You can listen at 4 p.m.
today to a live meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. Here’s why
you should: The people with the most power in Saratoga County government have
been failing to serve the best interests of the people they’re supposed to
serve. Some of their actions have been in secret, and some in flagrant
disregard of their responsibilities because, sadly, they figure they can get
away with it.
They voted huge raises for top-paid administrators for unspecified pandemic work by people who are assuredly not first responders, apparently rescinded after public exposure. They left helping the homeless during this pandemic to Saratoga Springs, even though homeless people are not restricted to city residence. The board’s Public Health Committee hasn’t met since March 4. And instead of a regular monthly public county board meeting, these “leaders” attempted to convene a “special meeting” –meaning that the chairman can severely restrict the agenda (in this case, to approve a contract for corrections officers that was news to other board members and create an unrepresentative, ad hoc COVID-19 committee). When nine of the board’s 23 members showed the gumption to vote against ratifying that inappropriate “special” meeting on Friday, the meeting was halted and a new one scheduled for today.
I can hear my parents’ warning: Don’t give yourself a kenahora!
The saying is an amalgam of the Yiddish and Hebrew “kein ayin hara.” Literally, don’t give yourself the evil eye. Don’t be smug. Don’t jinx yourself. Don’t, I can imagine them saying, write about feeling lucky to be healthy.
Who listens to their parents, alive or dead?
Today is April 21, 2020, and I want to record my small coronavirus
stories. I don’t know where to start. Certainly not at the beginning, because I
can’t tell you when that was.
Was it Valentine’s Day weekend? My husband Jim and I caught up in Manhattan with pals Tom Petzinger and Paulette Thomas, all traveling Amtrak, we from Albany and they from Pittsburgh. We enjoyed Mexican muralists and lunch at the Whitney, dinner at our favorite Il Gattopardo one night and new go-to Nerai the next, a morning in the imaginatively renovated MoMA, and the original cast in a Hadestown matinee. This was followed three days later by a cough and cold that landed me in bed for a couple of days, a March 2 trip to my primary when the cough wouldn’t quit, and now, two months later, occasional dry coughs that Jim keeps count of. Luckily, for no good reason except my inability to throw anything away, I pocketed the mask my doctor had me wear for that visit.
Was it the end of February and early March, as I hemmed and hawed about what level of insurance to buy for our mid-May trip to Spain? I gambled (having what my father called book smarts versus street smarts) that travel could be safe by then.
Was it Sunday, March 8? That afternoon Jim and I shared a New Haven pizza with our son Joe, after which he walked us around parts of the city we hadn’t seen in prior visits. Then Jim and I headed up to Northampton, Mass., for a Jayhawks concert. Jim cautioned me not to cough and I noticed how the small theater was full of old people (I was still only 65 back then).
Was it Tuesday, March 10? That was the last day I saw my
journalism students at University at Albany in person. That afternoon I sent
the class out to the Student Center to conduct quickie interviews with students
about what the school should do regarding the coronavirus. The students then had
to look up coronavirus news and facts online and weave them into a little story
with the local angle of their interview.
Or, I could start with the morning of Thursday, March 12, when I arrived at UAlbany five hours ahead of my class, having been downtown at 8:30 a.m. to tape public radio WAMC’s The Media Project. I planned to check my mail, treat myself to a large coffee in the Campus Center Starbucks, and settle in at a computer on the sunny second floor of the Science Library. The parking lot was eerily empty at 9:30. Turned out that half an hour earlier, President Havidan Rodriguez announced that someone had tested positive the previous night for COVID-19 and classes were suspended for the day. School break was the following week, anyway, so students hit the road. The next day came the message that the second half of the semester would be finished remotely. Huh?
Stay tuned for more, or don’t. When did this nightmare start
NOTE TO READERS: I have CHANGED MY MIND about these briefings, which are neither brief nor informative. I’ll set my record straight at some point, but for the moment suffice to say I totally disagree with this post! Living airing are NOT a public service. To the contrary. Anyway, here’s the original post from the start:
An email arrived the other day telling me the president is using his daily coronavirus press briefings “to spread misinformation, campaign for re-election, and bully reporters who challenge him.”
The email went on: “Instead of enabling this behavior, major news media outlets need to stop” their live, unedited coverage, and I should sign a petition demanding it.
tough to watch Trump’s cavalier and dangerous disregard of facts, science, and
truth; his obsessively political, hateful rants and innuendoes; his xenophobic
propaganda; his inability to demonstrate leadership in any way, shape or form;
his absurd failure to social distance on stage. He maliciously maligns elected
officials who dare to not kowtow and journalists trying to report the truth. He
is bad for the country and my blood pressure.
