Dec 20, 2011 David Tyler Uncategorized
When I was a young editor of the Eagle Bulletin in the mid-1990s, Hamilton Armstrong initially treated me as a know-nothing. On several occasions, he called to belittle my editorial opinions, or question why I wasn’t following up on a story he felt deserved coverage. His phone calls, like his letters, could be harsh.
But as we got to know each other a little better, the Ol’ Burdock and I developed a mutual respect. He invited me into his home, which was a trip into the past. We talked about issues, about history and about people. He gave me a perspective that a 25-year-old simply doesn’t have, and he made me appreciate the importance of my role as local journalist.
Early on, we set guidelines for his letters: don’t libel anyone, stray from personal attacks, stay within our 500-word limit. Hamilton took those parameters and pushed right to the line. He would viciously attack a councilor’s or supervisor’s decision-making, while ensuring that he didn’t cross any legal boundaries. Following his signature, there would be a little note: “There are EXACTLY 500 words in this letter.”
We often didn’t agree, both on issues and on method. Hamilton felt the best way to get government to lean his way was to push… and he could really push. His biting commentary in print and his name calling and vocal outbursts at public meetings often led to a heated Us vs. Them attitude at Manlius Town Board and village of Fayetteville meetings. On many occasions, the Eagle Bulletin was criticized for publishing his diatribes and we lost a few subscribers who felt the Ol’ Burdock had pushed too far.
An example, from Sept. 24, 1997, when Hamilton directed his ire at Fayetteville Mayor Henry McIntosh:
“In your game of dirty pool, good things don’t count — all that counts is how much you can make Fayetteville look like one big McDonald’s from village line to village line … This says nothing about how two-faced you and your flunkies looked each claiming how concerned you were for the residents of the area.”
But when a public official did something he deemed worthy of praise, he was the first to publicly applaud. Consider this note, from July 30, 1997, in which he commends Manlius Supervisor Dick Lowenberg, with whom he frequently sparred.
“I came away proud of my town board last night … Great! I am very happy to know that the Duguid Road homeowners are not disenfranchised. As long as the town board or any other governmental body represents their constituents fairly and equally applies the law to all, the Ol’ Burdock will stay at home just minding his weed patch. Dick Lowenberg and his people deserve a paean of praise.”
Hamilton took on all comers, from all corners of the town and beyond. He looked for injustice, whether it was in his backyard or across town, and when he believed he found it, he spoke his mind firmly. And he doggedly worked to protect the community he loved from overdevelopment.
Times have changed. Now, more people chime in on local issues, but they do so from the privacy of their homes, and they hide their criticisms behind screen names. On everything he authored, Hamilton put not only his name, but also his well-chosen moniker.
Communities are stronger when there are self-appointed watchdogs like Hamilton, keeping not only their government but also the media that covers it on its toes. I’ll miss the Ol’ Burdock, and so will the town of Manlius.
David Tyler is the publisher of the Eagle Bulletin. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 434-8889 ext. 302.