That's right it's that time of year again. It's the best of 2010. So without further ado, let's begin, shall we?
Best Impersonation of Ebenezer Scrooge: Lester Freeman
When I say Lester Freeman I'm not referring to Lester Freamon from The Wire. Now that we've cleared that up, if you aren't up on the Albany Common Council, I'm sure you're asking: "Who the hell is Lester Freeman?" Lester Freeman is the new Common Council Member for the 2nd Ward in Albany. Why I'm bestowing this honor on Lester?
Let me explain.
A couple of nights ago dozens of concerned Albany citizens packed into the Albany Common Council Meeting to voice their support for the Albany Bath House #2. My two sons were in attendance. They both explained to the council that the Bath House was important to them and implored the Common Council to save it. For those who don't know, Albany Public Bath House #2 is essentially a local indoor pool that is open to the public. It costs adults $1 and kids $.25. My boys learned to swim there. Their school, the Albany Free School, brought the kids to swim there every Friday. For the past several weeks, students at the Free School along with concerned community members, appealed to city officials to keep the Bath House open.
A couple weeks ago it appeared that the Bath House might be saved. The Common Council voted to include a plan that could keep the Bath House open for another year, offering an opportunity to devise a plan, to save it permanently. The pool is underutilized and in disrepair. The main reason it is underutilized is that it's poorly advertised. The reason it is in disrepair is because the city has failed to maintain it. And now the city is in a budget crunch and difficult decisions have to be made. The cost to keep the Bath House open would have been $200,000 out of a budget of $165 million dollars. Despite having a budget shortfall of something like 20 million dollars and serious budget cuts, there was only one budget issue that galvanized the community, the Bath House. So the council devised a way to save it
Enter our dear mayor, Mayor Jerry Jennings. He was convinced that the Bath House needed to be closed. And so he vetoed it. This was the first time that he used his veto in his 17 years in office. The kids at the Albany Free School came to visit the mayor and pleaded with him to keep it open. He wouldn't listen. So now it was up to the Common Council to override his veto.
The original measure passed with 9 votes in favor of saving the Bath House but 10 votes are needed to override a mayoral veto. To make matters worse, one of the council members who had originally voted in favor of it was in Russia visiting family. So we needed two council members to come to our side and vote to save the Bath House. The stage was set.
A multi-racial, multi-generational group of concerned citizens came to the Common Council meeting. You could not have written a more heartwarming scene. One woman explained that she started swimming at the Bath House as a kid and lived in Albany her whole life; she graduated high school in 1950. Another senior mentioned that she had learned about the Bath House and started using it as a form of physical therapy. Several people explained how an indoor pool like the Bath House, is an excellent place to address the health issues facing lower income communities. Others explained the importance of preserving historic buildings in an old city like Albany. While others explained that it's the little amenities, like a walkable cheap indoor pool, that make a big difference in maintaining residents in a city like ours.
The outcry was impassioned and the unity was inspiring. As I said my sons, along with other school mates, explained to the Common Council that the Bath House was important to them. Aurora, the six year old school mate of my boys and star of the Halloween Night Video, explained that the Bath House is "awesome" and if you take away things like the Bath House than we won't have any more "awesome things". For some reason, I convinced myself that the council would listen to reason.
Council person Barbara Smith (More on her in a minute.) must have known that the votes weren't going to be there. She made a point to echo Charles Dickens and likened the upcoming vote against the Bath House to the acts of Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Several other council members voiced their unwavering support.
Enter Lester Freeman.
He happens to be the council person of the 2nd Ward, home of Albany Bath House #2. He grabbed the microphone and came to the center of the gallery and gave a spirited denunciation of the Bath House. With the passion of a preacher he went off about how the South End "needs jobs not a bath house", as if he was creating jobs by cutting the Bath House (it won't save a single job). He mentioned how the city might have to cut more jobs next year, including the summer youth employment program. (This was also irrelevant - no one was saying "yeah cut the youth employment program to save the Bath House.") He also said that when he campaigned for his council seat no one mentioned the Bath House. (Yeah, no one knew you he was trying to close it.) And then he said two things that pissed me off. He said, "people have tried to pull the race card tonight" and then Lester said "only one black member (Barbara Smith ) of this council is voting for the Bath House". Yeah that pissed me off. As John Stewart would say: two things.
1. The people who pulled "the race card" were black people that use the pool, some of whom live in your ward.
2. When you said "only one black member...” what you should have said was: "Only one seminal, black feminist author, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, and individual partially responsible for the reprinting of Their Eyes Were Watching God, on this council, voted to save the Bath House." (See - Barbara Smith)
Lester you could have saved the pool that my kids learned to swim at. The pool was affordable and open to the public. You clearly displayed that you work for the mayor, not your constituents, and that's too bad. It's politicians like you, that make people like me think the political system is broken beyond repair. You made my kids cry and I will never forget it, neither will they. I hope you're happy.