Who Do I Vote For?
Village of Malone, Town of Malone, County Legislature candidates
October 24, 2019
Before rushing headlong into this election, let’s stand back for a moment and take stock of what’s really happening. We are being asked to vote for candidates for 3 legislative bodies: the Village of Malone, Town of Malone, and Franklin County Legislature. I suggest you think of each of these bodies strategically, as a whole organism. By this I mean, vote with a view to making each of these legislative bodies as effective in their duties as they possibly can be.
So far, this sounds banal. Just bear with me. Thinking strategically means we must identify the most important issues confronting each of these bodies. A good place to start is here: All three have common foes. The most formidable being the State of New York, especially under the Andrew Cuomo administration. For decades, NYS has been eroding the time-honored legal principle of Municipal Home Rule. Under Gov. Cuomo, this has turned into an all-out assault.
Another enemy is the carpetbaggers trying to industrialize our rural, agricultural communities with massive wind and solar projects. A third would be the corporate forces seeking to turn the county landfill into a runaway mega-dump for downstate garbage. The fourth will surprise you. I won’t call it an enemy; I will call it problematic. I am referring to nonprofits like Citizen Advocates and St. Joe’s. (This one will require some explaining, below.)
We have internal enemies, as well, chiefly from the derelict buildings we are having a dickens of a time taking down. Mainly because the state thwarts our efforts, but also because it’s hugely expensive. As long as these continue standing, their silent message is that we have failed. The result is demoralization. Demoralization is our biggest internal enemy.
I’m not saying these are the only problems; I’m saying these are the most vexing ones which need to be, and are capable of being, addressed by these legislative bodies. When you vote, imagine you are creating a village board, town board, and county legislature that has the intelligence and courage, and brand-new vision, to combat these foes.
Town of Malone (this is an easy one)
Let's begin our strategizing with the town board. The first thing to notice is that it has a strong and capable supervisor. Andrea Stewart is well aware of the external and internal threats enumerated, above. So is everyone currently on the board. These people are smart, do their homework, and work well together without being servile or craven to one another. They have created wind and solar laws that are copied throughout the state. And they are wary about so-called non-profits like St. Joe's and Citizen Advocates.
There are 2 vacancies. Two of the candidates, Mike Fournier (right) and Paul Walbridge (left), have had first-hand experience with all the key issues. Mike has been much involved in the wind and solar debates, and is well versed in the dump and non-profits. Click here to read is candidacy statement.
Wally (Paul) played a critical role in the wind debate, years ago. There’s nothing that goes on in this township that he doesn’t know about. As many of you know, he overhauled the Rec Park with brilliant results. Click here to read his candidacy statement.
Mike & Wally would be excellent choices.
Then there is Jody Johnston, a captain in the NYS Department of Corrections. Raised in Burke on 120 acres of fields and woodlands. This was in the days when kids played outside, put a worm on a hook and went fishing, built fences with their dads, and shovelled snow.
And played baseball year-round (snowballs). He was a natural.
In 1980, the 17-year-old farm boy was drafted by the New York Mets. He had a hulluva right arm. He played pro for the next 5 years. Sandy Koufax coached him.
Click here for his candidacy pitch. It’s compelling, partly because of its modesty. Like Paul Walbridge and Mike Fournier, Jody would be an outstanding choice for the town board.
County Legislature (another easy choice)
Ed Lockwood is the clear choice, for reasons I explain below. Unfortunately, the legislature has more than its fair share of amateurs and good 'ol boys who got elected because voters, frankly, pay little attention to this body — and with good reason. The legislators have a long tradition of being dismissive of constituents. For years they functioned as a men's club, whose odor still clings to the place. Besides, most of them have zero guts or brains when it comes to saying "No!" to the state and its onslaught of unfunded mandates.
