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and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated
from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
Van Riper. If you wish to
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January 1, 2006
A Great Day For Terrorism
(A description of the swearing-in ceremony for
the Common Council members.)
Went with the wife last Friday to Albany City Hall to
witness the swearing-in of the Common Council Members. The entire City
government was present, along with many of the leading citizens of
our neighborhoods, plus anybody who wanted to gawk. We were packed
into City Hall like anchovies wearing bulky winter coats, but with
As per tradition, the normal illegal search and seizure
procedures at the front door conducted daily by misguided Albany Police
officers was notably absent. This proves beyond argument that the purpose
of these daily violations of the Fourth Amendment are not done to prevent “terrorism.” After
all, what better time for terrorists to come barging into City Hall
with guns and bombs than when the entire City government is assembled?
Fortunately, al Qaeda did not show up. Mayor Jerry Jennings
held the swearing-in on the ground floor for his two favorites, newly
elected City Court Judge Helena Heath-Roland, and for Betty Barnette
who is, in case you’ve forgotten, not merely the embattled head
of the Albany County Democratic Party but also City Treasurer. The
Mayor gave a speech, which we missed, and then did the swearing-in,
followed by thankfully brief speeches by the two office holders.
The real event took place upstairs in the Common Council
chambers, where President Helen DesFosses presided for the last time.
Helen can be credited with not only turning the nothing job of Common
Council President into a vital and noticeable position, but also with
using that position to open up the Common Council to the public and
making the Council follow proper procedure, probably for the first
time since the English snatched Albany from the Dutch. All of us who
care about the City owe her a debt of gratitude.
Limited space dictated that a smaller crowd packed into
the Common Council chambers. We common folk were confined to the nether
side of the rail, from which the benches had been removed. Inside the
rail privileged friends and family members sat with the office holders.
Me and the wife zipped upstairs at the first opportunity and snagged
a spot along the rail, so we got a good view of the entertainment.
Mayor Jennings acted as the master of ceremonies. The
maintenance guys had hauled out the Three Royal Chairs and placed them
in front of the bench. These are the chairs you can see in old formal
photographs of long dead civic leaders, the middle one is for the Mayor,
one is for the CC President and somebody or other is supposed to sit
in the other chair. They look like they are more appropriate for kings
and princes wearing crowns than elected officials. The Mayor briefly
tried out his chair with a self-conscious grin before the ceremony
started, after that they went unused.
Mayor Jennings gave a short speech in which he made
one comment of substance. He mentioned that in response to the initiative
begun early in December by CANA (Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations)
that he would be looking at creating a comprehensive planning initiative
for the City. Very interesting.
First, Comptroller Tom Nitido was sworn-in up above
and behind the bench by City Court Judge Margaret Walsh, his family
beside him. He received polite applause. Next, also beyond and above,
incoming President Shawn Morris was sworn-in by outgoing President
Desfosses, which was met by sustained whoops and applause by the crowd.
(Remember: Shawn received more votes than the Mayor did in this last
general election, and Shawn had to face actual opponents.) Shawn gave
a short speech in which she did not shrink from mentioning that Albany
had problems, but with the new Council we could look forward to solving
those problems. During the speech, The Mayor did a magnificent job
of keeping his grinding teeth inaudible. The speech ended with more
whooping and hollering from us common masses.
Then came time for the Common Council members to be
sworn-in down on the floor, the Mayor presiding. In past years the
Mayor would swear-in the CC members down on the first floor of City
Hall en masse, this year they got the individual attention that they
deserved. And so, the members were sworn-in in order, starting with
the First Ward.
That would be Dominick Calsolaro, the CC member who
holds the coveted title of Most Likely To Be Thrown Off A Cliff By
The Mayor If Only He Could. Dominick, of course, earned this title
by hard work, independence and a dedication to his constituents and
to the City, qualities that The Mayor does not admire in a Common Council
member. One could plausibly say that Dom has spearheaded a radical
transformation of the Common Council from a rubber stamp outfit that
toadies to The Mayor’s office into an independent and effective
legislature, a process that is still unfolding.
The Mayor threw his arm around Dominick, and we could
hear the Mayor say with a grin, “Sometimes, this job can be hard.” We
couldn’t quite catch what else he said, but we later learned
from Dom that The Mayor also made some sort of comment about clearing
up the growing controversies over the Albany Pine Bush Dump (euphemistically
called “The Landfill,”) not to mention the attempt to locate
a new dump down in Coeymans.
Dominick later joked that he hoped no one had taken
a picture of The Mayor with his arm around him because, he said, if
it got circulated his constituents might think that he had sold out
to The Mayor. (Such an impression might very well cost him votes. That’s
how much we love The Mayor in the First Ward.) What a picture. The
Mayor, much taller, chiseled profile and nicely tanned, looking like
he wants to bite the top of Dom’s head. And Dom, who is, sad
to say, not very photogenic, standing on one leg and grinning like
No matter, we don’t need no pretty boys representing
the First Ward. Dominick, true to form, defied The Mayor’s injunction
against giving a speech, thus setting a precedent for the rest of the
members. He took pains to mention that the constituent sitting beside
him, Winnie Deyo, was NOT his mother, who is recuperating from a fall.
Our best goes out to Mrs. Calsolaro for a quick recovery. And of course,
we joined in with the loud cheering and enthusiastic whooping for Dominick.
