Friday, March 28, 2008


Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand walked into the Saratoga Police Station Thursday, set her feet shoulders-width apart and tore open her ankle-length coat to reveal three dozen neatly tethered sticks of dynamite strapped to her chest. Drawing a .38 from a previously concealed shoulder holster, she fired a single warning shot into the ceiling of the station and then began to shout.

“Nobody moves, nobody whispers and nobody gets hurt,” she ordered to the cowering press corps that had unwittingly believed her ruse about touring the station.

Morons, the freshman lawmaker thought. These freaks will believe anything I say; now it’s time to drop the hammer.

“I want the $8 million you bastards allocated for this dump in unmarked, non-sequential bills,” she hissed, while simultaneously waving the tightly gripped pistol at a cowering television camera man who had inadvertently wet himself in the excitement. “And I want a Harrier jet out here in five minutes.”

It’s a shame this wasn’t the story line making it into the four daily newspapers that mundanely followed Gillibrand around like a flock of bleating sheep. Instead, readers across the county got this: the police station is fucked and the federal government can’t do anything about it other than arm the Saratoga cops to the teeth. Not that any of this comes as a surprise. In fact, the congresswoman’s visit to the dated Lake Avenue station is about the only surprise in the roughly 2,300 words written about the affair between the four daily newspapers that covered it.

Only moments after stepping into the station, Gillibrand proclaimed she could do very little for the situation in terms of “bricks and mortar” for a new building. But, she continued, there is hope for a new Saratoga Spring SWAT team vehicle, a batch of M-16 automatic assault rifles and a veritable cornucopia of devices needed to take down an “active shooter” situation; you know, the sort of situations that have plagued the city for centuries.

Scanning the resulting formulaic articles from this futile event is akin to pursuing several hundred copies of someone’s tax returns, only each in a different font and color. First, start off with a cliché, something catchy. Then move into the so-called meat: the police station is in bad condition. Finally, drop Gillibrand’s punch line: sorry guys, you’re shit out of luck because the fed is more interested in turning your police force into an urban military tactical squad.

At first blush, one can broadly castigate these reporters for producing such homogenous tripe. Case in point, The Daily Gazette, Post Star and Saratogian articles even contain about the same number of words: 750 plus or minus a few. The Times Union attempted to deliver a more unique message by jumbling in the congresswoman’s full tour of the area, even though it seemed kind of scattered in the end.

But the sad fact is there was an editor that put these writers up to this task, accentuating it with equally bland headlines: Gillibrand tours city’s police station, Tours show space is tight, and Gillibrand tours police station. That’s the way to attract readers and bolster circulation, give’em something good and bland.

Ignored were the more appropriate issues with the station, such as an actual physical description of the space at hand and the space needed. Or what kind of grants might be available for the so-called bricks-and-mortar. Or what exactly have the police done over the past decade to play nice with the goddamn station they already have. Maybe ask why an M-16 is more important than the funding needed to bring the station up to code.

Here’s a good question: how many hours of overtime did Police Chief Ed “Arrests aren’t being made when they normally would be” Moore and his predecessors approve for a cop to watch the faulty cell block system that is only now being replaced? Better yet, how many criminals did his officers turn out onto the street because of so-called issues with the station?

These are questions some if not all of these reporters might ask, had they the time or urging to write something poignant. Instead, they’re prodded into following the herd into mediocrity; rushed into producing something that is hardly news worthy and hardly worth forking over 50 cents to read.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Age of Excelsior

Don Shula could use a guided tour of the Spa City. At the very least, the most successful coach in the history of professional football could use a road map, opined a reporter from the Times Union in a recent blog entry.

The former Miami Dolphins skipper announced this week he’ll franchise out one of his dinosaur steak-flinging Grill 347 restaurants to the Courtyard Marriott off Excelsior Avenue. But his announcement contained a sort of gaff that any tried-and-true resident –or even a frequent visitor –wouldn’t make: his restaurant will be located at the very core of the city on Excelsior Avenue.

“It’s located in the heart of Saratoga, which is rich in history and proud traditions,” the coach said in a news release.

Considering any part of Excelsior Avenue –the east-west thoroughfare now spanning from the historic Olde Bryan Inn to the Northway –as even part of the so-called heart of Saratoga is just about as misleading as calling Wilton a quaint town in the country, with mom and pop stores abound. In fact, were one to liken Excelsior Avenue to a part of the human anatomy, it would probably be the gastrointestinal tract.

Historically, the structures along the corridor took in raw materials, produced energy and then left behind a whole bunch of shit. When industry left the city, it littered the street with burned out factories and superfund sites, some of which reportedly still exist. During the cleanup, power giant Niagara Mohawk decided to dam up a 4,000-foot length of a nineteenth century storm sewer, trapping contaminated coal tar in an eternal subterranean chamber.

However, the times have since changed on Excelsior. With the passing of time, thoughts of this once grubby side of the city have evaporated into the money-driven aspirations of developers. First, there was Sonny Bonacio’s resurrection of the badly blighted Van Raalte Mill into a small business incubator.With the proverbial canary landing a shovel in the ground, big development was off to the races.

