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January 9, 2001

To the Editor of the Post Standard:

The Press can be a source of information that opens informed dialogue within a community, or it can exert a chilling influence by a selective and biased publication of events. In January 8th's editorial, you clearly chose the latter path, choosing to smear Tom Smith, a County Legislator who has had the courage to ask difficult questions about the mall expansion.

Your editorial berates Mr. Smith for attempting to settle a loan with the IDA after a failed business venture, a loan which you report he may not legally be obligated to repay, but which he feels an obligation to make good on. You note that it is Mr. Smith's position that he can repay roughly half the remaining principal, whereas attempting to repay the entire amount would force him into bankruptcy, a result that serves no one.

How curious it is that this article should appear within days of Mr. Smith's informed querying of the Pyramid Scheme at a meeting of the County Legislature, a plan which the paper explicitly supports! And how ironic it is that you do not investigate and perhaps even berate Mr. Congel for his own business practices, which - as discussed in that same meeting - allegedly involve routinely paying his contractors pennies on the dollar after completion of construction, when they are in no position to fight back.

But the truly frightening aspect of your editorial is the clear but unspoken message it sends to other legislators and public officials: if you oppose the Mauling of Syracuse, be prepared to have your personal lives scrutinized, exposed, and interpreted in the most negative light possible, reducing your effectiveness in your public office - and making your re-election all the more difficult and costly. The average Joe may not recognize the connection, but it will not be lost on those you are trying to intimidate.

Instead of attacking Mr. Smith for his business practices, we ought to applaud him for attempting to make as much right of a failed venture as possible; to avoid taking the easy way out, and instead honoring as much of his debt as he can. But even more to the point, we ought to rally behind him and support the thoughtful probing of the PILOT program and its real costs to the Syracuse area.

Don't forget, there's only one winner in a Pyramid Scheme - the guy at the top. Everyone else loses.

James F. Brulé