Big Catholic Boo 4 Obama, Bah 4 Limbaugh the Lesser

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff


 

I rarely come on all Catholic. I don’t feel entitled. My Catholicism was acquired via conversion; defending the faith seems best left to those who’ve held it in their heart all along and whose knowledge is more profound. Plus, I’m not a good Catholic in practice. Raised an atheist, I never set foot in a church until well into adulthood. I believe– but I’m deficient when it comes to habits of worship.

Then there’s my reluctance to attend church locally. Complaints by victims of pedophile priests were swept under the rug for decades by the Albany Diocese. (I live in the Albany, New York area.) Unlike better Catholics who rise above the failings of human beings and connect with the eternal Church, I get hung up on the actions and inactions of its temporal leaders. My bad. I mean that sincerely. I only hope God cuts me some slack for being slack.

Being a slacker doesn’t mean I don’t notice that anti-Catholic bigotry has become a ho hum staple of pop culture. Not to worry tho. The Church has outlasted many a meat dress. Far more disturbing are the anti-Catholic actions of our government. As in, the effort by President Obama and his Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force Catholic institutions to provide employee coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs– medical procedures antithetical to Catholic belief.

For the record, I agree with the Catholic Church about abortion. I don’t agree about before-the-fact contraception. This in no way tempers my being appalled by Obama’s attempt at a massive, unconstitutional expansion of government power into the realm of religion. Never thought I’d see the day when an American president, with the backing of many in his party and much of the mainstream media, would attempt to annex Catholicism. Or for that matter, any religion. Hubris, much?

The Church has clashed with, and outlasted, other big-headed heads of state with a sex beef. Prime example, Henry VIII. The Church has also clashed with war lovers. See George Bush II.

Dubya and crew were steamed when the Church wouldn’t declare the Iraq war a just war. Neoconservatives were all over the media, crowing that polls showed American Catholics were overwhelmingly for the war. In 2003, neocon Catholic pundit Michael Novak flew to Rome and tried to make Pope John Paul II see the light. No go. The war didn’t jive, theology-wise. A few years later, Pope Benedict XVI didn’t buy it either.

To Dubya’s credit, he never tried to force Catholic institutions to arm their employees.

In the 20th Century, Catholicism was targeted by totalitarian regimes– the most extreme practitioners of thuggery against religious freedom. Those regimes are gone; the Church is still standing. In the 1980’s, the Church stood with Eastern Europe as it moved from communism to democracy.  In Poland, Pope John Paul II threw the Church’s weight behind Solidarity, the labor-based mass movement that contributed mightily to the fall of the Soviet Union. At the time, conservatives called Catholicism their new best friend.

The Catholic Church never makes the right or the left happy for long. Just when the right thinks it has the Church in its freedom loving pocket, she goes and makes some annoying pronouncement about unfettered greed, economic disparity, and the rights of workers. And harps on the suffering of civilians bombed in the name of preventative war. Just when the left is priding itself on its love for humanity, the Church says something about our responsibility to protect the helpless and how there’s nothing more helpless than an unborn baby. Then tallies the huge number of unborn babies who’ve died on the altar of reproductive rights.

Back to the hubris thing–

Rush Limbaugh has a ginormous head. He recently opened it and spewed forth some trash talk about Sandra Fluke, former president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice at Georgetown University. Rush’s spew was in response to Fluke’s testimony in Congress as to why the Obama administration should force Catholic institutions such as Georgetown to provide coverage for medical treatments that violate Catholic beliefs. Ever the political opportunist, Rush is Catholic-friendly this election cycle.  With friends like that…

Rush Limbaugh is merely a meat dress. You can turn him off. Same goes for trash talkers on the other side. Turning off government-gone-wild is a whole lot harder. But thankfully, not impossible. Remember Solidarity and smile.Thomas Sarnecki, "Solidarity Poster - "High Noon 4 June 1989"," Making the History of 1989, Item #699, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/699 (accessed March 07 2012, 10:36 pm).

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Parker’s Chill, Cuomo’s Crony Capitalism Fever

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

While down with the flu in January, I read a lot of Richard Stark. Aka Donald Westlake. A pile of volumes from Stark/Westlake’s Parker series towered on my nightstand. The adventures and misadventures of Parker, an ultra cold hearted professional thief, were the perfect antidote to fever.

