Saturday, June 21, 2008

It's All The O-D's Fault

Two weeks ago Utica Mayor David Roefaro floated the inane idea of turning Oneida Square into a traffic circle. The reaction was, predictably, overwhelmingly negative, but not because it was a silly idea. No, the real reason it was universally condemned was because of the insidious machinations of the evil Observer-Dispatch.

At least that's the version of the story Mayor Roefaro is floating:

The Roundabout Conceptual plan was just a concept. The New York State Department of Transportation worked on this with the City of Utica. It was not the only concept proposed to address traffic lights and issues in and around Genesee Street.

Remember: What you read is NEVER as accurate as what our office can tell you personally. Please call us ANYTIME.

Obviously, the administration thinks the only reason their goofy idea to spend millions of taxpayer dollars moving a statue 26 feet was because the Observer-Dispatch made it sound like a bad idea. It seems to escape their notice that the roundabout concept *is* a bad idea, for reasons that a multitude of people not affiliated with the Roefaro "Friends and Family" plan have pointed out.

Weekend Video: Utica 1941, Part 4

Hope your weekend is going well. Here's another one of Lou Barile's incredible videos recounting the history of Utica using vintage news footage that he found in his closet. No, seriously. This one features a mini-parade, a visit to business school, and a look at one of Utica's most successful banks.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Rose, By Any Other Name

Strikeslip points out that "Utica" seems to be disappearing:

Frankly, I'm getting a bit sick of what seems to be the systematic extermination of "Utica" from our regional identity. It does not have to be done this way. E.g., when the Utica Area and Herkimer United Ways merged, "Utica" remained in the new name.

I can sympathize with his feelings, but I think the erasure of "Utica" as an identifier is a natural progression of the city's decline. There's also the sad fact that, like it or not, the city's name has a negative cachet. Four or five decades ago Utica was a thriving community filled with industry and potential, like a young man with a spring in his step and a bright future ahead of him.

Now we're the embarrassingly crazy grandfather the family keeps locked in the attic.

Up In Smoke

The long, hot summer continues:

Thursday night's fire at a vacant house on Clinton Place could well be the 20th arson in the city this year.

And remarkably, a man was found unharmed inside the house almost two hours into the fire.

James Poupore, believed to be about 45, was sleeping either in the basement or first floor when he was found, officials said. He was taken to St. Luke's hospital for observation.

Fire Chief Russell Brooks said the man was not ruled out as a suspect as officials investigate the city's latest suspicious fire.

“This is getting out of hand,” said nearby resident Colleen Lowell as she watched the flames consume the top floor of 17 Clinton Place around 9 p.m. “This is too close to home. I'm getting afraid now.”

Thankfully, no one was injured in the latest apparent arson, but the story could have been a lot different. If firefighters hadn't discovered the sleeping(!) Mr. Poupore odds are we would be reading about the city's fifth arson-related death today. Considering the circumstances of his close escape I'm sure investigators are going to be very interested in how he came to be snoozing inside the vacant home while the upper floors were going up in smoke.

Even more troubling than Mr. Poupore's presence is the disturbing statistic found later in the Observer-Dispatch's story:

Out of 34 fire investigations prior to Thursday, 19 were found to be intentionally set, fire officials said. They said it is uncertain if any of the fires were related.

If fire official's initial evaluation of the Clinton Place fire as arson is correct Utica's arson rate has now soared up to around 60%. That's a stunning number when you consider that in most of the country, and the world at large, arson rates are in the single digits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blogger Makes News!

Andrew Donovan, who until this morning was a featured sports reporter and blogger on the Observer-Dispatch's website, had a busy Saturday night.

A reporter at Utica's Observer-Dispatch newspaper is in trouble with the law, facing charges in two municipalities.

Andrew Donovan, 20, of New Hartford is charged with leaving the scene of an accident, and DWI. Police in Utica say Donovan clipped a parked car early Sunday morning on Varick Street, ripping off a door.

Police say he then took off.

Police in New Hartford arrested Donovan a short time later at his home in New Hartford, then charged him with DWI, saying his blood alcohol level was .19.