That’s why I
stopped watching. Instead, I check in on mainstream media for a credible
summary of the day’s news from rational experts and reporters.
But while I ignore
the live briefings, I don’t want the mainstream media to do the same.
Like it or not, Trump is president. To not air his briefings would leave the mainstream media open to criticism that it was stifling the president’s attempts to communicate with the country during a national crisis, and it would divert viewers to the Trump-sanctioned channel. The challenge for the mainstream media is to relentlessly, politely (to the extent possible), and unapologetically question, challenge, fact-check — and hold him and his administration responsible for what is said and done.
to a pang of déjà vu from when the media gave outrageous candidate Trump
undeserved, priceless attention. The lesson from that mistake: Don’t silence
the president, but don’t let him off the hook.
In times of
crisis, people crave leadership, information (they want to believe), and hope.
Inexplicably, people are finding this in Trump. But the president’s dinnertime
ramblings expose his ineptness and incompetence while lives and livelihoods are
being lost, and light bulbs are going on. For instance, Trump fan Mike Francesa of WFAN is appalled at what the president says
while people are dying “five minutes from where he grew up.”
radio WAMC’s The Media Project (on which I’m sometimes a panelist;
listen anytime at wamc.org) addressed a recent decision by a National Public
Radio station in Washington State to stop airing the live press briefings (though
listeners can still hear them at npr.org.)
host, Rex Smith of the Times Union newspaper, noted that the station’s action
was not censorship, which is what government does when it stifles free speech
in violation of the First Amendment. Rather, it was the station making an
editorial judgment about newsworthiness. From my decades of running the
newsroom of The Saratogian, I understand the distinction and know that such
decisions are not taken lightly.
public doesn’t make that distinction, as Rosemary Armao, a fellow University at
Albany journalism teacher, pointed out. WAMC President and CEO Alan Chartock shared on the show that his staff decided
to keep airing the briefings.
right. Better for the media to err on the side of airing – without letting the
president and his administration off the hook.
On a recent Saturday night I pulled on my knit hat, zipped up my winter coat and met up with my 10-year-old next-door neighbor and her family in our respective backyards. We stood well over six feet apart and together watched a miracle 250 miles up: the International Space Station.
At 8:11 what looked like a big, bright star rose from the
southwest on this perfectly clear evening and sailed across the sky for five
glorious minutes before disappearing from view.
Think of it: An international crew in a flying lab traveling
more than 17,000 mph – faster than four miles a second.
“At that rate you could visit me in about 30 seconds,” said Joe, who lives a three-hour drive away. Both my kids happened to be together, and they saw the space station, too. It was Joe who showed me the free ISS Detector app that lets me know when the space station will be visible from my backyard. The space station orbits the earth about every 90 minutes, but only sometimes is it in the right place at the right time in the sky for optimum viewing.
The joy I felt seeing the satellite came from sharing the excitement
and thinking about what people from different countries and cultures can accomplish
with imagination, math, science, and the drive to explore our world – and beyond.
really touched me, though, were Kelly’s well-grounded observations:
in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people
who knew more than I did about their subjects,” he wrote. “Especially in a
challenging moment like the one we are living through now, we have to seek out
knowledge from those who know the most about it and listen to them. …
from space, the Earth has no borders. The spread of the coronavirus is showing
us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for
better or for worse. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we
can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be.”
our space station sighting, my neighbor told her grandfather in the Czech Republic all
about it. She’s going to use the ISS Detector app to let him know when it will
be visible from his home. He lives in Brno, roughly 4,000 miles from Saratoga
Springs –a mere 17 space-station minutes away.
“You can credit, or
blame, Barbara Lombardo who took mercy on a then 30-something out of work
writer looking to get into the business,” Stan wrote.
He’s mistaken. Mercy
had nothing to do with it.
I hired dozens of
people during my decades running the newsroom. Right up until I left in 2015, I
prided myself on spotting budding journalists who demonstrated talent,
potential and a hunger in their belly to dive into a job for which the
shamefully low pay is rivaled only by the excessive hours and inhumane
Stan demonstrated all those
positive attributes and something more (no, Stan, I’m not referring to your
ability to make me laugh/groan). He loves people and understands how much a
community newspaper means to them. That was the clincher, and it is what
continues to set Stan apart as a sportswriter, photographer, videographer,
columnist, podcaster, copy editor, paginator, headline writer … what am I
forgetting? Oh, yeah, Pink Sheet hawker.
