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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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.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Unions representing law enforcement officers in central New York are throwing their support behind former federal prosecutor John Katko in his race against Democratic incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei for the 24th Congressional District seat.

Syracuse Police Benevolent Association President Jeffrey Piedmonte says the main reason he’s speaking out is because he’s irritated about Democratic attack ads that accuse Katko of being light on crime, especially in connection with the plea agreement offered to former Oswego Mayor John Gosek for a sex crime.  

Attorney General candidate John Cahill is proposing a plan to fight the heroin epidemic that’s ravaging communities across the state.  

Cahill, a Republican, says the five-point plan attacks the problem from a number of angles. It starts with tougher laws that go after the drug traffickers, including tougher sentences and changes in the classification of the drug in penal law.

Matthias Ripp / Flickr

Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler is helping an organization that’s advocating for more after school programs.

The highest profile member of the Afterschool Alliance is former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

“After school programs are between three and six o’clock, which is the danger zone for our kids,” Schwarzenegger said.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Syracuse is in line for more money for its land bank. The state announced a second round of awards Wednesday to help communities restore abandoned and dangerous properties.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that another $20 million is going out to land banks across the state, while at a house on Syracuse’s Southside. The home was renovated, and has been sold to a first time home buyer.
 

Katelyn Wright, executive director of the Greater Syracuse Land Bank says the city is in line for $2 million from this round of awards.

NIAID / Flickr

Officials in Onondaga County want to be ready if a case of Ebola turns up in central New York. Earlier this week, all of the players who would be involved in treating the virus laid out a road map for Ebola preparedness.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

It was a relatively easy budget season for Onondaga County lawmakers this fall. Legislators unanimously approved County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s proposed $1.25 billion spending plan. There was only one hiccup; concern about spending more money for construction of a dog kennel at the Jamesville Correctional Facility.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

More police cameras are heading to crime-ridden Syracuse neighborhoods, spreading into more areas on the city’s Northside.

Patricia Simmons is pastor of a church in the Washington Square neighborhood of Syracuse. She’s happy the crime-deterring cameras are coming.

"Our church is on the corner of Park and Turtle,” Simmons said. “Outside our door we see prostitution, we see drug activities happen. If we have a big event, the folks come out to solicit and I think the cameras would also help to alleviate some of that.” 

Rob DeMarco Campaign / Al Stirpe Campaign / Facebook

One of the most hotly contested races on Election Day in central New York is for the 127th state Assembly seat. Democrat incumbent Al Stirpe faces Republican Rob DeMarco in the fight for the district that runs along the eastern end of Onondaga County, from Clay to Tully.

During a debate on WRVO’s Campbell Conversations, DeMarco suggests New York’s business climate is poor and it’s time for a change.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Advocates for the disabled in central New York are calling for more housing and support for families with children who have disabilities. The focus is on help for families with adult children.

Barbara Resseguies' 28-year-old daughter has Down Syndrome and a dream to have her own apartment.

"Just a safe place she could get support and not be treated like a 10-year-old or 12-year-old," Resseguies said.

NAMI Syracuse

A mental health advocacy group in Syracuse is pushing for better services and understanding of adolescents with mental illness. Families say adolescent mental health services fall short in a number of ways in central New York.

Karen Winter Schwartz was coping with a late night mental health crisis with a family member, when a mental health specialist told her to go to the phone book and look up CPEP, the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program in Syracuse.

Onondaga Emerald Ash Borer Task Force

Onondaga County’s Emerald Ash Borer Task Force is trying to take a more regional approach as it tries to corral the spread of the invasive insect.

The task force has been on the trail of the Emerald Ash Borer, or EAB, for three years now, so when it showed up in parts of Syracuse and DeWitt last summer, local governments started an aggressive campaign to take down or treat infested ash trees.

Onondaga Community College hopes to close a skills gap in the local agribusiness and food industry sectors of the economy.

According to OCC President Casey Crabill, she estimates there are 2,400 openings in this field every year in central New York.

“It’s a growing field," Crabill said. "It was cited in our region's economic development plan as a field for the future. I think that’s part of the reason our grant was successful, is that we are very tied in to a lot of community efforts tied into this industry already.”

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Republican congressional hopeful John Katko is criticizing Democratic incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei’s legislative record from his two terms in Congress as part of the latest salvo in a race that is getting tighter, according to some national political pundits.

During a news conference this week, Katko, a former prosecutor, pointed to a list of legislation Maffei has introduced in the 113th Congress.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The mishandling of an Ebola patient at a Texas hospital has health care institutions across the country on alert, and that includes central New York. Local hospitals and health care providers have stiffened protocols when it comes to dealing with a patient who could have the deadly disease.

Soon after walking into the emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, prospective patients are asked about more than their symptoms. They’re quizzed on where they have been.
 

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his democratic running mate, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, and other women’s rights advocates spoke to a cheering crowd of union members and local elected officials as part of an upstate bus tour to promote a 10-point women’s rights plan.

Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act failed in the state Senate, when neither party could muster enough votes for an abortion rights provision. Now Cuomo and Hochul are making it a campaign issue.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

There are still children being treated at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse for symptoms of a respiratory virus that’s hospitalized hundreds of children across the country. But the numbers of suspected cases of Enterovirus D-68 has leveled off.

It was just a few weeks ago that the pediatric emergency room at Upstate was jammed with families worried that their children had come down with the enterovirus that’s swept across the country. Pediatrician Jana Shaw says things are considerably calmer now.

Daniel Paquet / Flickr

It's that time of year when experts recommend getting a flu shot, but many central New Yorkers aren't getting that message.

A larger percentage of central New Yorkers get vaccine preventable diseases like the flu than in any other part of upstate New York, according to state Health Department numbers compiled by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Regional President Dr. Arthur Vercillo says that mirrors the number of people getting flu shots.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

With five weeks until election day, Rep. Dan Maffei’s reelection campaign is embarking on a campaign strategy called “30 Days and 30 Ways John Katko is Too Reckless and Radical for Central New York.”

Maffei, a Democrat, is running for his third term in Congress, and says the idea is to outline differences between him, and Republican nominee John Katko. Week one focuses on the candidate’s jobs agenda.  Maffei says he has a record and accuses Katko of having nothing but a one-page jobs document.

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ACR Health has expanded its needle exchange program in Utica.  

In the Syracuse area, the organization’s three-year-old needle exchange program has reached almost 1,000 injection drug users. ACR health prevention director Erin Bortel says one of the reason it’s so successful is that it goes to where the injection users are.

"We’re able to infiltrate the community in a little bit more practical way, than expecting people who continually experience stigma and discrimination from having to come to us. So our mobility is our huge asset in our ability to reach individuals.”

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Syracuse University showed off an $18 million renovation of the Newhouse 2 building on campus with arguably one of the most successful television personalities in the country cutting the ribbon.

"Let the new generation of innovation come forth," said long-time talk show host Oprah Winfrey to those standing beside her. "One, two, three. Cut!"
 

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Spent grain will once again be allowed to be used as livestock feed in New York state. Sen. Chuck Schumer says the by product of the brewing process had been used for centuries by farmers to feed livestock, until the federal government got involved.

"All of a sudden the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, came in and said 'you can’t send this spent grain except under certain conditions.' That hurt our craft brewers, say Empire Brewing and F.X.Matt here in central New York," said Schumer. It hurt our farmers getting this grain. Otherwise they’d have to pay to dispose of it.”

Gino Geruntino / WRVO/File photo

Onondaga County and emergency management officials are taking the next step to help central New Yorkers prepare for a natural or man-made disaster. Officials believe it’s not a matter of if a disaster will strike, but when, and residents need to be ready.

Following a survey last year of central New Yorkers asking how ready they were for a disaster, one statistic stood out to Rosie Taravella of the Red Cross. Most people believe emergency responders will be able to help them right away if there is a community-wide storm, flood or man-made disaster.

ACR Health Prevention Services in Syracuse is looking for ways to reduce HIV and hepatitis C infection rates in New York state prisons.

According to federal statistics, inmates have the highest rate of HIV in New York, compared to any other state, and many of those inmates are  co-infected with hepatitis C. To fight that, the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS has a campaign that emphasizes public awareness, education and access to testing and treatment.  

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The jockeying for a coveted casino license in New York state's Southern Tier and Finger Lakes was on display at a public comment session in Ithaca Wednesday. The New York Gaming Facility Location Board wrapped up a series of public hearings by listening to arguments about proposed casinos in what is called the Eastern Southern Tier region.

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