Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mud slinging

Energy is a phenomenal thing, which typically moves from source to sink. When a bolt of light strikes the earth, its electrical surge blasts through the path of least resistance and then dissipates back into the atmosphere. Likewise, when energy is generated by a politician, it moves through the vessel most apt to carry it, namely his or her supporters.

So it’s difficult to imagine how a nearly cult-like group of Internet troglodytes could arbitrarily go forth and spread venomous speech more often reserved for neo-fascists and related ilk without having some sort of source for their energy. In the case of a certain contingent of Keehniacs, it’s hard to imagine this source generating from anywhere other than the top itself.

Since the spring and perhaps even earlier, this group has spread an amazing array of allegations, hearsay, and flat out mud at anyone viewed as an opponent of the “people’s mayor.” The main and obvious target has been Public Works fixture Tom McTygue, Keehn’s nemesis on the City Council and a man with whom she very publically refused to make amends.

Starting with the documented state Department of Environmental Conservation investigation, Keehn’s supporters launched a veritable online rabble to lynch the sitting commissioner for a variety of offense. Some said he abused his wife, others questioned his fidelity. Many accused McTygue of holding office illicitly, despite recent court findings suggesting otherwise.

Then there was Web chatter of McTygue’s bullying; in his department, during council meetings and on the street. They wrote of cover-ups, back-room deals and cooking the department’s books to squander taxpayer money; all without a tattered strand of evidence.

Not surprisingly, the group moved onto mayoral challenger Gordon Boyd once the primaries neared. He was accused of posing with Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove at a Conservative Party rally. Then came the spurious assertions that Boyd would somehow further the war in Iraq, was for slave labor and against universal healthcare; pages upon pages of cyber-chatter accusing a city resident of being the quintessential man in the black cape.

Meanwhile, the patron goddess of this cult, Valerie Keehn herself, rested back on her laurels and enjoyed a cruise primary victory. But even with this mod-squad of Web junkies doing the political dirty work for her, she felt compelled to push the envelope. Cowards, she called her fellow city councilors, wretched she called her opponents and “Rove-like” she called her challenger.

So it came as a bit of surprise Thursday when Keehn denied having any part in one of the most vitriolic election seasons the city has witnessed in recent times. An anonymous poster on a fellow blog forwarded an e-mail allegedly sent by Madame Mayor, herself, in which she denies playing any part in the mudslinging.

“While I refuse to engage in such unproductive discourse, what others do with their time and energy is their own business,” she stated in the correspondence.

Now, it’s highly unlikely the mayor personally slings mud; that’s the sort of thing that can lead to some very uncomfortable press in the mainstream media. Still, the mayor isn’t ignorant enough to ignore the call of some of her most vehement detractors. In other words, someone at the top knows what is being whispered among the flotsam and jetsam of the Spa City’s blog roll. On a side-note, both this scribe and the aforementioned are regularly accessed –sometimes upwards of six times in a few hours –by someone in City Hall.

Given all this, it’s not too hard to imagine Keehn or one of her guard giving marching orders for the online contingent, even if it’s a tacit mention or musing suggestion. Within moments of Keehn’s name turning up on the Internet, a veritable deluge of comments seem to follow; many of these make reference to the allegations one can easily imagine the mayor herself wanting to say.

Even if these minions aren’t driven explicitly by Keehn –or perhaps number-two Eileen Finneran –she could easily rope them in. After all, this is the mayor who wanted each department commissioner to sign decency pledge for council meetings. She could probably call off the dogs with a simple decency pledge for the rest of the campaign. But that would be yielding a certain degree of political capital she’s certainly trying to ride back into the mayor’s office.

An even more interesting proposition is that Keehn is keenly aware of this banter and is moving to foment it. After all, her cohorts at Democracy for America generate a fairly significant amount of their support online. This is the sort of thought that harkens back to a certain president who denied any involvement in campaign wrongdoing right up until he was about to be impeached.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Laying pipe

Alec Mackay might have landed high marks in Constitution 101 class for his recent sleuthing through New York’s governing document. But when it comes to understanding how government functions, the strident opponent of Saratoga County’s waterline may have just won himself a Supreme Court-sized dunce cap.

As contractors fearlessly blaze a road-sized swath through the forests and scrubland of Northern Saratoga County, Mackay is now arguing they’ve got no constitutional right to plow through the state park in Moreau. MacKay, president of the private Saratoga Water Services in Malta, found a loop hole in the document stating no public or private entity has any business mowing down acres of forever-wild land, no matter what the reasoning behind it is.

The claim, reported Wednesday in The Saratogian, comes nearly a decade after Mackay bitterly warded off county overtures to seize his business and just months after his lawsuits to thwart the pipeline were tossed. The pipeline stands to put a dent in his business, if it can eventually bring a flood of cheap water to the rest of the county. It will also be quite the black eye for the Luther heir and head of the Luther Forest Corporation, when the pipeline feeds the massive amount of water needed by AMD’s chip fabrication plant in the center of his forest.

