Loud and clear: Councilman Michael Brown. Photo by:
Albany neighborhoods raise public-safety concerns, demand
60 people from West Hill, Arbor Hill and Sheridan Hollow neighborhoods
filled the Church of God and Prophecy in Albany last Thursday
(June 3) to attend what became a spirited community meeting
hosted by 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Brown.
Albany’s planning commissioner, Lori Harris, updated attendees
on the Arbor Hill Redevelopment Plan’s progress, and the conversation
quickly turned to what would become the evening’s dominant
subject: public safety. Police Chief James Turley and Assistant
Chief Anthony Bruno came to talk with residents about all
manner of quality-of-life concerns, something the new chief
says he’s making a point of doing around the city.
Turley said the department is actively trying to work with
neighborhood leaders to determine what their locales need.
“We’re not going to impose policing; we’re going to solicit
how you feel you need to be policed, want to be policed,”
he said. And residents were hardly shy about telling the chiefs
what was on their minds.
Many in attendance were supportive of installing cameras in
police cars, something being proposed by Brown, and called
for better patrolling and improved community police presence—some
said they hadn’t seen a beat officer in a year. Others demanded
better response time, complaining that officers would respond
to a call more than a half-hour after it was placed and came
to the door with an attitude. They also told the police they
need to do more to combat drug dealing and other illegal activity
that goes on mere blocks from the police stations.
Resident Shirley Piper told the chiefs that people in her
community think “the police officers are as a gang, and they’re
covering up one for another.” She believes that residents
won’t trust the police until there is better accountability
instead of cover-ups, and like many others present she wants
to see a change soon. “I’m really trusting that this isn’t
just going to be a meeting where you come and you allow the
people just to speak and then you go back and that’s it,”
To help its residents interact and begin building relationships
with its first-responders, the West Hill Neighborhood Association
is holding a public safety appreciation picnic next Thursday
(June 17) at the Star of Bethlehem Church.
Brown also took the police department to task for the same
issues and encouraged the community to be more vocal at council
meetings. “Once people realize that we have concerns and we’re
not afraid to stand up and speak for our concerns then they’re
gonna start listening to us,” Brown said. “Until then, they’re
gonna ignore us.”
Brown was replaced as the Common Council President Pro Tempore
in April, which council members said was because of his absence
from March council meetings when public safety issues were
on the table [“Brown Goes Down,” Newsfront, April 15]. At
this meeting Brown said otherwise. “I got kicked out as president
of the Common Council for one reason: because I wouldn’t turn
my back on this community.”
At Monday’s Common Council meeting (June 7), several residents
did make mention of their support for the camera proposal,
though one resident in Brown’s meeting pointed out that footage
didn’t make Rodney King any safer and called the measure a
pacifier. “They’ll give you your cameras,” he said, “But yet
still what is going to happen after you see the actual footage
of somebody dying at the hands of an officer and nothing happens?”
Supporters of the cameras say that the footage would be a
useful tool to protect both officers and the public. Councilman
David Torncello (Ward 8), who sits on the public-safety committee,
said he just hopes the city can afford to put a camera in
every car; if not he’s concerned “that the one time we’re
going to need it, it’s not going to be there.”
on the Big Project
In the way of progress? Corner of State and Eagle streets,
a proposed convention center site. Photo by: Alicia
a new report saying everything’s rosy, examples show there are
no guarantees an Albany convention center will succeed
a new convention center in Albany’s future? A recent announcement
by Mayor Jerry Jennings would seem to indicate that it’s a
sure thing, but questions still surround the proposal.
The plans call for an 85,000-square-foot convention facility
and 400-room hotel within a mile of the state Capitol. Proposed
sites for the project include the block bounded by State and
Eagle streets, across from the Capitol, and two sites bounded
by Broadway, Interstate 787 and Pearl Street.
Jennings and other advocates of the project claim that without
the $225 million facilities, Albany risks losing its marketability
as a destination for business travelers, tourists and, most
importantly, the revenue both groups generate.
