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He Won?

Controversial candidate Brian Scavo’s victory leaves some wondering what happened


‘You know, Brian is somewhat hard to describe, and yet he got elected,” said Green Party candidate David Lussier, pondering his loss to Democrat Brian Scavo in the Albany County 7th District legislative race.

Lussier didn’t expect to be in the position he found himself in this November. Greens in Albany usually run to prove a point, not to defeat Democrats. But when Scavo defeated Democratic incumbent Tom Monjeau in the primary, Lussier was left to battle Scavo for the seat—and came close to winning. The general election saw Lussier ahead in the race until absentee ballots were counted, ultimately giving the victory to Scavo. This win for Scavo, who has a reputation for harassing neighbors and making unwanted sexual advances toward women, has left many insiders, including Lussier, scratching their heads and wondering how someone with such a reputation could win a county seat.

“I know 531 people definitely did want me to be in,” said Lussier, “and it was great to see so many people go out on a limb to vote on the Green line. It is a bit of a reach mentally for people who are so used to voting Democrat. I don’t think it is so much that people voted for Brian; it could have been anybody in that position. That is a really sad statement, but I did really well and that is exciting, even if the end result is pretty disappointing.”

And yet Lussier acknowledges that Scavo did a lot of door knocking, especially in neighborhoods in the 7th where his reputation did not precede him.

Scavo’s win has left some controversy in its wake. The Albany Police Union, which endorsed Scavo, has been publicly demanding the resignation of Common Council President Shawn Morris, who reportedly told union representatives that their endorsement of Scavo would come back to bite them.

“Calling for my resignation is absolutely ridiculous,” said Morris. “The very idea an elected official should resign from office because they disagree with the police union is un-American. It has no place in public discussion. There is absolutely nothing unethical about me raising those issues with the two union officials. I don’t have any supervisory capacity over them. I don’t even have a vote on anything; it’s really no issue.”

Morris said that, despite the fact that she did support Monjeau, she had real concerns about Scavo that were separate from any politicking, concerns that can be heard from a number of nonresidents of Delaware Avenue who are not involved in politics. Morris told Metroland that Scavo had asked out her 17-year-old daughter.

“The issues concerned so many of us in this race,” Morris said, they were “issues of character and public behavior. But those issues are very difficult to discuss in a political race. Its hard to come out and say, ‘This is the problem as I see it,’ without it sounding like mudslinging. So candidates tend to dance around those issues and hope the positive things carry them through.”

Lussier was unsurprised that Scavo defeated him with absentee ballots.

“There are two ballots that we are pretty confident saying that they had probably been tampered with,” Lussier said. “But you know, I mean this is Albany—tampering with absentee ballots is par for the course.”

Lussier said that he was advised by lawyers that there was not enough of a pattern to show conspiracy to manipulate the vote. Lussier had a five-vote lead before absentee ballots were counted. Lussier reportedly lost by about a dozen absentee votes.

But Lussier said that he is glad to have met so many people during his campaign, and that he plans to utilize those connections to bring people together and work for the community he wanted to represent. In fact, he noted, Scavo even offered him a job.

“I think he made a lot of promises to a lot of people,” said Lussier. “Now it is time to see if he can keep them.”

Morris said she worries that Scavo’s win might chill community involvement in what has otherwise been a very politically and socially active neighborhood.

“The district has a tremendous amount of activity,” said Morris. “The danger is always whether or not something like this will encourage the electorate to get involved or discourage them for being more involved.”

Neither Scavo nor the Albany Police Union responded to requests for comment on this story.

—David King

What a Week

Information Wants to be Free

It seems that all well-meaning revolutions eventually get usurped by the power hungry: Russia had its Stalin; France had its Napoleon; and Wikipedia now has its “Durova.” For years it has been suspected that a cabal operates in the background of the 7-million-strong, user-written online encyclopedia, working to ban unpopular editors and remove certain information. This week, amid the brewing controversy surrounding uber-editor Durova’s banning of the prolific editor/poster who goes by “!!” (and is generally referred to as “Bang Bang”), it was revealed that for years now, some of Wikipedia’s most active editors have conferred by means of a secret mailing list, plotting their strategies to control the site’s information. Expect an outcry from the Wiki-world.

If They Do Say So Themselves

Republicans are more convinced of their own mental wellness than Democrats and independents, reported noted polling organization Gallup this week. This self-identification of mental healthiness remained a constant for Republicans among the 4,000 people polled regardless of age, education level, sex, race, or religious affiliation. In each category of education level, for example, Republicans reported excellent metal health on average 20 percent more often than Democrats. Plus, the report stated, “While Democrats are slightly less likely to report excellent mental health than are independents, the big distinctions in these data are the differences between Republicans and everyone else.”

