February 14, 2008


Groups use holiday to educate, stop violence

Day of romance splits spotlight with reminder of domestic abuse


Danica Hall and Bob Ellis/photo illustration
Bureau of Justice Statistics

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — It’s been eight years and Mary Smith can still remember the names he called her, the bruises he left on her body and the threats that made her fear for her life and her children’s safety.
“He started turning it on my son when I wasn’t home to take it,” Mary said. “One day I came home and he said he was going to beat that bastard till he was bruised and bloody … for talking.”
It was in that moment after suffering the abuse for 13 years that Mary knew she had to take her two children and leave.
“I went to my boss at work and told him that things weren’t well at home and if I didn’t come into work one day without calling he should send the police,” said Mary, whose real name is not being used in this article to protect her confidentiality. “I was scared; afraid to stay and afraid to leave because I knew what he was capable of.”
With the help of her boss, Mary went into the Cortland YWCA Aid to Victims of Violence program, and within two weeks she and her children moved into a safe house.
Aid to Victims of Violence served 132 Cortland County men and women for domestic violence in 1998. In 2006, the number increased to 192, and last year dropped down to 172.
Violence against women and girls is widespread — one in four women will experience violence during her lifetime, most often at the hands of someone she knows, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In New York, there were 50,088 reported cases of domestic violence in 2006.
Emily Cittadino, president of the SUNY Cortland women’s group Planet of Women for Equality and Respect, said violence is a cycle that cannot be controlled.
“Strength comes from collective support,” Cittadino said.
Cittadino is raising awareness about the issue through an upcoming performance of “The Vagina Monologues” on Feb. 29 and March 1 at the Old Main Brown Auditorium.
Proceeds will benefit the YWCA Aid to Victims of Violence program and Hurricane Katrina victims.
“The Vagina Monologues” was written based on playwright Eve Ensler’s interviews with women all over the world about their bodies and themselves.
Ensler has since gone on to proclaim Valentine’s Day as V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit performances of the play.
The “V” in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina. Today is the 10th anniversary of the movement.
To date, the V-Day movement has raised more than $50 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women. More than 3,000 V-Day events took place in the U.S. and around the world in 2007.
“I think it’s very powerful,” Rita Wright, Aid to Victims of Violence program director, said of organizations and movements like V-Day. “It sends a very direct message that violence is not OK.”
Cittadino hopes the SUNY Cortland performance of “The Vagina Monologues” will educate students and community members about domestic violence.
“It’s everywhere and just because it’s not always talked about doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” she said. “There’s an association that Valentine’s Day is always fun and wonderful but people don’t realize there are those in toxic relationships.”
Wright said she began working at the YWCA in 1988, after surviving seven years of abuse in a past relationship. Wright is now in her second marriage and celebrated her 20-year anniversary Wednesday.
“I just wanted individuals who are victims of domestic violence to know they don’t have to continue to stay in that situation and there is hope for them,” she said. “As a survivor I found hope and strength and I know that I don’t deserve to be abused in the name of love.”
Mary said many times she would blame herself for the abuse.
“I thought, ‘I am a bad person,’ and ‘Why can’t I make this better,’” she said. “For two and a half years after I left I was always looking over my shoulder and scared to death; but in 2002 he was killed in a car accident and I was finally safe. Had he not died in the accident, we had a court date two weeks later, and I knew after that he would have killed me because he would have lost all visitation to see the kids.”
Aid to Victims of Violence has collaborated with many other community services including the police departments, courts and schools, to work closely with investigators and victims.
“It never goes away,” Wright said about the number of people that the program serves. “It never goes to zero; there is always someone who needs help.”
Wright said there are a lot of people who do not report domestic violence for various reasons, such as being afraid, having nowhere else to go or just not wanting to be known as a victim.
“Sometimes we look at people and say, ‘Why don’t you just leave?’ When we should really be saying, ‘How can I help you to leave,’” Wright added. “It’s not easy to seek help because it’s an intimate relationship you’re talking about. It’s not easy to tell someone the person you love is beating you, calling you names, not providing for you. It takes time.”




