June 29, 2014

Meet Me at Viaduct Park

If someone were to ask me what I think about the many proposals on the table for the I-81 project, I'd say they were trying to do too much, and too little, at the same time.

There's lots of information out there on this project, including several recent articles by Teri Weaver (@TeriKWeaver) on Syracuse.com and the I-81 Opportunities page, where I've been learning what's going on. It looks like the primary focus, after having some 16 or so options initially, is now centered on a new viaduct or a street-level boulevard, with multiple iterations of each.

Here's a quick overview of the viaduct choices: It'll be taller, a lot wider, and most likely straighter, in order to fully meet federal standards.  It'll be a 55 MPH road for the most part, although the most Kardashianesque version would recommend only 50 MPH. All versions require some building demolition in addition to the viaduct demo and rebuild. All versions would cause a couple of dead President streets (Madison and Monroe) to dead end where today they don't. Costs are in the $1.4 billion range.

The boulevard options involve re-routing traffic to the east of Syracuse, by re-designating I-481 to I-81. In addition, we'll have one or more streets totaling two or three northbound and two or three southbound lanes, either on the existing Almond Street footprint, or using an existing road to handle southbound traffic, or building a companion road next to Almond St. There will be bike lane and parking lanes and street scaping and all that. All of these options are in the $1.05 billion range. Streets would have to close for this option as well.

Both the boulevard options and the viaduct options also include some changes to I-690 ramps, and a connection from I-690 East to I-81 North and from I-81 South to I-690 West, referred to as the missing link. 

I admit I have to check out the larger versions and videos and information; looking at the options in the online renditions is difficult, but at this point none of the options are speaking to me.

  • I don't see that tearing down more buildings to accommodate highways, in a city that has too many empty lots already (commercial and residential both), is a good thing. Especially given our history of tearing down buildings - and neighborhoods - to build the highway in the first place.
  • I also don't have a warm fuzzy about trying to cross a six or eight lane boulevard to get from downtown to the educational/medical complex on The Hill. 
  • And I'm not enamored at all about sending all of the 'tourists' outside of town via I-481 and not bringing them back.  

Tourists -- intentional or accidental -- bring people and their money into town.  They eat at restaurants if they can get to them.  They shop at stores in the neighborhood where they eat. I know this because when we travel we're frequent "jump off the interstate to find coffee and a bite to eat" people, and we'll park and walk around a bit, and shop, and take pictures and so on. And we always seem to find other people doing the exact same thing. It's possible we're in the minority, folks who would rather find something local than stop at a fast food joint, but is this how we want to stake our future?

What idea am I fond of?  The one that NYSDOT apparently never thought of (which in and of itself is almost unbelievable): use I-481 to I-690 to (existing) I-81 as the new traffic path, sending people back to (and through) the city. I know there would need to be some work getting the ramps and traffic patterns figured out but it seems that it would almost have to cost less than a billion and would likely call for even further reduced demolition. It appears now that NYSDOT will be looking into this one to see if there's any viability. If they accept it, we could generally keep Almond Street pretty much as is, with some cosmetic changes, and save the money for something big.

NYS DOT photo
How big? What I would love to see is DOT leaving up part of the current elevated I-81, and make our own joint Syracuse - Onondaga County Viaduct Park, similar to New York City's Highline.

The Highline is an inner city park built on the site of elevated train tracks on the west side of Manhattan.  What was once an abandoned rail line is now a beautiful park, open year round, and a model for similar projects here and in other countries.

For us to do it in Syracuse (roughly in the part of the viaduct in the red box, but the actual southern and northern borders would have to be determined by NYSDOT engineers)  it would take collaboration, creativity, and a desire to look past the obvious and coming up with a new way to make use of something whose current 'useful life' is about to end.

So, how could we get there?

