Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Source of the week

It’s a real go-go world in cyberspace for today’s main-stream online media sources. Battle-hardened editors are really cracking the whip for their reporters to get any tidbit of news on the Web, sometimes before there’s much more to tell than a casual observation coming from a somewhat sketchy source.

Take for instance, a story broken by the Times Unionlate Tuesday evening after, a man was picked off by a motorist near the University at Albany campus. The report lacked any names, details or any real substance outside what the basic “man struck by car” headline reported.

That is, with one exception. While the paramedics were hauling away the injured man, the TU reporter sauntered over to the A-Plus and dug up what was perhaps the only second-source he could find at the time: a man punching the register name “Ahmed.”

“According to Ahmed, an employee of the A-Plus convenience store across from the scene of the accident, the victim visited the store just before the collision and used the ATM,” the reporter wrote in the story, which will do nothing to allay age-old Middle Eastern stereotypes.

Ahmed, eh? The only thing better than identifying the clerk by only his first or last name was the astute description he brought to a news story that could have probably waited until morning to break. Succinctly, he said the injured man was “middle-aged.”

“It's a dangerous intersection,” remarked the man known only as Ahmed, pointing to the junction where a teaming campus meets a bustling four-lane highway. “It’s not good because cars are coming from different directions.”

Apparently, news zipping along on the information superhighway isn’t subject to the same vetting or standards as stories appearing in print. Reports hitting the morning press usually require an ounce of substance or at least a casual mention of why a source’s full name isn’t being used. But in today’s new-scoop world of journalism, it’s all about getting the story out there online before the competition can update their Website.

This rush to post is bound to get more furious, as other news agencies ramp up their online efforts, a domain the TU has utterly dominated for more than five years now. Over the past two years, the Post Star has made an earnest effort to bolster their site, which has risen in stock but still can’t compete with the 800-pound gorilla thrashing through cyberspace from its hovel off the Northway in Colonie.

Among television news stations, it appears as though the former WRGB has made great strides in improving their Website and getting breaking news on it before the competition. They’ve perhaps even vaulted themselves past the ambulance-chasers over at Capital News 9 to become the most user-friendly broadcast site.

Now all they need to do is learn how to report the news. It was WRGB –the station now known as CBS 6 Albany even though they’re located in Niskayuna –that cited the Times Union’s interview with Ahmed in their report the following morning.

On a somewhat related note, it appears as though WRGB’s loosely affiliated partner and the only other large newspaper in the region is about to jump into the ring with the chest-thumping silverback. For much of the 21st century, the Daily Gazette has quietly remained locked behind the archaic lock of a paid subscription Website. Word came from the paper last summer they planned a fall overhaul of this futile pursuit.

Well, that update is apparently on its way, according to a link forwarded this week to iSaratoga’s online mailbag. Welcome to the new millennium, guys. Here’s a tip for the new format: in your zeal to beat the competition, just make sure you grab the other half of Ahmed’s name before featuring his quotes prominently on your Web site.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

If you build it, they will drink

Sometimes, you have to wonder if John Lawler has been watching the movie “Field of Dreams” lately in his office. The chairman of the Saratoga County Water Authority remains upbeat about the county’s $67 million project these days, even though things haven’t gone very well for it lately. In fact, things have gone rather bad for the whole project.

First, the heir of Luther Forest challenged the constitutionality of county pipeline work on state parkland. Then about a month later, the town of Ballston realizing they had signed two ironclad contracts to purchase nearly three times the amount of water used annually by the town. And then this week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation challengedwhat was supposed to be a “simple name change” on the authority’s application, the Times Union reported.

Without state approval for the change, the water authority will be unable to borrow cash desperately needed to finish the 26-mile pipeline, which has cost roughly $100,000 per day to build. State officials are now asking the authority to reaffirm the need for this mammoth pipeline, seeing as though its largest potential customer still hasn’t materialized and the runner up vanished more than a year ago.

“The notice of incomplete application cited that certain subscribers might have withdrawn from the project, raising the question of public necessity under the appropriate environmental regulations,” DEC spokesman Yancey Roy told the Times Union.

This necessity is further complicated by the uncertainty of Advanced Micro Devices’ constructing a $3.2 billion chip factory in Luther Forest. The plant would suck up 2.4 million gallons of county water per day and represents the only real salvation for the water plan. With the plant built, the county will experience unprecedented growth, which will in turn justify bulldozing hundreds acres of parkland. Sources said AMD’s major hang up right now is an anti-trust lawsuit the company has pending against Intel, which remains pending in federal court.

Similar lawsuits were recently resolved in Europe and Japan, opening additional markets for the company overseas and supposedly bolstering its production needs. But this news doesn’t mean much for AMD in the United States or their commitment to buy water in Saratoga County.

Meanwhile, Lawler remains steadfast in his desire to hammer in the water project before it can fall prey to a cease-and-desist order that is bound to arise from one of the many lawsuits pending against the pipeline. Absent an approval for the name change, he said the county will hand control of the project back to Board of Supervisors, which was originally granted permits by the DEC to begin digging.

Who cares if there are lawsuits barreling down the pike like tidal wave or that the county has sank $6 million of its surplus into completing a pipeline to nowhere? And what does it really matter that the number-one user might not know whether they’ll need water until the costly pipeline is already built? Most of all, does it really matter the housing market has gone flat and the construction of new homes is expected to follow, meaning that county growth may soon be stunted? Not if you’re Lawler, who’s philosophy seems to be “if you build it, they will drink.”

And drink they will. Mind you, one of the largest municipal water users in Saratoga County could very well go back onto the market for water. Yes, the Spa City doesn’t appear to have much of a future in tapping Saratoga Lake, especially given the recent fiscal woes highlighted by outgoing Mayor Valerie Keehn’s frivolous capital project budget.

The need for a palatial public safety palace seems to be the concern-du-jour for city officials, rather than the supposed quality of Loughberry Lake. Funding for the Moore Mansion is likely to eclipse any possible allocation for establishing a city pipeline to Saratoga Lake, which shouldn’t make the list of necessary project if one were to believe the rhetoric tossed about in the run up to the election.

The soon-to-be Republican majority – incomming Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco in specific –argued there is no real need to augment the city’s water source at this time. But this tune is likely to change if the county elders continue to watch the frail foundation of their water system crumble. If AMD isn’t onboard to buy water by their deadline to build the plant in 2009, there’s a good chance the pipeline will three commissioners in nearby metropolis more than willing to fill in this void.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The last vitriolic sputters of a dying coup

For some of the Spa City’s vanquished Democrats, November has been a month of introspection; a time to reflect back upon their tenure and look forward to a life out of the public eye. For others, the waning moments in the public eye are a time to brutally castigate the rest of the world for the own shortcomings.

Such is the case with the soon-to-be banished Keehniacs. In a little more than a month, the Movementarians that powered a little-known special education teacher into one of the more influential seats in city government will be sent packing with little more than the tatters of the Democratic Party to show for their two years of usurping office.

Firing the first finger toward the sky was Hillary McLellan, the captain of ousted Mayor Valerie Keehn’s cheerleading squad. In a missive to county Democratic Chairman Larry Bullman and using prose oddly reminiscent of the anonymous postings left on area blogs before the election, McLellan all but blamed Keehn’s loss on Bullman because he didn’t support one Democrat over another.

Of course, she doesn’t seem to think anything about the bitter back biting between Keehn and disjointed Public Works fixture Tom McTygue. No, alienating a sizable contingent of the party didn’t seem to factor into the loss, in the world according to McLellan. Nor did the fact that main claim to fame for her “party” was stealing an election and then usurping city hall from the people qualified to run it.

“Don't expect to see much of me in next year's campaign, either at fund raisers or as a worker bee,” she stated in the E-mail, all but giving Bullman the finger. “If you have any integrity, any really commitment to leadership, you will help those who seek to rebuild the [Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee], not use it as a tool for trying to destroy true Democrats like Val.”

Keehn was the next to jump on the bandwagon of blasting the city Dems. In an interview with the Spotlight this month, the deposed mayor reaffirmed the notion that her supporters plan to take their ball and go home rather than make amends with party leaders. In a truly delusional moment, the mayor even seemed to think her supporters could “go it alone” during the next election cycle.

“I think we have the ability, the will and the desire, but if that’s the approach they’ll take, I don’t know,” she said.

The interesting thing to note here is Keehn’s insinuation that there is a “they” instead of “we” involved in the Democratic schism. This is to say that Keehn doesn’t see herself as the leader of the movement as much as a cog moving it forward. Let’s recall, it was this same contingent of Dems that saw an opportunity to hijack the city government in 2005.

The Republicans were facing all but chased from the council largely due to their dickering in the Dryer scandal and national election trends. The Keehniacs gained two seats of five seats and probably thought at least one of the other three could be easily swayed into backing charter reform. By pushing through charter reform at a time when city Republicans were week, the Keehniacs could literally amputate the McTygue from his post and then concentrate their firepower on getting a figurehead mayor into office, and voila, a gravy train for political appointments.

But it didn’t work out that way. And the only way the Keehniacs stood a chance in city government was to unseat McTygue, their arch rival and main proponent against charter reform. In chess terms, they sacrificed their queen to checkmate the king; the game goes on but without a clear opponent on the other side.

Already, the minions of this failed movement are plotting in the shadows to take another run at the jackpot. Oddly enough, all the mentions of Keehn in this posting have been deleted, which might suggest she’s been divorced by the movement she rode into power, or at least they realize her political future ends come New Year’s Day.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Legislate this

Members of the state Senate seem to have a lot of time on their hands these days. With the booming upstate economy and the state Legislature running like a fine-oiled machine, what is left for a bored senator to do other than pick up a pen and draft a new piece of worthless legislation onto the already cumbersome annals of New York’s laws?

This at least must have been the thought process going through the unconscionably thick skull of Neil Breslin when he decided to tackle the new frontier of vehicle traffic code. The Democratic state senator from Albany proposed a ban on texting while driving during the last legislative session and now has the bi-partisan support of Republican Sen. James Alesi of Rochester. Any driver busted for DWT could face up to $100 penalty, according to Breslin’s law.

Even though the sum total intelligence quotient of these two legislators might not eclipse the dollar amount of the fine, the legislation is likely to hit the floor for discussion and appears to have some support in the other house. This is despite the fact that there exist sparsely few methods for proving beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is texting while driving.

Now, it should be noted that attempting to send such a digital missive while hauling ass down the Northway is generally regarded as an unsafe practice. Most drivers with half a brain realize the difficulty in forming cohesive text and fumbling with buttons smaller than the standard human digit while trying to control a metric ton of metal, glass and rubber down New York’s asphalt jungles.

Yet still, there are some cases where this difficulty simply doesn’t register. Take for instance the horrific wreck in June, when a gaggle of high school cheerleaders perished after their Chevy Trailblazer crossed into the path of a hurtling tractor-trailer truck in the rural town of East Bloomfield. Police investigators later determined the teenage driver sent and received a spate of text messages as she sped toward a rendezvous in the Finger Lakes region.

Though tragic, this accident was more a result of the laws of social Darwinism and not the product of a lacking vehicle traffic code. Simply put, it’s not too bright to be taking one’s eyes off the road for any reason, much less to send a semi-legible message like “gtg…ttyl” to someone’s cell phone at a whim. As cruel as it may sound, life sometimes has a way of selectively removing such bizarre behavior from the gene pool.

But Breslin and Alesi don’t have time for nature to take its course, nor do they have faith in society itself to curb such practices. These senators wrongly believe a new state law might convince a giddy teenager it’s not a good idea to use the communication medium while swerving wildly through traffic. Mom, dad and Mr. Rinko would probably have more luck teaching junior to keep his eyes on the road than he state’s doltish legislators would through their ill-conceived legislation.

Chances are pretty good such a law would have a similar effect as the farcical cell phone law put in place six years ago. In fact, there are some who prefer texting because it can be done in the hidden confines of their laps and not out in the open, where some bored traffic cop might make a stink about it. These cases get heaped on top of the hundreds of thousands of minor infractions that chock local courts each week. Another law governing DWT would surely serve to further tax an already burdened court system.

Meanwhile, there’s gang warfare on the streets of Albany and Rochester just made this list as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. The economy in both cities closely mirrors the economy of the upstate region, which many fault as a leading contributor to the failing economy of the state overall. Surely, Breslin and Alesi would love to hear how voters would prefer to solve the driving while texting dilemma instead of addressing the crippled state of upstate’s city centers.

There are some serious problems out there folks, but not the ones legislators of Breslin’s and Alesi’s ilk will try to tackle; these things take way too much time. Instead, they’ll draft their futile quick-hit legislation, put an added weight on the state’s gridlocked court system and then chortle about it over a snifter of expensive brandy. Welcome to the Land of the Legislature, where solving New York’s problems are just one pen stroke away. Please leave your last tattered sense of reason on the doorstep outside. You won’t be needing such things here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Police state

Sometimes a picture is worth a 1,000 words. And sometimes those 1,000 words can say a lot about the society we live in. The picture showing up on thousands of doorsteps throughout the Spa City in Saturday’s Daily Gazette speaks volumes of the near-police state the area has become and is indicative of the worsening condition of this American democracy.

For those who didn’t happen to catch the picture entitled “road checks,” it shows a young Waterford police officer waving a motorist through a checkpoint on Route 32. The officer is no doubt being paid through the state’s bogus “Click-it or Ticket” campaign, of which the state police have so glowingly boasted about. The mandate funded through the governor’s Traffic Safety Committee allegedly saves lives by prompting people who would otherwise not wear seat belts to buckle up for once

The problem in the picture is that the patrolmen and his rather bulbous compatriot aren't checking whether drivers are wearing seat belts, according to the caption. They’re checking vehicle inspection and registration stickers. Of course, it should be noted that a duly inspected vehicle bearing a valid registration will do nothing to either save lives in horrific high-speed traffic accidents or convince people to wear their seatbelts.

These two innocuous stickers do, however, provide a perfect opportunity for the state and local municipalities to levy a sort of road tax on motorists. In most municipalities, violations of either can prompt a fine of nearly $150. The only way to avoid such a cost would be to prey the ticketing officer doesn’t show up in court. Otherwise, it’s the lofty fine in addition to the already steep cost it can sometime take to get one’s vehicle inspected.

Sure, $25 for an inspection is fairly cheap and does ensure the more radically unsafe vehicles are being kept off the road --somewhat. But when a grease ball mechanic can fail an inspection for something as minor as a small lesion in a windshield wiper blade, the whole process seems a bit comical.

The laughing stops when the police get involved. Unlike the inspections, police don’t come cheap. It costs about $90,000 to get a rookie cop trained and then at least $35,000 to keep him or her on the street. This doesn’t include the other hidden costs, such as uniforms, police stations or even the patrol cruiser, which needs to be replaced every other year. This also doesn’t include the cost of a town justice, court clerks, and an assistant district attorney to adjudicate something as ridiculous as a registration that expired the previous week.

So the police issue tickets and the courts extract their pound of flesh through fines, half of which go directly to the state with the other being pumped into the municipality’s general fund. The more stringent the regulations, the more people are busted and the more these two entities can collect for projects “to put more police back on the streets.”

But the streets are already crawling with cops. Take for instance any Saratoga County-owned road or thoroughfare. Drive for any spell during the week and you’re bound to run into at least one Saratoga County Sheriff’s deputy, a brand of uber-cop that can pick out just about any bull-shit reason in the book to pull someone over. Even if they can’t find a legally justifiable reason for a stop, they might flag you anyway just to make sure your story checks out.

Behind it all is Sheriff James Bowen, New York’s longest tenured sheriff. Since being appointed to the position by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1972, Bowen has built himself a vast public safety empire, through which he’s slowly edged out one small police force after the next. With the hire of 23 additional staffers last year, the sheriff’s department has grown to include a total of 94 deputies.

Controlling the county’s largest omnipresent police force isn’t enough for Bowen, who recently proposed hiring another nine deputies. His requests are the lion’s share of a $1.5 million list pitched by department heads for next year’s county budget. And like another grizzled veteran Saratoga County regulator, Bowen seems to thinks his force is worthy of multi-million dollar public safety castle at the taxpayer’s expense.

“We've outgrown [the old] facility. It was built in 1987,” Bowen told the Daily Gazette in August, after a consultant determined the new structure would cost $15.2 million.

Built 20 years ago and already outdated? Perhaps this due of poor planning. Or perhaps it’s because of the relentless hiring of deputies to harass the public and pad local municipal budgets. Either way, Bowen’s troop is slowly spreading its way across county like a scourge of locusts and contributing to the already overextend long arm of the law in a county that is a generally crime-free.

Some might argue this is necessary in the post-9-11 world, where every fifth person might be a plotting terrorist in wait. Others of sounder mind might argue this is just another step towards a police state. Needless to say, it’s hard to view the dark-clad fresh-faced Waterford officer with a taught hand waving on traffic without somewhat reflecting upon the storm troopers that once conducted similar check points throughout history.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

For sale by owner

For Sale: 9,500-circulation daily newspaper with an attractive center-city location in downtown Saratoga Springs. Recalcitrant 50-something managing editor included with the building! Lease-buy back options available, inquire within.

