I don't know if this year's Pulitzer Prize winner wrote Monday's Post-Star editorial, a "boo" about how Saratoga County should not be spending $550,000 to extend the Zim Smith trail north from Malta into Ballston Spa. "While walking trails are nice local amenities," the distinguished editorialist lectures, "they hardly provide jobs or permanent economic development benefits that would justify such a large taxpayer expense." The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors has been notorious for allowing and promoting the spread of suburban sprawl. But when the people manage to persuade them to do the right thing, to extend a trail or preserve the occasional farm, I guess we can rely on editorial writers to shriek with horror. Does The Post-Star really imagine that the leaders of GlobalFoundries want the county government to forswear all spending to improve the quality of life, or that other major players will invest there if such a policy is adopted?
Sticking to Saratoga County, I never minded the ostentatious mansion the Riggis built a few years ago on Upper Broadway in Saratoga Springs, figuring it was better that putting up a McMansion on a cornfield out of town. But there's no conceivable justification for their current plan to tear down a neighboring brick house, which appears to be structurally sound, so that Mrs. Riggi's many pampered pooches can have more space to frolic. Are these people competing with the leaders of Goldman Sachs to be first in line for the guillotine?
My apologies to anyone in the past week or two who has tried to comment on this blog. There is some systemic problem which I'm trying to resolve with TypePad.
So on health care, too, just like guns and immigration, Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand is taking more liberal positions than might have been expected from her former congressional record. Her Democratic successor in Congress (in a heavily Republican district) is Scott Murphy, who is coming under fire from the left for his health-care stance. But Gillibrand is determined not to let potential primary opponent Rep. Carolyn Maloney get to the left of her.
Nor is this just a matter of finding new issues to care about, like Sen. (and former Rep.) Chuck Schumer becoming a born-again advocate for dairy farmers when his constituency moved beyond Brooklyn. That's what he was supposed to do. Gillibrand is simply switching and adopting whatever positions are convenient. It doesn't bother me because I can see both sides on those issues. But it sure plays into the stereotype of unprincipled, pandering politicians.
So was David Paterson right to change his mind about the AMD/GlobalFoundries project? By the time he became governor, the state was so far committed that it probably made sense to keep going, and the current economic activity there is helpful in a recession. But Paterson (a Democrat) said at yesterday's groundbreaking ceremony that he was genuinely persuaded to support the project much earlier, and that the people who persuaded him were two Republicans, then Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and then-Gov. George Pataki.
When Pataki took his turn speaking at the event, he said the persuasion had included sending "hundreds of millions of dollars" to Paterson's Senate district (which was in Manhattan). At Paterson's news conference after the event, Channel 13's Bill Lambdin asked him about that, which Lambdin said a bit quizzically he presumed was a joke. The governor didn't address that part of the question, but went to make a reasonable case for the project, which I do not doubt he genuinely supports. Nor do I think his district got hundreds of millions of dollars. As Senate minority leader (as opposed to the Assembly speaker, who was in a position to demand that kind of tribute), he wasn't worth nearly that much. But spreading some grease around (for legal public purposes) is the common currency of Albany, and there's no reason to doubt it happened then. In any case, the Republican effort to persuade the then Senate minority leader turned out in the end to have been very much worth the trouble.
The deal's key player for AMD and GlobalFoundries was Chairman Hector Ruiz, who served as yesterday's master of ceremonies. This morning's Saratogian has this breakout quote from him: "We considered many locations, but the wonderful people of New York reached out to us." The only people he actually mentioned, however, were a bipartisan collection of political and business bigwigs, and I don't know many ordinary people who were anxious to press $1.2 billion-plus of public funds on his company, any more than they wanted to send hundreds of billions of dollars in the last year to banks and investment firms.
The pols' case is that they deal in the real world. I think the large public subsidy might have been justified if they'd put the plant in some depressed upstate city that needed it (as opposed to a forested, semi-rural area in upstate's fastest growing county). But, the pols would tell you, that wasn't going to happen. Business leaders want what they want. Just as GE's Jack Welch hated Schenectady and moved jobs out of there, so Ruiz was never going to put a chip fab in some downmarket upstate city. OK, I get that. Just don't tell me it's a sign of some higher wisdom. After Welch retired, GE rediscovered the virtues of manufacturing, and put a few hundred jobs back into Schenectady to develop wind energy. The past year's events have shown the substantial drawbacks in Welch's focus on financial services, as GE Capital's woes have dragged down the company's stock price. I'm sure he's doing all right, though. So are those Wall Street guys who got public funds to prop up their bonuses.
According to Jimmy Vielkind, a Republican operative is boasting that the party's "early focus and quick attacks against State Senator Darrel Aubertine 'drove him out of the race' to replace John McHugh in Congress." Aubertine himself is complaining, with justice, about the attacks on him by the National Republican Congressional Committee, so maybe they did have some impact. In which case, the NRCC has not only betrayed conservatives (the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, is much more of a social liberal than Aubertine) but torpedoed the Republicans' hope of capturing the state Senate, which they could likely do if they won Aubertine's seat. The GOP is revealed as no more interested in attaining actual power than it is in upholding conservative principles.
