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OPED: Changing the tide on bail reform

My name is Jim Magee, and I am a Democratic candidate for State Assembly in the 37th District in Queens. I am a former prosecutor, current criminal defense attorney, husband, and father. In 2019, so-called “progressives” in the New York State legislature made it nearly impossible to prosecute crime. As a result, crime in the City is up over 40 percent this year. These changes, commonly known as “bail reform,” were passed in Albany without a debate or a vote by people with almost no experience in criminal justice. Mayor Adams wants to reverse many of these changes. So do I. As I talk to voters, it is clear that there is some confusion as to what changes were actually made.

The law is nicknamed “bail reform” because the legislature prohibited experienced judges from setting bail in most cases. This means that, no matter what the defendant’s prior track record for appearing in court, he is released. These crimes included larceny, assault, robbery, and burglary. There have been some horrific results of this change, most notably, Christina Yuna Lee who was stabbed to death in her bathtub in Chinatown in February.

The defendant in the case was out of jail on a pending assault charge when he was re-arrested in January for 27 counts of property damage. Then, due to the bail reform law, he was released without bail a month before the murder. Tragically, almost every day there is a crime story on the front page.

Unfortunately, ending judicial discretion is not the most damaging part of the law. The legislature, with no debate and no input from judges or the 62 democratically elected district attorneys, placed a crippling discovery burden on prosecutors. Already overworked assistant district attorneys were now given the responsibility to track down all paperwork, notes, and videos before a case could be marked for trial. No additional funds were provided to the District Attorneys in order to meet this new obligation. These offices were overwhelmed. The result was that hundreds of thousands of cases were dismissed or prematurely settled because prosecutors only had time to prosecute the most serious crimes. You may have noticed the change if your local pharmacy is either locking up its inventory or closing for business entirely. Under these laws, there is no consequence for stealing from a store.

The responsible thing for the legislature to have done would have been to increase funding for mental health and addiction. In the two decades that I worked in criminal justice prior to the new law, I watched the district attorneys increasingly direct those suffering from mental illness and addiction into court-ordered outpatient treatment as an alternative to incarceration. I am a member of a panel of defense attorneys who take the cases of those who cannot afford a lawyer. Prior to the new discovery law, I was placing two or three people into court-ordered treatment a month. Since the law passed, I have not placed anybody into treatment. Those cases are simply not being prosecuted and those defendants are off the radar. Enrollments in court-ordered addiction and mental health treatment have plummeted. While the criminal court is empty, you may have noticed a change in your local park or on the subway.

It is hard to believe that this was not all done on purpose by people with no criminal justice experience. Proponents of the law claim that it addresses the socioeconomic inequities in the system, but that simply isn’t true. Most of the victims of the current rise in crime are the poorest among us. Furthermore, there are plenty of inequities in the penal code itself that target the poor. For instance, someone without identification in a housing project is subject to arrest. Apparently, the legislature simply could not be bothered with addressing laws such as that. But this is because the purpose of the law was not to fix criminal prosecution at all, it was to effectively end it. The results are everywhere. Instead of recognizing this for the crisis that it is, my opponents have gone even further, calling for defunding the police department at a time when crime is on the rise and our citizens are afraid. All of our tough gun laws are only as effective as the police we have to enforce them.

Progressive values should include a fairer tax code, higher wages, universal health care, affordable housing, and a healthy environment for ourselves and our children.

Unfortunately, that is not where our representatives in Albany used their political capital. This last budget gave hundreds of millions more away in tax breaks for the rich.

Meanwhile, those affected by crime were ignored. There is nothing “progressive” about refusing to prosecute crime. Protecting the weak and vulnerable is something that we used to take for granted as a matter of common sense and decency. We should never stop working to end the causes of crime, but to ignore a crime once it is committed is an abdication of basic governmental responsibility. Please help me and elected officials like Mayor Adams reverse this trend and show that the Democratic

Party can govern responsibly on public safety. We have to stop electing people who simply do not know what they are doing.

 

OPED: Higher Education is essential to Queens

The City University of New York (CUNY) has a rich history, dating back to the founding of the Free Academy in 1847. Townsend Harris, then President of the City’s Board of Education stated “let the children of the rich and poor take their seats together.” Queens and York Colleges, CUNY Law School, LaGuardia and Queensborough Community Colleges are all descendants of that tradition. CUNY is embedded in the fabric of Queens. By keeping these institutions strong and making them more affordable, we will ensure our students and our economy continue to thrive.

Two years ago the Brookings Institution, a well-respected Washington DC based public policy organization, ranked CUNY as among the top colleges nationally for providing upward mobility for its graduates. Students from families in the bottom 20 percent income level experienced the greatest increase in potential earnings.

