Keeping it Real


by Douglas Boettner


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We’ve all heard the jokes about Albany, routinely referred to as Small-bany, from the big city clickers from New York City, Philadelphia and Boston. But I’ve even heard the jokes from natives of Buffalo, Hartford and from Albany itself (myself included).


These people come to Albany for work, or they come to visit family or friends. While they are here, and they have some leisure time to themselves and begin to look for things to do in the capitol city of New York State, they say “Surely there must be interesting sites and landmarks to see, some good theater; several great museums and art galleries, and an active social life in Albany”; and surprisingly, there is.


Landmarks to see include the State Capitol, the Empire State Plaza, including the Corning Tower and the Egg, the D&H Plaza, several old and distinguished churches, the Lark Street district, Washington Park and the brownstone neighborhoods that surround it; and, the Riverfront Park at the Corning Preserve.


For arts and entertainment, there is the Palace Theater, Capital Repertory Theater, The Egg, The Comedy Works and, of course the Times-Union Center.


For museums there is the Albany Institute of History & Art, the New York State Museum, the Albany Planetarium at Quackenbush Square, the Albany Center Galleries, the new Broadway Art Center; and numerous art galleries and studios in the Lark Street area.


So why the derogatory Small-bany moniker you say? Well, in my humble opinion, it has to do with the fact that after 5:00pm on work nights, downtown Albany becomes a virtual ghost town. A mass exodus of biblical proportions occurs. And on the weekends, other than when there is an event at the Times-Union Center or at the Empire State Plaza, it is much the same; down town streets are empty. One just doesn’t get that vibrant city feel in downtown Albany like you do in New York or Philadelphia or Boston.


There is one exception. Pearl Street and several side streets are heavily populated with bars that are frequented with young (many underage) drinkers and revelers. But there really isn’t much to do if you are just looking for an adult social or cultural experience in downtown Albany on a weeknight or on the weekend.


In a recent weeknight visit to Philadelphia to see a friend, I was able to spend some time in the smoking lounge of a high-end cigar shop and then on to a smoking bar and lounge above the cigar shop. After that we walked to a nice wine bar for some good wine and to listen to a piano bar singer. In the walk between locations, there were many stores still open for some shopping and there were several news shops and convenient food stores.


Each place was full of people who had just left work and were meeting other people to just hang out and unwind after a full day of work. They weren’t sprinting to their cars and racing home to the suburbs.


In part, it was because they live within the city limits and don’t drive to work because they walk or take a bus or a cab to work. More pointedly and more importantly, however, they had the option of an alternative place to go for awhile after work. The lack of residential space in downtown is the primary reason for the tumbleweed you may see blowing through the Pearl Street corridor on weeknights and weekends.


It’s time for Albany to finalize a plan to invigorate a once proud downtown and to start executing that plan.

Douglas Boettner
doug.boettner@gmail.com

I couldn’t agree more with Paul Bray’s recent article “Thoughts on the Palin Nomination”. I totally agree more with his assessment. To me, at first, it seemed that Obama Fever was going to make this presidential race a runaway in his favor. But then he chose Joe Biden instead of Hillary Clinton. In my opinion, an Obama/Clinton ticket would have been unbeatable by whomever the Republicans put forth. This selection now made it a race again.

Then the Republicans made the blunder of the campaign: selecting Sarah Palin. It was so obvious to me that McCain was a mere puppet in this selection, and that is sad in and of itself. After all, if elected, he is supposed to be the "leader" of the free world. Right now it seems he isn't even the leader of his own party.

One can argue that choosing Palin is a way of garnering the majority of the female vote and maybe carrying the ticket to victory; maybe not. But shouldn't a presidential ticket be victorious because you have the most qualified and proven leaders on the ticket. What good is electing someone who quite possibly could become president and can't do the job? The Republicans may just have snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.

So now the American people have a choice of electing two people who are not capable of running the strongest and most powerful country in the world. How sad and pitiful. My guess is that voter turnout will be the lowest in history.

Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco recently called out a state commission led by former Lt. Gov. Stan Lundine for continuing to spend money after releasing its report earlier in the year. If this is, in fact, the case, it is ludicrous and wasteful, especially in these tight economic times. The article goes on, however, to give an explanation from the commission justifying the expenses. So there is some room for doubt as to the propriety of the expenses.


