dressed up and no contract to sign: Grad students’
union holds a Halloween protest.
photo: Teri Currie
graduate employees say they just want the same rights as every
other state employee or contractor
is always an issue,” said Kathleen Sims, chief negotiator
for the Graduate Student Employee Union. But, she added, if
the union hadn’t decided this was the year to bring the 4,500
graduate employees, who teach thousands of State University
of New York undergrads, “up to par” on a number of noncompensation
issues, the contract would already be done.
Instead, the grads have been without a contract since July
2003. They held a Halloween-themed protest on Saturday, complete
with a coffin to symbolize the “death of public education,”
and appearances by a number of local elected officials and
candidates, including Neil Breslin, David Soares, and Robert
Prentiss. It’s all a part of “keeping spirits high,” which
is tough when you’re without a contract, said Sims.
The key issues the union is working on include just cause
for termination, parental leave, a waiver of the student tech
fee, and parity between campuses.
other public sector employee, and every contractor” has just-cause
protection, said Sims, which means simply than an employer
needs to give a reason for firing someone. They also all have
the right to return to work after having a child, she said.
The union is not asking for paid parental leave, just the
right for employees to come back to their jobs after an unpaid
leave. They just had a member who was refused this right,
The technology fee is an issue unique to the graduate employees’
situation of being both students and workers—they are charged
the technology fee on the student side of the ledger, along
with their tuition. But Sims argues that the fee covers equipment
they use to do their work, something no other kind of worker
has to pay for.
Finally, there’s the issue of parity: Only the four “university
centers” have a guaranteed minimum stipend for graduate teachers,
meaning that “We have people at SUNY Oswego teaching the exact
same number of people in the same discipline as SUNY Albany,
for 10 times less,” said Sims. Some people are teaching two
sections of 50 students each for a salary of $1,476. She didn’t
know if there were similar disparities in professor pay, but
noted that the United University Professions contract does
include a minimum rate for all campuses.
As for overall compensation, Sims said they are looking for
a “reasonable and modest raise” and are interested in “getting
at the heart of what it costs” to live in the state, not focus
on percent-based raises.
Before Thursday’s demonstration, “I did not know that my life,
my profession, was at the mercy of a beaurocracy that cared
little for my individual well being,” said Alexander Chirila,
an English Ph.D. candidate and teaching assistant. It’s “an
inexcusable breach of workers’ rights.”
have given our lives to education,” said Michael Jonik, also
an English Ph.D. candidate. “We have families too, we have
commitments in and out of the university. We are parents and
deserve the right to take some time off to raise our kids
without being afraid of losing our jobs, our positions, our
SUNY’s negotiating team includes people from the Governor’s
Office of Employee Relations, SUNY’s central administration,
and a few campus representatives. Michelle McDonald of the
GOER said the office has a policy of not commenting on ongoing
negotiations because it would amount to “negotiating in the
press” and would be unfair to the union.
The Legislature must approve any agreement that SUNY and the
union come to, and the union has been speaking with key legislators.
“When I go over this list, especially when I get to parental
leave, Democrats and Republicans alike, their mouths drop
open,” said Sims. “They say ‘Not at our SUNY. No right to
return to work? You’re kidding me.’ ”
up to him.”
District Attorney candidate Roger Cusick, shortly
after publicly touting his independence, deferring
to his campaign manager—former Pataki flack Matt
Burns—on whether or not he can answer a question
from the press.
Not What We Meant
houses of Congress recently passed legislation
implementing recommendations of the 9/11 Commission,
but the 9/11 families group and the commission
have criticized the inclusion of several amendments
tacked onto the legislation by Republicans. The
new amendments would allow immigrants to be deported
to countries likely to torture them, allow indefinite
detentions and deny many immigrants the opportunity
for court review prior to deportation. Critics
contend that Democrats are being forced to accept
provisions they would otherwise oppose for fear
of being branded weak on terror before the election.
List? What List?
Bush campaign in Florida may be planning a rare
“mass challenge” of voters in predominantly black
communities around Jacksonville, according to
a recent BBC investigation. A little-known Florida
law allows political operatives to prevent voters
from receiving ballots until they prove their
legal voting status, forcing many to vote provisionally—and
provisional ballots are already being contested
by Republicans in several states. A document leaked
from the Bush campaign headquarters lists more
than 1,800 names of black and Democratic voters
on a “caging list” that many expect to be targeted
by the mass challenge on Election Day. Campaign
operatives say that’s not why it was gathered,
but refused to say that they wouldn’t use it for
new community group, Helderberg Greenway, has
formed with the intention of creating a “high
terrain greenway” through the Helderbergs to protect
its rural quality and natural resources. The group
will also work on various mapping, land-preservation
and tourist-promotion projects, and hopes to eventually
include people from all the communities between
Thacher Park and Catskill Park.
with a staffing crunch, DEC quietly proposes to let polluters
hire their own monitors
proposed policy change by the state Department of Environmental
Conservation has state environmental groups and unions crying
“fox guarding the henhouse.” The proposal would reduce the
types of sites that are required to have on-site monitoring
from a list of six to only one (though there are other sites
still described as being recommended for monitoring), and
would allow those monitors to be private contractors hired
by the regulated companies themselves.
Wayne Bayer of the Public Employees Federation, which represents
2,000 professional DEC employees, said PEF was very concerned
about the proposal because “private contractors’ loyalties
will be severely compromised by essentially having two masters:
one that’s paying them, and whatever obligation they have
to report to DEC.” Under the current system, on-site monitors
are DEC employees, though the companies do have to pick up
The new proposal will cause serious conflicts of interest,
said Tim Sweeney, director of Environmental Advocates’ Regulatory
And the decision to monitor at all, even with private contractors,
“goes from being a program/staff level decision to a political
decision made by the commissioner,” said Mike Keenan, PEF
But they and Kathy Curtis of the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition
all agree that the worst part is the apparent attempt to avoid
public input. The notice was published only in the Environmental
Notice Bulletin, said Keenan. There were no newspaper
ads, no outreach attempts.
was no input from the people most affected,” said Curtis.
“The people who live near these sites.” She noted that the
proposed policy was posted on DEC’s Web site, but without
the old one for comparison. “How could anyone make a judgment?”
she asked. “If [the policy] is so great, why the big secret?”
PEF, environmental groups, and several state legislators urged
DEC’s Henry Hamilton to extend the comment period, which was
originally scheduled to end last Friday (Oct. 29). They were
hoping for 30 to 90 extra days and at least two public hearings.
“That would be less than ideal, but at least it would be an
adequate minimum,” said Curtis.
Hamilton did extend the comment period—for one week, now ending
tomorrow (Nov. 5), which Curtis called “the chintziest way
to do something without doing anything.” Comments can be faxed
to 402-9145 or e-mailed to email@example.com.
DEC did not return calls by press time, but Keenan and others
speculated that the driving force behind the change has to
do with staffing levels. The agency is seriously understaffed
due to the hiring freeze, said Keenan, and even though the
on-site monitors don’t cost the agency anything because they
are paid for by the regulated entities, they are still counted
toward the overall total of DEC staff. Keenan suspects that
the agency is hoping to be able to shift those monitors to
other parts of the agency facing staffing shortages.
argue that more beaver trapping is not the answer to flooding
New York Bureau of Wild-life, part of the Department of Environmental
Conservation, has extended beaver trapping for one month this
year in much of New York. The extension, which went into effect
on Oct. 27, has stirred controversy over how to deal with
flooding problems caused by New York’s official mammal.
The extension of the trapping season may seem like a simple
and direct solution to the problem, but not to wetlands and
wildlife experts such as Sharon Brown. These experts point
to the beaver as a guardian and maintainer of New York’s dwindling
wetlands, and insist that trapping is an ineffective solution
to beaver damage.
are the only natural way to restore wetlands,” says Brown.
Each individual New York beaver family is responsible for
around 15 acres of wetland. According to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, 43 percent of threatened and endangered
species reside in wetlands. The loss of beaver dams can also
increase erosion and downstream flooding.
