Friday, August 29, 2008

The Long Weekend

I won't be posting too much over the the long holiday weekend, other than a few of the divertimenti I usually stick up. We're having a family party on Monday and that means our house is steadily filling up with relatives while our yard and driveway is filling up with RV's and tents. Here's hoping your weekend is a good one.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Magical Utica

This is a pretty damn geeky post, so if you're here for the usual political stuff you should probably just scroll down now. If you happen to be a fan of "The Dresden Files" or pen-and-paper RPGs you're going to love it.

I spent a large part of my youth, as well as a few bits of my adulthood, heavily involved in tabletop role-playing games. Unlike most of my contemporaries my first RPG wasn't "Dungeons & Dragons", but the old "Space Opera" game from FGU. After reading a glowing review of the game by the late John M. Ford I saved up my allowance for a month and sent off for a copy from a mail-order game store.

Ten minutes after I opened the box I was hooked. A week later all my friends were equally addicted.

After "Space Opera" we moved on to "Traveller" before finally hopping on-board the "Dungeons & Dragons" juggernaut, flirting with the totally whacked-out play style of "Arduin", and eventually returning to "Space Opera" to create an insanely complicated homebrew fantasy system. Those were good times, and we kept playing pretty regularly until a few years after high-school. Since then I've only played occasionally, but I did do some writing for a few published supplements in the mid to late 90's.

That gives you a little perspective on why I thought this vision of Utica for the "Dresden Files" RPG was so cool. It's worth taking the time to read the whole writeup, but I thought their take on Varick Street was particularly clever:

The idea behind Varick Street was vaguely similar to that behind Genesee, in that we could encompass a region instead of a single location. Varick is a street of bars, lots and lots of bars, ending at the large Utica Brewery. So…it’s got a bit of a beer theme. The aspect, Love the Night Life, is meant to indicate how much of Utica’s night life is here, at Varick Street, just as much of its day life is at Genesee Street. Perhaps most importantly, though, the aspect also points to the danger of Varick Street: with so many people out there having a good time, getting drunk, Varick is a magnet for any Red Court vampires in the city. There aren’t too many in the city at the moment, but those who are here frequent the area, if only to feed.

Even if you're not a Dresden or RPG fan the description of Mayor Roefaro scores pretty high on the lulz meter.

Update: I just remembered that Utica was the setting for at least one published adventure for White Wolf's "Werewolf" setting.

Update: Aha! I was thinking of "Forgotten Lessons", the first of a three-part series detailing a monstrous evil unearthed at a Utica construction site. You can find a PDF scan of the adventure over here.

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+15

It's now been over two weeks since Utica Mayor David Roefaro and the crack staff of the city's Urban and Economic Development Department missed their self-imposed 90-day deadline for resolving the Hotel Utica crisis.

The silence is, as usual, deafening.

In the meantime the city has wasted just under $20,000 keeping the Hotel Utica afloat and filling the pockets of it's multi-millionaire owners.

The Plot Thickens

Yesterday I linked to New Hartford, N.Y. Online's video featuring Ms. Deborah Allesi begging the New Hartford Town Board to take some kind of action in regards to a stalking complaint. NHO has followed that up with two more video clips that are, at best, disturbing. It appears that the reason New Hartford police, or anyone in New Hartford government for that matter, aren't taking action is because the alleged stalker is a New Hartford police officer. You can view the followup videos here (part 2) and here (part3).

If Ms. Allesi's allegations are true both the New Hartford Police Department and the town government are complicit in protecting a dangerous stalker because he happens to wear a badge. Frankly, that defies belief, but the evidence so far isn't very encouraging.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Inevitability Of NYRI

I've said before that the NYRI power line project is unstoppable because of the one-two punch of downstate's voracious appetite for electricity and equally huge political power. Upstate's ever-dwindling population simply can't compete with the electoral might of New York City and it's environs, a problem further exacerbated by downstate's continuing refusal to take responsibility for it's own energy production needs. Worse, as this New York Times article points out, the downstate-controlled government's insistence on "green" power inevitably requires the construction of multiple powerlines across central New York:

When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.

That is a symptom of a broad national problem. Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands.

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

None of this would be necessary if downstate would abandon it's irrational fear of nuclear power, but you can rest assured that will never happen.

Update: NYCO has more.

Update: And, like clockwork, NYRI's long delayed application is finally approved:

New York Regional Interconnect’s power line application took a step forward Wednesday when the state Public Service Commission deemed the company’s application complete.

“The process to review NYRI’s application is now officially under way and it will be given a thorough examination by commission staff and interested parties as well as the public,” Commission spokesman Jim Denn said.

A public hearing is set for Wednesday, Oct. 22, in Utica, according to documents on the Commission’s Web site. Another hearing will take place Oct. 21 in Oneonta.

The Thin Blue Line

Imagine you're a single woman that's been subjected to a pattern of harassment and stalking by a potentially violent, and armed, man. Naturally, you would go to the police, but what if they refused to even take a statement from you, much less provide you with any kind of protection? It sounds like something out of a bad movie plot, but New Hartford, N.Y. Online has posted some amazing video of a woman that seems to be in exactly that situation. Worse, it's not just the police that seem to be ignoring her:

Apparently, the resident has been stalked for the past two years and the New Hartford Police Dept. has done nothing about it; not even responding to her calls for an interview. The resident stated that she attended the July 9, 2008 on the advice of the D.A., but the town board told her that they were only laymen and she would need to talk to the Police Commission.

If what this woman is alleging is even remotely true she's not only being abused by a stalker, but by the very system that's supposed to protect her. The clip from the New Hartford Town Board meeting raises a lot of questions and New Hartford, N.Y. Online has promised to post some more background on the situation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This Is Why We Need A Lower Drinking Age

I don't think I've ever seen WKTV post an update to one of their online stories before today. Oddly enough, the story they chose to exercise this new editorial discretion with was on Andrew Donovan's DWI arrest:

**UPDATE (August 2008): Donovan appeared in New Hartford Town Court, where he pleaded down to a Driving While Ability Impaired charge, according to a court clerk. He paid a $500 fine and $80 surcharge, and all other charges were dropped, which were "to the satisfaction of the court" according to the court clerk.

So an underage drunk goes careening through the streets of Utica, narrowly avoids injuring a guy when he crashes into his car and rips the door off, and then drives off to New Hartford before he gets arrested. And the penalty? A check for $580.

If that's all we're going to do to punish DWI there's no reason not to drop the drinking age.

Update: A kind emailer suggests that we have Google to thank for the revision. The Andrew Donovan involved in the drunken hit and run incident unfortunately shares a name with the totally innocent guy that happens to work at WKTV, so anyone Googling for either of them will probably come across the story. Understandably, the Andrew Donovan that isn't an underage drunk doesn't want to be confused with the one that is.

Update: Another kind emailer has the temerity to suggest that young Andrew received preferential treatment because of Donna Donovan's position as publisher of the Observer-Dispatch. I'm shocked, simply shocked, at the mere suggestion of such an idea.

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+13

It's now been nearly two weeks since Mayor David Roefaro failed to meet his self-imposed deadline for resolving the Hotel Utica. Today the Observer-Dispatch editorial board joins the growing chorus of voices saying it's time for less talk and more action:

In mid-May, Utica Mayor David Roefaro said he’d find a solution within 90 days to Hotel Utica’s chronic problems making tax and loan payments.

Those three months have come and gone, and Roefaro has failed to make good on his word. Indeed, the hotel hasn’t made a loan payment since then, and it remains behind on its city tax payments.

So much for bold promises. What the city needs to do is what it’s failed to do this entire decade — use its negotiating and legal powers to force the hotel to meet its obligations.

So far, the administration's response to calls for it to actually do something has been to lash out at anyone pointing out their epic failure. This whole sorry situation could probably have been avoided if city staffers were chosen on the basis of their expertise instead of their political and personal ties to the administration, but the Roefaro "Friends and Family Plan" has left the city of Utica with a management team that obviously isn't up to the task.

Update: Damn, I've been exposed! A conspiratorially minded emailer suggests that the OD's editorial, along with the one on the Roefaro "Friends and Family" plan from earlier this year, is proof that I am, in fact, one of the paper's editorial staff. Even more troubling is that the emailer has figured out my "hidden agenda" and plans to make a formal complaint to the FEC.

I desperately hope they aren't lying. Do you realize how much material I'd be able to milk out of that? I'm not sure how criticizing the Hotel Utica and Mr. Roefaro would earn me the ire of the FEC, but bring it on. Bwahahahahahahahaha!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+12...Just Nine Years To Go!

CNY Homepage has posted more of their interview with Utica Mayor David Roefaro on the Hotel Utica issue over here. To summarize: Despite his earlier statements to the contrary there never was a 90-day deadline and it might take nine years to resolve the problem.

Nine. Years.

Just to recap, here's what Mr. Roefaro was saying in October of 2007:

We must give the hotel the opportunity to make good on their debt. However, inevitably if the hotel can't meet their business commitments, foreclosure is the only option. We can't hold just a few businesses to policy and we can not allow tax payers money to finance private interests.

Here's what he was saying in May of 2008:

Mayor David Roefaro said in 90 days the city should have a resolution to Hotel Utica’s continuing pattern of falling behind on its tax and federal loan payments.

The CNY Homepage Link video featuring his initial repudiation of the 90-day deadline is over here.

While Mr. Roefaro continues to waffle about what he actually said, much less what his administration actually intends to do, the city continues to pay thousands of dollars a week keeping the failed Hotel Utica project alive and lining the pockets of millionaires.

By Any Other Name

Normally Strikeslip handles this kind of thing, but this example of "de-Uticafication" caught my eye:

The Fireworks Over Central New York celebration was a nostalgic event for many.

After a decade-long hiatus, the event drew hundreds Saturday to the Herkimer County Fairgrounds.

They were probably even more nostalgic for the classic "Fireworks Over Utica" shows that used to draw thousands of people to the parkway back in the 80's. (Old guy mode on) I can remember when the entire Conkling Park area was filled with so many people there wasn't room to squeeze in another lawn chair. (Old guy mode off) It's too bad that the days when Utica had the population to support an event like that are long gone.

It's also a little sad what's happened to WOUR. It used to be a uniquely Utica radio station that was famous across the northeast for it's programming and personalities. Now, with the notable exception of Genesee Joe, it's essentially a Syracuse radio station trying to sound like it's in Utica. The old 'OUR was a huge part of my youth in Utica, so much so that I spent way too much money on a motherlode of insanely cool WOUR memorabilia that was on Ebay earlier this year.

Friday, August 22, 2008

No, Really, This Time We Mean It

After repeatedly failing to meet their own deadlines for a solution to the Hotel Utica problem the Roefaro administration says things are going to change. And they really, really, really mean it this time:

Commissioner of Urban and Economic development Robert Sullivan says we can soon expect to hear some solutions to Hotel Utica's ongoing financial struggles.

The hotel owes more than $6 million on a loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and thousands in city taxes.

While the management for the hotel says they are working on payments, the city says it is been carrying a burden of the costs.

City officials say they will work with the owners to keep it afloat because closing up a downtown building is not a good option.

Keeping the Hotel Utica afloat isn't a solution- it's the problem. We've already spent millions of taxpayer dollars propping it up. Hopefully the planned "solution" includes finding a buyer that's willing to take it off our hands for less than it would cost us to keep subsidizing the current operation.

More Green Power For Upstate

It looks like upstate will be home to yet another green power plant:

Many of those at a session with nuclear regulators Thursday made their position clear: Oswego County needs a fourth nuclear power plant at Nine Mile Point and the sooner the better.

