Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dumb and Dumber

Running political campaigns can be a hit-or-miss business. Some things never really gain traction with voters, while others can really attract their undivided attention. The question City Court judge candidate Jim Montagnino should be asking himself this week is exactly whose attention is he trying to attract?

If the answer is members of a cultish splinter-cell of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee that helped doom the reelection hopes of the least-successful city mayor in recent memory, then he's scored a hole in one. And if this is the case, he’s probably better off packing in his campaign now instead of drawing it out until November. At this rate, it’s not likely to go much farther than the trash receptacles that will soon be lined with the mailers his election committee sent out this week to registered Democrats.

In what will undoubtedly go down as one of the most perplexing campaign moves in the city’s political history, Montagnino decided to print a campaign mailer featuring the praise and profile of failed former mayor Valerie Keehn. The bizarre, three-paragraph missive attributed to Keehn waxes on about how Montagnino –a referee and court attorney in Rensselaer County’s state Supreme Court –will dispense justice across the city like vittles from a drop-in pantry.

“He is beholden to no one,” Keehn states in the mailer. “[H]e is not connected with the ‘old boy network’ and owes no political favors to anybody. There is only one kind of justice he will dispense, and that’s even handed justice, whether Jim is working with attorneys or with self-represented litigants.”

The mailer also alludes to Montagnino as one of the so-called Democrats For Change –the aforementioned splinter – just in case anyone needed any clarification on the issue. But instead of being a ‘democrat for change,’ he’s “experience for a change,” a quizzical phrasing that at face value seems to suggest that the soon-to-be retired Judge Douglas Mills doesn’t have much of a track record behind the bench. Cue the laugh track.

More glaringly peculiar is that Montagnino would bother to associate himself Keehn, who is the reigning poster-child for the city’s politics of failure. In just one short term, she managed to turn a sweeping democratic mandate in city government to bitter, back-biting defeat.

For many politically active democrats not associated with her splinter, Keehn’s mere visage is emblematic of politics at its absolute worse. For many other independent-minded voters her image is a reminder how some politicians care more about the game than the people they proclaim to serve.

Even from an apolitical and pragmatic stance, it makes no sense for Montagnino to align himself with the failed mayor. Most candidates seeking any political office try to distance themselves from any former politician with a recent electoral loss hovering over their head. It’s just common sense: Voters don’t want to elect a loser; they want to elect a winner. This is especially the case in Saratoga Springs, where the visceral feelings evoked during the 2007 election are not yet forgotten.

You would think these concepts would be readily apparent for a fellow virtually flaunting his experience and legal acumen. You would also expect a fellow of Montagnino’s ilk –a fellow with his own political storm cloud –would be trying to attract as many voters as possible in the general election instead of casting his allegiances early on in a primary.

But this is the politics of Keehn. Throw everything in the wind in September, and then bank on the fact that any victory will carry into November. This foolish and specious reasoning came about when Keehn was the underdog in 2005 and came back to defeat and relatively unpopular Republican incumbent during a year when voters were quite disgruntled with the GOP. Keehn’s bewilderingly ignorant campaign applied this same logic with their ‘burn all bridges’ tactics in the 2007 election, which proved once and for all that the people’s mayor really didn’t have many people behind her in the first place.

Perhaps these are things Montagnino can contemplate over the next decade after his inevitable loss to either primary challenger Jeffrey Wait or the Republican-endorsed Matt Dorsey in the general election. For his sake, it’s a shame his campaign can’t print a retraction. Maybe he should publicly decry the mailer as a fabrication by his opponents. Either that or start praying the voters are as blind as lady Justice.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Presidential suite

Talk radio and cable network news killed the zeal of presidential politics. Once, there was a time when people could freely trade half-baked ideas about candidates over a few beers. Then came the Rush Limbaughs, the Wolf Blitzers and a veritable cornucopia of call-in lines, live chat programs, all-day, all-night, all-year-long in-your-face coverage that has made discussing presidential elections a bit of a bore at the very least; a brain-cramping, unnerving simulation of schizophrenic psychosis at best.

