Safety Zone reopens in Troy after months of uncertainty
months without a steady funding stream or a permanent home,
Safety Zone—Troy’s only drop-in center for gay, transgender
and sexually questioning youth—reopened last week in a new
Safety Zone’s new residence, 309 8th St., was officially coronated
with a small gathering of friends and supporters Friday night
(Jan. 30). Punch, cocktail weenies and other hors d’oeuvres
were spread out on a few tables dotted with Brach’s conversation
hearts, as the Collar City youth who have spent time at the
Safety Zone celebrated the reopening of the place many have
called their home away from home.
about time,” said Troy resident Krystal Blair, 19. Funding
constraints forced Unity House, the Troy-based social-services
provider that funds Safety Zone, to temporarily pare back
Safety Zone’s availability to the city’s youth in September
[“And No One Profits,” Sept. 13]. Since then those who frequented
the program, which had once operated out of a colorful, cozy
storefront space on 4th Street, were hanging out in spare
offices and conference rooms in Unity House buildings throughout
Blair and the score of other GLBT teens in and around Troy
who spent time at Safety Zone have praised the drop-in center’s
open environment, which offers a place for teenagers to explore
and ask questions about their sexual orientation without fear
of ridicule or judgment. Chris Burke, Unity House’s executive
is difficult enough to be a teenager these days,” Burke said.
“To be questioning your sexuality as a teenager can make a
difficult time even more difficult.”
Youth dealing with those difficulties in Troy were put at
a distinct disadvantage earlier this year when Troy High School
had to ax its in-school counselors this year due to budget
constraints. “These kids have no place to go,” Burke said.
Last year’s state budget crunch left Safety Zone ill-prepared
to make up the difference.
With the state’s budget billions in the red last year, the
New York State AIDS Institute, which funded Safety Zone, was
forced to reconfigure how its grant money would be doled out.
The AIDS Institute began offering greater sums of money to
programs providing services in larger municipalities. Troy
and Safety Zone didn’t make the cut. Unity House lost the
$65,000 grant it used to fund Safety Zone. The loss equaled
87 percent of the program’s annual operating budget.
Lack of funds forced the program to move out of its colorful
location on 4th Street last September, and Unity House had
been seeking a new home for the program ever since. The nonprofit
found a new space for the program a few months back when some
office space opened up in one of Unity House’s own buildings.
Funding for the program has begun to trickle in again, too:
The Community AIDS Partnership of the Capital Region cut a
check for $10,000, and Burke said that the United Way is expected
to give a similar amount.
While the reopening provides a regular place for GLBT youth
in Troy to hang out, the new space also give Bruce Clarkson,
the drop-in center’s director, a regular space to carry out
the education and counseling services Safety Zone has provided
since 1995. Youth in Troy can again take advantage of free
one-on-one counseling at Safety Zone and use one of the program’s
three computers to help with their homework. Teenagers can
also receive training in HIV/AIDS prevention, with the prospect
of becoming a peer educator and giving presentations in local
high schools and community centers throughout the Capital
Safety Zone will be open Tuesdays from 4-9 PM, Wednesdays
from 3-6 PM, alternating Mondays from 3-6 PM and alternating
Fridays from 4-9 PM.
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I need to repeat myself? Helen Black, of Arbor Hill.
Photo: Joe Putrock
With citizens growing increasingly skeptical of the Albany
Police Department, Common Council members gear up for a chance
to question the departments leadership
become a familiar scene at Albany Common Council meetings:
Arbor Hill and South End residents filling the council chamber
seats, holding protest signs as they wait to address the council
with the same concerns they presented the week before: the
reassignment of a popular police commander from patrol duties,
an abandoned community police council, an apparent unwillingness
by the department’s administration to provide crime statistics
to the public.
The frustration that has become visible among the frequent
speakers—especially Arbor Hill’s Helen Black and the South
End’s Betsy Mercogliano, who’ve addressed the council on these
issues since October—has even spilled over into city residents
who aren’t necessarily directly concerned with police issues.
you know, week after week I come down here and say I’m against
the rezoning of Krumkill Road,” said Vincent Riguso, a resident
of Albany’s 14th Ward. “As I sit here and I hear these residents
talk about their problems [with the police department], I
feel that my problems are really small. These people come
before us every week and they have these same questions about
community policing, Commander D’Alessandro, and you just can’t
seem to give them an answer.”
Some council members are no longer willing to respond to constituents’
questions by simply turning their palms up in the air. In
fact, a number of members have expressed their distaste with
their inability to provide answers regarding police issues
and criminal activity in the city. The members will finally
have the opportunity to speak with Public Safety Commissioner
Jack Nielsen and Albany Police Chief Robert Wolfgang on Wednesday
(Feb. 11), when the department’s two highest-ranking officials
will sit before the council’s caucus to take questions.
