Long Story Short: Caputomania, Richardson Olmsted, and a grand ferry returns



What’s up?

Political advisor, former Trump team member, and East Aurora resident Michael Caputo hired a high-powered attorney and political media strategist before testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference with the US election.


The details:

The July 16 Buffalo News included a lengthy article detailing Caputo’s Washington testimony. That was followed by an excellent July 18 article that put readers in the car with Caputo on the drive to DC. These followed a brief July 16 article about Trump thanking Caputo, and another long July 14 piece about his testimony. Before that there was an article about how Caputo hadn’t heard from the FBI, because something not happening is news. That followed one on Caputo’s thoughts about the Trump Jr. Russian meeting, and another on Caputo watching the Comey testimony. Earlier there were stories on the Democrats’ reluctance to let Caputo testify publicly, Caputo’s pro-Collins billboard, Caputo’s resignation from the Trump campaign, and Caputo being a radio host.  


So why does he need a media strategist?


Caputo has also been interviewed on national news, but local media has lavished attention on him. Here’s what you need to know in a nutshell:

•Caputo is a political talk show stand-in host on WBEN radio.
•He’s married to a Ukrainian-born American.
•His wife has been the subject of nasty ill-informed social media attacks.
•He is a Grateful Dead fan.
•He wears a scull ring on his middle finger.
•He was a writer for Congressman Jack Kemp’s failed presidential campaign.
•He handled media operations for the failed George Bush/Dan Quayle re-election campaign.
•He ran Carl Paladino’s failed gubernatorial campaign.
•He has worked with Central and South American contras.
•He claims to be the only executive in history to work for both the White House and the Kremlin.
•He went to Moscow for the Clinton administration in an advisement role, but was dismissed after some of his public comments.
•He worked on the Trump presidential campaign team.
•He resigned from Trump’s team (“fell on his sword”) after publicly ridiculing campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s firing.
•He views GOP strategist Roger Stone as a big brother and mentor for Stone’s mastery of dirty campaign tricks.
•He was described as entering a contract with the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media in 2000 to improve Putin’s image in the United States (which he adamantly denies).
•Congresswoman Jackie Speier referred to him as Russian President Vladimir Putin's "image consultant” (which he adamantly denies).
•He told the House Intelligence Committee that he had no contact with the Russian government before, during, or after working for the Trump's campaign.
•It took four hours of testimony to do this.
•He says the Trump campaign never paid him for his work on the New York Primary and at Trump Tower, and did not respond to his invoices.
•He continues to be a staunch Trump supporter


The takeaway:

Caputo worked for the campaigns of Jack Kemp, Bush/Quayle, and Carl Paladino, and they all lost. His loose lips sank two political jobs. His ultra conservative views, his work with Russians, and his proclivity for making self-destructive public comments give him a lot in common with Donald Trump, and, after being stiffed by the president for his work (and everything that has happened since), his continuing fervent, unqualified support testifies to the potency of the Trump Kool-Aid.



What’s up?

You’d think the restoration and transformation of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center into a spectacular urban resort hotel would have champagne corks popping all around. But not everybody is elated.


The details:

Big architectural projects inevitably become magnets for critical commentary, especially when they involve historic buildings. The acclaimed H. H. Richardson complex was built in 1880 on parkland designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead, based on the enlightened treatment philosophy of Thomas Story Kirkbride. Ninety-some years later, the majestic structure was no longer in use, and deteriorating. In 1973, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and became a National Historic Landmark in 1986. Yet, after a series of failed reuse proposals, the National Trust for Historic Preservation still needed to place the complex on its list of the eleven most endangered US. buildings. In 2006, Governor George Pataki created the Richardson Center Corporation, and eleven years later the building was painstakingly renovated to house the Hotel Henry (site of last Friday’s Spree Best of WNY event and 50th Anniversary Party), an architectural center, and other uses still underway.