Our public universities and colleges have struggled to maintain enrollment over the last several years. A range of factors has contributed to this problem, especially the rippling effects of the COVID-19 health crisis. However, our lack of state support and tuition increases shoulder much of the blame. Cuts in state support and the strain of the TAP Gap (the difference between the Tuition Assistance Program and the actual cost of tuition) forced administrators to reduce services, neglect infrastructure and technological needs, and lay off adjuncts. Rising tuition rates deterred students who simply could not afford the cost of an education.

This year’s New York State Budget included historic investments for CUNY. When we assumed the majority in the Senate in 2019, we began the process of reversing a decade of neglect and cuts to our CUNY schools. As Chairwoman of the State Senate Higher Education Committee, I take great pride in helping facilitate this sea change, along with my colleagues. We have not increased tuition and expanded TAP and opportunity programs, as well as funded more full-time faculty.

This new budget will begin to address infrastructure needs with hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriations for capital projects, which will provide prevailing wage jobs. Additionally, we are making a substantial investment in on-campus childcare so Queens families can continue their academic pursuits, with the benefit of having their children nearby.

These are steps in the right direction for CUNY, but I believe we can do more. Too many students graduate from college, starting their careers owing thousands of dollars in student loans. I have sponsored a bill, that passed the Senate, to increase the income level for TAP eligibility from $80,000 to $110,000. This will offer relief for middle class families who are struggling with the extra costs of textbooks, ever-evolving technology needs and other school related costs. If we spend smartly and invest in the right programs, I am confident we can improve our schools, grow our enrollment and lower the cost of college.

I have said many times that the P3 concept should be applied to higher education- a public-private partnership with the business community is essential. By working together, each will benefit. I look forward to working with the Chamber on these issues.

OPED: New hope for people with HIV

A new study holds promise for people living with HIV who have limited therapy options or rely on complex drug regimens

A new international study led by a researcher from New York-Presbyterian Queens, published in The New England Journal of Medicine on May 11, demonstrated the effectiveness of an investigational long-acting, first-in-class therapy for people with multi-drug resistant HIV – signaling the potential for a radically simplified drug treatment and improved compliance among patients living with HIV.

In the randomized controlled, double-blind trial known as “CAPELLA, injections beneath the skin of an investigational HIV agent called lenacapavir significantly suppressed the viral level in patients with HIV who were currently on a failing antiretroviral treatment regimen. Importantly, viral suppression remained high for six months.

If approved, the new therapy has the potential to be a game-changer in several ways, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, director of the Dr. James J. Rahal, Jr. Division of Infectious Diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and a professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The encouraging results of the study offer hope for people living with HIV who have limited therapy options, as well as those who are reliant on complex drug regimens,” Dr. Segal-Maurer said. “Lenacapavir has the potential to be used as either a long-acting pill or a subcutaneous injection every six months, which anyone can be taught to do. I cannot even find the words to share what that means to all our patients, but especially those with limited or no treatment options, or whose unique circumstances make it difficult to engage in care.” 

However, she stressed, that patients still need to be highly adherent to the rest of their antiretroviral medications that make up their complete regimen.

Lenacapavir, from Gilead Sciences, is an investigational antiretroviral medicine called a capsid inhibitor that targets the cone-shaped shell of the virus and proteins important to viral reproduction. Previous research showed that lenacapavir interrupts multiple stages in the viral life cycle, helping to suppress the virus.

New York-Presbyterian Queens was one of 42 investigational sites for lenacapavir around the world.

Despite significant advances in antiretroviral treatments that have helped many people with HIV suppress the virus, there are still patients with treatment failures due to viral resistance or unacceptable side effects,” Segal-Maurer added. “These patients no longer have viral suppression and require treatment options that can be complex and difficult to adhere to, leading to further drug resistance. These challenges underscore the importance of new treatment options for people living with multi-drug resistant HIV infection.”

The phase II/III CAPELLA trial included 72 people living with HIV with a median age of 52, 75 percent of whom were men. Individuals were eligible for the study if they were age 12 and older, were currently on a failing drug regimen, and had developed resistance to at least two drugs from four main classes of antiretroviral medications (46 percent of patients in the study had resistance to all four major classes of antiretroviral medications). Half of the trial participants were randomized to receive oral lenacapavir or a placebo along with their existing medication regimen for 14 days.

The remaining 36 participants started taking lenacapavir pills at the beginning of the trial on top of a regimen of HIV medications designed to maximize effectiveness for these heavily treatment-experienced people. After 14 days on the oral drug, they, too, switched to the subcutaneous injections.