Most of the speakers at the meeting said they supported the proposed plant because it would bring jobs to the area, including 4,000 construction jobs, and boost the local economy.

1600 megawatts of clean, zero-carbon power is nothing to sneeze at, but it's unfortunate we're not building at least a dozen third or fourth generation nuclear reactors downstate. It's foolish to waste energy transporting all that electricity hundreds of miles, not to mention that powerplants upstate pretty much demand projects like NYRI to get the power to where it's really needed.

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+9

Nine days have now passed since Utica Mayor David Roefaro failed to meet his self-imposed deadline for resolving the Hotel Utica fiasco. I'll refrain from too much self-congratulation (and the inevitable blogger triumphalism) and simply point out that the Observer-Dispatch has finally covered the story:

Hotel Utica remains behind on some tax and loan payments more than three months after Mayor David Roefaro said the city expected to find a solution to the difficulties within 90 days.

City and hotel officials said they still are communicating about their options and are working on plans that would allow hotel officials to consistently pay on time.

This is exactly where we stood three months ago, so Mr. Roefaro and his staff have the dubious distinction of accomplishing absolutely nothing in the last 90 days. This despite repeated pledges to "resolve" the issue or at least "reach a consensus" on the problem. Put simply, Mr. Roefaro has been lying through his teeth.

Hotel officials paid more than $132,500 in Utica City School District taxes on July 21 and more than $40,700 in Oneida County taxes on Aug. 19, according to school and county records.

But the hotel is past due on almost $70,000 in city taxes and has missed its last four U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan payments to the city, according to city records.

“Some tough decisions have to be made by the ownership,” city Urban and Economic Development Commissioner Robert Sullivan said. “Because that cannot and will not continue.”

That's tough talk coming from a man that's delinquent on his own payments to the city, a situation that, amazingly, hasn't resulted in his resignation or firing. At this point the idea that anyone would take Mr. Sullivan's pronouncements seriously is beyond laughable. Could someone please order him a big rubber nose and some size 36 shoes? If the man is going to beclown himself so thoroughly it's only right that he dresses the part.

On May 15, Roefaro said a solution to the hotel’s payment difficulties was expected within 90 days.

Now, about 100 days later, Roefaro says that goal wasn’t set in stone.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said.

Nor, apparently, much of a work ethic. I know the funeral and embalming business doesn't exactly run at a breakneck pace, but you would think Mr. Roefaro would have some appreciation for making an effort in order to meet a deadline. Otherwise we would be hearing from more of his funeral home customers about how bad dear old Aunt Milly smelled at her viewing.

Hotel Utica General Manager Tony Zaleski said the hotel had a strong summer with 90 percent occupancy in August and about 80 percent occupancy in July.

“As with anything else, we said all the taxes would be paid by the end of the summer,” he said, “and that will be the case.”

Zaleski said he wasn’t aware the loan payments haven’t been made because owners Joseph Carucci and Charles Gaetano handle those. He said he expects the payments to be on track soon, but the hotel spent about $200,000 this summer paying off school and county taxes.

“There’s just only so much money,” he said.

If the Hotel Utica has a 90 percent occupancy rate and still can't meet it's financial obligations it's time to accept that it simply isn't a viable concern. It's doomed to failure, and having the city continue to prop it up with millions of taxpayer dollars does nothing more than prolong the inevitable. Actually, it's the worst thing the city could do- with each passing day the hotel's debt, and the city's liability for same, continues to balloon ever higher.

In July 2007, Hotel Utica was behind more than $300,000 in taxes and had missed multiple loan payments on what was originally a $5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that the city guaranteed during the Edward Hanna administration.

The hotel soon made the payments and renegotiated the loan deal, but then fell behind $215,000 in taxes by May.

Roefaro and Sullivan said they will continue to work with hotel officials on how they can meet the loan demands, but they stressed the need to begin making up some lost ground.

“They’ve got to start paying their money,” Roefaro said.

Roefaro said he can’t estimate when the situation will be resolved, but he has been and will continue meeting with the hotel’s owners to determine a plan as expeditiously as they can.

This is exactly where we were 90 days ago.

No, strike that. This is exactly where we were a year ago, back when Mr. Roefaro was just a candidate. He was mouthing the same "They have to pay, it's not right, something must be done" line then and he still hasn't accomplished anything.

I know the Mayor has had a busy schedule of parties, golf tournaments, and personal appearances, but is it too much to ask that he does some work that doesn't involve swinging a golf club or slurping down cannolis?

Since the crack squad at Utica City Hall can't seem to come up with a plan of action, much less carry one out, I'll offer up my own. It's not like I could do a worse job, right?

First, the city needs to determine if the Hotel Utica is actually a viable business. At this point every indication seems to be that it isn't, but a thorough audit and analysis of it's financial situation would put the question to rest once and for all. One would think the city would have already done this, but history demonstrates it's never a good idea to put any confidence in the capabilities of city workers.

Second, the city has to decide what to do based on the results of the audit. If analysis shows that the Hotel has a snowball's chance in hell of actually meeting it's obligations the city and hotel need to come to an agreement that includes a timeline of operations and regular benchmarks for success. If the audit shows the hotel's business plan won't work, or if the hotel fails to meet the terms of the agreement mentioned above, the only option is foreclosure.

Yes, that's a drastic option, but it's the only one the city has. If the hotel isn't a viable business the sooner the city forecloses, the better. Waiting just makes the process more expensive, since the city's loan liability grows with every passing day.

In the meantime the city needs to start shopping the property around and see how much it could get for it, either from another hotel chain or a business looking for some prime downtown real estate. Call me crazy, but selling off the building go at a fire sale price of one or two million dollars seems like an acceptable, if non-optimal, option. With the outstanding balance of the loan topping six million dollars the city would be in the hole for four million dollars, and that's equal to the interest the city would be paying for the next eight years anyway.

