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Updated
March 3
, 2008

 

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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March 3 , 2008

An Interview With Phil Steck

The first declared candidate for our 21st Congressional seat gives a detailed conversation about the issues in this Albanyweblog exclusive report. Listen to the four part audio interview in mp3 format at the bottom of the page.

Phil Steck, candidate for the 21st Congressional District, impressed me as a well-informed knowledgeable guy with the drive and energy to carry out a successful campaign. But before we started talking, he didn’t know what to make of the Thing I dropped in front of him.

I conducted a two hour interview with Phil this past Sunday afternoon, sitting across from him at a conference table by a big plate window at 39 N. Pearl Street. To my right under the sunny window sat Tom Nardacci, communications director for the congressional campaign. The two of them studied sideways the Thing on the table like it was a dead rat.

I picked it up. “It’s an iPod with an audio attachment,” I told them. “It records for ten, twelve hours or more. It’s great for public hearings because it picks up voices across big halls.”

“Ooooh,” they chimed together. “So that’s what that is,” said the candidate.

Mr. Steck may not have been able to identify something that every single teenager in America knows at a glance, but I found very little else during the next two hours that baffled him. But he impressed me as the kind of guy who is willing to find out about the things that he doesn’t know.

Phil Steck At 39 North Pearl
Phil Steck At 39 North Pearl

Make no mistake about it, Phil Steck is every ounce a progressive. At one point in our conversation he used the dreaded politically incorrect word “liberal” to refer to himself. And like most true liberals, he is hardheaded and practical about the issues. And he has a very impressive resume which displays a lot of experience.

He strongly supports an immediate end to the War Against Iraq. Of course, everybody running for office these days claims that they are against the Iraq War, except for Insane John McCain. But Phil pulls no punches when it comes to transforming our military policies. From the speech in which he announced his candidacy for Congress:

Let me outline some priorities for you. First, we need to end this war in Iraq immediately. But it is not enough just to end this ill-conceived war. We need to end the same old, same old approach to foreign policy that led us to disaster in Vietnam and again in Iraq.

I asked for some elaboration. Phil wants to move toward ending the US military presence in Iraq altogether, closing the bases. Going even further, he wants to start closing many of the US military bases around the world. “Some of these military bases made a lot of sense during the Cold War, but don’t make a lot of sense now.,” he explained. Clearly, he is not interested in conquering the world.

Health care is perhaps his most cherished issue. He is one hundred percent in favor of single-payer health. “We already have a single payer health plan in the United States, it’s called Medicare,” he said, “and it works very well.” He wants to expand the system to cover everybody in America.

And he believes there is a good chance that we will see a national single-payer health plan pass Congress in the next few years. He’s made it clear that he wants to be part of the effort to create that plan.

Meanwhile, as an Albany County legislator from Colonie, Phil has worked to create an affordable and stable healthcare plan for County employees, sort of as a best-for-now . This plan, which he calls self-insurer, is administered by Albany County and will be made available to other municipalities within the County.

He is “very interested in the development of solar and wind technologies.” He feels that upstate New York State should become a center for “alternative energy.” This would not only serve as an economic stimulus, but as a way of lowering the high cost of energy in our state.

He is “a strong supporter of improving the public transportation network in this country.” He does not feel that subsidies for the road system should be shifted to public transit, though, because “we have a network of roads that is probably the greatest in the world and it needs to be maintained.” Instead, he feels the cost of building a new transportation network could be easily carried by ending the Iraq War.

In Lincoln Park, January
In Lincoln Park, January

He “philosophically supports family farms over agribusiness.” Phil is the first to admit that he isn’t a farmer. But right up front he let me know that he has taken a keen interest in the problems of food production in the 21st District, which is heavily agricultural.

Through his current legislator position he has become aware of the poor farming practices promoted by the government that lead to lower quality food, such as hormone laden dairy products. I challenged him to consider shifting farm subsidies from supporting the shrinking traditional practices to the steadily growing natural and organic sector. He responded by vowing to learn more about these subsidies and price supports from those who have administered the programs.

It was through his work as a partner in the venerable law firm of Cooper Irving Savage in Albany that he became aware of how insurance companies make family farming more difficult by denying injury claims to farm workers. He believes that this is a problem that must be solved legislatively on a Federal level.

Also through the County legislature he learned how the Walmart corporation uses government health care programs as a public subsidy. Walmart deliberately lowers wages, and then tells their employees to apply for county assistance. “Costco keeps their prices low without doing that,” he said. As a result, he was instrumental in getting the County to return a $3000.00 grant that Walmart had proffered.

