Friday, December 16, 2011

Mr. Strahan Gets an A For Double Entendre, and the New York Times Gets One For Prescience.

March 7, 1889, The Olean Democrat [Olean, Cattaraugus Co., N.Y.] Page 5, Column 1, THAT ASSEMBLY CEILING.

The more light that is thrown upon the assembly ceiling steal at Albany the more interesting the investigation grows. The whitewashing report made by the appropritions committee was extremely unsatisfactory to all honest men and even the republican assembly at last has decided to probe the matter farther and attempt to find out where that missing $105,000 has gone to. A bomb exploded in the assembly chamber when the report of the appropriations committee was being discussed. Some of the republican members were criticizing Chairman Ainsworth pretty severely when he retorted: "I am not responsible for a fraud in the bill. I did not draw it. There was politics in it thicker than the panels in the ceiling. I will confess that the only reason the appropriations committee was given charge of the bill last year was to take care of politics on the eve of a presidential election. It was unwise for the appropriations committee to have taken charge of that bill and it should have refused to take it. But if it had refused we would would have elected a democrat instead of a republican president." Ainsworth had been driven to the wall. This last startling statement which had been wrung from him sent a flutter through the galleries, and caused a loud buzzing of surprise in the crowd about the bar.

In speaking on the report General Batcheller declared "that it was a sham ceiling and an outrage to put in such a building as the capitol. It been wrong to let any member of the assembly have anything to do with its construction." Since the carelessness of the ceiling commission had been exposed he had been approached with appeals to shield them from censure of a political and personal and family nature that had been hard to withstand. Yet they had caused to be erected in a magnificent chamber a ceiling composed of eighty per cent plaster of paris, fifteen per cent of wood pulp and and five per cent of alum water. The committee has been taken in like a countryman at a country fair. Mr. Ainsworth tells us if Perry had been chose for the work Cleveland would have been elected. Then Andrews selection must have elected Harrison. "That is the only redeeming feature of the work."

When republicans themselves make such confessions of trickery and dereliction of duty the matter must be in a pitiable plight indeed. The whitewashing report was adopt however by a strictly party vote. Messrs Fish of Putnam, Aspinwall of Brooklyn, King of New York, McMaster of Stuben, republicans; Creamer of New York, McCann of Brooklyn and Bush of Ulster, democrats, were appointed a special committee to reinvestigate the whole sorry business, with power to select counsel, send for books and papers and to sit where it chose for the sole purpose of finding out, if possible, where the $105,000 or any portion of it has gone. The new committee is generally considered to be made up of clean, level headed men who will make the investigation thorough and complete. It is very evident that the assembly must discover and punish the offenders or imperil the popular confidence which is already pretty badly shaken.
"Mr. Strahan criticized the staining of the marble capitals surmounting the great pillars, which were originally white, but by the use of some material had been made to represent terra-cotta."

The Assemblymen had occupied their new quarters for less than six weeks at the point the Times article below was reporting on 132 years ago, and already the occupants were getting sick from drafts in the impossible-to-heat, fifty-seven-foot-high, acoustically-unreasonable legislative chamber, but imagine the failure of faux-craftsmanship a good ten years before the famous "papier-mache ceiling" had ever been installed---as a corrective to the stone-vaulted ceiling which failed in a decade instead of a century. Imagine how much it's cost over the years to keep that insane symbol still standing, but with sugar-taxpayers footing the bill and turning the other cheek, where's the checks and balances? There is an extensive pattern underlying the behavior in public officials who undertook this all, and it only got a tad more sophisticated with today's politicians, who have also been given a license to steal from common citizens by a ruling one-percent junta who fed their wallets and egos with this Versailles-complex.

Tomorrow afternoon the Judiciary Committee will continue its investigation of the Mutual Life rebate plan. Prof. Elizur Wright will oppose the rebate system. It is doubtful whether Mr. Strahan will be able to attend. He is ill to-day, and all his neighbors in the upper left hand row of seats in the Assembly are and have been suffering from severe colds contracted by exposure to drafts of cold air that poured in through the cracks between the window casings and sashes. So uncomfortable had all the exposed members round this part of the room, that to-day Mr. Stratum's resolution, calling upon the Capitol Commissioners to attend to the matter, was adopted with alacrity. The chamber was not warm either to-day or yesterday, and it is probable that other resolutions pointing out sundry omissions, will follow that adopted to-day.

