With the news this week that the Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville was going to “pause” operations of its maternity services because of the resignations of several members of that department who refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the not unexpected consequences of the recent New York state and federal mandates for healthcare workers suddenly hit very close to home. While it is certainly difficult to envision both the future of these workers when no other work options exist under the circumstances and the potentially disastrous impact of the mandates on a notoriously understaffed profession, one cannot help but wonder what possible reason these workers have for surrendering their professions by refusing a vaccine that has been well proven as safe and effective, and is without question saving millions of people from a devastating disease and a gruesome, untimely death.
More joy came to Mudville this week, as the three talented baseball players — Derek Jeter, Ted Simmons and Larry Walker — who were elected to the Hall of Fame in 2020, journeyed to Cooperstown for their COVID-delayed, toned-down inductions. Marvin Miller, the first director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, who died in 2012, was also inducted.
It’s no secret there is a significant labor shortage in America at the moment and we are seeing its effects clearly here in Otsego County.
Help wanted signs are everywhere. While the problem touches most businesses, local restaurants appear to be particularly affected. Many have been forced to close multiple days per week; some have closed permanently. One local food service has become a food truck because of a lack of employees.
At the end of June, there were about 9.3 million U.S. workers on the unemployment rolls at the same time as U.S. businesses were looking to fill 9.2 million open positions.
Summer has come and almost gone here in Cooperstown, and there have been more people visiting us than in 2020. The streets are abuzz with eager baseball fans, casually swinging their newly made bats, avid bike riders waxing eloquently about their explorations of the hills and valleys of Otsego, and lake lovers fresh from a full day on and in the water. The shop owners, lodgings and restaurants have seen an uplift in sales from 2020, and the village has begun to feel a return to post-COVID life. That was then; now, alas, we are in the throes of returning to that COVID life, as the Delta surge runs through us.
If we are lucky though, this, too, shall pass.
Another interesting note is the increase around town of electric vehicles, both locally owned and from afar. The parking lot of the Otesaga is a good place to find them, as are Doubleday parking lot and, until this week, the Dreams Park and the trolley lots. Sleek, somewhat new and multi-colored, the out-of-towners have brought their owners here for a tour of the Hall of Fame, a week at the Dreams Park, some good productions at Glimmerglass, a round of golf, some lake fishing and a visit to the Fenimore Art Museum and Hyde Hall, and they have come from as far away as New York City and Washington, traveling over routes laid out in their respective maps that display the whereabouts of recharging stations along the way.
On its editorial page over the past few weeks, The Freeman’s Journal has commented on, among other important issues, the fog-like haze that was smoke from the western wildfires that fell on the lake and village, leaving the air heavily dangerous for long periods of time, and the latest COVID surge that is gnawing, for the most part, on our unvaccinated and younger residents — children — as well as causing new concern among our older population. None of this was any good and all of it is sad and, no doubt to some, depressing.
However, for us here in Otsego County, this distant, remote upstate almost-forgotten (or, perhaps, not yet discovered) place, there is a special glimmer; something that can bring a smile; something to lighten our load and keep us on a happier track. Otsego Lake.
Nine miles of clear, deep water that laps endlessly on steep tree-lined shores and often reflects the changing sky and clouds and forest, the lake is a home to myriad fish and feathered wildlife, a reservoir for the village of Cooperstown and a summer and winter playground for boaters, tubers, swimmers, sailors, rowers, paddlers, divers, fishermen and water, and snow-skiers. Glacier-created during the last great Ice Age, and spring-fed as well as stream-fed, this superb natural resource is the headwaters of the Susquehanna River. In the past it has played a variety of roles in the Leatherstocking novels of James Fenimore Cooper, who called his – and our – beautiful lake The Glimmerglass.
Just as the country thought it was safe to get rid of masks, COVID-19 has made a sudden, startling comeback.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the seven-day moving average of new cases for the week ended Aug. 6, stands at nearly 123,000 per day. The Associated Press has reported more than 44,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. last weekend, a 30% increase from the prior week and four times the number in June. Daily deaths hover around 500, nearly twice the rate of two weeks ago.
