a proposal to reorganize a well-functioning county agency
designed to strengthen it or sideline it?
first glance, the recently completed report commissioned last
year by Albany County on its Crime Victims and Sexual Assault
Center [“Separation Anxiety,” Newsfront, Nov. 11, 2004] should
be reassuring to worried clients, volunteers, and staff.
Written by the statewide Council of Community Services, it
praises the agency in multiple places, saying it is stable,
effective and well-respected; provides comprehensive services
with an experienced staff that has a low turnover rate and
works well as a team; and has a strong accountability system.
The report’s critiques are much more specific, such as: The
center doesn’t reach out to specific populations, such as
those suffering elder abuse; as currently structured it can’t
bill third parties, such as Medicaid; the deputy-director
position may not be necessary.
But the report takes a sharp turn at recommendations, proposing
moving the agency’s crime-victims advocates to the district
attorney’s office and its therapists either under the mantle
of the mental-health department or to a nonprofit. County
Executive Mike Breslin has said that only the mental-health
department option is under consideration. The positions of
director and deputy director of the center would be cut.
Elizabeth Martin, who became director of the center last year
just as the study was begun, said she thinks a connection
with the mental-health department will provide more clinical
oversight for the center (Martin, unlike the previous director,
has no clinical experience), as well as allow for more collaborative
use of the mental-health department’s psychiatric expertise
and the center’s trauma expertise.
Rikki Shaw, founder of Rape Culture Revolutionaries, a local
group that advocates for people who have experienced sexual
abuse, has two major problems with the recommendation: First,
it breaks the continuity of service for crime victims, making
them go to separate offices for an advocate and therapy. And
second, it sends “normal people who’ve had a traumatic experience”
to an agency whose mission is to treat people with “persistent
The report does propose to expand that mission statement,
and Martin says the center would keep its name and current
location as a way to try to reduce that stigma. She also said
that there is not a lot of overlap between the center’s advocacy
clients, who are only those pursuing a case in the courts,
and therapy clients.
Shaw said she and concerned clients and volunteers collected
over 500 signatures at LarkFest opposing the restructuring
plan, and they plan to bring them to the county legislature
meeting on Oct. 11.
Shaw and CVSVC client Laurie Schaible acknowledge that it
does make some sense to have crime-victim caseworkers at the
DA’s office. But, Shaw notes, if they actually work for the
DA, they may not be able to advocate fully for their clients,
if, for example, a politically connected defendant is pulling
strings within the office. Shaw noted that she believes current
District Attorney David Soares is less likely to do this than
his predecessor, but said that was no guarantee for future
Soares said that while he was not involved in the restructuring
discussions, he welcomed the move, having had plans to institute
a crime victims advocate bureau anyway. He said that victims’
services had been “hit or miss” because of the separation
of the offices, and “by having that unit moving into my department,
it’s going to mean incredible things” in terms of coordinated
and consistent support for victims. “Now every crime
victim will get assistance,” he said.
Though CCS director Doug Sauer said “no options were off the
table” while the study was being done, the report shows no
evidence of having considered ways to improve services or
funding of the center within the current structure. This leads
Shaw and Schaible to suspect the center was targeted from
the beginning for restructuring. “Why are they looking at
this agency specifically, when there are so many other agencies
that could be looked at for streamlining?” asks Schaible.
“It just doesn’t make sense.”
aren’t looking to hurt services. The services are good and
we want to enhance them even more,” said Martin.
In Wake County, N.C., the percentage of black
and Hispanic students performing at grade level
has jumped from 40 to 80 percent over the past
10 years. None of its schools is failing. Property
values in urban areas have not fallen in comparison
to the suburbs. What have they been doing differently?
Integrating schools by income, using a combination
of magnet schools and busing (only about 2.5 percent
of students end up traveling long distances not
by choice). The approach may be difficult to implement
in areas that don’t have countywide school systems,
notes The New York Times, but the impressive
results are nonetheless making educators sit up
and take notice.
American soldiers stationed in Iraq have found
a new way to supplement their income, or at least
the income they can spend on porn. Allegedly,
troops have been using pictures of dead and mutilated
Iraqi corpses as currency. The Webmaster of www.nowthatsfuckedup.com
exchanges access to his porn/shock site for pictures
soldiers have taken on the field of battle. Photos
are posted with “humorous” captions, written by
soldiers, that mock and gloat over victims, who
lie in pools of blood, mutilated, disfigured,
blown up, decapitated or maimed.
Africa Ignored Again
The desperately poor African country of Malawi
has more than 4 million people in danger of starving,
as the harvest of maize reached its lowest point
in a decade. The United Nations and a host of
aid agencies appealed to the world in August for
$88 million in relief, but pledges so far have
reached only $15 million. Experts predict that
unless immediate action is taken, more than 10
million people in the region may face famine.
Speak Now or . . .
