Turmoil persists at Columbia

With help from Shawn Ness

New from New York

Happening now:

  • The protests at Columbia University continue as the college threatens expulsion after protesters took over a college building.
  • A state senator wants an update on a Covid-19 contract that is studying the state’s response to the pandemic.
  • A bipartisan affair — Two House members from the Hudson Valley want discounted MTA fares for commuters.
  • Remember former state Sen. Mark Grisanti and his shirtless fight with cops? A state court panel censured him.

Protesters gather at the 116th Street gate at Columbia University.

BATTLE ON CAMPUS: Tensions continue to boil at Columbia University as student protests rage in support of Palestinians in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Columbia University has threatened to expel pro-Palestinian protesters who occupied a campus building early Tuesday morning — and remain in the building as of this afternoon.

“Protesters have chosen to escalate to an untenable situation — vandalizing property, breaking doors and windows, and blockading entrances — and we are following through with the consequences we outlined yesterday,” Ben Chang, Columbia’s spokesperson, said in a statement. “Students occupying the building face expulsion.”

Columbia officials — who moved to limit access to university grounds to students living in residential buildings on campus and essential staffers — closed all libraries just as final exams are set to begin. Student protesters occupied Hamilton Hall, the same campus building that students pushing for racial justice took over in the 1960s.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said the line “has been crossed” when actions cross over into harassment and destruction of property. She called for accountability, either through disciplinary action or through law enforcement.

“What we need to do is deescalate the situation, restore a sense of normalcy on campus and make sure that every student is safe and unharmed,” Hochul told reporters at an unrelated event. “The state of New York has offered our universities any assistance should they need them.”

Mayor Eric Adams, for his part, said the city is in contact with Columbia daily and will continue to monitor the situation. The university, he said, asked the NYPD to come to all entry points to monitor who is supposed to be going in and out of campus, as well as checking IDs.

“You have to be very careful because it can continue to elevate, and we cannot allow the elevation of actions like that,” he said, speaking on the ongoing occupation of Hamilton Hall. “The police department is going to greet me later. We’re going to communicate with Columbia and make the determination on what the next steps are.”

Separately, Adams announced a new curriculum on hate crimes — a series of lessons aimed at teaching students in sixth through 12th grades about hate crimes and bias incidents.

It comes as schools Chancellor David Banks is set to testify at a congressional hearing on antisemitism — and the mayor’s recent firing of the head of the hate crimes prevention unit.

Meanwhile, demonstrators at Hamilton — which houses three undergraduate dormitories — shouted until at least 4 a.m. despite 24/7 quiet hours going into effect last night at 10 p.m. A demonstrator was also seen walking on the roof of Hamilton surveying campus.

Despite the lockdown, a group of demonstrators chanted outside Columbia’s gates this afternoon on 116th St. and Broadway. Reporters were camped across the street from the gates on 116th St. and Amsterdam Ave. as students and others lined up to have their IDs and bags checked by security.

A student representative for the Columbia University Apartheid Divest — the group behind the ongoing encampment — said their protest is peaceful and has nothing to do with the occupation of the campus building.

The university has begun issuing interim suspensions, the representative said, adding they have been determined arbitrarily and targeted at least three Palestinian students regardless of their presence at the encampment. One of the students who received an interim suspension is on the negotiating team.

The student said she didn’t have details on the occupation of the building but said those protesters want the university to commit to not sending in the NYPD or public safety and to commit to bringing food and water.Madina Touré

State Sen. James Tedisco said that Gov. Kathy Hochul's failure to grant his FOIL request is bordering on

FOIL FALLOUT: State Sen. James Tedisco knocked Hochul for not releasing contracts related to Covid-19 pandemic policy reviews that resulted in 15,000 deaths in state-operated nursing homes.

The Schenectady Republican filed a Freedom of Information Law request on March 19 to obtain a copy of the contract between Hochul’s administration and Olson Group, LTD, which received the contract in 2022. Hochul’s office said that they needed until May 14 to grant the request.

“The public has a right to know what their government is doing in their stead … Why should it take months for the governor’s office to send me a copy of a simple contract for this report that should be publicly accessible for all to read? ” Tedisco said in a statement.

He added “Gimme a break! This is verging on obstruction!”

The company was contracted to conduct a year-long review of the decisions that resulted in elderly patients being moved into nursing homes.

Tedisco is sponsoring a bill that would get an investigation with subpoena power into the deaths.

“Our administration has taken significant steps to improve the FOIL process, and we follow the law in all cases,” Avi Small, a Hochul spokesperson, responded in a statement. — Shawn Ness

Mayor Eric Adams announced today that his administration is planning to descend on unlicensed weed shops.

WEED STORE BUSTS COMING: The mayor said today the city is preparing to descend on unlicensed cannabis shops around the city, though the forthcoming blitz is unlikely to live up to his initial pledge of shuttering every shop within 30 days of legislation passing in Albany.

“We’re going to make a substantial dent in 30 days,” Adams said at an unrelated press conference, later warning that no one should be “standing in front of City Hall on the 31st day saying, ‘Hey, I saw a weed shop,’ because they are going to continue to open.”

One reason for the lag: Despite Albany including beefed up cannabis regulation in the state budget, the city still needs to hash out how enforcement will work in practice, according to First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright.

