<![CDATA[NBC 10 Philadelphia - Philadelphia Political News and Philadelphia Politics]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC10_40x125.png NBC 10 Philadelphia http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com en-us Tue, 27 Jan 2015 05:20:38 -0500 Tue, 27 Jan 2015 05:20:38 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Kane Investigation Keeps Mystifying State's Legal Community]]> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 13:17:46 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Attorney-General-Kathleen-K.jpg

The unusual, court-ordered probe into whether the state attorney general's office illegally shared secret investigative material with a newspaper keeps mystifying Pennsylvania's legal community.

Now there are questions about the intentions of a state Supreme Court order this week telling Montgomery County's district attorney to halt — at least temporarily — any prosecution "stemming from" a grand jury presentment that recommended criminal charges be filed against Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Is that legal? Can Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman still conduct her own investigation? And could Ferman file charges if she decides her own investigation warrants them?

The order was unsealed Thursday, a day after the state Supreme Court said it would review the legality of a Montgomery County judge's secret appointment of a hand-picked lawyer to act as a special prosecutor and investigate Kane's office. If the justices decide that the appointment was illegal, as Kane argues it was, it could poison the presentment that presumably lays out the grand jury's basis to recommend the charges against Kane.

Bruce L. Castor Jr., a former Montgomery County district attorney, said it would violate the separate of powers doctrine if the court were trying to stop Ferman from conducting her own independent, but parallel, investigation. But he does not think the court's order extended that far.

"They could have said, 'any prosecution, period,' but they didn't," said Castor, who was Ferman's boss before she became district attorney in 2008.

Still, L. George Parry, a Philadelphia lawyer and former federal and city prosecutor who also ran state grand jury investigations, said courts routinely tell prosecutors — not to mention, the other two branches of government — what to do. Testing the extent of its order might be unwise, he said.

"If she launched her own investigation, could she really say her own investigation was unrelated in any way, shape or form to the grand jury presentment?" Parry said. "I think not and I think she would be courting trouble. If I was her, I would hold my fire until this stuff gets sorted out."

Supreme Court officials did not respond to questions about the order. Ferman has declined comment on the matter.

The courts publicly acknowledged the existence of the investigation on Wednesday, when the high court released 80 pages of records showing that a grand jury last month had recommended that Kane be charged with perjury, false swearing, official oppression and obstruction. The grand jury's evidence for its recommendation remains a secret.

Kane, a Democrat and former Lackawanna County prosecutor who took office in 2013, has not been charged.

She has said that she did nothing wrong, although she also has acknowledged that her office provided records about a 2009 investigation by Kane's Republican predecessors of the then-president of the Philadelphia NAACP to the Philadelphia Daily News.

Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter, who runs a statewide grand jury for the attorney general's office, ordered the investigation after he began to suspect the attorney general's office had provided those records to the newspaper. On May 29, he appointed a lawyer he knew, Thomas Carluccio, as the special prosecutor, even though Carluccio is not a sworn law enforcement officer.

Last month, Carpenter sent Ferman the evidence produced by the grand jury run by Carluccio.

Regardless of whether Ferman decides to investigate, the grand jury's work is problematic, prosecutors say. For one thing, a Supreme Court decision that Carluccio's appointment was illegal could render the grand jury's evidence useless in court. Beyond that, some prosecutors would be unwilling to file charges based on evidence produced by investigators not under their control.

"I can't conceive of calling a witness to trial who I've not examined," said Bucks County's district attorney, David Heckler.

The legal community's collective head-scratching is crying out for the Legislature or Supreme Court to settle the matter, some prosecutors say.

"The issue is process," Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said. "All of us prosecutors need to be concerned that if judges are given the power to start their own investigations and bestow upon a lawyer all the powers of a prosecutor, then we're looking at the blurring of the separation of powers."



Photo Credit: NBC10 Philadelphia]]>
<![CDATA[Christie Woos Iowa Conservatives]]> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 01:46:55 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/12415chris.jpg

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is trying to connect with Iowa conservatives by assuring them that "you'll always know who I am" if he runs for president.

