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The Candidates on the Record
Interviews by David King

Glen Casey

Albany Common Council, Ward 11, Democrat, Incumbent

 

What has shaped you as a candidate?

I’ve learned a lot since when I first came in. Before sitting on the council I spent time working on the Hillary Clinton campaign, for Chuck Schumer in Brooklyn, spent time as a White House intern and worked in a New York City oversight committee. I had also been involved in neighborhood organizations, and it all prepares you to some degree. But it takes 10 to 20 hours a week spending time with neighborhood organizations and walking the district once a year and putting out a yearly newsletter.

Do you support the convention center?

I support the convention center. It will create a lot of jobs in construction and in the hotel. Under the apprentice program, any construction that costs over $250,000 has to use certified apprentices. We’re trying to push to make sure at least 85 percent of the construction workers will be local. This needs to be developed with outreach for the community. People assume it’s going to be built on the corner of State and Eagle, but there are three proposed locations including the one at the bus stop. It is not a done deal by any means.

What is your position on charter schools?

Currently, I don’t have a problem with them. They provide an opportunity for people who want to get out of the public-school system but don’t have a lot of money. My problem with them is they are taking the money out of public schools and it plays havoc with the public schools’ budgets. I supported the moratorium on charter schools. They were supposed to find alternative funding rather than hurting public schools and possibly raising taxes.

How important is attendance for a council member?

It’s important to introduce laws and legislation and you can’t do that if you’re not there. [Editor’s note: From 2002 to 2004, Glen Casey has missed 20 Common Council meetings, the 4th highest number of absences among the 15 members of the council.]

What is your understanding of the Common Council’s relationship with the Civilian Police Review Board?

The council’s role is to facilitate as much as they can to make sure [the board has] the tools necessary to conduct investigations. If there is an officer not doing his job, being rude to citizens or causing problems, we have to take care of that as quickly as possible. I believe in checks and balances. They should bring their concerns to the council. I’m not opposed to subpoenas at all. . . . Some of these documents take too long to get, and in certain instances where it was brought up, the effort for the subpoena wasn’t worth the time.

What, in your mind, constitutes sufficient notice of a public hearing?

Two weeks is sufficient time. The council needs to put together a list of interested parties, including neighborhood groups, to make sure they are aware.

How much of a responsibility do you feel for Central Avenue?

I feel a certain amount of responsibility. I sit on the Central Avenue Business Improvement District. I’m always being kept updated. The portion that I have in my ward is not that big, but any time there is a problem it is brought to my attention.

What is your take on the Working Families Party?

It fills a role the Democrats are not currently filling. Certain individuals are not happy with the ways the Democrats are operating. These are people are who are technically otherwise Democrats. We have lots of work to do to bring them back.

 

 

Peter Caravappa
photo:Alicia Solsman

Peter Caracappa

Albany Common Council, Ward 11, Democrat

What has shaped you as a candidate?

I got involved in the Dean campaign, never having been involved in the political process. I started my own mailing list in January 2003, before I knew people all over the country were doing the same thing. I was a meet-up leader for this area. I cared about what [Dean] said. What resonated most is the idea that someone has to do this and if you’ve got something to give you have to give it. Progressive candidates are needed at all levels of government, from mayor to dog catcher, although I’m not sure about the divide between Republican and Democrat at the dog-catcher level.

Why are you running?

I think the form of government that can have the greatest effect on day-to-day life is county and city government. Those levels of government should be most engaged with the people. People tend to pay less attention to local politics unless there is a focusing issue. My opponent’s issues were never entirely clear to me. I’m not an anti-Glen candidate, but if I was entirely satisfied with what he has done I wouldn’t be running. My biggest beef with him is his lack of engagement in the community.

Do you support the convention center?

It’s not an unqualified yes or no. It’s not a bad idea as an idea. It has the potential to be implemented poorly. We need an understanding of how it will benefit the surrounding communities. I’m not crazy about the proposed State Street location. If the process is going to take place, we need to have a community benefit agreement to ensure investment in the local community.

What is your position on charter schools?

