Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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Friday, 23 March 2018 13:22

Ringo at SPAC in September

Paris, France. Hamburg, Germany. Barcelona, Spain. Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band embark on a four-month international tour in early June that will stage a show at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Sept. 14.

The revamped All-Star Band includes Colin Hay - of Men at Work, Graham Gouldman – of 10cc, one-time Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Santana/Journey keyboardist Gregg Rollie, drummer Gregg Bissonette and sax/flute/percussionist Warren Ham.

BALLSTON SPA – Sheriff Michael Zurlo on Monday announced what he called “the largest seizure of illegal narcotics that I have ever seen in Saratoga County.”

The six-month investigation resulted in the execution of seven warrants on March 4 during which six people were arrested. Authorities seized 18 long guns, two pistols, 2.5 kilos of cocaine – with a street value of $250,000 according to Zurlo, 20 pounds of packaged marijuana – with a street value of $40,000, five vehicles and more than $264,000 cash.

In September 2017 the Sheriff’s office initiated an undercover investigation during which they infiltrated the suspected drug ring.

“The seizure has made a major dent in drug trafficking that occurs in Saratoga County,” Zurlo said Monday, thanking local, state, and federal authorities involved in the case.


Dennis E. Jones, 64, Schuylerville. Charges: criminal possession of a controlled substance, and criminal possession of marijuana - both felonies, and two misdemeanor counts criminal possession of a weapon. Jones is suspected to be a large cocaine distributor operating for many years within Saratoga County, according to the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department. Jones was allegedly found to be in possession of multiple firearms, 1.5 Kilos of cocaine and approximately 20 pounds of marijuana. He was sent to the Saratoga County Jail on no bail.  

Kent D. Daniels, 54, Gansevoort. Charges: Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, a felony, and criminal possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor. Daniels was suspected to be distributing cocaine and marijuana throughout the county. He was sent to Saratoga County Jail on no bail.

Cleveland A. Francis, 44, Mount Vernon. Charge: criminal possession of a controlled substance, a felony. Francis is believed to have been distributing cocaine throughout the county. He was sent to Saratoga County Jail on no bail.

Ahbdul Maldonado, 46, Albany. Charges: criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell – both felonies, and criminal possession of marijuana – a misdemeanor.

Debra Comorski, 53, Schuylerville. Charges: criminal possession of a weapon, unlawful possession of marijuana. Comorski was allegedly found to be in possession of two long guns and a small quantity of marijuana. She was released on appearance tickets and will answer the charges in the Saratoga Town Court at a later date.  

Robert R. Wilder, 52, Gansevoort. Charge: unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation. Wilder was released on an appearance ticket returnable in Moreau Town Court.  

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Trinity Irish Dance Company will bring its percussive movements and innovative choreography to Saratoga for its first-ever appearance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 30

Founded in 1990, Trinity Irish Dance Company was the birthplace of progressive Irish dance, which opened new avenues of artistic expression leading directly to commercial productions such as Riverdance.

SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol said, in a statement, the company’s aerial grace and awe-inspiring precision sets up for a performance “unlike anything that’s ever been seen on the SPAC stage.”

A high-energy, professionally choreographed performance by 80 local children participating in The Performance Project: Youth in Motion, will immediately precede the Trinity Irish Dance Company’s act, at 7:15 p.m.

Tickets for the amphitheater-only performance are $27, $37 and $57, and go on sale to the public via at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 26.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Margaret MacKenzie attended church services alongside her family in Sutherland Springs, Texas the first Sunday of November last, when a gunman opened fire on the congregation.

The Saratoga Springs woman, who was in Texas visiting with relatives, promptly threw her body over her pre-teen niece and nephew.

“This was especially amazing given that Margie was born with cerebral palsy and needs a cane to walk,” says MacKenzie’s friend, Mary Monigan. The fate of another of MacKenzie’s nieces, however, ended tragically. Tara McNulty, 33, was among the 26 people killed in the attack in the mass shooting. MacKenzie was shot in the leg.

“Margie is a modest, unassuming person. She doesn’t think of what she did as anything (special), but she had tremendous presence of mind,” Monigan says. “She threw her body over those kids. The full story, honestly, took months to come out. It came in drips and drabs. She went through phases of depression and anger and survivor’s guilt, but she is getting stronger every day.”

MacKenzie, who lives in Saratoga Springs, grew up in Greenfield Center a hockey fan.

“I am a big New York Rangers fan,” she says, adding that Rangers’ forward Mats Zuccarello is her favorite player.

“When I was 16, the (Adirondack) Red Wings played up in Glens Falls. My dad was the goal judge and sat behind the glass and would push the button when there was a goal,” MacKenzie explains.  “He started taking me to the games with him, that’s where my love of hockey started.”

She became a hockey fan in the 1980s and has been following the Rangers since, although she has never had the opportunity to watch the team play in person in their New York City home rink. Enter Monigan. 

“I wanted to honor her, so we’re doing something to honor Margie - and her love of the New York Rangers,” says Monigan, who initiated A Go Fund Me page in the hope of raising $1,000 to purchase tickets for MacKenzie to see the Rangers play at Madison Square Garden and enjoy a dinner and an overnight stay in New York City.

“I just want to give this woman a break. She’s got a heart of gold, a real solid person, and she’s not the type of person to talk about herself, or to be in the limelight. It’s taken all this time until she felt safe enough to even consider making a trip to New York,” Monigan says. “I know of her love of hockey and she’s crazy for the Rangers. This would just mean the world to her.”

To visit the Go Fund Me page, see:

Who: “Joe Fegan” aka Jeff Durstewitz

- Where are you originally from?

I’m from Merrick, Long Island, where I became friends with a couple of guys named Ben and Jerry.

- The Ben & Jerry?

Yes. They’re old friends and we still get together. I brought Ben & Jerry’s to town here in 1983. I’m the original franchisee. Saratoga was the first one in New York State.

- How did that come about?

I was a copy editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer when I quit my job to come up here and start an ice cream franchise. You know this was the first place where they originally planned on opening. Ben had (previously) worked at Mrs. London’s, which was then on Phila Street. Ben and Jerry liked it here a lot. In the summer of ’77 they planned to lease a building and zeroed in on a place on Broadway…it didn’t work out. After that, they felt: well, that’s it; we can’t open in Saratoga because we can’t get the location we want, so let’s open in our second choice, which was Burlington.

- Tell us about your book, “The Devil’s Room,” which you wrote under the name Joe Fegan.

That started when I got a phone call on St. Patrick’s Day in 1992 from Campbell Black. He wrote thrillers and was very successful at that point in his career. He wrote the novelization for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He was my writing teacher at Oswego State in ’71. We became close friends and he was always bugging me to write fiction.

Campbell bought this incredible palace, in Ireland. If you could imagine the set of a ghost movie, it was like that: haunted to the max. It must have had 20 rooms. There was this one little room on the second room that was blocked off from the inside and walled-in. They called it: The Devil’s Room. That inspired the idea. What if they took down the wall? What might happen?

So, I had fun with it. And it’s meant to be a comedy, not a horror show. It starts in Ireland, then it comes to a small upstate New York town that has an arts college and a horse track. Tony Markellis - who is not only a musician, but also an artist, did the cover.

- Where can people get the book?

At Celtic Treasures and Northshire Bookstore and online at

- How has Saratoga Springs changed since you first settled here?

I first came to Saratoga in the late 1970s. My parents bought a place in Schuylerville and I used to come visit them. I brought Ben & Jerry’s to town in 1983 and the next year the City Center was built. That was a change like night-and-day. This was the very beginning of Saratoga’s resurgence.

We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change here and I would say, in general, the changes are for the best. People who complain about the development should take a drive around. Upstate New York, in general, is a wasteland. Then you look around here and it’s a lot better than the alternative. It’s a very interesting town. Look at the history, the characters, the statues in the park – it’s incredible. How many little upstate places have anything like this?

SARATOGA SPRINGS – “Free To Rock,” a documentary film directed by four-time Emmy-winning filmmaker Jim Brown and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, will be screened 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21 at Skidmore College. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with executive producers Nick Binkley and Doug Yeager.

“I believe music is one of the most powerful change agents the world has ever known. It opens hearts and minds and plants dreams and imaginations,” says Binkley, who points out, among other things, a popular underground heavy metal scene in places like Cairo and Tehran, Islamabad, Damascus and Baghdad.

Ten years in the making, “Free To Rock” explores how American rock and roll contributed to the end of the Cold War.

What prompted the film? “The realization that the ‘soft power’ of American music and culture had a profound effect on the kids behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War,” Binkley explains. “I equate soft power and music and culture with freedom of speech. And freedom of speech is the lifeblood of truth.

“Hard power is military, it’s bombs in the air, it’s bodies in graves and it is destruction. Sometimes we need to use hard power in the military to thwart an imminent danger. Soft power opens hearts and minds, plants dreams and imaginations and is really the extension of the American set of values. That to me is what I hope people come away with,” Binkley says.

Perhaps most unusually, is Binkley’s background, which is in international affairs and banking. He’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations who is just as easily capable of discussing The Plastic People of the Universe – a rock band born of the musical influence of the Velvet Underground, who inspired rebellion to helped transform the Communist rule of the Czechoslovakian landscape.

“I was a musician before I was a venture capitalist,” he says, with a laugh. “I played music in high school and college and abroad in the 1960s and I’ve been writing songs all my life.”

“Free To Rock” features presidents, diplomats, spies and rock stars from the West and the Soviet Union who reveal how rock and roll was a contributing factor in ending the Cold War. The film has been screened – along with an accompanying Q&A session – across the country as well as abroad.

“A lot of college kids were not aware that American music and western Pop Culture was prohibited by the central authorities in the former Soviet Union – that electric guitars were not allowed to be imported and that rock music was considered propaganda from an alien ideology,” Binkley says.

“The question we get often is whether rock and roll music is as relevant today as it was 25, 30, 40 years ago. What’s the answer? Come to the Q & A and you’ll find out.”

The screening and Q&A will take place at Davis Auditorium, Palamountain Hall, on the campus of Skidmore College and is open to the community.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Rochmon Record Club returns to Caffe Lena Tuesday, March 20 to indulge in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970 album, “Déjà Vu.” Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and a $5 donation is suggested, which goes to the restoration funds of Caffe Lena and Universal Preservation Hall.

In 1969, the trio of Crosby, Stills and Nash – born from the fracturing of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and Hollies, respectively - released their debut collaborative album and sought the addition of a fourth member to round out their sound. After being rejected by John “hot town, summer in the city

back of my neck getting dirty and gritty” Sebastian, and Jimi Hendrix, the trio brought electric guitar wizard/ moody folkie Neil Young into the fold. (Jimi Hendrix, by the way, recorded a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” with Stephen Stills guitar months prior to CSN’s offering - a recording of which was for the first time, coincidentally released this week).  

CSNY made their stage debut as a foursome at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, then promptly manned the main stage at Woodstock the following evening. Their 10-song album was released in March 1970 and generated the Top 40 singles: “Teach Your Children,” “Our House,” and “Woodstock.”

Following the event Caffe Lena, the Rochmon Record Club a/k/a Chuck Vosganian will hit the road to Schenectady, to preside over a Beatles tribute night at Proctors.

The event, which the venue is billing as a new concert series, showcases local musicians performing their renditions of Beatles’ songs culled from the “White Album,” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

The lineup includes Bryan Brundige Collective, Clear Mind, Eastbound Jesus, Girl Blue, Let's Be Leonard and Wild Adriatic.

Tickets for the “Capital Records Live” event, which takes place 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 23 at the GE Theatre at Proctors, are $25 and available at the Proctors box office at 432 State St., Schenectady; by phone at 518-346-6204, or and online at

SARATOGA SPRINGS – City Mayor Meg Kelly on Tuesday night announced the formation of a mayoral commission to review and make changes to the existing city charter, with an eye on placing those recommended changes before voters in November. Those modifications will not include a change of the form of government.

A referendum that would have changed the city’s form of governing was narrowly defeated at the polls last November by a 4,458 - 4,448 margin.

Tuesday night, Mayor Kelly appointed city attorney Vince DeLeonardis as chairman of the review commission, and each of the five city deputies and four commissioners as members of the 10-person board.

During her 2017 campaign, Kelly was outspokenly in favor of making an outright change because, she said at the time, it would improve efficiency, raise productivity and that the function of the current commission form of government was “outdated and less efficient.”

“During my campaign - all of my fundraisers, every door I knocked on I said: I am for charter change, I am for the city manager form of government, that there are problems with the commission form of government - but that I can work in either form,” Kelly explained. “What I said was: if it doesn’t pass, I will bring a new referendum to update the current charter in the commission form of government.

“Although it was a very close vote, the proposed charter did not pass in November, however, I believed then and I do believe now we need to make changes to become more responsive and efficient as a city.”

Tuesday’s announcement was met with disapproval by some residents in favor of an outright change. One group had recently begun investigating procedures of initiating a petition drive to revisit the proposal in a public referendum in November. That will no longer possible.

“The mayoral established commission will be the only item on the ballot,” city attorney and review commission chairman Vince DeLeonardis elaborated, immediately following Tuesday night’s meeting at City Hall.

Kelly confirmed the commission will only be tasked with making recommendations to revise the city’s existing charter, with a goal of determining efficiencies and organizational improvements within the current government. It is anticipated the mayoral commission – which will meet separately from City Council meetings – will produce a charter proposal with changes, to city voters, for a referendum on Election Day in November.

Kelly said she didn’t want to include the potential of a form of government change in the current study because as deputy commissioner she had witnessed the “awful environment” and in-fighting that occurred among city employees divided on the issue and that she didn’t want to put city workers in a similar situation this time around.    


Thursday, 08 March 2018 13:09

Donation Boxes Paying Off

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The nine boxes have stood their ground, mounted atop posts up-and-down Broadway, since the fall of 2016.

Placed in strategically deliberate locations, the program designed to aid the homeless is the brainchild of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Assessment District. Its purpose is to provide pedestrians a means of making monetary donations directly to services that benefit the local homeless community, as opposed to randomly handing money to someone panhandling on the street, where the end result of the donation wouldn’t be easily known. By all accounts, the caretakers of the program say it has been a success.

One hundred percent of the funds collected by the boxes are forwarded by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce to Shelters of Saratoga, which provides assistance to people facing homelessness.

“It helps with our outreach program and we’re also able to get items and supplies we need,” says Michael Finocchi, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, which provides care via through the Code Blue emergency shelter, its outreach program, drop-in centers, case managed shelter and affordable housing. “There’s also been a huge change downtown on Broadway. People aren’t hanging out like they did. They don’t have to sit downtown with a cup when we can get something for them.”

Twelve boxes were made, each decorated by a different artist via Saratoga Arts, and depict everything from a leaf-laden autumnal landscape, to a hamburger atop a classic red-and-white checkerboard tabletop and a long winding road zagging through a contemporary terrain. Nine were installed. The other three are still looking for a home where the collections could be easily managed.

In the first year of implementation, the boxes collected approximately $7,500, says Harvey Fox, chairman of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Assessment District, and one of the initiators of the donation box plan.

“We’ve collected twenties and fifties and donations of up to $100. The point is to help the less fortunate, to help provide opportunities through S.O.S. for safe shelter, training, and jobs. That’s what it’s all about,” says Fox, who adds he has seen the good the project does first-hand, having met folks who have been directly helped since the program was initiated. “It is working and when you talk to people and listen to their stories, it really is moving.”  

The “tamper-proof” boxes have lived up to their security expectations. Fox said there have been no incidents reported of attempts to burglarize the boxes. Other communities have not been as fortunate.  

In May 2015, The Positive Change Donation Program was implemented by the Downtown Berkeley Association in California. Donation boxes were installed throughout downtown Berkeley to encourage residents to give their spare change to those in need, with donations targeted to help fund social services that reduce homelessness.

“It was great in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we had to discontinue the program because people were using crowbars and breaking into them,” explains John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association. “Perhaps in Saratoga Springs you don’t have those kinds of issues. Here, it was very sad when we had to end it, because it was working.”

Locally, S.O.S. receives the funds on a quarterly basis and re-distributes it as is deemed most appropriate at that time. “We also started donating money back to other agencies that are dealing with same population,” says Finocchi, noting organizations such as the Franklin Community Center, Wellspring, and the Giving Circle – who operate a Thursday night program that provides a hot meal for the homeless population outside the Presbyterian Church – as being among local agencies whose programs have directly benefited from community donations.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – One of the after-effects of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida is the staggering increase of school-based threats and incidents since the tragedy occurred.

Research conducted by Educator's School Safety Network - a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering educators with education-based school safety training and resources - typically finds approximately 10 school-based threats and incidents occur daily. Since Feb. 15, the organization says those numbers have spiked to more than 70 per day - the majority involving gun threats and the most common method of threat delivery being via social media.

Even before the events in Florida, the data specifically pointed to New York State as having experienced a dramatic increase in the number of threats and/or incidents during the first half of the 2017-2018 school year – up by 33.3 percent over the previous year – and ranking third nationally, behind only California and Pennsylvania as a “state of concern.”

The Florida incident has demonstrated substantially longer staying power in the public consciousness than displayed in the aftermath of previous incidents, says Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo,    

“This has really hit home, across the country and locally,” Zurlo says. “It’s been two weeks since Florida and usually when something happens (the attention) goes a day or two after and then everybody gets back to their normal business. But this has absolutely lasted longer than other instances. I’m getting calls and emails from parents who are asking: What do we do? How are you going to protect our kids?”

Saratoga County is home nearly 220,000 residents. There are 51 public schools, 33,000 students, 2,500 teachers and approximately 100 principals across the 815 square miles of the county.

“We’re doing a little bit of everything. I have a team of four deputies assigned to schools throughout the county who interact with students and touch base with the principals and superintendents,” Zurlo explained. “What I’ve also done now is, during day-shift and afternoon patrols, we’ll get out and do a walk-through at schools. In the mornings, when classes start, I’ve had patrols at the schools. And we’re going to continue having that presence.”

In Saratoga Springs, city police regularly conduct active shooter trainings. The department also has a school resource officer assigned to the Saratoga Springs School District.

Not all county schools have assigned SRO’s, however, and conversations have recently been initiated about the feasibility of making that happen.

“I’ve been approached by three (public) schools in the county that want more information about School Resource Officers, who do not currently have them. I’m also talking to county officials to see if we can come up with a plan for the school year, starting next year,” Zurlo said. “We’re in preliminary talks. It all comes down to money and we’re trying to work some different things out.” The amount of time involved in training practice would also play a role in the potential implementation of such a practice, he added.

On Feb. 26, the county Sheriff’s Department responded to a threatening text message allegedly made by a 14-year-old student at Corinth High School directed at a 13-year-old student as well as the school, and involved the threatened use of a firearm. The suspected author of the threat was subsequently charged with making a terroristic threat, and aggravated harassment and referred to Saratoga County Family Court for further action, according to authorities.  

“These threats need to be looked into and I take them seriously. It’s our job to make sure the students and staff are well protected. If these threats are criminal in nature, then these people are going to be arrested,” Zurlo said.

Earlier this week, city School District Superintendent of Schools Michael Patton penned a letter to school parents to reassure them that protocols are in place.

“Safety is an underlying theme in everything we do (and) we have continued to make improvements over the past several years,” Patton said.

Some of those improvements include having retired and current law enforcement on staff and surveillance cameras at all school buildings, secured entryways with double locked doors, ongoing training with district and school emergency response teams, and lockdown, lockout, shelter in place, and evacuation and relocation drills.

The Saratoga Springs City School District consists of 11 facilities in and around Saratoga Springs, including the high school, the middle school and six elementary schools. Building Emergency Response Teams are also assigned to each of the district’s buildings.


School Shooting Can’t Happen Here? It Already Has

Shortly before noon on a Friday in December 1975, 32-year-old George McCode fired four shots from his 22-cal. handgun into the playground at St. Peter’s Elementary School.

McCode, who a month earlier received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, lived in the Gaslight apartment complex directly across the street from the playground.

Two 7-year-old girls were injured as a result of the gunfire; one was brought to Saratoga Hospital to remove a bullet from the heel of her foot, and the second wounded from a ricochet bullet which caught her in one of her feet.


Local Students May Take Part in National School Walkout on March 14

In response to gun violence and in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 Florida shooting, a 17-minute-long national school walkout effort initiated by Women's March Youth EMPOWER is slated to take place at 10 a.m. on March 14.

This week, Skidmore College issued a statement asserting that it values freedom of expression and encourages civic engagement and promised students they would not face any disciplinary action from the college should they choose to participate in a peaceful protest.

The Saratoga Springs School District is currently formulating a strategy regarding students who choose to participate in the March 14 walkout.

“We met this week with leaders of student government and we’re starting to develop a plan,” said Michael Patton, Saratoga Springs City School District Superintendent of Schools. “We think it’s an opportunity for students to be involved in civic engagement and that it’s a teachable moment, not anything politically, but something done respectfully and in a safe and orderly manner.”  


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