Blogs > Saratogian Newsroom

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

Wednesday, August 17

Artsy politics

Monday, Saratoga Arts (Or the artists formerly known as the "Arts Council") Executive Director Joel Reed sent a mass e-mail that "went viral" according to the person who sent it to me Tuesday morning.
In it he accuses both parties of playing politics with 9/11 and the memorial.

"Democrats attacking a community arts project created by a rainbow coalition of artists, unions, small and large businesses, and individuals from all walks of life? Republicans minimizing the significance of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 and shunting aside a project that deeply resonates with veterans and first responders? And both throwing Saratoga Arts and the chance for community unity on 9/11 under the bus in the hope of picking up a few votes?"

I posted it at the bottom of the previous blog post, thinking of it as just another blip on the political radar. (Read the full e-mail at the bottom of the post here) Of course all of this is political -- it involves politicians, committees, city property and DECISIONS.

However, I have seen not personally seen and party or parties using it as political fodder, and Tuesday night the Democrats (who are singled out as specifically "exploiting those reasonable grounds for debate into a wedge issue and identifying this as the Mayor's project") reacted to Reed's e-mail.

"As Chair of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee I state categorically that neither the Committee nor the Executive Committee have even discussed the sculpture, its merit, its opportunity or its placement," stated Thilo Ullmann in a letter read Tuesday night by Jeff Partridge during public comment at City Council (see the full message below).

Partridge then added his own comments.

"I worked as a volunteer rescuer at that site. I dug through steel, rocks and garbage looking for survivors, or pieces of bodies which when found were placed in a five gallon bucket. I was among about 3,000 construction workers, cops, and firemen doing the same thing.
So I guess I can speak firsthand about this situation.
I can state categorically that no one within the Saratoga Springs Democratic Executive committee or the standing committee has ever raised an objection to honoring our brothers and sisters who were murdered at the World Trade Center.
You can rest assured that I would be the first one to reeducate anyone in our midst who tried to make political hay out of our national tragedy.
Mr. Reed, you've made a dreadful error and I demand an apology on behalf of all the resident of Saratoga Springs, Democrats and Republicans alike."

Next up in line for public comment was the man of the hour -- Joel Reed -- with his apology.

Later, Commissioner John Franck, the sole Democrat on the city council, also laid into Reed for his comments. "This is not politically driven," he said.

Executive Chair of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee's statement:
"Joel: I must take strong exception to your interpretation of individual (his italics) opinions as representing the Democratic Party of Saratoga Springs.
Surely all citizens of Saratoga Springs have a right to express personal opinions on any public exhibit and its placement. That so many have done so only points to insufficient outreach on your part.
As Chair of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee I state categorically that neither the Committee nor the Executive Committee have even discussed the sculpture, its merit, its opportunity or its placement.
We are not in a position to support it or oppose it.
We have not received any information beyond what each one of us has been able to glean from the public streams and media.
As I discussed with Carrie Woerner last week my PERSONAL concern is that all the necessary legal consultations have been completed and exhausted.
I do not know what the sculpture looks like, I have not searched any websites nor requisitioned any information on it or its artistic merit.
I only know it is very big.
The final decision on its citing does not rest with me or with the Democratic Committee, but squarely with the City Council.
Whatever they decide will no doubt give rise to controversy.
Remember the citing of the Carousel?
That you should decide to launch such a diatribe at this point seems to signal your surprise at the opposition that has arisen.
Any public manifestation meant to represent the feelings of all the citizens will logically bring out everybody's reaction, in favor or against.
You should have expected that, and given more time for discussion and more information to the public.

Thilo Ullmann, Chair "

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, August 16

September 11 Sculpture Saga

First off, anyone reading this should probably have first read the article on the 9/11 sculpture and the issues that have been surrounding it that ran Tuesday, Aug. 16.

Monday, Aug. 15, I met Michael Messinger and Hady Finch outside the Lake Avenue Firehouse. We waited in the rain, chatting and discussing the potential placement of the Sept. 11 memorial sculpture.
Finch and Messinger are members of the Visitors Center Heritage Area Advisory Board.
They, and another member of the board, Lance Ingmire, have been pushing to have the sculpture erected at the fire department, an alternative to putting the sculpture on the front lawn of the Visitors Center, a plan they oppose.

