Monday, October 30, 2006

Lake Avenue Confidential

Once again, The Saratogian has lost its city beat reporter, meaning what is arguably the paper’s most important slot is now vacant. Less than three months after Chris Diakopoulos left for greener pastures, the editors on Lake Avenue are again short handed with a gap at what is arguably the paper’s lead beat: covering City Hall.

While the aforementioned reporter apparently to take what is likely a more lucrative job at Palio Communications down the street, there is no real understanding why his replacement, Matthew Rabin, a summer import from the newly established Saratoga News who abruptly disappeared from the position after less than two months on the job.

There’s little reason in publicly vetting why Rabin or any reporter left The Saratogian, as employment there is often a quick stop for journalists and public relations flack on their way to making more money. However, what is to be noted is that this paper has seen five reporters shifted in and out of a complicated and crucial beat that is now vacant for all intents and purposes.

What is also worth mentioning is that the average duration for the city beat position is hovering just below 11 months, which isn’t very much time a reporter to cultivate the sources necessary for sensible and meaningful journalism. In comparison, both the Times Union’s and the Daily Gazette’s Spa City reporters can measure their stay at their papers respective Saratoga bureaus in terms of years if not decades; this fact often shows in the depth of their reporting.

Now, some people would argue that The Saratogian is a small market newspaper, with far fewer resources at their disposal to create and maintain a staff of decent reporters. But given the more than credible stories relayed by former employees of the Journal Register Company –The Saratogian’s corporate overlord –it seems like this organization is more obsessed with shoving dollars in their pockets than bringing news to the door step. And given the earnings report released this month, it doesn't appear they'll be shoveling any more cash toward generating news.

One former reporter who left in disgust last year said The Saratogian was hiring college-educated reporters for what amounted to roughly $300 per week after taxes, which is less than the average clerk at Stewart’s takes home after 40 hours. Keep in mind, this salary includes no health insurance, no vacation time for the first year, no anything other than three C-notes at the end of the week. There’s a chance this has changed, but not a likely one.

So if the reporters aren't making any money, then where the hell is it going?

Perhaps one could look to Barbara Lombardo, the recalcitrant managing editor who’s rapidly approaching three decades manning the helm of a ship that just seems to take on more water every year. If there’s one reason the flimsy Saratogian is the way it is today, it’s got a lot to do with Lombardo, the person in charge of hiring reporters and keeping them on the straight and narrow.

From all accounts about Lombardo’s performance in the news room, she’s a nine-to-five absentee editor more concerned about her afternoon hair appointment than ensuring that the day’s news gets to the printing press. This is especially the case when a veteran reporter is bringing home a 400-word story about a kindergartener getting her head caught in a plywood cut-out of Daphne from the Scooby Doo gang. Meanwhile, the competition wrote about the demolition project and impending construction of a 123-room hotel located just across the street from The Saratogian’s main office.

As both Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County continue to grow exponentially, the supposed hometown newspaper remains the same: inept, undermanned and outdated. And much of this void has to do with the person sitting at the top of the pile, none other than Lombardo herself, who should do local journalism a favor and retire, so an editor with both vision and fire can revitalize this flailing publication.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The color yellow

One week after a drunken freshman at the University at Albany reported the sexual assault heard around the region, Capital News 9 is still on the story, flashing the three familiar mugs that have become almost commonplace on the channel.

Since airing their first story about the case on Wednesday, the channel has reported on the case every day this week giving the impression the campus is roiling with sexual assaults. The most recent report focused on parents attending UAlbany’s homecoming weekend, where the reporter queries parents and students alike about the university's flailing campus safety.

Mind you, the only thing that would have prevented the incident that resulted in the arrests of freshmen Lorenzo Ashbourne, Julius Harris and Charles Guadagno would have been the woman simply packing it in for the night after a downtown booze bender. While some may argue that sensitivity training might have put an ounce of reason in the brains of these three jocks, it’s doubtful that it would have made a difference given the standard mental capacity of most college football players.

But with their wall-to-wall coverage last week, News 9 has painted a picture of a campus that’s both unsafe and prone to rape. In one story last week, they reported there were six sexual assault investigations so far this semester, which according to the news reporter, is one more than was reported at this time last year. To put this math into perspective, this means 11 cases of rape in a time period that amounts to roughly four months. News 10 aired a similar report, but never bothered to identify how many rapes investigations were active, other than to say “a number” were reported.

