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Parklife

The possible future home of a SEFCU office in Troy is a controversial piece of land

 

‘This is just another attempt by Mr. Dunne to attack my credibility and professional reputation,” said Troy Corporation Counsel David Mitchell.

Mitchell was responding to a press release Troy City Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District 5) issued after receiving a copy of a letter from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation declaring that the 2-acre parcel known as Kennedy Park, at the corner of 6th Avenue and Federal Street in Troy is, indeed, parkland.

The land, which is owned by the city, was sold last year to a developer with the intention of locating a SEFCU branch on the site. Dunne and members of the community have been arguing for months that, since the land is parkland, it would take an act by the state Legislature to make such deal possible. The process is known as alienation.

“The Tutunjian administration chose to ignore this information and recklessly lead SEFCU and Columbia Development down the primrose path,” Dunne wrote, “only to have the process end in this embarrassing episode.”

Dunne pointed specifically to a City Council meeting at which he alleged that Mitchell claimed the land was not in fact parkland and the city wouldn’t have to seek any legislative action.

“He is incorrect,” Mitchell said. “I said that the property was not registered state parkland, which I am correct in saying. I was correct in December, and I am correct now.”

Mitchell spoke with Jeff Meyers, an associate attorney with the state OPRHP, about the letter. Mitchell said that he understands the agency’s stance, and that there is nothing contradictory in what the letter states and what the administration has said.

The issue, on which both Mitchell and OPRHP agree, is that the land is “indeed municipal parkland protected by the Public Trust Doctrine.”

“The Troy Housing Authority donated this property to the city of Troy, to use as a park during the duration of what they called ‘the project,’ ” Mitchell said. “The deed clearly articulated that. . . . The project was the construction of the Kennedy Tower, which has long past been concluded.” The THA board has signaled it would remove that covenant from the deed.

It has become an issue, he said, because Dunne “and his folks are clear in their intent to try to stop this project.” The administration is aiming to move along the alienation process to swap parkland for this parcel.

“We knew that back in September when the project first began to surface,” he said, referring to the designation. “This is not an obstacle that is new.”

“He stood in front of the City Council and said that it’s not parkland,” said Dunne. Mitchell, he argued, had no intention to instigate the alienation process because he didn’t think it was necessary.

“If they knew they were going to have to do this, then why didn’t they do it?” Dunne asked. “We voted to sell the land in December. This is a lot of backpedaling. This is a guy, Mitchell, who got caught sleeping at the wheel and now it is a mess.”

“And my guess is, because of this screw-up, we will probably lose the SEFCU deal.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


What a Week

Proclamation

In the face of the worst recorded drought in Georgia, and threats from the Georgia Legislature to forcibly redraw its border with Tennessee to gain access to the Mississippi River, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield has extended “goodwill” by declaring Feb. 27, 2008, “Give Our Georgia Friends a Drink Day.” In his proclamation, the mayor decreed: “Whereas, it is feared that if today they come for our river, tomorrow they might come for our Jack Daniels or George Dickel.” To stave off invasion, the mayor ordered a truckload of bottled water to be delivered to Atlanta by one of his assistants, decked in a coonskin cap.

Another Go

Legendary consumer activist Ralph Nader has thrown his hat into the race for the presidency. Accused by many as a spoiler in the 2000 race (ignoring overwhelming evidence that vote fraud, not Nader, cost Gore the Florida election), Nader already has suffered intense criticism for his recent decision. In The New York Times, Ron Klain called for Nader to apologize for the Bush presidency to the voters who followed his “misguided direction” in 2000, and The Nation reiterated its 2004 plea to Nader to “think of the long term.” Brushing off his critics, Nader instead turned his attacks on the Democratic frontrunners, criticizing Sen. Barack Obama’s “unseemly” silence on “the economic crimes against minorities in city ghettos” and his about-face on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and chiding Sen. Hillary Clinton as the candidate “most loved by big business.” Obama’s response: “Ralph Nader deserves enormous credit for the work he did as a consumer advocate. But his function as a perennial candidate is not putting food on the table of workers.” Web posts ran the gamut from “Anything that shines negative on Obama can’t be all bad” to “What a tired old boring man.”

