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Glamorous safety: A volunteer paints a bicycle helmet.

PHOTO: Alicia Solsman

Tragedy Into Action

Bicycle safety is at the heart of an event honoring the memory of a local fashion figure

‘What we’re hoping for today, more than anything, is to get awareness out about road safety for everyone,” said Jodi Banfelder, organizer of the bicycling-safety event and benefit held Saturday (June 23) in the memory of Diva de Loayza at the Warehouse in Albany.

Loayza, local businesswoman and owner of the Some Girls boutiques, died June 6 after being hit by a van while crossing Western Avenue on her bicycle a week earlier. Loayza was not wearing a helmet or carrying identification, two facts that originally prompted Banfelder to take action. Banfelder had been friends with Loayza for four years after meeting her at the Washington Park dog field, and felt she had to organize something in her friend’s memory to make sure incidents like Loayza’s are prevented in the future.

“It was like I was on auto-pilot saying, ‘I gotta do something. I gotta do something,’ ” said Banfelder exhaustedly, her eyes lingering on two tubs of hot pink and bright purple paint.

Each tub was dipped into throughout the day as local artists painted children’s helmets, an attempt to glamorize a particularly bulky accessory. Personal identification tags, which can be placed inside bicycle helmets, were donated to the event by local law firm Martin, Hardin and Mazzotti.

Prize drawings also were held, with items made by local women artists and crafters. One handmade lingerie-style apron up for grabs was nicknamed “the Diva.”

“[Loayza’s] family is interested in promoting helmet use, making sure everyone wears them correctly and also carries identification when biking,” said Joshua Poppel, executive director of New York Bicycling Coalition.

NYBC is currently raising money in Loayza’s name to create a comprehensive bicycling program throughout the Capital Region. With the thousands of dollars already donated, NYBC is offering a free bicycling-education class on Saturday, July 28. The class will include information on road rules, directional signaling and tips on how to avoid common collision scenarios.

By using the accident as a focal point for awareness, both Loayza’s family and NYBC hope to bring attention to the organization’s “Share the Road” campaign. The campaign’s goal is to see legislation passed that would require driver-education classes to integrate the shared-road concept into statewide curriculum.

“The fact is that anyone who wants to bicycle in Albany and many upstate cities is really forced into a marginalized situation,” said Poppel. “There’s no biking infrastructure, and either people are forced into actions that aren’t the safest thing or if they do ride on the correct side of the road, they draw the ire of motorists. We’re saying we need to have these facilities in place so that it is safe and people can feel comfortable on our roadways.”

It’s not surprising to Banfelder that the community has reacted so strongly to Loayza’s death.

“There’s no other word—she was just fabulous,” said Banfelder, who was sporting a pair of silver drop earrings from Some Girls.

Loayza owned stores in Albany, Troy, Syracuse and Ithaca. The boutiques offer clothing handpicked from some of the trendiest designers around the country.

Loayza maintained a constant appearance in all four stores, according to Jennifer Roman, an associate at Albany’s Some Girls boutique. Employees’ comments about Loayza are similar to those from friends and family: She was an engaged owner who was always personable, caring and willing to help anyone.

As for Some Girls, “The stores are going forward,” said Roman. “We’re going to continue bringing the Capital Region the best, funkiest, coolest, trendiest clothes in the area, as always.”

Loayza’s family intends to keep all the boutiques open and expanding with the same energy Loayza put into the store. This, of course, may be a challenge, considering the many accomplishments of Loayza, which, according to Roman, “She did all in heels.”

—Carlene Willsie

For more information about bicycle safety or to donate money in Loayza’s name, visit www.nybc.net.


What a Week

Friends in Low Places

Rudy Giuliani sure can pick ’em. On Monday, “America’s Mayor” announced that Andrew Ravenel would replace his son, Thomas Ravenel, as Giuliani’s South Carolina’s campaign co-chair. The appointment came a week after the younger Ravenel resigned as co-chair because of a federal cocaine-distribution indictment. Andrew Ravenel, however, isn’t so fresh and so clean either. In 2000, he referred to the NAACP as the “National Association for Retarded People.” When asked about the comment, Ravenel replied that he had merely misspoken, saying, “I made a rhetorical slip, and now they want to lynch me for it.”

