Commentary: Guest Columns for 2004

Even Great Kids Will Get Rejected in Applying to College by Bob Sweeney

Election 2004: A letter to all young voters by Ann L. Engelland

Suburban Savvy: A Bad Rap for Soccer Moms by Blythe Hamer

Rethinking the Solitary Approach on Day Labor in Mamaroneck by Bob Degen

Too Young to Vote by Malcolm Ohl

Former Resident Fights Propaganda by Jacqueline Hornor Plumez

Invite a French Family to Dinner: by Leigh Gage

Suburban Savvy: Losing Your Cool by Blythe Hamer

Another Unfunded Mandate by George Latimer

Tribute to Nancy Q. Keefe: by Miriam Curnin

Gibson's Passion Play by Barry Gedan

Investing in Larchmont: Can we afford not to? by Ned Benton

Columns from 2003 and 2002


 

Even Great Kids Will Get Rejected in Applying to College

by Bob Sweeney

In the next few days, high school seniors will be receiving their early application decisions. The good or bad news arrives in an envelope or appears on a computer screen. As a high school counselor, I am working with almost 30 students anxiously waiting for the decision to arrive. No matter how much the school of their dreams is a "reach," each one harbors hope and optimism, tainted by unprecedented stress and anxiety during what feels like an interminable waiting period.

My group of 30 is a terrific group. Many of them have worked incredibly hard, taken all the right courses, have SAT scores I could only have wished for, display unique talents and excel in various school activities. Collectively and personally, they are one of the nicest groups I have worked with in my long career as a counselor. I have helped each navigate the admissions game, advised them and wrote their recommendation letters, meticulously describing their personality and character, highlightening strengths and contributions and what makes them different from others. Despite my best efforts and theirs, some great kids will be rejected in a year that seems to be more competitive than ever.

After 18 years of dealing with mid-December disappointment, I have yet to come up with just the right words to remedy the hurt. Time and the eventual letter of acceptance from another college usually take care of that. However, someone in the room has to be the grown-up and offer some semblance of advice and rationale perspective.

Besides feeling hurt, they are angry. I can't blame them. They have worked hard, done all the right things and the elusive "payoff" is still not yet in their grasp. The level of competition is not to be underestimated, and there is far greater demand than seats. At the highly selective schools, admission committees engineer a perfectly blended society called a freshman class. They are the schools with less than a 20 percent acceptance rate, where great kids with high SAT scores from Westchester far outnumber applicants from other geographical areas and are not necessarily among the targeted diversified groups needed to round out a class.

I know many highly stressed parents these days. One recently said to me, "In the business world, I am master of my universe. When it comes to college admissions, I feel helpless." For those used to having their way, it is hard to accept that imperfect decisions that are made in admissions offices are beyond the control of outsiders. Impeccable records, the right connections, careful strategies, and the best laid plans and advice offered by high-priced personal counselors and guidance counselors don't always do the trick.

I hope my students will not blame others or themselves or play "if only." It doesn't help to question self-worth or dwell on what should have been done differently. They have done all they could possibly do. However, I do wish some things were different. I wish more colleges would follow the lead of Bates, Bowdoin and Sarah Lawrence and not require SATs or equate higher scores with the "quality" of their class. I wish my students didn't worry so much or question how every waking moment spent in high school will look to colleges. I wish they didn't see other students as competitors, believe there is no margin for error in their young lives, or feel the pressing need to master calculus and AP Biology, even if they want to study English literature.

A cartoon in the New Yorker showed a 17-year-old with a college rejection letter in hand, sitting on a couch, consoling his distraught mother: "Don't worry, Mom; parents can have good productive lives even if their son didn't get into Harvard." I am never sure who needs more consoling, kids or parents. I do know rejection by the first-choice college is not the decisive, life-altering event it feels like the day the letter arrives.

An early deferral or rejection presents the opportunity and time to seek the best match and fit, a factor far more meaningful and important than prestige, ranking and selectivity. Many successful people did not get into their first choice and felt the pangs of a denial letter. The top 25 elite schools have not cornered the market on a great education. There are many colleges where students will meet great teachers who will inspire and challenge them. They can be found on many thriving college communities where there is potential for growth, happiness, success, lifetime friendships and, yes, productive lives.

Bob Sweeney is a guidance counselor at Mamaroneck High School. This column appeared first in the Journal News on December 16, 2004

Election 2004: A letter to all young voters

by Ann L. Engelland

Some of you are away in college.
Some of you put lots of sweat and tears into the campaigns for the last year.
Some of you are too young to vote but may have had a passionate opinion anyway.
Some of you have no opinion.

