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On the steps of City Hall: Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) voices his support for the Albany Civic Agenda.

photo:Alicia Solsman

Out of Left Field

A controversial ruling by a controversial judge is another bump in the road for charter reform in Albany

Last Thursday, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Spargo ruled that 316 signatures collected by the Albany Civic Agenda for its charter-reform initiative were invalid. But they weren’t the signatures he’d been called upon to examine.

His ruling came during a case alleging that several hundred signatures had been incorrectly disqualified by Albany City Clerk John Marsolais. Spargo reinstated 136 of those signatures, which would have given the ACA the 3,000 votes needed to put its reforms on the ballot. But then he threw out 316 other signatures because they had been collected by non-Albany residents.

“The judge overstepped his bounds on making his ruling,” said Ward 1 Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, noting that not even the city had questioned the petitions carried by nonresidents. “Generally a judge is confined . . . [to] the papers presented by the parties,” said founding ACA member Paul Bray. “Judges don’t want to go afield usually.”

In fact, Federal and Supreme Court decisions have found that there is no residency requirement to circulate petitions. “It’s not about who carried the petitions but who signed them,” said Ward 7 Councilwoman Shawn Morris.

Bray noted that in a number of situations similar to this, judges have generally ruled in favor of the democratic process rather than letting it be held up on a technicality.

ACA supporters stated that they were not terribly surprised Spargo made an overreaching ruling. Morris said the idea had crossed her mind as soon as she heard Spargo was on the case. Calsolaro noted, “Whenever he is involved in a case, the focus seems to be on him.”

This is not the first time Spargo has been involved in controversy. Spargo is currently facing investigations by the Commission on Judicial Conduct into multiple accusations of misconduct, vote solicitation, conflict of interest and demanding contributions to his defense fund from attorneys with cases before him. He has also said the restrictions on judicial speech and support of political candidates should be lifted.

The ACA has decided to appeal and is collecting donations toward the $20,000 cost. “The judge himself said we had undertaken a Herculean task to get to where we have,” said Bray. “And we did.”

Morris said she expects that if the petitions are ruled valid, the council will put the charter issue on the ballot, but wouldn’t predict what might happen if they are not.

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Disaster

The scale of devastation in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is hard to grasp. As usual, however, it seems that the poor are even worse off—all evacuation methods required a private vehicle or enough money to pay for transportation, and many of the lowest elevation neighborhoods were also the poorest. People wanting to make donations to help the displaced can go to www.redcross. org, (800) HELP-NOW or America’s Second Harvest (800) 344-8070.

Who Would Want to Kill This Guy?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is hugely popular with the poor in his home country, has recently made strides to become more popular with America’s disenfranchised. “We want to sell gasoline and heating fuel directly to the poor communities in the United States.” said Chavez. Chavez did not explain how he would distribute gas in the United States, but his country already supplies Cuba with cheap oil and plans to help other Caribbean nations better afford energy. The price of gas in Venezuela hovers around 14 cents per gallon.

You Could Start With the Food

Desperately looking for ways to drag customers away from more trendy fast-food places like Panera Bread, Moe’s, and Quizno’s Subs, older fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Pizza Hut have taken to adding complicated lamps, wood facades and functioning fireplaces. Pizza Hut has even enacted a plan that requires its franchise owners to find a unique look for each restaurant. Dutifully following this spirit, a Pizza Hut in Saratoga Springs has recently been renamed Pizza Hut Italian Bistro.

No Joke

A Reuters TV soundman who was shot to death in Baghdad last week has become the 66th journalist to be killed in Iraq. The total of journalists killed in Iraq now exceeds the number killed during the conflict in Vietnam. Sixty-three journalists were killed in Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. It has taken two years for that death toll to be exceeded in Iraq. Reporters Without Borders has named Iraq the most dangerous place for journalists.



Overheard

Overheard:

"So I gave him $50 for 'cheese' from Vermont, and he brought back $50 worth of actual cheese! It was damn good cheese though."

—late night at the Old Songs Festival campground




Loose Ends

On Aug. 19, the Albany Civic Agenda filed suit in the State Supreme Court claiming City Clerk John Marsolais improperly disqualified 224 valid signatures on their charter reform petitions [“Give Us a Sign,” Aug. 18]. The first hearing was scheduled yesterday, Aug. 24. . . . Mark McCarthy, lawyer for Sebba Rockaway Ltd., owners of the Wellington Hotel [“On First Thought, No,” Nov. 25, 2005], recently announced that Rockaway will put the property on the market. “If the city wants the Wellington Hotel, it can have it.” said McCarthy. According to the Times Union, Rockaway is asking $5 million for the now-crumbling historic building—a steep increase from the $334,639 Rockaway claimed it was worth during a 1998 assessment. How things change, eh?



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