Saturday, December 10, 2011

December Droplets

BESTOWED by the Greene County Historical Society, at a Saturday ceremony in the Haines Falls Free Library, on an eminent devotee of GreeneLand history: the first-of-its-kind Jessie Van Vechten Award.  Recipient Justine Hommel is a founder of the Mountain Top Historical Society and has been its leader for 30 years, in addition to being the chief public librarian during 1957-88.  As reported in the Daily Mail (12/6) by Jim Planck—himself no mean historian--the award bears the name of a founder of the county historical society “who is probably best known for stopping the NYS Department of Transportation in the 19030s from destroying the eighteenth century stone bridge in Leeds.”  With that feat in mind, the Jessie is represented tangibly in the form of a ceramic plaque bearing a likeness of the bridge.  The plaque was commissioned by the county historical society from Frank Giorgini of Freehold, master designer and fabricator of handmade commemorative tiles.  It calls attention to achievement of historic preservation of objects as well as of records.  With that in mind, Robert Hallock, president of the county historical society, recalled at the award ceremony that Ms Hommel succeeded back in the 1980’s in dissuading the Department of Transportation from ruining the historic and esthetic character of Kaaterskill Clove by using corrugating steel instead of rocks to replace aging stonework, as well as in acquiring the long-abandoned Ulster & Delaware Railroad station in Haines Falls and restoring it for use as the Mountain Top Historical Society’s headquarters.  In addition, Ms Hommel created a film, “The Valleys, The Mountains, and the Clove,” and she has shared her knowledge of the old-time tourism industry, and of the Hudson River School of Art, with the Smithsonian Museum, National Geographic magazine, The New York Times, and public television figures.

COLE CASH.  A tiny, crude, 170-year-old pencil sketch by a 19th century artist went up for auction last week in Philadelphia.  The drawing of an ancient Roman “Arch of Nero” occupied just 15 square inches on a 32-square-inch sheet of paper.  Experts in the art trade guessed that, in view of the artist’s fame in his own time, the recent revival of interest in the artist’s work, and the known habits of collectors, this scrap of art history could fetch as much as $2000.  In fact it sold for $7500.  Another picture, "attributed" to the same artist, sold for $3275.  A third picture, a fully realized, full-sized oil painting made by the same artist, did not reach the six-figure reserve price Which serves to indicate what has come to be the market value of works by Thomas Cole (1801-48), of Catskill NY.

BETTER DAYS.  The  jobs picture, nationally and locally, has shown signs lately of improvement.  As widely reported in the news media, the national rate of unemployment dipped in November to 8.6 per cent, the lowest (=best) since March 2009.  Part of the improvement, to be sure, is due to departures from the ranks of people who are counted as belonging to the work force.  But 120,000 jobs were added, even while 20,000 government jobs were cut.  And those gains coincided with upturns in rates of factory output, construction, retail sales, and small business returns.

Consistent with the national trend, moreover, is the jobs picture in our section of the country.  The November figures have not been released yet by the State’s Labor Department, but the positive trend is evident:.
                                           10/11            9/11       10/10
  NYS                                 7.7%           7.8%          8.0%   
  Albany Co.                        6.5              6.9             6.9
  Ulster Co                           7.4              7.8             7.8
  Dutchess                            6.8              7.0             7.2
  Columbia                           6.8              7.0             7.0
  Sullivan                              8.1              8.3             8.5
  Delaware                            7.6                                8.4
  Orange                               7.2                                 7.7
  GREENE                           7.8              8.3              7.9
  Bronx*                             12.4            12.4            12.3
  Saratoga**                          5.9             6.0              6.3

   *Worst in State
   **Third best in State
Those figures also serve to confirm a persistent economic fact: in GreeneLand, it's harder than in neighboring counties to find work.

NO SPICE.  The substance known colloquially as “spice” (and as K2, Spice Gold, Spice Silver and K3), as well as synthetic marijuana, has been outlawed by Greene County’s legislators.  This happened even before the stuff, the cannaboids, had been tested by the Food & Drug Administration to learn whether the emitted smoke affects bystanders adversely.  That action was taken by the legislators of Greene County, Indiana.

SHAGGY DOG STORY.  “I was at WalMart buying a bag of Purina dog chow for my dog ,” recalls GreeneLander Eugenia Brennan Heslin (on Facebook), ”when a woman behind me in the check-out line asked if I had a dog. Why else would I be buying dog chow, RIGHT? So on impulse I told her that no, I didn't have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again, and that I probably shouldn't, because I ended up in the hospital last time, but that I'd lost 50 pounds before I awakened in intensive care, with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms. I told her that it was essentially a Perfect Diet and all you do is load your pockets with Purina Nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again.... Horrified, she asked if I ended up in intensive care because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I stepped off a curb to sniff a poodle's butt and a car hit me. I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard. Better watch what you ask me and be prepared for my answer. I have all the time in the world to think of crazy things to say…. 
     “Now that you've read this I have to confess, I copied it from someone else."

   --“The plan, which is a department level plan, has been aoporived through the commissioners level after several levels of review, outside of the public review.”
   --“The two underpinning reasons…was to help inform the public on how DEC manages deer and wanted to lay out specific strategies to improve the plan for the future.”
   --“He said he viewed the deer management plan as pushing for quality for a well balanced deer heard, allowing for the proper amount of bucks to the proper amount of does.” 
    --“For 2012, the budget decreases in revenues and expenditures, no cost of living raises, and hours cut for certain departments’ personal services where revenues have declined.”
   --“Total amount to be raised by taxes in 2012 have been figured at $1,490,345….”
   --“Bringing up the rear was Santa Claus and one of his helpers in the bucket…”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Greene Gobbling

EULOGIZED as lawyers’ lawyer, devoted husband (of Patricia Ann Murphy, for 53 years), mountaineer (Kilimanjaro; Everest), runner (of marathons), builder (of a family chapel near home), chef, conversationalist, friend to many, staunch family man (six kids, 22 grandkids), polymath (engineering, law, theology), dutiful citizen, campaigner (folksy door to door bid for election as District Attorney), eternal energetic optimist,“class act”…; by Greene County’s legislators (unanimous resolution, 9/21/11), and by a procession of lawyers and judges, addressing a plenitude of lawyers and court functionaries and kinfolk, in a Greene County Court session last Wednesday (11/25): Charles J. Brown (1933-2011), late attorney for Greene County.  As recounted by witnesses, after graduating from Notre Dame University (1955) and from Fordham Law School (1962), Mr Brown worked in New York City as a specialist in intellectual property issues.  Two experiences with Lower East Side street muggings impelled him to move with his family up-State, to Ashland, in 1971.  Starting with a solo practice in Windham, he subsequently partnered what became the foremost law firm in GreeneLand.  At the same time he worked as an assistant county attorney and then (from 1996), as County Attorney, retiring from that office in 2002.  He continued to practice privately, and to play energetically, until the onset of an 18-month battle against cancer, ending on September 14.  

