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You can’t handle the truth: Roger Cusick makes his case.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Making His Case

Republican challenger Roger Cusick faces an uphill battle against longtime Democratic incumbent Michael Breslin

 

Roger Cusick is building a case. Cusick, the Republican candidate for the office of Albany County Executive, has had years of experience as a trial lawyer and a law professor at the University at Albany. He is using his skill as a litigator to establish a detailed indictment of incumbent executive Michael Breslin, while trying to paint himself as a positive, independent alternative to the longtime popular Democratic incumbent.

Cusick’s last run for public office was in 2004, when he made the battle between Paul Clyne and David Soares for the Albany County District Attorney position a three-way race. “I wanted to run against Paul Clyne. I knew he needed to be replaced, and that happened. I just thought I would be replacing him,” jokes Cusick. This time around, Cusick has a single opponent firmly in his sights and, slowly but surely, Cusick has been raising issues with the way Breslin is managing the county.

Facing down one Democrat instead of two does not mean things will be any easier for Cusick, who must overcome not only the voters’ habit of returning Democrats to the county executive office, but also his opponent’s strong popularity—even the Breslin family is a magnet for Democratic votes.

Cusick is confident that his opponent has left enough openings that he can attract independent-thinking Democrats as well as his Republican base come election day. In the past few weeks Cusick has drawn attention to what he describes as mismanagement and overspending at the Albany County Court House project, which climbed at least $40 million over its original budget. Breslin asserts that all the dealings in the restoration project have been legitimate. If elected, Cusick intends to direct the new county attorney to perform a full audit of the project.

“The core of County Executive Breslin’s problems is his fiscal irresponsibility, but what underlines that even more is a total lack of vision,” said Cusick.

Breslin said his chief responsibility as county executive is to the poor and elderly of the county. “More than anything, why people should keep me here is what we have done here to benefit our community’s less fortunate and underprivileged.”

Breslin said he wants to increase the availability of long-term in-home care for the elderly, increase affordable housing by working with municipalities to rehab homes no longer on the tax roles, and increase awareness and funding for programs like the Trinity Institution and Parsons, which help out kids in trouble.

But Cusick said that Breslin has been performing his job at a very basic level. “He is a custodian in the position of county executive, and he has had 12 years to give us a vision, and what do we have to show for it? High taxes and little or no change.”

Cusick says that besides being critical of Breslin’s fiscal sense, he is concerned that Breslin is doing nothing to ensure Albany does not lose its youth to greener pastures.

“Look around and you see we are hemorrhaging our children, and that has got to stop,” said Cusick.

Cusick has proposed a plan he thinks would bring more variety to Albany’s downtown that is currently dominated by bars and clubs. Cusick’s proposal would bring together the area’s colleges to establish an arts district in downtown Albany, centered around Capital Repertory Theatre and the Palace Theatre.

Cusick would like to see students of the arts from local colleges housed in downtown Albany, in an effort to encourage a surge of galleries and coffee houses to replace the numerous bars that now dominate the district. “I see a lot of clubs, a lot of bars, a lot of emptiness. We need to give our students something to do besides hanging out and drinking, something with substance.”

According to Breslin, the Times Union Center is the biggest draw to downtown Albany. “When I came into government, we were paying a 10 percent property-tax bill to own that arena. It is now carrying itself. All the studies show what is coming to downtown are people coming to events at the Times Union Center.” Breslin said that he thinks the proposed convention center will only solidify Albany’s downtown as a regional arts destination.

For Cusick, though, the campaign is less about specific issues than it is about what he sees as an overarching problem: Breslin is a part of the Democratic supermajority, and Albany can, and will, only toe the party line. If elected, Cusick said, he would take a look at reforming the county charter and initiating term limits for elected county officials.

“There is no oversight!” said Cusick “We have the county Legislature with a supermajority, the DA, the mayor of the City of Albany, the city Legislature, the county sheriff—my goodness, they are all in the same party and there is nobody overseeing and looking out critically or skeptically.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Held Against Her Will

Multiple investigations were launched into the treatment of a 45-year-old mother of three who died Sunday while in police custody at the Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, Ariz. The woman, Carol Ann Gotbaum, was on her way to an alcohol rehabilitation program in Tucson and became angry when the gate crew refused to allow her to board the departing plane. Gotbaum was arrested for disorderly conduct, handcuffed behind her back, and put in a holding room with no surveillance cameras where she sat alone, irate, and shackled to a table. Police said that they checked on her 10 minutes later and found her unconscious with her hands pressed around her neck, in an apparent attempt to twist the cuffs over her head. They were unable to revive her.

