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Causing a fuss: Watervliet Councilman Mike Manning.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Politics on Parade

The city of Watervliet is caught up in its first mayoral primary

 

The red, white and blue of political signage dominates the landscape of the small city of Watervliet. Enter the city on Route 2, and you will see the smiling face of 11-year incumbent Mayor Robert Carlson on a billboard high above the street. Sit at a table facing a window at the Dunkin Donuts on Watervliet’s 19th Street and you will gaze at the grinning face of Councilman Mike Manning, whose image is part of the window display at his headquarters.

Manning, a junior councilman, has initiated the first mayoral primary in the city’s history by challenging Carlson.

Manning wasn’t on the ballot when he ran for the City Council in 2005. At the time, he was a registered Independent, and through a write-in campaign he defeated the incumbent. A lifetime resident of Watervliet who worked at General Electric in Schenectady for years, and a well-known youth football coach, Manning said he became involved in Watervliet politics because many of his friends felt it necessary to move out of the city.

“The reason I got involved is I’m 40-something and raising a family here, and all my friends were leaving,” explained Manning. “We said, ‘We don’t want to leave. What do we do to keep the people here?’ ” It was decided someone needed to run for office. “Someone said, ‘OK, Mike, you do it.’ ”

“He could probably live anywhere he wanted to but he decided to stay,” said Mike Reinfurt, a friend of Manning and a Watervliet business owner. “When he felt the need to get involved, I was shocked. I said, ‘Why do you want to bother bucking the system?’”

Watervliet is a Democratic stronghold, and, as Reinfurt put it, “In a little city like Watervliet, it is noticed who has a Manning sign and who has a Carlson sign.”

Manning felt that the government in Watervliet had become closed off from the average citizen.

As a councilman, Manning passed resolutions to initiate a public-comment period for council meetings and put public comment on record. Carlson called the move redundant: “You can walk off the street, come and see me in my office. The phone number for my house is in the telephone book. We did not have a public forum unless it was public hearing, but we let anybody speak. He wants to say he opened them to the public and that is nonsense.”

Manning disagreed.

“You’ve got two different management styles,” he said. “I’m saying, ‘Come to the council meetings, come to City Hall and complain!’ The old style is, ‘I hope someone doesn’t come to the council meeting and complain.’ ”

Manning also insisted that the council abide by the city charter and meet twice a month.

“For years we went twice a month, but then there wasn’t much legislation,” said Carlson. “We had to create legislation to have a meeting. So we voted back then to go to once a month. I don’t care if they want to go twice a month down there; it’s fine for me.”

Concerned about a recent 23-percent tax hike and a budget that has seen a $2 million dollar surplus whittled away, Manning put forward Local Law 5, which says that the City Council must approve budget transfers of $2,000 and over.

Carlson voted for the law at the time, but now is ambivalent about it. “I didn’t think it was necessary. I didn’t care. I even voted for it, but I could have lived without it. It was no concern of mine. I trust the people we have down there and how they handle the transfers of funds.”

Manning said he realized he would be more effective in the position of mayor than in his position as councilman, and decided to register as a Democrat this January and run for the office.

Manning and Carlson share similar views on a number of issues: They both want to open the Watervliet Arsenal to public businesses to capitalize on the growth of the tech sector in the region; they both say code enforcement will make landlords more responsible for their property and lead to a more stable population; and they both claim they are financially conservative and want to ensure that Watervliet is able to provide its citizens with the services they are used to while maintaining a responsible budget.

They both claim that a good majority of people they speak to while campaigning say they will support them.

Campaign signs are posted almost tit-for-tat down the streets (sometimes both candidates have signs in one window), suggesting that things may be much closer than either candidate would like to admit. Exactly how their plans to achieve their agendas differ is not quite clear to everyone.

One issue that does stand out is code enforcement. When Manning ran for his council seat , this was one issue he focused on. A code-enforcement law was passed while the campaign was happening, but Manning has plans to expand it by having the city’s professional fire fighters do inspections while they aren’t fighting fires. Manning said he has been told the unions would not go for that. But Manning said he has spoken to them and has their approval. The Watervliet Firefighter’s Union, IAFF Local 590, has endorsed Manning.

According to Manning, in Carlson’s 11 years as mayor, he has had plenty of opportunity to enact initiatives and address problems.

Reinfurt said that he thinks Carlson has done a lot of good as mayor, and yet said, “I think it is time for someone young who will listen to new ideas.”

At the same time, Reinfurt said that he felt the mayor needed to take part in a debate so that he could put his experience side by side with Manning’s youth and new ideas.

Weeks ago, Manning sent a registered letter to Carlson challenging him to debate. Carlson has yet to respond. “I have a very definite idea about a debate,” Carlson told Metroland, “that I will discuss at some other time.”

“I think Bob has done good things,” said Reinfurt, “and in the debate Bob could represent what he has done well. Let the people decide. I think if anything, that is what people are yearning for, so they can say, ‘I heard both sides and now I will vote for who I think is best.’ ”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Downward Mobility

Environmentalists and other assorted activists applauded Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s veto this week of legislation that would have allowed Segway PTs onto roadways and sidewalks. The legislation, which aimed to bring the “electric personal assistive mobility devices” into the legal fold of other, more traditional two-wheeled vehicles, was shot down, the governor cited, due to safety concerns. Advocates, including the Sierra Club and New York Public Interest Research Group, worried that allowing the self-balancing personnel transporters into mainstream use would have offered people yet another way to avoid walking, leading to myriad health issues. New York state has now joined with San Francisco and the Disney Corporation in banning of the futuristic conveyances.