I do not support charter schools. There has been absolutely no evidence that they have benefited anyone since their creation in Minnesota in the early ’90s. They drain money from public education. The money follows the student and that ignores the fixed costs of the public-education system that aren’t accounted for in the formula. I support reintegration. I’d like them to go away, but I don’t want them to fail. I would like the children in them to have a chance to succeed.

How important is attendance for a council member?

They say decisions are made by those who show up. Occasional absences due to sickness or job pressures are understandable, but recurring absences are not.

What is your understanding of the Common Council’s relationship with the Civilian Police Review Board?

In the ideal case, it’s the Civilian Police Review board. I would prefer to see the review board given the power to do what it wants to do, as opposed to the council stepping in on their behalf, because that is far too subject to the whims of politics.

What, in your mind, constitutes sufficient notice of a public hearing?

In the age we live in today we should have easy public access in a single place. We should provide all applicable info, including what the meeting is in regards to, who is supplying it, what is the proposal. The same goes for proposed ordinances and laws. Resolutions are all typed up and given to members of the council. Instead of just posting the charter code, why can’t you get the full information available? There is a digital divide in sections of the city. They don’t have Internet access, and we need to see what resources we have to bridge that. I’m originally from Philadelphia, and they are looking at creating a municipal, city-wide Internet service that gives e-mail and basic Web interaction. It doesn’t require a lot of computing power. We should be able to provide very basic, no-frills access to the Web without unreasonable cost.

How much of a responsibility do you feel for Central Avenue?

Central and what happens on Central is at most a block away from my ward. It should be the best place to be. I have a high interest in Central Avenue.

What is your take on the Working Families Party?

The party is a strong advocate for issues that are important to working people. New York is one of two states where cross-endorsement is permitted. They support the candidates who are in tune with their issues. They are an advocacy group for a set of issues that they will advocate for regardless of electoral issues, due to the dominant parties not addressing the issues they want to see addressed.


What a Week

Hindsight is Color-Coded

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge now says that he often disagreed with Bush administration officials who pushed to raise the color-coded threat level. Ridge claimed that a great deal of the intelligence used to raise levels was flimsy at best, and stated, “Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good. . . . there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘For that?’”

“Eventually” Isn’t Good Enough Anymore

When requesting documents from the government via the Freedom of Information Law in New York, “access delayed” might not mean “access denied” anymore, thanks to recent legislation signed into law by Gov. George E. Pataki. The new law establishes strict time frames for government agencies to respond to FOIL requests, supply the requested information and make determinations on appealed denials.

Meteorology Mark-Up

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), best known for equating same-sex marriage to bestiality, is up to his old neoconservative tricks again, it seems. A bill recently introduced by Santorum would prevent federal weather services from providing free forecasts and other meteorological information to consumers because it threatens the livelihood of private weather agencies that charge for the data. According to Santorum, having free weather information available is cutting into the profits for businesses that rely on membership fees, banner and pop-up advertising or other forms of income.

Dallas Does Debbie

Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives recently brought the front line of their “moral” war to the sideline of high-school football games. According to recently passed legislation, any “sexually suggestive or provocative” movements by high-school cheerleaders would incur penalties on the performers’ schools. Conspicuously absent from the bill is any definition of the outlawed movements. Supporters of the law say that the dance routines are to blame for the state’s high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases—despite the Texas Board of Education’s reluctance to educate students in any form of birth control other than abstinence.



Sixty feet of message: Albany med students on their way downtown.

photo:Rick Marshall

Care for All?

Med students rally for universal coverage, and the state considers considering it

 

Erick Cheung and his fellow medical students are facing what they see as an ethical dilemma. “When you enter a medical practice, on the one hand you have to make a living. You can’t just treat everyone,” said Cheung. “But we are taught we have to give equal unbiased care to all patients, regardless of financial means.”

In response, Cheung, the executive director of Albany Medical College Student Perspective and Activism, coordinated a series of events to get medical students involved in Cover the Uninsured Week, a national event held May 1-8 to draw attention to the crisis of people without health insurance. It was marked in the Capital Region by many social justice and antipoverty groups who have been focusing much of their efforts on universal health care all year.

