we come: (l-r) Helen Desfosses, Barbara Smith, McKinley
photo: John Whipple
her run for the Albany Common Council, Barbara Smith becomes
the first citywide candidate to emerge from the Soares coalition
mood was upbeat yesterday at the corner of Livingston Avenue
and North Swan Street in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood
as two dozen people gathered to see community activist Barbara
Smith announce her candidacy for the 4th Ward Common Council
seat. The 4th Ward encompasses North Albany, parts of Arbor
Hill and West Hill, and a small section of the South End.
Many, if not most, of the people present at Smith’s announcement
were active in either the David Soares campaign; the Coalition
for Hope and Change, which staged a rally against neighborhood
violence last summer; the Coalition for Accountable Police
and Government; or all three. Others said they had met Smith
through the various neighborhood committees on which she serves.
Lisa Feaster, who works for the Albany Community Land Trust,
said she encourages the land-trust homeowners to get out and
get involved with neighborhood issues through groups like
the Arbor Hill Implementation Team. She said she thought Smith
was a “perfect match” for such priorities. Feaster said she
had never seen the current 4th Ward councilwoman, Sarah Curry-Cobb,
at any of the neighborhood meetings she had attended.
In her announcement, Smith highlighted public safety, opportunities
for the ward’s youth, and the lack of retail businesses as
top issues. She also noted that the city as a whole faces
some choices about priorities, such as whether development
plans will be about “business or improving the quality of
life in our neighborhoods.” She will develop a more specific
platform after talking with ward residents as part of the
campaign, she said.
Smith has owned a house in the ward since 1987. She is a member
of the Arbor Hill Implementation Team and the Community Accountability
Board, served on the St. Joseph’s Church Reuse Committee,
and directs the College of Saint Rose Summer in the City Project.
More recently, she has established a neighborhood watch group
and started some after-school activities with her College
of Saint Rose colleagues at Phillip Livingston Academy.
doesn’t do a whole lot of words, she does a whole lot of work,”
said McKinley Jones, in introducing her. Helen Desfosses,
outgoing Common Council president, offered Smith’s first formal
endorsement, and praised her active work on Albany County
District Attorney David Soares’ campaign last year. “David
was an excellent candidate, but Barbara Smith was an excellent
administrator, activist, conscience, goad . . .” she said.
Responding to questions about campaign funding, Smith laughed
and said “It’ll be grassroots, much like everything I’ve ever
done. . . . Much as you see this outpouring of support for
my announcement, it’ll happen with the little things like
The current 4th ward council member, Sarah Curry-Cobb, is
stepping down from her seat to run for the open Common Council
president seat against 7th Ward Councilwoman Shawn Morris.
It is not yet clear who else will be running for the 4th Ward
seat, but when Smith was asked if she was ready for a primary,
the whole crowd shouted an affirmative.
Curry-Cobb noted several housing rebuilding projects as highlights
of her tenure, and said that her successor would need to be
“someone who can really work and negotiate with city officials
and cooperate with them and really be in the community and
be responsive to the needs of the people.” She did not have
any specific comments on Smith’s candidacy.
think my ability to work with different parts of city government
is well illustrated by the way I’ve been able to work with
members of the police force,” said Smith. Smith was active
in the Coalition for Accountable Police and Government, which
was very critical of the police department for much of last
year. But at the height of that, said Smith, she was also
“forging relationships with the new command. . . . We have
a positive working relationship. I try to treat all people
Smith, who said she had been contemplating this run for about
a year, thinks that the role of council member should center
around accessibility, saying that she wants to be someone
ward residents know they can call about everything from an
illegally parked car to a question about Department of General
Services. However, she doesn’t just want to be a conduit;
she wants to extend the work she does as neighborhood watch
leader and help those callers figure out how to address the
problem directly “so it’s not always the same person who is
making the call” to city or county departments.
One Thing and Do Another
John Bolton was nominated to be the U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations, Secretary of State Condoleeza
Rice said Bolton had a “proven track record of
effective multilateralism.” Maybe she was using
a different definition for “multilateralism,”
because according to Bolton, the United Nations
“is valuable only when it directly serves the
United States.” And we’re not alone in wondering
about this, as 59 former U.S. diplomats who served
under both Republican and Democrat presidents
recently drafted a letter to the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee urging them to oppose Bolton’s
nomination and describing him as the “wrong man”
for the job.
