Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

What is Cuomo’s problem?

June 9, 2015

A new batch of political opinion polls is out and they all spell really bad news for the political class in Albany and particularly for Governor Andrew Cuomo. As they say in the fishing business, Cuomo’s numbers are sinking fast. Also like the fishing business, everything is beginning to stink. People don’t really follow politics all that much. They do, however, get the idea about how things are going. Cuomo came into town riding on a white horse, saying that he was going to clean things up. One thing is for sure, he has not done that. In fact, the case could be made that he has worsened the situation. Now, however, he is beginning to go after all of his perceived enemies, which seems to be everyone, big time. We are all asking, “What is his problem?”

When you pick a fight with the well-liked state Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, people want to know why you are doing that. Now he is once again going after state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking state workers to evaluate Schneiderman’s work. This is what we used to call “trying to pick a fight” in the old days. It would be fun and appropriate if Schneiderman and DiNapoli asked all the people in their departments to evaluate the governor.

Considering Cuomo’s low polls in a stratified sample of New York state voters, the results of polling state workers would have to be pretty bad for Cuomo. His problem, of course, seems to be that he gets angry and fires way before he sees the whites of his frenemies’ eyes. His list of perceived enemies keeps growing. Among them is Mayor Bill de Blasio who has plenty of problems of his own. Poor de Blasio must be walking around with his head held between his hands as if he had a fierce toothache. There are those who believe that the poor guy really thought that he and Andrew were best friends. It turns out that Cuomo has turned his cannon around on de Blasio and loaded it with lethal metal fragments. Maybe this is because Cuomo thought he was on the way to the presidency and that de Blasio, with his populist appeal, would get in the way of this country’s highest political prize. Maybe because Andrew just believes that everyone who isn’t him is untrustworthy and a natural political enemy. There are some wild animals that are like that.

Some animals in the forest can coexist and some cannot. When a politician eschews alliances and considers everyone an enemy, he does so at his own risk. When the other political players are frightened by political bullies, they band together in a defensive posture. Witness DiNapoli and Schneiderman.

It doesn’t stop with politicians. Cuomo is known and respected up to now as a take-no-prisoners tough guy, but his political antennae seem corrupted. His picking on the teachers of New York state is dumber than dumb. It appears that he fell in with a crowd of rich potential funders who are always yelling about “educational reform.” Maybe he wanted their money and he became a fierce charter school advocate and then adopted positions which then threatened the hell out of the teachers who are underpaid and overworked. Their tenure is one of the few things they do have going for them, and however Cuomo meant it, the teachers saw him as looking to evaluate them with an eye toward firing them. These are usually people who want nothing to do with Albany politics, but they sure got a wakeup call. I talk to them all the time and they are angrier than I have ever seen them.

Even on subjects like “fracking,” which the liberal community took on wholesale and which the governor has now said “no” to, no one trusts him because it sure seemed like he was hardly against the idea for a lot of years. When you add up the Moreland Act Commission missteps and his fight picking, you see a guy who had better start re-evaluating the way he does things.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/8/15

Fate of Main Street turning lane shrouded in mystery

June 8, 2015

Great Barrington continues to grow. The town that the Smithsonian called the “Best Small Town in America” is exactly that.

We all know that each town and city in the Berkshires has its own character and Great Barrington certainly is the hub of the Southern Berkshires. It charges a lot of taxes. On the other hand, we have fantastic restaurants, a fine hospital, an excellent fire department and a large police department, which could be doing better work slowing down traffic on the way to Lake Mansfield.

We are just emerging from a total reconstruction of Main Street. All the merchants with whom I have been speaking are marveling at the courtesy and professionalism of the people who are doing the building. That’s the good news.

But there are some puzzling pieces of the reconstruction. When you are driving south on Main Street just before you get to Taconic Avenue and the CVS on the far side of the street, there has always been a right turn lane that takes you up the hill and enables the through traffic to flow.

