Tuesday, June 17, 2008

We're on Hiatus!

I haven't posted in a month and my apologies for that. My family and I spent nearly 2 weeks in wonderful Key West and, upon my return, I was recruited to help out with Mark Blanchfield's NYS Assembly campaign. Mark is like a brother to me and I am determined to do whatever he needs to get elected to the 105th Assembly District.

But to do that job justice, I need to divest myself of a few things and -- reluctantly -- "At the Keyboard" needs to be one of them. Time is at a premium but, more importantly, I don't want this blog to become too partisan or too single-topic. So, I'm going to break it off for a few months and will return in the fall with all new thoughtful insights, witty observations and heart-tugging stories.

Oh yeah -- Vote Mark Blanchfield for Assembly!!!

See you in the fall. Happy Summer!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Straight to the Top

Former state Assemblyman Paul Tonko, who represented Schenectady and Montgomery counties for more than two decades, will announce his candidacy for the 21st Congressional District on Tuesday. That's great news for the area and for the local Democratic party.

Tonko is a class act who has been a role model for many elected officials. He's smart, gracious and approachable. Whether it was a black-tie affair at the Capitol or a chicken dinner at a local fire house, Paul was there. And everyone -- from the party bigwig to the nonpartisan senior citizen -- had his attention and interest. A role model, for sure.

Anyway, Paul will enter a crowded Democratic field -- with some candidates more legitimate than others -- but should immediately rise to the top. He has a solid reputation, an experienced organization and a faithful following. It won't be a slam dunk -- Tracy Brooks looks strong -- but Paul Tonko should take on the front-runner mantle right away. I look forward to voting for him.

Of course, all this is happening because Mike McNulty -- who has served the 21st CD with integrity and distinction for more than 20 years -- is retiring. I don't know anyone -- in or out of politics -- who doesn't like Mike and appreciate his many years of service to our community. He has personally been very kind to me on many occasions and he will be missed.

(Paul Tonko will make his official announcement at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Labor Temple, 890 Third Street in Albany.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

What in the World?

Earthquakes, cyclones, hurricanes. Tens of thousands dead; many more without homes ... without anything.

And we complain when the price of gas goes up?

The natural disasters of late do put life in perspective. We sometimes think we know it all; have it all under control. But then life -- real life -- intervenes and suddenly the fact we're paying a little more for our pizza and paying even more to drive to the pizza parlor doesn't seem quite as important.


It's something we all have but don't all share. It's the framework for our approach to life and to society. It shapes who we are and explains why. And, yet, for some, it remains undefined.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Short Takes ...

TU shortchanges ... I will always have a soft spot for my former employer, The Times Union. It's rightly been the number one newspaper in the Capital District for some time and it's delivered -- literally and figuratively. But I am troubled by the recent very obvious cutbacks. Television listings and news have been greatly diminished. So has the stock market coverage. Columns such as Bill Dowd's take on beers and spirits -- the type of thing that has traditionally put the TU ahead of its competitors and among the best mid-sized papers in the nation -- has been discontinued. I know newspapers, including the local papers, are losing readers and losing money but with the TU changes, it's starting to hit home. And it's sad. ... With that said ... Today's Times Union editorial about the legitimacy of the Democrats' superdelegate system was right on. I am sick to death of the commentators who criticize the Clinton campaign for embracing that as an end game. Superdelegates have been part of the Democratic nominating process for 20 years. Suddenly, because they're all enthralled with her opponent, they are suggesting the Clintons are breaking the rules. Superdelegates voting the way THEY want to vote is part of the rules. In the long run, it may not matter but, as the TU editorial page pointed out, right now, it's perfectly legitimate. Take that, Tim Russert! ... Reluctant kudos ... I agree with the Daily Gazette's Carl Strock on almost nothing. In fact, as a city councilman, he was the only journalist whose calls I would not return. But his column of last weekend discussing Rev. Art Hudak's efforts to get his life back in order. Art hit bottom last year but, with the help of the Schenectady City Mission, it sounds like he's turning a corner and helping others while he helps himself. I've known Art for a few years -- like me, he's past president of the Paige Elementary PTO and he headed up the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association. And, of course, he led the Woodlawn Reformed Church for many years before alcohol changed his life. But, according to Strock, he's working hard to redeem himself and I wish him all the best. And I thank Strock for sharing that good news with us.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Y Not Downtown?

It's really too bad the original plan at the "Big N Plaza" couldn't come together. But we need to be realistic and work with what we have. Here's the latest on the YMCA project from today's Times Union:

YMCA changes plan for facility
Short of cash for new building, group looks at complex in Schenectady

By Lauren Stanforth
Staff writer
First published: Friday, May 2, 2008
SCHENECTADY -- The YMCA has abandoned its long-standing plans to construct a new building in the city and is instead focusing on a possible relocation to the Center City complex on State Street.

The organization has been unable to raise the money it needs to build from scratch, said David Brown, CEO of the Capital District YMCA. A new building is projected to cost at least $10 million, and the YMCA has raised about $4 million.

The YMCA originally announced plans in 2004 to close its location at 13 State St. and build a new exercise and recreational facility at the former Big N plaza on Nott Street. But that plan had to be scrapped last fall after the Golub Corp. wanted the land for its new Price Chopper headquarters. Since then, the YMCA had been quiet about what it would do next.

"I'm confident once we get a site and a concept, the fundraising will pick up," Brown said Thursday.

Brown said the YMCA is still looking at multiple sites but is particularly interested in Center City's spacious first floor for a possible renovation. Developer Galesi Group recently took over the building at 415-419 State St. from the city, the city's Industrial Development Agency and developer Robert Lupe and is planning a renovation of the 170,000-square-foot property. The building, which was built in 1979 as an ice rink surrounded on upper floors by offices, is used by an indoor soccer league.

The site is on a bus line and has ample parking in the back, Brown said. However, he said he didn't know what amenities could fit in the space yet, including a pool. The YMCA's services for homeless men would be located somewhere else under the agency's current proposal.
David Buicko, chief operating officer for The Galesi Group, said they're discussing the possibility with the YMCA, but that those talks are in their infancy. "We're happy they're considering us," Buicko said.

James Commarto, a contributor to the YMCA project and former property owner downtown, said he'll support the Center City project if it's the only option but said he still wants to see a new building constructed. Commarto hopes that publicity about the lack of funds might jump-start contributions.

Frank Maurizio, a member of the Schenectady YMCA board of managers, said he has mixed feelings about the change. "I was looking forward to building in another area, only because I thought a new YMCA would stabilize another neighborhood," he said. "But it's difficult to argue against another major player being located downtown."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Short Takes ...

Bio-fuelish? ... Some scientists and advocates for the hungry are crossing social justice swords with environmentalists over the issue of biofuels. They've recommended halting the use of the food-based biofuels, such as ethanol, saying it would cut corn and other grain prices by 20 percent during the international food crisis. It's not the first time biofuels -- of the production of them -- have come under fire. But as grains and other crops have grown more scarce -- and expensive -- worldwide, the question is: food or fuel? If nothing else, it shows that the "going green" movement is about much more than unplugging our cellphone chargers and recycling our soda cans. ... Barner barbecue ... Saturday, May 17, is the date for a very worthwhile fundraiser -- the Thomas W. Barner Memorial Fund Barbecue. With a special appearance by The Refrigerators, the fundraiser will raise money to fight melanoma. It's scheduled from noon to 4 pm at the Shaker Road-Loudonville Fire Department on Old Niskayuna Road in Loudonville. The cost is $6 for adults and $5 for kids (5-13). The music is scheduled to go from 12:45-1:30. ... Happy, happy, happy ... Try out Parisi's (11 North Broadway) new Friday Happy Hour. It's from 5-8 p.m., with drink specials and a free buffet that most people would pay for. Lisa Parisi is a class act and runs one of the best eating establishments in the Capital District. ... Must see TV ... Thanks to the wonders of "On Demand" television, I recently caught up with HBO's original series, "John Adams." TV Guide called it "as sumptuous and satisfying as television gets" and that's an understatement. "Adams" -- produced by Tom Hanks -- is a terrific adaption of historian David McCullough's biography of a few years ago and can rightly boast about extraordinary performances from Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney. Among the many highlights pf the 7-part series is the depiction of the partnership of equals between John and Abigail Adams. A revolutionary Bill and Hillary, perhaps?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Germs on the Side

Like many of you, I tend to spend at least some of my week eating lunch at my desk. It's quick and easy, and -- when the weather's lousy or the workload's heavy-- it makes a lot of sense. In fact, some of my colleagues know it's time for them to head out to lunch by listening for my crinkling brown paper bag.

