City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS – By the time the early 1970s rolled around, any promise perceived of a train bound for glory on a fast track to the Aquarian Age had instead become supplanted by a cranky subway car departing a graffiti-stained station with a congregation of misfits aboard.
It is these characters of humanity – Rake the hustler, Fick the junkie, Al the alcoholic, and Franny the transvestite prostitute – put on display, in all their grit and glory in the staging of Skidmore Theater’s presentation of “Balm In Gilead.” The play, scripted by Lanford Wilson, premiered Off Off Broadway at La MaMa in 1965 and a generation later re-set to take place in the early 1970s.
The geography is uptown Manhattan, the setting an all-night diner where characters drift in and out against a backdrop of booths and swiveling stools that lean on a cheesy, diamond-motif counter topped by metal napkin holders, red and yellow plastic-spout squeeze bottles, and a big, clunky cash register.
Under the direction of Phil Soltanoff - a veteran of recent projects staged in Austin, Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York City - the two dozen or so Skidmore College players convincingly convey a scenario with a talented realism that certainly pre-dates the time before their own existence on earth if not their parents, in providing a voyeuristic experience of a collection of characters whose lives are simultaneously humorous and tragic.
Sydney Tennant portrays the doe-eyed Darlene - a naïve, newly transplanted New Yorker - with credible splendor, marathon monologuing deep into the night, expressing every single thought that pours from her mind with a blend of child-like innocence and annoying animation. She engages even the most hardened characters seated in the 24-hour diner in a shared humanity, if only for a fleeting moment. When she concludes her soliloquy by saying “Anyway, to make a long story short…” it cracks everyone up, characters and audience alike.
In John - the grungy, apron-draped cafe manager portrayed by Jacob Hudson who alternates his time between cooking in the kitchen and showing non-paying customers the door - and Kay, the yellow- garbed waitress played by Anabel Milton who runs around taking coffee orders and wiping down tables – the play depicts a solid foundation of the drab, bleak realities of the working class. It stands in high contrast to the commotion of platinum blonde wigs and wounded blue jeans, hot pants, leather thigh-high boots and fishnet stockings, silver sequined miniskirts and post-hippie fringe in a sleaze-and-glam cacophony that lives somewhere between a New York Dolls concert and a Starsky & Hutch TV show.
Lulu Fairclough-Stewart especially shines as the oh-so-bored, scarlet-haired Ann, providing a perfect foil to Darlene’s ramblings, nursing a cigarette and firmly encased in her hard shell of emotional body armor, before heading back into the street, past a shuttered bodega and an alleyway framed by trash, to make her living. Chris Naughton is convincing as well in a lead role as the mustached drug dealer Joe, for whom the naïve Darlene falls.
The ensemble as a whole weaves its work like a large orchestra, a series of direct and non-direct actions conveying the mayhem with an authenticity; These student actors bring the scenes to life.
An appropriate soundtrack blares out the diner jukebox throughout: Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River,” “Thunder Road,” and “Jungleland,” and “Waltzing Matilda” sung by Tom Waits, that fittingly sprinkles the optimistic hope of escape onto on-the-nod moments of despair.
After the final curtain call, the characters return for one more go-around the diner, reminiscent of the dusky cycling at the conclusion of the Rolling Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter,” and which leaves the open question: are we moving on to a grander time in this life, or being forced to return to our destiny, time and again?
Skidmore Theater Presents “Balm In Gilead,” by Lanford Wilson. Director: Phil Soltanoff.
Performances at 8 p.m. Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 23. Skidmore College: Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Mainstage. Tickets are $12 adult, $8 students and faculty. After the April 22 performance of Balm in Gilead, the Skidmore Theater Department will host its annual house party. “That 70’s House Party,” is a celebratory event to recognize the department’s achievements this year.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The twins are 13 now, the effort to fulfill their special needs a continuing work-in-progress.
