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July 8, 2006

A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old 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 make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

July 8, 2006

Suburbanizing Albany

Mayor Jennings invites some the worst possible people to plan Albany’s future, and pointedly excludes the best

Don’t you love surprises? I don’t mean birthday parties or inheritances from forgotten relatives. I’m talking about when a scheming politician assembles a flock of hungry vultures and sends them to your neighborhood to rip open your belly and tear out your guts. That kind of surprise.

Friday morning, June 30, Mayor Jennings set up a news conference on Broadway for the corporate media to announce his latest development plan for Albany. This was a revival of the old Capitalize Albany committee, renamed Re-Capitalize Albany. Their task is to produce a blueprint for Albany’s future sometime in the next two or three months, fast and dirty.

One has to wonder how they can produce a citywide plan like that so quickly. Obviously there’s no time for public input, and no time for careful consideration. The only way such a plan could be assembled is if a plan has already been made, and this bunch has been called to give it a veneer of legitimacy and public acceptance.

It gets better. Jennings waited until after the news conference to hand out the list of 45 members that he appointed to the committee. It’s almost as if he didn’t want anybody to think too hard about the composition of the committee. Almost as if he hoped the details would flash through the back pages of the Saturday daily news rags and out of everyone’s minds by Sunday.

Unfortunately for Jennings, Brian Nearing is back from vacation and attended the news conference. Under the title “45 Views to Better Albany In Future” (what dingdong thinks up these headlines?) Brian’s story appeared on the front of section B of the Saturday Hearst-owned Times Union. Included in the interior was a list of the members of the Re-Capitalize Albany committee. (Interestingly, the list was suppressed on the Times Union web site. Albanyweblog cheerfully makes up for this omission.)

As an aside, what the hell is Brian doing working as a content provider at a Hearst outlet? Clearly he is a journalist. Notice the work he did to produce this story, rather than recycling corporate and government propaganda like most of his coworkers do. How does he get away with it? I hope his bosses at Hearst realize that they need him more than he does them and give him a raise.

Well, ever since Brian’s article appeared Saturday morning, local cyberspace has been buzzing with outraged sputtering and snarling. Just about anybody who gives a damn about Albany has been ready and willing to throw sharp rocks at The Mayor’s head over this.

It’s not just the stealth and surprise and hidden agenda that has everybody hopping mad. It’s that The Mayor has assembled in one place some of the biggest and most prominent Albany haters he could find. He must have scoured the suburbs for these creatures. Most of these suburbanites would rather spit on Albany than walk the streets of our neighborhoods.

Where to begin? How about Nancy Cassidy, executive vice president of Picotte companies, the outfit that is trying to impose an unwanted Walgreens on Holland/Morton Avenue. She told the Albany Common Council that turning this city street into a suburban commercial highway "will not change the character of the neighborhood."

Cassidy heartily approved as the lawyer working for Picotte declared that Holland/Morton Avenue “is not a neighborhood.” Since this happens to be my neighborhood that Picotte is urinating upon, I find her particular brand of hatred for the City of Albany especially repugnant. By what excuse does she and her co-conspirators at Picotte have any right to determine the future of our neighborhoods?

Then there’s Chris Bender, who has been given the title of Brighter Choice Foundation executive director by his master, Tom Carroll. Brighter Choice, you may recall, is a scam operation promoting “charter” schools, which have been imposed upon the unwilling taxpayers of Albany by the failed Pataki administration.

Personally, I have no objection to some entrepreneur starting a private school in Albany. What I object to is being forced to pay for someone’s speculative schooling scheme against my will. If “charter” schools are so great, then why can’t they find funding from private sources?

“Charter” schools like Brighter Choice have two purposes, one is to make money at the public trough, and the other is to undermine and ultimately destroy public education. This is corporate neocon gospel. Educating our kids is, at most, an afterthought by these sharks. For example, Brighter Choice has the LOWEST English test scores in the entire State of New York. Now, there’s a bright choice.

