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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 25, 2007

Campaign spending in Guilderland races

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Advertising, campaign palm cards, mass-mailings of letters and postcards, debates, luncheons, lawn signs, and just getting the word out.

They all have one thing in common: They cost money.

In Guilderland, campaign budgets range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Personal donations make up a good portion of the candidates’ war chests, but corporate donations and political contributions are increasingly prominent.

While nearly all of the town’s candidates consider political fund-raising unsavory at best, their views differ on exactly what political contributions mean.

In Democrat-dominated Guilderland, nearly half of the races are unopposed, but fund-raising hasn’t slowed.

In the four-way race for two town board seats between two Democratic incumbents and two Republican challengers, each candidate has his own take on fund-raising.

Incumbent Democrat David Bosworth, who chairs the town’s Democratic Party and co-chairs the Albany County Democratic Committee, said that contributors know that their financial support will have no influence on town or county business.

Bosworth pointed to Supervisor Kenneth Runion as the "front-runner" when it comes to fund-raising.

"He’s full-time and he leads our team in terms of fund-raising because it is a more important position," said Bosworth of being supervisor. Runion, a Democrat, is seeking a fifth term and is unopposed.

A number of local businesses have donated to both Runion and the Guilderland Democratic Committee including:

— Developer Jeff Thomas’s WeatherGuard Roofing. Thomas has brought two major senior-housing developments before the town board for re-zone requests recently. According to state records, his company primarily contributed to Republicans prior to 2005;

— Wein, Young, Fenton & Kelsey, the law firm used by the town as it explored allegations against former police chief James Murley;

— Murphy, Burns, Barber & Murphy, the law firm that zoning board chairman Peter Barber is a partner of and which has done work for the town;

— Feeney, Centi, & Mackey, the law firm that represented Bosworth when he sued then chairman of the Albany County Democratic Committee, Frank Commisso. Partner Daniel Centi is the husband of Town Clerk Rosemary Centi, and partner Dennis Feeney is running as a Democrat for the Albany County Legislature;

— Platform Realty Group, which presented the town board with plans for the $100 million Glass Works Village;

— Boswell Engineering, the town-designated engineer;

— Clough Harbor and Associates; Delaware Engineering; and Vollmer Associates, LLP; all engineering firms that hold or have held contracts with the town; and

— Galesi Group, which owns the Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland Center.

When asked about donations from local developers and law firms that do business with the town, Runion said he doesn’t keep track of contributors and it does not influence town contracts.

"I don’t even look where the contributions are coming from; they don’t send the checks to me," Runion said. "To be honest," he said of his campaign account, "I can’t even write a check"out of it."

Republican challenger for town board Mark Grimm responded through The Enterprise saying, "Any politician who says they don’t look at who’s giving money is crazy"We’re talking bald-faced lying."

Grimm has raised nearly $10,000 for his town-board bid, with a large chunk of contributions coming from relatives and out-of-town contributors. He said too many of the town’s elected officials accept money from special-interest groups.

Republican challenger Warren Redlich said he has accepted no campaign contributions and has spent little money out-of-pocket. He said he has moral and ethical objections to fund-raising and, because he only spent around $300, he was not required to file financial disclosure reports with the state.

Bosworth said fund-raising is necessary but that the process needs to be looked at. He has around $1,400 and will hold a fund-raiser before the election. Incumbent Democratic Councilman Michael Ricard said he has not held a fund-raiser and he is not financially obligated to anyone. He has little more than $400 left of the $1,500 he put in.

Ricard spent roughly half of his $1,500 paying for filing fees and legal fees in a court case against Redlich earlier in the campaign season. Peter Barber, the town’s zoning board chairman, represented Ricard in two court proceedings against Redlich and two payments to Murphy, Burns, Barber & Murphy, Barber’s law firm, were made in September and October.

Ricard challenged the legality of Redlich’s petition to be on the ballot, claiming he used the wrong forms and his second petition was late.

Redlich is currently on the ballot, on the Republican line, according to the Albany County Board of Elections, but his petition to be on the ballot could still be invalidated before Nov. 6.

