Can’t say I dashed into the Garden Lounge in Kingston Tuesday morning in breathless anticipation to cover a Chamber of Commerce debate between state Senate candidates Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican challenger George Amedore. These sessions are usually polite affairs with candidates dancing around each other while spewing familiar talking points.
Not this time. Getting off to a slow start like two boxers checking each other out, the pair circled warily. It soon became apparent to an audience of about 200 that these two don’t just disagree on most issues. They don’t like each other.
Exchanges of “liar” and “hypocrite” filled the air as the breakfast crowd looked on. It was as though the candidates, who fought to a microscopic 18-vote decision in Tkaczyk’s favor two years ago, just couldn’t wait to get at each other.
“I know you guys in the media love this stuff,” sniffed one annoyed-looking guest afterwards, “but for most people this was very off-putting.” That’s not the impression I got in exit interviews. Partisans relished their candidate giving the other one the business.
Obviously, some things have changed. Two years ago, Tkaczyk was an unknown, Amedore a three-term assemblyman. The impression of Amedore as an entitled Republican, which Tkaczyk played up and which he did little to dispel, no doubt hurt him.
Former Ulster legislature chairwoman Terry Bernardo, a Rochester town Republican who lost a narrow election last year, said she saw a new and different George Amedore. “In the last campaign, he acted like he was already the senator,” she said of her candidate, then and again. “Now he acts like he wants to become one.”
Amedore’s problem is that Tkaczyk is the confident senator and that incumbency in all races counts for something.
At the chamber, both declared they were for all the good things and against all the bad, even as they pilloried each other. As such, this rematch could again come down to who better defines the other, as in 2012. If so, I’m not sure shouts of liar, liar, pants on fire will get it done for either, though such behavior does make for compelling political theater.
Gone to Brooklyn
To the surprise of almost no one at the newspaper (us) that predicted it, former Ulster County Family Court judge candidate Kevin Bryant of Kingston is now officially a candidate of the Working Families Party for state Supreme Court in the Second Judicial District in Brooklyn and off the ballot here.
“Have you ever been to your judicial district in Brooklyn?” I asked the new nominee.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “But I was born in Brooklyn.”
Good start. Ultimately, he will lose because nobody gets elected to anything on a minor party line alone. But that wasn’t the point of this judicial shell game.
Last week, Bryant, who finished second in the Democratic primary for Family Court judge, walked over to the Board of Elections office on Wall Street and formally declined his (Ulster) Working Families nomination. Under the rules that govern judicial candidacies, he was allowed to do so only if nominated for another judgeship — and so a few days previous the Brooklyn branch of the Working Families party had nominated him for Supreme Court.
Bryant’s withdrawal, which Republicans will no doubt jump upon as another example of sleazy big-city Democratic politics, will help level the playing field between party nominee Gilda Riccardi of Saugerties, who defeated Bryant in a Democratic primary, and Republican Keri Savona of Kingston. Savona has the Independence and Conservative lines. Riccardi will have the Democratic and Working Families lines. Democrats enjoy a 9,000-voter enrollment advantage, but only about half the electorate is expected to vote in what will likely be a ho-hum, no-issue judicial election. Savona’s Indy and Conservative lines should be good for at least 4,000 votes. Riccardi without the Working Families line might have been toast, but then again people underestimate the feisty Riccardi at their peril.
Meanwhile, Savona is flexing some of the financial muscle she was expected to bring to the arena. A huge billboard with six-foot photo of the candidate was recently erected over the western entrance to Kingston. To some, it seemed like a scene from Citizen Kane. Riccardi’s “Gilda!” lawn signs — she ran her primary on a bare-bones budget — look like postage stamps in comparison.
Democrats will need to quickly rally the troops, it being now only seven weeks to Election Day. “First, we have to elect our candidate, and I support Gilda,” declared Bryant, who after taking one for the party looks to have a future in Democratic judicial politics.
Family Court magistrate John Beisel, after finishing a distant third in the primary, will not join the chorus, at least publicly. Members of the judiciary are not allowed to participate in politics unless they themselves are running … but when they do, watch out!
Campaign note: The Saugerties chapter of the League of Women Voters will host judicial candidates on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. at the senior center at Cantine Field.
Some members of last week’s Ulster delegation to the state Supreme Court nominating convention in Albany tried to couch the contest in terms of diversity versus Capital District machine-boss politics. But the bosses had the votes and most of the Ulster delegation’s too in nominating Albany attorney John Corcoran, 46, over 52-year-old Albany Family Court Judge Margaret Walsh. The 44-29 final vote included 14 votes from Ulster.
Third Judicial District Chief Appellate Judge Karen Peters of Ulster is the only woman among 15 district supreme court judges. That must surely most embarrass the Democrats, supposedly committed to diversity. Republicans, who nominated Greene County attorney Lisa Fisher, 47, without opposition, are sure to make hay of that contradiction in the November elections. Fisher, married to John Fisher, son of the late Jim Fisher, a prominent local attorney, has numerous Kingston connections.
County Democratic chairman Frank “The Cardinal” Cardinale offered vague hints of a “deal” with Capitol bosses for an Ulster spot on the high court next year. Translation: Ulster Family Court Judge Tony McGinty, who frequently fills in as a Supreme Court judge, has his eye on the next rung, but can’t climb without Capitol clout.
Cardinale stands for reelection as county chairman when Democrats meet in annual session Sept. 30 in Kingston.
Laymen may either look askance at these judicial machinations or ignore them entirely, that is, until they appear in court before one of the judges this backroom 19th-century process produces.
On paper, a plan by the Kingston Water Department to sell almost 1.8 million gallons of water a day to a major bottling company to establish a plant in the Town of Ulster may make sense. Less so, on an emotional level. Niagara Bottling presented its plans to the Town of Ulster planning board this month.
With little or no investment, the water department can secure, at premium prices, upwards of $300,000 a year in fresh revenues, a hefty infusion for its $2.5 million annual budget. Ulster would get a very large new taxpayer, renting and improving almost 415,000 square feet of space (about 10 acres) near the old IBM complex in Lake Katrine. Upwards of 120 jobs are projected at full buildout.
The city’s water system has a stated capacity of 8 million gallons a day, but is currently using only about 3.5 million. Another 1.8 million gallons for the bottling plant would bring usage to about two-thirds capacity.
Fifty years ago when IBM arrived with similar demands on the water system — actually, a minimum of 1 million gallons a day, seldom reached — that deal was trotted out behind marching bands. Things change in half a century, even in Ulster County. These days the concerns are more about preserving water and the environment, than splashing it on the next big developer with deep pockets.