Jumpin' Joe McCarthy! The prospects for New York's Republican Congressional candidates must be shakier than we thought. How else to explain the Republican press release on Monday headlined: "Reds Come to the Aid of NY Dems"?
The fax says the Communist Party's People's Weekly World magazine has praised several Democrats who are running for Congress. Among them are Eric Massa, who plans to run against Republican Randy Kuhl, and Jack Davis, who plans to run against Republican Tom Reynolds.
"It's good to know Democrats can count on the support of card-carrying Communists to win over the hearts and minds of EmpireState voters," said the press release. "New York Democrats, particularly these candidates, should tell voters whether they are now or ever have been in cahoots with Communists."
The blogs were all over the story in a heartbeat. "Trotsky stumps for Anthony Weiner!" cracked Wonkette. "'Vote Democrat,' commands Kremlin."
We wouldn't have been surprised if this had come from the state Republican Party's pit bull, our own Steve Minaret. But no; it's from the National Republican Congressional Committee. Which is chaired, oh, so coincidentally, by our own Tom Reynolds?
Real life just ain't like Hollywood. Jordan Rubin learned this the hard way when she started a one-woman Clean Up Your Neighborhood effort. The 21-year-old self-described dreamer, artist, and eccentric was convinced that folks who saw her would roll up their sleeves and pitch in. "Me being an idealist, I saw myself being in like a movie," she says. "No one joined in, and that was kind of depressing, but I did it anyway. I filled probably six 20-gallon trash bags worth of trash."
Rubin, who lives near Wild Ink Tattoo on Monroe Avenue, says the idea to clean up her neighborhood came to her a few weeks ago, when spring made its first (deceptive) appearance. She decided to walk the few miles to Montana Mills to grab some lunch and was appalled by what she saw. "There's garbage everywhere. It's ridiculous," she says.
As Rubin attempts to snag volunteers, Naarah-Blue Meath, who lives in the same building as Rubin, has become the fledgling group's public relations contact. Meath is doing all the grunt work, from scheduling cleanup times to pitching the idea to City.
Fellow dreamers and others of the same ilk are encouraged to meet at the Monroe Avenue Brueggers conference room between 11:30 a.m. and noon on Saturdays. For more information, call Rubin at 259-9099 or Meath at 281-3033.
EXAMINING PRISON'S TENTACLES
Rima Vesely-Flad has spent the last seven years studying the complex relationship between the New York State prison system and the black community. She has examined the connections between Calvinist theology and criminal law, the Slave Codes and Black Codes of the 19th century, and the continuing expansion of prisons.
"When the Puritans came to this country, they brought a legal code that saw slaves rather than slavery as lacking moral character. Many of the laws we have on our books today come from that period, and are inherently racist," Vesely-Flad told a gathering of attorneys, ministers, social workers, and law enforcement officials at the annual fund-raising dinner for the Judicial Process Commission.
"I hope that people begin to understand the historical context in reference to the black community and a long-held perception regarding moral character," she said later in a telephone interview with City. "And it really becomes more evident when you start to examine the data on race in prisons. Whites make up a little more than 60 percent of the state's population, but less than 15 percent of the state's prisoners."
"We tend to think that people in prison, black or white, lack moral character," she said, "but from the work I have done with men and women who are incarcerated, I have witnessed considerable moral character in these people. But you have to look at our system of justice and our prison policies and see the depth of the impact these policies have not just on prisoners, but on whole families and communities."
People paying child support in New York, she says, cannot continue to pay child support while in prison. So the debt accrues, and on release they can have up to 65 percent of their wages garnished. That's only if they can still get a job.
"Now keep in mind that once you have been convicted, your records can be made public in New York," said Vesely-Flad. "So someone who had a misdemeanor drug charge at 18 can be denied a state license to teach or become a physical therapist. Any employer can look at your criminal record and deny you a job. So you see how the provisions begin to intertwine --- how they work together to create poverty and ensure a high rate of recidivism, especially in places like Monroe and Erie Counties, where the economy is bad and getting a job is difficult."
"Once you have been in prison, you serve a life sentence even after you have been released," said Vesely-Flad. "This is especially evident in the black community."
The foster-care system is another example.
"In New York, a child can be put up for adoption if it is in foster care for 15 continuous months out of 22," she said. "So we have mothers, often serving two and three-year sentences for minor drug offenses, who come out of prison childless."
Part of Vesely-Flad's interest in the prison population stems from seeing the emotional pain that life in prison inflicts on everyone involved, from families of those incarcerated to the families of people working in prisons. Prison guards, for example, are nearly twice as likely as workers in other fields to suffer from depression and alcoholism, according to research by the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit group that examines crime and social policy. Vesely-Flad is also challenged by what she views as "little political will to recognize the need for change to a bankrupt policy."
"Even though crime is going down, we are building prisons almost at the same rate as schools in New York," she said. Prisoner populations are included in the US Census count. And seven Upstate districts, said Vesely-Flad, without the prisoners, the population wouldn't be large enough to warrant a state senator. "Then you have to ask yourself why state Senator Dale Volker [Republican] has worked so aggressively to keep the Rockefeller drug laws on the books. There are 8,900 people in his district in prison."
--- Tim Louis Macaluso
JAZZIN WITH JAMES
According to her own website, www.etta-james.com, vocal goddess Etta James will perform Friday, June 16, at Rochester's Eastman Theatre. Given the time and place, that likely means the "At Last" singer is another big name attached to the 2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival. And pianist Mose Allison's website lists that he'll appear June 12 at Kilbourn Hall.
