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Aug 3, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

2019 Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductees share love of the sport

John Hendrickson, left, is welcomed on stage by master of ceremonies Tom Durkin at this morning’s (Aug. 2) National Museum of Racing’s 2019 Hall of Fame Inductions first as president of the museum and then to accept the induction of his wife Marylou Whitney, who passed away July 19.

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 16 inductees.

Next to an empty chair honoring the recently deceased Marylou Whitney sits her husband, John Hendrickson, and one of her daughters, Heather Mabee.

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.

Past Hall of Fame inductees present at the Aug. 2 2019 ceremony were called up to be recognized and photographed. Many are well-known faces in racing, past and present.

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. 

This is just a small segment of the lawn jockeys in owners’ silks that grace the front of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Marylou Whitney’s stable is in the forefront.
Jul 20, 2019 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Thank you, Marylou, for everything

A limited edition Yankee Candle features the scent of the classic Marylou Whitney rose commissioned by her husband on her 85th birthday. She passed away July 19 at age 93.

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 son).

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.

This beautiful gift to Saratoga Springs welcomes people approaching downtown from Union Avenue, the main thoroughfare that runs from Saratoga Race Course to Congress Park.
Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson were “honorary chairs and hosts” (read: major planners and underwriters) of the 150th anniversary of racing, including the extraordinary old-fashioned Floral Fete along Broadway.
Jul 17, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Saratoga Race Course is a good thing … but we’re at risk of too much of a good thing

Kind of an ordinary weekday feel to opening day, perhaps because it was on a Thursday and a week earlier than in the past nine years.

A horse walked into a bar and the bartender asked, “Why the long face?”

“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 and 13.

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.  

One of NYRA’s improvements in recent years was letting patrons buy and sell reserved seats online.
Give-away on first Sunday of 2019 season was a new item: Picnic cooler
Live music in the gazebo behind the grandstand is always a treat.
Jun 26, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

It’s Saratoga County Senior Day!

On a bike ride this afternoon, I happened upon Saratoga County Senior Citizen Day in Congress Park. Hundreds of my over-60 peers enjoying the carousel, free carnival games and food, live music and more. Hooray for the golden years on a summer day in my favorite park.

Take Your Mother to Work Day: On Arbetter show with son Dave

Susan Arbetter billed her 15-minute conversation with David Lombardo and me on her WCNY Capitol Pressroom show today as two generations of journalists talking about the business. David tweeted it as “Take Your Mother to Work Day.”

Both were right.

It was fun to do and, I hope you’ll agree, worth listening to.

Arbetter used to know me from my years of running the newsroom of The Saratogian, the daily newspaper based in Saratoga Springs. Now she knows me as the mother of David Lombardo, the capitol reporter for the Albany Times Union and creator of its award-winning Capitol Confidential podcast.  They work across the hall from one another in the Capitol.

Arbetter is Correspondent and News and Public Affairs Director for WCNY Syracuse Pubic Television and hosts and produces The Capitol Pressroom, comprising lively, substantive, timely and (the Lombardo lovefest notwithstanding) insightful interviews on state issues. I’ve always admired her smarts, talent, presence and laugh.

It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say Dave grew up in the newsroom, though his news junkie DNA really came from his father. Wish I babbled less today about leaving David’s Pampers in the publisher’s trash can, and more about current issues facing journalists. So much pressure on a live broadcast!  

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    1 Comment

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.