While still undeclared, Christie left few doubts Saturday at the Iowa Freedom Summit that he is primed to enter the 2016 GOP race.

Christie told the Republican voters in the leadoff primary state in the nomination battle that they shouldn't let his blunt style turn them off. To those not enamored with all aspects of his record, Christie asserted "you'll always know what I believe and you'll always know where I stand."

He spoke at length about his anti-abortion views, which tends to resonate with Iowa's social conservative caucus-goers.

Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and many others turned the Iowa Freedom Forum into the unofficial launch of the next campaign for the Iowa caucuses. More than 1,000 religious conservatives met at a refurbished theater to hear their pitches.

The forum's sponsor, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, opened the event by asking the crowd, "Do you believe that the next president of the United States is going to be speaking to you today?"

The audience erupted in applause and King responded, "As do I."

Few would pick Christie, an abortion rights and gay marriage opponent better known for his union and budget battles, to emerge as the favorite among Iowa's evangelical voters. Yet his appearance could allow him to make inroads with a group focused as much on ideological purity as defeating the Democrat nominated to follow President Barack Obama.

"He has gusto that makes him an everyman. That appeals to me," 29-year-old Steve Friend of Sioux City said of Christie. "But I think he tanked the 2012 election by praising President Obama after (superstorm) Sandy."

Christie has defended his praise of the president for visiting storm-ravaged New Jersey in the weeks before Romney lost. But it's an image that sticks in the craw of Iowa's most right-wing conservatives.

"I don't trust him," said Mary Kay Hauser, another forum attendee. "I think he's disingenuous. I think he's part of the old New Jersey party."
 

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<![CDATA[Sen. Rubio Taking Steps Toward Possible 2016 Run]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 18:51:11 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/121113+marco+rubio.jpg

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio rode into Washington on a wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment in 2010. He may soon be hoping to ride a similar wave all the way up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House in 2016.

NBC News has confirmed that Senator Rubio is taking steps to prepare for a run for the White House in the 2016 election. The news was first reported by ABC News on Friday.

Rubio has hired Anna Rogers to be his finance director. Rogers comes from American Crossroads, a Super PAC backed by former senior Bush advisor Karl Rove. Rogers is expected to start her new job with the Rubio campaign in the first week of February.

The senator has laid out plans to visit multiple states for the next month and will skip Senate votes next week in order to attend fundraisers in California.

Rubio’s rapid rise to political stardom started in the Florida Legislature, which he led at one point. He entered the 2010 Senate race far behind then-Governor Charlie Crist and was able to outflank Crist in the Republican primary. The moves electrified Rubio’s political star and sent Crist’s political career tumbling.

Rubio won his seat in 2010 primarily based on the Tea Party wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment. He also benefitted from having a three-way race with Crist as an independent and Kendrick Meek running as a Democrat. The two effectively split the electorate opposing Rubio, opening the door to the Senate for Rubio.

The junior senator from Florida may be hoping to start and catch a similar wave to the White House that Obama followed when he ran after just two years in the Senate. However, Rubio would have filled out his entire first-term if he runs in 2016.

The path to the White House for Rubio will be much tougher. He angered many of the Tea Party voters that supported him when he helped pass a bi-partisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill a few years ago.

As the conservative backlash started, Rubio quickly backed away from support on many of the bill’s key policies and won back support from some of the voters who lifted him to the White House. He will also face a field full of big Republican names hoping to win the nomination.

While none have officially declared their pursuit of the presidency, it’s expected that Mitt Romney will make a run at the White House. He could be joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Governor Rick Perry, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

“The interesting thing here is that Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are friends they look like they are both running for each other and they both live really close to each other and that is going to make for one interesting kind of awkward campaign,” said Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo.

Bush could prove to be the biggest obstacle for Rubio to make a successful presidential bid. Bush has more experience as an executive and skillfully navigated the Florida political machine for two terms as governor and is still well-liked by many of his former supporters in the Sunshine State.

