MILFORD – Due to the weather, the Milford Town Planning Board meeting was cancelled this evening, delaying the resolution of efforts to have the “Trump 2024” billboard removed on Route 28 outside the north end of the village.
The village’s mayor, Brian Pokorny, said this evening that two town Planning Board members approached him two weeks ago, advising him to remove the billboard or face fines; no amount was specified. The billboard is located in the town, but on property owned by the village, he said.
MILFORD – A few weeks ago, the young mother of a newborn died – suddenly, before she and the baby’s dad could follow through on their intent to wed.
Already stricken, the young father discovered he had no legal claim on the little boy.
This is the kind of story state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, will tell you when asked about the most satisfying part of his 34 years in office: constituent service, helping the people of his 51st District.
Alerted to the dilemma, the senator’s staff sprang into action.
Saturday, Nov. 7, his daughter Lauren had just relayed a message: “Thank your father. I have my son in my arms.”
Seward was being interviewed – in the open air on his back porch in Milford, appropriately masked and socially distanced – on learning he’s receiving this year’s Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen Award.
The award, from the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, was due to be presented, via Zoom, at
4:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, from the back lawn of The Otesaga.
He remembers the younger Bettiol’s effectiveness in promoting the former National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, and Foothills Performing Arts Center. “He loved Oneonta and our area,” Seward said.
And he remembers Bettiol’s father, Gene Bettiol Sr., the developer of Southside Oneonta, as “a father figure. That makes it extra special.”
Retiring at year’s end, the Bettiol Award – plus the Community Leadership Award, due Friday, Dec. 4, from the Boys Scout’s Leatherstocking Council, and no doubt more honors to come – has the senator, 69, who successfully fought both cancer and COVID-19 in the past year, thinking about the past – and the future.
Raised in the Cliff section of Goodyear Lake with a brother and two sisters, both their parents, Wes and Vivian, were involved in community life – he as a town assessor, she as tax collector.
Attending Valley View Elementary on Oneonta, “I was interested in what was going on in the world,” an interest encouraged by teachers John Clapp in fifth grade and Alice Edwards in sixth. And, at OHS, by future principal Bud Pirone.
As a teenager, the young Jim Seward began identifying role models: Clifford Seward (no relation), who as Milford town supervisor also served on the county board; and with Milford then-mayor June Hotaling.
He entered Hartwick College in 1969. With unrest about the Vietnam War all around him, “I gravitated toward the idea: You ought to have a seat at the table to get things done.”
The opportunity soon arose: In 1970, the Otsego County Republican Committee backed him for state Assembly against a sitting Republican, Harold Luther of Dolgeville. In the GOP primary, Seward lost, 45-55 percent.
Many successful political careers begin with a loss. “I got that out of the way,” he said. But he learned public-contact skills, and the importance of knowing people, of building a network of supporters.
He graduated in 1973 and married Cindy Milavec – the two had met as teenagers, while Jim, organizing Methodist youth groups, set up one in Schenevus – and two children, Ryan and Lauren, would follow.
Soon, he was working for Assemblyman Peter Dokuchitz of Oneonta, then state Sen. Charles Cook of Delhi and, by his mid-30s, for Senator Steve Riford of Auburn.
These were exciting years for the young couple. In 1976, Seward was a convention delegate for President Gerald Ford, and the Sewards found themselves at a reception in the East Wing of the White House, sipping champagne. (Ask Cindy Seward about the phone call in Milford from a mellifluous-voiced man who turned out to be candidate Ronald Reagan.)
As a legislative aide, the future senator also learned the lesson of constituent service. People don’t call up their senator or assemblyman lightly, he said, “people call legislative offices as a last resort.”
Then, unexpectedly in 1986, Riford announced his retirement. “You don’t plot or plan too much in the business,” Seward said. “You never know when opportunity will arise.”
After a hard-fought three-way primary, Seward dispatched the Democrat that November, entering the ornate state Capitol in Albany 34 years ago, as of this coming Jan. 1, 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson, the Binghamton Republican, tested the newcomer, soon naming him chairman of the Energy & Telecommunications Committee.
“It’s something you can sink your teeth into,” said the leader.
“I could get my teeth knocked out as well,” the young legislator said to himself.
In thanks, Seward also came up with the idea of calling I-88 the “Sen. Warren M. Anderson Expressway.” The leader had championed the Binghamton-to-Albany four-lane, which wags nicknamed “Anderson’s Driveway,” (even though, Seward said, Anderson usually flew back and forth to the state capital.)
A subsequent majority leader, Joe Bruno, picked Seward to join then-Assemblyman (now Congressman) Paul Tonko in co-chairing the first-ever conference committee on a stymied Power for Jobs bill.
The bill passed, making low-cost energy available for Upstate job growth.
In the early years, most of the complaints Seward received came from senior citizens struggling to pay skyrocketing school taxes.
In response, he crafted STAR – the school tax relief program – giving the elderly a break on school taxes.
“I remember getting a letter from a senior citizen,” he said, “saying, ‘The only reason I can afford to stay in my home is the STAR program’.”
Now, complainants are mostly asking for broadband.
In the last decade, Seward’s been particularly focused on bringing state funds here for economic development. When he convened his first “Seward Summit” on March 11, 2011, the county had received just $140,000 in such funding that year. Since, “we’ve been bringing in millions.”
While he’s pleased with the county’s economic diversity – the colleges, the hospitals, tourism – he’s worried about the million New Yorkers who have out-migrated from the Empire State in the past decade. “We need to come to terms with that,” he said.
Looking back, the senator finds some satisfaction in having been able to serve the county where he was born, raised, was educated and launched his career, assembling a lifetime worth of friends along the way.
“There are multiple counties in my district,” he said of the 51st. “But there’s something special about my home county.”
Retiring, he plans to complete his recuperation. But, he said, “there’s a role for me in moving our county and our region forward,” and he’s already looking at options.
MILFORD – In addition to Cooperstown, the polls are open in Milford until 9 p.m. today, where two candidates, Kathleen Knapp and Austin Partridge, are competing for one vacancy on the Village Board, according to Village Clerk Kitty Ruling.
The two, who are not running under a party label, are seek to succeed Village Trustee David West, who decided not to run again. The polling place is Village Hall on South Main Street.
Cooperstown and Milford are the only two of the nine villages in Otsego County with contested races this year.
MILFORD – June 1, drivers on Route 28 north of this village noticed someone had thrown paint on the Trump 2020 billboard.
As July 1 approached, drivers on Route 28 north of this village noticed someone has put up a brand new, shiny Trump 2020 billboard.
“It’s exactly the same,” said Anna Johnson, 17-year manager at the Rome Sign Co., which owns the billboard and rents it out. Only, this time, “I believe they’ve set up cameras,” she said.
“They” is “the person who contracted with us.” She’s not permitted to reveal that individual’s identity.
As it happens, the June 1 vandalism wasn’t the first bit of trouble the Trump 2020 placard caused for Rome Sign, which has 100 some billboards, primarily in Oneida County, but also in Chenango, Madison and Otsego counties, as well as into the Adirondacks.
When the billboard first went up last fall, “We actually got a call from the Milford legal department,” because the village had received complaints from, presumably, people opposed to President Trump.
“Being in business, we can’t choose sides here,” said Johnson. “As long as it’s not derogatory, we don’t pick sides. We put it up. But it isn’t our (message).”
Mayor Brian Pokorny said the village didn’t contact the sign company – that must have been another entity – but he did communicate with NYCOM, the state Conference of Mayors when the billboard first went up.
He did so “because it is on village property that is leased to Rome Signs.” The mayor said “I wanted to make sure it was Constitutional and the village was abiding by the law.
“I was told it was OK, and that asking the sign company to get permission before such billboards went up would be a slippery slope under the First Amendment.”
Johnson consulted her company’s legal department. “If they found it was in any way bad taste, we would have been instructed to tame it down.”
But it was found to be simple politics. “Whoever put the sign up, they want to support this gentleman” – the president – “in 2020,” as stated, Rome Sign concluded.
There are some messages “we’ve said no to,” she continued, primarily if local candidates have a negative message or unprovable claim to advertise.
She pointed out the other half of the Milford billboard advertises McDonald’s. Removing Trump 2020 “would be no different than if Burger King called and told us the McDonald’s had to come down.”
None of its billboards are insured, Johnson said, so it split the cost of repairing Trump 2020 with the unnamed customer. Because of the vandalism, “it became a little more expensive to rent,” said the business manager. “We’re going to add it into our monthly price.”
At the time the billboard was defaced, Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. said it could lead to a charge of criminal mischief. But since he had received no complaint, he didn’t plan an investigation.
“In late March, I got a cough, a hacking cough,” said state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, now recuperating at home from a narrow escape from COVID-19. “I didn’t think a lot about it.”
Then, “I started feeling quite fatigued and lethargic.”
Also suffering from a second cancer bout – the first was in 2016 – he went to Albany Medical Center Thursday, March 26, for routine chemotherapy.
“They always take your vital signs before: I was running a high fever,” he said in an interview Monday, April 27. He was tested for the coronavirus: “The next day, midday, it came back positive. They knew what it was.”
Other members of the state Senate and Assembly have acquired the virus, including state Rep. Brian Miller, R-New Hartford, who represents four Otsego County towns. (At St. Luke’s, Utica, he was taken off a ventilator this week after a month on the machine.)
“I have no idea where I picked it up,” said Seward. He noted one of his staff members – now fine – also tested positive, but, with the state Senate in session, “I didn’t spend much time in the (Oneonta) office.”
The day he tested positive, the senator’s chemo was cancelled. He reported to Albany Med’s emergency room. “Subsequently, I was admitted to the hospital,” he said.
“For a few days in the hospital, I was running a high fever. They gave me Tylenol; it would go down. Then it would go back up. After a few days, the doctors talked to me: that I should go to the ICU.”
He remembers little of what happened after that.
“I have no memory of being on the ventilator,” he said. “I was in an induced coma. I have no memory of that. Only what people have told me. What my family has told me.”
Over two days in the coma, “my numbers improved and they were able to take me off the ventilator. It was a relatively short time. Sometimes, the longer you’re on it, the worse it is.”
Back in a regular hospital room, his fever was gone. At first, he remained on oxygen, “to get my breathing back. By the time I left the hospital, I had been off oxygen for a day or two, walking about my room, anxious to get home.”
Originally expecting a single-day chemo treatment, the senator ended up spending 18 days hospitalized, from March 26 to April 13.
The senator said he agreed to an interview to be transparent to his constituents. A Milford native, Seward has represented the county in Albany for 35 years, announcing after the cancer returned that he will retire at the end of this year.
“It’s important to keep people informed,” he said. “I knew there was a lot of concern.”
For now, there’s “no timetable” for his recuperation. “I’m getting stronger every day,” he said. “For the foreseeable future, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
With what Governor Cuomo’s labeled “the PAUSE,” there are no events at the state Capitol. “It’s an opportunity for me to take advantage of this PAUSE – as it’s called – to regain my strength.”
Meanwhile, he’s working from home, participating in a lot of conference calls.
Last week, his office issued a press release, with Seward asking Governor Cuomo to release the necessary data – declining infection rates, for instance – so the Mohawk Valley Economic Development Region that includes Otsego County could begin preparing to wind down.
There’s also talk of resuming the legislative session – via Zoom. “I’ll be able to participate,” he said.
And he thanked all the people rooting for him.