So I was standing off to the side at today's GlobalFoundries groundbreaking event, chatting to Jim Tedisco, when a woman showed up to escort the assemblyman to a reserved seat. Turns out she was the wife of Mike Russo, who it turns out was appointed a couple of months ago as GlobalFoundries' director of government relations. Russo, a Democrat and former labor leader, used to work for Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, then took a break last year to run for Joe Bruno's open state Senate seat, then went back to Gillibrand's office after losing to Assemblyman Roy McDonald, and followed her to the U.S. Senate before getting the private-sector gig. Bruno was there, too, warmly greeting Tedisco (and I think sitting next to him). The former Senate majority leader got the biggest cheers from the large crowd when speakers mentioned him as the key political player in getting the plant built. Also there was Roy McDonald, who beat Russo for the Senate seat, and who impressed me with the politician's knack of remembering from a conversation last year where my Army daughter had been serving. The successors to Gillibrand in Congress and McDonald in the Assembly were there, too, along with numerous other pols including Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville, who showed me the $1 million check he got from GlobalFoundries to build ball fields (part of a $5 million local assistance package), and another check for $100,000 (for the town's costs associated with the project).
Former Gov. Pataki, looking hale if a bit aged, was present, and he got to speak (unlike Bruno, who is after all out of office and under indictment). Gov. Paterson was as usual a good public speaker, coming up with the interesting tale of how he had originally strongly opposed the proposed large public subsidy (when he was Senate minority leader) but was persuaded by Pataki and especially Bruno to support it. He made some well received jokes (saying that was "back in the day when we fought about issues in the Senate, remember that?") and one error in referring to this recession as the worst "in a hundred years," which would include the Great Depression. Sen. Chuck Schumer did a potato-chip shtick and like everyone else was gung-ho about this all being part of a new era of high-tech growth upstate. We'll see. Pataki seemed to me to err when he thanked Schumer for working on "all the projects that have transformed upstate New York," which would be news to Buffalo and most of the still depressed region. He also cited the crucial role of IBM in anchoring Tech Valley, saying its leaders told him in 1994 they'd been moving jobs out of the state for a decade. Between the lines, he was defending his decision then to subsidize IBM and keep them headquartered in and committed to New York.
Then all the pols came down off the stage of the large sturdy tent (which had a row of floodlights hanging from a steel beam up front) to a pile of earth that had been left uncovered on the ground in front for the formal groundbreaking. But when Paterson held a quick news conference afterwards, it was outside, against the backdrop of a vast area of already cleared ground, with construction machinery continuing to operate there in the distance, working on additional clearing and leveling of the land (which will apparently continue for a couple more months) even as the governor spoke.
Sen. Neil Breslin tells me he generally "stays out of local races," and does not expect to make an endorsement in the Albany mayoral election before the Democratic primary in September (which always decides the issue in city politics). The senator acknowledged that Common Council President Shawn Morris, who only dropped out of the mayor's race last week, is "one of my best friends," although he had not endorsed her candidacy for mayor. The senator and his county executive brother have often been on the other side of Democratic Party issues from the incumbent mayor, Jerry Jennings, whose primary remaining opponent is another council member, Corey Ellis.
Breslin was one of a large contingent of Albany County pols at this morning's groundbreaking for the Global Foundries project in Saratoga County, including Jennings, Assemblymen Bob Reilly and Tim Gordon, and former Congressman Mike McNulty. Other sometime Albany denizens at the event included Govs. Paterson and Pataki.
The fact that the Shepard Park beach in the middle of the village is still closed from the effects of the July 5 spill, and that up to 10,000 gallons of sewage made its way into the lake, does make you wonder whether the drinking water many people use from Lake George was altogether safe in the first few days after the fifth.
But that doesn't make it a good idea for the state DEC to be "negotiating" a settlement with the village, i.e. getting the locals to pay a stiff fine because the spill violated environmental law. The village will need to fix the infrastructure and absorb the losses from an already weak tourist season. The spill has already cost it $110,000, according to the mayor as quoted in yesterday's Times Union.
The Hudson River PCB dredging project, brought to us by the federal government with the full support of the state, is, as widely predicted, polluting the air and water, and nobody's getting fined for that. So it's hard to see what moral right the state has to penalize an accidental spill in Lake George. When the DEC goes that route, the public is stuck paying both sides' legal bills. But unlike NYC, small municipalities can't afford to take on the state Goliath. That makes heavy-handed environmental enforcement (as opposed to ensuring safe swimming and drinking water, which is necessary) one of those unfunded mandates which are dragging down the upstate economy.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which played the key role in losing the 20th Congressional District race in March, is apparently determined to play an equally prominent part in the coming loss in another heavily Republican New York congressional district, the 23rd. The NRCC has begun attacking likely Democratic candidate Darrel Aubertine, a socially conservative state senator, who will likely be opposed by a socially liberal Assembly Republican. New York Democrats have not exactly had a run of success lately, and are open to legitimate attack on a broad range of issues. But Republicans are apparently determined both to lose the congressional race and to give up on winning the state Senate (where flipping Aubertine's open seat would annul the Democratic majority). Today in this state, the GOP is drawn to failure like moths to a flame.