Sunday, May 31, 2009

Freeze frame

The video shows Officer Eileen Cotter exiting the unisex bathroom at the Saratoga Springs Police Department in 2008. She’s talking with a Post Star reporter, telling him about the difficulties women officers face in the archaic station off Lake Avenue.

“I’m 46 years old I’ve been running past the guys while their changing in their underwear all the time they get a little bit miffed, but it doesn’t shock me,” she explains. “I just feel bad for the junior females that have to go through that…”

Wait, stop. Freeze that frame for a minute. Take a closer look behind Cotter. There’s a blue bumper sticker on locker 12, several inches above the officer’s head. The sticker stands out starkly among the dented grey lockers. But even starker is the message it sends: Elect Scott Johnson.

It’s hard to mistake the message, especially if you’re Al Turkheimer, the chairman of the city’s Democratic Committee. And given the party’s endorsement for mayor –Public Safety Czar Ron Kim –it’s a message he clearly received.

There are sparsely few plausible explanations for the committee selecting Kim for their endorsement, and none of them are too soundly rooted in logic. First of all, there’s the obvious: Kim’s department is the last sanctum of the deposed mayoral administration of Valerie Keehn. His deputy, Eileen Finneran, is a large source of the political bickering that shredded the party in the run up to the 2007 election.

In as much, Kim’s candidacy is dividing decision, albeit one far less divisive than tabbing Keehn herself. Still, if the Dems were looking for a unifying voice, they effectively strangled it into silence by running Kim.

Of course, there are Kim’s own idiosyncrasies, which make him an easy target for the veritable tsunami of Republican attack ads come November. He’s not a gifted orator and is highly prone to munching on his own shoe. His shoot-first-and-forget-about-the questions attitude toward government have virtually filled newspaper archives with a cornucopia of direct quotes that make him sound akin to a rabid mental patient still high on his last Thorazine shot he received before fleeing the ward.

His nearly four years in office is littered with failed ideas that basically sucked from the get-go. Not even two months after he took his oath, Kim was already pining for a second deputy for his office. He quickly sided with the Keehn Administration and inexplicably selected patronage sponge Lew Benton for his public safety facility planning committee. That panel of geniuses returned a solely taxpayer-funded plan to build a Public Safety Castle almost as large –and even more expensive –than the $25 million Breyo mansion.

But why stop there? Kim is also known for becoming red-faced when he doesn’t get his way. When his fellow city councilors refused to advance a ‘more affordable’ $17 million public safety facility –one that carried an average tax rate increase of roughly $200 per year –he stormed out mid-meeting.

And then there’s the taxpayer-funded “failure-ometer,” which ironically ranks as one of Kim’s greatest failures. First posted in a basement window in City Hall, the placard was intended to count the days in which the City Council ‘failed’ to act ‘an even more affordable’ $11 million public safety facility. A clearly-high-on-ether Kim told at least one media source he planned to take the failure-ometer on tour throughout the city. The whole incident drew a stern and well-warranted rebuke from the mayor Kim is now set to challenge.

“It’s an unfortunate example of New York Post-style sensationalism that is inappropriate for the dignity of City Hall,” Johnson told the Times Union.

So why the fuck did the Dems choose Kim? Well, let’s get back to the sticker in the Spa City’s police station. The police and fire unions are two voting blocks that can easily swing a close election in favor of a candidate. Generally in Saratoga, these unions have been known to ally themselves with the Republicans. As some may recall, the firefighters illegally used their station in 2006 to host a John Sweeney meet-up with former New York City Mayor Rudy Guilani. And of course, there’s the sticker brazenly displayed in the police department’s locker room.

Things have changed since then. Police Chief Ed Moore stood behind Keehn and Kim by extension, because both were offering him a palatial department featuring his own plush office. Kim has also been an ardent proponent of allowing the already-out-of-control overtime budget blast through a ceiling no previous administration could have ever imagined.

In fact, Kim has kowtowed to the police and fire unions whenever possible. Now he’s put both Johnson and Republican Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins on the defensive by saying the proposed $1.3 million worth of cuts to the public safety budget will prompt him to slash nearly three dozen jobs, including 14 firefighters and 18 cops.