Just six months ago, Mackay made a last ditch effort to hammer in a two-mile line from his well heads near Saratoga Lake. He offered the water at a rate 10 cents less than the county’s proposed $2.05 per 1,000 gallons. But by the time he reinvigorated his offer, there was too much at stake for the county’s Water Authority for them to turn around the Herculean project; too much work, too much political face and most of all, too much money.

More than 11,000 feet of pipe have been laid so far along the 28-mile project. And that’s just the pipe. Crews have sliced a three-mile path of arbor carnage through the woods off Daniels Road between Wilton, Greenfield and Saratoga Springs. Elsewhere, workers have poured the foundation for the 3,533-square-foot administration building and water filtration plant. The bulldozers of development are on the move and there’s not much to do but watch them with a certain degree of awe.

Mackay’s philosophy might be the same one he used back in 1998, when his flurry of lawsuits virtually bankrupted the authority into giving up their push to seize his water company. But today, there are some heavy hitters aboard the county plan who have banked a fair quantity of state and federal ducats on the pricy waterline, which estimates from five years ago placed at a cost of $67 million.

The money invested, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a fair amount of development that will befall northern Saratoga County once the tap is turned on. It’s perhaps the only reason the Board of Supervisors has so doggedly chased a seemingly ludicrous plan and continues to push forward despite legal challenges from a variety of different angles, including the constitutional one pushed by Mackay.

Here’s the problem: When it comes between the state Constitution and money, the courts have a habit of siding with the later. Just ask Joe Dalton and Republican state Sen. Frank Padavan. They were part of a coalition that rightly dubbed the so-called “video lottery terminals” what they are –slot machines. They also pointed out that the state Constitution expressly prohibited such machines, where something of value is inserted to play a game of chance. The courts initially ruled in favor of the Legislature’s 2001 law, which paved the way for thousands of the machines to be installed at the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway.

The coalition appealed the decision, which was somewhat upheld by the Appellate division of the court in 2004. Of course, the Spa City’s machines were already up and running by that time and plans were already in the works to bring in more. More than three years later, the argument over VLTs has bled into history, along with the Pataki Administration, which was instrumental in bringing them here in the first place. Now that the state sees the money generated by these devices, it would take an act of God –or the sudden death of all the region’s geriatric inhabitants –to remove them from the racinos.

There’s a similar situation at play with the county pipeline. The Water Authority is moving as aggressively as possible to get enough pipes laid that any effort to thwart it could be painted as a paramount waste of tax dollars. This sad fact will likely cause any circuit court judge to push aside such an argument rather than leave several miles of pipe rusting alongside the county’s rural northern roads. Much like the persistent trampling of the constitution, the pipeline is a sad fact of life these days, which county residents will eventually be forced to accept come hell or high water.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Freak Power

Sharon Boyd wore a look Tuesday evening that screamed for a strong Manhattan, sans the vermouth, maraschino cherry or any other sweet ingredient that might dull the bitter sting of defeat. In one short day, her husband went from mayoral hopeful –perhaps even a favorite –to dejected third party candidate, after being handily defeated by Valerie Keehn during the Democratic primary.

“The zealots come out,” she grimly opined to a Saratogian reporter from Gordon Boyd’s barside camp at Gaffney’s. “It’s harder to bring the moderates out.”

Four blocks away at the Circus Cafe, it was a different scene at Kamp Keehn, which bore a fittingly circus-like aura. With what seemed to be a repeat of the primary upset from two years’ prior, Mayor Valerie Keehn seemed almost smitten by her impending victory, exulting with an ear-to-ear smile amid the revelry of her supporters.

“Wow,” she exclaimed through the cacophony of sound ringing through the restaurant. “I’m thrilled with the results and I’m very relieved.”

Unlike her relatively close-margined victory against former Deputy Mayor Hank Kuczynski, Keehn cruised to an easy win against Boyd, securing an unofficial lead of 537 votes. The sound defeat left some Boyd supporters wondering what the hell happened between the goose egg Keehn laid during the League of Women Voters debate and the goose eggs they were seeing on the chalkboard showing their candidate’s vote tally.

Conversely, Boyd’s defeat left many Keehniacs with an inalienable feeling of déjà vu and a certain sense of invincibility. The last time she came from behind, she struck down the establishment and rose to the mayor’s office; surely she’ll repeat in November, the thinking goes. Keehn, herself, even seemed to take the victory as a voter mandate.

“People realize that I’ve been working hard for them since the day I was elected,” she told The Saratogian.

Undoubtedly, Keehn secured an upset victory and one that solidified the power of her remarkably loyal base. They turned out at the polls despite the remarkably bad showing she had during last week’s debate, after which even the most forgiving of voters could sense the mayor was in for a tough ride.

But as poignant as Keehn’s victory may seem to some political pundits, it really wasn’t very shocking at all. As the mayor’s “Democracy for Saratoga” campaign did in 2005, she managed gel her supporters and make a strong showing at an election often overlooked by the more fickle-minded among the electorate.

