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Friday, 17 June 2016 09:19

NYRA Turf War!

SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the waning hours of the New York State Legislature’s final week of session, the Senate and the Assembly both passed bipartisan legislation led by Senator Kathy Marchione and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner that would re-privatize The New York Racing Association (NYRA). It has received wide approval from the racing industry, including the NYRA board, as well as numerous state and local elected officials, businesses, racing fans and advocates. Governor Andrew Cuomo has threatened to veto it. He put forth his own privatization proposal that would keep NYRA’s reins within his influence through the board selection process, including his choice of NYRA chair for the first three years, and transfer Video Lottery Terminal money away from racing. The Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing, a committee of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, held a press conference on Wednesday, June 15 at the Embassy Suites Hotel, 86 Congress Street, to update the media and public with the status, plans and commentary on the legislation that affects racing, breeding, jobs, tourism and local business, as well as the future of Saratoga Race Course and the economy of the Upstate NY region. Tom Durkin, former Announcer, New York Racing and NBC Television, emceed the press conference, which included Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus among its speakers, as well as John Hendrickson of Marylou Whitney Stables; Cindy Hollowood, Operator/General Manager, Holiday Inn and past chair, NYS Hospitality and Tourism Association; Jack Knowlton, Managing Partner, Sackatoga Stables; Marianne Barker, Owner of Impressions of Saratoga; track employees and many others. The room was crowded with fans and advocates holding signs that read “Whoa, Cuomo!” in protest of the governor’s proposal for re-privatization. According to Shimkus, the bipartisan re-privatization legislation that passed both houses “would make NYRA a not for profit corporation that is very close and in line with what we want and what the NYRA board of directors approved back in April.” He said Cuomo’s version is drastically different. “First, the governor is looking beyond setting up a board. He’s looking to transfer money away from racing. There was a franchise agreement, and he’s looking to unilaterally change the payment terms and put that money away from racing and into the education budget.” The governor’s proposal would cap VLT payments at $46 million, $16 million of which could only be used for capital projects at the Saratoga racetrack. Any funds beyond the $46 million would be directed to the state lottery, which is set for its overages to be funneled into the state education budget. Currently, lottery monies supplant rather than supplement the education budget, which provides the state with the ability to direct funds it would have spent on education into some other pot. Presumably, the same would apply with these redirected VLT funds. Hendrickson has likened this to missing mortgage payments, as the VLT monies were part of a contract to NYRA in exchange for turning the titles of a billion dollars worth of its lands over to the state. “You can’t back out of paying your mortgage to a bank,” Hendrickson said. “This is the same thing. There’s no question this money is due to NYRA. There shouldn’t be any cap until the money is paid. You’re basically saying, if we don’t have this money, we’ll have to balance the budget on the backs of our fans.” “Secondly,” continued Shimkus regarding Cuomo’s proposal, “it has a number of performance standards that the new NYRA board would have to meet – largely related to financial practices and financial operations – and if they don’t meet those standards, than the Franchise Oversight Board can withhold funds or step in to control operations going forward.” Given NYRA’s history that led to the state takeover, the governor’s proposal is not surprising, but Shimkus said the advocates find the controls excessive, and not taking into account the progress NYRA has made over the last four years. “There is a new management team in place,” he said. “They have had to be very transparent and adopted a wide range of new practices that we think are working. And, based on their performance over the last two years, they’ve accomplished what the governor set out to accomplish when he took over racing four years ago. The promise that he made at the time – a promise that was included in the law – was, provided those things happened, NYS would get out of running horse racing.” Several advocates agree, including Concerned Citizens for Racing Chair Maureen Lewi, Shimkus, and Hendrickson, that the NYS government is not known for being agile, flexible and forward-thinking, which a new NYRA board will need to be successful in the increasingly competitive racing industry. Now that the state will have casinos, the competition is even tougher than before. “There is not another track in the country that is run by the state government,” said Shimkus. “Not one.” According to Shimkus, the passing of the bipartisan bill sends a positive message to the racing industry that NYS is committed to a regional and responsible way of running a year round, successful thoroughbred racing operation. Now everyone is waiting to see what the governor will do. Exercise rider Heather Coots, one of the many backstretch workers who are also impacted by the re-privatization struggles, said at the press conference, “I can’t believe we’re having this discussion, it’s madness. Governor Cuomo, you need to man up and keep your promise.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — There are children suffering from hunger in the Saratoga Springs City School District. Of the 1,299 students who receive Free and Reduced Price Lunch (about 20 percent of the student body), too many of them have no other source of food than what the school provides. No dinner at home. No meals over the weekend. No food when school is closed for holidays or breaks. No food for the summer. The reality of these troubling facts hit Karey Hall Trimmings, music teacher at Dorothy Nolan Elementary School, pretty hard when she met Richard [last name withheld for privacy], a sweet, shy student who suffered quietly from neglect and hunger every weekend and no one knew. “It was extremely personal. I grew up in Saratoga. This wasn’t some child in a far away place. It came from a real child who lives with our family and is our son now,” said Trimmings. “He was hungry, neglected, and it took him a year to tell his story. Everything he owned fit in one laundry basket. He told us he didn’t have food on the weekend. If there’s one child in this land of plenty, there’s probably more. It lit a fire under my heart.” After Trimmings and her husband become the legal custodians Richard, she founded the Saratoga Nutrition Assistance for Children Program (SNACPack) in January 2015. She worked with other teachers to identify those children who are chronically hungry, looking for signs such as extreme hunger on Monday mornings or after holidays; lingering around food or asking for seconds; chronically dry, itchy eyes and cracked lips; excessive absences and/or tardiness; short attention span/inability to concentrate; and other signs. Then they are referred to the program. The program serves the entire district but is not a program that parents can call to sign up. Teachers, guidance counselors, and other professionals in the district, such as those working with homeless students, refer students. SNACPack is designed to meet the needs of hungry children on weekends, when other resources are not available. The program provides backpacks filled with food that is child-friendly, shelf-stable, and easily-consumed. Bags are packed each week by volunteers and discreetly distributed to participating children every Friday afternoon. “Every Thursday we pack backpacks with food,” said Trimmings. “It’s been 109 backpacks the last few weeks. We were surprised how many kids were not have having enough food over the weekend, so some receive Family Bags with extra food for other family members.” Richard well knows how unaware the general public is about local hunger. He has one more year before he graduates, and he is thinking of studying psychology in college. He hopes everyone will donate to the program. “I think they should support it because everyone thinks Saratoga is so perfect but it’s really not,” he said. “They turn their shoulder thinking a person’s going to be okay, but it doesn’t happen. I just want people to be aware of their neighbors, because your neighbors could be the ones that need help and you wouldn’t know it.” Trimmings said Richard’s willingness to share his story helped light fires in others’ hearts, too, and he was a huge help in getting the program rolling. “Richard was so private, so shy, so embarrassed, and did not get in trouble,” said Trimmings. “Him allowing us to tell his story has put a personal face to this and to be able to recognize and say to these kids that not only are we going to help you with food, but we see you. We see you and care about you.” Trimmings began the program through the St. Clement’s outreach program and their very active food pantry. Donations and volunteers poured through the hearts of the parishioners and team there, and Trimmings said she couldn’t be more grateful. But so far the program has only offered support during the school year, and the need in summer and throughout the year is so great that Trimmings and her husband filed the paperwork for the program to become its own 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, so that it can expand its ability to fundraise. The vital role of St. Clements will continue through the helpful volunteers and space to pack the backpacks each week. According to Trimmings, she’s been working with CAPTAIN Youth Services on additional summer food programs. Some of those programs are still in the works, but will be announced soon with notices going home in students’ backpacks. “This is not just another program handing out,” said Trimmings. “These are children. They can’t get a job to buy groceries and cook at 9 years old. I’ve seen first hand a child failing out of school, who never played a sport in his life, and I’ve seen what just having food has done for this child. To be labeled learning disabled because he doesn’t have enough food. Food insecurity is if they never know if there’s going to be a next meal. It gives them learning issues, sleep issues, and more. Up until three years ago, I had no idea there were kids like this in this district. Not in Africa. If we feed them and they have enough energy to function in school, they can do well in school and have opportunities to break the cycle. Sure, there’s the philosophy of teach the father how to fish. Well, we have to reach the kids first.” Each backpack costs $13 and they are helping about 150 children currently. The bags are packed with specific nutritional guidelines on number of grains, proteins, etc., so the program cannot accept food donations. The cash donations are used to purchase specific foods through the food bank, Hannaford and Dollar Tree. They are looking for companies willing to donate food, however, in large quantities. Instead of 6 loaves of bread, they need 109 loaves of bread, so they are looking for corporate donors who can donate at that level. And they will always need volunteers. In addition to St. Clement’s, there have been volunteers from book clubs, athletic teams and others. All are welcome. Right now, there is an immediate need to fund the summer program. The SNACPack program is funded entirely by local donations. One hundred percent of donations go toward running the SNACPack program. The cost to sponsor a child for a full school year is $520. For more information on donating, volunteering, or generally about SNACPack, visit www.snacpackprogram.com.
Thursday, 09 June 2016 16:22

Hendrickson Stands Up to Cuomo

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The resignation of John Hendrickson as special advisor to the New York Racing Association’s board of directors on Tuesday, June 7, resounded like a thunderclap around Saratoga and throughout the thoroughbred racing industry. “I was appointed to help give a voice to Saratoga,” said Hendrickson, “but it is clear that the governor is not interested in listening. He’s broken many commitments made to racing.” Hendrickson, who was appointed to the position in October 2012 by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, did not have voting status on the 17-member reorganization board, but he played a vital role in looking out for the interests of racing and Saratoga Springs. Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen said, “We certainly feel John Hendrickson has been a top notch representative of these issues that are so important for the City and its economy. It always helps to have an advocate of his stature, and he played a critical role and did a great job.” Maureen Lewi, who was recently elected Chair of the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing by the members of the committee as well as the Board of Directors of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said she was devastated by the news when Hendrickson called her. “He served in a capacity that absolutely no one else could serve in,” said Lewi. “He is the only one who could be frank and get away with it. If he felt there was something wrong at the racetrack or county or city or state government, he spoke out. I’ve been around racing 40 years and have never seen anyone be able to do that other than him. What he’s done for the sport by speaking out is amazing. I can’t tell you the number of emails and phone calls that have been coming in from Florida, Kentucky and all over. Everyone is just devastated by the news.” Lewi said many of the calls are from “horse people” who are worried that if Saratoga continues to be run by the State that it will never reach its full potential, continuing to grow and develop. She said government is just not equipped to do business, that it can’t be nimble enough for such a competitive industry like racing. “He [Cuomo] took over racing, saying it was for three years, then extended it another year without consulting NYRA – he just did it,” said Hendrickson. “If government can do it for one more year, what’s to stop them from doing it again next year?” The NYRA Reorganization Board was only supposed to last for three years, but instead of reprivatizing NYRA as agreed, Cuomo quietly retained control for an additional year of New York’s racing through last year’s state budget process and appointed Anthony Bonomo as chairman in April 2015, just days after Bonomo had contributed $50,000 to Cuomo’s campaign chest, according to campaign records. Bonomo is a horse owner and had previously served as a gubernatorial appointee on the board. He is also the president of the Administrators for the Professions, Inc., an insurance company management organization. One of the companies it operates is the Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers, the company that provided the no-show job for former NYS Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ son, Adam Skelos. Both Skelos and his son have been sentenced to prison on federal corruption charges involving, among other things, that no-show job. Bonomo resigned his chairmanship on the NYRA board that summer, as charges and indictments against the Skelos’ were coming down. In response to the Hendrickson resignation, Governor Cuomo’s spokesman, Rich Azzopardi, issued the following written statement: “We thank Mr. Hendrickson for his service and wish him well. The Governor and the Legislature saved NYRA from yet another bankruptcy in 2012 and installed a Board and management team that, by every metric, has been a success. We seek to continue this progress.” Hendrickson’s response was to say that, far from saving racing, Cuomo dried up the VLT money that was coming in at the time. “To say the governor saved the New York Racing Association is like saying ‘I took my friend out on a boating trip and threw him out of the boat with concrete sneakers, and then I rescued him,’” said Hendrickson. Hendrickson was firmly against the governor’s decision to set aside the agreement that provided VLT revenues to NYRA in exchange for property at its three race tracks, and told him so, he said. “These are not support payments to NYRA,” said Hendrickson. “They are mortgage payments. NYRA turned over a billion dollars of land to the State of New York in exchange for these VLT payments. You couldn’t do [what Cuomo is doing] with a bank.” According to Hendrickson, in an omnibus budget bill, a thousand VLT machines at Aqueduct would go to support the Nassau County OTB. He compared that with taking a mortgage payment and giving it to someone else rather than the bank. “The only way the State could get into gambling at all was to have VLT’s connected to racing,” said Hendrickson in frustration. “Basically I resigned from the board because I got tired of the State breaking its promises to racing. It came with a heavy heart because I don’t like burning bridges. But there’s a lot going on in the dark, and the Governor still doesn’t even have a re-privatization bill, which doesn’t sound like an office committed to privatization.” According to Lewi, both houses of the Legislature and other elected officials and community leaders around the Capital Region, including the members of the NYRA board, are for re-privatization. The NYRA board approved a re-privatization plan in April, and there are identical bills in the Senate and Assembly for the State to release control of racing. “The bills have gone through committee and need to go to the floor,” said Lewi. “They are confident that they will have a favorable vote, but the question is, what is the governor going to do?” “This isn’t what I signed up for,” said Hendrickson. “My loyalty is to Saratoga, not to a politician. Marylou [Whitney] and I are committed to Saratoga and will continue the Backstretch Appreciation Program for as along as they’ll allow us. Marylou and I have several loves, but Saratoga is our first love.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Summer is the season for bed bugs, and although they are mostly associated with traveling, they are not uncommon in the home or businesses. We caught up with Chris Quinn, branch manager of Catseye Pest Control in Saratoga Springs, for some advice, and found that they had received over 100 calls from homeowners and businesses in the past year for bed bugs across Saratoga County. “Usually our calls will increase with people traveling over spring break, summer vacations and Christmas,” said Quinn, who has been in the business for 25 years. “I remember a big outbreak when I was working in Boston. They were all over the whole area. Thing is, college kids love free furniture, and when someone puts a free mattress or couch out front, the kids take it and that’s how it really took off.” Bed bugs are roughly the size of an apple seed. The young can be as small as a period on a piece of newsprint. They change in color as they mature from translucent to light brown to a burnt-orange brown. The males are round and flat and the females are a little darker and longer. The good news is, according to the NYS Health Department, they do not carry diseases, so bites are usually harmless other than an irritating rash or itchy welt, which disappear after a couple weeks. They come out at night to feed, and then crawl back to their tiny crevice near the bed, such as an electrical outlet or baseboard. The most harm is both in the pocketbook and in the “creep factor,” the sleepless nights of getting up with a flashlight to constantly check the family beds for bugs, even long after they are gone. Bed bugs are opportunistic hitchhikers, which is why an infestation is not a reflection on a family’s cleanliness and personal habits. That said, a sense of embarrassment keeps them under-reported. Knowing a few tips about what to look for can help you prevent bringing them into your home. First, leave the free furniture on the side of the road. Use mattress encasements that are specifically labeled for bed bug protection, and it will protect from other pests as well. Keep your home, basement and storage areas free of clutter, where they like to hide when not feeding. Hoarding can exacerbate a problem. And they can be picked up traveling, but that can be prevented as well. “It’s way easier to get a flea problem from someone sitting next to you than a bed bug,” said Quinn, so don’t worry too much about your seat in an airport. “Sure, anything’s possible, but not very probable.” They are most likely to come from temporary living spaces like hotels and dorms, or from already infested items that you might get at a garage sale or used furniture. Quinn recommends travelers carry a flashlight and inspect their rooms before unpacking. “Put your suitcase in the bathroom in the shower,” he said, “to separate your clothes from the bed bug area until you can inspect the room. Start at the bedding, ideally with the skirting, which is rarely changed. Look in bedding folds, where there’s an overlap of material for them to hang out. Look at baseboards. If they are carpeted, pull it back so you can see under it. They like cracks and crevices around the bedding area.” What you are looking for are bed bug droppings, which look like black pepper flakes, or black smudges like graphite. They molt, like most bugs, so you are also looking for shed skins. Once you are satisfied the room is clear, put your suitcase on the luggage stand and keep it there. Don’t put it on top of the bed or on the floor next to the bed. The female wants to protect her young from the males, so she picks an area least like her environment as possible to lay eggs, such as the crack or crevice of a suitcase, which is typically how people bring them home. Bed bugs are attracted to human breath and scent, so keep dirty laundry bagged tightly and kept away from your suitcase until you are ready to pack and leave. “Bed bugs can go unfed easily for six months, and lie in wait for a food source,” said Quinn. “If you come home and put your suitcase in the basement or above the garage, it can stay in a suspended state until it senses a food source. They prefer humans, but they will feast on something else. Have seen them feed on rats.” Finding a food source once every six months or so can keep them in an uninhabited area for as long as 18 months, in some cases, so moving into a long-empty new home or apartment is no guarantee they aren’t there. According to Quinn, there are no foolproof bed bug detectors on the market, so testing for them is no guarantee, either, although it is better to have a monitor after treatment than not have one. If bed bugs do hitch a ride into your home, they multiply quickly, so best to get a professional in as soon as possible. “Bug bombs don’t work,” said Quinn. “They just shoot up into the air and land back on surfaces. Bed bugs don’t live in the air – they live in cracks and will just dig in deeper if a professional is not called in to get them where they live. And repellant materials just pushes them away without killing them, so eventually they come back.” Catseye provides a full week process, and then treats an individual’s home once a week for four weeks combining “The Cryonite Method” of freezing bed bugs with a residual insect growth regulator to disrupt the reproductive cycle of these pests. According to the company’s website, “The Cryonite Method uses the cooling properties of carbon dioxide to eliminate bed bugs and their eggs. Cryonite is created when carbon dioxide is converted to an exceptionally cold dry-ice snow. The temperature of this snow can reach as low as -110 degrees fahrenheit. Catseye uses it instead of heat, fumigation and other techniques because it is more environmentally-friendly, can better reach the tiny cracks where bed bugs like to hide, and can be used to target specific areas in your home. It is used to treat mattresses, box springs, furniture, window and door frames, curtains and other areas where bed bugs could be hiding. Any eggshells and shed skins are also removed.” They will take out dresser drawers and flip them upside down, and treat lamps and alarm clocks, starting with beds and couches and moving out in the home in a circular fashion. “It goes from a solid right to a gas,” said Quinn. “It doesn’t become a puddle of water, so it’s great for electronics as long as you’re grounding your equipment. They can potentially get in anything. If you can take a corner of a business card and fit it into a crack, a bed bug can fit in there.” Which is why it can be devastating when an infestation occurs. Most people eventually replace their mattresses, once they are sure the infestation is over so the new mattress isn’t infected. But if moving to a new location, some families have had to pay for just about everything to be hauled to a dump and start fresh with new furnishings in a new home or apartment. For college students, any stuffed animals must be run in a dryer on high heat for half an hour before packing them, or put into heavy black trash bags, tied tightly, and put in the hot summer sun for two days. Picture and poster frames should be wiped down, too. Everything must be cleaned thoroughly before bringing it somewhere else – because these tiny hitchhikers like to travel. Extreme heat and cold can kill them, so if you can wash it in the hottest dishwasher or clothes washer water and hottest dryer setting, your clothes and kitchen items are fine. The home freezer does not get cold enough, so a professional is needed for freezing. Dry-cleaning kills them, too. Anything that cannot be washed can be wiped down with rubbing alcohol, but keep in mind that it’s a flammable substance, and once it dries the bed bugs could return to it unless the infestation is gone. For more information about bed bugs and other pest control, contact your preferred pest control professionals or Catseye Pest Control at 518-581-7378.
Friday, 22 April 2016 11:37

