Aug 11, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

The newspaper is what’s important, not the building — but I’ll miss it

The newspaper — moving today a mere half-mile away — has been a landmark on its Lake Avenue corner for decades.

I fell in love with The Saratogian 40 years ago, when I began my newspaper career. It was my privilege to run the newsroom for many years. The little brick building a block from Broadway and kitty-corner from City Hall represented to me the epitome of essential small-town journalism.

My first beat was city reporter. I’d run back and forth from the police station or mayor’s office to file stories and consult with editors. I’d walk downtown for comments, story ideas, and a hot dog.

Over the years, I mourned when the press was sold in favor of remote printing, but I welcomed the internet and its ability to report, share, save and update news.

When The Saratogian’s owners, Digital First Media, sold the entire block, including the building, in 2012, the newspaper became tenants. Well before I left the newspaper two years ago, it was apparent that the ability to work from anywhere, coupled with the shrinking number of employees, made the beloved old building like an old pair of Jennifer Hudson’s pants: way too big.

So, today’s the day: The Saratogian is moving from 20 Lake Ave. to 7 Wells St., a little over half a mile away. Out of downtown’s line of sight, but not far. And, I’ll bet, in the new offices staffers won’t have to wear gloves in the winter and sweaters in summer.

I’ll admit I’m a little sad to see the end of an era, to acknowledge that the staff is too small for the building, and to lose my longtime perk of a downtown parking space.

Shake it off, Barbara.

I’ve said for decades that a city the size of Saratoga Springs is fortunate to have a daily newspaper. The current cadre of employees work hard to bring us the local news. It’s the building that’s closing, not the newspaper. Lucky for all of us.

Jul 10, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Hello, reporters: Kellyanne’s job is to avert the truth, not confirm it

Rookies like Jimmy Olsen and experienced real-life reporters alike fall prey to spin in quest for truth.

Watching well-regarded TV journalists this morning hand Kellyanne Conway multiple opportunities to skirt a basic question — as if she will ever admit an administration wrongdoing — was painful. It takes me back to my days as a rookie reporter at a small-town newspaper, when I learned that you can’t make someone tell the truth.

Based on a City Hall record keeper’s tip, I obtained invoices showing the law requiring bids for construction work was dodged by having the contractor submit piecemeal invoices all just below the competitive bidding threshold. I arranged to meet with the contractor to hear firsthand his essential side to the story.

Hours later, I was back in the newsroom, in tears. The contractor would not admit the obvious. He would not tell the truth. He Kellyanne Conwayed me, back when the President’s Spinner in Chief was in grade school.

My editor straightened me out: The contractor’s answer is his answer. Report the comments and contrast them with what the documents show. That’s how you tell the truth.

I learned that lesson 40 years ago as a Jimmy Olsen at The Saratogian. But the same type of truth evasion still happens, to experienced reporters at the nation’s largest news organizations.

This weekend the New York Times reported – and Donald Trump Jr. himself tweeted — that two weeks after his father clinched the GOP nomination, Trump Jr. met with a Russian national, bringing along brother-in-law and presidential adviser Jared Kushner and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, based on a promise of compromising information about Hillary Clinton. These conflict with Trump Jr.’s own earlier statements flat out denying any such campaign-related meeting.

Watch video of ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos and CNN anchor and reporter Christopher Cuomo this morning trying to get Trump counselor Conway to address this news.

Stephanopoulos and Cuomo repeatedly told viewers and Conway, to no avail, the issues are that the meeting occurred and was not disclosed, both actions possibly at odds with federal laws. Conway ignored their questions with non-stop irrelevant responses, pooh-poohing the meeting because, according to Trump Jr., the promised campaign dirt didn’t materialize.

Maybe I should be on the verge of tears again, given the flat-out refusal of the media-bashing administration to tell the truth. I am frustrated, angry and, to take a word from President Trump, sad.

Please, 24-hour TV news: Report what happened. Report the (albeit inane official) response. Report why it matters. Repeat as needed, putting it in context. But stop asking the same questions over and over hoping for a different outcome. That’s a definition of insanity, and it’s driving me crazy.

Jul 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Saratoga Springs voters: Put the five-headed monster to rest

Saratoga Springs residents will have a chance this November to make City Hall more efficient, accountable and possibly less expensive – by voting “yes” to change the form of government.

The city is in good shape. Property taxes are reasonable. Snow is plowed and leaves are picked up. We’re well-protected by firefighters and police. Commercial and residential growth continues.

Why mess with success?

Well, the old saw “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t apply. City Hall isn’t broken, but it would surely be better with a manager overseeing the whole kit and caboodle instead of the current five-headed monster.