Marching For Dr. King With Fellow Legislator Bob Reilly And Albany Common Council President Shawn Morris
Marching For Dr. King With Fellow Legislator Bob Reilly And Albany Common Council President Shawn Morris

He discussed how in general, many of our laws which were passed to protect individuals have been perverted to promote corporate power. He calls this “unintended consequences” caused by court rulings. This widespread problem, he believes, can be reversed with legislation, so that individuals can feel secure from exploitation again.

In past conversations I have asked him about our rights and freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. His response was to look at me puzzled, like why was I even asking? Throughout his law career he has fought against personal and workplace violations, and for individual rights.

Indeed, the first thing he brought up with me in the interview was a case that he he was working on involving a lesbian who was fired from her job because she had a relationship with a coworker. And he is doing this while he is running for public office.

With know-how, drive and strong positions like these, Phil may very well be our next Congressional representative. You heard it here first.

Why do I think he can do it? This past November, after fighting and organizing for years, he led the Town of Colonie Democratic Party to an electoral win that ousted one of the oldest and most ingrown Republican political machines in the country. They’d been in power since 1895.

Almost every politician talks about “grassroots support.” Phil Steck not only talks about it, he can cite a crowd of specific examples that demonstrate how his public career is rooted in the grass. He spent a lot of time explaining the give and take process of communicating with constituents and with his fellow legislators. Clearly, he comes to the congressional seat with the skills to do the job right.

As for the interview, this was certainly a first for me. I made sure to come prepared with a page of questions as a crib sheet in case I became disconnected from my brains during the interview. And except for a few annoying instances during the two hours, I mostly kept my mouth shut enough to let him talk.

How did I score this interview, you may wonder? Well, I asked Mr. Steck, and he graciously consented. I guess it’s part of his grassroots approach to politics to grant an exclusive interview to a lowly blogger, and I am grateful to him for giving me several hours of his time.

But I had also noted that the local media, both corporate and independent, seemed to be marginalizing him in their accounts of the 21st District Congressional race. In my initial email inquiry I pointed this out to him and offered to help remedy this problem in my own small way.

In a conversation after the recorded interview, Mr. Steck refused to criticize the local media for not reporting on his campaign, Rather, both he and Mr. Nardacci, his communications director, put the blame squarely on themselves for not finding a way to interest the staff and management of the media outlets.

Of course, a person in his position cannot afford to annoy or anger the media content providers and their owners. On the other hand, I don’t give a rat’s rear end what some local editor feels about me personally, so I can happily accuse the local media of marginalizing Mr. Steck because his positions are not pro-corporate enough for them. The candidate firmly did not agree with my opinion.

Upon reflection, I think that there is a more subtle reason for this media marginalization of his candidacy. You see, the media did not create his candidacy. The name Phil Steck did not appear on the mostly ridiculous list of possible candidates originally advanced by the Hearst-owned Times Union, a list which has been repeated ad nauseum.

Mr. Steck has created his candidacy for Congress on his own without media help. They don’t like that. Local corporate media outlets like the Times Union like to try to control political candidates as much as possible. And indeed, the Hearst Corporation has a history of blackmailing politicians, which they prefer to call “horse trading.”

Therefore, I think that it is very likely that as a congressional representative, Phil Steck will take office owing little or nothing to the media corporations. it will be very hard for the corporate media to “horse trade” him into submission.

Mr. Steck is a good speaker, and he comes across in the recorded interview clear and strong. I’d heard him give a talk a month ago at an RFK Club dinner and forum at Ristorante Paridiso which I wished at the time that I had recorded. This interview is a result of that missed opportunity.

On the other hand, my voice comes across in the recording like I ought to be dropped off at the cemetery and flung into the back topiary like roadkill. My excuse is that I’d spent the last week fighting a half case of this nasty flu that’s going around. At places in the recording you can listen to me snuffle and at one point hack up phlegm. Um... sorry.

At least I haven’t been as sick as The Wife. While I was conducting the interview, she stepped out of the house for the first time in seven days to buy a Daily Gazette down the street at Stewart’s. I came home to find her crabby and argumentative, which is a clear indication that her vital signs are returning to normal. Thus, she was able to post this article for me.

Here below is the entire audio interview broken up into four parts, with a quick summary. Each part is approximately 30 minutes long. Phil Steck is ready willing and able to tackle the issues, big and small. Take a listen at your convenience.

