Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pool cue

It seems like every month lately, Lousie Goldstein begins pining for the Victoria Pool to open early. Just as the spring flowers begin to poke through the thawing earth, it seems like the co-founder of the Save the Victoria Pool Society hits the media circuit with pleas –even demands –for the State Park administration to add a few more weeks to either end of the pool season.

And it’s high time the bastards begin listening.

The Victoria Pool, much like the park it inhabits, is a treasure to both Saratoga Springs and New York as a whole. Seldom is there a person who visits the pool’s sun drenched deck nestled in a piney grove and leaves without feeling replenished in some way shape or form. It is a unique place where plutocrats freely mix with plebeians and the only discerning factor between the two is who managed to claim rights to the sparsely numbered lounge chairs.

The Victoria Pool was built in 1935 as an excercise component part of the state-owned hydrotherapy resort, which also included the mineral bathes, the springs and the Gideon Putnam Hotel. Visitors were expected to drink spa’s medicinal spring waters, bathe in the mineral water and give their muscles a gentle workout at Victoria.

When the spa was incorporated into the state park system in 1962, the pool started a slow descent into what many considered abject decay. By the turn of the century, what was once known as the nation’s first heated public pool became renowned for its frosty waters. Everything from the fountains to the surrounding brick work showed marked deterioration; the innerworkings also showed age, rupturing once in August 2o03 to shut down both the park's pools for a spell.

Earlier that year, Goldstein and Andrew Jennings, two of the pool’s frequent visitors, formed the Victoria Pool society to lobby for marked state improvements to the structure. After six months of heavy lobbying, the parks administration announced an 18-month $1.5 million renovation project to restore “the Vic” back to its former grandeur, including the once-heated water.

Now that the renovations are done, Goldstein and her organization are petitioning for a few extra days in the season to enjoy them, as well they should. But state park officials can’t seem to open the pool until late June at the earliest, and then refuses to keep it open past Labor Day. They claim this is to keep up on the necessary regiment of maintenance needed to ensure the pool’s water quality and the grounds are properly tended.

While there may be a hint of truth to this, the bottom line is more likely economics. In years of running the pool, the parks administration has realized it makes no money in May, early June or September. So rather than subsidize a loss-leader among other areas of the park that do make money, the economic thing is to shut it down, regardless of the public will.

Problem is the public owns Victoria; it always has, it always will. It was built by the public under Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration and has been funded by the public for more than seven decades. So when the public is asking –rather demanding –more time to enjoy its property, the state is obligated make a concession at the very least.

In this case, how much would it hurt to open the gates a week earlier than normal and keep them open a week later? Not much. Could it be done? Certainly. Will it happen? Well, that’s up to the public. As Goldstein and her organization have proven, people talk and politicians generally ignore them; but when groups shout, their feet get moving pretty quickly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Risky business

Gavin Landry, a veritable fixture over at the Saratoga Springs Convention and Tourism Bureau, is making what could easily be termed as a risky career broad jump this week over to the New York Racing Association. Landry, director of the private membership-based nonprofit agency aimed at promoting the Spa City, is expected to announce his leap to NYRA during a media conference at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Tuesday.

In an almost unprecedented move, Landry is rumored to jump into the NYRA hot seat as the organization’s senior vice president after the position was vacated by the parachute-grabbing Bill Nader in March. In an almost equally unprecedented scoop, the Saratogian’s recalcitrant managing editor reported this scoop Friday, besting the other three print bullies in the sandbox of Saratoga’s media.

But back to the important news here, which is Landry’s bizarre career move at a time when NYRA could feasibly be dissolved by year’s end. Landry is the wonderchild of the Convention and Tourism Bureau, a guy whose catch phrase for years has been “to make Saratoga Springs a premier, national, year-round resort destination.”

Indeed, the city is now a year-round destination, with a small exception for the month of February. Whether Landry himself can take credit for this is something that’s debatable. However, the upswing in tourism manifesting in the city under the dozen years he’s manned the bureau are not. In other words, Landry’s cushy job with the bureau was hardly in jeopardy.

Landry did apparently offer to remain active with the bureau until late June –also known as the time when convention season winds down –and pledged to be a part of the search committee for his replacement. Such vague language leaves the door wide enough open that Landry could feasibly squeeze back into his old digs, where NYRA to face the ax.

But Landry’s appointment to the NYRA hot-seat could also be the proverbial power play by the organization is running to regain control of the state’s thoroughbred racing contract. As The Saratogian mentions, he comes from a very racing-oriented family, which does have ties with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which leans heavily toward supporting Democratic candidates in New York.

Care to guess who gave more than $20,000 funding to this organization’s political action committee between 2003 and 2006? Well, none other than Steve Duncker, NYRA’s chief operating officer and the same man who was at loggerheads with the Pataki administration last year over delays in Aqueduct’s video lottery terminal contract. And do you what party Duncker has a habit of supporting?

