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On Saturday morning November 7th,   a robber pushed his way into the Chase Bank at 850 South Central Avenue and got away with $150,000 in cash.  The suspect knocked over a bank employee at the door  and kept saying he was “gonna tear the place up.” He rushed at the manager demanding that he open the vault and insisted that both the manager and the teller enter the vault with him, where he made them fill up his bags with money. With approximately $150,000 in his back pack and gym bag he fled the scene. The employees did not see him get into a car.

The suspect is described as a black male with a scruffy beard and a close haircut. He is approximately 5’5” in height and was wearing a brown hoodie, black pants, a black ski mask, and is thought to be in his mid-thirties. He displayed a silver handgun and carried a black back pack and a small gray gym bag.

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From the Greenburgh Police: Another Robbery on Central Avenue – The 7-11 at 763 South Central Avenue was robbed again – this time early in the morning on Sunday 11-16.  The masked robbers announced their arrival buy firing a shot from a rifle into the ceiling. They got away with $500 and some items from the counter.  This 7-11 is just a few doors down from the Chase Bank that was robbed last week, and this  same 7-11 was robbed on October 11 and October 26th.  It is the only business that is open all night but police do not know why it has been hit so many times.

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Perhaps you noticed that a large swath of trees have been cleared on Weaver Street across the street from Dunkin’ Donuts.  What’s going on there? Inquiries to the Village Manager’s office revealed that a new housing development is going up. Apparently plans for the new “Heathcote Manor” subdivision were originally approved in 1990. The project will include nine residential units in five structures around a cul de sac. In 2004 the Planning Board, approved an updated site plan, that was designed to meet the new storm water management regulations and includes a detention basin, which will accommodate a hundred year storm. Ample trees and shrubs will be planted to replace those that were cut down as the plans also call for the planting of over 190 trees, 1,000 shrubs as well as native wetlands plantings in the detention basin. The developer is PBH PAIS Built Homes of Pound Ridge, and they specialize in the construction of luxury homes in Westchester and Fairfield Counties.  You can learn more about them here: http://www.paisbuilt.com/

The original design for the units were primarily three bedroom homes and the development is zoned for residential use.  There are no special zoning requirements for workforce or senior housing.  The entrance and exit to the development are both on Weaver Street, which may be a cause for concern among residents who are already up in arms about traffic in the area.

Does our area need additional housing?  How much more traffic can Weaver Street accommodate?  There are already 26 new homes further down Weaver Street at the Homes on Hillandale, development is on the horizon at the Five Corners, there are unoccupied units at Christie Place and as of mid-September 138 homes were on the market in Scarsdale.

Somehow this project was not considered when residents challenged the Village Trustees on plans to sell village owned land to facilitate development at the Heathcote Tavern.  Undoubtedly nine more homes, two additional curb cuts and the possibility of additional students in the schools could exacerbate an already tense situation.

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Just before New Year’s Day last week the hills and valleys of Westchester County were invaded by an online hyperlocal news and information franchise run by AOL, Patch.com. Patch landings took place in Rye, Harrison, Larchmont, Bedford. Katonah, Chappaqua -- and one will be coming soon to Scarsdale.  [See www.patch.com].

So while one of the prime attributes of the internet has been to hasten the advent of an increasingly flat world -- where we can interact easily with brethren in China and Australia -- the demise of local newspapers in this country has created a dearth of quality local news and analysis.   This vacuum has served as the catalyst for the development of online hyperlocal sites -- often consisting of lone bloggers endeavoring to create community and impart news and information of local import (such as this site).  The Patch previously ramped up in communities in New Jersey and Connecticut -- and has now entered Long Island and Westchester.  With Patch, AOL is endeavoring to connect to what it perceives to be the wealthier suburban communities ringing New York City.  When AOL acquired the Patch Media Corporation last summer, AOL's CEO Tim Armstrong commented:  “Local remains one of the most disaggregated experiences on the Web today -- there’s a lot of information out there but simply no way for consumers to find it quickly and easily."

At its inception in Westchester, the Patch appears to be a hyperlocal bulletin board -- with organizations', clubs', and schools' schedule of events; a police blotter; and a passing reference to local news events and high school sports scores.  While early, it's not clear that the Patch will fill a gap long needed in the burbs north of Manhattan:  an intelligent, deeper source of news and analysis about government, politics and business.  Promisingly, the Patch editors are well versed in using Twitter -- to break stories and letting followers know that updates have been posted to their site.

