Downtown plagued by panhandling

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B3

Date: Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Contrary to perception, police statistics show downtown Schenectady has less crime than other city areas. Instead of crime, business types/

shoppers will tell you the main nuisance is panhandling. Through the years, I've been hit up by beggers and heard tales from merchants about handouts.

There are all kinds of sad stories from panhandlers who either ran out of gas, seek double-digit financing for a bus ticket, haven't eaten in days, need baby medicine money and so forth.

I had never heard a person admit they needed money for booze or drugs. This streak ended last week while I was talking with two people outside City Hall after a council meeting.

A man in his early 20s, pulls up on a bicycle. "Hey, can you guys spare a couple dollars for marijuana research?" he asks.

We told him to buzz off, but conceded the guy was clever. We also agreed it's this type experience that chases people to suburban malls.

Isabella leaves state job

Tom Isabella, remembered most for 16 years of capable Schenectady City Council leadership, retired from the state last week after 39 years.

He worked at several state agencies including the last 17 years as a Public Service Commission senior municipal consultant. Isabella, 56, was council president for eight years. He declined a fifth term bid about 10 years ago.

"I follow politics, but I haven't thought about running again, at least for now," Isabella said. "Of course, never say never."

He always ran as a Democrat, but he was advised to switch to the GOP if he wanted to keep his state job. In retirement, he will spend more time coaching girls' frosh basketball and softball at Schenectady High.

As an aside, Dr. Fred Isabella, his uncle now pushing 90, was a councilman also for 16 years before Tom came on the scene.

Riggi shows support

It's worth noting that the three City Council write-in candidates headed by Vince Riggi's total of more than 500 votes have some supporters out there.

A couple sycophants for the political powers have chastised the public for speaking at council meetings. They label regular council critics as naysayers only representing themselves.

Riggi has near-perfect council attendance for the past 12 years. He offers criticism, praise and suggestions. Clearly, he is more knowledgeable about municipal business than some city officials. And he's not paid or the recipient of health insurance and retirement credits.

In the past, a half-dozen write-in votes for anyone was a lot. Getting 500-plus is unprecedented. It was accomplished even though the write-in process is extremely voter unfriendly.

Also, the independent candidates didn't have the advantage of political party mailings, phone banks and other weapons.

By the way, the highest council vote-getter was only in the 5,000-vote range. With about 33,000 eligible to vote, the turnout stunk.

Old coach likes Union

Even though Chris Schmid gave up coaching football at Union College 35 years ago, he managed to attend 11 of 12 games this fall. He flies his own plane so road games were a snap.

Schmid, an assistant coach from 1962-70, missed the Ithaca NCAA playoff win because he was in the Virgin Islands.

He left coaching for a career in real estate. He was the owner of Realty USA for 30 years before selling the business five years ago.

``This was one hell of a season,'' Schmid said about Union's 11-1 campaign. ``The coaching staff did a great job with a good bunch of kids.''

Head Coach John Audino's staff includes Gary Reynolds and Larry Cottrell, each a Union assistant coach for more than two decades.

Hey, the best may be yet to come. Quarterback Anthony Marotti, running back Tom Arcidiacono and wide receivers Steve Angiletta and Ryan Twitchell will return next fall.

Christmas not a holiday

Some folks are fuming over changing the name of the venerable Schenectady Christmas Parade to the Schenectady Holiday Parade.

At the last City Council meeting, Councilman Joe Allen said when he hears the word ``holiday,'' he thinks of warm weather events like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

``All of a sudden a switch for no good reason,'' Allen said. ``The cold November parade should always be the Christmas parade.''

Mayor Brian Stratton agreed. ``This is really crazy. We sometimes bend over backward to be politically correct,'' he said.

I'll second the motion. I've attended and written something about every single parade since Ed Lewi started the event 36 years ago when he was the PR man for this newspaper.

It was originally named the Christmas parade because it's about Christmas. Oh heck, I'm going to stop here and start decorating our holiday tree.