The county legislature needs a house-cleaning of dead wood. Andrea Dumas being a notable exception, together with two or three others. Ed Lockwood is tough, strong, smart, kind, gentle, and compassionate. Yeah, all these. He won’t be steamrollered by colleagues, the governor and state assembly, or the incompetents who for years have been running North Country Community College into the ground. (To continue shelling out money to these people is scandalous. This from a real educator.) Ed will not be shy about holding county agencies to the highest standards, goals, and results.
Donna Kissane, the County Administrator pictured above, is terrific! We need to give her a legislature worthy of her intelligence and skill. She needs Ed Lockwood to join forces with Andrea Dumas and several others, and between them turn this legislature into a powerful force for this county and our unique needs, instead of chiefly paying the bills and predictably rolling over for the state.
Village of Malone
Notice that I linked the town and county elections to the chief executive in each case, Andrea Stewart and Donna Kissane. I can't do this for the village, since this position is what's at stake. With a new mayor and at least one new member of the village board, Malone has a golden opportunity to chart a new course and, by golly, come to life. This chance comes only once every 8 years, since mayors tend to be elected for 2 consecutive terms. This position, folks, is the big one, and for this reason I'm going to dwell on it.
Village of Malone
What you see in these photos are not the main reasons for voting for her.
Don’t misunderstand me; these are all excellent reasons. It’s just that they are not the most important.
People with tunnel vision — Mary Scharf comes to mind — sneer at Andrea for being photogenic. What’s going on in these photos is more than a pretty face; this is somebody deeply involved with every generation in this community. Andrea is in all the photos for the simple reason that she participates in all these activities. Her detractors are petty.
Here are the pressing issues, the ones that 99% of us are unaware of. I cannot think of a better equipped person to handle them.
These are tasks for Superwoman
Sewage Treatment Plant Debt
Several years ago the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation notified the village that we would have to substantially overhaul our sewage treatment plant. As of today, the project is nearly completed.
This is a case of Malone being blindsided, yet again, by a largely unfunded state-mandate. When all is said and done, the village will be on the hook for a $19 million debt.
Who do you think has the courage and determination and perseverance to insist that the state must take on at least the majority of this debt?
Who can you imagine actually going to Albany and personally lobbying for relief of this debt? Norm Bonner? Really?! Would it even occur to him?
Department of Public Works
I believe it was about a year ago that the village code officer shut down the DPW garage and all of its outbuildings for being, basically, uninhabitable. Over the past 12 months, Jerry Fisher and his staff have been camping out in various locations around the village — parking their equipment for the most part in the Glazier Building next door.
The facilities committee, consisting of Brian Langdon & Norm Bonner, has done a tremendous amount of work searching for a new home for DPW. One of the more appealing locations, in their view, has been the revamped sewage treatment plant. Another possibility is the Valco Building beyond the airport.
I am told by Archie McKee, who, along with Andrea, is on the the village finance committee, that the rest of the board is strongly tempted to bite the bullet and build a whole new facility for somewhere between 7 and $8 million.
Archie tells me that he and Andrea are vigorously opposed to this price tag. Both are convinced the village can create a perfectly adequate garage for several million dollars, at most.
Dump in the middle of the village
You’ve noticed the dump in the middle of the village, yes? It calls itself a recycling center. This isn’t what the neighbors call it, especially when they call me and tell me about rats in their kitchen, basement, and garage.
For some unfathomable reason that probably only God knows, Mayor Joe Riccio has been unable to shut down this abomination. Joe has accomplished much in his 8 years as mayor. This enormous trash pile is one of his signal failures.
How long do you think Mayor Andrea Dumas will tolerate this public health menace, this eyesore, this insult to this community?
I suspect that whatever it takes to clean this up and get it out of town — she will do. Even if this involves her going, personally, to DEC in Albany and putting the screws to them. (Do you really imagine Norm Bonner doing this?!)
I can imagine Norm delivering a windy speech, supported by corroborating data, explaining why, as mayor, he can’t possibly take down derelict buildings. His hands are tied.
It would all make perfect sense. Norm does his homework. (I’m not being facetious; he truly does, and he’s hard-working and intelligent and dedicated to this community.)
