June 3, 2008

Tompkins County and Hillary Clinton

The big political news of the moment here is Tompkins County Democratic Committee Chair Irene Stein's decision to endorse Hillary Clinton. Stein is a super-delegate to the Democratic National Convention, because the New York State Democratic Committee elected her to the Democratic National Committee four years ago.

In the wake of Stein's announcement, I've heard a fair number of questions. Her decision contrasts pretty sharply with Obama's 59-37 victory in the primary here, the only county in New York State that voted for Obama. One of the more interesting questions was from a Dryden Hillary supporter:

May I ask you why there seems to be so much negative feeling toward Irene's endorsement of Hillary Clinton?

Thinking it through, I think there's a story here worth telling, though it's more a story about Tompkins County and Clinton and less about Irene Stein herself. It's more than a simple left-right thing, I think, as I know (and certainly like!) Hillary supporters I'd say are well to my left and well to my right. (I was an Edwards guy, decided in the booth to vote for Obama after Edwards dropped out, and have become more and more of an Obama supporter over time.)

The story goes back a long ways.

Bill Clinton's presidency didn't sit that well with a lot of people in Tompkins County. That probably was mostly a left-right thing, as the Clintons never seemed especially left by Tompkins County standards, and the whole 'triangulation' thing raised all kinds of doubts for all kinds of people. I was never a convinced Clinton fan, though I was, I think, vastly happier with them than a lot of people here. I certainly never understood why people would vote for Nader, for example.

While there are lots of folks who move in and out of Tompkins County, a lot of people, even some newcomers, didn't seem thrilled with the 'carpetbagger' aspect of Hillary Clinton's becoming our Senator. Personally, I think New York was an opportunity for her because New York State Democrats have done a pretty lousy job of developing a farm team here and didn't have great people ready to replace Moynihan. Her not being from here, even if it didn't convince people to vote against her for Senate, did leave a lot of people wondering about her ambitions.

(The 'carpetbagger' issue definitely resonates more strongly in Corning, where I grew up, though, than I've heard it here.)

Clinton's vote for the war created pretty complete consternation among Democrats in Tompkins County even as she first cast it. Many people I knew who really liked her tried hard to excuse it rather than justify it, and that tendency accelerated as the war looked worse and worse. A lot of people said openly that her hawkishness was positioning herself for a national run, though, which probably made those already suspicious of her even less fond of her.

By 2006, it was very clear that Clinton had problems in Tompkins County. She won the Democratic primary for Senate in Tompkins County by a mere 2849-2021. That sounds good on the surface, but her opponent had no funding, no name recognition, almost no organization, and relatively little support elsewhere in the state. (I met him once and can't say he was especially charismatic - but maybe it was just a bad day.)

Even within the County Democratic Committee, there were some very sharp divisions. At one point we had a vote over whether or not to send a letter to Clinton via Stein's husband Peter, who's one of our State Committee representatives. Committee members actually wound up standing on opposite sides of the room so we could get an accurate count, since it was so close to 50-50.

Clinton definitely has some very strong supporters across the county and across the Democratic political spectrum here. I hear from them regularly as a lot of them are on various Democratic Committees, read this site, or otherwise voice their opinions - we're friends, after all! Most Upstate Democrats do seem to be Clinton supporters, as the primaries in 2006 and 2008 demonstrate - just not here in Tompkins County.

The primary results this February weren't kind to Clinton. She only won Groton (decisively) and Enfield (barely) and even lost in more districts within Dryden than I'd have guessed. The City of Ithaca was more than 2-1 Obama, and the Town of Ithaca was 17-11.

Stein's endorsement was, I believe, what she really wanted to do. She's not bound by DNC rules to support the candidate her home constituency supported. The disconnect between her being County Democratic Committee Chair and her being a superdelegate makes for some strange conversations. Her DNC role is very different from her role as County Chair - separate, but kind of connected. I don't think most County Committee members will be terribly surprised that she did this, but I expect it'll be a part of various conversations going forward, not all of them happy.

(I can't really complain about people making bold and unpopular political statements this week, I guess, though the timing does seem really strange to me on all kinds of levels.)

Posted by simon at 12:22 PM Comment

County Energy Plan meeting Thursday

I meant to post this earlier - I don't yet know if I can make it. Given my lack of trust for county planning, I probably should...


You are invited to attend a public meeting about the new Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions element to be added to the County Comprehensive Plan. The meeting will be held on Thursday, June 5, 2008 from 7:00 - 9:00 PM at the Tompkins County Public Library's Borg Warner Room (101 East Green Street, Ithaca).

The new Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions element will help guide the County in decisions that influence these issues and will provide a framework to address community energy and greenhouse gas emissions goals in a proactive and coordinated manner.

This meeting, which will include a brief presentation on the major issues and opportunities identified to date, is designed to give the general public, as well as municipal board members, an opportunity to comment on the topics and contribute ideas for the draft element.