Although the official schedule won't be unveiled until later this week, names have been leaking like a sieve for weeks. Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band have been confirmed to start things off June 9. Other stars unofficially attached include James Brown, Toots Thielemans, Joe Locke, the Charlie Hunter Trio, Roomful of Blues, Karrin Allyson, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Asylum Street Spankers, Jane Bunnett & Spirits of Havana, Kenny Werner, Papa Grows Funk, Chris Berry & Panjea, Red Stick Ramblers, The Bruce Katz Band, and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. (All of these names have been listedon Pollstar, the national concert website, but as Jazz Fest promoter John Nugent notes, nothing's official until the contract's signed.)
TO BUILD A DORM
The outcry over plans to build a new dorm at the Brighton Campus of Monroe Community College doesn't appear to be diminishing.
The latest salvo came late last month in the form of leaflets condemning the project, distributed throughout neighborhoods in the districts of some Republican legislators.
"Your county legislator is not working for the best interest of your community," reads the top line of the sheet. It goes on to characterize the construction project as "a sweetheart deal to a big political contributor" and the result of "a no-bid contract."
Jack Driscoll, a Republican legislator among those targeted, was particularly incensed by the leaflets. Calling them a "personal attack," Driscoll, who represents a district in Henrietta, angrily disputed the allegations.
"That's a blatant lie," he said. "There is no truth to this. There is not a single fact. There is no fact to it, none whatsoever."
Nothing on the pamphlet identifies its source other than a cryptic "Concerned Citizens" line, but legislators on both sides of the aisle attributed the leaflets to a union campaign. Rochester Building Trades President Dan Conte, who has publicly opposed the new dorm because it's not a public works project (and therefore wouldn't pay prevailing wage) was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Whoever is behind the campaign, it may backfire. Asked if he'd made up his mind about whether to vote in favor of the project, Driscoll said, "I'm still listening," then quickly brandished one of the leaflets that landed on his lawn and added: "If I look at this, I'm going to vote for it. This is inexcusable."
His remarks came after the conclusion of a meeting of the CountyLegislature's Planning and Economic Development Committee March 27. At the meeting, the committee voted along party lines to approve a referral authorizing the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency to issue bonds to pay for the project. Republicans downplayed the authorization as a formality, and Assistant County Executive Jerry Helfer said that last year it passed unanimously. Nevertheless, Dems in both the Planning and Economic Development and the Ways and Means Committees used it as an opportunity to air their concerns about the project --- especially their contention that "the structure of this action is set up to circumvent the prevailing wage requirement," in the words of legislator Harry Bronson.
Because laborers would spend the additional money they earn locally, creating an economic multiplier effect, "it's a win-win if we pay prevailing wages," says Bronson.
MCC President Tom Flynn was on hand at both committee meetings to discuss the way the dorm construction is being funded.
Eleven other community-college dorms are being built around the state, and "none of these are public works projects," Flynn at the Ways and Means meeting. "Nearly all of them have used IDAs. Without COMIDA funding we would have to cancel the residence hall."
Flynn and GOP members of the legislature have also cast the financing structure as necessary to keep costs affordable for students who'd be living in the dorm. If the dorm were built as a public works project, "we'd be looking at an increase in the project of 20 to 35 percent," Flynn said, and MCC would have to pass that cost on to students.
The full legislature takes up the matter at its next meeting, April 11. There will be a public hearing on the issue at that meeting at 6:15 p.m.
--- Krestia DeGeorge
- Frank De Blase
- SDG operations manager John Dawsey: preparing for the opening.
The HighFalls entertainment district gets a much-needed shot in the arm this week with the opening of Saddle Ridge Entertainment Resort, a five-venue, 40,000-square-foot complex in the old Jillian's space. This Thursday, April 6, SDG Properties holds a grand opening for three of the businesses, Cheyenne Supper Club, King Pinz, and Palm Bar Ultra Lounge, with the remaining Cocoa Loco Mexican Cantina and Saddle Ridge Rock slated to open April 13. The festivities start Thursday at 8 p.m. at The Saddle Ridge Entertainment Resort, 61 Commercial Street in HighFalls, 325-3030. (Call for cover. 21+.)
--- Frank De Blase
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's is promoting a tax credit to help property owners with lead-paint abatement. And that may help quell tensions between lead cleanup activists and the landlords charged with footing the bill.
Clinton announced her proposed legislation during a visit to Rochester's School 17 last week. If the tax credit is approved, landlords could write off 50 percent of the cost of lead-paint abatement measures up to $3,000, or interim control measures up to $1,000.
Clinton, who was invited to the area by the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, praised Rochester lawmakers for the city's new lead-control law. "We have in place a plan for Rochester to be a model for the entire region," she said, adding that the tax credit has both Democratic and Republican sponsors.
But her optimism irked at least one area landlord: Larry "Skip" Weekes.
Weekes, who owns several properties in northwest Rochester, says it's great that the senator is trying to help landlords with lead remediation costs, but he wonders how long it will take for the tax credit to be approved.
In addition, only certain property owners will be eligible for the tax credit. Buildings must have been built before 1960, house children under 6 years of age or women of childbearing age, and be occupied by low-income residents.
It will likely be at least a year before work starts at the former Genesee Hospital complex, but the day will come, says Buckingham Properties head Larry Glazer.
Glazer plans to buy the vacant hospital and its 16-acre campus from ViaHealth, but he hasn't yet decided what to do with it. He says he will spend a year researching options, and about another six months demolishing the hospital building. Ground likely won't be broken on the new venture until 2008, he says. The two medical office buildings on the campus, which still house some practices, will remain. "No one's going to be moved out," says Glazer.
Glazer also plans to coordinate his efforts with neighbors, area merchants, and others who have had a relationship with the hospital.
"This has been sitting as an empty lump for five years," says Glazer, who says the property gives him "the opportunity to take something that's substantial and re-energize it."