In its infinite wisdom, the Saratogian has already blamed these proposed layoffs on Ivins and made special note that he is in fact the Republican on the same slate of candidates as Johnson. This sort of propaganda fuels Kim’s run by jumping his support base beyond just the unions and their families. This is despite the fact that it was Kim himself who proposed the cuts and said he wouldn’t support them at the same time. Now how’s that for brazen stupidity?

Yet the fickle and easily swayed electorate isn’t known for its intelligence. Just one little white lie in the media can explode into a full-blown scandal that will sink even the most formidable opponents. Just ask former Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue about the FBI investigation lie that helped sank his re-election campaign. In other words, the party is of the mind that they can capitalize on the outrage Kim has prompted himself, and then use it to show Johnson and his ilk as band of callous ogres looking to diminish public safety.

The sad part is that Johnson’s administration has caused enough actual tumult now that just about any viable candidate could vanquish him from office. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Kim is not and never will be a viable candidate for anything. His popularity as a public safety commissioner was largely derived from the aforementioned hysteria and the Republicans keep running human gongs against him. That will all change now. And unfortunately for Turkheimer, there’s a good chance the Republicans will take four out of five council seats come next fall.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Scare Tactics

Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim would rather gnaw his own foot off at the ankle and then use the dismembered limb as a gavel at the bargaining table than come up with a cogent plan to reduce costs in his department. Or at least he’d like city tax payers to think that’s his attitude toward the $1.3 million worth of cuts he’s been asked to make in the Spa City’s police and fire budgets.

Kim’s posturing in wake of the proposed budget cuts has been no less dramatic than if he were performing the aforementioned self-inflicted amputation. He told an audience choked with firefighters and police officers that the budget cuts would force him to hand out pink slips like they were Broadway parking tickets during peak race season. In the commissioner’s estimation, he would need to lay off 14 firefighters and 19 cops in order to meet a requested 6.8 percent reduction in 2009 spending.

“If we don’t work together, I believe this city will regret taking this kind of step,” he said Wednesday.

People will wait hours for a cop or firefighter, according to Kim. And that’s only if someone is there to dispatch the call. Kids in school will start snorting coke and pounding vodka smoothies on the playground, because there won’t be anyone there to tell them it’s wrong. Those school children not geeked on hard drugs will assuredly fall prey to the hurtling automobiles, because there will be no crossing guards to help them traverse the mean city streets.

Overweight tandem tractor trailer trucks will charge down Broadway leaving chunks of uprooted pavement in their wake. Surely, they’ll cause traffic snarls during track season, because there will be no cops to guide the ebb and flow of racing congestion. Malicious criminals will flock to Saratoga from the oppressive, over-policed cities of Albany and Schenectady because there will be no police patrols to stop them. Bleak and hopeless, fire and brimstone; famine, plague and pestilence. The horror. The horror.

But this is all a gigantic scare tactic Kim is using to achieve the end game for his department, which is to forestall any cuts to the budget in the hope an economic turnaround will come to the rescue. Anyone who has dealt with the commish during his nearly four years in office will understand he has a flare for the dramatic and really doesn’t mind making a jack ass out of himself in public if there’s a slight chance he can pander to his constituents. These constituents happen to be the police and fire union leaders and the chiefs that have persistently and successively failed to curb out-of-control spending in their departments.

The worse of the two are the Saratoga Springs Police under Chief Ed Moore, who has spent money like it were being printed with a seized counterfeiting machine in one of his department’s jail cells. His department is the largest annual expense incurred by the city. And each year, this expense seems to rise.

The union-beholden Kim is always the defender of the police budget each year, and will even trot Moore in front of the public to bemoan a lack of personnel or how the overtime costs are simply out of their control. This repetitive process plays out like clockwork every year there is a budget crunch. But for two years under Mayor Valerie Keehn, there was no crunch; nor was there much of one when the Johnson Administration first took office.

The reasons for this were threefold. First, the city council always had the state’s VLT aid to plunder each year. Secondly, there was the fund balance to raid with the VLT money didn’t come through. And lastly, there were the unions to handle; among them, the omnipotent and all-powerful police union.

