Rep. Chris Gibson, who recently thumped Democratic challenger Julian Schreibman to retain the Congressional seat in a redrawn district, just edged somewhat to the center. He’s the latest GOP congressman to disavow fallen right-wing svengali Grover Norquist’s once-popular anti-tax pledge. The Oneonta Daily Star has the story at the link below.
In response to this site’s query about why multiple sources have predicted that he may be on the way out as Columbia County Republican Committee chair, as well as for general comment about the current state of the County GOP, Greg Fingar provided the following statement this evening. It is reproduced in full below:
Well I guess in some sense we're all “on the way out.” Aren’t we? I don't expect, nor desire to be the head of the ccgop forever.
The Roy v Kathy primary was inevitable. Both candidates confirmed that with me. My strategy was to let the republican voters decide who they wanted to defeat the democratic challenger in the NYS senate race while maintaining our focus on the races where we had unanimous committee support. I was concerned that a divided committee, may cause us to take our eye off the ball.
For the most part the strategy worked. We successfully elected, Chris Gibson, Pete Lopez, Steve McLaughlin and Kathy Marchione. We were not successful in the assembly race Byrne v Barrett, however Byrne did prevail in my home town of CLERMONT.
Now while your sources may tell a completely different story, I have received nothing but praise for the handling of the McDonald v Marchione situation, and lets not forget, we ultimately did win that race. And I have to say, praise came from the most extreme tea-party members to moderate republicans.
As respects the GOP chairmanship, the committee reorganizes in Sept or Oct of ODD years. I will be up for re-election next year. My focus, at the moment is; 18 supervisor races, a County Judge, Sheriff and Coroner as well as countless town wide races.
I am anticipating an extremely active political season in 2013. In addition to the 4 regularly scheduled GOP events we are discussing many town wide opportunities for our candidates to meet residents and voters.
GREGORY C. FINGAR
NOTE: An open-ended suggestion to sit down for a more in-depth interview to discuss these and other matters has been made to Fingar.
Six days after publication here of a story about a widely-rumored shake-up in the County Republican Committee, GOP chair Greg Fingar has issued an irate denial.
In a Monday morning email, Fingar chastised Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin (and by extension this site) for “circulating absolute BS,” claiming that “it certainly isn’t productive or true for that matter.”
Fingar further characterizes the multiply-sourced reports as “an outright lie” and an attempt to “stir controversy within the community.” As noted in very the first paragraph of the original story, this site’s sources were “three separate (and ideologically-distinct) sources.”
Journalists protect such sources. But without furthering a Republican witch hunt, it can be also disclosed that these three sources are themselves credible political figures, not closely allied with each other, and had no obvious motivation to either support or oppose an insurrection against Fingar. The piece moreover was reported as a possibility not a certainty, noting that Fingar remains in the position and his tenure is not necessarily at an end yet.
Meanwhile, recent election cycles have borne witness to obvious fissures and infighting among the County GOP.
For example in 2011, a barely-concealed struggle resulted in then-judge Paul Czajka seeking the District Attorney’s seat held at the time by Beth Cozzolino. Cozzolino then sought the judicial position held by Czajka, facing down a September primary for the Republican line from Mark Portin before ultimately losing in November to Democrat Richard Koweek.
Similarly, 2012 saw a slew of tightly-contested GOP primaries for key State-level positions, for example from insurgent candidates Neil DiCarlo and Kathy Marchione against Steve Saland and Roy McDonald, respectively, after the latter two supported gay marriage.
This site is more than willing to report Fingar’s denial, while continuing to have no reason believe that any of its sources were deliberately “lying.” It’s possible that each was independently mistaken. Other scenarios are that a change in favor of Benson was sent up as a political trial balloon and reached disparate parties—or just that it took six days for an incipient insurrection to be squelched.
Greg Fingar may vacate the Columbia County Republican chairman’s seat, and New Lebanon Supervisor Michael Benson may covet his seat cushion, according to three separate (and ideologically-distinct) sources.
GOP chair Greg Fingar with election law attorney James Walsh (Source: CC Scoop)
Fingar remains in the position for the moment, according to a fourth source familiar with the situation. It is not clear whether Fingar would step down voluntarily, or is coming under pressure to do so.
In addition to serving as the New Leb Supervisor, Benson is president of BCI, one of the Capital Region’s largest and most influential construction firms. The company is known for its uncanny knack for winning bidding wars on public projects, and has done extensive work for government within the County. For example, BCI completed renovations for the Chatham Central School District, and also construction on the City of Hudson’s new wastewater treatment plant.
In addition, BCI built A. Colarusso & Sons’ corporate offices, suggesting that if elevated to Republican chair, Benson perhaps would be sympathetic to mining interests which have been the source of some local controversy in the past.
Benson’s profile picture at BCI’s website
Earlier this year, a small controversy erupted after nearly 30 underage students were arrested in relation to a drinking party at a New Lebanon home while the parents were traveling. Initial State Police reports didn’t disclose the party details. But it eventually leaked out that it took place at the Bensons’ home—becoming the subject of reports in the Times-Unionand elsewhere—after the Town Justice had to recuse herself.
Benson contributed $250 to lobbyist, County powerbroker and former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso’s political action committee in 2001, and has donated similar amounts in the past two years to the Columbia County Republican Committee and Conservative Party. In November 2011, he donated $5,000 the State Republican Committee. All of these donations were made via BCI’s Loudonville Road address in Albany.
BCI Construction itself has donated a total of $17,890 to various political candidates over the past decade, according to New York State campaign finance records. Most of these donations were to Republicans, but a few were to Democrats in places such as Albany and New York City where the politics are heavily Democratic.
Though not necessarily over yet, Fingar’s tenure was colored early on by the intense controversy surrounding his party’s heavyhanded 2009 attempt to disenfrancise absentee voters in the hotly-contested Congressional race between Scott Murphy and Jim Tedisco. At the time, Fingar and Faso joined forces to sic lawyers John Ciampoli Jim Walsh (plus a gumshoe private detective) on second home owners who had legally cast absentee ballots. More recent primaries have brought to light various fissures among factions of the County GOP, which usually presents a monolithic front.
The ballot fracas, which was decided strongly in favor of the voters by fellow Republican judge John Nichols, focused heavily on the small Town of Taghkanic. Their challenges appeared to be backed in part by donations from racetrack developer Alan Wilzig—whose chef and manager Eric Tyree was on the ballot. Funds for the disenfranchisement effort came in part from the County Republican Housekeeping fund (to which Wilzig and a corporation he controlled had donated), a type of political action committee which is not supposed to be used for such purposes according to New York State election law.
At the time, numerous residents who were longtime customers of Fingar Insurance decamped to other insurers in protest, after noticing one of its key partners’ involvement. Ironically, the company’s Columbia County Chamber of Commerce blurb touted its work helping to insure second homes.
Consider just a few of the eyebrow-raising occurrences at Hudson Common Council meetings over the past decade or so:
A mayor’s aide audibly saying “fuck” when he got irritated at a citizen’s public comments;
An elderly alderman routinely falling asleep during meetings;
A less-elderly alderman appearing to surreptitiously suck his thumb during Council meetings, as well as periodically grabbing at his own groin;
Another alderman making a derisive Heil Hitler salute to emphasize his point;
The same alderman reading a thinly-veiled homophobic prepared statement; and
A mayor directing the flow of meetings from the hallway just outside the Chambers with hand gestures to the Council President.
Each of these events involved political figures who were plainly favored by Register-Star management in their endorsements and/or coverage.
Yet none of these occurrences got reported in the local paper at the time. (Two of them were, however, captured in the PBS documentary film about Hudson, Two Square Miles.) Some of the above predate the current management’s tenure; but the patently biased mindset persists.
This short trip down recent local history lane is prompted, of course, by the fevered-but-belated defense offered by Reg-Star management for its recent firing of reporter Tom Casey. Central to their rearguard action is the notion that if something unusual occurs at a meeting, it should be covered.
“Did it happen? Yes? Then go write it up,” wrote publisher Roger Coleman and executive editor Theresa Hyland in a joint statement released last Friday. Sounds sensible at first glance.
But when it has suited the paper’s interest not to make an issue of something, it is often kept it out of the Register’s pages. In this current case, because 3rd Ward alderman John Friedman is not an automatic vote for the status quo, it is hard to escape the impression that someone high up there wanted the alderman’s inobtrusive action in print.
Similarly, when certain factions—particularly that of Rick Scalera and Don Moore—have wanted Aldermen whom they consider disloyal shamed on the front page, the Register-Star has been all too happy to oblige. Some aldermen, for example Friedman’s 3rd Ward colleague Chris Wagoner, can hardly sneeze without the paper portraying his sternutation as rude and disruptive.
The crux of the paper’s dispute with Casey was not really whether real news should be reported, but whether a quiet action taken by an alderman—one which aroused no public outcry—was newsworthy at all... And secondarily, whether the reporter present would follow his bosses’ orders.
