Archives for category: Columbia County

Lots of political ups and downs in recent days. This is generally the way politics go, of course, but the localized nature of these events makes them stand out more than usual.


Bad news from the top down. Cuomo photo: NY Times.

Starting at the micro level, here in Greene County, what’s up with Windham town supervisor and former police chief Stacy Post? Investigative officials apparently removed a computer from her town hall office in recent days, and also searched her condo on Route 23 in Windham. Why this was done has yet to be announced, and the American way is to presume someone innocent until proven otherwise. Still, at this neighborhood level of politics, where we can see how someone is performing, even a hint of impropriety added to the inefficiency and outright dysfunction of most local officials is hard to stomach.

That’s why Will Pflaum’s recent win against longstanding corruption in Columbia County is so satisfying. I’m referring to the discredited attorney Tal Rappelyea, who routinely billed for more than 24 hours a day while some Columbia officials turned a blind eye. This situation ain’t over, but it’s nice to see a good guy win one.

Far less inspiring is recent news concerning high-profile Democrats at the state and national level. Let’s start with the 19th Congressional District, where newcomer Sean Eldridge plans to take on incumbent Chris Gibson this fall. Although Eldridge has already locked up Democratic support for his run, his campaign so far has been a disaster. At least it has according to normally liberal-leaning outlets like Huffington Post, Politico and Slate. Even WAMC’s outspokenly liberal Alan Chartock weighed in, calling Eldridge “cookie cutter”.

This is not to say that you should go out and vote for Gibson this fall. But the fact that someone with money to burn can come in and lock up regional Democratic support early on, then go on to generate this sort of widespread negative coverage, is just goddamn depressing. Eldridge has obviously chosen to overpay the wrong handlers.

Finally, that brings us to our “progressive” Democratic Governor, Mr. Andrew Cuomo, widely hated in these rural parts for the SAFE Act he proposed and passed. Last year, to great fanfare, the governor announced an “independent” Moreland commission to investigate state corruption. “I work for the people, and I won’t stop fighting until we all have a government that we can trust,” Cuomo said at the time.

Well, he’s stopped fighting and we still don’t have a government we can trust—Cuomo disbanded the Moreland commission, amid reports that the commission was being micromanaged and interfered with by members of the Governor’s own staff. Fortunately, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara plans to pick up where Cuomo left off.

Bharara was sharply critical of Cuomo’s decision, as was the New York Times: this editorial sums the situation up nicely. Be sure to read the comments accompanying the Times article above, which savage Cuomo’s starkly ego-driven political ambitions and general phoniness. Again, it’s just goddamn depressing.

Here we go again—in just the past week, we’ve had asinine gun-rights eruptions both locally and around the country. It is a disease, and it’s spreading rapidly.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the physician that President Obama nominated to be the next Surgeon General, knows that gun violence in America has reached epidemic proportions, and should be treated like the societal illness it is. But because he sees gun violence as a public health issue, the NRA and its Republican/Tea Party allies are doing everything they can to derail his nomination.

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, the NRA and the Republicans have sent an incredibly idiotic pro-gun measure to the governor’s office for his signature. Now you’ll be able to take your gun into a bar or bring it to the airport. Brilliant.


A George state representative applauds his handiwork. Photo: NY Times.

Closer to home, the Rev. John Koletas of the Grace Baptist Church in Troy raffled off a new Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle in church after a service dedicated to the “Christian values” exemplified by the Second Amendment. Outstanding. Way to go, Rev.

And if handing out semiautomatics in church strikes you as absurd, then here’s a little something on a lighter note: the Columbia County Board of Supervisors recently voted to deny the use of the official Columbia County seal in any correspondence relating to the NY SAFE Act.

Wow—no use of the Columbia County seal! Now that’s serious.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the prospects of Catskill making a comeback, and how the town’s best chance lay in the “creative economy” vision of Nina Sklansky and her Catskill Action Team. Shortly thereafter, this vision was borne out in the announcement of a new farm-to-table restaurant on the site of former Mayflower Café on Main Street, scheduled to open this April.


Watch this space for a new destination restaurant.

Now Sklansky has upped the ante by purchasing the property at 404 Main in Catskill. She plans to lure another destination restaurant for the 2500-square-foot ground floor, and develop the rest of the building in other interesting ways to be determined. By investing her own money and creativity on behalf of the town’s development, Sklansky underscores her belief in and commitment to Catskill’s potential—and helps bring that potential closer. We wish her, her new building and the town every success.

In yesterday’s Daily Mail, Catskill Village President Vincent Seeley is quoted as saying that he met with representatives of a casino developer to explore the possibility of building a casino in Catskill.

“Essentially, they reached out to me through contacts in the industry to set up a meeting,” Seeley said. “They were very, very interested in the Point.”

To his credit, Seeley acknowledges that a casino may not be the best possible route to Catskill’s future.

“Regardless of whether or not a casino is the right fit for our community, which is something we will ultimately decide as a community, we will use the information [from the casino representatives’ meeting] to make Catskill a more attractive place for development,” he said.


Credit: Nina Sklansky and the Catskill Action Team.

