The loss of innocence. And we thought it could only happen once.
“I can’t help but think: You see these photos of the West Side of the Capitol, where presidents have stood and the transition of power has occurred. It’s so tainted now, with insurrectionists actually storming the Capitol. It’s hard to go back.”
That’s Joey Katz, son of Cooperstown’s former mayor Jeff Katz, then a teenager, who – with his mother, Karen, the village former first lady – saw the second inauguration of Barack Obama. Then-congressman Chris Gibson, a Republican (and now Siena College president), provided his tickets, so the Katzes had a pretty good view.
It’s a day that will live in infamy, Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol, vandalized and ransacked the venerable building, and was driven out by National Guard units and Capitol Police with some loss of life.
Prior to Jan. 6, 2021, few Americans could visualize that ever happening. The natural response here in Otsego County, as throughout our United States, is horror, sadness and fear for the future.
Illuminatingly, the AllOTSEGO.com daily poll that sought readers’ opinions on the next steps found people chose the mildest options by a large majority.
In reflecting on Jim Seward’s tenure as our state senator, one vignette always comes to mind.
It was the fall of 2006, and Cherry Valley’s Pam Noonan, on a Sunday afternoon at her home on Montgomery Street, was hosting opponents of Reunion Power’s 24-turbine wind farm proposed for East Hill.
Senator Seward had been invited and, prior to his arrival, attendees expressed some vexation that the senator, with his interest in jobs and tax-base enhancement, would not support the opposition.
The senator arrived and, as he always does, listened intently to his constituents’ concerns, not exactly Sphinx-like, but without letting on too much about what he was hearing and thinking.
The outcome, a few weeks later, was Seward’s reaffirmation of support for the state’s “Home Rule” doctrine – whatever powers are NOT given to Albany in the state Constitution devolve to localities.
Influenced by that or not, the Town of Cherry Valley adopted strict guidelines governing windmills, and Reunion went away.
But the Home Rule concept moved to center stage: A few years later to the state Court of Appeals, which ruled the Town of Middlefield, using its zoning powers, could block Cooperstown Holstein’s fracking plans.
What observers learned at Pam Noonan’s that afternoon was this: Seward’s prime interest wasn’t in ideology or partisanship – it was in representing his constituents.
Over the years, many praiseful words about state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, have appeared in this space.
We are proud to say that, throughout the current ownership, we’ve had the honor of endorsing him for reelection in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
The central reason for this was, again, not partisanship or ideology, but because of Seward’s main focus: To serve the people of his 10-county Central New York state Senate District but, foremost, to serve its centerpiece: Otsego County, where he was born, raised, educated and built his political career.
Another word that comes to mind is “nurturing.” Jim Seward sought to nurture his constituents, to protect them, to enhance their opportunities for a better life, to solve their problems on the macro and micro level.
Jim was stricken with cancer in 2016. When it recurred in the fall of 2019, he – weakened by one disease – was stomach-punched last March by deadly COVID-19 and almost lost his life. Then, the people he would nurture for 34 years nurtured him in return.
At the time, the outpouring of support and love on social media and www.AllOTSEGO.com was specific and impressive. People spoke about what he’d done for them, and they praised him, offered support to him and his family – wife Cindy, son Ryan and daughter Lauren, and granddaughters Nora and Vivian – and prayed (effectively, you might argue) for his recovery.
There are many examples to follow in the dozens of tributes to the retiring senator that appear in this week’s newspaper. We can enjoy them. But we can also be guided by them. Thanks, senator.
Eileen Lishansky’s tribute is a favorite. Approaching Seward with a sticky issue, he picked up the phone and started setting it right. “From that day on, whenever my husband or I would meet him in the community he addressed us by name,” she wrote.
It’s that personal touch, which grew out of who he is. Several tribute writers note, he likes people. Or that he’s not an angry man, and that doesn’t have to win every fight: He’s willing to talk things through, to take the long view.
In return, people like him. If you’re ever seen him walk across a crowded room, it’s a miracle he ever gets to his next appointment: Every half-step, someone wants to shake his hand, make a plea or give him an attaboy.
One of the people who knew him best is former state Sen. Hugh Farley, a Republican from the Capital District, now retired to Port Richey, Fla. They sat side by side in the Senate chamber for decades, and Farley saw Seward in action. (Only John Marchi of Staten Island, who served 50 years, was in the Senate longer than Seward, Farley said.)
“He got along with people,” said the retired senator in an interview from his Florida home. “It makes for a much better situation if you don’t get personal in your partisanship. He was always a gentleman. I never heard him confront or insult anybody. I was very proud of him for that.”
As we bid Senator James L. Seward farewell from his current job – thankfully, he plans to stay active in a manner still to be revealed – the dozens of complimentary tributes that appear in this edition give us pause for rumination.
We’re in a period of intense partisanship, where we believe we’re right and the other guy is wrong – or worse, immoral. In reflecting on Jim Seward’s 36 years serving all of us, we realize it doesn’t have to be that way.
We can disagree without insulting. We can believe strongly, without demonizing the other. We can have a diverse country – diverse lifestyles, diverse culture, diverse thinking – by being who we are and accepting that others may be different. No sweat.
It can be done. Jim Seward’s life to date proves it.
The choice of Heidi Bond, “General in the Fight Against COVID-19,” as we put it, has been seconded by many since the “Citizen of the Year” edition appeared last week. She and her team at the Otsego County Department of Health rose to the challenge.
All of us thank her for her tireless contributions in 2020.
Otsego County has been lucky in leadership this year. Here are four other individuals who shone, and there are many others who, unheralded, have as well.
One, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who returned Jan. 20 from a 12-month deployment in Djibouti with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserves, expecting to settle back into civilian life with wife Amy, daughter Mia, now 12, and son Cooper, 7.
Instead, he went from one foxhole to another.