 

Phil Steck Audio Interview

In four parts of approximately 30 minutes apiece

Part One

Introduction - family, home and origins - very busy schedule -fired lesbian - ready for the pace of Congress? - ready for one job - grassroots work - pensions and pension law reform - unintended consequences - 21st district rural areas - agricultural policy - insurance coverage for farms - natural, organic food and bad milk - reforming milk price supports - city and suburb - federal policy favoring suburbanization - Colonie’s deficit - redevelopment of urban areas - cost of health insurance impacts urban areas

Click here for Part One (mp3 format)

 

Part Two

Ideal Health Plan - Medicare for all - Albany County property tax and Medicaid - saving money with health care - business costs of health care - doctors want single payer - ideology prevents adoption - Walmart and Medicaid - Albany County now a self insurer - other municipalities can join - combined benefits from various carriers - Obama and Clinton plans not effective - single payer gives freedom - single payer not socialized medicine - constituent service - need for staff - grassroots background applied - local endorsements indicate access - it’s not about celebrity

Click here for Part Two (mp3 format)

 

Part Three

Standing Up To Be Counted - Albany County antiwar resolution - persuasion - proper withdrawal process - proper legislative process - bringing home military bacon - Watervliet Arsenal - current problem Iran - support democracy - closing military bases overseas - Osama bin Laden - philosophy of Iraq invasion was wrong - global warming - his Prius - solar and wind in upstate New York - sound investment conditions - Amsterdam wants policy changes - development in Colonie - tax base vs. deficit -

Click here for Part Three (mp3 format)

 

Part Four

New Day In Government - HR-676 - holding Democrats to same standard - value of being a prosecutor - poor, immigrants suffer most from crimes - drug war - draconian federal sentencing guidelines - Soares campaign - focus on drug crimes - who to prosecute for drugs - marijuana, medical and decriminalized - gangs and drugs - the stamp of approval - public transit and the poor - we need more public transit - war must end to release funds - The Wife likes bicycles - electric cars and battery technology - unsuccessful administration allows progress

Click here for Part Four (mp3 format)

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Comments:
If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!


Posted by: hailstorm
Posted on:
03/04/2008
Comments
:
thanks for posting this interview and giving us voters some real insight into one of the candidates in this important race.

local politics are greatly underreported in the media and it's a real disservice to those of us who vote in each and every election and aren't content to simply pull the lever along party lines. i like to know exactly WHO i'm voting for.

i hope you have the opportunity to conduct similar interviews with all candidates for the 21st, and other local elections as well. but i realize that the ball is mostly in "their" court on that.


Posted by: AlbanyObserver
Posted on:
03/04/2008
Comments
:
Anyone who would spend two hours in an interview with the writer of albanyweblog.com -- and let him record it -- has to be one heck of a candidate. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from Phil as the season progresses.


Posted by: Tom Monjeau
Posted on:
03/04/2008
Comments
:
Amen sister/brother to Albany Observer as to sitting with Dan for 2 hours! But seriously, I find it nice that we have a wealth of good Dem candidates. Since I know Phil, Tracy, and Darius personally and consider them friends, (and one lived in what used to be my legislative district hereaabout), I find myself in a difficult spot to be sure.

However, I can say as to at least these three candidates that they are excellent human beings, they are all very intelligent and politically saavy.

I also think that they represent a new generation of young (at least to me) leaders who have kept or set down roots here, political and personal. For earlier transplants to this area like myself, many of my colleagues, professional and political, my neighbors, on my street and throughout the county, it is good seeing a diverse and qualified batch of candidates rise from our midst, so to speak.

I would be very comfortable being represented by any of these candidates and as of yet, I don't know much about the others (except a little about Lester...). Time will tell who can build a credible run and win a primary.

Unfortunately, I foresee that at least two candidates will end up being enveloped by the City, (read "Mayor Jennings' candidate") against the "suburban candidate", which will obfuscate what should be a real debate about serious issues that are coming (about which whoever we elect will not be able to do much of anything in reality).

At this point Phil is definitely one of the 2 since I think it is safe to say that the Mayor really does not like Phil very much. I am guessing at this point that Tracy will get tabbed as the other one as I think she can and will make a credible run for it and I hear that the Mayor is supportive (if he publically endorses her, however, historically that would be the kiss of death to her chances...). Lester could be a stand by, seeing as he works for the Mayor but I would say his chances of getting much farther than an announcement and perhaps a website, are something akin to a snowball in you know where... In addition, my understanding of the Hatch Act is that if his affirmative action job with the city is funded with any federal money, he must leave his job in order to run. I would be mighty surprised if his job is not funded with federal money in some way, but who knows. I know that when I first ran, the first thing I did was check my status and get a ruling on it regarding the Hatch Act...but thats just me

Thank goodness I know Phil quite well from over our 8 years on the leg, so I don't feel bad about not listening to 2 hours of it (and besides, I listed to most of his interview on some Amsterdam radio station that someone emailed to me...


