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Dressed to ride: bike advocates in costume for Critical Mass. Photo: John Whipple

That Wasn’t
a Parade
Halloween bike ride protests car culture in style

The somewhat overused protest chant “Whose streets? Our streets!” took on a more pointed significance last Friday (Oct. 31) as a group of nearly 50 bicyclists, mostly in costume, took to the streets of Albany for a Critical Mass bike ride.

Resolutely grassroots and leaderless, Critical Mass was first held in San Francisco in 1992, and has since spread to 300 cities under rallying cries like “We’re not blocking traffic—we are traffic.” The rides are considered protests of car culture and celebrations of the bicycle as a viable, environmentally friendly alternative form of transportation.

In Albany, which has had a small ride on the last Friday of the month for a few years (no one can remember exactly when the first one was), one of the primary themes is safety. “Motorists tend to be pretty intense on the road, so it’s nice, one day a month, us bicyclists get out and are like ‘Hey these are our streets too, give us some room,’” explained Mike Guidice, astride the front seat of his tandem bike.

“You’re riding with a group of people, [so] you don’t really have to worry about being hit by cars, which is something that normally you do have to worry about,” said a frequent participant who wanted to be identified only by his costume, the Hamburgler. Crystal, a first-time participant who uses her bicycle as her primary means of transportation, added, “It feels like motorists want to hit you.”

She might not be imagining things. Over the past several months, Clear Channel radio talk-show hosts in Cleveland, Houston, and Raleigh, N.C., have come under fire for promoting violence against bicyclists, including encouraging listeners to call in with stories of running bicyclists off the road. Cycling advocacy groups have called Clear Channel’s apology, which included the statement that cycling is a dangerous activity, inadequate.

It’s not just about motorists’ attitudes, though. “We’re looking for better roads. . . . Bike lanes or a painted shoulder,” said Jesse Day, executive director of the New York Bicycling Coalition. “On Central Avenue, the storm grates will eat a road-bike wheel, so instead of riding close to the curb you have to ride out in the traffic lane, which is dangerous. In downtown Albany the streets are pretty narrow [and there are] quite a few potholes and cracks.”

Although Day participated in the ride as an individual, the NYBC doesn’t endorse the ride. “We support better roads for New York state, which aligns with the mission of the Critical Mass ride, but we don’t directly support Critical Mass,” said Day. This is primarily due to some ongoing disputes over whether Critical Mass riders should obey traffic laws, often a challenge with a large group whose main object is to stay together and be visible. Opinions on this vary from ride to ride and rider to rider, but participants said it hadn’t been a big point of contention in the Albany ride. At least on some rides, the group has stopped at every red light, said Day.

But in many places across the country police seem to view Critical Mass rides with automatic suspicion, which keeps Albany riders on the alert. A ride in Buffalo on May 30 ended with police violence and multiple arrests, though the riders assert they did nothing wrong and were given conflicting instructions by the officers.

Last Friday’s ride was one of the largest Albany has ever seen. Usually, say frequent participants, the number ranges from 10 to 15, and drops precipitously in winter. (Jokes about it being more critical than massive are frequent.) But the prospect of riding in costume seems to have been a draw. The varied crowd included Mother Earth, a snail, Frodo Baggins, and Jesus, complete with a six-foot-tall crucifix made of two-by-fours and a barbed-wire crown of thorns attached to his bike helmet. Under the costumes were serious cyclists, however; when someone asked for an Allen wrench, one was offered immediately.

The ride took off from Washington Park at 5 PM and headed down Lark Street, getting rounds of applause from the majority of pedestrians and friendly honks from plenty of passing cars. It wasn’t entirely clear whether passers-by were mostly applauding the costumes or in support of bicyclists, but the riders tried make their purpose clear with chants like “Trick or treat! Take back the streets!” and “Two-wheels good, four-wheels bad!” Some riders took their dislike of cars a bit further, at least once shouting back to supportive honkers, “Cars still suck!”

Taking up an entire lane of traffic, and sending front-runners into major intersections to stop traffic so the group could move safely through, the ride swung in a large loop from Central Avenue to Quail Street to New Scotland Avenue and back to the park.