When the whole reconstruction project was commencing, there seemed to be a difference of opinion as to whether or not that right hand turn lane would remain. Different people told me different things. For all of you who live in North County or the Pittsfield area, you might say, “So what? No big deal.” In fact, it is a big deal because the absence of a right turning lane will leave southbound traffic on Route 7 in a state of FUBAR (Fouled up beyond all recognition) or something like that.

I recently asked one selectman whether or not we would have that crucial right turn lane and was told that the fight over the lane had been lost and we would not have that delicious right to bypass the long line of waiting cars.

But I recently met up with the town manager at the great white dinner, sponsored to support the merchants of Great Barrington in their time of reconstruction need, and asked her the same question. She gave me a different answer, to wit, that the right turn lane would be preserved. On the way home the other night it sure looked like the third lane had disappeared and that whatever space there formerly was is gone.

So, someone has it wrong. I hope it’s the selectman but somehow, I get the feeling that all those people who live on Great Barrington’s Hill or who are trying to get to Lake Mansfield are going to have to live with a bad situation.

It’s a little thing like this that gives engineers, planners and government officials a bad reputation.

On another Great Barrington local issue, there is a plan to basically demolish the old Searles Middle School, preserve the footprint and build a 95 room luxury hotel and conference center in the middle of the town.

This is a win-win for the Great Barrington. It will be good for the town merchants, including our myriad restaurants and shops. Unfortunately, it may contradict a town bylaw limiting the number of rooms a hotel can have.

The proposed owners of the property, Vijay and Crystal Mahida, are up to the task and have hired one of the town’s most accomplished and connected lawyers to help make it happen.

It should be pointed out that the lawyer’s father is the town moderator and an important town honcho. What we do not need is a monstrosity that does not reflect the historic nature of the town.

One can only expect that there will be those who do not want to see this sensible improvement happen because such people always emerge to fight almost anything based on the philosophical notion that “We object because we can.”

It would be nice if just for once something was easy.

Schneiderman strikes back

June 2, 2015

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is positioning himself to be Governor Schneiderman. If Andrew decides not to seek a third term (his polling numbers are way down), Schneiderman wants to be Johnny on the Spot. He wants to be the logical next governor. His relationship with Governor Cuomo is reported to be quite shaky.

Cuomo has a fierce “take-no-prisoners” reputation and it’s gutsy of Schneiderman, an ambitious but more naturally timid soul, to take him on. Schneiderman has a lot going for him. Additionally, recent history tells us that New Yorkers have been electing their attorneys general to the top job. That list includes names like Spitzer and Cuomo, himself.

Ironically, the voters like the attorney general not only because he has statewide name recognition but because they see him as a crime fighter. While the AG’s Office was historically more of a civil law place, recent attorneys general like Cuomo and Spitzer have tried hard to make the work of that office sound like they are crime fighters. Hey, if that’s what people want, that’s what they are going to get.

Nothing gets the attention of New Yorkers like corruption. Every time they turn around, someone is being hauled out of the Legislature and off to the pokey. So, one and one make two. If you want to be governor, you have to promise to clean up Albany. Funny thing about that — Andrew Cuomo made that pledge and ended up with a lot of egg on his face. He even appointed a Moreland Act Commission to root out corruption in the Legislature. Remember how he did that? He asked Attorney General Schneiderman to deputize each member of the commission as an Assistant Attorney General. That was because Cuomo couldn’t have his executive commission investigate the Legislature but the Attorney General could root out crime in any branch of government.

Then the unthinkable happened. For some mysterious or not so mysterious reason, Cuomo disbanded his corruption investigating Moreland Act Commission, saying that he formed it and he could disband it. You will all remember that the whole thing stunk like old fish and Cuomo is still paying the price. While the story was that Cuomo had to disband the commission in order to trade for what turned out to be a very bad ethics package from Legislature, there were other more nefarious rumors that circulated including the fact that the Moreland Commission actors were going after some folks who had given money to the governor himself.

