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Show us you care: the People’s State of the State Rally.

Photo: Teri Currie

Universal Solution

Advocates in New York state set their sights on health care for all in the new year

In his State of the State address yesterday (Wednesday, Jan. 5), Gov. George Pataki said, “It’s not about government programs, policies or agencies—they are the means, not the ends. It’s about the people of this great state and how we can make their lives better.”

New Yorkers surely agree—it is about making their lives better. But many think that government programs, policies and even agencies should be given more of a chance as a means to help.

Those who participated in the 16th annual People’s State of the State Rally on Tuesday (Jan. 4) said they’d like to see a discussion on universal health care in the Legislature, sufficient budget funding for programs that provide basic necessities to families, closure of corporate loopholes that keep dollars out of the state coffers, and food programs to provide millions of meals to the many who need them.


All for show: Gov. George Pataki shakes hands with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at the State of the State Address.

Photo: Martin Benjamin

Oh yeah, and a new governor.

While the latter already looks likely—polls show Attorney General Eliot Spitzer with a double-digit lead over Pataki, should the latter decide to try for a fourth term (Spitzer already has announced his gubernatorial bid)—the rest will take some work. This is why about 60 antipoverty advocates assembled on the steps of the Capitol for the People’s State of the State. Between chants of “Pataki’s gotta go,” and calls for “no more corporate welfare,” some spoke about the problem of poverty in New York state and the Capital Region.

“We’ve made it simple this year,” said Mark Dunlea, associate director of Hunger Action Network of New York State. “We’re asking [the Legislature] to fund a study on universal health care; that’s one of our biggest issues this year.” Despite the win of a moderate minimum-wage increase in 2004 (to take effect by 2007), minimum wage still falls far short of paying for health care, especially on top of rent, utilities, food and transportation.

Dunlea cited a June 2004 report by Citizen Action of New York, which found that more than 5.6 million New Yorkers went without health coverage for all or part of 2002 and 2003, 65 percent for six months or longer. Three out of four of these people had jobs. Dunlea said the lack of coverage, especially for seniors, contributes to the high property-tax burden carried by local governments, as the cost of Medicaid carried by the counties forces local property taxes to soar. An overhaul of the whole system could change this.

“What we’re saying is step back,” said Dunlea. “Everyone agrees we need a universal health-care system. The question is how to do it.”

Nationally, universal health care has had a number of high-profile supporters, from recent presidential candidates Ralph Nader and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone to Republican former Sen. Bob Dole. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit group that advises Congress and the federal government on health matters, called for universal care by 2010. But the cause faces formidable political opposition at the federal level, so many supporters feel the best approach is state-by-state.

“The health-care system is full of inefficiencies, inequities, waste, fraud, and abuse created by having allowed health care to be converted into a mere commodity in the marketplace,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) in a past press release. Sen. Krueger said yesterday that New York has the potential for starting a national push for universal care. “We could be the tail that wags the dog if we choose, and frankly, we have to.” Krueger fears rising prescription drug prices and recent federal and state exploration of Medicaid cuts.

Dunlea said other states such as Maine, Oregon and Rhode Island have looked into the issue with more depth, something we could benefit from in New York.

Anthony Pierce, who also spoke at the rally, said he worries about his three children at home. He works as a custodian for the College of Saint Rose and says he faces money problems on a day-to-day basis.

“It’s hard living check by check, trying to pay the bills,” said Pierce. “I can’t give my kids the health care that they need.” Pierce is all for a plan that would cover his entire family, but right now he’d take some extra hours to work and maybe some overtime. He hopes his daughter and two sons don’t end up in the same situation.

“I don’t want them to struggle and wonder where their next dollar is coming from.”

—Kevin Abbott


Overheard

“God, I guess I understand and everything, but it’s just such a pain to get new plane tickets, and I had my reservation to that resort in Phuket made months ago. I just have the worst luck with vacations.”

— Woman talking to a companion at Cosi, a fancy sandwich joint in Boston, Tuesday (Jan. 4).

 

“Um, you look about my wife’s size. Do you mind if I ask what size you are?”

—Man doing some last minute holiday shopping in Troy’s State of Grace, to the woman behind the counter. He was trying to decide between small, medium, and large.

 



What a Week

Not a Conference!

On their way home from a weekend conference on “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” in Toronto, 34 Muslim Americans were detained at the border for up to six hours while border guards insisted that they submit to fingerprinting. A representative of the Department of Homeland Security said conferences can be meeting places for terrorists, and that it was their job to verify people’s identities, even American citizens.

Persistent Persistence

Refusing to give in to the rising chorus of “give up already,” groups including the Progressive Democrats of America, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, True Majority, Common Cause, and many others are continuing to raise issues about disenfranchisement and questionable vote count activities, especially in Ohio. Today (Thursday, Jan. 6), they will rally outside Congress while the electoral vote is tallied. They are hoping that, unlike in January 2001, at least one senator will join the representatives who plan to object to the certification of the vote, allowing discussion of the issue.

Publish (What We Say) or Perish

Ignacio Chapela, a University of California-Berkeley professor of ecology, published research showing that genetically modified corn was contaminating native Mexican corn and vocally criticized the university’s deal with Swiss biotechnology company Novartis in which the company gets early review of all papers supported by its grants. In early December he was denied tenure, despite unanimous recommendations from faculty in his department and an ad hoc committee convened by the Academic Senate. Chapela and others who have tracked the undercover smear campaigns conducted by the biotech industry’s PR apparatus feel he was denied tenure because his research was threatening to a university funder.

Just Some of the Facts

Is it unusually expensive to do business in New York or not? The Business Council of New York State, in its updated report Just the Facts, says yes. But, points out the Fiscal Policy Institute, three of the council’s four listed sources are unabashedly right-wing ideologues and the fourth, economy.com, actually contradicts the council’s findings in its own ranking. Some of the number shuffling, says the institute, has to do with commuter tax income: If you divide New York’s total tax income by just the number of residents, it looks inaccurately high.



Photo: John Whipple
Free to Good Home. Or Anyone Else.

Thirty years ago, Bill Miller’s father picked up this old CDTA bus for $400 from a private home in Delmar, planning to retrofit it as a motor home. He never got around to it, but Bill and his siblings used the all- aluminum former Western Avenue #905 as a clubhouse throughout their childhood, warming it with a wood stove vented through one of the windows. Now, however, it’s been used for storage for a long time, and Miller has decided it’s time it should go. A few months ago he put out a sign out in front of the 393 Krumkill Road property offering the bus for free. He got a good number of responses to one want ad he placed, but most people wanted to know if the bus still ran. “They wanted the world,” said Miller. “Come on, it’s free.” He figures it would be possible to renovate, but expects it’s more likely that someone will make some cash on it for scrap metal.

Photo: John Whipple

 


 

 

Elephant vs. Elephant

There’s more than a rules dispute behind a 2-year-old fight over the chairmanship of the city of Albany’s Republicans

Joe Sullivan was appointed chairman of the Albany City Republican General Committee in the late ’90s. He worked hard, recruited a large number of new committeepeople, and tried to raise the profile of city Republicans in a county where the Republican presence is mostly in the suburbs. He also ran for state Assembly in 2002 on the Right-to-Life line, against a Republican candidate, worked for a Marijuana Reform Party candidate for governor (there’s dispute over whether he officially endorsed him) and ran local candidates who were not registered Republicans.

In response to these latter actions, in the last week of January 2003, the chairman of the Albany County Republican Committee, Peter Kermani, told Sullivan he was being removed from his position. The county informed the media and others that there was no longer a city of Albany chair. Trouble is, the rules of the county committee as adopted in 2000 provided for a city committee, and said that its officers served at the pleasure of the members of the committee—i.e. it was an elected position. Sullivan was careful to get himself elected by the city committeepeople, most of whom he had recruited.

So in June of this year, the county, over the strenuous objections of Sullivan, officially changed the rules. The towns still get to elect their own chairs, but “All of the Officers as Chairpersons for the General Committees of the Cities of Cohoes, Watervliet, and Albany shall be chosen by the County Committee . . . [and] shall hold office at the pleasure of the Executive Committee.” However, they didn’t file the rules change with the state until November, more than a month after Sullivan held this year’s city committee meeting and was reelected as chair for a two-year term. Though he acknowledges this will be his last term given the rules changes, Sullivan is convinced that his claim to the current chairmanship would hold up in court.

Not so, said John Tabner, longtime counsel to the County Republicans (he stepped down Jan. 1). Once the rules were filed, they were back-effective to the day they were approved, said Tabner. And even if they went into effect only when filed, they still have abolished the committee that Sullivan claims to chair, making his election moot, said Tabner.

All this rulemaking bickering is laid over some more fundamental differences of belief about how the party should run and what it should stand for. Sullivan is outraged at what he says is the disenfranchisement of city Republicans, who are being treated as second-class citizens because they can’t elect their own chairs as the towns can. “I think it’s a violation of the 14th Amendment of equal protection under the law,” he said. “The city of Albany has always been a stepchild to the county organization.” County chair Kermani declined to comment for this story.

Sullivan noted that while he’s built a base in the city, the Republican Party has been losing ground in the towns. “The Albany City Committee didn’t exist before I came on the scene,” he said. “I’ve recruited 80 committeepeople. So you really have to ask why people are so disgruntled [with me]? Do they want to be losers all their lives?”

