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History > 2008 > USA > Towns, cities (I)




In Biggest U.S. Cities,

Minorities Are at 50%


December 9, 2008
The New York Times


For the first time, Hispanic, black, Asian and other nonwhite residents account for half the population of the nation’s largest cities, according to new census figures.

Further, the data document a rapidly growing ethnic diversity in small-town America as well.

In 2000, the Census Bureau found that non-Hispanic whites were 52.3 percent of the people in the central cities of all metropolitan areas. In the latest count, that share had declined to 50.2 percent.

The decline among whites in the suburbs was even more pronounced, to less than 72 percent from nearly 76 percent.

In rural areas, the share of whites declined slightly, that of blacks remained the same, and the proportion of Asians and especially Hispanics increased.

The figures, from a three-year combined count taken by the bureau’s American Community Survey in 2005-7, offers a first detailed look since the 2000 census at the growing diversity of small-town America: towns and counties of 20,000 to 65,000 people. “What we found was that in large part, they look a lot like the total population,” said Scott Boggess, survey coordinator for household and economic statistics.

Many of the small towns, some of them home to colleges, mirrored changes taking place in cities and suburbs.

Of the 50,000 people age 5 or over in Dallas County, Iowa, for instance, the number who speak a language other than English at home rose 69 percent from 2000, to 4,200.

In Enterprise, Nev., population 65,000, which led small-town growth for every major racial group, the Hispanic population grew by a factor of five, to 9,800, and the Asian population grew thirteenfold, to 10,200.

“Not only are new immigrant minorities spreading away from metropolitan areas, but they are now moving to small places, both within, outside and far beyond traditional settlements,” said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer.

Dr. Frey said the shifts so far this decade “reflect economic forces that have driven middle-income whites and some blacks to smaller places, thus creating jobs in construction and other low-skilled industries for immigrant minorities in small suburbs and exurbs across the country.”

Most of the smaller cities and towns that have registered big influxes of Hispanics and Asians are in or near states, like California, Florida and Texas, where those groups’ immigrant populations and their descendants have traditionally settled. But there are a smattering of newer destinations as well, including Virginia and Chicago.

A separate analysis of the latest figures by Mark Mather, associate vice president for domestic programs at the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization in Washington, found growing poverty rates among children in the nation’s midsize counties, small towns and rural areas.

High poverty rates in Appalachia, the rural South, the Rio Grande Valley and the Upper Midwest “are linked to long-term social and economic trends in these areas, rather than short-term fluctuations in wages or unemployment,” Dr. Mather said.

Over all, Dr. Frey said, the latest survey figures “provide a vivid snapshot of how immigrants and newer racial minorities are dispersing, not only to new states, regions and metropolitan areas but to smaller-sized places within them.”

“They were first drawn by economic pulls to these areas,” he said, “but as these groups continue to establish roots in small-town America, they will gradually change the fabric of minority-majority interactions nationwide.”

    In Biggest U.S. Cities, Minorities Are at 50%, NYT, 9.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/us/09survey.html?ref=nyregion






New York City Growing More Diverse,

Census Finds


December 9, 2008
The New York Times


Since 2000, the number of young children living in parts of Lower Manhattan has nearly doubled. The poverty rate declined in all but one New York City neighborhood. A majority of Bronx residents are Hispanic.

And the number of white people living in Harlem more than tripled, helping to drive up median household income there by nearly 20 percent — the fourth-highest jump in the city.

Those are some of the more striking trends revealed in new census figures that produce the most detailed snapshot of New York City neighborhoods and of the metropolitan area’s smaller cities and towns since the 2000 census.

Many of the findings regarding income, poverty and migration are likely to be affected by the recession, which began about the same time that the latest survey was completed, in December 2007. Demographers said that some of the survey’s brighter spots might well be remembered as the high-water marks of the Wall Street boom.

But by providing detailed demographic information for districts as small as 20,000 people and combining the results of three years of surveys, the findings also provided some of the clearest statistical evidence of trends involving race, ethnicity, education, housing costs and other subjects.

Those trends until now had been suggested for the most part anecdotally.

In almost every category, the results demonstrated the city’s diversity and dynamism. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for example, the proportion of residents who do not speak English at home declined by more than 17 percent — an indication of gentrification in a heavily Hispanic and Asian area. But on the southern part of Staten Island, the share rose by 26 percent because of an influx of Chinese and Spanish speakers. (The area already had a significant number of Italian and Russian speakers.)

Since 2000, the Dominican Republic, China and Mexico have sent the most people to New York: 81,000, 77,000 and 69,000. There were also large influxes of immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan, and from Ghana and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. (First- and second-generation Africans and Caribbean immigrants now account for about 4 in 10 of the city’s black residents.)

In the Bronx, the flow of Dominicans and Mexicans helped push the Hispanic population past 51 percent.

Over all, the proportion of New Yorkers born abroad remained around 37 percent, the same as in 2000. But the proportion of foreign born who are American citizens passed a tipping point, to 50.8 percent in 2007 from 45 percent in 2000.

Underscoring the growing diversity of the suburbs, the survey found that the median age in Kiryas Joel in Orange County is just over 14 — making it the youngest community in the country with 20,000 or more people. The town’s youthfulness reflects the high birth rates of its Hasidic community.

Lakewood, N.J., an Orthodox Jewish enclave and home to one of the nation’s largest yeshivas, was in second place, with a median age of 20.

Darien and Westport, Conn., were among the wealthiest towns in the country with populations between 20,000 and 65,000, making a list of nine places where the median family income exceeded $150,000. In Darien, it was $195,905; in Westport, $176,740.

The latest results represent a three-year rolling count by the American Community Survey, a continuing profile of the country compiled by the Census Bureau, from 2005 to 2007.

“It was taken on the eve of a downturn,” said Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, who analyzed the results for The New York Times. “There’s been a shift in the cities, but can it sustain itself? The increase in children in Manhattan, for example, is fueled by the fact that the parents have a lot of money. But that is tied to the financial industry, directly or indirectly.”

Joseph J. Salvo, director of the Department of City Planning’s Population Division, was more sanguine about the potential impact of the recession.

“If 9/11 gives us any experience,” he said, “the dislocation will be of a temporary nature. There may be some changes in migration, but people really like to seek out the city as a destination to live.”

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey fleshed out earlier and sketchier profiles of the city.

The city, it seems, became better educated. Since 2000, the share of New Yorkers who are high school graduates rose to 79 percent from 72 percent. The share with bachelor’s degrees increased to 32 percent from 27 percent.

The survey estimated that the number of children under 5 in Manhattan increased, the result largely of white people moving into the city or staying to raise families, demographers said. In an area of downtown including portions of Battery Park City, TriBeCa and SoHo, the number of children rose to about 8,000 from about 4,000.

But Mr. Salvo cautioned that the census estimates may have overstated the increase, saying school enrollment and other data do not entirely bear it out. Outside of Manhattan, the number of school-age children has declined, in part because of Hispanic families moving to the suburbs.

The survey found a significant rise in the average size of households, to 2.67 people from 2.59 and in family size, to 3.49 people from 3.32. That increase largely reflects higher fertility rates among newer immigrants, demographers said.

In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, households headed by women declined by 21 percent. In the Rockaways, they rose by 17 percent. In a portion of the West Side of Manhattan, the share of households made up of same-sex unmarried partners increased to 3.6 percent from 2.5 percent.

The increase in median household income in Harlem was propelled by white people — theirs went up by 52 percent. Among Harlem’s black residents, income rose by 9 percent. The only neighborhoods with larger percentage increases in median household income were Park Slope-Cobble Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and the lower West Side of Manhattan.

Black New Yorkers also recorded increases in median household income in Jamaica, the Rockaways and Richmond Hill, Queens, and in Brownsville and Coney Island, Brooklyn. The survey found that the poverty rate rose in only one neighborhood: Morris Heights in the Bronx, by less than one percentage point.

    New York City Growing More Diverse, Census Finds, NYT, 9.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/nyregion/09census.html?hp






Dogfighting Subculture Is Taking Hold in Texas


December 7, 2008
The New York Times


HOUSTON — The two undercover agents were miles from any town, deep in the East Texas countryside, following a car carrying three dogfighting fanatics and a female pit bull known for ripping off the genitals of other dogs. A car trailed the officers with two burly armed guards, hired to protect the dog and a $40,000 wager.

When the owners of the opposing dog, a crew from Louisiana, got cold feet and took off, the men in the undercover agents’ party reacted with fury, offering to chase them down and kill them. The owner of the female pit bull, an American living in Mexico, was merciful. He decided to take the opposing dog and let the men live, the officers said.

Over 17 months, the agents from the Texas state police penetrated a murky and dangerous subculture in East Texas, a world where petty criminals, drug dealers and a few people with ordinary jobs shared a passion for watching pit bulls tear each other apart in a 12-foot-square pit.

Investigators found that dogfighting was on the rise in Texas and was much more widespread than they had expected. The ring broken up here had links to dogfighting organizations in other states and in Mexico, suggesting an extensive underground network of people devoted to the activity, investigators said.

Besides a cadre of older, well-established dogfighters, officials said, the sport has begun to attract a growing following among young people from hardscrabble neighborhoods in Texas, where gangs, drug dealing and hip-hop culture make up the backdrop.

The investigation here led to the indictments of 55 people and the seizing of 187 pit bulls, breaking up what officials described as one of the largest dogfighting rings in the country.

“It’s like the Saturday night poker game for hardened criminals,” said one of the undercover agents, Sgt. C. T. Manning, describing the tense atmosphere at the fights.

