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June 14, 2009 9:27 pm

As someone who was born and raised in Rensselaer County in upstate New York, I have a request for my fellow citizens who also hail from this region:

Please don't re-elect Robert Mirch.

For those of you who haven't been following his recent escapades, a bit of background. Mirch, who is currently the Public Works Commissioner for the City of Troy and majority leader of the Rensselaer County Legislature, has been accused of improperly wielding his authority to close down The Sanctuary for Independent Media, in a rather transparent attempt to censor a Sanctuary-hosted art exhibit by visiting artist Wafaa Bilal to which Mr. Mirch personally objected.

The controversy has also garnered attention within the game development community due to the nature of the exhibit, a mod of the commercial video game Quest for Saddam:

The game is a reimagining of the Islamic Media Group’s The Night of Bush Capturing, itself a simple modification of the first-person shooter Quest for Saddam. In the original, the goal of the game was to kill the former dictator of Iraq, fragging as many Iraqis as necessary. In the IMG version, the game’s goal became the killing of President George W. Bush, waylaying the expendable population now reskinned as Americans.

In Bilal’s version, a suicide bomber—the avatar bears his own image—can be recruited by the player and sent on a mission that ends with President Bush’s murder. The idea came to Bilal after his own brother and father were murdered in Iraq. Grieving his loss, it became understandable to him how easy it must be for the enemies of the U.S. occupation to find recruits, and he wanted to find a way to express this violent reality. [1]

The latest salvo in this ongoing saga was fired recently when the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal suit against Mirch and the City of Troy for First Amedment Rights violations stemming from selective enforcement of building codes. [2] Mirch, who has a reputation for these kinds of strong-arm tactics [3], responded to the allegations with characteristic sneering [2] and false bravado. [4]

The entire story leading up to this point is well-documented, and is considerably more involved than my own terse explanation can adequately convey. I would encourage readers who are interested in obtaining more information to refer to the links I have provided below.

However, for purposes of juxtaposition, allow me to share a few interesting tidbits:

Mirch questioned why the lawsuit was given to the media. "Since I haven't seen it, I can't comment on what I haven't seen," Mirch said. [2]

Certainly, Mr. Mirch would never be the sort to leap to conclusions about something he hasn't seen.

"I have no interest in seeing a video that portrays the assassination of our president," said Mirch, explaining why he hadn’t actually seen the art he was protesting. [1]

"Obviously there is a political motive since they chose not to address RPI." [2]

Mirch naturally attempts to cast dispersions on the motives behind the suit, and frankly, I think he's on to something. How can the NYCLU possibly justify not holding a private institution that chose to discontinue hosting Mr. Bilal's exhibit to the same standard as a public official who wielded the power of an elected office as his own personal truncheon to censor others and deny them their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly? This glaring omission clearly belies an ulterior political motive and Mr. Mirch is staunchly opposed to such politically motivated actions.

"There seems to be a pattern of selective use of code enforcement to punish political enemies. As an elected official, representing taxpayers, we have to make sure we are not using code enforcement for political purposes." [3]

The demonstrators decried the use of a code violation to shut down events at the Sanctuary as a politically motivated attempt by the city to shut down an art exhibit that key members of the administration found distasteful. [3]

Of course, finding quotes that cast Mr. Mirch in a poor light is a bit of a fish-in-a-barrel exercise. We are, after all, talking about the same man who once expressed his opposition to funding the Troy Library by stating "I don’t know how much the library gets used, with the Internet and computers nowadays." [5] Then, as an added bonus, he went on to further clarify his stance against the library by comparing himself to literary figures such as Sherlock Holmes and The Hardy Boys.

So, enough of Mr. Mirch. Out of curiosity, what did Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian have to say about the Sanctuary closure?

“It isn’t about the content,” [Tutunjian] said. “It is about the venue. That building wasn’t safe for a large gathering of people. That is my only concern as mayor of the city. The liability issues that it would have posed, to have people gather in that building when the city knew it wasn’t up to code would have been staggering had something happened.” [3]

Mayor Tutunjian makes an excellent point here. Never mind the fact that every other building in Troy is old and dilapidated, it is still the responsibility of the city government to stay on top of these matters to ensure that such issues are resolved in a timely fashion. Case closed!

Water is coming back at a trickle as the pipes thaw, said Mayor Harry Tutunjian. [...] The pipes are the latest piece of the decaying City Hall to malfunction. There have been problems with the elevators and a portion of the parking area beneath the building is closed because of falling concrete. [6]

Does that building code cover glass houses, Mr. Tutunjian?

I will leave you now with one final quote, a little bit of food for thought:

Mirch began collecting signatures today on petitions for his re-election bid for the Rensselaer County Legislature. [2]

Let's try to do something about that, shall we?


1. The Art of Terrorism - Controversy recap

2. Troy sued for blocking anti-Bush art - Lawsuit against Mirch, City

3. Code of Unethics? - Mirch building code abuse

4. Bring 'Em On - Mirch responds to NYCLU suit

5. Book Stupid - Mirch opposes library funding

6. Troy City Hall pipes freeze - Speaking of unsafe buildings

Further information:

Game Politics - Coverage of the controversy

RPI free culture wiki - Timeline of events, including additional links

Youtube users FreeTroy1 and TroyisFree - Videos of Mirch-organized protest at the Sanctuary, as well as the Troy City Hall protest following the Sanctuary closure