Hugh Reynolds: Stronger every day

Maurice Hinchey speaks at Old Dutch's Washington Day Dinner. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Maurice Hinchey speaks at Old Dutch’s Washington Day Dinner. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

After more than 25 years of covering Old Dutch Men’s Club’s Washington Day dinners I ducked last year’s. The triumvirate of obscure speakers didn’t sound interesting, nor the prospect of a catered meal after years of hogging out on all-you-can-eat home-cooked roast-beef dinners.

Given the generally negative comments about last year’s dinner, I wasn’t planning on attending last week’s, either. Then the organizers announced that former congressman Maurice Hinchey would be the guest speaker.

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I’d covered Hinchey, man and boy, for his entire 40-year political career, and this would be his first appearance in the role of elder statesman. I wanted to know how he was doing, how he looked after a year of grueling colon-cancer surgery and chemotherapy.

The quick and easy answer is he looked and sounded pretty good, not vintage Hinchey but better then when he was doing chemo a year ago. Almost gaunt from the ordeal, the 74-year-old former congressman has put back a little weight. His color looked good after a month in the Florida sun.

He spoke about his health in some detail, apologizing for reading his comments (“I didn’t used to have to do that”) to a sparse audience of understanding elders. He apologized for forgetting people’s names, explaining that doctors told him that loss was chemo-related and might improve.

He talked about his core values, about being a progressive Democrat. He cited the church for its progressive values. He expressed pride in being the only such politician to address the Old Dutch dinner. (Actually, Franklin Roosevelt spoke in 1930, when he was governor.) Hinchey profusely thanked those in attendance for sending him to Albany and Washington all those years. Early in his career, Hinchey probably didn’t garner too many votes from among the once-über-conservative Old Dutch congregation.

He made no mention of current affairs, though few would have doubted where he stood on the sequester: “What deficit? Give ’em more money, for God’s sake. We’re in a depression!”

On gun control the audience might have been surprised. Hinchey has always been a gun guy.

Some wonder whether Hinchey will sign on with some major environmental lobby, like Sierra Club. The name would certainly look good on the letterhead.

In the meantime, the elder statesman, “getting stronger every day,” will make the rounds, speaking on behalf of the values he espoused through a long public career. Here’s to many more such events.

Multiple-choice quiz: When was the last time a Democrat was elected locally to the state assembly before Hinchey in 1974? 1909, 1912 or 1919?

Answer: 1912, Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose year. The Democrat elected in 1912 (and defeated in 1914) was Lawrence Kenney, a bluestone dealer from Saugerties, according to assembly records.

A speaker at the dinner cited both incorrect answers, years in which no state legislative races were held. I can’t reveal sources, but his first name rhymes with “brain.”

They’re in Dutch

The 90th Old Dutch Washington Dinner produced one of the lowest turnouts in recent memory: about 80 people and lots of empty seats. Hard to imagine that 20 years ago, upwards of 250 packed a then-must-see event. Times change, obviously, but maybe the Old Dutch changed too late in lifting its ban on women attendees about 10 years ago. Enlisting volunteers from a shrinking congregation is also a problem.

But there’s new blood at Old Dutch committed to reform. (Isn’t that part of the church’s official name?) That the new pastor, the Rev. Dr. Renee House is a woman no doubt stirs tombstones in the nearby cemetery, but she brings energy, passion and commitment at a critical time in church history.

For diners who stayed away in droves this year, the good news is that dinner, served by caterer Connie Tomlinson and a hard-working crew, was plentiful and delicious. Here’s to a renewal in 2014.

Meeting coverage

Officials in what we call the Kingston Metropolitan Area are putting the finishing touches on a future chapter of public access TV. The most recent phase, which ended in Kingston about two years ago after almost a decade of controversy, didn’t go that well, at least in the eyes of public officials.

Under an agreement dating back decades, cable TV pays a franchise fee (which it charges consumers) to Kingston and the surrounding towns of Hurley, Ulster, Kingston, Rosendale and Esopus. The fees, which collectively amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, can be used to provide public-access television in the various municipalities. Most municipalities treat the fees as general revenue.

Programming ranged from plopping a camera in front of a town board to a guy who used to sing and play the guitar to independent, sometimes wacko, producers doing their own shticks. Some producers ran afoul of city government by being overly critical of city government — as if that were possible. That raised the ire of former mayor Jim Sottile, who pulled the plug. Except for an event wheel in Esopus, public access TV has been blank.

The latest plan has public access covering government meetings, with logistical help from broadcast students from KingstonHigh School and a small state grant for equipment.

It sounds like a plan, except for one thing. There is nothing duller than government at work. Indeed, viewers will get a greater appreciation of the talents of reporters assigned the drudgery of sitting through these overly long, boring sessions and then producing something — anything! — remotely interesting at deadline.

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A page from my checkered career as a city-hall reporter may suffice to illustrate.

In the halcyon days of the Daily Freeman, reporters were paid time-and-a-half overtime to cover night meetings. Many felt an obligation to produce something at least 50 percent better than demanded during regular hours.

At the particular monthly meeting I attended, aldermen busied themselves with exchanging useless information, tales from their youth and parochial ward issues for the better part of four hours. What I had was a story about nothing, which I wrote up in only two and a half pages of brilliant prose — we used typewriters and paper in those days.

The next morning, I found my brilliance on my desk with the words “this is [rhymes with spit]!” scrawled in large red letters across the top. I was horrified. This was not the kind of reaction I had been hoping for.

Summoning the courage to approach an editor a few hours later, I blubbered that I was only doing my job, giving the paper something for the overtime it had paid me.

Editors by definition are short with words. “It was bad enough you covered a boring meeting,” he said. “Don’t bore your editors and, worse, readers by writing about it.”

Slideshow image: The Rev. Dr. Renee House and Maurice Hinchey chat at the Washington Day dinner. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)