Owe, You Owe—and Off to War You Go
draw on National Guard soldiers for overseas service
has created a new wrinkle for military families.
According to The New York Times,
when financial companies go after soldiers’ assets,
courts in nonmilitary towns have a nasty habit
of ruling in the creditors’ favor—often resulting
in foreclosed homes, property repossession and
lawsuits upon the soldiers’ return. While these
actions are illegal under the Servicemembers Civil
Relief Act, many of the affected troops and their
families face court systems that are unfamiliar
with the SCRA and have to endure a lot of legal
wrangling to get their rights.
2010 Super Bowl is coming to New York—provided
a controversial $2 billion stadium gets built.
The city says it can’t afford contracts for its
firefighters, policemen and teachers, and the
state recently was handed a massive bill to bring
its educational system up to par, but supporters
of the stadium project say those issues are just
speed bumps on the road to a new home stadium
for the NFL’s New York Jets and the 2012 Olympics.
While it would be nice for “Gang Green” to finally
have a home field of their own, critics argue
that the portion of the bill that the city and
state will have to pay—around $1 billion—would
be better spent elsewhere.
Spam Spam Spam Spam
marketing association steps in to help protect consumers from
unwanted e-mail—sort of
the old adage about the enemy of your enemy holds true, e-mail
users may want to buy a beer for the next telemarketer to
cross their path.
Such were the strange bedfellows introduced last week, as
representatives of the Direct Marketing Association, a trade
association whose members rely heavily on unsolicited phone
calls, e-mail and mailbox advertisements, joined representatives
of New York State Consumer Protection Board in discussing
the damage done by “spam” e-mail.
hope to expose these fraudulent e-mails and prevent more people
from falling victim to financial scams, identity theft and
other worthless—but often costly—junk,” explained CPB Executive
Director Teresa Santiago.
And while many would argue that the definition of “spam” e-mail
described by both the CPB and DMA was a bit limited—the groups
targeted fake messages from auction sites, identity-theft
scams and malicious software installers, but ignored the millions
of unsolicited offers for hotel rooms, novels and other goods
sent out each day by DMA members—the two agencies appeared
to find a common enemy in the spread of bogus e-mail. DMA
vice president of communications Lou Mastria argued that the
current glut of e-mail scams has made the public unwilling
to consider legitimate promotions and advertisements such
as the ones distributed by DMA members.
is a bane on the industry,” said Mastria. “It has diluted
the ability of e-mail to be a trustworthy medium.”
In order to draw attention to the growing “spam” problem,
the CPB announced that its second annual Spam and Bologna
contest has begun accepting submissions. Participants are
encouraged to forward bizarre scams to the CPB for consideration,
with the most outrageous submission winning its recipient,
like the people who fall victim to these scams,” said Santiago.
According to both agencies, e-mail users tired of having to
delete dozens of spam messages each day may find some relief
in the federal CAN-SPAM Act. The 2003 law makes it illegal
for any unsolicited commercial e-mail to lack a return address,
appropriate subject line, legitimate physical address of the
sender’s organization and opt-out mechanism to prevent future
Also included in the CAN-SPAM legislation was a requirement
that a do-not-spam list similar to the Federal Trade Commission’s
do-not-call registry be evaluated for feasibility. This proposal
was rejected last summer, however, after the FTC determined
that preventing spammers from getting their hands on the list
was nearly impossible.
Critics of the CAN-SPAM Act, however, argue that the law has
primarily legitimized unsolicited e-mailing by outlining what
legal unsolicited commercial e-mail needs to contain, without
establishing methods for spam recipients to confirm that message
senders are adhering to the law (by removing recipients from
future mailing lists if they request) or to make sure their
complaints have been registered. Currently, e-mail users who
report spam messages to the FTC do not receive any response
or other form of confirmation.
