to ride: bike advocates in costume for Critical Mass.
Photo: John Whipple
bike ride protests car culture in style
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.
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,
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
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
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 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.”
objector: Eugene Byrd outside Capital City Rescue Mission.
Photo: Joe Putrock
to the Hungry
in need of a free, hot meal in Albany can always get oneif
they sit through a Christian sermon first
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
to Pay the Bills
The Albany Common Council adopts public-works apprenticeship
program aimed at boosting the quality ofand opportunities
forthe citys workforce
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
Finishes in Saratoga
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.
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
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
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.
Hopping in Troy
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.
Is Local in Albany County
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.
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.
Axel-Lute and Ashley Hahn
Quo—Almost—in E. Greenbush
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.
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.
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.
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.