Sunday, March 27, 2011

BAN SPECIAL-INTEREST MONEY



(Alas, an early April Fool's Day piece; pity it isn't true.)



NYACK, N.Y. -- Andrew Cuomo, in his first visit to this riverfront village as New York governor, announced today two bills to end special-interest financing of political campaigns. Assembly A. 165 and Senate S. 276 will, if approved, ban all election spending not funded by taxpayers, especially that from lobbies.
     “We must return government to the people,” said Cuomo from the bandstand in Memorial Park.  “This beautiful Hudson River that we now look at was once polluted with industrial waste and sewage. It was the people’s outrage against that environmental poisoning which prompted river cleanup four decades ago. Now we must rid Albany, our towns and our villages of the pollution of elected officials chosen by the moneyed interests.” 
     In symbolic gesture, Cuomo walked to the river’s edge, scooped up a bucket of water and poured it on a pile of currency marked “Tainted”. “Tainted,” the governor said, “tainted profits obtained for big business and others by lobbies that vigorously push legislation feeding the voracious greed appetite and which give us a lightly regulated financial market, lax environmental law, overcharging for public works projects, favoritism for particular groups, tax inequality, goughing utilities, the blocking of health care reform and government change for all the people -- Democrats, Republicans, Tax Partiers, independents.”
     Cuomo said special interests would no longer hide behind “freedom of speech” to justify paying for campaigns but instead would have their voice heard at public hearings. “If any lobby, if any special interest wants to tell the people why such and such should be done, why this or that law ought be passed, it can do so loud and clear in the public forum and not by throwing big bucks into campaigns and then end up owning the officials.”
   
The governor was asked by Richard Kavesh, Nyack mayor, how candidates would, without contributions, finance ever more expensive campaigns. Cuomo replied that each candidate would receive a set amount based on the type of office and the number of voters to be reached. The fund would be underwritten by taxpayers, and each candidate could choose how to spend the allotted amount. Government-sponsored forums in counties, towns and villages would also provide a message platform, and Twitter and Facebook accounts would be established.
     “Despite the seemingly large expense for taxpayers,” Cuomo said, “the people will actually save billions when true-cost contracts are let, when we seek real health care and other reform, when we protect the environment, when we watch investment and other financial dealings. And you know what? Big business will make billions, too, because New York will be a leader in doing what’s right for the citizenry, and it will be the place to live and work. We will add business.”
Bills A.165 and S.276 will hit the floor of the Legislature later today. Cuomo predicts overwhelming passage since opposing the legislation would have public officials admitting they trade favors for money. 
OOPS! Sorry to say, good people, but this is an early April 1 piece. Perhaps some day, some leader, somewhere, will have the courage to ban special-interest money from ever lining a politician’s pocket.  Gov. Cuomo has at least tried. 
                                                                                              

Monday, March 21, 2011

'LOST' IN ROCKLAND


     Here I reside, in Rockland County, N.Y., just 20 miles from New York, for many more city than country since, these days, decades after the beginning of the post-World War II suburban push, most of our residents hail from Gotham or are the offspring of urbanites. For these good people, the county is comfortably near New York, close enough to reach in commute and shopping and visiting. Yet for others like me, in a dwindling group, where we live is more country than city. And never a suburb.
That’s because our roots go back to when there was no big bridge called the Tappan Zee linking two shores of the Hudson and providing a puddle jump for a major U.S. interstate. No parkway from New York City either. No large mall. No highway shopping strips. Instead, walkable downtowns like Nyack, Spring Valley, Suffern, Pearl River and Haverstraw where hardware stores, dress shops, shoe stores, small family restaurants, taverns and all manner of mom and pop places could keep you busy on a Saturday ride in from rural places like Pomona, Congers, Airmont, Tomkins Cove. 
When the world seems too busy, when the traffic gets heavy, when my suburban tax bill rises, when someone seems suspicious rather than friendly, I get lost in the old Rockland. Sometimes I have tangible help for that.
Last week, on that wonderful 70-ish Friday, with a sun so warm but not so hot that it felt as if you were young and holding a girl’s hand, when there was a slight breeze that brought the promise of spring budding, I took off layered sweaters down to my winter cotton work shirt and sat on a rock.
When I was a young fellow looking for something to do in early spring, after school or on the weekend, I’d head for nearby woods, which were always nearby, and find a rock, catch the sun, feel the breeze and think I was the richest fellow on earth. That touch of nature was repeated, as the gift it always is, at the rock where I rested Friday after working in the Historical Society of Rockland barn at New City.
This ancient structure on the old Jacob Blauvelt place is filled with donated family furniture dating back centuries, well-used farm implements, blacksmith tools, etc., all representative of the farm/industrial/country life in Rockland up until a mere 60 or so years ago. It has the smell of old wood, seasoned by years of heavy sweat, worker and animal. It has an honesty  to it, integrity even, sitting proudly on the few hundreds of feet left from hundreds of acres.  You can get lost there, lost in the past, especially if your roots sense the nourishment.
Of course, roots are relative to the individual, and later arrivals to Rockland have their own foundation in various urban neighborhoods, with wonderful memories recalled in street games, knowing your neighbors, stores on the block, etc. They are blessed to have them.
And so am I, so are we of an earlier Rockland persuasion where emerging spring, the warming sun, an old rock, a barn setting, recollection and a breeze make you feel as rich as ever.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

ALMOST ST. PATRICK'S DAY




     It is the nearness of things -- emotions, events, people, history -- that steer  existence for most of us. Few, thank God, but far too many, suffer earthquakes as are the Japanese today, but the nearness of the tragedy brings empathy, and we, safe or nearly so, signal that humanity is healthy because of that. Our prayers, our help will walk the talk.
Some in their lives find the nearness of success, and that is perhaps enough. Or the nearness of help, which can be reasonable. Or the nearness of love, which offers no complications in its investment yet fuses memory with dream. OPr, this week, the nearness of being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, when so many of us wear a bit o’ the green. 
I am blessedly Irish  because of my mother’s side, nearly 100 percent. I grew up with the nearness of Irish ancestry since my mother, whose birthday was March 17, had the native wit, a bit of a temper, loved tea and always had a few stories to tell, including the one about “chasing the growler,” or as a young girl fetching a pail of beer from the tavern’s back door for her aunt, on occasion. It was the nearness of Irish ancestry since my mother did not talk at length about her heritage, mostly for reasons of sadness in a difficult childhood that saw her lose her mother at 7, awakening next to her to find her gone at age 32.
As a child, she encouraged my brother and me to wear green on the day, to watch the New York City parade and to tell us proudly of her relative Hugh Bonner, once Gotham’s  fire commissioner. Yet we kids were no different from our friends -- all those of no Irish ancestry -- on St. Patrick’s Day. Our elementary schools made it a gay time, and in college there were serious discussions of the English occupation. So, for many, there was a “nearness” of the day to honor the Irish.
In my geography, 20 miles north of New York City, there is another “county” of both the Irish Republic and the North of Ireland in a hamlet called Pearl River, once of mostly German heritage and now heavily infused with the accent of the Emerald Isle.
It. too, had a large parade, the marchers of which include the same New York firefighters and police who step out on Fifth Avenue. Indeed, many live in Pearl River.
It is almost St. Patrick’s Day, when this writer wears green and feels more acutely the nearness of an Irish heritage. With a bit of color also left for my late mother at her grave atop Mt. Nebo, the day won’t be the other emotion that is near.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

NOT THE COOKIE MONSTER


     Retirement can seem like things are crumbling a bit -- too much time, lack of reinforcing work structure, advancing life, etc. -- but then I think of one of my many “jobs” in the so-called “golden years.” I am a “cookie” in sometimes crumbling times.
Like some other retirees. I am a volunteer. I do electrical, plumbing and carpentry work for historical societies, churches and museums, and give of my time in art-related endeavor. This is all a gift, a blessing to me, for it offers a post-career career. I am grateful, for goodness results, and that’s what it’s all about. 
One of the volunteer jobs is as a cook, or “cookie” in Navy terms, for the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program out of United Church, Spring Valley, N.Y. I have been with them since before I retired as a newspaperman, as part of the Tuesday crew. Into my 10th year, I am now the only cook on Tuesdays, after the passing of George Chalsen and the “retirement” of Al Witt, two colleagues at the old Journal-News in nearby Nyack. 
I try not to poison  the 120 or so people we get for breakfast, offering French toast, pancakes, sausage, soup and grits. The recipes are not basic -- we try to present  unexpected cuisine, with the French toast, for example, made from many real eggs, honey, cinnamon, milk and a bit of coffee.
It is an odd turn of events being cookie since I open the church at 3 a.m. (there are numerous tasks to take care of before the cooking begins). For me it is deja vu all over again. United Church used to be called the Dutch Reformed Church of Spring Valley, and I attended Boy Scout meetings there from 1954 to 1961, also opening the church, then at 7 p.m., for the sessions. (I like to get to places early, and that’s why I am often the opener.)
So, here I am 58 years after first entering the church where I am now cookie, and despite many major changes and challenges to the village where I, my father and my grandfather lived, 3 a.m. Tuesdays in 2011 and 7 p.m. Fridays in 1954 are the same. I still hear the Pascack Valley Line train (the old Erie). I look at the storefronts and recall Brown’s, Arvanite’s, the Valley Theatre, Ro-Field Appliances, Perunna’s, Slavin’s, K&A, Tancos, Kulle’s and many more. I remember elementary school, high school, think about my father’s days there, my grandfather’s. As I cook, I  look out the window and see Memorial Park, which I watched being constructed in 1948. I hear the voices of so many gone and see the faces of my teachers, my friends. I recall the cops on the beat, chasing us home at curfew, checking the store locks.
The rhythm of a time past reassuringly reverberates in my post-retirement job as cookie, and it links me to the present. I am thankful I am able to serve, that so many of us at the program are able to do so. I am especially grateful that I am cookie in my old hometown. It kind of ensures that my time-on-my-hands won’t crumble.