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In attendence: Dominick Calsolaro and Robyn Ringler at the meeting at the North Pearl Street YMCA

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

In 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.

“This 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 apparent.”

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.

“The 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 crime.

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.

—David King

What a Week

Now Whatcha Gonna Criticize?

In 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.

Jumping Ship

White 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

Hong 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.

College Made Easier

As 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.

“Every 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.

“Half 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.

“There 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.”

“Many 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.”

—Jessica Best

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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