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Dueling Dads

Two groups lay claim to state funding set aside for fathers’ advocacy work

Two advocacy groups, both working for better treatment of fathers in child custody and support hearings, are in a dispute over state money to be used for the same cause.

In June, New York state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno (R-C-I-Troy) allotted $10,000 in member-item money—capital set aside each year from the state budget, which legislators hand out within their communities—to the Fathers’ Rights Association of New York State to open a resource center at Hudson Valley Community College. But according to Randy Dickinson of the Coalition for Fathers and Families NY Inc., his group is entitled to the money, as it was the one that petitioned for it back in the fall of 2001. Now, the money is on hold until the dispute is resolved.

“Essentially we are the [original] group,” said Dickinson, former vice president of FRANYS. “The money was requested for the Capital District chapter of the Fathers’ Rights Association. And in February the board voted to affect this name change and refile as a separate nonprofit. We have the same officers and the same board.”

Dickinson explained that he and other former members of FRANYS petitioned Bruno’s office for the money before deciding to split from the state organization and form a new organization.

“The ‘rights’ moniker is passé,” said Dickinson. “It is ’70s and ’80s jargon, and that was pointed out to us time and time again. A lot of the reasons for the media not picking up our stories was because of the public image given to the ‘rights’ movement. The old fathers’ rights association, although we implored them to change the name and get a new designation, they decided not to.”

But George Courtney, member services coordinator for FRANYS, said the split runs deeper than semantics.

“There is only one organization, and it has been around for 20 years,” said Courtney. “You can’t spin around and start a new organization and hope the money will still be yours.”

Courtney added that Dickinson and the others who formed the new fathers’ coalition decided to get into “politically legislative work, and now they are turning into full-fledged lobbyists.” He said his group is keeping the Fathers’ Rights namesake.

“It is a brand and it is known,” said Courtney. “We are taking a cooler-headed, moderate approach, while they are pursuing the need for change with a vengeance.”

While the groups have significant differences in approach, both have the same end in mind—building a center to better the understanding of and services for fathers and their families in the Capital Region.

“We want to set up an institute of fathers and families at Hudson Valley Community College,” said Dickinson. “[The center] would have staff to answer phones for people in crisis, it would provide educational materials and legal resources for research, and documents on the various issues.”

The proposed fatherhood center is based on the already up-and-running Center for Fathers at the City University of New York’s Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

“It goes to the concept that fatherhood is a necessary item in the development of children,” said Courtney. “Fathers are at least as needed in a child’s emotional and psychological development as mothers. We’re the most fatherless society in the history of the world, and anything we can do to promote the bond of the closeness between a child and his father, it will have a ripple effect.”

A spokesman for Bruno said the senator’s staff has spoken with both sides, but does not plan on getting involved in the dispute.

“Right now the money is on hold until the two sides in the dispute work out their differences,” said Mark Hansen, a Bruno spokesman. “Whichever side opens the resource center in Rensselaer County will get the funds. Having a resource center in Rensselaer County that would focus on parenting skills or appropriate counseling and provide a good, nurturing place for parents to spend time with their kids would be good for the community. Our concern is not who the money goes to so much as what it is the money is going for.”

According to Courtney, Bruno’s allocation is an example that the fathers’ rights movement has been gaining strength recently, and hopes the bad press spawned by the schism doesn’t deter from their common cause.

Courtney added that the whole conflict is counterproductive to the rights of fathers and families, and what he referred to as “gender biased” news coverage in the Sept. 30 Times Union didn’t help matters any.

“It set us back having this depicted as a feud among fathers,” said Courtney. “It takes away from the moderate and humane message of the fathers’ rights movement. To call it ‘a custody dispute’ was a little less than cute and a little less than intellectually honest. I doubt that if it was a dispute between two women’s organizations that they would have called it a custody dispute over money.”

—Travis Durfee

Civics 101: Speak Up NY! at U Albany. Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen.

Democracy Calling

With state elections less than a month away, voter-registration groups make a last-minute effort
to get out the vote

Abbie Hoffman, one of the more visible political and social activists of the ’60s and ’70s, once said, “Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.”