Well, let’s go to the video tape. Between the start of the fall 2005 semester and this weekend, the university has had exactly nine incidents of rape. And including the arrest of the three football players last week, there have been five people charged from these incidents. It should be noted that one of these rapes was apparently statutory, which is not to say it shouldn’t be grouped with the other four, but that it’s a bit different by nature

One case is still pending from September 2005, when a female student living in Colonial Quad’s Livingstone Tower reported an “unwanted sexual encounter” with a non-student. Also pending is an incident where an Alumni Quad resident claims she was assaulted following a house party in late October 2005.

This year, police investigated another rape on Dutch Quad in September, but the victim declined to press charges against the acquaintance she accused of committing the assault; a similar incident was reported this month on Colonial Quad, where again the victim decided to abstain from the criminal investigation.

Also on Indian Quad, a student reported being raped by an unknown man but declined to have a medical exam, effectively killing any investigation into the matter. Another rape was listed on the Web site as occurring at Tuscarora Hall, but it’s not clear from the posting if the investigation resulted in the arrest of Guadagno.

Given a campus population hovering around 20,000 people, this record of sexual assaults isn’t exactly alarming; although it should be mentioned that even one incident is too many for the victim of such an attack. And there is the assertion by some students that the administration purposely under-reports incidents of rape. But considering many of the aforementioned incidents result from off-campus drinking and acquaintance rape, there’s not a whole lot the university can do, other than to prosecute the cases they do get and continue to tell students the blisteringly obvious: no means no, don’t walk alone and don’t binge drink

There’s a sort of finger pointing that comes across in these news reports, as if the administration is condoning the activity of which these guys are accused. True, it was a bit sketchy the university didn’t contact the Albany County District Attorney’s office until nearly 12 hours after the crime was reported, which is a fact the media has yet to criticize. But to put parents on the spot about the university’s safety in wake of the arrests is journalism that’s a bit on the yellow side.

Even more outlandish is the fact that only two news agencies –neither being News 9 or News 10 –bothered to cover the brutal story of rape out of Schenectady, where two women were apparently kidnapped from their home at gun point from their homes, then repeatedly sexually assaulted. But without university officials to needle, who really cares about that incident.

Did somebody pass gas?

Did you smell that? Sort of a pungent aroma, like someone passed some gas? That’s because last week, they did. In fact, they passed a lot of gas. Ten thousand pounds worth of gas to be exact.

As reported Saturday by the Daily Gazette and posted at the state Department of Environment Conservation’s Web site, an Air National Guard C-130 dumped 1,500 gallons of fuel over the city of Saratoga Springs. Apparently, there was a fuel leak that concerned the pilots shortly after the plane took off from the Stratton Air National Guard base in Glenville. The end result was the fuel release between 7,500 and 11,000 feet above the city of more than 27,000 inhabitants.

While both the guard’s press flack and the DEC spokesman were perfectly content to say the fuel “evaporated” before it hit the ground, this sort of reasoning is a bit difficult to swallow, especially if you happened to be wandering around in the rain that day. It would seem that the DEC could provide a bit more of an explanation of how this amount of fuel might affect the ground and perhaps the ground water when it evaporates into the atmosphere, then comes down in the form of rain.

True, the amount of fuel dumped might seem a bit insignificant when compared to the volume of atmosphere. But then again, how many people are willing to chance the inhalation of a teaspoon of jet fuel with their coffee in the morning. What’s a bit more startling is the fact that the Gazette needed to ferret this story out through the DEC’s hazardous spills site online and that neither the Guard nor the DEC felt compelled to report the event when it happened.

Given this track record of being forthcoming, one can only wonder what kind environmental calamity is taking place inside that giant atomic sphere the military is maintaining at Kesselring. Or better yet, what the hell happened at Skidmore College in May of 2005, when the DEC passively notes that a gallon of mercury was somehow spilled and could have entered the ground water; an investigation is ongoing, according to the site.

And knowing the affect mercury can have on a person coupled with the gravity even a minuscule spill is often given by Hazmat teams, let’s hope this is a DEC typo.

