Gazette needs to get its facts straight before dragging Amsterdam through the mud

I hate to have to write a piece like this, but when a major local newspaper distorts the facts so badly just to make a point about state government spending, smearing an entire city in the process, someone has to call them out.

In an editorial released by the Daily Gazette with no byline on December 23 titled “Amsterdam needs help, not sculptures”, subtitled “What a wasteful idea!”, the editors take aim at the city’s $650,000 in grant money that is available for improvements around the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge. $400,000 of that money will go toward creating two sculptures, one at each entrance of the bridge. In the article, the Gazette editors unleash a scathing breakdown of Amsterdam’s problems, punctuating each item with the phrase “But they’ve got $400,000 for sculptures.”

The biggest blunder the editorial makes is suggesting that lack of funding is preventing the city from addressing it’s sewer plant problems, and that somehow transferring that $400,000 would help.

“They can’t keep their sewer system from polluting the environment,” says the Gazette. And later, “…it would be far better for Amsterdam’s long-term economic and social health if state and local officials could direct that money to fixing that leaky sewer system…”

The reality is that the city was awarded a $1.25 million grant in August that will go toward a massive $5 million project to fix the major problems with the sewer system. New pumps, new backup generators, and miles of new piping will help keep the system running during power outages and help keep groundwater from seeping into the system and overflowing into the river. The project is scheduled to start in 2017. This is not a top-secret project, it was widely reported in the local media.

So there’s a solution in place to fix the problem, and its fully funded. If you want to criticize the pace of the project, that’s one thing. But we don’t need an extra $400,000. That’s a pretty big fact to leave out, one that pretty much undermines the very premise of the entire article.

Based on the tone of the article, you might also think that the sewage leaks are a major environmental disaster. That is also not the case. The reality is that SUNY Cobleskill students collected scientific data that shows that your average rainstorm in the Capital District sends far more pollution into the river due to runoff of the surrounding farmlands than anything that overflows from the city’s sewer plant. That doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t need to be fixed, but it certainly puts things into perspective.

Another big blunder the writers make is in their presentation of the city’s homeless problem.

The Gazette talks about a “county homeless shelter in Amsterdam” and how when it gets filled to capacity, that homeless people have to sleep at the police station.

The writers incorrectly state, “They don’t have money for a permanent shelter to house the homeless population.”

Wrong. Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless operates a permanent homeless shelter in the city, and has done so for several years now. It is funded both by the county and the city, as well as by other donations.

According to Police Chief Greg Culick, the police station occasionally allows a homeless person to sleep in the police station lobby if the shelter is full, until the department of social services can process their case and get them into a hotel. He said this happens “a couple times a year.”

So again, here’s a situation completely distorted by the Gazette. Homelessness is always a difficult issue, but we have a system in place that handles it. We do not need $400,000 to build an additional homeless shelter for an occasional overflow.

The writers brought up blight, but failed to mention that the city has received approximately a half million dollars from the state through our partnership in the Capital Region Land Bank that will go toward rehabbing and demolition buildings. They also failed to mention the additional $500,000 the city borrowed last year to do demolition as well. Again, if you want to criticize the pace of the projects, that’s one thing, but lack of funds is not the problem.

To top it off, the Gazette shamelessly holds up the recent deaths in the city due to heroin overdose as additional condemnation of the city’s condition.

“They don’t have enough resources to address what appears to be a growing heroin epidemic in the city,” opines the writers.

Well, actually, the Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery County Prevention Council just opened a club house on East Main Street using a $250,000 state grant to help teens with substance abuse problems. It doesn’t solve the problem completely, but its a good start. Lots of cities are struggling with this problem, but solutions are hard to find. Throwing money at a problem without a plan is a waste.

Finally, the article suggests making Amsterdam the “posterchild” for irresponsible New York State funding.

That’s nice of them. So while they are criticizing the city for spending $400,000 in state funds on public art, their own home city of Schenectady recently received a $2 million grant to create a “Mill Artisan District, a three-block area that will include New York maker space for a distillery, a craft brewery, retail establishments and apartments,” and $150,000 for the “construction of a walking trail, visitor’s center with public restrooms and approximately 75 feet of large vessel dockage space.”

