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Nov 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Heartsick over Sutherland Springs? Heed Kristof, support Giffords

Need help articulating a convincing argument for gun safety laws, backed by credible data? Check out the column published today by the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. With supporting graphics by Bill Marsh (and a dramatic illustration by Edel Rodriguez), Kristof, as usual, doesn’t criticize, preach or pontificate. Instead, the spells out what’s not working now – for liberals or conservatives – and how, using automobile safety as a guide, much can be done to significantly reduce firearms deaths in the U.S.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Like you, I am heartsick over the church shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And the New York City truck deaths. The Las Vegan massacre. San Bernadino. Newtown — shouldn’t that have been enough? What is wrong with us? Where is the political courage and common sense?

Putting more guns in more people’s hands is most assuredly not the way to decrease deaths. Assault weapons, semi-automatic guns, were not on the radar of our Founding Fathers when they created the Second Amendment.

Read, save and share the Kristof piece. And if you’re inspired to act, visit and support former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s PAC and advocacy organization promoting sensible gun legislation.


Nov 4, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Take the leap, Saratoga Springs, to council-manager City Hall

The current commission form sets City Hall up as five separate silos that can’t be forced to cooperate, with no one really in charge.

I’m voting yes on charter change in Saratoga Springs, for one overriding reason: to trade a system in which City Council members are both legislators and administrators, each with separate silos of responsibility, for a structure in which City Council members are policy-makers who hire a city manager to oversee the day-to-day operations of City Hall.

Everything else about the change are just details, though that’s where some say you’ll find the devil.

Changes you’d notice: A council with seven members instead of five, including the mayor; staggered four-year terms, allowing for continuity, instead of everyone up for re-election every two years; and the introduction of term limits. Present council members could run under the new form, and Saratoga Springs would be well-served if some of them did.

If you have a request, complaint or question about the city and its services, you could still contact the specific department, or you could contact the city manager’s office or any City Council member, including the mayor. And the carrying out of City Council directives will no longer depend on council members’ willingness to allow their departments to cooperate.

Other changes optimistically promised by the pro-change group include a less expensive City Hall, markedly increased efficiency, less politics in government, and a surge in council candidates. We’ll see.

City residents who, like me, are proud to call this city their home, have raised their families here, and participate in civic life – intelligent, caring people whose opinions I respect – are on both sides of the issue.

A few in the pro-change leadership have been disappointingly condescending about the ability and integrity of those currently running the city. They would have been better advised to follow the lead of level-headed charter change supporters like former Mayor A.C. Riley, focusing on the advantages of having a professional manager running the city rather than an arcane system where literally no one is really in charge and commissioners are encouraged to be department caretakers rather than pro-active policy-makers.

Both sides include Republicans and Democrats and some odd bedfellows.

Among anti-change donors are a large number of big-money pro-development Republicans such as Tom Roohan, Frank Parillo and Bill Dake, as well as some liberal Democrats, like former Mayor Ken Klotz and former city Democratic chairwoman Jane Weihe. Meanwhile, among those on the pro-change side are Dake and Riley’s son Gary Dake, the Stewart’s Shops president, land preservation advocate Barbara Glaser, longtime local League of Women Voters leader Barbara Thomas, and brothers Bill and Tom McTygue of the former city public works dynasty.

Two city council members strongly supporting the status quo, John Franck and Michele Madigan, have successfully challenged many of the pro-change group’s financial claims. But they have not convinced me that the commission system, which relies on council members’ willingness to work together, is more effective or efficient than the proposed council-manager form.

I asked former Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Joe Dalton to explain his interest in spearheading the no vote. He talked about how politicians by nature avoid making decisions, especially controversial ones, and that council members’ basic roles are to maintain government services and carry out initiatives brought forth from outside City Hall. He is concerned, it seemed to me, that the council-manager form with seven at-large council members would weaken the influence of those with whom he is aligned.

In contrast, I would like to see more council members with varied backgrounds and long-term vision who are interested in taking initiative rather than being custodians. The council-manager form lends itself to that much better than the commission form.

