Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Figuring Out

22=number of free shots made, out of 25, on a regular-sized court, in an Elks Club-sponsored State-wide competition last week in Lake George, by GreeneLand schoolboy Justyn Lacy. That score eliminated all contestants but one. Then came the best-of-five test. Justyn hit all five. His opponent missed on his first try. So on Saturday, in Wilkes-Barre, Justyn will learn whether he’s the best junior-sized free throw shooter in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as in New York. For the tri-State test and even the nation-wide final, says proud papa Jim Lacy (the car dealer and long drive hitter), “Justyn’s got a real chance, because he’s cool. Doesn’t get rattled. Ignores the pressure.” Will Tar Heel, Blue Devil and other scouts be there?

9=Justyn’s years of age, as of February 22nd.

684=square miles in Greene County, where about 49,000 people are full-time residents and 7000 are part-timers.

6000=square miles in the Catskill Park & Forest Preserve. So says Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who also says that the land mass of New York State’s Adirondack Park, at 6,100,000 acres, is greater than the Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier and Grand Canyon national parks combined.

12,736=GreeneLanders who are registered to vote and who say they are Republicans Party adherents. Those prospective voters make up 44 per cent of all registrants. On the Democratic Party side, registrants number 6,694, or 23 per cent of all. They are out-numbered by the 6889 registrants who are affiliated with minor parties (Independence, 1250; Conservative, 780…) or with no party.

52=percentage of those registered voters who are female.

48=total of registered Catskill voters who went to the Central Avenue firehouse for Tuesday’s Village election. There they were greeted by four elections clerks—the legal minimum—who were on duty all day. Their votes were counted along with 19 valid absentee ballots. This minimal participation could well be due to the absence of contests: Joseph Kosloski sought re-election as a Village trustee and was unchallenged; Charles Adsit sought re-election as a Village Justice and he too was unchallenged. Some of the voters, however, declined to vote for both candidates; they voted only on the Democratic line (Kosloski) or the Republican line (Adsit). Iinstead of getting all 67 votes that were cast, Mr Adsit received 59 and Mr Kosloski received 58.

336=cents per gallon cost of regular gasoline in lower-end GreeneLand stations. This price is higher than the nation-wide average ($3.26), the East Coast and Central Atlantic averages ($3.24), Hudson prices (about $3.30), Vermont (ranging upward from $3.03) and the lowest-in-nation figure for this week ($2.63 in Finley TN).

4655=GreeneLand residents who are U.S. armed forces veterans. That figure, says Veterans Service Agency director John Van Loan, represents a gain over the 2006 population of 178 vets. It reverses the pattern of past years, in which the vet population dwindled. The upward trend is bound to continue, what with more returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan; and our Leeds-based National Guard unit being headed for a second overseas deployment. With increase in the veteran population comes increase in Federal benefit payments to vets and their families, along with payments to veterans’ medical care-givers. The yearly infusion currently comes to $16 million.

600,000=approximate annual co$t to GreeneLanders, says Sheriff Greg Seeley, of “boarding out” jail inmates. When the number of persons consigned to jail exceeds the supply of beds in local cells, inmates must be taken to vacant cells in other counties. Fees must be paid. Medical and transportation costs must be met. Overtime wages for escorting deputies must be paid. Sheriff Seeley hopes to reduce the costs a bit, by boarding out the inmates who are serving long terms and who are not involved in court trials, for which they must be fetched by deputies and then returned. But the possible savings are small. The boarding-out costs serve to underscore the utility of moving promptly to the construction of a new jail (a project which in any case is obligatory under State law).

104,451 = buck deers killed by hunters in New York State last season, according to Outdoors columnist Dick Nelson (Daily Mail, 2/24) citing Dept of Environmental Conservation figures. That’s an 8% increase over previous season. Even more antlerless deer were killed. GreeneLand’s tally was 1244 antlered bucks (plus 679 other deer), less than the Columbia and Ulster county figures.

1117=black bears killed in New York State by licensed hunters in 2007, up from 796 in 2006, according to DEC. Twelve of them were killed in Hunter.

36,000=dollars granted to the Village of Catskill, by State Government, from the Brownfield Opportunity Area fund, for cleaning up waterfront pollution. As reported in The Daily Freeman (3/12) the City of Hudson’s BOA grant was $37,800, Kingston’s was $401,300, and the State-wide total was $7.25 million.

14,500=number of square feet in the coming Walgreen store, with drive-through facility, off West Bridge Street (and Central Avenue) and Grandview Avenue in Catskill.