Today, everyone has an opinion on the so-called race, but few can actually lay claim to them being unique in the classic sense of the term. Discussions are often limited to the hackneyed sound bite-centric babble puked out by the network punditry; many of who take their barking orders from party bosses to begin with. Hence why presidential politics is seldom discussed here at iSaratoga; a focal point for the local politics that are so frequently ignored by the pseudo-intellectuals that think an education in the big game can be garnered from a few late night trysts with CSPAN. The brand of reader here is the type that might wear brass knuckles and carry a flask of tequila to their local party meeting; the type of freak who forgot which channel to flip to for CNN, but can fire off the names of all the party candidates they plan to support during the ‘off-year’ elections.

This isn’t to say presidential politics should be ignored; rather it shouldn’t be dumbed down and hyper-diluted to the extent that it is among nearly every main-stream media source and even many of the local ones. Presidential politics is a meth-fueled high-speed chase that weaves through bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour; it’s the big dance, the major leagues; the wall every rookie swings for, but only a few clear. And it’s not something that Limbaugh or Blitzer can’t simplify for those who lack a basic understanding of the players selected every four years.

Take for instance the Trojan horse play that has just about sank any hope of a Republican three-peat this fall. Sure, the pundits point to narrowing polls as evidence that Republican Sen. John McCain might just pull a victory out from beneath one of his chins. But the fact of the matter is he’s done, finished by a drastic miscalculation by the right wing.

As the Democratic front-runners shook out in January, the right wing had already made its choice for their nominee: Hilary Clinton. Marching orders were distributed and the AM talk hosts attacked, much like they had during the prior two elections. Clinton very quickly became a rallying cry as the Republicans struggled with an identity crisis of their own. The Ron Paul schism took nearly all of the fanfare away from their early front runners, so they focused on the New York senator. Pretty soon, the very centrist Clinton was emblematic of the liberal far-left; the dubious socialist plot to reclaim to White House and raise taxes.

However, it was Barack Obama found his stock rising rapidly in the early caucuses and primaries. He offered voters a fresh young face that wielded passion in his voice with each speech. Pretty soon, he was amassing a chest of delegates to rival Clinton’s. But the Republican mouthpieces didn’t budge from their stance. They salted the earth of Clinton’s wilting campaign, pounding it mercilessly right up until the senator conceded the nomination to Obama in June.

Even in the days that followed, some speculated that the power-hungry Clintons might arrive in Denver with a vendetta to settle with presumptive nominee. Some speculated that a schism might form and that independent and centrist-riding Clinton supporters might flock to McCain’s camp in revolt. On the airwaves, the hatchet-wielders were scrambling for any sort of issue they could peg on Obama that might again mobilize the Christian evangelical pall bearers of the Bush presidency; an idea that is simply too late in the making come the dying days of August.

McCain’s last hope was that Clinton might pluck the knife from his chest and take a swing at Obama. Instead, she plunged it deeper and started twisting. When Clinton reached the National Convention podium late Tuesday evening, she didn’t take long to quash any thought that she might be Denver’s Richard Daley-sized party spoiler. Though delegates on the floor still waved white Clinton placards during the inception of her speech, they were replaced by the blue ‘unity’ signs by the end.

Certainly, there was some back-room politicking to get Clinton’s concession. But when that politicking took place will be something for history buffs to determine. Allow this humble author to proffer that her decision to abandon the run came long before her late-spring announcement.

In waiting until the last minute –a move many brain-dead pundits figured as the death knell for party unity –she served as the perfect flak jacket for the one candidate that stood an inkling of a chance at bridging the Democratic divide forged between the larger collective of moderates and the very vocal far-left flank. Even the selection of Delaware Sen. Joe Biden on Saturday was timed so that the pundits would have only a split second during a busy summer weekend to amass the battle munitions needed to mount vocal opposition.

On a side note, you would think the local bush-league Democrats could learn a thing or two from their big league counterparts. The idea of unity seems so foreign for a band of hapless hacks led by Shawn Thompson and aligning themselves under the moniker Democrats For Change. In fact, party unity seems to be exactly what these folks stand against considering their Nixonian “opponents" list.