Councilman Michael O’Brien (Ward 12) and a handful of council
representatives have been requesting to speak with members
of the department’s administration since November 2003. Joe
Igoe, who represents the 14th Ward and chairs the council’s
Public Safety Committee, said Nielsen and Wolfgang did take
questions from the council in December, but not all members
of the council were able to attend.
me, there’s a communications question here,” said O’Brien.
“It seems like we’re pulling teeth and we’re not getting any
answers. I’m looking to show that the council is at least
conscientious about asking questions of puzzling situations.”
And to some members of the public, there has been no shortage
of puzzling situations over the past few months.
Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro, a popular Albany police officer
who forged strong bonds with Arbor Hill, Sheridan Hollow and
South End residents, was suddenly reassigned in October. This
prompted an outcry from some of those communities [“They Got
Him Off the Streets,” Newsfront, Oct. 16], which continues
to surface at council meetings four months later.
The commander’s reassignment came on the heels of a decision
to temporarily ax the Albany Community Police Council for
lack of attendance [“Dialogue Disbanded,” Newsfront, Oct.
Last week, a day after two dozen citizens turned out to a
Common Council meeting demanding his reinstatement to patrol
duties, D’Alessandro was suspended from the force for allegedly
circulating a disparaging flyer about one of his coworkers.
In December, a high-speed car chase through a residential
neighborhood ended in the accidental, fatal shooting of a
pedestrian, David Scaringe [“Death and Disbelief,” Newsfront,
Jan. 8]. The tragic event prompted inquiries from the city’s
Civilian Police Review Board into the department’s hot-pursuit
and use-of-force policies, adding to a list of information
requests the board has been waiting for the department to
fill for more than three years.
If the review board’s struggle to receive information from
the department seemed odd to some, it was not a surprise to
Councilman Dominick Calsoslaro (Ward 1). Calsolaro has been
fuming of late over the fact that he has not received statistics
on gun violence throughout the city that he requested nearly
a year ago.
can’t they tell the public what is going on? Why is everything
so secretive?” Calsolaro asked. “I think they’re of the philosophy
that the less stuff that gets out there the better the city
looks. I happen to have the opposite opinion.”
Calsolaro noted that the department’s “crime info” page on
its Web site, www.apdonline.org/police, hasn’t been updated
for almost two years, while the New York City Police Department
updates its online crime statistics weekly.
Nielsen and Wolfgang were supposed to meet with the council
to discuss these issues on Jan. 28, but the meeting was canceled
with less than two hours notice due to concerns about the
weather. Members of the public who planned on demonstrating
at the meeting en masse—especially those who attended Tuesday’s
[Feb. 3] civilian police review board meeting during a full-on
snowstorm—thought this reason for the last-minute cancellation
was spurious at best.
Regardless, Igoe said he is hoping that Wednesday’s caucus
meeting will help satisfy some of the concerns raised by members
of the council and the public.
will not predict whether the answers will satisfy all members
on all issues,” Igoe said, “but I am hopeful that an improved
two-way line of communication [between the department and
the council] will be reestablished.”
Durfee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 463-2500 ext. 144
Concerned citizens in Albanys Park South neighborhood
are getting what theyve been hoping fora voice
in the neighborhood planning process
revitalization planning process for Park South has been controversial
from its beginning [“Wither Park South?,” Newsfront, Dec.
4, 2003]. But one of the main complaints—that residents’ voices
and priorities weren’t being taken into account [“The Process
Matters,” Newsfront, Dec. 18, 2003]—may soon be alleviated.
At the end of Dec. 11’s neighborhood meeting, planning commissioner
Lori Harris agreed to meet with a task force of concerned
citizens and have them review and comment on the draft submitted
by Design Collective, the city’s consultant, before it is
presented as final to the Albany Common Council.
The plan has brought a measure of relief to a tense situation.
“They were saying ‘yes, yes,’ but not listening, but now they’re
going to listen more,” said Barbara LaRose, who has taken
a leadership role in organizing the task force, Concerned
Citizens of Park South.
Harris, too, was happy about the decision. “I never saw that
happen at a meeting, so much turnaround when people were so
angry,” she said about the Dec. 11 meeting.
LaRose stressed that the task force is separate from the neighborhood
association, and has reached out to people who do not attend
association meetings regularly. The task force met last Thursday
(Jan. 28) to start formulating its ground rules for decision
making, and to discuss a mission statement. The mission statement,
which has not been completed yet, will summarize the 16-member
group’s priorities, and may include such things as the importance
of not displacing people or focusing on public-safety concerns.
“I asked everyone to write a mission statement [for the next
meeting],” said LaRose; a final version will be put together
based on what she gets from the members.
