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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This weekend’s Super Bowl won’t only be showcasing the NFL’s top football teams. It will also show off a new stadium lighting system that was created in Syracuse.  

  Ephesus Lighting founder Joe Casper is amazed at the publicity his company’s high-performance LED lights have been getting in the run-up to the Super Bowl. There’s been mention of the semi-conductor based technology in Forbes magazine, USA Today and the Washington Post.  And the enhanced lighting fixtures have even made their way into deflate-gate conversations.

One hundred forty central New Yorkers learned first hand what it's like to live in the grip of poverty this week. Visions for Change shined a light on the issue through it's poverty simulation.

Ashlee Hines works at the homeless shelter at the Salvation Army in Syracuse. You’d think she’d be aware of some of the issues people living in poverty face, but playing the role of a mom, going to school, working, and taking care of children was an eye opener.

"What I had to do was really hard. I kind of panicked,” Hines said. “And I know how to do day-to-day stuff.”

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A central New York organization that tries to poke a cynical Syracuse mindset into something more positive is now two years old. The founder of the group Believe in Syracuse says they’ll be getting their message across in more ways as they continue to grow.

John DeSantis started the group two years ago when he found himself continuously watching friends leave central New York after graduating from college.

Public Domain

Syracuse common councilors agreed this week to accept more military hardware for the police department through a state grant program, but not every lawmaker is on board with accepting the equipment.

Among the items on the list of equipment the $100,000 grant will obtain are: entry rams, tubular assault equipment and a Bearcat Ram-Cam four-way monitor. Democrat Jean Kessner wonders why police need it.

"We're a city. We're not a war zone," Kessner said. "I don't know what they are. I can't pretend to know, and that's kind of a problem."

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Syracuse lawmakers have gone on record calling on the New York State Department of Transportation to replace the Interstate-81 viaduct that runs through the city with a street-level boulevard. The move further defines the debate over what to do with the aging highway, which is reaching the end of its lifespan.

Common councilors have voted unanimously to support the option that would tear down I-81 and force traffic around the city, using Interstate-481.

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Upstate University Hospital has won a “comprehensive stroke center” designation by a national health care accrediting agency. But what does that mean for central New York stroke victims?

Catherine Stephens, the administrator of the Upstate Stroke Center, likes to say “time is brain” when emphasizing how important it is for stroke victims to get fast treatment. So as soon as Upstate is alerted of a patient with a possible stroke, the team goes into action.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Charter schools across New York State could be getting a boost, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of State address last week, proposed adding another 100 slots to the state’s charter school cap and lifting the regional limit on the schools. One non-profit charter school operator in the Syracuse area is already bursting at the seams and looking to expand.

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The Greater Syracuse Land Bank will continue to use deconstruction as they demolish dilapidated properties across the city of Syracuse in the coming year. The results of a year-long experiment in the deconstruction process have proved fruitful so far.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO file photo

There will be another competition for state economic development dollars, if the state legislature approves spending $1.5 billion for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed Upstate New York Economic Revitalization Competition. At least one Central New York Economic development official is ready for the challenge.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out a sweeping agenda for 2015, in today’s joint State of the State and budget address. The two yearly presentations were combined following the death of Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo on Jan. 1.

Many of the proposals the governor emphasized in his speech, have been rolled out in recent weeks, like the $1.7 billion tax relief proposal, and the $500 million project to expand broadband across the state.

Cuomo offered a shout-out to one central New York institution, the New York State Fair, which he said needs a state-supported update.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO file photo

The Greater Syracuse Land Bank is encouraging certain city employees to buy tax delinquent homes that have been sold to the city.

Last year, police officers and fire fighters employed by the city, and teachers who worked for the city school district, were offered a 10 percent discount if they bought one of the land bank properties. Nobody did. So the land bank’s board has okayed raising that discount to 50 percent.

The Land Bank’s executive director Katelyn Wright says they’ll push the program more aggressively this year.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The online MBA program at Syracuse Univeristy’s Whitman School of Management has its biggest class ever signed up this year. Officials say it’s a reflection of a growing trend in higher education.

At the start of the semester this January, a new cohort of Syracuse University MBA students got together for a happy hour. The difference? They were having their party online.

Whitman School assistant dean Amy McHale says this semester’s class set enrollment record. Distance learning master’s programs have been at SU since the 1970s, when students sent in their papers by mail.  

Sudipto Sarkar / Flickr

More central New Yorkers are apt to smoke cigarettes, than anywhere else in New York State. This comes at a time when most private health insurance plans, as well as Medicaid and Medicare cover smoking cessation strategies. So why the disconnect?  Experts say getting people to quit comes down to education.

According to the New York State Health Department, just over 22 percent of central New York adults smoke. The state smoking rate is 10 points below that.  

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) continues to make her case for legislation that would help ease the burden of child care costs, which the senator says add up to $10,000 a year per child for the average central New York family.  

At a day care center in East Syracuse Friday, the Democrat calmed an infant before explaining her proposal to use tax breaks to make child care more affordable. The three-pronged plan takes into account different income levels. 

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Another drone resistance trial is taking place in DeWitt Town Court. The latest protester to go to trial participated in a staged die-in outside the front gate of Hancock Air Base last spring and wants to defend herself by telling the tales of the effect of drone warfare on everyday people.

Bonny Mahoney and the group Code Pink visited Pakistan in 2012 to express their opposition to the U.S. drone strikes in that country. Mahoney says she will tell jurors in her trial about the fear that she felt among the people of that country.

Corey Seeman / Flickr

Over the past several years, Sen. Charles Schumer has been able to secure federal money to help with upgrading facilities, including the improvement of rail lines and even dredging the Port of Oswego. He calls the upgrade of the port one of his "pet projects."

Schumer has been advocating modernizing the port for several years and says when all is said and done, he expects the job impact to be in the thousands.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The Upstate New York Poison Center saw a threefold increase in calls about synthetic drugs last year, as there was a resurgence in use of these chemicals.

Lee Livermore, a public education health coordinator, says these synthetic cannabinoids seem to have become a drug of choice for many abusters. There were a total of 290 calls about overdoses of these synthetic drugs last year to the poison center.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

New York’s new Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will be the point person in the Cuomo administration when it comes to economic development upstate.

"Upstate continues to be one of the highest priorities of Governor Cuomo's administration. And when he selected me as an upstater, as someone who'd been educated here in Syracuse, I know this area, I represented seven upstate counties in Congress," Hochul said.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Local activists took to the streets of Syracuse on Tuesday to urge President Barack Obama to veto legislation to construct the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The dozen or so protesters made their statement in front of newly-elected Rep. John Katko's office in Syracuse.

Katko, a Republican, was a target of protestors because he was among 238 Republicans and 28 Democrats in the House of Representatives to support construction of the pipeline.

cdc.gov

The Onondaga County Health Department is urging anyone who thinks they have the flu to call their doctor and get treated. Health officials hope getting the word out about the severity of this year's deadly flu strain can ultimately contain it.

Usually the health department updates flu numbers on its website each Thursday, but this week officials sent a special news release on Tuesday, noting there has been a total of 550 flu cases reported so far, and seven flu-related deaths.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

With the shake-up of the New York Jets coaching staff and management, it's unclear if the football team will continue to hold its training camp at SUNY Cortland. Sen. Charles Schumer is already lobbying to keep the football teams summer home in central New York.

Durrie Bouscaren / WRVO File

New York state Republicans are working together with breakaway Democrats in the state Senate. Syracuse-area Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco says it’s a relationship that worked in the past, though it's different this year.

Two years ago Republicans faced the proposition of being the minority party in the state Senate, so they struck up a deal to share power with the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of five breakaway Democrats.

Onondaga Community College

Officials at Onondaga Community College like President Barack Obama’s proposal to allow students to attend two years of community college for free.  

Amy Kremenek, vice president of human resources and external relations at OCC, points to the statistics of who attends the two-year college in Syracuse to show how a program like this would be valuable.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The Syracuse University School of Law is the site of the first comprehensive veterans legal clinic in New York state. The impact of having an attorney present is incredible, especially when veterans apply for benefits or an upgrade in their military discharge, according to one of the founders of the new Veterans Legal Clinic at SU’s law school.

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At a time when police community relations are at historic lows across the country, Onondaga County lawmakers have made a move they hope will repair some of the trust between central New Yorkers and the Onondaga County Justice Center.  

There was a rare standing ovation for Onondaga County lawmakers Tuesday.

Applause followed a unanimous vote to create a jail oversight commission.  This independent group will review serious incidents at the Justice Center, and make reports to the legislature and the sheriff’s department.  

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Onondaga County lawmakers decided against voting on a controversial pay raise for executive and legislative positions, including an almost $40,000 pay hike for County Executive Joanie Mahoney.  

Onondaga County Legislator Jim Corl pulled the pay raise proposal off the agenda, saying that more information and data needs to be reviewed before lawmakers can proceed.  

Ellen Abbott / WRVO file photo

The orientations are over, the office space has been rented and the staff hired.  And now the real work begins for the 58 freshmen who will join the 114th session of the House of Representatives.

Among those being sworn in today, are North Country Republican Elise Stefanik, who is the youngest women ever elected to Congress and Syracuse-area Republican, John Katko. The Camillus Republican says he and Stefanik are already working together.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The political jockeying in New York state is well underway, as special interests vie for part of an approximately $5 billion budget windfall, courtesy of settlements with the banking industry earlier this year. There’s a vocal contingent of state and local lawmakers, including Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who believe that money should be used to fix crumbling upstate infrastructure. But not everyone in central New York is entirely on board with this plan.  

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

President Obama has signed the law that would create a new Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn. Among supporters of the law are some Syracuse University faculty and staff that have made Harriet Tubman's property a kind of classroom.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Syracuse-area Rep.-elect John Katko’s congressional committee assignments will put him in a place to see a lot of action as the 114th Congress opens in January.

Katko got the assignments he wanted on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Homeland Security Committee. There will be a lot going on in the area of transportation, as the highway bill and the Federal Aviation Administration bill will expire soon. He will also be involved in discussions over the reconstruction of Interstate 81 through Syracuse.

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