The presidential circus moved on to the next state on Tuesday, but it was nice for New York, for a change, to be part of the proceedings. A little song. A little dance. A little seltzer in our pants. The hotly-contested races produced a degree of interest and participation rarely seen in local elections. Turnout in the Democratic primary approached 50 percent, Republicans half that.
New York, as mentioned by numerous pundits, hasn’t been part of a presidential primary since who knows when, maybe 40 years. The reason, of course, is that New York, except in the 1984 Ronald Reagan landslide, has been solid Democrat. Democratic candidates take us for granted. Republicans ignore us.
Not this year. New York was a battleground, its primary crucial to the ultimate outcome.
Here in Hee-Haw County, it was neat getting phone calls and e-mails from advance persons seeking local intel, all the better to create the appearance of familiarity for their candidate or their surrogates. TV ads on drugs, cars, burger chains and constipation relief seemed tame after the bombardment of vicious, partisan political attacks.
Bernie Sanders had much the better ground game, nine months in the making. I got four mailings from Sanders during the week before the primary. On Sunday afternoon a group of young canvassers stopped by my house to urge me to vote on Tuesday. From Hillary Clinton I heard nothing. Did she take my vote for granted? I bet somebody would have called if I had paid $300,000 for that George Clooney fundraiser.
For sure, Ulster’s Democratic establishment took a pounding in this primary, with party luminaries led by County Executive Mike Hein taking it on the chin from a bunch of unknowns. Regulars shrugged it off the next day, but they’d better be concerned about what all those Bernie! backers do or don’t do on Election Day. They won’t vote Republican, but they could stay home. And not just in New York.
I found amusing both Democrats shamelessly playing the New York card. Sanders, born in Brooklyn, moved to Vermont 40 years ago. Clinton established residency in Chappaqua to run for the U.S. Senate in 2000. As a globe-hopping secretary of state, she wasn’t home often. But she was a two-term senator from New York and Bernie couldn’t beat that.
Donald Trump, who actually works in New York but spends lots of time in Florida, drew Sanders-like crowds. In lots of ways these two were speaking from the same pulpit and preaching to the choir. I’m not much for staged events of repetitive sound bites before pumped-up supporters, but imagine Trump speaking to a Hillary crowd, or vice versa. Yowser!
Highlight of the brief primary season in Kingston was the appearance of former first daughter Chelsea Clinton last weekend. Clinton, expecting her second child any month now, spoke with authority on the various issues her mother advocates. Unlike other candidates, she didn’t have to shout. To those in the audience, she came across as smart, hip and engaging, not the least combative. “Very impressive,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who met a much younger Chelsea many years ago.
Clinton’s opening up the event to questions from the partisan audience, something that almost never happens at these kinds of carefully staged events, turned out to be a crowd pleaser. A few might have rather voted for Chelsea, barely of presidential age at 36, instead of Hillary.
A record turnout may have been set in Tuesday’s primaries, despite New York’s restrictive registration rules, designed to protect and preserve what many see as a failed two-party system. Many an angry response was produced when non-enrolled partisans tried to vote for their favorites on Tuesday.
The political operatives may take notice. Perhaps the circus will come back to town in four years. New York as a player?
Sometimes things seem too good to be true are actually true.
Case in point. I read reports in the New Paltz Times last week detailing the apparently unanimous approbation for how county government has carried out the Carmine Liberta bridge replacement project at the west end of the village.
In New Paltz, where public projects are blood sport, everyone, and I mean everyone, even frequent dissident Butch Dener, was enthusiastically on board. What could have been a contentious, divisive, disruptive project was handled, by all accounts, with sensitivity and prudent planning based on community input. Highest praise was lavished on Mike Hein’s outreach to town and village officials and the public.
In essence, the bridge was designed by a committee. And it didn’t come out looking like a camel.
Against this backdrop, some may recall that only last winter Hein was attempting to pry county sales tax revenue from the towns and city. Hein expressed the unkindest cut of all, that those local leaders really weren’t very good at their elected jobs. There were howls of protest.
The Carmine Liberta bridge was named in 2004 in memory of a town veterans’ activist, Republican leader and close friend of Dener, for years town Republican chairman in a gathering sea of Democrats.
“You know I always cast a skeptical eye on these things,” Dener said on Monday. “As the person who helped name the bridge, I wanted to make sure the memory of Carmine stayed true.”
(Ah, I thought. At last a discouraging word.)
“I have to say that from the very beginning Mike [a New Paltz High graduate] and Dennis [Doyle, county planning director and New Paltzonian] did it well,” Dener said. “Even last week Mike reached out to me to keep the family in the loop.”
The old bridge will be torn down, but only after the new $2.5 million bridge is completed late this year, thus sparing residents and visitors long detours. It will cost a little more — the county’s share is about $2 million — but Hein said that in terms of safety and convenience the expenditure was well worth it.
You can’t always get all you want. Dener isn’t happy about the county taking down the large green signs designating the Liberta bridge, but concedes that a plaque on the new bridge honoring the community leader will suffice. There’s also been talk about one of those big green county signs in Liberta’s memory in a viewing area planned near the new bridge.
Like Dener, I’ll give the sometimes dictatorial county executive kudos on this one, in the hope that the Liberta bridge episode heralds a new era of mutual cooperation in town-county relationships.
Passing the torch
Ward 3 Alderman Brad Will resigned last week less than four months into a second two-year term. Ironically, Will, an architect, cited conflict-of-interest concerns, after being found guilty by an ethics board (and winning re-election) of conflicts of interest regarding the Pike Plan last fall. He had been assessed a $1,000 fine.
Mayor Steve Noble seems to think Will got a raw deal from the Shayne Gallo-appointed ethics board. Not me. At the very least, there was the appearance of conflict of an alderman appearing before city boards of behalf of his clients. In this era of rampant political corruption even the appearance cannot be tolerated.
In resigning, Will said current ethics rules made it difficult for him to represent clients before various city agencies. Hello! It was the right thing to do, however belatedly. A closed-door session of the ethics panel on other charges was held last weekend.
Under the city charter, the mayor fills vacancies on the Common Council, to fill the term of the departed. Given the traditional separation of powers between legislative and executive branches of government, some might find that process curious.
Like back in 1994, when then-mayor T.R. Gallo put together his strong-mayor city charter in reaction to residents voting for a city manager form of government the year before. Few gave much thought to renewing a charter section (aldermanic appointments) in place for almost a century. In any case, the electorate rescinded the city-manager move, which would have rendered him a mere figurehead.