Stan worked primarily
for the daily Saratogian and its weekly Community News (serving southern
Saratoga County), later adding on The (Troy) Record when owners merged those operations.
Circulation numbers and salaries always made The Saratogian a “starter paper.”
Most often applicants were 22-year-olds just getting their degree, ready to
earn their chops at a small daily or even smaller weekly. Occasionally, someone
with more life experience would finally follow their heart (and perhaps the
advice of a life coach as opposed to a financial planner) with hopes of becoming
part of the newsroom. Someone like Stan.
I used to scoff at editors
of big newspapers who turned up their noses at applicants from weeklies or
small dailies. Ha! My staffers often had as much talent and worked twice as
hard and fast as writers, editors and photographers for the big boys. The best,
like Stan, understood the importance of connecting with readers and didn’t look
down their nose at hometown journalism.
I’m so glad that
before she passed away last fall, Stan’s mother was able to read Sports Editor
Joe Boyle’s “Mr. Pink Sheet” feature about how her son was practically a one-man
band producing the daily horse racing section this past summer. A line that
epitomizes Stan’s character stands out in Boyle’s piece: “Stan knew every
single hawker’s name, and even knew the competition’s hawkers.”
Athletes and their coaches and families that Stan covered over the years, especially rowers and people of all ages in southern Saratoga County, can vouch for his personal touch. He admits to bleeding Shenendehowa green. He knows readers will forgive missed hyphens in a compound modifier so long as you don’t miss coverage of the moments and milestones that make their local sports meaningful.
story short, I didn’t hire Stan out of mercy. I simply saw someone who’d put
his heart and soul into his work.
has apparently been put out to pasture.
The eight-foot-tall sculpture, which was commissioned during a 2007 citywide equine arts project, graced the lobby of The Saratogian. Unofficially named Superhorse, he is a four-legged fiberglass Clark Kent with a reporter’s notebook in his breast pocket and a suitcoat spread open to reveal Superman’s “S”.
I’d have bet
that Superhorse would’ve been kept in the building that had been home to the
daily local newspaper for more than a century. Turns out my bets on fiberglass
horses aren’t any better than my wagers at the track.
What did I
expect? The quaint redbrick building at Lake and Maple avenues where I worked
for 38 years no longer houses The Saratogian, its name above the corner doorway
notwithstanding. The considerably smaller newspaper operation relocated a few
incarnation for 20 Lake Ave. is Walt and Whitman, a modern brewery, bar, eatery
and coffeehouse that opened last week. The owners have said they were inspired
by the great American poet Walt Whitman. They’re branding their coffee Walt and
their beer Whitman, thus Walt and Whitman.
stopped in last Friday night the downstairs was hopping with more people in the
building than … ever. Patrons mingled as waitstaff scurried to deliver drinks
and eats where the press used to rumble (and I once got to yell “Stop the
press!”). The area used for decades to store giant rolls of newsprint and piles
of Sunday advertising inserts now boasts shiny equipment for producing beer. I haven’t
been yet to the café upstairs, where the newsroom and other offices were
Did I feel a
pang of The Saratogian nostalgia in the Walt and Whitman? Not a whit, even
though the only nod to the newspaper is the restroom wallpaper, old editions of
the Pink Sheet, which is still published daily during racing season. That said,
I would have liked to see the local newspaper and its 100-plus years at the
location acknowledged with photos from over the years of things like the pressmen
at work or kids hawking the paper.
though, it was great to see the circa 1902 building bustling with new life. I’d
had enough of the hedge fund owners when I left The Saratogian four years ago,
even though I loved the newspaper and my job (most of the time), working a
block from Broadway, and having a downtown parking spot (oh, how I miss that
perk), and I still give credit to the dedicated staffers who remain.
And let me
clarify about calling the building quaint: Reporters typed stories wearing
gloves to fend off wintry drafts; never-washed windows were caulked shut; editors
for years were crammed into a noisy space that layoffs ultimately morphed into
a ghostly roomful of abandoned desks.
wonderful that the building has been repurposed into a lively place for people
to get together, eat, drink, and have a good time. I confess that as an editor,
I’m itching to strike the “and” separating Walt from Whitman, but I truly wish
them well – even with Superhorse scratched from the lobby.
Americans need to replace politicians who are more afraid of
the National Rifle Association than they are of mass shootings.