The County Planning Department initiated this planning process in early 2008. It is envisioned that this element will follow the same general format as the other County Comprehensive Plan elements: identifying the critical issues at the County level relating to energy and greenhouse gas emissions; presenting existing conditions; and establishing policy and action items for the County government and its partner agencies to implement.

To date, our planning process has included:

  • Completing initial research about local energy use and greenhouse gas emissions

  • Appointing a Steering Committee of the County's Planning Advisory Board to guide development of this element

  • Identifying individuals, businesses, and organizations in the community actively involved in energy and greenhouse gas emissions work

  • Conducting six focus group sessions in April and May 2008 with these above individuals in order to understand the local issues and opportunities

Your input at the June 5th meeting is important to ensure that this Comprehensive Plan element reflects the community's ideas and concerns.

For more information about the Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Element, please visit the Tompkins County Planning Department website at http://www.tompkins-co.org/planning/compplan/index.htm or call 607-274-5560.

Thank you in advance for your participation; we look forward to seeing you on June 5th.

Posted by simon at 7:27 PM Comment

June 5, 2008

Strengthening Freedom of Information

It looks like the New York State Senate and Assembly have returned to Freedom of Information Law strengthening that was vetoed back under Pataki:

The Senate on Tuesday passed the proposal to strengthen Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws by giving the public advance access to some documents subject to public information laws. The Assembly passed a version of the bill last month.

State government would be required to make all public records that fall under FOIL to be made available at least 72 hours before any open meeting where they may be discussed.

It's hard to avoid the snarky question of whether legislative bills will be available to the public for 72 hours before a vote, but if I remember right, this doesn't apply to that.

Nonetheless, it's a big step forward for those of us who've pushed hard for more open government at the local level, not to mention the state.

There's still work to be done, some of which may seem surprising if you haven't followed this. New York's FOIL laws are missing some pieces. The AP article notes further work on:

A separate measure passed in the Senate would require agencies to keep in mind the need to conveniently retrieve documents when designing state information systems. A similar measure is moving smoothly through the Assembly....

One would require that public meeting notices be posted on the Web site for the agency holding the meeting. Another would allow the public meetings to be recorded, as long as it doesn't disrupt the proceedings.

The Assembly also passed legislation that would reimburse the legal fees for anyone who successfully challenged an open meetings law violation.

There's also an Elmira Star-Gazette editorial that gets neatly to the heart of why this matters:

Both of these bills will rattle some public officials who are not accustomed to close scrutiny by media or ordinary residents. But as publicly elected bodies, school boards, village boards, town councils, city councils and county legislatures must be prepared to put their meetings up for public inspection and documentation every time they meet.

I'm very happy that my town got continuously more open over the years about its information, but I know that not every place is like that. I arrived in local politics after open government was a pretty well-known issue, and never had resistance on recording Town meetings. Our Town Clerk, Bambi Hollenbeck, was helpful with formal FOIL requests and with more informal requests. The Village of Dryden was a lot slower the one time I filed a request, but that was a few years ago, so I don't know what they're like now.

The Town of Dryden seems to be moving much further now with the plans for an annual report, which will hopefully get citizens more aware of and more interested in what's going on right around them.

Beyond Dryden, I hope this legislation will help folks at every level get traction on issues that are important to them, drawing them further into the political process.

[Cross-posted at The Albany Project.]

Posted by simon at 8:48 AM Comment

Don't move that firewood!

I don't see this in the Journal, but Newsday reports that New York State is banning moves of untreated firewood that go beyond fifty miles or bring firewood in across state lines.

Why? Bugs taking a ride, and then causing havoc at their destination.

Posted by simon at 12:45 PM Comment

June 9, 2008

Road costs climb

Driving keeps getting more expensive, and it isn't just the gasoline in our tanks - it's the road maintenance we pay for through taxes. This morning's Journal examines local responses to a doubling in the cost of blacktop over the last two years, on top of increases in diesel fuel and other materials.

I don't think we're at the point yet where people will tolerate drastic change in how we use and maintain roads, but I've written about some options for maintaining roads when energy and materials prices climb beyond what taxpayers are willing to tolerate over at TCLocal.

There's a map in the print edition showing where the county will be repairing roads this summer. For Dryden, it's Irish Settlement from Ferguson to 13, Ringwood south of the midline intersection, and Ellis Hollow, getting repairs from Thomas Road to Game Farm Road. Work on Game Farm Road will continue intermittently through June.

(Update: And via Dryden Daily KAZ, this from the New York Times on gas prices and rural areas. Ouch!)

And yes, it's way too hot. The Journal calls for "mid 90s" today. On the bright side, strawberries will be ready soon. And I enjoyed getting caught in a downpour at Taughannock Falls yesterday - except that my cell phone perished in the deluge.