In between screaming obscenities at the animals locked in combat, Sergeant Manning said, the participants smoked marijuana, popped pills, made side deals about things like selling cocaine and fencing stolen property, and, always, talked about dogs.

Dogfighting drew national attention in 2007 when Michael Vick, the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, was convicted of felony conspiracy after holding dogfights on his property in Smithfield, Va. On Monday, officials in Los Angeles announced the breakup of a dogfighting ring. It was the outcry among animal-welfare groups after Mr. Vick’s arrest that prompted the Texas Legislature to make dogfighting a felony in September 2007. Before that, the police in Texas had largely ignored the phenomenon because the offense was a misdemeanor.

In the Texas case, law enforcement officials described a secretive society of men who set up prize fights between their pit bulls and bet large sums on the outcome. Many of those indicted had long criminal records, but they also include a high school English teacher, a land purchaser for an oil company and a manager at a Jack in the Box restaurant.

The participants generally arranged the fight over the phone, matching dogs by weight and sex, and agreeing to a training period of six or eight weeks.

The training techniques were brutal. One man who was indicted trained a dog by forcing it to run for up to an hour at a time through a cemetery with a chain around its neck that weighed as much as it did. Then he forced dogs to swim for long periods before running on a treadmill. Every day the dogs would be given dog protein powders, vitamins and high-grade food to build muscle.

Then, as the fight date approached, the trainers would starve the dog, give it very little water and pump it full of an anti-inflammatory drug.

The fights were held in out-of-the-way places — an abandoned motel in the refinery town of Texas City, a horse corral in a slum on the Houston outskirts, behind a barn on a farm near Jasper and at a farmhouse in Matagorda County, south of Houston.

The two undercover agents, Sergeant Manning and his partner, S. A. Davis, posed as members of a motorcycle gang who stole automated teller machines for a living. They infiltrated the ring, allied themselves with a group of people who owned fighting dogs and rented a warehouse in Houston, where fights were eventually held.

People came to the contests from as far away as Tennessee, Michigan and the Czech Republic. Every weekend, fights were held throughout the area for purses that usually ran about $10,000. The agents documented at least 50 fights.

“The undercover cops were sometimes invited to three different dogfights in a night,” said Belinda Smith, the Harris County assistant district attorney prosecuting the cases, along with Stephen St. Martin.

The ring members called the fights “dog shows.” The two dogs would be suspended from a scale with a thin cord tied around their neck and torso. If one of the dogs did not make weight, the owner would forfeit his half of the prize money, or the odds would be adjusted. After the weigh-in, the owners washed each others’ dogs in water, baking soda, warm milk and vinegar to make sure their coats were not poisoned.

Then dogs were forced to face off in a portable plywood box two feet tall, usually with a beige carpet on the floor, to show the blood, officials said. At the command of “face your dogs,” the animals were turned toward each other. When the handlers released them, the dogs would collide with a thud in the center of the ring, tearing at each other’s mouths, jaws, necks, withers and genitals, officials said. A referee usually would let the dogs fight until one backed off, then the handlers would take them back to their corners and wash them for 30 seconds.

During the fight, the exhausted animals would sometimes overheat, lock onto each other and lie in the ring. The handlers would blow on them to cool them off and force them to fight.

The fight usually ended when a dog refused to cross a line in the center of the ring to confront the opponent, known as “standing the line.” Such dogs were usually drowned or bludgeoned to death the next day, officials said.

“These guys take it very personally,” Sergeant Manning said. “It’s a reflection on them.”

Most of the dogs seized were kept outside in muddy yards, chained to axles sunk in the ground, with only six feet of tether and no shelter, beyond, in some cases, a toppled plastic 40-gallon barrel. All suffered from multiple parasites, veterinarians said.

“These dogs were kept in more than cruel conditions — they were subjected to torturous conditions,” said Dr. Timothy Harkness, of the Houston Humane Society. “Death was more pleasant than what they had to exist for.”

Many of the surviving animals had battle wounds on their necks and mouths, Dr. Harkness said. Although some were not aggressive toward people, they were all bred to attack other dogs, and officials made the decision to euthanize them last week.

Dr. Dawn Blackmar, director of veterinary public health for Harris County, said that putting down more than 80 dogs in her care was heart-wrenching. “It was absolutely awful,” Dr. Blackmar said. “It’s not the dogs’ fault. It’s that people have taken and exploited this breed.”

The members of the dogfighting ring were careful about who attended a fight, often limiting each side to 10 guests and quizzing people about who they were, who they knew.

The principals would keep the location of the fight secret until the last minute and then go in a caravan of cars to the rendezvous point, making it difficult to collect evidence, law enforcement officials said. They were also secretive about where they kept their dogs, for fear of robbery.

“People would go to the fights and talk about their yards,” said Ms. Smith, the assistant district attorney. “But they were very secretive about where their yards are.”

Ms. Smith said dozens of people who attended fights had yet to be identified, despite photos, because they piled into cars that did not belong to them to go to the events and never used their real names.

“There are a lot of people doing this,” she said. “We could have gone on and on and on with this investigation.”

    Dogfighting Subculture Is Taking Hold in Texas, NYT, 7.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/us/07dogs.html?hp






North Dakota Asks, What Recession?


December 6, 2008
The New York Times


FARGO, N.D. — As the rest of the nation sinks into a 12th grim month of recession, this state, at least up until now, has been quietly reveling in a picture so different that it might well be on another planet.

The number of new cars sold statewide was 27 percent higher this year than last, state records through November showed. North Dakota’s foreclosure rate was minuscule, among the lowest in the country. Many homes have still been gaining modestly in value, and, here in Fargo, construction workers can be found on any given day hammering away on a new downtown condominium complex, complete with a $540,000 penthouse (still unsold, but with a steady stream of lookers).

While dozens of states, including neighboring ones, have desperately begun raising fees, firing workers, shuttering tourist attractions and even abolishing holiday displays to overcome gaping deficits, lawmakers this week in Bismarck, the capital, were contemplating what to do with a $1.2 billion budget surplus.

And as some states’ unemployment rates stretched perilously close to the double digits in the fall, North Dakota’s was 3.4 percent, among the lowest in the country.

“We feel like we have been living in a bubble,” said Justin Theel, part owner of a dealership that sells Toyotas, Dodges and Scions in Bismarck. “We see the national news every day. We know things are tough. But around here, our people have gone to their jobs every day knowing that they’re going to get a paycheck and that they’ll go back the next day.”

North Dakota’s cheery circumstance — which economic analysts are quick to warn is showing clear signs that it, too, may be in jeopardy — can be explained by an odd collection of factors: a recent surge in oil production that catapulted the state to fifth-largest producer in the nation; a mostly strong year for farmers (agriculture is the state’s biggest business); and a conservative, steady, never-fancy culture that has nurtured fewer sudden booms of wealth like those seen elsewhere (“Our banks don’t do those goofy loans,” Mr. Theel said) and also fewer tumultuous slumps.

As it happens, one of the state’s biggest worries right now is precisely the reverse of most other states: North Dakota has about 13,000 unfilled jobs and is struggling to find people to take them.

“We could use more people with skills for some of these jobs,” Marty Aas, who leads the Fargo branch of the state’s Job Service North Dakota, said as his offices — where the unemployed might come for help — sat quiet and nearly empty. State employees outnumbered the six clients on a recent afternoon. (Mr. Aas insisted that such a slow afternoon was rare.)

State officials and private companies have begun looking elsewhere to recruit workers, including traveling in October to Michigan, where tens of thousands of workers have been laid off, and, this month, holding an “online job fair,” anything to lure people to a place that is, at least for now, removed from the deep financial dismay — if also just plain removed.

“Our problem is that everybody thinks that it’s a cold, miserable place to live,” said Bob Stenehjem, a Republican and the State Senate’s majority leader. “They’re wrong, of course. But North Dakota is a pretty well-kept secret.”

With 635,867 residents, North Dakota is among the least populous states, and, in the past few years, more people have moved away, census figures show, than have moved here.

Katie Hasbargen, a spokeswoman for Microsoft’s Fargo campus, which is in the middle of a $70 million or so building expansion and is, even now, looking for a few additions to its work force (of more than 1,500), said false perceptions of the state are the problem when it comes to recruiting workers. “The movie,” Ms. Hasbargen said, referring to the 1996 Coen brothers’ film that bears this city’s name, “didn’t do us a lot of favors.”

On a recent evening, as the night shift arrived at DMI Industries, where 383 workers (an all-time high) weld gigantic towers for wind turbines and where a $20 million expansion is under way, Phillip Christiansen, the general manager, wandered the plant, noting those who had been recruited from elsewhere — three from Michigan not long ago, another from Louisiana. “It’s very competitive around here trying to find people,” he said. “In this environment, it’s a little hard.”

Not that people are complaining much. Downtown, in the line of gift shops along Broadway, where shop owners reported sales that were healthy (though always sensible), residents said they were pleased — if a tad guilty — about the state’s relative good fortune.

No one was gloating. No wild spending sprees were apparent. No matter how well things seemed to be going, many said they were girding, in well-practiced Midwestern style, for the worst.

“You’re always a little worried,” Mr. Christiansen admitted. “You get a tickle at the pit of your stomach.”

In truth, economic analysts said North Dakota has already begun showing some of the painful ripples seen elsewhere. Some manufacturing companies here have lately made temporary job cuts as orders for products have dropped nationally. Shrinking 401(k)’s — “201(k)’s,” some here grump — are no bigger here than anywhere else. And, most of all, drops in oil prices and farm commodity prices are sure to sink local fortunes, experts said.