The late Donald Westlake grew up in Albany, New York. When interviewed in 1995, Westlake sounded sardonic and oblique about his youth in the capital city. And while a number of books in the Parker series take place in upstate New York, Albany is never a central location*. Characters pass through it or around it. Usually in a stolen car.

In Backflash (Mysterious Press, 1998) Albany as the seat of state government is central to the plot, yet few scenes are set in the city. A complex heist and series of murders are put in motion by Hilliard Cathman, a retired fiscal planner for the state. Cathman whiles away his retiree time as a public policy consultant with a low rent office near the “huge dark stone pile of the statehouse”. He is, as Parker puts it, one of the “camp followers of state government”.

Due to his opposition to legalized gambling, Cathman is an unsuccessful camp follower. His potential clients in legislative places are eager to tap into a major new source of revenue; Cathman won’t give them his consultant stamp of approval. His objections to gambling are arguable but reasonable. But as Parker suspects, Cathman’s ego investment in being proven right has become unbalanced.

To prove his premise that gambling draws crime, Cathman recruits Parker to rob a riverboat casino that’s being allowed to ply the Hudson between Albany and Poughkeepsie as a limited-time experiment. The casino’s political backers hope the experiment proves so successful as to open the door to gambling statewide. As a fiscal planner for the state, Cathman was privy to inside info about the casino’s security arrangements, etc. He feeds the info to Parker and his crew. They successfully pull the heist.

As usual in a Parker book, there are numerous slips twixt cup and lip. Most caused by the greed and stupidity of pilot fish swarming the haul. But the wildest card in the set-up is Cathman. In a final confrontation in Cathman’s home in Delmar (an Albany suburb popular with state employees) Parker discovers just how far round the bend Cathman has gone– and that he has a self-aggrandizing plan which if allowed to play out will doom Parker.

How many times do regular citizens make the same discovery about policy planners? Parker is Everyman!

Speaking of planners with killer bees in their bonnets…

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is big on forging more public-private partnerships as engines of state economic development. He said so in his Executive Budget speech on January 17th. (While sick I read non-fiction fiction as well as the real stuff.)

Yes indeed. More crony capitalism will cure New York’s economic ills. And Anna Nicole Smith needed bigger breast implants.

New York is crony capitalism central. The quadruple D example? The public-private partnership of Wall Street and Washington that pumped the housing bubble and sank the economy beneath a mountain of dodgy mortgage-backed investment paper. As assistant secretary and then secretary of HUD from 1993 to 2001, Andrew Cuomo helped steer housing policy when the bubble started swelling and the paper flying. Cuomo’s HUD policies included pushing “a reform that allowed Fannie (Mae) and Freddie (Mac) to receive affordable-housing credit for buying private subprime mortgage-backed securities”**.

HUD was also the parent organization of OFHEO (Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight), the agency then charged with oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. OFHEO, under Cuomo and other HUD heads, resisted efforts to change Fannie and Freddie’s murky and ultimately disastrous public-private status.

By the time the bubble popped, Andrew Cuomo was New York State Attorney General. In 2007, Attorney General Cuomo announced that in light of the pop, he was launching an investigation into “industry-wide mortgage fraud”. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were prime targets. In a letter to Freddie Mac Cuomo implied that Fan and Fred had colluded with lenders to profit from mortgages based on inflated appraisals. In a matter of months, Cuomo’s investigation dissolved into a payout of $24 million from Fannie and Freddie. No admittance of wrongdoing required. The fraud problem was found to lay mainly with– and could be corrected at– the appraisal level.

Fannie and Freddie’s payout went to establishing the Independent Valuations Protection Institute. The institute, with board members approved by Andrew Cuomo, would monitor lenders for compliance with a new Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) authored by Cuomo. Though merely a state attorney general, Cuomo’s national clout re appraisal policy was enhanced by support for the code from OFHEO, the agency overseeing Fannie and Freddie.

In the bubble years many appraisers complained about being pressured by lenders to inflate values. Yet equally large numbers hate the reform Cuomo engineered. Some claim he had a conflict of interest when establishing HVCC.