As Lady Boyd suggested, Keehn relied upon the freak-power vote, a contingent of folks existing on the far-left neo-liberal side of the party; the type of people that wouldn’t sit next to a Republican even if their feet were blistered and it were the last seat in the house. She also garnered a certain degree of support from the city’s police union, as their chief continues to get his ducks in a row for his Public Safety Taj Mahal.

Despite her nearly 2-to-1 margin of victory, however, Keehn’s victory was far from crushing and anything but a mandate, as some of Wednesday’s headlines suggest. In fact, Keehn picked up a paltry 310 votes during this year’s primary, failing to add substantially to her Democratic base during her first term in office. All together, she managed to accrue about 21 percent of the city’s 5,429 registered democratic voters, which is enough to seize the primary but far less than she’ll need to emerge victorious against Scott Johnson, her Republican challenger.

Keehn now must seek out at least an additional 3,500 voters across the city to either head out to the polls or cross party lines. She also needs to face the almost insurmountable job of mending the almost bottomless chasm she helped forge among city Democrats, which is a much more difficult task along the road to re-election.

After Keehn handily won the party line in 2005, she had a major helping hand from longtime party heavyweight Tom McTygue and Kuczynski, who publically endorsed her. At the time, the Public Works fixture put ills aside to help oust Michael Lenz, his immediate adversary on the City Council. The likelihood of this repeating is about as probably as Barbaro coming back from the grave to win next years’ Travers stakes.

Ironically, the decision in the Mayor’s race could ultimately rest with Keehn’s recently vanquished opponent, who was too busy licking his recently acquired wounds to decide on making a go at the general election. Boyd could vindictively pluck his name from the ballot and pledge his 600-some-odd votes to Johnson, which would all but spell doom for the mayor's re-election bit. He could also extend the olive branch and do the same for Keehn, which would be a bit tricky given some of the mayor’s recent rhetoric against his followers.

Boyd could throw the ultimate wrench into works by running for the election anyway, in effect spurring a three-way election. As Lady Boyd espoused, there is a much greater pool of moderates to draw from in a city that is increasingly centrist. But there’s also a chance he could propel Keehn to office by splitting the moderate vote with Johnson, who admitted Tuesday his positions are very similar to Boyd’s.

In the end, the vast sea of Spa City moderates could find themselves in a rather untenable situation come November, especially those who bear any sort of tacit or lingering allegiance to the Democratic Party. There has been too much hate spewed by Keehn’s rabid online interlopers to forge the dream of county Committee Chairman Larry Bullman. Many of these same moderates have soured to the vitriol and are plotting their vote on how to oust Keehn, rather than concentrate on the best possible candidate.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Junk mail

The self-proclaimed people’s mayor’s people were out proliferating the people’s mayor’s people-propaganda this weekend, distributing a four-page invite to the people’s mayor’s fish fry Sunday. But rather than going door-to-door she and her supporters prone to doing during the last campaign, they took it upon themselves to use scores of the peoples’ mailboxes without acquiring one of the nifty little people’s stamps most people use to send such literature legitimately.

As any political neophyte will tell you, mailboxes are theoretically the property of the U.S. Postal Service; tampering with them in any way shape or form is often frowned upon by the feds. This is why Uncle Ming will drop off his menus at your doorstep or even on your door knob, but will avoid using your mailbox.

But for some reason, the organization “Friends of Valerie” decided this rule didn’t apply to their campaign and littered scores of west side homes with campaign literature most probably assumed to be legitimate. Sans a bar code, prepaid post mark or address, the peoples’ mayor’s people are in violation of the law, albeit a small one.

Chances are pretty good the Keeniacs were out canvassing in the late afternoon and figured they could save a penny or three by placing the campaign ads in with the mail –they do seem to be spending comparatively little on mailers. John and Jane Doe come home from work in the evening, grab the mail and voila, it’s another campaign ad to join the scores of others coming legitimately through the post office.

This may sound trivial or even inconsequential for many. However, if this becomes a pronounced practice for Kamp Keehn or any other candidate for that matter, city residents can look forward to finding even more of this land-fill fodder cluttering the channels of regular mail. Even the legitimate mailers are quite the burden. There’s no way to stop them from coming in the mail other than contact each individual candidate themselves during a particular election cycle.

There’s also a bit of irony here, especially for the good mayor and her “green initiatives” pitch she made through a certain shaky film maker this summer. Ultimately, these mailers as well as the campaign signs cluttering every last piece of road frontage in the city proper, will end up in the same place: the back of a trash truck en route to a landfill. In the very best case scenario, winning candidates might be able to reuse their road signs two years from now; something that Keehn obviously isn’t doing judging by her newly adopted “people’s mayor” moniker.

What would be interesting and unique in city politics is a candidate that touts a green platform and then swears off using these mailers or signs as trademarks of their campaign. Theoretically speaking, it wouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. Seldom is there a voter that bases their decision on how many signs they see around town.

And if the candidate really wants to get their message out, they can simply pay a visit door-to-door on their weekends and spare time. It seems to work fairly well for the Mormons.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Soap-box derby

Sometimes it takes the perfect storm of events to show the true brazen gall some city officials have in their demands. Other times, it takes a pair of fresh eyes on a situation to reveal the rampant hypocrisy of a so-called public servant and his soap-box preaching.