You can find more about charter vote donors on the Saratoga Springs Politics website by John Kaufmann, whose even-handed blogging I respect even though our charter votes will cancel each other out. You can also learn more on the websites, and

Issues facing the city will be the same regardless of the form of government, such as: a budget that holds down property taxes by dipping into the city’s rainy-day fund, delaying and likely exacerbating eventual tax increases; disputes over land use and where and how the city should grow; the uncertain future of horse racing as a major driver of the city’s economy; and housing too steep for service industry employees on whom local businesses rely.

That said, this is a thriving, lively city with reasonable taxes, solid business involvement, and community members generous with both their volunteer time and money. The city will likely be OK whatever its form of government. But we have a rare opportunity on Nov. 7 to take an educated leap, to let a full-time professional run City Hall and expect elected City Council members to steer Saratoga Springs into the future. Tear down the silos.


Oct 17, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Sitting tight on a flight: I’d prefer legroom to linguini, Delta

$99 bought “up to 4 inches” on this flight, as seen on seatguru

Last month on an 8-hour-plus flight from JFK to Barcelona I was absolutely thrilled to be able to pay Delta an extra $99 per seat, each way, for “up to 4 inches” more legroom than in the economy cabin for my husband and myself.

So I read with some amusement in today’s New York Times that Delta Airlines has resumed free meals for cross-country passengers. Sure, ya gotta eat. But what we really want are basic seats that don’t make you feel like a strapped-in hostage about to be interrogated.

Oct 10, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Priorities all wet as city cracks down on kids selling water

Top story in Oct. 6 Saratogian reveals crackdown on dangerous local criminals

What a relief to see our city leaders cracking down on some of the most heinous and pervasive criminals in Saratoga Springs: kids selling water bottles outside the racetrack.

“My department was constantly badgered and disrespected by a few of the water bottle salespersons this season,” wrote the code enforcer in a letter read at a recent City Council meeting by his boss, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, who is not seeking re-election.

Whatever happened to an informal word from police on patrol telling sellers: no T-shirt sales, no adult entrepreneurs, and – hey! – no throwing bottles. Apparently the H20 gangs were just too much to handle and a few disrupters ruined it for everyone.

I walked to the track over Lincoln Avenue almost every weekend this summer and occasionally purchased a $1 bottle from a couple of low-key and polite little girls sitting beside a cooler, sometimes because I was thirsty but usually just to support their business.

Don’t give up hope, kids: A couple of City Council members who are running unopposed expressed an interest in figuring out how to fix this situation before the start of the 2018 racing season.

Thank goodness my children’s Lucky Lemonade stand, a Travers Day operation in the 1990s, was far enough from the Saratoga Race Course entrance to avoid threat of prosecution.

I wonder if the diligence in crushing youthful entrepreneurship is applied as fervently to other track-related money makers, like making sure people who park cars on their property during racing season are paying the taxes due on their income.



Oct 9, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

We need gun owners to support common-sense safety laws

If only the 90 percent of gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA would speak up — like the self-described sensible gun owner who wrote this piece — and support efforts like Gabby Gifford’s PAC, aptly named Americans for Responsible Solutions.

If only elected officials were beholden to citizen safety and common-sense laws instead of the gun lobbyists.

If only it were a no-brainer to ban and condemn a device whose only purpose is to kill more people, faster; instead, after the Las Vegas murders the sellers couldn’t keep up with the demand for them.
What is wrong with us?
Oct 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Jansing, Hale-Spencer honored for grassroots and global reporting

Honoree Chris Jansing and new board member Barbara Lombardo at Women’s Press Club of NYS annual awards dinner.

Chris Jansing reports national and international news with intelligence, depth and poise. Melissa Hale-Spencer keeps you abreast of the news and issues in your town, if you’re lucky enough to live in her coverage area. Both are stars of journalism, providing indispensable information to citizens who wish to be informed and engaged.

At a time when journalists are disparaged for doing their job by the president of this country, and journalists risk their lives doing their job in other countries, it is a pleasure to join in honoring Jansing and Hale-Spencer for their commitment to reporting the news – reporting the truth – that is so essential to our democracy.

The two were among six honorees at The Women’s Press Club of New York State’s Annual Awards and Scholarship Dinner Sept. 28. Hale-Spencer was the press club’s 2017 Media Person of the Year and Jansing was named to its 2017 Hall of Honor.

