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News briefs 12.10.03

Pain reliever

Hasaan Mackey never stays in one place long. Since Mackey's mom died 13 years ago, a life of shuffling between relatives' and friends' homes has saddled the 24-year-old with an unsettled feeling.

            Just like his life, his music demands constant adaptation. Mackey's freestyle rap, in which he improvises rhymes to changing hip-hop beats, is so polished it usually sounds rehearsed. Chuck Cerankosky, a local DJ whose label Full Circle Records plans to release a single by Mackey in January, says the rapper wins every freestyle contest he enters. Mackey's deep voice belies his slight build, and the verses he often fires with a machine-gun cadence contradict his quiet disposition. At the open-mic freestyle he hosts at Java's (18 Gibbs Street, 232-4820), Mackey usually sports a black Timberland coat and a long, Mingus-like goatee that personify his fusion of hip-hop and jazz.

            The Rochester native's rhymes range from funny to ferocious, but his inspiration stays constant. Pain motivates him. And he says he sometimes cries on the mic. Before he turned 13, Mackey lost his family. His older sister was murdered when he was six, a tragedy that Mackey says contributed to his mom's alcoholism. Two years after his mom died from sclerosis of the liver, Mackey's father, a diabetic, died of heart failure.

            This loss, as well as Mackey's experiences growing up in the city's tough neighborhoods, will always fuel his material, he says, even if musical aspirations take him beyond Rochester. Cerankosky recalls a time when Mackey used his hometown advantage to outdo nationally known rapper Common in a freestyle battle. After the Common asked for challengers from the audience during a concert earlier this year, Mackey traded rhymes in front of more than 1,000 people. The crowd exploded when Mackey delivered the line, "I know this concert is at RIT, but this is for my people at MCC."

--- Geoff Graser

Made for waiting

It was a scene that might have pleased even Jan Wong: Thousands packed into the Blue Cross Arena to watch the December 3 NCAA hoops game between St. Bonaventure and Syracuse University. Before tip-off, downtown's frigid streets were filled with eager college hoops fans from across the region. And the game itself, despite SU's overall dominance, managed to stay close enough to keep folks enthralled until the final buzzer.

            And that's when the trouble started. It was as if Rochester just had to make a statement: We'll never be a tourist town. To hell with the fast ferry, Cold Rush, and whatever expensive slogans we dream up next.

            Anyone who parked in the Court Street Garage knows exactly what we're talking about: The nearly 90-minute wait to get back on the street. Cars coiled in an endless spiral of frustration. Drivers laying on their horns in bemused hopelessness.

            The problem? A garage full of cars, all leaving at once, and all expected to pay on the way out.

            "You've got all these people who are coming off the highway and they filled up the garage. And [Court Street Garage operators] weren't expecting that," says Larry Seltzer, the city's interim manager of municipal parking. "They knew about the event, but they didn't realize the impact it would have on the garage. Otherwise, they would have made you pre-pay and put the gates up. Us getting a sold-out athletic event like that is probably not going to happen for a long time. But they're gonna do prepay for the next event. Court Street is a great location. And it will be dealt with differently next time."

            But will there be a next time? Ink wonders how many of those frustrated drivers were suburbanites venturing downtown for the rare event. Perhaps they'll think twice before planning their next trip.

            So, in a sense, downtown managed to achieve the impossible: It got people to come. If just couldn't get them to leave.

Waging a battle

When it comes to the minimum wage, New York State is out of step with much of the neighborhood. State law sets the minimum at $5.15 per hour, same as the current federal rate. Not all wage earners are covered, of course: Food-service workers have a minimum wage of $2.90 to $3.30 per hour; tips are supposed to bring them up to par.

            Pennsylvania and New Jersey follow the fed rate, too. But most of New England is ahead of the pack. Here are the federal Department of Labor statistics: Rhode Island and Maine, $6.15 minimum; Vermont, $6.25; Massachusetts, $6.75. Connecticut, now at $6.90, will jump to $7.10 on January 1. On the other hand, Ohio's minimum is $4.25; this drops to $2.80 for employers with gross annual sales under $150,000. (Luckily, the federal rate supersedes that of individual states whose minimums are lower.)

            Now a new coalition has formed to boost New York's minimum to at least $6.75. The coalition --- including ACORN, NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, Citizen Action, Fiscal Policy Institute, Working Families Party, Jobs With Justice, and others --- wants the state legislature to act. The Assembly, says a coalition backgrounder, has passed good bills in recent sessions, but there's a chronic logjam in the Senate.

            Using employment figures for 2002, the Albany-based Fiscal Policy Institute calculates that 6.1 percent of Monroe County's wage-earners would benefit from such a hike. Those are the more than 22,000 local workers who now make between $5.15 and $6.74, according to the FPI. Remember that fact when you're told that "everybody" around here already makes around seven bucks an hour.

Hats off to food group

Rochester Food Not Bombs provides free perishable foods to people in need; the group says it's now distributing around three tons of groceries to 240 people per week. It's also part of a movement that promotes peace and social justice through a vegetarian meals program.

            Now RFNB has struck gold --- a $25,000 grant from the UPS (United Parcel Service) Foundation, which focuses on volunteerism, hunger, and literacy. The grant will be used to buy a refrigerated truck, say RFNB organizers.

            The group, which also has connections to the local hardcore music scene, is busy renovating a commercial building on Lyell Avenue near West Broad Street. You can follow the action by visiting

Money for the arts

Fourteen mid-sized arts agencies are set to receive a total of $45,000 from the county. The full legislature was due to vote on the spending yesterday. The funding was approved in committee by a vote of 11 to 0.

            The contracts provide funding to agencies with revenues between $95,000 and $1.6 million to support their efforts to encourage participation and education in the arts.

            The agencies are: Aesthetic Education Institute; Blackfriars Theatre; BOA Editions Limited; Downstairs Cabaret Theatre; Genesee Center for the Arts & New Ideas; Hochstein School of Music; Landmark Society; Rochester Arts and Lectures; Rochester Association of the Performing Arts; Rochester Children's Theatre; Rochester City Ballet; Visual Studies Workshop; Writers & Books; Young Audiences.

            The money is included in the 2003 county budget.