Ninety percent of Americans (including NRA members),
regardless of political persuasion, endorse the use of background checks for
the purchase of any gun. The House of Representatives months ago approved two
bi-partisan bills to do this.
Yet President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
refuse to bring them up for Senate debate, never mind a vote.
Trump and McConnell are not merely preventing passage of
this citizen-supported legislation. They are also allowing politicians in the
Senate to duck and hide from the public. (And bear in mind that although passed
in the House, the bills were opposed by most House Republicans, including Elise
Stefanik, one of this area’s representatives.)
The bills, H.R. 8
1112, apply checks that already exist for the sale of certain firearms. They
do not apply to gifts among family members.
Universal background checks won’t eliminate all the gun
violence. But they can’t hurt, and they might help. (Likewise, law enforcement
leaders have said no reason exists for citizens to own military-style assault
weapons. Yet Republican politicians lack the courage to speak up — except for
one whose daughter was across the street from the Dayton shootings.)
These are not “slippery slopes” against the Second
Amendment. Passage of common-sense public protections shouldn’t be such an
What can you do? Sign the petitions that are easy to find
online. Share information. And help elect new representatives. Change will
happen only when the people in office are changed.
This morning I went to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall
of Fame ceremony to honor the day’s first 2019 inductee, Marylou Whitney, but
stayed for all 16 – eleven other “Pillars of the Turf,” one jockey and three
horses in a two-hour-plus standing-room-only event.
It was an inspiring short course on some of the most
important names in horse racing over the last 100 years.
The inductees shared a common thread: a love for and dedication
to the sport. They spanned well over a century, including James R. Keene, born
in 1838, who built one of the country’s major breeding operations and was represented
by descendants, and 97-year-old James “Ted” Bassett III, a World War II Purple
Heart recipient and ultimately oversaw Keeneland, who graciously accepted the award
and his Hall of Fame jacket. The
National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame’s website has succinct writeups on all
The ceremonies took place not at the museum, which is well
worth a visit (catch the women in racing exhibit), but around the corner in the
Fasig-Tipton auction pavilion (where you can bid – or at least watch the bidding
– on yearlings this coming Monday and Tuesday).
When this year’s inductees were announced this spring, I was
glad that Marylou, at 93 years old, was among them. Though I know she’s earned many
prestigious honors over the years, I am sad that her passing, on July 19, came too
soon to collect this award or to celebrate one more Whitney Stakes, Saturday’s
big race. Her husband, John Hendrickson graciously accepted the Hall of Fame
honor on her behalf. The two have done a great deal not only to promote horse
racing, but also to improve the lives of the backstretch workers.
Separately, in his role as current president of the museum, Hendrickson
briefly talked about the $20 million theater in the round scheduled for
installation in the racing museum next year. Whitney and Hendrickson’s marks
are all around, often subtly, in innovations and gifts to the city and the
world of racing.
The stately “Welcome to Saratoga Springs” statue of Native
Dancer surrounded by flowers where Union Avenue meets Congress Park was one of Marylou
Whitney and John Hendrickson’s many exceptional contributions to this city. I
go by it all the time, and I always think of Marylou and John, always meaning
to tell them both, thank you. Thank you for this beautiful gift.
I think I told them all of this before. But I meant to send
Marylou a note about it a few weeks ago, when I saw people posing for photos in
front of the statue, as I often do, year-round. I procrastinated, as I often do,
even knowing that Marylou was in failing health. Yesterday, on July 19, 2019, she
passed away at her home in Saratoga Springs.
I first met Marylou close to 40 years ago, when I became managing
editor of The Saratogian. My husband and I enjoyed her black-tie summer galas, attended
by a mix of local people, big names in racing, and assorted celebrities. Crowds
would gather in Congress Park outside the Canfield Casino to watch Marylou’s grand
entrances and try to spot some of the rich and famous guests. Saratoga Springs
was revived as a place to be in no small part because of Marylou’s parties,
beginning well before my arrival in the city, the Whitneys’ generosity and
their role in horse racing, and the sheer power of her personality.
My colleague at The Saratogian, Jeannette Jordan, whose
duties included society coverage, and her husband, Augie, hit it off with
Marylou. They’d frequently meet up for dinner at places like Winslow’s. “You
didn’t have to have money to be a friend of hers. She loved everybody and was
kind to everybody,” Jeannette told Times Union reporter David Lombardo (yes, my
Yet not everyone was kind to Marylou. Sometimes people would
complain to me that the newspaper had “too much” coverage of Marylou Whitney. I’d
explain they were mistaken to brush her off as merely a socialite, the wife and
later widow of the accomplished C.V. Whitney, rather than the philanthropist,
horse owner and lover, and keen businesswoman she really was. They didn’t understand
or appreciate how important she has been, for decades, to Saratoga Springs and
horse racing. She did plenty for this city — without seeking recognition.
