Hugh Reynolds: Orange (County) crush

Hugh Reynolds. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

For all the dust a few minority Democrats raised over the Republican appointment of Orange County’s Langdon Chapman as legislative attorney, his formal confirmation last week at session took on the look of a triumphant inaugural. Even Minority Leader Dave Donaldson, after decrying “sneaky” tactics by Republicans, cast what appeared to be a hesitant “no” at the end of a 17-5 vote in Chapman’s favor. Eleven of 12 Republicans in favor — Kevin Roberts of Wallkill was absent — were joined by six Democrats.

In questioning the legitimacy of the contract regarding Chapman’s employment, the executive’s office took an interest in what is considered a legislative issue. As such, a few votes might have come from the separation-of-powers contingent in the legislature.

At issue, which clearly wasn’t an issue with three-quarters of those voting, was the hiring of an out-of-county attorney as legislative lawyer, retaining the law firm rather than the attorney himself, and skirting the $50,000 minimum contract rule by shaving about $300 off the contract presented to legislators.

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John Parete, awakened from a reverie, seemed to capture the sense of the majority. “This is a nonsensical debate,” he bellowed from his back bench.

Chapman didn’t do a victory lap after the vote, though he looked like he’d swallowed a cage full of canaries.

Cronyism forever

It might have been Julius Caesar who once said, “Hey, can we get Brutus a job? The kid was great against the Gauls.” Some called it patronage.

Americans trace political patronage to the Andrew Jackson era, when it was famously declared “to the victor belong the spoils.” Were the first six presidents too noble to reward friends and campaign contributors?

Hereabouts, legend has it that former Republican county clerk Al Spada didn’t have to go home for Christmas. All his relatives were working in the county office building.

Former Kingston mayor Don Quick — he used to initial parking tickets with “OK. DEQ” — was incredulous when asked by reporters why he hired so many cronies. “Do you expect me to hire my enemies?” he replied.

County Executive Mike Hein has peppered his administration with campaign workers and contributors from his 2008 campaign.

Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo got a bit defensive when quizzed about the six-pack of campaign allies prowling City Hall. History indicates that for better or worse the new mayor is not much different than other pols.

So far, six snouts are swilling from the city trough, ranging from $75,000 a year for Corporation Counsel Andy Zweben to $14,000 a year for go-go part-time parking ticket-man Jeremy Blaber. All are close confidants of the mayor, people who worked in his campaign, people he knows and trusts. In at least one case, that of former alderman and Working Families Party doyenne Jennifer Fuentes, the mayor’s sensitive hide was saved by her action in last year’s Democratic mayoral primary. Recall, Gallo defeated Hayes Clement by an official seven votes. Those Working Families boots on the ground made the difference and more. Fuentes got a $55,000-a-year job as head of the city’s community development program, replacing Mike Murphy, a crony of former mayor Jim Sottile. Murphy never saved Sottile’s electoral bacon, but he did help him win a few golf tournaments.

All things being equal, and they rarely are, the question should be whether these people are reasonably competent to handle the jobs they’ve been given. Call Gallo lucky or a superior judge of talent, but so far the answer seems to be yes. Gallo’s campaign pledges to change the culture at City Hall notwithstanding, a system that has served the system for all these years isn’t about to change.

Safety Net

A couple of unrelated events indicate that, like it or not, the county could be taking over millions of dollars in Safety Net charges from the towns and the city next year. There will be blood.

The county executive, hoarding cash for his own programs, will not willingly give it to towns and the city for theirs.

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