Archives for category: Local Government

Dick May, who founded and wrote the SeeingGreene blog for nearly a decade, passed away late last week.

Dick used his blog to comment perceptively on a wide range of issues affecting the county, including the Second Amendment issues that are so widely misinterpreted and misunderstood (his final post was on this subject). Dick’s clear-eyed, common-sense approach to life in Greene County was widely appreciated, and he will be missed.

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.

Last night, at an organizational meeting of the Greene County Democratic Committee in Cairo, Sean Eldridge received the party’s endorsement for this year’s 19th Congressional District race against incumbent Chris Gibson.

The endorsement was a foregone conclusion but interesting nonetheless—Eldridge addressed the assembled group (it was the second time I’ve heard him speak), and he’s good. He does represent a convincing alternative to the Republican Gibson, and in the recently reconfigured 19th District, he stands a fighting chance.

Sean Eldridge
Sean Eldridge. Photo: seaneldridge.com.

Eldridge and his husband Chris Hughes represent something of a new wave in American politics: gay progressive power brokers. Both are young, bright and accomplished, and they enjoy substantial financial resources to support the goals they believe in.

Hughes co-founded Facebook while at Harvard and is the source of the couple’s fortune. He purchased and now publishes and edits the venerable journal, The New Republic. Hughes was also the coordinator of online organizing for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, an effort that was hugely successful and has influenced political campaigns ever since.

Eldridge runs Hudson River Ventures, based in Kingston, which has funded many area businesses, as well as the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center at SUNY New Paltz, which is working to bring cutting-edge manufacturing technology—including 3D printing—to the region. Eldridge was also instrumental in getting marriage equality passed in New York, and he is involved in efforts to increase environmental protections and reform campaign finance laws.

He is sharp and quick on his feet, in contrast to his sometimes plodding Congressional opponent. In fielding questions from the audience last night, Eldridge gave succinct but compelling answers which underscored his progressive views on a wide range of subjects, including economic inequality, NSA spying and gun control. (I do wish progressive politicans didn’t feel the need to preface their remarks on gun control with lines like “I myself am a gun owner,” but that’s another story.)

In short, Sean Eldridge is an exciting new candidate who has a solid chance of unseating Chris Gibson this fall.

A December 4 article by Kyle Adams, one of the few local reporters I can stand to read, highlighted Greene County’s utter lack of progress in developing adequate broadband service. In fact, Greene’s record in this regard is so dismal that it warranted a visit from the federal government’s Government Accountability Office. The office is trying to determine the efficacy of the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Broadband Loan Program.

In Greene’s case, of course, that efficacy is non-existent. Zero. Zilch. This is true primarily because Mid-Hudson Cable (identified only as “a small telecommunications company” in Adams’s otherwise straightforward article) declined a Rural Utilities Service broadband loan.

According to Warren Hart, the County’s way-overdue-for-replacement director of Economic Development, Tourism and Planning, Mid-Hudson declined the federal loan because of “the high administrative burden involved”. “It was just too much for this small company,” Hart said.

Warren Hart points out a vast expanse of nothing.
Warren Hart points to a vast expanse of nothing.
Photo credit: Kyle Adams/Columbia-Greene Media.

As someone who recently paid Mid-Hudson several thousand dollars to run a cable to my house, I’d maintain that Mid-Hudson calculated it would be more profitable to continue its business as usual, where extending service to anyone not served under the sweetheart town contracts it’s negotiated requires that hapless new customer to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Hart went on to lament that the county’s scanty broadband infrastructure is a handicap compared to more urban counties (as though this were just a geographic fact of life, and not a consequence of decisions made or not made by the county’s business and political leadership). He was joined in his hand-wringing by Jeff Friedman, executive director of the Great Northern Catskills Chamber of Commerce, another organization not noted for its succcessful track record.

I’m not sure which is worse: the continued false promises of improved broadband service from Congressman Chris Gibson on down to politicos at the local level, or the continued absence of said broadband service, with no improvements on the horizon.

Wait, though—Warren Hart has a plan. “Plan A,” he said, is to marry wireless broadband Internet service to the emergency communications towers planned throughout the county. The first such tower, at Windham Mountain, is expected to be completed in spring 2014. It is being constructed to improve emergency communications, though, not to provide broadband service. Hart nevertheless “hopes it will” provide broadband service.

No Plan B was mentioned.

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.

Update, April 9: No other subject generates such heated response. Some of it is rational, most of it is not. Venom abounds. And gun lovers from around the country feel free to join in—with any other issue, the response is generally local.

From this point on, I will approve comments selectively. I am not going to take the time to respond to each one. It becomes tiresome responding to the same formulaic arguments, over and over again. Suffice it to say that America has a very serious problem, and it has as much to do with gun lovers as it does with guns.

One of the most intolerable aspects of the “pro-gun” argument, for rational Americans, is the heavy reliance such proponents place on the Second Amendment. The NRA and others cite the Second Amendment as graven in stone, permitting no possible deviance from its absolute law. This is nonsense.

