Hugh Reynolds: Feeling the Bern


I’m sure former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will draw a huge, rapturous crowd when he campaigns in New Paltz Friday morning (as scheduled) on behalf of Democratic congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout. Rally organizer Dan Torres, a New Paltz town councilman, displayed a degree of youthful exuberance when he called Sanders “the most popular politician in the 19th [Congressional] District.”

Sanders is making this whistle-stop appearance to boost Teachout’s popularity ranking.

For sure, Sanders is in friendly country. He carried New Paltz by an almost three-to-one margin over Hillary Clinton last April, including an astounding 408-19 return from the SUNY New Paltz campus polling place. Overall, Sanders won Ulster with 62 percent of the vote, with turnout approaching 50 percent of enrolled Democrats.


In yet another example of political hypocrisy, the Vermont independent and Hillary are allies now. Likewise, Teachout, after repeatedly accusing Clinton of “corporate corruption” during her failed 2014 gubernatorial primary against Andrew Cuomo, has done an about-face.

The purpose of the visit is twofold, to kick-start the Teachout campaign — polls by Teachout opponent John Faso showed him leading by five points in early August — and to rejuvenate the local Sanders supporters who may have lost interest in politics over the summer once their idol lost the presidential nomination.

By the same token, showcasing Sanders feeds fuel to the Faso drumbeat of “Professor” Teachout as a left-wing ideologue who needs out-of-district luminaries to prop up her campaign.

I expect much bashing of the demonic Trump at the New Paltz rally, and by extension of right-winger Faso. Whether it moves the needle is for the next poll to reveal. I expect a bump. If not, Teachout would be in serious trouble.

In any event, the rally should be great political theater.

Inside the numbers

Buried within last week’s preview on the Democratic primary for county surrogate judge were some stats from the board of elections that might give the political class pause.

Not unexpectedly, Democrat enrollment surged to a record 40,374, driven, no doubt, by the Bernie Sanders phenomena in this presidential year. Unfortunately, due to arcane New York election law, none of those newbies were allowed to vote in a primary this year unless they had registered before Oct, 9, 2015. Nov. 8 is another story.

But that wasn’t the eye-opening stat. Nor was the fact that Republican enrollment increased by just 239 to a total of just under 27,700. Republicans have been trending toward oblivion for a generation. Donald Trump may have accelerated that flight.

What caught my eye was what the board of elections used to call NEs (Non-Enrolled) in any party. That group, officially NOPs (Not of Party), increased by only 197 to 33,511.

Though there are lots of new (younger) faces around, new businesses being started, etc., for the most part those folks are (almost) replacing those who have departed for warmer climes or better employment opportunities. This leaves a shallow pool.

Which raises the question, with Republicans enrollment gaining 239 and NOPs 197 (less than 1 percent in either case), where are those 3,000 new Democrats coming from? My best guess is that NOPs are climbing off the fence, perhaps joined by a few Republicans and signing up with the Democratic Party. In an age where so many hate politics, simple logic would suggest people moving from organized political parties into the ranks of the non-committed. Therefore, can we conclude that for former independents (not Independence!) the Democrats are the party of lesser evil or at best, last resort?

Building plans

Trending beyond skepticism, I can only hope the latest mega-building plan to hit the front pages, HealthAlliance’s $133-million makeover of Kingston’s hospitals, comes to fruition.

As plans go, there wasn’t a lot of news revealed last week, other than the projection of the Westchester-controlled hospital company spending $55 million more than the $88 million in grants secured for the continued consolidation of the two hospitals.

That the state, after pumping $44 million into the original reorganization, had doubled down came as a pleasant surprise. Word that it will invest no more does not. Where the additional $45 million to fund the latest plan, be it begged or borrowed, comes from was not clear to me. The Westchester Medical Center chieftains have deep pockets, but how much will they extend to their challenged satellite in Ulster?

Clearer was the direction these new plans will take local healthcare. Over the hill beyond Kingston High School across Broadway to what is now referred to the Mary’s Avenue (Benedictine) campus. As outlined by hospital officials, Benedictine will receive something like six times ($122 million) more funding under the announced plan as will Kingston’s medical village. When work is done in about five years, the Mary’s Avenue campus will be “the hospital.” Notably, plans are specific for Bennie (as it was called) to include more than 110,000 square feet of new construction (almost twice the size of the County Office Building).

But they are vague about Kingston. The medical village on the Broadway campus is much less defined. Taken together, Benedictine represents hope and Kingston prayer. That’s a curious juxtaposition, given their origins as separate religious and sectarian hospitals.