Can’t Steamroll the Father of a Steamroller

Republican consultant Roger Stone was forced to resign this Wednesday after a threatening call he allegedly made to the father of Gov. Eliot Spitzer was made public. The message left on Bernard Spitzer’s phone said that he would be compelled to testify about “shady campaign loans” made to his son during his 1994 run for attorney general. He also called Spitzer “psycho” and “phony” and a “piece of shit.” Before resigning, Stone implied that the tape could have been manufactured or that his apartment could have been broken into and his phone used by someone trying to frame him.

Trouble in Mind

U.S.-born “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla, arrested in 2002 for allegedly plotting to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States, was found guilty this week of conspiracy to commit murder in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya. This conviction follows years of torture, his lawyer alleged, pointing to the 43 months Padilla spent in extreme isolation in a U.S. Navy brig, during which time he was force-fed LCD and PCP to act as “truth serums.” Dr. Angela Hegarty, who spent 22 hours examining Padilla before he stood trial, spoke to Democracy Now! this week and detailed the effects of such treatment on the man’s psyche: “What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind. . . . His personality was deconstructed and re-formed.”



Into the Fray

Feeling abandoned by the major political parties, residents of North Greenbush start their own

 

“I would love to see Route 4 become another Wolf Road,” said Jeffrey Spain, the chairman of the North Greenbush Democratic Committee. “I want development for this town.”

People from all over the Capital Region, he pointed out, travel to Wolf Road to shop and eat at any number of the road’s thriving businesses. There is no reason that Route 4 from North Greenbush down to Hudson Valley Community College can’t be just like that.

“I think that would be a wonderful thing,” he enthused.

That is exactly the kind of talk that makes Mike Angelo nervous. The Greenbush resident is a proponent of growth and development, he said, but it must be responsible growth and reasonable development that respects the semi-rural nature of his community.

This year, North Greenbush will go to the polls to elect a new supervisor, town justice, town council members, as well as a highway superintendent, town clerk and receiver of taxes. With the North Greenbush Republican Party seen as a proxy of big developers, and now the Democratic Party echoing similar pro-development sentiments, and with so many important positions up for election, Angelo decided he needed to find another way to get his voice heard.

So he gathered together dozens of his neighbors and founded the Greenbush Party.

“It’s a grassroots effort,” said Angelo. “A lot of us are neophytes. I, for one, was not involved with politics with the exception of voting.”

They raised 500 signatures, twice the number needed, and have submitted their petitions to the New York State Board of Elections. Opponents have until today (Thursday), he said, to dispute the signatures.

At the heart of the development controversies in North Greenbush is the years-old plan to build a shopping mall on an open swath of once-pristine land at the northeast corner of routes 4 and 43. The land has been zoned for commercial use for years, Spain said, and has been the subject of continual battles and lawsuits.

The people in Defreestville, where many of the members of the Greenbush Party live, Spain suspects, have been fighting development of the land for years.

“They want to keep it forever a field because somebody saw a white deer in there 10 years ago,” he derided. “I would love to see everything become forever wild. But it just isn’t realistic.”

“In the meantime, everybody in the town of North Greenbush drives past that intersection to go to Crossgates, to go to Colonie Center, to go to Stuyvesant Plaza, to spend their hard-earned money. We could be spending our money in the town of North Greenbush instead.”

“It seems like that where there is a piece of ground that is not developed, they want to tear it up and develop it for something,” Angelo countered. “We understand development is not bad in and of itself, but it has got to be something that is keeping in the character of the town. We are definitely not against development. That would be just silly.”

Another reason Angelo wanted to start the Greenbush Party is the very real possibility looming over the upcoming November elections that the two major parties, plus the Independence and Conservative parties, would be running an identical slate of candidates.

“There was no choice being given to the voters,” Angelo said. “There will be no choice available for the voters with the major parties running the same slate of candidates.”

Many insiders voice the belief that Spain is working to align the Democratic Party in North Greenbush with Republicans who have strong ties to Sen. Joe Bruno (R-Brunswick), though Spain has argued that it is simply not true.

“I personally am endorsing a slate of candidates,” Spain said. “That is my right.”

It is true, he said, that the Conservative and Independence parties are supporting the same candidates he is supporting. But the Republicans are having a primary, so it is not known yet who they will endorse. When the North Greenbush Democrats caucus, then the town Democrats will choose who they want to represent the party.

“The North Greenbush Democratic Party will select at its caucus the seven candidates to run on its Democratic line, and I will support those candidates in the general election,” Spain said. “I am going to call a caucus. It is the American way. The Democratic voters in the town of North Greenbush deserve to have a caucus.”

“I think he is lying,” said Thomas Wade, chairman of the Rensselaer County Democratic Party. “I believe Jeff Spain, as town chairman, will not call a Democratic caucus.”

Wade said that he believes that the Conservative and Independence parties are working closely with the Republicans. “The two people who control the Independence and Conservative parties are both on Senate payrolls, thanks to Sen. Bruno,” he said.

The hope, he said, is for the same slate to hold the three lines, after a Republican primary. The fourth line—the Democratic—would be the icing on the cake.

None of this, however, directly affects Angelo’s newly formed party. They have stepped out of the fray of the Democratic Party, and have sought support and candidates from a broad expression of the political spectrum. They have chosen candidates they believe share their “smart growth” vision for North Greenbush.

“Obviously this thing would not be happening if the response we were getting from our petition gathering was, ‘We don’t need another party and things are fine in the town of North Greenbush,’ ” Angelo said. “We want to win at the polls. But winning at the polls for us isn’t about power. It is about bringing the whole town of North Greenbush together, so that we can work toward a common goal, instead of being at each others’ throats all the time.”

By Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net




Loose Ends

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