Recent murmurs of The Saratogian going on the market may sound just a bit too good to be true. Many city residents have clamored for such news ever since the miserly Journal Register Company’s cash siphon plunged into the side of the paper’s Lake Avenue offices more than a decade ago.

Of course, such rumors are a dime a dozen considering that just about everything in corporate America is for sale, meaning the real questions are for how much and is there a buyer. These are two questions the company simply won’t answer while their holdings continue to devalue and the paper’s reputation among the city populace dwindles to an all-time low.

However, such news seems to gain a good deal credence considering recent trends at the JRC corporate headquarters in Pennsylvania. Less than a year after posting a whopping 18 percent decline in stock valueThe company liquidated a good portion of its New England holdings. First to go was a string of three Rhode Island dailies, which were sold to Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers for $8.3 million. Then, the company pawned off a pair of Massachusetts dailies to GateHouse Media, netting them $70 million in cash and roughly $2 million in working capital.

At first blush, the move seemed to suggest JRC was trying to bandage its bleeding wound of waning circulation. On closer analysis, however, the sale seems to suggest a fundamental shift in the company’s media interests. JRC’s daily publications sold in 2007 recorded an average circulation of about 10,250.Circulation sizes ranged from the miniscule with Kent County Daily Times, to the mid-sized with 20,600 at The Herald News of Fall Rivers. The two deals also had the effect of reducing the number of JRC daily newspapers by more than 18 percent.

Given this data, it’s easy to deduce JRC is looking to save some cash by shedding some of its less-profitable lower circulation daily newspapers while retaining its larger markets for thier push for online classified revenues. At the same time, the company increased its register of weeklies by nearly 6 percent. As many in the industry could attest, weekly newspapers usually have smaller far less overhead and are cheaper to hold, even when circulation dips.

All this seems to suggest The Saratogian with its dwindling 9,500 subscribers won’t remain in the clutches of JRC for much longer. The Saratogian’s daily circulation has plummeted by more than 2,200 since becoming a JRC holding in 1998. It represented the first time the paper dipped below the 10,000 watermark in modern history. During this same time period, The Saratogian’s Sunday sales dropped by more than 3,200 and now remain 600 papers away from joining the weekday publication below the proverbial journalistic Mendoza line.

Previously, the JRC brass easily wrote off the paper’s pronounced dip in circulation to market factors such as the online media explosion. Yet this excuse becomes increasingly hackneyed as other regional print competitors successfully retool and remarket themselves. The Saratogain, on the other hand, has doggedly fought to keep its place behind the times in both form and content.

As some former Saratogian staffers have lamented, this lack of progress is largely a factor of JRC short changing, which keeps the newsroom on a shoestring budget. Fiscal problems have only been exacerbated by an utter dearth of leadership in the newsroom, thanks to the stoic recalcitrance of Barbara Lombardo, so-called managing editor who apparently gave up managing anything many years ago.

Massive errors in content and copy have made their way into the circulation, while the overall footprint of the paper’s coverage continues to shrink. While it’s easy to give Lombardo a pass because of her miserly corporate overload, it’s a bit more difficult to ignore the fact that she’s been the only consistent one who has literally presided over the rag-to-ridiculous story that is today’s Saratogian.

Ideally, a group of local investors from the Capital Region would purchase the paper before JRC’s meddling finally sounds its death knell. Lombardo and anyone of her ilk could be replaced by those enthusiastic enough to make a go at reclaiming the city coverage so brutally usurped by its competitors from Albany, Glens Falls and Schenectady of all places. But alas, this is a pipe dream, as is the day this city will awake to a day without the likes of either Lombardo or JRC.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The short unhappy term of Valerie Keehn

Valerie Keehn looked like she had accidentally taken a mouthful of fermented grapefruit rind Tuesday. As her fragment of the Democratic Party gleefully cheered on the crushing defeat of nemesis Tom McTygue, the incumbent mayor watched as one district after the next supported her becoming the second consecutive mayor to be voted out of office after just one term.

Despite her sour look and caustic remarks, Keehn claimed wasn’t bitter about the loss, nor did she point fingers. That is, except for the middle one she waved at McTygue the whole night. It almost seemed as though Keehn was amazed by her loss, which she directly linked to her bouts with the Public Works fixture. She seemed unable to grasp how the people could so abruptly turn on the self-proclaimed people’s mayor. And when she reached deep for these reasons, all she managed to come up with was the same middle finger.

“Not only did I have an opponent, I had three opponents and one of those opponents was the biggest political machine this city has ever seen,” she said in her concession speech.

Not that her loss had anything to do with fracturing the city Democrats, or by her supporters waging a slash-and-burn campaign against her primary challenger; or that she just lacked any accomplishments in office other than her pestilent needling McTygue. No, these weren’t reasons for defeat; these were reasons for victory, she explained to her cronies.

“While I won’t be the mayor, the person sitting to the left of the mayor is going to be far better for this city because of something I have done and that is something that no other mayor in this city has done and that is to have the courage to take on the machine of this city and make this city a better place,” she said in her trademark less-than-enthusiastic tone.

While this may sound like the mayor being a sore loser, she did make one extremely valid point in claim to have done “something no other mayor in the city has done.” Aside from uttering the longest mayoral run-on sentences ever recorded, she managed to nuke the city’s Democratic Committee AND deliver the city council to the Republicans on a platinum platter, complete with some hand-wrapped Cubans and a decanter of single malt scotch for effect. No other Democrat in city history has so thoroughly sabotaged their own party for the simple sake of handing the government over to their opponents.

And then came the scary part of Keehn’s speech.

“If you think I am going to go away, I can tell you I’m not going to go away,” she said to drowning applause.

