so it wasn’t the real Toxic Avenger, but whoever the
hell that guy was, he made an appearance on the steps of the
Capitol Building Oct. 18 with Stanley Aronowitz, the Green
Party gubernatorial candidate. Aronowitz and the avenger were
joined by Green lieutenant governor candidate Jennifer Daniels
and Green state Senate candidate Cathy Curtis as they announced
the party’s environmental agenda. The proposal calls for a
revamping of the state’s energy plan, including the closing
of all coal and nuclear power plants, while investing in renewable-energy
and conservation measures. The group criticized Gov. George
E. Pataki’s environmental record, saying he had consistently
put the interests of big business, corporate polluters and
his campaign contributors ahead of the environment and taxpayers.
a Bunch of Dopes
case you haven’t noticed, in New York state these days, pot
is all the rage. Almost all of New York’s gubernatorial candidates
are pushing it—for medicinal purposes, anyway.
Last week, both Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate H.
Carl McCall and Independence Party candidate B. Thomas Golisano
announced that they supported the legalization of marijuana
for medicinal purposes. It was just a decade ago that association
with marijuana was such a taboo that former President Bill
Clinton, fearing for his political reputation as he made his
first run at the White House, skirted his recreational encounters
with the pot. Today, however, the New York politicos’ weed-friendly
campaign rhetoric is far from the cutting edge.
American Bar Association, the New England Journal of Medicine
and New York State Nurses Association, among others, have
all endorsed the controlled use of marijuana for medicinal
purposes,” said Joe Caruso, director of polling for the Siena
Research Institute. “This is not groundbreaking stuff. And
now eight states plus Washington, D.C., and British Columbia
all allow it.”
In 1995, the state nurses association endorsed marijuana for
its medicinal applications as a pain reliever in treating
glaucoma, reducing nausea in chemotherapy patients and stimulating
the appetite of AIDS patients.
But Caruso said New York politicians did not take medical
marijuana seriously until just recently, when the issue was
highlighted by the Marijuana Reform Party. Thomas Leighton,
gubernatorial candidate for the MRP, agrees.
attribute it to my campaign, and the efforts of the Marijuana
Reform Party,” said Leighton. “Number one, we got on the ballot.
And two, since my appearance in the debate, McCall came out,
and Golisano did the other day when he was asked. But it’s
just “Me, too” politics. To me they are just Marijuana Reform
Party candidate wannabes.”
While Leighton said that McCall and Golisano were “grabbing
at issues in a desperate attempt to get votes,” with their
announcements supporting medicinal marijuana, other candidates
who have supported the issue in the past took the news differently.
welcome everyone to join on board,” said Mark Dunlea, vice
chairman of the New York state Green Party, speaking on behalf
of Green gubernatorial candidate Stanley Aronowitz. “Politicians
love political cover and company, and they have that on this
issue. Medical marijuana is a no-brainer. With increasingly
widespread opposition to Rockefeller Drug Laws, more mainstream
politicians feel more comfortable speaking out against other
irrational drug laws.”
Alan Chartock, political analyst and executive director of
WAMC, agrees that review and reform of the state’s laws prohibiting
medicinal marijuana are long overdue, but disagrees with Leighton’s
is plain old stupid on his part: ‘This is my issue and you
can’t have it,’” said a scolding Chartock. “The whole history
is that good ideas eventually get adopted to the whole platform.
He should consider himself the victor if he gets a major party
to adopt it and he ought to be damned ashamed trying to take
exclusive possession of the issue.”
Although legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes has been
adopted by most of this year’s gubernatorial candidates, the
most notable exception also happens to be the candidate leading
in the polls, incumbent Gov. George E. Pataki. Reform on the
issue may have to wait, as the latest Siena poll of potential
voters shows Pataki leading McCall by 43 to 30 percent.
will be elected,” said Dunlea. “However, perhaps the Greens
or other groups can find some legal ways to push the existing
law, and maybe the Assembly Democrats will be forced to deal
with the issue.”