“I have to say my boys have some difficult challenges, but they’re hard workers and every day they make progress, every day they learn,” explains the boys’ mother, Kristin Howarth. “It’s not a sprint, but a marathon. You just keep pushing and keep teaching and keep helping them make those milestones.”
A little over a decade ago, Howarth and her husband relocated to upstate New York. The twins were about 18 months old when The Howarths noticed the boys seemed delayed in meeting some of their developmental milestones.
“We started a music program with the boys when they were just over a year. We looked around at the group and saw what the other kids were doing and what my kids weren’t,” Howarth recalled. “At around a year old there’s a certain number of words that a typically-developing child will say, that our guys were not saying. It made me ask some questions. It was a significant factor that made us speak out and have discussions with our pediatrician,” Howarth says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for general development using standardized, validated tools at 9, 18, and 24 or 30 months and for autism at 18 and 24 months, or whenever a parent or provider has a concern.
By their first birthday, a child will typically say “mama” and “dada” and voice exclamations like “uh-oh!” as well as trying to repeat words they hear from their parents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s milestones checklist may downloaded here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/all_checklists.pdf.
An early intervention therapist was sent to work with the family, visiting the home four days a week over the next six months, after which Gavin and Noah were diagnosed with autism, also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“When you do hear it, it’s a blow and all of these things you picture as a parent come crashing down: Will my children ever play sports? Will they have friends and go to the prom? Will they drive? will they get married?” she wondered. “There’s no welcoming committee when your child is diagnosed with autism. No one comes and knocks on your door to say: Here are some things that you can do; Here’s a go-to guide. You basically leave the doctor’s office after that diagnosis and you think: What do I do now?”
The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children, in multiple communities in the United States, has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD - roughly 30 percent higher than estimates previously reported in 2012. The data also show that ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls.
Howarth searched the Internet, but answers were hard to come by a decade ago. “They were diagnosed at just over two years of age and it quickly became pretty obvious to us that there weren’t a lot of resources in our area, short of traveling down to Albany,” she says. “It was a challenge because we live up in Queensbury. We figured, why can’t we create it? So, we did.”
Gavin and Noah were the driving force behind the creation of Upstate NY Autism Alliance (UNYAA). The organization provides resources, education, recreation and advocacy services. Howarth provides advocacy, program development, consulting and education through the group.
“It was a very emotional time and that was also one of the factors in starting the group. We wanted to give children as many opportunities as we could, just like their typically developing peers, because they’re kids first. Autism is secondary.”
Howarth’s group is comprised of volunteers who help connect parents with children diagnosed with autism, with resources. “We also provide activities every month so parents can get together with their children and talk to other families and meet other people in their school district - families involved in the group, somebody they can feel comfortable talking with,” says Howarth, who adds that she has also accessed valuable services from Saratoga Bridges. “They have some wonderful things that provide services for families such as ours.”
UNYAA and Saratoga Bridges are teaming up to co-host this weekend’s Autism Expo at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The family event will feature more than 85 vendors and exhibitors, a variety of activities and games, arts and crafts, and sensory toys for kids. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend Sunday’s expo.
“It’s an amazing event under one roof. We have all these resources for families who can talk to different vendors, providers, and people who offer different services for kids in the spectrum,” Howarth says.
ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.
“They have to be taught in a different way and broken down into simple steps. People don’t really understand what autism is, but really, it’s just that their brains are wired differently. They don’t learn the way we do, or they may not interpret things the way we do,” Howarth says.
All of the causes of ASD are not known. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental and genetic factors.
“They look typical, but they don’t process information – both incoming and outgoing – so it can be a challenge for them to just pick up those social cues like another child might.”
The sixth annual Autism Expo will be held noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23 at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The event is free and features exhibitors from camps, school programs pre-k through college, technological apps for autism, recreation and therapeutic programs, a bounce house and arts and crafts.
