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Author: Seamus Campbell

NYSYD Denounces Sen. Borrello’s Anti-Disabled Comments Senator Says Automatic Voter Registration Will Expand Voting Rights for Persons Who Lack the Cognitive Skills to Understand the Electoral Process

The New York State Young Democrats (NYSYD) condemn the anti-disabled and ableist remarks made by newly-elected State Senator George Borrello (R-57) on the first full day of the 2020 legislative session, Thursday, January 9, 2020, during a floor debate regarding a bill to enact automatic voter registration (AVR) when he said that the bill would enfranchise people with cognitive disabilities who, he claims, lack the requisite skills to understand how to vote.

The bill, if enacted, will automatically register people to vote after they fill-out paperwork with certain New York State government agencies – most notably the Department of Motor Vehicles. Currently, when a person goes to a DMV office to get a license, permit, or other state identification, they can check a box to indicate that they wish to have their information forwarded to the New York State Board of Elections (BOE) so that they will be added to the voter rolls. The AVR bill would do the opposite: the person would have to check a box to actively opt-out of their information being sent to the BOE. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the states that have enacted AVR have seen the rates of voter registration rise to be as much as 94%. Furthermore, The Nation reports that as a result of its AVR law, Oregon saw a 4% increase in voter turnout from 2012 to 2016.

While explaining his plans to vote against the AVR bill Sen. Borrello finished his remarks by saying:

This [bill] is [also] about registering people who have come into government to collect benefits, [and] to, perhaps, address mental health issues they may have. Those are the folks who are automatically be registered – people who may not even understand the impact of voting. It’s about influencing people who, otherwise, should not understand and will not understand. I find that really abhorrent. So, I will be voting ‘no’ on this.

“It is quite a feat to show yourself to be ableist on your first day at a new job,” said NYSYD and Young Democrats of America Disability Issues Caucus Chair Seamus Campbell. “Senator Borrello literally said people with mental illness and cognitive disabilities are too dumb or unbalanced to vote. He should be ashamed of himself. Borrello thinks that people with disabilities lack the ability to learn about the role and importance of democracy and how to do the necessary research about the issues and candidates on the ballot. As a person who has dealt with clinical depression for his entire adult life, I am both shocked and disgusted that to learn that he honestly thinks that my condition is in any way a barrier to being an informed citizen and active voter. The fact that I have not missed a single election – primary, general, run-off, or special – in over 5 years should be proof that his beliefs are just plain wrong.”

Under New York State Law, any United States citizen, a resident of New York State for at least 30 days, and over the age of 18, and is not currently serving time for a felony conviction can register to vote. Furthermore, the only persons empowered to remove a person’s voting rights due to mental capacity is a judge.

Said Paolo Cremidis, NYSYD Rural Caucus Chair, “George Borrello is peddling fear for the sake of peddling fear. I am troubled by the fact that he is targeting folks to exclude via automatic voter registration. The issue of mental health is not something that we can joke about. He needs to apologize for his comments to his constituents and to our broader Upstate New York community. Making comments like these do not do anything to help represent Upstate.”

“It’s disappointing to see our representation in Albany speaking out against legislation that will strengthen democracy in New York State,” said Frank Besse, Chautauqua County Young Democrats President. “Not only does Mr. Borrello position himself in opposition to empowering the people of our state he does so in a way that incites baseless fears and offends common decency.”

“It makes total sense that Senator Borrello would say this in 2020 of all years,” said NYSYD President Patrick Jordan. “The GOP in New York knows that with Trump on the top of the ballot this year, they are vulnerable because there will be an even bigger surge in voter turnout than we saw in 2018. So, their only recourse to save themselves electorally is to add more barriers so that people cannot or will not go to the polls in November. The New York State Young Democrats just found yet another reason to mobilize this year against Republicans up and down the ballot and we have added a new candidate we’re targetting: George Borrello.”

The New York State Young Democrats call on Senator George Borrello to apologize immediately for his statements. NYSYD plans to organize and mobilize its members so that 2020 will be the only year Borrello spends in Albany.

To view Senator George Borrello’s floor remarks in their entirety, please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuxWppCmy30.

In The News: Website standards ensure access for all Times Union Letter to the Editor by Seamus Campbell

Check out Young Democrats of America Disability Issues Caucus Chair Seamus Campbell’s letter to the editor in the Albany Times Union about the legal need for accessible college websites and the recent changes to YDA rules requiring Section 508 compliance.

