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An Irresponsible Choice?

It may seem a little odd, on the face of it, to name an abstinence-only education program “Responsible Choices.” At the least, “The Responsible Choice” would fit somewhat better. But it’s even more ironic that the title that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services chose for an initiative in the fiscal year 2005 budget that will double the funding for abstinence education is a registered servicemark of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

PPFA has used the phrase for its own comprehensive sexuality-education programs since the late ’90s, and registered the rights to the phrase in 1999.

On March 10, PPFA president Gloria Feldt sent a letter to HHS secretary Tommy Thompson demanding that HHS cease and desist using the phrase. “Your use of Responsible Choices as the title of your so-called ‘abstinence-only’ initiative is extremely confusing and troubling, considering the fact that your program not only denies choice but also deliberately censors medically accurate information,” she wrote.

PPFA has gotten no response to the letter, and the phrase remains on the HHS Web site. PPFA’s managing director for media relations, Gustavo Suarez, said if they did not hear back in the next week they would send another letter, but declined to speculate on whether the organization would consider bringing legal action.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Imprimatur Granted

Grand Street Community Arts, the organization working to transform Albany’s St. Anthony’s Church into a community center, has received a key grant that will allow the physical restoration project to move forward.

In the first week of March, the group received notice from Wendy Nicholas of the Northeast regional office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation that it had been awarded a $2,000 grant from the Preservation Services Fund. This will allow Grand Street Community Arts (formerly Mansion Community Arts) to hire an architect with preservation and restoration experience. The architect will assess the exact condition of the church and develop a restoration plan.

GSCA member Tom McPheeters explained, with a combination of surprise and satisfaction, that the NTHS grant approval process “didn’t take that long.” The application was filed in January, and the approval letter was dated March 5. McPheeters credited the detailed work of grant writer Caroline Sharkey. “We have one of the best grant writers in the area,” he said.

Beyond the money, McPheeters said the grant is significant because it will help the group develop a relationship with NTHS, a national organization in the forefront of the preservation movement. It was the trust’s designation of Albany’s School No. 10 as a significant endangered building, many argue, that drew attention to a plan to demolish the ornate 19th-century structure and replace it with a big-box drug store. The school was subsequently renovated and incorporated into the Brighter Choice Charter School.

While the process of restoring the church building continues, GSCA is moving forward with its plans for a summer gardening project for Grand Street. According to McPheeters, Youth Organics (YO!) will begin in April as a two-day-per-week program, and expand when the school year is over. GSCA also has a Web site,, up and running.

—Shawn Stone

Friends in High Places

Ansar Mahmood, a Pakistani immigrant from Hudson who has spent more than two years in a detention facility outside of Buffalo, has received the support of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), thanks to many hours of effort by those working for Mahmood’s release.

Mahmood, who pled guilty on the advice of his public defender to helping two other immigrants whose visas had expired get an apartment and a car, was facing deportation even though he had been sentenced only to time served [“Taking on the Deportation Machine,” Newsfront, Sept. 25, 2003].

His supporters say he’s a hard-working, honest man caught up in the post-Sept. 11 hysteria. They have been lobbying elected officials for months to add their voices to the cause of granting Mahmood “supervised release,” which would be similar to parole. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) was the first to sign on.

Schumer, after an unusual private meeting with two advocates for Mahmood, issued a press release on March 17 saying he supports supervised release for Mahmood. “The FBI cleared him of any links to violent crimes, he has been a model prisoner, and he has strong support within the community,” said Schumer. “This is not a terrorism case.”

Bob Elmendorf, a spokesperson for Mahmood’s defense committee, said Schumer’s support has given them a big boost. “We had a good case before that. His coming out really buttressed it, no doubt about it,” he said. “I think [Mahmood] will be released, he won’t be deported. We believed that when we had media attention alone, but now we have congressional attention.”

Elmendorf said interest from other elected officials really picked up once Schumer made his announcement; the defense committee is in contact with “about 10” who are interested, he said, but they haven’t yet “made any promises.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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