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Something Stinks

Albany County comptroller’s audit on the district attorney’s office has Soares’ allies crying foul and his enemies licking their chops

I don’t think there is missing money,” said Albany County Legislator Doug Bullock (D-District 8) of Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners’ audit of Albany County District Attorney David Soares’ office. “I think what’s missing is a complete audit by Conners’ office.”

The wills of two outsider Democrats collided on Monday after an article by Brendan Lyons in the Times Union broke the news about the contents of Conners’ audit.

Lyons’ article said that the audit would reveal that thousands of dollars had gone missing from an evidence safe in the district attorney’s office. One of Lyons’ sources was a member of the Albany Police Department.

Conners held a press conference at which he announced that there were “more serious” discrepancies. Conners said there would be 31 different accounting discrepancies revealed in his latest audit of the office. He further indicated that some matters regarding the audit had been referred to law enforcement.

Soares responded in a statement saying that the audit “contains errors and conclusions drawn on incorrect assumptions.”

Conners said that he would release the full audit on Monday (Oct. 6) and that he expected to meet with Soares and receive his response to the audit by that time.

Although Soares has yet to respond to the audit, members of the Albany police, as well as at least one Albany County legislator, had been informed about some of the audit’s contents before Lyons’ article was published.

Conners insisted that he did not leak information about the audit. However, Bullock said he was informed of the audit and its contents by Conners at least a week beforehand.

Bullock said he takes issue with Conners’ approach to the audit. “My former job was to review audits,” said Bullock. “The proper procedure is you take it back, and then if corrections aren’t made, you go to the press. You make a list of items you want corrected, and he has never done that.”

“I don’t release stuff early on people. I don’t play that game,” said Conners.

Soares’ supporters objected to the timing of the release of the audit, Oct. 6, which is a day before a scheduled debate between Soares and Roger Cusick at Albany Law School. “This is a politically motivated audit. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naïve!” said Bullock.

Conners said he has given the district attorney plenty of time to respond to the audit, and that while Soares’ supporters may say the timing was politically motivated, the audit has been delayed because Soares’ office has “dragged its feet.”

“We raised concerns about timing to them way back in May,” said Conners. “We said ‘You guys don’t have an opponent right now, so let’s get this done.’ But they’ve delayed us every step of the way. The delay between May 8 and July was due to their inability to produce the records, and not us holding it back.”

In attendance at Conners’ press conference was Republican district attorney candidate Roger Cusick. Soares’ supporters point to Cusick’s presence as evidence that Conners’ conference was politically motivated.

“I did not invite Mr. Cusick,” Conners said. “We called the D.A.’s office immediately to let them know Cusick was there so they could send their own representative.”

Soares’ supporters also pointed out that a Conners’ audit into the county nursing home gave Cusick a boost in his campaign against County Executive Mike Breslin last year.

Bullock claimed that members of the APD leaked information on the audit to Lyons and that the Council 82 police union has endorsed Cusick and is making robocalls on his behalf.

Soares’ supporters have also alleged that Conners worked with former District Attorney Paul Clyne, a Soares rival, to obtain information for the audit—a charge that Conners does not deny. “I talked to everybody on this audit, including Sol Greenberg.”

“I like David personally,” said Conners. “I have admiration for a lot of things David does.” Conners said that he, along with a majority of observers, assumes Soares will win reelection by “a large percentage,” but he feels Soares’ office is simply trying to spin the audit for their advantage.

“Quite frankly, the D.A., his supporters and friends want to spin this as a political witch hunt, but that’s just baloney,” he said. Conners said that despite what “spin” might be put on his audit, the inconvenience it causes the district attorney’s office could have been avoided. “I understand he is in an election cycle. But this is not of my making. This would not have happened had they not screwed up the petty-cash audit.”

In the end, Conners said, “the audit will speak for itself, but the real purpose of an audit is not to find things you screwed up on but to help you fix things. The upshot of this is the D.A. gets a chance to respond to this stuff. If there is an error in there we will correct it.”

Bullock argued that, because details of the audit made it to the press before Soares’ office had a chance to respond, the damage to Soares’ reputation has already been done. “I think it’s already damaged him because the accusation is out there. When this is finished, I think the office will be cleared. If anyone thinks money was stolen, they are really off-base. David is one of the most honest people I’ve ever met. If the office is guilty of anything, it is probably of sloppy accounting.”

—David King

Meeting With “the Enemy”

Local peace activists share their experience with the president of Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahma dinejad is not a popular figure in the United States. Last September, when he spoke at Columbia University, the university’s president, Lee Bollinger, introduced him as a cruel, petty, and uneducated dictator. He has been dismissed by the Bush administration several times, and continues to be viewed with mistrust and hostility by the American government.