But research makes me think it's smarter -- certainly healthier -- to head out to Ruby Tuesday's or the local diner come noontime.

According to a report in USA Weekend, there's 400 times more bacteria on the top of a desk than on a toilet seat (I can hear all those thirsty dogs laughing at us now). One factor for this distasteful revelation: More and more of us are spending increasing amounts of time at our workspace. And, cleaning personnel usually won't sanitize our desks, considering them personal space.

Here are some tips if you still plan to eat at your desk: Clean the desktop, phone and computer keyboard and mouse every day. Also, avoid water fountains, as viruses and bacteria love the moist, spit-laden environment.

Meanwhile, doctors and lawyers appear to have the cleanest and safest work environments while teachers harbor up to 20 times more bacteria per square inch than workers in other professions.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day

On this Earth Day, I am very proud of Schenectady's commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and the steps it's taken to becoming more environmentally responsible. But it's not just Schenectady -- cities and towns across the nation, actually across the globe, have stepped up to lead the fight against global warming.

According to our friends at Yahoo, here are the top 10 green-friendly U.S. cities:

The Top Ten Greenest US Cities
The SustainLane 2006 US city rankings of the 50 largest cities is the nation's most complete report card on urban sustainability. The rankings explain how people's quality of life and city economic and management preparedness are likely to fare in the face of an uncertain future.

Portland, OR - 85.08
San Francisco - 81.82
Seattle - 79.64
Chicago - 70.64
Oakland - 69.18
New York City - 68.20
Boston - 68.18
Philadelphia - 67.28
Denver - 66.72
Minneapolis - 66.60

For more, check out http://green.yahoo.com/living-green/.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Quieting Quirini? Never!!

I admit it: Sometimes it was uncomfortable sitting at my City Council desk every other Monday evening, waiting to be bashed, basted and bullied by a wide assortment of local residents who exercised their right to do just that. It seems the "privilege of the floor" segments of the Schenectady City Council meetings are just about everyone's favorite blood sport -- to watch and to participate -- and, well, some speakers can make you squirm; at least on the inside.

But there was one semi-regular who was always welcome by me and my colleagues. Helen Quirini was -- and still is, from time to time -- one of the most thoughtful, respectful and respected citizens to grace the City Council chamber. When Helen makes her way to the microphone, you know she had something important to say and you had better listen. She may be there to take you to task -- though she's generous with compliments and encouragement as well -- but she does so in a manner that makes you think and consider -- or, maybe reconsider -- your position.

While Helen speaks on many different issues vital to our community, she is and will always be known first as a unionist who, whether in-service or retired, stands up for working people. Helen Quirini has had a tremendous impact on the lives of so many Schenectady families and we are all indebted.

The always-capable Sara Foss featured Helen in today's Sunday Gazette. It's a good piece of writing but no writer -- not Sara and certainly not me -- does Helen justice. Still, give it a read:

Longtime Labor Activist Keeps on with GE Fight

By Sara Foss
Sunday Gazette

SCHENECTADY — The General Electric workers trickled out of the factory Thursday and headed toward the island in front of the company’s sprawling Schenectady campus, where they joined the aging retirees who have rallied here for years. Holding signs that say “COLA NOW” and “Current Guaranteed Minimum Pensions,” the group marched slowly in a circle.

In the midst of the mostly male group was a short, white-haired woman who walks with a cane and wears a hearing aid; a poster that reads “GE — Bring Good Things to Pensioners — Please” hangs around her neck. The woman is 88-year-old Helen Quirini, and this was the 28th year she had organized the annual protest held at the Edison Avenue entrance to General Electric.
Quirini, who retired from General Electric in 1980 after working in the factory for decades, is a longtime labor activist who wears two hats: She is president of the retiree council for IUE-CWA Local 301, the union that represents workers at the GE plant in Schenectady, and also co-founded the GE Justice Fund, which coordinates 15 GE retiree councils throughout the country.

The fight continues
On Wednesday, Quirini will make her annual pilgrimage to GE’s annual shareholders’ meeting, to be held this year in Erie, Pa. There she will continue her fight for higher pensions for GE retirees; specifically, she’d like retirees to receive routine cost-of-living adjustments to their pensions, so their pensions can stay even with inflation, and the guaranteed minimum pension benefit of $34 per month per year of service.

“We have no cost of living,” Quirini said. “From the day you retire to then on in, you’re losing money.” She notes that retirees die ever year, and that the cost of a guaranteed minimum pension will diminish over time.

Last November, General Electric announced the first monthly pension increase in seven years, and retirees saw their monthly checks increase between 10 percent and 20 percent. After the increase, Quirini’s pension jumped from $736 a month to $866 a month, but she said a new retiree would receive more than $1,000 a month. About 15,000 GE retirees live in the Capital Region.

Union leaders described Quirini, who lives in Rotterdam, as fearless and persistent.

“She’s a great advocate for retirees,” said Bob Santamoor, chairman of the IUE-CWA conference board and the union’s lead negotiator. “She was one of the first women in the shop pushing for equal wages, and she’s never stopped pushing.”

“She seems to have more energy than most of us do,” said Local 301 president Jose Fernandez. “She’s respected by everyone. As a woman, she had to go through a lot of fights [at GE] to establish herself.”

From the beginning
Quirini started working at GE in 1939, at the age of 21. One of the first women hired by the company, she quickly discovered that women didn’t earn the same amount of money as men, even though they did the same work. Blacks, she learned, also suffered discrimination. For both groups, it was impossible to advance to top managerial positions.

Eventually, Quirini joined Local 301 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, becoming a shop steward and a board member. (In 1954, Local 301 workers voted to be represented by the International Union of Electrical Workers.) She held a variety of different jobs; when she retired, she was a production follower.

Quirini views her union work as a continuation of her fight against inequality. “I have all my life fought against discrimination,” she said, during an interview in her Rotterdam home. “I suffered as a woman at GE. As a woman you couldn’t go higher than a certain rate.”

Staying hopeful
Quirini has served as chair of the retirees council since 1982, and acknowledges that she’s growing a little fatigued. “We’re getting tired of demonstrating against the company, and we’re not getting very far,” she said.

But it’s not a fight she plans to quit, unless she gets what she wants.

“This is our 28th annual demonstration,” Quirini said. “You’d think the company would say hey and settle. I’m hopeful. … If I wasn’t hopeful, I wouldn’t have demonstrations.”

Not everyone shares Quirini’s hope.

“It’s a very tough fight, and one I don’t know if we can ever win,” Santamoor said. “To Helen’s credit, she organizes this every year. If you don’t keep asking for something, you’re never going to get it.”

General Electric’s pension fund is about $55.5 billion, and the retirees estimate that it has a $17 billion surplus. The fund has been funded solely by GE workers for about two decades and only pays employees hired before 2003.

“They’re just sitting on this big fund,” Quirini said. “It’s greed. Our capitalist system, to operate, is going to have to share with the people. People in power don’t give a damn about the little people.”

