Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tale of the tape

Running a political campaign a kin to a full-out sprint across a tightrope while ducking a swarm of rabid vampire bats hell bent on sucking you dry. Just one wrong juke and it’s all over except for the cleanup crew.

Campaign managers –or political hacks as their more commonly known –are constantly dashing across this wire. And as the minutes tick closer to Election Day, their speed grows incrementally. One poorly-worded campaign flier or one errant media report can really set a candidate’s run for office in a tail spin. Conversely, one well-timed tip can mean the difference between a concession speech and a victory proclamation on the first Tuesday of November.

In the Spa City, there is no shortage of political chicanery. In fact, the last couple of weeks have been wrought with campaign power plays; so many that voters sometimes need a score card to keep things in perspective. Well, iSaratoga’s stalwart editorial board has decided to offer a layman’s guide to campaign propaganda, sorted and graded for your edification.

Story: City comes up short on health insurance allocation

Details: After spending nearly four years squirreled away in the darkest recesses of City Hall, Eileen Finneran is really starting to become the political spinster everyone knew she could be during her rookie year. The “deputy Public Safety commissioner” –quotes are used here because she doesn’t perform any of the job’s normal functions –is showing why Ron Kim quickly snap her up as his number-two. First, she manages to turn the Rec Center vote, one of Kim’s greatest disasters, into a campaign platform for the Democrats. Now she’s done almost the same thing by leaking this story about her department being in the red on its health insurance contributions.

Finneran paired with her old buddy Skip Scirocco at Public Works to throw a one-two punch at Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins and Mayor Scott Johnson by default. The claim is that the city is short roughly $500,000 in its employee health insurance contributions, meaning there could be a serious budgetary shortfall for both the Public Safety and Public Works departments. The error seems to be egg on Ivins’ face, seeing as though he was the one that proposed the budget. In truth, all five commissioners voted for the budget –including Kim and Scirocco –and none of them seemed concerned about it then. Even Ivins doesn’t seem that concerned. He rightly stated that the money can come from surpluses realized on other lines.

But who really reads that far down in articles, especially one about health insurance premiums? Score one for Finneran. She’s made Ivins appear incompetent, even though the issue she raises isn’t really an issue at all. Her spin gives the otherwise lackluster Peter Martin a shot at securing unseating Ivins and Finneran an alternative office to hide if Kim isn’t successful in his bid for mayor.

Grade: A-

Story: (none)

Details: Scott Johnson’s campaign handlers don’t like dashing across the tightrope too often. They didn’t in 2007 and they don’t appear to being doing so in 2009. He doesn’t wage massive political attacks in the fall, nor does he outwardly offer public criticism to his opponents. These sorts of things are better left to campaign mailers, radio ads and the occasional television spot. In fact, Johnson has literally dumped his war chest –almost $44,000 –into this sort of public relations, which subverts the unbiased media and speaks directly to the voters.

In these ads, Johnson cogently derides the criticism he takes from his opponent and then offers a bit of tinder to fuel the flames already burning beneath Ron Kim’s drive for the mayor’s office: Kim storms out of council meetings; Kim voted for the Rec Center six times; Kim has driven a $3.5 million increase in the Public Safety spending. These are all hard things to dispute, and in the absence of a television camera or news reporters, Kim is simply not able to do so.

By staying out of the spotlight, Johnson can also claim he’s not playing politics on city time. And that’s a pledge his opponent could never make. That’s not to say this sort of campaign tactic can’t come back and bite a candidate in the ass. Avoiding the tightrope can be every bit as lethal as running across the damn thing. Ducking out of the spotlight is also a tough thing to do, especially as mayor. If it involves blowing off media calls, a candidate runs the risk of souring his or her relationship with reporters. And that’s basically a death knell for any campaign.

Grade: B

Story: Waterline extension spurs debate

Details: Eddie Miller, the Independence Party candidate for Public Works, has been trying to convince voters that Skip Scirocco is corrupt. When the story about the Regatta View waterline broke, he though he found his silver bullet. Scirocco claims the city-funded work, which has connected two private residences to city water, was conducted to extend a fire hydrant further down Union Avenue. Miller naturally disagrees.

