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December 19, 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.

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December 19, 2007

Twelve Questions For Congressional Candidates

If we the people don’t set the standards for our candidates, there are certain others who are more than willing

Some folks think that congressman Michael McNulty’s early announcement of retirement next year is a sort of penance. The decidedly unopen process by which he first gained the 21st congressional district for himself left a bad taste in a lot of mouths, a taste that has never gone away even after twenty years.

Sam Stratton: 15 Terms In Congress
Sam Stratton:
15 Terms In Congress

That back room appointment of McNulty to Sam Stratton’s seat was a classic case of party finagling that deftly excluded the voters. So perhaps here at the end of his political career McNulty wants the voters to choose their own candidates for his replacement. That is, instead of letting the boys down at party headquarters do the picking. Perhaps.

But the reality is that according to recent surveys, three out of four people trust the corporate media. That means seventy five percent of the voters, either consciously or unconsciously, will let the media decide for them. That’s a big number for a potential candidate to ignore.

McNulty’s early announcement has shifted the decision making power away from the back room party boys and squarely into the hands of the corporate media. And the media owners have been scrambling to define and ultimately control of the race.

So far as I’ve heard, three serious candidates have stepped forward to claim McNulty’s seat. Now, I believe that these candidates should be judged primarily by their grasp of the important issues. Perhaps that is a quaint, unrealistic notion. Perhaps.

Michael McNulty With Some Of His Clan
Michael McNulty With Some Of His Clan

Be that as it may, I have decided to defy both the back room party boys and the corporate media owners in my own little way. For all the candidates who plan to try for McNulty’s seat, I’ve composed a list of twelve questions that I would like all of them to answer.

We know the corporate media will not ask any of these questions, but rather will try to keep us confused with nonsense and trivialities. I’ve made a special point of avoiding the usual manufactured media distractions, such as reproductive rights, gay marriage or gun ownership. The corporate media wastes enough time misreporting these “issues,” which do little more than distract, divide and confound.

But this list could certainly be added to or amended. At the very least, the answers to these questions would give us plenty of information about the candidates. And if they refuse to answer any or all of these questions, that will tell us plenty, too.

1) Do you support the Wars Against Iraq and Afghanistan, will you support war against Iran, and do you believe that war is good for the economy?

2) Do you support the Bill of Rights, or do you believe that it should be eliminated through legislation such as the "Patriot" Act, the Military Commissions Act, the Real ID Act, and the current Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act?

3) Do you support the poisoning of America's land, air and water for profit, or do you believe such practices should be eliminated as quickly as possible?

4) Do you support single payer health for all Americans, or do you believe that the insurance corporations should continue to extract profits?

5) Do you support habeus corpus for all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States, or do you think exceptions should be made for certain ethnic and religious groups?

6) Do you support subsidies and low taxes for the rich and for corporations, or do you support low taxes and subsidies for small businesses, the middle class and poor?

7) Do you support net neutrality?

8) Do you support the conduct of the "War On Drugs," or do you think the current focus on militarization and incarceration should change?

9) Do you support the shifting of government power into corporate hands, and do you believe in the corporate privatization of American society?

10) Do you support the continuation of our current two-headed one party political system, or do you believe access should be granted to more parties?

11) Do you support the continued use of electronic voting machines with proprietary software, or do you believe that the workings of these machines should be open to public inspection?

12) Do you support international treaties that supersede the United States Constitution and American laws, such as NAFTA?

These are not unreasonable questions. I think all of them are important and ought to be answered. But The War is question number one in most people’s minds these days. Indeed, I hear that the three declared candidates have already indicated their positions.

Phil Steck From Colonie
Phil Steck From

Phil Steck is supposed to announce his candidacy at the end of this week. Who? He’s an Albany County legislator from the suburb of Colonie. More importantly, he is credited with engineering the ouster of the ancient Republican Party Machine in Colonie. Very impressive.

