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Election Round-Up

Historic Win a Small Step to Diversifying Albany’s Politics

In Albany’s Ward 3 on Tuesday, something happened that hadn’t happened since 1929. An Albany Common Council member was elected on a line other than the Democratic Party. Corey Ellis, who lost the Democratic primary in a squeaker to incumbent Michael Brown, went on to a win of 507 to 445 over Brown in the general elections. Ellis ran on the Working Families Party line. “I’m more happy for the ward and the people who helped out on the campaign,” said a tired Ellis.

Karen Scharff, chair of the Working Families Party in the region, said that in the time between the primary and the general elections, voters got to know Ellis better, and realized that “if they allowed the primary results to become the general elections results there would be no change.” Compared to the primary, in the general election, Brown picked up 88 new votes, and Ellis picked up 157.

“The level of increased turnout shows that if people are given a real choice they will make a different choice in November than September,” said Scharff. “You can no longer assume that the primary determines the outcome.”

Scharff said that while the technicalities are unknown, because Ellis is a registered Democrat she expects that he will participate on the council’s Democratic caucus.

Albany Mayor Jennings Re-elected; Alice Green makes strong showing

While Jennings said in his victory speech that he had a mandate to “stay the course,” Green Party candidate Alice Green and supporters are saying that her unusually strong showing for a third-party candidate—5,244 votes to Jennings’ 14,471, more than the 4,741 that Archie Goodbee garnered in the primaries—shows that there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the city that needs to be addressed.

Green is pleased with the results of her campaign. “We set out to raise issues and talk to people about their concerns, and present some possible solutions to the problems we see Albany has. We did that effectively,” she said.

Don’t Write Off Albany General Elections

While followers of Albany politics have long claimed that the only real action is in the city’s Democratic primaries, there was no shortage of drama on Tuesday. Overall, voter turnout was significantly higher in the general election than in the primary, with 15,000 voters casting ballots in the mayoral primary and more than 21,000 in the general election’s mayoral race.

Though he won re-election handily, Mayor Jennings didn’t gain as much influence on Albany’s School Board as he’d hoped, as only one of his three candidates, Jacqueline Jenkins-Cox, won a place on the board alongside independent candidates Barbara Gaffuri and Judy Doesschate.

In a close multicandidate race, Democratic and Working Families candidate Catherine Fahey tallied 758 votes to second-place Law and Order challenger Brian Scavo’s 453 in the 7th ward.

Ward 11 Green Party candidate David Lussier pulled off a respectable 257 votes in challenging incumbent Democrat Glen Casey, who won with slightly more than 500 votes.

Potential Ugliness in Ward 11

Although many said that D.A. David Soares’ quick-response election-fraud teams patrolling the county’s polling places did help encourage cleaner elections, allegations of election-day law-breaking were still reported in Albany’s 11th ward. Albany County Green Party co-chair Peter Lavenia and 11th-ward candidate David Lussier allege that their party’s campaign workers were harassed throughout the day by groups of men who ripped Lussier signs off private lawns and replaced them with Glen Casey signs. (Mayoral Candidate Alice Green, the other city candidate on the Green Party line, notes that all her signs disappeared too, the night before the election.)

Lavenia alleges that after Green Party campaign worker Sally Kim confronted several of the men she had seen taking signs, she was shoved by one of the workers. Police were called and charges were filed. Lavenia also claims they have the license-plate numbers of what he calls the “Caseymobiles.” Calls to Glen Casey and the Albany Police Department were not returned. Metroland plans to follow up on this story for next week.

Around the Region

With hundreds of absentee ballots uncounted, Democrat Valerie Keehn held a 124 vote lead for mayor of Saratoga Springs over incumbent Michael Lenz. If she holds on to that lead it will mean a clean sweep for Democrats in the city—they won all the council seats and the two county supervisor positions—for the first time in its history.

Troubled Rensselaer County District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis took a beating in her race with Democrat Robert Jacon for a county judgeship, but Democrat/Green/ Working Families candidate for county legislature Russell Ziemba didn’t make the cut to be one of Troy’s six representatives.


What a Week

Can’t We Torture Just a Little Bit ?

Senator John McCain and supporters of the torture ban are preparing for a lengthy fight with the Bush administration. Bush, who first threatened to veto a ban on torture, has now asked that the CIA be exempt from the ban. McCain declared that unacceptable. McCain announced that “If necessary—and I sincerely hope it is not—I and the co-sponsors of this amendment will seek to add it to every piece of important legislation voted on in the Senate until the will of a substantial bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress prevails.”