Donovan reports on variety of topics at the paper, including news and sports.

When called for comment, Publisher Donna Donovan of the Observer-Dispatch said she had "no comment."

If the facts as stated are true, Mr. Donovan's blood alcohol level was over twice the legal limit of .08 in New York state. Since he's only 20 it also doesn't seem much of stretch to assume he was in possession of a fake ID.

Oddly enough, I can't seem to find any coverage of the story on the O-D's website.

Update: You can check out Andrew's blog over here. His banner headline homepage at the O-D is here.

Update: looks like the O-D did cover the story.

A 20-year-old New Hartford man was charged with drunken driving early Sunday following a hit-and-run car accident in Utica, police officials said.

Andrew Donovan was charged with driving while intoxicated by New Hartford police after he pulled into his Silver Birch Court residence around 1:47 a.m. Sunday, police Lt. Timothy O'Neill said Tuesday.

Donovan was also charged with aggravated DWI for having a blood alcohol content level of 0.19 percent following a chemical test of Donovan's breath, O'Neill said.

Donovan is due to appear in New Hartford Town Court on July 22 for those charges.
New Hartford police waited for Donovan at his residence after Utica police reported his vehicle leaving the scene of a two-car accident on Court Street near Varick Street shortly after 1:30 a.m. that night, O'Neill said.

Update: I feel sorry for the poor web guy at WKTV, who happens to also be named "Andrew Donovan". Cutting down on the confusion between the two is probably why WKTV had the story up this morning.

The Pigs Have Taken Wing

After watching this video I'm not sure if I've slipped into some kind of Bizzaro world or ascended to heaven, but I obviously can't be in our reality. Head over to Capitol Confidential to check it out for yourself.

A quick summary: the Democratic Governor of New York State is convinced that high taxes are one of the main reasons people are fleeing the state. More importantly, he's going to fight both the Legislature and the Senate to get a property tax cap put into place.

See what I mean about waking up in Bizarro world?

If this isn't just political Kabuki, and there's certainly a chance he's just going through the motions, it looks like Gov. Paterson is going to go to the mat on this. If he follows through and starts making real changes, instead of cloaking himself in the mantle of "change" the way former Gov. Spitzer did, he could go a long way towards making New York a place people once again want to call home.

Update: Here's the embedded version of the video, but you should still head over to Capitol Confidential just because it's a great site.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The King Has Spoken

In a move that, frankly, goes beyond anything I've heard of, local home supply business R.A. Dudrak ("The Window King") is calling out Congressman Michael Arcuri for his opposition to any form of domestic oil drilling or refinery expansion. He's purchased advertising asking Arcuri to take a pro-active stance on home-grown energy production in both the print and online editions of the Observer-Dispatch, some of which you can see here. (PDF link)

Update: The Window King isn't limiting his ads to the O-D. I'm told he's also dedicated his not-inconsiderable television and radio ad buys for this month to excoriating Congressman Arcuri.

Double The Money, Double The Fun

Flushed with excitement over the hundreds of jobs the city has managed to lose so far this year, the Utica Common Council says their lawyer needs a raise.

Common Council Attorney Anthony J. Garramone could get a pay raise for what some council members say is a heavy workload.

Garramone was hired as council attorney Jan. 23 at the salary of $12,500 a year.

Now, some members say the former Utica City Court judge is logging more hours than originally anticipated and he deserves a raise.

“He’s way under what he should be getting,” council member James Zecca, D-2, said. “I’ve never heard of any attorney doing the legal work and research and getting such little pay.”

The council could pay Garramone at twice the initial rate for the remaining six months of the year, amounting to $12,500 between July and December.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Garramone in charge of the Pylman "investigation"? You know, the one that's taken over a year, still isn't finished, and shows no sign of being resolved anytime soon despite the departure of it's target, former police chief C. Allen Pylman? Are they seriously suggesting he needs to be payed even more based on *those* stellar results?

