Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The end is near

Any pundit will tell you, politics can create strange bedfellows. But take those same politics and smear them with a generous helping of dismal economics and you could end up watching a drunken orgy fit for the shelves of the back ally porno shop. Such is the case with the recent demise of the multi-million dollar buyout of the banking industry’s failed mortgages.

Never was there more disconnect between the party line and the direction the Capital Region’s congressional representatives voted toward the $700 billion parachute offered to Wall Street’s lending industry. By endorsing the buyout Monday, Republican Congressman John McHugh spat in the face of his party loyalists, who in turn clammed in the face of the increasingly lame duck president who brought up the notion in the first place. And if it sounds like a lot of phlegm sailing around in the Washington wind, that’s because there is.

On the other side of the isle, Democratic Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand bit her thumb at the buyout, claiming it wasn’t the taxpayers’ responsibility to provide golden parachutes for the executives that fomented the crisis. She was also among a contingent in congress that felt the buyout didn’t do enough to indemnify the taxpayers from taking a hit, while the barons of Wall Street continue to rake in top-dollar salaries.

“While I am fully aware of the seriousness of the financial problems in the market, I do not believe the bill Congress voted on today was the right approach,” she said in a prepared statement. “The bill has insufficient oversight and protections and does not address the root causes of the crisis or the poor economy.”

Oddly but not surprisingly, Gillibrand was joined by Sandy Treadwell, her challenger for the 20th Congressional District this fall. In a statement eerily reminiscent of something that would be belched out of a Democratic press office, Treadwell urged congress to go back to work and hammer out something that wouldn’t “burden working class and middle class families.”

“It is the job of Congress to craft a fair plan that will protect retirees, homeowners, and small businesses,” he stated in a news release. “Congress needs to do that job now, before it's too late.”

In contrast, Democratic Congressman Michael McNulty voted in the affirmative for the bailout, which faced immense public opposition despite its broad support among his party. Not surprisingly, McNulty didn’t release a statement about his vote. In fact, the only comment from the retiring McNulty came when several reporters tracked him down at the Albany International Airport Monday evening. And even then, he didn’t say much of anything substantive or unexpected from a guy who is a mere three months away from his 401K.

Meanwhile, McNulty’s prospective successor Paul Tonko decided against taking any stand toward the bill, despite a majority of house Democrats voting in favor of the bill. Jim Burhmaster, his long-shot Republican challenger, told the Daily Gazette he “probably” would have supported the measure to avert a looming financial disaster.

So let’s go to the video tape. Gillibrand sounds like a Republican, Treadwell sounds like a liberal and the Irish vote goes in favor of the Bush Administration’s buyout, while the Democratic favorite waiting to seize McNutly’s mantle refused to say anything at all. Sadly, this was all predictable days in advance of the vote. There are two sides here and two sides only: those running for election and those who aren’t.

Despite her incumbency, Gillibrand is facing a serious challenge from Treadwell, who is trying his hardest to galvanize the Republican base of the Hudson Valley. Had she voted in favor of the buyout, she would have given Treadwell the perfect bellowing yawp to assemble his troops en mass. Tonko refused to comment on the most important issue facing the nation in the past five years because he realizes the 21st District race is his to lose. Absent a campaign disaster –say supporting a publically unpopular bill –the heavily Democratic district is his to win. Likewise, Burhmaster’s milquetoast answer has to do with playing both sides of the political fence.

The loan maverick was McHugh, who is also facing a re-election bid this year. But when four out of every five of your voting contingent isn’t even aware there’s a party outside of the GOP, it’s a bit easier to be one of only 65 house Republicans to support the measure.

It’s unfortunate that the fog of politics has descended upon the debacle on Wall Street. And it’s a fog thick enough that the most average citizens are now wondering whether it would be prudent to stockpile canned goods, rice and duct tape. Some fear their bank cards might not work as they have reliably for so many years, while others are convinced the government might just consider seizing gold assets for the good of the nation.

In reality, there is a much-needed market correction that is occurring at the upper echelons of the United States economy and is cutting off large swaths of the already diminutive middle class. Those who have enjoyed the luxury of eating out five times a week, living in palatial suburban mansions and living in relative ease might just need to re-evaluate their arrangement in life. In other words, the do-nothing middle class might just need to be re-invented with a more working-class edge. Needless to say, this is bound to piss off a good number of people.

Politicians are nervous about this prospect. Many of them understand the beating heart of revolution is bore out discontent among the more cognizant members of the bourgeoisie. As American industrialism waned, this class was kept fat on a ceaseless line of credit and a veritable procession of ‘feel good, don’t worry about it’ ad campaigns. But now the party is over. The credit is maxed out and the brutish reality of nation that has become hopelessly service-oriented is crashing down all around.