UnAffordable Care Act

(Some information in this article is sensitive, so individual names are withheld for their security and privacy).

SARATOGA COUNTY – Touted as a victory for the uninsured, the Affordable Care Act is now in its third year and still getting mixed reviews. Here in Saratoga County, low-income individuals and families are receiving inarguably much-needed benefits, but anyone wanting to lift themselves into the next tax bracket – and the small business owners that want to help them do it – are being left behind.

Thursday, 21 April 2016 16:50

Back Inn the Day

Inn at Saratoga Gets Victorian-Era Makeover

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The 173-year-old Inn at Saratoga, located at 231 Broadway, celebrated the completion of many of its extensive renovations capitalizing on the venue’s old world charm on Thursday, April 21 with a grand opening event that included menu samplings and cocktail tastings, as well as the sounds of acoustic guitar player Jeff Walton, a regular entertainer on Thursday nights at the Inn. 

Thursday, 14 April 2016 17:15

Heroin

No Murder Charge in NYS for Dealing Death

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Another young victim was lost last week to the war on drugs, a 23-year-old local woman who died of a drug overdose right here in Saratoga Springs. For her, and many families like hers, the drug war is more of a street fight, one that lurks in every home medicine cabinet, haunts every playground, and boldly grins through every neighborhood here and across America. 

Thursday, 07 April 2016 16:59

Hospital Expansion

A Decision for Many is in the Hands of a Few

Saratoga Hospital is a private, non-profit entity that is responsible for providing much of the wellness, chronic, urgent and life-saving medical care needed in a county with a population of more than 226,000 people. Anticipating future medical care needs, the hospital recently proposed an expansion. The neighborhood and some City Council members oppose it. Who speaks for the other 200,000 people?

Monday, 14 March 2016 17:39

Behind the Thin Blue Line

 

My Night on a Police Ride Along

SARATOGA SPRINGS —Sergeant Mark Leffler’s experienced ears responded quickly to the voice I hardly noticed on the radio, breaking off our conversation about local DWI incidents. The lights and siren went on, and I could feel a slight increase in G’s as our vehicle sped down Broadway, traffic quickly moving out of our way. 

