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Op-ed column: Hope along the Mohawk

Sunday, June 5, 2011
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“I’ve never seen this many people in Amsterdam before,” my son said after viewing the throngs of people on Main Street during Amsterdam’s recent Spring Fling. He was born in 1980, after Amsterdam’s population had already declined considerably and after urban renewal had demolished most of Amsterdam’s downtown, so it’s not surprising that he had never seen so many people together at one time in the city.

The Spring Fling, which comprised a motorcycle show, a classic car cruise in, live music, 80 vendors as well as other events, combined with the Wrestling Hall of Fame’s 10th annual induction and the Historic Amsterdam League’s tour of historic buildings, was a great success.

Seeing so many people in downtown Amsterdam delighted not only young people who had never seen such a sight, but also older people, who can remember when downtown was always crowded, especially on Friday nights. The event created a rare sense of community, bringing together people of all ages, ethnicities and political views. Even people who had pooh-poohed the idea of a Spring Fling were present and appeared to be enjoying themselves.

Previous festivals

One has to go back to the two polka fests held in the late 1970s or early ’80s to find a similar sized crowd. Since then, the city has hosted Latin fests and Italian fests, which were well organized and which many people enjoyed. Unlike the Spring Fling, however, they only celebrated part of Amsterdam and not the whole.

The Spring Fling was important also because it refocused attention on downtown. While Amsterdam’s downtown struggles, it is not dead. In fact, it is poised for revival. That revival is connected to Amsterdam’s waterfront development, which, when complete, will make it the most extensive and beautiful in the Mohawk River Valley.

Amsterdam’s downtown has to overcome many problems, however, if it is to take off again. These problems include storefronts used for storage rather than retail, landlords who charge too much rent for the locale, and a former professional building sitting empty while retail space is occupied by professional offices. If downtown is to take off, it needs more small niche businesses that attract not only people in town, but also people from out of town, including tourists, boaters who tie up at the Riverfront Park and the cyclists who get off the bike path just across the river.

Until then, however, the Spring Fling demonstrates that Amsterdam’s downtown is a great venue for special events and should be utilized more often, including allowing a limited number of vendors to set up every weekend.

The Spring Fling drove home to me the importance of volunteerism. Sponsored by the Amsterdam Neighborhood Association, it could not have taken place without the dozens of volunteers who helped out. The historic Amsterdam tour and the Wrestling Hall of Fame induction also relied heavily on volunteers. Many of us feel we have done our part for the community by paying our taxes. Thankfully, not everyone feels that way.

Visionary mayor

While volunteers did the bulk of the work to make the Spring Fling happen, it would not have happened without Mayor Ann Thane’s vision. While a mayor needs to keep taxes down and must have the ability to administer a city, it has become clearer to me over the years that a mayor must be more than that. A mayor must inspire, must create a vision or dream of what a city should look like, and make it possible for people to see and to follow that vision.

When I think of a mayor like that, I am reminded of George Lunn, who became mayor of Schenectady in 1912. His vision for Schenectady was considered revolutionary at the time. He wanted children in school, not in the factories. He wanted them to be immunized. He wanted a park within walking distance of every child in Schenectady. He believed in urban planning. Most of what he dreamed of became true, and is now considered commonplace, not revolutionary.

Lunn, even though a Christian Socialist, went on to become lieutenant governor and a congressman. His legacy is still such that a century later, Mayor Brian Stratton acknowledged Lunn’s foresight in Schenectady’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan.

On May 21, 1995, I wrote an election-year piece for The Sunday Gazette. Its title was “Amsterdam needs a mayor and a plan.” The piece primarily argued that Amsterdam needed a mayor like the kind I mentioned above. Fifteen years later, I think Amsterdam has that kind of mayor.

In the end, however, no one person can create a successful event. It took the cooperation and unity of city government, business, non-profits and volunteers to pull off the Spring Fling.

When everyone works together, then everyone has fun together. That’s the primary lesson learned from Amsterdam’s first, but hopefully not last, Spring Fling.

Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section

 
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June 5, 2011
6:11 a.m.

What about Mayor Thane's vision for the city's financial future???
Community organizing is nice, but the position of mayor involves much more than planting flowers and planning a couple events.
Amsterdam is in desperate need of a mayor that will take the position seriously. Although Ms. Thane may have had good intentions, she lacked the experience and knowledge that is needed in a position that involves a multi-million dollar budget. Thane also lacks the human resource mngt. skills that are MUCH needed to manage the amount of employees that the city has.
I also think that the last part of this weekly column is a little misleading. Perhaps Mr. Weaver could straighten it out. I realize you run a small business in the city, but do you actually live and/or pay property taxes in the city of Amsterdam Mr. Weaver??? Just wondering!!!

June 5, 2011
7:06 a.m.
DanielWeaver says...

Alayne, Anyone who rents in Amsterdam, pays taxes. You ought to know that. The State of New York recognizes that fact, allowing renters to receive property tax credits. The state assumes that 1/4 of a person's rent goes toward property taxes. Furthermore, I lived in Amsterdam for 27 years, and paid taxes the whole time. Have you lived there that long?

Businesses that are located in Amsterdam have the right to speak up about the city, how it is run and the tax situation.

Don't forget also that as a business, I also collect sales taxes that come back to the city. Do you do the same for Amsterdam?

June 5, 2011
10:13 p.m.
Wildthane says...

My record of service involves much more that community beautification or organization, though I am very proud of my efforts in these areas.

Ms. Wineberg continually chooses to overlook my successes in the realms of financial stability, administrative accountability, planning, strategic infrastructure rehabilitation, project oversight, and neighborhood revitalization, as well as meeting the goals established in the City of Amsterdam's Comprehensive Plan.

My accomplishments are outlined in this year's State of the City speech: http://wildthane.wordpress.com/2011/01/2...

Thank you for the opportunity to invite your readers to come to their own informed conclusions.

Mayor Ann M. Thane
City of Amsterdam

PS... and a hearty thank you goes to Dan Weaver for his kind words.

June 6, 2011
1:50 a.m.

Mayor,

You can continue to tout these so called accomplishments when in reality all anyone has to do is take one ride through Amsterdam, pick up a local newspaper, watch a single episode of a common council meeting or a budget review meeting and realize that, by NO MEANS, is Amsterdam better off than it was four years ago.

During the recent million dollar budget gap your first instinct was not to make the needed cuts, but to go to any lengths to break a tax cap that was put in place, by the taxpayers and voters of the city of Amsterda, to curb irresponsible spending.

Irresponsible spending... such as redecorating the mayors office and city hall before making the much needed REPAIRS to the roof and building.

It will be interesting to see the results of this years election. We will soon find out how many folks actually agree with your dear friend Dan Weaver...or me! Good luck!

ps. If anyone decides to read the State of the City Address, you will very quickly realize that the speech is nothing more than a campaign speech, and does not address the actual state of the city of Amsterdam at all.

June 6, 2011
8:48 a.m.
Wildthane says...

Alayne, I have requested the funds to repair the roof at City Hall for three years. The council has not allocated funding for this critically important repair. In the meantime, we've repaired drainage, windows, retaining walls, and painted. We've reorganized offices and closets. We've turned a storage building into a conference room that gets used every day. We removed asbestos, a health hazard that had been identified but never remedied by the former administration, which doubled the cost of the remediation. The building has suffered from a lack of oversight and proper funding for years. It is now getting the attention it deserves.

June 6, 2011
8:49 a.m.
Wildthane says...

Our spending has been very conservative over the past three years. The year before I took office, the council authorized the Mayor to spend what we have spent in three years. They bought expensive equipment and had to make repairs to a boiler that had been previously identified as problematic but not tended to. Again, the emergency repair doubled the replacement cost.

My accomplishments are real, Alayne. We have garnered over $20,000,000 in grants and stimulus funding to make infrastructure repairs, reconstruct roads, rehabilitate residences, upgrade the water filtration and sewer plants, eliminate storm/sewer cross connections, expand the waterfront park, offer recreational opportunities, plan, and yes, market this city.

Our new A3 bond rating that allows us to borrow at a more favorable rate for capital projects and equipment. That will help when we take down another 30 dilapidated properties this summer (30 were taken down over the past 2 years). We've renegotiated our sales tax agreement with the County which has already brought over $500K to our budget this year alone and have a new agreement with GAVAC that will bring $200K in years to come.

We've controlled overtime costs and readily discipline employees when performance is lacking. We track code complaints, grants, property maintenance, absentee landlords and hydrant problems which had never been systematically addressed before. We have a strategic plan for water distribution improvements (hydrants, valves, water mains and laterals) that we make steady progress at every week and continue to seek funding for. We have regular department head meetings to share information and problem solve. These common sense approaches were not taken by the prior administration.

June 6, 2011
8:49 a.m.
Wildthane says...

Many of the budgetary problems we experience do not come from extravagant spending. They come from escalating health care and pension costs, declining aid from the state, and a shifting of mandates from the state to local municipalities. These are all costs we have no say in controlling. Now the state is going to limit our revenues without addressing the costs they so willingly drop in our laps. This will result in the collapse of government service as we know it. Services will be limited and people will loose their jobs at a time when we struggle to keep up with deteriorating water, sewer and road systems. The state must address these problems instead of shifting their responsibilities to counties, cities, towns and villages.

The efforts we have made to organize volunteer neighborhood associations and clean up/beautify our city are all goals established in our comprehensive plan, as is marketing a healthy image of our city. We are one of the safest communities in the Capital District, we have a great location on the river and off of the Thruway, we are very competitively priced, we have a rich heritage and close community.

I'm proud of my time in office and my accomplishments and look forward to the challenges the future brings.

June 6, 2011
11:47 a.m.

Again, I guess the final decision will be left to the voters in the upcoming election and again, I wish you luck! :)

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