Arcuri fields questions from CHS students


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer     
Congressman-elect Michael Arcuri, of Utica, sheds light on his election experience and political views with political science students Monday at Cortland High School. The Democrat defeated Republican Ray Meier for the seat in the 24th Congressional District.

Staff Reporter

Democratic congressman-elect Michael Arcuri embraced his fears mid-day Monday when he addressed a group of students at the Cortland Junior-Senior High School.
“The two hardest groups to talk to are high school students and police officers … High school students can pick out a fraud just like that,” Arcuri said, snapping his fingers in teacher Christine Gregory’s room.
Although none of the roughly 25 junior and senior high students challenged Arcuri’s integrity, they did present him with a variety of topical and well-reasoned questions.
Many of the students had lent a hand to the Oneida County district attorney’s campaign during the final days before the election on Nov. 7, Gregory said, and others were members of Gregory’s Advanced Placement Politics and American History classes.
The most important issues facing Central New York, Arcuri told the class after being asked to define the largest issue facing upstate, are employment and the economy.
He said he hopes to help transform the area into a center for new, renewable fuel alternative technologies such as ethanol and wind power.
Eleventh-grader Jamilla Fort asked Arcuri’s views on global warming, and the congressman-elect said he was “amazed that there are still people with their heads in the sand who say that global warming doesn’t exist.”
Arcuri said he hopes to help the Bush administration realize the significance of the problem.
“What are your views on gay marriage?” asked senior Josh Sherwood.
The government certainly has many other pressing concerns, Arcuri said, and does not need to be involved in that issue.
“I don’t believe government has any place in saying who shouldn’t get married,” Arcuri replied, adding that he supports civil unions for homosexual couples.
Ryan Wiehl, a senior, said higher education has been a preoccupation of his lately, especially with rising tuition costs at state universities.
Although Arcuri said he was unfortunately unable to help with the tuition costs in New York in his capacity as a federal representative, he said he would support a plan to advance tax credits to individuals and the parents of individuals who are going to college, as well as reducing student loan interest rates.
On other educational fronts, Arcuri said, in response to a query by Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring, that he believes the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 needs to be funded by the federal government, instead of merely mandated.
The legislation enacted strong standards-based education theories that emphasize high expectations and goal setting, although many states have complained that the law is unrealistic, especially without adequate levels of funding.
The legislation strips school districts of some of their autonomy and ability to experiment, he said, and it bogs the education process down with standardized testing.
Arcuri said some of the key issues in the first “100 Hours” of Congress, as the beginning of the 2007 session has been referred to by Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California (the speaker-elect of the House), include raising the national minimum wage, reforming ethics _in Congress and implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
Wiehl, sniffing out a difference of opinion, asked if raising the minimum wage would hurt the middle class by raising prices without a large enough tax break.
Arcuri said he did not believe that was true, since historically, raising the minimum wage has actually left more people with more money in their pockets.
“In what way,” asked senior Dan Leonard, “do you think we should change the way we’re handling the war in Iraq?”
Arcuri said most importantly the Iraqi military and police need to reach a point where they are independent of American support, perhaps by moving them into the violence-prone Baghdad area and moving the troops of the United States into more peaceful areas.
That might help Iraqis realize that they were not receiving a “free lunch,” he said. Seeking help from neighboring Muslim countries like Iran and Syria would also help eliminate the region’s tensions, he said.


Intersection subject of letter to DOT

Traffic does not stop in all four directions for pedestrians at site of DWI accident

Staff Reporter

The safety of the intersection at Church Street and Central Avenue, where two pedestrians were hit by an allegedly drunk driver Nov. 17, leaving one in a coma, was the subject of an April letter from the city to the state Department of Transportation, and is again drawing the scrutiny of county and city officials.
While intersections at Church and Port Watson streets and at Church and Court streets, along with a number of intersections along Main Street, all feature an exclusive pedestrian phase — meaning traffic stops in all directions while pedestrians cross — the Church Street and Central Avenue intersection does not.
“That’s what they call a concurrent light there, you’re walking at the same time traffic’s going, and it’s just a dangerous light,” said city Alderman Jim Partigianoni (D-7th Ward).
Partigianoni and others contacted for this story noted that, in the case of the accident last week, off-duty city police officer Jeffrey Stockton is accused of driving while intoxicated.
However, that particular intersection has long been a problem, Partigianoni said. In April, the city sent a letter to the DOT, asking it to examine pedestrian safety at Church Street and Central Avenue.
“All of those other intersections around there are exclusive pedestrian, so we asked them to look at changing that one, because it’s easy for someone to get confused,” Partigianoni said.
The city received a response to the letter in May, which said a DOT traffic engineer would be looking at the intersection, said Andy Damiano, city director of administration and finance.
“Essentially we put them on notice that we felt it was a dangerous intersection, because it was treated differently than other intersections along Church,” Damiano said, noting the city had not heard anything from DOT since May.
DOT spokesman Anthony Ilacqua said the matter was still being reviewed.
“We have been looking at it, but I don’t know when we’ll have a determination,” Ilacqua said. “I really can’t say what direction the engineers are thinking of going at this point either, but certainly this recent accident will be considered.”
Melody Benn and Lyn Briggs, both 55, had a white walk light as they crossed Church Street at the intersection, heading west toward Main Street. Stockton, who police say failed three types of sobriety tests at the scene, was driving westbound and had a green light, but should have yielded for the pedestrians, police have said.
Stockton is charged with felony second-degree vehicular assault, misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and a traffic violation for failure to exercise due care.
Briggs remained in critical condition this morning at University Hospital in Syracuse.
DOT considers a number of factors when determining how to set up a crosswalk and whether or not to allow an exclusive pedestrian phase, including both the pedestrian and vehicular accident history of the intersection, the volume of traffic and pedestrians, the width of the crossing area and the characteristics of the pedestrians who would commonly cross at the intersection, Ilacqua said.
“Every intersection is different, but for example, right now the Church and Port Watson intersection has an exclusive pedestrian phase, and the proximity to the senior center plays a big role in that,” he said, adding he was not sure why other intersections along Church Street also had exclusive phases.
Still, Angie Wyatt, executive director of the Cortland County Traffic Safety Board, said the intersection of Church Street and Central Avenue sees a lot of foot traffic from seniors and county employees headed to the County Office Building on Central Avenue.
“We have a lot of senior citizens that might walk to our nutrition site at Office of the Aging and a lot of employees walk, too, so I’d like to see the state take a look at changing that light,” said Wyatt, who added that she would also be contacting the DOT and requesting a change. “It’s a dangerous intersection, but I’m not saying it would’ve helped in this situation — this is just a devastating accident that hopefully has taught the community a lesson not to drink and drive.”