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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, September 30

Johnson's picks

I had a chance to catch up with Mayor Scott Johnson this morning. Mostly, we were talking about the indoor recreation center, but I did ask him about who he would like to see elected in the November election. There wasn't really anything surprising or unusual about his picks:

"I would back an incumbent, and I think Commissioner Ivins has done a good job, so I hope to be able to continue working with him," he said. He added that he has worked well with Democrat John Franck, who is running unopposed. "I'm glad that he is (unopposed)... I've found that he's not tied to party politics."

Johnson also noted that Public Works will be an interesting race, but doesn't give Independent Party candidate Ed Miller much of a chance. "It would be historic if a third-party challenger was able to beat an incumbent," he noted.

In the public safety race, Johnson said that he would back GOP-endorsed candidate Richard Wirth, noting that he is "very qualified, given his background."

We didn't talk about the race for County Supervisor, although I think it's fairly safe to assume that Johnson will back Matthew Veitch, and since both Veitch and Democrat Joanne Yepsen are virtually assured re-election, he may well have positive things to say about Yepsen as well -- but again, we didn't talk about that.

Like I said, no surprises here.

Tuesday, September 29

Getting ready for candidate interviews

We here at The Saratogian are getting ready to interview candidates for endorsements in the November city-wide elections. In these interviews, we expect to ask candidates a wide range of questions, on topics ranging from city finances and the state of the still-pending union contracts, to the recreation center, a possible public safety facility, parking, development, and a host of other issues.

But, we’d also like to have your input, so please post here, or email me ( questions that you’d like the candidates to address. We’ll do our best to get everyone’s questions answered.

Thursday, September 24

Why would they do this to themselves?

Yesterday's post apparently caused quite a stir. It is what it is, and I may be proven to be wrong to have posted it, or it may prove not to be that big a deal. Either way, a conversation that I had with Saratoga Springs GOP Chairman John Herrick, along with another conversation I had earlier in the day with Police Chief Ed Moore, both served as reminders that being an elected official in Saratoga Springs, or any city, I would imagine, is no picnic.

Running for office here opens you to all sorts of criticism from all sides -- people from past lives with a bone to pick, other politicians, jerks like me, etc. I do truly believe that most people who run for office do so because they want to better their community, and believe that they have the skills to do so. Surely, that can be the only motivation, as they certainly (at least not in this community) aren't doing it for the money.

Even so, that civic spirit can only go so far, and many people would rather not run for office, than subject themselves and their family to the discomfort of public life. John Herrick pointed out that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats were able to field full slates of candidates in this election. I guess it's no mystery why.

Is it fair to subject these well-intentioned people to such unpleasantness? I think the answer is yes and no. Yes those seeking office should be vetted, that the public might know who they are and what they represent. But there is a limit. I guess we're still working on defining exactly what the limit is.

Wednesday, September 23

Dispatchers to stay put?

*Added on 9/14/09 at 7:38 p.m.: Concerning point 2. I've received a voice mail from Saratoga Springs Republican Chairman John Herrick, who states that I have cast a cloud of suspicion over five Republican candidates. That was certainly not my intention, so I will state now that I do not have any reason to believe that the second-hand allegations referenced in this post are true. In fact, all accounts point to them being questionable at best, but most likely completely false. I apologize for not making that more clear. The point of this post was to let the reading public know that I have not had any contact with the person(s) making these allegations, although they are stating otherwise, apparently in a bid to give themselves more credibility. I think the reverse effect has proven to be true.

** Further updates, 11:32 p.m.: I have now spoken with Mr. Herrick, and after hearing his concerns -- namely that this post may have (or has had) the unintended effect of calling into question the character of all five GOP candidates -- I have agreed to temporarily remove point #2, pending a review by the editors here. I would like to state again that I have no reason to believe the allegations referenced in this post are true, I mentioned them here only to inform readers that I have had no contact with a woman who claims to have had lengthy conversations with me.

Couple of things to discuss tonight:

1) City officials met with Sheriff James Bowen on Wednesday. I will have a full report in Friday's paper, but the early version is that both Saratoga Springs Police Chief Ed Moore and Sheriff Bowen agree that the city would not realize significant savings in the short term by consolidating dispatch services with the county -- and that the type of service may not be the same as what exists currently. There are a few reasons for this, which will be fully enunciated in the story.