Next up was Jeff and Deane Pfeil’s Excelsior Park, a 27-acre anchor development that literally placed a new community on the northeast corner of town. They were followed into the fray by the Marriot developers and the Lexington Club, a megalithic hotel and condominium complex off Marion Avenue. Add into the mix Bonacio’s town houses and a professional building of East Avenue and Excelsior is starting to look like the newest incarnation of Broadway, absent of course, any real reason for locals to travel down the street.

But wait, there’s more. Skidmore’s party house off Excelsior Spring Road is being marketed by none other than Tom Roohan, the fellow who was the foot behind Bonacio’s shovel during the Van Raalte days. Apparently, the 2.5-acre property is on the market for a cool $1.35 million. Along with the once-lavish Victorian home and adjacent carriage house come plans for a 32-unit residential development for the property that would supposedly use both buildings.

But wait, there’s even more. City planners are again contemplating a new condominium development across the street from the Olde Bryan Inn on High Rock Avenue. The plan calls for the demolition of two older houses –one appearing historic –and the construction of a 15-unit building, with a ground-floor retail space. The project has been kicked around for more than two years and would be something that would start to fill in the gaps between Excelsior’s monolithic condominium and hotel complexes.

So Shula may not be far off in his assumption; one that was undoubtedly made from Miami Beach chasing down a Shula cut with a few too many Budweisers. With rents sky-rocketing on Broadway, all Excelsior needs is a few buildings to house bars and businesses. Then maybe the corridor would actually start drawing pedestrian traffic from its plethora of transient and empty-nester housing sprouting up like crab grass in the spring.

Shula’s 347 Grill is also symbolic of something far different –and perhaps more sinister –than a dawning of the age of Excelsior. The 140-seat restaurant becomes the first chain full-service sit-down eatery to make a foray into the city since the Road Kill Café filed for Chapter 11 nearly a decade ago.

While there are only four 347 Grills, Shula operates 26 similar-themed eateries around the nation. Though the entrance of one small chain could hardly be construed as a trend, private city restaurateurs have good cause to be wary; this is especially if you happen to be Dave LaPoint’s estranged wife.

See, Shula’s join and chains of its ilk have more operating capital than any city restaurant has in assets, meaning they don’t have to worry too much about the aforementioned high rents or a particularly dreary season, as the economy might soon dictate. Shula could very well be the canary for these cookie-cutter businesses, which ironically cater to transient and empty-nester populations not familiar with the local flavors. It’s food for thought, no pun intended.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Of paper and pen

Criticizing the Spa City’s media is becoming akin to playing a broken record. No matter how many times the vinyl rotates, the needle is going to keep striking the same crack over and over again. And in the case of the newsprint media, the crack seems to grow a bit larger every day.

Take the Post Star for instance. Publisher Rona Rahlf has finally realized the importance of keeping the Spa City in the fold of coverage after nearly two years on the job. But her solution to improving coverage is just as trite and meaningless as the “do more with less” mantra every other news agency has adopted in recent time. This week, the paper unveiled its “Saratoga” addition, which looks much similar to the regular edition, only with its Spa-centric articles shifted into more prominent areas.

After spending a pronounced period of time with just one reporter manning the Saratoga Bureau and after scraping its prominent Broadway office, the Post Star is allegedly reinvigorating efforts to compete with other city media outlets. In a peculiar entry in the paper’s fledgling Saratoga Springs blog, a reporter claims the paper is “ramping up” efforts to cover events transpiring in the city.

However, the stories the reporter lists as evidence of this so-called ramping up are very similar to ones appearing in two of three other papers covering the area; with the third –the Albany Times Union –having little if any interest in covering anything outside of police or political scandal. The other part of the augmented coverage includes efforts by the paper’s other news reporters to incorporate Saratoga angles into their articles. For example, a broad business article might include a quote from a Saratoga Springs shop owner. Bravo.

So nothing has really changed other than a few letters at the top of the masthead and an effort to “zone” the paper, or print multiple editions with the articles rearranged and sometimes omitted according to circulation zones. Even this move is nothing new. For years, the Daily Gazette of Schenectady has printed multiple editions; something that can be utterly flummoxing for any Saratoga County reader that happens to pick up the paper at Stewart’s located the other side of a zone line.

To sum this up: no new news, no additional coverage, just the same reporters reporting the same things; only repackaged so that the more fickle of advertisers will believe boasts of additional coverage. The whole affair smacks of a crackpot scheme dreamed up by the advertising department, something that’s probably not far from the case given Rahlf’s extensive background in ad sales.

What Rahlf can’t seem to figure out is that more coverage in any given region requires more bodies working there. With just two warm bodies in the city, the paper will never get the leg up they need to top the Gazette, which staffs an equal number in Saratoga Springs alone and triple this amount region wide; or to finally vanquish the wayward Saratogian, which maintains its tenuous hold as the “local paper” with its paltry staff of four. Even the Times Union’s staff of three is larger, even though they generally ignore the news minutia most local readers crave.

