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Getting behind the scenes

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on July 9,

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on July 9, 2020 in Melville. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Daily Point

Environmentalists, labor unions push back at Bellone

If you believe that nothing really is surprising once you know the back story, we have a tale for you from the fun house world of Suffolk politics.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pulled a bill on Tuesday that would put before voters in November a plan to divert at least $75 million over three years from an open space preservation program to help the county’s coronavirus-battered budget. That he did so less than two hours before the county legislature was scheduled to hold a special meeting to vote on the proposal, after campaigning vociferously for it, seemed surprising.

Find out why Bellone pulled the bill so suddenly.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Talking Point

Getting to the bottom of the case

Attorney General Letitia James and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are both seeking more information in the case of the Freeport Village police officers accused of misconduct in arresting Akbar Rogers last December. 

Earlier this month, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas chose not to charge the eight officers involved in the arrest, which was captured on video that showed the officers punching and kicking Rogers, and holding him to the ground.

In announcing her decision, Singas cited a report she had commissioned by use-of-force expert Philip Hayden. But she said she was unable to release the report without the permission of Rogers’ attorneys who, so far, have not allowed the report to be issued.

“As part of assessing our legal options, we are seeking to obtain the consultant’s use-of-force report from the Nassau County District Attorney’s office,” the spokeswoman for Attorney General James said Wednesday.

Said Singas spokesman Brendan Brosh: “We welcome the Attorney General’s investigation and will release Dr. Hayden’s report if Mr. Rogers’ attorneys consent or if the court unseals it for the Attorney General’s review.”

So far, Rogers’ attorneys have blocked the release, saying the report was “fundamentally flawed.” 

But one of Rogers’ attorneys, Randy Zelin, told The Point Wednesday that he’d be willing to allow James to review the report if she continued to treat it as under seal, did not disclose it to the public, and was willing to talk to Zelin, who said he would want to point out “the inaccuracies, the falsehoods and the misrepresentations” he said are in the report.

“It would be critically important for us to have a full and fair audience with the Attorney General,” Zelin said.

A Singas spokeswoman previously has said she’s not aware of any inaccuracies in the report. 

Despite James’ interest, and calls from advocates for her to become more involved in investigating the case, the attorney general has not yet requested a criminal referral from Cuomo, sources told The Point, and the governor has not yet provided one. Such a referral is required for James to have the power to fully investigate the incident, sources said.

But a spokesman for Cuomo told The Point Wednesday that the governor’s office, too, is looking at the case and wants more information.

“We have reviewed the publicly available facts and circumstances regarding this incident and strongly encourage the Freeport Police Department and Nassau County District Attorney to be as transparent as possible and to publicly release any additional information regarding the matter, including any videos that they are legally authorized to release,” the spokesman said in a statement.  

“This incident speaks to the need to strengthen New Yorkers’ relationship with law enforcement and to build greater trust between them,” the spokesman added.

Brosh told The Point that beyond Hayden’s report, “all other case records in our file are sealed by law from disclosure.” 

“District Attorney Singas was deeply disturbed by how police treated Akbar Rogers and she called for those who violated departmental policies to be disciplined,” Brosh said in a statement, noting that Singas also has sought the establishment of a state commission to recommend statewide use-of-force standards and training. 

Cuomo’s spokesman also pointed to the governor’s executive order that requires local police departments to reinvent and rethink their policies as another way to encourage Freeport officials to take another look at the police department’s procedures. 

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

The worst kind of gathering

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Final Point

Add the Port Authority to list of those in need of coronavirus relief funds

As Congress continues to work through a possible coronavirus relief package, there are plenty of people and agencies hoping for a slice of the pie.

Among the more unusual ones: the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As a multistate agency, the Port doesn’t fit neatly into any of the categories Congress typically would fund. But its revenues have been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Port is seeking $3 billion from the federal government. Without it, Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton told The Point, the Port will have to make some tough choices, especially when it comes to its capital plan.

At risk: the remake of Kennedy Airport, the LaGuardia AirTrain, a new NYC bus terminal, and even work to keep other Port facilities in a state of good repair.

Without federal funding, Cotton said, “all of the major projects currently in the capital plan are in some degree of jeopardy.”

“They can’t all continue in the way that they’re currently in the capital plan,” Cotton said. “The damage is too great.”

Port Authority officials plan to release the agency’s second-quarter financial results Thursday during its board meeting. But the projections the Port already has released are dire, as the authority expects to lose $3 billion over 24 months. 

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo included the Port Authority in a letter Wednesday to the New York congressional delegation. While the letter emphasized the need for $500 billion in aid to states, it also highlighted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is seeking $3.9 billion, and the Port.

“Without Federal assistance construction at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy Airport and other improvements could very well be stopped or delayed,” Cuomo wrote.

The PA’s push for federal funding came as construction at LaGuardia continued. Wednesday afternoon, officials unveiled the latest stage of the project, by opening additional new gates at one of its new concourses.

Cotton said private investment in the airports, by airlines and other companies that are playing a role in the airports’ modernization, continues, as they see air travel making an eventual comeback. And he noted that the Port also has contracts with local small businesses that would benefit from federal government funding for the continued work.

“That kind of economic activity is what is critically needed if we’re going to have a strong economic recovery,” Cotton said. “Economic resurgence should be a bipartisan initiative, and we can be a critical element here in doing that.”

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall