In these first 7-months on the job, I’ve been occasionally reminded that not everyone shares my optimism for Oneonta’s future. Nor do they see value in keeping eyes fixed on the road ahead and not trained on past grudges or scores to settle.
However, I believe that by embracing the positive and identifying the possible, we put ourselves on our best path to success.
As Mayor, it’s my duty to present a cogent argument for optimism and to champion the benefits of respectful collaboration.
As of today, there been more than 5,200 cases of monkeypox confirmed in the United States. Over 1,300 of those cases have been in New York State, the majority of these in the New York City area. The monkeypox outbreak worldwide continues to increase, and last week the World Health Organization declared it a public health emergency of international concern. There needs to be an internationaly coordinated response to try to control this viral disease.
In order to prevent the disease from spreading further, there needs to be more testing, access to vaccines, and treatments along with other public health efforts. Unfortunately, much of this is not in place, and messaging to the public is not always been clear. The coordination, for what it’s worth, seen in the fight against monkeypox, is nowhere near that as seen in the global fight against COVID. Information about who was at risk and access to care is not always been clear. It is difficult to find testing. Vaccine distribution is irregular. Other treatment options are unclear.
I decided to go this year — it’s been so long, and it was fun, even jaunty, to fall in with the crowd, hundreds making their way to the Induction ground — loners and families, crowds and couples. Cars with plates from all the states most likely were jammed wherever they could be fit, sun shining off their baking roofs. My road led straight to the heart of things, footsteps away.
It seemed everyone from everywhere was there on the lawn, every square of grass taken, and a sea of umbrellas, tents, and caps. I lingered for a bit with a family from the Dominican Republic — looked like three generations — there like so many to roar in David Ortiz, this year’s favorite inductee by far. I said I’d been down to the DR not too long ago, to ”Punta….” “Cana!” they filled in before I could. “We’re from Samana.” I said I loved their island, which is true, and that I’d even been to San Pedro de Macoris, birthplace of many baseball players who got to turn pro. “Fantastic,” they say.
Bumped into Buster Whipple several summers ago at Joe’s Pizzeria downtown. He was up from Florida to attend his grandchild’s graduation. We hashed over old times, among them, days I used to work with him on his family’s farm. We were doing hay the year I was eighteen and headed for Brooklyn College in the fall. “You’re a good worker now,” Buster had said as I threw a bale onto the wagon. “But college is going to ruin you. You won’t want to bust your gut any more. You won’t come back.”
Buster had been wrong because the next summer I was once again on the Whipple farm tying bags of oats on the back of a combine driven by rotund and jovial neighbor Steve Spitko. We were in a large field across Route 20 from the new house where Buster lived with his wife and four kids. One of the guys working with me was an old man named Obie Marriot who wore bib overalls without any underwear. In spite of his age he was a good hand, big and powerful, and it was hard to keep up with him when on- and off-loading the heavy burlap bags of oats. Tying bags was a dusty job and working under a baking sun, it didn’t take long before I was as dark as a migrant worker.
If I were walking around Oneonta, Richfield Springs, or Cooperstown with a microphone doing random street interviews, I might ask the question, “What is responsible drinking?” I can tell you that the likely outcome of my attempt at reporting would result in a wide range of responses and interesting conversations.
The phrase “responsible drinking” has become ubiquitous in our culture. I will admit, my ears are finely attuned to it because of the work I do. However, I don’t think that’s the whole story. When we tell each other things like, “just drink responsibly” or “all things in moderation” we are essentially using phrases that are interpreted by the listener through their own lens of responsibility and moderation. We may mean one thing, while the other person hears something different.
As most know, vaping is a nationwide epidemic. In New York State, vaping or e-cigarette use among high school students spiked in just four years, from 10.5% in 2014 to 27.4% in 2018. This past spring, some schools in Otsego, Delaware and Schoharie Counties observed 80-90% of their high school students vaping. More worrisome is how often youth vape. The 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 2.55 million youth used e-cigarettes, with 44% of high school e-cigarette users vaping on 20 or more days a month and 28 percent using e-cigarettes every day. More than 8% of middle school students who vape use e-cigarettes every day.
