Into the Problem
recent death should spark concern about fire safety and outdated
circuitry in older housing
city dwellers living in low-income and student housing in
the Capital Region, problems like tripped circuit breakers
and flickering lights are annoying but commonplace. The hassle
of having to unplug the toaster oven just to use the microwave
is often seen as a mere nuisance of everyday life. But these
issues point to a larger problem.
Electrical fire is a silent enemy. It starts within the walls
of the oldest buildings in the area and often goes unnoticed
until it leaves people homeless or even dead. At 3 AM on Nov.
13, for instance, a resident of Lincoln Avenue in Albany,
Linda Giordana, died of smoke inhalation caused by an electrical
fire that began in her kitchen.
As technology advances and appliances require more energy
to run them, those living in older homes have become at greater
risk for electrical fire. The larger amperage that modern
appliances draw through circuits designed for lower currents
can cause a wire’s insulation to wear thin. This creates a
substantial amount of resistance heating and could create
an arc-fault, or spark.
In addition, old houses have a tendency to collect dust and
wood chips within the walls as they age, and these kinds of
combustibles can provide an electrical short or arc with the
fuel needed to ignite into flames. In the past five years,
there have been more than 216 fires in Albany, Schenectady
and Rensselaer counties due to electrical malfunction.
foundation for a house’s electric is the electrical panel,”
said Frank, a certified electrician at Capital District Electric.
“The fact is, most houses’ service panels in this area are
from another time. . . . Microwaves, toaster ovens, freezers,
they didn’t have those in the old days. . . . A lot of people
are living in substandard conditions, where they have to unplug
a number of appliances just to run a coffee pot, and that
is just not right.”
But as many tenants realize, relying on a landlord to notice
and fix a problem can be fruitless. Instead, renters often
use numerous power strips and extension cords. This could
intensify the risk of electrical fire, since cords often support
only 10 to 15 amps, while many appliances, like vacuum cleaners
and space heaters, can draw as high as 20.
of the critical things is to not overload circuits,” said
Richard Barlette, chief of the Arson Bureau at the NYS Office
of Fire Prevention and Control. “If the circuit breaker is
constantly tripping or there are recurrent blown fuses, it’s
a good indication that there’s too much electrical draw. .
. . We run into situations where we see a lot of extension
or “zip” cords, and that’s indicative of too few outlets located
in the room.”
Fred Warner, vice president of The Electrical Inspectors,
a private inspection agency in Albany, said that renters should
“be more aggressive in getting their landlords to provide
adequate lighting and receptacle outlets.”
a tenant and a landlord share a particular liability,” said
Warner. “Certainly there are [landlords] who would tax a system
for as long as possible. . . . And then there are those who
don’t understand the importance of an electrical system. .
. . If they can’t see it, if it’s behind the walls, there’s
not a problem.”
suggestion would be to contact the landlord, and if he or
she is not responsive and does not address the needs, then
[the occupant] should contact the local fire prevention [office]
or inspector,” Barlette added.
Sean Andrews, a renter on Hudson Avenue in Albany and a University
at Albany student, said his house is “a huge fire hazard.”
“I have one outlet in my room, for my computer, my printer,
my speakers, my lamps, everything,” he said. On the floor
behind his computer desk is a power strip with eight plugs.
According to An drews, no inspector has ever come to inspect
any job done on the electrical system in his house.
The cost of updating an electrical system in an old house
can sometimes be as high as $8,000, according to a quote from
Capital District Electric. On the other hand, fines for electrical-code
violations in Albany County are only $25 per violation, per
Warner, the electrical inspector, believes something more
is needed to nudge landlords into covering upgrade costs.
“I would think an eye-opener would be a much heavier fine
and some jail time if one is able to find intentional negligence
on behalf of the landlord,” he suggested.
As the winter months approach, and Christmas tree lights and
space heaters appear, it is up to residents to take action.