Scirocco’s challenger claims the DPW chief installed the waterline as a kick-back to a couple of friends. Miller has openly questioned why Scirocco didn’t have the project approved by the council and why the estimated $20,000 project wasn’t paid for by the homeowners. This volley of shots across Scirocco’s bow caused him to stammer a bit. He made contradictory statements to the media, and then back-pedaled to his original stance, making him look either a bit foolish, a bit nefarious or both.

But Miller’s crusade against the project continues to boil down to a he-said-she-said, and has never really picked up legs in the media, despite several articles by two papers. The problem with Miller’s silver bullet is three-fold. First, no one can really explain why Scirocco would want to curry favor with these residents; second, many view the issue as being petty in the grand scheme of a multi-million dollar public safety budget; and third, it’s goddamn boring. Waterlines and infrastructure aren’t sexy things, and unless a campaign can really make a salacious accusation, they’re not the ticket that is going to win an election –especially against an incumbent.

Grade: C -

Story: Impasse in PBA contract negotiations

Details: With less than a week left before the election the Saratoga Springs Police Benevolent Association has begun opening bitching about their contract. They bombarded the Saratogian’s Web site with news releases just one day after they declared an impasse to contract negotiations with the city. The news releases in turn spurred a news story about the sorry state of the negotiations. Unfortunately for the PBA and their slate of candidates, the literature and subsequent article really manage to truthfully characterize their organization as a money-grubbing group of thugs that won’t stop until every patrolman is making six figures.

Laughably, the PBA claims it offered good-faith concessions to the city that weren’t answered. One of these so-called concessions is their willingness to forestall their 3 percent raise this year until 2010, the same year they’ve proposed a 4 percent across-the-board salary increase. In other words, the city would get out of overpaying the cops for two months, only to have the bums collect double come the New Year.

To put it bluntly, the fact that the PBA is even making such a demand in this economy and when eight of their members could soon be without jobs is fucking mind blowing. Moreover, it shows their true strategy in this negotiation: Get Ron Kim elected mayor so he can give them carte blanche with their contract. But whoever thought out this strategy –maybe PBA dunderhead Ed Lewis –didn’t take one thing into consideration. Hardly any of the cops live in Saratoga Springs, thus they and their families can’t vote. They also made Kim look like a flatulent asshole for jumping in the sack with the PBA. Keep in mind, Johnson wouldn’t even accept an interview with the PBA, nor would Ivins or John Franck, the unopposed Accounts commissioner. Uh oh...damage control...

Grade: F

Be mindful, these grades aren’t an endorsement of any candidate per se; but rather how effectively their inner circles conduct their respective campaigns. For instance, it would take all the hash in Amsterdam and at least a 55-gallon drum of bourbon for iSaratoga’s e-board to even stomach the thought of fathoming another two years of Finneran’s dickering in City Hall. But when someone’s good at something –even if that something is really malicious –it’s worthy of note.

Editor’s note: This is the first among a marathon of posts pertaining to the election, politics and everything in between. The whip has been cracked at iSaratoga and its bibulous scribes are hard at work. Let’s just hope there’s enough bourbon to fuel this vicious run.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Sheriff James Bowen’s voice carried a hint of reluctance as he discussed the circumstances behind Jennifer Marie Hammond’s disappearance in August 2003. The doe-eyed 18-year-old from a suburban enclave near Denver was selling magazine subscriptions at the Creek and Pines trailer park in Milton when she vanished.

No one from her company had thought much of it. She had wandered off before, so here disappearance, while peculiar, wasn’t particularly unexpected. But when she didn’t gather her belongings from an Albany-area lodge and never used a bus ticket she had purchased to go back to Colorado, someone thought to report her missing –in November and more than three months after she had last been seen.

Jennifer’s name never made it to the media. Perhaps it was because she wasn’t the type of girl to carry news headline. She wasn’t from the area and didn’t have any forthcoming local connections. She was too old to create the fervor caused by a disappearing child, and she had many of the trademarks that would link her with the so-called counter culture; not the type of characteristics that resonate well with the white-bred 40-something demographic that tunes into the nightly newscast to get their fill of water cooler talking points.