The other honorees were also impressive for their promise and their media-related accomplishments: student Heather Knott, recipient of the Betty Flood Morrow Scholarship; Tracy Ormsbee, a former Albany Times Union editor now publisher of the Adirondack Explorer, honored for career achievement; and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and longtime League of Women Voters volunteer Barbara Bartoletti, for being women in public life who have presented a positive image in the media.

Hale-Spencer and Jansing struck me for the combined scope and importance of their reporting, locally and globally.

Altamont Enterprise editor and co-owner Melissa Hale-Spencer chats after being recognized for her grassroots journalism by the Women’s Press Club of NYS.

Hale-Spencer and I chatted from time to time over the 30-plus years of our overlapping newspaper careers while I was managing editor of The Saratogian. Weeklies like her Altamont Enterprise and small dailies like The Saratogian offer similar experiences to journalists: long hours, low pay, and a chance to practice their craft and make a difference.

She has won international and national recognition for her editorials and news coverage, but I suspect that prestigious peer accolades pale in comparison to how her efforts are appreciated by readers, in print and online. She continues to lead (both staff and the community), teach and do hands-on work as editor of The Altamont Enterprise, which she and her husband now co-own. Now that’s commitment.

Jansing, meanwhile, is a senior national correspondent and news anchor for MSNBC, and fondly remembered locally for her years as a news anchor under her maiden name, Kapotasy. In accepting her press club award, she lauded Hale-Spencer for her grassroots journalism, told of attempts by Trump staff to intimidate her, and urged press club members to check out the Committee to Protect Journalists which, among many things, keeps track of the number of journalists (25 so far this year) killed while doing their job – or as she put it, while reporting the truth.

Sep 8, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Bingo! Combining casual bicycling with visiting local businesses

Ian Klepatar sold me a Bike Bingo card at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market in August. The game continues through Oct. 22.

One afternoon last month, my next-door neighbor saw me buckling my helmet and waved me over to see if I was playing Bike Bingo Saratoga. She and her daughter, a second-grader, combined bike riding with discovering places that they, as fairly new residents, hadn’t been to before. For instance, she said they stopped in Roma Foods (wishing she’d known about it sooner) and Humpty Dumpty (before it closed for the season). I was on my way to the Saratoga Farmers’ Market on High Rock Avenue and found Ian Klepetar staffing a table with Bike Bingo cards. You bike to supporting businesses and get your card stamped, then collect gifts when you complete a regular bingo or fill the full card, now through Oct. 22. Nice to see businesses participating to encourage casual bicycle riding. Learn more at

Sep 2, 2017 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

It finally became time to put the cat’s pain ahead of my own

Stewart had a good run for most of his 16 years as a member of our family.

Stewart, our 16-year-old tabby, died in my arms Friday morning.

It took a few seconds for the overdose administered by the veterinarian to do its job as she and my son David sat patiently with us in a cozy hospice-style room at the animal hospital.

About a year ago, he stopped eating more calories than he burned. Neither blood tests, an ultrasound, medicines nor a veritable buffet of canned food and home-cooked salmon identified the problem or reversed the loss of fat, then muscle. But for months his decline slowed, making his wasting away more deniable.

Then, about five weeks ago, Stewart quit meeting us at the door. Four weeks ago, he no longer loped up the stairs and onto our bed. Three weeks ago, no more jumping on the table to tear at the newspapers. Two weeks ago, he took to spending day and night sphynx-like under an end table except to lap at his water dish, sniff at his food and use the litter box (fairly accurately). One week ago, he didn’t want to sit in my lap, not even on the floor next to his end table.

He was bone and fur, but still I couldn’t put down this living thing I loved. Until Friday.

I broke down throughout my phone call the day before with the sweet young lady at the animal hospital, who explained the options, since I didn’t pay attention when the vet explained them on my last visit with Stewart a couple of weeks earlier. Thursday was another day without Stewart eating a thing. He was weak. His spot under the table wasn’t private enough; he curled up in the back of the closet.

I resolved that, if he made it through the night, I would put his pain ahead of mine.