What's the current news and journalistic landscape like today in Westchester?  Here's a quick and non-exhaustive rundown:

The Print Realm:

The Journal News:  the Hudson Valley daily house organ of the weakened Gannett media empire.  Over the past decade, the Journal News has pared down its news gathering and reporting efforts. And within the past two years, this decline has picked up speed. In last year's local election cycle  -- there was  slim substantive coverage of local races beyond the County Executive and District Attorney races.   In local mayoral elections in Rye and Harrison for example, the only source of information about the campaigns came from campaign mailings. Nowhere did I find any kind of analysis or digging into issues, claims, charges, allegations, political posturings, etc... The best a local voter could do was read between the lines. The apparently shocking result in the county executive upset of Rob Astorino over 3-term incumbent Andy Spano -- may or may not have been shocking if there was any kind of analysis or coverage of the race. Save some acidic commentary from  Journal News columnist Phil Reisman -- no real issues were brought to bear on this race. 

In the past few years, The Journal News has also dramatically cutback its business news coverage. Two years ago there was a separate business news section -- today it's an afterthought -- on some back page of a tertiary section of the paper. The Journal News also has a website, www.lohud.com,  which essentially publishes all of their content on line for free.  In addition, readers can blog about articles posted -- and many of these postings usually consist of vituperative, inarticulate personal attacks on the subject of the story -- or other bloggers.

While intuitively I would think that the local newsweeklies would be even more endangered than the Journal News -- many seem to be holding their own -- or at least they're still in business:

Weekly Newspapers: 

The Westchester County Business Journal is the only specialized business weekly in Westchester cover news pertaining to commercial real estate and businesses based in Westchester, the Hudson Valley and Fairfield, Connecticut. The publisher is Dee DelBello, wife of the former County executive and current uber-lawyer in Westchester, Al DelBello. The Business Journal website is fairly weak but republishes most of what's in the hardcopy for free at www.westfaironline.com.  

The Hometown Media Group publishes weekly papers for Harrison, Rye, Mamaroneck-Larchmont, Bronxville-Tuckahoe, and New Rochelle.  The stable of papers is run by Howard Sturman, and they have a website where you can access the print editions at www.hometwn.com.  The editors there are also beginning to utilize Twitter for breaking stories.

The Rising Media Group publishes 9 weekly papers for Yonkers, Eastchester, Harrison, North Castle, Mt. Vernon, Pelham, Rye, and New Rochelle-- but editorially is primarily focused on Yonkers.  This is the remnant of the stable of papers founded and run by the late Ralph Martinelli.  The Martinelli publications were less newspapers than vanity broadsheets where Martinelli could spout his conservative beliefs and launch personal attacks on perceived foes.  After Martinelli died, the real estate housing the media company – and therefore the media properties were sold to a real estate developer, Nick Sprayragen (famous for most recently winning a condemnation case against Columbia University).  There's not much original reporting here -- they run with lots of press releases from community groups and elected officials. Their website republishes the printed papers:  www.risingmediagroup.com.

The Examiner Media Group publishes 3 weeklies covering northern Westchester -- Chappaqua, Armonk, Pleasantville -- but they don't have any sort of online presence.

Many Westchester communities have one-off local papers, such as the Scarsdale Inquirer,  the Rye Record , and the White Plains Times, among others --  which all cover their localities with some idiosyncratic personality depending on the owner/publisher/editor.

The Westchester Crusader
is a vanity broadsheet published by a noted Manhattan strip club owner, Sam Zherka – whose journalistic style the New York Times described as shooting first and asking questions later. They are currently pounding away on a story about the legal domicile of the new Westchester County Board Chairman, Ken Jenkins.  If it weren’t for the messenger, the story might have some legs.

The Westchester-Eye -- just when everyone assumed  that the print newspaper is a dying breed, this Westchester start up has emerged  as  the latest entry into the Westchester weekly print news game.  The Eye is published by two veterans of the New York Post, Kenneth Chandler and Peter Moses.  They've been publishing the paper since late October of 2009.  Their website, www.westchester-eye.com republishes print editions and they have no present plans to ramp up an interactive hyperlocal website.  More about their venture here:  The Eye's editor, Peter Moses has been an active twitterer .

