Calling all Albanians. Ones from upstate New York that is. Those
in Eastern Europe will have to wait. Albany is the capital of New
York State. A beautiful old town on the Hudson River about 150
miles above New York City. When state government is in session,
the downtown streets surrounding the capital building swarm with
triple L: legislators, lobbyists and lawyers. You can even catch
a glimpse of Governor George Pataki. But only near the capital
building. Pataki doesn't live in the official Governor's Mansion
in Albany, but prefers to crib it downstate in Putnam County.
Which aggravates some Albanians.
Pataki however, is not QT du jour. Something more regional is
featured. But first, what's a burgermeister? Movie lovers may
remember Hammer Films, who made horror movies in England from
the mid 50's till the mid 70's. Ones placed in ersatz German cum
Eastern European villages. With a strong dash of Victorian
England. Dracula and his brides or Frankenstein and his monster
lived in a castle on the hill. No matter how many times Drac was
dusted or Frank torched, the village never shook free of the
fiends. Part of the problem was the quality of village
leadership, spiritual and political. Hammer priests were unable
to confront the radical Evil of Frankenstein or the Horror of
Dracula. Preferring platitudes, lechery and the approval of
the hoi poloi. Hammer villages were governed by Mittel European
mayors, whom unctuous underlings addressed as "Herr
Burgermeister". Herr Burgermeister was intent on keeping news of
supernatural slaughter under his Tyrolean hat. Lest the carriages
from Carlstadt stop coming. And Herr Burgermeister was typically
a petty tyrant.
But Burgermeister is also a respectful title still in use.
Meaning "mayor" in German. Which is what QT was referencing when
it dubbed Mayor Jerry Jennings of Albany "Burgermeister" in 2001.
NOT we repeat NOT the Hammer parody. When awarding the title QT
sought public input. Readers debated long and hard. The Albany
area was partly settled by the Dutch and a class of land barons
developed who kept a variation of serfdom alive long after the
fickle outside world moved on. These land barons were called
"Patroons". With historic heritage in mind some readers felt
Jennings should be dubbed "Patroon". But native Albanian Rene
said outsiders might mistake it for "poltroon". Whereas the worst
"Burgermeister" would evoke was a super sized beef patty on
a bun. Beneath a blanket of cheese. And what's wrong with that?
Mayor Jennings is indeed no micro slider. He's the guy who got
Claudia Schiffer's underwear ads stripped from Albany bus
shelters a few years back. In order to shield Albanian eyes. Not
a single paper bra strap remained. Gangs, hookers and drug
dealers figured they too could be ripped from the urban landscape
and hot footed it out of town. Which is why, during the Jennings
administration, the population of Albany shrank to below 100,000
for the first time since moving pictures started moving.
Unfortunately, the deeds of the criminals lingered. Putting the
city in the top two for crime in New York State. Which brings us
Eins zwei drei fier! The Burgermeister brought the beer!
Thanks to Mayor Jerry Jennings, the downtown business district
in Albany is a veritable Athens. Rebuilt and relocated state
offices abound, accesorized with tasteful parking garages. And
not all is government. Government supported free enterprise
flourishes as well. Community development grants and tax breaks
have nurtured a veritable Bonsai garden of entrepreneurs. Nor is
culture neglected. There are more bars than you can shake a stick
at, plus an amphitheater by the HUDson. Which was built by Mayor
Jennings not once, but twice! After the first version turned out
to be the wrong size, Jennings returned to the taxpayer well and
came back sloshing. There's also a footbridge to the riverfront,
studded with inscribed memorial bricks paid for by individual
donations. The bricks were cleverly designed to crumble quickly,
so more folks could partake of the honor. Plans for the on and
ongoing redevelopment of the downtown Palace Theater include
memorial seats. Sources say theatergoers will be encouraged to
shift their buttocks frequently to produce similar opportunities.
Public contractors and construction unions worship the
Burgermeister. And I've been told an elderly lady calls the "Ask
Mayor Jennings" radio show regularly and says how great he is. To
those who say "family member" I say fie on cynicism. Like Freud
said, society will have its discontents. Nags from the ring of
residential nabes surrounding the business district have been
whining about garbage, crime and deterioration for the entire
reign of The Burgermeister. Despite repeated admonitions to stay
tuned for rebirth. Those promises aren't just wind or a way to
carrot up loyalty either. Bohemian Lark Street got rebirthed.
Public meetings were held. Wish lists were solicited. People
even drew little maps. Ones showing imaginary police kiosks and
a spruced up park at the poor end of Lark. Though the allotted
U.S. Department of Transportation funds were ultimately needed
in the Burgermeister's own nabe, the city generously came up with
other funds and did a tree removal and sidewalk reroll on Lark
Street. And the public dialogue itself was truly revitalizing.
Overall, malcontents just prove how right the Burgermeister is to
make public access to public time on cable television a less than
pressing public contract issue. Ingrates would just use the time
to bitch. Publicly. And anyone who'd air dirty linen in public
is no better than Claudia Schiffer.
As the fourth term of The Burgermeister begins to loom, the
question of opposition arises. Yet from the Albanian political
scene comes naught but roaring silence. Some say nobody wants
to go against Jennings "because he has so much dough for his
campaigns" and "he isn't afraid to get really ugly". The word
"bully" has also been used. I don't buy this take. Money is
always an issue. And wouldn't a "bully" with a rep for getting
"ugly" engender resistance? We Americans pride ourselves on our
dislike of tyrants. And the Albany region has a specific heritage
of freedom. One of the most significant populist uprisings in
American history took place in the area: the Anti Rent Wars
of the 19th century. Where after long years of fighting a slew
of well moneyed bullies, tenant farmers kicked out the
aforementioned Patroons. Given all this, I conclude Mayor
Jennings isn't a petty tyrant in the Hammer movie mold, but
is instead that rarest of things-- a beloved leader. Perhaps
even, Burgermeister For Life?
Political satisfaction isn't so complete in Union County, New
Jersey, where a present day uprising is gathering steam as
citizens rally to stop the reactivation of the Staten Island
and Rahway Valley Railroad through the communities of Roselle,
Roselle Park, Cranford, Kenilworth, Union, Springfield, and
Summit. The reactivation comes courtesy of the Erie and Lakawanna
Railway and is connected to New Jersey's Portway Project.
The Union County Board of Freeholders originally said the
reactivation wouldn't happen without agreement of the
municipalities. But welshed on their word. QT will be covering
developments. Also on the Fall agenda: George Beam's day in
court. George is that ornery guy in Mentor, Ohio who didn't take
kindly to having his home ruined by the town's HUDbucked
contractor. Speaking of homes, isn't it funny that the Federal
Housing Administration (FHA) doesn't require inspections of HUD
homes bought with FHA/taxpayer backed loans? And that the Office
of Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) is an agency within HUD?
And that OFHEO rides herd on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the
government supported entities who move mortgages on the secondary
market? The next QT Special Features riffs on these themes.
September PEEP will star art and text by Henning Mittendorf in
Germany, a self revitalized website by Zan Hoffman in Kentucky
and ultra influential "Light Reading" by Scott Munn in Britain.
Formerly of Jersey City. And today's crispy Mondo Links relate
to shoddy building practices, money laundering and intellectual
property issues. Re the last: harsh laws will never build high
enough walls around recorded material. Related industries would
be better off riding the wave to new places. Rather than acting
like Burgermeisters stuck on stale buns.
Hold the mayo!
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
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