Wednesday, April 22, 2009


There comes a point in the narrative every Bonny and Clyde-type film where the main protagonists can indeed turn back; where they can point to their successes with a sense of dignity and walk proudly into the western horizon amid the golden hues of the setting sun. But more often than not, these characters choose the other direction instead, headlong into almost certain doom. And there’s really no way of turning back once they take that first step east.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson found himself in a similar situation in February, when he could have easily called off the project to build a gigantic recreation center on the east side. At the time, the city was facing resistance on what seemed to be all fronts: Neighbors were filing for court injunctions, the chairman of the county Democrats was complaining to the state Department of Labor and the city was facing a multi-million dollar budgetary shortfall with its loss of VLT revenue from the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway. On top of all of this, the city’s building inspector was apparently raising design issues with the rec center’s plans, due to a type of insulation included in the plans.

Johnson should have taken this as a sign. At that point, he could have easily walked away from the project unscathed. Certainly, admitting defeat would have taken a certain degree of humility on his part. He would have assuredly taken heat from his own party for stepping away from the flames of a fire that was brazenly fanned by his Democratic opponents.

But scrapping the project would have been the right thing to do. The city doesn’t need a rec center with the new YMCA. In fact, it’s debatable whether the city can even afford a new building given its ongoing fiscal woes. And that’s before considering the City Recreation Director Linda Terricola can’t even manage the buildings she oversees today. Case in point: The multi-million dollar ice rink almost wholly powered for free with gas produced by the former landfill is the only municipally-owned one in the entire Capital Region that is annually thawed for a quarter of the year.

Yet Johnson has steadfastly resisted any calls to end the $6.5 million project. He plowed ahead though the mire of residential dissent, and now he’s getting ready to land a shovel in the ground. Certainly in his mind, building the damn thing was the only way to go.

Johnson is mere months away from launching his re-election campaign and very little has changed for the better since he took office. All of the hot-button issues that drove the last campaign are and will continue to be on the table well beyond November. That doesn’t bode well for an incumbent that pretty much rode into office on a shock wave created by the epic implosion of the city Democrats.

Johnson has no discernible issues he can point to as reasons for his re-election, and he’s running out of time. Politically, he’s banking on getting the rec center built by fall, thereby proving his ability to work through immense political meddling. But this is flawed reasoning that stands in direct contrast with the one platform he did have for re-election: His administration didn’t set the city on the same collision course with disaster that the Keehn Adminstration seemed hell-bent on taking.

Now Johnson has filled the ammo cache of any political enemy that chooses to oppose him. Were a challenger to emerge from the GOP, they could easily argue Johnson strayed away from fiscally conservative policies by throwing even more money into a boondoggle project that has spanned the course if decades. His Democratic challenger will certainly exploit the notion that he was recklessly bull-headed in pounding the rec center into the ground. And they may already be using this angle too.

The peculiar case of former building inspector Lauritz Rasmussen is a prime example. Rasmussen, who was hired by Johnson, has very publicly claimed Johnson’s office fired him because he refused to give a rubber stamp on the project. Johnson rejects this notion and claims the “public record” will reflect his reasons for dismissing the man. It’s entirely possible

Rasmussen is playing up his role in the rec center debacle under the urging from someone –or some party –that has an ax to grind with Johnson. Or it’s plausible he’s telling the truth. Either way, the issue makes bad press for a mayor just six months before the election, especially when there’s little record to go on other than the status quo.

The bottom line is that it’s too late for Johnson to reverse course. He’s put too much energy and effort into advancing the rec center project and any deviation at this point would do little to change the course he’s charted. Arguably, that direction will yield him negligible results even if the structure comes to fruition. And it will gain him even less ground if it’s not. In other words, the Titanic is heading toward the iceberg. The only question now is how bad the damage will be once it hits.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Times Union busters

Think of the conflict that must have raged somewhere inside Jim Odato’s mind when he wrote about the state layoffs proposed by Governor David Paterson in Wednesday’s Times Union. While the longtime state Capitol reporter was penning a story about the governor exempting non-union state workers from the looming 8,900 layoffs, his own union was battling behind the scenes to save jobs among the TU’s senior writers –jobs like his own.