The only clear animosity came from a driver stuck at bike speed behind the ride along several blocks of Quail Street who leaned heavily on the horn the whole time.

Spirits were high as the entire group pulled over on New Scotland for free ice cream cones at Stewarts. “A desire to be with other people who ride bicycles a lot” was a driving force behind starting the local ride, explained Guidice, one of the founders. There isn’t really a thriving bicycle culture in Albany yet, he admitted, “but we’re getting there. And the people who are part of it are really enthusiastic.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Conscientious objector: Eugene Byrd outside Capital City Rescue Mission. Photo: Joe Putrock

Preaching to the Hungry
Those in need of a free, hot meal in Albany can always get one—if they sit through a Christian sermon first

Eugene Byrd won’t go to Capital City Rescue Mission any more.

Byrd, 42, cannot work due to an eye condition and lives on a fixed income at 149 Grand St. in Albany’s South End. Toward the end of the month, Byrd’s finances often become tight. To make his money stretch, Byrd used to visit CCRM for a free, hot meal. But that was before the gospel got to him.

“You only get a hot meal if you sit through the sermon,” Byrd said. “It’s proselytizing. Straight-up proselytizing.”

Before receiving a hot dinner at CCRM, patrons are asked to sit through a 30- to 60-minute Christian sermon—a problem for Byrd, he said, “because I’m not Protestant.”

“Their religious theology is constantly telling me I’m going to hell,” Byrd said. “Why would a devout Catholic want to sit through an hourlong sermon to get a bowl of food?”

Byrd said he’s spoken with a number of people who, like himself, rely on emergency food service programs like CCRM’s soup kitchen in order to get by, but who would prefer to do without the preaching. “Ask most of the people down there,” Byrd says. “They’ll probably say, ‘Oh man, we’ve got to go through this shit again.’ ”

But if they’re looking for a free, hot meal in Albany they have to deal with it. Although other emergency food service options exist randomly throughout the city, CCRM is the only soup kitchen in Albany serving three meals a day, seven days a week, year-round.

Founded in Albany in December 1949, CCRM is one of nearly 300 members of the national Association of Gospel Ministries. According to its Web site, the CCRM’s goal is “to extend the compassion of Christ by providing food, clothing, shelter and gospel services to the homeless and destitute of Albany.”

For those without Internet access, the mission’s religious penchant is, in essence, written on the walls of its 259 S. Pearl St. home: A giant white cross adorns the building’s north end, while the words “Jesus Saves” form a pink neon cross at the other end. In fact, even the visually impaired could find out about CCRM’s faith base. All they’ve got to do is ask its executive director, Rev. Perry Jones—he’s not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.

“We are of the Christian faith and we don’t try to hide that,” Perry said. “We have a hundred and some people a night staying here, we serve 350 meals a day and nobody has got an arm up behind their back. They all come in because they need us.”

Aside from providing meals and shelter, Perry said CCRM gives out 5,000 articles of clothing per month. The mission also provides a 30-day emergency shelter program, a 45-day women and children’s center and a nine-month rehab program, all out of a newly renovated $5 million dollar facility. The building and CCRM’s roughly $1.4 million annual budget are paid for almost exclusively from individual donations, with contributions from local churches and nonprofit groups accounting for the rest. Although he’s been offered, Perry said he doesn’t accept money from the government.

“If I took the federal or local funding it would kill me. It would kill the programs,” Perry said, “I would just have to become ‘Interfaith Shelter,’ or ‘The Shelter Run By the State.’ Our board and our churches don’t want me to do that. They set us up as an arm of the local church and that is my commission. . . . The one purpose for us is our faith base.”

Religious convictions aside, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone working in the field who’d deny the good that CCRM provides to Albany’s indigent. Efforts like Perry’s have provided “the real safety net of the social service system,” said Linda Glassman, coordinator of the Albany County Coalition of the Homeless. However, Glassman does take issue with what amounts to forced prayer at CCRM.