Annette DeLavallade, president of the Capital District Black Republicans and secretary of the Albany County Republican Committee, knows exactly why she’s disgruntled. Already active with the black Republicans, she was one of the people Sullivan had recruited to be a committeeperson a few years ago. She was quickly disenchanted with how the city committee was run. She got letters requesting that she sign a proxy so Sullivan could cast her votes (committeepeople have a weighted vote based on the number of votes for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in their district) for her at a meeting of officers. She signed the first one, but then began to grow distrustful. The letters never included an agenda, an explanation of what would be voted upon, or any opportunity to indicate how the proxies should be voted.

You get more information and choice than that as a shareholder in a multinational company, noted DeLavallade. For example, “all of us were surprised to know we were supporting the mayor,” she said [“Conservatively Optimistic,” Newsfront, Dec. 2]. “That was not discussed and brought to a vote. That was a whim.”

Plus, she was frustrated to hear that Sullivan was encouraging people to vote for nonparty candidates, and said his current refusal to admit he’s not the chair makes it “very difficult to try to do things legitimately.”

DeLavallade showed up at the organizational meeting that Sullivan called last year at 8 AM the morning after the September primaries. The meeting notice said the meeting would take 15 minutes. There were 12 people present, and Sullivan held 52 proxies. DeLavallade was the only nay vote on Sullivan’s slate of officers. The weighted vote came out to 2,944 to 10, because Sullivan is, by his own description, “mindful” of recruiting people who come from strongly Republican districts.

“I have the trust and confidence of the people I’ve recruited,” said Sullivan, adding that they are willing to give him license to vote for them because “they know what I stand for.”

But what he stands for could be part of the problem. Gregory Fields, one of the new co-vice chairs for the city of Albany appointed by the county, is still stung by Sullivan’s comment several years ago (which Sullivan said was a joke) that Carl Gottstein, who had served time for a bad-check spree, might be a good representative for wards 1-5 because people there could relate to him. Fields and DeLavallade see Sullivan’s call for neighborhood k-8 schools as a cloaked desire to resegregate the schools based on residential segregation (something Sullivan denies).

The issue degenerates quickly: “He’s against progress, he’s against growth, he’s against people from other communities moving into his neighborhood,” said DeLavallade.

DeLavallade and the city’s other black Republicans have weighted votes of “maybe 14,” retorted Sullivan, who has also taken to calling the Iranian-American Kermani “Ayatollah.” “Blacks vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and that’s not about to change. . . . Annette and Gregory’s Republican skin is not very deep.”

Sullivan “is a hard worker. He’s a really hard worker,” said Carolyn Peterson-Vaccaro, the city’s other official cochair. “He’s kind of like a lightning rod. He has the ability to pull people together, and also to turn them off. You don’t ever feel neutral about Joe. He just isn’t going along with what the county and the state would like to see.”

But Peterson-Vaccaro, a 16-year resident of the city, is mostly trying to stay out of the fray. She’s more interested in gathering a planning team for the city and creating a platform for what she hopes will be a banner year for the city’s 4,000 Republicans. “We really want [the platform to] come from a broad base of representation, not just a few people,” she said. “There’s a whole big city out there, and a whole lot of people and whole lot of issues.” Committeepeople involved in this planning include some who have been working with Sullivan, she said. “Most people put the pettiness aside and look at the bigger issues.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

maxel-lute@metroland.net


Loose Ends

The Saratoga Springs City Council voted 3-2 on Dec. 21 to join the proposed Saratoga County water plan that will draw from the Hudson River, rather than use Saratoga Lake [“To the Last Drop,” Dec. 2, 2004]. The two nay votes, Finance Commissioner Matthew McCabe and Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue, said the others would pay politically for their votes. . . . To the disappointment of environmental activists statewide who have been pushing for construction alternatives to PVC piping that are less toxic to produce and dispose of [“Green Business is Good Business,” April 15, 2004], Gov. George Pataki on Dec. 15 vetoed the Plastic Pipe Restriction Law, which would have restricted the use of plastic piping, especially PVC. Supporters said the bill also would have protected firefighters, who are exposed to fumes when PVC pipe burns, and said the governor caved in to the plastics industry. Opponents of the bill say it would have been a gift to the plumbers’ unions, who have a lock on the harder-to-install metal piping, and would have driven up construction costs. . . . In the decades-long fight to clean up the PCBs GE dumped in the Hudson River, things are actually moving toward a resolution. On Dec. 15, the EPA selected two processing and dewatering sites for the PCB dredging project. Fort Edward and Bethlehem have been picked from the seven proposed over a year ago [“Waste Deep in the Big Sludgy,” Newsfront, Sept. 18, 2003]. Despite the contentious nature of the issue so far, it seems that both picks are likely to stick and allow the project to move forward.



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