Blogs > City Editor's Blog

By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Hey, Arnold

To some, the National Spelling Bee is an endless parade of junior high school misfits who spend way too much time studying the fundamentals of word construction. To former Freeman reporter Hallie Arnold and me, it always was an opportunity to cheer for the unbelievably bright young contestants on the TV screen in our newsroom, marvel at their abilities to spell words we’d never seen or heard and, of course, root for our local entrant.

Hallie (pictured) and I watched the competition each May with the same kind of passion that sports fans exhibit when they watch their favorite team vie for a championship – even high-fiving each other occasionally when a speller successfully tackled a particularly difficult word – and we probably looked a little silly (well, a lot silly) as a result. But it was something that bonded us, and I remember it fondly.

The 2008 bee is going on now – the oral competition began Thursday morning and ends tonight – and nearly two years after Hallie’s passing, I find the event difficult to watch without her.

Hallie, who died at age 40 in August 2006 after battling lung cancer, was a rare breed: honest, friendly, funny, hard-working, easy to talk to and fiercely committed to the things she cared about. And she had a smile that lit up a room.

I keep the photo card from her memorial service tacked to the cubicle wall next to my computer at the Freeman, and rarely a day goes by that I don’t look at the picture and experience the conflicting emotions of happiness for knowing her and sadness over losing her.

I’m sure I’ll think about her tonight, when the spelling bee champion is crowned; and again tomorrow, when the American Cancer Society holds its annual Relay For Life in Kingston, an event at which I’m having a candle lighted in Hallie’s memory. It's hard not to think about her. She was, in a word, unforgettable.

Hallie left us way too soon. But in the years since her death – and especially at the end of May each year – I’ve always felt at least part of her is still with us. And that's comforting.

For more on Hallie, take a few minutes and read the story we published in the Freeman the day after she died.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A tale of two parades

Our son Marc, for the second year in a row, was in the Memorial Day parades in both Hurley and Kingston on Monday as a member of the J. Watson Bailey Middle School Marching Band.

Rather than have to track him down at the end of each event, Rhona and I simply walked alongside the band members as they marched so we wouldn’t get separated. This gave us the chance not only to enjoy the band’s music, but also see the people who lined the streets and gauge their reactions.

The Hurley parade was a true slice of Americana – fire trucks, the marching band, Cub Scouts, war veterans, Colonial re-enactors and local dignitaries, all being cheered on by large crowds in a small town bursting with flags and holiday spirit.

The Kingston parade, by contrast, was disappointing. The participating units were enthusiastic, to be sure, but the crowd was sparse, and the people who did turn out to watch seemed ambivalent.

There were very few people lining Broadway between Kingston High School (where the parade began) and the Albany Avenue/Chandler Drive intersection. The crowd was a bit bigger around Academy Green, but only because residents of the nearby Gov. Clinton Apartments had come outside to watch.

As the parade wended its way through Uptown Kingston – on Clinton Avenue, Main Street and Wall Street – there were virtually no spectators at all. The crowd was bigger again on North Front Street – especially between Deising’s and Dietz Stadium, the end of the route – but I got the feeling that most of those spectators were there simply because they were relatives of parade participants and were waiting to pick them up in the stadium parking lot.

In March, when the weather usually is unpleasant, there always is a huge turnout for Kingston’s St. Patrick’s Parade, an event that honors the heritage of a foreign country. Perhaps someone can explain to me, then, why almost no one comes to the city’s Memorial Day Parade, when the weather is warmer and the purpose is to honor people who have fought and died for our own United States.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Where have all the issues gone?

Remember when presidential campaigns used to be about issues? I long for those days.

This year’s campaign seems to be about nothing but catching the other guy (or gal) in an embarrassment – the anti-American rants of Barack Obama’s former pastor; the anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic rants of a noted televangelist who endorsed John McCain; Hillary Clinton’s comment about the RFK assassination and her lie about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire; and so on.

I get the feeling that if you stopped the average American on the street and asked him or her to outline the positions of the three candidates on matters of national importance, you’d just get a blank stare.

How sad.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Gas pains

In September 2005, when the price of gasoline was spiking after Hurricane Katrina, a reporter of ours asked the Stewart's convenience store chain why gas prices at Stewart's were rising faster than elsewhere.

The Stewart's president explained that, rather the stockpile gasoline, like bigger retailers do, his chain buys gas on what's called the "spot market," meaning they purchase fuel on an as-needed basis and are more susceptible to sudden price fluctuations.

I'd like someone to explain to me, then, why the price of gas at the Stewart's closest to my house rose by 8 cents between Thursday night and Friday morning when the national wholesale price of gasoline fell by 7 cents on Thursday.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Getting results

A funny thing happened on the way to the Internet Age: People stopped calling their local newspaper office to get election results.

Before the Freeman had a presence on the Web, I used to get dozens of calls at the City Desk on school district election nights from people who wanted to know if their district’s budget passed or failed and who got elected to the Board of Education.

This past Tuesday, when all 18 school districts in the Freeman’s circulation area held elections, I took exactly one call from a voter, a man in the Onteora district.

At the same time, though, a posting on our Web site that we updated throughout the evening as election reports came in got nearly 4,000 hits between 9 p.m. and midnight Tuesday, indicating to me that interested voters were sitting by their computers and frequently refreshing our list to see if results from their district had become available.

I kind of miss the phone calls and the personal interaction with our readers. But the time I’ve gained back as a result provides me the opportunity to give those readers what they apparently want these days: up-to-the-minute information on our Web site.