No More Free Preach

The IRS has decided that the All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., can no longer be tax-exempt. While other pastors were openly stumping for Bush, the IRS claims that a sermon delivered by the church’s former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, violated an IRS statute that bans tax-exempt organizations from interfering in elections. Regas imagined Jesus telling both Bush and Kerry: “The sin at the heart of this war against Iraq is your belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life. God loathes war.” The church claims that the IRS offered them a deal: Admit to wrongdoing and your tax-exempt status will not be revoked. The church declined.

Cell Phones 1, Internet Phones 0

Providers of emerging Voice Over Internet Protocol phone technology claim they’re being targeted unfairly by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is insisting that either the VOIP providers invest in new technology that would make the new E911 call-routing emergency service available to customers in even the most remote areas, or stop marketing to these areas entirely, even though cell phone companies, who have a larger percentage of customers without E911, have not been made to stop marketing.

Keep Them Home Now

A group calling itself HomeFrom IraqNow.org is hoping to collect the 66,000 signatures necessary by Nov. 23 to put an initiative on next year’s ballot in Massachusetts that would prevent the state’s governor from allowing National Guard forces to be sent overseas without approval by the state Legislature.




Contraception Delayed

Approval of over-the-counter emergency contraception is facing indefinite postponement

Republicans and Democrats alike have elevated the practice of stalling to a fine art, using it at the federal level to kill everything from federal budgets to public policies to judicial appointments. Now, reproductive rights advocates fear the latest example of death-by-delay may be the long-running and so far unsuccessful effort to make emergency contraception available as an over-the-counter medication.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has given no clue as to when the agency will decide whether or not to authorize over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception, commonly known as “Plan B.” Although two FDA review panels have recommended over-the-counter approval of Plan B, the FDA in August decided to indefinitely delay its decision. That announcement prompted two prominent FDA doctors to resign in protest of the agency’s foot- dragging.

At the same time the FDA announced the delay, however, the agency also invited interested parties to submit commentary on the issue.

“This could go on indefinitely,” said JoAnn Smith, president and CEO of Family Planning Advocates of New York State. “That’s the tragedy. And for many of us, it’s almost the expectation.”

Family Planning Advocates—which represents more than two dozen reproductive-health organizations in the state, including Planned Parenthood agencies—went ahead and submitted commentary urging the approval of emergency contraception as an over-the-counter medication, without any restriction on the age of the person buying it.

“Although concern about the use of EC by teens has been stated as the reason for denying the original application and then delaying a final decision on the application to make Plan B available to women aged 16 and over, widespread support among mainstream medical organizations for making emergency contraception available over the counter makes that assertion untenable,” Smith wrote. “Claims by EC opponents that easier access to EC will cause teens to engage in increased or unprotected sexual activity are not supported by evidence-based studies.”

Two years ago, New York became one of a handful of states that require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims, thus eliminating the risk that a traumatized woman would have to stand in line at a pharmacy to fill a prescription just after undergoing a rape examination in the emergency room. The New York Catholic Conference endorsed that law, once the bill was amended to allow hospitals to do a pregnancy test on the rape victim before administering the medication.

But the Catholic Conference is standing firm in its opposition to over-the-counter emergency contraception, said spokesman Dennis Poust.

“For it to be available in every drug store to an 11- or 12-year-old girl, who might be getting the money from a 20-year-old boyfriend, just so she can continue having unprotected sex, is bad public policy,” Poust said.

Smith and other reproductive-health advocates suspect that religious ideology, not science, is calling the shots in the federal debate over Plan B. If that’s the case, Smith said, there’s no way of telling how long the issue will dangle.

“Clearly, there’s a pattern here of ideology trumping science, and of barriers and roadblocks being erected to prevent women from getting the health care they need and they deserve,” she said.

—Darryl McGrath


We’re a presence: Alfredo Balarin (far left), Anton Konev (far right), and other members of the new Midtown Neighborhood Watch.

photo:Teri Currie

The Price of Safety

A local student wants to help the police make the streets safer, but they say he is making their job more difficult

At 8:45 PM on a chilly September night after leaving class, Anton Konev was pinned to the sidewalk on Washington Avenue as fists were slammed into his body. Surrounded by six men, Konev simply did not fight back.

“They realized I wasn’t going to punch back and that’s what they wanted,” says Konev. Left lying on the sidewalk as his attackers took off, Konev immediately called 911 on his cell phone and just as quickly, he said, he found himself on hold. “I mentioned I was a student,” said Konev. The operator transferred him to the University Police, who, learning that he was not on campus, transferred him back to the Albany police. “They asked, ‘Do you feel safe now? Do you need an ambulance?’ And I didn’t, and I had a paper to write, so that was that,” Konev reported.

But that was not that.

