Friday, October 29, 2010

Come November III. The Congressional Race

       
Judging from the Siena Research Institute's latest sample survey results, the tide of opinion on the contest to elect a member of the United States House of Representatives for the 20th District of New York State—including GreeneLand--has turned in favor of the challenger.  As of late October, Christopher Gibson, the Republican (and Conservative) nominee, apparently led in popularity among likely voters over the incumbent, Scott Murphy, the Democratic (and Independence, and Working Families) nominee.  That marks a reversal of earlier survey findings.  It also portends, in my judgment, a result that would be unfortunate.   Here, mostly in the form of knocks on Gibson, is my rationale: 

SITE-SEEING.  For modern voters, plentiful information about contestants for elective office is readily available.  Through the News link on Google, voter can review reports of what has lately been said by and about the candidates.  Also richly illuminating, though biased, are the candidates’ campaign web sites.  Readers of Seeing Greene are directed accordingly to http://scottmurphyforcongress.com and http://chrisgibsonforcongress.com.  There they will find biographical notes that do credit to both candidates.  They will find lists and texts of endorsements. They will find “Issues” sections that illuminate differences in policy stands.  They also will find a big contrast in the depth, the substance, of the candidates' attention to current issues.   By that standard, Mr Gibson wins the prize for shallowness.


ENDORSEMENTS.   Congressman Murphy’s bid for re-election has attracted support from the editorial boards of the 20th District’s pre-eminent newspapers, The TimesUnion of Albany and The Poughkeepsie Journal, as well as from The New York Times. Also endorsing Mr Murphy’s re-election are these papers:  Bennington Banner, Glens Falls Post-Star, Oneonta Daily Star, Columbia Paper, Daily Freeman, Millbrook Independent and Lake George Mirror News.  Mr Gibson is endorsed by The New York Post, The Register-Star and its sister The Daily Mail, The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, The Saratogian and The Troy Record.  [This section was inserted on November 1] 


BAD THINKING.  At an early stage of his congressional campaign (see Daily Mail, 5/28/10), Mr Gibson reverently invoked two sentences that were made famous by Pres. Ronald Reagan: “Government is not the solution to our problems.  Government is the problem.”  A moment’s reflection suffices to expose the vapidity of those words:There is no problem that is The problem. There is no solution that is The solution. Various problems arise in communities.  Various proposals aimed at solutions are voiced.  Some of them involve positive governmental (regulatory, law-making, resource-allocating) activity; some call for removing government regulations.  To think of “government” as an It that can be The solution or The problem is worse than na├»ve.    
  
BAD CONDUCT.  In the Poughkeepsie Journal of September 26, Chris Gibson was quoted directly as saying “I would not have voted for” a bill, the Small Business Jobs Act, that had come before the House of Representatives and had been supported by Congressman Murphy.  (The reporter, Brian Tumulty, did not say where, when, or in what form Mr Gibson made that statement).  On October 13, during a videotaped joint interchange of Gibson and Murphy with the Journal’s editorial board (Poughkeepsie Journal Ed Board, 10/13/10), Mr Gibson said “I would not have voted against this bill.”  Mr Murphy voiced surprise at the latter statement, and his campaign promptly put out a news release calling attention to the apparent flip-flop.  Mr Gibson then responded by ascribing the first statement to a staff error; his spokesman has misunderstood his position, and thus had put the wrong words in his mouth. 
       Errors of that sort do occur.  What speaks ill of Mr Gibson, however—speaks ill of his character—is the fact that he did not promptly correct the alleged error.  He did not put out a clarifying statement. Even at the October 13 session (17 days later), he did not acknowledge the discrepancy and offer an explanation.
       (At the Journal encounter, following Mr Murphy’s remark about his apparent change of position on the Small Business bill, Mr Gibson falsely accused Mr Murphy of flip-flopping on “the” comprehensive health care bill. No bill that came before the House of Representatives was “the” health care bill.  As Mr Murphy pointed out, he voted against one health care bill, and voted in favor of a different, revised health care bill.  The false flip-flop charge later was trumpeted by the Gibson camp in attack advertising). 

BAD COMPANY?  Colonel Gibson’s career has encompassed not only tours of duty in combat zones but also, to an extraordinary extent, ‘civilian’ occupations.  While serving in the Army, this professional soldier officer undertook post-graduate study at Cornell University, earning Masters and Doctoral degrees in political science.  He also worked in Washington DC as a Congressional Fellow and in Palo Alto, CA, as a visiting scholar  at the Hoover Institution that is housed on the Stanford University campus.  These assignments can be regarded as exceptionally broadening experiences for a professional soldier and prospective Congressman.   They also can be viewed as red flags.  Thus:
            *As a Congressional Fellow, Mr Gibson worked in the office of Rep. Jerry Lewis, the Los Angeles-based Republican who chaired the powerful Defense Appropriations Sub-Committee of the powerful Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives.  Mr Lewis has been scored, by the non-partisan Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), year after year, as one of the “most corrupt” members of the Congress. (www.citizensforethics.org/projects/reports)
            *As a Hoover Institution resident, Mr Gibson drew inspiration and guidance from the West Coast outpost of pseudo-intellectual “neo-conservatism.”  Hoover Fellows relate to the idea of impartial objective scholarship as the Fox network relates to impartial objective news.  

