Hugh Reynolds: Cuomo road show

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Sometimes it’s not the message but the messenger. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s gun-control law, passed as a “message of necessity” in January, has upstate up in arms. Now there’s been a sharp backlash to the governor’s Tax-Free NY, his plan to save upstate New York from further decline.

Cuomo’s plan, unveiled with the usual fanfare last month — and personally presented at SUNY New Paltz, among other stops — is to allow for tax-free development on or near the state’s 64 college campuses. On paper, or eloquently delivered from the podium by His Excellency, it didn’t sound like such a bad idea at first blush. High-tech, cutting-edge companies would be enticed to New York by the prospect of free taxes and college-trained workers at their front doors. UCCC President Don Katt, for one, called the governor’s plan bold and innovative. Come to think of it, so did the governor.

The problem is New York’s insatiable demand for tax revenue. If somebody’s taxes are being forgiven for 10 years, as under the governor’s proposal, somebody else is going to pay for it.

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Cuomo and his people have been vague as to how local entities would be compensated for millions of dollars of lost assessed value. Rather, they seem to be reprising the old Bush axiom of a rising tide floating all ships.

There’s also the well-established record of state government’s abysmal efforts under a succession of governors to promote economic growth over the past two decades. Economic development has long been a haven for political hacks, has-beens and hangers-on. With the notable exception of the nanotech boom around Albany, developers have pocketed millions in state aid and have produced few jobs in return.

The argument being made is that New York needs to broadly lower taxes and reform overly stringent regulations in order to create more of a level playing field for everyone, newcomers and long-established businesses alike.

Just this week, only days before the legislature’s June 20 adjournment date, the governor presented legislation to advance his tax-free plan. Lots of weird and wonderful things do indeed pass at midnight in the legislature. Will this be one of them? Early signals suggest not.

Conservative views

Ulster County Conservatives call their chairman Ed Gaddy’s reflections on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness “Gaddyisms.” (Not to be confused with to the “Geddyisms” the sage publisher of this newspaper dispenses on a regular basis.) Nuggets of his wisdom were on display at the party’s annual convention last week.

“If we find the perfect candidate,” Gaddy said to protests that some nominees weren’t conservative enough, “he probably wouldn’t be running. He’s too smart.”

And, “The Constitution is a living document [he was referring to the Second Amendment]. It grows old. It grows warts.”

At his party’s nominating convention a week earlier, County Executive Mike Hein had a not entirely dissimilar take on the founding document. “Democrats,” he said, “believe in the Constitution, not just the Second Amendment.” His comment drew cheers from the partisan crowd, which understood with a wink and a nod that it might have been aimed at Hein’s political foil, Republican legislature Chairwoman Terry Bernardo. Bernardo, who packs a (licensed) handgun, is a prominent gun enthusiast.

Gaddy, no doubt focused on the business at hand, had left his convention homework on the kitchen table back in the Town of Kingston Friday night. Former legislator Jack Hayes, a retired state trooper, was dispatched from the Esopus meeting hall to secure the documents.

Former New Paltz Republican chairman Butch Dener told Conservatives he’s had it with New Paltz Republicans and will not accept their nomination. (The Republicans didn’t offer it to him.) Dener hasn’t a prayer against Ken Wishnick, a popular incumbent in a solid Democratic town, but he’ll make lots of strident noise.

Being endorsed by Republican, Democratic, Conservative and Independence parties, family court Judge Marianne Mizel won’t have to make her case with the voters. But her claim of having been reversed only seven times in 44,500 cases over a 20-year career certainly sounded impressive. If my math is right, Mizel, a Republican, has been settling about one case a working day, a productive judge indeed.

Conservatives nominated Lloyd Republican Councilman Herb Litts III, who probably won’t have much time to campaign this summer and fall, for county legislature. Litts is chief engineer of the massive Tappen Zee Bridge project in Tarrytown. As for politics, I guess he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.