Pataki’s highly touted “universal” prekindergarten program
has not been funded for all school districts
Thyrring, principal of Indian Lake Central School in Hamilton
County, had no idea if her school district was eligible for
funding from New York’s Universal Prekindergarten program.
a good question,” Thyrring said. Indian Lake runs its program
independently and manages to come up with the funding out
of its own budget, she said. Thyrring has never sought state
funding. For many schools, it is too much trouble for too
And the state did not go out of its way to offer Indian Lake
the funding it promised all schools five years ago when it
passed ambitious legislation to provide pre-k for all 4-year-olds
in the state.
governor certainly has not wholeheartedly put his support
behind the universal program,” said Karen Schimke of the Schuyler
Center for Analysis and Advocacy, part of a pre-k advocacy
group called Center for Early Care and Education. “We really
have a terrific program—it just has not been expanded and
In 1997, 39 other states sponsored programs that provide preschool-age
kids with preliminary education, helping children to develop
cognitive and social skills before entering kindergarten.
All these programs had different eligibility cutoffs for schools
seeking funds, and different standards for curriculum and
the programs’ duration. But that year, New York was only the
second in the nation to offer universal funding.
When pre-k passed, the state promised a total of $500 million
after five years of phasing in the program, and universal
eligibility. Currently, funding is stalled at $255
million, according to the state Division of the Budget. Critics
claim that certain poor rural school districts are still told
they are not eligible because the program does not have enough
funding to take on many more.
188 of 680 New York state school districts have universal
pre-k,” Schimke said. “By this time, all school districts
were to have been eligible to participate. That did not happen.”
According to Tara Mitchell, spokeswoman for the City of Albany
school district, universal pre-k has a good record locally.
Of the schools in the city that applied, all received funding,
While the original idea might have been ambitious, critics
said Gov. George E. Pataki has been much less so when it comes
to putting pre-k money into the budget. Among Pataki’s critics
is his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, H. Carl McCall,
who made a pledge this summer to fulfill the original funding
promise if elected.
funding for UPK has been a fight every year,” Schimke said,
“except the first operational year, which was also an election
year. Starting in 1999, the governor tried to block the grant
and probably reduce the funding. It has been a continuing
Kevin Quinn, a spokesman for Pataki’s budget division, noted
that pre-k funding has increased almost 400 percent since
Pataki took office in 1995. The legislation for pre-k funding
was not passed until 1997 though, so the funding level would
be expected to have been much smaller in ’95.
Quinn also said many school districts simply turn down the
most recent data shows that of 419 districts that were eligible,
only 162, or 39 percent, chose to participate,” Quinn said.
“Many districts that chose not to participate cited reasons
that included space constraints, transportation difficulties
and district preference to concentrate on K through 12 education.”
However, Schimke said many schools have turned down the funding
or do not seek it at all because of the indecisive way the
state handles it.
and others blame the uncertainty about the money, late state
budgets, necessity for local share, and fear they will be
left with an unfunded mandate,” she said. “The governor says
he supports pre-k, but for poor children, not all children.
The governor says that schools aren’t using the money.”
The Legislature and Gov. George E. Pataki signed off on pre-k
funding as part of an educational package called Learning,
Achieving, Developing by Directing Educational Resources.
The program also aimed to reduce class sizes, pay for minor
maintenance, and help schools to bolster their staffs.
Some opponents saw L.A.D.D.E.R. as costly to taxpayers and
more the result of teachers-union influence than a good idea.
They also consider pre-k as state-subsidized day care.
But according to local educators, pre-k is important in a
think children who are involved in preschool at an early age
do much better as they get to the upper grades,” said Lisa
Craig, a Head Start pre-k teacher at Arbor Hill Elementary
School, which does receive pre-k funding. “They learn good
social skills; I think that’s the most important thing.”
Schimke said that children who have pre-k background are 50
percent less likely to need special education services later,
and 20 percent less likely to be held back by the 3rd grade.
Much research backs up these claims. A study by the University
of Arizona suggested that nearly 50 percent of a child’s brain
development happens during preschool age. A study conducted
by the Maryland Department of Education in 1991 found that
their Extended Elementary Education Program participants scored
significantly better on math and reading tests through the
first, third, and fifth grades.