BAD MEDICINE. The Murphy and Gibson campaigns present, as one would expect,  contrasting themes and prescriptions.   Mr Murphy harps on jobs—on the current scarcity of jobs, on measures that can stimulate job creation.  For Mr Murphy that emphasis is doubly appealing: it taps into a strong current of popular feeling, and it heightens the electoral appeal of a successful business enterpriser over a just-retired professional soldier.  The Gibson campaign too dwells on the urgency of economic revival.  Thus, an August fund-raising appeal alluded to “Chris' vision for less taxes, lower spending and more freedoms that will allow private sector job creation.” At a Catskill rally in August (Daily Mail, 8/24) he touted the importance of “targeted tax and regulatory relief.” Supporters hail Mr Gibson  as the candidate who will fight to “cut government spending and create jobs” (http://freedomproject.org, inviting the happy inference that the former will deliver the latter.  And at the outset of the “Issues” section of his campaign web site, Mr Gibson declares that
The single biggest issue in this campaign is the economy and the most significant difference between me and my opponent is how we facilitate private sector growth…. [This growth] is achieved by getting government out of the way.

What an easy, happy, painless cure.   Reduce tax rates, strip away government regulations, and happy days are here again. 
  Unfortunately, Mr Gibson neglects to back that prescription with testimony from reputable economists.  He does not (on the hustings or on his web site) name the more onerous, suffocating regulations.  He does not draw upon experience.  Thus, he does not suggest that the Crash of 1929, and the ensuing Great Depression, was preceded, much less caused, by a rash of tax increases or regulations.  He does not challenge the widely held view that our present economic plight was triggered mainly by the sub-prime mortgage mess—foreclosures, bankruptcies, construction freezes, job losses—whose occurrence was preceded and was indispensably expedited, for banks and investment houses, by deregulation.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Come November II

COUNTY JUDGE

GreeneLanders who vote on November 2 will be faced with a choice between two would-be successors to a long-serving and much-esteemed County (and Surrogate, and Family Court) Judge, Daniel Lalor. Each of the contestants has made a point, on several public occasions, of voicing warm praise for the other.

Standing for election on the Republican line (plus the Conservative and Independence lines) is Charles (“Chip”) Tailleur, who is the county’s Chief Assistant District Attorney. Mr Tailleur, 43, started practicing law in 1993, in the Coxsackie office of his sister Joan Tailleur. He then took up an appointment to the District Attorney’s office, and he has been Chief Assistant under successive district attorneys (Ed Cloke, Terry Wilhelm) for 14 years. He gained the Republican judicial nomination back in May after a close contest with two other candidates: Ted Hilscher (lawyer, former prosecutor, historian) and Peter Margolius (veteran, lawyer, Town Justice). Both of the out-polled candidates congratulated Mr Tailleur and praised his aptitude for the job.

The Democratic (and Working Families) nominee is David Woodin, 55, who for the past 28 years has been law clerk for GreeneLand county judges (Fromer, Battisti, Pulver and then Lalor). The “clerk” title does not convey the nature of the appointee’s duties. A judge’s clerk must be a lawyer. He or she is called upon to investigate points of law that pertain to impending cases and to assist in composing the texts of decisions. In addition to performing that work, Mr Woodin has taken as turn as president of the local bar association and has contributed substantially to State-wide projects aimed at guiding judges on sentencing and on instructions to jurors.

Both candidates can be regarded plausibly as ‘natural’ successors. Before Judge Lalor ascended to the bench, he was GreeneLand’s district attorney. The current district attorney, Mr Wilhelm, decided not to run for the Lalor seat, thereby clearing the path for his deputy. On the other side, Mr Woodin’s career has consisted of operating as a judge’s chief assistant.

Mr Tailleur’s main pitch for preferment is the fact that he has the greater experience “in the trenches,” preparing and presenting cases before judges and jurors. Mr Woodin cites his years behind the bench as “ideal preparation” for judicial service. He also suggests that Mr Tailleur’s endowments of talent plus “youth and vitality” make him eminently suitable for judicial office at a later date.

