Almanack Contributor Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson's editorial cartoons - under the pen name MARQUIL - appear in newspapers and online across New York State. He also provides editorial illustrations and occasional commentary pieces for The Sunday Gazette of Schenectady and regularly chimes in here at the Almanack, particularly at election time and during the annual Adirondack Bracket. Mark lives in Saranac Lake.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Analysis: October Surprise in the 23rd Congressional District Race

On Saturday, when Dede Scozzafava’s campaign bus turned into a pumpkin, it came as a shock but not a surprise to North Country political observers. The unpredictable five-month, three-party campaign to fill the vacated House seat of Army Secretary John McHugh was elevated in its early stages to a war of surrogates for political forces both at the state and national levels, according to a close observer of New York GOP politics.

The source—speaking on background—said Scozzafava’s attempts to court organized labor (specifically her support for the Employees’ Free Choice Act) was responsible more than any other issue for attracting the political action committee Club for Growth to the campaign of Conservative Party candidate Douglas Hoffman. The money and advertisements that followed “put Dede in a position where she never had a chance to define herself.”

Former Democratic Rural Conference Chairman Stuart Brody, who lost a bid to become his party’s nominee in this election, agrees that outside attention and campaign contributions had a distorting effect on the race: “Money often obscures the message.”

While the National Republican Congressional Committee (which took charge of the Scozzafava campaign in September) was framing the contest as a referendum on Democratic policies and leadership in Washington, and the conservative media were building the Hoffman campaign into a referendum on both Democrats and centrist Republicans, New York State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long was using the insurgent Hoffman campaign to bend the State GOP ideologically to the right. “Mike Long feels he has something to prove,” according to the Republican Party observer.

And if Thursday’s defection to Hoffman’s camp of former Governor George Pataki notched a victory for the Conservative Party leader, Stuart Brody believes that “what Mike Long thinks means nothing. . . . Ultimately, the North Country is moderate. Folks think for themselves.”

Asked how he sees Scozzafava’s withdrawal effecting Tuesday’s result, Brody departs from the conventional wisdom that Hoffman will benefit. In step with his faith in the independent mindset of the North Country electorate, he feels that a portion of Scozzafava supporters, particularly those driven by organized labor interests, will find their way to Democrat Bill Owens.

Our Republican Party observer points out that it may be too late for the move to produce a large-scale change, citing the layout of the ballots on which Bill Owens holds line A, followed by Scozzafava on lines B and C, followed by Doug Hoffman on line D.

As for Wednesday, the lack of a Republican candidate does not guarantee any less intense an effort to impound and count and recount the ballots. With so much at stake from every angle, a close outcome at the polls will assuredly give way to a recount phase as long as (and exceeding the cost of) the campaign itself. Ask any of your next door neighbors of NY-20.

And the day after a victor finally emerges? The seat will be up for grabs again in less than a year; a mid-term election is already well under way in most districts. Former candidate Stuart Brody anticipates that a Democratic winner will be immediately challenged by Republicans. In the event of a Hoffman victory, Brody expects that a number of Democrats will step forward to challenge the Conservative—a number which may include himself.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Analysis: The Inevitable Halloween/Election Day Cartoon

Say you’re a cartoonist, and you own a bar at the intersection of October and November. And once a year at this season two patrons—Halloween and Election Day—walk in and sit down just a couple barstools apart. They never really talk. They just show up, year in and year out. Despite their vast differences in age, temperament, cultural tradition, and costume, you will inevitably come to the conclusion that these misfits were destined to be together. And for the rest of your career you will devote one day a year to drawing a cartoon that somehow marries the two. Some of these cartoons work out better than others.

This may be a promising year if your bar is located in New York’s 23rd congressional district. Few house races in memory can match this year’s special election for Halloween parallels. Consider the following features:

• A Democratic candidate who looked a lot more like a Republican before he put on the traditional donkey costume;
• A Republican candidate who looks like a liberal to moderates, and looks like an Elvis impersonator to conservatives;
• A Conservative candidate with a devilish grin;

Throw in a candidate endorsement from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey in a cowboy hat and candidate bodies which mysteriously disappear the day of scheduled debates, and you have good raw material for a frightful cartoon.

Of course, if it doesn’t work out, there’s always next year.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Existentialism in the 23rd Congressional District

Consider the Existentialist dilemma of the candidates seeking New York’s 23rd Congressional District seat. You may recall Existentialism from high school French class or a movie date in college: the hard-to-pin-down philosophy supported largely on the precepts that 1) Orthodoxies and doctrines are meaningless 2) We all live for the moment and determine our fate by our choices, and 3) We’re all doomed anyway, so what the heck. Toss in words like “ennui” and “angst” and you’ve pretty much covered it.

