Blogs > City Editor's Blog

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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Signs of the season

Much of my time the last two weeks has been spent preparing the Freeman's special "Election '09" supplement - it's in the print edition of today's paper - so blogging got moved to the back burner. Now, with the section finally done and in readers' hands, allow me to catch you up on what's been on my mind:

* It's nice to see far fewer campaign signs on lawns and along roadsides this year than in 2007 (not sure why the numbers are down, but I'm not complaining), but at least in the city of Kingston, I've noticed a disturbing new trend: signs for Common Council candidates that are placed outside their wards. I live in Ward 3 and drive through my own ward and Ward 1 to get to work each day, and I've seen signs along my route for council candidates in at least two other wards. Ugh! Yes, I understand the logic - people who live in one ward frequently drive though others - but this new campaign tactic means an even-more-cluttered landscape, and that's never a good thing.

* Strange foliage season this year - badly muted colors in some parts of the region, breathtaking reds and yellows in others. It caught our attention enough at the Freeman to make it the subject of a story, written by Patricia Doxsey, that will appear on the front page of this coming Sunday's edition. Be sure to check it out.

* A new element of New York's bottle bill goes into effect at the end of this week - a 5-cent deposit on each bottle of water purchased. On the surface, this seems like a sound policy: Encourage people to keep plastic bottles out of the waste stream by charging them extra money that they'll get back only if they turn in their empties. The reality, though, is that this is a money-making scheme for the state, evidenced by the official announcement last week that included estimates of how many millions of dollars New York hopes to reap by keeping each nickel that isn't refunded. The message from the state is, in effect, throwing out your plastic bottles will help the state close its budget gap. How sad.

* Nice to see most of this year's World Series games starting at 7:57 p.m. instead of 8:40, as has been the case for the last decade or so. Forty-three minutes may not seem like a lot, but it's a very big deal to East Coast newspaper editors who are facing deadlines around midnight. A nine-inning game that starts at 7:57 ends around 11:30. An 8:40 game is likely to last until 12:10 or 12:15. The earlier start time means readers virtually are assured thorough coverage of each night's game in the next day's paper. That's good for you and for us.

* Speaking of the World Series, how can anyone take the Yankees seriously? This is, after all, the only team in Major League Baseball with TWO admitted steroid users (Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte). I, for one, will not recognize the Yankees as valid champions if they win this thing. But if you're a Yankee fan and can live with a tainted title, good for you.

* I opened this post by mentioning the "Election '09" supplement that appears in this morning's Freeman. I read every word of this section in preparing it for print, and I lost count of how many candidates said in their platform statements that they want to ease the local property tax burden and bring jobs to the region. Great ideas. Sadly, though, not one person among the 800 or so we profiled explained how these goals can be achieved.

* Lastly, belated condolences to the family and friends of Phil Terpening, an Ulster County legislator and former town supervisor from Rosendale who suffered an apparent heart attack during a candidates' forum last week and died a short time later. Phil was a gentle giant who was loved by many and respected by all. Local government has been diminished by his loss, and he will be missed.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Taking no chances

There have been some comments around town (and in the reader response area on the Freeman's Web site) that police overreacted by sending dozens of heavily armed officers to the Lake Shore Villas apartment complex in Port Ewen on Thursday after being told a man there was holding a woman against her will.

I couldn't agree less.

All police knew — from the suspect's aunt, who alerted the Ulster County Sheriff's Office — was the man was having "psychotic episodes" and wouldn't let the other person in the apartment, his sister, leave.

So dozens of cops descended on the scene, most of them armed to teeth and looking ready for battle. A hostage negotiator was brought in. Roads were closed. School buses were kept away. Other residents of Lake Shore Villas were told to stay inside their apartments.

The suspect, 28-year-old Warren Allen of Maryland, surrendered a few hours later, having done no harm to his sister, was taken for a psychiatric evaluation and was charged the next morning with unlawful imprisonment.

Once the drama ended, police determined Allen had only knives (meaning he posed no danger to anyone who wasn't within arm's length) and that his sister had locked herself in a room separate from Allen and stayed there throughout the standoff. These are the facts that have compelled may people to say the police response was over the top.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and second-guessing authorities is easy for those who don't have to make critical decisions on a moment's notice.

But remember this: The only thing the cops had to go on at 12:15 p.m. Thursday was a report of an imbalanced man holding someone hostage. Given that limited information, their response was appropriate. Because, make no mistake, if they had sent only a few officers, skipped the hostage negotiator and let people move at will through Lake Shore Villas during the ordeal, they would have been branded reckless and incompetent — and rightly so — if the suspect had been in possession of a firearm and had shot his sister or people walking within a bullet's range of the apartment's windows.

This was a classic example of where erring on the side of caution made sense, and I, for one, am glad the police did just that.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Baseball truism

Boston Red Sox Manager Terry Francona - his team just bounced from the baseball playoffs on Sunday by an Angels team that mounted a ninth-inning comeback for the ages - summed up the harsh reality of post-season elimination with one of the best baseball quotes I've ever heard:

"The season doesn't wind down. It just comes to a crashing halt."

Poignant, painful and perfect - especially from a man who still was reeling from a loss, just moments earlier, that he surely didn't see coming.


Friday, October 9, 2009

He comes in peace

I'm not exactly sure what Barack Obama did to justify him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today.

The only thing I can figure is the Nobel committee was overcome with joy about the United States finally having a president who isn't a warmonger.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Walk this way

Let me start by saying I think the Walkway Over the Hudson is a great thing - a tremendous new use of a dilapidated old eyesore (the long-abandoned Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge) and another wonderful venue from which to view the beauty of the Hudson River and its surroundings.

But let's rein in all the ridiculous exaggerations about its potential benefits. It's a nice addition to the region's already numerous attractions, to be sure, but suggesting, as Gov. David Paterson did during Saturday's opening-day festivities, that the Walkway will encourage businesses to relocate here and young families to settle here is just silly.

Families looking for a new place to live will choose the Hudson Valley because of a 1.25-mile cement path across the Hudson River? Sorry, Dave - not likely. Families choose places to live based on things like job opportunities, the cost of living, the quality of schools, cultural offerings and the proximity to necessary destinations. The ability to walk across a river on a refurbished train trestle isn't likely to be high on any family's checklist.

And ditto for businesses. Top-notch companies long have bypassed New York state, and the Hudson Valley in particular, because of high taxes and numerous government obstacles to development and growth. Those problems haven't disappeared simply because pedestrians now can look down on the Hudson River from 212 feet above the water.

And while we're at it, how about we also refrain from overstating the span's popularity.

A local newspaper (not the Freeman) had a story on its Web site this week that was headlined "Walkway Over the Hudson draws 40,000 people on 1st weekend." That seemed impressive - until I read the story and discovered the number was nothing but a guess from the woman who oversees local operations for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The woman, Jayne McLaughlin, admitted she wasn't using any scientific method to estimate the crowd's size (nor was there any official count, because no tickets are needed to get onto the Walkway, and it has no turnstiles). No, McLaughlin merely was tossing out a figure based on a rough count of vehicles in Walkway parking areas, the fact that shuttles to and from the site were fairly full, the presence of many chartered buses and visual observations of people traversing the span. In other words, she could have been right on the money or off by tens of thousands. Saying "I have no idea how many people used the Walkway over the weekend" would have been far more honest but probably not as catchy in a newspaper story or promotional materials for the span.

I truly hope the Walkway Over the Hudson will be a popular attraction for years to come. But I believe it can achieve that popularity without all the puffery from the likes of David Paterson and Jayne McLaughlin.