Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Million-dollar question

No one denies that the Saratoga Springs Police are dire need of an upgraded station. Anyone who has filed a report, been interviewed, or even arrested could attest the facility is in bad shape. But here’s the $17 million question: is its condition reprehensible enough that it would take $18.7 million to modernize the facility?

For Public Safety czar Ron Kim, the answer is yes, with a caveat. In addition to spending $17 million of taxpayer money for an entirely new city building, he wants to move the department and courts to the city-owned parking lot off Woodlawn Avenue. This spot would keep the Spa City cops about a block away from the downtown drag, but place it smack in the middle of the business district.

Kim seems to think it’s a no brainer and –according to a headline in Wednesday’s Saratogian –is staking his career on the plan. For those lucky enough to own a $250,000 home, this project would increase annual city property taxes by a measly $87 per year. And who couldn’t afford that sum, the equivalent cost of buying one double-mocha latte at Uncommon Grounds per week; what red-blooded American wouldn’t sacrifice this guilty little pleasure so that the strong arm of the law can have a new 47,000-square foot romper room?

Well, before you answer this question, let’s reflect on Kim’s election-year push for a new Public Safety facility. First, let’s consider the dynamics of local government. Give local officials room to expand government, the will eventually and undoubtedly do so. Moving the police and courts out of City Hall would leave two gaping holes in the building, including the 8,700 square feet the police now reportedly occupy.

This isn’t space that could be used for anything other than government operations. And it’s not space that could be used without a multi-million dollar renovation project –look for such a line item to appear shortly after the last brick is placed in Kim’s castle. Otherwise, the space will sit there and suck up even more tax dollars as the city pays to heat and maintain the rotting structure. Kim’s answer? Well, he really doesn’t have one; or at least not one he’s suggested publically.

Now let’s reflect on the sheer magnitude of the expansion. The police would move into a four-story building that is literally four times the size of the space they now occupy. Even when considering their presently cramped conditions, this is a lot of space for a department that operates in an incredibly safe city. True, they are part of the reason for this safety, but they also seem to be operationally solvent with the space they have.

Then ponder what police and court traffic would do to the traffic situation on diminutive Woodlawn Avenue. Today, the police have their own parking lot located across the street from their department. The station abuts a section of Maple Avenue that is off the beaten path for most tourist and business traffic. Aside from a bike shop and the Algonquin Building’s parking lot, there aren’t many reasons for travelers to foray down the stretch od road between Grove Street and Lake Avenue.

The property Kim has proposed off Woodlawn Avenue, on the other hand, is located between the oft-congested Church and Division streets, by a bustling bank and in the center of downtown business traffic. Aside from the ingress and egress of police vehicles, these intersections would also need to contend with traffic from volumes of attorneys, judges, clients and criminals coming to the court five mornings a week. Now let’s consider how many spaces of the kitty-corner Woodlawn parking deck would become dedicated to this new traffic. Answer: try most of them.

The recomendations from the so-called Public Safety Capital Construction Committee is persistently trotted out as solid reasoning for the new facility. Of course, this was a group that initially started off discussing 20,000-square-foot building that was initially estimated at roughly $12 million dollars before all the bells and whistles got tacked on. This committee still hasn’t explained to the public what the major drawback would be to renovating and possibly expanding the existing facility, other than to say it just won’t work.

The bottom line is that City Hall has more than enough space to purse around for the cops, just not the type of room Police Chief Ed Moore wants to frolic in. The public safety facility proposed by Kim, Moore and their cronies is simply too much no matter which way you slice it, even if the Big Tuna thinks it’s a swell idea. On a personal note to Bill Parcells: if you think this is such a great idea, then maybe you should pawn off a Super Bowl ring or two and foot the bill yourself. Most of us working stiffs find an $87 per year tax increase an abomination, especially considering the already crippling burden of the local, school and county levies.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Playing the numbers

This just in from the city desk: The New York Racing Association has announced abysmal attendance numbers for Saturday’s running of the Travers’ Stakes this season. Only 38,909 people showed up at the Saratoga Race Course Saturday, a whopping 4 percent decrease from the previous year’s number and the worst turnout since 1981 as one paper wryly pointed out. The sudden drop has forced NYRA officials to abruptly cancel the last six days of this year’s meet and has called into question the future of racing in New York altogether.

“We never expected racing in Saratoga to hit such a low note,” bemoaned stone-faced NYRA spokesman John Lee, during a hastily convened news conference at the track Monday morning. “Sometimes, you just have to know when to bite the bullet, cut your losses and move bravely into the future.”

This is a farce of course; the track isn’t closing. In fact, the overall attendance is better so far this year than last. But with the media’s recent infatuation with attendance numbers and NYRA’s determination to obfuscate them, it’s getting difficult to tell exactly what the season has been like. Just days after the future of racing was burning so bright, it’s looking bleak now, thanks to a few thousand less people turning out for the Travers’ Stakes.