It has long been argued that it’s the smoke and not the nicotine that kills, but addiction to nicotine, especially during adolescence can cause long-term harm to brain development and respiratory health. Nicotine has been found to impact attention, learning, and memory negatively. The e-liquids in vapes often have high concentrations of nicotine. Juul, one of the largest e-cigarette companies, sells pods which contain 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine.
For well over a century two cases have been universally considered to be the worst decisions in the Supreme Court’s history: Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson. On June 24th the case of Dobbs v. Jackson eliminated a woman’s constitutional right to choose set forth in Roe v. Wade. This egregious decision will doubtless join Dred Scott and Plessy, and thus create a Supreme Court-terribly-decided-case trifecta.
History buffs will recall that Dred Scott held that persons of African descent were not citizens and therefore had no rights and privileges under the Constitution. Not satisfied with that blockbuster holding, the Court went on to strike down the Missouri Compromise. Aside from its horrendous effect on rights of Blacks, Dred Scott’s trashing of the Missouri Compromise led directly to the Civil War by opening the floodgates for the expansion of slavery. The 1896 Plessy decision permitted segregation, which put a constitutional imprimatur on almost six decades of Jim Crow laws in the South and elsewhere. Justice Alito’s opinion in Dobbs falls within the notorious Dred Scott/Plessy pantheon primarily because: (1) it rewrites the until now well-settled principles of Stare Decisis (i.e., stick to previous decisions except in exceptional circumstances); (2) distinguishes relevant prior cases with reasoning that would make a first-year law student blush; and finally, (3) is the result, not of any change in the law, but merely the appointment of new judges.
There was an orientation video playing while Alice and I were signing in for a cabin in California’s Sequoia National Park. It gave a lot of information about bears. The narrator warned not to leave any food in your car. Then they showed a bear ripping off a station wagon’s door to get at the goodies some careless visitors had left behind. It was impressive how agile this lumbering animal was. I noticed that Alice was paying close attention to all that was said.
Naturally, we transferred all edibles to our assigned cabin that, to me, seemed less secure than the PT Cruiser we had rented. Alice looked a bit alarmed when she inspected the lock on the door. I had seen better security on outhouses. “Maybe we should have stayed at a motel,” my wife mused.
Two years ago, I lamented the absence of bluebirds up here on the hill. As well, the equally disappointing absence of the several pairs of tree swallows that habitually took up residence in the two nest boxes adjacent to our larger vegetable garden. Both species have chosen to summer elsewhere again. However, my faith in what nature writer Hal Borland has characterized as nature’s enduring patterns has not waned. Frankly, I have more confidence in nature’s inherent adaptability than that of my own species. I know there are bluebirds and tree swallows close by, so perhaps they just needed a respite. That is okay with me. Their absence, caused either by climate fluctuations or sheer desire for a change, has been more than compensated for by the summer tenancy of some new feathered friends. These are species I normally only bump into on my walks. Besides, just as we humans opt to vary our vacation spots, why should not birds do the same.
I just returned from a trip to visit family. While away, I had the opportunity to celebrate a milestone — my grandson’s graduation from fifth grade. At his ceremony, he shared that his goal throughout school was to “make his parents proud.” His sincerity has me thinking about Springbrook at this time of year — summer at Springbrook feels charmed.
In June, we celebrated the accomplishments of ten exceptional graduates of The School at Springbrook. These young people came to The School at Springbrook from across the state, with unique backgrounds, skills, and goals. One graduate came to Springbrook as a nonverbal student, and through years of work and determination, crossed the graduation stage as a multilingual adult. Several graduates leave us ready to pursue meaningful employment, or to find new living environments that continue to promote their independence. What each of these graduates shares is tenacity — a determination that cannot be broken, no matter what the wider world may say. What I take pride in is that, at Springbrook, we say “yes, you can!” when all others say, “no, you can’t.”
“And suddenly you know. It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” Meister Eckhart
Throughout our lives, we can choose or have thrust upon us new beginnings. The past several years of a global pandemic, causing the shutting down and then slow reopening of our institutions and communities, has led to many of us ‘suddenly knowing’ it was time to start something new. I have been fortunate enough to find my new beginning here in Oneonta.
