budget cuts would shortchange low-income youth, citizens say
Concerned community members had a strong message for the Albany
Common Council this week: Albany’s proposed 2011 budget will
hurt inner-city youths.
As cost-saving measures, Mayor Jerry Jennings’ office has
proposed eliminating summer jobs for teens and closing down
Public Bath No. 2 on Fourth Street.
During an Oct.18 public hearing on the proposed budget, people
who work with kids in some of the city’s poorer neighborhoods
asked the council to reconsider. Council President Carolyn
McLaughlin encouraged affected youngsters to speak before
Those affected can attend the council’s finance committee
meeting—when the parks and recreation budget will be discussed—at
5:30 PM on Oct. 26, said Tom McPheeters, development director
for Grand Street Community Arts. If they wait until the city’s
second public budget hearing at 7 PM on Nov. 1, it may be
too late, he said.
McPheeters told the council that for the past seven years,
the summer youth employment program has provided valuable
resources for the city and its youth. “There are a number
of organizations that benefit and use the program effectively,”
McPheeters said, and that more than 1,000 kids usually sign
Activities include the Youth Organics Program, which, program
director Rana Morris explained, employs 15 to 20 teens in
organic gardening and sustainable agriculture projects. Young
workers till the soil in a quarter-acre garden on the grounds
of the Creighton Storey Housing Project. They use the vegetables
they’ve raised in weekly cooking classes at the Governor’s
Mansion, Morris said. And the young farmers donate many of
the veggies to the Trinity United Methodist Church Food Pantry.
Neighborhood children who stop by take home tomatoes and other
produce for their own tables, she said.
Youth FX, a summer film program whose enrollment, according
to program director Bhawin Suchack, has more than doubled
since its start three years ago, is also at risk of elimination.
The program uses older, more experienced teens to help tutor
newcomers in making short and documentary films. The teens
handle everything from scouting for locations on the phone
to getting release forms signed. Workers are paid for only
four hours, but often they stay for six, Suchack said.
Kids are “really, really interested in working on a meaningful
project,” he said. “They take it very seriously. It’s an opportunity
for them to not only earn some money, but to get real-life
experience that is really valuable. For a lot of them, it
actually opens up a whole opportunity that they never envisioned
for themselves before.”
Losing Bath House No. 2 would mean no more summer swimming
for 56 children at the Free School in Albany’s South End,
director Deirdre Kelley said. “For some kids, it’s where they
learn how to swim,” she said. “We’re small. We don’t have
a gym; we don’t have a pool. We use neighborhood facilities
to give kids exposure to swimming and basketball. They love
that place. They’re really passionate about it.”
Two councilwomen spoke in support of saving the public pool
and the summer youth programs. Councilwoman Barbara Smith
(Ward 4) said, “Having that kind of opportunity helps to level
the playing field.”
Calling Youth FX a “cool program,” Councilwoman Catherine
Fahey (Ward 7) said that Youth Organics and the bath house
“should be some of the last things that we think of cutting.”
encourage you to take a close look and consider making cuts
elsewhere,” she told her colleagues.
You could almost see the steam coming out of Councilman Dominick
Calsolaro’s (Ward 1) ears when he offered his take on the
proposed budget as a whole. He claimed that the city was lowballing
the bottom line by millions of dollars.
The mayor’s office has skewed the figures to make it look
as though spending has been reduced, when really, it went
up, Calsolaro suggested. “The general-fund budget is leaving
out $5 million in debt-service payments,” he said. “It’s really
a $165 million budget, not a $159 million budget. It’s $2
million more than last year.”
me, it’s outrageous,” he said. “People should be screaming
about the budget. It’s not truthful. Why are we doing that
to the taxpayers and citizens of Albany?”
Tom Ellis of Albany said the city could help its balance sheet
and increase safety by enforcing traffic violations. “I’d
like to see the city make more of an effort toward convicting
people charged with running red lights, not stopping at stop
signs and speeding,” he said. “They can plead it down to a
parking ticket. It’s unsafe for the city’s children, the disabled
and the elderly. The city could probably collect more revenue.
It might even be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per
Altogether, the preliminary budget would eliminate 155 jobs
from the city workforce, including 34 layoffs. As it stands,
the budget would drive a 7.5 percent increase in residential
property taxes, while commercial property taxes would fall
Me No Flowers
cuts could leave the city with significantly fewer gardens
Budgetary issues are plaguing government at every level. Services,
programs and projects are being shed like so much autumn foliage,
and public departments have been fighting tooth and nail for
Among those feeling the budget squeeze is Judy Stacey, Albany’s
city gardener. Funding for flowers looks as though it will
be cut significantly for next year, a reduction that will
result in fewer blossoms in the 483 flowerbeds and 880 hanging
baskets that Albany residents are used to seeing around town.
The cuts will also affect the import of bulbs for the Tulip
Festival (200,000 this year) and the number of summer and
fall bulbs the city is able to purchase and maintain (250,000
Numbers have not yet been finalized. Tentatively, Stacey says
that they will be getting $70,000 in 2011, down from $110,000
this year, which was already a reduction from the usual budget,
due to ongoing construction projects on Delaware Avenue. That
amounts to $35,000 for tulips and $35,000 for annuals in the
summer and fall. Once the budget has been finalized, Stacey
says they will have no choice but to decide which flowerbeds
to give up and which parts of the city will not be getting
tulips in the spring.
can only do so much with the funds that you have,” she said.
Park will remain intact,” said Stacey. “There will be tulips
next spring for the park and along State Street. Once the
budget has been finalized, there will be a meeting to decide
how the rest is to be allocated.”
realize that flowers are really important,” said Nick D’Antonio,
commissioner for the Department of General Services. “But
we also have to have the funds for trash pick-up and snow
removal. My goal is to save as many jobs as possible and still
manage to keep the city beautiful.”
One possible solution, he mentioned, could be to plant more
permanent flowerbeds that will not require the money or manpower
that it takes to replant them several times a year. Stacey
agrees that this is an option and has begun planting giant
hostas, lily-like perennials, in some of the beds, but that
won’t work everywhere. Another possibility is to turn to the
public for help. D’Antonio says that the Downtown BID spent
$30,000 of its own dollars this year to plant and keep flowers
around Albany and he’s hoping that they will continue to help
next year as well.
The Women’s Club of Albany also receives substantial donations
of tulips and annual flowers from the city every year, which
are used to plant flowerbeds such as the ones in front of
Equinox Safe House for Women. “Last year the city donated
600 tulips for us to plant, this year it was 500. I doubt
they’ll cut that in half,” said Charlotte Prior, co-chair
of the gardening committee. “Would we like more? Yeah, but
it is the way it is. If we do only get 250 next year, they’ll
still be beautiful.” Prior commented that The Women’s Club
is trying to help Albany limit costs by providing its own
gardeners to plant flowers and maintain planters along 787
by the Hudson River.
Bill Petit, president of the Washington Park neighborhood
association, commented that the flowers are “indicative of
the entire budget problem” and that he has faith in Stacey,
who he called “a wizard with a green thumb.”
neighborhood input helps,” she said.
debate allows minor-party candidates—all five of them—a chance
Since it was announced weeks ago that a debate would be held
between all seven New York state gubernatorial hopefuls, media
focus has been primarily on the idiosyncrasies of some of
the more colorful candidates, rather than the messages they
were hoping to share.
In late September, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and
Libertarian candidate Warren Redlich held a joint press conference
in Albany demanding to be included in any debates that might
be held. Both supported the notion that any and all candidates
for the office should be allowed to take part. “If we’re not
in the debates, there is no real democracy,” said Hawkins.
“Our voices should be heard.”
When the debate was announced a week later, the two men were
immediately overshadowed by the spectacle of an erstwhile
madam and an apoplectic renter sharing equal time with the
attorney general and the Buffalo billionaire. An article in
The New York Times called the event a farce, and MSNBC
spent all Tuesday morning declaring its tongue-in-cheek support
for Jimmy McMillan, a candidate who, the show said, has a
clear message (“The rent is too damn high”) and whom they
referred to as a “smarter” debater than Sharon Angle or Sarah
But the third-party candidates did have a chance to make their
cases, and they worked hard to do so—most notably, Redlich.
The Libertarian Party candidate from Guilderland, a relative
unknown to most of the state, seized the chance to portray
himself as a better option for moderate Republican voters
who feel that Palladino’s temperament and bigoted comments
have shown him to be less than suited for public office. Clearly
taking advantage of the brief opportunity for statewide exposure,
he touted his education, work experience and ethic, as well
as his desire for small government. Reduced spending, not
tax caps, said Redlich, will save New York state.
On the left, Hawkins made a passionate case for his “prosperity
plan,” a proposal to create a $25 billion budget surplus by
discontinuing a trade tax rebate to Wall Street and reinstating
a progressive tax structure. His hope, he has said, is to
garner enough votes (50,000) to put the Green Party on the
ballot and give the people an option that they can agree with.
He and Freedom Party candidate Charles Barron both advocated
for a more progressive tax structure, a reform many lower-income
New Yorkers favor, but which has received little attention
from Cuomo or Paladino.
