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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When the first bucketload of oily Hudson River muck rises today, ten miles south of the Adirondack Park Blue Line in Fort Edward, it will mark the end of a quarter century of preparation, study, legal skirmishing and no small amount of foot-dragging. Throughout, the goal has remained consistent: the removal of approximately 2,650,000 cubic yards of Hudson Riverbed sediment laced with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Here is a timeline of the delays:
September 1984 EPA formally places the Hudson River PCBs Superfund site on the National Priorities List. EPA chooses to take no remedial action, citing possible environmental risks posed by stirring up the PCB deposits. Babies born around this date will have graduated with advanced degrees in environmental sciences by the week clean-up actually begins. Unfortunately, considerably more babies will have graduated with degrees in law and public relations.
December 2000 After more than a decade of study and advances in remediation technology, EPA proposes a dredging plan to remove PCB pollution from a 40-mile long stretch of Hudson River between Hudson Falls and Troy NY. A final act of the Clinton Administration’s EPA.
(image right: In a last-ditch effort to derail the inevitable multi-million dollar expense of dredging, GE launches a PR campaign to convince the public and lawmakers to just let the PCBs be.)
August 2001 Following an extended public comment period EPA administrator Christine Whitman agrees to go ahead with the plan.
(image right: The decision by Whitman to back the dredging plan exposed a rift in the traditionally pro-industrial GOP. On the Hudson, the future of the river ran between Governor Pataki and his one-time protege Congressman John Sweeney.)
February 2002 EPA issues its official Record of Decision for a phased dredging project. Dredging scheduled to begin Spring 2005.
(image right: In March 2002 the EPA gets off to an impolitic start, siting the project field office in Saratoga Springs, 21 miles from the dredging site in Fort Edward. The decision is hastily reversed, prompting delays.)
October 2002 The war over cleaning up the Hudson River is eighteen years old, over twice the length of The War for American Independence.
(image right: Reenactors celebrated the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Saratoga at a Fort Edward farm belonging to a cousin of Fort Edward Supervisor Merrilyn Pulver, a dredging opponent.)
March 2003 EPA issues an adjustment to the dredging schedule to accommodate negotiations with GE on payment for and conduct of the dredging operations. Dredging scheduled to begin Spring 2006.
October 2005 EPA and GE reach an agreement on payment for and conduct of the dredging operations. Dredging scheduled to begin Spring 2007.
July 2006 EPA Region 2 Administrator Alan Steinberg cites delays in the delivery of specialized dredging equipment. Dredging scheduled to begin Spring 2008.
November 2006 EPA and GE agree to a Consent Decree that will begin dredging.
2008 EPA approves design of Phase I implementation plan.
Jan 2009 Modification to 2006 Consent Decree stipulating payment for clean water supplies for affected communities during the dredging operations. Dredging scheduled to begin May 2009.
May 15, 2009 In time for the 400th anniversary of the first chronicled exploration of the Hudson by Europeans, the innovative minds that helped build General Electric into one of the mightiest industrial empires in human history have finally run out of excuses to not clean up the river. Or so we believe. . . (Cartoons originally appeared in the Glens Falls Post-Star, and Hill Country Observer)
At milepost 105 north of exit fourteen on the New Jersey Turnpike there is a word on a billboard that caught our attention last week. Actually it isn’t even a word—more like a head-on collision of syllables—set in a familiar blue font, against a milk chocolate background. The billboard itself was practically buried in the visual chaos of overpasses, smokestacks, tank farms, power lines, and inbound commercial jets that identifies that region of the Garden State, but just conspicuous enough for a carload of homing Adirondackers.
The word on the billboard, “SNACKORONDACKS” (full context “Go Camping in the SNACKORONDACKS”) is a recent installment of an advertising campaign for Snickers candy bars. The gist of the campaign is to fuse/graft/smash together unrelated words or phrases into something suitable for a linguistic freak show. The result: grotesque, fascinating, and as thoroughly targeted as musk bait in a wire snare. Use of the name Adirondack for a national advertising campaign (a blog comment from someone in the Pacific Northwest suggested it would be easier for her to go camping in the “SNACKCADES”) seems somewhat haphazard until you consider that Candy Baron Forrest Mars, Jr., son of the man credited with introducing malt nougat to the candy bar, keeps a family place near Ticonderoga. » Continue Reading.
On the eve of tomorrow’s special election to represent New York’s 20th congressional district, there seems no better metaphor for much of what is wrong with our dysfunctional political system than the sort of hysterical ambivalence embodied by our culture’s obsession with team sports, on full display this week in the beer-belching economic machine that is March Madness. Whether it is the NCAA tournament, the Stanley Cup, World Series, or the Tyrannosaurus Rex of all contests, the Super Bowl, Americans seem pre-disposed toward 2-sided SmackDowns. Put any of these spectacles up against, say, Track and Field’s 4X400 meter relay, or the Iditarod for market share and you have, well, no contest. Judging from the cable listings alone, one could easily conclude that the American mind cannot readily grasp concepts which stray too far from the basic formula of one protagonist versus one antagonist.
In a similar vein, our political culture, as determined by the two dominant parties (with the solid backing of the same media that profits from sports spectacles) has decided it is not in the best interest of the American body politic to stray too far from one donkey mascot versus one elephant mascot. Nowhere in recent memory has this proscription against political outsiders been more crassly played out than in the special election for New York’s 20th congressional district seat. Given its 30-day duration—a calendar that reduced the importance and influence of big money donations—this race should have been wide open to any registered party that could field a qualified candidate. Instead, in a race where the major party candidates were picked by handfuls of party operatives behind closed doors, the only registered third party candidate in the race was held to the standard used for a regular cycle election, the collection of 3,500 meticulously recorded signatures of registered voters from within the district.
This sort of princess-and-the-pea standard invariably leads to the predictable farce of a political sideshow where the handmaids of one of the two major parties launch salvos of legal challenges to the third party petitions and the Board of Elections (comprising—you guessed it—Republicans and Democrats) eliminate enough signatures to disqualify the candidate. Genuine Banana Republic electioneering.
Perhaps it is time for our elected representatives, who claim to represent a constituency of which a full third identifies with neither major party, to remove their heads from their respective caucuses and vote for substantive electoral reform, and restore the free market of political ideas and speech that should be the aspiration of any true democracy.
In the meantime, the best any of us can do as citizens is take time to inform ourselves of the issues and the candidates positions, and take the time to hold up our end of the democracy contract. Cast your ballot.
National media have framed the race for New York’s 20th congressional district seat as the pivot point on the National Republican Party’s path to resurgence. However, recent opinion polls of likely voters show that this might not be the slam dunk the party wants or expects. In fact the numbers continue a trend which has already become well-established over the course of this decade. If the trend continues, the GOP — fresh off a well financed loss in the same district — may be fulfilling Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. And while New York Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco’s hijacking of the Republican nomination may have been more a reflection of personal ambition than of party strategy, The RNC has bought into his dream quite conspicuously. If Tedisco and state and national party leaders are unable to stem the momentum of the rising Murphy campaign, this race may well become a showcase not of a political movement making a comeback, but of one coming undone altogether.
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