Friday, September 23, 2005


BUT FIRST Before turning to the main business of this blog, yr obdt svt ventures to share with you-all his sense of exasperation over technical problems that caused long delays and many oaths and imprecations before posting. Furthermore: BE WARNED. On October 1st, all fees related to motor vehicles will go up. Big time. Included are fees for photocopying documents (from $5 to $10), original title ($10-$50!), duplicating titles ($10-$20), mobile home title ($25-$125!), dealer issued plates ($50 per box-$125) and, well, everything else. Moreover, civil penalties for lapses in vehicle insurance go up steeply. BE THERE. A superb exhibition of photographs--"1000 Families: The Family Album of Planet Earth"--opens tonight at, and around, and near, the Brik gallery in Catskill (473 Main Street). The maker of this marvelous collection, Uwe Ommer, will be there for the 6-8 pm. opening party. The show--or as much of it as can be moved indoors--will be on view until the end of October. AND NOW... GreeneLand’s taxpayers were subjected last Tuesday week (9/13) to an exercise in futility. They funded “primary elections” (to use the conventional label), in which an overwhelming majority of registered voters could not participate. They paid for county-wide elections in which eight out of nine of the eligible voters did not participate. They paid for political contests in which the participants’ votes decided nothing. In the southernmost voting district of Cementon, four paid inspectors waited all day, as they were obliged legally to do, in case the two repeat TWO residents who were eligible to vote there chose to do so. They waited in vain. In the 5th (little red schoolhouse) voting station in Catskill, similarly, turnout among the eligibles was zero. In another district the total turnout was one. At latest count, 29,720 people were classed by registration and past participation as active GreeneLand voters. But in Tuesday’s elections, only 1024 of those individuals were eligible to participate. They included the 860 GreeneLanders who are registered adherents of the Conservative Party, the 61 county residents who adhere to the Working Families Party, and the 103 Athenians who are registered Independence Party members. To accommodate those prospective voters as mandated by State law, the Elections Commissioners (Frank DeBenedictus and Tom Burke) established 29 polling stations, each staffed by the required number of inspectors (four at each). Thus, 116 trained inspectors were on site, each paid, each duty-bound to be there all day. At the end of the day, votes at those 29 stations had been cast by 142 Conservatives, by 7 (s-e-v-e-n) WoFams, and by 14 Indies. Each vote in effect cost the taxpayers more than $80. For all intents and purposes, those voters made decisions that were devoid of consequence. They decided who would be named, on the forthcoming general election ballot, as the designated nominees of the Conservative and the Working Families parties for county judge, as the Independence Party nominee for Athens Town Supervisor, and as Conservative nominees for local offices in Athens (supervisor) and Cairo (supervisor, justice, councilman). But the names of the winners of those contests would have appeared on the general election ballot anyway; and so would the names of the losers. The contestants already had earned Republican and Democratic designations on the general election ballot (thanks to party caucus nominations that were not challenged by petitions that could have led to more primary contests). All that Tuesday’s winners gained was “second line”candidacy on behalf of a minor party. Thus, George J. Pulver Jr. already is the Republican nominee for county judge, and Eugenia M. Brennan already is the Democratic nominee. The primary election enabled Pulver to be designated also as the Conservative nominee (thanks to receiving 91 votes by registered Conservatives to Brennan’s 50), while Brennan gained the WFP nomination (by six votes to one). Consequently, Pulver’s name will appear on the general election ballot as the Republican and the Conservative nominee while Brennan’s name appears as the Democratic and the WFP nominee. In Athens, Albert Salvino won the Independence Party designation for town supervisor, by 9 votes to Richard Surrano’s 5, while Surrano won the Conservative Party nomination over Salvino by 22 votes to one. In Cairo, the primary election contests resulted in the selections of Joseph Calcavecchia as Conservative nominee for town supervisor (by 22 votes to 11 for Kathy Jurgens); of Tom Baldwin for town justice (by 8 votes to one apiece for “Mary Tarpanion” and Mike Flynn); and of Alice Tuneson and “Mary Tarpinion” for town council offices (by 10 votes apiece over 6 each for Paul Schirico and Ray Suttmeier). (Would those two Marys actually be Margaret Tarpinian?). But in none of these cases is it likely that having a second party line is crucial to a candidate’s success. Indeed, registered Conservatives and WoFams, along with Independencians, collectively are out-numbered by registered Republicans, by registered Democrats, and even by the GreeneLand voters who adhere to no party. How did such a debacle, such a waste of resources, come to pass? Don’t blame the Elections Commissioners. They did not make the laws that they faithfully executed. Indeed, they did their best, by way of the number of polling stations they established, to lighten the taxpayers’ load. And they have tried, in conjunction with their counterparts across the State, to get the legislators to amend the laws that allow such waste of resources. If you want to make a case against the Elections Commissioners, scold them for not being loud enough, nasty enough, toward the candidates and their handlers who, by choosing to compete frivolously for minor-party nominations, set in motion an elaborately pointless operation. Do blame the contestants, then--a little. They could have refrained from bidding for ‘second’ party lines on the November ballot, when they already owned major-party designations and they had no solid reason to believe that the extra line would make a crucial difference. But at the same time, they can scarcely be blamed for feeling insecure about their prospects and for responding to uncertainty by utilizing every legal device that could conceivably bring electoral advantage. Most blameworthy for our late election fiasco, really, is The System. What happened was made possible by provisions of New York State’s election laws. The offending provisions are products historically of commendable drives to (i) prevent the two major parties from having a stranglehold on general election ballots, and (ii) prevent the governing committees of those parties from running roughshod over rank-and-file members. The former value is served by rules making it fairly easy, by means of petition signatures of a prescribed number, to create what the Election Commissioners recognize as a political party (Conservative, Socialist Labor, Progressive, Reform…) whose name shall be placed on a line on the general election ballot, parallel to the names of its designated candidates for public office (candidates who also may be nominees on other parties’ lines). The second value is served by rules limiting the power of party leaders to decide who shall be their party’s designated nominee for a given office. Thus, a candidate can become the party’s nominee, identified as such on the general election ballot, by winning endorsement at an officially recognized party caucus. That is just how many candidates do become nominees. County-wide committees of Republicans and Democrats respectively endorsed Pulver and Brennan for election to county judge. But the endorsement suffices legally only if it is not effectively challenged. If another Republican had sought to become his party’s candidate for county judge, he could have challenged the endorsement of Pulver by gathering from registered GreeneLand Republicans a prescribed quota of signatures, namely 5 per cent of’s enrollment. If he had done so, the Elections Board would have been obliged to conduct a county-wide Republican primary election. Contests of that sort are regular occurrences, especially when the office sought is as mighty as Congressman or Governor or Mayor of New York City. What happened in GreeneLand last Tuesday was that while there were no challenges over Republican or Democratic nominations for county judge and for local offices, there were challenges over Conservative and Working Families nominations (plus Independence Party nomination for town supervisor in Athens). The required quotas of signatures were collected, so the challenges became effective, at least to the point where the Commissioners of Elections were obliged to set up polling booths all over the county for convenience of just a few voters. Such travesties can be forestalled. They can be forestalled without bringing in bad side effects. They require changes in State law. Two approaches could be taken. (i) Raise thresholds. One approach consists simply of increasing the volume of popular support, in the form of petition signatures, that a candidate needs in order to trigger a primary election contest. The current threshold, 5 per cent of enrolled party members, is absurdly low when the prospective contest is a minor-party contest. Thus, only valid 43 signatures by registered Conservatives (860 in number) were needed in order to prompt a county-wide primary election contest for the county judge nomination. The quotas for minor parties (who registered supporters number less than 10 per cent of all registered voters, and/or whose electoral support at the last general election came to less than 10 per cent of votes cast) should be much higher. The higher requirement would not snuff out minor parties; it would only forestall publicly funded contests over minor party nominations. (ii) Eliminate party lines. Much more comprehensive, easy to do, certain of effect, and attractive financially would be the simple step of eliminating the practice of identifying, on the general election ballot,the party affiliations of candidates for public office. Thus, candidates would be grouped by office sought and would be identified only by name. Nobody is identified officially as the Republican, the Democratic or the Progressive candidate. That simple measure would be rich in economizing, simplifying consequences. When nobody is entitled to a party label on the general election ballot; public officials do not need rules