Eric Schneiderman had a huge stake in the commission, and when Cuomo disbanded the group, Schneiderman only had a few perfunctory comments. So it’s not surprising that he has now called for yet another very public try on ethics reform. He needs to get ahead of this issue. To reform things, he wants to prohibit legislators from accepting any outside employment because that is one of the most corruptive parts of our political system. You go to a lawyer who is also a senator and you figure that, like chicken soup, it can’t hurt to have him or her representing you. So you put a prohibition on major outside employment, just like the United States Congress did. Of course, that doesn’t preclude all other potential avenues of corruption, like getting your son or daughter a job, for example. It also means that a bunch of people who already have a lot of money won’t have to scrounge but it is still a good idea. Schneiderman also wants a longer, four-year term, presumably so that legislators don’t have to spend all their time raising money to run for re-election. Yes, but that removes the choices even further away from the people.

Schneiderman is doing the right thing but my bet is that he will have to contend with a very angry Andrew.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/1/15

Targeting second-home owners is ill advised

June 1, 2015

Is Great Barrington about to become The People’s Republic of Great Barrington?

All hell is breaking loose in the best small town in America. Michael Wise has come up with a plan that would raise taxes on the rich and specifically, on out-of-towners and second-home owners who have, for their part, become alarmed and are now part of the debate on this issue.

The second-home people insist that they are a crucial part of the economy. They pay for many of the town services while making few demands on the town since, among other issues, their kids don’t use the schools.

There is also a question of fairness. We know that second-home owners in the Berkshires don’t usually vote here and they believe, I suspect correctly, that they are being singled out because they have no say in the way the town works.

What’s more, there is an onerous “personal property tax” that second-homers have to pay. When I was a weekender I hated that and I think it would be hypocritical to think anything has changed. Our restaurants, our businesses and frankly, the very values of our homes have been affected by the presence of these folks. To make pariahs out of them is just plain stupid and unwise. It is time for each of us to practice the golden rule and put ourselves in their place.

This is a very serious issue. It is true that at least one selectman ran and won based on his pledge to implement the Wise plan. If three of the five Selectmen raise their hands and vote for the tax-the-out-of-towners plan, it will be a done deal.

Wait just a minute! Isn’t this a major reallocation of resources? We just had a town meeting in which we discussed ad nauseam whether to buy a piece of equipment. You mean to tell me that this whole unwise Wise plan will be decided at an ill-attended Selectboard meeting?

At the very least, there ought to be a special town meeting on this matter ensuring a robust discussion. This smells a lot like a silly and dangerous idea to ensure personal political popularity. Just sayin’.

Should those who don’t pay their taxes have their property sold at tax lien auctions?

Taxes are high or higher, depending on where you live. Sometimes you really get your money’s worth. Sometimes, when the bureaucracy gets too large, you are treated with indifference. Sometimes the town manager returns your call.

Nevertheless, people should pay their taxes. Sometimes, people don’t pay because they can’t. Sometimes people don’t pay because they won’t.

I am sure that everyone who is on the delinquent list gets notified that they are in arrears. So for the rest of us who do pay taxes, it makes a certain amount of sense that those who do not are held accountable. If someone owns a home and can’t pay the taxes, it might be a good idea to sell the home or the property.

When Pittsfield recently held a tax lien auction, the money from delinquents came pouring in. That makes sense. That’s why taxing authorities often announce tax amnesties. People know that the town or city isn’t kidding.

In some small towns the tax persons are not as active as they could be. Of course, it’s all about the services that are offered. Fire departments are very important. Alford has a terrific volunteer fire department. They contract with the state police for a part-time presence.

Hollenbeck Avenue in Great Barrington apparently doubles as the local speedway. People are so afraid for their kids that they have put up signs advising that children live in the houses that line the street. So how come we don’t see police picking up the speeders? When people receive value for their taxes, it’s easier for them to pay up. Just sayin’.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/30/15

Andrew’s troubled

May 26, 2015

There seems to be a long line of political folks whose names are being bandied about as opponents to Andrew Cuomo in a Democratic primary for governor. One can only suspect that “Andrew,” as he is universally known in Albany, has been developing a strategy to do what his father could never do, run for and win the presidency. Coming as he does from New York, in order to be accepted by the rest of the country, he would have to present himself as a fiscal conservative in the manner of Bill Clinton. What’s more, he would need a lot of money to run and Andrew is unrivaled in that department. He raised a fortune just to run for a second term as governor.

