Union political-front group exposed

An organization that some consider a cult -- and was in line for a state grant -- was missing from the Assembly member item list unveiled Friday. Although Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, planned to give a $4,000 member item to the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, the item was put on "hold," an unusual occurrence. New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's office could not provide details. The Times Union disclosed the planned grant last month, also noting some former ARF members consider it a cult.

Ortiz had said the money would allow the group to offer new activities at senior centers in his district. Both he and a senior center director said they were unaware of the allegations involving ARF, including that it tries to recruit elderly people. He did not return a call about why he yanked the item.

Devorah Tarrow, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said about the assertions: "That's nuts ... we are not recruiting."

Majority privileges Speaking of member items, a breakdown of the Senate list shows -- surprise -- being in the majority really helps.

A review by New York Public Interest Group found GOP Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno at the top with $4.2 million, followed by all 32 Republicans, then the Democrats. Minority Leader Malcolm Smith got $657,000. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, drew about $2.2 million. Place your bets After helping Democrats in some high-profile Senate contests, the influential 1199/SEIU health care union has decided to bet on Republicans, who still hold a 32-30 majority in the chamber, according to a person close to the union.

The union will provide resources exclusively to the GOP this fall, the person said.

Union leaders, joined by key health care industry figures, met Friday with Sen. Bruno to discuss how to help the GOP hold control.

The union ruffled feathers in February when it was revealed it had donated more than $250,000 to the Working Families Party in less than two months. The WFP has made the Democrats' takeover of the Senate a priority this year. The union, according to the Long Island-based newspaper Newsday, also bought a table at a fundraiser earlier this year for Sen. Craig Johnson, D-Port Washington. SEIU had backed Johnson's opponent in a special election last year.

Big league bills The average cost of educating a public school student in New York is $18,768 a year, according to the state Education Department, but a new report from the Empire Center for New York State Policy finds some districts have costs far surpassing an Ivy League tuition.

Those include some small Long Island districts like Island Park, which spends $42,369 per student; East Quoque, at $44,298; and Amagansett, at $67,102.

On the other end of the scale, Mohonansen in Rotterdam was the second-lowest in the state, spending $12,708 per student. At the bottom was General Brown in Jefferson County at $12,141.


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