Happy Friday, CivMixers – and Happy May!

Every day it feels like there are more stories that break out of the COVID reporting model, which has to be a good sign. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

1) Following up on a story in yesterday’s 5 Things, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, today addressed sexual harassment claims leveled against him by a former Senate aide, publicly denying the allegations.

Reade now lives in California, but in the early 1990’s she was in Washington, D.C. working in then Sen. Biden’s. She alleges that in 1993, Biden pushed and pinned her against a wall and slipped his hand inside of her skirt, inserting his fingers into her. Several other women have corroborated her story.

Biden flatly denied the whole thing, finally breaking his long silence on the matter, insisting the incident Reade has described simply never happened.

“No, it is not true. I’m saying unequivocally it never, never happened.”-Joe Biden in response to sexual assault allegations

Biden, 77, has all but clinched his party’s nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November general election. Over the past several days, the pressure on Biden to respond to these allegations has grown substantially – both from within and outside of the Democratic party.

He finally heeded that call, going on MSNBC this morning and also releasing a statement before the interview in which he asked for all personnel records that could detail any such complaint filed against him be released from the National Archives.

Biden stated that he is unaware of any such complaint ever filed against him, that he has never made any members of his staff sign non-disclosure agreements. He said he’s unsure why Reade made this allegation, but also refused to speculate or sensationalize the issue.

Biden, a longstanding supporter of survivors, has said many times that women should be believed when they make accusations like the one he’s currently facing. He said that he still feels all women have the right to be heard and believed and that the media and officials should thoroughly and impartially investigate all claims. However, he stated, at the end of the day, the truth is all that should matter – no matter what that truth is.

Trump and his campaign are now accusing Biden of hypocrisy. Of course, Trump is no stranger to allegations like this, either, with a long list of over a dozen accusers alleging sexual assaults at his hands. These allegations all predated when he entered the political stage back in 2016.

Several different organizations have printed Reade’s story and investigated the details of her claims, getting parts of her corroborated by people in her life to whom she relayed her story on different occasions. Reade says that in the early 90’s she told three fellow aides in the Senate that she had been sexually harassed by Biden, but did not escalate the charge to sexual assault.

All three aides have denied having any memory of receiving any such complaint, two individually through the media, and one – Marianne Baker – who worked with the Biden campaign to release a statement.

Last year, Reade, along with seven other women, came out and announced that they had suffered inappropriate and unwanted treatment from Biden, saying he had invaded their personal space. None described a similar incident that escalated to actual sexual assault, and Reade herself did not explain this escalated incident until March, revealing this news on a podcast.

Though many top Democratic female representatives have rallied in support around Biden, others have called for an investigation.

2) A 31-year-old Brooklyn man has been arrested and charged with stealing mail – more specifically stealing mail containing stimulus checks from the coronavirus relief bill. Feng Chen was found with nine stimulus payments that were not his, as well as checks and credit cards in his possession, according to the US Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York.

Dermot Shea, commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD), has said that, unfortunately, the stimulus checks are coming out during a time of opportunity for crime in the state. They are therefore hypervigilant on looking for any signs of plans to do so.

Chen was caught when he was spotted by NYPD officers looking inside of a collection bin at a shut-down medical office in the early hours of the morning on Tuesday. He then was seen going over to two other buildings, both residential, nearby and look through the mail at the door.

According to the complaint the officers filled out, he threw something that appeared to be pieces of mail onto the ground when he left the second building. At the point when they exited their car to approach him, they saw that he had a bulge in his jacket, and upon searching him, they found multiple pieces of mail addressed to many different people. Credit cards were also found, as were the stimulus check Economic Impact Payments that totaled over $12,000.

So far, no one can confirm if Chen has a lawyer. Richard Donoghue is representing the Eastern District of New York office of the US Attorney in this case. He is taking a strict approach to this case, stating:

“For many families, these stimulus checks are a lifeline in these difficult times and anyone who tries to cut that lifeline will face the full weight of the law.”