As one sharp reader succinctly pointed out, it’s mighty interesting that Police Chief Ed Moore can justify a ludicrously large public safety facility at the same time he and his former number two are suing the hell out of the city over the Erin Dreyer scandal. Ordinarily, this would be a cost city tax payers wouldn’t need to worry about; it would be covered by municipal insurance. But after the carrier decided to stick the city with Dreyer’s legal expenses, it’s not clear what will be covered once the case winds to conclusion.

For those in the cheap seats in the city politics amphitheater, let’s do a quick recap: Dreyer, the city’s deputy Public Safety whore, knocks boots with perhaps the least-charming cop in the department. After getting into Sgt. Dan “Sunshine” Noeker’s pants, Dreyer decided to get lover boy into the chief’s seat. The whole affair hits the press and the Republican-dominated City Council is left with an ugly decision on what to do with the deeply politically connected Dreyer. Ultimately, the commissioners decided to abolish her position, essentially allowing her to collect unemployment for a spell on the city’s tab.

Before the whole affair could blow over like a whiff of ill-timed flatulence, Moore and Cornick decided to sue the city for what is rumored to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. The basis for the lawsuit was that Dreyer somehow undermined the top-cop duo’s reputation somehow and that the only possible way to rectify the situation was to line their pockets with cash.

From the outset, it seemed like a good plan: sue the city, bring the insurance company to the drawing table and make out with a quick quarter million or so; city insurance premiums raise a bit, but not enough that the standard citizen would notice or even care. But then the city’s carrier, New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal, decided they wouldn’t pay Dreyer’s defense, prompting Dreyer to drag the city into yet another legal battle in which she ultimately won. Now, it’s not clear what insurance will cover, if anything at all.

The cops tried to settle the whole affair last year for a rumored $150,000. Though the dollar amount seems paltry in lawsuit terms, the agreement was also contingent on a city decision to improve the police department pension, allowing cops to earn up to two-thirds of their pay instead of topping out at half-pay upon retirement. The pension boost was granted, however the settlement was never signed; you’re welcome, Chief Moore.

Meanwhile, Moore continually ramps up his stumping for a new police station. For the chief, the time is now. He’s got a sympathetic ear with Valerie Keehn, a mayor desperately trying to accomplish something. He’s also has a Public Safety commissioner in his front pocket. But without action soon, all this could change. Enter the politics of intimidation.

There have been reports of uniformed police officers toting clipboards to area establishments in search of signatures to support the Public Safety castle. Moore followed this up with his deleteriously “impassioned” letter to a private citizen and political candidate. And then there’s the public appearance with two the aforementioned candidates, where he felt fit to bash any politician questioning his ludicrously large station; a public servant indeed.

Also, the chief could craft a public safety facility that fits Saratoga Springs; not Troy, not Schenectady, not any other “similar sized department.” Just because the Spa City has as many officers as other municipalities doesn’t mean the city needs the same size or type of department. What he wants is a new castle for his cadre of cops, even if it takes screwing property owners to the tune of $87 per year over the next three decades.

If Moore really cared about the city or getting his beloved station, he’d drop his lawsuit and advise the same of Cornick, who now makes two-thirds his salary for do nothing. The suit is costing thousands of dollars for what amounts to a load of horse dung, sans the sugar-coating. At this point, the only thing damaging Moore’s reputation is Moore himself.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Walkin' the tightrope

Edward Moore took a giant step out onto the tightrope and then marched forward without bothering to check the perilous distance to the ground below. In a span of less than 24 hours, the Spa City’s top cop decided to make a pair moves that even the most oblivious of political neophytes could identify as deeply rooted in politics.

First, he showed up in uniform on the steps of City Hall while Mayor Valarie Keehn and boss Ron Kim –both of whom are running for re-election in November –lambasted three city commissioners and mayoral challenger Gordon Boyd. Then in a much more brazen move, Moore spat a venom-filled private letter at Boyd, accusing the candidate of politicizing the push for a new public safety facility for his own benefit.

“Forgive me if I offend you, but don't try to sell me sugarcoated dung as good intentions and support,” Moore stated in the long and prattling letter, which was also leaked to The Saratogian. “I did not just fall off the turnip truck, and I will not reciprocate in the same vein.”

For some reason, he also tied in the near-death experience of Adam Barker last week into his reasoning for needing a new station. Moore paired this event with his wanton castigation of Boyd, Accounts Commissioner John Franck, and Tom McTygue, Public Works enemy number-one. In other words, a vote for these guys is a vote that could have killed Officer Baker.

“I do not appreciate the politicization of an issue that may result in the loss of life, especially to one of my colleagues,” he continued in the letter. “We came close enough to that just four days ago with, as of yet, no formal inquiry by either of your compatriots on the council as to Officer Baker’s well being.”