Putting Saratoga’s golden boy at the most visible seat in NYRA’s organization is a dynamite move by NYRA and one that could very well be the winning card on the table, given the troubles that seem to swirl around the other bidders. Then again, Landry’s new job could also mean the decision is already made in Albany.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Crime blotter

Just in case you missed it: David Bronner, 63, of Royal Henley Court was arrested and charged with harassing and threatening city Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue's younger brother. In what is truly a “what goes around comes around” moment, Bronner surrendered himself to Spa City police after they issued a warrant for his arrest.

Apparently, Bronner approached McTygue’s younger brother spitting his usually vitriol. Holding true to his reputation as the man that can dish out the quotes, Bronner apparently walked up to Peter McTygue on Broadway, waved a middle finger in his face and said “this is your I.Q” to him.

No, not our David Bronner, the cool-and-collected level-headed fun-loving fellow screaming obscenities at a McTygue brother during broad daylight on Saratoga’s main drag? Flat out impossible. It must be a different David Bronner.

That is, unless you’ve ever been to a school board or city council meeting, or if you’ve ever walked by the post office while the Saratoga Peace Alliance is protesting. In fact, anyone lacking a good vocabulary of expletives could learn a lot from Bronner, who seems to spit them loudly and wherever he goes.

It wasn’t too long ago when Bronner was on the outside of the jail cell looking in. His insults and vitriol were enough to prompt a DPW worker to head-butt him during a public hearing. Of course, when you slam someone’s skull during a meeting where hundreds of people are watching, it’s pretty hard to muster a defense. Tony Fisher was sentenced to pay a $250 fine and perform 20 hours of community service after a visiting judge from Glens Falls couldn’t find any plausible reason for someone to head-butt the man. Evidentially, the judge never met Bronner before.

Bronner, a staunchly conservative former U.S. Army colonel who served in an artillery unit in Vietnam, put himself on the military’s voluntary recall list when war broke out in Iraq. He also made it his ritual to stand next to any city peace protester and feverishly belittle them during the early years of the war.

Recently, Bronner has moved from heckling peaceniks to stalking DPW workers. During Hydraulic-gate, Bronner could be found snapping shots outside the DPW garagewith his digital camera. In 2005, he ran a write-in campaign against McTygue, and then fruitlessly contested the election after failing to get even a fraction of the vote. He's also formed a war-makes-strange-bedfellows alliance with Valerie Keehn, the city’s neoliberal mayor, who is irronically supported by the very people Bronner likes to curse with his morning coffe.

In truth, the charges against Bronner sound a bit trumped up. But with his big mouth and brash attitude toward anyone who disagrees with his ludicrously right-wing assertions, they ultimately seem fitting for such a blowhard like the good colonel.

Here’s an idea to resolve this case and make everyone happy. Contact the army and get Bronner a howitzer he can arbitrarily fire into the dessert somewhere in the Middle East. Then again, the city would probably become a pretty cold place without all of Bronner’s hot air.

Stop me if you've heard this one before

Or seen this one before; or more poignantly, if you’ve read this one before. Yes, gas prices are going up, as we all know. They’re approaching record highs, as we all know. And nobody gives to shakes of a pre-paid pump that they are, as we all know.

Yet for some reason, the Capital Region’s media –and the nation’s media as a whole –seems obsessed with reporting the ebbs and flows of gas prices. It’s the same story as last month, last year, or any other time this millennium, as modern society plows through the tail end of the world’s fossil fuel supply.

These boilerplate stories have grown so uninventive that it’s a wonder why the editors and producers from around the region don’t keep templates in the newsroom to simply plug in a few numbers and quotes. First, there’s the shocker lead: regional gas prices are nearing record highs this month as the holiday weekend approaches. Then follow it up with the “nobody cares” graph: area travel agencies don’t expect the price at the pumps to affect the summer travel season one bit. Lastly, cap it off with a bull-shit quote from the pissed-off service station customer filling up the 45-gallon tank to their Hummer: “If this keeps up, I’ll have to buy a Prius.”

And definitely some stock photos. Maybe dedicate one hour of photography to film the quintessential “guy pumping gas” photo that always seems to accompany these mundane stories. Or better yet, shoot four-dozen or so pictures of the pimple-faced adolescent changing the prices on the Mobile Mart gas sign out front.

Today’s Gas Guzzler Award for the most print wasted on a ludicrous gas story goes to The Daily Gazette. This isn’t to say the story is written poorly –it’s about as enjoyable a read as they come when considering gas stories –rather the editors at the newspaper thought the issue important enough to featured it as the top headline above the fold. But the Gazette eds aren’t alone with their lunacy. They even got “scooped” on the gas price story by the Times Union, which in its haste to run a gas story, decided to run an above-the-fold wire story in Thursday’s paper, then follow it up with what essentially matched the Gazette’s article Friday.

