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Between the Lines

When in Troy, Don’t Do as the Trojans Do

Maybe it was Greg Floyd’s best effort at covering politics in Troy.

“You Paid For It,” CBS 6’s series reserved for investigations detailing possible abuses or questionable uses of taxpayer money, turned its attention last week to Robert Martiniano, the confidential secretary to Troy City Council President Clem Campana, and asked: What exactly does Martiniano do? It was a political story, fed to the station by political insiders. (Ask people in Troy and most will have no idea who Martiniano is or what Martiniano is supposed to be doing in his part-time position.)

Stories like these are shopped around by the regular players to the regular news outlets all the time. The strong stories get scooped up fast and reported; the weaker ones sit around for weeks or months before some poor reporter, under a deadline, might pick it up and run with it. This one has been passed around Troy for a long while, now.

Nonetheless, the report certainly shook up the hornets’ nest. Troy Republicans cheered the segment in the following days, using it as impetus to call for investigations (a typical Rensselaer County refrain). Troy Democrats went into an internal tumult and began reaching out to the media with detailed explanations of how the Floyd piece failed to present a balanced view of the confidential secretary’s job and performance.

One man’s hatchet job is another man’s exposé, sure, but the problem with Floyd’s segment was that it failed to bring forward information vital to the story, trading on thoroughness for political spin.

Vito Ciccarelli, the former confidential secretary and lone critic interviewed in the segment, was a Republican appointee who lost his part-time job when his party lost control of the council majority. He also lost his bid for a council seat in the 2007 elections, along with many on the Republican slate. When he told Floyd that no one knows what Martiniano does, he wasn’t exactly correct, and he wasn’t exactly being fair. But why should he be? This is politics.

Much in the segment was made about Martiniano’s absence from the city council office. This included the dismissive (and hilarious) comments from the 77-year-old council assistant whose job it is to man the office (a point Floyd failed to make).

Martiniano works for Health Research Incorporated, not for the state as Floyd reported, yet he did at one time work for the state. And with two masters degrees, he said, his skill set is different than Ciccarelli’s, and therefore his responsibilities are different, a point that Floyd didn’t bother to make.

Martiniano claimed that he was willing to provide Floyd with his time sheets, on which he logged his work hours, along with a description of the duties that he is expected to perform. These include meeting weekly with the council president to discuss policy issues, meeting with council majority members to research issues, help develop legislation, develop letters and speeches for the council, and so on. The most time-consuming of his tasks, he stated, is his responsibility to attend various committee, subcommittee, and council meetings, to take the minutes at these meetings and then present the minutes to the council and upon request.

Boring stuff. No wonder Floyd left it out. But, unfortunately, pretty important to the story.

Martiniano is paid $10,000 a year for his part-time duties. This salary is provided for from the same budget line that paid Ciccarelli. The current city council, after taking control in January, eliminated a full-time position that paid roughly $28,000 a year plus benefits and used that money to hire three part-time assistants. These employees draw no benefits; their salaries combined come to roughly $20,000—a savings of around $8,000. This freed money to give the council attorney a controversial pay raise of $5,000. In total, the council is saving $3,000 a year from its employee reshuffling.

This, at least, is according to the documentation that the council Democrats provided Metroland in defense of its employment of Martiniano. It is the same documentation that the Democrats claim they offered to provide Floyd but were never asked by the TV newsman to hand over.

Had Floyd weighed the council’s explanations and documentation of Martiniano’s job performance against the comments of a former Republican appointee and 77-year-old part-time assistant, then he would have wound up with a much more balanced story. Perhaps, he would have even concluded what most of us in the media had already concluded: There was no story.

Floyd told Metroland that he debated running the segment, for fear of getting dragged down into the political mud that makes Troy government notorious. Too late. Now the Democrats, with their own list of no-show job holders (Bob Mirch, anyone?), will be anticipating a little tit-for-tat.

“You should know that pretty much everything in Troy is about politics,” Floyd said at the beginning of the segment, and he was right. Just about everything in Troy is political, but this time, he fell for it.

—Chet Hardin


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.



Getting Into Bruno’s Brain

Is he or isn’t he running in November?

 

Yes, the state senator from Bruns wick, Majority Leader Joe Bruno, is going to run—or so said press rep Scott Reif. “We are focused on finishing up the session, then we’ll be turning to politics.” In the meantime, Reif pointed out, Bruno’s petitions are being carried by committee members in Saratoga and Rensselaer counties.