Esopus Legislator Carl Belfiglio, like his late father, Alderman Tony Bell of local radio and Kiwanis Kapers fame, is occasionally given to extended hyperbole, as when he described the Republican Party “the stewards of the Constitution.”

Veteran Kevin Roberts, the only legislator with a Newburgh mailing address (he lives just this side of the county line in Wallkill), sure knows how to work an audience. Shamelessly pandering to the tight-fisted Conservatives, Republican Roberts took credit for not raising property taxes in 2013. In truth, he voted on a Democratic executive budget that reduced property taxes by an eyelash.

Terry Bernardo had high praise for Democratic legislative nominee Lynn Archer, a Rochester town board member. But she didn’t resist throwing some red meat to her conservative audience. Archer, she said, was “well-spoken, intelligent and smart, but pretty far left.” Denied her party’s endorsement in favor of newcomer John “Jack” Dawson, Bernardo claimed that she, unlike Dawson, can beat Archer. But first she has to beat Dawson in the Republican primary.

If the name Quasimodo doesn’t ring a bell, Jack Dawson should. He was Leo DiCaprio’s character in the movie Titanic.

Big John Quigley, almost 22 and running for county legislature in Kingston, may have been trying to cash in on his father’s name when he introduced himself with, “My father is James Quigley.” While some think John Quigley too young for the job, others point to Ken Ronk successfully running for legislature as a senior at SUNY New Paltz a half dozen years ago. Difference is, Quigley is running in a heavily Democratic district against an entrenched incumbent,Dave Donaldson.

Hugh Reynolds.

Hugh Reynolds.

Conservatives booted everybody except their own into the rain to parse nominations. It’s too bad Esopus Town Supervisor John Coutant wasn’t around to offer tours of his beloved new town hall.

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All aboard

Truly it is said that elections make for strange bedfellows. Seven months ago, Mike Hein and Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, both Democrats, were at each others’ throats over Hein’s transfer of several of Auerbach’s auditors to the county finance department. With his election looming, Auerbach has come around to the idea that executive poaching wasn’t so bad at all.

Relatively quiet during the raging debate over rails versus trails, Auerbach this week declared himself four-square for the executive’s plan to rip up the tracks in Kingston and from Phoenicia to Highmount in order to create rail-trails. In fact, in some ways, Auerbach, no doubt with executive assistance, presented the plan better than His Heinness.

Typically, the comptroller, with his keen nose for the numbers, adds some details we hadn’t seen before, such as railroaders returning only $38,000 to the county over the past 22 years, on a track that cost taxpayers $1.5 million. Left unsaid was that the railroaders claim to have made more than $1 million in track repair and put in thousands of volunteer hours.

County Attorney Bea Havranek, ever ready with ammunition in support of her boss, has piped in with some lawyerly criticism of the railroaders’ alleged failures to meet some of the terms of their 25-year lease, just in case they’re of a mind to pursue legal action against the county.

And just this week, railroad advisory committee Chairman Mike Berardi, a former Democratic legislator from the Town of Ulster, resigned, charging closed-door meetings were aimed at discrediting the railroaders by the administration. “Closed doors” implies a degree of chicanery. There’s no question the executive plan, for better or worse, was cooked in the dark.

Berardi also protested a closed-door meeting to be scheduled between the executive and legislative branches to discuss the railroad situation. One assumes the recently converted comptroller and his bean counters will participate, absent the prying eyes of media and the public. What happened to the state laws on open meetings?

In politics, numbers rule. Only a handful of railroaders — there are up to 125 active workers — plus their supporters will support the status quo, while thousands of walkers, joggers, bikers and environmentalists are just itching to lace up their sneakers.

At that, Auerbach, a marathon runner of some note, might, given his position, be among the first to try out those new trails through the scenic Catskills. (I’m guessing it’ll take at least four years and millions of dollars to do the job.) His Republican opponent, the redoubtable Jim Quigley, just might stick to the tube train from Mount Tremper to Phoenicia.