The problem is nobody cares about gasoline prices, so why in the great wide world of sports would they care about a story discussing gasoline prices? Sure, it’s a bitch to be shelling out a few Benjamins at the pumps each week to drive a sport utility vehicle the size of your standard box truck. But a few extra dollars here ain’t going to stop anyone from doing it, meaning the gas story is nothing more than filler for media sources that either have bone-brained editors or an utter lack of news to report or both. Gas stories are a lot like the prototypical weather story, only weather at least is a bit interesting and sometimes kills people.

Maybe if these hackneyed news agencies can knock out a good stock of these stories ahead of time, then perhaps they can help stead the rising cost of fuel. If all they have to do for a gas story is simply roll out the template, footage, photos and all, then maybe they can save a few valuable gallons of gas sending reporters into the field to gather all this tripe.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Intelligent Design

Curious was the immediate and abrupt resignation last week of Patrick Design, the deputy of Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue. Even more curious is the sudden media interest in the DPW’s seldom-spoken two-term number two, who gave up his $62,000-per-year job with the city less than a month after a state Department of Environmental Conservation investigation was launched last month.

Yes, it seems Ahab’s crews and their harpoons are circling a bit closer to the great white whale. Valerie Keehn, in moment of her typical political mudslinging, used the resignation as a stake to pound McTygue’s tenure on City Council to that of embattled former Public Safety Commissioner Tom Curley. She likened the resignation to the fate of Curley’s deputy, Erin Dreyer, who is well regarded as a prime reason the Republicans were voted out of office in 2005.

Of course, it should be noted that Curley did everything in his power to prevent Dreyer’s dismissal, whereas Design simply quit. And it’s tough to draw cogent similarities between an inexperienced whore of a deputy that screwed her way through the police department and a faithful city employee who by many accounts worked tirelessly for the department.

Design managed the department's 90-something employees who run the city's water, sewer, street and building maintenance operations. He was appointed by McTygue in December 2003, replacing Bruce Brown, who had worked one term as deputy. Brown, who took over for now-DPW director Bill McTygue, left the deputy position to take a union job as foreman in charge of the city's compost, concrete and tree crews.
At this point, Design’s resignation could mean just about anything. In his comments to the Daily Gazette Tuesday, McTygue hinted of a “difference of opinion” between him and Design. But the commissioner also showered his former deputy with praise and even hinted that the door was still open if he changed his mind.

There were some indications in February that Design was becoming frustrated with the council infighting. If true, the DEC investigation likely exacerbated this frustration. There’s also a theory that Design was a fall-guy for the DPW’s shortcomings and may have been sacrificed –either voluntarily or involuntarily –as the investigation wraps up. There’s yet another speculation that the 65-year-old deputy was plain tired of working up to 80 hours in a week with no days off in a department now under visible scrutiny by both state investigators and members of the media.

Either way, the resignation doesn’t bode well for McTygue, who already is taking a fair beating in some circles. Of course, many of these barbed harpoons being chucked at the 16-term commish seem awfully similar to the rhetoric Keehn’s supporters have been spouting each time the Times Union blogs mention Gordon Boyd.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Water, water everywhere...

County Republicans continue to hammer down their pipeline to nowhere this week, all but pledging to award contracts for builders to start construction on the estimated $67 million project. They claim the project must be awarded by the inception of June, lest the cost of building supplies skyrockets over the next two weeks.

True, the summer building season is cranking up in the Capital Region. Even truer is the forecast for construction supplies; as resources get increasingly scarce, the cost of building anything grows exponentially. Still, when you’re overseeing a multi-million dollar project that will take no less than two years to build, any increase in cost as a result of market flux will be negligible at best.

This isn’t even considering the fact that the county’s project keeps dropping in price as time goes on. When Saratoga Springs was aboard with the plan prior to the election of 2005, the county had placed a $91 million price tag on the project. Then miraculously just three months later, the cost dipped to $76 million. By December 2006, county leaders were claiming the pipeline would cost $67 million.

So why hurry? Under the aforementioned logic, the tax payers could chintz this price down another $13 million or so just by waiting until after the New Year. After all, that’s when plans for the soon-to-be bustling Luther Forest Technology Park will be solidified right?

Well, maybe. For the time being, however, the county has a proverbial perfect storm to get a shovel in the ground and start the project before anymore supervisors can get cold –or should we say wet –feet.

With the announcement by Sematech earlier this week and with recent growth predictions by officials from Advance Micro Design, it appears as though the Capital Region is poised to become the next Silicone Valley –just like it was five years ago. For the time being, the county Republicans are enjoying a lasting super-majority on the Board of Supervisors.

But during the last election, the Republicans suffered what could be called a Pyrrhic victory. While retaining the necessary votes to run roughshod over the county, the Republicans lost two seats –and a whole city council –they really needed to float the project. Without Saratoga Springs committed to buying water from the county, the board was forced to go back to their constituents and plead for more funding. And they’re not going to risk any similar calamities come November this year.

