Gregory R. Ball (born September 16, 1977) is an American business executive, former active duty Air Force officer and member of the New York State Assembly. Ball has risen to prominence for his views on illegal immigration, and has been named a Chairman of Lawmakers for Legal Immigration, an immigration reform group. He is a resident of Carmel, New York.
Assemblyman Ball serves as the ranking member on the Veteran's Affairs committee; and is also a member of the Election Law; Energy; Housing; and Social Services Committees. He represents New York's 99th assembly district which is comprised of the towns Patterson, Mahopac, Carmel, Southeast, Putnam Lake and Brewster, in Putnam County; Yorktown, |Mohegan Lake, Somers, and North Salem in Westchester County; and Pawling in Duchess County.
Beginning his political career in 2005, he defeated six-term incumbent Willis Stephens in a primary in September 2006, running of a platform of reforming the legislature in Albany. Since being elected, Ball has been active in issues involving school and property tax reform, animal protection, the environment, veteran's affairs, and illegal immigration. He is often mentioned as a possible candidate for higher office.
Early career and backgroundEdit
Ball was born in Pawling, New York, and grew up on the Kennedy estate of Stephen and Jean Kennedy-Smith, sister of President John F. Kennedy, where his parents were both caretakers. He attended the prestigious Valley Forge Military Academy before receiving an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy from Congresswoman Sue Kelly. He was the first member of his family to attend college. Ball received a Bachelors of Arts in Government in 2001. He is currently completing a Masters thesis in International Affairs at Georgetown University, and was a fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency from 2002 to 2003. Ball is a board member of the Air Force Academy Association of Graduates, and is a member of several area Chambers of Commerce and business associations.
Ball initially interned in the White House Drug Policy Office during the term of President Bill Clinton and was then assigned to the 11th Wing as a protocol officer to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff. He was awarded an achievement medal for outstanding service by General John P. Jumper and was honorably discharged from active duty in January 2005 at the rank of Captain. Ball remains in the U.S. Air Force Ready Reserve.
Upon his separation from active duty, Ball returned to New York to work for Exceed International, a commercial development corporation, eventually becoming an Executive Vice President in the Northeast division. In 2006, Exceed proposed a $75 million urban renewal project for the village of Brewster which would generate some $2 million a year in tax revenue for the town. Village Mayor John Degnan noted that "All of the infrastructure work recently completed by defining our identity within the watershed has paid off. Brewster finds itself in a situation where people are eagerly interested in working with the village in partnership to see our village revitalized".
In early 2005, Ball announced his candidacy for State Assembly as a Republican and stated he would attempt to unseat the incumbent Assemblyman Will Stephens in a primary. Stephens' family had held the seat nearly continuously for eighty years: his grandfather, D. Mallory Stephens, represented the district from 1926 to 1952; his father, Willis Stephens Sr., held the seat from 1952 to 1982; and Stephens himself served from 1994 to 2006. Ball received over $110,000 in campaign contributions for the race. He was placed on the primary ballot by the signature of over 1800 petitioners.
At times Ball's campaign was noted for its unorthodoxy, including hiring a man in a chicken suit to follow around the incumbent after Stephens refused to debate him. Ball again garnered attention at an event in August 2006 where he carried trash bags to a press conference and drew attention to Stephens, who also served as the legal counsel to the town of Southeast, New York, for having accepted $9,355 from Waste Hauling CEO, convicted felon and reputed mob boss James Galante, who was later awarded a $1.5 million no-bid garbage contract by the town board on Stephens' recommendation. He was joined at this event by his eventual opponent in the general election, Democrat Ken Harper. Both Ball and Harper referred to the State Legislature as "dysfunctional" during their campaigns.
On September 12, 2006, in the Republican Primary for New York's 99th District, Ball defeated Stephens in a landslide with 70.4% (5,165 votes) to 29.6% (2,176 votes) for Stephens, the lowest vote total for any incumbent running for reelection to the State Assembly that day. Stephens claimed he had been the victim of a negative campaign, citing mailings that were distributed calling him a 'country-club liberal' and highlighting his close relationship with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. However, Stephens himself drew criticism when he refused to repudiate a letter about challenger Greg Ball which falsely claimed Mr. Ball had received a dishonorable discharge from the United States Air Force. Ball did not dispute that he ran hard for his seat, knocking on 10,000 doors prior to the primary.
