Albany Issues Await Answers

Feb 2, 2016

Several events that will shape the future of New York's Capital City took place in various locations across Albany Monday night.

Social and quality-of-life issues were front-and-center across the city Monday night. At City Hall, 11th-Ward Council member Judd Krasher introduced legislation that would repeal Albany's new trash fee, which has been met with widespread opposition from landlords and tenants, many who regard the $180--a-year "fee" as a tax.   "I am very serious about getting this legislation passed. Repealing this fee and making sure it never comes back. I think the fee discriminates against renters and will be felt particularly hard, and we're already hearing this, on low income families."

Krasher is confident he can muster the votes needed to banish the fee.

Another group of taxpayers packed Martel's restaurant off upper New Scotland Avenue for the second of two "community forums"  held in hopes of convincing the community to fast-track the scaled-back project to rebuild Albany High School.

Essentially it was the same presentation given January 15th at the high school when Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard was still City School District of Albany Superintendent. But while district officials outnumbered spectators at the first gathering, the large crowd at Martel’s was more vocal.  Several people lined up to speak during a public comment period:  The crowd demanded a better graduation rate and more accountability from officials.

Speaker after speaker scolded the Board of Education for allowing the High to fall into serious disrepair, and complained that taxes are already too high.

Albany resident John Bonano works as a part-time assessor. He spoke about the high number of houses going up for sale throughout the city, saying homeowners are being driven out.  "Every year I have seniors come into me - they're on social security. They're earning less than 12, 15 thousand dollars a year. They've gotta pay their mortgage, they've gotta buy medicine, they have to buy food, and they come to me with tears in their eyes saying they can't afford to pay their property tax, and I have to say to them 'I can't help you.'"

Taxpayers, already facing possible rate hikes, groaned as one official conceded that soon the city will need more cash to build a new middle school. One audience member interjected there is a "disconnect" between the board and the tax paying public. The crowd blasted the board for sidelining Vanden Wyngaard while continuing to pay her six-figure salary and hiring a consultant to work with the acting superintendent.

While the forum didn't resolve anything, it did allow folks to vent. Everyone agreed turnout will play a key role in the February 9 vote to fund the rebuilding plan.

Groups including the Albany branch of the NAACP insist a new school is needed - they met Tuesday morning near the high school.

Black History month got off to a rocky start at the UAlbany campus Monday night where hundreds rallied in support of three young black women who say they were attacked by a dozen white students on a CDTA bus in the wee hours of Saturday  -  one of the three, Asha Burwell,  a junior from Long Island and student manager of the women's basketball team, addressed the crowd at Monday's UAlbany rally in audio recorded by NewsChannel13.  "My friends Ariel and Alexis and I have experienced something that no one should ever have to experience in their life."

A sophomore spoke with UAlbany broadcast journalism students. "The scarey thing is that as African American your parents raised you, telling you you need to be aware of certain things. You have to be aware that all people are always not as welcoming as others, and you hope for the best and you hope things don't happen, but you can't stop everyone."

Burwell gave her account of the incident on social media within minutes after it happened, triggering a chain of events that included response from UAlbany President Robert Jones, campus police and the Albany #BlackLivesMatter affiliate. "We're proud of who we are. Black women," said a tearful Burwell.

Police are reviewing video that captured the bus brawl but so far have not shared it. Regardless of the outcome, students say they share the pain:  "I don't understand why people would even think about trying to harm another person, especially if they're in classes with them every single day."    "I'm transgender. I face oppressions of my own. But obviously not the same oppressions. I stand with anybody who'a experienced oppression, whether it be racial, class, gender, sex."

The rally at the “small fountain,” preceded the college's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, which featured keynote speaker memoirist and civil rights advocate Carlotta Walls LaNier.  Meanwhile, the city's newly formed #BlackLivesMatter chapter discussed the UAlbany incident at a previously scheduled town hall-style meeting held at Punta Cana Bar and Lounge.