“I am so thankful to, certainly my family, and for the outpouring of good will and prayers from so many people in this area,” he said. “I’ve been truly blessed with those good wishes and prayers.
ONEONTA – Janice Carol Lockwood entered this stage of her life on March 16, 1937. She left this stage for the next stage, on March 25, 2020, at the age of 83.
Her parents were James and Ethel May (Davis) Lockwood. Janice had eight siblings, all of whom have left previously. During Janice’s twilight years she reconnected with her sister Althea and had many happy discussions with her before Althea left less than two year ago.
MILFORD – William “Bill” Truscott, 74, who retired from farming in Laurens, then pursued a career in business, living in Arizona and California, passed away peacefully Saturday night Feb. 1, 2020, surrounded by his family at home after a long battle with MS.
He was born on Aug 17, 1945, son of Howard and Alice (Buel) Truscott in Delhi. After graduation from Laurens Central School, Class of 1964, he served in the Navy for four years aboard the USS Mississinewa out of Newport, R.I.
Milford’s Avery Leonard Staying on top of Canastota’s Kyle Musachio, Milford’s Avery Leonard wins the regional title the 120-pound class at the Center State Regional Wrestling Championship, hosted at Cooperstown Central School. Inset at right, CCS Hawkeye Lucas LoRusso works to break the hold of Adirondack’s Bryar Croniser in the 113-pound final; Croniser took the regional title, with LoRusso winning the second spot. (Cheryl Clough/AllOTSEGO.com)
COOPERSTOWN – Nov. 6, 2019, came the troubling news to his many fans and well-wishers in Otsego County and the 51st state Senatorial District.
Veteran lawmaker James L. Seward’s cancer, vanquished in 2016, was back.
Treatment followed, “and a scan at the end of December found I’m responding well. The tumor shrank,” he said in an interview following his Monday, Jan. 20, announcement that he won’t seek another term – it would have been his 18th – this fall.
As the legislative session began Jan. 7, he was back in his Albany office, and in his seat on the Senate floor, where he’s been a familiar figure since 1985, ticking off a list of goals for this year’s session, ranging from blocking the commercialization of the marijuana industry, to cutting taxes to stem the state’s – and Otsego County’s – outmigration.
“But I was going to have to continue to have treatment, one day a week. For two, three days after that, I’m tired,” he said, concluding, “It limits my ability to maintain a busy schedule needed in a reelection campaign. If I can’t go 100 percent in a campaign, I’ve opted to not run this year.”
He plans to pursue his duties fully in his district and in Albany, including as ranking member of the Finance Committee, which will be holding all-day hearings for the next two weeks. “I will participate in that,” he said.
But the decision, if it holds, signals the end to one of the most remarkable political careers in Otsego County history, dating back to 1972 when, still a student at Hartwick College, he challenge incumbent Assemblyman Harold Luther of Dolgeville in a Republican primary. He got losing out of the way early in his career, and has won every race that followed.
The next year, when he collected his Hartwick degree in political science – lively debates in OHS teacher Bud Pirone’s classes (Pirone, 80, died last week) inspired his career – he was already a member of the Otsego County Republican Committee. When County Vice Chair Hazel Fields was elevated to chair in 1974, he succeeded her.
The next year, he rose to chairman, at 24 the youngest in county history, where he served for 12 years until his election to the state Senate. As chairman, he attended three nation conventions. He also served as an aide to Assemblyman Pete Dukovitz of Oneonta, Sen. Charles Cook of Delaware County, and Sen. Steve Riford of Auburn.
When Riford retiring at the end of 1984, the still-young Seward beat two more seasoned Republicans in a primary, then turned back a Democratic opponent that fall. He faced challenges in the years that followed, but never a serious one.
“Jim is one of the hardest-working people I’ve known,” said former assemblyman Tony Casale of Cooperstown, in explaining that success. “He always focuses on the job at hand. And he never takes anything for granted. As a result, he has a reputation in Albany as someone you can depend on, someone you can trust, someone who gets the job done.