  • Allow traffic to continue exiting downtown from existing I-81 north.  If the Harrison Street off-ramp can be saved, that makes it easier.  Traffic exists there, maybe with two exit lanes, and the southbound viaduct gets disconnected for all other traffic. Folks wanting to head south on I-81 from the city would use the existing on-ramp off Adams St.  (If the exit won't work at Harrison, it doesn't kill the idea, it just means the viaduct will be cut off north of there.
  • From the south, have two lanes exit 81 onto Almond Street, and the northbound viaduct gets cut off. Access to I-81N would happen in the new mix of ramps that are included in the Boulevard options.
  • Once the cuts are made and the highway is ended at the exits, the elevated portion of the highway between those two points becomes Viaduct Park. 
  • Add access points at each end and in the middle, using a combination of ramps, stairs, and pedestrian bridges.  At least one access on each side would need to be an elevator. 
  • Engage the folks from local colleges, most importantly SUNY-ESF and Cornell, because we'll need landscape designers, maybe even a contest, to come up with the best plan which would ideally include a combination of covered and uncovered places, seating areas,  a measured walking path, and native landscaping. Maybe a portion could be used as an educational space where master gardeners help community gardeners?
  • Engage the Save the Rain people to make sure we are incorporating re-use of rainwater and snow runoff, similar to how we're doing it at the War Memorial.
  • Engage local engineering firms to assist with the project, particularly those with green building and alternative energy experience, so we can figure out two things: (1) how to make it brighter underneath the park, one of the big concerns with the existing viaduct (and in part why the new viaduct options include making it so much higher) and how to use solar energy to light the park itself. 
  • The primary mode of transportation in the Park would be feet, but if necessary incorporate a couple of spots so that folks on bikes won't be forced across the busy Boulevard, but could go up and over it to get to the other side.

Seriously -- if we're going to spend  over a billion dollars, let's get something out of it that will bring people to Syracuse, rather than having them just fly on by. Why don't we think about engaging people rather than only on getting them from A to B as fast as possible?

Think it's crazy? Well, in addition to the Highline, check out the Bridge of Flowers in Shelbourne MA, built on an abandoned trolley line.  Or, check out  the Walkway Over the Hudson, a state park build on an abandoned railroad bridge over the Hudson River. Those two are very different realizations of similar ideas: rather than tearing something down, make use of it, and more importantly, create a tourist attraction where there was none.   

What could Viaduct Park become? 
  • A place to hold our city festivals that doesn't require shutting downtown streets for multiple weekends each year, causing nightmares for businesses, pedestrians, and motorists. Or, if we were bold, a way to have multiple festivals downtown at the same time, with Centro shuttles running between them...  
  • An elevated place from which we could watch fireworks over downtown...
  • A place that people would come to, on purpose, and then branch out into the city for food and other entertainment, spending much needed dollars at our local businesses...  
  • A compliment to the downtown historic district and to the renewed Inner Harbor, connected via marked walking trail to the Creekwalk...
  • The possibilities are only limited by our creativity and vision. 

What do you think, want to meet me at Viaduct Park? 

June 24, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $309,716

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes the weekly business section. In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were 24 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $302,185.

·         There was one satisfied judgment, for $7,531.

·         There were no health care related bankruptcies listed.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had 15, totaling $163,701
·         St Joe’s had two, totaling $15,861
·         SUNY Upstate had seven, for $123,637
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none.

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

June 22, 2014

Should We Gamble on Wilmorite?

Was the Onondaga County Legislature really thinking of throwing our support behind a proposed casino a few dozen miles down the road? Being developed by Wilmorite?

I say 'our' support, because Leg Chair Ryan McMahon and the rest of them are really speaking for us when they vote on and pass resolutions and laws.  And if you're wondering why they thought that throwing our support behind a project outside Onondaga County, proposed by a developer with a (at least recently) spotty track record inside Onondaga County is a priority, you're not alone.

As noted in a recent article by Michelle Breidenbach in the Post-Standard, Wilmorite is going to submit a proposal for one of the casinos authorized by last year's resolution to amend our state Constitution to
allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.
The pie-in-the-sky constitutional amendment, a gamble in and of itself, was approved by 57% of New Yorkers hungry for any kind of tax relief, opening up the ground wars for developers to find places to put these job engines and start moving New York into a glorious state of economic boom.  Because that's what we promised ourselves, silly us.