Posted by simon at 8:09 AM Comment


NYCO's blog is regularly thought-provoking, but this morning's she posted a piece, On Being Over, that's well-worth some extra thought.

Posted by simon at 8:29 AM Comment

June 11, 2008

Town Board meeting in Varna tonight

The Dryden Town Board will be meeting tonight at 7:00pm at the Varna Community Center, 943 Dryden Road (Route 366). Presentations will include the Racker Center, Alternatives IDA proposal, TCAD, Ithaca Cancer Resource Center, and OURS.

Posted by simon at 12:21 PM Comment

June 13, 2008

Dryden Dairy Day tomorrow!

I need to catch up on all kinds of stories, but can't miss noting this preview of tomorrow's Dairy Day events.

The parade down Main Street starts at 9:30am, and there will be booths in Montgomery Park until around 4:00pm.

Posted by simon at 8:31 AM Comment

June 14, 2008

Dairy Day 2008

This morning's weather was kind to Dryden Dairy Day - just a few warning sprinkles, but no downpour. It was a great parade as usual, with a larger crowd than I remember seeing in the past. Sungiva and I marched with the Dryden Democrats, and Angelika took wonderful photos of the parade and the Montgomery Park celebration afterward.

I've posted a huge gallery of parade and booth photos; here are a few highlights.

Kiwanis Softball in the parade.
Kiwanis Softball in the parade.

Honored guests.
Honored guests.

Community Cafe in the parade.
Community Cafe in the parade.

Enjoying the parade.
Enjoying the parade.

Coming to Montgomery Park.
Coming to Montgomery Park.

Booths in Montgomery Park.
Booths in Montgomery Park.

Petting animals in the park.
Petting animals in Montgomery Park.

Posted by simon at 4:36 PM Comment

June 16, 2008

Garbage truck saga moves toward conclusion

One of the many stories I'm behind on is the update on plans for re-routing garbage trucks off of local highways and back on to the interstate system. (Okay, I really think it would be smarter for them to use New York's still-amazing canal system, but apparently that doesn't fit the current reality of garbage handling.)

I've written about this a number of times, most recently noting that I thought former Assemblyman Marty Luster's telling of the story with Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton as its heroine really needed some fact-checking.

Yes, Senator Chuck Schumer is a publicity-monger, fond of cameras and press releases. But either Lifton has the world's worst sense for press, or the story pretty much runs as I'd told it earlier: when it became clear at a forum that Lifton was a barrier to moving trucks off the road, Schumer's office challenged her there and then Schumer called the governor while Lifton wrote plaintive letters to the Department of Transportation worrying about how "Some must think I'm not telling the truth."

The timing of Lifton's pieces in the Journal and her relatively low profile in this latest article do, well, absolutely nothing at all to convince me that she was actually a catalyst in getting this done. All she seems able to push is that she didn't like a particular Republican bill, without recognizing that what really did her position in was fellow Democrats. She took the same tack in her op-ed a week after the story initially broke.

Hopefully the trucks will move off the roads sooner rather than later. The DOT lately seems to be taking an interest in issues other than maximizing traffic flow on every road possible at the highest speed possible, which is a major improvement, I think.

Posted by simon at 12:22 PM Comment

Things I've missed

Here's a quick listing of things in the Journal I normally would have written about in more detail, but didn't get to. Some of them are still on my list of things to write about.

Posted by simon at 12:45 PM Comment

June 23, 2008

Dryden Renewable Energy Workgroup meeting tonight

It's late to post this, but if you're free at 7:00pm tonight, there's a meeting at the Dryden Community Center Cafe.

Posted by simon at 5:01 PM Comment

June 27, 2008

Traffic meeting in Varna Monday night

Concerned about the impact of traffic on Route 366? I am. Here's a chance to talk about it.

Later this month, residents will have a chance to learn about findings of a transportation study of the Route 13/366 corridor, as they relate to the Hamlet of Varna.

Results of the Route 13/366 Corridor Management Plan, prepared for the Tompkins County Planning Department, will be presented at a public meeting, to be held on Monday, June 30th, beginning at 7:00 p.m. at the Varna Community Center, 943 Dryden Road, Ithaca.

Results of the transportation study relevant to the Varna area will be reviewed and strategies for implementation will be discussed.

The Route 13/366 Corridor Management Plan reviewed physical and operational characteristics of the roadway to assist in determining the future scenario for development along Routes 13 and 366.

For more information on the transportation study, visit the County Planning Department web site at www.tompkins-co.org/planning/Route13CorridorStudy.htm.

Contact: Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560.

This sounds like it's based on a study I thought was dreadful, but the parts specifically about Varna were okay (removing the passing zone), so hopefully something useful will come out of it. Varna could certainly use some relief from the traffic that slices through it.

Posted by simon at 9:12 AM Comment