Posted by: nycowboy
Posted on:
03/05/2008
Comments
:
Some Observations from the Phil Steck Interview. Yesterday, I spent about 2 hours listening to the http://www.albanyweblog.com/2008/03-Mar/03-03-08.php Phil Steck tapes that Albany Weblog posted to it's blog and had some thoughts on a few specific sections of the tapes.

Steck on Agriculture. Phil Steck is quick to criticize some of the farms in our district for their environmental impact. His description of dairying suggests that farmers "abuse" their cattle, rails against prosilac as the root of all evil (what activists call bovine growth hormone that extends the lacation cycles of cattle), and talks about the poverty that "those farmers" live in. He certainly is no Congresswomen Gillibrand, and his ignorance on these issue comes out in this discussion.

Dairy cattle aren't cheap, they are a $1.5k a head investment. Do you think your going to do anything that isn't going to protect that investment? Yes, there is livestock insurance, but they aren't going to cover you if your mortality rates are high or if you abuse your stock. And I don't think farmers like being told that they are poor.

His remarks are cute when he says: "everything I know about agriculture is from Sandy Gordon". I'm sure that makes Sandy proud with his couple of cows on his pasture in his backyard in wind swept Knox. At least Sandy grew up on a farm and knows a little bit about agriculture, unlike Mr. Steck.

I have to say I thought Tracey Brooks' positions on agriculture on her website where offensive -- making a mockery of the farm community, then I listened to what suburbanite Phil Steck had to say about farmers. All I can say, after listening to this tape -- is that we get a real politican to run like Paul Tonko who isn't so ignorant or politically stupid.

(Listen to http://www.savethepinebush.org/Audio/03-03-08_Part_01.mp3 Part 1 at about 20 min)

Steck on Suburban Sprawl. Phil Steck likes suburban sprawl, although he claims that he was pushing for more smart growth and planning as Colonie was built out. He thinks that suburbanization is natural and that he as a Congressman can't do anything to stop it. He doesn't talk much about how Congress could push main street redevelopment or provide funds for our small cities to renovate their aging infrastructure.

Not that any of this should be surpising. Steck is a product of suburban sprawl, and he's quite happy living in his house on a squiggly development a long ways from any form of mass transit. Keeps them underclass blacks away, as you know by living there. He might as well just build a wall around his house, so well protected in the suburbs.

(Listen to http://www.savethepinebush.org/Audio/03-03-08_Part_01.mp3 Part 1 at about 25 min)

Steck on Global Warming. "Love me I drive a Prisus." I am morally virtrous, and your just a dirty hick who can't afford a fancy Prisus car. He mentions he's concerned about global warming, yet doesn't actually mention any particular approach to the problem, except to say "those poor people who can't afford to buy a Prisus".

He seems to be pretty lacking on this issue, although maybe the interview didn't tease out all the possibilities. He talks briefly about the he supports "solar and wind alternatives" and "getting energy costs down" before talking about economic development. He doesn't say if he supports any particular trade and cap system or other program to reduce greenhouse emissions, or if that would be too bothersome for his subrurban standard of living.

(Listen to http://www.savethepinebush.org/Audio/03-03-08_Part_03.mp3" Part 3 at about 18 min)

Steck on Mass Transit & Electric Cars. He thinks mass transit is a joke and that people will be driving cars forever to getting to work regardless of gas prices. He doesn't believe that mass transit is pratical for most people, and that efforts to expand it would be futile. Not that Saratoga's massively popular expansion of CDTA means anything to him, as that's in Kirsten Gillibrands District.

And for getting around the city, bikes rock, despite what he claims as bikes as useful toys.

He pens his hopes on electric cars as the solution to all our problems. He figures that we have plenty of coal to burn and make all the electric we could ever waste as inefficenctly as possible in our cars. 15.5 cent a kilowatt electric doesn't phase him as it's guzzled down by massive batteries used to power massive electric motors for the first few miles of a commute, in the regular 80 DF weather of Albany after global warming (which we will need for the electric batteries and motors to work anywheres near efficiently).

The Chevy Volt will have a 16Kwh (with an acceptable range of 8Kwh or 0.2Kw/h per mile) battery that will cost you $1.24 to charge for a theoritical 40 mile range. On regular gas, it looks like this car will get 50 MPG thanks to the hybrid function and it's small size.

Coal (our most popular source of electricity) produces 966g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hout. Gasoline has 2421g of carbon dioxide per gallon. Do the math there. I think you'll find a burning gasoline in this car will create less global warming, and be better for the environment.

8kwh from coal (for 40 miles) * 966g equals 7,7728 g carbon dioxide.

