Ellen Abbott

Reporter, Syracuse, WRVO Public Media

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County.  Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered. 

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Office of Onondaga County Comptroller

The new deal between the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency and the company that runs its waste-to-energy plant in Jamesville calls for burning more trash, but OCRRA officials say that isn’t a problem.

OCRRA has agreed to extend its partnership for another 20 years with Covanta Onondaga, the company that’s been running the Jamesville facility since it opened more than two decades ago. The deal requires Onondaga County to come up with 345,000 tons of garbage a year, or pay a penalty. It works out to an average of nine percent more trash than the county produces now.

Leah Landry / WRVO

Boosters of a controversial plan to ease the regulation of Lake Ontario water levels are continuing their push to get the federal government to agree to the proposal. The outdoor sports community is lining up behind Plan 2014.

Plan 2014 eliminates a 50-year-old policy of regulating water levels of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Proponents want lake levels to go up and down naturally, which they say would bring back some of the wildlife damaged by the practice.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The student sit-in at Syracuse University’s Crouse-Hinds Hall has entered its third week. The protesters who call themselves "THE General Body" say they are attracting a groundswell of support from faculty, and held a rally to show it.

"I swear to you that us faculty members will stand behind you, not for as long as you are sitting in, but forever after," said S.U. Geography Professor Don Mitchell, who offered support to student protesters at a rainy rally in front of the Hall of Languages Monday.  

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The Solarize Syracuse initiative was a success, according to organizers. The three-month long program has helped more than 70 property owners in Syracuse, Dewitt, Manlius and the town of Onondaga go solar.

Solar energy is helping Diane Swords of Syracuse’s university neighborhood heat her home. Swords is one of the property owners who installed solar energy technology during the recent Solarize Syracuse blitz.
 

SUNY ESF

The State University of New York School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse has figured out a way to grow an American chestnut tree that won’t die from a blight that’s virtually decimated the species over the last hundred years. It all comes down to genes.

American chestnut trees are an iconic species in American culture. Wildlife has relied on them, streets were named after them, and you can’t avoid mention of them in music during the holiday season.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period begins Saturday. One Syracuse agency is getting ready to help people who want to sign up or make a change in their health insurance policies.

In the first year of the Affordable Care Act, ACR Health in Syracuse signed up 8,000 central New Yorkers through the New York State of Health website, and about 6,000 of those people completed their health insurance enrollment. Now it’s time for the agency to get back to work during the next open enrollment period.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Twenty-five years ago last weekend, the Berlin Wall came crashing down, a key event that led to the end of the Cold War. The anniversary is also shining a light on a piece of the historic wall that ended up in Syracuse, a fact many central New Yorkers aren’t aware of.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

A rooftop garden at the top of the Syracuse Veterans Affairs Medical Center's new spinal injury wing does more than provide a nice view for visitors. It’s the site of a horticulture therapy program that the VA is hoping could spread to other hospitals in the system.

Bruce Nowakowski, 66, of Pennelville, has been in the residential unit of the VA for about a year now. He says he's got a dream.  
 

"Right now I’m trying to work on growing a giant pumpkin,” Nowakoski said.

He knows where he’s going to get the seeds, and expects to plant them in January.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The city of Syracuse is ready to jump into a competition for more state funds meant to spark the upstate economy. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is planning to announce a competition based on the model of the Buffalo Billion.

Cuomo, during an political stop in Syracuse last month, said he’ll start talking up the program in his State of the State speech in January.

“We’re going to ask for a billion and a half dollars to bring the Buffalo Billion type program to other cities across upstate New York," Cuomo said.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

How does a political newcomer take on a two-term congressman and win a seat in Congress? That’s what happened in central New York this week, as Republican John Katko defeated Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei by 20 points.

Katko analyzed his winning campaign during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters yesterday.

-JvL- / Flickr

The New York state Senate got swept up in this year's Republican election wave, with 33 districts in their corner after the votes were counted.

The dean of central New York’s Senate delegation, state Sen. John DeFrancisco, said that’s good news.

On the flip side, it means difficulty for central New York's Democratic Assembly members to push through key agenda items, and reduces the influence of Sen. Dave Valesky, who DeFrancisco shares representation of Syracuse with.

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

A year ago, John Katko of Camillus was a federal prosecutor, putting criminals behind bars. Today he is congressman-elect for central New York’s 24th Congressional District.

The Republican's first foray into politics has led to a stunning victory over two-term Rep. Dan Maffei, a Democrat.      

“Anybody want to know why I’m wearing a purple tie?" Katko asked, opening his victory speech. "It’s a combination of red and blue because we all got to get together." 

He vowed to keep the promise he made on the campaign trail to work with Democrats in Washington.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

College students across central New York today are learning valuable lessons this Election Day. Many students from different colleges and universities are fanned out at polling places across Syracuse and Onondaga County, interviewing voters or volunteering to help.

Jonathan Rowe, who attends Onondaga Community College, has been what’s called a "gatekeeper" at the Elmwood School polling location in Syracuse, since polls opened this morning.
   
“Good morning, do you know what district you are voting in?” he says to one voter walking into the location.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Construction can now begin on an amphitheater on the western shore of Onondaga Lake.

Onondaga County lawmakers agreed Monday to borrow almost $50 million to build the venue. Opponents, like Republican Kathleen Rapp, voted against the plan, suggesting it doesn’t have enough of an economic punch.

“It’s like your family budget," Rapp said. "You’d like to do everything. I would love to do this amphitheater, but not at the cost of giving up other things that would give far bigger return to taxpayers.”

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Onondaga County is experimenting this Election Day with electronic poll books. Information gleaned from this experience could change the way New Yorkers sign in to vote in this state.

Right now, when voters go to the polls in New York state, an election worker flips through a big book. A voter then signs in next to their name, before casting their ballot.

Electronic poll books would change that first step, with voters' names stored in a laptop-like device, using a signature pad to sign in.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Update: The Onondaga County Legislature voted today to borrow $50 million to build an amphitheater along Onondaga Lake. The vote passed by a 12-5 margin. The five members of the legislature who voted against the proposition were Kevin Holmquist, Judith Tassone, Kathleen Rapp, Casey Jordan and Peggy Chase. 

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

The first experiment with the state’s new public campaign financing law went out with a whimper. The method of parlaying private dollars into a public match fell short in the race for the state comptroller.

In order to get $1.2 million in state funds for his campaign, Republican state comptroller candidate Bob Antonacci needed to get 2,000 people to donate between $10 and $175, and it had to amount to at least $200,000.

In the end, Antonacci fell about $50,000 short.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Heading into the last weekend before election day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is crossing upstate New York encouraging Democrats to get out the vote. His first stop was a rally in Syracuse.

"We vote, we win," Cuomo said. "We vote when we work and we knock on doors and we make phone calls... We do it 24 hours a day and we out work the other side."

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

With less than a week to go until Election Day, candidates in one of the highest profile races in central New York are in the midst of a debate blitz. Democrat incumbent Dan Maffei and his Republican challenger, John Katko, are both running to represent the 24th Congressional District, and outlined their stands at the Thursday Morning Roundtable in DeWitt.

The candidates offered up views on foreign policy to kick off the latest debate, specifically whether American troops should be used to deal with the advancement of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, in the Middle East.

John Katko for Congress

As WRVO profiles congressional races in central and northern New York this week, we turn to the 24th Congressional District. It features a well-known Democrat who has struggled to hold onto the office, and a political neophyte. Today, we profile John Katko.

When John Katko decided to quit his job as a federal prosecutor in January to run for Congress, his sister was surprised.

"I’m like really, are you serious,” Cindy Hoyne said. “He’s like yeah. He’s not your typical politician; I think that’s what floored me the most.”

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The future of an amphitheater project on the western shore of Onondaga Lake comes down to a vote by Onondaga County lawmakers next week. 

The amphitheater is part of a $100 million project to revitalize the communities on the western shore of Onondaga Lake. The state will pay for infrastructure improvements and housing projects in Solvay and Geddes but Onondaga County will have to pay for the $50 million amphitheater, by way of a 30-year bond.

Ryan Delane / WRVO file photo

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-Syracuse) is courting senior voters as Election Day approaches. He stood with some local seniors in Syracuse, promising to protect Social Security. He admits there are some changes that could be made to the federal program.

“But it’s not in crisis," Maffei said. "It’s a program that continues to make sure that seniors can continue to live a dignified life, even if their private savings didn't work out, or something like that. And that’s the whole point of the program that Roosevelt put in.”

Sarah Jean Condon / The Citizen

The first of a series of televised debates in the race for the 24th Congressional District kicked off last night. Democratic incumbent Dan Maffei and Republican challenger John Katko sparred in the studios of Time Warner Cable News.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

In the waning days of the election, Republican congressional candidate John Katko is focusing on poverty.

Katko, a former federal prosecutor in Syracuse, says he’s seen up close the poverty plaguing the 23rd poorest city in the country.

"I remember many times walking up a dark stairway, trying to find a witness with one of the agents, knocking on the door, not knowing what’s going to happen when the door happens," Katko said. "But when that door opens, you see unbelievable living conditions in the city of Syracuse. Where is the outrage? Where is the concern?”

WRVO

For the first time in two decades, Onondaga County will have a new sheriff next January. The two men vying for the opportunity to succeed longtime sheriff Kevin Walsh, who’s retiring, are making the rounds across the county this fall, trying to convince voters to pay attention to the race.  

The candidates are Republican Gene Conway, currently the police chief in the town of Dewitt, and Democrat Toby Shelley, a 16-year veteran of the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department, who retired in 2011.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Onondaga County says part of its jail overcrowding problem could be eased with a little help from New York State. Lawmakers are asking the state to make changes in a policy regarding state prisoners who’ve run afoul of their parole.

Right now, Onondaga County is forced to take state prisoners, who have violated parole, and keep them in the local jail while the justice system decides whether to send them back to state prison. County officials say that policy is squeezing an overcrowded county jail even more.  

U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

As the home heating season approaches, the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, or NYSERDA, is pushing a program that offers incentives for heating homes with wood pellets and cordwood, and using the latest high-efficiency, low-emission wood heating systems.

New York state started the Renewable Heat New York program in July. The $27 million initiative promotes the highest efficiency wood burning technologies in the country.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The controversial issue of hydrofracking will come up in Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate if Howie Hawkins has anything to do with it. The Green Party candidate will be on the stage in Buffalo with Democratic incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Republican Rob Astorino and Libertarian candidate Michael McDermott.

NIAID / Flickr

New York State Health Department officials are in Syracuse this week looking at how SUNY Upstate Medical University is preparing to become one of two hospitals in upstate New York designated to deal with Ebola patients.

Being an Ebola hospital means Upstate has to be ready on three fronts, according to hospital CEO John McCabe.

"One is identifying the patients early," McCabe said. "Second is taking care of them in a safe way, and third is being sure that no other patient, staff member, family member has any exposure.”

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Vice President Joe Biden tried to stir up some election fervor during a visit to Syracuse Monday.

Biden, a Syracuse University alumnus, made sure to point out to Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner that he was sporting an orange tie for his visit to a city he called “almost home."

"Steph, I just want you to know I got my colors on, I got my colors,” Biden joked.

Then it was down to business, stumping for Democrat Rep. Dan Maffei, who’s facing a competitive Republican opponent in former federal prosecutor John Katko in the race for the 24th Congressional District.

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