Information on preventing electrical fires is available at
Wrath of Robertson
Sinners, liberals and democratically elected officials
beware: Pat Robertson is at it again. “If there
is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God!”
announced Robertson on a recent episode of The
700 Club. This time, the fiery evangelist
wasn’t addressing some faraway despot or purportedly
anti-American leader; he was speaking to the citizens
of Dover, Penn., who voted out a group of school-board
members who had mandated that local schools teach
intelligent design. “If they have future problems
in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin,”
Don’t Drink the Brown Tea, Man!
The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on
whether a New Mexico church may use a brewed tea
as part of its sacraments. The American government
has long contested the legality of ayahuasca,
a plant that can have a hallucinogenic effect
when brewed in tea, despite several lower-court
rulings that the plant poses little danger to
congregants and is unlikely to encourage abuse.
“Ayahuasca is not an addictive, or even a pleasant
substance to consume,” said Daniel Abrahamson,
director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy
Oil-Slick Businesses Boast Record Profits
The Senate Energy and Commerce Committee recently
called on the leaders of five major oil companies
to explain the record-breaking profits they earned
over the last few months, while (for some) gasoline
hit more that $3 per gallon. “It’s not terribly
fun defending you,” said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho)
during the hearing. While all five executives
denied any price gouging, ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond
claimed that prices were indeed driven up—to avoid
shortages. To the apparent surprise of many Republicans
in the room, the execs also reported that they
have little use for the $2.6 billion in tax credits
President Bush plans to send their way. During
the proceedings, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
received no response when she asked if any oil-company
representatives plan to use this year’s pay raises
and bonuses to assist with the record-setting
heating bills many Americans are expected to face
I Throw in a Few Drinks?
a stir: Craig Allen.
store owner cries foul over wholesalers’ illegal perks and
Allen is, to put it mildly, an intense guy. Named one of Entrepreneur’s
top young millionaires last year, the 35-year-old owner of
All Star Wine and Spirits in Latham has jumped from one legal
battle to the next since opening All Star in 1999, attacking
various state and county laws that, he claims, have stood
in the way of letting his business reach its free-market potential.
Applauded by some in the industry and loathed by others, Allen
has placed himself once again on the front lines of a legal
brawl over liquor laws—but this time, it’s their enforcement,
not their content, that he’s targeting.
I’m saying is bullshit, then why are all these edicts coming
out now?” asked Allen, jabbing a finger at a warning that
recently began appearing on the cover of one wholesaler’s
monthly price list, telling retailers that the list doesn’t
represent all of the prices offered.
to Allen, this serves as proof that his lawsuit against Service-Universal
Distributors, one of North America’s largest wine and liquor
wholesalers, has begun shedding light on some of the industry’s
I started out, I didn’t even know this sort of thing was illegal,”
he said, indicating a set of highlighted prices on the Service-Universal
pricing guide—a case of Absolut vodka is $218, with single
bottles $38.33. However, on a copy of the list provided to
the liquor authority, the prices are $47.12 per case and $8.45
per bottle. According to Allen, these less-expensive cases
and bottles are offered to shops that agree to promote a certain
product or buy a certain quantity of wine or liquor—a flagrant
violation of industry regulations.
such a promotion might sound perfectly legitimate for some
industries, New York’s laws prohibit such practices in order
to prevent a single business from monopolizing one of the
nation’s most popular controlled substances. Section 101-b
of New York’s Alcoholic Beverage Control law defines illegal
discrimination by wholesalers and manufacturers as the practice
of “granting discounts, rebates, free goods, and other inducements
to selected licensees.” The aim of these laws, the same section
states, is to create a “level playing field” among retailers,
regardless of their size or volume of purchases.
Allen tried to place an order for the same discounted products
he had heard about from other retailers, only to be told that
the discounts were used to “support” or “promote” the sale
of other products, he filed a complaint with the liquor authority.
Months went by without any results or feedback, and eventually
he decided to file his own lawsuit.
said that years of lax enforcement have made such violations
commonplace, leaving many wholesalers with little reason to
hide their transgressions and many shop owners without the
knowledge that the discounts they are getting are illegal.