To those of you away in college, if you voted, whether your candidates won or not, do not sit back now. You must stay in the ring, stay involved, keep talking about the issues that are now on page 10 of the newspaper. If you didn’t vote, it is time to read and get yourself educated on the issues and on how your vote could have made a difference. Pledge to watch less television and read more news. Log on to alternative websites and listen to national public radio to hear the voices of those who are most different from yours.

Consider or reconsider going abroad to show the world that we are not defined solely by the narrow values and commercialism that we are projecting to the globe now. Help the world appreciate you as an individual and not as an arrogant American. Discover the breadth of opinion in the wide world on issues about our country, Iraq, Islam, democracy, and capitalism.

To those of you who worked in this campaign season, congratulations! Whether you made a call or two, whether you pulled all-nighters to prepare leaflets, whether you drove the elderly to the polls and whether your candidate won or lost, you made a difference. More people paid attention and got indigestion over this election than ever before. Do not give up now. The world needs you to stay in the ring, continuing to dialogue.

If you are too young to vote, but were “voting” for a candidate, stay tuned. Find an issue to follow, something you care about—nature, automobile innovations, the stock market, education for poor children, taxes for rich people, women’s rights, or gay rights, the war in Iraq--and see what happens over the next few years. Follow the issues, think about how and what you believe. Talk with your friends about politics. If you hoped Kerry would win, don’t be disheartened; stand tall for your difference with the majority. If you hoped Bush would win, then watch how he makes his second term one of “unification.”

If you have (or had) no opinion, well, re-think that. Please. Nothing less than the future of the world as you know it is at stake. Even the most cynical among us surely realize now that votes and opinions count and they matter. They have the power to change the course of history for better or worse.

As one of my children wrote to me yesterday: “What happens over the next four years will determine the nature of the next century: will it be peaceful, tolerant, and open to the unimaginable changes and problems that will confront us, or will my generation fight an undefeatable enemy whose only desire is our demise?”

Whatever the level of participation, enthusiasm, relief or discomfort, there is work to be done. There is no room for cynicism, rather we all need to try to move forward to
make our country truly compassionate with respect to our own citizens and the men, women and children of the world.

Best of luck to you all.

Suburban Savvy: A Bad Rap for Soccer Moms

by Blythe Hamer

There have been various names to avoid over the years—Yuppies were materialistic sell-outs, and Generation Xers were slackers. Most of these labels came and went as quickly as the decades they were coined to represent. But Soccer Mom not only has peculiar staying power, it’s becoming less flattering all the time.

First used 15 years ago to define women juggling a family and a job, the term Soccer Mom has morphed into something less, shall we say, noble. Nowadays, a Soccer Mom is a woman who has put the little darlings in the center of her life to the exclusion of all else. Worse yet, the little darlings play sports. Mom drives her kids to their sports games and then she has the nerve to watch the games. Not only soccer momhas she spurned opportunities for higher callings gained by the women’s movement, she has bad taste—Soccer Moms usually drive minivans.

I can’t deny that I haven’t tried to downplay my own status as a Soccer Mom. For one thing, I got involved in the PTA so people would think I had some greater purpose in life than simply my children. Then I tried to get the kids to play lacrosse instead of soccer—no one has ever said anything bad about lacrosse moms! But eventually it was time to replace our old station wagon, and my husband and I had to take a stand.

“The minivan seats seven people,” he said, “and I know how much you love driving carpools.” He couldn’t seem to understand that a minivan is an extremely negative fashion statement. Some of my friends were buying Volvo station wagons or SUVS instead, and I briefly toyed with the idea. But, stupidly, they still stayed to watch the games, completely blowing their cover. My advice to them is to either “drop ‘n drive” or enjoy the advantageous seating arrangement of a Town and Country.

But these days, driving around in my minivan, I’m considering the issue more seriously. Are there alternatives to being a Soccer Mom? Drug Dealer Mom came immediately to mind, and I realized that being a Soccer Mom isn’t so bad after all. Of course, I would rather be Museum Mom or Whole Foods Mom, but since my kids hate looking at paintings and love french fries, I guess I’ll have to settle for what I’ve got.

Maybe there is a way, though, to change the connotation of Soccer Mom so that it means something good—so that Soccer Mom equals Good Mom. Not only would this strategy be positive for my reputation, it might result in improved children. So first on my to-do list for tomorrow is to devise a system so my children actually do what I ask them to do. I would start with simple things like, “Brush your teeth.” Also, I vow never again to put their clean laundry away for them in their drawers.

Over time, I’ll build up to one of those weekly chore charts, and my kids will be model children. If we all do this together, Soccer Moms of Larchmont, we might actually be able to change how the world views us. And then, when people call me a Soccer Mom, I’ll say, “Thank you.”

