Category Archives: Columns

Jason5

Column: I’ve always been a tie guy

I wore a tie to school most days in my junior and senior years of high school.

Public high school. In Yonkers.Jason-Column2

Looking back, I think it was my way of being different, or standing out. I could never have been one of those kids with Technicolor hair or a piercing where there shouldn’t be one, and these were the days before people were issued tattoos soon after they cleared the birth canal, so I guess it was ties or anonymity for me.

I say that, and I think it’s true; like most kids in high school, I wanted a way to be an individual but, really, I think it was simply a matter of ties were me.

It’s a bit of costuming, isn’t it? Especially at that age. If I’m really going to psychoanalyze my younger self, I think it was a way to put a little barrier, no matter how thin and silken, between the rest of the world and me.

The blanket was Linus’ security, but it made him stand out. Good grief, what irony.

Sort of an odd adjunct to my high school ties. I wasn’t the only one who chose neckwear in my class. There was another kid, called John Peterson, who wore ties, too. He was a nice, quiet guy; he and I were lab partners once in chemistry and, for that period, they were literally the ties that bind.

John was killed in a car accident during our senior year. I didn’t know him that well, but, after that, I sort of felt a bit like my ties were a tiny bit about him mixed in with all of me.

My tie wearing didn’t end in high school.

Once I ventured out into the cold, cruel world of retail employment, I continued the habit, often wearing a tie to my job at Tower Video in Yonkers. There is no more Tower in Yonkers, or anywhere else, but, if you remember it, it was about the least tie-inspiring, or requiring, place of business you could imagine this side of a cock-fighting ring.

Again, the ties made me stand out against all the tattoos and studded tongues. It was around this time I realized that, though I’d never be considered one of them, I always got along with, and was accepted by, the “alternative” set.

You probably heard them referred to as freaks.

By the time I left the workforce in 1999, I was reporting for a tiny wire service in the federal courthouse in Newark. The other, I would say real, reporters in the newsroom wore ties every day, of course, so mine didn’t really stand out anymore.

Oh well.

Some years later, I was in the middle of the extended…sabbatical, let’s call it, that I’ve referenced in this space before. In those days, I was supposed to be creating fiction every day but, as I believe we’ve discussed, there’s nothing deadlier to a writer’s productivity than his own home, the clothes he slept in and no deadline.

One of the things I did in the rare times I was productive during that period was get dressed, shoes and all, as though I was going to work somewhere. Even though somewhere was the far corner of the living room, dressing the part helped and, by now you know, dressing any part for me involved wearing a tie.

I arrived here at your newspaper in September 2012. Any of you who may have seen me at meetings or events, or met with me, while I was on the beat in Mamaroneck will likely not remember I was often wearing a tie, but I sure do. Those early days were a jarring transition back into life for me; there was no way I was going to do it without my silken strips of security.

Of course, up until now we’ve been talking about your standard necktie. But that’s about to change.

There’s a crime writer whose work I quite admire called Christa Faust. She’s also an occasional Twitter pal of mine. Her father died not so long ago and, through the magic of Twitter, those of us who follow Christa were aware of his struggles as well as how much she loved him. In passing, her father, who from what I can gather was an iconoclast, left a collection of bow ties behind and, as a way to preserve them and a piece of who he was, Christa has found new homes for them with those of us whose honor it will be to wear them into the future.

And so, when I finish this column, I’ll get ready and head up to our Port Chester office wearing an actual bow tie for the first time in my life. I suspect I don’t have much in common with the man who used to wear it, but he helped create and shape someone I respect and he had his daughter’s love and devotion until his last moment.

That’s someone who deserves a legacy, I think, so I’ll do my part, however tiny, with a bit of costuming.

Reach Jason at jason@hometwn.com and follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas

 
Lisa Jardine

Column: Seventy-two hours in The Big Easy

Had it with the relentless snow and endless shoveling? Looking for a direct flight to warmer climes? Florida just isn’t cutting it anymore? I have the perfect solution.jardine

The famous beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe Du Monde.

The famous beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe Du Monde.

Three days in New Orleans will make you forget about the winter, and just about anything else about which you might be worrying. This city knows how to have a good time, hence their motto: Laissez le bon temps rouler.

Wednesday

1. Take a taxi, for $33, from the airport to your French Quarter hotel. I chose Hotel Royal, 1006 Rue Royal, which is on the edge of the action, perfect for walking to everything, but you’ll still be able to sleep at night. We dropped our bags and headed straight for Café Du Monde, 800 Decatur St., for beignets—the small squares of fried dough covered in powdered sugar—and a chicory coffee. Mid-morning there was no line and we snuck right in.