Robert White, Arbor Hill Elementary School principal, agrees
that pre-k programs give kids an advantage.
the child doesn’t come here [for pre-k], then we just have
to do it at the next level–kindergarten,” said White.
my beef: Tracy Frisch of the Regional Farm & Food
by Teri Currie.
Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner
x-ray-zapped meat arrives in the Capital Region, experts and
activists debate the safety of the process
years after Federal authorities approved its sale to the public,
irradiated meat has made its way to the Capital Region.
Last Tuesday, Price Chopper Supermarket officials announced
that it will sell irradiated ground beef. Officials from Hannaford
grocery stores said that they will soon to follow suit. Price
Chopper’s irradiated meat will be supplied by SureBeam Corp.
of San Diego. The ground beef will be irradiated at SureBeam’s
facility in Sioux City, Iowa, and then shipped to the Capital
technology is environmentally safe, using ordinary electrons,”
said Mark Stephenson, vice president of public relations for
SureBeam. “It is not creating radiation or treated with radiation.”
The irradiation method uses high-energy or ionizing
radiation to decontaminate food of microorganisms, insects
and parasites. The energy can come from radioactive material,
electron accelerators or x-rays. SureBeam uses electron-beam
technology, a process developed 10 years ago to sterilize
medical equipment. Stephenson said that this process kills
more than 99.9 percent of bacteria.
is a process similar to a microwave,” said Stephenson. “People
should feel good and have some peace of mind when they go
to their grocery shelves to purchase this product.”
Only a few years ago, many stores were reluctant to stock
irradiated meat because they feared a backlash from many consumer
groups who claimed that irradiation is an unsafe, understudied
process. But since this year saw two of the three largest
meat scares in U.S. history—including a 27-million-pound recall
of Pilgrim’s Pride cooked sandwich meat—consumers seem to
be warming up to the technology, said Stephenson. Irradiation
has been endorsed by the American Medical Association, the
World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But these endorsements don’t impress everyone, and many advocates
for consumer safety are up in arms over the latest announcement.
process of zapping food with the equivalent of 10 million
chest x-rays has not been fully tested or analyzed to determine
health risks,” said Russ Haven, New York Public Interest Group’s
legislative council. “Consumers should not be unwitting participants
in a field trial for this little-studied process.”
Haven, along with Monique Mikhail, organizer for Public Citizens,
a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group, said the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration did not determine a level of radiation
to which food can be exposed and still be safe for human consumption,
which federal law requires. Further, Mikhail explained that
the process is dangerous because it introduces new chemicals,
called radiolytic products, into the food supply.
These chemicals, she added, do not naturally exist in food,
and the FDA has never studied them for safety. She points
to a study done by a German research team, which found that
the chemical 2-DCB in irradiated food causes cancer, genetic
damage and cellular damage in human and rat cells.
has not been nearly enough research into the long-term health
effects of consuming irradiated foods,” said Mikhail. “There
have been no long-term studies done, and there have been a
number of studies in the past indicating problems with these
Eileen FitzPatrick, an instructor in the Nutrition Science
Department of the Sage Colleges in Troy, countered that this
is a reasonable option to have in the marketplace.
hear the term radiation and they think the food is radioactive,”
said FitzPatrick. “But all the information that I looked at
shows the change in food is similar to what you would get
with heat treatment, such as in the canning process.”
Further, she added, there is no radiation left in the meat
because the radiation is absorbed similar to an x-ray.
are not made radioactive by an x-ray,” said FitzPatrick. “The
electronic beam passes through the meat and in passing through
it kills the bacteria.”
But Tracy Frisch, executive director of the Regional Farm
and Food Bank, said that this process is just a band-aid approach
to the root causes of meat contamination, such as dirty processing
procedures and unsanitary practices at ranches and slaughterhouses.
She explained that part of problem is that the slaughter lines
are moving so fast, with far too many animals, that there
is no time for people to react when problems arise, such as
feces that end up in the lines.
there is a problem with an animal, it gets everywhere,” said
Frisch. “We need to clean up the process much earlier rather
than come in the end and try to fix it.”