The amendment is an antique, and it has been twisted by right-wing courts into a travesty of present-day relevance. The amendment did not have the intent of guaranteeing citizens the right to possess and use super-charged, military-grade weapons that can kill dozens in a few minutes. The constant citing by “gun rights advocates” of the Second Amendment as something approaching the Word of God is therefore absurd, as the illustration below makes clear.

The Second Amendment: stretching the boundaries of common sense
Assault weapons were never intended. Image source: the New York Times, Christopher Sergio, photographs by JRB/Fotolia, zim101/Fotolia and Anatoly Vartanov/Fotolia.

There is a very strong argument to make for rewriting the amendment, to accord with common sense and strike some semblance of a balance between gun owners’ “rights” and public safety. There is also a strong argument for abolishing the amendment altogether, something I would personally favor. I do recognize that this is very unlikely to happen, however.

But rewriting the Second Amendment does seem possible, perhaps after several more senseless atrocities have occurred. If you have an open mind, read why such a revision could convey benefits to people on both sides of the gun debate in this article.

Perhaps the most infuriating thing about America’s gun nuts is their constant clamor for respect and their so-called “rights”. This culminates in the right-wing glorification and distortion of the Second Amendment, far beyond its original scope. And it creates a whole slew of specious arguments, many funded by the NRA, which aim to undergird what is ultimately an indefensible position.

Much of the reaction to my last post revolved around the fact that my pro gun-control position was seen as a minority viewpoint. Following that logic, many of my correspondents took it a step further and suggested I move somewhere more congenial. I will grant that gun control is not currently popular in Greene County. But the NY SAFE Act is not a Greene County creation, it is state law. And in the state at large, rational gun control is strongly favored by a solid majority of people (70-30, by most estimates). NY SAFE is not going anywhere.

A Cracked Argument
Upstate gun-rights activists: rude, rustic and out of place.

Another gun-lover argument that’s not going anywhere: weaponized “patriots” who arm themselves to uphold civil rights, and defend against a totalitarian government. (The NRA calls itself, with a straight face, America’s oldest civil rights organization.) First of all, the focus is wrong: if you’re concerned about misuse of government power, now or in the future, your recourse should be political involvement, not assault weapons. Do you think your AR-15 can stand up to a drone? Secondly, the old canard that the government is “coming to take your guns” is growing very tiresome, simply because it is repeated so ignorantly and so often. No one is taking your guns, unless you misuse them.

It is actually these upstate conspiracy theorists who are in the minority in New York State. And their minority position will only become more conspicuous as the country haltingly moves toward social and political progress in the 21st century. The fact is, gun “rights” adherents are rude, rustic and increasingly out of place.

Take the recent rally for “gun rights” in Albany as an example. I drove past the rally site at the State Capitol the morning of February 28, as the protesters were beginning to assemble. On the left side of State Street, by the park, an ordinary-looking guy in camo smirked as he leaned on his rifle like a cane. (Adult men in civilian camouflage always strike me as kids playing at war. They look ridiculous.) Across the street, some fat guy bent over into a rusted-out car (to grab more guns?), his butt crack on prominent display. For the rest of the morning, up until 2 PM or so, the crowd (far less than the 5,000 cited in the press; it was more like 2,000, tops) milled in and around the park, chanting slogans like “We will not comply!” They were a sad, bedraggled lot, overwhelmingly male and all dressed up in hunting gear and baseball caps, who walked in pairs and groups of three or four to stand apart from the businesspeople and government workers who normally occupy this space.

It was their moment, and I think they enjoyed it. But these rural New Yorkers are not going to succeed in foisting their backward beliefs on the people of this state. If they can’t, or won’t, conform to the new law, then I suggest they move someplace more congenial. Someplace where rural life predominates and anti-government conspiracy theories abound. Someplace like Idaho.

UPDATE, April 15. Four new comments from Pat Kosorek. He has nothing original to say, and he was likely prompted to comment by yesterday’s post rather than this one, but I decided to publish his observations anyway. They do reflect the mindset of the opposition, along with the quality of its discourse.

UPDATE, 9 PM. There have been quite a few comments from gun lovers, and these comments speak volumes. One Pat Kosorek is particularly eloquent.

We’ve meant to comment on this before now, but Kyle Adams’s timely piece in today’s Daily Mail prompts this post: Catskill Village President Vincent Seeley is to be applauded for voting “no” to last week’s Greene County resolution to repeal the NY SAFE Act. Seeley’s action took courage and intelligence, qualities notably lacking in most of his colleagues. We salute him.

For behaving like an adult and doing the right thing, Seeley has been savaged by the mindless pro-gun forces, notably the “Greene County NY Citizens for Gun Rights” on their horrific Facebook page (I’m not about to link to it). Here is a group that proudly posts photos of AR-15s with captions like “Fuck You, Cuomo—Come and Get It.” It’s worth a lot that Greene County has ONE legislator willing to stand up to these jerks.

Thank you, Vince Seeley. And thanks to Kyle Adams for the fair-minded account in today’s paper.

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