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The Candidates on the Record

Tim Looker

Albany Common Council, Ward 13, Republican

Why are you running?

I’ve lived in the city since 1971. I’ve been a homeowner since ’76. I’ve lived up here on Winthrop Avenue since 1985, and I think the citizens just aren’t getting their money’s worth for the services they pay for—recent things like the sewer problem. They kind of put Band-Aids on the problem. If the sewers are bad, which I kind of doubt, they’re probably just not maintained. They ought to have a program and just replace them. I know it is expensive, but they keep putting it off.

What is the number-one issue facing your ward?

I think crime, probably, the threat of crime. There is not a lot here and they don’t do much about it. A perfect example of that is . . . it’s not in my ward but it’s two blocks from me, the man bitten by the pit bulls. Other times they had been running loose. One lady moving out of the city told me she has a 1-year-old, and she goes, “I’m scared to death to take him out on the streets.” From what I heard—I don’t know if it’s true—the owner got fined $300. If he’s a repeat offender that’s a slap on the wrist.

What is your take on charter schools?

I think it’s a necessary thing to get the schools to shape up. I think you’re going to see some shaping up because they’re getting scared.

What do you think Albany should do with its garbage?

Since the mayor already put a lot of money into the place [in] Coeymans, they ought to go for that. There needs to be more recycling, too. They have a little plant. They’ve taken a section of it and put collection pipes to collect the gas and then they burn it and make electricity. They should do that for the whole place.

What do you think the role of the council should be regarding the Citizen Police Review Board?

I think they should be involved. They should have members on it. But it’s supposed to be a public body. There are personnel issues, privacy issues. You can’t do everything in public so it’s a little bit of a bind there. No police force is perfect, but overall the Albany department does a good job. I can’t say I’ve never heard of anybody who had a problem.

How would you deal with the overflow of college students into your ward?

Family life and college life are totally not mixable. They should be in dorms on the campus. Graduate students should be able to get their own place. It’s a zoning issue. [The zoning laws] are selectively enforced in neighborhoods. If important people or lots of people complain, they are enforced. If they don’t, they aren’t.

Is there a proper balance of power between the mayor and Common Council?

It should be left as it is. If people want to vote for Jennings for mayor and they like how it is going, then that’s our democracy, that’s our system. I don’t think things are going that well. It could be better, but if you fracture the power more, then when someone comes in and wants to make good changes they won’t be able to because they will have to please a million little people from all over the city.


Daniel Herring

Albany Common Council, Ward 13, Democrat, Incumbent

Why are you running?

I’ve been encouraged by my constituents to run again. I retired from my full-time job two years ago, and now I have this opportunity to dedicate a lot more time to it and to be involved to a greater degree. This could be my last term, so I would like to go out feeling fulfilled in the sense that I did everything I could.

What is the number-one issue facing your ward?

I think it is more than just that. I don’t think that’s the way people look at stuff. It’s a citywide thing: quality of life coupled with the cost of living in the city. Taxes. You know, the issue is going to be, is it worth the cost, their life in the city vs. the cost of living in the city? That’s the concern of the people. I think people will be looking at taxes and essential services, the cost of police and fire and schools.

What is your take on charter schools?

Conceptually, I don’t have a problem with charter schools. They may or may not provide a better alternative to a lot of our school issues. However, I believe since they were created by the state Legislature . . . it’s incumbent upon them to fund it. Ironically, I think we are beginning to see some of the charter schools saying they aren’t funded adequately, and if we keep going down this line we are going to end up with two underfunded or failed systems.

What should Albany do with its garbage?

A person said last night at the meeting, “Close the dump! Ship it out!” Lying behind all these arguments, without saying whether it’s right or wrong, if it includes closing that dump we’re collecting a $6 million swing or a $16 million tax hike. They are very rough numbers. Tax rates now are barely competitive with surrounding areas. In the best world I’m not going to build a landfill there, certainly don’t want it encroaching on the Pine Bush. Then again, we’re down to this cost. I can’t see it coming out satisfactory to everyone involved.

What do you think the role of the council should be regarding the Citizen Police Review Board?

It seems to be working adequately or better. I don’t see any fatal flaws in how it is working that can’t be addressed. There is a mechanism that they can come to the Common Council to make the case and utilize the subpoena power of the council. That’s never been done, so to say that [they need subpoena power] without ever attempting to utilize what’s in place . . .

How do you deal with the overflow of college students into your ward?

I’d have to say it’s improved. We’ve had some calls, but it does seem to have improved in the last couple of years. A lot more attention has been paid to it by the press and the schools. SUNY and St. Rose have started getting serious on the problem, so many actions they’ve taken have had positive results in my ward.

Is there a proper balance of power between the mayor and Common Council?

I’m on the charter commission. I’m not sure it’s the balance of power so much, it’s about a more effective way to balance both the powers of the council and the powers of the executive. Just the idea of taking the power away from one and giving to the other, that’s not really the point. It’s finding the route that leads to effective operation of the government. I believe there are issues that have to be examined as it [the charter] exists now. I believe the commission is the proper place where these changes should be examined, vetted and made part of the charter.

Interviews by David King

What a Week

Oh No Mommy . . . My Doll Is Pro-Choice!

The American Girl dolls and books have been put under attack by conservative activists, who are threatening to boycott the dolls unless contributions from their makers to the organization Girls Inc. are severed. Conservatives are not happy that Girls Inc. supports abortion rights, accepts lesbians, and opposes abstinence-only education.

