Hugh Reynolds: Political party time

Hugh Reynolds.

Hugh Reynolds.

Ulster County’s major political parties will gather in annual nominating conventions next week, the Republicans on Wednesday, May 29 at Quimby Theater at SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge, Democrats on Thursday, May 30 at the Garden Plaza Hotel (formerly the Holiday Inn) in Kingston. Both events begin at 7 p.m.

Party conventions, while sometimes colorful, are unofficial. Candidates are officially nominated by petitions circulated among party enrollees. Being the party’s “unofficial” nominee (at convention) rarely hurts, however. Should two or more candidates secure sufficient petitions, party members pick winners at primary elections.

The influential Independence Party will meet in Chairman Len Bernardo’s kitchen in Accord in early June to pick over major-party nominees. Despite persistent pleas from both parties, the Indies do not nominate at open conventions and apparently have no intention of doing so in the foreseeable future.

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The Indies of New York use an even more undemocratic method of choosing local candidates. County chairmen, after screening local hopefuls, report to a nine-member state Independence Party executive committee, which then decides who gets the party’s nod on a local level. Voters unhappy with dealing with this travesty could ignore any candidate endorsed by the Independence Party until the nominating methods are reformed.

Three county offices will be on the ballot in November. Family Court Judge Maryann Mizel, a Republican, will be running for a second 10-year term. County Clerk Nina Postupack, a Republican, will seek a third four-year term, having finished former clerk Al Spada’s term in 2005 and having been elected in her own right that year. County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, a Democrat, will go to the wire for the third time since 2008, this time for a four-year term.

Politicians are notoriously secretive leading up to conventions. The buzz is that Mizel may face a challenger, perhaps from one of those underemployed Democratic lawyers standing around street corners with tin cups. They say things are so bad in the legal profession these days that lawyers have their hands in their own pockets.

And why not challenge a sitting judge? Mizel, by most accounts, has performed admirably at one of the toughest jobs in the judiciary, but a six-figure job with a 10-year guarantee doesn’t come along that often.

Talk of horse-trading between party chairmen, ever eager to disenfranchise voters in order to secure a free ride for their people, seems to have died down. Republicans don’t seem to have anybody willing to risk at least $100,000 of their own funds and spend the next five months on the rubber-chicken circuit to oppose Auerbach, who won by more than 6,000 votes the last time. The personable Postupack has been known to burst out of her office to help somebody fill out a registration renewal. If somebody out there doesn’t like her, he or she keeps their secret well.

The county legislature, with all 23 seats on the ballot, could be a different story. With perhaps five seats in play, including one open seat — Republican Wayne Harris of Clintondale has announced he won’t seek a seventh term — Independence nominations could swing the legislature from a 12-11 Republican majority to the Democrats.

Nineteen incumbent legislators, 12 Republicans and seven Democrats, carry the Independence banner. Len Bernardo has a vested interest in this year’s legislative races. His wife, Terry, an enrolled Republican, is chairman only as long as Republicans hold a majority.

Kingston council races

The nine-member Kingston Common Council will be on the ballot in November. Three incumbents, veteran Bob Senor and Majority Leader Tom Hoffay, both Democrats, and first-term Republican Nate Horowitz have announced they won’t run.

Those in favor of term limits might well rejoice, but there’s something to say for institutional experience. Next January, the Common Council, currently controlled 7-2 by the Democrats, will have five second-term aldermen if all are re-elected and three freshmen.

Mayor Shayne Gallo, who has frequently clashed with Hoffay, had no comment. I suspect he was pleased, though his joy must have been tempered by the fact that he’ll have to deal with this loud lame duck for the next seven months.

For the record, former alderman and mayoral candidate Hayes Clement says he’s not running for any office this year.

Early voting, not

Earlier voting for the convenience of voters sounds like one of those mom-and-apple-pie propositions no one could oppose until someone figures out it might cost real money. Someone did, but not before some other people switched strategy from earlier absentee voting to actual machine balloting. Big difference.

At issue last fall was that the Ulster County Board of Elections had allowed a few dozen poll-watchers to vote a few days earlier (via legally proscribed sealed envelopes) than current law allows. Those votes, among hundreds of others, were challenged in the razor-thin contest between state Senate candidates Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore. After weeks of recount and court action, Tkaczyk won by 19 votes.

It made sense to change a law that penalized well-meaning voters wrongly instructed by their own elections commissioners. The initial plan was to extend the write-in period a few weeks so as to expand the franchise. But that changed when the Democratic powers-that-be in Albany waded in. What the governor and the Assembly are proposing is that polling places be set up in five or six sections of the county so people can cast ballots in advance.

The cost of that plan in Ulster, said its election commissioners, could run to at least $100,000. The legislature approved a memorializing resolution opposing the idea at its meeting last week. But the fate of the measure, with Tkaczyk in the state Senate and Kevin Cahill in the Assembly as co-sponsors of a governor’s program bill, rests in Albany.

Testing, testing

Verily it is said, much information that is public record is not shared by officials. Case in point: In appointing Deputy Chief Mark Brown chief of Kingston’s fire department, Mayor Gallo failed to mention his appointee, though not necessarily his favorite choice, finished third on the civil-service promotional exam taken by five applicants in January.

Brown, according to the civil service commission, scored a 78 on the exam; 70 is the lowest passing grade. Deputy Chief Wayne Platte Jr. scored 91. Deputy Chief James Brunner was next with 89. Under civil service law, the appointing authority can name any of the top three finishers. Names of those who scored below 70 are not public record.

That Platte scored 13 points higher than Brown is noteworthy, but didn’t make him an automatic choice. Nor did it render Brown mediocre. Both are respected senior officers.

The fire department has been through some tough times in the 17 months since Gallo took office. A month into Gallo’s term, long-time chief Rick Salzmann resigned over time and attendance issues (some of which he later admitted to), to be quickly followed out the door by his replacement, Chris Rea. Chief for a few weeks, the fire officer they call C-Rea is contesting his dismissal.

Retired chief John Reinhardt brought stability and a sure hand as interim chief. Now, with the appointment of a permanent chief, it is hoped some degree of normalcy returns to the department.

A mother’s wrath

Hell hath no fury like an aggrieved mother defending her child against a perceived wrong, a lesson learned to the chagrin of Kingston’s school board last week. At issue was  the superintendent’s pre-emptive (some said) firing of a pair of crew-team coaches and the suspension of the district’s athletic director after a 22-year-old volunteer coach was accused of illegal sex with underage high school girls on the KHS crew team. Kevin Quick, a former member of the KHS crew team, is currently in the county jail in Kingston in lieu of $50,000 bail, charged with multiple counts of rape and forcible touching.

There is one comment

  1. gerald berke

    Oh my, Shirley Whitlock is going to run again… well, nobody said the voters have to choose wisely. But when you have a majority voting just plain wrong, well you get 6 years of ward 4.

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