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Jun 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Lu Lucas doubly honored by community service award named for dear friend Lisa Niles

Lu Lucas accepts the 2017 Lisa Niles Distinguished Leadership Award.

Lisa Niles would have loved this morning. Her very good friend, Lu Lucas, received the Leadership Saratoga program’s highest award, which is named in her memory.

I am happy and sad at the same time. So is Lu.

Lu was nominated for the Lisa Niles Distinguished Leadership Award honor by her longtime colleague Rich Ferguson, who at this morning’s Leadership Saratoga breakfast ran through an exhausting list of Lu’s current volunteerism. She is actively involved in so much, on top of a full-time job and personal responsibilities. And, as Rich noted, she does it without fanfare, never wishing to draw attention to herself.

Lisa was the same way.

I became friends with Lisa as colleagues in Leadership Saratoga’s initial Class of 1986 and as sisters in the fledgling Soroptimist International of Saratoga County, along with Lu and Lisa Schroeder Bevis, one of the founders of the thriving service organization. For years the four of us would get together for monthly dinners.

Lisa passed away on July 7, 2001 at the age of 45, way too young. She was the first president of the Leadership Alumni Association, hence the award in her memory.

A packed room of Leadership Saratoga alums from 1986-2017 at June 7 program. Members of the latest class described their recent public service projects.

As the latest recipient of the Lisa Niles Distinguished Leadership Award, Lu is in good company with other alums of the program who continue to volunteer for the betterment of the community. That would have been honor enough. But the award means even more for Lu, who shared in her brief remarks how Lisa was a personal friend, mentor and role model. I couldn’t have been prouder this morning as Lu was recognized for her community service in the name of a friend whose spirit clearly lives on.



Jun 6, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Take presidential pronouncements seriously, and that includes tweets

The president can communicate via a statement printed on White House letterhead, a gathering of his supporters, a televised speech, a recorded interview, a spokesman’s announcement, a call to talk radio, an email to whomever, an airplane banner. Or Twitter.

The medium matters, but not as much as the fact that it’s the president speaking. Every pronouncement by the president must be treated as such – no matter the medium.

White House aide Kellyanne Conway wants the world to dismiss Trump’s tweets. Of course she does. She derided the press for its “obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what of he does as president.”

Talking to the world via tweets is what Trump does as president. How he communicates and what he says both speak volumes about how his mind works and what he believes – and it’s the role of the press to report presidential pronouncements and hold him accountable for them.

The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman hit the nail on the head (via Twitter): “Calling them ‘tweets’ minimizes them. They’re statements from the president made on Twitter.”

I didn’t recognize this at first. All traditional press releases are not equally newsworthy. At the very start of Trump’s presidency, I thought the all-day news channels were obsessed with every tweet, endlessly and fruitlessly speculating on what he meant by the ridiculous statement of the moment.

But it took less than a month for Trump to declare via Twitter that the media is the enemy of the American people. That was nothing less than an official declaration, a directive of sorts, from the president of the United States. It scared the heck out of me. I woke up.

“Trump’s tweets are no less authoritative than Trump’s comments in a press availability or a speech,” Ed Kilgore wrote in a “New York” magazine article aptly titled, “Donald Trump’s Tweets Are Providing the Real Story of His Presidency.” He’s right. The tweets should be taken as seriously as presidential comments made through more traditional mediums — more so, in fact.

Don’t dismiss Trump tweets as crazy, casual rants. They are nothing less than official statements to the world from the president of the United States. Even when they are crazy. Especially when they are.

These 140-character outbursts reflect Trump’s unfiltered self. They reveal more than staff-written teleprompts and carry the weight of the president’s word, because that’s what they are.

Jun 5, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

New address: Heaven


Special Delivery

My father-in-law received a letter the other day from the Address Correction Unit of his health plan noting that the U.S. Post Office has indicated a change of address and asking for updated address information “at your earliest convenience.”

His new address since November: Heaven. Cloud Nine, I hope.

So I called the number on the letter and eventually reached a useless series of recordings. After trying various voice mail options, repeating a bad word and pressing 0 multiple times, really hard, I was connected to a real person. Sorry for your loss, said the real person, but you need to call the Address Correction Unit. She gave me another phone number.

That number eventually connected me to a friendly recording instructing the enrollee to note a change of address by completing Form TF850 or writing a letter that must be signed and dated by the enrollee.