Once they’ve finished setting themselves up, task force members
will meet with Harris to review the submitted draft. They
will “discuss, comment, understand, and maybe suggest alternative
and different options, different priorities,” said Councilman
Richard Conti (Ward 6), who represents Park South. They will
report back to the neighborhood association and the wider
community to keep people informed of their process.
Conti has been supportive of new group, and said he is optimistic
that this “grassroots input mechanism” will move “past some
of the points of contention” that have been coming up by helping
people learn more of the details of what’s proposed and by
focusing on the broad areas of common ground. Some of those
points of contention have been the idea of building a student
dorm in the neighborhood and the extent to which eminent domain
will be used on occupied buildings. “Some people have disagreement
about elements of the proposal,” said Conti, but “there’s
not a lot of disagreement about what people [do] want.”
do want to see our neighborhood revitalized,” emphasized LaRose.
“It’s a complicated issue. It’s like a great big ball of yarn.
But this is another step toward all working together.” She
expressed hope that this dialogue would “segue into a lot
of dealings with the city on these quality of life issues,”
like police response to calls about drug dealing or noise.
Park South Neighborhood Association president Andrew Harvey,
who is also participating in the Concerned Citizens task force,
said he believes “the city will end up being very respectful
of this committee.” The city got a wake-up call about its
planning process in Arbor Hill, said Harvey, and it was trying
not to repeat those mistakes in Park South. “Now, perhaps,
it’s learning even more,” he said.
Axel-Lute can be reached at email@example.com
or 463-2500 ext. 141.
site in their sights: BASFs vacant property could
be home to a newspaper-recycling plant. Photo: John
After Rensselaer derails plans for newspaper recycling
plant, state lawmakers take City Council to task, and bargaining
week, the Rensselaer City Council voted to reject a $1.14
billion newspaper recycling and cogeneration project that
was in the works for a vacant riverfront industrial site,
fearing pollution and traffic problems. And now the council
is in hot water with the mayor and state lawmakers who say
they need to reconsider and get this project moving forward
In 2001, the Besicorp-Empire Development Company filed with
the state to construct the integrated recycling-cogeneration
plant, proposing it for the former BASF site, a 120-year-old
industrial Superfund site. Besicorp officials first tried
to locate this facility in Kingston, where the company has
its headquarters, and in Ulster, but after both communities
rejected it, they looked upriver to Rensselaer.
in Rensselaer wanted this project, especially the mayor, but
also many town council members” when it was first proposed,
according Eric Daillie, project coordinator for both the Renssealer
County Greens and the Coalition Against Riverfront Pollution,
a community group who oppose the project. CARP researched
the potential impact of the project, and their results prompted
members of the council to reconsider. Daillie points to higher
traffic flowing through town, about 60 trucks per minute.
Albertine Felts, who represents the city’s 2nd ward on the
council, worries that the steam from the 12 cooling towers
could cover the streets and bridges in ice in winter, and
that particulate matter could adversely affect air quality
and cause respiratory problems.
The council claimed the company was not negotiating with the
city in good faith, and that the benefits to the city in the
form of job creation and revenue would not outweigh the costs
of further pollution, traffic, and limiting the cleanup of
the Superfund site to levels acceptable only for further industrial
use. The Department of Environmental Conservation has been
working to develop a plan for the site’s remediation with
a view to the Besicorp project’s needs.
Many on the council, however, are more interested in a stricter,
albeit more expensive, cleanup, because Besicorp has secured
neither its state permits nor its funding. And while Daillie
admits “they might get the permit,” he cautions even that
“doesn’t mean they’re going to find the investors,” for both
the paper mill and power plant. He adds that investors are
reluctant to invest in energy projects after losing their
proverbial shirts over the Enron scandal.
Daillie has extensively researched the newspaper industry,
and found it in decline, particularly in the Northeast. He
doubts Besicorp could really compete with Canada’s successful
plants. Besicorp has never built a newspaper-recycling facility,
and Daillie thinks they have less at stake if the project
fails because their own finances are not hanging in the balance.
“Besicorp is not putting anything on the line,” except investors’
money, he said. The billion-dollar firm would be underwritten
by tax-exempt bonds through the Rensselaer County Industrial
In November, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution
rejecting the project. Mayor Mark Pratt vetoed it, but the
council overrode his veto last month by a vote of 9-2, after
one unsuccessful attempt to do so. State Sen. Joseph Bruno,
Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, Pratt, and the city’s superintendent
of schools all decried the council’s actions as irresponsible
While people on the City Council and in CARP alike recognize
the need for economic relief in Rensselaer, they are not convinced
the Besicorp project is the right solution. Daillie thinks
it’s time “to see if there’s a better solution to the financial
problems of Renssealer rather than trying to desperately take
anything just so we can get a few hundred thousand dollars
more in taxes.”
