I remember momma

While my career at the Daily Freeman didn’t end quite like I had hoped it would – I was shown the door for “business reasons” – I’ll always have a soft spot for the Gray Lady of Hurley Avenue.

She helped put our two boys through college, financed a couple of wonderful wives, three houses, at least a dozen cars, trips to faraway places with strange sounding names, rivers of beer.

It saddens me to see the old gal falling on hard times of late. Circulation is half what it was a decade ago; public approval has plummeted almost as far. Blame the net and the vulture hedge fund that bought up the whole chain years ago. Just to squeeze a few more bucks out of this dying broadsheet, hedgies sold the building on Hurley Avenue to a pair of local developers. Imagine. The Freeman is a tenant in its own building!

How the mighty have fallen.

Grousing to my wife over the sheriff’s department recent withholding vital information from a fatal vehicle accident in Stone Ridge, I spotted a Freeman staffer coming out of the Dietz Stadium Diner on North Front Street.

“Hey!”, I yelled through his open car window, “when are you guys going to stop letting cops hide information the public has a right to know?”

“What guys?” he said. “We’re down to about ten.”

There’s an old saying in politics about trying to beat somebody with a nobody. You can’t put out a quality newspaper with nobody, either.

But things are about to get worse. The Freeman, the once proud Freeman, is looking to move out of its headquarters where it relocated from ancient offices at the foot of Broadway in 1974. With a staff of less than a dozen, there are plenty of empty storefronts scattered around economically-depressed Kingston. I know, real estate is going off the charts, not so much commercial.

Damn those vultures. Forgive Mother Freeman. It’s not her fault.

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HIGGINSVILLE HAY – The LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) that owns the Freeman building calls itself “Higginsville Hay,” To the many newcomers who’ve arrived in recent years, that phrase doesn’t mean anything, but it describes the area around the Freeman that once grew tobacco. The area between the city line with the town of Ulster and Washington Avenue was known as “Higginsville,” its prime export being Higginsville Hay. I assume it was raised in greenhouses and that it wasn’t some local branch of the cannibal’s family.

And how about that report that the county board of elections is negotiating with Higginsville to relocate its offices on Wall Street to the nearly vacant Hurley Avenue building? Talk about money changers in the temple. Government in a newspaper office? Bah.

And they’re talking about signing a five-year lease for a total of over $800,000. BOE is paying about $70,000 a year on Wall Street with free storage in county property (the old jail) for its voting machines and other equipment.

Adding to the curiosity about this move, is that the county signed a five-year lease with the owners on the Wall Street building just last year. This is planning? Does helter skelter ring a bell?

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MOVING UPTOWN – I’m not sure even the late beloved city historian Ed Ford knew how the Daily Freeman, after 103 years in Rondout, came to be located at the far edge of uptown Kingston. And Ed Ford, God rest his soul, knew everything about city history.

I just happened to be there.

As city hall reporter, I had written all the stories about plans the Freeman had to relocate its 150-year-old newspaper building into the Broadway East urban renewal area across the street. At the time this was announced (with much fanfare), then-Mayor Frank Koenig had had absolutely no luck luring a gas station to the grassy field left behind by the demolition of Broadway East. Koenig, not a very demonstrative man, was over the moon with the prospect of one of the city main businesses – its daily newspaper! –was prepared to put its fate in urban renewal. Surely, he believed, and had said so many times, much high-end redevelopment would follow.

It was not to be.

One morning my editor ordered me as city hall reporter to join him in the publisher’s office. Located on the top floor, of the three-story former Rondout Opera House, none of us underlings had ever been summoned to what we called “the inner sanctum.”

The publisher got right to the point, as I jotted down notes. The Freeman would not be building in Rondout, he said.

“What?” I said, or something like that.

There was a steel strike, the big boss said, and the Freeman couldn’t get the materials necessary to build a new building. In the meantime, the company was paying heavy penalties to store the big new presses they had ordered for the Rondout building. They were going uptown to the former A&P building on Hurley Avenue.

“Where?”, I blurted out. “But what about the mayor, the rebirth of Rondout, all those new developers coming in?”

“You got a problem with this?”, the editor said, clearly sucking up to his boss.

“Well, yeah”, I said. “I’m just asking the kinds of questions you expect me to ask any other developer”.

“{You’ll write the story the way we tell you”, the editor said.

I was a young reporter and didn’t quite yet appreciate that while newspapers can be painfully intrusive about the subjects they cover – entirely proper in many instances – they can be highly secretive when it comes to their own affairs.

I wouldn’t dare say this around the newsroom kin those days, but always suspected that a steel shortage had nothing to do with the Freeman’s move uptown. Presses, sitting in warehouses, maybe, but not steel. Obviously, the hefties in charge thought it a smarter business decision to relocate to a wide-open, well-built building with plenty of parking from a ravished, red-lined neighborhood poised for a special renewal all its own.