged, and local GOP officials have stood by her.

So there’s really only one person in the state who can force her out of office — Gov. Kathy Hochul. Hochul, a Democrat, on Sunday called on the commission to investigate last week’s incident.

In a statement, Hochul said Doorley “was acting in contravention of her responsibility as a district attorney and undermined her ability to hold others accountable for violating the law.”

The commission’s proposed rules show that any review conducted by the committee would be handed back to the governor. The commission itself has dealt with legal fights from district attorneys who felt it was an overreach since it was established in 2021, and it only recently got up and running.

The state’s constitution also grants the governor the authority to remove local officials from office — including sheriffs, clerks, mayors and district attorneys. But governors haven’t fully exercised that power for about 100 years, according to Albany Law School professor Bennett Liebman, who has researched the issue.

“While removal was once a regular power of governors and employed fairly frequently, in the last 100 years it has simply gone out of fashion,” Liebman said.

The last time a governor held a proceeding to remove an official was Gov. Herbert Lehman in 1936, and the last time a district attorney was removed in the state was 1900 by Gov. Teddy Roosevelt, Liebman said.

Rochester Assemblymembers Harry Bronson and Demond Meeks both want to see investigations play out before Doorley is called on to resign.

The two told Playbook in interviews that they are particularly focused on finding out what Doorley was doing when she entered her home after pulling into her garage: “What was she covering up?” Meeks said.

In the police video, Doorley refuses to pull over after going 55 mph on a 35 mph road near her Webster home.

Instead, she drove half a mile to her home, pulled into her garage and, at one point, left the officer in the garage and entered her house. Doorley also phoned the local chief of police and invoked her title as the county’s district attorney to the officer as she attempted to get out of the ticket.

Ultimately, she tells the officer to “just write me the fucking ticket.”

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Doorley has said that she also wants to see investigations into her own conduct and will appoint a district attorney from another county to investigate her, but Bronson told Playbook she shouldn’t be able to choose her own investigator.

“Her sense of privilege and entitlement all are alarming, and she should be held accountable,” Bronson said. “I don’t think she should get to select who investigates her.”

The incident is also renewing scrutiny on the ways police officers may treat people of color differently than those who are white, like Doorley, Meeks said.

“I have a hard time believing that a person of color would have been able to talk about that situation the next day, even potentially not surviving that matter,” Meeks said. — Jason Beeferman

The Burdett Birthing Center in Troy will remain open after it got $5 million in funding from the state budget.

BIRTHING CENTER STAYS OPEN: The Burdett Birth Center in Troy will stay open after an arduous fight that ensnared state and local officials.

It received $5 million in the state budget to stay open for at least another five years, the sides announced today.

The center was initially slated to be closed down by St. Peter’s Health Partners, Burdett’s parent company, but it became the first facility in the state to be forced to complete a Health Equity Impact Assessment under a new state law that requires the review before a hospital can reduce to eliminate a service, the Times Union reported.

In the meantime, Attorney General Letitia James’ office was investigating the hospital’s decision, which led St. Peters to sue and then was followed with the state Health Department order in December that the place couldn’t close without state approval.

“We rejoice that the community’s concerns and outrage about closing Burdett have been heard, and funding has been secured to keep Burdett open for another five years,” Ashley Saupp, an organizer with Save Burdett Birth Center Coalition, said in a statement.

The coalition gave much of the credit to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Assemblymember John McDonald and Assembly Health Chair Amy Paulin for securing $5 million to keep the center open. — Shawn Ness

ERIE CANAL BICENTENNIAL: A new attraction at the Erie Canal will be done just in time to celebrate its bicentennial next year.

“Waterway of Change: A Complex Legacy of the Erie Canal” was announced earlier today by Hochul.

“Waterway of Change will share the remarkable story of the Erie Canal and the area now known as Canalside with visitors,” Hochul said in a statement. “As the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal approaches in 2025, this visitors’ experience will draw more people to Buffalo’s waterfront and help them connect to its history in a new and participative way.”

Local Projects, a New York City design firm, has been working with the canal’s development corporation to create the exhibit. Other exhibits will also be created in collaboration with local groups.

An accompanying project of a 2,900 square-foot Longshed was also just completed after four years, right outside of where the new exhibit will be built. It will function as a gathering space for visitors embarking on the canal’s bicentennial experience. — Shawn Ness

Mayor Eric Adams celebrated record-low Black unemployment and touted two city initiatives two keep up the progress.

LOWEST BLACK UNEMPLOYMENT: Mayor Eric Adams today celebrated a new report that found that the Black unemployment rate has hit a five-year low.

The unemployment rate decreased from 10.7 percent to less than 8 percent between January 2022 and April 2024.

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It is the first time it has been that low since 2019 — which was before the Covid-19 pandemic struck in early 2020.

“As recently as last January, Black New Yorkers were four times more likely to be unemployed than white New Yorkers, but we have been able to narrow this gap,” Adams said in a statement. “We have more to do, and that’s why we’re going to bring new opportunities to working people across the five boroughs that have been overlooked for far too long.”

To celebrate the milestone, Adams announced the launch of the “Run This Town” campaign, a $1 million multi-media ad campaign to encourage New Yorkers from diverse backgrounds to apply for government jobs.