An economist at Moody’s Economy.com recently warned that conditions in North Dakota had “slowed measurably in recent months, and the state is now at risk of being dragged into recession.” In an interview, Glenn Wingard, the economist, described North Dakota as “an outlier” up to now in a broad, national slump.

“It’s not going to hold,” Mr. Wingard said, suggesting that the state would now probably have to suffer through a reversal, or at least, a slowdown, much like other places that benefited from rising fortunes tied to energy, high oil prices and booming farm commodity prices.

Still, Ernie Goss, an economist at Creighton University in Omaha, who conducts a regular survey of economic conditions in nine states through the nation’s middle, found North Dakota to be the only one expected to experience an expanding economy over the next three to six months. “This will hit North Dakota,” Dr. Goss said of the recession, “I just don’t think it’ll ever be as significant.”

Just as state officials in Minnesota — due east of here — this week revealed a staggering $5.2 billion deficit, Gov. John Hoeven of North Dakota gathered with lawmakers at the State Capitol to talk, in part, about the $1.2 billion budget surplus — the result, in part, of increased revenues from oil, and a sum that is all the more astonishing given the size of the state’s total budget, $7.7 billion over the next two years.

Mr. Hoeven, a Republican whose party controls both chambers of the state legislature and who was re-elected last month with more than 70 percent of the vote, offered proposals few other states are likely to hear this year: $400 million in property and income tax relief, $130 million more for kindergarten through 12th-grade education, 5 percent raises for state workers, $18 million for expansion of a state heritage center, and so on.

The surplus, several lawmakers asserted, will actually make their jobs and choices far more complicated.

“Now that there is money,” said State Senator David O’Connell, a Democrat and the party’s minority leader, “I could go to three meetings a day with people who will say they want more money or want a one-time spending package or something.”

Mr. Stenehjem, who likewise complained that “when you have $1.2 billion sitting around, there’s about 50 billion ideas of what to spend it on,” quickly noted that there were worse budget problems to have.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I would rather deal with this.

“Prudence is important at this point,” Mr. Stenehjem, a lifelong North Dakotan, went on. “North Dakota never gets as good as the rest of the country or as bad as the rest of the country, and that’s fine with us.”

    North Dakota Asks, What Recession?, NYT, 6.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/06/us/06dakota.html?em






A New Wind Is Blowing in Chicago


November 20, 2008
The New York Times



SO long, Crawford, Tex. Even before President-elect Barack Obama takes office in 61 days, effectively crowning Chicago as the site of the Western White House, the city is basking in a moment of triumph that is spilling well beyond the confines of politics.

A bid for the summer Olympics in 2016, which once seemed like a fanciful pitch, suddenly feels far closer to a sure thing. (No, the ban on lobbyists at the White House does not apply to a little presidential persuasion on the International Olympic Committee.)

A spire is finally poised to be placed atop the Trump Tower here, bringing the skyscraper to 1,361 feet, the tallest American building since the Sears Tower was built three decades ago.

A new Modern Wing for the fabled Art Institute is set to open next spring, including a Renzo Piano bridge to Millennium Park, which sat in the distance of Mr. Obama’s election night victory speech here.

Yet this moment of renaissance for Chicago is about much more than architecture and athletics. For the first time in the country’s history, an American president will call this city home. And as he moves to Washington, a dose of the Chicago mood is sure to follow.

“We’re not Little Rock and we’re not Texas,” said Rick Bayless, a friend of the Obama family, who owns Frontera Grill and is among the city’s celebrity chefs. “It’s easy to put on your cowboy boots and eat all that barbecue. You can’t do that from Chicago. We’ve got a lot of muscle and it’s far too complex of a place for that.”

The complexity of Chicago, a city that is multiplying in its new diversity even as it clings to a segregated past, is rooted in the 200 neighborhoods that make up the nation’s third-largest city. America may well know Oprah Winfrey, who became a billion-dollar name through her rise to fame here, but the city holds a far broader identity.

One sign that the Obama brand is replacing the Oprah brand? The talk show tycoon is not mentioned in the city’s new tourism campaign, which invites visitors to “Experience the city the Obamas enjoy.” Ms. Winfrey’s studio is not mentioned along the list of stops, which range from Mr. Bayless’s restaurants to a bookstore in the Obamas’ Hyde Park neighborhood to Promontory Point along Lake Michigan. And souvenirs are on sale across town, with Obama shirts, hats and knickknacks arriving just in time for holiday shopping.

“It seems like there are eight million people walking around here congratulating each other,” said Scott Turow, the best-selling novelist who was born in the city. “Chicagoans are unbelievably proud of Barack and feel of course that he’s ours, because he is.”

Catching himself, he added: “I guess I should get out of the habit of calling him Barack.”

The marketing pitch, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s victory, offers a window into the two-fold psyche of the city: It is a big enough metropolis not to be easily fazed by events, though the fabric of the community is stitched just tight enough to burst in a rare moment of giddiness.

Chicago has long been a place that seems comfortable — or, at least, well adjusted — to losing, a place where you put your head down and shoulder through whatever hand is dealt you. (How could it be otherwise, considering all the practice that the cursed Chicago Cubs have provided over the years?)

In 1952, when an article in The New Yorker derisively referred to Chicago as the Second City, little offense was taken. It became a marketing pitch, with the thinking that second fiddle was far better than no fiddle at all.

But that gawking, out-of-town amazement — gee, there really is a city here! — has long outlived its currency. Well before Mr. Obama was elected as the nation’s 44th president — a fact that was proudly amplified by Mayor Richard M. Daley, who ordered up banners with a sketch of the president-elect to hang throughout the city — Chicago was experiencing one of its most blossoming periods in food, fashion and the arts.

Now, people around the country and the world are simply noticing.

Jeff Tweedy, the leader of the band Wilco who grew up in downstate Illinois and lives in Chicago, said the city never felt the inferiority complex that outsiders spend so much time musing about. Still, he said, the election of Mr. Obama, a friend for years, has given an unusual boost of confidence in a city that is usually nonplussed.

“I think people really do enjoy the idea that we’re living in the center of the world all of the sudden,” Mr. Tweedy said. “There have been all these prevailing stereotypes, and people don’t know how big and urban Chicago actually is. People think of it as being in a cornfield.”

If the country is set to see more of Chicago over the next four years — many people across the city here are too humble, nervous and practical to automatically assume Mr. Obama will be in office for eight years — at least one introductory lesson is in order.

If you had always assumed that Chicago earned its nickname as the Windy City from the chilly gusts coming off Lake Michigan, you would be wrong. The city is windy, according to most local legends, because of the hot air bellowing from politicians.

That was among the early lessons about Chicago that scores of young political operatives may have picked up when they moved to the city nearly two years ago to work in Mr. Obama’s headquarters. But while his campaign was located here — largely to escape the tentacles of Washington — the around-the-clock hours kept few of his young aides from truly experiencing the place that helped shape the next president.

“There is a really strong sense of self in Chicago: People aren’t defined by wealth or by work or accomplishments, but rather who they are,” said Alex Kotlowitz, an author who makes his home in Chicago because he believes it is a place to peer into America’s heart. “Obama seems so comfortable in his skin and with who he is. That’s so Chicago.”

It remains an open question just how much, if any, of Chicago will rub off on Washington. For starters, perhaps the president may be less inclined to shut down his government when a few flurries of snow are spotted. Mr. Obama has already lived in the capital — for a few nights a week, anyway — since arriving in the Senate four years ago.

The Obamas are, however, taking a bit of Chicago with them.

Michelle Obama’s mother is moving to Washington. (No, she is not living in the White House.) So Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, aren’t alone, a family that lives near the Obama home in Hyde Park is also moving, so the girls have built-in friends in the new world surrounding them.

And, friends say, look for them to spend at least a bit of time back in Chicago. (There is, after all, no Crawford ranch available to this first presidential family.)

Lois Weisberg, the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the city of Chicago, is a bit worried by the entrepreneurial rush surrounding Mr. Obama’s election. She hopes that while the Obamas are away the city remains a dignified tourist destination, not where buses are simply hawking rides around Obama points of interest.

“It’s too much luck for one city,” Ms. Weisberg said. “You get the president, you get the tourists, you get the Olympics. There is a wonderful feeling. I don’t think there was anything wrong with us before, but I think we’re better now.”

    A New Wind Is Blowing in Chicago, NYT, 20.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/fashion/20chicago.html?hp






For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics


November 11, 2008
The New York Times


VERNON, Ala. — Fear of the politician with the unusual name and look did not end with last Tuesday’s vote in this rural red swatch where buck heads and rifles hang on the wall. This corner of the Deep South still resonates with negative feelings about the race of President-elect Barack Obama.

What may have ended on Election Day, though, is the centrality of the South to national politics. By voting so emphatically for Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama — supporting him in some areas in even greater numbers than they did President Bush — voters from Texas to South Carolina and Kentucky may have marginalized their region for some time to come, political experts say.

The region’s absence from Mr. Obama’s winning formula means it “is becoming distinctly less important,” said Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. “The South has moved from being the center of the political universe to being an outside player in presidential politics.”

One reason for that is that the South is no longer a solid voting bloc. Along the Atlantic Coast, parts of the “suburban South,” notably Virginia and North Carolina, made history last week in breaking from their Confederate past and supporting Mr. Obama. Those states have experienced an influx of better educated and more prosperous voters in recent years, pointing them in a different political direction than states farther west, like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, and Appalachian sections of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Southern counties that voted more heavily Republican this year than in 2004 tended to be poorer, less educated and whiter, a statistical analysis by The New York Times shows. Mr. Obama won in only 44 counties in the Appalachian belt, a stretch of 410 counties that runs from New York to Mississippi. Many of those counties, rural and isolated, have been less exposed to the diversity, educational achievement and economic progress experienced by more prosperous areas.