THE SIDESHOW

Some GreeneLanders have encountered recently, at traffic intersections, a man brandishing a sign urging “Vote No on Tailleur” and alluding to “Corruption.” The agitator is Robert Meringolo of Greenville, who distributes unsigned literature dwelling on matters about which he has been agitating since 2006. (For a refresher, see The Daily Mail of 4/27/06, The TimesUnion of 7/30/06, and Seeing Greene blogs of 8/23/06, 3/2/07 and 10/5/07). The Meringolo agitation is wholly independent activity. It is categorically disavowed by Mr Woodin, who told Seeing Greene“I have nothing to do with it; I wish he’d stop.”

COUNTY TREASURER

GreeneLand’s rival candidates for County Treasurer have waged contrasting campaigns. Peter Markou, 70, the Republican nominee, dwells on the extensive, relevant professional training that he has acquired in the course of a long working life. That training (apart from military service in Vietnam) includes a full career as professor of accounting and finance at North Adams State College, followed by stints as director of economic development for Greene County and for the City of Hudson, and then by election in 2007 as Catskill Town Supervisor. Upon being installed as Treasurer, Mr Markou says, his first move would be to strengthen the county’s defenses against cyberfraud. He also would instigate “financial condition analysis,” putting the county’s budget in the context of local incomes, poverty levels, welfare client numbers and real estate sales and prices.

Alan Pavese, 44, the Democratic nominee, has built his campaign upon expressions of alarm about the fiscal state of GreeneLand. In talks, in press releases, on his campaign web site (http://alanpavese.com) and in a full-page advertisement, Mr Pavese warns of a looming budget deficit (of $5-10 million), emphasizes the evaporation in recent years of reserve funds, and foresees a prospective drop in the county’s credit rating and with it an increase in its borrowing costs. Although GreeneLand’s property taxes are “way too high”--12th highest in the State, measured in relation to average incomes of residents--the revenue has not sufficed to match outlays. “We have gotten into a big financial hole” and need “new and different ways to help us get out.”

Such strictures have aroused resentment on the part of some county legislators as well as the recently retired Treasurer. In the words of county administrator Dan Frank, (Daily Mail letter of 9/30/10), the Pavese “political rhetoric” is “a slap in the face” of current county leaders. While contending that “our county desperately needs to get spending under control,” Mr Pavese neglects to give due credit for economies that were effectuated in 2009-10, to the extent of nearly $5 million in “reduced spending.” The current leaders “have substantially improved the way our county government works.”

Coupled with that rejoinder is the contention that Mr Pavese is hammering at matters over which the Treasurer exercises no control, thereby diverting attention from his meager training for the actual work. The prime qualification for Treasurer is usually regarded as accountancy. To that work, Mr Markou brings abundant experience, as did Mr Vermilyea. Mr Pavese’s vocational history, prior to his arrival in Greenville as a full-time resident in 2004, includes an electrical engineering degree and work for General Electric, followed by a Masters degree in business administration from Columbia University and eight years of work for Wall Street firms (Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston) as an equities analyst.

Mr Pavese acknowledges that the County Treasurer does not take part directly in setting tax rates, borrowing money on behalf of the county, or deciding how public funds shall be spent (except for his role as a member of the board of the Industrial Development Agency). At the same time he pledges to combine the Treasurer’s regular duties with the role of “financial traffic cop” or “watchdog” who would “make sure that taxpayers are informed about the legislature’s choices and whether they are fiscally sound.”

Mr Frank also accused Mr Pavese of being complicit with Governor David Paterson in the matter of the dispute (reviewed below) over the interim Treasurer appointment and the hold-up of funds. To that direct attack Mr Pavese responded with a full-page “Open Letter to Greene County” (Daily Mail, 10/23), categorically denying Mr Frank’s charge and accusing “incumbent county leaders” of using the governor-legislature quarrel “to promote their political goals in the Treasurer’s race.” Those leaders “appear ready to do whatever it takes to retain non-transparent use of taxpayers’ money…and to distract voters from their poor track record in managing our county’s finances.” Those leaders “approved budget deficits” over the past 7 years of $2.5 million,” drained the county’s “Rainy Day Savings Fund” in the course of five years, “exploded our county’s debt” by $10 million in the past three years, and “are committed to even further increases in our taxes next year, by as much as 25-50%.”

THE SIDESHOW

Entangled with the contest for Treasurer is a dispute between New York State’s governor, David Paterson (or his immediate staff) and GreeneLand’s legislature (or the Republican majority of thereof). The dispute concerns authority to choose an interim county treasurer, in the event that the office falls vacant before the incumbent reaches the end of his official term. That dispute almost broke out last November when the sitting Treasurer, Willis Vermilyea, announced his intention to retire at the end of 2009 rather than at the conclusion of his current term (at the end of 2010). But then Mr Vermilyea, alerted to the possibility that Governor Paterson (a Democrat) would try to fill the interim post by his appointment (of a Democrat, on the advice of the GreeneLand Democratic committee), pre-empting local appointment by the (Republican-dominated) county legislature, decided to remain in office.

On July 13 of this year, however, Mr Vermilyea re-announced his retirement, to take effect on July 31. Eight county legislators responded promptly by invoking what they construed as local-government authority to appoint an interim Treasurer. Over objections by three Democratic members to this version of legal propriety, they appointed Tom Tracey, administrative services director in the Treasurer’s office. Governor Paterson also objected. Maintaining that relevant State law puts responsibility for filling interim vacancies in county Treasurer offices (among others) in his hands, he proceeded to pick his own appointee:Alan Pavese.

The dispute over legitimacy did not produce immediately visible consequences. Mr Pavese did not force the issue by trying to occupy the Treasurer’s office; he stayed away. Staff members in the Treasurer’s office continued to do their jobs. But on October 19, an officer of the county’s Department of Social Services called the Governor’s office to ask why a routine claim for pass-through Federal money to cover June payments, a matter of $546,000, had not arrived. According to a Daily Mail report, the answer consisted of saying that the reimbursement was being withheld because of the legislators’ usurpation. That reported response triggered protests, from Democratic as well as Republican county legislators. The governor, they complained, was improperly, illegally, callously withholding money from needy DSS clients. Also triggered were threats of legal action, and communications from the county attorney, Carol Stevens, to the Governor’s legal counsel, Peter Kiernan.

The next stage of the dispute consisted of a disavowal. The governor’s communications director, Jessica Bassett, denied that the pass-through funds were being “withheld.” Instead, the delay was necessitated by an ongoing “review” aimed at determining whether the claim for reimbursement of funds expended in June by the GreeneLand DSS was signed properly, by Mr Vermilyea, or improperly, by an impostor. That message was followed a day later—October 21--by word from Mr Kiernan that the claim for June funds, dated July 26, had indeed been signed by Mr Vermilyea, just prior to his formal retirement. Mr Kiernan said it was necessary “to ensure that the duly elected Treasurer made that certification.”“Inasmuch as such claim was certified by the duly elected Treasurer of Greene County, such claim will be processed and paid.” But “a legal issue involving an important government principle is still alive,” he added, and it precludes payment of subsequent claims signed by Mr Tracey as putative interim treasurer. According to a press release from the county legislature, the unpaid July-through-August claims on behalf of the Social Services Department amount to $3.7 million.

No reference was made by Mr Kiernan to the disparity between the sum claimed for June outlays by the DSS($546.000) and the sum promised was offered.

Neither was an attempt made to explain why it took 81 days to identify a signature at the bottom of a piece of paper.

One more development came out of the dispute: the Governor promised to appoint as Greene County Treasurer, whoever wins the November 2 election. The chairman of the county legislature, Wayne Speenburgh, indicated that his colleagues will perform the same act of appointment. Those deeds (one of them? both?) mean that there will be a new County treasurer starting in early November, recognized as the legitimate signer of claims for reimbursement in advance of the start, in early January, of his elective four-year term.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Come November

In the early days of 2010, it seemed likely that for New Yorkers generally, and for Greenelanders particularly, the elections to be held on November 2 would be unusually interesting. Although there would be no contest for President of the United States, there would be incumbent-less battles for Governor and Attorney General. There would be contests for not one but two United States Senate seats. The State Comptroller, freshly in office by way of appointment in the wake of a scandal affecting his predecessor, might be an unusually vulnerable incumbent. In various parts of the State, newly-elected Democratic members of the Congress looked vulnerable. And in GreeneLand, special interest could be aroused by the fact that important offices--County Treasurer and County Judge--would be subject to election without the presence of an incumbent.

Subsequent events changed the situation. Incentives to participation dwindled. Nominating struggles on the Republican side produced candidates for Governor, for Attorney General, and for U.S. Senator who are extraordinarily weak, to the point of being repugnant. It now seems likely that voting in New York State on November 2 (and before, by absentee ballot) will be extraordinarily light, even for an non-presidential ‘off’ year. Especially disposed to abstain from voting in many districts will be Republicans who, as political moderates, recoil from “conservatives” travelling under the “tea party” banner.

In GreeneLand, moreover, voter turnout on November 2 may be kept down by a dearth of contests, as well as by the character of the active contests. State Senator James Seward and State Assemblyman Pete Lopez are unopposed for re-election. Assemblyman Tim Gordon, who represents the northernmost corner of Greeneland along with other counties or portions thereof, does have a challenger (Steve McLaughlin, Republican/Conservative) but is heavily favored. As for those incumbent-less county offices, local nominating processes yielded a different kind of deterrent to participation: rival candidates who are well credentialed, making the choice between them seem to be less than momentous.