This is not to disparage the coverage the Post Star’s spa reporters contribute to the mix; they both do a more than adequate job given the task at hand and the budget they’re afforded. And the fact that the paper manages to get its news online in a somewhat cohesive fashion automatically thrusts it well beyond the Saratogian.

More than three months after launching its redesigned Web site, the Saratogian still hasn’t been able to pull things together. Real-time online updates are sporadic at best, the site remains slow as molasses and top stories often slip into anonymity, thanks to the ludicrous manner in which news is posted to the site, especially when the Web editor is not working.

Amazingly, editors at the Saratogian and the corporate heads with the Journal Register Company don’t seem too interested in lifting their site out from the fetid gutter of Web journalism. Instead, it’s the same old “we’ll get to it eventually” philosophy that has kept the paper locked beneath mediocrity for decades.

In summation, it’s the same old song and dance for these papers. Despite clear and definitive methods to improve their quality, they continue to sniff out circulation answers where the sun don’t shine. And if they don’t start looking elsewhere soon, it’s going to take an even-keeled surgeon to extract a fair amount of rectally embedded heads.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Eighties-Rock Nation

It’s almost hard to recall how laid back the summers at the Saratoga Performing Art Center used to be during the 1990s. Back then, all you needed was a 20-spot, some beers, a few sandwiches and an umbrella if dark skies threatened. The security force was composed of local high school and college kids, many of them simply looking to catch a free concert. All around, the mood seemed light and relaxing; just the type of atmosphere for watching any musical act, much less one you might actually like.

Pan to present day SPAC under the auspices of Live Nation, a company spun off from the neoconservative-controlled monolith of Clear Channel Communications. These days, most concert goers instinctively show up wearing garbage bags and with a wad full of hundreds. Otherwise, hanging out at the venue is more akin to skulking around a Soviet gulag with some pleasant 80s rock playing in the background.

There are no umbrellas permitted, so if you happen to get caught in the storm, good luck. Anything consumable and not purchased from the over-priced concession stands is contraband; this includes water. And while you’re enjoying a seat in the mud purchased for $35, do stay out of trouble, lest you draw the attention of the hyper-aggressive steroid freak security staff hired to pummel and push anyone that looks like they’re having too much fun.

Editor’s note: Live Nation has wavered on the water and food issue. This season, patrons are allowed to bring in sealed one-gallon containers of either water or food. However, this was not always the case. Several concert goers from recent years have relayed horror stories as much. One woman said Live Nation security turned her away with a hand-sized factory-sealed water bottle, claiming she could bring the bottle itself in, but no liquid. In short, this means the company is either wavering on its policies or employs a bunch of witless wonders as their security detail. It should also be noted the company can puke out any “special ground rules” they desire for a concert.

Yes, concerts at SPAC are a different beast these days. In fact, there are an increasing number of residents who don’t bother with them at all. But that’s probably more a factor of the “hotter and bigger-name acts” coming to the city “that otherwise might have skipped SPAC.”

Acts like the Police, a geriatric tribute act to the band that broke up in the 1980s and only reunited last year after record sales dipped worldwide. But at a cheap $46 to sit the grass, who could resist? Or Rush, the 50-something Canadian rockers who can otherwise be heard just about every other minute blaring on WPYX Albany’s Uncle Vito show; hotter and bigger-name acts indeed. Price to listen to them live on the lawn: $35. Price to listen to them on PYX106: brain cramps from Vito’s one-liners.

Now, SPAC’s Board of Trustees is considering re-upping Live Nation’s contract, several news agencies reported last week. This contract pays SPAC a flat-rate $1 million per year stipend and a $3-per-ticket fee during years where more than 200,000 people come through the gates. In 2006, when roughly 220,000 people attended Live Nation concerts at the amphitheater, SPAC took a whopping $60,000 in added revenue; it was one of two seasons where attendance exceeded the 200,000 benchmark under Live Nation’s watch.

This sort of accounting should raise some red flags, especially given what Live Nation has been charging for tickets and the type of act they’ve been booking for Saratoga Springs, a city that has grown considerably in size and wealth since the 1990s. The assumption would be a city that now routinely draws a laundry list of celebrities each summer probably wouldn’t have much difficulty in convincing a few nice acts to put on a gig in a picturesque park like SPAC.

Live Nation also handles all the concession –and profits thereof –at the amphitheater. This is precisely why getting into the venue these days is more akin to getting through an international air terminal. No liquids, no food, no nothing except yourself. On the plus side, Live Nation still doesn’t force patrons to remove their shoes –for now at least.

But in the world of Marcia White, the first SPAC president who has never had to book a rock act, life under the rule of Live Nation has been peachy.

“They’ve been a very good partner,” she told The Saratogian last week. “We’re hoping to continue with them.”

Echoing this sentiment was Rick Geary, SPAC’s chief financial officer, who said the concert venue couldn’t possibly “get another promoter.” In other words, get ready for another decade of Live Nation overcharging for concerts, running the amphitheater like a prison camp and delivering a concert lineup that might have been slamming were it still the 1980s.

