Hugh Reynolds: The new legislature

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

Heading into Election Day, Democrats were pretty sure of taking the majority in the 23-member Ulster County Legislature. They did.

Minority Leader Dave Donaldson was magnanimous in victory after rather easily turning back a challenge by Republican John Quigley. “The kid [he’s 21 years old] worked. I’ll give him that,” Donaldson said of his fallen foe.

At Democratic election headquarters in Kingston election night, Donaldson wasn’t sure that the 15 seats he thought his party could take — they didn’t — was an unalloyed blessing. “You might wind up with three factions of five each,” he said. “Maybe more.”

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As military men often lament, all plans fall apart when battle is joined. There were plenty of surprises election night.

Funny things happened at the polls. In Saugerties, the previously undefeated Bob Aiello went down to newcomer Chris Allen, while easygoing Mary Wawro, running against challenger Beth Murphy, demonstrated that nice people sometimes finish first. In retrospect, how could anybody vote against someone who runs a daycare center called Mary’s Little Lambs?

The three-way race for town supervisor among Democrat-Independence candidate Greg Helsmoortel, incumbent Republican Kelly Myers and Conservative Gaetana Ciarlante was predicted to come down to who Ciarlante hurt worse. Since Helsmoortel prevailed by about 400 votes, it might have been the Republican. But nobody knows for sure. Ciarlante, brimming with confidence the whole time, was a force in her own right. She could be a future major player in town politics.

Soon-to-be-former legislature chairwoman Terry Bernardo sounded a little shell-shocked over the phone on election night where unofficial returns showed her clinging to a 10-vote lead over challenger Lynn Archer. “We had some very powerful people against us,” she said more than once. Indeed. Her town Republican chairman, the Rochester Republican town supervisor and the Democratic county executive lined up behind Archer. The miracle was that Bernardo did as well as she did. With 180 absentee votes out, the election lawyers should be drooling over the outcome of this one.

In Wawarsing, Democrat Tim Distel, with a $25,000 war chest, demonstrated again that money can’t always buy you love. Freshman incumbent Craig Lopez survived by 46 votes. This is just a theory, but Distel the younger (23) might have been hurt by having his father, Len Distel, on the ballot as highway superintendent. The elder Distel prevailed, suggesting residents might have split their votes between an established winner and a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time newcomer.

I think Manna Jo Greene, who will replace retiring Rob Parete in the Rosendale-Stone Ridge district, will be an asset in the legislature. Passionate in her beliefs on environmental issues and outspoken, she’s become better at listening these days.

In Esopus, another Republican incumbent, Carl Belfiglio, was 201 votes ahead of challenger Peter Nelson. Meanwhile, in Gardiner independent Democratic incumbent Tracey Bartels was winning over Frank “Lenny” Zapka by 199.

Like some others, the rematch between incumbent Mary Beth Maio and Democrat Gerald Lyons in Lloyd was close. Maio was 75 votes ahead at the end of the night, As Lyons worked like a man possessed, the tight race was not unexpected. Again, we await absentees.

More of the Republicans than the Democrats won by small margins. That would ordinarily mean that next time out the Republicans will have more seats they will have to fight hard for than the Democrats. However, the Democrats can and probably will even the odds by fighting amongst themselves, as Dave Donaldson has suggested.

Some other races  

Comptroller Elliott Auerbach didn’t exactly run away and hide in his race against newcomer Linda McDonough, but then the outcome was never really in doubt.  Auerbach’s tapping the well three times in five years may have taken some of the bloom off the rose, but a four-year term brings with it stability and the opportunity to explore other options.

McDonough, in her first campaign ever, and late to the circus, proved a diligent soldier, if somewhat oversensitive to combat. She could be the flower among the rubble of campaign 2013 for the now almost powerless Republican Party.

Given the righteous indignation of anti-casino forces, the measure’s decisive margin of success in Ulster came as something of a surprise. With the promise of thousands of new jobs, lower taxes and aid to schools, perhaps the outcome reflects the dire, even desperate, times in which we live. And now the bidding war (for an Ulster casino at the old Nevele) begins. Memo to developers: save those Nevele Now lawn signs.

In Kingston, Mayor Shayne Gallo had a pretty good night in electing most of his personal choices for alderman, including Republican Deb Brown in the closely contested Ninth Ward. With Brown’s (unofficial) 13-vote win, Democrats just missed the historic opportunity to sweep the council. Given Hizzoner’s talent to alienating allies, one can only wonder how long this new coalition will hold together.

