Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Plastic art

Get your arts brochures and cameras ready, because a “whimsical and unique outdoor sculpture exhibit” will again grace the streets of the Spa City next summer, according to the Saratoga County Arts Council. Or for those who happen to live in the city proper, the tacky painted fiberglass horses are making another appearance on Broadway so that gawking tourists can tie up sidewalk traffic.

The council is again soliciting prospective artists to decorate about two dozen of these life-sized horses, which are expected to adorn the streets of Saratoga in time for racing season next year. Apparently, the first exhibit in 2002 was “so amazing” that all the camera-toting tourists made Broadway seem like a “giant scavenger hunt,” the council states on its artist application.

Like before, the horses will be cut from the same mold and look homogenous, with exception to the artist renderings gussying them up. Artists are vying for a $1,000 cash prize for their work, which will be on display from May through October.

And during that time, the council is banking on the city police to keep a good eye on these gigantic vandalism magnets, which also drew a fair number of ambitious drunks who did their best to undermine, remove or otherwise damage these kitschy monstrosities. In fact, it seems almost wrong to prosecute such vandals given the history –both recent and past –that such displays have experienced.

As some might recall, 22-year-old Pat Hutchins managed to get the horse dubbed “Spirit” free from a Broadway storefront. The former Skidmore hockey player was allegedly found by police after they tracked drag marks back to his downtown apartment; he was later sentenced with probation and ordered by a city judge to write a letter of apology.

Around the same time, 20-year-old Eric Ross and 18-year-old Christopher D. Villanova, both of Amsterdam, along with a 15-year old girl who went unnamed by city police, were busted for grabbing the colt ''My Petite Fleur'' and then dumping the sculpture in the Schoharie Creek where it was later found by kayakers. The theft sparked a wave of denunciations from area business owners and local state legislators, who actually levied a reward for information that eclipsed the grand prize offered by the arts council for winning the competition.

More recently, the town of Guilderland in neighboring Albany County has experienced its own troubles after dabbling in this plastic pedigree of sculpture this summer, only with pigs instead horses. As the media reveled in telling and retelling, both the tawdry sculptures of “Bruce Pigsteen” and “Liberty” were pilfered by vandals within a 10-day period over the summer.

Unfortunately, the arts council hasn’t learned the moral of this story: if you place ridiculously tacky sculptures everywhere, they're bound to be vandalized. True, anything located on a main pedestrian bi-way leading to the liquoring joints is bound to fall prey to drunks. But these sculptures seem particularly inviting, seeing as though they look more like a hackneyed way to pull in a few extra tourist dollars rather than representations of a vibrant arts community.

Here’s a novel idea, rather than supply these oversized cookie-cutter Breyer horses, perhaps the arts council could allow the artists to create their own sculptures. Maybe this would at least weed out the more sober of the prospective vandals who simply have a vendetta against plastic chamber of commerce advertisements masquerading as artwork.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Rumor mill

For small-time journalism, finding good, reliable source for stories can sometimes be a bit tricky. There’s always a chance that the yokel spewing vitriol at the Town Board meeting just forgot to take his or her meds that evening and is amid the throws of serious bout of psychosis. This is why it’s always good idea to have an elected official chime in and give some credence to whatever the public might be espousing.

But when a reporter’s two sources happen to be under the legal age to buy cigarettes and the third is from off-comments posted on myspace.com, there isn’t much sense in writing a full-blown story. That is unless you happen to be writing for The Saratogian.

Straight from the locker-side gossip to your front doorstep Friday was an article about a rumor circulating through Saratoga Springs High School that students are barred from wearing Carhartt jackets. What’s more phenomenal than the fact that this article made it to print is that students actually want to wear these over-sized heavy-duty jackets, which are most commonly associated with NASCAR-watching, Bud-swilling rednecks.

Still, there’s the head-scratching truth that the genius editors over on Lake Avenue decided to print what amounts to rumor generated through a popular Web page service and perpetuated by post-pubescent teenagers spreading gossip like they’re sometimes prone to do.

Principal Frank Crowley insists there’s not factuality to the Carhartt ban, which is a bit unfortunate, as these jackets are not exactly making a positive fashion statement for the district. Fashion sense aside, though, it’s remarkable the Saratogian eds feel it’s reasonable to print the testaments of two young girls, who claim their friends –mind you not themselves –got detention for wearing the jackets also worn by a gang of teenage thugs calling themselves “The Carhartts.”