Rethinking the Solitary Approach: Day Labor in Mamaroneck An Issue for the Entire Community

by Bob Degen

Editors Note: See related article: Mamaroneck Day Labor Becomes Issue in GOP Primary Race

Day Laborers Have Gathered for Decades

Long before the term “day laborer” engendered feelings among us, and long before the men who gather these days in Mamaroneck Village’s Columbus Park were even born, employers - both contractors and average homeowners alike – met their day to day employees in de facto hiring areas. These spots, where men stand together hoping to secure an honest wage for an honest day’s work, have always existed. In fact the very center of recent discussion was once populated not by men from Mexico and South and Central America, but by men from Italy, Ireland, Greece and Poland. The faces and cultures have changed, but the need – simple market supply and demand – has always existed and presents an opportunity for workers to fill a void in the economy.

The sites generally exist without much notice, though now ours calls for the attention and concern of the entire community. Just because the present site happens to be in the Village of Mamaroneck doesn’t mean that surrounding communities don’t benefit from it. Far from it, and this demands a coordinated approach.

This subject is not unique to our area; it challenges communities across the US, in Texas and California, and as close as Mount Kisco and Farmingville, Long Island. The need for cheap labor in our local and national economy commands the presence of laborers, 7 days a week, 12 months a year.

Recent Events Stem From Legitimate Concerns for Health, Safety

A range of genuine concerns prompted increased government involvement with the laborers, their potential employers and the site of the newly renovated Columbus Park. Spurred by mounting health, safety, and traffic and quality-of-life matters - along with the attendant complaints from other residents – the mayor and police department were forced to take action. The result caused anxious awareness on the part of the workers because for them this meant the probability of lost wages – a matter of critical concern to them and their families who depend on the $75 to $110 per day they earn - that is if their willingness and ability coincides with the sporadic demand for their services.

This situation didn’t happen overnight. Rather, much work had been done up to this point. The mayor and the Hispanic Resource Center of Mamaroneck have, for a long time, tried together to tackle many points, like finding an alternate site, exploring ways to protect workers from unprincipled contractors and helping workers organize to ameliorate the traffic and safety issues that the police have to address.

Workers Rights to Congregate Secure

Bound by law, the police cannot interfere with people’s constitutional rights to congregate, travel and obtain work. While police presence does not overtly restrict access of potential employers, the initial strong presence was interpreted by the workers as an attempt to get rid of them or interfere with their work, and this raised significant human rights concerns. Because, to the worker, the net effect of police presence was a drop in available work, they called upon advocates for help.

I was deeply honored to be present at meetings where the mayor and police chief listened to the concerns of workers, and human rights, religious and advocacy groups. And, likewise, the concerns of the mayor and police department were expressed to the workers and advocates. The mayor’s response included modifying some of the measures set up at the park, along with his own call for help – help from the workers and their advocates.

While cause-and-effect and motivation still remain a matter of high debate among the parties - and the subject of dangerous and unfounded rumors - much common ground has been found. The rights of the workers to contract for work, travel and congregate within the law are secure. The workers and advocacy groups pledge to organize among themselves, monitor the temporary site and the conduct of those assembling there, and to renew regular meetings with Village officials to review progress and problems going forward.

Call for Help from Neighboring Villages and Towns

From this meeting, something emerged that merits our attention: all parties need to do more, and need more help doing it.

In addition to cooperation among Village officials, police and the laborers, it’s time now for the entire community, Larchmont and Mamaroneck Village and Town (as well as Rye, Harrison, and New Rochelle) to proceed with each other to find solutions. With resources, ideas and cooperation, our community will be different from the other places where similar situations have led to prolonged conflicts, debate, and even attacks. We should be able to manage this together respecting each other’s rights and interests, understanding the pressures each group is under, and working together toward resolutions that will enhance the lives of our whole community.

Happily, the steps taken so far by all parties point in this direction. I’m arguing that it is our business to engage the whole community in this effort. May each of us continue the process of resolution.

Bob Degen heads the Tri-Municipal Human Rights Commission

Too Young to Vote

by Malcolm Ohl

As I performed the dubiously distinguished task of checking Michael Moore into the Farley building on Wednesday, September 1, it finally hit me. I was at the Republican National Convention serving as a security “guard” with three other volunteers. If I couldn’t be a Secret Service agent or a rooftop sharpshooter, I could at least check identification and passes at the media center so the heavy hitters didn’t have to waste their time on the small stuff. I was helping, in the tiniest way, to get George W. Bush re-elected.

We volunteers were told that it could be dangerous to wear our convention polo shirts on the way to the Farley building along streets that that had recently exploded in protest. We opted to wear them anyway and faced the throngs of protesters who pelted us with cries of “Nazi pigs!” and “Down, down with the GOP!” as we lined into the Farley media center, through security, and into the basement, where the volunteers were split up and given assignments. Runners over there, royal blue shirts. Greeters here, navy blue. Security, with me, grab a red.