By the end of March, he was in the midst of COVID-19, and county government found itself in a financial crisis, laying off 58 FTEs, and looking ahead to a hefty tax increase.
Then came the Ruffles Plan, which the first-term treasurer developed in consultation with colleagues in similar-sized counties: one, cuts; two, borrowing; three, chase limited money still flowing from Albany.
The plan reduced the deficit from $13.5 million to $5.4 million; borrows $4 million over 20 years at a historically low interest rate (1.0033 percent), and front-loads road work next spring (CHIPS money is still flowing from Albany).
This kept the county 2021 budget under the 2-percent tax cap.
Ruffles could have been buried under county-budgeting minutiae, but was able to see the big picture: COVID isn’t going to last forever – it could be at bay in weeks, certainly months. Then, tourism will return, sales tax will return – and the county will be able to fulfill its obligations.
Two, Tommy Ibrahim, recruited from nine-hospital Integris in Oklahoma with a goal of elevating quality and efficiency at the eight-county Bassett Healthcare Network, and returning it to profitability.
He arrived in June, and by December announced implementation of “OneBassett,” flattening the five “silos” – the five hospitals – and managing them horizontally, by discipline.
It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around, but Google “Bassett Hospital HR” and see how hiring, formerly scattered across the system, has been unified, a one-stop shop to getting a job at Basset, if you will.
Think it through. You can see how organizing and managing Bassett services individually – enabled by technology that wasn’t there a few years ago – could raise efficiency and lower costs across the board.
This isn’t just theoretical. Bassett has lost money for four years. Ibrahim – “call me Tommy,” he’ll say when you meet him – expects “OneBassett” to put the system at break-even by the end of 2021 and in the black after that.
A prosperous Bassett is essential to our aggregated health, prosperity and quality of life. Important stuff.
Three and Four: SUNY Oneonta’s new president, Dennis Craig, and the new SUNY chancellor, Jim Malatras.
A “super spreader” event on Friday, Aug. 21, the first weekend students returned, had pushed on-campus “positives” to 107 within a week.
Sunday, Aug. 30, the new chancellor was at SUNY Oneonta, trying to figure out what went wrong. And he acted, suspending classes for two weeks. As positives went over 300, he closed the campus for the semester.
By mid-October, campus President Barbara Jean Morris had resigned and, to succeed her, Malatras named Dennis Craig, who as president of SUNY Purchase kept a campus outbreak to seven cases in New Rochelle.
Craig’s action team came up with a plan of reopening within two weeks, and he successfully quelled a faculty revolt, and lined up enough support to aim at reopening on Feb. 1.
This is leadership.
In crisis, leaders emerge. And that happened here. Happily, identifying Heidi Bond and four other high-profile leaders doesn’t take anything away from the many others.
County Board chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, as he does so well, brought together the talent around him – Ruffles, Meg Kennedy, Bond, Brian Pokorny and many others.
The mayors of Oneonta and Cooperstown, Gary Herzig and Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch respectively, Bill Streck in his final weeks at Bassett’s helm, and his COVID team, were all great.
And this doesn’t mention all of our fellow citizens who soldiered on – businesspeople and non-profits alike – and church, and schools, and police, and …
The point is, there are a lot of people we can thank as Otsego County begins to come back to life in 2021.
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” William Shakespeare
Can it be 15 years since The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta, (after its founding in 2008), have recognized a Citizen (or Citizens) of the Year in the final edition of the 12th month?
In 2006, Cherry Valley Town Supervisor Tom Garretson, digesting information brought before him on industrial-scale wind turbines, changed his mind and led the charge to block them. That took guts and flexibility.
In 2020, Heidi Bond is a worthy successor. Like Garretson, she didn’t expect the worst epidemic in a century to explode upon us. But, like Garretson, she rose to the occasion, deploying her limited staff and doing what needed to be done, including long hours of hard work many days on end.
When called for a comment, but not yet knowing who had been chosen, county Rep. David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, said, “Your Citizen of the Year should be Heidi Bond.”
Of course, she is. Greatness was thrust upon her, and she was ready.
That is the case in several of the 42-some people who have been Citizens of the Year. (Several years, more than one person was chosen, the peak being Oneonta’s 12-person Charter Commission.)
But that idea: Not expecting a specific challenge, regular citizens can still be prepared, discovering that, through training, discipline, energy, intelligence and mental toughness, they can rise to the
occasion and overcome the challenges at hand.
That certainly applies to Heidi Bond, but also to Adrian Kuzminski (2010), who led the anti-fracking movement; Cooperstown then-mayor Carol Waller (2007), who led the village through a trouble-free record turnout to Cal Ripken’s 2007 Induction, to Pastor Sylvia Kevlin (2017), who responded to the fiery destruction of the Milford Methodist Church with the declaration, “We will rebuild.” And her congregation did.
Some achieved greatness in a more conscious way: Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich (2016), who raised a record $32 million, launched numerous innovations and renovated the campus. Is it any surprise that she largely succeeded in limiting the COVID spread on Oyaron Hill?
Or former Oneonta Mayor John Nader (2009), who, required to resign when he was promoted to SUNY Delhi dean, put the pieces in place for the renovation of the former Bresee’s Department Store into a reborn downtown anchor?
Or state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford (2013) – he is retiring this week after representing us in Albany for 34 years – whose hiring of a hard-driving economic developer and the elevation of the IDA to Otsego Now grew out of two “Seward Summits” on economic development and a personal determination to help his natal county better succeed at job creation?
It’s interesting that some of the Citizens, chosen with high hopes, didn’t quite work out.
The new team of Kathy Clark, Kay Stuligross and Linda Rowinski (2012) on the county board helm was heralded as a “return of amity,” but it didn’t turn out that way.
Entrepreneur Tom Cormier’s plan (2010) to revive the Oneonta Theatre as a concert venue was an exciting one, and had traction for a few years before collapsing.