Prosecutions under the law have also been few and far between.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (the act does not
allow individual recipients to sue spammers) settled a high-profile
case against self-professed “spam king” Scott Richter and
his company Optinreal big.com last summer for around $50,000—a
sum that amounted to far less than the profit he garnered
by sending out mass-mailed advertisements for “Iraqi Most
Wanted” playing cards and other goods.
An article published last month in The New York
Times went so far as to say that the amount of spam e-mail
circulating through inboxes has actually increased since the
CAN-SPAM Act was signed into law, giving the legislation the
nickname of “You Can Spam” among its critics.
But the direct marketers insist that’s there’s a clear difference
between what they do and true spam. “The problem with spam
is that you can’t turn it off,” explained Mastria when asked
about the difference between scam e-mails and DMA members’
Jon Sorensen, director of marketing and public relations for
the CPB, said the DMA’s willingness to target spam e-mail
was a step in the right direction for the marketing industry.
important that they’re recognizing that the e-mail aspect
of their business is headed in the same direction as telemarketing,”
said Sorensen, referring to the massive backlash against unsolicited
phone calls that resulted in the FTC’s do-not-call registry.
Interestingly, that backlash was not responding to telephone
scams or fraudulent calls, but to the telephone equivalent
of legitimate commercial e-mail messages. Will e-mail marketing
eventually receive the same treatment?
“You know, ‘jew.’ It means like ‘gyp.’ ”
young man in a yarmulke in the process of explaining
to someone why a friend’s use of the phrase “jewing
down” offended him.
soon: the Madison Theater’s new owner predicts a summer
Return of the Film
owner plans to bring movies back to the vacant Madison Theater
saga of Albany’s Madison Theater will indeed have another
Tesiero, owner of Emerald Cinemas in Amsterdam, purchased
the Madison last week and said that he hopes to be screening
films at the neighborhood landmark this summer. Local advocacy
group Friends of the Madison, who hosted an informational
meeting several weeks ago to discuss the Madison’s past, present
and future [“Will the Show Go On?” Newsfront, March 10], thanked
Tesiero for stepping in and purchasing the property—a move
that may have saved the 75-year-old theater from demolition.
In addition to providing the neighborhood with its own theater
and preserving one of the area’s most recognizable landmarks,
the purchase of the Madison also gave grassroots organizers
something to celebrate. According to Tesiero, he had been
mulling over the potential purchase for several months, and
it was the level of support displayed by local residents at
the FOTM meeting three weeks ago spurred him on to buy the
Yet, questions remain about what form the renovated Madison
Theater will take when it eventually reopens. At the Friday
press conference announcing the purchase, Tesiero insisted
that the only way to keep the theater profitable was to retain
its current, seven-screen arrangement. He added that the theater
would continue hosting first-run films, too, in much the same
fashion as its previous incarnation.
the formula that Hollywood makes you have,” he explained.
Such an arrangement received mixed reviews from local residents
at the last FOTM meeting, however. Several attendees pointed
to the theater’s single- to multiscreen transformation as
a significant factor in its declining popularity among moviegoers,
citing the creation of several screening areas that were either
too cramped, too dim or simply too uncomfortable all around.
Many attendees said that the theater would need to occupy
a more unique niche than the multiscreen, first-run arrangement
if it was to avoid the problems of the past.
Still, Anne Savage, a spokeswoman for FOTM, said she had confidence
in Tesiero’s plans for the Madison. In addition to meeting
with FOTM members, the city and many of the parties involved
with the Madison, Tesiero has already begun discussing cures
for some of the multiscreen woes mentioned during the recent
FOTM meeting, said Savage.
Tesiero has said he plans to take things slowly with renovations,
opening one screening area at a time. He also said that there’s
some work to be done before any projectors start rolling again.
The theater will need a thorough cleaning after lying vacant
for two years, and the leaky roof will need repairs. He’d
also like to fill the two retail spaces located in the front
of the property as soon as possible. The College of Saint
Rose, one of the Madison’s neighbors and home to many potential
moviegoers, has offered to provide some assistance with parking
for the theater, reinforcing the community vibe that theater
supporters have long argued was the Madison’s most valuable
Although the theater finally has a new owner, Savage and other
members of FOTM insisted that the community’s job isn’t done
quite yet. In order to make the local landmark fill a role
in the community once again, she said supporters of the theater
will have to stay active.
is great news, but our work isn’t done,” a message posted
recently on the FOTM Web site (www.friendsofthe madison.org)
reads. “Join us for the next meeting to discuss how we can
help ensure that the new owner is successful.”
say the need is strong, but politically the time is not right
for Albany County human-rights expansion
the Local Law B town-hall meeting on March 10, the mood was
optimistic, if serious. A hundred people crowded into Channing
Hall at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany
to learn about the proposed Local Law B and lend their support.
