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NYSNYS NEWS: One month after untimely death, Cuomo aide Wise honored by advocates for his service on behalf of disabled, homeless.
NYSNYS NEWS: One month after untimely death, Cuomo aide Wise honored by advocates for his service on behalf of disabled, homeless.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 23) — Jeffrey Wise, a senior aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who had a long career in public service before his untimely death in January, was honored by advocates Tuesday for his work on behalf of disabled, mentally ill and homeless people.

Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in NYS, said Wise “was an incredibly decent caring person who just had enormous heart and an enormous amount of compassion … He was a tremendous advocate for people with disabilities, for people who were impoverished, everybody. Jeff had a huge heart and he used his great intellect and his great passion and his networking, frankly, to create great things for people.”

Wise, 62, of Saratoga Springs, died January 17 from cardiac illness. He was honored Tuesday during the 19th annual Legislative Day of NYAPRS, the NY Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, a lobbying group.

At the time of his death, Wise was the Executive Director of the state Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, an agency that investigates reports of abuse involving developmentally disabled people. Cuomo appointed Wise to the job when the agency was created in 2013. Before that, Wise spent years working on other human services projects, including the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, also known as Timothy’s Law.

The law is named for Timothy O’Clair, a 12 year old Schenectady boy who committed suicide in 2001. He had been mentally ill for years and had exhausted the limits of his family’s insurance coverage. Tuesday, Timothy’s father Tom O’Clair credited Wise for being “largely responsible for drafting the bill that became Timothy’s Law.”

O’Clair said Wise “was very level headed, even tempered. On many occasions when you are lobbying (and) you are trying to effect change in New York state, things get frustrating — you get very frustrated and sometimes it’s not always easiest to keep your cool, but Jeff was one of those few people who could always keep his cool. He never showed his frustration. I wore mine on my sleeve but he could help me pull in and focus.”

Wise was a lawyer and began his career as a newspaper reporter in Glens Falls, later working at the Daily Gazette before and while attending law school.

NYAPRS presented Wise’s daughter, Rebecca Wise Melli of Fort Edward, his partner Shelly Nortz, and other family members with Lifetime Achievement Awards honoring Wise.

“Hopefully this gives some comfort to all of us who knew Jeff, but we also want to give some comfort to the people he loved and who loved him,” said NYAPRS executive director Harvey Rosenthal in presenting the awards.