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The Powers That Were

Phil Steck thwarts old guard and secures the Albany County Democratic Committee endorsement for U.S. representative in the 21st District

All it took was a cue from Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, said Albany County Legislator Phil Steck, and the room began to clear out—a remaining vestige of the power the mayor once exerted over the Albany County Democratic Committee. Except this time, the mayor’s sway wouldn’t prove strong enough.

The struggle for control in the county committee is a long history, said Steck. “By the time I became chairman of the Democrats in Colonie in 2002, we had simply written off the county committee as a source of support because we knew how it was.” The committee was controlled largely by Jennings. “He was the de facto chairman. Everything that he said, went.”

However, going into the latest Democratic committee meeting on May 21—after years of organizing, a historic win in Colonie, and months of campaigning—Steck was confident that he had the votes to secure the committee’s endorsement for his bid to replace Mike McNulty in the 21st Congressional District, regardless of the mayor, who had thrown his support behind one of Steck’s leading opponents, former Hillary Clinton staffer Tracey Brooks. The Steck campaign walked into the meeting knowing that they had secured 30,000 out of the 72,000 weighted votes.

“It was probably one of the largest ever coalitions ever,” Steck said, or at least the largest in his memory.

With that support, the Steck camp was able to deflect an attempt by another Brooks supporter and father of the outgoing Congressman, Jack McNulty, to pass a motion stating that the committee should not endorse any of the candidates in the heated primary competition. It was a move that many had hoped the committee would have taken, McNulty reportedly argued, if for no other reason than to preserve “party unity.”

Prior to the meeting, said Brooks spokesman Kyle Kotary, “We were contacted by the Albany County Democratic Committee co-chairs and called to a meeting with [former Assemblyman] Paul Tonko, Phil Steck, and members of their campaigns, asking the campaigns and the candidates to support the nonendorsement.”

The Steck, Tonko and Brooks campaigns are considered the front-runners in the crowded field of the 21st, and were the only candidates to receive votes of support coming out of the committee’s preliminary interview process. It was hoped that the party could avoid stoking the already divisive relationship between the suburban and urban Democrats if these three candidates would agree to not seek the committee’s endorsement. Both Brooks and Tonko said yes. Steck said no.

The endorsement, Steck’s critics said, was more important than party unity.

Which led to the volatile committee meeting. McNulty put forward his motion for nonendorsement, which led to a vote. According to a committeeman who was present that evening, and wished to go unnamed, all of the votes previous were done by standing voice. But the vote on the nonendorsement, at the urging of Steck’s campaign, went instead to a roll call, a long and tedious process that can last for hours.

Many were frustrated by this move and began to walk out. The scene turned chaotic, the committeeman said. It appeared to Steck’s critics that “the fix was in.”

“Several members got up, voicing disgust, and left,” he said.

There appeared to be no real reason for the roll-call vote, other than to disenfranchise committee members with the long, drawn-out process of recording the votes of all 503 members who were present at the beginning of the meeting. Further, the committeeman argued, had the motion for nonendorsement been put to a voice vote, it would have likely won out.

As it stands, the committee endorsed Steck by a vote of 124, with 27 votes going to Tonko and 12 to Brooks.

Steck rejected the notion that he won by any other means than legitimate process. To him, he said, this was simply a contest—a contest that he was better prepared for. And it proved, he said, what years of grassroots organizing can accomplish. Out of the 109 committee members from the town of Colonie, all but two—who abstained—voted for Steck.

“That’s a very strong showing,” said Steck. “It made me very warm-hearted. It showed me that people appreciated my hard work.”

Of course, he said, you’re going to have your base of support from wherever you have been most active, but pointed out that he also received support from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, and 9th wards of Albany, as well as votes from Watervliet and Cohoes.

Steck also said that Tonko’s campaign had sent out letters previous to the meeting, seeking the Albany County Democrats’ endorsement, and that Brooks used robocalls and reached out personally to members of the committee, seeking their support (although Kotary insisted that she sought support only for the motion of nonendorsement).

“They campaigned to win the vote,” Steck said. “The problem was, they weren’t winning. And then to come to a meeting and see that you don’t have the votes, because the other guy has brought together a broader coalition than you could, and then to walk out, I don’t think that’s an impressive approach.”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Checked Out

To help counter concerns he would be too old to serve as president, Sen. John McCain released 1,172 pages of medical documents that range from 2000 to 2008, including his most recent check-ups. The New York Times reported that McCain has kidney stones and takes medication to help lower his cholesterol. McCain has had the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, melanoma, removed on three different occasions. “While it is impossible to predict any person’s future health,” said Dr. John D. Eckstein, “today I can find no medical reason or problems that would preclude Senator McCain from fulfilling all the duties and obligations of president of the United States.”

God’s Will?

Republican presidential candidate McCain has rejected the endorsements of two pastors, after they made offensive comments. In a recently surfaced audio recording of a sermon from the late 1990’s, Reverend John Hagee, a Texas televangelist, called Adolf Hitler a “hunter” who was sent by God to chase the Jews to the promised land of Israel. McCain called Hagee’s sermon “highly offensive and indefensible.” Hagee withdrew his endorsement of McCain and said he will no longer play any roll in this election. On Thursday, McCain, who once called Pastor Rod Parsley “one of the truly great leaders in America,” rejected Parsley’s endorsement after the minister bashed Islam, calling Mohammed “the mouthpiece of a conspiracy of spiritual evil.”

