Otsego Electric’s Broadband initiative wasn’t mentioned in last week’s editorial on entrepreneurism in arts organizations – it’s an electric cooperative, not a dance troupe.
Still, it’s worth a separate nod.
While local governments and the citizenry at large were crying out to Albany and Washington for universal Broadband, CEO Tim Johnson and the Hartwick-based, non-profit rural-electrification entity simply did it.
As reported last week, in the past three years, Otsego Electric has strung 700 miles of wire in the 23 towns it serves, past 5,000 locations; 2,900 subscribed to its high-speed Internet service.
It’s a non-profit, so why bother?
“We could see the handwriting on the wall,” said Johnson. “We could see … the lack of opportunities to work in rural areas. We saw the possibility that this” – Broadband – “would stabilize our customer base.”
And that’s what happened.
During the Pandemic Year, when the world moved onto Zoom, there could have been a mass exodus. There wasn’t, and there won’t be.
Despite the chilling toll – 3,483 COVID-19 cases and 54 deaths – Otsego County people, our neighbors, friends and family, have a lot to be proud of as we ended The Year of The Pandemic on Monday, March 15, we found in revisiting the last 52 editions of this newspaper.
Throughout, there was worry, dismay and grief in the face of the implacable and mysterious foe, but little panic. In reviewing the newspapers, there was, and is, much determination, focus and purpose among our neighbors and our community leaders.
At the county level, board Chairman David Bliss promptly issued an emergency declaration on Friday, March 15, 2020, that outlined many of the steps that have marked our lives since then. Going forward from there, the county board was tough and visionary in the face of disappearing sales- and bed-tax revenues.
The reps laid off 59 FTEs, no fun for anyone. Then – guided by county Treasurer Allen Ruffles – they assembled a plan based on historically low-interest loans and fast-tracking roadwork, which the state CHIPS program still reimburses, to ensure solvency. When President Biden’s $11 million stimulus allocation was announced in recent days, it was appreciated at 197 Main, but not essential.
On a parallel track, county Health Department rallied under Public Health Director Heidi Bond, doing the COVID testing and contact tracing that – along with masks and social distancing – have been central in controlling the disease to the extent we have.
She was already heralded as this newspaper’s 2020 Citizen of the Year, but not enough appreciation can be expressed to her team’s hard work and accomplishment.
Bob Wood was dealt a winning hand when elected Oneonta town supervisor in 2008, and he played the hand well.
He announced his retirement last Friday, March 5 – 299 days to go until Dec. 31, he said – and expressed satisfaction that $12 million in projects – $3-plus million for a new town highway garage and $8-plus million for the long-awaited Southside water project – will be completed by the time he leaves office.
Of course, there are many other successes since 2008 that Bob Wood can point to – the expansion of the Browne Street (Ioxus, Northern Eagle Beverage) and Pony Farm commerce parks, the growth of All Star Village, Brooks BBQ’s bottling plant to be expanded and relocated in an East End shopping plaza.
But keeping the tax rate low – $10 per thousand for town, school, county and other property levies, as compared to $20 in the city – may be his foremost accomplishment. And that, arguably, led to everything else.
Earlier this week, Heidi Bond, Otsego County public health director, said, “I think it will open up pretty quickly with Johnson & Johnson,” a reference to the new one-shot vaccine approved over the weekend.
It’s even encouraging to read the daily reports in the doom-and-gloom national newspapers.
Monday, March 1, the Washington Post told us the seven-day average of “cases reported” dropped from 248,128 to 68,040.
As of that day, WAPO said 50 million Americans had been vaccinated, about the same number of us over 65.
Now, that’s progress.
After the state website kept complaining the whole State of New York had only been receiving 400,000 vaccines a week for its 16 million eligible citizens, Monday, March 1, it posted:
“New York is expected to receive approximately 164,800 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this week, pending final FDA authorization.”
That, plus 400,000 a week we’re already getting: It would still take 80 weeks to serve New York’s eligible citizens, but it’s accelerating.
The good news is if New York State gets the vaccine, New York State can administer it.
Editor’s Note: By covering stories other big newspapers have ignored, the New York Post, founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, is regaining some of its luster. In this latest editorial on the Cuomo Administration’s latest crisis, it questions whether campaign contributions played a role in the March 25 order requiring nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients. Also, below, is a sampling of editorials on the issue.
Governor Cuomo is trying to rage his way through the horrific nursing-home scandal, vowing to “take on the lies and the unscrupulous actors” even as he repeats his own lies blaming the feds for his fateful March 25 mandate that homes accept COVID-contagious patients. Will the feds let him get away with it?