Wow! So even though Schenectady posts similar, if not higher, poverty, crime, and housing vacancy rates, it’s perfectly fine for them to receive grants for non-essentials to help them grow their downtown. But for us, it’s a sin?

Now if you want to criticize the state government for their priorities in awarding grants to local projects, I have no problem with that. The state hands out billions for economic development projects every year, and its hard to gauge whether these projects are creating real economic growth and jobs or not. Would it be better to cut economic development spending and reduce taxes instead? That’s a conversation worth having.

But I’m extremely skeptical as to why the Schenectady-based Gazette decided they wanted to target Amsterdam in making their point, given we share the same problems as Schenectady and every other upstate city. No one denies the problems. But the ignorant portrayal of the problems, and the blatant omission of critical facts as to what is being done to fix those problems, are a big failure on the Gazette’s part . Maybe if they actually sent reporters to city council meetings on a regular basis, they’d have a better understanding of what’s going on. But to publish a piece like this is just plain irresponsible journalism. The publishers and editors should be ashamed.


About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

21 Responses to Gazette needs to get its facts straight before dragging Amsterdam through the mud

  1. AvatarRobert N Going says:

    Well said.

    • AvatarThom Georgia says:

      I will remind you of your vocal opposition to the MVGO and your efforts over the last decade to delegitimize this investment in the community. Your hands are not without the stains of mud slung in the petition circulated to residents of the city & county in vain effort to halt its construction. Lest we also not forget your constant criticism of the MVGO as the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ on WCSS & your podcast.

      To now write in support of not only the MVGO, but also against the dragging of the community through mud is particularly noxious given your past publically stated, broad-brush negative opinions.

      The bemoaning you et. al. spouted on the air was habitually demeaning to the community, as was that of Fmr. Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler, who let us remember publically contributed her encouragement to petition for repurposing funds & other ‘legal’ advice to you. I know she couldn’t help herself, and yes, I’m aware Albany Law is a mere 3rd-tier law school, but still, you should have known the MVGO was inevitable, yet you drove the anti-bridge bus.

      The chant from the community should not have been, “why the bridge?”, but seeing as it was approved & they already paid for it in 2005, and considering it took more than a decade to complete, the clamoring should have been “Where IS my bridge?”.

      • AvatarSteven says:

        Tom I don’t always agree with Bob except about the landfull and the bridge but at least he’s polite about it! You can be against the bridge and still want gazette to be right about stuff

      • AvatarThom Georgia says:


        It is well within your right to agree with Mr. Going on the landfull (sic) or any other matter. My point, however, remains that he has lost any credibility to speak on this matter.

        Additionally, I will say on a separate but related note, our city leaders, including the fmr. corporation counsel, have this myopic deficiency whereas it appears they pin all our hopes for economic recovery/sustainability on ONE thing alone at any given time. Before it was the garbage pit, then it was demolition of a building on the South Side which was supposed to have developers flocking to its rubble. Now it’s adding an ambulance service (but only purchasing one rig, which will still require GAVAC’s partnership).

        The attention span seems to last no longer than a fleeting moment, and initiatives as a result either end fruitless, or half-baked at best. There’s little if any foresight, little if any appreciation of consequence, and grossly little if any detailed, actionable plan beyond the initial pipe dream.

        And let me address my own criticisms here. Note, I am not dragging through anything a wonderful community I’ve dedicated much of my professional life to bettering, but simply offering critique of our community’s and leaders’ attitudes (and according to the county branding study, I am citing empirical evidence). We, and I say that to include myself, have this masochistic property to our psyches compelling us to put into positions of authority those who haven’t the ability to discern best-interest from self-interest.

        I think it’s far past the time for positively minded leaders to step forward; those who do not believe government is broken and only they can fix it. Government, at any level, works only with universal participation from all of the electorate. And I will be the first in line always to point out that the “problems” and seemingly insurmountable “issues” in the city are not unique to Amsterdam, NY. And I, for one, am depleted of patience for those who think, rather narcissistically, that we corporally are a wayward ship without a rudder and that city government is the culprit.

        City government isn’t the problem. As a political scientist I am trained to find junctions of disruption within social structures…and let me just say, one does not have to look much further than the status quo voices who never accept their share of blame in the lack of progress in city government.

        It’s not always the wand; sometimes it’s the magician…and I think the magic show is about over. Time to put the silliness behind us, and for intelligent, forward thinkers to take he reigns in the 2017 & 2019 elections.

  2. AvatarEllen says:

    Wow! Well done. I was surprised by the Gazette’s editorial myself; usually they can see the bigger picture.

  3. AvatarJudith Heffernan Elmy says:

    Thank you Tim.

  4. AvatarThom Georgia says:

    When I read the Gazette’s editorial, shock & anger were not the first emotions elicited. Rather, I felt an eerie sense of familiarity paralleling the near-pathological, cretinous ignorance that has pervaded the entire Amsterdam community.

    I can’t pretend to find abhorrent offense in the editors’ opinion, but not because I in any way agree with the consensus to which they arrived. In fact, it’s a product of the very uneducated, intolerant attitudes promoted by our elected officials, former & present, media outlets, and members of the community with power, influence and/or voice.

    The county’s own branding consultant even came to the conclusion that Amsterdam suffers from a misplaced and chronic self-loathing.

    While I agree with Mr. Becker’s taking to task the editorial board of the Gazette, I have to wonder why I’m reading comments of shock on this thread, especially from someone who made it a full time job to engineer the hate-train whistling through the town on a daily basis, all the while espousing nonsensical, imagined verbal garbage over the air waves.

    Moreover, this city has corporally allowed the Recorder to get away with the same journalistic malpractice everyday, and without any righteous indignation, whatsoever. Similarly, the talking heads of local radio have been the tail wagging the dog over at the local printing press on Venner Road for years.

    Why the outrage now? What makes this any different?

    That denial of everyone’s collective contribution to this cancerous contrarianism is the only part of all of this about which to find fault.

    The next time you pass a reflective surface, take a good look at yourselves and ask, “What blame do I own in this problem?”

    • AvatarTim Becker says:

      I get it – if this editorial was released last year, many in Amsterdam would have applauded it for “telling it like it is” and used it as an opportunity to pin it all on Ann Thane. Believe me, the irony is not lost on me. But we need to look forward not backward.

  5. AvatarMichael Lamendola says:

    The Gazette is a shadow of its former self. It has closed its bureaus and gutted its staff and cannot really understand what is happening in the communities it once served. So it is no surprise that it got the editorial wrong… it really has no clue what is going on anymore and is basically stumbling between deadlines. Poor Gazette. I should know as I was once a former reporter there who covered Amsterdam.

  6. AvatarJohn Bottisti says:

    I was amused at the Gazette’s editorial. Clearly this was a poorly researched, poorly developed and poorly delivered piece. Maybe it would be easier for them to write an editorial on Schenectady’s dilapidated buildings, crime, homelessness, aging infrastructure. But I guess that would be hitting too close to home and might cause some discomfort.

  7. AvatarLinda Slosek says:

    Awesome article!!!!!!!

  8. I will note that the City invested millions of dollars into the water and sewer distribution systems, as well as water and sewer plant upgrades, from 2008 – 2015. We also systematically tackled blight, crime, crumbling roads, downtown revitalization, historic preservation, community engagement, and dramatically enhanced City Hall and most every park in the city. It’s disappointing that the editorial board ignores the progress this city’s made over the years. Thank you, Tim, for demanding accuracy from the local media.

  9. AvatarJim Martuscello says:

    Thank you Tim for getting the facts straight. What the city needs is a positive approach and you bring that out in the article.There are a lot of facts in your article and as a city councilman I support everything you have said. Also, whether you like the idea of sculptures it will be open for discussion. The money used is part of that grant that can be only used for the bridge, and not for anything else. That is what was failed to be mentioned in the Gazette article.
    Jim Martuscello 5th Ward Alderman

  10. AvatarJ.P. Kobas says:

    Nice to tout millions in grant money politicians have received to mitigate the city’s problems. However Amsterdam’s politicians past history of spending lots of money without achieving the desired results for the people does not give me a warm fuzzy. Because they have received the funds needed doesn’t mean the problems have been mitigated properly. If you want to impress the folks list the “successfully completed projects” (ACTUAL RESULTS) when the loot is spent.

    • Well, JP Kobas, we upgraded the Water Treatment Plant and Amsterdam has now outputs some of the purest water in the Northeast. We also made major upgrades to the Waste Water Plant, pump stations and water/sewer distribution systems, but those are systems that are vast and will require regular maintenance much like any aging structure, like a house built in Victorian times. My husband and I spent the past 28 years fixing it, painting it, putting in new infrastructure, and now it’s time to go around again!

      The improvements to monuments and parks, including Riverlink, Shuttleworth, the West End Park, Isabel’s Field, the Fourth & Fifth Ward Memorials and City Hall, will all need continued attention. That fact does not detract from the improvements that had been made.

      We demoed almost 100 properties, picked up over 20 tons of litter, started neighborhood watch and beautification groups, created a community arts center and garden, resurfaced miles of roads and gave Bridge St & Main Street face lifts over eight years. That doesn’t mean the work is done. That means more needs doing!

      I don’t know what your expectations are, but revitalizing a city takes continuous, multifaceted planning and implementation. I’m proud of the work my administration did and the legacy we left. I hope these initiatives continue to take shape in the coming years and that the city taps as many lines of funding as is available from state, federal and private sources.

      Of course, if you think you can do a better job of it, you should run for office.

  11. AvatarSteven says:

    I think they should take the money and open a landful.

  12. AvatarJoseph Barnes says:

    This is the worst justification of a $400,000 waste of taxpayer money.If you can’t tell the difference between creating the Mill district and buying 2 overpriced pigeon rest areas you’re in the wrong business (hint:One generates tax revenue).For every dollar from the state,for the sewer or demolition of run down buildings,that is one less dollar that you need to borrow with interest.
    Seems like the house needs to be put in order before worrying about decorating it.

    • AvatarTim Becker says:

      Questions for you Joseph Barnes – isn’t Proctor’s Theater a major part, if not the centerpiece, of the reconstruction efforts for Schenectady’s downtown? Isn’t it a cultural hub of sorts for the area that attracts visitors? So in other words, the arts are central to Schenectady’s growth, correct? It just confuses me sometimes how people can see something working in plain daylight in one city, but then think the same principle won’t work in another. The MVGO will probably never draw as much as Proctors, but why would anyone think that arts can’t generate tax revenue in the long run?

      And secondly, you want to tell me that Schenectady’s “house” is in perfect “order” such that they get to have grants for non-essentials and we don’t? Really? Is Schenectady blight free, crime-free, infrastructure problem-free, homeless problem-free? Does Schenectady have lower taxes than Amsterdam? I don’t think so. In fact by most statistics I’ve read, Schenectady’s problems exceed Amsterdam’s. So why do they get a pass from you and Amsterdam doesn’t?

      • AvatarJoseph Barnes says:

        Please explain how two grossly overpriced statues sitting outside will generate tax revenue.Face facts they will be a drain keeping them clean and in good repair.
        Trying to compare the MVGO to Proctor’s is one hell of a reach.Schenectady is a dump but the creation of the Mill Artisan District has the ability to create jobs,generate sales,property,and income tax.The boat slips can be rented.
        The real question is,Is this a wise use of taxpayer money? Will this generate revenue? I think we both know the answer to that.
        I’d have to say the real problem you have is you’re upset that the Gazette is picking on Amsterdam.

      • AvatarTim Becker says:

        The idea behind the investment in the water front area, including Riverlink Park, the MVGO, and the public artwork, is that the area will attract visitors which translates to better foot traffic for our fledgling restaurants and shops on Bridge Street, which generates tax revenue. It also helps make the nearby piece of land where the Chalmers building used to be more attractive to developers, which will create tax revenue. The sculptures are a part of that effort, not the only sole piece. So there’s your answer.

        Is it a sure thing? No. Of course there is risk. But it’s at least plausible. Have you been down to visit Riverlink and the MVGO yet? It’s a great a experience. Lots of people came over the summer and businesses on Bridge Street reported increased traffic. You can argue whether that’s sustainable or not, but that’s the strategy.

        I am certainly upset with the Gazette for singling out Amsterdam for its problems while giving it’s hometown, who have exactly the same problems if not worse, a free pass. And I think I am very justified in being upset as I’ve proven. So guilty as charged! 🙂

  13. AvatarFelicia Petrosino Bucciferro says:

    Tim, will you please send this to the gazette? I am so sick and tired of Amsterdam being bashed at every opportunity.
    Thank you.
    Felicia Petrosino Bucciferro