It could be argued that Catskill is already an attractive place for development, albeit of a very different kind. Catskill resident and advertising whiz Nina Sklansky and her Catskill Action Team are doing brilliant promotional work with their Catskill the Village campaign and website.

I can easily see Catskill evolving into a more down-to-earth and affordable version of Hudson, with plenty of restaurants and shops to attract visitors, and plenty of real-estate bargins to attract creative new residents. In fact, over time the Catskill-Hudson nexus could become a pocket “creative economy” somewhat like the towns of the Berkshires.

So the question is not really whether Catskill can come back, but how it should come back. A casino in Catskill seems a long shot, but if it happened the village and town would be profoundly transformed, and quickly. This transformation would probably not be for the better. The Catskill Action Team’s vision for the future seems far more likely to produce a happy outcome. If you’re interested in helping to make that happen, you can drop them a line here.

Integrity for Sale
Image source: Mayors Against Illegal Guns

A matter-of-fact article in the right-leaning Daily Mail (“Gun rights organizer calls for civil disobedience“) highlighted a number of pernicious trends that keep upstate New York, including Greene, backward, poor and unhealthy. The most insidious of these was not the pro-gun rally organizer, Billy Martin, who seems to be a caricature of the ill-informed and easily manipulated gun lover. No, the worst of it was the presence and miguided encouragement of “nice guy” state legislator Pete Lopez.

Leading the People Backward
Lopez: leading his constituents backward.

Martin railed against apathy, saying that gun owners represented such large numbers that, if everyone would just wake up and get on board, “We sweep the day, uncontested”. This is, of course, a self-serving delusion: gun ownership has been declining for years. As Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy notes:

Gun ownership has dramatically dropped over the last 20 years, so now it’s about selling a larger number of more expensive weapons to a smaller number of customers. The N.R.A., doing the bidding of the industry, ratchets up paranoia about government so that those people will go out and buy more guns.

No, Martin’s not the problem, obnoxious though he may be. He is simply a type, a loud and fanatical, self-appointed spokesman for a dwindling minority. Lopez is the problem. He is supposed to represent the best interests, health and well-being of his constituents, and he is failing miserably in that regard when he joins with local upstate zealots in claiming that “the challenge will be, we’re gonna have to strike down every piece of that damn bill [the NY SAFE Act] to kill it … and in the future we’ve got to prevent that stuff from coming forward.” Lopez went on to claim that fighting against gun control will “determine the fate of America”.

What Lopez should be focusing on is the health of the people he represents—their health is not likely to be improved by making it easier for guns to metastasize throughout upstate NY even more widely. Indeed, the counties that are calling for the repeal of NY SAFE are among the sickest—literally—in the state. Greene ranks 55th in health care outcomes, out of the state’s 62 counties. That’s down from 52nd place the year before. (Columbia held steady in 45th place.)

The upstate economy could stand some serious attention, too. It seems to be growing steadily sicker along with its inhabitants. Instead, Lopez chooses to spin fictitious scenarios about basic human rights under seige by sinister government forces.

Finally, what passes for honest reportage in this benighted district could use some more media pushback as well. Where is the commentary from our perceptive local bloggers? Carole? Sam? We need you to step up on all of these very serious issues.

Both Martin and Lopez trashed newly elected State Senator Cecelia Tkaczyk and suggested she needed to be removed. (How, exactly? By “ballots or bullets,” as the gun fanatics like to say?) Tkaczyk is one of the brightest spots in recent upstate politics, and represents real hope for change. She deserves your support. Lopez does not.

Come on, people. If you want a better, healthier upstate New York, then come forward and speak out. Don’t let ignorance and fanaticism control the conversation.

Now that we know U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson is going to be around for another couple of years, it’s time to take a look at what he’s been up to lately. In addition to voting “Yes” on legislation to avert the “fiscal cliff” (having earlier renounced his pledge to never raise taxes), Gibson sent a recent email to constituents outlining what he says are his top priorities.

These are (taken from the email):

1) “Address our country’s future fiscal solvency and enact policies that grow our economy and help hardworking Americans.” Sounds reasonable, if rather generic. Are further attacks on Social Security and Medicare subsumed in that “future fiscal solvency” phrase?

2) “Pass into law a full five-year farm bill that gives certainty to our family farms and allows them to remain a vibrant part of our local communities.” This speaks to the Representative’s constituency, but does little to address economic growth in the 19th Congressional District per se.

3) Lyme Disease.

4) Expanding access to broadband.

5) “Ensuring our veterans have the services and benefits they need….”

Which of these things is not like the others?

If you answered “Lyme Disease,” kudos to you. Lyme Disease has been rampant in upstate New York for a while now—that horse has left the barn. Combating its effects is a worthy thing to do, but perhaps not a top priority for a U.S. Congressman in an economically slumping district. As for expanding access to broadband, that too is a worthy goal, and something that would actually be of great economic benefit. It would be terrific if Gibson actually did something to address it this term, as opposed to holding meaningless symposia on the topic.

