Assemblyman O'Donnell Community Newsletter

Manhattan Valley box Morningside Heights box Upper West Side

April 2005


Dear Neighbors,

The overwhelming confidence and faith you have expressed in my ability to act as your advocate in our community and as your legislator in Albany is truly humbling. I am very proud to be able to continue the work of the past two years, and I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

The most overwhelming challenge that we face as this newsletter goes to print, is our attempt to restore to the Governor’s proposed budget an adequate amount of funding to meet the basic needs of New Yorkers. His origional proposal shortchanges education, cuts health care, would make it much harder for working families to afford college education, contains billions in new taxes and hidden fees, and offers no opportunities-or even hope-for our State’s future. In my next newsletter, I will report to you on the specifics of the final budget ramifications, as for the first time in decades we expect an on-time budget, but it is critically important to remain aware of the fact that the basic rules of the game have changed dramatically. Due to a recent court decision, the State Legislature was only left with three options: either accept the cuts and changes in State government programs that the Governor has proposed, strike the program in its entirety, or try to negotiate with him and continue to work for a compromise that reflects a real commitment to the health and quality of life of New York’s children, families and seniors. That being said, I am confident that the Assembly will continue to lead the fight for a responsible, timely State budget that adequately provides for the working men and women of New York, as well as for the most vulnerable among us.

In the meantime, you will find in this newsletter a report on the important hearings that have been held on the death penalty, a brief legislative update, reports on the recent reforms that have been accomplished in Albany, a tribute to my dear friend Ms. Sadie Mills Winslow, and a summary of upcoming opportunities to get more involved in our community, as well as some valuable information about programs and services that are available to all of you.

I also took this opportunity to congratulate the outstanding accomplishments of the children who completed the Second Annual Reading Challenge that I sponsor in conjunction with the New York Public Library. In our second year of this program, an even greater number of participants from our community completed the challenge, and I am so pleased with the dedication that each and every one of them demonstrate to their love of learning and reading. I would be remiss if I did not thank Meredith Cotter, Children’s Librarian at the Bloomingdale Branch and Manuel Figueroa, Supervising Branch Librarian at the George Bruce Branch, as well as Margaret Tice, Coordinator of Children’s Services and Cathy Dente of the New York Public Library, for all of their hard work in making this program such an annual success.

Finally, my Community Office will continue to provide advice and services to all constituents who call, write or visit. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to call me at my Community Office. I assure you that over the next two years I will continue to work harder to serve you better.

I look forward to hearing from you soon!



New York State Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell and the New York Public Library honored children who completed the “Second Annual Community Reading Challenge” at the first two “Winter Book Festivals” held at the Bloomingdale and George Bruce Branch Libraries on Friday, March 11, 2005. (The third festival was held at the Morningside Branch on April 1, 2005).

Joined by special guests - author, Chris Raschka and illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg - all of the participating children were taught how stories and pictures are created, and were awarded Certificates of Merit and served refreshments from Assembly Member O’Donnell.

Later this spring, all of the book reviews and drawings that were submitted by participants will be featured on the New York State Assembly website under the link to “O’Donnell’s Kids.” Each page will feature the original artwork and text submitted by each child, so that parents, classmates, teachers and neighbors will have a chance to view their contributions.

photo Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell with the Second Annual Reading Challenge Participants at the NY Public Library, George Bruce Branch on March 11, 2005.
Congratulations to Bloomingdale Library Participants:
Alea Alexis, Alesha Alexis, Stephen Brevant, Ambere Brockman, Teresa Cruz, Jesus Dominguez, Amanda Evans, Asim Gadsden, Angelica Gonzalez, Gabriela Gonzalez, Janey Gonzalez, Manuel Gonzalez, Rebecca Hathcher, Femi Haynes, Christina Jiminez, Christopher Jones, Latiah Jones, Naiasia Jones, Nathaniel Kemp, Michael Lovis, Erica Martinez, Ideley Martinez, Marcio Martinez, Alex Menjivar, Franceska Medina, Kelly Medina, Sharinee McCullough, Andy Michel, Amanda Perez, Joyce Pierre-Louis, Lucas Ozorio, Kevon Ravenell, Carolina Rodriguez, Adiel Schmidt, Amior Schmidt, Maayan Schmidt, Shoshi Shapiro, Margaret Sebastian, Patricia Sebastian, Meshama Sonnenschein, Kaitlynn Stamoulis, Kathryn Stamoulis, Shantel Stevens, Brenda Teutle, Malik Thomas, Donte J. Thompson, Madeleine Tibaldis, Dayana Tito, Sunita Toppo, Vanessa Velez, Jessica Webster, Brittany Williams, and Unique Wilson.

