My Top 10 Story List for 2012

I tell this story all the time, but it’s a true one:  When I came to the North Country thirteen years ago, someone — I can’t remember who it was — told me I’d scored the best job in the world, with one big caveat.

In a rural place like northern New York, he opined, you’ll run out of good new story ideas in two years, tops.

So far, thankfully, that hasn’t happened.  2012 felt like another huge year.  There just weren’t enough hours in the day.  Here’s my recap of the biggest events that I covered, counting down to the biggest.

10.  We learned that serial killer Israel Keyes lurked in the North Country, owning land in Franklin County, stashing weapons in St. Lawrence County.  He brutally stalked and murdered two people in Vermont and robbed a bank in Tupper Lake.  This guy was a true predator.  It’s lamentable that he was allowed to commit suicide in an Alaska jail cell last month, leaving so many questions unanswered.

9.  In August, Governor Cuomo signed a $47 million deal to acquire nearly 70,000 acres of land for the Adirondack forest preserve.  The former Finch Pruyn lands include some iconic spots, including vast reaches of the wild Hudson River.  The controversial purchase also continues to shift the debate over conservation in the Park, as more and more vulnerable timber land is protected.

8.  Earlier this month, the region won a second top-prize award in Governor Cuomo’s statewide economic revival competition – a victory that secured for the region $90.2 million dollars for grants, tax breaks and other incentives.  The award means a huge infusion of cash, but it has also put the North Country on the map as a region doing interesting things to boost jobs and investment, from renewable energy to Bombardier’s big rail car assembly plant in Plattsburgh.

7.  Human activity continued to spark a new kind of “living pollution” in the North Country, from the spread of noxious invasive species like Giant Hogweed and Spiny water flea to the explosion of toxic blue green algae on Lake Champlain.  We know how to clean up oil spills and PCBs.  But what do we do when our agriculture and recreation open the door to pollution that, you know, reproduces?

6.  The Hudson River Black River Regulating District won a victory in the courts in May that will allow it to bill county governments for its flood-control services.  This sounds arcane, I know, but the HRBRRD manages dams, reservoirs and waterflows across much of the Adirondack-North Country, from Watertown to Great Sacandaga.  Without this victory, the organization was teetering toward insolvency.

5.  Teresa Sayward, the Republican pioneer who crusaded for same-sex marriage in New York state, chose not to seek re-election to her Willsboro-based Assembly seat.  She faced enormous heat from social conservatives for her stance.  Yet she was, for decades, one of the most level-headed politicians in the region, and would have had a very real shot at being her region’s next state Senator.

4.  The North Country’s priest shortage continued to deepen.  For decades, the Roman Catholic church has been an essential part of the region’s fabric, a role defined in significant measure by priests dispatched from the Diocese of Ogdensburg.  But the number of priests continues to dwindle, with a third of the region’s RC clergy expected to retire in the next decade alone with few seminarians to replace them.

3. The New York Civil Liberties Union attacked the use of solitary confinement in state prisons statewide, but focused on facilities in the North Country.  In a sweeping report, and in a new lawsuit, the NYCLU set out to change the system by which inmates are placed in lockdown cells in facilities like Upstate Correctional in Malone.  State prison commissioner Brian Fischer has promised an “intense review” of internal procedures.

2.  The fight over the Adirondack Club and Resort escalated following the APA’s 1o-to-1 decision in January to green light the massive project.  Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club sued to have the permits invalidated.  In the months since, the mood in Tupper Lake has been bitter and the controversy became a major flashpoint during the political campaign, with most politicians supporting the development.  The lawsuit is still pending and its outcome could have wide ramifications for developers, the APA, and the environmental community.

1.  Democratic congressman Bill Owens was re-elected in a straight-up rematch with Republican challenger Matt Doheny.  We’ve known for a long time that the political temperament of the North Country was changing.  This contest settles the argument.  A once Republican-conservative stronghold is now a moderate, centrist sort of place.  Voters appear to have little appetite for partisan ideology and rhetoric.  Owens won with an even temperament, calls for bipartisanship, and a grounding in local, bread-and-butter issues. Boring and dramatic at the same time.

So there it is.  2012 distilled.  How about you?  What stories caught your attention?  Comments, as always, welcome.


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18 Comments on “My Top 10 Story List for 2012”

  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The number one APA/ADK Park story that has gotten very little attention. About 2 years ago the APA approved the biggest RV park ever proposed in the Adirondack Park. The original owners failed to complete development but new owners are continuing work.

    This is part of a long, ongoing and untold story in the Park; that most projects get approved, many with little difficulty and only a few every decade become the focus of debate and rancor.

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  2. Newt says:

    Interesting how “top stories” does not always mesh with “top issues”, apparently. I still would maintain that continuing economic stress on North Country public and private institutions (schools, hospitals, retirement homes, etc.) is a top issue. It impacts a lot more people than Israel Keyes’s (apparently non-murderous) visits and bank robbery in our region, or most of the other stories you mention. Not “sexy” enough, I understand.

    At least you and your colleagues touched on the economic problem in the 8:00 newscast.

    This does highlight a point I often argue about with people who claim the media has a liberal bias. In reality, you have a “story” bias. Since stories frequently are about human suffering or dysfunction, and therefore seem ask for some kind of societal response, it often appears that you, the media are asking for this (liberal) reaction. But to you, it’s mostly just a good story.” If it bleeds…..”

    And good stories, not good coverage of issues, is also often what pay the bills, whether from commercial advertising, cable revenues, or viewer/listener donations.

    Not that I am knocking NCPRs coverage of news, stories, or public issues. It is excellent.

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  3. Mervel says:

    I have to agree with Newt. We have several school districts who are saying that they will literally not be able to pay what they owe within one or two years, starting with Canton, bankruptcy means state take over of a public district. The other issue is the continued march of poverty and high rates of unemployment in the North Country, again not exciting but it impacts almost every public institution.

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  4. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The long on-going story of ineffective political leadership from our representatives in Albany who can’t seem to stop unfunded mandates.

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  5. tootightmike says:

    While our state representatives ARE innefective, I won’t lay the entire blame on Albany. The state education department is constantly prodded by the federal government’s education people…at the same time as cutbacks at the federal level. In addition, costs have been pushed off onto the states, who have in turn sent costly directives, AND THEIR COSTS down to the counties. Local taxes are rising…to do the work of our federal government.
    At the local level we tend to want to blame the nearest person; just like when we were in kindergarten. It must be the fault of those damned lazy teachers, and their evil unions…if not it must be the administrators, or those nincompoops on the school board…
    But really, it’s all George Bush’s fault.

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  6. tootightmike says:

    Israel Keyes. I’m sincerely hoping never to have to look at his creepy picture again….
    Invasive species…No one cares but Brian Mann and me.
    Teresa Sayward should tell ’em to stuff it, and join the other party. She might actually have a shot at being state Senator.
    Fewer Priests!! Heh……heh, heh. Oh well…. How did this get to be a big story?

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  7. tootightmike says:

    The election of Bill Owens is not just a regional story, but connected to a larger story of push-back against the big money/republican machine that presumed that they could simply buy the elections that they wanted. It is truly a testament do our democracy that the voters rose up all across the country and said, NO, particularly in light of the “citizens united” decision.
    Owens may lack the flash of some candidates, and that may be a good thing…he’s not an Anthony Weiner. Doheny lacked everything though, including a platform. His only function was to warm a seat for the national republican party, and wait for instructions.

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  8. Whiplash says:

    People keep pointing to the congressional election as evidence that the district is no longer republican. I disagree. I truly believe the outcome was much more due to the many flaws of the candidate, Matt Doheny. First and foremost, people thought he was a jerk. He was a jerk to his staff. He was a jerk to law enforcement. He was a jerk to his wife. Secondly, he was too extreme, giving the impression he would be an uncooperative and stubborn bully in office, which is the opposite of the bi-partisan approach Owens was marketing. This impression was made through his dictator-like personality but also through his message. Doheny was so determined to capture all three party lines he seemed to have lost site of the bigger picture. After getting the conservative endorsement he appeared to be so indebted to the tea partiers (going so far as to tell them that they needed to “have his back” when he would vote ultra-conservatively in congress and aggravate the rest of the people in the district…this polarizing speech by Doheny was actually videotaped and posted on you tube by the campaign). The problem for Doheny wasn’t a district turning purple, the problem for Doheny was Doheny. Too confrontational. Too inconsiderate. Too pompous. Too polarizing. I am hopeful that the “we’ve gone purple” sentiment doesn’t discourage a quality, less controversial republican from running in two years. This is still a seat the party can win with the right candidate.