As you recall, Onondaga County is not eligible for our own casino, being in an exclusive territory given to the Oneida Nation by our Sonova Governor Andrew Cuomo, who rolled the dice by negotiating with and securing an agreement from the Oneidas to protect their investment and share some of their wealth ($25 million a year) with the state and local governmental jurisdictions in the neighborhood surrounding their Turning Stone Resort and Casino.

Subsequent negotiations with other Native American casino operators established other exclusive zones around the state, leaving three zones where casinos could be built - the Fingerlakes area, including the Southern Tier; the Catskills, and the Capital District.

Enter Wilmorite, the Rochester developer who has long been engaged in Onondaga County as well:
  • Think ShoppingTown Mall and Great Northern Mall, once glistening, booming retail establishments.
  • And think the proposed OnCenter Hotel, to be built downtown using the proceeds from a racino that Wilmorite wanted to build in Cicero.  
  • And think, more recently, of the defaulted mortgage on the old Sibley's building, which a local developer wants to get working on, and hopefully won't be delayed by Wilmorite's default. 

The racino project, which the Legislature voted to support back in 2011, had all the same promise as the casino -- jobs and sales tax revenue and the like -- except that it would have actually been in Onondaga County. Alas, nothing ever materialized on that deal, and early last year, the Legislature (with several new members) rescinded our support. We moved on, keeping Onondaga County safe from state-sponsored gambling which local politicians have long opposed here, and Wilmorite moved on to bigger and better things. Except that they came back, to ask for our support for their casino.

The casino is proposed for a spot north of the Thruway across from the big Petro station at the Waterloo exit, and across the street from an Amish family farm.  Wilmorite is again waving the promise flag, saying either that 60% of the jobs would come from Onondaga County, or that 60% of the jobs would go through unions in Onondaga County - there's some lack of clarity there, it seems -- and hoping that we would get on board to make their proposal (which promises the "high energy and excitement of Las Vegas") have more oomph than others that are expected for this gambling zone, including likely front-runner Tioga Downs.

Why are they the likely winner? Well, for starters, they have an existing racino, and more importantly, they have the advantage of being near another gambling state's border. And that was one of the big reasons Cuomo wanted casino gambling in New York, remember?
We literally hemorrhage people from the borders who go to casinos. I think it will keep the money in this state...
Legislature Chair Ryan McMahon pulled the vote on the resolution of support because it didn't have enough support even within the Republican caucus to pass, and at the same time chastised the people who would be directly impacted -- residents of Tyre -- noting that they were "muddying the issue with a fight they've already lost" and saying
They're looking at if from the merits of how it impacts them. We're looking at it from a standpoint of how this affects our constituents from an economic standpoint and it clearly would have been good as far as jobs go.
Because, as you know, once the floodgates are open and the promise of jobs is on the table, there's no reason for us here in Onondaga County to do anything other the muddy the waters in another county, and who really gives a rap about the people in the town of Tyre anyway?

Onondaga County is already using casino gambling as an economic development tool. For example, some of the money the county is putting towards the seasonal concert amphitheater on the west shore of Onondaga Lake -- a crap shoot worthy of any Las Vegas high roller --  is an advance on our projected share of the money from Oneida Nation/Turning Stone agreement, so from that perspective I guess it makes sense that we'd at least think about gambling again with Wilmorite.

Alas, as with most gambles, timing is everything. And so is picking the right horse. The fact that McMahon couldn't rally his troops and bring the vote to the floor means we missed the opportunity to support the deal, and it will hold (or fold) without us. That may be to our benefit, as it wouldn't look good on our resume if we backed the Wilmorite horse again - and lost, again.

June 20, 2014

The Update Desk: Bookstore Deal is Off

According to published reports, Syracuse University fired the developer of its new bookstore, the Cameron Group LLC. In a statement, the University noted that
The developer has been unable to adequately address the University's concerns or demonstrate a credible ability to successfully complete the project as it had contractually agreed to do so.
The bookstore was the recipient of a 30-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), which was granted just shy of two years ago by a 'bitterly divided' Common Council.  The PILOT would have given the city all of about $64,000 per year, or less than $2M over the life of the deal.