Editor’s note: as an astute reader pointed out, it was the Glens Falls Post Star that originally reported this story on Friday. The Gazette managed to reprint it in Saturday’s edition.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fast Food Nation

This just in from the city of Mechanicville: McDonald’s will be closed for three months, sending waves of shock and disbelief throughout the community; area youths fear the coming months with no place to congregate and gorge on Happy Meals. And seniors, well they’re just addled by the news.

It’s truly a sad commentary when one of three dozen a McDonald’s located within a 20-mile radius closes and the community goes into shock. It’s an even sadder commentary when the closure is only temporary and the community still goes into shock. But such is apparently the case in this post-industrial ghost city as the fast food restaurant undergoes renovations this fall, according to an article in Wednesday’s Times Union.

Apparently, many among Mechanicville’s dwindling populace find daily solace underneath the bright yellow and red hues emanating from the golden arches. Located centrally within the city and on the bus path, seniors would meet there for cheap coffee in the morning, while the city’s youth used the locale as a place to meet up for a quick afternoon fat-fix.

Since the closure, life in Mechanicville has clearly taken a turn for the worse and appears to be heading further down hill, as one could naturally expect. Abruptly weaned from the supple teat of fast food culture, the city’s teens are now congregating in greater numbers at the library. And faced with a roving band of elderly refugees, a city social worker is now hosting morning coffee socials at the Community Center; oh the horror.

After reading about these repercussions, one is left to wonder what would have Mechanicville done had McDonald’s never opened in the first place on the stark paved landscape of Park Avenue. What would sort of entity would have blossomed in its place?

Like it or not, fast food restaurants are now a pillar of American culture, where urban folk are prone to gather in absence of public funding for community centers or expand the hours of the library. Often times, these are areas of tight budgets that are first cut so that local politicians can claim to have level-funded budgets and property owners save an extra $100 a year in taxes.

But as Mechanicville’s leaders try to forge a prosperous future for the burned-out hulk of city perhaps a lesson can be learned by the temporarily shuttered McDonald’s. No matter how you look at the picture, businesses don’t build communities; rather, they are often products of a vibrant community.

It’s something to be considered around budget time, when the area’s public facilities are likely to be the first to go on the chopping block. After all, there aren't too many people out there that decide to move to a city based on whether or not there’s a McDonald’s nearby.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Calling for change

Years ago, in America’s not-so-distant past, having party allegiance meant something among the masses; common people had a vested interest in political parties because they quite literally brought food to the table.

“There was a sudden delivery of coal, carried into the house by a burley man with a blackened face,” recalled Novelist Pete Hamill in a passage about growing up in Brooklyn after the Second World War. “And on the day before Christmas, another man arrived with a turkey. I asked who the men where and was told by my father the party.”

Yes, back then, being affiliated with a party meant benefits; tangible fringe benefits. But in today’s go-go society, party loyalty means hassle, lots of hassle, the least of which are a gaggle of operatives spelunking around the nether regions of Saratoga Springs in a vain effort to find one more lawn to post a campaign sign for whatever candidate their trying to foist as an honest politician.

At least these folks get out into the community and make an effort, albeit a hollow one, at convincing people their man or woman will ensure a warm living room for the winter and a roast turkey for Christmas. Now, the geniuses of –an organization that supposedly started as a sort of grass-roots door-kocking band of political operatives –have decided to shift the focus to technology in their “calling for change” campaign in the 20th congressional district.

In a recent media release, the organization boasts that its members will use cutting-edge phone banking techniques to target Democrats and “like minded independent voters” who cast ballots in the presidential race, but not in congressional elections. So if you’re left-leaning and have a publicly listed phone number, expect calls from members not once, but three times between now and Election Day.

True, there are fickle voters out there who might suffer from extreme myopia and not see the litter of signs coating every street corner from Glens Falls to Hyde Park. And maybe –just maybe –there are still some folks out there that haven’t gotten acclimated to elections being held on the first Tuesday of every November of every year.

But there is something about these phone bank call campaigns that seems to scream out wasted resources. Sure it’s a lot easier to pick up a phone and war-dial 50 or so voters in an hour rather than engaging them in a substantive dialogue about the election. However, these are two things that are increasingly absent from the election cycle these days: substance and dialogue.