Alas, by reaching out to a potential national constituency, Andrew began to burn a lot of bridges in liberal blue state New York. Also, upstate New York, which had always been the more conservative section of the state, has problems with the man. Part of this is because of the SAFE Act (gun control), Cuomo’s best work, which affected conservatives the same way that fracking affected the liberal-environmental portions of his constituency. My bet is that Cuomo never knew how salient that issue was going to be with many upstate voters. With his well known penchant for immediately reacting to events, Cuomo passed the most liberal gun control effort in the nation, dragging upstate legislators along with him kicking and screaming.

This has proven disastrous not only for the Republicans who went along with it but for Andrew himself. It’s clear that he did so poorly against Zephyr Teachout in portions of the state because of the discontent of the upstate liberal voters and the pro-gun folks. The stench of corruption in Albany, which Andrew promised to clean up, has only gotten worse. It sure didn’t help Andrew when U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara took over the fight against corrupt public officials after Cuomo closed down the now infamous Moreland Act Commission. Despite the fact that many people seem to like him, the polls all seem to suggest that they think he’s doing a lousy job as governor because he is not doing what he said he would do.

As a result, we have seen some not so veiled “Maybe I’ll run” hints from others who think that Andrew may be failing. One of them is Eric Schneiderman, the state’s attorney general. You may have noticed that the modern route to the governorship seems to be via the AG’s office. Hence, Schneiderman would be next up. There are all kinds of signs that Andrew doesn’t really care for Schneiderman. The two have locked horns several times since Andrew took the top spot. There were those who thought that Andrew was trying to bring some of the AG’s powers with him to the second floor where the governor sits.

Then there’s U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, often thought to be tied to the hip with his mentor, Senator Charles Schumer. Where Andrew failed to clean things up in Albany, Bharara seems to be making real headway. In a head-to-head, my bet is that Bharara could beat out Andrew, but his problem is that you can’t be a politician and a prosecutor at the same time without losing credibility as the prosecutor. So, if he’s going to do it, it’ll be some time before he shows the slightest bit of public interest.

Finally, the State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, is extraordinarily well liked by statewide Democrats. He has done a tremendous job restoring confidence in the Comptroller’s Office and he has the guts to call out the governor when he is doing something questionable. For his part, Cuomo has bullied DiNapoli and people don’t like it. All of a sudden, people are talking about DiNapoli.

If I’m Andrew right about now, I’m taking some serious ibuprofen.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/25/15

Answers to questions no one asked me

May 26, 2015

Why would a guy who runs for office every year, writes really ignorant Letters to the Editor and offers long-winded screeds at town meetings continue to keep at it?

It is a democracy, it is his right, and people have often been proven right after years of everyone thinking they are off the wall. On the other hand, this is just the kind of person who dissuades good people from running for public office. Often, instead of having a productive hobby this IS the hobby.

I can only imagine the internal groans of our elected and popular public servants when they see him getting up to speak one more time. Sometimes when difficult people run for public office they get quite a few votes. In our town, Great Barrington, a very smart man who, according to the tastes of some, may appear disheveled, may run for the position of town moderator.

He might get quite a few votes because there is a great tradition in America for voting for an unlikely candidate to make a point about the incumbent. You would think that the incumbent, who is very good at his job, might consider adjusting his demeanor as moderator.

Why are politicians in New York thinking about changing state law to allow people to bring their dogs to the outside patios of restaurants?

In France, people can bring their dogs with them into restaurants. The chairman of the health committee in the New York Legislature doesn’t want to allow it. He bases his objections on the spurious reasoning that some large dogs might want to eat someone’s food off the table.

I suppose he is technically right. The way it works now, the dogs have to stay on the outside of the railing. Of course, some people are allergic to pet hair and I suspect that’s why the people offering the bill make the pups stay on the outside. Some dogs may be allergic to humans and I worry about that. Let’s face it — dogs have rights, too. If you want to share your meal with your dog, why not?