Now push has come to shove. The city’s coffers are empty. The state aid is gone and will never return. Yet the city’s police union is still barking as though it had the leverage to make demands. The saber rattling reached a feverish pitch Wednesday, when union head Ed Lewis brazenly likened the police force to a burgeoning business.

“When a corporation looks at cuts it’s because of a lack of business,” he blurted out in a moment of unfettered stupidity.

Well Ed, if the city police were a corporation, the CEO would have been fired long ago for mismanagement of assets and burgeoning overtime costs. Or this executive’s failure to uphold workplace standards set by the U.S. Department of Labor, resulting in a federal lawsuit successfully being lodged against the aforementioned corporation. But why go there?

The police also trotted out wounded Officer Adam Baker as a tangible example of what will happen if the public safety department is forced to cut $1.3 million. Some of the less fickle residents of the Spa City may recall the police chief flippantly using Baker as the exclamation point on his push to restore cuts to police overtime in October.

At the time, Moore suggested Baker might not even be alive today were it not for a veritable cadre of police ready to spring into action –and make lots of overtime –when his jugular was nicked by a troubled Four Winds patient wielding a box-cutter. Now he’s expecting residents to believe Baker’s job will be part of the aforementioned cuts?

But admittedly, the police brass and union leadership don’t honestly think any of their fear mongering will ever come to pass. They even admitted as much during their dog and pony show, which has been ongoing since Kim and Lewis flashed their mugs before the hopelessly fickle television media before the Memorial Day weekend.

“This is more political, this whole thing,” Lewis admitted to the Daily Gazette. “It’s more of a poker game that is going on between these commissioners.”

And one that is taking place at the behest of honest taxpayers who are simply trying to figure out whether they’re going to need to buy a hand-held howitzer to defend themselves against the masses or if they should simply take out a fourth mortgage to make next year’s city tax payment. Bravo, gentlemen. Way to uphold your duty as sworn elected officials.

Kim’s solution to all of this is to liquidate the city’s assets and stamp parking meters on every corner like Albany Mayor Jerry “The Tan” Jennings did in Albany. But truth be known, one-time increases in revenue won’t solve this problem. In fact, one-time revenue boosts were exactly what got the council into the mess that it’s in now.

Even sustained revenue streams like paid parking won’t solve this budget crisis. And Kim’s ridiculous posturing certainly won’t fix the problem. What it will do is curry him favor among the less cognizant residents that are likely to wage a witch hunt against any commissioner complicit in the budget crisis. His blathering is a way to place the onus on Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins, who does bear some responsibility in this crisis, but only for not playing hardball with Kim last year, when it was blisteringly apparent the Public Safety Department’s budget was the most bloated of them all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tuna Fishing

They think we’re stupid. That’s the only explanation for the rumored candidates the city’s Democratic Committee is putting forward. Some of the more ardent critics might take this a step further and say ‘they think we’re fucking stupid,’ but why go overboard?

Party insiders are whispering the name Valerie Keehn as the Dems’ choice to face incumbent Republican Scott Johnson for the mayor’s seat. The former mayor interviewed with the committee and could be named as the challenger any day, according to sources.

The reasoning behind running the woman often considered the worst mayor the city had seen in decades is simple: The so-called McTygue faction was beaten out of the party in September, ushering in a new era of rule by the so-called Democrats For Change, a group hopelessly beholden to the politics of diehard Keehn ally Shawn Thompson.

The discordant members who pulled for Johnson as a vote against Keehn now have the impossible choice. Either they can vote for a Republican that has presided over one of the worst fiscal disasters the city has witnessed in modern times; or they can come back to Keehn Kountry, the mayoral administration that came precariously close to doubling the ongoing fiscal woes.

Chances are a number of voters will decide to stay home, rather than vote for either of these milquetoast candidates. Then it’s a toss up to see which candidate can get people to the polls. In this case, the advantage would likely swing toward Keehn, whose somewhat rabid followers have proven that can turn out in droves.