The numbers are stark: The administrative side of getting various private insurance companies to approve and pay for care eats up 30 cents of every health-care dollar. Of the 45 million uninsured Americans, those with chronic conditions often delay care until their problems get severe, costing much more in the long run. And, added Cheung, 50 percent of students graduating from Albany Med will have more than $150,000 in debt. “Medical students nationwide don’t consider what it’s going to be like to practice in this environment.”

To cap off the week, 50 medical students, plus some faculty and staff, marched from AMC to the Capitol and staged a rally calling for action from the Legislature. But they were somewhat coy about what they thought the solution was. Though Cheung repeatedly referred to the better job other industrialized nations do at providing health care—through single-payer systems—he wouldn’t say that that’s what the group is advocating. “Everyone should be covered,” he reiterated. “We asked for the public to demand that their legislators figure out what the best way is.”

In essence, that means they are supporting the creation of a Legislative Commission on Health Coverage Reform, as proposed by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and his 42 cosponsors on A6575. The commission would be charged with studying and making recommendations regarding the feasibility of universal public coverage and ways to expand traditional coverage to more New Yorkers. The bill, which was referred out of the Assembly health committee Tuesday (May 10), has no direct counterpart in the Senate, but a pair of bills (S04928 and A7568) recommend a fairly similar commission that would require the governor’s participation and would look into “the most economical means to bring the state into compliance with its constitutional mandate” to provide for the public’s general health.

Mark Dunlea of Hunger Action Network, which advocates a single-payer system, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the Gottfried bill.

Meanwhile, the med students’ trip to the Capitol was slightly more eventful than planned as the march was stopped briefly on Madison Avenue by police for not having a permit. Cheung said the state, from whom they did have a permit, had incorrectly told them they wouldn’t need a city permit if they would just be on the sidewalks. The police made them roll up their banners, but otherwise let them proceed without incident.

The city Parade and Assembly Ordinance does require a permit for any use of public areas, including sidewalks, for a gathering of 25 people or more. For a group walking on the sidewalk, said one of the officers, the main concern is traffic safety at intersections—in this case the 60-foot-long banner was blocking the streets as it crossed. “We don’t take sides. . . . If we’d known, we could have escorted them,” said the officer.

The officers let the violation go, and even blocked intersections for the marchers for their last several blocks. They seemed, however, unclear about who actually does require a permit. “We get the permits, we don’t issue them,” said one when asked what size group needed a permit, and said it might apply to any group that will have signs and chanting.

The ordinance as written is constitutional, said Melanie Trimble of the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, as long as the city waives any fees or insurance requirements for small groups for whom they would be a financial burden. (In fact, the ordinance does not technically require insurance at all; it merely allows it to be requested at the city’s discretion.)

In the past, the city has not made it well-known that it will sometimes waive fees and insurance with an affidavit of financial burden, and this option is not mentioned on the permit application, said Trimble, so often small groups, thinking they can’t afford a permit, bypass the permit process and just let the police know their plans directly. Indeed, some of the marchers from the Capital District Workers Center on Friday told the police frustratedly that whenever they ask for a permit they’re told they need a million dollars in liability insurance. Premiums for special-events liability coverage start around a couple hundred dollars, depending on size and event.

Trimble has been working with the clerk’s office to make sure the waiver option is more readily available, and it seems to be making some progress. “I can’t say in every case we require a fee,” said city clerk John Marsolais. “The organization may be very small, or other than just using the sidewalk they might not be doing too much. We don’t want to hassle anybody—at least I don’t.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

maxel-lute@metroland.net


Grey matter: Kelso’s Tailspin (left), one of the rescued Plainfield greyhounds, with Shadow Jewel (a.k.a. Julie).

photo:Chris Shields

Rescue Me

As two regional racetracks close, greyhound advocates scramble to save hundreds of now-homeless animals

Local and national greyhound-adoption groups are scrambling to save hundreds of dogs, as two regional racetracks have announced closings over the last few weeks.

