Hugh Reynolds: A teaching moment

Zephyr Teachout makes a point as county Democratic chair Frank Cardinale watches at March 3’s party convention in Kingston. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Zephyr Teachout makes a point as county Democratic chair Frank Cardinale watches at March 3’s party convention in Kingston. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

A win is a win is a win, but Zephyr Teachout supporters had to be concerned over her surprisingly narrow victory over a virtually unknown Columbia County fruit farmer at March 3’s Ulster Democratic Committee’s congressional nominating convention in Kingston.

Zephyr (for gentle wind) stormed into the convention with what appeared to be a full head of steam. Endorsed by a host of county officials ranging from the county exec to town board members and having campaigned extensively hereabouts since declaring a month ago, Teachout’s is a familiar name. She gained state and national exposure in a Democratic primary against Andrew Cuomo in 2014. Up to last week, Livingston town Councilman Will Yandik was the footnote in 19th Congressional District race, as in “also expressing interest was … ”


Both candidates worked the crowd of some 200 committee members and party faithful at Kingston’s city hall. Her smile flashing, Teachout set off firecrackers in each group she bounded toward. Yandik, the stranger, got polite handshakes and curious looks.

In terms of nominating speeches, for what they’re worth, Teachout appeared a landslide winner. Yandik nominator Marcy Goulart, a party stalwart from Saugerties playing it by ear, sounded like she had met her candidate in the parking lot. Yandik himself wasn’t sure of her last name when I talked to him. Teachout cheerleader and nominator Elliott Auerbach hailed every Democratic icon from Martin Van Buren to Maurice Hinchey in extolling her virtues. For a minute I thought he was going to take down the portraits of Washington and Clinton from the walls of Council Chambers and scrawl “Teachout!” across their dress blue uniforms. At that point, I thought Teachout at least a 4-1 winner.

My perception changed after their respective speeches to the convention. In terms of projecting enthusiasm, excitement and just plain smarts, Teachout, a Fordham law professor, was in a class of her own. She almost brought the crowd to its feet. But so did Yandik, in his quiet, yet forceful delivery. The applause for each was almost the same, loud and sustained.

The final weighted vote was 54-46 percent, reflecting crowd response. A disappointing win for Teachout, all things considered, but a very good showing for Yandik.

About that vote. Despite Teachout thanking party Chairman Frank Cardinale for “bringing us all together” (at convention), by unofficial count there were only 90 committee members in attendance (a full committee for both parties is around 225) with 87 the minimum for a quorum. Whew! Republicans didn’t do much better, pulling about 100 committee members to their convention last month which gave John Faso 62 percent of the vote.

While only a snapshot, the dismal turnout of committee members in both parties may reflect a general dismay with politics these days.

Teachout pledged, like Harry Truman, to “give ’em hell,” following her triumph. For sure, she came out singed but probably the wiser after her first live fire in Kingston last week.

Will Yandik makes a point of his own. (Phpto: Phyllis McCabe)

Will Yandik makes a point of his own. (Phpto: Phyllis McCabe)

Face time

Despite Mayor Steve Noble‘s alleged commitment to open and transparent negotiations on the city/county sales tax renewal, it appears now bargaining will take place between a few men behind closed doors. Which is to say the abuses of Albany’s notorious “three men in a room” (two from last year now convicted felons) are not lost on locals. This is not to cast aspersions on our guys. It’s only to say that too often, evil grows in the dark.

The men in these particular rooms, be it at County Executive Mike Hein‘s office on Fair Street or Noble’s anteroom on Broadway, are charged with two primary tasks: save the city’s current share of the sales tax and save face for Hein. These objectives are not incompatible.

First, Hein’s face. While denials grow less plausible every day, most players understand that the move to take back some $2 million in county sales tax from the city and towns germinated under Hein’s closely cropped crew cut. Nobody really buys Hein’s denials or believes his stated reasons, that the towns and the city had squandered millions in Safety Net and elections costs while raising taxes. Maybe with Congress off the table he was just looking for something exciting. He got it.

Hein’s “apology” for the county screwing up some of the numbers he threw out at a recent Chamber of Commerce speech — the first time anybody remembers Hein apologizing for anything — is now seen as a step toward face-saving. If the proud executive could admit a mistake, admittedly by an unnamed but math-challenged staffer, might he then be more flexible in negotiations? He can and he will. He must, thanks in large measure to newbie mayor Noble’s adroit handling of public relations.

Calm and deliberate in the face of crisis, Noble has not risen in righteous indignation at Hein’s unprecedented attempt at hijacking scarce city revenue. And while he might be arguing off-point in lamenting potential city sacrifices should Hein prevail, he has remained the adult in this confrontation. Other mayors who come to mind would have gone bananas. The elephant in the living room isn’t the city and the towns losing $2 million a year in county revenue, it’s the county losing $50 million if Hein screws up these negotiations. Recall, under the worst-case scenario, Kingston reinstates its 2 percent sales tax, raising a fraction of the $12 million it currently gets from the county, but costing the county almost half its current sales tax revenue.

“We have cards,” is all the newly tight-mouthed mayor will say about negotiations. One of those cards, maybe the ace in the hole, is to allow Hein to gracefully back out of the crisis he created with most of the egg off his face.