The prospect of low turnout in New York (and of consequent survival in marginal districts for imperiled Democratic Congressmen), marks a contrast with prospects elsewhere in the country. In the 50 States, 26 governorships are held by Democrats and 24 by Republicans. In 37 States, gubernatorial elections will take place on November 2. In 19 of those States, the seat is held by a Democrat. Fierce contests in most of those cases make it likely that Republicans will add at least six governorships to their total. Meanwhile, in the United States Senate, Democrats and their allies currently hold 59 of the 100 seats; 36 seats are subject to election on November 2; and pundits foresee pro-Republican swings in five seats or more. Moreover, in the House of Representatives, the current Democratic majority (258 seats vs. 177) will shrink, in the wake of lively contests in many districts, perhaps to the point of eradication.

GOVERNOR

A mid-October sample survey by Siena Research Institute canvassers indicates that the Democratic (and Independence and Working Families) candidate, Andrew Cuomo, leads his Republican (and Conservative and Taxpayers) rival, Carl Paladino, by 37 points. Mr Cuomo also may manage to edge nominees of the Green, the Rent Is Too Damn High, the Libertarian, the Freedom, and the Anti-Prohibition (especially with regard to prostitution) parties.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

According to putative pundit Alan Chartock (newspaper column, 10/17/20), the race between State Senator Eric Schneiderman (Democrat/Independence/Working Families; “professed liberal”) and Dan Donovan (Republican/Conservative; district attorney of Staten Island), along with two minor party candidates, is “as close as can be”; it’s “a dead heat.”

Baloney. The latest Siena poll gives Schneiderman a comfortable lead: 44 to 37.

Undecided voters can learn plenty about the two candidates from their web sites, www.ericschneiderman.com and www.dandonovan.org. They will find in the former site a 59-page reform “agenda.” No equivalent is contained in the latter site (although its “Issues” section alludes to some measures as well as to goals).

A New York Times editorial recommending the election of Mr Schneiderman calls Mr Donovan "a decent man who seems ready to restore the job to the sleepy backwater it was a dozen years ago."

Three local informants who do political work in Albany (and are Democrats) tell Seeing Greene that Senator Schneiderman is exceptionally smart, knowledgeable, conscientious, and (at some cost in the way of cordial relations with colleagues) reform-minded.

COMPTROLLER

Thomas DiNapoli, the incumbent (by gubernatorial appointment in the wake of scandal that drove Alan Hevesi from office) leads the Republican challenger, Harry Wilson, by a margin (again, according to the Siena survey) of around 49 to 32.

That apparent margin points to an outcome that can be regarded plausibly, and in a non-partisan frame of mind, as regrettable.

The editorial board of The New York Times, while generally favoring candidates who belong to the Democratic Party, has endorsed Mr Wilson. So, in a novel show of consensus, have the editorial boards of The New York Daily News and The New York Post. In the words of the Times editorial (10/17), Mr DiNapoli Hevesi, formerly a State legislator, “started with little experience or knowledge of finance” and “has been a worthy caretaker.” But Mr Wilson “knows finance and is not beholden to the Democrats in control in Albany.” He went from Harvard Business School to Goldman Sachs, the Blackstone Group and Silver Point Capital, and then “helped to turn around General Motors last year.” “It is rare for someone of Mr. Wilson’s talents and expertise to compete for one of the most important and least glamorous jobs in state politics.” Mr. Wilson “promises to strengthen ethics rules, make better audits of state agencies and drastically reduce the $350 million a year in investment fees paid for the state’s pension fund.” His “investment and management skills” are “needed for New York’s financial and ethical blight.”

SENIOR U.S. SENATOR

Quick quiz: who is running against Charles Schumer for U.S. Senator?

Well, actually, formally, there are three challengers. They include Colia Clark (Green Party) and Randy Credico (Libertarian Party; Anti-Prohibition Party) as well as Jay Townsend, who is the Republican and Conservative nominee. Mr Townsend trails the incumbent by around 30 percentage points.

This huge margin has enabled Senator Schumer to divert millions of dollars in his campaign treasury to embattled colleagues in other States. That in turn will increase his leverage in the upper chamber.

JUNIOR U.S. SENATOR

Quick quiz again: Who is running against Kirsten Gillibrand for U.S. Senator?

Actually, there are several candidates: Cecile A. Lawrence (Green Party), Joseph Huff (Rent is Too Damn High), John Clifton (Libertarian), Vivia Morgan (Anti-Prohibition) and Bruce Blakeman (Tax Revolt Party), plus Joseph DioGuardi, former U.S. Representative (from Westchester County), who is sailing under the Conservative and Republicans flags (listed in that order on his web site, http://dioguardiforussenate.com) . According to various opinion surveys, Senator Gillibrand (http://kirstengillibrand.com) leads the pack by 11 percentage points or more.

