Category Archives: Election ’10

Bracing for the state park hit list

The concept of state park closures is a strange one to contemplate. After all, it’s not as if the places and their natural attractions go away. It’s just that the public is barred from using them, and the amenities fall into disrepair. But it’s the “out of sight, out of mind” aspect that’s troubling, especially when the state is considering leasing state forest lands to hydrofrackers.

The Post-Standard joins other papers in the state in speculation about which local parks are being targeted. The presence of Clark Reservation — aka Onondaga County’s “Other State Park” — on this speculative list is not really a surprise. Neither, unfortunately, is Bowman Lake down by Norwich. But just because I’m not surprised doesn’t mean I’m not mad about it.

I spent a surprisingly great three-day weekend down at Bowman back in August, and to me it represents everything that stands to be lost by closing parks rather than cutting back on hours and services or raising fees. Bowman Lake is a small, unspectacular body of water deep in the woods a few miles north and a couple minutes east of “you-can’t-get-there-from-here.” Nothing of historical significance seems to have happened here. The park’s campsites don’t offer electrical service, so wealthier vacationers in their giant RV’s don’t bother to show. This leaves the rest of us who still use modest pop-up trailers and (gasp!) tents. It’s camping like Mom used to make, even if the park itself is plain vanilla by New York standards.

What made my stay at Bowman Lake terrific was the people who ran it. It’s clear that this park is much loved by the people who maintain it and the campers who come back every year. I’ve hit dozens of state parks over the years for camping and needless to say, the quality of facilities and staffing can vary widely. Bowman, however, appears to have a dedicated squad of (local?) devotees who contribute to keeping the place neat. This is more than you can say for some of the more popular parks I’ve been to where the hired help has been ineffectual or even downright surly. (I won’t name names, but some of these parks are our so-called “jewels” of the system.)

Usually when I go camping I don’t really care much for sitting around in camp – I want to get out and see the natural attractions. Bowman isn’t the most photogenic park in New York, but that’s not its charm. Its charm is simply peace and quiet in the middle of nowhere. When I was there in August, the only exciting thing happening was preparations for a reception at the pavilion overlooking the lake. The family of the bride had just arrived and were joking about their “redneck wedding.” In Albany, they probably don’t see state parks as places where New Yorkers don’t just play, but also play out their lives.

I suspect that nowhere near 100 parks and sites will close, and that that number is just a trial balloon. State parks don’t have powerful unions to protect them. Everyone has their favorite parks, and that’s why the state isn’t telling us upfront what’s in danger. They want to divide and conquer – to pit more affluent New Yorkers and their parks against rural, perhaps less affluent New Yorkers and their parks.

New York’s state park system isn’t just a fancy amenity, or an afterthought as in other states (such as Arizona which has shamefully handled theirs). If the Adirondack Park, which is bound into our state constitution, represents the very idea of how people are supposed to work out living in the present and also keeping the land safe “to the seventh generation,” our state parks – which do not enjoy such constitutional protection – are the most immediate reflection of what danger that idea is really in. The state (and national?) park movement in many ways was invented in the Empire State. Now we are watching that idea coming undone. This is a universal political ground on which New Yorkers can and should fight together.

Further reading:

Soundpolitic: Throwing our state parks off the cliff
Officials worry about state park closings
No details on fate of Tompkins County parks
North Elba could take over John Brown farm

Odds and ends

As of this writing, it looks like Stephanie Miner is Syracuse’s new mayor. More girl powah in the O.C. (er, Onondaga County). Wondering if any Upstate counties have ever had a female county exec and a female mayor of the major city, at the same time? I probably should know this, but I don’t. It’s a new day.

Also as of this writing, it looks like Republicans are sweeping all those races which are supposed to be a referendum on Barack Obama’s presidency. If Hoffman squeaks out a win in the 23rd district, I do hope NY Democrats are red-faced. I honestly have not been following this race closely and haven’t been reading the national coverage to see if any of the more astute political writers have bothered to study the regional-alienation angle as a factor (homely Upstate voters gladly taking the sweaty GOPcon hand at the big dance).