True, SPAC continues on in the black for the time being. Some would attribute this turnaround to Live Nation’s concert booking. Of course, those proponents are more than likely working for the Wal-Mart of the music industry and not routinely subjected to the remarkable sham their concerts have become in recent years. These are folks like Donna Eichmeyer, Live Nation’s upstate New York marketing manager.

“People will go to SPAC to see a show. They don't have to love the band; they just have to like the band,” she proclaimed in a laughable one-source article published by The Daily Gazette last week. “The experience at SPAC is so unique, they will go.”

Translation: we can charge as much as we want for our bland, flavorless concerts and SPAC will still renew our contract because they know they’ll get their cash even if we book Engelbert Humperdinck for all 35 slots next season. So get those garbage bags out and start saving up those Franklins, it’s going to be a long new decade with Live Nation.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Let them eat cake

Cake is good. Having some of this baked delectable readily at your disposal is an asset, as is eating it at a later time. But if you’re a member of the Spa City’s government, there’s a prevailing attitude that the aforementioned baked good should both be held and eaten at the same time.

Such is the case with the fiscal conundrum now posed by the multi-million dollar line item contributed to city and county coffers by the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway. While city officials bristle at the mere thought of ending the so-called VLT-revenue, they also haven’t made much of a justification for using this revenue stream for it’s intended purpose: to mitigate the negative impacts of the fledgling casino that set up shop on Jefferson Street.

For two consecutive years, the City Council has growled at the Governor’s office over proposed cuts to this revenue stream. Losing this funding source could cause a major budgetary shortfall for the city, they’ve argued. Former Mayor Valerie Keehn even partially based her failed re-election campaign on her deal-cutting with now deposed Gov. Eliot Spitzer to make the funding a legal mandate –even though this legislation was brushed aside less than a year later.

What city officials persistently fail to provide is evidence of the Racino’s negative impact on the community, other than its bankrupting of countless seniors. They may be making that case now after nine background check—er state police troopers were reassigned from the facility this week to fight real crime elsewhere in the state. Naturally, the two largest proponents of blasting police spending through the roof were the first to chime in.

More work for city officers, barked Chief Ed Moore, no pun intended. More overtime for the department, yapped Public Safety Commissioner Ron “This is a commission-form of government and I’ll speak when I want to” Kim. More patrols, more calls, more of everything they told the Times Union Wednesday.

“Based on the activity I know they were doing, it's going to seriously impact our department,” the chief commented.

Yet, in roughly four years of operation, the state police made a whopping 180 arrests at the Racino. That breaks down to a little less than one arrest a week. Felony arrests last year totaled 13, or about one per month, according to state police; hardly the level justifying an on-site police presence at the facility. Also, let’s face it: when the average patron is attached to a portable oxygen tank and refers to Bing Crosby as ‘that young fellow,’ the need for an augmented police force is greatly diminished.

But in the world according to Kim, the Racino is a public safety hotbed. He claims police have responded to a disproportionate 1,800 “calls for assistance” last year alone. Naturally, Kim’s figure includes hundreds if not thousands of “calls” for employee background checks, meaning he either doesn’t care about the facts or simply doesn’t know them; at the very least, he doesn’t read them. In an article published in the Daily Gazette two weeks ago –and including comments from Kim –state Lottery Division officials stressed the background checks will fall on the Racino’s staff.

Still, Kim will likely use his inflated number to argue for an on-site city police presence, which would predicate the need for either more department overtime or the hiring of more officers. And adding more officers would mean there’s more need for space at the department, such as a new multi-million-dollar police facility, as Kim’s logic suggests.

Under these precepts, expect to see either Kim or Moore make an argument for using the state’s VLT aid to staff more police, pay police overtime, build a new station, or all three. The problem comes when the VLT aid dries up, something that is only a matter of time given the state’s crashing budgetary crisis.

City officials squandered past offerings of aid as a way to keep taxes ‘low’ during a time of unprecedented economic growth in Saratoga Springs, instead of trimming government excess and using it as a one-time windfall. With the aid still in place for another year, now would be a wise time to adopt a fiscally prudent change in philosophy anticipating the revenue will dry up; perhaps even set the money aside in a capital account. But now that the economy has clearly turned the corner, it’s going to be a tough sell to wean city budgets from this needle, especially with junkies like Kim and Moore chattering on about public safety woes at the racino.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Three men in a room

His blind gaze was fused, instead of scanning the standing-room-only crowd, many of them still giggling from his last one-liner. There’s a slight lull in the action and even a split second of silence when his fingers curl into a fist that instinctively pumps in the semi-stagnant air at his inauguration, a ceremony symbolically conducted inside a cramped chamber instead of outside on the Capitol’s west lawn.

“I am David Patterson and I am the governor of New York State!”

