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February 18, 2007


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

February 18 , 2007

Snow As A Weapon Of War

The City uses the Valentine's Day Blizzard for political harassment

See the **UPDATE** at the end of the article.

By Wednesday morning February 14, some 24 inches of snow had fallen on Albany since the night before. Our neighborhood was particularly hard hit . . . but not by the snow.

Up until late Friday night we fared pretty well with the snow removal. It was the middle of the week, and the suburban vehicles that barrel through our neighborhood had to be kept moving without obstruction. The City spared no effort for them.

Saturday morning 9 AM, The Wife told me to look out the front door. Across the street my neighbor Rick, who had open heart surgery this past November, was angrily clearing snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of his house. Again.

Nothing unusual here. The City snowplow drivers are fond of pushing snow onto the freshly cleared sidewalks. This is because most of the snowplow drivers are suburbanites, thus they have no concept of why we have sidewalks. As far as they are concerned, the taxpayers who pay their salaries clear the sidewalks for no other reason than to provide them a convenient place to shove their loads.

Also, I grew up around truck drivers, and I know how they think. Believe me, those guys really enjoy shoving snow onto freshly shoveled surfaces. Many’s the time I’ve listened to them laugh about doing that.

But this time was different. Something particularly vindictive was going on here. Look at this giant ball of ice that had been carefully deposited directly in front of Rick’s front steps:

My Neighbor Rick And The Thing Left by The City
My Neighbor Rick And The Thing Left by The City

Rick is not a guy who gets angry easily, but c’mon now. “I don’t mind clearing the other stuff they pushed on the walk,” he told me, which I didn’t believe. He does mind. “But I can’t handle that,” pointing his ice chopper at the giant ball of ice. “You know, I’m not supposed to be doing this.”

Acting in the role of agitator, I encouraged him to call the City and complain bitterly. I guess he’d already called once, and had already taken pictures. “Call them over and over until they’re sick of hearing from you,” I said. “And tell them the neighbors are coming outside to take pictures.” That would be me.

“I think I’ll do that,” he proclaimed, and marched up his steps with determination. Turning at the top he added, “ And if they don’t get rid of it, next I’m calling Albany’s finest,” which I took to mean his son-in-law the Albany cop.

Removing The Giant Ball Of Ice, Seen From Our Steps
Removing The Giant Ball Of Ice,
Seen From Our Steps

Well, whatever Rick said must have been effective. About 11 AM at least three pieces of City equipment showed up to remove the giant ball of ice they’d left the night before.

A funny coincidence. A little before 11 AM our Common Council representative Dominick Calsolaro pulled up and left his car parked for a moment alongside the giant ball of ice, completely oblivious to the drama unfolding. Just as he stepped into our doorway to pick up an envelope The Wife had left for him, the first City truck pulled up. The driver told him to get his car out of the way, and law abiding Dominick was behind the wheel and gone before I could holler after him.

It’s just as well. Dominick had been fielding phone calls nonstop from his constituents for two days about the City’s shoddy and selective snow removal throughout the First Ward. But the City took their sweet time plowing his own Clare Avenue, even though they had managed to do all the other nearby streets off Second Avenue immediately.

Hated by Mayor Jennings, Dominick was just as much a victim of kiddie games during this storm as were his constituents. That’s one of the reasons why he is so popular. He suffers the effects of City corruption along with everybody else and refuses to give in.

I hear that Dominick is not the only elected official targeted for abuse in this storm. Common Council President Shawn Morris is also hated by The Mayor. That’s because she doesn’t take orders from His Majesty and because she tries to do what’s right for the City. Word is that her street, Marinello Terrace, was carefully cleaned of snow almost immediately... except at the end of the street by her house. So much for privileged elected officials.

Incidentally, the envelope Dominick picked up in our doorway contained a copy of the State Supreme Court decision by Justice McNamara concerning the City’s illegal spot zoning of a sensitive parcel of Pine Bush to accommodate a corporate hotel chain. The judge ruled the spot zoning invalid.

This re-zoning was done by the infamous lame duck Common Council of December 2005, the same irresponsible bunch of lay-abouts who approved the spot zoning of a parcel on nearby Holland Avenue to suburban style highway commercial. I only mention this to show how many ways the City government makes war upon the taxpayers and citizens, even when it doesn’t snow.

But the giant ice ball on Rick’s sidewalk was only the beginning. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that I noticed the extent of the City’s vindictive attitude toward our neighborhood. I mean, this is really nasty.

I’d been working my way down Morton Avenue with a shovel and an ice chopper reopening cuts through the snow banks that had been filled in with ice chunks overnight by the plow drivers. Like I said, they enjoy doing that when they have permission to do so. Then I made my way to the corner of South Swan Street and saw this:

And They Deliberately BuriedThe Hydrant

And They Deliberately Buried The Hydrant

(photo credit: The Wife)

The plow drivers had not merely shoved snow unto the sidewalks, the drivers had carefully and deliberately smeared the frozen crap up both sidewalks, making them virtually impassable to pedestrians.

As if that wasn’t enough, the plow drivers had carefully heaped solid ice about eight feet high over the fire hydrant. You would never know it was there.

