Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Be Safe this New Year's Eve!

This isn't going to be the typical don't drink and drive, have a designated driver on New Year's Eve post. I want everyone to go out have fun and celebrate the end of what was hopefully a great 2010 and celebrate the beginning of 2011. But do it smartly. There is a program locally that takes the burden off you, the celebrator, and your family and friends, it's called the Netters Fund. The Netters Fund is a Not-for-Profit Fund that will aid in the Education and Prevention of Drunk Driving. The Fund was established by a friend of mine, Mark Balistreri, when his wife Annette “Netters” Nichols Balistreri was tragically taken by a drunk driver in 2005.

If you're going to be out an about in Troy this Friday evening/ night take full advantage of the Netters Fund "Safe Ride Program." Through this program the folks at the Netters Fund have teamed up with numerous establishments in the Capital District to offer you a safe and sober ride home.  These places will proudly display the safe ride decal in their window indicating their participation (as seen on the right).  All you need to do is ask the bartender about the program, they will assist you in getting a safe ride home. This is a free service, funded through sponsorships and donations from community members. So, go out have a blast, but do it smartly and locally at a "Safe Ride Program" participant.

To learn more about the Netter Fund and the "Safe Ride Program" visit for more information.

Also, please take a moment to listen to Troy City Councilman Dean Bodnar's comments on the importance of practicing what I'll call "Safe and Smart Celebrating."

Happy New Year to everyone, I hope 2011 is a prosperous one for you and yours.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

Christmas came a little early yesterday for over 65 children at the Whitney Young Health Center in Troy. Our 2010 Toy Drive culminated with a pizza party and a visit from Santa to help distribute the gifts. Seeing the smiles, hearing the excitement and laughter all causes me remember back to my simpler days and what the holidays meant to me as a child. I still enjoy Christmas, I look forward to the season every year, but it’s a little different now. It’s a magical time and as you grow it’s one the few memories you’ll carry with you from year-to-year. If you have the opportunity to spread a little holiday cheer in one’s day, do it, the benefits are far reaching. Always remember what it's all about.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday’s to you. Enjoy your family and partake in the holiday spirit. In closing I’d like to quote one of my favorite Christmas stories, “Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Hard Work Pays Off: A Community Groups Review of 2010

It’s amazing that once you step back from your daily grind and think what actually has been accomplished over the past year it’s actually quit refreshing how much positive has been achieved. This is the case for our neighborhood group, the North Lansingburgh Neighborhood Watch.  This past fall the North Lansingburgh Neighborhood Watch celebrated its third anniversary of actively addressing the quality of life issues that exist within our neighborhoods. I believe it’s fair to say our group experienced a positive, constructive, and successful year once again.

Numerous issues concerning code enforcement, trash/litter, speeding, drug activity, vandalism, rowdy neighbors, and prostitution where reported, addressed, and resolved due to the diligence of our members and the exemplary work of our community police officer Chuck McDonald and our city partners.
It’s experiencing results like these that forces one to ask, “Why aren’t there more people getting involved?” Through our members reporting, our monthly guest speakers, and the special events our group participates in the spirit of “community” is growing each and every day.

Our group meets every second Tuesday of the month from 7 to 8:30pm at the Lansingburgh Boys and Girls Club. Stop by some evening and see what we are all about. On average 40 people attend to report issues, hear what is happening in the community, and to learn from our guest speakers.

Below is a list of our speakers and group events from 2010:

January: Now retired Police Chief Nick Kaiser provided an update on the TPD’s operation and a Lansingburgh neighborhood update.

February: County Executive Kathy Jimino and Randy Hall, Commissioner, Rensselaer County Department of Social Services discussed the social services offered through the county and  explained the mechanics of how the department and services work.

March:  Bob Aiken of the New York State Office of Real Property Services, along with the City Comptroller, City Assessor, and Mayor Harry Tutunjian gave a presentation on the process behind a reassessment and the general outcomes.  Also, Deb Carey, Crime Victim Liaison from Sexual Assault & Crime Victims Assistance Program for Rensselaer County provided us information on her organization.

