Hugh Reynolds: All about the Benjamins

ktx rec K702 liz and gerry benjamin

Liz and Gerry Benjamin. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

With their condemnation of corruption in state government before the League of Women Voters in New Paltz last week, political sage Gerry Benjamin and his daughter, Capital District YNN-TV host Liz Benjamin, were preaching to the choir. Fact is, their act would probably have played well anywhere but in Albany.

The distinguished duo blamed most of the recent perp walks from the state capitol on rigged redistricting, Swiss-cheese campaign financing laws and an indifferent electorate. Both believe that publicly financed campaigns and independent redistricting will address most of those problems.

Neither sage mentioned term limits, though competitive elections would produce that outcome. Veteran members of LWV, some of whom have been following these events since Tom Dewey was governor, have heard much of it before. But they gave the pair an enthusiastic reception.

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The Benjamins, he a former professor and dean at SUNY New Paltz and a former chairman of the Ulster County Legislature, and she a local product with a YNN political commentary show (every weeknight at 8 p.m.), perhaps overstayed their welcome a tad, having to dash off in the rain after 90 minutes to attend the governor’s press event at the college. Unlike some of the dolts Professor Benjamin has tried to teach over the years — like myself — this was an informed, attentive audience.

Gerry (not to be overly familiar, but Liz and Gerry will work better going forward) in his scholarly fashion attempted to put New York corruption in perspective, offering arcane research that proved that there were crooked politicians everywhere. Despite the fact that numerous Assembly members and state senators have been indicted, convicted and carted off to jail in recent years, Gerry’s review of the research of others (he makes those distinctions)  indicated New York, based on population and diversity, is no more corrupt than, say, Louisiana or Alabama. Illinois seems to be a hotspot, though. Imagine that?

The Benjamins took a similar tack with “mistakes were made” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s  handling of former assemblyman Vito Lopez’s sex harassment scandal. At that, they may have surprised their audience.

Rather than calling for Shelly’s scalp as have numerous others, the father-daughter team warned that dumping the long-term speaker at this point would create “chaos” in state government. There is, according to these well-sourced close observers, no apparent heir to the throne, an Assembly majority leader notwithstanding. They asserted that Silver has, in the Assembly at least, taken the “dis” out of New York’s chronically dysfunctional government. Citing what might be called the one-eyed man syndrome, the Benjamins compared the Assembly’s “efficient” operation to that of recent governors (Spitzer and Paterson), and the uneasy state Senate in recent years. In other words, Silver, unlike his counterparts in the senate and the pre-Cuomo governor’s office, has made the trains run on time.

Organizations like the League of Women Voters, I think, expect more than that from government.

League notes

Perhaps a bit late to the show, the LWV has appointed a committee to study the pros and cons in the county’s rail-trail controversy. With a powerful county government in league with a me-too city regime against a handful of railroad enthusiasts, the result may be a foregone conclusion. This thing has all the appearances of a done deal. The good-government types at this point can only try to forge a face-saving compromise.

Footnote: Railroaders plan to name a bridge they reconstructed over the Esopus between Kingston and Hurley after long-time Catskill Mountain Railroad president Earl “The Hat” Pardini.

Renowned “garbage lady” Shirley Kobran celebrated her 92nd birthday last fall at a banquet with “trash king” former congressman Maurice Hinchey. The energetic Kobran seems as sharp as ever, despite two hip-replacement operations. When an assemblyman, Hinchey was instrumental, with strong support from the League of Women Voters, in authorizing state legislation to create the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency in the early 1980s.

The League of Women Voters, which despite its name welcomes males to its ranks, seems to be strong going forward. Twenty-one new members signed up this year.

Go, West

Verily, it has been documented that New Paltz Mayor Jason West has more political enemies (per capita) than the late Richard Nixon.

Driven from office in 2007, West was returned in something less than triumph in 2011 for a term that ends year after next. Last month, West, a self-employed house painter, put in for a substantial raise. In response, the village board designated his position part-time and cut his salary by a third.

West got wind of this through channels, because at the time he wasn’t even living in the village. Imagine that, a village mayor who lives outside the village in the town. It’s almost like a town supervisor buying her principal residence in the next town. More on that later.

West explained that he lost his lease in January and had been “couch surfing” with friends until he found something affordable. Affordable housing in the Village of New Paltz is as scarce as Republicans. As such, it would appear the village mayor was pretty much homeless for much of this year. Eventually, West settled in an apartment in the town a mere 100 feet from the village line, says the mayor. Does that mean his transgression would be only half as bad if he lived only 50 feet from the village he represents?

Residency, in any case, can be a gray area. Is it where one gets his mail, lays his or her head, puts the address on a driver’s license or pays the taxes?

There is a side of me that sympathizes with the no-longer-boy mayor. West is now a well-worn 36, besieged and blindsided by his political enemies. He certainly made their task easier by moving out of the village.

I’m assuming that any pol who can conjure a slightly pregnant defense, like almost living in his bailiwick, can in time shift to offense.

I would suggest this. New Paltz has been engaged in an endless series of controversies over merger of town and village, which as far as I can judge serves mostly to agitate natives and produce huge photos of West and Town Supervisor Susan Zimet on the front page of the New Paltz Times.

West, having lived in the town for a while, however surreptitiously, must find a friendly couch back in the village or risk impeachment.

Zimet rents 

Let us now turn to the ever-contentious Zimet. She was always great copy during her eight years in the county legislature and as a town supervisor in the mid-1990s. In 2008, she briefly considered herself executive timber, though apparently few others did.

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Concurrent to the West residency controversy, it has been revealed that Zimet after selling her expensive property on scenic Butterfield Road in the town, bought another in nearby toney Gardiner. She PYA-ed (covered her butt) by renting an apartment in the village, thereby, unlike West, establishing legal residency.

But what does it say about a town supervisor’s faith in her town that when given the opportunity she purchases her main residence in the next town? Does she plan to run for Gardiner supervisor? Calls to the supervisor were not returned.

There is one comment

  1. Ron Turner

    The writer missed the town board telecast where zimet said “I sold my house on Butterville because I was paying more taxes on it than all of P and G’s restaurant and bar? ” And she was right, as her house on Butterville was assessed at $650,000 with taxes of 2.8% per assessed $1,000 for county, town and school district and P and G’s restaurant for its bar, three apartments upstairs, taco stand, barber shop etc is assessed at $515,000 and pays 3% per assessed $1,000 for village, town, school district and county. She was right, Zimet, but hasn’t budgeted for a competent assessor yet, one that knows the difference between Supplemental Security Income and Social Security, nor understand that you shouldn’t lie to the IRS about disabled parcel owners, both of them, in fact. As for Gardiner, of the 23 municipalities in the county, it has the third lowest tax rate, and New Paltz has the third highest tax rate. She has spared herself the further financial burden by moving to Gardiner, and left the rest of us.

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