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The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Wednesday, April 30

From today's Police Blotter

There was no crime committed, so you won't see this in tomorrow's paper, but this story has got to be told:

An average, non-threatening person walks into Hannaford's on Weibel Avenue. She is 5-foot-3, and blond. Without saying anything to anyone, she walks up to a Citizen's Bank ATM, and connects a lap top to the machine. Nobody says anything...

An alarm goes off somewhere in the store, she disconnects the laptop and leaves. Apparently disappearing into the night. Now someone has noticed. Someone from the store calls police, who respond and immediately start looking for the woman. They can't find her, so they call other grocery stores and banks in the area to warn of the threat.

They keep searching, and eventually find the woman. She works for the company that maintains the ATMs and was performing routine maintenance. There was no money missing.

It's not clear why or what alarm when off, but it makes you wonder... if they didn't recognize this woman, why didn't they approach this woman before she left the store?

Tuesday, April 29

Hot Doggate evolves

Here's a tidbit reported to me by a citizen concerned both with getting information to the public, and with educating me on local politics. Apparently, way back when the city ordinances were adopted (when I was safely oblivious at Skidmore), Thomas "I didn't know it was illegal to have vendors in the park" McTyuge, voted to adopt them.

Stick that in your hot dog bun and eat it.

Monday, April 28

Let's go Phishing

No, I'm not talking about the jam band.

In the past week, at least two of us here at the Saratogian have received emails from "," requesting that we visit a website and input all sorts of bank information. The site asks you to enter a log in (but, as I proved this afternoon, any old combination of number and letter will work) the next page them asks for all sorts of private information.

That's all well and good, and hopefully a person with a bit of common sense will know how to avoid the scam. At first glance, the website you're directed to looks legit, but it clearly isn't, so if you receive such an email, do not enter an personal data.

Now here's a different kind of scam that's much more entertaining. Not phishing, this scam is slightly more devious, and much more hilarious. Today I received this email:

From the desk of Roy Smith

Client Service Manager Capital Trust Bank Lagos

Nigeria desk.

Tell: +234-70-87150205

Web Fax: +1-484-784-0725

Dear Bernstein,

I will like to solicit your help in a business proposition, which is by nature very confidential and a Top Secret. I know that a transaction of this magnitude will make any one worried and apprehensive but i am assuring you not to worry, as all will be well at the end of this endeavor.

I am Mr. Roy Smith, Client Service Manager of Capital Trust Bank Plc Lagos Nigeria, My partners and I have decided to seek your help in transfer of some amount of money requiring maximum confidence from my bank. A foreigner, Late Dr. Edward Bernstein, who was an oil merchant and contractor with the Federal Government of Nigeria until his death onboard the ill fated Kenyan Airways bus {A310300} was our customer here at Capital Trust Bank and had a balance of US$32 million which the bank now expects his next of kin to claim as the beneficiary.

So far, valuable efforts has been made to get to his people but to no avail, as he had no known relatives more because he left his next of kin column in his account opening forms blank and he has no known relatives . Due to this development our management and the board of directors are making arrangements for the funds to be declared unclaimed, and subsequently paid into the federal government purse. Usually, funds of this nature end up in the greedy pockets of some politicians due to our corrupt society.

To avert this negative development my colleagues and I have decided to look for a reputable person to act as the next of kin to late Dr. Bernstein, so that the funds could be processed and released into his account, which is where you come in. We shall make arrangement with a qualified and reliable attorney that will represent you in liaising with my bank for inconveniency of you coming to my country.

All legal documents to aid your claim for this fund and to prove your relationship with the deceased will be provided by us. Your help will be appreciated with 20% of the total sum (US$6,400,000). Please accept my apologies, keep my confidence and disregard this letter if you do not appreciate this proposition I have offered you. Thank you very much for your time.

I wait anxiously for your response.

Pls get back to me through this email:

Yours faithfully

Roy Smith

Hmmm.... this guy must have sent this letter to every Bernstein between here and Kalamazoo. My reply? "Of course, I'd love to help you, but I'll need at least 80% of the profits." We'll see what their counter offer is. If they offer me 50%, I might just accept, but I'll require them to get an embarrassing tattoo.

There are a lot of scams out there. Be careful.

Sunday, April 27

John Aretakis Beat

City resident and congressional candidate in the 21st district John Aretakis issued an interesting press release on Friday. It follows:

"I respect and democratic process, however, I will not see, nor accept, the endorsement of any local or County Democratic Committee.

