Why the casino process is a blow to democracy

When I was younger, my family took a vacation to the Caribbean, and while we were there we had the opportunity to take a free trip to a special beach to go snorkeling; but there was a catch. We had to sit through a presentation to buy a time share in their property. While this exchange is not remarkable in itself (I do, after all, constantly trade many inconveniences for “free” things), the tactics used during the visit were well designed to convince the highest number of people to sign up.

The presentation started with a personal pitch from one of their salespersons touting all the great benefits and how the time share wouldn’t cost us anything, since if we didn’t use it, it could be rented to another person. Of course, after hearing all the benefits of the time share, we are told that the offer is only available while we are at the table, and we should jump at the opportunity before someone else does. This type of time pressure is not unique to this particular operation, as we have all seen commercials with phrases such as, ” Act now before it’s too late!” or “This offer is only available for the next hour” or in today’s online shopping marketplace, the limited quantity sales on Amazon’s daily deals.

Most recently, we see these same tactics as developers try to sell casinos in upstate NY.

The applications are due June 30th, and the Daily Gazette summarized the Capital Region proposals in Sunday’s edition. Any child studying for Common Core would quickly realize that every casino proposal is projected to bring in the same amount of money: $5.7 million to the city and county. Why would casino proposals ranging in size, location, and scope bring in the same amount of tax revenue?

It’s because the numbers are baseless.

The estimated tax revenue comes from the state gaming board’s presentation on the impact of casinos. This presentation cites as its source the NY State Division of the Budget. Yet, when I contacted the NY State Division of the Budget to determine how this number was determined, I received the following response:

Do you mean this presentation, which is on the Gaming Commission’s website?

There is no report published by the Division of Budget with the name you asked about.

When pressed further, the NY Division of Budget referred me to their press release, and have since stopped responding to requests for the basis of these numbers.

The Gaming Commission presentation is citing the numbers that the Division of Budget put forth in this press release, available on our website.

In other words, don’t put much weight behind these numbers.

The whole casino process is another example of aggressive sales tactics. Cities are being asked to support the casino based on information that is without basis to the site or scale of the casino. A good process would use time and research to come to an informed decision instead of a rushed decision based on a sales pitch.

I’m sure the company selling time shares found many takers that day, but an aggressive sales pitch is not the way to run the government. It’s a disservice to the citizens of the state and region and blow to democratic governance.

Goose Hill Celebrates Community Volunteers at Steinmetz Pavilion Ceremony

I had the privilege of attending the opening ceremony for the Steinmetz Park pavilion this afternoon. Thanks to the hard work of many volunteers over 7 years and grants from both the state and county, Goose Hill has been able to greatly improve the quality of Steinmetz Park.

Camille Sasinowski leads the ceremony
Camille Sasinowski leads the ceremony

The ribbon cutting ceremony featured a wonderful lunch of fried chicken with many sides provided by neighbors and a make your own sundae from Stewarts! They also had face painting for the kids and raffles to help raise more money for the park’s master plan.

After the ribbon was cut, food consumed, and most of the press and politicians had left, the association honored several people for their volunteer work. One woman was honored for her work with the pavilion, another for picking up trash in the neighborhood. I wish I had the names of each awardee with a brief statement signifying what they were honored for, but it’s these people who help make the quality of life better for everyone one of the great signs of a community bettering itself.

An awardee receives her certificate
An awardee receives her certificate

Steinmetz park is looking great, and I can’t wait to see how it improves over the years through the continuing efforts of community volunteers.

The start of Summer ends with a drag…show

My Summer Solstice Celebration wouldn’t be complete without a stop by Schenectady Pride.

The atmosphere was festive with live music and street vendors on Jay St., but it was a great opportunity to relax on a beautiful Saturday evening.

Some of the music was hit and miss, but 2 former Schenectady and Albany high school grads stole the show with an excellent performance of two original songs. I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before they have their own record deal.

Schenectady and Albany grads shine
Schenectady and Albany grads shine

The highlight of the night (I arrived too late to see the dog show) was the drag show! They could really move, and I highly recommend that you attend next year. I was impressed watching one do a cartwheel in 6″ heels. The event may not be as large as some cities, but it’s still fun regardless. I wasn’t able to attend the after party drag show at Clinton’s pub, however…perhaps next year.