“In the district, he has the reputation of being successful, for being a good listener, and for following through on every request that’s made of him,” said Casale, a contemporary of Seward’s; their friendship goes back to the 1970s when both were young aides to successful politicians.
“That combination is unbeatable in politics,” said Casale, whose district overlapped with Seward’s for part of their careers.
Jim Seward has been supported all along the way by his wife of 48 years, the former Cindy Milavec. A member of the Cooperstown Junction Methodist Church, the teenaged future senator was testing his organizing skills by start Methodist Youth Fellowship chapters in surrounding churches. In Schenevus, he saw a young woman enter the hall and said to a friend, “Let’s get her involved.”
The two raised two children, Ryan and Lauren, the mother of their two grandchildren, Norah and Vivian.
Asked about his fondest accomplishments, he cited the “Power for Jobs” campaign that provided cheap electricity for companies and the School Tax Relief (STAR) program, which provided property-tax relief to all homeowners earning less than $250,000.
And, and obtaining funding for SUNY Oneonta’s Dewar Arena, the Foothills Performing Arts Center ($6 million), the former National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta ($4 million), which continues to live on as Ioxus, and innumerable other projects.
“I would mention constituent services,” he continued. “It’s given me a great deal of satisfaction. To help people straighten out problems they’ve having with state government, to help individual people with their problems.”
Most satisfying was people coming up to him and saying, “You saved my life.”
“What do you mean?” he would ask.
“My insurance company was not going to pay for treatment. I called your office, you turned that decision around,” more than constituent has told him.
“That’s very, very satisfying,” the senator said.
For now, he said, “I have no plans. I want to get healthy. But I want to stay engaged and acrtive. I have a deep commitment to my community, our region. I will certainly, in one way or another, continue my service, continue to improve the lives of the people who work here.”
ONEONTA – State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, announced a few moments ago he will not seek reelection this year to the seat he has held since 1986.
“I have decided not to seek reelection in 2020 and will retire from the Senate when my current term, my 17th, expires at the end of the year,” Seward said in a statement released at 11:54 a.m . “While I have responded well to cancer treatments, my physicians have advised me that treatments will continue for the foreseeable future, limiting my ability to maintain the rigorous schedule needed to campaign for re-election. This is the right decision for my health, my family, and the people of the 51st Senate District.
“I want to stress that this decision is in no way related to majority or minority standing in the Senate. I have effectively served under both scenarios and have always fought for the best interests of my constituents no matter the party in power – which is exactly what I will continue to do for the remainder of my term.
MILFORD – The Goodyear Lake Polar Bears will have to wait another year for the plunge.
“We regret to inform all of our loyal supporters that the 25th annual Goodyear Lake Polar Bear Jump has been canceled due to a recent motor vehicle accident involving Brenda and Jamie Waters,” she wrote on the group’s Facebook page Tuesday evening. “Goody, The Waters Family and all of our dedicated volunteers will miss the brave and loyal jumpers this year.”
But it’s not the end – Brenda said the 25th anniversary jump will return next year.
The annual event, which attracts more than 200 to plunge into ice-covered Goodyear Lake every
February, has raised over $1 million, donated for children struggling with chronic illnesses.
Though she and her husband, Jamie, did their first polar bear jump in the St. Lawrence Seaway, they soon brought the idea home, with their first jump in 1997.
“I told him, ‘We don’t need to drive up there, we have cold water here!’” said Brenda. “We wanted to raise money for our church, so we did it ourselves.”
The next year, they added a local girl, Carlie Barry, then 3, who had cancer. “We just added recipients and jumpers every year.”
There were 11 jumpers the first year, and this year, nearly 300 brave souls took the plunge and raised more than $130,000, a record amount, for 16 recipients.
“I don’t know where they get that selfless courage,” said Brenda. “It’s crazy.”