Congratulations to George Bruce Library Participants:
Kelsey Beltis, Anthony Bligen, Barbara Boone, Quinton Campbell, Dominique Clarke, Ashanti DeMorh, Jeffrey DeMorh, Wednesday Folks, Esmerelda Guzman, Corey McMillan, Wilfredo Morales, Sandra Sanchez, Anahi Tapia, Laura Tapia, Taylor Truesdale, Camelia Whitlow, and Dzifa, Roland, Selase and Sophia.


New York State’s most recent death penalty statute was enacted by the New York State Legislature on March 7th, 1995 and became effective on September 1st of that year. The statute, as amended, provided for the imposition of the death penalty, life imprisonment without parole or life imprisonment with the possibility of parole for thirteen specific categories of intentional murder, created judicial procedures for imposing and reviewing death sentences, established a system of public defense for indigent death penalty defendants and implemented correctional system procedures for housing death row inmates and imposing death sentences.

On June 24th, 2004, in what Assembly Member O’Donnell hailed as a welcomed decision, the New York Court of Appeals in People v. LaValle invalidated the “deadlock instruction” provision of New York’s death penalty law, holding that the instruction created a “substantial risk of coercing jurors into sentencing a defendant to death” in violation of the Due Process clause of the New York State Constitution. The Court also held that the absence of any deadlock instruction would be constitutionally impermissible and that the Court was not judicially empowered to create a new deadlock instruction. The Court thus found that “under the present statute, the death penalty may not be imposed” under New York law, but that first degree murder prosecutions could continue to go forward as non-capital cases under the current statute. As noted above, New York’s current first degree murder law authorizes a sentence of life imprisonment without parole to be imposed in any case.

The jury deadlock instruction was first proposed by Governor Pataki in program legislation which was passed by the Senate prior to the final legislative agreement on the death penalty (S-2649 of 1995). The Governor’s deadlock instruction proposal was later included in the final death penalty law enacted by the New York State Legislature on March 7th, 1995.

New York’s death penalty law was in effect for slightly less than nine years before it was struck down this past June. In that time, it is estimated that the state and local governments have spent approximately $170 million administering the statute. Not a single person has been executed in New York since the law’s enactment. Seven persons have been sentenced to death. Of these: the first four sentences to reach the Court of Appeals were struck down on various grounds; an additional sentence was converted to a sentence of life imprisonment without parole after the LaValle decision; and two death sentences are awaiting review.

This statute has remained highly controversial since its enactment and continues to be roundly criticized. When Assembly Member O’Donnell took office in 2003, he made a commitment to this community, that he would be an advocate for a moratorium on the death penalty in New York State. The question of whether the statute should now be revived, and, if so, in what form, has been the subject of intense interest and debate since the Court of Appeals decision in LaValle, and Assembly Member O’Donnell seized the opportunity that was presented by this decision to be one of the first Members of the Assembly to stand up and call for public hearings regarding this controversial issue. These hearings were subsequently scheduled and chaired by Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol, Judiciary Committee Chair Helene Weinstein and Correction Committee Chair Jeffrion Aubry, who have all demonstrated a real commitment to the Assembly’s call for public dialogue on the future of capital punishment in New York State.

Assembly Member O’Donnell attended each of the five hearings held in Albany and in New York City, which began early in the mornings and did not end until early evenings. These public forums were utilized by dozens of representatives from law enforcement, victims’ rights organizations and religious and human rights groups to review what New York’s experience with the death penalty over the past nine years has been and what that experience has taught us. These were intended to solicit views on how the experience of other states, the federal government and other nations can help inform New York’s actions (or lack thereof) on this issue. Assembly Member O’Donnell has reported that the overwhelming majority of witnesses at the hearings were opposed to reinstating the death penalty, and he and his colleagues have received hundreds of letters of opposition to the death penalty, thanks in large part to the tremendous organizing skills and hard work of “New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty.” These hearings were intended to foster a public dialogue on the ultimate question of whether New York’s death penalty law should be reinstated and, if so, what form any new law should take. Assembly Member O’Donnell said that this goal was reached, and it has become even more clear to him, and more importantly to some of his colleagues who previously supported the 1995 statute and 2001 amendments, that, in fact, the current laws do not provide appropriate safeguards to ensure that innocent persons would not be convicted and subject to the death penalty and reaffirmed the mounting evidence that New York’s death penalty or the death penalty in general has not deterred intentional murder more effectively than other sentencing options. Assembly Member O’Donnell also noted that those very colleagues, since the conclusion of the hearings, have amended their original positions on this statute, and have publicly stated that they will not vote for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

photo Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell questions expert witnesses at January 2005 Public Hearing on the Death Penalty in Albany

“It is extremely important that all of you - the original progressive, anti-death penalty advocates in our community - continue to apply pressure on all of the ultimate decisionmakers in Albany to refuse to allow the reinstatement of capital punishment in New York State,” Assembly Member O’Donnell said. “I continue to rely on the wonderful show of support and commitment to this issue that my constituents have so impressively demonstrated to make my voice heard on this literal ‘life or death’ issue.”