No doubt, Obama’s camp will pay for Clinton bowing out. Just think, if it takes $125,000 just to get her husband to show up for dinner, how much will it cost to have his wife take a dive for the good of the party? Here’s a hint: a high-level cabinet position, Supreme Court nomination, or ceding the island of Guam to the Clinton family; or perhaps a future senator’s seat in New York for her number-one booster on the campaign trail this year.

So fasten your seatbelts folks, because this ride is going to juke and jive while speeding over the next two months. Keep your eyes on the road because the turns are quick, the space is tight and the driver of this hurtling beast might not be in the mental state for thinking anywhere inside the box.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Go see a man about a horse

How do you put the finishing touches on a lukewarm racing season that was nearly washed off the map by Mother Nature? Well, you present an over-sized key to the city to a creature lacking an opposable digit to hold the damn thing and who has little, if any connection to Saratoga Springs other than the fact that he’s a horse that has shacked up here for a few summers.

And if that’s not going bombastic enough, you proclaim a semi-official “Curlin Day” while hoisting banners proclaiming “Curlin is coming” all along the main street. Or as the Times Union’s increasingly recalcitrant Marv Cermak might say, that’s the New York Racing Association again reaching into its “bottomless bag of money-making changes that are eroding Saratoga Race Course's historic charm.”

But with the cool September breeze now rustling the still-lush green foliage of summer, NYRA needed to do something to whip up the masses for a last push to the rail. The result was a Monday morning media extravaganza announcing the upcoming extravaganza on Saturday over a horse that trained but never actually raced in the city. The whole affair is oddly reminiscent of the Funny Cide procession that swept through the Saratoga Racecourse last year, when the gelding was presented with an oversized granola cake shaped like a Rolex.

So here we stand poised again to deify a horse for little other reason than to spin the turnstiles for one last push this summer. It’s not a bad idea either, considering NYRA’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings and the fact that track attendance is down by nearly 17 percent; a factor that can largely be attributed to the faltering economy and poor early August weather.

While we’re elevating Curlin as the unofficial king of Saratoga, it’s probably best Saratogians are armed with a bit of trivia about the horse. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t named after the abbreviated post-beer binge term for the popular Canadian sport. In fact, he was named after Charles Curlin, an African-American slave who had the dubious honor of fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The name was allegedly picked by the horse’s former owner, Shirley Cunningham Jr., a blood-relative of the soldier.

Speaking of Cunningham, he was among a trio of class-action attorneys jailed after being accused of skimming up to $64 million of the $200 million judgment awarded in a diet-drug lawsuit. Curlin’s majority owner –the founder of the Kendall-Jackson vineyard –recently tried to foreclose on Cunningham’s minority share of the horse, but was unsuccessful.

So to sum things up: Black soldiers fighting for the side of slavery, crooked lawyers skimming settlement money from a bunch of hypertensive fat people and a winemaker trying to seize full control of a horse that has absolutely nothing to do with the Spa City. Now that’s Saratoga style.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spill the beans

Some may have missed the Daily Gazette’s back-page brief regarding a $10,000 allocation the Saratoga Springs City Council made Tuesday. Some may think the 55-gallon hydraulic oil spill at the city Department of Public Works garage at Van Rensselaer and Division Streets was ancient history.

Well, apparently the state Department of Environmental Conservation doesn’t. City officials hired another law firm to contend with the agency more than 18 months after they first arrived on the scene of the lift leak at the garage. The 29-year-old lift apparently failed, causing roughly a drum of the noxious fluid to seep into the soil beneath the garage. DEC officials received a call about the spill just 10 minutes after it occurred on the morning before Valentine’s Day in 2007, just moments before nearly two feet of snow would blanket the city.

The initial response wasn’t reported to the press until more than a week later, when a Saratogian reporter discovered the debacle during council discussions of an emergency contract to clean up the mess. But as quick as the spill was discovered, cleaned and then publicized, it seemingly disappeared. That was until former Public Works fixture Tom McTygue came back with a bill for roughly $200,000 to do the work. Then-Mayor and McTygue nemesis Valerie Keehn suggested the hydraulic leak was part of a pattern with the DPW. And for once, she was partially right.

