|October 21, 2004: While Bush & Kerry rassle on the national stage, myriad smaller
battles are being fought on local political fronts across the
nation. When it comes to day-to-day impact on the lives of most
Americans, these are the truly important contests.
In the county of Albany in upstate New York the hottest race is
for district attorney. The city of Albany is the capital of New
York State. A Democratic bastion since the early part of the
last century and in effect, a single party city. A true Moscow
on the Hudson where a choice between factions is the closest it
gets to democracy. Smaller cities in the county also go donkey.
Suburban or rural areas are a bit more Republican though urban
outflow is changing that picture. County Republicans stuck in
the wilderness comfort themselves with Governor George Pataki.
In county races urban Albany has a good chunk of the numbers.
But its population has been shrinking. Crime, particularly drug
crime, is one reason. Not the only reason, but among the
foremost. Who serves as County District Attorney, given the
primary role of the office in the prosecution of crime, is
of major importance to the future of the city of Albany.
The race has 3 contestants. David Soares is the Democratic
candidate and until earlier this year, was a prosecutor in the
district attorney's office. When Soares announced he'd be running
in the Democratic primary, his boss Paul Clyne ordered him off
the island. Running as a reformer Soares beat incumbent Clyne in
a surprise upset. Clyne remains in the running on the Independent
line. Clyne is identified with what some call "the Machine".
Though such labels in places with only one party are relative.
And indeed, once David Soares won the primary most members of
the Machine took the Reformer to their bosom. As Soares told a
gathering of the Machine on September 23rd at the Albany Polish
American Center: "I am a Democrat...We will march into November
stronger than ever."* The Republican candidate for D.A., Roger
Cusick, would normally be a snowball in hell. But since Clyne
remains in the race, Cusick has hopes of picking up a majority
of votes. Cusick's shtick is reform lite.
Why the reform note in this race? Political dissatisfaction
in Albany County is about far more than District Attorney Paul
Clyne, but he became its lightning rod. During his time in office
Clyne has made many bad calls. And judging by his shock over
losing the primary, he underestimated how many people those
calls outraged. Actions that grated include, but are not
limited to, the following:
In 2001, a prominent white heart surgeon from a suburban part of
the county was caught buying crack in a ghetto neighborhood in
the city of Albany. Doctor Crack received kid glove treatment
from higher ups in the Albany police department and the DA's
office. Ghetto dwellers knew a low income black person caught in
a similar situation would have fared very differently.
Over the past few years the Albany Catholic Diocese has been
hit heavily by charges of sexual abuse by a number of its priests
and by the appearance of a cover-up. Some believe Clyne has hung
back from involving the D.A.'s office in an investigatory role.
During Clyne's watch a string of scandals erupted involving
the Albany Police Department. Last New Year's Eve, in the late
afternoon on a crowded corner in downtown Albany, pedestrian
David Scaringe was accidentally shot to death by a police officer
during a DWI pursuit. Numerous police officers were involved in
the chase. The officer who fired the fatal shot was on foot.
He later testified that he thought the drunk driver, who when
cornered reversed the car toward the officer, meant to kill him.
Making the use of deadly force justifiable. The driver was caught
next day and ultimately pled guilty to assorted traffic
violations, in the process admitting he intended to run over the
officer. He got six months in jail. Even though he potentially
could have killed a police officer. The grand jury investigating
the matter absolved the officer, plus the police department, of
any culpability in Scaringe's death. The perception exists Clyne
guided the case to a soft landing.
Combined with outrage over individual incidents, is growing
concern over drug crime and violence. Particularly in the city
Before going further a personal note. In the Spring, I signed a
petition to put David Soares on the primary ballot. I knew little
about him. But like many people, I was thinking reform. Plus, I
figured a political race that would raise the issue of how crime
is dealt with in the City of Albany would be beneficial. Since
I was one of those people who left the city because of it. Yet
when the actual primary rolled around I didn't vote. By then,
I'd become an "undecided".
Reform candidate David Soares has tapped into a rich vein of
voter dissatisfaction. But will he pursue certain issues? For
instance, while there was much genuine grief over the Scaringe
tragedy, there was also much fear of multi million dollar
lawsuits. The kind that jack property taxes. An indictment of a
police officer, or a finding of departmental culpability, would
have strengthened any such suit immeasurably. Clyne did the dirty
work but many secretly craved the result. Even as they used it as
a political weapon. As to Soares involving the DA's office in an
investigation of coverups of sexual abuse by the Albany Catholic
Diocese, don't hold your breath. Some of the most influential
supporters of Soares belong to the Reform wing of Albany's single
party. Over the decades they've been on the same ideological wave
length as the current leadership of the Albany Catholic Diocese.
And the Machine has always been heavily Catholic.
Then there's crime. Albany, like other upstate cities, has seen
its crime stats climb while downstate numbers have shrunk. David
Soares proposes a number of solutions. What he's most passionate
about is the need to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Enacted
under Governor Nelson Rockefeller (aka Rocky) the state laws
mandate certain sentences for drug convictions. Taking discretion
in sentencing out of the hands of judges. The mandates are viewed
by many as overly harsh. Though law enforcement agencies tend to
support the Rockefeller Drug Laws, even in that corner support is
by no means one hundred percent. Yet whether the laws are good
or bad, their future can only be settled on the state political
level. As a county district attorney, David Soares could do
little to repeal the laws beyond advocacy.
