September 16, 2005: I just returned from a vacation in Vermont and though I didn't
load up on cheese, maple syrup or baskets, I did shop for
postcards. But a gag greeting card caught my eye instead.
Produced by a company in Burlington, at the top of Vermont near
the Canadian border. The joke reads: "Men are from Jersey City,
women are from Paris". It's illustrated by a cartoon man and
woman seated together on a couch. The guy looks as if he drags
his knuckles. Stubble covers his face and body. He's wearing a
Giants sweatshirt and what look like boxer shorts. Mister
Neanderthal clutches a can in his hand. Presumably beer. The
more evolutionally advanced woman eyes him dubiously. She's
dressed ala French cliché. Beret and fishnet hose. On the back
of the card the joke gets broader with the card identified as
"Men are from New Jersey".
If you think I'm about to launch a diatribe re stereotyping and
snobbery you're wrong. I laughed and bought the card. Sometimes
stereotyping and snobbery are funny. The card also made me think
of other possible comparisons. For instance-- Men are from
Burlington, women are from Montreal.
Burlington and Jersey City actually have a lot in common. You
might call them sisters (or brothers) under the revitalized,
class stratified skin. Both have post industrial waterfronts
redeveloped with large helpings of taxpayer money. Funneled thru
HUD & company to regional development and political entities. In
Burlington, luxo condotoriums cluster on Lake Champlain. In
Jersey City they hug the Hudson River. Both cities also have a
mired underclass who hang in non-waterfront nabes. Ones rich in
violence, drugs and post industrial under-employment. Dwellers
therein most typically reside in various subsidized "affordable"
housing arrangements; dependent on politicians and bureaucrats
for the roof over their heads. In Burlington the underclass place
is the old North End. In Jersey City it encompasses several
neighborhoods a mile or so west of the waterfront. There is one
difference. In Burlington the underclass is mainly white. In
Jersey City, minority.
Finally, both Jersey City and Burlington are out classed in
the urban sophistication department by nearby cities. For JC,
it's NYC across the Hudson. For Burlington, Montreal across
Of course the joke described above is a riff on "Women are from
Venus, Men are from Mars". A line which only makes sense as an
insult to those informed by feminism and 1950's sci-fi movies.
In the classical world it would have been merely an observation.
At the Vermont State Fair in Rutland, one of the midway acts was
a group of acrobats. Among them Mademoiselle Veronica. Who spun
and did arabesques in mid-air while barely attached to a rope.
The crowd who till that point had been lackluster in its
response, applauded enthusiastically. Mademoiselle Veronica was
lovely and graceful. With her long black hair and pink leotard,
she provided more than a touch of Venus.
Meanwhile across the New York State border in the capital city
of Albany, Mars was roiling the political waters. The Albany
Civic Agenda, a reform group, had worked all Summer to advance
a petition (my spell check suggests "potion") proposing that
a ballot question be put to public vote come election day in
November. The question was whether Albany's municipal government
should be changed via charter reform from its current mayor-
centric condition to one where the Common Council plays a greater
role. The Civic Agenda collected the required petition signatures
and soldiered through an attempt to disqualify a large chunk of
those signatures by state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Spargo.
Whose no-go was overturned by the Appellate Division. All that
remained was for a majority of the Common Council to agree the
question should appear on the ballot. Since a sufficient number
had already promised support, it seemed as if Nike (the goddess
not the shoe) was about to smile on the Albany Civic Agenda.
Alas. At the September 8th Common Council meeting a triumvirate
of council members emerged from the Stygian shadows and voted
contrary to their promises. Putting the supporters of the
municipal status quo in the majority and insuring that Mayor
Jerry "Jerigula" Jennings need not relinquish any imperial power.
Which is what many people on both sides of the issue thought
the proposed charter reform was really about-- stopping Jerigula
from declaring himself a god.
Since last minute back stabs are no surprise in politics (or for
that matter to this particular Common Council) a few members
turning Brutus was disappointing but not too shocking. Neither
were the anti-petition statements former city and county judge
Larry Rosen delivered to the council. Rosen is after all,
Jerigula's palantinus on the mayor's very own charter review
commission. What did raise eyebrows into laurel wreath territory
was the anti charter reform missive penned by one of Albany's
most venerable reformers, Assemblyman Jack McEneny. An elder
statesman who goes back to the days of Erastus Augustus. Whose
municipal rule in Albany lasted longer than any other mayor in
Jerigula himself has been mayor for some time. McEneny challenged
him for the seat in a Democratic primary a few terms back.
