It was the best of times (Syracuse football in a bowl game!), it was the worst of times (blogging in Syracuse and CNY took a big hit with the shuttering of NYCO’s Blog.) Besides surviving an earthquake this year, here are some of the other things in my hometown that did not escape my notice this year:
1. Fear and loathing in the “assault city”
Widespread fear and revulsion over violent criminal activities dominated this year. One gang feud led to the caught-in-the-crossfire deaths of a 20 month-old infant Rashaad Walker, Jr and 19 year-old, former high school athlete, Kihary Blue. 3 kids were shot while trick-or-treating and shots fired reports skyrocketed across the city. Other than appeals to somehow hold parents accountable for their wayward offspring, the only concrete response was the approval by the Common Council to put surveillance cameras on corners in the city’s near west side. While many people objected to the cameras on civil liberties grounds, most residents of the area determined that their privacy rights were more seriously infringed upon by the folks with guns than by the cameras.
2. Jail is bad for your health in Syracuse
Some people were arrested for crimes in Syracuse and some didn’t make it out of holding alive. Onondaga County is experimenting with privatizing prison health care in an attempt to save money. Protestors at a march and rally wonder if the callous and incompetent treatment that led to the deaths in custody of Raul Pineda, Jr. and Chuniece Patterson happened for a more familiar reason: racism. Unfortunately, the man in charge of the jail, Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh, waltzed to re-election without being held accountable for conditions at the jail–largely because the Democrats chose a candidate whose sole claim to fame was being a troll and writing racist comments on the Syracuse.com forums. One can only hope that the latest kerfluffle over Walsh’s decision to “retire” as sheriff, collect his pension–yet still remain in the job as sheriff–will be enough to get that bastard out of office.
3. Say Yes To Dysfunction
The Syracuse school district is the first district in the nation aiming to guarantee free college tuition to all its graduates through the innovative Say Yes To Education program. However, the immediate question for the SCSD is whether any students will even graduate from high school. All four of its high schools have been placed on the state’s watch list of schools with persistently low achievement. The district’s administrators have a huge task ahead of them. Under federal “Race To The Top” school reform guidelines, they have to radically restructure all the schools, replacing most of the high school principals and scores of underperforming teachers. It is unclear that the present administration is up to that job. Its abysmal failure to even locate temporary space for two elementary schools scheduled for construction under the laughably behind schedule Joint School Construction project is par for the course. The Superintendent and the School Board are not (as the popular TV quiz show states) smarter than the 5th graders in their charge.
4. Mayor Miner & County Executive Mahoney work and play well together
The dynamic duo roughed up the County Legislature and humiliated the suburbanites into approving a new 10-year sales tax deal that puts more money into both the county’s and city’s pockets–the entities struggling to deal with the unfunded state mandates of medicaid and public pensions. Towns and villages, who for years used sales tax money to keep suburban property taxes low, will see higher bills starting January 1. The two also made the first concrete progress in long sought after efforts to merge city and county services with plans for mergers of economic development, purchasing and police academies all in process.
5. First Week Of March: Life Is Sweet
The air smelled a little cleaner. The skies were a little brighter. God was in his heaven. Syracuse U. basketball and Syracuse U. lacrosse were both ranked #1 in the nation.
6. Winter weather cuts down on attendance at sporting events . . . but not in the ‘Cuse.
Really, think about it. We get more snow than any other big city in America. We win the NY Golden Snowball every year. The only time it doesn’t snow is whenever we schedule the Winterfest carnival. If we didn’t brave the cold, we wouldn’t do anything. In February, we set all-time attendance records for both the American Hockey League with 21,000+ watching the outdoor Syracuse Crunch game at the Fairgrounds and for on-campus NCAA basketball with 34,000+ watching the Syracuse v. Villanova game at the Dome.
Syracusans showed up in record fashion in the summer too. A sellout crowd of 13,766, the largest attendance ever for a professional baseball game in Syracuse, sold out Alliance Bank Stadium–all to watch the AAA debut of phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg. He was dominating in the handful of games he started here–every bit the #1 ace pitcher. He was a big success when he moved up to the majors for Washington–until he hurt his arm. In 2011, Syracuse may see a repeat of last year when Strasburg will probably pitch a couple of games in Syracuse to rehab his arm.
7. Most Innovative Non-Profit Funding Scheme, a.k.a.: Why I Don’t Put Any Money Into The Salvation Army Red Kettles Anymore
The Post-Standard broke the story about the Salvation Army’s agreement to bus in heroin-addicted folks from Newark, N.J., for their “drug treatment” program. Many of these Newarkers became Syracusans, and the new arrivals made heroin the new drug of choice on the city’s near west side. The story also pointed out that the Army’s treatment program largely consisted of hectoring these folks about the Bible and using them as unpaid slave labor in their used clothing warehouse. Mayor Miner got an agreement to temporarily halt the bus pipeline, but the Army would not agree to stop the program entirely. Moral of the story–don’t give to the Salvation Army, donate to another of the many worthy charities in town.
8. Brain drain or addition by subtraction?
Over 100 employees in City Hall took the state-supported early retirement package, allowing the city to reduce its personnel costs and potential pension costs. The mayor expects to replace fewer than half of the departing employees. The paper used the term “brain drain” to describe the process and quoted the mayor as saying: “Of the challenges that I have had so far as mayor, this is by far the biggest.” Bullshit. Do you fret over losing arteriosclerosis plaque or liposuctioned fat? Many of the departees should have been canned years ago, they were hanging on just to pad their pensions. It’s not like there aren’t any talented replacements available. Mayor Miner’s first new replacement hire was appointing Common Councilor Bill Ryan as Director of Administration. This accomplishes two things–strengthens the Miner administration and weakens the Common Council. Win/win for Mayor Miner.
The best example of brain drain in town this year was the involuntary retirement of U.S. Representative Dan Maffei. He was defeated by former Common Councilor Ann Marie Buerkle, who benefitted from late infusions of cash from conservative groups led by folks like Karl Rove and Dick Morris. This money was used to paint Maffei as a handmaiden of Nancy Pelosi and the liberal cabal in Washington. The media buys were only effective in the rural areas of Wayne and Cayuga counties. Maffei won both the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County–but not by enough in a low turnout election. So, for now, gone are the days of being represented by a smart and savvy rising star. Thank God Maffei was in office long enough to get Financial Reform and Health Care reform passed. For now, Buerkle got crappy committee assignments and a spot on several most endangered freshman representatives lists. With redistricting looming, the 25th district may not even exist in the next election–certainly not in the form it is now. Next US Representative for the Syracuse area? Bill Hanna, Republican currently representing the Utica area? Tom Buckel, Democrat from Syracuse, currently on the Onondaga County Legislature? Maffei again? My money’s on anyone but Buerkle!
9. Outwitted by a low bridge and governmental inertia
The fatal crash of a Megabus into the low railroad bridge on Onondaga Lake Parkway led to a spate of ideas from the public to alleviate what is, after all, merely an engineering/technical problem. However, the state DOT is responsible for road safety. Albany bureaucracy continues its slothful and irresponsible ways, even in the face of 5 fatal crashes since 1991 at the bridge. More studies, more talk–no action. Probably not even after the next fatality.
10. Person Of The Year–Doug Marrone, head football coach, Syracuse University
The coaches of the Big Three sports at S.U. (basketball, football and lacrosse) all have a couple of things in common: they are all S.U. alums, they all played the sport that they currently coach while an undergrad and they were all starters and strong contributors to their undergraduate teams. Only Jim Boeheim and John Desko can claim national championships and powerhouse teams. But that is because they inherited teams from coaches that had established a measure of success in the sport for the Orange. Doug Marrone came in to Syracuse as the successor to the least successful head football coach in recent times. The team was reeling–recruiting, ticket sales and player morale were all in the toilet.
Marrone has changed all that. In two years he fashioned a team with a winning record and a bowl appearance. He focused his attention on the players–their communication with each other, their dedication to becoming leaders and their ability to represent the university in a positive light. Marrone figured that if he got that right, the football success would follow. He was right.
But aside from all that, Doug Marrone is my person of the year for a more basic reason. Of course it’s a feel-good story to have a coach come in and turn a losing football program around. It’s quite another to have a coach dedicated to Syracuse as much as Marrone. He’s a Syracuse guy, just like Boeheim and Desko. Doug Marrone left the New Orleans Saints on the cusp of their Super Bowl year–for the job he calls his dream, head football coach of the Orange. In an era of mercenary players and coaches in big time college sports, in a town that is very insecure and in need of constant reassurance due to our low self-esteem, Doug Marrone is THE MAN! We celebrate him as much for his dedication to us as for his undeniable coaching skill. Let’s Go Orange!