In 2007, there were five spill responses at the Van Rensselaer Street garage that were registered with the DEC. The number of spills reported in on year dwarfed those lodged during the previous decade. In fact, there were no spills reported at the garage during the decade before the DEC investigation kicked off. The last of the five reported in 2007 occurred in late October, just two weeks before the election that saw both McTygue and Keehn ushered out of city politics. Odd isn’t it?

Update: Mayor Scott Johnson weighed in on the whole debacle this week, just before DEC officials apparently pushed for a rescheduling of their Monday morning meeting. Johnson said the DEC was indeed going to spill the proverbial beans, at last tipping its hand to the city. He also said the whole damn flap was a situation of “politics at its worst” in the city, adding fuel to McTygue’s initial assertions.

Now there are plenty of boring theories why this could occur, namely that the DEC database is woefully inadequate in details; almost to the point where listing spills online is more or less senseless. But there are two other prevailing theories that are supported by the fact that the supposed nature watch dogs are still hammering away at their investigation long after the environmental impacts of these spills have become insignificant footnotes in the annals of newspaper clips.

First, there’s the theory that will undoubtedly make the McTygue critics chortle with delight. Considering the DEC was at the scene of the first hydraulic spill, they obviously observed some of the remediation. Perhaps they were tipped off to the spill by a whistle-blower, who knew these sorts of ‘accidents’ routinely went unreported and ignored. When workers started remediating the so-called 55 gallon spill, the watchful eyes of a DEC inspector may have notice soil being removed with a supersaturated content of the hazardous fluid.

Or worse yet, the state agents may have realized the DPW workers were simply ordered to take any tainted soil to a burgeoning construction debris landfill allegedly created by illegal dumpers. There are some conspiracy theory wingnuts who have persistently propagated this thought as part of an orchestrated effort to take McTygue down politically.

Then there’s the other theory. There is no denying Keehn’s connection with the DEC. Though her husband repeatedly claimed he had nothing to do with the DPW investigation, it’s not too difficult to imagine him cashing in a favor or two at the office, or a brief verbal discussion with the agency’s spill responders. And it’s clear that Keehn had a mole or three in the department, who probably had DEC’s spill response on speed-dial.

Once the ball is rolling on an investigation, state officials are hesitant to simply give up on the case. This is especially when one of their attorneys is quite clearly still politicking in Saratoga Springs. So it’s conceivable that David Keehn, a card-carrying member of the Democrats For Change splinter, is still fanning the flames of a dead investigation in order to besmirch the so-called McTygue faction in the run up to September’s primary. After all, all three McTygue brothers are running for spots on the city’s shattered Democratic Committee. They’re being challenged by Pubic Safety Czar Ron Kim’s wife and a pair of dubiously delusional Keehniacs named Thilo Ullmann and Hilary McLellan.

Either way, the DEC needs to drop the proverbial deuce or get off the pot. They need to explain why Saratoga Springs residents are paying two-fold for both sides of an investigation that was apparently launched to protect them from environmental hazards. And they need to do it soon, before they are again used as a political football. With the two-year anniversary of the spill just six months away, their probe into the DPW garage incident has become emblematic of the inefficiency that plagues our state government.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Video killed the publishing star

People are getting dumber. It’s a simple observation anyone could make after taking a fleeting glance at the video streams now being produced by the cash-strapped publishers of the print media world.

The folks actually purchasing newspapers or reading them online must be so bereft of imagination or attention span that the simply can’t visualize what a reporter is explaining. And the reporters themselves must be devoid enough of descriptive narrative that they can no longer evoke the sensory perception carried in some of the finer works of literature; for disinclined readers, all those books without the pretty pictures. And the publishers, well they must have IQs that are plummeting faster than either the ability of their writers or the cognition of their readers. This is especially if they believe the recent scourge of net videos is going to somehow grow their markets.

Today, all of the Capital Region’s daily newspapers carry some form of video. Naturally, the Albany Times Union was the first to include the feature. They were quickly followed by the Post Star, which was joined this year by the Saratogian and Troy Record. Coming in last in the race to animation, was Schenectady’s Daily Gazette, which has just recently included “copyright” videos on their fledgling Web site.