Arguably, the Oneonta Charter Commission was visionary in professionalized governance (2011) through creating a city-manager position. But three failed or iffy city-manager tenures later, the City Fathers and Mothers are looking for a greater role for elected officials.
Still, these have been learning efforts. While economic developer Sandy Mathes’ energy didn’t prevent his forced departure, his successor – the more low-key Jody Zakrevsky – has been able to move Mathes initiatives forward. Plus, Mathes – and Seward – underscored the importance of jobs, jobs, jobs.
Not all promising initiatives succeed. As John Kennedy declared in his Boston brogue: “Why do we go to the moon? Not because it is easy – but because it is HAWED.”
One thought: Over 15 years, Otsego County – north and south – has been operating as more of a unit, with much more communication and collaboration between Oneonta and Cooperstown.
At first, it made sense to have separate Hometown Oneonta and Freeman’s Journal Citizens of the Year. No more, with Senator Seward, the Hager family (hops yards in Pierstown, Northern Eagle’s new brewery in West Oneonta), Stacie Haynes, serving distressed animals countywide, with Oneontans working at Bassett, and Cooperstonians at the colleges, a single county agenda made more and more sense.
Another thought: While eight of the first 10 Citizens were men, six of the last nine were women.
That brings to mind a quibble: In the recent efforts to fill state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker’s county board seat, both Republicans and Democrats declared it should be filled by a woman.
Folks, that battle’s been won; we can knock it off. The “little ladies” are beyond needing a leg up. They’ve fully arrived.
With MacGuire Benton’s election to the Cooperstown Village Board in a hard-fought race, and county Rep. Clark Oliver’s elevation to county Democratic chairman, it seems the county’s gay community is also claiming its proper place in our public life.
Fifteen years of recognizing our fellow citizens’ strivings to achieve, to solve problems, to realize visions, to meet challenges, demonstrate that imperfect human beings can do great things, whether they pursue us or are thrust upon us.
As COVID’s first anniversary approaches, the 42 Citizens provide reasons for pride and hope.
WE can overcome.
►FROM GARRETSON TO BOND, GREATNESS PURSUED
Tom Garretson: Cherry Valley town supervisor led opposition to industrial-scale windmills.
Carol Waller: She proved to be Cooperstown’s “Little Mayor That Could” during record attendance at Cal Ripken Induction.
• Hometown Oneonta: The Centennial Committee – Tom Klemow, Kevin Herrick and Mayor John Nader – which organized city’s 100th-anniversary celebration that ended in a knock-out parade.
• The Freeman’s Journal:
Penney Gentile; her son Chris’ death in a Holy Thursday car crash spurred her campaign to make drivers’ education mandatory in state’s schools.
• The Freeman’s Journal: Reinventing 22 Main – Mayor Joe Booan, Trustees Eric Hage, Willis Monie Jr., Neil Weiller. Republicans took control of Village Board and vowed clean-sheet look at Cooperstown government.
• Hometown Oneonta: John Nader, who resigned as mayor when he was promoted to SUNY Delhi provost (he is now SUNY Farmingdale president), but not before the Bresee’s renovation was assured.
• Hometown Oneonta: Tom Cormier – Entrepreneur bought Oneonta Theatre, launched
• The Freeman’s Journal: Adrian Kuzminski, activist led
local fight against fracking.
• Hometown Oneonta: 12-person City Charter Commission recommended professional city manager, got idea through referendum. Dave Rissberger, chairman; John Dudek, Martha
Forgiano, Karen Geasey, Tom
Kelly, Larry Malone, Steve Londner, Sarah Patterson, Paul Scheele, Kay StuliGross, Kathy Wolverton, Laurie Zimniewicz.
• The Freeman’s Journal: “Farmers of the Future” – Hartwick beef farmer Chris Harmon’s profile launched monthly profiles of futuristic farmers over 2012.
New amity on county Board of Representatives hailed as County Reps. Kathy Clark, chairman, Kay Stuligross, and Linda Rowinski took over leadership.
Jim Seward, “Building a
Consensus on a Properous
Future,” as former Greene County Economic Developer Sandy Mathes prepared to lead
The Hager Family, “Reviving the Golden Age of Hops.”
“Fighting The Scourge: They Opened Four Fronts Against Heroin Tide”: County Judge
Brian Burns, now Supreme
Court judge; Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner, LEAF executive Julie Dostal; District Attorney
Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich: “Beacon on Oyaron Hill,” as record $32 million fund drive came to a successful conclusion.
Pastor Sylvia (now kEVLIN): “Gethsemane & Back,” as new Milford Methodist Church building was rising after fire razed former church that March.
Stacie Haynes: “For The Love Of Misty,” a childhood pet who nurtured a love of animals, and inspired drive to build new Susquehanna Animal Shelter,
now rising on Route 28, Index.
Meg Kennedy: “The Kennedy Method,” where county board vice chairman, first local rep to serve on NYSAC board, built momentum behind county-manager system.
Heidi Bond: “General in the
COVID-19 Fight.” The county’s public health director led
contact-tracing, much more to limit disease’s spread.
Last Sunday, www.AllOTSEGO was able to trumpet the news: “VACCINE HERE! 350 Bassett Tier 1 Workers Getting Shots Over Weekend.” Within hours, thousands had clicked throughto read the good news.
It – the COVID-19 pandemic – is not over, but it’s on the way to being over.
This happy news comes at a time when, as the Gospel of Luke had it, humanity wishes for “peace on Earth, good will toward men.”
It’s the time of year when we pause and reflect on how close we’ve come to the ideal.
The reality, this year as always, is that we missed it, given we live in an imperfect world, populated by imperfect people looking to find the way through a glass more or less darkly.
