Monday, June 30, 2008

Your tax dollars at work: Segway into spending

The only thing more ridiculous than watching some lazy bastard zip down a sidewalk or through a shopping market on a Segway is if that lazy bastard happens to be a cop. These devices have been gaining popularity in law enforcement communities, as urban police department search for new and inventive ways to blast through their pool of federal tax dollars.

Up on this list is the tech-happy Glens Falls Police, who are looking into purchasing some of these two-wheeled electric propulsion devices as a way to get officers out of their squad cars and onto the streets. The Post Star reports the department is now testing two of these $6,000 devices, with the anticipation of purchasing at least one to patrol the city streets before summer’s end.

Police officials are selling the devices as a way to help the city conserve on gasoline during this high-cost age of fossil fuel. And best of all, it’s free to the taxpayer, thanks to federal grant funding.

“It's a good option for patrol in a central business district,” remarked Police Chief Joseph Bethel. “You can run silently, and unlike a bicycle or on a foot patrol, the officer won’t be out of breath when they get there (to a call).”

Of course, most physically fit individuals can maintain a sustained run at more than 10 mph and don’t have problems tipping over when darting around corners. And unlike the electric-powered Segway, most foot patrols are fueled by a well-balanced diet and can walk more than 24 miles in a day without having to be plugged into a charger. Usually, these are feats any remotely fit person can accomplish without feeling sore the next day.

So as logic would have it, one would think the department would simply tell its officers to pound concrete a bit more. The effort would help them develop a better report with the public and would help some of the more donut-prone cops shed some of the excess pounds. Case in point, this officer filmed riding the Segway doesn’t appear to be among the most fit in the department.

However, foot patrols are often shunned by police unions, which generally like their constituents to do as little physical work as possible. Take for instance the increasing prevalence of Tasers among Capital Region law enforcement agencies. It’s another high-tech device aimed at preventing police from using what they tend to use anyway: Brute animalistic force.

One can at least argue the Taser helps police avoid hand-to-hand combat, which often has a habit of causing costly injuries. The Segway, however, looks like an injury waiting to happen for any cop engaging an individual who doesn’t necessarily feel like being apprehended. It’s tough to argue that officers are more balanced when they’re standing two feet above the public and balancing on two wheels.

Not to mention, Segways are inoperable in snow and ice, which happens to blanket most of the Capital Region for up to five months out of every year. In other words, it’s a $6,000 expense our deficit laden federal government would be wise to avoid, especially given the size of Glens Falls and its police force.

The most compelling argument against these devices is that they add yet another layer of machine between the law and the public it governs. The next logical step is to remove the officers from the street altogether. Maybe they can start policing the community with cameras, unmanned Predator drones and urban tactical squads. After all, this sort of tactic seems to be working fairly well overseas.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

When the going gets weird...

…The weird turn pro. Or at least they decide to run for the state Senate seat held by New York’s most powerful Republican legislator. Fresh from the implosion of her political career in Saratoga Springs, the city’s one-term mayor apparently thinks she has enough moxie to make a run at Hollywood Joe Bruno’s recently abdicated seat presiding over the 43rd district.Valerie Keehn’s peculiar move comes after week’s worth of strange political happenings leading up to Bruno’s surprise announcement.

Just three days before Bruno yielded his position as senate majority leader, a veritable cavalcade of Spa City and county Dems decided to endorse his candidacy. These figures include everyone from the Brothers’ McTygue to Lee Kolesnikoff, the county’s Independence Party chairman. The bizarre gesture was obviously timed in coordination for Bruno’s announcement as a sort of thanks to the pugilist senator for the frequent bacon showers he’d bestow upon his district, which spans across Saratoga and Rensselaer counties.

“We offer our support and proudly endorse Joe Bruno,” said Tom McTygue, the former Democratic Public Works fixture, in a news release that was jotted out to the media Friday. “As far as we are concerned, Joe Bruno is the only candidate.”

The missive was also a clear message to Brian Premo, the one-time Republican who sought to unseat Bruno on the Democratic ticket: Don’t come sniffing around for donkey votes in this district. The message was also a slap in the face to the Saratoga County Democrats, who offered their endorsement to Premo last month.

And now Keehn comes along, just in time to complicate matters even further. Keehn has confided in the Post Star, the Saratogian and Times Union regarding her candidacy, which was rumored back in January when a TU columnist suggested she and city Supervisor Joanne Yepsen take a stab at unseating Bruno and state Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco. So when Bruno’s message came down the pike Monday, it didn’t take long for the former mayor let out the bellowing yawp to reassemble Kamp Keehn and the Keehniacs.

“The wheels started turning and people started talking to me,” Keehn told the Saratogian Tuesday. “I immediately started talking to my closest confidants…I started making phone calls in earnest to people who could steer me in the right direction.”

Instead, these “confidants” –i.e. Public Safety flunkies Ron Kim and Eileen Finneran –pointed Keehn in the wrong direction. The right direction would have been the one leading her away from politics once and for all.

The direction Keehn is apparently taking involves torpedoing her party’s endorsed candidate in a vicious primary, where she can enrage half of the district’s constituents into voting for anyone or anything that runs against her. It’s sort of like the tactic she pulled during the 2007 election, where nearly half of the city’s Democrats would have elected an inanimate carbon rod were it to spell the doom of her mayoral run.

Update: The TU reports Yepsen has indeed tossed her hat in the ring and will begin collecting signatures. This creates an even odder dynamic because both Yepsen and Keehn draw from the same pool of voters. In a sense, we could see an implosion of the inter-party implosion, unless one of these candidates decides to take an improbable run at Tedisco’s seat.

Keehn’s likely opponent will be well-regarded state Assemblyman Roy McDonald, who Bruno all but anointed as his successor. Unlike Keehn, McDonald doesn’t have a political career marred by futile interparty battles, embarrassing verbal gaffs and a tendency to use 1,000 words to say essentially nothing. McDonald also has the advantage of being a Republican in a district that is still heavily weighted toward the GOP. It’s safe to say whoever goes up against the former Wilton supervisor will likely have their work cut out for them.

How will it all shake out? Well, Keehn will certainly find enough signatures to get her name on the ballot. She’ll then wage a painful primary against Premo, like by embracing the freak power constituents that powered her to the mayoral nomination in September. But this is as far as she’s capable of moving, unless the opposition candidate lands in prison or a mortuary before the election. The end result will be the 43rd landing safely with the Republicans.

Update: The TU is reporting Keehn has dropped from the race and will endorse Yepsen, which is certainly a mixed blessing for the city supervisor and a godsend for the county Dems. If Yepsen is successful in her bid, look for Keehn to resurface as her replacement on the County Board of Supervisors. In other news, the New York “behind the” Times reports three Democrats “including the mayor of Saratoga Springs” will be vying for Bruno’s seat, as a sharp-eyed reporter for the Post Star pointed out recently. Good work, Drew. They don’t pay you guys enough over there.

The state and county Democrats would be wise to jump into this fray early on, perhaps offering Keehn some sort of consolation prize in the form of a cushy job in the Legislature; anything to ensure she bows out of politics for good. But with Keehn on the loose, they’ll ultimately squander a perfect opportunity to both control the senate and banish the legacy of Hollywood Joe once and for all.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Picture of the Day

This week’s award goes to the Troy Record, which boasted a glorious full-color shot of state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno living up to his moniker, Hollywood Joe. Bruno climbed aboard one of the roughly 100 rigs carted into Albany as part of Thursday’s truck show.

Or was that a convoy? Irregardless, Hollywood Joe scaled the metal beast, took a seat in its cab and then thrust his finger out the window as if to lead gaggle of somewhat irrational truckers forward to lower fuel costs. He also took an opportunity to pin the widening fuel crisis on Assembly Minority Leader Sheldon Silver, who has balked at giving an OK to the so-called “gas tax holiday” his Republican counterparts have blathered about for the past two months.

Were one to arbitrarily glance at the wayward Record or the Saratogian –its Spa City doppelganger –they might get the impression that Bruno is leading the way toward lower fuel costs. In fact, this quite obviously staged photo pretty much says Bruno will do anything to lower gas prices for his constituents, even if it means erecting the oil derrick himself.

