Breslin Calls For Preservation
Hoblock "Powerless" To Stop Walmart
By Daniel Van Riper
In the hottest local race of the election season, Neal Breslin, Democratic candidate for State Senate, which includes the Pine Bush and much of the Capital District, squared off with Republican incumbent Michael Hoblock at the Sept. 25 lasagna dinner at 1st Presbyterian Church in Albany.
Mr. Breslin congratulated the crowd on the recent Apollo Drive victory (see elsewhere in this issue), saying "I commend your volunteerism". He called for preservation of all remaining contiguous Pine Bush along with buffer zones. Meanwhile, Hoblock pointed out that he once tried to get the Karner Blue Butterfly declared the official NY State insect. "I have always had a deep interest in the Pine Bush", he said.
In answer to a question, Hoblock claimed he was "powerless" when he was Albany County Executive to stop the backroom giveaway and destruction of the Pine Bush land now known as Washington Commons, which includes Walmart. Newspaper articles of the time clearly depict Hoblock as taking public credit for the deal, with Hoblock going so far as to call this once beautiful piece of Pine Bush "useless land". Albany County gave this valuable 25 acres to the rapacious Pyramid Corporation, builders of Crossgates Maul, for $186,000. Pyramid quickly sold the land to the Walmart Corporation for a whopping $7.5 million!
Hoblock emphasized his strong support for current NY Governor Pataki and the long overdue Environmental Bond Act, calling it "a major step forward in dealing with environmental problems". Mr. Breslin also supported the Bond Act, but criticized its dangerous lack of specificity. "I don't want it to be for pork barrel projects", he said, reminding the dinner crowd that the Pataki administration has a history of shifting environmental monies into non-environmental administration budgets.
While not directly commenting on the Walmart giveaway, Mr. Breslin summed up his personal attitude toward such deals by saying, "The only way we can tell these corporations what's right is with legislation", emphasizing that citizens groups such as Save the Pine Bush are essential to the process of governing, guiding legislators toward doing what's right.
Hoblock pointed with pride to a bill he introduced which created two new members on the board of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission. He finished his presentation by saying, "I have to agree that development often has an adverse effect on the environment".
In answer to a question Mr. Breslin presented himself as an advocate of citizens lawsuits. "I am strongly in favor of the right to sue," he said. Also in answer to a question, he said, "I have not and will not take money from tobacco companies or the NRA".
This lasagna dinner face-off has turned out to be the first of a series of public debates between Mr. Breslin and Hoblock. The candidates warily avoided the direct confrontation that has characterized their later encounters, carefully building their sharply contrasting attitudes toward governing. The local media, although alerted ahead of time, was notably absent from this event, continuing their tradition of suppressing news relating to successful citizens groups such as SPB.
A Better State Senator
By Daniel Van Riper
State Senate candidate Neal Breslin clearly sympathizes with the goals of and methods used by Save the Pine Bush. We can hardly expect miracles from a freshman minority member of the Senate, but Mr. Breslin will have no trouble accurately representing the environmental needs of his constituents.
By contrast, incumbent Michael Hoblock has a dismal record on Pine Bush issues. For example, the City of Albany recently tried to turn a chunk of dedicated parkland and a piece of Pine Bush preserve into a commercial "waterslide park." In order for this nonsense pork project to be built, both houses of the state legislature had to give their approval, and our two local representatives had to introduce the bills. When SPB contacted Hoblock's office we received no response, and the approval slid through the Senate like a greased pig.
Fortunately, Democratic Assemblyman Jack McEneny immediately responded to our concerns and tabled the bill, taking it off the agenda for this year and possibly killing the project. Mr. Breslin has indicated that he would be willing to use the office of Senator in a similar manner.
Senator Hoblock's insistence that he was "powerless" to stop the Washington Commons - Walmart giveaway rang hollow in the ears of the September dinner crowd. As County Executive he was in an excellent position to expose and publicly condemn this dirty deal, which admittedly was orchestrated primarily by county legislator and former mayoral candidate Harold Joyce. Instead, Hoblock chose to take public credit for the destruction, making his famous comment that this parcel was "useless land."
While Neal Breslin has never held public office, he is no stranger to the process of local and state government. As a long time president of Arbor House Shelter for Women and with his close work with the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, it is clear that his priorities are with people, not corporations.
Mr. Breslin is conducting his somewhat underdog campaign expertly, despite being lavishly outspent by his opponent. Recently he co-ordinated his brother Michael Breslin's very successful campaign for County Executive. He is quick to point out, however, that "I am not my brother Michael," often pointedly criticizing him for his conservative policies and attitudes.
To his credit, Senator Hoblock conducted himself well in front of a potentially hostile crowd, appearing shy and almost hesitant. Sometimes it's not easy being green when your heart's not in it.
Printed October, November, 1996