We at New York Focus are so proud to have spent the year producing deeply reported accountability journalism that reveals how our state works. Our work has sparked legislation, helped New Yorkers access public resources they are owed, and spurred reforms in the state’s criminal-legal system. We were honored to be profiled by the New York Times this summer. We couldn’t have done any of this without you. Thank you!

We asked our reporters to choose some of their favorite stories to highlight, and we’ve collected a few of them here. Catch up on stories you may have missed!

At the bottom, we have our first-ever quiz. Do you know who runs New York?


About five minutes south of Monticello, one of New York's big bets towers above the treeline in a hunk of silver. Miles Dawydko
With crowds bussed in from New York City, Resorts World Catskills gave a boost to the local economy. What happens when competition moves in downstate?
By Arabella Saunders

Resorts World Catskills, one of the four casinos New York approved by constitutional amendment in 2013, was touted as an economic development effort that would create jobs and generate revenue for upstate communities through taxes and tourism. It opened in February 2018, and today it provides around 1,400 union jobs. The casino has generated just half the tax revenue that had initially been projected, but it has attracted tourists and boosted the local economy.

Now, as New York prepares to license up to three more casinos in the New York City area, locals worry that the already underperforming resort will lose customers. The busloads will dwindle, and the benefits the community was promised, they fear, will go with them.

The Belmont Park Winners Circle on opening day, May 4, 2023. Sam Mellins / New York Focus
At Belmont Park’s opening day, local brass celebrated a windfall of state cash. Hardly any fans showed up.
By Sam Mellins

In May 1999, the New York Times fretted that Belmont Park, once a premier destination for horse racing, had drawn precious few fans for its opening day. The crowd of 7,526 left the grandstand “empty and cavernous,” the Times reported.

That turnout would have made the place seem positively abuzz compared to opening day at Belmont last Thursday, when a total of 2,120 fans paid the $5 admission fee. Heavily male and silver-haired, they formed a small crowd at the fence separating the stands from the track. No one had to wait long in the short lines at hot dog stands and betting booths.

Attendance at Belmont, which sits on Long Island just over the border with New York City, has been declining for decades — consistent with the nationwide industry. Aside from the gaggle of fans near the fence, the stands on opening day were almost completely empty, especially on the upper levels. The footfalls of a man carrying a mop echoed across the second floor concourse. In the upper deck, a group of elderly women strained to spot the horses, barely visible as they started a race on the opposite side of the mile-and-a-half track. 

Crew members replace a utility pole in Massena, New York, on May 11, 2023. Colin Kinniburgh
Massena residents fought the local utility to bring their electric grid under public control. Forty years later, they say it’s still paying off.
By Colin Kinniburgh

It was May 1974 and the Massena Observer’s printing press was running overtime. Splashed across the front page were the results of a groundbreaking referendum. A columnist wrote that “no other news story has stirred the imagination” like this one: public power.

Residents had voted two to one to bring their electric utility under public control. That would mean buying out the local grid from Niagara Mohawk, the power company then serving much of upstate.

Amid a staffing shortage, Roberta Reardon has been pushing for new tech. Photo: NYS Labor Commissioner via Twitter | Illustration: Maia Hibbett
Under Roberta Reardon, the agency has recovered less and less of workers' stolen wages. Meanwhile, staff resign, and replacements lag.
By Maxwell Parrott

Department of Labor employees know Commissioner Roberta Reardon for her theatrical flair. In a glossy video newsletter Reardon periodically sends to her staff, she flexes the performance skills she picked up in her past life as a longtime actor and first co-president of SAG-AFTRA.

At the end of May, however, the commissioner missed a notable public speaking event. When state Senator Jessica Ramos held a hearing on wage theft enforcement, Reardon, the head of the primary state agency responsible for helping New Yorkers get the wages they’re owed from unwilling bosses, declined to show up.

The meeting Reardon missed came amid a steep decline in the DOL’s efforts to recover unpaid wages. As Reardon told the legislature in 2020, the Labor Department recovered $320 million from 2011 to 2019 — an average of around $36 million a year. In 2022, it recovered just $25 million. So far this year, it has recovered under $12 million, and the department estimated it will bring in $20 million by the year’s end.

New York has kept hundreds of people convicted of sex offenses in prison long past their release dates.
By Chris Gelardi

Jory Smith was supposed to be free. His sentence had been up for five days on August 28, 2020, when officers at Marcy Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in upstate New York where Smith had spent almost five years, summoned him to a conference room.

But instead of releasing him, they said they were taking him to another prison.

Confused, Smith asked where and why. Prison staff wouldn’t say, and they “threatened to ‘lose his property’ if he asked again,” Smith alleged in a legal complaint. A three-hour drive later, Smith found himself at Fishkill Correctional Facility in the Hudson Valley, where officers booked him, processed him, and sent him to a general population unit. He’s still there, three years after his latest possible release date.