Mark Hanson, a spokesman for Sen. Bruno, said he believes
the council was “being shortsighted” in obstructing a project
that Bruno believes “would have a significant benefit to the
vast majority of the people in the community by way of creating
jobs and generating tax revenue for the local government and
the school district.” He also pointed out that the vacant
site is not bringing in any revenue for the city, “and if
the project were not to go forward, it’s certainly possible
that BASF might simply bulldoze what’s there and then you
have a vacant polluted site that’s doing nobody any good.”
not against labor or getting jobs, I’m against polluting,”
said Felts, who brought the resolution to reject the project.
She added, “This is not just going to be in the 1st and 2nd
wards in Rensselaer, this is going to be throughout the area.”
After the City Council rejected the project, Mechanicville
offered a site for the facility’s consideration. Daillie called
this “laughable” and noted that “it took Besicorp one year
to put [their draft environmental impact statement] together,
and another year of litigation; it’s not that simple.”
Felts advised Mechanicville to “read the fine print before
you agree to anything” in the name of job creation.
To Daillie, this is a matter of sound regional planning. He
finds it “really amusing to have Sen. Bruno talking about
what’s good for the region, when every time we ask for regional
planning, smart growth and so forth they don’t want it, they
see it as an obstacle to free enterprise.”
And despite the City Council’s objections, the sentiment still
seems to be that negotiations will continue for locating the
Besicorp project at the BASF site in Rensselaer.
This project has taken years to even get to this stage, and
those who worked on it don’t seem to want to walk away from
it yet. Bruno and Canestrari held meetings with council members
on Wednesday afternoon prior to the council’s regular evening
To Felts, it was important to allow the city to decide what
is in its interest without coercion. “We need to decide on
what we want to do rather than have the politicians—we are
politicians, but we are small time—rather than have these
state leaders dictate to us,” she said, calling the project
“an unnecessary evil.”
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me: Aaron Mair. Photo: John Whipple
another kink to an already twisted election, Aaron Mair told
Metroland that, in all likelihood, he will run for
the Democratic nomination for Albany County Legislature in
Mair is one of the civil-rights activists who ultimately forced
the county legislature to readjust its voting-district maps
to provide adequate representation for the county’s growing
minority population [“Back to the Drawing Board,” Newsfront,
July 10, 2003]. He told a Times Union reporter on Feb.
2 that his wife, Maryam, might challenge incumbent Virginia
Maffia-Tobler (D-North Albany) on the Democratic line. But
the 43-year-old North Albany resident told this paper that
he may seek the endorsement himself.
The opportunity presented itself earlier this week when a
panel of Appellate Court judges ordered District Judge Norman
Mordue, who is overseeing the long-standing lawsuit, to create
guidelines for a special election to be held as soon as possible
following a March 2 primary. The new primary coincides with
New York’s presidential primary.
The county elections were put off in November because there
wasn’t enough time after the lawsuit was decided, but the
appellate panel ruled that a prompt rescheduling was necessary
to ensure that the county’s minority population could take
advantage of the voting rights mandated by the 1965 Voting
Rights Act. Because of the time pressure, petitioning rules
have been relaxed. The modified petitioning rules require
a candidate to gather signatures from the lesser of 25 or
2.5 percent of registered voters in a four-day period.
Although Mair was a registered Conservative up until last
year’s general election, he said that his political interests
in civil and environmental rights are unwavering.
is no such thing as ideological Democrats in Albany County.
There are a lot of idiotic Democrats in Albany County,” Mair
said. “The best way to beat a Democrat is to become a Democrat
and have access to what it means and entails to be one in
this county,” he added.
Mair said he wanted to enlist a slate of candidates to mount
challenges for the nominations in the county’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd,
4th, 5th and 13th wards. Mair said that he has yet to file
with the board of elections, but that he and a rash of other
candidates, including incumbent Legislator Lucy McKnight (D-Albany),
whom he does not want to challenge, will do so before the
filing date, which is Monday (Feb. 9).
While Mair seemed jubilant at the prospect of running for
a legislative seat on such a shortened election schedule,
not everyone was pleased with this week’s announcement. Peter
LaVenia, cochair of the Albany County Green Party, expressed
dismay that an earlier proposal to allow candidates to challenge
legislators countywide simply by submitting a notarized “opportunity
to ballot” form to the county Board of Elections was not sustained.
we not be encouraging the loosening of ballot-access laws
allowing everyone to run? Is that not democracy?” LaVenia
said by press release Tuesday. “Obviously the Democrats and
Republicans do not see elections as an expression of democracy,
but rather as how to best keep their stranglehold on politics.”