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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
I thought the choices would be easy. I was mistaken.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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
“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
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
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
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.
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
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
· 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,
· Eva Hawkins:Why Third Parties
Matter and Why They Should Get More Media Coverage
· Lezlie Dana:Democracy, Change,
and the Courage to Believe
· Kate Dudding: The Story of One
· Kathy Johnson: Liberty and
Justice for All
· Annarosa Mudd: De-escalating the
Fight: How Arts Help Compassion and Problem-Solving
· Tara Gaston:The First Rule of
Ballot Fight Club
· Norah Brennan: Time for
· Linda Salzer:We Must
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.
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.
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.