Jun 17, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Celebrating Mayor Ray Watkin’s legacy on his 90th birthday

Mayor Watkin pronounces Jim and Barbara husband and wife on July 8, 1978 — for the second day in a row. The day before he officially married us in City Hall.
Ray Watkin shares a laugh during his 90th birthday party in his backyard on June 9, 2019, with Nancy McNeary and her brother-in-law Fred McNeary.

When you go inside the 1910 post office on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, look around. Look up at the leaded glass skylight. Notice the murals on the walls from the 1930s. Admire the arches and architectural details remaining in one of the most elaborate lobbies of its kind in New York.

This historic gem exists because one local guy sued the federal government – and won.

That guy is Raymond Watkin, who turned 90 on June 9.

Watkin was mayor from 1974 through 1980. He was mayor when the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation was established and when the post office and other properties were designated components of a new Broadway Historic District. When Watkin couldn’t convince his City Council colleagues to step up, he personally sued the federal government — and literally stopped the destruction of the post office.

The turning point of downtown occurred during his tenure, as local and federal initiatives and investments began to restore and ultimately preserve Broadway storefronts, setting the stage for today’s thriving downtown.

At the time, I was a rookie reporter covering the city for The Saratogian, the daily newspaper. Back then the City Council elections were non-partisan, which seems fitting for local races, though no one loves to schmooze about politics more than Ray Watkin.

I don’t think I ever got a scoop out of Mayor Watkin, but he does have a special place in my heart. In 1978 he officiated my wedding – two days in a row. As our big day approached, Watkin informed us he didn’t have jurisdiction at our wedding venue in Albany. So my now-husband Jim picked me up at the newspaper and we went across the street to City Hall, where Watkin married us in a lovely, brief and intimate ceremony. He then performed the faux formalities the following day before more than a hundred unsuspecting family and friends.

Thought I’d share these couple of stories on the occasion of Ray’s 90th, to publicly thank him for a memorable marriage ceremony and for his legacy to the city.

Jun 14, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Dems should vote to keep Madigan on Saratoga Springs City Council

I plan to vote for incumbent Michele Madigan in the June 25th Democratic primary for the Saratoga Springs City Council position of Finance Commissioner.

Since taking office in 2012, when the city was in the red, Madigan has successfully managed city finances and demonstrated leadership on projects to enhance city life.

During her tenure the city has held the line on property taxes without service cutbacks, saved significant sums by refinancing city debt and restructuring city health care, and secured a highly favorable bond rating.

Equally important, Madigan reaches beyond the department she oversees to move the city forward, as a strong council member should.

For instance, she is leading the way, with support of her council colleagues, to make Saratoga Springs the first municipality in the state to set up a high-speed fiber-optic network for residents and businesses. In 2016 she created a Smart City Commission, bringing together major stakeholders from the city’s public and private institutions.

More examples: She oversaw development of a solar park on the previous landfill on Weibel Avenue that saves the city more than $60,000 a year. She partnered with the state to fence in dog park on Crescent Street off Route 9. She initiated setting aside two city-owned properties for affordable housing built by Habitat for Humanity. And during her watch, the City Council was key to preserving the Pitney Farm, which has been transformed into extensive community gardens.

I don’t agree with Madigan on everything. Her primary opponent, Patty Morrison, correctly asserts that the structure of city government needs changing, and I’m confident this will soon happen regardless of who’s on the council. To her credit, Madigan has served the city well despite the limitations of the current structure.

With the Republicans not fielding a candidate, the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to win in the general election. I’m sticking with Madigan.

Jun 6, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

My day on the beaches of Normandy, 75 years later

Two weeks ago it was my privilege to visit the Normandy region during my husband’s and my trip visit to France. We visited the Caen Memorial Museum, walked on the Utah and Omaha beaches, and in the village of Arromanches saw the Mulberry Harbors – massive manmade ports stretched across the water that made the invasion possible and served the allied forces for 10 more months (one of the many things I learned about on this tour). The beaches were so calm and peaceful, imagining what transpired there 75 years ago is overwhelming. The 9,000-plus white marble tombstones at the American Cemetery was sobering, to say the least.

This being the 75 anniversary of D-Day was one of the draws for this trip, our eighth with the local Edventures tour group, which featured four nights in Normandy and four in Paris. Today, I want to share my pictures related to D-Day.

Here’s one paragraph from the Army’s website: On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.

May 21, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Saratoga school board vote today: Lakhtakia, Woytowich plus 1

I thought the choices would be easy. I was mistaken.  