Strong words for a public official commandeering a post controlling the city’s 70-something law enforcement agents. Strong enough that the letter could easily be viewed as a quasi-knife of intimidation held against the throat of a candidate that doesn’t really support all the chief has shoveled since Keehn took office in 2006.

State elections officials didn’t seem to think Moore’s one-two punch in local politics stepped up to the level of violating campaign laws. They indicated that he would need to either financially back a candidate or use his uniform to intimidate one before stepping over the line. He arguably did this by appearing at a thinly veiled Keehn-Kim booster rally Monday, where the two candidates publically bashed anyone not supporting his proposed 47,000-square-foot $17 million Public Safety Taj Mahal.

What Boyd and other detractors of the project argued is that the community can foot the estimated $87-per-year tax hike the new station would cost under the city’s present financial conditions. And he’s one-hundred percent right, too. Instead, he’s proposed squirreling away a few million bucks today, so that this impact isn’t felt at once by taxpayers. But Moore believes this is simply a political tactic the candidate is using to appease voters during election season before he reneges on the deal while in office.

“I am tired of hearing from those like [you] who wet their finger, stick it in the air of public opinion to see which way the wind is blowing, then publicly state they agree with the need of the new public safety building yet privately conspire to prevent it from occurring,” he wrote in the letter.

However, when it comes sticking one’s finger in the wind, Moore sounds a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. He decided to spearhead the new public safety facility initiative coincidentally at the same time the Kim-Keehn duo took office. In contrast, he made hardly a peep about the station under the previous two city councils.

If Keehn and Kim are re-elected, Moore only needs one more vote to move forward on the public safety facility he longs for. Undoubtedly, that vote would rest on the shoulders of Skip Scirocco, McTygue’s Republican challenger, who worked out of the police station as the city dog catcher for more than three decades. Were either Boyd or McTygue sitting on the city council come January, chances are pretty good the concept of a police station would at least go back to the financing stages.

This is all aside from the fact that governmentally appointed police chiefs generally avoid politics like the plague. There is good reasons for leaving political maneuvering up to police unions, rather than the chiefs themselves. After all, there’s a fine line when it comes to what can and cannot be considered bias and intimidation by such an official, who quite literally has the law at his beck and call.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Trading punches

With a standing-room only crowd and air stagnant enough to choke lichens, the Democratic welterweights squared off in the ring for the first time. By the end, both looked a bit hot under the collar, as did just about everyone gathered in the library for the county League of Women Voters’ debate Monday. That is, with one noteable exception.

Republican mayoral candidate Scott Johnson spent the evening with a sweat-free brow, quietly and anonymously in a back row. As the democratic candidates traded barbs, Johnson seemed to be sizing up his competition, taking note of their attacks on one another. And when it came to attacks, Keehn took the cake and then some.

Ms. Mayor quickly went on the offensive against Boyd, lodging the first cannon balls within the first minutes of the debate, accusing Boyd of “Rove-like tactics” for a several op-ed pieces he penned in area newspapers. The claim came just hours after Keehn –joined by Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim –made the same comment during a hastily called news conference on the steps of City Hall.

Boyd appeared to roll his eyes at the curious attacks by his opponent, who must have heavily steeped herself in vitriol prior to debate. Of course, Boyd wasn’t immune to a few pops below the belt himself, especially during his closing remarks. After spending most of the debate steering clear of personal attacks, he brought up mayor’s recent use of the terms “cowards” and “wretched” during public speeches as proof of her divisive nature.

Boyd also mentioned that she threw her weight behind a Saratoga Lake homeowners association to thwart efforts to move the city’s water project ahead. The remark was quickly interrupted by Keehn, who accused Boyd of lying. Boyd snidely responded to the allegations and the sudden back-and-forth thrust the debate into a quick spate of caterwauling from the crowd, during which one boisterous fellow sitting near the Brothers’ McTygue shouted out “liar,” presumably at the mayor.

Attacks aside, the debate seemed to sway in Boyd’s favor, even though the crowd seemed equally split among the candidates –although the Saratogian gave the “clap-off” to Boyd. While Keehn seemed to trip over words and tug at strings with her answers, Boyd seemed fluid and collected.

Ultimately, Boyd seemed to convey his points a bit clearer than the mayor, who frequently stammered like an elementary school kid during her first day at debate club. Using her trademark monotone intonation and cue-card reading, Keehn pioneered new lows in public speaking, making gaffs that literally stopped the debate dead in its tracks.

Keehn’s first major botch was when she attempted to call Boyd on his environmental record. She attempted to reiterate the message from a recent online advertisement. The short piece boasts quotes her challenger once made against the federally ordered dredging of the Hudson to clean up PCBs dumped by General Electric during the 1970s.

But then something went dreadfully wrong. Perhaps a period was missing in the mayor’s cue-cards; possibly a word or three crossed out. Maybe there was someone’s Chinese food order scribbled in pencil on the margin, making what was supposed to read ‘Gordon Boyd didn’t support removing PCBs from the Hudson River’ seem like ‘Gordon Boyd supports dumping PCBs in the Hudson River.’