We were supposed to be meeting a representative from the Department of Environmental Conservation to discuss the environmental remediation that occurred at the Lake Avenue Fire Department two years ago.
Some city officials had said it may discount the site as a potential location for the memorial statue and members of the advisory board are hoping the DEC Project Manager from that project, Scott Deyette, would tell them otherwise — but that meeting never happened.
Ingmire crossed the street to meet Messinger, Finch, myself and John Betor, the retired assistant chief of the Saratoga Springs Fire Department, and informed us the meeting was canceled by the member of the DEC a little more than an hour before it was scheduled to take place for reasons the DEC representative would not specify. "He just said he could not attend the meeting," Ingmire said, adding Deyette's office had received questions from the media enquiring about the fire department site and the 9/11 memorial.
The group stood in front of the bay doors of the department, using terms like "stonewalling" to describe the canceled meeting.

Mayor Scott Johnson, who was not invited to the meeting, said he did not contact the DEC and had nothing to do with the canceled meeting. He said he believed the meeting was canceled because “The DEC did not know who they were meeting with.”
He said the term "stonewalling" and its sentiment were "inaccurate."
"The city is open to suggestions," he said. Johnson said the city has received a lot of correspondence about the sculpture. "If we were going to rush to judgment, we would be voting on it at (Tuesday night's) City Council meeting," something he said will not be happening.
Johnson said the members of the Visitors Center Heritage Area Advisory Committee were instructed not to use their official influence or membership on the advisory board to deal with any issues not involving the Visitors Center. “The Heritage Advisory Board has no jurisdiction over the Lake Avenue Fire Department,” he said.

The DEC representative could not be reached for comment as to why he canceled the meeting, but another DEC representative reached by phone Monday said the firehouse had been the site of an environmental cleanup, according to DEC Spokesperson David Winchell.
“It was a manufactured gas facility,” he said, explaining it was a plant around the end of the 19th century that converted coal into natural gas to be used for street lamps. “Every major city had them.”
He said he was unsure if there were restrictions on the deed, but that there were no longer environmental contaminants on the site.
Standing in the rain at the Fire Department, Ingmire and Finch debated the artistic and historic integrity of the sculpture.
"If you are the sculpture," Ingmire said, pointing to me, "There is a 4-by-4 transformer box to your left. Over your shoulder is a Wendy's," he said, explaining why the area is not suited to a memorial.

Meanwhile, Betor went to his car and pulled out a small vial of gray dust.
"That's ash from the World Trade Center," he said. The retired assistant chief is also a retired Army National Guardsman who was in the command center following the attack. He had the ash in his office at the fire department and said he has been meaning to drop it off at the Military Museum since he cleaned out his office.
"Everyone has a way of looking at things," he said. "Mine is quiet reflection..."
"A place to sit and cry," Ingmire adds, stressing the fire department is a better site for the monument. Betor didn't answer. Instead he walked to his car and put the ashes back.
Ingmire asked Betor if he would be interested in becoming a team member as an advocate for putting the monument at the fire department.
"I'll be a team member as an advocate for finding a better place for it," he responded.

The structure has been done for about a month and a half according to one of the artists, Noah Savett, who said he is concerned that the consideration of another site for the project will ruin its timeline.
"Any change is going to derail our 9/11 date," he said Monday.
Johnson said the date is "not a driving factor, but it is a consideration," but the idea since this sculpture's inception was to debut it on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.
Reed, Tuesday, sent out a mass email (see below) urging people to attend the Tuesday night City Council meeting in the hopes it will spur the City Council to vote and finalize the placement of the sculpture, something Johnson said will not happen Aug. 16.

Savett said he is for the placement of his and John Van Alstine's sculpture at the Visitor's Center, not only for the timeline consideration.
"I like the site; I think it gives people a lot of room to view it," he said. "I think it lends itself to be a contemplative site."
He also said a number of donors have given site-specific service donations to the project, which would be useless with a change of venue.
Savett added that while he is not a historic architecture specialist, it has been reviewed by people who are. "People much more credentialed and knowledgeable than me have vetted the proposal," he said.

The Design Review Commission, the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation have all signed off on the Visitors Center as a suitable site for the memorial.