(Albany is a one party town. Hence primaries are the real
elections.) Things got dirty. Some in the McEneny camp claimed
members of Jerigula's Praetorian Guard (aka the Albany PD) set up
McEneny's daughter for a particularly nasty traffic bust. To many
McEneny is a symbol of reform. Speaking with the voice of the
people. Yet here was that voice (albeit on paper, not in person)
imploring his "Dear Colleagues in Public Service" not to allow
the people of Albany to vote on a measure "drawn up unofficially"
and hatched in "a backroom filled with reformers". Saying such a
room is no different than "one filled with politicians and
bureaucrats". Apparently a charter reform measure drawn up
officially would be done on a front porch. By colleagues in
public service rather than politicians and bureaucrats.
Though the charter reform petition went down to defeat, political
reform advanced. As the walls around city hall were breached by
the perseverance of the Albany Civic Agenda, new lines of defense
stepped forward into the light. No doubt some wished the Spargo
wall had held and kept them hidden. Those who watched the
petition war glimpsed hitherto hidden political truths. While
some petition supporters felt like tearing their eyes out after
glimpsing these mysteries, others realized reform had actually
scored a victory. In Albany transparency is the most needed
reform of all. And the one that could help make all the
others more possible to achieve.
I have little doubt Jerigula will remain enthroned come the
November municipal election. He breezed through the recent
Democratic primary, defeating a weak challenger who had no money.
In the final round his opponents will be 2 snowballs in hell. And
Jerigula sits atop a mountain of cash donated by developers who
do business with the city. But I also have little doubt the
political atmosphere of Albany is changing. That some 3500 voters
dared sign the Albany Civic Agenda petition is significant. As is
the fact that the mayor had to marshall mighty forces to prevent
said petition from coming to a public vote and felt compelled to
put on a circus of campaign spending in a no-contest primary
race. Also consider Albany's blog scene. The frankness with which
local pols and politics are being discussed is a far cry from the
pussy footing of just a few years ago. Even though much of that
dialogue is still framed by the rigid dichotomies of prog speak,
what of it? Free speech combined with increasing transparency is
like a magic potion-- the results can never be predicted. Or as
Dorothy, that Venus in ruby slippers who spun in mid air over
Kansas said to her dog--
"Certe, Toto, sentio nos in Kansate non iam adeste!"
Which also fits the sense of bewilderment many people feel when
they realize we're now living in a country where one person's
property can be taken by government and given to another.
Early this Summer the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the
New London Development Corporation (NLDC) in New London,
Connecticut could use eminent domain to acquire property in the
insufficiently profitable neighborhood of Fort Trumbull. In order
to facilitate development of a hotel and office complex connected
to expansion plans of the Pfizer Company. But Governor Jodi Rell
and the Connecticut legislature set a moratorium on evictions in
Fort Trumbull. The Supreme Court decision did not affect the
right of local governments to make laws about eminent domain and
due to the outcry over events in Fort Trumbull, Connecticut
legislators had decided to reconsider the state's existent laws.
The NLDC, an unelected but government related agency, agreed to
honor the moratorium. But in early September the NLDC sent
several property owners in Fort Trumbull vacate notices. Giving
them 30 to 90 days to get out. They were also told to pay rent to
the NLDC during that period. Governor Rell hit the ceiling. She
demanded the NLDC rescind the notices. Micheal Joplin, NLDC
president said "I don't know it's within our purview to say no
on this." Apparently it wasn't because they withdrew the notices.
Governor Rell's office has stated that the governor has
"lost confidence in the agency's handling of the $73 million
redevelopment project"*. In New London, city officials who were
once gung ho on NLDC are calling for a city council vote of
"no confidence" re the agency. And want its top officials to
Weird how hard it is for New London's municipal government and
even state legislators to call this unelected agency to heel.
It's almost as if the NLDC had staged some kind of coup.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
*"Governor says eviction notice must be taken back". Associated
Press & WTNH in Connecticut, 09/16/05
The Institute for Justice, a non profit organization that has
provided legal assistance to the residents of Fort Trumbull and
is a nationwide advocate against abuse of eminent domain, has
called for a demonstration in front of New London City Hall on
September 19th at 6 PM. Right before the scheduled city council
meeting. To check on recent developments regarding that demo and
for further information visit www.IJ.org
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