As the night wore on, I caught glimpses of media personalities - Shepard Smith from Fox News, Dan Rather from CBS. Early in my “preliminary security” shift, I encountered a very hairy, very well-guarded Michael Moore. After checking his pass (taking my time, the likes of him could wait a bit longer than everyone else), I stepped aside. This was my closest brush with fame for the night.

None of the volunteers saw the speeches or the confetti inside Madison Square Garden. Instead, our feet hurt because our jobs required us to remain standing. Our stomachs grumbled because the free food was only for the delegates and their guests. Nevertheless, we continued doing our jobs without complaint as the conventioneers made sure to thank us profusely for our unpaid efforts.

We laughed at ketchup jokes and scrounged for the much prized, media pins. We talked issues and family and home and became instantly close. The most amusing people were the uniformed police at the security check-in. While the secret service officers were too forbidding, and the military personnel too quiet, the cops were animated, talkative, and funny. They disclaimed the stereotyped conflict between the NYPD and the FDNY, but still made fireman jokes. They complained about low pay, but knew that their job was essential to the city and the convention. They were mostly ex-military men, hardened by overseas service and the mean streets of New York. Their thick city accents and their off-color jokes were constant entertainment.

It felt good to be there. I couldn’t hear the cheers from the garden, or feel the vibe as keynote speakers riled up the crowd. All we could hear was the beep of the metal detectors, the roar of the helicopters, and the whining of the bomb detector dogs. Still, I knew that I wasn’t that guy sitting at home watching the confetti on TV. I was the guy doing the thankless job that I had volunteered for. In my own small way, I was helping take a stand for the things I believe in, and I was making a difference.

Malcolm Ohl is a senior at Mamaroneck High School.

Former Resident Fights Against Propaganda

by Jacqueline Hornor Plumez

“Democracy is based on free information, not propaganda. Propaganda undermines democracy,” said Adam Chapnick, who grew up in Larchmont and whose company, Cinema Libre, is distributing two highly-regarded documentary films, “Outfoxed” and “Uncovered,” that make the case that Americans are being fed biased information under the guise of truth.

The documentaries have been appearing in select cities, and starting on Friday, September 3, "Uncovered" will be shown in Mr. Chapnick’s hometown, at the Larchmont Playhouse at 1975 Palmer Avenue. “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” which hit theaters the beginning of August, broke the opening weekend box office record at the Quad Cinema in New York.

“Fox News is the #1 rated news channel in the United States,” said Mr. Chapnick. “It is the place where the most people get their information and think they’re getting an objective source of news. Instead, it is a mouthpiece for the Republican party,” he asserted.

Journalism is supposed to be unbiased. And if there is a bias, it is supposed to be stated. The ethical problem at Fox comes from the fact that their mottos are “Fair and Balanced” and “We Report, You Decide.” However, Fox employees and internal memos reveal in “Outfoxed” that reporters are instructed on a daily basis to slant the news in a way that promotes the interests of President Bush, while making Democrats look foolish and untrustworthy.

The documentary shows that every day, a memo is sent from Fox President, Roger Ailes, who formerly worked on Republican political campaigns, directing reporters to slant the news in pro-administration ways. For example, one day all reporters were directed to discuss John Kerry’s “flip-flops.” Another day, reporters were told to call U.S. Army snipers, “sharpshooters because it sounds less negative.”

A number of media experts and watchdogs report in “Outfoxed” that the line between independent journalism and opinion is constantly being blurred because Fox uses right-wing pundits as news reporters. The liberals brought into debates are comparatively unattractive, uncommitted and inarticulate. Furthermore, White House talking points are often used word-for-word by Fox reporters, when the public thinks it is getting unbiased reporting.

“ This is very dangerous,” said Mr. Chapnick, “because the research shows that the more people watch Fox, the less they actually know about the news and the more they support the government.” For example, a disproportionate number of people who watch Fox believe that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq and that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladin. As one media expert quoted in the film says, “Fox promotes fear so people will look to the government for protection.” Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox, controls a worldwide media organization that feeds news to 3/4 of the world’s population.

Cinema Libre’s second release, “Uncovered: The War on Iraq,” also opened in August in New York and across the country. It is a film that presents both Republican and Democrat foreign policy experts and officials revealing how our government misled us into the war in Iraq.

Both “Uncovered” and the better known “Farenheit 9/11" report on the same topic and received rave reviews at the Cannes film festival. But Farenheit’s strong emotional appeal leaves some frustrated that it seemed more entertainment than fact. “Uncovered” adds those missing facts, drawing on evidence presented by a wide array of credible experts including David Kay, who was President Bush’s representative to search for weapons in Iraq.

Adam Chapnick grew up in Larchmont and his parents, David and Elaine, still live here. After graduating from college, Adam tried to find his niche in the entertainment industry in California. He was an actor, screenwriter and agent before joining Cinema Libre, and starting the distribution division. One of his partners saw “Uncovered” in a 50 minute version and was so impressed that he asked the writer/director, Robert Greenwald, to update it and turn it into a movie length feature. Cinema Libre took it to Cannes and is now distributing it to theaters and in DVD. “Outfoxed” is also a Greenwald film.

Mr. Chapnick deliberately chose to release both films during the Democratic and Republican conventions. “We are trying to advance the dialogue in this country,” he said, “One side has stifled debate, saying that if you disagree with the government you are wrong and anti-American. It is important for us to find films that show the other side.”

For more information, you can visit the following websites: Outfoxed.org, Truthuncovered.com and CinemaLibreStudio.com.

Jacqueline Hornor Plumez attended a viewing of “Outfoxed” and spoke with Adam Chapnick about the documentary.

 

Invite a French Family to Dinner

by Leigh Gage

On August 3, 2004, the Statue of Liberty reopened to visitors for the first time since September 11. As you probably know, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French, built as a symbol of international friendship between the two countries. There have been countless, silly attacks on the French since the differences in position between our governments on the Iraq war became front-page headlines. These have resulted in bottles of wine poured out and boycotts of French products and restaurants.

I talked to three local French shop/restaurant owners in Larchmont about the repercussions they may have experienced since last spring when the Iraq war began. Jean-Pierre Lacor, who owns le Wine Shop on Palmer Avenue, said that his sales had not suffered from any ill feelings toward the French. Sales at La Renaissance, a bakery on Chatsworth, continue to do well. Renee Powell, owner of Pascals, has been more than happy with her extremely supportive customers and has experienced her best year yet as a restaurant owner in Larchmont. During the height of the cross Atlantic tensions, several of her customers told her that they were rooting for her. A small handful of customers said that they felt obliged to order non-French wines for a period of time.

Maybe most Larchmont residents distinguish French people from their government and its policies, as I hope the French do about us. Yes, there are things that I don’t like about France, just as there are things I don’t like about the U.S.

I have been a resident of Larchmont for 5 years, following 19 years in France, so I understand and appreciate French culture. We moved here because of the French American School of New York, (FASNY), which has provided us with a nice transition between the two cultures.

One of the most charming aspects of France is its slowness to change, its leisurely pace, its attitude of carpe diem, as well as the significant value it gives to tradition. Leisure is more apparent in the country than in its larger cities, but vestiges of the two-hour lunch in Paris remain. Tradition is apparent in France, when you can find the center of a town by driving towards the church spires, when you stumble upon an obscure town in Dordogne and eat a delicious, freshly prepared meal in a tiny, ragged looking café that looks like it hasn’t changed in 100 years, and when you can rest assured that there will be a farmer’s market nearby, wherever you are.

La France profonde” (the real countryside) can be provincial, making it difficult to ever really fit in, especially if you don’t look French. But even in cosmopolitan Paris, you feel condescension, especially from waiters who are obviously fatigued to hear their language butchered, or maybe they just don’t like their job and since a tip is built into the bill, why be nice? It is also difficult to fit in if you don’t speak the language well, which most foreigners don’t.

This provinciality, coupled with the geographic smallness of the country, keeps families close, and the culture reinforces this as well. It does this through the sacred meal. Now we come to the real reason that I wrote this article. I have been shocked since I’ve moved back (five years now) at how few American families eat together, especially those with teenagers. We are too busy. Many of my son’s friends, guests at dinner, say that they never eat together as a family, but that they enjoy the communal experience. In France, people are hungry at meals, simply because they don’t snack! No one turns down a vegetable with the excuse that they just don’t eat it. Sitting down together may seem like a small thing, but the dinner table provides an opportunity for communication and for sharing in family chores.

For residents of Larchmont, where roughly 20 percent of the population speaks French, adapting a few French table manners can be an opportunity to strengthen our culture and to learn something about how the rest of the world sees us in America. We can show our appreciation for the diversity that the French population brings by frequenting the French shops and by inviting a French family to dinner. And please, don't be intimidated; serve a classic American dish when you invite them.

Suburban Savvy: Losing Your Cool

by Blythe Hamer

(July 7, 2004) If you’re reading this, then you live here, just like me. Chances are that you didn’t always, though. Like me, you probably moved here from New York City not too long after you opened your first pre-school tuition bill. Maybe you gladly came to the suburbs, the land of blossoming trees and great public schools, but I didn’t. I was convinced that moving to the suburbs meant I was becoming just like my parents—something I swore I would never do.

I was raised in the suburbs, but though I now realize I had a perfectly nice childhood, I hated it at the time. I didn’t know that I hated what many adolescents hate—the changing body, a looming sense of responsibility, droning teachers, no mobility. I blamed the suburbs for being boring, and, of course, I blamed my parents for living in the suburbs. All that blame, which I neatly summed up into one personal credo: the suburbs are bad, and I’ll never live there if I can help it. (The exact sentiment, by the way, that my 14-year old daughter has recently begun expressing to me.)

After college, true to my word, I moved to New York City. I’m not saying that I was cool, but coolness descended on me by virtue of my address. Things could happen. You could have dinner at a table next to Uma Thurman, or be admitted through the velvet rope into a dance club. Energy rippled through the city, and it was ours for the taking.

But after our second child was born, and we started tripping over the Little Tykes furniture all over our apartment, we decided to make the move.

We were reluctant, not enthusiastic. I earnestly explained to our city friends that we were only doing it for the kids, but after we left, some of them stopped calling. When I protested, they said they couldn’t remember the area code. When I asked them to come spend a day at the beach, they said they had an art opening to go to in the city. When I said I had a Starbucks only two blocks from my house in Larchmont, they didn’t believe me.

So for the next few years, I resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t cool anymore. When I would travel and people would ask where I was from, I’d simply say, “New York,” grateful that the state shares the same name with the city, so that I wasn’t exactly lying.

But lately I’ve had a change of heart. Cool used to mean “cutting edge” or “I don’t care,” or “not like my parents.” But now the definition of cool for me is “living well.” Living well is what Larchmonters do best. Now when I stack up things in Larchmont versus their counterparts in the city, it’s the city that comes up short.

Cool Things: Larchmont
Uncool Things: NYC

Putting your kayak into Long Island Sound whenever you feel like it

Waiting on line at the 92nd Street Y for a swim lane

Kitchens large enough for two or more

Cockroaches large enough to stand and wave

Cherry blossoms at Harbor Island Park

Rat poison signs in Central Park

Being able to see the stars at night

Hearing car alarms outside your apartment window at 2 am

Dropping in to hear Dave Brandom playing jazz at Watercolor Cafe

Buying tickets weeks in advance for the blockbuster at the Metropolitan Museum

Marching with the Pet Parade

Landing in dog poop when you exit your taxi

Family University

Metal detectors at school doors

Firing up the barbecue

Fire trucks stuck in traffic

Parking in your driveway

Not being able to park at all

Yoga classes at St. John’s church

The women’s fitting rooms in the Lexington Avenue Bloomingdale’s

blytheI’ll be the first to admit that my change of heart may in fact be simply a middle-aged lowering of standards. And I don’t want to mislead you--I still love New York City. I have a fantasy that when the kids fly the coop, my husband and I will get a little apartment there. We’ll spend the dark and dreary days of winter going to concerts and readings and restaurants, cheered by the lights and the energy.

But, finally, after all these years, I’m glad I live in the suburbs. And I think we should keep the advantages of living here to ourselves—it’s already crowded enough. Fortunately, we know that city folks would never read suburban newspapers, so we’re safe for now.

 


HAVA - ANOTHER UNFUNDED MANDATE:
Help America Vote Act

by George Latimer

(March 24, 2004) After extensive debate during our 2004 county budget season, many county legislators decried the proliferation of unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments: Medicaid, Services to Children with Special Needs, State Retirement Benefits, etc. So two weeks later, the New York state legislature considers the next big new mandate ahead - HAVA - Help America Vote Act. Here we go again!

HAVA purports to avoid the 2000 Florida debate by mandating electronic voting machines. HAVA seeks the laudable goal of making polling places handicapped-accessible. But who is going to pick up the bulk of the tab? The county property taxpayers, that's who.

New Voting Machines

It is my belief that Westchester would need to buy 1,200 new electronic voting machines, at $6,000 per machine. Total cost: $7.2 million. Federal support expected - at best, $4 million. State support expected - unsure, maybe zero. County budget impact: $3 million at least.

Centralized Storage of Machines

The New York State Board of Elections is expected to require that the County Boards of Elections take over costs and administration for all elections. Good news for city, town and village budgets, which will drop such costs - but an incalculable expense on county taxes. This takeover - unwanted by the county – means creation of a new central storage facility for electronic machines (which may require air conditioning and temperature control), and added transportation costs to ferry these machines to and from polling places. There is no funding yet planned to offset these mandated county costs.

Polling Place Accessibility

The costs of bringing every polling place into ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] - compliance is hard to estimate. In many locations, a new polling place will be required; capital projects to correct these deficiencies in many places could trigger a massive expense. No funding is yet planned to offset these potential costs to the county.

Legislation has been passed by the US Congress to implement HAVA with hard deadlines - but minimal money ($200 million spread all across New York State). So get ready; when the 2005 county budget comes around, remember the seeds were sown for a new round of mandated expenses under the umbrella of the much bally-hooed "Help America Vote Act".

George Latimer is Westchester County Legislator for the 7th District, which includes Larchmont and Mamaroneck.

 

TRIBUTE TO NANCY Q. KEEFE: 1934-2004
"Respectful, fearless, generous"

by Miriam Curnin

(March 18, 2004) Nancy Keefe was an especially talented woman, well-read, respectful of the English language, and, even more importantly, respectful of the people of whom she wrote for so many years as a reporter, an editor and a columnist. She had incisive judgment and the ability to see through hypocrisy and sham, and she was fearless in the position she took as a journalist. That being said, she was also free from mean-spirited commentary and always generous in giving credit where it was due.

She was tireless in championing worthy endeavors like low-income housing and interfaith understanding, and her public espousal of these causes enlisted hundreds in that work. Her knowledge of all of Westchester, its little hamlets and its big cities, its politicians and its doers and shakers in the not-for-profit world, was wide and deep. Her eye for the humorous side surely leavened her worldview.

Perhaps her distinguishing mark as a human being and a woman of faith was her enthusiasm. She could not be merely lukewarm about interests. And so she was energized by her love for so many things: her family and friends, (she was good at friendships), her church, reading, tennis, biking, hiking, cooking, ballet, theater, the Berkshires, Tanglewood, art museums, Italy, even, as a faithful daughter of Massachusetts, the Red Sox: the wide range of interests that characterizes a bright, inquiring mind. She pursued them all with cheerful, smiling energy, which is how she pursued treatment for the cancer that eventually conquered her: without complaint and with great hope.

When I last saw her, in the late afternoon a few hours before she died, she was resting in her living room, listening to Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” celestial music. I believe she is safe now, enjoying the rewards of a life lived so well and so unselfishly.

Miriam Curnin and Nancy Q. Keefe were friends for over 25 years. See also: Obituaries.


GIBSON'S PASSION PLAY STIRS LOCAL PASSIONS

by Barry Gedan

(February 22, 2004) In a polemic masquerading as a movie review (See: "A Review of Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' ",The Sound & Town Report 2/20/04), reporter Drew Lynch, omitting his alternate identity as pastor of a local missionary church with a "Hebrew mentality", highlights the controversy surrounding actor director Mel Gibson's cinematic Passion play. Using the pejorative term "Jewish race" (Judaism, whose multi-hued adherents range from blue-eyed blondes to the Jews of Ethiopia, is a religion not a "race"), Lynch pays lip-service to age old Jewish suffering at the hands of anti Semites, but argues that fear of a revival of that suffering is insufficient reason to soften what Lynch perceives as Gibson's accurate portrayal of theological history seen through the inflexible prism of Biblical Literalism.

Unfortunately, graphic Passion plays with scenes of a Jewish mob urging the Roman occupiers to proceed with the Crucifixion have served since medieval times as vehicles to inflame anti Jewish passions and have often led to deadly attacks upon the nearest Jewish Ghetto or hamlet. Regrettably, there was once a darker side of Christianity which spawned the Crusades and the Inquisition, resulting in the death, forcible conversion or exile of thousands upon thousands of Jews, culminating in the Holocaust, in which one third of the Jews on this planet were exterminated while much of organized Christianity sat by in silence.

However, the shock of the Holocaust triggered a welcome reassessment in the Christian world of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. In Catholicism, that reassessment led to Vatican II and its progeny, including "Nostra Aetate," providing express recognition of the continuing validity of Judaism as well as officially absolving the Jewish people of the lingering charge of deicide. Passion plays worldwide have been moderated or phased out, ever since.

The current positive spirit of Christian-Jewish relations enjoyed in the United States is perhaps nowhere better exemplified than in our own Larchmont Mamaroneck community. Dramatically illustrated by the interfaith gathering at Mamaroneck High School several years ago to protest local anti Semitic incidents, and again, as our faiths came together to mourn the tragedy of 9-11, these gatherings merely highlight the ecumenical spirit between our Jewish and Christian clergy and laity that enriches all of our lives in this community.

However, there are those, such as Mel Gibson and his father, an unabashed Holocaust denier, who reject Vatican II, both in letter and in spirit. It is from this well that Gibson's dramatically violent Passion play springs. Is it any wonder, given the lessons of history, that Jews are concerned about this movie and the passions it may generate?

As a Jew, it is not my place to suggest to my Christian friends whether or not Gibson's movie presents an accurate or theologically useful portrayal of the Passion of Jesus. However, it is appropriate for Jews, myself included, to point out to our Christian friends the potential for havoc when a dramatically violent Passion play, implicitly pointing the finger of fault at the Jewish people, is permitted to play without the theological explanation necessary to place the Passion in its true perspective or to ground it in Jesus’ true message of love and fellowship. Therefore, let our community, with its tradition of ecumenism, rise to the occasion, by turning this situation into a positive learning experience for us all.

For those who might argue, as did Lynch, that adherence to Literalism precludes any such softening of the message of Gibson's movie, I respectfully note that, were Literalism carried to a logical extreme, then, in accordance with Matthew 5:17 19, wherein Jesus proclaimed that not "one jot or one tittle" shall be changed from [Jewish] law and that one's status in Heaven is dependent upon following that law, Christians would be keeping Kosher and observing the Sabbath on Saturday in our synagogues. No matter how fundamental and, for some, inflexible our religious beliefs may be, there must always be room in our personal theological "inns" to respect those who reach out to God in a manner which differs from our own.

Barry Gedan lives in Larchmont.

INVESTING IN LARCHMONT: Can We Afford Not to?

by Ned Benton

(January 22, 2004) The Larchmont 2020 Report challenged Larchmont’s Village Board to make some historic decisions about investing in our community. The challenge raises key questions about what the Village could and should afford.

The Board faces the affordability issue on several fronts. How much should be spent on the Flint Park Expansion? Should we replace the 1965 fire engine, as recommended by the Fire Department. Should we be purchasing open land and investing in more parking, as suggested in the Larchmont 2020 report? Should the downtown streetscape project include burying the utility wires? The current plan leaves the wires overhead, and the Board views burying costs as "prohibitive."

While grants and fundraising could cover some costs of these efforts, the Village would have to pay for the rest. Can Larchmont afford all these projects?

Village Leaders in 1922 Made Historic Investments

In 1922, when Larchmont leaders purchased the Water Company, supported a new high school, invested in a new Municipal Hall, a public library, a state-of-the-art fire engine, and supported improvements in Flint Park, they viewed these projects as investments that would enhance the value of every property in the Village.

Today we know they were right -- we benefit from their projects every day. Their community investment philosophy is also reflected in contemporary planning ideas such as New Urbanism and Social Capital that highlight how neighborhoods contribute to overall quality of life.

If our leaders from 1922 could visit Larchmont today, they would be proud of our generation's investments to renovate the Larchmont Library and Village Hall, our vision reflected in the Larchmont 2020 Report, and our emerging plans to improve Flint Park and the business districts. But they might question whether we are doing enough.

Our Neighbors Invest at Rates Close to National and State Levels

According to the Census Bureau, in fiscal year 2001, municipal and township governments spent 7.3% of their operating budgets on debt service to finance capital improvements and investments in local community assets. For the same year, the N.Y. State Comptroller reported that all villages in New York spent 8.3% of their operating budgets on debt service for capital investments and improvements.

The Comptroller showed nearby local governments investing at comparable or higher levels: Town of Mamaroneck at 8.2%, Village of Mamaroneck at 13.7%.

Larchmont Ranks Below National and State Norms

Larchmont invested 4.1% of the FY 2001 operating budget on debt service – at the 26th percentile among all New York villages. We might view this as a positive indicator – that Larchmont may be more efficient and parsimonious than other local governments. Or, we might be concerned that Larchmont may not be consistently investing to maintain and enhance our village assets.

Future Boards might consider a two-prong strategy in coming years: 1) controlling overall tax increases, while 2) gradually and slightly shifting the balance between operating expenses and capital investment to align us with statewide norms.

There would be short-term and long-term benefits. Timely investments often save operating expenses. For example, efficiencies from use of new technologies may reduce the need to add staff. Buying a new a roof or truck might prevent costly water damage or mechanical breakdowns. Timely acquisitions can take advantage of lower prices and favorable interest rates, and some investments, like parking, partially pay for themselves. Best of all, once investment costs are paid off, the Village retains permanent assets.

Realigning Larchmont’s Budget and Larchmont’s Vision

If Larchmont’s budget share for debt service were in line with the state average for villages, it would be twice what it is today. At current rates, we could support another $3 to $5 million dollars in local investment.

Let’s explore what this might mean. What could we be doing that we're not?

• Have we invested enough in parking to keep up with the expansion of vehicular ownership and use, as recommended by the Larchmont 2020 Report and previous masterplans for the Village?

• Have we invested enough in parks, playing fields and open land, as the 2020 Report recommended?

• Should we be replacing our broken 1965 era fire engine?

• Is our business district competitive with nearby communities? Have we attended sufficiently to sidewalks, lighting, signage, and landscaping?

• Does it make sense to leave our ugly utility wires looming over our business district for another generation, especially when competing business areas in the Town and Village of Mamaroneck and the City of New Rochelle have already buried their wires?

Acknowledging that we might be underinvesting in our community does not warrant a sudden $5 million spending spree. But it may warrant a shift in budget strategy and a new vision about this generation’s responsibilities for stewardship of our Village assets.

Ned Benton served on the Village Board from 1998 to 2002.

 

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