It’s complicated… Such are the twists and turns one experiences in life.
In my previous life when I ran the anti-poverty agency EOC I had the good fortune of occasionally intersecting with Father Peter Young. At the time (a long time ago) Father Young, who is now 86, had a ministry working with primarily alcoholics in the South End of Albany. I always thought of Father Young as the kind archetypal, good priest. His energy and compassion were boundless. Working with the pernicious disease of alcoholism is no easy endeavor.
In 1990 I left EOC and have been out of touch with that world.
A friend sent me a link to an article by Brendan Lyons of the Times Union on what appears to be New York State’s effort to shut down Father Young’s network of facilities that reach from the Bronx to Syracuse.
I find this all stunning because Father Young was able to create a network of many powerful people in the private sector as well as in politics.
The story includes a chronology of embezzlement at a number of facilities that resulted in convictions. According to the story, Father Young reported to the state that he uncovered criminal activities that led to the indictments and convictions.
Given what is in this article and drawing from my experience in running a non-profit social service agency I will risk a little speculation. In expanding his organization from Albany to one that stretched from the Bronx to Syracuse the operational challenges probably grew exponentially.
Having worked now in the private sector, I can assure the readers of this blog that the stress and complexity of a non-profit are much greater. Cash flow is always a struggle. The state notoriously pays late and erratically. In addition, the salaries one can afford to pay staff are problematic. I cannot imagine myself administering something like Father Young’s operation at 86.
So reading the article it does not surprise me that he got into difficulty with his main funding source which would be the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. If the story published in the TU is accurate, what is disturbing is the way that OASAS dealt with Father Young. The story portrays an attorney for the state agency behaving appallingly at a meeting with Father Young and representatives from the business community who are supportive of Father Young.
Unfortunately, I find this credible as well. While I dealt with some very fine and dedicated people who worked for our state, I also dealt with some careerists who neither understood nor cared about the problems of actually running these programs. More central to this story is that of all agencies, OASAS should be the most respectful of Father Young’s fifty years serving alcohol and drug abusers. I am not questioning one way or the other about the substance of the decision as I am utterly ignorant of the details, but I am questioning the manner by which it was apparently carried out.
One of the aspects of this story that I think is important is that Tom Newkirk (one of the principals of Saratoga National Golf Course) has been a major supporter both financially and organizationally of Father Young for some three decades. Whatever my differences with Mr. Newkirk over his proposed expansion of his golf course, I think that his efforts to support Peter Young are something that all of us should respect enormously.
A further aspect to this story has to do with John Sweeney. Mr. Sweeney represented Saratoga Springs in Congress until his problems with alcoholism involved the police and his defeat.
Apparently, Father Young not only aided him in dealing with this alcoholism but gave him a job (Link). In a wonderful twist, he hired him as the compliance officer. Some of you may remember that Sweeney built a national reputation as the most pugnacious player on behalf of the National Republican Party in the famous chad war in Florida in Bush versus Gore.
Now Sweeney is described in a recent Times Union article as a major player in President Donald Trump’s transition team. He ran Trump’s New York State presidential campaign.
The readers of this blog may not be aware of the important role that the Affordable Care Act has played in supporting alcohol and drug abuse programs. Not only does the ACA fund services for these programs but it provides critical health insurance to its clients through the expanded Medicaid option. The proposed Trump replacement for the ACA will cut Medicaid by $880 billion dollars in the next ten years (Link To Story).
One has to wonder how someone like John Sweeney, who has seen the ravages of alcoholism and also how important the work of organizations like Father Young’s are, must feel championing a man whose policies will devastate the communities attempting to serve alcoholics and drug addicts.
One thought on “A Sad Story About A Very Good Man”
John, Thank you for writing about this. I read the article this am in the Times Union and was appalled at the language and tone that was addressed to the good father. He has helped so many people in his lifetime, especially the men released from proson with no direction or even a place to live. I have met him and he is a humble, unassuming man. Glad that others are addressing the shabby treatment that he received. Good article, thank you. Jane
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