There is also the dark cloud of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield lawsuit hanging over this enterprise. The parties are in court at present with Westchester footing the bill, but if HealthAlliance loses the largest health insurer in the state, what then? Will others flock to fill the gap?
The critical issue of employment at one of the county’s major employers merits more detail even at this early stage. These days, very few corporations in America consolidate to hire more people. If everything works according to plan, the new HealthAlliance will offer about 160 beds. At peak, the old hospitals had around triple that amount, too many empty. Some of this comes from the not-so-new healthcare model dictated at the federal level, some from aggressive competition by neighboring counties, and some from sobering demographics. None of it is good news for the hospitals.

The alternative is to stand by and watch fate play out.

There have been some positive moves. A savvy, pragmatic new leadership has obviously learned from previous mistakes, however well-intentioned. By and large, HealthAlliance does a credible job of communicating with the public. Forging an alliance with one of the Big Boppers in Hudson Valley healthcare was a marriage of necessity. No hospital is an island any more, nor any community.

The way forward is rife with challenges, especially in the area of finance and operational equilibrium. There is now a plan, and competent people pursuing it even as its ultimate fate will involve forces beyond their control. Let’s hope.

Family feud

Given time constraints, advocates of a last-minute revision of ballot language regarding the move of family court from Kingston to Ulster probably won’t prevail. Threats of court action amount to tilting at windmills, as judges are loath to interfere with properly-conducted legislative decisions.

The legislature voted 18-4 on June 21 to approve the move, but not the wording. County Executive Mike Hein signed the legislation on June 27. After that, as with most things in county government, it got complicated. According to the clerk of the legislature, state law requires at a minimum only that the ballot statement ask voters to approve a move outside city borders.

Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk, in consultation with fellow legislators and the executive branch, thought a more detailed ballot description in order. Legal advisors from both branches perused various drafts, with the understanding that in the event of a lawsuit the county attorney would have to defend the wording.

County government, as represented by the legislature and executive, is arguing for what they consider informed disclosure in the ballot wording, which includes references to economic development benefits, saving of money, consideration of children and families and the like. Apple pie and the flag didn’t make the cut. The political component — though bipartisan — is revealed by the failure to mention the estimated $8 million in renovation costs to renovate vacant Business Resource Center space in the Town of Ulster. This is full disclosure?

In a rare daily double, our veteran editors managed to rile both the legislative and executive branches with a “Bah! Shameless propaganda!” editorial published in recent editions of Woodstock Times and Kingston Times.

Ronk, having suffered little criticism in his young career, complained only about the tone of the editorial, while reiterating his support of the ballot wording. Hein, while not denying he had input, insisted that the clerk of the legislature was solely responsible for the wording.

(Figurative) ballot stuffers could be in for a surprise come Nov. 8. Having raised questions about motives, opponents have no doubt created suspicion in the public mind, which in turn will lead to doubt. Assuming low voter response — few will wade through a 50-word proposal on the flip side of the main ballot — a close election could swing toward antis. And as far as anybody knows, there is no Plan B.

That’s amore

There seems to be a revival in ethnic pride in these parts, as witnessed by the board of directors of the recently-formed Italian-American Foundation naming its first man and woman of the year. Honors went to retired county legislator signora Jeanette (Yonta) Provenzano and restaurant founder signore Mannie Savona.

Meanwhile, the local chapter of Hibernians is working on plans to construct an $8 million Irish cultural center in Rondout. There’s also an active Polish White Eagle heritage organization and the German Mannerchor, both dating to the 19th century. If I’ve left anybody out, please advise.

Nominating Provenzano and Savona was a “no-brainer,” says Italian Foundation director Tony Marmo, one of its founders. There will be no shortage of future honorees. Restaurant mogul Frank Guido and county clerk Nina (Albany) Postupack come quickly to mind.

Marmo tells us the group has ruled out the idea of pursuing an “Italian cultural center” like their Irish counterparts. “We like to go where the people are,” Marmo said. “We meet at [preferably Italian] restaurants around the county. We usually ask for seating for at least 120.” Membership in the Italian organization, chartered last year, recently passed 300. Hibernians claim about 275.

Italian honorees will be formally recognized at the annual Italian Festival on the Rondout on October 9.

Further down the creek at Kingston Point’s Rotary Park, local Rotarians will host their first lobster musical (bluegrass) festival on Saturday from noon to 5. Tickets will be available at the door.

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