Right. Moving onto the next topic fit for print, who's been banging the prom queen and what’s really in the cafeteria’s hamburgers.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stirring the pot

Were the writers at the Saratogian capenters, they'd be better at smashing their own fingers with the hammer than ever hitting the nail on the head. And proverbially speaking, there’s no better way for a reporter to bash the living hell out of the aforementioned digit than to start stirring the pot of Saratoga’s twisted genre of partisan politics.

Such was the case in Tuesday’s article about the city firefighters’ faux pas last month, when they hosted a John Sweeney campaign pow-wow featuring Republican heavy-hitter Rudy Giuliani and a veritable laundry list of other party heads. As Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim rightly pointed out, the fire house is a public building and should therefore be free of partisan politics, or at least when there’s a media circus in tow.

Having a partisan rally at the station seems about as right as if the city Dems were to throw a beer-bash pig roast at the Public Works garage for Hilary Clinton's re-election campaign. While it’s no mystery the firefighters' ranks are dominated by republicans, there’s no need to use the department itself, a public entity, as a campaign battle ground. But this is a simple point of semantics and not necessarily worthy of much more than a staunch verbal reprimand, followed by assurances that such an event won’t happen in the future.

With all due respect to Kim, a self-professed political independent, he did follow the proper avenue in consulting the ethics board for their determination on the matter, although he more than likely could have handled everything himself. This allowed County Republican Chairman Jasper Nolan to politicize this mole hill into a mountain by laughably characterizing it as a Gillibrand-camp conspiracy to intimidate working class firefighters. Simply hilarious.

There is, however, an element of politics that could be noted in the whole sordid affair, even though it’s hardly worth more than a brief on the inside page of the Spa City’s daily disappointment.

See, there appears to be some hard feelings Kim has harbored toward some city Republicans following the 1999 election, which saw the first democrat majority in nearly two decades swept into office. Back then, he was an active member of the GOP in the city’s fourth district, who argued that the city Repubs should choose their leader through ballot vote, rather than by caucus.

Then, five years later, Kim’s seat on the Zoning Board of Appeals, a position he held since being appointed by former Republican Mayor Michael O’Connell, was unceremoniously stripped from him by another former GOP mayor, Michael Lenz. And who was picked to replace Kim? None other than Fred Whipple, a long time GOP loyalist, lieutenant with the city fire department and president of the firefighter’s union, which brought Sweeney to the fire house in the first place.

The Saratogian chose instead to ignore all this history. In a single-source article that couldn’t be more off the mark, it was Kim, a Democrat, waging a battle of partisan politics against the Republicans as a whole. And from simple observation, this is far from the case, seeing as though Kim is not and has never been affiliated with the city Democrats, other than riding their endorsement into office last year.

All this can be a valuable lesson to outsiders: at the depth where city politics rest, the waters are mighty murky. Party loyalty isn’t as mandatory as it is at the upper echelons of politics. Rather, local politics has a bit more to do with longstanding grudges harbored by one city politician against another; republican and democrat loyalty are merely vesicles for these grudges to be exacted. Just ask Mayor Keehn and the brothers’ McTygue.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dish dogs

Editor's note: this story is taken directly from observations and information provided by workers at several different restaurants downtown. Initially, proper names were included in this text. However, when it became clear that generally all of Saratoga's eateries boast similar if not identical stories –and in some cases involving the same workers cited below –the decision was made to allow the reader to fill in the blanks with their favorite chefs and dining spots. Think of it as an adlib and have fun.

When the chef of (insert restaurant name here) happened to glance at a photocopy of Emilio’s identification, his head began to nod slowly back and forth. Aside from the picture of his Washington state driver’s license not matching, there was a bold “F” printed on the card in the area listing his gender.

The anarchy of race season had just begun, when the short Mexican sauntered into (insert restaurant name here) with his buddy and offered to lend a hand in the dish pit. Much needed help too, with the revolving door of bodies that shifted in and out of the sweltering sty, where the essence of rotting half-eaten meals melds with the fetid smell of dirty linens.

