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Sad Patriot: Victoria Jackson pauses to pout during her routine at the Tea Party Express rally in Albany.

Photo: Chet Hardin

Fightin’ the Socialisms

Republicans rally at Tea Party Express spectacle in Albany, but some contend the movement is being co-opted

A crowd of more than 200 people gathered in front of the Capitol building Tuesday morning, in support of the country’s most visible upstart political force—the Tea Party Patriots—to rally against tax increases, government intervention and the new health-care reform plan.

This event was just one stop on the Tea Party Express’ “Just Vote Them Out!” event, a national 20-day bus tour, starting in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hometown of Searchlight, Nev., and ending in Washington, D.C. on Tax Day, today (Thursday, April 15).

Protesters held “Don’t tread on me” flags and signs asserting “Oh yes we can—vote you out!” and others equating federal government with organized crime.

Former radio host and current chairman of the Tea Party Express, Mark Williams, introduced each speaker and performer, all of whom passionately dismissed President Obama and his policies in one way or another. Country music duo Revoli Revue sang “A bailout song,” while youth minister/hip-hop artist Politik rapped about the mission of the Tea Party. Former Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson took the stage with ukulele in hand, strumming along to her song “A Communist Lives in the White House.”

Williams boasted about the group’s diversity, later adding, “We all certainly agree on one thing though. The United States Constitution protects us, and we will protect the United States Constitution.”

There was an enthusiastic response from the crowd as speakers expressed their concern about issues such as overtaxation, unwarranted government bailouts and political institutions’ infringement of personal rights—calling for a change in the way the government currently operates.

“I’m scared,” said Rocky Palma of Ballston, “and I just want to do what I can. I think this rally is going to inform people, let them know that other people are feeling the same thing, maybe comfort them. It’s scary, what we’re spending in taxes, what the government is spending. It’s really scary. I think people are genuinely worried about their country. I care about it and I want to make sure I can do something positive.”

The Tea Party Express drew a crowd from beyond city limits. Butch and Maryanne Seery made the drive from Poughkeepsie in the morning to “take back this country,” according to Butch. “We want to remind the government that they are working for us,” said Maryanne, “and not the other way around.”

However, the national activities of the Tea Party Express deterred some Tea Party activists in the Albany area from attending. They deem events such as these to be “Astroturf,” falsely claiming to be based on grassroots organization.

“I chose not to participate,” said Kevin McCashion, a local political activist and Sons of Liberty coordinator, “because the Tea Party Express is not representative of the grassroots effort in the Capital District. There’s a movement afoot, we believe, that is trying to take away the grassroots energy of the nonpartisan Tea Party and co-opt it to use it for Republican means.”

Though the beliefs of Tea Partiers and Republicans often align, the grassrooots Tea Party is of a libertarian effort, which is to say, people who are more open- minded, according to McCashion.

“If you’re attending this event, you’re largely getting your information from mainstream television,” he said, “and not looking at alternative sources.”

The buses, entertainment, and vendors were a large part of the rally—differing from a local Tea Party event in many ways. “It’s like Disneyland’s version of a tea party,” said McCashion.

Rally participants contended that the Express tour has the same general purpose as any other Tea Party event.

“We just have more of a national presence,” said Bryan Barton, a Tea Party Express team member, “but we definitely work with the local groups, not against them.”

“It seems like these are all salt-of-the-earth people,” said Palma, who held a sign that advertised the next local tea party, scheduled for Saturday at noon at the Corning Preserve.

“Instead of a rah-rah rally,” said McCashion, “our events are targeted to turn people into activists.”

Republican candidate for Congress Chris Gibson took the stage to praise the efforts of the Tea Partiers, citing the work they’ve done in uptown Troy neighborhoods, suggesting the Sons of Liberty and the federal government race to see who could be more efficient. “We could give the federal government a 99-meter head start, and the Sons of Liberty would win.”