Not that the numbers really have nothing to do with the health of Saratoga Springs, its track or whether either will remain fiscally solvent in the future. The only true barometer of the track’s vibrancy is the numer of ducats being forked over at the pari-mutuel windows. If the handle is high, so is morale among the rank-and-file at NYRA. For all they care, a whopping three dozen fans could turn out to the races, just as long as each one wagers a cool million. Most racing aficionados understand this.

Keep in mind, the track has never closed due to a lack of attendance. Eight months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and when hundreds of thousands of Americans were headed overseas for war, the race season carried on; it wasn’t until the following year it was shuttered due to national travel restrictions, not because of a lack of people wanting to throw money at horses.

The lights on Union Avenue were also darkened in 1911 and 1912, after the state Legislature placed a short-lived ban on wagering at the races; hence the aforementioned postulate about the overall handle. The only other time the track was shuttered was in 2006, when blistering heat caused fears among some that the horses themselves might start dropping off like flies. NYRA officials, undoubtedly fearing a slew of very public attacks from PETA and other likeminded agencies, decided to call off the races.

In truth, the overall attendance figures NYRA posts are bunk to begin with. It’s impossible to gauge the number of people filing in for a day of races when a good percentage of them never came through the gate to begin with. The sweatshop-produced garbage the track frequently doles out on Sundays can tack hundreds of thousands onto the final attendance results, obscuring the true number of warm-blooded bodies that actually sat down for a race or three.

So it’s a bit of a wonder that the media would bother to follow track attendance so tenaciously over the course of any given season. It’s not like the bloody race course is going to close any time soon. Even a pronounced dip over the course of several seasons would hardly be cause for alarm. This season, it’s been a focal point in just about every news agencies; bullshit stories following the ebbs and flows of attendance.

Yet for some reason, local editors and producers feel the need to beat track season down the throats of the public in any way they possibly can. Quick-hit one-stop-shop pieces about the bogus attendance levels seem to suit this purpose well, even though they have about as much interest and bearing as the prototypical weather story.

On an almost unrelated side note, NYRA failed to send i-Saratoga the memo explaining the “cult hero” status of Sam the Bugler. Sam Grossman, who plays at all NYRA’s thoroughbred tracks, is well regarded figure in the Spa City. However the term “cult hero” as used in Monday’s Saratogian, seems a bit of an overkill. Some define this as “an extreme or excessive admiration for a person,” while others consider it an underdog “who gives 100 percent” every time they take the field. Though Sam is a personable fellow who can play one hell of a bugle, he somehow doesn’t conjure these images.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Respectfully yours

Larry Bulman finally put down his morning paper, stood up from his pleather La-Z-Boy and promptly threw himself in front of the hurtling train wreck that has become the Democratic Party in Saratoga Springs. The Saratoga County Democratic Party leader decided that he’d offer an olive branch into ongoing and increasingly vitriolic pre-primary fracas between incumbent Mayor Valerie Keehn and challenger Gordon Boyd.

“The only way we’re going to be successful is to be respectful,” Bulman told the Post Star Wednesday, as the city Dems continue to implode. “The biggest turnoff to the electorate is being negative. It’s something the voters will not tolerate.”

Well, it’s a bit late for respectful, Larry; in fact, even the term civil seems like a bit of a stretch these days. At this point, it will be a modern-day miracle if Keehn and Boyd don’t shred each other to pieces before the election like a pair of rabid wolverines chained together at the neck.

First there was the ugly “walk out” in June, when a dozen or so Keehniacs attempted to thwart the city Dems nomination of Boyd, then publically blasted the party for doing so without them in the room. Then in July, there was Boyd’s ludicrous attempt to bring up his connection to the anti-charter revisionists by accepting a nomination from the largely defunct group, SUCCESS.

There seemed to be a cooling of tensions in early August, where political blood didn’t fly for a few hours. But cooling tensions wasn’t on the agenda for Keehn. She very publically gave her fellow Democrats on the council the proverbial middle finger by calling them cowards for not rubber stamping her nomination of a developer’s 26-year-old son to the city’s Special Assessment District.

Then there was Keehn’s “wrath of the wretched” comment heard ‘round the world, thanks to a certain shaky film maker. With two golden opportunities to bash Keehn, Boyd cracked open the propaganda chest and fired off a damning advertisement in The Saratogian calling the mayor out on her statement. At the same time, the self-appointed mayor of the “peoples’ republic of Saratoga” issued a flyer castigating Boyd for a third-party endorsement she ludicrously claims as proof he wants to further the war in Iraq, repeal minimum wage laws and re-establish school prayer.

