The King Of Sprawl Is Dead

February 17, 2009

The damage Joe Bruno did to our region
is his lasting legacy

Perusing the Sunday newspapers a few weekends ago, I stumbled upon an interesting little detail buried inside an article buried in a back section.  It seems that construction of the the “Van Rensselaer Square Plaza,” a 250,000 square foot corporate retail horror being planted at the intersection of Routes 4 and 43 across the river in Rensselaer County, has been suspended indefinitely.  The article’s description of the site as it sits right now is almost lovely:


The plaza at the intersection with Route 43 has been partially built for months, and the only activity there now is the occasional melting of accumulated snow.


I went out to look at the site a little over a year ago as the developers were first beginning to destroy the property.  The eight years worth of lawsuits brought by nearby neighbors had finally been defeated a year and a half ago by the New York State Government, our politicians fighting against taxpayers using taxpayer money like they always do.  

After inspecting the site, I couldn’t bear to look at it or even think about it any more. So I was surprised to learn the other day that in March of 2008 the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) had put a stop work order on the construction. It seems that the “plaza” was doing a serious number on nearby storm water drainage, and the DEC wanted it fixed.

The developers, a hit and run outfit from Pennsylvania called BET Investments, didn’t get around to fixing the problems until August of last year.  That’s right about when the US corporate retail sector was beginning to fall apart, a condition which became official the following month.  So today we have a lovely suburban parking lot and no reason for it to be there.

Dirty Joe Bruno Dirty Joe Bruno

This was supposed to be one of career criminal Joseph Bruno’s final monuments to himself.  The former lord high Republican State Senate majority leader spent eight years and millions of taxpayer dollars not only to beat back the outraged neighbors.  He also spent millions turning once sleepy back road Route 43 into a four to eight lane highway so as to accommodate the hit and run developers.

The apparent economic motivation for Bruno’s “plaza” and for several similar smaller sprawl boxes with parking lots adjacent to this property (also all on hold) was to catch the retail dollars of exurbanites who sprawl around West Sand Lake.  Right now these poor under served exurbanites drive by the site daily in their SUVs on their way to loot the City of Albany.  Right now they often have to drive to the other side of Albany to attend big shopping malls.

All this government investment to make shopping a little bit more convenient for maybe a few hundred exurbanites.  These people currently residing in eastern Rensselaer county chose, of their own free wills, to buy overpriced houses in a remote area, a place devoid of goods, services or public space. 

Personally, I don’t see why these exurban welfare queens are living off of my tax dollars.  I’m sick and tired of it.

Van Rennselaer Square Plaza Van Rennselaer Square Plaza

For a long time past the underlying assumption among politicians and planners has been that the exurbs, the cutting edge of suburbia, will be gaining population indefinitely.  But there’s one problem with this assumption.  It appears that local exurban expansion is grinding to a halt.

Planning boards of municipalities at the outer edge of the Capital District (with the obvious exception of Malta) are beginning to balk at giving automatic approvals to upscale overpriced residential boxes.  “Luxury homes” and “townhouses” jammed up against dedicated nature preserves and other natural areas.

Around the Capital District we are not seeing the same sort of visible and obvious collapse and abandonment of residential areas that is going on in the outer fringes of places like Atlanta and Las Vegas.  That is because our demographic region did not share in the phony “economic boom” of a few years ago.

Right now we are at the cusp of a major reversal.  Wealth is starting to withdraw from the outer suburbs and is starting to be redirected into City centers.  It is the beginning of a process which will end years from now with downtown Albany a pricey enclave of the wealthy while Colonie and Clifton Park will turn into one vast crumbling pavement.  

Here at the center of our region in downtown Albany we don’t have much phony economy to lose.  We had our collapse imposed upon us decades ago.  Our downtown urban community has been stripped bare of our wealth until all we have left is our infrastructure.  

The economic point needs to be repeated: suburban sprawl is only possible with massive government subsidies and vigorously pursued government sponsorship.  Cut off the constant stream of money and political support from the unsustainable suburbs and they will quickly become desolation.

The "Plaza" A Year Ago January 2008 The "Plaza" A Year Ago January 2008

Joseph Bruno was the government behind the ruination of the corner of Routes 4 and 43. This is what Bruno chose to do with all of his power, destroy his own personal Senate district by turning it into a vast automobile slum.  But his criminal career appears to be catching up with him, he’s been forced to retire.  Joe is no longer the king of sprawl.

Of course there’s Bruno’s other sprawl monument to himself, the Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) chip manufacturing plant up in Malta.  Now that some Sheik from Abu Dhabi has been induced to pour some of his spare billions into this scheme it looks like the Luther Forest boondoggle is going to happen, although the plans for the “chip fab campus” have been downsized.  I wonder how many more promises will also be downsized in the coming months.

Apparently the Luther Forest money pit has legs of its own, it doesn’t need Joe Bruno to make sure the cash keeps rolling into politically connected pockets.  Someone worked very hard to rope in this billionaire sheik and keep the project going.  How nice that our “leaders” have found a way to make us dependent upon a middle eastern sheikdom.

Meanwhile, worldwide demand for AMD’s products continues to decline, and their stock continues to slide toward worthlessness.  If the Malta plant gets built, and AMD goes bankrupt or the Abu Dhabi sheik pulls out, then we will have one big abandoned plant and a lot of unemployed people where there weren’t any before.

