Category Archives: Community

Take me out to The Felon

The other shoe finally dropped in an Albany, NY, courtroom yesterday. Joseph L. Bruno, the cocky former State Senate majority leader, was sentenced to two years in prison on his conviction for violating the federal law concerning theft of honest services.

Bruno, who loves nothing better than making self-congratulatory speeches — well, he also obviously likes doing business with friends who can enrich him, spent 40 minutes of the judge’s time boo-hooing about his hardscrabble upbringing and shoring up his own personal code of ethics, That was before the judge — who had to take a 10-minute pee break a half-hour into Bruno’s monologue — sentenced him to two concurrent two-year terms.

Bruno was freed on bail, awaiting a possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a suit challenging the legality of the theft of honest services law. He then headed for a meal at the iconic Jack’s Oyster House in downtown Albany with his son, Kenny.

Don’t be surprised if the elder Bruno continues his freedom by showing up at the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium on the Hudson Valley Community College campus in Troy when the minor league baseball season begins. Something soothing about basking in the glow of your own name.

And, speaking of Hudson Valley CC, it now has two edifices named for convicted felons. The McDonough Sports Complex was named for the late Ed McDonough, the Rensselaer County Democratic Party chairman and powerbroker who served federal prison time for municipal corruption, and the aforementioned Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, named for the now-convicted felon who behind closed doors steered taxpayers’ money to the college to construct the stadium that, in a move he and his aides said was a surprise to them, then was adorned with his name.

So, here we have an ever-growing, taxpayer-funded college with two of its most prominent facilities proudly bearing the names of convicted crooks who enriched themselves in money and power at the expense of you, me and every other New Yorker.

Local media and sports fans like to refer to the stadium as “The Joe,” short for Bruno’s name. A suggestion: Why not re-name it it Felony Field, and just call it “The Felon”?

Better still, HVCC President Drew Matonak should extend the courtesy to the public of starting a push to change the names of both sports complexes. Lingering honors to dishonorable politicians have no place in the community.

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Right up my alley

Some of my early growing-up years were spent in a little community that had what we could euphemistically call “quaint” ideas about class and status.

As I grew older, I recognized them for what they were: Mind-numbing rules of thought and conduct that assumed most people would know their place in society and not try very hard to rise above their station. This was a holdover, I presume, from the Great Depression, when anyone who had anything was jealously watched by those who went without. Perhaps even a bit of the old European classism mentality as well.

One of the major determinants lay in where one began. If you lived in the West End, chances were your house was a little bigger, a little nicer, and so you were presumed to be of a better class. If you lived on the North Side, as we did, chances were your house was small, your job was in a factory or on a farm and you stayed there unless you were visiting the neutral grounds of the sprawling town park that separated the neighborhoods.

Between these extremes were the people who everyone in every neighborhood looked down on. They lived along the narrow cinder streets generally referred to as “alleys.” A lot of their dwellings were tiny, sometimes ramshackle buildings tucked in between storage sheds and garages.

The few black families in town — far fewer than today — lived in such places, as did those from broken homes — also far less prevalent then than now — along with those who just didn’t succeed in the world. The common denominator was that they all were dirt poor.

I went to school with some of the alley kids. There were stretches when we weren’t much better off financially than a lot of them. I guess that’s why I didn’t pay much attention to status. In fact, our backyard led to a place called Apple Alley, where a couple of my baseball-playing pals lived, so I knew it well.

Today, it’s known as Apple Avenue, a gentrified area of cute little apartments, converted garages, neat gardens tucked into the former junk-strewn spaces, all because people realized it was a smart move to invest in every bit of property within walking distance of the ever-growing university campus on the edge of town.

I now live in Troy, a small city on the east bank of the Hudson River in Upstate New York. It has some small groups that occasionally put its alleys under a microscope, but not nearly enough. The city has dozens of miles of such pathways. In essence, such groups here and in other localities are looking for ways to improve the alleys, which in some cases would mean clearing brush that blocks them, or recommending better security lighting or simply coming up with ways to make them more useful. Regretably, nothing much came of it, in large measure because it is not a priority for the city government, whether it be Republican- or Democrat-controlled.

Coincidentally, for several years I have been unscientifically but common-sensically checking the city’s alleys and have come to various conclusions. Among them:

• Too many alleys have been allowed to become open-air dumps for the convenience of some people. The city, under several administrations, has been made fully aware of this yet does virtually nothing about it.

• Alleys are undervalued in Troy, as they are in most cities. Instead of continuing to see them as furtive places to be shunned, some entrepreneurial types might consider the example of Provincetown on Cape Cod. Many of its once-neglected alleys have been transformed into pedestrian pathways between neighborhoods. Buildings have been converted into charming little homes and B&B’s with postage-stamp gardens. Some spots have become home to clusters of tiny stores that put less strain for rent and utilities on small-business owners.

One of the things some people push is creating alleyway wall murals to brighten the city. I have my doubts that painting pretty pictures on the walls will do much to alleviate the piles of illegally-dumped trash and garbage, the cigarette butts, discarded Styrofoam coffee and soft drink cups, and other assorted debris — all dumped there on a regular basis and inexplicably tolerated by the businesses bordering the alleyways. Paint doesn’t go far enough to foster an improved set of sensibilities by the city that fails to demand a permanent cleanup and among the peope who live in the community yet turn a blind eye to the problem.

However, it that’s what it takes to get things rolling, my heartfelt encouragement is with these people.