Yes, the water is bloody enough now that the sharks have caught scent and are beginning to circle. And those sharks are called the city Republicans; more specifically, their candidate, Scott Johnson. While Keehn and Boyd trash each other with unprecedented vigor, the retired lawyer has pulled up a mint julep on his front porch to watch, listen and wait. By the time the primaries are done, he’ll have enough ammo to sink any Democratic ship that comes drifting down the pike.

As for Bulman, perhaps this will be a horrible lesson learned. You can’t let the kids fight all summer and then expect them to play nice once the fall foliage turns. The time for him to step in was back in June, when this petty bickering began; or better yet, when Keehn and Public Works fixture Tom McTygue began brawling at the beginning of the year.

See, when McTygue was absent from a front row with the other three council members at the Mayor’s state-of-the-city address, it was an ominous and foreboding sign of the tensions that continue to erupt today. Bulman’s efforts now, however, are a dollar short and a day late. It’s something that he’ll realize even more when he sees the results of November’s election.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hurricane Keehn

While the Yucatan Peninsula begins to assess the damage left by Hurricane Dean, Saratoga Springs continues to feel the wrath of Hurricane Keehn, which seems to hover over the city proper, inundating it with the incumbent mayor’s blustering and blundering. On the heels of calling her fellow councilmen “cowards” and winning a lawsuit to fracture yet another local political party, Kamp Keehn set up at the Inn at Saratoga last week to deliver what some of the roughly three dozen attendees described as “a rousing speech” to energize the campaign.

For those who missed the event at last week, here’s a quick recap. Jim Dean, the head of Democracy for America, prattled on about his somewhat sketchy organization before turning the mike over to Keehn, who must have crunched on a party mix of Prozac and barbiturates before achieving the remarkably flat tone she did during the campaign event.

Reading almost directly from typed copy of her speech, Keehn went on to describe the many of same initiatives she stumped on two years ago, but failed to accomplish. And as usual, she took credit for retaining the state’s $3.8 million of VLT revenues, a fund that quite clearly was restored by the most powerful Republican in the state Legislature. Then after seven solid minutes of lackluster prattling, Keehn delivered her knockout punch.

“I will continue to endure the wrath of the wretched on behalf of your families and for your health,” Keehn said, raising her voice perhaps for the first time ever. “And I have looked into the eyes of these people one too many times –and they are wretched.”

The wretched? Our health? Who exactly are these so-called wretched and what –pray tell –is their wrath? Better yet, how has this mayor gone to bat for our health? Move over Franklin Roosevelt and JFK, Mayor Keehn is delivering the monotone walloping of a generation; suggested campaign donation: zero.

On a personal side note, this editor feels no healthier under the Keehn administration than under the respective administrations of Lenz, Klotz and O’Connell; maybe even a bit less healthy. But in all fairness to Keehn, this decline in health can’t be solely attributed to her spell in office, especially considering the effects of frequent bourbon consumption and Father Time.

If there’s one thing DFA knows how to do, it is raise money and generate interest among those who feel disenchanted or disenfranchised. Their leader –the brother of former presidential candidate Howard Dean –has a knack for marketing the right message at a certain demographic. After all, that’s what he did with Greenfield Online and Yankelovich Partners.

Yet, there is only so much marketing can do far these DFA-cultivated movements, which run on largely Astroturf. Since sweeping into office, Keehn’s bungling has evaporated all but the most strident of her base supporters by forging an adversarial campaign against those she labels as cowards or wretched. It’s a hyper-combative tone that is increasingly used by her diehard supporters on blogs and forums.

This sort of partisan rhetoric may resonate with the DFA membership on some blog administered miles out of the 12866 ZIP code, but falls woefully short of generating the support Keehn desperately needs among the city Democrats. Despite its burgeoning size, Saratoga Springs still socially operates as a small community. So when Keehn bandies about these unusually vitriolic statements toward those party members she doesn’t agree with, she’s often insulting more than she bargained for.

Friday, August 17, 2007

In the lead

Journalism gurus often tell cub reporters to keep their articles succinct up top. Get as much news in the first sentence as grammatically possible, qualify this statement with a rapid-fire flurry of facts and then save the rest of the banter for the jump page.

The notion is that a good percentage of the news consuming public never makes it past the lead, much less onto another page; they read the headlines and maybe one or two sentences at the top before leaving the coffee shop or finishing their bowel movement.

Grizzled veterans of the news business will also slap a regulator on leads, limiting writers to about 30 words to get their point across. In some more complicated situations, this allotment can burgeon up to 45 and sometimes 50 words without drawing editorial ire. However, much over this amount can be cumbersome to digest for even readers more accustomed to stream of consciousness babble.

The editors over at the Glens Falls Post Star clearly decided to push this envelope. The paper may very well have earned a spot in the state record books with for the longest lead ever written in a New York daily. In an article appearing Friday, the reporter secured a solid 67-word introductory sentence to an article about Rudy Giuliani’s visit to the track.

