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This old house: one of Ed Keegan’s buildings on North Fifth Street in Hudson. Photo: Teri Currie

It’s My Eyesore
and I’ll Blight if I Want To!
As city officials move to take his property, a Hudson man lets everyone in on his reaction

When Hudson’s common council recently started eminent domain proceedings to take Ed Keegan’s two boarded-up buildings on North Fifth Street, he struck back—with a paintbrush.

In thick, black paint, Keegan scrawled 11 different messages—ranging from commentary on property-owners’ rights to flat-out attacks on city officials—on the 4-by-8-foot pieces of plywood covering the busted-out windows and rotting doorways of his two dilapidated structures. “Is It $,” “Power Trip” and “Your Property Next” reads a sampling of the graffiti covering his two 19th-century residential buildings a few blocks from Hudson’s trendy arts and antiques district centered on Warren Street.

“I had a guy from the newspaper tell me he thought it was some crazy kid that did it. I told him it was—me,” said Keegan, a bespectacled, middle-aged man dressed in khakis and a plaid green fleece, cracking himself up.

Keegan, a resident of Kinderhook, is the owner of Armory Antiques, a leviathan fine-arts and antiques store on the corner of North Fifth and State streets adjacent to the two blighted properties. Keegan purchased the neighboring buildings in 1980, but both have been unoccupied and decaying for the past decade. Tiny weed gardens have sprouted in the piles of branch and leaf deposit atop the unkempt, rotting wooden roofs. Vacant and broken windowpanes far outnumber whole pieces of glass, and bare spots in the cracked and chipping paint reveal weathered clapboard siding.

“My feeling is, yeah they’re not attractive . . . but there are all kinds of buildings throughout the city in far worse shape than this,” Keegan said.

Keegan believes that he has been reasonably cooperative with the city about the buildings, removing the collapsing porches a few years back when the city asked. Further, Keegan said he has paid taxes on both buildings over the past decade. City tax records show that Keegan paid $677.27 and $539.76 on the two properties in 2003.

Keegan said he allowed the buildings to deteriorate because he was considering demolishing them and using the land as a parking lot for his antiques store. But Keegan said his customer volume didn’t end up warranting such an undertaking.

But according to Hudson’s newly reelected mayor, Rick Scalera, Keegan is missing the point. Scalera said Keegan has had plenty of opportunities to work with the city over the years to fix up the buildings but has chosen not to. And the mayor hasn’t been afraid to say so.

Scalera happened to be driving by the buildings a few weeks ago as Keegan was painting. “I rolled down my window and told him, ‘If you’d painted the buildings years ago nobody would’ve bothered you,’” Scalera said. “He just smiled and went back to his business.”

“And tell him my name’s not Dick,” the mayor said, referring to one of the phrases that reads “Later Dick”—Keegan’s hopeful preelection prediction that Scalera would be voted out of office. “It’s Rick or Richard,” the mayor said.

On Oct. 21, Hudson’s common council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the city’s attorney to begin the eminent domain proceedings—a process by which government takes ownership of private property for public use or public good. Scalera said the city would hire Concra Appraisal Associates and Robert Ihlenburg, a local surveyor, to determine how much Keegan should be paid for the properties. Scalera, who said the city has never taken a property though eminent domain during his tenure, said he would like to see the buildings restored and turned into affordable housing.

However, Keegan’s attorney wrote a letter to the common council saying that his client was actively pursuing the sale of his two properties, had received “serious interest from prospective purchasers” and recently rejected an offer of $300,000. In the letter, Keegan’s attorney asked the city to hold off on eminent domain proceedings for three months, by which point his client would be involved in either rehabbing, selling or demolishing the two buildings. Keegan was showing the one of the buildings to a potential buyer early afternoon Monday when Metroland visited.

“If he sells in three months we’ll back off,” Scalera said. “But it’ll take three months just to get the [eminent domain] proceedings underway.”

Keegan, who said that the city is “obsessed” with taking these properties from him, doesn’t understand why the city wouldn’t allow him the extra three months his attorney has asked for.

“Right now I’m doing everything I can to resist, but I’m not sure how successful that’ll be,” Keegan said. “I’m kind of backed into a corner here.”