Marylou was extremely gracious, generous, smart — and
funny. A few years ago, she and her husband, John Hendrickson, were driving on
Route 50 heading home when they passed my husband and me walking to a show at the
Saratoga Performing Arts Center (which, by the way, she helped create back in
the 1960s and supported for decades). Months later we saw them, and Marylou
leaned in to tell me, “If you need a ride to SPAC, let me know.”
Marylou and John, nearly 40 years her junior, married in
1997. Longtime friend Maureen Lewi yesterday told The Times Union: “No one
thought so in the beginning, but it was a match made in heaven. They both know
how to have fun and they both have such generous hearts.” Maureen is right. John
has truly been a loving husband and, as the need arose, a devoted caregiver.
Marylou and John have generously donated millions of dollars,
countless hours and hands-on leadership to continue to benefit the city –
enhancing Saratoga Hospital and other health care institutions (especially in
Kentucky); creating, funding, organizing and attending programs for the
backstretch workers at Saratoga Race Course; underwriting much of the celebration
of local thoroughbred racing’s 150th anniversary in 2013, including
the old-fashioned Floral Fete. This was one of the most amazing, heart-warming
things I ever saw in this city – some 40,000 people lining Broadway to cheer a
parade of dozens of people on homemade floats.
Today I’ll brave the heat to visit the Congress Park garden of long-stem, scented pink Marylou Whitney roses that John commissioned for her 85th birthday. Classic, like Marylou herself. I’ll stop for a selfie at Native Dancer’s “Welcome to Saratoga Springs.” And I’ll say thank you, Marylou. Thank you for this beautiful gift. Thank you for everything.
A horse walked into a bar and the bartender asked, “Why the long
“The longer racing season,” replied the neigh-sayer.
This year’s Saratoga Race Course season started eight days sooner
than the norm for the past nine years. Eight days too soon, I think.
The cachet of Saratoga’s racing season is due in large part to the
exclusivity of its limited engagement at the historic track. The Thursday, July
11 opening day felt like any weekday at the track.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy going to the track, and I’ve gone twice
already (though not for the whole day, which is just too long); I won with my late
dad’s favorite trainer, Linda Rice, on opening day and I saw hat contest participants
and brought home my picnic cooler give-away on Sunday.
I’m grateful to be living in a lively, thriving city, which hinges
to a great degree on the success of the New York Racing Association, which runs
Saratoga and the downstate Belmont and Aqueduct thoroughbred tracks. I
appreciate new seating options at both end of the Saratoga grandstand to lure
new and young visitors.
However, for me, living in walking distance from both the track and
Broadway, the earlier start was one more weekend of tourists taking over my
favorite restaurants and planning travel around anticipated traffic jams –
especially when the track coincides with big concerts at the Saratoga
Performing Arts Center, as was the case with the Dave Matthews Band on July 12
Not the worst problems in the world, I admit. But since a slow day
at Saratoga makes more money for NYRA than a good day at Belmont or Aqueduct, I
worry about continued lengthening of the Saratoga season. Total betting from all
sources for these first four days at Saratoga was $73.4 million, exceeding betting
on the first four days last year by more than $1.7 million.
In a tongue-in-cheek column in July 2016, the Times Union’s Tim
Wilkin wrote: “Saratoga used to be known as the August place to be as the meet
was 24 days, all in August. Then the light bulb went on at NYRA. Extend the
meet! It grew to 30 days in 1991, then 34 three years later. In 1997, it was up
to 36 days. In 2010, it hit 40 days. … Maybe they should run from the Fourth of
July to Labor Day.”
Now, without adding racing days, the season is a full week longer.
Instead of closing only on Tuesdays, the track will also be closed every Monday,
the least popular racing day, except for Labor Day.
Though the earlier opening for Saratoga was ostensibly because of
construction of an arena for the NHL Islanders on the Belmont property, who
wants to bet on the length of future Saratoga meets?
I want the track to do well and for related local businesses and
the local economy to benefit. I get that any inconvenience to local yokels is nowhere
on NYRA’s priority list. But I worry about the bigger picture – the risk of losing
the exclusivity that makes the Saratoga racing meet special.