I was downtown to see the Turner to Cezanne show at the Everson last weekend. I heartily recommend it to anyone and everyone. I like art, but even if you aren’t artsy, you really owe it to yourself to be in the presence of these amazing works – there is something for everyone. You can even see one of Vincent Van Gogh’s final paintings, completed shortly before he tragically killed himself in 1890. I am probably going to even go see it again before it leaves after Christmas. Sean Kirst commented (can’t remember where, either on his blog or Facebook which I don’t think you can link to) that there were all sorts of cool things going on downtown this past weekend – the art exhibit, the horse show, etc. Notice that none of these events were connected to the University in any way. Hmmm.

Sean and Phil bring up Facebook. I still don’t enjoy Facebook as much as my friends and family seem to. I find it constraining and visually dull – no good for personal expression (unless you take those goofy quizzes that Facebook uses to gather data on your likes and dislikes, which they sell to advertisers). I feel like a wild animal not taking well to domestication. I can’t say I’m surprised at my reaction. Maybe this online “schism” says more about who we really are as personalities than we’d care to admit. And as Merlin said in the movie Excalibur, (and I quote),

“The days of our kind are numbered. The one God comes to drive out the many gods. The spirits of wood and stream grow silent. It’s the way of things.”

Facebook is turning into the One God of the Internet. I maintain an outpost there, but it won’t ever be my virtual “home,” I’m afraid. (PS: Unfortunately if anyone tries to contact me via my Facebook inbox, your message is likely to go undiscovered for weeks. Sorry! I will try to do better.)

The elephant in the room

Well, this was going to be a post about Obama, Paterson and racism. Thanks to recently reported political events, it’s going to be about more than that.

We live in a marvelous Internet age where we don’t even have to let on what color or gender we are if we don’t want to. I truthfully tell anyone who asks, that I don’t know what possessed me to choose the particular screen name I use. But why I have largely stuck with it is no mystery. It has seemed convenient not to completely get rid of it (except amongst those I trust). There is a different tone to online political conversation when people think you are this gender or that. And I know this contention is not going to sit well with some other women, but ask yourself who the original influential female political blogger was and I think you’ll say “that Digby guy.” Times have changed, or so they say, which is why my view on that may seem anachronistic, or my perceptions mistaken. Plus, much like it is bad form for a black politician to mention racism, it is bad form for a woman blogger to mention sexism.

So we need a respected white guy like Jimmy Carter to point out these things for us. I do respect Carter a lot and, having read some of his autobiographical books, I believe he is sincere and knowledgeable about our common American experiences with racism and politics. I believe there are racist and sexist implications in everything we all do and say, and it is hard to pin down because it is all about perception; but I also believe it is worth pinning down because perception becomes practice, and practice becomes policy.

One more word on sexism before I turn to the “race card.” It really hurts when you perceive that a friend or even a close relative is, in your view, on the other side of that perceptual fence. “Sexism” is such an ugly clumsy word, too, implying a system of beliefs rather than just a system of perceptions. Plus, it may just be your perception of someone else’s perception, stirring doubt and guilt. So who even wants to use the word in polite company? Isn’t it really bad form to mention, shouldn’t we just let it go in the name of longterm amity and in the words of Lincoln on his vision of the gradual abolition of slavery, slowly and gently “living out our old relations to one another”?

Two more different political figures than Paterson and Obama can hardly be imagined. Paterson wears his intelligence on his sleeve, and he has complained openly before — not just about racism, but about discrimination against the handicapped, and he should know. For all of the consternation about Joe Wilson’s untoward outburst toward Obama, Paterson has been the target of some really low jokes and smears related to his disability, which I felt he was right to stand up against (who would do it for him?) I’ve sort of admired him for that, really, since the sinking sensation of not knowing how to tell your friends (much less your enemies) that you’re bothered by something they’ve said, feels very much like a suffocating gag going into the mouth. When you speak up, you defy the gag.