World Traveler

The issue of race has once again become the focus of acrimonious debate this primary season. A picture of Barack Obama wearing traditional Kenyan garb, including a robe and turban, first appeared on the Drudge Report this week and quickly spread across the Internet. The photo was taken while Obama was visiting Kenya, the birthplace of his father, in 2006. Drudge reported that it had obtained the photo from a Clinton staffer, an accusation that the Clinton camp has vehemently denied. Political pundits and AM talk-show hosts—to the obvious delight of John McCain supporters—have again proffered that loaded question: “Is America ready for an African-American president?”



Health Positive

Statewide activists come to Albany to seek a legislative change that would ease the struggles of living with AIDS

 

Dania Chavez took the chance to rest and eat some potato chips before her last legislative visit of the day. She had arrived in Albany by bus that morning, with more than a dozen fellow Brooklyn AIDS activists, to join a protest that drew supporters from across the state. They came to the capitol to demand legislation that will help protect poor people living with HIV.

“It is an epidemic. It is something that people have got to look at, but it is not even visible,” she said mournfully. “You talk to some of these legislators; they don’t know what you are talking about. It is like you are from Mars or something.”

Chavez, like the other activists with her, is a peer member with Housing Works, a statewide nonprofit organization aimed at “ending the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness.” Also like all the activists with her, this tired but obviously driven woman is living with HIV.

“There is a powerful misperception that AIDS is no longer a deadly epidemic, that maybe that is the case in Africa, but not here,” said Housing Works executive director Charles King. That just simply isn’t true. However, he said, “there is this incongruity, because for someone like me, who has HIV, but also has good health care, stable housing, and got tested before there was immunity degradation, I can expect to die of an illness related to old age long before I am going to die of an illness related to HIV. But for someone who doesn’t have access to health care and doesn’t get their diagnoses before they have an AIDS-defining event, the medicines will be far less successful for that person, and they are far more likely to be hospitalized and die of an HIV/AIDS-related illness.”

That is why Housing Works and its members are advocating for bill S.2890, known as Housing for All, introduced by state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan). The legislation would expand HIV/AIDS services by requiring that every county implement service programs for the poor and homeless who are living with HIV. Such programs already exist in New York City, and, although the city’s program isn’t as expansive as activists would like, it has provided well-documented social benefits.

“The state enacted many years ago an enhanced rental-assistance program for people living with HIV and AIDS that most counties outside of New York do not avail themselves to, because they have to provide matching funds,” said King. “In New York City, all of these services are mandated and provided by a local law.”

These counties don’t provide the supplemental housing service that they could through the state program, he continued, “even though there is considerable homelessness and precarious housing for people with HIV statewide.” Coupled with the reality that these counties also fail to provide other kinds of assistance such as case management, transportation assistance, nutritional allowances, and so on, this has created a real social cost.

“We think that what is happening statewide is incredibly ill-advised,” he said. Fifty percent of people with HIV in New York state, he said, will lose their housing at some point in their lives—a devastating consequence of the disease.

Although some people point to the cost of supportive-housing programs such as Housing for All, according to Housing Works, the costs are nullified by the long-term gains. Ninety-five percent of the cost of supportive housing is offset by savings in other publicly funded services, and $300,000 is saved in lifetime medical costs with each prevented HIV infection.

It would be in the best interest of the state to provide services that help people get tested early and into treatment, he said. Early testing means that people who are HIV-positive are able to curb the risky behavior that can lead to transmission, as well secure the medical treatment necessary to maintain good health. Like most illnesses, diagnosing HIV early can be extremely beneficial to the patient, in many cases extending their life expectancy indefinitely.

“The whole goal is to get people tested early, in treatment, in care, in stable housing,” King said. “That is the number-one way we can reduce transmission of the virus, and keep people alive longer and healthier with fewer hospitalizations.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle

We Live Here Too

Hundreds of immigrants and advocates from across the state gathered in Albany to “call for a more respectful environment for immigrants,” while agitating for pro-immigrant initiatives. According to the New York Immigration Coalition, more than 20 percent of New York state’s population is foreign-born—and the percentage rises to one-third when the children of immigrants are included in the count. The marchers held up signs and passed out literature promoting programs to help curb the high percentage of dropouts among immigrant college students and to ease the process of securing citizenship.




Loose Ends

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