Only hope can save us!

I’ve kept silent in this hellish political season. That’s a hard thing for a journalist/attorney to do. I’ll admit I was unsure until last night but the light bulb went off as President Obama addressed the Democratic Convention.

I remember that night in 2004 when he first took the national stage. I was mesmerized by his forceful, infectious optimism, not yet tarnished by the corroding abrasion of Washington lawmakers. If you remember, his message was one of hope.

Well, a lot has happened since then. America is living under a cloud of fear. The fear of  parents who can’t imagine how they’ll pay for college for their child; the fear of grandparents who don’t turn on the lights because they can’t afford the bill; the fear of children who see friends shot in the safe harbor of a school and the fear of teens who see heroin as a cheap Saturday night.  Fear has grabbed hold of the black population, scared to send their young men for a container of milk and cops operating under a trigger point state of paranoia for their lives.

History has shown us what fear can do to a population. History in our time and not in the dusty books of a university library. Fear is palpable all around us.

The two candidates who saw that fear in our eyes took the baton and ran to places we never imagined. One who continues to ply that fear and the other whose burn to change it fell short.

Only Americans can change this malaise, this anxiety-ridden cloud that is suffocating us faster than a swath of disease-carrying mosquitoes on a stagnant pond. We are choking with fear. We long for the security of a country that can protect us, rather than a country who is chided and viewed with derision on the global stage. We long for the days when we could send our kids out on a summer night to play safely in the streets without fear of random gunfire. We long for the day when bankruptcy was the taboo and not the norm for every other American. We are Americans. We hope, we dream that our best days are still ahead. Our eternal optimism is what makes us stand out and what makes us strong in this world. That is precisely what makes us Americans.

If we, as Americans, are going to win in November, the candidates need to take our fears seriously, not ignore them. Listen to what the fear mongers are saying and give us a concrete path to tomorrow. That’s the only way to win the election. That’s the only way to tip the numbers in our favor.

Of course we are afraid. It’s a scary world but baseless propaganda which panders to that is not the solution. You’ve got this America, now get out and do something about it and vote. It is your birthright! It is our future.

If you want change……….we’ve come this far……..after 240 years of male leadership, why not let women take the lead!

Time for a change

Antonin Scalia paves the way for change

It’s always a shock when a justice of the Supreme Court dies.  Love ’em, hate ’em, agree or disagree, they are part of a small, elite group of jurists who set the course of justice for an entire country.  Once appointed, they hold their position for life, so it should come as no surprise that to replace one is news making.

I had the honor of meeting Justice Antonin Scalia on the very same day, ten years ago, that I also met Justice Samuel Alito.  For an Italian-American attorney, this was the double-header, to say that I have studied under two justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Heck, it was only a CLE course but how many attorneys can say they got up close and personal with two of The Supremes?

Actually, up close and personal was not exactly what Justice Scalia would allow.  As you can see from the photo, he was not the warm and fuzzy kind and did not want his photo taken with anyone.  Alito, on the other hand, was only too happy to pose when approached with respect and not expectation.

Justice Scalia passed away this past weekend and while his opinions from the bench were always newsworthy, it is his passing that is garnering more than its share of controversy in this Presidential election year.

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Conservative Republicans are playing the stubborn elephants of their party’s mascot, digging in their heels and waving their big trunks, vowing to stall any nomination to the court by President Obama.  Are they that threatened?  No matter who gets appointed, isn’t a judicial nominee supposed to leave their party affiliations at the door of the Supreme Court Building?  Republicans have kicked the sand in the sandbox like spoiled children long enough.  To stall a nomination is not only childish but irresponsible, shackling the court in likely deadlocks for the next eleven months.

If I were President, I’d wait till the kids take their summer recess and then make a recess appointment.  It’s legit.  The President wouldn’t need the approval of the Senate and maybe some cases that mean something could be decided.  A “recess appointed justice” would only hold her position until the end of the next Senate session.  To continue to serve beyond would require a re-appointment and Senate confirmation.  And in our nation’s gloried history, of the ten justices appointed during a recess, only one was not subsequently confirmed by the Senate.

By the way, did you notice that I suggested that “she” would have to be confirmed by a full Senate?  Yes, maybe it’s time for a truly balanced bench with a fourth female justice to serve…then again, that might have to wait until we have a new female President🙂

 

Tackling Taxes in Westchester

Owning property in Westchester comes with a pretty steep price. The purchase price is just the beginning of sticker shock for most homeowners in the County but the escalating cost of property taxes adds to that ongoing burden. Grieving your taxes is the only way to possibly get some relief and initiating the process the correct way from the start increases your chances of winning a reduction.

That being said, the tax grievance landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years with Mamaroneck and Scarsdale undertaking revaluations and Yonkers, Greenburgh and Ossining undergoing the process as of this writing. The municipalities had a two-fold goal: level the property tax playing field, which had not been adjusted in decades, and reduce the number of tax grievance applications which had swamped the assessors’ offices for the past few years.

Westchester Tax GrievanceThe revaluations have resulted in a seismic shift with lower tax bills for some and shockingly higher assessments for others.  As a Westchester attorney who has practiced in tax grievances for more than a decade, my experience has shown me that many lower-to-mid-range homes ($400-650K) are now assessed just where they should be in the current housing market, while many mega mansions are over-assessed, depending on location. The reality is that other than the rare exception, your property’s assessed value is now closer to the realized market value, especially if your town has just undergone a revaluation.

Each year, your municipality is required to send you a Notice of Assessment when it publishes its tentative tax roll. That gives property owners a chance to determine if they want to challenge the assessment by filing a tax grievance. Deadlines for filing are all over the map, literally, and I refer you here to the New York State website to see when your municipal deadline occurs.

More to come as we get closer to the Village (February) and Town (June) deadlines next spring.