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Metro Ink 11.02.05

Return to Africa

MokaLantum jokes that because he is from Cameroon, you will see a "very strong bias" towards that country in the art and cultural artifacts at the new BaobabCulturalCenter. | There are 90 pieces of art on display at Baobab: paintings by Boston's KofiKayiga, mixed media by New York City's Michael "Ikahl" Beckford, and photographs by Pittsford's Lynda Howland. Lantum and his fellow organizers have been talking about this cultural center for several months, but have only been in the space since the beginning of October. | Lantum jumps in to explain the stories behind each art piece, as well as the mask carvings and other artifacts he's brought back from Africa. But with opening night looming, his cell phone continually interrupts him. | "The idea is to create a space whereby the history, art, literature, music, and atmosphere of Africa and the Diaspora is made available to the community of Rochester," he says. Baobab was inspired, he says, by the lack of anything else like it in the area. The center will offer art exhibits, an African film series, and after-work mixers for the public. | Lantum points to one corner of the gallery and says soon there will be a lounge there with chairs and Internet access, a place where people can relax, research the art they see on the walls, and talk about politics and culture. He envisions the film series as a year-round event. | "We're going to see how it goes," says fellow organizer Joseph Pereña. A freelance interior designer who grew up in West Africa, Pereña likes the fact that the center will offer a counterbalance to the negative image of Africa he often sees in the news. | "But we want to have local artists, both African American and other nationalities, use it," he says. "We don't want to pigeonhole it, because the world is a lot bigger than that." | The first exhibit, Expression of Freedom and Fears of Expression, will be on display through February 3. The grand opening is Saturday and Sunday, November 5 and 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Baobab is on the third floor of the German House, 315 Gregory Street (Nicholson Street entrance). $5 each day. 546-4790,

--- Erica Curtis

Lead law

City Council seems near agreement on a law requiring owners of all rental housing units in the city to clean up lead-paint hazards.

Lead, a toxic heavy metal found in paint manufactured before 1978, persists in the body and is linked to brain damage, among other health concerns. It has been particularly harmful to young children who live in low-income housing, since those units are most likely to have dust and peeling paint resulting from poor maintenance.

After several years of pressure from activists, there's been little question about whether Council would pass a lead ordinance. The question has been what form it would take. City Councilmember Tim Mains wanted the legislation to cover all city residences --- even single-family houses occupied by the owner. Mayor Bill Johnson wanted to cover only rental units. Both want landlords to bear the cost. A coalition of business and property owners wanted the inspections limited to rental properties in the neighborhoods most seriously affected: inner-city neighborhoods. And they wanted help in paying for clean-up.

It's likely that the final legislation will most closely resemble Johnson's plan. Here's how it would work:

Under current city law, every rental housing unit is inspected for code violations every five years. And properties must be inspected anytime they change hands. Those failing the inspection can't be rented until the hazards are corrected.

In addition, the city inspects rental units of social-service clients when they move in or out if the county pays the rent directly to the landlord. City officials are working with county officials, hoping to include all social-service clients, even those who pay their rent themselves.

Under the new legislation, lead-paint hazards would be included in those inspections. And tenants concerned about peeling paint or other indications of a hazard would be able to ask for a city inspection.

These changes, if adopted, would mean that every rental unit in the city would be inspected (and certified to be safe, or else taken out of use) by 2010.

The new legislation won't satisfy everybody. "The question of what is going to be the quality of the examination is the most critical issue you face," Bryan Hetherington, an attorney who's worked with the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, told a Council work session last Thursday. A weak testing standard for lead could undermine the whole effort, making it "a waste of time," he said.

As an example, Hetherington cited three studies that showed that visual inspections (looking for cracked and peeling paint, for example) had a 60 percent chance of missing lead hazards that were present.

Council's legislation is likely to call for visual inspection; more thorough tests cost more money.

Then there's the issue of paying for clean-up. Although the city has some money available, landlords themselves will bear nearly all the cost. Some of them have said that the profit on low-income housing is so low that they would have to simply abandon their properties.

City officials seem resigned to at least some abandonment, however, in order to get lead-paint legislation on the books and get clean-up started.

Image Centered

Some Rochesterians were seeing the face of Jesus in a tree last week. Darren Brennessel says he thinks the image of comedian Jerry Lewis, in this tree on Landing Road, is trying to tell us something; no joke. That was a few days ago. It may have changed to Roseanne Barr by now.

Grand Old Party poopers

Three weeks ago Ink paid lighthearted homage to a bit of political humor from the local Green Party.

For their campaign lit, Monroe Republicans used photos of their legislature candidates with Maggie Brooks --- all looking like they were created on a template rather than captured by a camera. That prompted the little progressive party to spring into action, putting thumbnails of the photos on its own website with a mock guide to campaigning.

Republican Chair Steve Minarik has a reputation for nasty ad hominem political humor, but apparently the machine he's built couldn't take even a small taste of what it dishes out. The GOP website manager changed the key-card file names to break the Greens' links to the Republicans' photos.

"They put a "1" on the end of all the file names, changing cookiecandidate.pdf to cookiecandidate1.pdf," Atias writes us. "We're willing to play. The links have been fixed."

And that's not all: "I've heard a rumor," says Atias, "that some of the candidates are shown on their lit that's being mailed reading the same book to the same group of kids. We're working on that."

Sure enough, the Greens' new and improved satiric website now boasts an expanded section explaining how to exploit children and families for fun and votes.

Visit it here: