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Punishing Politics

Troy City Council gets sidetracked by scandal and chooses not to address “big wig” raises at latest meeting


Bob Mirch had the photocopied e-mail in hand. Standing before the Troy City Council at its first public meeting, the city’s Public Works commissioner and Rensselaer County legislator berated the new Democratic majority and threatened legal action. So, what had Mirch so mad?

The e-mail, sent by Troy City Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District 4) to his fellow council Democrats and others, addressed the controversial issue of last-minute pay raises for non-union-represented city employees that was rushed through the council at the end of last year. Specifically, the e-mail addressed the top-tier political appointees, including the corporation council, deputy mayor, and Mirch himself.

In the e-mail, Dunne wrote: “This is the ‘punishment’ version of the non-rep policy, which takes back the retro-active raises for ’07 from the Group A big wigs.”

Mirch proclaimed that Dunne’s e-mail amounted to a violation of his civil rights.

“Let me ask you a question about that,” Dunne said, pointing to the word “punishment.”

“What was I thinking when I typed that?” he asked. “You can’t tell me.”

And neither, he said, could Mirch.

“He can concoct anything he wants, but the term came to us because we had several citizens say to us that these guys deserve to be punished,” he said.

“These guys” are the former Republican City Council majority and administration of Republican Harry Tutunjian for proposing retroactive pay raises for non-rep employees at City Hall, most political appointees of Tutunjian, after the November election but in time for the council to vote before the Republicans lost their control.

“Tutunjian wins an election, and then knowing he doesn’t have the council majority any more, he passes a retroactive raise for 2007 that nobody knew about,” Dunne said. “Then he passes a raise for 2008 that didn’t appear in the proposed budget. These people stood to gain a significant amount of money over a three-year period. And the mayor didn’t have the political courage to announce these raises before the election.”

“So lacking a better term for how to distinguish between two possible scenarios in changing the salaries on non-rep employees, we called one ‘non-punishment’ and the other one ‘punishment,’ “ Dunne said. “But there is nothing punitive about this. We aren’t going to flog them.”

Mirch has since backed off from some of his original rhetoric. Originally, he threatened a lawsuit and to bring the e-mail to the attention of the district attorney. To date, Mirch has submitted his complaint only to the council president. But it appears that the council has backed off, too, on its promises to rescind the higher-end pay raises.

At Tuesday night’s special council meeting, the council voted to shift the group B non-rep employees, including the deputy director of public information, auditor, city clerk and others, into the same pay schedule that union-represented employees are under. This means that these workers will receive a 3.5-percent pay increase for 2008. But, notably, the council chose not to address the group A employees’ pay.

“We are still in discussion about what, if anything, will be done with group A,” council President Clem Campana (D-At Large) said. “I surmise that there will be action taken, but I don’t know what it will be yet. . . . It will, hopefully, be on the February agenda.”

Although other members of the council wouldn’t say, Ken Zalewski (D-District 5) said that he wants to see the raises for 2008, which amount to $52,000 in pay and benefits, rescinded.

“We can put another police office on the streets with that money,” he said.

“The Democratic Party in Troy has been vocal about rolling back those raises,” said Frank LaPosta, Troy Democratic Party chairman. He sees the rescinding of these raises as part of the Democrats campaign promise to be the watchdog in Troy government. “If they don’t fulfill this promise, they will be like any other politician who promises things and don’t follow through.”

Of course, the question still remains: Who leaked the e-mail to Mirch?

On the photocopy of the e-mail supplied to Metroland, the e-mail was addressed to seven people—the five Democratic councilmen, Rob Matiniano, and a name that was under redaction. According to Zalewski, the blacked-out name is that of the girlfriend of Steve Dworsky, the former city manager of Troy. Zalewski said that Dworsky was consulting with the Democratic majority, even sitting in on their caucuses.

Speculation that Dworsky was the one who leaked the e-mail to Mirch has circulated through the Troy political scene, although Dworsky denied it.

“The answer is no,” Dworsky said. “I didn’t give anything to Bob Mirch. We’re on the opposite side of the spectrum, with him being a Republican and me a Democrat.”

Insiders point out, however, that Dworsky and Mirch have enjoyed a long association. Dworsky was the Democratic city manager in the late ’80s and early into the ’90s, around the same time that Mirch was also in the Democratic Party.

“Anyone can forward an e-mail,” said Zalewski, “but I personally would never send anything to Bob Mirch because I know he is out to sink us.”

And this e-mail reaching Mirch did have an effect on the council’s efforts to rescind the group A pay raises.