In September last year, we moved to Oneonta after my husband, Alberto, became SUNY O’s president. As a goodbye gift, a coworkers gave me a magnet with Eckhart’s quote on it. Reading it I was filled with gratitude and panic.
How many of you, when you’re driving past the Goodyear Lake dam on Route 28, want to push those dead trees right over the edge? How long have they been there? How long will they stay?
Doubleday Field of Dreams
Major League Baseball and, I presume, its media partners, sunk a boatload of cash into redeveloping an Iowa cornfield to build from scratch a fictional baseball field from a fictional piece of fiction, all to play one non-fictional game each season in the “Field of Dreams.” It was a fun television presentation, I’ll give them that. And I totally get it: they built it, they came, etc., just like the movie. So why not Cooperstown? I don’t care what Hoboken says: Cooperstown is the rightful home of baseball and this is where MLB should play one game per year. If they can transform a cornfield, they can upgrade our ballpark. Ballplayers turn into little kids when they walk onto Doubleday, and Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame would put on a gonzo show for the nation to watch. Build it. They will come.
Here’s how I picture Mitch McConnell in his college days:
“Hey Mitch!” call his pals. “There’s a big protest march down in the quad. Posters, bullhorns, and everything! C’mon!”
“Nah,” says Mitch. “You guys go on ahead and have fun. I’m gonna stay in and study this book I found by a guy called Machiavelli.”
A few years later, there’s Mitch McConnell, local lawyer and burgeoning politician.
“Mitch,” says his local party boss. “Rally down at the town square. Press is gonna be there, I think it’ll be a good photo op for you. Hold up a sign and make people think you’re actually doing something about their problem.”
“No thanks,” Mitch says. “I’ve got this book about the rules of the United States Senate and I’m really into it. I’m staying in to read.”
Then, like water does, when he got elected to the Senate in 1984 he assumed the shape of his container and started to become the Senate. He played the long game masterfully. It’s the only way to take effective reins in a Congress where everyone wants to be in charge but few have the patience necessary to win the prize. You’re plotting every move five or more years in advance, nudging the dominoes to fall in the direction you need but always based on the rules. As with any long game, there will be setbacks and disappointments along the way, some of them soul-crushing. Sometimes you have to force a hand or two, but if you want to stick around, you can’t make yelling into a bullhorn, posting pithy Twitter tweets, or attending rally after rally to be your bread and butter. You have to put in the boring work that no one sees.
Hence the decisions handed down in the last week by the Supreme Court of the United States. Pure long-game strategy brought to stunning fruition thanks to any number of factors; a fragile domino chain whose building blocks historians may one day trace back to the Reagan administration when SCOTUS members started to age out or die. One at a time. On a schedule no one could predict, but everyone was watching – some more intently than others.
Otsego County and the whole of New York stand on the cusp of an eventful election season that begins with the June 28 primaries for the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and state Assembly.
Because we can’t have nice things in the Empire State, we’ll have a second round of primaries on August 23; those are for state Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. And also a special election on August 23 to fill out the last few months of now-Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado’s term in the 19th Congressional District. Then another election for the 19th CD in November — in a district that will have entirely different boundaries thanks to redistricting, so one of the candidates for the special election for the 19th on August 23 is not running for reelection to that district in November, but instead will seek a full two-year term to the state’s 18th Congressional District and leave two others to duke it out for the 19th.
Thank you, state legislators who hijacked the voter-approved 2014 amendment establishing non-partisan redistricting, redrew lines you thought your party-appointed state Court of Appeals would uphold, and then whined when you got caught with your hands in the constitutional cookie jar and the Court correctly said “no thanks.” (Even their Assembly district lines got the judicial heave-ho last week, so we’ll have new ones in 2024!)
Calendar confusion aside, primaries are important. Just ask Joe Crowley. He’s the former Democrat Congressman from Queens who spent all his time a couple of years ago lining up support for his planned run against Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House instead of campaigning in his home district for his primary against some unknown kid named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whoops.
