Monday, May 3, 2010

Tea Party Movement Advances in CNY

The Tea Party Movement is just over a year old, but it has already earned enemies and picked up steam as local groups pop up across the country. The Central New York area is no exception. The CNY Patriots are a tea party based out of Cicero, NY.

Joanne Wilder (pictured left), a Cicero local, started the group last March when she says she became fed up with the way the country was being run. She says it was President Obama's passing of the economic Recovery Act last year that made her decide she needed to take action.

"All the sudden now we're doing bank bailouts; we've got car companies that are going under; we gotta bail them out," she says. "Let 'em go bankrupt. It's the American way."

Over the past year the Tea Party -- both nationally and locally -- has staged protests against government actions they believe are un-Constitutional. During the week surrounding Tax Day this year, the CNY Patriots focussed the theme of their two major rallies on the health care bill, urging attendees to sign a petition that asks Attorney General Cuomo to reject government-run health care for the State of New York.

"An increasingly unpopular President and Vice President, and arrogant and presumptuous House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and a soon-to-be-defeated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have forced a socialist takeover of America's health care system," said Chairman of the Onondaga County Republican Party John DeSpirito (pictured above) in his speech at the Tea Party Express Rally just before Tax Day this year.

Upcoming protests by the CNY Patriots include a rally against Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi May 29th, when she is scheduled to visit Central New York for Cornell University's Senior Convocation.

"We're going to Ithaca!" Wilder declared to the crowd of about 50 protestors who gathered in downtown Syracuse on Tax Day of this year. "She's going to give the commencement speech, but we're going to tell her to go home. Get back on your jet, or your broomstick, and go back to San Fransisco, Nancy."

And their most recent planned protest is against the push for amnesty for illegal aliens in the U.S. They plan to rally in support of Arizona's new immigration law May 11.

For more on the CNY Patriots, listen to this radio wrap here.

Greek Life Success

There are many negative stereotypes about Greek life that say they are only partiers, don't contribute to the community and are very superficial. The truth is, these organizations have been around since 1776 and have bred very accomplished and successful people throughout history.

Locally at Syracuse University, the Kappa Kappa Gamma-Beta Tau Chapter resides at 743 Comstock Avenue. I am a member of this sorority and have learned that lots of incredible women have lived in that brick house. Their stories alone show how Greek life helped them become successful and overall shaped their lives.

"You look back and if someone says what did you get out of it, well it's my first learning of first learning of problem solving," says Robin Burns, class of 1974.
She was the CEO and President of Calvin Klein Cosmetics, Victoria's Secret Beauty and Estee Lauder. Burns says the stereotypes are wrong and they only reflect people being uninformed about the Greek system.

JoAnn Heffernan Heisen, a 1972 graduate agrees and says that Greek life shaped her and has stayed a very important aspect in her business world ever since she joined.

Although fraternities and sororities do their share of drinking and having fun throughout their college careers, as every college student does, the opportunities to become great are endless and people do not know that. Through networking, bonds, challenges, leadership positions and interaction with people, those who support the system say Greek life is an incredibly positive experience for those who choose "Go Greek."

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The War No One is Talking About

Back in 2004, Stephanie Miner was a Syracuse Common Councilor and the head of the city's finance committee. She agreed to hold a discussion about the war on drugs and its financial impact on the city.

Six experts testified during the hearing, which lasted more than two hours. It featured testimony from City Auditor Minch Lewis, LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) founder Jack Cole and Pierre Claude Nolin, the head of the Canadian Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs.

A local group called ReconsiDer helped put together this slate of experts to testify. The group's leader, Nicolas Eyle (left), says the hearing couldn't have gone better.

But, there was a problem. No one showed up.

"Well it got no media coverage in the newspaper because the newspaper didn't want anything to do with it," Eyle said during an interview this past April. "It was too radical."

The Post-Standard sent a reporter to cover the discussion, but Eyle says the reporter stood in the back of the room, giggling with the head of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA). The newspaper printed a story about the hearing on page 17 the next day.

Eyle says there wasn't enough public demand to change the city's drug laws. Even with Miner on board, the group struggled to promote its message - the legalization of all drugs - without media coverage.

Since that hearing, ReconsiDer has stopped taking on new members. At its peak, the organization had more than 1,000 members, including people outside the United States.