One of the numerous French Quarter impromptu live bands. Photos/Lisa Jardine

One of the numerous French Quarter impromptu live bands. Photos/Lisa Jardine

2. Fortified with sugar and caffeine, we spent the next few hours wandering the French Quarter, which is laid out in a grid and is very easily navigated. There is so much going on at all times, you just don’t know where to look first. There is live music, street artists, historical walking tours, horse drawn carriages, antique shops, spiritual readings and voodoo shops. It’s a true feast for the senses. Our first stop was Rev. Zombie’s House of Voodoo, 723 St. Peter St., for a palm and tarot card reading, $40, an “only in New Orleans” type of activity.

3. Lunch at Acme Oyster House, 724 Iberville St. It was difficult choosing just one thing from the extensive menu at this institution, so we ordered several: a dozen oysters, a fried fish po-boy and jambalaya. Too stuffed to walk very far, we jumped on a horse drawn carriage, $50, in front of Jackson Square and took a tour of the quarter from a different perspective. The ride lasts about 30 minutes and points out many historical, architectural and pop culture icons, like where Brad Pitt filmed “Interview With a Vampire.”

The various to-go cups on offer.

The various to-go cups on offer.

I especially appreciated the pit stop at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar, 941 Bourbon St., where a waiter ran out to the carriage to take my order for a hurricane in a “to-go” cup. The hurricane became popular at Pat O’Briens bar in the 1940s in New Orleans after debuting at the 1939 World’s Fair. It’s a mix of light and dark rum, fruit juices and simple syrup with an orange slice and cherry on top.

Speaking of to-go cups, it’s perfectly legal to drink alcohol from a plastic cup on the street in New Orleans. In fact, it’s encouraged. I was travelling with my 14-year-old daughter but, due to this festive rule, I didn’t have to miss cocktail hour. You can walk into any bar and order a drink to go. This makes for a very fun atmosphere as to-go cups come in all sizes—including fishbowls—and make great souvenirs.

Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop; tarot card readings and so much more.

Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop; tarot card readings and so much more.

4. The food in New Orleans is so delicious you can’t help but plan out your next meal as you are still digesting the one you’ve just eaten. Dinner that night was at Sylvain, 625 Chartres St., housed in a three-story carriage house in the French Quarter with a menu that runs the gamut from pan-fried pork shoulder to country fried steak to their famous burgers.

Thursday

5. An early start at The Old Coffee Pot, 714 St. Peter St., est. 1894, where the service is brusque, but the food is authentic. You can’t get any more real than eggs creole with a side of grits and biscuits.

6. From there, we walked through the French Quarter to Canal Street, where we hopped on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar. For $1.25 in exact change, you can ride the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world. Throw open the windows and watch the scenery reverse in time from 2014 downtown skyscrapers to the 1800s in an area called The Garden District, considered one of the best preserved collections of southern mansions in the United States. Our destination was Lafayette Cemetery, the oldest of the seven city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans and the backdrop for many works of fiction, including many of Anne Rice’s vampire novels.

After our visit, we walked a few blocks to Magazine Street, a mix of funky restaurants, clothing boutiques and antique/junk shops. If I had a bigger suitcase, I could have spent a lot of time at The Magazine Antique Mall, 3017 Magazine St., rummaging through aisle after aisle of New Orleans’ cast-offs.

7. A visit to New Orleans without a tour of the Ninth Ward would leave the trip incomplete. Hurricane Katrina is a big part of this city’s history now and the experience has changed it forever.

I read great things about Ninth Ward Rebirth Bike Tours, ninthwardrebirthbiketours.com, and wanted to take the four-hour tour. Unfortunately, for insurance purposes, they can’t take anyone under 15, but they offered a tour by car instead. Derrick, our guide and a masters student at Tulane, picked us up at our hotel at 3 p.m. and, over the course of the next two hours, he brought to life what happened during the hurricane and how it affected the landscape and the people who lived there. The tale he told had villains and heroes and left us with a feeling of hope and optimism.

In the middle of the tour, we stopped at Ronald Lewis’ home. Ronald is a Mardi Gras Indian and an iconic figure in the Ninth Ward. In the backyard of his home is his “House of Dance and Feathers,” 1317 Tupelo St., a tin-roofed shed filled with memorabilia. It’s a fun stop on the tour and gives you a real taste for New Orleans and its people.

8. A late dinner at Herbsaint, 701 St. Charles Ave.

Friday

9. Having a high school freshman in tow means a stop at any potential colleges nearby. We started the day with breakfast at The Camellia Grill, 626 S. Carrollton Ave., a place at which I ate 30 years ago when I visited my cousin for Mardi Gras when she was a student at Tulane. It hasn’t changed a bit. I ordered the chili cheese omelet, which made my daughter question my sanity as she said, “that’s not something you would ever eat.” But I’m all for nostalgia and so I ordered the same thing I ate all those years ago. It was amazing.

10. Tulane University, 6823 St. Charles Ave., is an extremely diverse campus. Seventy-five percent of its students come from more than 500 miles away. Located six miles from the French Quarter, Tulane holds four ratings from The Princeton Review: Great College Towns, Best in the Southeast, College With a Conscience and Happiest Students.

