What with kissing dogs, garbage collection, electric cars and a host of other issues, it’s been a busy campaign week in the race for Ulster County executive.
With the usual fanfare, Democratic candidate Mike Hein signed legislation creating an animal abuse registry to protect animals against human predators. If a photo of a dog happily licking the exec’s beaming face wasn’t enough, one shot from behind showed a dog’s paw resting on Hein’s shoulder as he signed the legislation. Though I’ve seen a lot of staged photos over a long career in journalism, this one took the cake. For animal-loving voters, a county registry with stiff penalties for offenders gives the authorities a leg up on those who would abuse helpless critters.
Election Day looms only two weeks from next Tuesday. Hein and Republican candidate Terry Bernardo will meet in debate at George Washington School in Kingston on October 26 at 7 p.m. Green Party candidate Hunter Downie, 18, has also been invited.
Bernardo took on a few familiar issues. She questioned Hein’s shifting some $2.5 million in Resource Recovery Agency subsidies from the county budget away from the trash agency, a bill she voted against as a county legislator. To meet its budget, the RRA has raised tipping fees it charges haulers — which naturally get charged back to consumers. Taxpayers, she asserts, are paying double — first to the RRA and secondly to the county.
Hein reduced the county property tax levy by some $800,000 in his 2016 budget, but “kept” the rest for other purposes, by Bernardo’s calculation.
Bernardo also criticized Hein’s executive order establishing free outlets for electric cars at various locations. Legislative counsel says that’s a no-no, since by law the county cannot give away public goods and services to private parties. Lawyers will haggle until well after Election Day.
I was hoping it might go the other way, allowing me to fill up with gas on Friday and hand the bill to the county executive.
Hein won’t have the endorsement of CSEA, the county’s biggest labor union this year. But neither will Bernardo. When Hein took office in 2009, CSEA had about 1,500 county workers, according to union officials. After Hein sold the county infirmary, and with other personnel reductions, union membership dropped to 900, according to union regional rep Howard Baul.
The private owners of Golden Hill cut the workforce by about 10 percent, but with drastically reduced benefits. “We got slaughtered on health care,” Baul said. CSEA still represents workers at the infirmary. “It was automatic, since they kept one more than half the workers,” Baul said.
Baul considers the two-year contract Hein negotiated with what’s left of the county CSEA “no better but not a lot worse” than other municipal contracts. Hein, who doesn’t respond to requests for comment from this columnist, calls those contracts fair for workers and county taxpayers. Advantage Hein, though it does speak to the human cost of all this cost-cutting.
Bile between the job-slashing executive and CSEA dates to at least 2011 when the union, after endorsing him in 2008, withheld its support. He ran unopposed that year so it didn’t much matter. It might on Nov. 3.
The Tuesday, Oct. 20 Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast mayoral debate, just two weeks before the election, could be important for the candidates. Or not.
Democrat Steve Noble and Republican Ron Polacco will face the usual breakfast business crowd of 240 or so at the Best Western Hotel in Kingston. Neither is a notable public speaker, but chamber audiences, the largest crowd they’ll face this year, always treat their guests as, well, guests.
The format hasn’t changed in decades. Candidates, introduced to polite applause, offer their resumes and sketches of platforms, followed by questions from the audience.
Campaign literature and public statements to date indicate little difference between the pair. Noble, a first-time candidate, has the Working Families Party endorsement, which indicates a more liberal approach. Polacco, a former two-term alderman and the Republican candidate for mayor in 2011, has the Conservative and Independence Party lines, suggesting what those party labels imply.
Both candidates, no doubt, will present themselves as “moderates” with appeal to all. Elections are not won from the fringe.
The media doesn’t get to ask questions during chamber programs, which is fine, since we have reasonable access to candidates willing to talk. But the question I hear most often about both candidates is whether they are qualified to become mayor. Neither Polacco nor Noble has the kind of administrative experience one would hope for in a chief executive responsible for running a $40 million operation with some 250 employees and more than 23,000 constituents.
But then again, no mayor in the past five decades, with the possible exception of Ray Garraghan (1966-69), had that kind of experience, and miraculously Kingston is still on the map. Under the heading of possibly meaningful statistics, of the 10 mayors dating from the mid-1960s only Garraghan and Shayne Gallo (a lawyer) did not rise from the Common Council.
With the experience question on the minds of some, there seems to be a nascent movement toward a city manager form of government, something voters narrowly adopted in 1993, only to have it overturned at the behest of City Hall in exchange for a strong-mayor form of government the following year. Modern mayors have considerable powers under the 1994 charter.
Residents tend to be patient with newly elected officials, learning curves being a part of any new job. But this one is for the top job and god willing, for four years. There’s a budget to be administered and another due only 10 months from its start date. Hopefully, the next mayor will be a quick study.
Barring buffoonery on the part of either candidate, it is unlikely the chamber debate will move the needle much. Chamber breakfasts are a time-honored part of the process, this making — and eating — of sausage.
Bucking the tide
Janine Fallon-Mower, Republican candidate for town council in Woodstock, has channeled the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt in the face of an almost 5-1 Democratic majority in the art colony. When Roosevelt died at 76 the Wednesday after Election Day in 1962, Woodstock was solidly Republican.
JFK or his speech writers might have cribbed the familiar, “Ask not what your country can do you,” from Eleanor’s “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” Mower says the quote, prominently displayed on her campaign handouts, speaks to her philosophy of public service.
While the Mowers are a well-known and respected family in Woodstock — husband John, a scratch golfer, real-estate broker and flea marketeer, was town supervisor for two terms, ending in 1995 — Janine knows it would take a miracle for a Republican to win town office these days. Her best hope is that disgruntled Democrats, split between party nominees Jay Wenk and Laura Ricci, bolt their line and vote for (gasp!) Republican nominees Mower and Ken Panza. Democrat Panza was defeated at primary. Terms of office are four years.
Mower, 61, is a case manager for HealthAlliance and deals in real estate with her husband. She hopes at the least her quixotic quest for town office, her second in eight years, will encourage “30-to-50-year-olds” to become active in town affairs. If so, her run will not have been in vain.