Due to New York's electoral fusion system, the Assemblyman had vowed to remain in the race on the Conservative and Independence lines. Ultimately, Stephens decided to withdraw from the race altogether, instead taking a nomination for Supreme Court Justice in Queens, in order to allow Ball ballot access on the Independence and Conservative lines. Although Stephens attempted to have his name removed from the ballot, Ken Harper, the Democratic nominee, sued the State Board of Elections claiming that Stephens had filed a certificate declining his nomination eight days too late. The New York Court of Appeals eventually ruled that Stephens name should remain on the ballot.
Despite Stephens name remaining on the ballot, Ball went on to win a plurality of votes in the general election on November 6, 2006. He was also buoyed by endorsements from the Poughkeepsie Journal, Fraternal Order of Police, Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith and Duchess County Sheriff Butch Anderson prior to the election. His upset victory earned him the title of "Newsmaker of the Year" from one local publication and he also shared a front-page cover The Journal News with fellow upset winer John Hall the day after the election.
First term (2007 – )Edit
Ball has stated that "since my election victory, we have made extraordinary progress by elevating the debate on tough issues like taxes, illegal immigration and dysfunction in Albany." He was sworn into office on January 8, 2007. The first time Ball rose to speak in the Assembly chamber, he called the legislature "dysfunctional", and withstood boos from his colleagues. He was unhappy because lawmakers voted to elect a colleague, Thomas DiNapoli as the new State Comptroller, disregarding the recommendations of a bipartisan panel appointed by former Governor Eliot Spitzer consisting of former state Comptrollers who suggested three separate finalists and had not found DiNapoli to be qualified for the job. The next day, Governor Spitzer called Ball to express support for his sentiments.
Ball stated that "It was not easy getting up as the new guy and standing up to tell a group of people what they don’t want to hear" but his speech became so popular that soon dozens of reporters began calling, he appeared on Fox News, excerpts from the floor speech popped up on numerous political blogs, his campaign web site received so many visits that its server crashed, and, a YouTube video of his remarks was ranked 80th among news videos the day it was uploaded. Although the remarks were contentious, they echoed a fifty-six page study from the nonpartisan New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, which referred to the legislature as "the least deliberative and most dysfunctional in the nation".
State and local tax reformEdit
Ball again joined Spitzer, this time calling for property tax reform, and proposed an inflation-indexed cap on spending and school andproperty tax increases known as the "New York State Property Taxpayers Protection Act" similar to the measure adopted by Massachusetts and fourteen other states. Ball has proposed measures to cap or eliminate the state sales tax on gasoline, and voted for the measure signed by Governor Spitzer to reform the State Budget process with more openness and transparency.
He has voted dozens of times against any bill that proposes tax increases, including opposition a measure to raise the Putnam County sales tax by half a percent from 3.5% to 4% that was supported by State Senator Vincent Leibell, a fellow local legislator. Ball was also dismayed when asked by Putnam county legislators to carry a bill to Albany during the 2007 county "budget crisis", requesting a sales tax increase to 8.375%, which County Executive Robert Bondi, a fellow Republican, claimed was necessary to ward off a projected 66% property tax increase. Ball felt that the County legislature could have eliminated more "Pork-barrel spending" from the county budget. Another state legislator, Democrat Sandra Galef, eventually introduced the tax increase bill to the Assembly. Ball later joined with a county legislator in calling on Bondi to resign, citing his "incompetence and stubbornness" in proposing a budget with a 40% increase in the property tax levy.
Ball pledged to deliver an Empire Zone to Putnam County during his campaign, and this became a reality in February 2008. Advantages of an Empire Zone include offering up to 100-percent state subsidy of a business' real estate taxes for up to 10 years, state tax credits up to $3,500 for five years for each new employee, a waiver of sales tax on certain business purchases and sales tax credits for contributions to 501c3 non-profit groups. Ball has also delivered dozens of grants for organizations throughout the 99th Assembly District, including the American Red Cross.
