A voice from the center

Sherwood Boehlert looks back on his achievements during 24 years in Congress.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Sherwood Boehlert talks with Cortland County constituents in Cortland during an Oct. 17 visit. The 12-term congressman will step down from his 24th District seat in January.

Staff Reporter

That one of Congress’ most influential moderates has decided to retire at a time when the country is starkly divided along party lines could be described as unfortunate, ironic — even symbolic.
Still, as he prepares to step down from his 24th Congressional District seat in January, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New Hartford) believes there is plenty of hope for moderate voices in national politics. He points to his 24-year career as evidence.
“Extremes on both the left and the right get most of the attention because they tend to be unyielding, and I’ve heard it suggested that centrists or moderates are an endangered species, but I would suggest that that’s not so,” Boehlert said Monday, in a telephone interview with the Cortland Standard.
A majority of Americans, whether Republican or Democrat, basically lean more toward the center on how they would deal with the issues, he said.
“I think it’s up to the moderates and centrists to try to bring both sides to the center so we can actually get something accomplished.”
Looking back on his career, Boehlert pointed to a number of accomplishments, and each victory was due to his ability to reach across the aisle in Congress, he said, and also to a close working relationship with leaders in his district on the local level.
One success he cites has been the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, a program Boehlert helped author that has seen millions of dollars distributed to fire departments nationwide and more than $600,000 distributed in Cortland County.
“For years and years I was hearing from both volunteers and the paid guys (firefighters) saying that they had needs that weren’t being met,” Boehlert said, noting that his district has especially benefited from the program because he’s organized grant writing workshops to help local firefighters get a leg up on applying. “When the horn sounds, we expect great things from them and they respond, but they ought to have the best equipment, trucks, everything they need.”
Mayor Tom Gallagher, who has worked with Boehlert both as a member of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce and as mayor, called the congressman a reliable partner for the city of Cortland.
“He’s been a real good friend to the community, and to me, and we’re certainly going to miss his integrity in Washington,” Gallagher said. “He’s a true statesman — he can make you feel comfortable when he’s talking, he makes you believe that he’s sincere about what he believes.”
Boehlert said he was proud of his independent record, and took a special pride in a collection of letters from presidents and pens commemorating the legislation he’s helped enact.
Boehlert pointed to the Clean Air Act of 1990, which addressed a chief concern of his — acid rain — as one of his early successes.
“The fact that there were hundreds of lakes in the Adirondacks that were beautiful to look at, but that were essentially dead because of pollution, was something I wanted to do something about,” Boehlert said. “I was in the minority party, I was definitely not a senior member at that point, but I pushed for it and pushed for it, and finally my language was included, and since then this nation has been at war against acid rain.”
The intervening years have brought Boehlert seniority and Republican control of the House, making him a considerable legislative force who, as chair of the Science Committee for the past six years, has significantly expanded the scope of that committee.
“When I took the helm back in 2001, that committee was viewed by most as sort of the space committee, dealing only with NASA,” he said. “Now, as I get ready to depart, it has a wide agenda and a wide reach, and it’s recognized far beyond Capital Hill as a committee that is immersed in energy policy, education, the environment — issues that are critical to our future.”
Hearing President Bush tout in his most recent State of the Union Address the American Competitiveness Initiative — a program founded in Boehlert’s committee that increases research spending to universities — was a significant source of pride for the congressman, he said.
That said, the fact that Congress has not yet passed serious fuel economy standards for American automakers is something that Boehlert chalks up as a disappointment.
“I’ve been less successful in convincing my colleagues that we need to do something significant to reduce dependence on foreign oil,” Boehlert said, noting he’s proposed fuel economy standards in the past. “We’ve been pushing this in the House and we haven’t gotten the votes yet, but we’re getting more every time and we’re going to get there.”


Candidates see best of Boehlert in themselves

Although the two have been campaigning together for the past few weeks, Congressman Sherwood Boehlert “formally endorsed” state Sen. Ray Meier, the Republican candidate vying to fill Boehlert’s seat, at an event Monday in Herkimer County.
Although Boehlert’s support of Meier (R-Western) has been unwavering, both candidates in the campaign have sought to define themselves as more like their potential predecessor.
Oneida County District Attorney and Democratic candidate Mike Arcuri and his campaign have pointed out that on a number of social issues — stem cell research, minimum wage, abortion — Boehlert’s moderate record is more in line with Arcuri’s views.
“Mike has a tremendous amount of respect for Congressman Boehlert, and it’s true that on a number of issues, Mike agrees with Mr. Boehlert and Senator Meier is out of touch,” Arcuri spokeswoman Haylee Rumback said. “Voters aren’t looking for another rubber stamp for the administration in Washington.”
Meier fired back that Arcuri’s characterizations of Boehlert were far less glowing last year when Arcuri thought he’d be running against the congressman.
“I think my opponent is pretty selective about evoking Sherry Boehlert’s name,” Meier said.
“There are a couple of differences between Sherry and I, but generally speaking we both fit into the broad mainstream of the Republican Party,” he said. “I think we’re most alike in our temperament — neither of us is harshly partisan, we both have a reputation for reaching across the aisle, and we understand that not everyone feels the way we do.”
Boehlert said that, regardless of who succeeds him, open mindedness is a necessity.
“Don’t come to any task with your mind made up, be receptive to new ideas and new thinking,” Boehlert said when asked how he would advise his successor. “It’s a very dynamic position and it requires thinking from all angles.”

— Corey Preston



Decision delayed on Riverside tax breaks

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Empire Zone Administrative Board has delayed a decision on whether to end tax breaks for Riverside Plaza owners to allow the company to provide more information about its development plans.
The county Business Development Corp. and Industrial Development Agency are asking for more information regarding plans for future development of the plaza. The company had been asked to submit documentation of investment in the plaza over the past three years to the BDC/IDA in time for its monthly meeting, as well as information regarding development plans for the next three years.
The Empire Zone Administrative Board met Monday morning and reviewed correspondence from the Buffalo-based Bella Vista Group, which owns the plaza, Empire Zone Coordinator Karen Niday said.
“They were asked to verify if their reports through these years were accurate,” Niday said Monday morning. “They did respond, acknowledging that they had not met their projections, and went on to explain why they did not meet those projections.”
The Bella Vista Group has received $90,000 in tax benefits through the Empire Zone designation, which has been in place since January 2003, said Linda Hartsock, executive director of the BDC/IDA,
On the original application, $4.1 million in investment was projected over a three-year period, as well as two new positions — one full-time maintenance employee, and a full-time rental agent. Only a part-time employee has been added, Hartsock said.
The projections haven’t been met, according to the correspondence that the Empire Zone board received, because they were based on the possibility of a big-box store moving into the plaza. Niday said once that deal fell through, Bella Vista did not begin the construction and the land acquisition that the project would have made necessary.
A $144,000 repair of the P&C Food and Pharmacy roof in 2004 by the supermarket’s parent company, Penn Traffic, was listed as a capital improvement project, Niday said. Bella Vista’s correspondence indicated that a new lease with Penn Traffic would reduce rent by $1,000 each month for the next 12 years, Niday said, in order to compensate Penn Traffic for the cost of the roof repair.
Bella Vista Group President Pat Cipolla said the lease was finalized Friday.
Niday said the board will send a letter to Bella Vista asking for an explanation of future plans for the 190,000-square-foot plaza, of which about 65 percent is occupied.
“They still did not address the issue, they need to come back with a business plan and provide a list of renovations and improvements that they will do,” Niday said, adding she hoped Bella Vista would do it before the board’s next meeting on Dec. 11. “There was a need for them to tell us how they were going to reinvest the tax credits … Based on that information, the board will then decide whether they will remain in the program.”
Although Niday said the board would rather not revoke the Empire Zone status, it’s important the board makes sure taxpayer money is not being wasted. The BDC/IDA will also work with the city code office to determine if there are any outstanding code violations.




Future is uncertain for East End center

Staff Reporter

Nothing in the future of the East End Community Center on Elm Street is certain, except for the fact that it will have to either relocate or close by the end of 2007.
The center’s Advisory Board met Monday evening and decided to shift the center’s focus and prepare for a move to another location over the course of the coming year. The recreation building at Dexter Park was considered as the most likely choice, but there are problems with that building, as well.
The center, in the former Durkee Bakery at 46 Elm St., has been out of money since February, Alderman Jim Partigianoni (D-7th Ward) announced at _a Common Council meeting Oct. 17. The Youth Bureau has been paying the $750 monthly rent for the space, said Cortland Youth Bureau Assistant Director Cecile Scott.
The center cost $11,579 in the year since it opened in February 2005, Partigianoni said.
It’s almost impossible to secure grants to add the required handicap accessibility to the center because it’s not owned by a municipality, Scott and Partigianoni said. For this reason, and the continual expense that rent demands, the board decided to search for an alternate location that would be or could be owned by the city.
Despite the repeated objections of a very vocal Partigianoni, the 12-member advisory board also decided it would begin a ward-wide neighborhood watch program, and look for new funding sources.
The board also decided the center’s activities should better reflect a focus on safety and security and should involve the Cortland Police Department at every turn possible.
Scott suggested the neighborhood watch program would help meet the requirements of the federal funding that initially supported the center, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG), which Scott said calls for “proven programs.”
Partigianoni immediately questioned the need for a neighborhood watch program, which he says are purely “cosmetic” in nature.
Board member Gerry O’Rourke said the street he lives on, East Avenue, has a neighborhood watch program that has helped to drive out some “druggie” neighbors. The rest of the advisory board expressed support for the program.
The federal program that was originally supposed to last four years was redirected, and state Sen. Jim Seward has yet to announce whether he will be able to secure $25,000 for the next year from the program’s successor. It’s unclear if that money could be used to pay the rent for the center, which is owned by Joe Armideo.
In 2005, about $11,500 of the $32,000 original grant amount that was awarded to the city went to the new center. The remainder went for programs at the Youth Center and city parks during the summer, which are now provided for in the Youth Bureau’s budget, Scott said.
The city was required to put up 25 percent of the total funding, or about $10,700. Although the Common Council discussed the issue at its meeting last week, it hasn’t decided if it will match any grant that is received.