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Divided we’ll fall: Aaron Mair. Photo: John Whipple

No Compromise

Despite a judge’s intervention to settle a lawsuit requiring the Albany County Legislature to create a fourth voting district consisting of ethnic minorities, the plaintiffs contend that discussions have broken down.

After meeting earlier that morning with the county legislature’s legal counsel before U.S. Magistrate Randolph Treece, attorneys for the Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held a press conference Tuesday (Aug. 5) to announce that attempts to arrive at a mediated settlement had come to a standstill.

On July 7, U.S. Magistrate Judge David R. Homer issued a recommendation to a federal judge in Syracuse saying that the county’s legislative maps had been gerrymandered during the redistricting process and that population data supported the creation of a fourth minority-majority voting district. Judge Homer recommended that the two parties work together on new voting maps, but the plaintiffs claim this has not happened.

Attorneys Paul DerOhannesian and Cara J. Fineman, with the Washington D.C.-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said they were preparing legal papers to ensure that this fall’s legislative elections were stopped until the county created four “effective” minority-majority districts.

“What ‘effective’ means is minorities having the ability to elect the candidates of their choice,” said Aaron Mair, a plaintiff in the case. “The county continues to divide minority voters in a way to weaken minority-voting strength and protect white incumbents.”

The county’s new maps create four districts where the number of minority residents account for between 55.3 percent and 58.5 percent of the voting-age population. But Mair and county Republicans are endorsing a plan where minorities make up between 57 and 65 percent of the population over the age of 18 within the four new districts.

Sean Ward (D-Green Island), who chairs the legislature’s redistricting commission, could not be reached for comment. Albany County Attorney Michael Lynch, who is representing the legislature in federal court, did not return messages for comment on this story.

Despite an alternative proposal presented by the plaintiffs and supported by the county Republicans, the county’s Democratic majority has pushed its own maps through the redistricting commission and county legislature. The legislature voted on the new maps at its meeting Wednesday night (Aug. 6), after Metroland went to press.

—Travis Durfee

Door-to-Door Democracy

Citizen Action of New York will coordinate an event on Thursday, Aug. 14, to determine the needs of Albany youth, and inform residents about many community services that are available.

The Walk for Success will begin at 5 PM, with participants meeting at the 100 Blackmen Technology Center on Clinton Avenue. After assembling, volunteers will go door-to-door throughout the Arbor Hill neighborhood, distributing information, registering residents to vote, and conducting surveys regarding the needs of area youth.

Shanna Goldman, Capital District organizer for Citizen Action, explained that the program is intended as a cultural collaboration of Albany’s various social-action groups. Joining Citizen Action in this event will be local organizations such as the Capital District African-American Coalition on AIDS, People of Color Who Vote, Girls Inc., People Advocating Small Schools, and the Working Families Party.

Low voter turnout has been a significant problem throughout many of the areas targeted by the Walk for Success, explained Goldman. By arranging for local organizations to take an active role in voter registration, the needs of communities can not only be expressed, but addressed.

A general survey will be administered to residents during the event, detailing possible educational concerns for Albany youth and their families. Information on the availability of after-school programs, as well as the opportunity to suggest future programs, will also be provided to residents. The various groups will then compile the results of these surveys, and recurring issues will be brought up during upcoming regional forums organized by Citizen Action.

“There are programs out there that people aren’t taking advantage of,” Goldman explained, “and we wanted to find out why.”

—Rick Marshall

Liberty spoken here: (l-r) Calsolaro, Sano, Desfosses and Conti.Photo: John Whipple

How to Be a Patriot

In a ceremony on the steps of City Hall Wednesday (yesterday) morning, the Albany Common Council was recognized for its efforts in passing a recent resolution calling for the repeal of the USA Patriot Act.

The Albany Bill of Rights Defense Committee (ABORDC) organized the event, and presented the Freedom Award to Common Council President Helen Desfosses to commemorate a two-month process that concluded on May 19 with the resolution’s passage in a 10-3 vote. Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings has yet to sign the resolution.

“This award will remind us of what it means to be an elected official in America,” said Desfosses.

During the presentation, resolution cosponsors Alderman James Sano (Ward 9), Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) and Richard Conti (Ward 6) affirmed their belief in the resolution, and expressed their gratitude toward the grassroots movements that inspired it. Alderwoman Sarah Curry-Cobb (Ward 4), also a cosponsor of the resolution, was not in attendance.

“This is as local as it gets,” said Calsolaro, “and we have to let the legislatures on every level know that the people don’t want this.”

The Patriot Act was created by United States Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in order to provide government personnel involved in terrorist investigations with a broader range of investigative abilities. The act has been criticized by many civil-liberties groups for relying upon questionable methods of research, including the use of library records and known participation in protest events.

As previously reported in Metroland [Newsfront, March 13], Alderman Dominick Calsolaro initially presented a resolution in March requiring local law enforcement organizations to notify the Common Council before participating in investigations connected to the Patriot Act. After some opposition, a third draft of the resolution was passed in May, cosponsored by Calsolaro, and Albany became one of 139 other municipalities around the nation that have passed similar resolutions.

“These resolutions . . . are letting the federal government know that in order to protect our national security, you don’t need to remove the basic rights and principles our country was founded upon,” explained Melanie Trimble, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and member of the ABORDC. “We’re very happy that the Albany Common Council has taken a stand for our Bill of Rights, and the people of Albany should appreciate that the Common Council has taken a risk like this.”

—Rick Marshall

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