Mr. Steck has stated that he is in total opposition to the continuation of the war. Recently I heard him say as much. He has little name recognition in the 21st District, but if he is strongly committed to this position he could run a credible campaign on this issue alone. We shall see.

Ravenna resident M. Tracey Brooks has not actually announced that she is running, but word is that she is already hiring staff. She currently works as the Albany regional director for US Senator Hillary Clinton, so she certainly has connections. But is that enough to run a campaign?

M. Tracey Brooks
M. Tracey Brooks

In 2002, Ms. Brooks ran unsuccessfully for State Assembly in the 108th, a bizarre gerrymandered district that stretches across four counties, including Bethlehem and Coeymans in Albany County. While she lost heavily overall to the Republican incumbent, she did win big in the two Albany towns, which are in the 21st congressional district.

Now, I’ve heard that the Working Families Party (WFP) interviewed the three candidates, and chief among their inquiries was The War. Mr. Steck stated his unequivocal opposition. Ms. Brooks also stated her opposition, calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

Um, that’s quite different from the attitude of your employer, said the WFP questioners. “I am not Hillary Clinton,” Ms. Brooks reportedly replied.

But Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton came off at the WFP session much like Senator Clinton, waffling about how The War is necessary to curtail “terror” and other such bogus nonsense. That is in stark contrast to a recent conversation that Mr. Stratton had with Albany attorney Mark Mishler while they sat next to each other watching a high school football game in Albany. As Mr. Mishler described it:

I asked if he [Stratton] was going to run and he indicated he was seriously thinking about it. I then asked his position on the Iraq war. He responded without hesitation, "full withdrawal". I think he said, "immediate and full withdrawal", but I'm not positive about the "immediate". We then talked about the devastating impact the war was having on resources for needed programs in this country and he seemed quite clear and strong on the impact this has had on cities in general and Schenectady in particular. This was a private conversation, not a public forum.

A not-to-be-named person who sat nearby overheard this conversation. He/she reported to me that Mr. Stratton initially tried to blow off the question about The War, and that Mr. Mishler had to insist that he answer. Perhaps Mr. Mishler, who is, after all, a lawyer, felt the need to remove innuendo from the story.

Well, whatever. Mr. Stratton is the best known of the three names, therefore he is the front runner, the guy the others have to beat. And he can point with pride to his time as Mayor of Schenectady, which under his steady administration is undergoing a revival. That is no small accomplishment, considering the devastation of the once bustling city left by his predecessors.

But perhaps the man is too much of a traditional politician. For example, before his reelection this last November, which he won big, he promised the voters of Schenectady that he would finish his term as Mayor. But after the election became a different story. Does he assume people forget such things?

And he doesn’t stop talking about his father, the late former congressman Sam Stratton. That might be a mistake. Some twenty years ago it was old Sam who gift wrapped and handed his job to Michael McNulty shortly before he died. If Sam were alive today he would support The War enthusiastically and without question.

Neil Breslin
Neil Breslin

Meanwhile, State Senator Neil Breslin announced the other day that he would not run for Congress, but would run to retain his current job. I still think he would have done a good job, but oh well.

It was interesting to see how, even though Mr. Breslin was the first contender to reveal that he was interested in McNulty’s seat, the local media suppressed the news. For example, the Hearst Times Union continued to advance ridiculous names while consistently failing to report on the Senator’s interest. Even the independent Daily Gazette waited two weeks to mention his interest.

Why? My guess is that the media considered Mr. Breslin “too liberal.” That means that he is not a fan of unfettered corporate control of our society. For example, he has dared to publicly examine the ballooning profitability of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs.) This is not how you please the corporations that own the media.

But Mr. Breslin is very upbeat about the future, he expects the Democrats to take control of the Senate in 2008. The other day he told me that if that happens, he wants New York State to adopt universal health on a single-payer plan. “Our state can serve as a model for the rest of the country,” he said.

