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. 

Ways to Connect

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.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

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.”

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

State lawmakers are getting reports from boots on the ground in the fight against synthetic cannabinoids, often called synthetic marijuana.  A state Senate summit on synthetics held in Syracuse Thursday included stories from mothers of children who died after using the illicit substances.

Teresa Woolson of Oswego had talked with her son about using the synthetic drugs, which he’d purchased in a local store, shortly before he died three years ago.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

New York state will add another $200 million toward the effort to end the AIDS epidemic.

These new funds are on top of $2.5 billion the state has already committed to the fight against AIDS by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration. And that has made a difference according to Micheal Crinnen, head of ACR Health in Syracuse. He said beyond the billboards and publicity, it’s huge having the health department pushing universal testing for HIV so doctors offer it routinely.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Updated at 11:50 a.m. Tuesday 

According to federal lawmakers, mass transit funding for northeast states has been restored in the transportation funding bill. More than $94 million was earmarked for New York in 2014 for mass transit services, under the High Density States program. Centro in the Syracuse-area received more than $2 million. That funding was cut from the House version of the transportation bill. But U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Tuesday that not only was the funding restored, and additional $18.5 million over the next 5 years.

Jason Devaun / Flickr

The Syracuse City School District is revisiting the debate over how far children should have to walk to school. A group representing parents, teachers and students contend that two miles is too far to walk.

Kama Ndbay is a junior at Henninger High School. He’s an honor student and his first class of the day is Advanced Placement English.

“In all my other classes I have a 90 or above," Ndbay said. "But in that class I have an 83.”

lindenbaum / Flickr

Maple sugar operators, scientists and forest managers have known for years that the sugar maple is very sensitive to acid rain. So when the federal acid rain levels dropped levels dramatically after federal regulation, it could only mean good news for one iconic tree that found living with acid rain difficult -- right? A recent study published by the SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) in Syracuse shows that hypothesis doesn’t hold water.

According to recent statistics, 2.1 million New Yorkers are cheated out of $3.2 billion in wages and benefits. Activists are trying to get the word out that this wage theft is happening here in central New York.

Rebecca Fuentes is an organizer with the Workers’ Center of Central New York. She says wage theft happens when employers underpay workers, don’t pay overtime, or classify them in the wrong job description. And it makes it harder for a working family to get by.
 

Rescue Mission Alliance

Syracuse’s Rescue Mission is getting ready for Thanksgiving.

Alan Thornton, with the Rescue Mission, said you need a lot of food when you’re making meals for about 2,000 people.

“It’s about 1,200 pounds of turkey, 375 pies, 42 pans of stuffing and mixed vegetables, and mashed potatoes, 20 gallons of gravy," Thornton said. "I don’t know how many people measure gravy in gallons, but we do here at the Rescue Mission.”

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Some Syracuse residents are trying to focus the spotlight on poverty in the city.

More than a dozen members of some Syracuse churches marched through downtown during a busy midday, calling for more action to prevent poverty in the Salt City. Organizer Raymond Blackwell says there are three things that need to happen for Syracuse to lose the distinction of having the highest rate of concentrated poverty among minorities.

"One, is job training and job placement. Two, is fair housing policies, and three, is fully fund the public schools,” said Blackwell.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Upstate Medical University is working together with the military to come up with a vaccine to prevent dengue fever. 

The medical research wing of the Army is willing to spend up to $12 million over the next three-and-a-half years, as Upstate researchers try to develop a vaccine for a disease that affects half the world’s population. 

Mark Polhemus of Upstate says while most people associate dengue with third world countries, the mosquito borne illness has a foothold in the U.S.

Downtown Committee of Syracuse

The “Elf on the Shelf” is coming to downtown Syracuse.  The holiday icon is part of an attempt to get more visibility for downtown shops during the holiday season.

The Downtown Committee of Syracuse is calling him “Dash.”  The elf will be turning up in shops, restaurants and museums throughout downtown Syracuse during the holiday season. Alice Maggiore of the Downtown Committee says it’s all part of a push to get people thinking downtown when they think about holiday spending.
 

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Google’s program “Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map” came to Syracuse last week. The Internet giant has a goal of encouraging more small and medium sized businesses to take advantage of the web.

Dozens of owners of small- and medium-sized businesses sat along long tables, with laptops glowing, at SKY Armory last week, getting first-hand tips about how to use tools in the Google stable to spur business.  They ranged from the novice, to people who work with computers every day.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

A dispute over internet use at Syracuse City Hall is again headed to the courts. The issue over whether lawmakers should sign a city computer use policy hasn’t been able to be resolved through negotiations.

Councilor Kathleen Joy expects the Syracuse Common Council to file court papers in the next few days asking a judge to settle the issue of whether lawmakers should be forced to sign that computer use policy which is required of and agreed to by all city employees. A majority of councilors believe it would allow the Mayor’s office too much access to Council business. 

Pages