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Juanita Perez Williams surprises Democrats with late entry into CNY race for Congress

With a week to go until petitions are due, there is late entrant into the 24th Congressional District race. 

Juanita Perez Williams has reconsidered and is circulating petitions to appear on the June 26 Democratic primary ballot, according to two sources familiar with her plans. Her candidacy was confirmed by an announcement released by the Syracuse University College Democrats, which endorsed Democratic candidate Dana Balter for Congress. 

The Syracuse University College Democrats said Perez Williams was one of the candidates they considered during their discussion Tuesday night. 

Perez Williams hasn't formally announced her candidacy, but her decision caught many Democrats by surprise. 

Balter won the Democratic designation in February by securing support from the four party committees in the district. Two Democrats, Anne Messenger and Scott Comegys, dropped out of the race after Balter became the designated candidate. Another candidate, Bill Bass, is circulating petitions to force a primary. 

Petitions are due to the state Board of Elections by Thursday, April 12. To qualify for the primary ballot, candidates must collect and submit 1,250 valid signatures. 

Perez Williams considered running for Congress before, but announced in January that she wouldn't be a candidate. She was the Democratic nominee for Syracuse mayor last year. She lost to independent candidate Ben Walsh in November. 

Early in her career, Perez Williams served in the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps. After completing her military service, she took a job with Syracuse University. She served as associate dean of students and was an adjunct professor at the university until her appointment as an assistant New York state attorney general in 2008. 

Two years later, in 2010, she was appointed corporation counsel for the city of Syracuse. After leaving city government, she was regional director for the state Department of Labor under Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She left that position to run for mayor last year. 

When Perez Williams previously said she wasn't going to run for Congress, it followed a report that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was recruiting a "top tier" candidate to challenge U.S. Rep. John Katko in the 24th district. That candidate was Perez Williams. 

The DCCC, the House Democrats' campaign arm, declined comment for this story. 

Nick Paprocki, Balter's finance director, didn't directly address Perez Williams' entry into the race. But he highlighted Balter's success in securing support from Democratic committees and her focus on unseating Katko, R-Camillus, in November. 

"We are standing up for the people of the 24th district, fighting for central New York values, and beating back the harmful agenda of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and their GOP enablers, including John Katko," Paprocki said. "Central New Yorkers deserve better; they deserve a representative who will show up, listen and put the people of the 24th district first. Dana Balter is that representative." 

High winds knock down trees, wires in Cayuga County

Around 1,000 people were without power late Wednesday afternoon as strong winds slammed much of Cayuga County. Gusts knocked down dozens of trees and power lines, even causing a house to catch fire in the city of Auburn.

As of 9 p.m., reported about 486 customers without power in Auburn, Aurelius, Springport, Throop, Locke, Owasco and Aurora, and said another 668 customers were without power in Cato, Conquest, Ira, Sterling and Victory. In a press release, NYSEG and RG&E said people should be cautious when going outside and avoid downed power lines.

At around 4 p.m., crews were called to a house fire at 225-227 Woodlawn Ave. in Auburn after live wires fell on the front lawn of a home. The Auburn Fire Department, Auburn Police Department and TLC Ambulance were at the scene, and traffic was blocked between Ross Place and Parker Street. 

Auburn Assistant Chief Ed Sherman said two families — two adults and two children, each — were displaced. The American Red Cross assisted one family with finding accommodations and the other family had people to stay with. Sherman said there were no injuries.

The fire started after live power lines fell on the front lawn of the home, and the high voltage made it to a gas line that ran underground. Sherman said the fire and gas line traveled into the house's basement and burned up the electrical wiring. NYSEG was on scene to repair the gas line, Sherman said. The side-by-side duplex was condemned due to the electrical damage. 

Meanwhile, traffic lights were out at the corner of Genesee and Washington streets. Dispatchers said firefighters had primarily responded to damage in northern Cayuga County as crews were called to Red Creek, Victory, Conquest, Cato, Weedsport, Port Byron, Genoa and Fair Haven to clear roads of debris. But as the winds shifted Wednesday evening, more damage was reported in the southern part of the county.

Sherman said the Auburn Fire Department responded to over 20 calls Wednesday of downed trees and power lines across roads and on houses. Many of the trees were large, he said, and were snapping in half.

"Usually if you see that, it's full of leaves and wet snow on it, but this was just really strong guests of wind," he said.

The National Weather Service said a high wind warning would remain in effect until midnight, with gusts reaching up to 60 mph. NWS Binghamton reported a maximum wind gust of 49 mph in Cayuga County around 1 p.m.

Seymour Library closed early due to a power outage. The Auburn YMCA also said it was closed due to the power outage on a Facebook post. Several Cayuga County departments also closed early Wednesday after the Cayuga County Office Building on 160 Genesee St., Auburn lost power. A special county Legislature meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. was also canceled.

Gallery: Wind storm knocks down trees, power lines, starts fires in Cayuga County

Sunshine could power all of Cayuga County's municipal buildings

A solar array large enough to power all of Cayuga County's municipal buildings could be up within the next year or so, pending power purchase agreements and other logistics.

The solar panels would likely be installed on County House Road in Sennett behind the public safety complex. The array would generate five megawatts, enough to cover all of the county government's electricity needs with plenty of power leftover for local residents to purchase at a low rate, said Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods.

The project is part of the Central New York Regional Planning & Development Board's initiative called Solarize CNY. The five-county program is helping municipalities pool their resources to bring community solar projects to their areas. Chris Carrick, program manager of the board's energy management division, said the board is considering more than 30 sites across Cayuga, Cortland, Onondaga, Oswego and Madison counties, which combined could produce about 40 megawatts. 

Cayuga County's proposal is one of the largest, Carrick said, but other proposals are in the works at Wells College in Aurora, Auburn City Landfill, the village of Union Springs and the towns of Owasco, Scipio and Brutus. The planning board is recommending all the municipalities work with Canadian company Abundant Solar, which would pay for the arrays, installation and maintenance. Municipalities and organizations would lend their land in return, in addition to purchasing electricity from Abundant Solar.  

Carrick said the board is currently working on template power purchase agreements that Cayuga County and others could use. The agreements, he said, protect people from the volatility of utility costs by keeping power purchasing at a flat rate. 

Besides keeping electrical costs down, Carrick said the projects bring solar jobs to the area, create private investments and upgrades to distribution lines that benefit the public and create benefits to the environment. It blends well, too, with the Cayuga County Legislature's resolution passed March 27 adopting the New York State Climate Smart Communities Pledge. That includes increasing community renewable energy use and reducing greenhouse gases. 

"If we're going to meet the state's target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, we basically have to double the amount of renewable energy that we have now, and solar is going to be a big part of that," Carrick said. 

In order to take advantage of a 30-percent federal tax credit, Carrick hopes all the proposed projects can be completed by the end of 2019. After that, the tax credit will decrease to 26 percent.

Cayuga County Planning and Economic Development Director Steve Lynch said Abundant Solar may be presenting more about the County House Road array at the Legislature's upcoming Planning Committee meeting. That is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 11 in the Cayuga County Office Building, 160 Genesee St., Auburn.

Democrats agree to heal schism in NY state Senate; GOP expected to lose control of chamber

ALBANY — Democrats resolved a longstanding internal rupture in the New York state Senate Wednesday that had empowered Republicans and prevented votes on liberal priorities including gun control, abortion rights and help for immigrants.

Under a deal negotiated by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the eight-member faction known as the Independent Democratic Conference will reunite with mainline Democrats. Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers will lead the combined group, with IDC leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx as deputy leader.

"Today what unites us is more important than what divides us," Cuomo said at a joint appearance with Stewart-Cousins and Klein in Manhattan.

The agreement ends a seven-year feud between the IDC and mainline Democrats that allowed Republicans to hold on to the Senate, their last bastion in New York state government. It also relieves a big headache for Cuomo, who has been accused by liberals of exploiting the schism for political leverage.

Actor and liberal activist Cynthia Nixon has made Cuomo's ties to the IDC a major part of her primary challenge to the two-term governor. Members of the IDC, meanwhile, face primary challengers who say the IDC has enabled the party of President Donald Trump.

