Why I chose Schenectady

I am frequently asked by colleagues why I chose to live in Schenectady.

Aren’t you worried about the schools?

What about the taxes…aren’t they too high?

These are just 2 examples of common questions I receive when I tell people I live in Schenectady. Rather than address them directly, I would rather explain why Schenectady is preferred over Niskayuna, Glenville, or Clifton Park.

When I was looking for a place to live, I had 3 criteria (for location):

1) I had to live within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Basically, the more walkable, the better.

2) My commute to work had to be short. I was not going to waste time sitting in my car. I value my time too much for that.

3) I had to find a home in my price range.

That’s it.

The bottom line is that because of where I work, I could not live in Clifton Park and wait in line at the Rexford bridge every day, nor could I live in Niskayuna, a town without sidewalks.

Niskayuna - Where the sidewalk ends
Niskayuna – Where the sidewalk ends

Needless to say, Schenectady is certainly affordable.

And that’s it. I have strong feelings about the questions at the beginning of this post, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.

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.