DISREGARDED by prospective bidders: the recent (11/17) foreclosure auction on November 17th , on a downtown Catskill sidewalk, of the extraordinary, almost-completed Union Mills Lofts development. Turnout for the announced sale consisted of two spectators. Michael Whartenby, attorney for the plaintiff, M & T Bank of Buffalo, said his client’s bid as creditor would have been $935,000.  Which means that a solvent buyer could have acquired the complex for a few dollars more.  And which also could mean that a solvent buyer, by saving the bank the expenses of agent-hiring, taxes, maintenance and other holding costs could acquire the property now for something like $800,000.  Which could be a bargain, since the defaulting debtors originally bought the complex for $2 million and then pumped big sums into rehabilitation and conversion.  The part of the property that formerly was Orens Furniture is by far the most capacious retail space in downtown Catskill.  The part that formerly was Oren’s venerable, solid brick warehouse, fronting on Catskill Creek, is far along in being converted into nine gracious condominums, with an elevator.  But the cost of completion depends in some measure on the scale of damage inflicted by September’s flooding on the warehouse’s basement (and the wiring, etc.)--an area that once housed a night club.  The lawyer and the referee who appeared for the auction did not have a key to the place.  That is why the whole thing was conducted on the sidewalk.  And a subsequent query from Seeing Greene, about how one can get inside, did not attract an answer.  That silence fortifies, in some measure, an accusation made by the defaulting borrowers, namely, that the M & T bank “malevolently” sought to shrink the imputed value of the Union Mills project so as to make it ripe for plucking by “prized customers.” 
OFFERED IN ACRA tomorrow:  a workshop on how to “lower your energy bills this winter and make your home feel more comfortable in the process.”  The EmPower New York event, from 6 to 8pm, sponsored by the New York Energy Research & Development Authority, will be conducted by Cornell Co-operative Extension’s educator, is free, and includes a light supper, a door prize, and even an energy kit (weatherstripping, shrink window insulation, outlet and light switch gaskets...).  The deadline for registration has passed, but a telephone call to the Agroforestry Resource Center (518 828 3346) could disclose that space is still available.  Otherwise, there will be a repeat workshop on December 8. 
ON OR ABOUT THANKSGIVING DAY a century ago, republican revolutionaries in China were besieging defenders of the imperial Manchu Dynasty, European powers were entangled in conflicts that would soon trigger what came to be known as The Great War, warfare between Turkey and Syria produced the first use as an airplane as an offensive military weapon, politicians in Washington were preoccupied with anti-trust issues, and (via N.Y. Times reports):
Thomas Edison passed word along that he would not accept a Nobel Prize for physics, since he believed that such awards should go to financially struggling scientists.              
The daughter and son-in-law of Karl Marx committed suicide, leaving a note predicting “with supreme joy” that glorious future awaits the cause of “international Socialism.”   
White Star Lines commenced construction of a 1000-foot-long luxury liner, The Gigantic, sister of HMS Titanic.
Explorer Ronald Amundsen reached the South Pole.
A fire in New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company killed 148 people.
For discovering radium and polonium, Marie Curie received (and accepted) a Nobel Prize.
Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was barred by Harvard University’s overseers from giving an on-campus talk  about “Votes for Women.” 
Hunters residing in the Tarrytown NY area complained that foxes, raccoons and other animals were all taking refuge in John D. Rockefeller’s 6000-acre property in the Buttermilk Hill area, where no hunting is allowed, leaving the remaining woods empty of game.
Dr Julia Sears, head of Boston’s New Thought School, estimated that “There are enough people on the planet to-day who remember one of more of their incarnations to make it a certainty that reincarnation is a positive fact.”  She herself recalled having been a Chinaman.  Many dreams and intuitions, she affirmed, really are memories of previous lives.  “And that strange feeling that you have been somewhere before, or known some one you meet, is but an evidence that you have lived before.” Members of her 112-strong audience recalled having been Italian minstrels, German monks, and a decapitated/guillotined French noble.  


Friday, November 18, 2011

Hot Coles

MARRIED on Tuesday, November 22, 1836, by Rev. Joseph M. Phillips, at the ‘Cedar Grove’ estate/farm in Catskill, New York: Maria Bartow, to Thomas Cole.  The bride-to-be was the daughter of the late Stephen and Mary (Thompson) Bartow, and the niece of Alexander Thompson, proprietor of Cedar Grove.  The prospective bridegroom was the seventh child of James and Mary Cole, who immigrated from Lancashire, England, to the United States in 1818, when Thomas was 17 years old.   For a few years prior to the betrothal, Mr Cole lived in New York City and, part of the time, in a Cedar Grove cottage where he created a body of work, and achieved a growing reputation, as a landscape artist.
That event’s 175th anniversary will be re-enacted tomorrow (11/19), at the place--lately restored by local efforts--where it actually occurred.  Professional actors will play the principal parts, dressed in period-evoking clothing, and drawing on passages from actual letters exchanged by Thomas and Maria.   The ceremony will be based on the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and the groom’s vows will be based on Thomas Cole’s own poetry, including a passage wherein Cole rejoices in the fulfillment of his “fondest hope,” finding “that loving spirit,” “the congenial one” who “would mingle soul with my soul—mind with mind,” whereby, “like two fountains forming one deep stream whose waters clear should be divided never….”
On display beside in the bridal chamber, loaned for the occasion by the Greene County Historical Society, will be the bride’s actual wedding gown.
The re-enactment is open to the public, at no charge.  Welcoming refreshments (thanks to Crossroads Brewery of Athens) will be served at 6pm, the ceremony will start at 6:30, and a reception with wedding cake (based on a vintage recipe) will commence at 7.  Guests are invited to don “top hats and ruffles” for the occasion. Some period clothing will be available on 
             CROSSED WIRES
Lamentably, the timing of the Cole House re-enactment coincides with that of another extraordinarily attractive local event: a concert (Schubert, Debussy, Brenet, Rameau) by the distinguished pianist Raj Bhimani, performed at BRIK Gallery (473 Main St, Catskill), from 7pm on Saturday, as a benefit for the Greene County Council on the Arts. “Virtuosic, heartfelt and eloquent,” as a New York Times reviewer of Mr Bhimani’s keyboard work.

 “There was no larger force in American Art than Thomas Cole. Born in England, the artist immigrated to America in 1818 and was a successful landscape painter in the Catskills by 1825…. His paintings are featured in the collections of almost every major museum, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the National Gallery of Art, and the Musée du Louvre.” ArtInfo, 11/15/10.

COMING HOME: an original oil sketch, on wood pulp paperboard, by Thomas Cole.  It’s a modest thing, small (11 inches by 8), drawn (in pre-photography days) to capture a scene for later use in the studio composition of a fully realized landscape painting.  In this case, the scene evidently was drawn from a corner of Cole’s buckwheat field. 
The sketch is coming home as a gift from the Seattle Art Museum.  In the judgment of Patricia Junker, curator of American Art at that museum (and a 2010 speaker at Cole House), the sketch  was made two or three years before Cole died in 1848.  It was given by the Cole family to Charles G. Coffin (1857-1910), who lived on Spring Street, just across from Cole’s place at Cedar Grove.  It later found its way to Montclair NJ and thence to the Seattle museum.
The acquisition becomes one of the few original Coles that belong to Cole House. Other originals displayed there are loans, of indefinite duration, from the Greene County Historical Society, the Catskill Public Library, and Richard Sharp and Henry Martin, private collectors.

GONE HOME, at substantial expense (shipping; insurance) to owners in Cincinnati, Mitchelleville MD, Chattanooga, Springfield OH, Washington DC, Silver Spring MD, Fort Thomas KY and New York City; from Thomas Cole House, after the close of its 2011 exhibition season: 16 paintings by Robert S. Duncanson (1821-72 ), the African-American artist who was directly inspired by Thomas Cole paintings and who in his lifetime was hailed as “the best landscape painter in the West.” According to an article in The Smithsonian (Lucinda Moore; 10/19/11), the rediscovery of Duncanson as a great artist, after decades of obscurity, began in 1972 with an exhibition in Cincinnati, his home town, then gained momentum by way of several books and articles, and culminated with the Cole House exhibit entitled  “Robert S. Duncanson: The Spiritual Striving of the Freedmen’s Sons.”
That exhibit came on the heels of the 2010 season’s show that brought overdue recognition to female exemplars of  the Hudson River School of landscape painting.   
For the 2012 season, as announced in the forthcoming Cole House newsletter, the special exhibit will feature Louis Remy Mignot (1831-70) the American Creole who "began his professional career in the fold of the Hudson River School (specifically, in the Tenth Street Studio Building), painted in the Andes alongside Frederic Church, and experimented with European aestheticism toward the end of his life."  (
OPENING TOMORROW at the Columbia (SC) Museum of Art: “Nature and the Grand American Vision: Masterpieces of the Hudson River School Painters,” an exhibit sponsored by the New-York Historical Society and starring, of course, Thomas Cole.  The collection’s 45 paintings already have made lengthy stops at museums in Texas and Massachusetts, and next May they will occupy the new Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, where they will share space with “Kindred Spirits,” the Asher B. Durand picture, with Thomas Cole in the foreground, that Alice Walton bought for $35 million.  According to a preview for the Columbus SC showing, the Hudson River paintings “represent the best of a 19th-century New York art movement. That movement’s coterie of artists…gave voice to the American landscape…. The paintings of a newly established country helped establish a cultural identity.” Indeed, they were “the beginning of American art, documenting a land of so much promise and so much untapped beauty.” 

