Compromise on Dignity
to protect students from bias-based harassment differ on “gender
2000, New York state re sponded to the Columbine High School
shooting and other incidents of school violence with the Schools
Against Violence in Education Act, an anti- bullying and anti-harassment
bill. But a further effort to prevent school violence by specifically
targeting bias-based taunting has not yet made its way into
law because of policy disagreements in the state Legislature.
In 2003, for the third year in a row, the New York State Assembly
and Senate each passed bills to combat bias-based student
harassment in public schools, but failed to reach agreement
on a compromise version. This year, the Assembly has again
passed the Dignity for All Students Act (A.1118), and the
Senate has passed the Schools as Safe Harbors Act (S.4023).
Both bills prohibit harassment of students on the basis of
race, gender, or sexual orientation, and both passed with
overwhelming majorities in their houses in 2003. But a coalition
formed to support the Assembly’s Dignity Act says that this
bill is more inclusive than the Harbors Act because it includes
protections against taunting based on “gender identity and
expression.” While the Harbors bill protects students from
harassment based on their sexual orientation and gender, it
does not define gender, which New York Association for Gender
Rights Advocacy, a statewide transgender advocacy organization,
says is vital.
Pauline Park, NYAGRA co-chair, explained at a March 9 forum
sponsored by NYAGRA and the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education
Network that including a definition of gender identity and
expression is important because it protects students who do
not conform to traditional gender roles, but who may not openly
identify themselves as gay or lesbian. She added that since
the Dignity Act is concerned with the k-12 school-aged population,
where there are few openly lesbian and gay students, children
called “fag” or “dyke” by classmates are often being labeled
for how they express their gender, not their sexual orientation.
Nick Lanni, a senior at Albany High School, said that he often
hears anti-gay slurs like “fag” or “That’s so gay” in his
highschool’s hallways. Although he said he does not see a
lot of serious harassment of gay students there, and that
many teachers are sensitive to gay issues, he feels that a
statewide policy against bias-based harassment would help
students in areas that are less diverse and tolerant than
He also feels the Dignity Bill’s definition of gender expression
and identity is needed. “Transgendered youth [are] becoming
more common,” he said, “so it’s important, because those people
do exist and they need to be protected just as much as other
students. . . . you can’t just leave one group out because
it defeats the purpose.”
While the Dignity Act would make forbidding this bias-based
harassment into a statewide policy in public schools, some
school districts have already adopted it into their school
guidelines. In July 2003, the Rochester School Board updated
its schools’ Code of Conduct by adding protections to students
based on how they express their gender. The Code of Conduct,
which summarizes the rights and responsibilities Rochester
schools provide and expect of students, had contained protections
from harassment based on gender and sexual orientation. But
the change was made after a task force looked at the treatment
of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in Rochester
schools and recommended they add the phrase “gender identity
While Dignity coalition members feel that listing specific
categories of bias-based harassment will strengthen a school
anti-discrimination bill, others think that a better approach
is to not distinguish among them. Assemblyman Daniel Hooker
(R-Sharon Springs) was one of seven to vote against the Dignity
bill in 2003. He introduced a parallel bill (A.9985) that
would allow the state education commissioner to make policies
to combat harassment and discrimination against all students,
and explained that since his bill does not mention specific
categories of harassment, it would prevent more discrimination.
“The so-called Dignity for All Students bill doesn’t cover
all students. It doesn’t cover cases of obesity or same-race
bullying, and mine does,” he said.
New York State Education Department Commissioner Richard Mills
is not taking a position in favor of either the Dignity or
Harbors acts. Tom Dunn, spokesman for the New York State Education
Department, said, “Conceptually we’re behind both bills, but
technically there are issues with each of them that need to
more time: Iraq war protesters return to New York City.
Photo by: John Whipple
Still Good for Absolutely Nothing
year after the invasion of Iraq, peace activists show they
haven’t gone away
a counter- demonstration up ahead,” the young man shouted.
“Don’t listen to them. Just keep moving. Keep moving. Don’t
listen to them.” He wore a tag identifying him as a volunteer
with International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism),
one of the groups responsible for coordinating Saturday’s
protest march in New York and many other cities across the
country and around the world. The most recent such march in
New York, in February 2003, resulted in more than 200 arrests,
a statistic the organizers sought to avoid.
