Schenectady’s wobbly bike share deal

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update (May 14, 2019): Yesterday evening, May 13, 2019, the Schenectady City Council voted 6-1, with only Vince Riggi (Ind.) in opposition, to accept the Memorandum of Understanding with CDTA discussed below, to enter into a three-year contract with the CYCLE! Bike Share system, with a yearly payment of $25,000. City Engineer Chris Wallin was not in attendance and had not provided them with any of the information he had promised about Schenectady’s CYCLE! data, and none of the questions posed below were answered. Nonetheless, Council member John Polimeni asserted that “the benefits far exceed the costs” of this MOU. Other members admitted ridership needs to increase and hoped it would. Marion Porterfield said that some people in her neighborhood cannot afford to have bikes, so they need the program. (She did not suggest how they could instead afford $5 per hour or a season pass to CYCLE!) Riggi pointed out that there simply was not enough information for him to agree to the MOU.

BikeShareRiversidePkThe only member of the public to speak on the Resolution was David Giacalone, the editor of this website. He said he was often disappointed by how little information this Council demanded before making a decision, and there was not enough now to justify three more years in CYCLE! The information available made it clear the public is not enthusiastic in Schenectady for Bike Share, and that is probably why CDTA was not supplying more data. Giacalone suggested that the Council could better meet the goals of better health and less vehicle congestion by using the $25,000 to purchase 250 bicycles each year that would be distributed by various groups to those most likely to use them. He also said voters should take note of who thinks there have enough information to make a thoughtful decision.

WAMCLogo 

update (May 16, 2019): See Dave Lucas’ piece on WAMC’s Midday Magazine, “Schenectady Bike Share Use Lags Behind Other Capital Region Arms” (May 16, 2019).

 

 

ORIGINAL POSTING

A Gazette article appearing online this evening, Friday May 10, 2019, delves a little deeper than previous reports on the CDTA CYCLE! bike share program and Schenectady’s role. See “Schenectady asked to chip in $75K for bike-sharing program: City has lowest ridership of four cities” (by Pete DeMola, May 10, 2019).  CDTA is asking for $25,000 per year for three years. The Gazette points out that:

Schenectady, home to 13 hubs with nearly 50 bikes, ranks at the bottom of the four-city pack when it comes to total rides over the program’s tenure.

By the close of the second season last year, the city notched 1,370 rides, according to CDTA, or 6 percent of total ridership.

That is 1370 rides for the 8-month season in 2018, which amounts to 171 rides per month starting at a Schenectady “hub” or station (averaging 13 rides per station a month), and 3.5 rides per bike located in Schenectady. Reporter DeMola also notes that “The three-year funding motion passed out of City Development & Planning Committee and heads to the City Council for a full vote on Monday.” That approval came despite a lack of important information, including:

  1. how many people in Schenectady have actually used the program; number of rides only can suggest the maximum users
  2. how many miles were clocked by Schenectady riders
  3. type of usage: are Schenectady riders predominantly commuters (as in Albany) or recreational (as in Saratoga)
  4. what were the figures for each of the 13 stations

This past week, I sent the annotated image of a bike-share bicycle at the top of this posting to several people on the Council and to City Engineer Chris Wallin. My info-image gives stats using a per-year $25,000 payment by the City. The payments would equal over $500 per month for each bike in Schenectady. Using the 1370 riders in 2018, that also means the City is paying over $18 for every ride taken in Schenectady, with riders paying at most $5 per hour. [Note, that CDTA talks of having increased riders in Schenectady in 2019, based on free rides for Union College students and City Hall employees.]

  • the average Schenectady “hub” had one ride every-other day during the 8-month 2018 season.

complaintbillNot only did CDTA not send a representative to present data or answer questions at Monday’s City Council Committees meeting, they apparently did not equip City Engineer Wallin with the necessary information. Wallin, when questioned by Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield, said he would let them know how much the three other cities would be paying and the actual ridership in Schenectady. I do not know if he has done that yet. He has not responded to my email asking for such information.

 However, without being asked, Engineer Wallin made the false statement that “Proportionate to our population, we are doing well.” I know City Hall bends over backwards to present favored programs and projects in a positive light, but Schenectady has well over 25% of the population of the four participating cities, and less than 6% of total ridership is not “doing well.” In addition, Chris started by saying there are benefits to the City from this agreement, but then listed only “City workers will ride for free.”

As it has always done, using its huckster persona and touting meeting its own goals, the  CDTA “CYCLE!” bike-share program gave a litany of the benefits from the Bike Share program for the City and its residents. However, pluses such as health benefits and the reduction in vehicle congestion are rather fanciful, if there are very few people in Schenectady using the program.

  • Now that I have seen the released portion of the Schenectady data, I understand just why CDTA has not bothered to respond at all to either of my requests, left on their website form, for the Schenectady figures.
They may feel that it is “only $25,000 per year,” but I believe City Council members and the Mayor should at least negotiate for a better deal. There were only 550 Schenectady rides in the first Season of Bike Share, and two-thirds of them were at one hub. Nonetheless, CDTA went from 7 to 13 “hubs” in Schenectady and increased to “nearly 50” bikes. If Schenectady residents and visitors are not very interested in the Bike Share program, why have 13 stations, especially since some of them apparently have almost no ridership.

sample of WalMart bikes

Few Stations, Lower Fee? For instance, why not go back to 7 stations and fewer bikes, with the City paying perhaps $13,000 to help subsidize the system? Image how many bikes the City could buy outright at retail or wholesale with the $12,000 a year saved, and then use various programs to distribute the bikes to people who would really use them? E.g., have nonprofits, schools or community groups suggest contests or incentives with criteria for giving away some of those bike. Or, expand bike clinics around town.

Have Our Own Bike Share Plan? Moreover, a close cost-benefit analysis, with a realistic projection of types of users and uses, might suggest that Schenectady can do better on its own.

Riverside Park hub

We do and should have a commitment to a more bike-friendly City. In fact, our Master Plan, Bike Schenectady, has a discussion of a bike-share program limited to Schenectady itself. See Appendix C of the Appendix document (at pp. 108-113). The discussion there seems to suggest a far better understanding of our local situation, than the cookie-cutter, constant-expansion approach of CYCLE!. For example, CYCLE! put a station at Union College (Union Street at Nott Terrace), that got virtually no usage in 2017 and was removed in 2018, because Union already had its own free bike program.