“So much of the news we hear is dangerously superficial,” said peace activist Priscilla Fairbank of Poestenkill. “It creates an image that is not accurate and that is very dangerous.” The self-described “active citizen” was one of more than 150 American peace activists who were given an audience with Ahmadinejad while he was visiting New York City on Sept. 24, in an event coordinated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Representatives from more than 100 peace groups attended, including Women Against War (the group that Fairbank represented), Muslim Solidarity Committee, and the Syracuse Peace Council.

“There will be no Earth-changing decision as a result of [these talks],” Fairbank said, “but the very fact that he was willing to spend two hours with 150 peace activists from around the country. . . . I can’t even conceive of our president [doing that]!”

Fairbank said she aimed to show Ahmadinejad the way peaceful protest is done in America, and the ways Iran could benefit from similar “openness and dialogue.”

Representing Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, Joe Lombardo noted the difference between President Bush and the Iranian president. “Ahmadinejad really wanted to engage us,” he said. “He looked people in the eye, he had a softer face, he had expressions on his face. And I looked at Bush—it just struck me—his face was like a mask. There was no emotion.”

The meeting was very formal. Ten questions were preselected for the president, and heavily armed guards stood at the ready, prepared to take action against anyone who so much as stood up. While Ahmadinejad did not read from notes and had no prior knowledge of the questions, Lombardo did note that certain issues, including Israel and Ahmadinejad’s controversial comments about the Jewish state, were conveniently left out of discussion.

However, the activists were not trying to get into a political squabble. They were more interested in making a point: that most Americans no longer support the conflicts the United States wages around the world.

The two seasoned advocates got a new, completely different image and feel for Ahmadinejad than the one generally put forth by the media. Both said it was made clear that he had no intention or interest in starting a war. He also said he could not, for religious reasons, ever use a nuclear weapon, because it is capable of much more destruction than humans should have control over.

Fairbank said that she felt welcomed by the dignitary, and had the opportunity to see him as a regular person. The meeting was important to her because it focused on a particularly inflammatory person and a nation that has a spotty history with the United States.

“If people can talk to other people, it opens up endless opportunities and understanding,” Fairbank said. “When you demonize the other, you aren’t thinking of them as human beings. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to put a human face on Iran for the people here.”

—Allie Garcia

Party Like It’s 2009

Web site fuels curiosity about Albany mayoral race is online and ready for your Web surfing pleasure. The site features a number of questions regarding opinions on the Albany mayor’s performance, the issues that are important to the race, and whether the mayor should run for reelection. The site apparently has no connection to anyone who actually plans to run for mayor in 2009. When reached for comment, Jennings spokesman Robert Van Amburgh denied knowledge of the site, saying, “We are just as curious about it as you are.”

Although rumors about who will actually run to fill the position of mayor have become commonplace political conversation a year before the race will actually take place, the Web site and the person who owns it are not likely to clear that up.

The site is registered to Craig Waltz, an Albany resident who is active in local neighborhood issues and once ran for Common Council in the 8th Ward. Waltz, when reached for comment, denied that he had any ambition to be Albany’s next mayor. Waltz insisted the site was a project owned and created by his wife.

“I think she planned to post the results some time closer to the election season,” he said. He later called back to amend his story, saying that it was a present bought for him by his wife. He said the pair plan on blogging on the site about Albany politics, starting with the release of the mayor’s budget this week.

—David King

Time to Bail?

Local representatives react to the congressional bailout failure

Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Greenport) got 800 e-mails, calls, and letters from constituents regarding the proposed congressional bailout of the U.S. banking industry. According to her spokeswoman, Rachel McEneny, 798 of those communications requested that the congresswoman vote against the bailout. And Gillibrand did.

Gillibrand, who was one of only a few members of the New York delegation to vote against the bill, said in a statement, “While I am fully aware of the seriousness of the financial problems in the market, I do not believe the bill Congress voted on today was the right approach. The bill has insufficient oversight and protections and does not address the root causes of the crisis or the poor economy.”

While Gillibrand has been lumped in with conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats that opposed the plan, her representatives insist her opposition to the bill was not part of groupthink but the result of her in-depth analysis of the bill and her concern that it did not do enough for “Main Street.”

However, many members of Congress who are in highly contested races voted against the bill. And critics say Gillibrand is in such a race. Gillibrand’s opponent, Republican Sandy Treadwell, said he would have voted against the bailout because it lacked “necessary taxpayer protection.”

Soon-to-be-retired 21st District Representative Mike McNulty voted for the bill, saying it was an improvement over the original Bush plan.

The Senate was likely to vote on a slightly revamped bailout package as of press time on Wednesday.

—David King

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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