3) On Monday, we had our much-ballyhooed community meeting. I thought it was an interesting exercise, though not as "explosive" as some had told me it would be. Instead, it seemed mostly to be community groups wondering how to get their groups more and better exposure. Secretly, I was hoping that "Horatio Alger," proprietor of the iSaratoga blog, would expose his or her identity in some subtle way visible only to me. Sadly, it did not come to pass.

Nor did the droves of anonymous haters turn out in a vitriol spewing mass -- not that I expected them too. No anonymity at a community meeting, after all.

Monday, September 21

Obama wrap-up: Technology fail

By the time the DJ played Stars and Stripes forever and President Obama began shaking hands and making for the exit, Paul and I had been in the auto lap at HVCC for nearly five hours. I had been hoping to post live updates on the blog throughout the morning and during the speech, unfortunately, the temporary wifi network that HVCC had put in place for press failed at one point, came briefly back to life (for just long enough to get a second post online), and then went away for good. So, that was too bad. Most of the journalists sitting with us in the media corral had either air cards or smart phones with Internet connections, and were thus able to continue updating their online readership. Unfortunately, I have neither.

I also had no camera, as my little point-and-shoot gave itself a "lens malfunction" as we waited to be let into the venue. So, my plans to post early photos to the blog were scuttled even before the Internet failed. Oh well. I still had the low-tech and reliable pen(s) and pad to rely on.

I tried to call a few updates in through the office, but it, obviously, that wasn't possible during the meat of the event.

On the whole, the event was about what I'd expected. The lab, used for classes, had been transformed into a carefully appointed set, dressed with the trappings of high tech: photovoltaic panels, hydraulic lifts and wind turbines. Obama and Professor Jill Biden spoke from a lectern on a raised platform in the center of a garage-like building.

Paul and I arrived hours early, anticipating traffic and problems parking. We encountered neither, which, I suppose means, that we'd left early enough. Security to get into the building was not as tight as I'd expected -- about the same as you'd expect getting onto a plane, except they didn't make us take our shoes off, or take lap tops out of bags. There were more bomb-sniffing dogs, though.

Press were seated in a row of bleachers on the right side of the room. The center was full of folding seats for the 200-odd invited guests, with VIPs seated in a two separated rows at the front. A handful of invited HVCC students (maybe 30) were seated in a bleacher opposite ours. We were able to watch the event from about 100 feet away from the president. There were about 15-20 TV cameras set up on risers directly opposite the podium, at the rear of the room.

As enclosed spaces tend to do, the room got hot as it filled up. By the time the speech started, around noon, I was sweating into my sport's coat. Obama did not talk as much at GlobalFoundries and Luther Forest Technology Campus as I thought he would, focusing instead on a series of reforms aimed at making higher education more affordable and accessible. This is especially important, he said, as more jobs begin requiring two- or four-year degrees.

There was no opportunity to ask questions, and when the event ended, everyone filed out, while the press did they best we could to grab the people for quotes who we thought would be most interesting to readers. We don't get to cover events like this too often, so it was an honor to be able to cover it in the little way that I did. Paul is writing the main story for tomorrow's paper, with ancillary coverage from the rest of us. Let me know if there is any aspect you'd like more information on, and I will do my best to provide it.

Roy McDonald: Validation

"This is a great promotion of our community, nationwide; the president came to validate what we are doing here," state Sen. Roy McDonald told Andrew Bernstein shortly after the president concluded his 30-minute speech.
The president had toured HVCC before speaking. After his speech, he had a photograph taken with the students and then left.

Ready and waiting ... without Internet service

Bernstein just called in to let us know that Obama is on his way, the room is dark -- and he no longer has Internet service.
He will add to this blog as soon as service becomes available.
Check back soon.

Hector Ruiz joins the crowd at HVCC

Hector Ruiz, the head of the GlobalFoundries chip fab plant being built in Malta, in the audience awaiting the president's remarks.

