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We're here for the convention center: (l-r) Gov. Pataki and Mayor Jennings

Is This the Right Place?

Controversy continues as a site for the Albany Convention Center is selected

‘Economic development, business development, community projects—I mean, the sky is the limit.” That’s what Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2) said she saw as she surveyed the grounds around the Albany Bus Terminal this past Tuesday.

“You have to seize the moment!” she insisted just minutes after the Albany Convention Center Authority announced it had unanimously voted to select the 30-acre site as the location for the multimillion-dollar convention center.

But that is not what Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) said he sees in the area. “There is nothing there. What’s around there? I know there are some restaurants, but it’s underneath 787. It’s not a very enticing place to be.”

Calsolaro supported locating the convention center in the Washington Avenue Armory. “It’s in the center where the businesses are; there is something there for people to do at night,” Calsolaro argued. According to those involved in the process, that site was eliminated due to traffic concerns.

Calsolaro feels that the chosen location will separate conventioneers from the rest of what the city has to offer. He said the city will likely bear the costs of making the convention center more accessible to the rest of the city through overhead walkways and shuttle services. County Legislator John Fredrick disagreed. He said that the site allows for planning that will not leave the convention center isolated from the rest of the city.

“It is sited so well,” Frederick said. “It’s going to be designed well. It gives me a good feeling. They are not going to design it so that it’s going to be a wall cut off from the rest of the city. This is going to have a seamless flow of patrons, shoppers, conventioneers, people going to the Pepsi, people going to the Capitol and to the river. It’s going to be integrated.”

As for the existing bus station, McLaughlin said it can be integrated into the convention center. She said that the center could play host to a “transportation hub.”

“It’s not going across the river,” she added.

Before construction can begin, an environmental review must take place that is expected to last for about a year, during which time the authority will create a plan for the site. There is also concern that the area is part of the Dutch colonial stockade and is a sensitive archaeological site.

McLaughlin noted that her support does not mean that she has no concerns as the project goes forward. In fact, she said her role is just beginning.

“The governor, the mayor, the county legislature, the county executive, they had an opportunity today to show how they could work together to get to this point. Now is an opportunity for us as local representatives to do our job. To make sure the benefits that can come from projects like this are realized in the community.” However, it is still an open question whether the project, once realized, will turn any profit.

On Tuesday, a number of politicians said that organizations that weren’t able to hold conventions in Albany will now be able to have their conventions in the city. Gov. George Pataki and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings both claimed that Albany is the greatest capital city in the country. But according to Heywood Sanders, who was quoted in Metroland’s feature “Convention Wisdom” [March 9, 2006], Albany might just have to be greater than that to have its convention center turn a profit and benefit the surrounding communities. He said convention centers are not the boon that many communities hope they will be.

A number of cities that are considered more tourist-friendly than Albany—Raleigh, N.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Baltimore, Md.—have not had the kind of patronage they anticipated and operate in debt. Sanders suggested that the more a community needs revitalization, the more its leaders are willing to gamble on a convention center.

“When the talk [about the problems plaguing convention centers] starts, I always hear, ‘It won’t happen here,’ ” Sanders said. “But they say that everywhere.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

If It Bleeds

We know that the media survive by sucking dry the marrow of the day’s popular stories, but the never-ending coverage of the Porco tragedy hit a new low this week. Popular media-watchdog blog AlbanyEye mused that while on vacation last summer, Hurricane Katrina had left it unmoved, but this year, vacationing out of range of Porco coverage had caused withdrawl. The July 31 post summed up what most local media believe: “The Porco trial has a powerful hold on us.” From a Times Union story that polled the opinions of Chris Porco’s fellow diners at Delmar’s Four Corners Lucheonette to the exploitative overuse of Joan Porco’s image, nothing was too tasteless if it satiated the Porco addiction.

Waiting for Castro

Cuban exiles in Miami danced in the streets this week upon hearing news that Fidel Castro had relinquished power, if only temporarily, for the first time in his 47-year rule. The nearly-80-year-old handed control of the country over to his brother, Defence Minister Raul Castro, while he underwent surgery for stomach bleeding. It is not clear exactly what Castro is suffering from. Doctors say his ailment could be anything from an infection to cancer.

Baseless?

It was announced this week that Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who is suspected in the killing of 24 Iraqis, is going to sue U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for libel. Lawyers representing Wuterich claim that Murtha’s comments about the case were false and defamatory, and forced the Pentagon to investigate the case “no matter how baseless” the charges. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials announced today that evidence collected by agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service suggests U.S. Marines deliberately shot women and children in Haditha.