Dishwashing is perhaps the most thankless of jobs in the service industry; one where workers are subject to all the rigors everyone else faces in the restaurant, pulse-pumping stress, third-degree burns, and the cool sting of landing ass first-after slipping on the water slick floor of the dish area. But unlike most of the other spots in the business, dishwashers’ pay is bad, their hours are worse and the only consolation most of the time is a few free beers at the bar after work.

So it’s no mystery that anyone with a pulse who can rack up a load of dishes is worth their weight in gold to those working in the bustling bistros along Broadway over the summer months. Nearly a decade ago, these people were often the degenerates of the city; the crack addicts, the booze hounds, the crazies.

But increasingly, these jobs are being filled by Latin Americans, who have waged somewhat of an exodus to the Spa City over the past five years. Chefs often hire them on the spot, needing to fill a recently vacated position or face doing dishes themselves. Then, after several days of work when the dishwasher needs to produce identification, the ruse is up and they walk away with some cash for their work, at least if the chef has conscience. Otherwise, they're walking away with nothing.

For a worker like Emilio, it’s off to the next restaurant in the row; he’ll walk in, pretend not to speak English and have a job within minutes. And if that restaurant is less discriminating –or in a more precarious position with staffing –there’s a good chance he’ll have an off-the-books gig for the rest of the season; if he doesn’t, he’ll simply walk to one of the other 70-something restaurants within the city limits.

His replacement, a young-looking Mexican teen calling himself Severiano kept the job for almost two weeks before it became blisteringly apparent that he wasn’t who he said he was. He wandered through the door after losing a full-time job washing dishes at (insert restaurant name here) a block away; they learned the dishwasher who was regularly swigging healthily spiced vodka and tonics after his shift was really 16 years old, about eight years younger than what was printed on his green card.

Regardless of how anyone falls on the immigration issue, there’s a certain air of disconsolation that is evident, as a burgeoning population of people walk the streets wraith-like and without any trace of whom they truly are. This is especially the case when anyone of these workers could either perpetrate or become the victim of a heinous crime that would ultimately go unpunished. After all, it is difficult to arrest someone for harming another who technically doesn’t exist, according to the government.

The good news is the white-milk population of the city might start to get a bit of color with massive influx of Latinos. Listed by the 2000 Census as being nearly 95 percent Caucasian, the city’s populace might start to look a bit more cappuccino by the start of the next decade.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Cove Whitney Memorial Deathway

As the corpses continue to mount this year along the heavily traveled section of Route 50 running between downtown Saratoga Springs and the shopping sprawl of Wilton, city leaders are left scratching their heads for ideas as to make the stretch of road a bit safer.

Well here’s a hint: how about building a goddamn sidewalk?

Putting in sidewalks would have been a logical deduction after 21-year-old Skidmore student Phillip Ecklstein was picked off and killed on the Cove Whitney Memorial Highway near Gick Road by a patrolling Saratoga County Sheriff’s deputy –who we all know wasn’t speeding. If not then, perhaps after 28-year-old Melvin Jones was nailed four months later, again on Route 50 about a half-mile closer to town near East Avenue.

The knee-jerk response of city officials was to blame the streetlights lining the highway for being in a quasi-operational state. After a brief witch-hunt, state and city lawmakers agreed to replace the bulbs at a cost of $65,000 in order to stead the tide of death barreling down the ill-fated road.

On a side note, $65,000 of state taxpayer dollars for lightbulbs? Those must be some pretty sweet light bulbs.

But with Route 50 lit up like a Roman candle Thursday night, another pedestrian was struck and killed, this time directly in between where Jones and Ecklstein were hit. Again, investigators cited lights that “go on and off intermittently” as one of the causes of the accident.

The truth is that no amount of light along the road at night will prevent these accidents. As any experienced driver would attest, street lights will only help illuminate what your vehicle is about to plow through when traveling at speeds in excess of 60 mph as most traffic does along the highway.

To solve the problem, state Transportation officials point to 2010, when a thorough reconstruction of the road is slated and proper safety measures can be instituted. However, given the recent spate of accidents –all which are quite clearly related –perhaps this time table should be moved up for the safety of the public.

While there’s legally no pedestrian traffic allowed along Route 50, people are increasingly using it as a foot path between the affordable neighborhoods on northern fringe of the city and downtown businesses. And with the continued expansion of downtown proper along Excelsior Avenue –the road running directly parallel to Route 50 –don’t look for the pedestrian traffic to abate anytime soon.