However, critics contend that the path to success in the meetings
market is littered with failed convention centers and hotels—many
of which now rely on taxpayer- funded subsidies to continue
operating. Additionally, the legislation necessary for the
project to get under way remains conspicuously stalled in
the state Legislature, adding to the growing sense of uncertainty
that plagues the proposal.
In 2002, an independent study commissioned by Jennings and
conducted by the Strategic Advisory Group offered some support
for Jennings’ convention-center aspirations. However, the
report was widely faulted for using data that was pre-Sept.
11, 2001. After promising skeptics a revised report, Jennings
presented the updated study at a recent meeting of the Albany
Local Development Corporation. As many had expected, the new
report reinforced the findings of its predecessor, stating
that “no new information came to light that might cause [the
consulting group] to revise the findings in any way.”
After presenting the report, Jennings described the convention
center’s dilemma in the state Legislature as “a misunderstanding,”
and downplayed the negative implications of the delay. The
two convention bills are stalled in the Senate. One authorizes
the creation of an authority to handle the facilities’ construction
and the other raising the hotel tax in order to fund the project.
Both bills already have been approved by the Assembly.
According to Robert Farley, counsel for the Senate Corporations,
Authorities and Commissions Committee—the bills’ current resting
place—Jennings’ convention-center plan is just one of many
issues pushed into limbo by the absence of a state budget.
Farley added that the first priority for lawmakers planning
the distribution of the state’s finances is the recent Campaign
for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, which requires drastic changes
in the state’s education funding system. Only after deciding
how to handle the lawsuit can the state begin to think about
its role in the convention- center project.
Plans for the new convention center call for the state to
sign a 40-year lease on the facility, with payments totaling
around $300 million. The state’s lease payments will then
be used to pay off the debt incurred by the seven-member authority
that would be appointed by Jennings, Albany County Executive
Mike Breslin, Governor George E. Pataki, Senate Majority Leader
Joseph L. Bruno (R-Brunswick) and Assembly Speaker Sheldon
Silver (D-Manhattan). The authority would be allowed to borrow
up to $225 million to build the facilities. The two members
appointed by Jennings also would have to be approved by the
Albany Common Council.
Among the more contentious sources of funding for the project
is the proposed 3-percent hike in the county hotel-room tax,
with the extra revenue lumped into a convention-center and
local-tourism promotion fund. Local hotel representatives
have been exceptionally vocal about their opposition to this
aspect of the project’s funding, claiming that it would force
them to fund their own competition. In the updated study,
similar concerns were described during the consultants’ interviews
with members of the Capital District Hotel and Motel Association,
but the report claimed that both the local hospitality industry
and groups prone to attending conventions generally saw the
higher taxes as “a necessary evil.”
is important to understand that not all of the hoteliers support
the positions that will be articulated below,” the updated
report warned, prior to summarizing the CDHMA interviews.
In a nod to the complaints raised by hoteliers outside of
the immediate downtown region, the report added that “downtown
hoteliers were prone to have a stronger level of support for
Yet for some local officials, support for the convention-center
plan hinges not upon the economic implications of building
a new convention center, but on the societal implications.
During an April meeting of Albany’s Common Council, Councilman
Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) spoke out against a council resolution
that would give the city’s approval to one of the state-level
convention center bills.
no mention in the  study that this is going to help
the people or improve the quality of life in the surrounding
area,” said Calsolaro after the council voted overwhelmingly
in favor of the resolution. “I have my doubts that we’ll be
able to draw as many people as we need to, in order to make
it all worthwhile. I hope we do, but I have my doubts.”
While Calsolaro’s opposition to the plan was not shared by
the rest of the city’s governing body, recent trends may indicate
a cause for concern. A new convention center set to open June
10 in Boston has yet to meet the booking forecasts described
in early reports. As of late May, the $850 million facility
had confirmed only 44 major events in the next six years—a
far cry from the 64 annual events predicted by early studies.
