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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.


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October 31, 2018

Rachel Bledi’s Bad And Dangerous Attack

A Re-pub politico viciously attacks me and my neighborhood

Yes, I am very angry and I do indeed take this childish insult very personally.  No, Re-pub Party Albany County election commissioner Rachel Bledi did not name me, nor did she name any of my neighbors, but she may as well have.  As far as I’m concerned, her nasty stupid comments about the South End demonstrate decisively that she is not qualified for the position of public responsibility that she occupies and she needs to resign immediately.

By now most people in Albany are aware that Bledi, while chattering to a Hearst Times Union content provider, casually denounced the South End as “a bad and dangerous place.”  This pronouncement dribbled out of her mouth because of Albany County Executive Dan McCoy’s perfectly reasonable proposal to move the county Board of Elections to a county owned building near my neighborhood, a former supermarket building that is being vacated by the NY State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV.) The ten year lease between the county and the DMV is up for renewal, so the DMV is moving out of the building at the end of the year because the DMV made demands that the county found untenable.

Bledi’s knee-jerk bad and dangerous comments about the South End, made apparently so as to undermine the proposed move of the Board of Elections to my neighborhood, is typical of suburbanites that view the entire City of Albany as an enemy that ought to be defeated.  Yet the strange thing is that Bledi actually lives in Albany, off Whitehall Road a few miles from the DMV building.  And according to the Hearst Times Union she grew up in the South End, although they did not say precisely where.

Albany County Re-pub Election Commissioner Rachel Bledi
Albany County Re-pub Election Commissioner Rachel Bledi

To me this makes her ignorance astounding, a shockingly willful pose.  That she, as a public official, could say something like that in such an offhand manner about her own community, her neighbors, suggests to me more than ignorance, it suggests self hatred.  Living so close to the target of her attack, she can’t even plausibly give the excuse that she lives so far uptown that all she knows about her old neighborhood anymore is what the suburban based Corporate Media outlets have been feeding her.

So the only explanation for her idiotic statements is that she is a typical example of that exceedingly rare creature inside the City of Albany, a Re-pub politico.  According to the publicly available site Mylife, Bledi opposes marriage equality, is against healthcare, is an anti-choicer, and has contributed her own money to help elect so-called “Tea Party” candidates.  Without looking further we can assume that she is, like all politically correct Re-pubs, a rabid supporter of that criminal grifter that currently occupies the White House.

Beyond mere insult, Bledi’s comments feed into a more sinister pattern of negative publicity that is consciously calculated to demean and ultimately destroy the South End.  Her comments align perfectly with what the Corporate Media has been spewing about my neighbors for decades.  Perhaps more than anything else, this ongoing campaign of bad publicity is currently doing more to promote poverty and thus crime in the South End than any other factor, driving away investment and jobs and businesses. In other words, Bledi’s remarks are very bad and dangerous.

Lincoln Park In The South End Of Albany
Lincoln Park In The South End Of Albany

The attitude of the local Corporate Media, which Bledi apparently enthusiastically shares, is that the South End is a foreign country filled with sub-humans that need to be contained.  As such a fair number of people have interpreted her stupid comments as racist, that she is making the assumption that only low income black people live in the South End and that low income black people are less than human.  That she can live so physically close to our neighborhood yet display such profound ignorance about those of us who live here suggests to me that she is too incompetent to serve the people of this County in any capacity.

The corner of South Pearl Street and Morton Avenue (which changes name to Rensselaer Street for one block to the East) is very much a public area.  On one corner is a modern fire station built around 1990, across from the station is an elementary school.  Across from the school is the DMV, and on the fourth corner is the Capital City Rescue Mission.

When the Mission was being sited here in a former appliance store at the beginning of this century, some of us strongly opposed it because of the location.  The two objections that I had were that the South End has all too often been the designated regional dumping ground for people who are considered undesirable by the rest of City and by suburban municipalities and that we did not need another reason for them to dump here.  My other objection was that all too often such facilities are poorly run by suburbanites that don’t care about the surrounding community and will end up allowing persons with mental health and criminal issues to roam the nearby streets.

The Now Dead Rite Aid On South Pearl Street
The Now Dead Rite Aid On South Pearl Street

Well, I’m happy to say that hasn’t happened.  The mission is a tightly run place, they have kept their promise of 24 hour 7 day a week staffing and control.  They do what a place like that is supposed to do, provide much needed services to those who need it rather than become a perpetrator of problems. And yes, every so often when I have a quantity of extra food that I don’t want to throw out, I take it down there and it is gratefully accepted.