But in all this media fuss about potential candidates for the congressional seat, a very important detail has been overlooked. After the November 5 post on this blog about Neil Breslin’s possible candidacy, my Albany County legislator, Luci McKnight, gave me what for:

Here we reside in the seat of government, Albany New York and in this 21st century you and other media venues can not even mention a creditable person of color to be considered for this 21st Congressional post. I know that you named our DA David Soares, who has only been elected for one four year term and probably not interested in moving to Washington DC anyway... Your article also assumes that no Black or Latino Persons of Color would have a snow ball’s chance in hell in seeking a congressional run for this 21st Congressional seat. That could be truth, but there is nothing wrong with a community being more open and hopeful about names of interest.

It is so painful to continuously read the same old recycled names, who are usually white males mentioned every time an announcement is made about an open political post. You make it appear like there are no qualified or formidable people of color in the Capital Region. I feel people do not all have to come from four or five generations in a pedigree family to be of worthy of entering the political arena... How can we get past this kind of mind set that if you read their names often enough, then they are the peoples candidate and our choice? I see this subliminal messaging in the media as a way to keep people of color out of this most important process in our state and our nation. We must be constantly mindful of all people as we begin a discussion about representation of the people, by the people for the people.

Luci McKnight With Eliot Spitzer
Luci McKnight With Eliot Spitzer

Oops. I’m not used to being called a “media venue,” but Luci is right, of course. The effectively closed process makes sure that only “the right kind of people” hold public office. And this closed mindedness applies not merely to the party bosses and the corporate media. It cuts right across our society. All of us are responsible because all of us accept the process.

There’s no question that the three serious candidates are very white. The apparent front runner belongs to a political dynasty, as does Michael McNulty. Our local politics seem to reflect national politics, where we get to choose between Bushes and Clintons.

I am ready to admit that I haven’t the slightest idea how to solve this problem of exclusion. Indeed, I am afraid to say anything about it at all. Every time I open my mouth about race in America something painfully lame and uninformed comes out. So I’ll shut up. For now.

But I want to reassure everybody out there about one thing. Over and over I’ve heard all kinds of people express horror at the thought of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings taking the congressional seat. His Majesty has even lent support to the idea by making coy statements.

Oh No, It Can't Happen
Oh No, It Can't Happen

You see, the Albany County Democrats outside of the City of Albany hate his guts. They hate Jennings so much that he compelled the City Democrats to secede from the County Democrats. Jenning’s so-called “City Committee” meets in a storefront on South Pearl Street near Madison.

And another thing. Word around town is that Jennings is supporting Tracey Brooks. Perhaps Jennings is trying to make brownie points with Hillary. Perhaps. But Ms. Brooks might find his endorsement the kiss of death.

Rest easy, folks. Jennings ain’t gonna happen. But I want answers to my questions.


Prior Post * * * Next Post



Posted by: supraliminal
Posted on:
Um, see what happens when you finally add comments? What some people won't do just to be gross...

Posted by: Roger Green
Posted on:
My #1 issue not on your list has to do with media consolidation. I suppose it MIGHT be moot by January 2009 when Congress rises up and slaps down the FCC for its overreach (chortle), but I'm not holding my breath.

escaseendurdy: I'll pass on the porn, but thanks anyway.

Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on:
Sorry about the porn spam, folks. (It's been deleted.) We are working on some way to keep all spam off the site. We are re-inventing the wheel here so we can be independent, so it's a learning process all around. If any tech geeks have some suggestions about how to filter out spam without making things hard for legit commentators, email the Webmistress at the bottom of the page.

Posted by: Unknown User
Posted on:
Tracy Brooks is in. Hillary gave her permission to run, and Brooks will announce in early January after the New Hampshire primary.

Which is good for her -- she's gotten screwed out of every time she's wanted to run for office after her fabled run for the 108th against Casale.

It was family concerns that kept her out in 2004, and in 2006 Hillary personally asked her to stay out of the race.