Joseph Bruno

So this is corporate socialism at work, eh?  New York State bankrupts itself giving money to a dying corporation, while at the same time effectively suppressing local home grown businesses so as to make room for the foreign corporations they imagine will flock to upstate New York and turn it into a paradise.  

Let me make an outlandish radical suggestion.  Instead of New York State giving all of our taxes to sleazy international corporations, why not plow our money back into our own communities?  If upstate has a solid productive economy then corporations will come hat in hand to us instead of the other way around. Or perhaps that idea is too outlandish for our current political leaders.

Too bad for the developers of “Van Rensellaer Plaza” that Joe Bruno couldn’t help them with the storm water runoff problem.  Last year, his control of the State was slipping from his sweaty grip and the federal secret police were reluctantly closing in on him.  If this delay of construction had happened just a year earlier, Bruno could have made a few phone calls and no doubt  doubt have made that DEC stop work order quietly go away.

So maybe the eight years of lawsuits by the neighbors of North Greenbush were worth the trouble.  Perhaps, in this case, the taxpayers have lost the battle against bad government (Joe Bruno) but won the war.  Like the folks at Save the Pine Bush (SPB) are fond of saying about their own often desperate litigation efforts, any delay of sprawl “development” is good.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile back here in the South End of Albany we don’t have any great big politicos like Joe Bruno pumping money into our community.  On the contrary, about nine or ten years ago Dirty Joe actually went out of his way to prevent a massive federal grant from being awarded for South End housing redevelopment, specifically a HOPE 6 grant from Housing and Urban Development (HUD.)

I’ve mentioned this before, the projects in my neighborhood that Bruno sabotaged are just getting going now.  Thanks a lot Joe, you scuzzball.  Good riddance to nasty rubbish, don’t come back.

Route 43, Dirty Joe's Highway Route 43, Dirty Joe’s Highway

When Bruno was compelled to give up his Senate seat last year, the local corporate media wailed and moaned about how he wouldn’t be around any longer to direct cash toward the Capital Region.  I say that Bruno was a political bottleneck that directed public money away from where it was needed to where it would do the most harm.  And it is becoming increasingly evident that Bruno was misdirecting some of that cash into his own pocket.

The corporate media’s slavish devotion to Bruno even after his indictment is puzzling.  The former Senate majority leader did not tolerate even light criticism from the media.  And woe to the media outfit that dared to lean on him.

For example, take Bruno’s lousy relationship with the Hearst Times Union. As the New York Times put it:“Mr. Bruno, who lives in Brunswick, northeast of Albany, has been critical of The Times Union and is known for singling out its reporters during news conferences.”

About a year and a half ago the Hearst editors threatened to create negative copy about Bruno if he didn’t start giving them money.   As Bruno spokesperson John E. McArdle put it, the Times Union made “an attempt to shake down the Senate and the senator and would be an attempt to extort both public and private money.”   

Or, as former Times Union Publisher Timothy O. White described such activities by his corporation in a courtroom deposition many years ago, “horsetrading.”  Bruno even formally requested that Albany County District Attorney David Soares investigate the Times Union.  

You’d think that after all this public abuse the Times Union editors would develop a generally negative attitude toward Bruno, but you would be mistaken.  Almost immediately after this exchange the Times Union became Joe Bruno’s leading defender.  Indeed, our Hearst Rag succeeded in aggressively turning a negative report about Bruno’s criminal activities into an attack routine against his political opponents.

Now, how can that be?  The short answer is that the Hearst Corporation has a strict policy of supporting Re-pubs against Democrats, a policy which the local editors can not ignore. Even with the recent sea change at the federal level this is still true.  

Bruno Reaches For Eliot Spitzer Bruno Reaches For Eliot Spitzer

At the time of the attempted shakedown by the Times Union, Bruno was publicly butting heads with then New York State governor Eliot Spitzer, a political battle that turned out to be a sideshow of a bigger more sinister political operation.

About six months later, as we all know, the Bush White House publicly smeared Spitzer by publicizing information about his private life they had discovered using the so-called “Patriot” Act.  (“Gee, Spitzer must be a terrorist.”) Apparently the ex-governor had gathered enough evidence to hold the Bush White House criminally culpable for the then looming sub prime mortgage crisis.  Clearly, the Republicans had to act.

In a well coordinated operation, the FBI, the Bush Justice Department and the New York Times destroyed Eliot Spitzer almost overnight.  We all remember the story.  What horrified me, and continues to horrify me about the whole thing was the sheep-like reaction of the public and our ready willingness to be so easily manipulated.

No one can say for sure, but it may be that both Bruno and some of the top executives at the Hearst Corporation were given advance warning about the imminent take down of Eliot Spitzer, right after the Times Union tried to shake down Bruno.  How else to explain the Times Union’s enthusiastic support of Bruno after that embarrassing clash?

Well, the Times Union editors obeyed their corporate masters and did not try to punish Bruno.  At all.  And the editors obediently relentlessly attacked Eliot Spitzer with a string of manufactured fleeting “scandals” right up until the white House made its move.  It looks to me like the Times Union was assigned the task of softening up Spitzer’s reputation in anticipation of the big smear.

Executive of the Month - Joe Bruno

I couldn’t help it.  I had to buy a copy of this pathetic magazine Success, which likes to put on its cover retirees who are starting second careers.  Since the magazine is “old media” they have a more than six month lag between writing their stories and actual publication.  Thus we have Dirty Joe featured on the cover of the issue that hit the newsstands a few days after he was indicted.

I present this cover as a public service, so that all of humankind may gaze upon Joe Bruno’s face, the very picture of success.


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