Yet for many states, the siren song of the convention market
is difficult to ignore. The struggling convention center in
Boston is the second problem of this sort for Massachusetts
state officials, as a conference facility renovated during
the 1980s also failed to become the boon predicted in preliminary
studies. Expanded convention centers in Chicago, Atlanta and
other major cities also fell far short of expectations in
the last decade, yet the number of convention centers popping
up each year around the country continues to rise.
Here in Albany, a convention center will face competition
from several in-state and regional rivals. Competing for the
300-plus annual events predicted for Albany’s convention center
in the updated report will be facilities of various sizes
in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Renovated convention centers
in Saratoga Springs and Lake Placid will also provide some
competition for smaller events, while the Turning Stone and
Seneca Niagara casinos will vie for the attention of midsized
According to the report, a convention center in Albany will
receive its most significant competition from similar facilities
in nearby Rhode Island and Connecticut. Additionally, Manhattan’s
Jacob Javits Convention Center, which may be renovated as
part of the city’s 2012 Olympic bid, may also dip into the
same pool of events.
There are no guarantees that the pool will be deep enough
for everyone. While demands for meeting space and convention
attendance have begun to rebound from the effects of Sept.
11, 2001, both numbers—possibly the most important ones to
consider when predicting convention center success—experienced
sharp declines in recent years. And both have yet to return
to their pre-Sept. 11 rate of growth.
As the forces pushing for a convention center grow more persistent,
the question raised by advocates and opponents alike remains:
If we build it, will they come?
Aiming high: district attorney candidate David Soares.
Photo by: John Whipple
Face in DA Race
prosecutor takes on Albany County district attorney Paul Clyne
independence, innovation, and inclusivity, former Albany County
assistant district attorney David Soares announced Monday
his intention to challenge incumbent Paul Clyne in this September’s
Democratic primary for district attorney.
Soares worked in the district attorney’s office for four and
a half years, until being fired on the spot last Thursday
when he told Clyne of his intentions to run for his position.
Clyne defended the firing in several news articles, saying
that assistant DAs serve at his pleasure and he couldn’t be
expected to keep one on who was running against him.
He also said that Soares was easily replaceable in his role
as the head of the community prosecution office. Last month,
however, Clyne told Metroland the success of the community
prosecution office was “due to David Soares.”
After Soares’ Monday announcement, Clyne’s office referred
all calls to his campaign manager, Robert Haggerty of PR firm
Strategic Moves, Inc. Haggerty, a pollster with longtime Republican
connections, said he had no comment.
Soares has what many consider the holy grail for reform candidates—insider/outsider
status. His work within the DA’s office has given him experience
with how the system works and what needs changing. But though
he’s not afraid to talk about locking up the “bad guys” when
it’s warranted, Soares has come to believe that a focus on
incarceration over crime prevention, especially when it comes
to drug crimes, is counterproductive. Unlike Clyne, he supports
reform of the draconian Rockefeller Drugs laws.
More unusually, Soares has not only critiques but also hands-on
experience doing things differently. For the last two years
he headed up the experimental community prosecution office
in Arbor Hill, which sought to build partnerships between
the DA’s office and other agencies to foster crime prevention
and creative prosecution methods and address quality of life
and drug crimes [“To Protect, Serve, and Earn Our Trust,”
May 20]. This included creating a community accountability
board where low-level offenders face community members who
impress upon them the damage they have done and assign restitution
projects, often including local community service.
Soares wants to bring the kind of creativity and accessibility
that he learned on the ground as a community prosecutor to
the whole county. “My primary objective is to establish access
to our office . . . access for every village, town, and city
in Albany County,” he said. “I want the people who would work
for me to be able to tell me what’s going on in those areas.
I want to make sure the crimes we are prosecuting are impacting
on the communities. I want to make sure were are not prosecuting
without input from the victims. I want the input of the people
I serve to weigh into the decisions that I make.”
