Hugh Reynolds: Wrath of the IDA

Photo of Hugh Reynolds by Phyllis McCabe.

It seems the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency is finally getting hard-nosed about underperforming recipients of county-sponsored tax breaks and low-interest loans. At its meeting this month, the IDA board identified nine organizations (out of 45), including a Kingston church, that it said hadn’t lived up to job-creation forecasts made on their IDA applications.

Melinda Beuf, appointed IDA CEO this summer, thought the phrase “hard-line” a bit strong, but allowed, “We’re much more proactive this year.”

IDA Board Chairman Dave O’Halloran concurs. “We have a responsibility to taxpayers to see that these people are living up to their applications,” he said.

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Behind the feel-good taxpayer-first sound bites lurks the rancid smell of politics. One of the outfits on the IDA hit list, buried in eighth position on its “2011 under-performance review,” is TLB Management, headquartered in Rochester township. Though TLB is a combination of Len and legislature Chairwoman Terry B. Bernardo’s initials, it was husband Len who invested the $1.7 million to convert an empty field in Accord to the Skatetime USA roller rink he supervises. The IDA report says TLB underperformed in providing only nine of the 20 jobs it “promised” on its original application in 2005.

Len Bernardo says no such promise was made. The only promises, he said, were to purchase the land, build the building and supply the equipment. “We presented ourselves as a tourist attraction and we’ve done that, by the thousands. Job creation was not an issue,” Bernardo said.

The subject of job creation at Skatetime, or lack thereof, came up during Republican Len Bernardo’s 2008 campaign for county executive against Democrat Mike Hein, when Hein colleague March Gallagher paid a surprise visit on the skating rink and discovered that Bernardo had hired only a handful of part-time teenagers to operate the place. Hein publicly accused Bernardo of “lying” on his IDA application, and went on to run circles around the hapless rink owner in the 2008 election. Gallagher went on to a $100,000 job (with benefits) in the Hein administration as the executive’s chief of economic development.

Hein, seemingly permanently miffed about some of the things I’ve written about him, does not respond to Ulster Publishing inquiries, nor do any of his staff.

Feeling threatened by the executive, the Bernardos apparently decided to turn up the heat. Chairman Bernardo, who says Hein refuses to speak to her, has of late been accusing the executive of what she calls “pay-to-play politics,” citing donations to Hein’s campaign from Albany lawyers in quest of county contracts and from southern Ulster camp operators seeking the executive’s support in a dispute over camp control last spring.

One could speculate that the emerging legislatively appointed IDA’s get-tough policy with underperformers may be connected to the long arm of the executive reaching out to slap someone, specifically, his now hated enemies, the Bernardos.

Another of the underperformers on the IDA hit list is Kingston’s St. Clara’s Church of God, which officials say has hired only three of the 35 persons it (promised) for its IDA-supported day-care center. According to the IDA report, no remedial action is planned at this time. No wonder. Nobody doesn’t like Pastor Jim Childs, leader of the county’s largest African-American church.

The IDA will review the TLB Management situation at its regular October meeting.

As for economic underperformance, these are the times, unfortunately, that we live in, a fact of life the IDA readily acknowledges.

Primary disappointment

Abysmal turnout provided a hallow victory for school-board member Cecilia Tkaczyk (pronounced kat-chick) in last  week’s three-way Democratic primary in the new 46th state senate district. Unofficial returns show fewer than 7.5 percent of registered Democrats went to the polls, about half the normal return for a primary. Tkaczyk took 53 percent of the overall vote against Thomas Dolan and Monica Arias Miranda. All three are from Albany County, which had endorsed Dolan and which he carried.

The new 46th includes the City of Kingston and the towns of Ulster, Esopus, Hurley, Marbletown, Kingston, Saugerties, Woodstockand Lloyd. Assemblyman George Amedore is the Republican candidate.

Elsewhere, primary returns ranged from awful to almost average, showing 14 percent in the incredibly gerrymandered finger-shaped 101st Assembly District, where incumbent Claudia Tenney of Utica trounced Walden Mayor Brian Maher, to 9.8 percent in the new 51st Senate District race, in which veteran Jim Seward blasted challenger Jim Blake by a more than five-to-one  margin.

While candidates didn’t exactly wear out party members with flyers and robocalls, the apathetic turnout for primaries may fuel speculation about participation in the general election on Nov. 6.

New York has been a backwater in presidential elections for at least the last 20 years. A safe bet might be Barack Obama taking 70 percent in unusually light voting. That’s good for Obama, however predictable. It’s not so good for local Democrats praying for long coattails. If Democrats don’t come out for their president, they won’t be there for his running mates.

There is one comment

  1. Wally

    There are a lot more influential Democrats in Ulster County quietly backing Gibson than mentioned here. As Hugh accurately put it, what goes around comes around, and all the bad blood between the two camps featuring more liberal NYC influenced Democrats vs the more moderate old line Ulster D’s is coming to the surface again in the form of intense dislike of Julian based on his County Chairman days. No surprise over 20% of Democrats are backing Gibson in the latest Siena poll.

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