Tom Magnarelli

Reporter, Syracuse

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York. 

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5G wireless technology from Verizon is coming to the city of Syracuse, which would make it one of the first cities in the country with the new facilities for faster connectivity. But the vote to pass the measure did not go smoothly.

At a council meeting to approve the deal, Davy Campbell and other Syracuse residents voiced their opposition to the new technology to councilors, because of health concerns and risks from radiation.

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Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon issued an executive order, which holds public assistance payments to multi-family properties if lead is detected in any of the units. It’s part of the county’s plan to get property owners to fix the problem, in some of the area’s older housing stock.

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A Norwich City School District bus driver is being called a hero for saving a student from a car last week that illegally passed the bus. The district released a video of the incident, which went viral and was shared around the world. Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) honored the bus driver and is pushing legislation to improve school bus safety.

The video shows Samantha Call, the bus driver, grab the back of a student who was exiting the bus, just as a car passed along the right-hand side.

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ACR Health in Syracuse is trying to get more businesses to complete training on how to administer Narcan, to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The training can help save lives, as one downtown business found out firsthand.

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A series of rent reform bills are being considered in the New York State Legislature, and some of the proposed laws could affect upstate municipalities. Tenant advocates made their case to expand renter protections at two recent public hearings in Syracuse.  

The bill that advocates said will have the greatest impact on cities like Syracuse, is the “good cause” measure, which protects tenants against arbitrary evictions and unconscionable rent hikes.  It’s a bill sponsored by Syracuse Assemblywoman Pam Hunter.

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The city of Syracuse is delaying a vote to deploy 5G wireless technology from Verizon, a priority of Mayor Ben Walsh. One common councilor said it’s to make sure they are doing all they can to protect the workers installing the new facilities.

Sam Edelstein, chief data officer with the city of Syracuse, said 5G has the potential to allow new technologies, like autonomous systems.

“The kind of connectivity, the low latency and the high bandwidth 5G offers is what enables that," Edelstein said. "Certainly, being one of the first cities to enable 5G is exciting.”

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Syracuse homeowners will continue to get their STAR rebate checks, now that the city’s common council has approved a budget that keeps a property tax increase below the state’s tax cap. But to make up for the lost revenue, the city is going to raise the parking meter rate.

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The Syracuse Youth Advisory Council made presentations to the city’s common councilors on two issues they say are important to young people. The topics this year, focused on their education and well-being in city schools.

The first problem, the youth council said, is a lack of minority representation of teachers and other professionals in schools. Brynn Murphy-Stanley, a senior at Nottingham High School, said only seeing white people in positions of power, restricts her and others that look like her, from seeing themselves in those positions.  

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Businesses that have grown up in the footprint of I-81 north of Syracuse, could be affected by the state Department of Transportation’s selection of the community grid as the preferred alternative to replace the I-81 viaduct in Syracuse. Business leaders and elected officials in the town of Salina are speaking out against the DOT’s decision.  

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Verizon Wireless wants to deploy 5G smart cell technology in the city of Syracuse. City officials describe the potential of 5G as huge, doing things like enabling autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, and enhanced broadband. But some are questioning whether there are any potential health risks from the new technology.

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Residents in Syracuse spoke out against a 3.5% property tax and a 4% water rate increase in Mayor Ben Walsh’s proposed budget, at a public hearing Tuesday evening. The proposed tax increase goes over New York State’s 2% tax cap, and homeowners could lose the STAR property tax credit, which some at the hearing called a lifesaver. Syracuse resident Jason Zeigler encouraged councilors to vote down the increases.

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The International Trails Symposium is being held in Syracuse this week. The biennial event brings together all types of trail enthusiasts from across the country. This comes as more new trails are being planned for the central New York region.

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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced the takedown of two drug rings and the arrest of 65 people in the trafficking of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine in central and northern New York. The 15-month investigation, which started in St. Lawrence County, was a collaboration between nearly two dozen local, state and federal agencies.

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Officials with the New York State Department of Transportation are highlighting some of the key features in their preferred alternative to replace the I-81 viaduct in Syracuse, the community grid. While many residents in central New York are concerned with losing I-81, most of the high-speed access into and out of the city will remain.

It’s being called Business Loop 81. Much of the existing I-81 highway in Syracuse, above I-690 and below Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. East near the Carrier Dome, will continue as a freeway.

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Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon and Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh were briefed by the New York State Department of Transportation on why the DOT chose the community grid as the best option to replace the Interstate-81 viaduct in downtown Syracuse. While Walsh and McMahon were on different sides of the debate, both came together in a show of unity as the project enters the next phase. 