"I am running as real outsider, who is interested in changing how we elect our leaders, and who our leaders are beholden to. For that reason, I will not go to the Albany Democratic Committee meeting today.

"It is also my opinion that David Bosworth, who takes his marching orders from the Breslins, has been told to support Philip Steck. Frank Commisso, a mouth piece for Jerry Jennings, has been instructed to back Tracy Brooks.

"These endorsements only signify political pay back once in office."

You said it John. Now here's the real question: Is John Aretakis not seeking endorsements for the reasons he states, or is it his way of grabbing the bull by the horns -- the bulls being the fact that he will inevitably not have any endorsements, as his suits against child molesters has left him with few friends? I'll leave it up to you to puzzle over that one.

Thursday, April 24

Saratoga Yells

I've just come back from Mayor Scott Johnson's first quarterly address, called Saratoga Speaks. The topic tonight was recreation, and Mayor Johnson brought out Linda Terricola, director of recreation, to talk about the topic. After she gave an overview of all of the recreational opportunities available to city youth, several people at the forum started attacking Johnson and Terricola for taking away the outdoor field, and replacing with an indoor facility.

It seems that Saratogians will get riled up about anything. Better watch yourself next time you cross against the light. It seemed that the primary concern at last night's meeting as Terricola's assertion that the field was under utilized. Residents who live nearby said it was well utilized by children enjoying unstructured play, and a building would stop this from happening.

Well, it's been a little while since I've engaged in any kind of recreation that didn't involve a bicycle, but if I think back to my youth in Brooklyn, I recall many afternoons and evenings spent dodging cars while playing with other kids in the street. Gee, it would have been if we'd a field.

But that aside, kids in Saratoga Springs have lots of fields to choose from. There's the the East Side Rec., the recreation fields near Skidmore, and several parks throughout the city. In fact, this city is a veritable playground. To say nothing of the fact that the new facility will not cover the entire property, but will still leave some space for good old recreation on that side of the city.

There's plenty of places for the youth of this city to play outside, but what we don't have is an indoor recreation facility... hmm... So why are residents objecting to this? Your guess is as good as mine.

Wednesday, April 23

More from the Planning Board

My story for tomorrow's paper on the planning board meeting tonight focuses heavily on the Railroad Place PUD, but the board actually did three other things tonight, that I thought you might want to know about.

1) The proposed "@ Home in Saratoga" building, at 79 Henry Street, was given site plan approval, by a unanimous decision by the board. Concerns were raised that employees or patrons using an adjacent parking lot would be forced to back out onto Henry Street, risking a collision. The board made its approval contingent on the use of the lot of employees only, and that employees be directed to back in to the lot, so they can safely pull out.

2) Limoncello's Ristorante, at 1 Ballston Ave., was also granted site-plan approval for an expansion to increase the restaurant's seating capacity. Additional seating will be on an outdoor patio, and will offer views of Ballston Avenue. To handle the increased seating capacity, the restaurant's kitchen will also expand. The board made it approval contingent on a certification of adequate lighting.

3) A 4-lot subdivision at 41 Jefferson Street was approved after a 5-2 vote. Applicant Dave Jelanik originally proposed a 6-lot subdivision, but amended that application after a protracted planning board approval process. The subdivision, which abuts the west side recreation field, will be accessed by a private road, to be maintained by a de-facto homeowners association. Amy Durland and Laura Rappaport voted against the subdivision, citing concerns that zoning on Jefferson Street dictates front-facing houses, and discourages the creation of dead-ends. Both also expressed concern that there wouldn't be public access into the property.

Tuesday, April 22

Internet failure

The internet was out at work for much of the afternoon, which prevented me from blogging. For today, this interesting site of information about roundabout all over the country will have to serve fill your internet needs:

I can't vouch for the accuracy of the information, but it's interesting to read. Thank to Kyle York for the link!

Monday, April 21

Transit boondogle

*Wow. I must have been really tired yesterday. There were even more typos than usual! Please accept my apologies, and know that I've edited this story for grammar on Tuesday, April 22.

I spent most of today stuck in airports between Baltimore and Albany. So much for my quick trip down to D.C. for the holiday. As such, and combined with the effects of severe sleep deprivation, having gotten up at 3:30 this morning to catch a phantom plane, I'm pretty much out of the loop on all things city related.