6,995,559=dollars (plus 13 cents) that the Town of Catskill’s Receiver of Taxes is officially “authorized and directed” by the State of New York “to collect, not later than April 1, 2008,” from “the several persons and Corporations” whose names appear on the Tax Roll. The Receiver is further “directed” to remit from those receipts, “not later than one week from the day of the expiration of this warrant,” to the Town Supervisor, the sum of $2,828,624.49, with the balance going to the County Treasurer.

Not gonna happen. As Receiver Michael de Benedictus explains, the Collector's Warrant” is the total levies on the tax roll—the sum that would come in if every cent that was due got paid. Actual receipts in recent years have fallen short by about 15 per cent. Thus, for 2007 the “warrant” was $6,669,000 and actual collection fell short by $1,127,000. Going on past form, payments from Town taxpayers this year will fall short of the “warrant” by about $1.3 million. But the Town’s share is not shaved proportionally. The shortfall befalls the county. And although the Receiver is “authorized and directed” to collect, he is not empowered to pester delinquents. That power belongs to the County Treasurer, Willis Vermilyea, who in recent years has steadfastly improved his score on getting delinquents to pay up.

Meanwhile, a local statute gives laggard taxpayers a grace period. If they do not pay up by April 1, a second letter goes out from the Receiver on May 1st, reminding recipients of their tardiness and boosting their tax bills by $4. After that, foreclosure looms.

6500 = approximate number of property parcels that are registered/on books in the Town of Catskill.

5000= approximate number of those parcels that (unlike governmental units, churches, and other exempt enterprises) are subject to property tax.

66=number of days that elapsed between the posting of a letter from Catskill’s Receiver of Taxes to an eligible addressee (Jan. 4th) and return of that letter (Feb. 29th), marked Undeliverable, by the Post Office. “It’s that kind of experience,” says Mr de Benedictus, “that makes me appreciate the phrase ‘going postal’.”

132=days that have passed since the proprietors of Catskill’s Doubles II tavern applied, with a $2000 payment, for a State license to sell hard liquor as well as beer and wine.

400=Daily Mail’s top-of-page-one version of number of U.S. deaths in Iraq. (The actual story, on page 6 of Tuesday’s paper, gives the fatality figure as 4000).

1793=days that have passed since the Presidential declaration, regarding Iraq, of “Mission Accomplished.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hot News?

SOLD, almost, after 62 years as an independent GreeneLand business, with 75 employees and with headquarters in Catskill and branches in Hudson and Chatham: Dunn Builders Supply. The buyer, almost, is Ed Herrington, whose eponymous building supply company includes yards in Hillsdale (Columbia County) and in four other locations, two in Connecticut and two in Massachusetts. Vendor Steve Dunn bought the business in 1980 from his father, Carlos, who had acquired it in 1946 from the wreckage of the bankrupt Catskill Supply Company. The deal with Herrington, Mr Dunn told Seeing Greene, has not been finalized although the parties have “agreed to agree” on terms (which he declined to name). The buyer, he added, “is a colleague and a savvy business friend whose business practices and commitment to this employees are regarded highly in our industry.” The sale comes in the wake of the recent arrival in Catskill of branches of the giant Home Depot and Lowes Home Improvement chains. Those new competitors cut into Dunn’s sales to do-it-yourself builders, but dealings with professional contractors, Mr Dunn said, have remained robust. (Steve Dunn is not related to Sandy Dunn of West Virginia, who is president of the National Association of Home Builders).

“THEY HAD AN ELECTION AND NOBODY CAME” could properly describe some of the balloting that took place on Tuesday in GreeneLand villages. In Tannersville, with the polls open all day as usual, incumbent Trustees Mary Sue Timpson and Linda Kline were returned, with all of 72 and 62 votes respectively, while Clifford Bertrand picked up 32 votes. In Hunter, as reported by Jim Planck (Daily Mail 3/19),182 voters turned up at the polls for the mayoralty contest, and they gave exactly 91 votes each to incumbent William Maley and to challenger Michael Tancredi. The outcome hinged on the division of 32 absentee ballots, of which Mr Maley garnered 24.

In Athens, to be sure, 612 voters did turn out. They filled two vacant Village Board seats with Herman Reinhold (222 votes) and Tim O’Leary (214), while Richard Greene (176) came up short. (He had wanted to put vinyl siding on a historic dwelling?).

