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Darkest Before the Dawn?

It was an awakening experience. I’m a little bit beat up,” said Albany Common Councilman Anton Konev (Ward 11) after being knocked down and robbed while making the half-block walk from a restaurant to his home on Sunday night.

According to Konev, two men pushed him down from behind and stole his cell phone and ring. It wasn’t until he realized that calls had been made on his cell phone that he decided to file a complaint.

You see, Konev has been attacked in Albany before. It is becoming a routine. During his time as a graduate student at the University at Albany, Konev was held to the street by six men and beaten up until they got bored because he wasn’t fighting back. That event inspired Konev to start a student neighborhood watch and demand more security from local campuses.

Police weren’t thrilled that Konev made such a fuss about student safety a few days before the 2005 election. Jerry Jennings faced neighborhood activist and Green Party candidate Alice Green, and the incumbent mayor didn’t need any headaches. Jennings won that election despite a surprisingly strong showing by Green.

Since then, we have seen more violence around campuses, former police Chief James Tuffey’s dismantling of community policing, the murder of University at Albany student Richard Bailey, Tuffey’s resignation after he allegedly told officers that Bailey was not just some “spook” who got killed, and Jennings’ reelection in 2009. Again Jennings’ opponent, this time Councilman Corey Ellis, was able to rack up surprisingly high numbers against Jennings.

What does all of this have to do with Konev getting jumped? It is just a sad reminder that Jennings has remained in charge, appointing and firing police chief after police chief (six chiefs have served while Jennings has been in office) as Albany’s citizens continue to deal with increasing crime and urban decay.

I live in Mr. Konev’s ward; he is my councilman. The street I live on was an absolute wonderland when I was in high school. I would buy vinyl at Music Shack, coats at Spector’s and hang out with friends at a game store. That street would likely now be considered one of the least safe areas in the 11th ward, but I believe in the neighborhood, I always have. I wonder if Mr. Jennings still believes in my stretch of Central Avenue. I wonder if he spends much time there.

My girlfriend’s car has been broken into twice. We have had the police knock on our door at 4 AM to tell us her car was towed because her window was smashed with a rock by two junkies looking for change. A few blocks from my apartment, in West Hill, I spent time with King Modest and his friends while Ellis tried to help them escape lives of violence. All they wanted was an after-school spot with sandwiches and X-boxes. Later Modest would plead guilty to his involvement in the robbery and murder of Bailey.

Thinking about this makes me swell with hurt. I am consumed with an overwhelming sadness about what has happened to the street I once so admired, the city I once aspired to live in. I am eaten up with indignation that those in charge seem more concerned with helping their developer friends and building convention centers than they do about keeping the city’s neighbhorhoods safe and intact.

But Konev had a bit of good news. The officer who drove him home from the station on Monday after he filed his report worked for 13 years on a beat in Park South, and he is looking forward to being back on a beat. Police Chief Steven Krokoff is putting together a Neighborhood Engagement Unit that will return community policing to Albany, allowing officers to establish relationships in the community, and hopefully win back the trust they lost under Tuffey.

There are obstacles in the way; civil service rules have to be followed, jobs for each beat must be posted, so it will take some time. I hope Jennings stays as far away from it as possible. But Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) says he has seen some results already. “There is a different feeling out there. People realize the police have reached out, and now the community needs to get involved. There is a lot of trepidation and fear to get over, but we are getting there.”

I know I look forward to meeting the officer assigned to patrol my neighborhood, and I expect the same can be said for most of the people who live on my street. It gives me hope for Albany that despite these trying financial times, a city budget collapsing under years of mismanagement and taxes that are expected to skyrocket, some good is still being done in the city that I love.

—David King

David King is the state government editor of the online publication Gotham Gazette (gothamgazette.com).


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