Yet for months, speculation about the senator’s future has made the rounds in the Capital Region’s political class. Many of these rumors have focused on stories of federal subpoenas and indictments tied to an FBI investigation into the embattled politician’s outside business deals. Other rumors weigh the senator’s options in the face of a historic loss by the Republican party of the Senate majority.

“That really is the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” said Doug Forand, the chief political strategist for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. “What is Bruno going to do? Is he just petitioning to prop up a substitute, or does he really going to run and run aggressively?”

“As it turns out,” he joked, “he doesn’t call me.”

Even members of his own party are left to speculate as to the true intentions of the senator. A former high-ranking official in the Republican Party, who wished not to be named, pointed out that he has heard these rumors spreading throughout the GOP ranks as well. “There is lots of speculation that Bruno, once his petitions are filed, will file an official declination and then his committee to fill vacancies will appoint someone.” Two of the three members of Bruno’s committee to fill vacancies are from Rensselaer County, so the “rumors abound that it is going to be Trish DeAngelis, or Kenny Bruno, or Jack Casey, or Frank Merola. It will be controlled by Rensselaer County.”

Even Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino’s name has been mentioned, but she is known to be outside the circle of friends of Senate Secretary Steve Boggess, a longtime aide to Bruno.

We will all know what Bruno is thinking about a November run by July 14, he added, as that is the last day Bruno can decline to run after filing his petitions.

“The FBI stuff sounds very real,” the Republican insider said. “All the stories of people being subpoenaed, from all the information I am hearing, all of that is legitimate. Something is up. Whether it happens in July or it happens in November, something is coming. Everyone feels it, everyone senses it, it is just a question now of when.”

If the Senate Republicans lose, Bruno will definitely be gone from a leadership post, he concluded, because the Republicans will “throw his butt out.”

“This is the year. What we are trying to make happen has rarely been done before in state politics,” said Forand. “The Democrats had the state Senate in 1964, following the Johnson landslide over Goldwater. Before that, I think you have to go back to 1938 since the Dems were in the majority. So the scope of change in government that we are trying to drive here in immense. With a $125 billion budget, there is a lot of vested interest in the status quo.”

Of course, the possibility of the Senate flipping is a consideration that must be weighing on Bruno, Forand said. And you can see evidence of that in how Bruno has been putting pressure on his members to not retire or take other opportunities.

“George Maziarz, Bruno has been leaning on him really hard not to run for Congress. If you look at some of the more senior members, Caesar Trunzo, Owen Johnson, Tom Morahan, these guys look like they want to retire. And what we hear is that Bruno has leaned really hard on these people to stay. This is their one shot to stay in power, to not have any more open seats than necessary.”

Forand said that, although there are plenty of rumors and speculations, he would be surprised to see Bruno decline to run after petitioning. “He has given no indication that he is leaving. Everything is the opposite. His petitions are out there. He has a bunch of money in his campaign committee.”

Plus, he has his legacy to consider.

“If Joe leaves, it expedites the process of the majority flipping,” Forand said. “There would be a morale problem in their conference. I mean, when the captain is first off the ship, you know the ship is sinking.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


Roll On, 18-Wheelers

Truckers struggling with rising gas prices and “unfair” taxes converge on Albany to demand relief

Hundreds of tractor-trailers are expected to surround the Capitol in Albany today (Thursday) in an attempt to gain support and influence legislators to help lower gas prices, said Charles Claburn, the director of the New York chapter of Truckers and Citizens’ United. The protesters are calling for legislators to make the tax on diesel equal to that of regular gasoline.

“There is no reason,” said Claburn, “that the tax on diesel should be higher than the tax on regular.” The federal excise tax for diesel is roughly 24 cents per gallon, compared to 18 cents per gallon for regular gasoline. This week, the average cost of diesel was $5.065 per gallon in the Albany area, while regular gas cost an average of $4.204, according to fuelgage.com, a Web site created by the American Automobile Association.

The protesters are seeking a cap on all gas taxes, Claburn said, as well as the elimination of the Highway Use Tax, and a freeze and decrease in tolls.

The Highway Use Tax, or “Ton-Mile Tax,” applies to trucks, tractors, or other self-propelled vehicles that have an unloaded weight of 18,000 pounds or more. The tax is based on the weight of the vehicle and how many miles it has traveled. According to the Thruway Authority, tolls are expected to increase 5 percent in 2009 and another 5 percent in 2010.

