the streets: Albany County Legislator candidate Chris
Higgins campaigns for a win on Nov.6.
to the Wire
trio of candidates bid for the 6th District seat on the Albany
residents of Albany County’s 6th Legislative District will
soon decide, in the upcoming election for county legislature,
which is mightier: the incumbent’s record; the upstart’s shoe
leather; or the yellow smiley-faced balloon. The district,
which includes Center Square, Park South and, as of January,
the Mansion District, faces many unique challenges in the
Chris Higgins secured the Democratic Party nomination in the
September primary, giving him a significant enrollment advantage
in the largely Democratic district. An attorney for the Senate
Democratic conference, Higgins is relatively new to the area,
having lived in the district for only two years.
Higgins has several proposals, such as a county gun-buyback
program modeled after ones in place in Buffalo and Yonkers,
and several environmental initiatives such as biodiesel fuel
in municipal vehicles and pushing for county building construction
to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
Chris Burke, who was defeated in the Democratic primary, remains
in the race as the Working Families Party candidate. Burke
is the incumbent, appointed to the seat in March after it
was vacated by John Frederick. Burke has lived in the area
for 15 years, “never more than a block off Lark Street,” he
said, and has a long history of service to the community,
including being the chairman of the Lark Street Business Improvement
board for five years.
Burke has spent his time in office focusing on housing and
historic preservation issues as well as attempting to get
more money allocated to fight crime in the area. Burke has
called for better coordination of social services and law
enforcement so that the deeper issues within neighborhoods
that lead to crime can be addressed.
enforcement is a last resort, and it doesn’t solve the larger
problem,” said Burke. “You’re not going to improve the whole
neighborhood by simply calling the police all the time.”
Running on the Independent line with the Republican endorsement
is R.A. DePrima. DePrima is a longtime resident of the district
who lives and runs a real-estate brokerage firm on Lark Street.
De rima has run several times for office on both the county
and city level. With a campaign strategy that riffs heavily
on the “basic concerns of the area,” DePrima has gained the
support of a number of local businesses.
DePrima is also running on the Fix Parking Party line of his
own creation. The party reflects what he believes to be one
of the most important issues in the district because of its
direct effect on local businesses and the residential quality
of life. Should he win the election, he hopes that his victory
will serve as a message to area officials that the parking
issue must be addressed in Albany.
issue is about the real needs of real people,” said DePrima.
“People are tired of getting booted. People are tired of getting
Interestingly, parking has become one of the most talked-about
issues in the race, an odd occurrence considering the small
amount of influence a county legislator actually has over
the issue. To implement a residential and business permit-parking
plan, the city council has to pass a resolution that requires
state authorization. The county does not have the authority
to implement neighborhood permit parking within the city.
Still, each candidate has vowed to do what he can for the
area, which is flooded daily by the intruding cars of state
Burke said his approach involves a more efficient use of local
church lots and parking garages to help take the strain off
of residential streets. He also has a proposal that would
better utilize the area around the Planned Parenthood building
on Lark Street.
Higgins claimed that his knowledge of the workings of state
and city government put him in the best position to maneuver
a permit-parking bill into reality.
Also on the campaign agenda has been the issue of affordable
housing and the revitalization of abandoned buildings in the
city. Higgins and Burke believe that the county is on the
right track with programs like the Albany County Housing Trust
Fund, but stress that more could be done.
$300,000 that was in the land trust . . . leveraged almost
$8 million in other funds,” said Burke. “Well, what if we
were putting $500,000 or $1 million into it?”
DePrima has proposed a six-year tiered tax-break plan under
which owners who agree to manage abandoned property will pay
no taxes in the first year of ownership with the understanding
that they put the money they are saving back into the property.
Taxes will incrementally increase to full by the end of the
With the candidates’ platforms proving to be similar or identical
on many issues in the race, some focus has shifted to the
candidates themselves, and which one is best to represent
Though DePrima has many good intentions, his critics say that
it remains to be seen how effective he can be labeled as an
Independent in the largely Democratic legislature.
Following his primary campaign, Burke largely dropped off
the radar and focused on low-profile, low-cost tactics. However,
in a race against the vocal and visible DePrima and the well-funded
Higgins, some suspect that Burke’s low profile may have irreparably
hurt his bid.
According to his Sept. 18 campaign filing with the New York
State Board of Elections, Higgins received more than 65 percent
of his campaign contributions from out-of-area donors, people
he said are his coworkers at the Senate. Still, the presence
of state politicians and lobbyists on the report has some
people unnerved. And because of his relatively short history
within the community, Higgins’ critics wonder if he can operate
as legislator with the district’s interests in mind.
