Not on the Air
Citizens groups want public-access TV, and all the city
of Albany has to do is ask for it
In 2002, members of the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations
started talking about getting a public-access station in Albany.
A year later, CANA member Aimee Allaud began taking the tapes
of CANA meetings to Bethlehem so that they could be aired
on Bethlehem’s successful public-access station, TV-18.
About three and a half years ago, the Albany Common Council
Committee on Public Authorities and Utilities began meeting
in anticipation of the city’s contract with Time Warner Cable
running out. They started discussing the possibility of getting
public-access television in Albany. They brought in community
members, including Allaud, and heard from representatives
of Time Warner. But, according to Councilman Michael O’Brien
(Ward 12), it was not long before Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings
decided to appoint his own committee to deal with the public-access
The mayor’s committee never issued a report on its findings.
On Monday, Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) stood on the steps
of Albany City Hall, surrounded by members of the Coalition
to Save Albany, and raised the issue again. With chilled breath,
Ellis told the gathered crowd that it is important to make
the city’s politics more transparent by broadcasting public
To achieve this goal, Ellis noted that Albany corporation
counsel John Reilly and the Law Committee of the Albany Common
Council, who are currently in negotiations with Time Warner
Cable, would have to demand that Time Warner provide the service.
Albany, under its current contract, receives 5 percent of
revenues from Time Warner (about $1 million a year). Time
Warner also is required to provide funding for equipment for
public-access television. Twelve years ago, when the contract
was first signed, the equipment went to the Albany School
District and the College of St. Rose, and was never made available
to the public.
Now that it has been operating without a new contract with
Time Warner for three years, the city has had the option to
negotiate for funding that would help create a public-access
station. O’Brien notes that Bethlehem recently secured a grant
from Time Warner in addition to its regular 5 percent of about
$10 per subscriber to help its public-access program.
Ellis, however, said that although the Common Council gets
to vote on whatever deal is reached with Time Warner for its
franchise agreement, he and the council have no idea exactly
what is taking place and what is being asked for in the negotiations.
most contracts the city negotiates, the council has no input,”
Ellis said. “We don’t know what went on in the negotiation.
We don’t even know what the city is requesting, and they send
it to me, as a councilman, to vote on. I don’t even know what
the city requested, what was the give-and-take, and I think
that is unfair to the public.”
O’Brien said he has heard that the corporation counsel’s office
is trying to negotiate for a similar deal to Bethlehem’s.
“There has been more noise about it in the last eight weeks
than in the previous three years,” he said, “even though the
contract has been expired for about three years.”
Reilly would not reveal the exact details of the negotiations
but said, “We are aware of Bethlehem’s contract and we would
like to be able to obtain benefits other municipalities have
achieved.” Reilly insisted the city is looking at “what would
make the most sense and be best utilized by the different
organizations and groups that would like to have access to
Anton Konev of the Coalition to Save Albany organized the
meeting on the steps of City Hall on Monday. Konev said he
has an idea why the Jennings administration might not be pressing
Time Warner to provide public access. “Public access would
give a voice to those who don’t see eye-to-eye with the mayor,”
Konev noted. However, he added, “Public Educational and Government
(PEG) programming is required by federal law. Cities are given
the opportunity to take advantage of it, and for almost two
decades now, the city of Albany has decided not to take advantage
of public access.”
Konev said that public access would provide communities the
chance to cover themselves, by giving minority groups stronger
voices and allowing them to become part of the media. He also
noted that it would provide technical training and job opportunities.
Steve Pierce, executive director of New York Media Alliance,
noted that “most state capitals have a public-access station.”
Pierce further insisted that Time Warner’s deal with the city
is quite beneficial for the company, and therefore, “It should
define significant benefits that our citizens will derive
from allowing a private company use of our streets, sidewalks
and public buildings to operate a lucrative business.”
Ronald Quartimon, director of the Arbor Hill Community Center,
said that he has a specific use in mind for public-access
television if it were available in Albany. Quartimon has been
working with the Albany District Attorney’s office on their
“Bring It to the Courts” gang-prevention program, which gives
school kids the chance to produce videos. Quartimon said he
would love to air the children’s work in Albany, but because
there is no public-access station in Albany, the Albany children’s
work will run on Schenectady’s public-access station instead.
As Monday’s press conference came to a close, a reporter from
a local television station burst through the doors of City
Hall, jovially announcing that the mayor and corporation counsel
were not in. Ellis, who was talking to other reporters, stopped
and yelled to the new arrival, “Yo, really? They work every
day! They are here every day! I just saw the mayor drive up,
so if you go up the right-hand side, he might be parked up
there! I’m serious! I just saw him.”