Jennifer didn’t fit the bill, so deputies from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department turned her disappearance into a missing persons’ handout. They stapled a few copies around the hill towns of Saratoga County and did what sheriff’s deputies do best: They waited.

Sure enough, they got a lead. Granted, that lead came six years later and in the form of the woman’s skull and three teeth, but a lead nonetheless.

“Everyone wants to know where their loved one is that is missing, you always look every day for that person to contact you or turn up,” Bowen told a gaggle of reporters and cameramen gathered at the county courthouse Thursday. “If we can put a little closure even though it’s a sad closure, at least it’ll give closure to the family knowing where that person is.”

But closure wasn’t what was gnawing on Bowen’s conscience Thursday. In fact, closure was about the last thing on his mind. Instead, it was another case that came to the forefront –one that is anything but closed.

Christina White’s skeletal remains were found in March 2006, more than eight months after she vanished into the night. She had an argument with a family member on the eve of her disappearance and was last seen walking along Rock City Road, just a short distance from her home in the trailer park called Saratoga Village. Some say she left her home after having an argument with a family member. She vanished just five days before her 20th birthday.

“We’re following all the leads. It’s going slowly,” Bowen told the Times Union in 2006.

Slowly indeed. Nearly four years later, Bowen’s crack team of investigators doesn’t seem any closer to solving Christina’s murder than they did when a hunter stumbled upon her bones in Greenfield’s Daketown Forest.

Wait. Let’s stop there for a second. Is anyone noticing a few similarities between these cases? Some reporters certainly are. Christina disappeared from a trailer park in Milton and her skeletal remains were found in a remote area about six miles away from where she was last seen. Jennifer disappeared from a trailer park only a mile away from Saratoga Village and was found in a remote location about four miles away from where Christina’s remains were discovered.

Both girls were petite. Christina was 5-foot-3 and weighed about 98 pounds, while Jennifer was described as 5-foot-2 and weighing 110 pounds. Both had child-like features for their age –Jennifer’s bone structure was small enough that investigators initially believed her skull to be that of a 10- to 12-year-old child.

Christina and Jennifer were the type of girls who could disappear for spells without drawing alarm. Christina was described as bi-polar and someone who would frequently vanish into the woods on long walks; Jennifer, described as a sort of free-wheeling hippie who went by the moniker “moonbeam” and with peace symbol tattooed to her hip.

They vanished in the dead of summer and in the less-traveled areas in the county; places where you can stand on the road without seeing a car for long spells. Jennifer disappeared in August 2003. Christina disappeared 22 months later. Both missing persons reports were handled by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department and both women reappeared in bone form. Neither skeleton was complete.

These similarities may not sound identical, but they’re close enough to draw suspicion at the very least; maybe even alarm. Lightning seldom strikes the same spot twice. And when it does, there’s a good chance those two bolts were more than just a coincidence.

Bowen refused to say it Thursday, but it was certainly on the minds of more than one person: These cases could be serial by nature. New York’s longest tenured lawman ought to keep this in mind as he contemplates how long he can let this investigation drag on without answers, ’cause he’s gonna have a lot of nervous residents on his hands if he lets this case plug along like usual.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Station identification

Let’s pause from our regularly scheduled political bickering to identify a curious circumstance that was belched out at the media by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce right around closing time Tuesday. Just as everyone was headed out the door for the rush-hour crawl, the chamber announced that Dave Zunker, the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau chief, was abruptly resigning.

Zunker, the hastily scrolled news release claimed, simply couldn’t sell his house in South Carolina. And he missed his family. They apparently never joined him to live in Saratoga Springs, despite him receiving the job nearly two years ago.

Sound fishy? Well let’s consider this: The real estate market in Columbia, S.C., just jumped by 2.4 percent in September. While this bump did follow a protracted decline in the market along with the median sale price of homes, it does draw into question Zunker’s true motives for leaving the bureau.

