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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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April 8, 2014

Cuomo’s Corporate Casino

Our radical corporatist governor attacks the South End to
please a big campaign donor

Consider this the first big test of the political skills of the new mayor of Albany and the integrity of the new Common Council. A Rochester developer named Flaum, who contributed some $100,000 to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s election campaign through his outfit “Republicans For Cuomo,” breezed into town last month and proposed saddling Albany with a $300+ million casino. And yes, this guy wants to put this crap in the South End, not far from my house.

The casino is supposed to be 17,000 square feet, a temple of scam that exploits the widespread mental disorder known as gambling. Like many casinos this proposal includes, as an afterthought, a “waterslide park” an “equestrian centre” and a “retail mall” all of which they call a “resort.” If casinos like Turning Stone near Syracuse can be used as a template, then this “resort” will basically consist of hotel space and parking for gamblers surrounded by a lot of monoculture lawn that is regularly dosed with toxic chemicals that will dribble into the Normanskill, and that’s pretty much it.

I am sorry to report that our new mayor Kathy Sheehan apparently directed Andrew’s campaign donor to the South End, and I’m hearing that the new Common Council is amenable to this boondoggle. If this attack on the South End had happened under her predecessor in the office of mayor then I would automatically assume that this guy Flaum was passing around envelopes bulging with cash. But instead it looks like mayor Sheehan is being strongarmed into playing along with this proposal by Andrew Cuomo, and it’s quite possible that she simply has no choice but to play along.

 Casino Promoter Governor Andrew Cuomo
Casino Promoter Governor Andrew Cuomo

So, is building casinos in a gradually failing national and local economy, one where more and more people have less and less money, a good idea anywhere? The short answer is a resounding no. A recent article in Bloomberg Business Week makes this very, very clear:

Casino revenue fell in February for the sixth consecutive month in the four largest Midwest gambling states... Even in Las Vegas sales are down 12 percent so far this year. On March 25, International Game Technology (IGT), the world’s largest slot machine maker, said it would reduce its global workforce by 7 percent, or 350 people, citing a decrease in its North American gambling operations... The company, which collects a share of money bet on some of its leased machines, reported an 8 percent sales decline in that business in the quarter ended in December.

So a highly respected business journal reports that building a casino anywhere in America is a bad idea, and also reports that the biggest manufacturer of slot machines is being forced to cut back their operations. Add to this the plain awful fact that the City of Albany, and the South End in particular, has a struggling economy. That’s to put it mildly.

From Bloomberg Business Week: A Shrinking "Industry"
From Bloomberg Business Week: A Shrinking "Industry"

According to the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI,) in the City of Albany 37% of our citizens are considered impoverished (as of 2011.) That’s compared to a Statewide rate of 16% and a national average of 15.9%. As a result of decades of mismanagement by our City government, corporate parasitism has hit our community particularly hard. We are at a point where we have hardly anything left to steal, and we’ve been at that point for quite a while. Jerry Jennings’ legacy endures.

So, says a smirking Andrew Cuomo, that’s why Albany needs a money extracting casino, so we can significantly lower our poverty level. And, says Andrew, not only will this scam operation raise everyone’s personal prosperity, a casino will provide jobs and increase tax revenue to the City and attract outside investment. Everything will be wonderful and everyone will be happy beyond belief and every child in Albany will have their own miniature pony as a pet. If only Andrew’s boyfriend from Rochester can be allowed to build his destructive crap in our backyards.

Casino gambling can be defined as a technique for separating people from their money. Gambling plays on a characteristic of humans, our tendency toward repetitive obsession. This “obsessive behavior,” as it is commonly called, is usually a good thing. It’s the reason some of us go to work every day, the reason why we wash the dishes before going to bed, and it’s the reason why I update this blog now and then.

Slot Machine Addicts At Foxwoods
Slot Machine Addicts At Foxwoods

But like all good things there can be too much obsession, which reasonable people characterize as a mental disorder or even criminal. Repeatedly checking a door lock instead of sleeping or stalking an ex-lover or brushing your teeth ten times a day are considered aberrations. People who do such things are eventually either remanded to a head doctor or thrown in jail, the point being to keep them away from the rest of us.