As incarcerated men struggle to get medication, a black market has emerged in the Broome County jail. Photo: Broome County Corrections Division | Illustration: Maia Hibbett
Men locked up in the Broome County jail describe an opioid treatment program so shoddy, they risk withdrawal, relapse, and overdose.
By Spencer Norris

Hell broke loose in Joshua Cottrill’s body. He could walk off the cold sweats during the day, but over nights at the Broome County jail, he couldn’t breathe. His legs and back were in pain, and insomnia kept him awake for two days straight. Withdrawal often causes opioid users to vomit and defecate uncontrollably, but Cottrill could do neither; he’d been too sick to eat for 10 days.

His peers were worried. One incarcerated man said he warned Cottrill that he could die if he didn’t force himself to hold something down.

Opioid withdrawal is torturous and occasionally lethal. The pain can be bone-deep. It’s often described as the worst illness of someone’s life.

It’s also mostly preventable. Medication for opioid use disorder — MOUD for short — is one of the only evidence-based treatment options shown to prevent withdrawal, relapse, and overdose. It is widely considered the gold standard for treating opioid addiction. Thanks to a 2021 law, New York jails are mandated to distribute it.

At Attica Correctional Facility, the price of the average staple food and snack increased by over 70 percent between December 2021 and November 2022. Illustration: Maia Hibbett for New York Focus
The confluence of rising commissary prices, stagnant wages, and a package ban are making basic items inaccessible.
By Freddy Medina

As inflation reached a 40-year high in 2022, New Yorkers felt the squeeze when paying for fuel, housing, food, and more. Food pantries across the state struggled to meet the demand for support as more and more families found it difficult to put food on the table.

For the more than 34,000 people in the state’s prisons, commissary prices can make it impossible to afford the things that make prison bearable: a decent meal or basic hygienic necessities. As support networks of friends and families struggle financially and have less to share, it gets harder.

Amid these rising costs and low wages, a state-wide package ban implemented in all New York prisons last year created another hurdle.

A crowd gathers at a New York Stands With Israel event in Manhattan on October 10, 2023. Darren McGee / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Israeli settlers have unleashed a wave of violence on Palestinians. With tax-deductible donations, New Yorkers can help equip them to carry it out.
By Chris Gelardi

Vigilante violence is at an all-time high in the occupied West Bank. Emboldened by the war in the Gaza Strip and backed by the military, Israeli settlers aiming to annex more and more of the Palestinian territory have launched hundreds of attacks, displacing people from at least 17 communities over the past month while soldiers and settlers have killed nearly 200.

And at least three New York nonprofit organizations are calling on donors to help outfit those settlers with combat gear, in a fundraising blitz funneling millions of tax-deductible dollars to the West Bank aggression.

The Orange County Department of Social Services office in Goshen, May 13, 2023. | Kelly Marsh
Counties across the state are blowing past legal deadlines to process SNAP applications, leaving families struggling to eat. The delays may be about to get even worse.
By Alex Lubben

Alma Garcia, a 31-year-old mother of five in Middletown, called a cab she couldn’t afford to take her from one public benefits office to another, on the other side of the county.

Garcia applied to renew her food stamps last October. The local social service agency lost her paperwork and told her to go to another office. Then it closed her case and asked her to submit a new application. Then it transferred her to a new caseworker.

Five months went by before the agency finally approved her new application — without making up for the lost time.

Across the state, tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have applied for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, have had their benefits delayed for more than 30 days, in violation of federal law, documents obtained by New York Focus show.

A statue of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat at the Belmont Park racetrack on Long Island. Wally Gobetz
A conversation with consultant Shuprotim Bhaumik, whose firm wrote a study arguing that New York state can revitalize the failing horse racing industry by funding a $455 million track renovation.
By Sam Mellins

Once a sure bet, the massive cash prize that New York’s horse racing industry hopes to win in this year’s state budget has come under fire.

“Albany is literally burning public money to keep the NYRA alive,” read a recent New York Post editorial, citing New York Focus’s reporting on Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposal to loan $455 million to the New York Racing Association. The association, which operates the state’s three largest tracks, would use the loan to renovate the Belmont Park racetrack on Long Island. It also loses tens of millions of dollars annually, so it can’t repay the loan with business earnings. Instead, it would use some of the nearly $200 million in subsidies that the state gives it each year to replenish New York’s treasury.

How would Kathy do? Photo: Mike Groll / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul | Illustration: Maia Hibbett
Thanks for a great 2023. To show our gratitude, we're giving you a test.
By New York Focus

We cover consequential state agencies you’d never heard of before us.

We expose what happens to state money — and where the biggest tax breaks go.

We show how all this power affects millions of New Yorkers, from the most impervious to the most vulnerable.

Now we want to see if you’ve been listening to what we’ve been trying to tell you: Who runs New York?


Copyright © New York Focus 2023, All rights reserved.
Staying Focused is compiled and written by Alex Arriaga
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