Hugh Reynolds: Terry Bernardo’s leap of faith

Terry Bernardo. (Photo: Dan Barton)

Terry Bernardo. (Photo: Dan Barton)

Will she or won’t she was the question circulating among the political class just prior to this week’s Ulster County Republican convention. But a funny thing happened on former legislature chairwoman Terry Bernardo‘s way to the Republican nomination. Robert’s Rules of order and Bernardo’s tactical stumbles left her reading her acceptance speech to a group of perplexed reporters. She says she’ll run via the petition process.

Given the dearth of prominent Republican women in this county, it doesn’t take a Nostradamus to dope out that former legislature chairwoman Bernardo might have had her hat in the ring for county executive before she actually said she was running on Wednesday at the county GOP convention.

But it didn’t play out as she had planned.

Bernardo’s supporters, with Bernardo clutching her acceptance speech in the audience,  made the fatal mistake of waiting until a motion for adjournment to attempt to nominate her from the floor. Party chairman Roger Rascoe, citing Robert’s Rules, ruled that no motion of any kind could be made after a motion for adjournment. The convention was adjourned immediately after.

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Members of the media questioned Bernardo and Rascoe to learn that Bernardo had informed the chairman of her interest in running only the day before at a meeting of the state Republican committee in Albany .

Rascoe said Bernardo had never approached the 27-member GOP county executive committee to inform it of her candidacy. “That’s our protocol and she didn’t follow it,” he said.

Bernardo felt she had every right to be nominated by rank and file committee members and was so prepared Wednesday night at the party’s annual nominating convention at The Chateau in Kingston.

Roscoe, who denied a deal with Democrats to give two-term incumbent Mike Hein a free ride, pointed out that nominations at convention are unofficial. Candidates still need to secure signed petitions to get on the ballot. Bernardo said she’d start that process this week. She said she hadn’t decided whether she would appear before the GOP executive committee when it meets in regular session next Thursday in Kingston.

Reached between Pilates classes on Monday at her Town of Rochester home, Bernardo said that “a ton of people say they want to nominate me,” and even named a few.

“We do need somebody to run against Hein,” she said, and launched into a few would-be campaign themes like jobs, jobs and more jobs, blaming Hein for the county’s economic  constriction.  The tenor of her message was vaguely reminiscent of her husband Len’s unsuccessful 2008 campaign against Hein. “She’s a lot better than me,” explained Len, chairman of the county Independence Party.

Hein was nominated by acclimation for a third term last week by Democrats, and wasn’t expected to face opposition from a disorganized, moribund Republican Party. That was then. Apparently the prospect of Hein running unopposed for another term rattled a few cages in the Grand Old Party. Or maybe it was those snarky comments about giving people a choice.

As laid out by discreet sources, Bernardo, after losing her bid for a third term in the legislature two years ago, isn’t given much of a chance against the well-heeled incumbent. No matter. The object apparently is to “bloody” Hein, to force him to defend his record and to spend down a six-figure campaign war chest in order to discourage or make exceedingly more difficult Hein’s potential run for Chris Gibson’s seat in Congress next year.

Hein has never said he planned to run, mind you. Neither has he discouraged speculation that he might. It is after all, the next rung on the ladder, and open seats in Congress don’t come along every election cycle. Incumbent Gibson has said he won’t run for a fourth term next year. Both sides will be booking millions to retain or regain the seat Democrat Maurice Hinchey gave up in 2012. Barack Obama carried the district by five points that year.

Veteran Republican Assemblyman Pete Lopez of Schoharie County has his nose under the tent, as does former assemblyman John Faso of Kinderhook. Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, who lives in Tivoli, which anchors the Columbia-Dutchess part of Gibson’s 11-county district, is busy building a plurality upon which he could base a Congressional run, if need be. Rhinebeck Democrat Terry Gipson, bounced out of the state Senate last fall, was heard on WAMC a while back saying he might be interested. And of course there’s last year’s seldom-mentioned Democratic candidate, Sean Eldridge of Shokan. Eldridge has millions under the mattress and really not much to do except spread seed money around the district.

County execs Marc Molinaro and Mike Hein converse during Gov. Cuomo’s visit to Kingston last year. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

County execs Marc Molinaro and Mike Hein converse during Gov. Cuomo’s 2013 visit to Kingston. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Terry Bernardo, as stalking horse, and that seems to be the track she is pursuing, will have sufficient firepower and then some to make campaign 2015 at least annoying for the county’s one and only executive. Sources indicate a team of Beltway knee-cappers who truly relish demolishing the record and character of opponents is at this moment sharpening its knives. That these operatives could find skeletons in the closet of John the Baptist must be disquieting for the notoriously thin-skinned but seldom-pummeled incumbent. Bernardo, hardly anybody’s idea of an attack dog, will only need to smile at public functions and limit debates with her opponent.

Should Bernardo continue, county executive will provide the only real race on the ballot this year. Republicans hope a well-fueled candidate at the top of the ticket could carry a few of their marginal legislative candidates to a majority in next year’s county legislature. In the end, it’s all about next year.

Conventional thinking

As in Gotham, parts of Jersey, New Paltz and Woodstock, it’s assumed that whoever secures the Democratic nomination (for Kingston mayor) in the September primary will be elected in November.

It happened four years ago when convention nominee Hayes Clement failed to hold off challenger Shayne Gallo by seven votes. Gallo went on to bury GOP nominee Ron Polacco, who had won his ticket to the general election by just 10 votes over Andi Turco-Levin at primary.

Under the heading of déjà vu all over again, a similar same scenario could play out this year following Gallo’s loss at the city Democratic convention last week to Steve Noble by a weighted vote of 1,365 to 1,045 (57-43). Or at least Gallo hopes it does.

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It was a grand night for the Nobles, what with uncle Jim Noble easily securing renomination for alderman-at-large by crushing challenger Jeanette Provenzano by a more than 2-1 margin and nephew Steve edging an incumbent mayor. By now, Provenzano, who should have known better, must appreciate that old saw about knives and gunfights. After more than 20 years in the trenches as committeeman, alderman and two-term council president, Jim Noble is a known quality among Democrats, and obviously popular. Ten-term county legislator Provenzano is too, but not as a city official.

Steve Noble. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Steve Noble. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Provenzano, who hasn’t faced an opponent in years, will find “Gentleman Jim” as formidable on the campaign trail as he was at convention. An old-time pol, Noble makes friends, not enemies — a sharp contrast to Gallo, his erstwhile running mate four years ago. That there may be too many Nobles on the ticket will fuel charges of nepotism, but then nepotism is only offensive when it’s somebody else’s relative.

Provenzano, if she takes this uphill fight, will bring flair and no doubt fire to what has been since 1896 a colorless office. She is at best a long shot.

Meanwhile, Gallo, who hardly broke a smile during the entire 90-minute convention, shrugged off the outcome, charging “cronyism and nepotism” (the Nobles), something he says (to guffaws) that doesn’t happen in his administration. The outcome, he said, was entirely predictable, which means he probably, as master of elocution Dizzy Dean used to say, should have stood in bed.

He’ll win in September, he said.

By more than seven votes?

For sure, he replied. Things are different this time. He has a record to run on. Young Noble, who doesn’t have a record to run on, like Gallo in 2011, can’t wait to get at it.

Attempting to plug a gaping hole in his resume, Gallo vowed that the infamous sinkhole on Washington Avenue “will be open by fall.” I’m guessing Nov. 2, the day before the election. Traffic has been detoured since spring of 2011.

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