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Elephant on the Rise? Joe Sullivan.

photo by: John Whipple

Conservatively Optimistic

Albany Republican chairman sees Democrats’ stranglehold on city government loosening

Joe Sullivan, chair of the Albany City Republicans, was pleased with the nationwide results of the election last month. But he’s already looking to the future, hoping that the momentum from the national election and some splits in the local Democratic Party might give an opening for city Republicans to gain some elected offices for the first time in over half a century.

“I think we’re growing,” said Sullivan. “We have more committee people than we’ve had for many years. A lot of Democrats are switching enrollment.”

Last week, Sullivan released a 2005 agenda for the party, which continues to emphasize many of the issues the local party has been concerned with for years. Its four platforms are: Maintain/improve neighborhood residential integrity/life quality, support respect for life, conservative/traditional values, reform education in Albany city public schools, and emergency/disaster preparedness. Under neighborhood improvement, the agenda calls for more police presence in uptown wards, improved snow removal, and upholding the zoning code. The GOP’s education reform plan includes a return to k-8 neighborhood schools, abolishing the school board, and instituting school uniforms.

Though it is the least specific of the items and has no particular policy implications for the city as of right now, it seems like the “conservative values” plank, and especially the city committee’s explicitly anti-abortion stance, speaks most closely to why some former Democrats have made the switch.

GOP committeeman Ed Pierce, who left the Democratic Party five years ago, is representative when he said he felt things were “just going way too far left,” “hijacked” even. He thinks the city hasn’t been taking care of things like road maintenance well enough, and was disappointed that Mayor Jerry Jennings changed his mind about demolishing the Wellington Hotel after protest from preservationists. “It has lived its time,” he said, and preserving it “costs us a lot more.” But still, it was the abortion issue that brought him to switch parties.

Similarly, although Committeewoman Kimberly Melinsky picked neighborhood quality as her top priority among the four platforms, she also said that in her family, conservative values decide their votes.

In terms of strategy, the GOP is actively hoping to woo conservative Democrats with the specter of a rising “liberal” coalition that helped elect incoming District Attorney David Soares. No one would specifically criticize Soares, who has recently created a bipartisan transition team, but they noted that his coalition included many people supportive of the school board.

Republicans can gain ground in the city, said Melinsky, but “it has to be working in partnership with conservative Democrats. . . . Democrats who are pro-life, aren’t as socialistic, aren’t as liberal. . . . Just as there’s a wide spectrum of people who call themselves Republicans, there’s a wide spectrum of people who call themselves Democrats.”

“There’s a fair amount of conservative Democrats uptown,” said Sullivan. “The party of Dan O’Connell is no more. It’s running on empty. . . . We’re trying to give them an option.”

“The Helen Desfosses wing of the party has taken it very far to the left,” said Pierce.

Sullivan has specifically reached out to Jennings, one of the few area Democrats who didn’t support Soares, inviting him to seek the GOP endorsement. “I think we’re kind of a safety net for the mayor,” said Sullivan. “I do feel and believe he’s going to be primaried. The coalition that got Mr. Soares in there has shown they can get the votes out.” Several committeepeople said they already support the mayor. “I’ve never had a problem with anything he’s done,” said Jim Cribbs. “I think he probably does lean more toward the conservative side.”

Jennings has spoken with Sullivan about this only when Sullivan called in to the mayor’s radio show, said mayoral spokesman Joe Rabito. “He’s interested in talking with anyone’s who’s interested in moving the city forward, but he doesn’t necessarily adopt the same opinion that Joe has expressed,” said Rabito cautiously.

—Miriam Axel-Lute


“I don’t know if I can send chocolate to a red state.”

“Hey, 49 percent of us didn’t vote for the guy. Don’t forget us.”

—Lissa D’Aquanni of the Chocolate Gecko, bantering with a customer from North Carolina.


What a Week

Thanks, But No Thanks

The Drug Policy Alliance, a drug-law reform advocacy group, is returning a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in protest of a new clause added to the grant because of the Patriot Act. The clause requires that the alliance pledge not to support “violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state.” The alliance cited the current administration’s affinity for linking drug use to terrorism in its reason for returning the grant. The American Civil Liberties Union refused a $1.5 million Ford Foundation grant for similar reasons last month.

The Fight Goes On

On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, advocacy groups marked several key accomplishments in the nation’s fight to prevent the spread of AIDS. In California, legislation allowing pharmacies to sell up to 10 syringes without a prescription was approved this year. Legislation was also passed in New Jersey that allows for the establishment of sterile-syringe exchange programs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 25 percent of all new cases of AIDS reported each year are the product of shared needles.

