Hugh Reynolds: John Faso will run

John Faso. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

John Faso. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Time is beginning to run short for Republican candidates seeking to succeed retiring GOP Congressman Chris Gibson next year. Republican party chairs from the 11-county 19th Congressional District will meet in Coxsackie on Dec. 9 to iron out the rules for an expected June 24 primary. Petitioning for both parties begins in February. Party conventions are planned for March.

Three Republican candidates have been widely mentioned, but only one, former assemblyman and gubernatorial candidate John Faso of Kinderhook, has officially declared. Assemblyman Peter Lopez of Schoharie, whose district includes Saugerties, and Mike McLauglin of the capital district have also indicated interest, as has businessman Andrew Heaney of Millbrook.

“As far as I know, all of them have contacted Republican chairmen in the district,” Ulster GOP Chairman Roger Rascoe said last Saturday. “There may be more. It’s a free country. Anybody can run. It’s sort of like the Republican contest for president.”

Advertisement

Roscoe said his frequent contacts with fellow county leaders indicated most want an “open and fair primary,” if it comes to that.

Gibson, 51, frequently mentioned for state office, has taken a hands-off position on would-be successors, despite close ties to Faso. The two men live only a block apart in Kinderhook. Gibson’s children attended Ichabod Crane High School near Kinderhook, as did Faso and his children. Faso’s wife has been a nurse at the school for about 20 years.

Back in 2010, Faso was instrumental in getting Gibson, a recently retired Army colonel, involved in politics. Gibson was elected to the first of three terms that year. Faso said he first met Gibson when the future soldier graduated from Siena College in 1983. “I knew he had tremendous potential,” he said.

Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, a Democrat seeking a third term in November, though often mentioned for Congress, hasn’t ruled out a run. Nor has he committed to completing a four-year term as executive should he defeat Republican challenger Terry Bernardo of Rochester.

Gibson routed millionaire Sean Eldridge of Shokan with almost 63 percent of the vote last year. Eldridge, 28, has said he won’t run again.

The unofficially undeclared Lopez said he was well aware of approaching deadlines. “You just can’t swing from a vine and start yelling at the last minute,” he said. “We’ll have something definitive to say in the next week or two.”

The sprawling 19th CD runs from the Hudson Valley on the northern end of both sides of the river to the Southern Tier and into the Adirondacks. It contains more than 700,000 residents. Republicans hold a narrow 7,000-vote edge in enrollment. Democratic strength is centered in Ulster County, the largest full county in the district, and in northern Dutchess County. (Most of Dutchess, population-wise, lies in the 18th.)

Faso, 63, was elected to eight terms in the Assembly from Kinderhook, ending in 2002, the last two as minority leader. He lost a narrow race for comptroller against incumbent Democrat Alan Hevesi in 2002 but was soundly defeated in a run for governor against Eliot Spitzer in 2006.

Out of politics for almost a decade and considered a has-been in some quarters, Faso says the state of the nation — not to mention an open seat for Congress — lured him back. “It’s not because I’m a glutton for punishment,” he said of his two failed runs for state office. “I am not content to stand on the sidelines and howl into the darkness.”

Faso, now a corporate attorney and lobbyist, describes himself as a “right-of-center conservative Republican,” like Gibson. Congress needs people willing to reach agreement on the important issues facing the nation, he says, parroting a popular line. .

A practicing Catholic, Faso is pro-life but says “the law is the law and it’s not about to change.”” He opposes public funding for abortions, a status Gibson and Congress reiterated last week.

He doesn’t take sides in the crowded Republican field for president, other than to say, “Discourse has to be focused on issues in a direct and respectful way.” Faso, during a long public career, was usually direct, but not always respectful.

Known for hardball politics while in the Assembly and in his runs for state office, Faso may be remembered in Ulster County political circles for managing — or mismanaging — the 1998 Assembly campaign of Republican Sean Mathews against Democrat Kevin Cahill. Narrowly defeated in 1994 after one term, Cahill was attempting a comeback in what was then still a Republican district in enrollment. The Albany-based Republican Assembly Campaign Committee (RACC), under Faso’s direction as minority leader, conducted what some saw as an unusually negative campaign against the former assemblyman. Cahill, with strong support from his party campaign committee and an effective grassroots campaign, scored a decisive victory. He has not lost since. “We ran what we believed to be a tough-but-fair campaign,” said an unrepentant Faso last week.

Asked whether he had mellowed over time, Faso replied, “It’s pretty tough to be mellow, given the state of the nation these days.”

The annual Ulster County Republican dinner, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at The Château in Kingston, will feature state GOP Chairman Ed Cox. Information is available at (914) 443-6439.

Budget blitz

Considering that Ulster County taxes account for less than 14 percent of the pounds of flesh elected officials exact from taxpayers every year — school taxes are almost five times as much — a 1 percent reduction won’t send many people rushing off to the malls. But as symbolism, a miniscule tax cut and a reduction in spending for the second year in a row signals to taxpayers that somebody is managing the store. Which is exactly what next year’s county budget is meant to convey in this election year.

That budgets drawn up in the deepest secrecy are also political instruments is beside the point. It’s the bottom line that counts. The budget County Exec Hein presented last week can only help him at the polls.

Most of the county legislators who will pass judgment on that budget within the next two months don’t have any real idea how it was put together. They’ll gladly take any budget that cuts taxes and reduces spending as a good thing.

But there is one statistic that rarely gets mentioned in feel-good budget presentations: While the tax levy has been relatively flat over the past few years, property values have declined. In effect, we’re paying almost the same taxes on property worth a good deal less in today’s markets.

It would be unfair and inaccurate to say that legislators have no input on the budget, despite budget-making being a jealously guarded matter of executive policy. Pet projects and legislative programs strategically embedded in the bowels of the budget produce the near-unanimous votes for its approval every December.

Republican candidate for executive Terry Bernardo, like her former colleagues, seemed all but speechless after the annual budget was presented at the Kingston Center of SUNY Ulster last week. At the beginning of this week, she hadn’t yet said anything about it. She is hoping, however, to eke out a germ of political advantage from the famous Hein hubris contained in his budget message.

Hein, who oftentimes creates the narrative, apparently believes county history began when he took office as executive in January 2009. That he was the county administrator who prepared three budgets before then is either ancient history or completely forgotten.  Hein consistently decries the county’s fiscal calamities leading up to his first inaugural, using words like “dire.” The county was on the verge of bankruptcy, he has said.

In this year’s budget message, Hein again reminded us that county taxes increased by 115 percent through fiscal 2007 to 2009. Hein should know. He prepared those budgets as administrator, and the county legislature dutifully approved them, as it had with almost every administrative budget dating since the appointed administrator system went into effect in the early 1980s.

Bernardo will attempt to make political hay of Hein’s budget history. Could it work?