torch bearers: (l-r) Jill Person and Linda Porter in
front of the Albany Woman’s Club Madison Avenue mansion;
inside the mansion, signs from an earlier time.
nearly-100-year-old Albany institution reinvents itself for
the 21st century, and boosts its membership as it goes
Woman’s Club of Albany, whose ranks had dwindled to just three
members two years ago, has come back to life.
A new group of women, who by their own admission just a few
years ago might have spurned a woman’s club as a quaint symbol
of their mothers’ generation, have instead breathed new life
into both the organization and its historic headquarters at
725 Madison Ave.
club’s revival has taken even some of the women involved in
it by surprise.
know what I think happened?” asks Linda Porter, a high-school
math teacher and now the newly elected club president. “I
went to Vassar with a whole lot of women who were going to
save the world. It was 1969. If you had said, ‘Oh, there was
a woman’s club’ . . . I would have said, ‘Go to hell.’ We
lost something good, which was this whole idea of women’s
(social) consciousness. And there was this Albany Women’s
Club, almost abandoned.”
Now, the club’s membership stands at several dozen, with new
attendees turning out every month for the programs and general
meetings. In keeping with the original club’s goal of social
action, “We’re trying to get it back to doing really good
community service,” says Lois Busch, the new treasurer.
The Woman’s Club of Albany began in 1910 with an elite group
of 20 members, all of them from financially secure and socially
respectable backgrounds. Civic-minded, progressive, socially
conscious and unafraid, the members soon began tackling public-spirited
projects such as attaining uniform garbage collection in the
city, improving the salaries of public-school teachers and
obtaining matrons for the women prisoners in the city’s police
lockup. The club was so popular that the membership had to
be limited to 500, and it admitted new members by a vote using
small balls dropped into an oak box. Members who wanted to
prohibit someone from joining voted with a black ball.
did a lot of really helpful things in the community but kept
it low-key,” says Busch. “But one thing is they were persistent.
And they became a good lobby. After all, 500 women could have
quite an influence on, if no one else, their husbands.”
In 1919, the growing club bought its present headquarters,
an approximately 6,000-square-foot mansion originally built
as the home of Albany clothier Joseph Steefel. The carved
and gilded interior saw several more decades of meetings,
musical recitals, dances and lectures before attendance began
to dwindle and then plummet in the 1990s.
almost two years ago, El Loco Restaurant on Madison Avenue
rented the club headquarters for a party. Several of the guests,
including Porter, wondered why the building and the club were
minute I got there, I thought, ‘This was great,’ ” Porter
recalls. Phone calls and get-togethers with a handful of other
interested women followed, consultations took place with some
of the older members from the club’s more active days who
still lived in the Capital Region, and calls went out announcing
The new group of leaders has modeled the resurrected club
after the philanthropic philosophy associated with the club
throughout its history, and will focus on supporting education,
children’s issues and scholarships.
women starting this . . . were really concerned with the life
of the community, and I think a lot of us are drawn to the
idea of making the world a better place,” says Jill Person,
a new member who handles publicity and programs for the club.
are rolling,” says club vice president Paula Rosenberg. “We’ve
done two holiday parties for foster children of Albany County.
We’re trying to do the philanthropy, because that’s what the
club was founded on: literacy and education.”
Maren Stein, professor emerita of the Sage Colleges, an expert
on the social history of women, told members at a recent club
meeting that the Woman’s Club of Albany was part of an early
consciousness-raising for 19th-century women in the United
States, coming at the same time that women founded literary
clubs, current-events clubs and political-equality clubs,
which advocated for women’s suffrage.
was a way for women to have a voice,” she said. “You’re here,
reinventing the whole idea, which I think is a wonderful thing.
Today, you’re continuing that work.”
inquiries about club membership or events, call 434-4516 and
leave a message.
week, CBS radio took Howard Stern’s replacement
David Lee Roth off the air and replaced him with
Opie and Anthony. Ironically, Opie and Anthony
were fired from CBS radio in 2002 for broadcasting
the sounds of people having sex in a church. Opie
and Anthony also work for XM Satellite Radio.
CBS is currently suing Howard Stern for promoting
Sirius Satellite Radio on its airwaves before
by the Bush
Moussaoui, the only living person charged in the
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, isn’t that worried
about being sentenced to death. His lawyer has
argued in court that he should be allowed to live
so that he is not made a martyr. Moussaoui, however,
believes his lawyers are trying to kill him. He
also believes that no matter what is decided,
he will eventually be set free. Moussaoui says
he has dreamed that President Bush will release
him as part of a prisoner exchange for captured
U.S. soldiers before he leaves office in 2009.
