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 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, 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.