The Tax Administration’s Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George agrees, pledging to work closely with all levels of law enforcement to track down anyone who attempts to defraud and steal taxpayers depending on the money to survive the COVID crisis.

3) In his daily media briefing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all fees associated with mental-health services needed by frontline workers in the fight against the novel coronavirus would be waived.

The governor said that approximately half of the country had reported an uptick in struggles with mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.

Cuomo did note that frontline workers, in particular, are under a great deal of stress at this moment, in part due to the long hours they are working and the sheer weight of what they are dealing with. In New York, there have been over 18,000 deaths and over 300,000 positive diagnoses during the pandemic, and there have been several high-profile suicides by health care workers in NYC – the epicenter of the nation’s virus outbreak.

In a partnership with both the Crisis Text Line, the Kate Spade New York Foundation, and the state, a mental health hotline for frontline health workers has been launched. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, any frontline medical worker who needs emotional support can reach someone by texting 741-741 with the words NYFRONTLINE.

The state Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) is requiring that all regulated insurances in New York wave any fees for all in-network mental health care for any essential workers in the states’s medical system. NYSDFS is also going to enact an emergency regulation that will not allow those insurers to impose any costs for any in-person or telehealth mental health services as well.

Also on the rise during the pandemic: Domestic violence incidents. There has been a hotline established to help those suffering from these incidents as well, with the ability to provide needed services without alerting the person they are reporting. This hotline, run by the state Office of Mental Health (OMH), is wholly staffed by volunteers from within the mental health community that numbers in the thousands.

If you need help or services relating to any DV, call 1-844-863-9314.

NYS, NYS OMH, and others have also partnered with many other places for services, including HeadSpace.

4) Death Wish Coffee (DWC) is a local business that has genuinely become known across the country, on the shelves of multiple stores, and even available on Amazon. Not bad for a company that, back in 2012, started in the basement of Saratoga Coffee Traders.

To help out local small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat in the COVID crisis, DWC has created and marketed a t-shirt fundraiser known as the “Broke, Not Busted” campaign.

All proceeds from the sales of the shirts will be split between the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, Brewnited, and other local Capital Region businesses. Their current goal is to raise $75,000 for this cause. DWC just wants to help support the community that helped to build them, according to Shannon Sweeney, the coffee company’s marketing manager.

They kept it all local. One of the t-shirt designs being inspired and created by a meme is simple and says, just “When this is all over, please continue to stay at least 6 feet away from me.” The other was designed by Melanie Lucia-Clarke, an Albany tattoo artist at The Dead President’s Lounge. This shirt has a skeleton that is designed with intricate detail, and pays tribute to the campaign saying “Broke, Not Busted.”

Sharon Sweeney and DWC were insistent that there be a local artist involved in the design:

“It is important to us to have a local artist who has been affected by this to design this T-shirt so we can give her a commission, and she can get her work out there.”                                      – Sharon Sweeney, Marketing Manager Death Wish Coffee

5) In a follow-up to a story we have been reporting on since it started, the Troy Police have finally arrested a suspect in the homicide of Devante Paul, the 6-year-old who died under suspicious circumstances at the beginning of February.

TPD responded to a call about Paul lying unconscious in his home’s bathtub. Initially ruled suspicious, the death was shortly changed to a homicide case upon investigation.

After a run to a Pittsfield, MA hotel, and a failed suicide pact with Davonte’s mother, the TPD has arrested Kevin Cox, his step-father. Cox is currently being held, without bail, in the Rensselaer County Jail. He is being charged with Davonte Paul’s murder.

That is all for today and this week CivMixers! Tomorrow should be nice, and I hope you all get a chance to enjoy the weekend. Let’s breathe, shake off the pent-up strife of the past few months, and try to go into May with a better outlook!

Until next week, all.

Photo credit: George Fazio.