In fact, the story proffered by the chamber seems almost wholly implausible for even the cheeriest of tourism cheerleaders. Basically they’re saying an executive, who made a decent enough salary to be drawn to Saratoga Springs, abandoned his full-time job so that he can return to South Carolina to be unemployed in the wayward tourism industry during the worst economic recession the country has seen in decades.

OK, Joe Dalton. We’re trying to swallow this bowling ball-sized lump your feeding, but it’s just not going down. Do you have any water? Maybe a beer? And while your at it, could you tell us how much Zunker was making for his work?

But reporters on the story couldn’t ask these questions, because the couldn’t reach Dalton for comment. Nor could they find Zunker, who seemingly vanished with the drying of the ink on Dalton’s news release. The Schenectady Daily Gazette had the fortitude to get through to Mark Suprunowicz, the chairman of the tourism bureau’s Board of Directors, but he just added to the mystery of Zunker’s departure.

“I can’t comment on any personnel or financial issues of this,” he told the paper Tuesday.

Even more curious is that Zunker left his job in the midst of an unprecedented expansion of the Saratoga Springs City Center, the facility that basically serves as the tourism bureau’s bread-and-butter. Gavin Landry, Zunker’s predecessor, pined for convention center expansion and even warned the city could lose some of the big-ticket events if it didn’t update the aging structure on Broadway.

Interestingly enough, Landry also abruptly left the tourism bureau after 12 years on the job. Only he left under slightly more favorable circumstances. He had a padded position waiting with the New York Racing Association, which was facing dissolution at the time. Landry, who was a quasi hero at the tourism bureau, decided to hedge his bets with the future of NYRA instead of doing what he did best: Booking city conventions. Then after less than a year on the job, Landry bolted that position too.

So what’s the deal? Perhaps Zunker really was just homesick. After all, he did pull into the city at a time when its golden era appeared to be waning. But for the cynics and skeptics amongst us, this assumption seems far too trite to believe. Now back to your regularly scheduled politicking...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Havin' a bad day

Ron Kim should do himself a favor and leave Friday’s paper on the front stoop; maybe even refrain from turning on the television, answering the phone or logging onto the Internet for a while. In fact, the best thing for him to do at this point is to stay in bed with the covers pulled over his head; or tuck into a Snuggie with a good trash novel, 'cause he's havin' a bad day.

After nearly four years of abject neglect, Ron Kim's failure in office is finally starting to bite him on the ass. Last week, he was told his overspending and the city’s budget deficit is prompting more than a dozen layoffs in his department. This week, he learned that his politicking with the Police Department’s lack of a ladies room was going to cost the city $80,000 –twice what the city had initially expected. And then just when things looked like they were settling down, Kim caught word of a the legal proceeding filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union over the city's failure to release the police department’s Taser usage records.

Thursday's host of surprises started off with word of the settlement, ending the well-documented debacle over the female bathrooms; one Kim was keenly aware of when he first came to office in 2005. In fact, it was well enough known that the city even allocated money to correct the situation long before the female officers ever filed suit. But the police brass –namely Chief Ed Moore –wasn’t interested in correcting the problem because they were busy stumping for a palatial Public Safety compound. And they had support from Ron Kim, who decided to join the rally cry for a new station instead of monitoring the performance of his department.

Editor’s note: As the Saratogian reporter asserts in the comments section, this might not be true. Andrew Bernstein says Moore did try to rectify the situation by converting a jail cell into a female locker. He was allegedly blocked by the dynamic duo of Curley and Dreyer. There is no written confirmation of this in published accounts, but Bernstein is a fairly straight-forward reporter, so we'll take his word for it.

Given the facts, the state Human Rights Division’s doubling of the award should come as no surprise. After all, it’s hard to sympathize with a city police department that built its first employee ladies room nearly four decades after hiring its first female officer. In truth, it’s a miracle that the city escaped the whole case with a paltry $80,000 fine.

As could be expected, Kim tried to shift the blame for his own mismanagement onto other people and entities. He argued the fine wouldn’t have been nearly as steep had the city simply built a new station. This assertion was promptly shot out of the sky by division spokesman Jim Mulvaney.

