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Screening Panel Report (August 2008)

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The Screening Panel of the 504 Democratic Club met on the following dates and locations:

  • Monday, July 28 in Brooklyn

  • Wednesday, July 30 in Lower Manhattan

  • Thursday, July 31 in Bronx

  • Monday, August 4 in Queens

  • Monday, August 4 in Upper Manhattan

All candidates received an invitation and questionnaire by e-mail. Virtually all received follow up telephone calls and e-mails. Some candidates didn't respond despite repeated contacts. This report and our ballot are limited to those candidates who appeared for an interview and/or submitted a questionnaire.

Our thanks to the following individuals whose support made this possible: Edith Prentiss, Jo Anne Simon, Mike Schweinsburg, Jamin Sewell, Kenny Agosto, Maureen Green, Alan Goldblatt, Chris Noel & Marvin Wasserman.

The panel met after every session to make recommendations, which appear in BOLD print. Where none appears, the panel makes no recommendation

 

Contents:

Congress

6th Congressional District (Queens): We interviewed Rubin Wills, former Chief of Staff to State Senator Shirley Huntley, and who previously worked for Council Member Leroy Comrie. He has no significant endorsements and is running because he believes that the incumbent, Gregory Meeks, is pushing his "personal agenda," and has not brought home any services or programs to the district. Wills' is being challenged in court and may not be on the primary ballot. He did not provide us with any significant reason to go against Meeks.
 
Congress Member Meeks did not participate in our screening procedure.

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8th Congressional District (Brooklyn/Manhattan): The long-time incumbent, Jerrold Nadler, has been a long-time supporter of our issues and a previous recipient of our FDR Award. He was not able to appear at our screening, but submitted a questionnaire. As Chair of the Sub-Committee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, he held hearings and was instrumental in the passage of the ADA Amendments Act. He is a supporter every major piece of legislation advanced by our community. He has been a life-long sponsor and supporter of our community and we look forward to his continuing to serve in Congress for many years to come.

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10th Congressional District (Brooklyn): We interviewed Kevin Powell, a poet and essayist who is challenging long-time incumbent, Ed Towns. He spoke of growing up in a dysfunctional matriarchal family in Newark. He has been in therapy for over twenty years. He is supported by many feminists despite acknowledging that he is a "recovering misogynist," which he attributes to having been reared in a violent environment. He talked about the high incidence of disability in the community as a result of violence. He was knowledgeable and supportive about legislation affecting our community in Congress, and emphasized his support for the Community Choice Act. He is earnest, charismatic, and well-spoken, and the panel was highly impressed with his presentation.
 
His opponent, despite promising to send a surrogate, did not do so, nor did he complete and submit a questionnaire.

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13th Congressional District (Staten Island/Brooklyn): The disgraced Republican incumbent will not stand for re-election. There is a Democratic primary between Council Member Michael McMahon and the last Democratic candidate in the district, Steve Harrison.
 
Although Council Member McMahon has been supportive of our issues in the past, we were unable to gain his participation in the screening process.
 
Steve Harrison is a trial lawyer who dedicates his career to representing those who have become disabled. In having to explain these conditions to juries, he has become sensitized to the needs of people with disabilities and created in him a desire to make society more aware of our needs. He believes that a program should be developed to encourage persons with disabilities to become employed without disincentives. He believes all voting machines should be accessible, not just one per site. They should be secure and not be tampered with, and have a verifiable paper trail. He supports universal "single payer" health care system along the lines of Community Choice Act and "Money follows the Person." He seeks advice from disability activists, especially Jean Ryan.

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14th Congressional District (Manhattan/Queens): Carolyn Maloney, the long-time incumbent and friend of 504 has no primary opponent, but submitted a questionnaire and sent a surrogate to speak in her behalf. She was unavailable because she had an event in connection to the release of her new book. She has pushed our agenda and is on all the bills that we support. She mentored former 504 officer and current Assembly Member Micah Kellner.

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17th Congressional District (Bronx, Westchester, Rockland): The long-time incumbent, Eliot Engel, submitted a questionnaire. He has been a supporter of our issues. He was a co-sponsor of the original ADA, Christopher and Dana Reeves Paralysis Act, Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity, CCA, and ADA Amendments Act. He has no Democratic primary opposition.

