The year just passed left a huge hole in the heart of anyone who has one: We are still trying to make sense out of the massacre of 20 first-graders, Dec. 14, in Newtown, Conn. Twenty first-graders. What sort of monster kills his own mother, and then kills 26 others before killing himself? Then came the senseless news of a suburban Rochester man deliberately setting fires to lure firefighters into a trap, where he shot two of them dead. Again, what sort of monster not only murders, but murders firefighters, the coolest people on the planet?
With a new year, we can only hope that answers come, and effectively enough, to prevent other mass murders.
A new year always brings with it new hope, new clarity and new vigor to make the next 365 days really count. But as any student of history will tell you, it’s fruitless to look forward without reflecting on what has transpired, even in recent history. As always, our look at the year gone by includes highlights, lowlights and some points of interest. This edition is no different; an analysis of both the Year 2012 in theater, art and music rounds out the coverage.
As always, we seek reader feedback. If you have thoughts about what we should have written about here, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message us on Facebook. We love reader feedback, both positive and negative. Don’t be a stranger!
On Jan. 4 Wegmans rescinded its decision to stop running their commercials featuring Alec Baldwin after getting feedback from customers in support of Baldwin. The actor had been involved in a highly publicized incident on Dec. 6, 2011, when he was removed from an American Airlines flight after a confrontation with flight staff over his use of an electronic device. Wegmans initially announced that the ads would be pulled after receiving 25 to 30 calls of complaint, according to spokesperson Jo Natale, who said, “We decided that rather than offend anyone, we would pull the commercials earlier than planned.”
Also on Jan. 4, supporters threatened boycotts against Galaxy Communications after the Dec. 30 firing of Dave Frisina. Twenty days later, Frisina was hired by Cumulus Media to work at WXTL-FM 105.9 (The Rebel), which had just switched to a classic rock format. Part of the deal announced was for Frisina to bring Soundcheck to his new station.
On Feb. 11 filming for the movie comedy Adult World began in Syracuse. Stars Emma Roberts, John Cusack and old pro Cloris Leachman could be glimpsed between scenes shot in the Westcott Nation and on North Salina Street.
Jim Reith was hired by WCNY-Channel 24 for a daily, 30-minute television talk show beginning May 14 and a three-hour radio show slated to begin in the fall on WCNY digital radio. (Reith was fired Oct. 26, 2011, from WSYR-AM 570 after 27 years in radio.) Unfortunately, the radio show never stood a chance: Less than seven months later, WCNY CEO Robert Daino announced the cancellation of Reith. “We found it to be a greater challenge than we anticipated to move Jim’s brand from radio to television,” Daino explained.
The Syracuse International Film Festival lured East Syracuse-meets-Hollywood cinema auteur Bobcat Goldthwait to host a screening of his dark comedy God Bless America at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre on April 25. The movie, in which the gun-toting leads eliminate annoying people, now seems eerily prescient in light of recent events.
Crooked Arrows, a movie about Native Americans and lacrosse that featured players from the Onondaga Nation, had a big-time Hollywood-style premiere May 9, with its cast, including film star Brandon Routh, in attendance. The screening was first booked for the Palace, then relocated to the Mulroy Civic Center’s Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater to accommodate the sellout crowd.
King Lee, a speculative movie based on the history of Syracuse Mayor Lee Alexander, was announced Aug. 8.
On Sept. 4 Jackie Robinson retired from WSTM-Channel 3 as the NBC affiliate’s anchor. Robinson started working for Channel 3 nearly 40 years ago, and spent her entire career there. A highlight for her, she once admitted, was that more Syracuse schoolchildren identified her as the Jackie Robinson, instead of the other Jackie Robinson, the second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers who broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947. In November, she was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Association’s Hall of Fame.
On Sept. 5 Paul McCartney was spotted lunching in DeWitt and visiting Mirbeau Spa when he came to town with his wife Nancy Shevell, whose father owns New England Motor Freight in DeWitt. The forever-young moptop arrived at 10 a.m. and left town at 3 p.m., a short stay indeed.
A Libba Cotten sculpture (pictured left) was unveiled Oct. 2 in Libba Cotton Grove at South State and East Castle streets. The folk singer, best known for her song “Freight Train,” spent the last years of her life in Syracuse, and she died here on June 29, 1987. The sculpture and greenspace supplement an exhibit dedicated to her inside the Erie Canal Museum, 318 Erie Blvd. E., where her Syracuse Area Music Award is displayed.