I did, however, want to pass this one thing along. (And this will be reiterated in the paper later in the week). By now, we all know the story: Kathy Kahl sued the city for the right to sell hot dogs in Congress Park. The suit resulted in the ruling that no vendors are allowed to operate in Congress Park, except on special occasion, as per the city charter.

After a spat of calls to the "Sound Off" column, and, apparently, a few comments to Kathy, I just wanted to reiterate here that Kathy didn't sue the city for money, and she did not get any money as a result of the ruling. All she wanted to do was sell hot dogs, and she can't do that now, at least not in Congress Park

So, in the case of the great hot dog caper, it seems that almost everyone is a looser. People who like to eat hot dogs lose. And people who like to sell hot dogs lose.

The only people who win are the taxpayers, who are fortunate enough to have a government that enforces its own laws. So, at the end of the day, you'll have to walk about farther for your hot dog, but you'll purchase it from a vendor who complies with the city ordinances. Perhaps that will make that dog taste sweeter?

On the other hand, if the public out cry over hot dogs reaches a tumult, perhaps the city council will consider amending the ordinance currently prohibiting that dog of you dreams. See you tomorrow.

Friday, April 18

BONUS Friday Post: Aretakis to Clinton: Get Outa here

This from child abuse attorney-turned-congressional candidate John A. Aretakis:

"I am calling upon Democratic Candidate Tracy Brooks to tell Senator Hillary Clinton to drop out of the Presidential Race. Senator Clinton's relentless and deteriorating campaign continues to hurt the National Democratic Party and only serves to help John McCain and the Republican Party keep control of the White House, and the levers of maintaining an ill conceived war.

Senator Clinton has made an historic effort to secure the nomination, but the delegate math and totla votes cast make it impossible for her to overtake Senator Obama. Neutral Democrats have called for Senator Clinton to abandon her efforts to no avail, and the only apparent voice that Senator Clinton will listen to is that of her close advisor. Tell the senator that unless she wins Pennsylvania on April 22, 2008 by an overwhelming margin, she cannot obtain the nomination. All Senator Clinton can do is prevent Senator Obama from securing the nomination of the first ballot. Ms. Brooks, please tell Senator Clinton that she is splintering the Democratic Party down the middle.

Ms. Brooks, have the coverage (I think he meant 'courage') to tell your former boss and your mentor to stop hurting our party and have the courage to lead and not to follow. At least have the courage to publicly comment on a politician whom you base your entire resume on.

Senator Clinton is also employing an undisclosed effort to tap into racism in Pennsylvania that affects certain religious denominations. Pennsylvania is often described as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle. Senator Clinton has attempted to use subtle messages to remind white ethnic groups to not vote for an African American.

I will be available for comment upon request.

Thursday, April 17

Dry Cleaners... it's your responsibility

I wasn't exactly surprised to find out that there was a trade organization for dry cleaners. (See my story in Friday's paper if you don't know what I'm talking about.) But I was surprised at the level of pride representatives had for the lengths they take to protect the environment.

At least one dry cleaner here in the city is taking measures to use safer petroleum based chemicals in its machines, thereby reducing potential harm to employees, neighbors and patrons. That's good. What was interesting, however (and this is the one question not answered in my story), is that other dry cleaners in the city were less than forthcoming about the chemicals they use.

This may legitimately have been because the people who could have answered my questions were gone for the day, or it could be because they don't want to reveal the magic they use to get those tough stains out. Whatever. Any readers out there use dry cleaners should consider asking, the next time you bring your garments in for a cleaning, what type of solvent is used.

PERC is a known carcinogen, and if you're putting it next to your skin, you should, in my opinion, at least know that it's there.

I'm with holding my usual adios for the weekend message, as I'll be back tomorrow with a special bonus Friday post. There will, however, be no post on Sunday, as I'll be celebrating Passover.

Wednesday, April 16

If you think we have problems with zoning...

Via today's New York Times:

Compromise Is Reached on Harlem Rezoning

Published: April 16, 2008

The Bloomberg administration’s proposal to rezone 125th Street in Harlem cleared a major hurdle on Tuesday when the area’s three City Council members signed off on a compromise plan that would limit the height of new buildings, add moderately priced housing and provide financial aid to businesses displaced by the rezoning.

The proposal was then approved by the Council’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee in a 10-to-1 vote. The agreement between the City Planning Commission and the council members, Inez E. Dickens, Robert Jackson and Melissa Mark-Viverito, virtually assures the plan’s passage by the full City Council later this month.

