December 22, 2007: A cold deep Christmas Eve in Albany, New York. The downtown of the state capital lies dreaming. A few hardy souls stagger twixt trendy bars with names like “Malice” and “Ptomaine”. A couple of muggers skulk in a bus shelter and an ancient taxi shoots up Broadway, hitting every pothole. The night watchman at the Times-Union Center (formerly the Pepsi Arena) grabs a smoke outside the main entrance. Nobody sees Santa's sleigh land atop City Hall. Nor do they hear Santa ho ho ho his way into the office of Mayor Jerry Jennings.
But Santa has been misinformed by the elf who handles his schedule. Mayor Jennings isn't in his office, burning the midnight oil. Instead, the good burgermeister is at home, tucked up in bed, visions of political plums dancing in his head. Congressman Jennings ... Hillary appointee Jennings ... zzzzzzzzzzzzz ...
Heaving a sigh of relief, Santa flops down in the mayor's chair. Santa is glad to find Jennings gone. Now he can just leave the coal and skip the speech. Lecturing Mayor Jennings has become staler than last year's cookie platter. So what if back in 1993, candidate Jennings promised to clean up crime, revitalize neighborhoods, and make machine politics the ghost of Albany's past? Promises are meant to be broken.
Alas. In these post-WMD days, even Santa has become cynical.
Mayor Jennings' well padded seat is mighty comfy and Santa puts his feet up. As he does, the heel of his boot knocks an object off the desk. Santa bends to retrieve it. It's some kind of award, in the form of a medallion. Probably a gimcrack from the local Chamber of Commerce, or a Business Improvement District thinks Santa. Then does a double take. Holy sleigh bells-- it's the Medallion of the University at Albany. A major campus of the State University of New York (SUNY).
Since Santa keeps track of naughty-or-nice, he knows awards like Mayor Jennings knows tanning booths. The Medallion of the University is traditionally given to UAlbany alumni of solid achievement. As example (just a few) past recipients include Steve Croft, correspondent on 60 Minutes, and H. Howard Swygert, president of Howard University, a former president of SUNY at Albany, and a member of the National Security Agency Advisory Board.
Santa suspects the mayor's award is as fake as those photos of used-car salesmen shaking hands with presidents. He whips out his wifi subnotebook. Nope. The Medallion is real. Google brings up an announcement of a wing-ding honoring Jennings as recipient. On December 8th the University at Albany, along with the “Event Sponsors and Honorary Committee” paid “tribute” to the Honorable Gerald D. Jennings at a “gala event”. Formal attire was required. Cocktails and festive food stations were featured.
(Note: At food stations, folks fill up first and get gas later.)
Laying his finger on the side of his nose, Santa reads on. According to the announcement “... Jerry Jennings has presided over an unprecedented reduction of crime and meaningful increases in quality of life for all of Albany”. By the time Santa gets to the part about Jennings' “visionary and progressive leadership” and reputation for “innovative and effective government” his eyes have stopped twinkling.
“Who came up with this stuff?” fumes Santa as he checks (twice) the list of the Honorary Committee members who deemed a crony cozy mayor of a one-party town with extensive slums, unreliable city services, and outsize crime stats worthy of “the highest award for distinguished service”.
Two Business Improvement Districts, the Albany Parking Authority, and City Treasurer Betty Barnette (a Jennings loyalist) are on the list. But so are members of the venerable Hearst family. Owners of the Albany Times-Union. Which is also on the list. The Times-Union is Albany's only daily paper. While some claim Albany has no fourth estate, Santa is favorably inclined toward Hearst publications. Back in the day, Louella Parsons was always glad to plant items re Rudolph's apocryphal red nose in her columns.
Also on the committee: State Senator Joe Bruno (R.) and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D). Bacon bringers deluxe. Santa is impressed by their bi-partisan sizzle for Jennings. And while a criminally convicted subprime mortgage lender who contributed to the collapse of an attempt to revitalize Arbor Hill (one of Albany's poorest neighborhoods) is on the committee, so is Bishop Howard Hubbard, head of the Catholic Diocese of Albany. As are academic entities and Albany based non-profits.
The announcement also cites the prestigious public-supported projects Mayor Jennings has brought to fruition in the corporate/government section of downtown Albany. The upcoming Albany convention center isn't included because it's still in the ballooning-budget process. When the mega complex is completed, an enclosed walkway will connect it to the Times-Union Center, a sports and entertainment facility owned by Albany County. The Times-Union is corporate sponsor.
“Gosh” thinks Santa, “maybe my research elves haven't kept me up to speed re Mayor Jennings' progressive leadership and unprecedented reduction of crime.”
Thuck! Back in the sack goes Jennings' coal. Up on the rooftop Santa springs into his sleigh. Next stop: a midtown neighborhood on the south side of lovely Washington Park. Where fire ravaged a brownstone on December 11th. The building, which dated to the 1860's, had to be demolished. The cause of the fire is unknown. In the past, a neighbor reported smelling crack (or possibly meth) burning in an apartment in the building. The police couldn't ascertain the claim. With the building gone, the cause of the fire will remain unknown.
During the fire and while the building was being torn down, tenants in two adjoining buildings were forced to vacate. They were told to leave their doors unlocked for fire inspectors and that a security detail would be posted. When the demolition wrapped up at 10 PM on December 12th, the cops left. Thieves partied hearty for the rest of the night, robbing apartments and helping themselves to booze and food. However, they did bring their own erectile dysfunction meds. Empty packets were found. One theory is that the thieves came from the nabe. So far, no arrests have been made.
Luckily, Santa always knows who's been bad or good. And thanks to Mayor Jerry Jennings, he has an extra helping of coal for the perps.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Sources include but are not limited to:
“Thieves finish what a fire began,” Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, Albany Times-Union, 12/16/07
“Evacuated residents robbed in Albany,” New Channel 13, 12/13/07
“Historic Albany building to be demolished after fire,” Steve Ference, Capital News 9, 12/12/07
“Honor for Jennings by UAlbany draws praise, protest,” Jessica Harding, Schenectady Gazette, 12/09/07
“Protest: 'Jennings reduced crime in Albany and is environmentally sensitive'???,” Anton Konev, Co-Chair, Coalition to Save Albany, 11/30/07 www.albanyweblog.com
“Silipigno hopes charitable work polishes his image,” Barbara Pinckney, The Business Review (Albany), American City Business Journals Inc., 04/09/04
Send comments or confidential tips to: