Who “won” the “debate” between congressional candidates Julian Schreibman and Chris Gibson at the Miller School in Lake Katrine on Oct. 10? Let’s put it this way: Both candidates made their points, Schreibman repeatedly and more forcefully than Gibson. Schreibman, previously seen as something of a wimp in some quarters, came out swinging (like Joe Biden a week later) against the highly decorated retired paratrooper colonel. From where I sat in the front row, Gibson looked a little taken aback by what might have been an unexpected assault.
Repeating what Republican Gibson had considered charges somewhere between half-truths and lies, Democrat Schreibman rattled the 24-year Army combat veteran to the point where the latter raised his voice in anger several times.
There was another campaign strategy on display before the estimated 500 attentive members of the audience, this being the only opportunity around here for most to see these candidates live on the same stage. Gibson allowed Schreibman to define his (Gibson’s) record as a one-term congressman. Schreibman, a first-time candidate for any office (not counting a brief, aborted attempt at his party’s nomination for district attorney in 2007), has no record. But he stands for all the good things.
By vilifying Gibson as a right-wing Tea Party extremist (which he’s not) for the past three months, Schreibman, a virtual unknown, is becoming the un-Gibson, the compassionate, caring alternative, the only choice against those “House Republicans.”
And Gibson let him get away with it!
So the debate was about each candidate making his case, Schreibman attacking Gibson, Gibson explaining his own moderate record.
As they say in Albany, when you’re explaining, you’re defending and when you’re defending, you’re losing.
As you read this, we’re now just less than three weeks from the election. A Democratic poll a few weeks ago, which few except the most zealous Schreibman supporters believed, had the Democrat closing to within two points. A poll released by Gibson’s camp last week gave the Republican an 11-point lead, 50-39. Last summer it was 20.
Eleven points three weeks out is comfortable, but let’s not forget that Gibson himself was down 10 points to incumbent Scott Murphy two years ago at this time and wound up winning by almost double digits. Of concern among Republicans are their latest polls that show Schreibman closing. Obviously, all that negative advertising is starting to pay off. It may be time for the colonel to launch an assault of his own.
While Gibson retains a better than two-to-one fund-raising advantage and has plenty of cash on hand for the final push, Schreibman outraised his opponent by something like $500,000 to $225,000 in early October reports. It would appear some of the smart-money people think Schreibman, a hopeless loser last summer, now has a fighting chance.
Faces in the crowd
The Gibson team seemed better prepared for this event than the Schreibman’s, as witnessed by a pre-debate rally in the Miller School parking lot attended by about 120 supporters. Credit county GOP Chairman Roger Rascoe for rallying the troops.
That partisan crowd got a little raucous as Schreibman’s insults mounted during the debate, but was quickly shut down by moderator Ward Todd.
Soon-to-be former congressman Maurice Hinchey had the best seat in the audience, front row, center. Hinchey was listening carefully to the debate, nodding in agreement when Schreibman made progressive-sounding statements dear to his heart. Naturally, Schreibman pandered to Hinchey, but then almost everyone does these days.
I wondered what must have been going through Hinchey’s mind, sitting there in the audience at a congressional debate for the first time in 20 years. He was onstage for another 20 debates as an assembly candidate and incumbent, dating to 1972. He seemed reluctant to leave this event, hanging around long after the debate, conversing and shaking hands with what will soon enough be ex-constituents.
Dave Donaldson calling Ulster County Executive Mike Hein’s all-things-to-all-people 2013 budget “miraculous” might not necessarily be a compliment, though as legislature minority leader, Donaldson is expected to parrot the party line. Not to attempt to diagnose the man once known as “Dancin’ Dave,” but I think what he was saying was “how the hell did he do that?”
Stealing a march from former wine-and-roses governor Nelson Rockefeller, Hein somehow manages to reduce spending and taxes while expanding county government. In doing so, he taps the fund balance for only about $10 million, while penciling in a modest 2.5 percent increase in projected sales-tax revenues.
On the other side of the ledger, he volunteered to pick up some $3 million a year in so-called Safety Net expenditures from the towns and the city, over the next three years. Since taxpayers in 17 of 20 towns would be adversely impacted, the legislature has refused to take this initiative. But Hein says he can do it without, as previously hinted, charging municipalities offsetting sales-tax receipts.
The abject failure of the Ulster County Development Corporation to live up to its name has finally resonated on the sixth floor. By “de-funding” UCDC, Hein will create an in-house business development office under his direct control. Power grab? Probably. Let’s see what the exec can do.
As for revenue sources, Hein would appear to have several. The Golden Hill nursing home will be sold next year, lopping some 300 workers off the county payroll. Further cuts in mental-health services will free up funding. By taking over the UCRRA (resource recovery agency) and imposing flow control, Hein could save upwards of $2 million in next year’s budget. Add the almost 250 workers Hein and the legislature have already cut since 2009 and you’re talking serious savings.
Slideshow image: Julian Schreibman is all smiles in June after winning his primary. (Photo by Dan Barton)