Cuomo, Klein and Stewart-Cousins said the agreement stems from the need to work together to counter policies coming from Washington Republicans.

A spokesman for Senate Republicans dismissed the reunification as a "desperate attempt to avoid Democratic Party primaries."

"Let's be honest — the only reason that any of this is happening now is because Andrew Cuomo is scared to death of Cynthia Nixon," said spokesman Scott Reif.

Liberal groups said they would continue to support primary challengers against IDC members. Nixon showed no sign of backing off her criticism of Cuomo, either.

"If you've set your own house on fire and watched it burn for eight years, finally turning on a hose doesn't make you a hero," she said of Cuomo's role in brokering the agreement.

Republicans will retain control of the Senate at least until April 24, when special Senate elections will fill two vacant Senate seats representing heavily Democratic areas of the Bronx and Westchester County. If Democrats win both seats they'll have a numeric majority and a chance to take over the Senate for the first time since 2009.

But math is seldom simple in the Senate. There are currently 31 Republicans and 30 Democrats in the Senate, though one of them, Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, supports the Republicans. Felder, who was not a member of the IDC, has not committed to returning to the Democratic fold.

"I don't care about political parties and more and more New Yorkers feel the same way," he said Wednesday.

The question mark surrounding Felder has prompted Democrats to look to the fall elections, when they predict opposition to Trump will trickle down to big victories in legislative races.

Democrats already have a big majority in the state Assembly and hold the offices of governor, comptroller and attorney general. Control of the Senate, too, would ease the way for Democratic bills currently blocked by the GOP, including ones to increase firearm restrictions, allow early voting, authorize state financial aid to students who entered the country illegally as children, and extend the statute of limitations on child molestation to allow victims to sue for decades-old abuse.

"I know that together, certainly with the governor, we will be able to do all of the things that we know are important," Stewart-Cousins said.

Klein, who wielded tremendous influence in the Senate as IDC leader, said members of his splinter group decided they had to work with mainline Democrats for the good of the state.

"Sometimes you have to take a step back before you take two steps forward," he said.

Auburn City Council will vote to approve $1.2M bond for capital improvements

The Auburn City Council will vote Thursday to authorize a $1.2 million bond to finance the 2018 road program, purchase five new trucks for the Department of Public Works and upgrade the elevator at Memorial City Hall. 

The city will allocate $400,000 for the 2018 road program. The city plans to spend nearly $953,000 to repave eight city streets and do crack sealing and microsurfacing work on others. Nearly $841,200 of the road program is eligible for state reimbursement through Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS), the Local PAVE-NY grant and the Extreme Winter Recovery Apportionment.

The city plans to use $380,000 to purchase two plow trucks, a bucket truck, a fork lift and a crew truck with a lift gate for the DPW. The crew truck will be used for road improvements.

Repairing the elevator at city hall will cost $410,000. According to the April 5 Auburn City Council meeting agenda, the project will involve removing the electrical relays, generator and other components of the existing elevator system. Then, a new solid-state electronic controller and a more energy-efficient generator will be installed and the remaining components will be updated as well. 

The council will also vote Thursday to award the construction contract for the elevator project to Bouley Associates in the amount of $377,000. The remainder of the $410,000 will be used to install a temporary handicap ramp on the front steps of city hall, as well as inspection services for the project. 

The remainder of the money — $10,000 — will be used for costs associated with issuing the bond. 

The 2018 Capital Improvement Program allows for the city to borrow up to $3 million for general fund projects. The city council authorized a $1.8 million bond in December 2017 for the purchase of two new trucks for the Auburn Fire Department in 2018.  

In other news

• The civil service, finance, public works, engineering, police and city manager departments will present their 2018-2019 budgets during Thursday's meeting. City Manager Jeff Dygert and Treasurer Bob Gauthier will also present the city's preliminary budget. Copies of the departments presentations can be found at

A public hearing on the city budget is scheduled to take place during the May 24 city council meeting and council will vote to approve the budget on June 7.