The rezoning of 24 blocks of Harlem, stretching from Broadway east to Second Avenue, and from 124th to 126th Street, centers on 125th Street — a cultural touchstone for African-Americans in the city and beyond. It has led to widespread opposition in the neighborhood because of concerns that it will change the character of the low-rise street and speed gentrification in the area, including forcing out long-term businesses and low-income residents.

But Councilwoman Dickens, who represents central Harlem, and who led what she and others involved described as contentious negotiations during the past three weeks, said on Tuesday that the agreement would provide sufficient protection for the neighborhood, which is among the poorest in the city.

“This has been one of the most challenging and difficult issues that I have ever faced, personally and professionally, because the rezoning of 125th Street will change the fabric of my district, my community, my home forever,” she said. “I said if there were no protections for my community, there would be no rezoning. After many hours of deliberations, disagreements and debate, I do believe the City Planning Commission heard me loud and clear.”

The rezoning would remake 125th Street, one of the city’s liveliest streets — and home to many small businesses like clothing stores, pawn shops and hair salons — into a regional business hub with office towers and more than 2,000 new market-rate condominiums.

The compromise was reached after an all-night negotiating session that started on Monday evening. It reduces the height limit on new buildings to about 19 stories from 29; creates a $750,000 loan program to assist 71 small businesses that would probably be forced to move; and allocates about $5.8 million in improvements to Marcus Garvey Park.

Residents who spoke at recent community meetings were worried that rezoning, combined with changes already under way in the neighborhood, would soon make Harlem unrecognizable.

Among projects planned for 125th Street are at least two hotels, two shopping malls and a tower that would be the headquarters of a new Major League Baseball cable television network.

In recent years, the street — which only a decade ago was still dotted with abandoned buildings — has become home to national retail stores, including Starbucks and Old Navy, and to the offices of former President Bill Clinton. The area has also seen a flurry of new residential construction, with the average price for a new apartment hovering around $895,000.

Perhaps the most significant change to the plan reached during the Monday night negotiations is the Bloomberg administration’s agreement to expand the number of low-income residents in Harlem eligible for moderately priced housing.

As part of the federal calculation that is used by the city to determine average household income levels, a family of four earning $61,450 can qualify for low-income housing. That figure is about double the average household income in Harlem, city statistics show.

During negotiations, the Bloomberg administration agreed to set aside about 46 percent of the 3,858 new apartment units the city would allow to be built as part of the 125th Street rezoning plan to families earning no more than $30,750 a year.

“It is a milestone,” said Amanda M. Burden, the Planning Commission chairwoman. “It’s something we haven’t done before.”

Some opponents remained unsatisfied.

Erica Razook, general counsel for Voices of the Everyday People, or VOTE People, a community group opposed to the rezoning, said the last-minute concessions by the Bloomberg administration only highlighted the flawed nature of the process.

“An issue like affordable housing should not be discussed by a couple of City Council members and the Planning Commission behind closed doors — it should have been discussed publicly,” Ms. Razook said. “They waited until the last minute and then decided, ‘We’re going to try to squeeze in some stuff about affordable housing to give everyone political cover.’ ”

Tuesday, April 15

More from Council

*Correction appended, 1:35 p.m. 4/16

Space is tight in tomorrow's paper, so I'm letting some points that didn't make it in to the print edition spill over to here.

In the order in which they happened:

-Mayor Scott Johnson appointed one new member to the Design Review Commission, and two alternates. There is one remaining opening on the board, and Johnson said he hopes to announce an appointment soon. I'm not going to publish any one's name until I've confirmed spellings.

-Commissioner of Accounts John Franck received the council's approval to put revenue brought in from advertising signs on the city's parking decks into a line for parking deck maintenance, with surplus going into the capital budget for the parking decks.

-The city clerk's office will soon being selling CDTA "swiper cards" these are currently available at the train station, so this will be the first downtown location where the cards can be purchased.

-Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins said the city could receive as much as $300,000 to $500,000 less than the amount budgeted, after the city was overpaid in the previous fiscal year.

-The council voted down a motion to fund a budget line to give the Commissioner of Public Safety an executive Assistant. Commissioner Franck and Mayor Johnson voted against the motion. Commissioner Ivins and Scirocco voted for it. Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim was not at the meeting, as he is away on family business. Johnson explained his vote saying he had raised concerns to Kim which had not been satisfactorily resolved. The council approved funding for a similar position with the Department of Public Works in a unanimous vote.