To what? To a modicum of happiness, prosperity, good will, not just for ourselves, but to our fellow humans. Not just here, in our relatively safe and secure Otsego County,
but throughout our state, country and even world.
Perfection, whether you’re religious or not, is not of this world – but the journey is life’s meaning.
Statistically, we can reflect with some satisfaction on meeting the COVID-19 challenge, (although it’s not over yet, and continued vigilance is essential.)
The crudest measurement – mere numbers – affirms this. As of this writing, 11 local people have succumbed to COVID. According to the state Health Department, 700 people die in our county annually, so this worldwide health challenge, the worst in a century, raised the local death rate by 1.4 percentile points.
Even with the post-Thanksgiving spike, only 1,300 people were infected.
Take out the 750 on SUNY Oneonta’s campus – only one person in the community was determined to have been infected by that outbreak – only 550 people in the county at large have been stricken with the virus.
That’s less than one percent of our county’s population of 59,493 people.
To focus on the numbers shouldn’t harden us to the grief suffered by those 10 families, or to the lost wages, damaged and closed businesses, stunted educations, or the other very real negative impacts of the disease.
But Otsego County achieved something special and we can be proud: We can take comfort in how our neighbors, professionals and political leaders reacted to what could have been a devastating onslaught.
First, we can thank ourselves.
The widespread – in some cases, almost universal – wearing of masks, is an expression of caring for our fellow citizens. Masks, it’s been widely reported, may protect the wearer – but, mostly, they protect us from infecting people with whom we come into contact.
In that sense, wearing a mask is an act of love, the central Christmas sentiment. We should be proud of ourselves and others.
Second, we can thank our professionals.
Our Bassett Healthcare Network was up to the challenge. Brinton Muller, the local hospital’s emergency preparedness manager, formed a committee to prepare for a possible coronavirus infestation as early as January, well ahead of our state and national leaders.
In March, when the worst began to happen, then-President/CEO Bill Streck was able to roll out a “hotline” and testing tents almost immediately. He was assisted in those early days by Drs. Bill LeCates, Steve Heneghan (since departed) and Charles Hyman.
Fingers crossed, but an expanded ICU has yet to reach its capacity, a fear in those early days.
(Astonishingly, Bassett accomplished all this during a transition to the new president/CEO, Tommy Ibrahim, who devised and began implementing a futuristic, system-wide reorganization parallel to the COVID fight. That reflects a first-rate operation – and brings the famous Scott Fitzgerald quote to mind.)
Outside Bassett, county Public Health Director Heidi Bond became the face of the COVID-19 fight.
Third, of our political leaders.
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig reported the other day that, in limiting the campus outbreak’s impact, the City of Oneonta’s infection rate is among the lowest in the state.
Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh achieved similar results, with Governor Cuomo singling out “America’s Most Perfect Village” last month for its particular success. This, despite hosting baseball fans from around the country over the summer – fewer, for sure, but enough to pose a threat.
At the county level, the Big Three – Treasurer Allen Ruffles, with the support and encouragement of the county board’s top leadership, Chairman Dave Bliss and Vice Chair Meg Kennedy – put together a package of borrowings and revenue streams designed to get county government through a historic challenge with minimal impact.
Of course, as we wish for “peace on Earth, good will toward men” at Christmastime, let’s not forget pride is considered a sin. We’ve done well, but we’re not out of this yet.
It could take weeks, maybe months – let’s hope otherwise – before the anti-COVID vaccines are available locally. Let’s stay the course, wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands and avoiding crowds – as we have.
We’ve proven we can do it. As we count our blessings this Christmas, let’s stay the course.
This mini-editorial is prompted by our next two editions’ editorials: This coming week, the topic is, of course, Christmas. The following week, Citizen of the Year.
That means we would be unable to comment on “OneBassett,” an exciting innovation at the 5,200-employee Bassett Healthcare System, until the New Year.
We all depend on Bassett, particularly in Otsego County on the mother ship, Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, and Fox Hospital in Oneonta, for our health, for employment, as a magnet for brainy people, for economic development and for the general vitality of our communities.
So every one of us has a stake in Bassett’s success, as do the seven counties beyond Otsego that the system serves.
To begin, no one can rival state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, in contributions to our Otsego County. He’s a giant. THE giant, who is retiring at year’s end after 34 years representing us in the state Legislature.
He’s primus inter pares – or simply primus. The gold standard. (More accolades coming.)
But he’s at the top of a pretty tall pyramid of people with energy and brainpower in Otsego County public life, evident this week in two front-page articles.
The first retraces Barbara Ann Heegan’s local career, culminating in eight years as Otsego County Chamber of Commerce president.
The second reports on Republican County Chairman Vince Casale’s advances in the political field since he was chosen to lead the local GOP seven years ago.
Both stories overflow with initiative, initiative, initiative.
Heegan, mother of three at-home children when she took on her daunting new duties after a time of trial within the Otsego Chamber, hit the ground running.
Within a year, by “going out and talking to people in person” – as mentor Gordon B. Roberts, the Oneonta insurance man, advised her – Heegan doubled the membership, with new money making all things that followed possible.
For a while, until COVID kept us at home, it seemed like she was everywhere.
Some of her initiatives were flashy – the Workforce Development Summit at The Otesaga in October 2018, for instance, where Oneonta businessman Al Cleinman convinced us “knowledge workers” are our future– but the accomplishments were steady. Leadership Otsego introduced rising county leaders to each other, to the county’s major institutions, and to the players they will succeed. The Energy Summit in 2019 fed vitality into the county’s Energy Task Force, (its outcomes delayed by the pandemic.)
Her latest boss, board chairman Al Rubin, spoke of her sensitivity to small-business needs: When a potentially costly regulation from Albany lands in local entrepreneurs’ laps, she would bring in
an expert to guide the way – for $35 apiece, forestalling costly individual consultation with lawyers.