Arms Dealer to the World

The United States was the top seller of arms to the developing world in 2006, making over $10.3 billion in revenue, according to the Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations report released Monday by the Congressional Research Service. Russia and Britain placed second and third, making $8.1 billion and $3.1 billion respectively. The big winner on the receiving end was Pakistan, 2006’s largest recipient of foreign weaponry, whose $5.1 billion arms deal included 36 new F-16C/D fighter planes and $640 million in missiles and bombs, according to the New York Times. India and Saudi Arabia were also major recipients of U.S. arms.

Global Warming a Plus for Shipping

One million square miles of open water, six times the size of California, became exposed in the Arctic this summer, more than ever recorded since satellites began monitoring the area in 1979. Experts reported that extreme summer ice retreat in the Arctic ice cap has created new channels through the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, causing Canada, Denmark, and Russia to scramble to secure shipping routes. The ice retreat likely will be greater next summer, as this winter’s freeze has a huge ice deficit. However, according to Marika Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., the effects of greenhouse gases on the Arctic region could be naturally reversed, stabilizing the ice for a while.



Development Deals

Mayoral candidates explain how Schenectady locals will, or will not, get their share

 

As city officials invest over $200 mil lion into downtown Schenectady’s business district to revamp Proctor’s theatre, Metroplex, and the City Center complex, residents have raised concerns at City Council meetings about the lack of attention being paid to deteriorating neighborhoods, abundant crime, and economic hardship in local communities.

“I think it’s certainly the perception among many in the city that too much money is going downtown and is not going into the neighborhoods,” said Mike Cuevas, Republican challenger to Democratic Mayor Brian Stratton in the upcoming November election. “It’s not without justification. The median household income for Schenectady is under $30,000. Those people cannot afford to go to shows downtown where the average ticket price is going to be $50. For a large segment of our population, when they see shiny new buildings, they’re going to say, ‘What’s in that for me?’ They’re on the outside, not able to take advantage of those things. So what are we doing for them?”

“I can understand the arts and Proctor’s as being an engine. But we have existing businesses that need assistance and are not getting subsidies just because they’re already there,” Cuevas continued. “Are we subsidizing new bars and restaurants so others might close? And do we want to spend these dollars to create minimum wage jobs when we’re trying to help our residents raise their level of income? There may be better ways to spend those economic-development dollars.”

Mayor Stratton said he understands that citizens want to see money invested in their community instead of downtown. “I think that people can naturally have a sense of frustration when they see all the new development going on downtown and the investment is largely private dollars. Looking outside at their broken sidewalks, it’s a very frustrating thing.”

“It’s been absolutely central that we concentrate on our core business district first to revitalize the city, to be able to regenerate the tax base that we need to be able to generate the confidence in our city as a whole,” said Stratton. “We’ve worked with the state, the county and with Metroplex to bring in nearly $200 million in new investment. I want to be able to harness the growing tax base of new investment to be able to turn that into investments into our neighborhoods.”

“Obviously we are a city with many, many needs,” Stratton said, “but you can’t start everywhere all at the same time.” Stratton said he hopes to come out soon with a neighborhood reinvestment plan.

According to Stratton, a major part of his time as mayor has been spent stabilizing the city’s finances, which were in ruin when he came into office. “Schenectady has gone through a path of recovery to resurgence over the past four years,” said Stratton. “When I became mayor in 2004, we had a financial analysis given to us by the state comptroller that said we have a city that is in severe financial distress that has survived only through the misuse of funds—that the city would run out of money by June 2004.”

“You had a city with the lowest credit rating in the entire state; it was bleeding financially, facing a $10 million deficit,” Stratton continued. “In the past four years, in a comprehensive effort to reduce expenditures and increase revenues, we eliminated deficit, turned Schenectady’s credit rating around; we finished the last two fiscal years with a budget surplus.”

“I think that’s an empty accomplishment,” countered Cuevas. “He’s done it on the back of the taxpayers.”

When asked what he thought of Stratton’s 2008 budget, which proposes a 1.2 percent tax deduction, Cuevas noted that it also proposes to increase spending at two times the rate of inflation. Stratton’s 2007 budget included a 1 percent tax cut, which Cuevas says was nullified by a “regressive” garbage tax.

