Friday, March 13, 2015

Avoiding A Return To The Era Of Ill Feelings

Anti APA activist Anthony D'Elia, State Senator Ron Stafford and Governor Mario Cuomo in Essex County in the 1980s - mirror file photoAfter former Governor Mario Cuomo’s death on January 1, a former colleague reminded  us that when Cuomo signed the legislation authorizing the creation of an Environmental Protection Fund on Lake Champlain in 1993, much of the tension that had on occasion erupted into violence as a result of the  restrictive recommendations of the 1990 Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century, was defused.

A compromise had been reached. Funds were awarded for land acquisition, but there was also money for local governments in the form of grants for infrastructure and hamlet re-development. Of greater importance, the self-appointed leaders of the so-called Property Rights movement lost their constituencies and many of them left the area. Reasonable, responsible people on both sides of the issue reasserted control of the conversation. That’s how things have stood, more or less, until recently.

In December, Denton Publications published a bizarre editorial calling for the abolition of Protect the Adirondacks, an environmental advocacy group based in Lake George, supposedly on the grounds that the group wants to drive true Adirondackers from their homes.  “Fewer jobs means fewer people, thus more command by their like-minded. Shuttered schools simply mean less taxes on fancy lakeside second homes and vanishing downtowns means less blight enroute to the water’s edge,” the editorial stated.

How a group can be abolished by those who disagree with its mission was never made clear, but well-reasoned logic was not among the piece’s strong suits. The papers’ publisher, Dan Alexander, disavowed the tone if not the meaning of the editorial, but not before the Essex County Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed it.

It was also supported in Letters to the Editor columns by, among others, veterans of the 1980s Property Rights Movement. In January, we received emails from  Lake George residents who accused the Town’s Comprehensive Plan Committee and its consultants of surreptitiously placing within a draft of the plan new zoning regulations that would constitute “takings by regulation of our private property rights,” ignoring the fact that environmental protection had been identified as a priority and that the proposed regulations were merely suggestions as to how the town might achieve those goals. More disturbing than the authors’ arguments was the mistrust of the motives of anyone who disagreed with them, the conspiracy theories attached to the drafting of the document and the hostility expressed toward the committee.

The most recent example of this return to the era of ill-feelings was the response we received when we posted to the web an article about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s support for an Adirondack-wide strategy to combat invasive species. The unthinking, visceral dislike of Cuomo expressed in comments was so vicious that we deleted most of them.

Whatever the source of this renewal of animosity, it’s important to recognize it and realize how dangerous it is. No one who lived through the fierce debates in the Adirondacks in the 70s and 80s wants to see that animosity revived, and those of us who did should caution newcomers about demonizing and dehumanizing those with whom they disagree. We’ve seen the consequences of that, and frankly, they were horrifying.

Photo: Anti APA activist Anthony D’Elia, State Senator Ron Stafford and Governor Mario Cuomo in Essex County in the 1980s (Lake George Mirror file photo).

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.

6 Responses

  1. Hawthorn says:

    It is important to note that the press always wants to be balanced and fair, but in this case the violent rhetoric and actions were on one side of the debate and not the other. It isn’t “newcomers” to the debate that are the source of the rancor, but the old guard that is inevitably on a steep demographic decline.

  2. Joe Steiniger says:


  3. Dave says:

    Important not to dehumanize and demonize those you disagree with. Absolutely.

    However, equally important, I think, is to avoid appeasing or bargaining with those who do. Using hostility and viciousness as a means – a tactic – to get what you want is not acceptable. Yielding to people who do this, because you are looking to avoid a conflict or are afraid of setting them off, is just as unacceptable.

  4. Matt says:

    The Essex County resolution of support was a new low. Its a failure of leadership, and a petty response from a governing body that we expect much more from. Denton publications is bad enough all on its own. Denton’s offerings are little more than a way to keep up with high school athletics and a guaranteed source of fire starter for North country wood stoves. Even if I happened to agree with Protect!’s claims in the litigation, I couldn’t be more disgusted with the whole situation. I’d like to believe we are better than this.

  5. Curt Austin says:

    This phenomenon of extremism is an awkward problem – it is so asymmetrical, one side reasonable, thoughtful, open-minded, while the other indulges in emotion and irrational beliefs. It’s like trying to talk a raging fire into extinguishing itself.

    So, what does one do? I suggest becoming a radical moderate on issues. Get emotional about the wisdom of compromise, the art of making a deal. Do it openly, with enthusiasm. After all, the point of democracy is to achieve moderate results, for better or worse. If we love democracy and the freedom it allows, we must love the result: moderation.

    • Hawthorn says:

      Curt, the problem is that one side is so extremist compared to the other that “moderation” doesn’t work–they want it all or nothing. No compromise is good enough to gain any support from the extremists. While the opposite side is very moderate to begin with, with a large group of people from both sides of the political and social aisle as it used to exist.

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