But somehow the obsessive tendency of certain persons to repeatedly pump money into a machine or repeatedly hand money over to a card dealer is not considered a sickness. Repeating such actions while receiving no reward or compensation that would justify such behavior is reinforced by the casino itself, the sickness is encouraged by the casino owners. Gambling is never considered a mental illness until after you have handed over all of your money.

Dammit, why do I even have to explain this? What is there not to understand? To create an elaborate system that encourages destructive obsessive behavior, to promote mental illness in order to part people from their money, is a kind of viciousness that smacks of evil. It’s called Scam, which is the big brother of Theft. In my opinion, people who promote, build and operate casinos should be locked in prison like any other repeat offender thieves (which is a kind of destructive obsession in itself.) You hear that Andrew?

The Right Idea: Bill Sisk Of The Rockefeller Institute Smashes A Slot Machine In Front Of The State Capitol, October 2013.  The Corporate Media Did Not Report This Demonstration

The Right Idea: Bill Sisk Of The Rockefeller Institute Smashes A Slot Machine In Front Of The State Capitol, October 2013. The Corporate Media Did Not Report This Demonstration

As I keep hearing folks say over and over, no extremely rich people will be coming to Albany, NY to gamble when instead they can go to Tahoe or Vegas or Monte Carlo on the Riviera or anywhere with reliable sunshine and an attractive local infrastructure. Extremely rich people, you see, by definition have so much money they don’t know what to do with it. They can afford to gamble, but they won’t do so here.

Middle Class people, who are seeing their overall incomes decline because of runaway corporate taxation, can’t afford to gamble if they want to continue to be Middle Class. That leaves poor people, the ones who stand in front of me obsessively buying lottery tickets at the Stewarts on Morton Avenue when I’m in a hurry trying to buy one item. These poor folks are the local gamblers, the casino will be directly competing with the State lotto machines at Stewarts for their meager dollars.

It will be the poor people of the South End and of the surrounding suburbs who will occupy this casino, wandering about the structure like sad wide-eyed zombies hoping for the big payoff. And in a few years, when it becomes evident that the casino is not extracting enough cash from these poor people, the casino will close without warning and the “resort” will become a dead rotting hulk, the now mostly undeveloped land that it will sit on ruined beyond redemption.

Entrance To Noonan Lane Off Route 9W

Entrance To Noonan Lane Off Route 9W

The property under attack consists of some sixty acres wedged between the Thruway near Exit 23 and the Normanskill River. There’s some nice open space here, rather bucolic open fields and woods sloping down to the Normanskill. At the top of the slope are some relatively modest mansions located around a big circle at the end of a dead-end street.

If you’ve ever entered or exited the Thruway at 23 into Albany, then you have seen the dead-end street running immediately to your right, separated from the entrance ramp by guard rails. To access this road you have to go up to Route 9W and look for a street jammed between the entrance to 23 and the Thruway headquarters. After cutting through an industrial area dominated by Thruway vehicle maintenance and storage sheds the road abruptly turns left and runs uphill.

Lovely Noonan Lane, Thruway Exit Ramp 23 At Left

Lovely Noonan Lane, Thruway Exit Ramp 23 At Left

The entire road, snaking from 9W then along the Thruway and up to the mansions is Noonan Lane. The part that runs uphill and ends in a circle was, in effect, the private estate of the Noonan family, the point oh one percent venerable elite of the South End back in the 20th Century. Yes, we here in the South End are not just a bunch of poor people on welfare, before our neighborhoods were destroyed by the City government we supported a variety of lifestyles and economies.

The plan calls for demolishing the mansions and basically transforming the open space and woods into parking lots and into decorative poisoned lawn. I suspect that Noonan Lane will be drastically changed or eliminated, and I suspect a new entrance will come right off the Thruway, most probably to be constructed at taxpayer expense. But no matter how they construct the entrance the traffic will negatively affect those of us who live here and use our roads for legitimate business.

One Of The Modest Mansions At The end Of Noonan Lane In March

One Of The Modest Mansions At The end Of
Noonan Lane In March

A dedicated entrance off the Thruway will mean that anyone visiting Albany to gamble (or visit the “resort”) will not have to come into contact with City of Albany businesses, neighborhoods or people. As with the perpetual taxpayer sinkhole currently known as the Times Union Center there will be almost no economic benefit to the City businesses and neighborhoods. But any benefit would be minimal or nonexistent anyway. As business owners in Saratoga Springs can tell you, gamblers don’t willingly spend money on much of anything other than gambling.