A Supreme Loophole

The 2003 McCain-Feingold campaign-reform law experienced a setback this week. The contentious law, which makes it illegal for corporations or unions to pay for campaign ads during a blackout period—30 days before a primary and 60 days before an election—came before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case brought by Wisconsin Right to Life. In the case, the anti-abortion organization was penalized by the Federal Election Commission for running ads during an election season calling for Wisconsin senators to vote against a filibuster. In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that the ads didn’t campaign against the senators, merely stated an opinion. Though not overturning McCain-Feingold, the decision has some analysts concerned. In his dissent, Justice David Souter wrote: “After today, the ban on contributions by corporations and unions and the limitation on their corrosive spending when they enter the political arena are open to easy circumvention. . . .”

Just Because You Are Paranoid

Internal reports released by the Central Intelligence Agency Tuesday revealed agency misconduct was rife from the 1950s-’70s. The 693 page document, requested for release by the National Security Archive through the Freedom of Information Act, detail an assassination plot against Fidel Castro, wiretapping of U.S. journalists, spying on anti-war and civil-rights activists, and the testing of drugs such as LSD on unwitting citizens. We guess we’ll just have to wait another 30-something years to figure out what’s really going on with those weird noises we sometimes hear on our phones.



Stopping Short

Albany County Legislature hears the outcry over the controversial Colonie Center bus-stop relocation

The controversial Colonie Center bus stops, located at 50 and 80 Wolf Road, have drawn plenty of public attention since the shopping center moved the stops outside the mall perimeter in May 2006, leaving most pedestrians to brave the mall parking lot and, at times, four lanes of traffic. Public-transportation advocates suspect that the mall would prefer riders be dropped off out of eyesight, while mall management points to the addition of national-chain retailers and restaurants changing the landscape of the mall, and the Capital District Transportation Authority say it’s a matter of unattainable navigation routes.

The Albany County Legislature is trying to find common ground.

“It’s just disappointing,” said Albany County Legislator Timothy Nichols (D-District 20). “You know, it’s the first instance that I can recall in the area where buses are directed out to the street and not into the parking area. We’re excited to see the investment and the new mall being built, but to then have a negative policy like this come into play, it really takes away from what they’re trying to achieve. This sends the wrong message to the whole idea of riding the bus.”

Since 2006, CDTA mainline buses, which used to drop off passengers at the former Applebee’s entrance, have been rerouted to drop off passengers at the Wolf Road stops. Two specialty bus lines, STAR service, equipped for the elderly and disabled, and Shuttlefly continue to drop off riders at several mall entrances. Mall management claims this is possible due to their smaller size, which makes it easier to navigate the mall’s perimeter.

Citizens for Public Transportation petitioned CDTA and the owner of the mall, Feldman Mall Properties Inc., to allow the mainline buses to drop off passengers at the mall. After members Lucile Brewer and Nancy Benedict spoke to Albany County legislators at the June 11 meeting, the Legislature passed Resolution 286, formally requesting that Colonie Center allow CDTA buses to pick up and drop off passengers in front of mall entrances.

“It’s for the convenience of the community,” said Albany County Legislator Virginia Maffia-Tobler (D-District 4). “With some resolutions, everyone doesn’t accept them, and an individual will stand up and argue the case, but there was no need to debate this. It was passed unanimously; there was no one who disagreed that this wouldn’t be a good thing to do.”

Nathan Smith, of CPT, said the legislative action is a step in the right direction. “Everybody we talk to, from patrons to politicians, even the stores in the mall—everybody except the mall management—wants the buses to come in there. It’s the town center now.”

Feldman Mall Properties, a private company that specializes in buying malls and restoring them, purchased Colonie Center in February 2005 for $82.2 million. In a little over two years, the privately owned company had spent an estimated $70 million in improvements onsite. With all of this money being pumped into the shopping center’s economy, a lot of people are speculating as to why the company refuses to reconstruct a bus stop inside the parking lot.

Erick Jerard, public-relations representative for Feldman Mall Properties, says it’s not about the money. “The redesign of the mall’s front entrance is a key element in Feldman Mall Properties’ multimillion-dollar renovation plan for Colonie Center,” he said. “The outdoors seating areas created as part of this redesign, which was fully approved by all governing agencies, are incompatible with these buses.”

In a public statement from Feldman Mall Properties, Jerard claimed that “mall management had suggested a few other possible locations for a bus stop, including in front of Sears at the back of the mall, but they have been rejected by the CDTA for various reasons including scheduling and costs.”

“This is news to me,” said CDTA spokesperson Margo Janack. “Because that’s actually where our previous bus stop location was, at the Sears location.”