In the TU’s case, the video sometimes –let’s stress sometimes –show a greater degree of insight into events that would either be difficult or impossible to explain in print. Taking cue from the networks, they typically keep their news videos to less than a minute. They appear to be shot with a decent resolution camera and usually offer degrees of narration, whether it’s from the subject or a reporter explaining the subject. They also seem to devote a reporter solely to shooting video, instead of having the poor sot switch between filming and writing.

Were they to call it a day here, life would be good. But in the TU’s typical bombastic style, they had to go one step further. Enter the so-called Night Cam. So you want a recipe for disaster? Take an entertainment reporter, give her a microphone, send her into a drunkfest with a ludicrous question to pose to revelers and then cue some ultra-cheesy stock music for the background. The resulting video would have made Victor Frankenstein proud.

The Post Star had made news inroads into video similar to the TU. They post them in relatively decent resolution, almost always contain some sort of narrative and are kept short. Unfortunately for the non-union staff at the paper, reporters are often faced with both writing and videoing the news. Does this mean they get paid double? Well, let’s allow the readers to decide that one.

And then there’s the Saratogian. To even view one of their shoddy flicks, one has to sit through a 30-second advertisement, which would be fine if the footage was even remotely worth watching. Unfortunately, it’s not. In fact, after watching the long, often dragging videos, there is usually a sense of remorse for a moment of life that was needlessly squandered. Again, the Saratogian’s news crew isn’t unionized, so reporters are now faced with both shooting video and reporting the news. Here’s a tip: Why not just have them paginate the paper and deliver it too?

Last but not least, there’s the hapless Gazette, which seems to be pioneering new lows when it comes to Internet video. Granted, the Gazette is more than six months behind even the Saratogian when it comes to video. But even that isn’t an excuse for what the paper has fortunately buried anonymously on its still-developing Web site. The footage is blurry, shaky, often without narration, and of subjects that usually don’t warrant the effort. Cue the Roger Wyatt jokes here.

Seemingly, the newspaper outfitted its reporters with dime-store video cameras that are barely passable to shoot the family vacation, much less something that will appear beneath the paper’s masthead and before thousands of online viewers. It’s bizarre the paper doesn’t utilize their photographers for the task –fancy the thought that a camera jockey would know how to shoot video. And. judging by the quality, the reporters have very little knowledge of the instrument they’re using or how to edit the footage they shoot.

But who could blame them? As with the Saratogian and Post Star, it’s doubtful anyone is getting anything extra for their new job detail. Not to mention, the addition of video footage seems to coincide very nicely with the Gazette’s most recent spate of layoffs. In other words, dump a few salaries, buy a dozen shitty video cameras with the savings and then pray to the circulation gods that everything will somehow pan out. Now that’s forward thinking.

Yet no one ever accused the news industry of forward thinking. If the media moguls thought for a half-second, they would have ditched the idea for cameras and simply started posting the hours of footage shot by their ‘news gathering partners.’ The Post Star almost endeavors into this realm with NBC affiliate WNYT. Sadly for the Gazette, they’ve got a partnership with CBS 6 Albany, which has great difficulty in simply grasping the basic precepts of journalism. Still, posting the station’s ‘raw video’ would behoove them better than the pathetic video graffiti now posted at their site.

The bottom line is that the Capital Region’s newspapers still don’t understand their bread-and-butter lies with the printed word. Sure, outlets like the New York Times can afford to craft professional-looking video feeds that are both alluring to the eye and interesting to watch. But with the cash-strapped budgets of most newspapers with less than 1 million subscribers, it’s best to invest the time and effort into with what they know best.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Efforts in futility

Politicians are known for their uncanny ability at producing hot air. In fact, were all the local state legislators to line up at the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport, they could probably supply the necessary air current to float the entire Adirondack Balloon Festival this September.

