bells are a-chiming: (l-r) Newlyweds John North and
Andrew Burgreen of New York City with New Paltz Mayor
Jason West. Photo by: Lauren Thomas
Get Me to City Hall on Time?
Municipalities test the waters of same-sex marriage and
advocates file suit, while couples wait for answers
San Francisco did it, New York scratched its head; could same-sex
couples marry here? No one was sure. In the absence of a conclusive
answer, some of the state’s municipalities hopped on the bandwagon,
to greater or lesser extents, though the Capital Region’s
localities have largely remained silent. Civil-rights activists
are hoping that the next step, litigation, will lead to same-sex
couples being allowed to marry in New York State.
Jason West, the Green Party mayor of New Paltz, turned more
than a few heads by solemnizing 25 same-sex marriages on Feb.
27 and getting charged with 19 misdemeanors by the Ulster
County district attorney for violating the state’s domestic-relations
laws. West and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office are
having ongoing conversations about the issue, though in a
statement, Spitzer said, “I strongly urge other officials
who might be considering solemnizing marriages to refrain
from doing so.”
Still, same-sex couples were given hope when Spitzer issued
an informal opinion stating that the state recognizes the
validity of marriages performed out of state. In keeping with
Spitzer’s opinion, officials of four localities—Nyack, Ithaca,
Buffalo, and Brighton—affirmed their commitment to the recognition
of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
hoping people throughout the state who care about this issue—gay
and straight alike—will demand that their elected officials
take the next step in doing all they can to give lesbian and
gay families the support and equality that we need,” said
Ross Levi, the director of public policy and governmental
affairs for the Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide advocacy
group that concentrates on issues of equality for lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers.
Spitzer weighed in last week with an opinion that New York
law does not allow for same-sex marriages because it uses
gender-specific language and legislators did not intend for
it to include same-sex marriages at the time it was written.
The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, however,
found the language of the law gender-neutral, and concluded
that in combination with the state’s public policy, that should
make the marriages ultimately legal. That said, Spitzer also
noted that presuming the law doesn’t allow for the marriages,
it may be construed as unconstitutional due to discrimination
on the basis of sexual orientation.
This larger question of constitutionality will have to be
tested in court, which is exactly what many couples, supported
by civil-rights advocacy groups, have chosen to do.
Lambda Legal, a nonprofit devoted to achieving full civil
rights for all LGBT people, filed suit in New York City on
March 5 on behalf of a New York City same-sex couple
who were denied a license. Lambda Legal was instrumental in
the Supreme Court case last year that overturned sodomy laws.
The American Civil Liberties Union and New York Civil Liberties
Union have asked to join the suit filed against West, on his
side, representing couples who are on the waiting list to
be married by the mayor. (As of Wednesday, that list had more
than 1,400 couples.)
Amy Tripi, one of the people the ACLU and NYCLU hope to represent,
said she and her partner Jeanne Vitale are “going to see this
through until hopefully we get a positive response from the
courts on this issue.” While she admits it’s been a rollercoaster,
Tripi said they are honored to be able to help fight for equality
for same-sex couples. “Jeanne keeps saying it’s very humbling,”
In Albany, Crista Livecchi proposed to her partner Rebecca
Kreiger last May. Though they hadn’t yet set a date, when
couples started to actually get married in the state in February,
they felt the time had come. Their first thought was to just
go somewhat quietly to Albany City Hall to ask for a license,
but they have changed their minds, and now want to go with
a larger group of same-sex couples. Oddly enough, they’re
having a hard time finding anyone who will go with them.
The Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Center’s executive
director, Keith Hornbrook, said the center has been inundated
with calls from curious couples and activists wondering what
they should do, and the center has chosen to work on educational
efforts rather than organizing “civil disobedience.” It will
co-host a town meeting in Albany on March 23 at the First
Presbyterian Church as part of a series the Pride Agenda is
holding around the state. Hornbrook said the meeting is “not
a call to action in the sense of encouraging people to storm
the mayor’s office and the city clerk,” but is intended to
direct energies toward contacting state and local officials
and asking them to publicly support same-sex marriage and
affirm the validity of marriages performed outside New York.
Of course, Hornbrook said, “People do still have the ability
to go down to Mayor Jennings’ office and apply for a marriage
license and have it denied.” That could open the door to legal
While Livecchi welcomed Spitzer’s affirmation of the validity
of out-of-state marriages in New York, she said that crossing
borders to get married misses the point. “It seems to me ridiculous
that we shouldn’t be able to do it here,” she said.
