Mayoral Candidate Exemplifies Positive Campaign Through Negative Attack Ad

Apparently, the hallmark of a positive campaign is a negative attack mailer as seen below.

Positive Campaign 2015

Positive Campaign 2015

I get it — it’s a campaign and negative attack ads work. However, my problem with the mailer is twofold:

1. You can’t say one thing and then do the exact opposite. Well, actually, you can but you should get called out on it.

2. You should at least make some attempt at some factual basis to support your attack points.

To wit, I guess you can an attack the mayor on crime but why cite 14 years as the timeframe for the “upward trend” in crime when the mailer explicitly states that it’s only been 8 years since Mayor Thane has been in office? That means that apparently Mayor Thane should retroactively be held accountable for the 6 years prior to taking office. Still, the statistics in no way support such a claim or a cause-effect between the Mayor’s policies and crime. Most importantly, the crime statistics unquestionably show that Amsterdam is relatively safe so to demagogue on crime is an interesting spin on positive campaigning unless the intent is to positively rile up the local radio listening audience.

Next, the piece, hardly surprising, goes on to attack the Mayor for the growth in the city’s debt. This is quite lovely given that it is his fellow Republican alderpeople who just added 3 plus million to the total debt on the city’s books. I seem to recall that in the 2014 election it was this very same stalwart band of alderpeople who were going to set the city financially straight and stop adding to the city’s debt much to the cheer of our local media.


The most insulting aspect to the piece is that if you are an informed voter , you realize that you cannot simultaneously rail against the state of the city’s infrastructure — the city’s falling apart! — and then decry the growth of debt in the city. How else do you pay for multi-million dollar capital improvements without incurring some debt and without raising taxes? You simply cannot. To claim to invest in infrastructure while lowering the city’s debt is a nice– positive!– thought but it runs quite negatively against financial and political reality.

Let’s be clear: the mailer is just a short-form set of the same talking points you hear day-in-day-out on local talk radio and the local newspaper that attacks the mayor using the most specious of arguments. In short, the same chorus who wants everything without paying for it as if you can get better roads, better bridges, no blight without incurring a single penny more in debt or taxes.  Indeed, the same chorus who demands all this while cutting taxes at the same time!

Madness, positive madness.

And on these two points, I’m pretty positive , this is a totally negative reality.

A Tale of Two Developers

It was interesting to hear about how the Key Bank building is going to be converted into a mixed use building. From the Recorder:

The former KeyBank building at 29 East Main St. is proposed to be renovated by Cranesville Properties, LLC. Joseph Tesiero, property manager, said the company’s plan is to have four upscale one- to two-bedroom apartments per floor from the third to eighth floors. The second floor could be used to develop a townhouse. The first floor, Tesiero said is planned to house a microbrewery that would serve alcohol on-site.

I thought this was interesting in light of the Chalmers fiasco so let’s take a look at the two projects.

Chalmers versus Key Bank Development

Chalmers versus Key Bank Development

Fascinating, isn’t it?

With Chalmers we get all kinds of political pushback; all kinds of uproar about how such a project will never , ever work in Amsterdam; all kinds of absolute certainty from the local media — newspapers and radio– on how it is a boondoggle and how dare a developer take public money to fund private development to — gasp– make profits. And of course, as it is Amsterdam, rumors, innuendos and blatant lies on the project as a whole to discredit it fueled , again, by our local media and amplified by the abundant naysayers and doubters and do-nothings.

Fascinating that none of the Chalmers demolitionists and sages of economic development are not vocally discrediting this effort, especially our local media pundits who pulled no punches in discrediting such development in the city.

Of course, Chalmers required demolition and as there is no higher or no more noble goal than demolishing stuff, I should be hardly surprised that this might be a factor. You know, better to knock something down than take a chance on a $20 to $30 million residential development. But still, the projects overall have very much in common, yet the community responses differ so wildly.

So come on guys and gals, why so mum on Key Bank repurposing?

