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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A federal loophole is letting some dangerous trucking companies continue to operate in New York state. But U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is looking to close it by calling for stricter tracking measures that would keep dangerous trucking companies off the road.

“Rather than pay the fine or face repercussions, some (trucking companies) dissolve and reapply for permitting under a different name," Schumer said. "They’re called chameleon carriers. Same owners, same employees, same vehicles, just a different name.”

Heather L / via Flickr

A move to designate the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn as a National Historical Park is nearing reality.

The proposal has been attached to the Defense Authorization Bill that Congress has to approve every year. Sen. Chuck Schumer told reporters Wednesday he was very pleased the New York congressional delegation was able to get the amendment included.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

There’s a special place at Syracuse’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center for female military veterans.

The Syracuse VA has been offering a Women Veterans Wellness Center for over a decade now. The number of female veterans they see in that time has tripled, so earlier this year, they moved into a brand new suite on the hospital’s ninth floor.

A fireplace and serene furnishings offer a kind of spa-like environment for women needing a wide range of care from mental health consultations to gynecological exams.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal to change the way the military deals with sexual assault cases could come up for another vote in this month’s lame duck congressional session.

Gillibrand (D-NY) fell five votes short last spring of getting a bill passed that would overhaul military sexual-assault policies. But she says she wants to bring it up again, attaching it to a military authorization bill that has to be approved by the end of the year.  

World Bank Photo Collection

Today is World AIDS Day. The director of the Designated AIDS Center at Upstate is optimistic that the state will reach its goal of dramatically reducing the number of new HIV infections across the state.  

In October, New York state announced a target of reducing the number of new HIV infections to 750 per year. Right now there are 3,000 new diagnoses reported every year in New York State.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

School lunches have changed dramatically in recent years in because of the federal government’s Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, meant to curb childhood obesity. Portion sizes, calories and salt have been cut; whole grains, fruits and vegetables have been added. And now one central New York School district is bracing for the next changes.

The group F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse is trying to keep baby boomers from leaving the area as they retire. The community group has completed a study about just how age-friendly central New York is.

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, make up about a third of Onondaga County’s population. F.O.C.U.S. wanted to find out what would make it easier for them to stay in central New York.  

Ellen Abbott

Research shows a connection between early childhood education and crime. Central New York boosters of universal pre-kindergarten say that should be an important consideration when it comes to funding quality programs.

Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler says the statistics logically lead to the conclusion that pre-K prevents crime.

Solarize Tompkins

Hundreds of central New Yorkers have jumped on the solar power bandwagon. Now Solarize Tompkins, the most successful program getting property owners to go solar, is looking ahead to other alternative energy sources for homeowners looking to break from fossil fuels.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

What would the city of Syracuse do with $1 billion? Syracuse City Hall has put together a series of projects that it hopes could be the basis for a Syracuse Billion agenda, based loosely on the state funded Buffalo Billion.

Mayor Stephanie Miner says topping the wish list is replacing a 550 mile, 100-year-old water system that constantly breaks down. The project would cost $750 million.

Durrie Bouscaren / WRVO File

Talks reportedly continue behind the scenes in Albany regarding a pay raise for New York state lawmakers and other officials. The dean of central New York’s Senate delegation agrees an increase should be in order.

Some government staffers in Albany make more than the lawmakers or state officials they work for. That’s something to consider when it comes to a group of people who haven’t had a raise in 15 years, says Syracuse-area Sen. John DeFrancisco.

Satya Murthy / Flickr

More Americans are expected to travel this Thanksgiving holiday season than at any time since the start of the recession of 2008.

AAA says 46.3 million people will travel more than 50 miles from home. That's up more than four percent from last year and the most hitting the road since 2007.

AAA Spokeswoman Diana Dibble says there are several factors driving the increase.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

If you have old cell phones that you need to get rid of this holiday season, state Sen. John DeFrancisco has a place for them. DeFrancisco's seventh annual Cell Phones for Soldiers collection drive has commenced.   

L.t Col. Paul Jackson, currently of the Syracuse Recruiting Battalion, was deployed in Afghanistan this time last year. Free calling cards were his lifeline to family and friends back home.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Vera House in Syracuse has been helping victims of domestic and sexual violence for 25 years now. Officials for the agency say they will continue to help victims, but are looking for a more permanent answer to the problem over the next 25 years.

The domestic and sexual violence numbers in this year’s Vera House annual report didn’t change much from the past. Last year in Onondaga County there were two homicides involving intimate partners, and Syracuse Police and Onondaga County law enforcement officers answered almost 18,000 total domestic violence calls last year.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The Foster Grandparents program in the Syracuse City School District is growing. The expansion of a popular program means more support at a time when it’s needed most.

Jean Rand of Syracuse has been a foster grandparent for three and a half years in a Meacham Elementary second grade classroom. Her presence comes in handy, whether it’s helping someone with math problems or offering a hug during an emotional meltdown.

The number of children from Onondaga County who go through the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse is holding steady. Officials say getting the word out about these children who are sexually abused is key to getting that number down.

About 700 kids used the services of McMahon Ryan last year, and most of them knew their abusers, says Executive Director Linda Cleary.

"Almost 45 percent of the children we’ve seen were abused by a parent," Cleary said. "And then another almost 40 percent were abused by someone they know or love.”

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 file photo

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.

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.”

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