“I think Jeb is going to be the one that’s going to finish the race,” said Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “Marco is still a young boy. He has a lot of years left in him.”

Rubio said Bush has the political acumen to raise the amount of money necessary to mount a successful presidential campaign. The 2016 presidential campaign could end up being a multi-billion dollar campaign and will likely be the most expensive in U.S. History.

Rubio has been a fierce critic of almost every policy move made by the Obama Administration. He’s also been a leading critic of the move to normalize relations with Cuba, though polls show a national majority back the moves by the White House.

For Republicans, if Rubio follows his previous comments that he will not run for re-election to the Senate if he runs for president (which also is a Florida law); his plans may open up a new battleground in the almost evenly-divided swing state of Florida.

That could prove especially beneficial to Democrats. The 2016 electoral map is expected to tilt towards the Democrats in many swing states and voter turnout could help Democrats re-take the U.S. Senate and also keep the White House.

Rubio could also be angling for another key position in a potential Republican White House, that of vice-president. If Rubio doesn’t win the presidential nomination, he could be a leading contender to join the winner’s ticket as the vice-presidential candidate.

Still, whoever the Republicans end up choosing to run for the White House will have one of the toughest challenges ahead in the general election, a potential Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

“If Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush run against Hillary Clinton; they’re gonna lose and they’re not only going to lose the White House race, they’re even going to lose their home state of Florida,” said Caputo. “But, that is what the polling says now. And as you know and I know, in a state like Florida; don’t predict the elections too early, heck even on election day as we sometimes don’t know the winner.”



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bridgegate: Christie Under Fire]]> Sun, 26 Jan 2014 12:06:14 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/christie+gwb+scandal+inset.jpg

Photo Credit: Getty Images/AP Images]]>
<![CDATA[National School Choice Week Kicks Off]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 07:51:38 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/WCAU_000000009312280_1200x675_388091459577.jpg Many Philadelphia parents want the ability to choose where they send their kids to school. Supporters of this idea gathered at the National Constitution Center for a roundtable discussion on the matter ahead of National School Choice Week which starts on Sunday.]]> <![CDATA[Del. Governor Talks Jobs, Crime in State of the State Address]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 18:20:49 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/WCAU_000000009308036_1200x675_387894851767.jpg Delaware Governor Jack Markell looked ahead at his annual State of the State address today. NBC10's Tim Furlong reports.]]> <![CDATA[New Issues for Philadelphia City Council]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 18:14:18 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/WCAU_000000009308043_1200x675_387892803567.jpg A new year brings a new set of issues for Philadelphia City Council to tackle in 2015.]]> <![CDATA[Envelope Shortage Could Bring Court Stoppage]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 14:22:57 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/160*120/mail1.jpg

The wheels of justice could grind to a halt in one Pennsylvania county thanks to some envelopes -- or lack thereof.

A Northampton County judge said that the county may need to cancel criminal court for a week in February because of staffing issues that left the county short envelopes it uses to notify everyone from victims to witnesses to police about upcoming court dates.

District Attorney John Morganelli tells NBC10 that due to the recent retirement of a print shop specialist, the county was short thousands of the needed envelopes. Volunteers were hand stamping the envelopes — including postal regulations — and using typewriters to address the envelopes in an attempt to keep things moving.

County Executive John Brown told The Express-Times that a new solution would be used to address the issue.

"The IT solution for the district attorney's office will be up and running by end of the day,” Brown told the paper. “This will solve the current situation in the DA's office."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Volunteers Count, Interview Homeless Population in Philadelphia]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 11:07:43 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/WCAU_000000009302835_1200x675_387587651580.jpg Project HOME spoke to homeless people in Philadelphia overnight as part of a process to get federal grants to help those in need. NBC10's Monique Braxton reports.]]> <![CDATA[Obama, Biden Coming to Philadelphia]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 09:41:34 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/obama+biden2.JPG President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will address a Democratic lawmakers meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in Society Hill, according to Politico.com.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Drugs Lead to New Policies in Delaware]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 09:05:24 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/WCAU_000000009302817_1200x675_387586627966.jpg NBC10's Jesse Gary discusses how drug issues could play into Gov. Jack Markell as he unveils a new policing model in his State-of-the-State Address.]]> <![CDATA[Philadelphia City Council Begins 2015]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 09:59:16 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/darrell+clarke+councilman+philly.jpg

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke will hold a news conference Thursday morning ahead of council’s first meeting of 2015.