They also do fundraising drives for the event that don’t require a bathing suit and a strong constitution, including the annual Chinese Auction at the Milford Central School, as well as fundraisers through the local schools.
“One hundred percent of the funds raised go to our recipients,” said Brenda. “I love to say that.”
However, the Waterses have come up with a way to continue fundraising for the recipients who have been selected. In January, there will be a contest to design a “No Fear” shirt, and the winning design will be printed on shirts and given to donors who give $100 or more.
They’ll also be hosting a songwriting contest, where local choral groups will compete to be in a Five Star Subaru commercial and participate in a song with up-and-coming country star Rylee Lum, the 12-year-old singer from Gilbertsville.
“People keep coming up to me with all these creative ideas,” she said. “And I want to encourage people to step up and come up with their own fundraisers. We want to keep people interested during this ‘skip year.’”
And the Waterses will also use the time to reorganize their website, including documenting the charity’s history, past recipients and more.
“I hand out cards whenever I travel, but then people tell me they can’t get on the site,” she said. “I want to get our history out there, pictures from the previous jumps and all the articles that have been written about us.”
The website, www.pbjump.com, will also have updates on events, contests and more.
“We look forward to seeing you again on Feb. 20, 2021,” she said.
Science reveals the truth about many things and can be trusted. It explains things we take for granted, such as why the seasons change, why flowers blossom in the spring and leaves fall at the end of summer, and even why water runs downhill. Indeed, science explains much of what we see in our daily surroundings – it can be trusted.
We tend to take it for granted because they are within our normal daily realm. All of these are obvious parts of the “balance of nature.” Within the science community this is what is known as “systems in equilibrium,” where everything depends on everything else to stay balanced. When the balance is upset, the system reacts and adjusts to the change. That’s how science works and a balance is maintained.
The same can be said of polluting the atmosphere.
Because our global society pumps pollutants into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the atmosphere adjusts, which is what contributes to the documented trend of rapid climate warming currently in progress. These changes involve forces of energy that we are just beginning to understand and are difficult to accurately gauge, such as how a warming climate influences ocean temperatures and the well documented currents that move through the oceans like a conveyor belt.
To complicate matters, the non-scientist may hear different opinions from different science sources.
What is the lay-person to do – who to believe? One obvious tipoff is that scientists who accepted funding from energy companies are much more likely to offer an opinion less objective than others. This is certainly the case for scientists who deny any anthropomorphic influence on climate change. Once again, money talks.
I think we are beyond our ability to completely stop what has already been initiated, but it can be altered. To change the energy momentum of the atmosphere and oceans will require centuries, not decades.
That’s how long it will take to stop or reverse the warming in progress.
However, if we don’t try to reduce the warming the outcome will apply even greater stress on the global society. We must try even if our efforts appear ineffective to start. We all recognize areas impacted by extended draughts, excessive heat waves, more intense storms and the incessant upward creep of sea level.
All of which are examples of the “system” adjusting to climate change. The system is the environment we live in and experience every day.
All of this is within the realm of science. So, why then are elected officials, including the White House ignoring science? If they would acknowledge science and dwell less on satisfying big money donors, our local and global society would benefit. Without responsible leadership there is little hope to reduce the devastating effects within the foreseeable future.
Let’s face it. There will never be a time when fossil fuels won’t be an essential energy source. After all, airplanes will never be powered by “green energy.” No serious scientist thinks our global society will ever stop using some fossil fuels. But, that’s not the point. We should be working toward reducing our dependence on fossil fuels by vigorously developing alternate energy sources now. I doubt if anyone seriously thinks Green Energy will replace all other resources.
Climate change, along with all of its ramifications (and there are many) is causing serious stress within our global society. We can trust science to reduce the impact of these stresses and help find solutions to protect and preserve the quality of our living environment. This is the time of year to be thankful for our blessings, including reliable science.
P. JAY FLEISHER
A concerned scientist
Town of Milford