That’s not gonna happen.

Instead, I will vent here and then drop a line to the New York State Department of Civil Service Employee Benefits Division, to let them know what’s up and, I hope, prevent further waste of our tax dollars. My father and father-in-law, now sharing the same address, would be rolling their eyes. Maybe they are.

Apr 5, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Missing mom on her birthday, a woman with “Heart and Soul”

IMG_4237 I thought fooling around on the piano would make me miss my son Joe, who lives in Chicago and for whom the mahogany Baldwin upright was purchased. Instead, poking at “Heart and Soul” made me blue for my mother, who loved her baby grand.

And so, though I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, I am going to post it today – on her birthday.

My father, a Brownsville boy, often talked about the first time he went to my then 18-year-old mother’s apartment in Bensonhurst, in the same borough but a world apart. “They had a baby grand in the living room,” he said. “I figured the Blassmans were rich.”

Not long after, when we visited Nana and Grandpa I’d bang away at “Chopsticks,” yelling “Can you hear me? Are you listening?” to my grandparents and parents as they no doubt rolled their eyes (and held their ears) in the kitchen. This could explain why Nana kept a bottle of aspirin near the sink.

Years later, my parents moved us to our first house and the baby grand took the trek from Brooklyn to Voorheesville, perfectly filling a corner of our new company-only living room. At age 17 I took lessons, despite being unable to read music, keep to the music, or get the fingers on my left hand to move independently from those on my right.

“Moonlight Sonata” Lite was my recital piece, 45 years ago. Still haven’t mastered it.

By the end of my first and only year as a piano student, the teacher had kindly taught me “Spinning Song” and a junior version of “Moonlight Sonata” so I could hold my head high (and fingers slightly curled) as the oldest performer at the recital in her old-fashioned living room.

“Henry plays better,” my father chuckled from that day on, accurately assessing one of the grade-schoolers, a boy for whom I babysat. Mom giggled and agreed. “Hey, twenty-seven fifty,” he’d call me when we had visitors, referring to the amount he’d invested in my lessons, “play something.”

Truth be told, I’m light on memories of my mother playing the piano, short of sitting beside her as I muddled through one hand of “Heart and Soul” while she played the fancy parts and sang in her lovely soprano. What I remember clearly and painfully is the regret with which my mother gave up her beloved piano when my parents downsized to an apartment.

I rarely touch our piano, but for some reason it beckoned this afternoon. When my fingers failed to reprise my recital hits, I fell back on a semi-dexterous two-handed “Heart and Soul,” making me miss mom – even though she, too, would have said, “Henry plays better.”

Apr 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

40 hours in Chicago’s Hyde Park, for fun with son

Jim and Joe after touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Robie House on the corner behind them.

Allow me to share with you the 40 hours I spent this weekend in Hyde Park, Chicago, with a nod to The New York Times’s “36 Hours” travel pieces for the inspiration.

6 p.m. Chicago time: Husband and I arrive at Midway to visit to our son Joe, whom we haven’t seen since Thanksgiving weekend. I’m excited to see him, but I’m determined to play it cool.

6:01 p.m. – 6:40 p.m.: Text Joe with vital tracking information:
Text 1: In the airport and heading to get to a taxi.
Text 2: In taxi! (with smiley face)
Text 3: We’re in our room!! (Yes, double exclamation points.)
Text 4: Room 208. Let me know you got this
Text 5: Hello?

6:45 p.m. Joe knocks and Jim opens the door as I nonchalantly peruse The New Yorker in our room at the new Hyatt Place in Hyde Park, a lovely enclave about eight miles south of downtown and home of the University of Chicago, where he is earning a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience. Hugs!!!!

7:30 p.m. Show up 15 minutes early for dinner at A10 Hyde Park Eatery and Bar, which is about 10 steps from our hotel. There is no room at the bar so we take a walk around the block. Joe points out his locked-up bike that he rode over from his apartment and I play it cool by refraining (until the next day) from commenting on the absence of a helmet.

7:45 p.m. Return to A10 where the hostess profusely apologizes because our table is not ready, perhaps suspecting that at least one of the older members of our party is on Eastern Standard Time and should be in her jammies. The wait was no big deal, really (stifle yawn). Of our three dinners, I hit the jackpot with a bone-in pork chop, polenta and grilled knob onion and a seat facing Joe (and Jim).

