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Council Member Calls On Mayor To Set Aside Bill

WAMC photo illustration by Dave Lucas

An Albany Common Councilor wants the mayor to rescind a bill to the Poor Peoples’ Campaign for police services provided by the city during a recent protest .

Councilor Owusu Anane is calling on Mayor Kathy Sheehan to immediately set aside the “public safety fees” charged to the Poor People’s Campaign. The group's initial downtown protest on May 21st snarled traffic along the busy Central Avenue corridor, causing delays and forced rerouting of CDTA buses. The mayor expressed her frustration on WNYT, calling the tactics inconsiderate of “working class people” who need to commute to work. The Democrat expanded on that in an interview with WAMC News.   "Clearly, the Poor People's Campaign organizers understand the permit process. They have had the courtesy of registering and getting permits from the state in order for them to assemble on state property. They have not afforded that same courtesy to the city of Albany. They have not applied for permits to block the streets in the city of Albany.  If people seek to protest and assemble in the city of Albany, whether it’s in a park or on a street, they have to apply for a permit. And that allows us to plan for traffic safety, for the safety of those who are protesting, and to be able to work out how that's going to happen and what the potential cost of that might be."

Arguing the Poor People’s Campaign failed to secure permits necessary to conduct a march and demonstration, the city sent a bill for $1,451.49.  Mark Mishler, the group's attorney, says they're not going to pay.    "The Poor People's Campaign and others have the right to engage in First Amendment-protected assembly, speech, association. We do not need permission from the mayor or the city of Albany to exercise our First Amendment-protected rights."

Anane represents the 10th Ward. He says poverty and issues centered around economic injustice impact his Pine Hills constituents on a daily basis, and believes the Poor People's Campaign should be supported.   "I introduced a resolution asking the mayor to rescind the fee charged to the Poor People's Campaign. And also asking for support and a stand of solidarity from my council colleagues in support of the Poor People's Campaign and the actions that they've taken, the cause that they've been fighting for, issues that many people in my neighborhood, particularly seniors and minorities, feel that its been neglected for far too long. Issues such as affordable houses, issues such as income inequality, issues such as criminal justice reform that needs to be addressed. So, we all on the side of the Poor People's Campaign, and as an elected official, when I was running for office I said I would promise to be a public advocate, and this is exactly what I plan on doing. To make sure that individuals whose concerns have been swept under the rug have a voice in city hall."

Anane says fellow councilors have given his proposal "mixed reviews." The next meeting is Monday.  "The resolution has been introduced. It's gonna go through the Public Safety Committee and it's going to be interrogated and I hope individuals who are associated with the Poor People's Campaign can show up to city hall. And also let their voices be heard."

Meantime, Mayor Sheehan took to posting an article on the city website regarding her position on the fine, after she says the Times Union Editorial Board declined her request to publish her response to a strongly-worded June 12th editorial that was critical of the mayor.    "Because they didn't file for permits, it required us to bring in additional resources so that we could keep everybody safe. And we provided them with a bill. And we treated them in no different way than we would have treated any other organization. If the NRA had come and blocked the streets in Albany without a permit we would have sent them a bill as well."

Online, Sheehan notes "The Poor People’s Campaign should not be treated differently simply because I share their cause."

The newspaper editorial sided with the Poor People's Campaign, saying "anti-poverty advocates come to Albany to protest inequalities in American society... City Hall bills them for exercising their right of free speech.  If you want to come to Albany to protest the injustices of poverty, you'll want to have money, not to mention an appreciation for irony."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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