Experts also suggest that trapping could actually be exacerbating
the problem. “Killing beavers does not solve a flooding problem
permanently,” stated Dora Schomberg, New York state coordinator
for the Fund for Animals. “It does, however, leave prime beaver
habitat available for new beavers to take up residence. Beavers
also tend to increase their reproduction in heavily trapped
Issues of practicality aside, other experts like the Fund
for Animals’ Laura Simon, an urban wildlife specialist who
offers alternatives to trapping to communities in Connecticut,
suggest that the methods used for trapping beavers are inhumane.
“Beavers can breathe underwater for a long time,” she said.
“Once they are paralyzed by traps like the Connibear trap,
they are left to drown,” a slow death that can take up to
Brown points to “modern methods of controlling beaver flooding,
such as beaver deceivers, that eliminate the need for trapping.”
According to Brown, these methods have been shown to work
in Seattle, Maine and some sites in New York. “The DEC should
start providing information on modern solutions and alternative
solutions to trapping,” Brown said, adding that the information
the DEC provides for beaver problems is “out of date.”
According to Simon, in her community, the people who have
used alternative methods to deal with beaver flooding “have
been thrilled that there is an alternative to trapping, and
they have been nothing but satisfied.”
is sadly predictable that Commissioner Crotty and Gov. Pataki
granted the Bureau of Wildlife’s wish to adopt these regulations,”
said Schomberg. Trapping is a ghoulish method of killing animals
and completely unnecessary. Pataki and Crotty consistently
rubber-stamp the Bureau of Wildlife’s demands for more dead
animals while ignoring the public’s focus on nonlethal methods
for resolving problems. It’s a crying shame that Pataki and
Crotty are stuck in a political and ethical Neanderthal Age.”
The beaver deceiver and other nonviolent beaver solutions
don’t require permits for use. In fact, Simon points to permit
sales as a possible reason that DEC does not promote alternatives
to trapping. “They are so reliant on trapping revenues that
they need to promote it. They don’t want to hurt their revenue
base,” she claimed.
Calls to the DEC were not returned by press time.
stretch: Volunteers on Election Day.
photo: Joe Putrock
the region, voters track the presidential election with bated
the Sage Colleges of Al-bany, some of the couple dozen students
in “Do it in the booth” T-shirts who had gathered for the
Sage Votes election-night party were glued to the TV screens
and laptop projections showing early results around 9 PM.
Others gathered in the back of the room, clearly interested
in the results, but also worried about them and trying to
keep their minds off the meaningless first results with a
game of spades and discussions of astrology.
did my part,” said one of the African-American students playing
cards. “I just moved up from Florida, and I sent in my absentee
ballot for Kerry a week and a half ago.” He looked grim as
he added, “It’s probably one of the ones that got ripped up,
though.” It was perhaps intended as a joke, but no one laughed.
A woman on the other side of the room said she didn’t want
Bush to win because “I want to live, I don’t want to die.”
As with her fellow student, it sounded more serious than it
ought to have.
Meanwhile, a serious-faced student who had added “GOP” and
“W” in red to his Sage Votes T-shirt focused intently on the
laptops, and the Sage Votes coordinators called out to students
when their home states came in. There was little attention
to local races, and the TV station showing their results was
switched off before too long.
At a UAlbany election-night party attended primarily
by Kerry supporters, things were far less civil. “Kerry is
reprehensible,” said one player in a poker game to another
as CNN was flipped on. A wave of voices rose up demanding
evidence, but none was offered. “It’s just like you’re voting
to get someone out, not to put someone in, and that’s reprehensible,”
he finally muttered, and then he mustered up the nerve to
question the crowd in turn. “What do you see in Kerry anyway?”
Responses floated up from all corners of the room: “A guarantee
for a woman’s right to choose,” “A secular country,” “Someone
who understands the horror and consequence of war.” The Kerry-is-reprehensible
guy replied, “See, you’re just voting against Bush, not for
While early exit polls showed Kerry with a strong lead in
most swing states, the final map looked much like it did in
2000, although the deciding factor was Ohio, not Florida,
with Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Mexico also apparently up in
the air. Though they hung on through the night, Kerry, reportedly
against the advice of his running mate, conceded the election
Wednesday morning, when it appeared that he would need to
get an unlikely majority of the provisional ballots in Ohio
to carry the state.
Unlike 2000, there was a fair amount of attention before the
election devoted to a wide range of vote-suppression tactics
[“Step Away from the Ballot Box,” Newsffront, Oct. 28]. Reports
of various problems with voting intensified in the weeks and
days before the election. Absentee ballots weren’t mailed
out in several Florida counties, and other voters got theirs
too late to cast them. According to investigative journalist
Greg Palast, who uncovered many of the stories about votes
that were uncounted in Florida in 2000, as well as people
who were improperly purged from the voter rolls due to a highly
faulty list of supposed felons, this year these tactics spread.
In an article dated Monday (Nov. 1), he writes that a few
weeks ago, Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson removed
felons from the voting rolls, even though in Colorado they
actually do have the right to vote. She had to declare an
“emergency” to do it, since federal law now bans such purges
within 90 days of the election.
Vote statistician Philip Klinker of Hamilton College did a
study for Palast that showed that Hispanic voters were 500
percent more likely to have their vote “spoiled”—i.e., not
counted, whether by machine or election worker—than a white
Black Box Voting, an organization devoted to exposing the
security problems of electronic voting, has filed Freedom
of Information requests for the internal logs and other related
information to audit the results in 3,000 counties and townships,
and is urging candidates not to concede until the audits are
complete. The organization claims that it found three hours
missing from a vote-counting computer’s audit log from Seattle’s
primary elections, along with other indications that the vote
transmission—done over modem lines—was hacked.
But despite scores of reports of problems like these, large
and small, most media reported that voting went smoothly.
But groups like This Time We’re Watching disagree. Saying
that even if Kerry has conceded, they haven’t, the national
organization associated with the urban-youth-focused League
of Pissed Off Voters is calling for groups in and out of Ohio
to hold protests demanding that all the votes be counted and
voting irregularities be investigated.
Others are ready to regroup and move forward. “This sucks,”
said Richard Kirsch, executive director of the Capital Region’s
Citizen Action. But he thinks Bush won legitimately. “I think
the margin is great enough that he won. It appears that the
forces of fear, and the forces of people that are afraid of
a society that is multicultural and accepts values different
from theirs won.” Still, said Kirsch, it’s important to remember
that “55 million people rejected that view,” and that progressives
turned out record numbers of volunteers, money, and voters
this year, momentum that will need to be now poured into keeping
the Bush administration from enacting all of its agenda. “People
are more energized when they’re fighting against something.”
victory: (l-r) Newly-elected Albany County District
Attorney David Soares with Christian D’Alessandro.
photo: John Whipple
in the County
of new district attorney David Soares say the coalition that
elected him is here to stay
Ballroom A of the Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown Albany last
night (Wednesday), it was sometimes hard to tell how people
were feeling. There was a clear sense of celebration and victory
in the air, as returns showed David Soares the likely winner
of a closely watched race for Albany County district attorney,
and most other local Democrat/Working Families candidates
winning their races as well. But the partygoers, many of whom
had worked on both the Soares campaign and Volunteer 2004,
the Democratic effort to get out the vote in swing states,
were frequently distracted from their celebration by electoral
maps that flashed on the projected TV screen in the corner,
filling up with red states, but not yet decisive when many
started to drift away around 11 PM.
But for the most part, attendees tried to focus on the positive,
and Soares’ trip from a supposed longshot into the district
attorney’s office. “I must have said his name 100,000 times,”
one man commented to another amid the room’s chants of “David,
David,” when Soares arrived. “Downtown, uptown. I said his
name all day long for two days. It was worth it.” Many of
the people in attendance had been up since the wee hours of
the morning to work outside the polls. “I’ve never seen grassroots
people so involved,” commented Alice Green, director of the
Center for Law and Justice, adding that the big change was
a new sense of what is possible. “I saw people who had never
voted, and wouldn’t have if it weren’t for this campaign.