The bell tolls this morning for the Capital Region’s largest and most respected daily publication. And when it does, close to a quarter of the paper’s staffers could be wandering onto the unemployment line. If the parent Hearst Corporation has its druthers, many of these layoffs could come from the paper’s senior employees once the Albany Newspaper Guild’s contract is cancelled today. The alternative and equally dismal scenario has the guild picketing against the union-breaking policies the company recently exacted on some of its other workers, such as the staff at the San Francisco Chronicle.

This story starts when the original contract between Hearst and the guild –the local union representing about 280 workers at the paper –expired last summer. Negotiations between the sides continued through the fall and winter, with little progress. Then in February, George Hearst III was appointed publisher of the newspaper.

Hearst, a descendant of William Randolph Hearst, was the chief negotiator for his company on behalf of the Times Union. The move was initially met with cautious optimism, but soon became a harbinger of ominous times ahead. One after another, Hearst-owned papers began to see layoffs and even threats of closure. Less than a month after taking the helm, “Mr. Publisher” announced he needed to cut costs by more than 20 percent at the Times Union, meaning layoffs were imminent.

Of course, layoffs under the rolling contract meant only the newest hires at the paper would be affected. And these employees typically make a fraction of what senior workers make. That’s why Hearst brazenly told guild members last month of his intention to terminate their contract as of this morning.

Though legal, Hearst’s move was a highly unorthodox way of forcing union concessions. The main concession his company is seeking is the ability to can whoever they deem necessary. Deductive reasoning suggests these workers would be many of the veteran employee soaking up large benefit packages and relatively fat paychecks for a job that could be easily pawned off on a pimple-faced Columbia grad more than eager to find a way to start paying back $80,000 worth of tuition loans.

From an anti-labor perspective, threatening to terminate the contract is nothing short of genius. Tell the guild leaders to screw off, assure them their contract will be canceled and that the layoffs will be flowing like spring runoff into the Hudson once it is. Don’t bring them to the drawing table, force them to it. Once their sitting down, nail them to the chair; don’t let ‘em up until they’re broken; shatter the fuckers. Split the goddamn union right down the center of its cerebral cortex. And the best way to do this is eliminate the very union leaders that refuse to make concessions on their contract.

But this is no ordinary union. This is the union representing press. More specifically, this is the only press in the Capital Region that has remained somewhat insulated from the failures of print journalism and news media on a whole. Certainly, the Times Union isn’t perfect. But it’s about as perfect as they come in the tri-city and northern region, considering the thread-bare newsrooms extending from Poughkeepsie to Plattsburgh.

Now Hearst is proposing to cut indiscriminately the workers that allowed the Times Union to adapt into what it is today. The cuts come despite a number of guild concessions, including a 5 percent across-the-board pay reduction among its members.

For what it’s worth, the guild isn’t exactly a pushover either. They’ve already voiced their intention to seek support among Albany’s other unions and to wage aggressive campaigns against the Times Union’s advertisers. They could also strike, which would nail a stake through the heart of everything the newspaper has achieved in this modern era of journalism.

Already, the failed negotiations and the company’s slash-and-burn tactics have taken a noticeable toll on the paper. The guild has chronicled the debacle on a public blog, which features comments from a number of its members regarding a precipitous decline in morale.

“I don’t have words to express the breach of trust I — and I’m sure other members — feel right now,” wrote one veteran TU reporter on the guild’s blog. “One of the bitterest aspects of this is the apparent lack of interest in either appreciating or considering any of the Guild’s good-faith efforts to contribute to a solution. That is: help save our newspaper without destroying its quality entirely.”

And it shows, too. The quality of the paper’s regionally renowned Web site has also diminished over the last few months, although it’s unclear whether this is attributable to the change in publisher or the union negotiations or both.

True, this is a tough time for the news industry and one that’s only bound to get tougher in this economy. Unions must exhibit flexibility during this storm, or face a grizzly demise amid its bluster. But what Hearst is doing to the guild –and the Times Union by extension –is placing in jeopardy basic rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Perhaps “Mr. Publisher” should think about this when he returns to the negotiating table this morning. The fate of the region’s news lies in the balance.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

iSaratoga to Dalai Lama: Live in the now

Note to the Dalai Lama: Learn how to Google. We’re in the 21st century now, and it really looks like the monolithic Internet search engine is here to stay, so why not learn how to use it?