Avoid it they did. The turnout, estimated by the city police
to be 40,000 and by ANSWER to be more like 100,000, was an
energetic, determined group, but cooperative enough that there
were only four disorderly-conduct arrests, and three of those
weren’t even on the parade route.
The protest began at 23rd Street and Madison Avenue, where
the growing crowd listened to a succession of speakers that
included presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. Police again
used metal barricades to block side-street access as the gathering
filled, sending newcomers north for access to Madison Avenue.
The march itself began at about 1:30 PM, traveling west across
23rd Street to Sixth Avenue, north to 40th Street, east to
Madison and back down to 23rd, where more speakers closed
Along the way were the sights and sounds typical of these
events: banners and flags and individual signs, costumes and
painted faces, music and dance. And the chants that rippled
through the crowd: “Hey hey, ho ho, Bush and Cheney got to
go!” “What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!”
But the sense of exhilaration was tempered by a sense of resignation.
A year ago it still seemed possible to alter the government’s
push for war; now there’s no end in sight and a demonstrated
disdain for rallies such as this. “We’ve got a Democratic
presidential candidate who talks about being our war president,”
said Bob Rosen, a freelance writer who lives in Manhattan,
“so how much can we hope for?”
Even the few confrontations along the route seemed halfhearted.
An anti-Israel enclave brandished its own antiwar posters
on the corner of 40th and Sixth, but prompted only a few catcalls.
A small contingent of Billionaires for Bush seemed to confuse
many of the passing marchers, who failed to grasp the satire
that underlies the group’s street-theater performances.
Press reports were even more lackluster than usual. The Sunday
New York Times relegated it to the third page of the
second section, and it barely appeared within the pages of
the New York Post. Only the Daily News ran a
front-page photo with the hopeful headline “Peace.”
Nevertheless, organizers sought to put the best possible face
on the event. “The streets of New York City were filled with
people united in their opposition to the Bush program of war,”
said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil
Justice and member of the ANSWER Coalition steering committee.
“Members of the Arab and Muslim community marched shoulder-to-shoulder
with military families and veterans demanding an end to the
occupation of Iraq.”
Reuters estimated the global turnout as more than a million
in the 45 countries where protests took place on Saturday.
About 50,000 people marched in San Francisco; 1,000 gathered
in Crawford, Texas, where George W. Bush owns a ranch; and
1,500 veterans and military families gathered outside Fort
Bragg in North Carolina.
The Manhattan march was chaperoned by more than 6,000 police
officers, a much larger presence than has been seen before,
accompanied by the usual contingent of helicopters and surveillance
cameras. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was booed as he briefly walked
the route; he later gave his approval of the police department’s
work and noted that this was a preview of the kind of security
the city plans to use during the Republican National Convention,
a weeklong event that begins August 29.
An upbeat mood persisted even after the protesters dispersed.
People sported antiwar buttons on the subway and in restaurants,
and talked about the convention and upcoming election. “It
was a good event,” said Rosen. “I try not to get cynical about
it. I can remember marching and shouting, ‘Fuck Mayor Lindsay!
Free the Panthers!’ You work up a lot of hope, a lot of energy.
But they’re saying only 40,000 people here today? You can
find that any given day in Yankee Stadium, where people pay
to get in.”
Police Chief Robert Wolfgang. Photo by: John Whipple
and comments cast doubt on portions of Albany Police chief’s
obtained from a source close to the police department paint
a different picture of the time leading up to former Cmdr.
Christian D’Alessandro’s transfer out of the detective’s office
than that portrayed by Police Chief Robert Wolfgang in his
presentation to the Albany Common Council on March 15.
Wolfgang reported that the transfer happened after “an extended
period of unrest,” in which “There was a general feeling that
the commander was targeting individuals he disliked. He was
alleged to be overbearing and was creating a hostile workplace
filled with tension and low morale.”
D’Alessandro’s 2000 and 2001 personnel evaluations, however,
give no indication of any such problems. The reports, completed
by Wolfgang and signed by Public Safety Commissioner John
C. Nielsen, are glowing. “He can be counted on to carry out
the directives of the Chief and to look out for the interest
of the Administration,” Wolfgang wrote in 2000. D’Alessandro
has “excellent problem-solving skills,” is a “creative thinker”
and is “able to interact well with peers and subordinates”
the report continued. In the 2001 evaluation, Wolfgang wrote
that D’Alessandro “can be counted on to shed a favorable light
on the Department” and “always acts with the good of the department
Wolfgang said Wednesday that this seeming disparity arose
because all complaints about D’Alessandro were forwarded to
the Office of Professional Standards, and until OPS made a
determination in May 2002, he based his evaluations solely
on his own observations.