The increased turnout in the South’s so-called Black Belt, or old plantation-country counties, was visible in the results, but it generally could not make up for the solid white support for Mr. McCain. Alabama, for example, experienced a heavy black turnout and voted slightly more Democratic than in 2004, but the state over all gave 60 percent of its vote to Mr. McCain. (Arkansas, however, doubled the margin of victory it gave to the Republican over 2004.)

Less than a third of Southern whites voted for Mr. Obama, compared with 43 percent of whites nationally. By leaving the mainstream so decisively, the Deep South and Appalachia will no longer be able to dictate that winning Democrats have Southern accents or adhere to conservative policies on issues like welfare and tax policy, experts say.

That could spell the end of the so-called Southern strategy, the doctrine that took shape under President Richard M. Nixon in which national elections were won by co-opting Southern whites on racial issues. And the Southernization of American politics — which reached its apogee in the 1990s when many Congressional leaders and President Bill Clinton were from the South — appears to have ended.

“I think that’s absolutely over,” said Thomas Schaller, a political scientist who argued prophetically that the Democrats could win national elections without the South.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have “become a Southernized party,” said Mr. Schaller, who teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “They have completely marginalized themselves to a mostly regional party,” he said, pointing out that nearly half of the current Republican House delegation is now Southern.

Merle Black, an expert on the region’s politics at Emory University in Atlanta, said the Republican Party went too far in appealing to the South, alienating voters elsewhere.

“They’ve maxed out on the South,” he said, which has “limited their appeal in the rest of the country.”

Even the Democrats made use of the Southern strategy, as the party’s two presidents in the last 40 years, Jimmy Carter and Mr. Clinton, were Southerners whose presence on the ticket served to assuage regional anxieties. Mr. Obama has now proved it is no longer necessary to include a Southerner on the national ticket — to quiet racial fears, for example — in order to win, in the view of analysts.

Several Southern states, including Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, have voted for the winner in presidential elections for decades. No more. And Mr. Obama’s race appears to have been the critical deciding factor in pushing ever greater numbers of white Southerners away from the Democrats.

Here in Alabama, where Mr. McCain won 60.4 percent of the vote in his best Southern showing, he had the support of nearly 9 in 10 whites, according to exit polls, a figure comparable to other Southern states. Alabama analysts pointed to the persistence of traditional white Southern attitudes on race as the deciding factor in Mr. McCain’s strong margin. Mr. Obama won in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham, and in the Black Belt, but he made few inroads elsewhere.

“Race continues to play a major role in the state,” said Glenn Feldman, a historian at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. “Alabama, unfortunately, continues to remain shackled to the bonds of yesterday.”

David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, pointed out that the 18 percent share of whites that voted for Senator John Kerry in 2004 was almost cut in half for Mr. Obama.

“There’s no other explanation than race,” he said.

In Arkansas, which had among the nation’s largest concentration of counties increasing their support for the Republican candidate over the 2004 vote, “there’s a clear indication that racial conservatism was a component of that shift away from the Democrat,” said Jay Barth, a political scientist in the state.

Race was a strong subtext in post-election conversations across the socioeconomic spectrum here in Vernon, the small, struggling seat of Lamar County on the Mississippi border.

One white woman said she feared that blacks would now become more “aggressive,” while another volunteered that she was bothered by the idea of a black man “over me” in the White House.

Mr. McCain won 76 percent of the county’s vote, about five percentage points more than Mr. Bush did, because “a lot more people came out, hoping to keep Obama out,” Joey Franks, a construction worker, said in the parking lot of the Shop and Save.

Mr. Franks, who voted for Mr. McCain, said he believed that “over 50 percent voted against Obama for racial reasons,” adding that in his own case race mattered “a little bit. That’s in my mind.”

Many people made it clear that they were deeply apprehensive about Mr. Obama, though some said they were hoping for the best.

“I think any time you have someone elected president of the United States with a Muslim name, whether they are white or black, there are some very unsettling things,” George W. Newman, a director at a local bank and the former owner of a trucking business, said over lunch at Yellow Creek Fish and Steak.

Don Dollar, the administrative assistant at City Hall, said bitterly that anyone not upset with Mr. Obama’s victory should seek religious forgiveness.

“This is a community that’s supposed to be filled with a bunch of Christian folks,” he said. “If they’re not disappointed, they need to be at the altar.”

Customers of Bill Pennington, a barber whose downtown shop is decorated with hunting and fishing trophies, were “scared because they heard he had a Muslim background,” Mr. Pennington said over the country music on the radio. “Over and over again I heard that.”

Mr. Obama remains an unknown quantity in this corner of the South, and there are deep worries about the changes he will bring.

“I am concerned,” Gail McDaniel, who owns a cosmetics business, said in the parking lot of the Shop and Save. “The abortion thing bothers me. Same-sex marriage.”

“I think there are going to be outbreaks from blacks,” she added. “From where I’m from, this is going to give them the right to be more aggressive.”

Ford Fessenden contributed reporting.

    For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics, NYT, 11.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/11/us/politics/11south.html?hp






Fertile Ground With New Voters in Growing West


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


DENVER — Senator Barack Obama’s vaunted political ground game of intense organization and eager volunteers explains, in part, the significant inroads his campaign made in Republican areas of the West.

But only in part.

The deeper explanation is that Mr. Obama went fishing in a pond stocked with millions of new voters who were ready and primed for the catching. And some local Democrats, long before Mr. Obama’s arrival, had shown how the catching could be done.

The interior West is the fastest-growing region of the country, up 10.9 percent from 2000 to last year, according to census figures. It is a growth rate that dwarfs even California and the South, and it has brought many new voters who are shedding a political identity or looking for a new one to states like Colorado and Nevada.

Mr. Obama was able to grab many of them. In winning Nevada, the fastest-growing state in the nation, Mr. Obama won 77 percent of first-time voters, compared with 69 percent across the country as a whole.

In recent years, Democrats in many states across the West have succeeded in winning office in ways and numbers that have bolstered their party’s brand and thrown Republicans into disarray or minority-player status. That created a receptive landscape when Mr. Obama came to call.

Since 2000, Democrats here in Colorado, where Mr. Obama won, have taken control of the governor’s office, both United States Senate seats and won majorities in the state legislature. Five of the seven Congressional seats are now in Democratic hands, compared with two out of six in 2000. Similar gains have been made in New Mexico, which Mr. Obama also won.

“Democrats are in control and using those powers to brand their party at a time when new voters are coming into their states,” said David Sirota, an author and former strategist for Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, a Democrat elected in 2004 and re-elected Tuesday.

In some places, internal dissent or confusion over the party’s message compounded Republican troubles.

“The broader problem here was Republican infighting — over immigration, small government versus large government, and socially conservative issues,” said David F. Damore, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

There are certainly places in the West where a pattern of growth in population and the successful wooing by Democrats does not hold. In Utah, the third-fastest-growing state in this decade, and to a lesser extent in Idaho — both won by Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent — the imprint of the Mormon Church holds sway. Mr. McCain also won his home state, Arizona, the second-fastest-growing in population this decade.

But after those places, Mr. McCain’s only other Western successes were in Montana and Wyoming, which were the two slowest-growing states west of Kansas since 2000.

Here in Colorado, minority status by the Republicans combined with a drift toward socially conservative orthodoxy that political scholars say has been an increasingly tough sell to newcomers.

As for what happened Tuesday, Democrats were able to build a better bridge to the new people and independents looking to cross, said John Straayer, a professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

“A good chunk of the unaffiliateds who once did tilt in direction of Republican Party of Colorado, and the moderate Republicans, have drifted away,” Dr. Straayer said, “or the party has drifted away from them.”

    Fertile Ground With New Voters in Growing West, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06west.html?hp






Democratic Gains by Lawmakers in the Northeast


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


BOSTON — The Election Day trouncing of the last House Republican from New England, Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut, was the most glaring new sign of the party’s troubles here. But Mr. Shays was hardly alone in being shown the door on Tuesday by a region that once claimed a proud role in Republican politics.

In New Hampshire, Senator John E. Sununu, the Republican incumbent, lost by tens of thousands of votes to former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who relentlessly tied him to President Bush.

Democrats also preserved the majority they won two years ago in New Hampshire’s legislature, which had not seen Democratic control of both chambers since the 1800s, and held onto the state’s two House seats despite vigorous Republican challenges.

Only three Republicans remain among the 12 United States senators from New England, and every chamber of the region’s six state legislatures is now in Democratic hands.

There are still Republican holdouts, including the governors of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont and the two United States senators from Maine, but most are what conservatives in the party call RINOs — Republicans in Name Only.

And while the party has been losing ground in New England for decades, this latest round of powerfully symbolic losses makes the question of whether it can revive itself here more serious than ever.

“The question now becomes what is the future of the Republican Party nationally,” said Dante J. Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, “and will New England — or even the larger Northeast — be part of that conversation?”

He said New England might not figure into the discussion simply because its population is declining and it offers relatively few electoral votes.

The region went for President-elect Barack Obama by some of the largest margins in the country, with even many traditionally Republican towns favoring him. Mr. Obama carried Vermont by 35 percentage points, Rhode Island by 28, Massachusetts by 26, Connecticut by 22, Maine by 18 and New Hampshire by 10, according to preliminary results.

Former Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts, a moderate Republican who endorsed Mr. Obama for president, said the party needed to recruit a far more diverse group of candidates if it was to regain strength in New England and the Northeast.