Anyway, on June 2nd, when John McHugh accepted President Obama’s nomination to become Secretary of the Army, he triggered a five-month-long campaign to fill his House seat, a campaign which will end at the polls on November 3rd.

The abbreviated schedule means that the traditional binary and sequential format of American campaigns—an ideological race (left v. right) in the primaries followed by a partisan race (R v. D) in the general election—must be fought concurrently. As a consequence, the race for the 23rd features a pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage Republican who falls somewhere to the left of the opposing “centrist” Democrat, who was never really a Democrat before and doesn’t even mention the word all that often, and a Conservative who falls just to the left of a Viking on social issues. Contemporary political dogma will not help the disoriented voter in this election.

The foreshortened calendar has also served to concentrate the negative advertising in the race. While the regionally-recognized candidates need to define themselves (more by their actions than their party affiliations) across the sprawling district, they (and their surrogates) are already spending more time and money undefining each other—complete with ominous tones, distorted voting records and unflattering likenesses.

Perhaps the most resonant existential element of the 23rd CD race is the utter futility of the goal itself. Whoever wins the right to represent New York’s northernmost citizens will immediately have to gear up a defense of the seat in 2010, a tough job, with or without an extended recount. The 2010 election coincides with the decennial census, and the expected loss of two New York congressional seats in the ensuing redistribution. The choice of which districts to eliminate during reapportionment will fall to a state legislature that owes nothing to whichever rookie legislator occupies the seat.

In short, the best scenario that the victor of the November 3rd special election can hope for goes something like this: Beneath heavy Washington skies, following swearing in to the remainder of the 111th Congress, the Distinguished Representative, along with a few other members from terminal districts in Ohio and Pennsylvania will convoke the Jean-Paul Sartre Caucus at a cafe somewhere off DuPont Circle. Over espressos and Gauloises they will grimly deconstruct the lyrics of “Born to Run,” shrug twice, then disappear forever. C’est la vie.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Asgaard Dairy Takes National and State Honors

Goat’s milk cheeses from Asgaard Dairy of Au Sable Forks collected second place awards in National and New York State competitions earlier this month. Such achievements in the first full year of production took owners Rhonda Butler and David Brunner and cheesemaker Kirsten Sandler by surprise.

At the National Cheese Society annual meeting in Austin, Texas, August 7, the dairy took silver for its goat’s milk feta. “It’s kind of like the Academy Awards of cheese,” said Butler. Last week at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, the placing entry was a fresh chevre with cilantro, hot pepper and garlic—all from the Asgaard garden.

Butler and Brunner, with help from daughter Johanna operate the dairy from the iconic Adirondack farm once owned by artist and political activist Rockwell Kent. They retail their cheeses and a new line of goat’s milk soap direct from the farm, at farm markets in Elizabethtown, Keene and Lake Placid, and at natural food markets in Keene, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. Lake Placid Lodge also features Asgaard’s “Whiteface” chevre on its menu.

Looking forward, this year the family plans to add ten more milking goats to their herd of twenty. The sudden success arrives at a bittersweet moment: the family lost one of their original two goats—Kelly (pictured above with Johanna)—this spring.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Best Summer Job Everrrrr!

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined the rooftop highway road crew this summer, requesting $150 million for the proposed four-lane divided highway north of the Adirondack Park — newly renamed I-98 by supporters who argue that it will prevent the mass migration of jobs and humans away from the region. Environmentalists counter that it will cut off north-south migration routes in and out of the Adirondacks for many other species.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ice Cream Review: Who Reads Adirondack Almanack?

In a post last March, we made a passing reference to Stewart’s Shops’ ill-advised decision in 2002 to discontinue it’s lemon chiffon (incorrectly referred to as “meringue”) ice cream flavor. Evidently, the post made its way to the marketing department. The ubiquitous eastern New York State dairy/gas/convenience chain—a mainstay of many Adirondack communities—has reinstated the flavor this summer. What’s more, they seem to have taken into consideration the passage of time and our decreased metabolism. Their lemon chiffon is now a “light” flavor.

While you may not be inclined to consider this flavor a summer music festival in your mouth, it will convince you, for the ten or so minutes it takes to eat a single scoop cone, that this is the sunniest Adirondack summer on record.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sketchpad: Ironman 2009, Hold the Mustard


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lake Placid Closes One Boat Launch, Surveys Milfoil

On Lake Placid yesterday, efforts to contain recently discovered variable leaf milfoil moved forward on two fronts. As village officials prepared to close the village-owned launch on Victor Herbert Road—redirecting boat traffic to the NYSDEC launch next to the Lake Placid Marina—the Lake Placid Shore Owner’s Association released the first aerial photograph of the milfoil bed on Paradox Bay.


