Sunday, February 03, 2008

Did somebody hear an echo?

Scott Johnson was settling into the third page of his lengthy State of the City address, when a shrill cry echoed from the crowd. To the amazement of the sparse crowd, a machete-wielding Valerie Keehn lunged forward and tackled the surprised mayor.

“We’re taking back this city back for the people,” screamed the former Mayor, thrusting the blade into the air. “Viva la resistance!”

Unfortunately, the events unfolding during Johnson’s speech Sunday weren’t nearly as dramatic. In fact, there was very little meat to be scraped from the bones of his speech. It was almost the rice cake of speeches: Sure your eyes are telling you there’s something there to digest, despite most of your other senses disagreeing.

Not that anyone would have noticed if he did say something of note. After arriving a fashionably late, Johnson spoke to a vastly empty room at the City Center. Unofficial tallies suggest the bulk of the audience were either politicians or political advisers of some ilk. Perhaps the lacking attendance was a factor of the pre-Super Bowl booze-a-thon unfolding everywhere in the city proper or perhaps residents have grown wise to the lacking nature of these speeches; perhaps people simply don’t care.

True, there’s usually not much of anything to be gleaned from any State of the City address in recent memory. Keehn, the only former mayor in attendance Sunday, used the speech in 2007 to show off her ineptitude speaker and to throw as much mud as humanly possible on a pair of commissioners she always seemed at odds with.

Johnson, on the other hand, didn’t seem to say a great deal. He certainly didn’t say anything that could be distinguished as a dig at his fellow party members, much less anyone on the council. The tone of the speech itself seemed somewhat conciliatory. Then again, Johnson hasn’t had much more than a month to marinate in the brine of city politics

Much of the mayor’s speech was devoted to preaching fiscal restraint and for the city’s government to end the “tax and spend” policies embraced by previous administrations. He also pledged to seek out new revenue sources and to fight for a continuance of the video lottery terminal aid from the state; a line item that accounts for 10 percent of the city’s total budget.

Johnson raised the previously partisan issue of rejoining the county’s sales tax plan. As some may recall, the city was urged out of the county plan under the mayoral administration of Democrat Ken Klotz. Michael Lenz, his Republican predecessor, had made rumbles of rejoining the county formula, but was quieted as a steady procession of scandals rendered the last months of his administration useless.

Johnson touched upon the deeply dividing issues of the new Public Safety building and plans to tap Saratoga Lake as a water source. But in each case, his comments were far from committal. He called for a fiscally sound solution for the Public Safety building and a “fresh eyes” approach to finding a new water source for the city.

Johnson also called for the creation of several committees, a tact which politicians often use to give voters the impression of forward movement when there really is none. In Johnson’s case, the committee button will apparently be used to review the future of the city’s capital projects and to investigate the burden local taxes. He also suggested putting the city’s large capital projects up to a referendum vote.

Though the jury is still out on Johnson, it’s becoming clear his agenda is somewhat aligned with the county party and in the same mix with some of the elephants stomping around in the state capital. One couldn’t ignore Johnson’s intermittent shout-outs to Hollywood Joe Bruno, the grand puba of state Republicans and obstructionist blocking a deal to keep state thoroughbred racing under the auspices of the embattled New York Racing Association.

On the other hand, hearing the mayor words in favor of fiscal restraint and the crippling tax burden facing residents was refreshing. But it’s a lot easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothin' for nothin', but the Mayor's speech ended @12:40pm did you post your blog from the City Center?
I'm a frequent reader of your postings, but having this quick of a turn around, from the actual event, is a little puzzling.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Ahh...a magician never reveals his secrets. Although, this really isn't that much of a secret. More smoke and mirrors than anything else.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your right, 3 hrs. isn't that much of a secret. I feel enlightened. I wish I could say the same for Joanne Yepsen. I just read her comment (in the ragatonian) about the Mayor's desire to revisit the potential for letting the city back into the county sales tax distribution formula. She's quoted as saying that Klotz's decision, to leave the original formula, was based on a "careful economic study". If my memory serves me correctly, that study was done at a cost of $30k by KPMG who recommended the city NOT leave the county formula until more complete data was available. I'm wondering if she's suggesting that we spend another $30k to make that recommendation clearer?

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have really loved to hear some mention of the "dead" feeling to the town. The city center has very few conventions planned. The shops on Broadway are all but empty - some even closed more days than they are open. Restaurants have very few patrons. Most businesses are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. With sky high rents and utility bills and no patrons something has to give. But there was no mention of this. Do we think the mayor is aware?

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time to move on! McTygue is gone so HO you can actually be constructive in stead of destructive. No more intimidating commissioner to deal with!

4:56 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


It's tough to really tell how dead downtown is this time of year until the businesses start shuttering. For the number-one driver -restaurants and bars -this is notoriously the worst time of the year, even more so than January, which at least has a pair of holidays sprinkled through it. Yes, these are dark times in the Spa City from here until St. Patty's, after which the trend usually starts to look up.

But you bring up another interesting point, which hearkens to another issue that has long been ignored, or at least put off to another day: The Convention Center. It's too small for big-league conventions and too out of date for even the smaller ones. They've been talking about the expansion for almost a decade now with no forward progress. It seems like it gets thrown on the front burner just long enough for someone to shove it off to the back.

In truth, this is the only thing that will truly make Saratoga a "year-round destination" as the C&TB advertises. And on that note, could the lack of conventions be due to the fact that Gavin Landry is no longer manning that office? I have trouble typing this with a straight face, but Landry's contributions to that end were substantive...Deep thoughts...

And on the rents...That's the million-dollar question that Kommandant Keehn dodged her whole tenure in office with great success; and Lenz didn't really care to address. The rent problem is spurred by building assessments and will eventually lead to the 'commercialization' of many Broadway storefronts unless someone comes up with a good plan of action. Ten years ago, there was no GAP, Eddie Bauer, Borders, Banana Republic, Anne Taylor, Coldstone Creamery. Then again, the buildings these businesses occupy weren't there either; nor were a host of PILOT agreements...More deep thoughts...

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sperry's closed for a winter break w/no warning to it's employees, Brindisi's closed for break. First's for both of these establishments. Yuppie deli in Ruin-oops I mean Roohan building paying employees late and cutting their food benefits. Building assessments are part of the rent problem, but when downtown building owner's started smelling money, they sold out their neighbors in seconds flat. Now, many of the buildings downtown are not locally owned. They don't care about this town, as long as they get their money. Some say that's good business, I say it's being a bad neighbor and in the long run will kill off this town. Luxury, luxury, luxury, that is all you hear about when trying to sell in this town. The sign in the realty office downtown said something like "Dine, Play, Entertain, Frolic" when offering selling points about our real estate. While these are all nice parts of a life, they are not the essentials. Everyone needs to work, pay bills, take care of themselves or their families, and it isn't always a constant party. As far as I can tell, a good deal of the problem stems from outside wealth, and it's ability to overpay for pleasure and whim, what others had and needed to have a decent life. When I see at least 20 smaller houses knocked down in the last three years (about half of them on Jefferson St.) I don't see progress. I see the permanent and willful destruction of Saratoga's middle and working classes. No more can sweat equity fix up a run down home where minimum $350,000 houses now stand. The puff pieces in the local rags say the market is just fine, quoting the average realtors sales not really dipping. I think this statistic doesn't take in to account all the realtors that quit the game in the last two years after the gold rush started to cool. Yeah, great, now everybody can take out home equity loans since the value of their property has jumped. Oops, I didn't think about those rising interest rates! Oops, maybe I'm going to need that money to pay my rising taxes that development is supposed to bring down! When? Where? Oh yeah and all those taxes that the city center pays. Oh yeah, they don't. And neither will that chip plant that isn't ever going to be built anyway! And neither will all the rich bastards with fancy accountants and the chain stores that negotiate 10 year leases for cheaper rent than mom and pop! And assholes with 6,000 square foot dining rooms! Yay! Happy Mardi Gras! Feast then Fast. Lean times ahead. Pax, PhilthyRex

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Well said. Thank you.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Per Anonymous 11:47PM:

Very well said. You are dead on right. Can somebody please CC this to every person who lives in Saratoga?

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the "dead feel" to the town is a very real virus. As a business owner I can say that I have never seen such low numbers in November, December, and January. Is it more than the economy? There is NO foot traffic. This is more than just a decline. In 10 years I have never had such low income and such high bills. Almost every retail window has a SALE sign in it. It doesn't seem that Saratogians are supporting Saratoga. What can be done?

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...6:14 PM

"Unfortunately the "dead feel" to the town is a very real virus.
What can be done?"

I don't think this virus that you describe is limit to Saratoga Springs. I think the problem reaches a national level and probably a global level as well.

The party is over.
Of course, for many who never got invited to the party to begin with,
bad times just continue to get worse.

As far as what can be done; If I owned a retail business or worse a restaurant on Broadway and the income and expenses are as you describe I would get the hell out as fast as you can.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said... 4:20 PM

“But there was no mention of this. Do we think the mayor is aware?”

If he is like many of us, which he probably is, I am sure he can sense the foreboding financial pessimism. He does seem concerned about spending. However, he probably does not realize the extent of the businessmen’s plight.

Shit, even that idiot Kim the Bankruptcy King knows something isn’t right. But is that stopping him from pissing away 17 million?

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What can be done?"

Vote for Treadwell.

8:28 PM  
Blogger A small "r" republican for fairness said...

Rex. Very poignant commentary, as usual. You are spot on.

As far as business being down. Yep. No doubt about it. As a local businessman, I am gravely concerned about where the economy, both local and national are headed.

I'm not ready to say the sky is falling yet, but all the economic indicators are there. Before we get too crazy though, bear this in mind. This Nov/Dec/Jan have seen much weaker foot traffic, but some of this is indeed weather related. It was MUCH colder and snowier in the early part of the winter than in year's past. This has a very significant impact on visits by guests from out of town, and even the local shopper.

HO: As far as the City Center goes, it is still progressing. The first half of the money dedicated to it from Senator Bruno's office is a done deal. However, no construction can begin until the balance of that promissory comes through. I know that that was proceeding at a snails pace because everyone was waiting to see the outcome of the November elections.

You are absolutely right in the fact that some of our convention business is going away due to the constraints of the current center. It is being addressed, just not as fast as it could be if various political factions could get their thumbs out (NYS legislature, I'm talkin' to you).

What most people don't realize is that some recurring pieces of business are moving to different locales because they can't get straight answers on when the City Center will have the upgrades it needs for their particular event. Most of these groups book at least two, and usually three years out when deciding on a site. This is seriously hamstringing the sales staff of the center, as they can't tell them 1) when construction will be beginning or ending 2) when additional floor space will be available 3) what features will constitute the improved center 4) whether or not the construction would interrupt their particular event.

As far as Gavin Landry being gone. He was phenomenal in his SCTB role, and his enthusiasm and tourism industry know how are certainly missed. I know I miss working with him. That said, it is still too early to see how his replacement, David Zunker, will fare in filling those tremendous shoes. Insiders tell me that he is doing well in the transition, but only time will tell.

More on this as events unfold....

8:57 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

VK - If the doom and gloom is half what people are making of it here, there's no politician that can pull the Capital Region -or America for that matter -out of what appears to be an impending fiscal crisis.

To boil it down, most of those trimmed from the shrinking middle class haven't stop spending like their still part of the party. They take out second and third mortgages, three or four credit cards, a few car leases and then start borrowing for their kid's college. Well, these are the poor fuckers getting fed to the meat-grinder now that the bill is past due and the waiter is nervously eying the table.

On a slightly brighter note, I say this about the Spa City's businesses. Those who are smart and don't operate on deficits will pull through the dark times. Even in the 80s, there were businesses in Saratoga. Like the aforementioned middle class, those businesses that mortgaged the future in hopes of a big return in their first five years will start dropping off like flies in the fall.

Frankly, what I think a sort of Broadway summit would be a good for this city; a meeting between prominent business and building owners where such fears can be vetted. If the clouds are indeed dark, it's better to get the cards on the table now than to watch main street Saratoga fall into the doldrums. For if that does happen, look to corporate America to step up and start seeding the ground with every imaginable chain store that can be fit in this city...And then it becomes Wilton's problem...

Small 'r',

That's sort of the read that I've gotten. It's unfortunate too, seeing as though most of the carpetbaggers around here forget it was securing a convention center at the Holiday Inn that first put Saratoga back on the map...The go-go 90s in this city were a direct result of the new hall being built in the 80s. Cutesy shops and dog chowders only go over well when you can bring in a good haul of tourons. And in the off-season, that haul was almost solely reliant upon booking big conventions downtown. It's a shame if the little children down in Albany can't realize this...alas, partisan politics seems to be the practice whereby grown adults forget they've left the goddamn kindergarten playpen.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"real saratogians" do not shop on broadway. U can't even get a cup of coffee on broadway for under $3 bucks anymore

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to be crude - but BULLSHIT! You can get coffee for under $3 in town and for what you spend on jeans, tshirts, dresses, jackets, jewelry etc. in the mall - you can buy the same thing here in town. I did all my holiday shopping here in town. The only thing I could not find here was underwear. And I spent no more in town than anywhere else.

And while I am at it - these "prominent residence" here in Saratoga that are advertising million dollar condos do not shop here in Saratoga. They don't support the town they claim to be the great place to live, shop, dine.

There is no answer yet regarding NYRA. The horse owners, trainers are meeting this week to decide what they are going to do after Belmont closes. With no decision regarding the Saratoga season what do you think they will decide to do? HEY - THANKS BRUNO!

