Over the last two weeks I’ve been running through my favorite reporting and podcasts from 2020. It’s been a long year, but one that none of us are likely to forget anytime soon. As the final part of this three-part, best of 2020 series — I wanted to rewind the clock on my favorite interviews of 2020. There were more than 200 interviews in 2020 on FingerLakes1.com, and even with a pandemic raging — we made it happen — connecting with countless news- and policy-makers from around Upstate New York.
So, what was the big theme of 2020?
Some may point to change itself being the theme of this year. But what I learned in 2020, talking with hundreds of people is that change takes many, many years. And even in times of uncertainty or chaos — so much remains the same.
Cities have been his life. The Auburn native now serves as the Director of the Kinder Institute at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He’s also served as the Mayor of Ventura, California; and Director of Planning for the City of San Diego. The urban planner and former politician recently wrote a piece on Medium featured in Curious titled “How My Hometown’s Failed Urban Renewal Strategy Shaped Me As An Urbanist.” I spoke with him about that conversation, and it was wildly interesting.
This year marked one of the biggest for regional travel in recent memory. There were businesses in the tourism industry who said they had some of their best months in business ever during the Summer of 2020. Hard to believe, right? It was to a lot of people, but not Exploring Upstate Founder Chris Clemens. His blog, ‘Exploring Upstate’ has become an Upstate New York treasure. Check it out here, as he travels around the state, learning and sharing those experiences. When he was in-studio with us over the summer, he talked about the things he was checking out during the pandemic.
Right after the economy shut down in the spring I talked with Mark Palmieri. He was the executive director of the Geneva BID at the time. His main concern was with the sustainability of restaurants and bars, which proved to be a major issue in the long-term. Restaurants and bars are still working under intense restriction months later. It’s easy to see that despite how much change we’ve experienced in our personal lives – little has changed since the start of the pandemic for those individuals.
This next interview is the last one I remember being ‘normal’. We recorded it in February when Vinnie Esposito was in Seneca Falls for another event. The interview stands out because it feels a lot like a time capsule from another period. Esposito leads the Finger Lakes region in its economic development endeavors, and since the pandemic began has led the region’s task force.
Next up is an interview Gabe Pietrorazio did as part of our coverage of the Cayuga Nation dispute in Seneca County. In the beginning of the year, several properties owned by the Nation were demolished as internal conflict boiled over. Our coverage reached all corners of the U.S. and led to some incredible interviews – including this one with John Kane, the host of “Let’s Talk Native.”
Another important conversation that blossomed from our Cayuga Nation coverage was that with Gabriel Galanda, who weighed in several times with legal expertise that was unmatched.
Joe Sheppard & Ian Phillips
I’ve spoken with Auburn City School District Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo several times this year. Each time, the district’s funding issues have taken center stage – before and during the pandemic. Board of Education VP Joe Sheppard and Board Member Ian Phillips talk finances, which were an issue before the Coronavirus Pandemic threatened another 20% of reimbursements.
In this conversation I spoke with Andy Zepp, the executive director of the Finger Lakes Land Trust, which works as a conservation advocate in the region. The Land Trust was founded in 1989 to protect forests, farmlands, gorges, and shorelines in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It has grown to save more than 23,576 acres across the state by creating public nature preserves, and helping landowners to conserve their properties.
As 2020 began it was announced that $30,000 had been secured through Ontario County Economic Development to keep Port 100 in downtown Geneva running. Public funding had unceremoniously disappeared after a decision in 2019 by Geneva City Council to not support the entrepreneurial engine. Maureen Ballatori, who runs Port 100, as well as her own marketing agency, talked with me about the entire situation.
Recently the Boys and Girls Club of Geneva made a big announcement regarding its future work in and around the city. They will be partnering with Foodlink NY. We talked with Executive Director Chris Lavin, who has led the massive feeding effort for hungry, poverty-stricken residents in the Geneva-area.
He joined me for a conversation about the micro-cluster strategy, and how it has worked out for New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo says it’s the only sustainable approach, as the federal government denies the state or localities assistance in form of funding, but advocates for local business are quick to point out that it punishes certain locations unfairly. Hammond took another approach: If you boiled down the data – the micro-cluster strategy employed by New York State simply wasn’t working to keep infection rates down in the fall.
Malorie Benjamin & Dave Crist
This year there has been a ton of talk about Amazon, Facebook, and Google as service providers and tech giants. In a special edition of our daily podcast, we spoke with Malorie Benjamin and Dave Crist. Both work for Dixon Schwabl about digital advertising. Malorie is the VP of Media Services while Dave serves as Senior Marketing & Strategy Analyst. For me, it felt like inside baseball – talking about something that I deal with everyday behind the scenes here at FL1, but rarely get to talk about on the air.
All year we listened to Governor Andrew Cuomo say that there was an eviction moratorium. Countless headlines. Tons of discussion about the pros and cons of that executive order. But, Cea Weaver was one of the most-interesting people I talked to this year because of her tact on rent-related, pandemic housing issues. At the time she said tenants were still facing evictions. “There is no eviction moratorium,” she bluntly said at the time. She was right, and until recently, additional action wasn’t passed on this front.
Why hasn’t New York opted to legalize mobile sports betting? For the better part of three years — there have been calls to do so, and now more than a year after sportsbooks opened in commercial and Native American casinos across the state — the calls are louder-than-ever. John Sullivan, who hosts Sportsbook Confidential on FingerLakes1.com joined me for a conversation about that topic.