Simply put, the minority party in either the Assembly or Senate is wholly unable to effect change unless they have gigantic helping hand from special interest. And if a freshman legislator happens to be in the aforementioned party, he or she isn’t likely to do much other than fetch coffee and crullers for the caucusing minority leaders. Folks, this is Politics 101. Unless your last name happens to be Tedisco, you’re not likely to do much in the Democratic-controlled assembly. Likewise in the Senate with the name Smith, although it should be noted this house appears to be in state of flux that could behoove democrats vying for seats this election season.

But this sad arrangement doesn’t prevent prospective minority legislators from filling their electorate with delusions of grandeur; the ‘if I’m elected’ promises that go only as far as the first Tuesday in November. Unfortunately, many voters aren’t very aware of this pathetic little footnote in state politics. Nor are some news media outlets that cover these blustering. Hence the Saratogian’s recent coverage of 116th Assembly District candidate Tony Jordan.

Jordan, a Republican and the heir-apparent for Assemblyman Roy McDonald’s seat, has recently unveiled a slew of ‘new initiatives’ he plans to bring to the district if he’s elected. Over the past two weeks, he’s inundated the area with news releases pledging a variety of party initiatives. Most newspapers and television stations don’t spot these hackneyed news conferences for what they are: Free campaign ads. As usual, the Saratogian has been a bit slow on the pickup.

Jordan’s campaign staff has managed to slip two articles into the gullible Saratogian totaling roughly 1,000 words of pure, unadulterated propaganda. First, he called for the institution of a “three-pronged financial program” to help New York –cap taxes, cut spending and give state-funded tax credits to lower income families. Now you’re probably saying, ‘sounds good…where do I sign up?’ But wait, there’s more. Jordan is also proposing the elimination of all state gas taxes –a cost measure saving John Q. Public roughly 30 cents per gallon –and $1,000 tax credit for fuel conscious folks who by hybrids.

But wait, there’s even more. Or at least there will be more if you happen to be in the media. See, Jordan’s campaign press secretary happens to be Adam Kramer, the same fellow who helped the ‘Extreme’ candidate George Amedore unseat the once-favored Ed Kosiur from Paul Tonko’s long-occupied seat in the 105th Assembly District in Schenectady and Montgomery counties. ThoughAmedore’s victory is largely attributed to the implosion of the Kosiur campaign following an ill-timed sex-offender legislation he proposed in the Schenectady County Legislature, it’s impossible to overlook a campaign that lead to a sweeping victory by a candidate who had pronounced difficulty in putting two coherent thoughts together in a spoken statement.

In short, Kramer blanketed the media with Amedore news at a rate of roughly one per day until his boss was elected after a special election in July 2007. Mainly, these releases mimicked the futile initiatives being waged by assembly Minority Speaker and rising Republican Pooh-Bah Jim Tedisco. As some might surmise, Tedisco’s power in the assembly is no greater than his voice booming across the cavernous chamber and through area televisions sets when he chooses to stump for a particular issue. In other words, he’s thoroughly ineffective in pushing through any statewide legislation unless Majority Leader Sheldon Silver chucks him a bone his Democrats are done gnawing on.

So it’s an interesting tactic Kramer is taking with Jordan’s campaign and one that might again prove successful given the generally fickle nature of the common voter. They see Jordan, Amedore or any other candidate calling for tax cuts and foolishly believe these candidates will somehow argue this point in the state Legislature. However, absent a highly unlikely Republican coup in the assembly, Jordan will about as effective as Amedore, who was only able to cut ribbons and hold the coattails every time Tedisco wandered through his district over the past year.

This is not to fault either candidate for their visions, if indeed they are their visions. It’s always nice to dream. Who knows? As long as the slumbering behemoth of New York’s electorate remains in a placid slumber, they’ll be able to collect the $79,000 paycheck these shills get for sitting around Albany and nodding their heads for six months.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


His gale force bluster reduced to a mild evening breeze, Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim has decided to try a revolutionary tact in local government: He’s considering a compromise. Yes folks, as unlikely as it sounds, the Spa City’s “top cop” has decided to extend an olive branch to the mayor and council he’s worked so hard to ostracize these past eight months or so. In a ground-breaking move, Kim sent a letter to Mayor Scott Johnson requesting they sit down and create a plan to replace the aging police station off Lake Avenue.