Live from the auto lab 2

We are now at T-minus 90 minutes to Obama's planned arrival. The press corral is filling up, as is some of the audience seating. State Senator Roy McDonald is here, as well as Saratoga County supervisors Anita Daly, Paul Sausville, and Arthur Johnson. Dennis Brobston, of the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation, is here as well. While most of the tools that could potentially be "weaponized" seem to have been removed from their storage spaces, the room as also been accessorized

Before Paul and I got into the building we were talking with Maggie and Ryan from U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy's office, who said that Murphy, who is greating Obama at the airport, is there without any staff, as staff aren't allowed. As a result, Murphy's staff are all hanging around in the press area. What does Scott Murphy get for being cut off from his staff for a bit? He gets to fly out on Air Force One with Obama this afternoon. Staff aren't invited to that either.

Lisa Scerbo, of Organizing for America, talked to Betsy outside the event, saying that although this event is focusing on community college education and economic development, she is a big supporter of Obama's healthcare initiaitves. Betsy was assigned, by our colleagues at the Troy Record, to look for protestors, but hasn't found any so far.

Also, I'm sitting with Cloe Anello, a 13 year-old reporter with the Scholastic News, who took the day off of school in Newburgh to cover Obama.

Live from HVCC

I'm here in the automotive lab at Hudson Valley Community College. Reporter Paul Post and I got here around 8:30 this morning, along with Asst. Managing Editor Betsy Demars and photog Erica Miller. Erica and Betsy left to patrol the campus, in search of any protesters that might be on hand, or any other related stories.

Paul and I went to the lab, where we waited outside for a bit, and were then ushered into the building. We went through two security checks to get to the press parking area, and then Paul and I went through a metal detector to get into the lab.

The lab itself is an "intimate" venue. There are about 150 folding chairs set up in the front of the room, closest to the stage. The press are sitting in bleachers around the periphery. Other than the furniture they brought in, most of the space looks like what you'd expect in an automotive shop. There are lifts around, and diagrams of tools on the wall. Other touches hint at a higher-tech work that goes on here, like a few photovoltaic arrays, and the turbine pictured right now on the front page of the web site.

I was hoping to post photos from inside the lab, but my camera picked a truly terrible day to kick the bucket.

That's all for this post, check back soon!

Sunday, September 20

Obama update

I'm here in the newsroom on my day off with an important update related to President Barack Obama's visit to Hudson Valley Community College tomorrow.

Although I initially thought that I was going to be left on the sidelines for the visit, it turns out that myself and colleague Paul Post were give The Saratogian's two credentials to get inside the Hudson Valley campus automotive lab where the President will be speaking Monday.

The availability of Internet is not certain at this time, but my task for the day (along with assisting Paul and Troy Record reporters) will be to post live updates on the event right here, at The City Desk.

I promise you, readers, I will find a way to keep the blog updated and fresh throughout the morning, beginning from our arrival at the HVCC campus.

If you're planning on following the event closely, Paul and I, along with photographer Erica Miller and Asst. Managing Editor Betsy Demars are going to depart The Saratogian at 7 a.m., and should be set up in the campus by 8. Updates will begin shortly thereafter.

Stay tuned, and please join others interested in the event by posting comments here on the blog.

Friday, September 18

Ivins to Murphy: HELP

A quick procedural note: it looks as though I will be able to attend part of Monday's community meeting. Yay!


Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins Jr. today asked Congressman Murphy and Senator Gillibrand to stand with their constituents and City officials in lobbying Governor Paterson and the leadership of the State legislature to restore Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) aid to the City.

“I implore Congressman Murphy and Senator Gillibrand to lobby our State leaders on our behalf,” Commissioner Ivins said. “We cannot continue down this path and cannot ask our taxpayers to pay for services to a State facility they rarely visit. In this economy, with our revenues slumping, loss of VLT revenue will mean 2010 taxes most residents cannot afford. Our taxpayers should not be forced to balance the State’s budget woes on their backs.”

