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Texting while driving

  Americans send and receive an estimated one billion text messages every day, and many are read or sent while we are behind the wheel.

   Sending a text message while driving is dangerous, experts say, but it is perfectly legal in New York and most of the other 50 states.

   Now, a West Seneca mother is pushing to convince legislators to change state law to explicitly ban texting while driving.

   Kelly Cline is doing this to honor the memory of her son, A.J. Larson, and to make sure that other parents won't experience the grief she has gone through since the Dec. 3 accident that claimed A.J.'s life.

   Larson, who was 20 at the time of the crash, was killed when he drove through a stop sign at Bosse Lane and Clinton Street, into the path of a waste-management truck.

   Cell-phone records show Larson was texting a friend in the moments before the crash and this distraction was a likely factor in the crash, West Seneca police said.

   Cline and Larson's longtime girlfriend, Ally Mitringa, are bravely enduring interviews and photo requests to take their story public and to try to reach young drivers.

   Young people in particular are devoted text messagers and many freely admit to reading or sending messages while they drive.

   Texting is even worse than talking on a phone while driving, experts and police say, because it forces drivers to take their attention and their eyes off the road … and at least one hand off the wheel.

   Legislation banning texting while driving is pending in the State Legislature.

  Even if texting while driving is banned, do you think a change in the law will change anyone's behavior?

   And will anyone confess to regularly reading or replying to text messages while driving?

-- Stephen T. Watson

Iraq, freedom and the space between

  It is five years since "shock and awe" began and Baghdad was lit up in a deadly version of the Fourth of July.

  Perhaps it is a bad metaphor, using sacred images of how we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks.

   But, maybe not.

   Weapons of mass destruction aside, the goal of liberating Iraq was to create a toehold of democracy in a volatile and strategic corner of the world where the freedoms we take for granted are rare.

   In today's story of fifth anniversary reflections of local combat vets, I mention former Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Anthony M. Giancola's disturbing memory of an Iraqi man whose ears had been hacked off because he committed the unthinkable crime of listening to a Kuwaiti radio station.

   Giancola and his soldiers performed a number of civil affairs projects while they were in Iraq, but the one I like the best is the creation of an Internet cafe. Hooray. Let there be freedom of expression and let it be everywhere.

-- Lou Michel

A seismic shift in New York politics

   "It's a strange new day in New York politics, that's for sure."

   That's how former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon summed up the state's political scene this week following the departure of its most dominant figure … Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer.

   Spitzer's resignation … after revelations of his involvement with a prostitution ring …  leaves a major void in state politics. In many respects, he was the Democratic Party in the Empire State.

   And conversely, the Republican Party focused all its energy and effort on countering him.

   Now he's gone and life as we know it in New York politics has changed.

   The question is will state Democrats feel secure under new Gov. David A. Paterson.

   Or will intraparty squabbles spoil the era of good feeling accompanying the lieutenant governor into his new post?

   And now many GOP strategists wonder if their party can rouse itself from its doldrums to take on a Democratic Party still reeling from the "Spitzer shock."

   There is lots more to come. And another reason why New York politics is always so interesting.

   -- Robert J. McCarthy

Keeping the home-schooled at home

   Grand Island is considering allowing home-schooled children to take part in some extracurricular activities, a policy change that would be more the exception than the rule in New York.

   One family said they want their children to take part in activities that can not be provided through home schooling, like music clubs, intramural sports and school plays.

   Opponents of the idea say if parents who home-school their children want those things, they should send their children to school, like the vast majority of people do.

   --- Bruce Andriatch

David Paterson: likable ... and liberal

   New Yorkers voted for him in 2006, but they knew little if anything -- and likely cared little considering the job title he was seeking -- about who David Paterson really is, what he stands for and where he might want to take the state.

   Now, it matters.

   On Monday, Paterson, the lieutenant governor since January 2007, will become the state's 55th governor, taking over the job being vacated by Eliot L. Spitzer, who is resigning amid the sex scandal that has shook Albany this week.

   The stories about Paterson all have a common theme: likable, capable, funny and able to reach across party lines. But what of his politics?

   Paterson, a Harlem Democrat, is an unabashed liberal -- with a voting record and bill-introduction background that will make him, upon entering the governor's office anyway, one of the most left-leaning chief executives of the state in recent memory.

   Just how progressive he is when it comes to politics will be decided in short order: he has three weeks to negotiate a new 2008 state budget with legislative leaders. In the face of a struggling economy and declining revenue forecasts, Albany will wait to see if Paterson will be willing to take on some powerful special interests that will be prodding him to spend more than Spitzer wanted on education, health care and other big portions of the budget.

   It will be a debate that could chart the course for the next 33 months of the upcoming Paterson administration.

-- Tom Precious

State loses Spitzer -- and his reform agenda

      With Eliot Spitzer on the way out, the status quo in Albany is more firmly in place than ever.

   The warm breeze coming from the east is not the usual hot air from state politicians, but a collective sigh of relief.

   Our 212 state legislators are pleased less out of personal dislike of the take-no-prisoners Spitzer, but because hopes for changing business-as-usual in Albany will likely leave with the disgraced governor.

   The larger issue of "Client 9's" dalliance with a high-priced prostitute is not the personal toll on Spitzer and his family. It is the public price we will pay … in ever-higher taxes, in business-killing rules and regulations, in the cost of a bloated government … for the exit of the man who vowed to change it.

