customers are coming: a bustling Lark Street. Photo
by: Teri Currie
As the controversy over Lark Street’s facelift fades into
the past, businesses say they are starting to reap the benefits
was so good several weekend nights this summer that Joe Romeo
kept his Lark Street gift store open past his normal 11 PM
Saturday closing time. Across the street, a long-vacant townhouse
at 302 Lark that has two floors of retail space and was damaged
years ago in a fire, is finally under renovation. Further
up Lark, businesses have expanded, redesigned their interiors
or just opened in vacant storefronts.
One year after a controversial renovation that caused a long
dry spell for merchants, Albany’s Lark Street is coming into
its own. Although most of the information about sales figures
is anecdotal, business owners say they are drawing customers
from a farther range, and seeing shoppers later into the weekend
hours than ever before. Several attribute the improvements
to last year’s $2.5 million renovation, which added new sidewalks
and granite-paved crosswalks, more street lights, new trees
and a generally cleaner, brighter appearance.
Lee Cohen, co-owner of the Daily Grind coffee store and café,
likens the renovation to painting a house: It doesn’t make
the market value skyrocket, but it sure makes the house look
better if you’re trying to sell it.
a street over like this, where you’re not really doing anything
except upgrading, is there a fundamental difference?” Cohen
asked. “I’m sure the city would say there is. You’re walking
down a funky street that looks a little rough, it takes on
a different aura from when you’re walking down a funky street
and it looks clean.”
Looks apparently count in more ways than one, because Christopher
Burke, the president of the Lark Street Business Improvement
District, has heard several people compliment the wider new
sidewalks. (Former BID executive director Joe Cunan resigned
in June to take a job in New York City, and will not be replaced,
Burke said.) Actually, the new sidewalks are the same width
as the old ones; they just seem wider because they’re less
think we kind of shook the Bohemian label we had,” Burke said.
“It’s much more balanced. I don’t think that existed, five,
six years ago.”
The renovation had its detractors, who were motivated as much
by the politics behind the project as by their concerns about
the disruption. Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings had obtained the
$6.5 million federal grant to redo Lark Street, then announced
that the city would instead use that money for a reconstruction
project on New Scotland Avenue.
Amid accusations of bait-and-switch tactics, the city bonded
the money for Lark Street and promised speedy progress to
jittery merchants who envisioned an already-bad parking problem
getting really bad. The city celebrated the finished project
a year ago, at the 2003 Larkfest, and gradually the shoppers
returned to stores where the owners had waited out the reconstruction
with crossed fingers and gritted teeth.
The festive mood shattered on the afternoon of New Year’s
Eve, when Albany police officers opened fire on a driver fleeing
a motor-vehicle stop and instead killed an innocent bystander,
24-year-old David Scaringe, as he stood at the corner of Lark
and State streets.
Eight months later, business owners still reach for words
to address the tragedy, mindful that even though life on Lark
Street has returned to normal, the shooting might as well
be yesterday for Scaringe’s family and friends.
still discussed regularly by us and by people in the area,”
said Brad Junco, owner of Capital Wine and Spirits, whose
entrance is a few steps from where Scaringe collapsed. “But
people still come here.”
Even before the New Year’s shooting, residents of the Lark
Street area had been shaken by a spate of street crimes in
the preceding two years: armed robberies, muggings and a sexual
assault. Crime statistics for the area were not readily available
from the Albany Police Department, and the state Division
of Criminal Justice Services does not break down citywide
statistics by neighborhood. But anecdotally, several area
residents and business owners say that Lark Street seems safer
since the renovation: The lighting is better, the overhanging
tree branches are gone, and more pedestrians are out at night.
Detective James Miller, the police department spokesman, noted
that citywide, several categories of major crime decreased
between 2002 and the first half of 2004.
Neighborhood groups in the Lark Street area also redoubled
their efforts to work with the Albany Police Department. As
a result, better information about crime in the area is getting
out to residents, say Doug Ebersman, who co-founded the Lark
Street Community Watch, and Richard Conti, the Common Council
member representing the 6th Ward, which includes Lark Street.
