Showdown At The Bath House

January 10, 2011

A sit-in protest at Bath #2 reveals that Mayor Jennings is becoming politically isolated

For the November article on Bath #2 go here.

City of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings finally managed to shut down our South End swimming pool. Bath House #2. But we didn’t let Him deprive us of our pool without a fight.

We neighborhood taxpayers announced that for the last scheduled day of Bath #2 there would be a pool party open to all. Our plans had one little complication, though. The Albany City government planned to unofficially shut down a day and a half early before the New Year’s holiday like it usually does before holidays. Thus the pool was to be barred from access early at 1 PM on Thursday Dec 30 so the City employees could get an extra day off with pay.

So we announced our pool party for Thursday morning anyway. But that’s not all we did. We planned to stay inside Bath #2 and not let them close it. We weren’t gonna leave! If old Jerry wanted to hurt our neighborhood again so He can have a chuckle over drinks down at the golf course that we all heavily subsidize for Him and His cronies, well, He was going to have to endure some public embarrassment. from us.

Albany's Bath #2 In The Camera Sights Albany’s Bath #2 In The Camera Sights

For well more than ten years the City administration has been keeping the existence of Bath #2 a virtual secret, performing minimal maintenance while quietly discouraging both individuals and institutions from using the pool. The idea has been the usual one. If people slowly stop using the pool because it is so neglected, then eventually no one will notice when the beautiful registered historic building is bulldozed and the land sold to speculators. This is quite profitable to certain elected officials. It’s called Demolition By Neglect.

Swimmers Cavort While The Wife Grives An Interview Swimmers Cavort While The Wife Gives An Interview

Considering that this action was planned for a weekday morning a fair number of people showed up to occupy the pool. Of course we would have had more taxpayers show up if the pool had been scheduled to close in the evening like it usually does. And if this were next week when school was in session we would have had a big crowd of kids from the Free School, which is over in the Mansion neighborhood.

Bath #2 is the Free School’s only accessible indoor pool now that the Washington Avenue YMCA has been abandoned by its’ corporation. One day last month a herd of little kids from the Free School showed up at Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings’ office in City Hall to ask Him to please not close our pool. Jennings hid inside His office for over two hours, only coming out when it became clear that the kids would not go away.

That’s what it takes in this town. It’s always been the Mayor and His minions versus the taxpayers. No wonder so many unthinking people hate the government, it’s the one part of planned systemic failure that is visible to the public.

Milling Around The Lobby, Making Posters Milling Around The Lobby, Making Posters

As for Jerry Jennings, He is determined to destroy this public amenity that He hates so much, that caused him so much humiliation by the late Alfrieda Textores back in the 1990s. As was well reported by the corporate media, this past month Jennings vetoed the Common Council amendment to the budget that would have kept Bath #2 open, and the Council failed to override His veto.

His Majesty managed to buy off certain members of the Common Council who should have known better. Most notable is Lester Freeman (2nd Ward) who has been using radical right wing rhetoric to insist that Bath #2 be shuttered. “We can’t coddle people with the nanny state,” is his standard public line about our pool. “We can’t continue to afford to subsidize these kinds of money pits,” I’ve heard him say.

Lester Freeman "Embarrassed" By Bath #2 Lester Freeman "Embarrassed" By Bath #2

I think Lester, who is not exactly a genius, wants to offer himself to the Republican Party. For cash, of course. That’s why he’s practicing their phrases. I hear the Re-pubs are looking for guys like him to show to the media, you know, to give the impression that they are more than a bunch of white bigots. I believe Lester is going for the gold.

Despite the early hour people were already arriving at 11 AM when I showed up on Fourth Avenue with The Wife. South End citizen Jacqui Williams was already there, she has been the major organizer of neighborhood resistance to Jerry’s pool closing. A fair number of supporters greeted us when we walked into the lobby, and people continued to arrive and join the protest.

i wandered into the pool area and found Common Council member Jim Sano (Ward 9) was just getting out of the water. To everyone’s astonishment Mr. Sano, who is very concerned about physical health and education, has broken with the Mayor over destroying Bath #2. Gaining courage from Mr. Sano’s defiance, council members Mike O’Brien (Ward 12) and John Rosenzweig (Ward 8,) have also defied the Mayor for the first time over this issue.

Willie White And Common Council Member James Sano By The Pool Willie White And Common Council Member James Sano
By The Pool

I had an interesting conversation with Mr. Sano, he wants to see more institutional use of the pool, such as by churches and schools. And he would like to see some private support for the pool, such as from the local health clinics that send elderly folks down to Bath #2 for hydrotherapy. Bath #2, which is shallow and warm, has proven perfect for the old folks who have trouble with their limbs.

Mr. Sano said to me, “The nearby ‘charter’ schools could incorporate the pool into their programs.” Then he glanced at me with alarm, suddenly remembering my stand on privatizing the school system. But I said to him, “Sure, Brighter Choice has sucked so much money out of the community, I’d like to see them put a little tiny bit of our money back into it.” That was not quite what Mr. Sano wanted to hear.

After Mr. Sano left the pool area, Willie White of Avillage (and Trinity Institution) stared into the water and said to me, “This is a tragedy. Closing this pool is a real tragedy.” I said to him, “It’s more than a tragedy. It’s a crime and the people closing it are criminals.” Yeah, I have a way of ruining perfectly good conversations. It’s my super power.

Dominick Calsolaro (1st Ward) Talks TV In The Hallway Of Bath #2 Dominick Calsolaro (1st Ward) Talks TV
In The Hallway Of Bath #2

The one advantage of holding this defiant action in the middle of a weekday before a holiday is that not much else was going on in the City. The corporate media showed up in force and camped out with us hoping for a riot or at least a police beating. Unfortunately for the content providers there were too many respectable community members present and we the people weren’t interested in random violence that they could use.

I got the impression that the content providers preferred to hang around the pool rather than go back and sit in their cubicles sipping bad coffee hoping for some nearby house to catch fire. It was clear to me they were not sympathetic to us when they arrived, but during our occupation of Bath #2 I could see that their withered suburban souls could not help but be impressed by our obvious passion for our urban pool. These corporate foot soldiers probably don’t encounter much genuine sincerity in their line of work.

TV Content Providers By The Pool TV Content Providers By The Pool

The prevailing line that has been running through the corporate media reports is that the majority of Bath #2 supporters live outside of the City of Albany. This is a downright lie. The majority of the taxpayers who were present at this action live in or near the South End and they use the pool… or would if we all knew about it.

Hearst Content Provider Stephanie Lee Hearst Content Provider Stephanie Lee

I talked to one fellow who has lived maybe a five minute walk from the pool for more than 20 years. He told me that he was using the pool for the first time that day! “I wish somebody had told me about it,” he said. Now, exactly whose fault is it that people in the neighborhood who wanted to use the pool didn’t even know that it existed?

Hearst Times Union content provider Stephanie Lee stayed for the entire occupation doing interviews and taking notes. Yet I noticed that she was carefully selecting people to interview who did not live in the South End. Her resulting lame report, accompanied by a couple of deliberately bad photos, demonstrates that she was instructed by her managers to go negative and push that falsehood about us not living in our own neighborhood.

I shouldn’t be so hard on Ms. Lee, if her bosses at the Hearst Rag tell her to write lousy misleading copy it’s really not her fault. After all, do you blame the kid who flips hamburgers at McDonalds for the poor quality of the burger? Perhaps Ms. Lee will eventually decide to leave her job at Hearst and instead pursue a career in journalism.

Setting Up For The Media Event Setting Up For The Media Event

About quarter after Noon people got out of the pool, changed clothes and drifted outside to put on a display for the content providers. We lined up on the entrance ramp at the front doors and held signs for the cameras. And as is usual in these choreographed displays, there was a lot of standing around waiting for the content providers to start recording.

Front and center on the ramp with all eyes and ears on her, clutching a bouquet of red carnations, Jacqui Williams held up a phone and called Mayor Jerry Jennings’ office. We had a list of demands for him with which we expected the City administration to comply. They are quite reasonable:

We, the People of the Community and Swimmers, Demand:

1) A meeting with Mayor Gerald Jennings to discuss keeping the pool open

2) The Mayor use his power as a member of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment to fund Bath #2 for 2011.