Guards have testified that Moussaoui has said
after his release he plans to “fly to London,
write a book, make some money and go back to the
mountains of Afghanistan and be Al Qaeda.” Psychologist
Xavier Amador says Moussaoui is schizophrenic.
to a poll by Fox News, President Bush’s approval
ratings have hit an all-time low of 33 percent.
A subsequent CNN poll put his approval ratings
at 32 percent. In other news, the Bush administration
is considering hiring Tony Snow, a Fox News anchor,
to replace Scott McClellan as press secretary.
for the Memories, Thomas Edison
new lighting material, called organic light-emitting
diodes, is in the works. OLEDs produce natural
white light, don’t heat up like conventional bulbs
(allowing them to conserve energy and last longer),
and can be printed wafer thin, transforming ceilings
or furniture into lights. The only obstacle left
is sealing OLEDs from moisture, which contaminates
the sensitive polymer. If this can be overcome,
OLED could quickly become the new choice for lighting.
Medicaid restrictions in 2006 budget cap off years of quiet
attempts to implement unwritten rules
Unless Gov. George Pataki retreats from his current hard-line
negotiating stance, three major state-level changes to Medicaid
eligibility could be added to two federal ones passed by Congress
in February to make Medicaid drastically harder to access
for the poor and disabled elderly. Specialists in elder law
around the state are saying that these changes, which the
Legislature has rejected for several years running, put into
law changes of a sort that the state has been quietly encouraging
counties to implement without official supporting regulation
The federal changes extend the “look back,” or period of time
the financial transactions of a Medicaid applicant are subject
to review, from three years to five years, and move the date
at which a penalty ineligibility period for giving away money
during that five years starts from the date of the gift to
the date of application for aid (i.e. when a person is already
in need). A memo from the New York State Bar Association Elder
Law Section’s Special Committee on Medicaid Legislation notes
that these provisions assume that the elderly can predict
their medical conditions five years ahead of time, and punishes
those who support their families and then experience an unexpected
The state changes would impose penalty ineligibility periods
for home care, not just institutionalized care, eliminate
the option for well spouses to avoid impoverishment by refusing
to include their income in the calculation of their spouses’
eligibility, and dramatically broaden the definition of an
estate from which the state can recover Medicaid funds.
The Bar Association’s memo notes that the total effect of
these changes will be to increase institutionalization of
the elderly as home care becomes less accessible, to create
gaps in coverage during which applicants’ health can deteriorate
severely, and to impose financial burdens on hospitals and
nursing homes whose existing clients lose coverage for a period
Lou Pierro, an Albany-based elder law lawyer, adds that it
will also increase the rate of bankruptcy and divorce as desperation
measures to secure health care. “The world has changed in
a very dramatic way,” he said. “It’s really gloom and doom
Punitive approaches to Medicaid that ignore likely long-term
increases in the cost to the state are nothing new in New
York; it has just been a while since they have successfully
made it into law. According to several specialists in elder
law around the state, throughout Pataki’s administration,
the Department of Health has shied away from formal rulemaking
or regulatory processes surrounding Medicaid in favor of quietly
encouraging de facto implementation of unwritten restrictions
by the counties or through fair hearing proceedings.
For example, at the end of last year Albany County attempted
to depart from existing state practice and say social-security
income could not be deposited in shielded “special needs trusts”
to allow disabled people to access Medicaid and still afford
other living expenses. In January, a few days after Metroland
wrote about the issue [“Breaking the Trust,” Jan. 5], the
Department of Health instructed Albany County that its policy
was against state and federal regulations and it should continue
to allow the deposits.
But it may not have been merely a case of one county misinterpreting
regulations. “It’s my understanding Albany County had put
the DOH on notice, waiting for an answer. . . . I do know
from talking to the attorney at DSS that they had been asking
the state for guidance and not getting any,” explains Kimberly
Strauchon Verner, an attorney with Tully, Rinckey and Associates.
“DOH, by not answering, was tacitly saying ‘Go ahead’ and
if it worked they would try it elsewhere, but if it didn’t
they wouldn’t be associated with it.”