Both candidates have stressed the need to draw people back into the Electric City. But according to Cuevas, for downtown development to lure residents in, the city first needs to combat its high crime rate. “We’re perceived as an unsafe city so that, unless we get that crime problem solved, that huge investment that we have downtown could be in jeopardy.”

A report from the State Department of Criminal Justice has showed a decrease in Schenectady’s crime by 14.2 percent for the first six months of 2007, but that follows years of increased rates for the city, which were up 7.4 percent from 2005-2006. From 2004, the year Mayor Stratton took office, to 2005, the incidents of violent crime increased by 1,481.

“The prime issue facing the City of Schenectady today is crime,” said Cuevas. “It appears that the current administration really does not want to address this head on. I think many people are afraid that it would create adverse publicity for the city if we discussed it openly. But, in order for us to effectively deal with the problem, we first have to admit that we have one. The combination of high crime rates and high tax rates go hand in hand to drive people out and prevent new people from coming in.”

—Jessica Best

jbest@metroland.net


Too Good To Be True?

Critics blast the current proposal to sell Troy City Hall as a back-room deal to boost election-year hype

 

Troy’s City Hall is in dire need of an overhaul—or the wrecking ball—most everyone in the Collar City will agree. The roof leaks. The heating and cooling system is outdated. The carpets are deteriorated. The windows are drafty. Half of the parking structure is closed off, dilapidated and dangerous. And though everyone seems to agree that the physical seat of city government is in a woeful state, disagreements abound as to what exactly ought to be done about it. When Mayor Harry Tutunjian announced last month that a Vermont-based developer, Judge Development Corporation, had proposed a deal to buy the building for $2.25 million, with plans to demolish and replace it, the announcement met with heated skepticism from many of Tutunjian’s critics.

“I am not satisfied that the information given to us so far has given us a basis upon which to make a decision to go any further,” announced James Conroy, the Democratic mayoral candidate. Further, Conroy insisted that the deal was nothing more than election-season hype, a back-room deal hatched to bolster the incumbent’s popularity.

“There is a habit of making these announcements,” Conroy said. “We’ve had everything from a maritime museum on the river, to selling water to adjacent communities, three different proposals to relocate city hall—one to Proctor’s, one to sell it to a hotel, and one to sell it for an office building. It is just another headline with no progress whatsoever.”

Making the most out of election-season hype himself, the former deputy mayor threatened a lawsuit if the administration were to move forward. At the crux of Conroy’s criticism is the method through which the administration negotiated the offer with Judge.

“The process needs to be a public process,” he said. “The city is required first to establish a value for that property, itemize it and put it out for public bid, and seek proposals. None of that has been done in this process. It has been omitted, and I think it has been a grave error.”

“Find five real-estate people, and ask them if they would sign off on this deal. I can tell you, I don’t think they will say yes,” Conroy told Metroland.

“I would think it would be in the city’s best interest to solicit a competitive bid, rather than go with one person,” said Tim Conley, with the Albany-based Conley Associates real-estate firm. “It is the way the state and federal government has been doing real-estate transactions for years. I am confused by the fact that they say that their charter allows them to just negotiate with one and then seek council approval. Why would you not make it an open forum for all developers to compete?”

The benefit of open bidding is obvious, said Conley: getting the best dollar for the taxpayers.

“How come when Albany County wanted a new courthouse they did an RFP [request for proposal]? Because that is the way you do it. How come when the county needed new space for the DA’s office they went out into the competitive market?” Conley asked. “Everything is competitive, brother. And I am not saying they are not getting the best deal at this time, but when you deal quietly, the way they are, it just leaves you open for questions to be asked.”

The city didn’t put City Hall out to bid, said Troy director of Public Information Jeff Buell in an e-mail interview, “Because it does not need to be. We have spent the better part of three years attempting to find a way to move out of this building in a manner that would not only replace this antiquated structure, but provide fiscal benefits and relief to the taxpayers.”

“What the ‘put it out to bid’ crowd has failed to answer is this. What happens when the City of Troy puts this property out to bid and the highest bidder comes back at $700,000 or $800,000? What then? What do you tell the taxpayers of the City when that happens? We are receiving $2.25 million, with the assurance that City Hall would be demolished at no cost to the residents.”

Under to the proposed deal with Judge, Troy would move its City Hall office into the Verizon building at 1776 6th Ave., which Judge owns, and pay Judge $16,000 per month in rent. In turn, Judge will lease City Hall for $1 a year, with the understanding that within a year, the corporation will pay to demolish the current structure, and within five years, it will exercise its option to purchase the property for $2.25 million. At that time, Troy will purchase the building at 1776 6th Ave. for $2.25 million. Additionally, Judge will reimburse the city for its total lease payments.

