Thursday, January 20, 2011

Colossal Loss and Purge of Latinos in the New York State Senate

Senate Minority Leader John Sampson

Angelo Aponte

Carlos González

Parts of New York State Seal used by Senate

After Democrats exceeded their budget by over $10 million, over 130 Senate staffers were released yesterday. Your Free Press has learned one of the latest staffers to learn of his fate is Carlos González, former director of Media Services. When asked how he was informed, González indicated that he received information "no different compared to anyone else."

González is the latest Latino to walk out the door following Veteran administrator Angelo Aponte who's most recent retirement on November 29th, 2010 ended a tumultuous tenure that saw him sued by the Senate GOP for his actions during the June 2009 coup and, more recently, assailed by state Inspector General Joseph Fisch for his office’s release of information to AEG during the free-for-all bidding process that led to that company being selected and then rejected as the developer of the Aqueduct racino.

González is considered a veteran staffer of the New York State Senate with his original employment dating back to 1994. After departing the Senate in 1999 to go work on the presidential campaign of Al Gore in Florida, González remained in south Florida raising his family and engaging in private sector businesses. In 2007, Gonzalez returned to the Senate's Minority Press Office.

While in the Minority press office, González is credited for being the first person to convince Minority leadership not to rely exclusively on print and television outlets to get out conference messaging. González independently set up a conference Youtube channel, videotaped all press events and shipped the information to media outlets. His work became viral.

"It was a challenge getting mainstream media to attend Minority press conferences to begin with," said Gonzalez during a lengthy telephone interview. "Eventually, bloggers were posting conference videos as a matter of routine. It helped make the Democratic team competitive.”

When Senator Smith and fellow Democrats won the Majority in 2008, González was transferred out of the press office and placed in charge of the Media Services unit. González became the first Latino in the history of New York to ever hold onto such position, a milestone that you would not hear him ever discuss. González states that he owes all of the opportunity he's had to Senator Malcolm Smith, Senator John Sampson, and Angelo Aponte.

"I didn't get everything Media Services wanted, but Angelo Aponte made sure that if there was an absolute need for the people of the State of New York to receive information that I got everything as a unit that was vitally needed - as long as it was budget neutral."

Since day one, González reconfigured strategies within the unit. During the Bruno/Skelos years, all services were geared at assisting members of the Republican Conference exclusively. Immediately, González opened up the division instructing his team to provide reasonable services for all 62 senators, produced content for all members of the legislature, created a fair cable show schedule with equal amounts of time slots provided to both the Democratic and Republican conferences. González ended the decade’s old gimmick instituted by Republicans of allowing members of the Minority to have studio time during odd hours and during legislative session only. He created and implemented a 30-minute rotating block of studio time equally dividing time between Democrats and Republicans.

Another accomplishment was González ordering fiber connection into the Minority conference room directly linking the room into Media Services for optimum transfer of content. He instituted a policy requiring all press conferences held by then Minority Leader Dean Skelos to receive the full services of his department.

In April of 2009, González launched a new departmental policy requiring the editing and upload of the approximate 3,000 plus videos posted onto the Senate's very own government Youtube channel. González and his team also started covering official public hearings statewide and posting the content for the public to see. Today, public hearings may also be viewed on television, another first since Gonzalez' arrival.

And in times of turmoil, it was González who turned off the video feed during the infamous day of the coup. It's a moment he doesn't like to talk about other than saying that he covered a session event gavel to gavel.

"What went on after the final gavel and when the lights were turned off is not my concern," said González. We followed protocol at a time when situations such as the coup would never be considered a possibility."

Cutting off the feed may have very likely contributed toward saving Senate Democrats or offering breathing room, whereas there was no video record of proceedings that took place post-gavel. The coup is not an issue González is willing to elaborate on.

Additional accomplishments by González and his team dealt with laying out the infrastructure and development of streaming live all committee meetings that take place in the Capital and Legislative Office Building. González and his engineering team comprised a budget neutral solution making New York State one of the leading government institutions to offer this type of transparency for the people. The twenty-camera installation job was completed in-house without outside and costly contractors and cameras were fibered directly to an expanded master control room.