Wasted money? You bet. But we've already wasted millions more on the Hotel Utica and it's time for the fiscal hemmoraghing to stop.

Update: Here's a flashback to what Mr. Roefaro was saying back in 2007:

Hotel Utica's owners have consistently failed to meet loan repayment terms since 2001, and have fallen behind on their taxes the past two years. How should Utica address this situation?

The Hotel Utica situation is a bi-product of both the Hanna and Julian administration that lacked both the commitment to tackle real business issues and the integrity to admit when they made some serious mistakes.

We must give the hotel the opportunity to make good on their debt. However, inevitably if the hotel can't meet their business commitments, foreclosure is the only option. We can't hold just a few businesses to policy and we can not allow tax payers money to finance private interests.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+8

We're now eight days past Mayor David Roefaro's deadline for"reaching consensus on"...the Hotel Utica fiasco.

Servicing the Hotel's debt costs the city $1315 a day, so another $10,520 in desperately needed public funds have vanished into the ether since Mr. Roefaro's 90-day deadline was reached. That's on top of the millions of dollars the project has already consumed.

For some more background, check out Joe Kelly's interview with the Hotel Utica's General Manager over at

Update: This is kinda related to the "Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch" below, but a kind emailer points out that the only outlets of any kind covering Mr. Roefaro's inability to handle the Hotel Utica issue are all online. None of the traditional news outlets, be it the OD, WKTV, or what passes for news at the local radio stations, have done anything on the issue for months.

What I find particularly interesting is that CNY Homepage is produced by the broadcast group that owns WUTR, WFXV, and WPNY, none of which could realistically be described as "news" outlets. I believe the last locally produced newscast on any of those stations happened back in 2005, just before their ownership consolidated operations at the former WUTR studios on Smith Hill. It's unfortunate that the area's population collapse made that consolidation necessary, but I think it's notable that the low cost of distributing content via the internet has, to an extent, once gain made them a viable news source.

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch

Shares of Gatehouse Media, the Observer-Dispatch's corporate parent, reached a high of 75 cents earlier this week, but they've since slipped back down to 57 cents. You can keep track of the continuing saga at Google Finance.

As to the O-D itself, the departure of award-winning reporter Renee Gamela for the campaign of Richard Hanna doesn't bode well. She was a bright spot in the paper's line-up, consistently producing well written and researched pieces that transcended the OD's normally shallow work. There are still some solid reporters in the paper's stable, but at this point I don't think anyone is setting their expectations very high. On the bright side, they haven't fallen to the pathetic level of WKTV, where they don't even bother to re-write press releases before passing them off as stories

Update: A kind emailer suggest we're going to be seeing some more departures from the OD's lineup of talent, such as it is, in the near future.

Update: A story at Editor & Publisher includes this observation:

Morningstar repeated its judgment that the GateHouse Media Inc. (NYSE: GHS) is essentially worthless, assigning it a fair value of zero. Monday morning it was trading at 69 cents, down 2 cents, or 2.82%.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+7 And Roefaro Speaks!

Utica Mayor David Roefaro has finally responded to questions about his handling of the Hotel Utica fiasco via a video at CNY Homepage. You'll find the clip over here under the title "The Link 8.19.08".

I'm assuming I'm the blogger referred to in the opening blurb, so I'd like to point out that I haven't claimed Mr. Roefaro promised to resolve the Hotel situation in his first 90 days in office. I've merely taken him at his word based on the May 15th, 2008 Observer-Dispatch article on the subject:

Mayor David Roefaro said in 90 days the city should have a resolution to Hotel Utica’s continuing pattern of falling behind on its tax and federal loan payments.

That self-imposed deadline ended last Wednesday.

As you can see from the clip, Mr. Roefaro doesn't think anyone should expect him to, you know, do what he said he would do. In fact, it appears he's now claiming that his earlier statement, or at least the version of it referenced in the OD story, didn't actually mean what it seemed to mean. He didn't promise a solution in 90 days, he just promised a "consensus" in 90 days.

Okay. I'll bite. What's the consensus?

Should the city foreclose on the Hotel Utica? Should the financing deal be renegotiated yet again? Should things just continue as they are? Amazingly, even after Mr. Roefaro lowers the bar down to reaching a "consensus" he still doesn't follow through!

Keep in mind that the city is paying $480,000 this year alone to service the Hotel's debt. That breaks down to just over $9000 a week, or around $1300 a day. In a city where significant chunks of downtown look like the post-apocalyptic ruins from a Mad Max film that money could be paying for desperately needed repairs and improvements. Instead, it's being dropped into a black hole never to be seen again.

So the Hotel Utica countdown continues. Without a resolution, without a "consensus", and without any foreseeable end. All to the tune of another $1300 in wasted tax dollars for every day that passes while Mayor Roefaro concentrates on planning parties and attending golf tournaments.

More Local Politics

A hearty welcome to NepoDestito, a new blog focusing on the race for the 116th Assembly district and the wacky antics of everyone's favorite local assembly member, RoAnn Destito.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+6

We're now six days past Utica Mayor Dave Roefaro's self-imposed 90-day deadline for resolving the Hotel Utica fiasco. There's still no word from the Mayor's office about what, if any, action he's taken.

Talking Heads

CNY Homepage has posted clips of both Congressman Michael Arcuri and his opponent Richard Hanna from their appearances last week on WIBX's "First Look". You can check them out over here. I'm a little suprised that both videos appear to be only the first segments of hour-long programs.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Define "Irony"

Strikeslip has a great post up about Mohawk Valley EDGE's misplaced priorities:

You can have your green apple logos, go to marketing events, and *"Call Mohawk Valley Home" until the cows come home, but until we fix what is wrong with this area, we will continue to decline.

