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Opinion

Pokorny gathers forces for MTA fight

A subway train conductor signals arrival as an

A subway train conductor signals arrival as an A train arrives at Penn Station in Manhattan on Aug. 14, 2018. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Daily Point

Gathering support

Carolyn Pokorny, who is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s choice to be the MTA’s new inspector general, will bring some prosecutorial firepower to her task of finding the rot in the bureaucracy.

Pokorny is Cuomo’s special counsel for public integrity and she is a former deputy chief of the criminal division for the Eastern District of New York. The Brooklyn Law School grad accompanied her former boss, Loretta Lynch, to Washington, where she was deputy chief of staff and counselor to the attorney general.

Now the The Point has learned Pokorny is reaching out to that old gang in Brooklyn for some muscle. Pokorny is expected to bring a handful of top lawyers from other state agencies with her. However, she clearly expects that some people will follow Barry Kluger, who retired as inspector general  last week, out the door. The MTA’s inspector general’s office has a payroll of 72 employees, a little eye-opening considering the office either hasn’t conducted or released an investigation since 2014, or an audit since 2016.

Pokorny has sent out word through the Eastern District alumni grapevine that she is looking to hire some present and former FBI agents to aggressively complete an investigation of  excessive overtime at the LIRR and no-show work at New York City Transit. The idea is that Pokorny can get her probe done quickly to turn over any evidence of criminality to Southern or Eastern District prosecutors. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District have issued a subpoena or two involving incidents that made headlines in the last few weeks but there doesn’t seem to be a widening or aggressive probe.

Pokorny is expected to be confirmed by the State Senate in June.

- Rita Ciolli @RitaCiolli

Talking Point

Vaccine fight continues

Long Island is becoming key in the fight over changing state vaccination law prompted by the current measles epidemic.

Anti-vaxxers are trying to stop a bill that would end the ability of parents to claim a religious exemption to stop their children from getting shots.

Some local legislators are paying attention.

Bayport advocate Rita Palma -- who more than a decade ago formed a group called My Kids, My Choice -- told The Point that she and other advocates, including many Long Islanders, will be in Albany Wednesday and Thursday to hold a news conference and to meet with lawmakers in a push to keep the religious exemption in place. Palma also works with the New York Alliance for Vaccine Rights and the Children’s Health Defense, two groups that argue for the right not to vaccinate.

Palma told The Point that many of her fellow advocates are from Long Island, comparing the effort to the state testing opt-out movement.

“Long Island is where this is all happening,” said Palma. “We are a strong group down here and we’re leading the way in the state.”

Palma has been updating a list of lawmakers she has asked her supporters to contact regularly, especially as the State Senate and State Assembly seem to be getting closer to voting on the bill. As of May 20, several Long Island Assembly members were on that list, including Steve Englebright, Judy Griffin and Kimberly Jean-Pierre.

Griffin told The Point she met with a group of religious-exemption supporters a few weeks ago, and they made a convincing argument. While she already had concerns about vaccination, the group convinced her to vote against the bill. And meanwhile, she said she hasn’t heard from a single constituent who supports getting rid of the religious exemption.

“I believe we should uphold the religious exemption,” Griffin said. “I believe that if people have a religious exemption, whether it’s due to a religious belief or a philosophical belief, we should uphold that.”

Griffin argued that “the legislation doesn’t solve the problem,” because some of the unvaccinated population doesn’t have a religious or medical exemption.

And while Griffin and her now-grown children are vaccinated, she said the fears over vaccination are worth taking into account.

“For that family who has a perfectly healthy baby and later contracts something, whether autism or something else, I don’t know if they’re right or wrong but I do believe there could be something to it,” Griffin said.

Englebright said he, too, met with anti-vax supporters. But he has come to a different conclusion.

“I’m a scientist. I believe in science and that’s what we’re talking about,” Englebright said.

Will he support the measure to end religious exemptions?

“I don’t do that without trepidation, but yes,” Englebright said. “I’m very sensitive to religious freedom and as long as there is not an objective threat to human health… I would tend to favor the religious freedom principle. The difference here in my mind is that when an epidemic starts to emerge, the reality is that principle can hurt people…. That’s where I draw the line as a scientist and as an elected official.”

Jean-Pierre, meanwhile, expressed no doubts on her position on the bill.

“I am very pro-vaccine,” she told The Point, noting that her 3-year-old has gotten all of her shots. “I am for getting rid of the religious exemption. I believe we shouldn’t put our kids in danger … And there’s a reason why God created doctors and scientists and researchers.”

The bill’s Assembly sponsor, Jeffrey Dinowitz, told The Point he has requested that the measure come up for a vote in the Health Committee next week -- and is “hopeful” there will be enough votes for it to pass. But it’s still uncertain whether the legislation will make it past committee, never mind whether the full Assembly will pass it.

Palma, however, said she’s hearing from lawmakers who hope the bill doesn’t come up for a vote at all -- so they wouldn’t have to pick a side.

- Randi Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

What about me?

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Quick Points

  • A Newsday investigation showed payroll costs for Long Island’s towns and cities rose last year, after two years of declines. Amazing — that there were two years of declines.
  • While visiting Japan, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to undermine National Security Adviser John Bolton and host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regarding North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s recent missile test. In the same tweet, the president said he smiled after learning that Kim called Joe Biden a “Swampman” and a “low IQ individual” — turning Kim into his own missile and aiming him right into the 2020 presidential race.
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is defending his likability amid low polling numbers in the presidential primary, saying that “folks had to have liked me to have made me mayor of New York City twice.” Actually, he just had to have been a Democrat.
  • The Trump administration is moving to force its scientists to stop making long-term projections of the risks of climate change. Like that will make it go away.
  • In European Union elections with record turnout, the Greens were big winners as young voters opted for parties that take climate change seriously. Bellwether or outlier? Well, in 2016, the Brexit vote in Britain preceded the U.S. election of Donald Trump.
  • After a political scientist made up a quote and attributed it to President Donald Trump, Trump tweeted, “People think they can say anything and get away with it.” Now that’s rich.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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