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  9. Pete Klein says:

    You might want to look at how we got to the Fiscal Cliff in this way.
    After we lost the Viet Nam war, we decided it would be a great idea to have an all volunteer Army.
    Things went along swimmingly for awhile so we started to lower taxes. Then we started to get involved in wars. First there was the Gulf War. Then there was 9/11 which was followed by Afghanistan, Iraq again and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. When this was starting to drain the piggy bank, we went along with lowering taxes when they should have gone up. Feeling flush, we went on to create the housing bubble.
    Then, guess what, everything fell apart and we are so shocked.
    Also, and let’s not forget, while all the above was going on there was also automation, computerization and shipping of jobs to other countries which together began cutting the number need for jobs in this country.
    Happy New Year. Enjoy what we the people and our elected representatives created.

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  10. Newt says:

    Whiplash, it seems to me that this is a bit of a microcosm for the political system as it is today. If Doheny was the total jerk you (and just about everyone else) describe, it is also true that he did not nominate himself. If Republican organizations and VOTERS continue to nominate egotistical Trump clones or extreme social conservatives, or combinations of both, moderate, decent Democrats like Owens will continue to win.

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  11. Kent Gregson says:

    Bill Owens won because of Bill Owens. It’s not possible to steamroll the ADK electorate because it’s too small and everybody knows everybody else. The injection of ideology and money works better in larger political markets and statistical analysis falls flat here because there are simply not enough numbers.
    It’s too bad that Theresa Sayword had to go. I agree with her decision though. There should be an exodous from the Republican party. The independents are becoming larger than the GOP and have no place at the table when the talk is only bipartisan instead of multipartisan. The GOP has been gutted by the conservatives. Why do we still pit the Dems. against the Repubs?

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  12. mervel says:

    It is a bizarre headline when you see” North Country Now” say “Unemployment rate continues to improve, down to 9.4 percent in St. Lawrence County” as a story line, and it is a yawn. At some point we become desensitized to poverty and the toll it is taking on our families and our neighbors, but it to me is the defining story of what is happening to our communities.

    Also how can you have a top 10 list and not mention Donald Hassig?

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  13. Marlo Stanfield says:

    Kent, agreed. Bill Owens squeaked through with less than 50 percent of the vote in 2009 and in 2010; if Doug Hoffman had dropped out a bit earlier and done a bit more to convince his supporters to vote for Doheny, Doheny probably would’ve won in 2010. Owens won because people have gotten to know him and kind of like him and his style. I don’t think it means the North Country’s turned liberal.

    As you kind of allude to, it’s the Republican Party, on a national level, that has gotten more right-wing. The North Country electorate might be a hair more liberal as more people from other areas move there and as social attitudes everywhere change, but I don’t see a huge sea change in its overall views. As Reagan might’ve said, the Adirondacks didn’t leave the Republican Party; it’s leaving them.

    And Newt, I wouldn’t be too hard on the Republican voters. When they’ve had the chance — like with Duprey vs. Kimmel and Bisso — they’ve trended more moderate. Even Doheny in 2010 was the more moderate choice over Hoffman.

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  14. Marlo Stanfield says:

    I think people in the North Country voted straight-ticket Republican for years because they had brand credibility. Like if you’re buying macaroni and cheese in a box, you always get Kraft, because you know what you’re getting and it’s always good. But the right wing of the party has been messing with the formula.

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  15. Paul says:

    These are the top stories:

    17 year old American skier wins world cup slalom:

    American Ted Ligety continues his historic domination in giant slalom:

    The rest is all politic slop. These events are what make it all worth while.

    Happy 2013!

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  16. Mervel says:

    Politically I honestly don’t think the North Country has changed that much. If you put up some conservative Democrats like Bill Owens or people like Aubertine, etc, they can win as they really reflect the community and support our local issues. I don’t think McChugh was any more conservative on most issues than Owens, maybe a little, but not way out there.

    We are just never going to go for this kind of Southern style fire breathing, tea party type conservative message, and that message has become more prominent in the last 15 years in the GOP. If you have a conservative Democrat there is no reason to vote for these liberal local GOP candidates.

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  17. Mervel says:

    Plus Paul is correct! Those are the stories.

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  18. Paul says:

    Hey if you can’t enjoy the good times what is the point? I hate that my kids seem stressed about “adult” problems. Why in the world should a child be stressed out about the kind of crap they hear all the time on the news. Knock on something….. But here in the US we are safer from almost all threats that ever. Go out and play.

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