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As the Syracuse Common Council continues to go over Mayor Ben Walsh’s proposed budget, the council rejected a proposal to waive New York State’s 2% tax cap. Those against it said it would essentially authorize the city to go over the cap. But supporters of the proposed law said it would protect the city from additional penalties.

Jill Heinerth / Oswego County

The process of making the southeast region of Lake Ontario a national marine sanctuary, is in its next step. There are about 70 shipwrecks, some dating back to 1780 and aircraft from World War II, submerged in the area.

One of his favorite parts about diving into Lake Ontario to observe some of these shipwrecks, Oswego County Administrator Philip Church said, is descending the line.

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Aluminum tariffs on Canada are hurting companies like Novelis in Oswego, which has to pay significant duties on material it imports from Kingston, Ontario. Novelis is seeking exclusions from the federal government on some of the products they import.

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Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon appointed Matt Beadnell as the county comptroller, after the former comptroller, Bob Antonacci stepped down to become a state senator. A general election for comptroller will be held in November. Beadnell, a Republican and political newcomer, will face a more experienced Democratic challenger.

Beadnell is 30 years old and it’s his first time running for office. He worked in the comptroller office for two and half years prior. He said the campaign is going well, momentum is on his side and he brings a lot of energy as a younger guy.

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One of the ways climate change can affect our health is through the spread of harmful algal blooms in lakes where people swim and get their drinking water. The blooms can cause adverse health effects and have been occurring more frequently in recent years.

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Fourteen Friendly’s restaurants across upstate New York closed abruptly over the weekend, including locations in Oswego and Syracuse. It was part of an overall 23 closings in the Northeast. Elected officials are responding to the closures.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said the Friendly’s in Oswego has been around for decades. 

“I know I visited Friendly’s as a kid after sporting events," Barlow said. "We would have band concerts and go to Friendly’s after. It’s just a popular place.”

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Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh is proposing tax increases in the next budget to avoid cuts to staff and services, the first since 2011. But some councilors question if savings can be found to avoid raising taxes.

Walsh presented his budget to the Syracuse Common Council, saying the 3.5% property tax and 4% water rate increases were decisions not made lightly.

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The Syracuse Common Council is exploring the idea of having an independent commission redraw the city council’s district lines, following the 2020 census. The council currently draws its own lines.

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, said Syracuse could be the first city east of the Mississippi River, to have an independent redistricting commission. She said the city could be a model for the rest of the state.

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The New York State budget allocates $20 million in funding to reach marginalized communities for the 2020 census. But that’s only half the amount of funding community groups say is needed to achieve a more accurate count of the population.

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Some central New York Republicans are split on the results of this year’s state budget, which passed the legislature Monday.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said he appreciates that Aid and Incentives for Municipalities or AIM funding was restored for towns and villages, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed cuts. But McMahon said he is disappointed the funds come out of the county's share of Internet sales tax revenue.

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Federal funding for certified community behavioral health clinics, including one in Syracuse, is set to expire in a few months. The clinics offer addiction and mental health care, including treatment for opioids.

Thousands of people have been treated at the Helio Health clinic in Syracuse since a two-year pilot program was created. Now that it’s set to expire, Dr. Ross Sullivan, the Helio Health medical director, said if the funding is not extended, they will continue for as long as they can. 

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Maple producers are in the midst of their 24th annual Maple Weekend program in New York State. Farms across upstate are opening up sugar shacks so visitors can watch clear sap from a maple tree morph into mouthwatering maple syrup. The industry is growing, but also in the midst of a major transition.

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A series of heroin overdoses have occurred in Oneida County recently, including seven overdoses in a 24-hour period. Five people have died and more than 20 overdoses happened in ten days, leading the Oneida County Overdose Response Team to alert the public.

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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called for the release of the full report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, after special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation last week. Members of Congress from central and northern New York have also weighed in.

A summary from Attorney General William Barr said President Donald Trump’s campaign did not conspire with Russia to influence the election. But it stops short of exonerating the president of obstructing justice in the investigation.

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As budget season nears for the city of Syracuse, councilors are asking where the police and fire departments stand with overtime and staffing. Both departments are understaffed, but are also making efforts to reduce overtime pay.

Syracuse is spending around $10 million a year in overtime for police and fire. Fire Chief Michael Monds said staffing is at the bare minimum and overtime is the lowest it’s been in recent years.

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