When reading the article “Lawsuits target colleges over access to websites,” Dec. 5, I was troubled to hear that the defendants find the case to be frivolous when, they, in fact, did not create their websites using proper web standards and are, in fact, violating federal law.

When the HTML format was created more than 20 years ago, the World Wide Web’s creator, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, wanted to ensure the web was accessible to everyone. For that reason, things like labels for form items and alternative text for images (which read out descriptions of different elements within a web page to those using assistive technologies like screen readers) are required in order to have valid HTML code, according to the standards set by the W3C – the governing body on web standards.

Furthermore, practically every college in the United States is required to have accessible websites because, under the Rehabilitation Act, any institution that receives any sort of federal funding must provide accommodations to students or prospective students with disabilities. Section 508 of that law is what sets those federal standards, and the website for it is a good resource for people to see what is required of them to create accessible digital content.

In the Young Democrats of America, because we believe our members should have access to the information we disseminate, regardless of disability, we recently passed rules changes to require all of our communications to follow Section 508 guidelines and it is my hope that other institutions will do the same.

Seamus Campbell
New York City
Chair, Young Democrats of America Disability Issues Caucus

New York State Young Democrats Holds 2017 Convention

The New York State Young Democrats (NYSYD) convened in Poughkeepsie, NY from May 5th through 7th to elect new officers, adopt rule changes, and attend trainings to learn the role and relevancy of young democrats on the local, state, and national levels under the Presidency of Donald Trump.

The newly elected Executive Board officers and caucus chairs consists of:

President: Patrick Jordan (Queens)
Executive Vice President: Lauren Bailey (Albany)
Treasurer: Stephanie Campanha Wheaton (Brooklyn)
Secretary: Justin Westbrook-Lowery (Bronx)
National Committeeman: Mohammad Alam (Manhattan)
National Committeewoman: Stacey Eliuk (Queens)
Legal Director: Michael Twomey (Brooklyn)
Capital Region Vice President: Danielle McMullen (Rensselaer)
Central Region Vice President: Brian Garcia (Broome)
Hudson Valley Region Vice President: Jovan Richards (Westchester)
Western Region Vice President: Heather Neu (Monroe)
Chair of Council of Presidents: John Midwood (Dutchess)
Caucus of Color Co-Chair: Jugba Santi (Bronx)
Caucus of Color Co-Chair: Kyle Ishmael (Manhattan)
Disability Issues Caucus Chair: Jim Kane (Dutchess)
Jewish Caucus Chair: Brent Weitzberg (Queens)
Labor Caucus Chair: Rebecca Lamorte (Manhattan)
LGBT Caucus Chair: KC Hankins (Staten Island)
Rural Caucus Chair: Paolo Cemedis (Chemung)
Women’s Caucus Chair: Veronica Aveis (Brooklyn)

“When I decided to run for President, I wanted to have a strong team alongside me and I got exactly that,” said NYSYD President Patrick Jordan. “The team that was elected has a great diversity of skills and backgrounds. If we are going to kick out the Republicans and their allies, the work starts now with our local elections. We need to begin now to stop any brand of Trump’s politics that may arise and fight for Democratic values in our State in all 62 counties at all times.” Following the convention, in his first act as President, Jordan appointed Seamus Campbell of Brooklyn to serve as NYSYD Chief of Staff.

Young Democrats from all across New York State attended panel discussions about the role of labor unions during the Era of Trump, women in politics, and a training on how to write and develop a field plan for a successful political campaign – all vital skills as NYSYD prepares for the all-important mid-term elections next year. Speakers throughout the weekend included Assemblyman Michael Blake, former congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout, Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Committee Basil Smikle, and Chairwoman of the Dutchess County Democratic Committee Elisa Sumner. Additionally, NYSYD adopted changes to its Constitution to ensure accountability of the caucuses, fiscal responsibility, and clarified membership requirements.

On the second night of the convention, NYSYD held its 3rd Annual Awards Gala honoring:

Young Elected of the Year: New York State Assemblyman Michael Blake
FDR Trailblazer Award: New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli
Rookie of the Year: Justin Westbrook-Lowery
Labor Leader of the Year: Michele Gilliam
Chapter of the Year: Manhattan Young Democrats
Alumni of the Year: Christopher Smith
Woman of the Year: Amanda Pizzuti
Man of the Year: Michael Corbett

This convention marks the last under the presidency of Mike Corbett. “Having seen all that Patrick has done in Queens and having worked with him for the past three years on the state level,” said Corbett, “I am honored to have been named Man of the Year but I am even more honored to have been succeeded by a man who has the most capable hands to lead this organization.”