3) An engineering and architectural assessment be conducted on Bath #2 to determine the costs of repairs and renovations.

4) The City research and access historical and community center grants to fund Bath #2 into the future

5) That the Mayor and the Common Council should listen to the community

Okay, perhaps #5 is pure fantasy. But the other four are more than reasonable, including #3 which sounds expensive but doesn’t have to be. Back in 2002 when Jennings tried to shut down (and privatize) our Lincoln Park Pool, members of the South End community conducted an engineering assessment on their own at no cost to the City. (Jennings, I recall, was visibly not pleased by the community taking charge from Him like that and saving tax dollars.)

From Left, Barbara Smith (Ward 4) Mike O'Brien (Ward 12) Dominick Calsolaro (War 2) Leah Golby (Ward 10) The Wife, Jacqui Williams With Red Carnations From Left, Barbara Smith (Ward 4) Mike O’Brien (Ward 12) Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) Leah Golby (Ward 10) The Wife, Jacqui Williams With Red Carnations

Now remember, like almost everybody else Jerry Jennings has a mobile phone pressed to His ear and can be reached anytime. But His secretary told Jacqui, predictably, that the Mayor was not available and could not be reached. No, she did not know when He might be available.

Jacqui then repeated out loud to everyone what the secretary had just told her. And for good measure she repeated to the secretary what she had just told the crowd and the media arrayed before her, that the Mayor was not available and never would be. Everyone listened carefully with anticipation.

The secretary caught on that this was “political,” so she handed off the call to Bob Van Amburgh, who functions as Jennings’ personal assistant. No, he told us, he couldn’t reach the Mayor either. “But,” said Van Amburgh, “If you send a representative to City Hall next week we can schedule an appointment for some time in the future.”

He really said that. I’m sure that Van Amburgh could hear the laughter and groans over the phone. Jacqui, who doesn’t take any guff, continued to demand an audience with His Majesty. Finally Van Amburgh, perhaps with Jennings standing right there making gestures at him, agreed to an audience with us within the next two weeks.

Jacqui Williams (Right) Talks To Mayor Jennings' Assistants Jacqui Williams (Right) Talks To Mayor Jennings’ Assistants

As 1 PM approached I could see people in the lobby becoming nervous, and sure enough some people left rather than be beaten and trampled by riot police. Well, okay, that was unlikely in the extreme, but we were very deliberately breaking acceptable social behavior, i.e. not leaving when we were supposed to. It’s funny how such mild misbehaviors, if done right, can cause such massive consternation by the authorities.

Sue Cerniglia, Last Person To Use The Pool: "I Feel Like A Prune!" Sue Cerniglia, Last Person To Use The Pool: "I Feel Like A Prune!"

A young fellow named Joe was in charge of Bath #2 on this last day, working as both a lifeguard and as a dollar taker (the pool cost all of one dollar to use.) Now, Joe is a real nice guy and wanted no trouble with anyone, but we couldn’t clue him in to our real intentions ahead of time because, after all, he represented the authorities. When 1 PM passed and a crowd of us refused to let him close the building, he became very upset.

Poor Joe called his bosses over at the City Recreation Department but suddenly none of them could be reached. That’s right, they left Joe hanging on the clothesline during a hurricane. (For those of you who are not familiar with working class jobs, this is pretty typical. The middle class supervisors demand total allegiance from their employees, but at the first sign of trouble they behave like their own bosses and take no personal responsibility for anything.)

Left dangling and completely isolated, left in charge of a part of the world that had gone crazy without warning, Joe called the Albany police. I wish I knew exactly what Joe said over the phone in order to get a response from the police dispatcher. I’ll use it next time I need to call the police. In short order a squad car arrived and was left parked in the middle of the street, the way the cops park when they are approaching a Situation.

The two young officers entered the building and took a good look at these angry people being led by respectable community elders and elected officials. They quite wisely decided to call for backup rather than start confronting people who were about the same age as their parents. And grandparents. While they waited the two boys stayed behind the counter and refrained from giving anybody dirty looks.