Other problems on Lark Street continue, however, with no clear
solution. Among them: absentee property owners. Of the 131
properties in the BID’s area—most of them along Lark Street—38
have owners living out of Albany or even out of state.
a big deal for us, I think because we tend to have the biggest
problems with the people who live in Florida, or wherever,”
And a few businesses along Lark Street have been revolving
doors, including the site of the former Mama Rosa’s Pasta
Café at 271 Lark, which has also been a deli and a coffee
shop in the last few years. Burke attributes the rapid turnover
at some storefronts to the fact that commercial rents on Lark
Street are generally still low enough—three figures instead
of four—to attract entrepreneurs with better ideas than business
sense. He has followed the businesses that have failed in
the last few years on the street, and is convinced that many
of them failed because they made poor business decisions,
such as not adjusting their hours to shopping trends, for
A number of local business owners expect Lark Street to continue
improving, however, and they’re measuring their faith in six
figures. Among the businesses where the owners have bought
the buildings in the last few years: Bomber’s Burrito Bar
and DeJohn’s Restaurant and Pub, at the site of the former
Lulu Café. There, owner John DeJohn did a $150,000 renovation
after he took over the building in August 2003.
wouldn’t want to open it anywhere except Albany,” said DeJohn,
who worked in several local restaurants before starting his
own. “Lark Street’s got diversity and class.”
I Didn’t Say That
Just when you thought Swift Boat Veterans for
Truth’s tactics couldn’t go any lower, the Billings
Gazette reported that several veterans have
found their names attached without their permission
to one of SBVFT’s attacks on Kerry. One vet guessed
that based on a survey of swift-boat vets he knew,
as many as 25 percent of the names on the letter
were there without the named’s knowledge. Gives
a certain ring to the rest of their claims. .
It’s for Deer Hunting, Yeah...
The same administration that brought us the Patriot
Act let the 1994 assault-weapons ban expire Monday,
since apparently libraries and peace protesters
are more dangerous than widespread accessibility
of assault rifles,
AK-47s, and uzis. As Albany reels from
a spate of gun violence, reports that there has
been no rush to purchase
the 19 types of newly available
weapons may provide a little relief, but law-enforcement
agencies around the country have predicted it
will make their jobs harder in the long run.
Don’t Vote for Me
Tom McPheeters, a Democratic committeeman in Albany’s
Mansion Neighborhood, decided that the two women
on the ballot with him, running for two committee
slots, should both have a chance at the job. So
in what may have been a never-before-tried campaign
tactic, he fliered the neighborhood asking his
neighbors not to vote for him. “I had to,
because otherwise people would vote for me because
they know my name,” he said. It worked; he lost.
Don’t Believe the Gloom
There are lots of lessons to remember from the
2000 presidential elections, but one of them is
that (aside from Supreme Court votes) it’s the
electoral college votes, not the popular vote
that wins you the presidency. And those omnipresent
polls that give Bush such good ratings are actually
showing that Kerry is in the lead on that front,
by more than 100 votes, and has been since May.
According to the Orlando Weekly, seven
states that were previously contested have moved
to Kerry and eight states that once supported
Bush have come back into play.
you, thank you: Helen Desfosses congratulates David
Soares at his victory party. Photo by: John Whipple
Albany’s establishment surprised by dramatic
wins from insurgent Democrats
being called “destined to stay in office” by the Times
Union in its nonendorsement on Sunday, District Attorney
Paul Clyne lost dramatically to challenger David Soares in
the Democratic primary Tuesday (Sept. 14).
As of midnight Tuesday, with nearly all the polling places
reporting, Soares had 14,030 votes—more than the entire turnout
for last September’s primary race for county comptroller—to
Clyne’s 8,684. Soares had picked up last-minute endorsements
from Assemblyman Jack McEneny, former comptroller Carl McCall,
and the national advocacy group MoveOn.