Elise Stefanik’s staff has been stuffing my e-mail inbox with announcements touting summer primary victories for House candidates from other states who have her support. I get it – as ugly as it may seem from the outside, this is how one rises through the ranks in Washington, D.C. The halls of Congress are a crowded place with at least 535 voices clamoring to rise above the din. Those whom one supports in a primary will be those to whom one turns for reciprocal support when it’s time for leadership votes.
But my goodness she’s supporting Carl Palladino out in Buffalo in his August 23 primary for Congress. I’ll do my best to keep from name-calling, but a buffoon is a buffoon. This guy, in 2021 (2021!), called Adolf Hitler “the kind of leader we need today.”
Hello to all my fellow dads, and a Happy Father’s Day to you.
Advertising tropes these days tend to portray dads as bumbling oafs who make questionable fashion choices, fumble with modern technology, snore, and barbeque a lot. My wife and I were watching television over the weekend, and a commercial came on advertising a big Father’s Day sale at a department store. “Find all of your dad’s favorite brands!” they promised as various pictures of things like pants and watches flew by on the screen. Angie chuckled and asked, “How many dads out there have a ‘favorite brand’?”
I’m not so sure that the general population of dads carries a torch for a particular brand. I don’t think we care, provided it fits or is a t-shirt with a band or slogan we can comfortably endorse. And while I’m not big on brands or barbequing, I plead guilty to torturing my family with that daddest of dad things, the Dad Joke.
Dad Jokes are an important chapter in the Unwritten Book of Dad Rules. Your wife goes through all the hard work of pregnancy and labor and nurturing and we instead turn into pun-wielding groan generators who can make the entire car erupt in unison and stretch the word ‘dad’ into several syllables while we think we’re the funniest dudes on the planet.
I learned a few things from my own Dad’s bag of tricks. Like this one: he and Mom would pack into the Country Squire however many Potrikus children were in the house at the time and we’d take a Sunday drive. Cheap entertainment and a chance to get out of the house. But I can still remember the little gleam in Dad’s eye as he’d occasionally steer the car out of Cooperstown toward Bowerstown: that meant a nostalgic pass across Cornish Hill where he would point out the location of the house where he and his siblings grew up. When he was feeling particularly mischievous, he’d turn right onto what I think GoogleMaps now defines as Sibley Gulf Road. “John, not this road!” my mother would say, every time. He would laugh and say, “Jane, don’t worry about it.”
Naturally, I would love to have had more time with my Dad, but that cigarette habit he picked up overseas in World War II and his life bent over barrels of dry cleaning chemicals got the better of him not long after I turned 14 years old. I’m gratified by the number of people in and around Cooperstown who still remember him. A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of talking with Hank Phillips, who said, “Your father was one of the funniest guys I ever knew.” They bowled together on Thursday nights back when our Price Chopper was the Bowl-a-Rama. “He’d leave us all roaring,” Hank told me.
Now, I saw Dad as a hardworking man who enjoyed a highball after a hard day’s work, taught me the proper follow-through for bowling, and let me stay up to watch that Red Sox vs. Reds World Series game when Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run. But the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve found out about his sense of humor. Mom once spied a stack of Ernie Kovacs DVDs on my table. “Oh my gosh,” she said, “your father loved Ernie Kovacs. We watched him all the time. He’d walk around imitating Percy Dovetonsils.”
This was happy news, and something I would love to have seen. I’m proud to know Dad was on board at the inception with daredevil television comedy pioneer Ernie Kovacs. It makes sense — this was a guy who let me watch Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In” with him even though I was barely six years old and who, late in his life, still laughed heartily at the twisted humor of “The Muppet Show.”
I hope all of us have happy-news Dad stories that we either can remember or celebrate in person this weekend. My girls are too far away for my liking, but there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll bore them from afar this weekend, reminding them of the time we told our daughter, Maggie — who was learning her alphabet at the time, poor thing — that her name started with “P” but it was silent. Or that our daughter Lianna, when asked in Kindergarten for a word that began with the letter “B,” responded with “book, biography, and Bob Dylan.”
Stand proudly, fellow dads — you know all the untold secrets of that Unwritten Book of Dad Rules. Pass ‘em on.