Update: Kudos to the TU business staffer who notice Bruno appears to be leading the charge for the "BS Express." Never a dull moment during a Hollywood Joe photo shoot.

“All of us here today are directly impacted by the skyrocketing fuel costs,” Bruno remarked before taking to the truck. “Whether you’re a truck driver, a family struggling to make ends meet or a senior citizen on a fixed income.”

Of course, this is all showmanship. Does anyone honestly believe Bruno or anyone of his ilk is threatened by gas prices? Even if they were, Bruno and his cronies are helpless to do much of anything outside of staging bullshit photos and harping on about lessening the relatively miniscule gasoline tax, giving a handful of poor sots the impression that someone gives a damn.

There is one key exception to this assumption. Bruno could put his money where his mouth is and start enacting the plans outlined by John Egan, who delivered a report about the future of rail use in New York nearly two years ago for the senate High-Speed Rail Task Force. Care to guess who appointed him to that committee?

Fewer cars on the road would mean less traffic. Less traffic would mean less fuel expended. Less fuel expended would mean the market for gasoline would drop. And it doesn’t take an economic genius to tell you what happens when demand drops.

But instead, Bruno will continue to play his usual charade with Silver, while the working class they speak of suffer. The two can bite each other’s backs, maneuver for re-election and stage a few more photo ops with the all-to-willing media whores like the Record, or Mark Williams, the suet-brained squawk box WROW foists as an afternoon talk show host. Meanwhile, the rest of us rational thinkers can shrug while nothing gets done.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Magical Mystery Tour

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned mystery to spice things up. Mysteries worked for Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the timeless character of Sherlock Homes. They also worked pretty well for the publishing houses that created Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys several decades later. They were probably the authors Barbara Lombardo had in mind when she wrote her latest masterpiece, entitled “Eatery mystery coming to the Hampton Inn.”

For those who don’t know Lombardo, she’s the managing editor of the Saratogian, who has presided over the longest mystery in newsprint history, namely the one titled “The Case of the Missing News.” Summing things up for the many infrequent readers of the Saratogian, it is an ongoing saga about a small city newspaper that discovers one day its news content has mysteriously vanished. Lombardo becomes a wraith in the newsroom and frequently disappears for long stretches of time in the narrative of this epic tail.

Her latest mystery is much better. The antagonists in this piece are hoteliers Michael Hoffman and Frank Parillo, who mysteriously build a towering behemoth off Lake Avenue after nearly a decade of wrangling and hustling. Amazingly, this duo decides to put a restaurant in their sprawling development, a practice that is ever so peculiar in the hotel business.

Now here’s where the plot thickens. Hoffman and Parillo decide one day they want free advertising for their adjoining condominium complex. So they approach Lombardo –the story’s news ferret and heroine –to offer her a clue: a “popular restaurant” making its Saratoga debut.

Update: Just in case you forgot over the past 24 hours, the Saratogian has again announced the morning news conference to unveil this perplexing mystery. In an uncharacteristic morning Web update, they've re-announced this landmark event.

Stop the presses. Another restaurant is coming to the Spa City? Well gee, Sherlock. That never happens around here; at least not every day. Maybe every other day, but who’s really counting?

Update: And who’s really counting the number of so-called “upscale” Italian restaurants in the area? It’s not like there isn’t already an half-dozen of these eateries that boast “a serious wine collection” from the Mediterranean boot. Bellini’s, welcome to Saratoga Springs. Meet David Zecchini. You’ll be sharing customers until he decides to break the knees of your head chef on Travers Day.

The sad thing through all this pandering is that these two developers are going to “announce” this new restaurant on Thursday and still wouldn’t tip their hand to Lombardo, who all but wrote front page advertorial for their condo sales. The only thing she forgot to include was a phone number and e-mail address for the realtor she listed. But fear not, inquiring readers. It is most certainly listed elsewhere in the paper.

