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Hopes dashed: Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2) speaks at an ACA press conference on Aug. 15.

photo:Alicia Solsman

No More Power to You

Amid 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

At 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.

The 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 Thursday-night vote.

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 comment.

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 overflow crowd.

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?’ ”

“The 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.”

—David King

What a Week

Poor 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.

Payback Time

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.



"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

Primary Election Results

With 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 4,644.

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 question.

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.

—Miriam Axel-Lute, David King and Rick Marshall

Scenes 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 street corners.

photot:Teri Currie




photo:Alicia Solsman






Loose Ends

Charter 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.

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