Konev realizes that his experience pales in comparison to other incidents involving local students. Apartments have been robbed at gunpoint, students hit over heads with rocks and then mugged, and through it all, Konev says, the APD and the UAPD have been playing a blame game. “There was a lot of back and forth going on,” he said. “ ‘They should be patrolling here,’ and ‘We can only patrol on this block.’ There needs to be more communication between those departments.”

Tired of hearing police safety recommendations such as “Avoid walking alone at night,” and “Always carry a cell phone,” Konev decided to take action. Konev approached the APD about starting a neighborhood watch in the Pine Hills neighborhood. Konev has also been involved in a campaign to draw the attention of the city’s politicians to what he claims is “a lack of planning and resources.”

At a press conference held last Thursday (Nov. 3), Konev announced the start of the watch with help from UAlbany graduate student and Common Council Ward 11 candidate Alfredo Balarin; Jeff Blay, the local organizer of the Guardian Angels; and Guillermo Martinez, a 19-year city resident and head of the Coalition to Save Albany, a group of citizens, community activists and graduate students. Martinez offered a plan he says will help ensure there are enough police on the street that neighborhood groups will not have to watch over the streets.

According to Martinez, politicians have failed to address the larger issue of crime in the city. He proposed a commuter tax he said would make up for the burden placed on the city’s emergency and crime- prevention resources by the large commuter base. “Imposing a third of one percent commuter tax on people this city has to provide police, fire and emergency service to can generate millions that can be used to improve street lighting, almost double the size of the police force and virtually stop all crime in this city,” he stated.

While the Albany police have offered to look into restarting the Pine Hills community watch, Konev claims they are not very happy that he challenges their claims that crimes against students have seen a steady decrease over the years. Detective James Miller, spokesman for the APD, has continually cited University statistics that show a 48 percent decrease in crime against UAlbany students between 1992 and 2004. Both Guillermo and Konev insist that those statistics are flawed because they only take into account crime on campus.

Konev is certain crime has increased off campus to a great degree over the years and points to FBI crime statistics that show Albany’s crime-per-person rate is double that of most cities in the United States. At the press conference on Monday (Nov. 7), he demanded the Common Council hold an emergency meeting “to deal with the crime wave, resources for the police department and an inquiry of why this information has been kept from the public.”

Konev said he then received what he characterized as a “threatening call” from Sgt. Fred Alberti, the officer who had arranged to work with Konev on starting the Pine Hills watch, saying that in holding the press conference and citing those negative statistics, Konev was not being a team player, and that Alberti would find another group to work with if Konev continued to be difficult.

Miller counters that Alberti called Konev after the press conference to find out why the group was holding more negative press conferences the day before the start of the neighborhood watch. Alberti noted his frustration at having to be “worrying if you say something in the wrong tone the guy is going to run to the Times Union or the Metroland.”

“This reeks of a political agenda on the eve of the election,” Miller said. He further claims that the group’s allegation that it is safer to live in the Bronx is misleading. “I broke it down into the neighborhoods they are talking about. Their murders are on the same level as Albany, so it is not double. I’m not going to disagree with the FBI statistics, but they are misleading,” insists Miller.

Miller stated that working with the students is paramount. “The students are part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he remarked, but insisted Konev’s press conferences are politically motivated and “undermining what we are trying to do.”

On Tuesday night, Sgt. Alberti made it known that press were not welcome into the neighborhood watch meeting, saying it was a small room and the group was just getting started. Konev arrived, saw the room full of officials including Miller, whom he notes has been refuting his every claim in the press, and told a friend on his cell phone “I’m not going in there alone.”

After the meeting, however, Konev was hopeful. He reported that the newly christened Midtown Neighborhood Watch would begin after Thanksgiving break. “We’re taking it one step at a time, we’re going to get uniforms and start training before Thanksgiving,” he reported. Asked about the tension between himself and the police he replied, “They gave me first a big lecture. They didn’t feel the second press conference was helpful, but they agreed the first one was good to draw attention, get people excited.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.



Loose Ends

The Newspaper Guild/CWA of Albany has ratified a contract with the Times Union, after 16 months of negotiations [“Scouring for Sympathy,” Newsfront, Feb. 10] and after voting down a previous offer last month. While the new contract includes deep cuts to an early retirement benefit, the union decided that the pay raises and other items included in the contract made the package worthwhile. . . . On Nov. 3 a majority of the Democratic members of the Albany County Legislature told County Executive Michael Breslin that they would reject his proposal to move the therapists at the county’s Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center to the Department of Mental Health [“Crisis Center Shuffle,” Newsfront, Sept. 29]. They said they were also concerned about moving the center’s crime-victim caseworkers to the District Attorney’s office, but were willing to consider it if given additional justification. Opponents of the changes have been attending county legislature hearings and speaking at comment periods, and plan to continue doing so.



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