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By Appointment Only

Timing of Schenectady councilwoman’s resignation called pure by some, politically motivated by others


For the second time in less than a year, the Schenectady City Council soon will appoint a new member to fill a vacancy on the all-Democratic board.

The seat opened up when former Councilwoman Barbara Strangfeld resigned at the end of September, months after she confirmed her intention to relocate to Pennsylvania sometime this year. The timing of her official resignation, days after the Sept. 20 deadline for placing the seat up for election on this November’s ballot, has some Schenectady residents and politicos crying foul and alleging that the Democrats purposely manipulated the system for their own political advantage.

“It’s quite obvious, given the fact that she knew she was going to be resigning several months ago, that she deliberately delayed her official resignation so that the Democratic Party could appoint whomever they chose to appoint, rather than allowing the voters to choose,” said Thomas Buchanan, chairman of the Schenectady County Republican Party.

Strangfeld’s official resignation was effective Sept. 30. She said she chose that date for several reasons, but to avoid putting her seat on this November’s ballot was not one of them.

“Being an accountant, I actually scheduled it for the end of a quarter: 9/30,” Strangfeld said. Professionally, the date allowed her time to train her day-job replacement. It also enabled Strangfeld, who was chairwoman of the council’s finance committee, to assist in preparing the city’s annual budget.

>From the beginning, when council members first became aware of Strangfeld’s impending resignation, the council asked her if she would consider staying on long enough to guide formulation of the budget proposal, according to Frank Maurizio, councilman and finance committee member.

The budget proposal was announced by Mayor Brian Stratton Sept. 20. Ten days later, Strangfeld’s resignation became effective.

The Sept. 20 deadline for placing vacant seats on the same year’s ballot is established by New York election law. Vacancies that occur after this date are not voted upon until the following November. In the meantime, a temporary council member may be appointed.

Although Schenectady’s city charter authorizes council members to make such appointments, the all-Democratic council will first acknowledge a recommendation from the Democratic committee.

Buchanan said appointment rather than election affords city Democrats a “tactical political advantage.” Appointment saves the committee from expending money to support a candidate’s election campaign and creates an incumbent advantage when the seat goes up for election the next year, he said.

When the council chooses Strangfeld’s temporary replacement, it’ll be the second appointment this year. The council appointed Councilwoman Margaret King earlier this year after former Councilman Peter Della Ratta resigned in January after pleading guilty to an assault charge.

Since Ratta’s departure occurred well before the September deadline, the unexpired time on Della Ratta’s term (one year) will be on next month’s ballot. King currently is campaigning to retain her appointed position. Her opponent is Republican- sponsored Independent Vince Riggi.

“Right now the people of Schenectady are being denied their due process because they should be voting for two City Council candidates this year instead of just one,” Riggi said. “[Strangfeld] waited until just a few days after the deadline to be put on the ballot to submit her resignation. That part of it does not sit well with me because I believe that was contrived, and it took the power of the vote and democracy away from the electors.”

Riggi is campaigning under the slogans “Vote for Change” and “Watching the Back Door.” He said he wants to bring a minority voice to a council whose members have become detrimentally like-minded.

If Riggi is unsuccessful in his bid to oust King, the council’s party makeup will not change, at least until the unexpired time on Strangfeld’s term goes up for election in 2007, as only Democrats are being considered for the vacant seat.

“Elected office is by its nature a political process, so it would be disingenuous to say there is no politics involved,” Maurizio said. “We’re an all-Democratic council. We’re not going to appoint someone who’s not a Democrat or not a Democratic supporter. It’s just the way of the world. That’s not to say there aren’t other good people out there who can do the job, but, because of the investment of time and money that the party makes in us as candidates, I think it’s only fair to hear what they have to say and listen to their recommendation.”

The committee already has interviewed two candidates and will meet with five more during the coming weeks, according to Richard Naylor, chairman of the city Democratic committee. He expected the committee would be ready to offer a recommendation to the council by mid-November. The council is not required to heed the committee’s advice.

Maurizio said council members have yet to discuss a deadline for filling the vacant seat, but said he hopes someone will be chosen by the end of November.

—Nicole Klaas

What a Week

What Civil Rights?

After spending weeks on the president’s desk, the controversial Military Commissions Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Tuesday. The anti-terrorism law allows the CIA to resume aggressive interrogations in secret prisons, denies suspected terrorists the right to challenge their detentions in civilian courts, and permits the use of evidence obtained through coercion. It authorizes the president to draw the line between acceptable interrogation techniques and impermissible torture. Opponents and supporters agree the measure marks a major shift in the nation’s approach to terrorism and several legal principles by granting approval to programs Bush first launched in secret.

Neocons in Space

President Bush’s aggressive foreign policy has been so successful in the earthly realm that it was only a matter of time before he took it to the final frontier. This week Bush signed a new National Space Policy that rejects limits on the right of the United States to build weapons in space. The policy also insists that the United States has the right to deny access to space to anyone perceived to be “hostile to U.S. interests.”

