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Perry White
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Outside Looking In

What are you doing on Election Day?

First published: August 21, 2015 at 2:13 pm
Last modified: August 24, 2015 at 9:10 am

This blog post has been edited to reflect facts newly received from the Jefferson County Board of Elections.

A curious thing, this Election 2015.

It is a so-called off-year election, with nothing but local races to be run and seats to be filled. And yet, because these are the most proximate levels of government to the citizenry, you would hope interest would be high.

Prepare to have those hopes crushed yet again.

Outside of the city of Watertown election, the race to fill the district attorney position in Jefferson County, the supervisor’s race in Clayton and the entire election in Cape Vincent, there are very few of what one might call high-profile contests.

And yet ...

A look through the voting list put out by the Jefferson County Board of Elections shows that a lot of the races are going to be decided in the Sept. 10 primary. The Republican Party has primaries all over, and the winners in those elections will determine the ultimate winner because there is no Democratic or independent opposition.

Only one candidate engaged in a primary that I found has attempted to lock in a ballot position by filing a minor party petition: Marty Mason in Cape Vincent. He will be on the Conservative Party line in November if no other Conservative challenges through an Opportunity to Ballot. So even if he loses in the Republican primary, he could well move on.

While the Republican candidates are flooding the zone, as it were, the Democrats are virtual no-shows in this election. In the town and village races, for all municipalities in the region, there are 22 Democrats running.

At the county level, two incumbent Democrats — Legislator Allen Drake and Treasurer Karen Christie — are running unopposed. All 14 Republican legislators are running unopposed, by contrast.

The village of West Carthage is the sole beacon of light for the Jefferson County Democratic Party, fielding four candidates.

There still is time for more Democrats to emerge, because several municipalities have Democratic caucuses to select candidates. However, if past history is any predictor, there will still be far too many unchallenged Republicans.

So one has to ask: Why is the Democratic Party leadership in Jefferson County unable to field candidates? If all the Democrats running in the county could barely fill a middle-sized living room, where are the other Democrats?

The system functions the best when there is engagement in democracy. Choices at the ballot box keep the electorate engaged. When there are no contests to determine, we should not be overly surprised when only 30 percent of those eligible to vote drag themselves out to do so.

There are any number of trends in our society that make me want to break out the blackboard and give an instant civics lesson, but none gets any deeper under my skin than the failure to exercise the obligation to vote. I know the excuses of the nonvoters: They’re all crooks; I am satisfied the way it is; there is nobody to choose from; my vote doesn’t count; blahblahblah. They’re all hooey.

This is supposed to be a participatory democracy. The only true way the will of the people has any chance of being upheld is by a vigorous electoral process that brings choices and variety.

But when you try to talk about this, you watch as eyes glaze over and people stick their heads under the couch cushions. Those who don’t vote don’t want to hear it from those who do. The results are often appalling, and frequently, the nonvoters complain the loudest.

In the city primary, there are six council candidates and three men running for mayor. In the council race, there is a nice range of the young and the mature, the politically polished and the political neophytes.

When six people are seeking one of your two votes, they work harder to persuade you to vote for them, and they can’t dodge your questions about why they should be selected over anyone else. And the mayoral race features three sitting City Council members — the mayor and two councilmen. Good stuff, politically.

But it won’t be good enough to draw voters as 15 to 20 percent of those eligible may show up to cast their ballots. And the total could be lower than that.

I have been writing opinion pieces on the value of and the obligation to vote for 37 years — my first one was in 1978. And I don’t think one of them has done a damned bit of good.

Nevertheless, I soldier on. Exercise one of the most precious rights that have been handed down to you. Go to the polls, cast your votes and walk away knowing no matter the outcome, you have fulfilled your civic duty.

Perry White is managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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Compromise is only solution to Fire Department issues

First published: August 14, 2015 at 8:38 am
Last modified: August 24, 2015 at 9:10 am

I support the Watertown Fire Department.

A city the size of Watertown, with its many high buildings, commercial complexes and multiple-family residences, needs a department that can consistently, professionally and rapidly respond to fires, emergencies and hazardous situations.

I also support City Manager Sharon Addison and the members of the City Council who are trying to make the department as efficient and cost-effective as possible. City government has to be run based on providing the needed services in as effective and economical a way as is practical.

These goals need not be mutually exclusive.

The firefighters, led by their union, are strongly opposing any efforts to reduce the cost of providing fire services. They have a strong ally, ironically, in past councils that have agreed to contract terms that make almost any streamlining efforts next to impossible. The councils of today and tomorrow will have to work hard and be smart to find effective ways to work within those historical constraints.

A study of the department suggested that the city has some room to reduce staffing if it can get the union to agree in the new contract talks. The union is opposing that effort, of course, and has embarked on a citywide public relations campaign, giving out lawn signs that indicate support for the department. This is all part of a “hearts and minds” campaign by the union, a move to persuade the council that there is a groundswell of citizen support for the department.

Well, there is a large measure of support for the Fire Department. Why wouldn’t there be? Firefighters save lives and property, help all citizens regardless of their economic station and teach fire safety to children and senior citizens. There is nothing adversarial or controversial about their services.

Saying that you support the Fire Department, however, is not synonymous with saying you support the Fire Department in all things or at all costs. For most people in the north country, and this includes Watertown, the pinch of property taxes has become a punch.

Taxing levels have reached the point of pain for many and worse for some. We all must call on our local governments to do everything they can to ease that burden.

Asking the Fire Department for help in the effort to cut costs is neither unfair nor unreasonable. If the union sat down with the city, listened to its position and tried to reach a reasonable, mutually acceptable solution, it would indicate to the people of the city that the Fire Department is part of the solution. An intractable position, devoid of true negotiation, tells the taxpayers that the Fire Department isn’t all that interested in the needs of the people who pay the salaries of its members.

No existing jobs — those now held by people — need to be lost here. But the city ought to be able to make reasonable decisions on the loss of jobs through attrition.

When a firefighter leaves or retires, the city manager and the fire chief ought to be able to sit down and determine the future of that job. The decisions could range from eliminating the position immediately to holding it open for a period of time to filling it as quickly as possible.

That process could give the Fire Department protection — especially if the parties agree to a base level of firefighters that couldn’t be violated without further negotiation — and it would leave flexibility for the city’s needs when a position becomes vacant.

Most public unions in the north country have more flexible contracts than the firefighters. Jefferson County, for example, has the right to reduce the work force through attrition or through elimination of positions.

It may be a function of the feel-good relationship the department has with the citizenry that compelled the historical concessions to the union. That, however, was in a different age.

With 61 percent of the department’s calls going to health emergencies, always accompanied by someone else’s ambulance because the department doesn’t have one of its own, and with many of those health calls getting multiple-vehicle response from the department, the duplication of services is blatantly visible just about every day. This is a true waste of taxpayer resources; the policy must be adjusted to have the department respond as backup only. This way, its presence would be guaranteed if needed, not called on if not.

The members of the Fire Department also beg this criticism: Few of them pay taxes in the city where they work. As a result, they are removed from the issue of city property taxes.

I don’t suggest firefighters should be compelled to live in the city. I do, however, suggest that disregard of the taxation issue in the city is a slap in the face to taxpayers.

It’s time for firefighters to realize we are no longer in the 1970s. If the city is to survive, it needs a well-trained firefighting force.

It also needs that force to realize the times are changing and its members must become full partners with the City Council — not recalcitrant adversaries. A compromise is needed, and the union needs to buy in, for its own good and the good of the city.

Perry White is managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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Connecting with the past and the present

First published: July 31, 2015 at 4:55 pm
Last modified: July 31, 2015 at 4:55 pm

In the past couple of months, I have found a number of old friends on Facebook and added them to my page. And because of that, a number of other old friends have found me and have asked to join my page, and I’ve accepted them.

This is probably irrelevant information for most people. But it has changed a very occasional Facebook user to a more frequent reader who even posts things on my own page from time to time.

It also has convinced me that what we call social media can in fact be a positive part of our lives.

For me, nearly all of these old friends have been frozen in time, looking and behaving in my mind as they did when I left the Catskills 23 years ago. I remember them younger, perhaps wilder, perhaps less responsible but certainly two dimensional in many ways, lacking the dimension of time.

Now, having re-entered these old friends’ lives, I have been snapped into the realities of today. New pictures and new stories of these folks’ lives have filled in the missing dimension and brought friends who were in a state of suspended animation back to life for me.

Gail Ruff Chancey, whom I haven’t seen in more than 40 years, has a farm in Missouri and spends time in Florida. She has become, for me, a wry and sophisticated woman who has crafted a wonderful life.

Kathy and John Underwood have settled into a life in Portland, Maine, with grown children who are embarking on their own adult lives. And Kathy’s sister Kelly and her husband, Dave, also “Maine-iacs,” are also approaching that point in their lives where they’re looking forward to winding down, ending work and taking life easy.

And on it goes. Some of these old friends look almost as they did more than 20 years ago; some have aged in a way that makes me look twice to see the person I recall. It doesn’t matter, though, because we have all reached a place where what is inside is all that matters.

I get a lot of posts to my Facebook page that I morally oppose. The Obama haters have found the site a fertile field to sow their foul message. The message of ultra-conservatives also seems to infiltrate pages of people who don’t hold those views. And simplistic jingoism runs rampant.

I could delete these, but they serve to remind me that the entire spectrum of political thought must be tolerated if not embraced. It also serves to reaffirm my own belief system, and remind me who I am.

Facebook has evolved from a site where younger people could connect without interference from their parents to something much broader. Now parents find it a way to connect with brothers and sisters and grandparents and friends and colleagues. (And as a result, most teenagers have moved on to new and less parent-involved media.)

I have grudgingly become a fan of the site. I find it engaging to be able to chat easily with old friends. I find that there is great value in reconnecting with people who have through time and distance faded from my consciousness.

As we age, we often feel less connected with our past and with those from whom we have grown apart. With Facebook, that feeling of isolation is greatly eased. There is an emotional and probably physical benefit in that.

So if you are feeling alone or disconnected, maybe you should consider creating a Facebook account or reviving a dormant one (as was mine, until recently). You only need to find a few old friends and connect with them, and many others will find you and ask to become your friends on the site.

I suspect that if you do this, you will be surprised at how it can change your life.

Perry White is managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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Inane slogans won’t solve a national crisis

First published: July 24, 2015 at 5:11 pm
Last modified: July 24, 2015 at 5:11 pm

The Washington Post reports that Thursday’s shooting at a theater in Louisiana was the 204th of 2015.

It occurred on the 204th day of the year. That’s pretty simple math.

Some mass shootings stir the nation: nine dead in a racially motivated church shooting, four Marines and one sailor killed at a Chattanooga recruiting center, two dead and nine injured in a movie theater in Louisiana.

Others, on the other hand, receive only regional attention: five dead in Baltimore; five dead in Hope Mills, N.C.; four dead in Cincinnati — the list goes on and on.

I will stipulate that no “normal” person would carry out these kinds of attacks. It takes a mental illness or extreme personality disorder to take a gun into a situation where the goal is to shoot as many people as possible.

Which has probably led to the tired old Second Amendment fanatics saying that “Guns don’t shoot people. People shoot people.” I find this an increasingly inane statement that is sophistry at its worst. The people who do this use guns, and that is where the solution to this national nightmare must end.

We need to find ways to keep guns out of the hands of the criminally inclined, the deranged and the psychopathic. In the exercise of sound regulations on the object of the Second Amendment, it’s time to start erring on the side of caution rather than nearly unfettered “freedom.”

About 30,000 people die of gunshot wounds in the United States every year. That includes about 9,000 homicides, about 17,000 suicides and the rest in accidents and “justified shootings” — essentially, police actions and self-defense.

In Great Britain in 2010, there were 58 murders by firearm; in the same year in the United States, 8,775. Based on population adjustment, that means that Great Britain had the equivalent of 290 murders by gun — meaning the United States had a little more than 30 times the number of gun murders as one of our closest allies.

In France, the background checks are intense and focus on past history and mental stability. And they must be renewed and reviewed every five years, which allows the authorities to verify that no recent behavior or illness has disqualified the licensee in the preceding five years.

Study after study relates the number of gun deaths to the number of guns present. Anyone who tells you otherwise has drunk the Kool-Aid.

The best way to reduce gun violence and gun deaths is to reduce the number of guns in society. And the United States could best achieve that by imposing common-sense regulations to keep guns out of the hands of people who could predictably use them badly and by seriously clamping down on illegal gun traders within our borders.

“If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” a favorite National Rifle Association sop goes. Every time it’s uttered, someone sagely nods their head in agreement.

And this simplistic and idiotic homily allows the gun lobby to hide behind reality: the number of people proposing that guns be outlawed is amazingly small. They are as far at the opposite fringe as are those who say that any regulation is unconstitutional.

In reality, most people concerned about the proliferation and cost of gun violence understand that in the United States, at least, guns are here to stay. So the best possible outcome is to reach an understanding that regulations are not banned by the Constitution because every freedom reaches some point of constraint and to come together on what that constraint can be.

We have to stop the random gun violence in this country. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world, and it puts the level of violence on our soil equivalent to places like Iraq and Pakistan and many South American and African nations — most of them impoverished, under-educated and politically instable. We’re better than that.

It’s time for the inane slogans and the sophist arguments to be tuned out. And it’s time for the fringes of the gun debate to be tuned out, for the groups in the middle to coalesce to come up with solutions that both work and are acceptable to the largest possible majority. And it’s time to push those solutions into law.

Perry White is managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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A few quick hits

First published: July 17, 2015 at 5:23 pm
Last modified: July 17, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Here are a few musings that merit some consideration in the north country.

A hole too deep?

With the news last week that St. Lawrence County is 2.3 percent behind in sales tax collections from this point last year, you can’t help but wonder where this financially bereft county can turn to solve its problems.

Two years ago, when the county presented a financial plan to state Sen. Patty Ritchie that promised to keep tax levy increases within the state tax cap for a number of years, it got permission to raise its local sales tax rate to 4 percent. That move has proved insufficient to the task of hiking revenue for the county; last year the take didn’t meet projections, and it appears it may take some kind of miracle to meet it this year.

The solution doesn’t immediately reveal itself. St. Lawrence County has already steeply cut personnel and has long had a policy in place that prohibits automatic filling of vacancies without legislative review.

It has left home health care to private businesses and eliminated that expense. It has cut its highway department budget to ribbons and as a result has failing roads and bridges across the sprawling landscape. And while pension and health insurance costs are big red figures in the budget, it has no control over pension costs and little control over health insurance.

The county has plowed through its reserves like a termite in a tasty main beam and has had to resort to major borrowing in the second half of each of the last four years just to get to Dec. 31. Many of its fiscal failures have long since been resolved — the county is still trying to recover from the effects of the disastrous solid waste authority, as an example — but their legacies linger on.

Where is the county failing where others aren’t? It suffers from a diminished industrial base: Alcoa has contracted; GM is long gone; Corning remains static; Ogdensburg has lost a couple of employers recently (and was saddled with lingering debt from the kosher milk plant fiasco); and no other areas have had stable manufacturing or industrial businesses since the water wheel went out.

This has led to a diminished tax base as assessments have reverted to lower-use values. Very little new is going up outside of the colleges, whose employees continue to sustain property and sales tax revenue. Against inflation, it is unlikely the tax base can rebound without significant commercial investment, and nothing points to that as likely.

The county is looking for more cuts to ease this situation, but there aren’t many significant areas to cut — outside the road patrol and solid waste. And those are taxpayer services it is unlikely anyone is willing to sacrifice.

It is far more complex than the average taxpayer tends to consider, and I don’t envy the Legislature that has been put in this vice.

Dog days for the dog park

The city continues to bat around dog park issues, with the insertion of P.J. Simao’s renewed offer for the land, the alienation of key supporters, the adamant opposition of the person most responsible for the dog park plan getting this far and the battles among City Council members the topic has engendered.

Even if Mr. Simao diligently pursues his quest to add the rest of the old Abe Cooper dump to his existing holding, there is almost no chance he will succeed.

Why? A number of reasons, all of them political.

First, the city would see essentially no money from the transaction; it is encumbered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to help pay for the high cost of cleaning the property in the late 1990s. So even if the city is considering the $100,000 that Mr. Simao tried to sweeten the pot with, there is no additional gain. He could offer $500,000, and the city would see none of it. There is no incentive to sell.

Then, under the law, the city would almost certainly be required to replace the site with another, similarly sized piece of parkland. That would probably mean it would have to spend money to make it work. The only gain from accepting the Simao offer is the taxes to be realized from putting the property on the tax rolls once again, and that would remain a minuscule amount until, and there’s no guarantee of this, improvements to the lot bumped up the assessment.

Finally, it’s pretty clear that the mayor has made this part of his re-election platform, even if he hasn’t said as much. Roxanne Burns’s leap at Steve Jennings’s jugular was way out of proportion to the issue and has no explanation until you throw the pending mayoral race into the equation.

And that leads to the final reason this sale isn’t going to happen: With the mayor and Ms. Burns aligned to stop it, it can never achieve the supermajority vote required to accept the offer and start reclaiming the parkland, which requires an act of the state Legislature.

Sorry, P.J., but politics has you trumped this time.

Thank you, all

When I wrote the column that appeared last Sunday about how dementia can devastate a family, I had hoped to give a voice to the silent and assure those in a like situation that they were not alone. I was unprepared, however, for the level of personal response that it would trigger.

I am humbled by that response.

And for the many, many readers who have offered consolation, support and their prayers, there is no way for me to adequately express my gratitude. My family and I all thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Perry White is managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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What you don’t know offers context

First published: July 15, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: July 14, 2015 at 5:28 pm

The controversy over flying the Confederate flag continues to rage across the country, with the momentum still flowing toward removal of the flag from official places and removal by many from any public display at all.

Please face it: The Confederate flag is right up there with the Nazi swastika and the old hammer and sickle as tangible symbols of oppression and hatred. And it isn’t a First Amendment issue, in the end; it’s a common decency issue. You can display the rebel flag in your own home, for whatever reasons, and let visitors to your home assess its meaning on your wall.

But make no mistake — it is a symbol of racial injustice and it is a symbol of treason. Under its colors, a group of people mounted an armed rebellion against the U.S. government, and I don’t know how you can call that anything but treason.

The swirling controversy has made its way to the north country with a Canton couple, Eric J. and Lindsay A. Walrath, flying the Confederate flag over the U.S. flag at their home. In a story in Saturday’s Watertown Daily Times, the Walraths said that their motivation for flying the flag was not based on hatred.

Their real reason for flying the flag remained tenuous, however. Mrs. Walrath said that hiding the flag has the effect of denying history. Neither of them expressed concerns over abridgement of their First Amendment rights and both are natives of the north country, with distant ties to the south.

So the story was, as presented, a little slice-of-life story about a national issue’s connections to Northern New York.

Unfortunately, we left out some information that was really essential to have full contextual understanding of the people involved in the story.

When the story was written, members of our staff knew that Mr. Walrath is a convicted sex offender, a Class 3 offender on the state’s registry. They also knew that he had been arrested twice for violating terms of his registration by not properly reporting moves to the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department. They discussed this in our St. Lawrence County offices and decided that this information was not pertinent to this story.

Consensus among the top editors, however, is that it is germane. We don’t put everyone’s criminal history in every story, and I will admit that this information should have engendered a hearty debate.

Where we truly erred, however, is not considering the totality of Mr. Walrath’s criminal justice experience. A couple of clicks of a mouse, typing in a few letters, would have revealed not just the sex crime — it was first-degree sexual abuse of a child under the age of 11 — but also his conviction on third-degree attempted grand larceny, for stealing a gas credit card from United Cerebral Palsy Association of the North Country and running up $5,900 in unauthorized purchases on it for 10 months before he was caught.

He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in this offense and, as a second-felony offender, he was sentenced to 1½ to 3 years in state prison. He served his time — two full years — in Attica.

And here is where our failure to give you a full accounting begins to bite. Attica Correctional Facility is a maximum-security prison that was the site of bloody riots in 1971. Race is an issue that simmers close to the surface throughout daily life in Attica, and it seems unlikely that anyone’s belief system would not be affected in such a charged environment.

And in prison, symbols are important. Displaying the wrong symbol, or failing to display the right one, can be the difference between life and death. It’s unlikely that any ex-convict would not have this imprinted upon the memory.

I cannot know what Mr. Walrath’s opinions on the rebel flag or race are without sitting down and talking to him. But as an avid news consumer, I would have felt the Times was obligated to give us the context of this man to the extent we were able.

We didn’t do that. It wasn’t intentional, and an honest discussion about some of it was held.

But we must do better, and in the future we will do more than scratch the surface.

Why is this important? Because the Confederate flag is and has long been a contentious element of race relations in the United States. And when the discussion is brought here, we should engage in it forthrightly.

The discussion should not be hampered by a lack of information or by any hidden agendas that may be out there. The Times should further the conversation, but it should not skew it.

We may have done so by omitting important information from our story, but we should not have done so.

And we’ll try hard not to do it again.

Perry White is managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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A life turned upside down

First published: July 10, 2015 at 10:57 am
Last modified: July 10, 2015 at 5:41 pm

After she graduated from Columbus School for Girls, she went to Georgetown University. Four years later, she graduated with a degree from the prestigious School of Foreign Service.

Her tested IQ was 150. Her future seemed limitless.

But she fell in love and got married and followed a peripatetic trail across the country to Chicago, where a first child was born, then to Southern California, where a second child arrived, then back to a suburb of Atlanta, where she gave birth to her final child.

Then the family moved to New York state, in a suburb of Syracuse. Cracks in her marriage were obvious, and she and her husband divorced. After a time separated, awaiting a divorce, she found someone with ties to the north country, and she moved to Jefferson County where her kids graduated from high school then went away to college.

It is, by American standards, an unremarkable life. And yet, it has been so much more. She wrote a column for a weekly paper in Onondaga County, then she spent five years as the Watertown Daily Times restaurant critic.

After that, she wrote two modestly successful books on food writing. Her imprint will thus survive, in some form, until such written records are forever purged.

Until last year, she worked at the county Department of Social Services. But both her family and her colleagues realized, slowly, that something was wrong.

Her behavior was off, and her cognitive skills seemed to be diminishing. At the urging of her boss and her family, she went to her doctor.

Who promptly scheduled an MRI and referred her to a specialist. Who just as quickly referred her to another specialist. The specialists concurred: She was suffering from dementia with Lewey bodies, a nasty little ugly cousin of Alzheimer’s disease.

Like most dementias, this form is marked by steady memory loss and loss of cognitive function. Unlike some forms, it is also characterized by sometimes dangerous hallucinations and reversion to a Parkinson-like condition marked by body tremors and shaking.

Another truly unfortunate characteristic it shares with other forms of dementia is that despite the resources poured into research of these conditions, it has no treatment and it has no cure. Its victims, and their loved ones, must find ways to cope without the help of medicines or treatments.

When the specialists told her their belief of her diagnosis (ironically, only an autopsy can determine this for certain), she was already at a point where she only dimly understood what they were telling her. While her family wept silently, she looked off into the distance and asked them what was wrong.

Since that time last June, she has entered a world that I doubt she ever contemplated. Her cognitive skills have declined markedly. And when she pushes to get back into the workforce, which is clearly impossible, her family gently tells her that she is retired.

For many weeks, her response was to ask how old she is (55) and how she can retire at that age. There is no cogent answer to provide.

Along with the loss of cognitive skills, she is in the middle stages of aphasia, the loss of her ability to talk in understandable sentences. Her thinking is fragmented. And when she is engaged in conversation, her answers are based on an understanding of our world and our language that is not shared by anyone else.

Aphasia also has robbed her of the ability to read and to write. This deficit is one of the many frustrations of her condition that make her angry because she can’t understand why this greatest pleasure of hers has been so crudely ripped away.

Now, she can’t read, she can’t write and she can’t really participate in conversations. This woman who so effectively raised her kids by being open and encouraging conversation now sits mute and looks around the room when others are talking about things that would always have held her interest and compelled her to join in.

Through all these debilitating effects of dementia, she remains physically healthy — even though the persistent loss of brain cells has made that body far less useful to her than it has always been. Yet to look at her, you would have no clue how diminished she has become.

Now, her family — three wonderful kids and I — is locked in a sad dance of love and confusion as we struggle to do whatever it takes to ease her forward. We all have learned patience.

Her son Chris left a well-paid job at American University to move in with us so he could be with her before she can no longer connect with this amazing son of hers. Her daughter Sarah made it possible for us to drive her to Texas to be at daughter Megan’s wedding, and Megan made sure that the whole wedding experience would neither bewilder nor trigger a negative reaction.

We all see the deterioration, and we all know that she will never know her grandkids. Or have a joyful retirement with me. Or read another good book, or write an email to her kids, or understand what she sees on television. Most of those skills have already been stolen from her.

Her life has moved from normal to unfathomable; her world has suddenly shrunk to the unknown part of a mind that is steadily extinguishing itself.

I can’t say that it is unfair because I know the range of suffering that exists in this world. But I can say that I think it unjust punishment for someone who has been such a loving, positive, exemplary member of society.

And I have learned that all forms of dementia instill in both the victim and the family a feeling of impotence, and despair, and rage. I have no idea how her kids and I will cope with this, but I know with certainty that we will never give up or give in.

Perry White is managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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The rainbow shines more brightly

First published: July 03, 2015 at 6:11 pm
Last modified: July 03, 2015 at 6:11 pm

The howling of wounded Christians hasn’t abated more than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court said that banning same-sex marriages was discriminatory and, thus, illegal.

The national furor that ensued has taken many moderate Americans by surprise. Marriage was legal by law or court ruling in more than 30 states, so the very real possibility that it would be extended across the nation has been lurking on the horizon.

And despite the vituperative and wounding dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has guaranteed for 150 years that no state can take away the rights and privileges of citizens, and no one can be denied equal protection under law.

It is no stretch to apply these tenets to marriage rights. And the 14th Amendment also ensures that no states are immune from the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Thus, at least to many minds, discrimination against those of the same sex wishing to marry is as necessary to end as discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, and physical and mental disability.

Many of those most vocally opposing the ruling return, at some level, to the Christian Bible. When they do that, they are suggesting a violation of the hallowed First Amendment, which starts out: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …

That has been broken down into the Establishment Clause (no law against any religion) and Free Exercise Clause (no law regulating exercise of beliefs). It is clear that the founding fathers were NOT endorsing any religion over any other. So the claim that this is a Christian nation is absolutely insupportable.

And the Free Exercise Clause must be read to guarantee that no religious beliefs or practices can be forced on any citizen who wishes not to believe or practice them.

Ironically, the denial of a constitutional cause for the ruling in this case is driven by people hoping to ignore the 14th Amendment and grossly ignore the totality of the First Amendment. Why is that?

I think it is because the majority of Christian believers have chosen to hold the Bible higher than the Constitution. That is fine as a matter of belief, but it cannot work as a matter of law. The ruling says that the states cannot, under the 14th Amendment, deny rights and privileges to some citizens that accrue to other citizens.

When states pass gender-based marriage laws, they apply to some citizens but not to all.

How difficult is it to see that this denies some citizens their rights and privileges? When you wave quotes from the Book of Romans or the Gospel of John as your justification for banning same-sex marriages, you are giving irrefutable proof that you are defying the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

A lot of people wailing about this ruling in the same breath claim this is just more government intrusion into our lives. In reality, this is the Supreme Court telling state governments to get out of our personal lives — it says marriage is a personal decision in which the states should not meddle.

Finally, while I’m sure no one who fits this category could admit it, homophobia has plenty to do with the outrage over this ruling (and the underlying affront that brought the ruling about). At its root, almost all bigotry has an element of fear — whether it is based on race, ethnicity, gender or belief.

The racism displayed against blacks, for example, has an underlying fear by whites of losing status to another race. Gender bias exhibits fear of the loss of male superiority — not just in the workplace but in government, society and the home. And so it goes.

In New York, same-sex marriage has been legal for four years. And what has happened here is some indication of what will happen elsewhere: The marketplace has met the new paradigm, adjusted as necessary and moved on.

For every florist who doesn’t want to deal with a gay marriage because of closely held religious beliefs, scores have found this to be an opportunity to add to the services. For every pastor who has declined to officiate at same-sex marriages, there are scores of other pastors and others certified to perform marriages who will gladly do so.

Plurality is, at the very basest level, the hallmark of this country. We have long used a rainbow as an analogy of our society and a contributor to our national strength.

This ruling merely extends that rainbow a little further. No matter what those on the furthest fringes of this issue believe, more loving, stable marriages, no matter who is involved in them, will make the national fabric stronger and more durable.

And the rainbow shines more brightly than before.

Perry White is managing editor at the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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A brief diversion

First published: June 26, 2015 at 9:10 am
Last modified: June 26, 2015 at 5:27 pm

With all the horrific news the world is bathed in — church shootings in South Carolina, terror attacks around the world, a constant barrage of pictures of Kim Kardashian — the prison break in Dannemora has offered the north country something to talk about that somehow seems less serious than most of the front page news.

I know that the prospect of two convicted murderers roaming around free frightens people. But given that there are hundreds of thousands of unsolved murders over the years, there are a LOT of murderers running around free. And they are totally unidentifiable. Whereas Richard Matt and David Sweat (sounds like secondary characters in “Saved By the Bell”) have their pictures plastered across newspapers, TV news shows and all the major 24-hour news networks, it is a lot better chance you’ll recognize them than you would the glue-sniffer who killed a 7-Eleven clerk in a botched robbery and got away scot-free despite himself.

The folks in the search areas are sanguine about the whole deal. The ones who are the most inconvenienced by and closest to the controlled chaos of the incessant manhunt are the ones taking searchers cookies and lemonade. One trooper told one of our reporters, “I’ve never seen anything like it. These are the friendliest people in the country. Back home, they hate us!”

There are a lot of good things that have accrued to this search. For one, no Conservation Police officer or sheriff’s deputy has shot a trooper or DOCS searcher, mistaking him or her for one of the escapees. Especially given that this manhunt has gone on nearly as long as the state’s big-game season, during which any number of people are shot by fellow hunters who mistake them for deer. (Deer, four legs; human, two legs — duh!)

In addition to that, a bar and restaurant owner says she‘s having the best June in memory, as local residents, lookie-loos from distant reaches and searchers flock in for meals, drinks and rooms. Anything — really, anything — that boosts spending in Franklin County is a good thing.

In fact, I’m surprised the Hamilton County Chamber of Commerce isn’t urging its members in Speculator and Indian Lake to start calling in convict sightings. With a county population that can’t crack 5,000 and a median age of 54, Hamilton County could get economically healthy pretty quickly if the manhunt swings down there for a couple of weeks.

The escape and subsequent manhunt also have brought the hottest bar debate to the north country since a certain congressional candidate was captured on film playing smooch and tickle with a comely political operative. The argument over where the escapees are has a whole world to range across.

Some, for example, are convinced the two are cowering and beaten somewhere within the net cast over Franklin County. At the far extreme are those who believe they long ago escaped that perimeter and are sipping pina coladas on Playa Esterillos in Costa Rica (which, incidentally, would be my choice if I were Matt or Sweat).

With the search costing taxpayers $1 million a day, by the estimate of an official involved in putting on this rodeo, there has to be a point where the posse needs to stand down. With state troopers responding from all over the state, with the deployment of Department of Corrections and Community Supervision guards from scores of prisons, and so on and so on, police, prison and Department of Environmental Conservation resources are stretched taught. And this doesn’t consider what it’s doing to Franklin and Clinton counties’ police resources — although Franklin County doesn’t have a sheriff’s road patrol to stretch thin.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a serious political mistake by racing to Clinton County to declare his determination to quickly capture the running cons and get to the bottom of how they got out. He even said it was highly improbable that the escapees were aided by prison workers. Boy, he ate that one so fast he had to swallow before he chewed.

And if these guys aren’t caught in New York state (and I’m still betting against it), the decision to spend what will probably be more than $20 million on the search efforts is going to offer great fodder for his many political opponents.

At any rate, the best parlor game in the north country goes on. Franklin County businesses continue to reap the windfall of a manhunt. Residents continue to be amused by the frantic hither and thither of the searchers. And national news organizations continue to slather coverage across Northern New York, an area usually relegated to its weather segments. This will go down in memory as the Summer of the Manhunt.

Perry White is the often bemused managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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Your basic tangled web

First published: June 19, 2015 at 3:15 pm
Last modified: June 19, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Covering Cape Vincent government is a little like walking blindfolded through a heavily mined field. You know something is going to blow up, but you don’t know when.

The town seems to have its own unique style of politics. That could, in some cases, be a compliment. But it isn’t met as one here. Over the 20 years I’ve been involved in news coverage of the north country, there have been episode after episode of back-door nepotism, front-door nepotism, ethical chicanery, petty parochialism and worse.

One recurring theme that is guaranteed to produce wailing and gnashing of teeth is water supply. The town has created, over the years, a handful of water districts that supply town residents in a wide-ranging area with water from the village water supply (although one particularly controversial district is supplied by a Development Authority of the North Country water line). As these districts have been developed, the rules of the road for each one have developed independently of the previous districts. So trying to follow water district policy is a little like asking a Cape Vincent Elementary School pupil to read Sanskrit. Councilman John Byrne looked and this and said, “Wait a minute. It would be more fair to make all the districts follow the same rules.” Bravo, John.

After all, government is supposed to treat everyone equally. A uniform water policy would let everyone play on the same turf, as it should be.

But lo and behold, when Mr. Byrne brought this to the floor at a Town Council meeting, his fellow council members tore into it like he was proposing 50-acre zoning. Paul Aubertine suggested everyone is already paying their fair share and that Mr. Byrne should butt out. While he was doing it, Mr. Aubertine managed to disparage, unfairly, one of my best reporters and the Times. We, however, have very thick skin.

But there are questions that still should be asked. One of them is, should Paul Aubertine even be engaged in the water district discussions? His father, after all, has been involved in the longest-running town water dispute of them all from the get-go. If the water district rules become uniform, it’s hard to believe it wouldn’t have some effect on what some call the Darrel District.

And it is no secret in political circles that the Aubertines have aspirations of higher office for Paul, perhaps to follow in his father’s footsteps. John Byrne, who barely lost to Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell in November, is a clear threat to those political goals. Any success of John Byrne could be seen as a roadblock to Mr. Aubertine.

And both Mr. Aubertine and Councilman Marty Mason have some other connections in water district one. The Mason family farm is in that district, and could end up paying more if the formula more closely reflected use, and Mr. Aubertine up until recently worked on the Woods farm, one of the largest users in the district.

It’s fairly clear that nothing about the council’s debate was about fairness. It was a lot more about politics as usual in Cape Vincent. The usual stars aligned against the typical constellations and when all is said and done, the “good ol’ boys” will probably prevail.

Government in Cape Vincent is so twisted up in feuds so old nobody alive remembers how they started, and the ever-popular animosity toward the “outsiders” who own so much of the Cape’s fantastic waterfront, and the new feuds that have sprung up over land use in the town, that it can’t help but function like a corkscrew, twisting down into the community and tearing holes wherever it goes.

And, if you consider this a problem, and you look hard at it in search of a solution, none readily appears. Both parties in a feud have to decide to put it past. The many folks whose diapers were hung on Cape Vincent clotheslines have to accept the outsiders, and the outsiders have to equally decide that they are not on some higher social plane than the natives. And maybe somebody needs to step in and say “enough already!” with the obvious and subtle nepotism.

When all that happens, Cape Vincent government will more closely resemble what might be considered normal. Until then, the circus will stay in town.

Perry White is managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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