Back in April of this year, the developer was for the second time in hot water over failure to progress with the project.  One default from last fall had been cleared when the developer took down some trees, put up some stakes, parked a backhoe and made it look like construction had started.  In April the developer assured everyone that they were going to go forward and that, while they were not making any progress, they were not costing anyone anything, a comment I found distasteful. There IS a cost when developers promise something and don't deliver, I noted:
We lose faith in the system when we see the projects not get off the ground, when we see delays, when we see construction equipment parked on the building site but nothing happening. It leaves a bad taste in our mouth, because we've been down this road before.
Now that the developer is out, we won't get the promised minority hiring and fitness programs for local kids that were included as binding contingencies in the deal.  And worse,  unless SU decides to build their new bookstore themselves without involvement from SIDA and the Common Council, we'll have to go through this agonizing process again, with our legislators deciding  once more whether it's worth it to waive tax dollars in the millions for promises in the thousands.

June 17, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $221,080

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes the weekly business section. In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were 14 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $201,319.

·         There were two satisfied judgments, for $19,761.

·         There were no health care related bankruptcies listed.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had six, totaling $77,659
·         St Joe’s had four, totaling $42,567
·         SUNY Upstate had six, for $100,854
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none.

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

June 16, 2014

Seriously: A Parade of Homes in Syracuse

I've written in the past on how wonderful it would be if we were to have a Parade of Homes in Syracuse, in one of our city neighborhoods.

The first time was when the 2012 Parade was getting underway.  That year, the event was held in a new waterfront development in the Town of Clay. In 2013, the Parade was at a new development on the Jamesville Reservoir, in the town of Lafayette.

This year's Parade, sponsored as always by the great folks at the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of CNY (HBRCNY) is going on now, and again it's not in Syracuse -- again it's in the Town of Clay.  Other sites for the Parade over the past several years include Brewerton (2004), Manlius (2005 and 2010), Cicero (2006), Onondaga (2007, 2009), Liverpool (2011), and Clay again (2008).

In 2015, the Parade is returning to another favorite location, Manlius, when they'll put up new homes right near Mallard's Landing.

Some perspective:
  • Mallard's Landing is a community where, in one section, the lots alone start at $168,000, according to their website; most of the available lots are listed at well over $200K. And, as as they used to say on Seinfeld, "not that there's anything wrong with that".  I don't begrudge people living in communities like that if they can afford to, and if it's what they want. 
    • The average price of the 1400 homes sold in Onondaga County this year (through June 10th) is $169,100, or basically just pennies more than the starting price of one of those Mallard's Landing building lots. 
  • The House of the Week in today's Post-Standard is one of this year's twelve Parade homes, five of which have already been sold. It has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms, a home theater, and a screened porch, complete with ceiling fan.. (I don't feel so bad now about putting ceiling fans on my new screened porch last year). At over 3100 square feet, it's priced at $449,950. With 20% down, that's a mortgage payment of over $1700 a month; the estimated taxes are over $15,000.  There's also nothing at all wrong with this as a housing choice.
    • In contrast, the average sale price of a home in the city of Syracuse this year is $94,300, or about one-fifth the price of the house of the week.  
So. Here I am, armed with the information above, and I wonder, do I just keep writing posts on why I think it's a good idea to have a Parade of Homes in Syracuse and expect everyone else to try and come up with where and how?  Nope - not this year. This year, I'll commit:
Let's have Parade of Homes in the city -- Skunk City, that is. 
Skunk City is a neighborhood on the West side. Picture the area stretching from Geddes Street on the east, Grand Ave to the north, Velasko Road to the west, and Bellevue Avenue as the southern border. Delaware School and Fowler. The Mundy Branch library. A few minutes away from a Wegmans and a PriceChopper, and from Upper Onondaga Park. Very close to downtown. And in need of help.

As of its most current listing, if my count is right, the Greater Syracuse Land Bank has 50 properties in inventory located in Skunk City: an apartment building, five two-family homes, 12 single-family homes, and 32 vacant parcels.

Folks, this is simply not how you sustain a city.  You sustain a city by having homes on the tax rolls, by having thriving neighborhoods with all the nearby conveniences that people who live out where we have the Parades of Homes have to drive to, often through significant traffic nightmares. I mean, how interested are you in the Lyndon Corners, Route 92 or Route 31 treks to the store?

