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deep qt classic cuisine: Venus & Mars
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 the border.

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 U.S. history.

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 step down.

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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Copyright (c) 2005 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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