Soares said that Clyne’s administration has been locked into
a mindset of pushing through felony prosecutions without paying
any attention to the misdemeanor and quality-of-life crimes
that “give rise to some of the larger issues” all across the
county. “The conventional approach for the district attorney’s
office in fighting crime and drugs [is] not working,” he said,
citing a revolving door where offenders get a fine, jail time,
or probation, and go back on the streets with nothing having
When Clyne announced in April that he was running for reelection,
he cited the increased number of felony prosecutions “disposed
of” by his office as his main achievement.
Betty Barnette, chair of the Albany County Democratic Committee,
which endorsed Clyne on May 20, issued a scathing statement
questioning Soares’ qualifications, his level of experience,
and his choice not to go through the committee’s review process.
“I can only speculate that Mr. Soares chose not to participate
in the candidate review process because he lacks the qualifications
needed,” she wrote. “Although I admire his enthusiasm, his
lack of experience is exceeded only by his lack of judgment.”
There are no official qualifications for the elected position.
Barnette did not return calls seeking to find out what the
committee considered to be appropriate qualifications.
the years of experience in the world is equal to nothing if
you are unwilling to use it to make this world a better place,”
responded Soares. “Mr. Clyne may have years of experience,
but he’s wasted it because he lacks the vision to use it.
. . . Mr. Clyne may be a more skilled prosecutor, but that
doesn’t mean he’s a skilled administrator.”
Soares noted that his time in the underfunded community prosecution
office taught him a great deal about making things happen
with limited resources and about forming partnerships to get
things done. He also said he already had more trial experience
than Clyne’s predecessor, Sol Greenberg.
As for going through the county committee, Soares noted wryly
that “Thurgood Marshall’s qualifications would be suspect
if he was not the political machine’s choice.”
At his announcement, in Academy Park across from the county
courthouse, a multiracial group of 30 to 40 enthusiastic supporters
flanked Soares. One supporter, George Fisher, the assistant
facilities manager of West Hill’s Victory Church, said that
he had never registered to vote in his life, but he was going
to register now so he could vote for Soares. Fisher has worked
with more than 300 community service workers referred from
Soares’ office. He called Soares “professional, thorough,
friendly, a good communicator, who enjoys what he does and
is very good at it.”
Pearl Martin, the vice president of United Front Youth Organization,
a newly forming group designed to teach young people about
the law and how it affects them, said Soares has been an inspiration,
and that he worked with the Arbor Hill community in “a shared
Supporters also included Councilman Dominick Calsolero (Ward
1), previous DA candidate Mark Mishler, and former police
Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro.
Debate continues over former Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro
and some of the questions he raised about the
Albany Police Department
June 2, 20 members of the Coalition for Accountable Police
and Government held a press conference on City Hall steps
and then delivered—or attempted to deliver—to Mayor Jerry
Jennings a petition with 350 signatures calling for the reinstatement
of former Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro. The mayor’s door,
usually open, was shut “for the first time in 30 years,” said
participant Chris Mercogliano.
Jennings has avoided taking a stand on the matter, saying
it is up to the police department. He did not return calls
for comment. “I find it distressing that the mayor trivializes
and doesn’t respond to the genuine concerns of city residents
about these very important issues of community policing and
community trust in relationship to the APD,” said coalition
cofounder Barbara Smith.
The coalition was also distressed that focus was shifted from
their concerns by the release the day before of news that
Detective Cmdr. Ralph Tashjian and Detective Susan Miller
would consider legal action against the city if D’Alessandro
is rehired. D’Alessandro has long been expected to file suit
himself against the city for wrongful termination.
Tashjian’s and Miller’s lawyer, John W. Bailey, said the timing
was indeed on purpose. “There have been rumors circulating
that Mr. D’Alessandro was going to be put back on the Albany
City police force,” he said. “That was a source of genuine
concern on the part of Detective Cmdr. Tashjian and Detective
Miller.” Bailey said his clients felt they had been treated
badly and prevented from advancing by D’Alessandro when he
was their supervisor, and “they believe it had a racial component.”