At the opening of the night session, Mr. Knowles, of Albany, provoked an animated debate about the new Capitol. He obtained consent of the Assembly to have the bill introduced by Senator Harris, and appropriating $500,000 for continuing work on the new Capitol through the Winter and Spring of 1879, considered in Committee of the Whole. With Mr. Chase, of Oswego, in the chair, the bill was discussed, first by Mr. Sloan and afterward by Mr. Hepburn, Mr. Strahan, Mr. Braman, Speaker Alvord, Mr. Brooks, and Dr. Hayes. Mr. Sloan explained that a part of the amount appropriated was needed to pay a debt of $300,000 incurred; after the debt was paid, $160,000 would remain to carry up the south section and to get it ready to roof on. The Committee of Ways and Means had considered it judicious, wise, and even absolutely necessary, to take provision for the work alluded to. In reply to questions by Mr. Hepburn, he explained that the amount would not provide a roof, but would only raise the walls of the section corresponding to that now occupied to position to receive a roof.

Mr. Strahan, who spoke at some length, took occasion to remark that the Capitol Commissioners had excavated a sort of "cave of the winds," and decorated it very beautifully. But until they made it comfortable by stopping up the drafts that threatened serious illness to some of the members of the House, he felt inclined to say that the Assembly ought to stop the Commissioners' drafts, at least until the Commissioners had stopped up the drafts of hot and cold air which no one could control or regulate.

Mr. Hepburn forbore to go into criticism of the building, although he admitted that he was tempted to do so. He insisted that the Commissioners had exceeded last year's appropriation of $1,000,000 without authority of law. Mr. Sloan admitted that Mr. Hepburn was technically correct, but he understood the law of 1878 as directing the Commissioners to complete the part of the building now occupied, even if it were necessary to exceed the appropriation. The authorization was: "To enter into contracts in anticipation of the appropriation therefor." Mr. Strahan, reading the section of the law alluded to and quoted, said that he believed that the language used had been adopted in order that the appropriation might be exceeded. There was no limit to the excess to which they might have gone if the logic of the gentleman from Albany was good. He not only criticized the crafty phraseology used, but be cautioned the Legislature against permitting laws to pass that were susceptible of such interpretation.

Mr. Fish argued with Mr. Strahan and Mr. Hepburn, but he saw no way out of the present difficulty but to pass the bill, with the Senate amendment. He believed that large amounts of money had been extravagantly expended. During the last four months $420,000 had been expended for sandstone for the building. He deprecated the constant cry of the Albany Representatives on behalf of the laboring men. That was merely a local cry, not heard 50 miles away from Albany.

Mr. Hepburn said he would vote for the appropriation asked for, but for no other this Winter. Mr. Varnum hoped the bill would pass, and believed the Capitol Commissioners had been justified in some of their expenditures. He did not believe there were 50 men in the House who would vote a larger appropriation this Winter. The Capitol should be completed gradually. Mr. Terry could not justify the Commissioners for exceeding the appropriation of last Winter, although he favored the passage of the bill before the House, Mr. Knowles returned to the fight bravely, hoping the bill would not be periled by extraneous criticisms. Mr. Hayes justified the expenditures of the Commissioners, and would approve them. He defended the Commissioners, who, he said, were not to be held accountable for the defective acoustics or the lack of adaptability complained of in the building. Mr. Strahan thought it was a trifle serious to justify and approve the entire action of the Capitol Commissioners. He knew Dr. Hayes would do it, "for there was nothing mean about him."

Mr. Strahan criticized the staining of the marble capitals surmounting the great pillars, which were originally white, but by the use of some material had been made to represent terra-cotta. That the money had not been judiciously expended was plain. He illustrated his assertion by calling attention to the oak water-tanks, which would contain water but not emit any, and which cost $95 each. He also pointed at the clock, which had stopped since the session had opened, and asked if $500 was not too much for such a piece of work. The house was frequently provoked to hearty laughter, which was general when Mr. Hepburn interrupted Mr. Strahan to call for an explanation of the allegories on the wall and made some ridiculous allusions to them.

Mr. Brooks took up the allegories, and in his turn criticised them, and at the same time complained of the criticism which sought to make them intelligible. He would have suggested that in their place historical subjects should have been selected. The Capitol Commissioners had done just what they had been ordered to do by the last Legislature. He alluded to the efforts he had made in the Constitutional Convention to limit the cost of the building to $5,000,000. Having been overruled, he could not but defend the Commissioners, who had done the best they could under the circumstances. The act of January and the amended act of April gave the Commissioners the authority to put the Senate and Assembly Chambers into condition for occupation. After an hour or more had been consumed in very entertaining discussion, the bill, on Mr. Sloan's motion, was progressed. When the committee rose it was ordered to a third reading without opposition.

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