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Stop yanking my chain: Janice Revella. Photo by Martin Benjamin..

Tour de Schenectady

Local resident fights City Hall’s attempt to put a bike path in her backyard

If you ask developers and residents, both probably will tell you that it comes down to much more than the city of Schenectady merely building a little bike path through Janice Revella’s backyard.

City officials want to connect the East Front Street Pool area near Union College’s boathouse, in the Stockade section of Schenectady, with a paved trail that runs through nearby Riverfront Park. The land the project requires is a little more than 40 feet long and 20 feet wide. According to the city’s report on the bike path, released last year, the path eventually will connect to the 500-mile Canalway Trail that runs across the state. For Schenectady officials, the ultimate goal is to bring more visitors to the area and more money into a cash-strapped city.

The problem is that the city’s land along the water borders Revella’s property, and to make room for the path, developers need an easement into her land, cutting across the full length of her lawn. Revella is holding out, she said, because of the years and money she has put into making her home what it is today.

“They’re trying to say I’m trying to hold out for more money,” Revella said. “I can’t put a dollar amount on this property. I love it. I’ve spent so much time on it with my children and my grandchildren. . . . It’s the one little corner of the world that I found, and now it’s a big controversy.”

Revella said she has been at odds with the city over the land since the late ’90s, when Schenectady Mayor Al Jurczynski promised the path to Union College so their boathouse could be accessed more easily.

In a letter written to Revella on Oct. 13 from Steve Strichman, City of Schenectady zoning and empire zone officer, and James Sherman, the city’s director of development, the city offered to buy the property for $110,000 and sell the house back to her afterward. Revella turned down the money, which is $30,000 more than the property’s fair market appraisal, and more than the estimated $16,000 value of the waterfront land.

“I could really use the money,” she said, “but I’m not selling out.”

According to City Councilman Mark Blanchfield, Revella is not being totally honest. Her ex-husband, Paul Ambrozik, co-owns the property and has expressed willingness to sell it, Blanchfield said. He added that as far as he knows, Revella spends much of her time in Hawaii each year, and is holding out for $20,000 more from the city.

“If it’s a hard bargain she wants to drive, she’s being successful,” Blanchfield said.

Under New York’s “eminent domain” law, a city can condemn land and repossess it for public use, and Schenectady would be required to compensate Revella only the $16,000 for the land if it takes that route. However, city officials say they want to avoid that.

“As we would prefer not to take this easement by eminent domain, I ask you at this time to consider our final and best offer,” Strichman wrote to Revella.

Mayor Jurczynski did not return calls for comment, but in an article that appeared in the Daily Gazette on Oct. 14, he said, “You can’t do it with her holding out and being what I consider, unreasonable. . . . She feels the city has been difficult. To say that she’s been difficult is a mild understatement.”

Revella also claimed that Strichman and Sherman refuse to show her any plans for the path and offered conflicting deals. For example, Sherman reneged on Strichman’s offer to sell the house back to her.

“The city has shown no good will,” Revella said.

If the city takes the land against Revella’s will through eminent domain, she will lose out even after receiving compensation for it, according to Eli Taub, vice president of the Stockade Association, which has not yet taken a formal stance on the matter.

“If you take her piece of property and you say that you want to give her $16,000, you still destroy the value of her property,” said Taub.

Whatever Revella’s motivation, Schenectady is running out of time. The city received a grant from the state to match Schenectady’s funding on the project, which is only valid until March.

The State Department of Transportation often repossesses land or does work very close to private property to widen roads, and towns often have to work through residents’ yards to set up utilities. The practice is not infrequent, nor is the controversy surrounding it. Locally, for example, many Clifton Park residents were outraged two years ago when the town moved to build a trail that required an easement along the sewer line on their properties, a plan town officials said at the time that many residents were warned of before they bought their homes.

While the practice may be common, it is also commonly abused, according to Dana Berliner, a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based libertarian law firm that represents private residents in many property disputes nationwide.

“Nationwide, the overuse of eminent domain is an enormous problem,” Berliner said. “New York is pretty active in using eminent domain. . . . There have been around 13 or 14 actual or currently threatened condemnations in New York in the last five years.”

Berliner said that cities often seize property only to turn it over to another private owner who will be more profitable. While no private owner will take over Revella’s property, Revella said the city is cheating her for its own benefit.

“Somebody better tell the Guyanese people moving to the city that any time [the city] wants to condemn their land, they can, because that’s what they’re doing to me,” Revella said.