Of course, most political pundits would call interdepartmental communications the hallmark of functional government, not some new fangled tact to get things done in a rational way. But this is Saratoga Springs and Ron Kim is…well…Ron Kim. And communication on the most primal level generally doesn’t come easy for him. Ordinarily, he’d fire out five or six news releases to all the major media outlets saying something about the “Nixonian tactics” being used by whatever agency or individual he views as the opposition. So any cordial contact requesting a sit-down discussion is a new and most welcome direction for Kim to be heading.

Incidentally, what exactly makes a bankruptcy attorney moonlighting as a part-time commissioner the city’s so-called top cop? This is a question the cliché-happy copy editors of the Times Union should answer for the Saratoga populous in 500 words or less. To imply Kim has anything to do with the enforcement arm of the city’s Public Safety branch is a frightening prospect indeed.

Fear not, political pessimists and partisan anarchists. This isn’t necessarily a full-blown détente sweeping its way through City Hall. It’s simply the invitation to open the channels of communication, which certainly doesn’t imply they’ll be open once both sides sit down to the table. Take a fellow like Khrushchev for instance. History tells us merely sitting down at the table isn’t necessarily the full solution to what ails you, especially if one side whips off their shoe and starts furiously banging it on the aforementioned table. However, it’s a start, and one Kim should be commended for if he can follow through.

It should be noted that the public safety commissioner really has little other choice than to open up a dialogue about the police station. All of his other tactics have either failed or backfired, leaving him with little more than a sheepish grin and a shrug of the shoulders. First, there was the effort to politicize the whole issue last fall, when the facility was estimated to cost $17 million. That failed, but he somehow gained re-election. At the same time, there was a concerted effort to let the station crumble into the ground and then show how the facility proved a hardship for female cops. The result was a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city that cost taxpayers thousands of dollars, a mere pittance what the actual fix ended up costing.

Along the same lines, Kim complained last year the police were spending thousands of dollars in overtime because the state Department of Corrections wouldn’t allow them to lock the archaic jail cells. The cells now have new locks, installed at a cost of $7,000. Does anyone care to guess how much the police overtime ran before the cells were fixed? Lastly, there was the recent debacle when Kim insisted the city switch its bond for the recreation facility to fund the new police station; a dog-and-pony show he followed with the notoriously touring “failure-ometer” this summer. As it turns out, switching the bond would cost roughly 11 percent of the $8 million the city council allocated for the station.

So there’s not much for Kim to fall back on at this point, other than his own sword; a blade forged in the fires of his own political incompetence. Word is he’s ready to discuss alternate plans of funding, such as the failed lease-buyback concept thrown around last year. What should be discussed is how to reduce the cost of the building to the $8 million that was budgeted. Perhaps this discussion can include new and interesting ideas for the old police station that don’t include a costly expansion of government offices into it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

What goes around comes around

During medieval times, jousters would practice their sport by lancing a dummy opponent set up on a pivot know to some history buffs as a Quintain post. One end of the dummy would bear a shield or target, at which the jouster could aim his lance. On the other end, there was usually a counter weight to balance the mechanism and offer a deterrent for any ill-timed blows. Someone slow with the lance would strike the target and would promptly have several hundred pounds swinging rock bearing down on his horse.

This ingenious and sometimes painful device proved of little value after the demise of jousting. Even the Renaissance fair warriors are less than keen to the notion of being unseated from their steed by a hurtling pile of rocks. But the device did give pundits an operant idiom to use whenever a certain political candidate spells their own doom: What goes around comes around.

In the case of state Senate’s 43rd district candidate Joanne Yepsen, it’s certainly coming around now. The Saratoga Springs supervisor is just days away from having the plug pulled on her ill-fated campaign after the state Board of Elections upheld the disqualification of nearly a quarter of the signatures she submitted to run. In the end, they ruled she had collected 968 signatures, which is an admirable amount, but still short of the number she needed.

