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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

September 19, 2008

new chief and same old politics in Schenectady

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 6:28 pm

New Police Chief in Schenectady:   Yesterday, fifty-six years after his father Arthur Chaires became Schenectady’s first black police officer, Mark R. Chaires was sworn in as the City’s first African-American police chief.  See “Son of police pioneer makes history of his own” (Albany Times Union, Sept. 18, 2008); “Chaires begins job as Schenectady police chief” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, September 19, 2008); “Schenectady names Chaires first African-American police chief” (FoxNews23, Sept. 18, 2008).

A Schenectady native, Chief Chaires is 52 years old and has worked his way up the ranks in his 19 years in SPD.  He is taking over the helm of a Department that employs 165 officers, and has more than its share of controversy, scandal and morale problems.  (See, e.g., our post on Sept. 6th, and recent coverage of SPD’s dismal arrest statistics as compared to both national averages and our comparable neighbor, Troy, NY.)  Growing up with the example of a father who “never missed a day of work during his 27-year career” and who surely experienced — from the public and within the department — the racial prejudice that is rampant in blue-collar Upstate cities, Chief Chaires brings important personal and professional experience to the job.  That experience includes eight years in the Air Force.

Those who know him speak often of his integrity, and I’m impressed with the new Chief’s thoughtful remarks yesterday — focusing more on the need to get to work to achieve on-the-job excellence within the Department (improving “customer service”) and to earn the public’s trust, than on the historical importance of his appointment.  I’m also pleased to know that he had oversight of the SPD internal affairs office, which chose to refer the 2007 excessive force complaints of Donald Randolph (see our prior post) to the district attorney, rather than keeping the investigation in-house.

Chief Mark Chaires deserves the support of rank and file officers, of our poliical leaders and of the public as he tries to restore the performance and reputation of his Department, and to prove that Schenectady does indeed “have the makings of an outstanding police department.”  As a Gazette editorial noted today, the Chief’s job is a bit symbolic, since the City created the post of Public Safety Commissioner last year, and Chaires therefore reports to Commissioner Wayne Bennett (who is in the background in the photo at the head of this posting).  But, the position comes with plenty of responsibility and calls for skillful balancing among all the interests that need to work together to create the kind of Police Department that allows good cops to flourish and the public to trust and respect our police force.

The Gazette is correct that, with a population that is 15% black, Chaires’s promotion “is a significant step for a city, and a department, that has had relatively few minority employees and almost no minority managers.” “Editorial: Good choice for symbolic appointment” (Daily Gazette, September 19, 2008).  If Chief Chaires can gain the trust of Schenectady’s black community, we may indeed find arrest rates climbing and claims of excessive force and institutional neglect greatly reduced.

A final thought on the Schenectady Police Department: Recent online Comments at the Gazette website regarding editorials and articles about SPD show that far too many Schenectadians (especially police officers and their families, I presume) equate support for our police with silence over their flaws and failings and those of the Department. (see here and there, for example) I hope Chief Chaires can help demonstrate that honesty about past and ongoing problems, and the need for procedural and supervisory improvements, can help to rally support — internally, within City government, among the public — to find and implement solutions.  We all want our good cops to thrive within an effective and respected police department.

the dragnet of nightingales
closes in…
police station

……… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

.. Silly Donkey Club (Schenectady Chapter):  We’ve never been shy here at f/k/a about noting our disappointment with the Schenectady County Democratic Committee (e.g., here and there).  Today’s newspaper brought one more reason for registered Democrats in Schenectady County to blush with embarrassment over the crassness and political ineptness of our so-called party leaders. The Gazette article “Fair campaign group seeks more pledges” (Sept. 19, 2008) describes efforts by the group Fair Campaign Practices for the Capital Region, Inc to get county parties chairs across the Region — and not merely individual candidates — to sign the group’s Fair Campaign Pledge.  FCP is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady Counties and the Interfaith Alliance of New York State, Capital Region.

Seven years ago, FCP established procedures to accept candidates’ charges of unfair campaign practices within the Capital District, hold hearings and issue decisions regarding the charges, and their efforts have been welcomed by the voting public.

See their “tips for Candidates” and list of “2008 Pledge Signers” , as well as their Candidate Manual (.PDF), and Decisions from prior years.

This sounds rather non-controversial, and the Gazette article tells us that party chairs around the region have signed the FCP pledge — except for Brian Quail, chair of the Schenectady County Democratic Committee. According to the Gazette:


At least one party leader said he will not sign the pledge. “There are several reasons why I won’t sign it,” said Brian Quail, chairman of the Schenectady County Democratic Committee.

“You should not sign a piece of paper to promise to do good and decent things when you should always be doing good and decent things,” he said.

The second reason, he said, is that Fair Campaign Practices for the Capital Region lacks credibility. “They use totally subjective standards and they apply their standards to other people’s conduct,” Quail said. “They don’t matter. Who matters are the voters.”

I’m sorry, Chairman Quail, but voters really do want to know what an objective source like FCP has to say about the claims and accusations made in campaign materials, and about the charges hurled by political candidates and their election managers and parties.  The voters need to hear from balanced sources.  Your failure to sign the pledge makes us all wonder just what you have to hide and what FCP decisions you are hoping to avoid.

Here’s what Fair Campaign Practices says about its structure and procedures:

“A pool of 32 respected individuals from the four county region is selected to hear complaints. These community representatives serve on Hearing Panels that determine the validity of complaints. In order to ensure a balanced, fair process for all sides, the local chairs of all the recognized political parties, or their designees, automatically become ex officio members of the FCP Hearing Panel and attend hearings.

“After a hearing is held and a decision is made by the hearing panel, the decision is made known to the candidates involved and to the media so that the media can inform the voting public.”

I’m really tired of the leaders of the Schenectady County Democratic Party acting as if the rest of us are morons who will simply take them at their word and nod agreement to their nonsense.  Quail, Savage, et al. continue to make the Party look bad with their high-handed, irrational positions and policies.  They keep presenting a very big target for anyone wanting to pin the tail on the Democratic Donkey.

update (September 20, 2008): Today’s Gazette editorial is titled “Party Chairmen should embrace fair campaigns.” Here are excerpts worth repeating:

  • “But the process is elaborate, it seems meticulously fair, and, slowly but surely, it has been gaining acceptance with candidates and voters. Now the League wants the region’s political party chairs to join in — a logical step, since chairmen often set the tone for campaigns and are behind much of the advertising.”
  • “Unfortunately, as a story in Friday’s Gazette indicated, only a few have done so thus far, and one — Schenectady County Democratic Chairman Brian Quail — even denounced the idea as unnecessary and lacking credibility. His scorn for the system might have something to do with the fact that his party was flagged for violating fair campaign practices during the last election cycle.”
  • “. . . [T]he more candidates and committee chairs who sign onto the concept of fair campaigns, the more likely they’ll adhere to the principles. That can’t help but make for fairer campaigns, a better-informed electorate and better government.”

playing dead
on the horse’s tail
a meadow horsefly

catching the kite’s tail
with his mouth…

even the old cow
has a fly-whisking

at the tail end
of the cloudburst crowing…
rooftop rooster

sporting with
the big cat’s tail…
a little butterfly

chasing the kite’s tail
’round and ’round…

its tail points
to the rising moon…

……… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

Sun-scorched slope–
an old donkey rubs his rump
against a mud-crusted post

Approaching storm…
a black colt in the meadow
snorts against the wind

late fall–
my echo calling
the dog

……………………… by Rebecca LillyShadwell Hills (Birch Prees Press, 2002); “afternoon warmth” & “late fall” – The Heron’s Nest V:2

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