You sustain cities by having committed people staking a claim to their home, their block, their corner, their neighborhood.  People who keep an eye on each other, who help each other out. Who plant community gardens, and daffodils, and put up birdhouses.

Tax-free economic development zones for businesses, and SAIL-OPTs (my new acronym:  Service   Agreements ILieu OProperty Taxes) with our over-abundance of not-for-profit parcels, and nice signage and Connective Corridors, help some, but they won't sustain a city.

No, what's happening in the once-proud Skunk City is not sustainable, nor are the things that are happening in our other once-proud city neighborhoods. So again, I ask you to imagine a Parade of Homes, right in Skunk City:
  • What if the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA), and the Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY), could provide context for what Skunk City used to look like, and help architects and builders and interior designers come up with a plan for the Parade homes so they'd be scaled and in character for a city neighborhood? That could include both single family homes and two family homes, for multi-generational living or so that homeowners can get some help towards their payments. 
    • Wasn't our city architecture mapped back during the Driscoll administration? Does anyone know what happened with that project, and if they got around to Skunk City?
  • And what if our local colleges, who have just proved they can collaborate on a grand scale, also got involved in helping to plan additional development in the rest of the neighborhood, small businesses and traffic patterns and greenspace design and public art and all of that? 
  • And if the local governmental agencies could make sure that any zoning, code enforcement concerns, environmental issues and the like were all smoothed out as the project was in the development stage so there were no surprises or delays once things got started, wouldn't that be time well spent? 
And then what if  the Homebuilders Association, seeing all of the synergy and energy around the project, joined the collaboration and loaned their considerable talents and recruited their members and regular partners to tackle at least some of the vacant properties in the Land Bank's inventory, and rebuilt the neighborhood?

Of course, there's more to this than just the nuts and bolts. There's people:
  • How about the Tomorrow's Neighborhoods Today (TNT) group goes out into Skunk City to make the pitch to current neighbors, to make sure that they are informed, kept abreast of what's going on, and to provide reassurances that it will still be Skunk City when it's done? 
  • And what about grants to the current neighborhood residents, so they could take care of some their 'honey-do' lists on their own houses? 
  • And let's get the Syracuse City School District folks out in the field too. Delaware and Fowler have issues, as we know, but let's not run from them. Let's make sure the 'neighborhood schools' are truly of the neighborhood, with a whole new constituency paying attention, being involved, keeping tabs on things, offering ideas. 
  • Local banks and credit unions, some of whom offer education and assistance for potential home buyers, could be brought into the fold, along with local Realtors, and collectively come up with great packages for buyers to get them into the homes. 

What else can we do?
  • Well, let's provide incentives for city employees (teachers, police, fire, DPW, etc.) to live here, whether it's a break on the price of the home, or a short-term break on their property taxes, or a even a bonus each year that they truly live in the city. There are already some programs like this but let's make sure we've got all bases covered and that folks are aware the programs are out there. 
  • Maybe all of the families that move into the new Skunk City get memberships to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, or other community incentives, to welcome them to the neighborhood?
  • Let's think seriously about providing incentives to families who enroll their kids in city schools, rather then provide incentives to people who take their kids out of city schools. 
  • Let's make sure we give breaks for the builders on materials and sales tax and other upfront charges, just like we do on commercial developments; if this can't happen for residential construction under existing city ordinances, fix the rules so it can. We need to start looking at residential growth, at neighborhood reclamation, as an economic development engine for the city. 
  • And let's think seriously about what else we can do to make reclaiming and renewing a neighborhood as interesting a proposition as is living downtown, where we have an occupancy rate above 99%.

Maybe people are already working on something like this; maybe they're not.  But can we afford to sit around waiting for something to happen, waiting to see if we can get a Parade of Homes in Syracuse in 2016, the next open date on the HBRCNY calendar?  Can Skunk City wait that long?

I vote we try to do something now. What about you?

June 11, 2014

Five Lessons from The Cantor Defeat

Steve Helber photo/AP
Now that Virginia Republican and (lame duck) House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has gone down to defeat in his primary, everyone’s doing some head scratching, trying to figure out how they missed this one as being a seat at risk.

