Hugh Reynolds: Memory lanes

T.R. Gallo. (Photo by Beth Blis)

T.R. Gallo. (Photo: Beth Blis)

“How come nobody’s writing about the closing of Mid-City Lanes?” lamented an editor in what was shaping up as a slow news week. The long-shuttered Mid-City Lanes, just off Broadway in Midtown, will be demolished next year to make way for RUPCO’s Energy Square housing project. Unlike bowling, affordable housing has only increased in demand in recent years. In that sense, the Cedar Street property will be put to a better use.

Frankly, I hadn’t given much thought to the closing of Mid-City. It had a good run, and now it was being replaced by something more useful and necessary. Then again, buildings aren’t just bricks and mortar. They’re also about memories of what happened there.

In its day, bowling was big business in Kingston. Oldtimers may correct me on this, but at one time there were at least three busy bowling alleys in town, counting Ferraro’s “on the hill” on East Chester Street. In addition, several churches had lanes in their basements. Way back in the day, public bowling alleys, like pool halls, were considered disreputable.

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I have many a fond memory of Mid-City, or Sangi’s, as locals called it. I remember teammates, a title now and then, a winning raffle ticket, Pete the bartender, pizza, perfect games (none of them mine), characters by the score.

Then there was the night Mayor T.R. Gallo died. With bowling, you never know what’s in store. It could be the best night of your life, or your worst. This one in mid-January 2002 started out badly with an unimaginable ending.

The PA announcer called my name around 7:15. Having logged a fourth straight open frame, I approached the desk with some annoyance. What’s this, I thought, pick up a quart of milk on the way home?

It was John Parete, then county Democratic chairman. Cheeze.

As I was about to say, “Parete, didn’t I …”

He said, “I know you told me not to call you at bowling, but this is serious.”

“Serious?” I scoffed. “Jeanette and Dave are fighting about something, Cahill is … ?”

“It’s about the mayor,” he said.

“The mayor, serious … ?” I said, thinking of his on-going health issues. “Is he in the hospital again?”

“I’m hearing worse than that,” Parete said.

“Worse than … ?” I was starting to get his drift.

“Don’t hold me to this,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls. Check it out, but it could be bad.”

“You mean … ?”

“Yeah. I hope not.”

I thanked him, hung up the phone and immediately called the Freeman desk. They hadn’t heard anything. I asked them to call the cops and call me right back if anything was up.

“I’m at Mid-City, a few blocks from T.R.’s house. I can go right over,” I told the deskman.

With that, I walked back to our alleys, apparently with a troubled look.

“Anything wrong?” a teammate asked me.

Since I didn’t have confirmation, going with “The mayor might be dead” wasn’t prudent.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But if that phone rings for me in the next five minutes, it’s going to be bad news.”

I really didn’t want that phone to ring. I liked Gallo, despite our frequent differences. He was after all only 41.

“Phone call for Hugh Reynolds,” the PA system intoned above the din. Damn.

It was the Freeman. The mayor was dead. The cops were at the house. All hands on deck. “I’m on my way.”

I walked quickly back to the pits to change my gear.

“Trouble?” one of my teammate asked, reading my face.

“Yeah,” I said. “Real trouble. The mayor died.”

Shocked disbelief ran through the bowling alley, and bowlers and staff stopped me for details. There was no time.

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

Cops had the mayor’s house on Jervis Street taped off. Nobody was saying anything. Apparently, two of his golf buddies from Twaalfskill had come looking for him around five that evening. Gallo liked to finish his workday with a few pops at the Midtown golf club, knowing that “what goes down at Twaalfskill stays in Twaalfskill.” With the house locked, the two peered through a bedroom window to find the mayor, face up and fully clothed, lying on his bed. They called the cops. EMTs arrived.

That was before I got there. The official ruling was an enlarged heart as cause of death.

I saw people coming and going at his mother’s house on Andrew Street a few doors away so I walked over. I could hear voices from the kitchen as I stood alone in the living room.  Some were crying. The fireplace mantle had family photos of T.R., some with the famous people he had met as mayor, Bill Clinton, George Pataki, Hillary Clinton. Ever the intrusive newsman, I thought for a moment of grabbing a few for the paper’s next edition. A very large man stepped into the room from the kitchen and politely asked me to leave. “You’re disturbing the family,” he said.

I went back to the Freeman. We went to work on stories about succession, reaction, arrangements, etc. Life goes on.

It had nothing to do with T.R., but I don’t bowl any more. When I drive by Mid-City, I sometimes think about him.

Changing of the guard

If things go the way they seem to be headed, Ulster County, which elected a 12-11 Democratic majority in the county legislature, will have the leader of the Republican minority as chairman next year.

How can this be? Democrats have 12 of 23 legislators elected on their line. They don’t get to select a chairman? Doesn’t look that way.