“If there is a continued problem, we assume there will be a subsequent complaint,” he told the Daily Gazette Thursday.

Kim might be able to avoid much flack from the Taser action –at least among those voters with memory issues. Saratoga Springs Police received the electric “nonlethal” weapons last year under Kim’s stewardship, and took no time in putting them to use. By some accounts, the weapons have electrified the nightlife on Caroline Street; something that subsequently caught the attention of the NYCLU.

At this point, it should be noted that the NYCLU isn’t against the use of Tasers, per se. Instead, the organization wants officers to use them under circumstances when they would use lethal force. They have targeted several Taser-happy departments in the Capital Region, including the Guilderland and Glens Falls police; both of whom have some pretty hellacious tales about zapping unarmed and non-violent suspects. In other words, including the Spa City cops with these departments is not a vote of confidence for them or their Taser policy.

The legal proceeding is also a blow to one of Ron Kim’s main campaign slogans: Open Government. Admittedly, the Taser records were not released by long-time Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo under the advice of Chief Moore. But Kim, as it happens, was the only city commissioner aware of the NYCLU’s request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

Oddly enough, Moore’s reasoning for not releasing the Taser records is almost identical as the reason Ron Kim gave for not releasing the police department’s manual or contract to the Saratogian in June: Such documents could jeopardize the department’s safety.

“They constitute intra-agency materials that are exempt from the Public Officer’s Law,” he told the Saratogian Thursday. “Those records are also exempt under that law as they could endanger the life and safety of persons if disclosed.”

Well how about that? The so-called “open government” candidate for mayor is openly allowing a subordinate and the largest department he presides over to duck into the shadows so they can avoid public scrutiny.

These are messages that voters should keep in mind as they make their choice for mayor next month. Kim’s tenure in office would be wrongly characterized as being rife with mismanagement. After all, you have to try to manage something in order to fail at doing it. Kim’s nearly four years in office have been marked by his refusal to uphold a single responsibility of the public safety commissioner. And while some would argue the city couldn’t do much worse by re-electing Mayor Scott Johnson, Kim seems destined to prove them wrong.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The genesis of a disaster

Not many people wake up in the morning saying, ‘hmm…I think I’ll pick up recreational heroin use.’ Most people have seen the afterschool specials and public service announcements. Others have witnessed the rigors of intravenous drug use first hand through an afflicted associate or family member; in a clinic or shelter. The sum total of this perception is enough to sway most rational people away from indulging in the needle.

The problem comes when someone busts out a bindle at a party and says ‘hey, why not?’ Shower some booze and some other inhibitors on the situation and you’ve got the genesis of a disaster. First it’s a line. Then it’s free-basing. Next thing you know, the needle is plunged into the arm and there’s a long perilous slide to drug rehab or the grave.

Strangely enough, the city leaders were faced with the proverbial bag of smack back in 2006, during the first 100 days of the mayoral administration of Valerie Keehn, as one poster on the Saratogian’s City Desk blog recently recounted –albeit through a memory liberally tinted with hues of rose. At the time, the funding was only going to be afforded the poorest areas hosting racinos.

The legislation raised eyebrows among the Spa City’s legislative delegation in Albany, but not enough for them to suggest they take a cut for Saratoga Springs. At the time, the city was booming and hardly anyone could envision it falling into a budget hole; everyone except. Finance Commissioner Matt McCabe. He saw a multi-million dollar gap forming in the middle of the city budget and knew there was no way to cover it up with the numbers he was juggling. The widening hole prompted him to suggest a quick fix instead of a long term solution.

At first, he suggested the city levy money on NYRA. But after he learned of the pot being provided to Yonkers through the Pataki Administration’s 2006 budget –at the behest Republican Mayor Phil Amicone –he quickly focused on securing a pot for Saratoga. Keehn and Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim jumped aboard the effort and the three decided to lobby for it in Albany.

