Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas wishes

The wassail is reaching a simmer and the city is festooned with cheer, which means there’s time for one last Christmas wish list ’fore jolly Saint Nick dashes across the stratosphere.

What would the holidays be without crayon-scrolled lists to the fat guy up north, who, for the last few centuries or so, has found it continually fashionable to wear a blaring red suit and laugh as though he’s dipped one goblet to many in the eggnog. Santa, if you’re listening, these are some of the folks who might have been a bit too modest to relay to you what they secretly hope to find beneath the tree during these Yule tidings.

Barbara Lombardo - A husband from this century. While the managing editor of the city’s most esteemed fish wrap hasn’t ever written a bad word about husband Joe, her most recent clap trap piece about nothing relays some astonishing revelations about her betrothed, who appears to be living somewhere in 1950s America. Apparently, Joe refuses to go food shopping for Casa Lombardo and hasn’t set foot in a supermarket in decades. And from Lombardo’s previous column exploitations of her family, the gist is that Joe is the quintessential provider of the home, while Babs is the chore-doing housewife. All in all, it’s a sad commentary when the Saratogian’s top executive doubles as a homemaker.

George Pataki - A clue. As King George and his corrupt reign in office dwindles to a close, it’s astonishing that he maintains aspirations for the White House. Aside from the fact that no self-respecting bible-belt conservative would ever pick a Yankee for the presidential ticket, Pataki would have a very difficult time wining the Republican nomination in his own state, much less New York itself if he did. While Governor Protractor’s tenure wasn’t all bad, his legacy is far from one that has propelled the presidential aspirations of his predecessors.

Sonny Bonacio - A sweet deal on the Broadway parking lot. So what the land hasn’t been appraised in decades. And so what a building of similar stature across the street and built in 2000 is now valued at more than $2.5 million. Cut Sonny a break. After all, he does need to bulldoze a whole parking lot that is ready to fall in on itself. Were the city to approve a sale of the lot for the reported $700,000, it would be a very Merry Christmas at the Bonacio compound.

Jack Kelley - A town that will buy 3 million gallons of water. When the city’s government was gutted in 2005, so was the county’s problematic plan to tap the PCB-laden Hudson. Now, Schenectady County is offering to supply AMD’s Luther Forest with a pipeline of water from their brimming aquifer. Kelley, the executive vice president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corp., maintains AMD is “married” to the plan to tap the Hudson. Sure they are, Jack. Married in a Britney Spears-Kevin Federline sort of way right?

Valerie Keehn - A new issue to throw herself behind and not under. After railroading through the referendum vote to change the city government, the Spa City’s mayor planted her flag firmly into some muddy ground. As it turns out, city residents weren’t necessarily ready to flip the switch on a new government. True, Keehn and the appointed Charter Review Commission did just about everything they could to get the word out, save for standing on top of City Hall with a bullhorn and announcing the damn changes. But drastic changes in government seldom happen overnight without a good amount of bloodshed. Keehn, in a recent letter published in Saratoga Today, offered a sort of apologia for her support of the changes, along with a laundry list of her other accomplishments during year one. Perhaps it’s because she’s just days away from an election year and her only solid issue just went up in smoke.

Erin Dreyer - A giant industrial-sized spotlight. After spending year in the headlines, the former deputy public safety commissioner was politely ushered to the door and given a firm kick in the ass through it. And as quickly as the Dreyer Affair touched down, it all but disappeared from the headlines. But apparently, Dreyer got a good taste of the limelight --even if it was for a sleazy sex scandal --and is doing her best to step back into it. Some how she feels “the truth” will come out if the city fights the harassment civil suit top-cop Ed Moore filed against her and former Public Safety Commissioner Tom Curley. Truth, yeah that’s the ticket. Truth is, it’s almost always cheaper to settle than to take a case to trial. In the case of Dreyer, there’s a stack of grand jury testimony that all-but states she aimed to harass Moore out of office so lover boy Dan Noeker could assume the chiefdom. So perhaps if Dreyer had a spotlight to place in her backyard to bask in occasionally, then maybe then she’d finally stop meddling in city affairs and let this ugly saga be put to rest.