The high energy of the rally was interrupted near the end, as Debbie Lee addressed the people with a speech about her son, who was killed in Iraq. The liveliness resumed when the Revoli Revue performed once more to close the show.

“It’s an exciting movement, and it’s a blast,” said Barton. “We cruise into town, get everyone pumped up, put on a great show, and hope to get more people politically involved.”

—Elizabeth Knapp

Expanding the Landfill, and the Debt

Albany Common Council hears argument to throw “good money after bad”

At last month’s meeting of the Albany Common Council, six legislators voted against an ordinance authorizing the city to borrow the money to pay for the second phase of the controversial expansion of Rapp Road landfill. In this instance, six votes were all that were needed to defeat the ordinance. But as even the expansion’s most vocal critic, Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, will admit, that minor victory was just a glitch in the process.

“The city has already been spending money from out of the general fund” to pay for the landfill’s expansion, he said. And if the council votes at the upcoming monthly meeting to sell the bonds to cover the costs of the expansion’s next phase, the money will go back into the general fund.

The holdouts from the last vote: Calsolaro, councilwomen Carolyn Fahey and Barbara Smith, as well as freshmen councilmen Anton Konev and Lester Freeman.

If the city were to stop funding the expansion of the landfill now, City Treasurer Kathy Sheehan told the council Monday, the landfill would be full in two years, and the city would be facing twice the amount of debt estimated to be accrued from the expansion.

Sheehan said that if the city were to stop the expansion now, after constructing phase one, which only expands the landfill’s lifetime for two years, it would be facing roughly $60 million in debt service. However, if the city moves forward with the total expansion, it would be facing only $40 million in debt.

And nearly half of that debt is due to the restoration costs for the Pine Bush—a restoration that must be paid for “regardless of if we move forward with the second phase or not,” Sheehan said.

“Once the expansion started, and it has started—the permit was approved, the city borrowed money last year to build the first phase of the expansion—from a ‘dollars and cents’ perspective, it doesn’t make sense to only expand for an additional two years of life, ” Sheehan said.

Sheehan also informed the council that, from the $11.6 million in annual revenue generated by the landfill, the city makes roughly $4 to $5 million. She stressed that all of her numbers are only estimates at this point, and are based on information that has been made available to her from DGS. It is difficult to track down exact costs and profits (as Calsolaro has pointed out for years), as the city doesn’t manage the landfill in an enterprise fund, and instead just directs the revenue into the general fund, and obscures costs in the budget.

The general fund can essentially be treated like a citywide slush fund.

Sheehan said, instead, that the city needs to use an enterprise fund for the landfill, “so that all of the revenue associated with that activity and all of the liability associated with that activity must be accounted for in that fund. So a municipality can’t just take five million out of 11 million in revenue. The municipality has to demonstrate that that is really excess money.”

“There’s an opportunity here to learn from the past, and do things differently going forward,” Sheehan said.

Those who support the expansion of the landfill argue that the city just can’t stand to losing that revenue stream.

“We are fortunate because we have this stream of revenue,” said Councilman John Rosenzweig. “And anyone who is going to vote against bonding has to explain how we are going to move forward without the revenue stream.”

The landfill revenue funds valuable city resources, he said.

“If we close the landfill, people on the council will need to stand up and state to the public what it is in services that they are willing to cut. Because to discuss one without the other is pointless,” he said.

Although Calsolaro assumes that the council will move forward with the bonding, he considers this most recent hitch to be a considerable victory.

“We were never told until this year that that shredder costs $1.2 million a year just to fuel it,” said Calsolaro. “Nobody ever told us that. Nobody ever told us that every two weeks they had to replace a timing chain or something that costs $7,000 to replace. They never gave us that information before as it regarded the landfill. So we are finally getting more information. We are finally getting information that I have been requesting for years and years and years. And now we are getting it. So, I didn’t win the war but I have been winning some of the battles, and some of the battles have been just getting the information.”

—Chet Hardin

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