Wow, I just devoted about 300 words to Stewart’s sad last days. I should tell you instead how my sister remembers coming to my house one New Year’s Eve when he was a kitten and he was “on the dining room table, enjoying the dip (straight from the bowl, no chips).” Our now-grown kids remember how Stewart would leap at them from the back stairs, eager to play – or attack, tiger-like. And for years he forced me to forego many a chore by refusing to leave my lap.

Stewart was a rescue cat who, despite being on house arrest his entire life, had a good run. He was a pet, not a person, but he was a part of the family. And, more than I realized, I loved him.

Aug 30, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Excited again for the first day of school — as the journalism teacher

Teachers united: Seems like yesterday (or a lifetime ago) that I was The Saratogian managing editor and Christina Nash was a sports clerk.

I’m excited about tomorrow. Since kindergarten I’ve felt a combination of cheerful optimism and slightly nervous anticipation for the first day of school, which for me is tomorrow — as the teacher.

I’ve been teaching one version or another of Reporting and News Writing at the University at Albany since 2008, and while I revise the syllabus before and during each semester, after eight years of teaching and 38 as a working journalist I’ve got the core messages down pat. I enjoy preparing for class, working with students, marking up copy (by which I mean grading their writing, even while I’m moaning about it) and (I hope) inspiring promising journalists to stick with it.

And you never stop learning, right? Last week, I became a student for the day, to pick up ideas about teaching.

I participated with SUNY teachers from a variety of disciplines in workshops about How to Improve Student Learning with Teaching Strategies that Promote Effective Active Learning. The real, easier-to-digest title was “Fall Faculty Retreat,” presented by UAlbany’s Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership, which offers group and individual training and other resources for teachers seeking to improve their craft.

The biggest takeaway: Research confirms that students learn more by doing stuff than by sitting in a chair while the teacher drones on – and that, if teachers tried, they could do a lot more teaching through active learning than traditional lectures. Makes sense. I can’t pay attention when I’m being lectured, so why should I expect my students to?

Presenter Gary Smith didn’t just lecture during a fun day of workshops about active learning.

Another takeaway: You never know who’ll you run into. During the lunch break a woman and I kept looking at each other. “I feel like I know you,” she said. “Did you ever work at The Saratogian,” I asked. Who hasn’t? Christina Nash, an accomplished teacher with a son almost as old as she was during her stink as a sports clerk, recalled how then Sports Editor Will Springstead brazenly deleted the first three beloved paragraphs of her first story, indelibly impressing on her that whatever you write is no longer yours after it’s turned in. We also caught up on the irrepressible Julie Joly (mother of an aspiring sports writer) and irreverent Michael Korb (for whom everything is sport), among other former Saratogians.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Active learning comes naturally in a reporting and news writing class. From Day One, students get off their butt to interview, report, synthesize information and write. Mine is a skill-building class for 24 journalism majors and minors who’ve passed the prerequisite Introduction to Journalism and are ready to learn by doing.

Journalism Program colleague Jim Odato, foreground, and I met teachers from various disciplines at the workshops presented by University at Albany’s Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership.

Reporting and news writing goes well beyond sentence structure. Students must discern whether information is credible – not always easy — to produce work that is reliable. So I’m not really going off on a tangent when I tell you that I’m pained by the president’s persistent degradation of the media, but also frustrated when mainstream media harps on minor stuff, misses meaningful reporting and crosses the line from reporting to editorializing. No shortage of material for interactive learning, that’s for sure.

Aug 25, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

All Are Welcome Here: Saratoga shows support for immigrants

Hundreds converge tonight (Aug. 24, 2017) at Congress Park’s Spirit of Life to show support for immigrants — legal and otherwise.

It felt good to join with hundreds of people who converged at Congress Park’s Spirit of Life tonight to peacefully show support and appreciation for members of our immigrant community. “All Are Welcome Here,” say the signs, one of which I’m happy to see every day at the church on the corner.

We are a nation of immigrants. We are a city whose financial backbone – at the racetrack, restaurants and farms – is strong because of immigrants, including those hard workers who may be here illegally. And we who are pained by national policies need to take these opportunities to stand up and be counted among those who care.

Learn more about the Saratoga Immigration Coalition on Facebook and in The Saratogian.