Minority Leader Ken Ronk of Wallkill, a Republican, announced for the seat a few weeks ago, which means current Chairman John Parete of Olive, a Democrat, will be stepping down after two years in the catbird seat.
Here, history is instructive. Democrats elected majorities in the last three elections, but being Democrats, couldn’t solidify behind one of their own. Parete, a former county Democratic chairman and Board of Elections commissioner, went to Republicans for support. Unlike a majority of Democrats, Republicans, led by Ronk, had no problem with John Parete, as long as he threw a few plums their way. Much to the consternation of majority Democrats, Ronk twice delivered the entire Republican caucus to Parete.

Now, apparently, it’s Ronk’s turn. With his troops in lockstep (“We’re a united caucus,” he likes to say) and needing only one vote from the other side (either Parete or his son Richard will do), Ronk at 30 could become the legislature’s youngest-ever chairman.

He says he’s not counting chickens just yet. Recruiting would be the operative word. “I’m not saying anything until after the [official] vote on January 6,” he said.

It would appear the chairman-in-waiting already has some ideas about what the next chairman’s agenda. “I think there will be an adjustment between the legislative and the executive branches,” he said.

Parete said much the same, but found himself frozen out by the executive branch. Ronk, despite his youth, seems more the diplomat. He could make progress where Parete failed. An ascendant legislature, though not welcomed by the executive branch, would be a more relevant legislature, as designed by the county charter. It could make for a more responsive county government.

Not that there aren’t complications. Though legislative leaders are elected in party caucus, there seems some question of how many caucus votes are actually in play. There are four potential wild cards. Mary Wawro of Saugerties is an enrolled Conservative who caucuses with Republicans. Tracey Bartels of Gardiner is not enrolled in any party, but caucuses with Democrats. Chris Allen of Saugerties is an enrolled Democrat but carried the banner of every party except Conservatives in the November election. Richard Parete, a Marbletown Democrat, was defeated at primary but prevailed in the general election on the Republican ticket.

“We are welcoming Rich into our caucus,” said Ronk. Rich Parete’s acceptance of the offer would put Ronk over the top.

For Ronk, holding the chairmanship of the legislature at this young age portents a bright political future for him. But let’s wait until the organizational meeting, just to be sure.

The ghost of former legislature chair Phil Sinagra lurks the halls. Sinagra, a long-time Hurley Republican, was so confident that he had the votes to succeed Dan Alfonso as chairman in 1999 that he went to the organizational meeting with an acceptance speech printed on “Chairman Sinagra” stationary. Democrats ambushed him at the organizational meeting at the very altar, as it were. Sinagra, still very much active as chairman of the Hurley Republican Committee, left the legislature shortly thereafter.

Chris White and Dave Donaldson, on opposite sides of the rail vs. trail controversy, shake hands at the meeting of the rail advisory committee.

Chris White and Dave Donaldson, on opposite sides of the rail vs. trail controversy, shake hands at the meeting of the rail advisory committee.

On track at last

After years of bitter controversy and a dash to the finish line, it appears that at least for the short term, Ulster County’s warring rail-trail interests are finally on the same track.

County Legislator Tracey Bartels’ Ulster & Delaware corridor committee reported out last week. To the surprise of some, the committee unanimously agreed on a resolution that gives both sides a piece of the action, though not necessarily everything each might have wanted.

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“Some people are calling it a compromise, but I think it’s more like a consensus,” Bartels said.

The committee waded through the choices of rail-and-trail or rail or trail alone across the 38 miles of county-owned corridor stretching from the Hudson River to the county line at Highmount in Shandaken. Decisions were complicated by geography and politics. The Mike Hein “compromise,” so termed by the executive, was given serious consideration, though downgraded by the committee to a suggestion, lacking force of law.

Hein, who seeks to put this controversy to rest as he contemplates a run for Congress, is signaling that the committee’s conclusions mostly reflect what he proposed a year ago.

There’s something to be said for that. But the final product tweaks more than it dictates. The committee, like Hein, was on board with a trail-only section from the river to Kingston Plaza, but added a mile and a half of rail west from Kingston.

All sides agreed that an 11-mile stretch around the reservoir should be reserved for trail only. Millions of dollars in state and city grants have already been secured for that section. The tourist rail run from Mount Tremper to Phoenicia will be maintained. Trails will be linked with rail where corridor width permits. The stretch from Phoenicia to Highmount, where Hein once proposed ripping out the tracks, will be for now preserved for possible future rail use, but adapted for trail.

Future leases with rail providers will be on the order of five years, with options to renew. Requests for proposals will go out early next year. The county’s 25-year lease with Catskill Mountain Railroad expires May 31.

I’m thinking that if Hein really wants to put this railroad controversy to rest he should immediately move to drop the county’s lawsuit with the railroad, one that has cost CMRR upwards of $500,000, say the railroaders, and the county perhaps half as much.

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