In essence, the doom-and-gloom from Washington is a welcome breath of fresh air that is sullied only by the suckfish politicians as they scramble to protect the system that has so egregiously failed the country over the past two decades. Their pandering now is nothing short of expected, given the unavoidable failure of a political system rife with corruption and greed. Perhaps they’ll succeed in the end and rescue this ship from running aground. But if they don’t, there are plenty of us now sitting on the rocks who will welcome them with jagged edges as they fall into the tumult.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Has the whole world gone crazy?

Sometimes, the aristocracy could benefit from a taste of Walter Sobchack’s brutish logic. Perhaps the region’s uber-elite might gain a moment of clarity from one of the shell-shocked Vietnam veteran’s trademark rants. The kind of mental clarity gleaned while an off-kilter manically vociferating man-beast is waving around a loaded semi-automatic pistol. Perhaps then they would understand the pitfalls created by building eight, three-story multi-million dollar penthouses in downtown Saratoga Springs during a time precipitous economic decline

The housing bubble has officially burst. The nation’s financial markets are reeling from the cavalcade of bogus mortgages dished out by unscrupulous lenders. The economy is clearly headed toward a recession or even worse. Fiscal analysts are suggesting that even the stalwart upscale real estate economy in New York City, the brazen beacon of economic hope, could markedly suffer as the lending institutions cope with the ongoing sub-prime debacle.

Yet the developers of the so-called “Pavilion Grand” on Lake Avenue remain strangely undeterred. Despite the apparent bold-faced writing etched on Wall Street, Dean DeVito and Ken Raymond are moving forward with a bizarrely financed deal that would jump start the estimated $20 million project, according to a real estate ad report published in the Saratogian Tuesday.

The downtown development power-tandem from Coldwell Banker Prime Realties in Cohoes is hoping to get state Attorney General approval for the project, which proposes to sell the resulting commercial and real estate space to recoup their building costs. The condominiums will retail for between $1.7 million and $2.4 million, easily making them the most expensive luxury pads in the Capital Region. And by the sound of it, their real estate agent clearly doesn’t believe the latest economic woes will deter folks from tossing several million dollars worth of loose change at a “second vacation-style homes” for a “weekend getaway” in the Spa City.

“Everybody wants to come here,” she told the paper. “They love Saratoga.”

Maybe so, but there’s no denying the mood swings of the American economy. Lately, the glum financial news has become tantamount to the fictional Sobchack’s outbursts during The Big Lebowski: frequent, increasingly volatile and knowing no boundaries of reason. Eventually, the manic market trends sweeping through the city of lights will creep up the Northway and camp out in downtown Saratoga Springs. In fact, there’s already evidence of this happening in the local market, although the market for upscale condominiums doesn’t seem to be phased quite yet.

Still, the prospect of building a 66,000-square-foot behemoth seems kind of strange considering the number of condominiums set to hit the soon-to-be flooded market of Saratoga Springs. Absent an abrupt about-face by the national economy, there’s a good chance many of these empty-nester nooks could remain empty, especially when they cost more than some of the palatial mansions along North Broadway.

The question remains, what happens to Pavilion Grand if the recession continues after its ground breaking? In May, DeVito said the project wouldn’t begin until they “pre-sell” several of the units, thus giving them enough capital to barter for the overall construction cost. But the deal seems oddly reminiscent of scheme that recently backfired for another builder whose name might ring a bell with the pair from Coldwell.

Some might remember James McGlagan, the unfortunate builder that overextended his stay on the real estate market’s easy street. DeVito and Raymond were apparently among the developers that stand to “take a bath” on deals where he was the builder. The two ultimately bought back two of McLagan’s four properties that went into foreclosure from the debacle. Regrettably, a similar demise is being experienced by other custom builders in the region, including one who helped now-Republican state Assemblyman George Amedore construct a dream house in Colonie during the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition craze last year.

Perhaps this is all trite thinking for this pair of real estate speculators, as they try to erect yet another palace for Saratoga’s burgeoning bedroom community. Or maybe they’re aware of some market trend suggesting the richer-than-thou crowd will remain isolated from storm clouds gathering around the corrupt lending and building industry. But there seems to be enough questions arising from today’s markets to give Andrew Cuomo reason to take a hard look at this development before giving it his blessing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Writing letters

What could be more fun than using Ron Kim’s city e-mail address to sign him up for every known pornography and spam site on the world-wide Web? Well, writing the city’s Public Safety commissioner a letter explaining why many rational thinkers among the public aren’t behind his ill-fated push for a new, monolithic police station.

Earlier this month, Kim implored residents to chime in with their thoughts about the police station, in a move that could have initially been viewed as an uncharacteristic moment of consensus building for the shoot-first-ask-questions-later brand of politics he typically enjoys.

So this humble scribe took some time this week to shoot the good commissioner a message of explanation for why the general public isn’t on board with his new public safety facility. Maybe seeing it in words might give him an idea why many view his politically motivated project as a looming disaster for taxpayers:

“As you may or may not know, we’ve never really seen eye-to-eye, absent several uncomfortable run-ins on the street. So I’ll be short and to the point in this missive: Saratoga Springs does not need 45,000-square-feet of law enforcement building. Even the entire goddamn expanse of Saratoga County doesn’t need this much space to ensure their ability to protect the public’s safety. This is why I and many of other residents will vociferously fight any proposal of this magnitude –even if it only costs a pair of surplus cop cruisers and a free ride on the police horse.

“Let’s break it down: 30,000-square-feet of police station will more than quadruple the space the cops use now. Such a station will be on the size and magnitude of one now in use by the Schenectady City Police; perhaps even larger. Having this much space seems a bit superfluous unless you, as the czar of our city’s public safety, are envisioning Schenectady-like crime in the coming year. I’m thinking that you don’t, or aren’t saying so publically at this point.

“Next we have 15,000-square-feet for the city’s court administration, another remarkably large jump in space. While you may dupe some voters into thinking this is the only court our miscreants appear in, I’m not nearly as gullible. Most significant felonies are transferred to the county level, meaning the space you propose to build will go toward arraigning drunks, parking offenders, a growing number of family court cases and other lesser crimes appearing before a city magistrate.

"Expanding the halls of justice to prepare for more of these cases insinuates the anticipation that more of these so-called crimes will soon be finding their way into the third floor of city hall, possibly due to an expanding and more militant police force hitting the streets. I am extremely uncomfortable with this notion. Let's also not forget the cost of maintaining a structure that dwarfs the larger houses of worship around the city. Ask some of the local clergy what it costs to heat and power some of these structures and you'll understand why they're passing around the collection tin a bit more often these days. And think: they don't have a bunch of rowdy miscreants and coffee-swilling cops rolling through their halls on a daily basis. The cost of repairs alone on such a structure could rise into the tens of thousands of dollars.

“The bottom line, Mr. Kim, is that we do not live in New York City, nor Schenectady or Albany for that matter. While there is certainly crime in the Spa City –something that is inevitable in any population –there isn’t nearly enough to precipitate the dreadfully oversized public safety facility you propose to build. Maybe if you tried simply doubling the size of the station, I and other voters of my ilk would be a bit more interested in hearing your case. But your undying insistence that the city build a justice center the size of a Wal-Mart supercenter really makes me wonder what city you live in and where you find the justification for saddling such a fiscal burden on the middle and lower class taxpayers.

“Politics is a nasty game, Mr. Kim, especially when it puts the desires of the politically motivated before the needs of the voters. I don’t claim to know all the inner workings of city government, but I do know this goddamn public safety building has nothing to do with providing sanctity for the residents you purportedly serve. This is about a vote grab among the city’s Police Benevolent Association, which wants far more station than the community needs. After all, their endorsement makes a mighty nice feather in the cap of someone running for re-election or dare I say higher office.

“So do the working class a favor and come back with something realistic. It’s not only cost that is a concern. It’s the size and what you’re already-too-large department plans on doing with the added space. For once in your career, do what is right for the city, not your political cronies. Come back with a new station that suits everyone properly. I eagerly await your response.”

Naturally, there has been no response either from Kim or Mayor Scott Johnson, who was the other government official contacted via e-mail. No surprises there. But what is a surprise is the fact that the City Council appears to be moving forward towards Kim’s endgame without acknowledging any of the aforementioned concerns. In fact, they’ve recently postured to issue a ‘request for proposal’ from private developers, asking for plans to build the 30,000-square-foot station and adjoining 15,000-square-foot courthouse. They also unanimously included a “token” $3 million line-item in the capital budget as a good faith measure for the project moving forward. Yikes.

Still no answer about what the council will do with the old police station. Still no answer about the estimated impact of adding 45,000-square-feet of public building space to the city’s load of tax-funded facilities. Still no answer about how big they plan to grow the police department once the mighty castle is built. Some might say answering these questions now would be putting the cart before the horse. Others might find a bit of solace in know exactly the debacle the council is arranging here to appeal to a small, but powerful city union.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Changing tide

Hear that? It’s silence on the ass-end of the AM dial where WROW’s News Talk 590 once piped neo-conservative babble onto the airwaves from the crack of dawn through the frustration of the evening commute. Gone are the stuttering antics of WGY-transplant Scott Allen Miller. Silenced is the smarmy voice of afternoon propaganda chief Mark Williams. As quietly as it whisked in, the riptide of the local neo-con movement appears to be sweeping back out to the murky depths of politics where it was first churned.

And here plays the mournful song of the world’s smallest violin for their departure from the area’s talk radio. Can’t see it? Well don’t strain your eyes. There aren’t too many functional thinkers in the Capital Region that will sorrow over their departure.

In their roughly seven months on the air together, this dynamic duo managed to bring talk radio to a new low at AM 590, even surpassing the depths of the verbal groping former morning host Paul Vandenburgh pioneered whenever he’d invite any of the area’s female journalists onto his show. Miller, the former program director hired in November, skulked out of the Latham studios in June, without giving a reason and without causing as much as a ripple in the industry; he was unceremoniously replaced by Jackie Donovan, the former director of Clear Channel’s Traffic Network. Williams’ departure at least made the local papers because the programmers at WROW decided it was time to change the tone of his incessant and often deluded conservative jabber to something that might actually appeal to all but a handful of Bud-swilling, phone shouting fist-pounding right field wingnuts.

The times are tough for conservative radio. There’s really not much to brag about as the tentacles of the satiated Rovian juggernaut slowly pull away from government. The stock market has crashed, the housing market has burned and there are two costly wars that are continuing to sap the national economy. The Republican Party has nominated a centrist Washington insider for the presidency and has placed him alongside the female version of Dan Quayle. Even some nationally syndicated talk show hosts are finding it nearly impossible to trump either the Bush legacy or the future with McCain.

In absence of a cause to rally behind, local hosts such as Miller and Williams were relegated to grasping at straws. And when you lack the intelligence to discern a straw from a hay bale, this practice gets a bit cumbersome. Miller recognized early the changing tide of politics in the Capital Region and smartly pulled the ripcord. Williams, the less mentally spry of the two, plodded along until this month, when his station producers made it quite clear his shtick wasn’t going to cut it.

His replacement, the purportedly left-of-center Sherman Baldwin, told the Times Union the new afternoon show’s format would be “less harsh, less opinionated” and will have “more community involvement” than his predecessor. Williams, on the other hand, offered an interesting disparity by claiming WROW’s ownership insisted on adopting a format that would draw “a minimum of active community involvement and the controversy and expense that comes with such involvement.”

“To that end Scotto…and [WROW Operations Manager] Kevin Callahan and I have had a number of conversations and finally reached the conclusion this morning that circumstances over which we have little or no control are insurmountable,” he posted on his Website Friday afternoon.

By “circumstances,” Williams must mean WROW’s woeful and steadily declining listenership under Miller’s stewardship. And by “insurmountable,” he must be referring to the pink slip his station manager surely gave him Friday after his show was over. After all, you always fire employees on Friday. It gives them less of a chance to make a scene.

Nevertheless, the AM waves will drift a little easier over the Capital Region’s stratosphere absent the incessant chatter from this collection of arrogant dweebs. Some might say it’s schadenfreude to applaud the demise of two strapping hosts so full of hate, lies and vitriol. Many others would argue these two court jesters of the neo-con movement would have looked much better leaving the Capital Region with a fresh coat of hot tar and some soiled pigeon feathers.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Coup d’etat

Democratic voters, you asked for it. In one modestly attended election, the Democrats for Change went from a splinter group to wielding an overwhelming majority in the city Democratic Committee. With results still coming in from a handful of the Spa City’s 25 election districts, DFC candidates had taken no less than 40 of their party’s 50 committee seats. And that’s not even including one district where there was a three-way tie between the pair of purported DFC candidates and one of their so-called opponents.

Shawn Thompson, the incumbent committeeman from the state’s 110th district, also secured a definitive victory over challenger Patrick Southworth. The political hack-extraordinaire bested his challenger by a solid 172 votes, according to preliminary results from the county Board of Elections.

Update: Patricia Southworth, the Ballston supervisor and husband of Patrick, reportedly quit the Democratic Party Wednesday, claiming she no longer feels the county committee has room for differences of opinion under the fence-sitting Larry Bullman. And the fallout from 2007 continues...

Most striking was the sweeping defeat suffered by the brothers’ McTygue. All three were swept from the committee at the hands of their opponents. Bill McTygue, the city’s Public Works director, suffered the most humiliating loss among the three brothers after amassing a paltry seven votes, the second lowest of any candidate running for a seat.

The most popular vote-getter was Zoning Board Chairwoman Nancy Goldberg –a card-carrying supporter of deposed mayor Valerie Keehn –who netted 80 tallies in her district. She was trailed by fellow DFC candidate Mary Zoltnick, the coordinator of Community Outreach at the Saratoga Prevention Council, who scored 74 tallies in Goldberg’s 23rd election district. Together, they gave soon-to-be former committee Chairman Lou Schneider a solid thrashing.

From the pseudo-sublime to the bizarre, Saratogian Editor Barbara Lombardo now has a mole on the Democratic committee, after her eldest son David squeaked out a five-vote victory over his closest opponent. Of course, it’s hard to view such a victory as a mandate when roughly a quarter of your 19 votes likely came from your own family. He is now among two college students elected to the committee who will be living more than 150 miles away from Saratoga Springs for most of the coming year. The other –Ariana Vacs Renwick –won’t even be living in New York this fall.

But it wasn’t all smiles among the splinter-turned-committee. Voters soundly sent City Court judge candidate Joe Montagnino packing. The committee-endorsed Jeff Wait bested the DFC candidate by 68 votes, tarnishing the group’s otherwise sweeping victory. Unfortunately for Wait, he was punted from his Independence Party endorsement by his Republican challenger, Matt Dorsey, meaning he’s lost at least one of two third party lines he was seeking. And to make matters even worse, Montagnino still stands a chance of getting his name on the ballot, thanks to a stalemate for the Working Families Party line; a nail-biting one-to-one tie.

All said and told, a little more than 2,700 Democrats pulled a lever for someone running for the committee among the reported 6,300 registered members of the party. This means about 43 percent of the city’s mules felt the committee battle important enough to show up at the poll. These figures are nothing short of remarkable considering the number of voters normally turning out of for a local primary not involving any of the five city council seats.

But then again, there was quite a stir over the Tracy Brooks-Paul Tonko battle for a spot on the ballot for U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty’s seat. And local races certainly benefitted from the stir over the challenge for former state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s old digs in Albany. This isn’t even considering the nine months of politicking in the city over retiring Judge Douglas Mills’ seat on the bench.

Time will only tell if the Democrats for Change will do what they relentlessly have pledged to do from when the splinter started forming back in 2005 right up until Tuesday’s primary. They now have a fresh slate to start on, meaning party census building is again a possibility. It’s now their choice whether to release the doves or hawks in wake of their victory. However, if history is any indicator, the DFC opponents will soon be ducking a talon-clawing assault from above.

What does all this mean? For one, the city Democrats will soon have a leader hand-picked by Thompson, the fellow who orchestrated the whole coup and a political operative who seemingly lacks real desire for a party peace accord. The win also means the city is likely to see the name Keehn resurface on the election ballot sometime in 2009. The former mayor was extremely vocal in the run up to the primary, perhaps even more vocal than any former council member in recent memory. She’s also made many appearances at the council meetings, meaning she’s angling for something.

But who really cares about all this anyway? Well that’s a good question: The die-hard needle-in-the-vein political junkies of Saratoga Springs. And there was a good contingent of them rolling through the city last night, pale-faced and pushing beads of cold sweat from their brows before the polls closed. Aside from them, the largest audience for last night’s episode of As the Democrats Turn was a gaggle of political operative skulking around Washington Street at a certain campaign headquarters; waiting in the high grass, their ears perked and their playbooks opened to 2009.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Full court press

The politicking front-stoop litter bugs from the Democrats for Change are up to their old tricks again. Voters were greeted with some fresh propaganda fliers ludicrously claiming their candidates would help “end the fighting” and “help rebuild” the deeply fragmented party. Meanwhile, they’ve dusted off an old tried-and-true tactic from their 2007 election playbook: Blame it on Tom McTygue.

Ever wonder who was responsible for the politics of destruction? Blame it on McTygue. Would you care to guess whose fault it is that property taxes are so high? It’s McTygue’s fault. And if you’re searching for a culprit for global warming, the Kennedy assassination, the bird flu pandemic, and the disappearance of Natalie Holloway, you can stop your hunt at the city’s Election District 5. And the name just happens to be McTygue.

Amazingly, the same splinter cell that made a practice of abandoning city committee meetings when they didn’t get their way is now accusing the former Public Works commissioner of tainting the party’s life blood with his brash brand of politics. These accusations come in the form of recent media interviews and a veritable stream of photocopies dumped off at the doorstep of any registered Democrat in the city.

“Tom McTygue wants to keep pulling the strings in the City Democratic Party,” boasts one flier paid for by the Democrats for Change. “He has candidates running in every district…to take full control of the City Committee.

Members of the splinter also distributed a reproduction of a full-length article chronicling the schism they happened to pilfer from Schenectady’s Daily Gazette. Though the article itself is quite balanced, the Change-o-crats decided to give it their own bias by emboldening various parts of the text outlining McTygue’s affiliation with the so-called United Democrats. They claim McTygue has resurfaced with a crew of allies in an attempt to quash the popular uprising of Keehniacs in their bid to restore order to the party.

“Behind all these machinations is Tom McTygue,” quoted Allan Turkenheimer, a DFC candidate vying for one of two Election District 1 seats.

DFC leader Shawn Thompson –the one who hand-picked failed Democratic Mayor Valerie Keehn –also couldn’t resist a McTygue reference in his ruminations to the Saratogian this week. He claims the voters will have to choose between two distinct groups, one of which embraces “McTygue’s machine-like politics.”

“The other side is trying to keep an open and transparent committee,” he said.

Of course, by “open and transparent committee,” he must mean on that sees it fit to hold their own fundraisers and meetings outside of the collective. He must also mean a committee that openly gathers an opponent’s list and makes no qualms about furtively lambasting anyone whose name appears on it.

This is not to say McTygue isn’t working behind the scenes to ensure his political longevity, or the longevity of his former voter base. But at least he’s not doing it as openly or brazenly as Thompson and his Keehniac flunkies, a group that has waged a carefully calculated propaganda campaign aimed at smearing anyone affiliated with the United Democrats. In contrast, the so-called United Democrats –a group that didn’t even formally organize until the DFC launched their final solution –have limited their politicking to simply getting their candidates’ names out in the public.

In fact, McTygue has been all but silent during the run up to the primaries, even though his name is again being tossed around as if he were the Spa City’s answer to the boogieman. It’s a tactic that is very reminiscent of the full court press the same DFC suspects waged against him in 2007, when they colluded to convince a gullible Metroland reporter of a federal investigation that allegedly swirled around the former 16-term politician.

This is not to say that McTygue doesn’t have his skeletons. In fact, he’s got bones enough around his political past to rival those interred at Saratoga National Cemetery. But these weren’t enough for the DFC campaign machine, which apparently fabricated a bogus story about FBI investigators squirreling through city records and interviewing DPW workers. Even though the story was weak and the sources were highly dubious –one connected with Kamp Keehn and another being a garage worker McTygue rightfully tried to fire –the FBI allegation grew legs in all three mainstream dailies thereby making it gospel in the eyes of many voters.

The move turned out to be McTygue’s proverbial swift boat, sounding the death knell for his campaign. To date, the Metroland hasn’t revisited their notion that an FBI investigation was ongoing, nor have the checked the whereabouts of their alleged sources in the ranks of the DPW. For that matter, they haven’t even bothered with the other big knock against McTygue in 2007 –the ongoing state Department of Environmental Conservation investigation into spill hydraulic oil at the Division Street Garage –despite a member of the opposition party recently claiming the whole debacle was “city politics at its worst.”

History is riddled with political candidates taken down by spurious allegations. Often times, it’s the candidate’s inability to feverishly attack this innuendo that has caused them to take a dive. McTygue was never able to clear his decks of the mud flung by the Thompson-driven Keehn campaign last year. And these are the same folks now pointing to McTygue as the ringleader of some faux coup to regain control over the committee, when in fact they are the root of the plot.

So Democratic voters, ponder deep before pulling the lever today. Think to yourselves: Are those bleating DFC sheep really pointing at the big bad wolf, or are they really the slavering yellow-fanged beast that has tucked itself under a freshly killed fleece?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Revisionist history

No matter how thin the pancake is, there are always two sides. This is a concept that has seemingly eluded Saratoga Springs’ so-called Democrats for Change, as their cult-like membership attempts to drastically rewrite recent history in an attempt to quash any notion of their being any side but their own.

Stalwart operatives from this clique are now trying to manipulate slogans from their own propaganda wing in an ongoing effort to cover up their nearly three years of failure, following their only real claim to success. Over the past two months, the most dubious of this group have waged an aggressive letter-writing campaign to the Saratogian in an effort to bamboozle what they somewhat accurately view as a fickle and easily swayed electorate. And of course, the Saratogian is all the willing to oblige, considering the managing editor’s son is among those listed as a candidate “for change” so to speak.

Take for instance this recent gem authored by Al Ormsby, a card-carrying member of the splinter group that has and continues to wreck havoc on the city Democrats. He alludes to how the Democrats for Change –‘DC’ for short –will end the greedy days of nepotism on the city committee fomented by the so-called Democrats United. He argues that DC’s change-o-crats will reshape the local party, bringing a sweeping sense of political openness and transparency that would make even granny’s five-decade-old undergarments seem opaque.

“A [Democrats United]-controlled committee would consist of a few top-tier members who use their relative's proxies as bargaining chips,” his September letter to the Saratogian states. “This type of committee could only benefit an outdated political machine.”