Big Bailout, Big Brother

A new housing bill, approved by the Senate Banking Committee in a 19-2 vote, is an attempt to help at-risk homeowners by limiting foreclosures and creating affordable housing. The piece of legislation also has a plan for a national fingerprint registry that would require fingerprints be submitted to the FBI and a background check on almost everyone involved in the mortgage business, specifically “loan originators,” the loan officers who make the original “sale” to start the application process. According to the bill, the fingerprint database will enhance consumer protection, reduce fraud, and give consumers easily accessible information. “This fingerprint database, in addition to the privacy violations, might create a host of new problems,” said John Berlau, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. “Identity theft involving fingerprints is becoming a major concern among data security experts.”

Premo Choice

Photo : Alicia Solsman

The Rensselaer County Democratic Committee meeting Thursday night (May 22) was a much calmer affair than the meeting of their Albany County counterparts. Under the direction of Chairman Tom Wade, the Rensselaer Democrats chose to avoid endorsement in the 21st Congressional District, instead focusing on the less contentious endorsement of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand in the 20th. Seven of the 21st CD hopefuls did get the opportunity to stump for the Democrats’ support, but the highlight of the evening was Brian Premo’s acceptance of the committee’s endorsement in his bid to unseat state Senate Majority Leader—and 32-year incumbent—Joseph Bruno.






Cart Ahead of Horse

A bonding ordinance to fund landfill expansion likely will be undone by the Albany Common Council

At its upcoming June 2 meeting, the Albany Common Council likely will have to undo some of the work it did last week and repeal the bonding ordinance it approved in an 11-3 vote to borrow nearly $7 million to expand its quickly filling landfill, as well as a $1.7 million bond issue to restore some of Albany’s Pine Bush Preserve.

“It’s called segmentation,” said Councilman Dominic Calsolaro (Ward 1). “You can’t do environmental impact studies and funding separately. It has to be as one. You can’t break it into pieces.”

The city of Albany has yet to gain approval from the Department of Environmental Conservation for what city official’s claim will be the final expansion of the landfill, and yet the council still approved funding for the project.

Jim Travers, a resident of Coeymans and opponent of Albany’s proposed new landfill site in his town, said that he is fairly certain the city moved forward on funding for its proposed expansion because it is soon to face financial hardship.

“The city’s bond rating will be reevaluated in June and it is going to tank,” said Travers.

However, Common Council President Shawn Morris said moving forward on bonding was more of an “administrative glitch.”

“My understanding of the situation,” explained Morris, “is that there was a lack of communication between putting the bonds together and legal counsel as to timelines and when something should go in. They went for the approval of the landfill bonding without the intention of going to market with it.”

However innocent the mistake may have been, Albany could have faced a stiff penalty for the glitch.

“Their intention was not to bond for the landfill at this point, but to have approval ready if the rest of the stuff came through,” said Morris. “The legal counsel, however, felt taking those steps is premature and that process puts the cart ahead of the horse and opens up the city to possible legal action.”

Travers said that a group of Coeymans residents, along with members of Save the Pine Bush, likely would have brought legal action against the city if the council did not take steps to repeal the ordinance. Travers said he feels that the DEC has had its fill of Albany and its trash troubles. In his opinion, the city has done very little to mitigate its intake of trash and has failed to institute the DEC recommendations.

“[The DEC] realizes that this is a self- created hardship,” said Travers. He claims the DEC knows that the City of Albany has welcomed taking trash from outside contracts in exchange for profit, rather than saving space in the landfill for city-created waste. Furthermore, he said, the city has not “instituted any comprehensive recycling program for electronics and have done nothing to move forward with the Coeymans landfill development,” both things that the DEC requested of the city.

Morris said the council will simply pass an ordinance that says, “Never mind.”

“In terms of process, it is frustrating,” said Morris of the complication. “It raises concerns about how parties are speaking to each other. But you know, it is one of those administrative glitches that periodically happens and is of not a tremendous amount of concern. It may kind of raise your antenna a bit about whether or not all the parties are speaking as clearly as they need to be, but it is simply a very complicated matter.”

—David King

Big screen: The National Association of Broadcasters wants you to upgrade.

Dead Air

The National Association of Broadcasters wants you to know: Upgrade or lose out

A 20-foot television attached to a truck, known as “DTV Trecker,” was brought to the Wal-Mart on Washington Avenue Extension Tuesday in an attempt to inform people of the nationwide change from analog to digital TV that will potentially leave millions without a signal.

The change, which was implemented by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, will begin on Feb. 17, 2009. This law requires all full-power TV stations to broadcast only in digital. This $1.5 billion program will offer “crystal-clear pictures and sound, plus more channels and programming,” at no increased cost, according to the National Association of Broadcasters. People who use antennas with analog televisions will be the ones primarily affected by the transition.

“Nearly 10 percent of households in New York state rely solely on over-the-air television signals,” said Rossana Weitekamp, a representative of the NAB’s DTV road show. These TV owners will lose completely lose their signal once the switchover has been made.

In response, the federal government is offering every household up to two $40 coupons redeemable toward a DTV converter box. The box will allow the digital signal to be converted into analog format. The coupons will be accepted at large electronic retail stores, such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, as well as more than 100 other stores. According to a flyer produced by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the DTV converter boxes are expected to cost between $50 and $70. There are 33.5 million coupons available through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The coupons can be applied for online, over the phone, or by mail.

“Consumers need to learn about the steps they can take to upgrade to digital before it’s too late,” said Jonathan Collegio, vice president of the DTV transition unit at NAB. “As broadcasters, our goal is to ensure that no American loses television reception in February 2009 due to a lack of information about the transition to digital. The DTV road show provides a fun and engaging event for families to get the information they need to prepare for the switch to digital television.”

The DTV Trecker is part of NAB’s “multifaceted consumer education campaign,” according to a NAB press release. In addition, the road show, which includes demonstrations, games and prizes, will have traveled 95,000 miles, visiting 600 locations by the time of the February transition.

—Chris Mueller

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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