9 a.m. Joe joins us and we head around the corner to the cafeteria-style, cash-only Valois Restaurant, where I am tempted to order a favorite breakfast of former Hyde Park resident Barack Obama but opt instead for one of mine, a veggie omelet with home fries and coffee.

11 a.m. Catch the breezy and informative one-hour tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic, contemporary Robie House, built more than 100 years ago and now a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Like much of Chicago built after the terrible 1871 fire, the exterior of the Robie House is brick — but the similarity to other structures of its time (and now) ends there.

Reading up on artwork “parked” in a U of Chicago garage: A Cadillac encased in concrete.

1 p.m. Stroll the campus of University of Chicago, where people seem pretty happy despite the undergraduate slogan of this being the place “where fun comes to die.” See the Cadillac encased in concrete. Swing through the free Smart Museum of Art. Then cross the courtyard to catch a matinee of the Chicago premiere of Tom Stoppard’s thought-provoking play “The Hard Problem” at the Court Theatre. Aside from a handful of students discussing “duality” as they left the packed theater, the audience overwhelmingly qualified for senior discounts, and I don’t mean college senior.

La Bombe at La Petit Folie, served rightside up but posted sideways after several failed attempts to rotate.

6:45 Dinner at La Petit Folie, in an unassuming space near the Treasure Island supermarket; a chocolate-coated super-size scoop of hazelnut-chocolate ice cream was, literally, “la bombe” of le meal.


10 a.m. Joe leads us on a walk around the neighborhood, dotted with parks and playgrounds and noticeably more dense with shops, restaurants and apartments since he moved there in the fall of 2012.  New U of Chicago dorms and Hyde Park apartments replicate the unique wavy look of the architects’ Aqua Tower (which we’d admired on riverboat architectural tours during past visits to Chicago).

11:30 a.m. A cab awaits our return to Midway. One more hug. Make that two, to tide me over until next time. A mother can play it just so cool.

Mar 31, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

A promising new set-up for Saratoga Springs City Hall

This really could be the year to introduce a more efficient way to run Saratoga Springs City Hall.

Could be.

I’ve got homework (a printout of the 24-page draft), immediate concerns and thinking to do. But my gut takeaway from the March 29 standing-room-only public forum about changing the city’s forum of government is that the proposal crafted – and still being tweaked — by the current charter revision commission could be the one.

Here are my four main questions:

Why change the existing form in a 102-year-old city that seems to be quite healthy?

What’s it going to do to my property taxes?

Who will I call if my street needs plowing?

What affect will it have on who runs the City Council and City Hall?

First: Why change? Things get done in Saratoga Springs despite the form or government, not because of it. The existing commission form requires each of the five City Council members, including the mayor, to not simply be legislators but to also wear administrative hats with oversight of specific segments of city operations. No one, including the mayor, can force their colleagues to do something, and no one, not even the mayor, is truly in charge.

Second: What will it cost? Well, the charter review commission chairman is confident a switch to an elected seven-member council with an appointed city manager will cost significantly less than the current form. Opportunities exist to reduce spending by eliminating some redundant positions. But I’m skeptical. I’ve never seen government spend less, not really, have you? Cost estimates have yet to be seen.

Three: Who ya gonna call? Earlier this year, when I thought I needed the public safety department for assistance, I was politely told to call the public works department instead. And most citizens instinctively call the mayor’s office for things that are not in the mayor’s purview. Under the proposed form, citizens with a question or complaint could directly call the City Manager’s office. Or they could bug any of the City Council members — just like now, except that the council members could then go directly to the city manager, who would be in charge of all of the city’s operations. I’m still not clear, however, about the chain of command; the City Manager cannot have seven masters. That wouldn’t be any better than the present five-headed monster.

Four: Who’s in charge? It seems logical that City Council positions that are strictly legislative could attract more people to run for office. And it seems logical to have one appointed city manager responsible for all city operations. I’m not convinced, however, that a full-time mayor, as proposed in the draft, is warranted in a system with a full-time, professional city manager. The mayor’s duties may justify greater part-time compensation than the other council members, but that still sounds like a part-time job.

That’s it for the moment. Armed with a yellow highlighter and red pen, I’m going to read through the commission’s proposed charter, and I’ll get back to you. Meanwhile, you can do some of your own homework at And I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts as well.







Mar 14, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Bittersweet job: Sweeping memories from the family home

My husband and his three siblings (assisted by a few hard-working others) gathered this past weekend in the home they all grew up in, putting the past behind them and remembering events and people that will forever connect them.

