March 11, 2008


Zaharis still teaching at age 95


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
On her 95th birthday, Jo Zaharis of Cortland reads to children Monday afternoon at the Child Development Center on Pomeroy Street. The former school teacher received birthday cards from the children and enjoyed cupcakes.

Staff Reporter

On Monday, Jo Zaharis read to pre-K students at the Cortland Child Development Center, played with them and exchanged numerous hugs.
“I bet he’s hugged me 10 times today,” she said about 4-year-old Adam Williams. “How wonderful is that? How lucky can you get?”
Those who know Zaharis say she creates her own luck.
 She turned 95 Monday, celebrating the milestone with the pre-K students, but she is as busy as ever, they say.
 Zaharis, for example, takes daily walks to the CVS drug store and the post office, regularly attends exercise classes at the YWCA and writes to more than 100 family members, friends and former students each year.
“She just doesn’t let anything stop her,” said YWCA Executive Director Amy Simrell. “She really is a testament to how important one’s outlook and attitude, I think, is to one’s physical health.”
Zaharis, who is in good health, with the exception of poor eyesight and a weak hip, was born in Dunmore, Pa., outside Scranton, and moved to Cortland at age 3.
She received her teaching degree at the Cortland Normal School, and spent more than 30 years teaching, 19 of which as a first-grade teacher at St. Mary’s School.
Upon retirement from St. Mary’s in 1979, she could not just sit back and do nothing, she said.
“I try to find something every day that will make me happy,” she said. “Why can’t everyone else do the same thing?”
Zaharis used to run the bazaar at St. Mary’s Church and help out at Red Cross blood drives, among other volunteer efforts, while she continues to help Church Women United of Cortland with Lenten lunches.
“If she’s not at a meeting, it has to be a really good reason why she’s not there,” organization President Teri Holbert said, noting meetings are once a month between September and June. “It’s usually the weather, or she’s under the weather, or she’s had a commitment.”
On a given day, Zaharis has numerous possibilities of things to do, said Kay Zaharis, one of her daughters and the librarian at the Cortland Free Library. She does a good job prioritizing and balancing, her daughter said.
“She does whatever she can fit into her schedule,” Kay Zaharis said.
Cortland County Area Agency on Aging Director Carol Deloff, who got to know Zaharis well through her participation in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, said Zaharis’ attitude is just as important as her volunteer and recreational efforts.
“She would always lift up my spirits, even when things weren’t going well for me,” Deloff said. “Jo always had a smile, and she always said the right thing to make you have a smile on your face, also.”
Children responded well to Zaharis’s optimistic attitude on Monday. In addition to giving her frequent hugs, they kept asking her questions and bringing her new toys to play with.
“They were in amazement at her,” classroom aid Kristin Kashuba said about the class.
Zaharis decided she’s write a note to 5-year-old Abby Villnave’s parents letting them know how much she enjoyed playing with dolls with Abby.
Kay Zaharis, who was at Monday’s birthday celebration, said her mother is always making new connections, no matter the person’s age.
“See what I mean?” she said about her mother’s interest in Abby. “Another person to add to the list.”



Spitzer’s future thrown into doubt over scandal

From staff and wire reports
NEW YORK — Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who took office with the vow “Day One, Everything Changes,” today started day one of his life after allegations of a prostitution scandal with his outlook so changed that many wondered if he can remain in power.
As of midday today he had not resigned.
The first-term Democrat was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet a prostitute from a call-girl business, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on.
Spitzer allegedly paid for the call girl to take a train from New York to Washington — a move that opened the transaction up to federal prosecution because she crossed state lines.
The governor has not been charged, and prosecutors would not comment on the case Monday. A spokesman for Spitzer said the governor has retained a large Manhattan law firm.
“The general assumption is that he is negotiating with prosecutors to avoid prosecution,” said Bob Spitzer, a SUNY Cortland political science professor, who is not related to the governor. “It’s not necessarily the end of the road for him. There have been other political figures who have carried on with similar situations.”
Bob Spitzer referenced Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, who in July acknowledged that his Washington phone number was among those called several years ago by an escort service.
Scandals also recently derailed neighboring Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey. Rowland served time in prison after pleading guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit fraud.
And Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho was accused of propositioning a male police officer last June in a Minneapolis airport restroom.
There was no word on Spitzer’s plans Monday, but Assembly Republican leader James Tedisco said today he received a call Monday from Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who would assume the governor’s office if Spitzer were to resign.
Tedisco said Paterson raised the possibility of such a scenario by asking if Tedisco, who has been at odds with Spitzer, would be willing to start fresh with him.
“He called me to ask if we would give him the benefit of the doubt, and go forward,” Tedisco said. “I told him we would.”
If Spitzer does resign, Paterson would become New York’s first black governor. Paterson, who is legally blind, was elected as New York’s first African-American lieutenant governor on Nov. 7, 2006.
“I met David and talked with him on many occasions. I think he is grounded and an excellent leader. He’s practical,” said Assemblyman Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua). “We don’t always agree but that’s OK. I have every confidence that he will step forward and lead in this time of crisis.”
Attention immediately turned to Paterson after rumors spread that Spitzer would be resigning by the end of the night. There was no immediate comment from Paterson.
Spitzer was to be in New York City today, but had no public events scheduled.
Marty Mack, a former Cortland mayor serving as deputy secretary for intergovernmental affairs for Spitzer, could not be reached Monday or this morning for comment.
At a Manhattan news conference, a glassy-eyed Spitzer, his shellshocked wife Silda at his side, apologized to his family and the people of New York.
“I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong,” he said. “I apologize to the public, whom I promised better.”
He did not say what he was apologizing for and ignored reporters’ shouted questions about whether he would resign — 14 months after he boldly proclaimed at the start of his term, “Day One, Everything Changes.”
Spitzer, the 48-year-old father of three teenage girls, retreated from his Manhattan offices to his Upper East Side home.
Due to what’s being called a distraction by many members of the Senate, the Assembly’s budget was not released as expected Monday and many feel this will affect the state budget, which is supposed to be finalized by the April 1 deadline.
“It does throw a monkey wrench into the budget process,” Bob Spitzer said. “Everything was ground to a halt yesterday ... but I think there’s a strong desire to move ahead. But the other question is who will represent the Governor’s Office in the budget process.”
Republicans immediately called for the governor to quit after the news broke Monday afternoon.
“He has to step down. No one will stand with him,” said Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Long Island. “I never try to take advantage or gloat over a personal tragedy. However, this is different. This is a guy who is so self-righteous, and so unforgiving.”
Assemblyman Gary Finch (R-Springport), whose district includes all of Cortland County except for Cortland, Cortlandville, Preble and Virgil, said resignation is the only solution to this situation.
“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. As we speak we are dealing with budget issues. This will hinder the budget process. The best thing that could happen is he will resign,” Finch said Monday evening.
“We just need to get this behind us and move on and the governor can deal with this in his personal life and I think he will,” Finch added. “It’s important that we get an on-time budget. I can’t see an on-time budget being the case with this compromised administration.”
Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford), whose district includes Cortland County, said Monday was a sad and embarrassing day for the governor.
“I don’t know the facts of the situation. I will not accuse or condemn. At a time when we face such critical problems, we need the full attention of our governor,” Seward said in a statement released to the news media. “Depending on the facts, and the truth — and the governor knows the truth — I hope he will do the right thing and put the people of the state first.”
Impacts on the upcoming Senate races are also a concern. For the first time in more than 40 years, it was thought that New York could be controlled by Democrats, with the Democratic governor, a Democrat-controlled Assembly and a Democrat-controlled Senate come Jan. 1.
“I think he (Spitzer) will be out, and if that’s the case, then I think the Democratic Party will recover. It’s clear that this is a scandal unique to the governor,” Bob Spitzer said. “It’s a long way to November and I think all the other political signs point to the Democrats doing very well this fall.”
Spitzer was elected with a historic margin of victory, and took office Jan. 1, 2007, vowing to stamp out corruption in New York government in the same way that he took on Wall Street executives while state attorney general.
In his previous position, Spitzer uncovered crooked practices and self-dealing in the stock brokerage and insurance industries and in corporate boardrooms; he went after former New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso over his $187.5 million compensation package.
Spitzer’s become known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street.” Time magazine named him “Crusader of the Year,” and the tabloids proclaimed him “Eliot Ness.” The square-jawed graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law was sometimes mentioned as a potential candidate for president.
But he apparently became embroiled last year in a money laundering probe by the Internal Revenue Service that involved a high-end prostitution ring. The investigation into the Emperors Club VIP gathered more than 5,000 telephone calls and text messages, and more than 6,000 e-mails, along with bank records, travel and hotel records and surveillance.
Spitzer was the initial target of the investigation and was tracked using court-ordered wiretaps that appear to have recorded him arranging for a prostitute to meet him at a Washington hotel in mid-February, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.
The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The case started when banks noticed the frequent transfers from several of Spitzer’s accounts and filed suspicious activity reports with the Internal Revenue Service, the law enforcement official told the AP.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey was made aware of the investigation because it involved a high-ranking political official.
The inquiry found that Spitzer was a repeat customer with the Emperors Club VIP, a high-end prostitution service, the official said. In an affidavit filed in Manhattan federal court last week, Spitzer appeared as “Client 9,” according to another law enforcement official who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Client 9 wanted a high-priced prostitute named Kristen to come to Washington on a 5:39 p.m. train from Manhattan. The door to the hotel room would be left ajar. Train tickets, cab fare, room service, and the minibar were all on him.
“Yup, same as in the past. No question about it,” the caller told Kristen’s boss, when asked if he would make his payment to the same business as usual, a federal affidavit said. The client paid $4,300 to Kristen, touted by the escort service as a “petite, pretty brunette,” according to court papers.
The Feb. 13 tryst took place in the Mayflower hotel, where Spitzer rented a second room for the woman under another name, the law enforcement official who spoke to The AP on Tuesday said. Spitzer had to sneak past his State Police detail to get to her room, the official said.
According to the court papers, an Emperors Club agent was told by the prostitute that her evening with Client 9 went well. The agent said she had been told that the client “would ask you to do things that ... you might not think were safe ... very basic things,” according to the papers, but Kristen responded by saying: “I have a way of dealing with that ... I’d be, like, listen dude, you really want the sex?”
During his apology Monday, Spitzer did not admit or deny the allegations of being Client 9. Prosecutors in the Public Corruption unit of U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia’s office are handling the case.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, noted that prostitution customers are often not criminally charged, and said charges against Spitzer might be unlikely.
“Especially if he resigns, he may just be left alone. It may be that the public is satisfied by his resignation as governor,” Tobias said.
Bob Spitzer agreed and said the Mann Act, which was passed in 1910, made it a crime to solicit prostitution and is not used often.
“It sits on the books and is usually not used unless they go after a political person,” he said. “Clients are almost never charged. They usually go after the organizers. It’s not something prosecuted often at all.”
Spitzer’s term as governor has been fraught with problems, including an unpopular plan to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and a plot by his aides to smear his main Republican nemesis.
Spitzer’s cases as attorney general included a few criminal prosecutions of prostitution rings and tourism involving prostitutes. In 2004, he took part in an investigation of an escort service in New York City that resulted in the arrest of 18 people on charges of promoting prostitution and related charges.
Staff reporter Aimee Milks contributed to this article.