Granted, times are much different today than they were sixty years ago during Hamill’s youth. Party loyalty is generally only worth how much one is willing to whore themselves out for any given party and the chances that either John Sweeney or Kirstin Gillibrand will ever show up bearing a weeks’ worth of sustenance is probably about as likely as either of them doing much of anything after being elected. Maybe if politics were more about bring tangible things to the people, such as food on the table or fuel in the furnace, rather than annoying mid-evening phone calls from some intangible impersonal dolt playing tweak the phone bank, then voters wouldn’t be so goddamn apathetic.

And maybe if these politicians gave a rat’s ass about the people they serve, they’d consider using some of their cash jammed in their multi-million dollar war chests to bring something more to the people than some useless yard signs and a bunch of glossy mailers that end up in the garbage quicker than the present the family pet left steaming on the kitchen floor.

Then again, no self-respecting politician actually wants to involve the working class in the election, much less those who would readily accept a free turkey for the holidays or some heating assistance during the grueling months of winter.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sign of the times

Every election season there's at least one candidate –and usually many more –who bitches to the media about unsavory tactics being used by the “other side” to sabotage their plight to cover every willing landowner's lawn with their unsightly and oft-tacky signs. And every election season, there's a candidate on “other side” who says the accusations are a spurious attempt to sling mud on their campaign.

This year, the heralded “Broken Sign Award” goes to incumbent Republican Congressman. John Sweeney, who has his campaign minions crying to the news about how someone from Democrat challenger Kirstin Gillibrand's camp keeps playing swap-the-signs with their candidate's yard art.

Clifton Park Republican Chairman Mike Lisuzzo made enough of a stink that one would think Gillibrand herself is tooling around the suburban sprawl with a pint of whiskey and a baseball bat taking her vengeance on the signs. In a Capital News 9 report aired Wednesday, he even shows a glossy picture complete with arrows and footnotes depicting where the signs once stood, as if anyone really cares.

Of course, Gillibrand Campaign Spokeswoman Allison Price didn't hesitate to fire back at the accusation, launching her own at the town's GOP leaders for a batch of signs have disappeared around the region –especially in Clifton Park.

But the truth is, campaign signs by their impermanent nature are veritable magnets for both vandals and drunks. After all, there's nothing better than tying a buzz on during a crisp autumn evening, then going on a curbside rampage amid the colorful gardens of campaign rhetoric. Not to mention, college students –many who are often prone to both drunkenness and vandalism –usually take a shine to collecting signs of all kinds for their dorm rooms, a habit they certainly don't abandon during campaign season.

Certainly, there are partisan operatives or just plain partisan people who take great joy in kicking down the opposition's signs. Still, this is hardly something new in politics. In fact, as long as there have been candidates to post yard signs, there have been people to tear them down. Suffice to say, the Sweeney-Gillibrand contest is nothing new.

Perhaps both of these campaign could learn something new from these furtive sign wars. Rather than spending all this effort for name recognition on some yokel's lawn, perhaps they could spend a bit more time focusing on telling the people what they've done to merit a place in public office.

Bad boys, bad boys

With guns drawn and a battering ram in tow, members of the Capital District Drug Task Force barreled into a Glens Falls apartment with the force of a barreling freight train and all the bravado of an episode of Miami Vice.

After splintering no less than one door and bashing the living hell out of a combination safe, the bullet-proof vest-clad brigade of no less than six mid- to high-ranking cops emerged with the pay-dirt: a half-pound of marijuana and some books about growing weed.

streets so Yes, another bad guy taken down by the cops. Another stain of scum eradicated from thethat John Q. Public won’t have to contend with a bunch of bongo-playing hippies strutting around his neighborhood stinking up the place with the pungent aroma of cannabis. Keep the streets clean, boys. And if these dope-smoking free-living fiends think they can escape the law, then pull out your equalizers and squeeze off a few rounds into their backs as they flee in terror; that’ll teach those deadbeat potheads.

To chronicle this spectacle last week was the Post Star’s long-time cops and courts reporter, who penned an ingratiating first-hand-account about the bust. Of course, the writer buried the real news at the bottom of the article: despite all the theatrics of the raid, the suspected marijuana grower was charged with one misdemeanor charge and later released without bail.