Coxsackie’s election, held in the midst of simmering local controversies, did draw substantial turnout. Incumbent trustee Greg Backus, unopposed, was re-elected with 420 votes. In a three-way contest for two at-large Village Board seats, incumbent John Oliver was re-elected with 385 votes, and former mayor Dianne Ringwald was returned to the Board, after a setback in 2006. She out-polled Jason Warren, with 368 votes to his 186. Mayor John Bull was not elated.

Newspaper reports of the election contests gave prominence to the candidates’ political party affiliations, thereby suggesting, spuriously, that those labels convey vital information about personal character and/or local policy stands. The Daily Mail made some endorsements, and did so by way of claims about candidates’ beliefs and intentions, thereby suggesting, spuriously, that authors of editorials can read minds.

“FAIR” was the official medical rating Thursday morning for Ricky Caridi, co-manager of GreeneLand’s Friar Tuck Resort. Mr Caridi was airlifted on Monday morning to Albany Medical Center after reportedly shooting himself in the chest, twice, with a .38 caliber pistol. He and his cousin, Ross Caridi, are sons Friar Tuck founders Salvatore and Steve Caridi.

SIDELINED indefinitely, by complications encountered during surgery: Catskill Middle School principal Marielena Davis. Her place will be taken by Elementary School principal Selma Friedman, who in turn will be replaced by Lee Bordick, a retired administrator who has filled in here on past occasions, including being Middle School principal. Also sidelined, we understand, is Transportation Supervisor Kathy Bruno, whose duties will be added to the responsibilities of Food Services Director William Muirhead. Meanwhle, an anonymous correspondent was “just wondering if the rumor is true about The Superintendent of our schools Kate Farrell getting a shower installed in her office. Why in the world would she need one? Who's paying for it? Especially when the showers in the middle school are not useable for the students to take showers after gym class.” Another commentator says it’s “a shame that the Catskill CSD has caused the circus to be cancelled. Many area parents can't make the trip to Albany or NYC, and this was a cute, small event for them. I would strongly encourage the Kiwanis club to cease providing the school with free dictionaries, scholarships and everything else. Maybe the group can find an organization to support that would actually be grateful.”

RE-OPENING in May, for dining: the former Freehold Inn, now called Freehold House and operated by Michal (“Mickey”) Johnson. She promises “international cuisine, a good wine list, and a choice selection of New York beers.” ( ; 965-3784)

RECRUITED as Education Co-ordinator for the Thomas Cole National Historic Site: Gregory Rosenthal, a Bates College graduate (magna cum laude), a Master in Public History graduate of SUNY Albany, and recent intern at the Adirondack Museum. He started work last Monday, taking on responsibility for recruiting, training, assigning and otherwise managing volunteer docents.

HONORED, by the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association, as Best Tourism Employee: GreeneLand’s Nancy Petramale. Her nominator, county tourism director Daniela Marino, commended Ms Petramale’s effectiveness in “taking over responsibilities for matters completely outside of her job description” when the regular person was absent on medical leave for many months.

FIRED UP? Burning with outrage? It’s hard to shun word play when talking about a serious matter in Cairo’s fire-fighting company. As reported by Dollie Gull (Daily Mail, 3/14, 3/20) Chief Gerry Buckley and all four assistant chiefs—Randy Buel, Ray Feml, Bill Smith, John Buckley--have tendered resignations, and all the members of the fire company who attended a March 13th meeting voted in favor of hiring a lawyer. Those actions were, well, ignited by a decision of the town’s fire commission, in a 3-2 vote, to buy air-breathing equipment that, they contend, does not comply with State-prescribed standards. John Fabrizio, chairman of the fire commissioners, evidently has said that the cited equipment is, or will become, compliant. Here’s hoping the dispute will soon be extinguished.

HOTTEST EVER? This year’s Beaux Arts Ball, at age 20, next Saturday (3/29) at Hunter Mountain’s Copper Tree Restaurant. The usual array of fine items for sale by way of silent auction before dinner—enhanced, in no small measure, by the open bar and the ear+eye candy of Lex Grey’s “naughty cabaret.” A post-poster work of art by Patrick Milbourn. An award ceremony honoring a great Mid-Hudson friend of arts & history & letters. Music for dining & dancing by the incandescent party band Nite-Time led by new Athenians Yves Gerard and Amy Serrago ([518]444-8131), backed by Richard Hammond, Jack Moer, Mark Rivera and Scott Eggert. Some of the Ball-going men will not be clad in tuxedos. The ball-gowned ladies may look different and similar. At blog-post time this event, which is the GreeneLand Arts Council’s big annual fund-raiser, was not quite sold out. Telephone 943-3400.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wearin' o' the Greene

