Wednesday, February 29, 2012

City Council letdown

The Schenectady City Council had a big decision to make Monday night and didn't make it. But, while there is likely much hand-wringing and finger-pointing throughout the Electric City this week, the truth is, the Council should never have been put in the situation in which it found itself.

The Council appeared ready to fill a vacancy on the seven-member body that was created when Gary McCarthy was elected mayor. Simple enough, right? Not in Schenectady.

In a display of either arrogance or political stupidity — or both — the Schenectady Democratic Executive Committee anointed community activist Marion Porterfield as the heir apparent to McCarthy's Council seat — months before Election Day. Apparently, the thinking was that McCarthy would win his mayoral race (which he did, by a handful of votes) and that the four Democratic Council candidates would sweep to victory. Except that the voters had other ideas and failed to elect political newcomer John Mootooveren, who ran on the Democratic ticket.

Damn those voters, always trying to affect elections!

Well, the six remaining Council members — who, by the way, are the only ones who have a say in filling the vacancy, according to the City Charter — were split Monday. Three felt Mootooveren, who had been a good soldier and garnered more than 4,000 votes in November, should get the vacant seat. The other three decided to back Porterfield. A 3-3 tie, and the seat stays vacant.

Both Porterfield and Mootooveren would probably make fine Council members, though sources tell me Mootooveren was informed by Democratic leaders that he's done politically for refusing to step aside when it became clear the Council couldn't reach a consensus.

But why were the Council members' backs against the wall in the first place? And why did Porterfield and Mootooveren have to ride the Democrats' political rollercoaster? The answer to both questions, of course, is that party leaders refused to let the Council do its job. Oh, they will stay away when the unpopular decisions have to be made, like a tax increase or a program cut. They head for the hills then. But, give them an opportunity to play party boss; well, they can't resist.

This was far from the first time the party has meddled in the Council's business. But it was one of the most public and, in the end, cost Schenectadians full representation.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The right's not right on workers' rights

The Schenectady Sunday Gazette's yesterday sent a chill down my spine while making me hot under the collar. It was either the onset of the flu or another right turn by this once-fine newspaper.

At issue were two pieces in the paper's "Opinion" section. The Gazette seemed eager to strut its anti-labor stuff with a front-page centerpiece supporting passage of a "right to work" law in New York state. Note the quote marks deliberately placed; such laws are the antithesis of right to work.

The piece was written by a Schenectadian by the name of Ken Moore. He is an eloquent, thoughtful writer. And he's also dead wrong.

Here are the facts about "right to work" laws: They guarantee no worker a job, protect no worker against on-the-job bias or retaliation, and ensure no worker a fair wage. And, according to a study by the American Rights at Work organization, a not-for-profit that supports workers' rights and their choice to form a union, "right to work" laws don't create new employment opportunities nor help improve a state's economy. They are nothing more than an orchestrated effort to bust unions. That just won't play in Schenectady, Mr. Moore. Unions helped build this town and continue to have strong support.

Meanwhile, while they were in a worker-bashing mood, the Sunday Gazette editorial writers called on Gov. Cuomo to "use his considerable political capital" to put an end to the Triborough Amendment of the state's Taylor Law. Put simply, Triborough assures that the terms and conditions of a public-sector contract remain in effect after it expires. The intent is to ensure the employer (a school district or municipality) doesn't have an incentive to delay or draw out good-faith contract negotiations. It protects workers who continue to do their jobs and lights a fire under negotiators on both sides of the table.

The Triborough Amendment has come under attack before by those who want to lay all the troubles of the world on working men and women. But it continually withstands potshots and politics, bombast and bad economies. The reason? New Yorkers understand fairness and respect hard work. Our community would be better served if its "independent voice" did the same.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I'm baaaack

OK, perhaps it's not the most original headline -- a bit cliche now -- but it does the trick. "At the Keyboard," my attempt at blogging and staying relevant, has returned after being "on hiatus" since June 2008. And it's good to be back.

Of course, a lot has happened in the blogosphere since I last weighed in. These things are now real news makers; they are often go-to sites for journalists, political operatives and news junkies. In many ways -- and I say this with much sadness -- they are helping to make daily newspapers obsolete. The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism released a report last year that showed for the first time, online readership and advertising revenue had surpassed that of print newspapers. The same report also found that 46 percent of Americans get their news online at least three times a week, compared to 40 percent who still don't mind getting their hands covered with newsprint in the morning.

Blogs, websites and social media -- by the way, I'm on Twitter @frankmaurizio -- have made us all editors. We can pick and choose the information we want, and then we can share it. It's a little disheartening for a guy like me, with a degree in journalism and a lot of years in traditional media. But it's exciting too, and I find that, more and more, I am getting online -- either on my computer or my smartphone -- to find out what's going on. I still read newspapers but, these days, they are more of a supplement than my main source of information.

So, with that in mind, here's some breaking news brought to you by "At the Keyboard:"

Schenectady City Court Judge Mark Blanchfield today announced his intention to run for state Supreme Court in the 4th Judicial District. It's an 11-county district, starting in Schenectady and heading north, practically to the Canadian border.

Interestingly, though perhaps not coincidentally, "At the Keyboard" went on hiatus in 2008 so that I could work on Mark's campaign for the state Assembly. That effort didn't work out as we had hoped, but Mark has had his share of electoral successes. He served on the City Council for nine years (three as its president), was appointed to the city court in 2010 to fill a vacancy and won election to a full term in the fall of that year. He has served our community with distinction.

As I did in 2008, I will be lending a hand during Mark's campaign (though, hopefully, with a better result). And I will write about the campaign in this space from time to time. But not often. "At the Keyboard" will offer commentary and information on a wide variety of political, policy and societal issues. I am confident readers will find at least some of it interesting and come back for more.