dashed: Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2) speaks
at an ACA press conference on Aug. 15.
More Power to You
fear, anger and confusion, the Albany Common Council votes
to prevent the people from voting on charter-reform proposals
that would give the council more clout
10:30 last Thursday night (Sept. 8), a wave of anger and accusations
poured out of Albany City Hall. The crowd of nearly 50 who
sat through the three-and-a-half-hour Common Council session
exited dripping sweat and disgust.
Albany Common Council had just voted 9 to 6 to keep the Albany
Civic Agenda’s charter-reform proposals off the November ballot.
Councilmen Joe Igoe (Ward 14), Daniel Herring (Ward 13) and
James Scalzo (Ward 10) voted no despite having publicly stated
they would vote in favor if the ACA presented a certified
petition, which it did. “They are liars. They said one thing
and did the other,” said James Tierney, a member of the ACA
who had fought through challenges from the city clerk and
court battles [“Out of Left Field,” Newsfront, Sept. 1] to
see the petition delivered to the council in time for the
Herring says he regrets the appearance that his decision was
a sudden flip-flop and insists that “I had some concerns and
doubt for some time. I don’t think this election season is
an appropriate time to debate these changes. The charter commission
is the appropriate place. . . . If it does not work out I
will have tremendous regret.” Igoe had gone on the record
with the Times Union weeks before the vote saying the
reforms might have been “tainted” by questions about some
of the petition signatures. Scalzo did not return calls for
Along with supporters of charter reform, Thursday’s vote drew
some faces that don’t usually appear at Common Council meetings,
including such close Jennings confidantes as Community Development
Agency director Joe Montana and Parks commissioner John D’Antonio.
They went in and out of the meeting, making frequent phone
calls. Three police officers stood at the doors watching the
After the vote, attendees expressed outrage at what they felt
was pressure from the mayor’s office. “People were here to
put pressure on the council tonight,” said treasurer candidate
Ward Dewitt as he exited the building. Council members Carolyn
McLaughlin (Ward 2) and Shirley Foskey (Ward 5) dejectedly
echoed his sentiments. “There was a whole lot of intimidation
going on tonight!” said someone in the crowd.
The vote came as a climax to a night that was marked by many
surprises and a council that appeared to be tripping over
itself in fear and confusion. The first surprise had come
earlier in the day in the form of a letter addressed to the
council from Assemblyman John McEneny in which he came out
strongly against the charter reforms.
The second surprise came during the public-comment period,
when Judge Larry Rosen, head of the Mayoral Charter Commission,
who had been quoted in the Times Union as saying he
would not stand in the way of the ACA’s reforms, spoke out
against putting reforms on the ballot. His reason: “We need
time to educate the public.”
The comment period, which allows speakers five minutes each,
lasted for nearly two-and-a-half hours, with a large majority
of the speakers in favor of the reforms.
Mid-meeting, sweat dripped from the crowd as the air conditioning
was shut off. The council speedily rushed through normal business
as Council President Pro Tempore Richard Conti dashed back
and forth, juggling conversations with members of the ACA
while simultaneously trying to announce resolutions and vote
on them. Corporation Counsel John C. Reilly spent time conversing
with members of the crowd, periodically ducking out of the
room to make calls on his cell phone. Then Majority Leader
James Sano requested a 10-minute recess.
Council President Helen Desfosses, visibly flustered, reminded
the council, “We have no other place to go except the caucus
room, and that will be public.” After the large, agitated
crowd marched to the caucus room, followed by some council
members, Desfosses tried to convene the discussion. “Where
is everyone?” she demanded. “Where’s the guy who asked for
the recess?” Sano explained to her that he had asked for the
delay for Scalzo. But council members Scalzo, Igoe and a few
others had remained behind, huddled in the council chambers.
As the crowd returned to the chamber, Igoe was locked in an
angry, almost physical debate with Tierney.
Some council members were visibly distraught as they regrouped
for the vote. Council members Shawn Morris (Ward 7), McLaughlin
and Foskey, who spoke in favor of the reforms, received thunderous
applause from the crowd. That applause, however, was far exceeded
by the reaction to Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1),
who finished his speech by asking, “If we can send troops
to Iraq to give them a democracy, how can we deny the citizens
of Albany their rights to vote on these reforms?”