I believe Judge Garramone is also the recipient of a rather lucrative state pension and extended benefits, not to mention his other business interests. I might be wrong about that, since the O-D story linked to above includes this puzzling picture of the Judge:

He might be pulling down a pension worth over $80,000 a year, but it's obvious he's not spending it on his clothes.

Powder blue?

I'm surprised he isn't wearing the matching blue velvet cummerbund.

Who Runs New York?

Three-quarters of New York's residents support a property tax cap, but this Albany Times-Union article points out that it's the state's public employee unions that are calling the shots:

A special study commission led by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi recommended a number of property tax fixes earlier this month, but both Suozzi and Paterson said the first priority should be to limit annual school property tax increases at 4 percent, or 120 percent of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. The CPI tracks the increase in prices paid by urban consumers for goods and services.

The cap is the only way to force schools to budget more prudently, they said.

Voters across the state clearly like the idea. A Siena Research Institute poll released Monday showed that 74 percent support a proposed 4 percent cap on school property taxes.

"When you get 74 percent agreeing on something it's amazing," said Siena spokesman Steven Greenberg.

But it's not that simple. Here's why: Big-money interest groups

The state's education establishment is squarely against a tax cap. That includes the powerful New York State United Teachers, a top campaign donor to incumbents -- Democrats and Republicans alike. NYSUT can also target lawmakers who cross it.

And the gravy train just keeps chugging along...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Long, Hot Summer Is Here

The day begins with another vacant house going up in flames.

Utica firefighters are at the scene of a Saturday-morning house fire at 37 Waverly Place, according to radio transmissions.

The call came in around 3:30 a.m. and the first-arriving Utica police officers reported it was a vacant house. Police were speaking to neighbors.

The Oneida County air-supply van out of Maynard Fire Department in Marcy also was responding.

Local law and fire officials recently said an arson strike force should be formed because of the number of intentionally set fires in the city recently.

The Waverly Place fire is now the 15th blaze in less than three weeks. Seven of them were ruled intentionally set.

Just shy of half the recent fires in Utica are intentionally set. Let's call it 45%.

In the average American city the percentage of fires blamed on arson is roughly 5%.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Keepin' It In Da Family

Utica Mayor Dave Roefaro's embarrassing "Friends and Family" plan gets a little attention on today's Observer-Dispatch editorial page:

Shortly after David Roefaro took over as Utica’s mayor in January he began handing out jobs to family and friends, a practice that is certainly not in the best interest of city taxpayers.

Half a year later, things haven’t changed.

They should.

The most recent hire in the buddy system came last week when Roefaro’s urban and economic development commissioner, Robert Sullivan, hired a confidential secretary who also happens to work for him at his downtown restaurant. Sullivan said he hired Ashley Sabis, a part-time waitress at Thornberry’s Restaurant, because he trusts her and he hates “to lose young people who want to stay in the city.”

Both are good reasons to hire a person. But with all due respect to Sabis, it’s become clear that the key qualification necessary to work in city government is to be a friend or family member of the folks in charge.

No one is going to take Mr. Roefaro's campaign slogan of "We're all in this together!" seriously until he starts demonstrating that the city payroll is no longer an all-you-can-eat buffet for his friends and family. Sadly, I doubt we'll see he and his cronies stop gorging themselves at taxpayer expense anytime soon.

Dunder-Mifflin's Utica Branch Expanding?

Not to get anyone's hopes up, but there's a chance the planned spin-off of "The Office" could, indeed, be set in the Utica branch of Dunder-Mifflin. Last season's Utica episode was well-reviewed by critics both nationally and locally, and it appears the show's producers could use that as a jumping-off point for the new show:

Consider this only a rumor for the time being. However, word has been rippling through the TV biz today that Rashida Jones (aka Karen Filippelli, presently of Utica, N.Y.) may star in the upcoming NBC spinoff of The Office.

Sounds pretty amazing for Office (and Rashida) fans like us, so we did a little digging. Here's where this stands: While one inside source (who has always been reliable) says "it's true" that Rashida will be a part of the new series, another source inside Rashida's camp says, "As far as I know, she has not been approached." Hmmm...