Already, the two Republican supervisors who went against the project have been publically flogged by the GOP. Phil Barrett, the Clifton Park town supervisor and county board chairman, had his leadership questioned because of his “no” vote in March; one supervisor said the Repubs were like “a pack of wolves” ganging up on him during a half-hour closed-door session. Then recently, the county Republicans declined to endorse Greenfield Supervisor Al Janik for a similar reason, prompting the incumbent to send out a heartfelt appeal to his constituents.

Yes, it’s clear the county is moving forward with this pipeline come hell or high water. There’s simply too much at stake for them to back down at this point. Foremost of these concerns it the small rural town of Moreau, where the water filtration plant is proposed. Were this pipeline to falter in some way, shape or form, the shovels of strip development would need to stop at Exit 16 of the Northway, making some soon-to-be wealthy land owners very unahappy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

You say it's your birthday

One year ago today, a bit of frivolous spending in City Hall surged a foul ripple of vitriol across the oceans of cyberspace, its tsunami-like power sweeping every reader within its path into filing through hours of captivating commentary; hanging on each letter of the Times-Roman font. The awesome, deity-like power of this new voice shined a searing hot light of truth on the sordid politicians and mealy-mouthed media moguls for miles around, exposing their misgivings to the now-conscious masses.

Okay, perhaps this is a bit on the melodramatic side for recounting the one-year anniversary of i-Saratoga. Let’s try this story again.

Just one year ago to this date, a really pissed off-but-very professional hack sucked down a bit too much bourbon for a Monday evening’s worth of post-work libation and awoke by a filthy computer terminal with an unabashed urge to micturate on the door handle of city hall. Casting these primal urges aside, our fearless hero decided instead to take the proverbial Yugo of Internet democracy for a spin on the information super highway.

Barrowing a format pioneered by another rogue blogger, the sobering hack saw through what many would consider a blinding hangover to pen an anti-government diatribe that was then cast into the flotsam and jetsam of cyberspace. Thanks to a few spiffy pictures and droves of bored Internet lurkers killing time at work, i-Saratoga continues to proliferate today.

Yes, there have been good times and bad, here at the daily diatribe. From the summer collapse of i-Saratoga’s mainframe –the aforementioned crusty computer terminal –to blogging from beneath a highway overpass, there have been some times had here. Somewhere in all this process, more than 132 single-spaced type-written pages have made it onto the Web, accounting for more than 64,000 words. And that’s just since the microchip meltdown of August 2006.

But whose reading all this crap anyway you ask? Well, that’s tough to nail down. Since the most recent software failure in January, this site has logged a total of 8,959 unique visitors, with about 200 readers a day.

To be honest, not much has changed since the early days. Still, there are dedicated readers who need to point out some of the more glaring errors of spelling that trickle into the posts. Likewise, the author continues to awake on occasion wondering why there’s an empty bottle of Wild Turkey on the floor with a few sentences of gibberish flashing on the no-longer soiled computer terminal.

There has been a greater degree of comments posted here, which is an encouraging development. Comments, regardless of their position, will be posted here provided they’re intelligently crafted and make a point that isn’t advertising Cialas or some similar product. At risk of sounding hackneyed, keep reading, keep commenting. Intelligent dialogue is the voice of a vibrant democracy. Those not willing to post anonymously or wishing to comment out of the public view can also drop a line at i-Saratoga’s bustling mail server: to date, seven messages received; spam count, 100 percent.

Ironically, the postings here have come full circle. City Hall is again poised to dump even more taxpayer dollars into fixing the Spa City’s remarkably bland Web site. This time, city officials anticipate dumping an additional $6,000 to $9,000 in redesigning the re-designed portal, which cost more than $79,000 one year ago today. Happy birthday, i-Saratoga; here’s a quick hit for your readers.

City officials are also looking to Web cast council meetings live and online, something that would undoubtedly be good for democracy in Saratoga, but will also cost much more than the aforementioned allocation. Ah yes, watch those taxpayer dollars get flushed down the toilet bowl. But don’t worry, there’s a hung-over hack skulking somewhere in the bowels of Saratoga waiting to write about it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Look who's blogging now

Ho, ho. Look who else has joined the blogosphere. This week, Hilary McLellan, a stauch charter reform proponent and the wife of alleged videographer Roger Wyatt, launched a daily cyber-post called “Mayor Keehn.” Conveniently, there is no place to post comments on the blog.

As one could imagine, the blog largely discusses initiatives launched by incumbent Mayor Valerie Keehn over the past 16 months. Summing things up to date, rerouting senior citizen buses, helping out Waveland, Miss., and having an intern research ways to make the city Greener. There’s also a bit about the Mayor helping out with the ad hoc committee on the future of horse racing in New York, and how she gained valuable experience with influential people in the know.

Of course, this is the same committee Gov. Eliot Spitzer put out to pasture last month to get an opinion from his own personal panel. It’s also the same committee that endorsed the somewhat-embattled Excelsior Racing Associates as the right choice to guide New York’s tracks into the future.

As some may recall, Excelsior fell into some hard times earlier this year when New York Yankees executive Steve Swindal was estranged from the Steinbrenner family. Steve Wynn, the developer of the Wynn Las Vegas, Bellagio and Mirage casinos in Nevada, stepped into his place to save the group’s bid.

