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Polluted Logic

North Greenbush politicians say to free state money: “No thanks”

A perfect example of the politics in North Greenbush: The acceptance of a $36,000 grant is in danger of being voted down by the Town Board, and no one seems to be able to explain exactly why.

In 2006, the town applied for a grant from the New York State Brownfield Areas Opportunity Program, which it was awarded this year. The BOA would explore possible contamination along Main Avenue in Wynantskill—a quaint stretch of road in need of a little attention—possible remediation, and revitalization strategies for the corridor.

“I see Wynantskill as a diamond,” said Councilman Alan Michaels. “It has strong potential to be absolutely charming. It has walkways. It has close shops, restaurants, park areas, and even a waterway parallel to Main Avenue. If we could come up with some sort of plan to further development, it could look more like a village center, and that is what I am looking for.”

Michaels, a lawyer for the Department of Conservation, was excited when the town won the BOA and saw it as an opportunity to show the state that North Greenbush is serious about its revitalization plans. Win a grant, use it wisely, and then apply for more—a common strategy for attracting those large payouts.

“There are all sorts of grants of $400,000,” he said, “that I think we could land. It’s free money. A win-win.”

At first, it appeared that town Supervisor Mark Evers was on board with the grant. He was supervisor back in 2006, after all, and signed the legislation that allowed the town to move forward with the initial application. But at the last Town Board meeting, Evers struck a decidedly different tone.

Evers, along with Councilman Ernest Kern, expressed their concern that if the town accepted the state money, and if the state found contamination in the soil under Main Avenue, that the businesses along that stretch could be negatively affected, even shut down, and people along the road could be thrown out of their homes.

It was a grim possibly, Evers said, that must be considered.

Kern wondered why they should vote for something that could put senior citizens at risk of losing their homes, and said that there was no way he would vote to accept the grant.

“Any contamination would have to rise to the level of the Love Canal,” Michaels said. “The Department of Health would have to declare that there was an immediate risk to human health or safety. That seems unlikely, considering that the potential brownfield sites along Main Avenue are essentially two auto garages and a former dry cleaner.

But if it is that bad, Michaels argued, if we are sitting on the Love Canal, then wouldn’t you want to know? Contamination to the point where people need to be vacated from their homes is extremely serious business. That’s why you rarely hear of it happening. If the ground under Main Avenue is that toxic, isn’t that something you want to remedy?

And here is where the logic in the debate appeared to get a little twisted. Evers said that he wasn’t worried about a threat to human life presented by any contamination on Main Avenue. He said he was certain that any contamination there didn’t rise to the level of a serious health threat. But then he said it is possible it could be that bad, and that the board ought to be concerned with what the government would if it did find serious contamination. People might be moved out of their homes. Businesses shut down.

But, of course, Evers assured, it isn’t that serious.

Michaels looked baffled, and tried again. The argument could have gone on all night.

Later, Michaels said that he had reached out to Evers multiple times, through phone calls and an e-mail, for days before the meeting. He wanted to answer any of Evers’ questions about the BOA, to assuage any concerns Evers might have had. He said that he was happy to discuss Evers’ questions, but never heard back from the supervisor. The first he became aware that Evers might challenge the grant, he said, was the night before the board meeting, when he received a copy of the agenda.

“I don’t have anything to hide,” Michaels said. He has been the champion of this grant since the beginning, and it could be seen as a political victory for him.

“Considering that I opened myself up to answer all of his questions,” he said, “I can only think that this is a political attack. I don’t know what else it could be.”

Evers did not respond to a request for interview.

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Bush Bashing

Facing some of the lowest approval ratings of his career—some of the lowest approval ratings ever received by a president (since such polls were first conducted)—President George W. Bush tried to redirect the blame to his foes in Congress. Bush de flected public resentment over rising gas prices and the faltering economy to the Democratic- controlled Congress, saying, “One of the main reasons for high gas prices is that global oil production is not keeping up with growing demand. Members of Congress have been vocal about foreign governments increasing their oil production, yet Congress has been just as vocal in opposition to efforts to expand our production here at home.” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) responded by saying that Bush “has closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears as these crises have grown.”