Lessons From Troy, NY for Amsterdam, NY

I found this first-person account of moving to Troy compelling for its parallels to here (Troy’s Magnetic Appeal ):

On my first visit, I gaped in awe at the magnificent Victorian architecture along the Hudson River: triangle-shaped office buildings, marble banks, ornately adorned retail shops, old-world brownstones, tree lined streets and outdoor cafes. For three years, I stood on my soap box extolling the virtues of the Collar City to the locals only to be scoffed at as they recounted the horrors of drive-by shootings and arsons. Then, I walked my talk and moved there.

Today, my apartment along the Hudson has a waiting list. Developers have bought all but a few of the most magnificent Troy structures and are turning them into luxury lofts, unique offices for startups, fast-growth tech firms and supporting professions. Bars and restaurants are popping up and becoming the most talked about places to go. Am I a real estate psychic? Maybe.

And sorry but I do need to mention that this city rejected residential development along the Mohawk and continues to scoff at those who might envision otherwise.

Still, there is hope , I believe.


City Residents Eagerly Embrace Next Controversy

Amsterdam, NY (June 23, 2015) — With the completion of new pedestrian bridge drawing nearer and the roiling debate on its construction subsiding, city residents were increasingly concerned at the prospect of nothing against which to rail and gripe in the coming months and years.

But thanks to sixth ward Alderperson Lynn Bylyn, city residents now have something to consume their negativity and complaining — relocating the city’s train station to its downtown.

At the heart of the controversy lies the Amsterdam Amtrak station , voted by travelers as the most depressing station along the Northeast corridor. Located in a flood plain at the very western edge of the city and architected with the grace and charm of a tool shed, the station sits alone and disconnected from the rest of the city.

In an effort to rebuild and revive the morbid downtown area, city leaders are discussing the possibility of relocating the train station to build up the downtown core especially in light of the potential draw of visitors to the controversial pedestrian bridge. City leaders believe that improving access to rail will draw and encourage growth to the downtown area and impact the city positively.

Sensing a shift in momentum toward progress and revitalization, many city residents quickly jumped onboard the train station as the must-have controversy for their daily gnashing and wailing.

According to Alderwoman Lynn Bylyn her letter merely reflects the questions and concerns of the community. “Many people are afraid of what will happen if the train station gets moved, especially seniors. I’ve heard that the mayor skulks along the rails disguised with a black cape and a handlebar mustache. Will the mayor tie seniors to the tracks or even worse raise taxes? We don’t know. What about the bandidos who chase and rob trains on horseback?  How will we catch them with the new pedestrian bridge that all but assures a clean getaway? We need answers”

Similar concerns were voiced by local town resident Shirley Madd, “Well, people get upset with me because I don’t live in the city and always bash the city. Well, I’m against this bridge, I’m against this train station, I’m against tying seniors to railroad tracks;I’m against bandidos — they’re Spanish!  I’m thrilled that I can rail against the train station — my bridge shtick was getting worn. Now I can ride this issue for years and years to come. Thank god!”

Some longtime residents fondly recalled the former train station , its wonderful architecture long lost to the city’s lust for demolition and suburbanization. While some residents expressed hope that the train station might be rebuilt with some attention and care to its architecture, almost all felt exhausted at the prospect of fighting against the groundswell of negativity around yet another issue for no good reason.

Longtime resident Filippe Ino expressed it best, “Why spend time and energy fighting against people who put forth nothing but fight against everything?”

Why I Decided Against Opting-Out for State Testing

I debated whether to post on this issue but after reading a few Facebook posts criticizing parents like my wife and me who decided to opt-in for testing, I thought I’d share a few of my own thoughts for deciding against opting-out.

This test is not the first, nor the last standardized test, that our kids will face. In fact, it is one of a constant stream of tests in their academic careers. As such, this test does not differ substantially from most other standardized tests in that it is, at its core, a standardized test.

Yes, it is more difficult. Yes, it contributes to overemphasizing standard tests versus more critical thinking skills. Yes, it might fluster and frustrate students given its difficulty and skew my child’s performance downward compared to other years. Yes, it is driven by the politics of public education and the push-pull of the various stakeholders in the public education debate. I get all that.