That apparently comfortable lead could be regarded as surprising, given the fact that while Senator Gillibrand is the incumbent, she has not been on the senatorial ballot before. She holds her seat in consequence of a gubernatorial appointment entitling her to complete the term for which Hillary Clinton was elected before accepting appointment in 2009 as Secretary of State. Her appointment, moreover, evoked heartburnings from some Democrats (especially down-staters of the “progressive” stripe; plus Professor Chartock). In the matter of keeping contact with constituents—making appearances, communicating, listening, up and down and around the State—Senator Gillibrand has been a model of diligence. According to a lengthy profile in the November issue of Vogue magazine (“In Hillary’s Footsteps”; http://vogue.com) in addition to being slender now, she is “folksy and earnest”; and she “radiates kindness.”

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE

COUNTY JUDGE

COUNTY TREASURER

CATSKILL TOWN JUSTICE

To be continued.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Greene Delights

THE TRIUMPH. When 351 supporters of GreeneLand’s Thomas Cole National Historic site quaffed “independence cocktails” at a fund-raising feast at a Catskill estate back on the 4th of July, they celebrated, in effect, two forms of independence. They celebrated (with fireworks custom-tailored by Rick Pilatch) their country’s declaration, 344 years ago, of independence from the English Crown. They also celebrated an imminent local event: transformation of the Cole site’s governing board from a committee of the Greene County Historical Society into an independent entity.

The latter independence was not a product of rebellion. It was the culmination of developments that had been foreseen ten years ago by County Historian Raymond Beecher, who had led early phases of the campaign—the risky, expensive campaign--to rescue GreeneLand’s most important cultural landmark from ruin and oblivion; to fund and supervise the restoration; to get the home of the first distinctly American school of art designated by Federal law as a National Historic Site under management by the Historical Society; to get the place furnished and ready for visitors; to build a collection, a membership, a staff of volunteers, a program; to achieve, through ticket sales, memento sales, memberships, grants, bequests and donations, a state of solvency.

In legal terms, the first step toward separation involved the acquisition, by way of a copiously documented application, of a charter from the Board of Regents of the State Department of Education. Then came the laborious composition of a Memorandum of Understanding, whereby the Cole House would no longer receive a subsidy from the Historical Society, and the Society would transfer, to the chartered Cole House board, titles to several non-profit properties.

The accomplishment of those steps, with all the work that made them possible, was hailed by Joseph Warren, chairman of the board of the Historical Society, as one of the great “success stories” of 2009-10. “With the acquisition of Cedar Grove and the guidance and sustenance provided by the Society over the years, it is with pride that we can look upon our offspring as an asset to Greene County. This triumph is a tribute to the Society’s selfless dedication to the principles of preserving our heritage for future generations.”

EXTRA GREEN. The Bank of Greene County’s parent company, Greene County Bancorp, reports continued growth. Although the local economy is sluggish, with substantial unemployment, a slow real estate market and poor retail sales, the county’s foremost local bank has posted, for the last fiscal year (July 1, 2009-June 30, 2010) and over the latest quarter, gains in net income and in assets. The reported net income, of $4.9 million, represents a percentage gain over the previous year of 19.5. Company assets grew by $34.8 million (up 7.6%) to $495.3 million. Funds on deposit with the bank rose to $421.7 million (as compared with $399million by the end of June 2009 and with $268million back in 2006). What with the opening of a branch in Germantown, more growth is anticipated.

The bank’s president, Donald Gibson, said the year’s results “more than met our expectations.” He also mentioned in the annual report that the bank has done no sub-prime lending and has, upon due deliberation based partly on awareness of the “perilous national economy,” passed up opportunities to “acquire other banks and other bank branches.” (Don’t be astonished, though, if a branch in Ulster County—Saugerties; Kingston…) eventuates in 2011.

Among surprises in the report is the fact that the bank’s growth in assets, in transactions and in branches has not been accompanied by growth in staff. The reported number of full-time equivalent employees, as of mid-2010, was 114, down by three from mid-2009.

MEOWING. The auction of the 59 decorated fiberglass felines that ornamented the sidewalks of downtown Catskill this summer took place on September 26th and fetched more than $60,000, according to a Daily Mail report (9/29). The auction at Catskill Point and attracted more than 400 bidders and spectators. Successful bids ranged from $185 to $6000. The take fell short of last year’s total, even though the cat supply was a bit more abundant, but it may suffice to sustain the interest of prospective designers of cat figures. The 2010 designers received 30 per cent of the bid money. The rest goes to the Heart of Catskill Association (=Catskill Chamber of Commerce, the organizers) and to local non-profit good causes. www.cat-n-around.com

MOUNTAIN DREAMING. A developer from Delhi, Scott Clark, proposes to transform the old gravel mine that is off Route 23A, plus the site that once housed Camp Mayfair, just east of Hunter Village, into a resort. According to a Daily Mail report (Jim Planck; 8/17) Mr Clark envisions a 120-unit hotel, 50 townhouses, 11 single-family home lots, 42 triplexes in 14 buildings, a spa, a pool, a fitness center, and an equestrian facility. It’s all very preliminary. And it marks a contrast with ambitious proposals for resort developments (with golf courses) in Greenville and in Coxsackie; they seem to have been placed on hold.