Clarke didn't reveal beforehand what subjects he would go into Thursday.

NBC10 will carry parts of the event live on its digital entities.

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<![CDATA[Top NY Lawmaker Arrested on Corruption Charges: Source]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 22:21:24 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/silver7.jpg

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested Thursday on federal corruption charges and is accused of using his position in the state legislature to collect millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks, according to a criminal complaint.

Silver, who has held office in the State Assembly since 1976 and been speaker of the legislative body since 1994, turned himself into the FBI at its field office near Foley Square Thursday morning.

The embattled legislator told reporters after his court appearance that he did not plan to resign.

"I will be vindicated," he said. 

His attorneys, Joel Cohen and Steven Molo, released a joint statement calling the allegations baseless.

"We’re disappointed that the prosecutors have chosen to proceed with these meritless criminal charges," the attorneys' statement said. "That said, Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them -- in court -- and ultimately his full exoneration.”

At a news briefing shortly after Silver's arrest, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused the longtime politician of duping taxpayers through a series of secretive schemes and backroom dealings to line his own pockets, and "cleverly" seeking ways to monetize his public office in violation of federal law.

Silver allegedly collected around $4 million in bribes and kickbacks and used his law license and lax New York disclosure laws to disguise the profits as referral fees, Bharara said.

Those alleged ill-gotten gains accounted for two-thirds of the speaker's outside income since 2002, the prosecutor added. Bharara said a judge issued warrants allowing authorities to seize $3.8 million Silver had dispersed in eight bank accounts at six different banks in alleged fraud proceeds.

"For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question, 'How could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly service his constituents?'" Bharara said. "Today, we provide the answer. He didn't."

The five-count criminal complaint unsealed Thursday focuses on two alleged schemes by which Silver acquired millions -- attorney referral payments and alleged real estate kickbacks. One firm, identified by sources familiar with the investigation as Goldberg & Iryami, allegedly paid Silver about $700,000 over the course of about a decade in "undisclosed bribes and kickbacks" to get real estate developers in the state to do their business with the firm.

One of the real estate developers, described in the court papers as "Developer 1," is Leonard Litwin of Glenwood Management, according to the sources. The sources said Litwin cooperated with investigators, as did law firm partner Jay Goldberg.

The firm Weitz and Luxemberg also allegedly paid Silver about $5.3 million since 2002. About $1.4 million came from an annual salary, which the complaint alleges Silver received "based on his official position rather than any work he was expected to perform."

"For many years New Yorkers have also asked the question, 'What exactly does Speaker Silver do to earn his substantial outside income?'" Bharara said. "Well, the head-scratching can come to an end on that score, too, because we answer that question today as well. He does nothing."

The rest of the money came from attorney referral fees, with about $3 million coming by way of a scheme where Silver allegedly passed on asbestos cases from a New York doctor, identified by sources as Dr. Robert Taub, in exchange for secretly providing Taub access to $500,000 in state grants and research funds. Taub is the director of the Columbia University Mesothelioma Center. 

Investigators said Silver referred about 100 clients to the firm, but none of the asbestos clients or their family had ever had any contact with Silver at all, court papers said.

Taub cooperated with investigators, sources said.

Messages left with Goldberg, Litwin and Taub were not immediately returned. 

Despite making assurances that he represents "plain ordinary and simple people," investigators found no court records indicating that Silver ever made a single appearance in state or federal court.

"The problem for Sheldon Silver was that he was neither a doctor nor an asbestos lawyer, so Silver did not have relevant legal or medical expertise, but what he did have was extraordinary power over state money that he had the ability to dole out quietly, even secretly," Bharara said.