Of those hospitalized, 97.5% are unvaccinated, a group that represents 99% of deaths. An unvaccinated person is 300 times more likely to die from COVID than one who is vaccinated. One infectious disease expert recently pointed out that for the unvaccinated it is “Not a matter of if you will contract the virus, only a matter of when.”
There seems to be a general feeling in this country these days that getting things done and making a difference is an impossible thing. When the United States Congress itself seems unable to get anything done, what chance do small groups or ordinary citizens have to make a difference? The odds are so stacked against that happening that most people wouldn’t even think of wasting their time trying.
But sometimes even legislative accomplishments come from the darndest places.
In 2017, Cooperstown Elementary School teacher Anne Reis was leading her fourth-grade class through a study of state government in New York. During a section on state symbols, the kids learned New York had no official state sport. They concluded there should be one and it should be baseball.
Reis inspired her young charges to dream big and take action and they got to work researching baseball’s influence in and on New York’s history, economy and culture. They wrote essays on the sport’s numerous qualifications for official designation, and they sent them all to Albany.
Something remarkable happened last week, Wednesday July 21, in Otsego County. It happened in other places, too — New York City, Philadelphia, Albany, Ontario, Boston — in fact in the entire northeastern part of the country.
Most people thought it was a heavy fog, typical of all the other heavy fogs that are apt to enshroud us in the mornings this time of year, only to disappear before noon when the sun burns through the atmosphere.
But it wasn’t that familiar heavy fog. It was smoke, and it came from the abundant, heavy, uncontrolled wildfires currently blazing far out west. And with it the National Weather Service sent out air quality warnings.
To date this year, more than 75 wildfires have scorched more than one million acres in 13 western states. The Bootleg fire in Oregon is the largest in the state’s history. It’s half the size of Rhode Island and so massive it has created its own weather. Of the fires in California, all but one exist by natural causes — extremely high temperatures — and they total more than 2,000 square miles of inconceivable heat, flame and threat.
And we are still in July, not August, when historically most wildfires spring up.
About two weeks ago I got a message from the other Tara in my life, Cooperstown Sports Booster Club President Tara Loewenguth, letting me know that despite COVID restrictions I was invited to the annual end-of-year sports banquet.
It wasn’t an unusual text and I politely declined. I don’t do a lot of banquets, but as a Cooperstown booster and after a fun spring of sports coverage, I thought nothing about being invited.
I told Tara it was graduation weekend and I had plans to go somewhere Friday evening to cover one of our small schools.
What happened next I found to be unusual. Tara texted me back and asked if I could call her immediately. It was urgent, she said.
“So, we were hoping to surprise you, but,” she said, and then explained that the other club members had unanimously voted to give me the 2020-2021 Ken Kiser Award for Good Sportsmanship for dedication and commitment to athletics at Cooperstown Central School.
I spent the next couple of days stunned, debating with myself if I could miss a graduation night, and discussing with my family if they wanted to go to a long banquet on a Friday night, while trying to cobble a speech together in my head. I guess if you are at the stage where you are cobbling together a speech in your head, the decision is obvious. And when even the teen agreed to go, I knew it was settled.
Our community is fortunate to have the Friends of the Village Library to organize important conversations and events like the “Looking in the Mirror” program. I have attended a few of the series including racism in education and in healthcare and had come to expect a decent program when tuning in.
On Feb. 10, I listened to The Cooperstown Reflects on Racism and Law Enforcement Series with my wife hoping for an invigorating and forward-thinking conversation.
The event had the express goals of:
1) Examine the impact of racism on our community and institutions;
2) Learn how to confront bias and inequities locally;
3) Identify actions that individuals, groups, and the community can take to address racism and create a more equitable Cooperstown.
The speakers during their presentations and the Q&A did not address, examine or achieve any of these goals. I have spent the last four months thinking about this event and pondering what can be done to jumpstart the difficult discussion that works to foster the growth and honest conversation needed if we are to address the goals of the series.
Our community must strive towards achieving these goals until we succeed if we hope to create actual change in our world. Ignoring these goals is to ignore racism which only perpetuates white supremacy by propping up the racist institutions and power structures in our community and in our country.