Mercogliano noted that no specifics had been given in the
news reports. “They were just playing the race card, which
nowadays you’re not supposed to question,” he said.
Bailey acknowledged that “sometimes there isn’t any direct
evidence of a tone of voice, of being given the lousy assignments
. . . but people who are minorities learn very early in life
to recognize when either their skin color or their heritage
is a factor in the way they are being treated.” He said he
did have specific evidence, but it wouldn’t be in his clients’
best interest to reveal it at this time.
Bailey also said he was convinced that D’Alessandro was involved
somehow in a derogatory flier about Tashjian that was circulated
earlier this year, in which Tashjian was portrayed as the
minister of information for Saddam Hussein. “No matter how
you feel about our presence [in Iraq], they are killing our
young men and women,” said Bailey. “[Tashjian] didn’t look
at it and laugh. He looked at it and he practically wanted
to cry at what was being done to him. I don’t think he’s making
too much out of this.” The APD has not charged D’Alessandro
with creating the flier.
In contrast to Bailey’s descriptions, members of the city’s
minority communities consistently speak highly of D’Alessandro,
saying that he is actually one of the few police officers,
or in some cases one of the few white people, that they feel
they can trust [“To Protect, Serve, and Earn Your Trust,”
May 20]. Many have turned out to demand his reinstatement.
think that because of people’s anxiety about racial issues,
it is easy to use them to discredit Cmdr. D’Alessandro,” said
Barbara Smith, an Arbor Hill resident and nationally known
African-American scholar. “When race is raised, people don’t
want to touch it. I am personally aware that Chris has widespread
support amongst people of color in the city of Albany and
in majority people of color communities, and I myself feel
confident in my belief that he is not a racist, nor did he
carry out his job in a racist fashion.” This Tuesday, June
8, D’Alessandro won a peace and justice award from the Capital
Region Council of Churches, and he didn’t win it for being
a racist or a liar, said Smith.
does make strange bedfellows,” said Bailey. “People use people
for all sorts of reaons. I imagine that some of these people
have their own agendas, and Cmdr. D’Alessandro fits into those
agendas.” Bailey could not specify what sorts of agendas he
Meanwhile, Councilman Dominick Calsolero (Ward 1) has continued
to raise concerns about expenditures from the APD’s seized
assets forfeiture fund, some of which apparently went to businesses
owned by Miller. The seized asset fund is the only fund in
the city that doesn’t pass through usual city procurement
procedures, and has come under scrutiny in recent months as
to whether money was being spent appropriately. Calsolero
noted that his concern is with the purchases, not anything
Miller had done. “I don’t know that there’s any illegality
there,” he said, but “it doesn’t look good.”
Calsolero said he raised the issue publicly to be sure it
was covered in the city’s audit. “I’m not going to ignore
that case,” said city comptroller Thomas Nitido. “We’re reviewing
any information that we receive on polices, practices, and
even individual purchases. But the mainstay of this is really
an audit using generally accepted accounting principles.”
a rocky first year on the job, Albany schools superintendent
calls it quits
most accounts, Michael Johnson’s abrupt resignation as superintendent
of the Albany City School District last week came as quite
a surprise. After only a year on the job, albeit a relatively
challenging one that featured a few run-ins with Albany’s
education-minded mayor, Jerry Jennings, Johnson cited personal
reasons when announcing his resignation at a school board
meeting last Tuesday (June 1). Johnson will stay with the
district until June 30.
Johnson’s tenure as superintendent was marked by a hands-on
style of administering education policy throughout the district.
He was noted for attending church services and other community
functions to solicit concerns about the district’s schools,
also taking such opportunities to call for greater parental
involvement in students’ education. Johnson held education
and literacy summits throughout the year and mandated a Readers
to Leaders program, in which students were expected to log
100 hours of reading time throughout the school year.
But the superintendent also faced his share of criticism,
from both the community at large and from City Hall. The superintendent
created a small stir last fall when he put the kibosh on students
bringing in homemade treats to celebrate birthdays in class.