NYSYD to Sen. Robert Ortt: Resign

In light of his recent indictment, New York State Young Democrats (NYSYD) calls on Robert Ortt (R-Niagara County) to immediately resign from his seat in the New York State Senate.

In an indictment in Albany County unsealed yesterday, Sen. Robert Ortt was indicted on three felony counts of filing a false instrument in a scheme to create a no-show job for his wife while he was Mayor of North Tonawanda and facing a $5,000 annual salary reduction and funnel $21,500 into his household between 2010 and 2014. The charges were brought by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Senator Ortt has pleaded not guilty and said he will not resign his seat in light of the charges. Ortt, however, had no issue in 2015 calling on former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to resign from his leadership post when Skelos was indicted on similar charges when he arranged a no-show job for his son, Adam.

“As the late, great Yogi Berra liked to say, ‘This is déjà vu all over again,'” said NYSYD President Mike Corbett. “We saw this with Dean Skelos – a public official setup a no-show job for a family member. The people of the 62nd Senate District deserve better than another corrupt official who will end up spending more time in a courtroom than doing work for constituents. It’s only right that Senator Ortt practices what he preached two years ago and step down.”

Stemming from the investigation by Attorney General Schneiderman’s Office, Ortt’s predecessor, former Sen. George Maziarz, was indicted on five felony counts of filing a false instrument in relation to the scheme and has pleaded not guilty. Maziarz is accused of misusing funds donated to both his campaign committee and the Niagara County Republican Committee in order to funnel money to a former State Senate staff member, who left following allegations of sexually harassing a female colleague, using a “pass-through” entity to hide the payments from public scrutiny. Additionally, Former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry Wojtaszek has plead guilty to a misdemeanor related to failing to proper file campaign finance disclosures between 2012 and 2013 and will be sentenced later this year.

NYSYD Endorses Home Stability Support

The New York State Young Democrats (NYSYD) is proud to join an ever-growing broad and bipartisan chorus of elected officials, labor unions, and community leaders in supporting the Home Stability Support (HSS) – a proposal which aims to bring an end to the homeless crisis in New York State put forward by New York State Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Queens).

HSS aims to be be a new statewide rent supplement for individuals and families eligible for public assistance benefits as well as for those who are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous living conditions. HSS will replace all current city, state, and federal rent supplements and will be fully paid for by state and federal government. Further, this more-expansive program will save taxpayer dollars. According to current estimates, it costs $38,460 per year to house family of three in a homelessness shelter in New York City; however, HSS is estimated only cost $11,224.

In 1975, shelter allowances were created as a means to pay the rents of most of households using public assistance, factoring-in locale, family size, and if heating is included in rent. However, those allowances failed to keep up with the rising cost of housing. New York State has over 150,000 homeless children and over 80,000 families on the brink of homelessness, which amounts to billions of dollars being spent by local, state, and federal governments on essential services. Finding concrete solutions to homelessness has become a moral and fiscal obligation for every New Yorker.

Especially troubling is the impact homelessness has on young people. According to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, runaway and homeless youth (RHY) often do not complete their education, which in turn, hurts their ability to seek employment. Further, a new report by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness shows that RHY are more likely to have health problems, be bullied, attempt suicide, be sexually exploited and abused, and abuse drugs and alcohol while also being less likely to graduate high school.

“Homelessness is an issue that affects everyone, especially young people,” said Mike Corbett, President of the New York State Young Democrats. “Given the number of youth that are either homeless or are on the brink, it is imperative that we act now. That is why I believe Home Stability Support is a good plan, not only because will end up saving taxpayer dollars, but more importantly because it will save lives as well.”

“I am proud to have the New York State Young Democrats endorse the Home Stability Support plan. I look forward to working with this new generation of leaders to help some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (A.D. 28).

The New York State Young Democrats calls on its representatives in Albany to pass Home Stability Support as a concrete way to end the state’s homelessness crisis and, in turn, help flourish the Empire State’s economic outlook.

The New York State Young Democrats is the official youth arm of the New York State Democratic Committee. It represents Democrats between the ages of 16-36 living in all of New York’s 62 counties.