School board candidates touched on numerous topics during informative and civil forum hosted by League of Women Voters, whose online voter guide is a great resource.

The budget vote and school board elections are today, and I’m still torn about the candidates. If you live in the Saratoga Springs school district, you’re going to have to decide for yourself which of the seven candidates competing for three seats best match what you’re looking for.

I listened to all seven address myriad questions at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County at the high school May 8, reviewed their responses to the questions on the league’s website (an excellent public service), read the individual writeups in The Saratogian, noticed lawn signs, reviewed mailings, noted the Saratoga Springs Teachers Association endorsements, and chatted with one, Natalya Lakhtakia, who knocked on my door when I happened to be home.

Based on all of the above, the two candidates I feel most strongly about voting for are Natalya Lakhtakia and Connie Woytowich. I came away from the forum impressed by their smart, direct, thoughtful answers, their approach to education issues, and their highly relevant professional and personal experience. They seem passionate and reasonable. By the way, they have opposite views about whether the district should bring back armed monitors (Woytowich says yes, with training and evaluations; Lakhtakia wants only active duty officers armed). I’d like them to win, though I pity the headline writer.

I’m wavering about my third choice.

Longtime resident John Kaufmann expressed my thoughts precisely in a May 19 post on his Saratoga Springs Politics blog, where he wrote: “Any of the candidates running for the three seats open on the Saratoga Springs Board of Education would serve the district well. … All of them care deeply about our schools, and it is to their credit that they are willing to take on the very demanding job of being a school board member.”

Not one of the seven is a single-issue candidate. However, three – Ed Cubanski, Dean Kolligian and Shaun Wiggins — are running as a team in multiple mailings paid for by “Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools,” formed to reverse the current school board’s decision to disarm school monitors. Woytowich shares that goal but decided not to be associated with the group after it attacked candidate Heather Reynolds as an “anti-school safety politician.”

I respect Woytowich for this demonstration of civility for a fellow candidate. It’s inane to claim that anyone on or running for the school board does not care about the safety of the students and staff at our schools. To their credit, Cubanski, Kolligian and Wiggins have not, as far as I could tell, spouted such nonsense.

Meanwhile, Lakhtakia, John Bruggermann, and Reynolds (the only candidate with board experience, seeking her second three-year term) are more quietly being touted by those who don’t want the monitors re-armed. It takes a while to learn the ropes on a school board, and Reynolds’ investment and willingness to stick with it shouldn’t be ignored.

Without any explanation that I could find, the teachers union endorsed Kolligian, Lakhtakia and Bruggermann. Apparently neither the arming monitors issue nor being an educator and union member were deciding factors.

Four of the candidates are educators – Reynolds, Lakhtakia, Woytowich and Bruggermann. Most of the candidates have long track records in a variety of community service roles, many involving children. There are candidates of color. Three of the seven are women. All are invested in this community, personally and professionally. I regret that I’m giving candidates short shrift in this writeup.  

My best advice is to make use of the League of Women Voters first-rate voters’ guide that lets you see, read about and compare the candidates. I also recommend you read over the school board-related posts on John Kaufmann’s blog for some insight that could affect your decisions. Then get over to whichever elementary school is your polling place between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. and make your voice count.

I’m grateful so many are willing to serve. And since a third of the nine-member board is up for re-election every year, those who don’t make it this time can still be active and perhaps run again.

May 7, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Come armed – with questions – for Saratoga school board candidates

City Council elections generally draw more attention than Saratoga Springs School Board elections, even though our school tax bill is bigger than the city bill. This year is different, but the issue isn’t taxes: It’s guns and student safety.

Who wants to do what, and why?

I hope to find out Wednesday at a candidate event scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. in the high school teaching auditorium. The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County is hosting the event. The league also promises to have info about the candidates on its website ahead of the May 21 school budget and board member vote.

The other day the president of the school board resigned immediately the other day without public explanation. His three-year term would have ended in June; he did not seek re-election. He was one of members who voted last fall to disarm the monitors who patrol the schools. It passed 5-4 and sparked the current election challenges.

I’m torn about the gun issue. I think arming teachers is an invitation for disaster, but trained officers could perhaps save lives. I want to hear more. I want to learn who’s running and why – and what the candidates are bringing to the table on matters other than guns.

Here’s a link to the League of Women Voters website and one to a rather disturbing post about the campaign by the even-handed John Kaufmann on his Saratoga Springs Politics blog.

