As each year passes, the memory of the strong political legacy established by todays Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant continues to fade but make no mistake about it Sam Stratton was a powerful political force in his day. He represented the City of Amsterdam as a conservative Democrat in the House of Representatives for 30 consecutive years, from 1959 until illness forced him from office. His seniority made him a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and from that perch he was able to get loads of dollars from the US defense budget earmarked for Capitol District expenditure. He probably was personally responsible for keeping the Watervliet Arsenal operating the last fifteen years of its existence and the dollars he steered to GE helped maintain employment levels at that company’s Schenectady facilities for at least a generation.
Stratton was born in Yonkers, NY on September 27, 1916 and moved up to Schenectady with his family as a young boy. He saw service in the Military in both WWII and the Korean Conflict as an intelligence officer. He earned degrees from the University of Rochester and Harvard and then got elected Mayor of Schenectady. Though it was a very weak office back in the 1950’s it gave him the political base and exposure he needed to make his successful bid for Congress.
My favorite personal memory of Stratton occurred over a span of time. When I was a teenager I played taps for Amsterdam’s Sirchia Am Vet Post whenever they were asked to serve as the honor guard and firing squad for a local event. That’s why I was present at a dedication ceremony for the Fifth Ward Veterans’ Memorial at which Stratton served as the keynote speaker. After the Sirchia Firing Squad fired their third volley, I began my first note of Taps, when all of a sudden I was interrupted by what sounded like a cannon shot. Luigi Lanzi, who must have been in his eighties at the time, had come out of his old restaurant across the street from the park and fired his shotgun as his own special tribute. Everyone laughed and we all ended up at his bar after the ceremony, where Stratton shook my hand and blew a few notes on my trumpet.
Fast forward six or seven years and I’m now a student at Albany State coming out of the Student Union Building on a beautiful spring day, heading toward my next class. Coming up the stairs directly in front of me is Stratton with an aide. We exchange greetings and he asks as we pass “Still playing the trumpet?” That’s what you call a master politician and Sam Stratton fit that label perfectly.
Stratton actually had a residence in Amsterdam for a while on upper Guy Park Avenue. I’d see him jogging by my house from time to time. He passed away in 1990.
This other September 27th Birthday celebrant belongs in the Amsterdam Softball Hall of Fame!