But Scalera believes that Keegan backed himself into that corner. The mayor said he wants the city to take over the properties before the buildings deteriorate to the point of collapse.

“This all boils down to a real simple question: Would you like to live next to those buildings?” Scalera said. “If the answer is ‘no,’ then you know where the city is coming from.”

—Travis Durfee


May I use my voice? Skidmore students at the polls. Photo: Photo courtesy of The Skidmore News

An Education in Intimidation
Skidmore student voters hit a roadblock to political participation—a Republican poll watcher
challenging their eligibility

The run-up to Saratoga Springs’ elections may have seemed ugly, but apparently that was just the beginning.

After the polls closed on Nov. 4, almost all of the city’s races were close enough to be significantly swayed by absentee and affidavit ballots. And this year, there are an awful lot of affidavits. They came mostly from Skidmore College’s voting district, where 300 student voters were challenged by a Republican poll watcher.

Matt Dill, a campaign volunteer for Republican mayoral candidate Mike Lenz, arrived at the on-campus polling center armed with a list of students he believed did not reside on campus and therefore should not vote in that district.

“We had been instructed . . . that whenever we’re registering just to take 815 N. Broadway [the school’s street address],” said sophomore Sara Kunz, president of the Skidmore Progressives. “It was never a question of who lived off campus. It’s never been an issue before.”

When voters are challenged, they must reaffirm their eligibility by signing two oaths: one swearing their residency, and one acknowledging that any false statements could make them guilty of perjury. Many students found Dill’s approach and delivery threatening, and many witnesses contend he created an environment of intimidation that effectively discouraged students from voting.

“I really felt I was kind of being attacked,” said senior Chloe Waters, an off-campus resident and politically active student. “I was honestly trying to figure out who to trust, who was who, and what I should do.”

“To me, everything in that environment discouraged voting,” said Nancy Goldberg, a Democratic elections inspector working at Skidmore that day. “It was crowded with not Republicans, but Republican operatives.”

“Matt Dill was questioning students before they got to the registration table,” she said. And according to her, Dill was saying “You know, I’m challenging you. You have to sign an oath. If you sign an oath falsely, the district attorney will prosecute you for perjury.”

“I know a student that’s on social probation and felt like they couldn’t hand in that affidavit form if there was possibility they would be charged with perjury,” said Kunz. “They thought they’d get kicked out of school.”

“I witnessed the most disgusting and blatant form of voter intimidation I have ever seen,” said resident Philip Diamond in a statement to the city council the day after the elections. “I witnessed Republican poll watchers stand within proximity to the entrance door to the Skidmore voting venue and systematically intimidate prospective voters by threats of expulsion from college and/or criminal prosecution leading to incarceration. I witnessed many of these voters turn away out of fear and intimidation, rather than complete the voting process.”

Dill began the day as an elections inspector, but later resigned as inspector, produced his poll-watcher certification, and made his challenges as a watcher.

“This is the second time the county Republican organization, this time with a paid consultant, organized a voter- intimidation campaign of students,” said one city official. “If it wasn’t intimidation of students then why wasn’t this done at any other polling place in the city? It’s very self-evident.” The county Republican chairman did not return Metroland’s calls.

State Supreme Court Judge Stephen A. Ferradino did rule, at 3 PM on Election Day, that students living in the off-campus dorm, Moore Hall, could vote by affidavit in district 24.

Skidmore likely was targeted because it is a Democratic stronghold in a Republican town, and many people don’t seem to appreciate the influence of the student vote on local elections. In 2001, Skidmore was the determining factor in Democratic public works commissioner Tom McTygue’s win. Local Republicans, led by accounts commissioner Stephen Towne, responded by trying to redistrict and have the polling place moved off campus.

“Instead of campaigning to kids, who they’re not going to get, they recognize, ‘We’re not going to get them—fine, we’re just going to stop them from voting,’” said senior Ezra Selove. To Selove, this is part of a calculated effort to diminish voter turnout, which would justify paying less attention to students.

This election, however, Republican candidates did make a concerted effort to canvass the campus. “For some reason, I made the naive assumption that because they were campaigning here they wouldn’t challenge us,” said Selove, who has done voter-registration drives since he was a freshman. His vote was challenged because, according to Dill’s list, he was apparently on leave, which he has never been.