“The Republican Party has been painting on an increasingly small canvas, and that is not how you win elections,” Mr. Weld said. “A few strong candidates at the gubernatorial and senatorial levels, who are fiscally conservative and socially moderate, can refurbish the brand in the Northeast.”

Warren Rudman, a former senator from New Hampshire whose mix of fiscal conservatism and social moderation made him a classic New England Republican, said he did not think that his state, at least, was turning permanently blue. The state’s many independents may again favor Republican candidates, depending on national events, he said.

“What happened in this election and the one two years ago had everything to do with national issues and not the individuals who were running,” Mr. Rudman said. “They had everything to do with the way people felt about Bush.”

    Democratic Gains by Lawmakers in the Northeast, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06northeast.html?hp






Obama Makes Historic Inroads in South


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


RALEIGH, N.C. — The race for North Carolina’s electoral votes is still too close to call. But if Senator Barack Obama, who is ahead by a nostril, is declared the winner, he will be able to claim a remarkable set of victories in three former Confederate states, where just a half century ago black people were systematically denied even the opportunity to vote, much less run for president.

“His making inroads in the South was important symbolically and historically, and also important in terms of his governance,” said Ferrel Guillory, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina. “It’s important that the nation’s first black president has support in states that within my lifetime practiced legal segregation, and that he won support in these states, not only among black Americans but among a strong plurality of white Americans.”

Exit polls showed Mr. Obama winning 35 percent of the white vote in North Carolina, 42 percent in Florida and 39 percent in Virginia. Blacks supported him at higher rates than for John Kerry in 2004. North Carolina exit polls showed Mr. Obama with 100 percent of the vote of black women.

Political analysts attributed his victories in the South to an effective ground operation and an increase in non-Southerners and younger, educated workers. They also credited a high black turnout, which went almost wholly for Mr. Obama and dissatisfaction with President Bush, which pushed many independent voters into the Obama column.

What was less certain, they said, was whether Mr. Obama’s gains would have staying power in the South. The African-Americans and first-time voters who turned out for this historic election may not return to the polls, they said, and the Bush administration will no longer be a spur.

“The tide is gone, and the next question is whether he’s a successful president or not,” said Carter Wrenn, a Republican strategist in Raleigh. “If he is, he’ll be fine, and if he’s not the gains will be wiped out.”

Steven Greene, a political scientist at North Carolina State University, said people had invested so much hope in Mr. Obama that there would inevitably be disappointment. But Mr. Greene predicted that Mr. Obama’s support among young people augured well for the Democrats’ future.

On the North Carolina electoral map, Mr. Obama’s support took a different shape from Bill Clinton’s near-victory there in 1992 or the gains of Kay Hagan, the Democrat who decisively beat Senator Elizabeth Dole on Tuesday, perhaps reflecting the importance of race to some voters. Both Mr. Clinton and Ms. Hagan won conservative Democratic counties in the mostly white Appalachian region in the western part of the state, while Mr. Obama lost those counties, making up the losses in urban and suburban counties.

Wake County, which includes Raleigh, went narrowly for Mr. Clinton in 1992, rejected him in 1996, and voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 and 2004. On Tuesday, Wake County went for Mr. Obama by a whopping 16 percentage points.

Many of his supporters here were recent transplants like Nichole Krist, 33, who is from Michigan but has lived in Raleigh for a year and works as a geographic information systems analyst. “People are really freaked out right now” about the economy, she said. “Like me, I’ve been spoiled all my life, and now I’m an adult and it affects me directly.”

Despite the electoral history here, several black voters insisted they were not surprised by Mr. Obama’s win. “It went exactly the way I thought it would go,” said Larry Pulley, a barber in downtown Raleigh.

Nationally, exit polling showed that Mr. Obama had the lead among young voters, with 66 percent of voters under 30, but in North Carolina he dominated in that category, winning 74 percent.

    Obama Makes Historic Inroads in South, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06south.html?hp






In Rust Belt, Voters Driven by Despair


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


CHICAGO — Senator Barack Obama’s victory was widely attributed to fears about the economy, and nowhere was that more apparent than in his decisive performance in the Rust Belt.

Years of manufacturing job losses, topped by home foreclosures, sunken retirement savings and concerns about new losses even of lower-paying jobs helped add up to a blue presidential landscape all around.

Mr. Obama seized Ohio and Michigan, once seen as potentially competitive. And, most surprisingly, Indiana, which President Bush won by 21 percentage points in 2004 and which had been so safely Republican for four decades that few presidential candidates bothered to go there, narrowly chose Mr. Obama, too.

“You can feel the anxiety here,” said Bill Treadway, the Republican chairman of Vigo County, once a manufacturing-dominated community on the western edge of Indiana where Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Vigo (which prides itself as an almost perfect bellwether for the nation’s presidential choice since the late 1800s) had sided with Mr. Bush in the previous two elections. “You see vacant homes that can’t be sold and people worried about their 401(k)’s. The country was in a bad mood. I don’t know how else to see it.”

Still, as state and local officials from both parties absorbed Mr. Obama’s victories throughout the industrial Midwest (aside from Missouri, where Senator John McCain was slightly ahead in a race still too close to call), they said they were still wrestling with how far the Democratic Party’s reach had expanded beyond the presidential race and how lasting the moment’s widespread swath of blue might be.

Some Democrats pointed to Mr. Obama’s personal appeal, particularly in the contested states that surround his home state, Illinois, and his campaign’s efforts, especially at bringing out voters in urban areas like Cincinnati and Columbus, as creating a unique set of circumstances. While Democrats secured new House seats in Michigan and Ohio, other Congressional seats in Minnesota and Indiana that had been seen as vulnerable for Republicans turned out not to be. There were other mixed signs: In Indiana, despite Mr. Obama’s remarkable victory, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, easily held back a Democratic challenger.

“We’re not as partisan a state or as ideological a state as we are pragmatists,” said Senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat. “The economy was terrible, and moderate Republicans and independents just wanted a change.”

Whether the shift in Indiana is lasting, he said, will depend in part on how Washington now solves the financial crisis and on whether Democrats, in his view, misinterpret Tuesday’s results as a “vote for left-wing politics” as opposed to “the sensible center.”

For the moment, though, Democrats were cheering the view from former battlegrounds in the Midwest, where Wisconsin (thanks, in part, to the 90 percent of its voters, according to exit polls, who said they were worried about the economy’s direction) and Iowa (where Mr. Obama had set up an early, elaborate and fiercely proud campaign operation) both went overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama.

Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have vanished from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan since Mr. Bush’s election eight years ago, Democrats said.

“Whatever else there is to say, it is still striking how much more blue there is now in this part of the world,” said Steffen W. Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University. “And when it comes down to it, you have to come back to the essential economic factor.”

    In Rust Belt, Voters Driven by Despair, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06midwest.html?hp






Gay Marriage Is Ruled Legal in Connecticut


October 11, 2008
The New York Times


A sharply divided Connecticut Supreme Court struck down the state’s civil union law on Friday and ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Connecticut thus joins Massachusetts and California as the only states to have legalized gay marriages.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed and is to take effect on Oct. 28, held that a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, and a civil union law intended to provide all the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples, violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.

Striking at the heart of discriminatory traditions in America, the court — in language that often rose above the legal landscape into realms of social justice for a new century — recalled that laws in the not-so-distant past barred interracial marriages, excluded women from occupations and official duties, and relegated blacks to separate but supposedly equal public facilities.

“Like these once prevalent views, our conventional understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection,” Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote for the majority in a 4-to-3 decision that explored the nature of homosexual identity, the history of societal views toward homosexuality and the limits of gay political power compared with that of blacks and women.

“Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same-sex partner of their choice,” Justice Palmer declared. “To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.”

The ruling was groundbreaking in various respects. In addition to establishing Connecticut as the third state to sanction same-sex marriage, it was the first state high court ruling to hold that civil union statutes specifically violated the equal protection clause of a state constitution. The Massachusetts high court held in 2004 that same-sex marriages were legal, while California’s court decision in May related to domestic partnerships and not the more broadly defined civil unions.

The Connecticut decision, which elicited strong dissenting opinions from three justices, also opened the door to marriage a bit wider for gay couples in New York, where state laws do not provide for same-sex marriages or civil unions, although Gov. David A. Paterson recently issued an executive order requiring government agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The opinion in Connecticut was hailed by jubilant gay couples and their advocates as a fulfillment of years of hopes and dreams. Hugs, kisses and cheers greeted eight same-sex couples as they entered the ballroom at the Hartford Hilton, where four years ago they had announced they would file a lawsuit seeking marriage licenses.

One of those couples, Joanne Mock, 53, and her partner, Elizabeth Kerrigan, 52, stood with their twin 6-year-old sons, choking back tears of joy and gratitude. Another plaintiff, Garret Stack, 59, introduced his partner, John Anderson, 63, and said: “For 28 years we have been engaged. We can now register at Home Depot and prepare for marriage.”

Religious and conservative groups called the ruling an outrage but not unexpected, and spoke of steps to enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, blamed “robed masters” and “philosopher kings” on the court. “This is about our right to govern ourselves,” he said. “It is bigger than gay marriage.”

But the state, a principal defendant in the lawsuit, appeared to be resigned to the outcome.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said that she disagreed with the decision, but would uphold it. “The Supreme Court has spoken,” she said. “I do not believe their voice reflects the majority of the people of Connecticut. However, I am also firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision, either legislatively or by amending the state Constitution, will not meet with success.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said his office was reviewing the decision to determine whether laws and procedures will have to be revised — local officials will issue marriage licenses to gay couples without question, for example — but he offered no challenge and said it would soon be implemented.

