Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.
It was a full year of living with a global pandemic, a story that continued to fill our print pages each week because of its local impact. But the past 12 months brought a host of other major news developments, including big stories about education, severe weather, sports, politics and public safety. These are The Citizen staff’s 2021 selections of the 10 stories with the most impact on Cayuga County-area residents.
Sheila McElwain takes the temperature of students upon arrival at the start of another school day at St. Albert the Great Academy in Auburn, N.Y., Jan. 26, 2021. Think starting a new school is easy? Try doing it during a global pandemic. That’s exactly what St. Albert the Great Academy did in its inaugural year in Auburn. Principal Ann Fallon says all the plans to stop the spread of COVID-19 looked great on paper but it was the unknowns that made the job really difficult. Each week the staff meets to address new problems that arise and tweak the school’s COVID rules, with state guidance, to ensure that the school remains open for in-person classes five days per week for the 98 students in pre-K through fifth-grade. Fallon says it’s really important that parents also do the right things at home to stop the spread of COVID-19 to ensure a successful year. The school so far has outperformed expectations with a growing waiting list for all classes. Fallon is proud of her staff and kids for doing the right things to keep the school safe and open.
The story that topped our 2020 list was one that everyone hoped would fade into memory by the end of 2021. But COVID-19, and the impact it’s having on everyday life, remains at the top of most minds in the Cayuga County area. The year would bring important progress, from the rollout of vaccinations to the re-opening of full-time, in-person schools, plus the resumption of many community events and activities. But waves of two variants — first delta and now omicron — have kept cases and hospitalizations elevated throughout the fall and early winter, with concerns heightened about what the start of 2022 will bring. Mask mandates are back (with mixed levels of compliance and enforcement), some events are again being cancelled, and heavy demand for access to COVID-19 testing has returned. The 2021 COVID-19 statistics for Cayuga County are sobering. Through Wednesday, the county health department had reported 8,785 new cases in 2021 and 91 COVID-19-related deaths.
Auburn High School
Two 2021 dates frame the controversial proposal to rename Auburn High School. The idea started publicly at the Auburn Enlarged City School District Board of Education meeting of Jan. 12, when one of the board’s student representatives brought the idea forward to rename the building after Harriet Tubman, who lived much of her adult life in Auburn. The proposal officially ended on Oct. 26, when the board took a vote to end the process without any name change. The story that played out in between those dates included waves of public support and opposition expressed at school board meetings, on social media and The Citizen’s opinion pages; increased scrutiny on the board itself related to the name change but also issues beyond the proposal; a spring board vote to “pause” the process for considering a name change because of the division it was causing; a heated summer board meeting that ended abruptly with police called to keep the peace; and the launch of a series of special district meetings aimed at improving the working relationship between the public and the board.
A resident on Burtis Point Road in Owasco receives the day’s mail despite flooding from heavy rain in August.
A multi-day rain event, kicked off when the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred passed through the region, brought damaging floods along the Owasco Inlet, Owasco Lake and Owasco River in August. The storms that passed through Aug. 17-20 brought more than 7.5 inches of rain, caused the inlet to crest at major flood stage and brought Owasco Lake to historically high levels. From flooded basements to shoreline erosion, the rains caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage. Boats were loose all over the lake, and debris was pushed out of tributaries into the open water. The county was later included in a large region of upstate New York declared a federal disaster area, making public infrastructure repair funding available.
Baby marijuana plants grown at a Terrapin facility.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act signed into law March 31 by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo created a big question for elected leaders in cities, towns and villages to answer by the end of this year: whether to allow recreational cannabis sales and on-site business consumption within their borders. Specifically, if they didn’t vote to opt-out of allowing such business by the deadline, it would be automatically legal once the state finalizes its licensing process. In the Cayuga County-area, municipalities have taken a variety of approaches. As of Thursday morning, the city of Auburn and the towns of Moravia, Aurelius, Owasco, Sterling and Victory, and the village of Cayuga, were the only municipalities in the Cayuga County area The Citizen could confirm will not opt out of marijuana dispensaries and consumption sites. Municipalities that have opted out, or plan to before Dec. 31, include the towns of Brutus, Conquest, Elbridge, Fleming, Genoa, Ira, Locke, Mentz, Niles, Scipio, Sennett and Springport, and the villages of Aurora, Cato, Elbridge, Fair Haven, Port Byron, Weedsport and Union Springs. In addition to the opt-out question, another big local development in the recreational cannabis rollout was the announcement that cannabis production company Terrapin plans to open an Auburn facility that could employ up to 100 people.
Auburn’s Garrett Prosper is tagged out at third by Utica’s Edward Javier Jr. during a June 30 game at Falcon Park.