BEAMING Our new community radio station WGXC will soon be on he air, at 90.7 on the FM dial. From the Acra headquarters and two more studios. The event will be preceded immediately by a weekend “barn raising”—technical training and celebratory events. Abundant local material (audio recordings, videotapes, reports) already is accessible on the station’s web site, www.wgxc.org

SCREENING. “Lost in the Crowd” is the title of a minute documentary made by part-time GreeneLander Susi Graf. It’s all about trans-gendered young people who are homeless in New York City. It took seven years to make and, at the International LBGT Film Festival in San Francisco recently, attracted warm critical praise (“…magical evening; “dispelled ridiculously antiquated thought forms” says Charlie Demos). To see a trailer of the doc, Google ‘Lost in the Crowd’ or ‘Susi Graf’.

SHOWING. In four shows, in three countries (Dominican Republic, Turkey, U.S.A.), creations by GreeneLand artist Vahap Avsar Funk are on display. And in Manhattan, four Chekhov plays are being blended by thespian Casey Biggs into one theatrical event to be performed by New School actors.

PADDLING. Launched in conjunction with the Great Hudson River Paddle this summer (from Corning Park in Albany, 7/29) was a new book published by GreeneLand’s Black Mountain Press (=Deborah Allen): A Kayaker’s Guide to New York’s Capital Region, by Russell Dunn. Like the two guides for Adirondack region hikers that Mr Dunn wrote with wife Barbara Delaney, this volume blends practical guidance—where to go, how to go on the Hudson and Mohawk rivers--with history. www.blackdomepress.com

WORKING and not. While the employment picture in GreeneLand still is bad, the trend is favorable, and the rate of improvement lately has been better, evidently, than in many other counties. The latest figures issued by the State’s Department of Labor apply to the month of August. The rate of unemployment (portion of “labor force” members who do not have jobs) for GreeneLand in August was 7.5 per cent. That figure is higher than for neighboring Albany and Columbia counties (6.7%; 6.8%), slightly lower than for Ulster County (7.6%), and substantially lower than for the whole country (9.5%) and for the State (8.2%). GreeneLand’s August unemployment rate was substantially better (as in lower) than in July (7.9%) and much better than in the final months of 2009 (8.3-8.6%).

SCROUNGING. Local efforts to keep the county’s Arts Council alive, amid the evaporation of accustomed government support, made some progress last weekend. On short notice, on a balmy afternoon at Beattie-Powers Place, more than 100 supporters turned ou, along with entertainers and staff members, for a happy fund-raiser that yielded, says Council manager Kay Stamer, yielded “a little over $3,000. That will buy us a few more weeks when we need it. And, we’ll need it.” The State Comptroller’s Office has stalled on approving State arts council contracts for the release of authorized funds. “We could be waiting until…December for our contracts of over $120,000. Meanwhile, we're under contract to deliver services.... It's one hell of a way for the State to stay liquid!"

WASTING. In keeping with some law or other, banks take out newspaper advertisements giving “Notice of names of persons appearing as owners of certain unclaimed funds” held by them. First Niagara Bank’s latest GreeneLand list included 12 names. Among the names were Greg Lubow, the well known attorney, and Raymond Pacifico of Cairo. Along with people named Nemeth, Knudsen, McCorry, Kubler, Deluccy and Coleman, these people are “entitled to abandoned property in amounts of fifty dollars or more.” Some are listed in the telephone book. Why not call them?

BANNING. Greene County’s legislators have imposed a ban on the sale and possession of a substance, known in some quarters as “Spice,” that is reputed to be a synthetic imitator, in terms of effect, of marijuana. That’s in Greene County, Indiana. Meanwhile, this ‘Spice’ has been added to the list of substances whose consumption is prohibited on Catskill school grounds. It is construed as an “herbal smoking and incense mixture” (also known as Silver, Genie, Smoke Skung, K2, K3…). The school board also banned “synthetic cannabinoids or cannabidiol analogs, such as daamiana” AND “power drinks” (or “high energy” drinks), heavily caffeinated, such as Red Bull, Monster and (it’s a brand name!) Cocaine. (Daily Mail, 10/14/10).