What is the practical effect of all this carefully crafted bad publicity about the South End in the Corporate Media?  For one thing, people who don’t know any better or don’t even question the propaganda (such as Rachel Bledi apparently) are afraid to so much as set foot on our streets.  Thus our communities here do not ever see such persons spend their money here.

The propaganda drives out viable businesses.  One recent example is the closing of the Rite Aid on South Pearl Street, which was opened only five years ago to great fanfare and was seen by neighbors as a much needed amenity, also carrying groceries along with the usual drugstore stuff.  The reason for the closing was not lack of business, but that the competing predatory chain Walgreens bought out some 500 Rite Aids including this one, and decided to eliminate competition to that illegally spot-zoned Walgreens outlet over a mile away way past the top of the hill outside the South End.

The Stewarts On Morton Avenue Four Days Before Closing Supposedly For Lack Of Business
The Stewarts On Morton Avenue Four Days Before Closing Supposedly For Lack Of Business

And now the venerable Stewarts on Morton Avenue, a block from my house, has suddenly announced that it is closing.  The chain, which is based in Ballston Spa in Saratoga County, is making the specious claim that the store has low demand.  This is totally news to those of us who frequent the place, at certain times of day the place is packed and has long lines at the counters.

This closing of our Stewarts is exceedingly strange, since they just did a total remodeling of the place last year.  In addition, they also did a soil remediation which involved digging up the entire parking lot from when it was also a gas station, an expensive proposition.  Perhaps this was done to enhance a projected sale of the property, but unless Cumberland Farms or a major gas supplier wants to locate there I don’t how that would justify the price.

Mostly South End Citizens In Front Of The Illegally Spot Zoned Walgreens On Holland Avenue Protesting The Closing Of The Rite Aid On South Pearl Street
Mostly South End Citizens In Front Of The Illegally Spot Zoned Walgreens On Holland Avenue Protesting The Closing Of The Rite Aid On South Pearl Street

In both cases, I keep hearing that the managers of both stores have been spreading an unofficial story that they are closing because of excessive shoplifting.  If that were true then it wouldn’t have been all that difficult to arrange methods to curb the majority of those thefts.  If excessive shoplifting made these stores unprofitable, then Crossgates Mall out in the suburb of Guilderland would have gone out of business long ago, as would most of the supermarkets in the City.

That the regional managers of these chains would float such rumors strongly indicates that they unquestioningly buy into the prevailing propaganda that the South End and those of us who live here are not worth serving.  These managers, after all, are all either wealthy or upper middle class suburbanites who don’t need much convincing that we are inferior, nothing but a bunch of lowlife thieves.  So now that both of these stores are closed, there is hardly any competition for groceries from the Hudson River all the way to Delaware Avenue, a densely populated mile of consumers.

Hearst Times Union Photo Of The Press Conference With Wanda Wiilingham And Dan McCoy Behind Her, Note How Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s Face (center) Is Obscured, A Thing They Often Do Deliberately
Hearst Times Union Photo Of The Press Conference With Wanda Wiilingham And Dan McCoy Behind Her, Note How Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s Face (center) Is Obscured, A Thing They Often Do Deliberately

Albany elected officials and neighborhood advocates immediately reacted to Bledi’s garbage comments, holding a press conference on one side of the DMV.  Unfortunately I couldn’t attend, I only got notice at the last minute so I can’t tell you what was said.  The only accounts I have of it are from the Hearst Times Union, descriptions which are, as to be expected, snottily biased. The rest of the Corporate Media appears to have ignored it.

The Hearst Rag predictably made a big deal out of calls from a couple of people for a statement from the Democratic election commissioner, Matt Clyne, to condemn his co-worker.  Clyne has so far made no statement, which does not look good but is characteristic of him.  But in the initial Hearst report they did convey one quote that was quite insightful of the situation, this from the head of the Capital Area Urban League, Elaine Frazier:

“I’m stepping out here today because I just can’t take this anymore. The source of these remarks reflects people who have no idea how Albany got to be Albany,” she said. “The thing that fascinates me is that people who have no idea of the DNA of this city will talk about their mama so bad.”

It would have been a stronger statement if she hadn’t used passive grammar and used a name or two, but then the Hearst Rag wouldn’t have quoted her.  I don’t know If Ms. Frazier knew that Bledi lives nearby, but certainly with her state of mind Bledi might as well be commuting from Clifton Park.  That a person like Bledi ,who grew up in Albany, is so willfully ignorant of why the South End is economically depressed, well, I’m glad to hear that Ms. Frazier can’t take anymore of this kind of bad and dangerous degrading verbal nonsense.