Joe Talks To The Cops Joe Talks To The Cops

Before we started the occupation of Bath #2 a lot of people were concerned that there were going to be mass arrests and assaults by bloodthirsty Albany police SWAT teams. Folks in the South End, in particular, know all too well that the traditional law enforcement technique practiced by the Albany Police has been to either shoot it or ignore it. In other words, the fear was that if the cops are forced to show up and do police work, they are going to be angry and will hurt anybody they can get their hands on.

It was a little hard to convince folks ahead of time that this was unlikely and that sort of thing may become less likely as time goes on. Except for a few detectives and union guys, the bad lazy Old Boy baby boomer cops are all retired. There is a younger new order in charge down at the Albany police headquarters which is making sweeping fundamental changes. In fact, Albany’s Chief of Police Steven Krokoff just turned 40 this past year.

Jerry Jennings no longer controls the Albany Police, a matter which distresses Him greatly. No, the police were not going to beat heads and tase bodies for a Mayor who is visibly losing His control of the City. Besides, a fair number of us occupying Bath #2 have been enthusiastically supporting the new police administration. The cops were not likely to beat up their own constituency without lots of provocation.

Recreation Department Officials Show Up Recreation Department Officials Show Up

After the police arrived at Bath #2, a couple of Joe’s bosses found the courage to show up. I haven’t been able to confirm this, but I’ve heard that the police phoned the Recreation Department and told these clowns to get their butts down to the pool. The two of them had enough sense to stay behind the counter, where they both looked stern and glared at us a lot.

A little before 2 PM Assistant Chief of Police Tony Bruno arrived to deal with the Situation. Okay, this was what we wanted, a little respect here. Neither Jerry Jennings nor any of His appointed minions had the courage to face us on our terms, so the police had to do their political work. I’m happy to say that the new police administration handled this “crisis” way much better than the Mayor did.

(BTW, anyone who is thinking of a similar type mildly defiant action like this should understand that no elected or appointed official has the right or authority to physically eject you from the place that you occupy. Not even the Mayor. If He lays one finger on anyone He has committed a felony. Only a police officer has the legal authority to forcibly eject you. For more details on how this works, read the main body of the US Constitution.)

Assistant Police Chief Tony "No Relation To Joe" Bruno And The Wife Assistant Police Chief Tony "No Relation To Joe" Bruno
And The Wife

Chief Bruno kept it low key and friendly. Holding a red carnation, he told me that he grew up “on a street off Second Avenue” in the South End and that he swam in Bath #2 as a kid. I took this to mean that he understood what we were about and that he sympathized. “Hey, we’re all on the same side here,” he said to me.

It turns out that Chief Bruno is not a Baby Boomer as I’d written on this blog last summer, it turns out that he is 44 years old. “I missed it by a few years. I know I look older,” he added, and then for my benefit claimed that his receding hairline was caused by repeatedly slapping his hands against his forehead. (I’ve heard him say that before, which makes me think that might be more than a jest.)

Efficiently and almost imperceptibly Chief Bruno herded us out of the pool area and got us to start moving out of the lobby. Jacqui Williams commanded me to take down the posters that we had hung along one wall and people started packing up. One of the Recreation Department guys still standing behind the counter bellowed, “Everyone has to leave the building NOW.” No one paid him any attention.

Jacqui Williams Announces The End Of The Occupation Jacqui Williams Announces The End Of The Occupation

We all filed out by 2:30 and Bath #2 was closed, at least for now. If our cold resentful Mayor Jerry Jennings has His way, and if our self-serving neighborhood representative Lester Freeman gets his way, the taxpayers will be barred from the pool forever. We, the people of the South End, do not intend to let this happen. That’s where things stand at the beginning of the new year.

Oh yeah, the red carnations. One lady brought a bouquet of them, the plan was to toss them into the pool when it was closing time as a sort of funereal goodbye. But we found out that Joe the lifeguard, as the guy in charge, would have had to pick them out of the water. So we gave them to the City officials instead. That’s how bad we were.


Read here for Leah Golby’s Twitter feed texted during the Bath #2 action!

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