“Well, maybe he doesn’t support dumping PCBs in the Hudson,” Keehn swiftly retorted after making the brazen accusation, which even caused the otherwise neutral moderator to cock an eyebrow.

Keehn’s gaffs didn’t end there. In her closing remarks, she experienced a slight of tongue that harkened back to when she referred to her fellow commissioners as the “silly council” during her state of the city address six months earlier.

“As your governor,” she proudly proclaimed as the room again filed with groans. “I mean, as your mayor.”

For most candidates, this might have gone unnoticed. But for Keehn, the statement seemed less a word trip and more of a Freudian slip. Perhaps this how the mayor views her position in City Hall, a sort of power broker saddled by a silly group of commissioners. Oddly enough, Keehn was the very politician who fought bitterly to augment the powers of the mayor just last year.

The peoples’ governor also seemed to frequently lose sight of who she was debating. Like her supporters have frequently done in online forums, she chose several moments during the debate to single out Public Works fixture Tom McTygue, her sworn enemy.

When asked if she would make peace with her adversary, Keehn indicated that she would be more than willing to offer the olive branch –as long as it was to tan McTygue’s hide. Despite her quite open attacks on McTygue –ones that extend much further than the city council chambers –she said it is the long-time commissioner’s duty to make amends with her.

Keehn even contradicted herself at times. After Boyd blamed the mayor of crafting an excessive capital budget, Keehn quickly growled back “read the charter, Gordon.” She went on to explain how all the department heads were actually the ones that crafted the budget and she merely presented it to the public. In the very next breath, she referred to the plan as “my capital budget.”

As the self-proclaimed ‘peoples’ mayor,’ Keehn sounded a bit out of touch with the realities of working-class life, when a moderator question asked why another recreation facility is needed with a multi-million dollar YMCA facility in the city proper. Keehn dipped into how working families couldn’t afford memberships to the Y and its services. She explained how her family pays something like $600 per year for a membership, a cost she seemed unsure about.

“I don’t know, my husband pays that bill,” she conceded, referring to her undoubtedly six-figure earning betrothed, who works as an attorney for the state.

All this may seem a bit excessively hard on a sitting mayor. However, these are flaws that were blatantly obvious during the debate and ones that are very unbecoming of someone seeking a second term in office. One Democratic voter in the audience who admitted to being a bit of a political novice, said Keehn came across as childish, petty and back-biting.

Keehn’s neophyte public speaking ability, lack of intonation and long drawn out explanations of topics was acceptable during the first months of her tenure. But now, nearly two years later, these are elements of her political persona she should have remedied or groomed at the very least. Instead, she has replaced this understandable bewilderment with an acerbic attitude hell-bent on waging attacks on her opponents.

Kamp Keehn’s cadre of Keehniacs were quick to jump online after the debate, leaving flurry of messages lauding their candidate’s ability to ‘speak on the issues’ while castigating Boyd for just about anything under the sun. In wake of the debate, the early morning deluge of posts seems almost like a desperate attempt to wipe clean the slate of very public missteps made in the presence of not one, but two challengers.

If the debate proved nothing else, it at least drew the battle lines clearly. Accounts Commissioner John Franck –who one member of the audience speculated as the aforementioned boisterous fellow –was clearly on the side of McTygue, who was sitting among a pool of Boyd supporters. Kim didn’t even wait for the debate to choose Keehn as his candidate.

Not that any of these allegiances are anything new. But they will certainly become more interesting after next Tuesday, when the elephants begin donkey hunting season. Regrettably for the city Democrats, they’ll be using much of the same ammunition Keehn and her supporters are now firing over the bow.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Fools and their money quickly parted

Take a good look at these people. Any one of them could be the first person to go after Steve Jobs with a meat cleaver. Note to Capital Region police agencies: keep this photo on file, just in case Jobs’ lifeless body is found bobbing down the Hudson.

For those who haven’t heard, Jobs pulled perhaps the largest fast one on the general public since David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear more than two decades ago. With a smiling face and a new parade of iToys, Apple’s founder extended his middle finger to all the crazed people that bought his iPhone in June, and then announced his company would knock $200 off the sticker price.

This has got to be a frustrating development for the droves of rubes that spent hours waiting on long lines to pay nearly $600 for the cell phone on steroids. Yes, Jobs pulled a fast one alright. Sure, everyone expects new technology to drop $100 or so within their first year on the market. But $200 in just two months is virtually unheard of, especially for a company like Apple.

On a curious side note, it’s possible the Times Union may have fallen into this trap. The paper recently did a baby boomer versus Generation Xer review of the new technology using a pair of feature reporters. The video is a humorous watch, especially when the elder writer is described as someone who “only recently became comfortable using a touch-tone phone.” Although there’s a good chance the paper received the phones as a free trial through Apple, it would be interesting to know that the Hearst Corporation got bilked by Jobs, just like the rest of the poor schmucks that bought into this huckster’s song and dance.

