Hugh Reynolds: Outside the box

Parking is always a dilemma in built-up commercial districts in Kingston, Saugerties, New Paltz or Woodstock. “Uptown parking problems” was one of the first stories I covered as a rookie back in the late 1960s.

Not much has changed. As I recall, the Kingston Uptown Businessmen’s Association — then a power in city politics — sought to pave over the Senate House lawn for parking. Fortunately, the property was state-owned. The city settled for a parking garage on North Front Street, paid for under urban renewal. The decrepit garage, built on the cheap, is long gone, replaced by a 150-car parking lot. Jammed at 9:01 a.m. on weekdays, it’s free, but not for long if the mayor has his way. And by every indication, the mayor has the support of the Common Council.

Mayor Steve Noble’s parking plan, unveiled to the surprise of some aldermen earlier this month, is to meter just about every free city parking lot and double parking fees to a dollar an hour. He says he needs the revenue to support a $750,000 increase in city health insurance costs.

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A thoroughly modern type, the 34-year-old mayor has attempted to assuage concerns of Uptown working stiffs with the introduction of high-tech kiosks where one can insert a credit card rather than a hard-earned dollar eight times a day. Does he have any idea of the ire he is about to create, the burden on customers and businesses?

I know I sound like an old-time KUBAer, but sometimes old arguments have force.

Kingston seems to be undergoing a commercial renaissance of late, which is not to diminish its artistic surge. New people with new businesses are flocking to this “happening place,” as newbies like to call it. Having staked their futures in Kingston, how must they look on the invasion of parking meters at twice the fees? Spittle must be dripping from the chins of the city’s diligent meter people at the prospect of writing twice as many tickets every day. And no, they do not get a cut of what they ticket.

But might we get some original thinking along the way? Proliferating parking meters and jacked-up fees are the low-hanging fruit. What will the city do next year or the year when it faces another budget gap?

The mayor says the city has a revenue problem. Maybe so, but he has to serve his constituents with careful attention to the other side of the ledger, too.

 

The cost of compassion

On a humanitarian basis, the legislature’s extension of county health benefits to the family of sheriff’s sergeant Kerry Winters, who died in a training accident in October, was the “right thing to do.” But doing right by the dive sergeant’s grieving family will cost taxpayers an estimated $60,000 ($3,333 a month over the next 18 months), according to officials. And that’s assuming health-insurance costs don’t increase dramatically (again) over that period.

Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum, who knows the numbers, was taken aback by the cost for a family plan in his department.

“Thirty-four hundred a month?” I asked him, rounding up the number.

“It sounds like a lot, but that’s what we got from the county exec,” Van Blarcum replied. The legislature confirmed the figure last week.

As Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rich Gerentine pointed out, the legislature needs to carefully consider the precedents it sets. The larger picture is that full-blown, taxpayer-paid benefits for public workers may not be sustainable over the long run.

 

The two Donalds

Nobody called former Kingston mayor Don Quick (1980-83) “The Donald,” but he and the president-elect have at least one thing in common: hiring cronies and campaign workers. But then again, doesn’t everybody?

Mayor-elect Quick, when confronted by critics after a hair’s-breadth first election, had a quick response: “Do you expect me to appoint my enemies?”

Curious thing about The Donald. In most campaigns, a few negatives can sink a candidate, thus the proliferation of negative advertising. Give ’em a reason for voting against your opponent and you’re half way there. Apparently people were willing to vote for Trump if they could find just one good reason, ignoring the rest of the baggage. Weird.

 

Mututal admiration

The “irrepressible, brilliant and amazing” Zephyr Teachout and Dutchess county Legislator Joel Tyner co-hosted a reorganizational post-election skull session of the Clinton town Democratic committee on Monday night. I won’t argue Tyner’s description of the former congressional candidate, but it seems that after losing two of three elections in two years the not-so-irrepressible Zephyr may need a new game plan. As Will Yandik, the Columbia County farmer she demolished in the June Democratic primary, put it, you can’t win from the left.

Tyner knows from irrepressible. For years, he ran for state office in Dutchess County, rarely rising above 35 percent. One year he ran with his mother and she got more votes. (Fact check: Mother ran for a state Senate seat, sonny for Assembly: big difference.) Tyner eventually adjusted his sights, ran successfully for county legislator and has been a fixture ever since. That said, I don’t see Teachout running for Clinton town clerk anytime soon.

 

Here and there

Democratic county Legislator Chris Allen’s resolution calling for two-year terms for legislative leaders, while meaningless at this point, should find support among majority Republicans. Chairman Ken Ronk has been an advocate of four-year terms for everybody.

Not to demean Allen, but the legislative leaders will be elected to another one-year term in about a month. Rarely do horses get switches in midstream.

One wonders what additional largesse we can extend to legislators after they granted themselves a 40 percent raise (to $14,000 for rank-and-file) earlier this year. But the idea of leaders serving the full (two-year term) has merit. Maybe next year.

State Sen. Bill Larkin’s solid 25,000-vote win over Democratic challenger Chris Eachus might lead some to wonder why we hold elections at all. Eachus, with a multi-million-dollar campaign, seemed to hit all the right notes and worked like a dog. Ten-term Larkin didn’t show up anywhere and still rolled.

Conservative Assembly candidate Jack Hayes knew he had no chance against Democrat Kevin Cahill, but his three-to-one loss was still embarrassing. Like Eachus, the former county legislator from Gardiner hit many a popular note, including, inexplicably, “secure borders.”

Rochester Town Supervisor Carl Chipman is on the mend after a week in the hospital for treatment of pneumonia. One of the good guys in local politics, Chipman brings country common sense to most issues in addition to genuine empathy for the people he serves. We wish him a speedy recovery.

At the same time, our condolences go to the Robert Carey family of Kingston on the passing of Joyce Carey, after a long bout with cancer. Joyce will be fondly remembered.

Condolences also to Freeman reporter Patricia Doxsey on the death of her mother, Patricia. Like her daughter, she was a most remarkable woman.

Sometimes, on short weeks like this, I conjure in memory a Thanksgiving “assignment” I gave my precocious eight-year-old many years ago. “Write something for Thanksgiving,” I told him, not really expecting a response.

Perhaps influenced by a then-ubiquitous McDonald’s ad, he came up with:

Thanksgiving is about friends, family and food. 

Without friends I would be lonely.

Without family, nobody would love me.

Without food I would starve.

— Robert Reynolds, age 8, 1979.

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