Obviously frustrated by the challenge, Yepsen lashed out at the one person she could: fellow 43rd candidate Mike Russo, the other last-minute entry into the race. She blamed Russo for orchestrating the challenge, a charge that may or may not be valid as there were three people who disputed the validity of her petitions. Naturally, Russo denied her allegation. He may have been vindicated too. The Daily Gazette reported Tuesday one of three Yepsen challenges was made by Donna Lynch, a woman identifying herself as the sister of former city Supervisor Cheryl Keyrouze.

“Lynch denied a connection with any campaign,” the Gazette reported. “However, she said she is the sister of Cheryl Keyrouze, a former Saratoga Springs county supervisor, and did not care for the faction in Saratoga Springs politics led by former Mayor Valerie Keehn.”

Update: a Post Star reporter has corrected the above. Indeed there are four disputes to Yepsen’s petition, with Lynch’s being among them. But Yepsen remains undeterred by the challenge. After a pow-wow with the very faction that may have lead to her demise, she decided to petition the Supreme Court Thursday in an effort to remain on the ballot.

And the plot thickens. Few people outside of the local party committees recognized the feud developing between Keyrouze and Yepsen in the run up to and following the colossal disaster that befell the city Democrats during the 2007 general election. There were far bigger battles to wage for the electorate to get that upset about a three-way race for two essentially moot supervisor seats on the Republican-dominated county board. Yepsen, who was then best described as a sort of fence-sitter between the great democratic divide between the McTygue and Keehn factions, decided to throw her allegiance behind the later.

In doing so, Yepsen also bought into the splinter faction’s mantra, which was to demonize anyone affiliated with McTygue, McTygue’s friends, or even breathing in the same room as either. There were accusations that she crossed party lines to embrace Republican challenger Matt Veitch in order to oust Keyrouze from her seat. Less than a month later, the alleged plot had obviously traveled back to Keyrouze, who fired out a rather coarse missive to Party Leader Lou Schneider, asking him not to send her any information regarding Yepsen.

“She is a fraud,” she wrote in the December letter. “Her best quality is fooling the public and her worst quality is [not] knowing what good government is or even understanding it.”

But there are others who speculate it wasn’t the Keyrouze kin that drilled cannonball-sized hole in hull of Yepsen’s senatorial bid. In fact, it was Keehn propellant Shawn “Nuke ‘Em” Thompson who spelled her doom by inserting a few of his own petitions from his state committee run in with Yepsen’s.

Update: The Saratogians City Desk reports Yepsen had a quick rap with Keehn and her former deputy mayor, Eileen Finneran during a lull in Tuesdays City Council meeting. Talk about playing with fire...

Months ago, a rumor drifted across Saratoga County, insinuating Yepsen and Keehn would make a push to oust Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco from their respective strongholds. Keehn would challenge Bruno, while Yepsen would take a swing at Tedisco, according to the rumor. Word of this plot was leaked to a Times Union columnist, who published it and caused laughter to erupt across the city for several weeks.

However, there was a grain of truth to the rumor, which likely originated with Thompson. Being a paid shill for the Democratic minority leader, Thompson likely caught wind of Bruno’s impending retirement and started grinding the warped gears of his political machine. Undoubtedly, it was these gears that started to grind again when Bruno finally announced his retirement in June.

On a side note, the timing for Bruno’s retirement certainly coincided with the deadline to submit petitions for the race. Who wants to guess whether hand-picked successor Roy McDonald had an idea he’d be running for the seat months in advance?

Unfortunately, Yepsen already had her eye on Bruno’s seat. Thompson tried to elevate Keehn as the more worthy of the two, but quickly realized he’d only spur a four-way race that would eat all the party’s money and end in a loss to McDonald. So to simplify things, he inserted a Trojan horse among Yepsen’s petitions, knowing that someone from her growing list of political enemies would inevitably challenge them.

Yepsen still has another day to weed through her signatures and find 32 that could go either way. But even if she does, the whole affair must leave her wondering where her allies now stand, if she even has any. Returning to the jousting analogy, politics is a fast-paced game, where if you don’t thrust first and the hardest, you could end up staring at the sky and wondering if the stars you’re seeing are real.

View My Stats