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Supersized Burgermeister With Fries
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 to revitalization.

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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Copyright (c) 2003 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.


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