Half the fun is watching the passers-by who stumbled upon such a great display of talent unexpectedly, and then had to navigate through the crowd. It was a Candid Camera moment!

They are just getting started
They are just getting started

Don’t let a power pole block your path

I am frequently meeting new people with great stories. This past weekend at St. Anthony’s Festa (The middle part of my Summer Solstice Celebration), I met a gentleman and his wife who had lived in Schenectady for over 50 years. After 3-4 years of teaching – and deciding that was for the birds – the gentleman went into construction. He dug ditches and spread asphalt for new roads and apparently caught the eye of his boss who offered him a position in management after a couple months on the job. While I cannot verify the accuracy of this story, he did provide another interesting anecdote.

Many years ago, his company was tasked with widening route 9 through Clifton Park. Apparently, the utility company refused to move the power poles…or at least delayed moving them for a sufficiently long time as to frustrate the construction crew enough to pave around the poles. He claims they put up warning signs, but to a driver encountering these poles, I can understand how shocking that would be. Needless to say, the utility company quickly moved the poles after the press fiasco.

I initially found this story shocking and humorous without thinking it could happen today (the story he told referred to sometime before 1980, I believe), yet as I was trying to verify the truth of this story, I came across a similar situation in Quebec. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

All the more reason to listen to your elders.

Food for the soul at Juneteenth

Call it persistence, or maybe even hard headed; but I was determined to try some Soulicious food after I was unable to buy any last Thursday at the Bellevue Farmer’s Market. They had sold out their food just before I arrived. I was ready to bike home…devastated…until I discovered they they would be selling their food at Juneteenth in Central Park on Saturday.

And so I went. After spending all morning weeding, I was really looking forward to some greens and mac-n-cheese. The meat in this situation was really secondary to me. Upon my arrival, I was once again disappointed as I had arrived before the food! After being assured the food would arrive in 30 minutes, I explored the festivities,  and watched some rhythmic dancing while listening to some drum music. I also sampled the food from another vendor, but it paled in comparison to Soulicious…eventually.

Most of the food didn’t show up for an hour, not the original 30 minutes, but still the Mac-n-cheese was missing. Dutifully I waited another 20 minutes for the final dish to arrive, and I don’t know if it was my longing to eat some macaroni (things are better when you wait?), but it was delicious. That’s $10 well spent for chicken, collards, mac, and yams.

After washing it down with a piece of watermelon from a nearby stand, I was ready for my next adventure…St. Anthony’s Festa!

Mexican Radio may be good, but it’s not the first

I was dismayed to read the article in Tuesday’s Gazette about Mexican Radio opening in Schenectady. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see the restaurant open, and based on the buzz, it sounds like a great addition to the restaurants downtown.

What bothered me were the quotes from area residents.One Scotia resident said she currently goes to La Fiesta in Clifton Park or Chili’s for Mexican. It’s a shame because Schenectady already has an excellent Mexican restaurant right on State Street. That restaurant is La Mexicana. The tacos remind me of the ones I would have in California. I’m particularly a sucker for the carnitas. Just a simple soft tortilla with meat, onions, cilantro, and radishes with a lime on the side. These tacos are fantastic!

Not to mention the connected grocery has anything you need to make delicious Mexican food at home.

I will definitely eat at Mexican Radio…probably sooner rather than later, and I think it will be a great addition to downtown, but I’ll be back at La Mexicana soon, too, because I can’t get enough of those tacos.

What flavor is Schenectady?

I came across a short article in the June 16-29 edition of NY Magazine discussing an ice cream flavor at Ample Hills Creamery that consisted of a dark chocolate with white-chocolate pearls to represent the oysters being re-introduced into the canal in Gowanus. On a sticky night heralding the start of summer, it got me thinking…

If we were to make an ice cream flavor that represented Schenectady, what would it be?

Perhaps it could represent our relationship with the river (or canal) and have streaks of chocolate fudge in an almond ice cream (a reference to the many delicious almond cookies available in Little Italy and elsewhere (e.g., Civitello’s).

Or, perhaps, the ice cream should pay tribute to the great inventors who lived in Schenectady such as Langmuir or Steinmetz, but how do you capture the subtlety of a Langmuir Isotherm in a food like ice cream? Or a locomotive? With such a long history of building trains, even one that participated in the golden spike ceremony of the trans continental railroad, maybe the ice cream should be grander…showcasing Schenectady’s role in a burgeoning nation. Perhaps a Dutch chocolate (in honor of the Dutch heritage and to symbolize the coal used in operating steam locomotives) with a crunchy toffee as the golden spike is the appropriate choice?