-The council approved a motion for the mayor to enter into contract with Jablonski Construction for work on Nelson Avenue. Work will improve drainage along the road in an effort to relieve flooding in that area. Scirocco said the project was under budget, which might allow additional work to take place.

And then I had to leave to make deadline

Monday, April 14

Commissioner responds to Johnson

Ron Kim issues the following member to his department last Thursday. I retyped this document for your information, please note that any typos are mine, and not the commissioner's.

TO: All DPS Staff
FROM: Ronald Kim, Commissioner of Public Safety
CC: City Council members
DATE: April 10, 2008

Recently, the Mayor announced a radical, illegal, and ill-advised interpretation of the Charter in which he has commanded the Director of Human Resources to report directly to him regarding all personnel matter of this Department. Because this is clearly a misreading of the current charter and an unfortunate attempt to politicize the important work of ensuring the public safety of this community, I am directing until further notice that all employees of the Department of Public Safety cease and desist in any further direct communication with the Human Resources Director. I realize this is an unfortunate results given the quality assistance that Marcy Brydges has given us over the past few years, but until I can be assured that her work, professional advice and counsel to this department is confidential, it is the only proper course under the existing charter.

Please direct any questions regarding this to either Deputy Commissioner Finneran or myself.

Ron Kim
Commissioner of Public Safety

Sunday, April 13

AMD woes

You can see my long-awaited story on the county's new and improved sewer plant in tomorrow's paper. Although James DiPasquale, executive director of the sewer plant says the plant needs to expand regardless of whether or not AMD comes to town, I thought this story in Friday's New York Times (and forwarded to me by read Kyle York), might be interested to anyone following AMD's supposedly-imminent arrival.

On that note, I think a wager is in order: which will come first? A new police department here in Saratoga Springs, or AMD's gigantic microchip fabrication facility?

AMD's Chief Technology Officer Resigns

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s top technology executive is stepping down as the world's No. 2 microprocessor maker tries to recover from a sales slump triggered by prolonged product delays and tougher competition.

The Sunnyvale-based company said Friday that Chief Technology Officer Phil Hester's resignation is not connected to AMD's financial woes or its recently announced 10 percent reduction of its global work force.

Hester joined the company in 2005 after working for more than two decades at IBM Corp. and was responsible for crafting AMD's technological roadmap over the past three years.

Spokesman Rob Keosheyan declined to give further details about Hester's departure, except to say the position won't be filled because each of AMD's key business units now has its own chief technology officer -- a structure Hester helped establish.

Hester's exit comes as AMD battles to reverse steep losses and fend off a resurgent Intel Corp., AMD's much-larger rival which lost substantial market share to AMD a couple years ago as customers demanded more energy-efficient chips, but has since regained its competitive footing.

AMD continues to be hurt by Intel's new product lineup, technical glitches that have delayed its own products, and heavy costs related to its $5.6 billion acquisition of graphics chip maker ATI Technologies.

AMD's stock has reflected investors' souring sentiment, falling from over $40 in 2006 to around $6 today. AMD shares fell 26 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $6.01 Friday, a down day for many technology stocks.

One of AMD's biggest problems over the past year has been getting its new Opteron server chip -- a key to its financial recovery -- into the hands of customers.

The company's first Opteron chip in 2003 gave AMD an entrance into the lucrative server market and helped AMD steal customers from Intel.

Technical glitches in the latest generation of the chips, however, delayed their full rollout by about 8 months after their official September launch. The new Opteron chips only became widely available this week, when AMD announced that Hewlett-Packard Co. had started shipping machines with the chips inside them.

Keosheyan said Hester's office did not oversee product development -- which is the responsibility of the individual business units, which report to the CEO through different executives -- so he was not responsible for the Opteron delays.

Hester was instrumental in developing AMD's strategy around so-called ''accelerated computing,'' or teaming the microprocessor, or brain of personal computers and servers, with specialized processors to boost performance for certain tasks. Keosheyan said that initiative will continue.

AMD lost more than $3 billion in 2007 on $6 billion in sales, and warned earlier this week that first-quarter sales were lower than expected across all business lines. AMD also announced that it planned to cut 10 percent of its global work force, or about 1,600 workers out of 16,800 worldwide, in a major restructuring that's expected to be completed by September.

Intel, meanwhile, has fared better, in part because its larger size has allowed it to better absorb deep price cuts and it has made the quicker transition to a manufacturing process that lowers the cost of making each chip.