Wolfgang did note on the evaluations that D’Alessandro “may
at times attempt to bring about change at a pace that is quicker
than practical” and said he may benefit from an “improved
system of accountability for supervisors under his command.”
According to a series of memos from 2001 and 2002, D’Alessandro
was trying to set up exactly such a system. The memos, addressed
mostly to a lieutenant under his command, raise questions
about the integrity of record keeping in the office. In one
dated Dec. 18, 2001, he wrote that “a sergeant is photocopying
overtime slips with your signature photocopied on,” and noted
that this was not the first time the lieutenant has been alerted
to this problem. In January 2002, a series of memos discussed
bonus days for a year without sick leave that had been approved
for a detective who in fact had had 21 sick days in 2001.
In another, dated Aug. 15, 2001, D’Alessandro noted that the
sign-in sheets for detectives were not being filled out in
chronological order, and attached a copy of one on which a
single detective is recorded as showing up for work at 1 AM,
then calling in sick at 1:15 AM, and then calling in sick
again in an entry written down after 5:25 AM, but labeled
In March 2002, D’Alessandro began sending memos to the chief
requesting stronger support in dealing with resistance within
the detectives office to improving administrative oversight.
In an April 4, 2002, memo, he wrote, “Supervisory paralysis
is setting in without your support and direction. . . . Quite
frankly, I am concerned about my ‘job’ but I will not allow
it to deter me from faithfully discharging my duties.”
In a May 6, 2002, memo he informed the chief that he had retrieved
some deleted computer records of unauthorized compensation
days, known as “atta-boy” days, and encouraged the chief to
have the Office of Professional Standards use technology professionals
to retrieve the rest, which he estimated to total about 330
days, with a minimum cost to the taxpayers of $90,000. A week
later he was transferred out of the office.
In his statement on March 15, Wolfgang, in discussing the
atta-boy days, said “No records exist that would provide us
with a true picture of the extent of the practice.”
After the March 15 meeting, Wolfgang emphasized that the controversy
over D’Alessandro had nothing to do overtime issues. He acknowledged
Wednesday that D’Alessandro had raised questions about “inaccurate
recordkeeping,” but said that “we found in some cases that
he was charging, and making allegations against supervisors
for things they were not resposible for or were not allowed
to be involved in.”
In his report to the council, Wolfgang said D’Alessandro was
terminated based on the outcome of the investigation into
the creation and distribution of a derogatory flier, and emphasized
the “hateful bias-based” nature of the flier.
A source close to the police department questioned Wolfgang’s
statement that “there can be no disparity between the way
we discipline our command staff and rank and file,” noting
that while Wolfgang said that D’Alessandro had been terminated
over the flier, other officers who distributed the flier,
and even showed it to members of the public in the presence
of a commander at the Gateway Diner, have not been disciplined.
flier, we weren’t saying it was a good thing, but it isn’t
at the heart of [D’Alessandro’s firing],” responded Nielsen.
“If an officer is questioned, we hold them responsible for
what they say. If it isn’t the truth, then we have in the
past, with officers protected by contract, union contracts,
moved for dismissal and had arbitrators support us.” When
asked if he meant that D’Alessandro was fired for lying under
questioning, the commissioner said, “I’m not saying that.
I said what I said. . . . I’m not commenting on what was the
reason. I’m commenting on what wasn’t the reason.”
463-2500 ext. 141
Primary, Primary Again
outcome of the 3rd District Albany County legislative primary
remains up in the air. On Friday (March 19), state Supreme
Court Justice Joseph Teresi approved a settlement in cases
brought by candidates in three districts. The legal battle
centered on more than 100 absentee ballots for the March 2
primary, obtained and returned—and in some cases allegedly
filled out—by 3rd Ward leader Jamie Gilkey [“And in This Corner.
. .,” Trail Mix, March 18].
