Occupy Albany: Trick Or Treat?

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Happy Halloween! Last weekend, New York Governor Andy Cuomo ordered his dog, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, to have state and city cops chase Occupy Albany campers out of a downtown park in the Capital City. But oops, both sets of cops (and Albany County District Attorney David Soares) balked. Lots of reasons. Some jake, some not. Among the latter, law enforcement concern (according to Soares) that a forcible removal would trigger a simpatico, bad publicity action by the riotous Kegs N’ Eggs SUNY kids up in Pine Hills, aka the Student Ghetto. As if! Beer isn’t being served by Occupy Albany. Question: is Governor Andy snarling about his lack of authority? Will he punish bad dog Jerry by withholding bacon bacon bacon? And finally– can Occupy Albany attract real folks not just the usual aged-in-wood suspects? Here’s hoping. Sincerely.

Andy's Trick or Treat

 

 

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Albany’s Historic Student Ghetto: Kegs N Eggs Mark the Spot

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Albany, New York isn’t just the seat of a clown car state government– it’s also a college town. And college students, when boozed to the gills, can out-bozo politicians. (Well, almost.) On March 12th crowds of drunken students rioted in the Albany neighborhood known as the student ghetto. The lads and lassies, most of whom seemed to be from UAlbany (a major campus of the State University of New York aka SUNY), had prepped for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade with hours of bar crawls and Kegs and Eggs house parties. Eventually the breakfast bunch spewed out onto the frosty streets.

The Albany Student Press claims that the Albany police, in an effort to tamp down the annual festival of collegiate binge drinking, had rousted the house parties. Pushing participants outdoors where “frat boys and sorority chicks”* joined them in solidarity. The non-student press hasn’t mentioned any rousts. Whatever. Hundreds of students milled in the streets, wearing neon green tees and bellowing like cattle on jimsonweed. Smaller groups commenced to trash. Cars were pushed into the street and smashed. Appliances were hurled from balconies. Cans and bottles flew. Several cops were tackled. Most (though not all) in the crowd laughed to see such sport. Their cellphones captured the riot. YouTube took it viral. Suddenly, all eyes were on Albany’s student ghetto.

Albany pols and college officials freaked. Were they riled by the riot– or the nationwide publicity?

Callow binge drinkers have been stampeding in the student ghetto for years. And not just during the daze of St. Pat’s. A brief search of YouTube turns up numerous vids of students from UAlbany and the College of St. Rose (a private university adjacent to the student ghetto) making merry on many occasions. Heck– I lived on the edge of the student ghetto in 2000/2001 and can personally attest that every weekend, except for ones during breaks and vacations, was a holiday in the hood. Or should I say– a party in its mouth? The sidewalks were a mosaic of greasy pizza boxes, crushed beer cups, broken bottles, and vom. In winter the mosaic froze over, spring brought the big patty melt.

Walking through the student ghetto was an eyeball assault. Its once-beautiful two and three family homes were sinking into the sludge. Absentee landlords and young lugs living la vida transient don’t do upkeep. A virtual tour of the homes’ interiors can now be had on YouTube. Footage of semiconscious or completely zonked students being owned by their roomies is a staple on Student Ghetto, The Reality Show. If you look past the limp bodies in funny degrading poses, you can see the subdivided warrens, rats’ nest wiring, and broken windows covered with trash bags.

Code enforcement? What code enforcement?

I used to wonder if parents actually visited their kids’ digs. And what they thought if they did. After all, parents frequently pay for those digs. Some even send rent directly to the landlords. I also wondered if parents understood the intensity– and heavy underage aspect– of the student ghetto bar scene. It gave me quite a turn to see really young girls staggering out of bars blitzed blind and dumb. Particularly since the neighborhood is also a crime scene.

Muggings, assaults, and burglary shadow the student ghetto. Students are perceived as easy pickings; predators from other ghettos come to partake. In the autumn of 2008, a UAlbany senior was shot to death a few blocks from where I once lived. Drug trade? It’s like, historic. One street has an evil rep going back decades. From my window I watched deals going down on the corner of said street. The longevity of its rep made me cynical (wrongly, I’m sure) about notifying the Albany police. Instead I called the county cops and hoped for the best.

But back to Kegs and Eggs. Some 40 students were arrested. A few days after the riot YouTube footage was being used to identify more participants. Pictures taken from videos were released to the press. (Many of the alleged perps seemed in dire need of Clearasil.) Detective James Miller, official spokesman for the Albany Police Department, promised swift and certain justice.

On March 16th, a New York Daily News editorial blasted SUNY Albany for being known for “hard partying” rather than quality education. The editorial also denounced the “moms and dads” of the rioters, for contributing to a “culture you let sprout into criminal proceedings”. The next day, the first of the UAlbany students seen in the video pictures turned himself in. OMG! His father turned out to be Bob Sapio, senior executive editor of the New York Daily News. Was Dad’s face red!