Wait. Stop there. Freeze that frame. Who is the fellow in the right corner of the screen, an ear-to-ear grin firmly ensconced between the wrinkles on his face? It’s a smile that suggests something completely absent of innocent happiness; the kind of joy one might get from seeing a child play in dandelion field or that same individual graduating from college. There is something sinister about that smile, especially considering the chum wearing it.

Never has Hollywood Joe Bruno been so close to assuming governor’s seat. He’s one well-placed bullet –or scandal –away from seizing the keys to what some would call New York’s top legislative position. But that’s not why he’s grinning.

Overnight, there’s has been a cataclysmic shift in government; the type of event that would have shaken all the buildings on State Street Hill into the Hudson was it something seismic. In one instance, Eliot Spitzer, the seemingly undefeatable foe of Bruno’s very ideology was viciously excoriated; flogged on the podium and then handed banished from the Capitol for good.

Then, to make matters all the more fitting for a sinister smile from the Republican Senate Majority Leader, Patterson came to power; the same Patterson who meekly took hold of the senate minority just five years earlier; the same Patterson known for his conciliatory powers and not the steamroller politics of his predecessor.

Bruno will still have an uphill battled retain the Grand Old Party’s chokehold on the senate, but he’s got an eight-month reprise with which he can whisper into a friendly ear. True, Patterson won’t be nearly as knocked-kneed as a mealymouthed fellow named Pataki was. However, Patterson does seem to represent in spirit a return to the ‘three men in a room’ politics that ruled Albany for all of Pataki’s tenure.

The politics of change are over and Bruno can smile freely now; quite in contrast to the forced grimace he wore during Spitzer’s inauguration 14 months earlier. Moreover, the state’s most powerful Republican legislator can revel in the notion that a particularly virulent strain of the state Democratic Party was quashed with the implosion of Spitzer’s reign.

For more than a decade, Spitzer cultivated a combative, take-no-shit image his party utterly lacked prior to his candidacy. Spitzer, the self-proclaimed steamroller, was all about taking down the general before moving to the foot soldiers. His politics hinted of a new brand of liberalism in the party. Instead of passive resistance, he believed in waging hyper-aggressive preemptive attacks on his perceived enemies; consolidating power before they can identify the source of the besieging. Absent Spitzer, however, the party lacks a cherished firebrand to champion this new movement, which will likely extinguish before it can be rekindled three years from now.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Faces of Death

Christina White still carried a baby face during the days leading up to her 20th birthday. Her dark hair, soft blue eyes and petite frame often made her appear far younger than most sophomores taking courses at Adirondack Community College.

She argued late one summer night nearly three years ago. She was supposedly angry about her living arrangement in her mother’s trailer at what is now called Saratoga Village, an anonymous mobile home park wedged against the forgotten edges of the Spa City. She was never seen again.

Her mother claims the quiet girl wandered into the night as she was prone to do, taking long walks to quell her depression. Days went by without word from Christina and her family began to worry. Her 20th birthday came and went, as did the summer and fall of 2005.

Deputies from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s department were contacted and a missing person’s case was launched; the newspapers were alerted and a picture of the 19-year-old girl was plastered on bulletin boards and utility poles in a several miles around the park with a number advising to potential tipsters to call investigators. Christina changed from a living breathing person into a black-and-white brief buried inside local papers.

Months went by and the case became a footnote even ignored by the few reporters who had bothered to cover Christina’s disappearance in the first place. Her name had been all but forgotten until abductor John Regan attempted to grab a high school runner from track practice in a city on the right side of the tracks. Regan’s story received national headlines and later drew Stone Philips and camera crews from Dateline NBC. Unfortunately for Christina, her disappearance had nothing to do with Regan. Otherwise, her stabbing murder might be solved by now.

The almost wraith-like girl’s skeletal remains were found splayed in the 550-acre Daketown Forest preserve two years ago, six-miles north from where her mother last saw her. Her cloths were in taters, her bones picked of flesh and her unburied remains scattered by woodland animals.

The discovery caused initial frenzy among the media, which thirsts for a good murder. But when the case went cold after several weeks, they lost interest. One year after her death, her disappearance was ignored. This year, with the discover of her remains more than two years old and her disappearance nearly three years old.

Had Christina carried a different surname –let’s say Bruno for instance –her body would have been found within days of the murder. Better yet, maybe she would have been found alive. But because she was an anonymous girl all but ignored in life, she is also ignored in death.

The Keystone Kops of Sheriff’s Department never offered any insight or urgency regarding Christina’s disappearance, much less her murder. In both instances, they decided to simply toss her information out to the media and play the waiting game in hopes someone would come forward. Today, they claim deputies are still out beating the bushes for Christina’s killer, even though it’s never been more clear that they’re not.

They haven’t bothered to elaborate on the sparse few leads they have tossed to the public. For instance, Christina was allegedly seen walking with two other individuals on the eve of her death. Investigators have yet to substantiate this claim or divulge who offered it. An examination of the remains suggests Christina was stabbed in the abdomen, yet no other details about the murder weapon or the nature of the girl’s fatal injuries have been released to arouse even cursory interest in the case.