So there are two options on the table for lawmakers and transportation officials to consider. First, bitch about the lights, replace some bulbs and wait for the next poor bastard to get drilled by a hurtling vehicle. Or second, light a fire under the asses of the state transportation department in order to speed up their normal glacial pace of doing business.

After all, two dead bodies and an invalid generated from the same stretch of road is a fairly compelling reason to bring in road crews to start addressing the problem. Or they can wait another four years, which, at the present rate of carnage, will create an additional eight pedestrian deaths and four serious injuries. Then maybe they could bust out skull and cross bones signs and rename the road the Cove Whitney Memorial Deathway.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

At last

Cue the Ella Fitzgerald, ‘cause the state Department of Transportation and Saratoga County have finally figured out who owns the sagging Batchellerville Bridge, bringing to an end a saga of abhorrent bureaucratic wrangling that has spanned nearly two decades.

And with the tough part behind them, these bureaucrats are going to power forward with the project to replace 76-year-old structure at a pace that any governmental agency could respect—they anticipate starting construction in three years.

Meanwhile, the more-than-3,000-foot long bridge –the only passage across the Great Sacandaga Lake –has required an increasing infusion of funding to keep it from falling into the flood-controlled reservoir. Most recently, the state pumped $125,000 worth of repairs into the bridge in 2003 as a stop gap measure; at the time, state transportation officials had downgraded the bridge, meaning that only one direction of traffic could cross it at a time, a situation that stymied traffic all around the lake during the summer tourism season.

Why? Because none of the lawmakers involved could figure out who owned the bridge. Saratoga County said it was the state’s, the state said a county road crossed the bridge, so therefore it belonged to the county and the local municipalities on either side said it didn’t really matter because they were too poor to foot the $36 million cost of replacement.

For the future, here’s a simple test to determine ownership of any given bridge: first, who built the bridge and second, whose land does it rest on? Answer these questions and you’ve got your bridge owner, which in this case, would be the state. New York created the reservoir, New York built the bridge, New York owns both the land beneath the bridge and the banks on either side of it, so hence, New York is the rightful proprietor of the bridge, regardless of what road crosses over it.

One would think someone at the state level would have the competency to make these simple assumptions, but no. Instead, these morons protracted the issue and allowed the cost of building a bridge to skyrocket through the roof.

Mind you, the local press is reporting the price tag on the bridge replacement from 2001. As anyone who knows the cost of steel, concrete and asphalt will tell you, that cost ain’t going to be the same as it was five years ago.

So who takes it in the end? The tax payers, who will only see a little blip of the bridge cost in the gargantuan state and federal transportation budgets. But add these blips up over time and you get the reason why these budgets seem to soar every year.

And to think, all of this could have been avoided years ago, were it not for a pack of recalcitrant legislators more interested in arguing than getting things done.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Betting the favorite

At the close of the year, Governor Protractor’s dozen years in office will undoubtedly go down as the administration known for its cronyism and being ridden with more unbridled political patronage than any in the written history of the Empire State. There is a chance that some of the traders from the Dutch West India Company were a bit more corrupt, but then again, the lens of political clarity is often fogged by the passing of four centuries.

With only a scant few months remaining in the governor’s office, the Pataki Administration is now doing it’s best to live up to its legacy. As the moving vans idle in Albany, the governor’s cronies are filling up as many gunnysacks as they can with loot grabbed from the capital. And perhaps the crown jewel of this plunder is the contract to run the state’s three race tracks and lucrative video lottery terminal contracts.

Simply put, the decision the state Legislature must make is between running a not-for-profit venture, as has been the case with the oft-sullied New York Racing Association, and making the whole shebang a for-profit agency, as would be the case if the contract is given to the megalithic Empire Racing Association.

True, NYRA hasn’t done the best job at running the tracks; over the years, they’ve accrued a fairly substantial debt and a reputation for pocketing a few dollars from the take, according to an audit by the state Comptroller’s Office. And now in the last year of its contract, NYRA desperately needs a state-promised $19 million bailout to avoid a nasty bankruptcy proceeding.

Enter Governor Protractor.

