Friday, April 10, 2009

Lights go dark on Broadway

The lights have gone dark inside 487 Broadway, the photographs removed from their frames on the walls, packed into boxes and taken away.

A pair of flags, one of the country, one of the state, are visible through the storefront window, their cloth shoulders slumping behind a sign that reads: Closed.

The only sign of life comes from a banner that hangs down from a business on the second floor that reads, "rehydrate your spirit."

The only reminder of the rush of activity that occurred inside the first floor of the red-brick building is the oval decal on the front door depicting a proud eagle on a bed of stars and stripes and, in gold-stick lettering, the words: Representative Kirsten E. Gillibrand "” 20th District, New York.

The office is one of the casualties of this "special election," which will see a new representative crowned in the kingdom of the 10-county congressional district on Tuesday.

"It's a weird dynamic," said Michael Russo on Wednesday afternoon, before the lights were turned off inside the room for the last time. "What we have here is almost a ghost office."

Russo, the former district director for Rep. Gillibrand, is preparing to take over his new position in Albany as director of a 12-county district for Gillibrand's office.
Since late January, when Gillibrand was selected to succeed Hillary Clinton in the United States Senate, Russo has been the director of the congressional district, with no party affiliation and no representative's name attached.

"When the representative leaves, the office still has to function. When the congresswoman was here, people got into the habit of calling on her, and we have worked very hard to not miss a beat," he said.
Russo estimated the office settled about $200,000 in benefits that were due to military veterans, as well as a variety of other pending issues regarding district residents.

Everything else, such as office supplies, were being boxed up "in an orderly fashion," Russo said for the next congressional representative.
"It was a struggle when we first came in. Very difficult. What I learned from that is to make it as easy as possible for the next representative," said Russo, although it is not known who that person will be or where he will set up offices.

Gillibrand had offices in Saratoga Springs, Glens Falls and Hudson. The next representative can set up wherever he wishes, as long as it fits into an allotted budget.

A spokesman for James Tedisco said keeping an office in Saratoga Springs would be "of paramount importance." Officials with Scott Murphy's camp were not sure where they would be putting down their official roots, should he emerge victorious.

Certification of a winner may take some time. Nobody knows how long. Until that time, the office will remain dark, and the boxes will remain sealed.

by Thomas Dimopoulos, Saratoga Bureau writer.
Published in The Post-Star, March 28, 2008.

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The long and winding road: a compendium of quotes from NY-20

Wednesday afternoon, April 8.
More than a week has passed since Election Night and there is no end in sight.

Long, tedious and mired in the minutiae of political challenges, the counting of paper ballots has begun in a process to decide the next representative of the 20th Congressional District.

The counting could take as long as two to three weeks, said Diane Wade, the Republican Board of Election commissioner in Saratoga County.

Election Night, 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 31.
Tedisco makes an unplanned visit to the Holiday Inn ballroom in Saratoga Springs. He is noticeably weary, no doubt from hours of campaigning and sleeplensness. Nonetheless, he answers a few questions about all the money spent on the campaign and the flurry of negative ads.

“They’ve been very effective at distorting our record. There’s been a lot of contrast ads – you can call them negative – but we like to call them contrast ads, and we try to get as much positive through there,” Tedisco said.
“When they’re spending millions of dollars to hit you with negative you kind of got to respond in a contrast way to them. ”

I asked him whether he felt as though he was campaigning not only against Scott Murphy, but against President Obama’s popularity — who Murphy has consistently supported – in this particular race.

“They’ve thrown everything at me. You’ve got The President, you’ve got Mr. Biden, you’ve got Kirsten Gillibrand, you’ve got Schumer, you’ve got Tonko,” Tedisco said, venturing dangerously close to a Howard Dean-like screed, before pulling back.

To clarify his point (I think), Tedisco offered up a stream of words that was pure post-beat surrealism.

“I was walking in to ring a door bell today and the kitchen sink fell out of a tree,” he said.

I’m still not sure what to make out of that one.

Thursday night, March 26.
It is 90 minutes before the third and final debate gets underway, this one inside the Grand Ballroom of the Holiday Inn Express in Latham.
Inside the ballroom at this time, moderators Sherman Baldwin, of WROW, and Brian Taffe, of Capital News 9, are rehearsing procedures and getting proper sound levels for this evening’s debate.

A few yards away from the stage, a name card that reads ‘Eric Sundwall’ sits on a table, untouched. It will not be used on this night.

Outside the hotel, a half-dozen parking spots are sectioned off with yellow caution tape that reads: “CUIDADO,” which is Spanish for “caution,” and is presumably reserved for Mr. Murphy and Mr. Tedisco.

There are some rural counties in the 10-county, 20th Congressional District, but this isn’t one of them.
Outside, beneath a steely-gray sky, cars scream past the fast food joints and the auto dealerships, an endless blur of machinery streaming across a series of interconnecting byways that lead in all directions.

The ballroom seats approximately 200 and already the first person has shown up. She is Diane Jacko, of Bolton Landing and she has made the trip down the Northway to get a number of errands done.

“I got my car serviced. I got my taxes done. Now. I’m good to go,” she says.

Tuesday night, March 24.
WNYT-TV NewsChannel 13/ Post-Star debate number 2, this time in Menands.

James Tedisco has attempted to drive a wedge between Murphy's alignment with Obama by taking issue with the nearly $800 billion stimulus plan. While agreeing that some type of plan was needed, Tedisco said he would not have voted for the current package, saying the package contains about $300 billion in pork.

When asked by Murphy what he defined as pork, Tedisco cited $1.7 million that he said was earmarked to study the manure and pig smells in Iowa.

"I'm pretty sure it smells pretty bad in Iowa, because it smells pretty bad in New York state," Tedisco said.

Moderator Jim Kambrich asked the candidates vying for a seat in the 20th Congressional District to say something nice about one another.

Democrat Scott Murphy spoke of the warm stories he has heard along the campaign trail about Tedisco's mother.
"She's obviously a wonderful woman and I'd like to get the chance to meet her," Murphy said.

During his turn at the microphone, Republican James Tedisco sized up his lanky opponent.
"I'd put him on my basketball team," Tedisco said. "He's tall."

Tuesday afternoon, March 24.
James Tedisco at the counter of N. Fox Jewelers in Saratoga Springs

“How much is your most expensive Rolex?” the Assembly Minority Leader asked.

$20,000,” came the reply.

“My first house didn’t cost $20,000,” said Tedisco. “My whole town didn’t even cost $20,000.”

Tuesday afternoon, March 3.
Approximately 200 people attended the first debate of the 20th Congressional District race between Republican Assembly minority leader James Tedisco and Democratic candidate and venture capital manager Scott Murphy.

The 90-minute debate was held inside the Community Room of the Saratoga Springs Public Library in front of a capacity crowd of about 125 people. Separate rooms were set up with TV monitors to cater to the overflow crowd.

Murphy made at least a dozen references to President Obama and the recovery plan throughout.
"Well, we're talking a lot about the economy and President Obama is very much involved in trying to get the economy going, so it comes up a lot," Murphy explained to the media afterwards.

"If you put hundreds of millions of billions of dollars in there for things that you can only define as pork, which would create trichinosis for most of us in this room, that's not going to turn around the economy," Tedisco said.

During an interview following the debate, Tedisco focused on his thoughts of the stimulus plan.

"There's no question there is a need for a stimulus. We had to have a package," Tedisco said.
"I would have voted for the stimulus with the amendments that I put on the floor if I was there to remove the waste," he said. Tedisco identified that waste to be as much as 30 to 40 percent of the plan.

Thomas Dimopoulos, on the campaign trail in the 20th Congressional District, March- April, 2009.

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Muddied along the campaign trail

On the campaign trail and during the election cycle, the politician will search for the perfect symbol to stand next to that will best convey his message of the day.

On Wednesday, James Tedisco, the Republican candidate in the 20th Congressional District race, decided it would be a good idea to lead a caravan of reporters through the Luther Forest Technology Park to talk about the jobs the park will create and the money it will bring in a cash-strapped economy.

The candidate said he was proud of playing a role in the development of the park and that he didn't know of anywhere else in the country, or the world for that matter, that this type of positive growth was taking place.

Despite the hopeful promise that the forest may hold, on Wednesday she was an unwilling host, a bashful bride before her wedding day who didn't want to be bothered.

She was a demanding forest the limbs of her felled trees delivering punishing blows to those who dared trespass upon her sacred path.

Then there was the mud.

The first ominous sign of the journey should have been the street sign itself: Stonebreak Road. The second was the series of rectangular markers the caravan passed that read: Road closed.

Three miles in along a winding, bumpy road, the caravan stalled. Standing knee-deep in mud and bearing the bruises of her battle, a TV reporter named Ashley asked if anyone had antiseptic she could apply to her wounds.

Adam Kramer, a spokesman for the campaign who was also stuck in the muck, promised free pizza. A cameraman named Ed bemoaned his unlucky decision to use his wife's silver Oldsmobile Intrigue on this day. There was very little silver that could be seen.

Finally, there was a once-white Mercury Sable striped by a barely readable logo that read WTEN Albany buried so deep in the dark slosh that it was ultimately abandoned, a metal offering to feed the beast.

When the rescue was finally launched, it came in the form of a spirited man named Howie who pushed and pulled and tugged the caravan to safety with the help of a red pickup truck.

Tedisco, meanwhile, had already made it through the muddy mess and waited 90 minutes or so for those who were rescued to emerge from the wilderness.
Standing on a paved lot just inside the park, Tedisco greeted reporters and pointed to locations on a map that depicted the future plans for the park.

"This section here is called 'Forever Wild.' And this area here is where you folks were," said the candidate, who did not escape completely unscathed himself the stains of the forest dotted his dark suit.

He looked at the muddied masses before him, then down at his own stained political uniform.

"The key is to let it dry before cleaning it off," he said, offering some practical advice on a crazy day. Then he was gone, back on the trail.

Saratoga Bureau writer Thomas Dimopoulos can be reached at