The story of the Auburn Doubledays historic shift in 2021 began in the fall of 2019, when news first broke about a major contraction in the works for Minor League Baseball leagues and franchises. Auburn, one of the smallest markets in the nation for professional baseball, was clearly a target for losing its team. As that possibility became a reality, officials with the city of Auburn, which owned the Doubledays franchise, negotiated a deal to lease Falcon Park and license the team’s name and branding to the owners of a Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League franchise. This summer, college baseball players from around the country competed for the new Doubledays and even made the playoffs. The team’s owners were happy with the first season and are eager to build upon the success in 2022.
In this screen shot captured from a Thruway traffic camera, emergency crews respond to a bus crash near the Weedsport Thruway exit.
A tour bus crash on the state Thruway just west of Weedsport exit 40 on Aug. 14 prompted a massive response by fire departments, ambulance crews and medical helicopters. Westbound highway traffic came to a standstill for hours as ambulances ferried victims from the scene. Auburn Community Hospital mobilized its incident command system, and staffers rushed into work as more than two dozen patients began arriving for treatment. After the call went out for help, four emergency room doctors arrived with 90 minutes and 57 nurses and other employees who received text messages also came to work that day. The Red Cross and the hospital’s social workers helped passengers find a place to stay or contact their families.
New city of Auburn ambulances are parked outside the downtown fire station in September.
The Auburn City Council voted in June to end its longtime relationship with TLC Emergency Medical Services and establish a city-run ambulance department. City officials had cited problems with TLC staffing and service when a request for proposals was put out to service providers in 2019 and later decided that having the city run its own ambulance department was a better option than continuing to contract out for the service. The startup costs came to about $1 million but the city said it expects the department to be funded fully from revenues that come from fees charged to users. The department, housed at the Market Street fire station, officially began taking calls Oct. 30.
Gage Ashley looks back at his mother, Judy McCoole, as she calls to him from across the street while he is led into Cayuga County Court Thursday for sentencing for the murder of Joshua Poole in Auburn in November 2019.
After delays in the court system brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, defendants in the 2019 shooting death of Joshua Poole in Auburn began having their cases heard — and their sentences meted out.
The first of four people facing charges, Lucciano Spagnola, pleaded guilty to murder charges just days ahead of his expected trial in September, accepting a fate of 17 years to life in prison. Earlier this month, Gage Ashley was sentenced to 21 years to life for first-degree murder and other convictions. Defendant Tyree Anglin pleaded guilty in June to first-degree manslaughter and is expected to be sentenced to 10 years in prison. A fourth man, Christian Rivera, was the one who planned the robbery and provided the others with masks, gloves and guns, authorities said. His case is still pending.
The home where the crime took place, 8 Delevan St., was later seized by city officials as a nuisance property.
New York Yankees’ Tim Locastro hits a sacrifice fly during the second inning of the first baseball game of a doubleheader against the New York Mets on July 4.
Auburn native Tim Locastro had his share of ups and downs in professional baseball last season. Beginning the season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he was traded in July to the New York Yankees and quickly racked up a few hits and runs, including his fifth career home run. But a promising run of playing time with the Bombers came to a discouraging halt when he suffered a torn ACL trying to make a leaping grab of a fly ball.
After surgery to repair the damage, he had been hopeful to rejoin the team in 2022 but was placed on waivers by the Yankees in the fall and picked up by the Boston Red Sox. The most recent development in Locastro’s career was an announcement by the Red Sox that the organization would not tender his 2022 contract, making him a free agent.
At this point, Locastro is continuing to prepare to be ready for spring training should the opportunity arise.
A mockup of a billboard paid for by the Republican Accountability Project supporting U.S. Rep. John Katko after his vote to impeach former President Donald Trump in January.
Following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, there was great debate about how much or how little responsibility the sitting president at the time, Donald Trump, had for making it happen, and the disagreement fell mostly across party lines. But when House Democrats introduced an article of impeachment against Trump, Rep. John Katko was the first Republican to announce his support of impeachment, and he was later one of 10 GOP House members who voted to impeach.
Katko said he focused on the facts of the case rather than the politics, but while he received some GOP support for his stance, not everybody was happy with the vote. A group of central New York Republicans and Conservative Party leaders later met in Syracuse to discuss their dissatisfaction with Katko. And there was a motion (that failed to pass) at Cayuga County Republican Committee meeting in February to censure Katko for his vote. And while Katko hasn’t yet announced his candidacy for for fifth term, the backlash over impeachment may have put his some of his support in the 2022 election in doubt.
My most memorable stories of 2021 were people’s stories.
My list of memorable stories is a mixed bag — from a nurse who got the COVID-19 vaccine to an Auburn native being traded to the New York Yanke…
It feels good to be covering sports again.
When I think of the stories I covered in Cayuga County this year during its second year contending with COVID-19, most of the pieces that firs…
Take a look at Kevin Rivoli’s selections for his most compelling photojournalism in 2021.
2021 was a year of changes as the Auburn Doubledays became a collegiate summer league team and I had the unique experience of throwing out the…
The Citizen’s top 5 local sports stories of 2021, including Tim Locastro’s rollercoaster season and Auburn football’s perfect spring record.
Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.