New Yorkers who lost family members in nursing homes were cheered by news of a federal probe into the matter. But the Biden Justice Department might buy his effort to blame the Trump administration, even though it’s transparently false.
‘Extension Master Gardener programs educate people, engaging them in learning to use unbiased, research-based horticulture and gardening practices through a network of trained volunteers directed and supported by land-grant university faculty and staff.”
Underneath the quiet of pandemic strictures and social-distancing, the world hasn’t completely come to a stop. Just as, soon, crocuses (not, croci, we’re told) will begin poking through the snow, so will the Otsego County Master Gardeners’ exciting plan start to become a reality.
“The Grow With Cornell Cooperative Extension” fund drive has reached 70 percent of its $200,000 goal, Extension Director Don Smyers announced this week, and thus, with spring, an innovative redo of the organization’s parking lot at 123 Lake St., Cooperstown, (just before you get to The Farmers’ Museum), will get underway.
The Master Gardeners’ organization – its members instruct would-be gardeners in how-to and best practices, and its Memorial Day plant sale is an annual hit – is a low-key, but beloved entity, as underscored by how $140,000 was raised since October, in time of pandemic.
“Growth” Co-Chair Pati Grady of Cooperstown – the other co-chair is Jason Stone, who runs a Toddsville topiary business – is predicting the construction, overseen by McManus Construction of Fly Creek, will get underway this spring.
With herd immunity headed our way – by mid-summer or earlier – it IS time to look toward what’s next.
So interim Otsego Chamber President Al Rubin’s letter to members, which arrived Monday in e-mail boxes, is ideally timed.
The letter was an appeal to members to volunteer for chamber committees: Marketing/Education, Membership Services/Events and Finance/Audit.
“We want your input, we want your voice,” wrote Rubin, “and we encourage your engagement to step in and involve yourselves in any way you might be able to utilize your skill sets and connections within our community.”
For sure. Intrigued chamber members should jump in.
Likewise, all other organizations and businesses should be preparing for the rebound, be it this spring, mid-summer or sometime this fall.
Someone was remarking the other day that, over almost four decades, Otsego County had two key players that could be called upon in any crisis.
One, Bill Streck, Bassett Healthcare Network president/CEO since 1984, who spent years developing contacts in Albany. A Democrat, he was a go-to guy around here, someone who could call the Governor’s Office and expect an answer.
Two, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who served in Albany from 1986 until this past Dec. 31, rising to leadership and maintaining it until the Senate shifted to the Democrats. Even then, he – like Streck – knew where the levers of power were and how to push them.
In the past year Streck, 74, and Seward, 69, both retired. In tackling the largest crisis in a century, which arguably the COVID-19 pandemic is, their departures left a void.
With the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the summer-long riots following George Floyd’s death and debates over race relations, we can forget: We live in a great country, where ambition and hard work are almost assuredly rewarded.
A case in point – a life in point – is Sam Nader, the respected and beloved former mayor of Oneonta, who passed away Tuesday, Feb. 9, at age 101.
When Sam Nader was born in 1919 in Oneonta’s Sixth Ward, you might have thought his prospects were limited.
His parents, Elias and Rose, had married in the old country in 1907, and had come to America in hopes of a better life. He joined the Delaware & Hudson in 1911 as a stationary fireman, tending the fire that heated the boiler and created the steam to power the steam engine – hot, dirty work.
But young Sam’s boyhood in “the Beehive,” a six-apartment house on West Broadway, next to the busy, noisy D&H yards, didn’t weigh him down. Quite the opposite.
It launched a life of joys and accomplishment (and, of course, some tragedy, too), as he related in an anecdote-filled interview on his 100th birthday in his living room at 96 River St., when he spoke:
Do we really expect our local elected officials to tell us what to think? Quite the opposite, probably.
And yet instead of focusing on paving streets, keeping tax at a reasonable level, and providing whatever might be considered essential services, they seem increasingly determined to do just that.
Three examples popped up in the past few days that suggest this may be spinning out of control, including at the February meeting of the county Board of Representatives, where discussion of two proposed resolutions on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol ate up an hour of rancorous debate.
A few days earlier, it surfaced that two unspecified Milford Town Planning Board members had threatened to fine the Village of Milford if it failed to remove the “Trump 2024” on Route 28 across from Wood Bull Antiques. (The billboard is in the town, but on property owned by the village.)
Let’s get back to basics. State law that created counties describes such as “formed for the purpose of exercising such powers and discharging such duties of local government and administration of public affairs as may be imposed or conferred upon it by law.” Pretty work-a-day, as it should be.
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.