The effort would have been roundly dismissed by the Republican-dominated Legislature were it not for the election of 2005. Party leaders –Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno in specific –were still stunned by the crushing defeat they witnessed at the hands of the Democrats in the one-time Republican stronghold of Saratoga Springs. And they were facing a tough re-election of then U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, an oily fellow who was proving to be increasingly unelectable. They knew they needed help and were searching for any feasible way to curry favor in the city. So they offered the city a needle.

Drunk on the euphoria of being able to close a crushing budget deficit, the city leaders graciously accepted. They plunged the fucker deep into the city’s funding stream and gave the depressor a push. Suddenly, the city’s problems disappeared. Keehn later credited Shawn Thompson, a ranking legislative aid in the state Senate minority, for alerting her of the funding.

Of course the fix was temporary. As anyone with a working knowledge of hard drug use could tell you, ‘H’ doesn’t take away the problems. In fact, it usually makes them worse. But for a few glorious moments, they don’t seem that bad.

Those glorious moments came to an end for Saratoga Springs at the inauguration of Eliot Spitzer. The downstate Democrat had no love for the city or for upstate New York, and he made that know during his first spats with upstate legislators. One of them happened to be Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, who was at odds with the governor over ethics reform

“Listen, I'm a fucking steamroller, and I'll roll over you and anybody else,” Spitzer reportedly told Tedisco during a cell phone conversation.

The rolling came when Spitzer targeted Tedisco’s district for cuts in his 2008 budget. His other target just happened to be Bruno. Spitzer’s distaste for these legislators manifested itself in the elimination of the VLT funding. The aid was an easy target in the shimmering brazen glow emanating from Saratoga Springs. The funding itself was a throwback to the corrupt Pataki Administration, and a simple walk down the neatly manicured streets of the Spa City allayed any real notion that it deserved such a massive chunk of the state education fund to offset its spending.

The funding would have disappeared in 2007, had it not been for a curiously vitriolic election year in Saratoga Springs. The giant schism among the city Democrats threatened the re-election hopes of Keehn, who was well aware of her tenuous situation as the fall came. In a last ditch effort to win over the electorate, Keehn called in a favor at the state level. And it was an easy one to call in, too.

Thompson was powerplaying Keehn’s re-election while simultaneously searching for ways to gain control of the senate for the Democrats. Spitzer was suffering his first bouts with unpopularity. Bruno was becoming the focus of a federal investigation. All these players had to do to look good was restore the city’s funding. Provide one more needle pinch and then boast about it all the way to the polls.

Again, it worked, but only partially this time. The funding was enough to stave off a massive budget deficit, but not enough to prevent the Keehn Administration from imploding. Five months later, Spitzer was caught with a hooker, ushering in the era of David Paterson, a downstate Democrat with even less interest in toiling in upstate affairs.

Three months after Spitzer’s fall, Bruno resigned his senate leadership and his seat. He was replaced as majority leader by Dean Skelos, who also had no vested interest in any of the territory north of the Tapan Zee Bridge. There was some hope for upstate when Thompson’s Democrats took over the Senate. But that quickly evaporated when Malcom Smith was appointed majority leader.

Paterson almost immediately ripped the VLT funding out of the budget, citing the state’s own fiscal crunch. The message to rich cities –or rather upstate’s only rich city –was clear: Cut your finances and live lean. Meanwhile in the Legislature, there was no message to be heard at all. The screams and shouts from Saratoga Spring were falling on deaf ears.

Some argue the situation as it played out last year would have differed had Keehn been re-elected, or if the City Council was again dominated by Democrats. But this is all palaver proffered by political hacks fishing for suckers among the electorate. The message from Albany is clear regarding the VLT aid: Not now, not tomorrow; never again. And rightfully so, because the whole purpose of having these ghastly machines in our community is to support education, not bloated municipal budgets.