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State Senate

10th State Senatorial District (Queens): The one-term incumbent, Shirley Huntley, submitted a questionnaire. She was unable to appear in person because her husband was in the hospital. We are very impressed that, despite her lack of extensive legislative service, she is thoroughly familiar with and a strong supporter of our issues. She's the ranking of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee, and has a strong background in disability services prior to her election.
 
Her opponent, a disgraced former Council Member, did not participate in our screening procedure.

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15th State Senatorial District (Queens): We interviewed Albert Baldeo, a lawyer serving the Caribbean and South Asian immigrant community, who narrowly missed unseating the incumbent Republican two years ago, despite having little institutional support. He is very impressive and supportive of our issues. He has been a strong voice for the new American community in Queens, representing them in court and in seeking empowerment.
 
His Democratic primary opponent, Council Member Joseph Addabbo, did not participate in our screening procedure.

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21st State Senatorial District (Brooklyn): We interviewed Council Member Simcha Felder, who spoke from his heart about his life-long involvement with our community. He unsuccessfully sought to Chair the Disability Committee of the Council, and now serves as an active member of the Committee. As Chair of the Government Operations Committee, he has devoted considerable resources to assessing the BOE's response to HAVA. After tours of every Council District, he found the response to be inadequate and termed it "separate and unequal." He has also expressed his concern about the limited access for students with disabilities at some CUNY campuses as well as the gap between recognition of mental health issues versus physical disabilities. He reported that the bulk of his allocations are awarded to organizations focusing on mental and physical disabilities. Disability activists have expressed appreciation for his sincere consideration of every issue brought before him. When asked why he was running against the incumbent, he stated that he did not believe the incumbent was adequately delivering funding or constituent services to his community.
 
The Democratic incumbent, Kevin Parker, who has previously received our support, did not keep an appointment for an interview, nor did he submit a questionnaire. The third candidate, Council Member Kendall Stewart didn't participate in our procedure.

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25th State Senatorial District (Brooklyn and Manhattan): While not known for his support for our events, incumbent Marty Connor spoke about his 30 year history in the Senate and the many pieces of legislation he supported for our community. As the most senior member of Senate, should the Democrats win control of that body in this election, he would be the ranking member. With his legislative know-how, he would be well-placed to deliver for his district and our community. He passed the legislation providing for personal care workers to ride free in public transit, rather than forcing the consumer to pay the fare, and then objecting that it was not being enforced. He has a severely-disabled older brother, a disabled daughter, and has employed disabled members of his staff at all levels from messengers to a former press secretary who was deaf. He stated that he appointed a person with a disability as his Deputy Minority Leader, who later became Governor. He has fought for presumptive Medicaid eligibility for inmates upon their release.
 
We also interviewed his opponent, Daniel Squadron. He spoke about his role as Communications Director for the Transportation Bond Act, which included expanding access and opportunity for persons with disabilities, and that accessibility was a primary concern in his search for a campaign office. He also renovated a small bar/restaurant to be fully ADA compliant. His grandmother lived with a disability, as well as his father (at the end of his life), He sees disability access as a basic civil right and pledged to work aggressively in support of this type of legislation if elected. He says that New York State must fill in the gap created by the Federal courts in the enforcement of Federal disability legislation. He also supports the use of vouchers with a 100% accessible taxi fleet to make trips affordable and to lower the cost of para-transit, as well as Olmstead implementation. Unfortunately, his presentation before the panel wasn't nearly as effective as Senator Connor's, but the answers in his questionnaire were reasonably strong.

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26th State Senatorial District (Manhattan): The incumbent, Liz Krueger, has no primary opponent and submitted a questionnaire. First elected in 2002, she has been a strong supporter of all our issues.

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29th State Senatorial District (Manhattan): The long-term incumbent, Tom Duane, has been one of our biggest champions in the legislature. Deservedly, he has no primary opponent. He submitted a questionnaire.

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31st State Senatorial District (Manhattan/Bronx): The incumbent, Eric Schneiderman, was unable to participate in our interview because he will be undergoing orthopedic surgery. However he was ably represented. He is knowledgeable and supportive of our issues. He was the attorney opposing the MTA fare hike. He's on the Health and the Mental Health Committee.