IT’S A WRAP is the name chosen by Denise and Steven Pliego for their healthy-diet-leaning delicatessen and daytime restaurant in Catskill, in the Brando’s Alley site recently vacated by Michael La Rosa. Opening day is set for April 1. That’s the same day that Tina Gagliardy has chosen to open Mahalo, her Hawaiian-accented gift shop on Main Street. And it’s Daniel Murtaugh’s and Josh O’Brien’s target date for opening Café Panini at 26 West Bridge.

ALREADY OPERATING on Main Street (#352; Stan Raven’s refurbished building) of March 1, as of March 1st, is the Satya Yoga Center directed by Jessie Lee Montague and Sondra Loring. According to their web site (, Ms Montague, after being schooled at an ashram in fetid Kerala, India, teaches T. Krishnamachary-shaped “vinyasa flow” drawn from the Iyangar, Anusara and Ashtanga traditions. Ms Loring too favors the Ashtanga and Iyengar ways; her classes exemplify “vinyasa style infused with her somatic knowledge of yoga texts.”

CANCELED: the Cole All-Star Circus that for the past 17 years has been brought by the Catskill Kiwanis Club to the High School gymnasium. The show had been scheduled for this Sunday but, in the words of the club’s directors, was canceled “because we were not able to come to an accommodation with the school administration for the use of the… gymnasium.” That is a polite way of saying that the school administration balked at terms of accommodation that for all the previous years had been acceptable. The annual show had entertained, gratis, hundreds of Firemen’s Home residents and thousands of area children. Ticket sales to adults yielded modest sums which made up a fraction of what the Kiwanians dispensed to school-related causes.

CELEBRATED at an open house Wednesday evening (3/12) in Coxsackie’s Heermance Memorial Library: that institution’s 100th birthday (the 100th year, to the day, when the library was chartered by the State of New York). An elaborate exhibition devised by Lynn Drees Breslin and many contributors--Andrew Berlin, Bill Johns, Mark Margalin, Janet Atkins, Marilyn Rausch, Tom Nelson-- was unveiled, and is now on show.

STUDIO-C is the name of a “creative arts networking coalition” that GreeneLanders Brian Branigan and Allison Culbertson have instigated. “The idea,” says Brian, “is to create a network so that area artists and creative types get themselves known and draw attention to their individual businesses.” To launch the project and to warm up for the 2009 Hudson River quadricentennial celebration, Brian and Allison will screen classic films in riverside parks between New York City and Troy on weekends this summer. Along with collaborators, (members and sponsors), they aim “to sprinkle art culture in various communities and have fun.” The successive events also are “open to area poets, filmmakers, musicians, artists and craftspeople.” Read all about it as

RECOVERING at St Peter’s hospital in Albany, from the acquisition last week of two new surgically implanted knees, is GreeneLand elections commissioner Frank de Benedictus. He’s doing the rehabilitation, at age 82. Meanwhile, his fellow commissioner, Tom Burke, has been back at work for several weeks, although he has not recovered fully from effects of a stroke and a quadruple bypass. In addition, Hilary Manning-Lundy, the Greene-tinged Briton who has run the Wilder Gallery in downtown Catskill, is recuperating from an apparently successful bone marrow transplant that was aimed at battling leukemia. She was the beneficiary, to the tune of more than $1000, of a benefit on March 1 in the Doubles II party rooms.

FORTIFIED by a $4 capital infusion, according to a Multiple-Housing News report (2/27) is Tower Management Co., developers of the up-scale Catskill Creek Condominiums (fronting on—would you believe?—Catskill Creek in Catskill). The project is comprised of 24 creek-side dwellings (three bedrooms or four), with ten more units planned. The new money may account for the recent renewal of advertising for the project, with Weichert Realty doing the marketing and prices quoted as “from $279,900.” That figure price is higher than what is being asked, in an adjacent display ad, for a 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom place at Sleepy Hollow Lake: $249,500.

AND SPEAKING of real estate ads, Red Apple Realty, in touting a certain dilapidated dwelling, invites prospective buyers to “clean your clock and this house while your [sic.] at it.”