Finance philosophies

Bosworth said he takes issue with the current campaign fund-raising system and hopes that public campaign financing will be the "wave of the future." In the meantime, however, Bosworth said that he tries to make his finances as transparent as possible.

"I make it very clear that anything given in contributions is disclosed," Bosworth said of his contributors. "That helps to keep it in line and above suspicion."

He said he wants to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.

Grimm, who has raised the most money in 2007, points to contributions to town Democrats as a prime example of why he is running for office and what he calls the town’s "pay to play" mentality.

"I have not taken a single penny from special-interest groups or political parties," Grimm said. "It’s part of what’s wrong with the political system"That’s why it’s so hard for challengers."

Grimm defined a special-interest group as any organization that has an active interest or business relationship with the town.

According to Grimm’s New York State Financial Disclosure records, his contributors include Friends of John Faso, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and state assemblyman; Alexander Tredwell, the New York State Republican chairman; and Peter Kermani, the Albany County Republican chairman.

Grimm previously worked for Faso and he described Tredwell and Kermani as personal friends, both of whom wrote personal checks to Grimm’s campaign. Some town businesses have donated to Grimm’s campaign.

Edward Swyer, a managing officer of Stuyvesant Plaza, contributed $250 to both Grimm and Supervisor Runion. Stuyvesant Plaza Inc. also contributed $125 to the Guilderland Democratic Committee.

Bosworth said that money donated to the political parties are used to support candidates of that party and donations to individual candidates are used to offset the cost of running a campaign. It is a roughly "50-50 split," he added.

Bosworth said campaigns have become "too expensive."

"More and more, you see people using their personal finances," he said. "It’s all very expensive and it limits the pool of potential candidates"That’s why many people are hesitant to get into politics."

Runion said that having to run every two years, he has to do fund-raising, but added that being unopposed last year and this year helps to keep costs down.

"Most political fund-raisers are done through some sort of ticket-sale event," said Runion, who prefers breakfast events as opposed to Bosworth’s evening events. "Tickets are generally around $75"I usually don’t get general contributions."

Runion said that, when he was the town’s Republican chair "in a former life," the GOP would sell $10 tickets to cocktail parties.

"As a general rule, I don’t think people just write a check without some form of event," he said.

The supervisor said that a committee and a treasurer oversee his campaign spending. His treasurer is Patricia Slavick, who is also a town board member. In September, Slavick lost her primary challenge for Albany County Comptroller against incumbent Michael Conners.

While Slavick was running, Runion contributed over $4,000 to her campaign in "in-kind contributions." Runion said he paid for some bulk mailing using campaign funds.

"I back other candidates who I feel who are doing a good job in the position that they hold"or feel that they will make a good candidate," Runion said. "I make a number of contributions to various committees"I do large numbers of contributions over the course of the year to a variety of offices on the local, state, and federal level."

Runion has made a number of contributions to the Democratic, Independence, and Working Families parties, as well as individual candidates, according to his financial disclosure statements.

The $12,000 currently in the "Friends of Ken Runion" account, are "a culmination of five campaigns," said the supervisor.

The state maintains all financial disclosures from candidates who file. It can be found on-line at www.elections.state.ny.us.

Guilderland, BKW students get MRSA
Schools deal with stubborn staph infection

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

A Guilderland High School student and a Berne-Knox-Westerlo student are back at school after being infected with a bacterium that is making nationwide news.

A second BKW High School student was just diagnosed yesterday, joining a half-dozen Capital Region students with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, which is pronounced "mersa." The bacterium causes staph infections that are resistant to treatment with the usual antibiotics.

The state’s health department says there is no reason to panic; MERSA in a community setting, when caught early, is easily treated.

Both Guilderland and BKW were already preparing information on MRSA before the cases were discovered.

"The case in Virginia was all over the national news," said Guilderland Superintendent Gregory Aidala, referring to a 17-year-old high school student who died there. "And there was a case in Ballston Spa," he said of a local school district with an infected student.

"Last Thursday," said Aidala, "before we knew we had a case, as a precautionary measure, we posted information on the district website." Letters with a fact sheet about MRSA and the need for good hygiene were sent home with school athletes.