“We want to draw attention to the situation,” Claburn said. “Everything we’ve asked for legislators can do, and why they aren’t doing it, I don’t understand. They want to grab us and wring us by the neck.”

TACU has had little support in either the state Senate or Assembly, said Claburn, who organized a previous convoy that drove down the Northway on May 22. “Nobody is listening in Albany,” said Vincent Gramaglia, owner of Betty Beaver’s truck stop in Fultonville.

However, some members of the Legislature have signaled their support. Assemblyman George Amedore (R-Rotterdam) has been a staunch supporter of TACU and its goals. He is scheduled to speak at the protest today.

“Whatever we touch, whatever we wear, to even the pillows we lay our heads on, are brought to us by the truckers,” said Amedore. “We need to make sure our truckers, especially our independent truckers, will still be able to function.”

“We support efforts to reduce the high gas prices to help motorists, truckers and business people,” said Scott Reif, a press representative of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick). Bruno, who is expected to speak at the protest, has “called for a summerwide suspension of the three New York gas taxes, which will save consumers and estimated 32 cents [per gallon].”

The three taxes are the motor fuel tax (8 cents per gallon), the sales tax (8 cents) and the petroleum business tax (16 cents).

“Even if we only get a couple months of no state gas taxes, I think it will help stimulate the economy,” Amedore said. “It adds up.”

Sen. Elizabeth Little (R-Queensbury) also is expected to speak at the protest.

“Sen. Little is very concerned for independent truckers, given the increase prices of fuel, mainly, but also tolls,” said Dan MacEntee, spokesman for Little. “She also supports eliminating the Ton-Mile Tax.”

The convoy, which will mainly consist of trucks with no trailers, is anticipated to come off of I-787 and onto Madison Avenue, then across Swan Street to Washington Avenue, where the convoy will parade in front of the Capitol before circling Lincoln Park and parking across from the Capitol, said Detective James Miller of Albany’s Department of Public Safety.

“This affects every single person in New York,” Gramaglia said. “Truckers and Citizens United is representing every New Yorker. The convoy is coming, and we’re going to take the Capitol back.”

—Chris Mueller


To Solve and Serve

Albany Gun Violence Task Force meets to discuss ways to curb what many fear will be a long, hot summer of violence

In high school, said Rev. Dr. Ed ward B. Smart, vice chairman of the Albany Gun Violence Task Force, “I didn’t get to carry the ball, I blocked while somebody else scored a touchdown. You have to do what you have to do so that we can win the game, so that children are not killed in our community.”

Smart was one of 13 task force members in attendance Tuesday night at the First Israel AME Church for the active, sometimes heated meeting, full of conversation and ideas as to how Albany should combat its growing gun-violence issues.

The summer is going to be long and hot, said chief assistant to the District Attorney Mark Harris, and the youth will have nowhere to go—a problem for which he offered a temporary solution: “An immediate goal that is potentially attainable is to open up community centers on weekends and extend hours.”

Members of the task force agreed that facilities should stay open longer to get people off of the streets. Harris suggested providing busing from West Hill to community centers and stationing police cars at bus stops to maintain order. He said that he believes this is a partial solution, but a decent one that could make a major difference in the community.

Representatives of Chicago’s CeaseFire program will be meeting with the task force this July. Described as a holistic approach to curbing violence, Chicago’s CeaseFire program coordinates with community organizations, as well as authorities, to work to reduce shootings. The Rev. John Miller, task force chair, said that he considers this program to be a valuable model.

The Rev. Valerie Faust said she believes that problems are area-specific and that any program implemented must “target what we need.”

Albany city treasurer Betty Barnette agreed, adding that children need someone who “looks like them,” someone who they can relate to and who understands the community, involved in any anti- violence programs. Members of the task force and other attendees agreed, and Albany Police Chief James Tuffey admitted that the force may need to hire more people from within the community since they can identify with other residents.

“The youth don’t understand the impact of their actions,” Tuffey said, discussing the accused killer of 10-year old Kathina Thomas, 15-year-old Jermayne Timmons. He said that they need to “channel their energies as another way to settle differences rather than picking up a gun and shooting it.”

Leonard Morgenbesser, who has been active for some time in cataloging Albany’s gun violence, said that he wants to establish a permanent tip line for illegal guns and gang activity and to publicize it on busses and billboards.

“Children are dying; we’re here to solve and serve,” said Smart. “We’re here to save lives.”

—Marlaina Halasz



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