Hugh Reynolds: Hail to the ex-chief

Hugh Reynolds.

Hugh Reynolds.

Call it the end of an era or at least the end of a really long career. Former Daily Freeman publisher Ira Fusfeld, 65, will retire next week after almost 43 years at the paper.

Joining the Freeman as a sportswriter straight out of SUNY New Paltz in 1970, “Fuzz,” as he was known to the inmates, worked his way up the ladder to sports editor, general manager and for 26 years as publisher. Seldom does a denizen of the “toy department” (news talk for sports) rise to “the power tower” (as we called the CEO’s office), but Fuzz did it. His is the longest tenure as publisher since Jay Klock’s 45 years ending in 1936.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Fusfeld became publisher in the mid-1980s, when business was booming in a growing community. A crack staff greased the wheels for this corporate cash cow. Fuzz might have been something of a micro-manager, but he didn’t rock the boat. “My job,” he liked to say, “is to keep the train on the tracks.”

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The departure of IBM now 20 years ago, the rapid incursion of social media, competition from some pretty good weeklies, and a chronically flat economy have driven the once-proud Gray Lady of Hurley Avenue to her knees. It’s gotten so bad that County Executive Mike Hein wants to tear up the railroad tracks behind the Freeman in favor of a walking trail. How was Fuzz going to keep the train on track after that?

In an editorial board meeting in October 1994 editors and the publisher gathered to discuss the endorsement of candidates in state elections. An increasingly unpopular Mario Cuomo was going for a fourth term against an unknown state senator from Peekskill named George Pataki. The usual routine was for editors to agree on candidates — though Fuzz retained veto power as publisher — after which the chief editorial writer (me) would draft an endorsement. Fuzz, who did final edit, rarely reversed me, though he often complained about misspelled words or tortured logic.

“Exactly what are we saying here?” he’d ask, with the emphasis on “we,” meaning the voice of the newspaper. I’d explain it to him and more often than not he’d say, “Okay, tighten it up a little.”

At this particular session, Cuomo was last on the list. It also happened to be my turn to speak first. “Scoop, what do you think?” the publisher asked.

“It’s ugly out there,” I said. “I think Cuomo will lose this county by a two-to-one margin.”

“And your vote?”

I said that endorsing Mario Cuomo represented the abandonment of all hope.

Fuzz paused, leaned back in his high-backed chair, studied the ceiling for a moment and said he would write the editorial. He did. Cuomo, with faint praise from the Freeman, barely broke 30 percent in Ulster that year. Assembly members Kevin Cahill and Eileen Hickey lost. Maurice Hinchey hung on by only about 1,200 votes out of more than 180,000 cast.

Fuzz and I have talked only twice since I left the Freeman more than five years ago, once when I called to wish him well when he took ill with leukemia, since thankfully in remission, and last week, when I heard he was retiring.

He’s been publisher emeritus since last year, easing toward retirement. And what exactly does a publisher emeritus do? A lot of people ask, he replied. “There’s the institutional knowledge, my sage advice, help with the transition,” [to new publisher Jan Dewey], “representing the paper here and there.” Call it a soft landing, with nice salary and benefits.

Ira was a stickler for getting it right the first time. One of his favorite dicta was, “If you call it Washington Street [which is in Poughkeepsie], and it’s supposed to be Washington Avenue, nobody will believe the rest of the story.”

Outside forces loom large. The Freeman’s original corporate owners were relatively benign, content to milk the cow. The wild-west bunch that took over in ’99 pretty much shot up the landscape.

I wish him good health, a long, busy retirement with growing grandchildren, and maybe, just maybe, breaking 100 at Wiltwyck Golf Club. And maybe he’ll ask me to play along. (Hint, hint.)

Quigley goes under

I suppose I should have read the handwriting on the wall. Despite denials to the contrary eleventh-hour comptroller candidate Jim Quigley wasn’t all that gaga over a grueling campaign to no uncertain outcome against the energetic Elliott Auerbach.

So, just after nominating petitions were due last week, Quigley told Republican leaders he was out, done, see ya.

Quigley, a financial wizard, says he got one of those offers most couldn’t refuse from the private sector, where he became rich. At 57, he has some health issues that politics tends to exacerbate. His blood pressure couldn’t ignore an emerging alliance between GOP running mate Nina Postupack (for clerk) and Auerbach. “They were everywhere together,” Quigley said, citing intel and published reports, since he didn’t go anywhere during his brief candidacy.

It might have been another routine aggravation in the Town of Ulster that finally convinced Quigley “the public phase of my life is over.” Around the time he was nominated in early June, vowing to “turn the comptroller’s office on its head,” town supervisor Quigley sent a routine memo to fellow town-board members and department heads that he was taking his “annual one-week summer sojourn.”

“I wound up working five days at the office, and that’s the way it’s been since I got here,” he said this Tuesday.

Obviously, he won’t be running for a third term as supervisor.

The town will not be rudderless come 2014. Other town board members on the all-Republican council have expressed interest, a process more or less controlled by the man-of-many-hats, mysterious Jim Maloney. Currently running unopposed for re-election as county legislator, Maloney is also town assessor and town GOP chairman. The $45,000-a-year supervisor position might be tempting for him, but he’d probably have to relinquish his other posts. As usual, the mysterian was not available for comment with stuff hitting the fan.

County GOP boss Roger Rascoe says his committee on vacancies will scour the landscape for a comptroller replacement, which is of course a small joke. The committee has until tomorrow, under election law.

With Quigley’s departure, we are facing perhaps the dullest non-campaign election year in recent county history. All three incumbents, Postupack, Family Judge Maryann Mizel and Auerbach are running unopposed. And they call this democracy?

Patriot act

With all the fanfare that a well-oiled publicity machine can generate, a budget was finally revealed for the county’s future veterans’ homeless shelter on Wurts Street in downtown Kingston at a press conference last week. Various veterans’ organizations were invited to hear the presentation and tour the former state facility across from Cornell Park. Propped up next to the executive’s portable podium in a front room of the two-story Victorian was a United Way-like fund-raising thermometer which showed just short of half the estimated $330,000 renovation estimate on hand. About half the funding comes from the sale of the Ulster college president’s home last spring.

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