Hugh Reynolds: Mike Hein’s summer tour

Hugh Reynolds.

Hugh Reynolds.

County Executive Mike Hein last week announced plans for a statewide tour this summer to explain why things are so bad in New York State and what Ulster has done to address the issues. As president of the state association of county executives, Hein has a podium. Whether other counties will welcome advice from their peer remains to be seen.

It cannot be denied that Hein has done some positive things during his four and a half years as county executive, a period that coincides with some of the worst economic conditions upstate has ever endured. Hein does deny, sort of, that this one-man tour is any kind of a campaign foray. He loves Ulster County, he said in published reports, and has no plans to run for any other office.

But he could be making plans to make plans. Opportunity is the product of planning, context and sometimes a little luck.


Obviously, there’s nothing on the table right now, but the winds of change are blowing in western New York. Our executive has his finger up, testing the climate.

His immediate objective could well be the office of lieutenant governor, for which Hein was briefly mentioned when Andrew Cuomo was choosing an upstate running mate in 2010. Bob Duffy, then mayor of Rochester, got the nod, but it seems the political climate could be changing around his old home town.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, 84 and coming off hip surgery, is said to be looking toward the door next year, which could then swing open for Duffy. Other than religiously preaching the Cuomo line, Duffy’s main claim to fame has been voluntarily cutting his salary 5 percent from $151,500. Hein, to the best of my knowledge, has done no such surgery on his $133,000 annual salary, but he hasn’t raised it since taking office in 2009, either.

Duffy’s run for Congress would set off a feeding frenzy among upstate Democrats because if — and this is an if so massive it can be seen from outer space — Cuomo runs for president in 2016 and win, the lieutenant governor becomes governor. For Hein to get out front of that stampede makes for smart politics. At the same time, he’ll have to demonstrate an ability to raise serious money around the state.

I know it’s a long way from the executive wing on the sixth floor of the Ulster County office building to the second floor of the state capitol, but stranger things have happened. Need I mention David Paterson?

Hein, who presents well, will need to tread carefully around the hustings. A Cuomo acolyte, he will of course avoid any criticism of the sensitive and vengeful incumbent governor by blaming virtually everything wrong on the corrupt, dysfunctional state legislature.

In any event, it should be an interesting summer, what with all those wonderful golf courses and new friends to make across scenic New York. The messenger might in fact learn a few things from his contacts which might accrue to taxpayers suffering the absence of their hometown leader.

Hein, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.

Power to the PSC

The state Public Service Commission’s unanimous approval of the Fortis-Central Hudson buyout was, tactically, one of the imperial PSC’s dumber moves in recent years. Presented with testimony from public hearings where no one at all spoke in favor of the $1.5 billion buyout and a negative recommendation from two administrative judges who reviewed the case, the PSC by 4-0 vote went the other way. A 3-1 vote might have assuaged public suspicion that this was a done deal from the get-go.

While Fortis, an international power company based in Canada, got the result it wanted, its tactics were questionable. Rather than presenting its case at public hearing or recruiting others to do so, Fortis relied on business groups, blitz advertising and a few politicians to carry the ball.

Fortis has demonstrated its ability to maneuver the regulatory system. Let’s see how they are at running a utility.

Bring in the loco-motive

County and Kingston city officials have utilized just about every tactic at their disposal, including the threat of formal legal action, to force the Catskill Mountain Railroad to give up its lease on some 38 miles of county-owned railroad right-of-way from Kingston to Highmount. County executive Hein and his rail-trail supporters have characterized railroaders as everything from squatters to hobbyists squandering a valuable public asset on a hopeless dream. Not surprisingly, railroaders, many of them large, muscular types, have pushed back, calling officials bullies and blindsiders.

Last week, Hein sicced county attorney Bea Havranek on the railroaders. She made a formal complaint that they had violated their lease in several critical aspects, like failure to repair a mile of track a year over the course of the first 22 years of the lease and failure to produce required reports to the county in a timely fashion.

It may be time to bring in bigger, louder, though not necessarily more persuasive guns.

Remember Mayor Shayne Gallo’s tirade against meter-man Jeremy Blaber, with angry f-bombs, “You’re making me look bad!” and “You called my mother a liar?” Yeah, that one, recorded live by Blaber right on the mayor’s desk, with the city corporation counsel sitting next to him.

Gallo did his part to grease the skids on the railroaders, parking a DPW truck across tracks at the city line and having his corporation counsel, smooth Andy Zweben, advance allegations that the company was operating an illegal rail yard in Midtown.

Railroaders, as they’ve generally responded to critics over the years, essentially told officials to squat in their hats.

While Hein has been playing hardball against a small group of hardscrabble railroad volunteers, maybe it’s time for bean ball. Enter Gallo, the negotiator. (Sure did a nice job with Blaber, didn’t he?)

One can only imagine a sitdown, behind closed doors, of course, between the mayor and railroaders. I did:

Railroadmen: “Mayor. We’d like to discuss…”

Gallo: “Shut the (f) up!”

“But mayor. This is the mother of all disputes, and…”

“You called my mother a liar!”

“Mayor, aren’t you being a little unreasonable here? We think…”