God knows Utica itself is a goldmine of comedy material, intentional and otherwise.

Robert Sullivan: Leading By Example

When word started getting around on Monday that Utica's Economic Development Commissioner Robert Sullivan was being foreclosed on by the city I joked that he was doing an outstanding job of "leadership by example".

Surprisingly, he not only agrees, but thinks the foreclosure demonstrates that he understands the challenges facing upstate business:

But Sullivan said his delinquencies do not affect his ability to promote development in Utica. He works with numerous small business owners who are having a hard time in today’s economic climate, he said.

“Who better to run an economic development department than someone who’s been there and is there,” he said, “someone who understands the struggle of an Upstate New York business owner?”...

“It should be a success story, not a failure story,” Sullivan said.

Let's not forget that Mr. Sullivan is also the beneficiary of the Roefaro "Friends and Family" plan, along with his partner Gary Rizzo. Mr. Rizzo collects a city paycheck filling the city's mandated "bingo inspector" position, a job that requires an absolute minimum of actual work. That hasn't stopped him from nurturing his own real estate interests, a field where he seems to be wholeheartedly embracing his partner's example:

The Hotel Street site that Sullivan and Rizzo own was on a foreclosure list from the city Comptroller’s Office that was published Monday in the O-D.

Rizzo, who is the city bingo inspector, is listed as a co-owner on two additional properties facing foreclosure.

Just another inspiring Utica success story!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Price Of Friendship

Congressman Mike Arcuri would really, really like to be your friend:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reception honoring Congressman Mike Arcuri (NY-24)

The National Democratic Club Townhouse

40 Ivy Street, SE

Time: 5:30 – 7:00 pm
Requested Contributions: $5,000 PAC Host, $2,500 PAC Sponsor and $1,000 Friend

That's right, for just $1000 you too can become Mr. Arcuri's valued "friend" and gain access to a 90 minute slot of his precious schedule. Sure, it's probably not going to be the kind of quality time those lobbyists ponying up five grand in cash are going to get, but at least it's something, right?

Even the true-believers at Daily Kos have come to realize that coughing up some cash might be the only way to get his attention:

He said all the right things when I first spoke to him about our son-in-law's stop-loss status and pending third deployment to Iraq. Since then, however, neither he nor his local representative nor his Utica representatives have responded to my e-mails nor to a paper letter which I wrote to him.

I realize that our concerns aren't that important to him, even though it is a life or death matter for us, and I realize that there is only so much he can do to help us anyway, probably. However, it would have made all the difference to us if he had at least responded and even pretended to care....

It's all about the "family values". In this case, even getting Mr. Arcuri to pretend to care would appear to have a thousand dollar pricetag.

The Return Of The Long, Hot Summer?

A little over a decade ago Utica attained the dubious distinction of having the highest arson rate in the nation. For weeks on end the news was filled with stories of a strained fire department responding to yet another vacant home going up in flames, with some days seeing multiple blazes across the city. Dozens of homes and buildings were destroyed before a federally funded arson task force, and an aggressive policy of demolishing abandoned buildings, helped bring the epidemic under control.

Those were dark days for the city. That's why the recent spate of arsons, and the implications of a spike in the number of fires breaking out in vacant buildings, is so troubling. Disturbingly, last night saw yet another empty home erupting in flames:

Utica firefighters battled a fire for more than three hours last night at a vacant house at 302 Leah St. in Cornhill.

The initial call came in at 10:16 p.m., and by 10:20 p.m., the building was engulfed with flames as fire crews continued to arrive at the scene, Chief Fire Marshal Raymond Beck said.

“So far, there are no threatened exposures,” Fire Chief Russell Brooks said, referring to nearby houses possibly catching fire.

“Fire marshals are investigating as we speak. Right now, the cause and origin are unknown.”

Emergency radio transmissions reported that a neighbor heard two gunshots just before the fire was reported, but officials at the scene couldn’t confirm if it was gunshots or if it had anything to do with the blaze.

There were no injuries in last night's fire, but investigators are still trying to find the person, or persons, that intentionally set the Whitesboro Street boarding house fire that claimed four lives on April 1st.