The case was watched far beyond Hartford. Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey all have civil union statutes, while Maine, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii have domestic partnership laws that allow same-sex couples many of the same rights granted to those in civil unions. Advocates for same-sex couples have long argued that civil unions and domestic partnerships denied them the financial, social and emotional benefits accorded in a marriage.

The legal underpinnings for gay marriages, civil unions and statutory partnerships have all come in legislative actions and decisions in lawsuits. Next month, however, voters in California will decide whether the state Constitution should permit same-sex marriage.

The Connecticut case began in 2004 after the eight same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses by the town of Madison. Reflecting the contentiousness and wide interest in the case, a long list of state, national and international organizations on both sides filed friend-of-the-court briefs. The plaintiffs contended that the denial of marriage licenses deprived them of due process and equal protection under the law.

While the case was pending, the legislature in 2005 adopted a law establishing the right of same-sex partners to enter into civil unions that conferred all the rights and privileges of marriage. But, at the insistence of the governor, the law also defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Arguments in the case centered on whether civil unions and marriages conferred equal rights, and on whether same-sex couples should be treated as what the court called a “suspect class” or “quasi-suspect class” — a group, like blacks or women, that has experienced a history of discrimination and was thus entitled to increased scrutiny and protection by the state in the promulgation of its laws.

Among the criteria for inclusion as a suspect class, the court said, were whether gay people could “control” their sexual orientation, whether they were “politically powerless” and whether being gay had a bearing on one’s ability to contribute to society.

A lower-court judge, Patty Jenkins Pittman of Superior Court in New Haven, sided with the state, denying that gay men and lesbians were entitled to special consideration as a suspect class and concluding that the differences between civil unions and marriages amounted to no more than nomenclature. The Supreme Court reversed the lower-court ruling.

“Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means equal,” Justice Palmer wrote in the majority opinion, joined by Justices Flemming L. Norcott Jr., Joette Katz and Lubbie Harper. “The former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter is not.”

The court said it was aware that many people held deep-seated religious, moral and ethical convictions about marriage and homosexuality, and that others believed gays should be treated no differently than heterosexuals. But it said such views did not bear on the questions before the court.

“There is no doubt that civil unions enjoy a lesser status in our society than marriage,” the court said. “Ultimately, the message of the civil unions law is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as real marriage.”

In one dissenting opinion, Justice David M. Bordon contended that there was no conclusive evidence that civil unions are inferior to marriages, and he argued that gay people have “unique and extraordinary” political power that does not warrant heightened constitutional protections.

Justice Peter T. Zarella, in another dissent, argued that the state marriage laws dealt with procreation, which was not a factor in gay relationships. “The ancient definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has its basis in biology, not bigotry,” he wrote.

About 1,800 couples have obtained civil unions in Connecticut since the law was adopted three years ago, although gay-rights advocates say the demand has slowed. They cite complaints that the unions leave many people feeling not quite married but not quite single, facing forms that mischaracterize their status and questions at airports challenging their ties to their own children.

But marriage will soon be a possibility for gay couples like Janet Peck, 55, and Carol Conklin, 53, of West Hartford, who have been partners for 33 years. “I so look forward to the day when I can take this woman’s hand, look deeply into her eyes and pledge my deep love and support and commitment to her in marriage,” Ms. Peck said.

Sharon Otterman and Christine Stuart contributed reporting.

    Gay Marriage Is Ruled Legal in Connecticut, NYT, 11.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/11/nyregion/11marriage.html?hp






Parents Give Up Youths Under Law Meant for Babies


October 3, 2008
The New York Times


OMAHA — The abandonments began on Sept. 1, when a mother left her 14-year-old son in a police station here.

By Sept. 23, two more boys and one girl, ages 11 to 14, had been abandoned in hospitals in Omaha and Lincoln. Then a 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl were left.

The biggest shock to public officials came last week, when a single father walked into an Omaha hospital and surrendered nine of his 10 children, ages 1 to 17, saying that his wife had died and he could no longer cope with the burden of raising them.

In total last month, 15 older children in Nebraska were dropped off by a beleaguered parent or custodial aunt or grandmother who said the children were unmanageable.

Officials have called the abandonments a misuse of a new law that was mainly intended to prevent so-called Dumpster babies — the abandonment of newborns by young, terrified mothers — but instead has been used to hand off out-of-control teenagers or, in the case of the father of 10, to escape financial and personal despair.

The spate of abandonments has prompted an outcry about parental irresponsibility and pledges to change the state law. But it has also cast a spotlight on the hidden extent of family turmoil around the country and what many experts say is a shortage of respite care, counseling and especially psychiatric services to help parents in dire need.

Some who work with troubled children add that economic conditions, like stagnant low-end wages and the epidemic of foreclosures, may make the situation worse, adding layers of worry and conflict.

“I have no doubt that there are additional stresses today on families who were already on the margin,” said Gary Stangler, director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative in St. Louis, which aids foster children entering adulthood.

Mark Courtney, an expert on child welfare at the University of Washington, said that what happened in Nebraska “would happen in any state.”

“These days there’s a huge void in services for helping distressed families,” Mr. Courtney said.

When children are abused or neglected, they can be taken by the child-welfare system, and possibly enter foster care. When they commit crimes, they enter the juvenile justice system. In both cases, children and parents are supposed to receive counseling and other aid.

But when troubled children do not fit those categories, they often fall through the cracks, Mr. Courtney said. Even middle-income families with health insurance often have only paltry coverage for psychiatric services and cannot afford intensive or residential treatment programs. The poorest, on Medicaid, often have trouble finding therapists who will take the low rates.

And some parents are reluctant to seek whatever help does exist.

Jim Jenkins, a computer network manager in Lincoln, suffered through years with his teenage son, whom he described as “out of control,”

“I can see some parents getting overwhelmed and deciding that giving up the child is the best thing,” Mr. Jenkins said.

The boy’s mother died when he was 8, and at age 13 he seemed to become a different person, Mr. Jenkins said, constantly in trouble at school, making threats that led to visits by the police.

“It was just a living hell for years,” Mr. Jenkins said. “I didn’t know where to turn, and I took it on myself that it was my fault.”

Finally, the police made him put his son in a hospital for troubled youth for several days, then told him about a respite program at Cedars Home for Children, which took the boy for a week, giving Mr. Jenkins, his daughter and his new wife a break and starting therapy for the boy.

“After a while, you realize this is not going to end today, there is no 30-minute solution,” Mr. Jenkins said.

But after years of therapy, his son turned a corner, has a diploma and plans to go to college.

“I was lucky,” Mr. Jenkins said, adding that a parent with more children, a less flexible employer and little money may just throw his hands up.

In July, Nebraska became the last of the states to enact a so-called safe-haven law. Such laws permit mothers to leave an infant at a facility with no fear of prosecution. Nationwide, more than 2,000 babies have been turned over since Texas enacted the first such law in 1999, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance in Virginia.

But Nebraska’s version was far broader than all others, protecting not just infants but also children up to age 19.

State Senator Arnie Stuthman, sponsor of the Nebraska bill, said some legislators had said they wanted to protect all children from harm.

“The law in my opinion is being abused now,” said Mr. Stuthman, who said he would push for a revision. “There are family services out there, but some people may lack the resources to take advantage of them, and we’ve got to take a hard look at what more we can provide.”

Todd A. Landry, the state director of children and family services, denied that the involved families had not had access to aid — most of the children, for example, were in the state Medicaid program and some had received psychiatric care — and he noted that well-publicized hot lines could direct families to help.

“Some parents had accessed our services but weren’t getting the results they wanted,” Mr. Landry said.

“The appropriate response is to reach out to family, friends and community resources,” he said. “What is not appropriate is just to say I’m tired of dealing with this and drop the child off at a hospital.”

Mr. Landry said parents and guardians were mistaken if they thought they could walk away from their responsibilities. For now, such children will be placed in foster care or with relatives, but the courts could require parents to attend counseling and might even order them to pay child support.

He said economic distress was a major issue in only one case, that of Gary Staton, 34, the father of 10 whose wife had died.

Mr. Staton, who gave up all but his oldest child, an 18-year-old girl, remains something of a mystery. His wife died in February 2007 after giving birth to the 10th child. Both parents had sporadic employment.

For nine months, in 2004, the children were taken by child welfare officials because their home was filthy and disordered, and the gas and water had been turned off. The family has since received public aid with rent and utility bills while Mr. Staton, for unclear reasons, recently quit a factory job.

Their rented yellow wooden house in a low-income area of north Omaha was vacant last weekend and showed signs of disrepair, with part of the roof crumbling and a broken window covered with a blanket.

In a telephone interview, with KETV in Omaha, Mr. Staton mentioned the loss of his wife of 17 years.

“We raised them together,” he said. “I didn’t think I could do it alone. I fell apart. I couldn’t take care of them.”

“I was able to get the kids to a safe place before they were homeless,” he said. “I hope they know I love them. I hope their future is better without me around them.”

Stunned relatives offered last week to take in the children, and officials said they would probably go to two family homes as soon as background checks were complete.

Joanne Manzner, the stepmother of the deceased wife, said relatives had frequent contact with Mr. Staton’s family, sometimes taking children for a weekend to give him a rest, and were puzzled that he had not asked for help before taking such drastic action.

Officials and some private agencies differed this week about the adequacy of the state’s family programs.

