libertarians’ attempt to safeguard Albany residents from the
excesses of the USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act stalled by the Common
lobbying by rights groups and testimony from concerned citizens,
the Albany Common Council has yet to move on a resolution
to oppose the civil-liberties infringements of the USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T.
The resolution, sponsored by Alderman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward
1), directs federal, local and state authorities to inform
the council monthly regarding the extent to which the basic
civil rights of local citizens have been violated during terrorism-related
investigations using surveillance powers granted by the P.A.T.R.I.O.T.
Act. Yet, in light of the sizable public turnout in support
of the resolution at Monday’s Common Council meeting, the
resolution remains in the council’s Public Safety Committee,
where it was the subject of intense debate and its passage
was met with strong resistance.
The USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, which stands for Uniting and Strengthening
America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept
and Obstruct Terrorism, was drafted by the U.S. Department
of Justice and Attorney General John Ashcroft shortly after
the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Created ostensibly as a means
for combating terrorism, the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act produced a
number of new, broadly defined criminal categories and granted
law-enforcement agencies with far-reaching powers of surveillance.
Since its passage on Oct. 24, 2001, civil libertarians decried
the new laws as attacks on the basic civil rights granted
to every U.S. citizen by the Bill of Rights.
enforcement shouldn’t have the right to search people’s personal
records or check their reading habits,” Calsolaro said, referring
to some of the surveillance powers granted by the new law.
“This is not what America is about. It sounds to me like the
Soviet Union 20 or 30 years ago.”
Calsolaro reported to the committee that he and a group of
local citizens lobbying the council to pass the resolution
opposing civil-liberties infringements [Newsfront, Feb. 27]
had met with people from the office of U.S. Representative
Michael McNulty (D-Green Island) to discuss the resolution
and the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act. Calsolaro characterized the meeting
as positive, and said he was pleased to find out that McNulty
decided to sponsor a federal bill to correct some of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T.
However, Calsolaro said that McNulty warned him against asking
a federal body like the FBI or ATF to report on terrorism-related
investigations, as it was just unlikely to happen.
But Alderman Daniel Herring (Ward 13), also on the Public
Safety Committee, took further issue with Calsolaro’s resolution.
Considering that it was written to counteract a piece of federal
legislation, Herring thought it would be best to wait for
more action by legislators like McNulty to correct mistakes
made at that level.
P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act] was passed by the U.S. Senate 98 to 0,
and I find it hard to believe that 98 senators missed the
dangers in this act,” Herring said. “And if on subsequent
review they are presenting legislation to correct things,
why not have a resolution to support these federal bills?”
But Albany resident Tanya Tarr, who spoke at the meeting’s
public comment period, helped shed some light on how federal
legislators may have missed some of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act’s
excesses as it quickly flew through Congress. Tarr, who was
working in Washington, D.C., with the General Accounting Office
during the passage of the bill, said legislators had other
things on their mind when the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act was introduced—anthrax.
In fact, Tarr said, the anthrax scares had cleared legislative
offices in Washington, D.C. in the week prior to the P.A.T.R.I.O.T.
was no one in those offices,” Tarr said. “And there was not
a whole lot of nose-to-the-grindstone-policy analysis going
on at the time anyway. This was a few weeks after Sept. 11—people
were still mourning, and who was going to vote against something
called the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act?”
Further, Alderwoman Shawn Morris (Ward 7), a non-committee
member who was attending the meeting, said federal legislators’
lag in responding to the problem creates an even greater need
for local governments to push for the same end.
years after [the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act] becomes law, they are
still trying to find sponsors for the legislation to correct
it,” Morris said. “It is going to take a lot longer to undo
what they adopted too quickly, and this is something very
local in nature that can have an effect on our community.”
Eventually, Calsolaro and the committee decided to hold the
resolution while a few more kinks could be worked out, but
the citizens group is ready to continue its push. Melanie
Trimble, executive director of the Capital Region chapter
of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said her group will
continue to lobby the Common Council, looking to add Albany
to the list of 83 city, town and county governments that have
passed similar resolutions.
feel there is a very large groundswell from the public in
Albany . . . yet we feel that from the meeting last night
some of the Common Council members are dragging their feet,”
Trimble said. “We feel very strongly that a local statement
needs to be made about preserving our constitutionally guaranteed
freedoms and civil liberties. Our local officials need to
make our voices heard.”
gallery: window display at 51 3rd St. in Troy. Photo
by Leif Zurmuhlen
Art and Bureaucracy Collide
studio ticketed by Code Enforcement for unusual window display
got a historic permit for that doll’s head full of teeth?”
