Hugh Reynolds: Money talks. Sometimes it yells …

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

Just when we thought the campaign for Assembly between New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet and incumbent Kevin Cahill was all over but for the shouting, they’re back knocking heads again, this time about campaign contributions.

Zimet’s nearly $7,000 raised over the summer hardly measures up to Cahill’s six figures over a longer period, but there are comparisons.

Despite denials from both candidates, the spectre of pay-to-play hangs over the scene. Cahill, formerly Assembly Energy Committee chairman and lately head of its Insurance Committee, accepted substantial contributions from insurance carriers. And Zimet took at least one contribution from a developer with business before the town.

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Both insist campaign contributions do not influence them. Doesn’t everybody? By accepting that notion, we have to believe that hard-headed businesspeople, contractors, consultants and fiercely aggressive lobbyists are all paragons of civic virtue.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets into the discussion, however peripherally. Cuomo, after raising some $35 million, most of it from large donors with deep pockets, disbanded the investigative Moreland Commission, which he had appointed to study campaign finance in the legislature. Apparently, charge critics, the Moreland path led too close to home. And why not? All are playing the same game.

New York State has a long-standing system of casual corruption. Everybody does it; that’s the way it is. Perhaps the best we can hope for is full disclosure of who is getting what from whom. What they got for it can then be examined and speculated upon.

In this exchange, I think Zimet, if she chooses to run for a third consecutive supervisor term next year, has far more political exposure. New Paltzians have clearly demonstrated their abhorrence of out-of-town money influencing their community. No amount of tortured explanation will ameliorate that.

Cahill, for sure, has not heard the last of this issue, either from the relentless Zimet or from his energized anti-Albany Republican opponent Kevin Roberts. All politics being local, Cahill has the advantage of his exchanges taking place in that distant sink of corruption, our state capital.

Troubled waters

Suppressing a chortle, I note that the usually sure-footed Mike Hein really stepped in it in recommending, apparently with little or no local input, that the county bridge under repair over the Esopus Creek behind the Hurley Mountain Inn in Hurley be named after the late, great Woodstock musician Levon Helm.

It’s hard to give Hein credit for good intentions for what was a blatant grab at headlines and favor. But why not? Helm, who died two years ago, was a beloved figure hereabouts, generous with his talent and supportive of his community. His primary connection to Hurley in his latter years seemed to be his happily sauntering through its cornfields with corn king Jack Gill every summer.

Hein has at least two connections to Hurley. He lives a few blocks from the center of Olde Hurley, and his highway department is rebuilding the 80-year old bridge over the Esopus Creek.

This was one of those stories that had to get worse before getting better. Hein issued a press release announcing the recommendation to name the bridge, replete with a cheesy photo-shopped plaque that read “Levon Helm Memorial Bridge.” As has been its practices in most things Hein, the Daily Echo printed the release and photo provided by the executive pretty much verbatim. I put a few calls into Hurley officials, but nobody got back to me.

County Exec Mike Hein. (Photo by Dan Barton)

County Exec Mike Hein. (Photo by Dan Barton)

That Hein failed to run this by Hurley town officials or any of their representatives in the legislature was evidenced by the swift uproar that ensued. Helm already has a road named in his honor, state Route 375 from Route 28 in West Hurley to Woodstock. This designation was sponsored by Hein’s arch-enemy, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. What better way to one-up Cahill than to name a county bridge after the deceased drummer?

It must have sounded like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t.

There is still opportunity, however, for Hein to cash in on the celebrity vote and shaft Cahill. Recall that several years ago singer Art Garfunkel, he of “Bridge over Troubled Waters” fame, got busted for smoking pot in the back of his limo on Route 28 near the Route 375 intersection? He paid a $100 fine on the minor offense and continued on, perhaps to Mrs. Robinson’s house near Bearsville or to meet Julio in some local schoolyard.

Might Hein erect a historic plaque on the site commemorating the bust? Garfunkel fans could drive by and toot their horns in memory of the occasion.

Rails and health plans

Now well into its sixth year, the Hein administration strikes some as bipolar these days. On one hand it is aggressively pursuing plans to establish walking trails on railroad beds in the Kingston area. On the other, the prospect of upwards of 160 county workers refusing the county comptroller’s request to verify dependents on county-paid healthcare plans seemed little cause for concern in the executive suite.

Last week the administration petitioned the legislature for bonding authority to finance engineering studies on rail-trails leading into Kingston at its southern border with the Town of Ulster (the Old O&W line) and on another trail from Midtown Kingston to Hurley. Portions of the D&H line are running tourist trains operated by the Catskill Mountain Railroad.

Assuming Hein has every intention of ejecting CMRR from Kingston when its lease with the county expires in 21 months, if a state Supreme Court justice doesn’t do it sooner, formal planning on a rail-trail makes sense. As one observer put it at last week’s trail advisory committee meeting, “A trail plan is something more than drawing a red line on a map.”

Given the executive’s staunchly pro-taxpayer stance, it is perplexing that he hasn’t acted swiftly to order the verification of county health plans that contain dependents who may not qualify.

The rail initiative will cost taxpayers perhaps $200,000 in engineering and planning fees for starters. The healthcare impact, to be determined, could have many times the impact. Under the county health plan, a family policy costs about $20,000. Multiply that by even half the holdouts and it’s serious money.

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