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32nd State Senatorial District (Bronx): Despite the glowing recommendation of his surrogate, we are not impressed with State Senator Ruben Diaz, Jr. His reputation is not solid with respect to support of the Democratic Party nor our issues, nor other civil rights issues we care about. We had hoped that he would change our impression of him, but he failed. With one vote short of obtaining a Democratic majority in the State Senate, so that it would be easier to pass our legislation, Senator Diaz refuses to divulge which party he will align with in the next session.
 
Neither of his two Democratic primary opponents participated in our screening panel.

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33rd State Senatorial District (Bronx): State Senator Efrain Gonzalez was ably represented by his former staff member and 504 Executive Committee member Kenny Agosto. Senator Gonzalez is sincere and cares deeply about providing quality services for his constituents.

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Assembly

22nd Assembly District (Queens): The first-term incumbent, Ellen Young, was interviewed. She participated despite a recent bicycle accident with a car, and appeared in crutches after initially using a wheelchair. She knows our issues well We endorsed her two years ago, and it isn't often that we see an incumbent gain some complex understanding of our issues in such a short period of time. Ten of the 44 bills she introduced were passed by the Assembly and five were signed into law. These included requiring wheelchairs and scoters to be repaired or replaced in a timely manner regardless of payment source (waiting for Governor's signature) and protecting seniors and PWDs from domestic violence, and permitting non-residents of nursing homes to use the facilities.
 
Her opponent, Grace Meng, an attorney and the daughter of the former one-term incumbent, submitted a questionnaire. She was her father's counsel. She was honored by Queens College Committee for Disabled Students. She replied positively on our issues and stated that she had a wheelchair using worker at this time.

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23rd Assembly District (Queens): We received a questionnaire from the incumbent, Audrey Pheffer, the long-term incumbent. Prior to being elected, she volunteered with AHRC to create after-school programs. She worked with Gateway National Park to assure accessibility. She sponsored numerous pieces of legislation to advance disability. She worked with the Board of Education Occupational Training Center.

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34th Assembly District (Queens): We interviewed Michael Den Decker, a District Leader and City Council facility staff member, who is replacing the incumbent, Ivan Lafayette, on the primary ballot. Assemblyman Lafayette is accepting a position with the Paterson administration. Mr. Den Decker openly stated that he has no knowledge or opinions on our issues, but would be "open" to consider the issues and programs which we are advocating. He appears to have no background which would enhance his service in the Assembly.

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40th Assembly District (Brooklyn): Six candidates are running for this open seat. The only candidate who participated in our screening was Inez Barron, who retired after thirty years as a teacher and principal in the public schools. As principal, she shared the facility with a special educational program, which she says gave her the experience to recognize "different types of abilities." She and her husband, Council Member Charles Barron, founded Dynamics of Leadership, where she advocated for staff with disabilities. In the Assembly, she will work to achieve parity of D.R.I.E. with S.C.R.I.E. and will advocate for accessible subway stations in her district. She has employed mobility-impaired staff on her campaign and has an accessible campaign office. She has pledged to be not just a legislator, but an activist for our issues. She is a polished and conciliatory individual who will effectively represent our community and her constituents. She was one of the most impressive candidates we have interviewed this year in a contested race.

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44th Assembly District (Brooklyn): We interviewed long-time incumbent Jim Brennan who has always been a strong champion of our issues, and has been before us and attended our events many times. With no primary challenge, he joined us to update us on our latest term. He has received two national awards for disability rights work, chaired the Assembly Mental Health Committee, won NYC Transit eligibility for half-fare for persons with mental disabilities was lead sponsor of the Work and Wellness Act, won 5,000 units of NYNYII supportive housing, and many other awards. He supports the Presumptive Eligibility Medicaid bill and housing expansion for PWDs, which he believes can be accomplished through the zoning process. Recently, he provided funding to make a subway station in his district fully accessible (including bathrooms) twelve years ahead of schedule.