Assemblyman Tedisco has called for Comptroller DiNapoli to audit the expenses of the commission for propriety, and this should be done on more of a routine basis, because as we all should know, when people are left unattended with the public checkbook and knowing there is nobody coming around to look over their shoulder, they will usually find ways to spend the money in an inappropriate manner. 


Unfortunately, state commissions and committees do not receive the same level of scrutiny that executive state agencies receive in the pre-audit of their contracts and expenses by the State Comptroller’s Office. But, given this instance, it appears they obviously should. The Comptroller’s annual audit plan should include the audit of any temporary commission or committee that has completed its statutory tasks.

Douglas Boettner can be contacted at doug.boettner@gmail.com

In a press release issued August 22, 2008, the Business Council of NYS applauded the ESDC appointments by Governor Paterson. These appointments are all well and good, but the Department of Economic Development (DED) remains without an agency head. The entire department is literally sitting "dead in the water" waiting for a new agency head to be appointed by the Governor.


Based on my experience with drafting the original Contract Reporter legislation and my hands-on experience with increasing the participation of minority and women-owned business enterprises in State contracting opportunities, I have made recommendations to DED over the last five months regarding changes that could, and should, be made to the Contract Reporter law and in the area of increasing minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) participation in New York State contracts.  While current staff at DED believe all of the recommendations have merit, they are reticent to move forward with them until they have some direction from their top management; even knowing full well they are necessary and good for DED and for New York State in general.


This isn't bureaucratic red tape, its bureaucratic negligence.


ajake818@yahoo.com

Was it ambition that overtook the man? Was it desire for power that consumed him? Was it arrogance and the feeling of invincibility that destroyed him?


Regardless of which you believe it to be, and the arguments can and may go on forever, I believe the truth may be much simpler than all of the above. Attorneys General should not run for the office of governor. In fact, history proves this point. Until he won the office, no other attorney general in the history of New York State had ever been elected governor. I believe there is a good reason for this fact.


Prosecutors are charged with enforcing the law. The law, in most cases, is a clear cut thing. You’re either breaking it or complying with it. There is no gray area. Attorney Generals who wish to remain in office need to prosecute high profile cases and have those cases receive maximum exposure in the media. Now if you are the person or company being prosecuted this does not sit well and can harbor some serious hatred and animosity.


My belief is simple. Prosecutors, enforcers, auditors and controllers do not make good governors. They “do not play well with other kids in the sandbox”. They have too strong a need to be in control. If people don’t play by their rules, they take their ball and go home; game over. We all know what has happened with the Bruno vs. Spitzer melee and we’ll be hearing about the gory details of Trooper Gate for some time to come.


In furtherance of my belief, in the history of New York State, no State Comptroller has ever been elected governor. Carl McCall can attest to that after his failed attempt.


A governor needs to be many things and possess many talents. In addition, the governor’s cabinet and appointees must also posses many of those talents. The key talent, above all others, is an ability to be diplomatic and to work well with others and never ever kick sand in the eyes of your adversaries. You may just need them some day.

The siting of a convention center in downtown Albany was an issue. They found a site, albeit not the greatest, and then the cost estimates ballooned to a degree that it appears the center will not get built.


I am suggesting that the complex be built at the site of the Harriman Campus (Campus) between Washington and Western Avenues. Space and parking are issues in downtown Albany; they are not at the Campus. Easy accessibility is an issue with a downtown Albany location; with the convergence of the Thruway, I-90 and the Northway, access to the Campus is easy.


I point to a model that may work at our site. Seattle is working on building Emerald City Center (www.emearldcitycenter.com). Its focal point is a sports complex primarily for basketball and hockey. It also has buildings highlighting technology, the heritage of the northwest country, residential buildings and retail space. The funding will be a combination of public financing and private partnerships. It seems with SUNY Albany right next door this could be a win-win for everyone. Let’s do something spectacular in Albany.