“Rudolph Giuliani strolled through the historic grounds of the Saratoga Race Course on a sunny, Thursday afternoon with the confidence of a man who could be president –even as the memories provoked by the approaching sixth anniversary of 9-11 are filled with the indelible stains of Giuliani's walk through the ravaged city streets, wearing the ash and the rubble of the old world across his face,” the reporter wrote.

True, it’s difficult not to conjure images of 9-11 when Rudy’s walking by. But tacking on more than five dozen words of pomp and brazen bravado is a bit much, even when introducing a guy that quite candidly falls back on his legacy during that fateful day. In other words, why fan this guy’s flames? He does a good enough job doing this on his own.

To the reporter’s credit, he did manage to write a mighty long sentence that appears grammatically sound. And he’s in good company if writing verbose sentences is his game. William Faulkner extended one sentence in Absalom, Abaslom! for more than 1,200 words. But he couldn’t hold a candle to his contemporary, renowned Irish writer James Joyce, who managed a sentence spanning 4,391 words in his novel, Ulysses. In the news business, however, it’s best to keep things short, even when writing about a guy who is doing his best to live large.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Money matters

Speaking of money, if you happen to be one of the many swaggering around the Spa City these days with too much of it, swagger on down to Cady Hill for some Republican revelry. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be cutting up a rug there tonight, sporting his best “give me cash” face during a $1,000-per-plate extravaganza hosted by Team Whitney.

Rumor is, there will be a mid-event money fight after the main course, where patrons will viciously pelt one another with rolls of hundred-dollar bills before having a good chortle over some Cubans and aged Tawny. Who knows, maybe John Hendrickson will auction off his new Rolex to tuck a few more dollars into Rudy’s pockets.

Arguably the GOP forerunner with a sparse five months remaining before Iowa caucus, New York’s mayor has raised nearly a third of his $35.8 million in the Empire State. And he’s hoping to hit the Spa City like Rick Massey hits banks: quickly and for some liquid cash.

Of course, it should be noted that Giuliani doesn’t have a great track record here. His last jaunt to Saratoga Springs ended with city Dems crying foul over his ultimately unsuccessful stumping for banished Congressman John Sweeney at the city fire department. But this time, Rudy has made sure to keep his travels brief, private and confined to either the Whitney mansion or the Saratoga Race Course. Perhaps he’ll wager a bit of his dinner spoils on the Alabama stakes.

Remarkably, his Democratic doppelganger hasn’t bothered to venture north of the Dolly Parton bridge to milk the Spa City cash cow, now that cash season is in full swing. But with a state war chest of more than $13.8 million amassed already, the senator doesn’t appear to be concerning herself with such endeavors.

In the mean time, the public remains altogether too complacent with the almost omnipresent fundraising that’s transpiring. Yes, getting into the White House is an expensive endeavor for everyone involved and one that has almost become a sort of economy in and of itself.

But the opulence of these campaigns has become a deplorable blight on the face of this country. And while many among the wealthy are quick to bitch about their burden of taxes, most of them don’t blink twice about dropping a grand on a smooth-talking politician. It’s sad to think that the billions of dollars that will inevitably be raised and spent by these candidates and others could easily fund as a cure for cancer or universal health care. Instead, this cash will be squandered for politicians to stump on such lofty aspirations, only to do nothing about them while seated in the Oval Office.

Italian stallion

How would you describe David Zecchini? Too rich, pompous windbag, hyper-Italian freak with so much money he can hire a videographer to film self-ingratiating cybertrash about his success? If you gave any of these answers, give yourself a pat on the back.

Zecchini, the owner of a homogeneous gaggle of “authentic Italian” restaurants spanning from North to South Broadway, has recently released a sort of infomercial into cyberspace, in an apparent new-age advertising campaign for his business. He apparently hired an Albany-based startup company named eXposure to film a solid 12 minutes of what no other news agency or self-respecting artist would.

Self promotion is one thing. Advertising your livelihood is another. But the purely audacious tone taken in this flick is just about enough to make one gag, which is sort of counterproductive if the point of the piece was to bring in new customers to Zecchini’s eateries. Sure he’s successful; in fact, it’s difficult to be within one square mile of the fellow and not realize this. However, paying a shill to broadcast this message across cyberspace is way over the top for even Saratoga’s plutocracy.

This footage has been unceremoniously dumped into the flotsam and jetsam of the World Wide Web in an attempt carve out a reputation for Zecchini, who is otherwise know about the city as the man with a super-sized ego who throws money at things. The company he chose to film this masterpiece offers a “new and exciting way to advertise in the Capital Region and the North East.”

For those who might find this type of pandering too painful to watch –and it is quite painful –here’s a brief synopsis: the camera follows Zecchini as he whisks into one of his restaurants, loudly humming what one could assume is an old-world tune. Donning a pair of shades during evening service at Chianti, he fires off a quick sputter of Italian before hugging and kissing everyone in his path. After three or four minutes of day-in-the-life footage, a leather-coat bound kid-faced narrator introduces his subject.

