“Do you have any idea what happened last night?” a befuddled Republican committeeman asked me the day after the county committee rejected one and possibly two candidates for Ulster County executive.
I had some idea, of course. I was there last week for the carefully contrived finale where party chairman Roger Rascoe rejected nominations from the floor for county executive and Family Court judge, two of the three countywide offices on the ballot this November, and then called for (and quickly got) a motion and a second to adjourn. It was over before anybody had a chance to do anything.
Former legislature chairwoman Terry Bernardo came to the convention with the idea she could be nominated for county executive. Don Wise of the Town of Ulster was also telling some delegates he would consider a nomination for executive. By the process of inductive reasoning and with results now in hand, it can safely be presumed that somebody got to the barn before Bernardo and Wise. As cops like to say, persons of interest abound.
There is of course, chairman Rascoe, who with one fell swoop disenfranchised his entire county committee, with the possible exception of a few plotters in the palace guard (GOP executive committee). Called to convention to nominate candidates for county offices, delegates were denied the opportunity even to debate.
Before this act played out, Rascoe emphasized his “hard-working” 27-member executive committee. Who were these hard workers working for? Notable too was the chairman’s call for transparency and a level playing field.
There were other interested parties, like the Democrats. We hear a lot these days about politicians being unable or unwilling to work with each other, to compromise, to find the middle ground. More often than not, party leaders on the local level choose the path of least resistance, which sometimes means making deals with the opposition which preclude competitive elections. Though I can’t prove that’s what happened here, working politicians being masters of deceit, half-truth and obfuscation, the outcome speaks volumes. Roger Rascoe, no rocket scientist he, did not come up with this complicated scheme on his own.
Though perhaps not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Rascoe is no fool. If he did make a deal with the Dems, which he denies, it is presumed he or his party got something in return: a road paved, a relative hired, a party favorite unopposed, a no-bid contract for a close friend, access to power, the usual coin of politics. In other words, business as usual.
In my experiences, favors like that only come from on high.
About Terry Bernardo
I don’t know whether Bernardo will secure the nearly 1,300 valid signatures necessary to get on the GOP ticket for November. In practical terms, she needs at least twice as many because, as sure as Heinz sells pickles, every dot, dash and letter will be challenged. Should her petition drive be anything like her quest for party nomination, her effort will start late, stumble, wander and fall. Not to discourage the candidate, but it takes more than a gee-whiz idea at the 11th hour (more like 11:59) to mount an effective political campaign.
Terry Bernardo, chairwoman of the county legislature for two years, sat quietly rereading her acceptance speech as the convention wound down toward adjournment before goading her nominators into acting. That suggests she might not be all that facile with the rigorous, sometimes surprising give-and-take of a live-wire campaign. Anyone challenging two-term incumbent Democrat Mike Hein had better come loaded for bear, and with a well-considered game plan.
Let’s rehash, as we say at the Stadium Diner. It appears Bernardo put together this “campaign” over the May 30-31 weekend. That she told almost no one is not unusual, stealth being the first rule of politics. That as reported she didn’t mention it to her husband Len Bernardo, chairman of the Independence Party and a candidate for county executive in 2008, is at least curious. Maybe he was busy at the understaffed (at least in the eyes of Hein) Skate Time roller rink they own in Accord.
That Len Bernardo was miffed after being blindsided by his wife was evidenced by his asking fellow chairman Rascoe to pull the plug on the Republican nomination. In turn, the fiercely independent Terry says she doesn’t have to ask her husband or anyone else permission to run for public office. Kudos to that, but there are common courtesies between cohabiting couples. For their sake, I’m hoping this local power pair gets past this bump, much like Hillary and Bill. Right now, it doesn’t sound like happy days in the Bernardo household.
For sure, both carry baggage after more than six years in the spotlight. Wheeler-dealer Len was never been a favorite with major party chairman who saw his Indies as annoying meddlers. More often than not, the tail (Bernardo) wagged the dog. Now it’s payback.
There was another aspect to Bernardo’s aborted run to nomination. Just before delegates filed into the nicely refurbished Chateau restaurant and banquet hall in Kingston (formerly Hillside Manor and before that LeHerb’s), she mentioned two advisors to her campaign. Former congressman John Sweeney and former state Supreme Court judge Tom Spargo were helping out, she said.
My jaw hit the pavement. I reminded Bernardo that Sweeney lost his seat to Kirsten Gillibrand amid charges of his spousal abuse in 2008, while Spargo was defrocked and sent to federal prison the year after upon conviction for shaking down lawyers before him for campaign contributions.
But Spargo is a recognized expert on election law, she said. So is former assemblyman H. Clark Bell of Woodstock, and with no such baggage, I suggested. Imagine what the righteous Hein would have done with that ammo.
As if a strong challenge from a well-placed and determined opponent weren’t enough, Saugerties/Ulster county legislator Dean Fabiano now has the burden of explaining a DWAI arrest (substantially reduced in Woodstock town court) in January 2014. The story broke in the Times Herald-Record last month.
According to the five-term Republican, he had a few pops with buds at Hot Rocks bar in Barclay Heights, not far from his home: “two drinks and a cheeseburger.” After that he was pulled over by a Saugerties town cop for an improper turn.
According to Fabiano, his blood-alcohol content tested at 0.06 percent (.08 is the legal limit for DWI) and he was charged with driving while ability impaired by alcohol. Cops drove him home. Both Saugerties town justices recused themselves, and the case was shifted to Woodstock. Fabiano pleaded to a minor traffic infraction, paid a $400 fine and attended the classes required by law. Under a plea bargain, charges were dismissed six months later.
What lingers on the Saugerties hot line is whether the five-term county legislator was treated differently than say, Joe Sixpack with a few drinks and a cheeseburger under his belt. Town police chief Joe Sinagra didn’t return a phone call.