Recently, an article on the Madwomen in the Attic (MITA) website has been getting some social media play. MITA is a grassroots feminist support group for women who feel they were adversely impacted by the psychiatric profession. The group characterizes the Richardson Complex as a place of “despicable degradation.” Using inflammatory rhetoric, they question the ethics of “turning a site of incarceration, torment, suffering, and death into a ‘grand hotel.’” Among other demands, MITA calls upon the Hotel Henry to give voice to “…those whose silent cries will forever haunt the hotel and its visitors if their history is not honored appropriately.”


MITA meant that last part figuratively, but predictably, self-proclaimed “paranormal investigator” Mason Winfield describes the building as one of the area’s best-known ghost sites. The website ONLYINYOURSTATE, ranks it number four. Do people take this seriously? A recent Facebook post made claims about the spirits that inhabit the place, and several commenters concurred. When I commented that this was nonsense, the post mysteriously vanished. Joe Nickel—Research Fellow at the Center For Inquiry, and the world’s only fulltime science-based paranormal investigator, explains that buildings often get labeled as haunted during a period when they are abandoned and decaying (like the Richardson complex), fitting the Hollywood haunted stereotype. “Places that are thriving,” he says, “you just don’t get the ghost stories.” Diana Principe, partner in Hotel Henry says, "Talk of ghosts, and ghost tours, are exploitive and disrespectful to the patients that were treated here."


The takeaway:

Would Psych Center patients have been “honored” with a parking lot, had the building been auctioned and demolished, as it nearly was in 1997? Instead of that, an architectural landmark has been rescued and repurposed as an innovative hotel.


And the owners take history seriously, following the lead of the Richardson Center Corporation, which has told the center’s story through tours that explain the historic societal impacts on the hospital, and patient treatment. The adjoining Lipsey Buffalo Architecture Center (now being built) will include an interpretive exhibit to educate visitors about the center’s history. There is also an Oral Histories Project in the works, to gather patient and family stories. “Folks in our community have shared countless stories with us about their connections to the Buffalo State Hospital,” says Principe. And in a 2016 book titled Buffalo State Hospital: A History of the Institution in Light and Shadow, published by the Museum of disABILITY History in Eggertsville, author and museum director, Doug Farley tells a more nuanced story of the treatment of patients there.


As for ghosts, if Hotel Henry wants to put me up for a night in one of their strikingly beautiful rooms, I will bravely accept and report back.



A ferry to where?

True lunch table conversation:

Confrontational man: “I never go to Grand Island because you have to pay a toll.”

Grand Island resident: “See, it works.”

Travelers to Grand Island will soon have a new way to get there, without crossing the sometimes busy bridges—as long as they’re heading north. Beginning August 6 through September 10, ferry service will run again between Tonawanda City and Grand Island. But only on Sundays.


The details:

Niagara River Cruises will operate the forty-two foot Queen of Peace ferry, which carries up to forty-five passengers. The ferry will launch from the Long Homestead Historical Museum where the mighty Niagara River meets the historical Erie Canal in Tonawanda, and dock near the old ferry landing at the River Oaks Marina, Grand Island. The last time such a ferry was in operation, Franklin D. Roosevelt was beginning his second term.


A round trip will cost fifteen dollars for pedestrians and bicyclists—no cars or hay wagons. Grand Island's news website says the original ferries were expensive: twenty cents per passenger. In an article about the planned ferry, the Buffalo News uses the time-honored baked goods measure of inflation; “At a time when a loaf of bread cost 10 cents, a round-trip ride on the ferry in the 1930s cost 50 cents for cars and 20 cents for pedestrians.”


Hmm. That’s twice the cost of a loaf of bread for pedestrians in 1930. A loaf of Wegmans Bread today is a $1.99, making the new ferry more than seven times the cost. It’s three to four times the cost of even the artisanal breads.


The takeaway:

 The service hasn’t started yet, but the planned fare seems a bit steep. Of course, there’s a difference between riding the ferry to school every day in 1935, and taking a leisurely Sunday sightseeing trip today, so maybe just cut back on bread and give it a try.




Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a regular contributor to Spree.

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