governing the allocation of those precious labels. They would not need rules for deciding what procedures by party committees qualify as valid candidate-nominating procedures. They would not need to decide when there shall be primary elections. There would be no primary elections. After all, the only purpose served by those elections is to assign party labels on the general election ballot. Political parties would still exist, and indeed would thrive. But they would be private clubs. Their members are peculiarly preoccupied with public policies and public offices. They would be free to mobilize volunteers and frame programs, to recruit candidates, to make endorsements contingent on promises not to run independently if not endorsed, to marshall support for those candidates, to co-ordinate campaigns of endorsed candidates for various offices, to frame platforms, to publicize favored candidates by reference to party affiliation, and thus to tell voters which candidate for each elective office is the endorsed Republican, Democratic or Progressive candidates. But their endorsements would not be recorded on the ballot. They would be outside the purview of public authority. While elimination of party designation from general election ballots would obviate the need for primary elections, however, it would not dispose of the problem of deciding what persons are entitled to be listed on the general election ballot as candidates. And filters are needed. For good civic reasons, contestants for each office ought to be few in number, so as to bring about majority or heavy-plurality decisions without run-offs. That need is partly met now, and it could continue to be met, by rules that in effect require prospective candidates to show evidence of substantial grass-roots support and of serious intention. Evidence of support is customarily provided by endorsements on petitions. Let the required number of endorsements be substantial—10 per cent of the number of votes cast in the last election for a given office—and only a few people will be able to pass that test (a measure of electability). Meanwhile, seriousness of purpose can be evidenced by the payment of a substantial cash deposit (varying upward with rank of office, from local to State and so on). Each deposit would be returnable if the candidate wins a required percentage (10, for example) of votes cast in the election. By this dual means, weak and frivolous candidacies would be deterred, but candidacy—opportunity to appear on the ballot—would still be readily accessible. In short, elimination of party designation from the general election ballot need not prompt an undesirable profusion of candidates. It would spare us no end of trouble and expense. And it happens to be a thoroughly conventional thing to do. Far from being a radical step into the unknown, it would mark a return to pre-20th century elections in America, and it would bring us into line with standard practice in most of the English-speaking world.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Maul Overhaul?

For Daily Mail watchers, last Sunday’s paper (9/4) was unusual. On the masthead, parallel to the name of publisher Roger F. Coleman, appeared a new name, Theresa Hyland, with a new title, Executive Editor. The title and its placement put the newcomer above Raymond Pignone, Editor. Ms Hyland’s arrival was not hailed by a profiling news story. It was signaled by means of a by-lined story in which the Executive Editor describes changes in D M formatting, item location, and offerings. Page 2A will henceforth cover “entertainment” with a different focus (theater, celebrities, music, movies…) each day; obituaries go to page 3A. There will be additional comics and puzzles, plus a Sunday full-page fiction story. In short, the reformed Daily Mail will carry even more canned (syndicated, wire-service) material. There will be even more of those unnecessary, over-sized, space-gobbling page headings (Around the Globe, Greene County, Living Today, Technology, Taste, Books, Columns, Neighbors, Seniors, Business, Schools, Sports, Opinion as well as Page Two). Conspicuously absent from Ms Hyland’s article was evidence of plans to increase the puny supply of local material. Also absent was evidence of determination to decrease the incidence verbal pratfalls, such as “lack of rain has been the single most complaint of the summer” (Dick Nelson, 8/28) and Ms Hyland’s own “In addition to the ‘Family Time Crossword’ puzzle, another addition for the kids is a feature titled ‘Tell Me a Story’.” Indeed, in a picture caption in yesterday’s Maul, a sentence containing two misspellings (“delapidated,” “rehabiliation”) was followed immediately by a challenging concept: “positive asset.” RIP Van Winkle was “the quintessential hippie, the one who made a success of failure by tuning in, turning on, and dropping out.” That’s just one of many incisive comments voiced by ace Saugerties writer John Thorn in issues of And even his nonsense is stimulating. For example, Mr Thorn goes on to say that “By making Rip literally a good-for-nothing [author Washington Irving] created a role model not only for a distant counterculture [Woodstock] but also for art—which, like play, may have no purpose but itself or it becomes no longer itself.” Activities