Hugh Reynolds: Ancient wisdom

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

Bill Carey was a New York City cop. He walked a beat in Hell’s Kitchen. One evening he was called to a neighborhood bar to deal with an unruly patron. The bar owner said the man had drunk up his pay. Afraid to face his wife and large brood, he had become disorderly and abusive. The owner wanted him arrested.

“You took the man’s money,” Officer Carey replied. “You can take the man’s abuse.”

Bill Carey, my maternal grandfather, died at 39, five years before I was born. His widow and his children were forever telling stories about the man in the picture they called Daddy.

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Which brings me to a nice piece of investigative journalism by the Daily Freeman. Perusing campaign spending reports, which are public record and readily available on-line, the local daily reported that County Executive Mike Hein had received some $12,500 in campaign donations between 2012 and 2014 from different parties seeking to establish medicinal marijuana farms in the county. Saugerties has been mentioned in media reports.

There appears to be fierce competition for these licenses. The state health department will issue only five statewide. Some 43 applications have been received, according to the Freeman report.

Hein, questioned by the Freeman, insisted that he was not influenced by contributions in any event and that said contributions had nothing to do with county policy. If something was good for the county economy, he would promote it, he said.

There of course two sides to these arrangements, givers and takers, and seekers and givers. (Is that four sides?) And there can be consequences, though politicians will always say any connection between a gift and a give was purely coincidental.

Look at it from the side of the giver. These are for the most part savvy, even cynical business types who understand the political facts of life. Money buys access, at the least, and hopefully more. Would these hard-nosed businesspeople donate large sums of money to politicians with no regard to their business interests?

This is not to indict Hein for doing business — at the least, taking the money — that raises local eyebrows. Denials notwithstanding, billions of dollars are raised on the state and national levels.

Public financing of campaigns might go a long way toward taking some of the money out of politics, but public financing is more a gleam in the eyes of good-government types than a thought in the minds of givers and takers. People tend to stick with systems that work for them. And these people control the system.

Last week we mentioned state Sen. John Bonacic’s contributions from casino interests. This latest exposure of giving and taking is uncomfortable timing for the county executive, launched as he is on his first competitive election in seven years.

Let’s accept the denials for now. But let’s not forget the sage advice of Granddaddy Carey.

You took the man’s money.

Catskill high

The long-delayed grand opening of the Maurice Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center at Mount Tremper, now scheduled for July 1 at 1 p.m., didn’t proceed without a last-minute snafu. In the planning and construction stages for 30 years, the official dedication had been delayed a week. There was quibbling about who had caused the delay. Unofficially but coming from official sources, it was charged that the latest postponement was caused by the state legislature’s late-running session. They couldn’t have a grand opening without all the dignities there, after all.

Not everybody bought it. Groused Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, “They [the state Department of Environmental Conservation] never invited the legislature, least of all me, and I got the money [along with state Sen. Bonacic] for the center.”

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Cahill blamed the executive branch (the DEC) for the delay, surmising that the opening was postponed because Gov. Andrew Cuomo wasn’t available. At the time Hizzoner was hogging the spotlight as law enforcement scoured the wilderness around Clinton County in search of two escaped murderers. There was good-humored speculation that Cuomo might have wanted to make a grand entrance on his Harley to the Hinchey site off Route 28. Ride the Catskills indeed. That could not be confirmed.

We hope the center evolves in due time to become, like Hinchey, a Catskills icon.

For the money

Say what you will about county legislators lobbying for a pay hike, at least they raised the issue in an election year when voters can get at them.

Legislators Ken Ronk, Republican minority leader, and former chairman Dave Donaldson, the legislature’s second-ranking Democrat, pitched a pay raise for themselves and their colleagues before the wage compensation board last week. It might be noted that neither legislator faces an opponent in the fall elections. The advisory board meets once every two years to make recommendations on salaries of non-union county workers.

Ulster legislators last had their base salaries increased from $8,000 a year to $10,000 in 2001. Party leaders, like Ronk, pull an extra $2,500. The legislature chairman is paid $19,500, has an office with a view and staff, and gets his or her portrait hung in the legislative chambers.

At first blush, legislators going for more than 14 years without a raise would seem long overdue. But things change, even in Ulster. Back in 2006, voters approved a charter that created the executive form of government. Before that, the legislature, with the assistance of a county administrator, ran things. The executive system went into effect in 2009, rendering, experience suggests, the legislative branch close to irrelevant.

Sure, they meet in committees all through the month and vote on thick packets of legislation at their third-Tuesday-of-the-month regular meetings. But everyone knows the county executive runs things.

Given their sharply curtailed duties and responsibilities, a case could be made for paying legislators even less and thinning their ranks to boot. The ’06 charter, which downsized the legislature from 33 to 23, didn’t go far enough.

Brian Woltman. (Photo provided)

Brian Woltman. (Photo provided)

Late arrivals

Kingston legislative candidate Brian Woltman asked me why I had referred to his “last-minute candidacy” when his opponent for the Democratic nomination from Kingston, Jennifer Schwartz Berky, had announced only a few hours later. “We were both last-minute candidates,” he said. Good point.

Schwartz Berky is very much with the “new Kingston” contingent that supports Steve Noble, Gallo’s opponent in the Democratic primary.

As Woltman, a member of the Shayne Gallo administration, explained, nobody had known that 11-term county Legislator Jeanette Provenzano would not be running for reelection until she announced a few days before last month’s Democratic nominating convention she was a candidate for Kingston alderman-at-large.

I don’t know about that “nobody.” Provenzano, a practiced pol, would have notified the mayor, who supports her candidacy, and other city-hall insiders before going public. Jenny Pro knows that insiders don’t like to read about these things in the paper.

Years ago I got into the habit of referring to Republican campaign contributors as “fat cats.” One such accosted me at a local fundraiser for George Pataki. “How come you always calls us fat cats?” he asked. “There are fat cats on the other side, too.”

True. Now I don’t call anybody fat.

 

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