Picking up on an idea behind the first “Seward Summit” on economic development just before her hiring in 2012, Barbara Ann rarely missed an opportunity to introduce businesspeople from around the county to each other.
Former Cooperstown mayor Jeff Katz remembers the buzz in Foothills’ “Black Box” theater when, on Jan. 2, 2013, there he was sitting on the dais beside his Oneonta counterpart, Dick Miller, at the chamber’s traditional “State of the State” breakfast. Unheard of. (“My thought at the time,” Katz remembers, “was: ‘This might be the only time I’m invited. I better let it rip!’”)
Barbara Ann’s favorite activity was the twice-yearly gala, the Celebration of Business in the spring in Oneonta – it includes the Bettiol Citizen of the Year Award – and the Small Business of the Year banquet at The Otesaga in the fall. The record attendance came in March 2014, when attorney John Scarzafava won Bettiol honors and more than 300 people cheered him, (at $100 a head!)
Vince Casale’s efforts were more focused, but no less impactful. Approached by two committee members and two county board members to take over the helm in 2013, he arrived to find the party in post-fracking shambles.
Polling in local races for the first time, he found the GOP’s candidates far behind in county board races, and the party in danger of losing its majority. The fracking battles had peaked by then. Stop talking about it, he told candidates. Talk about keeping taxes low, about keeping under Governor Cuomo’s recently imposed 2 percent property-tax “cap.”
To give just one example: He saw Republican challenger Rick Hulse in the Cooperstown/Town of Otesgo district rise from 20 points behind to 10 points behind to winning by seven points on Election Day 2013. In Democratic Oneonta, Republicans Janet Hurley Quakenbush and Craig Gelbsman carried the day.
There’s much more. Check page one article on Vince.
Barbara Ann is leaving Jan. 4 to lead the chamber in Greenwood, S.C. Vince is refocusing his attention on his political consulting firm, The Casale Group, with has represented such lights as Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who challenged Cuomo in 2018.
Let’s wish them well as they leave our local scene. But here’s a parlor game for this Christmas season – via Zoom, of course: Let’s identify all the similarly energetic, selfless, smart and creative people who continue to work on our behalf.
To prime the pump: County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, glassrecycling entrepreneur Cynthia Andela in Richfield Springs, Cooperstown and Oneonta’s mayors, Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Gary Herzig respectively, the county board leadership team, David Bliss and Meg Kennedy, it goes on and on.
You’ll end the COVID year in a pretty good frame of mind.
It’s a bit of a Christmas story, coming out of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, of all things.
It involves at least four of Pope Gregory’s “Seven Virtues” – Charity, Patience, Kindness and Equanimity. (The Seven Deadly Sins, of course, have a higher profile.)
Famously, talk is cheap, when it comes to bipartisanship (and generally). But three county representatives – Andrew Marietta, Andrienne Martini and Andrew Stammel – talked that talk AND walked that walk in recent days.
The winner: Objective governance for the good of all 59,493 of us,
Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, Working Family Party member, small “i” and Big “I” i(I)ndependents, Libertarians, etc.
By the county board’s December meeting on the 2nd, it was clear the Republicans had put themselves in a trap that could have lost them majority control for only the second time since the Board of Representatives was created in the early 1970s.
No need to relive every particular, but when state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker resigned Monday, Nov. 16, the Republicans fast-tracked the succession.
Democrats only found out about plans to seat Oberacker’s hand-picked successor, Jennifer Mickle, the day before the Thursday, Nov. 19, Administration Committee meeting, too late to come up with their own candidate.
The Admin Committee, 3-1, on party lines, then approved Mickle, (who, aside from the controversy, appears to be an able candidate). Without Admin approval, Democrats needed a 2/3rd majority to have their candidate even considered by the full board.
For a while, it looked like ill-will and recriminations would be the gifts under the county Christmas tree this year.
The Republicans, it seems, hadn’t fully considered how this might play out: With Oberacker’s seat vacant, neither party had a majority under the county’s complicated weighted-voting system.
So neither party could fill the vacancy without at least one vote from the other party.
And the Democrats, at least some of them, were incensed, and in no mood to play nice.
If the vacancy stood, the Republicans couldn’t have appointed the board’s chair or vice chair Jan. 2 at the annual reorganizational meeting. Or name the committee chairs, or control committee membership.
All decisions would have had to be bipartisan.
Out of power since 2008, the Democrats now held all the cards.
Including the fairness card. Not fairness to the Republicans, but to the 3,456 voters in Oberacker’s District 6 (Maryland, Worcester, Westford and Decatur).
At the Dec. 2 full county board meeting, Marietta, Martini and Stammel were profiles in fairness. All decried the rushed (and partisan) process. But Martini put it this way: “Leaving that district without representation for a year just doesn’t sit well.”
So the three Democrats handed control of the county board – at least until Nov. 4, 2021, the next Election Day – back to the Republicans.
(Also kudos to the board’s sole Conservative, Meg Kennedy, who scheduled a second Admin meeting to interview the Democratic nominee, former Worcester supervisor Diane Addesso, a goodwill gesture, even though it was too late to make a difference.)
To end where we began: Talk is cheap.
Most Democrats and some Republicans have been touting bipartisanship in board deliberations.
But Marietta, Martini and Stammel have shown that, to them, it’s a way of governing, worth more than numerical control.
Well done. Let’s hope, at least for the next year, bipartisanship will rule.
We’ve been here before, with an opposite outcome: In 2006, the Republican representative from Worcester, Don Lindberg, allied himself with the Democratic minority and achieved the board’s chairmanship.
The anger generated by that deal prevented any friendly compromise for the next two years. A recurrence has now been prevented.
‘…Leaving that district without
representation for year…doesn’t sit well.’
Editor’s Note: These were the comments from county Rep. Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta, prior to voting for the Republican nominee to succeed state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, on the county board.
