It’s that wonderful time of the year in the National Football League when if Team A beats Team B and Team C loses to Team D, Team E — if it snows in the first half of its Monday night game with Team F — gets the wild card.
Thus it ever is in a different kind of derby: that nasty, elbowing, eye-gouging game for next year’s chairman of the Ulster County Legislature.
Formally, there are only two teams, 13 Democrats against 10 Republicans. As such, one might conclude, game over — whomever the Dems endorse will automatically be the chair. That’s how it was reported in several other media outlets last week. But no. The permutations are almost endless, and there will be numerous snow jobs. Many a broken heart will be left at the goal line.
As in most political sagas hereabouts, this hands-across-the-aisle speculation over the chairmanship has played out before. Back in 1999, Republican caucus nominee Phil Sinagra of Hurley went to the organizational meeting with almost enough votes from his fellows.
“Don’t go up there, Phil, You haven’t got the votes,” then-legislator Frank Felicello warned the would-be chairman moments before the session. Sinagra did go up there. He didn’t have the votes. Rival Dan Alfonso had secretly gone to the Democrats and at the 11th hour wrested the prize from a stunned Sinagra.
With all the machinations that will take place between now and the organizational meeting on Jan. 7, nobody is chairman until everybody officially votes. Or as Sinagra put it this week, “Don’t count your chickens until the last vote is counted.”
On the subject of ruffled feathers, Sinagra offered the following: “When you cross over the lines you never know what’s going to happen. It’s usually not the best way to do things. It splits both parties, and it takes a long time for wounds to heal.”
Last week, 12 of 13 Democratic members of the legislature convened at what was misleadingly advanced as a “strategy meeting” to discuss the chairmanship. John Parete carried a proxy for his son Rich, who was off somewhere coaching wrestling. Three candidates, Hector Rodriguez of New Paltz, Tracey Bartels of Gardiner and T.J. Briggs of Ellenville, presented their credentials.
The first vote, I am reliably informed, was six for Hector, four for Tracey, and three for T.J. As per the usual rules governing three-way contests, Briggs dropped out.
On the second vote, Rodriguez got either seven or eight, I’m told, a majority of his caucus, and thus its nomination, but a long way from the 12 votes a chairman needs to be actually elected to lead the 23-member legislature for next year.
Rodriguez doesn’t have the votes yet, though you’d think he did from his press releases, public pronouncements and stories by credulous local journalists.
That there was no move to render H-Rod’s hair’s-breadth Democratic majority unanimous could have been the product of festering sore losers. Or it could have been the harbinger of much mischief over the holidays.
Faction and party
Republicans, bounced out of the majority after four years in control, are drooling over the prospect of playing a critical role. Democrats, just as resolutely, will make every effort to keep this process in-house.
Ken Ronk, demoted from majority leader to minority leader in November’s election, says he’s not campaigning for chairman, “but would certainly be interested.” Ronk says he’s urging his Republican colleagues to vote as a block, “to stay united.” At this point in time, that means the Republicans have more votes for chairman than Rodriguez does.