Surely, his holiness has encountered the World Wide Web. Perhaps he simply doesn’t understand the subtle nuisances of this nearly ubiquitous site. Well, iSaratoga has decided to offer his fickleness a chance at learning this technology before he inadvertently makes another serious publicity gaff.

First, let’s start with the basics. To log onto the search engine, simply typing “google” at the top of your browser. Modern ingenuity will lead you to the home page. Next, think up something you’d like to learn a bit more about –say for instance the term “World Ethical Foundations Consortium.” Type these words out and put them in quotation marks in the box located next to the multi-colored word “Google.”

Here’s the hard part. Take your cursor and place it over the word “search.” Click your mouse button once, or even just nail the return key. Suddenly, you’ll be whisked away to a new, more verbose page that should include a variety of headings that include links to World Ethical Foundations Consortium and other bizarre areas of cyberspace.

While scrolling down –and this is assuming you know how to ‘scroll down’ –you may come across another term that seems dissimilar to the aforementioned consortium, namely a link titled “NXIVM Ethics in the Executive workplace, executive and business…”

Now behold the power of Google. You can take this new foreign term, NXIVM, and enter it into the same little box you used before to learn more about this term that may or may not seem foreign to you. Let’s try it, shall we?

There should be a fresh group of headings for you to scroll through. Now a bit of a warning: Some of these headings could be a bit alarming. For instance, it can be a bit off-putting to see one of the top search results comes back from; or that this entity that is somehow linked to this so-called ethical foundations consortium is also into filing multi-million dollar lawsuits aimed at stifling free speech.

True, just about all of the information contained on the Internet must be taken with a grain of salt. There are simply too many kooks and wingnuts out there to believe them all. But it’s hard to deny the indelible online link between these two organizations and the fact that both seem to generate a third term to be searched in Google: Keith Raniere.

Had his holiness taken this short dabble into Google’s functions, perhaps he would have saved himself a fair amount of chagrin he’s now experiencing for canceling his appearance in Albany three weeks before it was scheduled to occur. After all, it’s hard to convince people of your good-natured plight to free Tibet when you’re giving international speeches sponsored by a shadowy organization that has used lawsuits and intimidation in a not-so-furtive attempt at white-washing its image.

Many throughout the blogosphere weren’t even sure if the announcement of Dalai Lama’s visit wasn’t some cruel April Fool’s Day joke perpetrated by some sadistic Internet troll five months too early. The sum total of the exiled Buddhist leader, Raniere, and the Times Union Center seemed almost too good to be true. In fact, many were saying to themselves ‘doesn’t this guy use Google?’ when the announcement was first made.

But clearly as the date of his appearance approached, the Dalai Lama realized his reputation would be tarnished by accepting an invitation from a group that has curried favor among the extremely powerful elite and hasn’t exactly used it to spread mirth throughout the region. Some say NXIVM threw around its influence with the Albany Times Union so the paper would avoid linking the blisteringly evident dots between the organization and something called the “Ethical Humanitarian Foundation,” which was sponsoring the event.

Metroland Editor and longtime writer Chet Hardin made this point in early March, just a few days before NXIVM slapped his publication with a $65 million lawsuit. Metroland Publisher Stephen Leon says the paper hasn’t been served, and NXIVM representatives claim the filing was made simply to prevent the statute of limitations from expiring. However, there seems to be a definitive link between these two seemingly disconnected events.

And then there is the curious case of the Tech Valley Times. Editor Robert Millis made light of the Dalai Lama’s appearance on his blog, Nanoburgh. He went on to wonder why none of the mainstream media outlets made mention of the sponsoring organization’s somewhat dubious links. In particular, he singled out the Times Union, which basically wrote a puff-piece all but ignoring the blatant connection between NXIVM and the other ‘foundations’ associated with the event.