Also, they placed a station on the most expensive land and masonry at Riverside Park, its Overlook [see photo at left], without taking into account that the location was meant for quiet and solitude, and that Schenectady’s Zoning Ordinance still bans the use of bikes on any park pedestrian paths, if you are over 10 or not disabled. Bike Schenectady, on the other hand, did not propose a bike share station in Riverside Park for either the initial or expanded version of the program. Click on the following Map of proposed bike share stations in the Bike Schenectady Master Plan:

bikeschdy-bikesharesystemmap

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There is no rush in deciding on the CDTA MOU proposal. CDTA will not run out of CYCLE! money. Why not, especially in an election year, gather needed information and actually discuss the issues? Thoughtful, informative reflection. Nice campaign motto and leadership goal, don’t you thing.
  •  In considering the extent of Schenectady’s participation in Bike Share, another factor to take into account should be the opinion of many residents that the stations are not the least bit attractive and seem to be cluttering or hijacking important locations along our streets.
  • See my posting in July 2017, asking “Is bike-share our newest sacred cow?” discussing these and other issues, with photos of bike share locations in Schenectady.
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“Rush Street” is simply the wrong name

chi_rush_370-003

not in Schenectady!

rushpwdbottle-001 . . . . . follow-up (March 29, 2016): see “what comes after a rush?“. The City Council voted last night, and let’s just say “the fix is on” at Mohawk Harbor.

original posting:

 Rush Street Gaming, owner of the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, wants to name the main entry road being constructed in Mohawk Harbor “Rush Street.” Tomorrow, Monday, March 14, the Schenectady City Council is holding a public hearing on the naming of the three planned streets in Mohawk Harbor, at 7 PM in Room 209 of City Hall. [See, e.g., “Rush Street Gaming CEO defends road-name proposal” (Daily Gazette, by Haley Viccaro, Feb. 22, 2016); “Path to honor industrial past” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 7, 2016).] According to the Gazette article “Opinions mixed over street names“:

RushStreetSignXXX The proposed streets are Rush Street, which is an extension of Nott Street off the roundabout entering the site. Off of Rush Street to the right is the proposed Harborside Drive, which runs parallel to Erie Boulevard. Off Harborside Drive to the right is the proposed Mohawk Harbor Way, which is an extension of Maxon Road.

Although she has no problem with the name Rush Street, City Council President Leesa Perazzo proposed holding a non-mandatory public hearing on the street name resolution, to seek the public’s input, and the Council unanimously concurred. Perazzo acceded to the opposition of council members Marion Porterfield (Dem.) and Vince Riggi (Ind.), who expressed concerns about having a street named after the casino operator, and refused to vote the resolution out of the Public Services and Utilities Committee.

update (March 15, 2016): The Gazette reported late last night that “Mohawk Harbor street names draw few foes: Schenectady business leaders back choices; three residents voice opposition“, by Haley Vicarro; and the Times Union‘s Paul Nelson wrote, “Council asked to approve street names: Developer says Rush Street is appropriate despite objections“, by Paul Nelson (March 14, 2016). Rush Street Gaming and Galesi Group proved again that they can pull the strings on our political and business leaders to get them to show up anywhere/anytime, say virtually anything, and even embrace a name they never would have dreamed up on their own. County leaders demonstrated both (1) that they had rushed last week to announce their naming the bike trail in honor of ALCO to give Rush Street cover for their eponymous street name; and (2) their continued disdain for the majority of County voters who said “No” in November 2013 to Proposition One and having commercial casinos anywhere in Upstate New York. [Click here for my written submitted Comments opposing the name Rush Street]

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ALCOlogoY Below, I offer several reasons why “Rush Street” is an inappropriate name at Schenectady’s Casino Compound. First, though, I acknowledge that there are many other suitable names for the roadways in Mohawk Harbor. My personal preference is that this piece of our City and its history, which for generations was the location of the American Locomotive Company’s headquarters and primary manufacturing operations, and which for the past few decades has been called the Old ALCO site, be commemorated for its role in Schenectady’s proud history of Hauling the World and strenuously contributing to our nation’s war efforts. That can and should be done by paying tribute to ALCO and its workforce in the street name of the roadway used to enter the casino compound at Mohawk Harbor, and perhaps the two other streets. [Click here for a brief history of ALCO, and here for a nostalgic image of the ALCO works; and see the Gazette Editorial. “Honor Alco’s history in Mohawk Harbor street names” (Feb. 18, 2016.)]

ALCOlogo

AMERICAN LOCOMOTIVE Drive

I’d like to suggest that the words “American Locomotive” be used in the street name, whether it is dubbed a street, avenue, boulevard, or lane.  In addition to paying tribute to the site’s past, the name American Locomotive, or similar words, will suggest that Mohawk Harbor and its Casino can be an Engine for Economic Growth in Schenectady, without suggesting that Schenectady should be or somehow already is proud of the City’s role in the Gaming Industry and related businesses. For myself, and many other people in our City and County, the existence of a casino in Schenectady may be seen as potentially good for employment and our tax revenues. It is not, however, a matter of civic “pride”. A casino does not and will not invoke for the City a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure taken from its achievements, nor a feeling of dignity, value or self-respect. Even if well run by a committed workforce (with their own personal pride in a job well done), and if enjoyed by customers for its entertainment value, it is merely a part of the leisure industry. A casino will “produce” entertainment for some, riches for a very few (mostly living elsewhere), but nothing that speaks of greatness and of a community’s special skills and dedication. And, although denied by its cheerleaders, a casino has the potential to have a significant negative impact on many aspects of the life of our community and its families.

I am proud of Schenectady’s connection to ALCO (and to GE), but I will never be proud of our City’s connection to the Gaming Industry, or to Rush Street Gaming. Honoring our past with a name like American Locomotive Drive — or simply the powerful “Locomotive Drive” — would be an important reminder to our residents and visitors of our proud and productive past, and of our faith in a future beyond the narrow scope of the gaming industry.

Rush-Street-004

What’s wrong with the name Rush Street?

  1.  RushStreetPostCard-001Name it after Rush Street in Chicago? No, thanks.  With yet another hard-to-believe explanation aimed at our City Council, Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin says they are not naming the street after themselves, but are instead hoping to invoke the energy and aura of Rush Street Chicago.  His letter to the Council says, “Rush Street in Chicago is a renowned entertainment destination. It sits just one block west of the ‘Magnificent Mile,’ an internationally known shopping district. Some of the finest dining and nightlife options in the city of Chicago are on Rush Street. I can tell you the atmosphere on this mile-long thoroughfare is electric. We want to bring that same excitement and success to the Electric City.” Indeed, according to Wikipedia, Rush Street Chicago “continues to be part of one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country and has businesses that correspond to the demands of its residents. The neighborhood hosts highly rated restaurants, five-star hotels, four-star spas, an elite senior citizen residence and prominent bars.” From my perspective, there are at least two big problems with invoking Rush Street Chicago:
    1. The vast majority of people considering or actually coming to Mohawk Harbor do not have the slightest idea what Rush Street Chicago is. That name is highly unlikely to draw any significant numbers of people from our very local/regional geographic market. If Rush Street Gaming truly wanted to make Rivers Casino in Schenectady a world-class entertainment destination, it would not have given us a casino designed to look like an outdated shopping mall (while proposing imposing casinos elsewhere), and it would not be requesting a pylon sign so huge and homely that it would never be permitted within several miles of Chicago’s Rush Street.
    2. WallStreetCompare

      our Wall Street analogy

      Those who do know what Rush Street in Chicago is like, can only be disappointed, and maybe even insulted, by the comparison once they arrive at Schenectady’s version.  Councilman VInce Riggi is correct to say that it is pretentious of Rush Street to name the street after itself, but it is probably even more pretentious to suggest their investment here will produce results comparable to even a tiny part of Chicago’s Rush Street. It is not too farfetched or cynical to predict, especially given the physical limitations of the site, that Schenectady’s Rush Street will be to Chicago’s Rush Street as our Wall Street is to Manhattan’s Wall Street. (see collage to the Right, and click on it for a larger verison)