“When factoring in the cost of the demolition of this building, Judge Development will be paying approximately $1.5 million per acre of land that is currently a liability. JDC is not paying this price for a building, but for land,” Buell said. “Try and find a place anywhere in this area where developers are paying $1.5 million for an acre of land.”

Only by putting the property out to bid, Conroy argued, will the city know if that is really a good deal or not.

“You don’t know the value of the two properties,” Conroy argued. “What if someone were to come to City Hall, under an open process, and offered to buy the building and the site for $5 million, or $10 million? The city could then go buy the Verizon building, or wherever. Wouldn’t that be a better deal?”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net

You can follow the community conversation surrounding the Judge proposal, and get further insight into the city’s plan, at Metroland’s blog, metroland.typepad.com.


Signed Off

WRPI gives another community member the boot

 

Reszin Adams had made a home for herself on the airwaves of the Capital Region. For more than 15 years, the reliable, die-hard volunteer broadcaster was a staple of WRPI, always filling in whenever possible, but never straying from her well-worn format: reading choice articles from progressive and public-affairs periodicals. This Friday, however, after Democracy Now! signs off, it won’t be Adams who nuzzles up to the mic. The Albany-based octogenarian activist has been removed permanently from her position as a DJ at WRPI by the student executive committee, or E-comm, that oversees the station.

Owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and operated by the university’s students, WRPI has provided a powerful tool to the community for decades, allowing people unaffiliated with RPI access to its 10,000 watts of FM airwaves. This fostered a “communiversity” of students and community members sharing the responsibilities for running the station. A boon for WRPI, as community members such as Adams, always eager to get on the air, have been willing to take up the time slots that are unattractive to students—morning hours, during summer breaks—this has helped ensure that the station could meet its FCC mandated time requirements. (The station must broadcast a set minimum number of hours to meet federal regulations; if it fails to meet this minimum, it could be found an unfit occupant of the public airwaves and have its license stripped.)

Yet, over the past two years, many community members have complained that the current members of the E-comm have placed little value on the communiversity aspect of WRPI, working instead to purge the station of its longtime contributors. Adams is just one in a string of community DJs who have been removed from their on-air positions for a variety of reasons.

In Adams case, she said, she was removed for a clerical error.

“There had been a test of the emergency broadcast system,” she said. It was 12:30 and she was just about to leave. The next DJ was already in the studio. Adams was supposed to fill out specific information about the test in a special log. In a hurry, and unable to locate this particular log, she instead entered the information in the daily log book.

“So it was sort of a half-mistake,” said Adams, “but it was a mistake.”

As the E-comm would remind her at its routine meeting last Friday, there was no room for Adams to even make even a “half-mistake.” Adams had been placed on probation last spring, due to “a miscommunication” that led to her being removed from the air for a week. When the E-comm decided to allow her back on, it was with the stipulation that if she ever made another mistake she would be removed permanently. (Members of the E-comm refused to comment for this article.)

“When I went before the E-comm board last Friday they said, ‘Well, you know what the rule was.’ I didn’t really argue with them,” she said. “I have discovered that everybody tends to make small mistakes, and I really don’t think anything I have done really warrants doing taking this kind of drastic measure, but, it is OK. I didn’t really want to continue with this sort of sword hanging over my head.”

When Adams started out at WRPI, the station aired little in the way of public affairs, she said. There was Peace Radio, which played tapes of Noam Chomsky and Helen Caldicott. “We used to gather at somebody’s house on Sunday night and listen, because there wasn’t any other place where we could hear that except Sunday night on WRPI,” she reminisced.

When she decided to try her hand at DJing, she wanted to focus on public affairs, but certainly didn’t feel qualified to talk for two hours. And she had no idea how to get a hold of pre-recorded interviews. This led to her adopting the format she would keep for 15 years: reading.

“I had never read at all aloud. I had never been in any plays or anything like that. But I thought that this is something I can do. And it interests me to do this. I have done it all these many years. I have had a very interesting many years,” she said. “Very unexpected and very interesting.”

As for getting booted from the station, she claimed it isn’t that big of a deal.

“This is, in many ways, kind of trivial,” she said. “But is it a symptom of the times? Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t know. That’s something worrisome. On the surface, it seems to me pretty trivial. But there may be some underlying issues that are not so trivial. So let’s see what happens.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net



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