Longtime Times Union columnist Fred LeBraun this week noted Excelsior’s connections to casino gambling and referred to the group the “Great White Shark” of bidders in the whole affair. Just the type of folks the city’s guppy of a mayor should be fraternizing with.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Same old song and dance

The lunacy on the left continued, as a number of Mayor Valerie Keehn’s supporters stormed out of the city Democratic Committee’s endorsement meeting this weekend. Party leaders were left scrambling for members, after the abrupt departure left them without quorum. Keehn’s contingent seems to believe that if their candidate chooses not to accept an endorsement, then no endorsement should be made at all.

“Let's put it in front of the voters,” Al Ormsby, a committee member from District 11, told The Saratogian after the meeting. “There is no reason to endorse candidates unless someone from outside the party wants to run on our line. That wasn't happening. It's unnecessary.”

And so the politicking continues, allowing the party divide to deepen. Or at least that’s the postulation foisted from Kamp Keehn. They insist county Democratice Committee Chairman Larry Bulman swooped into this spate of sparring last week, asking the committee to make no endorsement and thereby allowing the party to mend this divide.

But this is specious reason, to say the least. There will be no divide mended until the primaries are over in September. Even then, there are bound to be some grudges; much more than when Keehn plucked the nomination away from Hank Kuczynski two years ago. The time for conciliation was long before Democratic challenger Gordon Boyd announced his bid this winter, and long before the vitriolic bickering started echoing throughout City Hall.

The time for mending was November 12, 2005, just minutes after the voting results affirmed Keehn as the mayor. When this opportunity was carelessly pitched aside by Keehn –and maybe even Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue –the party split was complete.

Today’s city atmosphere is also much different than it was two years ago. When Keehn came to office, she was a political wildcard; an unknown spouting some pretty ambitious plans for the office. She also rode the coattails of discontent that had grown quite long behind then- incumbent Michael Lenz; it’s not too difficult to see that many of Keehn’s votes were more a factor of the public discord with the Republican leadership, hence the so-called Democratic sweep.

This time around, the swing vote will not be in Keehn’s favor. In fact, it’s quite possible these votes may either swing in favor of the GOP candidate, former tort-lawyer Scott Johnson, or just simply not turnout to the polls at all. Regardless, the mayor’s office appears ripe for the Republicans again. After what is bound to be a vicious primary, it’s doubtful the Dems will have the war chest to take out a very wealthy challenger.

Speaking of Johnson, the candidate is already showing signs of being a prototypical Republican candidate for the office: oily, elusive and filled with double talk. When contacted by The Saratogian recently, Johnson could not “confirm or deny” his interest running, despite the fact that his candidacy was almost a foregone conclusion around the city. Two days after the article was published, he “officially” launched his candidacy.

In true Patakian fashion, Johnson chipped a press release out to the media Friday afternoon, and then didn’t bother to stick around long enough to field calls from a Times Union reporter –though it appears as though at least one news agency got through to him. To some, this might not sound like a big deal. But this could be but a small glimpse of how the attorney plans to run the mayor’s office: with carefully worded press releases fed through a fax machine at 4 p.m. before the weekend.

Casting aside both of these very minor instances, there are some fairly significant issues that seem linger in Johnson’s past, or at least that of his former law firm. Most know Thuillez, Ford, Gold, Johnson & Butler as the Albany team of attorneys that helped the state win a $25 billion master settlement agreement against the tobacco companies for public health costs related to cigarette smoking; the firm netted itself $84.3 million in fees from the case in 1998.

But the agreement was somewhat besmirched when it a state Supreme Court judge in Manhattan discovered Johnson’s firm and five others were billing New York something to the tune of $13,000 per hour for legal work done on the case. The insinuation was that the lawyers had colluded with big tobacco to become profiteers in the landmark deal. After a few years of legal wrangling, an appeals court halted the judge’s inquiry at the behest of then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who argued such a probe could not legally be revised in a way that would benefit taxpayers.

Voters will have to hash through all of this come November, when the city could quite feasibly be facing a three-way election with no viable candidates other than the wrong ones. This appears more of a trend than an anomoly in American politics: flood the polls with money, guile the voters with lies, and then do a tap dance on the hopes of the proletariat once victory is assured.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Knock, knock

Who’s there? Mayor. Mayor who? Mayor Keehn needs your signature because she ain’t getting an endorsement from the Spa City’s Democratic Committee.

In what is probably the savviest move she could make at this juncture in her political career, incumbent Valerie Keehn announced Thursday she will not seek her party’s endorsement for mayor. The self-professed “people’s mayor” decided against shooting for the endorsement because she felt it would “worsen divisions among the committee's members.”

“Rather than engaging in a disruptive political exercise at the committee level, I will take my campaign directly to the voters of the city by collecting petition signatures,” she wrote in a memo to acting party Chairman Lou Schneider.