Also red faced: Detective James Miller, official spokesman for the Albany Police Department. On March 18th Detective Miller (now on suspension) was arrested for allegedly driving drunk. In an official vehicle, while off duty. Miller apparently refused to take a breathalyser test. DWI cases can be more difficult to prosecute sans results from breath tests. In some cities, police officers aren’t allowed to refuse breathalysers. But Albany has its own way of doing things.

For instance, despite much local coverage of the Kegs and Eggs riot, plus related articles about housing conditions in the student ghetto, the neighborhood’s worst landlords have yet to be outed by the news media. And given the lack of code enforcement (a problem in more nabes than just the student ghetto) you’d expect some investigative reporting on who hearts who– politically speaking.

Another Albany oddity: the in-office longevity of Mayor Jerry Jennings. When Jennings ran for his first term in 1993 yes 1993 he waxed reformer about the student ghetto and vowed change. He renews those vows regularly. Particularly when public funding can be accessed via the vowing.

In April 2005, Mayor Jennings took an after dark walking tour of the student ghetto, accompanied by the late Kermit L. Hall, then president of SUNY at Albany. The town and gown twosome dialogued with students hanging in front of bars and tut-tutted over slum conditions. President Hall vowed to help rid the neighborhood of drugs, violence, and blight. Some $400,000 in government grants was set to flow through the New York State Division Of Criminal Justice into a “historic partnership”** between SUNY Albany and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC– as part of the crime fighting initiative Operation Impact. The Albany police were eventually outfitted with cool tech tools via Operation Impact. Department officials say crime in Albany is being fought more successfully thanks to those tools. Folks in and around the student ghetto aren’t convinced.

Operation Impact is one of many initiatives that over the years, have been accessed by Mayor Jerry Jennings and a string of area college officials in efforts to re-imagine the student ghetto. Yet somehow, the neighborhood remains a place where impressionable young oafs and oafettes pick up the perception that civilization is far far away.

But change may finally be in the wind. City officials are now making a concentrated effort to refer to the student ghetto as the Education District…

*Assigning blame for Kegs N Eggs melee, Albany Student Press, 03/26/11

**Governor Pataki Announces Historic Partnership with UAlbany and John Jay College to Develop Enhanced Crime Fighting Initiatives Impact, Office of the Governor Press Release, 04/04/05

 

 

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Governor Andrew Cuomo: Day One, Everything Freezes

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

And so it begins. Not with a bang but a brrrrrr. On January 5th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo laid down his first State of the State address in a freezing cold auditorium at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. The space wasn’t frigid by accident. Some like it hot, but Andy does not. According to a Cuomo minion quoted in the New York Times, walk-in refrigerators are his thing. The “meat locker”* temp at the Center drove some older legislators to wrap themselves in blankets. Which apparently are kept handily at hand in the Empire State Plaza linen closet.

Imagine the scene as seen from the podium by Andrew Cuomo! New York’s most venerable reps (some of whom have held office since the daze of Rip Van Winkle) huddled in blankets like refugees, their blue-lipped faces upturned in a mass mask of rapt attention.

None the less, the clapping for Cuomo was somewhat subdued– folks feared their fingers might shatter.

Another big chill: Cuomo’s inaugural address in the State Capital on New Year’s Day. The evening before, his office ordered that the windows of the room where Andy would speak be kept open all night. Whether or not the heat was turned off in that room, or the rest of the building, during those hours is unknown. It’s also not known if Cuomo counted how many blankets were returned by the venerable legislators after his frosty State of the State. My guess is yes– the heat was snuffed and the blankets counted. Andy has promised to cut waste and spending and protect New York taxpayers. He’s also promising to deliver “a new reality”**. Hopefully, the latter won’t include a New Ice Age.

Personally, I get nervous when pols use such godlike terms. X Governor Eliot Spitzer was big on holy pronouncements. Most famous: “Day one, everything changes.” On Spitzer’s inauguration day, New Yorkers got up bright and early. Couldn’t wait to see the sun rise in the west. Alas. No go. But not much more than a year later, everyone in the USA got to see Spitzer go down in the east.

While campaigning Andrew Cuomo took care to distance himself from Spitzer; keeping his control freak tamped down (most of the time) and vowing not to be planning any big changes for “day one”. His choice of residence as governor is in keeping with that vow. Like the last three governors before him (including Eliot Spitzer) Cuomo won’t be living full time in the Governor’s Mansion in Albany. His main digs will be downstate, where most of the state’s money lives.

Some Albanians were disappointed by Andy’s choice, seeing that he implied otherwise while campaigning. They should be heaving sighs of relief. The Mansion is an old historic building. Four years or more of open windows on winter nights would destroy it. Then there’s the havoc that the frozen water pipes and lines would wreak on the nearby sidewalk and street. Plus, if Andy were to hang in the mansion full time his significant other, Sandra Lee, might be tempted to go on a decorating binge. Anyone who’s seen her holiday “tablescapes” on the Food Channel knows what that would mean. Think pink pink pink and acres of frou-frou. The graceful old manse would wind up looking like a semi-homemade pop tart.

