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Town of Queensbury lawyer resigns from GOP committee

QUEENSBURY — A second resignation has resulted from the uncovering of a political scheme to pretend that an unwilling candidate was trying to win a campaign for town office.

John Aspland, managing partner of FitzGerald Morris Baker & Firth, resigned his position as vice chairman of the Queensbury Republican Committee on Monday.

He said his “dual roles” with the committee and his law firm had led to an “unnecessary distraction for our community, our committee and town government.”

Aspland’s law firm represents the town of Queensbury. He came under criticism for participating in an email conversation in which then-Councilman Doug Irish proposed running Hal Bain for Ward 1 councilman, even though Bain wanted to drop out of the race. Once he won, Irish said, Bain could resign and the Republicans could appoint someone else for “however long election law allows.” The idea was to tell no one that Bain was dropping out and get the Ward 1 committee members to campaign hard for him.

Aspland responded that the plan was “optimal.”

The scheme was uncovered two weeks ago, after Democrats submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for Irish’s emails. Bain resigned from the race Tuesday in the wake of it.

Aspland did not return multiple calls from The Post-Star, seeking comment on his “optimal” statement in the emails. In his resignation letter to the town Republican Committee, he claimed that no one from The Post-Star had ever called him.

His “optimal” statement was actually legal advice, he said in the letter.

“I gave the candidate and party leaders my best advice on complying with the Election Law,” he said. “Regrettably, the Post-Star has chosen to misconstrue my advice and malign me. A simple phone call or question could have resolved their concern, but there was no phone call and no question.”

Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley defended the paper’s work.

“John Aspland’s accusations about the quality and accuracy of The Post-Star’s reporting are an outrage and an obvious attempt to deflect from his own ethical shortcomings and political dirty tricks,” Tingley said. “The Post-Star stands by its reporting and commentary on this ongoing issue in Queensbury, and the fact Mr. Aspland has not made any mention of specific factual errors speaks volumes.”

Aspland did not return two calls Wednesday, asking him why he had not returned three previous calls, which were placed to both his office and cell phones.

He also did not send the resignation letter to The Post-Star, but Queensbury supervisor candidate Rachel Seeber brought it to her Editorial Board meeting Wednesday afternoon. She gave it to board members when they asked her whether she would keep a law firm in which a principal member played a leadership role in a political party.

Seeber also defended Aspland and his firm.

“They didn’t break the law. In my opinion, they answered a question,” she said. “What he was ‘part of’ was saying (Hal Bain) can’t come off the ballot after July 25. It is optimal to follow the election law.”

Cuomo announces statewide cancer study

GLENS FALLS — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at Glens Falls Hospital on Wednesday a new statewide initiative aimed at determining why there is a 20 percent disparity in cancer rates between Warren County residents and New York City residents.

“Warren County has one of the highest rates of cancer in this state. New York City has some of the lowest rates of cancer in the state. Erie County, Buffalo, just under Warren County. … Why? What is the difference? What’s going on in Warren County that’s different than what’s going on in Queens and Brooklyn?” Cuomo asked. “There has to be an answer.”

State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, introduced the governor, talking about his commitment to Warren County.

“He has made investments in our economy and we were the first city to get $10 million to revitalize the city,” she said referring to Glens Falls. “And the hospital got a $20 million grant from the governor; look at all we can do with this.”

Little continued: “Cancer is a scourge in America and has taken the lives of too many. There are 1 million people in New York living with a cancer diagnosis.”

Cuomo opened his presentation by thanking Glens Falls Hospital staff for their work and dedication to patients.

“The topic today is a serious one. It’s one we live with. The good news is we’re proud of what the state is doing on this topic. We’re making it better. Topic is cancer. The C word. It’s a word that nobody wants to hear, it’s a word that you have to deal with every day and I don’t know where you find the intestinal strength to do that every day,” Cuomo said to a packed room of more than 150, primarily comprised of hospital staff.

“My family has always been involved in fighting cancer, even when I was a young kid. My mother was very involved as a volunteer in the American Cancer Society. I have an older sister who is a doctor. She is the smart one, Margaret.”

According to Cuomo, there are 110,000 new cancer cases diagnosed every year in the state and 35,000 people die.

The New York State Cancer Registry collects reports on cancer diagnoses from health care providers, which include the anatomical sites of tumors, the stages at diagnosis, the cell types of the cancer as well as the treatment information and demographic information of those diagnosed with cancer.

Using New York’s cancer registry, the Department of Health identified the counties with the highest cancer rates in the state and New York City and will begin this new initiative by focusing on four regions of the state.

“The question for us is always, ‘What else can we do?’ Because the numbers are still terrible. … We have about 1 million people in this state who are living with cancer, maybe in remission, but you either have or had cancer,” Cuomo said. “When a family member comes home with that diagnosis, it just changes the family’s life. It’s like a shadow that is there all the time. … It ruins as well as ends so many lives. I want to make sure that everything we can possibly do, we are doing. And we are.”

Talking about early breast cancer detection, Cuomo said New York has the most aggressive screening program and laws in the nation. Women living in the state said the cost and time were keeping them from routine screening, so the state made it easier for women, Cuomo said.

“We eliminated any co-pay for a woman for any breast screening test or follow-up test,” he said to audience applause. “We also have clinics that have to be open beyond nine to five, and on the weekends, so women can actually get the screening done. We call it the ‘no excuses campaign.’”

Over the next year, researchers will examine cancer trends and the potential causes of cancer in four regions across the state, including Warren County. The Department of Health will review cancer data, potential demographic and occupational factors and will consult with the DEC on environmental factors contributing to patterns of cancer incidences in the state.This new data-driven effort will help identify the central causes leading to higher rates of cancer in certain regions and, ultimately, help develop the most effective programs to prevent and treat cancer.

According to Cuomo, the state is budgeting up to $500,000 to conduct the regional studies, with results expected in one year.

“For the first time ever, the state is going to undertake a study … in four clusters of the state. Capital District, Glens Falls/Warren County, Western New York, New York City and Long Island, because those are the places of the deviation.” Cuomo said. “The Department of Health and DEC both, because there could be environmental factors at play here also, will participate in this study. It will take about one year and the question is very simple. What is driving that deviation?”

During Wednesday’s presentation, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said that information is a key weapon in New York.

“We track down certain regions and some are hit harder than other areas,” he said.

Cuomo joked about the one-year deadline.

“I’m proud of Commissioner Zucker and proud of Commissioner Seggos. We should have a study in about a year. I told the commissioners that if they don’t have a cure at the end of the year, we are going to cut their salary in half. No performance bonus for them and no vacation, and whatever other things I can think of to torture them I will do,” he said laughing. “So, seriously, I applaud them for their creativity and their thoughtfulness, and hopefully it will be another positive step down a long road.”

Additionally, while at Glens Falls Hospital, Cuomo addressed several other issues, including the uncertain future of the nation’s health care and the potential loss of funding for the Children’s Health Initiative Program.

“Back story about CHIP: It was started in the state of New York. There was a governor named Mario Cuomo. And he started a child health insurance program for poor children. President Clinton came in, said ‘I want to copy your program and bring it nationwide.’ My father said fine, just make sure you give me credit,” he said. “Clinton never gave him credit, but that’s politics. And it’s been in existence ever since. And now, for the first time ever, they want to eliminate that program. Just think about that: 300,000 children without health insurance in this state. So, we have a lot of challenges, and I know you’re dealing with them every day.”

Supervisor attacks assessor on his own assessment

MOREAU — Supervisor Gardner Congdon publicly castigated the town assessor Tuesday for not granting his request for a property assessment reduction.

As he and Assessor Peggy Jenkins described it, he has made multiple requests for a reduction.

He used her rejection as proof she was not doing her job well.

At Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, he at first said that “many” property owners were frustrated by the process of getting an assessment reduction.

Jenkins would not look at their properties, Congdon said.

She stood up to defend herself, which is when he revealed that he was actually upset about her assessment of his personal property.

He bought a house on the river that had been on the market for three years. It was assessed at $200,000 but finally sold for $89,000. Congdon wanted the assessment reduced to reflect the sale price.

Jenkins said she looked at the property but determined the assessment was correct. Congdon said the lack of a reduction proved she had not actually looked at it.

“That house isn’t even going to be livable for a year or two,” he said.

Jenkins vehemently defended her decision.

“I don’t need you to stand up there and bash me. I do my homework. I don’t make rash decisions,” she said.

She added that it was inappropriate for the supervisor — who is, in some ways, effectively her boss — to come to her office to insist she reduce his assessment.

“The format for grieving an assessment is going to the grievance board,” she said, referring to the Board of Assessment Review that meets once a year. “After they make the determinations, they give me the information.”

She must make the changes they approve, although she can also make changes she deems appropriate throughout the year.

She also said the supervisor shouldn’t criticize her at board meetings for her decision regarding his property.

“I don’t need you sitting up there, as supervisor of the town of Moreau, giving me a black eye,” she said.

Congdon was not moved. He let her speak without interruption, then went on to the next discussion item.

“We have a difference of opinion. I knew that would be difficult,” he said.


Cuomo: Rail tankers don't belong stored in Adirondacks

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that the state is looking into the legality of a Warren County-based railroad owner’s decision to store tank cars on a remote stretch of line in the Adirondacks.

Responding to a reporter’s question at a press conference at Glens Falls Hospital, Cuomo called the cars “unsightly, out of character with the Adirondacks” and said they did not fit in with a region where people come for “nature and beauty.”

“We oppose it 100 percent and we will do everything we can to stop the owner from storing on the tracks,” Cuomo said.

The remarks were the governor’s first on Saratoga & North Creek Railway’s recent decision to store cleaned tank cars on a rail line it owns north of North Creek. An estimated 28 cars arrived on the line last week and were put in storage in Minerva.

The company’s owner, Ed Ellis, has not said what the cars carried, but said they were cleaned and do not require hazardous materials placards.

Ellis said revenue from train car storage was needed to pay for track maintenance. The company’s tourist trains between Saratoga and North Creek have seen dwindling ridership, and freight traffic has not developed as hoped.

Environmental groups have expressed concerns about possible pollution along the upper Hudson and Boreas rivers and in the state forest preserve.

The Adirondack Park Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a joint statement last week indicating legal reviews were ongoing.

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency are concerned about the potential environmental impact of the storage of these rail cars in the Adirondack Park and are evaluating all legal and regulatory options to ensure the environment and the public are protected,” the statement reads.

But while a number of state officials and environmental organization leaders are clearly not fans of the plan, so far no action has been taken to halt it. Ellis said Wednesday that his company has not heard from the state about the storage plan.

The state Department of Transportation sent an inspector to the rail line last week, the day after the cars arrived, to check that they were intact and stored correctly, and a DOT spokeswoman said there were no problems found.

“The department inspected the railcars on October 19, 2017,” spokeswoman Carol Breen said in an email. “The certified inspector found the Saratoga & North Creek Railway to be in full compliance with federal requirements. The inspected rail cars were properly secured with hand brakes set, and there were no violations found. The department has inspection jurisdiction, pursuant to a state participation agreement with the Federal Rail Administration, to ensure compliance with and enforce federal safety regulations on an active railroad.”

Staff writer Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli contributed to this report.