“Neither the original story nor any follow-ups include any mention of NXIVM, Executive Success Programs, the cult comparisons, the past and present legal woes, the harassing dirty tricks allegations or any other aspect of the messy history involved with individuals and companies affiliated with the Conceptual Founder of the organization presenting this event,” Millis wrote in his early February post. “Do we just chalk this up to lazy journalism or to something more sinister, such as the fact that the newspaper’s name is on the very building in which the event is taking place?”

One week later, the post disappeared. Contacted via e-mail, Millis said he’s received a number of correspondences about the post and he’s telling everyone the same thing.

“No comment –for the time being,” he wrote.

All of this seems a bit far out. But it certainly seems like there’s an organization that is trying to launder its image via threats and other forms of coercion. And in the end, this sort of thing doesn’t exactly fit in character with the prototypical image most people imagine when they think of Buddhism or the Dalai Lama. So in the future, perhaps his holiness can do a little research online before he unwittingly walks into a scheme to launder the reputation of a very dubious organization that is more or less the antithesis of the peace he tries to promote.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Post Script

It’s hard to get a grasp on how remarkably out-of-touch the nationally syndicated AM talk shows are until they suddenly decide to cast their shouting opinion onto local politics. Such was the case Wednesday, when mental midget Sean Hannity decided to weigh in on the campaign for the 20th Congressional District.

Despite being unable to find the 20th or any of its constituent communities on a map, Hannity figured himself to be the perfect pundit to weigh in on the too-close-to-call race during his afternoon yawn on the radio. Naturally, the GOP cheerleader tossed his pom-poms in the air for the failed campaign of state Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco, who inexplicably blew a more than 12-point lead in the polls over the course of six short weeks.

To nearly anyone with a brain, Tedisco’s fall from the top was nothing short of epic. While his party wasn’t exactly phrasing their candidate’s campaign this way, they certainly weren’t celebrating like he had won on Tuesday. Even if Tedisco does emerge victorious, his failure to capitalize on his name recognition and public service will certainly make party leaders think twice about his name in the hat for any other political office.

Yet for a blathering dunce like Hannity, Tuesday’s election was all about the Republicans emerging victorious. In his opinion, Tedisco warded off a peppering attack by the Obama-led Democrats. He portrayed Tedisco as an underdog, stalwart in the face of a wealthy financier who threw buckets of gold into the free-for-all for the seat.

Hannity’s best logic came when he boldly proclaimed Tedisco had eclipsed the numbers the Democrats generated in the district during the presidential campaign. He suggested Tedisco garnering 50 percent of the vote showed the Democrats losing ground in the district. After all, he posited, Barack Obama nailed 68 percent of the vote just five months earlier.

“And this was a guy who was down four points in the polls the week before,” Hannity mused.

Simply put, this logic is laughable even from a Republican standpoint. And it shows just how fallacious these talk show hosts can be in their message to an oft-unsuspecting public. Remarkably, they tune in everyday to listen to a flatulent jackass like Hannity, who is nothing more than two-bit college drop-out.

Of course, Hannity isn’t the only national radio host to intersect with Camp Tedisco. The candidate inexplicably made national headlines when he uttered the words “Rush Limbaugh is meaningless to me,” during an editorial board meeting with the Oneonta Daily Star. The quote was featured prominently in the article, promptly republished by the liberal-bent Huffington Post and then blown onto Murphy mailers that were disseminated throughout the district.

True, most district residents would agree with Tedisco. There’s nothing more meaningless than an oxycotin-laced fat-headed pork-chop like Limbaugh prattling on about his own accolades in between diatribes about ‘the libs.’ But the quote, which Tedisco claimed was taken out of context, prompted him to issue a hasty apology. Certainly, Michael Steele knows how he feels.

Amazingly, guys like Hannity and Limbaugh, who once carped from the sidelines, are now supposedly the ones blindly leading the Republicans forward. They gained an immense amount of political power during the eight years of the Bush Administration and don’t seem too eager to give any of it up. All this is good news for their detractors on the left, seeing as though they seem to be blindly leading their followers off a cliff.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Dog and pony show

Jasper Nolan looked like an aged cousin of Quasimodo as he skulked around the periphery of a packed crowd of Republicans. The scowl on his face was too tight to allow in the free-flow of booze, which was preventing the rest of the crowd gathered at the Holiday Inn from grasping the stinging reality of what was happening; the feeling of looking up to see a metric ton of elephant dung mysteriously whistling down overhead. The tired look in his eyes said it all: The party’s over.