This type of news gives cause for the sweeping layoffs and circulation dips witnessed lately in journalism. For instance, FOX 23 News just slashed 11 positions from its newsroom and other departments on a day some staffers are calling “Wednesday Bloody Wednesday.” The layoffs are no big surprise, seeing as though the newscast always seems behind CBS 6 Albany, a perennial cellar-dweller in the ratings that is so confused they can’t even identify that their station is really in Niskayuna.

Yet somehow Lombardo eludes this ax as it swings through the increasingly crowded worlds of broadcast and print journalism. In most businesses, they fire the captain when he crashes the Valdez on the rocks. But in Lombardo’s case, the Journal Register Company seems content to let her continually steer the ship aground. And perhaps that’s the greatest mystery of them all.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More bad news

The constant complaint of most newspaper readers is the steady flow of bad news: 10-year-old girl shot in gang violence, house guest accused of molesting child, drug bust nets former police chief’s wife. It almost seems as though there’s never any good news in the paper anymore, some barely literate people opine on occasion.

Well, it’s a two-way street, ‘cause there really hasn’t been any good news at the papers recently. The latest round of bad news comes from the Schenectady Daily Gazette, which paired its roster of employees by six this month. The cuts come almost a year to the day after the Gazette laid-off 18 workers, citing decreased ad revenue and waning circulation numbers.

Only this time, the cuts will be a bit deeper. Sources say the Gazette focused half the layoffs from its newsroom. This average is a little above par from the newsroom jobs the paper slashed last year, when the publisher decided to trim its Albany bureau from three reporters to two.

The Gazette’s reporting contingent in Albany took another hit during this year’s round of cuts. Apparently, the paper has finally pulled the plug on its Capitol bureau through the layoffs and a few reorganizational moves. The recent round of cuts ends decades of the Gazette maintaining an inside presence at the state Legislature.

Undoubtedly, the paper’s brass decided the stream of reporting from the Associated Press was far better than covering the intricate nuances of state government as they apply to the Capital Region readership. And why not, either? The AP seems to have a steady stable of Capitol reporters to boil down the news and feed it into five-inch inverted pyramid columns that can be read within the first moments of the morning bowel movement.

Well here’s the problem. The Gazette was one of the last remaining mid-sized dailies to maintain a Capitol bureau. All of the other papers decided reporting on the state government simply wasn’t worth the effort. After all, who really cares what is going on down in Albany? It’s not like anything important happens down there.

The Gazette’s absence will leave the Times Union as the last stronghold standing between the sheet of darkness that is slowly descending between the local news-reading public and New York’s legislators. Word is the TU is considering layoffs as well, even though it seems highly unlikely the Albany paper would touch its stable of Capitol reporters. Sources claim the buyouts the paper offered last month were basically ignored, meaning some TU staffers might soon find themselves walking side-by-side with the most recent Gazette layoffs.

It’s not to say the other folks in Albany don’t keep a good watch of the coop; just they have their own interest that seldom include the areas constituting the Capital Region. For instance, the AP paints most of its news with such broad strokes as to interest papers across the state, not just one region.

So this is just another step in the further dilution of news coming to the doorstep. It’s the next in a chain of small moves seeking to consolidate all sources of state, national and world news into one. Pretty soon, you’ll be hard pressed to find a local by-line on a story datelined anywhere further than down the street, where you could probably get it yourself.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We're havin' a heat wave

It doesn’t take a meteorologist to tell you it’s hot out there. Generally walking in the open sunlight is an easy way to get a bearing on how sweltering the late spring weather has been. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the news media feels the need to dedicate at least a reporter, photographer and either a solid segment of footage or a decent clip of column space to explain what even the most ignorant know: It’s goddamn hot.

But for some reason, that doesn’t stop news directors and editors from dedicating all the precious newsroom resources to these ludicrous stories. Take WTEN, which didn’t even bother to start their Monday evening broadcast with news. They simply hopped right into the weather and ran with it for five minutes into the six o’clock report.

WNYT didn’t manage much better with John Craig’s report: Heat waves are tough on road crews. Gee, what tipped you off? Was it the fact that they’re laying molten asphalt in the baking sun? Still, the station at least had the common sense to start their nightly news out with news, instead of the weather, which is still the weather even with the hyper-dramatization most anchors have been giving it lately.