There are other details that are not being discussed. There are some indications that Christina was sexually abused long prior to her disappearance; something that might have contributed to her often mentioned bi-polar disorder.

However, to simply fault the negligence of the sheriff’s department is short sighted. Joining in the blame are the journalists who could care less about case; Christina’s parents and siblings, who continue to be muted since the discovery of her body. Most of all, the apathetic communities of Milton, Ballston and Saratoga Springs deserve a fair amount of blame for all but condoning the vicious murder and unceremonious dumping of an underprivileged girl’s body with callous malice.

There are still some who are dedicated to finding the truth about Christina’s final demise. These are people unwilling live with the notion of an unrepentant murderer wandering the streets, perhaps even preparing to slay again. There are also those who believe this case should strike more of a chord and take higher precedence with the public than bullshit front-page political scandals involving high-price hookers.

Editor’s note: For three years in a row, I’ve posted Christina’s picture on this blog. And each time, I find myself filled with an increasing degree of remorse for the shattered young life that was clipped short and left to rot for nine months in a forest. To date, it’s the only image I’ve ever reposted on this site. Hopefully, her pleading eyes will one day haunt someone who can actually affect change in this case. Then maybe she can finally rest in peace.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

iSaratoga Exclusive: Spitzer won’t resign

Folks, you heard it here first: embattled Gov. Eliot Spitzer will remain in office for the duration of his four-year term. That’s according to an anonymous source claiming to have no particular relationship with the governor or his family, but who once served a top Spitzer aide a cup of coffee late one night in a Long Island-area Dunkin’ Donuts.

“He’s really quite resolute about staying,” reported the source, declining to discuss the type or quality of coffee he served to the aide. “After all, who doesn’t bang a hooker every now and then?”

For those of you who might have taken a few too many over-the-counter cold pills with lunch Monday, iSaratoga’s soon-to-be award-winning community blogging singlehandedly blew the lid off of the most sensational political sex scandal to hit the press since Bill Clinton’s unlit cigar found the wrong bodily orifice of a young intern. While some media outlets are erroneously reporting the New York Times as the source of the infamous Emperors Club VIP story, it was a snide, off-the-cuff comment by iSaratoga’s lead pundit that prompted the story to break.

In other news, iSaratoga has adopted the aptly dubbed “Times Union Philosophy,” in which this site will now arbitrarily lay claim to and ‘exclusivize’ any stories determined to be super sensational. The TU demonstrated this philosophy Tuesday morning, when the Albany paper fantastically claimed the Hookergate scandal was a manifestation dredged up by their own, gritty investigative reporting.

“The allegations, first reported on the New York Times Web page, came to light after a reporter from the Times Union began asking questions last week about Spitzer's use of a state airplane for a trip from Buffalo to Washington, D.C. on Feb. 13,” the reporter brazenly claims. “The paper then made a formal request for the records of Spitzer's Washington, D.C., trip.”

There’s certainly some truth to the paper’s “formal request.” But the Times Union no more prompted the federal investigation into Spitzer’s alleged malfeasance than did the pimple-faced coffee geek pumping a steady infusion of caffeine into the ongoing media frenzy outside the governor’s office. In fact, the New York Times account directly contradicts the TU’s theory. In a follow up story, the paper claims the whole affair was launched after a routine inquiry by the Internal Revenue Service into suspicious cash transactions. Alas, the Times mentions nothing about state airplane use, a subject which the Times Union seems quite fixated upon.

But when the big kid from down the block drops into your party and kicks over your sandcastle, its best to tell friends you punted the creation yourself. Then, maybe all the other kids will think you’re tough. This is especially the case for the TU, which enjoyed an unusually close bond with the now deeply troubled Spitzer administration; having a scandal like this soar right beneath their radar is quite damning.

Conversely, Hookergate may well have saved another seriously ailing newspaper. The New York Times was just a few steps away from joining its ubersensational neighbors in the Big Apple. The Times’ Web site was so inundated with hits Monday that the page often took minutes to load. Even the slack-jawed cable news nitwits couldn’t dream up anything better to film than flat-screen monitors tapped into the paper’s online site. In one instant, the New York Times restored much of the luster to its tarnished reputation.’

Were it opposite day, Spitzer would be equally contented in wake of the scandal. Instead, the Steamroller is facing a decision most pundits –especially one space cake-eating nimrod at FOX News –have already made for him. However, the pundits at iSaratoga are less convinced, especially given the anonymous tip from a Spitzer Administration outsider.

Let’s look at it this way: you’re flying a plane that suddenly goes into a death spin toward the earth. Do you give up and just let the thing crash, or do you grab the controls and try to pull out one of the most daring landings in the history of aviation? In Spitzer’s case, he’s got another 33 months to right the flight path and pull a miracle out of his ass.

After all, the governor has hit rock-bottom. There’s really nowhere to go but up. And if up is no longer an option, then it is Spitzer’s obligation to make the story as sensational as possible. Right now, his scandal is singlehandedly spiking newspaper sales, driving media Web hits and arguably creating more online chatter than any scandal in the history of the Internet. Simply put, Hookergate is moving the economy in previously flat-lined sectors.

