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.
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.
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.”
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
interviews on state issues. I’ve always admired her smarts, talent, presence
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!
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.