Sisters-in-law Mary Jane and Rhonda go through a few of the hundreds of photos and mementos saved by their parents.

The goal was to make serious headway in cleaning out the house that their 89-year-old father, a widower for more than a quarter-century, lived in almost until his death last year. Task one was to load a walk-in dumpster to the gills with decades’ worth of stuff stored in the basement, garage and shed. Task two was to sort through and split up albums and boxes of photos and clippings and related evidence that the lives of Ron and Florence Lombardo were chock-full of family and love.

I’d gone through this ceremony of sorts a year earlier with my brother and sister when our father made us eligible, as he liked to say, to attend the orphans’ picnic. So it’s been a bit painful to relive saying goodbye, this time to a man who’d been a second father to me for almost 40 years. But it was heartening to hear Jim and his sisters and brother re-tell family lore (alternately sweet and sad, and sometimes funny) sparked by picking up a photo – some from their own milestones and some from before any of them were born.

I’m a little blue that we’re running out of reasons to visit Mt. Morris, this “Best Town by a Dam Site” on the northern end of lovely Letchworth State Park, in a village where the waitress at Charred knows on sight to bring my husband a Stella and put in an order for pulled pork with onion rings, where the manager at the Country Inn and Suites can always find us a room, where

Husband Jim, right, and his brother, Ronnie, lug decades worth of stored stuff from garage into awaiting dumpster.

in July 1973 after freshman year at SUNY Binghamton I stepped through the breezeway and into the blue-cupboard kitchen to visit a college pal and meet the couple who five years later would be my in-laws.

For a while it felt like cleaning out my husband’s childhood home would take forever.

Now I’m kind of sad that it won’t.

Mar 9, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Pensions: Why school taxes don’t go toward teaching kids

A large and growing percentage of school budgets support retired teachers and administrators, doing nothing for current and future students.

A significant amount of the money you pay in school taxes goes not to educate children but to pay people who don’t teach anymore.

Overly generous pensions are eating up school (and, to a lesser degree, municipal) budgets.

For instance, the average Capital Region teacher who retired last year with at least 30 years of service will be receiving a pension of more than $60,000 a year for the rest of their life. Not to mention health coverage.

The pensions were reported recently by the Times Union with numbers provided by independent think tank and fiscal watchdog Empire Center, which won a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the state Teachers Retirement System. The retirement system didn’t want the public to see what it’s paying for. (Go ahead and peek at the Empire Center’s database at

Good teachers are worth their weight in gold. But that’s not the point.

Even someone as math-challenged as I can see that saddling citizens with the cost of these pensions doesn’t add up.

An increasing portion of school budgets goes to support pensions and health benefits. Over the years, some changes have sought to reduce this growth, such as extending the required years of service and bumping up teachers’ contributions to their health coverage. But the benefits are still out of whack.

In May, citizens across the state will be presented with their school districts’ annual budgets. Administrations and their school boards will keep spending increases under the 2 percent state tax cap, and thus under the public radar. They will shrug off the disproportionate benefits as “contractual obligations” out of their control.

Yet they’re the ones who approve the contracts.

Board of Education members all around the state – fortified by taxpayers – must find the gumption to say to the unions, “Enough!”


Mar 4, 2017 - Uncategorized    4 Comments

Is this the year to slay Saratoga Springs’ five-headed monster?

Saratoga Springs residents will vote in November whether to change the city’s form of government, a proposal that five-year council member Michele Madigan views with a skeptically raised eyebrow.

The city under its current form is fiscally sound, she points out. Taxes are reasonable. Competent and caring people work together and get things done.

But in a recently published piece, she too cavalierly dismisses City Hall’s greatest weakness: No one is in charge.

Saratoga Springs’ rare form of government consists of five part-time council members, each of whom, including the mayor, is elected as head of specific segments of city operations. They are both legislators and administrators.

They often work cooperatively. And plenty of times, they don’t. I’ve seen both firsthand and up close, beginning with my stint as City Hall reporter for The Saratogian in the late 1970s and through my years as editor of the paper.

If, say, the council members in charge of public works and public safety don’t get along, they don’t share information and projects that overlap their jurisdictions languish. The mayor has the same single vote as the other four council members, who are “commissioners” of this and that, and cannot order any of them to get something done. There is no full-time manager overseeing and responsible for City Hall’s daily and long-term operations.

