It’s sad to think of Chris Ortloff, who represented much of the North Country in the legislative chambers of Albany, now sitting in that city’s jail chambers.
The charges against him are heinous: State police investigators and U.S. marshals say that they, posing on the Internet as a pair of sisters aged 11 and 12, had been corresponding with him since June and that he arranged to meet the fictional girls for sex at a motel in the Albany suburbs. When police knocked on the motel room door at the prescribed time, Mr. Ortloff allegedly answered it naked. In the room were sex paraphernalia and a camera. Did he plan to create more of the kiddie porn he was allegedly so fond of?
This is a disgusting story. Whether he’s guilty or not, it’s a terrible situation for his wife, his sons and his Lake Placid family and friends at what must be a nightmarish time.
Although it cannot be presumed someone charged with a crime is guilty, it’s hard to imagine at this point that he could be innocent — although stranger things have happened. The sex-crime detectives who arrested him generally know what they’re doing in these cases. It will be interesting to hear his defense, if any.
Perhaps, as he sits in jail, he is thinking about the past — those days when he was a promising young leader from a respected Lake Placid family, going off to Vietnam with the military and then coming home to cover his hometown for the Lake Placid News and Adirondack Daily Enterprise. He wrote an important local book, “A Lady in the Lake,” and then landed the important job of managing the ceremonies for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Soon afterward, he was a regular guest in North Country living rooms as a reporter and anchor for WPTZ television. Then he was an Assemblyman, and through thick and thin he kept getting re-elected — 10 two-year terms in all.
It’s easy to remember his later days in the Assembly when he wasn’t getting much done, in large part because the Republicans were such a minority in that legislative house, but many people forget that he exercised a great deal of influence on Adirondack policy in the early 1990s. He especially made headlines for his battles with Assemblymen Maurice Hinchey and Pete Grannis when he was the ranking Republican on the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee. In standing up against the stricter land-use restrictions that leading Democrats wanted to place on the Adirondack Park, he and Sen. Ron Stafford were properly representing the majority of their constituency’s views at that time. George Pataki, right after being elected governor, even considered appointing Mr. Ortloff as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
By Mr. Ortloff’s later Assembly days, however, he was pretty ineffective. Although he helped Betty Little get her Assembly seat by supporting her within the party, he had to back out of a race against her for Mr. Stafford’s Senate seat in 2002. Despite having eight years of seniority on her, his soaring rhetoric wasn’t as popular as her plain-spokenness.
Then in 2006, facing three challengers for his job, he announced he would not seek re-election and instead accept Gov. Pataki’s Parole Board appointment.
Now, as the North Country politicians who once shared the stage with Mr. Ortloff try to distance themselves from him, there are several questions: If he’s guilty, as he seems to be, how long had he been doing this kind of thing? As with disgraced ex-governor Eliot Spitzer, this seems to be the action of a man so used to getting away with illicit self-gratification that his ego overshadowed both his reason and his morals. Also, we’ve been hearing for years about the culture of sexual promiscuity surrounding the Albany capitol; how much did that influence Mr. Ortloff? How much does it influence our other politicians? Such a culture feeds self-gratification over public service.
Ten years down the road, Mr. Ortloff may come before the Parole Board he has been a member of for two years. That board did the right thing Tuesday in suspending his $101,600-a-year part-time job until further notice. It would be amazingly hypocritical for someone to be soliciting sex with 11-year-olds while deciding the fates of inmates who committed much less serious crimes.