I wrote last week that most of the time, the office phone rings through to me personally. At least some of you didn’t believe me. I was in the car on the way to Grand Central Headquarters for the Courier and PCNR on Thursday morning. My phone rings. The surprised woman on the other end says, “Wow, it really is you.” Yep, she was testing it. She plans to renew. If you haven’t renewed yet, just call me; 845-265-2468.
And: Friday morning, another call. Exact words: “I’m calling because I want to renew the paper that Kevin Byrne doesn’t want me to read.” The caller, from Brewster, was quite upset about the state of county government, and did not want to miss an issue. My caller also was upset at how at least two of the dismissals from county government were carried out by Byrne – by phone. She thought it was less than forthright, for people who’ve given long service to Putnam County.
As I wrote last week, we’re the honest broker. Not the county’s PR agent, nor Kevin Byrne’s, nor Paul Jonke’s, nor Nancy Montgomery’s.
I had lunch last week with a county legislator. At the Hudson House, in Cold Spring. I commend it to your attention; always a good meal. Plus, the Hudson River. We agreed on some things; we disagreed on some things. My assessment, strictly mine, not my lunch colleague’s, is that we are in for a precarious year from our county government.
We are watching the NCAA men’s tourney, and Kansas, as I started writing this, was doing well. How about the upsets? The best early one, I think, was the Furman victory over #4 seed Virginia on Thursday. A few seconds left. Virginia’s in trouble on the baseline. The player throws a lob well past half court, hoping to reach a teammate. No. 13th seed Furman intercepts, passes to a player just outside the 3-point arc. There are 2.2 seconds left. Furman’s JP Pegues nails the 3, and the final score is 68-67. Listen to the announcers as the scene unfolded. The excitement crackled: “Did we just see what we think we just saw? Wow.”
Alas, both Furman and KU subsequently lost.
Meanwhile, we had two local teams in the state Final Four of high school basketball: Haldane, in Class C for the boys, and Putnam Valley, in Class B for the girls. Both schools had joyous sendoffs for the teams on Thursday. Grade school students held out their little hands for high fives as the team managers, players and finally coaches ran by. Emergency vehicles and firetrucks escorted each team bus to the highway. Parents hugged their players, now nearly grown up, and wished the coaches good luck. These were full-bore, quintessential community events. I was at the Haldane sendoff. It was emotional, even for me, the hard-boiled reporter. Maybe my age, some new sentimental streak, I realize.
And then, Friday morning, Haldane wins in OT. Haldane was down by 10 points in the 4th quarter. Ties the game. Nails the victory by 9 in OT. PV won too later that day, beating Albany Academy 70-50. Both went to their championship games. All across Putnam county, there is an awful lot of good high school sports – and plays, and musical performances – being played and performed by our students. I encourage you to take in some of these events. For instance, it will very shortly be baseball and softball, and who can resist that?
Haldane and Putnam Valley, a coda: Neither team won in the championship game. Both teams returned to schools and communities who nonetheless reveled in their accomplishments. Second place in the state is still pretty darned good.
Years ago, many years, in my early days as a reporter, there was a list of spokespeople for every agency in NYS. Every single agency had a designated spokesman available to handle questions and, if need be, track down answers. Many of them were available after hours. This was freely disseminated; most reporters I knew in Middletown had a well-worn copy. Then, as the years went on, access tightened up and tightened up and tightened up. Pretty soon, by the time we got to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the list was replaced by the ‘Governor of Action’ blue windbreaker. And no news came from anywhere, no good news, certainly, unless Cuomo was there to announce it and personally take credit for the work of the scientists or the snowplow drivers or the utility linemen or the myriad other people behind what was going on. Everything, news-wise, went through his second-floor office. He tended to usurp or pre-empt everything.
Putnam County was once like the earlier days in state government. If we needed info about something – the highways, the fire service, senior programs, a rabies clinic, and so on – we would call the department head or the manager we knew to have knowledge of what was going on. Within a phone call or two, we’d have the information we needed, info we gathered on the public’s behalf. Most of it, you see, wasn’t especially controversial, it was just information. I thought of that last week, when we started to chase a report that our fine 9-1-1 dispatchers had talked a couple through the birth of their child, before medical attention and EMS arrived. The baby was born safely, thanks to these cool heads and their expert guidance, albeit over the phone.
We put in the requisite queries to the authorities, thinking it would be a nice, human-interest story, one the dispatchers don’t often handle amidst the cacophony of car wrecks, fires and incidents of violence. And the word comes back – like from the Mount with the Commandments, thunderclaps in the background – that there can be no publicity as yet. Our new county executive wished to have a news conference. Right now, as I write this, such an event is still unscheduled.
Who knew? Andrew Cuomo and Kevin Byrne – quite a bit more alike than we thought. Controlling, even to the point of trying to control the news and micro-manage their offices. They tend to believe their own PR. They think highly of themselves, perhaps too highly.
Maybe they could trade tips on blue windbreakers. Cuomo may even have some windbreakers left from his ill-fated time as governor that he’d sell cheap; the county could save money. Similar to that big savings Byrne secured by cutting cable and buying an Amazon Firestick (though not so similar to that $24K raise for his deputy county executive, one secured at the cost of some political capital by Byrne).
Until next week.
This column, any letters and the editorial cartoons are all opinions. They are protected speech. They are not intended to be objective, and we don’t present them as such. If you have strong views and want to share them, send in a Letter to the Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org. 500 words or less.
I’m Doug Cunningham, and I’m editor of the Putnam County Courier and the Putnam County News and Recorder, in Cold Spring. Reach me at email@example.com, or at 845-265-2468. I’m in the office most Wednesdays and Thursdays, but reachable at almost any time via the office phone. Our no-contact newsstand is out every Wednesday in Cold Spring on Stone Street, barring inclement weather. If you are a subscriber and want an early copy of either paper that day, feel free to grab one at no charge.
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