Bharara had been focusing on how state representatives earned and reported income after the Moreland Commission was shut down in Albany before completing its own examination of alleged wrongdoing in Albany. Bharara says that too was Silver's doing.

"A deal was cut that cut off the commission's work to the great relief of Sheldon Silver, who furiously fought its subpoenas and urged the commission's early shutdown," he said. "Moreland was made to close its doors after only nine months, its work barely begun, and while litigation over those subpoenas about Sheldon Silver's outside income was still pending before a state judge."

If convicted of all five counts in the complaint, Silver faces up to 100 years in prison. He did not enter a plea during a brief court appearance Thursday and was released on $200,000 bond. Silver surrendered his passport and was told he needs permission to travel anywhere outside New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.  

Mayor de Blasio said New York should let the judicial process play out. 

"Although the charges announced today are very serious I want to note that I have always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity and he certainly has due process rights and I think it’s important that we let the judicial process play out here," the mayor said.

Questions in the past have been raised about Silver’s outside income that supplement his part-time assembly work and he has always denied wrongdoing.

In a statement Thursday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Frankel said Silver took advantage of his "political pulpit" to reap unlawful rewards.

"We hold our elected representatives to the highest standards and expect them to act in the best interest of their constituents," Frankel said. "In good faith, we trust they will do so while defending the fundamental tenets of the legal system. But as we are reminded today, those who make the laws don’t have the right to break the laws."

Albany has had its fair share of corruption scandals over the years. The last legislative leader to be charged was former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Bruno, a Republican, was acquitted last year after fighting two federal corruption counts for much of the last decade.

Bharara’s office is prosecuting Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith in an alleged scheme to bribe his way to run for mayor as a Republican, and has charged numerous other current and former state and local politicians including State Sens. Vincent Leibell, Hiram Monserrate and Carl Kruger and New York City councilman Larry Seabrook.

-- Pete Williams and Richard Esposito contributed to this report.  



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[NJ Legislator Proposes Adult Incest Ban]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 06:39:53 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/new+jersey+statehouse.jpg

A New Jersey legislator has proposed banning adult incest after an 18-year-old woman told New York magazine about her intent to move to the Garden State with her father so the two can live as a married couple. 

State Rep. Mary Pat Angelini is set to introduce a bill that would ban incestuous relationships in the New Jersey, which is one of the few states that doesn't have an outright ban on parents and children from having a sexual relationship.

"It might be hard to believe, but incest among consenting adults is technically legal in New Jersey," Angelini said. "Obviously, these types of relationships violate our acceptable moral standards and should be banned."

Under current statutes, any pair of consenting adults can engage in a sexual relationship regardless of whether they are related by blood, but a person can't marry their parents, children, nieces, nephews, aunts or uncles.

Angelini's bill would make it a misdemeanor for a person to have sex with those relatives. Those convicted of incest would be sentenced to three to five years behind bars and could face a fine of up to $15,000. 

The proposal comes about a week after New York magazine's "Science of Us" blog posted an interview with an unnamed 18-year-old woman who talked about beginning a romantic relationship with her biological father, who she recently met after 12 years of estrangement. 

The woman, who lives in the Great Lakes region, told the interviewer she and her father plan to move to New Jersey because adult incest legal there. She also said she and her father plan to have children. 



Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Romney Shifts His Position on Climate Change]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 10:32:39 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/AP597715248995.jpg

As he considers a third presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said Wednesday night that one of the country's biggest challenges is climate change and that global solutions are needed to combat it.

"I'm one of those Republicans who thinks we are getting warmer and that we contribute to that," he said.

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee spoke to a sold-out crowd of about 3,000 at an investment management conference. It was his second public address since privately telling potential donors two weeks ago that he's considering seeking the presidency in 2016.

Romney didn't address a possible campaign at the event, but he used his 30-minute speech to lay out what appeared to be a populist platform. While hitting familiar Republican points criticizing the size of the federal debt, Romney at times sounded like a Democrat, calling for President Barack Obama and other leaders in Washington to act on climate change, poverty and education.