Adding insult to injury are the other ‘races.’ Rather than find a decent candidate for the Public Safety commissioner’s seat, the Republicans rolled out ol’ Richard Wirth, the guy who was beat like a gong by a stammering, yammering dolt that has only remained in office by being a union shill. In the Public Works race, it doesn’t sound like the Dems will challenge GOP incumbent Skip Scirocco, another guy who likes to nuzzle up with the union bosses. And why would they? He was the torpedo Keehn used to sink the unsinkable political juggernaut of Tom McTygue and has been a strident ally of the aforementioned dolt.

In the Accounts Commissioner race, it appears as though the Change-o-crats will hold onto John Franck, who was formerly on the outs with the party as a McTygue sympathizer. But they need to keep Franck on the ballot as a concession to the moderates of the party. Otherwise they might question why the party is waging a primary against one Democratic candidate, while not producing a challenger to the Republicans in another council race.

The end result is that only one newcomer is running for office. Democrat Peter Martin will challenge Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins, bringing the only new face into the fold. All other races will be challenged by former party picks or unchallenged altogether.

Egad. Now that’s democracy American-style!

But sometimes it takes a stroll through the darkest of shadows to see the shining beacon of light. And in city politics, that light could be emanating from a palatial home built on the banks of Lake Lonely.

Today, iSaratoga has sent a correspondence to Jimmy Sexton, the agent for Miami Dolphins’ Executive Vice President Bill Parcells, inquiring whether the Super Bowl winning coach might be interested in a run for the mayor’s office. That’s right, the Big Tuna as mayor of the Spa City. He’s a part-time city resident. He’s a consummate leader. Heck, he’s even got a bad-ass nickname. Who better to lead Saratoga through the new century?

Now some might say a ranking executive for one of the NFL’s most prestigious franchises would be hard pressed to find even a passing interest in local politics. But consider this: Parcells is living under the shadow of Dolphins’ legend Don Shula, who ESPN even ranked as a better all-time coach than the Tuna. That can’t sit well. Then consider the fact that Shula also just opened a restaurant downtown, which in no uncertain terms is Tuna territory. He was here first, and by wining the mayor’s seat, Parcells can put Shula in his place once and for all.

So get the word out. The Tuna’s coming to a ballot near you. Thinking positively about his candidacy is really the only way to go at this point, especially considering the alternatives. And if he’s not interested in a run, perhaps Saratogians could show their celebrity resident a bit of good will by penning his name in as a write-in. But let’s first see where he stands as a bona fide candidate to challenge the dregs of the political barrel the major parties are trying to proffer as competent leaders.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Serving in public office can lead to severe brain atrophy, according to recently published reports. The study conducted by the Saratoga Springs electorate over a four-year period showed a direct correlation between serving positions of authority in City Hall and an abrupt decline in cognitive functioning.

Using CAT scans, complex equations and logarithms, researchers determined the average weight of the standard city commissioner’s brain decreased by about 10 percent –or roughly 140 grams –each year served at the public capacity. Similar studies conducted on deputy commissioners and department directors showed a similar decline in brain mass, though results varied significantly. Some deputy commissioners with prolonged exposure to City Hall were found to have lost nearly 50 percent of their brain mass.

“Frankly, I was astonished,” said one of the researchers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “One deputy was literally drooling on herself in a corner.”

The landmark study is now trying to link a precipitous decline in the city council’s aggregate intelligence quotient with the observed brain matter shrinkage. And given the recent discussions over an estimated $3.5 million budget shortfall, it won’t be too difficult.

When faced with a looming debt, city officials have the unabashed gall –or mind-numbing stupidity –to suggest they can’t do anything about it except levy more “revenue” somehow. Some even have the brazen, unabashed hubris to suggest all the spending in the bloated 2009 budget is due to “essential services.”

First-term Department of Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco claims his budget is already “operating on a shoe string” and that further cuts would create dire circumstances in the city. The threat suggests the city will be wallowing in filth and vehicles will be falling through pot holes if even a dime is removed from the DPW budget.

Likewise, Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim said there is “no way” he’s going to be able to cut his budget. But no worries, he said; the city can always raise revenues.