Most in the punditry and and the Wild World of Talking Heads are pointing to Cantor’s position on immigration including the impression that he supported amnesty for illegals. Although he denied this was his position, his opponent, Randolph-Macon College economics professor David Brat, did touch on this issue and it’s an easy one to hang a hat on. Some others are reporting that it was Cantor’s heavy hand in Virginia Republican politics, and his actions as someone who clearly thought he was not in danger in the primary, that did him in. According to a report on PBS, he spent part of election day in Washington, not in the district, which is a quite a slap in the face to the voters.

Regardless of who wins the ‘why did this happen’ sweepstakes, I think there are several things we can learn from this

(1) The power of the incumbency is not unlimited.   This is a good thing, I think, and a refreshing change in the right direction – that an entrenched, leadership incumbent is not untouchable is not a bad thing.  It may not be a good thing who won, but that's a different discussion.  For those of us who would love to see something other than the do-nothing Congress we have today, we have to face facts that, in the House since the lowest re-election rate for incumbents (since 1964)  has been 85%,  in 1970 and again in 2010. In the Senate there’s more fluctuation and the rates are lower, but it’s still over 80% for all but three election cycles since 1982.  We insist that we don’t like them but we keep re-electing them -- in part because of the next point.

(2) Voter turnout is the most critical aspect of any election.  I’m convinced this is partly why the incumbents stay in office – we hate them, sure, and we want to get rid of all of them, but we don’t care enough to vote them out. For those of you who don’t live in voter-restriction states, complaining that it’s too hard to get to the polls, or takes too much time, or any of the other myriad excuses we hear, this is proof positive that is does matter and that your vote can make a difference. Otherwise, the small percentage of the people who do care, or who do understand that voting is the single most important responsibility a citizen has in a democracy (particularly important in primaries), will make the decision for you.

Part b of the voter turnout issue: Open primaries can be dangerous to a candidate's future. In Virginia, anyone who registers on time can vote in the primary, even if it's not for your party.  In the Cantor vs. The Professor battle, there were some 17,000 to 20,000 more votes this time than in Cantor's last race, and there's at least some speculation that it could have been Dems showing up to vote Cantor out.

(3) Money talks but sometimes people actually don’t listen.  Cantor outspent The Professor by something like 20 -1: over $5 million (on some 1000 ads, and this fun attack website)  to around $200,000. And lost by 12 points or so.  His opponent apparently didn't have the benefit of a lot of outside money, because the Tea Party didn't think this was a good investment for them.  He did however, have the conservative shrills  – Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter – in his corner. Regular readers know I have long been a complainer about the influence of money in politics, particularly money that comes from outside the district that’s up for grabs, and money that comes from the kinds of people (and by that I mean unions and corporations and PACS) that don’t actually have a pulse.  Seems that wasn't the tipping point in this election, and I think that’s also actually a good thing.  

(4) Never underestimate the power of an angry candidate, or an angry voter.  Brat was angry, not
Steve Helber Photo/AP 
particularly at Eric Cantor, he’s said, but at things in general.
This isn't a personal race. I'm not running against Eric. I'm just running on the founding principles that Adam Smith and free markets - they made us the greatest nation on the Earth. All right? It's no mystery. Our rights, tradition, along with free markets and the Judeo-Christian tradition all together made us the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. I think we're veering off course a little bit and I want to get us back on that course that brought us to greatness. 
Others were more specific on why they were voting. Here are a couple of comments from Henrico County, the home of both candidates, as captured by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Said Jim Rhodes:
I'm out here for one reason, and one reason only: To vote against Eric Cantor. He looks out for himself, and doesn't look out for his constituents.
Another voter, Nancy Harper expressed her "outrage" at the open primary system, and also that Cantor had been around long enough.
They get in there, and they go the way of all flesh.
Other voices surely have made themselves heard in various media reports, or will, but none were so loud and clear as the vote itself.

(5) All bets are off. We will need to re-do the maps on our political future, I think.  People are already positioning themselves to replace Cantor as Majority Leader, as he's announced he'll step down by the end of July, and it remains to be seen whether the next Leader will be more mainstream or more extreme.