In 2007, the City of Saratoga Springs received $3,830,752 based on a formula adopted by the State legislature for all host municipalities. In 2008, the City received $3,322,274. In December 2008, Governor Paterson announced his intent for all host municipalities to receive half of the 2008 aid levels and the City budgeted $1,890,000. In March 2009, a new aid formula based on the host county’s poverty rate was created by Governor Paterson and the leadership of the State legislature. Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County are the */only/* host municipality and county to now receive zero VLT aid. As such, $135 million net win produced by the Saratoga facility was all returned back to the State coffers.

“We now have to shoulder the cost of increased services for a group of patrons who only visit for the day, without any assistance from the State,” Commissioner Ivins continued. “Raceway visitors spend money only there. They do not visit our downtown to increase our sales tax revenue or stay long enough to affect our occupancy tax to offset the cost of their visit.”

The VLT aid previously received by the City represents approximately *10% *of the City’s general fund budget and *25%* of property tax collection.


*/Attachment: Copy of letter to Congressman Murphy and Senator Gillibrand/*

Thursday, September 17

Community Meeting

As you may have already heard, The Saratogian will host a community on Monday evening. Apparently these types of things have happened before, but not during my tenure. It's looking like I won't be able to attend, as I'll be at a city budget meeting, that I asked Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins to schedule at the same time (just kidding), but for the numerous readers of this blog, and the handful of anonymous posters who see something lacking in what we do, I welcome you to join us at this event -- it's a good chance to engage us in a dialogue about what the paper is, what it can be, and how we can better serve your needs.

Jokes about "conveniently" scheduled city meetings aside, I do wish I were going to be able to attend, I think reader interaction is a wonderful thing, and one of the best benefits of the web -- but real, inter-personal interaction is even better. Hopefully many of you will be able to attend.

The following not is from Managing Editor Barbara Lombardo:

You’re invited to an informal community get-together on Monday, Sept. 21 to meet the staff of The Saratogian, learn how we can work together to get your news in, and address any questions and concerns about any aspect of our operations.

The event will be from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Holiday Inn, 232 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. We’ll have refreshments and an opportunity to win a free full-page ad for the non-profit organization of your choice.

We’re not just The Saratogian, you know. Or did you? In the last six months, we’ve introduced three new publications in addition to The Saratogian. Two are weekly papers delivered free to homes: Ballston Spa Life for the Ballston Spa and Milton areas, and WG Life for the Wilton and Gansevoort neighborhoods. The third is a bi-weekly local entertainment paper called The Scene that’s distributed around town, separate from the daily newspaper. And we continue to produce the Community News, southern Saratoga County’s local weekly newspaper for more than 30 years.

Please RSVP for the meeting by clicking on the GOT NEWS? banner on or by calling 583-8702. Do it now, while you’re thinking about it. Make sure your organization, institution, business and neighborhood is represented. Hope you can make it.

From Barbara Lombardo, managing editor of The Saratogian.Community

Wednesday, September 16

I should be in publicicty

There's a definite twinge of fall in the air today.

Yesterday was sunny and warm. What happened? With the cooler weather, comes some seasonal infestations, including the fruit flies that seem to have taken up residence, without invitation or provocation, here in the newsroom.

But, even if there are hints of fall, as I gaze out the window at City Hall, I notice that summer's pink flowers are still giving the brick building a bit of color, before the leaves start to turn.

Speaking of leaves turning, everyone is full of questions about whether or not President Obama will visit the GlobalFoundries site at the Luther Forest Tech Campus next week. Still no word on the President's plan, but if I were him, and I were going to be standing out in the middle of a gigantic clear cut with nary a factory to be seen, I'd push the appearance back a few weeks, in hopes of appearing before a fall-hued backdrop.

Of course, the pines in Luther Forest may not allow for this, but every thing's looking a bit drab (and by drab, I am referring only to coloring, as the site is very active down there) at the moment.

Tuesday, September 15

Grand Ave. improvements

The oddly shaped intersection of Grand Avenue and Birch Street received some attention during Tuesday's City Council meeting, with an area resident speaking to the council during the Public Comment portion of the meeting.

Diana, a resident on Grand Ave., reported that while in Florida last winter police had to call to let her know that a car had left the roadway and gone into her living room. Needless to say, that constitutes a bad day.

At the same time that the Saratogian's Emily Donohue was reporting on the troubled intersection (while I was away on my vacation), the city was taking other precautions, such as putting up warning signs, and beginning a traffic study at the intersection.

At Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim noted that next steps involve a survey of the intersection, with an eye toward possibly placing some curbing in the center of the intersection, to force lower speeds. No one mentioned this at the meeting, but such an addition could also serve as a refuge for pedestrians crossing Grand Ave. Kim noted that most traffic accidents at the intersection involve people from out of town. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that drinking may also be a factor.

Monday, September 14

City Council update

Looks like a fairly mundane City Council meeting tomorrow evening. Check out the agenda here. Of course, as one of our supervisors pointed out earlier today, the mundane meetings with skimpy agendas tend to lead to more time for "discussion."

More importantly, prior to tomorrow evening Council meeting, at 6 p.m., the Commissioner of Finance will hear budget presentations from his own department, as well of that of the Mayor and Recreation. The presentations will focus on explaining any budgetary increases. This is the first of two such meetings, with the second scheduled for next Monday.

This is the first stages of the process by which next year's operating budget will be put together, and given the loss of VLT aid, it should be quite a process.

Saturday, September 12

Primary Day

Although there are not primary contests in Saratoga Springs, I wanted to note the fact that Tuesday is in fact primary day, with several races throughout the rest of the county.

county reporter Emily Donohue will be spending her time Monday and Tuesday getting ready for the multiple races, and I'll pitching in where I can. I'm assuming, of course, that there rare people who read this blog outside of Saratoga Springs, and therefore might find this post a useful reminder.

Emily will have full coverage of the hotly-contested races in Tuesday's paper.

Thursday, September 10

City Center expansion

I love this photo, which was provided today by the staff at the City Center. Obviously, someone over there is aware of Wednesday's re-release of the Beatle's work, and decided to take some Abbey Road-themed shots of the City Center's administrative staff moving to temporary offices in the Roohan buildings.

A similar photo will be on Friday's cover.

Anyway, the City Center will be breaking ground on Monday. If you're interested, you can follow progress on the City Center's blog.

In other news, there's a bit of an interesting discussion going on on yesterday's post, so I recommend you give that a read for your blogging fix.

*Photo provided by the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau.

Wednesday, September 9

Vacation's over!

I'm back, did you miss me?

Returning to work was made slightly more difficult today by the fact that my computer died on the eve of my departure. It was replaced while I was away, but the hard drive, in the process of catastrophically failing, destroyed thousands of saved emails, a few files, and all of the web sites I had book marked in my browser.

The emails, sadly, are gone for good. So, if you've ever sent me an email that you think I should have on file, please re-sent it to I'm looking at you, Kyle York.

Since I spent much my early afternoon dealing with my computer, and lamenting my lost emails, I did not get the chance to make a round of calls to the City Council, as I had planned to do. As such, I don't have much political news to share, except for one note that was left on my desk while I was a way. (There were lots of such notes, but most weren't that interesting).

A note from David Broner, a Saratoga staple known to anyone who makes a regular habit of attending City Council meetings, is very concerned about "illegally-placed" Ron Kim campaign signs.

Specifically, he is concerned about a city law that prohibits signs from being placed in the right of way. If you're curious about Mr. Broner's political leanings, you should not that while he made specific reference to Kim's signs, he didn't say anything about sings belonging to GOP candidate for Public Safety, Richard Wirth, which also seem to have cropped up around town in the week that I was away, with many placed in close proximity to Kim's signs in the right of way.

Anyhow, the specific law in question, article X, section B(2), states that "No signs shall project into the public right-of-way, except as approved by the City's Department of Public Works after consolation with the Department of Public Safety.

As I have not yet spoken to the Commissioner of Public Works, I can't say if he was consulted in regards to these candidate's signs, but I will say that I'd be surprised if he had been. Of course, I think it's safe to say that if asked, Kim would say that his department had approved his sign.

BUT, political signs, from every party and any party, are a sign of seasons, and are almost always found in various rights of way. I think it's safe to assume that before Nov. 3, many other candidates will have their signs placed in the right-of-ways around town.

What was the best part of my vacation? Leaving at the height of track season and returning with the track gone, and political season upon us. This is when it's most fun to be a reporter!