In other words, even in the best case scenario, this gambling hall will not add anything to the economic life of the South End. According to the developer’s presentation to the Common Council the other day, the development will add hundreds of jobs and generate millions of dollars of tax revenue for the City. Oh yeah, of course it will. Where have we heard that before.

Rochester Casino Developer David Flaum, Chair Of Republicans For Cuomo

Rochester Casino Developer David Flaum, Chair Of Republicans For Cuomo

The developer who is proposing this horror, David Flaum, was the guy who wanted to put a casino in the long-vacant Tobin First Prize building which straddles the border with suburban Colonie. (The Tobin building is in Colonie, the parking lot in Albany.) It seems that both mayor Kathy Sheehan and Colonie supervisor Paula Mahan objected to locating a casino at Tobin, so Flaum withdrew the proposal. Mayor Sheehan, explaining her opposition to the Tobin site for a casino, was quoted in the Albany Business Review:

Sheehan... cited concerns with traffic on the already-busy I-90 Exit 5 interchange. She also is worried about the impact on West Albany neighborhood residents and increased costs to the city for policing and other government services. "A Las Vegas-style casino in the City limits may cause more trouble and detract from what we're trying to do downtown," Sheehan said.

Well good. Our new mayor is concerned with the negative effect such a ridiculous boondoggle, if actually built, will have on the City of Albany and particularly on the nearby neighborhoods. But suddenly we have basically the same casino proposal for the south End and just as suddenly we have a different line from the mayor. Also from the Albany Business Review:

Sheehan is open-minded to the idea... "I'm certainly ready to say this is something we need to consider very carefully," said Sheehan."The details are always something that need to be looked at very closely." ...Sheehan said Flaum approached her about possibly building on the Noonan land.

Wait a minute, what? What’s the difference?

It’s still a casino, and last time I checked the South End was still within Albany City limits. People live here. Won’t this new plan, dumped upon the South End, result in “increased costs to the City for policing and other government services,” impact the nearby neighborhoods and “may cause more trouble?” That’s the mayor’s words.

Summer Traffic Stalled On The Thruway Near Exit 23, August 2011

Summer Traffic Stalled On The Thruway Near Exit 23, August 2011

As for traffic, anybody who has ever tried to access Thruway Exit 23 at 4 PM on a weekday can tell you about daily gridlock, a line of cars that stretches all the way back past Second Avenue. That’s no exaggeration. If I need to run to the lumber yard in Selkirk at that time, I can count on the seven minute trip taking a good half hour or more of stop and go traffic. You just don’t go near Exit 23 at rush hour unless you really have to.

The Hearst Times Union quoted mayor Sheehan as saying that while she didn’t want to see a casino built in downtown Albany, "I would have significant concerns about a casino right across the river in Rensselaer without anything to compensate the City." So... a casino located just about anywhere in or near Albany would have a serious negative impact on Albany, but not in the South End?

What are we, a garbage dump for boondoggles? The Wife made an interesting observation, if the casino is such a wonderful thing, why are all the authorities trying to put it where it will have the least impact on the surrounding neighborhoods? Except of course, it would certainly have plenty of impact on my neighborhood. But that’s okay, everyone knows that the citizens of the South End don’t matter because we live in the South End.

Port Of Albany Seen From The Rensselaer Side Of The Hudson

Port Of Albany Seen From The Rensselaer Side Of The Hudson

I certainly don’t wish harm upon the citizens of Rensselaer across the Hudson River, and I wouldn’t wish this casino upon them. Their City council is clamoring for the casino, but from what I hear the Rensselaer voters are not happy with that. In any case, if the voters of Rensselaer have any pride in their community they will reject the proposal with extreme prejudice.

I can’t even imagine what compensation mayor Sheehan thinks we will be missing if the casino gets built across the river. Perhaps, as the one person who is most personally responsible for managing the City’s fiscal crisis that she inherited from her predecessor, she is thinking of tax revenue. But Ms. Sheehan, of all people, should be very aware that the hidden costs of hosting corporate political boondoggles almost always outweighs the revenue that might be collected by the City somewhere up the road.

