Republican congressional hopeful John Faso probably isn’t the only down-ticket candidate giving Donald Trump wide berth this year. He’s just the only one I could reach by phone.
I rang up the former state Assembly minority leader to ask if he’d gotten any lift from the “Trump bump” after last month’s GOP national convention in Cleveland. The short answer could have been “Donald who?”
Clearly, Faso was having none of his party’s ticket-leader. “The public will decide the outcome of the presidential campaign,” he said. “I’m running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District and that’s what I’m focused on. I watched virtually neither of either convention. When I had spare time, I wasn’t spending it on conventions.”
I tried another approach. Did Faso think Trump’s candidacy would affect (Republican) turnout? “I don’t worry about things that are beyond my control, and that’s one of them,” he replied. Obviously, he has given it some thought. “With both [presidential] candidates carrying some of the highest negatives in recent years, I’m not sure which side is advantaged. It’s hard to say,” he said.
“Hard to say” wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but then stat-man Faso came through with some figures meant to tilt perception in his direction. “If you look at the last two elections in the district,” he volunteered, “the combination of Republican and Conservative votes outnumbered Democratic and Working Families votes by about 10,000.” Faso carries both banners, in addition to the Independence and Reform Party lines. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by about 2,500.
Zephyr Teachout, his Democratic and Working Families opponent whom he did not mention, was not available for comment.
Faso knows of course that those margins were achieved by the very popular three-term U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, who buried Democrat Sean Eldridge by almost two-to-one two years ago. As a newcomer to the southeastern end of the district, Gibson also easily handled Julian Schreibman, the man who would succeed Democrat Maurice Hinchey, in 2012. The president carried the district by about four points.
Chris Gibson as the model
Obviously, Faso hopes past is prologue and that the retiring but still and ever-popular Gibson could be his ticket to the dance. “He has given me his wholehearted support,” Faso said of his Kinderhook neighbor. Perhaps sensing a scoff, he added, “We marched together in five Fourth of July parades and we went to the Ulster County Fair together last week. In many respects, I view him as a model for reaching out and trying to work out differences in what is essentially a 50-50 country.”
As a minority leader in the highly partisan rough and tumble state legislature (1987-2002), Faso wasn’t necessarily known for reaching across the aisle, but he read the bills and questioned conventional wisdom. He agrees with Hinchey that service in the combative, if not corrupt, state legislature (Hinchey did 18 years) prepared him for the more genteel Congress of the United States.
Still, there’s that Trump fellow. Treading a fine line between Trump bombast and the depths of anger and frustration that carries his candidacy, Faso for now chooses to err on the side of caution.
In different ways, Teachout also seems to be holding her top of the ticket at arm’s length. Only recently a sharp critic of Hillary Clinton, Teachout of late has joined the team, however tentatively. Faso, who relishes beating on people with their own records, has gleefully dredged up 2014 Teachout quotes on Clinton “corruption.” She in turn calls him a lobbyist for big corporations, a career politician — out of politics for almost a decade, actually — and a has-been. I can hardly wait for the face-to-face debates between these two.
Already suffering from Trump fatigue, I made one last attempt to get Faso on the record.
Noting that he, like Teachout, campaigns around the sprawling district for something like 15 hours a day, day in and day out, I asked Faso what he was hearing about Trump.
“People ask me about him, usually after their heads stop spinning,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s amazing that in a country of 300 million people these are the two people the major parties are offering the public for president.”
I think that fairly states Faso’s position, at least for now.
Taking care of business
Work on the replacement of the Carmine Liberta Bridge in New Paltz is rapidly nearing completion, but not without the kinds of hiccups that sometimes accompany construction projects. To the apparent surprise of everyone, the western end of the almost-finished temporary bridge collapsed last week. No one was hurt, and engineers quickly devised a backup plan to address the issue.
That County Executive Mike Hein was on the scene almost before the last hunk of embankment had muddied the already polluted Wallkill River west of the village indicates the investment he has in this project. New Paltz is after all Hein’s hometown, where he attended high school as a star athlete. Moreover, he was point man in a highly publicized cooperative town-village-county community planning effort that except for last week’s unpleasantness has everyone singing his praises.