Obviously, Ormsby didn’t look over the DC slate of candidates, which is littered with life-long politicians and just about anyone who was anyone among the failures who tried to first change the city’s charter and then tried to convince a very skeptical public that Valerie Keehn deserved a second term in office. Take for instance Jennie Kim, the wife of Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim, who was the only sitting council member who allied himself with the laughable re-election campaign. A seldom-recounted fact among DC operatives is that the Kims –more specifically Ron Kim –were once quite active in the Republican Party. In fact, Kim himself was a member of the city GOP committee before they unceremoniously kicked him to the curb,

And then there’s Kim’s number two, Eileen Finneran, who was also deputy mayor under Keehn and perhaps the second largest political hack operating within the city limits. Finneran pretty much played point for every furtive political powerplay orchestrated during Keehn’s administration. She forced former Keehn deputy Nancy Olsen out of office after the city council refused to create a second deputy’s position for the Public Safety office.

But the list doesn’t end there. Nancy Goldberg was among those who foisted Keehn as a mayor and was among her foot soldiers marching for charter revision. She was handsomely rewarded with a spot chairing the city’s Zoning Board. And who could forget patronage sponge Lew Benton? The diehard Keehniac and former Republican Public Safety commissioner had a change of political allegiance in the new century. Since that time, he’s hopped from one taxpayer-funded job to the next. As some may recall, Keehn leafed through the charter until she could find an unfilled position for Benton, and then fired the city’s visitor’s center director to create the funding for it.

Let’s not forget about the attorneys, or at least their spouses. The wife of Joe Montagnino –the Keehn-loving DC-picked carpetbagger running for city court judge –is among the splinter cell’s candidates “for change.” Also running is Linda Englert, the betrothed of the former city attorney under Keehn, who capriciously met with the county and asked them to install connections that will one day allow the city to easily hook into the $76 million waterline; all without bothering to mention word one to the city’s Department of Public Works. And you can’t mention ‘politically connected’ without making at least one reference to Peter Tulin, the fellow who lead the charge to knock Brian Premo off the ballot when he ran against former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno –a Republican.

Had enough? Not yet. Let’s move onto Keehn-booster Hilary McLellan, who was never rewarded with an appointment. But after devoting a fair amount of time to a local propaganda blog, she was assuredly in the running for one, had the 2007 vote swung in the incumbent mayor’s favor. And where’ there’s McLellan usually the name Roger Wyatt is sure to follow. Known locally as the “shaky film maker,” Wyatt was responsible for producing some of the most laughably bad propaganda films during Keehn’s blitzkrieg against her former Public Works adversary Tom McTygue.

One can’t discuss the Democrats for Change without making a pronounced mention of Shawn Thompson, the ringleader of this carnival on crack and the city’s largest political hack. The former Democratic Committee chairman’s resume reads like an essay on the federal response to Hurricane Katrina: One failure after the next. Many DC-loving letter writers falsely credit Thompson for sweeping an all-democrat slate of candidates into city office during the 2005 election. Of course what these rubes fail to realize is that city voters were so chagrined by Republican bungling they probably would have elected a dead corpse into office over the GOP incumbents; some argue that’s what they did when they gave Keehn the nod.

Thompson held the reins to the DC and could have tightened up on them when Keehn –his protégé –started feuding with McTygue. Instead, Thompson let Keehn loose to rampage across the party and give birth to the afore-described splinter. His motive? Well let’s just say the Saratoga Lake resident wasn’t too thrilled with the McTygue-propelled idea to tap Saratoga Lake to supply the city’s water. Though his girl took a fall, she brought down the 16-term commissioner with her, effectively ending the city’s interest in the lake proposal. It was his one success in a long list of failures, including the charter revision push, Keehn’s reelection and H. Carl McCall’s push for the governor’s office just to name a few.

So it seems a bit disingenuous to read Ormsby’s tripe about the “Orwellian” Democrats United and the supposedly utopian vision offered by the Democrats for Change. It’s not to say the Democrats United don’t have their list of politically connected; rather they’re not trumping them as the proverbial crusaders for all things good, marching over the horizon on white horses with their shiny armor glinting in the sunlight. Hopefully, voters recognize this. Or hopefully they don’t if you happen to be a Republican.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Anarchy and the zen of September

Only in America could almost an entire nation take a day off from working on a supposed holiday billed as Labor Day. Many years ago, this was a time to hang up the factory apron and head out to the fields for the harvest. But today, it’s much different. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

For nine-to-fivers, Labor Day means a trip the grocer for a set of 10 lb. steaks, a keg of semi-palatable beer and some Tiki torches. By mid afternoon, it’s time to sit around the backyard and revel about how great the summer was and lament how a splitting hangover will feel come Tuesday morning at the office; all while on the way to the bar for another vodka and tonic.

