Politics

The Next Mayor of Amsterdam, Mike Villa


The Clubhouse of Amsterdam’s Municipal Golf Course, run by Laura Elmendorf, hosted the first social gathering for City Amsterdam Mayoral candidate Michael Villa last night. In attendance were about 150 people representing many generations, occupations and political parties. This show of force was a large sign that the citizens of Amsterdam want a change in leadership. Mike Villa believes he is the candidate with the leadership experience to make that change. Introduced by Amsterdam businesswoman and Recorder Editor/Consultant Pat Beck, Villa spoke of his plan to bring much-needed leadership, integrity and fiscal responsibility back to our city. He wants our citizens to once again take pride in the fact they live in Amsterdam, New York. Mike Villa was both grateful and overwhelmed by the large number of people supporting his candidacy.

You can contact Mike Villa or give to his campaign through his website, Mike Villa For Mayor.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, History, Politics | Tags: , , ,

Celebration of Buddha’s Enlightenment


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Today the local Buddhist groups celebrated the day Buddha was enlightened. Despite the ongoing snow storm, a handful of local residents, including Recorder photographer Trevor Junquera, did participate in the formal Buddhist ceremony held in the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street. They parked in the adjacent parking lot owned by the Buddhists to attend the event. There was no parking available on city streets because of the snowstorm. The Buddhist organization is currently fighting the revocation of their tax exempt status for the parking lot, purely a measure of harassment perpetrated by the City of Amsterdam.

The beautiful celebration featured a performance by the Buddhist clergy that involved both chanting and song in honor of Enlightenment Day. The World Peace and Health Organizations’ spokesperson Jennie Wong told the story of Buddha’s enlightenment and how Buddhism came to China, both in Chinese and English. Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi presented gifts to the members and guests attending.  Both received 2015 calendars printed on bound bamboo and English speaking guests received a book describing the Buddhist leader’s mission in the USA. After the ceremony everyone was treated to traditional La Pa porridge, which was very tasty.

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After the ceremony, Jennie Wong showed me an email received from Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane in response to a cordial email sent inviting her to attend the Buddha’s Enlightenment Ceremony. The response by Amsterdam’s Mayor made Ms Wong cry. I was both disgusted and ashamed by the nasty, vindictive official response our standing Mayor sent this religious organization. The allegations in the response are totally false. Is this the kind of person we want representing the City of Amsterdam? It is time for new leadership.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Equality, Human Rights, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , ,

Amsterdam Assessor Targets Buddhists


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Jennie Wong, spokesperson for the WPHO and US citizen

Friday, January 16th, 2015,  is National Religious Freedom Day. Every year on January 16, the President of the United States issues a proclamation that marks the anniversary of Religious Freedom in the United States.  The tradition commemorates the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom adopted by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786. This statute on religious freedom eventually became part of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .”

The controversial establishment clause has been widely debated as used as political fodder since codification in 1791. Many US Supreme Court decisions were issued that further define its implementation. While the Supreme Court initially held that constitutional amendments (Bill of Rights) did not apply to state governments, the Incorporation Doctrine of 1925 reversed that opinion and held that these amendments also apply to state and local governments.

The SCOTUS decisions all support the fact that government cannot promote one religion over another or prohibit the free exercise of ANY religion.

History and current events continue to show the mix of government and religion often promotes bigotry leading to violence. Governments in the United States are prohibited by law from adopting or supporting any official religion, in fact our citizens are not required to believe in any form of religion. Although a majority of Americans are White and identify as Christian, we are neither a White or Christian nation. The US Census and Gallup polls show increasing diversity in both our ethnic and religious makeup.