“It hurt us tremendously,” Zalewski said. “You have to wonder why someone would leak this e-mail. You think that you are working with people, and that you are on the same team, and that you want to get stuff done, and then something like this happens, and you have to step back and wonder if you can trust the people you are working with.”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Taxicab Transgressions

According to the Times Union, the New York State Police were gearing up to charge former congressman John Sweeney with theft of services this week after he refused to pay for a cab ride home from a strip club. Sweeney reportedly hired the cab to take him home from Double Vision strip club in Halfmoon. According to Sweeney’s attorney, it was all a misunderstanding as Sweeney had assumed his ride was paid for by a friend, and as soon as he realized he was in the wrong, he sent his son to the cab station with a check. Sweeney’s driver’s license has been suspended since November when he was arrested for DWI after reportedly nearly sideswiping a patrol car on the Northway.

Democracy Postponed

Pakistan announced the suspension of its parliamentary elections this week, citing security threats following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The elections, which were scheduled for Jan. 8, will now be held on Feb. 18, according to Pakistan’s chief election commissioner, Qazi Mohammad Farooq. The Pakistan People’s Party, of which Bhutto was the leader, has objected to the new date, calling President Pervez Musharraf’s ruling party “a killer league.” The government claims that it wants to ensure fair and safe elections; however, many doubt that fair elections are even possible under Musharraf. The day of Bhutto’s murder, she was scheduled to turn over a 160-page document to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) detailing the efforts to rig the country’s elections.

Someone Call a Wahhhhmbulance!

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) had a breakdown this week after polls put Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a double-digit lead in the New Hampshire primary. It wasn’t just her watery eyes and comments about elections not just being a game; it was the way she bitterly accused Obama of falsely raising the hopes of the American people and insisted people should vote for her rather than Obama because of her “35 years of making change happen!” She may have sounded insecure, with a bloated sense of entitlement, but apparently it made New Hampshire voters feel she was human, as she defied the polls and won the primary.

Ready for Change in the Polls?

Local delegates for Barack Obama hold event to draw attention to their candidate—and to assert that the senator from New York doesn’t have her home state in the bag

Albany Common Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2) had something exciting happen to her while visiting the bank the other day. “There was a lady; I don’t know her, I have never seen her before in my life. She saw my Barack Obama button, and she said, ‘He is going to be our next president.’ ”

McLaughlin is an Obama delegate, along with a number of Capital Region politicos including Common Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) and Anton Konev, and they have been energized by Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses. Despite Obama’s second-place showing in New Hampshire, the shape of the Democratic primaries has shifted because of Obama’s newfound viability.

Ellis said that he has recently spoken to once-decided voters who are now more willing to consider voting for Obama. “We have literally been changing some people’s minds. They are taking a second look at Sen. Obama for president. We want people to look at the policies that people are running on, and if they do that they will be swept up by this movement.”

Pundits have asserted that Obama’s Iowa win has established him as a viable candidate and that voters who once backed away from him because they were unsure of his electibility have now reconsidered him as not only a viable candidate but their first choice.

Konev, Ellis and McLaughlin held a press conference this week to draw attention to their candidate and announce that they were Obama delegates; and while it may seem like a tame move, some see their early support for Obama as defying a longstanding Albany tradition. Instead of biding their time to see whom committees endorse, McLaughlin and Ellis have taken their own path.

Ellis sees this as a result of “candidates of change” being elected all over Albany. Candidates, he said, who are independent of old-school Albany politics.

McLaughlin said that her support, and what she sees as rising support for Obama in the community, is a price Clinton has to pay for her neglect of the area. “Mrs. Clinton has taken Albany County for granted, and by doing that she has opened the door for Obama to come in. I think what is going on, what took place Iowa and in New Hampshire, is only going to transcend to Albany County.”

McLaughlin feels that Clinton has all but ignored the areas of Albany that need the most help. “There are only certain areas of New York state she has played to. I know in the eight years she has been in office that whenever she has come to Albany, she has only been to one event in the community I represent. She came to the neighborhood to see what our needs are when No Child Left Behind was announced; other than that, I can’t get her in our backyard. We need somebody to listen to the people and help change things.”

McLaughlin thinks that Clinton will find herself in a battle to win her home state on Super Tuesday. “Traditionally you are supposed to win in your home state, but the way things are going she is going to have to fight for that. She can’t just assume she is going to win New York state. In your own state it is supposed to be no contest, but I don’t think it will happen here. It will be a contest because of the message he is sending.”

Ellis thinks Obama is the kind of candidate that will listen and will change things. Ellis sees Obama as cut from the same cloth as the slew of candidates in Albany who have been elected in the past few years—thanks to their community activism, and despite the will of entrenched politicians.

“We want to show people we are independent thinkers,” said McLaughlin, “that we know a good message when we hear it, one that is good for this county, good for this community. I was behind him when he first announced, and I am excited about being a delegate and going to the convention in Denver.”

—David King

PHOTO: John Whipple

Year Two

New York state Gov. Eliot Spitzer gave his State of the State speech yesterday (Wednesday) in the Assembly in Albany. In it, he proposed $1 billion in investment for business and, at the same time, pledged to not raise taxes. He also suggested the privatization of the lottery system, touched on the issues of education and energy production, and addressed the subprime lending crisis with proposals to revise foreclosure and anti-fraud laws.



Loose Ends

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