Throwing his weight around behind the scenes like an oversized gorilla, Pataki is doing the best he can to ensure the flailing organization doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of presiding over the state’s tracks by the end of 2007. First, he helped to gum up plans to put video lottery terminals down at Aqueduct, even though the Saratoga Gamming and Raceway got their share of the machines two years ago. Who holds the contract to install the machines? MGM, which is also known as one of the many companies that are interested in having a piece of the pie if NYRA is banished.

And now, Pataki’s leaning on his appointee-laced Racing Association Oversight Board to stall the release of bailout funds until NYRA chokes on debt. Were NYRA to go belly-up into chapter 11 proceedings, they would still finish out their contract with the state. But such a public relations nightmare would likely sway any legislative opinion against renewing a contract with the flailing organization.

Odd as it may sound, Pataki is working to choke the love child bore from his own administration; with nearly a third of NYRA’s 28-member board of trustees being appointed by the governor, there’s no doubt Pataki has more than a commanding stake in NYRA, which is exactly why he wants it trashed.

Once a new administration is installed next year, which is most likely to be that of democrat Eliot Spitzer, Pataki’s stake in racing will rapidly ebb. But with the state’s tracks privatized, there’s a chance he can still dip his greasy paws into the honey pot of thoroughbred racing. Time will only tell why he’s betting on Empire Racing as his favorite.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Burrying the dead

Joseph Longobardo was laid to rest Monday at the Saratoga National Cemetery, and boy did the media eat it up. Most outlets had at least two reporters covering the memorial services, with some assigning as many as three to the story. Given the outpouring of mourners, there's little doubt that the young man was well liked by both his family and his peers.

There comes a point, however, where the story about the mourning of a family and a brotherhood becomes redundant and perhaps even burdensome on those trying to grieve in quiet solitude. And this was apparently the case even before the funeral, according to an article appearing last week in the New York Times, which reported the trooper's family had asked his Middle Grove neighbors not talk to the media for privacy's sake.

Still, a pen-wielding camera-toting gaggle of press folk descended upon the funeral services with an almost unequaled determination to outdo one another's heart-string tugging, flag-waving, men-in-uniform hugging stories. In the end, they all sounded homogeneous and said essentially the same thing: Trooper Longobardo was a dedicated cop who will be missed dearly by his fellow troopers; his funeral was attended by police from around the country.

The Saratogian took no less than three reporters and 1,600 words to make this point, along with a hackneyed allusion to 9-11 that was injected into a lead about jet contrails. Then again, they were probably constrained by a limited budget, as the free-spending grieve-happy Times Union dedicated five reporters to pen five articles and more than 2,400 words about the solemn event.

There's the broadcast news stations, all of which covered both days of the trooper's wake at Saratoga High, then devoted exclusives to the funeral Monday. Capital News 9 has promised a “Funeral Replay” on TW3 to air Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Talk about overkill.

True, it's a nice gesture to pay respects to someone who dedicated their lives and ultimately died to served the public. But in the end, there is no amount of words or coverage that will bring Longobardo back and there's a time to let the dead rest.

There also comes a point when some of these news agencies should consider how cumbersome it must be for a grieving family to wake up every morning and see pictures of their deceased kin plastered all over the place.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering the good times

Memory can be a tricky thing for drunks, the mentally challenged and Alzheimer’s patients. But for the rest of the U.S. citizenry –and especially those from Manhattan –remembering the day when two planes slammed into the World Trade Center is pretty darn easy.

In fact, there are very few people out there who don’t remember with explicit detail where they were on that fateful morning when the first plane struck; catching a bagel at the corner coffee shop, driving to work, playing a few holes of golf with friends, or in the case of Schenectady native Michael Canty, sitting in the Cantor Fitzgerald office on the 92nd floor of Tower One, unaware that a jet liner was on it’s way to end his life.

No, it’s fair assumption that the Canty family will, as some jingoistic bumper stickers boast, “never forget” the tragedy that occurred five years ago. And how could they with the wall-to-wall media coverage on every channel and in every newspaper around the nation?

Some didn’t even bother waiting for the anniversary to start “remembering” 9-11. The Times Union launched its exclusive coverage a day early, that is excluding the lead-in articles they wrote all week. On the local networks, News 10 and News 13 both launched their “don’t forget to remember” coverage on Sunday, along with Governor Protractor and President Bush, who both took a moment by the reflecting pool at Ground Zero to anticipate their remembrance; the list of copycat media outlets and hackneyed politicians goes on at infinitum.

Then there was the contribution of Hollywood, which has the ghastly honor of making bank on this horrible day. First, there was Flight 93, a bogus this-is-what-we-think-happened motion picture to rewrite with cinematic glory the doomed flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. Following that, there wa Nick Cage’s World Trade Center, and now, ABC’s speculative television series, The Path to 9-11. All for-profit ventures looking to make a buck off the death of thousands.

What these media sources fail to understand is that remembering is not reliving. Yes, any dolt who’s lived in the U.S. since the day the skies stood still could tell you, the country has changed dramatically; while this is indeed, blisteringly obvious, it is not anything new. Actually, it's a news story that is about five years old now and precisely why the nation must move on now.

Take the Canty family for instance. As aforementioned, they’ll never forget their son or the tragedy that took his life. What they decline to do publicly, however, is to relive the gut-wrenching pain they were stung with after his death. Instead, they focus on the happy times they had with their son by throwing a gigantic barbeque and invite all of his friends to gather for a moment of happiness in his name.

More importantly, the family builds on his memory each year by providing a deserving high school grad with a scholarship, so that he or she can be one step closer to being successful in life. So for every year of painful memories, the Canty family can find solace in bringing joy to at least one student, if not hundreds of others who cared for their son.

The media and government could learn a lot from this family. Still today, a gaping hole remains where the towers once stood; both the federal and state governments won’t go a week without harkening back to the fear and mayhem that percolated on that day. And the media moguls, they eat it up with a big fat spoon.

So here’s a tip for the 10-year anniversary, or even the “silver” anniversary. Instead of making September 11th a day of national misery, make it a day of national conciousness and pride; tutor a struggling student, conduct a selfless act of public service, gather with the extended family and at the end of the day, tip a glass in memory of the brilliant lives that were cut short; remember them fondly.

But rewinding the tape to watch the fireball smash through the side of a national symbol at infinitum is only a good practice to dwell on a misery. And misery is never a good emotion to build upon in this fear-ladened modern age.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bucky and Clyde

Amid the cheers and fanfare one would expect at a high school pep rally, state troopers plucked Bucky Phillips from a remote plot in Pennsylvania, taking into custody the fugitive who shot three cops and eluded their clutches for nearly a half-year. Phillips’ capture brings to a close the sad saga that took a turn for the worse in August, when he nailed two troopers from Saratoga County in a style reminiscent of the old Barrow Gang shootouts of the 1930s.

But even prior to the September shooting, Bucky had achieved near cult-hero status among the lower-income communities in Chataqua County, something that bedeviled investigators as they attempted to apprehend the elusive escaped inmate who had the distinction of busting out of the can with a can opener.

As his run continued unabated, Phillips became symbolic of the growing dislike and distrust of the law along a stretch of society largely devoid of hope. This is likely why he was greeted with such zeal during the early days of the hunt and how for so long he slipped through the noose the state police were trying to drape around his neck.

Immediately after the late-August shootings, the media picked up on Bucky fever, which was proliferating throughout truck stops and local diners as the days went by. Some menus offered the Buckey burger, while others sold t-shirts boasting catchy slogans. Over and over, the television news casters asked the question, why would anyone help this lawless man, much less cheer on his continued flight?

Because Phillips, in some misguided way, was a vesicle for a down-and-out corner of society to strike back at the establishment that either laid them off or repossessed the family property or exacted any number of bad scenarios that typically befall the lower and lower-middle class during troubled times.

For them, Bucky was a man made into a criminal by the establishment. And when the establishment tried to lock him away, he struck back with precision and ferocity. This isn’t to say that this is a new phenomenon, rather one that occurs whenever times get tight and the public perception of government swings to the negative.

Decades ago, there was another pair of fugitives that similarly befuddled authorities at every step, largely because they were so romanticized by the public. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were a notorious duo who blazed a path of death through the center of the U.S. during the depression era. Much like Phillips, they did so under the auspices of a public that was enthralled with their almost mythic exploits.