I’m told that the general understanding around City Hall and the State Capital is that governor Cuomo is leaning heavily on mayor Sheehan to “take a hard look” at his campaign donor’s casino proposal for Albany. That phrase, from what I’ve seen over the years, usually means “come up with a plan to make it work.” Sometimes that directive is embedded in randomly generated State mandates, for example the legislation that imposes pedestrian-deadly traffic roundabouts on beleaguered communities.

 Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan: Walking A Political Tightrope

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan: Walking A Political Tightrope

Technically the mayor is not legally subservient to the governor, theoretically she can tell him to go pound salt and take your campaign donor with you. But as a practical matter she is in no position to tell our radical corporatist governor to kiss her butt and leave Albany alone. Andrew is too strong, too powerful, and too imperial minded to piss off without dire consequences to her mayoral career and to the City of Albany.

The sad fact is that right now she needs him a lot more than he needs her, because she needs State money to dig Albany out of the financial hole that she inherited from her predecessor, Jerry Jennings. So far her honor has been walking a tightrope strung between the voters who put her in office and Andrew’s corporate corruption. I really don’t want to see her fall off that rope, but I also don’t want this horrible garbage in my backyard.

There is one bright spot in all this. If somehow we manage to fend off this assault, and the casino never gets built, then all of a sudden everyone is now aware of the Noonan property, 60 acres of prime real estate hidden away under our noses. And everyone is now aware that the owners of the property would like very much to sell it to the highest bidder.

The Proposed Scam Operation

The Proposed Scam Operation

The once isolated cluster of small estates has long been surrounded by the relentless march of the armies of progress. For starters the approach to the property is hardly a pleasant scenic ride, the road is separated from the constant speeding Thruway traffic by jersey barriers. It’s the last road one would expect would lead to the houses of the elite, but perhaps that was the idea.

It appears that the Noonan clan has moved on, their ties to the City of Albany pretty much severed. That might be so, but I might find myself getting sued for saying what all the old timers know and repeat, that the late grand matriarch of the clan, Dorothea Noonan, nicknamed Polly, was the mistress of The Mayor, Erastus Corning II. There, I said it. Everytime the corporate media describes her as “Corning’s confidante and secretary” I just laugh.

But really, who cares anymore. I don’t think I ever did. But now we all know about this property where they all used to live and the corporate media is making us think about the Noonans. As pretty as it is, it is prime real estate located in a spot that is perfect for commercial or residential use. I am forced to grudgingly concede that some or all of the property needs to be developed.

When I say “commercial” I don’t mean strip malls or shopping centers. You may not have noticed, but hardly any new retail outlets are being built anymore because they have become financially unfeasible. The Middle Class is shrinking and their discretionary income is being siphoned off by increasing corporate taxation. There are not enough customers left to support retail outlets or support casinos, at least not around here.

The Ridiculous Official Concept Presented By Flaum

The Ridiculous Official Concept Presented By Flaum

After a few quick looks at the land, I don’t think it would serve very well as parkland or as a nature preserve. While it overlooks the Normanskill it is too close to the Thruway and too disconnected from the City proper, it would not integrate very well into our community as common greenspace. Besides, turning the 60 acres into a park would lose the bit of taxable revenue that the City already gets, and it would become another permanent expense.

So that leaves two things, use the land for manufacturing or housing. Building homes for a new South End neighborhood would help to alleviate our current housing crunch. While the homes would not be all that convenient to downtown Albany they would appeal to many homeowners and renters who want to be a bit removed but not too far away from the urban center. And of course the occupants of homes, unlike a casino, would be a reliable source of tax revenue for the foreseeable future.

But it seems to me that the ideal use for such land is wealth creation, that is, manufacturing. Industrial infrastructure built from scratch on mostly unused land, it is surely possible to build 21st Century industrial facilities that do little or no polluting and cause minimal disruption to nearby neighborhoods. Most importantly, such use of the land would provide jobs for citizens of the South End, jobs that unlike the unstable paltry casino jobs will add wealth to our economy rather that extract what’s left.

Nondescript Side Road Off Noonan Lane That Leads To The Noonan Mansions

Nondescript Side Road Off Noonan Lane That Leads To The Noonan Mansions

These are just suggestions. At the moment I have no idea what sort of manufacturing could go there, other than to say that this property could be used to establish some new and innovative ideas in wealth creation. As for housing, it could be high end, low end, middle or all three. Perhaps manufacturing and housing could go together, which would be very much how the South End used to be.

