Dan Haley, Ahead Of The Curve

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By Scott Atkinson

Dan Haley died Friday at a nursing home in Massena, at the age of 83.

I knew Dan, briefly, when I was an 18 year old reporter for the Watertown Times and he was in the state Assembly. The daughter of the then-Massena bureau chief worked for Dan, something that caused no small amount of tension between the home office and the bureau, and which ultimately led to both the bureau chief and me parting company with the paper.

For the year or so that I knew him in the mid-70s, Dan was a captivating figure, like someone transplanted from the Kennedy "Ask not what your country can do for you..." era. The word 'dashing' was invented for men like Dan; he was naturally aristocratic and carried  himself like someone who had been given special gifts - and it was his job to do something with them.

A lot of that specialness comes through in his official obituary: his mom was a Fulbright Scholar. He was in the foreign service in Vietnam. Dan worked in "intelligence" in the late 50s in Korea, the Philippines and Japan. Whenever I'd ask what "intelligence" meant, all I'd get back was an eye roll. He was like a character out of a Ward Just novel.

(Read the complete obituary here.)

That he won as a Democrat in St. Lawrence County in the early 70s was a small miracle; that he did it without pretending to be regular guy was a bigger one. You can argue that he was the first spark of what became the Democratic renaissance in that county.

While in the state Assembly, Dan launched a quixotic campaign for energy independence; he talked about wind and solar energy. It's hard to capture, all these years on, how strange such things could sound.

It was probably inevitable that he would lose his Assembly seat. He cared more about his ideas than he did about the practical business of politics - remember, great politicians do both. However,  there are worse things that you can say about someone than 'He wasn't a great politician.' Dan Haley wasn't, but he was an interesting one, and he reminds me to listen when a politician says something that sounds outlandish - it might just be 40 years ahead of its time.

- Scott Atkinson is the news director of WWNY.

Friday, October 31, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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