HONORED? According to a story in The Daily Mail (3/12), “the nation’s leading independent bank rating research firm” has bestowed an “Exceptional Performance” crown on The Bank of Greene County, which for 66 consecutive quarters won the firm’s “5-Star Superior” rating. The story’s opening sentence recounts what that rating firm “proudly announces” but does not disclose when or where the announcement was made. Also, while ostensibly quoting what “Karen L. Dorway, president of the research firm,” said about the award, the report does not say where or when the lady spoke. And at no point does the report supply that firm’s name.

TODAY (Friday, 3/14/08) is the 157th anniversary of a devastating Catskill fire that destroyed many buildings, and killed many horses, between Broad Street and the Creek. Severely damaged were the Greene County Hotel, Franklin House, Beach’s Livery Stables, the Dutch Reformed Church and the Baptist church. A Greene County Whig reporter opined (maniacally? and redundantly) that “The leaping waves of flame, as they swept up the tall spires of the Churches, with snake-like rapidity, conspired to render the scene sublimely grand and magnificent.”

TOMORROW (Saturday, 3/15) is a Too Much day, with tempting, competing attractions all over GreeneLand. In Tannersville, at 1pm, an almost-St Patrick’s Day parade will head west up Main Street from the Village Hall, culminating at O’Neill’s Public House with appropriate Irish festivities. (589-0208 or 589-5658).

In Acra, at the Agroforestry Resource Center, from 10am, Cornell Co-Operative Extension mavens will teach and show all about utilizing maple trees, for syrup and other purposes.

In Athens, from 5:30pm, a fund-raiser for the Cultural Center’s façade project has been organized by John McInerney on the model of “an Irish Siamsa (pronounced seem-shu) where people sing, dance and tell stories to sustain and redefine traditional culture in their own style.” For this occasion “satire is welcome, though not obligatory, as are silly hats and costumes. Be as serious, as profound or as ridiculous as you wish. The more contributions there are the more fun it will be.”

In East Durham a cabaret, “It’s a Great Day for the Irish!” will be performed at Weldon House (Route 145; telephone 6342286). It’s a kickoff production led by Mary Ellen Petti with support of the new Performing Arts committee of Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre. Another performance will be given on Sunday.

In Catskill, the firefighters are serving a corned beef & cabbage dinner ($9 for adults) between 3 and 7pm at the Central Avenue firehouse, and on Main Street’s it’s Saturday Studios time. Gallery Association president David Griffin invites strollers to “join us for a glass of art history,” saluting “two landmarks…: the one-year anniversary of the founding of the Catskill Gallery Association, and the lifting of the century-old ban on absinthe! This potent liquor, made of distillate of wormwood, has long been associated with various art movements in France and America, including the Impressionists, the Symbolists and the Decadents, who considered the drink a source of inspiration and referred to its effects as ‘dancing with the green fairy’.” Included in the studio events (from 6pm) will be an M Gallery unveiling of “The Piano Player,” a new Patrick Milbourn creation, first in a contemplated series of giclee-process pictures that evoke, while also transcending, the cherished posters he created in past years for the Arts Council’s Beaux Arts Ball. Moreover, from 9pm on, the rocking and/or rolling Digits will serenade Creekside Restaurant patrons.

SUNDAY’S activities could begin with a big breakfast at the Kiskatom Firehouse, starting at 8am. The cost is $6 for adults, except for the superannuated, who get a $1 discount. In Catskill, 2pm, at the Catskill Bookshop (347 Main St), Tony de Vito offers a Writers’ Read-In (prose or verse). or (518)966-0438. In the evening, at the Athens Cultural Center, Jerry Miller will illuminate “Strategies in Street Photography.” (945-2866;; ). milbourn_cropprint2.jpg


Friday, March 07, 2008

Marching Along

COPYDOGS. Columbia County Chamber of Commerce honchos are planning a promotion that emulates Catskill’s brilliant Cat ‘n Around show last summer. Only their figures of choice, for sidewalk sculptures, will be dogs. Meanwhile, Catskill’s feline replay for this summer has had a strong start, with 62 sponsorships, ranging upward in cost from $500, eventuating from the designs that were exhibited at BRIK gallery. The newly created cats will populate Main Street and kindred pathways starting on Memorial Day, with the big auction scheduled for September 21st. Some of the fiberglass felines for this year are dubbed Cat'n Hook, Botanicat, Phil the Philatelic Cat, Cole’s View, Caddy Cat and Copurrnicus.

CLOSED, as of last week, following a Republican Party function: LaRosa’s Market and Café, on Brando’s Alley in Catskill. The place is now available for rent at $1500 per month, says proprietor Michael DeBenedictus, and “we’ve already had quite a few inquiries.”

