Blogs > Saratogian Newsroom

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

Friday, August 28

Mid-Summer break

As this week draws mercifully to a close (not for me, but for most people), I wanted to let readers know that I will be on vacation, beginning at the end of my shift Saturday, until Tuesday, Sept. 8. And really, who knows? Maybe I'll just stay on vacation.

Just kidding. But seriously, wouldn't that be nice?

If you have any news items to report in my absence, please contact Steven Shoemaker,, of 583-8729 x221.

Steve may be posting the odd item or two here on the City Desk, but expect regular updates to resume upon my return from vacation.

For now, I'm deep into preparation for Traver's weekend. Although I'm really no fan of horse racing, it's hard to overlook how huge of an event it is, and on some level, I am looking forward to attending the track tomorrow, notebook in hand.

If you're planning on being there, please stop me and say hello. I'll be easy to spot: look for the media credential around my neck, pad and pen.

Thursday, August 27

Night shift

The clock on the computer reads 11:35 p.m. and I'm still at work. Since there was no election today, this can only mean one thing: I am filling in on the copy desk for City Editor Paul Tacket.

Although this has been a long day, I do appreciate the occasional opportunity to work on the night desk, as it reminds me of the hard work that the copy editors do on a daily basis to make sure that the stories we write all day actually make it onto the page.

I can't say that I'm looking forward to my next night on the desk, but tonight's interlude wasn't the worst thing, as sometimes it's good to walk a mile in a co-worker's shoes.

Wednesday, August 26

Election season nears

As I pointed out yesterday, in the depths of August, it's easy to forget that there is a city election just around the corner.

I was reminded of this today when talking with Mayor Scott Johnson about the status of union negotiations. The short version of the story is that negotiations with the largest union, CSEA-DPW has stalled, as the city waits for DPW to file for fact finding.

The city has been waiting for the union to take this step since May.

Johnson said he hoped the union was waiting until after November's election, thinking they might get a better deal, should Democratic candidate Ron Kim get elected Mayor.

"At the end of the day," said Johnson, "I think it's going to be me sitting across the table."

Read the full story this weekend.

Sen. Ted Kennedy passes away

As you've no doubt heard by now, Senator Ted Kennedy, of Mass., died overnight after a long struggle with brain cancer.

I'll be working on a story about how Kennedy was seen in the Saratoga Springs area, and what people here will most miss about him.

If you ever had any interactions with Kennedy, or if he made any impressions on you (positive or negative), feel free to give me a call, 583-8729 x219.

This is a story for the newspaper, so I will not be taking anonymous comments.

Tuesday, August 25

August slide

Political activity here in the city seems to have the inverse properties of molasses. While one becomes more viscous and easier to move when warm, politics and government action here in the city seems to slow to a crawl in the summer months.

In some ways, this is a good thing. For instance, when calling members of the City Council today, I was able to get four of five on the phone on the first try. The fifth called me back in a timely manner. Clearly, they aren't busy either.

Everyone is pre-occupied with the track, and the substantial happenings that go one surrounding it, and that certainly is not a bad thing.

But, it does leave this reporter longing for the days of September, when political stories will flow as freely as lite beer does now at the track. Somehow, I'll find a way to keep this blog interesting for the last week of August -- or, at least I'll try!

Saturday, August 22

23 Greenfield transfer of deed

The documents formally conveying the building at 23 Greenfield Avenue from its former owner, James Taylor, to Ron and Michelle Riggi (or rather, an LLC they created to purchase the property), was filed last week with the Saratoga County Clerk's office.

This isn't new news, but we certainly waited a long time to see the formal documentation of the sale. The purchase price was $1,225,000.

The house remains in limbo, as it no protected by a demolition moratorium put into place by the City Council earlier this summer. Of course, the Riggi's have sued the city in response.

Thursday, August 20

Congratulations to me!

Tonight is a night of celebrating here at The City Desk.

Why? Well, aside from the usual jubilation that comes with Thursday evening, mere hours ago I learned that The City Desk (henceforth TCD) has received a second-place award for blogs in the 2008-2009 New York Associated Press Association contest.