Behind these shenanigans may have been the former executive director of the state Republican Party, Brendan Quinn, who had been employed to do what some call “ballot security” in Saratoga. Quinn works as a political consultant for Saratoga and Albany counties, but gained notoriety for being among those leading the charge against the recount in Florida in 2000.

A city official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he ran into Quinn outside Skidmore’s polling place, and accused Quinn of using the same “suppress-the-vote tactics” he employed in Florida. Quinn’s reply: “It worked, didn’t it?”

—Ashley Hahn

Please Share My Umbrella
Local activists hold a meeting of the minds to explore common goals and a unified front

Liberals are often charged with being poor coordinators and shabby at working together, but an Albany conference this weekend is poised to disprove that theory.

This Saturday (Nov. 15), socially concerned residents from all over the region will convene at Albany High School to attend a conference titled “Confronting the Politics of Fear: A People’s Assembly.” This conference is the result of an extensive, serious effort by area activists to bring together a diverse coalition of groups to create dialogue on a wide array of issues confronting the American public and to help educate each other about what can be done to effect positive change.

“We needed to see a way for us to stay together and maintain our own integrity and not lose heart altogether,” said Cathy Callan, one of the conference’s organizers. Organizers wanted to find a way to combat activist burnout and direct their energies in a constructive way. “We’re trying to keep people together and we’re trying to keep focus. We’re trying to feel like we have a little bit of power or hope.”

The conference is called “Confronting the Politics of Fear” because the organizers believe that the current administration’s foreign and domestic policy makes ample use of fear to get what it wants.

“Fear is really kind of the buzzword right now,” said Callan. “Fear of terrorists, fear of being ostracized, fear of being taken in the night, fear of being drafted, fear of a lot of things. . . . We’re trying to understand where we can work with it, where we can battle it and open it up and show people that maybe we don’t need to live like this.”

Damu Smith, one of the conference’s keynote speakers, couldn’t agree more. “The policies of the Bush administration at this time are very dangerous and very reckless and pose, in my humble opinion, a serious threat to peace, and stability, and domestic tranquility. . . . Fear has become a cornerstone of the administration’s strategy to develop support among the American people and among nations around the world for its policies,” said Smith, executive director of the National Black Environmental Justice Network and founder of Black Voices for Peace.

The other keynote speaker, William Rivers Pitt, is managing editor of Truthout.org, political analyst for the Institute for Public Accuracy, and author of several books. Between the speakers will be myriad workshops on domestic and international topics including corporate media, electronic voting machines, faith-based activism, and globalization.

“Probably what will happen is that people that are interested in depleted uranium will go to the depleted uranium workshop,” said Callan. “What we’re hoping is that, because we have three session breakouts, people will go from military recruitment . . . into the civil liberties workshop,” for example, building upon their existing ideas and going beyond them.

“We don’t want to be preaching to the choir, but [as] one person on our committee said, the choirs are getting bigger,” said Connie La Porta of the Social Justice Center in Albany, the conference’s principle sponsor. La Porta has been taking registrations, and has seen new names, so she’s hopeful it won’t be just the same familiar faces.

One of the unique aspects of this conference is the concerted efforts of the coordinators to diversify attendance and presenters in terms of socioeconomics, religion, race, and political affiliation, and thereby help combat disenfranchisement and despair. They involved the NAACP, reached out to a range of community and faith-based groups, and made sure to promote the conference in all areas of the city.

“We did not want any group [to] feel that they were not part of the process of healing, which is really what we’re trying to do,” said Callan. “We don’t need to ostracize or fear or disregard any subculture, any part of our community. We’re all in this together.”

Smith agrees that effecting meaningful change cannot be a narrow effort. “We’re not going to be able to do it only with black people, only with Latino people, only with white people, only with Arabs or Asians, or Native Americans, or women,” he said. “We’re going to have to do it with workers, students and people of all races and colors and religions.”

“I haven’t seen in other efforts around here the same kind of thoughtful attention to including a variety of views within the framework of a progressive peace and justice conference,” said Mark Mishler, a local attorney and activist who will be facilitating the workshop on the 2004 elections. To Mishler, diversity is essential. “It’s not just icing on the cake, it is the cake.”

—Ashley Hahn


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