Assemblyman Tom Kirwan’s death on Monday afternoon, sad as it was to so many, could not have come as a surprise. Suffering from serious health issues when he sought re-election last year, halt of step and speech, Kirwan was a shadow of his once-vigorous self. Longtime friends, myself among them, urged the then-77-year-old not to take on the grueling challenge of another campaign. Sadly, it was to be his last.
To the end, Kirwan was a fighter. He saw his defeat at the hands of no-name Frank Skartados in 2008 as a fluke, one of those weird things that happens in presidential years where thousands of previously unregistered voters take to the polls. They called it the Obama tsunami, and Kirwan, who lost by 800 votes after seven victories, was not the only Republican caught in its rip tide.
Kirwan’s mid-Hudson Newburgh-Poughkeepsie-Beacon urban district was gerrymandered for a Democrat and it delivered Democrat Larry Bennett five terms. Bennett beat Kirwan twice before the retired state trooper broke through in 1994. That was another kind of tsunami, with voters thoroughly fed up with Mario Cuomo willing to give another no-name, a state senator called George Pataki, a chance. Kirwan was the beneficiary/victim of coattails twice in his 15-year political career.
With Kirwan gamely making the rounds against a vulnerable Skartados, last year’s cliff-hanger came down to a mere 15 votes. It took 100 days for the final count, the last legislative race in the country to be decided. For Kirwan, in increasingly failing health, it must have been excruciating.
Despite his career-long war with Speaker Shelly Silver, the Assembly made a big deal out of Kirwan’s belated return last February. “I was standing near Tom at the time,” Ulster Independence Party Chairman Len Bernardo told me. “He turned to someone and said, ‘Now I can die an assemblyman.’”
Our condolences to wife Verna, children and grandchildren.
A special election will be held in February.
Saugerties Supervisor-elect Kelly Myers is being pummeled for suggesting a salary increase after the election. Like she should have asked before? Myers may be grasping, but she’s not stupid.