Except for the broadband item, which addresses economic growth indirectly, Gibson does not include improving the local economy as one of his top priorities. (Item no. 1 above is national in scope, and too generic to count.) That seems shortsighted, to say the least. But, it’s very early in the new year, and in Gibson’s new term. Let’s see what he does to address what he says are his priorities, paying particular attention to his efforts to expand access to broadband in the district.

There will be a candlelight vigil to end gun violence at 5 PM, 7th Street Park in Hudson. Please come if you can.

Candlelight Vigil in Hudson
Photo: The Sixth Ward

Other 5 PM vigils will take place in Stone Ridge (Marbletown Elementary, parking lot) and Chatham (Main Street, by Band Stand).

We’ve been hammering away at local problems large and small for some time now, to little avail. People and organizations you might expect to respond don’t. Silence remains the rule of thumb, although whispers of support come in via email and other means. For the most part, though, “going along to get along” remains in full force here in Greene County. No one wants to make waves, no one wants to speak out. Which means, ultimately, that no one wants to change things. Or if they do, they haven’t yet mustered the courage to say so.

It occurs to us, perhaps belatedly, that a much larger problem overlaps and encompasses our intractable local issues, and helps in part to explain them. I’m talking about the notoriously dysfunctional New York State government, otherwise known as Albany Politics. Frequently called the most broken and corrupt state government in the country (see any number of news reports, see the historical documentation in the novels of William Kennedy), Albany is famous for being bad. Downstaters have railed against Albany for years, to little avail. The economically powerful City of New York has managed to bypass, ignore or overcome Albany’s corruption and pettiness in many ways, but the crazy political scene in our state capital definitely has negative ramifications for those of us who live upstate.

NY State Capitol Building
The NY State Capitol Building—not a good example for local business and government.

Take the current case of the “Independent Democratic Conference,” headed by one Jeff Klein, a Democrat from the Bronx. This is a naked power grab, pure and simple. It is also a sell-out of the Democratic Party electorate—after all, Democratic candidates won 33 seats in the State Senate this year, compared to 30 Republicans. Yet the five members of the IDC have elected to side with the GOP and share power in the State Senate. This is truly reprehensible, particularly when you have genuinely progressive, new and enthusiastic candidates like Cecilia Tkaczyk running for Senate office in the belief they can make a difference (she may yet pull out a victory).

A spokesman for the Senate Democrats summed up the situation this way:

“This is not a coalition but a coup against all New Yorkers who voted for Democratic control of the Senate and a progressive state government. Sadly, the real victims of today’s announcement are the people of our state, whose clearly expressed desire for progress on a host of issues will now be scuttled. Senate Democrats will remain fierce advocates for them and the issues New Yorkers want to see implemented like standing up for women’s health, passing real campaign finance reform, raising the minimum wage and enacting common sense gun laws.”

No wonder it’s so hard to make a dent in the status quo around here.

UPDATE, 9:10 PM

From Will Pflaum: I really want to be clear that I respect law enforcement. They are the good guys, I hope.

If you live in our area and you bother to read the Register-Star or the Daily Mail, you know that they do not meet the highest standards of journalistic excellence. It’s arguable whether they even meet the bar set by the lowest common denominator. The recent Tom Casey firing imbroglio, and Publisher Roger Coleman’s ludicrously self-serving front page rationale for it, simply underscored how badly readers and our region are served.

There are several local blogs that do a far better job of reporting honest news than our so-called newspapers. Among them are Jim Romenesko.com, SamPratt.com and Hudson Sunshine. Unfortunately, the last of these has just been shut down.

You’ll remember that in Part 2 of this “Going Backward” series I commended Hudson Sunshine blogger Will Pflaum for going after municipal attorney Tal Rappleyea and his highly questionable billing practices. His reporting was picked up by the Times Union (a newspaper several rungs up the journalistic ladder from the Register Star & the Daily Mail), the result of Pflaum’s extensive and expensive, FOIL-based investigation. Now Pflaum has gone after other officials who’ve displayed questionable ethical behavior. One of them apparently had the clout to have law enforcement step in and “express concern” about Pflaum’s latest charges. The fact that law enforcement would do this is of course ironic, not to mention worrisome.

I contacted Will Pflaum, and here is what he had to say:

Local law enforcement has informed me they have concerns about some of the matters and sources in my recent posts. Pending a resolution of this matter, I have temporarily removed access to the Hudson Sunshine blog. My expectation is that law enforcement will pursue the issues I have raised to a successful conclusion. Whether or not that occurs, Hudson Sunshine will eventually return and I will report the outcome then.

UPDATE, 5:40 PM

NB: Here’s a corrective update from Will Pflaum, sent after this post went live:

I would just say I’m down pending a law enforcement investigation. I’m hoping the cops are the good guys and they didn’t ask me to do it … exactly.

This entire scenario just seems flat-out wrong in 21st century America. If someone felt Pflaum had published something false or defamatory about him or her, the typical recourse should be an attorney’s office, not a police station. Countries like China and Iran pressure websites they don’t like—the police in upstate New York should not be doing the same thing. Nevertheless, it seems Mr. Pflaum made the decision to take his site down.

Stay tuned.

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