Reaction to Governor Spitzer's resignationEdit
Although both Spitzer and Ball had been elected on platforms of reform, Ball called on the Governor to resign when the The New York Times reported that Spitzer had patronized a prostitution service called Emperors Club VIP and met with a call girl under the alias "George Fox".
Over the past year, my initial optimism has been replaced with a realistic view of an unfortunate Governor who has become a kamikaze pilot on cruise control. First gay marriage, then a budget so bloated it made drunken sailors cringe, then driver's licenses for illegal aliens, and now this. Lawmakers in Albany have been prostituting themselves to lobbyists and special interests for decades, but this Governor has evidently taken it to a whole new level. Early in my term as a new Assemblyman, I put my partisanship aside and looked forward to everything changing on 'Day One.' Indeed, maybe naïvely, I was actually optimistic of this Governor's ability to take on the entrenched special interests in a non-partisan fashion and finally bring needed reform. Our hopes for reform have once again been sunk by the politics of personal destruction and incompetence. This madness needs to end, and we have to finally begin focusing on the real issues: tax reform, ethics reform, term limits and a balanced budget.
The Governor announced his resignation the day after Ball's comments, and left office on March 17, 2008. He was replaced by his Lieutenant Governor, David Paterson. Ball stated that "My heart and prayers go out to Mrs. Spitzer and the Spitzer family. Yet my heart also goes out to the millions of New Yorkers, of all political persuasions, who voted for this man believing that he, Spitzer, would finally champion the cause of the people and work to clean up Albany... Immediately, as a member of the Legislature, I will now welcome the new Governor. I look forward to a new, fresh start."
Committee work and legislationEdit
As ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Ball announced legislation expanding the eligibility for veterans to receive tax exemption benefits, including the exemption of real property owned by certain disabled veterans from property taxation. Ball also authored the bill to create a tuition remission program for veterans, offering them free tuition at both SUNY and CUNY undergraduate and graduate institutions. Although the first bill did not make it out of committee, after Governor Spitzer called on the Assembly to pass such a measure, Ball reintroduced the legislation and has gained thirty-one cosponsors. State Senator Vinnie Leibell, whose Senate district encompasses the 99th Assembly District, announced the Senate would begin working to pass a similar measure. Currently, the State of New York Higher Education Services Corporation only offers tuition awards of $1000 per semester for military service. Numerous members of the New York Veterans of Foreign Wars, including the State Commander, spoke in favor of the bill before the Assembly in February 2008.
His support for pro-agricultural legislation, including creation of measures to establish a $30 million Dairy Assistance Program, as well as providing financial assistance to counties for farmland protection and for the construction of greenmarkets, among others, earned him an award from the New York Farm Bureau. He was also named as the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association "Assemblyman of the Year" for his dedication toward advocating for outdoor sports and sportsmen’s rights.
As a pet owner, Ball has made animal protection a campaign platform, and he secured grants for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and local humane societies, and has co-sponsored legislation to prohibit the slaughter of horses for the purpose of human consumption, as well as a bill to allow guide dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs to be allowed in public places during their training. Ball worked closely with the Humane Society of the United States to pass legislation to outlaw puppy mills, which are large commercial kennels that are notorious for substandard conditions and an "assembly line" approach to churning out puppies. The bill, known both as "Charlemagne's Law" and "The Puppy Mill Act", strengthens a previous measure he had created, and is the product of a constituent who lost a beloved pet due to parasites, ear mites, kennel cough and a corneal ulcer all stemming from the poor environment of the puppy mill. The legislation prohibits pet stores from selling dogs bred in puppy mills, and was introduced alongside another bill which would impose stiffer penalties for those convicted of dog fighting.
He has been involved in the fight to keep Pepsi Bottling Group in his district, after the company, which is Westchester County's second-largest employer announced it was considering relocating out of his district due to the tax burden it faces. He told reporters that "Westchester County has become a nightmare for not only business owners, but property owners, because of the tax burden", but that he was "cautiously optimistic" they would remain in their Somers, New York headquarters.