General Electric did not return a call for comment.

Santamoor said he worries about what will happen after Quirini dies.

“Who’s going to take over and continue this fight?” Santamoor said. “It’s becoming harder and harder to get retirees organized. Every year the numbers become smaller. Many people die off.”
At the rally on Thursday, Quirini watched the GE workers walk toward the island to join the retirees after punching for lunch, a smile on her face.

“You see the guys coming out from the shop?” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful? Many of my retirees can’t walk.”

“I’ve said that as long as there is breath in my body, I will fight any injustice,” Quirini said. “I don’t believe in the word never.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stealing Time

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I find blogging on a regular basis -- really the only way to blog -- is a challenge. Not because I don't enjoy it; I do. But there's always something else, something seemingly more pressing, to do.

We live in a busy world. Work, kids, friends -- yes, even blogging -- demand our time and attention. My blogging guru, Drew McLellan, a marketing expert from Iowa, recently posted some suggestions about how he manages to find extra time ... in some of the strangest places:

Things have been a little busy lately. We just launched a huge campaign for a client (had to go from creative concept to on the air in 34 days), I've had this little thing called Blogger Social going on and then there's Age of Conversation '08.

Many of you have e-mailed or tweeted, wondering how I've been juggling it all. Truth is ... like all of you, sometimes I think I can't possibly shoehorn one more thought into the day. But somehow, we all do.

Time is the scarce commodity today. I think it goes beyond the new, leaner organizational structure. Much of the blame should be aimed at our pagers, phones, PDAs, and people "buzzing" into our day and not only taking up time but also continually breaking our ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

Even when things aren't so crazy (when is that again?), sometimes we need to carve out some time to think, write, be creative or power through a project. Here are some thoughts for shutting down the buzz so you can concentrate:

Plane ride for one. One of the best things about flying is that no one can reach you. Peace and quiet. So turn off all electronic devices and close the "cabin" door and just work in solitude. If you explain what you're doing in advance, no one will begrudge you a little alone time.

Play hide n' seek. Why is it that when you are feeling absolutely under the gun, your co-worker has a weekend she just has to tell you about? If you have a colleague who's out or a vacant conference room, these make for great hiding places. When you're not where you belong, people assume you're just not around.

Get out. It's difficult to be strategic or creative when you are sitting in the same place, looking at the same wall, day after day. When you have big picture planning to do, grab your team and get out of the office. Find a coffee shop, park, or other haunt that you can just escape the daily grind and let your mind run free.

As marketers, we're forced to be creative on demand. Sometimes you have to give yourself a little edge to get the job done.

Check out Drew's blog at www.drewsmarketingminute.com. It's always a good read, even if you're not in the communications/marketing field.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Taking a Bite of the Big Apple

My job has brought me to Manhattan for much of this week; hence, few new posts. It's a lot of work during the day and a lot of fun at night. This city truly has some of the best restaurants in the world and places to go, people to see at all hours. Talk about sensory overload!

The highlight so far? Gerald Clayton -- a young, jazz pianist appearing late nights at "Dizzy's" at Lincoln Center. Dizzy's is a remarkable room, with great acoustics and a breathtaking view of Central Park. And, speaking of breathtaking: Clayton just might be the second coming of Bill Evans. Playing with a stand-up bass and drums, his set was short but his abilities seemed to have no end.

Gerald Clayton ... remember that name jazz fans!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Brewster Out

My wife and I just returned from another weekend in one of our very favorite places on earth -- Cazenovia, New York. It's a picturesque, historic village on Route 20, just west of Syracuse.We've been visiting there a few times a year for most of our nearly 30-year marriage; long weekends to refresh ourselves and enjoy the small-town charm.

From the very beginning, our Cazenovia destination was the beautiful and hospitable Brewster Inn, standing stately on the shores of Cazenovia Lake and just a short walk from the village's restaurants, shops and churches.

Not that we left the grounds of the Brewster all that often. We quite literally fell in love with the Inn and it certainly didn't hurt that it can boast one of the very best high-end restaurants in the Northeast.

So, when our youngest son, Tim, came home from a college fair at Schenectady High School three years ago and said he was interested in Cazenovia College, we were encouraging. Very encouraging. Visions of frequent Brewster visits for "Parents Weekends," spring baseball (Tim's a pitcher for the Wildcats these days) and other school functions immediately came to mind. Sure, Cazenovia College's academic reputation, financial package and impressive faculty-to-student ratio were factors in choosing a Caz education but the prospect of more time at the Brewster Inn was what sold us!

Tim's probably a bit sick of his parents popping in and finding excuses, as we've taken full advantage of the locale. Two hours away and we were in our upstate heaven. Oh yeah, we got to visit our son too.

We always make sure to see our son play baseball as often as possible and, as soon as the Cazenovia College schedule is out, we make plans and book accomodations whenever and wherever it makes sense. Of course, if the Brewster had a room available, that was our first choice.

But, unfortunately, that's past tense. The Caz games for an early-spring weekend were snowed out last March (upstate New York baseball seasons are notoriously short, as you might expect). I reluctantly called the Brewster to cancel my reservations. It was a Tuesday. We were supposed to arrive on a Saturday. "Can't do it," the friendly young desk clerk said. Brewster Inn policy requires a one-week cancellation notice, otherwise there's a penalty of one's night's stay -- in this case, more than $200.

OK. May I speak to the manager/owner, who always pleasantly acknowledged our stay either as we checked in or as we waited for our table in the restaurant? I was told he'd call. He didn't.

I wrote a letter to the owner, suggesting that as a long-time customer -- someone who had, over the years, brought along guests and who had recommended the Brewster Inn and restaurant to dozens of friends and colleagues -- the penalty might be forgiven. After all, we were being victimized by the weather; we would be back soon and often, I promised, but that particular weekend no longer worked.

Still, no response. Well, except for the Visa bill that arrived several weeks later displaying the charge for the room that we never used.

Clearly, a policy is a policy and it's every business owner's right to impose a policy that works best for him or her. And the money's not the issue, though it's a tall price to pay not to rent a room, even at a place as nice as the Brewster. My problem is the complete disregard and disrespect for good and loyal customers. Good business and common courtesy would have warranted a polite call or letter explaining that the Inn's policy could not be changed ... not for anyone.

"But we do hope you and your wife will continue to enjoy the Brewster Inn." Or: "Please let me buy you dessert the next time you're here."

Those would have been totally appropriate and welcome responses.

Instead, nothing. And our days as guests and diners at the Brewster Inn have come to a close. Fortunately, there are other fine establishments in Cazenovia -- the Brae Loch Inn is our new favorite -- and we still enjoy our trips to the village.

But there will always be a cloud of disappointment over those visits. A cloud that could have been vanquished with a call or letter.

Really, pretty easy. And really, pretty sad.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Short Takes ...

Work unfinished ... As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's murder -- and an opportunity to look at what he stood for -- it's makes one proud to embrace a political process that is giving us an African American and a woman as legitimate candidates for the presidency of this nation. How far have we come! Certainly, there's much more work to do to achieve the equity that we need but Dr. King must be proud as he looks down on us. ... What were they thinking? ... Those Union College football players who chose to party on the front lawn in Schenectady's Union Triangle neighborhood!? The newspapers and the City Council had the city's "grouper law" front and center and these young men made a tremendous error in judgement by going public with the fact that they are, in fact, not the good neighbors City Hall had thought them to be. Stay inside and shut up! ... Bad brew ... So sorry to read that the Night Sky Cafe on lower Union Street has closed. I had stopped by a couple times for a quick cup of coffee; I can't say I was one of the regulars on which The Daily Gazette focused in its recent coverage of the closing. But, having tried to make a go of it with my Ground Up Cafe on Upper Union Street a decade ago, I do know that it's difficult -- and frustrating -- work. But all is not lost in Schenectady's gourmet coffee biz: Ambitions on Jay Street appears to be doing a bang-up business and the Moon and River Cafe in the Stockade keeps brewing. There's no such thing as too much good coffee so here's hoping both establishments find continued success.