His evolving platform comes as he works to reshape his image after consecutive presidential defeats. He spent little time talking about poverty, the middle class or climate change in a 2012 campaign in which opponents cast him as an out-of-touch millionaire. But in public and private conversations in recent weeks he has focused on poverty, perhaps above all, a dramatic shift for the former private-equity executive.

Romney had previously acknowledged that climate change is real, noting in his 2010 book that "human activity is a contributing factor." But he questioned the extent to which man was contributing to the warming of the planet and said throughout his 2012 campaign that America shouldn't spend significant resources combatting the problem.

Romney said Wednesday night that federal leaders have failed to enact global agreements needed to tackle the problem.

The former Massachusetts governor also criticized Obama's State of the Union address, saying the president had minimized the threat of radical, violent jihadism and terror attacks in Paris.

"This is a very serious threat the world faces," he said. "And to minimize that, and sort of brush it aside with a few minutes of discussion, I thought was disappointing."

Romney said a growing education gap is one of the country's biggest challenges and suggested that teacher pay should be raised.

At times during the speech, he appeared equal parts candidate and economics professor, gesturing from behind a podium to a projected slideshow of graphs and pie charts of the federal debt and budget.

Before the speech — tickets were sold to the public — Romney spoke to a private dinner of about 130 clients of Diversify Inc., the investment firm that sponsored the event. Tyler Fagergren, a manager with the firm, said people asked Romney questions about the economy and investment but were not allowed to ask about a possible 2016 campaign.

Romney told the larger audience that he's honored to be a Utah resident now. He's built a home in an upscale Salt Lake City suburb and registered late last year as a Utah voter.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA["Pivotal": LGBT Groups Praise Obama's "Historic" SOTU]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 18:38:42 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/obama+state+of+union.JPG

LGBT rights activists and organizations across the country are applauding President Barack Obama for becoming the first U.S. president to use the words "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" in a State of the Union Address.

In the nearly hour-long address in front of Congress Tuesday, Obama condemned persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, while declaring that same-sex marriage is a “civil right.” His remarks come on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court agreement last week to rule on whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained," Obama in his sixth State of the Union address. "That's why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in California, said the mention made the speech “especially historic for transgender and bisexual people.” The first-of-its-kind nature of the reference was widely reported following the Tuesday night address and confirmed by NBC Owned Television Stations.

“We’ve never heard a president address their needs during a State of the Union Address,” Davis said. “That was just historic. By simply saying the word 'transgender' in a speech, it represents the progress for transgender people and the United State’s broader movement for equality for all.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington D.C-based National Center for Transgender Equality said that the “mention of us” is a way that “empower trans people to stand taller and work harder.”

“The president of the United States condemning persecution against transgender people is pivotal,” the transgender rights activist said in a statement.

Former NFL player Wade Davis II, executive director for You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization that is working to eradicate homophobia in sports, said the inclusion shows that society is starting to recognize that "gay" is not a universal term for those in the LGBT community.

“It’s not an inclusive term for someone who is bisexual or transgender, and we hope people would realize that,” said Davis, who came out as gay in 2012. “The struggle of someone being gay is not a representative of the struggles of someone who is bisexual or transgender. Gay is not this universal term that stands for lesbians, bisexual and transgender. And transgender has zero to do with sexual orientation.”

While the wait may have been long for a U.S president to make such move at the annual joint session of Congress, Obama’s calls for LGBT rights and protections are not entirely new. He was the country's first sitting leader to support same-sex marriage, an announcement he made in 2012.

Obama made a more robust move in 2013, when he reportedly became the first president to use the word “gay” during an inaugural address ─ at his second inauguration in 2013. Last year, the president signed an executive order extending protection against discrimination in the workplace for gay and transgender workers in the federal government.

Masen Davis said more work need to be done, and he urged Congress to pass laws to help LGBT individuals get more access to the services they need, including protections against housing discrimination.