Last year the company earned almost $7 billion on more than $38 billion in sales, as it completed a major restructuring of its own triggered by the intensifying competition with AMD. Intel cut about 10,500 jobs, or 10 percent of its work force, in a move to save about $3 billion a year.

Friday, April 11

Sewer District #1

I spent the day today working on a story for the weekend about the expansion of the county sewer treatment plant expansion. You can look for it in Sunday's paper. For the story, I visited the county's treatment plant in Mechanicville. I spent about an hour walking around the plant with James DiPasquale, executive director of the sewer district.

Now, having previously visited the water treatment plant in Saratoga Springs, I can say that the process is almost frighteningly similar. The first stage at the sewer treatment plant is to remove the solids, which represents about 5% of the total sewage.

From that point, the two processes are almost identical, with the liquid flowing into the plant (be it water from a reservoir or waste from the county) sits in a series of settling pools, where water is aerated and stimulated with the aim of getting an solid waste to settle out. At both plants, the last stage is to use ultraviolet light to purify the water, before it either flows to your faucet or the Hudson River.

There is, however, one key difference. Some of the settling pools at the waste plant contain microorganisms that eat the waste. The whole process, explained DiPasquale, is designed to separate the solid from the liquid.

The really interesting thing is what they do with the solid waste they remove. It gets dumped into a gigantic incinerator four stories tall, and burned at 1,500 degrees. The incinerator wasn't running when I visited but it was still uncomfortably warm in the room housing the machine. And... ever wonder what burning shit smells like?

In order to expand the plant and rehabilitate some existing conditions without interrupting the service, contractors will build new settling tanks adjacent to existing ones. Once the new tanks go online, the older ones will temporarily shut down for rehab, and when that work is finished, the entire plant will come online.

Wednesday, April 9

More on trees

SARATOGA SPRINGS — There was a clamor when National Grid contractors showed up to prune trees along Union Ave.

The work, done to keep the trees away from the power lines, left the trees along the avenue looking rather close-cropped. After hearing concerns from several local residents Mayor Johnson met with representatives from National Grid on Wednesday.

Following the meeting, Johnson said he’d seen documents that led him to believe the work, while seemingly excessive, was conducted to national standards.

“There is a visual impact, but work was conducted within established limits,” he said, adding that the impact is “more jarring now because there are no leaves.”

When he met with National Grid, Johnson said he discussed with them special considerations within the city’s historic district, and said that the utility company was sympathetic to the city’s concerns of the visual impact. In the future, he said, the company will cut the trees back less, but will conduct the work more frequently.

While Johnson pointed out that he has little knowledge of tree care, he said that trimming the trees is necessary to protect the utility wires.

Tuesday, April 8

Trees of Union Avenue

Although I enjoy a nice tree as much as the next guy, I'm no arborist. It seems, however, that after we ran a letter in Sunday's paper, and then another one in today's paper on the same topic, I should pick up my botany guide.

The letter writers raise concerns that National Grid (and it's local contractor) is not doing a careful job of pruning trees along Union Avenue. Both writers agree that the trees need to be pruned to keep them from interfering with power lines, but question the extent to which the trees have been cut.

Union Avenue is, without a doubt, one of the most important entryways to our city, bringing visitors from Exit 14 to Congress park, by way of the Saratoga flat track. As a first-year student at Skidmore, the directions supplied by the dean of first year students brought my family's minivan along that route to Broadway, rather than the vastly more efficient exit 15 route, just to show off the lovely town. Many visitors take this route as well, and it serves to set the city's scene for each of those visitors.

That's all well-known to city residents, but the contractors doing the work have likely never had that experience. They're just trimming some trees. But it does come as a surprise that city officials wouldn't be more concerned with the apparent hack-job currently being conducted on Union Avenue. Perhaps contractors could do with a little education, not on trees, but on the importance of this gateway.

Monday, April 7

Accusations of greed: Great Escape Lawsuites get wierder

Over the weekend the law firm of Dreyer Boyajian LLP advertised in several capital-region newspapers that anyone who got sick at the Great Escape in Queensbury last month should contact them about their pending class-actions suit. (That they didn't advertise with us gives me the advantage, because I don't have to worry about pissing off some ad-sales guy with this post).

No sooner had I turned on my computer this morning than I got a fax from John Aretakis, the first lawyer to file suit in regards to this outbreak, better known for representing victims of child abuse. Arektais regularly faxes me hand written notes, penned in large, capital letters, so I can tell from across the room when I'm about to be hit with one.