  2.  Benjamin_Rush_Painting_by_Peale Name it after Benjamin Rush? Please, no, for his sake and ours. Rush Street in Chicago is named after Dr. Benjamin Rush [1746-1813], a physician who signed the Declaration of Independence, is called a Founding Father, was a leader of the American Enlightenment, perhaps the most prominent physician in the nation at the time, and wrote the first book in America on psychiatry. He was also a well-known abolitionist. Of course, it makes little sense to name an important thoroughfare in Schenectady after a man who has no local ties. More important, however, before doing so, we should consider, among other peculiarities, that:
    1. Ironically, Dr. Rush was a prominent advocate for temperance. He fought to include bans on “gaming, drunkenness, and uncleanness” along with “habits of idleness and love of pleasure”, in the U.S. Constitution.  He also campaigned against taverns and “clubs of all kinds where the only business of the company is feeding (for that is the true name of a gratification that is simply animal) are hurtful to morals”.   [See”The Benjamin Rush Prescription“, by psychologist Romeo Vitelli.] This leads me to believe Dr. Rush would strongly oppose naming the casino roadway Rush Street.

    2. Although Dr. Rush was a leading abolitionist, it should be noted that “In 1792, Rush read a paper before the American Philosophical Society which argued that the ‘color’ and ‘figure’ of blacks were derived from a form of leprosy. He argued that with proper treatment, blacks could be cured and become white [Wikipedia]  Also, despite his public condemnations of slavery, “Rush purchased a slave named William Grubber in 1776. To the consternation of many, Rush still owned Grubber when he joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1784.” [Id.]

    3. While other physicians gave up the practice of bloodletting and purges, Dr. Rush did not, and his practice waned. Indeed, “Some even blamed Rush’s bleeding for hastening the death of Benjamin Franklin, as well as George Washington . . ” [for more, see Wikipedia]

  3. RushPWD The Many Meanings and Connotations of the Word “rush”:  The word “rush” has many meanings as a verb, adjective, and noun, and quite a few of the meanings conjure up notions that seem unseemly, misleading, or unworthy for a great City and sober community to be pushing.  One example, of course, is the rush one gets from taking certain drugs. As described at Dictionary.com: “the initial, intensely pleasurable or exhilarated feeling experienced upon taking a narcotic or stimulant drug.” The little yellow bottle seen on the right contains a product deemed a liquid incense or aroma popper, thought of as cheap form of “club drug”. No matter what fans of the product my say or feel, neither the item nor the word comes to mind when I think about responsible gambling.  And, even if lots of the old rockers on the Senior Casino Tour buses arriving at Mohawk Harbor are fans of the band Rush, I’m finding it hard to fit the lyrics to their biggest hit, Tom Sawyer, into a useful mindset relative to the future of the City of Schenectady.
  4. RushStreetGamingLogo Naming the Street after Rush Street Gaming. Pretentious. At-Best Premature. Surely proof that Fools Rush In. Rush Street Gaming has yet to prove that it will be a good corporate neighbor or citizen in Schenectady, and thus perhaps the recipient of an Honorary Street Name some day. At “Snowmen at the Gates” (f/k/a Stop the Schenectady Casino)), there is plenty of proof that RSG asks for much and gives virtually nothing it is not forced by law to give. It certainly has been far more generous at its other casino locations with extra funding for local development and community services, and general mitigation of impact expenses, than in Schenectady, where the Mayor and City Council have given it all it wants, and more. Moreover, Neil Bluhm is far too good of a businessman to refuse to listen to offers to buy him out at Mohawk Harbor.  E.g., in 2012, he and Greg Carlin sold their Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Miss., just four years after it opened, and after failing in their immediate request for a 60% reduction in their property tax assessment. That makes the Rush Street connection less than solid. Our elected leaders should have some self-respect and say no to this name grab.  That could start a great new precedent, asserting that Schenectady has a casino, but is Not a Casino Town.

Conclusion: Even if “Rush Street” were tolerably acceptable as a street name in Mohawk Harbor (which it is not), honoring our ALCO history and signaling our belief in a future that will once again be productive and worthy of civic pride are goals that point strongly to rejection of the street name Rush Street.

 

RIGGING THE NEWS: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino

images  Tomorrow, Dec. 17, 2014, the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board is expected to finally announce its selections for up to four Upstate gaming facility licenses. Before the winners and losers are chosen, however, we would like to set out our perspective on the coverage given to the casino selection process by the Schenectady Daily Gazette, which has editorially supported the Schenectady casino application.

  Whether we “win” or “loose”, we believe it is important for the people of Schenectady to know how poorly the Gazette has performed the role of presenting the relevant casino news and helping the public (and our leaders) understand the issues and the likely impact of a casino on Schenectady and nearby communities. They are proud of being “locally owned” and “independent”, but we’re afraid that can translate into parochial, unaccountable coverage, far too susceptible to pressures from local government and business interests (including important current or potential advertisers), and from the social and personal demands on members of a small community of local leaders. In a way, “locally owned” can lead too readily to “locally bought”.

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Our posting this weekend (which we urge you to read), “the Gazette continues the ALCO tunnel coverup“, describes only one of the many ways in which the Schenectady Gazette appears to have skewed its coverage of the news of the casino application process, in order to present the Schenectady applicants and their proponents in a way that paints them in the best light, by avoiding tough questions, ignoring negative facts, and pretending that there is no organized, serious opposition locally to the casino.  Any semblance of evenhanded news coverage ended June 9, 2014, the night the Schenectady City Council voted to support the application of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group to operate a gaming facility at Mohawk Harbor, the former site of Schenectady’s ALCO plant.  See the resulting Gazette editorial Casino would provide needed boost (June 10, 2014)

Meeting with Gazette Officials. Yesterday afternoon (Monday, Dec. 15, 2014), the Publisher of the Gazette, John DeAugustine, the Editor, Judy Patrick, and Miles Reed, the City Editor met with Stop the Schenectady Casino members Mohamed Hafez and myself (David Giacalone) to discuss our belief that the Gazette’s news coverage has favored the casino.  They gave us a considerable amount of their time and made the valid points that they have a limited amount of resources to cover the wide world of local news and that they are bombarded by complaints they have not given enough coverage to particular issues or have not been impartial. The Gazette officials insisted they are proud of the wide coverage they have given the casino issue and seemed not to understand why we would want the Gazette to report the positions and arguments of Stop the Schenectady Casino, as opposed to merely vaguely mentioning concerns of those against a Schenectady casino.