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the biggest problem with businesses is the fact that like residental real estate it is grossly overbuilt. Too much retail, office, restaurant space. Too many people chasing the same dollars.
Too many people selling the same stuff.
Bye the way, Starbucks is starting to experiment with $1 coffees.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a cup of coffee at uncommons is less than two bucks (they come in many flavors), and refills are endless now too...... oh! free wireless! great way to do those last minute blog entries right after a downtown event :)

PS: as for the rest of it... I worry... those that work hard and stick to what they know should hopefully prevail

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...10:49 AM

"Not to be crude - but BULLSHIT! You can get coffee for under $3 in town and for what you spend on jeans, tshirts, dresses, jackets, jewelry etc. in the mall - you can buy the same thing here in town. I did all my holiday shopping here in town."

One very big factor that you have omitted discussing is online shopping. I can and often do buy much of what I need over the internet.
I think most business people would also tell you that more and more of their business purchases are being made through an online source. This is a relatively new phenomenon and the effects are probably not fully understood. However, I am sure for many downtown businesses it has a negative effect.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is up with the County Formula? Can't Veitch get us back in? Is Yepsen the issue? What kind of "economic analysis" was done. I thought no one could figure it out. Why jump when you don't know how far the fall will be?

4:32 AM  
Blogger BlueDog said...

Geez guys, you're starting to sound like Kuntsler; enough of the doomsday. The economy always cycles thorough ups and downs. We're coming off huge gains in real estate and over the last 10years the market ain't been terrible. Bush will be gone in less then a year and hopefully the nation will regain some optimism and self esteem.

With respect to downtown, yeah I miss the days of Glickman's and Farmers Hardware. There's always been a lot of turnover in the restaurant business and it is February. There's always the ubiquitious Stewarts coffee.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


That's a good question and one that really hasn't been explored in several years; at least since Lenz first took office.

Here's my theory: The county will bend and allow the city back in for several reasons. First, it will allow the supers a 'quid pro quo' advantage in future negotiations. Second, even under the most doom-and-gloom circumstances, Saratoga will remain a vibrant economy. Its sales tax receipts could help the county balance out other areas that might not be as robust in an economy on the brink of recession.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5:18 "yeah I miss the days of Glickman's and Farmers Hardware"

Ahh yes, for the days of Willie Lums with fresh tomatoes scraped off the inside of his window. There are plenty of affordable alternatives today. The City has evolved and there have been tradeoffs, but really while we pine for the nostalgic moments of grabbing a late night sandwich at the Executive or lunch at Scutters, today’s options really do bring us all secret pleasures. Treat yourself to a fresh loaf of Firebread tomorrow at London’s. Make your own coffee.

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice theory Ho, but I think you're missing an obvious point. The mil or so a year that the City has lost didn't go to the County, it went to the Towns and Villages. They are using it to balance their budgets and allowing Towns like Clifton Park, Malta, and Wilton to boast about having no town taxes. When Lew Benton (his name just keeps coming up with every bonehead move)led the City out of the sales tax formula, the Town Supervisors could barely hide their glee.

Matt's a nice guy, but I don't see the Town Supervisors suddenly become altruists

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Klotz screwed up that county deal himself. Another dumbass democrat flying by the seat of his pants. He also was so effective with bringing affordable housing to saratoga.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem we seem to have here is too many people living in the past. Who gives a shit about willie Lums. That place was a dump. While you bring up The Executive, what about AL Weiss who owned it? His Dad ran the diner next to him called Filthy Phils! Another Shithouse! I do have fond memories of Scudder's though. Gracie was always a friendly face. She even ran the fried dough place across the street from there during St. Micheal's. Great memories but those days are not coming back. Time to more forward! Same goes for the form of government. Move Forward! New movement! New Day! Another referendum in November.

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it only 900 signatures that are needed to get the Charter Change issue back on the Ballot? That is easy. Maybe if it appeared every year people would finally smarten up and vote in favor.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mamie said...

"Is it only 900 signatures that are needed to get the Charter Change issue back on the Ballot? That is easy."

Cool, you mean we only need 900 hundred signatures needed to get an amendment on the ballot to get rid of most of the greedy good for nothing unionized city workers?

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Half of those DPW slugs will be shitting in their boots if that happened. No McTygue to cover for them anymore. First one to cut is Bill McTygue. That would save the city over $100,000 right off the top. Let's see! Add another 3 or 4 of those foreman that make $60,000 that sit in their truck doing nothing that Tommy protected all those years. That's a hell of a start.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

form the old neighborhood: it was actually Anthony Scirocco Sr. who ran the fried dough stand at the st. micheals (scudders son in-law)

4:04 PM  

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