Sometimes the best-laid plans of us political scribblers go awry. Nobody assigned me to cover the Democratic presidential “watch rally” at Ole Savannah restaurant on Kingston’s waterfront on Monday night. I thought it might be a good idea for me to go.
I expected hundreds of aroused Democrats to pack the cavernous confines of the waterfront waterhole to cheer on their candidate and revile her opponent. I actually thought they might set up bleachers around a huge flat screen.
Wrong. About 50 people showed up, which might have included a few Bubbas sitting at the bar watching the NFL game (Falcons vs. Saints) on another TV. Prominent Democrats were conspicuous by their absence. I counted one, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble. Recently re-elected party chairman Frank Cardinale was also in attendance.
“I thought it was a pretty good turnout,” said event organizer and Democratic deputy elections commissioner Ashley Dittus without discernible enthusiasm. “It’s a Monday night, you know.”
Are you ready for some football? Playing defense, she added, “How many Donald Trump rallies were there? We had a watch rally in almost every county in the Hudson Valley.”
The crowd ranged from young to middle-aged. Like Donald Trump on Valium, they listened quietly for the most part. Occasionally a cheer would erupt when Hillary Clinton made a point, hisses and laughs when Donald fumbled a response. I was left with the impression we’d all heard it many times before.
I solicited quotes from the audience as people filed out, hoping for but not expecting something original. Long-time political activist Judith (“Don’t call me Judy!”) Simon of West Saugerties offered a zinger. “It’s the difference between rational and insane,” she said.
Inveterate letter-writer Dr. Tom Koshy of Kingston called himself “a passionate supporter.” “He has no clue,” he said of Trump. “He’s useless.”
The mayor, ever low-key, admitted pre-debate bias. “She really articulated some concrete plans,” he said. “I didn’t see a lot of concrete plans from Mr. Trump.”
I stayed well after midnight while talking TV heads told me what I had seen hours before. A CNN poll of some 500 respondents taken immediately after the debate, admittedly Democratic-oriented, had Clinton up 62-27. To me, the Clinton win sounded more like 10 points, maybe 15, but then I’m a neutral observer. Clinton came on strong after a good start by Trump which had left a more positive impression.
In any event, I don’t look for winners and losers at these affairs, having covered dozens over the years. Be it alderman or president, I want to see if a candidate accomplished what he or she had to do. In Trump’s case, that meant demonstrating a familiarity with complicated issues and acting like an adult. Clinton lost the annoying head nod, indicating she’s really not a robot after all.
I cringed slightly at Clinton’s mention of her granddaughter’s second birthday Monday night. However programmed, the remark showed a human side seldom seen at scripted rallies. Trump didn’t make it all the way to “presidential” (she did), but except for the knee-jerk Rosie O’Donnell reference at the end, behaved better than on the campaign trail.
I have professional pity for moderator Lester Holt. Faced with riding herd on these two aggressive alpha cats in front of a Super Bowl-like TV audience, the authoritative newsman lost control in the mayhem. It was hardly his fault they got to only a handful of subjects in a 98-minute session.
All in all, it was good theater at Ole Savannah, however poorly attended. At one and the same time we had two of America’s most reviled politicians up against our most popular pastime. The really exciting thing is one of these candidates is going to become president of the United States.
To the surprise of almost no one, an 11th-hour attempt to inject “plain English” on the county ballot proposal to move Family Court from Kingston to the Town of Ulster failed at last week’s regular legislature meeting. It’s pretty hard to get anything passed when the county executive and the chairman of the legislature don’t want it passed.
Democratic Saugerties Legislator Chris Allen drew muffled guffaws in calling himself “the swing vote” after joining majority Republicans for the 9-9 tie. With 23 months on the county legislature, Allen should know it takes a majority of the elected body (12 votes) to pass anything. The original resolution to make the move passed 18-4, but without ballot language. Prime sponsor Dave Donaldson of Kingston can at least take credit for luring five additional votes to his cause last week.