To my knowledge, David Soares has never directly said he would
circumvent the Rockefeller Drug Laws via non enforcement. But
many of his supporters believe this will be the case. Yet if
Soares did this, it would be akin to the selective enforcement
some say Paul Clyne practices in regard to other laws. "Reform"
would merely mean pandering to a different set of people, rather
than making an actual change in how things are done. In one party
Albany "reform" has a history of meaning only a faction switch--
driven by competition for public money.
Speaking of money, large contributions flowed into the Soares
Democratic primary campaign from the Working Families Party
(WFP). $81,500 of which came via a grant from the Drug Policy
Alliance. The Alliance, based in downstate New York, is an entity
funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. The Alliance's
agenda is drug legalization. Much was made of the WFP
contribution by Paul Clyne, his supporters and most recently,
the New York State Republican Committee. The latter filed a
complaint, based on the New York election law which stipulates
one party can't meddle in another party's primary. Given
political conditions in the Capital Region, ethical outrage by
the Soares opponents over funding irregularities evoked a certain
degree of mirth. None the less the violation was real. State
Supreme Court Judge Bernard Malone ruled that though the Soares
campaign was not at fault for taking the money, WFP violated the
law in making contributions to another party's primary candidate.
It seems odd that political reformer and former prosecutor David
Soares was unaware this sort of contribution was illegal. And if
he wasn't handling the money side of his campaign and didn't
realize the WFP had made the contribution, it doesn't speak well
for his oversight of his staff. Being a political reformer in
this day and age means making sure people close to you don't make
bad calls about campaign contributions. Furthermore, the Drug
Policy Alliance has the sole agenda of seeking to overturn
current law. That a large contribution from the group went, via
the WFP, to a potentially highly placed law enforcement official
made a nasty impression. If the contribution had gone to members
of the state legislature, whose job it is to represent citizens
and change state laws at their behest, it would have been a
Another bad call was made regarding the Soares campaign
headquarters. Which is located in a building on lower Central
Avenue in downtown Albany. According to a 10/15/04 Albany Times
Union article by Michelle Morgan Bolton, the building's owner was
indicted last year for street dealing crack at several downtown
locations. He later copped a plea. The same article quotes David
Soares: "It's usually the landlords who do background checks on
the tenants, not the other way around. I had no involvement in
the paperwork or in any of the negotiations. Our decision is
based on location. That's it."
Albany is a relatively small city. Population roughly 97,000.
Anyone with eyes knows lower Central Avenue has drug trade.
It's typical that some building owners in areas with drug trade
will be in on the biz. David Soares, a former local prosecutor,
should be cannier about who his campaign funds profit.
As mentioned, crime has been on the rise in upstate New York,
while declining downstate. Repealing the Rockefeller Drug Laws
has been a central part of the Soares crime related platform.
But would repealing the laws help reduce crime in Albany? If the
statewide laws were contributing to crime, wouldn't the rise be
statewide rather than regional?
Albany and other upstate cities have specific regional crime
problems. Various factors are to blame: one being that as the
value of downstate New York residential real estate soared,
substance abuse facilities and assorted forms of related,
subsidized housing moved upstate. Corporate, non profit and small
investors found that upstate investment properties acquired for
a song, could become profitable when taxpayers picked up the tab.
Upstate New York has absorbed a growing population of substance
abusers and parolees. The area is chock full of prisons so in
the latter case, it's a hop skip trip into nearby cities. Yet
unlike downstate, which is tethered to the NYC economic engine,
upstate offers little chance for social mobility to unskilled
workers or ones with erratic work histories. The manufacturing
base continues to shrink. The average regional income runs well
below the national level. Young people whose families have
lived in the region for generations, leave to seek opportunity
elsewhere. Yet the poverty industries serving a mired underclass
are doing fine. While poverty itself flourishes. Along with
Among the solutions to crime David Soares proposes is less jail
time and more rehab time for non violent low level dealers/users.
He may be right. But will Soares fight to place facilities
providing recovery services in Manhattan? Or how about in
Saratoga Springs? Where Robert Bruno, brother of Joe Bruno, New
York State Republican Majority Leader, holds court in a building
leased by the state from the town's Republican committee
chairman. Robert Bruno collects $130,000 per year as deputy
commissioner of the Road to Recovery. Which isn't a Bob Hope
movie but a state program offering treatment rather than jail
time to nonviolent dealer/users. Maybe the Soares version of
the road to recovery could run past Governor Pataki's country
digs right up to the nearby second home of one of Albany's most
prominent advocates of rehab rather than jail. But I suspect
the road will lead, as usual, into the Capital Region's low and
middle income urban and suburban neighborhoods. And that many
of those treading it will continue to help push struggling nabes
over into tooth and claw slums.