TOURING since September, to libraries and other sites around the country is "Wild Land: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting," a multi-media exhibition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  "Based on scholarship from Cedar Grove, The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, says the web site, “this emmersive [sic] and interactive exhibit will take the visitor both into the studio and into the woods.”            

OPENING on January 13 in the Louvre--yes, that place in Paris, France--will be a special exhibit of paintings by Thomas Cole and by his contemporary, Asher B. Durand.  And joined with the exhibit will be screenings of "Thomas Cole: Painter of the American Landscape," the film that was made in 2009, at various GreeneLand sites, by Cole House staff members.   

CAMDEN NJ--The works of iconic American landscape artist Thomas Cole are on display at the Stedman Gallery at the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts through Jan. 7.
 “Wild Land:  Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting” explores the works of the 19th-century artist whose visionary ideas on the natural world heralded the sense of American identity that prevails today. The exhibition, which is free of charge and open to the public, takes visitors “into the woods” and through Cole’s studio, revealing the ways in which he, and other artists of his time, pioneered cultural conversations that shaped our national landscape—intellectually, physically, and visually.  
 Through a combination of large-scale banner graphics, immersive environments, media features, and other interactive elements, “Wild Land” takes audiences on a journey with Cole through the story of his creative process. From an itinerant portrait artist to the founder of the Hudson River School, Cole transformed landscape sketches into a new vision of the American wilderness.
 The Rutgers–Camden exhibition also examines how the meaning of nature has changed over time into a source for creative and intellectual inspiration. Visitors will be invited to explore the concept of preservation and how societies come to value and live in balance with natural resources, as well as Cole’s in forging America’s identity as a nation inextricably tied to nature.
 The exhibition includes works by such contemporary American landscape painters as Michael Bartmann,Diane Burko,Daniel Chard, Randall Exon,Ann Lofquist,and Kyle Stevenson.
               --News Bulletin  (11/17/11) from Rutgers University

FORMING: a national council of authorities on American art, especially pre-modern American art, who will serve as friends of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.  A round of telephone calls to luminaries who have previously lectured at or otherwise taken part in Cole House projects yielded, in every case, a positive response: “With pleasure,” “delighted to,” “I’d be honored....”  This from curators and directors of the nation’s foremost museums and from professors of art at the most distinguished universities….  The recruits will be named in the upcoming Cole House newsletter.   

SCENERY “is a subject that to every American ought to be of surpassing interest; for, whether he beholds the Hudson mingling waters with the Atlantic — explores the central wilds of this vast continent, or stands on the margin of the distant Oregon, he is still in the midst of American scenery — it is his own land; its beauty, its magnificence, its sublimity — are all his; and how undeserving of such a birthright, if he can turn towards it an unobserving eye, an unaffected heart.” 
                                                              --Thomas Cole, 1835.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Elections &

Last Tuesday, 7963 GreeneLanders took part actively in a uniquely American exercise.  They voted in popular elections that would determine not only who would be their town-level law-makers, but also who would occupy a rich variety of extra-legislative public offices: State Supreme Court judge, district attorney, county clerk, county coroner (!), town judge, town clerk, town tax collector and town highway superintendent.
Prior to last Tuesday, moreover, 891 GreeneLanders applied to the county elections commission for absentee ballots covering all those offices, and about 700 of them actually posted those ballots (still to be counted, and potentially decisive in a couple of races).
Those voters comprised a fraction of the eligible population.  Registered to vote in GreeneLand, and classed as “active,” are 28,542 names.  In addition, 2702 names are listed as “inactive” voters (persons who are registered but failed to vote on previous occasions).   On this showing, about one out of four eligible GreeneLanders actually took part in the elections. 
Their participation, however, was uneven.  Incomplete.  Selective?  Ballots in which a vote was cast at every opportunity occasion may have been the exception rather than the norm.  Many of the voters chose, with regard to lots of office-filling exercises, to be non-voters.  And they did so for eminently cogent reasons: felt ignorance regarding the candidates; consciousness of the stupidity of filling such offices as clerk and coroner by popular election; and awareness of the futility of voting when—as was so often the case—there is only one listed candidate.
Anyhow, among the most remarkable results of Tuesday’s elections--apart from the crazy dollar cost, per vote, of  the exercise--were these:
*An incumbent town supervisor was out-polled by a political rookie.  That happened in Cairo, where John Coyne (Republican) lost to Ted Banta (Democrat) by a margin of 823 to 628.  And at the same time, the two incumbents who sought re-election to the town council went down to defeat.   One of them, Richard Lorenz, was an endorsed Democrat.  The other, Janet Schwartzenneger, a registered Republican, ran on the Independence and Reform Cairo party lines, after failing to win local Republican Party endorsement.  They were out-polled by Dan Joyce and Tony Puorro, the official Republican candidates.  But another incumbent office-holder who had been dumped by local Republicans—Tara Rumph, town clerk, listed on the Conservative and Reform Cairo party lines--won re-election.
*A write-in candidate won an office.  That was in flood-ravaged Prattsville, where the incumbent town supervisor, Kory O’Hara, received 140 votes while Alan Huggins, a former supervisor, received 155—all by painstaking write-ins at the bottom of the ballot.
(Here and elsewhere, we are citing figures published in the Press and posted at
Other candidates who waged active write-in campaigns were unsuccessful. Specifically, in New Baltimore’s contest for two town council seats, Christine Walsh garnered 244 write-in votes but that put her far down in fourth place, with victorious incumbents Chris Norris and Lisa Benway reaping 636 and 588 votes.  Similarly, Gary Maher’s 208 write-in votes for highway superintendent for New Baltimore fell short of incumbent Denis Jordan’s 751 regular votes. 
Also, in Athens, Ray Brooks, former county legislator and avid Republican, mounted a late-stage challenge to incumbent town supervisor (and Democrat) Leallen Palmateer, but was swamped by 356 votes to 91.
(The Brooks effort was the closest thing to electoral contestation that occurred in Athens.  That fact evidently inspired a Daily Freeman scrivener to opine (11/10) in connection with the multi-office elections, that “The outcome…were [sic] largely not surprising….”)
THE WEEKEND.  Main GreeneLand attractions:
   *Chilly Willy Winter’s Eve tours, with early local history recalled, at Greene County Historical Society’s Bronck Museum in Coxsackie.  Costumed guides, Dutch and Swedish treats, recollections of life here going back to the late 1600s.  Saturday and Sunday, at two-hour intervals from 11am.
   *Group art show & sale (works of 16 artists) opening, from 5pm Saturday, upstairs at Ruby’s Hotel in Freehold.  634-7790
   *Festival of Trees, the Fortnightly Club’s annual, lavish display and sale of Christmas decorations plus Santa Claus plus munchies.  At Anthony’s banquet hall, Leeds, Saturday and Sunday, following opening gala (reservations) on Friday at Elks Lodge. 
    *Rip (Van Winkle) awards and sale.  Carved, dressed figures designed for the summer promotion in Hunter go up for auction on Saturday (viewing from 4pm, auction from 6pm) at Windham Mountain. 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Doggy Days