By taking a stand against the illegal gifts and incentives
that have become status quo in the industry, he said he’s
become a frequent target of harsh criticism and industry blacklisting
and, in one instance, had his car vandalized.
just a matter of greed,” said Harry Doakmajian, the owner
of Wine-Skill East Deep Discount Wine and Spirits in Wynantskill.
“[Allen] is just picking on [Service-Universal] because he
wants everything for himself.”
who has been involved with liquor industry for more than 50
years, described the practices targeted by Allen as “petty
stuff,” adding that the promotional items and discounts offered
in the liquor industry are no different than those offered
in any other industry.
may give me some kind of combo pack or promotional item but
not offer it to someone else, and the next time they might
offer it somebody else and not to me,” said Doakmajian. “I’m
going to take those deals, and they will show up on the invoice
just like that—that’s just the way it works.”
said that abuses of such promotions are simply the effect
of increasing pressure as you move down the liquor industry’s
hierarchy. Distillers pressure distributors to move as much
product as possible, a pressure that only increases as one
moves down the chain to local wholesaler representatives,
wholesaler has to come up with all sorts of creative ways
to move those cases,” continued Doakmajian. “And when you
get squeezed enough, you do something you shouldn’t do.”
some might not consider such practices a problem, retired
liquor authority investigator Chester Menkiena said it’s the
inclusion of the liquor authority among those who are ambivalent
about the law that’s most disturbing. A recent series in The
Buffalo News highlighted some of the discoveries Menkiena
made over his 22-year career with the industry, including
wholesalers’ use of gold Krugerrands, trips to wine country
and thousands of dollars of gift certificates and gas cards
to induce sales or promotion among retailers. The tremendous
lobbying power of liquor producers and wholesalers had essentially
turned illegal activities into the status quo, the series
I would find somebody breaking the law, I would be taken off
the case, the wholesalers would plead guilty, there would
be a small civil penalty and it would be back to business
as usual,” said Menkiena of the frustrations that led him
to retire in 2004. “[Violations] are really up to the interpretation
of the liquor authority, and the liquor authority is in the
back pocket of the wholesalers.” Calls to the Liquor Authority
were not returned.
Menkiena’s findings may not have received much attention during
his tenure, they’ve been getting more notice recently, with
the state Assembly calling a special hearing and Attorney
General Eliot Spitzer calling on retailers around the state
to contribute to an ongoing investigation into the industry.
According to a source involved with the investigation, the
prevalence of certain business arrangements between the industry’s
wholesalers and retailers has caused “significant concern”
in the AG’s office.
this has provided some amount of vindication for Allen, but
the outcome of his own lawsuit has yet to be decided. Last
December, the case was dismissed in the state’s Supreme Court
after Service-Universal argued that an individual retailer
had no standing to sue under ABC laws. Allen appealed, and
his attorney, John McManus, said an answer is expected any
acknowledged that his decision to take the legal high ground
hasn’t earned him many friends in the industry, but said it
has made him more aware of his allies. “I know a lot of the
old-timers don’t like what I’m doing, because these sort of
deals are the way they’ve always done business,” he shrugged,
pausing for a rare moment before slamming both fists down
on the desk in front of him. “But the fact remains that this
is illegal—and God damn it, I know I’m right about this.”
in the 11th Ward says the incumbent’s campaign didn’t play
by the rules
election night 2005, staf- fers for Green Party 11th Ward
candidate David Lussier ran through the streets carrying homemade
banners bearing their candidate’s name. It wasn’t that they
had nothing better to do. They simply couldn’t find another
way to get their candidate’s name in front of voters.
It’s not that they didn’t have lawn signs. They had lots of
signs. They allege, however, that members of the campaign
of the incumbent, Glen Casey, spent Election Day following
them around in vans tearing down and confiscating any signs
By mid-afternoon, they say, things got dirtier than they ever
expected. They alleged Casey campaign treasurer Joseph Brady
physically restrained a volunteer who was trying to stop him
from stealing their signs.