One Ring to Fool Them All

According to certain lawmakers, the general public has the wrong idea about Iraq. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told an audience at the Merrick Jewish Center in Merrick, N.Y., that “the situation [in Iraq] is more stable than you think.” He talked of “bumper-to-bumper traffic,” video stores, hotels and vendors. In fact, he said that being in Baghdad is “like being in Manhattan.” According to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Iraq is far more exciting than Manhattan. In fact, it is a lot like J.R.R Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. The Bucks County Courier Times reported that Santorum told their editorial board, “As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else. It’s being drawn to Iraq, and it’s not being drawn to the U.S. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don’t want the Eye to come back here to the United States.”

Neighbors in Black

Frustrated by what they see as a lack of police response, local goths initiate crime patrol in Albany’s “student ghetto”

On Tuesday night, Myron Getman stood on the corner of Quail Street and Western Avenue in Albany, dressed in a long black trench coat, covered in beads of water that trickled down the edges of his wide-brimmed hat. With his imposing stature and a jutting, scraggly goatee, Getman is the kind of guy you probably would avoid on a dark, wet night like this. But according to Getman, he was there because he was tired of hearing stories from his friends about how scared they are to be living in Albany’s “student ghetto.” Horror stories about their apartments being broken into and robbed one week and then again the next, stories of friends being surrounded and beaten by six men—“eight if you count the two guys who stood guard on the corners as lookouts.”

Getman does not live in this neighborhood any more, but he can remember when he did as a student. He now lives a few blocks away, and says that now he just wants to help. A regular in the goth-music scene, a DJ and member of goth band the Flying Buttresses, Getman decided to hold a “goth neighborhood walk” after a discussion on his blog,, was flooded with stories about bad experiences with crime and police in Albany. Two of his friends, Gail Dorn and Seth Schwartz, showed up to help him.

“I think the weather scared some people away,” said Getman, as he strolled down Quail with his friends, handing out flyers to coeds.

Getman said he contacted Albany Police Sgt. Fred Aliberti and was greeted with “a terse response, quite a terse response.”

Aliberti said he encouraged Getman to join the city’s police-sanctioned Midtown Neighborhood Watch. He insisted that cooperation between watch groups and the APD is essential. “If a neighborhood watch is not working with police, how are they going to become knowledgeable about the process and procedures? The Midtown Watch reports all kinds of codes violations, broken street lights, and they go through that whole process.”

Getman said he is not interested in being part of a police-organized watch that meets when told to. He says that isn’t the kind of vibe that will get students to come out to watch meetings. “When you’re a student, it’s like you don’t give a shit where you live,” he explained. “You might not even change your sheets.” Getman said he thinks a watch led by residents—with flexible hours to allow students a more wide-open window of time to take part—might lead to more participation.

Getman’s decision to start a neighborhood watch in the Pine Hills section of Albany is reminiscent of Anton Konev’s push to start a watch in the neighborhood around this time last year [Newsfront, Nov. 10, 2005]. Konev struggled at first to gain police support, while the police worried whether Konev was looking to attack them in the press or simply work with them. Konev had his stories as well—stories about friends being mugged, and actually being attacked himself. According to Konev, his watch is doing quite well. The Midtown Neighborhood Watch meets on Monday and Thursday nights, and according to Konev, “There has been a healthy turnover of old volunteers and new students.” Konev says he thinks things have gotten better in the neighborhood since the watch started.

“We haven’t come across any crime yet,” he reported, “but we are always updated on everything going on. Like recently, a couple of students were burglarized. We are constantly updated through e-mail from police. So, so far, so good.”

According to Aliberti, the Midtown Watch is “a prime example of citizens and the police department working together in a positive community policing atmosphere.”

While business owners accepted Getman’s flyers, their typical responses afterward were “We already have a neighborhood watch,” and “We don’t have many problems in this area.”

Getman and his group strolled the streets, chatting about bands like Grave 45 and Joy Division, stopping to drop off literature, and periodically returning to the corner of Quail and Western, where police cars would sometimes park in front of a fire hydrant to run into Pepper Jack’s for a bite to eat. After a walk up to Stewart’s on Quail and back around to Western, Getman and Dorn exclaimed, “Look! They are still there,” noticing two officers who had been and still were eating at Pepper Jack’s.

The Albany Police are at the root of Getman’s motivation for starting his watch. Getman insisted that the police simply are not getting out and taking care of situations they know about. He said his friend who was attacked by six men near the Stewart’s on Quail was told by the police when he filed a report that “they’ve been aware of similar attacks taking place over the last week or so in the same area.” Getman said his friends who have had problems in the “student ghetto” have simply been blown off by the APD. Officers asked them questions like, “What do you want us to do about it?” when calling about groups of kids fighting on the street, and told to physically “kick” a sleeping transient out of the entryway to an apartment building. Aliberti insisted, however, that the midtown area is headed in the right direction, and he said that he thinks Getman and his friends might have a “perception problem” regarding the APD. He further insisted that the APD needs to have open lines of communication with the community, just as a neighborhood watch should have with the APD.

Getman’s blog features a long rant about crime in Albany, the experiences of his friends, and the refrain, “The Albany Police Department is Dysfunctional.” The message board underneath the thread contains many testimonials, including one from user “doomsday virus” that says: “half the time i try and call the police about neighborhood disturbances (fights, rock/bottle throwing, vandalism, etc) they laugh and say things like ‘what do you want us to do about it’ (actual quote right there). more often than not, they don’t even show up.”

—David King

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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