“In Nebraska, as in a lot of states, we don’t have sufficient funding to provide a really strong mental health system for kids,” said Judy Kay, chief operating officer for the Child Saving Institute in Omaha, which helps families in crisis. “But we do have resources that many parents are not aware of or are not using,” including psychiatric counseling with fees tied to family income. .

Some who abandoned children last month were aunts, uncles or grandmothers who had taken custody when the parents were incapable of providing care. Several families had prior contact with social workers and psychologists, but the children remained violent and unmanageable.

Judy Lopez, 48, and her husband took charge of her grandsons here more than three years ago . Both boys had been neglected and physically abused; now, ages 7 and 9, they have severe behavioral problems involving fighting, stealing and lying.

“Some days I just want to pull my hair out,” Ms. Lopez said, adding that like many other families, they were slow to seek aid.

The school suggested a free program managed by the schools and the Child Saving Institute, a local nonprofit organization, that combined counseling for parents and for the children. The boys see a therapist, Ms. Lopez said, and the problems have eased somewhat.

“Help is out there,” she said, “but people have to know how to find it.”

    Parents Give Up Youths Under Law Meant for Babies, NYT, 3.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/03/us/03omaha.html?hp






Unemployment rate rises in 27 states in January


Tue Mar 11, 2008
12:10pm EDT


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Michigan again recorded the highest unemployment rate in January, followed by Alaska, with most states recording little change in the measure, the Labor Department said on Tuesday.

It was the tenth consecutive month that Michigan, with its heavy auto industry concentration, posted the highest jobless rate, at 7.1 percent, down from 7.4 percent in December. Alaska's rate was 6.5 percent, up from December's 6.3 percent.

Across the country, 27 states and the District of Columbia said their jobless rates rose in January. Six states and the District of Columbia recorded rates significantly higher than the national rate of 5.0 percent, which was the highest in two years.

At the same time, the number of jobs increased in 30 states in January, the department said, and decreased in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

California lost the most jobs, at 20,300, followed by New Jersey, at 9,500.

Texas and Illinois recorded the largest gains in payrolls, at 28,000 and 21,900 jobs respectively.

Worried about a recession, some members of Congress have proposed providing more unemployment assistance to boost the economy. Others are weighing giving aid to the states.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Dan Grebler)

    Unemployment rate rises in 27 states in January, R, 11.3.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN1159076820080311






Mixed Economic Picture in Next Big State to Vote


March 8, 2008
The New York Times


PHILADELPHIA — A dismal jobs report on Friday thrust the nation’s ailing economy to the forefront of the presidential campaign. But as the candidates shift their attention to Pennsylvania, which votes April 22, they are likely to find a more positive economic landscape than they might have expected from a Rust Belt state once heavily dependent on steel, coal and manufacturing jobs.

Polls show that economic issues helped Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York secure her victory in Ohio over Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. And her campaign is clearly hoping to duplicate that success here by focusing on her plan for universal health care and her proposal for a 90-day freeze on home foreclosures.

In Ohio, 59 percent of voters surveyed said the economy was their top concern, and Mrs. Clinton was backed by a majority of those voters.

But Pennsylvania is in better economic shape than Ohio. Over the last two or three decades, much of this state has successfully made the transition to what officials call a knowledge-based economy. There are now more jobs here in education and health care than in industrial manufacturing. And analysts here said the candidates would have to tailor their economic messages to the state’s many distinct economies, which are in various stages of recovery.

While the state’s jobless rate has edged up over the last year, from 4.3 percent in January 2007 to 4.8 percent now, it has been below the national average for 13 months in a row. And while western Pennsylvania shares a border with eastern Ohio and shares some of that region’s economic woes, officials here say that Pennsylvania as a whole is more prosperous and diverse than its neighbor.

“We’ve recovered from the minor recession of 2000 and 2001 and have had steady job growth since early 2003,” said Dennis Yablonsky, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. “While most of our competitor states are facing large budget deficits, we’re looking at a $400 million surplus this year.”

As of December 2007, Pennsylvania ranked 25th in unemployment, while Ohio’s unemployment rate of 6 percent pushed it down to 45th. And in terms of home foreclosures, Pennsylvania has done better than most states, ranking 37th in January.

But the national news this week — of the biggest job loss in five years and more home foreclosures than ever — spurred talk of a recession from which Pennsylvania would likely not be immune.

On the campaign trail on Friday, Senators Clinton and Obama seized on a federal report that the nation had lost 63,000 jobs in February. Both tried to link Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, to President Bush’s stewardship of an ailing economy, with Mrs. Clinton saying, “The economic policies of the Bush administration are failures.” Mr. Obama said that Americans “can’t afford John McCain’s promise of four more years of the very same failed Bush economic policies that have failed us for the last eight.”

But their messages will need refining as they try to appeal to Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary voters.

“The trick in crafting an economic message for Pennsylvania is that there are different concerns in different places,” said Donald F. Kettl, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. He noted that half the state’s delegates would come from Philadelphia’s vast media market, and the Philadelphia economy is diverse and relatively healthy, compared with much of the rest of the state.

“There’s a lot of concern that people have about the economy, but the nature of the constituency is so complex that it’s hard to craft a single message to appeal to them — except to blame George Bush for pushing the economy off the rails,” Mr. Kettl said. “He’s not popular anywhere, but is as unpopular in Pennsylvania as anywhere.”

Christopher Briem, a regional economist at the Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh, said that in Pennsylvania, a presidential candidate needed to know about metropolitan, postindustrial and agricultural economies.

While southeastern Pennsylvania, with Philadelphia as its hub, continues to grow with pharmaceutical and banking jobs, western and northeastern Pennsylvania are still struggling with their postindustrial recovery.

“Pittsburgh continues its gradual maturation from heavy industry to a center for education, medical research, and culture,” Mr. Briem said, “but many small towns are floundering without their factories.”

Casino gambling has emerged as a new economic force in onetime factory towns like Pittsburgh, Erie and Bethlehem.

But Erie, for example, remains relatively hard-pressed.

“The economy here is absolutely horrible,” said Tom Cacchione Jr., 51, the owner of the Sports Page, a bar in Erie. “We’ve lost every manufacturing job that we ever had.”

Mr. Cacchione said he had just bought his bar in October and so far so good, for him. “But the surrounding businesses just don’t last,” he said. “All around here we’ve had businesses open up and close down. Even the drugstore closed, for crying out loud.”

He said signing the North American Free Trade Agreement was the worst thing President Bill Clinton had done, but Mr. Cacchione supports Mrs. Clinton anyway because he thinks she will do more for the economy.

Adam Welsh, 32, who works in management at United Parcel Service and also lives in Erie, agrees that the economy is terrible, but he has reached a different conclusion.

“Obama is against Nafta, and that’s good for him here in Erie,” Mr. Welsh said. “I’m supporting Obama because he is the furthest possible departure from George Bush. That’s what our country and the world needs right now. Bush has destroyed the economy and really hurt this country, and Obama is the anti-Bush. So I’m voting for him.”

Mark Nevins, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign in Pennsylvania, said that Mrs. Clinton would emphasize that Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who is supporting Mrs. Clinton, needed “a friend in the White House” to continue the economic progress he has already made. Mr. Nevins also said that her own plans and the success of her husband’s administration in creating jobs and expanding the economy would resonate in the state.

Sean Smith, a spokesman for the Obama campaign here, said that Mr. Obama would emphasize his plans to stop giving tax breaks to companies that create jobs overseas and would also highlight examples around the state of companies that have successfully made the transition from manufacturing to “knowledge.” He said Mr. Obama also planned round-table discussions. “He’ll be very specific here with his economic message,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Kettl said that the candidates might find they need to frame their economic messages in terms of security for the future rather than fixing current problems. “The grievances people have have much more to do with opportunity, questions of where the jobs are coming from, which are especially problems for lower- and middle-class workers,” he said. “This is an obvious Clinton base. The issue is less ‘Nafta is taking jobs away’ than ‘Where are jobs for your kids?’ ”

Christopher Maag contributed reporting from Erie, Pa.

    Mixed Economic Picture in Next Big State to Vote, NYT, 8.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/08/us/politics/08pennsylvania.html






Arizona Weighs Bill to Allow Guns on Campuses


March 5, 2008
The New York Times


PHOENIX — Horrified by recent campus shootings, a state lawmaker here has come up with a proposal in keeping with the Taurus .22-caliber pistol tucked in her purse: Get more guns on campus.

The lawmaker, State Senator Karen S. Johnson, has sponsored a bill, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last week, that would allow people with a concealed weapons permit — limited to those 21 and older here — to carry their firearms at public colleges and universities. Concealed weapons are generally not permitted at most public establishments, including colleges.

Ms. Johnson, a Republican from Mesa, said she believed that the recent carnage at Northern Illinois University could have been prevented or limited if an armed student or professor had intercepted the gunman. The police, she said, respond too slowly to such incidents and, besides, who better than the people staring down the barrel to take action?

She initially wanted her bill to cover all public schools, kindergarten and up, but other lawmakers convinced her it stood a better chance of passing if it were limited to higher education.

“I feel like our kindergartners are sitting there like sitting ducks,” Ms. Johnson said last week when the bill passed the committee by a 4-to-3 vote.

This is a generally gun-friendly state, where people are allowed to carry a weapon on their hip without a permit as long as people can see it. Even so, Ms. Johnson acknowledges that her views come from the far right — she recently described herself, half-jokingly, she says, as a “right-wing wacko.”

Still, the proposal has troubled advocates of gun control here and elsewhere because it appears to be gaining popularity and has fed long-smoldering debates over restrictions on carrying firearms.