Talk to movers and shakers in Saratoga Springs, and they’ll admit good things happen despite city government, not because of it. If you’ve needed help or information from City Hall, as I have, you’re likely to have had to visit multiple offices in different departments to resolve a single issue. Capable, hard-working city employees privately share their frustrations with the setup.

A Charter Review Commission of 15 citizens has concluded more than 13 months of extensive research, interviews and public discussions by voting, 11-2 (with two members absent), to present its  on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. Even the nay-sayers lauded the work of their conscientious colleagues.

The new proposal isn’t perfect, but it’s less imperfect than the system it would replace.

This will be one in a series of occasional pieces in which I plan to address different facets of the charter proposition as the vote nears. I welcome your questions, suggestions and anecdotes. I’ll start with why the system should be changed.

Here are three overriding reasons the current commission government is weak, based primarily on my 38 years covering Saratoga Springs government and politics for The Saratogian as well as my experiences as a city resident:

  1. No one is in charge – not even the mayor, who has no real power to compel action.
  2. All five city council members, including the mayor, wear two hats: Each is elected as a legislator and an administrator, responsible for specific segments of City Hall, such as public safety, public works, assessments or finance – regardless of their interest or knowledge in those areas. Council members tend to focus on issues within their areas of accountability (and become their advocates), instead of taking a broader view as leaders of city government.
  3. City Hall is thus set up like five silos, each headed by one of the five City Council members, including the mayor. This results in some duplicated tasks and a cumbersome (or nonexistent) process for sharing information. Sometimes City Council members play nice together and work cooperatively; sometimes they stymie one another, to the public’s detriment. And since some departments with related functions (such as the building department and code enforcement) fall under different council members’ purviews, citizens must run from one office to another resolve an issue.

If you have a concern with street paving, it shouldn’t be addressed only to the City Council member elected as commissioner of public works. Likewise, a question about police patrols shouldn’t be directed only at the commissioner of public safety. Every council member should be responsive to the public’s concerns and have a stake in how all city matters are handled, not just those under their administrative purview. And they should be able to turn to a city manager to be sure day-to-day tasks are getting done.

That’s what the proposed system would do.

The plan is to create a seven-member City Council, including a mayor, with staggered, limited terms. The biggest change: Instead of each hiring their own full-time deputy and/or director to run their respective departments, as is now the case, the council would hire a professional manager to oversee the running of all aspects of City Hall.

The proposed form would allow for the reorganization of city operations based on the best process, not politics. The proposal makes a commitment to not laying off people but to reducing positions through attrition, and doesn’t attempt to guess at what the ultimate staff number ought to be. It’s time to let the City Council be policy makers, and let the people who work in City Hall do their jobs.

Jun 9, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Happy 30th Birthday, Dave!

It would have been a workday, that Monday morning. I sat up and swung my legs off the side of the bed. Liquid gushed onto the floor.

“Jim!” I shouted. “My water broke!”

I guess we’re doing this, I thought. It was about 7 a.m., a civilized time to wash up, head to Saratoga Hospital and give birth.

Dave and me, Barb, many moons ago.

Twenty-one (alternately boring and unbelievably painful) hours later, around a most uncivilized 4 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9, 1987,

Dave & Jim at the Hedges in Blue Mountain Lake, where we’ll be in July with Dave, Bethany, Joe and Summer, a family vacation instigated by Dave.

Jim and I experienced the most joyful, amazing moment of our lives: David Michael Lombardo was born.

Holy smokes, we created a life. We made a baby. We’re parents. We have a son!

As David was growing up, he was often the focus (along with younger brother Joe) of a lighthearted family-oriented column I wrote every week for years while managing editor of The Saratogian. I stopped writing personal stuff as the boys matured into young men.

But today I want to publicly wish him a Happy 30th Birthday.

After all, David was the one who named and created my DoneWithDeadlines.com website and Facebook page to encourage me to keep writing after I left the newspaper almost two years ago. David is the one who tells me, over and over again, how to copy the column from one medium to another, and reminds me to tweet a link. Perhaps this column will compensate for belatedly beseeching Tony Kornheiser to give Dave a birthday shoutout; I discovered to my dismay that he won’t have a podcast on June 9. 🙁

David knows what he likes, but he doesn’t ask for much. Anything Tony Kornheiser. A sub from Aunt Cookies when we’re near his alma mater, Geneseo. A printout of an American Test Kitchen recipe every now and again, and one of their recommended cooling racks or baking pans. Cookies and ice cream. Fine dining. Family get-togethers.