Margaret Walsh also won her race for the family court judge
nomination against the Democratic Committee’s pick, John Reilly,
11,408 to 9,738, with most precincts reporting.
Total turnout for the election was higher by nearly 3,500
voters than for the 2002 Democratic primary, which included
a statewide race for governor.
At Soares’ victory party, supporters and volunteers were giddy
with excitement, relief, and not a little amazement. “This
is big,” said Vera Michelson. “I don’t think we know yet how
big this is.” Several other people echoed that sentiment,
calling the election historic, and the beginning of a new
day. Others recounted stories of their day, checking in with
voters they’d spoken to on the doorsteps or driving people
without transportation to the polls. Arbor Hill activist Barbara
Smith described with awe the feeling of bringing a young woman
to vote for the first time.
have been searching for years for a way to unite white progressives
and black progressives,” Tom McPheeters, a Democratic committeeman
from the Mansion neighborhood, said happily as he scanned
the multiracial crowd.
built a coalition of young and old, African-American and white,
men and women, gay and straight, experienced activists and
first-timers, suburbanites and urbanites,” said Soares. “The
era of reactive prosecution is over.”
Bob Haggerty, Clyne’s campaign manager, told the Times
Union he hoped the voters “wake up” by Nov. 2. Clyne will
appear on the ballot on the Independence Party line in November,
and Republican Roger Cusick will also join the fray.
Albany’s primary season was ugly right up to the end. Albany’s
Democratic Committee won an injunction in court Friday barring
the Soares campaign from spending any more Working Families
Party money, using the argument that since the Democratic
party can’t spend on candidates in a Democratic primary, the
WFP shouldn’t spend on one of its own uncontested candidates
during a Democratic primary. Though the judge agreed, several
election law experts disagreed strongly. The issue went to
court on Wednesday (Sept. 15).
Clyne supporters, including Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, dismissed
Soares’ victory as being due to “money from New York City,”
presumably referring to the statewide WFP, even though the
candidates spent approximately the same amount.
Soares said that because the Rockefeller drug laws affect
people across the state, “The fact that I received support
from outside the county shouldn’t surprise anyone, and I appreciate
that support. More importantly I appreciate the overwhelming
support from the people of Albany County.” Soares said that
during the campaign, “I spent my time on the doors, I spent
my time on the phone. I had over two dozen fund-raisers in
the homes of Albany residents. I had a woman who stopped in
and gave us a check for $7.41 and showed us how she came up
with that sum, because she had paid all her bills and bought
her medication and that was what she could give. That’s a
reflecton of what this campaign meant to people.”
Meanwhile, things got tense on Saturday (Sept. 11) at Third
Ward Councilman Michael Brown’s annual Arbor Hill block party
at the Ten Broeck Mansion when first Walsh, and later Soares,
put in appearances. According to Scott Snyder, Walsh’s campaign
manager, “The second Margaret arrived, Michael Brown went
in her face and told her the ‘ground rules’ which were no
talking on stage, which she didn’t want to do anyway, but
he followed her around. . . . It potentially was dangerous.
Michael Brown called the police, and told them Margaret called
the police. . . . The people there didn’t want us to leave.
They said ‘You’re fine, we want to talk to you, don’t leave.’
” Snyder said that after 20 minutes they decided that they
would leave for the sake of the party.
that our bus?”
“Then why is it purple?”
elementary school students viewing an approaching
CDTA 13 bus in front of Hackett Middle School. The
bus was completely covered in a CDPHP advertisement.
to Soares, when he arrived later, Michael Brown told him he
couldn’t speak on stage, and Soares replied that he didn’t
want to speak on stage, he just wanted to walk around and
meet voters. Soares said Brown threatened that if Soares stayed
he would turn off the music and stop serving food and drink,
and did proceed to turn off the music. Alex Navarro, of the
Soares campaign, said it was Soares’ understanding that Brown
or an associate of Brown called the police.