The settlement allowed the results from contested Democratic
primaries in the 2nd and 4th districts to stand, making Marilyn
Hammond and Virginia Maffia-Tobler the respective winners
over Lucille McKnight and Ward De Witt, but established that
a new primary will be held to decide a winner in Albany’s
So on April 8, incumbent Wanda Willingham will yet again face
off against Jestin Williams to see who will hold the Democratic
line in the general election on April 27.
The new 3rd District primary will see increased polling place
precautions including a limited number of poll watchers and
increased law- enforcement presence. Furthermore, any one
agent can collect only five absentee ballot requests for this
election, as opposed to the 115 that Gilkey and his assistants,
including City Council President Pro Tempore Michael Brown,
collected for the 3rd District race.
To Willingham, the five-ballot rule is significant because
“that absentee ballot process is what was used to control
especially the lower wards,” she said. “If you have the control
of the absentee ballots, then you have control of the wards.”
Although Willingham risks losing the slight lead she held
over Williams after March 2, she said that making the problems
with the absentee ballots public will be worth it even if
And it will be a tough race. “People are not used to voting
in April,” said Willingham, who notes that the first special
election in March was bad enough. She anticipates a low voter
turnout and is trying to get the word out by making calls
“and just doing a lot of talking to people about what went
on,” she said. “People have a lot of questions.”
Williams agrees that many in the community have questions
about the election and why their votes were invalidated, and
he is also working on voter outreach. “They’re concerned about
voting, they want their votes to count,” he said, adding that
people were troubled by what occurred. “They want a fair process.
They don’t want to be intimidated.”
Gilkey was Williams’ campaign manager, but going forward,
Williams said, “I don’t really know at this time whether Mr.
Gilkey will be involved or not.”
Williams and Willingham each point fingers, blaming the other
side for the problems in their election. Willingham said she
would like to see further investigation of Gilkey’s activities
leading up to March 2, and expects that others will pick up
the ball. “There are so many other people who were involved
in this,” she said. “This is far from being over.”
Williams said dragging their constituents into court caused
legitimately cast votes to be thrown out and took voters through
testimonies that even Willingham, who brought the case, characterized
as “embarrassing” invasions of privacy. Still, both candidates
express optimism about the outcome of the upcoming reprimary.
There is also a pending complaint that was filed with the
State Board of Elections by Lillie Mae Saunders, president
of the tenants’ association at Townsend Park, a public housing
property at 45 Central Ave. owned by the Albany Housing Authority,
Gilkey’s employer. She said Gilkey was in the building on
Sunday Feb. 22.
When stopped by a resident on tenant patrol, Gilkey said he
was there for the housing authority to fix a leaky pipe and
gave a fake name. But the housing authority said there was
no one sent to fix a pipe and no employee by that name, and
instructed tenants to call the police. By the time Saunders
arrived, Gilkey offered his real name, and while they were
waiting, Michael Brown arrived. “As the officers came, [Brown]
vouched for the guy and they let him go,” said Saunders. Brown
did not return calls for comment.
At that time Saunders said she did not know Gilkey had come
to collect absentee ballot requests, which he later delivered.
There is a polling place at 45 Central Ave. A week later,
she learned Gilkey had helped tenants fill out their ballots,
in some cases not showing them their vote. “They just signed
and he checked off who they wanted to vote for and took the
envelope with him.”
Though Gilkey declined to comment on a complaint he said he
had not read, in his testimony before Judge Teresi on March
18, he acknowledged that he visited 45 Central Ave. several
times, one of which was on a Sunday “a couple of weeks before
the primary,” in an effort to counter absentee canvassing
done by Willingham’s husband. He also noted that Saunders
had held a rally in support of Willingham.
Lee Daghlian, director of public information for the State
Board of Elections, confirmed that Saunders’ complaint is
This Sticker, I Thee Wed
Alliance married pairs of same-sex
students in the UAlbany Campus Center on Tuesday
as a demonstration of support for same-sex marriages
in New York state and an opportunity to distribute
information on same-sex marriage. Students stood
under an arch, affirming their commitment to marriage
equality for same-sex couples, and, as Pride Alliance
member Brandon Conner said, uniting people
in the fight for civil marriage. Couples
recited a pledge and stuck stickers on each other
(in lieu of rings) that read, Equal rights.
No more. No less. Then they high-fived,
hugged or kissed.