Treated Like Dogs—or Worse

Washington Post reported Wednesday that Michael Guest, former ambassador to Romania, has retired after 26 years of service with the U.S. Department of State, on principle. Guest, a homosexual, claimed that the partners of gay employees of the State Department are afforded fewer rights than the family pet. The same-sex partners of diplomatic envoys are not eligible for, among other things, anti-terrorism training, and are responsible for their own evacuation from overseas posts. The travel costs of family pets, however, are paid in full. Guest claimed to have written U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice directly to try and enact a policy change, but never received a response. “I was hoping,” he said, “that I would somehow get to her heart.”

D Is for Dizzying

It’s the Medicare Part D shopping season, and many senior citizens are frustrated by a prescription-drug program that some say was designed to confuse and exploit them


“Good afternoon, Crestwood Pharmacy,” said Jagat Patel as he answered a phone that never seemed to stop ringing. Christmas music played from a radio atop a small refrigerator stocked with pharmaceuticals. This time of year is a busy one for Patel, owner of the Albany pharmacy. Open enrollment for the Medicare Part D prescription-drug-benefit program began on Nov. 15 and runs until Dec. 31. Patel told Metroland that his store has been receiving calls from dozens of customers who are seeking more than just his assistance filling their prescriptions—they are asking for his help in selecting the right prescription-drug plan.

Part D, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2006, offers its recipients a dizzying array of 50-plus prescription-drug plans provided by private companies. Each plan may have two or three options sporting different lists of covered drugs and different out-of-pocket costs. This proves confusing to many recipients, mostly senior citizens, who have turned to Patel and other pharmacists for help with deciphering which plans might work best for them—one reason why the phone at Crestwood Pharmacy is rarely silent.

“It’s a challenge to figure out which plan is the best one for a particular person, especially nowadays with these new drugs, new generics coming out,” said Patel. “It all should be the same anywhere they go. Now you have discrepancies: Why should one plan be better than the other as far as coverage? Why should one company charge higher premiums than the other?”

It makes no sense, many critics agree, that Medicare Part D offers so many choices. At least, it makes no sense if Part D had been designed to help the recipients. As Michael Burgess, director of New York State Office for the Aging argued, this is not the case.

“This Medicare Part D was written for the benefit of those who wanted to sell [drugs], rather than for those that have to buy,” said Burgess. “That’s why it’s so difficult for the senior; it wasn’t written for them.” It was written, he continued, to create a free market for the drug companies. “That’s why we have 55 plans.”

The New York State Office for the Aging operates a toll-free hotline to assist New Yorkers with any health-insurance questions they may have. Call volume, Burgess said, has tripled since the Medicare open-enrollment period began. The agency was handling 60 to 80 calls a day; now that number has skyrocketed to 200 to 300 calls, even hitting the 400 mark a few days this year.

Even if a senior is satisfied with their drug coverage, the premiums are increasing for 2008. The Center for Economic and Policy Research issued a report last week that highlighted the increase in premiums for Part D plans across the nation. New York ranked fourth in the country with an average 22.35-percent increase.

“We call it ‘bait-and-inflate,’ ” said Burgess. “They got the people in, and now they’re raising the premium.”

As an example, the Humana Standard plan started out with a $4.10 monthly premium in 2006. Now in 2008, clients can expect the same plan to cost $29.60 a month.

“Humana started out at a low premium because they wanted to get a lot people to join their Medicare Part D plan,” said Burgess. After securing that customer base, he said, “We’re seeing what’s happened.”

Further, Part D plans have developed a unique phenomenon, known as “the doughnut hole,” in which recipients can get stuck with unwieldy drug expenses. Under Part D plans, drug coverage extends to $2,500. After that, recipients are responsible for the next $3,000 of expenses before they can qualify for “catastrophic coverage” and their drug benefits kick back in. Some plans have a smaller gap in coverage, but the trade-off is a higher monthly premium.

“As confusing as it is to you and I, imagine the seniors that are all of the sudden put into a situation where they have to make a decision which they know nothing about,” Patel said. He said that he has seen the effects of stress on the health on his clientele manifested in anxiety and high blood pressure. “I don’t think as a health-care system we’re moving in the right direction. We’re actually moving in the opposite direction from where we want to go.”

Burgess said that he would support a standardization of plans, such as EPIC, the drug program offered to New York’s lowest-income seniors. He wrote a letter earlier this year to the New York congressional delegation calling for standardization of drug plans, which directed attention to some dubious sales and marketing tactics employed by some of the private companies selling Part D drug plans, but he doesn’t expect any changes to the program until the national political climate has shifted. Even if a proposal passes Congress, he said, that legislation would likely just be vetoed by President George Bush.

“We’re not satisfied with the notion that because we have to have choice and free enterprise that you can confuse people to the point of frustration,” said Burgess, “It’s like walking into a supermarket and having 55 choices for toothpaste, you finally just take one and leave.”

Approximately 133,000 Medicare beneficiaries live in Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady and Saratoga counties combined.

—Catherine Caperello

Loose Ends

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