But it's core - Eyle, Gene Tinelli and Peter Christ - are still fighting to reform drug laws in Central New York.

"I don't want to see us do with drugs what we did with alcohol, I don't want to see us legalize drugs and embark on a 50 year bender pretending we don't have a drug problem," said Christ (right), a former town of Tonawanda police officer.

Christ first got involved with the drug legalization movement in the early 1990s after he retired from the police force at the age of 42. He has served as the group's spokesman for more than a decade, speaking at rotary clubs and libraries.

The group's message is simple.

"When you choose a policy of prohibition to deal with these kinds of problems, you have chosen a policy that gives you total deregulation and decontrol of this marketplace," Christ said. "We have to get this out of the hands of gangsters and thugs, and turn it over to legitimate business people."

While Christ is traveling, Gene Tinelli (left) is doing his part to change drug policy. He's an addiction psychiatrist, and an associate professor of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

He seems committed to promoting the drug legalization movement in Central New York. And that includes debating Onondaga County district attorney, William Fitzpatrick.

"He won't debate me anymore." Tinelli said. "He's paid to enforce the law. And he's also elected. So there's the political input and what seems to get the most votes."

Fitzpatrick says that's not true.

"I don't know where he's getting that from," he said. "I don't clear my calendar with Gene. I have a secretary.

"It's just flat out dangerous. You're going to have more addicts, you're going to have less productivity, you're going to have a greater drain on the economy, you're going to have a greater drain and strain on the healthcare system."

As for the future of the drug legalization movement, Eyle, Tinelli and Christ say they're committed to putting the War on Drugs back on the map.

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Syracuse Tries to Keep Nationals Memories Alive

From 1949 until 1963, the Nationals represented Syracuse in the NBA and won a championship in 1955. Almost 50 years after the Nats moved to Philadelphia and became the 76ers, they have gradually started to become forgotten (click here to listen).

"I think they tend to be something that an older generation, certainly a generation that was around at that time, identifies with and is aware of it. I think younger people in the community are not aware of it," said Dennis Connors, Curator of History for the Onondaga Historical Association.

The championship banner hangs from the War Memorial rafters, lost among banners (above right) honoring the defunct Stars and Blazers hockey teams and Canastota boxer Carmen Basilio.

"They probably should have a showcase with some photos and some memorabilia," Nats author David Ramsey said. "They should probably have a plaque, this is where the Nats won the 1955 NBA title."

Less than a mile from the War Memorial, a plaque below an oversized shot clock (above) says "this clock honors the rule that changed basketball and saved the NBA." In 1954, Nationals owner Danny Biasone and GM Leo Ferris created the 24-second shot clock to increase scoring and speed up the slow, boring game.
"It made the game more exciting as well so it has a tremendous impact not only on the N-B-A but on basketball and other sports," Syracuse Sports Corporation President Bill Motto said.

The monument is in front of an Armory Square Starbucks instead of across the street from the War Memorial because it's quite visible, Motto said. "What's great about it is it's in such a place that so many people can view it every year, all year around."

In Driver's Village in Cicero, is The Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame. Although not the most conventional place for a hall of fame, four Nationals are enshrined here, owner Danny Biasone and players Billy Gabor, Paul Seymour, and Dolph Schayes.

"For people who go there and see the visuals and see the memorabilia, see Dolph's number four jersey (below), that keeps the Nats alive, so to speak," Hall of Fame Historian Bob Snyder said.

Soon after Schayes and the Nationals moved away, Dave Bing, Jim Boeheim, and the Orange replaced the Nats as Syracuse's basketball team. The memory of the Nationals faded as years went by and generations passed, with the hall of fame enshrinements, shot clock monument, and championship banner, small reminders of a team and era that once was.

"It's rare to have a memory that is just pure happiness," Nats author Ramsey said. "Used to be, every year there's fewer people who smile and think about that day, because they die unfortunately."
It is important for the community to remember the Nationals, just like any other part of its history, History Curator Dennis Connors said. However, history goes through cycles, so even if Syracuse's memory of the Nats faded away, it could be re-discovered 50 years from now.

Westcott Nation No More

In the southeast quadrant of Syracuse lies a neighborhood filled with people of different cultural, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds. It's a neighborhood that was once known for it's social activism and community involvement. It was once known as Westcott Nation.

Where did the name come from?

"[Larry Hoyt and his friends] were listening to an interview, Abbie Hoffman’s being grilled before congress or something like that," explains Jason Eaton, a local financial advisor and community activist who read Hoyt's book on the occurence. "And they asked him what his place of residence was and he said it was the Woodstock nation and apparently Larry Hoyt turned to his friend and said yeah we’re from the Westcott nation. So apparently it was fairly informal...but it stuck."

But it only stuck for so long. Many of the current student residents had no idea what Westcott Nation was or had even heard of it. Westcott Community Center Executive Director Steve Susman blames it on the business property owners for not being community minded.

"Mostly they're not community-minded and don't interact with the community groups which are trying to get them to form a business association or to pitch in to help beautify the street or be active or at least express their ideas. It's hard to get them even to talk to you," Susman said. He emphasized the effect the closing of the Westcott Cinema had in 2007, which is now the Westcott Theater, an 800-seat performing-arts venue that Susman says is too big for a tiny neighborhood.

"Two in the morning...600 people spilling out into this tiny neighborhood, most of whom have parked illegally cause there's not enough parking for that number and there are tour buses on the street and I've heard a couple of the other business owners complain bitterly that their customers couldn't get on the street and they lost business because of the Westcott Theater."

Another issue that's been bringing Westcott Nation down has been the "increasing number of absentee landlords here who don't keep up their properties," says Eaton. Dan Greenblatt, a junior at Syracuse University, has experienced this problem firsthand. His landlord for his old apartment at 816 Livingston Avenue lived in New York City.

"Every time we needed something fixed it never happened cause she's not even around," says Greenblatt. "We'd e-mail her and she'd call someone and they'd never show up. Just horrible organizational skills, just really horrible to deal with."

Both Susman and Eaton had solutions for this issue. Susman is among many pushing the Syracuse Common Council to follow Rochester's model, particularly when it came to shoveling snow.

"Rochester adds 14 dollars to every home owner's taxes and they do all the sidewalks in the entire city for that," says Susman.

Eaton wants to get the community members involved.

"I think that there should be a mechanism in place for the people who live here to see that a house is on the market, buy it before some absentee landlord does and then own and manage it well so that we can collect the rents from the income and provide a nice environment and a nice neighborhood for people," said Eaton.

People such as Susman and Eaton and organizations such as the Westcott Community Center may try to improve the neighborhood that is Westcott Nation. But while the physical area may improve, the mentality of Westcott Nation has long faded away.

Click here to listen to the story.

Where Is Lacrosse Going?

According to U.S. Lacrosse, lacrosse is the fastest growing sport for high school kids. The sport has had a huge jump, up 138% in just the last decade, and now has 228,000 athletes in high schools. And lacrosse is a sport Central New Yorkers know pretty well. Denver University assistant coach and former All-American Princeton goalie Trevor Tierney says the rest of the country is going to find out more about the game soon.

"I really trust that this sport will become one of the biggest sports in the county as more people become familiar with it," Tierney says. "Now you're seeing 70,000 people starting to fill up NFL stadiums so we're really catching onto it and I think its just because its an exciting fun game".

But, colleges outside the hotbeds of lacrosse (Maryland, New England, and New York to name a few) aren't sold on collegiate lacrosse yet. Despite 41,935 fans and ESPN exposure at Gillette Stadium for last year's national championship classic between Syracuse and Cornell, Rob Edson, senior Associate Director of Athletics at Syracuse Unversity, says the exposure isn't always enough.

"At the end of the day, we're never going to make money in men's lacrosse," Edson said.

And Syracuse is the premiere program for men's lacrosse, and still it is a hard sell. Edson pulls out a calculator to hammer the point home. Syracuse brings in about $350,000 from ticket sales in one season, which is about half of its scholarship budget.

"So we have to double our attendance, and we're the leader in the country in attendance," Edson said. "We would have to double our attendance just to have a chance to cover the scholarship portion".

Money is one of the issues facing the growth of Division I lacrosse, but others find another reason. Title IX. Edson says its hard to add a men's team because it just exacerbates the problem of gender equality in athletics.

"Well, the biggest thing holding it back at the college level is Title I," Tierney agrees.

Title IX and the BCS. John Paul has been coaching Michigan club lacrosse for 13 seasons. The team is looking for its third straight Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association championship, but he doesn't see it becoming a varsity sport anytime soon.

"Smaller schools, including Division I schools, add lacrosse, and at big football schools they just don't need to do that," Paul says. "This is a 100 million dollar athletic department that is completely driven by football".

There is no doubt lacrosse is a growing game.

"There's very few among us that think lacrosse will fall back into a rabbit hole of a niche sport," said Terry Foy of Inside Lacrosse magazine.

Tierney says the future of the game is in big time venues like the New Meadowlands Stadium at the Big City Classic or M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore for the National Championship.

Paul still thinks it should stay on campus.

"And as much as these big events are great to draw attention to the sport and get big crowds, the kinda take away from the really collegiate atmosphere that lacrosse could be," he said.

Wherever lacrosse goes, big venues or small fields, playing club or D-I schedules, West Genessee High School head coach Mike Messere says there will always be kids who love the game. And that is all that really matters.

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Hannibal High School battles to keep its athletic teams

With New York state forced to make cuts because of a budget deficit, Hannibal High School is battling with the Hannibal Board of Education to keep its athletic teams. The school is located in Hannibal, NY which is about 45 minutes northwest of Syracuse. The school has about 650 students, and about half of them particpate in a sport.
Junior Zack Welling plays on the school's football and basketball teams. As he dribbles a basketball in the school's empty gymnasium and looks up at the banners hanging on the walls, he says he's hoping he'll have a chance to play in front of packed crowds next season.

“I’d be crushed," said Welling. "I’d be devastated. It’s basically my life. Sports are. If we’re not doing it during the season, we’re training in the offseason, and we are just doing anything we can do to get better.”
The board of education needs to lessen a budget gap of more than $200,000. The school lost some junior varsity teams in 2005, but got them back after the booster club raised around $79,000. However, Hannibal never lost any varsity teams.

Principal Brian Schmitt says cutting athletics would create a lot of negatives.

“We would have less opportunities for our kids to be involved," says Schmitt. "Probably we would have a significant decrease in attendance. A significant decrease in the grades our students are receiving. I would say our disciplinary will rise up as well as probably the crime in the community.”

Junior Kate Sullivan is a top student and a starter on the varsity soccer, volleyball, and softball teams. She said sports helps refresh her mind after long and stressful days of school.

“The reason why I’m an honors student, and the reason why I stay in my classes and go to school is because of sports," says Sullivan. "If I didn’t have sports I probably wouldn’t do half of my homework that I do.”

Schmitt says sports helps students learn a lot of valuable lessons that help them later in life.

“It gives them something to look forward to, to focus on," says Schmitt. "It teaches discipline. It teaches self-reliance. It also teaches teamwork. And again, the biggest piece is it’s an incentive for what they go to school for other than their academics.”

This whole situation has helped the student body come together to fight for their beliefs. Zach Welling, Kate Sullivan, and Nancy Perry’s son Brian formed a group called “Save Our Schools”. Around 585 of the school’s 650 students are in the club. The group had a silent day a few months ago where they did not talk or participate in classes.

“This whole time I’ve been working here, I’ve never seen students come together as one and actually carry something out like this," said Welling.

The group has also sent letters to Assemblyman Bob Oaks, Senator Darrel Aubertine, and Governor David Patterson. Save Our Schools also participated in a trash pickup in Hannibal to show it cares about the community.

The school received good news at the budget meeting April 21st. The board included sports in the budget and set it at 25 and a half million dollars. It also has a 2.99 percent tax levy, which is the amount the district has to raise through property, housing, and business taxes. Now the residents just need to approve the budget May 18th. Hannibal football coach John Manion says he doesn't want his players to tell people to vote "yes" for the budget, but he's giving them some different advice.

“I’m telling the kids that now is your final push," says Manion. "This is when you need to get out there and don’t try to tell people to vote yes, but tell them they need to vote.”

The slogan of the Hannibal Warriors is "Purple Pride Never Dies". The banner hangs in the school's gymnasium, and the students made signs with their school's alma mater on it for their silent day in March.

Come May 18th, Zack Welling, Kate Sullivan, and the rest of the students at Hannibal High School just want to make sure their “Purple Pride never dies.”

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