Monday, March 31, 2008

We're Number 1 ... or ... 2 ... or ...

When I left the employ of the Albany Times Union, I was executive Sunday editor which, in reality, meant I was the guy who had to work weekends -- one of the reasons I left.

Still, the TU remains a personal favorite for me and I especially -- of course -- enjoy the Sunday Times Union. And yesterday's edition was particularly entertaining and informative. Yesterday's TU featured the newspaper's "Capital Quarterly" special section, looking at business and other trends in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area.

Yesterday's "CQ" was filled with numbers, rankings and "Q & A" interviews -- more and more the approach newspapers are taking to woo television viewers away from the 24-hour news channels on television. As a reader who appreciates good writing and something of significance, I have to admit that I was drawn to the simplicity. Some of my favorites, for no particular reason:

  • 23 -- number of homes priced at $1 million or more for sale in Saratoga Springs last month
  • $2.67/$3.32 -- average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas in the Capital District on March 1 2007 and March 1, 2008
  • 89 -- warmest temperature recorded in Albany during the month of March, reached on March 31, 1998
  • 2,636/248 -- number of active physicians per 100,000 Capital District residents
  • "I love my job" -- Paul Tonko, a foreshadowing of his intentions regarding the race for the 21st congressional seat?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blog

My goal when I began "At the Keyboard" in January was to post just about every other day. Then it was three days a week. Now, it's pretty much when I can.

Blogging is hard work. Well, not hard. But it does require discipline and foresight that new bloggers like myself might not appreciate going in.

But I do take heart in the fact that, according to the Times Union, I am not alone finding the demands of blogging, well ... demanding. In fact, according to Senior Writer Steve Barnes, I may be doing better than most with my intermittent posts because I do, in fact, post.

Barnes and the Times Union had an interesting piece on today's "Life" front. If you're reading this -- or other blogs -- or if you blog yourself, enjoy:

A blog of one's own? Post and post again
By Steve Barnes
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Having a blog can be the equivalent of an online diary, a spot to write occasionally about yourself.
Or it can take over your life.
It might be a swell place, now that you're retired, to post photos of the grandkids and a travelogue of your trips.
Or it might take over your life.
You could turn out to be one of those people content with the few dozen blog visitors you get every month, not an compulsive checker of your visitor stats.
Or you could let those stats take over your life.
If your temperament is such that you think you'd fall into the former group, go ahead and launch that blog. Visit any of the popular blog hosts -- WordPress, Blogspot, TypePad -- to get started. If the setup seems a little daunting, ask a young person who has a MySpace or Facebook page to help. Then just start posting your writings and photos. It's easy, and it's free.
But if you think you might become obsessive about boosting your visitor numbers, or if an unupdated blog would peck at your conscience like a raven, resist the urge to launch one.
The abandoned
The wide world of the Web includes a giant dung heap of abandoned and neglected blogs. Although it's impossible to say exactly how many blogs are out there in the electronic ether, the consensus seems to be that almost two-thirds of the world's approximately 160 million blogs are inactive. They just sit there, forlornly unvisited even by their creators, silently offering evidence of someone's daily life and musings from, say, summer 2005.
But that won't be you! You'll post, you'll entertain, you'll inform, you'll enthrall!
The first thing to know is you must post often. That bears repeating: Post. Very. Often.
Why? For the same reason that a daily newspaper publishes every single day, that a radio station abhors going silent for even a few seconds. People find comfort, reassurance in continuity; it's how they develop routines. If you don't put something new on your blog at least once a week or so, readers won't get in the habit of coming back. And then the death spiral starts: You don't post, so readers con't come back, and when you see that no one's reading, you don't feel compelled to post. Within a few months, it's time to toss another blog onto the dung heap.
The five most popular blogs hosted by timesunion.com average at least a half-dozen new posts every weekday. The four staffers in the newspaper's Capitol bureau in the last month put up between eight and 16 separate posts daily over the past month, and some of those posts contained more than a dozen separate links to stories elsewhere; such industriousness, combined with a subject matter -- state politics -- with wide appeal locally, draws by far the largest readership of any on timesunion.com: 304,000 in February.
The restaurant blog Table Hopping, written by this reporter, has four to 10 postings every weekday and placed second, with an audience of about 101,000 in February; the third-ranked blog, On the Edge, Kristi Gustafson's take on dating and style, attracted 63,000 with about five new posts daily and frequent use of photos.
What to write
Another strategy for attracting readers seems obvious but is worth pointing out: Write about something a dedicated core of readers want to read about often. Times Union staffer James Allen, who covers high school sports, placed sixth in January with his Sidelines blog, and high school student Kevin Whitaker's exhaustively reported Fan in Motion blog on the same subject -- with posts that can run more than 2,000 words -- also ranked in the top 10. Ditto for the College Sports blog, maintained by writers Pete Iorizzo and Mark Singelais.
Write what you know: Feature writer Stephanie Earls, who chronicles improving her home and her life in A Work in Progress on timesunion.com, landed one spot outside the top 10 last month even though there were only 12 posts. In her blog, which is more of a personal journal than an extension of her reporting work, Earls uses an honest, funny, intimate writing style; with posts about the cracking plaster in her 100-year-old Pine Hills home and a clinical assessment of her last nasty winter cold, she engages readers sufficiently that she received multiple comments on almost every post she put up in both January and February.
Be short and funny: All blogs that keep readers coming back have one thing in common: engaging content, which on the Web rarely includes long, long swaths of text. Instead of writing "I went to the doctor this morning at 8 a.m., where Dr. Smith looked over my bunions and reported that I need to wear cushiony support in my Rockports," write, "The bunions are back. Baby needs new shoes." Then give a little background. And post a photo. Yes, of your own feet.
Borrow, don't steal: This applies to words or pictures. If you like something on another blog or site, whether it's a person's own or a commercial site, provide a link to it or quote the material and credit the source. If you're the sort of parent who would make your child return a pack of gum that he or she stole from the supermarket, don't be a hypocrite and commit electronic thievery by grabbing someone else's photo and sticking it up on your blog. If it's copyrighted, you're stealing.
Find free photos: There are scads of sites that offer completely free photos. Find them by Googling a phrase like "how to find free photos." (Make sure you select completely free photos, not those marked "royalty free," which require a one-time payment.) Photographers often allow some of their photos to be used for free as a way of getting their work seen and generating interest in their paid photos.
At its most self-indulgent, blogging is a form of look-at-me exhibitionism. At its best, blogging is partly an interior monologue, partly a cool way to introduce others to things you find in the world, and partly a rewarding, ongoing conversation among hundreds, thousands or even millions of people.
And it can also take over your life.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jumpin' Jimmy-T

It didn't take Assembly Republican Minority Leader Jim Tedisco long to intrude himself into the campaign for the 105th Assembly seat, even though there are no declared candidates.

Tedisco, a Schenectady fixture and longtime state-senator-in-waiting, couldn't wait to take a shot a my friend and former City Council colleague Mark Blanchfield, a Democrat, for failing to negotiate a discipline process in the city's contract with the Police Benevolent Association. Ever the partisan, Tedisco chided Blanchfield and Mayor Brian Stratton for not using the contract to keep wayward Schenectady cops in line.

The assemblyman's comments were dripping with hypocrisy. For one, Tedisco should know -- he served on the Council a few decades ago -- that the City Council has absolutely no role in the negotiations process. Contracts are reached through talks between the union and the administration. Once a deal's done, the Council is asked to approve it -- or not -- but for any Council member to take an active part in the talks would be inappropriate. The mayor would have correctly called for the head of any Council member who got involved.