In other words, the true story is this so-called ‘task-force’ wasted a ridiculous amount of taxpayer money to go on a raid that yielded absolutely nothing of substance, save for a small-time grower. But what is more startling about this account is that the neither the Post Star nor the drug task force seem to consider this bust as much. In fact, the impression one gets by reading this article is that such storm trooper tactics are a needed, if not necessary tool to wage the so-called war against drugs.

Obviously, they didn’t read about the drug bust in Schenectady last month. Similarly, a brigade of overzealous cops battered down the door of a city residence and then charged in shouting with guns drawn. They then pepper sprayed a sleeping 12-year-old girl, beat up her 11-year-old brother and filled the family dog full of lead.

And the result? The arrest of an 18-year-old on two misdemeanor charges of selling marijuana and a violation for possession of a “small amount” of weed, which likely means they found several grams. Despite this public relations disaster, Schenectady’s stalwart police chief had the gall to support the raid as something significant, noting that “selling drugs out of your residence is not minor."

After a pronounced period of drug war Glastnost during the nineties –most significantly the decriminalization of marijuana –police agencies seem to have renewed this furtive Reagan-era battle with zeal. Of course, cops during the original War on Drugs at least had the sensibility to bust people proliferating hard drugs, such as cocaine and opiate derivatives.

Today, cops are seeking out anything, including small-time marijuana operations, and using a boat-load of public dollars to do it. Problem is, they no longer have the draconian laws on the books to lock pot-heads away in jail like they used to. There is even a fundamental shift in thinking among their own ranks that suggests such bogus raids are probably not the solution this society needs to get a leg up on drugs. Rather, it’s more likely they’re just another part of the problem.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cold case files

In the world of the crime reporting, July 2005 was a very long time ago. Ask most cops and court aficionados and they’ll tell you that the news then is about as good as ancient history.

During these 16 months, Christopher Porco of Bethlehem was tried and convicted of killing his father and seriously injuring his mother. Also arrested –and convicted –during this time was murderer Shawn Doyle of Hudson Falls, who bound and gagged 33-year-old Lori Leonard, then crammed her body unceremoniously in a toolbox and dumped it in the Champlain Canal. Authorities also managed to track down and elicit a confession from Raymond DiLorenzo, who admitted to unloading a rifle into his estranged wife’s face while she was parked at a convenient store in Glens Falls with their 13-year old daughter in the back seat.

But among these high profile cases, there are some that just happen to fly beneath the radar long enough to drop off the precipice of media coverage into the realm of distant recollection. Such is the situation with the missing persons and subsequent murder investigation of 19-year-old Christina White, who vanished from a rural trailer park in Milton just five days before her birthday.

By all published acounts, Christina was a quiet and attractive young woman who lived on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. The petite community college-student was known to flee her home at the Stockade trailer park when she was distraught and was said to suffer from bi-polar disorder. Neighbors reported last seeing her walking with a group of men toward an area where adolescents are known to congregate.

Tasked with finding White during the summer of July 2005 and now her killer are the stalwart deputies of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, who certainly have done their part to investigate this case: they issued a press release when the troubled girl went missing, then followed it up with another press release when her skeletal remains were found dumped in the Daketown Forest, a scant 100 feet away from the roadway.

Mind you, it took sheriff’s investigators nine months to crack a lead in the White case and the only reason they did was because a hiker walking his dog through the forest happened to stumble over her remains. They also didn’t need much help finding the cause of death –at least one stab wound to the abdomen –because the county coroner took care of that for them.

Some of Christina’s neighbors took a critical approach toward investigators, saying they hadn’t worked hard enough to find her when she first disappeared. Undersheriff Michael Woodcock fired back, insisting that detectives “worked this case hard.”

Sure they did. That is, if you consider faxing a missing person’s poster to media outlets hard work or monitoring the cell phone calls and bank records of a dead woman a quality investigation.

When White disappeared, Sheriff James Bowen –the longest tenured and possibly most recalcitrant regulator in New York –at least had the excuse that his department was short staffed and undermanned to properly police the county’s burgeoning population. That all changed in November, when the county approved the hiring of 23 additional personnel for the sheriff’s department –including three detectives and 10 deputies –at a cost of $1.2 million or an average of $52,000 per employee.

And apparently, the extra manpower hasn’t helped much.

Christina’s murderer continues to walk free and the sheriff’s department continues to not concern itself with the case. Media sources hovered around the finding of the body in mid-march, but have since ignored the case; the last article to even mention the homicide hit the streets nearly six months ago.