"That same afternoon, our school nurse confirmed we had a case," said Aidala. The high school student was not an athlete on a school team.

The next day, Friday, Oct. 19, the district sent letters to parents and issued a press release. And the acting high-school principal made an announcement over the school’s public-address system.

Over the weekend, extra cleaning crews sanitized the "heavily traveled public areas" in all seven of the district’s schools, Aidala said. This included weight rooms, locker rooms, bathrooms, and gyms, he said; school buses were also cleaned.

The custodial staff, he said, now has "a heightened sense of awareness" about cleaning.

Aidala said nurses at various Guilderland schools have received calls with questions from parents. Good hygiene practices are being stressed.

At BKW, Superintendent Steven Schrade said, "Because of the publicity generated"we knew it would likely come our way eventually. We thought it would be best to be prepared."

The district focused on education, posting information about MRSA and prevention tips on the district website and sending it out on the School News Notifier, where subscribers are e-mailed information. Staff members and coaches shared information about MRSA with students.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, following dismissal, the district was informed that a student athlete had been diagnosed and treated for MRSA. The student was back in school on Wednesday.

Schrade learned yesterday that a second student has also been diagnosed with MRSA.

The district was informed by parents, he said, since MRSA is not a reportable disease, and is not tracked by the county health department.

BKW has purchased antibacterial soaps for hand-washing, which is being placed in elementary-school classrooms and in the soap dispensers in the middle- and high-school bathrooms. The district has not added to its routine cleaning schedule.

"It’s my understanding," said Schrade, "that everything could be scrubbed down one day and the next day, someone with an infection could walk in and all the scrubbing would be for nothing."

He concluded of sanitizing school rooms or buses, "We felt it had no practical value."

"We have yet to know whether widespread cleaning is beneficial," said Claire Pospisil, spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health. "Certainly, hand-washing is important, avoiding the sharing of personal items, and keeping infected wounds covered."

Background on the bacteria

MRSA caused more than 94,000 life-threatening infections and nearly 19,000 deaths in the United States in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The Oct. 17 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association says that most of the infections — about 85 percent — come from health-care settings, affecting patients who undergo invasive medical procedures or who have weakened immune systems. Bloodstream infections, surgical-site infections, or pneumonia can result.

MRSA can also infect people in the community at large, as it did the BKW and Guilderland high school students. Infections in community-associated MRSA, known as CA-MRSA, are usually mild and affect the skin with pimples or boils that can be swollen and painful and can drain pus. Otherwise healthy people can have such infections.

MRSA was first recognized in the 1960s, according to the New York State Department of Health. Beginning in the 1990s, MRSA among people in the community, not in a health-care facility, has increased.

"It’s been around for awhile," said Pospisil, when asked why MRSA was suddenly causing such a stir. "I think the CDC report is why everybody now has questions regarding it." The Oct. 17 CDC report said that, between 2000 and 2005, the number of MRSA cases in the United States has tripled, infecting 32 out of every 100,000 people.

"The health officials feel it is being overplayed," said Superintendent Schrade. "Community-associated MRSA is quite treatable."

Until recently, the state health department says, reports of CA-MRSA outbreaks were uncommon. But now in New York State and across the country, outbreaks in community settings are being reported more frequently.

Pospisil said outbreaks are most likely where there are close living conditions — as in a military barracks or in a prison — or where there is close physical contact — as among members of a sports team or among children in a day-care center.

The staph became drug-resistant, she said, partly because of the misuse or overuse of antibiotics. Resistance occurs when bacteria change or adapt in a way that lets them survive in the presence of antibiotics designed to kill them.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, the proportion of infections that are antimicrobial-resistant has been growing. In 1974, MRSA infections accounted for 2 percent of the total number of staph infections; in 1995, it was 22 percent; and in 2004, it was 63 percent.

Schrade brought up a conundrum that BKW was faced with. "New York State has required schools to use green cleaning supplies, which do not contain antiseptic ingredients," he said. "And now, we had to special-order antibacterial soaps, because we were following the guidelines and didn’t have it."