The most incredible cheering came for the new Third Ward
member, Corey Ellis. He takes his seat as a member of the Working Families
Party, the first party other than Democratic to take a seat in the
CC chamber since 1923, when Uncle Dan kicked out the Republican Machine
and replaced it with his own. (Jerry Jennings served a brief term as
an independent before he became mayor, the first non-Democrat since
The applause for Corey went beyond enthusiastic, it
was ecstatic. He’s
a generally modest guy, but he succumbed to the adulation before he
sat down, stepping forward and raising his arms in the air. Well hey,
why not? After the way he came from behind, losing the primary in September
by a lousy 7 votes by what may have been nefarious means, only to trounce
his entrenched opponent handily in the general election.
From listening around, I do not believe that anyone
in City government is going to miss Corey’s predecessor, Michael Brown. Absolutely
no one. Except, of course, The Mayor. Perhaps some of that adulation
for Corey was gratitude and expression of relief for prying Brown out
of the Third Ward seat.
Strong sustained applause for Barbara Smith, who captured
the seat for the Fourth Ward. Ms. Smith has the dignified demeanor
of a college professor, and the applause reflected that. This sort
of collegiate dignity is similar to that of outgoing President Desfosses,
so thanks to Barbara the Council will retain some of that classiness.
Perhaps her dignity and her knowledge will help bring long overdue
necessary changes to the Fourth Ward, and keep discussions in the Common
Council on a high level. Everyone assumes that she will be a positive
force in City government.
There was strong applause for Caroline McLaughlin of
the Second Ward, for Richard Conti of the Sixth, who alone declined
to give a speech, for Dan Herring of the Thirteenth, and for Michael
the Twelfth. There was more whooping for Cathy Fahey, who handily won
a hard and nasty battle for the Seventh, replacing Shawn Morris.
There was polite applause for new member Willie Timmons
of the Fifth, who for most people outside his ward is a “mystery man.” I
got a chance to speak quite a bit with him the next day, and discovered
that he has been a Democratic committeeman for some fifteen years.
He was moved to run for office partly because of his predecessor’s
dismal attendance record in the Common Council, and because he felt
that she had done little to nothing for the ward.
My impression was that he is an independent with a strong
sense of right and wrong, ready to take each issue on it’s merits. He
emphasized that his constituents come first above all else. It seemed
to me that he had much to learn about city wide issues, but he was
clearly a guy you could talk to, very personable and willing to listen.
Time will tell, of course, but Mr. Timmons strikes me as nobody’s
As for the rest of the Common Council members, applause
ranged from perfunctory to tepid. The only exception was Jim Sano of
the Ninth, who seemed to have a lot of relatives present. These are
pets, and they don’t have enthusiastic supporters, at least none
were present. There was particularly tepid applause for newly elected
member John Rosenzweig of the Eighth, who is generally known as The
Mayor’s boy. Will he prove everybody wrong? Probably not, but
we can dream, can’t we?
NOTABLY ABSENT: Jimmy Scalzo of the Tenth, who apparently
be bothered to attend his own inauguration. Perhaps he was afraid of
being waylaid by taxpayers outraged over his leading the legally shaky
spot rezoning of the empty lot on Holland Avenue to “highway
commercial.” Seriously, he really did this. (I’ll be going
into a lot more detail about this outrage in the next few months.)
Someone suggested that he couldn’t get a few hours off from his
job at Andy’s Deli on Delaware Avenue, but I can’t imagine
that the proprietors of Andy’s would treat him that way.
Then it was all over except for the hand shaking, congratulations,
and endless yack yack yacking. Me and the wife made it back downstairs
where the hungry masses were helping themselves to the buffet. We
headed toward the front door of City Hall, but first I spotted The
Mayor. I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to congratulate him on his electoral
win, so I got his attention and received a sustained handshake and
happy new year from him.
For some reason, The Mayor can never remember my name,
although I can assure you that he knows exactly who I am, what I am,
where I live, etc. But the wife is a different story. “Hello Lynne!” he
said cheerily and bent down to give her a hug. Then he made a serious
mistake. “Is everything going OK?” he said.
Lynne knows an opening when she sees one. “No, Mr. Mayor, everything
is not OK. There’s the little matter of the rezoning on Holland
Ave. There is absolutely no reason for it and I don’t see why
you want it.”
The Mayor sputtered a bit and said something about how
to more than just him. Then he looked over at me and said, “You
people are going to do what you have to do.” Huh. Not much gets
But Lynne was not done. She’s good. “Then there’s
the problem of the Landfill in the Pine Bush. The City is obligated
to natter natter natter...” she was off and running in fifth
gear. The Mayor frowned, he turned sideways to study his cell phone,
he turned back to Lynne (who didn’t slow down a bit) with a look
on his face that suggested ‘why must I listen to this crazy broad,’ and
then his expression turned to distress.
“Look,” he said, and Lynne quieted. “I promise you,
I’ll find a solution to this Landfill problem. We will. I promise.”
We stopped annoying him after that, and went to get
So despite the lack of illegal searches and seizures,
despite the lack of metal detectors, and despite literally anybody
off the street being allowed to waltz through the front doors of City
Hall without having their inherent rights trampled upon, no bombs went
off, no politicians were assassinated, there were no riots, robberies,
rapes or even a rude hand gesture all afternoon. None of this happened,
even though this is the one day of the year when a terrorist could
have inflicted the most damage and caused the most disruption.
This begs the question, if the illegal search and seizure
procedures conducted by the Albany Police at the front door are not
necessary for “security,” then why is the City government having
the police break the law in this manner? Are these searches and seizures
done merely to intimidate the citizenry, and to discriminate against
those taxpayers and citizens who are considered “undesirables?”
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