—David Riley

Out of Bounds

Critics charge that Albany County Democrats’ redistricting plan marginalizes the suburbs and inner-city minorities

They are carving up this county worse than my 4-year-old butchered up his pumpkin on Halloween,” said John Graziano Jr., Albany County Legislature’s Republican minority leader.

Graziano is referring to the Albany County Redistricting Commission’s plan for redrawing the boundaries of the Albany County Legislature’s 39 districts. He charged that the proposed plan is designed to keep city Democrats in control of the Albany County Legislature at the expense of minority and suburban communities.

“This is city Democrats declaring war on the suburbs,” said Graziano. “They have fragmented complete towns.”

Redistricting is done every 10 years to adjust for the population changes that occur in an area. The effort is accomplished using the U.S. census. The way a district is configured determines how many representatives a given area will have. The proposed plan extends several districts, now represented by Albany Democrats, into nearby towns. For example, the district lines in Albany will include parts of Bethlehem and Loudonville. Graziano said that rather than extend the lines from the city to the suburbs, thereby cutting into some Republican-controlled areas, the plan should create more districts for suburbanites and for minorities in the city.

Phillip Chonigman, the county’s redistricting consultant with GeoPolitical Strategies, disagrees that the plan protects Democrats’ position in the legislature.

“We are talking about how many seats? Thirty-nine?” said Chonigman. “In which 28 are now Democrats. We don’t have to create all kinds of bizarre strategies to maintain power.”

He added that the goal of redistricting is to balance the population between the different districts so that each area maintains close to the same number of voters. The new plan, he said, which was revealed on Oct 28, is designed to preserve the county’s three minority districts and protects incumbents from running against each other for reelection next year. The main reason, he adds, for moving the lines out of the city, is due to the population decrease in Albany.

“All districts are likely to change when you redistrict an area,” said Chonigman. “At least a little in order to conform to the equal population requirements, so even those districts that meet that mean number still might need to change because a neighboring district is either too high or too low.”

But Graziano said that by looking at the way that the lines are drawn, it’s obvious that it was done to ensure that seats held by Democrats are preserved by giving them continued control.

“If it wasn’t strategic, you would have incumbents running against incumbents,” said Graziano. “Why not create more districts in the suburbs? Why cut into other districts and take power away from Republicans and minorities?”

It is not just the suburbs that are losing out, according to Graziano. Inner city minorities, he said, deserve another district as well. Aaron Mair of Arbor Hill agrees with Graziano. Mair said that according to the 2000 census, the African-American population in the city of Albany grew by more than 6,000 even as the total city population declined from 101,082 to 95,658 during the ’90s. This is proof, he said, that another district should and could be created for minorities.

“It’s a hoax to tell folks that they have less political power even though your population is actually growing,” said Mair. “What they are really trying to do is maintain hegemony for their party, and they are using us [minorities] to strip folks in the suburbs of their power. As a result, we are losing out on having a voice and having our say over who we elect to represent us.”

Chonigman said that he has reviewed a counterproposal by Mair that includes a fourth minority district, and is taking it into consideration. However, he said, it doesn’t take into account voting-age population in minority communities, and it combines black and Hispanic populations, which you can’t do unless a direct link is established between the two voting groups. He added that the county could create districts that include more minorities when drawing the lines, but it would dilute the other three already existing districts.

“His numbers, when you refigure them to include those of voting age, bring the minority population in this fourth district down to 53 percent. That is barely enough to call it a majority,” said Chonigman.

Mair disagrees.

“They have to follow what the courts say, which is that it is based on head counts, not voting age,” said Mair. “I consider that nothing more than a discriminatory ruse to get around the federally mandated requirements set down to protect voters’ rights.”

Anne Pope, president of the Albany chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that if there is an opportunity to create another minority district, she would support that.

“This would create empowerment for our people because they could elect a person of their choice,” she said.

Pope, who led the fight 10 years ago against the legislature’s first redistricting plan, said that so far she has been impressed with the way the county has gone about the process.

“They have held a number of public hearings and have made an effort to including the public in the process this time around,” she explained.

But for Mair and Graziano, this is not enough. Both have said that if this plan goes through, they will seek legal action against the county.

—Nancy Guerin

No More Balance of Power

On Election Day, close races nationwide resulted in the Republican Party maintaining its majority in the House of Representatives and overturning Democratic control of the Senate, aligning the politics of the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government.