It’s time to send the city to rehab. And that starts with cutting spending. There’s no way to maintain the level of expenditures and the ceaseless increases in spending. Sure, there are other revenue streams that could be secured –word is the feds are looking for a new Yucca Mountain –but finding them is not a long-term or viable solution. It’s kind of like Methadone: Sure it works for a little while. But eventually, you’ve got to kick the habit.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The honeymoon is over

City Democrats expecting a lasting detente between the two rival factions of their party can better think again. Roughly four months after the new media regaled in a new and improved party with a unified message, all indications are pointing to the fact that the two factions that bitterly fought through elections in 2007 and 2008 are back at it again.

This week, two-time incumbent Accounts Commissioner John Franck is expected to support a bipartisan budget-cutting initiative calling for up to 40 layoffs in city’s workforce, according to source. It’s not clear where the layoffs will be targeted, but one could assume they’ll be largely split between the departments of Public Works and Public Safety –the city’s largest employers.

The layoffs also allegedly have the blessing of Mayor Scott Johnson and Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins, according to sources. Conspicuously absent from this list of supporters are the names of Republican Skip Scirocco, the DPW chief, and Democrat Ron Kim, the PBA lapdog.

That’s because neither commissioner would dare to support layoffs when both came to power thanks to the city’s unions. As some may recall, Scirocco was ushered into office with an endorsement from the DPW union. And Kim was among a vocal minority of city officials clamoring to bond a combined police and courts building that cost in excess of $20 million in its first incarnation. Not to mention, supporting the city’s unions has been the wholehearted mantra of the Democratic Committee, which is now controlled by the quixotic Democrats for Change, of which Kim is a card-carrying member.

The impending call for job cuts also follows the reemergence of SUCCESS –Saratogians United to Continue the Charter Essential to Sustain Our Success –or the anti-charter revision group that handily defeated former Mayor Valerie Keehn’s rush to city’s form of government. The group cropped back up late last month after a summer-long campaign to revisit charter revision that was led by the Democrats for Change splinter and their allies.

Interestingly enough, the group conducted a forum last week featuring Frank, Johnson, and Ivins, along with City Council candidates Richard Wirth and Ed Miller; all people who either are or were against changing the charter in the past. Conspicuously absent from this lot are Scirocco and all the Democratic candidates; each hand-picked for their run by the Democrats for Change. All four candidates were invited to participate in a forum this week. Not surprisingly, the forum was cancelled.

On a side note, some over at anti-revisionist camp should really do some work on their acronym. But apparently, ‘SUCCESOS’ doesn’t really have the same ring to it. Or does it? Maybe the Latinos would pick up on it if they could just drop a 'c' from it. But why digress?

At face value, this divergence of opinion between Franck and the DFC zealots might not seem like much of an issue. But when taken into context of the looming layoff proposal, it appears as though the battle line was drawn. And it’s one that cuts through the center of the Democratic Party –albeit missing the splinter faction that has hijacked the city’s committee.

Needless to say, any sort of honeymoon that was conjured by the committee last summer is clearly over. Of course, some would argue there never really was any honeymoon between the warring factions of the Spa City Democrats. Rather, an allegiance of convenience that was wryly made by Franck to ensure the committee wouldn’t wage a costly primary against him in September and broken the exact moment the primaries passed.

And rightfully so. With his election all but guaranteed, Franck has no vested interest in befriending the Democrats for Change, which at best will be able to secure a simple majority on the council. More likely, however, the DFC will get their asses handed to them in a sling. They’ve harvested a lack-luster panel of neophyte candidates from their patronage tree and are leading a ticket with a guy who is roundly considered the most inept, politically driven person on the city council. Couple this with the fact that the city electorate is still weighted toward the GOP and you have what could amount to a crushing defeat for this misanthropic clan.

If the DFC loses with all three of their candidates, they will at last be flushed from the halls of city government. Some might hope to appeal to Scirocco, who was ushered into power with their votes. But the chance of a card-carrying Republican like Scirocco extending any sort of favor to the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party is about as likely as that fat drug-sucking bastard Limbaugh going on Weightwatchers and enrolling as a Socialist. For Franck, this is all the more reason to jettison the seriously misguided committee, even if it doesn’t collapse under the bluster of its own hot air.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Canoodling voters

To paraphrase the words of Winston Churchill, those who are unable to learn from history are destined to repeat it. Or applying this theory to the city’s Public Safety commissioner’s race, those who can’t remember what they read in the past are destined to elect another partisan hack into office.