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In spite of this increasing diversity, religious intolerance is still alive and well in the City of Amsterdam, New York. This blogger has written many articles describing the difficulties the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization has endured locally. The Buddhists moved here from China several years ago to establish a community promoting peace and harmony while teaching a healing meditative practice, the Guang Huan Mi Zong Health Dharma. The locals didn’t quite know what to make of the WPHO, unfamiliar with their culture while questioning their religious faith. To help combat bigoted attitudes and improve health, the Buddhists began teaching both their meditative practice and Chinese culture through organized events held at both the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street and the Five Buddha Temple on East Main Street. The events are well attended by open-minded locals and were featured in this blog as well as local newspapers. The WPHO also donated video camera systems to the Amsterdam Police Department to help combat crime after several of their properties were vandalized.

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Buddhist Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

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WPHO donates video surveillance cameras to Amsterdam Police

Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

Goddess of Mercy Temple Buddha's Birthday May 2014

Goddess of Mercy Temple – Buddha’s Birthday May 2014

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Goddess of Mercy Temple

Five Buddha Temple

Five Buddha Temple

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Parking lot for the Five Buddha Temple

Parking lot for the Five Buddha Temple

The Capital District Roman Catholic Diocese sold these former catholic churches, their rectory buildings and parking lots to the WPHO. This blogger lives across the street from the Goddess of Mercy Temple and it is great to see the property, once abandoned and stripped by the catholic church, restored to full function and occupied. It is also great to have the Buddhists as neighbors.

Both former catholic churches have been religious exempt from local taxation since their inception. This year, Amsterdam Assessor Calvin Cline, not a resident of Amsterdam or Montgomery County, decided to revoke the local tax exemption for the parking lots to both the Goddess of Mercy and Five Buddha Temples as well as clergy residences in Amsterdam. Representatives from the WPHO met with the assessor to correct this obvious oversight but Cline refused to give them any information or rationale as to why he initiated this action and refused to correct it. The Buddhist organizations owning the properties, Guang Huan Mi Zong, Inc and Western Supreme Buddha Temple, Inc are 501(3)(c) corporations, who file annual update statements. The Chinese Buddhists see this action as yet another form of harassment and discrimination on the part of the assessor and the City of Amsterdam who did not revoke the tax exempt status of any other religious or charitable organization this year.

This situation reeks of religious intolerance and bigotry.

In addition to filing an appeal with the Board of Assessment Review, which meets on Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the WPHO will be filing a complaint with the NYS Division for Human Rights.

When will the City of Amsterdam stop using laws and regulations as weapons to discriminately target people?

I hope the members of the Amsterdam Board of Assessment Review, former Mayor Mario Villa, John P. Bowers, and Fran Fora do the right thing and restore these exemptions.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Equality, Human Rights, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , , ,

NYCLU knocks Queen Ann off her throne


In a strongly worded response, attorneys from the New York Civil Liberties Union issue an ultimatum to City of Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane. The letter, dated September 22, 2014, advises the executive to rescind the employee gag order issued on August 6, 2014. The gag order attempts to restrict employee communication with members of the Common Council. The NYCLU gives the mayor 7 days to take action. The NYCLU has successfully sued other municipalities for similar behavior and cites State and Federal Court decisions supporting employees 1st Amendment right to free speech.

New York Civil Liberties Union response

Mayor Ann Thane’s employee gag order

Queen Ann of Amsterdam reading the NYCLU response

Queen Ann of Amsterdam reading the NYCLU response

Categories: Amsterdam, History, Human Rights, Law, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

Amsterdam’s Ungracious, Self-Serving Mayor


Mayor Ann Thane made an official statement today that the generous donation of video cameras in 2012 by the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization was “basically worthless”. What an ungrateful and unprofessional statement to make. This was a professional video surveillance system that should have been installed two years ago. The twenty camera wireless video surveillance system was donated by WPHO member Sky Deng, whose company LYD Technology USA Inc. produces the systems. Dr. Govind Rao even donated $6,000 to pay for the camera system installation.  Smaller scale video systems produced by Sky Deng’s company now cover the Amsterdam Goddess of Mercy Temple and rectory, Amsterdam Five Buddha Temple and rectory, private homes owned by the WPHO in Amsterdam as well as this blogger’s residence. These camera systems all run very well. Video clips from this blogger’s surveillance system helped the APD identify vandals that damaged property on Grove Street.

The City is now scrambling to save face after an incident last week where vandals caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to a downtown hotel that was closed pending renovation.

The statement posted by Mayor Ann Thane on Facebook:

In response to the senseless destruction at the downtown hotel, please know that our police department will hunt down these criminals and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Amsterdam Police Department Chief of Police Gregory Culick informs me that the camera guy was in his office yesterday to discuss finishing installation of the cameras they had ordered (the cameras donated to us by the World Peace and Health Organization two years ago were basically worthless.) New beat patrols had been instituted about a month ago. If you are willing and able to help be the eyes and ears of the APD, please call 842-1100 for more information.

This link to my 2012 blog article describes the camera donation: Buddhists Donate Security Cameras to the City of Amsterdam

This is a link to former Gazette reporter Ed Munger’s article describing the donation: Buddhists Give Amsterdam 20 Video Cameras

Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane owes the WPHO a formal apology for that despicable statement and should accept blame for not following through with the camera installation. The Mayor keeps reminding us that she alone is responsible for the day to day operation of the city.

  Mayor Ann Thane, you failed the citizens of Amsterdam!

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Categories: Amsterdam, Media, Politics, Technology, WPHO | Tags: , , , , ,

Jesuit Priest blocks access to Buddhist Temple (again)


We have been down this road before…literally. Shrine Road in Auriesville, NY to be precise. The scenario plays out like this, a financially troubled Catholic Shrine sells off a chunk of its land including a former Jesuit dormitory to the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization, who refurbish the building making it their headquarters, home and temple. Originating in China, the group renames it the Western Supreme Buddha Temple. At first they share the land harmoniously with the Jesuit Priest Murray who is very cordial and accommodating to the WPHO. In 2012 Father Murray moves on to another assignment in Buffalo and Jesuit Belgarde takes his place. Belgarde is not at all like his predecessor and begins a campaign of terror against the Buddhists, first by blocking all the access roads to their property and then refusing to meet with them to discuss the situation. This ends up in court with a dismissal after Belgarde’s supervisor, Jesuit Provincial David S. Ciancimino grants the WPHO access to their building from both Shrine Road and the gravel road off of Ripley Road built by the Buddhists and aptly named Friendship Road. This blogger documented the history of Belgarde’s campaign of terror. It can be found in the following series of links.

Angry Jesuit Blocks Entrance to Buddhist Temple

Buddhists move forward despite Jesuit roadblocks

Belgarde Bug Out

A Provincial Reply

Apparently Belgarde does not follow orders very well. This year his harassment resurfaced like a failed exorcism. He had his maintenance worker block Shrine Road again and also block off part of Friendship Road built by the WPHO! Once again he refuses to communicate with the group and when they begin to protest the action, he has his maintenance worker tear up the road in front of the Buddhist Temple with a backhoe. When the Chinese Buddhist students begin to protest on their own property, Belgarde calls the Montgomery County Sheriffs Department. The WHPO calls the NYS State Police and we have a confrontation resulting in an injury to a 100lb. female WPHO student who was shoved to the ground by a 300lb. male Lieutenant in the Montgomery County Sheriff Department. The student was treated for her injuries in a local hospital. This incident and other unnecessary use of force during this peaceful protest was documented in still images and video. Over a dozen police officers responded when an inexperienced police officer called for backup.

The WPHO hired attorney Sarah Green to represent them and protect their rights. As much as people would like to believe otherwise, there is religious intolerance and racism inherent in this incident. There is no reason why the two groups can not exit harmoniously on this beautiful piece of land overlooking the Mohawk Valley. The Auriesville setting exudes peace and tranquility, it is too bad Jesuit Belgarde can’t see that.

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Categories: Equality, Human Rights, Law, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Tyrant that is Thane


The City of Amsterdam, New York was invigorated by a newly elected Common Council this year. The citizens, not happy with the way taxes were going up and spending was increasing, elected conservative representatives who wanted to make a change. With a highly critical state financial audit, finances are in shambles and our elected officials still do not know how much money is in the city fund balance. Despite these facts Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane continues to increase spending, raising salaries and creating new staff positions at City Hall. Not happy with the take charge attitude of the new Council members, Thane took them to court and sued to get a ruling in her favor about the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course Pro Contract. She continually vetoes any legislation proposed by the Council even if it has unanimous support. This effectively delays the passage of all legislation. She gets on local radio and makes press statements that berate and belittle Council members and anyone who gets in her way.

The public, embarrassed and humiliated by Thane’s behavior, went to the Common Council asking to revise our city charter changing ambiguous wording to prevent misinterpretation and added costly court proceedings. The Common Council appointed a Charter Review Committee (of which this blogger is a member) who would study and recommend changes. Thane stated that a Charter Review Committee was not necessary, that there were more important things to do.

“The mayor agreed with the commission idea in the beginning, but she does not agree with the appointments. What do you do when you have a mayor for six years and she’s relentless? She does not give up; it has to be her way or no way.” — Alderman Diane Hatzenbuhler

Corporation Council Gerard DeCusatis who by law is supposed to support and advise the Mayor and Council, only does so for the Mayor. Soon after the Council appointed Charter Review Committee had its first few meetings, the Mayor appointed her own Charter Review Committee, who she insinuated in The Recorder were more intelligent than the Council appointed committee.

“What I’m looking for are intelligent people to weigh in on a document that’s affected the community for a long time.” –Mayor Ann Thane

This derailed weeks of work already accomplished by the dedicated committee appointed by the Council. As  explained to me, the Mayor’s Committee takes precedent over any other Charter Review Committee who, with this action, can not send any Charter related questions to the ballot for referendum vote in the 2014 general election. Attorney Peter Califano, Chairman of the Mayor’s Charter Review Commission, cited this 2008 NYS Supreme Court decision as the standing ruling on the subject.

After exchanging emails with Peter Califano, I discovered that both of our Committees had a common goal, to strengthen the separation of powers by removing the Mayor as presiding officer of the Common Council.  The Mayor presiding over Council meetings, promotes arguments and obstructs the flow of governance. For Ann Thane who tries to micro-manage every aspect of city government, it only increased her already over-inflated ego.

As many of you know I was an active member of the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, whose mission was to fund and organize concerts at Riverlink Park that are free to the public every Saturday evening during the months of July and August. Our Committee consisted of four dedicated members who give a lot of time and effort for Riverlink Concerts. I donated a few hundred photos and designed hours worth of advertising design that appeared as posters and ads in local and regional newspapers. All of that has come to an end as I resigned from the Foundation a few weeks ago. Mayor Ann Thane could not keep her control-freak hands off of the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation as she held a secret meeting with Congressman Paul Tonko, Amsterdam Economic Development Director Rob von Hasseln, Grant Writer Nick Zabawski and Waterfront Foundation President Paul Gavry. It seems despite the spin put on the situation, the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook (Pedestrian Bridge) is way over budget and Gavry was told that the Waterfront Foundation would seek grants to fund the 1.6 million dollars of artwork a select committee decided should go on this bridge. In order to carry this out, five new members that they selected would be added to the board of the Waterfront Foundation. This effectively weighted our vote, giving the Mayor control of the Foundation. Of course when we were seeking funding for concerts or wanting to increase our membership for the past two years these people were nowhere to be found. Neither Congressman Tonko, Mayor Thane or the five new Waterfront Commission members came to support the Riverlink Concert fundraiser held at the Amsterdam MUNI Clubhouse on June 13th. They did not consider the impact this new fundraising project would have on grant applications to fund the concert series.

I really loathe politicians, they chew you up and spit you out. It seems my every attempt at civic duty was derailed by this Mayor. It’s been over three years since I sat on the committee to update the Zoning Code along with Montgomery County Planning who were paid by the City to write the new code. The Mayor’s Corporation Counsel DeCusatis sat on the document for over two years for a “legal” review. Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler had me review the document with the codes department earlier this year to get their advice. We are now 6 months into the new Council’s administration and this document still has not been presented to the Common Council for a vote. It increases the area of what is considered Amsterdam’s downtown core and eases restrictions making it much more business friendly. A little follow through and cooperation would really help our local government instead of the costly and obstructionist display of power and disrespect flaunted by Mayor Ann Thane who feels free to lambast and personally attack others when they disagree with her.

Overpriced art pieces Ann Thane insists must go on the pedestrian bridge:

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Categories: Amsterdam, Equality, Law, Politics, Riverlink Park | Tags: , , ,

Meet Laura Elmendorf


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The Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course has been local news for the past few months. A new Common Council with a supermajority vote and a Mayor used to getting her own way have stalled contracts for both the golf pro and the concessionaire at MUNI.

Laura Elmendorf is the concessionaire without a contract who has successfully run the restaurant and bar at the golf course.  Still negotiating her contract, Laura is busy planning for this year’s events.  Although the concession used to be open on weekends during the winter, this year it is closed because a contract was never negotiated or signed last year.

As a board member of the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, this blogger had the opportunity to meet and talk with Laura while planning a fundraiser to be held at MUNI in June. Every year the Foundation is tasked with raising money, organizing and presenting Riverlink Concerts to the public free of charge. Laura is very pleasant, knowledgeable and personable. She seems much wiser than her years. My visit to MUNI was to get a better idea of the layout and space. The AWF fundraiser will be announced as soon as we have a firm commitment, that being easier said then done.  Laura was ready with menu choices, reasonable prices and suggestions. The venue was larger than I imagined and the views were gorgeous, even in the winter!

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I sincerely hope the responsible parties take care of these contracts soon before scheduling opportunities are lost.

Categories: Amsterdam, Business, Celebration, Entertainment, Outdoors, Photography, Politics, Riverlink Park | Tags: , , , , , ,

So long it’s been good to know yuh!


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Pete Seeger 1919-2014

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I heard the news today that Pete Seeger died at the ripe old age of 94. Pete Seeger was a legend in the folk music scene. A writer and performer who won Grammy awards and the American Music award, Pete was also an activist who fought for equal rights and environmental action. He founded the group Clearwater,Inc. that was established to educate the public about pollution in our waterways. Clearwater’s lobbying efforts helped win a court decision ordering GE to remove years of toxic PCB contamination from New York State’s Hudson River. Pete was also a friend who I met in the late 80’s through my late partner Ken Yeso who worked for Clearwater as an environmental educator. I became a Clearwater volunteer and freelance photographer, contributing photos for the Clearwater Navigator as well as the annual catalog. Pete and Toshi Seeger made you feel like you were part of an extended family. Their generosity had no limits. When Ken died in 1993, we held his service aboard the sloop Clearwater on the Hudson River near the Bear Mountain Bridge. Pete and other Clearwater members attended. Pete wrote and performed a short song in honor of my partner Ken. Pete Seeger will be missed by his huge extended family.

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Ken Yeso 1954-1993

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Categories: Equality, Family, History, Human Rights, Media, Music, Outdoors, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It’s Time for Queen Ann to Abdicate!


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Queen Ann of Amsterdam, New York

They say she “means well” and Mayor Ann Thane has done a lot to improve Amsterdam’s image but the overbearing need to micro-manage every aspect of OUR City is a detriment to economic development. One would think that after serving as Mayor for five years, Thane would learn to delegate authority, trusting in the many talented people that make up both city government and the constituency. We see the control issues pop up time and time again, from censoring the populace to insisting on exerting influence on issues that are clearly not under the jurisdiction of the elected position of Mayor.

A Brief History

There was the Chalmers building fiasco:

A Chalmers Love/Hate Story

Removing the State imposed 3% tax cap.

Her Majesty Queen Ann has Spoken

The City of Amsterdam Zoning Update that is being held up since 2011 by Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis:

Amsterdam’s Proposed Zoning Update

There was the Art Center:

The Politics of Art

Raises for everybody!

Body Language

A Piece of the World Trade Center that was to be a memorial to 911 still sits rotting at Riverlink Park without any fanfare, dedication or respect.

The Forgotten Memorial

Then there was the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency’s purchase and rehab of a building on Main Street that was held up by the Mayor’s insistence that a damaged mural by an unknown artist in the building be preserved.  This blogger even volunteered to photograph the mural for the archives to help settle the back and forth debate between the Mayor and the AIDA. That situation, to my knowledge, is still not resolved.

The Current Situation

Meet Bala Peri

A man from Virginia, Balakumar Periyasamy, buys the former Park Hill Adult Home on 52 Grove Street in Amsterdam, New York with long-term plans to open as an assisted living facility for Veterans.  To run the home the NYS Department of Health requires a license that takes about two years to get. Having invested a lot of money in building, including the payment of back taxes to the city, Mr. Peri announces his plans to open a restaurant and hotel in the 52 room complex until such time as the adult home license is approved. This project would give local jobs and add to our local economy but requires a variance from the Zoning Board and site plan approval from the Planning Board.

Bala is very excited about the plans and invites local dignitaries to visit the facility. The President of FMCC and members of his executive team visit the building anticipating the need for overflow student housing.  He leaves the tour excited about the possibility commenting that it is in better shape and larger than he originally thought. Bala invites Mayor Thane to tour the building and she does so commenting how beautiful and large the building is stating she would do what she could to help him with the project.  Bala then invites journalist Alissa Scott from The Recorder to hear his plans for the restaurant and hotel.  Alissa writes an excellent article, published in the Recorder on December 9, 2013, that would have helped further the project along had it not been for disparaging comments quoted from Mayor Ann Thane.

Thane said she doesn’t think Peri should go through with student housing. “I actually don’t think that will work because there’s too much in the way of state regulations that would need to be done to make that ready for students,” Thane said. “The cost would be too high.”She also doesn’t think a hotel would well-suit the community’s needs. “To propose a hotel, you have a high-end hotel going in across the river at the castle and you have a Hampton Inn and they have much better locations,” Thane said. “IfI’m going to book a room in a hotel, I don’t want to stay in the room that was a senior cubby hole.”

Thane goes on to suggest what Peri should do with HIS property, stating she is not sure the area can support another adult home. This from an elected official who touted economic development in her election campaign.  Bala’s vision is not for a high-end hotel like the proposal for the Amsterdam Castle or the new Hampton Inn. It is for students or the budget minded traveler, the 99% who can’t afford to stay at a high-end hotel.
Here is a business person who invested in our community buying a building that was left to deteriorate, who already employed a dozen local people to help with his project. Mayor Ann Thane’s damning comments may have a harmful effect on Bala’s project before any approvals are granted from Zoning or Planning.

My personal experience catching the criminals who stole thousands of dollars of copper from the building is chronicled in the following link.

A Copper Caper 

For the greater part of 2013, this blogger exhibited much restraint in not posting political critiques or commentary but this situation just crossed a line.  The Republican supermajority Common Council taking office on January 1st will dethrone Mayor Thane’s veto power.  She may as well abdicate now and negotiate a compromise as she will soon be forced to trust the legislative body of the City of Amsterdam.

Categories: Amsterdam, Business, Law, Park Hill Adult Home, Politics | Tags: , , , , ,

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