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Memorials for Lt. John Finn, like the one above, at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Broadway, have appeared throughout the city since the beloved officer’s death last Thursday. Photo: John Whipple

A Death in the Family
Friends and coworkers of slain Albany Police Lt. John Finn remember an outstanding officer and a terrific human being

Speaking with friends and coworkers of John Finn, the Albany Police lieutenant who died last week after a nearly two-month struggle for his life, it becomes clear that “hero,” while applicable, is not the best word to describe the slain officer. In Finn’s case, using such a phrase would unfairly deify a man whose best qualities were those that made him a very human being, those who knew him said.

“He was this great guy that anyone would’ve loved even if he wasn’t a police officer,” said Marcia Tolive, owner of El Loco, the Mexican restaurant where Finn worked in the mid- to late-1980s while attending the University at Albany. Tolive remembered it was the wide-eyed enthusiasm, lighthearted sense of humor and general good nature that Finn brought to the job that made him one of her favorite employees.

“No matter what job you’d give him, he’d always care about what he did and he was always willing to help other people,” Tolive said. “Even when it would get really crazy [in the restaurant] . . . he always sort of lightened things up for us. That was a big part of his job, I think, to keep it fun.”

Tolive also remembered Finn’s interest in police work burgeoning at the restaurant.

“John would come in and ask, ‘Hey, Marcia, did you see that episode of Cops?’ and I’d say, ‘No, John,’” Tolive laughed. “He became really interested in becoming a police officer, and it was a great thing for him because he had a wonderful, wonderful way with people.”

Members of the Albany Police Department who worked with Finn also remember his way with people and his ability to both crack jokes and hold serious discussions as some of the qualities that helped form his stellar reputation.

“I used to enjoy our conversations because they ran the gamut,” said Detective James Miller, the department’s spokesman. “From [discussing] ethical issues to departmental issues to citywide issues, we’d just have these great conversations whether we agreed or disagreed. I just cherish those times.”

Finn’s winning personality aside, Miller also noted that Finn’s police work was such that the department recognized him with its Officer of the Year award in 2000. He received the honor working in the department’s juvenile unit, but officers also remember the strides Finn made for the department in its administrative-services bureau, creating a computerized crime-mapping system.

“He developed all types of ways to track our stats and crime mapping in conjunction with UAlbany. He was a great liaison with the university,” said Sgt. Fred Aliberti, who shared administrative duties with Finn. “He was very good at using computers and making them more easily understood to members of the department.”

Aliberti said that Finn’s work with the community, like volunteering to run a woodworking club at School 20 in North Albany, also made him a wonderful asset to the department. “We were lucky to have him,” Aliberti said.

Finn became an Albany police officer in 1991. He worked his way through the department’s ranks as a patrolman, a community outreach officer, a detective in the department’s juvenile unit and administrative-services bureau before choosing to return to the streets as a patrol supervisor.

Finn, who died at the age of 38, sustained major internal injuries during a shoot-out with an armed-robbery suspect, Keshon Everett, 26, in Albany’s South End on Dec. 23. Finn was rushed to Albany Medical Center, where he remained on life support until his death, following complications from surgery, on Feb. 12.

Everett, who initially was charged with attempted second-degree murder, will sit next week before a grand jury that will consider elevating the count to first-degree murder. The amplified charge would give Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne the option of pursuing a death sentence for Everett.

Finn, originally from Long Island, leaves a wife, Maura, and two children, Clara, 9, and Molly, 20 months.

A private funeral was held Monday, and a public memorial service has been slated for this Saturday [Feb. 21] at the Pepsi Arena in Albany beginning at 10 AM. Donations can be made to “Friends of John Finn” and mailed to Key Bank, One Metro Park Drive, Albany, NY 12205, or dropped off at any Key Bank location. Tolive will match any donations made to the Finn family that are dropped off at El Loco.

—Travis Durfee

Travis Durfee can be contacted at tdurfee@metroland.net or 463-2500 ext. 144.

Tough Times at the Women’s Building
Financial troubles have forced a beloved local resource to lay off staff and reevaluate its vision

The Women’s Building in Albany is well-known as a bustling epicenter of activism in the region, as well as the home of office space, meeting space, technical assistance and referral programs for a range of grassroots women’s and girls’ organizations. But even this fixture in the community (it began in 1974 and has been at its current location, 79 Central Ave., since 1989) has not been immune to the economic struggles facing nonprofits over the past few years [“And No One Profits,” Sept. 18, 2003].

“The women’s building has always depended on tenants, and we are low on tenants,” explained Stephanie White, president of the five-member Women’s Building board. “And memberships,” she added. “We’re low on both. It’s a combination of circumstances and these times.” At the end of December, lack of funds forced them to lay off their only paid staff member, Erin O’Brien [“Local Heroes,” Dec. 18, 2003].