For Phillips, the one wrong move was shooting at the state troopers and killing one, which had the effect of polarizing his previously intrigued support base. Otherwise, he might still be on the lam. The Barrow Gang made a similar mistake toward the end of their run in 1934 with the killing of two Texas troopers. But they weren’t afforded the liberty of walking out with their hands up.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Airing dirty laundry

Those who spent the summer feeling like their voyeuristic thirsts for stories about a mother’s battles with dirty laundry were not satiated, fear not. Barbara Lombardo is back on the job.

Yes folks, it seems as though The Saratogian’s managing editor is penning her usual Saturday morning prattle on the paper’s life section again, after taking a prolonged and pronounced hiatus over the summer. And for those used to her column, she didn’t disappoint this weekend, providing readers with detailed accounts of the soiled cloths left strewn behind by her prodigious college-aged son, down to the last pair of boxers.

Laundry seems to be an integral part of the Chez Lombardo, as one could gather from her column. So far this year, it’s been a topic in three of her 27 rants this year. Although it should be noted that one of those times can be credited to her son, who made a brief column appearance in May.

Still, Lombardo is hovering around the 10 percent mark, when looking at the average column space she uses per year to carp about the kids and their slovenliness. It’s a pity this paid space couldn’t be used for better pursuits, such as chronicling a piece of life that’s somewhat interesting, rather than simply airing the fam’s dirty laundry.

Granted, the Life section of the newspaper is meant to portray a sense of the community’s verve. And it could be argued that there are plenty of working mothers in Saratoga that regularly pickup after their teenaged and young adult progeny. But it’s rather unlikely that any of them want to take a break from cleaning only to read a bland and colorless diatribe about someone else’s battles with the washing machine.

Of course, when the Lombardo pen gets fired up in other areas of the paper, there can sometimes be some laughable consequences. Take for instance a glowing editorial congratulating the now-infamous investigators who plucked John Karr from Thailand. She might want to pull that one off the Web site and stick to her adventures with Tide.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cooling down

Feel that cool breeze drifting through the screen. Clip off the fan, shut down the AC and take a listen, because its there, skulking its way through the Adirondack evergreens and down the valleys of the Hudson River. Autumn is upon us once again, even after all the reports last month that we’d likely meet a fiery demise amid the summers’ heat.

Racing came to an end this summer just minutes after favorite Bernardini charged over the finish line at the Travers stakes more than a week ago. The mass-exodus out of the city that followed on the dreary Sunday morning after was a testament for the business downtown would bear witness to through Labor Day.

For most honest people in the know, the meet wasn’t the same this year; there was an intangible element that seemed to be missing. And for businesses downtown, that element is sure to manifest once the snow starts flying.

Here’s the message no one want to here: business downtown was bad. How bad is anyone’s guess, but it was bad. There were considerably less people out at partying at night and chowing down at the droves of eateries that play such an integral roll of the city’s economy.

Sure, ask the three-card monte dealers of the New York Racing Association and they’ll tell you things went swell; average attendance was up slightly despite canceling a whole day of races in response to the heat wave of early August. They’ll also say the overall handle was up.

But the truth of the matter is that the loveable spinners were the ones that inflated this year’s attendance numbers, logging on average more than 40,000 revolutions of the main entrance turnstiles to fog up any definitive fan estimates. And the handles? They were up thanks to the simulcasts piping into OTBs around the region and the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway down the street.

Did someone say racino? Yes, there was one place in Saratoga that undoubtedly finished on the up-and-up. All season, the racino was the buzz word on the street amid the throngs of downstaters looking for some action. It’s not to say that these people didn’t go to see the flat track races, just that a good number of them decided to wheel over to the harness track for dinner and a quick hit off the video crack pipe.

Some businesses are less than candid about their losses, as the trademark Saratogian “business was awesome” article penned at the conclusion of every meet. But ask these owners to tell the scout’s honor truth and they’ll tell you the spending has gotten rather dismal downtown.

This is not to say that the outlook is all doom-and-gloom; what was a six-week only bonanza just over a decade ago has grown to incorporate the months of July and September. And business on a whole seems a bit more robust in the off-season, thanks to a steady procession of convention business.

However, the booming racino is more than likely to sound death knell for the business owner moving tentatively from month-to-month on lackluster receipt,, as higher rents, more taxes and a decrease in foot traffic has put an end to the free-for-all cash grab that once proliferated on Broadway.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Chillin' and Grillin'

If there was ever a prime example of a “celebrity” being a flatulent butthead, look no further than the Food Network’s Bobby Flay, who demonstrated Saturday how not to act once you’ve gone from the kitchen to prime-time television.