Can’t Take the Heat

Due to intense heat, Saratoga Race Course canceled the entire nine-race card yesterday (Wednesday, Aug. 2). It was expected to be one of the hottest days in Saratoga history, with the heat index of nearly 110 degrees. The decision, which was made by trainers, the track veterinarian, stewards, and senior management at the New York Racing Association, is a historic one: It was the first time in memory that a full-day’s card was canceled.



Battle Ready

War takes center stage in former soldier’s “Clean Money” campaign against Michael McNulty

This September marks the first time in a decade that voters in New York’s 21st Congressional District will have a choice in a Democratic primary for U.S. representative. Retired Army Lt. Col. Thomas J. Raleigh announced July 20 that he would enter the race against incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael R. McNulty.

McNulty, who has been in office since 1988, has been reelected eight times by wide margins and has said, “It is good to have a primary from time to time.” Now, he faces competition on issues such as the war in Iraq.

At a press conference last week, Raleigh declared, “Our campaign will focus on three themes: spreading democracy, confronting domestic challenges, and national security. Of the three, national security is far and away the most important.”

McNulty, an early supporter of the war, is now a vocal opponent and had joined the call to bring U.S. troops home. While Raleigh apparently advocates a gradual reduction of troops, he also has said he would continue to try to secure the international community’s support for America’s Iraq policy.

Raleigh, who served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, said he believes that since 9/11, the United States has failed to appreciate the complexities of global threats.

“What we have been witnessing in Washington the past few years is not politics as usual,” he said. “It is politics at its worst.”

At the press conference, Raleigh preempted his audience by posing a few questions to himself about the war in Iraq. “Do I support the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces for Iraq?” he asked. “If immediate means tomorrow, or next week, or even next month, the answer is ‘no’ simply because it is impossible to withdraw so quickly.

“The damage we could cause in the region by conducting a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be greater than the damage that has resulted from invading Iraq in the first place,” Raleigh said. “I’m in favor of a phased withdrawal, the timing of which ought to be based on security conditions on the ground.”

It is in the interest of the United States and Iraq, he said, to rely on a gradual reduction.

McNulty is quick to point out that he supports a timetable for withdrawl, too.

“I propose that we . . . start withdrawing our troops, and make our position very clear to the Iraqis. If they want this new government and this new way of life,” McNulty said, “they have to come forward, volunteer, stand up, and defend it. Bring our troops home.”

Raleigh pointed out that McNulty voted for the war and asserted that the congressman remained silent on the issue, claiming that McNulty “didn’t take a stance about it for 16 months.”

“I’ve been speaking so constantly,” McNulty said, “and [I am] very clear now after the 9/11 Commission that Iraq is not the war on terror.”

McNulty explained that the Bush administration misled Congress, and it wasn’t until the 9/11 Commission surfaced that it was conclusive that the war had been based on misinformation.

“The 9/11 Commission concluded that there were no weapons of mass destruction, no ties between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, and no nuclear capability,” McNulty said. They then realized that “we went after the wrong guy.”

In addition to their differing opinions to the war in Iraq, the candidates are running dissimilar campaigns. Raleigh is running his campaign in the spirit of Clean Money, Clean Elections as advocated by Citizen Action [“The Ties That Bind,” July 6, 2006]. McNulty, who cosponsored the bill and believes in the cause, has decided to run his campaign without the guidelines of CMCE.

Instead, McNulty said he will run his campaign at the level of his opponent, just like he did 10 years ago against wealthy opponent Lee Wasserman. “If Tom has a limited campaign, I’ll have a limited campaign,” he said. “If he wants to run a grassroots campaign, I’ll be happy doing that, too.”

“This campaign seeks to fundamentally change the nature of the political campaigning in this country.” Raleigh said. “Money still matters too much in politics, both in terms of political campaigns and access to the congress.”

“Millions of dollars are being raised and spent to run congressional campaigns, even in small media markets,” Raleigh said. “I will not be a party to it.”

Raleigh’s campaign goals include raising 2,000 $5 campaign contributions, limiting his maximum contribution to $100, accepting no contributions from political action committees, and winning the race with $50,000.

McNulty, on the other hand, has been quoted as having, to date, $373,377.

“When elected,” Raleigh said, “I will be beholden to, serve the interests of, and be responsive to the citizen of the district, and not to any corporate or special interest.”

Given a choice, he said, the people “will vote for a change.”

—Leah Rizzo


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