According to the Manchester Union Leader, the Lakes Region track in Belmont, N.H., closed on April 30, not long after the former general and assistant managers were indicted on “federal illegal gambling and money laundering charges.” Because the track operated seasonally, the 300 greyhounds that were kenneled there aren’t necessarily in immediate danger; the dogs are typically sent to other farms or tracks after the track closes in the fall, so most of them were moved safely, albeit laterally. A second track, in Plainfield, Conn.—home to six kennels and about 1,000 dogs—is expected to suspend operations this Saturday (May 14). The short notice poses a significant threat to the welfare of these animals, as many of them could face euthanasia if they are not swiftly rescued or relocated.

Even though greyhound racing has experienced a steady decline in popularity, there are still almost 50 tracks operating in the 15 states where racing is legal. (Abroad, tracks are scattered throughout Europe, and are plentiful in Australia and New Zealand.) The Plainfield and Lakes Region tracks have been on a decline for a number of years, moving down in the racing ranks.

“[Lakes Region] is a very low-grade, end-of-the-line track,” said Pat Colitsas, founder of the locally based rescue group Greyhounds as Companions. “It’s even more end-of-the-line than Hinsdale [another New Hampshire track] and Plainfield. Those three tracks are where dogs come to finish up. When one of them closes, there isn’t any way to take all the dogs to another track to race, because they won’t qualify.” The dogs are, instead, often either sent off to farms for breeding, or taken by the trainers to local veterinarians to be put down. “There’s nothing to stop them if they do it humanely,” said Colitsas. “When they take them away, we don’t know what happens to them, and lots of greyhounds disappear. . . . The statistics are not reliable about how many die, but thousands still die every year.”

Colitsas runs the nonprofit Greyhounds as Companions from her home in Clarksville, with help from a team of volunteers throughout the region. She typically houses 15 to 20 dogs at a time, and has placed more than 500 dogs over the last 12 years. She takes great care in choosing where the dogs are placed, often housing them for a number of months before deeming them fully adjusted and ready for adoption.

Molly Conners, who adopted a former racer through GAC last year, said of her experience, “It’s like getting a puppy without all the extra cleanup. You get to spend more time loving your dog and less time replacing your shoes. Anything you can give them . . . is something completely new to them and they’ll love you for it forever.”

“A lot of greyhounds don’t [trust people] right away because they don’t know what it is to have affection shown to them,” said Colitsas. “[But] when they realize that you love them . . . ” She relays a story of a new arrival from Plainfield that was especially affectionate despite its poor condition when it first came in.

GAC has taken almost 20 dogs from Plainfield so far, placing them into “foster” homes with people who have prior greyhound experience. More than anything, she said, that is what is needed right now: People who have dealt with greyhounds in the past, and who have room to take in another temporarily. The group handles all vet expenses incurred during foster care. The only thing expected of fosters is that they bring the dogs to monthly events for public viewing. (For more information on fostering or adoption, see sidebar.)

Attempts to reach a representative from the Plainfield track were unsuccessful, but Colitsas estimated that of the original 900 to 1,000, 200 to 300 dogs are still kenneled at the track, in need of placement. She downplayed the urgency of the situation, however, claiming that representatives from Plainfield have agreed “to keep [the track] open for the dogs that remain in there, and provide the food for them and pay staff to take care of them until they can all get out.”

This contradicts a widely circulated story that originated from a Western Massachusetts shelter, insisting that 500 dogs were going to be euthanized this weekend as a result of the track’s closing. “Every animal group in the country picked it up and sent it out again and again and again. And it wasn’t true,” said Colitsas. But as long as the dogs are at the tracks, they do continue to be at risk.

Colitsas said that the impending closure has caused some chaos. “There was one woman in particular that was going down there, filling up her van with greyhounds and taking them to shelters. Shelters shouldn’t be placing greyhounds,” she said, because the former racers are not domesticated, requiring an adjustment period and a different level of treatment and care than that of, say, the average cocker spaniel. “Shelters, while doing wonderful work with adoptions, are not familiar with the special requirements that greyhounds need. Most shelters recognize this and contact us to take greyhounds that fall into their hands.”

