Albany corruption has been the byword in this year’s state legislature elections, so elect a former state trooper, says retired state trooper Jack Hayes of Gardiner. Hayes, running on the Conservative line alone, faces the formidable task of unseating ten-term Democrat Kevin Cahill of Kingston in the 103rd Assembly District.
Cahill, a veteran campaigner, finds the public’s apparent ire toward all things Albany unfair and misplaced. “Sure, I take umbrage,” said Cahill. “I direct that umbrage toward my colleagues that caused it to happen. We are painted with the same brush. Every time one of those bad actors does something, it sullies all our reputations, and I resent that.”
Over the years, a startlingly large number of Cahill’s colleagues have been thus tarnished. Hayes, who rose to zone sergeant in the state police and spent most of his 32-year career in administration, calls Cahill an apologist for a corrupt system incapable or unwilling to reform itself. New faces and term limits are the answer, he says.
Cahill points out that there have been 40 new Assembly members in the 150-member house over the last dozen years, “about the same rate as states that have term limits,” he said.
Cahill, who turns 61 on November 5, is the longest-serving Assembly member in Ulster County history. First elected in 1992, he was defeated in 1994, but returned in 1998 to win nine consecutive races, several without opposition.
The hallmark of Cahill’s tenure as a majority member has been state funding in the many millions of dollars to his Ulster-Dutchess district. Capital construction at SUNY-New Paltz alone topped $100 million during that period. “Bringing resources to the district is extremely important. Local taxpayers pay good money. They deserve to get it back,” he said.
Both candidates oppose oil-storage barges in the Hudson River.
Hayes, 73, said his stand on term limits is more about his conservative philosophy than his age. “We need new people, new ideas, different perspective, new energy,” he said.
Voters limited the terms Hayes served, first as a Gardiner town supervisor and then as a county legislator from Gardiner. Both times he was turned out of office after one term. “[Actor Robert] De Niro and the Sierra Club, a lot of money was poured into a small town, then reapportionment. Be that as it may,” he said.
Cahill contends that experience has value. “I played a whole different role as a freshman than I do as a senior legislator,” he said. “The job changes every year. I’ve chaired several committees in vastly different areas,” including ethics, energy and insurance. Cahill sits on the powerful ways and means and codes committees of the Assembly.
Cahill does not contest Hayes’ contention that ethics reform is necessary, but says, “We’ve done a lot. Legislators need to be held to a higher standard. We’re not meeting it.”
Cahill says campaign finance reform goes hand in hand with ethics reform. “The time is ripe to do it,” he said, with the emphatic agreement of his opponent. “The public thinks only the highest bidder has a place at the table,” Cahill said. The current controversy surrounding the Buffalo Billion economic development program in western New York provides an example of a pay-to-play mentality.
Cahill, a non-practicing lawyer “except for occasional pro-bono work for family and close friends,” supports a limit on outside income.
Hayes is “unalterably opposed” to a pay raise for legislators. Cahill says he’s okay with leaving the matter in the hands of a special commission on compensation, due to report nine days after the election.
He doesn’t take a position on a raise, but says an “adjustment” in compensation would be warranted if the commission limits outside income and declares legislators full-time.
NY lawmakers are currently paid a base salary of $79,500, unchanged since 1999. With committee chairmanships and other leadership stipends, they can earn about $95,000 on average. The regular sessions run from January to June. Legislators are also paid $172 per diem while in session or on official business. Term of office is two years.
The 103rd Assembly District covers about 70 percent (by population) of Ulster County. The towns of Saugerties, Shawangunk, Wawarsing, Lloyd, Marlborough, Denning and Hardenburgh are not in the district, Rhinebeck and Red Hook in northern Dutchess County are.
Hayes and Cahill have met only infrequently in debate this year in what has been a low-key campaign for both. “Some people don’t like him [Cahill] for that sales-tax deal. It cost the county and the towns a lot of money,” Hayes said.
Cahill said he held up sales-tax renewal in the state legislature in order to relieve towns and Kingston of safety-net and election charges from the county. Those savings now account for about $7 million a year, according to county officials, far more than the $3.8 million to $5 million the county lost while the sales-tax extension was suspended for two months in 2013 and 2014.
“He’s not a bad guy,” Hayes says of his sometimes pugnacious but often convivial opponent. “We had a drink together.”
“I paid,” said Cahill.