While many consider voting one of the most important entitlements to citizens of a democracy, statistics suggest that not everyone feels that way. New York state Board of Elections figures show that although 10.7 million citizens were registered to vote in the state’s 1998 gubernatorial elections, fewer than half actually turned out at the polls. Albany County participated a bit more than the state as a whole, with a little more than half of the registered Albanians entering the voting booths. Furthermore, a great many citizens who would be eligble to vote simply aren’t registered.

The final date for at-large voters to register for this year’s elections is tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 11); citizens honorably discharged from the military or naturalized after that date can register as late as Oct. 25. Locally, there have been a few last-minute efforts to get voters enrolled; one of the most visible statewide groups stopped by the University at Albany campus on Tuesday.

“One element is voter registration,” said Jeremie Dufault, communications director for Speak Up New York! “But another is just getting young people involved, period. We are trying to get elected officials to talk to young people rather than about young people.”

Speak Up New York! is a group of volunteers traveling the state in a 40-foot bus and working with campus chapters of the New York Public Interest Research Group to encourage young adults to register to vote and engage in the civic process.

“It shouldn’t just be about delivering registered voters,” said Matthew O’Neill, one of the program’s creators and producers. “We offer positive personal experiences with the political system, delivering the candidates to the voters and the voters to the candidates.”

The bus, dubbed the Cybercar, is a production studio on wheels adorned with a 4½-by-6½-foot television screen where students are videotaped asking questions of New York’s gubernatorial candidates. The questions will be broadcast to the candidates, and each candidate’s responses will be recorded as well. The result will be a PBS documentary, airing locally on WMHT at 4:30 PM Oct. 30. According to members of Speak Up NY!, all of the state’s gubernatorial candidates have confirmed appearing in the documentary except Gov. George Pataki.

“He has everything to lose,” said O’Neill.

In its first year of existence on the state level (Speak Up New York! ran a similar program for New York City’s 2001 mayoral elections), the voter registration drive will make stops in 21 New York cities and estimates it will register some 15,000 voters.

While O’Neill and Dufault both agree that elected officials and government on all levels should make more of an effort to register voters, Keri Kresler, a local organizer for the Working Families Party, has an idea on why they do not.

“Democrats, Republicans, elected officials, they would prefer that voters are not registered,” said Kresler. “Instead of talking to 300 people, they’d have to talk to 1,000. Virtually nothing has been done by anybody in power to register voters.”

Kresler has been working in the city of Albany’s minority districts with Albany County Legislator Wanda Willingham (D-Ward 3) to register voters and better their understanding of the civic process. Kresler said that voter turnout is so poor in some areas of Albany that politicians do no more than pay more than lip service to these communities.

“Voter turnout in the 1998 gubernatorial election was 11 percent in some parts of the city,” said Kresler. “It is not because people don’t care; what happens is that no one pays attention. If you go out and vote, turn out the numbers, that is when the elected officials will pay attention.”

While one of the focuses of talking to potential voters is to register them for the Nov. 5 elections, Kresler’s campaign also takes on an educational aspect.

“There are felons that don’t know that once you are off of parole, your rights are restored,” said Kresler. “I met a guy who was off parole 10 years ago and told me he didn’t think he could vote.”

Kresler said that she and Willingham intend to get out another evening this week for some last-minute registrations.

“You can’t complain if you don’t take part,” said Kresler. “The simplest thing to do is vote—that sends a message. If everyone understood this we’d have a much simpler society.”

Voting-age citizens can register locally at the Albany County Board of Elections, which is located in Room 38 of the County Court House at 16 Eagle St. Citizens can also register in Albany County on the Board of Elections Web site at www.albany or by phone at 487-5060.



The Answer, My Friend

Local businesses aren’t blowing hot air on alternative energy sources

With many people clamoring about the importance of finding alternative energy sources to help offset environmental and consumption concerns, a few Albany businesses have put their money where their outlets are.

Shades of Green, Daily Grind, United Tenants of Albany Inc., and Environmental Advocates have all signed up to participate in an electricity agreement with Community Energy Inc., a renewable energy company, and Niagara Mohawk. The program allows businesses to have all or part of their electricity bills support power generated from renewable energy sources—in this case, wind. Although this plan increases business owners’ monthly energy bills, many have said the benefit of investing in the environment makes it worth the extra expense.