Country John Parete of Olive has a common-sense way of getting his points across. He and Donaldson argued that the ballot wording cooked up by an ad-hoc committee of legislators and the executive department was biased and leading, much like Andrew Cuomo’s “economic development” ballot pitch for casino gambling a few years ago.
“I don’t know if I’m going to run again,” said the 75-year-old Parete, “but how would my opponent feel if the ballot read that John Parete was adored by his grandchildren and was an all-around wonderful guy?”
As sometimes happens when regular people address the legislature during its public comment period, nerves and passion can produce excess. Like the guy last week heatedly comparing County Executive Mike Hein’s bullying and abuse of the Catskill Mountain Railroad to the Nazi era in Germany.
Chairman Ken Ronk did not interrupt the speaker or call him out of order. He declared after the man sat down that he would not tolerate “references to the Nazi era or Hitler before this legislature.”
No one said anything at the time, but I’m told some legislators raised concerns among each other afterward about freedom-of-speech issues. Said freshman Democrat Jennifer Schwartz Berky, “The [Republican] chairman can certainly say that some language is contemptible and disrespectful, but I don’t think he can prevent people from speaking the way they want to speak.”
As for references to Nazism, she added, “It’s a slippery slope when someone speaks that way. It discredits them.”
Indeed. The First Amendment, to which Berky refers, is more about protecting offensive language, like comparing an overreaching elected official to a murderous tyrant. As a practical matter, inoffensive speech doesn’t need protection. Having said what they are free to say, however offensive, people are free to suffer the consequences, be it scorn, anger, ostracism or worse.
For many, the points the railroad advocate was trying to make, some of them valid, were lost once he went Nazi. I could tell from the startled looks and rolling of eyes around the chamber.
One excess does not warrant another.
After a testy behind-the-scenes contest, the possibility of unanimity was slim following Sara McGinty’s defeat of Sharon Graff in this month’s Democratic primary for surrogate judge. Down by six points in machine balloting, Graff had hoped some 625 absentee ballots might reverse the tide. But McGinty added to her margin by taking almost two-thirds of the write-ins. Having perceived the handwriting on the wall, Graff did not attend the official board of elections counting last week.
Graff, in a two-sentence concession statement, pointed out that by election law she remains on the ballot as the official candidate of the Green, Working Families and Women’s Equality parties. Game on. Those lines might affect what McGinty sees as a “very competitive” race against Republican candidate Peter Matera.
OTBs (opportunity to ballot) usually generate more publicity than write-in votes, but not so in the contest for the Democratic nomination in John Bonacic’s 42nd state Senate district. In this one, newcomer Pramilla Malick routed Republican Bonacic by an unofficial tally of 2439 to 179 in the four-county district. Malick carried Ulster by an unofficial 526-40. The district includes the Ulster County towns of New Paltz, Rosendale, Gardiner, Shawangunk, Wawarsing and Denning.
Bonacic, finishing his 18th year in the senate (he was an assemblyman for eight years prior) had appealed to his “Democratic friends” to write in his name. Malick, an environmentalist from Orange County, said she discovered (to her apparent shock and alarm) after the deadline for nominations that her party had left the line blank.
She did not attend the Ulster Democratic nominating convention in June. Bonacic has run without opposition only twice in the last eight elections.
Despite the encouraging write-in, no one’s calling Malick a contender, much less a winner. Consider the huge disparity in fundraising. Campaign spending reports indicate the incumbent has some $750,000 on hand compared to his challenger’s $1,300. Should Malick develop any traction, Bonacic, 74, a senior member of the House of Lords, can count on much, much more in the way of financial firepower.
In a contest between mighty Saugerties and tiny Kingston (town), Ed Gaddy of the latter was re-elected 33-32 county Conservative Party chairman over Saugerties firebrand George Heidcamp. Cons may be short of number, but they love a good fight. That their chairman barely survived a challenge suggests more fireworks in the future.