Back to Andy’s love of the freeze. Why is a mystery. Sure– some unkind people say his eyes have a shark-like quality. And that his political ambitions keep him circling endlessly, without sleeping. But I don’t believe for an instant that Andy is a secret Great White who needs the deep chill and wants to swallow smaller fish and rip the limbs off unlucky surfers. My guess is that the New York Times reporter had it right when she suggested Andy may like cold rooms ’cause they keep audiences alert. When I heard his State of the State on the radio my windows were shut and the heat was on. After about 10 minutes of Andy’s fifty minute speech, I was feeling sleepy very sleepy…

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

*Going to an Event Featuring Cuomo? Take a Coat, or Maybe a Blanket, Elizabeth A Harris, New York Times, 01/06/11

Cuomo outlines new reality”, Jimmy Vielkind, Albany Times Union, 01/03/11

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Spontaneous Combustion in Albany?

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

On October 22, an enormous (11 stories, 500,000 square feet) abandoned warehouse on the Albany, New York waterfront caught fire. Smoke blanketed a large section of the city’s downtown and an adjacent highway. After five days, the fire at Central Warehouse continues to flare, with firemen hosing it down from the outside due to fear of possible combustibles within.

What-to-do-with-Central-Warehouse has been a downtown Albany development question for years. Abandoned since the late 1980′s, Central Warehouse (CW) reached rock bottom in ’97 when it was sold for a dollar and back taxes. Since then it’s passed (some might say flipped) through a number of hands, with the price steadily rising along the way. The last sale took place in 2007 for $1.4 mil. The buyers were a team composed of Axiom Capital, an Albany-based commercial real estate financing firm, and CW Montgomery LLC, a group of undisclosed partners. At the time, Axiom thought the state might kick in a $5 million rehab grant from the Restore New York program.

Over the years, no rehabs of CW happened. But much talk was talked about turning the building into a condo/commercial/retail palace. Sure, the highway overpass and railway bridge right outside the building’s non-existent windows were a tad problematical. As were the non-existent windows themselves, and assorted environmental hazards within the structure. CW, a former refrigeration and dry storage facility, is a veritable concrete fortress. Chock full of environmental bads. Punching out windows and removing the bads would be difficult and ultra pricey. Not impossible tho. As for the highway overpass, if the CW’s young professional residents looked past the stream of cars flowing past their windows, they’d have a glorious view of the Hudson River. The railway bridge? Mooning Amtrak from the comfort of your loft-style condo is a great way to cap bar crawls.

Yep– the plans to revitalize CW were grand. Alas. As the real estate bubble deflated, so did the plans.

But back to that blaze. Among the hands through which Central Warehouse passed were those of Brooklyn developer Joshua Guttman of Albany Assets LLC. It was Guttman who in 2007, allegedly sold CW to Axiom and the undisclosed partners of CW Montgomery. Joshua Guttman (not related to Caspar Gutman, the morbidly obese, obsessive seeker of the Maltese Falcon) has a history of troubled development projects turning smoky. Prime example: the 10 alarm Greenpoint Terminal Market fire of May, 2007. The immense Brooklyn waterfront property was left in ruins. Declared to be arson, the fire was ultimately laid at the door (shopping cart?) of a vagrant.

Incidentally, the Central Warehouse fire is being considered suspicious. Vagrants have been spotted on the premises. (So have some mysterious workers who seemed to be removing copper fixtures.) But unlike the Greenpoint Terminal Market, CW isn’t in ruins. Yet.

Update: Central Warehouse (aka 143 Montgomery Street) is apparently still on the market. Offered at $4.9 million by Carrow Real Estate Services of Albany. With possible grants still available for rehab. Carrow is headed by Charles M. Carrow. On the company’s website Charles Carrow is described as a board member and treasurer of the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID). The BID knows good grants! However, Mr. Carrow isn’t listed in either position on the current BID site. More news: the culprit behind the fire at CW may have been nabbed. The mysterious workers allegedly done it. Though previously engaged in legit labor at the warehouse under the auspices of CW Montgomery et al, the varmints allegedly snuck back in to crib fixtures. While popping pipes, their torches ignited the building’s cork-lined walls. Will the resulting damage mean “New Price” for Central Warehouse? And if a buyer bites, will the possible grants materialize? Stay tuned…

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A Bolt From The Sky

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

It was a warm day in early October. Even Albany looked beautiful in the Autumn light. Stan’s monthly Shriners’ meeting had gone swimmingly. He felt confidant of being elected Grand Poobah. Casting his eyes heavenward he said a silent prayer of thanks. At that moment–

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