So let’s get this straight. The same mayor who makes no qualms whatsoever in throwing every political wrench she can find into the works of her party is now graciously backing out of a primary race for the good of that same party? In some circles, they call this a bunch of hogwash; in others, they call it straight-out bullshit.

Keehn’s stage of events late last month –from the timed release of videos showing the three-ring circus some call City Council meetings to the “sudden” state investigation of the Department of Public Works –left a bad and lingering taste in everyone’s mouth. Just a year removed from the Erin Dreyer scandal, no one in the city wanted to see the kind of dirt that Keehn quite candidly pitched into the public eye. What was organized as a party coup has all but backfired on the Keehniacs, who hopefully now realize they are a small but very vocal minority of city Democrats.

Truth be known, there is a gigantic Grand Canyon-sized divide in the party and one that Keehn and her supporters have done everything in their power to foment. The Keehniacs argue this is a necessary evil to expose the good ol’ boy atmosphere that has ruled the party for decades. They claim the party’s true leader –DPW fixture Tom McTygue –has secured his own fiefdom by colluding with the city GOP at the expense of the public good.

While there might be a grain of truth to all these allegations, the Keehniacs have been all too fervent in their drive to throw McTygue and his supporters under the bus. In other words, the aim of Keehn and these neoliberals seems disingenuous at best. At its worst, these moves are an unbridled and malicious power grab attempt by the city’s new left.

So where did these folks come from anyway? Well look no further than Democracy for Saratoga, an off-shoot of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s Democracy for America. The organization’s brass is a who’s who of the new left in Saratoga Springs, including Roger Wyatt, the alleged documentarian who posted the two unflattering council videos. Keehn even cited the “grass roots” group this week as her original impetus to run for mayor two years ago. She apparently attended a DFA “training sessions” in Cazenovia, which somehow empowered her to seek office in the city.

“It really solidified my desire to run," she stated in a press release after accepting the endorsement of Democracy for Saratoga. “It was run by an enthusiastic group of young people who really knew how to run a campaign.”

Training, as it’s called, with the DFA prepares citizens for the new democracy in America. At the DFA Academy, you too can learn such electioneering tactics as communications, fundraising, voter targeting, online organizing, and “building a sustainable grassroots movement.” Indeed, these movements are so grass roots they actually sprout Astroturf. And all at the low, low price of $70 per session; $30 if you’re low income or a student. What a bargain for democracy.

Maybe in today’s America, such training is needed to pull the fickle and easily swayed masses away from the television screen to take action in their flailing and failing democracy. But more likely, it’s away to amass a blind movement behind candidates that are far from sincere in their aims. The DFA’s grassroots gave rise to Keehn, who came to the City Hall promising a wealth of things city residents have thirsted for over the years; affordable housing, open government, a more vibrant main street. But what she delivered in two years can be summed up in a sentence: the same old song and dance.

Now, after accomplishing none of her purported goals, she claims to have “set the stage for what we want to accomplish in the next few years.” Well, given her record over 16 months, that sounds like another 24 months of bickering on a council, which will undoubtedly sport at least one Republican, if not more, thanks to her political meddling. Perhaps this year, she’ll see the real democracy in action when she comes knocking and the voters slam their doors in her face

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Welcome to the machine

The Spa City’s blogosphere indoctrinated a new trio of posters last week, strangely enough from the daily disappointment some refer to as The Saratogian. It’s an unusual step forward for the newspaper, which has become quite renowned for its frequent steps backward.

Again, there seems to be more of an emphasis toward the sports end of the spectrum than news, with two of the three blogs being sports-centric. The third happens to be written by the paper’s city beat reporter and seems so far to be more of a regurgitation of press releases pitched forth by city politicians.

Still, a step forward is a step forward. And when it comes to the editorial decisions barfed down Lake Avenue, any forward movement is remarkable. So here’s a quick-but-guarded kudos to this recent innovation. But as any blogger will tell you, it’s difficult to keep up with the grind of producing day-to-day postings of interest; this semi-daily diatribe being no exception. So the proof in the pudding comes in a few months, when the creativity and innovation of the posters –or lack thereof –will undoubtedly be revealed.

Among the print publications, however, they’ll be facing some stiff competition for the fickle and easily lost attention among cyberspace lurkers. The blog-happy Times Union has already etched out a massive following with their veritable stable of online-authors and has proven to be the lithest among the Capital Region dailies. While some of their blogs borderline on the ludicrous, many are quite progressive and demonstrate a tendency for getting news out there faster than any classic medium; in other words, start saying your prayers, you hacks in television journalism.

Also adding to the recent deluge of daily drivel is the Metroland, which wryly coroneted its own blog during Election Day in November 2006. Unlike the TU’s somewhat issue-focused blogs, this eclectic site seems to wander all over the place with its posts. It’s kind of like the paper itself; if you can weed through a lot of garbage there are some pearls of wisdom to be had. Nevertheless, having a blog is a wise move for the bar-side publication, even if it doesn’t appear to be picking up much steam quite yet.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is The Daily Gazette, which for some reason still thinks it can make a go at selling online subscriptions without having any free online content. Needless to say, the Captial Region’s second largest circulated daily hasn’t bothered with the blogosphere and instead feels fit to watch the TU run away with the show. No doubt, this is perhaps the most regressive thinking among Capital Region publications.