David inherited his father’s (and grandfathers’) interest in government, political news and sports, and his mother’s (and maternal grandfather’s) low-brow humor. He is smart, quick-witted, and innovative (check out his poozer politics podcast). He goes all in when he sets his mind on something at work, home or on the field. His smile is contagious.

Most important, though, are his character and spirit. He was a good kid who grew into a good, kind, loving man. My husband and I couldn’t be prouder.

A get-together with Dave & girlfriend Bethany, his brother Joe and girlfriend Summer, cousins Leslie, Samantha and Rachel, and Aunt Robin.

Happy Birthday, Dave!

Jun 8, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Northshire Bookstore brings Anna Quindlen to Saratoga

Adding “Miller’s Valley” to my Quindlen collection.

Saratoga Springs Public Library Director Isaac Pulver converses with Anna Quindlen during June 7 Northshire Bookstore event at Skidmore College.

I became addicted to Anna Quindlen decades ago. She was my main reason for subscribing to Newsweek and, later, what I looked forward to most in The New York Times. As a fledgling journalist, wife and mother, I admired her crisp, pointed, touching, information-packed columns and commentary. And, unlike childhood idol Brenda Starr, she was a real person. With a family. And a Pulitzer Prize.

So I jumped at the chance when our wonderful local, independent Northshire Bookstore announced that Quindlen would be coming June 7 to Saratoga Springs. Good thing I did; they sold out Skidmore College’s Palamountain Hall.

In a very sweet introduction, Rachel Person, Northshire’s event manager, talked about how her mother would share Quindlen’s columns with the directive: “You MUST read this!” Rachel seemed as excited to be in the same room as Anna Quindlen as I was.

The format was a conversation between Quindlen and Isaac Pulver, director of the Saratoga Springs Public Library. His thoughtful observations and questions elicited frank responses about a variety of subjects, many of them tied to her latest novel, “Miller’s Valley,” which just came out in paperback.

Asked about the research she does for her novels, Quindlen surprised me by saying she doesn’t do any. For her characters, she draws on her experience and basic understanding about how people behave. Everything else, she makes up. That’s OK, she assured us. We’re talking novels, not news stories.

The author’s bio in the back of “Miller’s Valley” begins “Anna Quindlen is a novelist and journalist” — and at Skidmore she said if she had to describe what she was, she’d say “reporter.” I loved that because, despite leaving the newspaper business almost two years ago, I will always think of myself as a journalist. And, like Quindlen, I cherish, defend and applaud the excellent work of reporters who protect democracy by keeping the public informed.

I was thrilled when Quindlen described how she reads her words aloud and rewrites until every sentence rings true to her ear. I’ve (almost) always done the same thing, striving for a conversational tone. Next semester I’ll tell my journalism students, “Hey, don’t take my word. Anna Quindlen does it, too.”

Quindlen brushed off an audience member’s entreaty that she return to journalism, saying Baby Boomers don’t know when it’s time to make way. How do you know it’s time? She offered this clue: While making money at college as a “Barnard Babysitter,” one of her charges was Maggie Haberman.

Jun 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Lu Lucas doubly honored by community service award named for dear friend Lisa Niles

Lu Lucas accepts the 2017 Lisa Niles Distinguished Leadership Award.

Lisa Niles would have loved this morning. Her very good friend, Lu Lucas, received the Leadership Saratoga program’s highest award, which is named in her memory.

I am happy and sad at the same time. So is Lu.

Lu was nominated for the Lisa Niles Distinguished Leadership Award honor by her longtime colleague Rich Ferguson, who at this morning’s Leadership Saratoga breakfast ran through an exhausting list of Lu’s current volunteerism. She is actively involved in so much, on top of a full-time job and personal responsibilities. And, as Rich noted, she does it without fanfare, never wishing to draw attention to herself.

Lisa was the same way.

I became friends with Lisa as colleagues in Leadership Saratoga’s initial Class of 1986 and as sisters in the fledgling Soroptimist International of Saratoga County, along with Lu and Lisa Schroeder Bevis, one of the founders of the thriving service organization. For years the four of us would get together for monthly dinners.

Lisa passed away on July 7, 2001 at the age of 45, way too young. She was the first president of the Leadership Alumni Association, hence the award in her memory.

A packed room of Leadership Saratoga alums from 1986-2017 at June 7 program. Members of the latest class described their recent public service projects.

As the latest recipient of the Lisa Niles Distinguished Leadership Award, Lu is in good company with other alums of the program who continue to volunteer for the betterment of the community. That would have been honor enough. But the award means even more for Lu, who shared in her brief remarks how Lisa was a personal friend, mentor and role model. I couldn’t have been prouder this morning as Lu was recognized for her community service in the name of a friend whose spirit clearly lives on.

