Ortloff plaque had to come down

Pat Barrett, chairman of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, acted alone in late February when he ordered that Chris Ortloff’s plaque be removed from the Lake Placid Hall of Fame, inside Lake Placid’s Olympic and conference center.

“That’s a state facility, and I’m the chairman of ORDA, and I just decided we’re taking it off, and that’s it,” Mr. Barrett told the Enterprise at the time. “I didn’t consult with anybody or anything. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? That’s because I’m from St. Regis Falls.”

One could easily look at this kind of thing as autocratic, but it was, absolutely, the right thing to do. Thank goodness someone with authority did it, because others, closer to the matter, had let it slide for too long.

Mr. Ortloff is in federal prison because he was a child sexual predator. That doesn’t erase all the good things he was, too – 1980 Winter Olympic master of ceremonies, 20-year state assemblyman, state Parole Board member, author, journalist, village trustee and board member for worthy organizations – but it overshadows them.

Penn State University dealt with a similar matter by removing a statue of Joe Paterno after it came out that the great football coach had heard an eyewitness tell of a colleague’s sex acts with minors and hadn’t reported it to police. That’s a much bolder scrubbing than removing one plaque from among dozens, and yet Mr. Ortloff’s crime was worse than Mr. Paterno’s.

It’s hard to say why the Ortloff plaque stayed up so long after his 2010 conviction. It could have something to do with the fact that the chair of the Hall of Fame committee is his sister, but we really don’t know. We figure few people noticed or thought about it much. Some did, but they apparently felt it was none of their business.

That’s understandable, but Adirondack Life editor Annie Stoltie saw it and decided, rightly, that it was everyone’s business. Her column in the magazine’s latest issue, titled “Local conviction: Why is a jailed felon still celebrated on Lake Placid’s Hall of Fame?” set things in motion for the plaque to be pulled.

Ms. Stoltie told us the responses she’s heard have been many and varied.

“Some people aren’t pleased that I drew attention to it, and I understand people are sensitive to this issue,” she said. “I hope people will respect that the magazine can ask a question like that.”

Someone had to, and we support her and the magazine fully in this.

There’s still a strain of quiet sympathy for Mr. Ortloff among some prominent members of the Lake Placid community. Confidentially, some have expressed frustration with Adirondack Life for reopening old wounds.

We respect that Mr. Ortloff’s family members are innocent victims here, but what about the wounds that might be reopened by letting Mr. Ortloff stay in the hall?

It’s important to note that Mr. Ortloff was not convicted of abusing any real children; in the police sting that caught him, he had arranged a kinky tryst with what turned out to be fictional 11- and 12-year-old sisters. But he may well have had actual victims, too. While planning the rendezvous, he told an undercover agent (posing as the girls’ mother) that he’d had sex with prepubescent girls in the past, according to police and prosecutors.

What if one of those girls walked through the halls of the Olympic Center – maybe as a tourist, figure skater, hockey player or conference guest – and saw that plaque, saw the Lake Placid community still celebrating this guy? That would reopen old wounds, too – more grievous than the pain of having a family member deservedly lose a community honor.

The Hall of Fame is for people Lake Placid is proud of. The community shouldn’t be proud of Mr. Ortloff.

“It’s just common sense,” Mr. Barrett said. “The day he was convicted, it should have come off that wall.”

That’s right. Dragging it out only makes it worse.