The Week: What Caught Our Eye

January 21, 2023

Photo of speedskater, Riccardo Lorello Italy’s Riccardo Lorello was one of two competitors to break Eric Heiden’s 43-year-old track record in the 5,000 meters at the speedskating oval in Lake Placid, N.Y., during the 2023 FISU World University Games. Lorello’s time of 6 minutes, 53.22 seconds, beat Heiden’s time by nearly 10 seconds. (Photo by Nancie Battaglia.)

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

We begin this morning by celebrating a New York friendship.

When he was sworn in to his fifth term in the U.S. Senate on January 3, Chuck Schumer became the longest-serving U.S. Senator in New York history. He has been in the Upper Chamber for 25 years, longer even than the legendary Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served four terms and 24 years.

At his side throughout has been a fellow from Rensselaer, N.Y., named Steve Mann, the Senator’s deputy state director and his sharp eyes and finely tuned ears. Some Senators have gone to Washington never to be seen or heard from again in Upstate New York. Sen. Schumer has made it his business to visit every one of the 62 counties in the state each year. And Mann makes it his business to know the names and struggles of the elected officials and community leaders in every one of those out-of-the-way burghs.

To what end? Well, Schumer has found a way to steer billions of dollars in federal investment to Upstate New York over the years — the sort of thing that gets headlines. Even more important, he and his team have found ways to help thousands of ordinary New Yorkers who need the intervention of a powerful Senator when they have found themselves hopelessly ensnared in a bureaucratic tangle. Behind all this: The Gentleman from Rensselaer.

Harry Truman said if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Chuck Schumer got a Mann.

PUT A HAND TO THE PLOW: In the rolling center of Washington County, N.Y., sits the pastoral Town of Hartford, resplendent with farms and smalltown charm, a couple of thousand people, several hundred homes, and a goodly number of country roads — and this winter, almost no one to plow them. With a storm on the way, the town declared a state of emergency and asked for help from its neighbors. There are similar struggles in communities across the country who are seeking police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other essential personnel.

THE WORLD IS WATCHING: The crowds are small, for the most part (who doesn’t love curling?), but 1,400 athletes from 50 nations are there, and the international media coverage of the World University Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., has been priceless not only for Lake Placid but for North Creek, Saranac Lake, Canton, Potsdam and the entire Adirondack Region. ESPN is broadcasting nearly 160 hours of programming across its networks and digital platforms, supported by Carr-Hughes Productions of Saratoga Springs, which is providing host broadcast services. As of Friday morning U.S. athletes had won gold medals in the Nordic combined and biathlon competitions. And two Italians shattered legendary Olympian Eric Heiden’s 5,000-meter time on the speedskating oval, a record that had stood since Heiden’s dominating performance in the 1980 Olympics.

GET LOST: The spread of sports gambling in the U.S., combined with social media that allows bettors to directly contact athletes, coaches and anyone else involved in competition, is causing all sorts of bad behavior, and Anthony Grant, the normally soft-spoken men’s basketball coach at the University of Dayton, is tired of it, using two minutes of his postgame remarks this week to remind “fans” that these are young human beings with families and lives beyond basketball. The issue: sore losers who harass and threaten. The school’s athletic director played a portion of a voicemail for a reporter, after the team had lost a game it was favored to win. “You had the lead with two minutes left. That’s not comfortable. People will go down. Heads will roll for what happened tonight, I promise you that!” And that’s hardly the worst of it.

BIRDS’ PARADISE: An abandoned military airport in Ulster County, N.Y., in the Hudson Valley, has wildlife photographers and birding enthusiasts from around the world, ahem, flocking to it to snap images of the abundant migratory and resident bird population, many threatened or endangered. The 597-acre Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, home to an estimated 167 bird species and various other wildlife, is on property the Army used to train pilots during World War II. “What’s great about the Grasslands is that it’s a place that transcends political affiliation, age, gender, race, ethnicity,” Bethany Waterman, a retired English teacher who is president of the Friends of Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, told the Albany Times Union. “We’re all just here because we love the birds.”

Photo of classic Corvette.The Corvette is so iconic in American life that there is a museum just for them in Bowling Green, Ky. (Photo: Library of Congress.)