Wade Davis, the NFL player, echoed those remarks, saying he hopes Obama’s message Tuesday night “will start some serious conversations about the discrimination” people in the LGBT community faces, particularly transgender individuals.

“It’s unfortunate for this to be the first time a president talks about it, but it speaks to some come change that is happening,” Wade Davis said. “I hope that the outcome of those conversations will be a policy. Talking without having a policy to back it up is just empty.”



Photo Credit: ap]]>
<![CDATA[Gov. Wolf's First Day]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 11:58:16 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/206*120/Tom+Wolf+Innauguration.JPG Gov. Tom Wolf was inaugurated as the 47th governor of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, making Wednesday his first full day in office. He celebrated his inauguration with supporters in Hershey who said they're excited to see the change he said he will bring to Pennsylvania.

Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[New Md. Gov: What to Expect]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 16:02:30 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/20141104+Hogan.jpg

Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland governor Wednesday, becoming just the second Republican to hold the post in more than 45 years. He'll face a $750 million budget deficit, a legislature controlled by Democrats and an electorate awaiting the tax cuts he promised on the campaign trail.

But what he will try to do in office remains something of a mystery, political observers say.

"He was not at all specific about policies during the campaign," said Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "He basically ran against the outgoing governor for being a tax-and-spend liberal and claimed that we were not only overtaxed but over-regulated."

Hogan, 58, defeated Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown last fall, in what was described as an astonishing upset and a rebuke to two-term Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and the tax increases he implemented. Hogan, a commercial real estate broker, is the son of a former congressman and county executive for Prince George's County in Maryland. He is the state's second Republican governor since former Vice President Spiro Agnew held the role.

Hogan has promised better fiscal management, but now must contend with spending formulas that control some of the budget's largest expenses.

"I can't see him imposing new taxes so really he's left with cuts and that's where he begins to engage real battle with the legislature," said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for The Cook Political Report.

Mandated appropriations account for 81 percent of the state's portion of spending proposed for the 2015 fiscal year beginning in July, according to a November report from the Department of Legislative Services' Office of Policy Analysis. The two-year budget shortfall has grown to nearly $1.2 billion.

"Beyond what's in his initial budget, I think you'll see him trying to change some of those mandatory spending patterns to give the state a little bit more flexibility and an ability to avoid ongoing structural deficits," said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science and chairman of Political Science Department at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Hogan vowed during the campaign that he would work with the state legislature, and observers will be watching carefully to see how long bipartisanship will last in a state with a 2-to-1 Democratic registration.

"I would say the two presiding officers in the state legislature are moderate to conservative Democrats but their rank and file, particularly in the House, are very liberal so that's going to be a pressure point for all of these four years," said Josh Kurtz, a political blogger for Center Maryland.

Kurtz and others noted that the previous Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich, similarly pledged compromise but instead fought with the legislature through much of his single four-year term.

"So if Hogan chooses to fight with the Democrats, it's going to be an ugly four years," Norris said. "He won't get anything accomplished. If he can find ground for compromise and cooperation, then I think things will work out pretty well for both sides. We just have to wait and see."

Hogan, who won 54 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Brown, has said he wants to appeal two environmental measures: a storm water remediation fee, otherwise known as the rain tax, and regulations governing how much nitrogen can be released into the Chesapeake Bay, particularly from chicken farmers on the Eastern Shore, Norris said.

Hogan also has questioned the expense of two large public transit projects on the boards: the Baltimore Red Line, a 14-mile light rail transit line linking the city's east and west sides to the downtown that would cost $2.9 billion, and the Greater Washington Purple Line, a 16-mile east-west transit line connecting Bethesda to New Carrollton that would cost $2.45 billion. Both would gotten $100 million in federal funding, and could get up to $900 million each if Maryland signs funding agreements.

In recent days, Hogan refused to discuss the projects until after he took office, but during the campaign, he said he would spend money on roads rather than on expanding public transportation.
Observers noted that he was elected by predominantly suburban and rural voters.

Others programs that could prompt objections from voters if Hogan tries to cut them: school construction and prekindergarten.