Finally for the rest of us, a happy holiday with a good amount of wassail and a side of liberally spiced eggnog. Be safe, be merry and keep looking skyward for that obese bearded man whipping the tar out of those flying reindeer.

Well isn't that special

Six months after part of the so-called Lillian’s parking lot collapsed, the city council appears all but ready to sell it to heavy-hitting developer Sonny Bonacio. The price tag? A mere $700,000, which is just about $60,000 more than it was assessed at several years ago and probably less than the property is worth.

There are some that would say this cash is a hell of a lot for a crumbling parking structure that will need to be razed before anything can be built there. But the truth is, this parcel is about as valuable as they come given its central location in the downtown.

What is clear right now is that the council wants Bonacio to redevelop the lot, especially after seeing his work elsewhere and hearing his promises to help build yet another parking deck on Woodlawn Avenue. They get three-quarters of a million bucks and Bonacio gets the cornerstone of his empire. And they’re not the only ones chomping at the bit over this impending deal.

In a rare moment of solidarity, Bruce Levinsky has agreed with the city’s actions thus far, even offering his support for Bonacio’s plan. Why? Because Big Bruce gets his long-saught-after pedestrian connection between the building he owns on Putnam Street and Broadway. Also, the underground parking lot proposed by Bonacio will have its entrance directly next to Doc’s Restaurant, a location he leases to former Wheatfield’s owner Bobby Mitchell, who presently has very little parking to boast of his own.

So build the mix-use building, fill in the one gaping hole in Broadway’s otherwise pearly smile and make the taxpayers a nice little nest egg --perhaps to kick-start the Wiebel Avenue recreation center project or build more parking garages --to boot. Sounds like everyone makes out.

Everyone, that is, except the people who rely on that lot for nearby parking. And for Dale Easter’s Moriarity’s, which would officially lose it’s one source of parking to the deafening beat of progress in the city.

Of course, one can’t omit mention of the skate rats and street musicians when mentioning the losers in this deal. Once the upscale shops are installed at street level, chances are pretty good they’ll get the boot.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mail bag

All bloggers need a day to send back some responses to loyal readers who take the time to write in. Well, for i-Saratoga, that hackneyed day is today. Here's a few responses to some letters recieved this month.

From an anonymous reader:

“[The] blog is good but badly needs proofreading or at least spell check”

Many write with critical comments about typos and misspellings that slink into posts. This criticism is always accepted and well appreciated as a way to keep the writing clean here for more discriminating readers. I will, however, point out that this is a mobile production that is often produced under some harsh and unforgiving circumstances, ranging from brutal time constraints to brutal climate; there’s nothing like scanning for errors while the drifting lull of traffic ripping over a highway overpass purrs through your head.

As much as I’d like to claim the infallibility of some immortal being, alas I am but a mere mortal and one particularly prone to spelling errors, as my first grade teacher once took pride in pointing out with her red pen ink in letters that never seemed to involve the first three of the alphabet. I’m proud to report to Mrs. Gruber --if she is among my audience --that very little has changed since those days way back when.

From an another Anonymous reader:

“Horatio, you suck and never update your crappy blog. Cheers.”

Cheers to you!

Yes it’s true, i-Saratoga has fallen to the periphery in recent days, thanks to some personal responsibilities. Regrettably, producing daily posts I deem worthy of reading is a long process, which often consumes hours of my day. Not that I’m complaining about this, but sometimes those hours just aren’t there. Posts on this blog should get back to normal once that red-suited human chimney sweep makes his rounds and we can all sink into a glass of post-New Year scotch.

In summation, keep reading and keep commenting. Interaction is the soul of good socio-political discourse.

Tune in and tune out

Then only thing to trump District Attorney James Murphy’s shameless self-promotion is the shameless promotion he’s offered by The Saratogian for doing little else other than offering convicted kidnapper John Reagan a plea deal.

This time, it’s the paper’s first-year city editor touting the accolades of Murphy, who is slated to be featured on the nationally syndicated program Dateline NBC. The county’s top prosecutor took an opportunity to meander about the city with a camera crew discussing particulars of the case, which his involvement was limited to offering Reagan a relatively sweet deal.