But for many in Saratoga Springs, the day represents the end of days; the last push before September’s reprieve, when the traffic dwindles, the track closes and every last restaurant worker still standing goes out on the town for a bakers’ dozen cocktails. By midnight, a shroud of tranquility will drape across Broadway and its once-bustling side streets. True workers are too tired to make it much past the witching hour without either losing consciousness or being arrested.

Besides, there’s too much ill will after a solid season in the trenches to come out, waving arms in triumph. And for a the band of kitchen-bound warriors and mercenaries who did battle for two months, only to fight most furiously in the last six weeks, the end –the ebbing flow of tourists –is nothing short of a god send. It’s a sullen time to take stock of the casualties and move their corpses off the battlefield.

For these damned souls, this lifestyle is somewhat of a norm. Six weeks of abject alcoholism, wanton drug use and a passion for anything that might bring the walls of this fair city to an untimely demise. They foster a deep-seeded festering hatred for anything that contributes to their workload, especially if it speaks with an urban accent, drives a BMW and takes every opportunity to brazenly wave around a gold money clip. These instances give restaurant workers a sense that sheer anarchy might not be such a bad thing. After all, anarchy is the tune loudly blasting from the back stoop of every restaurant in the city.

Anarchy? What the hell are you blathering about? There’s no such thing as anarchy in beautiful Saratoga Springs, polished to fine shimmer that’s only accentuated by August’s beaming sun. Flowery hats, fine Italian suites, plus a steady procession of Ferraris, Rolls Royce and Porsches trekking down Broadway, there’s no anarchy in the Spa City.

Why, yes it’s there. But it lurks just off to the periphery in the shadows, behind the double doors, in the alley, waiting for the weak willed and the psychotic to trip over the edge. Then, as the poor bastard falls into the haze, arms flailing and muscles twitching, that’s when the beast lunges, clutching the wayward wanderer in its mandibles for a journey through indentured servitude. And all it takes is one look into its crazed eyes to see the extent of the maelstrom that’s about to touch down come opening day.

Yet there’s something grand about being accosted by such a beast that the few who escape can appreciate. It’s like watching a horrible car accident unfold; nobody wants to watch it, but there’s no way to pull the eyes away. The pulse speeds, the adrenal gland pumps, the stomach churns and the skin crawls. Then suddenly, it happens and it’s all over.

There’s also an air about anarchy that can also bring out the complete best in an otherwise sordid person. There are heroes born in Saratoga every race season. There’s the cook who worked through the night despite nearly severing the tip of his finger; the dishwasher who cleaned the biohazard in the ladies room because no one else would do it; the bartender who travels back from college for a weekend because there’s no one else to man the drinking station. They’re the folks who tether themselves to the bow of a sinking ship and pull the damn thing to shore, instead of of diving for the lifeboats at the first sign of rough waters. They’re not your prototypical run-into-a-burning-building heroes that the news media frequently fawns over, but they’re heroes nonetheless.

This seemly thankless endeavor usually pays less than a livable wage despite the highway robbery many owners choose to bilk from their patrons. This difference causes a sort of quandary for the restaurant worker: they get a pittance of pay, yet take the brunt of caustic remarks made by diners thoroughly pissed off after they realize the $55 steak they just ate came from the same cow as the the shoe leather their drunk Uncle Frank usually serves at his Fourth of July bash.

Yet there is a sense of accomplishment in most kitchens after they’ve beating back the hordes of masticating tourons; a sense that the beast has been beaten into submission for at least a few moments. On the back stoop, the chain smoke cigarettes as they regale over the number of dinners they served. Later at the bars, they’ll bandy about these numbers to others in the business, usually inflating them slightly for effect. They tell stories over beers that sound more like personal conquests than simple restaurant service. They relive the exhilaration they had after putting out the last meal on Travers’ Day. And it’s a feeling of exhilaration that can’t be achieved with drug diets or cocktails.

Today, there’s a cool wind blowing in. For restaurant workers across the city, it’s September, and she’s coming to the rescue. In just a short time, they’ll be sitting in the lap of relative luxury, swilling cocktails and nursing their wounds.

Autumn’s wind means winter isn’t far behind, where the sun disappears and the climate becomes harsh. Still, a keen sense of smell can catch the mellifluous scent left by the ebbing tide of anarchy, as it slowly subsides from the city, taking with it the shattered dreams and lost recollections of thousands. Those who relish this essence are sometimes even saddened, longing for it to hold on for one more whiff before the season disappears behind a veil of amber leaves and cool winds.

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