Former alderman Brian Seche, back after a 10-year hiatus, will probably be the next majority leader. A steady hand with a sardonic sense of bemusement about politics, Seche could be the kind of leveling influence city government has long lacked.

Perverse progress

The long-running controversy on tax abatement involving Len and Terry Bernardo’s Skatetime 209 roller rink in Accord came to a quiet end last June when their payment in lieu of taxes (Pilot) agreement was reinstated by the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency. This decision will have repercussions on other likely IDA projects where opponents, such as those of a big student housing development in New Paltz, intend to challenge the level of property tax relief being offered by the county agency.

The Bernardo paperwork was certified by the Town of Rochester assessor on July 12, a month after the IDA board unanimously voted to restore the Pilots of the roller rink, the Milton sports dome, and a project in the Town of Lloyd.

When the Bernardos applied to the IDA in 2006, their application stated that they expected to create more than 20 jobs. In operation, the roller-rink employees number about half a dozen, some of them part-timers.

Then-county administrator Mike Hein and Len Bernardo faced each other in the acrimonious 2008 election for county executive. Hein, after dispatching campaign aide March Gallagher on a reconnaissance mission to the rink, blasted Bernardo for the employment discrepancy. Rarely one to mince words, Hein repeatedly called Bernardo a liar.

Bernardo, while dismissing Gallagher as “an undercover spy,” said his actual contract with the IDA had made no mention of staffing levels.

Apples and oranges? Not in court, as it later turned out.

Over a period of almost five years, the IDA and Bernardo sniped at each other. In this case, it really was the principle and not the money. Having his Pilot lifted at that stage of his 10-year contract probably cost Bernardo an affordable amount.

Resisting Hein’s calling him names was worth much more to Bernardo, especially after his wife Terry, a partner in the roller-rink operation, entered politics in her own right in 2009. Bernardo was elected chairwoman of the legislature in 2012 and re-elected this year. It is perhaps no coincidence that she has become a frequent target of executive ire, “Tea-Party legislature” being one of his more recent barbs.

Belatedly, the IDA board, referencing a state court of appeals decision last spring, concluded that risking tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees on a virtually hopeless case was foolish.

There has been no word from what should be a red-faced executive — he doesn’t talk to us — but surely somebody among that coterie of lawyers prominent on his staff must have understood fundamentals of contract law. In his defense, it’s fair to say, however, that the executive was right on the facts, but wrong on the law.

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“We never should have gone there. It was all about politics,” groused IDA board member John Morrow, a Republican Town of Ulster councilman.

IDA board President Mike Horodyski, while acknowledging the numerous hours and thousands of dollars spent on the Bernardo case, chose to take the high road. “I’m extremely proud of the work we did to get good, solid accountability going forward,” he said. “State Comptroller [Tom] DiNapoli said it to all IDAs: Get your act together.”

The Bernardo case was really an example of “good, prudent management,” claimed the IDA head and WallkillValley bank president. “Our IDA is now in a position to not only advance development but to help protect taxpayers.”

Horodyski couldn’t resist a parting shot at the Bernardos. “If you say you’re going to create jobs [as did Bernardo on his IDA application], we’re going to hold you to it,” he said.

For the record, the roller rink now carries an assessment for the purpose of taxes of about $200,000, based on a 10-year sliding scale that will hit zero in three years. “It just means the [tax] burden will be spread among the rest of us,” explained Rochester Town Supervisor Carl Chipman. The assessed value of the town exceeds $800 million, according to the supervisor. Chipman, a Republican but no friend of the Bernardos, endorsed Terry’s Democratic opponent for county legislator this year.

Len Bernardo chose not to crow. “It pretty much came out the way we said,” he said.

There are 3 comments

  1. The New Legislature | Manna Jo Greene

    […] “I think Manna Jo Greene, who will replace retiring Rob Parete in the Rosendale-Stone Ridge district, will be an asset in the legislature. Passionate in her beliefs on environmental issues and outspoken, she’s become better at listening these days.” — Hugh Reynolds, Kingston Times To read entire article, click here. […]

  2. D2

    Why is there no information on the third IDA beneficiary: Lloyd Park 2. We get plenty of info on the Skatetime and the Sportsdome. Google LP2 and get nothing, same as the local reporting.

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