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52nd Assembly District (Brooklyn): Incumbent Joan Millman was out of town at the time of our interview, but submitted a questionnaire. She has been a long-time advocate for PWDs and a supporter of 504. She was last year's recipient of the FDR Award at our annual dinner. She was a leader in the fight for the introduction of the B-51 bus connecting her district with City Hall in Manhattan before there was any subway access for PWDs. More recently, she is the prime sponsor of the Visitabilty bill, which would require all new housing construction of less than six floors have basic accessibility features on the first floor.

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55th Assembly District (Brooklyn): We interviewed Bilal Malik, who is challenging incumbent William Boyland, Jr. Assembly Member Boyland did not participate in our screening procedure. Mr. Malik believes that a legacy of over 30 years of being represented by various members of the Boyland family have not served his community well. He became aware of the many obstacles and the lack services for persons with disabilities when his mother had a stroke. He cited inaccessible transportation, inaccessible buildings, and elevator breakdowns among the many barriers facing PWDs. He is assisting a person to obtain a wheelchair and is running a humanitarian campaign for all of Brownsville. As a veteran, he expressed concern for all disabled vets, particularly those returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a well meaning individual; however, he is not conversant with state policies or programs. We look forward to seeing him again in the future.

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57th Assembly District (Brooklyn): We interviewed first-term Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries, who is running unopposed in the primary. He has appeared before us a couple of times in the past, and we have supported him. Although his district office is accessible to PWDs, he also has evening "office" hours on the street throughout his district during the summer for subway commuters, which he deemed to be beneficial to senior citizens and our community, who might otherwise have to travel to his office. As a Judiciary Committee member, he is particularly concerned about Supreme Court decisions diminishing the ADA, and has used had advocated for the State Courts to uphold the ADA. He has used his position on the Housing Committee to attempt to deal with the affordable housing crisis in Central Brooklyn. He recognizes the missed opportunity when 421a was passed because he believes that the benefits will go to the wealthy and well-connected because there are no "set asides" for the disability community and supportive housing. He has advocated for making the Eastern Parkway subway station in his district, which is near a variety of major cultural institutions and heavily utilized, accessible for PWDs and is not on the 100 "key stations" list.

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59th Assembly District (Brooklyn): We interviewed Alan Maisel, the incumbent, as well as H. R. Clarke, his challenger.
 
Assembly Member Maisel was Vice Principal of a barrier-free school for ten years. During this time, he made it possible for children to have a proper treatment room facility by converting the boy's locker room. He's appeared before us in the past and we have supported him. He did not think it was a problem that a significant number of polling places in his district are not accessible, citing their location in public schools. While we would prefer that he would be more pro-active on disability issues, to his credit he has reached out to us since he's been in office on more than one occasion.
 
His opponent, H. R. Clarke, a professor of political science at CUNY, spoke about growing up in Jamaica, where the issue of disability access is not acknowledged. Since immigrating to this country, he has recognized the complete lack of understanding in his homeland. He is running in a district which is becoming increasingly Caribbean. He expressed his outrage about Michael Savage's comments regarding autistic children as well as his concern about the story of a child who was unable to attend school as a result of having a broken wheelchair. He identified with our community as a result of being a diabetic since childhood. He reported that Mark Fertig, a disabled member of 504, was on his campaign staff. On his questionnaire, he faulted the incumbent for not scheduling physically accessible community meetings and pledged to hire a staff member based upon the recommendation of our club to be liaison to the disability community and focus hiring those with knowledge of disability issues.

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64th Assembly District (Manhattan): We interviewed Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his two challengers Luke Henry and Paul Newell.
 
Speaker Sheldon Silver's enigmatic reputation seemed to melt away as he shared his insights with the screening panel, and he stayed beyond his allotted time. He seemed to have a pronounced interest in our issues. Of worthy note, the Speaker pledged to make himself available for direct consultation on issues critical to our community. We discussed a number of issues of concern before the Assembly; he listened intently and took notes. Much of our legislation has passed the Assembly, with his crucial support, only to die in the Republican-controlled Senate. He seemed to be particularly interested when the use of vouchers for accessible taxis, which would greatly reduce the cost of para-transit, was suggested. He spoke of his partnership with 504 members, Assembly Member Micah Kellner and former Assembly Member Sylvia Friedman, and looked forward to the day when the State Senate roadblock would be eliminated with a Democratic majority.
 