The Dalai Lama visited Syracuse University for Coming Together for Peace, a two-day confab that included panel discussions featuring Ann Curry, Martin Luther King III and Andrew Young on Oct. 8. The following evening he spoke before the One World Concert at the Carrier Dome that featured Dave Matthews, Counting Crows, Roberta Flack, David Crosby, Nelly Furtado, Cindy Lauper, Joanne Shenandoah and others.
Three companies made public presentations of their visions for development of the Inner Harbor on Jan. 9. Hotels, restaurants, retail, housing and even a satellite Onondaga Community College campus were on the drawing board. A five-person selection committee listened to the plans in anticipation of choosing one to recommend to the city. Three days later, the committee selected Fayetteville-based COR Development Company to build the $350 million complex; COR would have to pay the city $2.8 million for the 28-acre site.
Debbie Sydow announced March 14 that she was leaving Onondaga Community College to become president of Richard Bland College in Petersburg, Va. Sydow’s final months were marked by controversy over the new SRC Arena and Event Center. OCC refused to release contract information commonly disclosed by other public venues and in June AMP Entertainment filed a suit over cancellation of the Trespass America concert, which OCC said is not consistent with the college’s mission. Public relations outreach by the arena is woefully lacking as well, with CNY Central a.k.a. Channels 3, 5 and 14, appearing to be the only media in town receiving notification of what’s going on up there.
Board chair Meg O’Connell was named interim OCC president a week later. The growing college on Onondaga Hill is still searching for a new leader.
On a different academic hill, Syracuse University chancellor and president Nancy Cantor announced, in October, that she will not seek an extension after her contract expires in 2014. Among Cantor’s more visible achievements: the Connective Corridor, a huge initiative that urged students to get down off the Hill and explore the big city beyond Marshall Street. This project, which became tangible with the reconstruction of University Avenue as well as the 700 to 1000 blocks of East Genesee Street, included renovation of the old Dunk & Bright warehouse at the corner of West Fayette and West streets into, well, the Warehouse with gallery space, common meeting areas and classrooms.
The Post-Standard announced, in August, that it would reduce home-delivered newspapers to thrice weekly sometime early this year. Shortly thereafter, the ax fell in the newsroom, with longtime employees being called into higher-ups offices, in alphabetical order (so we’re told), to hear if they would stay or if they would go. While those whose jobs remain can be pleased they’re still working, how they’ll be producing online news is (so we’re told) a work in progress. If you see a harried journalist carrying an iPad around downtown, searching for a WiFi connection so he or she can upload a story straight to syracuse.com (with no editing, so we’re told), you can thank the corporate muckety-mucks making such decisions.
The ribbon was cut at the new Centro bus hub on Aug. 24 and it opened Sept. 4 on South Salina Street.
St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center unveiled an expanded and renovated emergency room, more than three times larger than the old ER. The emergency department expansion, completed in January, cost around $80 million. The hospital followed in April kicking off a six-story, $140 million expansion, due to be completed in 2014. Overall, St. Joe’s renovation and expansion projects are expected to cost $265 million and add 150 new jobs at the health center upon completion in 2014.
Onondaga County signed a tentative deal to sell Van Duyn Home and Hospital to a private operator, Upstate Services Group, for between $8 million and $10 million in December after a potential deal with Upstate Medical Center failed to get approval from the SUNY board of trustees. County union officials and families of Van Duyn residents spoke against the plan to sell to the private operator at a Nov. 26 public hearing and the Civil Service Employees Association said the following day that it would sue Onondaga County to prevent the sale. But the county moved ahead, bringing the nursing home sale a step closer to private ownership and residents a step further from the security that Van Duyn has been providing them.
Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield made plenty of money the past two years, but failed miserably when it came to consumer confidence. The insurer reported a profit of $223 million for 2011 and paid CEO David Klein $5.2 million while at the same time raising premiums by as much as 21.5 percent.
Worse yet, a March state investigation revealed that Excellus denied more than 200 claims for lead tests for covered children, leading the company to agree to a settlement and corrective action. More trouble for Excellus followed in October when a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services audit determined that the federal government overpaid Excellus by $41 million in 2007 on improperly documented Medicare patient diagnoses. As a result, the company had to refund $3.1 million to customers for improperly billing and computer errors as part of a settlement with state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
But all that didn’t stop Excellus from asking in July for the state to approve rate increases of up to 20 percent effective Jan. 1, 2013, despite having a surplus of $1.26 million in its reserve fund. While the state granted Excellus a rate increase averaging 9.33 percent for 2013, some customers will see their rates rise by 17 percent or more. Seems like no matter what foul-ups and scams come from Excellus, they make more money and customers pay more.
Business and Industry
Spring brought the closings of two long-lived Syracuse restaurants. North Side Italian favorite Aunt Josie’s shuttered March 26 after a 50-year run, followed by the March 31 end of Smorol’s Restaurant, the West End eatery that had opened in 1952.
The heretofore squeaky-clean corporate image of Wegmans took a hit with the June 1 closing of the chain’s Pond Street location, prompting criticism from neighborhood advocates who cited its importance in serving a neighborhood with few other markets. Neighbors disputed Wegmans’ claim that the store wasn’t generating adequate profits and intensely lobbied for another supermarket to be opened at the location (pictured right). Tops Markets took up the challenge and will open early this year in the renovated building.
Meanwhile, South Side residents got a new store on Oct. 30 when Tops opened a 40,000 square-foot store in Valley Plaza, using the former P&C building, which had been closed since 2009.
Several high-profile Syracuse employers announced job cuts: Loretto cutting about 100 jobs, Lockheed Martin laying off 166 workers, Welch Allyn axing 45 and Crouse Hospital cutting 100. After a long, drawn-out bloodletting, New Process Gear finally closed Aug. 24. At the end of this era of Syracuse manufacturing, 370 workers remained, down from about 4,000 employees in the factory’s prime, which manufactured transfer cases and transmissions for Chrysler, Ford and General Motors vehicles.
There was some good news as SRC won a Homeland Security contract that could be worth $99.9 million to build radar, potentially adding hundreds of high-tech jobs, and SRC won a $250 million Army radar contract. The Hotel Syracuse building got another chance at a new life as Hayner Hoyt bought the tower on June 6 for $1.4 million, planning to convert the building into 75 apartments.
Over at Carousel Center, now dubbed Destiny USA, the builders declared the build-up final, and the so-called Canyon opened to much public fanfare. Exit signage was even changed, from “Carousel Center Dr.” to “Destiny USA Dr.” Wonder how much mall mogul Bob Congel didn’t pay for that! Part shopping, part entertainment, part dining, it seemed a new attraction has opened almost weekly. A two-story Dick’s Sporting Goods occupies a good deal of the space, but if you want professional sportswear other than the Giants, Bills and Yankees, you are SOL.
WonderWorks, a glorified science center with a daring ropes course dangling high above the Canyon, attracted cabin-fevered families, while high-end restaurants Cantina Laredo, The Melting Pot, Gordon Biersch and PF Chang’s stayed crowded because of their novelty. We predict business will die down quickly once diners realize they can eat better at similar, locally owned eateries, as well as way less expensively. Want proof? Remember Malarkey’s, the monkey-themed restaurant that opened when the mall was brand new? Yeah, us neither. Even the Carousel Hooters went bust.
A welcome addition to the megamall, however, is a new pedestrian walkway that takes shoppers from the spillover parking lots over Hiawatha Boulevard and into Destiny. It’s the only time pedestrians can safely cross that busy thoroughfare.
On Nov. 9 Verona’s Turning Stone Resort and Casino announced plans to build Exit 33, a $25 million entertainment complex with a country dance hall, a rock’n’roll club, a hangout lounge and a piano bar. Opening is planned for July 2013.
Plenty was happening in and around Onondaga Lake, most of it good. A massive cleanup project moved forward as state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joe Martens visited on May 31 to mark the start of the dredging of 2.17 million cubic yards of sediment from the water. Dredging started July 30, pumping contaminated soil out of the lake for treatment and disposal, where it is piped to the town of Camillus, and sent back to the Geddes waterfront near the New York State Fairgrounds.
Not surprisingly, when you suck massive amounts of industrial chemical waste and sewage out of the water, some of the nauseating smell goes with it as residents of the Camillus neighborhood on the receiving end found out. They complained about the odor from the sediment, some saying that on some days the stink kept them from using their yards or allowing their children outdoors. Dredging was suspended in October as DEC staff said it was working on the problem. Meanwhile, neighbors set up a website devoted to the issue.
Honeywell planted trees and shrubs along the southwestern shore near the Fairgrounds in May and opened a visitor center nearby in November. The educational center occupies two modified double-wide trailers and has picture windows and a deck allowing for a panoramic view of the lake and the pending improvement project. Not far away, Onondaga County started work in October on an extension of Onondaga Lake Park’s West Shore Recreation Trail to the spot where the new visitors’ center stands. The 2.5-mile paved walkway will take hikers and bikers past the Fairgrounds and over mounds of gunk formed by industrial waste dumped by Allied Chemical during much of the 20th century. Enjoy the view, just don’t look down, or breathe too deeply.
Weather, or Not
A remarkable absence of snow continued into January, saving municipalities money on street plowing, but taking the profit out of ski centers. On Feb. 6, with winter in hibernation, golfers celebrated a day on the course when the mercury hit 53 degrees. One of the season’s few big storms hit with widespread snow and winds, fittingly, in time for the Feb. 25 inaugural Lake Effect Half Marathon that had runners braving cold temperatures and a steady snowfall in Onondaga Lake Park.
The big weather story for Winterfest came in the form of high winds that damaged the ice tower, but sunny skies brought big crowds on its final day, Feb. 26. By the time the first day of spring rolled around in the midst of a warm spell on March 20, ski centers had seen a drop in business of up to 50 percent and March 12 had scored a record high of 68 degrees. Winter snowfall totaled an anemic 48.9 inches.
A mild spring preceded a hot, dry summer, the hottest on record with an average daily high temperature of 84.5 degrees and the eighth driest since 1902 with 6.41 inches of rain. The lack of rainfall turned lawns brown and threatened crops across Central New York. On July 17, the high temperature of 101 degrees shattered the record of 94 and tied for second hottest day recorded in Syracuse on that date.
While weather was bizarre and at times troublesome, the meteorological history of 2012 should also be remembered for what didn’t happen as the massive storm system known as Sandy merely brushed Central New York with rain and high winds, but did little damage here while devastating much of the New York metropolitan area.
The year in weather redeemed itself somewhat with an impressive snowstorm Dec. 26 that dumped a foot of snow (or more) throughout Central New York. The timing was good for commuters, who experienced lighter than usual volume because of the holiday week, as well as outdoor recreation centers. Skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and the like reveled in the early-winter snowfall, and all was set right with the world. We’re well on our way to reclaiming the Golden Snowball Award, snatched in 2012 by (horrors!) Rochester.
On Jan. 19 the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named New York’s 25th District—yep, that was ours, one of 18 prioritized nationally under its “Red to Blue” program. Then, two months later, three federal judges approved a new 24th CD district including Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne counties and western Oswego County. Then-incumbent Republican Ann Marie Buerkle (pictured above, left) said she was very pleased.
On Nov. 7 once and then former Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei held the lead on election night in his race for the 24th Congressional District against Buerkle. The following day, Maffei claimed victory when the count showed him leading by more than 14,000 votes, but Buerkle refused to concede until absentee and provisional votes were counted. The two top contenders spent about $4 million on the campaigns. On Nov. 10 Buerkle said she wasn’t very pleased and conceded. The campaign cost a combined $9.4 million.
Other election winners included Richard Hanna, re-elected to Congress from the redrawn 22nd District; Al Stirpe, who recaptured his seat in the 127th Assembly District from Don Miller; and judicial winners Julie Cecile, a political novice elected to Family Court; and Tom Miller, a County Court victor.
In early April, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner proposed a $662 million budget with no tax increase, cutting 150 school jobs. Two months later, Miner warned that the city was facing a $34 million shortfall in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014. On Aug. 11, Miner asked an expert to provide a brief on municipal bankruptcy, resulting in, a month later, a revised municipal outlook rating from unstated to negative. Miner said she sought the information so that she would understand all options should the crisis not get resolved, not because she expected to initiate a bankruptcy filing. If only Bernie Madoff and those involved in the international Libor scandal had been under such intense scrutiny. . . In the midst of all this monetary mayhem, Miner was named co-chair of the state Democratic Committee in May.
Three former county parks commissioners—Bob Geraci, Gary MacLachlan and Jim Johst—sent a letter to The Post-Standard in November urging County Executive Joanie Mahoney to search for a professional park administrator to fill the newly created position of deputy parks commissioner. They were critical of Mahoney for appointing her cousin, William Lansley, as commissioner in 2009 without conducting a search or taking applications.
Crime Doesn’t Pay
Brothers Andy and Nayel Ashkar were charged in November with claiming ownership of a lottery ticket purchased by a customer at their East Side convenience store in 2006 that was a $5 million winner. They gave the buyer $4,000, held the ticket until this year and tried to cash it. The winner, Robert Miles of Syracuse, struggled with addiction and bankruptcy before coming forward to question the handling of the ticket. The suspects’ father, Nayef Ashkar, was later charged with conspiracy for advising his sons in the scam. If proven, the despicable behavior attributed to the Ashkars gives the Lottery a real black eye, but you have to wonder why the customer would buy tickets if he can’t even figure out whether he won.
Longtime Family Court Judge Bryan Hedges resigned suddenly on April 7. Initially, no reason was given. About one year earlier, Hedges had accepted a settlement in a lawsuit filed by a court clerk against Hedges, Supreme Court Judge James Tormey and two other court employees. That settlement required state taxpayers to pay the plaintiff $600,000, but admitted no wrongdoing on the parts of the defendants and no one who knows is talking.
Things only got worse for Hedges in August when he was sanctioned by the state following the investigation of an allegation that he sexually abused his niece 40 years ago. A secretly taped conversation with the mother of the alleged victim led to the investigation. As Hedges denied abusing the woman when she was 5 years old, Ellen Cantwell Warner held a press conference on Aug. 23 to say she was on a “journey to healing.” Wish we could say the same for governmental ethics.
The crime of the century occurred in Manlius in April, when eight swan eggs, expected to hatch in May, were removed from a nest in the village pond and destroyed. Manlius offered a reward for culprits, while an outraged community demanded justice and devised a surveillance system to prevent a recurrence. Ross Leone of Jamesville was arrested on April 26 while swan parents Faye and Manny produced six new eggs and at least four cygnets in June. Leone would do well to keep a low profile as he has no friends in Manlius where, from the public’s (over)reaction, you would think he’s Charles Manson.
Games People Play
Onondaga County announced a plan to have the Syracuse Chiefs baseball team extend its lease on Alliance Bank Stadium and possibly buy the public park. Instead, on Feb. 8, the County Legislature approved a new 11-year lease deal with the Chiefs under which the team would pay $126,000 the first year with payments rising 2 percent a year. The Chiefs will take over about $500,000 a year in maintenance costs and would have the option of deciding to buy the stadium for $3.05 million.
When the season opened on April 6, the team kicked off the 2012 season with a loss. There was a brief, bright spot, however. Bryce Harper debuted with two hits, and promptly was called up to the big leagues, where he played for the Washington Nationals and was selected for the All-Star Game. At least we can say we knew him when.
Over the summer, Syracuse University struck a deal to leave the Big East Conference in 2013 for the Atlantic Coast Conference by paying the Big East $7.5 million.
West Genesee High School boys’ lacrosse coach Mike Messere won his 748th career game on April 19, the most by any coach in the United States, but the West Genny Board of Education still won’t name the field in his honor.
Another hometown hero, runner Lopez Lomong, attracted fans to the Tully High School auditorium in August to cheer him on during a televised broadcast of the Summer Olympics’ 5,000-meter run in London. He finished 10th, but remained first in the hearts of the small southern Onondaga County village, where he grew up with his adoptive parents after escaping the Sudan as one of the storied Lost Boys.Syracuse University men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim won his 900th college basketball game, with a closer-than-necessary, 72-68 victory against Detroit on Dec. 17 at the Carrier Dome. With second place on the all-time list looming for a Dec. 31 game against Central Connecticut, the Orangemen delayed that milestone by losing Dec. 22 against Temple at Madison Square Garden. It seems fitting that Boeheim’s 903rd win (surpassing Bobby Knight’s 902) will now likely happen in the Dome opener of the Big East season against Rutgers, Jan. 2. But stranger things have happened in Orange Nation.