Why is it important for us to know what books were on Osama Bin Laden’s bookshelf? Let me put it this way — it might be worth thousands of dollars to any author to have his or her book on that particular list.

My bet is that any agent whose client’s book was on the shelf now has the job of letting people know about its placement. One guy I’ve interviewed several times on the radio is the iconoclast Greg Palast. His book, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” was on the shelf. “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward did very well when it was first published but my bet is that bookstores everywhere will be reordering it right about now.

In fact, it took quite a while to get the feds to release the information about what they found in Osama’s lair to the general public. Now we hear that the man loved porno but even that raises questions. If true, it does point to a certain moral hypocrisy for a man who espoused Islamist-Jihadist positions. No question about it — there are situations where government has not always told the truth. As a result, some of this newly released and previously classified material has to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

Does power really corrupt as Lord Acton once opined?

It can, but it is rare that people cross the line. However, the squeaky wheel gets noticed. When a police chief is put on trial for crossing that line his alleged actions tend to demean others in law enforcement who must have public support in order to do their jobs. That’s why it is important to hold them accountable.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/23/15

What the Republicans need to do

May 19, 2015

What would you do if you were the Republican Party in New York state?

Right now, they appear to be doing everything in their power to make sure that they lose control of the Senate. They are perceived as a corrupt group of thugs because of the way in which they tried like crazy to support their now ousted Majority Leader, Dean Skelos. Skelos, you will certainly recall, lost his job because U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused him of unethical, to say nothing of illegal, actions. So what did the Republicans do to replace their leader? They seem to have allowed Skelos to choose his own replacement. The new man is John Flanagan who, like Skelos, is a Long Islander and who will ensure that the downstaters will continue to control the upper house. Upon receiving this honor, Flanagan immediately quit his law firm where he was making somewhere around an extra $150,000 a year.

Bharara has been working hard to de-stink the legislature. Like the rest of us, he knows that the reason one goes to the law firm of a senator is to get a little extra heft in your legal affairs. Bharara arrested and indicted Speaker Sheldon Silver for using his influence to bring business to his law firm. Now there are a lot of knees knocking in Albany, from the very top of the gubernatorial administration on the famous “Second Floor” where the governor sits, through the rank and file in both houses. Ever since Bharara told everyone to “stay tuned” for the next indictments, the members of the Legislature have been worried about who would be next. Some are trying to clean up their acts by quitting their law practices. Others are blindly going down the same path that got their leaders into such trouble. You might think that with the wolf knocking at their door, the solons would clean up their acts and pass true ethics reform; this is probably the only thing that will save them and their soiled reputations. For his part, Flanagan courts disaster by suggesting that this is not the year to pass real ethics reform. He and his Republican conference are sticking their heads in the sand, just like their ostrich cousins. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Of course, we have a presidential election coming up. Democrats will turn out in large numbers and the possibility of a Democratic controlled Senate is very real. For his part, Andrew Cuomo, who is largely responsible for keeping the Republicans in power, is in a tough spot. In fact, the game may well be up for him. Not only has Republican Skelos been arrested, so has his deputy leader, Thomas Libous. The Republicans are kept in office due to the efforts of Simcha Felder, a Democrat who works with them, and four other so-called Democrats who seem to ally with the highest bidder.

When it looks like it’s time to jump ship these characters will.

So what should the Republicans do to stay in office? First, they should pass the strongest, most airtight ethics bill that has ever seen the light of day in New York. Second, they should kick Libous and Skelos out of their party and the Senate. Even if they have to go into the minority for a while, they would demonstrate to the people of New York state that they are better equipped to serve than the Democrats who are also ethically challenged and doing precious little about it. This is indeed the time to make historic changes. Let’s face it; there are members of the Republican Senate conference who are quite elderly. They can’t hang on forever. As I said many times, even if the state doesn’t have term limits, God does. It’s just so obvious that they are in “check” and almost check mate. If they don’t move now they are cooked. My bet is that they won’t take my advice.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/19/15


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