Like the Real Thing
response to the California wildfires, on Tuesday,
Federal Emergency Management Association officials
staged a press conference where FEMA employees
posed as members of the press and lobbed softball
questions at FEMA deputy administrator Harvey
Johnson. After the Washington Post broke
the story, FEMA admitted it had made an “error
in judgment” by using employees to serve as stand-in
“reporters” at the hastily arranged news conference.
Real reporters hadn’t arrived for the conference,
about which they received a whopping 15-minute
United States Supreme Court agreed Monday to reevaluate
the $2.5 billion in punitive damages awarded to
33,000 local fishermen, landowners and others
affected by the notorious Exxon Valdez oil spill
in 1989. The penalty is half of what an Alaskan
jury awarded in 1994, but Exxon already has paid
$3.4 billion in cleanup costs and other charges.
Anchorage lawyer David Oesting countered in his
brief that the award “represents barely more than
three weeks of Exxon’s current net profits.” The
most business-friendly Supreme Court in years,
according to its critics, will hear the case.
Eliot Spitzer announced that over the weekend
he was able to strike a deal with the federal
government to provide three types of drivers licenses.
The tiered- licenses scheme comes on the heels
of the New York State Senate’s vote against Spitzer’s
proposal to change the requirements for obtaining
a driver’s license, as well as pressure from FEMA
to back off the plan. Spitzer has argued that
the proposal is “a common-sense change that deals
practically with the reality that hundreds of
thousands of undocumented immigrants live among
us,” but it has met with intense public outcry
since first presented back in September.
don’t speak against the homosexuals. I tell you
that God delivered me from homosexuality,” said
gospel singer and “ex-homosexual” Donnie McClurkin.
He made this controversial statement during an
“Embrace the Change” concert sponsored by Sen.
Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Obama’s campaign has drawn
strong criticism from gay-rights advocates for
its alliance with McClurkin. Many observers predict
that this signals the beginning of the end of
the young senator’s presidential bid.
Neighborhood Speaks Out
County Legislator candidate Brian Scavo is campaigning to
help the community, but concerned citizens believe he is part
of the problem
When Brian Scavo defeated 7th District incumbent Tom Monjeau
in the Democratic primary for Albany County Legislator this
September, many members of the district were surprised. Now
that an election win for Scavo on Tuesday over Green Party
candidate David Lussier has become a possibility, concerned
members of the Delaware Avenue neighborhood area are speaking
out about a candidate whose campaign promises and personal
actions they find questionable.
Scavo has been campaigning aggressively in the district for
months, but his campaign fliers and stated intentions have
raised red flags in the community. Scavo’s campaign literature
asserts his dedication to the “return to K-8 neighborhood
schools.” He also throws his support behind “safe streets,
safe schools,” and fighting crime.
While citizens of the district agree that schools and crime
are important issues, these matters are addressed by city
government and do not fall under the jurisdiction of the county
legislature. When asked how a legislator could influence schools
and crime, a representative from the office of the county
legislature responded: “Those are city issues. The county
is not responsible for that.”
Paul Stewart, an active member of the neighborhood, said that
this “demonstrates that [Scavo] does not know what the job
of the county legislature entails. These are not things the
county legislature has to deal with.”
Another of Scavo’s major platform issues is the reduction
of property taxes. He promises to help homeowners challenge
their tax assessments, a service he has performed in the past.
Community members expressed apprehension about his stance
on property-tax issues, due to the alleged illegitimacy of
his own tax dealings.
Scavo’s personal residence in Albany is deeded to his deceased
patents. He lived in the home with his mother, who was entitled
to a senior STAR exemption and her husband’s early combat
veteran’s exemption until her recent death. Scavo owns the
house next door to his personal residence, which he rents
out as an income property. On this rental property, he also
holds a combat veteran’s exemption and a STAR exemption, both
of which are reserved for owner-occupied homes. According
to the assessor’s office, these exemptions, totaling approximately
$50,000, are not legal.
A recent rental advertisement placed by Scavo on houseinfo.com
also raised concern. The ad described the apartment, provided
Scavo’s contact information, and finally noted, “Welcome students,
straight people.” Discrimination on the basis of race, color,
national origin, religion, sex, family status, age, handicap,
or sexual preference is a violation of both Civil Rights Law
and Fair Housing Law. Representatives at the New York Civil
Rights Bureau and the Albany United Tenants Association determined
that the ad was discriminatory and would be valid reason for
potential renters to issue a formal complaint.
Scavo’s personal behavior in the neighborhood has also brought
forth a slew of complaints. A neighbor of Scavo’s who spoke
on the condition of anonymity claims that, soon after he lost
the 2005 Albany Common Council race, he accosted her while
she was picking up litter on their block.
was really angry and yelling things to the effect of, ‘You
don’t care about the neighborhood,’ and that if I cared about
anything I would’ve voted for him,” she said. “He was frightening.”