After the filming, Murphy took a moment to boast of his accomplishments to City Editor Betsy DeMars, who then penned a once-source front-page article about his accolades in the case. The talk-tough Murphy told the paper Dateline’s Sara James “was impressed with the sophistication of the city’s law enforcement” and prosecutor’s office, which lead to Reagan’s conviction.

Mind you, Murphy was armed with very credible eye-witness accounts, a description from the victim herself, a confession from Reagan and pretty much everything needed for a conviction except eight-by-ten color glossy photos with diagrams and arrows detailing the crime. In short, he laid back and took a ride on the wave of media coverage for doing nothing but filing some paperwork.

Way to go, Jimmy. And it’s not even an election year.

Here’s to hoping the producers at Dateline sniff out this charlatan and give credit to the real heroes in the case, Lindsey Ferguson and the coaches who had the gumption to ward off and track Reagan down as he fled.

Two minutes for boarding

Granted, it’s just a headline and something that doesn’t need to be driven into the ground with much fervor. But did anyone contemplate exactly why the city’s Board of Education are required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to a private corporation, as stressed by this Saratogian article?

If members of the board are required to make a $265,000 payout to Quad/Graphics, then competition for seats isn’t likely to be steep during the next election cycle. There aren’t too many people who would willingly run for an unpaid position that entails financial liability for the district’s fiscal decisions.

While the prospect of linking personal finance to elected-position decision making is an interesting notion, it’s not likely to garner much community involvement in school district politics.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Keep it simple

John Egan hit the scene last winter with a smash. The man known for putting Albany International Airport on the map --even though many whom use the terminals would dispute the use of the word international --talked a tough game about reconstructing the state’s flailing rail system.

High-speed mag-lev trains, travel nodes and a 25-year plan that would get it all done. Yes, John Egan talked a big game. And now he’s apparently talking big again, resurrecting the nearly decade-old plan to connect upstate’s once formidable city hubs with a light rail system.

As it did once before, New York’s rail system is a prime identifier of the state’s level of ingenuity and industry. Once a magnificent network that guided the Empire State to its moniker before the mass proliferation of the automobile, many years of neglect have today left it lacking in just about every regard; the calamity of trains that clatter through sparsely few area of the state are overpriced, under-conditioned and are more prone to getting stopped for long spells than they are of ever being on time.

Egan’s plan for this train wreck: keep it simple and don’t reinvent the wheel. The public must again be convinced of the potential contained in the few viable tracks that remain laid across the region. That’s exactly what he’s hoping to do with a light rail, which would connect Saratoga Springs to Schenectady, then take a B-line through Albany until coming stop at Hollywood Joe’s palatial station in Rensselaer.

The idea being to connect the so-called Tech Valley’s major nodes in the tri-city area to the rich homes of Saratoga County, creating a sustainable commuter network that could eventually fund future investments into the system. It’s a simple, but lofty notion at the same time.

As most will remember, a similar plan that Rep. Gerald Solomon spent his last dying days constructing was derailed posthumously by his handpicked successor. Lame duck Congressman John Sweeney --then a Republican heavy-hitter straight who had just helped President Bush to the White House --made it his business to divert any federal funding for an almost identical plan because the trains wouldn’t run through his district; the Northway did, and thus was the benefactor of the congressman’s favoritism in Washington.

Nevertheless, Sweeney is gone in just a few weeks and Egan’s most recent announcement is at the very least a baby step in the right direction. If it’s successful, the light rail system could become a connecting line to a high-speed line between Rensselaer and Manhattan, which would be akin to plugging the Capital Region into the charged socket of the Big Apple’s economy. A lofty expectation? Yes. But an impossible one? No. The wiring is all there; someone just needs to turn the breakers on.

Critics will say Egan’s vision is no different than a host of other plans that have either faced fierce resistance among stubborn legislators or have become the dumping ground for special interest funding to projects that go nowhere. Others will be quick to note the public’s love affair with the “freedom” that their vehicles provide them.

Yet as the spigot of fossil fuel reduces to a trickle, the failures of highway transportation could create a perfect storm to give wind to Egan’s vision. Who could knock having a few cocktails during a half-hour traffic-free trip to the Spa City from Albany at peak season? Better yet, who could knock a train that travels from New York City to Buffalo in under two hours. After all, that’s Egan’s endgame.

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