I’m suggesting that the focus needs to shift to public discussion of what this land ought to be used for, what use would most benefit our community. How should the land be zoned, what sort of subsidies should it receive to encourage development, what sort of tenants will most benefit the South End and the City. But first we need to agree that the last thing we want on this land or anywhere else nearby is Andrew Cuomo’s stupid, useless corporate patronage casino.

 


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Posted by:Joe A
Posted on:04/10/2014
Comments:
A corporate millionaire lawyer, now mayor, bending to the wishes of a corporate governor and his corporate sponsors? Say it ain't so! You harvest what you sow.


Posted by:Matt C
Posted on:04/11/2014
Comments:
I agree with Joe A on this one. As for the poor South End residents losing their shirts at this new casino..... they already gamble away their disability and SSI checks on dice games on the corner. There is no such thing as gambling addiction, it's merely a lack of taking personal responsibility for ones actions. No one is going to hold a gun to their heads and force them to go to a casino.

I love it that the "progressives" have gotten themselves elected to power....... now they'll have no one to blame but themselves when their ideas of utopia don't pan out and the City of Albany slides further into decay.

Oh and by the way you're wrong about "West Albany" being in the City of Albany. The only part of the West Albany neighborhood that lies within the City of Albany is the rail yards off of Anderson Dr and some of the businesses off Burdick Dr. The residential neighborhoods on Richmond St, Corning St, Sumpter St and Exchange St all lie within the Town of Colonie.

One last thing. You live on S. Swan St between Morton Av and Catherine St. This new casino if it's built won't be "practically in your back yard". You wouldn't even be able to see it from the roof of your house.


Posted by:Ms. Wright
Posted on:04/11/2014
Comments:
This is a very intelligent article. First, we need an extension of time in order to thoroughly research the pros and cons. May 5th gives less than 1 month to compile the information needed to decide to vote yes or no. I believe that the reason for the rush rush is that given any time to think about it, we will realize the folly of the proposal. Who decided on that date anyway? What time table is that?Will the offer be off the table if we don't say yes by then? Sounds like a high pressured sales pitch. "We can only sell you this car for this price today" Really? there is no such thing as a quick fix. Albany is going to have to tighten our belts and come up with some very creative outside the box solutions to our financial woes. Building a casino to suck the money out of the south end is not the answer. Casinos all over the country are falling in profits, some are closing altogether. If Albanians want to gamble they can go 30 minutes north to Saratoga or 90 minutes west to Utica. Let's not do business as usual. This is a new administration with new ideas. Let's capitalize on that instead.


Posted by:Dan Van Riper
Posted on:04/12/2014
Comments:
Ms. Wright- I agree that time is the enemy of bad ideas. If this casino is such a great plan, then the promoters shouldn't be afraid of extensive public scrutiny.

Matt C- Underlying your troll post is a deep distaste for the City of Albany and for those of us who live here. Your attitude, which is popular in the suburbs, is exactly what we need to ignore and abandon if we are going to rebuild our economy.

Joe A- Your conclusion about mayor Sheehan is one I hope does not turn out to be true. Of course, eventually we will see.


Posted by:Albany
Posted on:04/12/2014
Comments:
Do you prefer the City of Rensselaer proposal? Seriously, do you? That IS the alternative. I'm on the fence- I want to know.


Posted by:Dan Van Riper
Posted on:04/13/2014
Comments:
Albany- Just because Andrew says we ought have a casino doesn't mean we should have one. I want no casino anywhere around here. Anyways, last I heard the Rensselaer waterfront project was rejected as a casino site by the State.


Posted by:Joe A
Posted on:04/14/2014
Comments:
Dan, I hope (as much as you do) that I'm wrong, but I lack a point of reference, like a track record, to think otherwise.Hanging out at CA on Central and at West Hill, Arbor Hill and South End does not a progressive make. In all honesty, she was the best that progressives could get. Everyone else that put their foot forward was patently incompetent. That being said, I want her to prove me wrong. Frankly, I am tired of millionaire progressives, which is our entire Congress, and the results are there for all of us to see. @ Matt C: I don't share your prejudice towards poor people.


Posted by:Judd Krasher
Posted on:04/14/2014
Comments:
To be very clear, I do not support this plan. The process is outrageous and the proposal is troubling.


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