Looking back on what he wrote several years, it’s hard to believe that lame duck Commissioner Ron Kim is running for anything other than angry mob chasing him out of City Hall. He was elected in 2005 on a platform that turned out to be wholly different from the actions he took in office over the past four years. In fact, one is left wondering exactly what Ron Kim has done over the past four years when considering the statements he made before winning his first term in office.

And that’s the beauty of hollow campaign promises: They always seem to make it into print somehow. In Kim’s case, they made it to the Saratogian in the form of a point-by-point campaign letter promising the electorate he would right the wrongs wrought by his predecessor.

Probably the most egregious example of Kim’s failure to live up to his promises was his insistence that his office didn’t need a deputy’s position. In a July letter published in the Saratogian, he assured he would “redefine” the deputy’s roll or even “eliminate it altogether.” He also claimed he would examine the position with “input from critical decision-makers” to see how it would best serve the public’s interest.

Less than a month after taking office in 2006, Kim basically flushed this promise down the toilet. Instead of disbanding the deputy’s position, he asked the City Council to grant him a second one. Though he characterized the request as one made out of necessity, he made it to create a patronage position for Eileen Finneran, who headed the successful mayoral run of Valerie Keehn. Naturally, the more shrewd members of the council saw through this political hijinx like granny’s underwear and told Kim to stuff it.

That didn’t stop Kim from canning Dudla and importing Finneran two years later. Since that time, she has basically used the office as a way to further her own political goals. Those goals certainly didn’t include lowering the department’s budget expenditures or overtime, which has all exploded under Kim’s so-called leadership.

But let’s continue with his 2005 promises, many of which never included anything to do with the public safety operations in the city. For instance, he called to begin the charter review process and pledged to adopt “strong language that will forever protect this city's greenbelt from overdevelopment.” He also pledged to affect legislative changes that would “address the need for affordable housing” in the city. Not surprisingly, he failed in both cases.

Kim’s campaign diatribe does swing back to public safety issues briefly in the missive when he discussed the need to curb truck traffic rumbling through the city’s west side. Yet as of today, he hasn’t managed any of the enforcement goals he stumped on four years ago.

All this may sound like ancient history to the more fickle of voters. But when taken in context of Kevin Conolly’s recent letter to the Saratogian, Kim’s fallacies seem all the more pertinent. Connolly, who some may recall, is an ardent Kim and “Democrats for Change flunky who likes to take to the pen and rattle out missives to Lake Avenue. Last week, he authored his campaign promises, which sound ironically similar to those made by Kim four years ago.

In his opening statements, Connolly pledges his allegiance to the taxpayers, claiming “[t]he management of the Department of Public Safety is a public trust.” Yet nowhere in his screed does he mention the fact that police overtime and departmental costs exploded under his predecessor. Instead, he makes hollow references to “providing optimal service at a reasonable cost” without ever qualifying how he intends to do this. Quick FYI Kevin: The term ‘reasonable cost’ does not come without either scrapping plans for a new public safety facility or drastically reducing departmental overtime. Choose one or the other or both. Otherwise, your promise is meaningless and hollow.

Then, Connolly laments about the now-under-construction south-side rec center and how horrible a decision it was to build it. Like Kim’s letter four years ago, he delves into issues that he has no control over and will have little, if any, impact on his tenure in office. Even more laughably, he pledges he’ll spearhead an effort to sell the new building –to the YMCA nonetheless –even though such cause isn’t even remotely in the purview of his office. Another quick FYI Kevin: The city’s Recreation Department has nothing to do with public safety or the Public Safety commissioner’s duties. Do yourself a favor and learn a bit about the governmental position your seeking to occupy.

All these complaints may sound petty, but they’re issues that show a degree of ineptitude that will make this candidate every bit as ineffective as the current one. Connolly’s promises ring with the same fallacious tone that Kim’s did four years ago. Only this election season, voters can look back on history and see them for what they’re worth.

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