BOCKER T. LABRADOODLE, actor, model, therapist and pawthor (Chasing Bocker's Tale) now resides up here, on Superstitious (sic) Drive in the Sleepy Hollow Lake development.  Bocker is not an actual bocker (=beagle/cocker spaniel crossbreed).  Neither is he descended from a once-popular trouser or from an old Dutch settler (knickerbocker).  But this labrador/poodle performer is manifestly bocker (=especially cute, per The Urban Dictionary), which helps to account (along with astute management by mothering Marie) for a flourishing career in show business.  See (especially the Press kit) as well as Facebook and Twitter sites.
COMING TUESDAY, to a polling station near you: county and town elections, whose most conspicuous feature is a dearth of candidates.   Each GreeneLand voter who goes to the polls will be offered a ballot (to be processed electronically) enabling her/him/ them to participate in electing two State Supreme Court judge (for Judicial District 3), a district attorney, a sheriff, and two (!) county coroners.  The listed choices include four candidates for the two judgeships, two candidates for the two coronerships, and one candidate each for district attorney and for sheriff. 
In addition, each voter will be offered  chances to vote on candidates for election to various town offices: supervisor, council member, judge, clerk, highway superintendent, tax collector.  The total of offices that are subject to election on Tuesday in GreeneLand is 84.  If each one were contested, then, there would be at least 168 candidates. But in fact there are 115 (plus about three avowed, active, write-in candidates).
On the printed ballots for Ashland, Athens, Durham, Halcott, Jewett and Windham, voters will find  precisely one candidate for each elective office. 
In contrast, lively competitive action abounds in Cairo, with two contestants for supervisor, five for two council seats (one of them an incumbent who was refused re-nomination by her fellow Republicans), two for town clerk (the 12-year incumbent was not re-nominated by fellow Republicans, and neither was her husband, the outgoing highway superintendent), two for highway superintendent, and two even for tax collector.  Also loaded with actual choices this year is the New Baltimore ballot, presenting rival candidates for town supervisor, justice, council member (three candidates for two seats) and highway superintendent.  At the same time, a third candidate for highway superintendent has mounted a write-in campaign, as has a fourth candidate for town council.  (New Baltimore has been the scene over the past few years of extraordinary wrangling among as well as between co-partisans).
Meanwhile, in Catskill, Tuesday’s ballot names two candidates for town supervisor (both former town councilmen running for a currently vacant seat), three for two council seats, and two for highway superintendent.  

ELSEWHERE.  The paucity of contestants for elective offices in GreeneLand marks a contrast with the electoral picture in nearby counties. Ulster County is experiencing a hot fight for the office of district attorney, plus contests in 18 of its 23 legislative districts.  Kingston city voters will encounter active choices between candidates for mayor and for most of the common council seats.  In Saugerties, voters get to choose between rival candidates for supervisor, for governing board and for highway superintendent.  In Dutchess County, voters are being stimulated to turn out on Tuesday by, among other contests, an intense battle for the office of county executive.   On the other hand, they will encounter just one choice for district attorney, sheriff, and county clerk.  Over in Columbia County, voters are being treated to the unusual spectacle of contests—not altogether peaceable contests—for district attorney, county treasurer, county judge and even coroner.  And Hudson City residents have been entertained, to an unusual extent, by the mayoral contest between Bill Hallenbeck, the Republican nominee, and Nick Haddad, the erstwhile nominal Republican who is the Democratic nominee and is supported more ardently by active Democrats than was his ‘regular’ Democratic predecessor.
BTW.  In the words of a Register-Star reporter--to use that noun loosely--it was the sight of “a need in his community” that drove a new candidate “to enter the political spectrum”).
ENDORSEMENTS of candidates for elective office used to be a standard, and influential, thing for newspapers.  That was then.  To be sure, the Albany-based TimesUnion did endorse candidates in competitive races for State Supreme Court Justice in two districts, along with a candidate for sheriff in one county, for mayor in one city, and for supervisor in two towns.  The Kingston-based Daily Freeman did bless three candidates--the incumbent Ulster County district attorney, a candidate for Dutchess County Executive and, half-heartedly, one of the four candidates for mayor of Kingston--but it offered no word on any other contest in its three-county area.  As for The Daily Mail and its sister paper, the Hudson-based Register-Star, their Saturday-Sunday (11/5-6) editorial enjoins us to “Take Diabetes Seriously” and their next editorial advocates voting. 
(A Daily Mail scrivener did opine, on 11/4/11, in the guise of doing straight news, that “Since Coyne’s election” as Cairo town supervisor, “by most measures, the town has moved forward.”).
Seeing Greene also is devoid of endorsements.  But we do salute a proposal voiced by one candidate.  In a letter to The Daily Mail (10/27), Rick Hanse, would-be town councilman for Coxsackie, not only espouses the idea of greater transparency of  governmental deliberations, but also advocates specific steps to that end:  agenda of pending Council meeting to be posted on the town's web site in advance, so people know what topics will come up; agenda of Planning and Zoning board meetings also to be posted on line; tentative minutes meetings also posted, so as to allow for challenges or correction prior to formal adoption.  Mr Hanse also affirms, perhaps too hopefully, that the best thing for “positive direction” for a town is having “the greatest possible participation” of residents. 
BUT ALSO, let's have a burst of write-in votes, at appropriate places, for Bocker T. Labradoodle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Politics 2012

That’s the promise that is currently trumpeted on, among other places, a Route 9 billboard on the north side of Catskill.   Sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage ( and pointing to the web site, the message is aimed at a State Senator who on June 24 voted Yes on the Marriage Equality bill, legalizing marriage between same-sex partners.  The “You’re Next” threat refers to the fate of the Democrat who in September lost a by-election contest in a heavily Democratic district in New York City. N.O.M. chieftain Brian Brown claims that the upset was due largely to his organization’s success in mobilizing anti-same-sex voters to back the Republican candidate, Bob Turner. (That interpretation has not appeared in any regular news outlet).
Stephen Saland is one of four Republican State Senators who, along with all the Democrats in the upper house, passed the Marriage Equality act.  All four are targets of N.O.M. retaliation, along with one Democrat (Sen. Shirley Huntley of New York City, who voted Yes this time after voting No, along with all Republican senators, in 2009). 
The threat is hollow.  Although Mr Brown talks about spending $2 million to defeat those candidates, his cash intake so far has been small as compared with campaign funds already raised by active, organized, affluent supporters of the Marriage Equality Act.  Anyhow, if the Brown forces did recruit strong challengers to the targeted incumbents, they would produce a split that puts more pro-marriage equality Democrats in office.
What is more, the retaliation campaign evidently would be waged clumsily.  The “You’re Next” billboard on Route 9W, erected in October 2011, refers to a senator whose re-election date is  November 2012.  The billboard also is misplaced:  here in Greene County, which is not part of  Senator Saland’s district.  Greene County’s senator is James Seward.  He voted against the Marriage Equality bill. That fact is not acknowledged, much less explained, on his web site.
As for the “Let the People Vote” part of the N.O.M. campaign, it is a call for a popular referendum on the marriage equality question.   And it is wrong-headed call.  Its exponents tout a call "to let the people decide on the definition of marriage."  But legislation, whether enacted by popular vote or by elected representatives, is not an exercise in definition.  The Marriage Equality Bill (A8354-2011) does not define, re-define, or mis-define marriage.  It provides that
A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same sex or different sex.  No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage, whether deriving from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy or common law or any other source of law, shall differ based on the parties being or having been of the same sex or different sex.  When necessary to implement the rights and responsibilities of spouses under the law, all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner is all such sources of law.