The overuse of antibacterial soaps, though, is part of the reason that drug-resistant bacteria have evolved.

Treatment and prevention

There is no cause to panic over community-associated MRSA, Pospisil said. "If it’s diagnosed early, it can be treated."

The infection can look like a spider bite or pimples, she said.

Staph is a common bacterium normally found on the skin or in the nose of two or three out of every 10 people. If symptoms are present, it’s considered an infection.

Typically, abscesses are drained, said Pospisil, and bandaged to prevent the spread of infection. And antibiotics can be administered.

"Community-associated MRSA is a skin infection that can be treated by draining the boils and giving antibiotics as needed," reiterated Pospisil. "Left untreated, it can get out of hand."

Asked when a patient can return to work or school, Pospisil said a doctor’s advice should be followed. Some say normal activities can resume as long as the infected areas are completely covered and there are no other symptoms like fevers and chills.

Asked if Guilderland has a policy on when an infected student or staff member can return to school, Aidala said, "A doctor would advise a student on when it is safe to return to school."

BKW’s Schrade had a similar response. "We’re relying on the advice of the physicians"if they feel it’s safe to be in school and in the proximity of other students."

The students who have returned to school have had no problems with re-entry, the superintendents said; to safeguard their privacy, the schools are not releasing their names.

The state’s health department advises patients not to pick or squeeze their boils, and to keep their wounds covered. They are also advised to carefully dispose of their bandages; to refrain from sports or contact activities; and to wash clothes, sheets, and towels in hot water and detergent.

Pospisil stressed the importance of good hygiene practices in households where someone is infected or where there is close contact with an infected person. This includes frequent hand-washing with warm water and soap; maintaining a clean environment; using clean, dry towels; and not sharing topical treatments, like lotions, or personal-care items like razors.

These are the same measures the local school districts have been advocating.

"Any time you bring a student population together for 180-plus days, students become ill," concluded Aidala. "We tried to be very transparent about this and proactive". All the things we’ve publicized are just good hygiene practices."

Erick Westervelt
Appeals for freedom

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY — Two-and-a-half years into a 25-year-to-life sentence, Erick Westervelt is pinning his hopes on an appeal.

Friday morning, his appeal was heard by an Appellate Division panel of judges, the middle level in the state’s three-tiered court system.

Westervelt was convicted of second-degree murder in 2005 and is serving his time at Dannemora, a maximum security prison in Clinton County.

Westervelt, who grew up in Guilderland and was living with his family on Salvia Lane, attending the University at Albany at the time of the murder, maintains his innocence.

He says he was illegally arrested and then forced into a false confession by the Bethlehem Police Department.

The Albany County District Attorney’s Office along with police claimed that jealousy drove Westervelt to murder Timothy Gray while Gray was living with Westervelt’s ex-girlfriend, Jessica Domery, in Delmar. The hatchet murder occurred five weeks before the highly publicized ax murder of Peter Porco; his son, Christopher Porco, was convicted of killing him and of bludgeoning his wife, Joan Porco, in their Delmar home.

Kindlon also represented Porco who is serving his term in Dannemora, too.

It took a jury nearly two days to convict Westervelt, who had confessed to the crime to Bethlehem Police. He later recanted his statements and said he was forced into a false confession.

Terence Kindlon, of the law firm Kindlon & Shanks, represented Westervelt at the appeal hearing while Westervelt’s parents and aunts sat quietly in the gallery and listened.

"In the written brief, there was extensive legal argument that the police coerced him"and detained him from lawyers," Kindlon told The Enterprise on Monday. "A whole hour was missing from the police interrogation."

Kindlon is arguing Westervelt’s appeal on three main points: a right-to-counsel violation; prosecutorial misconduct, and use of inadmissible evidence in trial — a letter that Westervelt wrote to Domery.

David Rossi, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Westervelt, doesn’t believe a re-trial or a dismissal will be granted, he said earlier. Assistant District Attorney Christopher Horn, who specializes in appeal cases for the county, argued against the appeal on Friday.

