Ellen Abbott

Reporter, Syracuse

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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Gov. Andrew Cuomo admits he is laying out an ambitious agenda for New York state lawmakers this year.  In his State of the State speech today in Albany, Cuomo laid out plans to  spend money on roads, schools, the environment, transportation, homeless shelters and housing. He also asked lawmakers to consider an eight-point ethics reform proposal, a $15 minimum wage and a paid family leave program.

SUNY ESF

Scientists in central New York will soon be able to use a new high tech microscope.  Federal research funds will help pay for the latest in transmission electron microscopes at SUNY ESF in Syracuse.

The National Science  Foundation has awarded an over $1 million grant to SUNY ESF to buy the new field emission scanning/transmission electron microscope. It will be the only one of its kind in the Syracuse area, and professor Susan Anagnost says it will afford scientists a look at tiny molecular structure.
 

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

The implosion of the grandstand at the New York State Fairgrounds this weekend signals the start of big changes at the aging facility in the central New York. 

With a push of a button the grandstand was reduced to a pile of rubble. Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined local dignitaries for the event, which really starts the ball rolling for a $50 million plan to renovate the aging fairgrounds into an updated year-round facility. 

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

The race for the Democratic nomination in the 24th Congressional District is ramping up. The three hopefuls met voters at a forum in Manlius last night, as they look for party support.

A mostly older crowd that packed a room at the Manlius Library applauded when party officials noted there will be a choice for Democrats when it comes to deciding who should face freshman GOP Rep. John Katko in November. 

And while the trio agreed on decidedly Democratic issues like income inequality, they offered differences in style and background.

Luke H. Gordon / Flickr

Some Syracuse Common Councilors still have no access to the city’s computers. The legislative body begins a new year with some new members, and their computer access still in the hands of the courts.

Common Councilors filed a second lawsuit asking the city to turn on computers in early December, and it has languished there since.

Common Council President Van Robinson says he is doubtful a local judge wants to rule on the case, which asks that computer access be restored to councilors, their staff and the city clerk’s office. 
 

Doug Kerr / via Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 agenda includes more spending on transportation infrastructure and a plan to ease tolls on the the New York State Thruway for some New Yorkers.

Cuomo unveiled the latest peek into his plans for the coming year in Liverpool yesterday, proposing $22 billion for fixing roads and bridges upstate over the next five years, in what he calls the biggest ever transportation capital plan.

Sidsel Overgaard / WRVO News File Photo

Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon was already in the midst of learning about the connection between deer and Lyme disease last summer, when he noticed a bulls-eye rash on his son’s back.

"And I freaked out and I went to urgent care and I knew more what I was talking about than some of the folks did there. So I’ve seen on all ends of the spectrum how this can impact from a concerned parent, to talking with parents who’ve had their children with this issue, to talking with adults who’ve been bitten and have Lyme disease,” said McMahon.

The third time wasn’t a charm for Onondaga County CSEA workers, as members of the county’s largest union have again rejected a contract offer.

The vote wasn’t close: 1057 workers were opposed to the agreement, only 747 agreed with it. 

This is the third negotiated deal between Onondaga County and employees of several departments, including the district attorney’s office, the Department of Social Services and OCC.   

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

An attempt to reverse pay raises for some Onondaga County elected officials is still alive, but barely. Republican Legislator Kevin Holmquist railed against the 15 and 30 percent raises for legislators and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney when they were voted on last month. Now, he's trying to get those raises rescinded.

Holmquist couldn’t get the votes to consider it at the Legislature’s organizational meeting this week and had to settle for potentially taking it through the committee process.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO News File Photo

As 2016 gets underway, Rep. John Katko (R-Camilius) is embarking on his second year in Washington, representing the 24th Congressional District. The former federal prosecutor had never held political office before winning the seat in 2014.

While Katko said he went to Washington with his eyes open to the dysfunction and the partisan politics of the Capitol,  things weren’t as bad as he expected.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

Authorities are hoping 2016 is the year New York state gets a handle on a growing drug problem -- the increased use of synthetic cannabinoids, also known as spike or spice, which led to hundreds of hospitalizations in New York state last year. One downstate lawmaker hopes the answer lies in copying a federal law that’s been on the books since 1986.

Insomnia Cured Here/It's A Wonderful Life (1946) / Flickr

Watching the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a holiday tradition for many. It takes on added significance in central New York because of the suspected connection between the fictional town of Bedford Falls and Seneca Falls.

Locals think they have a pretty convincing story that their town is the same one in the 1946 movie.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) has only been in Congress for a year, but says he’s seen a lot of changes in what many Americans view as a dysfunctional arm of government. 

After Katko took his oath of office last January, and started learning the ropes in Washington, he says the atmosphere was highly politically charged. A push to defund the Department of Homeland Security over immigration policy was just one of those very partisan issues that lawmakers faced.

"It was divisive. And some of those early votes, I was pulling my hair out, what the heck’s going on here.”

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) thinks a major overhaul of the Affordable Care Act could be on the horizon. 