GONE from the upper floor of the original Greene County Courthouse (now the office of lawyer and historian Ted Hilscher, corner of Franklin and Bridge Streets, Catskill, is Krisna Creque Dodig’s Dance Fit International. The web site is moribund.

GONE from 355 Main St, at great loss to chocolate addicts (and to fans of tall slender women): Catskill + Co. Business there was far from slow, but proprietor Jean (“Bean”) Andzulis, as the mother of 5, was over-stretched. Building owner Andrea Lowenthal (671-6200) aims to find a new tenant who “will be a good neighbor and a good addition to Main Street.” The place is totally ready to be a restaurant.

OPENING soon in Catskill: a pet food store and an Italian delicatessen, on West Bridge Street, along with the gift shop that replaces the former Beginners Mind gallery, on Main Street.

AUTHORIZED recently to operate around GreeneLand as limited liability corporations are firms bearing the names Greene Scorpion Group (Cairo), Builders of Yehudah (Oak Hill), Ninis (Leeds), Crackerjack Classics and Worldwide Galleries (Tannersville), North Country Associates (Coxsackie), Urban Country (Maplecrest), Trenchcoat Productions, and Bare Fete (!) and Traveling Fete (Climax).

CHALLENGED by a neighbor or two in Cairo, most recently at a Planning Board hearing last Wednesday: Tom Roe’s plans to build a study center on his Wave Farm property, for use as main studio for what he and friends hope will be a new, low-power community radio station. In other respects the 103.9FM project is progressing.

CITED recently for deficiencies, twice, by the State Health Department, according to June Maxam of the muck-raking North Country Gazette is Catskill’s branch of the Eden Park nursing homes company. The Gazette report of February 28th. (See , then search for Eden Park) is peculiarly cryptic, with no follow-up on the initial statement about the citations. Additional information may be accessible through but navigation through that site is awkward.

MAULED lately by our local Congressperson, as well as by our local news grubbers: the English language. “If you believe in openness and transparency, if you believe that elections should not be the exclusive domain of multi-millionaires with ties to party leadership,” says Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand in a Feb. 25 solicitation letter, “then please make a $35, $85, or even $150 today.” As for the Press: “A Serb nationalist wearing a traditional cap provocates a U.S. solider serving in KFOR….” “…the surveillance camera have allegedly captured pictures….” “O’Connorhas requested a movement of the system from one side of the street to the other side where less interference with existing structure will take place as well as an increase in effectiveness.” “Environmental damage on the properties include old tires, oil tanks, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation has ordered the cleanup of a New Baltimore plot of land.” “The cost of the lease will be $100,000 per year, according to Frank, which will be funded primarily through bonds.” “He also noted that he had experienced the use of a Taser, in which he holds certification, in a suicide attempt by a Cairo resident and that the use of the device resulted in the saving of that individual who, said Sprague. ‘To this day, when he sees me, thanks me for saving his life’.”

SLATED for Sunday, at Beattie-Powers Place, from 2pm: Wei Zhou playing piano works of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Prokofiev. Ms Wei collected top prizes in China and in Europe on her way to the Bard Conservatory of Music.

Monday, March 03, 2008

November's Election

In 246 days from now, a majority of Americans who vote in their national elections will choose, for the office of President of the United States, Barack Obama. In popular votes and State electoral votes received, Senator Obama will out-poll his main rival, John McCain, by an unusually big margin.

On that same day, November 4th, voting in the various States will produce a big change in the U.S. Senate. Members who are affiliated with the Democratic Party, along with President-elect Obama, will increase in number from 51 out of 100 to 56 or more. Democrats will beat Republican nominees in contests to replace retiring Republicans in Virginia (Mark Warner succeeds John Warner), Colorado (Mark Udall succeeds Wayne Allard) and New Mexico (Tom Udall succeeds Pete Domenici). Elsewhere, Democratic candidates will oust Republican incumbents in New Hampshire (Jeanne Shaheen for John Sununu) and Minnesota (Al Franken for Norm Coleman). Those changes may be augmented by additional wins by Democratic nominees against incumbent Republicans in Oregon (Gordon Smith) and Maine (Susan Collins), and perhaps even Alaska (Ted Stevens), Mississippi (short-termer Roger Wicker succeeding retiree Trent Lott) or Oklahoma (James Inhofe).