Some internal criticism of González was received for not entering Media Services and terminating holdover staff previously hired by the GOP. Approximately 75% of the unit was retained. When asked if his departure from the Senate could be related to criticism relating to staffing, González indicated not only was he not willing to discuss the political affiliation of any staffer, but he made no assumptions that choice of staff is what led to his departure.

"Examine the resume and qualifications and measure each person based on performance," continued González. "This is a unit that became organized and tight because of commitment to service. It was the will of Senator Smith and Senator Sampson. I felt compelled to create new leaders, regardless of color, gender, economic status, and gave each and every staffer a chance to demonstrate creativity and performance. If political affiliation and retaliation was on the agenda, I can tell you right now that not a single person ever mentioned such a strategy and I entirely missed that memo, if one existed.

"Like Senator Sampson wisely put it recently, I had an open door policy and tried best to lead, but sometimes no matter what you do they'll always be people who'll try to stab you in the back," remarked González. "Some internal staffing adjustments for next year were on the table, but not because of political affiliation. Each staffer has to have performance evaluated. After a couple of years, some get stale.”

Members and staffers are not too happy with the dismissal of González and the loss of a skillful and knowledgeable staffer who has earned his keep and is able to navigate through the complexity of the institution, respected by both Democrats and Republicans. The loss of González reflects negatively on a Democratic Conference that has too few Latinos on staff. Recently, Senator Sampson was able to secure a block of Latino elected officials by offering them leadership positions within the conference. However, the decision to dismiss González does not make sense.

"Carlos was the most effective leader this unit has ever seen," expressed a staffer of five years who asked to remain anonymous. "Not only did he give orders when necessary, but it was very common for him to pick up a camera and sound equipment and handle production from beginning to end to include traveling statewide for official business. We've never seen that before. People follow leaders who demonstrate with actions, and we saw lots of leadership and action with González. His departure from the unit is a sad circumstance because we need him, even today."

Surprisingly, González dismisses criticism and opted to defend Senator Sampson and the decisions of the transition team. That’s what normally comes with loyalty, but at some point something has to give.

"The reality is that the crisis with the budget is real and who am I to expect any exemption from that process," expressed González. "Senator Sampson and the transition team need to vet and decide what services they need as a conference, and I'm sure that a plan will be in place soon. They'll examine the pro's and the con's and determine who’s credible. They will navigate through political and erroneous charges that sometimes are created by staffers in times of desperation simply to protect themselves. Politics is not a friendly business when you're on the chopping block. The Capital is an ugly place right now. Eventually, Democrats will have to live with whatever decision they make."

In the meanwhile, González is not sitting idle and has been exploring other opportunities, though he admits that working for the Senate is still and will always be close to his heart.

González refused to discuss any prospective employment conversations and would not confirm nor deny future ventures when asked about ongoing conversations particularly with a Spanish broadcasting network looking to establish a permanent presence in Albany. Since he was the first director ever to deliver Senate-related content to Spanish media outlets regularly to include Univision, Telemundo, and other public access networks, it wouldn't surprise us seeing a possible transition for González into television or journalism.

González did state that he has been in communication with the appropriate authorities at the Legislative Correspondents Association on multiple occasions, but it was for general information assisting friends in Spanish television and he was not at liberty to step ahead of the network at this time by providing any further information.

"Right now, it’s time to decompress and assess where I am at," continued Gonzalez. “It’s also a time to be helpful to my friends who are with the same fate. I’m digesting a ton of information and this is not the end of the road. There's more to come."

YFP placed call to Senators Rubén Diaz, Diane Savino and former State Senate Secretary Angelo Aponte, but they have not respond to the YFP request by the deadline of the article.

The folowing comment from NYS Senator Diane Savino:

Sorry I was unable to get back to you before deadline. but I would like to say that Carlos González was one of the best employees the senate had, he is absolutely responsible for taking our antiquated media department and bringing it into the modern age.

he was dedicated, and so was his entire department. It is a great loss to all the members of the senate, and so sad that he and others are paying the price for poor decisions. And finally, to you previous posters, Carlos was an effective, and well loved manager. there were never any complaints from his staff and to anonymously state otherwise is disingenuous.

senator diane j. savino

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