Katko says recent developments in Washington are not good news for the federal health insurance program. For example, the two-year moratorium on some of the taxes in place in conjunction with the program, like the Medical Device Tax. Katko says that along with failing state exchanges, and not enough younger people signing on to pay for the coverage older people use, all add up to change.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Drivers will be seeing a new kind of snow plow on roads across New York state this winter. Tow plows will be attached to the large dump trucks that traditionally are used as snow plows.

Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter Facebook

Central New York’s newest member of the Assembly is launching citizen advisory committees meant to keep the lines of communication open between residents and state government

Democrat Pam Hunter says one thing she realized after campaigning for the 128th Assembly District is that residents want their concerns and ideas heard in Albany. So she’s started up advisory committees in the towns of DeWitt, Onondaga and Salina, as well as the city of Syracuse, for residents to let her know what’s important in their particular neighborhoods.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) says he’s retiring at the end of his term so he can be closer to his family. He says the decision has nothing to do with the political rancor he’s experienced in Washington as a representative of what is now the 22nd Congressional District.  But he says he would like to see politicians become a little better at working together.

Hanna, a moderate Republican, says he’s been criticized by some in his party for his stands on certain social issues. And he says that’s all right.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

As the holidays approach, many people who usually don’t fly are hopping on airplanes. The Transportation Security Administration has tools that will help travelers get through airport security as easily as possible.

One digital source of help, according to upstate New York TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein, is a smartphone TSA app that will tell passengers what items need to be checked, and what items can be taken on board in a carry-on. She uses a common item that travelers are often confused about, to demonstrate the point.

Lights are sparkling on houses across the region this holiday season. But a family in one central New York neighborhood  has taken Christmas decorating to a whole new level.

The number of homeless people in central New York is down, according to a report on the state of Homelessness in 2015 for Syracuse and Onondaga County. 
 

There were about 140 fewer individuals in homeless shelters in Syracuse this year than last, according to Melissa Marrone, the coordinator of the Onondaga County’s Housing and Homeless Coalition. She says it’s an indication that new strategies for getting people off the street are working. For example, a “housing first” policy that brings individuals with substance abuse problems into housing.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Syracuse are spearheading an effort to try to curb violence among teens and young adult men of color.

The idea, says Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler, is to give these teens and young man strategies to deal with conflicts at school or on the streets.

"If you’re limited in terms of what you think your options are, then you’re going to resort to some of the options you feel are available to you. So by giving these young people additional options to refer to, that increases the likelihood that violence won’t occur,” said Fowler.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Onondaga County legislators and County Executive Joanie Mahoney will be getting raises in January.

It will be the first raise for everyone since before the recession, when they took a break from pay increases. And, that’s been part of the problem. Because there haven’t been pay increases in such a long time, the current proposal raises pay for the county executive by almost 30 percent, and for lawmakers by 15 percent.

Syracuse University

The issue of intellectual property has become more complicated for businesses that find themselves in  global marketplaces in a digital world.  Patents, copyrights and trademarks are coming under fire from many fronts, and it’s affecting innovation, creativity and job growth in central New York.

Air Innovations is a Syracuse company that designs and manufactures specialty air conditioning for niche industries.  President and CEO Michael Wetzel says they’ve had run-ins, regarding intellectual property, in one of the countries they do business with.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Raising the pay of elected officials can often be a prickly political endeavor. Onondaga County lawmakers now find themselves in the midst of it while considering potential raises for themselves and other elected county officials, including the county executive.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney has not had a raise in the eight years she’s been in charge of county government. Neither have members of the county legislature. All agreed in the wake of the recession in 2008 that raises would be inappropriate. But now, the politically hot topic is coming up again.

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Construction has started on a project that’s hoping to transform downtown Syracuse and the arts in central New York. 

The former Sibley’s department store in the 400 block of South Salina Street in Syracuse, will be the new home to the Redhouse Arts Center by this time next year. Executive artistic director Stephen Svoboda says beyond construction of theaters and rehearsal space, the arts can breathe life into an area that needs it.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The bells will be ringing in Seneca Falls this weekend as the community celebrates the classic holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The festival brings to life the link between Seneca Falls and Bedford Falls.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

The Salvation Army is expecting to help hundreds of low-income families this holiday season with the annual Christmas Bureau. Sign-ups have already started.

Salvation Army executive director Linda Wright expects about the same number of people to register for the giveaway this year as last. The program that offers food, books and toys for low income families can be a harbinger of the economy. And even though the unemployment rate in Onondaga County has been dropping, Wright there’s still a need.

The Independent Democratic Conference is calling for state ethics reform once again. In past years, the group of breakaway Democrats have proposed a new system for campaign contributions and limits on outside income.

Now, the IDC is hoping the conviction last week of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will lead to change in next year's legislative session.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The Syracuse City School District has come to terms on an agreement with Centro that will let more children be bused to the district’s four high schools. Five hundred students who live between 1 1/2 and 2 miles from their schools will be able to get bus passes from the district instead of walking, which has been district policy up to now. 

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Passage of the transportation bill in Congress last week includes some good news for central New York as it gets ready to rebuild a major transportation artery through the city of Syracuse.

The legislation is the first long-term highway bill passed by Congress in over a decade. The $305 billion bill will provide funds for fixing roads and bridges and for the upkeep of mass transit. But for Syracuse-area Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus), one of the high points is the designation of I-81 as a “high priority corridor.”

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