 

 

Jun 6, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Take presidential pronouncements seriously, and that includes tweets

The president can communicate via a statement printed on White House letterhead, a gathering of his supporters, a televised speech, a recorded interview, a spokesman’s announcement, a call to talk radio, an email to whomever, an airplane banner. Or Twitter.

The medium matters, but not as much as the fact that it’s the president speaking. Every pronouncement by the president must be treated as such – no matter the medium.

White House aide Kellyanne Conway wants the world to dismiss Trump’s tweets. Of course she does. She derided the press for its “obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what of he does as president.”

Talking to the world via tweets is what Trump does as president. How he communicates and what he says both speak volumes about how his mind works and what he believes – and it’s the role of the press to report presidential pronouncements and hold him accountable for them.

The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman hit the nail on the head (via Twitter): “Calling them ‘tweets’ minimizes them. They’re statements from the president made on Twitter.”

I didn’t recognize this at first. All traditional press releases are not equally newsworthy. At the very start of Trump’s presidency, I thought the all-day news channels were obsessed with every tweet, endlessly and fruitlessly speculating on what he meant by the ridiculous statement of the moment.

But it took less than a month for Trump to declare via Twitter that the media is the enemy of the American people. That was nothing less than an official declaration, a directive of sorts, from the president of the United States. It scared the heck out of me. I woke up.

“Trump’s tweets are no less authoritative than Trump’s comments in a press availability or a speech,” Ed Kilgore wrote in a “New York” magazine article aptly titled, “Donald Trump’s Tweets Are Providing the Real Story of His Presidency.” He’s right. The tweets should be taken as seriously as presidential comments made through more traditional mediums — more so, in fact.

Don’t dismiss Trump tweets as crazy, casual rants. They are nothing less than official statements to the world from the president of the United States. Even when they are crazy. Especially when they are.

These 140-character outbursts reflect Trump’s unfiltered self. They reveal more than staff-written teleprompts and carry the weight of the president’s word, because that’s what they are.

Jun 5, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

New address: Heaven

 

Special Delivery

My father-in-law received a letter the other day from the Address Correction Unit of his health plan noting that the U.S. Post Office has indicated a change of address and asking for updated address information “at your earliest convenience.”

His new address since November: Heaven. Cloud Nine, I hope.

So I called the number on the letter and eventually reached a useless series of recordings. After trying various voice mail options, repeating a bad word and pressing 0 multiple times, really hard, I was connected to a real person. Sorry for your loss, said the real person, but you need to call the Address Correction Unit. She gave me another phone number.

That number eventually connected me to a friendly recording instructing the enrollee to note a change of address by completing Form TF850 or writing a letter that must be signed and dated by the enrollee.

That’s not gonna happen.

Instead, I will vent here and then drop a line to the New York State Department of Civil Service Employee Benefits Division, to let them know what’s up and, I hope, prevent further waste of our tax dollars. My father and father-in-law, now sharing the same address, would be rolling their eyes. Maybe they are.

Apr 5, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Missing mom on her birthday, a woman with “Heart and Soul”

IMG_4237 I thought fooling around on the piano would make me miss my son Joe, who lives in Chicago and for whom the mahogany Baldwin upright was purchased. Instead, poking at “Heart and Soul” made me blue for my mother, who loved her baby grand.

And so, though I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, I am going to post it today – on her birthday.

My father, a Brownsville boy, often talked about the first time he went to my then 18-year-old mother’s apartment in Bensonhurst, in the same borough but a world apart. “They had a baby grand in the living room,” he said. “I figured the Blassmans were rich.”

Not long after, when we visited Nana and Grandpa I’d bang away at “Chopsticks,” yelling “Can you hear me? Are you listening?” to my grandparents and parents as they no doubt rolled their eyes (and held their ears) in the kitchen. This could explain why Nana kept a bottle of aspirin near the sink.

Years later, my parents moved us to our first house and the baby grand took the trek from Brooklyn to Voorheesville, perfectly filling a corner of our new company-only living room. At age 17 I took lessons, despite being unable to read music, keep to the music, or get the fingers on my left hand to move independently from those on my right.

“Moonlight Sonata” Lite was my recital piece, 45 years ago. Still haven’t mastered it.

By the end of my first and only year as a piano student, the teacher had kindly taught me “Spinning Song” and a junior version of “Moonlight Sonata” so I could hold my head high (and fingers slightly curled) as the oldest performer at the recital in her old-fashioned living room.

