Ulster County Democrats have decided on their candidate for Family Court judge, though about 85 percent of their numbers stayed home in this three-way contest won by Saugertiesian Gilda Riccardi. Now it’s time to tie up some loose ends.
When the smoke cleared from the Sept. 9 party primary, Riccardi had scored a decisive victory over Kevin Bryant and John Beisel of Kingston. Republican candidate Keri Savona, also of Kingston, secured the Independence Party nomination by a wide margin. Bryant prevailed as the Working Families Party candidate.
The problem for Democrats is Bryant’s appearance on the Working Families line. This minor party line pulled 3,400 votes in last year’s race for county comptroller, most of them probably from left-of-center Democrats. Bryant’s Working Families line could prove the spoiler in what’s shaping up as a close election.
Despite the chest-thumping bravado of Savona supporters, their candidate’s running on both the Conservative and Independence lines does not make her a lock for election in November. Rather, it may level a playing field on which county Democrats outnumber Republicans by some 9,000 votes.
Taken together, the Indy and Conservative lines could almost close that gap. In last year’s race for county comptroller, incumbent Democrat Elliott Auerbach drew 3,444 votes on the Working Families line. Linda McDonough, his underfunded, virtually unknown Republican opponent, drew 2,228 on the Conservative line and 2,382 on the Independence.
For Democrats, the dilemma is how to get Bryant off the Working Families line. There are ways. The laws that govern judicial campaigns and the behavior of candidates stipulate that a candidate may withdraw from a race for only three reasons: death, departure (moving out of the district) or nomination for another judicial office.
Since Bryant won’t be jumping off any bridges or leaving town soon, the Working Families Party, in league with intensely interested Democrats, will be examining the last option. I have this from the best of sources in both camps, though none will comment for the record until the deal is done. Republicans, having gotten wind of this scheme, are frantically searching law books in the hope of a credible appeal.
Here’s the deal
The deal is this: Bryant, who would not comment when confronted, accepts the nomination of the Brooklyn chapter of Working Families (yes, Brooklyn) for state Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn and withdraws as a candidate for Family Court judge in Ulster. Bryant has no hope of being elected anywhere in Brooklyn, or in Ulster, on the Working Families line but that doesn’t matter. With the line open, a previously appointed Ulster Working Families committee on vacancies will meet and nominate Riccardi. The righteous bleatings of Republicans will be tempered by remorse. Had they had the opportunity, they would have done the same thing.
One might ask what Bryant gets from all this. The answer is the undying gratitude of the Democratic Party and front-of-the-line consideration for the next open judgeship seat. That could come as early as next year. Family Court Judge Tony McGinty, whose term expires in 2015, is said to be keenly interested in running for Supreme Court. At the same time, with two-term judge Mary Work reaching the mandatory retirement age, the county Surrogate judgeship will be opening up.
Like many others who might be reading this for the first time, I too found these machinations for high judicial office distasteful, maybe even sleazy. But unless Republican lawyers are better then their Democratic counterparts, it’s all perfectly legal. Politics, after all, is the art of the possible.
Unofficial but almost complete returns from the primary confirm what most observers surmised on election night. In core areas of the county (Kingston city, New Paltz, Saugerties, Woodstock and Rosendale), Riccardi lost badly only in Kingston. She prevailed handily in the other towns and of course built up quite a plurality in Saugerties. Woodstock favored her candidacy by just six votes over Bryant.
In Kingston, Bryant polled more Democratic votes than Riccardi and Beisel combined. She bounced back in New Paltz, Rosendale and Saugerties. Countywide, she won by something just under 700 votes, with 45 percent of the total vote.
Zephyr Teachout ran ahead of everyone in stomping Andrew Cuomo in Ulster County.
The question hereabouts is did Teachout, in this year of the woman, draw people to the polls to and for Riccardi, or vice versa? I suspect the former. The Family Court race attracted only minimal media coverage in what is laughingly termed the mainstream media, while Teachout drew the full monty the three times she campaigned here. Overall turnout between governor and Family Court differed by only about 400 votes.
Toot their horns
Basketball hall of famer Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics once described the “mixed emotions” watching one’s mother-in-law drive over a cliff in one’s new Cadillac.
County Executive Mike Hein might have had similar emotions after the Catskill Mountain Railroad-sponsored Thomas the Tank Engine drew hordes of visitors over two weekends this month.
Hein is most of all a man of singular purpose. He intends to tear up the tracks Thomas traversed, carrying an estimated 11,000 passengers from Kingston to Hurley, in favor of a walking and biking trail.
CMRR’s purpose in bringing the popular children’s attraction to Kingston was to demonstrate the viability of a rail operation. While two weeks of tourism traffic does not a pattern make, it sure was impressive. And so was the almost $300,000 the operation generated in gross revenues.
Even Hein, in a left-handed way, had to express admiration. Thomas, he suggested to the Daily Echo, could do just as well on the four miles of CMRR-maintained tracks he’s willing to preserve between Mount Tremper and Phoenicia. Does he really think people are going to drive 25 miles up Route 28 when they could board the same train almost within sight of the Thruway? The CMRR didn’t, which is why they staged their show in convenient Kingston, albeit absent most Kingston elected officials.
Meanwhile, nobody expects Dave Donaldson’s grandstanding move to have the county legislature force Hein to drop his lawsuit against CMRR to reach the legislative floor. Donaldson makes some good points. The legislature never approved upwards of $90,000 in legal fees taxpayers have been charged by Hein’s lawyers. The lease with the railroad does run out 22 months from now. But Hein has the votes. Donaldson has only headlines.