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The People’s Night

Albany’s People’s State of the City was a vibrant evening of community discussion

The People’s State of the City was a far different evening from the Albany mayor’s State of the City just a few months earlier. Mayor Jerry Jennings’ speech was a rose-tinted list of promises for progress based on his assessment of the accomplishments of his administration. It read like a campaign speech, full of bromides and boasts. The People’s State of the City, organized by Albany Neighborhoods First and held on Tuesday night at the Albany Public Library, was a heady two-hour community discussion that offered Albany residents the opportunity to air their grievances with the management of the city under the current mayor.

Mayoral candidates Common Councilman Corey Ellis and Council President Shawn Morris were in attendance, as well as treasurer candidate Cathy Sheehan, potential auditor candidate Darius Shahinfar, and council president candidate Carolyn McLaughlin. No candidate was endorsed on Tuesday night, however. Despite being a political action committee, Albany Neighborhoods First so far has said that it won’t be endorsing candidates. Instead, the PAC wants to see candidates sign on to their position statement, which can be found online at

Council members Dominick Calsolaro, Barbara Smith, and Catherine Fahey were the featured speakers of the evening. Each issue raised by these speakers painted a picture of Albany as a mismanaged city, driven by failed policies and political cronyism.

Nowhere is the mismanagement so heartbreakingly obvious than in the city’s rash of gun violence and soaring poverty, said Smith. As the anniversary of the murder of Kathina Thomas approaches, she pointed to the poverty, neglect and failed social action that creates the “context in which children can be murdered. The roots of violence,” said Smith, “lie in economic, social, and racial injustice in the city of Albany. The lack of resources in our poor communities and, not coincidentally, our communities of color, also accounts for the violence we experience.”

Calsolaro spoke of the city’s increasing debt service, and the Jennings’ administration’s reliance on bonding to pay for expenses that should be planned for in the city’s budget, such as the repairs for the fleet of police cars. Ten years ago, the debt load was $10 million, he said. Now it is more than $17 million. “That takes the money away from community services. That’s money for streets and sidewalks. We don’t have it. It was stolen to pay debt interest and debt.”

Fahey spoke of the Rapp Road Landfill, and asked, “Why isn’t the city seeking to use federal stimulus money to build a state-of-the-art resource-recovery facility? Such a facility would look at recycling items instead of landfilling them.”

A diverse group of Albany residents followed the council members, asking questions and venting in monologues, yet their statements were all based on a single belief: the status quo must be changed.

“There is a real blessing that we have candidates running for mayor. We have choices. What would be your ideas for mobilizing an effort for change?” Aaron Carter, from the 11th Ward, asked Calsolaro. “How do we get people out to vote for a new mayor? Cause we desperately need a new mayor.”

“A new mayor!” a woman shouted.

“What we need to do is what we are doing here, forums like these,” Calsolaro said. Every person he had spoken with who had heard the mayor’s State of the City didn’t recognize the city he was speaking of. Each of these people needs to do their part, he said. “They need to get organized. They need to come out. They need to make their voices heard.” And, he said, all of those people who voted for the first time last year need to be mobilized again.

—Chet Hardin

What a Week


SNUG Not Guns

Photo: Chet Hardin

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) announced Wednesday that the Senate has secured $4 million in the state budget to fund Operation SNUG. According to Smith, this money will be directed toward helping law enforcement and anti-violence community groups “deploy innovative tactics to steer at-risk New Yorkers away from the culture of gangs and illegal guns.” Albany is one of the six cities that wil l benefit from this funding, receiving $500,000, thanks in large part to the efforts of Councilwoman Barbara Smith (Ward 4).





Missed Connections?

TU story on the dangers of Craigslist ignores the newspaper’s self-interest in demonizing the popular online marketplace

When a young woman offering massage services on Craigslist was murdered in a Boston hotel room on April 14, and then the prime suspect, Philip Markoff, turned out to be a UAlbany graduate, it became a local story. Much of the coverage locally has focused on Markoff and what people recall of him from his undergrad days here. But the case also gave the Times Union an opportunity to shine some light on Craigslist itself—and a rather harsh light at that.

The story by Kristi Gustafson, headlined “Craigslist’s seamy side among the mundane” and published on April 22, essentially slammed Craigslist as “dangerous” and, through the story’s only quoted source, Albany County Sheriff’s Department vice-crimes Inspector John Burke, even warned readers to be wary of shopping on Craigslist for furniture. Paraphrasing Burke, Gustafson wrote, “You don’t know the house you’re going to for a kitchen table really has a table, or if some sicko is trying to lure you in.” Burke’s story-closing quote summed up the tone of the article: “There is nothing there for me to say trust Craigslist whatsoever. . . . One hundred percent of what I do on Craigslist is bad.”

There was no voice in the story to counter Burke’s ominous warnings; Gustafson wrote that Craigslist spokeswoman Susan MacTavish did not return calls or e-mails (The Boston Globe had better luck, getting Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster on the record in a related story). Also, Gustafson, in focusing solely on Craigslist, made no mention of the fact that there are lots of Web sites where you can shop for everything from cars to jobs to relationships. Burke did not say, or at least the TU did not print, whether it would be equally dangerous to shop for goods and services in the Times Union’s or Metroland’s online classified sections.

Could it be that someone in the TU/Hearst hierarchy saw an opportunity for a hit job on a hated enemy? The staggering drop in classified ad revenue at U.S. daily newspapers—from a peak of $19.6 billion in 2000 to half of that in 2008—is widely attributed to Craigslist. This is a particularly sore subject for Hearst in San Francisco, where, from humble beginnings in 1995, Craig Newmark developed the site into a listings behemoth that soon was eating the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle’s lunch. As Craigslist spread from city to city, print classified ad sales fell from 40 percent of daily newspapers’ total revenue in 2000 to 26 percent last year.

Is this why the Times Union, and the Chronicle in a similar story last Sunday (April 26), portrayed Craigslist as a online world seething with danger? And why didn’t Gustafson’s story at least acknowledge the devastating effect Craigslist has had on dailies’ bottom lines? TU editor Rex Smith declined to comment for this piece, writing in an e-mail, “I think we’ll let our coverage speak for itself.” We couldn’t have said it better.

—Stephen Leon

Loose Ends

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