Among contenders for the Republican nomination for President at the November 2012 national election, in sample surveys and straw polls, first or second place has generally gone to Mitt Romney.   In a field of seven or eight contestants, Mr Romney seems to be the preferred candidate of between 20 and 30 per cent of survey respondents.  Those respondents are self-styled Republicans or Republican activists.  Other contenders—Michelle Bachman, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain—have soared in popularity within that special population, and then lost ground.  So why has Mr Romney not picked up what those candidates left behind?  Why hasn’t he gained momentum?  Observers—some of them impartial—ascribe the problem to a feeling of distrust.  The feeling is related vaguely to Mr Romney’s Mormon faith, or his flip-flopping on hot-button issues, or positions and evasions that could betoken a slippery, impure sort of conservatism. (“His whole campaign has centered around tapioca,” says crypto-conservative blogger Erick Erickson).
That feeling can be fortified by a due appreciation of rhetorical tricks to which Mr Romney is disposed to resort.  Thus:
*Back in 2008, in a speech on the floor of the Republican national convention, Mr Romney undertook to identify key differences between “liberal” (bad; Democratic) and “conservative” (good; Republican). And his first item was this: 
…what do you think Washington is right now, liberal or conservative? Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with constitutional rights? It’s liberal!
Mr Romney was alluding to (and damning) recent action by the Supreme Court. He also was falsifying that action.  He did so by mischaracterizing the inmates of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.  Those inmates were being detained indefinitely, without the usual business of being charged, being arraigned, and in due course being brought to trial. They were detained as terrorist SUSPECTS.  It was prisoners SUSPECTED by U.S. authorities of perpetrating terrorist acts who, the Supreme Court held, are entitled to “constitutional rights.”  Mr Romney put the “liberal” stigma on a Supreme Court ruling that had not taken place.  He did so in a way that could be construed as disdain for commonly accepted principles of due process of law. (The distinction between terrorist and terrorist suspect was expressed during the Republican “debate” in Nevada on October 18.  It was voiced by Ron Paul). 
*Mr Romney followed his “Guantanamo terrorists” item with another purported contrast between liberal and conservative:
Is a government liberal or conservative that puts the interests of the teachers union ahead of the needs of our children? It’s liberal!
The context of that utterance conveys the suggestion that Mr Romney was alluding (as he did with regard to the Supreme Court) to a recent, substantive event.  But there’s the trick.  Instead of citing a specific event (a proposal, a governmental action), he conjured up a predisposition (a bias).  He delivered an arbitrary INTERPRETATION of the thrust of an unnamed measure and of the motivations of its sponsor.
*At the Republican “debate” in Orlando FL on September 21, Rick Perry defended his decision, as governor of Texas, to allow young illegal immigrants who gain admission to public Texas colleges to pay tuition at the in-State rather than the much higher out-of-State rate.   “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason…than they’ve been brought here by no fault of their own,” said Mr Perry, “I don’t think you have a heart.”
At the next day’s resumption of that “debate,” Mr Romney picked up on Mr Perry’s “have a heart” expression.  He responded in these words:
My friend Governor Perry said that if you don't agree with his position on giving that in-state tuition to illegals, then you don't have a heart. I think if you're opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn't mean that you don't have a heart; it means that you have a heart and a brain.
Noteworthy about that statement, for connoisseurs of sophistry, is avoidance of the point at issue.  Mr Romney picked up on Perry’s “have a heart” expression but did not voice a position on the matter addressed by Mr Perry: the propriety of in-State tuition rates for resident illegal immigrants.  Rhetorically speaking, he pretended that the immediate issue was opposition (or not) to illegal immigration. 

U.S. Representative Chris Gibson apparently will be challenged for re-election next year in this (the 20th) district.  Joel Tyner, a Dutchess County legislator, has announced a bid to win the Democratic nomination for the seat that Mr Gibson won in November 2010.  (He out-polled the incumbent, Scott Murphy, who had won the seat in a March 2009 special election contest to succeed Kirsten Gillibrand, who had been elevated to the U.S. Senate by gubernatorial appointment). In launching his campaign, Mr Tyner declared (as reported in The Daily Freeman, 8/13) that “People are sick and tired of politicians that are all about Wall Street and not Main Street,” and that Mr Gibson favors corporations over individuals and the wealthy over the middle class.  On his web site he voices opposition to hydrofracking and to cuts in Medicaid and Social Security, and he classifies himself as a “progressive.”  His background includes stints as a teacher in mid-Hudson schools and campaigns for elective offices since the 1990’s.  After winning election to the Dutchess County legislature in 2003, from a heavily Republican and affluent district, Mr Tyner won successive two-year terms and now, for the impending (November 8) election, is unchallenged.  Last year he attracted news media attention with an effort to force Andrew Cuomo into a primary election for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  That effort failed for lack of sufficient petition signatures.
Mr Tyner must be just right for the 20th congressional district’s urbane, hip, cosmopolitan, progressive inhabitants.
But seriously, the Democrat-dominated re-districting process could make the 10-county, 20th congressional district a bit less safe for Mr Gibson.  It might even prompt him to
back his professed concern for the job shortage with a bit more thought than the vapid, vacuous formula ( “get the government out of the way.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Good News Doses

 The fame of Thomas Cole, the Catskillian who is sometimes hailed as founder of  the first distinctively American school of art, and who is often hailed as founder of what came to be known in the 19th century as the Hudson River school of landscape painting, is spreading.  September 1 was the starting date, and the Brazos Valley Museum in Bryan, Texas, was the starting place, for a traveling exhibit whose title is “Wild Land: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting.”  The exhibit, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, will go from museum to American museum for the next five years. “Based on scholarship from Cedar Grove, The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, says the web site , “this emmersive [sic] and interactive exhibit will take the visitor both into the studio and into the woods.”  And perhaps it will impel visitors to enrich their experience by means of a trip to Cedar Grove, Cole's home and workplace, here in Catskill.
  Another exhibit could serve to bring in other visitors.  Those visitors would come in from the east.  They would be inspired by a special show, opening January 13, of paintings by Cole and by his contemporary, Asher B. Durand,  in the Louvre.  Yes; that place in Paris, France.  And with it, sub-titled in French, will be screenings of  “Thomas Cole: Painting the American Landscape," the film made by Cedar Grove staff.
  BTW: the National Gallery of Art, in Washington DC, exhibits Cole's 1841-42 set of Voyage of Life paintings, distributes a leaflet saying, among other things, that "Upon his death in Rome at the age of forty-seven, Cole was universally mourned."  (wwww/mga/gov).  Actually, he died at home in Catskill.

Official members of  GreeneLand’s Democratic Party gathered on a recent Monday night in Cairo, at Gallaghers banquet hall, for their biennial reorganization conference.  And they took part in transforming a potentially bruising contest into a happy event.
The hundred or so Democratic activists from the county’s sixteen municipalities were expecting to be obliged to take sides in a contest over the office of county chairman.  They were expecting to be obliged to choose between Tom Poelker of Windham, the incumbent, and Doreen Davis, party treasurer and leader of the Catskill Democrats.  Both of those leaders had circulated letters soliciting support.  The choice between them had nothing to do with ideology or current issues—nothing like the much-publicized strains in many States and towns between Tea Party Republicans and regular or established Republicans.  The need to choose between them did, however, bear prospective consequences for relations between mountain Democrats of GreeneLand and lowland Democrats.  Those relations are always a bit sensitive, as are relations between north county Democrats and south county Democrats.  Many of the conferees did not want to choose between those esteemed candidates.  Some planned to cast blank ballots.  Some couples among the conferees planned to split their votes.
  What happened, instead of a clash, was an accommodation.  Before the meeting, Mr Poelker approached Ms Davis in confidence.  He offered a proposal:  he would make a “lateral shift” into an appointive office called “executive director” of the county’s Democratic Party, and would continue to serve as its representative on the governing board of the New York State Democratic Party, while she would take over the county chairmanship.  Ms Davis readily concurred.  Then, at the meeting in Cairo, before the election of new officers, Mr Poelker was called upon to deliver his annual report.  After reviewing the activities and the fortunes of Democrats in GreeneLand in the past few years, and after saying that he had aimed to serve as chairman for one more term, he sprang the surprise.  He described the arrangement that he and Ms Davis had worked out, called it a “win-win” deal, and nominated Ms Davis for the office of Greene County Democratic Party Chairperson.
The vote was unanimous.

