Hugh Reynolds: Dollars are not enough

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

They say money can’t buy you love. Neither, at least in the Hudson Valley, can it buy a Congressional seat, as was demonstrated last year.

Recent reports from the Federal Elections Commission show Democrat Sean Eldridge outspent Republican Chris Gibson by better than two-to-one last year, but lost the election by a similar margin. Gibson totaled 131,594 votes to 72,479 by the challenger. With just under 205,000 eligible voters in the district, turnout was a respectable — for an off-year — at just over 61 percent.

According to the FEC, Democrat Eldridge, an Olive resident, outspent Gibson, a two-term Republican from Kinderhook, $6.37 million to $2.98 million. Eldridge contributed $4.25 million to his campaign. Infusions by outside groups added to the total by $2.2 million, ranking the 19th Congressional District one of the top five in the country in terms of total spending, according to the FEC.

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This election gave the lie to at least one old saw, that to be viable, a challenger has to outspend an incumbent by at least two to one. Probably it’s even higher, or maybe the incumbent has to be under indictment.

A spokesperson from the Washington-based Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told the Poughkeepsie Journal our 19th will again be “a top target” for 2016. Gibson, who came out of the campaign with almost $210,000 on hand, has said he isn’t running for a fourth term next year. He’ll focus on rebuilding the state Republican Party, he says.

Would-be congressional candidates next year will carefully study these returns. One troubling statistic for Democrats is how Gibson and Eldridge drew from their respective parties. Eldridge, hewing to a liberal Democratic line, attracted just 60,533 Democratic votes off a base of 143,779 (42 percent), while Gibson, presenting himself as a moderate Republican, carried almost 70 percent of 146,532 Republicans. Gibson also tallied 20,533 votes on the Conservative ticket, compared to 11,937 on Eldridge’s Working Families Party line. Figures are from the state Board of Elections.

Gibson’s personal popularity and spirited campaigning aside, it would appear the 19th has at least temporarily become a Republican-Conservative district, with even relatively liberal Ulster firmly in throe.

In other Hudson Valley congressional races, Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney outpolled Republican Nan Hayworth by a scant 3,333 votes, according to the FEC. Haworth also lost to Maloney in 2012 after serving one term.

Spending in that district topped $11 million, according to FERC, with Maloney outspending Hayworth by about $800,000.

Legislative gas

In light of Ulster County Executive Mike Hein’s swift veto of a would-be experiment with liquid-gas-fueled vans for the sheriff’s department, sponsors probably should have sent that one back to committee. It wasn’t like they didn’t get fair warning from the administration.

The proposal to convert five vehicles passed the legislature by a 14-9 vote amid howls of protest from a score of speakers that the move was just trading one fossil fuel for another. Worse, they said, two-thirds of the country’s propane is derived from fracking, which always triggers fierce opposition. It’s a wonder that some of the more zealous anti-frackers didn’t swoon right there.

While communications between the executive and legislative branches aren’t all that cordial these days, Hein had made his intentions known through Deputy Executive Ken Crannell, who told the legislature environmental committee that his boss was adverse to propane fuel. Legislature Chairman John Parete, who had advanced the idea more than a year ago, chose to roll the dice. Hein was just being petulant with his veto, Parete said, claiming, “If it’s not his idea, he won’t go for it.” It’s highly doubtful that Hein, engaged in a full-court press to capture the environmental vote, would ever have gone for “frack gas.” My description.

Hein, in his veto press release which included a pic of him surrounded by environmentalists as he wielded his veto pen, called propane “a step backward.” Investing in a vehicle technology that promoted fracking was “unconscionable,” he wrote.

Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum, a Parete ally, still thinks limited conversion to LPG for comparison purposes is a good idea and a lot cheaper than buying hybrids or all-electric vehicles.

It is unlikely that the legislature, with its 13-10 Democratic majority, will attempt to override Hein’s veto. It takes 16 votes, and they were two short the first time around.

In other action, the legislature held a well-attended public hearing on the banning of polyethylene styrene containers in Ulster County. New York City passed similar legislation last year. Formal action is expected on March 17.

Road show

To the casual observer, Hein’s portrayal of Hein’s six years in office is pretty impressive. Hein brought his road show for the seventh time to the Kingston Area Chamber of Commerce last week, replete with slides, videos, graphs, photos and charts. The star of the show was the executive himself. Relaxed, conversational, at times humorous but mostly serious, the executive conveyed the image of an experienced visionary deeply committed and engaged in the job of governing.

And if he exaggerates now and then, well, that’s poly-biz. Example: Hein has repeatedly stated that the county was either on the verge of “bankruptcy” when he took office in January 2009 or that his policies since then have avoided bankruptcy. And this from a former banker.

“Bankruptcy” is not a word the chairman of the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee throws around. Then and now, committee Chairman Richard Gerentine of Marlboro called Hein’s comments “hyperbole.”

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“I was not aware of any financial distress of any type,” he said. “We had problems like everybody else, but we got through it. We had healthy fund balances within the guideless recommended by the [state] comptroller.”

The main reason they had those healthy balances was Republicans imposed a 39 percent property tax increase in 2006. Democrats took over the legislature the next year.

At the chamber breakfast there were few surprises. Most of Hein’s topics have been visited via numerous press releases time over time.

Hein’s description of both train-only and trail-only proponents as “extremists” raised eyebrows in one camp, hope in another. At last count, there was virtually no one on the fringe, though Hein started out there before offering a rail-trail compromise in December. (Recall his now abandoned plans to rip up some 15 miles of track from Phoenicia to Highmount for a walking trail and a halt of tourist trains from Kingston to the Hurley Flats.) The new image being presented is of a reasonable leader willing to compromise. There was one program note I’d like to advance from the media sector. From time immemorial, yea, back decades to the days of the now-ailing former chamber director Len Cane, 85, speakers have been asked to allow a 15-minute question-and-answer period at the end of what are usually 45-minute speeches. For some breakfast attendees, the Q&A, almost always civil and usually informative, is the best part of the program. At the least, it allows the audience to play a part.

Hein, in his last two chamber speeches, has talked straight through the once-sacrosanct Q&A. Once can be understood (time flies at the podium); after that it sounds deliberate.

But why? Since this guy has such command of his material, he should welcome questions from the audience.

Letters

Though I had earnestly prayed we would avoid another “Cahill sales-tax crisis” this year, the first shot of what may be a permanent state of war was fired this Tuesday.

Under the usual screaming headlines, the Daily Movement announced that Ways and Means Chairman Gerentine had sent a letter asking Assemblyman Kevin Cahill if he had any conditions for renewal of the county’s 1 percent sales-tax extension. Last year, Cahill held up legislative passage for two months in exchange for the county taking over safety net and election expenses from the towns and the city. The legislature took the first formal step in regular session last week in unanimously petitioning the state legislature to pass the extension.

There is one comment

  1. Walter

    Hein has suddenly become Mr. Environmentalist for one simple reason: he’s trying feverishly to deter the Hudson Valley Green Party from running their own candidate next year for Congress, which would severely impact his own chances of being Gibson’s successor. Given that Hein was a registered Republican for years, and only switched over to enroll as a Democrat for political expediency, the Greens are not going to easily be fooled by his new found environmentalist streak.

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