“Ambulance in route,” came dispatcher Aneisha Liska’s calm voice into the unmarked vehicle. That, I heard. It was about 3:15 a.m. on Saturday morning, March 5, about the time my ride-along shift with the Saratoga Springs Police Department was about to end, and it sounded like it was about to end on a sober note.

Up until this point, it had been fairly quiet, a routine night in Saratoga. I had arrived at the double doors on Lake Avenue leading to both the police station and the department of public works at around 8 p.m. Friday, March 4. The air was country-crisp and clean, wrapped in the welcoming twilight of the city lights that held the cold night at bay. I remember thinking, no wonder people make the drive from Albany up here after the bars close there. Saratoga Springs is quite pretty at any hour, and it smells nice. 

I paused at the security window of the Saratoga Springs Police Department and was welcomed by Officer Jonathan VanWie, 29, who wore his uniform with the ease of someone twice his age. “I love it here,” he told me. “It’s a great department to work for – very much community-based policing.” 

We started in the dispatch office, where I met Aaron Deuel and Aneisha Liska, who field the calls as they come in.  The room was softly lit, with most of the glow coming from the multiple monitors at each desk. One wall was lined with a glass partition between the front of the office and dispatch, and Sergeant Robert Dennis leaned in through the window to sing the praises of the dispatch department. 

“There aren’t that many cities left that still have local dispatchers,” he said. “The 911 calls are routed through the county sheriff’s office directly to the officers, but our calls are routed here.” 

Dennis explained that local dispatchers are supreme multitaskers. They not only dispatch the call quickly, but they simultaneously research the call and keep the officers updated with their findings, such as whether there might be a gun registered to the homeowner on a domestic dispute call. According to Dennis, county dispatchers don’t have time to provide that level of background, and that work provided by local dispatch has saved time, money, and lives.

The station was bigger than it appeared, and tours are commonly held for schools and other groups. I was taken to the interview rooms where suspects and victims were questioned. We then visited the initial intake area where the personal belongings of suspects were inventoried and their photos taken. Hanging on the wall were sturdy shackles that made me immediately think of every prison movie I’d ever seen. I saw the digital fingerprinting station, the breathalyzer that was set and ready to go,  the roll-call room that doubles for training, and the storage area for firearms. We also visited the room where the body cameras were recharged and downloaded for future review or to be deleted, as the case may be. 

VanWie drove a marked police vehicle that was equipped with the standard dashboard camera, computer monitor and printer for checking license plates and inputting traffic tickets, and secure places for firearms. As we drove along, he demonstrated how he could flip a switch to see the speeds of all the cars coming toward us or going away from us, easily distinguishable at a glance. 

We drove through different areas of the city as a standard check, pulling through the train station, down Broadway and through different neighborhoods. We spoke about his training at the police academy, and the regular firearm training all officers receive throughout the year, even though state law does not require additional training for officers beyond initial firearm certification. VanWie’s training has prepared him for everything from domestic disputes to active shooter situations, and even to notice, in the few seconds that a car drove past us, that its inspection sticker was out of date.  

Around 11:30 p.m., after a few routine calls, I was handed over to the care of Sergeant Mark Leffler, well-known for his numerous DWI arrests and named 2014 Officer of the Year by the Saratoga Springs Police Lieutenant’s Police Benevolent Association. He had a hand in the background checks and training of some of the young officers working that night, and in his capacity as patrol supervisor on the midnight shift, we took his unmarked vehicle to back up some of the traffic stops of other officers. 

Just as VanWie did, we took a tour of various neighborhoods and businesses, checking that all is normal. By 1 a.m., Caroline Street had a strolling crowd of laughing people enjoying a relaxing Friday night with friends and coworkers. I couldn’t help but smile as we slowly pulled past the wave of people out having a good time. 

Some, however, were having too good of a time. Leffler and I pulled in behind one DWI stop, watching while Officer Joe Hughes put a driver through a sobriety field test. The sergeant explained each step to me as the driver walked a line, balanced on one foot, and finally turned and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed with a rueful smile, knowing he’d been caught fair and square. Leffler inventoried the vehicle before the tow truck took it away, and as I watched him pull open the door, we were both hit by the smell of alcohol pouring invisibly out of the SUV. 