Below are my reflections on Racism and Law Enforcement utilizing the above goals as my guide. My intention by expressing my thoughts and feelings about this event and more largely racism and bias in our community is not to attack the speakers and attendees of The Cooperstown Reflects on Racism and Law Enforcement Series. I hope by presenting this alternative path the community will create space for a more critical analysis of the power systems that influence our lives.
1) Racism has impacted our community and institutions in such a profound manner that we cannot imagine a justice system that is not based on punishment. We instead can only see a world where being one of the earliest adopters of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 203: NYS Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative in the state means that our community is progressive and welcoming. Eager adherence to such mandates by the government shows Cooperstown’s pro-policing nature which does not work to dismantle the systems of oppression at the foundation of our country.
Racism has impacted our community to the point where we allow the institutions of the police department and mayor’s office to use the majority of their time during this series to ask for more funding and support for policing in our community instead of addressing the stated goals. The influences of racism are made tangible when the “communal we” thinks that adherence to a policy calling for police to “… promote community engagement to foster trust, fairness, and legitimacy …” is understandable and necessary. Giving police more money and increasing the size of our police force does not make the community a safer place.
2) I spent my time during college learning about Black studies, education and history. Even with a degree based on analyzing racism within the United States, I find myself lacking the tools needed to gracefully confront bias and inequities. The Cooperstown Reflects on Racism and Law Enforcement Series could not and did not confront bias and inequities locally nor did they offer any steps or tools to handle racist events and interactions. There was a missed opportunity to highlight activists and scholars who have accessible works that are listed on the Friends of the Village Library website such as Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Michelle Alexander, and Ibram X. Kendi or to introduce folks like Prison Industrial Complex Abolitionist Mariame Kaba who strives to create a transformative justice system in our country through organizations like Project NIA and Interrupting Criminalization. As a majority White community, we must actively struggle against the systems that benefit us the most. Recognizing that racism is not always overt actions and statements of bigotry is necessary if we hope to effectively dismantle powerful institutions such as the institution of policing which is founded in racism and white supremacy.
3) Instead of continuing to allow racism to exist in our space, we must imagine a different world for ourselves. If there is a community that can take this bold step against racism and white supremacy it is Cooperstown. The magic of myth-making is powerful enough to warp realities. The people of Cooperstown know this to be true, as the story about a simple game being born in these hills changed our world. We can use the same imagination that created the reality where people come to our town every year because they love baseball and want to share in the glory of its perceived, albeit imagined birthplace. Let that imagination envision a world where our justice system is not based on punishment and banishment and instead is based on healing and learning as a community. Removing a person from the community by locking them up in prison through our judicial system or by “canceling” them for their racist/sexist/misogynistic/unacceptable behavior does not delete these unacceptable behaviors. It destroys lives and homes while leaving a wound in communities where we could have instead taken the opportunity to learn, grow and heal.
A major action that we can take as a community to create a more equitable Cooperstown and Otsego County is to abolish the village police department and to shut down the county jail. The funding and staff can be reallocated and transferred into adjacent fields where their skills and experiences can be utilized allowing the employees to continue to serve our community in a meaningful way. Having staff transition into positions with fire departments or local EMT companies while reallocating money to mental health and other social services is a great example. Another fantastic example is the S.T.A.R. (Support Team Assisted Response) Program in Denver, Colorado, and Eugene, Oregon which sends mental health professionals instead of police to respond to emergency calls when appropriate. The road ahead will be bumpy and the temptation to settle for half measures will arise. With this in mind, we must continue ever forward, holding ourselves and each other accountable and on course. When we stumble and falter we must be gentle with ourselves and remember that change even when necessary can be difficult.
Destroying white supremacy and racism will not occur overnight however with time and with the bravery to dream of a truly changed world we, the Cooperstown community, can and will take the arduous journey together.
The question of whether AllOtsego should publish any editorial opinions was raised, weeks ago, on these pages.
The importance of timely editorial opinions for readers who are often ill-informed or baffled by complex issues was obvious after the recent, very controversial, Cooperstown Board of Education meeting. Many attended or subsequently read about that meeting. The issue was whether “Critical Race Theory” should be taught in Cooperstown or elsewhere. AllOtsego had no timely editorial on the subject. Fortunately, the Oneonta Daily Star did.