‘I agree with (county Rep. Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta) that the process was a little bumpy, and there were problems with it. It’s also not a process we do on a regular basis. If it should happen again in the near future, I hope that we will remember what we’ve learned.
“I’ve gone back and forth on how I’ll vote. Ultimately I come down where (Rep. Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield) does, which is leaving that district without representation for a year just doesn’t sit well.
“We only have 30 days from Representative Oberacker’s resignation to fill the seat by board vote. In a perfect world, the Governor could call for a special election, but the odds of that ever happening are low.
“Additionally, the county would have to bear the cost of having a special election, which is an expense we cannot afford right now. We are still in the middle of a pandemic and it is getting worse in our county.
“The board needs to have a voice from every single district as we face the next few months, which might be even more bleak than the spring was.
“The candidate who was appointed will be up for election in November and her constituents will have a year’s worth of her votes to consider. I hope all parties field a candidate for this seat then so that the voters can decide.
“Because of all of this, I will vote yes on this nominee.”
The county board’s Administration Committee set a poor precedent in deciding to interview candidates for state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker’s District 6 seat in “executive session” – that is, in secret, out of the public view.
The county attorney, Ellen Coccoma, last week advised the Admin Committee when it interviewed the Republican candidate, Jennifer Mickle, that whether to do so in public or not was optional, up to the reps. To close the door instead of opening it was the wrong way to go.
It was bi-partisan poor judgment, too.
At this past Monday’s Admin meeting to interview the Democratic nominee, Diane Addesso, at least county Rep. Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta, questioned if darkness should trump light.
Then she said, oh, never mind.
Admin Committee chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick/Milford/New Lisbon, made the motion, and Republicans Ed Frazier and Keith McCarty, and Democrat Andrew Marietta, as well as Martini, went along.
If Mickle, Addesso and Libertarian Andrew Hamill ran for the seat, they would have had to answer questions in public from the public. Why should they get a free ride into Oberacker’s seat without having to tell the public in this limited manner why they want the job and what they would do with it?
After all, when crowned by their fellow representatives, Mickle, Addesso or Hamill would be participating in votes that will have an impact on all of us living in Otsego County.
When this sorry process is over, soul-searching is warranted by all county reps.
The state Committee on Open Government is available to conduct a training session for the board, but it’s as much a question of attitude: Does county government belong to everyone, or to them alone?
For Now, Wear Masks, Social Distance, Avoid Crowds
You hear talk about a “second wave” of COVID-19, and it’s here. But take heart. In context, we’re not seeing the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the end.
USA Today’s lead headline Monday was “Moderna seeks emergency FDA approval for COVID-19 vaccine,” and it was echoed in all the national newspapers – the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post – and many local ones that still publish on Mondays.
That was foretold last week on the front page of this paper: “VACCINE DUE: Local Drugstores Prepare To Give Protective Shots.”
Moderna was the third out of the gate, after Pfizer and AstraZeneca sought FDA approval in the past week.
Our county public health director, Heidi Bond, echoes the national predictions: We can expect to begin administering a vaccine to health workers by mid-December (still-President Trump says next week), and to the general public by April.
OK. But it’s hard to imagine the public will have to wait until spring. The supply will be taking off and demand will be rising.
In an interview in early April, when this all began, Bond told that, since 9/11, this county – among many others in New York State – conducted exercises to see how quickly the local population could be vaccinated if biological warfare struck.
The answer: Staff and volunteer nurses could vaccinate everyone in the county in four days. Four days.
The good news has been sensibly muted by the remaining threat. Public officials – our mayors, in particular, who are on the front lines – don’t want to say we’re out of the woods. And we aren’t.
Still, it was particularly heartening when Governor Cuomo, in his daily briefing Nov. 23, identified Cooperstown as the community with the lowest infection rate in the state, 0.24 percent – about one person in 400. That’s one quarter of one percent, compared to Lancaster, the Buffalo suburb, at a high of 9.68 – about one person in 10.
Cooperstown’s low rate didn’t just happen. Mayor Tillapaugh and the Village Board have been constant and unanimous in messaging: wear masks, social distance, avoid crowds.
That the village could be singled out after hosting people from around the country over the summer – fewer certainly – affirms the local leadership.
Still, countywide we’re in the midst of that predicted second wave, with daily infections hitting a one-day record of 30 last week. This past Monday, there were 19 in-county cases reported.
The City of Oneonta, after largely avoiding infections from 700-plus cases that erupted on SUNY Oneonta at the end of August, is now the epicenter of this second wave. With local bars as the flashpoints, 66 of last week’s 130 cases countywide were in the city and town of Oneonta.
Like Tillapaugh, Oneonta’s Gary Herzig has been an activist mayor, using his bully pulpit to promote safety measures, and forming the “Survive, Then Thrive” committee to do what might be done to help the local economy. Early on, he raised the alarm that things were awry at SUNY Oneonta, paving the way for COVID-fighter Dennis Craig’s appointment as interim president.
Craig is working his way around pockets of faculty resistance, building consensus around a reopening plan, aimed for now at Feb. 1, but – Craig is the first to say – subject to adjustment, depending where we are at the time.
All that said, the emerging national strategy for rolling out the vaccinations makes sense. Certainly, vaccinate front-line and healthcare workers first. Then, vaccinate everyone over 50.
The numbers suggest that will largely eradicate the plague.
As of Nov. 25, 240,213 Americans had died of COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those, 220,852 were 55 and over; 19,361 were under 55.
That means 92 percent of COVID’s victims have been 55 and older; only 8 percent, 54 and younger.
About 30 percent of all Americans are 55 and older, yet they make up 92 percent of victims. Vaccinate a third of the nation (110 million people of 320 million total), solve 92 percent of the problem.
It’s a cold calculation, but a practical one.