Wrong Times
 A bit of GreeneLand political history was recalled in a recent (Sunday, 10/9/11) New York Times story, incorrectly.  The story’s immediate focus was trickery in a pending recall election in Arizona.  The recall sponsors’ target was a Russell Pearce, president of the State Senate and author and staunch champion of harsh anti-immigrant legislation.  The trick, performed by the Pearce’s allies, consisted of recruiting a sham candidate whose Hispanic name offered a chance of siphoning away votes that would otherwise go to Pearce’s other (as in real) challenger. When the case went to court, according to reporter Mark Lacey,
The judge said the Cortes case was distinct from others in which sham candidates were put forward, including a dispute from upstate New York in which opponents of Linda H. Overbaugh, a candidate for the Greene County Legislature, circulated petitions on behalf of Linda L. Overbaugh, who had not given her consent to run.
  When I read that passage, I recognized what I took to be an error—by the judge? by the reporter?--that deserved to be corrected, even if nobody noticed the item.  To that end, I sent e-mail messages to Linda Haines Overbaugh and to the Times’s Corrections Desk.  In the latter I claimed that back in 2009, Linda H. Overbaugh was endorsed by GreeneLand’s Republican committee for election to the legislature, but her supporters mistakenly circulated petitions on behalf of Linda L. Overbaugh, who is a real person (and kinswoman), who resides in the same electoral district as Linda H., whose correct home address was stated, and who disclaimed any interest in being a candidate.  When the error was spotted (after the filing deadline), the validity of those petitions as support for Linda H. Overbaugh was questioned, and a State Supreme Court judge ruled against allowing either Overbaugh to appear on the ballot on the Republican line.  To verify this version of events, I suggested, check with Linda H. and with Elections Commissioner Thomas Burke (contact numbers provided).  
My messages went out at mid-morning on a Monday.  On Tuesday morning, a Times staffer called  Mrs Overbaugh (Linda H., that is), who confirmed the gist of my recollection.  By Tuesday evening a Correction had been broadcast on line, and it was published in the Wednesday Times:

An article on Sunday about a judge’s finding that supporters of Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearce recruited a candidate to siphon votes from his opponent in a recall election referred incorrectly to a 2009 New York race for Greene County Legislature, in which petitions were circulated on behalf of a candidate who had not given her consent. In that race, supporters, not opponents, of Linda H. Overbaugh mistakenly put the name of another woman, Linda L. Overbaugh, on the petitions, resulting in their disqualification.
  The New York Times is a great news organization.

 The economy is stagnant.  Jobs are scarce.  Housing prices are down.  Loans are not being repaid. Big banks, national and international, are sorely troubled.  But many of the smaller, community banks  are still healthy.  And in the case of GreeneLand’s main community bank, “healthy” is an understatement.  For the fifth straight year, the Bank of Greene County’s assets, loans receivable, deposits, and net income have gone up: to $547million from $326million; to $301million from $207million; to $470million from $284million; to $5.3million from $2.3million.
   As bank president Donald Gibson says in the parent company’s annual report, these gains are all the more noteworthy in light of the “national economic crisis” of 2008 and subsequent events whereby “many banks struggled, and even failed.” 
   As compared with the previous fiscal year (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010), the bank achieved gains in of 8.2 per cent in net income, 10.5% in assets, 11.4% in deposits.
    Among its other “gains,” however, were unwelcome ones, such as “non-performing” loans (when promised payments don’t come in).  These increased not only in dollar size but also as segments of total loans: to 2.1% of all outstanding loans, as compared with 1.33% and 1.01% in the previous two years.   Similarly, non-performing assets, evaluated at $6.7million as compared with just $3.9 million in fiscal 2010) were pegged as of the end of the last fiscal year at 1.23% of total assets, as compared with just 0.79% and 0.64% in the previous two fiscal years.
    Mr Gibson reports too that demand for residential loans has slowed during recent months.  Moreover, property loans totaling $3 million are now in foreclosure, the number of loans that are in the process of foreclosure has “grown substantially,” and more would have reached foreclosure status but for the fact that, in consequence of recently adopted regulations, the process in New York takes two years to complete.  (One property that has gone through all the foreclosure steps, and will go up for auction on November 16, is Lange's Groveside resort in Acra).
    By comparison with other banks, the BOGC is in a flourishing state.  It can readily cover its dividend yield of about 3.8% (especially since the parent company, Greene County Bancorp, owner of a majority of shares, waives its right to dividends).
    Among the laggards is the Buffalo-based M&T Bank, a regional giant (nine States, 13,000 employees, 750 branches, $79 billion in assets) touting (on its web site) “a tradition of careful, conservative and consistent management.”  That institution reported losses in earnings, rate of return and net income; and its share price recently hit a 52-week low. 
    We mention that particular bank because it is plaintiff in a foreclosure action against defaulting borrowers who bought the former Orens Furniture store and warehouse in Catskill, undertook to transform the warehouse into up-scale condominium apartments (Union Mills Lofts) then pulled the plug.  The State Supreme Court judgment of foreclosure puts the amount owing as $1,120,381.44 “plus interest, costs and disbursements, attorney’s fees and other amounts….”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


        Four moving vans arrived the other day at the former Elco electric boat factory in Athens.  Their drivers, and a lot of helpers, proceeded to load, piece by piece, section by section, a single work of art.  The vanloads were driven down to New York City, where they were unloaded at 212 West 83rd Street,  home of the Childrens Museum of Manhattan.  There, in a 3000 square foot space, they are now being reassembled.  When that job is completed, visitors will undergo a unique esthetic and educational experience.  The theme of the whole installation is “Eat Sleep Play.”  Under a ceiling dotted with Smallagtites, visitors will make their way through a series of interaction-sparking stations, or chambers, that are dedicated to cultivating appreciation for, and practical knowledge about, healthy living.  There will be a Decision Center that is in the form of a giant brain, which responds to questions about the consequences of various patterns of behavior.  A walk-in stomach.  A seven-foot tall heart.  A chamber for every internal organ, including, yes, the bowels.  A Consequences chamber, that promotes learning about such matters as the costs of clogged arteries.   A Play station, where visitors can do various kinds of exercises, such a pedaling a stationary bike, and see readings of how much energy they are burning per minute.  Twenty-five chambers, culminating in the Forterium. 
       This comprehensive installation, this constellation of forms, is the masterwork of two Athens-based artists:  Carol May (to whom I am not related) and her husband Tim Watkins.   It is not their first effort.   They won the commission, amid stiff competition, on the strength of a plenitude of previous works:  interactive, compound, permanent  exhibitions for children’s museums in Calvary and in Brooklyn, plus large-scale, moving (as in wriggling, waving, spinning, dancing) creations in Maine and Oregon and Florida and elsewhere.  You can get a sense of their artistic feats by dialing their website:  And for a bit more information about the Manhattan project, the web site is

Delivery of the latest May-Watkins creation to its new Manhattan habitation, in time for re-assembly ahead of the November opening date, took place only because people showed up to offer help.  Hurricane Irene lifted the Hudson River, among so many other watercourses, to a new height.  The Elco plant was swamped to the extent of two feet.  The legs and other parts of “Eat Sleep Play” were soaked and bent.  Completion of some chambers was stalled.  The task seemed to be unmanageable.  But then friends (Tina, Doug, Joe…) showed up, unbidden, to lend a hand.  So did strangers.
That phenomenon—the turnout of volunteer helpers—occurred in place after storm-ravaged place.  Cumulatively, it’s the great GreeneLand story of 2011.  We know only fragments of cases:
*When flooding on Windham’s main street knocked out all the food retailers (cafes, restaurants), much to the consternation of locals and restaurant workers, Erica Reagan and some of her friends took the initiative of setting up a canteen in the town’s cultural center, the former church.  Mustering what they could find in the way of foodstuffs, they dispensed more than a thousand sandwiches in one day.
*Scores of mountaintop residents who were driven from their homes found  lodging, food and hospitality at Catskill’s Community Life Church (formerly called the First Baptist Church).
*Devastation in Windham from late August through early September placed in jeopardy the town’s traditional Autumn A-Fair, scheduled for the weekend of October 8-9.  But when scores of volunteers turned out to help with the restoration of stores and other buildings (as pointed out by Bryan Walsh in the TimesUnion, 10/10/11), the show did go on.
*In an effort to raise emergency funds to aid flood victims, M.A. Tarpinian and Sonny Rock (aka Clifton Anshanslin) organized, at the Michael J. Quill Cultural Centre, an October 1-2 “Concert for the Catskills.”  It was hard to get the word out in time.  Attendance and receipts were disappointing.  But Sonny’s call to fellow musicians yielded a turnout of some 35 bands, whose members paid their own way, played for no pay, and gave to Community Action half of what they took in from sales of CDs and other souvenirs. (See D.T. Antrim in 10/6/11 Daily Mail).
 *A van load of sub-teen girls arrived at the devastated site of Cone-E-Island in Catskill.  They set to work cleaning away mud.  Didn’t even ask permission. 
*On October 8, a hurricane relief benefit dinner and auction, sponsored by the Windham Mountain company, brought in, according to The Daily Mail (10/11), $171,000.
       *The downpour and the flooding washed away a 30-acre chunk of Windham Country Club’s golf course.  It also washed away the club’s maintenance machinery.  And it evoked help from owners of other GreeneLand courses—help, gratis, in the form of men and machinery.  In addition, members of the Windham club were made honorary members, for the remainder of the season, of most of the county’s other (“rival”) clubs.            
       *Last Friday (11/14), according to Daily Mailperson Melanie Lekocevic, members of Coxsackie’s Hose 3 firefighting troop  sold 400 pasta dinners, plus t-shirts and 50/50 raffle tickets, at a benefit for mountaintop flood relief.  That’s a riverside  troop, far away from the mountaintop.
       *There is a man in Columbia County who, according to Brad Poster (the United Way director), is “a real hero.”  In addition to contributing his truck and his labor to the task of salvaging Pratt Museum and Prattsville town hall pieces, for storage and restoration at the Columbia Ice plant in Hudson, Jeff Johnson “contacted me after hearing conflicting reports of peoples’ needs.”  Working “under the radar” from the first week of the disaster in Prattsville and Windham, dodging the complications and delays of applications, programs, he “tirelessly on his own and at his own expense” collected and delivered “relief materials.”  He would visit families personally, learned what they needed, and would return “with almost everything that has been requested.”  Jeff Johnson  “gives everything and asks nothing in return.”  [This item added 10/19, after original 10/18 post.  Ed.]          
       *The volume of food, clothing, and supplies that GreeneLanders and other donors contributed to the recovery effort reached, and surpassed, the point of saturation.  Further donations of clothing were politely declined.  Some non-perishable foodstuffs that had been trucked up the mountain were returned to established food pantries in our flatland communities.