Second, state law dictates how police discipline is dispensed and, until his feet were held to the political fire last week, Tedisco has consistently voted to maintain the status quo. It may or may not be the best way to operate but many who are concerned about the antics of the Schenectady Police Department view Tedisco's record as part of the problem, not the solution.

The 105th is the Assembly District represented for many years by Paul Tonko, who resigned in 2007 to work for the Spitzer administration. It includes most of the City of Schenectady and Montgomery County. Blanchfield -- a thoughtful, hard-working public servant -- is, indeed, considering a run for the Assembly seat now held by Republican George Amedore, who has yet to announce his intentions. I think it would be a heck of a race between two, young pols who are obviously committed to their community and I hope Mark makes the leap. If he does, I'm knocking on doors and handing out lit once again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Zip it!

What's become of public discourse? Thoughtful debate? Issues and policy?

In this age of tell-all and celebrity, now our politics is riddled with sex and innuendo. TMI, Gov. and Mrs. Patterson. The state Capitol is not Maury. It's not even Oprah!

I don't care who slept with who when. As long as it doesn't affect the operation of our government and no laws were broken, what goes on in a relationship is between those in that relationship (and, in the case of the former New Jersey governor, their driver).

Of course, character matters. But we elect people based on their intellect and positions, and I don't mean their sexual positions. Bill Clinton may have done some inappropriate things with an intern and a cigar, but he was a darn good president. I am confident that Gov. Patterson will be someone of whom we can be proud as our leader. Let's judge the man on his policies and sensitivity to the needs of New Yorkers. That's all that's owed us.

Meanwhile, politicians and public figures: We don't want to know. Really, we don't!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Short takes ...

Florida for sale ... Apologies for going missing the last week or so. Did I miss anything? But more on that in a moment. I just returned from the Tampa-St. Pete area where I travelled to watch the Cazenovia Wildcats baseball team open its season against other northern college teams that, for the most part, hadn't even gotten out of doors until their trip south. My son, Tim, is in his third year as a pitcher on the Wildcats and it's always a joy to watch him and his buddies play. While in the Bay Area, I was surprised to learn that it is one of the regions in the U.S. most adversely affected by the current mortgage crisis. There are almost as many "for sale" signs as palm trees; the real estate market is struggling as badly as the now 2-6 Wildcats! Coming from a northeastern city that's had decades of economic and public relations problems, I assumed that Florida and other tourist destinations were booming. But, not so. In my view -- and I am far from an economist -- if beautiful Tampa Bay is in trouble, we all are. President Bush: It's a recession. Really! Read a book. State of chaos ... Like all New Yorkers, I was stunned and disappointed in the way Eliot Spitzer went from being a political VIP to a punchline for late night comedians. Who am I kidding: Everyone had a Spitzer joke by the end of the week. Anyway, the Schenectady Daily Gazette ran two thoughtful pieces on today's op-ed page. Froma Harrop reminded us that Spitzer -- for all his faults -- did get some things done ("Let's not forget all the good that Spitzer did"). Harrop focused on Spitzer's accomplishments as attorney general -- "Spitzer offended a lot of people who needed offending. And he fought for the unconnected at a time when our so-called leaders in Washington could not care less. for that, Spitzer deserves a parting salute: He was on patrol when almost no one else was." I would add that, as governor, Spitzer also spearheaded an historic investment in public education, recognized higher ed as a vital component in upstate's revitalization -- and was creative in how he supported that -- and, though I'm no fan of his property tax cap -- was serious about lessening the tax load for most New Yorkers. Not a bad record, though it won't be how he'll be remembered. Meanwhile, the always insightful E.J. Dionne looked at Spitzer's successor ("Don't underestimate Gov. Paterson") and gave us all hope that we'll soon have a true public servant who can bring us all together and move us past this national embarrassment: "Spitzer turned Albany upside down. Paterson will try to change it from the inside out. New Yorkers may welcome a governor who is less adventurous, as least in certain respects." I think I'm safe in saying, we're all hoping that's the case. Good luck Gov. Paterson.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Snow Please Go

When I was an editor with The Times Union, I usually cringed when a superior -- in title, anyway -- would order I put a "weather story" in a prominent place in the newspaper. It was usually Page 1 and it was usually a story that told readers it snowed ... during the winter ... in upstate New York.

Now, if it was 70 degrees and sunny on Valentine's Day -- well, that's news! But snow here at wintertime? Yawn.

So this blog is very much out of character; I loathe to opine about the weather. It's snowing and it's still winter. What's the big deal?

The big deal is that I am convinced this winter is not going to end. Never. Ever. And I can't take it anymore!

Snow. Ice. Cold. Wind. More snow. A broken snowblower. It's been going on since November; that according to an article in today's Schenectady Gazette. The Gazette quoted the National Weather Service: We've had nearly five feet of snow since July. Yep, July. That's apparently when the Weather Service starts keeping tabs on the snowfall around here. No, I don't get it either.

But the point is, this winter started early and shows no signs of letting up. I don't think it will. Sure, the forecast is for temperatures in the 40s, maybe some sun this week. But it won't last. We'll be planting our American flags in the snow on the Fourth of July.

And that will be news.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's a Plan

Having served four years as chair of the Schenectady City Council's Development and Planning Committee, I have been particularly interested in the city's proposed comprehensive plan -- a vision of Schenectady over the next 20 years. Here are the comments I offered at the Council's public hearing on the plan earlier this week:

Good evening, Madame President, Mayor Stratton and honorable members of the City Council. My name is Frank Maurizio of Lexington Ave. in Schenectady and I’m here to speak in strong support of the comprehensive plan as presented.

While there is certainly always room for improvement to any idea and proposal – and I have every faith that this body might, in fact, enhance what we have here – the beauty of the the comprehensive plan is that it reflects the hopes and vision of the citizens of Schenectady.
As you well know, the comprehensive plan you’re considering is the product of months and months of hearings, discussions, interviews and public meetings. Hundreds of Schenectadians took advantage of the opportunity to voice their concerns and to share their ideas. And, by and large, that input – derived from a very open, inclusive process – is in here.

Now, we certainly can discuss whether an old, oil-soaked garage is our idea of a park or not. And we certainly can consider whether some of our venerable institutions should be held to different standard; I have my opinions on both. But those discussions should not derail or delay adoption and implementation of this plan.

For the past few years, we have all been enjoying – in fact, celebrating – downtown’s resurgence. As we should. What’s happening downtown borders on a miracle. But the elephant in the room during these celebrations has always been: What about the other parts of the city – the neighborhoods where people live and work – they need our attention too.

Well, this comprehensive plan is the answer to that very appropriate question. Zoning and neighborhood issues must be addressed as the next step in Schenectady’s revitalization. And this comprehensive plan provides the roadmap to do just that. It’s professional; it’s thorough; and, again, it reflects the will of the people.

Finally, I want to congratulate the City Council and the administration – especially Steve Strichman of the Development Department – for spearheading this important effort. It’s indicative of the progressive, forward-thinking attitude that has turned our city around. Thank you for that.

And thank you for this time.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Short Takes ...

And the winner is ... Tonight's Academy Awards ceremony seems to carry with it a bit more hype than usual. It could be due to the fact that the show's writers were on strike until just a week ago and the Hollywood bigwigs were scared to death that the Oscars would end up on the trash heap that claimed many other awards shows and dramatic programs in recent months. We'll see if the writers, with a new deal in their pockets, will give Jon Stewart something clever to say to keep the Oscar marathon moving. Please, say it ain't so ... Ralph Nadar has become a joke and has undermined all the good work he started out doing as a consumer advocate. He's obviously an egomaniac who doesn't know when it's time to exit stage left. Instead, he announced today plans to run for president -- again. So far, we've been blessed with a vigorous presidential campaign with good candidates and good issues. Nadar hopes to muddy the waters, though I don't think many voters will notice. Soup's on ... The Capital District takes its lumps -- some deserved, some not -- from many who live here and some who don't. "Smallbany" was cute when it was still coined; Schenectady has had to address a tarnished reputation from time to time, as has Troy. But we sure can eat well here. A family dinner at Carmine's in Colonie last night was outstanding, as usual. The little-noticed Apian Way on Van Vranken Street in Schenectady is consistently good. And the Sunday Gazette had it right today with a positive review of the new Apertivo, next to Proctor's. These are just three of many, many excellent independently owned restaurants, diners, bistros and cafes that we're fortunate to have as dining choices.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Roller Rooter

I won't be at Albany's Washington Avenue Armory Saturday night when the Skateomasochists take on the Department of Public Hurts in the opening bout of the all-new Albany All Stars Roller Derby League; it's my oldest son's birthday and we'll be celebrating at the always-satisfying Carmine's Restaurant. But my longtime infatuation with the banked track and its heroes -- the men and the women -- is strong and intact.

My weekends growing up often -- maybe too often -- meant sitting with my nose inches from the 19-inch television screen watching the San Francisco Bay Bombers -- almost always the "good guys" -- take on the designated bad guys, whether they be the Southern Red Devils, Northeast Braves, Midwest Pioneers. Charlie O'Connell, Joan Weston, Ronnie Robinson, the "fiery" Ann Calvallo ... these were the people with whom I looked forward to spending my Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

Later on, in the early 1970s, my team was the New York Chiefs -- led by "Rugged" Bill Groll and Sandy Dunn. The Derby was riding high for a few years, despite the critics who labeled it "professional wrestling on wheels." The Chiefs filled Madison Square Garden more than once and I was in the front row at the Utica Memorial Auditorium whenever they were in town.

The gasoline crisis and other financial problems eventually derailed the Derby. Weston and some veteran skaters tried to resurrect the sport, hoping the growing number of programming-starved cable television networks would help them find an audience.

But nothing seemed to work. Nothing, at least, until women -- mostly young women -- took over. They jettisoned the circus atmosphere, added legitimate competition and sexxed up the sport just enough to begin an unexpected resurgence of the sport I loved as a kid. The result is many dozens of women's Roller Derby leagues -- leagues like the Albany All Stars -- sprouting up across the United States. The venues are smaller and there are more beer tables than television cameras these days. But the audiences -- mostly young, hip and vocal -- are eating it up.

So, good luck to both home teams tomorrow night. You have one fan -- albeit not a typical fan -- rooting you on. For more information, go to http://albanyallstars.com/. Then go buy a ticket. Charlie O would appreciate it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Spotlight on Presidents

Clinton and Obama. McCain and Bush. Washington and Lincoln.

Millard Filmore?

You've no doubt seen the recent television commercial jokingly honoring Filmore, the 13th president of the United States, as part of the nation's celebration of President's Day. Of course, the joke is that Filmore seldom makes anyone's annual list of great presidents. He's one of the many commanders-in-chief who have faded into oblivion as America's history continues to be written.

It's a particularly interesting time to be ruminating about presidents -- legend or lost -- as we consider the current race to the White House. I suspect most of us are giving more thought than usual as to what we want in a president; what we need in a leader.

Does Obama have enough experience?

Does Clinton have too much baggage?

Is McCain too liberal? Or conservative? Or old?

There's a lot to think about between now and November. But, does it really matter? Does a candidate's record and rhetoric count for anything?

Maureen Dowd of The New York Times thinks not. Dowd is one of the most gifted political writers of our time and, on Sunday, wrote:

"Covering seven presidential campaigns have made me realize that when it comes to predicting how presidents will perform, 'nobody knows anything,' as William Goldman said about Hollywood.

"You'd think it would be safe to vote on issues, but politicians often don't feel the need to honor their campaign promises. ... Voters try to figure out who they trust to have life-and-death power over them, but there's so much theatricality and artifice in campaigns you can get a false impression of who someone is.

"And you never know who they will become once they move into the insular, heady womb of of the White House -- or how they will be buffeted by the caprice of history and the randomness of crises."

I urge you to read Dowd's complete column; it's typical Dowd -- witty, insightful and to the point. But, in the meantime, just assume picking a president is a crap shoot at best; in reality, nobody knows anything.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

It's Getting Easier Being Green

Schenectady's always had two things going for it, even during the worst of times. First, of course, it will always be known as the birthplace of General Electric, a company that continues to be a significant player in the local economy.

Second, this city can boast of being the home to an active, committed citizenry. Schenectadians get involved, speak up and take action, whether it be to clean up a neighborhood park or to save the world.

It's the latter task on which a number of local individuals and organizations have embarked. Schenectady residents and activists -- including Mayor Stratton and the City Council -- have taken on global warming. Of course, they're not alone in this effort. Municipalities and volunteer groups around the world are leading the way in raising awareness and reducing carbon ommissions. Al Gore may have made the issue sexxy, but it's folks at the grassroots who are getting it done.

Two related events are coming up that deserve our notice and support. On Monday, March 10, the Healthy Schools Network and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (chaired by our good friend Paul Tonko) are sponsoring a community forum about "greening our schools." Participants -- and that includes parents, teachers and concerned citizens -- will discuss ways that schools can become healthier, cleaner, more energy efficient and sustainable. Scheduled panelists are Stephen Boese, HSN director in New York state; Carl Thurnau from the state Education Department; and Matt Brown of NYSERDA. The forum begins at 7 p.m. in Room FA 14 at Schenectady High School. And kudos to the Schenectady Board of Education and Superintendent Eric Ely for their support of this important conversation.

Two days later, on March 12 in Robb Alley at Proctors Theatre, the Climate Change Coalition of Schenectady County will host a program entitled "Greening Schenectady," with a focus on "green" construction and development. Speakers will be Phillip Morris of Proctors, Mona Golub of the Golub Corporation and NYSERDA staff. That program begins at 7 p.m.

Both of these events are indicative of the commitment the people of Schenectady have to this vitally imporant issue. And, as a member of the city's Energy Advisory Board, I can tell you that more good things will be happening soon. "At the Keyboard" will keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stratton Stays

Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton's decision not to seek the House seat being vacated by Mike McNulty is a disappointment to those local politicos who looked forward to a spirited and -- ultimately -- successful campaign. But, for the City of Schenectady, it's great news!

Stratton has transformed Schenectady from a down-and-out city to the place to be in the Capital District. Been downtown on a weekend recently? It's fun and funky; stuff's happening and it's come under Mayor Stratton's leadership. So, congratulations to Brian for doing what's right for his city. Again.

Of course, the Schenectady political infrastrucure is running out of options -- Stratton and Savage are out. That leaves former Assemblyman Paul Tonko as Schenectady's best bet for the 21st Congressional District. And not because he's all that's left. No -- Paul is an outstanding public servant; would be a dynamic candidate; and strong, effective representative once he gets to Washington. He deserves strong consideration -- he has my support -- and we'll all be well served if Paul Tonko jumps in.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Resolution of Sorts

It appears Bethesda House will finally have a new home and the City Council won't need to resort to eminent domain to make it happen. That's good.

Unfortunately, the process was such that there are a lot of hurt feelings, suspicions and Schenectady's about to lose a longtime minority-owned business. That's not good.