Upstate NY Autism Alliance (UNYAA) is a not-for-profit alliance formed by dedicated parents of children experiencing the affects of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For more information, go to: http://www.upstatenyautism.org/. Saratoga Bridges has provided programs to people with disabilities and their families for more than 60 years. For more information, go to: http://www.saratogabridges.org/.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Several plans are currently being considered to address the city’s push to help local workers retain city residences. Workforce housing specifically is a gap Mayor Joanne Yepsen has identified as a primary need to be filled.
Site plans are anticipated to be in place by early-to-mid May for the development of more than 100 workforce housing units on a near five-acre parcel of land on South Broadway, according to a report by the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force, which held its monthly meeting at City Hall this week.
The proposal calls for the development of 120 one and two-bedroom units with a rent structure of 60 to 100 percent AMI - a $50,400 to $84,000 range - while 14 units would be offered at a “fair-market rent” to military veterans. AMI, or the Area Median Income for a family of four in Saratoga County is about $84,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Saratoga Diner, which closed in 2012 and occupies the land, will be razed. The owner of the property – who plans to lease the land – has indicated that the horse atop the diner will be salvaged and likely remain with his family.
An Orlando, Florida based developer involved in the project has created local partnerships to help facilitate the project. “I think it’s going to be a stunning design,” Mayor Yepsen said. The South Broadway scheme will include a retail business component.
Housing Units Slated for Stonequist, Jefferson Terrace
A Request for Proposal, or RFP, is expected to be issued shortly regarding two other projects that could site 110 additional “affordable” units. Eighty of those units are expected to be developed adjacent to the Stonequist apartments, projected at 40 to 100 percent of AMI, with another 30 units at the former site of the William H. Ford Community Center, at Jefferson Terrace. Both are under the ownership of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority. The latter site will feature eight housing units reserved for military veterans, eight units for victims of domestic violence, and are based on 30 percent of income, in which vouchers may be used.
West Side Plan Calls for 10 New Buildings
Two potential west side projects seek to collectively site 10 new buildings, a five-story hotel, more than 400 residential units and nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space adjacent to the Saratoga Springs train station. Residences would include 114 units dedicated for senior housing, 66 units for senior assisted care, and 160 apartment units which seemingly would fall under the “workforce” or “affordable” housing category. Seventy-two residential for-sale condominiums, a retail business component, and a new five-story hotel and spa would also be part of the project.
City-Wide Affordable Housing Ordinance Vote Slated for May
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen remains hopeful the City Council will vote in May on an Inclusionary Zoning ordinance that would have all new housing developments and apartment complexes across the city include as much as 20 percent of those units deemed affordable to people with lower to moderate incomes.
The city Affordable Housing Task Force has advocated for the SPA Housing Zoning plan, and would integrate persons of all income levels across the city ,said Task Force Chairwoman Cheryl Hage-Perez.The proposal has met disapproval, however, from some local groups who indicate they would rather see “site-specific” programs – such as the South Broadway plan. Such a plan sites those seeking affordable housing in one place. Some builders have also expressed concern that while the ordinance would allow them a 20 percent density bonus in construction to make the project financially viable, city zoning restrictions would hamper any such extended development, and are requesting zoning regulations also be increased by 20 percent to aid structural development. A City Hall workshop will be scheduled regarding the ordinance, although a date has yet to be set.
Code Blue Permanent Shelter Moves Closer to Nov. 1 Opening
Plans for a permanent Code Blue emergency homeless shelter, which would operate during cold-extreme weather months, cleared its first hurdle at the city Land Use boards this week when the Zoning Board of Appeals approved that the project move forward.
Plans call for the 6,400 square-foot site to be built as an addition to existing Shelters of Saratoga properties on Walworth Street. Officials said this week they are targeting a Nov. 1 opening for the 61-bed facility. Should that timeline not be met, the possibility exists Code Blue may continue to operate at the Soul Saving Station on Henry Street where it is currently located. Last February, local business owner Ed Mitzen and his wife Lisa announced they will pay for the costs for the new shelter to be built. The plan was slated to go in front of the city Planning Board on Thursday, April 13.