Local Spitzer aide caught in political fray

New York Post article chides Marty Mack for sending email critical of Joseph Bruno

Staff Reporter

A former Cortland mayor working in the Spitzer administration has come under fire in recent days for using a work e-mail to distribute a newspaper editorial critical of Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
The New York Post ran a news article and editorial Wednesday critical of Marty Mack for using government e-mail systems to distribute the editorial that was published in the Albany Times-Union.
The Post reported that Mack, Spitzer’s deputy for intergovernmental affairs and a former mayor of Cortland, used official e-mail to send the editorial to interested New Yorkers, including local officials across the state.
On page 28, the Post published an editorial with the headline “There He Goes Again,” part of which said Mack’s distribution of the e-mail was a continuation of underhanded tactics by the Spitzer administration aimed at discrediting Bruno.
Mack said Wednesday that it is standard practice for the governor’s office to distribute editorial material that explains the governor’s positions or that illustrates public debate over issues.
The Times-Union editorial, titled “Really, Mr. Bruno?” ran Sunday and criticizes Bruno for accusing Spitzer of being soft on crime.
“The very nature of government is the discussion of issues,” Mack said.
He said the only improper use of government e-mail systems was for campaigning.
“There’s a clear difference,” he said.
He derided the Post articles as total fantasy.
“It’s an absolute joke,” he said. “But it’s typical New York Post. I completely reject the story.”
Bruno spokesman Mark Hansen disagreed with Mack’s explanation.
“Mr. Mack’s actions are outrageous, but not surprising,” he said. “They fit a pattern on the part of the governor and his staff to use any means necessary to make personal attacks on the senator.”



Oil prices affect planned biodiesel plant

Rising cost of vegetable oils could delay construction of Polkville facility

Staff Reporter

POLKVILLE — The increasing price of vegetable oil could delay construction of a biodiesel plant in Polkville.
The cost of the oil has skyrocketed since the project was first conceived more than two years ago, said Mason Somerville, president of Empire AgriFuel, the company planning a $21 million plant along Route 11.
“In two and a half years vegetable oil has gone from 12 cents a pound to 52 cents a pound,” Somerville said of the material used to make biodiesel. “We considered the possibility that vegetable oil prices were going to increase, though we thought they might double. We didn’t envision reaching a factor of four.”
Somerville, the project’s 20 investors and the state, which is funding $4 million of the project, are trying to determine whether it is more cost effective to first construct an oilseed crushing facility.
“The question is, what’s the best use of your money,” he said.
Somerville said he is not sure when a decision will be made, but hopes construction of a facility will begin sometime next year. When the project was announced in May 2007, organizers anticipated the plant opening this summer or fall.
It would cost Empire Agrifuel about $4.40 to make one gallon of biodiesel, taking into consideration that one gallon requires 7.7 pounds of vegetable oil.
Biodiesel is selling for about $3.50 a gallon.
The company would lose about $4.5 million under current conditions if it were to produce 5 million gallons of biodiesel annually, the company’s initial production goal.
“The absolute you can pay for vegetable oil and break even is 35 to 36 cents a gallon for oil,” Somerville said.
He was not sure why the cost has gone up so much, but a recent New York Times article cites rising global demand and worldwide growth in biodiesel production.
Somerville said the Polkville plant will not be making biodiesel until he can either find a more   inexpensive oil or biodiesel prices go up.




Virgil FD receives $44,375 federal grant

Department will upgrade communication system to high frequency pagers.

Staff Reporter

The Virgil Fire Department has received a $44,375 grant that will help it buy a high-frequency radio communications system.
The money will come through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
Virgil First Assistant Chief Mike TenKate applied for the grant in April.
It will upgrade the Virgil Fire Department’s current low frequency band communications system, which is used across the county, to a Very High Frequency (VHF) band communication system, he said.
“It’ll primarily be used to talk to each other at fires,” TenKate said. “We’ll use it in addition to the current system. We’ll still use the current system to talk to the dispatcher.”
TenKate said the higher frequency band should be less congested than the county’s low frequency band, allowing for better communication between Virgil firefighters.
Repeater technology will also help the department receive radio transmission at a longer distance, he said.
The money will fund a mobile radio for each of the department’s seven trucks, 25 portable radios, a base station for the fire station and a repeater mounted on a tower.
TenKate said the portable radios will be stored in the department’s trucks, and officers and volunteer firefighters will use them when they go on calls.




Hearing on state budget to be held in C’ville

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton has scheduled two hearings this week, one of them in Cortlandville, to discuss the local and statewide impacts of Gov. Spitzer’s 2008-09 budget proposal.
A meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday at the Cortlandville Fire Station at 999 Route 13 follows a similar meeting today being held in Ithaca.
Lifton’s district includes Tompkins County and Cortland, Cortlandville and Virgil in Cortland County.
“There is nothing more important to me when it comes to working on the state’s budget than the voice of the people I represent,” Lifton said in a prepared statement.
“Hearing people’s opinions ensures I am serving the best I can in Albany. I look forward to talking with local residents about this issue.”
Gov. Elliot Spitzer released his proposed $124.3 billion budget proposal on Jan. 22. It is the starting point of negotiations between the governor and the state Assembly and Senate.
The deadline for approving the state’s 2008-09 budget is April 1.