The evening ended in high spirits with plans for postcard
campaigns and one-on-one legislator meetings over the next
month or two. But less than three weeks later, with a vote
about to be forced, County Legislator John Frederick “not
willingly, not lightly” withdrew the bill.
Local Law B [“Who Gets Rights?” Newsfront, Nov. 18, 2004]
would have added three new classes of people to the county
human-rights ordinance, which provides protection against
discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
The groups were domestic-violence victims, active-duty military
personnel, and people with varying gender identity or expression.
All three groups were represented on March 10.
A woman who left an abusive relationship told of getting 50
faxes or calls a day to her workplace from her abuser, and
of needing to set up a safety plan at her workplace. Many
domestic-violence victims lose their jobs over such situations,
or because they are frequently late or absent, whether due
to the abuse or court proceedings, said Kathy McGee of Equinox.
Several transgender people spoke of discrimination they had
experienced. Angela, a trans woman, told of visiting apartment
complexes with her partner only to have managers suddenly
“discover” none of the apartments were available, or claim
the professional couple couldn’t afford apartments that they
saw college students walking in and out of. An audience member
spoke of an ex-partner who had been pulled over, taken into
custody, and paraded around a police station for hours and
being taunted, without being charged with a crime.
A member of the Army Reserves who had been responsible for
processing soldiers who were deployed said she had heard countless
stories of employers not wanting to hire people in the Reserves
or National Guard because they might be deployed.
Last fall, the transgender portion of the bill caught the
attention of the right-wing group the Association of Politically
Active Christians, who turned out many people to speak against
it. Frederick said he had not anticipated such a backlash,
especially because a similar measure passed in the city of
Albany last year with practically no opposition.
Local Law B Coalition members were confident that if they
had a few months to do some education and meet with legislators,
they could garner enough support, but the bill had already
been held for many months longer than usual, and Frederick
says there was a move to bring it to a vote on April 11. Knowing
he wouldn’t have the votes by then, he announced this Monday
(March 28) that he would withdraw the bill. “It’s the best
thing for the issue at this time,” he said.
we’re very disappointed,” said Moonhawk River Stone, a leader
in the transgender community. Still, he noted, “It took several
years to pass the sexual- orientation [nondiscrimination]
bill at the city and county level. That [Local Law B] wasn’t
passed in one year we don’t consider a defeat. . . . Developing
allies outside communities takes time.”
Frederick agrees. “Since we started the discussion six months
ago, there are more people with a deeper understanding of
the issues,” he said. Of course, he’s also somewhat frustrated.
“This is the 21st century,” he said. “There shouldn’t be discrimination.
Tell the bigots if they stop discriminating there won’t be
a need for the legislation and we can all live safer, happier,
more productive lives.”
Leaders of the Local Law B Coalition, which got strong support
from local labor groups and many faith communities, met Tuesday
and decided to re-form as the Capital District Coalition for
Human Rights. The new group’s goals are to work for the passage,
implementation and enforcement of nondiscrimination legislation.
“We believe the majority of the people in Albany County believe
in fairness and equality,” said James Ross, director of In
Our Own Voices, “and when presented with the information,
[we believe they] will choose to support human rights.”
Monday (March 21) the Albany Common Council voted
to designate the Park South neighborhood
[“What Would You Do?,” Newsfront, May 27, 2004]
as an Urban Renewal Zone, which allows the city
to use powers of eminent domain if it deems it
necessary (each use would require a separate authorization
by the council). The next step will be choosing
a developer. Albany Medical Center has been invited
to sit in on the choosing process. Why just them?
“They own two blocks of the nine-block area,”
said Albany planning commissioner Lori Harris.
“We need to be in concert with them.”