We can only hope, and pray, that those four fatalities weren't the start of a trend.

Update: I'm not the only one to notice the upswing in arsons:

Utica firefighters have been kept very busy for the past two weeks, putting out on average a fire every day. And not all of them were accidental.

Utica firefighters have fought 14 fires in as many days, and fire officials say half were set on purpose. Two of them, within four hours of each other Wednesday night.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

O-D Sez: No Anonymity For You!

Many predicted it would happen, and today it came to pass. The Observer-Dispatch website is once again requiring registration for anyone wishing to comment on stories.

Over the last few years the O-D has gone through no less than four different comment/forum systems. Up until their purchase by Gatehouse the management's obsession with being able to track each commenter, including a registration process that required name, address, phone number, and at one point an actual interview, had driven off any real public feedback to stories or articles.

That started to change when they finally embraced what nearly every other newspaper website in the world had already accepted- commenters drive traffic. People love to post their thoughts on stories, and they'll keep coming back to see both their own and other's comments. That adds up to a heck of a lot of eyeballs, and all those eyeballs help pump up ad revenue.

Unfortunately, that built-in audience is also an irresistible attraction to the ever-present trolls of the online world.

I'm just speculating, but I have a feeling the O-D's online editors simply didn't have the manpower, or motivation, to keep the trolls under control by enforcing their own moderation policies. I think the new policy, or more accurately the return of the old policy, will once again strangle the public conversation that open commenting encourages.

It also misses much of the point of what "interactive" really means.

Tax Cap Dead, Unions Happy

Predictably, the public employee unions that benefit the most from New York's ever soaring tax load don't much like the proposed cap on local property taxes. And when they talk, Albany listens:

A proposed property tax cap supported by Gov. David Paterson, his expert tax-relief commission, and 72 percent of New Yorkers isn't likely to even reach the floor of the Legislature this session.

Powerful labor unions joined New York's teachers' unions Tuesday to kill the proposed limit on the growth of local property taxes. They say it would hurt schools despite record state aid increases, more than 70 percent of which pays for the salaries and benefits of those fighting the cap.

The school officials, advocates and union leaders say the cap would hurt classroom instruction and slow some recent progress improving student performance.

I'm not sure which is more disturbing- the fact that unions effectively control the state's legislative agenda or the disturbing way that no one even bothers to deny it anymore.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Brewery Fire: What Hath The Wordsmith Wrought?

I don't make any particular claims about the quality of the words I bang out here, other than trying my best to make them at least moderately entertaining, and I'm well aware that I have some annoying quirks. Examples would include my love affair with the comma and a jarring overuse of short, choppy sentences. I'll occasionally wander into more "writerly" styles of presentation, but for the most part I'm solidly in the "keep it short, make it clear" mode that was drilled into my head in college.

That's why I was a little iffy about my "A Tale of Two Fires" post. After I finished writing it I thought it was a bit over the top, but the my Significant Other gave it a read-through and said it was solid. A bit thick on the stylistics, but a good piece overall.

Luckily, I'm not the only one that found inspiration in the flames of the brewery building. My feeble efforts are like a crust of stale bread in comparison to this rich bounty:

The Utica summer began on the 29th of May with another portent of the ruin that clear truth foretells and Pandora's gift conceals beneath an artful glamour. The F.X. Matt brewery burned half to the ground, a candle in a final vigil. The serene tabernacle took root in 1888, a trinity of years after Francis Xavier Matt, first of his name, yearning to breathe free in an untainted new world, forsook the Black Forest which had succored his line since first roving bands out of the farthest reaches of Ultima Thule had laid down their weariness beneath the beautiful interplay of light and shadow which those trees engendered.

A sparkle in his eye led Francis Xavier to Utica, never knowing that 130 years later his gift to the world would perish much as the progenitor of its location. No praetorians coaxed up these pillars of flame, but the Matts bear no name but Barca. Generations of love and toil they lavished on their home, but the gladius of fate brooks no consequence it does not choose. The air fills with poison, toxic smog, the earth plowed with salt, prosperity is desert sand. Nothing at all remains. Join your voice to mine and sing the last canticle.