Heads up

An unwritten rule among newspaper headline writers is to be tasteful when dealing with tragedies.

So let’s take a look at how various newspapers available in the Hudson Valley headlined the Wednesday morning story about Sen. Ted Kennedy being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Daily Freeman, Kingston: Kennedy has cancerous brain tumor

Times-Herald Record, Middletown: Citizens, politicians pull for stricken Sen. Kennedy

Times Union, Albany: Cancerous growth in Kennedy’s brain

New York Times: Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor

USA Today: Kennedy fights for his life

New York Post: TED IS DYING!

Once a rag, always a rag.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tossing my hat

First Susan Zimet. Now Glenn Noonan.

It seems the "in" thing to do in Ulster County these days is withdraw from the race for county executive almost immediately after announcing one's candidacy.

That said, I'd like to formally announce that I'm running for county executive.

Nah, forget it. I've changed my mind.


Getting back at the board?

I can't help but wonder whether the defeat of the proposed Kingston school district budget on Tuesday was, at least in part, the result of last year's deception about property taxes.

You may recall that, a year ago, the Kingston school board announced the proposed 2007-08 budget for the district would increase the overall property tax levy by 3 percent. What trustees neglected to announce, until more than three months after that budget was approved, was that the actual tax rate for homeowners in the city of Kingston would rise by 7.6 percent. (Residents of other, smaller communities in the school district incurred smaller increases.)

The current board would be foolish to think that voters -- at least those in the city of Kingston -- aren't still angry about last year's tax hike. And on Tuesday, that anger may have been enough to send the 2008-09 budget to defeat.


Friday, May 16, 2008


... or Happy Blogday to Me.

My blog turns a year old today. Hard to believe. Seems like only yesterday ... and other such cliches.

Hope you've enjoyed reading. I've enjoyed writing.

Plenty more to come.


The Wrong Stuff

Note to New Kids on the Block:
Your 15 minutes of fame ended 15 years ago.
Please go away.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

SHOCKER!!! ... not

At the top of Yahoo’s home page late Wednesday were the following three lines:

"Idol" shocker?
Everyone assumes Syesha will be eliminated from “American Idol.”
Click here to find out if there was a huge upset.

A click of the link on that final line led to a story that began as follows:

Syesha Mercado was voted off “American Idol” Wednesday night, paving the way for the expected showdown between David Archuleta and David Cook.

Shame on me, I guess, for expecting anything else.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Musical map

Driving home from Long Island on Sunday, my son and I were playing the car game “Geography,” where one player says the name of a geographic location, then the other player has to come up with a place that starts with the last letter of the previous site, i.e. “Kingston,” then “New York,” then “Kentucky” and so on.

Marc had given me a Y to work with, so I said “Youngstown.”
He responded with “Nebraska.”
I came back with “Atlantic City.”

Springsteen fans will find that sequence pretty funny.
The rest of you, probably not.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

As good as Golda

I've been on the receiving end of many odd phone calls at the Freeman City Desk over the past 20 years, but one I took tonight might just top them all.

A woman called around 7 p.m. to tell me her husband had just phoned her from Kingston City Hall to let her know that former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was speaking there. The woman, quite excited and completey serious, wanted to know if I was aware of the event and whether we had a reporter covering it.

Just one problem: Golda Meir died in 1978. If still alive today, she'd be 109.

What the caller's husband had stumbled on was a one-woman show about the life of Meir that was being performed at City Hall to coincide with Israel's 60th anniversary.

I didn't get the chance to see the performance, but I'm guessing the woman portraying the former prime minister was very convincing.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Racing to the wrong conclusion

The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is calling for Gabriel Saez, the jockey who rode Eight Belles at the Kentucky Derby before the horse broke both front ankles and had to be euthanized, to be suspended from horse racing.

As if a 5-foot-3, 113-pound jockey could inflict that kind of injury on a 1,000-pound filly simply by riding her.

But then, PETA is the same group that once asked the Dutchess County town of Fishkill to change its name to "Fish Save" because it said Fishkill implied animal cruelty (note to PETA: “kill” is the Dutch word for “little stream”); and once blamed a traveling circus for a Dutchess County incident in which an elephant stomped a man to death (ignoring the fact that the man, drunk out of his mind, had entered the elephant’s enclosure and was taunting the animal).

It’s very hard to take these people seriously.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sewer bloggage

My wife and I had the unpleasant experience late Wednesday of a sewer line backup in our basement.

Thinking the problem might be in the city of Kingston sewer main that runs underground next to our house, I called the Department of Public Works’ nighttime emergency number about 11:20 p.m., and a foreman called me back a few minutes later.

The foreman said he and a crew would be over within half an hour, and they were – complete with the city’s spanking new sewer-vacuuming truck, a $250,000 piece of apparatus that could suck the dust off your living room floor from across town.

The DPW crew vacuumed the sewer line from a manhole on my street and from a manhole on the next street, and one of the guys even went down into the manhole at the rear of my back yard to look for trouble – all between midnight and 12:30 a.m.

Now I know these guys make a good wage – and I’m sure the crew drew overtime pay for coming out after hours – but it’s comforting to know, as a city taxpayer, that such prompt and reliable service is available around the clock, especially when a crisis occurs long after the regular workday has ended.

It turned out the problem was in the sewer pipe inside our house, not in the city’s line, so a plumbing company had to come over this morning to clear the blockage. But that doesn’t change the fact that, while standing outside in the cold late Wednesday and early today, I was proud to call myself a resident of Kingston and tremendously grateful for the work that three city employees were doing in an effort to make my life easier.