"Nobody really knows what Hogan is going to be like when things don't go his way because he's never held elective office before," Kurtz said. "So in that respect, he's a big mystery."

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<![CDATA[GOP Congressman Slams Obama for "Deportable" SOTU Guest]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 20:52:56 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/AP060731031104.jpg

A Republican congressman took a social media swipe at the White House over one of its young State of the Union guests Tuesday, tweeting that the first lady would have a "deportable" joining her.

Iowa Rep. Steve King said the president "perverts 'prosecutorial discretion'" by inviting Ana Zamora, a 20-year-old student from Dallas, to sit "in a place of honor" with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday's address.

Zamora, who was brought to the United States illegally as a young child, was granted temporary work authorization under Obama's executive order seeking to protect undocumented children living in the U.S. under such circumstances, often referred to as "DREAMers." The White House has said that Zamora's parents, a small business owner and a construction worker, are expected to benefit from more recent actions meant to shield millions from deportation.

When asked about the tweet by NBC News' Luke Russert, King, a vocal critic of Obama's immigration policies and actions, said to  "shake it off and have a sense of humor." The conservative congressman, who is hosting a gathering of potential GOP presidential candidates in this home state this weekend, said he didn't think the comment would hurt his party's possible 2016 contenders.

Zamora is one of nearly two dozen guests invited to watch the State of the Union along with the first lady. Others include a teen from Chicago's South Side who wrote a letter asking Santa for safety for Christmas, an astronaut set to spend a year aboard the International Space Station and Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen recently released after five years in Cuban prison.



Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
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<![CDATA[Chicago Teen Who Asked Santa for Safety Invited to State of the Union]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 18:54:02 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/217*120/letter+to+santa+safety.jpg

A South Side Chicago teen who wrote a letter to Santa asking for safety and received a reply from President Barack Obama has now earned an invitation from the first lady.

Michelle Obama invited 13-year-old Malik Bryant to be one of her guests for the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

It is customary for the first lady to invite guests to the speech, and the guests are often mentioned in the president's address.

Malik, who lives in Englewood, wrote a letter as part of a charitable Letters to Santa program in Chicago in December that said, "All I ask for is for safety. I just want to be safe." The letter made its way to the president, who wrote Malik a response.

"I want to offer you a few words of encouragement," the president wrote, according to the Sun-Times. "Each day, I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover, and grow. Please know your security is a priority for me in everything I do as President. If you dare to be bold and creative, work hard every day, and care for others, I'm confident you can achieve anything you imagine. I wish you and your family the very best for the coming year, and I will be rooting for you."

Malik will be seated with the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden and Valerie Jarrett, the senior advisor to the president, along with Michelle Obama's other guests from across the country.

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<![CDATA[Va. Gov. Suffers 7 Broken Ribs in Fall From Horse]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 18:09:49 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/0115-mcauliffe.jpg

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is recovering from injuries he received after being thrown from a horse while on a family trip to Africa, several media outlets are reporting.

McAuliffe is being treated for seven broken ribs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Spokesman Brian Coy says the governor was with his family in Tanzania over the Christmas holidays when the riding accident occurred.

The governor had been working since his return from Africa and expected the injury to heal on its own, but Coy said doctors identified increased fluid around his lungs that required treatment.

The governor is expected to spend two to three days recovering.

"My husband is resting comfortably after a successful procedure this afternoon. He and I want to thank the outstanding medical team at VCU Medical Center who just informed us that he is expected to recover well and get back to his full schedule within the next few days," Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe said Monday. "We would also like to thank the many well-wishers from all across Virginia who expressed concern and support for Terry as he continues to recover."

Coy stressed that the injury is not a "dire thing'' and the governor has been on the job since the accident. That includes delivering the State of the Commonwealth last week.
 


 

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<![CDATA[State of the Union: What To Expect]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 11:31:05 -0500 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/NC_sotupreview0119001_1500x845.jpg President Obama's upcoming State of The Union address is already being met by Republican criticism.]]>