NYSYD at the Women's March in NYC with the banner

NYSYD at the Women’s March on NYC

With chants like “This is what democracy looks like” and “Build a fence around Mike Pence,” today, January 21, 2017, the New York State Young Democrats participated in the Women’s March on New York City. Members from across the city and the Hudson Valley peacefully took to the streets of New York and we made our voices heard. Going from Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza to Trump Tower, throughout the day, we were joined by various elected officials including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Photo of Amanda Pizzuti and Mike Corbett in the Women's March on New York City

Marching alongside 500,000 other New Yorkers and hundreds of thousands more in sister marches across the globe, we stood united in saying that we will not be silenced. We said that we will not stand idly by while a man who jokes about sexually assaulting women occupies the Oval Office. We showed we will fight back when our Commander in Chief insults the disabled, veterans, immigrants, minorities, Muslims, and women.

Photo of thousands of protesters along 42nd Street

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today claimed that more people attended President Trump’s inauguration than both protests in D.C. or either of President Obama’s inaugurations and any photographs to the contrary are proof of media manipulation. From the outpouring I saw today, I would say that Mr. Spicer is perpetuating “fake news.”

Though we have had some setbacks, for the next 1,460 days, we must stand united and be vigilant. We must fight to ensure that our health care is not taken away. We must fight to protect the freedom of our press. We must fight to be protect the right to marry the person we love.

To quote a famous Democrat, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.”

NYSYD Supports Governor Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship Program

The New York State Young Democrats (NYSYD) are proud to support Governor Cuomo’s plan to make college more affordable for all New Yorkers. This proposal, the Excelsior Scholarship, will provide free tuition for all two-year and four-year degrees at all schools within the SUNY (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems – two of the largest public university systems in the nation.

Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled this initiative, the first of many prior to his State of the State addresses, alongside Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, on Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. The program will allow those making up to $125,000 per year to attend any CUNY and SUNY college tuition-free by paying the remaining costs not already covered by grants and scholarships.

“A college education is not a luxury – it is an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility, and with these first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarships, we’re providing the opportunity for New Yorkers to succeed, no matter what zip code they come from and without the anchor of student debt weighing them down,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.

“Governor Cuomo has presented a solid plan to make college more affordable for all New Yorkers,” said Mike Corbett, President of the New York State Young Democrats. “The Excelsior Scholarship program will allow anyone who attends a SUNY or CUNY school to do so without the burden of debt upon graduation. As a result, the dream of a quality college education will become a reality for almost one million middle-class families. This proposal is another example of New York State setting the tone for the nation and we thank the Governor for his leadership on this issue.”

A similar plan to pay the tuition for all CUNY and SUNY students who agree to live in New York State for five years following graduation and perform a requisite number of hours per year of community service had been previously introduced by Assemblyman James Skoufis, NYSYD‘s 2016 Young Elected of the Year, in 2014. The Governor’s plan seems to draw on and expand that idea.

“I am extremely encouraged to see the Governor join our three-year effort to enact free tuition at our public colleges. For so many New Yorkers, the snowballing cost of a higher education has meant drowning in student debt for over a decade; for countless more, it serves as an outright roadblock,” said Assemblyman Skoufis (D-Woodbury). “Our students and families cannot wait any longer. Now’s the time for the Governor and Legislature to come together and heed the call from our families to live up to SUNY’s and CUNY‘s original promise: a truly affordable and high-quality experience. Let’s get it done in 2017.”

NYSYD is committed to making this plan a reality to improve the economic well-being of its current and future members. The organization calls on the members of the New York State Legislature to draft and pass a bill with the proper funding mechanisms to see this through to send to the Governor’s desk for his signature in time for the 2017-2018 academic year.

In this new global economy, a well-educated workforce has become necessary for continued growth. According to the U.S. Department of Education, employees with a bachelor’s degree typically earn 66% more than those with a high school diploma over their lifetimes.

Today, an increasing number of jobs require a college degree for entry-level work. Additionally, student loans has become the second-largest form of consumer debt and, from private lenders, can have an annual interest rate as high as 13%. This situation is preventing a new generation of laborers from entering the workforce with a decent wage and, in turn, money to contribute to the economy.

“As a college student, I applaud this proposal to make higher education more attainable,” said College Democrats of New York (CDNY) President Kevin Kowaleski. “Hundreds of thousands of middle-class and working-class New Yorkers attend SUNY and CUNY institutions, and they understand that this issue is of critical importance. For many current and prospective college students, lower costs could make the difference between realizing their full potential and falling short of their dreams. It’s time for New York to invest in our students and lead the nation on college affordability.”

Having the support of Senator Sanders, who made college affordability a hallmark of his 2016 Presidential Campaign, is testament to how this plan is something every state can model and be a catalyst to finally making college affordable nationwide.

The New York State Young Democrats is the official youth arm of the New York State Democratic Committee. It represents Democrats between the ages of 16-36 living in all of New York’s 62 counties.