I am humbled. Like unto crescent hugged Venus upon her twilight chair, dimmed by a greater light. Helios, come forth! That I may retire, in shadow, from the glare of thy gleaming steeds and fiery chariot!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Arcuri's Family Values: Part Deux

They're creepy and they're kooky.

Pure. Comedy. Gold.

Oh, and it's possibly NSFW.

The O-D's Lost Weekend

Did anything happen in Utica this weekend? Anyone know?

I don't, because I have to rely on the Observer-Dispatch website to get my news about the area. It looks like almost the entire staff went on vacation for the weekend, since no more than a handful of stories have been posted. The scant number of articles on Friday trailed off into nothing by Sunday, making it appear like most of the staff drank themselves into oblivion at Saranac Thursday and then said "To hell with it," till Monday.

I spent most of the weekend boozin' it up too, but I'm just an amateur doing this for laughs. It's not like I'm a paid professional with people relying on me for news.

Update: Now the paper's website has a flurry of articles that were supposedly posted over the weekend, but that I've never seen before this morning. Since I clear my browser cache daily I doubt I was looking at outdated pages, but it's equally doubtful that I just didn't see them. Is this happening to anyone else? Or am I just losing my already weak grasp on sanity?

Update: Now I wish I had a copy of the print edition. A kind emailer says the City of Utica has published a foreclosure notice for property owned by...wait for it...Robert Sullivan. You know, the city's Commissioner of Urban and Economic Development.

Is this what they call "leading by example"?


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Weekend Video: Utica 1941, Part 3

Hope your weekend is going well. Here's another one of Lou Barile's incredible videos recounting the history of Utica using vintage news footage. This one features the Girl Scouts, the Rotary Club, and some helpful first aid advice from the Boy Scouts.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Arithmetic Of Decay

There isn't much to say that hasn't been said before, so I'll just lay out the numbers and give you the links.

150 = The number of jobs Utica-based ConMed announced they'd be cutting yesterday.

25 = The number of jobs lost by the closure of the North Utica Linens 'n' Things store on May 2nd.

104 = The number of jobs lost by the closure of the Home Depot store in Rome on May 1st.

That's 279 jobs gone in the last five weeks alone. The loss of the ConMed jobs is particularly painful, since many of the people hired there were let go from Partner's Trust and the Federal Reserve facility during their cutbacks.

Update: Strikeslip has more. A kind emailer also points out that ConMed has been the beneficiary of millions in Empire Zone tax credits, a point noticeably absent from stories about the layoffs.

It's Showtime

That's the Phoenix Lander sitting on the surface of Mars. The picture, in which you can actually make out the lander's main body and the solar panels on either side, was taken by another one of our probes currently orbiting the planet.

Let that roll around in your brain for a minute.

We don't just have a single probe on Mars. We have an entire fleet of robots exploring the planet. A hundred years ago we were taking the first steps towards getting an airplane off the ground and today we're sitting in the comfort of our homes viewing pictures from a world located millions of miles across the solar system.

Hopefully, today is the day we'll get more than just pretty pictures. Scientists with the mission are expected to deploy the titanium scoop manufactured in Frankfort by the CTM Corporation sometime this afternoon. If all goes according to plan it will collect it's first samples of Martian soil and ice by the time we sit down for dinner.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Tale Of Two Fires

Public safety officials in Utica released the results of two separate fire investigations yesterday. The first case involved the cause of last week's spectacular fire at the Matt's Brewery. The Observer-Dispatch has the details:

A welding project sparked Thursday's multimillion dollar blaze at F.X. Matt Brewing Co., officials said Tuesday.

Chief Fire Marshal Raymond Beck said the welding being done on the bottling facility's second floor created so much heat that it melted a nearby conveyor belt.

As the conveyor continued to melt and burn, however, it did not create any visible flames, Beck said. The burning belt then caused cardboard and plastic six-pack bindings to catch fire roughly 10 feet from the welding area, he said.