At the end of the lead-in period, 88 percent of participants receiving lenacapavir saw a significant drop in their viral level, compared with just 17 percent of those on the placebo. Trial participants randomized to receive lenacapavir also experienced an increase in white blood cells called CD4 T cells, critical to fighting the infection. Overall, the percentage of people with profoundly low CD4 T cells decreased from 24 percent to 0 percent. No one dropped out of the study as a result of drug-related side effects, according to Dr. Segal-Maurer.

The significance of the trial’s findings is profound. We’ve come a long way,” said Segal-Maurer, who has witnessed the evolution of HIV treatment over the decades, starting at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. “I was in medical school in the early to mid-eighties when the average lifespan between diagnosis and death was anywhere from weeks to months. We’ve gone from many pills multiple times a day to one pill a day to possibly even less. Now we’re in a place where if a patient can engage in care and take their medicine, they have an excellent chance for improved outcomes and a long lifespan.”

A version of this op-ed can be found on the New York-Presbyterian Queens “Health Matters” website.

Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer is a paid consultant for Gilead Sciences and director of Dr. James J. Rahal, Jr., Infectious Diseases Division at New York-Presbyterian Queens, and professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. She is the site principal investigator for a number of studies evaluating new investigational HIV antiretroviral therapies.

OP-ED: I Have Seen the Future and It’s in Queens

By Vincent Kish

On October 17, 1965, I took the bus to Flushing Meadows to attend the last day of the New York World’s Fair. As was my usual pattern, I went straight to the pavilions in the Industrial Area. First stop was Coca-Cola for a mini world tour including stops in Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro, then to Travelers Insurance for a walk through history at “The Triumph of Man” exhibit.

The Better Living pavilion seemed pretty lame, but they had a number of free samples, including a new grapefruit soda, “Wink.” Then I went to Bell Telephone for a tour through communications history, “From Drumbeat to Telestar,” and to beep away at the many new models of push button phones and, a real treat in pre-video game days, to play electronic tic-tac-toe against a computer.

Equitable Life Assurance had an outdoor exhibit that included a giant tabulator which tracked population growth in the U.S. In what I found to be a little creepy, their signage indicated that on average, a baby is born every seven-and-a-half seconds, a person dies every 18-and-a-half seconds, therefore the population grows by one person every 11 seconds. As best as I can recall, on that day the total was up to about 193,000,000.

For good luck, I tossed a penny into one of the fountains at The Pool of Industry. There was an urban legend going around that some kid had run away from home and was living at The Fair, fishing coins out of the fountains at night for food money. If so, his income source was about to dry up and it was time for him to return home.

I then walked directly to the Transportation Area, skipping the International and the Federal and State Areas, in which I had no interest, and the Amusement Area, for which I had insufficient funds.

The line at The Ford Rotunda was long, and I didn’t want to spend an hour waiting around just to see some animatronic dinosaurs. So I settled for looking at fiberglass versions at “Dinoland” at the Sinclair Exhibit.

At the Transportation and Travel Building, there was a guy demonstrating The Wonder Knife, a blade so sharp it could cut tomato slices thin enough to see through. When I forked over my two dollars, he assured me that the knife would never need sharpening. Although I sensed he was a huckster at heart, he proved to be quite a prognosticator. My mother would use that knife almost daily for the next 50 years, as would I for the last seven, and counting.

My favorite spot of all was General Motors. Everything about the Futurama Ride was cool, from the comfortable contour seats, the haunting lighting and atmosphere, to the hypnotic narration provided by actor Alexander Scourby.

And although this was my 14th visit, the exhibits were still captivating, although far from realistic as it turned out. The only thing they got right was lunar exploration, then just four years away. But they overplayed their hand by including things like regular commuter spaceship landings. There are still no farms in the desert or underwater vacation resorts, or weather stations beneath the Antarctic ice. And predictions for the City of Tomorrow, a tomorrow already long in the past, seemed to have been based less upon science or urban planning than on viewing episodes of The Jetsons. There are no roadways in the sky, high speed buses, or underground freight conveyor belts. And the only times I’ve been on moving sidewalks have been at airports, and, ironically, at Freedomland in the Bronx in 1962. But, accurate or otherwise, it was all great fun. And like so many other things at The Fair, it did much to warm my 13-year-old heart.

Later that afternoon, I was saddened to see that a number of visitors were beginning to vandalize the grounds, including digging up flowers. I really didn’t want to see or remember things like that happening at this special place. It was time to leave. On the bus ride home I proudly wore my GM “I Have Seen the Future” button. It was one of dozens of souvenirs I had collected over two years including maps, guidebooks, 45 RPM records, Unispheres, a Ford Pavilion badge indicating that I was from England (I was a big Beatles fan), and an autographed (paw print) photo of Lady Greyhound. I still have it all. When my time comes, I’ll leave the collection to my grandchildren. But, I predict, that day is far away, off somewhere in the future.

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