Starting in 2004 and until becoming NY attorney general, Cuomo was chairman of the board of advisors at Appraisal Management Company (AMCO) a Cleveland-based private “independent valuations solutions company” doing business with national lenders. AMCO, a subsidiary of Worldwide Outsource Solutions Ltd., had a board full of HUD; including former HUD secretary Jack Kemp (under Bush 1) and assistant secretary William Apgar (under Clinton). Edward J. Davidson (Ed Davidson), CEO and board chairman of AMCO and Worldwide Outsource, has been a consultant for Fannie Mae.

In October, 2004, Cuomo, Kemp and Apgar told reporters at the Mortgage Bankers Association annual convention that “the integrity of the appraisal process has broken down”. American Banker described the presentation as “part admonishment of lenders, part sales pitch for a vendor”.***

In March, 2005, Cuomo, Davidson, Kemp and Apgar, in a letter on AMCO stationary, pressed OFHEO’s drirector, Armando Falcon, to have a “totally independent source” review the loans within Fannie and Freddie’s “securities field”.

In February 2006, AMCO issued a press release applauding board member Andrew Cuomo’s support for the newly formed non-profit Appraisal Advocacy Coalition. According to Inman News (a real estate publication), the coalition’s missions included protecting appraisers from “unfair competition“.

Maybe HVCC was a much needed reform. Note “was”. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is slated to end HVCC. (Then again, it may just be whittled down. Appraisers fear that the reports of HVCC’s death are greatly exaggerated.)

Discerning the true motives of public-private players can be tough. When on the public side, they so often launch investigations and reforms that obfuscate obfuscate obfuscate. I say keep the public public and the private private. It makes the game easier to call.

When Governor Andrew Cuomo touts public-private partnerships as the path to NY economic development, a sizable majority of New Yorkers get starry eyed. Not I.  It took more than the housing bubble and its bad paper and players to make me an unbeliever. Viewing New York’s public-private deal maker, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC or ESD), in action has also been instructive…

See corruption and wishful thinking meet and marry! See billions in public money tossed at elephantine projects that come to naught! See ginormous tax breaks produce handfuls of jobs in depressed regions! And oh yeah– see small property owners get dispossessed at the behest of powerful developers. Rampent eminent domain abuse being one of the rottenest of New York’s public-private fruits.

Next up in the fruit bowl: Governor Cuomo’s plan for a massive Las Vegas style casino in New York City. Most likely at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. The casino would be built by the Genting Group of Malaysia. (They already run slots at Aqueduct.) To enhance the project, the state would erect “the largest convention center in the nation”  nearby. And get this; the casino could put all of New York State on “an inside track to expanded gambling”.

I just hope nobody tries to chill the project with a Parker.

As for Cuomo, his crony capitalism fever keeps rising. In late January, corporate campaign donors with their eyes on infrastructure prizes paid $50,000 each to sit next to Cuomo on a panel at a national Democratic Governors Association conference. The confab, which was held in Manhattan, was hosted by Governor Cuomo. No press or public allowed.

Sometimes it pays to go private.

 

* “I’ll leave Albany to Bill Kennedy. He’s found a lot more there to write about than I did.”  Mystery Man award-winning novelist Donald Westlake remembers his Albany haunts, Paul Grondahl, Albany Times Union, 10/21/95

** Cuomo’s HUD career under scrutiny, Buffalo News, 08/21/10

***Fears about Appraisals, and Other MBA Buzz, Jody Shenn, American Banker, 10/27/04

 

 

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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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Left, Right, Third Party in Sight?

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Remember the late great Tea Party? The grass roots movement that made the political establishment quake? For one glorious moment it seemed as if a truly independent, average Joe/Joan movement might be gathering steam. A memory from that halcyon time: assorted TV pundits telling Republican leaders that Tea Party people “don’t like you guys either”. To which said leaders would put on a humble face and mumble something about how Republicans had lost their way and needed to get back on track. The big spending, corruption, and support for endless wars were missteps off the path of Republican core values.

In truth, no missteps were made. The Republican core was intact. Albeit shared with the Democrats. Big spending, corruption, and endless wars R both parties.

Though the following factoid has disappeared into the memory hole of ideological rewrites, a goodly number of those initially drawn to the Tea Party did not support endless wars. They supported the troops ’cause that’s a question of loyalty. But adventures-in-nation-building weren’t their thing. They were also concerned about losing civil liberties via Homeland Security overkill. And most Tea Party protesters blamed Wall Street, as much as government, for the financial meltdown of 2008. Lest we forget, the Tea Party really took off when the too-big-to-fail banks and other financial entities that partied with housing bubble paper were bailed out by taxpayers.