Prior to Tuesday’s elections, the Senate was evenly split with 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and two independents (Democrats held a one-seat advantage until Paul Wellstone’s death a little over a week ago, and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura’s subsequent appointing of an independent to replace him in the lame-duck session). While some races are still up in the air, Republicans have won at least 50 seats, which, along with Vice President Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking vote, overtakes the Democratic majority. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) assumes the role of majority leader from Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

Republicans previously held a 223-208 majority in the House, with one independent and three vacancies. While all 435 representatives were up for reelection, not every seat was considered in jeopardy. Republicans appear to have added at least four seats to their lead with a few close races undecided as of Wednesday.

The shift in seats is numerically small, the GOP’s regaining control of the Senate is significant with regard to how issues will be addressed. Majority parties set the legislative agenda and establish controlling members of various committees in both houses.

A possible war with Iraq, a Securities and Exchange Commission badly in need of reform and a homeland security bill yet to be shaped are a few of the issues to be affected by Election Day’s tipping of the scales. The legislative changing of the guards should also allow President George W. Bush to better focus on installting a more conservative slate of Supreme Court justices, advancing a plan to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and furthering his generally conservative and corporate-friendly agenda.

—Travis Durfee

He’s Ba-a-ack

Republican Gov. George Pataki’s victory on Nov. 5, ensuring his third term as New York’s chief executive, came with little surprise to those who watched the incumbent avoid any real confrontation with his opponents and maintain a double-digit lead in polls throughout the campaign.

Pataki, who also ran on the Conservative Party line, received 49 percent of the popular vote, 16 percentage points more than Democrat H. Carl McCall, his closest challenger. McCall, who according to many critics ran a less-than-compelling campaign, received 33 percent of the vote, a curious total considering Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly five to three in the state of New York. Independence Party candidate and Rochester billionaire B. Thomas Golisano received 14 percent in his third unsuccessful bid for governor.

Threatening the vitality of the party throughout the state, preliminary numbers show that Green Party gubernatorial candidate Stanley Aronowitz received only 1 percent of the popular vote. By failing to receive at least 50,000 votes, the Greens will no longer maintain an official ballot line in New York state elections.

Pataki’s victory fell in line with the general New York Election Day theme of those in power maintaining power. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) easily handled the challenge to his post from Dora Irizarry, while Alan Hevesi (D) filled the hole left by McCall in the state comptroller’s office, defeating challenger John Faso.

Overall, the 2002 New York governors’ race was one of the most expensive political campaigns in history, with candidates’ combined spending totaling more than $100 million.

—T.D.

Other Results

U.S. House of Representatives 20th Congressional District, New York

John Sweeney (R-C) 73%

Frank Stoppenbach (D) 24%

Margaret Lewis (G) 3%

U.S. House of Representatives 21st Congressional District, New York

Michael R. McNulty (C-D-I-WF) 75%

Charles B. Rosenstein (R) 25%

New York State Comptroller

Alan Hevesi (D-L-WF) 50%

John Faso (C-I-R) 47%

New York State Attorney General

Eliot Spitzer (D-L-I-WF) 66%

Dora Irizarry (C-R) 30%

New York State Senate 43rd District

Joseph Bruno (R-I-C) 71,911

New York State Senate 46th District

Neil Breslin (D-I-L-WF) 72%

Peter Belenchia (C-R) 28%

New York State Assembly 104th District

John McEneny (D-I-L-WF) 75%

Kerry Murphy (R) 21%

Josuha Lieberson (G) 2%

Joseph Sullivan (RTL) 2%

New York State Assembly 105th District

Paul Tonko (D-I-L-WF) 73%

John Amell (R-C) 27%

New York State Assembly 106th District

Ronald Canastrari (D-I) 77%

Edmond Day (R) 23%

New York State Assembly 108th District

Pat Casale (R-C) 54%

Tracey Brooks (D-I) 46%

Albany County Judge

Thomas Breslin (C-D-I) 68%

Susan Tatro (R) 32%

Albany City Court Judge

Thomas Keefe (C-D-G-I-L-R-WF) 33%

William Carter (C-D-WF) 29%

Cheryl Coleman (D) 26%

Paul Stavis (C-I-L-RTL-R) 7%

Mark Fantauzzi (I-RTL-R) 6%

Albany City School District Board of Education

Susan M. Kushner 37%

Edward H. Brown Jr. 28%

Morris Cohen 22%

Tyler E. Trice 13%

Governor, Massachusetts

Mitt Romney (R) 50%

Shannon O’Brien (D) 45%

Jill Stein (G) 3%

U.S. House of Representatives 1st District, Massachusetts

John Olver (D) 68%

Matthew Kinnaman (R) 32%


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