Others who have worked with DOH noted that the delay was not
unusual for a large state bureaucracy. Still, says Verner,
after the Metroland article came out, the state managed
to act in “24 to 48 hours.”
It appears that Albany may have been one test case for this
type of approach to cutting Medicaid expenses. Verner said
she had heard from DSS officials in Ulster County who were
watching to see the results of Albany’s experiment closely.
Albany County’s DSS commissioner, Elizabeth Berlin, said in
January that she knew that Wayne and Broome counties were
considering a similar approach, and lawyer Ed Wilcenski noted
that Saratoga County had issued a policy with some similar
wording as Albany’s though not going as far. Calls to those
counties DSS departments were not returned.
While successfully preventing disabled people from putting
social security funds into special-needs trusts would have
affected only 96 people if implemented in Albany, it would
have affected thousands if implemented statewide. The nonprofit
NYSARC alone manages 1,150 such trusts, and many more have
been set up with private attorneys or by individual trustees.
In another example, the state has now lost three lawsuits
in three separate counties regarding an attempt to implement
a new, yet unwritten, rule about resource allocations. Under
current law a person whose spouse is institutionalized may
apply to keep a larger amount of assets than would usually
be allowed under Medicaid law if those assets are needed to
provide their minimum monthly living expenses, as determined
by Medicaid law.
However, over the past couple years, state administrative-law
judges who oversee the hearings to approve these extra resource
allocations began ruling instead that the non-institutionalized
spouse should buy an annuity, effectively generating their
needed monthly income by using up their principal rather than
by earning interest on it. “People went to hearings where
the county didn’t even object [to the requested increase]
. . . and suddenly out comes this decision stating you should
buy an annuity,” said Rene Reixach of Rochester law firm Woods
Oviatt Gilman. “There was never any public notice of this.”
In December 2005 and this February respectively, Supreme Court
judges Donna Siwek of Erie County and Robert Sackett of Sullivan
County called these decisions “arbitrary, and capricious”
and declared them null and void.
Reixach got a little indication of how what he calls “secret
rulemaking” at the Department of Health works when someone’s
goof left an internal note to the judge in the final copy
of a ruling on a request by one of his clients for an increased
resource allocation. The allocation was denied because only
a small portion of the living expenses—a monthly bill at an
assisted living facility for an 88-year-old woman with osteoporosis
and dementia—were determined to be “medical.” No such distinction
is written into the law, but the note in the ruling reads
“Phil: . . . Talked to Wendy about this before kate drafted
and she advised that this type of senior assisted living is
not grounds for increase, except where shown that cost is
for medicals. See what you think. susan.”
Reixach notes that without the increased allowance, his client
is likely to end up in a nursing home on Medicaid herself,
costing the state more. But what disturbs him more is how,
again, the state seemed to be taking a back-door approach
to introducing controversial changes in regulatory interpretation.
“It’s just a shabby way to do business,” he said.
With the federal Medicaid changes, and especially if Pataki’s
additional changes also become law, it becomes even more essential
to guard against a slippery slope of non-official erosions
of Medicaid eligibility, said Pierro. “Without that, people
Calls to the state Department of Health were not returned.
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.
Supreme Court Judge Thomas Spargo [“Out
of Left Field,” Newsfront, Sept. 1, 2005] was
taken off the bench last month by the Commission
on Judicial Conduct for abusing his judicial office
for personal gain. The most egregious charge Spargo
faced was pressuring lawyers who had cases pending
before him to make large contributions to his
defense fund. Bauer was also charged with distributing
$2,000 in gas coupons in an attempt to buy votes
during his 1999 run for Berne town justice. He
was cleared of a charge of paying for cross-endorsements.
Starting Monday, Spargo will have a job as Troy’s
deputy corporation counsel. Spargo is not the
first disgraced judge to be a Troy city deputy
corporation counsel: The city hired former Troy
city court judge Henry Bauer after he was removed
from the bench in 2004. . . . Citizens for
Responsible Zoning has followed through on
its promise to file a lawsuit against the city
of Albany over the rezoning of a parcel of land
on Holland Avenue from office commercial
to highway commercial [“A Little Highway in the
City,” Newsfront, Dec. 8, 2005]. The Article 78
lawsuit, filed on April 18, attacks the zoning
change as illegal spot zoning. CRZ is supported
by several elected officials, seven neighborhood
associations, the Council of Albany Neighborhood
Associations, and Save the Pine Bush.