This post may be a little self indulgent, but I'm entitled. I'm proud to think that this blog has gone, in just a year and a half, from a vague notion to being the Saratogian's best-read blog, and an award winner. We were late comers to this whole Internet thing, but we're also fast learners.

I hope that over the past 420-odd posts, I have remained true to my original mission, which was, and still is, to provide a new venue for discussion of city issues, while supplementing coverage in the newspaper.

Before I take too much credit for all of this, I'd like to offer my thanks to all of my readers (about 5,600 a month and growing), who make this blog worth writing, to the many individuals who have been the subject of blog posts, who make the blog worth reading.

Last but not least, I'd like to thank Web Editor Stephen Shoemaker, who has been a tremendous help to me in wading through the ethical issues that come with maintaining a blog, providing emotional support and encouragement, and who has been (and will continue to be) instrumental to some of the best-read posts this blog has ever seen.

Thanks to you all, if you keep reading, I'll keep writing!

Thanks for indulging me, now, on to the news:

Today, in the New York State Appellate Court, third department, five justices heard arguments in the case Lebron V. Cline et al, arguments were made that could serve to force a primary on the Independence Party line in the race for Mayor of Albany, in which Democrat Mayor Jennings is running for re-election.

This case is nearly identical to one here in the city, in which three Democratic candidates are seeking to force a primary on the Independence line. Last week, Judge Steven Ferradino ruled that the Democrats' petitions were not valid because the notary collecting signatures had not administered a formal oath. This is the same issue in the Albany case.

If the five judged on the appelate court rule in favor of Cline (and Jennings, who is party to the case), Ferradino said he would allow the Saratoga case to come back before him. Saratoga County is within the third department, so precedent set at the higher court would likely apply to the Saratoga case.

There was no decision in the Albany case today, but my fly on the wall said arguments made by the pro-primary side pertained to the first amendment. Attorney said that depriving someone of an ability to vote in a primary was tantamount to stifling their freedom of expression. The justices are expected to issue a decision Friday or Monday. Stay tuned.

Of course, Jim Walsh, who represented Republicans not wanting a primary on the Independence line in Saratoga Springs, said that if the case does come back, he has other wittiness to call that will serve to disqualify the petitions.

Wednesday, August 19

Murphy checks in

U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy (D-Glens Falls) called me today, to let me know that his summer "vacation" has been well spent, with a lengthy series of "Congress on your corner" meetings with constituents. We had a bad connection, as Murphy was traveling around northern Saratoga County, but here is a few of his comments (we spoke mostly about health care):

How have the "Congress on your corners" been going?
"We’ve been having great events. People want to get out and talk about issues. It's enlightening for me to come out and talk to me about issues, it's good to hear peoples’ thoughts on things.

"The president is backpedaling a little on healthcare, have you change your views?"
"I thought we need more competition, it's going to be good for keeping prices down, I thought a public option could be helpful to doing that. I think the main thing that I spend most of my time talking about, is how do we increase efficiency to keep costs under control.

"How can we change the current system?"
"That’s where I’m really talking to people, to find out what’s not working, what do you see out there. What do you see that we can fix. People are more thoughtful, they want to know how they’re going to be impacted. I can assure everyone that the goal of reforming the system is to make everyone’s health care better."

Tuesday, August 18

Spotted in the audience

On what might have otherwise been a quiet summer evening, a few of us die-hards were at a City Council meeting.

There was nothing particularly controversial on the agenda, but there was still a sizable turnout. This, at least in part, can be attributed to the growing number of city council candidates who have been frequenting council meetings.

Tonight, I spotted Democratic Commissioner for Finance Peter Martin, and Independence candidate for Commissioner of Public Works Ed Miller in the audience.

Missing was Republican Candidate for Public Safety, Richard Wirth, who has been to more meetings than any other candidate. I think it's safe to say that by the time early fall rolls around, all of the candidates will be attending the meetings, in the interests of self-education.

Friday, August 14

Wirth running mate?