The building is still open, relying on volunteers for its administration. “The building is here, the organization is here,” said White. “Can you ring the doorbell and find someone in the office? Not every day. Can you leave a message and someone will call you back? Absolutely. We are going to be without paid staff for a while. I don’t know how long, for as short a time as we can possibly manage. A paid staff person makes a huge difference.”

The tenants are mostly still there, said O’Brien, and “the building is still serving a meeting function for groups that could function on their own. But groups that relied on the women’s building for technical assistance aren’t meeting currently.”

Leaving was sad for O’Brien. “I put a lot into that job, like 80 hours a week,” she said. But she and White remain upbeat about the future of the organization. “I feel like this is another phase of the herstory of the Women’s Building,” said O’Brien. “It wasn’t my organization, it was a lot of people coming together. It will continue. The people who are involved now in doing the transition are committed to the vision of the Women’s Building, [as] a place where all women come together and socialize across differences. In the future it will still have the vision and be known for its diversity and the diversity of programs.”

The future is what White is focusing on. The group needs to raise money to pay off the mortgage on the building. But White said the re-visioning process is a lot broader than that. “We’re using this as an opportunity,” she said. “It’s not the optimal way for this opportunity to come about, but this is an opportunity for us to go to the women’s community and say what do you want—help us build your vision for a women’s community center. If it’s what it has been, great, if not, we have input from the community on what people do want. When people can have a hand in realizing their own vision, they respond. . . . If you’ve got some dollars to put in, great, if you’ve got time, if you’ve got ideas, those are all items that we’re in need of.”

And after just one planning meeting, they’re already starting to feel that support. “We’ve got a lot of energy coming in,” said White. “So far no one has said ‘Oh no, we don’t need a women’s community center in the Capital Region.’ Until we hear those words from the majority of people, we know we need to keep the doors open.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Miriam Axel-Lute can be reached at maxel-lute@metroland.net or 463-2500 ext. 141.


Read you loud and clear: Wal-Mart protestors use T-shirts to send a message. Photo: John Whipple

Don’t Make Us Shop Here
Wal-Mart’s draw is low prices—but its success is based on low wages and unfair competition, say protesters at new Glenmont store

Those making a visit to the new Wal-Mart in Glenmont for the President’s Day sales likely were greeted by a few community members who aren’t so thrilled about their new neighbor. At noon on Monday, a group of about 50 activists from various trade and union groups began leafletting at the store, which opened in late January, with their message that Wal-Mart is harmful to local business, unfair to its employees, and damaging to the standard of living of the community.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union had organized the protest as part of its Justice @ Wal-Mart campaign. The campaign’s goals are to organize Wal-Mart employees, improve their wages and benefits, and make Wal-Mart a responsible employer in its community.

“What we see in community after community when Wal-Mart comes to town, they set a standard that is much lower,” said Andrea Goldberger, director of communications affairs for UFCW Local One. “We see a downward trend in the types of jobs offered in that community. We want to raise awareness in the community that Wal-Mart is not a good neighbor. We need to make them accountable to our community.”

According to the UFCW, Wal-Mart workers are paid $2 to $3 an hour less than UFCW members in equivalent jobs, and fewer than two out of every five Wal-Mart workers participate in its health insurance program.

After about 20 minutes of protest, store managers told the group they could not solicit inside and that they had called the police. Four policemen from the town of Bethlehem, which encompasses Glenmont, came and informed the protestors they were allowed inside the store but they could not leaflet or talk to customers. Then one officer waited outside the store’s entrance to ensure compliance.

A few protestors moved to the end of the parking lot to leaflet to passing cars, while others lingered inside. Many shoppers looked on curiously at the protestors in their bright yellow T-shirts that read “A Voice for Wal-Mart Workers.” Some customers approached to ask what was going on. Wal-Mart announced over the loudspeaker that the protestors were not associated with Wal-Mart, apologized to customers for any inconvenience, and informed them that they had called the authorities.

National Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christie Gallagher said the police were called because the protestors were in violation of Wal-Mart’s solicitation policy, which requires advance notification. “Anytime there is a protest with our stores, our main concern is our customers and our associates. We let the local authorities take care of any situation that may be out of our hands and that’s what they did,” she said.

Back in January 2002, the Bethlehem Town Board approved plans for the new Wal-Mart supercenter and shopping plaza on Route 9W. The President’s Day protest was not the first difficulty the store had faced. Some members of the community had unsuccessfully tried to stop the construction plans, forming a loose organization called Plan 9W. They voiced concerns to the Bethlehem Town Board over potential costs, and increased traffic.

