attendence: Dominick Calsolaro and Robyn Ringler at
the meeting at the North Pearl Street YMCA
Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen
Down the Gauntlet
dealing with Albany’s gang violence, critics suggest fewer
meetings and more volunteering
Albany County District Attorney David Soares has a challenge
for everyone concerned with combating gun and gang violence
in the city of Albany. “You want to talk about solutions,
get out of bed early on Saturday morning and go volunteer.
Just go do something!”
Soares told Metroland this week that he has become
frustrated as the same people at the same meetings gripe about
resources and demand investments and solutions they can’t
provide themselves, while programs around the city that give
kids a place to go struggle to maintain staff.
is the only city where, whenever we are in a time of crisis
and you should be getting up and doing things,” he says, “people
want to meet.”
Soares was directly referencing the Aug. 30 meeting at the
North Pearl Street YMCA. Soares, visibly tormented by recent
incidents on Albany’s streets, insisted that a culture of
youth violence needs to be broken from the inside out by community
members willing to give Albany’s kids an alternative to a
culture of violence. A who’s who of Albany politicians, activists,
social workers, and concerned citizens packed into a small
meeting room at the YMCA along with reporters and cameramen
who paced back and forth outside, holding microphones and
straining to get a sound bite.
What had brought most of them there was the shock of the murder
of 15-year-old Shahied Oliver. Earlier in the day, it was
announced that Nahjaliek McCall, also 15, had been arrested
for shooting Oliver to death on Aug. 18. While the killing
was Albany’s first homicide of 2007, it comes as shootings
in the city have been steadily increasing.
Although well-attended by most accounts, the meeting resulted
mainly in venting, and according to some critics, including
Soares, it was indicative of the problems Albanians face in
trying to combat such a challenging issue.
While Soares insisted that concerned Albanians of all kinds
could contribute by volunteering to help at one of the many
gang-prevention programs in the city (including his own Bring
It to the Courts program), he also said that local and state
law enforcement need to conduct sweeps of the city’s abandoned
buildings to clear out guns that have been stashed there.
Criminal justice expert Terry O’Neill, who attended the meeting
at the YMCA, said he feels one large issue that is affecting
the violence levels in Albany is that of the Rockefeller drug
laws. “Under the Rockefeller drug laws, we have seen three
generations raised up who watched their fathers being imprisoned
for drug sales. In their minds, inevitably someone is going
to prison. And there are no transition services. And this
goes on for generation after generation. And the long-term
psychological impact on young people in our communities is
O’Neill believes Soares, who ran his 2004 campaign for district
attorney on his opposition to the Rockefeller Drug Laws, has
abandoned his pledge to combat them.
minute Dave Soares came back from Vancouver, after he made
those statements, he backed down,” ONeill said. “He lost credibility.
We elected him for being a champion for Rockefeller reform,
and now it is dead in the water. Something has to be done
to reignite it in our inner-city neighborhoods. These laws
are at the root of the problem, and people should start demanding
that they be changed.”
Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) said
he was made hopeful by the turnout at the YMCA meeting, but
realized that a lot of the meeting’s attendees had been scared
into action by Oliver’s shooting. “The overflow attendance
speaks for the fact that what people on the street are saying
is not an exaggeration. People in my neighborhood are afraid,
and I heard what the community was saying.”
Common Councilwoman Barbara Smith (Ward 4) said, “The root
causes have not been addressed. There is no reason to think
that there are not the conditions for violence to erupt again.
We really haven’t done anything since Shahid Oliver’s murder,
but we haven’t had an opportunity to do anything substantive
to change conditions or causes. So there is no reason to think
it could not occur again, especially with the school year
starting. No one can see into the future, but I am very glad
we passed legislation for a gun-violence task force in Albany.”
Early this week, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings announced his
six appointees to the Common Council Gun Violence Task Force:
Police Chief James Tuffey; Michael P. McDermott; the Rev.
Dr. Edward B. Smart of the Israel African Methodist Episcopal
Church; City Treasurer Betty Barnette; Family Court Justice
Gerald E. Maney; and Robert E. Worden, an associate professor
at the School of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany,
who has been involved in gathering statistics on Albany gun
According to Calsolaro, the council has received 28 resumes
from people interested in being one of the council’s seven
appointees to the task force. Calsolaro said interviews for
the positions probably will begin in the second week of September.