There was a domestic dispute call that also looked like it involved alcohol, as the man on the front lawn could barely stand. There were two other cars on the scene, and after checking with the officers, we went on our way. Another call came in about a man seemingly asleep behind the wheel of a parked car, and we drove up in time to see one of the patrol officers stepping back from the man as he bent over and lost his dinner. “At least he had the good sense to not start his car,” said Leffler, after he confirmed the officer didn’t need his help and we moved on. 

The dispatcher called us to back up one of the officers who had stopped a car with a handgun in it. Protocol requires backup in such cases, even for licensed guns. As the officer put the driver through a sobriety field test, Leffler removed the handgun from the car. “There’s a passenger,” he told me, so they couldn’t leave the gun in the car in that case. It occurred to me that much of police protocol was based in the common sense adage, better safe than sorry. 

And then it was after 3 a.m. and we were being called, along with an ambulance, onto Caroline Street. 

Leffler was assessing the situation well before he stopped the vehicle, and he decided he could allow me to get out. There was a crowd of about 30 people on the south side of the street, and a few onlookers on the north side, where I first went to find out what was going on. 

The temperature had dropped considerably, and angry voices bounced like a thousand ping pongs through the cold night air, mingled with the lower but firm responses of the officers. 

“He’s bleeding, can’t you see he’s bleeding?”

“You get your hands off me – don’t you tell me what to do!”

“Ma’am, I need you to stand back.”

I counted five police officers, including Leffler, and two first responders from the ambulance that had arrived. The officers were trying to separate the crowd, asking the onlookers to disburse so they could get to the heart of the problem, which appeared to be a group of women of various ages who were angry about the treatment of a young man who was sitting on the steps of a vestibule holding his head. He appeared to be okay except for something on his head that I couldn’t see because his hand was over it. 

The onlookers on the north side of the street told me they hadn’t seen a thing, so I moved back across the street to see and hear better. The young man was taken to the back of the ambulance and when next I saw him, he was holding a square white bandage to his head and yelling at the EMT who had a clipboard, “I’m only 17. I’m not signing nothing!”

The group looked like family and friends dressed to celebrate something, and the party got out of hand. One of the bouncers at a nearby bar told me that the group had tried to get into one of the bars and the bouncer refused to let the young man in, and got punched in the face for his trouble. Another bouncer pulled the kid off the first bouncer, and somehow the youth ended up on the ground. It wasn’t clear if he was pushed, thrown, or fell, but he hit his head on the way down.

The crowd had grown as people were leaving the bars either to find out what was going on or to end their evenings. I was shivering and had to put my gloves on to keep writing, but the crowd didn’t seem to notice the cold. Men and women with varying degrees of delight or disgust on their faces passed by, watching as the officers continued to move the original party further down the street away from the spectators, who weren’t making things any easier for them.

One sandy-blonde haired man of about 30 years old was practically skipping through the crowd, laughing and shouting something in slurred words with his arms out for balance, weaving in and out among the onlookers and the angry partiers. I could see the officers looking at each other to see who could get a handle on this guy, but there wasn’t one to spare – they each had their hands full with an angry person in their faces, refusing to go home or calmly explain what happened. 

Another onlooker, who smelled strongly of stale beer, began jeering and chanting at the top of his voice. The way the sound bounced between the buildings on the narrow street, I’m not sure people could really hear him above all the other voices crowding the night, but it suddenly occurred to me that there were not enough police officers to handle all these people if things did get ugly by something like the incendiary words this drunk was throwing. Looking at the officers’ faces again, it was clear they knew that, too, and I could see all their energies were concentrated on keeping the crowd calm. 

The scene appeared to be a lesson in the consequences of too much to drink. Caroline Street at 4 in the morning was filled with people stumbling, designated drivers supporting them out the doors, bouncers standing firmly with their arms crossed but ready, people shouting for cabs that couldn’t get through because of the police cars and ambulance, and the original group of about seven or eight women who would not disburse after the officers arrested and took away their young suspect. 

I glanced down at my notes for a second and looked back up to see an officer had pinned one of the women against the trunk of a police vehicle, having cuffed one hand and was trying to cuff the other. She was yelling and fighting with all her strength, and it took three officers to hold her down and get her cuffed. 

The bouncer near me said the officer who had initially tried to handcuff her had the patience of a saint. It was hard to see much beyond their shadowed forms with the bright, flashing police lights behind them, but it looked to me like they were just trying to hold her still to get the cuffs on, but she used her whole body to fight them off. It was a far cry from the drunk driver earlier who ruefully smiled and gave himself up easily.