0.8 gallons of gas (for 40 miles) * 2,421g equals 1,937 g carbon dioxide.

Clearly, it's much more efficent and better for the environment to burn gasoline then it is to burn electricity in a car. But, it's more complicated then that as gasoline engines and electric engines have different levels of inefficency, depending on temperature and design.

Just stop praying for electric cars or future cars that will get a million miles per gallon. It won't happen, as humans can't exempt themselves from the laws of physics. It takes a lot of energy to propel 2 tons of steel forward at 60 MPH within seconds of a light turning green. Generating that electric on site, in a convention gasoline engine is much more efficent then moving it over a wire hundreds of mile and storing it in batteries.

(Listen to http://www.savethepinebush.org/Audio/03-03-08_Part_04.mp3" Part 4 at about 20 min)

I give it Phil Steck for being so candid in the Albany Weblog Interview. But he comes off as so ignorant and unthinking on environment and agriculture policy. He stuck in the suburban mindframe and can't escape the notion of the car as king. He always refers to his county legislator experience, but doesn't ever see beyond that.

I'm not sure if I'm ready to support him for County Legislator -- I mean Congressman.


Posted by: Ken von Geldern
Posted on:
03/05/2008
Comments
:
I saw Steck, Brooks, and Shahinfar at the DFHMR forum last week. Phil Steck and Darius Sh. were clearly the progressive candidates. Tracey Brooks (the Clintonite) mainly talked about business and development, not that those are unimportant, but it was clear that that was where her connections and interest lie. Both Darius and Tracey gave good answers on some of the questions regarding the progressive position, but Steck was obviously the one who clearly understood the complexities of the issues, had well thought out positions, spoke eloquently about them, and had a sense of personal stake in making things right.
For example, on a question about how are we going to get the money to fund health care, etc., both Darius and Tracey agreed--end the Iraq war and bring the troops home. Nuff said. But Phil did have more to say. He emphasized that, if we elect a Democratic president and Congress, that doesn't guarantee that we'll be getting out of Iraq right away. We have to remember, the leadership of the Democratic Party was instrumental in getting us there in the first place, and in keeping us there until now. It's not at all a given that they'll automatically turn a page and change the course they've been following. In fact, it will take people who can stand up to the party leaders and push them from the ground up. Steck is also the one candidate who has the connections in the communities, and a history of party building, to be able to get that done. He could be the one to bring a welcome breath of fresh air to our district.


Posted by: AlfredMoisiu
Posted on:
03/05/2008
Comments
:
Using coal as the benchmark in New York is misleading. In 2004 (which happens to be the on a pamphlet I had lying in my office), the breakdown was as follows:

Nuclear: 29% (from 3 plants, btw)
Natural Gas: 27%
Hydroelectric: 18%
Coal: 17%
Oil: 7%
Solid Waste: 1%
Wind, Solar, Biomas: less that 1% each.

So in NYS, nearly 50% of electricity generation is carbon free.


Posted by: Luci Mcknight, County Legislator
Posted on:
03/05/2008
Comments
:
Well, Dan you did it! Your first attempt at an online weblog interveiw was a success. It was clear that yo were struggling with a bad cold but your questioning of Phil was clear and his responses were appropiate. This is the first time that I have ever sit for a 2 hour period to listen to a mp3 recorded event. Please keep up the good work and I will continue to be informed.


Posted by: AlfredMoisiu
Posted on:
03/06/2008
Comments
:
Dan -

One suggestion... you might want to look at embedding a flash media player into your posts to make it easier for people to listen.

Here's a link to a pretty good open source one:
http://www.jeroenwijering.com/?item=JW_FLV_Media_Player

You can pretty easily integrate it into your site.


Posted by: devtob
Posted on:
03/06/2008
Comments
:
This post/interview is most informative, and another sign of how bloggers are doing real journalism these days.

I liked Steck before I read/listened to this, I like him even more now.

I like Shahinfar and Brooks also, but less so.

And, as a good Democrat, I do not like Freeman and Mittleman.


Posted by: Alfrednewman
Posted on:
03/08/2008
Comments
:
Dan:

Good interview. While my first reaction to Mr Steck's candidacy was to ignore him- after reading through your post I think take the opertunity to read up on him.

While I am not in favor of a cut and run policy in Iraq I do agree with him on closing military bases overseas. I also appriciate his take on Walmart and Ag.

Damn, this flu really must be kicking me. I am agreeing with Dan...


Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on:
03/09/2008
Comments
:

My goodness, Alfrednewman, that's twice in two days that you agree with me, here and at DIA. Perhaps we should call you an ambulance?


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