The photo, taken by the volunteer team of Lake Placid-based environmentalist and aviator Ed McNeil and Dr. Charles D. Canham, a forest ecologist with the Cary Institue of Ecosystem Studies, in Millbrook, was from a survey of the lake’s littoral regions in search of secondary establishments of the invasive weed. None were discovered. According to McNeil, the the favorable angle of the sun and the transparency of the lake water allowed them to survey to depths of about 12 feet. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Opinion: DEC’s Low-keyed Response to Aquatic Invasives

First appeared in the June 28, 2009 Sunday Gazette

Summer has come to the Adirondacks, and with it the anticipated flotilla of recreational boaters and fishing fleet, accessing our waterways through a dense network of public and private boat launches.

Joining this annual cavalcade, a horde of invading plants and marine animals: organisms with a proven record of destroying the lakes, ponds and streams they infest. Lake associations and other private organizations across the park are once again gearing up for another season of defense against the introduction of these dangerous pests. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Milfoil Discovered in Lake Placid

The Board of Trustees of the Lake Placid Shore Owners’ Association (LPSOA) today reported that a strain or strains of milfoil have been discovered at three sites on Lake Placid. Over the past week, two separate samples were removed from Paradox Bay and one from East Lake. Biologists working with the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP) have tentatively identified two of the samples as Variable Leaf Milfoil (VLM).

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension describes Variable Leaf Milfoil as “an aggressive aquatic plant that can form dense mats that congest waterways and crowd out native aquatic plants. Thick growth of this plant can impair recreational uses of waterways including boating, swimming and fishing. Dense growth of variable-leaf milfoil degrades the native habitat of fish and other wildlife, and may also provide breeding areas for mosquitoes. The main method of dispersal of this plant appears to be fragmentation. Plant fragments are moved around by people, animals and water currents.” » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Moose ‘n’ Bear Discuss a Recent Sighting in Saratoga

Where moose returns from the track to a wise admonishment from bear. (click for larger image)


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Analysis: Lake Colby Association and Adirondack Council


View Lake Colby in a larger map

News last week that the Adirondack Council plans to sue the Village of Saranac Lake marked an escalation in a long-simmering war of surrogates among numerous interests driven by local and regional motives. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

New York Senate: Day 4

An update on the standoff in the New York State Senate, where Democrats moved the issue into the court system. Lawyers for Malcolm Smith appealed to Supreme Court Justice George Ceresia to have Monday’s Republican vote on leadership change deemed illegitimate. The Republicans are still planning to meet today, depending on the current mood of Senator Hiram Monserrate.

Update update: Republicans entered the Senate Chambers today for the first time since Monday late afternoon. They were unable to conduct official business after Senator Monserrate left the floor, denying the hair’s-breadth majority a quorum.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

32-30: A NYS Senate Counting Coup

A few short weeks ago it was widely reported that upstate billionaire, Buffalo Sabres owner, and former NY gubernatorial hopeful, B. Thomas Golisano, retired to Florida to spend his retirement pursuing a favorite hobby: toppling the New York State Legislature. Yesterday he returned for a visit.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Canadian Guns on Mohawk Land, 400 Years Later

The border closing this week at the Cornwall bridge, prompted by Akwesasne Mohawks protesting the Canadian government’s new policy to arm border agents, offers a distant echo of the unwelcome introduction of firearms to Mohawk lands in northern New York from north of the border 400 years ago.

According to David Hackett Fischer’s book Champlain’s Dream, Samuel de Champlain’s incursion into the valley that now bears his name was in fact a military campaign to confront Mohawks, who had been disrupting trade routes along the St. Lawrence river. At the end of July 1609, Champlain and two French soldiers allied with a coalition of northern Indians — Montagnais, Algonquin and Huron — ventured deep into Mohawk territory, engaging a superior force of the legendary warriors at the southern end of the lake.

Champlain and his French soldiers brought to the seemingly lopsided battlefield the latest advances of European ammunition: the arquebus, a short shoulder-fired gun. Champlain packed his firearm with multiple balls. By Fischer’s account, Champlain’s first shot brought down two Mohawk chiefs and a third warrior. The two flanking soldiers fired into the Mohawk ranks, felling a third chief. The warriors left the field, pursued by the gun.