But the issue for me boils down to a simple question: “What are the plusses and minuses of opting-in versus opting-out for my child?”.

For me, the major factor for opting-in aligns somewhat with the reasons its critics cite in their decision to opt-out: the weight and burden it places upon kids stuck in the vortex of the educational debate over standardized testing. Where we differ is how to best address it. I believe that choosing to opt-out actually empowers the test and other stakeholders at the expense of empowering learning and empowering our own child. Let’s face it: this is fundamentally a test on the English language and shortly, a test on mathematics. That’s all that is being asked of students this year, just like past years and unquestionably, just like years hence on a number of alternate, widely accepted standardized tests such as the PSAT,SSAT,SAT,ACT, AP , Regents, et al — you get the idea.

What I’ve observed in this debate is that the pressure and stress surrounding these tests does not come from the child; it actually originates from outside stakeholders and is projected onto the students. So why should my child bear the projection of fear, anger and other negatives about the test when the test itself is simply another standardized test ,of many, my child must take to advance in academic life? That gives way, way too much importance to the test , indeed, it actually makes the test almost larger than life in importance– and that is a terrible lesson and burden. I want my child to master test taking, not the other way around.

In talking about this to my kids, I view the test and debate on opting-in versus opting-out as a teachable moment, namely, a chance to discuss the what and why on standardized tests. In my view, the teachable lesson here is that standardized tests serve many purposes for many different people with the important caveat that those interests do not always align with the best interests of my child. I don’t intend this last statement to be provocative; I think it’s simply a fact that in multiple stakeholder issues like public education, you get competing interests and not surprisingly, those interests don’t always align with the child’s or parents’ interests.

What I want my kids to fundamentally understand is that a standardized test does not define who you are;  a standardized test does not predict whether you will do well in college (as research shows the SAT to be a poor predictor for college success); a standardized test will not predict whether you will succeed in school, in life or provide a measure of the person. The test does not define you.

A standardized test measures nothing more than providing a snapshot of a point in time in your academic career. Nothing more — it’s fairly well established that these tests are assessments at best, and predictive in the least.

Meanwhile, the debate will swirl but it is more than clear that the resolution of the complex issues surrounding public education go way beyond this single exam. My role as a parent with kids within this swirl– this maelstrom of interests and policies and practices — is to teach them how the system , the game , works. Unfortunately, standardized testing resembles game theory in many ways — you have multiple stakeholders employing their own strategies with each trying to ‘win’ , naturally, to their advantage.

I don’t think it’s controversial to observe that standardized testing has been , and will continue to be, a major part of the board on which the game gets played. Without a radical departure — arguably merited– from standardized testing, standardized testing will unquestionably form a critical part of my children’s academic and professional or vocational careers. As such, I want my kids to understand the board and the other players at the table because their academic careers — from elementary school to college and beyond — require that they play the game.

So no matter how the game plays out, I want them to play the best game they can, heads held high. And they need to understand that this game is not the endgame to success and happiness in life nor to true learning and knowledge.

The Negative Fund Balance No One Talks About

The Golf Course (What Amsterdam residents need to know about the city’s “negative fund balance”):

A few of the city’s funds were negative, however. The Golf Course fund was negative $26,205, and the Transportation Fund was negative $347,344. These balances are problematic.

I understand this is intentionally provocative. But my point is simply to stress how important it is to seriously discuss financials and economics versus demagoguing on financials with no context or understanding.

I’m merely playing the game back to highlight the hypocrisy on financials and to point out how vacuous most of the discussion on the state of the city’s financials truly is.

We saw the same thing play out on a national level with the debt ceiling and with the financial crisis so I shouldn’t be surprised.

However, I am also deeply troubled that I am going to get even more [expletive here] as a taxpayer and homeowner simply because our elected leaders continue to make disastrous decisions on financial and economic matters in the city. The reason is simple: preserve the entrenched interests of the few above the interests of the city as a whole. Simple as that.

We deserve better.

But we’re not going to get it.