Archives for category: Local Government

Windham, NY is a Republican town, and a rather slow-moving one at that. Both property and school taxes are fairly high, especially considering what one receives in return (virtually nothing). Yet this is the way things are, and the way they have been. It doesn’t seem to bother most residents, but it bothers us.

Below is an example of the sort of thing I’m talking about: here’s a Windham plow on one of the town’s far-flung streets. As you can see, there’s nothing to be plowed. The driver simply drove to the top of a hill and sat there, killing time. On his way back down—plow raised and inactive, of course—he stopped to answer a query as to what he was doing out on the road, since there was no snow.


Make-work: a plow with no snow in Windham.

“I agree, it’s stupid,” he said, or words to that effect. “But Tommy Hoyt (the town’s highway superintendent) sent me out here.”

I really shouldn’t single out Windham for this kind of wastefulness, even though I resent paying for it. The town of East Jewett is just as careless of taxpayer resources and funding, if not more so. There, we have also seen plows out on the road when there was no snow. On at least one occasion, the driver was industriously plowing the snowless road, sparks a-flying.

I almost decided to ignore this election. Yes, the country is in dire straits and the stakes are indeed high. But it’s likely this election will have almost zero impact on any of our nation’s most important problems. For the first time in my life I’m tempted to skip voting altogether.

Vote Blue—Power to the People
Vote Blue 2014 POWER TO THE PEOPLE logo by Jeff Dombrowski.

And yet … there are differences. So you can argue citizens have a duty to choose, so as to minimize destructive outcomes. Chris Gibson is widely viewed as a nice guy, but that is no reason to vote for him, as this editorial makes clear. As for the rest of tomorrow’s choices, progresssive voters would do well to vote the Working Families Party line, with the exception of the choices for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. There, the vote should go for Green Party candidates Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong, and tomorrow’s election will somehow make a difference.

Can Americans work together toward a better collective future?

The short answer is no.

Longer, more nuanced versions of this answer are available at the seventh annual conference at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, which runs today and tomorrow. The conference is titled, "The Unmaking of Americans," with a subtitled question asking "Are There Still American Values Worth Fighting For?"

The Unmaking of Americans
America’s more divided than ever before.

Earlier today, George Packer (The Unwinding), Charles Murray (Coming Apart: the State of White America, 1960-2010), Zephyr Teachout (Corruption in America) and others held forth on the reasons why Americans are no longer on the same page. (Hint: growing inequality has a lot to do with it.) Some of the participants are more optimistic than others, but all seem to feel the current fragmented state of American life does not bode well for our collective future and cannot continue indefinitely. This morning’s session, with Packer, Murray, Teachout et al. was streamed live with intermittent dropouts, at least at my rural location.

The differences in today’s America are stark, and run much deeper than current midterm election rhetoric would indicate. On my rural road in Greene County, there is a very wide range of educational attainment and income, ranging from an absentee property owner who earns tons of money working for the London Stock Exchange, to affluent retirees whose professional lives were based in New York City, to working class "natives" of limited means and prospects.

Charles Murray made the point this morning that the "new upper class" of Americans (highly skilled knowledge workers, for the most part) is almost completely out of touch with "ordinary" Americans. He uses TV watching, mass-produced American beer and pick-up trucks as class markers. There are plenty of all three on my street, and the people involved cluster together. So do people at the other end of the scale—we don’t watch much TV (streaming films on Netflix, mostly), we don’t drink much beer, let alone domestic beer, and we don’t own pickup trucks. But we do have interests in common, and they define who belongs to our circle. We cluck our collective tongues at the natives, who don’t have sense enough to vote in their own self-interest and can’t ever seem to get ahead. In turn, the natives resent us bitterly and will always regard us as interlopers. They jeer at the "citiots" who don’t have basic blue-collar skills and can be ripped off for various household maintenance and repair work.

The two tribes are more separate than ever before, and this is of course reflected politically. It’s also reflected in personal circumstances. Murray points out that marriage and family life are far more stable among the upper middle class and beyond, which is hardly surprising—money pressures are a huge strain on households.

Packer notes that previous channels of upward mobility are now blocked. People tend to get stuck in their current economic situations, and children have a more difficult time than ever transcending their parents’ status. Among the working class, it’s a truism that many people are only a paycheck or two away from becoming homeless. For many people, there is no safety net at all.

As I noted above, not everyone is totally pessimistic about America’s future. But there’s not a lot of room for optimism, either. Certainly the petty politics around next month’s midterm elections do not inspire confidence. Chris Gibson again? Really?

It’s "us against them," but as long as today’s harsh divisions persist no group is going to come out on top, or stay there for long. Which is exactly the way those who actually are at the top—the fabled 1%—want it to be.

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.

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