Madigan discounts the description of the City Council as five “silos.” She notes that as the commissioner in charge of the city budget, she deals with all the departments. But successes she rightly points to were realized in spite of, not because of, the system.

I wrote my share of editorials over the years decrying the five-headed monster that is the City Council. But when push came to shove, I shied away from urging voters to dump a system fraught with inefficiencies in favor of new form with its own shortcomings.

The City Charter wisely calls for the mayor to appoint a commission to periodically review the government and recommend changes than ranging from piecemeal tweaks to major overhauls. As with past commissions, volunteers have devoted many hours looking into how City Hall could be both affordable and efficient. As with most past commissions, this one is confident that replacing the current form of government will best serve Saratoga Springs for years to come.

Could this be the year to take the risk and make the leap?

I’m not sure, not yet. The commission had hoped the charter change vote would take place in May, but I’m glad the City Council wouldn’t fund a special election. Madigan and I agree: The upcoming weeks and months will give people time to study and weigh the options and make an informed decision when going to the polls in November.

Jan 24, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Editors, an endangered species, are essential to journalism’s integrity

“All the President’s Men” illustrated editors’ rigorous questioning of reporter sourcing.

My husband scanned the business section of The New York Times the other day and gave me a pop quiz: Guess what jobs The Times is cutting.

“Editors,” I said, without hesitation.

Been there, lived through that. I get it. When a business needs to spend less, it takes the knife to its biggest expense: People. And when the business is about news, you’re at greatest risk of getting cut if you don’t create content.

Thus it’s no surprise that The Times, as described in a story about impending changes at the company, will soon have fewer editors.

No surprise, but not good news.

Editors are the last line of defense before a story goes public. They are the unsung heroes of every newsroom.

There are basically two levels of editing, and in the “old days,” even a community daily as small as The

The late David Carr talks to staffers in the New York Times documentary “Page One.”

Saratogian had two pairs of eyes edit a story before it was deemed fit for print. Bigger papers had three. They edited for basic grammar and punctuation. They also edited the content for accuracy, clarity, context, and completeness.

Sure, some editors obsessed over “that” versus “which” while typos, factual errors, and assorted gobbledygook still got through. But – then and now — good editors improve the stories of both promising and experienced reporters.

That’s good for reporters, for sources, for the credibility of the news organization and the news industry — and for the public.

Forty years ago, when I was getting my master’s in journalism, one of my best teachers gave students a big fat zero for any story containing a factual error, including a misspelled name, no matter how well reported and written the piece may have been. If we can’t get a name right, why should readers believe we got anything else right?

That burden still falls on reporters, even though they are expected to be multi-media story-tellers, providing words, photos, video and data. Some reporters are stronger diggers than spellers, better news gatherers than grammarians, and the most diligent make mistakes. Yet sometimes their work, at news organizations of every size, is made public with barely a glance from that last line of defense, an editor.

As a regular reader of The Times, both online and in print, I’ve resisted being the crazy lady calling once-rare typos to the editors’ attention. The decline of editing (of any presentation of news — words, images, and graphics) may seem like the least of the media’s problems. But relatively small bits of sloppy copy contribute to the bigger issue of overall reliability. What else are they getting wrong?

The Time magazine reporter who didn’t see the Martin Luther King Jr. bust in the White House on Friday hastily and erroneously tweeted that it had been removed. He quickly apologized and deleted the post.

But the damage was done: The White House, after accepting the apology, loudly pointed to this as an example of a biased, dishonest media. Arghhh!

Screenshot from video clip of The New York Times’ “Page One” documentary illustrates the editing process of a story by the late, great Times reporter and media writer David Carr.

The most honest mistake leaves the media open to being unfairly labeled dishonest. Well-intentioned humans – including reporters and editors — make mistakes. Any mistake, no matter how promptly and earnestly acknowledged, adds to the media’s vulnerability.

Journalists – and journalism — are nothing without credibility. I tell that to my journalism students at University at Albany every semester; I told it to my staff the years I ran The Saratogian newsroom.

The primary onus for accuracy is on news gatherers. But the work of reporters, no matter how scrupulous, needs to be questioned by rigorous, even fussy, editors who focus not just on readability but accuracy and context for every form of reporting. Editors protect the trustworthiness of the public’s watchdog; diminishing their ranks further endangers the media’s already fragile status.