May 2, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

My weekend in Montreal

Traveled abroad last weekend … to Montreal. Yeah, it was kind of cool, windy and rainy with threat of snow – but what do you expect for the end of April? Perfect for eating and museum-visiting.

Breakfast crepes in Montreal that would be rotated if I could figure out how to do it.

One of my favorite Montreal traditions is Friday dinner at Bis, a classic and classy Italian restaurant, and both the service and the food were as wonderful as ever. I love their homemade pastas and veal dishes, but this time tried a risotto special that did not disappoint. Not to name drop, but George Clooney and Matt Damon have eaten at Bis more than once (based on photos on entry wall and website), though probably not as many times as the Lombardos.

Saturday highlights: crepes for breakfast, duck confit sandwich lunch from Vasco da Gama café, an afternoon at the Fine Arts Museum, and cavatelli with mushrooms in veal reduction with duck confit at Le Pois Penche. On a duck roll. All are in walking distance from Chateau Champlain, the hotel with the semi-circular windows that remind me of a cheese grater. Always nice to be greeted at the hotel with a big smile from George, who’s been there 40 years.

Ever the curious journalist, I popped into the lovely lobby of the Montreal Gazette, happening upon a gentleman who told me he was the last of the graphic artists and that the shrunken staff was about to move to smaller and no doubt less stylish quarters. I felt his pain.

Looking forward to next April – dinner at Bis and maybe, just maybe, completed construction of the Champlain Bridge.

Our next trip abroad is to another French-speaking destination: France! Group excursions with our fellow Edventures travelers include the Louvre, Musee D’Dorsay, and the Marmottan Museum. Your suggested sites, eateries, neighborhoods and related tips for our free day in Paris are welcome! Merci beaucoup!

Apr 16, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Don’t let Alden Global Capital (AKA MNG) kill Gannett newspapers

If you own Gannett Co. Inc. stock, I beseech you to vote for the company’s recommended board of directors – NOT for the board proposed by MNG, which wants to take over Gannett and squeeze it to death.

I know what I’m talking about.

MNG, under various names, is a vulture hedge fund that buys distressed properties like newspapers and squeezes the life out of them.

“MNG’s comfort zone is running newspapers,” lies the company in its letter with the heading “Save Gannett” mailed to Gannett shareholders.

The truth is MNG could not care less about local news. They see Gannett, they smell blood.

Funny, during my years at The Saratogian under Gannett ownership, salaries were too low and staffing inadequate. As the top editor, I had to justify buying a box of paper clips and hire reporters at barely over minimum wage. Gannett’s local newspapers suffered as the expense of satisfying shareholders.

I didn’t know how good we had it.

Gannett, at least at the time I was at The Saratogian, encouraged its newsrooms to produce meaningful stories, provide community leadership, and reflect the diversity of its population. The trade-off for perpetual entry-level pay was breaking into the field and having fun doing it. I took pride in grooming countless young journalists, many of whom are still writing, editing and even running newsrooms.

Times changed. Gannett sold off some of its properties, including the profitable Saratogian.

The Saratogian’s new owners briefly had a small news-oriented corporate-level component that encouraged significant local coverage. But that was soon cut, along with salaries and jobs. By the time I left the paper in 2015, the owners’ dropped any pretense about caring about the product, the staff, or the community they serve. I give credit to remaining handful of Saratogian staffers diligently plugging along.  

MNG boasts in its letter to Gannett shareholders that among its dozens of publications is The Denver Post. Shame on MNG for bragging about the papers it is decimating. Sure, all is not hunky-dory under Gannett as news companies strive to stay profitable and make shareholders happy in the digital age. But Gannett is a zillion times better as a news company than MNG and its hedge fund, Alden Global Capital.  

The Gannett annual meeting on May 16. If you own a share of its stock, please vote to keep its directors intact and keep MNG at bay.  

Mar 20, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Pull up a chair and listen to 12 takes on democracy in Saratoga

Our democracy was created as an experiment, and so is the democracy-inspired event you’re invited to sit in on Wednesday at Caffe Lena in downtown Saratoga Springs.

You’ve heard of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks. Well, on March 27, come hear LED Talks — League Embraces Democracy.

The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County put out a call for people who’d like to speak for a few minutes (no notes allowed!) on various aspects about making our democracy work. I’m intrigued by the varied backgrounds and interests of the dozen people who were chosen and excited about the angles they selected to address.

The two-hour, free event begins at 7 p.m. March 27; doors open at 6:30 and space is limited. I get off easy as facilitator; you and I get to listen, learn and have fun.