According to Janack, before the new construction began under Feldman Mall Properties Inc, all CDTA buses utilized a “ring road” that surrounded the shopping center, and were able to access all mall entrances.

“Buses went in and went out of the mall,” she said. “It was easy access.”

“[Feldman Mall Properties Inc.] asked us to move our bus stop off the property,” she continued. “We worked with the mall to develop another bus stop location on Wolf Road. Under the circumstances, it seemed that it was the best bus stop location near the property, which would provide access to the mall and work within the structure of our routes.”

Both mall management and CDTA have agreed to construct a pathway and sitting area for “respite” between the CDTA bus stop and the entrance to the mall.

“Colonie Center will continue to act in the spirit of the Legislature’s resolution,” Jerard said, “as we have all along. However, it is important to note that the bus stop will not be returning to its former location.”

—Meagan Murray


Speaking Freely

Former Rensselaer County employee claims he lost his job for being too vocal—and now he is headed to court

Jeffry Jackson had been working for the county of Rensselaer for 27 years when he was let go in March 2002. It was a Friday, he said, when he was called into County Executive Kathy Jimino’s office. “She told me that she had a ‘gut feeling’ that this wasn’t going to work out.” And that was it. After working his way up the ranks of the Real Property Tax Services, and serving for 11 years as director of that department, he was told he would not be re-appointed.

“It seemed as though I had proven myself and earned that position,” he said. “So to be let go because of a ‘gut feeling’? It was awfully troubling to me.”

Soon after, Jackson began a lawsuit against Jimino, the county, and former County Executive Henry Zwack, claiming that he was removed from his position as retribution for his outspoken opposition to a policy shift initiated by Zwack. The suit focuses on the question of whether or not Jackson was within his rights as an individual to speak out on issues he thought were disruptive to the productivity of his department. (Zwack has since been dropped from the suit.)

With a court date set for Aug. 13, Jackson, who is currently the assessor for the city of Rensselaer, looked back at an alleged 2000 meeting which he claims sums up the real reason behind why he was fired.

“Back in January of 2000, when I was still working for Rensselaer County, I was summoned to Mr. Zwack’s office,” Jackson recalled. “He invited me into his office. He was reading an article in the newspaper. And he went into a real tirade.” Here the story turns colorful, with Jackson claiming that Zwack began to verbally abuse him, even threatening to ruin his career.

“It really took me aback,” he said, “as to what he was going on about.”

What Zwack was going on about, according to Jackson, was recent newspaper coverage of the high-profile struggle the two men had been waging over the structure and procedures followed in the tax department.

In 1996, Jackson said Zwack had made changes in the way Jackson’s office was run. “It was a misguided idea about getting ready for the future without any input from people who worked for the county.”

These changes included moving tax mapping out of his office, changing the methods of inputting certain data, but the biggest change was moving some of his personnel into another department. This change, he said, immediately hurt the ability of his department to provide services he thought they should be able to provide.

“The assessors were coming to me,” he said. “I was seeing that the changes weren’t working.”

He heard complaints from the towns immediately, he said. “I heard from the towns, from the assessors, and I would speak to Zwack. The assessors invited me to speak to anyone I could speak to, to try to get this thing changed back, ’cause they saw it as something that had been working fine for 20 years, until this change was made.”

Finally, Jackson went to the press, which is at the crux of the lawsuit.

“At that point, it really became a situation where I felt personally that I couldn’t ignore this. I thought that I had exhausted all avenues internally,” he said. “So I thought that, ‘I have to do something.’ And the more articles he [Zwack] saw about me, the more upset he got.”

In 2001, Zwack left office, and Jimino was elected soon after. It might stand to reason that the tension surrounding Jackson would have eased with the change of executive. So why would Jimino fire him? Zwack and Jimino, Jackson pointed out, are both Republicans in Rensselaer County.

Both, he said, march to the beat of the same drummer.

“Clearly it is my opinion that had I said nothing, done nothing, not invested myself in this at all, I probably would still be employed by Rensselaer County. I think there was a cause and effect between my speaking out . . . [and] the decision to terminate,” Jackson said. “Why is it that a person who has committed himself to trying to serve the public, worked there 27 years, all of a sudden is let go just because the county executive at the time had a feeling things weren’t going to work out?”

Neither Zwack nor the attorney representing Rensselaer County could be reached for comment.

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


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