As Dominick Calsolaro (First Ward) pointed out on the floor of the Common Council last Monday, Chris Bender is well known for his snide and demeaning comments about the City of Albany. I’ve certainly listened to anti-Albany garbage drip out of his sneering mouth.

Bender’s immaturity aside, what the hell is Mayor Jennings awarding a seat at the table to what is essentially an illegitimate operation? The Mayor is well known for his bizarre and irrational hatred of his former employer, the Albany Public Schools. By placing Tom Carroll’s factotum on an equal footing with Albany School Superintendent Eva Joseph, The Mayor moves one step closer to his apparent ultimate goal of destroying public education in Albany. And, he gets to degrade Superintendent Joseph.

Eva Joseph is one of the few chosen persons who belong on this committee. A tireless public servant, Ms. Joseph scrambles against negative political pressure and a hostile corporate media to maintain and even improve Albany’s beleaguered school system. If we had more like Ms. Joseph on this committee, than we could all feel secure about Albany’s future.

How about Mark Aldam, who has the title “Publisher” of the Hearst-owned Times Union newspaper? Anyone who regularly reads that suburban-based rag knows that the people who operate it hate Albany as only suburbanites can. (Perhaps that explains why they let Brian Nearing expose The Mayor on this one.)

I wonder what exactly a guy called “publisher” does. Doesn’t the Hearst Corporation do the actual publishing? Perhaps Aldam emulates his predecessor Timothy O. White, who admitted under oath that he shook down an elected official to get financial favors for the Hearst Corporation. Hearst managers refer to this kind of extortion as “horsetrading,” and see nothing wrong with it. I guess that could be valuable to the committee.

Well, I could go on and on. The committee contains several developers with a long history of destroying Albany’s Pine Bush without restraint. There are representatives of various suburban concerns that have only a peripheral connection with Albany. And of course, a couple of The Mayor’s loyal employees.

But the committee wouldn’t be complete without representatives of actual businesses based in Albany. I found three. Well, only one, really. Let’s look at them, shall we?

We have Angelo Mazzone who lives in that hellhole called Clifton Park. Mr. Mazzone appears to be a smart businessman who operates the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia. He has a thriving restaurant and catering business across the region, including Saratoga Springs and Glen Falls. And oh yes, he recently opened an eatery in downtown Albany.

No offense to Mr. Mazzone, but can we truly say that his focus is on Albany? This is pure speculation, but could it be that he is on this committee because this is where The Mayor has lately been chowing down and guzzling drinks?

Then there’s Norman Massry of Tri-City Rentals, which is based in Guilderland. He runs some twenty apartments complexes with a decidedly suburban feel, three of which are inside the borders of the City of Albany. However, Mr. Massry has a history of giving away piles of money, so it's easy to see why he was included on the committee.

And here we have a genuine small business, run by a minority no less! Mauricio Diaz repairs shoes practically next door to City Hall, a business he calls Empire Shoe Rebuilders.

Although I’m not a betting man, I’d be willing to make a small wager that The Mayor brings his broken heels there. “Mauricio, you do excellent work. How would you like to serve on a committee that will plan for Albany’s future development?”

If that is what happened, then naturally Mr. Diaz is delighted to have The Mayor as a steady customer and would be thrilled to serve on his committee. Again, no offense to Mr. Diaz, but I don’t think he would be likely to oppose any proposals made by his illustrious customer. He would be a fool to do so. Consider Mr. Diaz another of The Mayor's unquestioning supporters on the committee.

That’s three local businesses. Well, one actually, and two based elsewhere with branches in Albany. Where are the others?

The banks, of course. They all have branches in the City, I guess that counts. And there’s the colleges, two hospitals, one museum and the Catholic Church. And several TV stations, all based outside the City, but their broadcasts waste our local bandwidth with their garbage, so I guess that counts, too.

The Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce is represented, but why? Most people don’t think about this, but they are a reactionary neocon organization that promotes radical privatization. Their very name “Albany-Colonie” betrays their suburbanizing intentions. Do they have any business giving their advice about how to run a City?

