With all the speculation over who’s running for the newly created Family Court judgeship in Ulster County, little attention has been given to the fact that even for Albany, this was one helluva rush job. Up until about three weeks ago, nobody except some capital insiders and a few well-connected locals knew there was a family court judgeship in the hopper for Ulster and Dutchess.
That another Family Court judge was sorely needed and slavishly sought for at least the last decade was mere backdrop. Albany deals with issues on its own schedule, usually to great surprise.
But what a schedule. The four candidates so far “committed” will begin carrying petitions on July 11, due at the Board of Elections by the 24th. There will be a short period of intense perusal, and likely some formal challenges to signatures. After all, these are lawyers battling for what amounts to a million-dollar job at $127,000 a year for a decade or a generous retirement after three years on the bench. Candidates will have to put together a campaign organization and raise the six figures necessary for viable competition in a countywide race.
This truncated timetable places unnecessary stress on the candidates and their supporters, not to mention on the public. Is this any way to elect a judge?
The hurry-up gives undue advantage to insiders with connection to political power and/or those with at least $100,000 stuffed under a mattress. As a matter of necessity, major-party screening committees will endorse candidates. Losers, of course, are free to contest those recommendations at primary on Sept. 9.
It’s too late now, of course, but a more democratic, voter-centric approach would have been to hold this election in November of next year.
About that one hand clapping. So far, four candidates, all Democrats, have made commitments to party Chairman Frank Cardinale that they will indeed run. Only one, Kevin Bryant of Kingston, has formally declared for the position. What about Republicans?
I don’t know where the Republicans are. County GOP Chairman Roger Rascoe works his wonders in mysterious ways, but I suspect that lacking any viable candidate he and his colleagues might be busy cutting some kind of deal to cross-endorse the Democratic nominee. Which is to say, any time politicians can connive a way to disenfranchise voters by denying them a choice, thereby saving themselves and their candidate the messy, expensive necessity of a campaign, they will do so.
In the event that the Democratic candidate is cross-endorsed, we’ll have the curious scenario of a Democrat running against a Republican with neither opposed. How can this be? Republican Family Court Judge Marianne Mizel, who will seek a third term this year, is already cross-endorsed. Voters will elect two Family Court judges in November, a Democrat and a Republican.
A look at the contenders
As for candidates, let’s start with two who have some experience in Family Court.
Gilda Riccardi, 60, of Malden-on-Hudson, and John Beisel, 48, of Kingston, work for Family Court Judge Tony McGinty as court attorney and support magistrate, respectively. Though both have the hands-on experience people like in judicial candidates, that’s no guarantee of their being placed at the head of the line.
Beisel was mentioned before when one of the two present judgeships came on the ballot. He didn’t run. Riccardi took one for her party in 2010 in running against popular Republican County Clerk Nina Postupack. That she garnered only 38 percent of the vote is not nearly as noteworthy as the 15,015 who voted for her. In light voting next November, 15,000 could be the magic number.
New Paltz Town Justice Jonathan Katz, 57, might have been county judge today if a bunch of rebellious Woodstockers — are there any other kind? — hadn’t jumped up and protested what they saw as a Katz’s boss-brokered nomination at the 2009 Democratic convention. Katz was seen by many Democrats as their one good hope of thwarting juggernaut Don Williams, at the time the county’s fierce law-and-order district attorney. Katz lost at convention, folded his tent, and Williams rolled over the way-too-liberal Deborah Schneer of High Falls, appointed to the county bench by former governor David Paterson in 2009 for about six months. Schneer was briefly mentioned for Family Court last month, but did not commit.
Bryant, a Kingston lawyer who specializes in criminal work, is new to the court and to politics. But in a party that says it values diversity, Bryant, an African-American, may have special appeal, sort of like Hillary Clinton being the first woman president.
That a significant number of troubled youths who pass through Family Court are minorities suggests that a role model in what is now an all-white judiciary could be an asset. Quite frankly, Ulster County, it’s about time.
At it again
Speaking of punching bags, it is now all but confirmed that archrivals Kevin Cahill and Mike Hein have turned Ulster County into their very own political sandbox. And we all know what cats do in sandboxes.
This Family Court judge business has afforded the county’s two most prominent Democrats yet another opportunity to pummel each other.
One would think that securing a judge to deal with a massive, virtually institutional backlog of casework would for the assemblyman be reason for a brass band, with at least 76 trombones, strutting drum majors and Irish bagpipers. But no. Another Family Court judge, Hein insists, would place incredible financial burdens on the county, necessitating the hiring of staff at Social Services and in law enforcement. To which Cahill says harrumph, or to be more accurate, “preposterous,”
And where are we going to house this court and staff? A wing and a prayer on the already sardine-packed Family Court facility in Kingston won’t do it. Or as Deputy Executive Bob Sudlow, ever the loyal soldier, put it in a published report, “[Cahill] must think it’s like adding a third bedroom.” Great line.