The City Council will hold a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Monday April 17, and a full council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 18 at City Hall.
The Design Review Commission will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 19 at City Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – They first began to appear on the front of buildings in the city a year or two ago. More recently, structures in areas of high visibility – South Broadway, Henry Street, and Van Dam Street, among them – have been adorned with a square placard marked with a red-letter “X.”
The signs, which grace the faces of approximately 40 buildings in the city, are used by fire and emergency service crews as a “do not enter” alert and indicate the building is structurally unsound or hazardous to safety in some way, explains Saratoga Springs Fire Department Lt. Aaron Dyer.
Building inspections are conducted annually and the placards are periodically added removed as is determined structurally.
Mostly, the red-letter X placard represents an abandoned or vacant structure; if by chance someone is inside during a fire – such as a homeowner conducting repairs or someone trespassing on the property - a decision is made by a member of the command staff about whether to enter the facility, Dyer said. Otherwise, the blaze is battled from the outside the building and any neighboring structures are protected from exposure to flames.
Who: Roy McDonald.
Where: Saratoga Springs Public Library.
Q. What are you doing today?
A. I’m with my granddaughter, Jane, at the library. She comes over every Wednesday for a wonderful reading program they have for little kids. My three daughters all used to go to the program when it was at the old Saratoga Springs Public Library.
Q. What occupies your time these days?
I have a wonderful wife, and children and grandchildren and now I’m able to spend a little more time with them. I’m very blessed. I’m also on a variety of boards: New York State Military Museum Board of Directors, the Saratoga Bridges Board of Directors, Wildwood School System Advisory Board, the CAPTAIN’S Advisory Board. I’m very active in disabilities at the statewide level. I have two autistic grandsons who are the focal point of my life, and I’m going to have my sixth grandchild in May.
Q. You spent a lot of time in public service as State Senator, as Assemblyman, and as longtime Supervisor for the town of Wilton. To what extent do you still follow politics, locally and nationally?
A. I have nothing but positive things to say about the local situation. Nationally, I think people need to be a little more focused to get something accomplished, rather than being negative.
Q. Is there something you’re most proud of during your years of public service?
A. I’m very honored I had a long career and that I was able to do a lot of things in the town of Wilton, Saratoga County, in the Assembly and the Senate. I also had a business career. I’m very gratified. I love them all. It’s like having children, they’re all equal. I specifically look at the town Wilton when I was Supervisor for 23 years. People say: you did a lot of stuff. But, nobody gets everything done by themselves. There’s good people in a lot of these places. We accomplished a lot and today the town of Wilton is the envy of just about every town in the state of New York.
Q. What’s the most recent movie you have seen?
A. I went to see Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman (“Going in Style”) a couple days ago with my wife. We go to a lot of movies. We go to the one in the mall, and we go to the new one in Saratoga Springs as well.
Q. What brush have you had with fame?
A. I met President George Bush (43) and I met President Obama. The irony is most of the conversation was about baseball. President Bush was a Texas Ranger fan and President Obama was a Chicago White Sox fan and when they asked me who I liked, I said: the New York Yankees. OK? And they just smiled. And everybody knows I’m a Buffalo Bills fan.
Q. Have you gotten over Scott Norwood’s famous “wide right” kick that resulted in the Buffalo Bills losing to the N.Y. Giants in Super Bowl XXV ?
A. I had the honor of meeting (former Bills’ quarterback) Jim Kelly some years ago and we talked about that. He told me it was one of the worst moments of his life. But he liked Scott Norwood. And you know “Tuna”? (Former Giants’ coach) Bill Parcells lives in the Saratoga area and I met him one morning at a Stewart’s. I was wearing a Yankee hat and he came up to me, said he was a Yankee fan and asked me, “Do you root for the Giants?” I said, no, actually I root for the Buffalo Bills. And he asked, “Do you forgive me?” And I said, “no,” ha. But, he’s a very good man.
