Tom Magnarelli

Reporter, Syracuse

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York. 

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Emotions ran high at a “Stop the Violence” prayer rally on Syracuse’s south side yesterday, where in the past three days, three people have been killed in separate incidents in the area. Caroline Battle said her niece was one of the people murdered.

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Everything is on the table, according to Syracuse University officials, including expulsion, for the 18 students involved in racist videos by the Theta Tau fraternity. SU officials said it will be a fair but expeditious disciplinary process.

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Onondaga County Democratic Committee member Diane Dwire made a general objection last week to the petitions collected by Democrat Juanita Perez Williams in the race for the 24th congressional district.

Perez Williams is challenging the designated Democratic candidate Dana Balter, after entering the race less the two weeks before the petitions were due.

Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny said it is typical that campaigns will file general objections to their opponents' petitions, but it is difficult to get someone knocked off the ballot.

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A fraternity at Syracuse University has been suspended after a video was released showing members engaged in extremely racist behavior.  Students on campus are shocked and angered by the video. 

University officials describe the Theta Tau video as anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist. Hundreds of students participated in a protest and dialogue on campus Wednesday. Student Association President James Franco said students expressed their feelings, shared their experiences, and discussed actions that could be taken.

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Suspended Syracuse parks commissioner Lazarus Sims was charged with third-degree grand larceny after an audit from City Auditor Marty Masterpole found money missing from the department. The audit also revealed other areas where the department is at risk for errors and fraud.

Masterpole said the Syracuse Common Council came to him with an initial red flag about the parks department that turned out to be nothing. But in the process of conducting the audit, Masterpole said they found something else.

Syracuse’s suspended parks commissioner Lazarus Sims was arrested and arraigned in court this morning, charged with third-degree grand larceny, a felony. Sims is accused of stealing property worth more than $3,000.

The Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office started an investigation after an audit by City Auditor Marty Masterpole revealed discrepancies in the parks department’s permitting process.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said he is saddened for the city and for Sims. Walsh said Sims has done a lot of good for Syracuse, particularly for young people.

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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Monday that now is the time to get Canada to end a program hurting upstate’s dairy industry, as President Donald Trump's administration renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA.

Howie Hawkins for Governor / Facebook

Syracuse's Howie Hawkins announced Thursday that he is running for governor on the Green Party line for the third time. Hawkins said a victory does not necessarily mean winning the race.

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Experts on urban design and public policy offered their insights on replacing the elevated portion of Interstate-81 in Syracuse at a recent forum at Syracuse University. Some of the speakers favored a community grid option over a larger highway or tunnel.

The state Department of Transportation said the elevated viaduct has reached the end of its useful life and they will select a preferred alternative when a draft environmental impact statement is made available early next year.

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A $12 million lawsuit has been filed against the city of Syracuse, Police Chief Frank Fowler, and a Syracuse police officer accused of using excessive force while arresting a 14-year-old special needs student at Nottingham High School. The incident took place more than a year ago, and started when the student was suspended and told to leave the school.

Liza Acquah, the mother of the student, Jabari Boykins, said her son suffered from a fractured arm and busted lip after the incident. She said a surveillance video shows her son being assaulted by Officer Vallon Smith.

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The Onondaga County Legislature will vote Tuesday to fund a portion of the Loop the Lake trail around Onondaga Lake. At least one legislator said the money would be better spent elsewhere.

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More than nine million New Yorkers had their personal data exposed last year according to a new report from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. That is more than four times the number of New Yorkers impacted in 2016. The vast majority of the exposed data in 2017 came from the breach at consumer reporting agency Equifax.

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Parents and teachers shared concerns on school safety at a forum held this week by the Syracuse City School District and Syracuse Police Department. Several recurring issues were raised to administrators and law enforcement. The forum was held in response to the high school shooting in Florida last month. 

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Onondaga County and concert promoter Live Nation have found a sponsor for the naming rights of the Lakeview Amphitheater. Elected officials said they want to make sure the county gets the best deal possible.

Legislator Brian May, chair of the county legislature’s Ways and Means Committee, said it is Live Nation that is negotiating the contract.

“It’s very important for us to allow them to get their ducks in a row, internally, before we start discussing the details,” May said.

May said a deal with the sponsor could be reached next month.

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The Syracuse Common Council passed legislation expanding its rental registry to require interior inspections of all rental properties, including one and two-family dwellings. But some councilors said the law is overreaching, ineffective and a possible cash grab.