Michael Trout, a member of Plan 9W, was concerned primarily for economic reasons. A native of Oklahoma, where Wal-Mart has been around since the early 1980s, he says he’s seen the full impact of introducing a Wal-Mart to a local economy. “I’m afraid this is going to drive the local business out,” he said, “and we’re going to lose the local flavor and increasingly the only place to shop will be Wal-Mart.” He says he’s heard of one local hardware shop suffering already.

The Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, a local organization that formed one year ago to oppose the war in Iraq, created an ad hoc committee called the Citizens Coalition for a Better Bethlehem to address local concerns over the store’s opening. On its opening day, the coalition, along with the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District and trade union members, passed out leaflets advertising a forum that took place in February at the Bethlehem Town Hall to address these concerns. The cold temperatures of that day caused the leafletting to be cut short; it lasted about 30 minutes.

Goldberger hoped to have around 100 protestors at the President’s Day protest but took the day’s forecast of cold weather into account. She said didn’t expect workers to respond yet, “because it’s brand new and they’re new employees and they have a while to feel the impact of how Wal-Mart treats its employees.” She stressed that her main goal was to raise awareness in the community and show the workers there is a place for them to go. “Wal-Mart does a number on their workers—we want them to know they have somewhere to go for support.”

—Liz Healy

Trailmix: Let Me Tell Ya What I’d Like to See Around Here

In his opportunity to lay out a vision for this nation a month ago in the State of the Union address, President George W. Bush spoke of wars and terror and Mars and gays not being allowed to marry. With an opportunity to clarify or expand in a Meet the Press interview a few weeks ago, Bush pretty much stuck with the “terrorism, bad” line. And people said his father had trouble with the “vision thing.”

So what do the Democratic presidential hopefuls envision for the country?

Throughout his campaign, John Edwards has pointed out the existence of “two Americas,” one for the haves and one for the have-nots. Edwards has positioned himself as the candidate to fight for the poor and, having grown up poor, states that he is the candidate in a unique position to do so. This is unlike his hopeful competitor this fall, George W. Bush, who grew up in a wealthy, privileged family. That works out nicely, doesn’t it?

To change things, Edwards is offering “real solutions for America,” so states his campaign rhetoric. Some of those solutions include reforming the tax structure so that the additional taxes on overtime wages are not higher than those on unearned incomes, like capital gains. That way a millionaire stockbroker isn’t paying at a lesser tax rate than a nurse working overtime. Edwards would also put forth a plan to make health care more affordable by offering tax credits to low-income families that purchase private insurance plans. Edwards wants to attack HMOs, pharmaceutical companies and credit-card companies for the amounts they spend on marketing and advertising, which leads one to believe that Edwards is looking forward to nominating federal judges sympathetic to limiting commercial speech.

Dennis Kucinich has plenty of vision, all right. Kucinich would like to pare defense spending to provide better education programs (universal pre-k starting at age 3 and tuition-free college for public colleges and universities), offer campaign-finance reform that bans soft money, and create a cabinet-level position for a Department of Peace. Whew. There is much more to Kucinich’s vision, but Michael Rice, a local Kucinich supporter, acknowledged that it is becoming clear that his candidate’s role, if not stated vision, in this race is to act as the Democratic Party’s liberal conscience.

“I wish I had the confidence that if someone other than Kucinich gets the nomination that they won’t doing the usual game of rushing into the middle to try to peel off a few soccer moms or NASCAR dads to vote for them instead of Bush,” Rice said. “I want [Kucinich’s] platform ideas to inform the way the Democratic Party will run this race.”

Democratic front-runner John Kerry is hoping to appear as the true leader among this lot. With years of legislative experience in Washington and his tours of duty in Vietnam under his belt, Kerry is trying to position himself as the only Democrat with the kind of experience to stand up to Bush this fall.

If elected, Kerry is promising to further the president’s homeland security efforts by providing more funds to local fire departments and police departments for staffing and training. Kerry also wants to create a $35 billion education trust fund that would better fund goals set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act, the essential principles of which Kerry supports. Kerry would also reinstate a number of environmental protections the Bush administration has rolled back, while setting forth a plan to declare the United States independent of Middle East oil sources by 2014. Kerry would seek to fund many of these initiatives by rolling back the president’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Al Sharpton, on the other hand, has a more narrow stated reason for running: To make people more aware of issues that would otherwise be overlooked, like affirmative action, the death penalty, and the United States’ African and Caribbean policy. Though Sharpton’s campaign has been short on specific proposals for change, the candidate has been sure to state that he is looking to raise political awareness and activity among voters of color.

—Travis Durfee


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