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Prominent New York Democratic politicians realign themselves to support Barack Obama

It’s not likely a scenario many New York state politicians envisioned: Hillary Clinton, their state’s senator, defeated in the Democratic presidential primary by Sen. Barack Obama, a relative newcomer to the national political scene. But this past week, that scenario is something they have had to come to terms with. For Albany Common Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3), the reality was something he had hoped for and worked towards for months as chair of Albany for Obama, and also as an Obama delegate.

Ellis, who helped organize the volunteer-run Obama headquarters on Lexington Avenue in Albany, now has a new duty: He has to acquaint former Clinton supporters and newly decided Obama supporters with the Obama campaign machine to prepare for the general election. “There is going to be a meeting with the [Democratic] county chairs to tell them what we have been doing and show them the structure we have set up,” said Ellis. “I have heard from other supporters of Sen. Clinton, saying they are willing to help and asking, ‘How do you need us?’”

Ellis said he thinks that, after Clinton’s concession speech, Clinton supporters have had the time to realize what is at stake, and they understand it is bigger than one candidate. “Once Sen. Clinton gave up her bid for the White House, people took a deep breath and said, ‘We have to have a Democrat in the White House. We can’t have more of the same with John McCain.”

From local members of Albany city government to Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Greenport), a superdelegate and onetime Clinton supporter who transferred her support to Obama on June 5, to Gov. David Paterson, who Ellis said has plans to invite Obama to visit New York to offer his wholehearted endorsement and heal any wounds created in the state by Clinton’s defeat—New York’s biggest names are slowly mobilizing to support Obama.

Once a fervent Clinton supporter, state Assemblyman Jack McEneny (D-Albany) said he is excited to have Obama as the Democratic nominee. “I want the Bush administration to come to a real end,” he said. “I don’t want a token change with few new people on top while we still have the same Halliburton group running the government on every level. I want complete change. I feel Obama is enormously charismatic, and he has brought in people who had marginal interest in politics and made them interested.”

McEneny said that he believes in the strength of one person to change the political dynamic.

“Some people feel the flow of politics is more based on trends, economics, like a pendulum back and forth,” said McEneny. “Other people believe that one individual with passion, drive and charisma can make a difference. I’ve watched Obama from the beginning, and I believe there is a potential for true greatness there. He has a proven ability to inspire.” But McEneny said that Obama has his work cut out for him and his road to the general election begins by winning over former Clinton supporters.

Ellis said that Obama’s win has affected Democrats both nationally and locally. Within days of Obama becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee, the Democratic Party altered its fundraising policies so that it no longer accepts donations from lobbyists. And local politicians who jump on the Obama bandwagon may find themselves dealing with a change in philosophy, as the local Obama campaign has heretofore functioned as a grassroots organization, as opposed to a highly structured campaign. “The infrastructure is already in place,” said Ellis. “We need change—not just in name, not just change in party, but a change in philosophy.”

—David King

What a Week

Big Save for Big Oil

Republican senators did their sugar daddies a big favor this week and blocked debate of a Democrat-sponsored energy package that would have removed billions of dollars of tax breaks from big oil companies and made them subject to a windfall profits tax. The bill would have levied a 25-percent tax on any profits deemed “unreasonable” earned by the top five United States oil companies. Republicans argued that the top five oil companies are not responsible for setting world oil prices and Democrats could not come up with enough votes to bring the bill to debate. “We are hurting as a country,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) “We’re hurting individually as Americans . . . and the other side says, ‘Do nothing. Don’t even debate the issue.’ ”

McCain’s Law

John McCain has earned himself a reputation as a bit of an odd fish during his time on the campaign trail. And this week Democrats have begun jumping on McCain’s sometimes flippant responses and declarations. On NBC’s Today Show, McCain said that it’s “not too important” when troops return from Iraq. Democrats quickly organized a conference call during which Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) called McCain’s comments “out of touch” and insisted that, for military families and soldiers, “It’s the most important thing in the world.” McCain has been trying to distance himself from a comment he made in January that troops may be in Iraq for 100 years.

Neighborhood Gun

The 15-year-old boy who allegedly shot and killed 10-year-old Kathina Thomas told police “that he was aiming at a group of teenagers he thought were preparing to pull a gun on him,” the Times Union has reported. Jermayne Timmons claimed that he found the weapon under a shed at an apartment complex in Arbor Hill, and, after the shooting, hid the gun in a trash can back at the same complex because “everyone in the neighborhood uses that gun and that’s where we keep it.” A ceremony was held for Thomas at Blessed Hope Worship Center on Central Avenue, that was attended by more than 700 mourners, according to the TU. Thomas’ death has brought about a call for the end of violence by the community, and several peace marches have been held in her honor.

Calling the Shots

Parents gather at the Capitol to express their concern over the proposed mandating of vaccinations

“It’s like saying you should wipe your butt an hour and a half before you go to the bathroom. That’s how insane it is,” Ron Nathanson said of vaccinating toddlers against sexually transmitted diseases. He had traveled from Rockland County to stand with the hundred or more parents gathered to protest an Assembly bill that would make comprehensive changes to the mandatory vaccinations for children.

“I am not against vaccines, per se, I am against the state trying to take away my choice,” he said. Why, Nathanson asked, vaccinate against diseases that your child has little chance of catching, especially when the odds of damage from the vaccination are greater than actually contracting the disease?

“We are told that there are bogeymen out there,” he said, as he and others listed off these bogeymen: tetanus, polio, diphtheria, hepatitis B. Tetanus, he argued, is a rare threat for kids who live in urban settings; Diphtheria, a woman contended, isn’t virulent anymore. And when is the last time you heard of a case of polio?

“But the state wants to scare you a little bit,” Nathanson said, “tell you your child is gonna get lockjaw and die, so that it can inject your kid with whatever it decides.”

Of the six modifications Assembly bill 10942 proposes, the most contentious include: requiring vaccination against meningococcal disease; allowing for national standards, determined by the Center for Disease Control, to be used as school vaccination requirements; and mandating the “administration of vaccines for sexually transmitted infections to minors without parental consent.”

The assessment of the risks and benefits of these vaccines is complicated, and not something that should be rushed through the Legislature, said Bronwyn Fackrell of Scotia. Take, for example, the chicken-pox vaccination, which loses it’s effectiveness over time. Vaccinating children for chicken pox means that later, as teens, they could contract it, when it manifests as a more severe illness. Or they might get shingles, a chronic, and much more painful, ailment. “This doesn’t actually make healthier kids,” Fackrell said.

“The biggest change between the 20th and the 21st centuries is vaccines against fatal childhood illnesses,” said Claudia Hutton, with New York state Health Department. The Assembly bill was introduced by the Rules Committee at the request of department Commissioner Richard Daines.

“We have had these vaccines so long people don’t even remember these illnesses,” Hutton continued, “but children used to die of measles, whooping cough, diphtheria—painful and needless deaths nowadays.”

Hutton said that she understands the concern of parents over vaccines loaded with preservatives, but said that New York state no longer uses those vaccines. “We understand that more scientific research needs to be about the timing of the doses to see whether that has adverse impact on a child. But it is very important to immunize children to protect them against these horrible, horrible illnesses.”

Assemblyman Marc Alessi (D-Wading River), said that he doubted whether or not A10942 would ever make it onto the Health Committee’s agenda. “But let’s make sure that it doesn’t.”

He has sponsored his own bill, A5468, which allows for philosophical exemptions to immunizations. His bill is in the Health Committee, as well. The chair of the committee, who has a similar bill, has agreed to host roundtable discussions throughout the state, but nothing definite has been determined.

Most of the parents gathered were worried that the Legislature might try to rush the bill into legislation. However, according to Richard Conti, executive director of the Health Committee, the bill has not made it to the committee’s agenda. “There has been no action on this bill,” Conti said. There is no companion bill currently in the Senate. Next week is the last full session this spring.

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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