On February 15, an act to amend the insurance law in relation to health insurance benefits for domestic partners (A.2224) passed in the New York State Assembly. This bill, introduced by Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, prevents insurers and health plans from refusing to provide domestic partner coverage to individuals and smaller employer groups. Current law and regulations permit insurers, non-profit health plans and HMO’s to offer this vital coverage. However, Assembly Member O’Donnell discovered that many of these entities, even at the request of employers, still refuse to provide this coverage for employees. This legislation would remedy this disparity and would ensure that employer groups and individuals cannot be denied the request that their health plans provide equal benefits for qualified domestic partners.

Assembly Member O’Donnell serves on the Arts & Tourism, Codes, Environmental Conservation, Judiciary, Local Governments, and Oversight, Analysis and Investigations Committees.



The New York State Assembly and Senate reached an historic agreement on a crucial first step towards reforming New York’s ineffective and outdated Rockefeller drug laws last December.

This legislation, co-sponsored by Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, replaces indeterminate sentencing standards, whereby a sentence range is specified, with determinate sentences of specific length followed by a period of “post-release supervision.” It also moderately reduces sentences for certain first-time and non-violent offenders, increases sentences for some classes of offenders with prior violent felony convictions and makes some non-violent offenders eligible for less costly and more effective community-based substance abuse programs sooner.

Every year, thousands of people with no history of violence have been sent to prison in New York for possessing or selling small quantities of controlled substances. This legislation provides retroactive sentencing relief for some of those who are already incarcerated and who have very long sentences, to mirror the new sentencing standards.

This legislation also increased minimum weights for felony possession of heroin and cocaine, though weight thresholds for sales and attempted sales have not changed.

As advocates have demonstrated in their appeals for change for years, persons of color have been disproportionately affected by the Rockefeller drug laws, which are among the harshest drug laws in our nation. It is appalling that 94% of those incarcerated under the Rockefeller drug laws are African-American or Latino, even though these communities comprise only 32% of New York’s total population.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, a staggering 45% of all women currently in prison are there for drug crimes-oftentimes as a result of having been forced to act as “mules” or drug couriers.

For far too long, mandatory prison sentences have required unnecessarily lengthy prison sentences and have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. This first step in reforming the Rockefeller drug laws ensures that we begin to deal with the drug problem more effectively, that we fight drugs and crime-not the victims of addiction and poverty.

Despite this progress, however, this legislation only represents a beginning. Additional reforms are needed to give judges the discretion to divert non-violent addicted offenders to treatment programs as an alternative to prison, expand drug treatment opportunities and make additional sentencing reforms.

In the instances where we are dealing with non-violent offenders, particularly first-timer offenders; we know that studies have shown that drug treatment can halt criminal activity, and we need to continue to fight for all of those who demonstrate this criteria, to help reclaim lives and reconnect families.

Assembly Member O’Donnell stressed that throughout the process that led to this agreement, Speaker Silver has assured all of the Members of the Majority Conference that in this 2005 Legislative Session, work will continue for an even more complete and comprehensive reformation of the draconian Rockefeller drug laws.

The progressive Members of the Assembly have led the fight for meaningful reform of the Rockefeller drug laws in New York State for decades, and this first step signifies that a necessary measure of fairness has been added to the scales of justice.


The Majority and Minority conferences reached a bipartisan agreement in February on a comprehensive reform plan that has improved the way that the New York State Assembly operates. It has certainly been no secret that serious reform has been called for in Albany for a long time, and this plan has made many reforms a reality. The sweeping changes were designed to make the Assembly’s proceedings more open and efficient, and encompass the first steps in a larger plan for change. Assembly Member O’Donnell believes that these changes represent a system that is more accountable and responsive, and which give rank-and-file lawmakers more power.

To ensure the reform plan was representative of the Assembly as a whole, many hours of productive conversation and debate were spent among members on both sides of the aisle. This ongoing process will continue to revamp the way that the State Legislature-as well as all of State government-does its business.

In order to make the People’s House more representative of the whole body, new rules have been adopted which include: ending empty-seat voting by requiring slow roll calls on all bills; instituting Tuesday sessions to allow for greater review and debate of legislation; overhauling the Assembly’s Rules Committee by clarifying the committee’s function as a means for scheduling floor action and making its meetings, which will have published agendas, open to the public; requiring the Assembly and the Senate to each pass a concurrent budget resolution in early March setting out a timetable for key budget decisions, including immediately convening a joint conference committee to negotiate differences to achieve a more timely state budget; conducting annual budget hearings to ensure a consistent process for a public review of state agency compliance with the enacted budget; renewing the Assembly’s efforts for a statewide public service cable TV channel to cover state government with the immediate goal of televising Assembly proceedings statewide; and restricting lobbyists access in the area at the rear of the Assembly Chamber.