As the Star editors suggested, no one has suggested that teachers should be required to teach or believe Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT is simply a theory that teachers can consider and perhaps discuss with high school students. Citizens and parents should be encouraged to google CRT online to determine for themselves whether the theory is dangerous in any way. The Star editorial suggested that teachers should not be prohibited from discussing the concept of race, or why racism exists, or whether it is systemic in our society, with their students. Presumably very few—on the political left or right—want to allow students to be politically indoctrinated. But teachers should be allowed (and encouraged) to discuss many important theories without being intimidated by hysterical parents or administrators!
One would like to believe that Cooperstown, once referred to as “America’s Favorite Hometown,” is a thriving, dynamic community.
A walk down Main Street in July or August, with crowds of people swarming the streets and shops, would suggest that it is indeed as billed. The same walk in January or February, with darkened, shuttered store fronts and empty parking spaces, would offer a very different impression.
When the remarkable increase in the country’s taste for baseball and its memorabilia in the late ’80s and ’90s dramatically altered Cooperstown’s Main Street, with baseball-themed shops largely established and managed by non-local proprietors replacing the mixed-use, community-based businesses run by local residents for 200 years, Cooperstown’s business district turned a very unfortunate corner.
With the advent of the “Cooperstown” baseball camps, located in Hartwick and Oneonta, people began to buy, convert and even build area housing to cash in on an extremely lucrative weekly summer rental market. That housing is in many cases owned by non-local, absentee landlords who make enough of a killing in the summer to allow them to sit vacant for the long off-season months. In a few years, the availability of housing in and around the Village became as hopeless as a Main Street parking space in summer.
Editor’s note: This column was first published May 4, 1977.
The Three Mile Point pavilion was a simple wooden platform with a peaked roof – not very handsome – not on my list for historic preservation; yet it has been enjoyed for decades as a spot for everything from Sunday School picnics to rock-around-the-clock parties.
Summer “natives,” tourists and fishermen appreciated it for years. I hope it will be replaced. (Ed. Note: the original pavilion had recently been destroyed by fire.)
There have been other simple wooden structures hereabouts, which afforded great and lasting pleasure to many people of Otsego.
Two of them were near the southeast end of the lake. They are gone now but not quite forgotten, the Thousand Steps and the Outlook at Prospect Rock.
Compiled by Tom Heitz/SHARON STUART, with resources
courtesy of The Fenimore Art Museum Research Library
210 YEARS AGO
Gallantry of an American Youth – In the late conflict between the United States frigate President and the British ship of war Little Belt, a gunner’s boy on board the frigate who had his arm broken by a shot, while under the hands of the surgeon in the cockpit, requested that he would make haste in dressing his wound, that he might get on deck again. On the surgeon’s asking what he would do on deck, wounded as he was, the little American replied, “If I can’t do more, I can at least be shot at!” It is known that the heroism of this lad has attracted the earnest attention of the secretary of the navy.
June 15, 1811
As we wrap up the first month of under-new management at Iron String Press, I am sure you have seen some changes, big and small, in the newspapers and perhaps on the website. And while all of them were needed in my opinion, the one I am most – excited about, proud of, nervous about, all of the above – is the sports page.
I am, after all, an old sports guy. And for some reason, old sports guys end up editors. This is my third time becoming editor of something more or less based on being an old sports guy.
There is a newspaper truism about old sports guys becoming editors: we’re insufferable about our sports pages. We miss them. Gazing at an editorial page makes my brain hurt and my heart sink, but I could spend an hour with the sports pages, even in these days of shrinking newspaper products, because of the corporate newspaper death cycle.
However, like all old sports guys, I am critical. It is hard to let go of the way I would do sports and let some entry level cub reporter mess up the look and style of the page or section.
At the pension fund, the ratio of sports people who listened to old sports guys vs. those who tuned them out was probably a wash. The long-time sports editor and his assistant mocked their old sports guy editor endlessly with a falsetto imitation that still makes me laugh.
Of course, their old sports guy had some points. No one on any court, pitch or field is literally on fire. And my family can attest, from hearing me yell at the TV, there is no dial. Therefore, nobody in sports, other than maybe a baseball manager in an era before push button phones, is dialing anything, let alone in an upward direction.