Undoubtedly, Apple scored the lottery jackpot with their ruse. They pumped the market full of hot air for more than six months and then unleashed a product they probably produce for about $50 and sells for 12 times its value. Consumers, with particular regard to those in the United States, are instant gratification fanatics. Increasingly, they’re not happy with waiting unless it’s on a long line for days to purchase the aforementioned product. The more fervor a corporation can whip into the public, the more freaks that will turnout for the grand release.

With the help of Jobs, the craze that started with Cabbage Patch dolls in the 80s, moved onto Tickle-Me-Elmo toys in the 90s and more recently materialized in the Sony PlayStation 3 madness last year has now made the jump to consumer electronics. Despite looking foolish and spending more money than most people make in a week, the American consumer is all the willing to play the fool when it comes to these marketing gimmicks.

But Jobs might have pushed his toe over the line with this gig. People are pissed; real pissed. The uber-chic, who for two months toted their iPhones as a quasi status symbol, can now look forward to seeing common folk with this status symbol. Apple’s stock prices tumbled with Wednesday’s announcement, as hundreds of wealthy stock brokers realized their new, sleek-looking iPhones aren’t likely to get them laid anymore out at the bars.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Who says City Hall ain't for sale?

Here we go again with the “thinking outside the box” ideas to solve the fiscal crunch in the Spa City. Brought to you from the same City Council that virtually gave away a prime Broadway location and that once considered leasing a public safety facility from the most powerful developer in town, there is this most recent brainstorm: sell City Hall.

Finance Commissioner Matt McCabe unearthed this gem Tuesday night, while the same parade of cops marched into the meeting to reiterate the need for a new police facility, as if anyone in the city proper hadn’t heard this song and dance. McCabe was the first person on the council to point out the blisteringly obvious: removing the cops would leave a good quotient of the massive building vacant.

So if City Hall is moved with the police station, the historic hall could be sold for millions, which could then be used to finance the station. This presents a few interesting prospect. For instance, let’s say it’s sold to Sonny Bonacio; then he could literally own City Hall.

As whimsical as this concept may sound, it seems to be the only logical way for the city to fund the bevy of capital improvements proposed in Mayor Valerie Keehn’s 3-year $63 million budget. Meanwhile, the city has all but given the go-ahead on $6.1 million recreation facility, which is about a necessary as the new fleet of empty CDTA buses clogging up the city streets.

The problem with Keehn’s capital improvements budget is that there wasn’t an ounce of practical thinking put into it. The gospel word was ‘we need a new building no matter what’ rather than ‘we have no money to work with and need to make improvements.’ There’s no doubt the proposed police facility is way more ostentatious than the city needs and that other options were clearly not visited with any vigor.

Not to mention, just two of the new buildings proposed in the budget would cost the city roughly $1 million more per year to the city budget in operating costs alone. In other words, reach for the soap taxpayers.

McCabe’s proposal is probably about as rooted in reality as the one foisted by Public Works fixture Tom McTygue, when he suggested seizing The Saratogian property on Lake Avenue. But the finance commissioner’s proposal is a hell of a lot more realistic than expecting the already burdened working class to suck up a tax hike of nearly $100 so that Chief Ed Moore can parade around in his new digs.

On a side note, Mayor Keehn wryly dodged a potentially lethal political bullet during Tuesday’s meeting by casting aside a vote on the capital project budget. Facing a crowd of more than 100 potential voters, she claimed the council “wasn’t ready” to accept the budget in its present incarnation. What she really meant was that she doesn’t want to vote on the budget with less than two weeks to go before the hotly contested Democratic primary.

Keehn didn’t expect a massive turnout clearly fanned by a contingent of residents worried that they may no longer be able to afford to live in the city. Were the issue to go before a vote, it’s pretty clear the only ally she’d have would be Public Safety lapdog Ron Kim. Such a vote would undoubtedly be used as campaign fodder for challenger Gordon Boyd, who has publically suggested renovating City Hall instead of building new city buildings. And don’t think Republican Scott Johnson won’t pick up the tax issue promulgated by the capital budget once October rolls around.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rising from the ashes

Charles Hayward stopped in mid-sentence and stepped back from a microphone hastily set up at the Saratoga Race Course Tuesday. The New York Racing Association’s president and chief executive officer suddenly choke up, as the cool realization of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s recommendation washed over his brain

“The real winner here is the racing industry,” he said, before apparently letting his emotions get the best of him.

Yes folks, NYRA is back in the saddle again. Under the organization’s 30-year deal awaiting legislative approval, NYRA will operate New York’s thoroughbred tracks under a not-for-profit model. Contracts to operate Video Lottery Terminals at Aqueduct will be offered to the other companies, namely Excelsior, Empire and Capital Play; the Legislature will choose between them within the next 60 days. Seven percent of the VLT revenues will come back to NYRA as a funding source. Steven Dunker, vice-chairman of NYRA’s board of trustees, emphatically denied the idea that the VLTs will ever be a part of the Saratoga Race Course.

“It’s been an incredible saga for us, but we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

As part of the 30-year contract with the state, NYRA will relinquish its claim to ownership of New York’s tracks. NYRA will also transfer more than a billion dollars of land to the state, which will in turn forgive the organization’s indebtedness. NYRA will also pair down its 28-member board of trustees, eight of which were legislatively appointed. NYRA’s board will now consist of 13 trustees, two appointed by governor and one by both the state Senate and Assembly.

