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                                                                       CANA

                                                 October 4, 1006

 

 

Thank you for that kind introduction, Harold.

 

Chinese Proverb:   Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.

 

CANA initial step was Harold Rubin.

 

In 1975 I asked Harold to join the NRC Board.  At the time, he was busy as the Chief Budget Examiner (DOB) and very active with Ruth in Center Square matters.  Yet, he agreed, provided I would give him a ride over to our noon meetings at 340 First Street.  I don't think he foresaw that 31 years later we would be celebrating his brainchild, CANA, a federation of all Albany NAs. (Harold chaired CANA 1976 - 1996).

 

                                                                Rich Tradition

 

CANA is celebrating a rich tradition of Albany citizens non-partisan involvement through NA's:

 

           to obtain services as a right

 

           to reform a government stuck in ancient ways by:

 

           moving BZA meetings to evening so people could attend

 

           insisting on public comment periods at Common Council meetings

 

           enhancing and preserving Washington Park by convincing the City to place curbs to prevent cars from parking on the grass

 

           defeating Mayor Corning's proposal to permit conversion of large houses to floor through apartments in R-2 neighborhoods

 

           1981 [Jennings a Common Council member]

 

           38 Speakers; 88 more signed up

 

           litigating to secure rather than demolish vacant buildings and to enforce the zoning law

 

           creating a transparent budgetary process and hiring a Budget Director

 

           to inform residents through

 


           "Love Thy Neighborhood" conventions

 

           Who can forget the Tom Mayer/Roger Marcovics inspired skits that led to major City initiatives in

 

           housing rehabilitation

 

           positive zoning changes

 

           property assessment reform

 

           community policing

 

           1997 Neighborhoods USA National Convention

 

And, no, contrary to fears, the alligators did not take over the swamp!

 

Even better, the swamp was drained and beautiful flowers now appear at all major intersections and streets!

 

                                                                Albany Politics 

 

Understanding NA's requires an appreciation of the politics of Albany.

 

Following 30 years of Republican rule, the Democratic party, under Dan O'Connell, took control in 1921.  He maintained a political monopoly until his death in 1977 when power passed to his handpicked successor, Mayor Erastus Corning, who held office from 1941 until his death in 1983.

 

The machine enjoyed the longest period of dominance of any party apparatus in the country.

 

It operated through ward leaders who kept an eye on political control and local issues.

 

Mayor Corning encouraged people to approach him directly.  He had reputation for responsiveness.

 

A political machine combined with a political boss covered local needs.

 

In fact, William Kennedy noted that the machine opposed federal anti-poverty programs as "interference".  The City's first application in the 60's was denied because local officials failed to sign it.

 


Kennedy captured this time with his novel "Roscoe".  Roscoe Conway is a not so fictional figure who asked his father, a former Albany Mayor, how the democratic party would get the money to operate if it took over from the Republicans in 1921.  His father replied:

 

                                                          USE BOOK PASSAGE

 

By the early 70's: a Republican had been elected

 

           to Congress,

 

           to the State Senate,

 

           to the Assembly and,

 

           worst of all, the critical office for the machine, the District Attorney. 

 

In 1973:

 

           Mayor Corning won by less than 4,000 votes,

 

           the $2B South Mall was completed, increasing property values downtown and eroding faithful machine voters,

 

           the Vietnam War and political unrest were ongoing 

 

           the Washington Park Spirit chronicalled change.

 

            What motivated the organization of NA's?

 

The ground was fertile for NA's.

 

1.         Problem Solving

 

           who to go to

 

           how to get information

 

           how to take effective collective action

 

2.         Positive Involvement

 

           join others

 

           block  parties

 

           garage sales

 


           holiday tree lighting

 

           enhance City services

 

Generally, it was a specific issue, often involving the use of land and development.

 

                                                                    Early NA's

 

Pre 1975 four were prominent:

 

           Center Square founded in the 1950s to beautify the area between Washington Park and the Capitol/Swan Street.  When I-787 and the South Mall were under construction in the 1960's the highway was proposed to extend west under Washington Park eliminating all homes in the way.  This threat prompted a response led by Harold Rubin.  Ultimately this initiative failed.

 

In the early 1970's when McDonald's retained the politically connected Rutnik law firm to obtain a zoning change to permit the erection of Golden Arches on the northwest corner of Madison and Swan, it was Ruth Rubin, the Mother of all Neighborhood Associations, who suggested neighbors could organize and defeat this.  Against long odds, after a spirited public hearing in Chancellor Hall, this proposal was tabled.

 

Washington Park had long existed to influence improvements in this jewel.

 

Manning Boulevard, organized in the early 1970's by Mimi Mounteer, was focused on defeating slumlords who were seeking to buy up and subdivide old single family homes.

 

Pine Hills reorganized in the early 1970's to assist homeowners in their quality of life issues in a neighborhood that was losing VI, a long time stabilizing influence.  Student parking, code enforcement and Ridgefield Park occupied its agenda.

 

                                                                          NRC

 

1975, with initial funding and leadership from the Council of Community Services (Dorann Zimicki (Brady/Farrell) and Lee Lindstrom (First Trust), I was asked to incorporate the NRC with offices at 340 First Street.  The Board hired Tom Mayer (acknowledge) and set out to organize new NA's.

 

Hudson Park - formed after the McDonald's incident to resist the tearing down of row houses owned by Joe Leone (Mac Mowbry).  (Gregg Bell - recently led opposition that defeated a proposed (BZA) to benefit a slumlord on S. Lake Avenue.)

 

Upper Washington - to resist a parking lot and expansion of a dentist's office.  Fought Middle School/traffic (environmental site review).


West End - west of Bleecker Stadium - long time residents concerned with quality of life issues.

 

Mansion - housing conditions in the South End/tenant issues/public safety.

 

Second Avenue NA - grew out of South End.

 

                                             How do NA's fit with politics today?

 

In the 1980's a presentation by NA's at a City budget hearing resulted in Albany hiring its first Budget Director (Dan Klepak).

 

Department heads regularly attend CANA/NRC/NA meetings (here tonight) and are very responsive.

 

           Harry Michaels (DPW) - first NA cleanup days around Earth Day (Ridgefield Park)

 

           Bill Bruce - simple thing as a holiday tree for students at Pine Hills Elementary.

 

           Chief Tuffey - sharing his vision for Albany

 

Mayor Jennings has continued a tradition begun by Mayor Whalen of addressing CANA in early January of each year.

 

President of the Common Council does the same.

 

We live in a progressive City rich in culture, diversity and history.

 

A City where citizen participation is welcome, indeed encouraged.

 

A City facing challenges of vacant buildings downtown, street violence, economic pressures and unfair poor perceptions of schools.

 

Yet, a City which has made great strides in the past 30 years.

 

-           a beacon for upstate

 

-           where the best minds work and play

 

-           where hope/optimism prevail

 

A City with tremendous resources

 

-           colleges and universities; medical and law schools


-           Albany Institute/NYS Museum

 

-           Seat of NYS government     

 

Our NA's are changing:

 

-           35 years after I first held the office - back as PHNA President

 

-           still connecting citizens

 

-           e-mail

 

-           websites (PHNA)

 

-           list serves

 

encouraging an expectation of success

 

-           Whitehall/Hackett

 

-           Upper Madison Avenue (FOTM)

 

-           Downtown

 

Our future is our own.

 

It is so bright that I need to wear sunglasses!!