At the heart of their desire to be heard, according to Hawkins
and Redlich, is their perception that neither major party
candidate truly represents the will of their constituents.
By providing other options, they hope to weaken the control
of government by corporate interests.
Schneiderman recieves Rev. Al Sharpton’s endorsement in
the race for attorney general.
the election draws near, attorney general candidates look
to define themselves with upstate voters
week, Democrat Eric Schneiderman spoke in Albany to a crowd
of about 30 supporters and union representatives as part of
his bid to become New York’s next attorney general. Schneiderman,
a progressive who helped reform the Rockefeller drug laws
while in the Senate, received the endorsement of three union
representatives and is endorsed by Attorney General Andrew
Schneiderman’s opponent, Staten Island District Attorney Dan
Donovan, who has the Republican nomination and the endorsement
of both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor
Ed Koch, has attacked Schneiderman for being close to unions.
Both Cuomo and Carl Paladino have said they will take an ax
to the budget and that they will likely look for hefty concessions
from unions. At the rally, Schneiderman said he didn’t think
union workers were looking for special treatment, but that
they wanted to be part of a practical solution.
While some see Schneiderman’s agenda as a little more progressive
than Cuomo’s, Schneiderman said that their relationship, should
both be elected, would be one of cooperation. “My positions
are nearly identical to those taken by Attorney General Cuomo,”
said Schneiderman in an e-mail. “I look forward to working
with the new governor to reform our state government, protect
a woman’s right to choose, and get illegal guns off our streets.”
Meanwhile, Donovan has come under attack for his relationship
with Wall Street. The New York Times recently reported
that one in every four dollars in Donovan’s campaign coffers
came from a single multibillion dollar hedge fund, headed
by a man who is a leading and influential defender of Wall
Street’s status quo. Donovan has said that he does not want
to be the “sherriff of Wall Street,” and Schneiderman attacked
him for that.
In an interview, Donovan told Reuters that addressing
Wall Street will take caution and that many cases brought
against alleged wrongdoing on Wall Street had been overturned.
Donovan’s campaign is painting Schneiderman as an Albany insider
who will do nothing to change Albany’s dysfunction.
Donovan has outlined a three-pronged approach to cleaning
up Albany. First, he plans on securing unilateral jurisdiction
of corruption cases for the attorney general’s office. He
also wants to increase the transparency of member items, through
which legislators dole out money to nonprofits and other constituents.
Lastly, he said he would require legislators to disclose their
outside income from any work not related to their legislative
duties. “Our public has no confidence when a legislator is
voting on a bill, or debating a bill on the floor, whether
or not they are representing the interests of the people who
elected them, or the interests of their employer or client,”
Donovan said in an interview with WMHT.
Schneiderman’s stance on ethics reform revolves around launching
public corruption initiatives and being an advocate for public
financing of campaigns. Schneiderman has the endorsement of
nonpartisan citizen’s groups such as Citizen Action of New
York, of which he is a member. Schneiderman also plans to
build on initiatives started by Andrew Cuomo, such as “Project
Sunlight,” that seek to shed more light on member items in
Schneiderman has also announced his intention to go after
corporations who conduct hydrofracking in New York state—a
procedure that involves injecting a cocktail of chemicals
into the earth to break up and release natural gas for collection.
However, the attorney general’s office is also tasked with
defending New York state in the inevitable lawsuits that environmental
groups will bring once the Department of Environmental Conservation
releases its long-awaited environmental impact statement on
the practice and the moratorium on hydrofracking is lifted
or relaxed. A considerable amount of bureaucratic flexibility
will be required of Schneiderman, should he be elected, to
defend the state from environmental litigation related to
hydrofracking while opposing it himself.
Donovan’s spokesperson released a statement that characterized
hydrofracking as an “opportunity” for New York, but one that
needs to be undertaken “safely and properly.”
Schneiderman has recently come out in favor of a controversial
gun-control strategy known as “microstamping,” which involves
marking every firearm manufactured with a microscopic imprint,
enabling law enforcement to track any bullet fired back to
the weapon. Schneiderman also has the endorsement of Albany’s
first ward councilman and gun-control activist Dominick Calsolaro.
Before the race for attorney general, Donovan supported a
microstamping bill sponsored by Schneiderman, who he knew
could be a potential opponent in the future. Donovan also
touts his experience prosecuting gun crimes as the district
attorney in Staten Island.
There is concern amongst both parties that their candidates
are well-known only in small circles in New York City and
do not have much presence upstate. Some fear the election
may well be decided by downstate voters.
loose ends this week-