The second case involved the April Fools Day fire that claimed the lives of four Utica residents. Sadly, it appears the fire was intentionally set:

Fire and police investigators concluded the April 1 fire that killed four people and destroyed 1138 Whitesboro St. was ruled incendiary, officials said today.

Fire and police officials, however, did not specifically call the fire “arson,” since that is a criminal charge. And nobody has been charged at this point, police said.

“We have not ruled anybody out as a suspect,” said Daniel LaBella, Utica public safety commissioner and interim police chief.

The two-story building in West Utica was a “safe haven” for the homeless, the mentally deficient or people disowned by their families over the past 20 years, owner Donna Marano of Cold Brook previously said.

The differences between the two blazes come down to a lot more than one being accidental and the other intentional.

Within hours of the Matt's brewery fire politicians from across the area, and the state, were pledging their support and offering heartfelt condolences to the Matt family and their employees. Officials estimate the blaze caused close to $10 million in damage, making it the most costly fire in Utica's history, but thankfully no one was injured and there was no loss of life.

At tomorrow night's Saranac Thursday street party thousands of people are expected to celebrate the brewery's survival. The Varick Street crowd will be treated to a special proclamation from Utica's Mayor honoring Saranac's tenth anniversary and the brewery's recovery. Local television and radio stations, along with reporters from the O-D, will be on hand to cover the festivities and many of them will be broadcasting live from the event. A full brace of politicians will be in attendance, offering a variety of speeches and presentations praising the Matt family, the brewery employees, and the public safety personnel that responded to the fire.

The community will congratulate itself for coming together after a tragedy and a good time will be had by all.

The scene on Whitesboro Street won't be nearly as inspiring. No band will be playing, there will be no massive crowd thronging the street, and no one will be giving speeches. In place of the garish crowd control barriers at Saranac Thursday there's only some torn and tattered police tape surrounding the burned-out shell of a building.

The Governor will not be sending a representative to this place.

There will be no announcements of grandiose plans to redevelop the site.

A photo-op will not be held.

If you stop by at the charred remains of 1138 Whitesboro Street tomorrow night you'll be able to hear the sound of the brewery celebration on Varick street. After all, it's only five blocks away. Roughly 600 meters, if Google Maps is to be believed.

But some distances can't be measured by the markers on a map. Even in this age of casual satellite reconnaissance there are places in a city that remain hidden, a terra incognita obscured by something far more blinding than darkness or clouds. A secret terrain that goes unmapped and unremarked, covered by a dark shroud that no camera or millimeter wave radar can penetrate.

They can look, but they cannot see.

Update: I need to make a correction. It's not true, as I implied, that Governor David Paterson will be sending a representative to the Matt's Brewery on Thursday. It was announced this afternoon that he's coming himself.

Update: Thanks to Strikeslip for the link and the kind comments.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Arcuri's Family Values

The Auburn Citizen reports that Congressman Michael Arcuri will, not surprisingly, seek re-election. What is surprising is his chosen theme for the campaign: family values.

Family values were the focus Friday when Michael Arcuri announced he is seeking re-election to Congress.

“It's time to start talking about family values,” Arcuri, D-Utica, said outside city hall in Auburn Friday.

“Not the kind of family values from some Washington bureaucrat or some think tank that play more politically, but rather the kind of family values that matter to the people from upstate New York.”

This is, frankly, an amazing course of action. Mr. Arcuri has now opened the door to an examination of every sordid detail of his own "family values", a conversation that I didn't think he really wanted to have. His official biography is amazingly circumspect about the dissolution of his first marriage, but I have a feeling that the reason for his divorce could well become a campaign issue.

It is, after all, about "family values".

Update: A kind emailer suggests that Mr. Arcuri's "family values" are, indeed, the usual Washington version- universal single-payer health care, repeal of secret ballots in union elections, more entitlement funding, etc. It's the same re-framing approach designed to appeal to the so-called "values voters" that his campaign used in 2006. It's most emphatically *not* an invitation to question his marital fidelity, or lack thereof.

Another Big Nanotechnology Win!