Ellis laughingly shook his head and returned to his thought
at hand. “My point is, this is the time to bring it to the
forefront. On the council, we talk amongst ourselves about
what we’d like to see. Today was about bringing it to the
forefront that the community has been denied public access
and that we need to bring it to Albany, and if it doesn’t
come to Albany, it needs to be explained why.”
Allaud said that it is good to see the issue raised again,
as she has been raising it every month at CANA meetings, but
with each passing year, it gets harder to believe anything
will happen. Allaud said she has been reassured by Jennings
each year that he is “on it.”
is now 2006,” said Allaud. “We have been working on this for
four years, and the city still lacks what any civilized city
Your Face, Satan!
Hugo Chavez stomped his opponents in a thoroughly
predictable victory this week in Venezuela’s presidential
election. Sailing back into office for a third
term, Chavez polled a 30-percent lead over his
closest rival, Manuel Rosales. But the opponent
that Chavez seemed most pleased to hold his victory
over was George W. Bush. Rebuffing the U.S. government’s
attempts to talk, Chavez said at a press conference,
“They want dialogue but on the condition that
you accept their positions. If the government
of the United States wants dialogue, Venezuela
will always have its door open. But I doubt the
U.S. government is sincere.”
This past week has been a showcase for George
Bush Sr.’s friends, and all they have done recently
to clean up the messes of little Bush. On Wednesday,
Washington D.C. could finally stop holding its
breath as the Iraq Study Group, headed by Bush
family friend James Baker, finally released its
report. While the report seemingly did not contain
a quick fix, it did level some constructive criticisms
at the Bush administration. For example, it suggested
that perhaps there should be some diplomacy aimed
toward Iraq’s neighbors Iran and Syria. At the
same time, Rumsfeld’s replacement and Big Bush’s
personal buddy Robert Gates seemed to cruise towards
confirmation as Secretary of Defense by telling
everyone what they wanted to hear: neither admitting
defeat in Iraq nor claiming victory.
4th Meal or Crunchy Wheezey
Taco Bell took green onions out of its gourmet
creations this week after an E. coli outbreak
made its way through 11 of the taco joint’s locations
in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Although
the company said there was no conclusive evidence
that the onions were to blame, they claimed an
independent lab had confirmed a “harsh strain”
of E. coli in green onions at multiple locations.
Taco Bell was criticized by New Jersey’s health
commissioner for being slow to close locations
after what she described as a “killer bug” hospitalized
nearly a dozen people, including young children.
Organizers plan upcoming workshop to help plot course for
beleagured Albany neighborhood’s revitalization
Residents and community leaders in Albany’s South End have
long felt that their neighborhood has been overlooked in redevelopment
efforts taking place elsewhere in the city over the last few
years. But finally, both ideas and dollars are stirring in
Albany’s oldest and most historic neighborhood, where bleak
poverty and solid, third-generation home ownership can still
be found a few doors apart.
Dozens of residents, community activists and business owners
are expected to gather at the Albany Housing Authority headquarters
at 200 S. Pearl St. on Dec. 11 and 12 for a workshop to set
redevelopment priorities for the South End. The workshop is
sponsored by the city of Albany and the South End Action Committee—appointed
by Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings—and will give residents a chance
to speak on various redevelopment proposals.
The city and the South End Action Committee have been working
with the New York City planning firm of Phillips Preiss Shapiro
Associates Inc., whose representatives will be on hand to
explain their recommendations.
Organizers hope that South End residents will attend the program’s
two public meetings, scheduled from 5:30 to 9:30 PM on Dec.
11 and 12, at the Housing Authority headquarters. Both sessions
are free and include dinner. Residents with questions should
contact the Albany Local Development Corp. at 434-2532 or
the Housing Authority at 641-7500.
trying to look at areas where quality-of-life issues matter—housing,
home ownership,” said Carolyn McLaughlin, the Albany Common
Council from the 2nd Ward who represents the South End and
has been chairing the South End Action Committee. “We haven’t
been fortunate enough to get the level of resources applied
to our plans as have happened in other parts of the city.
Now, I think other funding streams are finally opening up.”
Among the ideas to be discussed: the Housing Authority’s plan
to build affordable homes that blend with surrounding historic
architecture. With groundbreaking scheduled for the spring
on a vacant lot along Broad Street, and with the South End
one of the last truly affordable neighborhoods in Albany,
residents are asking how best to blend future development
with access to housing, said Darren Scott, the Housing Authority’s
revitalization coordinator. The fact that the South End even
needs to start thinking about that is a sign of change.
South End is due,” Scott said. “The fine line we’re having
to walk is revitalizing the South End without gentrifying
in Rensselaer battle it out over the county budget—and it
looks like nobody wins
big term Republicans have
people is ‘accountability,’ ” Michael Rourke practically yelled
at the Rensselaer County legislators Monday night (Dec. 4)
during a public hearing. Bracing himself against the podium,
the hall’s PA speakers distorting as he bellowed: “Where is
the accountability of this board?”
frustration was echoed again and again as Rensselaer County’s
budget woes were highlighted during the hourlong budget meeting.
ago, County Executive Kathy Jimino proposed a spending plan
that would hike taxes for the beleagured county by 26 percent.
