One of the more curious, and troubling, incidents involving an elected official took place the afternoon of Sept. 18 in the parking area of a Tannersville swimming hole where Ulster County Legislator Chris Allen, D-Saugerties, was accused of assaulting a female Hunter-Tannersville school teacher over access to a parking space.
The story was certainly newsworthy even if initial reports sounded more like he said-she said. That changed significantly when, after an investigation by Town of Hunter and state police, Allen was charged with misdemeanor assault. He has been released on his own recognizance.
Allen, 47, is accused of yanking at a school ID badge on the neck of teacher Ritamary Montano-Vining during a verbal confrontation, causing, she said, a three-inch abrasion on the back of her neck. He calls that “a lie.” She called the cops.
There are witnesses. The teacher was there with seven of her high school students and fellow teacher George Bain on an after school roadside clean-up project when Allen pulled up to access a nearby swimming hole. A dispute broke out over a parking space between Montano-Vining and the legislator.
Allen’s identifying himself to the teacher and police as an Ulster County legislator could be an issue going forward. Presumably, he wasn’t on official duty, but if a civil suit alleging personal injury, pain and suffering was filed, creative lawyers might find a way to make a connection to the county’s deep pockets. Litigants have sued, and won, for far less.
Naturally, Saugerties is abuzz about all this. Montano-Vining is a member of the prominent Montano shoe store family, a landmark business in the village for more than a century. Sawyer native Allen, who burst on the political scene two years ago by soundly defeating seemingly entrenched Republican Bob Aiello, wrested the GOP nomination from party designee Angie Minew via write-in the Sept. 10 primary. She remains on the ballot as a Conservative.
I’ve talked to Allen and Bain about the incident. For sure, some of Allen’s charges of a political plot against him sounded lame, but he certainly appreciated the potential political consequences. Whether Sawyers stampede to Minew’s Conservative line in November, where many feel comfortable, will depend in large measure on the judicial outcome of this curious and troubling event. Ironically, Minew is a member of the Saugerties school board. With the election less than five weeks away, let’s hope the wheels of justice move swiftly in Greene County, though some reports indicate Allen’s case won’t be heard until well after the election.
Said Bain of what he described as “a bizarre event” — “To me, the man was clearly out of control. The students were pretty upset over what happened. One senior said she was very disappointed that an elected official could behave like that. I am, too.”
Allen, who knows Bain through the latter’s advocacy of the Catskill Mountain Railroad, said, “If I’m given a fair venue I will be fully exonerated of all charges.”
That said, if found guilty, Allen should immediately resign.
Delay of game
The official kick-off of Mike Hein‘s re-election campaign, staged at Le Canard Enchaine Restaurant in Uptown Kingston Monday, was to some like the NFL playing its first game on say, Sept. 28. Kinda late, as if it really doesn’t matter.
It may speak to the kinds of assumptions, if not arrogance, by a perceived odds-on favorite and his Washington-based campaign handlers of a contest that many, including some prominent Republicans, believe shouldn’t have been held at all. True believers, some of them holding high-paying jobs in the Hein administration, cannot for the world understand why anyone would challenge an executive who has done so much to “move Ulster County forward,” as his brochures claim.
Or as one high-ranker said at Hein’s kickoff, “Does Terry Bernardo really believe she can be a better executive than Mike Hein?” By inference, that means nobody.
Owing to some inter-party machinations, no Republican challenged Hein in 2011, when his first term ran out. Since then, true believers truly believe he’s gotten even better. So why challenge him now? Why not make him executive-for-life, if that’s what he wants to do?
Well, there is, believe it or not, a two-party system in this county and some people, believe it or not, want a choice at the polls even if only to shake their fists at the gods.
Truth be told, Bernardo, a former legislature chairwoman, hasn’t made much of a case for change after declaring her candidacy almost four months ago. She’ll get that chance at a League of Women Voters debate in Kingston — probably at George Washington School — on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. After some back and forth, both Hein and Bernardo have accepted that date.