Both of his opponents, Luke Henry and Paul Newell are interesting first time candidates who would be strong supporters of our concerns. Henry was better prepared and had a better understanding of our issues. However, because of his experience and leadership, Speaker Silver, if re-elected, is in a much better position to advance our goals.

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65th Assembly District (Manhattan): The newly-elected Assembly Member, Micah Kellner, who submitted a questionnaire is a former officer of 504 and a strong advocate for disability issues. He is perhaps the only current legislator with a physical disability and represents the largest disabled community in the state. He will be introducing a bill to require a 100% accessible taxi fleet in NYC. His bill to create a Disabled Riders Council for the MTA has passed the Assembly. He introduced a bill to require daily inspections of MTA elevators and improved oversight for repair, and is a strong advocate of expanding EPIC and DRIE/SCRIE parity. He has no opposition in the primary. He has regularly met with disability community advocates.

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67th Assembly District (Manhattan): Linda B. Rosenthal, has no primary. She was interview but did not submit a questionnaire. Before being elected in a 2006 special election and reelected that fall, she was Jerry Nadlerís Manhattan District Director and Director of Special Projects for thirteen years. She has made the transition to the State Assembly ably and continues to serve her constituency. She is well informed on our issues and supports our positions.

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73rd Assembly District (Manhattan): We interviewed the incumbent, Jonathan Bing, whom we have long supported. He introduced the D.R.I.E. parity bill in the Assembly. As Chair of the Mitchell-Lama subcommittee, he worked to keep landlords from selling out of the Mitchell-Lama program. He authored legislation to create licensing for vision rehabilitation therapists that would ensure the safety of persons who are blind or partially sighted to ensure the rehab professionals who work with them to restore their independent functioning.

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75th Assembly District (Manhattan): We received a questionnaire from the long-time incumbent, Richard Gottfried, who is the Chair of the Assembly Health Committee. He has written and co-sponsored many bills that have been very important to our community such as implementing full mental health parity to the Family Health Plus and Child Health Plus and the Disabled Advocacy Program (DAP) and has worked to keep it funded. His strategy for moving legislation is to write to the Speaker and governor and to work with advocates and legislators.

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79th Assembly District (Bronx): We interviewed Sigfredo Gonzalez, who is challenging the incumbent, Michael Benjamin, for the second time. Gonzalez believes that most parts of his community are being ignored by the Assembly Member Benjamin. Mr. Gonzalez is supportive of our issues, but without real knowledge or depth.
 
Assembly Member Benjamin submitted a questionnaire. He doesn't seem to have much insight or knowledge of our issues. Although he supports a 100% accessible taxi fleet, he opposes legislation to make livery fleets and shuttles wheelchair accessible. He doesn't understand that the fiscal impact of D.R.I.E. parity doesn't fall upon the state.

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81st Assembly District (Bronx): We interviewed the incumbent, Jeff Dinowitz, who is one of the few elected officials in the Bronx who regularly appear before us. He is weak on some of our issues, but he has been generally supportive of our issues. He co-sponsored all the major Assembly disability bills.

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City Council

40th District (Queens): We interviewed Elizabeth Crowley, who is unopposed in the primary and is running against the newly minted Republican incumbent, to whom she lost by a narrow margin in the recent special election. Although weak on our issues, she has demonstrated a willingness to learn. She is very supportive of D.R.I.E. parity, and is aware that our community is even less able to afford rent increases than seniors. She is very solid in her support for 100% taxi accessibility and also supports livery accessibility.

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Judicial

Civil Court, County-wide (Brooklyn): We interviewed Alice Fischer Rubin, an incumbent who is running for re-election. She is unopposed and appeared before us as a courtesy. Ms. Rubin was born and raised in Brooklyn. She has experience with making accommodations for PWDs. She reported that she has no vision or hearing on her right side, which makes her very sensitive to the needs of persons with disabilities who appear before her. She will get off the bench to speak with people who are having difficulty with physical access. She extends the same consideration to individuals who have difficulty in communicating in English. She would not discharge a juror because of limitations. Her criteria are that the person be fair and have sufficient language ability to understand the evidence presented, as well as sufficient capability to see the evidence.