Despite its fiscal troubles, NYRA does appear to be the best choice to run racing; it’s difficult to deny 52 years of successfully running the game in the Spa City. Not to mention, the organization is a not-for-profit venture, which means they’re less likely to pinch pennies when it comes to investing into the sport.

“We’re not in this to make money,” Dunker said of the deal. “All we care about is to make racing the best it can be in the state.”

What a long strange trip it’s been. Not more than a year ago, officials were leaving NYRA like rats from a sinking ship. NYRA had no friends among the Pataki Administration, which spent its last days in office sandbagging the organization. Originally, it didn’t seem as though Spitzer, who was rumored to support Excelsior, would be much better,

Hayward acknowledged NYRA’s relationship with Spitzer was rocky from the outset, but has evolved since he became governor. About four years ago, Attorney General Spitzer castigated NYRA as an inherently corrupt organization that should be dismantled quicker than a ticking time bomb.

“The record is pretty clear,” he said, “A lot has changed in the last four years.”

This summer, NYRA clearly emerged as the front-runner, a dark horse that shot ahead as the process moved into the final stretch. While the other organizations continued to pour money into their proposals, NYRA was quietly amassing a stable of well-know executives, none of whom seemed prone to joining a sinking ship.

Hopefully now, NYRA can rise from the ashes of its former self and rejuvenate the tracks around New York City. The governor chose wisely in keeping a household name in racing running its tracks. Now, the burden is on Hayward and his executives to prove its former critics wrong.


Many seasoned journalists develop a sort of great white whale of a story while they are plying their trade. This is a story that seems every bit as sensational as any Pulitzer-prize winning investigative piece, but remains just a few details short of going to press.

These articles be meddlesome for a writer fraught with the fear he or she might lose a stellar scoop to the competition if too much time lapses. In some cases, this fear can ultimately push less-seasoned editors and over-anxious journalists into running a story prematurely, when there are clear gaps in the reporting.

Such was the case with poorly reported piece appearing in the Metroland last week, which all but convicted Public Works fixture Tom McTygue of federal corruption charges. Strangely, just hours after the article was posted online, it was also posted anonymously on several area blogs, including iSaratoga.

The story itself basically lacks any identifiable source, save for Mayor Valerie Keehn, an ardent political adversary who is openly supporting a Republican candidate to oust fellow democrat McTygue from office. But even her voice is noticeably muted in the story. The strongest voices in the story are anonymous ones, claiming “about a dozen” people were interviewed by the FBI, but are too worried about retribution to discuss what the investigation is about.

But most noticeably absent was a voice from McTygue himself. The reporter was unable to track down McTygue, who was apparently “unreachable” all week long “because he would be out of town for personal reasons,” the article states. This excuse might hold water if the story was breaking at a daily newspaper, but not at a feature-oriented weekly.

In most reputable news rooms, a story claiming allegations of federal misconduct of a public official require a response from the accused. At the very least, the accused or someone speaking for the accused must decline to comment. True, this can slow down the news process to a molasses in January pace, but it’s an obligation –an onerous burden of proof even –that every good reporter must bear.

The Metroland whisked right by this precept and published an article that could easily be viewed as political hatchet job unless McTygue is soon led out of City Hall in handcuffs. There’s no doubt that he has his fair share of enemies and ones that wouldn’t think twice about manipulating information for political gain, a fact that makes the article seem more like a political hatchet job than anything else.

Top on the list is Keehn, who didn’t see anything suspicious about announcing her re-election bid on the same day as state investigators were picking through the Public Works garage off Division Street. Scirocco, McTygue’s challenger and a candidate deeply entrenched in a party renowned for its twisted campaign tactics, would be a close second on such a list.

And don’t forget Pat Design, McTygue’s feuding former deputy who is rumored to be Scirocco’s choice for right-hand man, if he’s elected to the council. Strangely, Design wasn’t interviewed for the story, unless he just happens to be one of the reporter’s sources; a possibility that sounds all too possible.

Another damning fact is that none of the area dailies –not even the oft presumptuous Saratogian –are jumping on the grenade unleashed by the Metroland. Often times, the mention of “federal investigation” and “public official” in the same sentence will spur some sort of response; at the very least an entry on one of the Times Union’s stable of blogs. But all of these newspapers remained silent on the issue, even during a late summer week where there’s scarcely little news to report.

True investigative pieces can be very revealing, as the Times Union has proven with their work following the FBI probe into Joe Bruno’s practices. Yet these stories take time and effort to hash through. In contrast, the Metroland piece fails to convey any pertinent information other than there may be a serious investigation hovering over McTygue and nobody has any idea what it’s about.

For a paper like the progressive-leaning Metroland, rushing to press with such an article seems to smack of bias. After all, the Spa City politician most often associated with the progressive movement is Keehn, the one who plans to benefit the most if McTygue is sent to the political graveyard.

View My Stats