A number of women have come forward with complaints about
aggressive and unwanted advances by 53-year-old Scavo that
continued even after they requested that he desist. Albany
Common Council President Shawn Morris expressed serious concern
about Scavo’s dealings with young women.
a politician, I should temper my remarks, but as a mother
I cannot,” she stated. “He crossed a double-yellow line for
me when he asked my 17-year-old daughter on a date.”
According to Morris, Scavo proceeded to ask her neighbor’s
17 year-old daughter on a date as well, conduct that worried
Morris enough to bring the issue to one of the Albany Police
Department’s neighborhood outreach officers.
are well aware of his behavior,” claimed Morris.
Neighbors also expressed concern that, while Scavo’s campaign
catchphrase is “helping people,” and he asserts that he wants
to “improve neighborhood integrity,” he has not been active
in neighborhood improvement, and he does not demonstrate pride
in the community. Scavo has been cited by Albany Code Enforcement
for having junk cars at his personal residence and upholstered
furniture and broken appliances on the open porch.
According to neighborhood volunteer Louise McNealy, “We have
a very energetic and organized neighborhood, and I’ve never
seen Brian at neighborhood planning meetings, or cleanups,
at the zoning board, or a tour, or even at Neighborhood Night
Out for free ice cream.”
The Delaware Avenue area has an active neighborhood association,
merchant’s association, and neighborhood watch. His absence
at these forums, at past debates, and meet-the-candidates
nights has been upsetting to many in the ward.
Scavo declined repeated requests by Metroland for comments
on his campaign ideas and the concerns of his opposition.
According to Morris, “We need politicians who obey the law,
not only to the letter, but with a respect for the spirit
of the law. . . . [Scavo’s] actions have demonstrated how
unfit he is for office.”
the Lord’s Legal Work
and journalists find themselves threatened with lawsuits after
criticizing a video game
Evangelical Christian posta-pocalyptic video game Left Behind:
Eternal Forces, based on the book series of the same name,
was introduced last year to a storm of controversy. Now, with
an expansion on the horizon, the maker of the game, Left Behind
Games Inc., apparently have launched a legal campaign to silence
The game has been condemned by both secular and Christian
blogs and publications that have criticized that the game
at best excuses and at worst encourages religious-based violence
against gays, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians. Critics
also have expressed disapproval of gender roles within the
game, where women are limited to the professions of nurses
or singers. Apparently, the game play wasn’t that great, either.
Beginning in early October, various blogs and Web sites that
had posted negative reviews of the game, such as Talk to Action,
Public Theologian, and the Daily Kos, received identical,
nonspecific legal notices from an attorney representing Left
Behind Games Inc. demanding that they take down their content
regarding the game, which the company alleged was “false and
Delmar resident Glenn Weiser, who owns and maintains celticguitarmusic.com,
was among the recipients of the letter due to his article
“Let God Sort ’em Out,” which he first wrote for the June
29, 2006, Metroland, and which he also hosted on his
Weiser was unable to comment on the case due to the fact that
LBG hadn’t specified complaints. Weiser has contributed dozens
of articles to Metroland and was recently quoted in
The Village Voice.
Weiser removed the story from his Web site on the advice of
his lawyer and has posted a statement denying “knowingly and
maliciously posting anything false or misleading about the
game or LBG.”
The article remains online in the Metroland archives.
has not yet been contacted by LBG or its legal representation,
according to Stephen Leon, Metroland’s editor and publisher.
an attempt to squash free speech, but it’s a clumsy one,”
said Leon. “It’s very nonspecific. That’s a meaningless, empty
threat right now. If they ever confront me with anything more
specific, I’ll deal with that. If I got that letter I would
just chuckle and put it in a folder and put it in my file
will not remove the article from its site even if receives
a similar threat from LBG.
The threat has all the makings of a Strategic Lawsuit Against
Public Participation or SLAPP suit, a tactic that has been
gaining popularity with corporations and other entities that
is meant to halt discussion of issues through legal intimidation.
Regardless of the threat’s validity, the tactic usually serves
to warn others against further debate lest they face legal
action themselves, according to the California Anti-SLAPP
Project’s Web site.
Legal fees can total tens of thousands of dollars if a lawsuit
progresses; a daunting amount for a private citizen or small
business to scare up. To date, only smaller Web sites and
blogs have received notices, while larger publications, such
as PC Gamer and Metroland, remain unthreatened.
So far, the SLAPP suit seems to have backfired, as many of
the blogs have decided to defy and deride the notice rather
than comply with it.
loose ends this week-