According to The Journal News, one key to Ball's success was that his campaign identified the concern local voters cared most about: illegal immigration. He was joined by former INS agents in a rally protesting a proposed work shelter for illegal immigrations in the village of Brewster. Ball made illegal immigration a focal point of his bid for office. In October 2007, he strongly criticized Governor Eliot Spitzer's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. An oft-quoted line from his campaign fliers was that "Illegal Immigration is Illegal". He was named "Albany's most ardent supporter of legal immigration" when he was appointed State Chairman of the national immigration reform group State Legislators for Legal Immigration. Yet Ball declined to speak at an anti illegal-immigration forum in Danbury, Connecticut sponsored by [http://www.uscfile.org/ United States Citizens for Immigration Law Enforcement, calling the group's rhetoric "over the top."
In February 2008, Ball hosted a summit on the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 287(g) program for law enforcement and elected officials from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, co-hosted by co-hosted by Jim Pendergraph, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Executive Director from the United States Department of Homeland Security Office of State and Local Coordination. He talked at length about the measure during a Fox News interview with Neil Cavuto. The 287(g) partnership, which includes training on how to avoid racial profiling, allows local law enforcement officers to work as ICE agents and file immigration violation charges, so that an illegal immigrant charged with crime in would have deportation papers filed immediately. Ball believes that correctional officers should receive immigration law enforcement training under the 287(g) program, and has promised to work with the ICE branch of the Department of Homeland Security by signing up counties which have their own correctional facility for the training. Ball announced another regional summit that would be held in April 2008.
He has noted that illegal immigrants are not always automatically deported despite facing criminal charges. Ball has opposed similar programs enrolling local law enforcement officials in the training, stating that "most local police agencies don't have the resources or the time to dedicate themselves to immigration law enforcement" and that starting a jail house program where names of suspected illegal aliens would be screened by a federal database would be more effective. Ball said that "the key in this is that you need a jail, because you can wait weeks to determine someone's immigration status and then trigger the deportation procedure."
Ball has worked to promote businesses that hire legal immigrant laborers, and has begun to create a database for usage on his campaign website. His campaign headquarters in Pawling may have been targeted over the contentious issue, and was vandalized with swastikas in October 2006, although the person or persons responsible misspelled the word "Fascist" twice.
Energy and conservationEdit
While his campaign has called for the widening of New York State Route 22 and completion of the Bear Mountain State Parkway, Ball has called attention to both the economic and environmental impact of the project, stating that "its a huge concern. It must be expanded. I am willing to work with the environmentalists and regional planners to get this project off the ground once and for all". The Ball campaign has also focused on promoting energy conservation, calling fuel prices "out of control" and vowing to establish tax credits for usage and production of alternative fuels, establish a state energy planning board, and cut fuel costs by eliminating the state sales tax on gasoline and alternative fuels.
Ball was referred to as "one of the rising stars in the Republican Party" during speculation that he would run against freshman Congressman John Hall in 2008, although he later ruled out a challenge against Hall. Ball sent out a statement stating that, "I love being the assemblyman. There's a lot I'm accomplishing at the local level and there's still a lot that needs to be done."
On March 17, 2008, Ball announced that he would be a candidate for reelection during an event at an Irish restaurant in Yorktown Heights, flanked by new Westchester GOP Chairman Douglas Colety, Putnam GOP Chairman Anthony Scannapieco, Jr., and Westchester County Executive candidate Rob Astorino. Ball highlighted the fact that his campaign had received the most money and more contributions from individual donors then any other incumbent minority Assemblyman in the last quarter of 2007. In a speech to supporters, Ball stated that "I'm a maverick Republican. I came into this business from outside the political machine. That makes me a target for Albany insiders."
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- "Top stories: Westchester assemblyman kicks off election campaign". News 12 Networks. March 16, 2008.
- Official Homepage: Assemblyman Greg Ball, 99th District of New York
- Ball for Assembly Campaign Website
- Campaign events for Assemblyman Greg Ball
- Picasaweb Albums for Greg Ball
- Center for the Study of the Presidency Fellows Publications
- Hirelegally.com - Ball campaign website that encourages legal hiring pratices.
- Project VoteSmart - Assemblymember Ball
- League of Women Voters Smart Voter Guide: Greg Ball