“Having worked for faith-based organizations myself, I think they could provide the services without requiring the involvement in formal prayer,” Glassman said. “It may prevent some people from accessing services, and it may make people, who’re Jewish or Muslim or agnostic, do something that they’re uncomfortable with. It seems to me that they’re exacting too high a price, that they have to pray to stay.”

When Glassman worked for the 1736 Project, an emergency shelter for an Episcopal Church in Hermosa Beach, Calif., she remembers being told by her minister not to require prayer in exchange for social services.

“Our role was to model what Christianity was,” Glassman said. “If they were interested then they could ask us about it, but it was more important for us to be loving and to pray for them, rather than to require that they pray.”

Perry stressed that CCRM provides a bag lunch to those not wishing to participate in prayer service, and that he points those still not satisfied to other service providers throughout the city. “It’s not like we’re throwing people out on their ears,” he said.

“We are a gospel mission and I’m proud of what we do,” Perry continued. “We are who we are and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that.”

“The mission plays a real, really integral role in the continuum of services for homeless people in this city,” Glassman said. “Do I wish that they’d change their rules? Yes. Do I think that because they have the rule that they’re not playing a valuable role and that people should discount them? No. They’re essential. It’s just really tricky.”

—Travis Durfee

Skills to Pay the Bills
The Albany Common Council adopts public-works apprenticeship program aimed at boosting the quality of—and opportunities for—the city’s workforce

In a move to develop the skills of Albany’s workforce, apprenticeships are now a required feature on city public-works projects costing more than $250,000. The Albany Common Council passed the new legislation at the behest of Mayor Jerry Jennings on Oct. 20. With a number of potentially big projects on the horizon, this move could mean a boost for local workers.

“Now we’re going to be teaching people a trade, getting them involved in unions, so they can move on from apprenticeships to . . . real vocational careers as opposed to just putting people on sites just to get the job done that may not be qualified,” said Councilman Glen Casey, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Apprenticeships are specifically tailored to combine practical, paid on-site work experience with classroom learning.

“Not everyone goes to college,” said Kevin Hicks, president of the Tri-City Building and Construction Trades Council, a union group instrumental in bringing the bill forward. “The impetus was to try and get the cities and the counties to join with us to make sure people got quality education, and didn’t just join trades as stopovers but as careers.”

Recruiting for apprenticeships will particularly target younger people interested in construction trades, though programs are open to workers of any age hoping to increase their skills. The types of apprenticeships available will vary depending on what sort of work needs to be done on a given project.

Casey said apprentices will be recruited through a variety of channels including community organizations, union outreach, and the Albany Housing Authority. Hicks likened union apprentice recruitment to a job fair, saying they canvass at the vocational BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) centers and high schools for new apprentices.

The Albany Housing Authority’s WAGE (Working to Achieve Gainful Employment) center recently graduated six students from a six-week development course about the building trades geared toward preparing people for apprenticeships, said the center’s Jamie Gilkey. “We’re getting people’s skill levels up, and [getting] them in a position where they could be more likely to get long-term employment.”

“We’ve seen a lot of interest from [the Albany]Housing Authority residents and from people in the surrounding community going in this direction,” said Gilkey. He also said that the people the center directed to apprenticeship programs in the summer are still involved in those programs. “Kevin has been very open to talking with us and doing things in a cooperative way where we can get people placed.”

By sponsoring apprenticeship programs, businesses usually reap the economic benefit of paying apprentices about 40 to 50 percent less than they would a journey worker, according to state literature. But because the new legislation applies to public projects, employers are required to adhere to the prevailing wage scale. This scale is set annually by the state labor department, and sets minimum pay requirements specific to job classifications, and varies county-by-county.

The new apprentice programs fall under the state Department of Labor’s guidelines, which guarantee competitive wages and a certificate of completion, a nationally recognized credential. But many individual apprenticeship programs have requirements that go beyond what is mandated by the state.

“We set very high standards for ourselves that are well over and above the standards set by the department of labor,” said Hicks. He also stressed that the Building and Construction Trades Council puts millions of dollars into its apprenticeship programs.