11. More po-boys at Mother’s. Get the famous Ferdi special with debris. Don’t be intimated by the line—it moves fast.

12. Too tired and full to walk another minute? Get in one of the NOLA pedicabs, 504-274-1300. The pricing is flexible and the service is friendly.

13. Last meal in New Orleans? Under the stars at Café Amelie, 912 Royal St.

______________________________________________

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, email isa@hometwn.com. And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

NOT TO BAD

Column: Fanning the flames

The on-court action may have been thrilling, the stakes may have been high, but when it comes down to it, Section I did not have a good week at the County Center.Live Mike

From Feb. 22 to March 1, the White Plains venue played host to the Section I championships, an annual tradition that is inarguably the pinnacle of the local basketball season.

While championship week might feature titillating matchups between the best teams in the area, this year it also shed a spotlight on some of its worst fans. Although a few unfortunate incidents didn’t mar the entire week of basketball, they did serve as a reminder that, to some people, the action on the court is far less important than what goes on in the stands.

Eastchester’s Benny DiMirco drives past Harrison’s Coby Lefkowitz on Feb. 26 at the County Center. While the action on the court was good, crisp and clean last week, the same can not necessarily be said for the action in the stands. Photo/Bobby Begun

Eastchester’s Benny DiMirco drives past Harrison’s Coby Lefkowitz on Feb. 26 at the County Center. While the action on the court was good, crisp and clean last week, the same can not necessarily be said for the action in the stands. Photo/Bobby Begun

On Feb. 27, during an otherwise well-played AA semifinal between Mahopac and Mount Vernon, tensions in the crowd boiled over as Indians and Knights fans clashed after Mount Vernon’s 43-40 win. For now, details are scarce. Some are alleging Mount Vernon fans became aggressive following their team’s hard-fought win. Others claim that Mahopac fans hurled racial insults at Mount Vernon’s fans while brandishing a confederate flag, thus instigating the fight.

As of now, no charges have been filed, but the incident still has Internet message boards aflame as anonymous posters assign blame to one party or the other.

This wasn’t the only highly publicized incident involving fans last week.

During a Class A semifinal game between Tappan Zee and Walter Panas on Feb. 26, Dutchmen athletic director Liam Frawley banished the entire Tappan Zee student section from the building after the students began using certain anatomical terms as they jeered the Panas players.

Now, I want to go on record saying I had no problem with Tappan Zee’s chants—in part because I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy. Ultimately, the job of the student section is to rankle, irritate and disrupt opposing teams. But Frawley, in an attempt to diffuse any escalating antagonism between the two fan bases, felt it was the safest course of action to clear his students out of the gym.

I don’t blame him. Sitting among the spectators for a week, I witnessed some of the worst behavior I’ve seen—mostly from adults—in my years covering high school sports. From fans screaming hateful things at referees and opposing players to others voicing their disapproval with decisions made by their own team’s coaches, it seemed to me the people in the stands were taking each make or miss harder than the kids pouring their sweat out on the court.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t examples of good sportsmanship, like Eastchester fans giving senior Jack Daly a standing ovation as he left the floor for the last time in his high school career after fouling out in the fourth quarter of the Class A finals or the good-natured back-and-forth between Eastchester and Harrison’s student sections during the semifinal round. But there’s a big problem when fans not misbehaving is the exception, rather than the rule.

When our kids take the court, they are giving their all, doing their best to represent their school, their town and their community. The very least we can do as fans is try not to embarrass them.

Follow Mike on Twitter, @LiveMike_Sports

 
CAREY

Column: Navy days long ago

careyThree score and 10 years ago, I suddenly became “an officer and a gentleman.”

This was quite unexpected, since my classmates and I had nowhere near the number of credits in naval science normally required for a commission as a Navy ensign. One of us was even denied his commission because he was not yet 18 years old; he got it later on.

Why the rush? We were told simply that the navy needed to man more and more landing craft for its accelerating Pacific island-hopping operations. I put in for submarine service, but got anti-submarine warfare instead.

After a few days’ leave, I was ordered to report to a certain ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, then a bustling beehive of activity where ships damaged in action were sent for repairs. The brutal spirit of the times could be gathered from a large sign on a Marine Corps building: “Kill Japs; Kill More Japs; Kill All Japs.”

In the two weeks between notice of our imminent departure and our receiving commissions, we had constant lectures and drills in all manner of navy lore, trying to crowd in as much training as possible. A full-semester course might be run through in a few days. Exams followed, but without sufficient faculty to grade papers, so students were told to grade each other. One classmate gave me an almost perfect score. I told him he could not do that. He said, “I did it, so there.”

One of our last-minute sources of naval lore was a film on officers’ etiquette. Included was the procedure for reporting to a new ship. Before boarding, you were to salute the flag at the stern of the ship, then ask the officer on guard for permission to board, then salute the flag at the bow, and only then step aboard, if invited.