Rather than compromising like adults about a simple difference of opinion—by publishing the additional paragraphs coerced from Casey under duress, while respecting his wish to keep his byline off the story—Coleman and Hyland went nuclear and fired him. Then, the pair evidently took such a hard line with those who quite calmly and reasonably protested the firing, that three of Casey’s colleagues felt compelled to resign.
When I got into work Wednesday afternoon I was called into a
conference room meeting with Coleman and Hyland. Coleman had a copy of
the letter and asked me what my name was doing on it. I told him I stood
with my staff and said Tom’s firing was an outrageous decision.
I didn’t get a lot of opportunity for discussion. Coleman asked me
repeatedly if I was resigning, and when I said I stood with my staff he
asked if that meant I stood against him and Hyland. I said it wasn’t
really that simple. After it became clear we weren’t going to have a
reasoned and even-toned discussion about this I said I would resign.
This leaves a strong impression that ego—the desire to send a message to other reporters that they had better not disagree with management—not journalistic standards—was the key motivator here.
And even if one accepted the Register-Star management’s dubious assessment of this being newsworthy, that leaves two major questions: Why was the difference of opinion with a reporter in good standing worthy of firing? And, why doesn’t the paper actually apply its newly-expressed standard consistently across various political factions?
It’s not merely that events far more outrageous get played down if they do not reflect well on the establishment view—or blown out of proportion if it serves a factional purpose. In addition, anyone who’s attended even a couple Common Council meetings also knows that comments from the audience which contradict the official line often get erased entirely, or minimized by glossing them over in a blunted form.
If six citizens speak against an action being backed by City Hall, the typical Register-Star report will avoid presenting them verbatim, instead either omitting them altogether, or saying something like: “Some in the audience took issue with the Mayor’s position.” The more convincing detail and key substance of independent viewpoints cannot be allowed to reach the ears of more passive readers.
Another corrollary of this predictable media formula is that if a member of the public is the least bit passionate or intense in their manner of speaking, they will frequently be described as “strident,” “vocal,” “angry,” and the like.
Coming a full week after Coleman and Hyland’s firing of Casey drew media scrutiny locally, regionally and nationally, the paper had to say something. The Register-Star could not continue to remain silent, as it needed a document to provide the public and reporters seeking comment, as it did with Chris Churchill of the Times-Union. And as the blue chip Columbia Journalism Reviewnotes in their coverage today:
More than anything, Coleman and Hyland’s statement betrays a deep disdain for their (former) reporters.
That disdain is also for a large portion of their reluctant readers. The arm-waving and sarcastic tone of their explanation, coupled with its obvious double standard, is not merely unconvincing; it is all too typical locally. More generally, as the founder of The Aspen Daily Newsall the way over in Colorado wrote about the Hudson, New York controversy:
A gnawing discomfort lurks when higher powers at a media outlet try to
impose their will on a reporter [...] Differences between reporters and their bosses about stories are a very
touchy subject. Publishers, who normally have business backgrounds and
are considered inept at concepts such as news judgment, are supposed to
stay out of newsrooms. Some often stay away out of intimidation.
Publishers usually don’t write, and are often too cozy with politicians
and advertisers who are fond of being able to control them, writers
believe. The issue is particularly sensitive when an advertiser
threatens to boycott the paper if it doesn’t write what he or she wants —
or more to the point — omit what he or she does not.
Vainly attempting to position themselves above the fray, Register-Star management declares that there are two types of people “when it comes to the news business[:] those who will do anything to get something in and those who will do anything to keep it out.”
Unfortunately for readers and residents, the management of their City and County’s only daily newspaper seems to fit both of these categories. It just depends on which side of the political aisle the paper’s ally (or target) happens to stand (or sit).
Register-Star publisher Roger Coleman and editor Theresa Hyland have issued a joint statement outlining their reasons for the dismissal and version of the Tom Casey firing.
Coming a full and tumultuous week after Casey declined to put his byline on a news story, and amid increasing media scrutiny, the statement among other things seeks to justify their apparently keen interest in who stands for the Pledge of Allegiance at Hudson Common Council meetings, and who doesn’t.
The statement appears to be a response primarily to a letter of protest signed by virtually all of the paper’s key editorial staff. It does not address, however, the circumstances surrounding the subsequent resignations of City editor Francesca Olsen and two additional reporters, Adam Shanks and Billy Shannon. Nor does it really make a convincing case why Casey’s action should have amounted to a firing offense, rather than a “teachable moment” as other staff suggested.