The Obama approach, which is not to wear it all on one’s sleeve, also has its advantages, if you can get used to the taste of the gag without panicking, or wait for a more auspicious moment when you have more power to make your point. Easier to do when you are the latest incarnation of POTUS, the President Of The United States. But, how does one turn off one’s consciousness of the gag? The gag isn’t put there by Joe Wilson or any particular person or even political group. The conscious person senses that something else much bigger than the individual is running this show. We talk about racism and sexism, accuse each other of it, question our own feelings about it, but somehow never get close to it and it just seems to continue on as an objective reality. The consciousness of it hurts, but we are powerless to do anything about it but speak up, cry, scream, accuse… or deny, minimize, ignore, put off… It’s real, but we just can’t grasp it.

As for the levers we can grasp… Paterson isn’t going to win re-election (well, never say never, but some awfully weird things would have to happen first), but he seems more an overwhelmed player in a crumbling political edifice, the Democratic Party of New York, or even the whole elegant political system of New York, or New York itself. Why we are in this situation now seems a little clearer: Spitzer’s election was a sign of the weakness of the edifice, not of its strength. He was a barbarian at the gate, a strong personality with no real roots in an aging political system being run (at the time) by just a handful of old men. He chose a flawed but admirable man (like himself, I guess) as his running mate, and things snowballed from there. Paterson wouldn’t follow the script (erm… was there a script?), complaining about stuff and then (apparently) committing the terrible sin of picking Kirsten Gillibrand over the marginally qualified Caroline Kennedy, but that’s just my opinion.

And here we are, with POTUS telling “one of his own” not to run. Here, in the great Democratic state of New York. Even knowing full well that New York’s ridiculously late primary is a prime cause for potential chaos, I don’t know how I feel about that.

I wonder if Obama is still going to make the trek up to Malta Troy, a rare Upstate appearance for POTUS. What will the local birthers and tea baggers and town hall hecklers be more annoyed about: health care, or Obama’s perceived meddling in New York politics? I’m wondering how this visit is even going to help anything – anything at all, for anyone. Is it going to make any sort of difference at all? For anything? I’m very doubtful. But I suspect Obama will come anyway. And so it goes.

Keeping it in the family

A quick note on the AIG/New York State pension fund affair… in case you hadn’t heard:

A two-year investigation by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Albany County District Attorney David Soares and the federal Securities and Exchange Commission has concluded that Hevesi’s top political adviser and the pension fund’s chief investment officer raked in tens of millions of dollars in what [Andrew] Cuomo has termed “one of the grossest examples of pay to play” in history. The two were indicted Thursday on numerous counts, including bribery, grand larceny, money laundering and fraud. One of the men is said to have personally pocketed more than $35 million in shakedowns. The investigation is continuing.

This kind of corruption makes the bonus/bailout scandals at AIG and other Wall Street firms look like small potatoes…

It does? Maybe it gets people outside the family upset, but it’s just business as usual here (much like Blagojevich didn’t make many Illinois voters bat an eye when he was caught). The big question: Is this finally the scandal that brings the social workers in to investigate the dysfunctional household, since everyone in the country is upset about AIG already? Or do we just leave it to Cuomo to punish? If so, don’t expect big changes any time soon. (By the way, Eliot Spitzer doesn’t think much of Junior’s use of the almighty subpoena.)

This makes me feel slightly optimistic about Paterson’s 2010 prospects. A year is a lifetime in politics, and if he cleans up his own act and lets Cuomo take himself out, things could work out for him yet.

Updated:

This story about the former commissioner of the state Department of Taxation and Finance, who allegedly broke the law by taking a rigged civil service test enabling her to create a new job (by which she could telecommute from South Carolina, under an assumed name no less), is pretty outrageous, right?

But at this point, you have to wonder if outrage over outrage over the faceless cheaters in state government keeps getting leaked in order to give us all outrage fatigue, and to sap the energy required to keep asking: Where DOES this AIG/state pension thing lead?

A basket of issues for the next senator

Upstate newspapers are running simultaneous editorials today about what a new senator needs to know about regional issues. Truth be told, anyone contemplating running for governor (or currently governor) should read these as well. Here are all the editorials compiled on one page. Areas chiming in include the Adirondacks, Batavia, Binghamton, Buffalo, Albany, Elmira, Ithaca, Poughkeepsie, Plattsburgh, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Watertown.