For a brief period the left was equally vociferous re the bailouts. But the moment of rapprochement between progressives and Tea Party types, along with the potential for game-changing coalitions, passed when it dawned on the left that coming down too hard on taxpayer infusions and massive government interventions might not set the right tone for passing health care reform. The Tea Party was way suspicious of government (almost as much as the 60’s counter-culture had been) and it was the wrong time to fan such suspicion. Instead ’twas time to ridicule and revile the masses of average Americans who feared that a government redo would make the failings of U.S. health care worse instead of better. That this fear might be based on, say, observation of the role federal policies played in inflating and eventually collapsing the housing market buttered no progressive parsnips. As for the fear that Obamacare would be Homeland Security in a nurse’s uniform, how paranoid was that?

While the left was in the basement mixing up the medicine and the Tea Party was on the pavement thinking about the government, the Republicans seized the time. Coming back strong as champions of the people and enemy of the political elite. (Insert row of laughing emoticons here.) Hoovering up the Tea Party and making it their own. The more the left trashed “tea baggers” the more the independent spark in the Tea Party dimmed. Tea talk started sounding more and more like the type of Republican conservatism dished by Limbaugh & company. Critiques of state capitalism, particularly as practiced during the Bush years, were out. So were thoughts of a third party. Union bashing was in. With public employee unions cast as evil incarnate.

After several years of government hearings and investigations into the 2008 financial meltdown, Republicans and Democrats have been unable to reach agreement on who-done-it. Republicans put the blame on the government sponsored mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; Democrats pin it on an insufficiently regulated Wall Street. No prime movers of subprime sleaze (hello Angelo Mozilo), or political enablers (hello Friends of Angelo), or major Wall Street sludge jugglers (too many for a shout out) have been prosecuted. Nor have new lending regulations staunched the growth of mortgage fraud in taxpayer-backed housing programs. However, we will be able to hang some teachers out to dry.

The concordance of big government and big finance that pumped the housing bubble and hence inflated hauls of real estate derived taxes (including property taxes) was not why so many local governments overextended themselves during the boom years and now face disaster during the bust. The real villains were teachers, firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers, and secretaries in public agencies. Aka Joe and Joan Average with a government job. Who, according to the bashers, are not average at all ’cause they get better benefits and more job security than a private sector employee or a small business owner. That being a private sector employee or a small business owner has its own set of advantages butters no conservative parsnips. The right, which typically decries attempts to stir up class warfare, is passing out flaming torches and whipping up envy. Screaming for folks to be stripped (preferably in public?) of their collective bargaining rights. Working to turn the American middle-class against itself.

And I thought only lefties were into creating social chaos…

Incidentally (or not) while the billionaire Koch brothers donated $43,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, housing and Realtor groups kicked in $43,125. Not that Republicans in general are uniquely blessed by the real estate industries. In New York, another state with budget problems, the NYC real estate crowd has been particularly generous to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

As for Joe and Joan Average, who really represents them? The left or the right? Answer: neither. At least, not reliably. Under certain self-serving circumstances both do an occasional good deed. But when push comes to shove in our state capitalist times, Joe and Joan are on their own. Which is less discouraging than it sounds. Being independent means never having to say you’re sorry for noticing that your representatives, no matter how rhetorically righteous, primarily rep big money conjoined with government power.

Third party, anyone?

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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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Robin Palmer: Weatherman Yippie Right Wing Rebel Forever

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

In early February 2009, I was skimming the Drudge Report and came across a headline that went something like this: Protester Throws Shoes at Mayor of Ithaca, New York. I immediately knew the shoe-thrower was my friend Robin Palmer. Robin died this August at age 80. He was a born rebel and lived in that skin all his life. He was never without a cause. Usually multiple causes. Which sometimes seemed wildly contradictory.

Robin ran with the radical left Weathermen in the late 1960’s and early ’70s. He spent several years in Attica prison for trying to bomb a New York City bank. By this millennium he was sort-of right wing. Why “sort-of”? » Continue reading “Robin Palmer: Weatherman Yippie Right Wing Rebel Forever”

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