Fox 23’s Paul Merril pretty much reached the same conclusions as Craig; namely that it really is quite nice to work in an office with air conditioning, rather than behind a char-grill or on a city road crew. The cash-strapped CBS 6 Albany didn’t even bother to muster a weather story this morning and instead ripped off a wire story for their morning broadcast. It is day four of the heat wave, for those of you suffering heat stroke.

And then there’s print. Charging forward to take the lead was the stalwart Saratogian, which offered “tips on how to beat the heat.” Unfortunately, these tips pretty much rely on advising people how to avoid heat stroke. In other words, stay out of the heat and drink lots of water, advised State Health Commissioner Richard Daines.

Beat the heat with cool showers and baths, Daines goes on to explain. Or maybe go to the public pools at the state-owned park down the street? What a novel idea, it would have been to take a dip at the Spa State Park’s Victoria Pool over the weekend. With day-time temperatures hovering in the high 90s, chances are pretty good the state probably could have made a few bucks on the deal.

But the rumor is that park Manager Michael Greenslate is so fed up with the antics of Louise Goldstein’s Save the Victoria Pool Society that the opening is purposely delayed out of shear spite. It’s really the only explanation for the historic pool remaining closed each year as the mercury climbs. The pool remained closed through a similar heat wave last year, when word from the state was that it was impossible to find life guards for June because kids are still attending school.

The message has changed a bit this year, with Greenslate insisting the date was pushed back a few days because school schedules are running later this year. Translation: swelter in puddle of your own sweat, Louise Goldstein; I’m the captain of this ship and no amount of prodding is going to open this pool before the last weekend in June.

So summer will be ushered in with one of the city’s leading summertime amenities closed to the public. But that’s alright. The rest of us will have the evening moaning of the nightly news to cool us down will this park pissing match continues.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


What’s more tasteless than Andrew Dice Clay judging a female mud wrestling contest at a fundraiser for the National Organization for Women? Well, apparently the tastes buds among Capital Region diners.

Were there ever evidence of the waning food palette among Capital Region diners, it would be found among the pool of 7,300 people who participated in the Times Union’s “Best of 2008” survey. True, this poll is anything but scientific. And some of the assumptions made in other parts of the survey are flat-out ludicrous. But the Best of 2008 winners do suggest area residents are getting less discriminating about their favorite places to chow down. Actually, they’re getting a lot less discriminating.

For proof, look no further than your local Olive Garden. This heinous chain restaurant and its pasta calamities were ranked as the best “Italian Restaurant” in the Capital Region. Best at what? Serving over-cooked pasta in bland, flavorless sauces that haven’t seen the hand of a real culinary artisan, much less one that was trained in the cuisine offered along the Mediterranean boot? True, bad Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen in upstate New York. However, it’s tough to consider the Olive Garden the best at anything, much last Italian cooking, when they offer to pair your dish with the finest Sutter Home Zinfandel.

The Times Union editors obviously recognized the domination of chain stores in their survey and even coined a separate category for “coffee joint,” excluding the chain stores. Otherwise, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Stewart’s Shops would have taken the cake respectively; less discriminating indeed. Some coffee aficionados liken the bile-churning sludge at Stewart’s to the muddy atomic runoff from the reactor at Kesselring.

Finding a good sandwich in the Capital Region is a bit trickier. Like Italian restaurants, there are plenty of bad delis in the area, a fact that is highlighted by the never-ending proliferation of Subway shops opening up on every corner and in every gas station. But to consider this fast-food garbage even in the same category as a deli like Roma’s in the Spa City is sacrilegious. In fact, one could probably get a better sandwich out of rest-area dumpster than at Jared’s place. Yet for some reason, people seem to think they’ll get the luscious baked bread, the towering stack of meat and the chopped fresh veggies that see advertised on television every five minutes.

And the list goes on. Best burger was given to Red Robin. The top-two best restaurants to open this year were both new chains shoveling slop amid the sprawl of Wolf Road in Colonie. Best steakhouse to Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse, a smaller chain, which narrowly beat out the Outhouse…err…Outback Steakhouse. Chain eateries even made an appearance in the best pizza running, where some poor, misguided souls actually voted for Pizza Hut as the Capital Region’s best pie.