Today's was a good one. Aretakis took exception with the tactics of Dreyer Boyajian, who he accused, in a letter sent to them today, of being "callous and exploitive." He writes that he is taking the high road, by representing about 25 people or families effected by the Norovirus, all of whom are friends or family.

"I actually consider what I did a favor to some families who only had a child or two vomiting for several days. My goal is to make a park where I have been a season pass holder for at least three years a safer place for children." Dreyer Boyajian, he said, are just in it to make a buck.

Aretakis has said that he took this case pro-bono, so he may have a point there, but at the same time, I have to wonder, why shouldn't Dreyer Boyajian make a buck, as long as they are serving the interests of their clients?

According to Aretakis, it's because they're giving lawyers a bad name, whereas he is working to advance the public good. He ends his letter thusly: "If you would agree to donate all of your legal fees to a charity involving abused children, I will ask the two dozen people who have hired me to change over to your firm."

Thus far, I have not seen a response from Dreyer Boyajian.

Sunday, April 6

Spring is here?

I include the question mark because the long winter has beaten me into the belief that it could snow again at any moment, but for the time being, after a storm threatened snow on Friday, it seems that spring has finally arrived.

How do I know? Well, the birds have been singing songs not heard since fall, and flocks of geese have been flying north for some time. Also, I can nearly see the grass in my shady backyard, as the last of the snow melts away.

How else do I know? On a stroll through town last night, it seemed that several restaurants, including but not limited to, Saratoga Coffee Traders, Brindisi's, The Circus Cafe, and the Stadium Cafe, were serving outside. There were throngs of people walking seven- and eight-abreast on Broadway, and the smokers on Caroline Street weren't huddling together like penguins conserving heat, but were spread out, enjoying the -- uh, fresh? -- evening's air. Also, I spotted a line of motorcycles lined up outside Uncommon Grounds, and several fancy sports cars, painted in bright primary colors, cruising town.

So, please forgive my pessimism, but it does seem that spring is finally here. It won't be long before DPW flower crews get to work making the city bloom, and I know we're all looking forward to that.

Thursday, April 3

City loans

I spent a pretty sizable chunk of my day today working on a story about the city's economic revolving loans program. You'll read all about it in tomorrow's paper, but for the time being, I though you might be interested to know that several local businesses, surely near and dear to the hearts of many saratogians, might not be around without this program, through which the city offers loans to businesses poised to create new jobs and expand the city's economy.

Here's the list:
Advantage Press ($58,000 loan at 6% over 20 years, paid off in full)
Hunter Hollow (Two loans at $66,000 and $50,000, each at 6%, one over 20 years, one over 5)
Stadium Cafe ($50,000 at 6% over 10 years)
Paul Tommell Associates ($75,000 at 5% over 5 years)
MAX Restaurant ($75,000 at 5% over 10 years)
Scallions Restaurant ($50,000 at 5% over 10 years)

The low-interest loans, which were initiated by a federal grant program, and sustained through repayment and interest, give the city the dual benefit of brining in new business (or helping existing business to expand) and creating new jobs at the low and moderate income levels. All good things. Like I said, you'll read the full story this weekend.

See you on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 2

Freedom and Liberty: John Ashcroft

John Ashcroft in Skidmore College's Gannett Auditorium

Stuck in a corner, this is what most of his talk looked like from my vantage point.
My apologies to the bald photographer.

First of all, for anyone confused about yesterday's post, it was a joke. I'm not actually setting up a bureau in City Hall. However, the last paragraph of the post, was not part of the joke, Commissioner Kim really did pull that item from the agenda. And now, on to more important matters.

One headline that was not an April Fool's Day joke (though it could have been, and would have been a really funny one), was John Ashcroft's visit to Skidmore. John Ashcroft? At Skidmore? You must be kidding, isn't that the left-leaning college better known for organizing Earth Day events and eating veggie burgers than voting for GOP candidates? Yes. The former Attorney General's visit was, without a doubt a cou for Skidmore Republicans. But it was also a cou for the entire community.

The benefit is to all of us, who had the chance to hear the speech, and gain new insights. There was, without a doubt, no bigger event in Saratoga Springs tonight than former Attorney General John Ashcroft's lecture at Skidmore College. Although Paul Post was on hand to handle our coverage of the event for the newspaper, I decided to attend as well, to A) offer my own insight into the lecture, and B) When a figure of national importance comes to town, and you can go listen for free, you go!