Lussier, along with his campaign manager and head of the local
Green Party, Peter Lavenia, and the Lussier campaign volunteers
said they spent the early-morning hours being tailed by a
van, a red SUV and a luxury car. “We had permission from this
nice man to put signs on his property,” said Stephen Heath,
Lussier campaign worker. “I’d post signs, go back a half-hour
later, and they would be replaced by Casey signs—and they
didn’t have permission to post them there.”
Lavenia added, “I thought once the sun came up it would stop.
I didn’t think they would be so brazen as to do it in front
of polling places in broad daylight.” However, staffers claimed
the same thing went on all day.
Trailed by vans and SUVs, staffers would return to spots where
they had posted signs one minute before, only to see them
gone or replaced with Casey signs. In fact, staffer Stephen
Heath said he began to time the disappearance of signs from
the time they were posted because he was impressed with the
efficiency of the sign thieves.
It’s known that the Casey campaign was upset with the Green
Party, because Lussier’s name was included on a press release
put out Oct. 27 by all three of Casey’s opponents that claimed
to have “evidence” that Casey, in his role working for the
Assembly, was providing quid pro quos to out-of-city campaign
donors. It turned out they only had a list of donors who don’t
appear to have any direct interest in the 11th Ward, but no
actual evidence of wrongdoing. Lussier has since distanced
himself from the press release.
As polling places opened, stolen signs became only one of
the Lussier campaign’s worries. According to election law,
anyone who needs assistance in voting can be accompanied by
someone they select as long as that person is not an employer
or union representative. If voters needing help do not have
someone in particular to assist them, then they may be assisted
by election inspectors of two different “political faiths.”
However, Lussier volunteer Lydia Lednyack alleged that a Casey
inspector was escorting voters into the booths by herself.
Lednyack, who speaks Russian, claimed the inspector would
ask voters, “ ‘Are you a Democrat?’ and they would say, ‘Yes,
yes,’ . . . and then she would point straight down the Democratic
line and say ‘Here is where you vote.’ She stood there at
the front of the line and would ask everyone that came up,
‘Do you need help?’ and they would say ‘Yeah.’ ”
Calls to Glen Casey and Democratic Ward 11 leader Joe Jennings
were not returned in time for this story. The person who answered
the phone at the county Democratic headquarters responded,
“You’ll have to call Mexico to speak to Betty Barnette.”
Mid-afternoon, outside a polling place, Lussier volunteer
Sally Kim decided she’d had enough. When she spotted a group
of men pulling Lussier signs from a lawn and putting them
in their trunk, she confronted them and demanded they stop.
Kim alleged the men told her the signs were illegally placed.
She told the men they were not illegally placed, and that
they had permission from the landowner, then noticed that
all the signs they had gathered were Lussier signs and that
Democratic Party signs in the same place had not been touched.
Kim said that as she reached into the vehicle’s trunk to retrieve
a stack of Lussier signs, Casey treasurer Joseph Brady grabbed
her arm to restrain her, and berated her as he finished putting
Lussier signs in the trunk with his other hand. Kim took down
the license plates of the vehicles and filed a report with
Lavenia also filed a complaint with District Attorney David
Soares’ election-fraud unit and plans to file a thorough,
detailed complaint with the Board of Elections. Glen Casey,
Joseph Brady and the APD did not return repeated calls.
As daylight dimmed to an evening haze on Election Day 2005,
David Lussier staffers felt despondent. “It felt like they
were beating up on an 8-year-old,” said Lussier. Knowing that
they had run out of signs and would likely have them torn
down anyway, staffers created cloth banners with Lussier’s
name and held them up for passing cars in the evening’s drizzle.
Said Lavenia, “We knew that if they wanted to take these down
they would have to tear them from our hands.”
Something bad happened there.”
—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion
of haunted houses.
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.
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.