On a side note, The Saratogian finally broke the proverbial Mendoza line of circulation numbers –and not in the positive direction. For the first time in modern history, the newspaper dipped below the 10,000 mark in circulation with both its daily paper and Sunday subscription.

Tell this to any reader and this will come as no surprise, given the paper’s spotty news coverage, high turnover of reporters and general lack of management; emphasis placed on the later. Recalcitrance flows down hill and there’s no one more recalcitrant than fixture Barbara Lombardo, whose utter lack of effort continues to show in the numbers.

But enough with this negativity. Here’s a quick cheers to the newest members of the Capital Region’s blogosphere. Keep up the work; maybe one of these days the word “good” can be inserted in there.

Chi-Town blues

It looks like bad news for urban stoops and malt liquor aficianados around the Windy City Thursday. With mid-day highs expected in the 80s, it looks like Chicago could be facing a shortage of the popularly brown-bagged beverage this weekend, as a massive shipment from the east appears to be delayed.

So what does this have to do with the Capital Region? Well, a Rotterdam Junction-bound Guilford Transporation Co. freightliner derailed in the town of Stillwater Wednesday evening, sending 15 cars off the tracks near the DeCresente distribution center. Listed on the cargo manifest were four boxcars worth of malt liquor bound for Chicago and California, The Daily Gazette reported Thursday.

Apparently, the cars hopped the tracks but never tipped over as the train reached a switch in the lines. Emergency officials decided to wait until this morning to right the displaced cars because the train didn’t contain any hazardous or toxic materials. However, this assessment could be contested by anybody who’s ran afoul with a deep malt liquor buzz. As most people who have submitted themselves to a solid evening of pounding 40 oz. bottles of Colt 45 or Big Bear could attest, malt liquor is anything but innocuous.

So if you happen to be a brown-bagger from the South Side or Wrigleyville, hit the local Xtra-Mart a bit earlier than normal this afternoon. There could be some lines.

And if you happen to be skulking around the tracks in Stillwater with a hankering for malt liquor, swing by West Avenue. Who knows, there may be some discount 40s on sale. Just make sure you open them slowly.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Melted ice cream

Speaking of Ellsworth, the eponymous ice cream maker and longtime fixture of the Spa City’s west side appears to have melted into a thing of the past. The Post Star reported through an unidentified called Wednesday that one of Saratoga Springs’ longest family-run businesses had pulled the plug on its Division Street plant a week or so earlier, laying off all of the workers employed there.

Company officials were deliberately vague about their plans for Ellsworth, as most faltering business owners are. When it’s quite clear to everyone that the ship is going down, there’s no need to draw further attention to the gaping hole in the bow. In the case of Gerald Ellsworth, the company's CEO and third-generation owner of the 74-year-old business, even the ‘overall outlook is optimistic’ talk seemed to have fairly negative undertone.

“For me to comment on it –it’s just going to make it worse,” he told the Post Star. “We just got to get some things straightened out.”

Ellsworth went on to explain in brevity the company’s woes with expansion. More specifically –although not directly referred to by Ellsworth –a fateful move to purchase a former Ben & Jerry’s plant in Vermont during 2002. The move was anticipated to double Ellsworth’s production capacity during a time of unprecedented expansion for the company.

See, in the increasingly shrinking world of small business, owners are often forced to proverbially shoot the moon; in other words, put everything on the line for a nominal chance at making a go of things. No doubt, in today’s world of hyperdistribution centers Ellsworth likely found itself in a position where the business could be slowly bled away by monolithic corporations with bottomless pockets or throw everything on the line in hopes of beating the odds to maintain fiscal viability.

For Ellsworth, the outlook appeared fairly rosy in the beginning. The company reportedly doubled its sales of novelty ice cream items –products like the Strawberry Shortcake and Chocolate Éclair bars –from $15 million to $32 million over a six-year period ending in 2004. In response to this ramped up business, the company sought two loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand into the plant in Springfield Vt., though neither the company nor the fed ever specified how much cash was on the line for the expansion.

Ellsworth’s tryst in the Green Mountain State was short. In September 2005, the Syracuse-based HSM Packaging Corp. was awarded a $156,421 judgment against the company. Less than three months later, the Vermont plant went on the auction block; company officials later announced their intentions to lay off 40 workers from the Vermont plant. Town officials in Springfield indicated that the company was more than $100,000 in the hole for back taxes.

Taxes must also be an issue for the company’s historic plot within the city proper. With the burgeoning “art district” pushing property values skyward on the west side, it won’t be too long until operating a distribution center on nearly two-acres of prime land will become fiscally imprudent. Already, the property is assessed at more than $809,000 and receives no exemptions or tax breaks.