The crowd then fell silent as council members Sarah Curry-Cobb
(Ward 4) and Michael Brown (ward 3) lectured the room, asserting
that they would not vote for the charter reforms because the
council could not handle more power. The crowd held back giggles
and muttered as Michael Brown explained sarcastically that
“We can’t even hire a legislative intern.”
Then the vote was called. Michael Brown? “No.” Calsolaro?
“Yes.” Casey? “No.” Conti? “Yes.” Curry-Cobb? “No.” Foskey?
“Yes.” Fox? “No.” Herring? “No.” The crowd gasped. Igoe? “No.”
They gasped again. Some looked away. McLaughlin? “Yes.” Morris?
“Yes.” O’Brien? “Yes.” Sano? “No.” Scalzo? “No.” Torncello?
“No.” The crowd looked shocked at they pulled themselves up
off of the creaking benches.
Also shocked was Calsolaro, who said that after the Aug. 15
press conference supporting the reforms he had gotten calls
“from some of the guys who came out against the reforms tonight
asking, ‘Why wasn’t my name on the supporters list?’ ”
council voted for their own irrelevance,” said Tierney. “The
Times Union editorial said the council is a powerless,
irrelevant body, and their vote tonight only confirmed it.”
Desfosses said that on a personal level she was disappointed
in the outcome but insists that “there has never been so much
involvement in the process, from what happened in the courts
to the unprecedented citizen involvement. I hope this is not
the last we hear from the ACA.”
Choice of Words
While Hurricane Katrina has emboldened many journalists,
it has also led to some revealing comments that
show how politicians feel about the less fortunate.
For example: “What I’m hearing is sort of scary,
is that they all want to stay in Texas. . . .
And so many of the people in the arena here, you
know, were underprivileged anyway so this [chuckle]—this
is working very well for them.” —Former First
Lady Barbara Bush. “Now tell me the truth boys,
is this kind of fun?” —House Majority Leader Tom
Delay (R-Texas), to three young evacuees from
New Orleans. “We finally cleaned up public housing
in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
—Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.), as quoted in The
Wall Street Journal.
Recruitment for Food?
A number of reports coming out of the Houston
Astrodome indicate that the National Guard is
not just handing out food and water; they are
also handing out recruitment literature. Army
recruiter Douglas Smith as quoted in the The
Wall Street Journal: “Our intent is to approach
the evacuees at the right time for them.”
A Stab at Albany Schools
On Sept. 9, the State Education Department labeled
Albany’s Philip Livingston Magnet Academy a “persistently
dangerous” school. The school district shot back
that it had had a “23 percent decrease in the
number of school safety violations over the past
two years,” and argued that the SED’s system is
unbalanced; for example, it “weights a school
with one homicide the same as a school with four
confiscated pocketknives.” The district has released
a new set of initiatives aimed at continuing to
ensure student safety in its schools.
As of Sept. 9, Albany has a new living-wage ordinance
requiring businesses with a city contract over
$20,000 to pay their employees at least $10.25
an hour with health insurance or $11.91 an hour
without. A compliance committee will be selected
from advocacy and union groups that pushed for
the ordinance. “The best result of this ordinance
is that it will set a standard. . . . It’s a standard
that will improve the lives of many workers, ultimately,”
said LRC member Martha Schultz.
I gave him $50 for 'cheese' from Vermont, and
he brought back $50 worth of actual cheese! It
was damn good cheese though."
night at the Old Songs Festival campground
most of the election results in from the Tuesday (Sept. 13)
primary, Metroland-endorsed candidates came away with
just shy of half the races in Albany—with one still to be
decided. Here’s the rundown (Democratic primaries unless noted):
Albany Mayor: Jerry Jennings 9,450, Archie Goodbee 4,513.
Goodbee gave a strong showing (around 32 percent), despite
being outspent by Jennings more than 10 to 1 and having no
television ads, few leaflets and no party endorsements. That,
plus low overall turnout, should give the Jennings machine
food for thought and reform advocates hope for change.