Moreover:
  • Crying John Boehner, who has himself chastised the Tea Partiers in his caucus for being a little too extreme and a little too unwilling to go along in order to get along, may be in danger of losing the Speakership to the more extreme members of his party.
  • Any chance of an 'agenda' that President Obama had is likely completely out of the picture, unless he plans on continuing to use the power of the pen instead of the power of the legislative process to get things done.  That in and of itself, is a problem. 
  • Democrats who are sitting back rubbing their hands with glee, thinking that this will open the country's collective eyes and cause a shift away from extremism, are likely in for a sorry surprise. Yes, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, the Tea Party may have taken over the Republican party, but keep in mind the R's  - many of whom are proudly Tea Party affiliated - control the vast majority of the statehouses. Their numbers are already strong, and this shocking victory will likely do more to embolden them than it will to rally the notoriously lazy Dems.
  • Elected officials, who already seem to think first of their next election and somewhat later of what they were elected to do, will sharpen even more their laser-like focus on not making waves, on not following the leadership, on making sure they stand out by standing right in the middle of the crowd that is the flavor of the day. Afraid of losing? Be anti-immigration. Deny climate change. Be anti-regulation. Be anti-compromise. Whatever you do, don't play to the middle, and don't reach across the aisle. 
It will be interesting to see the lasting effects, if any, of this race on the mid-term Congressional races, and also on the 2016 Presidential vote. Will extremist candidates win more races this fall? And will the Dems take a hard turn to the left in response? Who will still be in the game at the end of the year? Is this enough of a turn to the right to keep Hillary out?  And will this finally prove the value in voting?  

On that last question, one can only hope. 

June 10, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $341,581

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes the weekly business section. In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were 21 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $317,235.

·         There were two satisfied judgments, for $16,334.

·         There was one health care related bankruptcy, for $7,922.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had seven, totaling $96,875
·         St Joe’s had one, for $11,792
·         SUNY Upstate had twelve, totaling $227,910
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none.

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

June 8, 2014

And the Horse You Rode In On

I admit right from the start that I was not looking forward to California Chrome winning the Triple Crown. In fact, I'm not looking forward to anyone winning it, until the 40th anniversary year in 2018.  Not for any particular reason, really - I just think it's pretty darn cool that it's so hard for breeders, horses, trainers and jockeys to pull it together and win all three races.  I like that it's not something that happens every year or every couple of dozen or three years.

When the whole Chromie thing started up around the California horse who was name was drawn from a hat, who cost less than a used car,  the whole blue-collar working man's David against the horse establishment Goliaths, I took some interest but still was rooting for Wicked Strong, the horse with local ties.  By the time the Belmont pre-race show was on and we had the owner rallying the troops in their matching T-shirts and blathering on about Chrome being "America's Horse" I was prepared to actively root against him, as I did against the Dallas Cowboys when they were "America's Team" back in the day.

We were at Taste of Syracuse and had just finished our pulled pork sliders from Limp Lizard, and when I checked my phone to find the breaking news that Tonalist had won the Belmont, and the Triple Crown was safe for another year, there were high fives all around. 

I doubt anyone is high-fiving now after having listened to the whining coming out of Chrome's camp. According to co-owner Steve Coburn
I'm 61 years old and I'll never see another Triple Crown winner. 
It's not fair to the horses that have been in it since Day 1 (meaning, those who like Chrome ran in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness). It's all or nothing...This is not fair to the horses that have been running their guts out for these people who believe in them.
This is the coward's way out, in my opinion. If you've got a horse, run him.
I look at it this way: if you can't make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can't win the other two races.
Sunday morning came, and the bad attitude continued, with Coburn telling ESPN that, in effect, the Belmont should have been a three-horse race, with Chrome, Ride on Curlin and General a Rod, because they were the only horses that had run in the first two legs.  Perhaps his horse would have had a better chance then; if nothing else a third place finish would have been the worst  possible showing, instead of the fourth place tie.