“There are many ways to describe David Zecchini, mmm’kay,” he says, seated next to Zecchini in what appears to be the man’s posh modern-style home. “Restaurateur, playboy, visionary…”

Zecchini chimes in with a playful laugh.

“…Aggressive businessman,” the narrator continues. “But how do you describe yourself?”

Someone with far too much money should be his answer. The largest advertising package offered by the company boasts a four-minute commercial and Web hosting for a paltry $5,000 and an additional $99.99 per-month fee. One could only imagine what Zecchini paid or did for his solid 12-minute “webmercial” and a nice slot on eXpose café home page.

But Zecchini shouldn’t have to worry about money anytime soon. Aside from the fact that he throws around more money in a week than most people make in a year, he also happens to be engaged to the 20-something Riggi heiress, the same woman who happens to live in a recently erected castle several blocks down North Broadway. The daughter apparently met Zecchini, only a few years estranged from his wife, while working as a pastry chef in one of his kitchens. Won’t mom and pop be happy to know she’s wedding a self-professed Italian playboy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wanna hear a dirty joke?

Valerie Keehn and her husband are out politicking. Jokes don't get much dirtier than that.

fter successfully fissuring the Spa City’s Democratic Party, Kommandant Keehn is still on the war path, looking to crack up any coalition of voters she can ferret out. This time, she has her sights on the Independence Party, which shunned her for an endorsement last month.

Party chairman Lee Kolesnikoff announced in June a slate of endorsements that included every incumbent running for office with exception to Keehn. Instead, the endorsement for mayor was given to challenger Gordon Boyd, who the party “just thought he would be better,” Kolesnikoff told The Saratogian after announcing the slate. But obviously this wasn’t enough for Keehn, who recently filed a lawsuit in County Court in a vain attempt to spur primary next month among the party of roughly 780 members, The Saratogian reported Tuesday.

Keehn’s minions collected signatures from roughly 6 percent of party members to spur the abrupt primary, in which voters would write in their candidate for mayor, rather than be presented with a pair of choices. The only problem is that Keehn collected signatures from some who had already signed Boyd’s petition and others who weren’t sure if they resided in a city or a county. Boyd challenged the move and was upheld by the elections board. Keehn cried to her lawyer hubby, who then sued the board.

The whole affair smacks of dirty politics from Kamp Keehn. The mayor is trying in vain to brush as many “Gordon Boyd” lines off as she can in a desperate attempt to play the odds. Chances are pretty good there will be at least one befuddled voter who staggers into the booth and pulls the first lever that comes to their fingers. Not to mention, most Independence Party voters don’t even think there’s a primary in September –with exception to the ones the Keehniacs have personally contacted.

If she can boot Boyd off the Independence line and then take the Democratic primary, she’s successfully whittled him down to the Conservative line. This would also play to the mantra of the Keehniacs, who are increasingly trying to paint Boyd as a closet Republican, who would gain office and immediately start taking trips to the presidential ranch in Crawford.

The asinine thing about this move is that the Independence Party has never supported Keehn. During the 2005 election, the party supported every candidate on the Democratic slate, but decided against jumping into the fray for mayor, which was then a hotly contest ticket between Keehn and Hank Kuczynski. Needless to say, she didn’t bother scampering around the city then to spur a primary, even though Lenz was the clear and obvious favorite in the race.

With the primaries approaching, Keehn is doing her utmost to make this race ugly. From publically calling her fellow Democrats “cowards” to littering the cityscape with her campaign signs more than four months in advance of the general election. And that’s after she squandered the best chance city progressives had in city government to prove their critics wrong. Keehn is nothing more than a dirty politician who needs to be swept away like the rubbish left behind after this week’s Dave Matthews Concert.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Strange bedfellows

It’s mighty ironic that Skip Scirocco is going to bat for The Saratogian, a paper that was doggedly gunning for him not more than four years ago. The Republican candidate for Public Works commissioner defended the newspaper Friday by publically lashing out at incumbent Democratic fixture Tom McTygue for his threat to repossess The Saratogian.

“His proposal to seize the Saratogian's land and parking lot is more reminiscent of Nixon's ‘enemies list’ than the kind of conduct we’d expect from a city official,” he stated in a press release Friday.

Clearly, this is an opportunistic attack on McTygue and one that was going to come from somewhere. Scirocco picked the right moment to strike out at McTygue –eminent domain is a very anti-conservative precept that local Republicans can rally against. With his release, he gains quick-hit political mileage with land-use conservatives, McTygue enemies and most of all, the paper itself.

The strange part of the equation is that The Saratogian was the very paper to raise Cain over Scirocco’s timecards back in 2003, a story that was vastly blown out of proportion. As some may recall, Scirocco was simply writing his hours down to equate 40 per week, even though he wasn’t actually working at some of those times. Though a grand jury never found him at fault for “time card-gate,” he took a mighty beating in the press; especially in The Saratogian.