His reasons were twofold: Birthday parties should be relegated
to lunch hours when students are not supposed to be learning,
he said, and allowing students to bring sweets from home opens
the district up to potential lawsuits should children get
Johnson’s decree, variations of which exist in districts throughout
the state, was unpopular with some of the district’s parents.
But the superintendent presented a reasoned argument and stuck
to his guns. In retrospect, Johnson handled “cupcakegate”
much better than he did his first real run-in with City Hall.
In March, Johnson proposed withholding working papers from
students who were failing one or more class. The move raised
the ire of Mayor Jennings, an advocate of the city’s successful
summer youth employment program, who was not consulted on
the idea. Jennings and members of his administration argued
that the city’s summer jobs program not only provided important
working experience for students, but that amount students
earned, though small—roughly $100 per week—was often considered
necessary for many of the district’s economically disadvantaged
families. Facing pressure from City Hall, Johnson backed off.
This set off a flurry of rumor and speculation that the school
board was seeking to replace Johnson. Hundreds of parents
flooded an April board meeting to show their support for Johnson,
and board members scrambled to dispel the rumor.
was no effort that I know of to seek the superintendent’s
resignation by members of the school board,” board president
Scott Wexler maintained. Regardless, little more than a month
later, Johnson made the announcement that he was leaving.
Johnson’s resignation leaves the school district with a tall
order to fill: finding a replacement superintendent for the
second time in two years, at a moment when it already has
a pretty big fish to fry—turning out a yes vote to the district’s
On May 18, voters turned down a $149 million budget proposal
that called for a 10-percent tax-rate increase. The departing
superintendent didn’t have time to be interviewed for this
story. ACSD spokeswoman Tara Mitchell said Johnson is too
busy pushing the revised budget proposal, a $147 million plan
that calls for a 5.9-percent tax-rate increase, to various
voters groups throughout the city.
Bill Ritchie, president of the Albany Public School Teachers
Union, was a critic of the secretive manner in which the school
board hired Johnson: hiring a national headhunting firm to
find a replacement for departing superintendent Lonnie Palmer.
Ritchie, who thought then and now that a new superintendent
could be found within the district’s ranks, wants members
of the community and faculty to be more involved in the hiring
involving stakeholders in the hiring process from the get-go
puts everyone at a disadvantage,” Ritchie said. “An open process,
if it’s done well, will lead more quickly to the development
of trust between all parties involved.”
Ritchie may get his wish. Wexler said the school board will
hold public meetings seeking input from community members
and educators on how fill the superintendent’s position.
board has decided to convene two meetings of our stakeholders
to get some feedback from those groups as to where we go from
here,” Wexler said. “Recognizing that we have a number of
options for how we proceed, we should ask the community for
its input before going ahead.”
Dates have not been set for the meetings, but Wexler said
they could convene as early as next week.
constituencies value a degree of openness that was not done
[when] hiring [Johnson], and that was a terrible mistake,”
Wexler said. “We need to move in a collaborative way. If we
don’t, it is more than likely that we will be unsuccessful
There Is That Doesn’t Love a Wall
Photo by: John Whipple
Friday, June 4, approximately 75 people gathered
in front of the Washington Avenue Armory to protest
U.S. support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian
lands, and especially the “security wall” being
built. On Saturday they held a vigil in Washington
Park at which the names of all the Palestinian
and Israeli children killed in the Second Intifada
were read. David Aube, spokesman for the local
Palestinian Rights Committee, said that the main
problem isn’t the wall’s existence, but that it’s
being built deep in Palestinian territory, dividing
villages in half and separating villages from
their fields. He also said that while the committee
supports a two-state solution and the right of
return, the eventual terms of peace will have
to be up to Palestinians and Israelis. “As Americans,
our primary organizing is to change American policy,”
he said, and “demand that the U.S. be a true honest
broker, which they are not and have never been.”
He also noted that U.S. financial aid “does not
let Israel see the true cost of the occupation.”