Whatcha Gonna Criticize?
a political preemptive strike against the Democratic
Congress, President George W. Bush announced the
possibility of troop reduction in Iraq, following
an eight-hour tour on Labor Day (his third visit
to the war zone). The Democrats will hold hearings
on Bush’s Iraq strategy this month, which likely
will result in criticisms of the current situation,
including the number of troops currently stationed
overseas. Bush declared that security in the country
has improved after meeting with Shiite Prime Minister
Nuri Kamal al-Miliki and other top Iraqi officials
in Sunni-dominated Anbar, claiming the meeting
was a model of progress towards a unified Iraq.
Bush has planned to pull 30,000 troops next spring,
and has not said if reductions will take place
before that time.
House Press Secretary Tony Snow announced his
resignation Friday, making him the third official
to leave the White House in less than three weeks.
Snow, who has been battling colon cancer since
2005, said that his health was not a factor in
his decision, stating that he is stepping down
because he cannot afford to live on his meager
$168,000 salary. Snow follows political advisor
Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
out of the White House door on Sept. 14. President
Bush has yet to comment on the rate at which his
administration is losing top members.
Nobody Knows Hsu When He’s Down and Out
Kong businessman Norman Hsu’s donations to the
Democratic Party have been returned after news
that a warrant for his arrest from a 1991 fraud
case remains open in California. Sen. Hillary
Clinton (D-N.Y.) received $23,000 from Hsu, who
also helped raise hundreds of thousands for her
campaign. Hsu surrendered to California authorities
and was released on $2 million bail. Democrats
who also received contributions from Hsu include
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Attorney General
Andrew Cuomo, the political action committee for
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Senate candidate Al
Franken, and Reps. Michael M. Honda (D-Calif.),
Doris O. Matsui (D-Calif.), and Joe Sestak (D-Pa.).
Each has stated that they will divest themselves
of the money.
tuition continues to climb, lawmakers from New York state
introduce bill to lessen the pain
At Skidmore College Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Kristen Gillibrand
(D-Greenport) introduced legislation that would increase tax
deductions to help middle-class families afford college tuition.
The “2007 College Affordability Act” would make current tax
deductions for college tuition permanent, as these deductions
are set to expire at the end of this year. The law also would
increase the deduction rates and tie them to inflation in
order to keep up with increasing college costs.
year, nearly 200,000 college-age students delay starting college
because they cannot afford to attend,” said Gillibrand. “In
the 21st century, a college education has become necessary
to succeed and compete in the global economy. Unfortunately,
college tuition and fees have skyrocketed, making a college
education unaffordable for working and middle-class families.”
The current tax deduction for college tuition and expenses
was created in 2002 and hasn’t been increased for inflation
since 2004. According to Gillibrand, college tuition in New
York state has increased by 28.1 percent over the past four
years, with the average tuition at a four-year state university
being $5,138 for the 2006-07 school year.
Current law provides a $4,000 tax deduction for taxpayers
with an income of up to $130,000 and a $2,000 deduction for
taxpayers with an income between $130,001 and $160,000.
The act, cosponsored by Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-Hammondsport),
a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, would
provide a $10,000 tax deduction for families with incomes
of up to $100,000; a $6,000 tax deduction for families with
incomes between $100,001 and $130,000; and a $3,000 tax deduction
for families with incomes between $130,001 and $160,000.
Robert Shorb, director of Student Aid and Family Finance at
Skidmore College, said that any increase in tax deductions
will be a great benefit for students. With college tuition
increasing annually, any additional tax deduction would mean
that families will be better able to afford tuition and more
likely to send their children to college.
of all graduate students at SUNY Albany have to pay their
tuition on their own,” said Junru Ruan, president of the Graduate
Student Organization. “These students would greatly benefit
from the proposal.” There are currently 5,000 full and part-time
graduate students on campus.
are nearly 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students in New
York’s 20th Congressional District, and nearly 1.2 million
in New York,” Gillibrand explained. “Too many students are
graduating college with huge amounts of debt, delaying their
ability to go on to graduate school or start a career in public
service. Last year, the average debt of a need-based, student-loan
borrower at a four-year state school was $14,276.”
of our families in Upstate New York are living paycheck to
paycheck, balancing their mortgage, the groceries, heating
bills, while struggling to fill their gas tanks,” she continued.
“Today, families have to take out several loans just to make
the cost of annual tuition. In short, this is an opportunity
for families throughout New York State and the country to
have needed tax relief.”
loose ends this week-