Full disclosure: I served on the Bethesda House Board of Directors for several years. I resigned when it became apparent that the agency's priorities were in conflict with my role on the City Council, as chair of the Planning and Development Committee. I was also opposed to BH's plans to purchase -- at an exhorbitant price -- the old Sons of Italy property for its new facility. I was not one of those who didn't think BH belongs downtown; just the opposite -- Bethesda House serves a population that needs attention and that population is downtown. That's a fact.

But I digress. The city -- working with Metroplex -- has found a better site for Bethesda House and it seems like a go ... finally. The only apparent downside is that Fred Anderson's blacktop company, a longtime staple on State Street is being displaced. And, while all sides now agree on a price for Mr. Anderson's property (it will be combined with city-owned parcels to give Bethesda House what it needs), Mr. Anderson is bitter and plans to relocate out of Schenectady.

The whole process was played out against the backdrop of an eminent domain threat. I'm thankful eminent domain was not imposed. In fact, as a member of the Council, I held my breath every time the prospect of eminent domain was raised. Eminent domain is a convenient, legal mechanism to acquire property at a fair-market price. But it imposes that price on the property owner, even if that owner does not want to sell.

Eminent domain makes sense when a municipality needs to move forward with a public project that protects the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. Its use for other types of projects, frankly, makes me uncomfortable. The right to own property is part of the American dream. For Mr. Anderson, that dream nearly became a nightmare.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Recommended Reading

My wife gives me a hard time about how much I read. Or, more appropriately, how much I don't.

My bedstand is piled high with books -- novels, biographies, professional journals -- that I've started. And then stopped. It's rare -- and I'm certainly not proud of this -- for me to get through a book. I get tired, distracted or disinterested. I attribute this very real flaw to the fact that I spend 8-plus hours reading at work. It's certainly not the same type of reading -- it's often not enjoyable and, as an editor, one tends to approach the written word a bit differently than most readers. But, once I'm home and have my feet up, it's difficult for me to focus on more words. In fact, words are about the last thing I want to face.

However, there are a few books, publications and blogs I enjoy and I thought I'd share them:

Magazines: I subscribe to many but my favorite is Esquire. It's not the same Esquire of our fathers, but it still offers wonderful writing and, at the same time, provides accessible tips on fashion. If you take a look in my closet (please, not an invitation), you'll understand why I appreciate those monthly tips. (Some think I'm among the best dressed in my office. I think that's more a commentary about my colleagues than about me.)

Books: There are two I've read recently; very different and very good. And they are both by local writers who I know well. First is "Within a Forest Dark," a mystery set in the Capital District and Adirondacks by a long-time friend, Mike Virtanen, an editor with the Associated Press in Albany. Mike has created a unique "leading man" in Jack Kirkland with whom a lot of us middle-aged, middle-level professionals can identify. The other book is "Jailed by My Father," a series of humorous -- sometimes poignant -- essays by a new colleague, Matt Smith. Matt's an exceptional writer with a dry wit that transcends the western New York community in which most his book is set. I am admittedly fond of both of these gentlemen so take my recommendation with that in mind. But I enjoyed both reads.

Blogs: I may have stepped away from elective politics but it's still a passion of mine and there are a couple political blogs I check every day. Liz Benjamin, a former Albany Times Union reporter, is making a name for herself with the New York Daily News these days and she offers a provocative take on state politics on "The Daily Politics." Meanwhile, closer to home, the TU continues to lead the political pack with "Capitol Confidential," for state news and gossip, and "Local Politics" for, well, local politics.

And, being a middle-aged, white guy it only makes sense that my very favorite blog -- also offered on the TU blog site -- is geared toward young, African American women. It's called "Brown Skin Lady" and is posted several times a week by a terrific young writer, Simone Sneed. She's intelligent, witty and passionate. The blog encompasses everything from fashion to finance to relationships and has a way of pulling in a blogger-come-lately like myself. I've exchanged a handful of e-mails with Simone and she's been encouraging and generous in my own forway into this journalistic venue. Take a look and post a comment.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The one with the screaming squirrel ...

Let's face it, the stars of most Super Bowls are the TV ads; though, the Giants' upset win last night over the hated Patriots certainly stirred the soul. But, even non-football fans often watch the big game to get a good laugh at some of the most entertaining and extravegant mini-productions you're going to see on the tube all year. In fact, highlighting and replaying the commericials has become an industry -- perhaps an advocation, for some -- itself.

Drew McLellan, a marketing professional from Iowa who has convinced me he's a blogging genious, devoted today's "Marketing Minute" celebrating the Super Bowl ads. Here's what Drew had to say earlier today:

The real SuperBowl competition

We already know thought we knew who was going to win the football game, so we might as well turn our attention to the real competition -- which TV spot will win the hearts and buzz of the viewers?

Firebrand has declared Monday, February 4th as "Firebrand Monday" where they will celebrate the mother load of creative TV spots shown on the SuperBowl.

On Monday morning, Firebrand.com will have only the best of the previous day’s commercials ready for download, allowing viewers to share and rate them all, and to decide for themselves which spot wins the coveted “Firebrand Water Cooler” trophy.

On their Monday evening TV show (find out where it's showing in your area) , the hour will be dedicated to major ads from the Super Bowl, featuring Celebrity CJs such as Reebok's "Office Linebacker" Terry Tate and Carmen Electra, who makes her Super Bowl debut in an ad for Hershey's "Ice Breakers."

If you love ads -- you'll enjoy Firebrand's show. Not just on the Monday after the SuperBowl, but every week. You can view all the ads online as well.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Primal Politics

It's the last day of January and, in the political world, all eyes are on New York.

And Georgia. And California. And Illinois. And ...

Well, "Monster Tuesday," as MSNBC has dubbed the February 5th presidential primary, is just days away, with dozens of states and more than 1,500 delegates on the line. Senators McCain and Clinton appear to be have New York sewn up. The outcome elsewhere is much less certain.

Schenectady Democrats will be watching the results together, having organized a "Super Tuesday Celebration" at the Hibernian Hall on State Street. The brainchild of the city Dems' new Central Park election district leader Chuck Thorne -- a big-time supporter of City Council President Peggy King who is viewed by many insiders as an up-and-c0mer -- the party is an attempt to cultivate and woo new party activists; new blood for what has proven to be a highly successful organization.

It's no secret that local Democrats are on a roll in the Electric City. And they're getting results; take a walk through downtown this weekend. But they're not about to rest on their laurels. Witness Tuesday's team-building social. They want more -- more volunteers, more leaders, more candidates, more ideas, more success.

Meanwhile, Schenectady Republicans lost their way years ago. They're on the mat and the Dems aren't about to let them up.

The event at the Hibernians -- 1748 State Street -- begins at 9. I'm sure all are welcome. But, be prepared to be courted and then put to work.

And that's a good thing!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Strock -- Again

I look forward to reading the two local newspapers every morning; first The Daily Gazette and then, my former employer, The Times Union. It's the best time of day -- black coffee and newsprint are an enriching breakfast.

But there's one part of that diet that regularly gives me early-morning indigestion; makes me sick more times than not. It slithers down the far left column of the Gazette's local section and goes by the name Carl Strock.

I'm not quite sure what motivates Mr. Strock. He's not clever, not witty and very predictable. He doesn't like police, teachers, municipal workers, politicians, the court system and organized labor. Interesting choices, given the geographic area he covers.

If his editors prohibited him from writing about any of those topics -- hint, hint -- well, the B-1 layout editor would have to get creative with white space because the Strock columns would be few and far between.

In his column on Sunday, Jan. 27, Mr. Strock unleashed his venom on former Schenectady County Legislator Ed Kosiur and the entire State Legislature.


I suppose members of the state Assembly and Senate are easy targets, and Mr. Strock is not one to pass up an easy target. And, when you're talking about political pay raises (and don't I know this!), that target gets even bigger and more tempting. As for Mr. Kosiur, well, Mr. Strock is not adverse to kicking a guy when he perceives him to be down.

