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Thoughts While Strolling (13)

April 21, 2008

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Recipe for Disaster. Because it bans dogs, leashed or unleashed, from its parks, Croton has long been recognized as the most dog unfriendly community in Westchester. Several months ago when dog owners started agitating for a more enlightened policy toward “Man’s best friends,” Mayor Schmidt announced that the village board would take a hard look at the Croton’s village code and see whether changes are in order.

Well, the Schmidt mountain has labored and produced another mouse. Once construction has been completed, Croton is planning on opening the River Trail along the Hudson to leashed dogs under restricted circumstances. We are tempted to exclaim, “Big deal!” Nevertheless, dog owners should be grateful for such a small crumb after so long a wait. As some readers have guessed, one of the reasons this writer does so much strolling in the village is that our dog, virtually a member of our family, accompanies us. It goes without saying that we would prefer to be able to include Croton’s parks (not its ball fields) in our itinerary. That would be preferable to being consigned to walking in the hazardous gutter.

Instead of continuing to put pressure on the Schmidt administration to relax the foolish injunction against leashed dogs in parks, a small group of dog owners is now pushing for the village to set aside an area to be fenced off and made into a so-called “dog park” in which dogs would be allowed to “play.” The argument always advanced is that “dogs are pack animals.” This is a most peculiar line of reasoning that only holds water if you can think of a pack that includes smaller dogs like Yorkshire terriers and dachshunds together with large dogs like Rottweilers, Irish wolfhounds and German shepherds.

The idea that dogs need to play with other dogs is a classic example of anthropomorphism—the attribution of human motivation, characteristics or behavior to animals, especially pets animals. It also reveals a remarkable lack of knowledge of the forms that dogs’ play behavior takes. Puppies begin to play as soon as they can walk. Littermates commonly wrestle and chase each other, pulling and biting on ears or tails. Through play with littermates, pups learn just how strong they are. By the time it is weaned, each puppy will have formed an impression of its own abilities and its social standing among its littermates. This forms the basis for adult behavior, such as attempts to achieve dominance over people and other dogs. Play allows a young animal to practice important life skills without adult consequences. For example, by tolerating dominance behavior in young puppies, an owner may encourage later inappropriate behavior in an adult dog.

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Thoughts While Strolling (12)

March 30, 2008

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Where’s Everybody? The use of red and blue lawn signs in the recent election campaign reminded us that seeing the nation as divided into two camps—red state voters and blue state voters—can be deceptive. Such categorization ignores the largest single group of Americans—the third camp of those who don’t vote at all for whatever reason. What color should they be?

In the 2000 national election in which Al Gore was pitted against George W, Bush, only about 54 percent of eligible voters actually turned out to vote. In 2004, with John F. Kerry trying to unseat incumbent George W. Bush, despite expensive get-out-the-vote campaigns by both sides, the percentage who voted rose only slightly from the previous election.

Also, in the 2000 election an all-time record was set when more than 80 million eligible American voters failed to vote. That number was far greater by a substantial margin than the total number of votes tallied for either Bush or Kerry,. In fact, no Republican or Democratic nominee has attracted 30 percent of eligible voters since Ronald Reagan’s election to a second term in 1984.

Those who have been unsuccessful in getting American voters to turn out in greater numbers ascribe a reluctance to vote to many reasons, principal among them being an attitude best described as “What’s the use? My one vote cannot make much difference when the total votes are in the tens of millions.”

But how to explain the disappointing turnout in local elections here in Croton, when the outcome can directly affect the everyday lives of voters? In 2007 (mayoral elections take place in odd-numbered years), although 5,084 persons were registered to vote in Croton, only 1,958 persons turned out to vote in an election that saw a Republican majority take control of the Village Board. For those who prefer results expressed as percentages, the fate of the almost eight housand residents of the village was decided by votes of only 38.5 percent of those registred to vote.