At the heart of the matter was Editor Barbara Lombardo, who seemed quite candid about her disregard for Scirocco at the time. In an editorial about the debacle, she even alluded to the fact that the affair “seemed like a political witch hunt” before chastising Scirocco for something that is commonplace in many salaried areas of the workforce. The whole affair itself was ironic, seeing as the paper was very closely aligned with the city Republicans at the time and was doing the dirty work of Democratic leaders; some chalked it up to the fact that Lombardo just didn't like the dog catcher for whatever reason.

So it is indeed a bizarre lash-out by the candidate for Public Works commissioner; not an unforeseen one, but a peculiar one to say the least. But who ever said politics don’t make strange bedfellows. However, his gushing over The Saratogian, a corporate-owned rag even most subscribers don’t view as the hometown paper, is almost comical.

“City residents count on The Saratogian for fair and accurate reporting that captures the local flavor of our community, without partiality or concerns for partisanship,” Scirocco stated in the releases.

Fair and accurate? Capturing the local flavor of the community? He must be referring to some other paper because these are not characteristics of the daily disappointment that dribbles out of Lake Avenue each morning. And the bit about Nixon’s Enemies List is definitley over the top, even for a politcially charged attack.

But Scirocco is right with one regard: a newspaper’s quality is directly correlated to its connection to the community. There’s no better way to establish a connection than to have offices and reporters at the very heart of a community; somthing that is not the case with either the Times Union in Albany or the Daily Gazette in Schenectady. Moving The Saratogian to an office complex in another town would be the death knell for the paper. The one strand of hope that keeps the paper remotely competitive with the others is that they have a greater presence of reporters in the city. Move them out of the city and this strand snaps.

The whole issue is probably moot for the most part unless the Journal Register Company gets involved, as they are the owners and not Publisher Frank McGivern. For some reason, neither the city nor the reporters following this story seem to understand this. They’re the ones that could pull the plug on Lake Avenue and probably give it earnest consideration if they had knew how much they would save in taxes each or had an inkling of how much that property is worth. Here’s a hint: it’s worth a hell of a lot more than the assessed value

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ain’t it funny

Search, but you won’t a dry eye amid the spectators at the Saratoga Race Course Friday afternoon. With Bette Midler’s shrill voice booming through the grandstand, Funny Cide, the underdog gelding that captured America’s fancy for two long and overly drawn-out months in 2003, will take one last lap around the track before retiring in a ceremony steeped with dime-store nostalgia.

Funny Cide is perhaps least known for being the horse that came close to becoming an esteemed Triple Crown winner. But he didn’t. The horse was also heavily promoted by the New York Racing Association in his rematch with arch-rival Empire Maker during the 134th Travers Stakes that year. But he was a scratch. He was also supposed to win something at the track located less than 10 miles away from the stable where he was born. But he never even placed in one.

In fact, if there were ever such a thing as a “one hit wonder” award of racing, it would probably go to Funny Cide. Some would argue the horse’s come-from-behind persona made him sort of a modern-day Seabiscuit, an underdog horse that also captivated the nation. Yet unlike Seabiscuit, chestnut gelding really didn’t win much of anything after his famed shot at the crown, much less in the Spa City.

Instead, Funny Cide became emblematic of the marketing crazies that infect every soulful moment of this American life. Funny Cide’s image made its way onto everything from T-shirts to light beer to his own soundtrack; his merchandising wing even spawned a short-lived shop on Caroline Street, solely devoted to proliferating the volumes of extant Funny Cide memorabilia.

There are some remarkable elements to the Funny Cide story –now available in children’s book and 288-page paperback. But the overexposure this horse received only served to cheapen his message to a point most people got sick of listening to it. Enter Friday’s mighty retirement party at the race course, where Funny Cide will be presented with a “granola Rolex,” finally proving there are no depths too how low for the track’s increasingly corny marketing gags.

Fans also received a complementary “Funny Cide Retirement” poster, featuring a caricature of the horse lounging in a chair, while sporting a summer cocktail and puffing on a cigar. That’s going to be a hot item for junior’s wall. Get ready for the crunch, e-Bay.

If NYRA’s public relations folk were a bit more on the ball, they could have gotten Crackers the dancing horse to teach the Electric Slide during Midler’s rendition of “ Wind Beneath My Wings,” the song that will play during Funny Cide’s last lap. Better yet, they could have pitted Crackers against Funny Cide in one last race for the granola Rolex. Who knows, it might have been a close match. After all, Crackers does have an unblemished record in Saratoga.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Oh no he did’ant.

Public Works fixture Tom McTygue renewed his plugging for the Lake Avenue property and lot owned by The Saratogian Tuesday during the City Council meeting. Only this time, he took a much more serious tone with the idea. This time, he said the E-word.