       From the threatened devastation wrought by those rainstorms in Palenville, Highway Superintendent Alfie Beers extracted a benefit. Utilizing special authority that he was granted so as to cope with the emergency, he was able to cut through a maze of permit requirements and rush in crews and heavy machinery to the widen and deepen a bed on Kaaterskill Creek, thereby saving a couple of bridges from getting washed away—as had happened in the past, under milder conditions.  The long-targeted project had been stalled by permitting procedures.  (Other GreeneLand repair and improvement projects still are snarled in the regulatory maze).

       Geologist Robert Titus says rainfall this year is about 40% above normal here.  He said that last Spring.

   “The worst, however, has apparently gotten more bad.”  (Daily Maul, 10/15/11).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Greene Grime

Another local enterprise has left downtown Catskill. As of Wednesday (8/24) the door closed permanently on Café 355.  Operator Jeffrey Meyers (C.I.A. ‘96) reached the conclusion, after three years of trying, that “I can’t afford to stay open.”  He has taken a job in Albany.  He is vacating a place whose décor is far above ordinary and whose history, as the Mayflower Café under Manny Cominos and then under Doug and Regina Doebler, is rich.   Other local ventures, including coffee shops, are imperiled.

A woman attracted police attention the other day in the Wal-Mart parking lot, as she successively opened fresh bottles of mineral water and poured their contents down a drain.  She was working from a trolley stacked with cases of that liquid, cases that she had bought with food stamps.  She was dumping the contents, she explained, so as to accumulate a supply of returnable bottles.  With enough refunds, at a nickel per bottle, she would then be able to buy a packet of cigarettes.  “And it’s all legal,” she said;  “I’ve checked."
That story comes second-hand from a probably reliable source.  We have not obtained official confirmation.  We would love to print the woman’s name.  We would love to include her, by name, in the ranks of locally suspected

*WELFARE CHEATS.  Our local newspapers have reported that charges related to welfare fraud have lately been lodged against Stephen and Kathleen Salluce of Athens (fraudulently obtaining food stamp benefits, Medicaid benefits, and home energy benefits, to the extent of about $6650); Leanne Smith, of Palenville (theft from Department of Social Services, hence from taxpayers, of $1365 in Medicaid benefits); Vanessa Weiss of Catskill ($605 in Temporary Assistance benefits, $167 in food stamps); Eva Brodsky of Jefferson Heights ($7,149, from the Columbia County welfare office); and Marina Cancell of Catskill and Ronald Thorne of Athens $3547).
Among other cases that have led to formal charges lately in GreeneLand:
*BREAK-INS.  Christopher O’Reilly, 18, of Cairo, and a 17-year old compaion (not identified because of his minor status) face charges on suspicion of breaking into 30 cars at the Earlton Hill Campsites.  According to the police report, they are suspected of taking GPS units, cell phones, satellite radios, and money from the cars to their own campsite.
*MENACING.  Jeremy B. Lee of Tollhouse Road, Catskill, was arrested on reckless-endangerment charges after by sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call relating to a domestic dispute.  Deputies reported that Lee fired shots through his front door, refused to come out, eventually did emerge, and appeared to be drunk.
*POT.  Justin Reynolds of Kornell Drive, Haines Falls, was arrested and jailed on several charges  after police officers, responding to a call about a domestic dispute, found a yard and house loaded with marijuana plants, along with cultivation gear.
*BURGLARY.  Matthew Altenau, 23, of Catskill, was charged along with a Saugerties man (Roger Justus III, 28) with burglary of storage units on Route 9W.  Police reported recovering more than $10,000 worth of stolen items. Several lockers were raided during June.  And  Steven D. Shultis, 29, of Cairo faces burglary charges arising from police suspicion that he broke into an abandoned Cementon building and sought to take items, including a mirror and copper pipes.
*RECKLESS PILOTING.  Matthew Devlin of Catskill, pilot of the tugboat Caribbean Sea, pleaded guilty of the offense of mis-operating a maritime vessel, with fatal consequences, after a fatal collision last July on the Delaware River near Philadelphia.  The barge he had been pushing crashed into an amphibious duck boat that was loaded with tourists.  Thirty-seven passengers were flung into the river, and two of them, students from Hungary, were killed.  According to the Associated Press report (Daily Mail, 8/6/11), Devlin said he was distracted by news of a medical emergency incurred by his 5-year old son.  The news drew him into telephone calls from and to his wife Corinne, and into web surfing in quest of information.  He turned off the tug’s radios to talk on the phone, and thus did not receive distress calls sent from the stalled, threatened tourist boat.
The charge against Devlin is the equivalent on land of involuntary manslaughter.  Under Federal guidelines, this would bring a sentence of 37 to 46 month in prison.  Meanwhile, the families of the dead visitors, who were taking part in a church exchange program, have filed wrongful-death lawsuits.
The Devlins’ son, following a prolonged period of oxygen deprivation during eye surgery, has recovered.
*ANIMAL ABUSE.  Robin A. Kelly of Catskill was charged with failing to provide proper nourishment for horses residing in her Bogart Road stable.  According to the police report, as recounted in the local Press, passing motorists noticed the condition of some of the animals and notified Ron Perez, who is president of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society. That alert, said Mr Perez, prompted a series of visits to the stable in quest of improvement. Unsatisfactory response led to a raid in which five of the horses were removed, placed in foster care, and put up for adoption.  For inquiries: (518) 828-6044.
*MOONLIGHTING.  Edward Pebler, the prison correctional officer who also was working as code enforcement officer for the town of Coxsackie, was arrested 11 months ago on felony charges involving falsified time sheets and unauthorized outside work.   Thanks to a plea deal that was not announced until long after the fact, District Attorney Terry Wilhelm reduced the offenses to a misdemeanor and minor cash penalties.  Peculiar behind-the-scenes aspects of the case were chronicled by Daily Mailman Doron Tyler Antrim.  
*DRUNK DRIVING.  Jason M. St. Denis, 24, of Cairo achieved the rare distinction of being arrested twice within a 90-minute interval.  According to a Daily Freeman account of official reports, a State trooper stopped St. Denis on State Route 32 in Catskill, booked him for drunk driving, released him to a third party, and told him not to drive while still drunk.  But 70 minutes later, again on Route 32, Denis again was nabbed on suspicion of driving while drunk, was released again to the care of a third party and told to stay away from the driver’s seat.  Again.