Yes, another unfortunate truth about Keehn’s loss is that there was no binding agreement or section in the city charter mandating that she be catapulted from the city once and for all, which means her bickering and dickering could one day crop back up in city politics like crabgrass in the spring time. Note to Scott Johnson: your first mayoral directive should be issuing an edict to catapult the former mayor and her husband back to Wyoming or any other state where their politics won’t infect the government like a herpes sore at a junior high game of spin the bottle.

Amazingly, some seemed shocked by Keehn’s so-called upset, when the writing was on the wall as early as her February state of the city address. It was the first time the compound fracture between the Keehniacs and the city’s yellow dog Democrats was publically evident. Whatever wasn’t etched in stone then was certainly chiseled after her gloating during the primary, which she mistakenly perceived as a Democratic mandate instead of the freak power vote it was. Still, WNYT’s John Allen seemed to blow a gasket over the Keehn loss.

“This could only be considered an upset,” he said, a very concerned and perplexed look deeply entrenched on his face. “Retired lawyer, relative newcomer to the political scene Scott Johnson will be the next mayor of Saratoga Springs.”

Allen went on to explain how is almost seemed Johnson was “lying low” during the first days of the campaign, which technically kicked off in January and got into full swing in April. While this is nowhere near an astute observation –Johnson’s lay-low technique has be roundly discussed on this blog –it’s a poignant one nonetheless.

Like many, Johnson accurately read the kamikaze trajectory Keehn set herself on and simply waited for her collision into the S.S. McTygue. Keehn and her supporters, on the other hand, wrongly figured she could win over Republican voters by simply supporting Scirocco in his quest to sink the stalwart McTygue. Some even sympathized for the Keehniacs and their dreadfully miscalculated run at politics.

“I was up on Broadway with a Scirocco sign and Keehn people high-fived me,” Scirocco's brother, Frank told the Saratogian. “You kind of felt bad.”

The Keehniacs even broadly boasted how their candidate had enough bi-partisan support to take a 20 point lead against Johnson. Of course, even Tom Qualtere’s toddler cousin could have identified the flaw in this thinking: Republicans simply don’t vote for candidates even remotely affiliated with Democracy for America and especially not those defining themselves as “tax and spend” leftist

But the MENSA folk at Kamp Keehn couldn’t figure this out. While Johnson made quiet strides in August and September, Keehn drank the Kool-aid her supporters so readily stirred for her each day. Rather than help her own party, she dumped her efforts into helping Skip Scirocco, who secured a nearly 30 point lead over McTygue; well more than he needed considering the utter flogging in print the incumbent DPW commissioner got at the hands of two less than reputable news sources. Needless to say, there weren’t any Scirocco supporters high-fiving the Keehniacs Tuesday.

Had Keehn made amends with her party after the primaries, she would have been all but assured re-election. She nailed down endorsements from one major newspaper, the local fish wrap and a semi-legible neo-fascist liberal gossip column, as well as support from many high-ranking Democrats in state and federal office. In the end, she lost by more than 500 votes, which was ironically about the same number of votes accrued by Gordon Boyd; strange how that worked out.

“Anyone can speculate on what effect I had,” Boyd told the Daily Gazette. “I did what I thought was the right thing.”

So what does this all mean? Good question. Despite Keehn’s assertions, he defeat likely does mean a relative exodus of her supporters from politics. They lack the gall to merge with the Republicans and the humility to rejoin the Democrats. Most likely, the same group of “disenfranchised” folks stumping for the soon-to-be former mayor will go back to whining about being disenfranchised. And when the Republican machine cranks up in City Hall this winter, many of them will be sorry they used C4 instead of matches to burn their party bridges.

For the city, it will be a return to the status quo for the most part. The Republicans don’t have a supermajority and the voting predilections of both Johnson and Ivins are less than know commodities. The most drastic change will be the abandonment of the city plan to tap Saratoga Lake. With the county plan still barely plugging along, the council will undoubtedly vote to buy water from the pipeline to secure its future needs; look for the Volkswagen to speed this legislation through as his first order of business. He’s got some bills to pay at the county level.

The rest will have to wait until next month, as Johnson selects his deputy and decides whether he wants to guide the city or be guided by his party. History would suggest the later, but Johnson’s campaign talk seems to suggest something different. As for everyone else, there’s something to be learned from the vitriolic bickering on the council and its effect on the electorate. There’s no question why the two most frequent offenders are now on the outside looking in.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Endorse this

After more than 10 months of vitriolic jabber and finger pointing, the election is finally upon us. Initially, the stance of i-Saratoga was to make no endorsements whatsoever, being that this semi-daily diatribe is anything but supportive of politicians.

However in an 11th hour decission, the blog’s Board of Directors ruled in favor of changing this stance after several milquetoast semi-endorsements dripped from the chum bucket of the local press this week. These are just a few suggestions to consider before haphazardly voting along party lines or for the incumbents when you step into the voting booth today. Remember to bring a friend and a six-pack or a friend’s six-pack and get out to vote. So without further adieu, please take in the first-ever i-Saratoga-endorsments for this year’s city elections:

Mayor: Dale Easter. At first blush, it might not seem like a great idea to give the reins of government to a handlebar mustache wearing cowboy from Prince Edward Island who rolled into the city with a bunch of motorcycle-riding hippies back in the day. Often times, Easter’s gang of societal subversives is credited with the bourbon brawling revitalization of Caroline Street, which is sort of a dubious accomplishment in and of itself.

Yet the former owner of Professor Moriarity’s remains the quintessential Saratoga Springs resident. He’s rough on the edges and politically savvy on the inside. He’s a social Democrat with a deeply hardened fiscal conservative crust, thanks to more than three decades in the restaurant business. Those who knew Easter in business also know his propensity for pinching pennies, a quality that would be a welcome addition as the city considers the horrific $63 million slate of projects proposed by incumbent mayor Valerie Keehn. And given his extreme propensity for inaudible mumbling, he’d add an element of chance to spice up local news reporting.