Waking up to Albany

August 21st, 2008

In his recent column Wake up to the wonders of Albany (Albany Times Union, 8/10/08) Paul Bray hit the proverbial nail right on the head. Albany and the surrounding area has so much to offer tourists and families from the area, but it seems we are not taking full advantage of them. Why have we not promoted them better? Why haven’t we taken advantage of our connection to our Dutch heritage? What has happened to the grant The New Netherlands Museum received to develop a museum on the site of the original Fort Orange settlement just north of the Port of Albany?


I am heading and organizing a group of volunteers to work on a project to build one or more authentic working Dutch windmills on sites along the Hudson River in and around Albany. The 400th anniversary of the founding of Albany by the Dutch will be here in just over a year. Shouldn’t there be a museum commemorating the Fort Orange settlement and how great would it be for local tourism to have a working Dutch windmill there that people could visit and get in touch with how people lived in Albany 400 years ago.


Let’s not miss out on this once in every 400 year period. Let me know if you want to help. My email is ajake818@aol.com.

Politicians love when perception becomes a reality for their constituents. This is why good “spin doctors” are an integral part of the political scene. They make us believe either in something that isn’t true or that something will happen when, in actuality, it will never happen. And, we all have been duped by these spin doctors at one point or another in our lives.


Consider New York State’s looming budget deficit and the actions the governor and his budget director are telling the people of New York they will be taking to eliminate the budget deficit. As we go through this exercise, keep in mind that the budget deficit will be running several billion dollars in the next fiscal year and it is reported that it may be $25 billion over the next three fiscal years.


Action one: A hard freeze on hiring. To the average Joe taxpayer, this sounds like a pretty prudent and effective way to reduce the deficit. However, upon closer analysis, if 10,000 state employees were laid off effective April 1, 2009 and remained off the payroll for the entire fiscal year, New York State would realize savings of about $400 million (assuming the average state employee is paid $40,000 annually).
Only a couple things wrong with this proposed scenario; 10,000 layoffs will never be a reality in a state where unions wield a great deal of influence and New York State has only once in my 35 year state career laid off anyone and never to the tune of 10,000 people. In addition, when you need to close a $6 to 8 billion deficit, the possible savings from layoffs amounts to a drop in the bucket – especially if the actual layoffs come in at say 2,000 employees or $80 million.


But doesn’t a “hard freeze” sound like it would be an effective tool in closing a budget gap?


Another action that is usually taken is putting a freeze on both out-of-state travel and on non-essential travel by state employees. This also strikes a chord with taxpayers as a good thing especially when many taxpayers think that state employees are slackers and are getting to travel to exotic places at taxpayer’s expense. A couple of things are wrong with  these proposed actions. The total amount of out-of-state travel is approximately $2 million per year. Again, keep in mind that the governor is trying to institute measures to close a $6 billion deficit. In addition, the truth of the matter is that the overwhelming amount of out-of-state travel is essential. It is bank examiners, tax collectors and auditors, food import inspectors and the like who are doing the traveling.

So, maybe the total amount of non-essential travel, which primarily would be travel to professional conferences and for training, would amount to a few hundred thousand dollars.


My guess is that the spin doctors know that these two areas will catch the attention of the average taxpayer and will play well in the media outlets to the masses. It’s not as glamorous to say that the real way to make up a $6 billion deficit is to cut human services programs or programs to support the arts. The largest chunks of the annual state budget is on social welfare programs, so wouldn’t it make sense to look to the biggest piece of the pie to generate the needed savings and not the smallest?


Both of the above scenarios amount to treating cancer with a band-aid when major surgery is needed. But surgery is not highly recommended by the National Association of Spin Doctors.

Doing the Right Thing

August 14th, 2008


Kudos to Governor Patterson for not playing the "race" card or the "friend of the family" card in Carl McCall's apparent power play to wrestle the SUNY Board of Trustees Chairmanship from Carl Hayden.


Although Carl McCall appears to be intelligent, articulate and charismatic, he really accomplished little in his tenure as State Comptroller, and then vainly thought he would like to be the first black Governor. But then really ran a very ineffective campaign. I believe he has a very notable resume, but he really hasn't accomplished much with these talents in any of his past positions.


I strongly believe people should only be appointed to key posts in government, based primarily on their knowledge, experience and proven ability to get the job done, not on racial or family background. Maybe David Patterson is a politician that is ready to "break the mold" of cronyism and patronage in government. So, kudos to you Governor.