In the House of Representatives, too, the Democrats’ majority, acquired just two years ago, will increase. The net gain will be at least 15 seats, to 246 or more out of 435. In Pennsylvania, all four Democrats who wrested seats from Republicans in November 2006 will retain their offices. One more Democrat may be added. In Illinois, long before November,Democratic nominee Bill Foster will beat Republican Jim Oberweiss in the 14th district, which had been the citadel of Republican chieftain Dennis Hastert, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives. {After Note: in a March 8th special election, Foster did win the seat. He'll be the incumbent in a second match against Oberweiss in November. His recent winning margin, 52%-48%, will grow). And in th 11th Congressional District in Illinois, Democrat Debbie Halvorsen will capture the seat vacated by Republican Jerry Weller. In North Carolina's 8th district, Democratic nominee Larry Kissell, who lost to Republican incumbent Robin Hayes by only 329 votes in 2006, will win the seat this time. In Colorado’s 4th District, Betsy Markey will beat Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave. In Missouri, Democratic candidates will pick up the Republican-held 6th District seat, or the 9th District seat, or both. In Florida’s 13th District, Christine Jennings will oust Vern Buchanan. In New York, the 23-6 preponderance of Democrats in the Congress will undergo a small increase. The three Democrats who captured Republican-held seats in 2006--Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hall and Michael Arcuri--will win re-election. Among the seats that are currently occupied by Republicans James Walsh, Randy Kuhl and James Reynolds, at least one will be captured by the Democratic nominee. The captor could well be Dan Maffei in the 25th District, from which Mr Walsh is retiring, or Erik Massa in the 29th District, making a second run against Mr Kuhl. Meanwhile, the Democrats will pick up the one State Senate seat they need in order to break the long-established Republican control of that law-making body.

That package of predictions is not based on observations of astral alignments or chickens’ entrails. It marks an attempt to read the implications of politically relevant conditions that already are firmly set as well as to anticipate the effects of formative events that are likely to occur between now and Election Day. (It can be read as a sequel to what appeared in Seeing Greene back in August 29, 2006, 80 days before the November by-elections. We foresaw a “Democratic sweep.” To that generalization we attached numbers, in the way of likely gains of seats in the Senate, the House of Representatives, and governors’ mansions. The numbers were big, they came earlier than the projections of nationally reputed prognosticators, and they were substantially correct. The current forecast, at any rate, is based on these considerations.

UNEVEN TURNOUT. The standard pattern in United States elections is for Republican-leaning voters to participate at higher rates than Democratic-leaning voters. That will not happen this November. The coming reversal of form has been foreshadowed by turnout figures in the State primary elections and caucuses. Participation in the Democratic contests far exceeded participation on the Republican side. Thus, on Super Tuesday, as TIME writer Joe Klein pointed out, votes cast in the Democratic primaries exceeded votes cast in the Republican primaries, in the same States, by 15.4 million to 9.2 million.

Differences of that sort attest to the fact that, as Republican strategist Scott Reed has said (Associated Press, 2/28/08), Republicans have suffered since 2006 from “an enthusiasm gap.” Democratic candidates “have big crowds, raise more money and appear to have more excitement on the campaign trail.” That condition, of course, could change in the coming months—eight of them—before Election Day. An outburst of prosperity, for example, would rejuvenate the Republican cause; but the economic news is more likely to continue to be troubling; and that hurts the President’s party. In the words of pro-Republican columnist Robert Novak (2/29/08), “lack of liquidity is a menace that could implode the economy and create a Democratic electoral landslide.”

Republican sympathizers have been demoralized by Botch Administration blunders, by scandals involving Republican Congressmen, and then by the nomination battle’s wrangling over “conservative” credentials. Some of them, in addition to withholding their money and their energies, will not bother to vote. Some of them, indeed, will abstain in the hope that a major defeat for Senator McCain will serve to discredit his imperfectly “conservative” stance, thereby paving the way for nominating a pure “conservative” in 2012 or 2016.

By way of contrast, supporters of Hillary Clinton and of the other unsuccessful contestants for the Democratic presidential nomination have not been alienated from their party by the conflicts that have attended Barack Obama’s drive to the nomination. They do not comprise a demographic or ideological bloc. Consequently, while the Republican nominating convention in July reopens and deepens the conflicts that have attended the preceding primary election battles, the Democrats’ nominating convention will be a love feast. Meanwhile, Senator Obama has proved to be extraordinarily popular with people belonging to segments of the population whose turnout rates usually are low: independents, African-Americans, and young voters. Their numbers will swell the support for him—and for his ticket—in November.