Nolan eventually crossed into the confluence of bright lights and video feeds to join an equally tired-looking Jim Tedisco, who soberly emerged from seclusion shortly after 10 p.m. He also looked exhausted after a solid 45 days of political buggering. He tried to stay on point and upbeat. He tried to bring the ‘Disco Jim’ charm that kept his re-election bids in the Assembly rolling in remarkable succession. But there was no denying the fact he lost the race for the 20th district; or if he won, that it wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway.

Just a few miles down Route 9, Scott Murphy and his supporters regaled at the Gideon Putnam. His upright posture and his beaming smile –everything about him –seemed to suggest victory. Even with more than 10,000 absentee ballots outstanding, the Democrats were clearly placing a bold checkmark by Murphy’s name in the win column. Flanked by Gov. David Paterson and freshman Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Murphy seemed to exude confidence as he boldly proclaimed the race had swung in his favor.

And it has. Anything less than a resounding defeat is a victory for Murphy and the Democrats, considering the remarkably Republican district was hand-picked by former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. Tedisco, who was more or less Bruno’s understudy in the state Legislature, had behind him the once omnipotent GOP machines of Rensselaer and Saratoga counties. Those areas delivered heavily for Tedisco, who was previously viewed as the great white hope of the party in the Capital Region and perhaps the state.

But now Tedisco is the guy who blew a race that no clear-minded pundit ever thought he could lose. Just two months ago, most political junkies didn’t even think Murphy would be able to give the Assembly minority leader a run for his money. Murphy was viewed as a candidate picked by his party because of his money and ability to self-finance a race in which the Democrats were serious underdogs. Yet with each passing week, he seemed to gain ground on the back-peddling Tedisco campaign, which failed to grasp the evolving political demographic in New York.

Tedisco’s desperation became blisteringly apparent two weeks ago, when his campaign henchmen decided to blast Eric Sundwall off the ticket, a miscalculated move that will forever haunt him if Murphy ultimately wins. Sundwall naturally turned around and endorsed Murphy after being royally screwed out of his democratic right to run for office by a Republican stacked Supreme Court in Duchess County.

That’s right. All three justices on the bench in Duchess are card-carrying Republicans of the Pataki genre. And they’ve all made a practice of ensuring their fellow party members are victorious in close elections. Combined with state Republican Committee chairman Joseph Mondello and former state Board of Elections Counsel John Ciampoli, they are among the dying vestiges of the Pataki-Bruno era.

And they’re the last hope Tedisco has for victory, albeit a Pyrrhic one. Justice James Brand –the same judge that ruled against Sundwall two weeks ago –will oversee a hand recount of all 10,055 paper ballots issued in the race. In his county, Brand is known as being sympathetic to the Republican cause, which is precisely why Ciampoli has relied on him throughout the race.

The recount process will undoubtedly take months, leaving the 20th district empty and primed for redistricting in 2010. It also means Tedisco can save some face from the Sundwall error, which clearly worked in favor of Murphy’s campaign. Keep in mind Sundwall’s name is on the absentee and military ballots and any votes in his favor will be disqualified. Under the theory Sundwall’s handful of supporters went to Murphy, Tedisco may be able to chisel himself into the lead.

Either way the election swings, the key now is the Democrats’ ability to maintain a majority in the state Senate. Provided they do, they’ll probably gerrymander the powerful Albany machine into a new composite district that will easily be won by any candidate they choose.

So what does this all mean? First of all, Tedisco’s career in politics has taken an abrupt turn for the worse. His run for congress could have certainly been viewed as a litmus test for higher aspirations, such as governor or maybe even Gillibrand’s senate seat. But given the closeness of the race, the party will think twice about placing him on the ballot for anything other than his assembly seat even if he squeaks out a victory.

More importantly, Tuesday’s election is yet another benchmark signifying the end of the stalwart party Alfonse D’Amato built and Bruno kept in power for nearly two decades. On the other side of the isle, the Democrats are riding a golden-crested wave churned from the depths of the Republican’s abject political failure.

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