For several years, The Wife belonged to the Chamber so that we could get cheap health care. I tried to talk her into organizing a dissident movement of disgruntled members that did not agree with the Chamber’s corporate slash and burn economic agenda, but she had no time or inclination. I hope someone does. We get our health care cheaper and with more benefits elsewhere now.

One last thing. What the hell is a representative of the Albany County Airport doing here? Last I checked the airport is well outside Albany in the suburbs, although the planes do occasionally buzz my neighborhood. Once, coming back from a trip to Florida, I looked out the window of my plane and examined my truck parked on Catherine Street in great detail.

This brings us to who exactly ought to sit on this committee, that is, if the idea is to make Albany a thriving urban environment. It is crystal clear that The Mayor’s intention is to tear Albany to shreds and replace it with parking lots and isolated concrete boxes, connected by congested trunk roads with segregated “bedroom” zones and shopping strips. In other words, The Mayor wants to turn Albany into one big automobile slum.

If The Mayor did not intend to suburbanize Albany, he would not have invited the suburban airport onto this committee. He would have brought in the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA.) This is a clear signal that The Mayor is indulging another one of his ruinous prejudices, a disdain of all forms of surface mass transportation.

This committee sure could use the planning expertise of the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) which always tries to inject a little reality into local planning. They have massive amounts of information and expertise about transit in our region, available nowhere else. John Poorman should have been one of the first picks for this committee.

Where is the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations (CANA)? Last December CANA began an initiative to push the City into coming up with a comprehensive plan, a citywide blueprint for development. The idea was to find out what the people of Albany want, and to put that into action.

The Mayor picked up on this threat to his leadership almost immediately (as I reported here on January 1st,) and has been trying to pre-empt CANA’s initiative ever since. Clearly, Re-Capitalize Albany is a response to CANA, an attempt to keep planning out of the hands of the citizens and hide it in the back rooms.

This is not to be wondered at. Mr. Jennings no longer leads the City, he reacts. In itself this is not a bad thing, but all too often his reacting is in direct opposition to what the City wants and needs. This is one more example of the man running in place and digging a hole.

The City of Albany is practically crawling with talent and expertise that could be tapped for this committee. Unfortunately, The Mayor has had personality conflicts with almost everybody who could help him. And by personality conflicts, I mean he has at one time or another engaged in open warfare with almost everybody in town that could help him out.

The composition of this committee is a stark illustration of The Mayor’s isolation from the City. One can only imagine how hard he pondered, trying to think of some small business owner who lived and worked in Albany who he could trust... and did not hate his guts. It is quite revealing that Mr. Diaz was the only name that he could come up with.

Re-Capitalize Albany is off to a very bad start, but it is vital that it not be allowed to damage this community beyond repair. Most of the members are the worst possible choices and are capable of causing great harm. Inept suburban style planning has happened before, and the city still suffers for it.

We could find entire neighborhoods taken by eminent domain and bulldozed. Look what happened to 96 acres of the South End, during the 1970’s, converted into a wasteland of concrete and marble with the blessing of Erastus Corning. The Rockefeller Plaza is an open sore that may never heal.

Jerry Jennings may not be as powerful as old Erastus or Rocky, but he is full of destructive schemes. Take for example his ridiculous Convention Center, a plan that is almost guaranteed to fail and saddle Albany’s taxpayers with ruinous debt. Imagine how the City would prosper and generate taxes if the millions put aside for the Convention Center were to be spent on housing.

Those of us who care about Albany have only one choice. We must fight against the Re-Capitalize Albany committee by any means at our disposal. If we cannot have intelligent planning, then we must oppose all efforts to destroy our City with suburbanization.

In all these decades, nothing has changed. The government of Albany continues to try to destroy the City, and we the people who live here try to fight back as best as we can. And that’s why nothing ever gets done around here.


UPDATE: Our friends at Democracy In Albany have posted a great article on this subject for July 8, which can be found here. DIA is writing longer and longer articles, perhaps he/she is being influenced by albanyweblog's lengthy ranting and raving.

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