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Senate Gets Back to Work

On Sept. 16, the New York State Senate reconvenes to face a myriad of issues, but at the top of everyone’s agenda is addressing the status of funding for the State Superfund Program. The program is responsible for cleaning up more than 800 abandoned contaminated sites, or brownfields, around the state.

The State Superfund Program was established through the 1986 Environmental Quality Bond Act to clean up hazardous commercial or industrial sites, but funds became exhausted in March 2001. The legislation under consideration will maintain the policy that the polluter should pay, which means that those who are responsible for the contamination will be responsible for the cleanup. Although an agreement was reached between the Senate, Assembly and the governor’s office, due to time constraints, the legislation still failed to pass in the Senate before it adjourned June 20. Optimism still remains in Albany that the three parties will maintain their agreement when Sept. 16 rolls around. “The agreement stands and nothing will change it,” stated Kathleen Curtis, executive director of the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition.

Also on the Senate’s upcoming agenda is the long-awaited reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Enacted in 1973, these policies require judges to give drug offenders the mandatory minimum sentence regardless of situation, background, role in offense or threat to society. The reformed proposal has three components: to institute lower sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, to allow retroactive relief for nonviolent drug offenders currently in prison, and to increase penalties for predatory drug dealers. According to an Aug. 18 article in the Times Union, the Senate has been slow to come to consensus on the legislation because “the parties are each advocating positions that they know will never be approved by the other side.”

Many more topics remain on the table for the Senate to deal with during the session, including the budget cleanup bill.

—Christen Deming

It’s Our World

If you’re in the mood for social action, you’re in luck. The World Trade Organization meeting currently taking place (Sept. 10-14) in Cancun, Mexico, has prompted several activism-driven events around the Capital Region, including a free festival this Saturday in Troy’s Riverfront Park.

Saturday’s Another World is Possible festival, arranged by the Rensselaer Greens, begins at 1 PM in the park behind Troy City Hall and aims to raise awareness about the dangers of the WTO.

The WTO, created in 1995 and based out of Geneva, Switzerland, functions as a global trade-regulating entity. While the WTO claims to benefit the global economy by relaxing restrictions on trade, critics of the organization have accused it of disrupting the natural environments, cultures, and economies of the nations it claims to aid. The profit-driven interests behind the WTO, critics contend, result in decisions that exploit developing nations and cause massive surges in unemployment in countries such as the United States.

The festival will feature musical performers, poetry, and a discussion of the possible effects of the WTO’s push for corporate globalization. Among the guest speakers will be former Green Party candidate for governor, Stanley Aronowitz, as well as a host of other professors, labor leaders, and local activists. “We need to call attention to these things,” explained Aronowitz. “There’s a great inequality in the World Trade Organization.”

Organizers are hoping that a “festival” will attract more people than a traditional protest might. “Since Sept. 11, things have been quiet for understandable reasons,” said Aronowitz. “Now people are beginning to get their activist legs again, especially on these global issues.”

Tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 12), the local activist group Stop WTO will be sponsoring a rally on the east steps of the state Capitol at 11 AM. After the rally, the group plans to march through downtown Albany, visiting local organizations linked to the WTO.

In 1999, the WTO conference in Seattle was stalled by tens of thousands of protestors. This year, protests of various sizes are scheduled to occur in major cities throughout the world.

—Rick Marshall

Hudson Rocks the Boat; Albany Goes for Status Quo

The Democratic primary for mayor in Hudson was neck and neck as of yesterday (Sept. 10), with challenger Linda Mussman ahead by two votes, 331 to 329, and dozens of absentee ballots left to be counted.

Current Mayor Rick Scalera, who had the Democratic Party endorsement, was so offended that Mussman challenged him to a primary that he collected petitions to acquire the endorsement of the Bottom Line Party, a designation Mussman created when she ran for mayor in 2001 [Newsfront, Aug. 21].

Scalera says he’s “feeling pretty good about coming out ahead in reference to the absentee ballots,” but acknowledges that it’s “a great unknown.” Since he has three other party line endorsements, and expects to face Mussman in the general election in November anyway, Scalera says he considered this primary just “an indication of how much support [candidates] have on the Democratic level. It’s so close I’m not sure what was accomplished.”

But while the mayoral primary was too close to call, Mussman’s slate of candidates appeared to have generous leads for alderman in three out of the four wards where they ran and for Democratic committee seats in all four. “This is a huge upset for the other side,” said Mussman. “We have enough committeemen to control the democratic party of Hudson, New York, which is splendid news.” This shift in the committee could diminish the power of Scalera, who has been the committee chair. “This didn’t happen overnight,” said Mussman, who said her slate was opposing a “huge, huge machine.” “We’re reinvigorating democracy in Hudson,” she said.

Meanwhile, despite not receiving the county Democratic party’s endorsement, Albany County Comptroller Michael Connors handily fended off a challenge from County Legislator Allen Maikels. Maikels had charged the comptroller’s office wasn’t professional enough [Newsfront, Sept. 4]. As of yesterday (Sept. 10), with 96 percent of the votes counted, Connors had 6,781 votes to Maikels’ 4,937.

Maikels said he “obviously was disappointed in the outcome, but I think we waged a vigorous and honorable campaign on the issues of performance in the office. . . . We just couldn’t get enough attention and impetus.”

Connors was exhausted but thrilled. He said, “As an activist comptroller, I’m delighted that good has conquered evil and positive campaigning has triumphed over a negative, slimy effort to demean public discourse.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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