The ground rules for the speakers prohibit the promotion of one political party over another, but rather ask that they address issues and solutions in a knowledgeable, interesting, and engaging way. In other words, we’ll be keeping it civil, but not dull.

Speakers (who’ll be on stage between five and eight minutes each) include award-winning storytellers, a beekeeper, educators, a well-traveled GE retiree, healthcare professionals, and political candidates (successful and not).  The speakers and their topics are:

·         Margaret French: Coming to America  

·         Kathleen Quinn: Not Just for Us Hippies: What Cooperatives Can Teach Us about Democracy 

·         Michael Belanger: Taxation with Representation: The Underpinnings of National Sovereignty 

·         Cynthia Cook: Democracy, Privacy, and Technology 

·         Eva Hawkins: Why Third Parties Matter and Why They Should Get More Media Coverage 

·         Lezlie Dana: Democracy, Change, and the Courage to Believe 

·         Kate DuddingThe Story of One American Soldier 

·         Kathy JohnsonLiberty and Justice for All  

·         Annarosa MuddDe-escalating the Fight: How Arts Help Compassion and Problem-Solving 

·         Tara Gaston: The First Rule of Ballot Fight Club 

·         Norah BrennanTime for Democracy  

·         Linda Salzer: We Must Vote!  

This is the third event in the League’s Democracy Series, and the first of its kind in the very cool Caffe Lena at 47 Phila St. Food and beverages will be available (their chocolate chips are to die for). Learn more at www.lwvsaratoga.org.

Feb 19, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Take 10 minutes at the mic to talk about making democracy work

You know you have something to say about what’s at stake for our democracy in our current political climate. Here’s a chance to tell your story.

The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County is recruiting speakers for its inaugural L.E.D. Talk — modeled after the well-known TED Talks – a free event slated for 7 p.m. March 27 at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs.

Interested participants should complete the one-page application at www.lwvsaratoga.org/led-talk by Feb. 28 or call 518-728-5201 with questions. Those selected will be notified by March 3. 

Speakers will each have up to 10 minutes to talk about any issue related to making our democracy work. Examples include, but are not limited to, the importance of voting, the power of resistance, the importance of the arts in a democratic society, the impact of social media, youth enfranchisement, and the politics of inclusion. Or whatever’s on your mind.

Ground rules: Talks should not promote one political party over another but rather address issues and solutions in a knowledgeable, interesting, and engaging way. Speakers may not use notes (I didn’t make the rules, I’m just relaying the league’s announcement) or multimedia, but will have the opportunity to experiment with story-telling as they educate the audience.

I’ll have the privilege of facilitating the event, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say. If you prefer to just listen, note that the March 27 L.E.D. Talk is free and open to the public; doors open at 6:30 and food and beverages will be available from the Caffe Lena menu. If you know someone who might like to be heard, please share this.  

Feb 8, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Wave of women in leadership focus of league panel Feb. 26 in Saratoga

I call to your attention a Feb. 26 panel on Women in Leadership sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County.

Here’s the release with details: The league is sponsoring the second in our series, Making Democracy Work, a panel discussion, Women Rising: A New Wave of Leadership, scheduled for Tuesday, February 26, 2019, 7 pm at the Gannett Auditorium, Palmountain Hall, Skidmore College. The panel of three women representing business, advocacy, and politics will discuss their experiences, including challenges, growth, overcoming adversity and finding their inner strength or resilience.

The panel will feature:

Nicole Snow, founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn, located in Clifton Park. Her company is committed to doing good in the world by sourcing products that promote sustainable and fair jobs around the globe. The company sources products that promote job creation to provide meeting the needs for underserved individuals.https://www.darngoodyarn.com/

Tierra Stewart is the National Fellows Program Director with IGNITE,  a nonpartisan organization that trains young women to run for public office.  https://www.ignitenational.org/, and

Nicole Margiasso, M.A. is a Public Affairs Community Organizer for Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson. Her work involves educating community members on political and legislative issues concerning reproductive justice and connecting them with tools to take action- locally, state-wide and federally.  She is the facilitator of the Saratoga Planned Parenthood Action Council and works closely with Vox, the student-run reproductive justice group on Skidmore’s campus. 

All presentations are free and open to the public. Students of all ages are encouraged to attend. Up-to-date information can be found at www.lwvsaratoga.org or call Pattie Garrett (518) 728-5201 or email president@lwvsaratoga.org.

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