do not have purposes. They may serve various purposes, and art and play serve many. DEMOCRATS’ CONTEST. Barbara Van Kuren, who has been Chair of GreeneLand’s feeble Democratic Party for about as long as anybody can remember, is retiring from that office, and at least two would-be successors have come forward. They are Tom Poelker, long-time Vice Chairman of county Democrats as well as Chairman of the Windham Democratic Committee, and Diane Louis, who chairs the New Baltimore Democratic Committee. Both have circulated candidacy-avowing letters to Democrats who are eligible to attend the County Committee’s reorganization meeting on September 28th. Mr Poelker claims preferment on the basis of natural successor status, along with the vision of a “favorable time for change” in the party’s fortunes and a resolve to “re-energize and rebuild.” Ms Louis complains of “back room” dealings in connection with the choice of successor, cites local success (electing a County legislator against a Republican incumbent!, winning Town contests), and calls for “new leadership with a winning record and a winning attitude.” Catskill’s party leader, Marie Grecco, tells Seeing Greene that both candidates are “fine persons who have worked very hard for the party.” ANALYSED: the blood of 61 GreeneLanders, at a bargain price, thanks to a program called AMBA Wellness that was carried out recently in Catskill’s new Senior Center under local sponsorship of the Lioness Club. The price of $36 for a wide range of tests was, according to Seeing Greene’s consulting physician, “lower than what I can get for myself.” The work was done by reputable Quest Diagnostics of Pittsburgh PA. Only requirement for participation is permission from one’s own physicians, to whom (as well as to the patients) results are mailed. There’s a possibility that another day of testing for GreeneLanders will be scheduled later this year. For information telephone 1 800 234-8888 (=Annual Multiphasic Blood Analysis, of West Amherst NY) or(518) 943-4992 (=Lioness President Joan Young). BUSTED, by State Police and then by Catskill Village Police, for allegedly trying to get Oxycontin from three pharmacies by way of forged prescriptions: Ashley M. Apjohn, 23, of Five Mile Woods Road. At one pharmacy, according to the police report, Ms Apjohn offered a “prescription” that was dated one day later than day of presentation. THE “PEP” in PEP Painting is not a claim about energy. It’s acronymic for Paul, Eileen & Paul Rosenblatt. The latter, Paul Jr, is a Catskill Village police officer and prospective State Trooper. And the senior Paul used to be plump. Not any more. CORRIGENDA. Diane and Amanda Collier are partners in, not just contractors for, Just Leave It To Us ([518]678-5875), whose cleaning/provisioning/servicing business is not confined to weekenders. Serendipity is at 65 West Bridge St, not 45. Our sloppy copy editor allowed “…tipster Anonymous tipster...” to get by. BYGONES. Fifty years ago, according to P.A. Bone in The Greenville Press, Federal agents warned farmer C. W. Van Zile not to sell his Cauterskill Road property (abutting the Thruway overpass) pending confirmation, or the obverse, of reports from airborne prospectors that the place contains uranium deposits. ***”My aunt’s thrift knew no bounds. At Christmas she saved all cards received and the next year crossed off the names of the senders and wrote her own. Considerate friends signed their greetings in pencil so she could easily erase the names and send those cards to her more discriminating list. The envelopes did not fit, of course, as she bought one size at the Five & Dime and folded the cards if necessary. One day I received a letter from her saying she was saving all the birthday cards and holiday greetings we had sent her, and was returning them for us to send her again.” --Edith Cole Silberstein, Our Lovable Eccentrics (Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 2005), ***On this date four years ago, our World Trade Center was obliterated.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Goings & Comings

GOING, GOING to auction, on the steps of the county courthouse (as the legal advertisements always put it), at 10 am. September 14th : the once-flourishing Full Gospel Tabernacle’s church property at 341 Main Street, Catskill. This after delayed action on a judgment of foreclosure dating from January 2004, and after vain attempts to sell the richly historic complex for a bit more than the outstanding debt of $450,000. So much for Pastor Jim Finn’s swaggarty bluster about needing bigger premises. $115,006.43=”approximate” amount of outstanding lien on another property (Blodgett Road in Windham) that, according to another legal ad, is to be auctioned (9/6, 10 am., by referee John Winans) on the courthouse steps. Such “approximations” seem to be standard. Auctioned yesterday was a foreclosed Hunter property (64 County Road 16) whose “approximate” amount of lien was $100,428 and 69 cents. COMING next Saturday (9/10), at 350 Main Street, from 5 pm.: opening of downtown Catskill’s sixth art gallery. On show at The M will be creations of proprietor Patrick Milbourn, consummate illustrator, portraitist, landscapist and ball striker. This newest milestone in the cultural revival of