And he also compared the rested Tonalist vs. the tired Chrome to Coburn at 6'2" playing hoops against a kid in a wheelchair, something he reiterated on Good Morning America.  According to reports, he also gave out his phone number so those who thought he was acting like a sore loser could  call him directly.

(I get the sense that, had Chrome lost to a horse that had run in the other two races, we would have been hearing some other sorry complaint or excuse, instead of acknowledgement that on this Saturday in June, his horse just didn't have what it takes to win.)

So what's going on here?  Well, someone who thought he had the real deal in fact has a pretty darn good deal: a hugely successful three year old racehorse who, like many before him, tried to win three races over three distances on three tracks in five weeks, but ended up winning only two.  That's happened to some pretty powerful owners in the past, and will likely happen to some pretty powerful owners in the future.  Lots of famous trainers have thought they had a Triple Crown horse, only to find out the didn't.  Most of them were gracious in defeat or at the very least knew to keep their woes-are-me thoughts to themselves.

The 'rules' such as they are, are fine: nothing says you have to enter all three races, and only those who think they have a chance enter all three. Nothing should force someone to enter their horse in all three races. The Triple Crown 'happens' when the same horse wins all three, but does it even exist otherwise?

  • if the same horse that won the Derby doesn't win the Preakness, should they cancel the Belmont? I mean, if you can't have a Triple Crown when the same horse doesn't win the first two races, the third race is silly, and meaningless, and why even bother, right?  
  • Or if you're an owner, and your horse doesn't win the Kentucky Derby, you would immediately take yourself out of contention for the Preakness, right? Because if you can't win the Triple Crown, why even bother, right?  

Of course not.  The races are linked in our hearts, and our minds, and in our past, and one day (again, rooting for 2018) in the future, they will be linked again when a truly great horse comes along -- maybe not a Secretariat, but an Affirmed, or a Citation, or a Seattle Slew, and we'll go nuts again at the wonder of a horse that can win at three different lengths, on three different tracks, over five weeks of a glorious spring.

But for all practical intents and purposes, they are three separate races, without requirements that if you're in for one, you're in for all. And that's as it should be.

And if, like California Chrome, your horse doesn't win all three, you bite your tongue, you turn your head away from the camera, and if someone shoves a microphone in your face, you mumble something like "it was a great run and I wish the outcome had been different..." and then you go back to the barn and thank your lucky stars for all that the horse has brought you thus far.

You thank your horse, and make sure he (or she) is OK, and you think for a moment about what might have been.

And then you start thinking about the next race...

June 5, 2014

What Difference Does it Make?

Think back to when you were a kid.  For me, that's a ways back, but not impossible, especially on #TBT.

Can you remember a time when it was suggested (by your parents or some other adult) that you don't do something, and you did it anyway? For example, that you don't ride your bike near the charcoal grill?  And you foolishly ride your bike not only near the charcoal grill, but right into it?

Can you picture the look on your Dad's face, if when he asked "why did you ride your bike near the charcoal grill, after I told you not to?" you replied "what difference does it make?"  Not that this happened to me mind you (rubbing her sore behind). It's just an illustration.

What would happen if you or your team at work made a miscalculation, or a flat out boneheaded mistake, or were not on top of something that you should have been so a deadline got missed. And when you were questioned on it by your boss, if you replied "what difference does it make?" how many more opportunities do you think you'd have?

Picture key officials in the White House or Congressional leaders, trying to figure out what to say about some key decision they've made or on the verge of making, and picture someone asking a probing question, a question like "why did you..?" or "why didn't you...?" and then in your head, imagine what it would sound like if they said "what difference does it make?"

In case you can't imagine that, you don't have to. Here are a couple of actual examples.
Watch Hillary Clinton ask "What difference does it make?" when discussing Benghazi.
Watch Harry Reid ask "What difference does it make?" when discussing the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap.
Ask yourself  'What difference does it make?'

June 3, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $433,200

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes the weekly business section. In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were 23 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $433,200.

·         There were no satisfied judgments.

·         There were no health care related bankruptcies.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had nine, totaling $147,975
·         St Joe’s had four, totaling $33,136
·         SUNY Upstate had ten, totaling $252,089
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none.

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.