April: We broke the group into three smaller groups with a speaker who focused on specific issues. The speakers were: Officer Chuck McDonald focusing on crime/policing issues;  Dave Sheeran focusing on code related issues, and  Donna Muckle focusing on DPW issues.

Also, in April our group spearheaded Lansingburgh’s Earth Day efforts. We focused on four locations this year:
  • Location 1 – our main focus was on the 112th St. Kiddie Park on 4th Ave. We will be cleaning, mulching, painting, and some planting.
  • Location 2 – Lansingburgh Historical Society’s Melville Park
  • Location 3 – Powers Park
  • Location 4 - Uncle Sam Bike Path
May: Lansingburgh School District Superintendent George Goodwin discussed the proposed school budget and the current school/community forum that several of us were involved in. Then, recently named Troy Police Chief John Tedesco introduced himself and discussed the changes the department will be experiencing soon.

June: Bob Reiter and County Executive Kathy Jimino discussed benefits available for Veterans who reside in the county. Also, Dir. of Rensselaer County Public Safety Kelly Paslow and Deputy Dir. Mark Balistreri to discussed who receives and dispatches emergency and non-emergency calls (270-4411 and 9-1-1) and how it works.

Also, in June we conducted our 2nd Annual Neighborhood Children’s Safety Day with Pastor Willie Bacote, the Troy Fire Department, Troy Police Department, Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Department, Lansingburgh School District, Troy Family YMCA, Whitney Young’s Troy Health Center, and the Troy Bike Rescue. The purpose to educate kids how to live and play safely.

July:  Maurice Padula, the Senior Consumer Fraud Representative in the Albany Attorney General’s Office discussed consumer fraud and identity theft. The presentation focused on the types of frauds and identity theft scams directed at consumers that the AG’s office is currently seeing in the Hudson Valley and ways people can better protect themselves from this activity.

Also, in July construction of Phase II of the 112th Street Gateway Park was completed. Two years ago our group initiated the funding and construction of this new city park.

Also, in July our group performed several boulevard improvement projects. Which included trimming trees and bushes, raking and cleaning the grass areas.

August: Elaine Gerwin from the Troy based, Commission on Economic Opportunity (CEO) spoke about the programming and programs available to residents.

Also, in August we celebrated National Night Out with a picnic BBQ in our 112th Street Gateway Park. NNO is a community awareness celebration that brings community groups and public safety entities together to show strength and speak out against crime and drugs.

September: Dave Dean the City of Troy’s DPW Liter/Garbage Enforcement officer explained what his role with the DPW is and how residents can best utilize the DPW. Also, a representative/Project Manager from GAR Associates, the company contracted to assist the City of Troy with the reassessment project spoke about the role their company will have in the reassessment process. 

October: Marisa LaFrance, a representative from the Cornell Cooperative Extension Rensselaer County, spoke about the hazards lead-based paint poses and how you can have your home tested and properly addressed. Jim Lance from the Code Enforcement department discussed the progress of the NICE program and the results thus far.

Additionally, this meeting marked our Third Anniversary.

November: We were joined by Lynn Kopka of the Washington Park Association to discuss ways to deal with the growing feral cat issues in our community. Then, followed by an open conversation with our CPO Chuck McDonald about issues in our neighborhoods and ways to resolve them.

December: Was our annual holiday party and culmination of our 3rd Annual Toy Drive, where we collected an approximate value of toys of $1,000 that will be distributed to the children patience of Whitney Young’s Troy Health Center.

As you can see we’ve been busy this year. Above are some of the highlights of what our group has done. There were numerous other volunteer and cleanup projects we supported along the way. With everyone’s involvement we can only realize more successes. If you’d like to learn more about our group, contact me at

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Buy Local

Much has been made recently in the press regarding the financial troubles that the Troy Pioneer Food Co-Op is experiencing. But what is not being reported is the fact that businesses city-wide are feeling the same pain. This is a tough market to operate a small business in. Business owners are being tasked with making tough decisions and operating lean. The worse case scenario is they are closing a locking their doors. This has become the norm. We have lost and are on the verge of losing several businesses in the city, but why is this? Well, obviously the economy is a large part of the issue, but the second part is we as Troy residents are not diversified. There are many types of shops and restaurants from Lansingburgh to South Troy that offer something unique, but many residents are not “trying something new.” Spreading the wealth around would go a long way in helping these businesses out. It’s understandable that maybe there just isn’t enough money to go around at the moment, but if everyone tried a different local restaurant or bought some of their gifts locally this holiday season rather than venturing across the river it would make a tremendous impact.

Buying local is not a new concept. The biggest contributor to local economic success is by practicing this it. As a community we need to support our businesses, we need them. Their success directly impacts each one of us. One of the largest revenue sources for the county and city is sales tax. We, the residents, have some control in the matter. The more we purchase within our own communities, the more we contribute locally, the more we save. In effect we are re-investing in ourselves. The more we contribute locally the stronger our communities become. Our city has an outstanding selection of restaurants and shops. Take advantage of them. And if you’re looking for something that is not readily available within the city, I’m sure you can find it in Brunswick, East Greenbush, or elsewhere in the county. Again, it’s simple in concept.

When it comes time to make your next purchase or enjoy an evening out strongly consider keeping it “within the neighborhood.” The benefits are far reaching.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Horses for Courses

These are the times we live in. National and international finances are very depressed… unemployment is raging… and in NYS we are worried whether or not NYRA, OTB, and our Race Courses will be operational in 2011. Does this make sense? These are gambling institutions, they pry on the weak and needy offing them a glimmer of hope to “hit it big.” I’m not trying to profile or generalize, but the proof is in the pudding. It’s unfortunate, but venture to any race course (other than splendid and glitzy Saratoga) on a weekday in January and tell me what type of clientele is sitting barking orders at his jockey/horse as it rounds the turn heading for home at Aqueduct. This state has made a very large portion of our residents addicted to gambling, and many are gambling away there last dime. Doesn’t this seem backwards?

Why should NYS taxpayers continue to foot the bill in bailing out NYRA and OTB? We all know that these organizations are staffed via patronage to the Governor, Shelly Silver, and every other NYC special interest. It would appear that these individuals couldn’t run a blow dryer let alone a state authority in charge of gambling revenues. Realistically, NYRA and OTB are bookies and I’ve never heard of a bookie (in areas where gambling and betting is legal) who regularly lose money.

Let me offer my opinion on what to do as a solution. Simply rid these authorities of corruption, disband NYRA and strictly regulate OTB and make it a free market entity. Take all NYRA’s race courses and sell them to the counties in which they operate. Honestly, it’s only those counties and their local municipalities that benefit from them. Saratoga County residents realize a tremendous tax benefit due in-part of the Race Course. Those that live in other counties wouldn’t lose out on the deal because the minimal amount of revenue received through tourism will still be there. Rather, they would benefit from the fact that the taxpayers in their counties won’t be funding the continued mismanagement of the race courses. But, before doing so, do an honest study; can these race courses be profitable? We’re told of all the NYRA tracks Saratoga is the only profitable meet. If this is true, close those that are failures. Taxpayers keep hearing that the downstate race courses need Video Lottery Terminals (VLT’s) similar to those at the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway to make money. How can this be? Stop asking “me” for money to fund a failing operation all while doing nothing about it. My wallet is not your tourniquet.

I know what I have said is not be a popular stance to take publicly. Would closure hurt the racing and horsing industry in NYS, obviously yes, but it would open people’s eyes. If these industries are necessary, then fix the problem. I firmly believe the race courses should be owned and operated by the local municipalities, not cronies out of NYC. But if better management can not be realized and closure is the only solution then adopt legislation legalizing gambling and have VLT’s throughout the state making us some money. I like the races just as much as the next guy, but at what expense? Maybe no racing will make the light bulb go “bing” in people’s minds and snap them out of their Saratoga Summer Time Romance.