Having spent nearly five members as a member of the Skidmore community, I can say with certainty that tonight's lecture was the best attended event I can recall, with the only exception being the annual commencement exercises. I arrived an hour early, and the 230-seat Gannett auditorium was already filled to capacity, with students filling in the aisles and doorways, and spilling out into the hall. There were some seats reserved in the front for donors who had paid for the privilege, and the media. Of course, there weren't nearly enough seats for the six TV stations and five newspapers, so I wound up standing to the left of the podium, behind a few of the TV cameras.

I heard the other auditorium, in which the lecture was simulcast, was similarly packed. The only other I can remember getting that much turn-out, was a lecture by Daily Show correspondent Mo Rocca.

Ashcroft was everything that I would expect from a man of his stature: he was charismatic, he was engaging, he wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself, and he easily held the attention of about 600 people. The substance of his speech was his belief in the importance of defending liberty, and the USA Patriot Act, adopted in the wake of 9/11/01, which was Ashcroft's crowning achievement. Ashcroft said that laws should exist only to protect our freedom, and to make us more free. He also read Emma Lazarus's poem, inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: give me your poor, tired, hungry, etc...," calling it an important, patriotic work.

After the speech, a handful of Skidmore students had the opportunity to question Ashcroft, apparently forgetting that he is no longer a law maker. Most of the students called on were prepared with good questions. One or two were not, and got thoroughly trounced by Ashcroft, who has the benefit of a life spend steeped in government. Questions ranged from a questioning of Ashcroft's position on abortion (How can you say that laws preventing abortion expand and protect liberty?), gay rights (How can you say that laws preventing same-sex marriage expand and protect liberty?), immigration (if we need to accept more people into our country, why are we turning away so many people from our boarders?), and our mission in Iraq (How is our occupation of Iraq expanding the liberties of the Iraqi people?).

The answers were, generally, not to the liking of the audience, which was not shy about reacting with cheers to the questions and jeers to the answers. In general, Ashcroft stuck by his conservative beliefs: I believe that life begins at conception, and we need to protect the freedom and liberty of that unborn person; We're not going to take away your freedom to have any relationship you want, but marriage should be based around building the next generation; We need to help the Iraqis reach freedom by giving them the choice to choose; and I welcome more immigrants.

Ashcroft made one significant gaffe, when he referenced the national campaign. "Now Osama.. uh, oops, I mean Obama..." yeah, right. That one clearly didn't go over too well, especially not from a man who began his speech by saying the President directed him (and others) to "never let this happen again," on Sept. 12, 2001, a directive that lead to the creation of the patriot act, which Obama voted to renew as a senator.

One the whole, if the point was to more the greater conversation forward, it was a success.

Tuesday, April 1

Announcement: City Hall Bureau AND Council notes

In an effort to improve my coverage of city government and politics, The Saratogian has decided to establish a City Hall bureau.

The bureau will be located in the City Council room, and I will man it from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays. The new location will solve two important problems that I face in coverage of city politics and government: 1) City officials failing to promptly return my phone calls will now be unable to avoid me standing outside their office doors. 2) I will no longer have to endure the pain of a City Council or Planning Board meeting while sitting on an uncomfortable pew, as the bureau will be equipped with a comfy, swiveling office chair. This has the added advantage of giving me a leg-up on other reporters covering the city beat, who will not have good chairs.

Although the proposal was initially criticized by management because my old desk was already only a stone's throw from City Hall, I convinced them that being under the same roof as officials would give us an important advantage in this competitive news market.

City officials declined to comment on the new bureau, but if we can infer anything from the raised eyebrows, the new bureau might be a little to close for comfort... just where we want to be! Unfortunately, we did have to remove one of the council room's pews to accommodate my desk, which decreased the room's seating capacity, but surely citizens will appreciate the increased coverage, and will be willing to make the sacrifice.

The new bureau will open for the first time tomorrow morning. You can still reach me at my old number, 583-8729, x219, as our maintenance engineers are, at this moment, stretching a telephone chord across Lake Avenue to the council room's window. I'm looking forward to setting up the new shop, and I hope all my readers will come by and check out the new digs.

I also wanted to mention that at tonight's City Council meeting, Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim pulled from his agenda a vote on $64,012 in overtime funding for police officers working at the Racino in the absence of state troopers. Instead, Kim discussed how overtime is assigned based on seniority, and that the dollar figure was calculated after discussions with the state police, and with in the SSPD's investigative unit. Kim said the discussion would be ongoing, and that the Council could be asked to vote on the funding at a later day.