That was Sunday's column. Again. And, unfortunately, despite warnings otherwise, there are still some readers who believe anything and everything that appears in print. For those people, and for those who think like Mr. Strock, let me toss in a dose of reality:

There are some politicians -- past and present -- who are jerks. They are the bums for whom the phrase "throw da bums out" was invented. By luck and the good judgement of the voters, they don't last long and are eventually thrown onto the trash heap of politics.

But I've worked with and known political types for 30 years -- as a journalist, campaign volunteer and elected official -- and I can honestly say most of those who put their names on a ballot do so for the right reason. They care about their community and their neighbors. They are willing to make sacrifices to better the society in which they live. Some are better at it than others; some screw it up and move on. But it does them a tremendous disservice to continually question and disparage their commitment and motivation.

As for Ed Kosiur, full disclosure here: Ed is one of my best friends. I've know him and his family socially and I was instrumental in recruiting Ed to the political game. That remains one of the best things I did during my time in politics.

Ed Kosiur doesn't have an insincere bone in his body. He is deeply committed to Schenectady, especially to its youth. He works harder than almost any public servant -- elected or appointed -- I have ever encountered. And he does much of it behind the scenes, without fanfare or congratulations. Schenectady's children will be well served by Ed Kosiur's skills, dedication and, most of all, his heart.

Mr. Strock forgot that part.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's the voters, stupid!

With the presidential campaign pulling out of South Carolina -- amid an impressive showing by Sen. Obama on the Democratic side -- we've completed the first round of this four-year race for the White House. And, as the saying goes, things are clear as mud.

Which is great! I remember -- being the nerdy kid I was -- watching late-summer presidential nominating conventions on a black & white TV at a beachfront motel while the rest of my family had fun in the sun outside the room.Now, that was my kind of vacation!

Back then, conventions meant something. For good or for bad, the professional politicians and the true-believers had all the influence. It was democracy in action, at least democracy as it had been defined up until that point. And it was wild to watch and anticipate as conventioneers traded votes and hopes to be the state delegation to crown the party's next nominee.

That all changed with the proliferation of the state primaries when, we the people -- for the most part, anyway -- got to call the shots. The primaries made the conventions almost meaningless and certainly not a good reason to miss a summer vacation.

But perhaps not this year. Both the Republicans and Democrats have real horse races going and it's possible -- oh, I have my fingers crossed -- that convention delegates will actually select their parties' nominees later this year. Sure, the Feb. 5 Super Duper Tuesday -- with more than 1,600 delegates up for grabs -- may change that scenario but, for now, this political junkie is hoping for the return of convention chaos and smoke-filled ... errrr, smoke-free ... rooms.

Meanwhile, we can count on the cable "news" shows to do their best to keep us on the edge of our political seats for the rest of 2008. They, too, are salivating over the fact there are no real front-runners in either race. So be it; I can appreciate that.

What I don't appreciate, however, is the holier-than-thou, I-know-better-than-you-do attitude they bombard us with 24/7. That's why I got a kick out of the results from New Hampshire a few weeks ago. The Chris Matthews of the TV world got it wrong -- again -- and ended up with a three-egg omelet all of their collective, smug faces. Their reaction to New Hampshire voters' always-dependable independence prompted me to write the following to Time magazine. It is the lead letter in Time's "Letters" column this week (www.time.com/time/magazine/article):

Government by the people

You got it right with your cover headline, "It's the Voters, Stupid. Forget the experts. Forget the polls. Forget the TV ads" [Jan. 21]. What the primary results from New Hampshire showed, once again, is the arrogance of the national media—especially television news, which continues to believe that it's the story. The press seemed downright insulted that the voters of New Hampshire didn't vote the way the commentators and pollsters said they would. It's long past time that the talking heads acknowledge they don't have any more political insight than do the schoolteacher and garage mechanic pulling the lever in the voting booth.

Frank Maurizio


Monday, January 21, 2008

Paper Mess

It seems I'm not the only one addicted to paper. In "At the Keyword's" initial blog, I wrote about my reluctance to go "e" -- saying that my work had always been something you could literally touch; maybe even make your hands dirty. This new on-line media was ... well ... new and needed some getting use to.

Well, take a look at the "Empire State" page of Monday's Times Union (Jan. 21) and you'll read how some state legislators are trying to amend the state Constitution so that lawmakers won't be required to have reams of paper delivered to their desks every time a bill is introduced in the Assembly and Senate.

According to the TU's Capitol Confidential:

"... some 700 bills were deposited on lawmakers' desk at the start of this year's session. Three days later, they were unceremoniously gathered up and carted off, almost certainly unread. ... The paperwork was enough to fill at least three rolling bins in the Assembly alone. That's an estimated 450 reams, or about 225,000 sheets."

Wasteful? Environmentally unfriendly? Nuts?

Of course. But it seems that's the way state lawmakers like it. They have -- on five occasions since the late 1990s -- refused to support legislation that would change the state Constitution to allow those bills to "age" virtually -- on legislators' computers -- eliminating the paper requirement.

Calling Al Gore! How many more trees must die so that New York state lawmakers can watch unread paper turn yellow and curl on their seld0m-used desks? Our tree-hugger friends need to make their case at the Capitol.

Meanwhile, another attempt to bring the Legislature into the 21st Century is under way. Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, and Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, have reportedly introduced another constitutional amendment to force their colleagues to switch on their PCs to do their jobs. If -- and it's apparently a big if -- that happens, it won't kick in until 2010.

Quick, put a fence around the Adirondacks Forest Preserve!

Meanwhile, the same Times Union included the return of former TV anchor -- and more recent blogger -- Ed Dague. Ed was away for a few months, dealing with some legal and personal issues that made all the papers. They're now resolved and we're better off for it. Mr. Dague is a thoughtful, articulate critic of the media and -- God knows -- the media needs someone with integrity and experience looking over its shoulder.

Welcome back Ed!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Starting over for the first time

Congratulations! You've found the debut of "At the Keyboard," my second attempt at my first blog. Or is it my first attempt at my second blog? I'm not quite sure and I'm not sure it matters all that much. But here I go again.

As a member of the Schenectady City Council, I attempted a city issue-oriented e-discussion -- "Schenectady POV" -- but it never got off the ground. As the kids say these days: "My bad." I eventually pulled the plug, saying I didn't have the time necessary to devote to a lively, current back-and-forth. But, in reality, I wasn't sold on blogs; I'm a professional communicator of three decades who was used to seeing my words (and thoughts) on paper. And -- God forbid! -- my work as a journalist/writer/editor was hardly ever open to commentary from the reader.

Hey, I'm the one with the degree in journalism; the one with the traditional communicator's resume!

Well, I was wrong.

Blogging and the other new media is here to stay. And, more importantly, it's been embraced by all facets of society. Those who refuse to share in that e-group hug are missing the point, and missing the boat.

Those who have a message to get out -- whether it be a tip on grooming your cat or a sophisticated marketing plan for a major corporation -- have to include blogs and the like as part of their media stew. I'm a convert; in fact, an eager, enthusiastic convert.

So, "Schenectady POV" evolves into "At the Keyboard." I am no longer on the City Council -- enjoyed it very much and am very proud of what we did, but happy to be done -- and I still have some things to say about the city I love, the politics that still excite me and the path our society is on during these very interesting times.

I appreciate the interest and I look forward to an ongoing discussion. Because, though I came to blogging kicking and screaming, it's clear that it's not just the card-carrying news reporters and the j-school grads with good insights and provocative ideas to share. I'm excited to read what you have to say, not only about the issues I raise, but about what's on your mind.

Politics, policy, sports, relationships, whatever -- it's all fair game here. Please participate and thank you for bringing blogs to a place where even a paper-loving curmudgeon like me can join in.