The powers that be are spending close to $50 million dollars to convert a wooded parcel of land into a grassy lot in the vague hope it will become the Marcy Ultra-Mega-Super-Nanotech site. Mohawk Valley EDGE is simply delighted at all the "potential" the site has.

Meanwhile, the Albany Times-Union reports that the state's actual nanotechnology hub is about to receive another huge infusion of funding worth more than a billion dollars. That's billion, with a "b".

The Paterson administration is discussing a major economic development deal with IBM to enhance the global corporation's Fishkill chip manufacturing capabilities and expand research and development operations at the University at Albany's nanotechnology center, people close to the talks said Friday.

The deal, which could also include U Albany's east campus in Rensselaer County, is part of IBM's quest to develop its plant for the next generation of computer chip making.

It would come with heavy investments by the company and substantial support from the state, according to the sources. One of the sources pegged the overall investments well above $1 billion.

This move makes it abundantly clear that the state's investment in the Marcy site, such as it is, is nothing more than a sop tossed our way. Sure, politically connected construction firms will be able to enjoy a few years of pork-fueled success, but state government has clearly decided that the Albany area is, and will continue to be, the focus of real technological development. It's the same system of priorities that led to the disappointing Homeland Security Center at the airport and the incredible vanishing data center, both of which were supposed to generate hundreds of jobs using massive investments of tax dollars.

The real tragedy of the situation is that the millions of dollars earmarked for the Marcy site is desperately needed elsewhere in the area. Right now that money is being spent on the hope that someday a chip-fab company will need a lot with state-of-the-art sewer, water, and electrical infrastructure...and won't mind being isolated from the rest of the industrial and intellectual assets miles down the Thruway in the Albany area. For all the happy talk of a "nanotechnology corridor" stretching across upstate the truth is that any company with competent management is going to locate where the action is. And that ain't here, as the ol' timers would say.

In the meantime, area residents are asked to make due with crumbling sewer lines, a water system prone to running out of water, and a network of aging power lines draped from every available pole and building.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Circus Is Coming To Town

Well, that didn't take long.

There are ominous rumblings from Utica City Hall that this week's Saranac Thursday is going to be a three-ring circus featuring a bevy of politicians, all smiling for the crowd and posing for the cameras. It might be shocking to some that the local gladhanders can turn a tragedy into a political opportunity, but never underestimate their ability to exploit a simple street party and turn it into a political rally.

There's going to be a lot of speechifying about Matt's importance to the community, helping them rebuild, and praising the police and fire department, but this is really about getting some face time and parasitically exploiting the goodwill that Matt's, and Saranac Thursday, have built up. They might even try to milk it for yet another ill-conceived "development plan" larded up with pork for the politically connected. After all, they can't really "help" without spending your tax dollars.

Let the show begin.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Whole World Is Watching: Part Deux

The Observer-Dispatch has more about the local connection with the Mars Phoenix Lander:

More than a quarter of a million dollars and a year after completion, Custom Tool & Model Corp. celebrated the success of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander Mission.

At a Friday news conference and reception for employees, John Piseck announced the success of Sunday’s mission thus far, and explained that several parts of the Lander were made in the village.

“The major part was the scoop,” he said, “which will be taking soil and ice samples from the planet’s surface for testing. Once I saw that arm move, I was so happy to see it in action.”

Since my posting about CTM early Thursday, and the O-D's story later that day, the lander has already made history:

It was the exhaust from the lander's twelve retrorockets - firing during the last few seconds of the spacecraft's touchdown last Sunday - that blew a mere 3 to 6 inches of Martian topsoil away and uncovered the patch of ice near one of the lander's three legs. The camera on the lander's robotic arm snapped images of the flat, gleaming slab.

Spacecraft flying in orbit high above the planet carry sensitive radar instruments that can probe as much as a yard or so beneath the Martian surface, and their signals have already indicated a broad layer of what Earth-bound scientists believe is buried ice in the planet's frigid far northern region where Phoenix was sent to explore.

But now, for the first time ever, Phoenix has apparently found it.