What is wrong? The cost of doing business is too high.

Local officials blaming low job production on poor image is like school officials blaming low grades on poor self-esteem. They deflect from their own responsibility.

What have these "local officials" done to bring down the high cost of doing business? Did they ever protest the out of control spending by our schools, such as for the BOCES expansion, or the "performing arts centers" in Clinton or New Hartford -- expansions while the population declines? How about all the spending to duplicate a county airport, while giving away the one we already had? How about spending to benefit particular developers or developments like the new water line in New Hartford?

What makes his criticism particularly notable is that EDGE has not only ripped off his photos for their website, but they're asserting copyright on his work.

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+5

We're now five days past Utica Mayor Dave Roefaro's self-imposed 90-day deadline for resolving the Hotel Utica fiasco. While that situation might not be a priority, despite the millions of dollars it's already cost city taxpayers, don't let it be said that Mr. Roefaro has been slacking off. He's not only had had time to participate in a golf tournament, but planning is already underway for next years much-anticipated mayoral charity ball.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weekend Video: The Killing Joke

If you're not a Batman fan this probably won't be entertaining.

If you are, it's downright amazing.

This video was created with a cheap little camera and some bobblehead toys, but what really makes it stand out is the quality of the writing, a clever adaptation of the dialogue from Alan Moore's "The Killing Joke", and the incredible voiceover work.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch

As the threshold for permanent delisting approaches Gatehouse Media stock is still stuck at less than a buck.

Standing Down

At first glance, most people probably wouldn't pay much attention to this story:

The Air Force on Monday suspended all efforts related to development of a program to become the dominant service in cyberspace, according to knowledgeable sources. Top Air Force officials put a halt to all activities related to the establishment of the Cyber Command, a provisional unit that is currently part of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, sources told Nextgov.

An internal Air Force e-mail obtained by Nextgov said, “Transfers of manpower and resources, including activation and reassignment of units, shall be halted.” Establishment of the Cyber Command will be delayed until new senior Air Force leaders, including Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz, sworn in today, have time to make a final decision on the scope and mission of the command.

It might not seem like much, but this is a pretty earth-shaking realignment for the Air Force as a whole and for our area in particular. Why? Here's a flashback to a story from last month that didn't get much attention at the time:

The Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome could gain more jobs during the next two years.

The U.S. Air Force’s Cyber Command is considering putting a section of its headquarters in Rome, as well as other installations across the country, said Lt. Col. Michael Convertino, who is overseeing development aspects of the new command.

A handful of personnel may come soon, he said.

“It’s a handful now, and we are not sure how much it’s likely to grow over time. As a local, I’m excited about it myself,” said Convertino, who grew up in Utica.

When it is fully functional, the command headquarters will consist of between 450 and 500 people spread across 10 locations. Some of the locations could get as many as 100 people, Convertino said.

I think the odds of the area seeing a major influx of Cyber Command personnel are now pretty slim.

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+2

We're now two days past Utica Mayor Dave Roefaro's self-imposed 90-day deadline for resolving the Hotel Utica Debacle. In the private sector missing a deadline by two days is likely to get you fired, but Mr. Roefaro has obviously taken the undemanding standards of government work to heart. And why shouldn't he? It's not like being Mayor is his full-time job.


Snarkiness aside, in the unlikely event that the mayor and his crack team of economic advisors actually do issue some kind of plan today I'm willing to bet it consists of, ultimately, doing nothing. Sure, it'll be dressed up with some happy talk about saving jobs and keeping the Hotel on the tax rolls, but in the end Mr. Roefaro will just roll over and let things continue as they are. If he's willing to ignore the fact that his own Economic Development Commissioner is an epic tax deadbeat there's no reason he should hold anyone else to a higher standard.

After all, things like deadlines and standards are what you have in the private sector. Expecting them to apply to government is just a naive fantasy.

Ups And Downs

Big hits like ConMed, Canterbury Press, and A.C. Moore make headlines, but underneath those spikes is an overall downward trend in the area's employment levels :

"The region’s unemployment rate has grown a full percentage point in the past year, reflecting the economy’s importance in the upcoming election season.

Unemployment in the Utica-Rome metropolitan area rose from 4.2 percent from July 2007 to 5.2 percent in this July, according to state labor statistics released Thursday. Year-over-year figures are considered useful by economists for comparisons because seasonal factors can skew month-to-month numbers."

Rising unemployment and a falling average household income is a one-two punch that doesn't bode well for the area, particularly when our state politicians are making it increasingly clear they have no intention of actually cutting New York's bloated budget.

But it wasn’t all bad news.

There were job gains made in the educational and health sector -- a jump of 400 jobs from last year to this year.

That sure is some great news...until you realize that the educational and health fields are driven almost entirely by the expenditure of public dollars. It's not a coincidence that the unions representing those sectors are the ones howling the loudest about cutting state spending. Given their political power there's not a snowball's chance in hell that New York will do anything but continue to raise taxes for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Curious Case of the Contested Candidate

When questions were raised about Congressman Mike Arcuri's relationship with the mysterious Kristian Stiles, a political fundraiser caught up in the Elliot Spitzer investigation, he explained her firing as a natural result of not having any opposition in the upcoming election.

That statement makes this story at "The Hill" seem rather odd, since they're claiming opposition research against Mr. Arcuri's "non-opponent" Richard Hanna was underway in March, and probably earlier:

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DCCC has issued Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for any violations, citations or complaints against businesses associated with Louisiana candidate Chris Gorman, New York candidate Richard Hanna and Illinois candidate Marty Ozinga.

Requests looking into Gorman’s and Ozinga’s numerous businesses were still pending in late July, while the one looking into Hanna Construction was closed in March.

With all the concern over illegal immigration I certainly hope Mr. Arcuri takes a close look at the vineyard he's visiting this week. After all, it's estimated that 70% of the migrant agricultural workers in New York are here illegally. I'd hate to think he's turning a blind eye to such a heinous crime right under his nose.

