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Creating Our Own Monsters
Former United Nations Weapons Inspector continues challenging conventional wisdom on Iraq

‘When you have policies
that call for regime change, it becomes part of the internal mission to maintain the image of a noncompliant Iraq,” said former U.N. inspector and Bethlehem resident Scott Ritter of his experience looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war.

Ritter was speaking Saturday at a well-attended forum sponsored by local peace groups at the Bethlehem Town Hall.

According to Ritter, when U.S. policy shifted inspectors’ focus from surveying compliance with U.N. regulations to finding violations, unlikely concepts such as the “mobile chemical weapon factories” mentioned by Secretary of State Colin Powell in the build-up to war were a natural result.

“That was one of the worst ideas I ever came up with,” said Ritter of the mobile factories.

Ritter also discussed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian reported to have claimed responsibility for recent terrorist actions in Iraq and surrounding areas. According to Ritter, it’s unlikely that a single unpopular foreigner like Zarqawi could control a network as complex as the one described by U.S. officials. But the idea that he is the one responsible for all the terrorists acts is perpetuated because it would benefit both the Iraqi insurgents and the U.S. forces, said Ritter. It creates a link the Bush administration badly needs between U.S. action there and the prevention of global terrorism. And the association would benefit Iraqi insurgents, as responsibility for civilian deaths could be heaped upon a foreigner rather than other Iraqis. This, said Ritter, equates to dangerous cycle.

“In order to win the war in Iraq, we have to destroy Iraq,” said Ritter. “And there can be no real victory when those are the terms.”

—Rick Marshall

In Case You Weren’t Getting Enough Electioneering

photo: Joe Putrock

Mark Evans of Avon, Livingston County, was a vendor at the political-items show and sale held last Friday and Saturday (Oct. 15-16) in Albany’s Best Western Sovereign Hotel. The sale, which included an exhibit celebrating the centennial of Teddy Roosevelt’s election to the presidency and a range of other historical political buttons, posters, etc., was sponsored by the Monroe D. Ray Chapter of Central New York of the American Political Items Collectors.






“I haven’t seen anybody that exciting on the street since Jerry Jennings back in 1993.”

—State Senate candidate Mike Conners talking about Albany District Attorney candidate David Soares.

What a Week

Florida 2000 Comes to the West Coast

In Nevada, thousands of people recently made a mistake that could cost them their right to vote on Nov. 2: They registered as Democrats. After a Republican-funded voter-registration group was accused by former employees, who had physical evidence, of shredding Democrats’ registration forms, a judge—also Republican—ruled that the disenfranchised voters would not be able to vote in November. While the group is currently under investigation for voter-registration fraud, it is still operating in Oregon, West Virginia and several other states.

Walking the Talk

New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi recently announced that the state’s pool of retirement benefits for married couples would be extended to include same-sex couples married in Canada. With this announcement, the state’s retirement system becomes the first state program to officially recognize same-sex marriages.

It’s Cheaper in Canada, But Don’t Tell

On Oct. 13, 25 seniors and other patients from the East Coast traveled on two chartered Amtrak cars nicknamed the “Rx Express” to Toronto to buy more affordable prescription drugs. But press coverage was hampered during the New York City-Buffalo leg of the trip, said sponsors Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and NYPIRG, when Amtrak retracted press access to the cars during stops, kept passengers from moving between the chartered cars and the rest of the train, and stopped the cars short of the platform. Amtrak said it was just trying to keep the trains running on time.

Banks Are Not Your Friend, Part 453

A new federal law on check clearing goes into effect next Friday (Oct. 28). Bank customers will now not get their cleared checks back, and checks will clear faster. The Albany County Department of Consumer Affairs urges people to be cautious, since the new law will save banks $2 billion a year, but doesn’t require any of that savings to be passed on to their customers. Fees may be charged for “substitute checks” printed from electronic images of the original and banks have no privacy restrictions on what they can do with the information on the electronic images of customers’ personal checks.

Of blues and reds: State Senate candidates Neil Breslin (l) and Michael Conners (r).

photos: John Whipple

A Donkey in Elephant’s Clothing?

Big names, a party-switching candidate and
overlapping platforms in the race for the 46th district state Senate seat

‘I’m loyal to my oath of office, not to any party loyalties or party ties,” said Albany County Comptroller and longtime Democrat Michael Conners, who recently became a Republican in order to challenge longstanding incumbent state Sen. Neil Breslin.

Conners’ switch from Democrat to Republican last July surprised—and angered—many party loyalists, despite his long history of voting contrary to the party line. In one of the more blatant examples, the comptroller endorsed Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, during the last gubernatorial election.