The most recent election on March 18, 2008, yielded numbers that were even more discouraging: Of the 4,997 registered to vote only 1,767, or 35.4% of those registered to vote, turned out to vote. These sorry numbers are not an anomaly. Consider the turnouts in Croton in previous years expressed as percentages of those registered to vote:

2006: 31%
2005: 40%
2004: 31%
2003: 41%
2002: 36%

In Australia, which has compulsory voting, and Malta, voting participation reaches 95%, Not far behind are Austria (92%), Belgium (91%), Italy and Luxembourg (90%), Iceland (89%), New Zealand (88%), Denmark (87%). Germany, Sweden and Greece (85%). Compare these with the U.S. average of 54% and we all must hang our heads in shame.

How to Define the Verb Trounce. In the 2008 election the Streany/Minett ticket was trounced in no uncertain terms. Let’s examine the 2008 results and compare them with the results of the 2007 election, just one year before. In 2007, the Democratic ticket was defeated more closely. In the 2007 election, with 3,865 total votes cast for two trustee seats, the Republicans garnered 52 percent of the votes compared with the Democrats’ 48 percent—a more traditional split and a 4 percent spread.

On the other hand, in the 2008 election, the Democrats waltzed away with 63 percent of the 3,533 total votes cast, leaving the Republicans with a paltry 37 percent—not even close with a 26 percent spread between winners and losers.

With such a dismal proportion of the total votes cast, all the Streany and Minett talk we’ve heard about “We’ll be back” is politically unrealistic bravado. Voters simply weren’t buying whatever it was they were selling in 2008, and chances are good they won’t want the same old shopworn promises in 2010.

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Thoughts While Strolling (11)

March 24, 2008

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Post-Election Dreams. A post-election stroll around Croton revealed a few forlorn lawn signs being whipped by stiff March winds. Even more forlorn were losing candidates’ post-election comments. A pragmatic candidate accepts the will of the people and resolves to live with their decision, especially when drubbed resoundingly. An unrealistic candidate invariably blames the voters and vows to run again.

There were no pragmatic Republican candidates after Tuesday night’s election results came in and a North County News Reporter interviewed the losers. Mind you, the Democrats won 63 percent of the 3,533 total votes cast and the Republicans could only muster a measly 37 percent.

An unrealistic Joe Streany blamed voters, predicting that they will regret their decision. “It’s the village’s loss,” he added. “The residents wanted the same thing and that’s what they got.” What they got was a continuation of the powerless Democratic minority on the Village Board.

He added a prophecy that surely had Republican leaders rolling their eyes. “I’ll be back. When you believe in something, you don’t give up.” The phrase, “I’ll be back.” was a great line for Arnold Schwarzenegger as the indomitable “Terminator”—but Joe Streany’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not by a long shot.

Despite her loss, an equally unrealistic Joan Minett said she also has plans to run for office again. A frequent long-winded speaker at Village Board meetings who sees nothing wrong in berating and insulting trustees, she insisted that she would continue to speak out. And dig her political grave deeper, we might add. “No matter what, I will be heard,” she predicted.

We doubt that the Streany-Minett pairing is the strongest ticket the Republicans can put together for the next election. No political realist would bet that Republican leadership would want to make another effort two years from now with the same damaged goods. Croton Republicans have done some strange things—but repeatedly hitting themselves in the head with a hammer isn’t one of them. Then again, maybe they’re interested in committing political suicide.

Dyed-in-the-wool Republican and former trustee Bill Ryder told the North County News reporter the cock-and-bull story that Republicans had held a majority until 1975 and lost it then because Democrats moved north from New York City and brought their political affiliations with them.

It’s a phony theory, however, that doesn’t stand scrutiny. Between 1960 and 1980 the total population of Croton increased by only 77 people, hardly enough to make a difference in voting patterns. Croton’s population in the 1960 census was 6,812 and it was 6,889 20 years later in the 1980 census. If you don’t believe us, look it up yourself, Bill—and get another theory and a better excuse.

Warmer and Wetter? Lately our strolls have been with a weather eye on the horizon for impending rainstorms. Curious about recent weather patterns, we checked the statistics. If you’ve had the impression that the season just past was warmer and wetter, you’re right. Weather statistics for the Metropolitan Region bear out that impression.

The normal number of heating degree-days to date should be 4,177. (A degree-day is an index of fuel consumption that tracks how far the day’s outdoor mean temperature fell below 65 degrees during a season that runs from July 1 to June 30.) So far this heating season, the total number of degree-days has been 3,827, making it 8.3 percent warmer than usual. With the price of a gallon of heating oil unconscionably high, 8.3 percent less oil burned can be a blessing for a financially strapped family.

Normal precipitation for the last 365 days should be 49.66 inches. Actual precipitation for this period has been 63.44 inches, making the last 365 days 28 percent wetter than usual.

Look for trees, shrubs and grasses to burst out greener than usual and to be plagued with more pests that have survived the milder, less-harsh winter.

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Thoughts While Strolling (10)

March 17, 2008

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All Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree. Our evening stroll recently took us to High Street. We had heard that it offered some interesting sights—namely, the Joe Streany Campaign Headquarters. Then it occurred to us: Why not have awards for the most over-decorated campaign headquarters in the same way that they have awards for Christmas light decorations?

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If they did, 9 High Street would be a strong entry. Not only is it plastered with signs proclaiming it to be Joe Streany’s Campaign Headquarters, but it’s also illuminated with floodlights so bright there’s no mistaking it for what it is. And there’s a big flagpole with a big American flag that flies day and night in contravention of the U.S. Flag Code. But we won’t give demerits for that.

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So, even though it was getting dark, we whipped out our digital pocket camera and snapped a couple of views—reproduced here. What we don’t know and didn’t see anyone to ask is what was the Metro North Fire Truck doing parked in front of Joe Streany’s Campaign Headquarters?

What else we didn’t find out is what do the neighbors think of the brightly lit and decorated Joe Streany Campaign Headquarters so out of place in a quiet and residentially zoned part of Croton? It’s quite obvious that the Joe Streany Campaign Headquarters should be a strong contender in any contest.

We then strolled quickly over to Joann Minett’s residence at 5 Van Cortlandt Place to see what the Joan Minett Campaign Headquarters decorations looked like. All we could see there was a discreet Streany/Minett lawn sign so inconspicuous we didn’t even bother to take a photo.

Let’s hear a drum roll followed by a rim shot. The envelope, please. And the Campaign Headquarters Decoration Award clearly goes to the Joe Streany Campaign Headquarters entry in our own unofficial contest. Sorry, Joann. It wasn’t even close. But we award you a consolation prize for having the neatest-looking house in Croton.

P.S. It was getting too dark to try to stroll to the Gallelli (20 Briggs Lane) and Olver (5 Fox Road) houses, which are far from the center of the village and not seen by many.

Big Trouble in River City. It never occurred to us until recently that when we cataloged the various odd couples of different political persuasions in Croton what we were overlooking the oddest couple of all: Joe Streany, “Old Croton” personified, and Joann Minett, so new to Croton her Bronx accent still fairly screams “hey-oh…” Apparently others share our feelings that their pairing seemed oddly inappropriate.

What brought this starkly to mind was the purposeful mutilation of two Republican signs encountered in our strolls around Croton. In each instance, someone has carefully scissored off the lower half of the lawn sign. A sign that had boldly proclaimed the names of Streany and Minnett now only announces a family solely for Streany.

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Whether this represents anti-feminine sentiment, anti-women-in-politics, anti-Bronx, anti-“New Croton” or just plain anti-anti we’ll never know. We know that we haven’t seen any Republican signs with the Streany name scissored off. To judge by the stories about him being tainted by graft, favoring the railroad over his hometown in the matter of the railroad’s pollution of the environment with abandoned railroad ties, or his violation of the civil rights of four young women, Mr. Streany has given Crotonites plenty of reasons to be wielding scissors and removing his half of the signs he shares with Mrs. Minett.

As the old saying has it, “Time wounds all heels,” and it’s only a matter of hours before the election results will disclose where Croton’s sentiments lie. May the best man and woman win.

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Thoughts While Strolling (9)

March 12, 2008

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What Color Is Your Lawn Sign? Anyone driving or strolling around Croton these days cannot help noticing the signs that have sprung up on lawns like mushrooms on the greensward after a rainy spell. But anyone familiar with political symbolism and world political history also will notice that in making the choice of colors on lawn signs in Croton a recent tradition has been flouted.

The tradition that has been flouted is the use of the term “red states” for states whose voters predominantly lean towards the Republican Party, and “blue states” for states whose voters lean toward the Democratic Party. The Croton Republicans, whose signs appeared on lawns first, chose blue, a color usually associated with the Democratic Party. Although the Democrats could choose any color other than blue, the Democratic signs that appeared on lawns in Croton are red, nominally the Republican’s color.

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We have not made a formal count of the number of signs of each color disfiguring Croton’s lawn, but the initial impression is that blue signs outnumber red signs. This may only mean that the Republicans have been more diligent than the Democrats in their distribution. Then again, it may mean that the Democrats have higher regard for the appearance of their lawns than for proclaiming their political allegiance. After all, the only place where one’s allegiance really counts is in the voting booth.

Seeing a plethora of lawn signs got us thinking abut the origins if the red state.vs. blue state designations. So far as we know, color coding in politics is of relatively recent origin. It emerged in political reporting following the 2000 election, but did not come into widespread use until after the 2004 election. Since then, usage of the terms has been broadened to differentiate between states perceived as liberal or conservative.

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Thoughts While Strolling (8)

March 9, 2008

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It’s Ba-a-a-a-a-ck! And We Don’t Mean the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. No, we’re talking about that joint production of another odd couple, Mark Franzoso and Joe Streany. We mean the large political sign that came and went for one day last week. Yes, that ugly oversize sign is back. Now it’s self-standing and, to make matters worse, it’s illuminated. Well, illuminated in an amateurish way. A halogen spotlight has been placed on the ground in front of the sign and powered by an ultralong extension cord that leads over a wooden fence to a residence at 6 Wayne Street. Guess what! That house is occupied by members of the Streany family.

The Stroller doesn’t know whether such a large illuminated sign comes under the purview of Croton’s Visual Environment Board. But the VEB exercises such iron control over signage plans of new businesses, one might think that they would be furious over this monstrosity. And it’s at a sacred Gateway, no less. One might also think that the electrical code would have something to say about overlong and unprotected extension cords. Shouldn’t such wiring be in metal conduit to keep it from endangering people or animals?

The Stroller has one bothersome question. If Joe Streany plays fast and loose with Village laws and codes before the election, what would he do should he be elected? We all know he has had ethical problems before and that he doesn’t put Croton’s environment first. If nothing else, this illuminated sign proves him guilty of having extremely bad taste, at the very least.

Here’s gallery of photographs taken at the scene of the crime.

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Would you vote for someone who disfigures Croton with an ugly monstrosity like this? (Click to enlarge image.)

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Don’t touch! And keep your dog away from this unprotected orange extension cord carrying 110 volts! What fireman or safety director in their right mind would hook up something as dangerous as this? (Click to enlarge image.)

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The source of power—electrical power, that is. The Streany house at 6 Wayne Street is where the dangerous extension cord gets the 110 volts of electricity to power the halogen light and illuminate the sign. (Click to enlarge image.)

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Thoughts While Strolling (7)

March 7, 2008

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. The useful life of political campaign signs is short at best. On Wednesday afternoon of this week a humongous sign appeared on what appears to be a storage building on the empty lot where Croton Dodge formerly stored its new-car inventory. Shortly after the property came on the market, Mark Franzoso quietly snapped it up.

The building is a metal industrial-type structure that appeared out of nowhere. Sitting forlornly on this empty lot like the Little House on the Prairie, it is quite out of step with a neighborhood valiantly trying to establish its identity.

Your correspondent wondered whether Croton had exchanged a lot with its not unattractive rank upon rank of shiny new cars for one that may soon house a shabby array of dumpsters, lift vans or similar storage buildings, all sporting advertising. This location is one of the most visually sensitive in the so-called Harmon Gateway Area.

In previous strolls, we had noticed that the vacant property was starting to show signs of neglect evidenced by accumulating litter. Moreover, ignoring the Village’s snow removal ordinance, after snowstorms the lot’s sidewalks are never cleared of accumulated snow, which soon turns to ice and makes walking to the station hazardous for commuters.

The sign’s message was simple and decidedly one-sided politically: “Vote for Joe Streany Village Trustee,” it fairly shouted, leaving poor Joan Minett to find her own patrons and advocates elsewhere. The Stroller estimates that the sign measured about 16 square feet in area, which would have taken it far beyond any limit set by the Visual Environment Board.

Not only was the sign large, almost approaching a small billboard in size, it was an elaborate example of the sign painter’s art. No piece of scrap cardboard amateurishly hand-lettered with felt-tip pen, this sign was outsized and handsomely framed. A sign so large and potentially long-enduring could serve a candidate for several campaigns before showing evidence of wear and tear.

As we said, the sign went up on Wednesday, presumably erected by or paid for by Mark Franzoso. As suddenly as it went up, it disappeared just as abruptly. By Thursday it was gone. A mystery novelist writing about its short life would undoubtedly title the account “The Case of the Disappearing Sign.”

The Stroller is left with a half-dozen questions: (1) Who paid for the sign? (2) Does its expenditure represent an equivalent political contribution? (3) Was it intended to last for repeated campaigns? (4) Why did it disappear so quickly? (5) Where is it now? (6) Is it going to turn up at a different location?

“It’s a puzzlement,” as Yul Brynner used to say in the long-running musical “The King and I.”

In case you think we’re making this up, here’s a pair of before- and after-photographs:

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South Riverside Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson, New York on Wednesday, March 5, 2008 (Click image to enlarge.)

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South Riverside Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson, New York on Thursday, March 6, 2008 (Click image to enlarge.)

Add Another Odd Couple. This one may be the oddest couple of all the odd couples we have discovered and recorded so far: Joan N. Minett, 42, living at 5 Van Cortlandt Place is registered as a Republican while her husband, James P. Minett, 54, living at the same address, is registered as a Democrat. Her middle name is None (We’re not kidding, it’s None—but we’re not going anywhere with that.), and his is Paul. Political discourse in that household must indeed be very spirited.

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Thoughts While Strolling (6)

February 20, 2008

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Something’s Missing. Those frequent springlike rains have not kept us from our daily constitutional. In our walks we have the feeling that something is missing from Croton’s landscape. After some cogitation we finally discovered what it was: Where are the political signs that spring up on lawns like tulips every election season?

Until signs go up, it won’t seem like election time. But there’s still a month to go before the polls open on March 18, so mark your calendar. And remember to vote because the quality of life and government here in Croton will depend on it.

What Croton Really Needs. Whenever we stroll down Grand Street we cast an admiring glance at No. 139, the handsome former residence of Dr. Thomas Jefferson Acker, Croton’s old-fashioned family doctor long ago. It now houses the law offices of attorney Paul S. Hoffman. Memories always come flooding back. We recall it as the site of the gone but not forgotten Croton Steak House, a steak house in the grand tradition.

The Croton Steak House menu was short but robust, with the carefully aged meats rivaling those Peter Luger’s, the Palm or other classic New York steak houses offered. Every cut of meat was personally selected by chef David Sanft and carefully aged. Filet mignon, sirloin, porterhouse, T-bone or rib eye, steaks were broiled to perfection by Dave in a compact kitchen just off the small dining room and served by his wife, June. Sides were limited to the traditional pommes frites, baked potato and creamed spinach.

As closing time approached, Dave, a superb restaurateur, would occasionally join the last few latecomer customers who lingered over coffee and offer a brandy on the house. Always genial, he would reminisce about the golden age of the restaurant business. Sadly, David Sanft died in 1973 at the age of 60. Today the Croton Steak House is only a gastronomic memory to those who had the pleasant experience of eating there.

It is curious that among all the exotic businesses suggested with the idea of restoring Croton’s business climate, no one has proposed an old-fashioned steak house. In this day of franchised steak restaurants all across the country, a reincarnation of the old Croton Steak House may be a impossible dream on our part, but—in the words of the old Yiddish expression—you should live so long.

Another Odd Couple. A little bird has tipped us off about an odd couple we overlooked in Thoughts While Strolling (3), posted on February 11. Sure enough, Board of Election records confirm that at 18 Georgia Lane on Mount Airy, former GOP chairman Mark M. Aarons is registered as a Republican and his wife, Karen, is registered as a Democrat. We can only reiterate what we said about the political brains in such odd-couple families being all on the distaff side.

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Thoughts While Strolling (5)

February 14, 2008

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More About the Downed Wire at 45 Truesdale Drive. Our informant who provided information about the goings on at 45 Truesdale Drive we reported in “Thoughts While Strolling (2)” was wrong in his description of the incident. The wire brought down by Trustee Tom Brennan apparently fell originally on a school bus. It was later determined to be a lower voltage cable TV wire, according to the police report made on March 8, 2007. We regret the error. Our informant’s explanation is that the police were treating it as a “hot wire,” and he was prevented from getting closer by the yellow crime scene tape the police had put up. Here’s the police report we obtained on the incident:

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Click on image to view a larger version of the police report.

Nothing but the Truth. We happened to park near Dobbs Field yesterday. That was as close as we could get to the Grand Street shopping area and the site of our abbreviated stroll. The sight of the field looking so forlorn under the snow brought to mind the Congressional hearing and media circus involving Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee conducted in Washington. “Media circus” is the best term to describe it, with committee members splitting along party lines in their support of either of the two testifiers. That is, when their staffs were not busy seeking autographs from the witnesses.

Amid the repeated, insistent declarations by both witnesses of “I’m telling the truth about this,” one statement was not heard. We wish Clemens or McNamee had said, “I’m willing to take a lie detector test.” Such a test administered to both parties could settle the dispute once and for all.

We hate to say it about someone who was once our hero, but Roger Clemens’s claim that he was not the one taking Human Growth Hormone is beneath him. His contention that it was his wife who was taking it makes us want to ask, “Oh? What team was she playing for?” And his assertion that Andy Pettitte, an old-fashioned country boy and straight-arrow type, must have “misremembered” a conversation in which Clemens admitted to Pettitte that he took injections of HGH is laughable, especially since Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch had already supplied detailed depositions about conversations with Clemens that confirmed their mutual drug use.

It’s a sad ending, but the time has come for Major League Baseball to clean house from top to bottom by admitting that it has had a messy scandal on its hands for many years and that it handled it badly.

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Thoughts While Strolling (4)

February 12, 2008

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Pumping Up the Economy. We interrupted our stroll today to partake of a pint of nut-brown ale at our favorite Grand Street watering hole. To take the pulse of average citizens and their feelings about the government’s new plan to stimulate the economy by giving everybody money, we decided to make a small survey of the patrons. We asked Paddy, a bar habitué who gets along on the Social Security stipend he receives each month, what he was going to do with his stimulus money when he receives it.

Our question: How was he going to use the three-hundred dollar check to stimulate the economy? His answer, in a brogue still so thick you could slice it, was, “Three hundred dollars, you say? That’s easy. Oi’m gonna build me a boat and sail it back to the old country.” Paddy’s delightful remark was an insightful commentary on the eagerness with which Congress will hand out money in an election year in a futile attempt to solve a deeper problem. It left us lost in thought. We never got around to questioning any of the other patrons.

Ghosts of the Past. Our stroll today took us past the shuttered 1A Croton Point Avenue site of Metro Enviro. We couldn’t help recalling a remark made by Tom Brennan in 2005 when he was not yet a trustee. It’s right there in the minutes of Croton’s village board for all the world to see. During citizen participation at the board meeting of January 31, 2005, he reported he had heard that “Karta Construction [sic] is going to open a C&D (waste) transfer station with a rail hub [sic]; Metro Enviro is not needed as much as the County thinks.”

Aside from what this says about the quality of note-taking at board meetings, it’s funny the way things turn out. We always thought the Karta Corporation in Peekskill, a waste disposal company that runs a messy operation in which a worker was killed, was who or what professional good neighbor Maria Cudequest was working for all this time. If anyone or any company stood to profit from Metro Enviro’s demise, it was Karta. And Maria Cudequest was the agent provocateur who could bring this about. We’re sure she was well rewarded for her efforts in pulling this off with her orchestrated scare campaign.

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