Common Council President: Shawn Morris 5,474, Sarah Curry-Cobb
2,884, Gregory Burch 2,775, Mary Ellen O’Connor 1,663.
City Treasurer: Betty Barnette 9,015, Ward Dewitt 3,625. Proof
that viciously negative campaigns can still win an election.
City Court Judge: Helena Heath-Roland 7,496, Fernande Rossetti
Ward 2: Carolyn McLaughlin 460, Victor Cain 233.
Ward 3: At the most recent count, Michael Brown 342, Corey
Ellis 337. Absentee votes are still being tallied for this
race, and Karen Scharf of the Working Families Party said
yesterday she still believes that Ellis will emerge the victor.
In any case, this ugly contest is likely to get uglier in
the near future. Brown temporarily had all of his opponents’
poll-watchers removed from several polling places, on what
Ellis supporters are saying was a technicality.
Ward 4: Barbara Smith 485, Cheryl Mackey 288.
Ward 7: Cathy Fahey 390, Brian Scavo 337, Dan McGinn 243.
Last-minute personal letter writing by Fahey supporters may
have helped put her over the edge. Last-minute electioneering
inside poll lines by Brian Scavo and supporters didn’t help
him as much.
Ward 7 (Rep): Ford McLain 22, Richard Melinsky 15. A landslide
59-percent tally for the thoughtful Republican. OK, so there
was only about one street’s worth of votes going into this
one, but it’s a victory nonetheless.
Ward 8: John Rosenzweig 1,025, Bob Sheehan 611, Craig Waltz
265. Creative signs do not a primary winner make, it seems.
Though Waltz has the Independence Party line, he has said
he will not actively campaign in the general election.
Ward 8 (Rep): Joseph A. Sorce 46, Annette De Lavallade 26.
Ward 11: Glen Casey 410, Peter Caracappa 171. While Casey
accumulated a large number of votes, allegations that people
on Casey’s payroll—and even Casey himself—accompanied voters
into the polling booths call his actual level of support into
Ward 14: Joseph Igoe 1,100, Michael Whalen 662. With Igoe’s
win, we can expect things to continue as they have in the
city’s handling of public-safety and police-accountability
issues, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hope the city’s public-safety
chair will use this term to finally give these issues the
attention they deserve.
Karen Scharf, of the much-watched Working Families Party coalition,
said she was very excited about the elections of WFP candidates
Smith, Fahey, and Morris. She didn’t yet know if any WFP-backed
candidates who didn’t win their Democratic primaries were
going to actively campaign in November on the WFP line, but
sounded doubtful that many, if any, would try.
No other candidates who lost a Democratic primary have announced
whether they will continue to run on another line.
Axel-Lute, David King and Rick Marshall
from the day: Bob Sheehan (above), candidate for Common
Council in Ward 8, at Citizen Action’s gathering at
Pagliacci’s Restaurant Tuesday night. Jennings supporters
(right) fanned out across the city to hold signs on
reform may well be
headed for the ballot in Albany, as a judge yesterday
reversed State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Spargo’s
Aug. 25 disqualification of 316 signatures on
the Albany Civic Agenda’s petitions [“Out of Left
Field,” Newsfront, Sept. 1]. Albany Civic Agenda
is heading to the Albany Common Council meeting
tonight (Thursday, Sept. 8), which is the deadline
for the council to approve putting the measures
on the November ballot. A majority of council
members have said they would vote to put the measures
on the ballot if the petitions were shown to have
enough qualifying signatures. . . . Families of
people in prison are appealing a dismissal of
their lawsuit seeking to prohibit the state and
MCI from charging them more than seven times consumer
phone rates in order to speak with their incarcerated
family members [“1-800-CASH-COW,” Newsfront, Sept.
25, 2003]. State Supreme Court Judge George Ceresia
dismissed the case, saying it was filed too late.
The Family Connections Bill, which would provide
prisoners with fair-market telephone rates,
passed the Assembly this year, but didn’t get
out of committee in the Senate. Ron Daniels, director
for the Center for Constitutional Rights, noted
that criminal-justice experts agree that contact
with loved ones makes it easier for prisoners
to successfully reenter society.