Since the Virginia Tech killings last April, other states have weighed similar legislation, to the disbelief of opponents, who note that the odds of lethal attacks are small, despite the publicity they attract.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a Washington nonprofit organization, said 15 states were considering legislation that would authorize or make it easier for people to carry guns on school or college campuses under certain conditions. Those states include Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Virginia, according to the center, but it considers the Arizona proposal particularly egregious because it would not only allow students and faculty to carry such weapons, but staff members as well.

Utah, the organization said, is the only state with a law that expressly allows people with a concealed-weapon permit to carry guns on college campuses. That law, adopted in 2004 and upheld by Utah’s Supreme Court in 2006, arose out of concern that a state law allowing concealed weapons was not being enforced on college campuses.

The critics of such laws predict that they would cause more problems, including making it hard for the police to sort a dangerous gunman from a crowd of others with guns. They also argue that the guns would make it easier for people barely out of adolescence, or perhaps emotionally troubled, to respond lethally to typical campus frustrations like poor grades or failed romances.

Fred Boice, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s three public universities, said he sympathized with people concerned about campus safety. In October 2002, a nursing student at the University of Arizona in Tucson who was failing his classes shot and killed three professors before killing himself.

But Mr. Boice said he believed security and a system of alerting people about crises had been improved since then, and he worried that disputes best handled by campus security could quickly turn deadly with more guns on campus.

“I grew up in the country and a lot of people had guns,” Mr. Boice said. “But my father said never carry a gun unless you are prepared to kill somebody, and I believe that.”

Proponents concede the proposal could face a fight, even in this state’s Republican-controlled Legislature. The police chiefs at Arizona’s universities and several law enforcement groups have condemned the bill.

“This is a very polarizing issue,” said John Wentling, vice president of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group that has pushed for the bill.

Even if Ms. Johnson’s bill eventually passes both chambers, it will probably take some convincing for Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, to sign it. Ms. Napolitano rejected a bill a few years ago that would have lifted a prohibition on carrying loaded firearms into bars, restaurants and other places that serve alcohol.

Ms. Johnson’s proposal has gotten a mixed reception on the campuses.

Jason Lewis, 23, an aerospace engineering major at the University of Arizona, said he was mugged twice on campus last year, at knife point and at gunpoint. He now has a concealed-weapons permit and carries his gun everywhere he can.

“It would at least let me protect myself,” said Mr. Lewis, one of a few students to testify in support of the bill at a recent hearing. “If word gets out students are arming themselves, criminals will be, like, ‘Maybe we should back off.’ It will be a deterrent.”

But Cole Hickman, a student at Arizona State University in Tempe, said he had sought to rally opposition to the bill, concerned that, among other things, it would further jeopardize people during a mass shooting. Proponents of the bill, Mr. Hickman said, underestimate the difficulty in shooting a live target in a chaotic episode.

“If another student in the room or a teacher had a gun and opened fire they may hurt other students,” he said, “because unlike police officers, concealed-weapon permit holders are not necessarily well-trained in shooting in crowds and reacting to those kinds of situations.”

Ms. Johnson is not fazed by the skeptics.

“We are not the wild, wild West like people think we are,” she said. “But people are more independent thinkers here when it comes to security.”

    Arizona Weighs Bill to Allow Guns on Campuses, NYT, 5.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/us/05guns.html






California's top court ponders gay marriage


Tue Mar 4, 2008
7:36am EST
By Adam Tanner


SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Four years after San Francisco ignited passionate embraces and heated national debate by briefly allowing gay marriage, California's top court hears arguments on Tuesday as to whether matrimony should be limited to a man and a woman.

The hearing brings into focus the highest-profile U.S. fight over gay rights in recent years and the outcome could end up influencing legislation and litigation in other states.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom forced the issue by suddenly issuing gay marriage licenses in February 2004. More than 4,000 homosexual couples took him up on the offer, including comedian Rosie O'Donnell and her partner, until a lower court halted the process.

Later that year California's Supreme Court ruled that Newsom, mayor of a city long at the forefront of gay rights, had no authority to wed gays and voided the marriages.

The same court just across the street from City Hall where the gay marriages took place now decides the larger question whether California can legally bar same-sex matrimony.

Gay marriage supporters won an initial battle when a Superior Court judge ruled in their favor in 2005. The following year a state appeals court judge overruled that decision and backed existing state law.

Californians in 2000 approved a ballot measure defining marriage as the union of man and woman. But domestic partnership legislation as of 2005 gave registered gay couples many of the same privileges enjoyed by married couples.

Since 2005 California's legislature twice voted to allow gay marriages, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who is liberal on many social issues, vetoed the bills, saying voters or the courts should decide the issue.


It now falls to the seven justices of the California Supreme Court to resolve the matter, and they have 90 days from the hearing to issue an opinion. With six of the judges appointed by Republican governors and one appointed by a Democrat, the panel is considered politically moderate.

The court has made a rare exception to its one-hour total limit on oral arguments and will hold a three-hour session.

"I can't recall any where there were three hours of arguments, I really can't," Cruz Reynoso told Reuters about his years as a California Supreme Court justice from 1982-87.

"Not often, but sometimes, oral arguments actually make a difference in difficult cases and I assume that the court considers this a difficult case."

More than half of U.S. states have passed constitutional amendments barring gay marriage, and President George W. Bush has proposed a U.S. Constitutional amendment.

State supreme courts in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont have ruled against limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Massachusetts responded by becoming the only U.S. state to allow gay marriage, while New Jersey and Vermont instead passed civil union laws similar to those in California.

Several other state supreme courts, including those in New York, Washington and Maryland, found that marriage can be limited to one man, one woman.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)

    California's top court ponders gay marriage, R, 4.3.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN0336186420080304






New Jersey Senate Votes for Leave to Care for Kin


March 4, 2008
The New York Times


TRENTON — After an unusually emotional debate bursting with political indignation and personal anguish, the State Senate narrowly approved legislation Monday that would make New Jersey the third state in the nation to give employees the right to take paid leave to care for a newborn or a sick relative.

The measure would be financed by employee payroll deductions that would cost every worker in New Jersey a maximum of 64 cents a week, or $33 a year. Those taking the leave would be eligible for two-thirds of their salary, up to a maximum of $524 a week, for six weeks. The benefit falls short of the $917 a week that California offers but is more than double what Washington State will offer starting next year.

The bill now goes to the Assembly, which is expected to approve it on March 13. Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who has said he will sign the measure, said Monday that it was “an important step in the right direction for working families in New Jersey.” If the bill becomes law, it will take effect on Jan. 1, 2009.

The fate of the measure, which hung in the balance during the 75-minute debate as 13 of the 80 senators took the floor, never seemed more in doubt than when Paul A. Sarlo, a Democrat from Bergen County, declared, “The timing is just wrong.”

But when the voting began, Mr. Sarlo and another Democrat who had criticized the timing of the bill, Senator Nia H. Gill from Essex County, joined their colleagues as well as the one Republican who supported the measure, Senator Bill Baroni from Mercer County, in approving it 22 to 16.

The vote, the first of the new Legislature, had the broad support of powerful unions, which took up the issue 12 years ago. That support was evident in the dozens of people wearing “Family Leave Now” stickers milling around the State House.

But to critics like Senator Kevin J. O’Toole, a Republican from Cedar Grove, the timing was ill-advised and the cost too great.

“We have the heart for it,” Mr. O’Toole said. “We don’t have the wallet for it.”

Less than a week ago, Mr. Corzine unveiled a $33 billion budget that would cut spending by $2.7 billion, and days later economic data showed that New Jersey had lost 9,500 jobs in January, the most of any state.

But to supporters, like the Senate majority leader, Stephen M. Sweeney of Gloucester County, the measure was a humane gesture. When his daughter, who weighed two pounds at birth, required neonatal care for 75 days, he said, he was fortunate to be able take time off, adding that most people were not as fortunate.

“I can’t imagine having to choose between spending time with my daughter, who was clinging to life, and going to work to be able to put food on the table for my wife and then 4-year-old son,” Mr. Sweeney said.

Technically speaking, the bill expands the state’s temporary disability insurance program. According to an analysis from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, about 38,000 workers are expected to take advantage of the law each year, at a cost to employees of $98 million in the first full year. The bill says companies with more than 50 employees must give the workers their jobs back when they return, but makes no such provision for workers at smaller companies.

In New York, similar legislation offering paid family leave for 12 weeks, but for only $170 a week, has stalled.

An earlier version of the New Jersey paid family-leave bill appeared close to passage in the Republican-led Legislature in 2001, but business advocates derailed the plan by arguing that companies would suffer hardships and exorbitant expenses through hiring temporary workers.

Last year, Mr. Sweeney and other sponsors proposed a new bill, offering 10 weeks of paid family leave. That measure never made it out of the lame-duck session after intense lobbying, coupled with criticism from legislators about the timing of such a measure, given the state’s fiscal woes.

This time, Mr. Sweeney said significant compromises were made, including reducing the leave to six weeks.

As Monday’s vote approached, discussions of the issue became quite heated. After Mr. Corzine’s budget address last week, Senator Ronald L. Rice, a Democrat from Newark, got into an argument in the hallways of the State House with Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey A.F.L.-C.I.O.

On Monday, Mr. Rice delivered an impassioned speech saying that while he loved his friends in organized labor, he was concerned about how the measure would affect small businesses in his district. “I’m not willing to roll the dice,” he said, before abstaining.

And Mr. Wowkanech? He was all smiles. “We’ve worked on this for so long,” he said. “I almost had tears in my eyes.”

New Jersey Senate Votes for Leave to Care for Kin, NYT, 4.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/nyregion/04leave.html




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