I think this is the beginning of a new Albany.”
Others commented that of the various reform victories progressives
have eked out in the area in recent years, this may be the
one with the most power.
dramatic change between Soares’ upset win in the primary and
the general election was captured in an audience comment when
Soares addressed the crowd. “He’s prepared tonight,” the listener
noted. “Primary night he wasn’t prepared. Tonight he’s on.”
Soares, speaking after a host of activists and elected officials,
including Margaret Walsh, Jack McEneny, Helen Desfosses, Dominick
Calsolero, Luci McKnight and Wanda Willingham, started by
observing that “some” were talking about the “death of the
Democratic Party.” Those people “couldn’t be any more wrong,”
said Soares. “The Democratic Party is alive and well and today
we are stronger than ever.”
Soares said he wasn’t surprised about the win because while
the pundits “knew the rumors and the inside politics, I knew
The event sometimes took on the feel of a religious revival.
When Soares commented that after being fired by the incumbent
DA Paul Clyne, he was “left for dead,” someone shouted from
the audience, “He is risen!” Soares promised to focus on safe
streets, good government, and above all, accountability, but
cautioned that “rainbows won’t come out on Jan. 1,” and called
on his supporters to continue their hard work.
Soares won a bitterly fought battle for Albany County
district attorney with 54 percent of the vote. Roger Cusick
had 43 percent, and Paul Clyne, who dropped out of the race
last week, got 3 percent.
Walsh breezed easily to victory for Albany County Family
Court judge. While her opponent, John Reilly, was still on
the ballot, he had not campaigned since Walsh’s decisive primary
Democrat and Working Families candidate Christopher Maier
won his race for Troy City Court against the recently appointed
Republican Joe Ahearn, who stepped into both the race and
the judgeship after the Republican incumbent, Henry Bauer,
was removed from the bench.
At press time, in Columbia County, incumbent County Court
judge Paul Czajka led challenger Pam Joern by 1,500
votes, but nearly 3,000 absentee ballots had yet to be counted.
Reilly, Democrat, won a strong victory against five-term
incumbent Assemblyman Bob Prentiss. This was the only state-government
upset in the region, despite widespread talk of reform. State
Sen. Neil Breslin fought off a strong challenge from
County Comptroller Mike Conners, and Assemblymen Jack McEneny,
Paul Tonko, and James Tedisco all retained their seats.
Newcomer and Albany High graduate Teneka Frost had
a strong showing in the Albany school board race, and will
join incumbents Bill Barnette and Barbara Gaffuri when they
return to the board. Gaffuri, who came in third, will take
over the one-year remainder of Paul Webster’s term.
No turnover on the federal level from our region. Sen. Charles
Schumer, Reps. Mike McNulty and John
Sweeney all kept their seats handily.
County assistant district attorney Joseph Ahearn,
who recently was tapped as a Republican candidate
for City Court judge when the incumbent, Henry
Bauer, was removed from the bench [“Reorder in
the Court,” Trail Mix, Oct. 21], has been nominated
by the Troy City Council to replace Bauer in the
interim, as expected. . . . After many protestations
that its policy was just fine, and in the face
of several controversial chases, some of which
broke the existing rules, the Albany Police
Department has tightened its rules on “hot pursuit”
[“Case Closed, Questions Open,” Newsfront, May
13]. Officers now have less discretion about when
to terminate a chase, and must give possibility
of danger to the public more weight. The APD also
is considering a policy that would keep officers
from firing at a vehicle unless someone in the
car was threatening deadly force with something
other than the vehicle itself. The department
has been tracking its pursuits since May.
. . . A private engineer’s report commissioned
by the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association has
found that the Madison Theater is basically
sound, except for a lot of mold and mildew from
water damage, and a flooded basement. The roof
probably needs replacing, the report said, but
quoted an earlier estimate of about $30,000 for
that work, not the hundreds of thousands suggested
by CVS representatives, who are interested in
the property [“A Dose of Suburbia,” Sept. 23].