Frustrated with this inaction, a disgruntled relative has decided to make an appeal to the Web community for help in solving Christina's murder; any help. Hopefully, someone who knew this young woman in life and might have an inkling of how she met her untimely death will respond to this plea for information or this post.

Unlike the sheriff’s department and the fickle media, there are indeed people who remember Christina and are deeply grief stricken by her grisly death, especially seeing as though her case seems to be on the bottom of a growing pile of investigation files. What is a more stark reality is that there is at least one person –and probably many more –who remember with vivid detail her cold-blooded murder, but haven't the fortitude to come forward with information. Hopefully, these people are leading painfully tortured lives.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

High rollers

In the category of “what were they thinking” goes Capital News 9’s report on the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway’s 45,000-square-foot expansion project, which was recently railroaded through by the state Lottery Division and Hollywood Joe Bruno.

In a by line-free story entitled “Racino addition to accommodate high rollers,” the channel grabs a few quotes from the Senate Majority leader to insinuate that the expansion is aimed at bringing affluent gamblers to the area, which will benefit both the Spa City and Saratoga County. This said, one must wonder if any of the News 9 reporters has ever seen the racino in full-swing during a weekday afternoon or if they even bothered to look at the plans for the expansion.

Had they done either of these things, the last phrase they would have used in this report would have been “high rollers.” Maybe the word “rollers” to describe the many wheelchair-bound senior citizens that gamble away their social security funds at the racino, or perhaps the word “high” to portray the average state of mind gamblers must be in to think they’ll win cash from the video lottery terminals; but never these two words together.

Not to mention, when the hallmark of any given expansion project is a booming dance club and 300-seat buffet serving a hodge-podge of Italian, Asian, Mexican and American classics, chances are pretty good it’s not aiming to attract rich folk.

Rather, the racino expansion is aimed at keeping more of the target demographic –the elderly and lower-middle class –gambling at a vicious pace. And what better way than to allow gamblers an opportunity to satiate their more animalistic thirsts on premise then to provide them with a cheap feeding trough and slut menagerie.

Still, there remains the real story about the expansion that continues to bedevil the more stalwart journalists and seems to flat-out elude the nimrods over at News 9: why is Joe Bruno on the racino’s payroll and how much is the good senator raking in from it each year?

The Dead

Judging by the eye-sore rhetoric cluttering yards and jamming mailboxes throughout the county, it must be campaign season again. And if there’s one politician who’s kicked his march to office into hyper-drive, it’s the loveable huggable Congressman Kickass who’s taking sleazy political slogans to a new level, albeit a fairly low level.

Faced with what was initially portrayed as a tough re-election campaign, incumbent Congressman John Sweeney has decided to dig up the dead in what appears to be an attempt to mollify his support for the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

Recently, independent voters across Saratoga Springs received a glossy high-color mailer last week featuring a photo of the congressman and Kathy Brown, the mother of Army National Guard PFC Nathan Brown who was killed in Samara, Iraq nearly two years ago.

Closely mimicking a television ad that aired last month, the mailer shows Sweeny planting a kiss on the forehead of a wincing Brown, who appears to be in the midst of grieving. On the flip side, the ad features a soot-covered American flag patch that was apparently pulled from the deceased soldier’s uniform and then juxtaposed on the brilliant star-spangled blue of a clean flag.

Throughout the ad, Sweeny’s camp lists key quotes uttered by Brown, basically asserting that she doesn’t support the war but is throwing her allegiance behind the Republican incumbent. Among other things, she credits Sweeney for fighting in Washington for more armor on military vehicles.

But aside from including the trademark “paid for by Sweeney for Congress” slogan in small print on the bottom, the congressman himself makes no statements on the ad. It’s not surprising either, seeing as though Sweeney has vocally supported the “stay the course” mantra vehemently maintained by the Republican National Committee; to speak against this even to win re-election would be to violate the party’s line, which is a big-time faux pas among GOP loyalists.

Even more disturbing, however, is that Sweeney needs to go grave-digging to fight for his seat in congress. Perhaps instead of capitalizing on a grieving mother’s tragic story, he could instead point out to voters what he’s actually done since becoming Gerald Solomon’s heir apparent nearly eight years ago.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Stick and puck

Much like a bad odor, there's something about a really bad lead that really just turns people off. And as those who’ve ever had the displeasure of smelling the fetid stench of sweat-soaked hockey equipment will attest, there’s nothing about the nasty aroma that draws people to be spectators of the sport.