Horn told the five judges that Westervelt was guilty and that the Bethlehem Police did their job without violating Westervelt’s rights.

"The defendant was aware of the circumstances surrounding the letter to his girlfriend," Horn told the judges on Friday. "He made three confessions to a murder."

Kindlon argued that the letter to Jessica Domery should never have been admitted in the first place. Westervelt began writing a letter to Domery while in the custody of Bethlehem Police and was interrupted in the middle of writing to be arraigned before a judge.

When Westervelt returned from the arraignment, Bethlehem Police took off his handcuffs and allowed him to continue writing, according to a video of the interrogation. The letter contained incriminating statements and was used as a confession by the prosecution during Westervelt’s 2005 trial.

Horn read an excerpt from the letter to the judges.

"I didn’t mean to hurt Tim as bad as I did. I hope he gets better"," Horn read, concluding, "That’s the whole ball of wax."

Kindlon said the letter shouldn’t have been used.

"The letter in question"the police officers let everyone believe that the letter was written before arraignment," Kindlon argued to the judges. "It wasn’t until trial it came out that it was [written] in the middle of arraignment."

Kindlon said that, even though police did not tell Westervelt to continue writing after he was arraigned, the instruction was implicit when they took off his handcuffs. Westervelt did not have an attorney present during his interrogation.

"I’ve been trying to get police to take their handcuffs off my clients for years now"and here, they just take them off," Kindlon told the judges. The judge questioned Horn on why Bethlehem Police took off the handcuffs.

Horn responded by saying that "no suggestions" were made by the police to continue writing and that Westervelt was aware of his actions. Horn said that Westervelt’s post-arraignment writing, which could be easily identified because it was on the back of the sheet he was using, contained the confession that he had brutally assaulted Gray.

Gray died five days after being attacked.

Justice Anthony J. Carpinello told Horn that he didn’t "know why [police] took off the handcuffs," but that by doing so, police implicitly suggested Westervelt continue writing.

Kindlon said that Rossi used information that wasn’t disclosed or shared during his closing statements at the trial, constituting prosecutorial misconduct, and that the decision of the court could leave "a big range of possibilities."

The Appellate Division could uphold Westervelt’s conviction; find the sentence excessive; find something wrong in how the case was handled; reverse the decision and hold a re-trial; or dismiss the conviction altogether, Kindlon said.

A decision is usually made in about four weeks, he concluded.

AARP honors Kirstel

ALTAMONT — Attending legislative committee meetings every week from February to May earned Jane Kirstel honor last week.

The American Association of Retired Persons recognized her work as a member of the organization’s volunteer state legislative patrol.

"We just want the senators and assembly members to know we are there and we are watching," Kirstel said of her work.

Her group, all dressed in red, remains silent during the committee meetings, she said; they just want their presence to be known.

"The issues that they’re working on are dear to me because I’m old," said Kirstel, 76, of why she chose to get involved with AARP when she began looking for volunteer work last year.

"I think the drug companies are swindling us," she said of prescription drug costs, one of the most important issues to her.

She learned a lot during the 2007 session, she said, and was a little surprised by the honor. "It was award enough just to go," she said.

— Saranac Hale Spencer

Albany man arrested for movie-theater bomb threat

GUILDERLAND — Police, firefighters, and trained dogs searched Regal Cinemas at Crossgates Mall for a bomb last Thursday, ending in the arrest of a 39-year-old Albany man. No bombs were found.

David L. McBride, of 81 North Allen St., was arrested by Guilderland Police and charged with falsely reporting an incident, disorderly conduct, and driving while intoxicated, according to a release from police.

McBride made two bomb threats between 7 and 7:30 p.m. saying that a bomb would go off inside of the theaters, police say. The threats were made to a customer-service agent at the mall.

During the investigation, the cinema and the west end of Crossgates Mall were evacuated as a precaution and a complete search of the cinemas was conducted.

McBride was arraigned in Guilderland Town Court.

The Albany Police and New York State Police K-9 units assisted as did Crossgates Mall Security, Regal Cinemas, Westmere Fire Department, and Guilderland Emergency Medical Services.

— Jarrett Carroll

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