Just Another Perk

It has been discovered that federal anti-terrorism employees sent e-mail messages to a group of business and art executives they knew, giving them a heads up on the recent NYC subway threat. The problem? The messages were sent three days prior to Mayor Bloomberg going public with the threat (or even being fully briefed on it). The federal employees involved have been fired.

War? What war?

War got you down? Do you feel like there is another jihad, genocide, civil war, or coup every time you turn on the news? According to researchers at the University of British Columbia, your fears are unwarranted. The first ever Human Security Report shows that there are 40 percent fewer armed conflicts in the world today than there were in the early ’90s. Furthermore, the arms trade has declined by a third from 1990 to 2003 and the number of refugees displaced by armed conflict has dropped 45 percent from between 1992 and 2003. However, 2003 was the last full year which data was available, so most of the deaths and conflicts stemming from the current Iraq war were not included.

“No Comment” in 2004

This election, it appears that Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings may have finally met his match—in lack of communication with the press, that is. Benzie Johnson, who was last heard from in April when he announced his candidacy for the mayor’s office, recently surfaced again to announce that he is, in fact, still a candidate and is hoping to get a few write-in votes this November. We’d say that such an incommunicado campaign isn’t likely to win him much support, but since the primary it seems to have been working all right for the 12-year incumbent.

Not in Our Front Yard

The Bush administration is trying to make it easier to put soldiers on American streets

A man stands in the center of a New Orleans Street, his clothes completely soaked. Two National Guard soldiers flank the man, shouting orders at him, pointing their guns at his head. His arms pulled tight to his body, he shivers, absolutely at the mercy of the troops.

A woman with curly red hair and dark-black shades stands in front of the chain-link fence that guards her apartment building with her hands raised. Her husband stands behind her, clutching her shoulders, pulling her away from three men dressed in green-and-black military fatigues, holding automatic rifles in their hands. The look in his eyes seems to say “Please don’t shoot my wife.”

Of all the striking images that followed Hurricane Katrina, some of the most compelling have been those of armed American troops patrolling the streets of a major American metropolis. If Congress agrees with the president, that sight may become a much more common one.

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 was designed to end the occupation of the South by Union troops. The act forbids using “any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws . . . except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.”

Recently, President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and a number of generals have insisted that Congress should consider repealing or amending the PCA to allow the president to utilize active-duty troops in the event of a major natural disaster.

Experts respond that, thanks to amendments already in place, the act does not limit the president’s ability to react to a disaster. In the years since its creation, the act has undergone significant erosion. It has been amended to allow troops to respond to disasters and acts of disobedience on U.S. soil if requested by individual states. President Ronald Reagan fought hard to eliminate the act to allow the Navy and Air Force to take part in the war on drugs. But instead of repealing the act, Congress amended it to allow branches of the military to take part in limited ways in the war on drugs.

Katrina is not the only excuse the Bush administration has used to argue the PCA is out of date. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and Rumsfeld have insisted the act needs to be repealed to help fight domestic terrorism, and in early October, Bush asked Congress to consider amending the act to allow him to use troops to respond to an outbreak of avian flu. “If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country?” Bush said. “And who best to be able to effect quarantine? One option is the use of a military that’s able to plan and move.” Under current law, states could call the National Guard to respond to a flu outbreak, but handing over the reins to a federal authority would violate the PCA.

Critics of Bush’s position point out that putting the military in charge of disaster and avian flu response will allow the Bush administration to further increase military spending while ignoring funding for other federal agencies. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Bush administration plans to request $6 to $10 billion to stockpile vaccine to be prepared for an avian flu outbreak. If it were the lead agency in avian-flu response, the Defense Department would likely get more than half of those funds.

The media has largely ignored what has become a trend of the administration attacking the PCA anytime there is a perceived threat to Americans. References to the act usually come buried at the end of articles that detail a new administration plan, and have rarely been connected to each other. Despite the media’s general lack of coverage, many members of Bush’s own party are livid over the administration’s crusade against the PCA.

Currently, Bush’s suggestions about the PCA have been greeted with as much warmth from his fellow Republicans as his most recent Supreme Court nomination has.

For example, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a doctor, recently stated that he feels bird flu has been “overhyped” by the Bush administration. And in a November 2001 speech to the House of Representatives, he said, “This act prohibits the military from carrying out law-enforcement duties such as searching or arresting people in the United States, the argument being that the military is only used for this type of purpose in a police state. Interestingly, it was the violation of these principles that prompted the Texas revolution against Mexico.”

Even the former secretary of defense for President Reagan, Casper Weinberger, a staunch military supporter, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 that military involvement in civilian law enforcement is “extremely repugnant to a democratic society.”

With Bush pushing to do away with or weaken the PCA on at least three fronts, it will be up to Congress to decide if the PCA stops the government from protecting its citizens or if it stops the government from creating a police state.

—David King

Loose Ends

Corey Ellis [“The Candidates on the Record,” Trail Mix, May 19], who lost Albany’s Third Ward Common Council Democratic primary by 17 votes, is challenging incumbent Michael Brown to a “rematch” in the general election. Calling the primary a “virtual coin toss,” Ellis will run on the Working Families Party line on the Nov. 8 ballot. . . . A bid by Friends of Hudson to get the comment period extended a second time on a proposal to burn tires at the Ravena LaFarge Cement plant [“What a Week,” Sept. 29] came to naught as the state DEC closed comments on Oct. 3. Next, LaFarge will get to respond to the comments received, which were overwhelmingly negative.

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