She emphasized that removing the dogs that have been misdirected to shelters is a high priority. “I’m trying to get the dogs that they do have out of there myself.”

Meanwhile, the Plainfield track may not stay out of the greyhound business for long. “The developer that bought it is going to put in a dome Nascar track,” continued Colitsas. “He’s also going to refurbish the greyhound track, according to what the people that are running the track now are saying.” This means that, once all the animals there now have been accounted for, this same problem could very well rise again in the future if the refurbished track proves to be unsuccessful. Colitsas is frustrated: “They don’t take into consideration the impact of their doing business on the people trying to save the dogs.”

—John Brodeur

 

Greyhound Facts

Despite many myths about greyhounds being hyperactive dogs, they have a fairly low activity level. They spend most of their day sleeping—on a couch, bed, or somewhere soft and cozy.

They do not require a lot of space, and like to run for short periods of time (about five minutes a day) in a fenced-in yard or dog park.

They walk politely on leash and rarely bark.

They are very clean animals—often described as catlike—and shed little.

They get along very well with other animals, although some do not interact well with cats or other small pets. (They are trained during their racing years to chase a small, furry object, after all!) Most rescue groups will test them to see whether or not they are “cat keen” before placing them in a home.

While they may seem aloof at first, greyhounds, once they gain your trust, are extremely affectionate. They’ve spent most of their lives at the track in a metal crate, so most of the outside world is completely new to them—they’re bound to be a little skeptical, but that should quickly pass.

To Help

Greyhounds as Companions is seeking donations of clean bedding (blankets, comforters, etc.), IAMS dog food, and large, greyhound-sized crates. While monetary donations will not be turned down, these physical items are most important as dogs are being brought in and sent to their foster homes. Donations can be dropped off at the Albany County Veterinary Hospital, 1506 Western Ave., Albany.

If you are interested in adopting a greyhound, you can visit with some of the available dogs on the first Saturday of every month, from noon to 3 PM, at the PetCo at Northway Mall. More information on donating items, adoption, and fostering is available at www.grey houndsascompanions.com.


Loose Ends

School and Library Budget Votes: May 17

Next Tuesday (May 17), Albany residents have the opportunity to vote on three initiatives: the 2005-2006 Albany Public School budget, the 2006 Albany Public Library budget, and three openings on the APL Board of Trustees.

The school district’s proposed budget of $157 million represents an 8-percent increase from last year’s budget. For taxpayers, this means an overall 3.9-percent raise in school taxes—or an additional 85 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for homeowners. Much of the budget’s expansion will be used to strengthen the city’s middle schools (the district is moving to three smaller middle schools and one neighborhood k-8), as well as deal with unfunded mandates such as charter schools and a one-time required accounting change for pension cost. The budget includes cuts on staff and materials expenses.

If the budget is voted down twice, New York state law mandates that a contingency budget must be adopted. This would mean a reduction of $7.4 million—and possible teaching and administrative layoffs, increased class sizes on all levels, and reduction and/or elimination of extracurricular and sports programs. Under a contingency budget, the unfunded mandates would still need to be covered.

The library’s proposed budget—unanimously supported by its Board of Trustees—includes a 5-percent increase, its first since 2002. This represents a boost for taxpayers from $1.00 to $1.055 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The increased funds, according to the APL Web site, will be used to for staff at a new North Albany branch, health-care costs, and increased use of the libraries facilities: Last year, over five locations, the APL experienced a 10-percent increase in registered borrowers and a 12-percent increase in circulation.

There are three open spots on the APL Board of Trustees. Two of the openings are for tenures of five years and one is to fill the two years remaining on a resigned post. There are three candidates for the three spots: David Brown, the board’s current vice president; Mimi Mounteer, a current board member; and Deborah Williams-Muhammed, a current board member of the Friends of the Albany Public Library. The top two vote getters will be appointed to the five-year posts.



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