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Time to make changes in New York

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Manhattan on July

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Manhattan on July 17. Credit: Marcus Santos for Newsday

Daily Point

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The 2020 Democratic presidential debates return this week. 

The Newsday Editorial Board again will rate candidates’ performances on a scale of 1 to 5 stars in real-time throughout the two-hour event. But, hey, we know there are many more voices in the room, so we are inviting Point subscribers to join along on the live action. 

Point subscribers can rate each candidate on the same scale of 1 to 5 stars. The winner selected by our Point community will be compared to the candidate the editorial board chose as the best of the night. And don’t worry if you really thought Andrew Yang did best; no individual’s rating will be made public.

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- Michael Cusanelli @mcusanelliSB

Talking Point

Pot redux

When it comes to decriminalizing marijuana possession, many New Yorkers may be experiencing deja vu, none more so than Manhattan Assemb. Richard Gottfried.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a law on Monday that removes the criminal penalties for possessing less than two ounces of marijuana and limiting punishment to a fine: $50 for up to an ounce and $200 for one to two ounces. The new law also creates a process for people to have past misdemeanor marijuana convictions expunged.

The law is an attempt to finally stop criminal prosecutions for marijuana possession, largely to end racially biased enforcement that led to 80 percent of such arrests being made of minorities even though whites use marijuana at comparable rates.

New York tried to do much the same thing with a decriminalization law passed in 1977, removing criminal penalties for possession of less than 25 grams (an ounce is 28 grams) and imposing a $100 fine for first offenses, $200 for second offenses and $250 or 15 days in jail for third offenses. 

But that law said criminal charges could be leveled if the marijuana was in “public view,” which often happened after police demanded people empty their pockets or bags. In the past 20 years, more than 800,000 people were arrested in the state of New York for small amounts of marijuana, most of them young men of color.

And according to news coverage from the summer of 1977, Gottfried, who took office in 1971 at the age of 23 and is still serving  48 years later, was a primary sponsor of that first effort as chairman of the Codes Committee.

In a phone interview Monday, Gottfried said, “What this new bill really gets us back to is the one we tried to pass on May 16, 1977, that got killed by conservative state senators. What we were able to pass instead was a compromise that did eliminate almost all possession arrests for 20 years, but left the door open to what happened in policing starting in the1990s and led to as many as 50,000 possession arrests a year.”

And why does Gottfried remember that the more liberal bill died on May 16, 1977? “It was my 30th birthday,” he said, “and it really changed the mood of the party.”

- Lane Filler @lanefiller

Final Point

Responding for the responders

Last week’s viral videos of water being dumped on NYPD officers took place very much within the city limits, but some Long Island politicians didn’t take too long to weigh in on the still-kicking controversy. 

Rep. Lee Zeldin tweeted that Mayor Bill de Blasio should “Emphatically and publicly tell the knuckleheads to knock this crap off,” while fellow Republican Pete King posted “mob mentality must be condemned. Anti-police rhetoric must stop.”

Then there were the calls for legislation, with Assemb. Mike LiPetri’s push to make it a Class E felony to “throw or spray water, or any other substance, against an on-duty police officer or peace officer,” punishable by up to 1 to 4 years in prison. 

Some Democrats were not to be outdone. State Sen. John Brooks, who has first-responder experience as a firefighter, held a news conference on Sunday with Suffolk and Nassau County Executives Steve Bellone and Laura Curran to announce plans “to work together in developing comprehensive statewide legislation to deter violent acts against public safety professionals and first responders of any sort.” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart also joined. 

State Sen. Jim Gaughran was already prepared for the incidents in a way, having introduced legislation last session (before the viral videos) to strengthen penalties for crimes against all public protection professionals. 

Why all the Long Island attention for a city issue? NYC police unions have been extremely vocal about the water dumps and what they see as a police force compelled to be too cautious in a time when aggressive policing has come in for political criticism. Besides, plenty of NYPD officers live in Nassau or Suffolk and their fellow PBA organizations here know how to use their leverage. 

And the videos are fodder for hot-button partisan political issues of the moment about policing, race relations, and the livability (past and future) of America’s cities. No surprise, then, that President Donald Trump tweeted from afar about the water, too. 

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Onward!

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/opinion

Quick Points

  • President Donald Trump tweeted that Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings’ Baltimore-area district is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” If you’re keeping score, the president has now described six congressional districts as being infested in some way and all six are represented by minority lawmakers.
  • In Moscow, demonstrators protested the exclusion of opposition candidates from the city council ballot — and got beat up by the police. In New York, some opposition parties take themselves off the ballot by endorsing other parties’ candidates — and get beat up by editorial boards.
  • Before FAA regulators approved the Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane in 2017, agency engineers never examined or assessed the automated system that later sent two of the planes into nosedives that killed everyone on board. How’s that deregulatory agenda looking now?
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says world leaders who complain about his nation’s rapidly increasing deforestation of the Amazon rainforest want to develop it themselves, adding, “Brazil is like a virgin that every pervert from the outside lusts for.” Actually, Brazil is like the heart of the climate change fight that everyone on the outside hopes keeps beating.
  • Only 11 percent of U.S. kids ages 8 to 12 want to be an astronaut. But don’t worry, American kids are still shooting for the stars — 29 percent want to be a YouTube celebrity, 23 percent a pro athlete and 19 percent a musician.
  • House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said he wishes that former special counsel Robert Mueller “testified in more narrative fashion” last week, and that his words “didn’t need to be coaxed from him as much as they did.” In other words, he wishes that Mueller did something other than exactly what he promised to do.
  • President Donald Trump might have had an inside source when he described the Baltimore-area district of Rep. Elijah Cummings as a rodent infested mess.” Son-in-law Jared Kushner owns more than a dozen apartment complexes in Baltimore County that have racked up hundreds of code violations, including for mouse infestations.
  • To improve food for astronauts, NASA is going to grow chile pepper plants in space on the International Space Station. Officials are still trying to figure out how to fit an avocado tree on board.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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