I would later speak with Police Chief Gregory Veitch, who told me that it was standard procedure to hold an internal investigation with every use of force to assure that those incidents were being conducted appropriately. “I’m very proud of the officers and how we handle things,” said Veitch. “They could lose their tempers, and we train them not to. I’m very proud at how well they handle themselves in these situations.” 

Once the cuffs finally fastened, the middle-aged woman slipped between the officers down to the ground and huddled there, laying at the edge of the cold sidewalk next to the police car. At least four smartphones appeared in the crowd and began shooting video. The officers tried to help her to her feet, but she refused, saying she couldn’t breathe and had asthma. They immediately signaled for the EMTs to step forward and the ambulance rolled up closer so she could be placed in a stretcher and taken to the hospital.  

The street began to clear, then. It was as if it were the end of a movie, with all the tension suddenly drained as people walked away in different directions, chatting about what they’d seen. I was so cold my teeth were chattering, but I didn’t want to get back in the car just yet. Caroline Street had changed. Officers were getting into their cars or ushering onlookers on their way, bars were shutting doors and locking up, and the noise and smell were beginning to fade in the pre-dawn. This was the street that hours earlier was filled with people taking a break from everyday life to enjoy each other’s company, the same street that became a tinderbox waiting for a match by 4 a.m., a match that never lit because of a thin blue line. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Some people, no matter what their age, longingly miss school. They loved the give-and-take between student peers on controversial topics; enjoyed (respectfully) challenging their professors’ published works; and would attend every lecture enthusiastically on topics that made other students’ eyes glaze over. 

Back in the Roaring ‘20’s heyday, William Bullock knew a handful of people just like that, all afflicted with an unshakable curiosity about the world and everything in it. While everyone else was doing the Charleston, he formed the first Torch Club on June 18, 1924 a place where lifelong learners could satisfy their inner three-year-old that perpetually asked the question, “why?”

Bullock’s vision of an Association of Torch Clubs expanded across the country over the ensuing decades with a purpose of broadening intellectual and social horizons. Today, nearly 70 Torch clubs across the United States and Canada meet regularly to hear and discuss cross-profession presentations.  

The newly formed Saratoga Torch Club held its second meeting on Thursday, January 14 at the Holiday Inn on Broadway. About 25 people were there, anticipating the presentation by their group president, Gerald Stulc, MD, a retired cancer surgeon and naval reserves captain (06). Stulc is also a lifelong history buff, and with World War I helmets and a leather gas mask before him, Stulc described to the group a history of medical advances that stemmed from the “shot heard around the world.” 

Stulc described the difference between shock and shell-shock (also known as the Thousand Yard Stare). One was a loss of blood, which had previously been thought to be a symptom rather than cause, and the other was the early diagnosis for what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We were surprised to hear that PTSD was taken quite seriously in WWI, given the struggles military victims of PTSD have gone through for recognition and help in modern times. In December of 1914, 10 percent of WWI officers had shell shock, and 40 percent of casualties of the Battle of Somme had shell shock. According to Stulc, neurophysiology led physicians to attribute shell shock to the effect high explosives had on nerves and brains. 

For the cost of a dinner and drinks, and a nominal annual membership fee, Saratoga’s Torch Club members spent a collegial evening learning about the first attempts at blood transfusion and blood banking, chest surgeries, vaccination, and the unintended consequences of gas warfare science. Thousands of men and horses died from mustard gas, but science learned from their horrors and created the first chemotherapeutic agents against cancer from those tragic consequences.

Torch Club members relish dinner conversations that explore the uncomfortable, like poking a tongue into a nagging tooth to test the level of pain. They explore solutions to controversial issues, relax over shared stories of local entertainment or the arts, and spend quality time enjoying the company of good souls who like to learn what makes the world tick. 

A Torch Club adds to the educational opportunities within a community, encouraging member presenters to write and submit a paper on their favorite topics for Torch publication. Torch Club Vice President Francis Moul said, "Outside of university classrooms, this may be one of the best places in our nation for this sort of dialogue and stimulation." 

Torch club members tend to be quite open-minded. A scientist is able to debate the side of creationism; a teacher can sit back and let someone else lead the teaching; a social justice author can enjoy hearing about the hedonism of Hollywood’s Golden Age. This is a group that values intellectual stimulation and the freedom to delve into probing questions and participate in a thoughtful exchange of ideas. This is the core of Torch. 

To find out more about the Saratoga Torch Club and its February meeting on Hollywood’s Golden Age, contact Leo Kellogg at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with Saratoga Torch in the subject line, or call 518-279-5401. The national website is www.torch.org.

 

 


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