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, March 8, 2009

Spring Forward


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From Our Archive


Monday, March 2, 2009

A Possible Adirondack Congressional District


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With the approach of the 2010 federal census and the ensuing remapping of representative districts for the state legislature and US Congress, New York’s legislative and executive leaders have a rare opportunity to repair the fractured battlefields of our district maps: the result of decades of partisan turf wars.

If lawmakers are looking for a place to start this process, they might consider the case of the Adirondack Park and the north country.

At present the Adirondack Park’s Blue Line passes through four congressional districts:
The 23rd represented by Republican John McHugh; the open-seated 20th; The 24th represented by Democrat Michael Arcuri; and the 21st (holding just a sliver of parkland in northern Fulton County) represented by Democrat Paul Tonko. Combined, these districts stretch over half the state and contain more than two-and-a-half million residents. Easy enough to see how the interests of the park might become diluted.

The map above advances an alternative: a single congressional district encompassing the entire Adirondack Park plus the balance of St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton and Warren Counties, and some parts of Saratoga and Washington Counties beyond the Blue Line. Using numbers from the 2000 census this boundary contains close to the 654,361 New York residents that were required to constitute a district nine years ago. With New York slated to lose one representative in the upcoming reapportionment, and with expected population increases, that 654,361 average will undoubtedly increase for the 2010 redistricting process. As it does, the district can absorb more constituents in Saratoga and Washington Counties (making all efforts to avoid Saratoga Springs, as it would be a pity to deprive Albany’s congressional district of the race track).

There are numerous arguments in favor of a congressional district with the unified park at it’s core. Perhaps the strongest is the intent of federal lawmakers as expressed in the 1965 Federal Voting Rights Act. The law sets out explicit directives that state legislatures create compact and contiguous congressional districts and that they respect natural and artificial boundaries.

This map is merely a starting point. We welcome your comments and any alternative congressional district map you may wish to submit.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Most Expensive Seat in the Park: NY’s 20th CD

The first debate for New York’s 20th Congressional District will take place in Saratoga Springs this Tuesday, four weeks before the March 31st vote. Before the media turn their focus exclusively upon the candidates, their war chests and attack ads, let’s take a moment to contemplate the peculiar 10-county district itself. And — more broadly — the process by which such a tortured political boundary is created.

With $12.5 million in campaign disbursements, the 20th CD became notorious last year as one of the country’s most expensive house races. While it held the number one position in November, by the time the last campaign finance reports were in, it had slipped to second place behind California’s 4th CD, which lumbered in at $16 million plus.

The high cost of the once stable Republican district owes to the perception among state and national GOP leaders that the defeat two years earlier of John Sweeney by Kirsten Gillibrand was an aberration. Grim prospects for Republican victories elsewhere made the 20th — with a 67,456 active voter advantage in party registration — appear to be as good a GOP redoubt as any. Throw in a wealthy, self-financing Republican candidate and a district that encompasses at least four media markets and you practically guarantee a broken spending record.

In a state that has become infamous for gerrymandered congressional districts, the 20th — stretching from Saranac Lake in the north to Millbrook and Hyde Park in the south, to the Southern Tier town of Sidney in the west — might best be viewed as three panhandles in search of a pan.

A slight detour here for those who have forgotten high school civics class: congressional district boundaries shift every decade following the decennial census and reapportionment by congress of the 435 house seats among the 50 states. The process of drawing boundaries to encompass equal numbers of constituents is left to the legislatures of individual states, a smooth enough drill if your legislature is, well, functional.

In Albany, however, the last three redistricting cycles have coincided with legislatures divided by party and geography. In the case of the last redistricting in 2000-2002, deeply divided. Consequently, a map of New York which naturally breaks down into neat, logical regions has been jig-sawed into a puzzle of pseudo-fractals and jagged rorschach blots.

All of this is about to change. With both houses of New York’s legislature and the executive branch held by the same political party for the first time since the 1970s, the redistricting machinery is about to run a lot faster, and might just result in a long-overdue return to cohesive districts in the wake of next year’s census.

Redistricting is a quintessentially political process and there are basically three rules for a single political party remapping congressional districts:

Rule #1: Keep your party’s incumbents safe. If reapportionment robs your state of one member of its delegation (as will happen to New York in 2010), make sure the seat is pulled out from under someone from the other side of the aisle.

Rule #2: Divide and conquer. If a geographically unified base of support for the opposing political party can be distributed among separate districts with larger safe populations of your own party, get out your meat cleavers.

Rule #3: If that hostile voting block is too large to be safely subsumed by friendly districts, then isolate and ignore it.

How these rules will affect the future of New York’s 20th Congressional District will largely depend on the outcome of the balloting on March 31st. One thing is certain in any case. With the special election this year, and an immediate reelection campaign in 2010 followed by a brand new race for a potentially radically redrawn district in 2012, this contested terrain will continue to be very expensive property for the incumbent.

Come back tomorrow for the Almanack’s modest proposal for a redrawn congressional district that neatly encompasses the entire Adirondack Park.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

An Ill Wind

It seems every morning nowadays newspapers bring another ominous story on the poor health of, well, newspapers. Last week the publisher of the Post-Star in Glens Falls wrote to assure nervous readers and advertisers that the demise of the paper’s corporate owner, Lee Enterprises of Davenport, IA had been exaggerated. Good to know, but doesn’t it make you nervous just to have to be reassured? Last weekend the Journal Register Company of Yardley, PA–owner of The Saratogian and Troy Record–filed for bankruptcy. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, privately owned by Ogden Newspapers, Inc. of Wheeling, WV, has recently jettisoned a locally syndicated column, instituted a hiring freeze and eliminated their freelance budget. Even the parent company of the Albany Times-Union, Hearst Corp. has announced intentions to sell or fold newspapers out west.

This constant drumbeat is not good news for anyone who loves newspapers. More importantly, and to paraphrase a 56 year-old misquote, what’s bad for newspapers is bad for democracy.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

DEC Closes Four Adirondack Campgrounds


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According to a Times-Union story, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will close four campgrounds within the Blue Line. The four campgrounds are:

•Sharp Bridge in North Hudson on the Schroon River;
•Poke-O-Moonshine in Chesterfield;
•Tioga Point on Raquette Lake;
•Point Comfort on Piseco Lake.

The move is a cost-saving measure, targeting low-traffic campgrounds. None of the 38 remaining DEC Adirondack campgrounds will be affected.

ReserveAmerica, the company handling DEC campground reservations, will contact anyone holding reservations at the four campgrounds to offer alternatives.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Ebenezer Emmons


1799-1863. As Chief Geologist for the northern New York State Geological District, Emmons is credited with leading the first recorded ascent up Mount Marcy in 1837. In a paper submitted to the New York State Assembly on this date in 1838, he gave the Adirondacks its name.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Canadians Prepare for President Obama’s Visit


Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Federal Stimulus and The Rooftop Highway

The signing this week of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act–the federal economic stimulus package–has spurred a stampede of applicants for financial assistance from every state and every sector of the economy. The State of New York has posted a website spelling out how much of the overall $789 billion will come our way and roughly what types of projects will receive what share over the next two years. To wit: the $789 billion total is divided into $326 billion worth of tax cuts and $463 billion in direct spending. Of that $463 billion, $24.6 billion will come to New York State, and (for example) $1.1 billion of that will be distributed across the state for highway and bridge projects.

This cannot be good news for supporters of the Northern Tier Expressway (aka the Rooftop Highway), the proposed 175-mile four lane divided highway that would link I-81 in Watertown and I-87 in Champlain.

Endorsements from a diverse spectrum of politicians ranging from Richard Nixon to Hillary Clinton have kept this project limping along for nearly fifty years, an eternity for most public works concepts. Persisting doubts about the potential return on the estimated one billion dollar cost of the road have kept the roadway on the drawing board. Any hopes that the federal stimulus might rescue it from its bureaucratic limbo are now pretty well dashed.

While the final draft shows the roadway approaching the Adirondack Park no closer than two miles at its nearest point (near Ellenburg), the potential economic and environmental impacts would spread far inside the Blue Line. In 1999, The New York Times reported Neil Woodworth of the Adirondack Mountain Club supporting the road as a way to open up the western regions of the park to hikers, relieving the congestion in the high peaks. More recently, concerns raised over the impact of highways on wildlife migration patterns have conditioned the enthusiasm. In its conservation report issued last month, the Laurentian Chapter’s incoming vice-chair Peter O’Shea suggests it might be time to take the project off life-support before any federal stimulus money attaches to it.

One final, picky thought on the matter: Anyone who understands metaphor and knows the first thing about house construction can tell you that the nickname, Rooftop Highway is all wrong. Rooftops are exterior surfaces, existing above the space in question. Seen in this light, a Rooftop Highway already exists: Highway 401 just across our rigorously-guarded frontier in Canada. As for the proposed road above the Blue Line and below the border, perhaps renaming it the “Attic Crawl Space Highway” might help lower our expectations.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Research Grants Announced at Trudeau Institute


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Vermont Reports Maple Syrup Price Increase

According to a story in yesterday’s Burlington Free Press, Vermont maple producers are seeing a 16% increase in the price of syrup since last year. A poor sugaring season in Quebec, increased fuel, shipping and container costs and increased demand are cited as reasons for the increase.

In 2008, New York State surpassed Maine as the second largest maple syrup producer in the United States with 322,000 gallons. Vermont remained on top, yielding 500,000 gallons. By comparison, the province of Quebec produces over six million gallons per year.

The twelve counties which constitute the Adirondack Park account for nearly one third of New York’s maple syrup production, though most of the sugar bush lies outside the Blue Line.