Obviously, the options are endless with each person generating their own idea as to which ice cream flavor will reign supreme.  I have focused on history, but perhaps a flavor reflecting contemporary Schenectady is more appropriate?

How would you express Schenectady as an ice cream flavor? While you discuss, I’m going to cool off with a scoop (or two!) from Stewart’s.

Strawberry Fest a hit…even if race comes up short

Once again, the annual strawberry festival on upper union street saw a large turnout of people from all over the region. The strawberries are ripe (finally), the food was delicious, and there were a ton of vendors selling arts and crafts.

Fresh strawberries for sale!
Fresh strawberries for sale!

The 5k to start ended up being a little short. About 1 mile was cut off the 5k length. I was shocked to see people finish in less than 15 minutes until I learned it was shorter than expected.

The start of the Strawberry Fest 5k (3k?)
The start of the Strawberry Fest 5k (3k?)

Another gorgeous day to spend supporting local businesses in Schenectady!

Opening day at the Bellevue Farmer’s Market

Today was opening day at the Bellevue Farmer’s Market thanks to the dedicated work of a core group of volunteers.


Opening Day at the Bellevue Farmer's Market
Hint: the workers are wearing green

The market features several vegetable, prepared food, and meat vendors. I was certainly pleased to see some fresh strawberries and freshly prepared collards to warm up on this dreary day.

Waiting for balloons
Waiting for balloons

There was live music and balloons for the kids, too. The opening ceremony featured the NY State Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets. He’s the self-professed overdressed farmer cutting the green ribbon.

It’s the third year of the market, and they started out great today. I picked up some Swiss Chard, fresh strawberries,  and bacon while I gorged myself on some delicious soul food and Italian delicacies.

It’s a great place to get food in Schenectady!

If you want to go:

2176 Broadway, Schenectady, NY
(Maranatha Ministries Parking Lot)
Every Thursday, 4-7p June through September

A casino opponent’s lament

I am opposed to the Rush Street Gaming Casino being proposed at the former ALCO site in Schenectady, and following the city council meeting on Monday in which they voted 5-2 in favor of the casino proposal I found myself deeply agitated by the outcome…an outcome that was predetermined.

But why?

I know that casinos are not the economic panacea the supports claim them to be, and the upstate casinos are no exception. And yet at the same time, the negative effects espoused by the opposition are also overblown with most of the effects being felt locally by residential areas. My home is far enough away from the casino to significantly minimize any negative effects, but still I found myself upset.

Part of my opposition may be due to the council’s decision to completely ignore public input, but Ms. Perazzo is correct – a public hearing would not change the outcome and are often a nuisance more than an effective means of soliciting public input. The council meeting in which the vote took place is a prime example. A quick look around the room demonstrates that the typical Schenectady resident was not represented.

The audience at the council meeting about the casino
Is this audience only 60% white?

But how the council should solicit public input is a topic for another post, and I won’t dwell on it here except to say I don’t usually get upset with the ineffectiveness of these hearings for other matters.

So why did I get so upset about the casino? I have gambled before and do not have a moral opposition to it, but I do believe society has a responsibility to care for the most vulnerable citizens.

What bothered me most was the loss of such a great site to improve the quality of life for residents and build upon a plan that people would want to live near and be a part of. The plan has not always been static, but I was really excited to see the development of a family friendly waterfront that was integrated into the surrounding neighborhoods and downtown. This plan had a great potential to attract residents to live downtown and continue the economic development that has slowly been taking place in Schenectady over the past decade. I fear that most people do not want to live near a casino and downtown development will be stymied.

ALCO brownfield site, June 2014
I hope this ALCO site will be great

It’s like watching a recovering alcoholic start drinking again. The loss of so much potential is heartbreaking. This regret is what made me so disappointed at the vote on Monday.

If Schenectady is chosen for the casino, I’m sure that in its first several years we will hear a lot of positive press. We may even receive that promised tax break. But long term, the benefits are questionable, the lives damaged difficult to quantify, and the lost potential of the ALCO site the most regrettable of all.