Eminent domain is a term not freely bandied about in the more conservative enclaves of upstate New York. Many eminent domain proceedings involve acquiring strips of property from private owners to make way for massive transportation or infrastructure projects.

Not that there aren’t instances of public entities taking a swipe at seizing a property for public projects –the village of Corinth mused with eminent domain proceedings to grab the former International Paper Mill. Even more recently, Saratoga County supervisors have candidly discussed eminent domain as their thirst for a water pipeline down the Northway grows.

In general, however, projects that employ this tact are multi-million dollar ones that can readily afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to seize a property in court. And in the case of the Journal Register Company property, it would be tough seize. There is no public project on the table for the 1.5 acre of prime downtown property and it’s difficult to envision one that could be clearly and legally seen in the public good.

But McTygue has a bit of a card up his sleeve, as the Daily Gazette wryly noted. The commissioner of more than three decades seems to recall an agreement between The Saratogian and the city, in which the 75-space lot would be made available to downtown patrons after business hours. McTygue claims this agreement was made during the 1960s, when urban renewal swept clean a swath of shabby row houses.

Anyone who’s made the ill-fated decision to park there can attest this is not the case. In fact, leaving one’s vehicle in the lot for any period of time can lead to an arbitrary towing. Indeed this is brazen hypocrisy from a paper that freely editorializes about the utter lack of parking in the city. But hey, who cares as long as it sells papers, right?

Rumors once circulated about a symbiotic connection between The Saratogian’s publisher and a local towing company, where free rein was given on the lot. Another more plausible explanation came from a former reporter at the paper. Over a few beers one night on Caroline Street, he chortled heartily about calling a tow truck every time he saw an obscure vehicle without the requisite parking permit. In his twisted and sardonic logic, he wanted his choice of spots, even if all the spaces were empty.

McTygue’s vitriol toward the paper is more than warranted, given the attractive space in the very heart of downtown nightlife. But with a poisoned city council and no clear plan, he might as well be shouting his plan on the drunken Saturday night ears of the Caroline Street revelers. Not to mention, JRC’s pockets are deep enough they could likely thwart any eminent domain attempt –or at least drag it into the courts for the next decade.

But regardless of the feasibility of his idea, kudos to the commissioner for having the balls to openly challenge the paper letting a spot of key real estate go to waste while the rest of the city booms. Hopefully, he continues this path to at least open a dialogue for some sort of future agreement.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Personal matters

As a reporter, you know covering racing season has become a bit drab when you can boast consecutive articles focusing on baby barf and horse shit. Such was the case with one longtime writer with the Saratogian, a paper that ironically evokes a certain sense of gut wrenching and bowel churning itself.

In the first case, the reporter was able to peg the visceral “spinner” experience Sunday with a catchy lead that featured a toddler bounced a few too many times on his auntee’s leg during a family picnic at the track. The result was a shirt full of spreadable baby chum fresh from the gullet.

Fear not readers, the New York Racing Association came to the rescue. Fortunately for the aunt, Sunday was the big sweatshop-T-shirt giveaway day. And as luck would have it, the spinners weren’t biting like they do during the bobblehead freebie.

Strangely enough, while other newspapers continue to marvel over the strange folks that like to stockpile gate-padding enticements, the reporter managed to effectively sum up the true spirit of a giveaway day in the first few graphs; a perfectly vomitous occasion.

But the fun doesn’t stop here with the Spa City’s hometown dribble. The reporter shifted gears Monday and wrote about the other chute of the GI track in Today’s paper. Ever wonder how much horse shit it would take to cover a 17 football fields? Well, your wait is over. Each year, the horses at the track produce enough crap to spread a two foot layer over this number of fields, according to the Saratogian report.

One can’t fault the paper too much for such reporting. The later attempt at least brings something new and unreported to the table –albeit inherently shitty –unlike the usual two-weeks-into-the-season forecasting ventured by other papers. And the truth is it’s difficult to pluck engaging front-page stories that don’t seem regurgitated from last year’s coverage.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Local values

There’s a battle waging on just outside your door. Every week, a new leaflet comes in the mail, hoping to secure the eye of whoever is the “current resident” of the address. But it has nothing to do with the politicians vying for votes or credit card companies seeking a new rube. It’s the local print media’s TMC campaign and it’s coming to a mailbox near you.

No, TMC has nothing to do with The Movie Channel, Showtime’s premium cable channel; in fact, its concept is almost the exact opposite. Subscribers normally order The Movie Channel to avoid watching greedy little advertisements clips inserted into every nook and cranny along the way. In contrast, no one subscribes to the “Total Market Coverage” mailers and what they get is pretty much the Sunday paper minus any journalistic content, but with enough worthless inserts to choke even the most robust garbage can.