Thomas Cole’s home town will be celebrated up and down the rialto, with solidarity-affirming shows at The Brik, The Open Studio, The Arts Council gallery, and Verso. Visitors to The M may wish to (i) congratulate the host on the quality of his gallery’s floors (fixed after much unscheduled grief), and to (ii) rhapsodize over Patrick’s sophisticated use in landscape painting of sfumato, the technique devised by Leonardo Da Vinci so as to impart, by layering translucent colors, an image of scenic depth and of, well, smokiness. (For the latter, Seeing Greene’s art editor confesses a debt to the Wikipedia. OPENED, last night (9/1), at 45 West Bridge Street, Catskill: Serendipity, a “consignment boutique” that, according to a display ad in our local daily, deals in “clothing, home furnishings and Anitques.” COMPLETED at last: sale of Anne Sttewart’s former Kilt Shop, 384 Main Street, Catskill (two storefronts plus apartments), to Peter Griffin, Woodstock-based teacher and investor. For the near term, his only plan is to look for tenants. FIGHT MANNEQUINISM! That’s the call to battle posted on a billboard facing east-bound traffic on 9W approaching Rip Van Winkle bridge. Respondents who’ve not turned into plaster can check it out at GROWING: a service business catering to weekend GreeneLanders. It was started two years ago Sandra & Michael Smith, themselves veteran weekenders who had sought, and eventually found, reliable local people who would clean their house, stock it with provisions, otherwise get it ready just before they got up from the big city (where he’s a lawyer and she was Commissioner of Corrections). They found “ideal” help in the persons of Diane Collier and her daughter Amanda. That association gave rise to the idea for an up-scale referral business that has grown in two years from four customers to 40. It’s called Just Leave It to Us, and will soon have a web site called For more information: (518)678-5875 or The Smiths, incidentally, were stalwart members a few years back of the Leeds-based, anti-WalMart mob called It’s Not Easy Being Greene. REVIVED? We reported back in February that a Tannersville restaurant that in former lives was the Elka Inn, Beowulf’s, and China Wok would soon be reincarnated as Black Diamonds Grill. With the departure of manager Angelo Agosto, however, that project got stalled. But owners Bernie Zahn and Kris Gilly still hope to open the place in time for ski season. Meanwhile, their ambitious makeover of the Heartbreak Hotel is on track for a Fall opening. This intelligence comes to you courtesy of tipster Anonymous tipster and of Seeing Greene’s ace Mountain correspondent (and rising thespian), Charles Neighbors. WINDHAM HISTORY. Idea of forming a Windham Historical Society has been broached by Margy Davis and friends. A meeting September 22 at Center Church (6:30 pm.) has been scheduled. The organizers could do well to seek guidance from leaders of the Greene County Historical Society (731-5490), the Mountain Top Historical Society (Justine Hommel; 589-6657), the Durham Center Museum (239-8461) and/or the Zadock Pratt Museum (239-3305; but their web site needs updating). And leaders of those organizations could offer help by calling Margy at (518) 734-3700. DIVORCED: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as outside/independent auditors, from Greene County Bancorp, parent of The Bank of Greene County; after three fiscal years and, say the parties, no dispute over the books. RETAINED: Beard Miller Co. LP, a regional CPA firm (350 employees; seven offices in Pennsylvania, one each in Maryland and New Jersey), as the bank’s new outside auditor. JOBS. According to a report from the State Labor Department, employment in GreeneLand increased by 600 jobs, to 23,400 jobs, from last July 2004. The ranks of registered unemployed persons dwindled by 100. And the unemployment rate (percentage of people deemed to be part of work force, but jobless) dropped from 4.9 to 4.8. All of which indicates a healthy local rate of unemployment is lower than the figure for the State as a whole. But Columbia County seems to be doing better. It has a bigger work force (32,500 vs. our 23,400), has virtually the same number of unemployed (about 1200), and thus has a substantially lower unemployment rate (3.7%). Both counties are below the State-wide unemployment figure (5.2%). BUSTED, on grand larceny and other charges arising from activities as a Home Depot employee: Shpresa Elshani, 29, of Catskill. She is accused of stealing about $5700 in cash and store credit cards (a felony), of forging customers’ names on receipts, and of knowingly making false entries in the store’s data system. Following arraignment before Town Justice Peter Margolius and a jail spell in lieu of $5000 bail or $10,000 bond, she’s due to re-appear in Justice court, for likely assignment to county court, on September 15th. BUSTED on disturbing-the-peace charges earlier this month: Floyd Townsend, 57, and Melody Townsend, 16. In felicitous words of Village police officer Daniel Waer, they were committing “tumultuous behavior.” BUSTED, by State police, on suspicion of sexually harassing a 17-year-old neighbor: Durham denizen Gary--wait for it; no jumping ahead; don’t rush me; savor the moment; ready?--Stalker.