FitzPatrick agrees that the speed in which the cattle are
being processed is an issue. But she said that in any type
of slaughtering there are going to be problems—especially
since it only takes a small amount of bacteria to spread and
contaminate all the meat.
a food-safety perspective,” said FitzPatrick, “when it comes
to ground beef, irradiated ground beef is safer to the consumer.”
But not everyone is convinced.
there are feces in the meat and then they irradiate it, what
you basically get is sterilized feces,” said Mikhail. “But
the feces are still in the meat, so people are still eating
that. The problem is that it shouldn’t be in there to begin
for the disabled join together in hopes of improving the region’s
public transportation system
Suhore has identified her issues and is ready to roll, even
if the public transportation she uses to get around the Capital
Region is not.
current system is strained, and there are different problems
for different people,” said Donna Suhore, who uses a medical
scooter and is chairwoman for the Capital District Coalition
for Accessible Transportation. “The buses are in bad shape.
People complain that some of the drivers don’t know where
to go, some drivers are rude and intimidating. Right now these
problems just need to be known.”
Suhore is one of about 5,500 individuals living in the Capital
Region whose disabilities prevent them from using fixed-route
public transportation. Suhore and the others currently have
one option, the STAR (Special Transit Available by Request)
buses. People confined to electric wheelchairs or motorized
medical scooters can schedule these buses to pick them up
from their homes, but many people, even representatives of
the Capital District Transportation Authority, have said the
system needs improvement.
our perfect world, every request can be accommodated when
and where it is requested,” said Carm Basile, director of
marketing and information for the CDTA. “That is the ultimate
objective, but getting there is difficult.”
The unreliability of rides is one of the major problems Suhore
and others have experienced using the STAR system. Would-be
STAR riders are often stranded as buses sometimes are not
available or don’t show up when requested. This dilemma stems
from an overall shortage of vehicles: The CDTA has 20 working
STAR buses serving 5,500 customers, Basile said.
people have to wonder day to day if they’ll be able to have
transportation to go and do the things they want and need
to,” said Marianne Taylor, a service coordinator with the
Center for the Disabled. “They have places that they need
to go, but may be told that they are on standby and are not
able to do things.”
The CDTA is aware of some problems caused by the scarcity
of STAR buses, Basile said, and is planning on expanding its
fleet by five buses in the coming weeks.
As the system stands now, people who rely on STAR buses must
call to schedule a pickup at least 24 hours in advance, but
no more than two weeks ahead of time. Critics of the system
said that sometimes buses don’t show up even with that much
preparation. While this experience can be frustrating, CDCAT’s
Jay Steinhardt said that some of the STAR customers he has
dealt with feel like they can’t change a thing.
are afraid to exercise their rights because they don’t know
they have them,” said Steinhardt, who uses STAR transportation.
“They say they can’t complain because they’ll lose their rides.
CDTA tells riders all the time about their responsibilities,
but not their rights. It tells them what to do, but not what
they can do.”
But the CDTA’s Basile said the notion that STAR riders will
lose their rights if they speak up is misguided.
is simply and completely not true,” said Basile. “We encourage
people to speak out and let us know what they are experiencing.
If someone has an issue, we ask them to call us and deal with
it directly rather than waiting and letting it fester.”
Basile said the CDTA holds STAR meetings twice a year with
the sole purpose of addressing the concerns of its consumers.
While the accessible transportation coalition met last week
in preparation for the next STAR Town Meeting, to be held
Oct. 28 at the Colonie Community Center, Taylor said she has
reservations about it.
STAR meeting in May wasn’t very helpful,” said Taylor. “I
saw STAR reps taking a lot of unnecessary time talking about
anything but the real issues, answering commonly asked questions
rather than addressing the concerns of the riders.”
Suhore also said she was disappointed with the last STAR meeting,
but is not yet ready to give up trying to reform her only
means of travel throughout the region.
is possible,” said Suhore. “We want to work with these people.
Instead of starting out screaming and banging our heads and
protesting, we figure we’ll ask. We’re reasonable. It’s not
a perfect world, but some things are unacceptable.”