Archive for September, 2011

Pandering Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Posted: September 28, 2011 in Elections
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Inspired by Jerry Skrocki’s creative use of photoshopped imagery as commentary on local politics, I decided to try my own hand at it. I had originally thought about writing a response to Jerry’s post on the recent neighborhood meeting in the East End. However, I think the subject has been fairly well covered on Flippin Amsterdam and on Upstream Zine (which seems to have been temporarily renamed “Lapdog with Teeth” ).  So to avoid rehashing the subject myself, I offer my first ever cartoon to sum up my thoughts on the subject. 

Please do not ask me how many otherwise productive work hours were wasted creating this! And yes I snagged Jerry’s photo from his site, but I am sure he won’t mind because it’s fair use, and as compensation I’lll admit that Jerry is probably better at Photoshop than me.

‘Tis but a scratch!

Posted: September 23, 2011 in Elections
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So Bill Wills is going to continue to campaign as a write in candidate for mayor. A few thoughts on this…

Unless you have good confidence that you have significant support from the other party (ie like Joe Lieberman), a candidate running against someone on their own party runs a high risk of taking away votes from that party’s candidate. We saw this happen back in the 2009 Ward 3 Alderperson’s race.

I think it will be highly unlikely that a write-in candidate will win in this election. If his name was on the ballot, I would say he might have a chance.  Given Will’s popularity, I think he will certainly get a good number of write in votes. The question is, will he take more votes from Ann Thane or from Joe Emanuele? I would guess he would take more from Thane, but I’m not 100% sure in this scenario. Thoughts?

So what I wonder with Wills and the other candidates who lost their primaries and are still running is if they are running because of principle or pride? Sometimes 3rd party candidates who have a significant following but no chance of winning, run in order to bring attention to their specific issues, in hopes of influencing the platform of one or more of the major party candidates. Other times, well…it’s hard to say…

With the absentee ballots now counted for the primary races, the two close races now have official results. According to Manfred Phemister’s  facebook page, Ron Wierzbicki has edged out Phemister for the Democratic nomination for the controller’s race.  Also, according to Diane Hatzenbuler’s  facebook page, she has secured the Republican nomination for the 4th Ward Alderman’s race.

It’s tough to draw any concrete conclusions from the results, but I would say the strongest message sent was that folks were not happy at all with controller Heather Reynicke’s job performance, given her more than 2 to 1 defeat by newcomer Matthew Agresta. I believe the displeasure many people felt about her taking vacation time during the heated budget discussions earlier in the year was not forgotten.

In the Democratic primary for the mayoral race, Bill Wills had a solid showing, but lost with 44% of the vote versus Ann Thane’s 55%.  One could argue either way as far as what this means for Thane’s general election prospects. My “gut” instinct is this: I think there was probably as many people voting *for* Wills (as he has had a long political career in Amsterdam) as there were people voting *against* Ann Thane.  I believe there is a significant “anti-Thane” sentiment in the city, and for an incumbent candidate not to get an overwhelming majority in a primary, may signal that sentiment exists among Democratic voters.  I think Thane will have her work cut out for her this election.

As Charlie Kraebel used to say… “It will be interesting to see how this plays out” : )   Is anyone else missing the Venner Vox lately?

Speaking of Charlie, one has to wonder, as does Charlie in his September 18, 2011 column “Time to be a party pooper“,  whether the primaries are even necessary at all?  It’s peculiar to note that the only person who is now completely out of the race as a result of the primaries is Bill Wills, who is not seeking to run independently.  Charlie suggests doing away with the primaries and opening up the general election to anyone.  He hedges a bit by saying “one could argue that non-partisan voting could actually dilute a ballot and flood it with candidates who have no business being on one”, but I would say that if the same petition requirements were kept in place, you would have the exact same lineup you have now, with the addition of Wills on the ticket, who has shown he is a credible candidate.

I’ve always looked at the two-party situation as a necessary evil. By narrowing down the field of candidates, you end up giving voters a choice between a small number of candidates, so whoever wins usually enjoys a better than 50% vote. It’s always a concern when a candidate wins with less the 40% of the vote, as to whether that candidate can govern effectively. But it looks like our candidates are looking at the major party nominations as “nice to have” but not essential and are opting to jump on minor party lines if they don’t win.  So it seems to that candidates who want to run, are finding ways to run either way, and the primaries are hardly doing the job of narrowing the choices down at all.  So really, why bother? Can anyone else offer some defense of the current system?

Apathy in primary elections seems to be the norm in American culture.  But the lack of voter turnout in the Republican primary for 4th Ward Alderman was especially puzzling.  Doesn’t a candidate have to get at least 100 signatures to get on the ballot? Where were those supporters for the either of the candidates?

One also has to wonder at the continuous string of unopposed candidates for county supervisors.  Without any judgement on the candidates themselves, it seems given that Jeffrey Stark has technically secured the 2nd Ward position with less than 30 primary write in votes,  that these important offices are up for grabs by just about anyone who wants them. To me, this shows that Amsterdam’s political culture sees decisions made at the city level as more relevent than decisions made at the county level.  This factor is important to consider as part of the conversation on consolidation and shared services.  If our municipal services begin to be consolidated with county-wide services, does that not shift more of the important financial decision-making up to the county level? If consolidation is increased, will we see a corresponding  increase in interest in the county offices?  I’d be glad to hear other people’s take on this situation!

Primary Results Are In

Posted: September 13, 2011 in Elections
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At  http://www.co.montgomery.ny.us/boe/elections/2011primary/results.asp

2011 Primary Elections

Posted: September 10, 2011 in Elections
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The Primary elections are coming up September 13th.  Here’s a breakdown of the races, links to information, along with my wise and enlightening remarks : )

 Republican and Democratic Primaries for Controller’s Office

 Article from the Recorder summarizing the primaries for the Controller’s office

For the Republicans, I would have liked to see some sort of online presence from both Matthew Agresta and Heather Reynicke. The only solid campaign information I’ve read about both candidates so far has come from Recorder article mentioned above. There’s really no excuse for either of them not to have some sort of web presence.

Based on the Recorder article, Agresta is coming into the race fresh out of college, not a lot of real world experience (except for working as Mayor Thane’s confidential aid), but with plenty of energy and a desire to serve. So while you have to respect his motivation, one has to consider that fact that he would probably have a huge learning curve to deal with.  Reynicke expresses a desire to continue doing what she has been doing, and suggests reducing supervisory positions. She also points out that governmental accounting is different from commercial accounting, which might be directed at her possible Democratic challenger.

In Democratic race, I’ve found two very thorough web sites by candidates Manfred Phemister and Ron Wierzbicki.  Based on the information they’ve provided, it looks to me like a choice between someone with a commercial financial background (Phemister) and someone with a governmental financial background (Wierzbicki).

Republican Primary for 4th Ward Alderman

Article from the Recorder summarizing the primary for 4th Ward Alderman

Candidates Diane Hatzenbueler and Christina Lajeunesse both have Facebook pages. Hatzenbueler lists a good number of details as to her ideas and positions on the issues. Lajeunesse gives us a few general ideas and sentiments, but I would have to say is lacking in any specifics. It would be great to see a more in-depth platform such as what Diane presents.

Democratic and Conservative Primaries for Mayor

Article from the Recorder summarizing the primaries for the office of Mayor.

In the Democratic Primary we have incumbent Mayor Ann Thane and current 4th ward Alderman Bill Wills.  Wills is also challenging former mayor Joe Emanuele  in the Conservative Party Primary.

Thane’s web site contains a well thought out list of ideas for improving Amsterdam that together give me a strong sense of what to expect from her if re-elected.

I have yet to see any solid plan or specific ideas put in writing by Emanuele. Nothing. Nada. Zip…

I’ve gotten a better sense of Wills’ thinking from his comments on this blog and also from his interview on the Grove Street Grumble.  While I like his populist approach, and he does offer a few specific ideas, I still don’t get the sense of a well thought out action plan for city revitalization.

Will’s states in his latest letter to the editor (also posted on his Facebook page), “I hope to connect with you all so that I can better understand where we, not I, should take our City for the future.”

This is a respectable approach, however, in my view, the job of an elected official is to both represent and lead. Representing involves listening and responding. All the candidates seem to have a good sense of that. However leading requires figuring out an action plan and following through with it. This is the area that I see lacking in some of these candidate’s campaigns.

I think community meetings to help establish public policy are a great idea.  Thane also includes this idea in her platform. I might suggest that it could be a winning strategy for a mayoral candidate to hold these types of meetings first,  and then develop a platform to run on containing action plans based on the ideas from those meetings. That way the candidate can put forth ideas during their campaign that they know have good public support.

The other thing I have trouble with is when Wills states on his Facebook page “I want the City to achieve greatness and prominence once again in the Capital District.”  However in his response to the question on The Grove Street Grumble, “What actions will you take to see that Amsterdam has a viable economic plan for the future,”  the end of his response is, “Explore consolidation with the Town of Amsterdam as I see that as our future if we are to survive.” To me, these statements suggest two entirely different directions.

[Edit:  My initial perception of the phrase “consolidation with the Town of Amsterdam” was that Wills was suggesting a complete merger. There are those who advocate that idea, and that’s what I attributed his statement to. But on second thought, it may be possible the he is only referring to consolidating services, which wouldn’t necessarily be in conflict with his first statement. ] 

One last item that Wills writes that I think deserves some further thought is, “My ability to work with members of the so-called opposite party also says much. No one person/Mayor can accomplish anything without the support and approval of the Council. Any accomplishments or failures of an Administration can be attributed to the cooperation or not with others.”

Although Thane has good ideas, building consensus on the Common Council has been a struggle for her. If re-elected she may or may not end up with a council that is any more agreeable with her than the last. Having good ideas is not everything. Thane will have to be able to work toward political unity on the council in order to see many of her ideas brought about. I wonder if she has any ideas on how to do that any more effectively?