That’s what the city of Troy’s Bureau of Code Enforcement
wanted to know when it ticketed the owner of the residential
building/art studio at 51 3rd St. for having an “illegal window
On March 31, a code inspector issued a violation to the building
owner, Igor Vamos, stating that his building’s artfully crafted
display failed to comply with a city ordinance requiring historic
district review. But further inquiry into the city’s codes,
the bureau’s charges don’t seem to hold much water.
issue is that it’s in a historic district,” said Terry Dubois,
director of Troy’s Bureau of Code Enforcement. “Any changes
to any window dressings, be it painting the trim or changing
the doorway, anything, it needs historic review. I’m not questioning
what’s there, though I can’t really understand why it was
put there, but that is not the point. The point is it is in
the historic district.”
According to Dubois, complaints were lodged about the building’s
eccentric window display, which showcases the work of some
of the artists who use the building’s studio.
woman went by a couple of weeks ago with a young child and
said that they looked at the display and they were horrified
by what it looked like,” Dubois said. “I’m not really sure
what the purpose was of the owner putting it up in the first
place, but that’s again not the point. The city isn’t saying,
at this point, that we don’t want it there because of the
contents. There may be something that we could look into,
but that was not my motivation. The issue is the historic
But V. Zubkovs, a city planner, said the violation, if based
on the assumption that the building is in a local historic
district, is unfounded.
don’t believe that is in the local historic district,” said
Zubkovs. “River Street, 1st Street and 2nd Street are in the
local historic district. It is definitely in the National
Register of Historic Places district—all of downtown is. You
would need to ask Code Enforcement what the signage requirements
are for the historic register, but it is not in the local
When confronted with the information provided by Zubkovs,
if it isn’t in the historic district, then I sent that notice
in error,” Dubois said. “If you were the owner of the property
and said to me ‘Terry, I talked to V. and he said it is not
in the historic district. What’s the problem?’ I’d say to
you ‘Mr. Owner, there is no problem. Mea culpa.’”
The window display features a cornucopia of unconventional
art. Much of the display is occupied by taxidermic animals:
for example, an embalmed and stuffed fox with its hips, neck
and ear wrapped in Ace bandages perches on a piece of wood,
under which hides its colostomy bag. Pheasants, chickens and
assorted fowl sit in similar states, wings gauzed and wrapped
in bandages. Some wear crowns and flowers; others are apparently
going through some stage of dialysis treatment.
Doll art is another theme in the display. In one section,
a toy train full of yellowing and browned teeth ride an arced
track into a doll’s head, also full of teeth. Elsewhere sit
painted jack-in-the-boxes, reloaded with dolls and wooden
figures on heavy springs. Throughout the window display, melted,
merged or otherwise deformed baby dolls rest in straw.
think that one of the joys of living in downtown Troy is viewing
some of the impromptu and unusual window displays that people
come up with,” said Vamos, a professor in the electronic arts
department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
around the corner here, there is an amazing window display
where there are a bunch of American troops fighting a Klingon
with a big Wanted: Osama bin Laden sign in the background,”
Vamos said. “I guess they couldn’t find the appropriate action
figures to represent either Iraqis or the Taliban, and so
they used the Klingon instead. He’s standing in a Jeep. It’s
amazing actually. That is the kind of thing that makes for
a dynamic and interesting urban environment, and whoever put
up the U.S.-military-versus-Klingon window display has a unique
vision as well.”
Even if the building were in a historic district, Vamos noted
the irony of his window display being considered offensive
when a number of other buildings on the block are boarded
up or vacant.
definitely is a double standard here,” Vamos said. “There
are so many other buildings with broken windows, many of which
are owned by wealthy people who could easily fix them if they
seems like a lot of things that are happening in the world
right now are much more disturbing than that window display,”
Vamos said. “In a way, maybe that display is referring to
a lot of the violence in the world right now and something
that we shouldn’t be sweeping under the rug. We should be
examining that and be self-reflecting, considering the way
we are all behaving as part of a violent culture.”
the Opposition, Bring on the Apple Pie
alderwoman’s antiwar resolution meets resistance from her
colleagues on the Common Council
McLaughlin received such a negative response from her colleagues
on the Albany Common Council regarding a nonbinding resolution
opposing the U.S. military invasion in Iraq that she decided
not to bring it up for a vote at Monday’s meeting.
lot of them were using this rhetoric, and I call it rhetoric,
that you cannot support the troops and be opposed to the war,”
said the Ward 2 alderwoman. “Look, you don’t have to support
the concept of war, but you can still support the individuals
who are sworn to serve their country in that war.”
Alderman Michael Brown (Ward 3) rebuked McLaughlin’s sentiment
during a speech at Monday’s meeting.
would be opposed to this resolution [were it to come up for
a vote],” Brown said. “We all believe in the American values
our troops are over there fighting for. Without them, those
protesters wouldn’t be out there protesting and we wouldn’t
be in here having this meeting.”
Though the antiwar resolution was not considered at Monday’s
meeting, the council did unanimously pass two resolutions
supporting the troops in their fight overseas.
News that an antiwar resolution would be coming before the
council was previously reported in Metroland [Newsfront,
April 3] and circulated through various social justice e-mail
groups in the Capital Region. Nearly 100 people showed up
for Monday’s council meeting.
Prior to the meeting, a number of high school and college
students attempted to hold a “books not bombs” demonstration
outside City Hall. They did not have a permit, and police
ordered the group to break up. The protesters allege that
our government is less willing to spend money on education
than it is on the military.
federal government is willing to spend $75 million on an unjust
war with Iraq, but they’re not willing to take that money
and use it for something positive,” said protester Yunus Fiske.
“We have two public schools in the Albany area which are failing;
we are facing a tuition hike in the state; they’re going to
cut [the Tuition Assistance Program]. We have many problems
in this country, and we could use the money [spent on this
war] for social programs here.”
The announcement of McLaughlin’s decision to hold the resolution,
which came just prior to the meeting’s beginning, drew sighs
and statements of exasperation from the throng that flooded
the lobby outside the council chambers.
bureaucracy for you,” muttered one.
A number of citizens signed up to speak during the meeting’s
public- comment period, which lasted more than an hour due
to the heavy attendance. Of the meeting’s 22 speakers, 14
urged the council to make the voices of citizens heard by
passing the resolution. None spoke in opposition to the resolution.
Dan Wilcox, a member of Veterans for Peace who was drafted
to serve in Vietnam in 1969, agreed with McLaughlin’s resolution,
and addressed the idea that opposing the war means opposing
[resolution] is not about the troops, it is about the U.S.’s
policy of a unilateral, preemptive attack on Iraq,” Wilcox
said. “Is an attack on [Gov. George E.] Pataki an attack on
state workers? Then why is an attack on [President George
W.] Bush an attack on our troops? It isn’t. An attack on the
troops is slashing veterans’ benefits.”
McLaughlin said she agreed with what Wilcox said, referring
to the president’s vetoing a bill to restore federal funding
to pay for veterans’ disability payments, and said she wanted
to redraft her resolution to reflect similar sentiments.
a double message,” McLaughlin said. “He said when he was running
for president that he was going to increase or restore the
disability payments, and then he cuts $25 billion from the
Department of Veterans’ Affairs budget over the next 10 years.
How do you think these people coming back from Iraq are going
to be? Do you think they’ll need benefits?”
McLaughlin, who began drafting the resolution before the war
began, said she would now have to focus her resolution on
restoring veterans’ benefits, opposing any further preemptive
attacks by the U.S. military, and asking the Bush administration
to return to a multilateralist approach to foreign-policy
decisions by working with United Nations.
Should McLaughlin’s resolution pass the Common Council, Albany
would join a list of more than 160 counties, towns and cities
nationwide that have passed similar resolutions, including
Ithaca, New Paltz, Syracuse and New York City in our state.
The council will next discuss a revised version of McLaughlin’s
resolution when it holds a caucus meeting on April 16 at 5:30
PM in the council chambers of City Hall, 24 Lodge St., Albany.