The tension that had been developing between Democrats and Conners, who had long been viewed as a “loose cannon” by the party, reached its breaking point this summer when the comptroller—a Democrat at the time—was denied the money necessary to challenge incumbent Republican Bob Prentiss for his Assembly seat. According to Conners, he was left swinging in the breeze by his party.

“It was opportunity and dollars,” said Breslin of Conners’ quick change. “My opponent saw an opportunity, and [Senate Majority Leader] Joe Bruno had the dollars. It was a perfect marriage.”

Now, the two men are in the midst of what has become an unexpectedly close race, thanks to a flood of funding directed at Conners from Bruno and fellow Republicans. But questions remain about not only Conners’ chances of victory, but whether Bruno will get a loyal Republican out of a Conners win, or if the candidate will continue his party-crossing ways.

One thing is certain, however. The call for reform of New York’s bloated and ineffective state government is getting louder, and both candidates are answering.

During the recent debate, Breslin indicated that he has proposed a number of reform-minded bills during his eight years in the Legislature, including a call for the creation of conference committees within seven days after the governor’s budget is introduced. A range of reforms have been dismissed by the Senate majority when proposed by his minority counterparts, claimed Breslin.

“The Senate is broken,” said Breslin. “The only way it will be reformed is when the Democrats take over.”

Conners acknowledged that state government has deep problems—especially those involving partisan politics—but he insisted that the solution lies not in one party’s leadership, but in a bipartisan effort that begins sooner rather than later.

“It’s not about Democrats taking over or Republicans,” said Conners, who claimed that taking his plan for reform to the majority would be the easiest way to get the ball rolling. “Honestly, we all know that it’s the majority that will have the lead in reform,” he said. Having an elected official in the majority would also have local benefits, he added.

Along with pledging to introduce legislation that would limit legislators’ terms and create an independent agency to handle redistricting, Conners also pledged to donate any “lulu” compensation he might receive by chairing a Senate committee to the district coffers.

Throughout his campaign, Conners has pointed to his own history of going against party line as an indication of his independent thought. (The Breslin campaign has reportedly indicated its thoughts on the matter with large inflatable rats with Conners’ name on them.)

The two candidates do share a common perspective on certain issues. They both believe a union between two gay partners should be afforded the same rights as a married couple, and that drastic reform of the state’s public authorities—a major sticking point for Republican legislators during last session’s negotiations on budget process reforms—is needed.

Both candidates also have said that legislators sent to prison during their time in office should not only forfeit their pensions but also be barred from running for reelection, and they’ve both called for a constitutional convention to be held in order to have the public shape the government more directly.

Similar goals, but different methods, have been voiced by the candidates on the issue of tax relief, with Breslin arguing that legislators “can cut taxes by beginning to streamline the way we collect revenue.” Removing loopholes in corporate taxation is a linchpin of the Breslin platform, along with raising taxes for the wealthy and funding all of the mandates handed down from state to local governments.

According to Conners, better management of state and local spending practices should be the first concern when trying to get a handle on the region’s tax burden.

The candidates have found ample room to disagree on several issues, however. While Breslin is strictly opposed to the death penalty—he described the punishment as “racist” at a recent debate—Conners has said that he might support such a punishment for crimes against police, firemen and other “first responders.”

The two disagreed in a more general sense when discussing their overall plan for the relationship between state and local economies, with Breslin insisting that the key to a healthy dynamic was making sure that the state properly funds any of the mandates it places upon local governments. According to Conners, granting local governments more power over their finances would provide the greatest benefit to the state and local governments.

The best indication of the two candidates’ differences may be reflected in their personalities and styles of governing thus far. Conners has developed a reputation as a bullish agent for change who, once he sets his mind on affecting the status quo, refuses to let enemy—or friend—stand in his way. In a heavily Democratic district, he’s pitching himself as someone who will be able to get things done on areas of common ground more effectively.

Breslin’s style has always been one of patient perseverance. As a self-described “liberal Democrat” in the Republican-
dominated Senate, Breslin’s complaints about being ignored by his conservative counterparts have been well documented.

“If we keep speaking out in a serious intellectual way that this is wrong,” said Breslin, “people will listen and changes will be made.”

—Rick Marshall

I’m with the good guys: Rep. Michael McNulty during the Clinton impeachment.

photo: Cassie Suen

You’re a What?
Ralph Nader isn’t the only guy saying there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans

Warren Redlich, candidate for the 104th Congressional District, is pro-choice, supports gay marriage, and opposes the death penalty. He was opposed to the Iraq war from the start and favors repeal of both the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Patriot Act. He thinks we should reduce our dependence on oil by seriously investing in mass transit, and has told voters who asked him what he would do about the price of gas that they should get a smaller car. Oh, and by the way, he’s a Republican.

“There’s only one party; it has two names,” said Redlich. “It’s a fictional divide.” He notes that his opponent, incumbent Michael McNulty, is pro-life, pro-death penalty and against gay marriage, supported the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act, and has consistently voted against medical marijuana.