Update: The WKTV story above incorrectly states that Mr. Arcuri stopped all payments to Kristian Stiles in March. His most recent FEC filing shows he continued making payments into April, with a $4000 disbursement on 4/15/2008.

Hotel Utica Countdown: H+1

Utica Mayor David Roefaro's deadline to solve the Hotel Utica crisis has now come and gone with no resolution in sight.

To be fair, there's a good chance the Mayor assumes his May 15th pledge to solve the crisis comes due on August 15th, since it's not unusual for people to confuse "90 days" with "three months". Heck, the profit margins of the credit card industry *rely* on people making that mistake. Might as well give him the benefit of the doubt and wait till tomorrow to hear all the details. After all, you can't rush genius.

On a related note, there's a rumor going around that Robert Sullivan, the city's Urban and Economic Development Commissioner, is actually acting as a consultant to the owners of the Hotel Utica. This is obviously just a rumor, since the conflict of interest this kind that arrangement would represent wouldn't pass the sniff test even by the cheerfully corrupt standards of Utica.


(Sorry for the lack of posting over the last two days. A rush project fell into my lap and I simply didn't have the time to write even the usual dashed-off tripe.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hotel Utica Countdown: H - 2 Days

Back in May it seemed as if the long-running Hotel Utica disaster would never come to a close. That's when Utica's visionary mayor Dave Roefaro pledged to resolve the mess in 90 days:

Mayor David Roefaro said in 90 days the city should have a resolution to Hotel Utica’s continuing pattern of falling behind on its tax and federal loan payments.

Roefaro and Urban and Economic Development Commissioner Robert Sullivan Thursday met with hotel co-owners Joseph R. Carucci and Charles N. Gaetano. The mayor said a few options were discussed, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

The Observer-Dispatch on Sunday reported the hotel owes more than $215,000 on its city, Oneida County and Utica City School District taxes, including $18,500 in penalties. The hotel has also missed its last two city-guaranteed payments on a federal loan that
helped the establishment reopen seven years ago.

Mr. Roefaro's 90-day deadline comes to a close on August 13th, just two days from now. With millions of taxpayer dollars on the line his plan is sure to have wide-ranging consequences for the entire city. Will he go ahead with foreclosure? Or will he opt to continue spending close to a quarter of a million dollars of economic development funds a year supporting the Hotel?

In just two days we'll find out.

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch

While Gatehouse Media's own newspapers have been notably reticent to discuss it's decline the Wall Street Journal isn't quite so shy:

GateHouse Media Inc., a chain of newspapers about 40%-owned by Fortress Investment Group, said it will suspend its dividend and raise more funds from Fortress to avoid running afoul of its lenders.

GateHouse Friday reported a second-quarter operating loss of $429.7 million, stemming from a charge of $443.1 million to write down the company's market value.

The impairment charge reflects the steep drop in the stock price, from $18 a share at its initial public offering less than two years ago to 64 cents at 4 p.m. Friday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading; the stock fell five cents, or 7.3%, from Thursday.

As always, you can follow the stock's ups and downs at Google Finance.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hotel Utica Countdown: H - 5 Days

Almost forgot...only five days until Dave Roefaro solves the Hotel Utica problem.

Go get 'em, tiger!

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch: Climbing Out Of The Pit?

On the Gatehouse Media front, there's good news and there's bad news. The stock is still trading at less than a buck, but it's been slowly climbing up from the disastrous 40 cent level. Google Finance has the details.

On the other hand, the bad news is pretty bad:

GateHouse, based in Fairport, N.Y., posted an operating loss of $429.7 million, or $7.77 a share, during the second quarter, compared with a loss of $1.96 million, or 5 cents a share, in the second quarter of 2007.

But revenues, the company said, grew by 16.5 percent over the prior year to $184.1 million, which it said outperformed other newspaper companies.

GateHouse recorded a second quarter non-cash impairment charge of $443.1 million in the quarter, which decreased the earnings by $7.50 a share. The impairment was largely from the precipitous drop in the company’s stock value; in the second quarter alone it fell from about $6 a share at the start of the period to below 50 cents a share a week ago.

Ironically, I believe this article is the first time a Gatehouse-owned paper has reported on the company's financial misfortunes.

Rapid Descent

Strikeslip has a great post up about Oneida County's airport shenanigans:

The County's bidding process is a sham.

Our airport commissioner contacted the same firms that he contacted when he was commissioner in Plattsburg, and produced the same results: one bid [8:00]. Mr. Joseph interviewed a prospect in Syracuse, who did not submit a bid. Meanwhile the County advertised its RFP in only one trade publication on Feb 8th, and set a deadline for inquiries on February 10th [9:00]. One proposal was received in response to the RFP.

It's obvious that personal connections were counted upon to secure the vendor rather than the bidding process. Calling for inquiries within 2 days of RFP publication strongly suggests that the County already found a vendor ... that no one else need apply ... that the publication was only to make things "legal." This style of solicitation makes it appear that you have to know someone if you want to do business in Oneida County. Could that explain why so many stay away?

Read the whole thing, and weep.

On a related note, CNY Homepage once again deserves kudos for hosting a full recording of WIBX's "First Look" discussion of the issue. I think this demonstrates two things: One, an adversarial interview session is a lot more informative than WIBX's normal softball format. Two, there's a demand for this kind of thing.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hotel Utica Countdown: H - 6 Days

We're now just 6 days away from the end of the 90-day resolution period Utica Mayor David Roefaro imposed for the Hotel Utica problem.

I'm giddy with anticipation.