Richard Wirth, who has been endorsed by both the Republican and Independence parties to run for the post of Commissioner of Public Safety, was present at today's presentation of the 2010 capital program.

While Wirth has not said much to me about his campaign, and possible platforms, one thing was clear from the meeting today. If elected, former Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Frank Dudla will be involved.

Dudla, who was appointed to the Deputy post by former Commissioner of Public Safety Thomas Curly in 2005, continnued to serve under Kim until January 2008, when Kim bumped Dudla for Eileen Finneran.

Thursday, August 13

Herrick hails Judge's ruling

I didn't get to speak with City Republican Chairman John Herrick before I wrote the article in Thursday's paper about Judge Steven Ferradino's ruling on the Independence Party primary. As you can read in the article, the judge ruled that petitions to force a primary are not valid. The ruling could change, depending on an action in a higher court, but a primary is not likely to happen.

Herrick did, however, leave a statement for me on my voice mail, which I received this morning. In the interests of furthering this debate, I present the statement to you here:

"We filed the lawsuit as a matter of principal. There are rules that are in place to protect the integrity of elections. The Democratic Party violated those rules. People testified that Val Keehn obtained signatures, yet her name does not appear as a witness on the petition. Peter Tulin stipulated that he did not carry out the duties of a notary in obtaining the signatures. We're please that the judge threw out the petitons that were filed on behalf of Ron Kim, Peter Martin, and Kevin Connolly. I would hope that these Democratic candidates would not condone the actions of their representatives who obtained the signatures in violation of the election law. Candiates should disavow their association with these individuals that were part of the collection of signatures on the opportunity to ballot petitoins."

Wednesday, August 12

Skidmore climbs Reefer Madness rankings

In the latest ranking of the Princeton Review, Skidmore College is ranked second in the "reefer madness" category. I believe this is the highest ranking the college has seen in that category since 2003, when the college topped the list for pot smoking.

Of course, I'm sure our reporting on Skidmore students' 420 event helped the school shoot right up the list, as the rankings are determined by survey data, which is likely influenced by the perception of a college as much as it is reflective of what actually goes on there.

New city website

A co-worker just informed me that the city's new website has gone live. The URL is the same. Check it out here.

Details to follow.

Monday, August 10

Unsung heros

On Friday afternoon, as I made haste out of the city for a weekend spent downstate, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for about 30 minutes on Nelson Avenue.

For some reason that I will never understand, I thought it would be quicker to shoot across Nelson to the slip ramp between exits 13 and 14, despite the 6 o'clock hour.

Boy was I wrong. At several point, I had my car in park, engine off, in the middle of the street. There was no point in burning gas, we weren't going anywhere. I was eventually able to pull a u-turn, retreat, and make haste for exit 15. Otherwise, I think my 30 minutes could have been easily doubled or tripled.

In the thick of it all, were the low-paid civilian traffic control officers, who are in charge of keeping traffic moving, and tourists calm -- not an easy task, I assure you.

This is certainly not a glamorous job, but let me tell you, it is a necessary one, as every person leaving the track on Friday afternoon was certain that where ever they were going was much more important than where anyone else was going. There was lot of people cutting in and out, and drunk hoards walking among the cars.

Without a few traffic controllers to keep things at least somewhat orderly, it would have been a much worse scene. So here's to you!

Friday, August 7

Checking in with Mayor Johnson

*Correction appended 8/10/09 at 10:45 a.m.: When I wrote that some have been wondering when Johnson will announce his candidacy, I was referring to when he would have a formal, campaign-announcing press conference/kick-off event. He announced his candidacy in May, and there is no doubt that he is running. Sorry for the confusion.

I had the chance to sit down and chat with Mayor Scott Johnson this morning.

While anybody who has even a passing interest in politics knows that he is running for re-election, some have been wondering just when he will hold a formal event to announce his candidacy.

The answer is: after Labor Day.

It's no secret that August in Saratoga is all about one thing, and that one thing is most certainly not politics. The first thing is the track.