Sure, the state and national Democrats won’t like it if the Pimp of Wall Street continues to strut. In fact, they’ll probably have him assassinated, which will again move newspaper sales in the right direction.

The flap could also be a nice way to dove tail into a discussion about legalized prostitution, a veritable cash cow waiting to be milked by state legislators. Were they to remove the thin veil masking the so-called “escort services” and massage parlors (i.e. the neighborhood ‘rub and tug’), legislators could have a tax revenue windfall to literally correct a failing budget. The Pataki Administration’s legacy to debauchery was legalizing gambling, so it would only be fitting if the Spitzer Administration’s legacy is legalizing hookers. Just think what a red light district could do for a rust-belt city like Amsterdam.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Ill Communication

Scott Johnson is failing to address the real problem in City Hall. Nearly three months after taking office, he still hasn’t snipped the phone, fax and internet lines running to Ron Kim’s Public Safety Department. Were there a growing cancer on city’s government, it would be the obstinate Kim and deputy Commissioner Eileen Finneran, the only remaining vestiges of Valerie Keehn’s obstructionist mayoral administration.

Every time the power blinks in City Hall, Kim’s office is dishing out a new press release about how disaster was narrowly avoided. The most recent release –and subsequent “press conference” –came after part of the Saratoga Hotel filled with innocuous smoke. With the city amid the throngs of a significant snow storm and the power to City Hall briefly clipped, fire crews sent to the scene by the county’s 911 dispatchers had no radio contact with the police station.

“During those 19 minutes we were basically stone deaf,” the blatantly fear-mongering Kim openly panicked to the Saratogian. “There was no loss of life, thank God. It’s another example of the difficult problem we have of dealing with a police station that’s 123 years old. This is not hypothetical. This is real.”

Wait a second. Let’s back up here. The firefighters at the scene of the emergency had no contact with the dispatchers in the darkened 123-year-old police station. But they obviously had contact with the county’s dispatch that also had at least cursory radio contact with the city’s fire station. As most would assume, the fire station does indeed have a scanner, with which they would have certainly heard any desperate calls for more man power.

Even more miraculously, most of the responders at the suspected fire also had cell phones –like the police in City Hall and the firefighters on standby at the station. And if all else failed, the suspected fire was within shouting distance of the fire station. With a simple bull horn, responders could have alerted half the city of their progress at the scene.

See, this is what is called ‘redundancy’ in the emergency business and a critical component that prevents important calls from going unanswered. One would expect that the elected public safety commissioner would have a cursory understanding of this redundancy. Kim continues to paint pictures of imminent failures that will one day lead to catastrophe.

Kim’s fear mongering rightly struck the mayor as utterly ludicrous. In an attempt to dissuade the more gullible of residents from jumping off tall buildings, Johnson issued a contradictory release basically refuting every point of the public safety moron’s absurd assumptions.

“It is important to not promote public hysteria on an issue involving phone service to the Police Station, particularly with the prior media accounts regarding the conditions existing at the Station,” Johnson stated in a releases that followed Kim’s bullshit press conference. “Certainly, the sky is not falling."

Johnson’s release obviously struck a nerve with Kim, who must have been deluded into thinking public opinion was on his side. In a brazen display of his ineptitude this week –and perhaps egged on by his incompetent deputy –Kim issued a press release demanding Johnson “retract his irresponsible, inaccurate and misleading statements regarding the city’s 911 telephone system.”

Wisely, Johnson didn’t take the bait. Instead, he left Kim on his own, pissing into the wind. Remarkably, the Saratogian was there to tinkle with him.

What is a bit more astonishing about the whole affair is that a clear and present danger truly exists for the city and it doesn’t involve Kim’s borderline obsession with the police department. Response times are beginning to reach the danger zone when it comes to emergencies on the city’s growing eastern fringe.

Perhaps even more pressing during the recent and continuing economic downtrend is the level of overtime routinely being earned by the cops. Yes, the same cops that Kim will stop at nothing to give a new multi-million dollar public safety facility. Well, here’s an idea for the moonlighting bankruptcy lawyer trying his hardest to bankrupt the city: How about dropping police overtime by a quarter this year? Perhaps that cash could put a down payment on the substation you promised the firefighters last year in their contract.

But that would be reasonable. And a fellow like Ron Kim is anything but reasonable, especially when he has the equally deluded ex-deputy mayor whispering into his ear. Hopefully, the next communication ‘failure’ will be clipping the Public Safety office off City Hall’s grid for the next 20 months.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Snow job

Mother nature finally came to the rescue this week, melting much of the snow city Public Works plows seemingly couldn’t clear. February’s last wintry gusts made it a rough going in the city last week, after one arctic blast after the next pummeled the northeast. But while crews around the Capital Region hustled to clear roads, it almost seemed like the city’s Public Works plows stopped running altogether.

Streets buried by Tuesday’s storm remained largely covered Wednesday, despite a snow emergency being declared by the city. Temperatures dipped to -10 degrees and lower iced down just about anything exposed to the elements for more than a few seconds. And then another storm hit Friday.