SHIPO Opinion

Below is Joel Reed's e-mail, though I am afraid I had to change the formatting a bit to get it online like this (Posting this e-mail is not me endorsing its contents, only giving people the opportunity to read it):

Saratoga Springs' 9/11 Memorial Sculpture Might Be Sacrificed For Political Gain

Remember the 2004 presidential campaign? It was pretty nasty all around, but one ad campaign in particular left its mark on our language with the term "swiftboating." In it, an anonymously-funded group claimed that John Kerry's record as a Vietnam war hero (his Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Hearts) was built on his false representations about what happened during the months he served as Chief Officer of a Vietnam river swiftboat.

Whoever you voted for in that election, most of us agree that the swiftboat ad campaign brought American politics to a new low - it besmirched a record of service and sacrifice by twisting the historical record, presented a few unrepresentative spokespeople from a group that was his natural support base as his most vociferous opponents, and politicized accomplishments that should have been out of bounds of partisan debate.

Amazingly, the same thing has been happening in Saratoga Springs with the Tempered By Memory project. I'm not surprised that there's debate about the aesthetics of the sculpture, or about finding the most appropriate place for its installation. Those conversations are inevitable, and we even think are a benefit to the project - at Saratoga Arts we thrive on discussions about about art and its place in our community! Given the long open process we've engaged with the project, the months of public meetings and discussions we've hosted and in which we've participated, and the number, quality, and range of historical preservationists we've asked to review its placement, we think that we're on firm ground on those discussions.

We never imagined that anyone would politicize Tempered By Memory for partisan gain, but it's an election year. The party seeking to pick up seats on the City Council is exploiting those reasonable grounds for debate into a wedge issue and identifying this as the Mayor's project. A couple of artists grinding the axe of personal resentment are casting doubt on the integrity of Saratoga Arts' staff, board, and the project artists, and a handful of self-appointed community guardians who usually rally around the cry of "consult the Design Review Commission" conveniently ignore the fact that we have received the DRC's enthusiastic, unanimous support and that of other preservation experts. This handful of opponents is using party fundraisers and blogs as forums for undercutting the project.

The majority party on the City Council is aware of what the other side is saying, and up to now hasn't acted much more admirably. It seems that September 11 is for them an arbitrary date on the calendar. They dismiss the work we've done to have Tempered By Memory installed by then, and though we've been inviting public input into the project since December 2010, they say "don't rush things" and "let's appoint a committee to study it." In private conversation, they admit they're driven by fear as the election approaches, and what's most important to them is putting off any further discussion of the project until after November 8 - and after that, who knows what will happen?

Democrats attacking a community arts project created by a rainbow coalition of artists, unions, small and large businesses, and individuals from all walks of life? Republicans minimizing the significance of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 and shunting aside a project that deeply resonates with veterans and first responders? And both throwing Saratoga Arts and the chance for community unity on 9/11 under the bus in the hope of picking up a few votes?

It really is a topsy-turvey world. Please help us turn it right-side up!

If you're not familiar with the project, you can go to our website and read all about it.

If you click here, you can find some of the letters to The Saratogian that have been submitted (including ones that haven't been printed) addressing in more detail the process of artist and site selection, and giving Saratoga Arts board's perspective on why the project is so important.

Please take a moment before Tuesday afternoon to email or call your support of Tempered By Memory to the commissioners' and mayor's office; it will make a difference - if you feel that the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 and its commemoration should transcend city politics and this unique artwork should have a place in our city, ask them to stop stalling and vote to accept the project so we can keep things moving along:

Mayor Scott Johnson, 587-3550 ext.2514 -
Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco, 587-3550 ext.2561 -
Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, 587-3550 ext.2543 -
Commissioner of Finance Ken Ivins Jr., 587-3550 ext.2571 -
Commissioner of Public Safety Richard Wirth, 587-3550 ext.2627 -

Please also come to the City Council meeting on Tuesday, August 16, at 7pm, and add your voice to those we have.

Thank you! As always, call or email me if you have any questions.

