One of the questions following Ulster County Exec Mike Hein’s designation last month as one of the nine top public officials in the country by Washington-based Governing Magazine was whether he nominated himself. How else, wags wondered, would a national publication with a circulation of about 80,000 find an official to honor in a place called Ulster County located somewhere between Albany and Yonkers?
Among the numerous questions I asked editors of Governing Magazine during phone interviews was whether they had regrets over any choices. “Well, it happens,” the editor responded. “We had a bad run a few years back. There was this fellow named Eliot Spitzer. We nominated him when he was attorney general.”
Nominees are thoroughly vetted, and who nominated them probably doesn’t affect the results of the screening. But the usual process is for would-be honorees or their designees to apply. That’s how it works in awards contests, like the last time I was rejected for a journalism award, oh so many years ago.
Some might recall the saga, a man-bites-dog version of the standard can’t-fight-city-hall story. That was the idea in my story, in any case. Let me extend the digression to take up half the space of this column.
My story began on a hot summer afternoon when horse and rider from the Kingston Police Department’s much-celebrated but largely useless mounted patrol crossed a homeowner’s lawn on Lipton Street off Albany Avenue and the horse acted naturally.
The homeowner, after finding this steaming pile and checking with neighbors, called the cops. Sorry, said the desk sergeant, we don’t do cleanup, that’s the DPW. DPW said the cops left it, and they could pick it up.
So the homeowner called his alderman to complain. Alderwoman Kate Fiore and husband Tony were just leaving for one of those chichi Kingston summer cocktail parties. Not a problem, said Kate, I’ll be right over. Shortly thereafter, dressed in taffeta and heels, with bucket and trowel, the alderwoman dealt directly with her constituent’s problem.
The homeowner was pleased. “Best rose bushes I ever had,” she told me later.
A few days later, at the height of the heat wave, I was cooling off after work with radio chums Ward Todd, Bill Skilling and Joe Schuler at the Hoffman House. In walked a scantily clad lovely young woman in what looked like barely more than a bikini. Cool drinks were offered, and quickly she became our newest best friend.
Todd, ever the toastmaster, did introductions. “I’m Ward Todd of WKNY,” he said in that ever-recognizable voice.
“Oh, I’ve heard you on the radio,” our new friend responded.
“And this is Bill Skilling from WGHQ,” Todd said as Bill hoisted a cold one.
“Oh, I’ve heard you on the radio,” she said. That our new friend was not particularly glib was not held against her by her middle-aged admirers.
“This is Joe Schuler from… “Oh, I’ve heard you,” etc.
It was my turn. “And this,” Todd said, giving me a verbal drum roll, “is Hugh Reynolds from the Daily Freeman.”
“Who?” she replied, looking bored.
The radiomen coughed up their mint juleps.
“Hugh Reynolds,” Todd repeated, trying to save me further embarrassment. “You know, City Beat [the name of my column].”
“Are you the guy who wrote that column about the horse stuff [she didn’t say stuff]?” she exclaimed. “I loved that story!”
Backatcha, radio guys.
They did not approve
A few weeks later, my managing editor came around the newsroom asking reporters for entries for the annual state publishers’ association awards. At that stage of my career I was leaving that stuff to younger reporters to better pad their résumés.
That year the paper was hoping to win something in the columnist category, so the boss asked me for an entry. I protested, but he begged. With the exception of politicians, I hated to see grown men cry. Figuring our young friend from the Hoffman House might be on to something, I volunteered the column on the mounted patrol.
After a month or so, I got my entry back in a plain brown envelope with an Ohio return address. Inside, a woman who identified herself as an editor of a small-town newspaper and a contest judge, enclosed a brief but complimentary note. She had found the column interesting, well-written, and descriptive. But it was unacceptable. “We do not approve of scatology,” she wrote.
I had no idea what she meant by well-written. “Any of you folks ever heard the word ‘scatology?’” I asked my colleagues. Blank stares.
Out of curiosity, an absolute requisite for reporters, I gave the contest judge in Ohio a call. We bantered a bit, exchanging war stories. She explained the note after a while, said she had been taken aback after a long day of judging by the content of the column.
I told her the main reason I didn’t enter journalism contests, other than fear of losing, was that people outside our reading area didn’t get my stuff and that I didn’t care. We were a local, local newspaper in those days.
“Maybe you missed my point,” I told her. “Sometimes this can be a horseshit town.”
“Oh,” she said.
Imagination runs wild …
Not being privy to the goings-on in the county executive wing but possessed of a lively imagination, I have to think that applying for the Governing Magazine award could have been something like this:
“Yo, Mike,” said an assistant on the lookout for opportunities to praise the county executive. “We do a lot of good things around here. We should get the word out.”