Thinking conspiracy theory here, it is possible voting was skewed by a bunch of corporate shills trying to further the advance of this genre of eating experience. After all, the sheer design of corporate eateries can’t compete with the flavor cooked up by someone who honestly knows how to prepare good food without using a microwave or sauces out of a can. The Times Union suggests a different theory: area residents are getting a bit more frugal with their eating habits and going to places where they can get the cheapest meals.

Yet it’s more likely Capital Region diners are finally starting to forget the taste of a good meal. They no longer recall how good meal can leave the diner with a truly satiated appetite and an uplifted feeling, rather than the bloated, curl-in-a-ball-and-die feeling many of chain eateries promote. It’s a sad commentary on American eating habits that is going to get even sadder when the dynamics of food distribution means these chain restaurants can no longer offer cheap meals. Hopefully by then, there will still be a few mom-and-pop joints keeping alive the savory culinary traditions of the old country.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Change Express

Buckle up, Democrats, because the Change Express is about to thunder into a neighborhood near you.

For too long, Saratoga Springs has remained under the omnipresent Johnson Administration, which has laid environmental ruin on everything it has touched, has rubber-stamped every large development to come through the city and has embraced a brand of clandestine politics usually reserved for smoky back rooms. Yes, it’s time for change. It’s time for the type of change that puts the ‘d’ in democracy; the type of change that levels the playing field and gives all city democrats a voice. The type of change that puts families first!

Or maybe the type of change that is really a buzz word used to mean a return to the failed progressive movement that held the city hostage for two years under the administration of Valerie Keehn and her merry band of change-o-crats. Yes, the same administration that brought you the failed charter revision push, the overzealous plans for a public safety castle and managed to raise city taxes at an alarming rate is again rearing its ugly head.

Brucie Rosch, who is best described as an avid Keehniac, circulated an e-mail among city Democrats this week, urging them to support change when it comes knocking at the door. The fervent charter revisionist is asking voters to join a new collective called “Democrats for Change” so it can at last take control of the City Democratic Committee.

“The first step in fixing this mess is to take back control of our City Democratic Committee from the small and unrepresentative group of regressive Democrats,” she urged in the bizarre missive mailed out Monday evening.

Fix this mess? Does she mean the mess the mayor and her supporters made of the committee in just two short years? Or maybe she’s thinking about the mess created after the utter squandering of the first consensus of Democrats in City Hall this century lead by the gang of charter revisionists.

Either way, Rosch’s message is unclear. In short, it asks voters not to worry about the details and just sign the dotted line for change; some sort of change. It may not be good change, but it will be change nonetheless.

And if Keehn is an example of the direction Rosch might have in mind for the committee, then this change will certainly be disastrous for the prospect of resurrecting the corpse some still call the city Dems. Since Keehn’s drubbing in November, this sect of so-called progressives has been kept on life support in the city’s Public Safety department under the watchful eye of Eileen Finneran, the former deputy mayor. So their return to the forefront this month comes as no surprise.

The problem is, they really have little to gripe about these days. City Council meetings have gone rather smoothly under Mayor Scott Johnson’s watch and the city doesn’t seem any worse for the wear with the Republicans holding a 3-2 majority. True, he and his party have only been in control for six months, which is hardly enough time to pass judgment on their leadership. But they seem to embrace an overriding concern for the fiscal stability of the city in the face of an uncertain economy. They seem earnest in their desire to put the brakes on any sort of unnecessary spending.

In other words, change is really not what Saratoga Springs needs right now. In fact, the city could use a bit of stability for once under the leadership of a mayor and majority that understand the realities of government.

What the city does not need is a radical splinter faction foisting a bunch of buzz words like ‘green,’ ‘affordable housing’ and ‘open government’ as a governing policy, only to embrace a hyper-political agenda that focuses more on creating problems than solving them. So if the Change Express comes knocking this month, just be sure to have the dead-bolt locked and an overzealous rottweiler tethered outside the door.

View My Stats