Joel Reed
Saratoga Arts, Executive Director

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, August 8

Parking and the Spa City - a touchy relationship

The Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Scott Johnson and other leaders both elected and in the business sector are coming together Tuesday at 1 p.m. to discuss the city's need for parking
They will be joined by members of the Downtown Special Assessment District, the Downtown Business Association, the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation and the Saratoga Springs Convention and Tourism Bureau to discuss their plans.
According to a press release, they "have come together to form a new partnership to address the need for more parking downtown."
The specifics will be discussed tomorrow at a news conference in the city's Woodlawn Parking lot behind the Putnam Market Building off Broadway.
In addition to Johnson, Tim Mabee, chair of the board of directors of the City’s Special Assessment District, will speak about the issue.

Read the story online to find all of the details of their plan on The Saratogian tomorrow.


See Click Fix articles

Hello out there in SeeClickFix land.
After writing the article on the Gilbert Road intersection with State Route 29 (Lake Avenue) for Monday's SeeClickFix article (Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Richard Wirth adds Gilbert Road/Route 29 junction to list of intersections to address), I received this e-mail from another concerned citizen:

Allow me to add my concerns about the intersection of Gilbert Rd. and Rt. 29. As a resident of the Meadowbrook Area, we travel to the Wilton Mall area, almost daily. It is almost impossible to get from Gilbert Rd. to Weible at the "offset" intersection at Rt. 29, unless some sympathetic driver allows you "in" at Rt. 29. This intersection is exacerbated by two "green turn arrows" at the Rt. 29 and Weible intersection signal.

When all is "clear", traffic bursts out of Weible on the Green Arrow.

I have had so many "near misses" that I now go past Gilbert, to Henning Rd, (longer but safer) and enter Rt. 29 at the Henning Signal. Then turn right toward Weible and safely make the left turn since the signal is on Rt. 29 at Weible.

John Ginley
10 Winding Brook Dr.

When I spoke to Commissioner Richard Wirth, he agreed to work on getting me -- and thus you -- a follow-up story with some reports on these intersections and concerns that have been expressed to him over the last couple months through this continuing series. "Nothing is being ignored," he said, adding that as soon as the city's traffic safety control officer, Mark Benacquista, gets some free time to evaluate the issues. He has, in the past, generated reports specifically for the SeeClickFix users.
I'll keep at it, though, and make sure some there is a conclusion to some of these SeeClickFix complaints.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, August 3

Saratoga Springs may have a public beach for residents and visitors alike as early as next summer. For those who haven't read the story about it, that ran in The Saratogian Aug. 3.

But that wasn't the entirety of the story, only as much as could fit in the paper, so as I like to do in this blog, here is a little more on what is planned.

According to Mayor Scott Johnson, the priority for the park is just getting it open for the public.

As he told me, Johnson came into office and this property had already been purchased and then padlocked. He said not opening the park to the public is “unacceptable," and to that end, he said the first phase will pave and grade the access route to the beach (which at this point is a treacherous and steep dirt "road"), demolish the building that is down on the beach and generally improve some of the infrastructure there.

"We need to allow some use of this wonderful area that to date has been padlocked," he said.

Phase two is the big money phase. It will cost around $800,000, but the mayor is confident the city can get grant money to cut that cost in half. As for those who have said (some in the comments on the story and others aloud) that the grant money is still taxpayer money, Johnson said "It is not like if we don't spend this money New York State wont spend it. It is competitive and we need to try and get what is out there."

The plans for phases two and three are somewhat conflated (at least to me, although there is a Master Plan that was developed when the city acquired the property), but it will generally involve installing lighting, a kayak and other non-motorized boat launch, grills, another pavilion or two, picnic tables, stormwater upgrades, wood decking in spots, general landscaping and educational kiosks to reflect "the historical context of why this park has a connection to the city," Johnson said. "There is a lot of infrastructure stuff that needs to be addressed."

The money would also go to clearing some of the foliage blocking the view from the upper part of the three-tiered park. "If you clear that out you get a great vista of the lake," he said.

Some of the more robust planned additions that may occur later down the line (perhaps in the third phase) are: an amphitheater built into the side of the hill, utilizing the natural structure of the mid-section of the park, with bench seating for small concerts or plays, a pier jutting out into the lake people could fish off of or as Johnson described small tours could be launched from (provided a private company would do it at no cost to the city) "The idea is to have that as an option to people who would like to enjoy being on the lake but don't have a boat."