On Thursday The Wife and I labored all day long in the bitter cold to clear off these walks. I had very carefully uncovered both fire hydrants. No, I don’t want a medal for good citizenship. City of Albany residents have 24 hours to make the sidewalks passable after the snow stops falling. We did what we were supposed to do.

But this! If the suburbanite City plow drivers need a place to push their excess snow, there are two uninhabited corners directly across the street in Lincoln Park. If those clowns were simply being lazy, it actually would have been easier to push the snow into the park. They’ve done it before. Instead, they chose to carefully shove the big ice chunks between telephone poles, trees and other street fixtures across a major pedestrian byway.

The Wife immediately swung into action and fired off emails and phone calls. Sad to say, she didn’t have my neighbor Rick’s persuasive manner. Or maybe it was too late in the day. “I’m sorry, but we’ve had a lot of calls like yours,” said some guy at the Department of General Services (DGS.) “There’s only two of us here and nothing can be done until Monday morning at the earliest.”

Right now I’m fighting the urge to reel off a long string of really, really foul nouns and verbs into this laptop. Strung into phrases that make sensitive people faint. Like, offensive.

Why the City targeted our neighborhood with this childish nonsense is easy to figure. This is not the first time Jerry Jennings has gone out of his way to cause harm to our neighborhood. He knows damn well that most everybody in this neighborhood hates his guts. He has worked hard to earn our enmity.

Believe it or not, I am one of the more reasonable critics of The Mayor in this neighborhood. Some of my neighbors roll their eyes with exasperation at my reasonableness. Seriously.

What has the Mayor done to us? Well, let’s see. How about the nine “No Standing Any Time” parking signs planted within about 250 feet of each other. According to the City workers who planted them, these signs were personally ordered by failed former police chief Wolfgang. But Wolfgang, a lousy cop and an even lousier chief, would never have pulled such a stunt without approval from City Hall.

This Unregistered Car Sat On Catherine Street For More Than Two Years
This Unregistered Car Sat On Catherine Street For More
Than Two Years

How about the 15 to 30 unregistered cars without license plates lined up along Catherine Street by Joe’s Osborne Street Garage, which the City pointedly refused to remove even while they vigorously harassed my neighbors who had unregistered vehicles in their yards. Some of Joe’s wrecks sat for years, jutting out into the street. With their smashed windshields they served as a fitting “Welcome to Jerry Jenning’s Albany” for suburbanites coming off the highway.

How about the Mayor’s long standing policy of denial of service by the police and EMTs. Once in 1999 I called the emergency dispatchers for help for an elderly woman who I had discovered lying on her living room floor with an apparent massive stroke. I stood on the front porch like an idiot for almost half an hour waiting for the EMTs, not knowing that the call had been denied because she lived on Morton Avenue. Eventually I flagged down a passing cop, who reluctantly called it in. The EMTs arrived at her door in exactly 89 seconds. I timed them by the stricken woman’s kitchen clock.

So you see, there is plenty of precedent for this kind of childish crap. In our neighborhood, we feel that we are in a constant state of war with the City government. It’s no surprise that Jerry Jennings would use a heavy snowfall as a weapon against us. He’s a lot like “The Decider” in the White House. You’re either with him or against him.

View From South Swan.  Thanks A Lot, Bill Bruce
View From South Swan.
Thanks A Lot, Bill Bruce

Ultimately our own unitary executive is responsible for this nonsense, but The Mayor can’t be everywhere at once. He has to delegate corruption and irresponsibility. There's no way that I would know for sure, but I would guess that the City official who encouraged the plow drivers to violate our neighborhood is DGS Commissioner Willard “Bill” Bruce.

I’m not fool enough to think that Commissioner Bruce is going to ‘fess up and admit to such chicken crap. But we do know that Bruce is a survivor in City government, having come in during the reign of former Mayor Thomas Whalen, who bolted for the suburbs and wrapped his drunk ass around a tree. A guy like Bruce does not survive for so long by being contrary to the boss.

All’s fair in love and war, and even though this was Valentine’s Day there sure ain’t no love around here. This was just another incident in the war against the citizens, the ongoing effort by the City government to downgrade our neighborhoods and keep our community in the toilet.

So then, Commissioner Bruce. I guess that tomorrow morning The Wife and I are going to hack through the mess you carefully placed on the corner of Morton and South Swan. I hope that you and your boss have a nice little laugh over your handiwork. I really do.


**UPDATE** Saturday night, Dominick Calsolaro was handed Mayor Jerry Jenning's personal cell phone number by a source that I will not name. Dominick had a nice, polite conversation with His Majesty over a list of snow removal lapses in the First Ward, especially several unplowed streets in the Mansion Neighborhood that were bringing activity there to a halt. And, he made special mention of the ridiculous blockade dumped on the corner of Morton and South Swan.

At 2 AM Sunday I heard loud noises on the street. From my front steps I could see a bucket loader and at least two guys working to clear the sidewalks and uncover the fire hydrant. They dumped the ice and snow across the street in the park. Below is a lousy photo taken from my steps. In the morning I checked it out, the guys did a sloppy job but at least the sidewalk is now passable. Thanks, Dominick.

Why Couldn't They Have Done This In The First Place?
Was All This Really Necessary?


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