The internal rules changes that help rank-and-file members advance legislation include: establishing a subcommittee structure to provide members a greater role in researching, analyzing and debating various legislative issues; creating a process where sponsors can petition their bills to be reviewed by a new Committee on Conference Committees, which will recommend bills to be negotiated in an open and public forum with Senate representatives; limiting the number of standing committees that a member can serve on to a maximum of six to ensure greater involvement and engagement by members; requiring that as a minimum, each standing committee meet once a month in order to speed up consideration of legislation; and revoking committee appointments of members who have three or more unexcused absences from standing committee meetings.

Assembly Member O’Donnell was one of the first co-sponsors of a resolution in the Assembly calling for rules changes, and this plan represents a positive first step on the road to reform.

In Memory of Ms. Sadie Mills Winslow

For over 35 years, Ms. Sadie Mills Winslow served the people of Morningside Heights, and her dedication and commitment to enriching the lives of the people who live in our diverse community never wavered. She served as an advisor and member of boards of numerous distinguished organizations, and, as an active member of the Community Service Society and the East Harlem Neighborhood Center and she inspired many others to follow in her footsteps and give back to our community through volunteerism. She improved the quality of public education in the Harlem community through her work for the Friends of George Bruce Library, and she fought for legislation that enabled the library to provide our community with various cultural and educational programs. She enhanced the lives of seniors through her work on the Morningside Retirement and Health Services and Seniors Helping Seniors, an organization she founded and then served as Secretary for many years. She was a mentor for many of the young people in our community through her work with the Harlem Elders, an organization that provides mentoring to City schoolchildren. She was a long-standing, active member of Community Board 9, where she served as Chair of the Senior Issues Committee, Secretary and Vice Chair - and it would not be overstating to say that she participated in just about every Board decision. Throughout her life she skillfully managed to positively influence and to improve the quality of life in our community. Her efforts have left an indelible mark on our Community that will remain for generations to come. Throughout her life she embodied the virtues of sacrifice and commitment to social justice, and she will be missed by us all.


The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens is expanding its Volunteer Ombudsman Program, which is part of a national initiative to improve the quality of life of the institutionalized aged and other populations. New York Foundation for Senior Citizens administers this program for residents of long-term care facilities in collaboration with the New York State Office of the Aging and the New York City Department for the Aging. They are always recruiting volunteers to serve in this vital program. With over 53,000 residents living in 260 facilities in New York City, the need for volunteers is constantly growing.

To volunteer, please contact Laura Petta at:

Internships are available for the Summer and Fall 2005 Semesters at the

Community Office of Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell

To be eligible, qualified applicants must be matriculated in a college degree program or a graduate student program. Internship opportunities can include academic credits.

For more information, please contact John Tarantino at:

or email your cover letter and resumé to:

A recruitment effort is under way by the New York City Police Department for New York City residents to take the NYC Police Department Police Officer Entrance Exam. The filing period for the upcoming exam will conclude on April 22, 2005.

For this examination, candidates will have the opportunity to choose from one of the following test dates: Friday, June 17th; Saturday, June 18th; Thursday, June 23rd; and Sunday, June 26th.

Once again, the New York City Police Department’s Recruitment Section will provide free tutorial sessions to all candidates throughout the five boroughs. These tutorial sessions are aimed at enhancing the candidate’s test taking skills.

For further information, candidates can call:

or visit the website at
(Candidates may also apply for the exam online at this website.)

Things to Remember


This Mother’s Day, Sunday May 8th, the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline & Support Program is reaching out to New Yorkers asking them to urge their loved ones to get mammograms.

For more information or to locate an accredited mammography facility in our community, call The Adelphi New York Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program at:
ribbon 1-800-877-8077 ribbon
Callers with limited income can also find out about low cost and free mammograms.
for tenants

Please call 212-866-3970 to make an appointment to see one of our volunteer attorneys about tenant issues at our free monthly legal clinic, or call-in on these dates between 6:00-9:00 PM to speak with a Constituent Liaison at our Community Office!

April 28th diamond May 19th diamond June 30th

Parents are encouraged to register children for early grades - prekindergarten, kindergarten and first grade - for the upcoming school year by June 21, 2005.


To be eligible for prekindergarten services your child must be four years old by December 31, 2005.


To be eligible for kindergarten services, your child must be five years old by December 31, 2005.


To be eligible for the first grade, your child must be six years old by December 31, 2005.

To register your children for any of these grades, you need to visit a local school with your child, and bring proof of age, address and immunization status.


Open Monday through Friday
9:30 AM - 5:30 PM
245 West 104th Street

(212) 866-3970