Meanwhile, the ludicrous battle between Kamp Keehn and the Brothers’ McTygue continues just down the street. True, there’s really nothing the city could have done to prevent Ellsworth from running their business into the ground. But the apparent ignorance among city officials regarding this company’s precipitous decline is troubling to say the least. When queried about the closure and layoffs, city Finance Commissioner Matthew McCabe said he wasn’t unaware of such occurrences.

And where was the city’s mayor during all of this? Well, it’s safe to say she was busy preparing her re-election speech and foisting herself as “the people's mayor” while Ellsworth stocked the unemployment line with dozens of city workers.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Playing with fire

You don’t hold office for three decades in a city like Saratoga Springs without accumulating a few skeletons in your closet. Nor do you commence more than a dozen successful campaigns without ruffling a few feathers, something Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue has been prone to do over his tenure in politics.

But recently, there seems to be a filling bandwagon to shake out any dirt and march out him out of office, starting with a pair of superfluous grainy videos produced by a “professional” film maker and ending with the ongoing state investigation into spilled hydraulic fuel at the DPW garage. As aforementioned, the drama and politics that is now playing out in the public spotlight is nothing more than a resultant whirlpool from a hostile takeover attempt in the city’s Democratic Party; what is going on behind the scenes is much more far reaching than a senior citizen shooting shoddy films and a few soil samples being analyzed in Albany.

Speaking of which, The Times Union began outlining the gist of the DPW investigation this week, indicating the state Department of Environmental Conservation will check samples taken at the city’s compost heap. The assumption would be that DPW workers made a furtive attempt to clean up the mess in vain attempt to defuse public backlash from costly cleanup. And this may very well be the case too.

But the city has experienced far worse instances of “spilled oil” in recent years, one of which occurred less than a mile away from the DPW garage at Espey Manufacturing. The DEC was called to the industrial manufacturer in February 2005, after more than 65 gallons of “transformer oil” was dumped at the plant. The now-concluded report is concise and indicates an “impervious surface” was the only thing affected by the spill.

However, one worker who witnessed the spill paints a different picture of the event and resulting cleanup. Apparently, a lift operator was attempting to haul old machinery out of the plant, when he fired over a bump in the pavement too quick and overturned the unit. The result was the leaking of noxious oil in copious amounts, the worker indicated. The lift operator refused a drug test and was subsequently fired from Espey.

Cleanup was largely done by using woodchips to soak up the oil, but the worker didn’t seem to think they ever left the site. Though unsure of exactly what type of oil was leaked, the worker believed it was significantly more toxic than the hydraulic oil dumped by the DPW. The case remained open for three months, according to the information on DEC's spill response database.

See, there are a lot of spills in the city that don’t get a lot of press, simply because they don’t have the appeal of a political scandal. Take the 200 gallons of diesel fuel dumped by Quad Graphics in 2004 after a similar type “equipment failure.” The site off Duplainville Road is located just a short distance away from Geyser Creek, which runs through the state park and ultimately empties into the Kaydeross. DEC officials kept the case open for nearly three months.

The interesting part about both of these spills is that they were done in areas of the town generally off limits to the public and out of sight. Espey, for instance, is largely enshrouded by mystery due to the secretive nature of their work –building weapons guidance systems for the Israelis. This means they can conduct the cleanup in any manner they choose. As long as they’ve got a clean soil sample beneath the spill and paperwork that says they properly disposed of the material, the cash-strapped officers of the DEC aren’t likely to start waving around search orders.

Yet there seems to be a pounding cry from a certain constituency for the investigation at the DPW. This comes at the same time as a so-called grass-roots cry for “more accountability” in the DPW sprouts up online. However, there may not be any roots growing under this Astroturf being laid out on YouTube. All in all, the comments and videos seem far too contrived to be representative of a public that has vastly supported the city’s longest sitting public official.

Now suddenly, former City Supervisor Anthony “Skip” Scirocco sprouts up from this turf as the Republican heavyweight contender for DPW comish. And despite their clear disdain for the Brothers’ McTygue, Kamp Keehn has yet to produce a peep about who they think would better serve the city Dems by running public works. Perhaps they’re not going to either.

It’s entirely likely that Kamp Keehn is willingly to sacrifice the office to the former dog catcher, an old-school GOP candidate who would no doubt garner support from both the conservatives and the police union. Her campaign offered support for Kim, a so-called independent, who was once a loyal member of the city’s Republican committee, so it’s easily conceivable that she’d support Scirocco, rather than have McTygue pull off another election.

But Keehn and her supporters are playing with fire, especially considering the rhetoric they tossed out at the previous Republican-dominated administration. The infighting among the Dems will all but ensure a strong GOP showing in November. And given the utter lack of progress in City Hall this past year, there’s a good chance this contingent will seize power sooner than later. At this point, they could probably run the estate of Ellsworth Jones as a candidate for mayor and still accrue a fair number of votes.

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