Brown insists that both Walsh and Soares were demanding that
they get to speak on stage, and says their campaigns both
called the police after he confronted them. “Peg Walsh can
talk about diversity all she wants, but her true colors came
out in the park on Saturday,” said Brown. “It’s like she’s
on the show Cops. It’s like she wanted to put our community
under some type of seige. . . . She wouldn’t have done that
on New Scotland Avenue.”
Eyewitness (and Metroland contributing photographer)
John Whipple backed up Walsh’s and Soares’ accounts. He said
that Brown was very aggressive and kept repeating that they
couldn’t speak on stage and Walsh and Soares kept responding
that they didn’t want to. Whipple said Brown did turn off
the music until the candidates left, and noted that several
Arbor Hill residents at the party attempted to calm Brown
down, telling him he was the one causing trouble.
is a democracy, you can’t just go around doing stuff like
that,” said Snyder.
long-opposed plan for a power plant in Glenville
[“Tuned Out, Turned Off, Unplugged,” Newsfront,
May 2, 2002] has bit the dust. After many rounds
of tireless activism from residents and trouble
finding a financial backer, Glenville Energy Park
has declined on Monday to appeal its latest court
loss, effectively scuttling the project. . . .
Freedom of speech has returned to the DC Metro,
where a controversial advertisement advocating
marijuana legalization is running this month.
A federal district court ruled unconstitutional
an amendment in the 2004 federal spending bill
that would have defunded any transit agency that
accepted ads critical of current drug laws
[“Say Anything You Want About Drugs—as Long as
You’re Against Them,” FYI, Feb. 5], allowing drug-policy-reform
groups to move forward with their media campaign.
. . . Coming under harsh fire for the visual effects
of its proposed plant [“Cement Soundbites,” FYI,
Aug. 5], St. Lawrence Cement has proposed
a smaller smokestack—exactly what it said a few
years ago would cause unacceptable pollution.
And DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty has “ungrandfathered”
the company’s mining operation, subjecting it
to full environmental review. . . . Joining courts
in San Francisco and New York state [“Go Read
the Law Again,” FYI, Sept. 2], a federal court
in Nebraska has ruled that the so-called “partial-birth”
abortion ban passed last October is unconstitutional.
. . . Gaston Hooks, a process server in Schenectady
who ran the dramatic “Eviction Squad,”
[“Get Out,” Sept. 25, 2003], has been held in
civil and criminal contempt of court for continued
illegal operation of a paralegal and legal document
preparation business, according to Attorney General
Eliot Spitzer’s office. Hooks reportedly has been
continually defying 1999 and 2000 court orders
to cease operations
be fair: Mohamid Alza Idi in his Fourth Street Market.
Photo by: Joe Putrock
residents are still divided over Troy’s new midnight curfew
for convenience stores
Mayor Harry Tutunjian ignited controversy last month when
he announced, in the wake of a late-night murder, that he
would introduce legislation making it illegal for the city’s
convenience stores to stay open after midnight. Although Tutunjian’s
proposal was recently signed into law, there’s still no shortage
of critique surrounding the city’s decision.
of these other stores can stay open,” said Mohamid Alza Idi,
owner of the Fourth Street Market in Troy, as he gestured
Sunday night at the bright lights of the pizza shop and bars
near his small grocery. “How is that freedom?”
Tutunjian has described the late-night convenience stores
as havens for criminal activity, citing the July 3 murder
that occurred outside a store in South Troy. According to
Tutunjian, the bulk of the stores’ business after midnight
consists of addicts and dealers purchasing drug paraphernalia.
owners of these businesses can’t be expected to control their
customers,” said Captain Paul Bouchard of the city’s Community
Police Department, “but as a free society, we have the right
to impact the quality of life around here.”
The new law requires any convenience store smaller than 1,500
square feet and with fewer than six gasoline pumps to close
from midnight to 5 AM Sunday through Thursday and from 1 to
5 AM Friday and Saturday. Only seven stores in the area currently
stay open that late. Stores can be fined up to $1,000 for
violating the curfew and assessed points for code violation.
