Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ominous harbinger

Massoud pulled through the pack of galloping thoroughbreds into the top of the stretch. The 7-year-old gelding was almost assured victory when he stumbled before the crowd gathered Wednesday at the Saratoga Racecourse. He crashed through the rail, shattering his right front leg and pitching well-known jockey John Velazquez before tumbling a stead named Lieutenant Danz. Moments later, the beaten favorite was unceremoniously euthanized in a horse trailer away from prying eyes.

The grizzly spectacle left more than 30,000 people aghast in the grandstand, but doubtfully prompted anything more among the throngs of tourists than a fleeting afterthought over a few overpriced martinis downtown. But it’s possible to view Massoud’s demise as a harbinger of rough times ahead for New York’s shrine to the sport of kings.

The name itself is even a bit ominous. Though a somewhat common throughout the countries of the Middle East, the name often harkens to Ahmad Shah Massoud, a revolutionary hero in the war-torn annals of Afghanistan. The engineering student turned military leader fought tirelessly against the occupying Soviets during the 1980s, then battled the ruling Taliban as a member of the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan during the 1990s. He was killed by a pair of suicide bombers posing as journalists. His death was swept out of the news two days later by several thousand other deaths on Sept. 11, 2001; ominous indeed.

Surely Wednesday’s equine tumble in Saratoga isn’t as foreboding. However, there are a significant number of storm clouds beginning to accumulate over the Spa City. Naturally, the most looming event in the near future is Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s decision over who will operate the state’s racing franchise. The day after the last race is ran Saratoga, he’ll choose between return the bid to the embattled New York Racing Association or choose among three suitor groups that seem content to play musical chairs every other week with their principle members.

The governor has also toyed with the idea of splitting ownership of New York’s tracks among a pair of entities, leaving one to control Saratoga Race Course and the other to run an incomprehensibly valuable video lottery terminal contract downstate. The prospect of this later concept has drawn rebuke from many of racing’s diehards and one of the city’s more prominent racing newbies.

Amid the wrangling and rankling of this struggle in Albany, Spitzer and Hollywood Joe Bruno decided to bring their political sparring to the racecourse for opening day. Never in recent history was there an opening day as surrounded by politics as the 139th running. Spitzer lobbed the first grenade into the clubhouse, when he teamed with the equally antagonistic Shelly Silver to swear off their box seats at the track.

Both officials said they wanted to allay any sense of impropriety in the franchise decision that might be prompted by using any of the track’s 361 high-demand boxes. Bruno bristled at the idea of giving up his pair of seats. He fired back by pointing out his payment for the preferential seats.

Then before the first race could get underway, Hollywood herded the media in front of the racecourse and fired a shot across Spitzer’s bow. Blustering with the intensity of a category 3 hurricane, Bruno called for a state investigation into the furtive investigation by the governor’s office into alleged improprieties by the senate Republican fixture’s using state aircraft during his campaigning in New York City.

Indeed, this is state government at its finest. Democrat bites Republican, Republican cries foul, and then bites Democrat while his back is turned. Both begin pissing on one another and the Legislature deadlocks. Now we’re talking politics, New York-style. And to think, the pundits predicted a sweeping change just seven months ago in front of the state capitol.

Of course, the graying skies of politics aren’t just hovering over the race course. They’re looking especially black over City Hall these days. Still more than a month away from the primaries, the Keehn versus Boyd ticket is getting more off track by the day. After Boyd’s somewhat embarrassing self-endorsement earlier this month, Keehn decided she wouldn’t be outdone in the meddling politics arena.

First, there was the placing of Keehn re-election signs outside government-subsidized housing on Jefferson Terrace by its building super. Boyd saw his opportunity for a rabbit punch and cried foul. The federal government frowned at the whole incident, but told the Saratogian Wednesday the signs could legitimately be placed there.

What is more depressing, however, is the fact that these signs in a low-income housing area give the misguided impression that Keehn supports the working class and vice versa. Since taking office on this very platform, she’s done little if anything to aid the plight of these people, aside from raiding the Saratoga Workforce Housing Trust Fund to add a two-family apartment complex to the roles of “affordable housing.”

The trust fund that was initially intended to be a self-sustaining venture is now on the brink of insolvency, as one blogger reported last month. The net result? A whopping eight “workers” will be able to rent an apartment in the city for under $500 a month. Meanwhile, the only hope for inexpensive property within the city lies somewhere out in Geyser Crest, and that’s only if you’re one of the few people that considers $175,000 affordable. Most people making under $40,000 a year –the majority of Saratoga’s working class –would not consider this affordable.

Keehn also decided to again employ esteemed videographer Roger Wyatt to create what can only be termed as a train wreck of a campaign piece touting the mayor’s “green” initiatives. Aside from painting an unflattering but accurate view of the mayor as an uninspiring and somewhat monotone politico, Wyatt also manages to misspell the acronym for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in the video, instead calling the organization “NYCERTA.”

The video is now making rounds on Rumor on the street is the Academy Awards officials are tuning into this 7-minute masterpiece.

And then there’s milquetoast Republican candidate Scott Johnson, who has largely sat on the sidelines as Keehn and Boyd shred each other like Michael Vick’s pit bulls. All in all, there will be a new city council seated in January and one that will again be face with developing consensus to get things done in the city.

Meanwhile, the year-round residents of Saratoga Springs have run for the hills, as the never-ending deluge of tourists inundate every nook and cranny of the city. The streets are clogged, the restaurants are filled and the mayhem of racing season has begun. Buckle down, readers; it could be a rough ride through September.


Blogger Ellen said...

I just moved here a few months ago and am bracing myself for what's to come in the next six weeks.
Some people I speak to love all of the hustle bustle, while others totally hate it.
I hate to be a curmudgeon, but I already feel like I'm predisposed to not liking it at all.
Guess I'll have to wait and see.
How do you deal with it?

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


How drunk were you when you blogged this? Another tight succinct entry. (Please don't answer this with more than one paragraph).

P.S. Blogspot wants you to know they are running out of pixels.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Surprisingly, my writing gets much tighter when I’m drunk, if that succinctly answers your question. But even I have my limits. Twisting up one’s first gin and tonic on a weekday morning is usually a good way to end up in rehab, even for someone of my ilk.

If your eyes tire from reading the aforementioned entry, then try something a bit shorter, like street signs. They’re fairly direct and readily available too. Now, were did I put those limes?


8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny... don't you mean that when you drink more "you" are the one getting tighter? It ain't your writing partner. And you are correct: I do sometimes get a clearer message from metal street sign than from one of your winding and "twisting" entries. With that said, I do enjoy the blog!

3:05 AM  

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