“I know that this costs more up front,” said Dennis Phayre, owner of Shades of Green, a vegetarian restaurant on Lark Street, “but it is up to progressive businesses that already support environmental causes, as we do, to get it and to take a stance and be one of the leaders. If more people take initiative, the cost will come down.”

Phayre adds that although wind prices are more expensive, it is a much cleaner source of energy that is renewable and doesn’t damage the environment. Nor, he said, does it feed into the United States’ dependency on oil.

Roger Markovics, codirector of United Tenants, agrees. He, like Phayre, signed up for a year contract through Community Energy Inc. to buy wind-generated energy from NiMo for an additional charge of two cents per kilowatt. This will raise his electricity bill by approximately $150 a year.

“When I think of all the little petty things that I spend money on,” said Markovics, “like upgrading my computer when the program that I have is working just fine, this amount really doesn’t come out to that much.”

Ron Kamen, New York state director of CEI, explained that consumers, either residential or business, decide how much of their monthly bill they want to contribute to wind energy. A person can sign up to have 100 percent of the monthly usage dedicated or just two blocks of power, which is 200 kilowatts and costs $5 more per month. NiMo is then required to buy that percentage of renewable energy from various wind farms, either in New York state or nationally. That amount of power is then contributed into the national energy grid, where NiMo buys energy for all of its customers.

“As a consumer, I am forcing NiMo to buy wind by signing up for this program,” said Markovics.

Just signing up, however, doesn’t mean that people receive renewable energy directly into their homes or businesses; they are receiving the guarantee that their purchases are supporting energy generated from a renewable source.

“What happens is that all the electricity gets mixed together,” said Kamen. “So which particular electron was generated by the coal, nuclear or oil plant, no one can ever really say. But the guarantee is that every individual purchase is going right to the wind farm, and that wind electricity is going into the grid on their behalf. It’s forcing more wind energy into the power grid on the whole.”

Kamen said that his company is just a supplier that does not sell the energy directly to customers. It merely signs people up, then notifies NiMo, which confirms the order, purchases the energy on the customers’ behalf and performs billing. All purchasers receive a certificate at the end of the year, with documentation of the exact amount of wind-generated electricity that was put into the grid on their behalf.

“That is a legal certificate that they receive, sort of like a stock certificate,” said Kamen. “Those certificates are all added up and matched to the purchase Community Energy makes from the generator, and that is verified by the public service commission in New York state.”

But critics of the program contend that there is no way to guarantee that your purchase will actually support a renewable energy source in New York state, and that many plans don’t even tell you which wind farm you are supporting.

Kamen said that with Community Energy, you know which wind farm your purchase has come from, and you know that all of the purchases done in New York state go directly to wind farms in New York state.

The project was launched last May when the New York Public Service Commission approved an agreement that allowed NiMo customers to buy electric power from wind and biomass generators through their electric bills. The agreement between renewable energy companies, environmental groups and NiMo resulted from the commission’s approval of the merger of NiMo and National Grid.

Further, Gov. George E. Pataki signed an executive order in 2001 that set a goal for the state to supply 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2005.

Currently in New York state, there are three wind farms. Fenner Wind Power, located outside of Syracuse, had its grand opening yesterday, making it the largest facility on the East Coast.

“Wind is not going to die down,” said Pharye. “It is reusable. It is less probable to fluctuate with the global market, whereas petroleum and gas prices drive up with each crisis. At a time like this, when much of the world’s problems seem to be hinging on our dependency for oil, what better solution than to support renewable energy programs?”

—Nancy Guerin

Photo By John Whipple.

In the Name of Peace

“War is not the answer,” “Don’t invade Iraq,” “War is the real enemy of democracy,” and “War is also terrorism,” were just a few of the many signs protesters were holding last Thursday during a rally in front of the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany. Close to 40 concerned citizens turned out to voice dissent against a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq. Protesters encouraged passersby to call their congressional representatives and object to a resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to use military force against Iraq. The rally was supported by the Green Party of Albany County, Peace Action Network and Alliance for Democracy.

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