Q. How has Saratoga Springs changed over the decades?
A. Saratoga Springs is the best city in upstate New York. I think it’s one of the best cities in the country if you look at proportional size. I think it’s a safe city, the people are very family-oriented - and that’s the key. You protect the people, the taxes are reasonable, and the suburbs: Wilton, Malta, Clifton Park, Halfmoon; I’ve watched school systems like Schuylerville and South Glens Falls, and Ballston Spa become tremendous school systems. I’ve seen it with Saratoga Springs when my children went to school, and Shenendehowa, and now the smaller schools are getting the benefit of this. So, we’ve been blessed. And most importantly, we’ve been blessed with good people. People who move here, or are from here and stay here. It’s beautiful.
The southern gateway into the city may appear radically different in the near future if all goes according to plan.
A proposal currently under consideration calls for the demolition of the Saratoga Diner - closed in 2012 - and the development of more than 100 workforce housing units in its place on a five-acre parcel of land on South Broadway. Mayor Joanne Yepsen this week met with a Florida developer who anticipates soon submitting an application for the proposed plan. The owner of the property, who was not publicly named, first engaged Yepsen in discussions about potential leasing uses for the land three or four years ago, according to the mayor.
“The owner said, ‘I don’t want to sell, I want to lease. What does the city need?’ I said workforce housing,” Yepsen said.
The lease proposal calls for the development of 120 affordable workforce housing units in a mixed-use configuration consisting of residential apartments and retail space. More than 100 of the rental units would be offered to those earning in between 60 and 100 percent of the AMI - a $50,400 to $84,000 range - while 14 units would be offered at a “fair-market rent” to military veterans. AMI, or the Area Median Income for a family of four in Saratoga County is about $84,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Parties involved in the potential transaction anticipate an official deal being in place by late April, or early May.
Originally known as the Spa City Diner, sections of its more recent incarnation as The Saratoga Diner date back to the late 1940s. It was a once-popular stopover spot for visiting performers and political dignitaries such as Mario Cuomo, Liza Minelli, Count Basie – who was particular to the beef stew, according to published reports, and singer Tom Jones – a fan of the diner’s spaghetti and meatballs. The Spa City Diner in 2001 was re-named the Saratoga Diner. It closed for good in 2012.
In an attempt to meet affordable housing needs in Saratoga Springs, the city also is pursuing potential plans for a large development off West Avenue, adjacent to the Saratoga Train station, as well as a project behind the Stonequist Apartments, where a mixed-income, mixed-use development facing Circular Street could feature as many as 60 to 100 housing units.
Public Hearing on Spa Housing Zoning Ordinance Draws Large Crowd
A public hearing slated to take 10 minutes regarding a plan to site a percentage of “affordable” housing in all new developments across the city, consumed the better part of an hour Tuesday night. The SPA Housing Zoning plan – based on a 2006 ordinance that was never enacted – calls for all new housing developments and apartment complexes across the city to include 10 to 20 percent of the units deemed affordable to people with lower to moderate incomes.
The Inclusionary Zoning, or IZ, would target potential renters and homeowners alike. Eleven members of the public as well as those representing area organizations addressed the council during Tuesday’s public hearing. Of those, three said they were in favor of some kind of affordable housing measures, but not the IZ as it currently stands, and six people said they were in favor of the IZ, at least as a starting point to address the city’s housing needs.
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen had initially hoped the City Council may be able to vote on the measure as soon as May, but following a discussion that raised the concerns of local developers who would build the projects and of the banks that would finance them, members of the City Council expressed that it might be in everyone’s interests to hold one or two special workshops specifically on the topic in the near future, although no date for such a gathering was set.