A Traveler's Tale, Redux

Another traveler, another negative reaction to Utica. Although in this case, the writer is a former resident of the area:

I grew up in a small town outside of Utica. In the 50's it was incredibly vibrant, young, and prosperous as WWII and Korean Vets settled and raised their families. There were several GE plants (light military and household appliances), Bendix (military parts and washing machines), Bosherts (heating systems), and a lot of small manufacturer's. Everyone had 3 to 4 kids so the schools were growing. For the most part, all this is gone. Utica's once bustling downtown area is empty now. Large department stores are gone, replaced by Dollar General, Walmart, and chain drug stores in the strip malls on the outskirts. People my age left for college and didn't come back and the population aged.

Click through and read the rest of this post, as well as the followup.

Stories like this make me incredibly depressed. What other reaction can you have? No one likes to live in a place people describe with words like "dirty", "empty", "rundown", and "hardscrabble", but what makes it even worse is that things never seem to change for the better. Even projects that should improve how the city looks end up being disasters because of the pervasive "Eh. Good enough for Utica" attitude.

Case in point- the area around the Memorial Auditorium. How many millions of dollars have we spent building state-of-the-art public safety buildings down there? The new buildings themselves are beautiful, but their siting is a nightmare. Everything seems cramped and shoved together because of the lack of green space or open areas, a problem compounded by the fact that the rest of the neighborhood looks like Berlin after WW II.

Move more than a few feet beyond the new construction and you're confronted by empty, boarded up buildings surrounded by waist high weeds and shattered, pothole filled streets. Walk around the block and you'll find sidewalks in disrepair, unraked gravel parking corrals, wrecked police cars, rubble strewn empty lots, vacant industrial's a veritable picture-book of urban decay, despite the expenditure of piles of taxpayer money.

Who approved this embarrassment? Who amongst our local leadership can look at that and say "Great job boys, you should be proud"? Why does everything in Utica, every single public works project in recent memory, have to be so shoddy and ugly?

A Tale Of Two Blog Posts

The Green Conundrum - a well-written, thoughtful posting on "green" power and it's potentially deleterious effects on Oneida County.

Pure Speculation- a borderline salacious post speculating that a local man accidentally strangled himself while masturbating.

One of these postings generated 15 emails, while the other generated 0.

Based on that response, and the number of hits the post in question generated, it's probably time for me to do another well-written, thoughtful posting about Utica's thriving porn underground. Oh, and thanks to everyone who emailed. I can sleep easier knowing that even death won't stop...uh...happiness. La petite mort, indeed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch: The Final Meltdown

Shares of the Observer-Dispatch's parent company Gatehouse Media soared today. Well, if you can call hitting 52 cents a share "soaring" with a straight face.

Sadly, at this point Gatehouse could probably double it's market cap by converting each share of stock into a tin of Altoid breath mints. Heck, even a Bubblicious Bubble Gum Party Pack goes for $2.74.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

This doesn't sound good:

John Daniels - Oneida County Commissioner of Jurors - resigned July 31, according court officials.

Calls had been made to the County Courthouse in order to reach Daniels for several weeks, but his office would not comment on his whereabouts or the status of his returning messages.

Sources say he was the subject of a state investigation, but could not confirm why he was investigated.

Allegedly, investigators have seized at least one computer from the Commissioner's office.

I wonder if we'll ever find out why?

Hotel Utica Countdown: H - 7 Days

Only a week to go before we find out how Dave Roefaro is going to solve the Hotel Utica problem.

I'm quivering in anticipation.

Pure Speculation

This story sounds like a real tragedy:

The unattended death of a 37-year-old Rome man Tuesday has been ruled accidental as the result of asphyxiation, Oneida County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Brian Pfendler said.

Terry Smith of 198 Pine Haven Circle in Rome was found dead in his home at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday about one hour after he died, when family members discovered him, Pfendler said.

Oneida County forensic pathologist Michael Sikirica conducted the autopsy at 7 a.m. today and determined the cause of death to be accidental asphyxiation, Pfendler said.

How the asphyxiation occurred is not being released for the family’s sake because officials feel it wouldn’t be appropriate, Pfendler said.

Given the circumstances, and the coroner's willingness to avoid embarrassment to the family, it wouldn't take a leap of logic to assume this was an incident of autoerotic asphyxiation. It's a surprisingly common practice, with some law enforcement officers I've talked to speculating that up to half the "suicides" of young men are actually the result of an AA session gone bad.

The Green Conundrum

Even more green power could be coming to upstate New York:

Federal officials will talk about how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will handle the expected application for a fourth nuclear plant in Oswego County at 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at Sheldon Hall at the State University College at Oswego.

UniStar, a partnership including Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station owner Constellation, is expected to apply for a license next month to build and operate a new nuclear plant in Scriba.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants communities located near potential new reactor sites, such as Oswego, to know what's being proposed," David Matthews, director of the division of new reactor licensing, said in a news release.

The state's ever increasing demand for energy requires more plants like this, but it's a two-edged sword that, quite literally, will cut right through our area. Upstate is already home to a truly stunning amount of "green", or carbon-neutral, energy production- one of the largest hydroelectric facilities in the world, an ever growing number of wind installations, and the existing nuclear reactors northwest of Oneida County. The problem is that all that pure green energy needs to get to downstate, necessitating an expansion of the state's power grid with projects like NYRI.

And I think we all know how popular NYRI is.

One of the reason's I think the NYRI powerline is unstoppable is *because* of upstate's green power. Our state government has already mandated the purchase of carbon-neutral energy, but it's been amazingly lax in making sure that the plants generating that power are actually located near the centers of demand. In addition to being wasteful, requiring the construction of new power lines that just bleed off energy into the ether, that strategy places a rather undue burden on the residents of upstate. Advanced third and fourth generation nuclear reactors could meet all of downstate's power demands with only minor upgrades to the existing energy infrastructure, but the mere suggestion of siting a reactor there would trigger massive protests.

Unfortunately, the demographics of the state mean that protests downstate automatically drown out protests upstate. While upstate might be home to gigawatts of electrical capacity it's notably lacking in political power- and that's the kind of power that really matters.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hotel Utica Countdown: H - 8 Days

Just eight days to go before we discover how Utica Mayor Dave Roefaro is going to solve the Hotel Utica problem.

The excitement, it builds!

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch: The Final Meltdown

Shares of the Observer-Dispatch's parent company, Gatehouse Media, plunged to a new low of 40 cents today before closing at 50 cents. You can watch the drama unfold at Google Finance.

Hotel Utica Countdown: H - 9 Days

How time flies. It seems like just yesterday that the ongoing Hotel Utica debacle entered it's latest phase, but now we're just nine days away from discovering how Mayor Dave Roefaro and the crack team at City Hall are going to solve the whole sorry mess:

Mayor David Roefaro said in 90 days the city should have a resolution to Hotel Utica’s continuing pattern of falling behind on its tax and federal loan payments.

Roefaro and Urban and Economic Development Commissioner Robert Sullivan Thursday met with hotel co-owners Joseph R. Carucci and Charles N. Gaetano. The mayor said a few options were discussed, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

That 90-day period comes to a close on August 13th. Will Roefaro stick to his principles and refuse to continue subsidizing a private business? Or will he cave and keep the Hotel Utica's taxpayer-supported gravy train chugging along?

Update: As the suspense builds, keep in mind that the Hotel Utica *should* be one of the most successful hotels in the country based on it's own business figures. Here's a flashback to some numbers from earlier this year:

What an interesting contrast. By any objective standard the Hotel Utica is in desperate financial straits, as it's inability to make regular tax and mortgage payments would clearly demonstrate. Business must be terrible, right?

Actually, no. If the given figure of a 70% occupancy rate is true the Hotel Utica is doing some boffo business. In fact, based on numbers from the American Hotel and Lodging Association, it's occupancy rate is well above average. Here are the latest figures for the hotel industry as a whole:

At-a-Glance Statistical Figures

4,389,443 guestrooms
$133.4 billion in sales
$61.93 revenue per available room (RevPAR)
63.3% average occupancy rate

The average room rate was $97.78 in 2006—up from $90.88 in 2005.

A quick check of Travelocity shows that the weekday rate at the Hotel Utica is $99.99 while the weekend rate is $149.99.

That means both the hotel's standard room price and occupancy rate is well above the industry average, which would seem to be exactly what you want for a thriving hotel.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Traveler's Tale

Four guys from Buffalo spent last week biking across the state along the Erie Canal. Their experience riding through Utica is particularly illuminating, demonstrating an all too common reaction to the city. See it for yourself over here.

Mike Arcuri: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Congress officially kicked off it's annual five week long summer vacation yesterday. Hopefully, that means we can look forward to Congressman Arcuri using some of that time to take questions from his constituents, but you probably shouldn't get your hopes up too high since his congressional website doesn't list any upcoming appearances.

On the bright side, the Congressman has committed to an open interview on WIBX sometime during August. Unfortunately, he's still dodging a radio interview with Bill Keeler, a venue where, unlike WIBX, he probably won't be asked about the morality of wearing baseball hats inside a restaurant.

Turn Out The Lights

Earlier this week I linked to the brand new SeeThroughNY website from the Empire Center. It collects thousands of pages of government documents and makes them available to the public, including records that include the salary of every public employee in the state. Predictably, the folks sucking at the public teat are horrified that taxpayers can actually see how much of that sweet, sweet milk they're slurping up:

Pushback, if not outright anger, against the Empire Center’s continued today on a number of fronts. At least one union was complaining that the site, which lists state employee salaries, may actually endanger some people as they can provide some idea of where people work, although addresses are not included.

And there seems to be lots of frustration about the fact that public employee salaries are public.

I got a call earlier in the day from a fellow at the State Education Department demanding that I take down any links to the dreaded site, or else I would be charged with harassment. When I replied that A) the site isn’t mine, and that b) the salaries are public information, this individual said that he and others were trying to launch a complaint campaign with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to get the AG to look into the matter.
(Makes one wonder how much work is getting done over at the Education Department with people spending all this time filing complaints and calling to complain about the website.)

If you click through to the website you may notice it's running a little slow. That's because it's been inundated with traffic...primarily from computers owned by the state.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Observer-Dispatch Deathwatch: The Final Meltdown

Gatehouse Media, the corporate parent of the Observer-Dispatch, saw it's stock plunge to a record low of 44 cents at today's market close.

I guess investors didn't hear what they wanted to hear during this morning's conference call.

Update: Except, of course, that the Gatehouse conference call isn't until August 8th. My smugness, it fogs the brain!

Fly The Friendly Skies

Strikeslip has some interesting commentary on the Oneida County airport :

I actually find myself agreeing with the County Executive on this. "Oneida County-Griffiss International Airport" is too cumbersome. "Griffiss" has historical significance and already enjoys name recognition on its own among aviators (the the market for the facility) - recognition that does not need to be diluted with "Oneida County." Lastly, "Griffiss" signifies something bigger than "Rome," bigger than "Utica-Rome" and even bigger than "Oneida & Herkimer Counties" combined, because all of these are far to small to justify such a huge airport (and, more than likely, to keep it going financially).

A few years ago, some Syracuse-area legislators actually suggested that Griffiss be used as an alternative to their own Hancock International for air cargo, in order to avoid having to make some expensive additions and impacts to their neighborhoods. It's unknown if those additions were ever made, but if they were not, there's Griffiss' market: all of Central New York, from Auburn to Canajoharie including Greater Syracuse, Greater Utica, and Rome.

I once had a conversatiion with a commercial pilot who lamented the sad state of development at the former Griffiss AFB. From what I understand the facility is one of the premiere heavy-lift capable sites in the northeast and has easy access to highway, rail, and even canal transportation facilities.