Requiring interior inspections of rentals has been two years in the making for Councilor-At-Large Khalid Bey. He said there were no requirements for interior inspections of one and two-family rentals, where most complaints come from.

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More than a thousand people flooded onto the streets of downtown Syracuse in solidarity with the “March for Our Lives” protests across the country on Saturday. 

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The Syracuse Common Council and Onondaga County Legislature will soon begin live-streaming their meetings to the public. The goal is give more residents the opportunity to see their government in action.

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Medical professionals at Upstate University Hospital are urging the New York State Assembly to pass legislation that would require skiers and snowboarders under the age of 14 to wear helmets. Experts say injuries on the slopes can be more severe than accidents on bicycles.

Upstate Pediatric Trauma Medical Director Kim Wallenstein said every year, the trauma center sees about 10-20 children admitted following an accident from snow sports, and many more are seen as outpatients for things like concussions.

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The State Assembly is proposing an additional statewide surcharge on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft in its spending plan. The funds collected would be used on transportation services.

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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) joined elected officials and activist groups in Syracuse Monday to protest the Republican tax overhaul passed by Congress in December. Demonstrators fear the tax cuts will be paid for by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. 

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Local criminal justice advocates are trying to put pressure on Albany to reform the justice system. 

A local coalition is trying to build support for proposed legislation in Albany that, among other things, eliminates cash bail for misdemeanors or low-level felonies.  Syracuse attorney and activist Herve Comeau said the inequalities of the cash bail system really hit home for him last December.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News File Photo

The New York State Public Service Commission has approved of National Grid rate hikes. Over the next three years, the monthly electric and gas bills of residential customers could increase by about $16 dollars. The plan includes a discount program for low-income customers.

A spokesperson for National Grid released this statement.

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Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney has started publicly making her case over how she would like to distribute the sales tax revenue collected in the county.

Mahoney said she is worried about potential anti-city sentiment ruling the day, in negotiations that create a formula to share sales tax revenue between the county and local governments. So, she turned a portion of this year’s State of the County speech into a primer about ways the county helps town and village governments.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News (file photo)

As part of National Walkout Day on Wednesday, high school students in Syracuse organized a rally to remember the victims of the Parkland, Florida shooting and support more gun control. Some educators hope the movement will create more politically engaged students.

Saoirse Murphy-Collins, a junior at Nottingham High School, helped organize Wednesday's protest in the school’s gym.

“The problem with gun violence is a really big issue in this nation and we’re trying to get it under control so more students don’t die and people get hurt,” Murphy-Collins said.

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High school students in Syracuse are calling for more gun control in solidarity with student walkouts across the country to honor the victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. Ana Kreidler-Siwinski is a junior at Nottingham High School and helped organize a rally in the school’s gymnasium.

"I believe we shouldn’t stand by and be silent," Kreidler-Siwinski said. "Better late than never. Gun laws should be stricter in the future. If there were less easy ways for people with mental illnesses to grab guns, people with criminal records, then it would be better for society."

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A divided crowd got into a heated debate at a recent Syracuse school board meeting over whether the district should change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Some said changing the name takes away a part of the history of Italian-Americans.

Last year, after requests from some students, the Syracuse City School District changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day / Columbus Day. Now, Andy Mager with Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation and others are appealing to the board to drop Columbus altogether.

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A school safety task force met in Syracuse recently to discuss procedures that can prevent or reduce the damage of a school shooting. Teachers and students want to know how safety in schools can be improved immediately, before a longer list of recommendations is made in August.

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Experts on harmful algal blooms in bodies of water across upstate are developing plans and informing the public on solutions to the problem. The blooms can negatively affect drinking water quality and recreational use of lakes. A series of summits, including one recently in Syracuse, are part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initiative to reduce the blooms.

City of Syracuse Facebook page

The U.S. Small Business Administration in Syracuse offers a free program to help local business owners grow their companies. The SBA wants 15-20 new participants for the program this year.

The production facility for Recess Coffee in Syracuse is where all the roasting, baking, cold brew and administrative needs take place. Co-owner Jesse Daino said participating in the Emerging Leaders program helped them buy the facility.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Many school districts in central and northern New York have faced threats following the Florida high school shooting last month. It has resulted in school shutdowns and arrests of some students for making terroristic threats. As law enforcement aggressively investigates these incidents, some experts say it is a lack of emotional skills that is causing them.

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