The barnburner campaign I had hoped for in the 103rd Ulster-Dutchess Assembly district, Kevin Cahill versus Kevin Roberts, has been something of a fizzle.
It seemed as though all the elements were in place, Cahill as villain, Roberts as accuser. Cahill set the stage last year, said his detractors, by holding up the 1 percent sales tax extension for two months, thus, again according to detractors, chief among them County Executive Mike Hein, costing the county some $5.2 million and the City of Kingston about $600,000 in revenue. When Cahill made his willingness to move sales tax legislation through the state legislature, a transfer of almost $5 million a year, conditional on county Safety Net takeover and elections expenses from the towns, his critics accused him of hubris, just short of abuse of office.
Roberts, for his part, was after almost five years in the county legislature pretty much a blank slate. Having made few enemies, he carried only light baggage. He is by any fair definition a pro-Hein Republican, potentially a useful proxy in Hein’s war against the evil Cahill.
Would this Assembly contest be a referendum on the so-called Hein-Cahill sales-tax crisis? Some, among them numerous Democrats, thought Cahill had seriously wounded himself in the process, and that Hein had enhanced his chances for running without opposition in 2015.
It was not to be. With the under-funded Roberts mounting only token opposition, all that speculation went out the window. It would appear that reports of Cahill’s political demise were premature.
Cahill’s demolition of challenger Sue Zimet at party convention in June demonstrated his strength among mainline Democrats. Zimet was then challenged off of the primary ballot and has now turned her attention to mold at the town offices in New Paltz, dog parks and out-of-town developers hosing taxpayers on a student housing project. Otherwise she might still be creating anti-Cahill headlines.
Behind the scenes, Cahill’s foes must have been frustrated as the assemblyman sailed merrily along, campaign coffers brimming with cash, his campaign augmented by pots of state gold to distribute where it would do him the most good. Penniless Roberts thought himself fortunate to approach six figures in campaign support, said to be the absolute minimum for a credible run for state legislature.
Last week Cahill wowed Woodstockers with a $250,000 state grant toward renovation of the town community center. At the same time, Roberts, in contrast, might have been munching on a $2.50 hotdog somewhere in hometown Modena.
Roberts, who at least made the obligatory picnics and chicken dinners, will lose. Should he achieve a 40 percent high tide, he can at least claim a moral victory.
Cahill, a politician to his bones, will be back to Job One, figuring out some way to oust his arch-enemy from office. He says he’s been trolling for prospects, but so far, no bites. In truth, Hein, who campaigns tirelessly, will be as formidable for re-election as was Cahill.
I cannot depart this subject without throwing a bone — more of a chicken wing, really — to a former antagonist much mellowed with age.
We last saw former Republican assemblyman H. Clark Bell (1969-74) of Woodstock as an unlikely advocate of Barack Obama in 2008. Alas, that romance between diehard conservative and liberal did not last.
This year, Bell, who lost his Assembly seat to a young buzz-saw named Maurice Hinchey 40 years ago next month, has been “running” as a write-in on the Libertarian ticket for Assembly against the Kevins. I use the word in quotes since write-ins are usually on ego trips, and Lord knows Bell has been down that path.
Bell knows he can’t compete. Let’s just call this Clark on a lark. I’m predicting his over-under at around 50 votes.
I note from the official ballot that Roberts is not on the Stop Common Core/Libertarian line with Republican Rob Astorino and state Senate candidate George Amedore.
Recall the unpleasantness in New Paltz in September where an apparently overzealous Roberts campaign aide was accused of forging the name of Cahill staffer Dan Torres, a town councilman, on nominating petitions. The overly long investigation has limited Roberts to the Republican and Conservative lines, which taken together do not equal Democratic enrollment in the district.
It may not swing the election, but in the waning days of the campaign the sharp dispute between congressional rivals Chris Gibson and Sean Eldridge over federal support for poor hungry people has accelerated.
Usually termed food stamps, SNAP (for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), serves about 300,000 people in New York State, by extrapolation about 3000 in Ulster County. Eldridge says Gibson voted to cut $9 billion in SNAP funding as part of the omnibus farm bill he helped craft and which was signed by the president earlier this year.
Gibson insists he did not vote to cut anything from SNAP, and that after the farm bill passed New York State moved to increase its support of program from $1 to $20 a month per family, via the heating assistance program. The net effect, as determined by the Congressional Budget Office, Gibson said, was an $800 million annual “saving” for the federal government on a $77 billion annual poverty program.
“There were zero cuts to [food stamps] in New York,” Gibson said. “As a result of this legislation, and thanks to Governor [Andrew] Cuomo, SNAP recipients were actually getting $19 more a month in aid.” Thanks to Cuomo, that increase cost New Yorkers almost $6 million.
Eldridge, in depicting Gibson as just another cold-hearted Republican bent on balancing the federal budget on the backs of the poor, continues to accuse his opponent of cutting aid to hungry Americans.
Which candidate is blowing smoke? Based on experience, my considerable gut gives Gibson the benefit of the doubt, something Eldridge has yet to earn. Others might be more comfortable with a coin flip.
Personal note: At the risk of appearing a laggard, we journalists really try hard to sift through the sludge of politics and personalities to give readers, listeners and viewers the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Given the complexity of issues and the plethora of knaves, spinners and flat-out liars we deal with, you know it don’t come easy.
Top of the ticket
As only cave-dwelling hermits give Republican Astorino any chance against incumbent Cuomo, speculation shifted months ago to what Cuomo might do in his second term, beginning in January.
Cuomo, in that arrogant, dismissive way of his, has refused to take a position on such major issues as fracking, financing of the new Tappan Zee Bridge and locations for casino gambling. Astorino, with nothing to lose, has been out front on most issues.