The Week: What Caught Our Eye

August 14, 2021

A calm lake with mist and low cloudsSunrise on a misty morning and it’s time to drop a line in Piseco Lake in Arietta, Hamilton County. Piseco is named for a Native American surveyor. (Don Lehman)

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

We need a few more heroes these days. This week we stumbled across two.

ONLY A YEAR AND a half on the job but with all the right experience, Hunter Barton was the Glens Falls, N.Y., police officer who responded to the urgent radio call about 7 p.m. July 12. An infant, three weeks old, was choking. Hunter had been trained to respond to medical emergencies, of course, but had something even more relevant: personal experience. His own two-week-old daughter had just suffered a choking spell. The video from his body camera is a testament to the extraordinary work of local police officers.

AND FILE THIS under first responders are never really off the job: While on vacation, the volunteer fire chief of Warrensburg, N.Y., Jason Hull, dining at a restaurant in the Thousand Islands, saved a woman choking on her dinner. She was certain she was going to die; he just never gave up on her.

UPBEAT DOWN EAST: Mainstream media coverage often portrays rural America as hopelessly close-minded, backward, suspicious and fearful, especially of change. That’s not what Gigi Georges sees in Downeast Maine. She’s a former White House special assistant and political science teacher, and her experience challenges the dominant narrative of hopelessness, despair and longing to escape. “Yes, there are significant challenges,” she writes, “But the bigger picture is that there is also much to celebrate,” including robust, supportive community and family networks and a sense of optimism about the future.

HOLLYWOOD ON THE HUDSON: Amy Schumer, Ben Stiller, Mindy Kaling — they’ve all been beating a path to The Valley. Not the San Fernando but the Hudson, as a wave of new movies and television programs are shot in Upstate New York. “We’ve never had this many productions in the region working simultaneously,” says Laurent Rejto, founder and director of the Hudson Valley Film Commission. “It’s been an incredible run and we are currently working with 30 potential productions for 2021-22.” 

DOG DAYS: There’s never been a better time to be a pampered pooch. From preservative-free foods, orthopedic beds and spa days to surveillance and loss-prevention technology, dogs are the big beneficiaries of an explosion in pet-related spending in the U.S., and demand for them has never been higher.

UNEQUAL JUSTICE: In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where Cleveland is located, two women — one a village clerk, the other a school secretary — were in court earlier this month to be sentenced for theft in office. One, a 51-year-old Black woman, pleaded guilty to one count. The other, a 53-year-old white woman, pleaded no contest to 22 counts, as well as tampering with records and money laundering. One was sentenced to two years of probation. The other got 18 months in prison — twice as long as the prosecutor asked for. We bet you can guess who got what.

A sweeping view of mountains, clouds and blue skyA new trail has been forged in the town of Hague, in northern Warren County. The trail, completed by county workers, opened this week with State Sen. Dan Stec, Assembly Member Matt Simpson and county leaders on hand for the ribbon cutting. The Swede Mountain Fire Tower Trail is an easy 1.8-mile round-trip hike with a renovated fire tower available for climbing to access pristine wilderness views. (Joanne Conley)

CLIMATE WORRIES: Three takeaways from this week’s “code red for humanity” United Nations report on climate change. 1) China is responsible for nearly a third of the world's emissions and is doing more than is usually acknowledged but still not enough. 2) Major U.S. banks have pledged $4 trillion to combat climate change and the private sector in general is doing far more than government. 3) The implications for food supplies are particularly dire, with shortages expected to become the norm and marine fisheries devastated. And if that’s not enough, July was the hottest month in recorded human history.

NOTED: The temperature reached 119.85F in Syracuse, Sicily, this week, apparently the highest ever recorded in European history. (Richmond, Va., is at roughly the same latitude.) Sicily is in the midst of a fierce heatwave stretching across the Mediterranean to Tunisia and Algeria. Fires have blazed for more than a week. Italy’s government has declared a state of emergency. Turkey and Greece have also been hit by devastating conflagrations.

AND THERE’S THIS: In today’s Fourstardave Race 10 at Saratoga, the horse to beat: Got Stormy.

LOCAL JOURNALISM MATTERS: The crash of Andrew Cuomo cast a bright light of national commendation on the work of local media, particularly the Times Union of Albany, N.Y., whose Hearst Corp. owner, The New York Times noted approvingly, has invested in news coverage while others pulled back and, “stuck to its old-fashioned principles” of original reporting and limited schmoozing with sources. Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan contrasted the Times Union’s standards (admirable) with those of CNN (Chris Cuomo’s employer who blew it.) Columbia Journalism Review said the Times Union’s work “has clearly been in the best traditions of accountability journalism.” Do not be surprised if there’s a Pulitzer in its future.

MEANWHILE, to get the latest on Albany, The Washington Post tunes in to WAMC’s Roundtable talk show, the daily Albany public radio parley of political pundits pondering, posing, proposing and pontificating.

PIZZA WITH PORTNOY: There are a lot of Dave Portnoys, and they all crave attention. There’s the brash bro culture entrepreneur behind Barstool Sports. The sports gaming company founder. The misogynist star of sex tapes. The benefactor who raised $30 million to help small bars and restaurants like Saratoga Springs’ Parting Glass survive the pandemic. And, of course, there’s the “one-bite” YouTube reviewer of local pizza joints. Summering in Saratoga as he does most Augusts, he has reviewed The Paddock, West Avenue and Pizza Time pizzerias and, while we’re watching those, let’s revisit some classic Portnoys: Mama Mia’s and Pope’s.

MEATLESS BEEF: Volkswagen announced this week that it is switching to all vegetarian choices in the cafeteria of its corporate headquarters. That means no currywurst, a long and thick pork sausage that is sliced, covered in a spicy ketchup and dusted with curry powder and is a very popular lunchtime choice in Germany. And though a vendor across the street will continue to sell the item, a former German chancellor with a populist streak weighed in, huffing that such a decision would not have been made if he were still on the VW board and declaring, “Currywurst with fries is one of the power bars of the skilled worker in production. It should stay that way.” (You’ll have to hit the See Translation button, unless you can read German).

IT’S COMPLICATED: William L. Laurence was one of America’s foremost reporters in the 1940s, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for The New York Times who had extraordinary access to highly sensitive information about the development of the nuclear weapons that would bring World War II to a sudden end. Turns out he also was on the government payroll, among the many indulgences that would shock a modern audience but seem to have almost been taken for granted back then.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Yelp, the app-driven service that allows users to read and post reviews for restaurants, hotels and other consumer-oriented businesses, has launched new search filters to help customers find businesses that are requiring proof of vaccination to enter or mandating vaccinations for employees. Yelp staff are keeping a close eye on user activity to ensure that businesses that opt in aren’t bombarded with poor reviews by bitter spammers.

PERSONAL TOUCH: As a senior writer for Hallmark Cards, Courtney Taylor’s job is to offer encouragement, sympathy or best wishes in short, digestible bursts. Regardless of the medium — card, letter, email, text message — good writing can foster authentic connection, boost creativity and “brighten someone's day,” she told NPR. She has tips for those who want to write the perfect letter but haven’t quite found the words.

PEDDLING INFLUENCE: States and cities across the U.S. desperate to overcome vaccine hesitancy have turned to local and regional social media influencers to promote vaccinations. The work is spearheaded by marketing firms that are hired by health agencies to identify local influencers and coordinate messaging. “I don’t want to say this alone will work,” a spokeswoman for Cook County Health in Illinois told The Associated Press. “But people are coming to hundreds of pop-up local clinics based on digital word of mouth, so the information is resonating.”

VACCINE VEXATION: A former CEO says it’s time for businesses to stop playing around and mandate the vaccine for employees. “If you believe that protecting the health and safety of their employees should rank among the top priorities for CEOs,” writes Bill George, the former chair and CEO of medical device maker Medtronic, “then mandating vaccines is a natural choice that flows from your company’s values.” But employers, it seems, are in a no-win situation: Research from Qualtrics, an experience management firm, found that 44% of employees would consider quitting if vaccines were mandated in the workplace; another 38% said they might quit if vaccines aren’t mandated.

THE CRYSTAL FOOTBALL: The NFL season is less than a month away, which means it’s prediction season. We’ll cut to the chase: The numbers say the Buffalo Bills will be excellent, the New England Patriots a little above average, and the New York Giants and Jets slightly different degrees of awful (though the Giants are given about a one-in-four chance to make the playoffs because they play in a division larded with mediocrity). The model suggests a rematch between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LVI.

LIVES

BILL PICOTTE and his family helped shape modern Albany. He ran the commercial leasing and sales division of the Picotte Companies, the firm his grandfather founded in 1933. The Picottes manage more than 2 million square feet of office space in the Capital Region but their trademark remains Corporate Woods. A warm smile and gentlemanly touch were Bill’s calling card. He died unexpectedly at 71.

BILL WETHERBEE was a teacher, principal, coach and school superintendent, but he will long be remembered as the Voice of New York State High School basketball. For more than 30 years, he was the unflappable announcer at the New York State High School Basketball Championships in Glens Falls. Basketball was his passion: He was the first Hamilton College freshman basketball player to earn the title MVP, and he played weekly pickup games until he was 87. He died at 88.

RICHARD ARMANDO PERSICO was a young lawyer from Gloversville, N.Y., who followed his speechwriter brother Joe Persico to work for Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. He quickly distinguished himself as the drafter of the Adirondack Park Private Land Use and Development Plan, the most sweeping state-level controls of private land in the nation. He was the first executive director of the Adirondack Park Agency and later served as counsel to the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Olympic Regional Development Authority. Later in life, he became an oil painter, a master Italian chef and author of two cookbooks. He was 88.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS
“An apology? Bah! Disgusting! Cowardly! Beneath the dignity of any gentleman, however wrong he might be.”
-Steve Martin, b. August 14, 1945

THE SIGNOFF

FROM THREE TO FORE: NBA veteran J.R. Smith, renowned for his 3-point shot and for celebrating big wins while shirtless, has enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University and wants to join the golf team, if the NCAA approves. A 5-handicap, he skipped college after graduating from high school in 2004, going straight to a successful 16-year career in the NBA.

Thank you to our contributors: Bill Callen, Bill Richmond, Lisa Fenwick, Matt Behan, John Behan, Claire P. Tuttle, John Brodt, Tara Hutchins, Kelly Donahue, and Katie Alessi.

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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