The outfit in the middle — let’s call it the Executive Look — is the one Mary Scarf seems to be mocking in a Letter to the Editor. The one on the left is the one where you see her rolling up her sleeves and helping out at all sorts of public functions and working with kids at the Rec Park, etc.
Andrea Dumas is cut from a very different cloth. I have known Andrea for all 22 years that I’ve lived here. In those years I have noticed that she has a wardrobe consisting of 3 distinct outfits. We could call them templates:
It’s the one on the right you need to vote for. Yeah, Superwoman. Malone needs a superhero right about now. Someone who will cut through miles of Albany red tape and get these damn buildings taken down one way or another.
In 1901, the American novelist Frank Norris published his bombshell novel, “The Octopus: A Story of California.” It’s considered a classic exposé of the power of monopolies. Norris writes about a railroad company making ranchers dependent on its goods and services and then strangling them economically, once it gains complete control. (Savor the 19th-century political cartoon, below.)
Fast forward to St. Joe’s and Citizen Advocates. We are falling into the trap of forgetting the past. Both are The Octopus. (Those who forget the past, warned the American philosopher George Santayana, are condemned to repeat it.)
St. Joe’s has not lived up to what it lead this community to believe it would do. A few years ago, I attended at least one village planning board meeting presided over by none other than Norm Bonner, where we were bullshitted by St. Joe’s, and Bonner cheerily handed over the village. The neighbors of St. Joe’s at 90 Elm now suffer from the incompetence and cynicism of the project. Sources tell me that St. Joe’s has turned into a “drug vending” safe house, rather than the rehab center it purported it would be. (Brandon Titus is a good man and is trying his damndest, but he’s away over his head. With calculating bosses like Bob Ross, Brandon’s efforts are doomed.)
We are about to make the same mistake with an even more grasping so-called nonprofit. (I love the names these people bestow on themselves!) Citizen Advocates (CA) is a well-oiled harvesting machine, built from scratch to reap tax dollars from obscure state agencies that routinely bestow vast sums of money on these parasites, on the promise of furnishing community services. Lindsay Hendricks, Housing & Community Services Manager at Citizen Advocates, has been diligently working on these grants for at least a year — yet no one in the community (except for Mayor Joe Riccio, perhaps) was aware that Citizen Advocates had a plan for our life! “Transparency” this is not!
These are the NYS agencies bankrolling Citizen Advocates’s downtown project and St. Joe’s on Elm:
NYS Homeless Housing & Assistance Program (HHAP $millions in grants
This is run by the NYS Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance (OTDA)through its Housing & Support Services (HSS) program.
NYS Office of Alcoholism & Substance Services (OASAS) $millions in grants
Funds from OASAS are programmatically administered according to 2 somewhat different "brands" of supportive housing: (a) the Upstate Permanent Supportive Housing Initiative and (b) the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative. The former goes by the acronym Upstate PSH, the latter, ESSHI. Both "brands" are subject to OASAS guidelines for admitting tenants and for their case management.
When the Army Reserve center on Finney Blvd. was auctioned off years ago, Joe Riccio was on the village board and his pal, Todd LaPine, was mayor. The village was an active bidder for the center. As the clock was running out, the village found itself bidding against a mysterious agency — with the village and this agency counter-bidding. At the last moment, the village inexplicably stopped bidding and — poof! — this shadow agency placed the winning bid. Literally at the last minute.
Turns out the mystery agency was Citizen Advocates. Now, some years later, Joe is mayor and employed by Citizen Advocates, and Joe’s employer quietly swallows up our historic downtown — with no public meetings and zero interest by the mayor in public input. (I repeat, this sneaky gambit has been underway for at least a year, as Lindsay Hendricks secretly applied for grant monies from the above agencies — a process the mayor kept hidden from the village trustees.)
Something smells bad. Like the inside of this garbage can. It’s typical for municipal codes of ethics to warn public officers against giving even the slightest whiff of impropriety. Joe fails the sniff test.