Finance Commissioner: Matt McCabe. Sure, he says he’s not running for re-election. But he’ll change his tune after being shackled to the finance desk for a few weeks with some moldy bread and gruel. Oh, he’ll change his tune alright. Seriously, McCabe came to city hall a quiet musician from Caroline Street with little precedent for running the city finances. During his first years, he wasn’t very vocal on the council and seemed to get splinters from sitting too long on the proverbial fence of city politics.

Recently, however, McCabe’s fierce independence from partisan politics has served as the only voice of reason amid petty council infighting. When the new police station balloon was floated up, McCabe smartly shot it down by calling it out for what it was: too expensive. Perhaps his only fault is his modesty. While Keehn has blustered on and on about how she secured the city’s $3.8 million of VLT revenues, it was McCabe who first brought up the fact that they weren’t a given in the first place. Were it not for his insight on the issue, the funding would have become an oversight.

Public Safety Commissioner: Erin Dreyer. Who could resist bringing the blond bombshell back for two more years of skullduggery? True, she has absolutely no qualifications for the job and nearly shredded the department on her last go round. But this is politics, baby. This is the freak circus sideshow on crack, its denizens from the deepest circles of the inferno. Bringing back Public Safety’s prodigal whore would be a perfect way to punctuate this fact.

The main idea of having Dreyer in office would be to once again remove politics from police work. Now, some may think it’s odd to add Dreyer’s combative brand of civics into a mix that already includes the political predilictions of Police Chief Ed Moore, the only active-duty cop in recent memory to stump with two incumbent politicians. But when you consider physicians give Ritalin to hyperactive children, tossing the wolverine-like Dryer into a cage with Moore doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Perhaps with two more years of needling, he’d take a run at throttling his nemesis. After all, the city wouldn’t need to pay his treasure trove of benefits if he was in jail.

Accounts Commissioner: Dennis Brunelle. While it is admirable that incumbent Commissioner John Franck has held the line on reassessing the city at a time when the local housing market is witnessing an 11 percent dip, it would be nice to have someone in government that keenly understands the problems caused by overinflated property values. What better person than the guy who’s headed the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council and been a member of the Workforce Housing Partnership.

Brunelle’s one drawback is that he’s a supporter of Keehn, a wind-bagging mayor who saw no problem with blatantly welshing on her campaign promise to augment the city’s affordable housing stock. As some may recall, Brunelle glowingly introduced Keehn during her state of the city address last winter and has yet to hold the mayor’s feet to the fire on this matter. Regardless, his input on the council would at least provide a much needed voice for those in the city who almost always lack one.

Public Works Commissioner
: Tom Qualtere. In this race, it was a tossup between the go-getting co-president of the Skidmore Young Republicans and the man inauspiciously known as “Vinnie the Cleaner” from Gaffney’s. But in the end, the endorsement must go to Qualtere. The idea of a Skidmore Republican ordering around a blue collar workforce dominated by old school Democrats is simply too precious to pass up.

Not to mention, the DPW could use some fresh blood after more than three decades of Tom McTygue. And there’s little doubt Qualtere would have his blood spilled shortly after barking his first orders at the city road crews. Still, this endorsement can’t go without mention of Vinnie, the rumpled and somewhat recalcitrant Caroline Street dweller who sees enough through his coke bottle glass to somehow scrub away the vomit stains left by folks of Qualtere’s ilk. You make Saratoga sparkle, Vinnie. Keep up the good work.

City Supervisors: Ed Dague. While it’s not clear if his Saratoga Lake home is inside the city limits, the retired WNYT anchor and Times Union blogger has the right attitude for supervisor. Anyone with the chutzpa to threaten and berate the region’s most useless band of keystone kops is the right man for the job. The Board of Supervisors needs a voice of reason that is going to call the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department for what it is: an overpaid gang of traffic cops that do more to harass motorists than prevent crime. And this sort of input –even if it’s threatening in nature –could be used on the board as Sheriff and tax-dollar drain Jim Bowen argues for an eye popping nine additional deputies for his already over-extended force.

And for the other seat, Bill Parcells. Again, it’s unclear if the Big Tuna actually spends enough time in the Spa City to hold elected office. Yet he owns a lot of property here and is rich well beyond eight decimals, which is all candidates need these days to throw their name in the hat. So what would the former NFL coach bring to the Supervisors? Well, he’d bring one hell of a name, that’s for sure. Parcells could throw his weight around like LT on the gridiron with an eight-ball on board. After all, who would go against the vote of a guy swinging club fists with two Super Bowl rings tucked on the knuckles? Look out, James Lawler. Big Tuna says no to the county water plan.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Attention to detail

Petty nit-picking details; it’s strange how they just seem to get bled from stories when there’s a political ax to grind. Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about Henry Smith. Or rather there’s been a lot of talk about the black former part-time Public Works laborer’s victory in a lawsuit against the department for their failure to promote him to full-time status.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in September the DPW had not only shown racial bias in not promoting Smith, but also tried to “intimidate” the worker by releasing his complaint and employment record to the Post Star. The story first hit the press in October 2006 and then came up again just three weeks ago as the brutally contested race for DPW commissioner reached its final days.

At first blush, the case seems to carry a fair amount of weight, given the supposed controversy surrounding Public Works fixture Tom McTygue. His abrasive personality coupled with rumors of a federal investigation seemed to suggest racism as a logical next step for the embattled commissioner. It was mentioned here that there might be other reasons McTygue or the DPW might not see fit to promote Smith, who appeared to have a small collection of low-level arrests.

That is, until one considers the record of Henry Lee Smith, a reputed former coke dealer who is the convicted “ring leader” behind a brutal assault and robbery on Broadway eight years ago. Donning a black ski mask, Smith helped two others duct tape a Skidmore student to a chair before ransacking his friend’s apartment in search of a safe they planned to rob.