Will other people primary Brooks? We will have to wait and see, but I think she will probably get the fix put in for her, as long as the other boys play along (like Jerry).

Posted by: Maureen O'Brien
Posted on:
In re: your spam problem. Take a peek at (or is it .com?). One of the two.

Posted by: Warren Redlich
Posted on:
Answering your 12 questions:

1. I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, and would withdraw US troops as soon as possible. I would also withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. But I don't stop there. I would further withdraw US troops from Europe, Japan and South Korea. Make sure you ask all other candidates what their exit strategy is from these places.

2. I support the Bill of Rights, and do so on a daily basis as a criminal defense lawyer. I opposed the Patriot Act from the beginning, appearing at a protest at Albany City Hall. I oppose all of the other laws you mention. Following your point about military commissions, etc., I would withdraw US troops from Guantanamo too.

3. Your question is loaded. Of course no candidate will say they support poisoning things. Your alternative of "eliminating" such practices would mean banning homeowners from fertilizing their lawns (and farmers from fertilizing crops) and salting their driveways. Moving past your extreme characterization, one step I would take is dramatically downsizing the US military, which is a huge polluter.

You don't mention global warming directly. I am indifferent to global warming. I supported conservation before global warming was an issue, and if global warming is disproved, I will still support conservation. I back it up by driving a 4-cylinder with a stickshift. Ask the other candidates what they drive.

4. Again a loaded question. I do not support single-payer healthcare, but I do not support the current system either. I would prefer a system where doctors set their prices openly and patients choose how much to spend. Health insurance in general should be high-deductible (as we have in my law firm - for my family and employees too) - you don't need insurance for your annual physical - you need it for open heart surgery. Otherwise it's not really insurance - it's a healthcare payment system. You probably won't like this, but it would be nice if we could try free market healthcare. I would, however, support universal coverage for primary and emergency care for the needy. We can argue for weeks about how to define that term.

5. All persons.

6. Low taxes for all and subsidies for none. But first we have to stop wasting money, starting with overseas. Specifically on taxes, I'd like to reduce the number of taxes. There are so many taxes that voters can't keep track. Each level of government should be restricted to an arbitrary number of revenue sources, say no more than 5. At the federal level, this is enough for 95% of current revenue.

7. Yes, but that term is vague. If there were sufficient competitive alternatives for web access, government mandates of net neutrality would be unnecessary. I think we will have sufficient competitive alternatives in a few years, but we're not there yet, so net neutrality rules might be necessary in the short run.

8. I oppose the war on drugs, and have opposed it for a long time. I founded a website long ago on this -

9. I oppose that. By reducing the role of government in general, we will restore power to individuals.

10. More access for third parties. I fought for this in 2006, helping libertarian Eric Sundwall try to get on the ballot against Sweeney's opposition.

11. Open the machine software to public inspection.

12. This question doesn't make sense. Under the Constitution, any treaty is equivalent to US Law, so any treaty has the potential to supersede existing law. Treaties cannot, however, supersede the Constitution.

Getting to where I think you might be going, I generally support free trade, but free trade agreements like NAFTA are the wrong approach. A real free trade agreement would be one page, not a thousand pages. And we can have free trade without agreements. We should eliminate all tariffs (like on Brazilian ethanol from sugar), and all trade subsidies.

Looking forward to how any other candidates answer your questions, if they do at all.

Warren Redlich

Posted by: chillary
Posted on:
Please: Tracey Brooks works for Clinton. Clinton has helped engineer and prolong the war. End of story. Do you believe in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny too?

Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on:
Hey Chillary - I just reports 'em as I overhears 'em. I happen to agree with your opinion of Hillary, but that's besides the point.

Posted by: chillary
Posted on:
Dan, I was responding to "Unknown User" (above, in comments), not to you! I should have specified this, sorry. Your blog is truly Public Service, and I love it. Thank you!

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