The irony is that Joe is Director of Communications & Government Affairs at CA. When the Telegram discovered, several weeks ago, that Reid Anthony, Citizen Advocates CEO, had been shit-canned in August, Stonewall Joe issued the following uncommunicative communiqué:
“Reid Anthony is no longer employed by Citizen Advocates. Beyond that, our company policy prohibits any public comment regarding personnel matters. This policy applies to all current and former Citizen Advocates employees.”
Whoa! This man is supposed to be our mayor! He is supposed to be representing the community’s interests regarding the dog-and-pony show he works for. The Telegram editor, E.J. Conzola, is right to be alarmed by Riccio’s refusal to “respond to questions about Anthony’s departure, including when it took place, what the organization plans to do about the position going forward and the impact Anthony’s leaving will have on what the organization is calling the Harrison Block project.”
For this alone, any responsible municipal board would insist on Riccio turning over his mayoral duties to Deputy Mayor Bonner for the remainder of Riccio’s tenure.
Bottom line: Riccio is the tool of his employer. He’s got strings attached. (Do we really want The Octopus to have a designated seat in the county legislature chambers?)
I’m of 2 minds regarding the so-called Harrison Block project. On the one hand we’re getting a row of nasty buildings flattened and new ones built. On the face of it, this seems worthwhile. On the other hand, what we’re getting is The Octopus occupying what was once the commercial and cultural core of the village, with talk of forming its own pharmacies and automotive repair shops — and what else?
Make no mistake, Citizen Advocates can do what it damn well pleases with filling those apartments — with whoever it damn well pleases. (Being state-funded, Citizen Advocates must take residents from anywhere in the state, not just Franklin County.) The disorderly conduct and drug use of tenants are outside the jurisdiction of the Village Police Dept. (So the PD discovered with St. Joe’s, when officers responding to a drug dealing report were informed at the door that medical confidentiality prohibits PD from entering the building, nor could St. Joe’s reveal anything about the drug behavior of its so-called clients.)
Citizen Advocates can service these residents with whatever lame programs it damn well pleases. Likewise it can control the first-floor retail space with whatever it damn well pleases.
It would be one thing if Citizen Advocates and St. Joe’s were truly caring. Given the behavior of both as they drop the masquerade, I find the implications alarming. For all practical purposes, these outfits are beyond accountability.
Harrison Block is a done deal. It will be up to Mayor Andrea Dumas to wrestle with The Octopus. Once the certificate of occupancy is issued, it’s “game on!” (Can you really imagine Norm Bonner holding this creature accountable to the community?)
Andy the Bully
Lastly, Andy. Known to some as Cuomo the Barbarian, to others Andy the Bully. This is the sort of person Lord Acton had in mind when he declared, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (paraphrased) — a warning that applies to Citizen Advocates, by the way.
At a recent political gathering in Lake Placid, Superwoman Dumas was determined to steer Andy to the sidelines and bend his ear on county and village issues. (Do you really think Norm is going to do this?) Alas, Cuomo didn’t show up, sending the lieutenant governor, instead. Undeterred, Andrea button-holed the Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner, Basil Seggos, along with Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Billy Jones.
I can easily imagine Mayor Dumas making an appointment to speak face-to-face with Andy in his office. Repeatedly. Derek Champagne, when District Attorney, managed to get Andy’s attention and actually educated him to the scam of “wind energy.” Cuomo swung into action and did something useful and actually legal and honorable to nail these bums. If Derek could educate the guy, Andrea can, too. Nobody, downstate, seems to grasp the unique challenges we face in the North Country.
Andrea needs a board she can work with. I repeat: vote strategically, vote for a functional board!
Archie McKee and Andrea work well together.
Archie has the added virtue of being an elder with considerable government experience. Andrea needs a mentor; Archie is a good one. He’s measured and thoughtful. If he thinks her administration is going off the rails, he will admonish her. The purpose of a board, after all, is to hold the chief executive accountable.
Besides, Archie is the only person on the board who is comfortable with numbers. For this reason, alone, Andrea needs him at the table.