Meanwhile, nobody wants to be the last person to die from COVID. And, while the odds are much, much better for younger Americans, nobody’s completely safe. For the love of the people who love you, wear masks, social distance, avoid crowds.
‘Tribute to the Entrepreneurial Spirit.” That’s what the Otsego Chamber of Commerce called its annual awards program on Nov. 12, conducted this year largely via Zoom.
That rallying call couldn’t have come at a better time, given this year’s challenges – a pandemic, a particularly divisive Presidential election, and riots in cities and challenges to the very idea of policing.
The stories the Otsego Chamber’s honorees were a tonic. Liberty lives, and a somewhat level playing field, imperfect as it may be, is still enabling success stories aplenty.
For all that, we offer Thanksgiving.
Yes, the Otsego Chamber celebration underscored that freedom, ambition, achievement and access to prosperity are alive today on our “new Promised Land,” as the Pilgrims envisioned it.
Proof it’s so was Michael Pentaris’ story: As a boy, his family lived in a shipping crate near the harbor of Larnaca, Cyprus. Recognizing her kids were smart, Michael’s mom obtained scholarships for them to the American Academy there.
A scholarship to Brescia College in Owensboro, Ky., followed, and two degrees from SUNY Binghamton. Then, a role in rescuing Graham Labs in Hobart, and guiding its acquisition by a Fortune 500 company. And then, a rise to presidency of Custom Electronics, creating ultracapacitor-maker Ioxus along the way.
In time of COVID-19, Pentaris shifted the technology in BriteShot, which enabled “Law & Order,” “Blue Bloods” and other hit TV shows and movies to be powered
on location anywhere, to AirAffair, which, in three steps, removes the virus from movie sets – any enclosed location, for that matter.
Mike Pentaris was just the beginning:
• BETTIOL DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN: State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford,
had a dream of public service that led him to the pinnacle of state decisionmaking. He had hard-working parents who believed in community service, but he’s wasn’t born with a silver spoon at hand.
• BREAKTHROUGH BUSINESS: Pathfinder Village tapped the energies of its residents, many with Down Syndrome, to create Pathfinder Produce & Mobile Market, which not only provided productive labor, but turns out vegetables and food products for needy families.
• SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR: Theresa’s Emporium, which has figured out how to thrive in downtown Oneonta, on the ground floor of the former Bresee’s for the past 10 years. Despite the Great Recession of 2008 and other challenges, Theresa Cyzeski continues building her business, adding lines and pursuing opportunities.
Seward’s Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Award was created by Gene Sr., whose first business was running an ice-cream truck, and who ended up developing Southside Oneonta into the commercial strip we
all frequent today. His son, taken by cancer in his mid-40s, was a chip off the old block, promoting the National Soccer Hall of Fame, then Foothills – anything he perceived as beneficial to the community.
What’s driving people like these today isn’t so different from what motivated the Pilgrims. Freedom to pursue their dreams brought 102 of them aboard the cramped Mayflower on a dangerous ocean voyage to New England’s shores, coming ashore 400 years ago last Saturday, Nov. 21, at today’s Provincetown, Mass., on the tip of Cape Cod.
It was “new Promised Land,” in their view, where they would be allowed to pursue their beliefs and, after a dozen years in exile and penury in Holland, to improve their economic conditions.
Before going ashore, Pilgrims and crew members signed “The Mayflower Compact,” agreeing to rules of order to ensure the survival of the fledgling community. It’s said to be the first time free people mutually agreed to a form of government.
Remarkable. Also remarkable that, with COVID-19, urban riots and a bitter presidential contest, we Americans mostly let the anniversary pass with so little notice.
Revisiting Jaci Bettiol’s assessment of her father at the time of his passing in December 2017 underscores our point: The Pilgrim spirit lives today. She called his life “inspirational.”
“He lived as if he was going to live forever; going full force each day without slowing down. No one could convince him to stop and smell the roses. There were simply too many opportunities awaiting his vision.”
Doesn’t it remind you of what happened to Hartwick College President Margaret L. Drugovich?
No sooner had she arrived in 2008 on Oyaron Hill, when the Great Recession hit.
Within a few months, the fledgling president, with no chance to build a reputation or support among staff and faculty, had to begin laying people off.
The faculty balked. Criticism abounded.
Drugovich did what she had to do. Things settled down. The economy eventually rebounded, and Drugovich built the sterling reputation she has today.
Fast forward to 2020 and, across the valley, SUNY Oneonta President Dennis Craig.
It’s even moreso. Drugovich had a short honeymoon. Craig parachuted into the middle of a 700-plus COVID-19 infestation, one of the worst per-capita among U.S. campuses. His predecessor had departed precipitously. The New York Times’ front page was trumpeting our woes worldwide.
Craig immediately formed a COVID-19 Rapid Response Team. In a month – almost to the day – the team reported out a 22-page, single-space,
detailed-packed plan to take on the menace.
So far, some of the faculty balked. But otherwise, criticism hasn’t abounded.
Just the opposite. Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig likes the plan’s focus on the safety of his constituents. Student Association President Gabby Cesaria likes the focus on a Feb. 1 reopening; she surveyed students, and 50 percent want to return to classes.
In recent decades, SUNY Oneonta has been on the make.
President Alan Donovan, now retired and an Oneonta community leader, began the drive to push up the quality of students and scholarship.
During his successor Nancy Kleniewski’s tenure, Oneonta was often mentioned, along with Geneseo and New Paltz, as one of “SUNY’s Ivies,” if you will.
During that period, the SUNY System invested heavily in the hilltop. Tom Rathbun, the level-headed assistant vice president/facilities, was spending $30-40 million a year upgrading the campus, and it looks great. (His successor, Lachlan Squair, appears to be quite an innovator, making SUNY Oneonta an innovator in Upstate Medical’s novel “pool testing.”)