The campaign will include ads on TV, radio, as well as posters on the walls of the subway system, bus stops and other locations.

The announcement comes on the heels of another city initiative, “Jobs NYC,” designed to reduce barriers for economic opportunities for areas experiencing high unemployment.

“When we couple this advertising campaign with our Jobs NYC initiative, we’ll be able to more easily bring the public and private sectors together with talented New Yorkers who are ready to put their skills to work,” Adams added. — Shawn Ness

A student protester sits at their encampment on the Columbia University campus, Monday, April 29, 2024, in New York.

COLUMBIA THREATENS STUDENT PROTESTERS: Students in an ongoing pro-Palestinian encampment at Columbia University were picketing this afternoon to prevent officials from entering and delivering suspension slips.

A sea of students — many sporting keffiyehs, a traditional scarf that symbolizes the Palestinian cause — marched outside the encampment and around campus shouting slogans like “Free Palestine!” and “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest!”

Dozens of faculty in high visibility vests were also standing at the entrance of the encampment.

At least 1,000 students — both in and outside of encampment — could be seen on campus as the encampment is in its 12th day.

In a notice distributed to students this morning, officials said they won’t face suspension and will complete the semester in good academic standing if they leave the encampment by 2 p.m.

“We urge those in the encampment to voluntarily disperse,” Columbia President Minouche Shafik wrote Monday in a university-wide email. “We are consulting with a broader group in our community to explore alternative internal options to end this crisis as soon as possible.”

In a statement, Columbia University Apartheid Divest — the group behind the protest — accused the university of unlawfully fabricating a state of emergency to suspect, expel and evict hundreds of protesters en masse. (The university denied that claim).

Student representatives for the encampment were planning to address reporters this afternoon. — Madina Touré and Irie Sentner

ZELDIN’S ANTI-ERA: Count former GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin among those opposed to the proposed amendment meant to enshrine a broad set of rights in the state constitution.

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment includes state-level constitutional protections for abortion in New York, and Democrats want the ballot question put before voters to help boost down-ballot turnout this fall.

A half-dozen swing House districts in New York could determine control of the chamber in January.

Zedlin, the party’s 2022 nominee for governor, echoed many of put forth by Republican opposition to the proposed amendment. An anti-ERA campaign has raised the specter of teens buying alcohol and minors receiving gender-affirming care without parental consent.

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“There are wide ranging negative consequences if this amendment passes, harming parental rights, destroying the integrity of girls’ sports, extending constitutional rights to illegal aliens, and more,” Zeldin said in a statement.

Democratic supporters of the amendment have dismissed the claims as fear-mongering tactics — suggesting it’s a sign GOP officials are concerned with the potential electoral impact of the vote. Nick Reisman

RENEWABLE AWARDS: NYSERDA has made tentative awards for large-scale land-based solar and wind projects from last year’s accelerated solicitation.

The authority announced provisional agreements with 24 projects totaling 2.4 gigawatts, some of which may be completed as early as 2025.

While NYSERDA has previously released project details and estimated cost impacts at this stage, the authority declined to release that information today. Project details and costs will be released after final awards are negotiated, according to the announcement, which is expected this fall.

That means New York residents won’t know the potential future bill impacts of the projects for months. The projects are largely ones that had previous agreements with NYSERDA, sought higher prices from the Public Service Commission and were rejected.

The 2.4 GW figure is a little more than half of the 5 gigawatts that were bid from 57 projects. The projects will provide about 3 percent of New York’s forecast 2030 electricity demand, meaning the state is now at about 60 percent. The 2030 target under the climate law is for 70 percent renewable electricity.

The authority is seeking developers and public input on another land-based renewable solicitation planned to begin in June. Comments on the request for information are due May 13. NYSERDA is also trying to backfill its offshore wind portfolio with another bidding process starting in June. — Marie J. French

CYBERATTACK CONCERNS: UnitedHealth, the parent company of Change Healthcare, is receiving pressure from a coalition of 22 state attorneys general, including New York’s Tish James, to better protect its patients.

The company was hit with a cyberattack in February that disrupted company networks and resulted in delayed access to patient care.

“Patients and health care providers nationwide should not have to suffer because of UnitedHealth’s failures,” James said in a statement. “UnitedHealth has an obligation to protect its patients and must do more to minimize the harm of the cyberattack on its systems.”

The coalition is calling on UnitedHealth to expand financial assistance to everyone affected, suspend requirements for prior authorization, among other provisions.

“Since day one, we have prioritized patient access to care and providing resources and support to concerned individuals, providers, and customers. We continue to offer financial assistance to those providers who need it and encourage them to contact us,” the company responded in a statement. — Shawn Ness

— Billionaire New York Mets owner Steve Cohen is beginning a multimillion-dollar offensive as a key lawmaker cools to his Citi Field gaming proposal. (POLITICO)

— A local weed dispensary owner charged with vehicular assault and for driving drunk and high when he drove his Tesla off an overpass in Albany. (Times Union)

2024 could be the deadliest year since 2014 for pedestrians and motorists if deaths keep the current pace. (Daily News)

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