Off the Hook

Late last week, the three New York City Police Department detectives charged in the shooting of Sean Bell were found not guilty. Bell was killed on the morning of his wedding day while trying to leave his bachelor party at a Queens strip club, when officers fired at him and other members of his party 50 times. Bell was unarmed. “I’m still praying for justice because it’s not over,” said Bell’s fiancé, Nicole Paultre Bell, as she left court. Rev. Al Sharpton declared that he would “shut the city down,” over the verdict. Michael Oliver, the detective who fired 31 shots of the 50 fired, wept at the defense table as the verdict was read.

Pot Shots

New York City has become the world leader in marijuana arrests, according to a group of civil-rights activists. According to the activists, over the past decade, the NYPD arrested more than 400,000 people for carrying small amounts of marijuana. Queens College sociologist Harry G. Levine released a study called “Marijuana Arrest Crusade” that demonstrates what he calls a racial bias in the enforcement of the law. According to Levine, the data he was provided by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services showed that between 1997 and 2007, 52 percent of the suspects were black and 31 percent Hispanic. Only 15 percent arrested were white.

In or Out?

Paul Tonko joins the race for the open congressional seat in the 21st district—or does he?

The Democratic race for the 21st congressional district seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep Mike McNulty, sure to be the most heated local political contest of the fall, has gotten off to a clunky start. The primary race, which already features more than seven Democrats, got more crowded this week.

Or did it?

Former Assemblyman Paul Tonko, the man who many assumed would be the front-runner in the race when he joined, seemingly took the first steps to enter the crowded field, which already features Albany County Legislator Phil Steck, former Hillary Clinton aide Tracey Brooks, former Kirsten Gillibrand aide Darius Shahinfar, attorney John Aretakis, Albany city employee Lester Freeman, New York Pharmacists Society executive Craig Burridge and real-estate agent Arthur Welser. Tonko resigned from his post as president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority last week, thereby allowing himself to campaign for the seat (federal ethics law prohibits employees of federally funded agencies from running for public office).

Tonko also submitted to an interview by the Albany County Democratic Committee, along with a number of other candidates, as a part of the committee’s endorsement process. According to the Times Union, Tonko received nine votes via secret ballot during the process. Brooks received two votes and Steck received 10, seemingly throwing Tonko’s assumed front-runner status into question.

But then again, Tonko has yet to officially join the race. After resigning from NYSERDA, Tonko initially denied he was planning to run in the 21st. Later, Tonko publicly stated he would have an announcement in the coming weeks. Reports say that Tonko is telling insiders one thing and the public another.

“It’s good that there is so much interest in public service, and I’m proud to compete,” Tonko told Capital News 9 this week, without answering directly whether or not he will run. Tonko further explained that he delayed his resignation until the state budget process was completed.

Some wonder whether Tonko may have damaged his front-runner status—if he does enter the race—by entering late and in such a disjointed fashion.

While the race is crowded, observers point to Steck as the candidate currently with the edge. Steck has taken the lead in fund-raising, was the first to announce, and has a large base of more than 40 Albany County politicians who have endorsed him. Brooks has garnered support from political heavyweights such as Rep. McNulty’s father, Jack McNulty, as well as Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and Green Island Mayor Ellen McNulty-Ryan. It is assumed that the popularity Tonko garnered during his time as an assemblyman would give him an edge in fund-raising and name recognition, but it has yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Committee will announce its endorsement on May 21. Some observers wonder whether the committee will endorse at all, as it abstained from endorsing in the District Attorney’s race between former District Attorney Paul Clyne and current District Attorney David Soares.

—David King

Power Walk

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

On Monday, Gov. David Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, and RPI President Shirley Jackson gathered at the riverfront in Troy to announce a research facility that will “launch new scientific educational and research initiatives, help preserve the Hudson River, and improve public access to the waterfront.” It’s a bit of a mystery why Jennings showed up, but Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian—sporting his spikey new hairdo—was allowed to tag along for the announcement.





Loose Ends

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