And alumnus Bill Pullman starred in “Independence Day.” You can’t get much better than that.
SUNY Oneonta dropped the ball when COVID-19 arrived. That was then; recent, but then.
This is now.
The SUNY Oneonta community must want to return to what it was, a campus on the make. With its particular COVID mess behind it, the SUNY Oneonta community should strive, as one, to be a Model of the Reopening.
With two anti-COVID vaccines coming online, with the wide local acceptance of masks and social distancing, with the high-level of community sensitivity to COVID, it can be done.
The online petition – only a fraction of the faculty, some 71 out of 500 professors and instructors, have signed it – takes on Craig and Provost Leamor Kahanov personally.
While no doubt well meaning, the petition drive seems to be the wrong instrument at this point.
Of the many issues raised, the one about sensitivity to relatives of faculty who may have pre-existing conditions resonates most. But it’s hard to believe the administration would not seek to ensure what protection it can to people under particular threat of COVID.
No doubt the key players in the campus hierarchy are as imperfect as the rest of us, but – at this critical point in SUNY Oneonta’s history – let’s all pull together behind the people who, more than ever, need wide support.
And that includes the campus community and the rest of us, the public at large.
If you’ve lived a while, how often have you heard predictions about the extinction of one party by the other?
After Richard Nixon’s rout of George McGovern in 1972 and Ronald Reagan’s two terms, the Democrats. After LBJ overwhelming Goldwater in 1964, Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection and Barack Obama in 2008, Republicans.
Only one Democrat was elected president between the end of the Civil War and Woodrow Wilson, 47 years later. Only one Republican between FDR’s and Nixon’s election, 36 years later.
Their pro-slavery stance before the Civil War ruined the Democrats. Insensitivity to suffering following the Crash of 1929 ruined the Republicans.
Hubris nemesis – today’s pride leadeth to tomorrow’s fall.
Congratulations to local supporters of the Biden-Harris ticket, some who were seen (and heard) in front of their homes at 11:45 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, hammering on pots and pans to celebrate achieving 270 electoral votes.
The nation has spoken – for now, and narrowly.
It isn’t astonishing that President Trump’s divisiveness led to his loss; and that the Blue Wave turned out to be a ripple, and challenger Joe Biden achieved such a narrow victory.
What is astonishing is the wide support for Republican candidates in centrist, moderate Otsego County.
Every local winner was Republican, from Assemblyman John Salka and Peter Oberacker, elected to state Senate, to every candidate on the ballot, except Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19. Energetic and conciliatory, even he only narrowly beat Republican Kyle Van De Water, who, from what we can tell, only visited Otsego County twice during the campaign.
The single issue that stood out amid all the verbiage was worries about the state’s bail reform. It, in effect, was the dismantling of the justice system as we know it by the Democratic majority in Albany – state senators, assemblypeople and Governor Cuomo.
Here’s a sampling of local fallout.
• Just hours after the state legislative majority folded bail reform into the 2019 state budget vote – thus avoiding the usual public hearings and, sometimes, compromise – a local man was arrested in the morning for stealing a truck. Freed without bail, he stole another truck that evening.
• A downtown merchant called OPD about a customer shoplifting. The police apprehended the man, then freed him as required. He was back shoplifting that afternoon.
• Following the rash of car break-ins in Oneonta this fall, it surfaced that one of the suspects, apprehended in September, had been arrested four times since Aug. 31 for similar petty thievery.
• Then, Oct. 19, when the first two trials since COVID-19 struck in March were scheduled to start in Otsego County Court, neither defendant showed up, District Attorney John Muehl reported in dismay – but not surprise. Charged with crack-cocaine violations, they were wandering, bail-free, amid our children, our families and our community at large.
That just scratches the surface.
Among all of this fall’s candidates, only the scrappy Salka, the Republican freshman who represents Otsego County’s three largest communities – Oneonta, Cooperstown and Richfield Springs – took the initiative in saying it loud and clear: Bail reform is lousy law.
The blatant injustices that needed correcting were mostly at New York City’s Rikers Island prison, not statewide.
He introduced a bill to repeal the reform. And candidate Oberacker, now elected successor to state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, joined him, declaring that on Day One – Jan. 1, 2021 – he will introduce companion legislation to Salka’s bill in the upper house.
Salka’s winning tally rose from 6,582 in 2018 to 7,879 on Nov. 3, an 8-percent increase, garnering him 56 percent of the Otsego County vote, compared to 41 percent for his in-county opponent. Oberacker’s margin was 61 percent to his opponent’s 39 percent.
Indeed: A Red Wave.
Bail reform is not the only bad law to come out of Albany. The Farm Bill, with its extension of overtime provisions to agriculture, will shutter innumerable farms if imposed, both Oberacker and his Democratic opponent, Jim Barber, agreed. The natural-gas prohibition. Issuing drivers’ licenses to undocumented residents. And there’s much more coming.
This election, the split was Republican-Democrat. Truly, though, the divide isn’t partisan; it’s geographical.
New York City, with 3.2 million Democrats, is lost to the GOP for now; there are only 459,008 registered Republicans there. It’s a long way back.
Upstate it’s a different story, with its 2.9 million Democrats and 2.3 million Republicans. That’s 5.2 million votes a United Upstate caucus could tap to end the city’s predations north of Yonkers, and even send a Unity candidate to the Governor’s Mansion.
With one million people leaving our Empire State in the past decade – more than from any other state –
this is essential to our future.
Salka gets it. He enlisted Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, the Utica Democrat, in his bail-reform repeal drive. He intends to reach out to Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, D-Syracuse, as well.
The county’s other Republican assemblymen – incumbents Chris Tague and Brian Miller; newcomer Joe Angelino, the former Norwich police chief, all elected – should team up with Salka in reaching across the aisle to other prospects for the United Upstate caucus, as should freshman Oberacker in the Upper House.