Inside Politics: Dueling emails over crude oil consultant

Times Union | April 17, 2014 | Column by Alysia Santo

A disagreement about how to handle the influx of crude oil at the Port of Albany has been brewing between two of Albany County's most powerful officials for weeks, mostly under the radar. With the click of the send button, that all changed.

Albany County Health Commissioner James Crucetti, center, addresses oil transportation and production and their impact on public health and safety during a news conference on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at the Albany County office building in Albany, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

On Monday, Health Commissioner Dr. James Crucetti, apparently fed up with County Attorney Tom Marcelle, laid out his grievances in an email to County Executive Dan McCoy and sent copies to some three dozen people, including members of the legislature.

Here's the crux of the conflict: Marcelle, McCoy and Sheriff Craig Apple believe hiring an outside consultant to study the health, environmental and public safety risks at the port is the best course of action for county residents.

Crucetti initially agreed, but he changed his mind in late March, when the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which previously ruled the project would have no negative impact on the environment, got more involved.

The county health department "has made much progress working with these state experts," wrote Crucetti to Marcelle. "Engaging the services of a consultant ... would be premature at this time and may not be necessary at all."

Marcelle disagreed. "You apparently now believe that DEC's newfound aggression on this relieves you and the Board of its unique responsibilities," wrote Marcelle. "While the yielding of your local responsibility to the State possesses a certain allure that comes with the transfer of accountability and devotion of effort, it is the fact that our people bear an asymmetrical risk ... that should summons us at this very moment to assume the mantle of leadership."

Crucetti fired back, albeit in a much more public way.

"It is apparently his opinion that the only way to 'assume the mantle of leadership' is by engaging the services of a consultant," wrote Crucetti to McCoy and over 30 others who were looped in. "This remark is wrong and unfair ... At no time did I ever think that working in conjunction with NYS DEC or the NYS DOH would relieve me and the Board of Health of our responsibilities."

On Thursday, Crucetti declined an interview request, but emailed a statement: "I believe this matter will be addressed appropriately and that the roles of the Albany County Health Department and Board of Health will be understood."

Marcelle said Crucetti never signed off on the county's request for proposals for an environmental consultant.

"I have immense respect for Dr. Crucetti," said Marcelle. "As his counsel, I would have advised him not to go this route ... I view my correspondence with him as between us."

Marcelle said a number of "very high caliber firms" have responded to the RFP and that the cost for a consultant would range between $100,000 and $300,000. This action would require approval by the legislature.

No objections

Fellow Insider Ken Crowe reports that the vacancy committee for a candidate running for Congress is so obscure that most people don't even know its members are listed on the petitions.

But if they happened to look and compare the Democratic petitions for U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko of Amsterdam in the 20th District and Sean Eldridge of Shokan, Ulster County, in the 19th District, they would have noticed the name of Rensselaer County Democratic ChairmanThomas W. Wade on both petitions. Closer scrutiny would have found Wade to be listed as living at 27 Hyland Circle, Troy, NY 12182 on the Eldridge petition and at 245 5th Ave., Troy, NY 12180.

One chairman listed on two vacancy committees at two different addresses.

The committees act only when a congressional candidate drops out. The last time it happened was back in 1988 when then U.S. Rep Sam Stratton of Schenectady withdrew. The committee jumped in and named then-Assemblyman Michael McNulty of Green Island as the candidate. McNulty swept to victory and a long congressional tenure.

It's OK for Wade to be listed on both vacancy committees, according to the state Board of Elections. As long as he's a Democrat and registered to vote in the state then it's permissible to serve on the two panels, said Tom Connolly, a state elections board spokesman.

It gets murky when the addresses are considered. Wade said he changed his voter registration to Hyland Circle from 5th Avenue last year after buying the Hyland Circle residence. While he's been living at the Fifth Avenue residence he said he expected to be moved into Hyland Circle in May. Wade said he informed everyone of his new address, but the Tonko campaign put down his 5th Avenue home on the petitions.

Wade said he didn't discover the difference in the addresses until mid-March, weeks after the petitions were distributed to county committee members to carry.

Having the wrong address listed is enough to get Wade knocked off the vacancy committee, Connolly explained. That would require someone to file an objection to the petition — in this case Tonko's — and it being upheld, Connolly said. But the objection deadline passed, so Wade remains on both committees.

 

Contact Alysia Santo at 518-454- 5008 or email asanto@timesunion.com. On Twitter: @alysiasanto

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE works to promote safe, sustainable energy and environmental justice.  We aim to engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry's assault on the people of Albany and our environment.