With the possible exception of current county government, it’s not news to anyone with even a passing interest in local politics that most things take forever. So I’m not about to predict that the decades-long debate over the consolidation of village and town governments in New Paltz will be resolved this year. Or next. Or the one after that.
At the risk of appearing cynical, the simple truth is that a merger would more profoundly affect the people doing the merger — the New Paltz politicians on the town and village boards — than anybody else. Who in their right mind would legislate themselves out of their own job? Okay. I’ll give readers George Washington, but after that it gets pretty thin.
There is of course the referendum route required by law. Unless all 10 elected officials and their respective political organizations get behind the referendum — remember, it generally takes only a single fly to spoil the ointment — the proposal is likely to be doomed at the polls.
There is also public sentiment to consider. People like their government close to their vests. After more than a century of independent rule, will villagers be willing to give up their autonomy in return for saving a few bucks? Likewise, will overburdened town taxpayers be willing to absorb a modest increase in property taxes to cover village expenses?
For politicians the biggest question is who will be boss of this new operation, hard-driving Town Supervisor Sue Zimet or more laidback but frequently petulant Village Mayor Jason West?
In one respect, town leaders have an edge over their village counterparts. Village elections take place in May. Town nominating caucuses are held in late August or early September.
As such the first real referendum on merger could take place on or about the Ides of May.
The senators are restless. I’ve heard it could get ugly at the forum. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look …
Speaking of senators, in what may come down to the closest state Senate election in history, the 37 votes now separating apparent (and self-declared) winner Republican George Amedore of Rotterdam and Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk, there appears to be a fourth element: the right to vote and to have that vote counted.
There’s an old saying among lawyers that if you don’t have the law on your side, argue the facts. If you don’t have the facts, argue the law. If you have neither, shout.
At this juncture, after a state Supreme Court judge threw out 331 contested ballots, thereby making Amedore the unofficial winner, Tkaczyk can neither cite the facts — the numbers are real enough — the law — the judge acted on long-established precedent — nor shout. Dancing is no longer an option; recall Richard Gere in that courtroom scene in Chicago. What she does have going for her — the only hope she has, in fact — is an issue raised frequently in the presidential election: our constitutionally given franchise.
The stakes here, argue her lawyers, are the voting rights of more than 300 voters, none of whom are accused of any kind of voter fraud. In fact (Amedore’s people do not dispute this) this group of voters, instructed by their election commissioners, acted in good faith. That those election commissioners in the five counties in the district, including Ulster, winked at the law in allowing early issuance of absentee ballots needs to be addressed in a separate forum. Tar and feathers come to mind.
This small block of votes could well be decisive. Thankfully, in the larger scheme of things, the outcome will not give Republicans the majority in the state Senate as they had schemed for in custom-designing this seat for Amedore last winter. Elections in the other 62 districts gave Democrats a narrow edge, but in another backroom deal so common to Albany politics, Republicans will retain partial power through joint rule with a handful of dissident Democrats. We’ll see how long that marriage of convenience lasts.
For voters in the district, the Nov. 6 election did not produce a clear winner. It showed clear distinctions between liberal education advocate Tkaczyk and conservative budget-blitzer Amedore. Given the tenuous balance of power in the Senate, the voice from this district could have inordinate influence.
The three-judge Appellate Court — one of whom would have been Mike Kavanagh from Woodstock had he been re-elected in November — has two choices. It can, citing precedent, agree with Amedore’s lawyers and refuse to hear the appeal. Good-bye, Tkaczyk. Or it could agree to examine the 331 ballots in question and order them counted. So long Amedore.
A late-breaking law suit by a pair of Saugerties voters whose ballots were thrown out may or may not influence the court. Like chicken soup versus a cold, it probably won’t hurt.
I’m not rooting for either side. Amedore strikes me as a lockstep right-winger, Tkaczyk as a knee-jerk tool of the education lobby. There are, however, important legal issues to be addressed, not the least of which is a good-ol’-boy election system that makes Florida-2000 look like a model of efficiency.
And now the long-awaited humor part of our program.
I tend to avoid predictions since I get no credit for being right but am pilloried for being wrong. Believe me, if I had crystal balls, I’d use them.
Here’s a few augers, with perhaps more to follow as the mist clears.
On the county level, I predict that County Executive Mike Hein, in his continuing quest to consolidate county departments, will merge the executive with the legislature. Since he has a veto-proof 16 votes, as witnessed by last month’s budget vote, the sheep will go willingly to slaughter. After that, he will eliminate the five legislators who voted against his budget.
In other news, I predict that League of Women Voters president Dare Thompson will be nominated for nine appointments to various county commissions and boards, but will respectively decline, pleading she has time only for eight.