Nonunion employers are not excluded from the bidding process because of apprenticeship requirements. As Hicks was quick to point out, “There are more nonunion certified department of labor [apprenticeship] programs than there are union in New York state.”

Albany and Schenectady Counties, Schenectady, Amsterdam, and the Troy City School District have also agreed to use apprenticeship programs on certain public works programs.

The Albany city program could be particularly meaningful, however, because there are a number of projects in the city that might come to fruition soon.

“We’ve lucked out in that we’ve been bringing significant projects into the city and, hopefully, if we can get the convention center off of the ground, the apprenticeship program would be able to kick into that,” said Casey. This will allow Albany “to get people from the city onto some of these jobs.”

“It opens the door to future opportunities that could be pretty big,” Gilkey echoed, citing the possibilities that could come with the Arbor Hill Community Development Plan or a new convention center, which could put many locals to work. “We’re talking about putting folks in jobs that are much, much better than the McDonald’s jobs. . . . Something where you can actually support a family.”

—Ashley Hahn

Trailmix:

Photo Finishes in Saratoga

In Saratoga Springs, Republican Finance Commissioner Mike Lenz has an early—and narrow—lead of 91 votes over the incumbent Democratic Mayor Ken Klotz, but there are 400 absentee ballots left to count. Apparently, the majority of absentees are Republicans, but that means little in a city where swing votes are prevalent.

Tough campaign issues may be to blame for the close counts, among them the city’s search for a new water source and the city sales tax. Other Saratoga races were also tight: A scant 18 votes place Democrat Matt McCabe ahead of his Republican opponent Eric Schreck for city finance commissioner.

The city’s commissioner of public works, Tom McTygue, beat out his opponent George Cannon by more than 350 votes, making him the lone Democrat certain of his seat on the city council. McTygue doesn’t seem discouraged; this isn’t the first time he’s been in the council’s minority. Regardless of party, “when we’re out doing our job in the city everybody’s the same,” he said.

As of early counts on Wednesday, Stillwater’s town supervisor of 20 years, Paul “Butch” Lilac, was in what some have called the battle for his political life, trailing his opponent, J. Gregory Connors, by 34 votes. Absentee ballots will be key there as well.

Squeaker in Schenectady

The preliminary results for Schenectady’s mayoral race showed Democrat Brian Stratton leading Peter Guidarelli by 198 votes. The race was hotly contested, and candidates were out stumping down to the wire. Among the key issues were the city’s fiscal crisis and public safety.

Keri Kresler of the Working Families party said that if Stratton does win she expects the margin of victory will be from the Working Families line, as they worked very hard canvassing for him.

Hudson Hoopla

Mayor Richard Scalera defeated insurgent candidate Linda Mussman by 412 votes. Scalera ran on the Republican, Independence and Conservative lines and won the Democratic primary against Mussman. He also sneakily snagged the endorsement of the Bottom Line Party, which Mussman had created in 2001. She subsequently created her own Fair Deal party and ran on it in the general election.

All is not lost for Mussman, as her slate still holds a majority on the city council for the upcoming term, and she is now the city’s Democratic chair.

Party Hopping in Troy

Republican Candidate Harry Tutunjian won an easy victory to become the next mayor of Troy. He will get to work with a city council that is also strongly controlled by Republicans, who got 7 of 9 council seats. “The trend is that people want change, [and] they’re willing to put aside party lines to get that,” said Tutunjian. “I received a tremendous amount of Democratic support.” That’s not so odd, since his rival, Frank LaPosta, accepted the Democratic nomination after being turned down for the Republican line.

Party endorsements aren’t everything, though, as Cathryne Collington, candidate for Troy City Council in District 4, found out. Collington, a Democrat, had the Republican, Independence, Conservative, and Working Families ballot lines, but she was defeated by William Dunne, the Democratic candidate. “The campaigns were run, and the voters had their say, and so be it,” she said.

Surprise Is Local in Albany County

There were few surprises at the county level in Albany, where Democrats and incumbents (generally the same people) reigned supreme. Smaller parties tried to gain some leverage with their ballot lines, however: As of yesterday, (Wednesday, Nov. 5), unofficial results show that between them the Independence and Working Families parties accounted for 14 percent of Michael Breslin’s votes for county executive.