The Pride Agenda’s Levi agreed. “It certainly is not good
enough for New Yorkers to have to travel to another place
to get married. We should be able to stand up in our own communities
and be recognized as married and have those rights and responsibilities.”
the peace: an activist at the Schenectady peace vigil
on Tuesday (March 9). Photo by: Shannon DeCelle
Year in Protest
Local peace vigilists find their numbers gradually dwindling,
but the dedication of those sticking it out is as strong as
few weeks ago, a man ap- proached the Bethlehem Neighbors
for Peace, a group that formed last January to voice dissent
against the impending war in Iraq, at its weekly peace vigil
at the Four Corners in Delmar. “They got them both. They got
them both,” he said to about 20 community members gathered
to promote their revised message of ending the U.S. presence
in Iraq. BNP member Leslie Hudson said she felt uneasy not
knowing if he was offended by the group’s message, as he explained
that he had lost a sister in the Sept. 11 attacks, and then
a brother in Iraq. She realized this was not the case when
he thanked them and told them to “stand tall, stand tall,”
as he walked away.
the thing that keeps you doing what you’re doing,” Hudson
said. “When you know what you’re doing is important to someone
With the anniversary of the March 19, 2003, U.S. invasion
of Iraq approaching, members of local peace vigils may be
reminded of a time when larger numbers of people attended.
Colder weather and the May 1, 2003, announcement of the offical
end to combat operations in Iraq are likely factors in the
decline in the number of people donating their lunch breaks
or rushing over after work to attend the vigils. But the members
who still show up say it’s important they still get their
message of peace across.
personally feel good about all this time. Even though we couldn’t
prevent [the war], we stayed out here with a positive message,”
says Greg Giorgio, a member of the Good Friday Coalition,
a group that formed to promote pacifism during the U.S. attacks
on Afghanistan, and now to oppose the U.S. presence in Iraq.
GFC member Bertha Kriegler agrees. “We’re keeping alive the
attention on what’s going on in our community and I think
that’s worthwhile,” she said. The GFC has held a vigil in
front of the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Schenectady
every Friday since September 2001. Giorgio said that 30 people
were present at the first vigil, but that the number has dwindled
down to four or five regulars now. “You get burnt out; winter
was tough,” he said.
Frustration with the outcome of the Iraq situation can also
be a drain on the motivation of vigilers. BNP member Peg Clement
said she stopped attending the Delmar vigil at the outbreak
of war, but returned in the winter. “I stopped after we invaded
and I lost hope for a while,” she said.
Another reason for the decline may be pressure from the community.
The vigilers in Cobleskill moved their vigil location to Union
and Main streets after a group of local veterans began organizing
vigils beside them in support of the war and President Bush.
“We didn’t want our message to be that we were facing off
our neighbor,” said Susan Spivac, a regular at the peace vigil.
the attack was upcoming, there were lots of honks with lots
of people joining us,” she said, but added that there were
more negative remarks and foul gestures from those passing
by once the war began. “When the bombing was happening, people
got frozen because it got hard to stand there when the message
from the authorities was that you’re a traitor for it.”
Many agree that the reaction in the community has gone up
and down with the start and end of war. “When there was no
war going on, people were pretty much in sympathy with the
vigil. The negative reactions came more when the war began,”
said BNP member Gus Cadieux.
Jack Daniels, a regular at the Cobleskill vigil says, “At
the time the war was heating up, we had more negative reactions
with people giving us the finger and grimaces, but now that
the people have seen us so long we’ve become good friends.”
Most say that the reactions now are generally in support of
the vigils. “Once the body count was rising the climate changed,”
said Girgio, adding that he thinks this is because no weapons
of mass destruction have surfaced.
Members from the three vigils plan to attend the March 20
The World Still Says No to War march in New York City. BNP
has organized for a bus to leave from Delmar that morning
to the march, and activists say they’ll continue vigiling
until the U.S. forces are called out of Iraq. GFC members
also say that is their goal. The peace vigilists in Cobleskill,
who have been having weekly vigils on and off since the Gulf
War, have a broader agenda, and expect to keep vigiling on
until more fundamental changes in foreign policy are made.
New York may be one of few states to ensure a voter-verified
paper trail for electronic voting machines
an initial victory for New York voters’ rights groups, the
state Legislature recently took steps to install a safety
net under upcoming election systems, passing bills through
both the Senate and Assembly requiring electronic voting machines
to produce voter-verified paper trails.
The new machines are scheduled to be the weapon of choice
for more than 50 million American voters this November, and
are part of a sweeping reform plan arranged in the aftermath
of 2000’s controversial presidential election. The Help America
Vote Act, passed by Congress in 2002, encourages states to
drop the standard punch-card ballots in favor of electronic
voting systems, and offers federal funds in order to ease
However, the new electronic voting technology is not without
its share of criticism, as computer experts, voters’ rights
groups and other critics claim that current electronic voting
systems lack both the necessary programming to handle software
errors and the security to combat tampering [see “But Who’s
Counting,” July 31, 2003]. After the machines tally the votes
and transmit the results via cable or phone lines, no physical
record of the ballots is left behind—a condition that could
prove disastrous in the event of machine failure or insider
tampering or hacker attack. In their first major test, machines
used in Maryland, Georgia and California during the recent
Super Tuesday elections experienced significant problems,
ranging from simple human error to programming issues and
certainly troubled by the recent elections in which electronic
voting systems failed,” explained Sen. Thomas P. Morahan (R-New
City), the legislation’s Senate sponsor. “It’s clear that
the paper trail system is necessary.”
Despite the growing controversy and technical problems associated
with the electronic voting system, vendors competing for the
lucrative federal contracts have resisted a growing push toward
paper-trail mechanisms. Machine vendors such as Diebold and
Sequoia Voting Systems claim that the addition of a system
in which voters can verify their ballots before committing
them to a physical record would be costly and entirely unnecessary.
Legislators disagree. “Although we do believe that the computer
system is reliable,” said Sherri Davis, special assistant
to Assemblyman Keith L. Wright (D-Harlem), sponsor of the
Assembly bill, “we want to have the paper records as a backup.”
More than 30 states have already passed HAVA-compliant legislation,
but only a dozen states have requested voter-verified paper
Paper-trail legislation is far from a sure thing at this point,
as the two bills passed by the state Legislature differ in
several key aspects, including the way in which criteria are
developed for the new machines and the types of identification
to be accepted at polling locations. In order for New York
to receive the $66 million of HAVA funding—as well as an additional
$160 million at a later point—the state must comply with a
strict set of deadlines over the next two years, including
the passage of electronic voting legislation in the near future.
While both houses have called for a conference committee in
order to reach a compromise, a timeline for the negotiations
has yet to emerge.
we’re able to put together a two-house package,” explained
Morahan, “there should be enough latitude for the executive
branch to push it through.”
Numerous calls to the governor’s press office were not returned.
Um, It’s a Doughnut Store
much press coverage do several thousand doughnuts buy? Enough,
it seems. In the months before Krispy Kreme doughnuts opened
its first Capital Region store in Latham, all the press venues
in the area (including Metroland) were deluged with
boxes of unsolicited doughnuts. Not that we were complaining,
mind you, but it seems the bounty—along with Krispy Kreme’s
time-honored publicity stunt of getting customers to camp
out in front of a new store by offering a free year’s worth
of doughnuts to the first people in the door—made more than
just the keyboards a little sticky.
The opening of the Latham store on Feb. 24 generated so much
press you’d have thought it was the arrival of the Olympics.
It garnered a front-page photograph and B1 story in the Troy
Record, four stories in the Times Union, including
a feature-length, front-page taste-test article in the Food
section, and a long analysis in the Business Review.
Krispy Kreme’s success at getting newspapers that would never
lavish so many inches on other ribbon cuttings to treat its
store openings as news events has become so famous that it
merited an American Journalism Review article last
fall, and even a book, Making Dough: The 12 Secret Ingredients
of Krispy Kreme’s Sweet Success, by Amy Joyner. “The media
does feed the frenzy,” Joyner told AJR. “We help them
with their marketing, there’s no question about it.”
A few of our local stories came perilously close to admitting
this in the process of doing it. Krispy Kreme “spends very
little money convincing people to try its products. Thanks
to people like Mechanicville resident Kris Bruno, the company
doesn’t have to,” begins the Business Review article.
It then proceeds to give Bruno, and other doughnut fans, plenty
of ink in which to be just the marketing machine Krispy Kreme
hopes they will be.
are possibly a few folks in the Capital Region unaware that
the area’s first Krispy Kreme store opened last week in Latham.
These would be people who pay no attention to the news,” wrote
Doug Blackman in the Times Union food piece. Yep.
Capital Region media can at least feel like we didn’t fall
as deeply under the spell as Minneapolis. The Star Tribune
sent four reporters to the opening of their first store in
April 2002, and ran a gushing story on the front page that
quoted Krispy Kreme’s own marketing consultant comparing the
reaction to the store to a presidential campaign.
Indeed. The similarities even extend to news coverage, making
us feel a little queasy.