Last month the Ulster County Legislature passed a resolution to appoint a study committee of legislators on the future of the county-owned railroad corridor from Kingston to Highmount. A Nov. 30 deadline was approved along with $30,000 for professional assistance. No conditions were attached. The eight-member committee was charged to hear from all sides on all issues — rail and trail or rail versus trail being foremost — along the entire 38-mile corridor.
In the days when the Israelis and the Palestinians were willing to talk to each other, the first condition for formal negotiations was that there were no conditions. Neither side was agreeable to that.
In the case of the railroad route, this policy initiative was at least a few years late. The county executive had advanced and the legislature had already approved in part a considered program for future use of the corridor. But this is an election year. The legislators have to demonstrate they do something more than hand out Pride of Ulster County awards at the beginning of their monthly sessions or read off the names of the recently dead at the end.
To me, the legislature’s willingness at least to study a major policy issue without conditions seemed noteworthy. Were they, in effect, going back to square one long after the train had left the station?
Taking note, and action, was County Executive Mike Hein. Soon after the legislature approved the study committee, he proposed a most important condition. Hein is asking the legislature to exclude the 11.5 mile stretch of abandoned and unused railroad track through the Ashokan Reservoir area from the study. Hein proposed that section of track be used only for trails.
Hein’s incursion made perfect sense to Hein. For more than a year the executive has been negotiating with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to create a trail-only scenic byway on the county-owned railroad right of way around the reservoir. Once the executive’s frequent ire-target for fouling the Esopus Creek with reservoir runoff, the DEP of late has become an ally, offering the county $1.5 million to create trails on the reservoir land. With an initial investment of $2.5 million, the DEC would establish trailheads, parking lots, ancillary structures and the like under its direct control, a point of some concern. Having approved the concept last August, some legislators are balking at the details contained in the proposed contract.
But to delay these agreements of understanding into November would, proponents argue, jeopardize the grant money and the executive dream of connecting the Ashokan to the Walkway Over the Hudson with hiker-biker trails. These are the kinds of grand visions that can catapult backwater politicians to higher office.
Dave Donaldson, a pro-railroad legislator currently being talked up as a possible primary challenger to Hein, was on the short end of the 18-4 vote last month that created the study committee. Donaldson questioned whether the county Planning Department would provide the committee with unbiased information. In other words, can we trust the administration?
The committee met for the first time last week where it elected Tracey Bartels of Gardiner its chairman. Also last week, the economic development committee met to consider Hein’s resolution, which passed 5-2 (with Bartels and Lynn Archer opposed) amid considerable grousing over executive usurpation and hell-for-leather deadlines. Two other committees will review the executive’s proposal in anticipation of full legislative action next Tuesday.
Passage of the so-called Hein Exclusion would be a double reversal. Last August the legislature approved the plan. Last month it took if off the table.
Will history repeat? Twelve votes will do it, and Hein usually has them.
And then there were three. Last weekend Ken Wishnick of New Paltz joined fellow Democrats Don Gregorius of Woodstock and Jeanette Provenzano of Kingston in announcing they would not seek reelection in November. Democrats, who hold a 13-10 (badly split) majority in the legislature and a huge enrollment advantage county-wide, need not worry. They could elect our cat Mickey in those three solid Democratic districts. And the wonderfully affectionate cat we call The Mick would fit right in. He’s neutered and easily led.
’Tis the season
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro announced for a second four-year term last week, with the usual self-congratulation on what a wonderful job he’s done. Molinaro’s nominators at convention will no doubt gild the lily. Can Hein be far behind? Democrats meet in convention in less than two weeks and they have to nominate someone.
Say what you will about former Assembly speaker Shelly Silver. When the spit hit the fan he had the good sense to step down almost immediately, albeit with a push from his caucus. Now ex-Senate majority leader Dean Skelos chose to prolong the agony for a few days more. Defiant to the end, Skelos in published reports cited an injury to his 2-year-old grandson, allegedly by an invasive press photographer, as a factor in his decision. Sir, have you no shame?
As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate these days, embattled Ulster Town Supervisor Jim Quigley was drawn into the massage-parlor controversy in his town. It seems one of the regulars drove a blue Prius, just like Big Jim’s. “I got a few calls at Town Hall about it,” he told me. But there’s a happy ending. To avoid misunderstandings, Quigley has affixed his daughter’s college bumper sticker to the back of his car.
City civil war
To the surprise of all but a few puppeteer insiders, Jeannette Provenzano announced for Kingston city alderman-at-large last week. A few days later, three-term incumbent Jim Noble announced for re-election. Stirring the stew, former assistant county planner and Democrat Jennifer Schwartz Berky announced for Provenzano’s seat in the legislature. Does anybody see a pattern here?
Asked whether she was supporting the brainy Berky, an urban planner by trade, Jenny Pro replied, “I don’t believe she’ll be the only candidate.”
I asked Provenzano why after more than 20 years in the county legislature she was now throwing her hat in the ring for alderman-at-large. She said she wanted to run four years ago after Jim Sottile retired as mayor, with the expectation that Noble would “move up.” Noble, apparently to his regret, stayed put. Noble’s relations with Mayor Shayne Gallo quickly broke down. That seems to be part of Gallo’s modus operandi: friends one day, bitter enemies the next.
A feisty 81, Provenzano figures it’s time to make her own move. “You have to be able to work with the front office,” she said. “And I’m no rubber stamp, despite what some people might say,” she added without being asked.
A call to Noble was not returned, which is not unusual. Unless media grabs this old-style pol by the lapels, call-backs are infrequent.
Noble is an interesting situation. He and Gallo barely speak, he says, to which I say a pox on both. Stealing a march on Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman (“If nominated I will not run. If elected I will not serve.”), Noble, 65, says he will not serve another four-year term with Gallo if both are re-elected. Yes, he will. If they are.
Meanwhile, Noble’s nephew, 32-year-old Steve Noble, has declared against Gallo for the Democratic nod for mayor, setting up a possible Noble-Noble ticket. Can Gallo-Provenzano be far behind?