The environmental group Friends of Hudson is trying
to get the comment period extended on a proposal
by the LaFarge cement plant in Ravena to burn
tires as fuel. Specifically, the group wants DEC
to hold public hearings in Rensselaer and Columbia
counties, not just Greene County, since those
counties also are downwind from the plant. The
comment period, which has already been extended
once, currently ends Monday (Oct. 3).
a heck of a job: Michael Brown.
of the Law
in Albany’s Third Ward race are fueled by aggressive interpretation
of a single “s” in poll-watcher credentialing rules
took a day in court, election-day calls to local police and
more than a week after the Sept. 13 primary to sort out who
was elected as Albany’s Third Ward Democratic candidate for
Common Council, but incumbent Michael Brown was named the
winner on Friday, Sept. 23, by a 17-vote margin over challenger
Corey Ellis. And while the evenly divided vote (Brown received
367 votes to Ellis’ 350) might lead some to question Brown’s
assessment that the ward “stuck together” in electing him,
even more uncertainties surround the election law that lies
at the heart of all the day’s chaos.
began when Brown’s supporters, which included Mayor Jerry
Jennings’ brother, Joseph Jennings, who also serves as the
Ward 11 Democratic leader, had the poll watchers appointed
by Ellis to guard against fraudulent activities ejected from
many of the ward’s polling places. Local law-enforcement officials
removed Ellis’ volunteers—for an hour or more at some locations—after
Brown’s supporters challenged their credentials, citing an
interpretation of election law that, they claim, disqualified
all of Ellis’ volunteers.
poll watchers] were told that their credentials needed to
be approved by both Mr. Ellis and Mr. Brown,” explained Ellis’
lawyer, Mark Mishler. “There is no possible way that election
law would require a candidate who wanted to have poll watchers
at the polling place to get an opponent’s approval—that’s
But that’s exactly what Brown’s supporters argued—and what
the county’s board of elections initially agreed with. Meanwhile,
the same election law also appears to indicate that Brown’s
poll watchers don’t need the same approval.
shall be appointed by the chairman of any such party committee
or independent body or by the candidates,” states section
8-500 of the state’s election law.
According to the county BOE, this means a candidate’s poll
watchers can be approved by the local chairman of the party—a
process that, many would argue, provides a distinct advantage
As for the other option, said Mishler, it’s that one letter,
“s,” which lies at the heart of all of the confusion.
supporters] are interpreting [the election law to mean] that,
because ‘candidates’ is plural, poll watchers’ certificates
need to be signed by more than one candidate in a single race,”
And while the chaos that developed out of the poll-watcher
challenges eventually was resolved (after much debate, BOE
agreed to admit Ellis’ poll watchers with certificates signed
by Ellis and Fernande Rossetti, a candidate for city court
judge who was also on the day’s ballot), the amount of time
that the polling place went unmonitored by Ellis’ representatives
only added to his supporters’ concerns.
campaign had strong concerns about the integrity of the ballot
and maintaining an accurate count,” said Working Families
Party chair Karen Scharff, whose party endorsed Ellis. “It
makes you wonder what was going at these polling places that
[Brown’s supporters] didn’t want poll watchers there watching.”
These questions, said Scharff, prompted Ellis and Mishler
to request that the machines and all uncounted votes be impounded
immediately after the polls closed. Brown’s connection to
several recent vote-related controversies, including a federal
lawsuit alleging that he diverted more than 100 absentee ballots
in a 2004 primary, made such a course of action necessary,
Scharff added that Ellis will make a decision in the near
future about running in November’s general election, and that
he’ll have to weigh the significant difficulty of running
on a minor party line against the high level of support he
received. And while neither Scharff nor Mishler said they
have evidence of fraudulent activities occurring in polling
places while Ellis’ poll watchers were absent, they said that
the simple fact that Brown’s supporters wanted to remove the
observers certainly raises some questions.
have nothing that leads us to believe that anything fraudulent
happened during that time,” said Mishler. “But frankly, how
would we know for sure?”
Repeated calls to Brown for comment were not returned.
estimated 150,000 antiwar demonstrators marched in Washington
D.C. on Saturday (Sept. 24) to demand the return of U.S. troops
from Iraq. The protests were rife with references to Hurricane
Katrina, including such slogans as “Make levees, not war”
and “Hurricane Bush: a category 5 disaster for America.” A
70-person march and rally was held in Albany on Friday (Sept.
23) to kick off the convoy of three buses that departed the
city at midnight to join the main protest. On Monday, a group
of protesters participated in civil disobedience by entering
a restricted space in front of the White House to pin names
of dead soldiers on the fence and demand a meeting with the
president. Between 300 and 400 people were arrested, starting
with Cindy Sheehan. Jim Fulmer, a member of the Saratoga Peace
Alliance, was among those arrested.
cataract surgery performed last year by the National
Organization for Ophthalmic Rehabilitation [“Sight
for Sore Eyes,” April 29, 2004] on Qandygul Guma,
a 7-year-old Afghan girl who had been blind
since she was a toddler, was successful, reports
local photographer Connie Frisbee Houde, who has
traveled to Afghanistan several times with NOOR.
Qandygul has regained her sight. . . . Freecycle
[“Reuse, Reuse, Reuse,” April 25], the network
of listservs connecting people who have unwanted
items with people who could use them, has run
into controversy. In May, in order to expand,
pay its staff person, and move off Yahoo!Groups,
the organization accepted sponsorship from Waste
Management, Inc., the country’s largest waste
hauler and recycling company, which has periodically
come under fire from environmentalists for its
practices. Some local Freecycle moderators, including
the moderator of Catskill Freecycle, have jumped
ship and joined a splinter group, Freesharing.org,
that promises its lists will remain grassroots
and locally controlled. . . . Brian Scavo
[“City of Albany Endorsements,” Sept. 9], who
came in second in Albany’s Ward 7 Democratic primary,
has announced his intention to fight on to November
on his independent “law and order” ballot line.
. . . The Albany Police Department is investigating
yet another high-speed chase, this one
initiated because a driver was acting erratic
and drove away while her license plate number
was being called in, reports the Times Union.
The chase, which went from West Hill into Loudonville,
ended with a crash that sent an uninvolved driver
to the hospital.