For the record, McNulty says he opposes only public funding of abortions, supports “correcting” the parts of the Patriot Act that “went too far” and voted for the Iraq war “based on information [the president] gave to members of Congress, which it turns out to have been inaccurate.” Though he did vote against the Federal Marriage Amendment, he refused to give his position on it to the Pride Agenda before the vote.

Redlich became a Republican because during his stint as a Democratic committeeman in his hometown of Guilderland he thought the town Democrats’ agenda of keeping commercial development out but allowing continued residential development was disastrous, and found he aligned more closely with the thinking of the town’s Republicans.

To be fair, there are also plenty of traditional GOP issues that Redlich, who can best be described as a libertarian, lines up behind. He’s opposed to gun control, is a firm fiscal conservative who believes both taxes and spending are out of hand (W. is spending like a “drunken sailor,” he says), and is uncomfortable with a welfare state because “people who work hard and earn things should benefit from those earnings.” According to Redlich, his support for things like mass transit comes under the rubric of “correcting market failures.” “[McNulty] believes money grows on trees, and we’re the trees,” he said.

McNulty says he is proud of supporting programs in nutrition, housing, and health care to take care of people in need, and he believes Kerry’s plan to reverse the tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations will bring about fiscal soundness.

But the centerpiece of Redlich’s platform, and perhaps his most interesting proposals, are not easily identifiable with either party. His health-care proposal, for example, is to offer universal coverage for basic primary care—which would save everyone money because of its preventative functions—and emergency care, which is currently an “unfunded mandate . . . destroying our area hospitals.” Everything else would have to be covered by private insurance, but that insurance would now be more affordable.

Redlich’s top issue—the only one printed on his campaign business cards, which he’s handed out to 25,000 voters at public events—is to stop “wasting money defending our rich allies like Western Europe, South Korea, and Japan.” He estimates that New York taxpayers are each spending $2,000 per year for these overseas presences. “That’s not what our troops are doing,” responded McNulty, who said the military presence in those areas is a “staging ground” and essential for things like providing more rapid medical care “with American doctors” to soldiers wounded in Iraq.

For his part, McNulty sees a clear party divide. “I’d much rather be associated with the party of FDR, Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, and Bill Clinton than the party of Eisenhower, Nixon, and others. . . . Republicans are the party of big business interests, Democrats are the party of the people.”

It may be that he doesn’t see his challenger as a threat, but when he talks about the race, McNulty seems more like he’s stumping for John Kerry than running against Redlich. His focus is reminiscent of the presidential debates, repeating how the current administration has “failed in its efforts in the war on terror” and turned a surplus into a huge deficit.

The main things McNulty has to say about Redlich are that he “has an identity crisis on party affiliation,” has never held public office, and supports “legalization of heroin, cocaine, LSD and all drugs.” Redlich says while he once favored complete legalization he no longer does. He does, however, support the right of physicians to prescribe anything they deem medically wise.

Redlich has convinced at least one self-described active member of the “progressive faction” of the Democratic Party to make his first-ever vote for a Republican. Michael Roona, who met Redlich through their mutual interest in drug-war reform, says his top issue is the preservation of the constitutional rights, something he believes Redlich would stand firm on.

It wasn’t an easy choice. “I find the [national] Republican Party . . . to be morally repugnant,” Roona said. But, he said, “I wouldn’t want to paint all Republicans that way, just like I
wouldn’t want to paint all Democrats as progressives.” Never supporting “moderate or progressive” Republicans, he argues, will just further the country’s political factionalization and prevent good collective decision making.

It’s a hard sell, though. “I did encounter resistance from some people I was surprised to encounter resistance from,” said Roona. “Someone I work closely with to get anti-Patriot Act bills through [various local government bodies], every chance he got to trash McNulty he would do that, but when I said I would vote for a Republican, he said ‘No, don’t do that. You can’t do that.’ ”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Reorder in the Court
Scandal, a last-minute candidacy, and party hijacking in Troy judgeship race

Last Friday afternoon, only a day after the New York State Court of Appeals removed former Republican candidate Henry Bauer from the bench for improper conduct, Republicans gathered to announced a replacement. From the steps of the Troy police station, members of the Rensselaer Republican Committee, its chairman Jack Casey, several Troy city councilmen and Mayor Harry J. Tutunjian announced their nomination of Joe Ahearn for Troy Police Court.

Casey introduced Ahearn as “a real law-and-order gentleman,” but hastened to add that “he is sensitive to criminal rights” in an evident effort to reassure the voters. Bauer was under judicial review for more than 60 charges that included setting excessive bail, coercion of suspects and failure to inform defendants of their rights to counsel.