Coleman and Hyland write on the one hand that “the repeated refusal and support of that refusal to report this story uncovered a lack of news judgment in our newsroom.” They then go on to claim that “no one was fired for disagreeing with his or her supervisor.” This begs the question: What was the reporter fired for, then?
Even if one charitably accepts Coleman and Hyland’s version of events and explanation of their reasoning, it remains that many Register-Star reporters are either young, or in their first journalism job, or both; and per Billy Shannon’s letter of resignation, they work for “dismal pay.” So if the management of the paper does not want to pay for experienced reporters, one would think they would acknowledge that they are going to have some learning on the job to do, especially if management has some non-intuitive expectations.
Another curious aspect of the statement comes when the pair deny writing the two controversial paragraphs which caused the dispute. Despite this denial, the letter does not clearly specify whether Casey drafted the problematic paragraphs under duress—or if they were written by another staffer (such as an unnamed editor, as first alleged by a well-placed source).
A separate source has provided a more detailed chronology of what occurred, supporting the duress scenario: After filing his original budget story on Thursday night, Casey was ordered by management to come back to the newsroom and add the paragraphs dealing with the Pledge to it. After doing so, he evidently thought better of acquiescing to this demand, and alerted the newsroom that he wanted his byline removed from the story. On Friday afternoon, Casey was fired—but according to one account, not before he managed to complete three stories he’d been working on.
(Note: This site invited both Coleman and Hyland on Sunday morning to address any inaccuracies in the contours of the story as it was relayed to this site by well-placed sources. Neither of the two responded in over 48 hours wait time before the story broke here.)
In another unusual passage, the pair express their total incredulity—at one point using ALLCAPS—that it was not deemed newsworthy when an Alderman did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. The ridiculousness of these hypothetical examples (an Alderman singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” or wearing a sign saying “ask me about my grandkids”) seems to inadvertently verify that the publisher and editor deemed John Friedman’s quiet decision as outrageously outlandish.
Some of the costs of the massive TCI inferno in August may get passed along to ordinary taxpayers.
Attendees of last night’s Ghent Town Board meeting report that when 2013 budgetary requests for Ghent’s three fire companies were discussed, two of the companies serving the Town have minimal or no increases in their budgets (2% for Chatham, 0% for Ghent).
But a third company, West Ghent, apparently needs a 10% budget increase from $100,000 to $110,000. When queried by the audience as to the nature of the new costs, Supervisor Larry Andrews indicated that while a portion of the increase might be due to adding a few new fireman, the bulk of it was due costs associated with the TCI fire, possibly the use of foam.
When the devastating fire occurred (the second of the year for the PCB handler), it was noted by many that TCI’s website indicated the company carried a multimillion insurance policy. The question the becomes: Why should Ghent’s fire companies and taxpayers bear the cost of even a penny of the expense of fighting the fire, and restoring services afterward?
The firefighters deserve better; and as one attendee said afterward, “Why should we pay for TCI?”
This photo of a mountain lion, found at a hunters’ discussion site, purports to have been taken in June of this year in Hillsdale; however, its authenticity can’t be verified. UPDATE: Thanks to web research by Alan Coon, it now appears that as suspected, the photo above is from another area—Michigan.
Several years ago, another photo said to be of a mountain lion dragging a deer past a local video camera circulated on Facebook, but that appears to have been a hoax using footage from a a faraway game preserve.
Anecdotally, this site has heard many accounts from residents of seeing both mountain lions and bobcats in the area—and I’ve seen what looked like one of the latter bound across 9G in Livingston earlier this year.
An acquaintance has also claimed to have seen a very large-tusked wild boar on her property in Hillsdale. About a decade ago, newspapers were awash with humorous stories about a Vietnamese pig that was running wild around Tivoli for much of one summer.
Certainly, there are black bear all over the County. And I’ve seen them twice in a dozen years right in downtown Hudson: once in the churchyard of the First Presbyterian Church sometime around 2004, and once in a neighbor’s garden in the 100 block of Warren Street in 1998. (In the latter case, law enforcement officers were actually seen tossing donuts over the fence to the bear until the game warden could show up with a tranquilizer.)
A 2008 About Townarticle by Arlene Wege discusses the range of possible or mythical sitings of various large beasts in the region. As she notes, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation does not acknowledge mountain lions’ presence here, but some hunters at the site above note that DEC is often slow to make major changes in their inventories.