Let Your People Know

The New York Public Interest Research Group released the results of a study regarding the Pataki administration’s compliance with the Freedom of Information Law and its willingness to provide information to the public via agencies’ Web sites. The group found that 22 percent of state agencies failed to respond to FOIL requests within the mandated time period, and in one case, an agency’s negligent record-keeping resulted in a potential cost of $6,000 for a single FOIL request. NYPIRG also found few state agencies complying with their own self-imposed standards of transparency, as departments that had previously touted their Web sites’ informational content rarely kept their sites updated. The complete report can be viewed at: goodgov/reformny/access

Chilly circles: CSEA staff union informational picket.

photo credit: Teri Currie

This Should Sound Familiar

CSEA staff union unhappy with contract proposal

On Tuesday (Nov. 30) around noon, workers began to trickle out of the Civil Service Employees Association headquarters on Washington Avenue in Albany for their lunch break. But rather than head for a local sandwich shop, many of them headed straight for a pile of picket signs and joined their colleagues walking in a tight circle and chanting things like “CSEA, practice what you preach!”

The Headquarters Staff Union, which represents 174 clerical, maintenance, and other in-office staff members of CSEA, has been without a contract since Oct. 1, and this was its first informational picket. HSU’s members are mostly at the Washington Avenue office, though a few are in regional offices. Unlike staff unions at New York State United Teachers and the Public Employees Federation, HSU is not affiliated with any national union.

In this contract negotiation, union members are concerned about the level of raises being offered, potential weakening in their health benefits, and perhaps most strongly, a proposal by CSEA to weaken the role of seniority in promotions.

“Seniority is a bedrock principle of trade unionism,” said Guillermo Perez, a labor educator with CSEA and president of HSU. At the picket, Perez is full of energy. When he pauses to speak to the media, chanting becomes more sporadic. He says his job and his staff union leadership are all “of a piece.”

“First off, we’re not going to negotiate in public with them,” said CSEA spokesman Stephen Madarasz. “It’s very important to note that we are at the table, in good faith, trying to negotiate. We recently completed negotiations with our other staff union. We have had staff union contracts for over 30 years.”

Perez said that the agreement with the other staff union, the Field Staff Association, which represents bargaining agents, doesn’t necessarily relate to what will happen with HSU. “There’s this double standard,” he said. “There are some things that they will discuss with FSA that they refuse to discuss with us. . . . They look down on us because our members are mostly secretaries, janitors. . . . It’s disappointing for me, and my committee.”

Despite the fact that CSEA spends most of its time on the other side of the bargaining table, advocating for its members, the negotiation of this contract doesn’t seem much different than that of any employer. “Our beef is not with the CSEA rank and file members, our beef is with the management,” said Perez. “A boss is a boss is a boss. I had hoped that CSEA would be different than your typical employer, but that’s not the case.”

“You have to balance the needs of the organization, and the needs of the employees with responsibility to the members of union who pay their salaries and benefits,” noted Madarasz.

“It’s often less about money and more about power,” commented Eric Muldoon, who was noting on a clipboard which HSU members were showing up for their promised stint of picketing.

“I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination we should be negotiating this in public,” said Madarasz. He did say that CSEA takes some of its 1,100 yearly contract negotiations for its members public, but said the circumstances under which that made sense were highly variable.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Loose Ends

The New York State Supreme Court panel charged with deciding how much money is necessary to provide a “sound, basic education” for New York City’s students released its final report Tuesday (Nov. 30), calling for additional spending of $5.6 billion each year and $9.2 billion over the next four years. The panel was appointed after the governor and state Legislature were unable to agree upon how to pay for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit [Finish Your Homework,” Newsfront, May 6], which deemed the state educational funding formula unconstitutional, within a year of the court’s decision. The totals arrived at by the panel are billions more than those proposed by the either the Senate, Assembly or governor, and only schools in New York City will be receiving the money. . . . Activists continue to look into ensuring a fair vote count [“Need to Know,” Nov. 11]. A big win came when the federal Government Accountability Office said Tuesday it would look into voting irregularities. The League of Pissed off Voters has been holding public hearings in Ohio where people can share their experiences on Election Day. A large coalition of groups, including Common Cause, have stepped forward to support requests by the Green and Libertarian candidates for a recount, and have urged that the initial tabulation of votes be sped up so that a recount can begin. The groups say a recount is important even if it doesn’t change the election outcome. Black Box Voting is continuing to request records from which to audit vote counts in suspect counties. It has filed a lawsuit against Palm Beach County, Fla., for not providing the public records. . . . Albany County District Attorney-elect David Soares [“Change in the County,” Trail Mix, Nov. 4] has named a bi-partisan transition team that includes Albany Police Chief James Turley and former Republican state senator John Dunne, who co-sponsored the Rockefeller Drugs Laws, but now opposes them after seeing their effects.

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