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Greene Girls

-------“Remember the Ladies,” the exhibition of paintings assembled at the Thomas Cole House in Catskill (showing until October 31; http://thomascole.org) proved to be the start of something big. Thanks to that exhibition, says Smithsonian magazine writer Judith Dobrzynski (7/21), some painters of “America’s great landscapes” are “finally getting their due.” Although they made “awe-inspiring contributions to America’s first distinctive school of art, with its “romantic sensibility, respect for balance, luminosity and love of picturesque scenery,” those artists were “unknown and forgotten to history.” They were ignored because they were women. The people who undertook to rescue those women from oblivion, the people who conceived the idea and performed the tasks of finding and borrowing and hanging the all-but-lost landscapes, the people who assembled the full-color catalogue with illuminating essays, the people run our Thomas Cole National Historic Site, started what amounts to “rewriting a chapter of American art history.”

-------They also instigated a whole season in GreeneLand of gallery shows devoted to female artists.

-------In terms of sheer volume, the foremost of those tributes took place at the BRIK gallery in Catskill (www.brikgallery.com ). Under the title “Cowgirls 3,” and with the summer's most festive opening party, entrepreneur Frank Cuthbert exhibited works by 83 (!) living artists whose common trait is, well, femaleness.

-------Directly responding to “Remember the Ladies” came “Artistic Women Past and Present: Looking Forward from the Hudson River School Tradition,” at the Catskill Mountain Foundation’s gallery in Hunter. It combined works of living female artists (Nancy Campbell, Patti Ferrara, Edith Marcik, Kate McGloughlin, Lauren Sansarecq, Kaete Brittin Shaw, Sue Story, Edith Wetzel) with works by pioneering predecessors who helped to make art a legitimate profession for women.

-------At the Astor House in Tannersville, similarly, “Today’s Ladies” was the title of the Hudson River Artists’ Guild collection of landscape by mountaintop-based female plein air painters.

-------In Catskill, the county Arts Council’s main gallery was occupied by a “Nature/Nurture” show composed of works by 11 local women (Jane Bloodgood Abrams, Mariella Bisson, Sasha Chermayeff, Linda Cross, Tasha Depp, Patti Ferrara, Claudia McNulty, Susan Togut, Christy Rupp, Olivia Stonner) who treat nature as subject, as source material, as object of scientific inquiry and/or as manifestations of the sublime. And at the same time, the upstairs gallery was festooned with what Naomi Teppich calls “Ancient Morphons”: ceramic sculptures and mixed-media draws that evoke early geological history, with special attention to the fossilized forms and textures of primordial sea creatures.

-----And down the street from the Council’s gallery, Edith Marcik of The Galleria led an assemblage of works by women who exemplify ”Contemporary Artists Inspired by the Hudson River School.”

-------Also contributing to GreeneLand’s season of female-flavored recollection was an illustrated talk given on a September Sunday, at Beattie-Powers Place in Catskill. Historian Sylvia Hassenkopf recalled the careers of Edith Howland, sculptor, and K.C. Budd, architect of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ms Budd designed (or redesigned) the Howland family’s majestic GreeneLand home, Catwalk (originally a cottage occupied by artist Charles Herbert Moore, now an art-nurturing estate owned by Purcell and Jim Palmer.
-----Moreover, at a gallery in St Louis, a summer exhibition of multimedia encaustic art featured the work of yet another GreeneLand artist of the female persuasion: Fawn Potash.

RECOGNIZED in quite another way recently was another GreeneLand woman: Stacey Fitzgerald, former bookkeeper (for 21 years) of the former Birch Hill Enterprises in Freehold. She achieved the distinction of being convicted in Greene County court of grand larceny. By forging checks and tapping the personal account of her boss, Ben Buel she plundered the firm. Under a plea bargain (as reported in the Daily Mail, 9/24) she admitted embezzling $62,000 during the firm’s final three years.

RECOGNIZED too in GreeneLand this summer were women of another sort. At the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in Palenville, worldwide home of the Cybeline Revival, convent home of the Priestesses of Cybele (www.gallae.com), August 28th was celebrated as Pagan Pride Day. Portions of the “Goddess Remembered” film trilogy were shown, and presentations were made by a Corelian Priestess from the Paranormal Society of Albany, by a Senior Druid of the Closed Grove and by the Arch Druid of the East Coast.

-------(That observance coincided with a special evening at GreeneLand’s clothing-optional nudist camp, when some guests donned garments to the extent that was suitable for participation in a lingerie fashion show. www.juniperwoods.com )

-------(GreeneLand’s Goddess-worshipping pagans, catering especially to trans-gendered adherents, differ markedly from other professed Cybelians. Another branch of the “Cybelian movement,” ostensibly with chapters in 82 countries, advocates female-dominated male-female relationships and aims “to bring about a world-wide gynocracy.” Such is the testimony of the anonymous keeper of the web site www.cybelians.com who also is the principal author of successive titles marked by way of Kinkebooks ).