LI delegation takes its shots
Nearly two months ago, both Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced that their respective houses would require either vaccination or regular testing. Then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also issued a similar vaccination-or-test mandate for state employees.
But the state is taking its time to actually implement those plans.
New York State employees still have until next month to meet the state’s vaccination-or-test requirement. But the requirement already applies in the State Senate. A spokesman for the Senate confirmed that "all staff and senators" must provide proof of vaccination or commit to regular testing. Earlier this month, senators and their staff received memos detailing how to upload their information and noting that the policy took effect on Sept. 13.
But in the Assembly, several local members told The Point they hadn’t received any communication regarding a vaccination-or-test plan. Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland said that while the Assembly’s central staff were bound by the requirement, the members serve as their own appointing authority, so members and their own staff can’t be mandated and don’t fall under the state employee policy. But the Assembly’s leadership is encouraging each member to develop a policy requiring vaccination or testing and is providing self-testing kits to help, Whyland said.
"It’s important that everyone be responsible and do their part to combat this pandemic," Whyland said. "We recommend all members and staff that are not vaccinated to submit to weekly personal testing. We have been and will continue to reach out to members to assist them."
Since there’s no complete record of which lawmakers have been vaccinated and which haven’t, The Point did its own checking. In early April, when The Point contacted every Long Island lawmaker, three of nine local senators and seven of 22 Assembly members either hadn’t been vaccinated, or refused to say whether they had been vaccinated.
But as of this week, all but one Long Island senator and one Assembly member told The Point they had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Neither State Sen. Alexis Weik nor Assemb. Taylor Darling returned The Point’s requests for comment. In April, Darling said she hadn’t gotten the vaccine because she was pregnant and didn’t have plans to get it going forward because she hoped to breastfeed. A Weik spokeswoman told The Point at the time the senator thought The Point’s queries violated HIPPA privacy laws, even though those laws only apply to health care providers, health plans and related entities.
But Assembs. Keith Brown, Michael Durso, Kimberly Jean-Pierre, John Mikulin, Edward Ra and Michaelle Solages all had been vaccinated since The Point’s initial reporting.
On the Senate side, Sen. Anthony Palumbo had declined to comment back in April, while Sen. Mario Mattera had said he had contracted COVID, but had not committed to getting the shot even after he fully recovered.
This week, Palumbo told The Point he had been vaccinated. Mattera, meanwhile, said he received the vaccine in August, in part because a conference he wanted to attend in California required it. Mattera spoke at the convention of a national union of plumbers, pipe fitters, welders and service technicians, which included 3,500 attendees, all of whom had to be vaccinated to go.
"If I didn’t go to that conference, which was very, very important to me, I probably wouldn’t have got vaccinated," Mattera told The Point.
Even as the convention’s requirement led Mattera to get the shot, Mattera told The Point that the position didn’t change his opinion.
"I’m totally against mandates," Mattera said.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
Campaigning on voting
The national GOP is already signaling what might be some of its big 2022 campaign issues, and high on the list is voting.
Third-ranking House Republican and upstate New Yorker Elise Stefanik has been deploying some of the more hard-line rhetoric on this front, with recent Facebook ads suggesting that Democrats are planning "a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION" by trying to provide new pathways to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally.
Democrats are "attempting to flood our voter roles [sic]" through amnesty, another ad says.
The charged language suggesting stolen or rigged votes echoes some of former President Donald Trump’s claims ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Not all Republicans have followed Stefanik that far when it comes to voting, but it’s a hot issue even for more moderate members. That includes Bayport Rep. Andrew Garbarino, who has sent multiple September fundraising emails playing off the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 that passed the House in August.
The emails call that bill "reckless" and "radical," suggesting that the legislation would "completely alter our electoral system and give Nancy Pelosi and the radical Left unrestricted influence and power."
"Nancy Pelosi isn’t interested in competitive and secure elections anymore," one email says. "She wants to open the floodgates to all sorts of concerning election practices that have been condemned by both Democrats and Republicans!"
Garbarino did not return The Point’s request for comment about the specific practices supposedly under attack. But elsewhere, the fundraising emails suggest that the act — now under consideration in the Senate — would give the federal government too much control over state elections, among other changes.
Democrats describe their proposed voting reforms as ways to expand ballot access and prevent the kinds of voting restrictions that have been pushed through in states like Georgia and Texas. Expect them to use the subject in 2022.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Pence did it
For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons
How long will the old LaGuardia linger?
One way to look at LaGuardia Airport’s fate in the newly released J.D. Power 2021 North America Airport Satisfaction Study is that it was the most improved airport in the study, and that it beat out the even more lowly Philadelphia International Airport.
The other way to look at it, of course, is that it came in second-to-last in the large airport category, after years and years of last-place finishes in the ranking based on thousands of completed surveys from North American airport travelers.
LGA’s woes have become fairly internalized for New Yorkers. But could this be one of LaGuardia’s last years at the bottom of the rankings given the billions in public and private money being spent on the airport’s renewal?
"It can’t hurt," Mike Taylor, practice lead for travel at J.D. Power, told The Point.
Despite the amount of construction that has already happened at the airport Joe Biden once likened to what you’d find in a "Third World country," it’s still a "work in progress," Taylor says.
Among the six factors the study examines, second-most important is "airport arrival/departure."
"That’s still LaGuardia’s big problem," Taylor said, citing its constrained space plus the maze of temporary signage and construction areas before you get out of or into a car, cab, or bus.
Neighboring Kennedy Airport ranked second in passenger satisfaction among mega airports, behind only Miami International Airport.
The study also found plenty of impact from COVID-19. Customer satisfaction reached highs when passenger volumes were low during parts of the pandemic, when passengers were perhaps satisfied with any shops or restaurants being open at all. But satisfaction dropped as leisure travel rebounded, without the return of all the usual amenities.
Here’s hoping the flying experience gets better on all fronts next year. As for LaGuardia, don’t hold your breath.
"It may not be next year that they come off the bottom," Taylor said. "It might take until the time it's actually done."
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano