That sound you just heard was the closing of the door on the comment period for the public to offer input on the future of Interstate 81.
Everyone agrees that the decision on what to do with the 50-year-old highway running through the middle of town is one of the most important issues that the Syracuse area will face for several generations. It requires serious discussion and intense debate, the kind of debate that at times might sound like a family argument over Sunday dinner. And like a family feud, as long as it is an honest fight, we hope the results will produce the best outcome for the city and the region.
But what if one of the siblings keeps coming to the table with a hidden agenda, concealing his identity and telling flat-out lies? You can’t really have an honest chat with people who can’t seem to keep track of the truth. I’m talking about Save 81, a coalition that seems to have deep pockets and an unlimited supply of dirty tricks to try to steer the discussion in its favor.
Earlier this year, we reported about a “poll” released by Save 81 that purported to show overwhelming support for its notion that a boulevard to replace the elevated highway is a bad idea. Save 81 has yet to tell us who paid for the poll, which was conducted by Phil Singer, a big-time Manhattan political operative who ran Hillary Rodham Clinton’s media operation in 2008. (Hint: Singer’s only client in Central New York is Destiny USA.)
The leaders of Save 81, business owners and labor unions, say they don’t know how the poll was conducted, how the questions were asked, and they have not seen even the most basic report on the results. Only one member, hotel owner Tony Mangano, will admit that he knows who picked up the tab for the poll (estimated cost: $25,000) but he said he’s not allowed to reveal the source of the money.
Save 81 just sent a glossy, four-page mailer to, it would seem, anyone in the region with a mailbox, in support of what it calls its “Access Syracuse” option, an idea championed by Destiny executive Bruce Kenan and state Sen. John DeFrancisco. The mailing asks each of us to send Save 81 a postcard urging the state Department of Transportation to consider its preferred option: a hybrid tunnel. The postcard is prepaid with first class postage on Permit 6000. It has a return address of 441 Electronics Parkway, which is the Holiday Inn in Liverpool.
On the slick flier are listed a number of politicians as offering “overwhelming, bipartisan support” for Access Syracuse. Included in the list is state Sen. David Valesky. Yet when I contacted Valesky’s office, a staffer said his office was not involved in the preparation of the mailer. The office didn’t know about it. Valesky has only signed a letter asking the state Department of Transportation to add the hybrid plan to the options it is considering. Hardly, as the mailer claims, “overwhelming support.”
This isn’t the first time that Save 81 has tried to attach the name of a local pol to its plans. When Save 81 was launched, it listed among its charter members Rep. Dan Maffei. On its website today, you can still see the egg on their face in the form of an apology to Maffei for listing him without his permission.
From the Save81.org website:
“Below is the list of charter members and supporters of the Save 81 Coalition. We inadvertently included several elected officials, including Rep. Dan Maffei, on an earlier version of this list. We apologize for the error and this list is current.”
Oops. If it happened once, we might give them the benefit of the doubt. But twice?
And that’s not all. Elsewhere on the website, Save 81 claims to have more than 2,500 supporters, who “for privacy reasons” are listed only by first name and last initial. Are all these supporters in the Witness Protection Program?
Then there is this latest attempt at a poll. Community leaders, architects and who knows who else (because they’re not saying) are receiving, apparently via snail mail, a survey from Save 81, under the signatures of Greg Lancette, of the Building Trades Council; Minch Lewis, former Syracuse auditor; and Walt Dixie, local head of the National Action Network. The wording and the order of the responses listed makes clear that this is a “push poll” designed to elicit the answers that Save 81 would like to hear. (Dixie acknowledges as much).
Soon, if it is true to form, we’ll be treated once again to a news conference announcing that a vast majority of the people endorse its plan.
To be perfectly clear here, I’m not making a case for or against their option. For all I know, it may have the best idea of all. But if that is the case, then why do they have to play so many games with the truth?