Another Soares anti-crime promise is that he'll go after "king-
pin drug dealers....the ones behind the kids the current DA is
locking up." This opens up some interesting questions. To its
serendipitous credit, the Soares candidacy has made the nuts
and bolts of local drug trade a topic suitable for polite
conversation. In Machine, Reform and Republican circles
reluctance to discuss the matter has been marked. Ideological
discomfort, investment property involvement, fear of impacting
real estate values and a reliance on endless road to recovery
government funding, are all factors which singly, or in combo,
have kept analysis of the structure of local drug trade off the
table. Which in turn contributed to the growth of the problem.
The image of drug trade most fervently embraced in the Capital
Region, from political administrations to police officials to
newsmedia to neighborhood associations, is of a business run by
king-pins far far away. Drugs are just passing through with low,
and occasional mid level touch downs in a few afflicted nabes.
This spin sometimes becomes truly absurd. As when Albany Mayor
Jerry Jennings obtained federal drug crime fighting assistance
from the High Impact Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program-- but
at a civic forum referred to the acronym as standing for "Highway
Interstate Drug Trafficking Area".
It's true that the Capital Region's geographical location at a
hub of interstate highways running south to north and east to
west, plus its train and bus lines, plays a big part in making
the area a drug distribution center. And individual druggies do
make small hauls in NYC, which they then deal in small amounts
upstate. But it takes major regional organization to keep enough
product flowing in and out of a city to make it a "High Impact
Drug Trafficking Area". And while larger amounts of drugs distributed
via Albany, often come from other northeast distribution centers,
the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in its 2004 NY State factsheet
says cocaine for direct distribution is also coming into Albany
from Florida and Puerto Rico.
When David Soares says he'll go after king-pins, which king-pins
does he mean? Will they be the ones far far away (where his power
to pursue them would be limited) or will they be the ones close
to home? If the latter is the case, running checks on certain
building owners in drug traffic areas might be one way to start.
Since king-pins need somewhere to store their product. Then
there's the money laundering aspect. Just which business
entities in Albany are washing king-pin profits? And since Soares
is presenting the king-pin approach as an alternative to Paul
Clyne's record of prosecuting "kids" to the Rockefeller max,
does Soares feel Clyne has been lax on king-pins? If so, why?
Along with king-pins David Soares also plans to go after illegal
guns. According to his website, one way he plans to proceed is
by working to "create new buy-back programs". Several years ago
the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)tried
this approach in crime ridden housing projects. But the buy back
program was deep sixed when it turned out people were turning
in old guns and buying new ones with the proceeds. The number of
guns in housing projects actually increased. As an aside, gun
buybacks are also current U. S. policy in Iraq. Where I suspect
results will be similar.
During the primary race a policy debate over domestic abuse arose
between Paul Clyne and David Soares. Soares said Clyne wasn't
doing enough to aid victims. Clyne responded by coming up with
a letter Soares had written in April to the Rhode Island Parole
Review Board. Requesting that his cousin, Aires Correira, who is
serving a lengthy prison sentence for beating his wife to death,
be allowed to serve the rest of his time on the outside, working
in various programs aimed at deflecting other men from similar
actions. According to the Troy Record (8/13/04) in his letter
Soares cited Correira as having acquired college credits, and
participating fully in "programs dealing with domestic violence,
anger management and a group that deals specifically
How Paul Clyne obtained possession of the Soares letter was not
revealed. Making it public demonstrated, yet again, the qualities
in Clyne that make him so well loved. But though I believe in
redemption and realize Aires Correira may be a changed man, I
found the wording in David Soares' letter to the Rhode Island
Parole Board, as quoted by the Troy Record, troubling. While
acknowledging his cousin's "substantial" debt to society and that
his family and community were "devastated" by his sister-in-law's
murder, Soares described that murder thusly: "Alcohol was
involved and there was an argument that got physical..Eventually,
he beat her...He woke up the next day and she didn't."
The wording is in the passive voice. The events are generalized
and subtly rationalized. As opposed to: He was drinking. They
argued. He beat her severely. Then he fell asleep. When he woke
up she was dead.
Of course I may be too sensitive to such subtleties. A few
years ago a young woman who I knew when she was a beautiful
child argued with her intimate partner. He beat her severely.
Afterwards, he too fell asleep. When he woke up she was comatose.
He took her to the hospital (after stopping to buy cigarettes)
but it was too late. She died. On every step of the way to her
death, he made an active decision.
I truly wish I believed that if elected to the office of Albany
County district attorney, David Soares would prove both a genuine
reformer and an effective crime fighter. But I don't. But hey--
I'll be happy if I'm proved wrong. Overall, I think it a positive
thing that the specifics of drug trade in the Capital Region
can now be spoken of frankly and I'm sure many will rush to take
advantage of the glasnost. I also respect the desires and
dedicated efforts of all the citizens who sincerely believe
David Soares represents change.
As for me, when I get to that voting booth I may have to fall
back on that old reliable write in favorite, Mickey Mouse.
Though Donald Duck seems to have the fire in his belly...
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
"Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me?"
The Mickey Mouse Club Song, Walt Disney Productions, 1955
"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to
pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to
say which was which."
Animal Farm, George Orwell, 1946
*Political Patriarch reunites party, Carol DeMare, Albany Times
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