“The law was passed, but then rules have to be enacted before we can do anything,” she said. “So that’s still in process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we’re ready to go.” — Joe Anuta

Westchester County Executive George Latimer's 30 biggest donors are also all giving money to Republican Rep. Mike Lawler, the Working Families Party said.

LATIMER’S DONORS: Thirty of Democratic congressional candidate George Latimer’s largest donors have something in common — they’re also sizable donors to Republican Rep. Mike Lawler in a neighboring district. That’s according to an analysis by the Working Families Party, which is backing Rep. Jamaal Bowman in his primary battle with Latimer.

The WFP found that $85,000 raised by Latimer has come from Lawler donors. Bowman supporters have spent months hammering on the idea that Latimer’s campaign is close to the right.

“George Latimer could have chosen to use his time and energy to help Democrats defeat Mike Lawler,” state party co-director Jasmine Gripper said. “Instead, he’s taking money from the same donors who bankrolled Lawler’s rise to power.”

Several of the donors on the list are active funders of pro-Israeli causes, Latimer’s campaign noted.

“Jamaal Bowman’s endless scandals, his divisiveness, and his votes with MAGA Republicans against President Biden have certainly helped build a broad base of support for Democrat George Latimer,” Latimer’s campaign said in a statement. “If the WFP truly wants to help elect Democrats, they should stop working to undermine President Biden and start focusing on defeating Republicans for a change.” — Bill Mahoney

Two Hudson Valley House members, one Democrat and the other Republican, both agree that costs should be lowered for riders of the MTA's commuter trains. Reps. Pat Ryan, above, and Mike Lawler wrote a letter to the MTA today.

MTA DISCOUNTS: Two House members in the Hudson Valley, one Democrat and one Republican, agree on one thing: Lower suburban costs to ride the MTA’s commuter trains.

Hudson Valley Reps. Pat Ryan, a Democrat, and Mike Lawler, a Republican, penned a letter to the MTA urging that Metro-North and Long Island Railroad discounts be extended to all riders, not just those living in the five boroughs.

They wrote the letter after the MTA approved congestion pricing last week to charge a $15 toll starting in June for drivers into parts of Manhattan, but also included a 10 percent discount on monthly tickets for riders within the city who ride those two systems.

“This is yet another example of Hudson Valley residents paying their hard-earned tax dollars to the MTA, only to watch all the benefits go to New York City,” Ryan said in a statement.

The letter states that the duo was both “disgusted” and in “disbelief” over the prospect of today’s vote which would enshrine the discounts only for those living in the five boroughs.

“Hudson Valley families are struggling under the weight of a crushing affordability crisis and cannot afford the thousands in new tolls a year that it would cost the average Rockland County resident just to commute to New York City for work,” Lawler said in a statement.

Long Island Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican, and New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat, joined in on the calls aimed at MTA CEO Janno Leiber to extend the discounts. — Shawn Ness

ERA ENDS FOR LCA: Longtime radio journalist Karen DeWitt is ending her decades-long run covering the state Capitol.

DeWitt announced today on X she would leave the beat effective June 21, concluding a career as one of the go-to reporters at New York Public Radio.

“It’s been a fabulous ride, but it’s time to go,” she wrote.

DeWitt’s reach as a reporter for public radio stations is unmatched: Her audience can hear her on stations statewide, making her reports an entry point for New Yorkers on what’s happening in the statehouse.

Her institutional knowledge stretches back to 1990, making her the last Capitol reporter who covered Mario Cuomo. Nick Reisman

GRISANTI CENSURED: A judicial oversight panel censured Judge Mark Grisanti four years after the former state senator engaged in a profanity-laced and bare-chested battle with his Buffalo neighbors.

The June 2020 incident ended with Grisanti in handcuffs and in the back of a police car where he name-dropped prominent officials including the Buffalo mayor.

At the same time, the watchdog panel criticized the Court of Claims judge for taking action in eight cases that involved a lawyer who had paid Grisanti thousands of dollars for his law firm and had been making monthly payments.

Grisanti, however, avoided the harshest outcome of being removed from the bench by the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

“Public confidence in the judiciary is seriously damaged when, among other things, a judge engages in a street brawl, shoves an officer and is handcuffed, and makes remunerative appointments and otherwise handles cases involving a lawyer who owes him money,” Commission Administrator Robert Tembeckjian said in a statement.

“While a bare majority of Commission members disagreed with my recommendation that Judge Grisanti should be removed from office, they made clear that egregious wrongdoing such as his will result in stern public discipline.”

Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, cast one of the deciding votes in 2011 same-sex marriage vote in the state Senate and ensured the landmark measure’s passage.

He was appointed to the Court of Claims in 2015 by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Grisanti’s attorneys in a legal brief made public by the commission wrote the judge realized his behavior in the June 2020 altercation was “inappropriate.”

“He expressed sincere remorse, and sought counseling and treatment to understand his actions, and ensure they would not recur,” Grisanti’s attorneys wrote. “Judge Grisanti’s record, before and after the events in question, is otherwise unblemished. He has a well-deserved reputation as an excellent judge with exceptional judicial temperament.” — Nick Reisman

— Seven different newspapers — including the Daily News — are suing Microsoft claiming that its artificial intelligence software stole millions of copyrighted articles. (Daily News)

New York City officials will decide the future on how much rent can increase in the nearly one million rent-stabilized apartments across the city. (The New York Times)

— A new provision, which largely went under the radar in the state budget, will clarify language of the law that prevents drivers from passing stopped school buses. (Newsday)

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