Hugh Reynolds: Primary finish

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

If an early June Time Warner News/Siena College poll on the 19th Congressional District primaries holds true, Democrat Zephyr Teachout and Republican John Faso will face each other for all the marbles in the general election Nov. 8. That poll showed Teachout 30 points over Will Yandik and Faso leading Andrew Heaney by 22.

Funny things can happen in primaries where low turnout favors targeted messaging. Remember, readers, it’s not how many people vote, it’s who votes. How low can it go? I’m predicting participation will break into double digits, but not by much. Despite the dearth of primary buzz, it’s important. One of these four candidates will be our next member of Congress, probably for a long time.

Chris Gibson, the retiring Republican these folks hope to succeed, was an exception. He ran for public office after a distinguished Army career in 2010, declared he’d serve only four terms and then decided after three to return to academia. Too bad. Gibson was the kind of “career politician” I could have lived with. Lots of others could, too, judging from his landslide two-to-one re-election in 2014. Talk about going out on top.


But, let’s get to the business at hand.


Say this about Columbia County farmer Yandik: he’s finally separated himself from Zephyr Teachout. Maybe not by 30 points, but half that would be pretty impressive.

Teachout’s star power made her the obvious frontrunner from the get-go. Yandik was competing for Mr. Congeniality. That there was little policy difference between the candidates clearly played to Teachout’s advantage.

“Me-too” is not a challenge. Given a choice between Teachout and almost-Teachout, Democrats will vote for Teachout. This is not to say Yandik wasn’t a credible candidate. Rising from the apple orchards of Livingston, Yandik impressed those who heard him. Unfortunately for him, not enough did.

Ulster, with the largest Democratic enrollment in the 11-county congressional district, will be key to the election. Teachout was endorsed by a divided Democratic committee back in March, though Yandik made a solid showing.

At 38, Yandik may have a future in politics. A two-term town councilman, he could be a town supervisor, county legislator or maybe even a state legislator before he’s 50. As Phil Rizzuto once said, it’s great to be young and a Yankee, though in this case it’s a Yandik (joke). After a few terms in Congress, Teachout, 44, if she gets past Faso in the fall, will eventually be testing the winds of higher office.


Unlike the boring Democratic primary, the race between old-school Faso and newbie Heaney featured heavy artillery lobbed from afar by candidates who don’t like each other. The two met face to face in Marlboro in early June and more recently on Liz Benjamin’s Capital Reports TV show out of Albany. I couldn’t make it to Marlboro, but sparks flew before a larger television audience.

Considering they’re both targeting a conservative Republican electorate, there wasn’t much difference in policy between the two. It’s where they come from and their relative experience that will count.

Heaney, a Manhattan-based businessman, moved to the district some three years ago (beating Teachout by more than two years), perhaps in anticipation of running for Congress in 2018. Gibson’s surprise announcement in January that he would not seek a fourth term this year no doubt advanced that timetable. Heaney’s experience in building his father’s business into a multimillion-dollar operation will no doubt resonate with conservatives who value a business-like approach to government. He’s taken on the obligatory volunteerism of a politician on the make — coaching his kid’s Little League team, joining the local fire department, getting to know his neighbors in Dutchess horse country.

Conservatives will also take note (because Faso brings it up all the time) of Heaney’s support of Democrats Hillary and Barack in previous elections, but in the real world of business, that’s just business as usual.

For Faso at 63, this could be his last hurrah in a political career dating back some 30 years. Coming from the outhouse of New York legislature politics, Faso should be well- equipped to deal with a more congenial Congress, if only by comparison.

Hinting at Heaney’s brief residency — he rarely uses the phrase “carpetbagger” in public — Faso speaks to his own deep roots in Kinderhook, coincidentally Gibson’s homestead. I wonder if they ran into each other at the statue of Martin Van Buren in the village square. Probably not. Gibson did 24 years in the Army before Congress, most of it away from home, while Faso served politics, a most demanding mistress.

Heaney describes Faso as an insider-lobbyist with all that connotes to an electorate weary of a self-serving status quo. Heaney says he’ll bring a fresh face to Washington, obligated to no one. We’ll see, but right now it looks like his will be a face in the House gallery, not on the floor.

In the unlikely event that Heaney closes the presumed double-digit gap between him and Faso, the former Assembly minority leader will remain on the ballot as the candidate of the Conservative, Independence and Reform parties. He says that regardless of the primary outcome, he’s in it for the duration. To Republican primary voters, this represents both a threat and a promise. With four lines in the general election, Faso would be a formidable candidate. With three, he’s  a spoiler. Teachout can only hope.

Polls are open from noon to nine on Tuesday.

 Train talk

It appears that in the end the Catskill Mountain Railroad and the Mike Hein administration came to a reasonable compromise, albeit kicking and screaming. They divided the baby, but not before lawyers on both sides collectively sopped up maybe a million dollars in legal fees and print media sacrificed a forest of trees and a river of ink. Which is to say, why couldn’t reasonable people have come to these conclusions years ago?

As detailed in a press release from the administration last week, CMRR will retain its eight-mile eastern run from Kingston Plaza to its junction with Route 28A just short of the Ashokan Reservoir. A new outfit offering rail-trail experience will take over the six-mile Boiceville to Phoenicia run. CMRR says it can live with that since 90 percent of its revenue was collected at the eastern end via tourist attractions like Polar Express.

The railroaders would like to have had their line extended another mile west to end at magnificent reservoir and mountain views, but you can’t always get what you want. The two sides settled their three-year legal differences in April.

There is one comment

  1. SBW

    Good morning Hugh,
    This was an interesting column. I know that you were trying to sound neutral on the issue of the railroad and that this is incumbent if you are to retain your voice in the monarchy of Michael Hein.

    I however, face no such constraints so I would like to correct one misconception. This was no compromise. It was the outcome of an RPF to which exactly one bidder responded for the east end. I fully expected that the County would award it to no one, but it appears that grass root activism forced the Legislature’s hand. These activists are, for the most part, not CMRR participants. They simply share the vision of retaining rail throughout the corridor. Once gone, it cannot be brought back. CMRR has been incredibly restrained in their public comments, even in the face of losing all.

    If I took your house from you under false pretenses and then offered you a cot in the garage – would that be a ‘compromise’?

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