“I’m running on being a fair judge,” said Democratic candidate Chris Maier. “That may seem like a pointed comment in this race, but it is not meant as one.”

The ruling that ousted Bauer reshaped an unusual race for Troy Police Court Judge. “Judge races aren’t usually full of controversy,” said Maier, who is also breaking with usual judgeship race tradition by having an issues-oriented platform: He wants to improve the quality of life in Troy by enforcing code violations, which he says in turn will keep crime down.

The 4-3 ruling by the state Court of Appeals came only 19 days before the election, leaving the Republicans little time to regroup, but Casey said it could have been worse: “The ruling could have come four days before.”

Bauer took the news of the ruling gracefully, saying “I’ve read both sides of the ruling. They were well thought-out. They did a good job, but I certainly prefer the dissenting opinion.”

Earlier in the race, Bauer won the Working Families Party line in what appears to have been a concerted effort to get Republican-leaning voters to register as WFP members and vote in the WFP primary. When asked if WFP saw this move as an act of desperation, Working Families representative Karen Scharff made it clear that “they have tried this before, this is politics as usual for them. We hope our registrants will vote for Chris.” After the primary, the WFP still listed Maier as its endorsed candidate on their Web site.

Bauer, who had been suspended with pay since May, was dismissive of the complaint. “The Democrats filled that party,” he said. “They went around to the housing projects and signed people up.” Following Bauer’s removal, the WFP officially replaced Bauer with Maier on its line.

Maier also expressed frustration that he was never given a chance to interview for the Conservative or Independence lines.

Even though he is not under investigation, Ahearn may be facing a more uphill battle than his predecessor. Starting with only 18 days to introduce himself to the people of Troy will be hard for someone trying to fill the shoes of a man like Bauer, who has so much recognition in the community—both good and bad. Joe Leahy, local Troy resident and owner of the sandwich shop Leahy’s, who has a Maier for Troy Police Court Judge sign hanging in his shop’s window, had only kind words to say about Bauer. “Chris has more integrity than any 10 guys in this city, but I feel bad for Henry. He knew the people he was dealing with and he was only trying to straighten them out.”

Ahearn, a 35-year-old resident of Troy and graduate of Albany Law School and the University at Albany, has spent much of his career as a prosecutor in the Rensselaer County District Attorney’s Major Crimes Unit. “I’m going to get out there and meet as many people as I can from now till Nov. 2,” he promised.

According to Troy’s city charter, a replacement must be named within 10 days of an open bench, and Republicans have a 7-2 majority over Democrats on the City Council.

Maier has made it clear that he feels the position should be filled through an interview process.

Leaving aside the possibility of being a very-short-term incumbent, Ahearn’s late-starting candidacy may get a boost from his party’s strength. The GOP controls all of the major elected positions in the county, and he has the backing of Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader. However, some of Ahearn’s hopes may rest on hundreds of reprinted absentee ballots getting to people on time, and convincing absentee voters to fill out a second corrected ballot. Old ballots returned with a vote for Maier will be counted, but ballots returned for Bauer will be discarded.

—David King

Loose Ends

In a closely watched decision, a judge threw out two-thirds of the campaign finance lawsuit brought by Republicans and other supporters of incumbent Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne. Democratic and Working Families Party candidate David Soares was cleared of wrongdoing, as was the Drug Policy Alliance, which contributed to the Working Families Party during the primary. The judge did rule, however, that the Working Families Party had illegally interfered with another party’s primary. WFP plans to appeal the ruling. . . . The IndyMedia servers seized by the federal government two weeks ago [“Our Servers Are Gagged,” What a Week, Oct. 14] were returned last week, but questions remain regarding why the servers were taken and which government agency was behind the seizure. The FBI has denied any involvement and a gag order prevents the servers’ owner from revealing information about the case. . . . Community media advocate Steve Pierce’s report to Saratoga Springs city officials on the city’s cable franchise renewal process [“Your Input, Please,” Newsfront, July 29] recommended hiring an independent consultant to negotiate with cable provider Time Warner. Members of the Media Center Project, a local organization advocating for the integration of schools, government agencies and homes in a broad cable-based network, support Pierce’s findings.
. . . Sinclair Broadcasting, whose decision to air a documentary criticizing John Kerry’s antiwar activities as part of its news programming sparked national controversy [“Hypocrisy at 11,” What a Week, Oct. 14], has decided not to show the film in its entirety, opting instead to run a special program incorporating segments of the film. Shares in the company, which owns stations reaching nearly a quarter of all American homes, have dropped more than 11 percent in the last week. . . . The Columbia County Judge race continues to be controversial, as challenger Pam Joern claims she is being told she cannot attend, and has even been thrown out of, supposedly nonpartisan public events where either her opponent Paul Czajka, or other elected officials, were present. Officials say she has been campaigning at these events when asked not to.

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