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Civil Court, 1st District (Brooklyn): We interviewed Devin Cohen, who is a Life Member of 504. He reports having had more surgery before he reached kindergarten than most people do in a lifetime to lessen orthopedic birth defects. He is First Vice Chair of his local Community Board. He learned martial arts as a child because his parents didnít want him to be isolated as a disabled child, and now holds three Black Belts, is an EMT instructor and serves on his local Community Emergency Response Team. He enjoys the law, which he is extremely knowledgeable, and has won the well-deserved support of the local leadership in his community. We look forward to having him serve on the bench because of his insight into our concerns.
 
His opponent did not participate in our screening.

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Civil Court, 4th District (Brooklyn): Lisa Ottley, who has served as Alice Fisher Rubin's court attorney for the last eight years, submitted a questionnaire. Judge Rubin stated that Ms. Ottley shared her sensibilities. On her questionnaire, she reported that she has a younger brother who is disabled and has been very active in her campaign. She has served as an arbitrator in cases with individuals who use wheelchairs. She does so by sitting at the table rather than on the bench. She believes that a person with disabilities can serve as a juror, but the final decision should rest with the individual.

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Civil Court, County-wide (Manhattan): We interviewed Michael Katz and his opponent Nancy Bannon.
 
Michael Katz is a Principle Court Attorney for a Supreme Court Judge, whom he followed from Civil Court. While in law school, he served as a student advocate at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, an intern at Cardozo Beth Tzedek Legal Service. He has a very strong background as an undergraduate in working with individuals with disabilities as a volunteer. As a counselor for several years in a day camp for children with special needs, as the coordinator of Brandeis Universityís Big Brother/Big Sister program, and at DOROT, where he was responsible for planning disability awareness training and for insuring all sponsored events were physically accessible. As a Principle Court Attorney he has worked with the ADA liaison for the courthouse to assure that reasonable accommodations were extended to all persons in the courtroom, including litigants, jurors and witnesses. On the Anti-Bias Committee of the Supreme Court, in conjunction with court administrators and representatives of the Unified Court System to discuss and address issues concerning accessibility and to educate employees about devices and resources available to assist PWDs.
 
His opponent, Nancy Bannon, is also Principle Court Attorney in the Supreme Court, and previously in the Criminal Court. She has served in this capacity since 1987, in various parts of the court system. She and her entire family have become sensitized to issues of access as a result of her motherís stroke and use of a wheelchair. While we respect her many endorsers, we believe that she is not as well versed on our issues as her opponents.

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Civil Court, County-wide (Bronx): We interviewed Maria Matos, an attorney in Bronx Civil Court and President of the Puerto Rican Bar Association. She is quite active in Bronx community affairs and her and her sonís parochial school. She recognizes that there are major accessibility issues in many of the city courts, especially the Bronx courthouse.
 
We also interviewed a challenger, Verena Powell, a lawyer in private practice and former Assistant District Attorney who has previously appeared before us. We found her to be far more impressive in her presentation than in the past. She is particularly knowledgeable about access issues in the courts and sensitive to reasonable accommodation of PWDs who would appear before her as attorneys, witnesses and jurors.

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Surrogate (Manhattan): We interviewed all three candidates in this highly competitive race.
 
John Reddy is Counsel to the Public Administrator of the Surrogate's Court. He has an impressive and comprehensive understanding of disability concerns regarding the court. Our major concern, that he's part and parcel of the problems affecting the Surrogate's Court, and will is not likely to be committed to reforming the problem of favoritism and cronyism in the allocation of estates and trusts.
 
Milton Tingling is a Supreme Court justice and the son of a judge. He has a good understanding of access issues in the courts and he seems to have sensitivity to those would appear before the Surrogate's Court, but did not convey his vision of the court. We found him fair and compassionate, and he would do well to continue in the Supreme Court.
 
Nora Anderson is a lawyer in private practice who demonstrated a keen knowledge of the challenges before the court, as well as her creative vision. She particularly is sensitive to the issues facing individuals from the more vulnerable communities who would appear before her in Surrogate's Court. Her reform agenda would include establishing a pro-se clerk for individuals without attorneys or new inexperienced attorneys and abandoning the jury "box" so that disabled jurors would not appear apart from their fellow jurors. She described how she would overcome architectural problems in the court, including land marked buildings.

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