Through the winter drizzle, I found my new ship, the U.S.S. Loy—destroyer escort 160—lying outboard of two other DEs alongside a pier at the navy yard. I wasn’t sure whether I needed permission from someone in charge of either of the other two ships, but no one was in sight, so I climbed over them and approached a figure huddled out of the rain on the Loy. He was not dressed in any uniform that I recognized and bore no visible indication of rank.

He did have a pistol at his waist, which reminded me to be polite.

When I asked if I could board, the reply was a surprised, “Huh?” I announced myself as “Ensign John Carey, reporting on board for duty, sir.”

“OK, come on and I’ll show you where to find the Officer of the Deck,” he said

“I thought that was you,” I replied.

“Naw,” he said. “I’m only a chief petty officer, standing out here so the OD can go inside and warm up with
some coffee.”

“Thank you, Chief. I appreciate your welcoming me on board.”

The OD was surprised to see me, and shuffled among some papers to find a copy of my orders. “I’m Brad Fancher, the gunnery officer,” he said. “You will bunk above the engineering officer, which is good, because he doesn’t stand watches and won’t be waking you at all hours by cussing his luck when he has to get out of the sack. You will be standing four-hour watches on the bridge as assistant watch officer under Ensign Marcus. He has been in the Navy a long time and worked his way up from ordinary seaman. He deserves to be at least a full lieutenant, but that’s what happens if you enlist. Not everyone can go to sea already an officer like you.”

The engineering officer slept soundly that night, so I did too. I barely made it to morning chow before the executive officer grabbed me and told me to be ready in five minutes to leave in the motor whaleboat, a 20-foot-long part of the Loy’s equipment.

Wolfing down my coffee, I threw on a Navy parka and went on deck. The whaleboat was already alongside the ship with two men on board. I let myself down to the small craft bobbing in the water. Off we went, I knew not where. The exec told me to follow the Loy and meet up with them later. Where and when I was not told.

I sat in the stern of the small boat and watched the men operate the engine as we splashed our way in the choppy water of the lower East River. Just as we reached the tip of Manhattan, the engine quit. The two men tinkered with it for nearly an hour before it finally sputtered to a start.

So then we were to follow the Loy, but where was she? We had watched her steam out of the navy yard and churn her way through the chop down the harbor. But then she vanished from our sight. What were we to do?

We could pass through the closely guarded narrows into the Atlantic Ocean and look for her on the horizon. We trained binoculars every which way and, finally, just short of where the Verrazano Bridge now touches the Brooklyn shore, we dimly made out our ship at a dock. I was informed by the men that she was there to retrieve her ammunition, since all war ships entering New York Harbor were required to leave their ammo outside the inner harbor to decrease the danger of an explosion to match that which had flattened much of Halifax, Nova Scotia,
years before.

Next morning, fully rearmed, we raced up the coast to Casco Bay, just beyond Portland, Maine. There we spent several days practicing with our 20 and 40-millimeter machine guns, trying to hit a target towed through the air by a plane. The rest of our armament consisted of three cannons, with a bore of three inches, and depth charges, to bomb submarines if we could detect them nearby by the magic of sonar. Once outside protected waters, the sonar would be operated 24/7, sending sound signals out to see if anything solid sent us back an echo.

From Casco Bay, we steered south to the Virginia Capes. I gathered that our preparations were about to be put to use. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I sat at the Norfolk Navy Yard Officers’ Club with the gunnery officer and the executive officer. They referred obliquely to our scheduled departure the next morning for sub hunting while escorting an aircraft carrier.

The exec made a cheery comment to his gunnery officer. “Brad,” he said, “your gunners are such lousy shots that I’ll tell you what will probably happen. We will come upon an enemy sub just as it breaks the surface. And even though their crew can’t shoot their cannon at us until they have come up from below decks and got the gun ready, while we can be steadily blasting at them, they are going to sink us instead of the other way around. Our three cannons, and our 40 and 20-millimeter machine guns will be no match for their one cannon.”

I excused myself, went to a phone and told my mother that she would not be hearing from me for a while. Fortunately, a few months later, I was able to call her again, from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, on another warm, sunny day. I was dying to relate our adventures in the Bay of Biscay and off the coast of Africa, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She was right, as usual. “Loose lips sink ships.”

But this many years later, harmless stories can’t hurt. More later, whenever City Hall is ship-shape and needing no outside critiquing.

CONTACT: j_pcarey@verizon.net

 
Jason5

Column: Time enough at last to write

Jason-Column2Those of us who write for your newspaper do so under a constant, rolling deadline. As soon as we file what we need to for one week, the deadline for the next springs to life and begins to loom.

That’s what deadlines do; they loom.

I’ve mentioned the novella I wrote in the latter part of last year in this space a few times. That was written under a deadline, too; one I just managed to hit, after some adjustment.

Deadlines are useful for two reasons. First, they drive the writer’s sense of urgency to accomplish. Second, they, hopefully, force the writer to manage time in such a way as to achieve the writer’s goals.

That’s looking at deadlines in the best light, I’d say. Mostly, deadlines just make writers hate their lives and themselves for ever thinking writing in any sort of professional capacity was a good, or even feasible, idea in the first place.

But what if all we had was time to write?

There’s a great “Twilight Zone” episode, I think in the first season, called “Time Enough at Last.” In it, Burgess Meredith plays a man who wants only to read, but never has enough time to do it. When the apocalypse comes, as it often did in the Zone, Meredith survives, locked in a bank vault, and ventures out into the ruined city to find most of the books in the public library still intact. Before he can read a single page, though, his glasses slip from his face and break on the rock-strewn ground.

“That’s not fair at all,” he said. “There was time now. There was all the time I
needed.”

He then bursts into tears, the only life he could have had, the only one he would have wanted, ruined.

Fade out.

Ah, The “Twilight Zone.”

Anyway, as writers, we yearn for the sort of life Burgess Meredith wanted in that story. What if there was time enough at last to write, and do nothing but write? What could we accomplish in that world?

Well, that world doesn’t exist. But there is a way, it seems, to create a wormhole through the one we’ve got.

In a recent interview with Pen.org, writer, poet and journalist Alexander Chee said his favorite place to write is on a train.

“I wish Amtrak had residences for writers,” he said.

That got the social media wheels turning.

Before long, New York-based writer Jessica Gross, inspired by Chee’s interview, and Amtrak collaborated to test pilot the first Amtrak Residency, which has become the hashtag du jour among writers in recent days.

Gross traveled to Chicago and back, with no appreciable layover, on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. Thirty-nine hours in which she had nothing to do, nothing to worry about, but write, watch the scenery roll by, write, let the train rock her to sleep, write, meet her fellow travelers over a meal…

Write…

In the early stages of our relationship, fall of 1996 maybe, my wife and I took Amtrak to Atlanta to visit her family. It was about an 18-hour journey each way, as I recall. We were in coach on the way back, which was nice, but we were able to afford a sleeper car on the way down there and that was probably the best travel experience of my life.

I wasn’t doing much writing in those days; we were still sort of discovering each other then, but, looking back on it now, I can easily see how hypnotically otherworldly the opportunity to write on an extended train journey, in my own little private rectangle of space, would be.

Indeed, an Amtrak Residency would be amazing.

We talked about different forms of time travel in this space several weeks ago and I think this would be one of the best ones. The nature of a journey creates a natural deadline—the train must arrive at the station eventually—but, until then, there is only the journey, the inexorable rocking, lulling forward movement. The writer along on a journey like that, one in which mind, body and train travel together at the same pace, has the movement and the progress overland as a sort of enveloping metronome the writer can feel as well as see and hear. The words and the train progress together.

Most non-writers fail to realize much of writing takes place while the writer is doing other things. The view from an Amtrak sleeper car fosters the kind of writing that requires no moving parts as much as I’m sure it inspired Chee’s and Gross’ fingers to create words.

I have other novellas in me; I can feel them. It would be quite something, I think, to get well acquainted with one of them as the rails led me through a wormhole in this world. There would be time enough at last to write.

At least for a little while.

 

Reach Jason at jason@hometwn.com and 

follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas

 
BELMONT1

Column: We’re winning the pothole wars

In speaking with residents concerning issues that face our community, I understand the frustration many feel with the onslaught of snow, sleet and freezing rain our region has experienced this year. This precipitation has required our Highway Department continue to plow and salt our roadways. January and February presented freeze and thaw cycles that created the perfect condition for pothole formation. As water or condensation builds up and freezes on the road’s surface and in the cracks, the top layer of asphalt or pavement loosens and at times breaks free, thereby creating potholes.

After removing the snow, and insuring that our roadways are safe and passable, DPW crews work diligently to address potholes on municipal roadways and are currently employing a more permanent patching application. I am pleased that Harrison is ahead of many other municipalities in pothole response. Several main thoroughfares that run through our municipality are state or county roads. Should a dangerous condition, on a state or county road, come to our attention, town personnel send an alert to the appropriate municipal office. I appreciate everyone’s continued patience as we keep up with this season’s wintry weather.

This year’s Youth Art Month kicks off with a reception in Town Hall on Sunday, March 2, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. I encourage all residents to visit our municipal building throughout the month of March and view the extraordinary talent on display.

In recognition of the season preceding Lent, I recently joined the seniors as they celebrated carnival. Brightly colored beads were worn and everyone enjoyed lively conversation and a delicious meal. This tradition is a calling card of spring and I’m sure all attendees are eager for the warmer weather that lies ahead.

Recently, I attended the New York State Society of Professional Engineers Annual Dinner at Westchester Manor. It was a wonderful event and I would like to congratulate Harrison resident, Ralph Peragine on receiving the Outstanding Service to the Chapter Award. As a professional engineer, Ralph has contributed his knowledge and skill in an effort to improve our communities. It was an honor to attend the dinner and celebrate this significant achievement.

I would like to take this time to recognize the Harrison High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team. Last week, they made it to the Section I semifinals making them eligible to compete for the championship title at the County Center. Congratulations to the team and coach as they finish a great season. Special recognition goes to Matt Stein for being named to the All-Conference Team and to Nicholas Esposito for being named to the All-Section Team.

In closing, I would like to bring your attention to this year’s town-wide clean-up event. Harrison’s Spring Spruce-Up Weekend will take place on March 22 and 23. Municipalities are obligated by the New York State Department of Conservation to make certain that areas leading to storm drains are free from garbage and debris. By clearing rubbish from central areas, parks and roadways, Harrison will satisfy this state mandate. Materials and instructions will be provided, on-site, by group leaders. If you are interested in joining this very worthwhile event, please contact my office.

The next “Lunch with the Mayor” is on Friday, March 7. I will be at Pizza 2000 located at 339 Halstead Ave. in downtown Harrison. On Friday, March 14, I will be at Fuji Sushi located at 216 Harrison Ave. I will be at these locations from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. and look forward to meeting with residents and talking about issues facing
our community.

Lisa Jardine

Column: He shoots and everyone scores

Participants in Backyard’s basketball tournament. Photos courtesy backyardsportscare.org

Participants in Backyard’s basketball tournament. Photos courtesy backyardsportscare.org

I’m always amazed by the power of a grassroots effort.

A few local individuals with a great idea fused with limitless passion can affect real change in people’s lives. The story of Backyard Sports Cares is one of those efforts that started in Westchester County in 2007 and now touches the lives of more than 4,000 underserved and special needs children each year.

Backyard Sports Cares is the non-profit division of Backyard Sports, the leading provider of community team sports programs for kids of all ages in Westchester County. Danny Bernstein, the executive director, is the founder and creator of Backyard Sports. Backyard Sports Cares represents Danny’s vision to use sports as a means to bridge communities of diverse populations and demographics.

Backyard Sports Care runs soccer programs for underserved children.

Backyard Sports Care runs soccer programs for underserved children.

“The fruits of athletic competition can only be realized when young athletes, regardless of their backgrounds and abilities, can compete, not necessarily against each other, but with one another. Backyard Sports Cares was created out of a belief that sports can level playing fields across socio-economic divisions and bridge communities of young players,” Bernstein said.

The organization holds its biggest fundraiser on Saturday, March 29, and if you are a basketball devotee, this is the charity event tailor-made for you. It’s Backyard’s second annual three-on-three basketball tournament that will be held at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown from 9 a.m.
to 3 p.m.

The tournament is split into three divisions, Open, the most competitive; 35-plus and Recreation, for all ages from high school up, and is run in a round robin format.

There will be NBA alumni, on-air talent and the Knicks City Dancers to

cheer everyone on. There are a limited number of teams in all levels and entry costs $1,500 per team which may include three to five players.

The entry fee also includes jerseys, food, drinks, entertainment and the all-important trophies. There will also be a memorable halftime six-on-six special needs all-star scrimmage.

SUNY Purchase is home to the many programs that Backyard Sports Care offers.

SUNY Purchase is home to the many programs that Backyard Sports Care offers.

“We are excited to host this event again. This is a unique opportunity for basketball enthusiasts to experience playing at the state-of-the-art MSG facility while helping raise funds for children in our area who do not have traditional access to sports programming,”
Bernstein said.

Every season throughout the school year, Backyard Sports Cares is on location at various schools across Westchester before and after the school day, providing much needed sports training to the underserved community. They partner with local organizations, like the White Plains Youth Bureau and the Carver Center in Port Chester, to custom tailor their programs to meet the needs of the children in each community.

Examples of some of the programs Backyard Sports Care provides include an after school athletic experience in all the White Plains elementary schools teaching more than 600 challenged youths over a 20-week period for the EXCEL program in USTA-sponsored tennis, soccer, basketball and, just recently, lacrosse as well as Amazing Afternoons at the Edward Williams Elementary school in Mt. Vernon, which offer a safe, positive and nurturing after-school experience for 125 children from first to fifth grade that are considered at risk.

In New Rochelle, Backyard addressed an issue of unsupervised early morning school drop-offs at Jefferson Elementary School by providing coaching and team play for students to engage in soccer and basketball prior to the start of the school day. The program has had a transformative effect in the classroom. The principal and teachers report increased attendance and an overall better adjusted student at the start of the day.

Underserved and special needs children take part in Backyard’s three-on-three basketball tournament.

Underserved and special needs children take part in Backyard’s three-on-three basketball tournament.

Backyard also provides the special needs community, for children ages 5 to 15, with a safe and appropriately competitive program to learn and enjoy team sports. The activities focus on athletic development skills while stressing the proper behaviors required for optimal group cooperation. The program, which is held at SUNY Purchase, is staffed with a combination of outstanding teacher/coaches and high school peer mentors with a 1:1 teaching ratio.

These programs build skills, confidence and self-esteem as well as a love and devotion to sports and fitness. Linda White-Banta, the mother of a special needs child first got involved with Backyard Sports Cares when her son participated in the program.

“It made a huge difference in his life,” White-Banta said. “At the time, there was no program for someone like him to participate in, to learn skills, to play a sport like soccer.  And the program has other benefits as well. It brings families of special needs children together and provides an opportunity for all of us to make new friends.”

For more information on Backyard Sports Cares, visit byardsportscares.org or call 914-304-4052.

NOT TO BAD

Column: USA? OK!

Sports editor Mike Smith thinks the real reason Americans cheer our international squads on is for a welcome respite during the work day.

Sports editor Mike Smith thinks the real reason Americans cheer our international squads on is for a welcome respite during the work day.

Call me crazy but, as a sports fan, I enjoy nothing more than watching games being played at odd hours. Now I’m not advocating that Major League Baseball starts scheduling more 11 a.m. starts during the week or that Knicks games should only be aired in the coveted 3 a.m. time slot—although such a move would ensure only diehard New York fans are subjected to the unique sort of misery the Knicks create. I’m just saying, in certain instances, non-primetime games have a special aura about them that’s tough to replicate.

Obviously, unusual airtimes most often come into play during international events. As I’m writing this, the USA Men’s Hockey team is taking on Canada in the Olympic semi-finals. In the Hometown Media offices, 50 percent of the reporters here are tuned into the game on an online NBC feed, muttering audibly when the U.S. botches a solid chance or when the internet connection slows, halting the action at an inopportune time.

Now, one might consider this a gross dereliction of duty on our part, but I assure you, we’re not alone. All over the country, scores of workers trapped at their cubicles are similarly keeping tabs on the big game while pretending to file TPS reports, or whatever it is office workers do. Plus, it could be worse. We could have all called in sick and spent the afternoon at Buffalo Wild Wings, cheering the USA on a big screen with a couple of ice cold draughts in hand, as many others opted to do.

And it’s not just the Olympics; check out YouTube videos of American crowds watching Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup and you’ll see a lot of crowded sports bars, despite the fact that the game took place in the late afternoon on a week day.

Of course, any time you have an American team competing against foreign opposition, it brings supporters of the red, white and blue out of the woodwork. In a sports world that sees a lot of divided loyalties, that much is a given. It doesn’t even matter that soccer and hockey don’t normally capture the imagination of the American sporting public in the same way the NFL does; I would almost guarantee that a good 35 percent of fans who dug their USA sweatshirts out of the backs of their closets today to go hang out at Bennigans and lustily boo a bunch of Canadian skaters probably came into today thinking Jonathan Quick’s finest accomplishment was the publication of “Gulliver’s Travels.”

But once the puck drops, none of that matters. It’s not the names on the backs of the jerseys that bring people together, it’s not a genuine love for the sport we happen to be watching. What brings us together is community, national pride and the possibility that we are all part of an experience that will truly be a special one.

But more than anything, what brings us together for games like this is the shared knowledge that, if our boys just keep it close, we probably have at least two hours before we have to get back to work.

And that’s something worth celebrating.

 

Follow Mike on Twitter, 

@LiveMike_Sports

 
CAREY

Column: City Council’s responsibility to protect

carey“Now is the winter of our discontent.” Shakespeare, Richard the Third, Act 1, Scene 1, Line 1.

My own discontent comes from doubt that the city is fulfilling its responsibility to protect.

For Snowbound Elderly and Infirm in Suburbs, This Winter Is a Season of Isolation, warned the New York Times in a headline on Feb. 15. And who in Rye has a list of names and addresses of the elderly and infirm? And who knows where you can go to get warm if your heat goes off, or where to get some bread and soup if you are out of food? Who knows where to get electricity if you need to plug-in some device in order to keep you going?

During one of the recent snowstorms, I looked at the city’s new red alert and elsewhere on the city’s web site, trying to find answers to some of these questions. I inquired of a high-ranking city official and was simply told we are lucky there have been no power outages.

Yes we are lucky, so far at least. But are we going to trust to luck, or will we take realistic precautions to be ready for emergencies?

If the city is not up to shouldering its responsibility to protect in emergencies, then private citizens will have to fill the gap. Fortunately, there is an organization, the Citizens Emergency Response Team—described in this paper a week ago—but it is just getting started and needs a lot of help.

While the city should not attempt to take over CERT, it might be a good idea for one member of the City Council to join the CERT board to assure liaison.

The City Council clearly bears a responsibility to protect towards its residents, but it also is responsible for protecting members of the city staff from errors that could harm them personally.

An instance of this came up at the council meeting of Feb. 5.

There was an agenda item on surplus city property. It is important to keep in mind city property belongs to the taxpayers and cannot be given away by city staff if it has any value.

If an item of city property is no longer needed, of course it can be disposed of. But it cannot validly be given away if it has any value, any more than money in a city bank account can be given away. This is most obvious when a recipient is an individual, but even if it is a municipality, a gift costs the taxpayers money. Surplus city property must be evaluated and full market value received for it. Or it can be sold at a duly advertised auction.

All this must be clearly understood by all members of the City Council, especially those who are lawyers. When they see a city staff member about to commit a questionable act, they should step in and look into it, protecting the staffer from the consequences of a costly mistake.

Misuse of public property for private parties must be avoided by the council, which is the highest level of the city government. There is public property at the corner of the Post Road and Central Avenue. Previous City Councils referred to it as a park, but now we find that it is to be used by a private party as a staging area during nearby construction.

The City Council has a responsibility to protect the environment. If one small piece of open land can be despoiled without regard to the environmental impacts, then larger and larger public parcels can also be lost as open space committed to the enjoyment of future generations. And entirely apart from the failure to assess the environmental impacts of the radical change of use from a park to a parking lot, there is the issue of public property being turned over to
private use.

It may be that city staff involved in such maneuvers fails to grasp the gravity of what is proposed or its
possible consequences for themselves. If so, they need the help of the City Council in order to see the situation more clearly. The Council has a responsibility to protect in this as in other situations. If the council sees city staff about to do something that could get them into trouble, it is up to the council to step in and help staff understand that we want our city, and all who act in its name, to play by the rules and stay out of trouble.

Let this “winter of our discontent” be blessed with the comforting warmth of compliance with the rule of law.

CONTACT: j_pcarey@verizon.net

 
Marvin-Mary

Column: We’re getting squeezed from all sides over here

Mayor-MarvinAt the February monthly meeting, the trustees acted on a myriad of substantive issues in the areas of taxes, public works and public utilities.

The board joined a consortium with neighboring communities—which includes New Rochelle, Eastchester, Ardsley, Tuckahoe, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Pelham and Pelham Manor—to challenge a proposed astronomical raise in water cost and hydrant maintenance by our water purveyor, United Water.

United Water is asking the state’s Public Service Commission for a 22.95 percent increase in water rates and a whopping 36.99 percent increase in hydrant maintenance fees. Sadly for the consumer, the Public Service Commission has been very willing to grant double-digit increases to the utility. As example, the village’s hydrant maintenance fees were $84,244 in 2011 and, in just two years, escalated to $126,637. This number is now the base for the proposed 36.99 percent increase.

The above scenario underscores why all water users, not just property tax payers, should share in the cost of hydrant maintenance.

Unfortunately, we have no recourse to change water providers since United Water owns all the purveyance infrastructure. All we can do is present a united front with our neighbors and legislators and fight the increases.

In the same vein, the New York State Power Authority recently authorized a 12.6 percent increase in the cost of municipal electrical rates and the hike was reflected in our January invoice.

The trustees also voted to engage the services of a local consultant, Donald Marra, to assist in the search for a new village treasurer and village administrator. We are also taking advantage in this unprecedented sea change in village management to step back and review village staffing in totality to ensure that we have the right combination of skill sets, full and part-time staff, and the level of efficiency and services that taxpayers deserve.

The village’s tax collection was recently reconciled. As a refresher, the village collects approximately $8 million to run the village and $38 million to operate the school. As of Jan. 31, 2014, $1,138,892.86 was uncollected, representing 2.46 percent of the levy.

The village must make the school district whole, so tax liens will be sold on March 13, 2014. Per New York State law, the lien sale will be noticed in the paper of record. A list of real estate parcels identified by section, block and lot on which taxes remain unpaid is available in the village treasurer’s office.

Funded in past capital budgets, the trustees voted to engage Calgi Construction Management to evaluate the Department of Public Works facility on Palumbo Place. Never modernized since its construction in the mid-1940s, a thorough evaluation is long overdue. The goal of the review is to determine whether the existing facility is worthy of modifications to meet the needs and equipment of a 2014 department or rather it is more prudent and cost effective to construct a new or pre-fab structure. Our current facility will be evaluated with regard to vehicle maintenance needs, equipment and material storage, material handling, electrical needs, environmental regulations and en–
ergy efficiency.

Add to this list, the now unprecedented costs for salt and snow removal resulting in another challenging budget process.

All of the above variables are set in the backdrop of the governor’s continued emphasis on a 2 percent tax cap increase despite the fact that state government unfunded mandates continue unabated while state aid to communities continues to decrease.

The fallacy of the 2 percent tax cap is that, well before its inception, no communities were increasing staffing and/or services by 2 percent, rather they were trimming services to deal with the often double-digit tax increases sent directly from Albany.

At the February trustees meeting, the trustees, as is custom, voted to set the process in motion to override the tax cap, though we have only exceeded the 2 percent cap once and that by only $40,000. Our vote is rather a statement of support for local control of budgetary decisions. The trustees believe we are elected to be stewards of the local taxpayers’ dollars and answerable only and directly to them and not be an instrument to advance the political aspirations of others.

Finally, we have added a special meeting/work session of the Board of Trustees for Wednesday, Feb. 19, to chiefly discuss our upcoming capital program.