Two troubling stories about GreeneLand’s Industrial Development Agency have earned Press coverage.  Most recently, the Daily Freeman’s Ariel Zangla reported (8/25) on the contents of a confidential agreement relating to remuneration for the I.D.A.’s former executive director, Sandy Mathes.  Mr Mathes, who had held that office since 2002 resigned in May, under pressure from the county legislature, in the wake of controversy over bonuses paid to him by authority of the agency’s board of directors.  Disclosed in the Freeman report were terms of a deal whereby, under agreed conditions, Mr Mathes would be paid $2500 per week, and would receive medical insurance benefits, for six months following his effective date of departure (6/28).  The Freeman story was in the nature of a scoop.  Daily Mailman Jeff Alexander played catch-up to the extent of reporting that the existence of that deal was a surprise to Wayne Speenburgh, the chairman of the county legislature, and that Eric Hogland, chairman of the I.D.A.’s board, said the severance deal was carefully worked out, with “plenty of drafts” written and all board members participating. [Note: as posted on Friday, the account of Sandy Mathes's post-resignation salary said $2500 "per month."  That was wrong]
Which brings us to the second troubling I.D.A. story.  Mr Mathes’s departure was followed soon after by the resignations of three heavyweight board members: Hugh Quigley, Robert Snyder (the chairman) and Martin Smith.  That left a bare majority of four directors.  The task of finding replacements fell, by law, to the county’s legislators.
It is an important task, since the legislators have no direct power over the agency’s operations—no authority over its site development projects, its tax exemption deals, its compacts with prospective resident enterprises.  And yet the responsibility for finding suitable replacement prospects was not assigned by common consent to a search committee or to an individual.  Instead, the names of two nominees eventually appeared on the legislature’s agenda.  The nominations were not accompanied by notes about backgrounds or qualifications.  Opportunity for closed-door discussion was not provided.  And when two legislators raised a question about one nominee, a question based on a previous conflict-of-interest situation, they were accused by Chairman Speenburgh of smearing a good man.
Another seat on the Agency’s board is vacant, and still another will soon be vacant.  Perhaps the search for suitable appointees will be conducted this time in a manner that is methodical and inclusive.  

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Greene Goners

The Village of Catskill is losing its head.  Vincent Seeley, president of its  governing board of trustees for the past six years, the most industrious and involved president in memory, is moving away. What with the death last year of both parents, and perhaps with a sense of exhaustion, Vinnie is moving, with his wife Gwen and their two daughters, to Minnesota.  There the Seeleys will be close to the headquarters of his employer, Optum Health, and to Gwen’s kinfolk.  They will be leaving a community that he tried, with extraordinary dedication and an insomniac’s endurance, and in the face of harsh economic realities, to deserve the billing he gave it on the web site he instigated/instituted: “the ever-improving village of Catskill.” 
There will be no real successor.  The current vice-president, Jim Chewens, is limited in availability for Village work by his job as a prison correctional officer.  The other three incumbent trustees are similarly constrained.  And no fresh candidates for the five-member governing board have surfaced so far.
STREET TALK.  The imminent departure of Vinnie, along with the scarcity of revnues and of prospective candidates for trustee, has revived local interest in a Village-Town merger.
Soon to depart from Catskill, and from GreeneLand, is the giant HSBC bank.  Its local branch is one of 183 up-State offices that, by the end of this year if not sooner, on the basis of a billion-dollar deal that was announced recently, will become properties of  First Niagara Bank.  Since First Niagara already has a branch right next door to HSBC’s, at 341 Main St, Catskill, the present HSBC branch surely will be vacated.  An exceptionally imposing building, rich in history, will be added to our abundant stock of vacant commercial properties.
 In global terms, London-based HSBC is closing hundreds of retail branches, including half of its United States outlets.  Its program already has involved the elimination 5000 jobs and is expected to eliminate 25,000 more by 2013.  The announced rationale is concentration on corporate finance, international connections, and growth markets. During the first half of this year, HSBC’s corporate parent made a 3 per cent, $11.5 billion, gain in pretax profits.
Not announced so far is abandonment of the company slogan, “the world’s local bank.” 
The GreeneLand HSBC branch began life back in 1803, as Catskill National Bank & Trust Company.  It was sold in 1971 to Marine Midland Bank East and then to HSBC.
In recent months, or years, the place has been almost a hollow shell. Although it is open on weekdays, it cannot be reached by telephone. 

Retiring from part-time public office in GreeneLand is Jack Van Loan, head since December 2003 of GreeneLand’s veterans’ service agency. He will be replaced by appointment by Michelle Romalin Black of Greenville.  She is a GreeneLand native, an Air Force veteran and, according to County Administrator Groden and to key county legislators, she did very well on a rigorous accreditation test. 

     Another retirement has paved the way for departmental consolidation.  With the departure of Thomas Yandeau as head of the county’s Department of the Aging, County Executive Shaun Groden, with the hearty approval of the elected legislators, has placed that office under the guidance of Therese McGee Ward, head of the Youth Bureau.  The merger will produce more job cuts.  

Soon to be leaving the Cairo-Durham school system, after a long local career, is Superintendent Sally Sharkey.  As reported in the Daily Mail, the school district’s trustees decided back in May to give Ms Sharkey a one-year notice of termination, and then decided, by a vote of 5 to 4, at a stormy public meeting on June 30, to uphold that notice.  Ms Sharkey was a music teacher in the district before she acquired an administrative degree and then was appointed in 2005 as superintendent, followed in 2007 by a five-year contract extension.  Demands to give reasons for the termination were declined by the trustees.  One of the protestors, Adrienne Gatti, said (Daily Mail, 7/14) that Ms Sharkey is “the lowest-paid superintendent” in “surrounding counties” and “has not taken a pay raise for two years.”  According to State Department of Education figures, however (see, her salary of $135,523 plus a benefits package valued at $41,127) is second-lowest among GreeneLand school superintendents.  The lowest salary goes to the superintendent in the smallest (in population) district: Hunter-Tannersville, at $126,838 plus a benefits package valued at $42,244. 
The other figures are $138,030 plus $59,760 (Windham-Ashland-Jewett—and that benefits packages is the fattest of the six); $140,057 plus $34,316 (Greenville); $143,000 plus $10,940 (Coxsackie-Athens, and a remarkably small benefits package); and $162,081 plus $44,729 (Catskill). 

Then we have the case of GreeneLand’s semi-governmental Industrial Development Agency.  The abrupt departure of veteran Executive Director Alexander Mathes was followed soon after, not coincidentally, by the resignations of three veteran directors: Robert Snyder, the president; Hugh Quigley, an I.D.A. founder and leader during the past 20 years; and board secretary Martin Smith, who is chairman of the board of the Bank of Greene County.  Although Rene Van Schaak has been moved up to the post of interim executive director, and although four governing directors remain  (Dan Frank, former county executive; Eric Hoglund; Sy DeLucia; and Willis Vermilyea, retired county treasurer) and although office manager April Ernst is still on the job, the I.D.A. is in a state of limbo.  No minutes of meetings ( since May.  The agency was crippled by controversy last year over the $175,000big bonus that the directors gave to Mr Mathes in 2009.   It has been hurt too by a report from the office of the State Controller.  The report imputes a lack of transparency to many local agencies.  More broadly, it voices concern about results, in terms of jobs created relative to the scale of tax exemptions granted.  

Already gone from GreeneLand, happily, is Nicholas Barcomb.  He came over the Rip Van Winkle bridge from Hudson last January and, wielding a knife, stole $729 from Tori G’s restaurant. According to District Attorney Terry Wilhelm, Barcomb was nabbed by police, charged with felonious armed robbery, and housed in the county jail, entered a plea of guilty, and was sentenced by Judge Pulver Jr to a ten-year stretch in State prison.