Authorities eventually tracked down Smith because he was cashing checks stolen from the apartment at a local grocery store. He later pleaded guilty to third-degree robbery and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. He was handed a three- to six-year prison term in 2000 and was released from Mount McGregor in 2003. Oddly enough, this was around the same time he managed to get a job with the DPW.

Of course, these details weren’t important when the story broke. None of the papers who covered the case bothered to make mention of Smith’s record, which might have been one of the prime reasons he was never elevated in the department to begin with. Better yet, it might have been a continuance of the blistering stupidity he exhibited in 1999 –locally cashing a forged check stolen in a high-profile robbery –that truly kept him from advancing.

Digging it

Editor’s: I'm seeking an unadulterated unabridged copy of the memo issued by the DPW regarding the disposal of such waste. Anyone with such a copy can send it here.

Cliff Staring might want to start looking for a new job. Less than a month after very publically giving his boss the finger, the Public Works mole managed to throw his department’s influential union into the fire with both the city and the state. No, it hasn’t been a good week for Staring, who can probably look forward to plucking gum and cigarette butts off the Caroline Street curbside for the rest of his DPW days.

In the “what the fuck were they thinking” category of campaign news stories comes this report from the Daily Gazette, chronicling more illegal activity by the city’s embattled public works department. As an astute reader pointed out Friday, the Department of Environmental Conservation was in fact doing some digging at the DPW composting site behind Weibel Avenue Friday.

The agency was apparently tipped off by Staring, the same environmental watchdog who blew the lid off an oil spill at the department’s Division Street Garage and then melodramatically recounted his good deed to the Metroland’s gossip column. Staring just happened to be milling about at the composting site late Thursday, when he discovered 70 cubic yards of raw sewage from two of the city’s pumping stations had been haphazardly dumped.

“I can assure you that there was human waste, toilet paper and, excuse me, used tampons,” he gleefully told the Gazette Friday. “As we speak right now, it’s still there.”

Being the good citizen that he is, Staring jumped on his DEC hotline and promptly alerted the authorities, who then launched an immediate investigation. At first, some viewed the incident as the bombshell to finally sink the listing campaign of Public Works fixture Tom McTygue, who critics have long accused of such illegal dumping.

But then the full story came out. Apparently in his zeal to break the news, Staring forgot to find out first who was dumping the material and that person’s connection with ongoing attempts to unseat the veteran commissioner. Unfortunately for him, it turned out to be Joe O’Neil, the same union leader who decided to endorse challenger Skip Scirocco last month.

So let’s get this straight. O’Neil supports Scirocco under the pretense that McTygue is a bully and the workers are fed up. The workers themselves say there was no vote and O’Neil unilaterally made the decision under the auspices of the union’s “leadership.” Then only five days remaining before the election, O’Neil dumps raw sewage at the composting plant, reaffirming many of the suppositions alleged by local freak show David Bronner. Of course, Bronner is the same fellow that was passing out the aforementioned gossip column in an apparent effort to sway voters in favor of incumbent Mayor Valerie Keehn during the Democratic primary.

Strange how all these incidents seem to tie together. It’s almost as if there’s a bi-partisan and concerted effort to oust McTygue from office. But strange was not how DPW director Bill McTygue labeled an incident involving a longtime employee directly violating department protocol. In fact, he characterized the dumping as suspicious, given O’Neil’s recent campaign connections. Suspicious? No. Highly suspect? Closer to the point. Nefariously orchestrated? Right on the money.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Shopping with the mayor

Valerie Keehn instinctively thumbed the platinum card in her palm as the stretch limousine came to a rolling stop on 50th Street. She gingerly extended a toe of her polished leather Prada heels to the curbside and pulled herself into the mid-afternoon sun, inhaling deeply the crisp autumn air. Perfect shopping weather, she thought, as she tucked an Armani designer handbag beneath her arm and strutted authoritatively toward the door to Saks Fifth Avenue.

For nearly nine months, she had wanted to jettison her wardrobe from last season; the frumpy frills, the aging material, the styles so woefully passé. What better time to do it than when a hot platinum card is burning between the finger tips.

“Follow me,” she said, tossing the card at a nearby department manager. “I’ve got a number of things I’ll need you to gift-wrap.”

She grabbed a gold-embroidered chemise, cashmere sweaters, and velvet evening gowns; thousands of dollars of purchases in just minutes. But every minute worth it, she thought, leafing through a collection of designer-print silk wraps. Like a pirate sifting through plunder, she loaded the man’s arms with so much finery he called for help to haul the impending purchases.

She pressed onto the home ware department and quickly noticed a striking collection of Faberge glassware shimmering in the department store fluorescence. Four martini glasses for $400, it’s for a good cause, she whispered, thinking briefly about how striking she’d look sipping a Godiva Chocolate martini in them with an extended pinky at the next Keehn for America fundraiser. She chortled slightly. And what good would such glasses be without a set of crystal flutes to complement them?

“Throw it on the card,” she said, pointing at the entire display.

“But my dear,” the manager gasped. “That’s well over $10,000 worth of merchandise.”

“And I’m prepared to buy it,” she quipped, making sure to use her most pretentious, Oxford-inspired voice.

“Well,” he replied, glancing hard at the card. “I’ll need to check your credit…”

“Then just do it,” she barked. “I’m rich, don’t you understand? Real rich. I’m so rich, in fact, I haven’t the time to concern myself with prices.”

So she shopped on, filling the arms of four more attendants with a bevy of high-name big ticket items. The dollars flew by, but it didn’t matter. Not with that platinum card. It was almost as if the items were free; just hand them to the attendant and worry about the bill later. Tiffany, Gucci, Versace, she needed it all and in copious amounts.

But then the manager returned; a look of deep concern entrenched on his face. He had dispatched of two attendants and was telling the third to leave when he found himself staring into the angry eyes of his frivolous shopper.

“You insult me by putting back my purchases,” she growled. “What is the meaning of this?”

“My dear,” he said in a pleading voice. “These are the items you can’t afford right now.”

“Nonsense,” she shouted, drawing the attention the manager had desperately tried to avoid garnering. “Pack up these things now and allow me to go back to my shopping.”

The manager shrugged.

“Even though these cards typically have no limit, you have somehow managed to reach your maximum,” he whispered. “In fact, you can hardly afford the item you’re holding in your hands right now.”

Keehn looked down at the small $150 designer key ring she plucked from the sale rack in the accessory isle and contemplated; there is a platinum card here, the card means money and money is meant to be spent, right?

“Well don’t worry about it,” she said abruptly, grabbing a stack of satin sheets. “Somebody will pay for it.”

True, this fictional narrative is rather fantastic given the mayor’s off-kilter fashion sense. What is not fictional is the Keehn Administration’s concept of spending and their utter disregard for what the city’s credit and taxpayers can burden. Finance voice-of-reason Matt McCabe tried to warn Keehn about the inhospitable condition of the budget months before she came out with her ludicrous $63 million capital projects budget, something that looks much akin to a dumpster-sized shopping spree through Saks Fifth Avenue’s wares.

Sure, it’s all stuff the city wants, maybe even needs. But with dwindling municipal revenue sources –primarily from lagging sales and mortgage tax receipts –it’s not stuff the city can afford. More specifically, it’s not stuff the few remaining lower-middle class property owners can afford. Few people among this class welcome a local tax increase that is almost to double digits before even including the full cost of the biggest ticket item on the wish list.

The city is now facing an 8.63 percent tax hike, a number that considers a little less than half the cost of the $17 million Public Safety fortress Keehn and lapdog Ron Kim have so brutally stumped for during their conglomerate campaign. Keep in mind, this increase is also figuring in the fact that Saratoga Springs is receiving $3.8 million in VLT revenues this year, a source that is about a solid in the future.

The question is where to make the cuts so that working-class citizens can still own property in the Spa City? Well, the most obvious one can be made next week in the voting booth. Hopefully, city voters will support a Mayor who spends more time finding answers to these fiscal questions rather than using the position for political attacks while stacking the city finances like a house of cards.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pressing matters

Most factory showroom models of the prototypical New York politician include a hyper-inflated sense of self-importance as a standard option. This self-importance is so common, in fact, it’s difficult to get a politician churned out of the partisan assembly line without the belief that their presence is infinitely more valuable than any other working-class stiff walking on the street.

Prime examples of this are the free-range jerk-offs milling about the state Capitol, each plucked out of some Democrat or Republican hatchery, given a tacky tie or pant suit and set loose on mission to see how large they can grow their egos before, during and after general elections. Even better are the local politicos, who act with a sense of personal elevation simply because they’re running for a part-time job that carries a vote on a small city’s governing body. And what better way to showoff one’s self importance than by calling so-called press conference.

Even the term “press conference” sounds important. The term “press” suggests some sense of immediacy and urgency, where as “conference” elicits the idea that droves of people might attend from miles around just to hear this Sermon on the Mount. At one point, politicians called press conferences because an important message needed to get out to a lot of people and the much less sophisticated press release just wouldn’t do. But over the years, the idea that a message needed importance to justify such a conference evaporated and the practice itself became a sort of second serving delivered after the press release, just to ensure full saturation.

This was never more evident in the Spa City over the past year, as the latest band of clowns makes and attempt to wrest control from the gang of jesters now claiming to serve the people. Residents had hardly sobered up from their New Year’s debauchery when the first press conference of the 2007 election was called to City Hall. With less than 11 short months left before the polls opened, Gordon Boyd wanted to make sure voters knew he was running for office.

Four months later, he was joined by incumbent Mayor Valerie Keehn, who toted a gaggle of cameras and pen jockeys into a rainy Congress Park to announce her re-election –even though a simple phone call would have done. As the spring wore into summer, so did the mounting number of city press conferences. Accounts Commissioner John Franck called one to announce the property assessment of the city’s most ostentatious home. Keehn called one to show off a ludicrous novelty check signifying the state’s VLT revenues and another to ensure her name would be thrown into the mix when the city’s waterfront park partially opened.

Then in August, Republican mayoral candidate Scott Johnson jumped head-first into the press conference circuit. He called a meeting of the minds just to announce his support for the New York Racing Association, even though he lacked even a tacit connection to the organization or legislative body deciding its fate.

But lately, the press conference extravaganza has hit furious pace. Keehn called one with Public Safety lapdog Ron Kim and Police Chief Ed Moore to call Boyd a big Karl Rove-hugging jerk. Then after a solid thrashing in the primaries, Boyd convened one to label Keehn a Fulani-loving cult follower; an accusation to which the mayor responded by saying she was too busy attending a dead kid’s press conference to deal with anything coming out of any other city press conference.

This month, the conference extravaganza has moved on to the Public Works race. Despite being essentially a retired city worker and holding no official office or title, Skip Scirocco has been averaging a little better than one press conference a week. There was a press conference to announce his CESEA endorsement and then one to announce his deputy, an appointment usually made long after the election and absent any fan fare. Sitting Public Works fixture Tom McTygue felt it necessary to hold his own press conference to show his workers still backed him, as well as one to defend allegations made in the press following Scirocco’s other press conferences.

Yes folks, these are important people; so important that it’s a wonder the city doesn’t invest in rose pedals to throw before their footsteps. These are also individuals far too lofty for simply explaining themselves or their intentions without some sort of grandiose three-ring circus. And the saddest part is that the more brutally fickle branches of the media seem to eat this tripe up by the plate full. On a side note, it should be mentioned that the news agency most often toted along on these ridiculous press conferences also happens to be the one that quite candidly admitted to literally printing yesterday’s news today.

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