A little bit of history was made in Bethlehem, however, where the Democrats have taken control of the town government for the first time in 100 years. After a fractious campaign season, Democrat and former town justice Teresa Egan became the new supervisor, and Democrats won a majority on the town board.

What Now?

The county boards of elec- tions hope to certify Tuesday’s results within the next two weeks, after absentee ballots and affidavits are counted. Certification can be delayed by court orders and objections, but boards expect to be finished by the end of the month. The state deadline for certifying is Dec. 15.

—Miriam Axel-Lute and Ashley Hahn

Trailmix: Status Quo—Almost—in E. Greenbush

Jeanne Casatelli was hanging her hopes on this election. “We are praying for a change on Tuesday,” she said last week. Casatelli is a leader in the Community Action Network, an organization that advocates smart growth, pedestrian-friendly redesign of routes 9 and 20, and historic preservation. She feels like the group’s efforts—and therefore the future of East Greenbush—have been thwarted at every turn by current Supervisor Bob Angelini and the incumbents on the town board.

“We know what we’ve got: very close-minded, willfully ignorant [officials]. We’ve given them tons of opportunity and information about how important planning is to a town,” she said, but it has been ignored. Casatelli’s main complaints are what she said is the town’s refusal to implement certain provisions of the community-developed Route 9 & 20 plan and its failure to stop the demolition of the historic DeFreest house to make way for extra parking spaces at Target.

Completely fed up, she and other CAN members threw their support behind the Republican slate: Peter Carnesale, a real estate salesman, for town supervisor, and Phil Danaher and Rick Matters for town board.

“Let’s make East Greenbush a great place where people want to live and quality developers choose to build. Where natural and historic assets are not paved over, but incorporated next to new structures as we grow, preserving our past for a brighter future,” wrote Karen Codner and Casatelli in an e-mail message supporting the slate.

This sounds awfully progressive, and yet the Working Families Party, considered one of the more left-leaning parties with a ballot line, endorsed the incumbents. Keri Kresler, Working Families lead organizer for the Capital Region, said the sprawl issue was deliberated, but in the end, the Service Employees International Union’s strong support for Angelini and fellow Democrats, who backed the union in a long strike at a local nursing home, tipped the scales.

Casatelli said she didn’t know an awful lot about the Republican candidates, but she did know they had all pledged to support two crucial things: planning in the town and a more open government.

Planning was in fact central to Carnesale’s reason for running. “Basically what we’re looking to do is go more into long-range planning,” he said. “The problem with East Greenbush is that it hasn’t had [a master plan] since 1989, and things have changed so much since then.”

Carnesale lost, but as of Wednesday (Nov. 5), it looked like Danaher would win a seat. With 225 absentee ballots out, and vote margins under 100, however, the final determinations on town board seats won’t be made until next week. Democratic Election Commissioner Edward McDonough said it seemed likely Danaher would keep his lead, but it wasn’t certain. Nor is it impossible that Matters could come from behind.

Carnesale said he’s definitely not going to give up, and will continue to feed information to the town board through Danaher. Kresler did say they would be keeping tabs on the officials, and would like to keep working with people like Community Action Network to hold them accountable.

And Casatelli is looking to the future. “We’re disappointed that it’s not a clean sweep, but we have a ray of hope that Phil will be on the board,” she said.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Photo: Alicia Solsman
Those Canine Eyes
A participant in the Mission:Wolf program at Albany Law School last Thursday (Oct. 30) has a close encounter with Rami, a 10-year-old female wolf. Mission:Wolf runs a sanctuary for captive-bred and part-dog wolves in the mountains of Colorado, and puts on “Ambassador Wolf” programs like this one to give people a personal experience of wild nature through the “piercing yellow eyes of a wolf.” They also hope the programs will ease the way for reintroduction of wild wolves in areas where they have become extinct. Rami has met more than 250,000 people in her eight years as an ambassador. For more information, visit www.missionwolf.com.

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