ELECTRIC SPEED: The Corvette is the muscle car’s muscle car, a sleek machine made for speed and turning heads, a status symbol in a car-loving nation. Chevrolet this year will roll out a Corvette that is both its fastest ever and the first to be all-wheel drive. There’s another new feature: the E-Ray, as the vehicle will be called, is a hybrid, its front wheels powered by an electric motor. It zips from 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds, a thrill that may or may not offset the $104,000 starting price. It is scheduled to be unveiled 70 years to the day after the first Corvette was introduced in 1953. There are plans for an all-electric Corvette down the road, though if you live in Wyoming, you may be out of luck: a group of lawmakers there wants to ban electric vehicle sales in the state by 2035, an effort to protect the state’s oil and gas industry.

TRY AGAIN: Pepsi launched Sierra Mist nearly a quarter-century ago, hoping to take market share from Sprite, Coca-Cola’s lemon-lime flavored soda. But Sierra Mist never seriously threatened Sprite, so Pepsi has pivoted, scrapping Sierra Mist and replacing it with Starry, acknowledging that it aimed to give consumers “a choice in an area that’s been dominated by one brand for years.” Ouch. A Pepsi spokesperson told CNN that Starry has “higher citrus flavors that are true to fruit and more aromatic,” compared to Sierra Mist.

ENERGY DILEMMA: New York State has some of the most ambitious goals in the country when it comes to reducing fossil-fuel usage, an effort to combat climate change. But fossil-fuel burning power plants are being retired faster than renewable energy sources can be brought on line, just as the state is pledging $10 billion to help lure semiconductor factories, which are massive consumers of electricity. “New York is striving to be the chip-fab hub of the country,” the president of the Independent Power Producers of New York told the Albany Times Union. “Chip fabs are an important economic resource, particularly in upstate New York where they're located, but they are going to require an incredible amount of electricity. And it has to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In my judgment, the vagueness around how that's going to impact reliability in the future is concerning.”

KING CONTROVERSIES: Perhaps it’s to be expected in our polarized times, but a newspaper in Bangor, Maine, apologized this week for publishing an abridged version of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” speech. Critics assailed the newspaper for removing portions that directly addressed the violence of racial suppression and white supremacy. The newspaper has published the same version since 2011, but hasn’t faced such vitriol until now. Meanwhile, in Boston, a new statue meant to honor the relationship between King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, is getting roundly ridiculed, with a member of the King family calling it “insulting.”

ANOTHER SENSELESS LOSS: Brexialee Torres-Ortiz was an 11-year-old with a bright future: President of her middle school class. Honor student. Tennis champion. We’ll never know all she could have become because she died doing the most mundane of tasks, carrying a gallon of milk home from her neighborhood store in Syracuse, N.Y., struck in the abdomen by a bullet fired from a moving car that police have no doubt was intended for someone else.

CHOOSING LIFE: John Wall was living his dream. The first player selected in the 2010 NBA Draft, he was the unquestioned leader of his team, the Washington Wizards, and among the brightest stars in the league. Then he was injured, nearly losing his foot to infections, but even that pain was nothing compared to that of losing his mother to breast cancer. In a remarkable first-person essay for The Players Tribune, Wall writes that he debated with himself almost daily: Should I end it? He shared his story because he wants people to know that it’s OK to admit to yourself that you need help, and to be able to ask for it. It’s a stark reminder that, beneath the wealth and fame, beat hearts that also can be broken.

IRRITABILITY HAS ITS BENEFITS: Whole forests of trees have been sacrificed extolling the tangible and intangible benefits of a sunny disposition, but if you need to do important, focused work, it may help to first put yourself in a foul mood, according to researchers at the University of Arizona, who found that when people are in a bad mood, “they are more careful and analytical,” said Vicky Lai, an assistant professor of psychology and cognitive science at Arizona. “They scrutinize what’s actually stated in a text, and they don’t just fall back on their default world knowledge. … If we’re in a bad mood, maybe we should do things that are more detail-oriented, such as proofreading.”

LIVES

DAVID CROSBY was a folk rock pioneer who founded The Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young), for which he was twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He got his start at the famed Troubador in Los Angeles and experienced his first No. 1 hit at age 24 with The Byrds’ cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” He lived the hard life of a rock and roller but went on to create numerous albums and singles considered to be among the greatest in rock and roll history and was known in recent years for his live performances, which reached well into his seventh decade and featured new material. He died at age 81 after a long illness.

CHRIS FORD won three NBA championships as a member of the Boston Celtics in the 1980s, one as a player and two as an assistant coach, joining Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn and K.C. Jones as former players who also won titles as coaches in Boston. He later served five seasons as head coach of the Celtics, leading them to four playoff appearances, before stints leading the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers. He is credited with making the first 3-point shot in NBA history in 1979. He was 74.

GINA LOLLOBRIGIDA was an Italian screen icon, making her film debut in 1946 after a stint as a model. She was a major star in Europe by the early 1950s, and made her English-language film debut in 1953, with Humphrey Bogart and Jennifer Jones in “Beat the Devil.” She went on to star in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Solomon and Sheba,” and later became an accomplished photojournalist. She made occasional film and TV appearances later in her career, including a recurring role on the 1980s TV show “Falcon Crest.” She was 95.

CARL HAHN was head of Volkswagen of America Inc., a visionary leader whose marketing skills and partnership with a New York City ad agency helped turn the Beetle into the best-selling single car model in history, with more than 21.5 million produced between 1945 and 2003. In 1982, he became the company’s CEO, and during his tenure Volkswagen became the top carmaker in Europe, in addition to opening new plants and introducing new models. After German reunification, he built plants in the formerly communist East. He later would say his biggest professional regret was losing market share in the U.S. after VW’s initial successes. He was 96.

KENNY HALL was among the best bowlers ever from the Capital Region of New York, competing on the Professional Bowlers Association tour from 1978-83 and finishing as high as fourth in an event. He rolled more than 70 perfect games in his career, and was nearly as proficient as a golfer, winning the Capital District Stroke Play tournament in 2003 — the area’s most prestigious amateur event — and being part of a state championship team while in high school. He was a bowling pro shop operator for nearly 45 years, and spent 13 years as a color commentator on the Huck Finn “Capital Region Bowling Show.” He told the Albany Times Union’s Pete Dougherty in 2018, “I bowled because I had to. I golfed because I wanted to.” He died at 65 after a long illness.

ROBBIE KNIEVEL followed in his famous father’s hobbling footsteps as a motorcycle stunt rider, performing more than 350 motorcycle jumps during a career that started when he was 7. His first show was at Madison Square Garden, and by the time he was 12, he was touring with his father, Evel Knievel, a legend in the 1970s and ’80s who was nearly as famous for his many injuries — he broke more than 40 bones and suffered several concussions — as he was his death-defying jumps. Robbie Knievel’s signature moment came in 2009, when he jumped the man-made volcano at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. He died of pancreatic cancer at 60.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

“Your husband is a polar bear, skinny.”
—    One of the nonsensical translations provided by a California company that was hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to communicate with Alaska Natives following a damaging typhoon in September. The company was fired.

THE SIGNOFF

CORNY COMPLIMENT: A farmer in central Argentina used an algorithm designed by a farming engineer to calculate where to plant seeds so, as the corn grew, it would create a giant image of soccer legend Lionel Messi’s bearded face.

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THANK YOU to our contributors: Bill Callen, Ryan Moore, John Brodt, Troy Burns, Lisa Fenwick, Nancie Battaglia, Leigh Hornbeck, Claire P. Tuttle and Tara Hutchins.

FACING OUT is what we do. We help companies, organizations and individuals work effectively with their most important external audiences – their customers, their shareholders, their communities, the government and the news media.  www.behancommunications.com

Facing Out features news and other nuggets that caught our eye, and that we thought might be of value to you, our friends and business associates. Some items are good news about our clients and friends, others are stories that we hope will leave you a bit more informed or entertained than you were five minutes ago. As always, we welcome your ideas and feedback. 

Let’s make it a conversationmark.behan@behancom.com

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