Today, the Times Union, the Saratogian and The Daily Gazette print up TMC mailers. Depending on the publication, they get sent either once a week or every other week to any nonsubscriber. So, if you happen to be one of the unlucky souls living in all three coverage zones –as most people are in the city proper –and don’t subscribe to any of these papers, you’re likely to receive a veritable rain forest worth of mailers each week.

See, the failing newspaper industry is becoming increasingly desperate for advertisers; the pie of ad revenue is getting smaller with every corporate merger and circulation dip. Ad departments are now placing an increasing emphasis on gimmicks to snag a contract or hold the line on one that is expiring. TMC mailers allow ad reps to boast that their publication reaches every doorstep in their coverage region, one way or another.

And how do you prevent these mailers from showing up each or every other week? You could try calling the paper’s advertising director and request the mailers not be sent. Persistent callers generally get put on a sort of “do not send” list for a spell. But once the ad director leaves –a frequent occurrence at some papers –chances are pretty good the mailers will again litter your mailbox.

For even the most fickle among the environmentally conscious, it’s sad to contemplate how many tons of these mailers are getting shipped to a landfill each week without ever achieving their intended purpose, which is to boast a product that some person out there might buy. Even sadder is that advertisers buy –literally and figuratively –into this bullshit concept of total market coverage.

But the saddest notion of all is that struggling newspapers actually pay good money to paginate, print and mail this garbage to thousands of households across the region. It’s a safe assumption that none of the households receiving this garbage ever consider subscribing to the paper for that reason. And there is no quantitative way for anyone to gauge the effectiveness of the mailers, as all the businesses featured in them also appear in the regular print edition.

It seems the dollars invested in such a venture would be better spent buying a C-130 to drop old Sunday papers across the region; after all, this is in essence what the mailers are doing. Or better yet, these dollars could be spent in the newsroom, where market coverage these days is anything but total.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dog and pony show

Look out New York, the circus is in town. And it’s flying in on a state police aircraft to press conference near you. For nearly a month now, the vitriolic barbs traded between Hollywood Joe Bruno and Steamroller Eliot Spitzer have grown poisoned enough to dwarf the venomous lunges of even the most irate Mojave Rattler.

The whole affair started with a rather innocuous tip to the Times Union about the senate majority leader’s use of state police aircraft to bus him from one campaign rally to the next. The paper then put a request in for records detailing Bruno’s flight records with the state police, which proved not to exist. But with a few calls from the governor’s top aid, the state police were suddenly able to produce these documents, and thus provided an impetus for the TU’s somewhat deleterious story.

Bruno was quick to bash the story and even quicker to cry foul. Pretty soon, the Attorney General’s Office was in the mix, sifting through volumes of legalese to later report that Spitzer’s office hadn’t broken a law, per se, but had indeed acted in an unethical fashion. Out of this struggle between might and trite, an unlikely hero emerged in the pundit polls: Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

More than seven months removed from his vastly overlooked inauguration, Cuomo wasn’t making much of a splash in the office Spitzer used for his triumphant rise to power. Cuomo’s paltry press releases from the AG’s office took a back seat to the vicious power grab between Bruno and Spitzer, a show-down foreseen by anyone with an ounce of political savvy.

Cuomo has struggled to regain political capital since his ugly show-down with former Comptroller H. Carl McCall during the 2002 gubernatorial election. Cuomo, just a year removed from his service as U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary under the Clinton Administration, figured he could ride his federal reputation and his father’s track record as a conciliator into the governor’s seat.

However, the state Dems didn’t view the former governor’s son in a favorable light. Though the younger Cuomo had the inside track in Washington, he was viewed as an outsider in Albany. McCall was a safe candidate and one malleable by Shelly Silver’s state Assembly machine. Cuomo refused to go down without a fight and waged a protracted primary against McCall long into September. Some even argue the battle won the election for Pataki, though it’s more likely it simply increased his victory margin.

Now, as the New York Post’s Fred Dicker puts it, Cuomo emerges from an ugly fray donning a white hat. And the polls are noticing it, too. In a poll conducted by Siena College Friday, Cuomo sustained a 55 percent job approval rating, marking his highest jump in the polls yet.

At the same time, Bruno and Spitzer have both seen changes in the polls as a result of the so-called “troopergate.” The worst that could happen to either throughout this whole gig is that they get a bit of rass from voters during an off-election year and carry on their merry way. Even a special prosecutor’s investigation into the affair isn’t likely to do much more than was even more taxpayer dollars, which was the original impetus for the story in the first place, which was legislative waste. Here’s what the press isn't writing about: how much this Bruno’s drivers, Spitzer’s furtive investigation and the whole resulting fallout, is going to cost New Yorkers.

But if nothing else, there’s a new regulator in town, who’s now got a star to pin on his chest. That star could become increasingly important next year, following the 2008 Presidential election. After all, a Democrat in the White House could mean quite a bit scrambling in Albany for cabinet positions.

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