Hugh Reynolds: Independence politics

Some Republican Ulster County legislators may be wondering why so many top jobs are going to members of the Independence Party. The Indys endorsed 19 winning legislators, but nowhere was their vote decisive. In fact, one Republican Indy endorsee, Jack Hayes of Gardiner, lost where many predicted that line would have made the difference.

So why, with a Republican legislative majority, isn’t GOP Chairman Roger Rascoe raising the roof? More on that later.

Democratic chairman Julian Schreibman calls the Independence Party, which its chairman says stands for nothing other than inclusiveness, “Republican Lite.” Therein may lay a clue.

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Most of the “Indies” slated for top jobs next year are or were enrolled Republicans. Incoming legislature chair Terry Bernardo of Rochester is an enrolled Republican. Her husband Len is the county Independence chairman. There may be a connection there. In politics, there’s always a connection somewhere.

On the subject of marital connections, Rascoe’s wife Jane works for state Sen. John Bonacic, which may explain why Rascoe has no problem with Bonacic’s chief of staff, Langdon Chapman, being considered as attorney to the majority in next year’s legislature. Chapman is Jane Rascoe’s boss.

Though little has shown up in mainstream newspapers or blogs, behind-the-scenes debate has attended the Chapman connection. The thought of an Orange County law firm representing the Ulster legislative majority is repugnant to many, especially local lawyers struggling to make their own payments on their BMWs. They argue there is sufficient talent among the resident legal gentry on municipal affairs. Two who come to mind immediately are legislative lawyers Ken Gilligan and (young) Mike Kavanagh. If those guys don’t know legislative law backwards and forwards, they’ve been sleeping at the switch for the last two years.

Another theory speaks to the larger picture. There is no question that Democrat County Executive Mike Hein has been ascendant almost from the day he took office three years ago. The Chapman connection is in one sense a disconnect: an out-of-county lawyer who can counterbalance the executive juggernaut. That school of thought says that can’t happen with cheek-by-jowl local lawyers.

Former legislator Fawn Tantillo, penciled in as confidential secretary to the new chairman (at around $50,000 plus bennies), has been a Republican punching bag for years. Ironically, it’s the Independence Party offering surfeit.

Len Bernardo.

In another irony, the statute that requires former legislators to sit out at least a year before being hired by the county is named the Tantillo Law, for the last legislator (Tantillo) to be given a soft landing. Tantillo is well past that statute of limitations. More to the point, Tantillo is a vice chairman of the Independence Party and one of its more active members. She paid her dues, in other words.

Likewise Ellen DiFalco, twice — or was it three times? — hapless Republican candidate for legislature in Dave Donaldson’s solid Democratic Midtown district gets rewarded for services rendered. It didn’t hurt that DiFalco’s husband, Fightin’ Joe DiFalco, is the city’s first Independence Party chairman.

While helpless to influence these machinations, rank-and-file Republicans have every reason to be concerned. The recent rise in the Independence Party is well beyond the traditional tail wagging the dog which occasionally happens in minor-major-party relationships. Here, the tail is swinging the big dog around in circles.

Golden future

What was referred to as the “pro-Golden-Hill” faction fought a rear-guard action to keep the county in the Ulster nursing-home business, but fell short of a majority by three votes last week.

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