Thoughts, opinions and reflections related to the primaries are welcome in the comments section. Let’s try to focus on the positives of each candidate and keep any negatives respectful and specific to the issues!

The events of the past week have got me thinking a lot about the subject of neighborhood communities.  In the aftermath of the flood, it’s been truly inspiring for me to see neighbors helping neighbors to clean out their flood drenched garages and basements.  What gives me pause to think, however, is how very rarely we see this type of community spirit and how easily the motivation to work together as neighbors seems to wear out.  Events like graffiti and trash cleanups and efforts like the Neighborhood Watch and Association seem to get a lot of interest when they start, but continuing these efforts over any length of time seems very difficult.

The way I see it, this is because most people don’t have a need or occasion to engage regularly with their neighbors anymore. Our modern society allows us to survive quite comfortably most of the time without help from those living next to us.  Our modern forms of entertainment and the internet allow us to amuse ourselves and interact with others from the comfort of our own home. Most often we chose to engage in “community” based on our own interests and goals, which often have nothing to do with the people next door.  I’m not going to waste any words railing against these things; it’s simply the culture we live in now. I think most people like the idea of living in a friendly local neighborhood; we like to know our neighbors enough to chat with them if we happen to run into them, but beyond that, I think most people tend to want to get along on their own and not be bothered.  It seems like it’s only when problems arise that people start thinking about cooperating with their neighbors.

I think it’s because of this mindset that it’s so difficult to actually build the types of friendships that form the foundation of a real neighborhood community. I think it takes a strong sense of the potential value of a neighborhood community for someone to be motivated enough to actually devote time to working with their neighbors.

The benefits I see to living in a connected neighborhood community are both tangible and intangible. Some of the advantages I see are:

  1. Increased security – neighbors who know each other and actively watch out for each other will be able to spot and report crime much more effectively.
  2. Support in times of crisis – natural disasters, fires, etc
  3. A stronger voice in matters of public policy
  4. A deeper sense of connectedness with the area and the people you live near.

I’ve been very fortunate to work with the people who make up the Arnold Ave Area Neighborhood Watch/Association for the past two years. Within this group I have met people who truly care about their neighborhoods enough to meet consistently and wrestle with the problems affecting the area.  Although I think the true potential of this group has yet to be realized, we’ve had some good successes. We’ve worked very well with the APD, passing them information that they have responded to and they’ve given increased attention to certain areas that we’ve talked about. We’ve also had success with our “Meet Your Neighbor” events, which have brought people together to get to know each other better.

While the Mayor’s office, along with the APD, have done a commendable job getting the NW/NA effort off the ground, there is still much work to be done.  The original vision of the NW/NA, as described by the APD during their initial public meetings two years ago, has yet to be fully realized.  At these first public meetings, the attendees were eventually divided into groups based on their neighborhood, and instructed to pick their coordinators and start meeting independently. Unfortunately, for the first year, only theArnold Avegroup was able to organize and meet consistently. The Mayor’s office continued to have “city wide” NW/NA meetings which frankly, caused confusion for our area residents, as they weren’t sure what was what. It was only in the past year that organizers Jeff Chace and Phil Lyford were able to get meetings going for their neighborhoods. (Although they held their last meeting jointly.)

I think the Mayor’s office can do two things to help the NW/NA effort reach its full potential. First, I think the Mayor should re-affirm the vision for multiple groups throughout the city. Our city is small, but it is also not a village such that we can consider the entire city one “neighborhood”.  I think there is certainly a need for a city-wide organization to plan larger events like the National Night Out and the Spring Fling.  These events have been great, however I don’t believe that they are as effective at fostering neighborhood friendships as smaller, more localized events have shown to be.

Secondly, I think the Mayor’s office should switch focus from hosting large, city-wide NW/NA meetings for the general public, to facilitating meetings between group leaders so that they have a forum in which they can share ideas and resources, encourage each other, and receive guidance from city and APD officials.  This would place the responsibility of community organizing squarely on the group leaders (where it should be in order for the group to be effective), while also providing them with a much needed source of support.

A final thought: Our local officials handled the flood situation admirably this past week and it certainly brought out the best in our community.  But one has to wonder what would have happened if the damage had been more widespread? What if the tornado that ripped through Cranesville had hit the city instead? Would our government services have been enough to handle a larger disaster? A strong network of neighborhood organizations can not only make our neighborhoods more enjoyable and safer to live in, but could also serve an important role in helping people get through a major crisis.

Awkward Clarification

Posted: September 6, 2011 in Consolidation, Uncategorized

My previous blog post entitled “A Proposal for the Amsterdam Recorder” was, in fact, a satire based on two recent opinion pieces that appeared in the Recorder in regards to consolidation and shared services. I’m not sure how well this idea worked, probably because I did not get completely  over-the-top ridiculous with my suggestions. In fact,  on re-reading what I wrote, some of the ideas actually do make sense! I was amused to learn that the Leader Herald actually did print the Recorder’s papers when their power was knocked out last week. And as Diane commented, I too would be glad to get both paper’s content in the same place.  But if you found my reasoning a bit vague and somewhat patronizing, well, that was the point : )