One violation could result in up to 12 points, enough to require
a yearlong closure. The new law is scheduled to take effect
At a public hearing held earlier this month, opponents of
the midnight curfew far outnumbered supporters, but the legislation
still passed the City Council unanimously. Council members
insisted that they had received many calls from constituents
supporting the legislation, despite the few words of support
it received at the hearing.
my baby gets sick at 3 AM, where can I go to get the things
I need?” asked one speaker who advised the city to continue
bus routes later into the night if the law was passed. A number
of other speakers pointed to the lighting and surveillance
that the late-night businesses provide for pedestrians, as
well as the ability to purchase snacks or cigarettes after
working a night shift.
curfew] would allow their larger competitors who carry many
of the same products to stay open all night,” said Jim Calvin,
president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.
“Not only do we reject this blanket indictment of our trade,
frankly we resent it.”
However, Bouchard indicated that city statistics show an overwhelming
number of calls to his department are coming from the stores
keeping the latest hours.
you compare stores that are open all night to stores that
aren’t, what glaringly comes out is that 95 percent of the
stores that don’t have late hours have minimal calls about
disturbances,” said Bouchard. “These are calls that take a
lot of manpower.”
Yet Alza Idi claims that he would have been willing to work
with police on an alternative solution if he had known about
their concerns beforehand, since he had been the one to call
them on a number of occasions in the past regarding safety
issues around the store. According to Alza Idi, any concerns
that the mayor or police had about his store had never been
communicated to him before the legislation was introduced.
While the relationship between convenience stores and criminal
activity is not a new problem for most cities, laws such as
the one introduced in Troy have yet to be considered in neighboring
cities. David Soares, who won Tuesday’s Democratic primary
for district attorney and who worked in Albany’s community
prosecution unit for several years, described an alternative
method of dealing with criminal activity around the late-night
According to Soares, some store owners in Albany’s Arbor Hill
agreed to install extra lighting, cameras and fencing around
their businesses after a dialogue had been opened up between
themselves and law enforcement officials.
told them that if they cleaned up their property and made
it unfriendly to the dealers, they’d get more people buying
milk and groceries and that sort of thing,” said Soares. “And
if we helped them make it a place where people bought their
milk, they’d agree to stop selling so much tobacco and things
dialogue has to be there if it’s going to work,” he added.
a commitment: Members of the Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist
Church men’s chorus sign a pledge to work to end sexual
violence. Photo by: John Whipple
Can’t Take It Anymore
for Change and Hope crosses many lines in bringing together
those affected by violence
one side of the Capitol steps, the nattily dressed members
of the Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church Men’s Chorus signed
the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s pledge
to work toward ending sexual violence. At the bottom of stairs,
some young children from Arbor Hill looked with curiosity,
but no fear or disgust, at the representatives from the transgender
community who were waiting to speak. (“Is that a lady?” one
Saturday’s Walk and Rally for Change and Hope, organized by
the newly formed Coalition for Change and Hope, brought together
people from Arbor Hill and the South End, plus supporters
from throughout the city, who walked from gathering points
in their respective neighborhoods to the Capitol where they
rallied against various forms of violence affecting their
communities. It also was more successful at bringing together
separate communities under a common banner than many events
organized specifically for that purpose.
At last fall’s Confronting the Politics of Fear conference,
Damu Smith of Black Voices for Peace told a workshop on race
relations that if white people wanted African-Americans to
turn out for antiwar organizing, they needed to turn out themselves
at events that dealt with violence affecting black communities
here, such as police brutality. Smith would likely have been
pleased with the crowd of a hundred or so, which was about
50 percent white and 50 percent people of color.
was a walk organized by people of color, organized for people
of color, in neighborhoods of color,” said Karla Andreu, an
organizer from South End. “It is a sensitive issue; you don’t
want to be talking about violence in those communities and
perpetuating those stereotypes.”