New Tap Room Coming to Saratoga Springs in June
The City Council unanimously approved an Economic Development Revolving Loan Application for R.S. Taylor & Sons Brewery Tap Room. Richard Taylor, who operates a tap room on his 50-acre farm in Washington County, is looking to open a 1,600 square-foot tap room in the Congress Street plaza in June. The type of loan, initially federally funded, is for $75,000, carries a 3 percent interest rate, and calls for assurances that one position of employment is created for every $25,000 borrowed.
Collamer Lot/ East Side EMS Land Deal: “It’s Time To Move On”
Nearly four years to the date since Chris Mathiesen first began working on a pair of land transactions that would have the city sell a parking lot adjacent to Broadway’s Collamer Building and subsequently purchase a Union Avenue parcel to build an East Side Fire/EMS station was publicly declared a dead deal by the public safety commissioner on Tuesday. “It’s time to move on,” said Mathiesen, invoking a sentiment not unlike an emotionally abandoned lover in a relationship gone-wrong. The arrangement had been mired in a lawsuit – in which the city reportedly spent at least $50,000 in legal fees – an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office, and a long period of inactivity. It is believed some type of City Council or legal action may now be necessary to officially nullify the potential deal.
The Zoning Boards of Appeals will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Monday, April 10 at City Hall.
The Planning Board will hold a workshop 5 p.m. Monday, April 10 and a full meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13 at City Hall.
The city’s Affordable Housing Task Force will hold a meeting 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 11 at City Hall.
Library Election and Budget Vote on April 13
On April 13, citizens of the Saratoga Springs School District will elect a library trustee and vote on the 2017-2018 library budget. The election will be held in the Library’s H. Dutcher Community Room from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saratoga Springs School District residents who are registered voters are eligible to vote. A public hearing concerning the budget and an opportunity to meet the trustee candidates will be held 7 p.m. on Monday, April 10 in the H. Dutcher Community Room.Library Trustees are asking the voters to approve a tax levy of $5,103,600 for FY 2017-2018, which is a 0.5 percent increase from the amount approved for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The library serves the residents of the Saratoga Springs Enlarged City School District. The proposed budget can be found by visiting the library’s website at: www.sspl.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The mysterious man you may have noticed creeping across the fringes of city neighborhood lawns in the pre-dawn hours last weekend has been identified.
“I cooked up an idea that I thought would be a little bit of fun,” admits Todd Shimkus, who in his weekday role serves as president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “It actually turned into a lot of fun.”
Shimkus and city resident Susan Halstead have engaged in a traditional April Fool’s Day duel that dates to Halstead’s time as chamber chairperson. At that time, Halstead contacted board members about a special Executive Session being called to inform them that Shimkus was embezzling funds. “He was on a golf course in Florida and his phone just started blowing up,” Halstead laughed.
“April Fool’s Day is her favorite day of the year and she is ruthless,” said Shimkus, who hatched his plan several weeks ago, by ordering political-style lawn signs to announce Halstead was running for mayor. “I thought adding “A Vision for The Future,” was pretty funny,” Shimkus said, referring to the word-play that points to Halstead’s ownership of a local vision center.
“I identified friends of hers in the city and at five o’clock in the morning I got up, drove around and put signs in their yards. I didn’t tell anybody what I did and then (on Facebook) pretended to be in Virginia for the day.”
Shimkus eventually fessed up, a day later. “She texted me and had a sneaking suspicion that it was me.” In November, city voters will head to the polls to elect a mayor for the next two years. Halstead was asked if she, after all, was considering tossing her hat in to the political ring. “De-fin-ite-ly NOT,” she said with a laugh. “It was a Todd Shimkus April Fool’s Day prank. And he paid me back big-time.”
Who: Maureen Sager.
Where: Spring Street Gallery.
Q. What’s your day like?
A. I wear many hats. I’m executive director of Spring Street Gallery and right now we’re developing a show on birds that will open on April 29.
Q. What’s another hat you wear?
A. Project director at the Upstate Alliance for the Creative Economy. People tell me about projects they’re working on and we look for ways we think the creative industries can be developed in this region. And we’re finding lots of ways to bring business and arts organizations and parks organizations and others together, and to roll it into a vibrant, economically thriving way to address the creative industries and the arts.
Q. How big is the region you oversee as project director?
A. It’s eight counties, as far a south as Columbia and Greene and north to Washington and Warren counties.
Q. Do you have a nickname?
A. Moe. Everyone calls me Moe.
Q. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A. A fashion designer. I had two aunts that went to Fashion institute of Technology and boy, that captured my imagination as I was growing up in New Jersey. I thought that was a very glamorous career.
Q. What was your first concert?
A. The Jacksons at Nassau Coliseum. I was like 10 years old. My mom wanted to do something exciting for us, so she took us to a Jacksons concert. It was on Easter Sunday. What was really embarrassing: we were in our Easter outfits. It was so bad. I never felt like a bigger dork in my entire life.
Q. What’s your favorite brush with fame?
A. I used to be in the entertainment industry and so many of my stories about famous people are not good. But, someone who delighted me goes back to my first job in New York, when I worked for management company for Kiss, the rock band. I saw them regularly at the time, but much, much later - about 13 years later, while I was working for a big record company, I ran into Paul and Gene in the elevator. I was thinking: should I say hi? Ah, they’re never going to remember a girl who worked for them that long ago, but I finally said, ‘Paul and Gene you probably won’t remember me…’ I thought they were going to blow me off, but instead, Gene says: ‘Paul! Look! It’s her!” Ha, they were so sweet about it. They didn’t remember me, of course, but they made good fun out of it, and I thought that’s the kind of famous person that I really appreciate. They were so generous in that moment, to acknowledge me and to give something back, because that’s something in that industry that’s so rarely done.
Q. When did you move to Saratoga?
A. Twelve years ago.
Q. How has the city changed in that time?
A. It’s changed a lot. My first couple of years here, I felt that I knew a small subset of people who I’d run into in town. I thought that was just a wonderful way to bring up my kids and raise a family. Now, I’ll sometimes go to an event in Saratoga and I won’t know anyone. And that’s also very exciting in a way, to have groups of people with such varied interests. I think Saratoga benefits from all these varied interests we have.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – City residents and visitors alike will soon have a centrally located resource to bring their ideas to foster a better understanding of cultural differences, as well as express concerns about potential human rights violations.
“Luckily, we’re a very safe city, but I’ve had enough proof and input from our citizens that we’re not immune to problems,” said city Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who after appointing five people to a human rights-focused planning committee is “moving forward to the next level” and coordinating a seven-person Human Rights Task Force.
“It’s hate crimes I’m most worried about: prejudice, not accepting one another as equals - basic human rights,” Yepsen said. “We’re going to be proactive but also in a reactive mode, too, if anything were to occur like the swastikas.”
Last November, spray-painted swastikas surfaced on city streets. Police conducted a hate speech investigation after a social media site that referenced neo-Nazis mentioned Saratoga Springs High School, and a senior class student of Jewish descent came upon anti-Semitic acts.
“The idea of this human rights group came up a year ago. This is a need. It wasn’t because of the Trump election,” Yepsen told a group of reporters gathered in the mayor’s office, before the question could be asked. “It was more a case of: we need to be a better city. And being a better city means we take care of our citizens. I would like to have a resource to help ensure we can maintain our status as a community that fosters mutual respect and understanding among racial, religious and nationality groups in the city.”
The Schenectady County Human Rights Commission served as an informational resource, said Yepsen, who also consulted with state legislators. The Schenectady Commission, which was established in 1965, is a policy-making body composed of 15 commissioners appointed by the County Legislature. The proposed seven-member Saratoga Springs task force will differ in regards to the amount of power it may wield.
“The Commission in Schenectady County can take calls and work on cases. We’re not going to be qualified to do that, but we do have a lot of organizations in town that are, and we can suggest a list of referrals – like EOC, like the Racecourse Chaplaincy, like the Legal Aid Society,” Yepsen said.
“We depend greatly on people from other cultures to work here. Let’s face it, there are 2,500 different people working for the racing industry and many of them are Latinos. I think there are seven different dialects spoken on the backstretch alone and more and more of these families are settling in our city as community members. We also have a lot of restaurant workers who come here and try to make a go of it, so we’re trying to respond to their needs.”
The city’s Human rights Taskforce will focus mostly on education, programming and collaboration. The mayor cited the city’s annual series of public events and programs celebrating the work of Martin Luther King Jr. as a model of what can be done year-round related to human rights to foster a better understanding of cultural differences.
Anyone interested in joining the Human Rights Task Force can apply via the City of Saratoga Springs Board Application form on the city’s website. Deadline for applications is April 12 and Mayor Yepsen said she hopes to appoint members to the seven-person group at the April 18 City Council Meeting.
Charter Review Commission Releases Charter Draft
The Charter Review Commission has released a draft of a proposed new Charter for Saratoga Springs city government. The 24-page document may be viewed at: https://saratogacharter.com/. A referendum will be held in November.
The City Council will hold a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Monday, April 3, and a full meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 at City Hall.
The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Technical Review Advisory Committee (TRAC) will hold a meeting 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 at Saratoga Music Hall.
The Design Review Commission will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 4 at City Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Erica Morocco sat at the head of the table, her series of paintings sprawled across the tabletop. One featured a jump-roping owl. Another depicted a pink-glazed doughnut that looked good enough to eat. In the third, a cat bowed a violin and a cow leapt over the moon.
“Be what you are and do what you like to do,” she says with encouragement. “If you like to paint, then paint. If you like music, make music.”
Morocco, who was diagnosed with Williams syndrome, lives by a simple motto. “Everybody is born differently,” she says. “You can’t change it. My feelings are that people should be who they are.”
Williams syndrome is a genetic condition that is present at birth and is characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning disabilities. The developmental disorder affects an estimated 1 in 7,500 to 10,000 people, according to The National Library of Medicine - a center of information innovation founded in 1836, and the world’s largest biomedical library.
Morocco grew up in the town of Malta, and in 2009 moved into one of Saratoga Bridges’ community-based homes in Saratoga Springs.
Saratoga Bridges is responsible for the 24/7 care of over 830 individuals and houses 132 people in its 19 community based homes. The organization, which employs nearly 600 people, is marking this pause in time to take note of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and to bring intellectual and developmental disabilities to the forefront. The group has provided services and programs to people with developmental disabilities and their families for more than 60 years by promoting their abilities and achievements in every aspect of community life.
“I like living on my house because we go out in the community and I have more opportunities to do different activities,” says Morocco. who takes art classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. Thursdays are reserved for studies on the art of the collage, and on Fridays Morocco and the group of seven who share the home go out dancing and to sing karaoke. There are weekly trips to the grocery shop, daily house chores and free time spent volunteering for Meals on Wheels. Sports is also a passion.
“I play softball, do the long jump, the 50-meter run. I like to do all of it,“ says the 38-year-old, a pair of medals clinging to her neck chain showcase her abilities in snowshoeing and track and field.
Her art pieces have received awards in juried shows, and she uses the earnings of the pieces she sells to enable her to go traveling.
“I sell my art work, saved my money and went on a tour. I’ve been to Florida, Chicago, and Boston. I visited museums and saw other artists’ work. I like traveling. I like vacations,” she says. “When I sell a piece of artwork, I feel happy inside because I worked had on it to get it to be good.”
It is a long time removed from her younger days in school, when she was bullied and caused her to be upset.
“When I was in school, when I was young, I got picked on,” she says. “You get older and you move on.”
Her advice to the world when meeting people with disabilities?
“Just treat people they way that you would like to be treated,” she says.