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Here we come: (l-r) Helen Desfosses, Barbara Smith, McKinley Jones.

photo: John Whipple

On Your Mark

Announcing her run for the Albany Common Council, Barbara Smith becomes the first citywide candidate to emerge from the Soares coalition

The 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.

“Barbara 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 money.”

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.

“I 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 with respect.”

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.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

maxel-lute@metroland.net


What a Week

Say One Thing and Do Another

When 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.

 

You Owe, You Owe—and Off to War You Go

The 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.

 

Counting Your Chickens

The 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 Spam

A marketing association steps in to help protect consumers from unwanted e-mail—sort of

 

If 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.

“We 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.

“Spam 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, well, nothing.

“Just 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 mailings.

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’ unsolicited mailings.

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.

“It’s 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?

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


Overheard

overheard: “You know, ‘jew.’ It means like ‘gyp.’ ”

—A young man in a yarmulke in the process of explaining to someone why a friend’s use of the phrase “jewing down” offended him.



Coming soon: the Madison Theater’s new owner predicts a summer opening.

photo:John Whipple

The Return of the Film

New owner plans to bring movies back to the vacant Madison Theater

 

The saga of Albany’s Madison Theater will indeed have another sequel.

Joseph 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 property.

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.

“That’s 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 asset.

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.

“This 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.”

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net

Time to Regroup

Supporters say the need is strong, but politically the time is not right for Albany County human-rights expansion

 

At 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.

“Obviously 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.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

maxel-lute@metroland.net

 


Loose Ends

On 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.”



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