Hearst Times Union Content Provider Chris Churchill
Hearst Times Union Content Provider Chris Churchill

In a follow up column, Hearst Times Union content provider Chris Churchill carefully defended Bledi’s comments and segued them into an attack on mayor Kathy Sheehan, both of which he is required to do by his employers.  And he conveyed to us Bledi’s lame defense: “It was not my intention to offend the people who live there," said Bledi. "It was my intention to highlight a concern that many residents of the neighborhood share."  Oh bullshit Rachel, I hear people like you say things like that all the time about my neighborhood and don’t care who you offend.

Like I said, Churchill is required to attack Ms. Sheehan. He found that out the hard way during the last mayoral election when he wrote a column mildly critical of the mayor’s main challenger, and then had to hastily tap out three more really lame columns attacking her and building up her opponents, none of which read like he really believed what he was writing.  In any case, the reason the Hearst editors hate the mayor so much is because when she was treasurer she actively opposed taxpayer funding for the financially wasteful “charter” schools, which threatened their personal investments.  That besides her being a female Democrat.

As further proof of the Hearst Times Union’s attitude toward Ms. Sheehan, the editors rejected a response she wrote to Churchill’s anti-South End column.  Unlike anything that I write, what she wrote is quite polite and merely lists what the City has been doing up to this point to invest in and upgrade the South End in recent years.  There’s nothing belligerent in it, which is not her style anyway.  It was rejected out of spite and for no other reason, and demonstrates why local corporate newspapers have become marginal.

City Of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan Last January In My Neighborhood
City Of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan Last January
In My Neighborhood

It’s a partial list, the mayor did not even list what is already being planned.  For example, she didn’t mention her ongoing efforts to tackle the drainage problems in the South End (many of the details of which I strongly disagree with, but unlike her predecessors she is dealing with them) and the already in motion planning for the upgrade of Lincoln Park... which by the way is much safer than Washington Park if you look at crime statistics.  And she didn’t mention any of this year’s street and sidewalk reconstructions throughout the South End that her predecessor in office notoriously neglected for the two decades of his reign.

All that being said, there is no question that large swaths of the South End are in terrible economic shape, as I’ve written about extensively over these last 12 years.  The oldest part of the City didn’t get like that overnight, it took a lot of planning and political pressure to destroy these once thriving neighborhoods. Churchill along with Bledi in his column both seem to think that Ms. Sheehan ought to have decisively reversed more than half a century of downgrading during her not quite six years in office.  But I’m sure that if Ms. Sheehan could wave her hand and enact a miracle she wouldn’t be wasting time truing to talk to the likes of them.

Department Of Motor Vehicles Building, Bottom Of Morton Avenue, Albany NY
Department Of Motor Vehicles Building,
Bottom Of Morton Avenue, Albany NY

It has always been evident to me that the editors and publishers of the Hearst Rag, and perhaps also Rachel Bledi, actually fear an economic revival of the South End.  I’m sure the managers of the corporate rag are well aware that after many decades of sprawl suburbanization across the country, density has become a scarce commodity that will eventually cause even rundown places like the South End to be seen as more desirable to live in than the suburbs.  Already we hear reports that low income people are residing in large numbers in the adjacent suburbs of Colonie and Bethlehem, almost as many in each as live in Albany.

Eventually the surrounding suburbs will hit a tipping point, the large numbers of low income people will drive out the upper classes and property values will plummet.  Those who watch these things know that locally that tipping point is still distant but within sight, it is after all a growing national trend.  Meanwhile, the demand for housing in Albany continues to get tighter, houses sell quickly and landlords rent the same day, while people searching for housing have to search longer and harder. (Some wildly overpriced newly constructed apartments do still sit for long periods, but even that will soon change.)

Church Sponsored Youth Marching Band At The MLK Monument In Lincoln Park, September 2017
Church Sponsored Youth Marching Band At The MLK Monument In Lincoln Park, September 2017

I strongly suspect that both Bledi and the managers of the Hearst Times Union were shocked by the reaction to their standard downgrading attack on the South End.  Not too long ago people did not display this sort of pride in the South End, people meekly accepted the ritual humiliations dished out by the suburbanites and uptowners.  Not any more.  Like Ms. Frazier, people can’t take any more of this guff and they are not going to stand for it.

That, more than anything else, will ultimately put an end to the Corporate Media attacks on the South End. When bullies realize their easy targets are going to stand up to them they slink away.  And when those people reluctantly learn to respect us then we will begin to see that economic upturn that we’ve wanted for so long.


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