Simply put, the city’s roads and walkways were abominable over this spell. Even a warming trend over the weekend didn’t seem to clear much. Overall, the city streets seemed starkly different from those maintained by the state, county and other municipalities.

In the warm world of cyberspace, there’s been a quiet but audible murmur about the either failing response or absence of action by Public Works crews. The easiest criticism to launch is against Skip Scirocco, the department’s newly installed commissioner, who is getting a taste of a primary function his post governs: Snow removal. Early critics suggest it’s Scirocco’s ineptitude in running Public Works that lead to the drastically bad conditions last week.

But Scirocco is one of the only changes the DPW has witnessed between this winter and last. In truth, the department -including Deputy Commissioner Pat Design -hasn’t changed very much at all. This suggests there could be a more concerted effort to balk the new leadership; a “mutiny underplow,” as one anonymous poster suggested on a Saratogian blog.

And then there’s the more official, but less believable cause for the snow-choked thoroughfares: No salt. The Capital Region’s media has blathered on at infinitum over the waning supply of road salt in the area has forced crews to combine their remaining supplies with sand. The result has been less melt on the roadways and thus a bit more snow for residents to slog through, they contend.

Interestingly enough, crews only now seem like they’re starting to remove the massive snow piles narrowing roads and blinding corners, nearly a week after the brunt of the storms touched down. This is despite Scirocco declaring another snow emergency Saturday and pronounced spells without winter weather last week, during which DPW dump trucks would ordinarily be seen hauling snow out of the streets.

Perhaps all this is quite subjective; it’s tough to gauge the response from one snow storm to the next. And perhaps Scirocco and Design are trying to reduce the department’s level of overtime during the closing moments of a season when rank-and-file workers rack up the extra pay.

However, the seemingly poor performance last week could also be the harbinger of some departmental breakdowns in wake of the DPW’s first commissioner change in decades. At the very least, Scirocco should offer the public some sort of report about the ongoing clean up effort tonight, if for no other reason than to allay the perception of its slow progress and the formation of a departmental rift

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Wanted: enigmatic cops reporter

Just a few days after a strange species of bipedal apes made their way out of the trees, Jim Kinney penned his try-out article for the Saratogian. By the time Sir William Johnson suckled up to the High Rock Spring in 1767, Kinney had already achieved lead-reporter status in the newsroom and wrote a brief about the whole affair along with his cop roundup.

Since that time, the Saratogian’ s police and Saratoga County reporter has literally choked the paper with his by-line. This year alone, his name has appeared 104 times in the Saratogian and 15 in the Troy Record. In other words, Kinney produced about 13 articles during the average work week; for those in the business, this is what is known as an impressive output of copy.

Simply put, Kinney is more a news machine than a news reporter. And that news machine will soon have a change of scenery for the first time this century. Saratogian managing editor Barbara Lombardo announced last week Kinney’s impending departure for Springfield, Mass., the heroin capital of the Northeast.

Starting later this month, Kinney will take up a post with the Springfield Republican, an 85,000-plus circulation daily owned by Newhouse Newspapers. The company operates 37 newspapers in 10 states, including the Post-Standard in Syracuse and the New Orleans Times Picayune, the largest paper in Louisiana.

For those who have never met Kinney in person, he’s a tall, somewhat gangly fellow with close-cropped hair, a slight speech impediment and a stiff upper lip. Probably the best description is that he’s the apple-pie eating football-loving ‘all-American boy’ type.

In as much, his politics leans on the conservative side. He was nearly a cheerleader for former Congressman John Sweeney and literally ignored a story about the Republican’s son being arrested for a brutal beating in Stillwater. Kinney also tends to gravitate to the side of cops and the legal system. Often times, his crime articles include bullshit back-slapping comments local cops espouse in an almost self-congratulatory way after a minor arrest; the ‘good police work’ garbage most reporters omit for obvious reasons.

Still, Kinney has been a bastion at the paper and his hard work is undeniable. In fact, his decade-long presence at the Saratogian has been somewhat of an enigma, seeing as though the paper routinely turns over its staff once a month. Kinney is among the last vestiges leftover from the Gannet days. Local readers have marveled about the mindset it takes to achieve this sort of longevity at such a calamity of a paper.

But as Lombardo attests in her seldom-read blog, Kinney did it all with a smile. Most of the times at least. Some former Saratogian reporters have marveled at the strength with which Kinney’s fingers hammer his keyboard. Other speak volumes about Kinney’s deadline face -sort of the expression one would make while passing a kidney stone.

Like his reporting or not, Kinney will leave behind some big shoes for the Journal Register Company to fill. In truth, they’ll probably never find a reporter to put up with the abuses Kinney has undoubtedly withstood during his tenure. Most likely, they’ll throw a few pennies at a recent college grad, who will then mercilessly stumble through the beat for several months before getting a solid footing and seeking better employment. In other words, get ready for another dip in Saratogian quality.

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