*SPECIAL VULNERABILITY. Republican campaign funds are abnormally low this year, at a time when Republican needs are abnormally high. Electoral setbacks for Republicans will be caused not just by the Obama-fueled Coattail Effect, but also by electoral arithmetic. This factor is especially salient for the U.S. Senate elections. On November 4th, 34 seats will be subject to contest on the ballot and, as it happens, 22 of them are currently occupied by Republicans. The Democrats, while holding a 51-49 majority, must defend only 12 seats. Their big financial advantage--a historical rarity--coincides with a strategic advantage. Sen. Charles Schumer’s campaign committee can protect the incumbent Democrats and still give generous financial support to challengers of incumbent Republicans.

*RETIREMENTS. Adding to the problem of having more seats to defend is the Republicans’ problem of having more vacancies to fill. Thus, in the Senate, at least four of the seats that are subject to contest on November 4th and are currently occupied by Republicans will be vacant; the incumbent is not seeking re-election. The retirees include John Warner of Virginia, Wayne Allard of Colorado, Peter Domenici of New Mexico, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. (They may be joined by the egregious Larry Craig of Idaho). Democratic nominees Mark Warner, Morris Udall and Tom Udall will capture the Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico seats. Elsewhere, strong Democratic challenges to incumbent Republican Senators are being mounted not only in New Hampshire and Minnestoa, but also in Maine, Oregon and even Alaska and Oklahoma. They will occur in the midst of a strong national tide.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, all 435 seats will be subject to contest in November, but not every contest will pit a challenger against an incumbent. In more than a few districts, the current incumbent will not be on the ballot. In those districts, accordingly, neither contestant reaps the electoral profit that normally goes with incumbency: the salary, the staff budget, the pressure group connections, the stock of favors previously done for constituents. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the retiring Representative is a Republican. And in most of those cases, the retiree is from a competitively marginal district. [Addendum: According to a Chicago Tribune appraisal (3/14), 50% more Republican- than Democrat-held House seats are "in play," and the national Democrats have 5 times more dollars to spend on their campaigns. Moreover, regarding the seats captured by Democrats from Republicans in 2006, only half are counted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as winnable prospects]

As of late February 2008, 30 Republican incumbents had vacated seats or had announced retirement plans. (Only six Democratic incumbents had done the same, and three of them are running for higher office). The Republican figure is the highest in 50 years. Many of those Members are quitting because they anticipate either defeat at the hands of a challenger or victory by a narrow margin after a harrowing campaign. This sense of futility is fueled by realistic considerations:

Minority status. When the Republicans lost their House and Senate majorities in the November 2006 elections, they incurred a big reduction in ability to deliver vote-winning services to their constituents. Conversely, the Democrats who won seats for the first time in 2006 immediately gained the leverage that goes with belonging to the House's governing party.

Poverty. According to an Associated Press story (2/29/08), Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton jointly raised seven times as much campaign money in February as John McCain did. Similar disparities have occurred with regard to the two parties’ Senatorial and Congressional campaign committees. The Democratic committees can give generous backing to every Democratic candidate, even to challengers of seemingly entrenched Republicans. The Republican committees’ funds will go only to beleaguered incumbents.

Challenger quality. Because 2008 looks good for the Democrats, strong candidates step forward to run for Republican-held seats. Conversely, because 2008 looks good for the Democrats, strong, electable Republican challengers of incumbent Democrats are hard to find. This seems to be the case even where incumbent Democrats are defending seats that had been held by Republicans for decades before November 2006.

Frustration. Many of the retiring House Republicans come under the classification “moderate” or “centrist.” They cluster in Washington, says Thomas F. Schaller in an American Prospect piece (12/07) in the group known as the Main Street Partnership. Although their political orientation has helped them to survive in their marginal districts, it has put them at odds with party chieftains. Instead of making a special point of protecting the occupants of those marginal districts, by way of valuable perquisites and promotions, the House leaders (Newt Gingrich, then Tom Delay, then John Boehmer) have thwarted their moderate colleagues, who at the same time are apt to be hammered at home by “conservative” GOP activists. (This pattern is depicted by John Gizzi, political editor of the arch-“conservative” organ Human Events, in an 11/26/07 posting. It has for its counterparts on the Democratic side primary election challenges to “Bush Democrats.” Two of those challenges recently were successful. They occurred in safe Democratic seats).

So: who wants to bet?