Nonetheless, Andreu was very pleased with the diverse turnout.
“It was great to see people together who [usually] would never
come together, like the transgender folks with the black church
people with youth, with politicians,” she said. “That really
made me happy.”
Organizer Barbara Smith said that the crowd that was there
was a direct result of the politics of the sponsoring groups—a
key member of the Coalition for Chance and Hope is the Stand
for Peace Antiracism Committee, which was formed in October
2001 to strengthen the leadership of people of color in the
peace movements. SPARC wants to “be completely inclusive and
to make connections between the many forms of violence that
we face,” said Smith, hence the decision to have the rally
address not only gun violence, gang violence, and other street
violence, though that was a major focus, but also police violence,
sexual violence, and hate crimes. Rally speakers included
Arbor Hill and South End parents and youth; Karen Jabonaski,
the fiancée of David Scaringe, who was killed by a police
bullet last New Year’s Eve; Councilman Dominick Calsolero
(Ward 1); Jamie Ghost and Charlene Dodge from the transgender
community; Jacqui Williams, director of policy and advocacy
for NYSCASA; and David Soares, Democratic nominee for district
attorney. A representative from the Muslim community was expected
but was unable to make it.
This interwoven approach resonated with many attendees. When
asked why she decided to attend, Williams replied, “I’m alive.
I’m a woman. I’m a person of color. I’m a resident of the
South End. And I work for the Coalition on Sexual Assault.”
On the walk to the Capitol, Williams and Councilwoman Carolyn
McLaughlin discussed the situation in the South End. Williams,
who moved to the South End from Queensbury about a year ago
to have more of a connection with a community, said the fear
of violence is so high that it has taken until quite recently
until many of her neighbors were comfortable saying hello
to her. She knows of several neighborhood residents who always
leave the area on weekends because they don’t feel it’s safe
for their children.
At the rally, Kameshia Rorie, a resident of Arbor Hill, showed
the crowd bags of trash she had collected from her front lawn
that morning, which included weed bags, a Heineken bottle,
playing cards and a condom. “I’m kind of shy, but I feel we’ve
got to make change, and we’ve got to make change soon,” she
said, adding that she was afraid to let her kids play in their
own rooms because those rooms face the street.
The violence “has never stopped” in Arbor Hill, said organizer
Beverly Padgett. “I’ve seen it go on the down-low for a while,
switched to the South End for a while, but it hasn’t gone
anywhere. . . . I’m just amazed that there’s such an influx
of guns all of a sudden.”
Calsolero spoke passionately about the recent shootings in
his neighborhood, saying he fears for his 14-year-old son.
“We’re being told Albany is safer now. Well, come to Arbor
Hill, come to the South End. Our neighborhoods aren’t safe,
people don’t feel safe, people aren’t going out. One of my
constituents around the corner from me won’t even sit on her
front porch any more,” he said. He mentioned the Common Council’s
resolution passed in January asking the mayor to set up a
gun violence task force, and called for it to be implemented.
“We can set up a task force on a convention center, we can
set up a task force to privatize the state campus. . . . We
can set up a task force on gun violence,” he said, to applause.
Jabonaski spoke of the need for accountability from the police
department for the use of deadly force. She spoke directly
after two children were invited up by the emcee to give their
thoughts. One said he was afraid of having his family members
arrested and of being shot by the police.
Along with a task force, attendees at the rally emphasized
after-school programs, improving education, getting guns off
the street, and drug treatment as top priorities. Coalition
organizers said they will meet again to discuss moving forward
with these ideas.
The only real disappointment of the day was a lack of media
coverage, which some said might have been due to confusion
over the role of David Soares, who was a speaker at the nonpartisan
rally, discussing alternatives to incarceration and ways to
fight violent crime. “We wanted to invite people who had solutions
to offer,” said Andreu. “It wasn’t that we were making an
event for him. People need to respect that.”