Flay pulled up to the racecourse in his oversized Dodge Ram with a camera crew in tow to challenge the chef-owner of Hattie’s Chicken Shack to a spontaneous fried poultry cook-off at the Saratoga Racecourse Friday. It was a sort of impromptu promotional venture for his new Food Network show, Throw Down with Bobby Flay.

In typical arrogant fashion, Flay hammered his mega-truck into an entrance of the track ordinarily off-limits to even foot-traffic, much less a vehicle the size of a Peterbuilt. Then, to top it off, he promptly blocked an ambulance in with his truck amid protests of the chagrinned EMTs and track workers.

But because he’s the almighty and powerful Bobby Flay, also know by his proper name, "total dick," everything was copasetic. Don’t worry about that heart attack setting in, because America’s celebrity chef will swing you a fried chicken leg.

And for those who don't think Flay is a talent-less hack who couldn't cook his way out of the corner McDonald's, he lost the lost the chicken fry-off.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Greasing palms

Allegations of John Sweeney being caught “red-handed” has Congressman Kickass hopping mad. Now, he’s on the horn with legal demagogue E. Stewart Jones –the attorney who beat the rap for Junior –and is threatening to sue any television station intrepid enough to air the moveon.org commercials alleging the incumbent 20th district representative is on the take of the defense contractors presently bilking Iraq.

For moveon.org, it’s a good smear campaign to wage against Sweeney after a Sienna poll found him to be nearly 19 points ahead of challenger Kirsten Gillibrand. And for Sweeney, publicly castigating –even threatening –a far-left organization like moveon.org is just the trick to mobilize the oft-brain dead Limbaughites who might not ordinarily vote during a non-presidential election.

So there’s a bit of strategy on either side, but there’s very little cogent information coming from anyone in the matter, including Team Sweeney, moveon.org and even Gillibrand herself, who laughably claims she hasn’t seen the ads.

So the question remains, who is greasing Big John’s palm? Let’s go to the video tape.

First of all, Sweeney must like shopping at the sprawling retail centers that have popped up across the Capital Region. Or at least the shopping centers must like him. The Albany-based Nigro Companies, a real estate developer specializing in establishing commercial shopping centers has given the Sweeney campaign a solid $15,250, making it his number-one register contributor.

Ever wonder who Sweeney’s wireless provider is? Well look no further than the company that has given him $12,100 this election cycle. Verizon Wireless logs in at number two on the list of the congressman’s fiscal supporters.

And if you’re wondering who the third leading contributor to the Sweeney Campaign was, look no further than the mirror. New York State gave Sweeney a cool $11,850. Of course the caveat is these organizations themselves didn’t donate, rather the money came from Political Action Committees, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families, if that makes any sense.

Further down the list at number five is one that bibulous Sweeney can well imbibe to his gullet; the National Beer Wholesalers Association is tied for the fifth spot among a laundry list of specialty and labor unions who gave $10,000 to Camp Kickass. Good times.

On an interesting side note, one PAC that gave a cool ten grand to the Sweeney was a 527 group called the Rely on Your Beliefs Fund, which has a familiar name attached to it. The organization’s founder is Jim Ellis, who was also the executive director of The Hammer’s PAC, Americans for a Republican Majority, and is one of the two political associates indicted with DeLay one year ago in a scheme to use corporate donations illegally to support candidates in state elections.

All in all, Sweeney’s logged himself more than $1.6 million worth of donations, and has spent about $1.1 million on getting himself re-elected. So far, he’s disclosed about 86 percent of his donors, leaving 13 percent –or roughly $216,000 –of his donations from undisclosed sources, meaning his campaign failed to identify the giver’s employer or occupation. That’s a bit off par from the average undisclosed contributions in congress, which was around 9 percent in 2000.

If there’s anything to be garnered from Camp Kickass, it’s that greasy pork-eating politicians spend big during election years; bigger than most Americans will spend in a lifetime. Granted, he’s probably no different than most of the politicians in Washington these days, but that’s still not a viable excuse for the poisoned money that has infected the bloodstream of good political discourse in this nation.

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