   The degree to which Spitzer would have succeeded is debatable. His 14-plus months in office were marked with small successes and big blunders, from Troopergate to a tin-eared push for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

   But the job has a steep learning curve, particularly for an outsider like the ex-attorney general. The hope was that Spitzer would learn that conciliation works better than confrontation in Albany's entrenched anti-change culture. It is too bad that we will not get
the chance to find out.

  -- Donn Esmonde

Paterson could be the right man for wronged times

    In what seemed like an instant, the career, reputation and accomplishments of Eliot L. Spitzer disappeared when he announced his resignation as governor shortly before noon Wednesday --
brought down by his own undoing in a prostitution scandal.

But a strange thing was happening in the halls of the Capitol amid all the political wreckage: a minor dose of optimism. Albany has been a fractured town on and off over the past year. It began with Spitzer taking on fellow Democrats following a fight over a selection to the state comptroller's job, then elevated during budget fights, and peaked when it was revealed his aides were using state resources, including the State Police, in a campaign to try to discredit the Legislature's top Republican.

This year promised to be increasingly ugly, as Spitzer and Democrats were poised to step up their efforts to try to take control of the Senate from the Republicans.

But Spitzer's replacement -- David Paterson -- is an old-school Albany politician -- able to joust  with political enemies during the day but mend fences  when the sun sets. There will be battles and jockeying, no doubt, especially as the new governor's political portrait makes him a classic Manhattan liberal Democrat. But Paterson seeks to avoid confrontations, and seek out conciliation and compromise.

In his first public appearance since the Spitzer scandal unfolded, Paterson later today is not likely to come out fighting as the outgoing governor did just 15 months ago, when he took office vowing to change Albany's status quo. Paterson has little time to make enemies -- with the state's economy souring, a budget deficit at more than $4.5 billion and a need to restore the trust of the executive branch of government in New York.

-- Tom Precious

Standing by her man in the worst of times

  Silda Wall Spitzer stood there, silently, as her husband acknowledged in vague but unmistakable terms that he had indeed been unfaithful.

   He did not deny what the news reports had already made clear -- that he'd been caught in a tryst with a high-priced prostitute in a fancy hotel.

   We all studied her face.

   What must she be thinking? Did she have any inkling? And, perhaps most puzzling to us, why is she standing next to him?

   Some have criticized Silda Spitzer for publicly showing support for her husband. Others say it is up to her to stay or go.

   So we ask you? Would you stand by a cheating spouse for all the world to see? Why or why not? And what should be next for Silda Spitzer?

  -- Maki Becker

Ouster of St. Mary's teacher was tip of the iceberg

   When a popular math teacher lost her job at St. Mary's School for the Deaf in Buffalo, it seemed like the school suddenly erupted. Students refused to attend class. Teachers defended their colleague. Parents spoke in support of their children and the teacher who was dismissed.

   But in reality, the school situation has been tense for some months now.

   Some 14 teachers and other staff have signed affadavits and submitted them to the school's Board of Trustees, complaining about the way they are being treated and the way the school is run by Superintendent William P. Johnson. Three employees have filed complaints with the state's Division of Human Rights.

   Many other complaints have been aired to administrators and trustees through e-mail, phone calls and personal conversations.

   Students returned to class Tuesday, but the controversy is far from over.

   -- Sue Schulman and Mary Pasciak

The fall of Eliot Spitzer

    Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, the once-mighty Sheriff of Wall Street, dubbed the "Crusader of the Year" by Time magazine during his attorney general days, took a sizeable fall from grace Monday following allegations he was a client of a high-priced international prostitution ring.

   Called "Client 9" by federal prosecutors in court papers filed against the call service, the governor is now facing everything from possible federal charges to resignation from office he has held for only 15 months.
   The sex scandal of Albany sex scandals has broad implications, coming as officials are frantically trying to put together a state budget deal in the next three weeks and at a time when Spitzer had been trying to use his now-evaporated political capital to help Democrats take over the Senate from the GOP.
   It is a long fall from grace for the Democratic governor, who came into office vowing that on "Day One everything changes." Now, the governor, who made legal mince meat of corporate executives in his many Wall Street investigations during his attorney general days, found himself in the position of defending himself against evidence that includes wiretaps - the same types of evidence he used to target corporate abusers.
   As word of the scandal spread Monday, the governor found few allies to come forth and defend him. Democrats and Republicans agreed such silence is not unusual considering how much Spitzer alienated himself from lawmakers during his first combative year in office.
   The governor, who did not deny any of the allegations against him, has sought over the years to portray himself the Albany outsider. That was evident Monday as the circle closed around him and the line of his cheerleaders was all but empty.
   What was to defend, they said. Court papers depict "Client 9" trying to replenish his financial account with the call service, devising ways to get the prostitute into his Washington hotel, $4,300 paid to the service, and talk of the client wanting sexual services that a prostitute "might not think were safe."
   The questions are many. Do federal prosecutors amend their indictment that included Spitzer as "Client 9" to now call him a defendant? Does Spitzer resign from office today? Does he try to hold out a resignation as a bargaining chip with the U.S. Attorney's Office to avoid prosecution?
   And, will New Yorkers have to start using the term, "Governor David Paterson" anytime soon?
  --- Tom Precious
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