That’s right. Raise revenue, a polite way of saying ‘raise taxes.’ Now it’s just a matter of where these taxes are going to be raised. Will it be in application fees? Will it be in property taxes? Will it be in the form of paid parking, or more traffic cops handing out bull-shit tickets?

Not surprisingly, the only voice of reason during the City Council’s discussion about the budget was a tax-weary resident named Albert Callucci, who watched the genesis of city’s mounting debt and was sounding the alarm months ago. Months ago, the pragmatic-minded Callucci warned city officials they shouldn’t rely on VLT aid from the state and suggested a rethinking of what the departments consider essential services.

But these calls fell on deaf ears. The council went ahead and included the VLT aid in the budget, even as the Paterson Administration warned of the impending belt-tightening at the state level. They also ignored something that is now known as the global recession or worldwide economic downturn. These are terms that suggest consumers might think twice about eating out five times a week or buying designer doggie shawls at a main street boutique. Translation: Sales tax receipts are going to dip.

But amid the fog of their collective brain atrophy, city officials instead decided to balance the badly off-balanced budget by raiding the dwindling fund balance. They also fudged a few numbers on the revenue side so that things wouldn’t look so bad. Everyone patted themselves on the back, crossed their fingers and went into hibernation over the winter.

Sure enough, the city is fucked. Not just fucked, but super-fucked. Porn-star fucked even; the kind of fucked that’s portrayed in some of the more salacious gang-bang videos featured in less savory corners of the Internet.

Now instead of planning for a budgetary shortfall, they’re faced with finding a knee-jerk way of filling city coffers before they go empty. And if anyone is doing the numbers, that won’t be very long. Estimates suggest the city has about $3.8 million of unallocated fund balance, which is just a $100,000 less than what the city is set to spend in 2009 if –and this is a big ‘if’ –all the departments stay on budget(pop quiz: Can anyone name the last time the Public Safety Department was under budget?) This is before even considering the city needs to keep a robust fund balance on hand and would have needed to replace what Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins removed last fall to present a zero-tax budget.

So basically, the city council has failed Saratoga Springs in a way that few could possibly fathom. But to place the onus on this gang of jokers is forgetting the ridiculous and frivolous spending of the previous council, which basically threw money into studies about pie-in-the-sky projects the city couldn’t afford even in a robust economy: a $35 million public safety building, a $6 million indoor recreation facility, unnecessary water pipelines to either the Hudson River or Saratoga Lake.

All along, the city was using the VLT aid –anywhere from $1.9 million to $3.4 million of state funding meant to cover the virtually non-exsistent negative municipal impacts of the racino –to balance an overweight budget that made a fat-back sandwich look lean. First it was the Republican Lenz Administration, and then the Democratic Keehn Administration. Now it’s Republican Mayor Scott Johnson who will have the dubious honor finding a way out of this decade-in-the-making disaster while trying to avoid becoming the city’s third-consecutive one-term mayor.

Simply put, there’s no easy way out of this debacle. Despite the sudden panicked calls for paid parking, there’s no way the city will be able to overcome its shortfall without making cuts to its workforce. If that means losing “essential services,” then so be it. The thinning ranks of the common people can’t afford to pay any more to support a city government that is designed as if the average residential income is seven figures. City workers need to be laid off, period. If that means no more street festivals, fine. If that means fewer leaf pickups in the fall, fine. If it means fewer cops on the street fine.

But before the departments punishing residents with diminished services, why not start where the city is fattest? Why not get rid of the deputy commissioners, the most corrupt and useless positions in the city? Eliminating the deputies is easy, as the Republicans demonstrated during the Dreyer scandal. Such a move would save the city roughly a half-million costs, if all five are sent packing.

So then who would run the city’s “essential services” you ask? Well, the commissioners for one. If they’re really interested in holding political office, they’ll need to work for their paltry salaries, not pawn off all the important decisions on political hack thoroughly unprepared to make them. Then perhaps maybe the voters would look beyond the names and political parties running for office and pay a bit more attention to their credentials. This prudence is direly needed these days, as the corruption and political patronage on both sides of the isle has crashed this city’s government into the wall with the force of a formula-one racer. Now the only thing left to do is pick up the pieces.

View My Stats