But this was the visceral imagery the Post Star’s business reporter chose to start off her article about the New York Rangers’ first training camp in Lake George in more than a decade.

Going by the fan-on-the-street article that made it to print, the writer clearly has no appreciation for the sport of hockey, as she failed to grab the true essence of what an appearance by the Broadway Blueshirts means to either hockey fans or the area. Here’s a quick hint: it has nothing to do with “sticks and a hard blob of rubber” or the pungent aromas percolating through the arena.

Professional hockey will never be as big of a draw as other headline sports such as football and baseball. But having a team like the Rangers in the Adirondacks is tantamount to the New York Giants of the National Football League holding training camp at the University at Albany: it’s the equivalent of an adrenaline shot for stalwart fans and area businesses alike.

For businesses in Lake George already smarting from a dismal summer, the Rangers’ appearance is a quick shot in the arm before leaf-peeping season. Even if 1,000-something spectators only hang around the area for lunch, the Rangers and their entire staff will be spending time and money in the area for a solid four days.

More importantly, however, is the effect the Rangers’ appearance up north has on the region’s diehard hockey fans, which for the first time in nearly three decades will go without having either a professional or semi-professional team in the Adirondacks. Judging by the standing-room only crowd that attended the Rangers’ camp as well as an exhibition minor league hockey game hosted Friday by the Glens Falls Civic Center, this is a pretty big detail to ignore.

Yet another angle that ignored by the reporter is the connection that some of the diehard Ranger fans attending Tuesday’s camp identified: the last time the Blueshirts traveled to Lake George was just prior to their legendary run for the Stanley Cup during the 1993-1994 season. Back then, former General Manager Neil Smith chose to hold camp up north because he seen the area and facilities while working in the head office of none other than the Adirondack Red Wings.

True, there aren’t too many local hockey fans that would make the association between the Rangers of yesteryear and the team that laced up this week at the Forum. But at least this angle makes a slightly more interesting story than the stink of sweat and finger smudges on the glass surrounding the ice.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Thank god, it's not Friday's

Feel free to drop by the TGI Friday’s in Wilton for a round of Extreme Margaritas, Potato Skinny Dippers and maybe a heaping portion of their trademark Jack Daniel’s Glazed Ribs. Then when the bill comes, feel free to get up and walk out; just make sure to tell the overly peppy candy-cane clad waitress that the check’s in the mail.

While this might spur some protests and maybe even some not-so-idle threats of arrest from the restaurant’s management, just simply tell them you’re working off Friday’s past-due account balance with the Saratoga Adult Hockey League.

For years now, the Saratoga league has flourished in the city, drawing many former college and semi-professional hockey players from around the region. Each of the teams is monetarily “sponsored” by an areas business, which then get their name and logo on the players’ jerseys throughout the season.

And if a given team wins the championship, the name of the sponsor is emblazoned on the cup trophy and then posted on a banner hanging at the Weible Avenue rink. Not a bad amount of advertising for a $500-per-annum fee.

True, the league has witnessed many changes in sponsorship in the past, with organizers having an especially difficult time soliciting businesses over the last two years ago. Recently, one of the six teams in the league started the season lacking a sponsor altogether, starting out as the “grey team” before picking up a sponsor midway through the year.

Enter TGI Friday’s, one of the many chains that has recently descended upon the region promising to be a good corporate neighbor. Agreeing to sponsor a team, Friday’s had their tacky logo and heinous lime-green jerseys on the ice all season long. They also had the added bonus of players’ drinking at their nearby bar after the games.

But when it came time to pay the piper, Friday’s decided to walk out on the bill. Invoices sent to the restaurant haven’t been paid and attempts to collect the outstanding balance were unsuccessful, league organizers maintain.

Sadly, five C-notes is a paltry sum that this corporate restaurant probably makes during the first few minutes of happy hour each weekend and could easily afford without detriment. Even sadder is the fact that Friday’s is still listed as a sponsor on the league’s Web site and will likely have their jerseys used as play starts up again this month while teams wait for their new uniforms to come in.

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