As for other hyperlocal sites (in addition to the great one you're reading from), there are a myriad of sites but none right now with the ambition of AOL's Patch.  Larchmont has a hyperlocal site, the Larchmont Gazette which is newsy and detailed. Rye has www.myrye.com, and Croton has www.crotonblog.com.  I'm sure there are others that I have failed to mention.  The New York Times has set up three hyperlocals in New Jersey  and two for Brooklyn-- and is rumored to be looking to coming to Westchester.

The current financial model de jour for hyperlocal sites is to generate its revenue by advertising.  AOL is hoping that aggregating its Patch communities will entice more significant advertising revenue.  None of these can work on any sort of a subscription basis.

The hyperlocal turf in Westchester is ripe for growth and is likely to get more competitive and crowded in the near future. The real question, however, is whether any of these local media outlets have the guts to really take on some investigative reporting and muckraking.

David A. Singer is a former political consultant/campaign professional and political junkie currently toiling as a lawyer in Westchester and managing real estate and media investments.

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In the days since the white powder explosive threat, travel has become a whole new game.  We have all become jaded by the usual security routines and learned to leave time to go through hoops and scanners to get onto a plane.  But this week, though we expected increased security when we flew home from a family vacation, we weren’t prepared for the absurdity of the new security shenanigans.

Before boarding the flight, every passenger received a full pat-down and all carry-ons were thoroughly scrutinized –no water, mouthwash or even toothpaste would be secreted on board this time. Mothers of young children were pulled aside for even more intensive searches and passengers scrambled to unbuckle, unzip, remove shoes, watches and jewelry … only to re-assemble themselves seconds later.

But the best was the new drill that unfolded on the plane.  Rather than listen to the usual speech about what to do in case of disaster – grab your seat cushion, breathe through the mask, secure the mask on the child – you know it well … we learned that we were to be among the first to be treated to a new exercise.

Our highly-efficient Homeland Security Czar, Janet Napolitano, had managed to effect a policy change in just a day.  Under the new rules, for the last hour of a flight we would not have access to any of our belongings, could not have anything in our laps or be permitted to get up from our seats for any reason. To prepare ourselves, we were told we would be given a warning, ½ hour before this period, to stow our belongings and use the restrooms.  This all sounded reasonable at the start but as the flight unfolded, the problems with the new policy quickly emerged.

As it wasn’t a very long flight, lots of activity had to be packed into a very short time span.  The plane took-off, and ascended to cruising altitude, consuming a half hour of flight time. At that point, the flight crew practically sprinted up the aisles, first with the drink cart and then with the snacks, demanding to know what passengers wanted to eat and drink. No problem with leftovers crowding your tray… the flight crew was back in ten minutes to grab and dispose of the meal.  We took a short breather and then were informed that now, and only now was the time to hit the privy.  Realizing that you had to go now or never, caused almost the entire economy cabin to stand up at once to go.  The line extended from the bathrooms at the rear of the plane to the first-class cabin for a full half hour.  Even when we hit turbulence and were told to buckle-up, those who were queued up, stayed up, risking life and limb  to get to the can.

Watching the spectacle unfold it was clear that nothing makes you have to go more than the idea that you can’t go later on! And my husband learned something new on this trip – it takes 37 minutes for 200 people to use the toilet, not 30! Subject to the tyranny of our flight hosts, it sure was easy to understand why the second disobedient Northwest Airlines passenger had locked himself in the bathroom the previous day.

Fully relieved, we all buckled in for the last hour of the trip. Games were out as the tray tables needed to be up….all electronic devices were ordered to be off and we wondered if we would be permitted to read.  We caught a stewardess flying by and asked.  She shrugged her shoulders and said, “well the captain is even scaring me! I am headed back to secure myself in my jump seat, but if you hold the book up in the air, perhaps it will be okay.”

We sure hoped it would be, because we were warned over and over again that if we failed to be in compliance our names would be added to a list for Homeland Security, and who knew what that could mean! Fortunately we were spared the list, arrived safely and early, as we suspect the pilot was even more eager to get off the ship than the passengers. Leaving the plane we realized how quickly time had flown but also wondered how the new measures could prevent someone from evil deeds during the beginning or the middle of the flight.

Did the new rules make sense?   We can’t tell…but here’s our advice for any upcoming trips you may take. Make sure to empty your bladder before you climb the ladder. Happy trails to you.

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