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Shoot Off at the Mouth

Capital Region citizens concerned with issues of gun violence will have a forum to discuss the topic and to brainstorm ideas for countering the problem on June 19, 1 to 5 PM, at the First Lutheran Church at 646 State St. in Albany.

The forum, Community Workshop on Gun Violence in the Capital Region, will feature presentations from a number of speakers with differing perspectives on the problem of gun violence, and will offer a roundtable discussion in which members of the public are asked to participate.

“Most of the problems happen now, between now and September, when school is out and the weather is nice,” said Albany Alderman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1). “Now there are a lot of people out on the streets and maybe tempers get flared; we’ve got to see if there is something we can do.”

The program is being cosponsored by Alderwoman Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2) and the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations, and will be moderated by Albany Common Council President Helen Desfosses.

Addressing issues of gun violence isn’t new turf for Calsolaro, a former chairman with the community-based criminal and social justice program Weed and Seed for three years. Earlier this year, Calsolaro crafted a resolution asking the city’s elected officials, criminal-justice organizations and social groups to create a task force to combat gun violence from as many angles as possible.

The task force, an idea that drew strong public support during a number of public comment periods at the Albany Common Council, would be based on the successful gun-violence program headed by Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll, Calsolaro said.

But instead of presenting the resolution to the council for a vote on April 7, Calsolaro decided to hold it, even though it received a favorable recommendation from the council’s Public Safety Committee. A source close to the council told Metroland that Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings influenced Calsolaro’s decision by placing an 11th-hour phone call to say he wanted to host a gun-violence-related event on his terms. Jennings is sponsoring a conference on gun violence with the City’s Department of Youth and Family Services in September.

Calsolaro said that was too long to wait and decided to organize a workshop in advance to gauge public opinion so that the conference in September could more accurately address those concerns. Calsolaro said he sent a letter to Jennings asking the mayor to moderate next Thursday’s workshop, but the mayor offered no response.

“I’ve had so many people contact me—groups and individuals—about the gun-violence issue, that I thought that to wait until September was too long,” Calsolaro said. “I’m doing my job as a representative: I’m giving people a place and a forum to come out and speak about their concerns about gun violence publicly. I want to hear their ideas—that’s what I’m here for.”

—Travis Durfee

The Sparing of the Green

Voters throughout New York state retained the right to enroll in the state’s Green Party, thanks to a recent decision handed down by a federal judge in Brooklyn.

U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson issued a preliminary ruling ordering the New York State Board of Elections to retain the records of voters enrolled in the party, despite the Green’s inability to meet the state’s requirement for maintaining legitimacy as a political party.

In order to receive ballot status in New York and the extras that follow therewith (having enrollment records maintained by the State Board of Elections, and the use of state voting equipment for primaries), a political party’s candidate for governor must have received 50,000 votes in the most recent election. Green Party gubernatorial candidate Stanley Aronowitz received fewer than 42,000 votes in 2002.

The Greens were granted the right to continue enrolling voters through the State Board of Elections through the 2006 electoral cycle.

Mark Dunlea, chairman of the state Green Party, said the judge’s decision allows the Greens to maintain contact with its roughly 30,000 enrolled members and take on new enrollees. Dunlea said the list would also be helpful for organizing purposes.

“We use [voter enrollment records] very heavily as an outreach tool,” said Dunlea. “We use that list to tell people about a rally on the Rockefeller Drug Laws or to discuss wind power and the bottle bill. Parties have a right to organize, and not having the right to register people in the Greens would definitely hamper our ability.”

Further, Dunlea said the judge’s decision took into account voters’ rights to engage in political endeavors.

“It is very helpful for the judge to say the state cannot prohibit people from using voter-enrollment records to associate with those who have the same principals,” Dunlea said. “If I’m in Rensselaer County, it is just so much easier if I can go down to the Board of Elections and say, ‘Hey, can you give me a list of everybody else in the county who says that they are enrolled as Green?’”

The judge’s decision did not address voter enrollment in the state’s Liberal and Right to Life parties, which also lost official ballot status in 2002. The judge stated that the Green Party had made strides in the state’s political arena, calling it a “significant, active and growing political organization in New York.”

—Travis Durfee

Minimum Political Clout

According to Hunger Action Network of New York state, if at first you can’t convince legislators to adopt a higher minimum wage, lobby, lobby again.

For the past four years, the Hunger Action Network of New York state has been pushing county and state governments to better serve their lower- earning workers by adopting a living wage. The advocates are hoping the proposal will be adopted before the state Legislature leaves Albany, but they aren’t too optimistic.

“There is an unequal distribution of power in our democracy, and nowhere is it more clear than in the minimum-wage issue,” said Mark Dunlea, associate director of Hunger Action Network of New York State.

Hunger Action Network determines the living wage by calculating 130 percent of the national poverty level for a family of three, as determined annually by the federal government. This year’s official poverty level is $15,260; by the Hunger Action Network formula, that would require a minimum wage of more than $9.50 per hour (HAC recommends $10).

“We say that out of some political reality,” said Dunlea. “Even at $10 an hour, it’s very difficult to support a family. I think in Albany County, you’re looking closer to $15 an hour.”

The federal government last raised the minimum wage to $5.15 on March 31, 2000. There are proposals in the New York state Senate and Assembly that would increase the minimum wage to $6.90 and $6.75, respectively. Assemblywoman Susan John (D-Rochester) and Sen. Guy Velella (R-Bronx) sponsor these proposals.

However, the Legislature has never raised the minimum wage above the federal level, which causes Dunlea to be skeptical about either bill passing, in part because it’s not an election year for legislators.

“[New York state legislators] throw bones to people when it’s time to get re-elected,” said Dunlea.

The Albany County Legislature also is considering a proposal for a minimum wage of $8.55. Other counties in New York State—including New York City, Suffolk, Westchester, Putnam and Buffalo—have passed living-wage laws.

However, Matthew McGuire, a spokesman for the Business Council of New York State, said that businesses in many communities compete with businesses in other states, especially small retail businesses. If wages are higher in New York, there is a definite competitive disadvantage.

“We think minimum wage should be set in Washington,” said McGuire. “One minimum wage in all 50 states ensures a level playing field among and between competitors in different states.”

McGuire points to a study done by the Public Policy Institute of New York State, Inc., that shows living wages obviously increase wages for those with jobs, but also eliminate jobs for lower-wage earners. The Business Council has filed memoranda of opposition to the proposals in the Legislature.

—Jennifer Schulkind

Metroland Receives AAN Award

Former Metroland news editor Nancy Guerin was honored last weekend with an editorial award from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.

The award, first place in the News Feature category among papers with circulation less than 50,000, was presented at the association’s Alternative Weekly Awards ceremony, which took place at the annual AAN convention in Pittsburgh.

Guerin received the honor, the highest award received from AAN in Metroland’s history, for her feature on Schenectady Mayor Al Jurczynski’s plan to lure industrious Guyanese immigrants from New York City in an attempt to revitalize his own city.

“Guerin’s portrait of Jurczynski and his Guyanese recruits are vivid,” judges said. “She captures the optimism and incongruity of the story in clear, lively prose.”

Guerin began her tenure at Metroland as a staff writer in 2001, and was promoted to news editor in December 2002. She is leaving the area.

Formed in 1978, AAN is a trade organization representing 124 weekly, free-circulation newspapers distributed in urban areas throughout the United States and Canada. The association has been recognizing excellence in journalism and graphic design among alt-weeklies with its annual Alternative Newsweekly Awards since 1996.

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