We wanted (and needed) the public to know and the media to report there is a serious opposition campaign, because the Location Board wants to know the extent of local opposition, and because not mentioning our specific arguments and background information serves the interests of the casino applicant by default.  To “write about” (usually, merely mentioning) crime, traffic, the proximity to Union College, and potential harm to the Stockade Historic neighborhood, etc., without mentioning our consistent focus on those issues, and our very specific research on the facts and research literature, not only has left the articles almost content-free, but fails to show the seriousness of the problems.

newspaper  The Gazette‘s editorial board endorsed the casino on June 9th, and — viewed from the outside as casino opponents, and also perhaps to the objective observer — its newsroom became a virtual public relations department for the Schenectady casino, with news editors seemingly reining in reporters who were initially curious and conscientious in covering casino issues. Despite the public’s desire to know more about the applicants and the pros and cons of locating a casino in Schenectady, the Gazette newsroom did little to counter the propaganda of local political leaders, the pie-in-the-sky predictions of Rush Street Gaming and Galesi Group CEO David Buicko, and the incessant cheerleading of Metroplex and the local Chamber of Commerce, with facts and investigatory reporting.  It failed to look beyond the conclusions and soundbites of casino proponents and to present the facts and arguments behind the concerns of opponents.

Here are some examples:

  • The Gazette‘s coverage of the City Council meeting of June 9th and its 5-2 vote approving the casino application failed to mention that a large group of local religious and community leaders submitted a Statement to the Council strongly opposing the casino; instead, the Gazette merely mentioned that the group asked the Council to delay its vote in order to hold a public hearing on the issues and consider public comments and the social effects of a casino on the City and its residents.  Similarly, while reporting that the Council chambers were filled with blue signs and buttons saying Yes for the casino, the Gazette did not mention that virtually no hands went up when Rev. Sara Baron asked the audience who supported the casino and lived in Schenectady, while many hands were raised in answer to her asking who were against the casino and live in the City. See Schenectady City Council backs casino proposal (June 10, 2014)
  • checkedboxs The Gazette also ignored a press release by many of the same religious leaders, dated September 30, 2014, telling of a campaign among various faith congregations in Schenectady to make their opposition known to the proposed Schenectady casino.  [See our posting of Oct. 1, 2014; and click for a pdf. version of the Press Release]  The campaign provided an information packet with documents to aid in writing the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board.  I personally brought up the topic to a Gazette casino reporter, supplying the phone number of Rev. Phil Grigsby, who was a contact person for the group behind the Press Release and anti-casino campaign.  Rev. Grigsby made several direct attempts to speak with the reporter and Gazette, but was never able to do so.

 According to the ministers’ press release:

Of major concern is that “Rush Street Gaming invests in Ruby Seven Studios, which develops, markets, and distributes casino games such as slots and poker through social network and smart phone ‘app’ websites with terms of service that expressly allow children as young as 13 to play without any age or identity verification.”

   It is that “major concern” that might have kept the ministers’ news-worthy campaign out of the Gazette. The Press Release was referring to a study, Betting on Kids Online, released in early September by a major hospitality and casino worker union, stating that Rush Street Gaming is investing millions of dollars with the aim of becoming the industry leader in “building a bridge” between children playing casino-like games on social media and smartphones and their going to brick-n-mortar casinos to do real gaming once they are old enough.  As we stated in our posting “Rush Street takes aim at adolescents” (Sept. 11, 2014): Knowing that the earlier you begin to gamble, the more likely you are to gamble often and obsessively, Schenectady’s proposed casino operator is sowing the seeds digitally to grow the next generation of problem gamblers.

I personally corresponded with a Gazette reporter a few times on Betting on Kids, sending a link to the study and related website.  The Gazette chose to censor this important news about a casino operator who wants to locate a gaming facility a block away from a giant Union College residence hall filled with potential young gamblers.  It also failed to report that Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino was specifically aiming at young potential gamblers by creating a simpler form of craps called “props and hops” and building a large poker hall.  See this posting.

Captured Videos1 The Gazette newsroom has also, by commission and omission, acted to erase the existence of the group Stop the Schenectady Casino from the minds of its readers.  Indeed, when WAMC’s Dave Lucas first contacted me in November, he started the conversation by saying, “I didn’t even know there was a group in opposition to the Schenectady casino.”  Also, at the September public presentations by the Applicants to the Location Board, one Board member told the East Greenbush applicant that they were the only casino with any public opposition.  Mr. Lucas and the Location Board staff  must have blinked and missed the initial coverage the Gazette gave to our group when we were first formed at the end of May, in our attempt to prevent the City Council from approving the Schenectady casino proposal.  See “Neighbors rally against Schenectady casino plan” (Sunday Gazette, by Ned Campbell, June 8, 2014); and our posting on “our June 7 opposition meeting” at Arthur’s Market.

In fact, in the four months since the Gazette’s June 9th editorial supporting the casino, there has only been one mention of the existence of a group in Schenectady opposing the casino.  That was in a piece on June 23 about my complaint to the NYS Attorney General, alleging that the efforts of the Fair Game theater coalition to force applicants to accept a list of their demands violate the antitrust laws.  [see our post “arts venues want more than a Fair Game” June 28, 2014] The very next day, the Gazette printed an editorial praising Fair Game, and calling it good for the theaters, the City and the casinos.  Despite the editorial staff’s usual CYA approach, in which it states “on one hand, on the other hand”, concerning most issues, it did not even acknowledge that Fair Game’s activities could increase entertainment prices and limit entertainment options available to Schenectady County residents, while also damaging non-favored entertainment and leisure establishments.  Perhaps because I was attacking our biggest local sacred cow, Proctor’s and its director Philip Morris, I have subsequently been relegated to being called a Stockade resident and/or outspoken casino critic, not the leader of an opposition group.

erasingF  The worst example of the Gazette magicians making Stop the Schenectady Casino almost disappear is certainly our treatment relative to the all-important Location Board public comment event on September 22nd.  On September 21, the Sunday Gazette published the article “Public to have its say on casinos: Supporters, foes to lobby board at Monday hearing” (by Haley Viccaro). In a section that begins “Here’s a sample of what to expect during the hearing at the Holiday Inn at 205 Wolf Road in Colonie”, the article has two sentences about an out-of-town labor group, Unite HERE, that was to appear to complain about labor complaints against Rush Street Gaming.  The only other discussion of expected opposition at the public hearing to the Schenectady casino says:

“Also speaking against the proposed Schenectady casino are some residents of the Stockade Historic District. David Giacalone is set to speak at 10 a.m., while Mohamed Hafez has a reserved slot at 6:15 p.m.”

Reporter Viccaro had been in frequent touch with me the days before the Board’s public comment event.  She knew that I was scheduled to appear on behalf of the group Stop the Schenectady Casino, and that the reserved spots were in fact meant for representatives of groups.  I told her Mr. Hafez also had a time slot, and she sent me an email specifically asking if Hafez was a Stockade resident. I immediately wrote back, saying he lived in Mt. Pleasant, not the Stockade, with an insurance office on Guilderland Ave., and was appearing to present the perspective of a landlord on the negative impact of a casino.

To the typical Schenectadian reading the Gazette, the term “Stockade resident” often means “spoiled elitist opposed to anything new that might be an inconvenience.”  It does not suggest serious opposition and a coalition of people with a wide range of reasons to fight against a casino.  The impression is strengthened by failing to mention (as the article does for opponents of other Capital Region casinos) any actual issues and concerns of the Group.

threemonkeys Worse than the relegating us to the issue-less category of Stockade resident prior to the Public Comment Event, the Gazette‘s multi-piece coverage of the 12-hour public hearing never mentions that there were local opponents of the Schenectady casino present at or making presentations to the Location Board, much less that a spokesperson appeared on behalf of Stop the Schenectady Casino and presented a 20-page Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino to the Location Board, along with our signed Petitions against the casino.  [Even Galesi CEO Dave Buicko and Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen later congratulated us on the quality of the Statement.] Nor did the Gazette mention Mohamed Hafez’s presentation, and his attempt to share some of his five minutes with Rev. Philip Grigsby of the group of Schenectady religious leaders against the casino.

Captured Videos1 Did we just get lost in the overkill of a day-long hearing?  Well, Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro watched my presentation and when I finished it, we talked, joked, and schmoozed on and off for well over 30 minutes; she even strongly advised me to check out the fancy room reserved by the Schenectady applicant for the comfort of its supporters.  She was also very pleased when I handed her a flashdrive that held our Statement, its attachments, and copies of the petitions.  Instead of mentioning our group in her pieces, Haley ended up marveling over a cake baked by one of the businesses that plans to partner with Rush Street Gaming at the Schenectady casino.

  The worst example of blatant pro-casino “news” was surely the front-page article on Sunday August 4, 2014, entitled “Schenectady Casino Group Praised: Host communities say Rush Street lives up to its billing” (Sunday Gazette; by Haley Viccaro).   As was stated in our posting that day, “a few things the Gazette forgot to mention“, the puff piece gave Rush Street a lot of free public relations propaganda. [update (Feb. 7, 2017): The Gazette is at it again, playing public relations patty-cake with Rush Street; see “Rush Street Gaming properties hint at what to expect in Schenectady“, by Brett Samuels.)

In addition:

 DSCF3276-001 Haley’s article is filled with quotes from local development and business officials and Rush Street Gaming’s CEO Greg Carlin, without a word from their detractors, such as Casino-Free Philadelphia, or the Worchester MA citizens group  that was successful in keeping RSG out of their city, nor even from the Stop the Schenectady Casino gang.  We speculated in August that perhaps the article was the Gazette‘s penance and mea culpa to Casino proponents for an earlier article titled “Officials in other cities warn of pitfalls, failed promises by Rush Street“? (June 8, 2014, by Bethany Bump).

Indeed, Rush Street Gaming liked the August 3rd article so much, it included a Power Point image of the headline in the “final”, public presentation it made to the Location Board in September. (click the image at the head of this paragraph)  In our posting on what the newspaper forgot to mention, we walk through a number of very important facts the Gazette should have mentioned as a matter of fairness, but also of journalistic duty and pride.  For example, it failed to mention the many facts that refute the claim by a Philadelphia official that, rather than crime rising, it actually got safer near Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino.  In addition, it allowed a company official to brag that they even help customers find other hotels for their stay in Philadelphia, without noting that the particular casino has no hotel of its own and must assist customers to find lodging if it wants to lure them to their facility.

Traffic & Crime Concerns. The Gazette also managed to write an article on the traffic problems in the Stockade, and to occasionally mention concerns over increased crime, without ever including mention of Stop the Schenectady Casino, which has focused on those issues, and researched and written on them in some detail.

For example, see the Gazette piece “Stockade group frets over potential traffic: Mohawk Harbor access a concern” (Sept. 30, 2014, by Haley Viccaro). Ms. Viccaro decided to only speak with Mary D’Allesdandro, Stockade Association president concerning the Stockade’s traffic worries.  Not only is Ms. D’Allesandro a supporter of the casino, she never did anything about the traffic issue until a non-officer member of the Association asked at the September Stockade Association that they give comments to Metroplex as part of the environmental review.  The Comment was hammered out at the end of the Meeting, and is filled with generalities.   The Gazette article is so troublesome, that I left a lengthy comment at their website, and repeated it in a posting on October 1, titled “the Gazette gets stuck in Stockade traffic” (October 1, 2014).  That posting has links to the work done by Stop the Schenectady Casino on the traffic issue, including discussion on our Statement in Opposition of September 22, 2o14.

checkedboxs Crime. The Gazette has also failed to address in any meaningful way an issue of great concern to neighborhoods near the proposed casino: the likelihood that the casino will bring an increase in crime.  We were told in the Gazette, with no explanations, that Stockade Association President, a casino booster (and mayor-appointed member of the City’s Board of Zoning Review), Mary D’Alessandro didn’t think there would be an increase in crime; that East Front Street Association officer Mary Ann Ruscitto, an “excited” casino booster, wasn’t worried, because we already have crime in the Stockade area; and that a Rush Street Gaming proponent stated that crime went down around its Philadelphia SugarHouse casino. As you can see in our posting “will a casino bring more crime,” and at pages 6 -8 or our Statement in Opposition to the Casino, there is much to say about crime and an urban casino that goes far beyond one-sentence gut feelings.  The Gazette could have added to that debate, but I believe doing so would have made more of their readers and their allies supporting the casino nervous.

In addition, the Gazette newsroom:

  •  Never wrote about the County Legislators and town leaders ignoring the November 2013 vote on Proposition One, in which a majority of county residents opposed having any casinos upstate, with large majorities in opposition in Niskayuna and Glenville, which are the towns closest to Mohawk Harbor.  In addition, it never wrote that, despite its claims, the County Legislature, had absolutely no power to approve the casino application if the City did not do so.  My own presentation to the Gazette staff of the relevant provisions of the law and Request for Applications, which clearly state that only a city or town could give the necessary local approval, were ignored. [See our posting “Schenectady County ignores its voters and plain English” (June 2, 2014)]
  • threemonkeys Often mentioned that the East Front Street Association supported the casino, but never reported on how few people were members nor how its leaders concluded the majority of neighborhood residents supported the casino.  Every resident of that neighborhood asked by us said no one asked them their stance on the casino.
  • Gave no coverage to the Statement of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation to Metroplex, asking Metroplex to act to protect the Stockade from the negative effects likely to be caused by having a casino a half mile away. See our post on October 2, 2014.
  • OriginalMohawkHarbor Gratuitously, with no source given, asserted  in the piece”Automated Dynamics weighs relocation options” (Haley Viccaro, Nov. 27, 2014) that “If [the Alco site is not chosen for a casino], the portion of the site dedicated for the project would probably remain undeveloped.”  I think Mssrs. Galesi, Buicko and Gillen would be trying hard to find a substitute use of that land, even if it is only the major amenity of a park setting with walking and bike trails along the Mohawk, next to the Mohawk Harbor hotel, condos, marina, office buildings, retail shops, etc. on the west end of the plot. [The image to the right is an original rendering of Mohawk Harbor released by the Galesi Group, showing the project filling the entire riverbank site, with much-needed green space, as well as trees and setbacks along Erie Blvd, and its first phase constructed in 2015.]

This is, we submit, not a record that should make the Gazette proud, unless its goal has been to give Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor a better shot at being selected by the Location Board.

update (Dec. 18, 2014): Well, at least they’re consistent.  The following is apparently the only mention of an Opposition in the Gazette’s massive coverage of the casino selection in today’s newspaper: “Some Schenectady residents, including those in the nearby Stockade neighborhood, have voiced concerns about a potential increase in crime and traffic due to the casino.”  

follow-up: Why No East-Greenbush Effect? (Dec. 22, 2014):  The opponents of the East Greeenbush casino won a well-earned victory, and they show what was needed to attract the attention of the Gaming Facility Location Board. You need a large number of truly upset, directly-affected homeowners (especially middle-class ones), with organization skills and at least a modest war chest, and with lots of publicity that garners more publicity, and the kind of Town Council monkey-business to make a lawsuit at least colorable, and gives the  media a hook for covering the topic repeatedly. See “Churchill: East Greenbush casino opponents win big” by Chris Churchill,” Albany Times Union, Dec. 18, 2014). With the Gazette ignoring us, and the Stockade Association hampered by a President who favored the casino and would not call a meeting on the casino nor put the issue on the agenda, the anti-casino crowd in Schenectady never got the nucleus of publicity that would let them grow into as thorny an opponent as those in East Greenbush.  The Stockade had voted against Proposition One in the November 2013 election. Had the Stockade Association voted to oppose the casino and opened its treasury to the cause, the Gazette would not have been able to ignore us. Ifs, buts, regrets.

Irony Update: See “Gazette decries ‘fake news’” (Nov. 6, 2016)

poor-mouthing Schenectady won’t work

emptyPockets Hats in hand and tin cups raised, Schenectady’s leaders did not exactly do us proud at yesterday’s Public Comment Event.  As we’ve said before, Schenectady’s economic and financial plight is simply not desperate enough for the City to take the Casino Gamble with its future, its social fabric, its reputation, and its soul.  Casino supporters might like to call casino opponents “nay-sayers,” but we seem to have a lot more faith in Schenectady’s revival than they do.  Of course, when running for election, these same leaders trip over their own tongues telling us how successful they have been reviving and transforming Schenectady.

Giving Rush Street Gaming and The Galesi Group the gaming license will not meet the development and job-creation goals of the Upstate New York State gaming law. The first Point in our  Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino explains why.

POINT ONE. Unlike the other Capital Region locations proposed to the Board, the Schenectady Casino is the only Location Well on its Way to Being Fully Developed without a Casino, and Schenectady already has a Vibrant and Successful Development Process.

Continue reading

why are Mass. voters saying No to casinos?

 update (June 24, 2014): The highest court of Massachusetts decided today to allow a question seeking repeal of the state’s casino gambling law to go on the November state ballot.  See “Voters to decide fate of Massachusetts casino law“, AP/Boston Herald, June 24, 2014). Observers expect the gaming industry to wage an enormous advertising campaign, probably aided by labor unions, and other corporate groups who benefit from the operation of casinos. The article states: “John Ribeiro, chairman of the group Repeal The Casino Deal, said opponents were prepared for a ‘David versus Goliath’ fight in which they’ll likely be outspent ‘100 to 1,’ as they were in many communities that held local votes on casino proposals.”

 When the Massachusetts Gaming Commission met last week to select a licensee for the first resort-casino in the state, to be located in Western Massachusetts, there was only one casino proposal in contention, and the license granted was “tentative”?

 Do you suppose the casino cheerleaders in Schenectady City Hall and the County Building know why?

  • The MGM-Springfield application was the only remaining proposal in Western Massachusetts, because voters went to the ballot box and rejected all the other applicants.  Only Springfield would gamble on a casino.
  • And, the license can only be tentative, because over 90,000 people signed an initiative petition they hope will be on the statewide ballot on November 5, 2014, which would make the existing 2011 law allowing casinos void.. The courts are deciding whether to allow the initiative on the ballot.  If the Initiative is not allowed on the ballot or is defeated on Nov. 5, MGM’s Springfield license would go into effect.  Observers believe the Repeal the Casino Deal Initiative has a pretty good chance of succeeding, if it is on the ballot. See this Boston.com article.

In town after town, the people of Massachusetts or their elected officials have rejected specific proposed casinos.  And, across the State, tens of thousands of adults want the Casino Deal overturned, because they believe it is a very bad bargain for the people of their Commonwealth.

SmallShark Go to the lively Repeal the Casino Deal website for answers to my questions, and many more, with voluminous Resources, and a NIMBY page of Massachusetts leaders who are pro-casino, but have admitted they would not want to live near one.

Schenectady Council approves casino 5 to 2

SlicingThePie Democrat Marion Porterfield and Independent Vince Riggi were the only Schenectady City Council members to vote against the River Harbors casino proposed by  the Galesi-RSG partnership.  It took a strong backbone for Ms. Porterfield to resist the heavy pressure for unity among the Democrats, and she deserves thanks.

The same goes for Vince Riggi, who surely found it easier to resist the Mayor and Peggy King, but also felt that a significant part of his base wanted the casino.  Vince ended by saying that they simply did not have enough information to make a decision that could affect Schenectady significantly for decades to come.  He opened with words he said were by a man we all respected.  It was Rep. Paul Tonko, who had this to say about the competition for casino licenses (Rep. Tonko, With Several Possible Locations In District, Lukewarm On Casinos,” by Alan Chartok):

Rep. Tonko: “You know, I’ve seen these dividing communities along almost a 50-50 threshold. If there is going to be an issue that people decide, if there is going to be a casino in the area, I hope it’s going to be a situation where it’s not in a poor neighborhood because of the disproportional impact on the poor,” he said. “But in general, I’m concerned about us hinging our hopes for a better economy on casinos. I think there has got to be a better way, a more straightforward way. What we have is a dependency on perhaps someone to lose their retirement check or their week’s salary so that we can invest in children and their future through education. Somehow that doesn’t make sense to me.”

treasurehunter

 “I know people have been saying that it equals jobs and it provides for economic recovery. I don’t know if the soundness of that recovery is as great as we would like to think; you look at the economy in Las Vegas and Nevada, it has not been that great, the property values have dipped precipitously,” he added. “I talked to my colleagues from Nevada, they have had tough, tough times and you see this growing number of states in the Northeast that are delving into this concept of casinos. I have to believe there is a finite amount of money that people are able, not necessarily willing, but able to give.

 emptyPockets“After you have drained some of those paychecks and retirement accounts, what’s left?

“And of course the impact on the cultural industry in these towns: Proctors, SPAC, the track itself in Saratoga. This has to be done in a way that puts together a plan that can avoid however possible, the negative impact on some of the standing cultural entities or entertainment entities as they exist today and also just being conscious of just where we provide for the setting so that it is not going to make it so convenient for some of the poorest amongst us.”

Ed Kosiur, perhaps heeding Lincoln’s advice on remaining silent, merely said “Yes” when it came time for his vote [note: I learn much later that Mr. Kosiur had to leave due to a medical issue].  All the others gave several reasons for their decisions.  John Mooterveren, who was at one time thought to be leaning toward a No, said that Schenectady needs the jobs.  Carl Erikson no longer seemed like a likely No vote for the past few weeks, but he struggled to come up with convincing reasons for his Yes.  One weak notion was the attraction a casino would be for sought-after skilled workers looking for a place with diverse entertainment options.

The crowd was probably 65% Yes supporters, but very few of them were Schenectady residents.  Rev. Sara Baron asked a telling question to each camp: How many of you are from Schenectady?  A much larger percentage of the casino opponents than of the supporters were Schenectady residents.

checkedboxs We opponents plan to reflect a bit, continue to collect signatures on our Petitions, and give some thought on how to best bring our cause before the State Gaming Facility Siting Board. Making our presence and our concerns known was and will be an important part of the campaign to keep a casino out of Schenectady.

StopCasPet

PETITION UPDATE:  We brought a packet with 187 signatures on 26 Petition forms to the City Council meeting, which were presented to the Council, saying it was just a downpayment on the signatures we would be submitting from people the Council has been ignoring. [click on the image at the head of this paragraph for a copy of the petition, and go here for instructions.]

While at City Hall, one avid worker handed me 30 additional signatures, and another 30 were obtained outside the meeting room during the session.  Many people sought out the opportunity to sign.

At this point, 77 Stockadians have signed the Petition.

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our June 7 Opposition Meeting

 DSCF3041  . . .  DSCF3036

An article in the Sunday Times Union article captured the tone of our June 7th Meeting for Casino Opponents at Arthur’s Market:

“Some 30 residents were willing to bypass Saturday’s glorious sunshine to gather on couches and around tables at the corner meeting place to join him. They shared concerns about the proposed casino and urged each other to speak against it at a City Council meeting Monday, when a resolution to support the project is on the agenda.” Stockade residents rally against Schenectady casino plan (by Claire Hughes, June 8, 2014)

   DSCF3061    About three dozen Casino Opponents  created an atmosphere of urgency and caring, in the comfortable surroundings of the redesigned Arthur’s Market.  The subtitle of the TU article is “Stockade-area residents stress ‘people’ as council vote on gaming site nears” .  And, although “people” were/are our first priority, the Meeting stressed the many ways a casino would harm our people, community, businesses and future — using studies, literature, experience elsewhere and common sense. Many also stressed how the sneaky and cliquey process used by the applicant and by City Hall (Mayor and Council leadership) to push this proposal through tars the project and the Administration, insults the public and democratic principles, and creates suspicion and anger.

 DSCF3050-001 . . . OppoMtg07Jun2014MHafez

– Donna Lagone [L] and Mohamed Hafez –

Organizers Richard Genest, Mohamed Hafez, Tom Hodgkins and myself (David Giacalone), each told why we felt the need to show that a serious opposition existed.  We then asked those present (our opposition partners) to come up and tell us their most important reasons for opposing the casino.  Many did, including Lydia Eis, Jean Zegger, Vince Riggi, Joe Kelleher, Mary McClain, Donna Lagone, and Gloria Kishton.  I apologize for not recalling, or knowing the names of, others who contributed with their thoughts and emotions.  Mr. Riggi was the only elected official at the event.

   DSCF3058 Grade-schoolers Tianning and Hainuo Hodgkins, plus little Concetta, added energy inside Arthur’s, and made their beliefs known with chalk on the sidewalk, proclaiming “no casino.”

The front page of the Regional section of today’s Sunday Gazette, C1, has a lengthy article with a summary of the casino approval situation in Schenectady, as well as good coverage of yesterday’s Meeting of Opponents, and a description of the Statement of Schenectady Clergy calling for a public hearing (discussed here). “Neighbors rally against Schenectady casino plan” (by Ned Campbell, June 8, 2014; available online only by subscription)  On the lack of a public hearing, the Gazette writes:

 While the Schenectady County Legislature hosted a public hearing on the issue Monday, [Councilman Vince] Riggi criticized the City Council for not setting its own public hearing before the vote on what he considers “the most important issue” since he started attending council meetings 28 years ago.

“If I want to make it illegal to spit on the sidewalk, that requires a public hearing. By law, according to our corporation counsel, this doesn’t require a public hearing. Maybe legally, but morally?” he said to applause.

Vince Riggi (in yellow shirt) listens to opponents of the Schenectady Casino - 07Jun2014

 Two tv news reporters also covered the Meeting. Channel 13, WNYT, has a short, informative piece on the Meeting, with Dan Basile reporting after spending quite a bit of time with us at Arthur’s Market.  Take a look: Protestors in Schenectady speak out against casino proposal.  (WNYT News, June 8, 2014). YNN/TWC’s Madeleine Rivera was also at the Meeting with camera. The Time-Warner News website states “They held a rally Saturday, which several opposers attended.”  There may have been three opposers, but there also were another 30 or more opponents.  See Residents Voice Opposition Toward Schenectady Casino.

StopCasPet

WANT TO HELP STOP THE CASINO? You can demonstrate to City Council and (if needed) the Gaming Facility Siting Board the strength and sense of the casino’s opponents, by attending Monday night’s City Hall Rally (June 9, 6 PM on the entry steps), and the Council Meeting thereafter.  And, by signing our Petition. See “petition update” to learn its status and how to find it.

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checkedboxs Many thanks to all who came to show their support of the No Casino campaign, and to those helped organizing and putting on the Meeting: Richard Genest, our host at Arthur’s Market; Donna Lagone and Jessie Malecki, who did most of the work of circulating the petition in the Stockade; Mohamed Hafez, who physically got the petition to churches and businesses on his side of town, and spurred on the No Casino campaign with his energy and writing skills; and Tom Hodgkins, who made signs and decorations, but also crunched numbers to show us the strength of the opposition in Schenectady County, and brought along his best reasons for wanting to preserve and improve Schenectady, his three great kids.

DSCF3043

Thanks also to Vince Riggi, for his advice, and for having the spunk to resist the pressures at City Hall, and the courage to stand his ground and state his reasons for opposing a casino.

p.s.  Preparing for this meeting kept me from my hobby of photographing Stockade events and its beauty.  So, I missed Friday’s Garden Tour, and I was bouncing around too much during the Meeting yesterday to “focus” on photos.  Nonetheless, here’s a brief Slideshow with images from the event.  Sun and shadows created beauty and photographic challenges.  Please forgive the caffeine-busy-shaky fuzziness of the images.

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ministers request a public hearing

 Saying they are “appalled as religious and community leaders by what is clearly a ‘rush to judgment’ with minimal community input,” a group of clergy and other community leaders called on the Schenectady City Council yesterday to table the Gaming resolution scheduled for this Monday’s City Council Meeting (June 9), and take no formal action until  Council members “have taken the time for a public forum to receive public input at the city level.” (click for the Statement and list of signatories)

The “Statement on Casino Gambling in Schenectady: Why no Public Hearing?”, which was released on Friday, June 5, 2014, concludes:

“We ask that the Council give careful consideration of the economic, social and human impacts to the community as a whole and provide such a report to the community prior to action on any resolution.”

Many thanks to those who worked on the Ministers’ Statement!

It is, indeed, appalling to have an important issue like bringing a casino to Schenectady decided without a public hearing. It is an insult to democratic principles. Nonetheless, no observer of the Schenectady City Council can realistically expect that a public hearing would in any way change the minds of Council members (much less write a report after considering the public’s input).  In a way, it is refreshingly honest of the Mayor and Council to show how little regard they give to public hearings and opinion.

In addition, a June 5 editorial in the Gazette makes the valid point that the show of local support is diminished by the lack of a public hearing.  The strong-arm tactics of the Mayor and Council President King might just backfire and help convince the Siting Board that support in other locales is more robust than in Schenectady.  Having no public hearing is, as the preachers said, appalling.  However, given the futility of public hearings under the current City Hall Administration, and the possibility that failing to hold a public hearing might hurt the chances of the Schenectady application in the license competition, I’m not going to make too much of a fuss about the process.  It’s the substance of City Hall’s decision on casinos that deserves most of our ire.

Schenectady County ignores its voters and Plain English

smallquestionmark  What is going on at the County Building? Why are the leaders and legislators so willing to become cheerleaders for the casino, and to ignore the will of their voters, which was expressed only 7 months ago, rejecting casinos in Upstate New York? And, why are they unable to see the plain English wording in the Gaming Facility Siting Board’s Request for Applications, which makes it clear that the County is not a “Host Municipality” and cannot provide the required local legislative resolution of support for the proposed casino?

First, the Election Results: In his posting “Schenectady casino vote 2013,” blogger and Stockadian Tom Hodgkins crunches the results from the November 2013 vote on the constitutional proposition permitting gaming casinos, and comes to a conclusion as to its meaning.

Here is a summary of the vote in each municipality: abacus

  • NISKAYUNA: Every single one of their 20 election districts voted against the casino. The no vote overwhelmed the pro-gamblers by 25.7%: with 61.0% No to 35.4% Yes, and an undervote on Proposal One of 3.6% (those not answering the question)
  • GLENVILLE: The people opposed to new casinos garnered 55.3% of the votes on Proposal One, while the Yes votes received 39.6% (a 15.7% margin). Even more decisively, 25 of the 27 or 92.6% election districts voted against the casino
  • DUANESBURG:  4/5ths of the election districts in Duanesburg were conclusive, and on the whole 54.4% of the people voted against the casinos, and 42.1% voted No. This was a margin of decisiveness of 13.3%, while the under vote was only 4.5% of the electorate.
  • PRINCETOWN: Both of their election districts voted against a new casino in the Capital District, and the margin of decisiveness was 14.1%, with 53.7% voting No and 39.5% voting Yes; the undervote was 6.8%.
  • ROTTERDAM: In aggregate, people who supported increased gambling won by 6.7%, but the undecided or the under vote was 7.6%. . . On the whole, the only conclusion we can draw is that the vote in Rotterdam is suggestive of moderate support for a new casino.
  • CITY of SCHENECTADY:  The City has the most muddled results of all the municipalities in the County. Only 7,723 voters or 25.8% of the electorate turned out to vote; . . .  Election district under votes ranged from 3.7% to 48.3%, and accordingly the certainty of a decisive vote in an election district could only be determined in 22/42 districts. As a City, people who supported a new casinos upstate won by 2.3%, but the under vote was 10.3%. People living around Schenectady High School and in the Stockade were conclusively against more casinos upstate, while people in Mount Pleasant and Belleview supported new casinos.

Here is Tom’s rather reasonable conclusion:

What we can say with certainty is that the majority of the people that would be most impacted by a new casino in downtown Schenectady expressed clear opposition to more gambling for their families and communities. People opposed to more gambling were 50.6% of the vote in the county, while the people supporting more gambling opportunities for their children lost by a margin of 7.9%. The under vote was 6.6%, so the countywide decision against additional casinos was conclusive. Additionally, 72 of the 120 election districts or 60% voted against more gambling for their families and communities.  The people have spoken, and the answer is no casino.

Of the 30,083 people in Schenectady County who voted on Proposal One last November, 16,316 said No: 54.2%There was a 6.6% undervote on that question (ballots on which no choice was made). When the undervote is added into the total, 50.2% of those who went to the polls said No and 42.7% said Yes.  About 7.5% more of the County’s voters said No to casinos than said Yes. 

 That’s a significant spread, but apparently not significant enough for any of the County legislators to even bring up the subject during casino discussions.

Second, how can the folks in the County Building and at Metroplex make the silly argument that they can give the Schenectady Casino the necessary local legislative support, because they are also a Host Municipality?   I know Gary Hughes and Ray Gillen can read.  Did they bother to peruse the relevant portion of the Request for Applications for Gaming Facilities [RFA], or just ignore it and engage in wishful thinking?   Had they peeked into the RFA or asked a staffer to do so, they would have discovered that the definition of Host Municipality (p. 9) is:

“each town, village or city in the territorial boundaries of which the Project Site described in an Application is located.” (emphasis added)   

And, if that wasn’t enough to quash the itch to approve a casino, the section on Initial Requirement of Local Support is even more explicit (at 7):

For purposes of this requirement, the Host Municipality of a Project Site located in a city is the city. The Host Municipality of a Project Site located in a town, outside a village is the town.  The Host Municipality of a Project Site in a village is the village and the town in which the Project Site is located.” (emphasis added)

Here, there is only one Host Municipality, the City of Schenectady.  The County Legislature cannot void a negative vote by the real Host Municipality by substituting its own vote. The municipal legislature closest to the affected people and businesses is given the task.

Maybe the County Legislature is going out of its way like this to register a meaningless vote to show their electorate just who is boss.  I hope that the specter of the County overriding a negative vote by the City Council did not weaken the resolve this weekend of undecided Council Members to stick to their principals.  With the rumor that the County Legislators are virtually unanimous on approving the casino, a No vote by the City Council could seem merely symbolic and quixotic, and certainly not worth the punishment that would surely come from the Democratic Party and the Mayor.

checkedboxs Like any other nearby government or interested organization, the County Legislature is free to voice its support of the ALCO casino.  But, it cannot override a negative vote by Schenectady’s City Council.  So, it will be interesting to see if any Legislator raises either the November 23 vote or the plain meaning of Host Municipality at their Meeting.