On the issues that matter in Malone NY (USA)

— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

Any day, now, this man is going to get a phone call from the intense-looking man, below.

The man awaiting the call is Hugh Hill, a Malone Village Trustee running for re-election.  (I very much hope he gets re-elected.  More on that in a moment.  First, let’s address the tube in his nose.)

The man who will call him is Jonathan D’Cunha, MD, PhD, a thoracic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Dr. D’Cunha will tell Hugh to get in his car and drive posthaste to Pittsburgh, where D’Cunha and his team of surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists will sedate Hugh, cut open his chest, and remove his lungs.  The phone call is to let Hugh know the surgical team found a donor set of lungs which they believe will match Hugh’s tissue requirements.

The entire operation will last anywhere from 7-9 hours.  (Click on the image above, or here, to watch a video describing the process.)

If everything goes well, Hugh will remain in the hospital for another 2-3 weeks, then get discharged to begin several weeks of outpatient post-operative monitoring and adjustment of immune suppressants by the surgical team.

Several months later, with rigorous physical therapy at Alice Hyde, he should be good for at least another 250,000 miles.  He will kiss that oxygen tank goodbye!

A new pair of lungs?  Several years ago, Hugh discovered that he has a rare disease called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.  IPF for short.  (In clinical jargon, “idiopathic” means “nobody knows the cause.”)  He’s one of the few people in America who, for some mysterious reason, develops progressive fibrosis (scarring; tissue thickening) of the lungs.  The prognosis is straightforward:  IPS progresses rapidly and is fatal.  There’s no cure.  There is only one treatment that works:  lung transplant.

Hugh’s choices were simple.  Either go to heaven or Pittsburgh.

He chose Pittsburgh.  (It if were me, I would have chosen heaven.  Hey, have you ever been to Pittsburgh?!  Humor aside, I would indeed have chosen to let the disease take its course.  I say this to signal that Hugh and I often disagree on things of consequence, especially at public meetings.  Even so, I am his greatest admirer and supporter.  I add that I often disagree with my wife, as well, yet I love and admire and support her beyond measure.)

Hugh chose surgery in part because he’s nowhere near done with his goal of revitalizing Malone, “Star of the North since 1802.”  He was born and raised here.  His North Country roots run deep and strong.  His mom was “Rosie the Riveter” at Reynolds Aluminum during WWII.  She built airplanes because all the men, including Hugh’s dad, were off fighting a war.

Hugh’s dad was indeed off fighting a war, but he was also a military baseball star during that war.  After the war, he played semi-pro with the Mohawk “Hogansburg Chiefs,” who made him an honorary tribal leader with the title “The Big Hill.”  (When not playing ball, he worked at Reynolds and was a prominent civic leader in the North Country.)

Hugh left the nest as a young man to see the world, living abroad and elsewhere in the United States, to eventually settle in the Hamptons (Long Island) where he was a contractor for many years.  In his mid-fifties, he altered course, returning to his roots to care for his ailing father (The Big Hill) and — most notably for our purposes — care for his ailing hometown.

He has described to me what Malone was like in the 50’s and 60’s.  A Norman Rockwell town.  Churches full on Sunday mornings.  Numerous restaurants.  Bustling, locally-owned businesses.  Loads of civic pride.  And a childhood of fishing, swimming, hiking, playing baseball — and scraped  knees.

He’s been a godsend to this community since his return.  I think of Hugh as a flashlight.  He has an uncanny ability to shine a spotlight on entrenched and pervasive problems.  An ability to define a problem succinctly and figure out a way to fix it.  (I’ll betcha he’s good at putting puzzles together!)

Hugh does his homework.  He’s also smart.  He’s one of the few people I know who can read a mind-numbing report by an “actuary” on Malone’s finances and get a clear idea of what it means and where we’re headed, fiscally.  He can put the numbers and their significance into plain English.

Or, as demonstrated recently, he can cut through the high-pressure bullshit of a dozen pages of “legalese” slapped together by a slick out-of-town developer who’s trying to steamroller Malone into letting him off paying taxes.  (You and I, dear reader, would get stiffed paying for police, fire, school, Medicaid, court, sheriff, and road services for the developer’s lucrative project.  Hugh immediately sounded the alarm and swung into action.)


In the 18 years I’ve lived in the village, I’ve watched this community get screwed time and again.  Either by mayors who were less than intellectually equipped (read “stupid”) for the job, or by outside corporations who seem to regard us as a bunch of rustic suckers.  Hugh keeps lazy board members and high-pressure developers in line.  He also keeps a cold eye on — ah! — that inconvenient truth called “the village budget.”