“Henry plays better,” my father chuckled from that day on, accurately assessing one of the grade-schoolers, a boy for whom I babysat. Mom giggled and agreed. “Hey, twenty-seven fifty,” he’d call me when we had visitors, referring to the amount he’d invested in my lessons, “play something.”

Truth be told, I’m light on memories of my mother playing the piano, short of sitting beside her as I muddled through one hand of “Heart and Soul” while she played the fancy parts and sang in her lovely soprano. What I remember clearly and painfully is the regret with which my mother gave up her beloved piano when my parents downsized to an apartment.

I rarely touch our piano, but for some reason it beckoned this afternoon. When my fingers failed to reprise my recital hits, I fell back on a semi-dexterous two-handed “Heart and Soul,” making me miss mom – even though she, too, would have said, “Henry plays better.”

Apr 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

40 hours in Chicago’s Hyde Park, for fun with son

Jim and Joe after touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Robie House on the corner behind them.

Allow me to share with you the 40 hours I spent this weekend in Hyde Park, Chicago, with a nod to The New York Times’s “36 Hours” travel pieces for the inspiration.

Friday
6 p.m. Chicago time: Husband and I arrive at Midway to visit to our son Joe, whom we haven’t seen since Thanksgiving weekend. I’m excited to see him, but I’m determined to play it cool.

6:01 p.m. – 6:40 p.m.: Text Joe with vital tracking information:
Text 1: In the airport and heading to get to a taxi.
Text 2: In taxi! (with smiley face)
Text 3: We’re in our room!! (Yes, double exclamation points.)
Text 4: Room 208. Let me know you got this
Text 5: Hello?

6:45 p.m. Joe knocks and Jim opens the door as I nonchalantly peruse The New Yorker in our room at the new Hyatt Place in Hyde Park, a lovely enclave about eight miles south of downtown and home of the University of Chicago, where he is earning a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience. Hugs!!!!

7:30 p.m. Show up 15 minutes early for dinner at A10 Hyde Park Eatery and Bar, which is about 10 steps from our hotel. There is no room at the bar so we take a walk around the block. Joe points out his locked-up bike that he rode over from his apartment and I play it cool by refraining (until the next day) from commenting on the absence of a helmet.

7:45 p.m. Return to A10 where the hostess profusely apologizes because our table is not ready, perhaps suspecting that at least one of the older members of our party is on Eastern Standard Time and should be in her jammies. The wait was no big deal, really (stifle yawn). Of our three dinners, I hit the jackpot with a bone-in pork chop, polenta and grilled knob onion and a seat facing Joe (and Jim).

Saturday
9 a.m. Joe joins us and we head around the corner to the cafeteria-style, cash-only Valois Restaurant, where I am tempted to order a favorite breakfast of former Hyde Park resident Barack Obama but opt instead for one of mine, a veggie omelet with home fries and coffee.

11 a.m. Catch the breezy and informative one-hour tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic, contemporary Robie House, built more than 100 years ago and now a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Like much of Chicago built after the terrible 1871 fire, the exterior of the Robie House is brick — but the similarity to other structures of its time (and now) ends there.

Reading up on artwork “parked” in a U of Chicago garage: A Cadillac encased in concrete.

1 p.m. Stroll the campus of University of Chicago, where people seem pretty happy despite the undergraduate slogan of this being the place “where fun comes to die.” See the Cadillac encased in concrete. Swing through the free Smart Museum of Art. Then cross the courtyard to catch a matinee of the Chicago premiere of Tom Stoppard’s thought-provoking play “The Hard Problem” at the Court Theatre. Aside from a handful of students discussing “duality” as they left the packed theater, the audience overwhelmingly qualified for senior discounts, and I don’t mean college senior.

La Bombe at La Petit Folie, served rightside up but posted sideways after several failed attempts to rotate.

6:45 Dinner at La Petit Folie, in an unassuming space near the Treasure Island supermarket; a chocolate-coated super-size scoop of hazelnut-chocolate ice cream was, literally, “la bombe” of le meal.

Sunday

10 a.m. Joe leads us on a walk around the neighborhood, dotted with parks and playgrounds and noticeably more dense with shops, restaurants and apartments since he moved there in the fall of 2012.  New U of Chicago dorms and Hyde Park apartments replicate the unique wavy look of the architects’ Aqua Tower (which we’d admired on riverboat architectural tours during past visits to Chicago).

11:30 a.m. A cab awaits our return to Midway. One more hug. Make that two, to tide me over until next time. A mother can play it just so cool.

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