The Republican majority responded with a set of amendments
that it claimed will bring the tax increase down to 9 percent.
The legislative body split Monday night along partisan lines
on a vote to approve the Republican majority’s amended budget.
Wednesday afternoon, Jimino was expected to veto the budget,
and, according to Majority Leader Robert Mirch, the legislature
in return would override the veto.
dramatic turn, Jimino came before the board Monday night to
call for the body to reject the amended budget. It was the
first time, Jimino assistant Chris Meyer said, that the executive
had appeared univited at a legislative meeting to speak.
her speech, Jimino said that the Republican majority had created
“a fantasy budget” that overestimates revenues and underestimates
costs. One obvious sticking point in the budget, she said,
is the plan to level a surcharge on cigarettes sold in Rensselaer
County. Even if the legislature could convince the state Legislature
to give them the authority to pass this tax, the estimated
revenues are overreaching, she said.
legislator Peter Grimm pointed out, the tax would simply drive
smokers to other counties. “They could just drive over the
bridge to Watervliet,” he said. “It would hurt the small businesses
fault Jimino pointed out during her speech is the budgeting
for a $1.4 million increase in sales-tax revenue simply because
“it just seems like a number we should be able to achieve,”
as she said she was told by a representative of the majority.
According to her office, Rensselaer is expected to lose sales-tax
revenue in 2007.
officials,” Jimino said, “we have a responsibility to tell
it like it is.”
“it is” isn’t pretty. According to Jimino’s office, although
sales-tax revenue in the county has increased by $11 million
since 2001, operation costs have skyrocketed: the cost of
Medicaid has increased $10 million; the cost of health insurance
nearly $6 million; the county contribution to the retirement
system has jumped from $300,000 to just under $6 million;
energy costs average an increase of $2 million; and the debt
service (which will pay for the Rensselaer County Jail expansion
and the equipment to maintain infrastructure, among other
things) has risen nearly $4 million.
Mirch argued that Rensselaer’s bugetary crisis could be eased
is if nonprofits and colleges, such as Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute, were held accountable for their strain on the county’s
infrastructure and services.
years ago, the not-for-profits in Troy came up with a, I think,
collectively gave the city $400,000,” Mirch said. “But it
has now gotten to the point, given the situation of not only
Troy, but of the entire county and the entire state, all of
the not-for-profits—and I don’t mean the churches—really need
to step up to the plate. I know places like Yale University
gives New Haven enormous amounts of money. And there are ways
they could do it. They could give us money, for example, in
the city of Troy, earmarks just for paving, and we could pave
the streets just in the vicinity of the college and places
that border it.”
on a sinking ship if we don’t do anything about this,” Mirch
added. “We have to stop spending. It is the majority’s position
that at this point, from this day forward, the only money
we are going to spend are mandated expenses. If somebody needs
a new computer, well you know what? They are going to have
to get through the year with their old computer.”
of those cuts seem awful political, said Democrat Flora Fasoldt.
Fasoldt has become the public face of rescinding the contentious
pay raises Rensselaer legislators gave themselves last year.
And she said that effort, along with the minority’s attempts
to hold the majority accountable, has drawn the Republicans’
cut our office staff in half,” she said. The Republicans’
amended budget calls for a staff reduction for the minority
offices of 49 percent, while the majority reduced its own
staff by 8 percent.
budget is all about retaliation. Retaliation against the minority
because we spoke out against their excessive pay raises. It’s
the politics of the moment,” she said. “That’s how they govern—fear
says the minority has offered ways of saving money that have
been disregarded by the majority. Mirch argued that the Democrats
suggestions were considered, but accused the minority of playing
politics. He pointed to their effort to sell the naming rights
to the Joeseph L. Bruno Stadium on Hudson Valley Community
these constant political games by the Democratic minority,”
Mirch said, “that is insulting to the taxpayers, it’s insulting
to Sen. Bruno, when we have such bigger problems to be working
on. Why are they wasting the public’s time and the legislature’s
time with something like this? Even if they got their way,
it wouldn’t affect the county a bit. HVCC is controlled by
the SUNY system, obviously, and any money would go to the
Daus of Johnsonville left the legislators Monday night with
a simple message: “You mark this date,” he warned, “so that
two years from now, when you are looking back and wondering
why you aren’t in office any more, you will know this had
something to do with it.”
Jimino veto the budget, the legislators are scheduled to hold
a session at 6 PM tonight. It will be open to the public.
loose ends this week-