I sleep easier at night knowing he’s on the Village Board.

There is something else he does that few people are aware of — something of enormous potential benefit to the village.  It’s best explained by this yummy-looking pie.

That pie, my friend, is worth hundreds of millions of dollars!  That pie represents all the grant money and tax credits Albany has available to economically “leverage” communities like ours.  (Fill your lungs with the delicious aroma of what I just said!)

The question, of course, is, “How can the Village of Malone get a piece of the pie?”  (Sorry, I switched pies.  Apple to pumpkin.  You’re okay with this, right?)  This is exactly the question Hugh Hill asked years ago, when he threw himself into the task of bringing Malone back from the brink.

What he discovered dismayed him.  It turns out the Village of Malone — and the Town and Franklin County, for that matter — were largely clueless and indifferent to obtaining stimulus funds from the state.  At the time, funding for economic development was controlled by know-it-all Albany bureaucrats.  This made it really difficult for the North Country to tap into sources of public revenue, since the North Country has traditionally had very little influence in Albany.

All this changed in 2011, when Gov. Cuomo decided the pie would no longer be divided up by so-called experts housed in Albany.  Paraphrasing Cuomo, “Nobody understands the economic needs of the state’s diverse communities better than the people who actually live and work there!”

“Therefore,” Cuomo continued, “I’m going to direct that the ‘funding’ pie be divided into 10 slices, called ‘regions.’  Each region will create its own council of municipal, civic, business, corporate, and academic leaders.  Each council will meet periodically throughout the year to decide what their economic needs and aspirations are, on an on-going basis.  We will then create an online, uniform application procedure for apportioning the pie.  Lastly, each application will be judged by its regional council, not by Albany bureaucrats, and grant monies will be distributed on this basis, alone.”

Hooray for Gov. Cuomo!  Notice the Regional Councils map, above.  (The full name is Regional Economic Development Councils.  Click here to read all about them.)

As you can see at a glance, the North Country is the largest geographic region.  That’s the good news.  The discouraging news is, we’re the smallest population.  (It’s worth mentioning that we boast more beavers, otters, muskrat, and moose, not to mention mosquitos and black flies, than any other region.  Which is why tourism and outdoor sports rank high on the North Country Council’s economic wishlist.)

Back to Hugh.  Hugh scoped out the situation and promptly got himself appointed a member of the North Country Regional Council.  Here’s a screenshot, showing his name on the website masthead:

He attends meetings faithfully and contributes enthusiastically to the council’s game-plan for economic renewal.  Rephrasing this, he represents the North Country and, specifically, the Village of Malone in getting a share of the state’s economic goodies.

Who else do you know, either currently on the Village Board or running for Village Board, who is so strategically poised to get a slice of that pie?

Before getting his hands on it, however, Hugh will have to spend a few hours in an operating room in Pittsburgh.  He’s confident he’ll pull through.  So, too, is his surgical team.  He’s in tip-top physical health, in part from losing lots of weight (avoiding stuff like pumpkin pie) and exercising vigorously.  (The surgical team insisted on this.)  Once he’s out of the recovery room and switched to “out-patient” status, he plans on attending Village Board meetings via Skype.  This would be for a month or so.

And then — homeward bound.  Reborn.  Every day, a gift.

Note:  I have addressed Hugh’s health because it’s a matter of public interest — public because he’s an elected official seeking re-election.  The public has the right, indeed the obligation, to know the state of health of any public officer, for the obvious fact that this affects (in this instance) his ability to perform his duties.  Candidates for president of the United States are scrutinized for the same reason.

Where is the line between a politician’s personal and public life?

“Everyone, including public figures, is entitled to privacy. But when a person goes into public life, he or she must understand: Certain issues that might be considered private for a private individual can become matters of reasonable public interest when that individual runs for office. Becoming a public servant means putting the public’s interest ahead of your own.

“What does that look like in practice? Everyone will draw the line between personal and public in a slightly different place, but generally, if a private matter affects the performance of the officeholder’s duties, most people would agree that it is no longer private. So, for example, the president of the United States submits to a yearly physical, which is made public, because his or her health is of such key importance to the nation. Similarly, illnesses that affect job performance of local officials may be legitimate subjects of inquiry. Behaviors that might impede performance, like substance abuse, are matters of public interest. Financial problems, especially in a person with budgetary responsibilities, may be germane.”

— from “The Personal Lives of Public Officials,” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University, California