Not only does Johnson feel that announcing his candidacy during the track season would dilute his message, but he also feels that waiting a bit longer will give him more momentum going into the fall election season.

I also asked Johnson about the importance of the Independence Party line, and he commented that while he hasn't been directly involved in the legal fight challenging the legality of an opportunity to ballot petition, he acknowledged that the line is important, and that the Independence Party voters represent an important part of the city's electorate.

Looking farther forward, Johnson said he hopes the race between himself and Commissioner Kim will be positive, and will strive to avoid negativity and attacks that sometimes mar political campaigns.

Here's hoping!

Wednesday, August 5

Objections to primary

A quick update on the effort of some candidates to force a primary on the Independence line: Attorney James Walsh, representing Republicans who have been endorsed by the Independence line (Mayor Scott Johnson, Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins Jr., candidate for Commissioner of Public Safety Richard Wirth), has filed 31 objections to the 100-odd petitions filed in late July.

The petitions were filed by Democrats who would like to primary the seat. I'll have a full report in Friday's paper.

Tuesday, August 4

World's most unique police bike, right here in the city

Here's a nice round number for you: 410. That's the number of posts the City Desk has seen since its inception back in 2008. I missed 400, so 410 will do. No fireworks here, you have to visit Tangled in Wires for that.

But I digress.

There was lots and lots of good stuff at tonight's City Council meeting. Of course, there is not lots and lots of space for me to type away to my heart's content in tomorrow's newspaper, so I had to choose just one issue to write about.

What did I choose? The one that caught the attention of all the face-for-TV reporters who turned out with their cameras to tonight's meeting (I, by way of contrast, have a great face for a newspaper or website).

That issue is, of course, the possibility of a $2 surcharge on tickets to Live Nation concerts at SPAC. But you can read about that in the paper.

The one item that is not likely to garner any attention at all outside of this blog was the very last item on tonight's agenda. It was a last minute addition by Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim, and one that might have been overlooked by another reporter who isn't so attuned to things with two wheels and a tiny seat.

It's a little-known fact that the Saratoga Springs Police Department has what might be the most expensive police bikes in the state, if not the whole country. But, before, I start a screaming match about waste in the police department, readers should know that most of the cost of these bikes is donated.

Why such expensive rides? Serotta Competition Cycles, a world-class manufacturer of custom road and mountain bikes, has it's main fabrication facility in Geyser Crest. While some Serotta models can fetch up to $18,000+, the bikes the police department uses cost closer to $3,400, and $2,000 (the frame) is donated by Serotta to the city.

Kim's motion allowed Serotta to make said donation, while the city budgeted the remainder to purchase the bicycle's drive components, wheels, lights, and other equipment. While other police bikes (such as this one) can be had for much less, the Serottas have at least three distinct advantages: 1) They are unique, hand built, and no other police force in the world has them. 2) They are built in town, keeping money that might otherwise go out of the state right here in our own municipality. 3) As a bike shop employee, I can tell you that the Serottas will last a whole lot longer than a bargain bike.

It is not beyond the realm of reason to think that a Serotta police bike will last at least three times as long as a cheaper ride, therefore justifying the cost.

But if you ask me, I'll bet that first reason is the most important to the officers patrolling on the bikes.

Monday, August 3

Jordan Drive Stop Sign

A caller to our anonymous Sound Off line over the weekend complained that a new stop sign at the intersection of Gick Road and Jordan Drive North may not have been placed legally.

It was. There were two public hearings and an action by the City Council.

More interesting than that, however, was a brief discussion at this morning's pre-agenda meeting of the City Council. Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins asked Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim if he was going to address the Sound Off at Tuesday's council meeting.

The answer, from Kim, was "No." His reasoning is that his office is very responsive to constituents who call his office with concerns. He did not see any reason for why he should have to respond to an anonymous complainant who did not even bother to take the time to call his office.

As a firm believer that anonymous comments are not an appropriate place to raise potentially-legitimate concerns, I think that Kim is taking the correct stance. Of course, if people believe the government is breaking its own rules, they should call the newspaper, but you are not guaranteed a response from the city by doing so.