I don’t know whether congressional candidates John Faso and Zephyr Teachout changed any minds at their candidates’ forum at the Woodstock Playhouse Monday night, but it was good theater.
Under an unusual format dictated by host Time Warner Cable News out of Albany and agreed to by candidates, reservations were required and attendance tickets issued. No ticket, no entry. Joan Quigley gave me son John’s ticket. He went bowling.
By now, the positions of Democrat Teachout and Republican Faso are pretty much locked in place. He’s a conservative, she’s a liberal, never the twain shall meet. Their respective superpacs have had a field day playing up their stark differences, real or imagined.
Face-to-face exchanges can bring clarifications. Teachout hit Faso for his opposition to same-sex marriage in his 2006 run for governor. He explained that he favored civil unions at the time, a fig leaf that gave way to formal approval of same-sex marriage in New York State. A law-and-order type, he supports the law now.
Teachout favors tax increases on Big Oil, both as a way to force them to pay their “fair share” (whatever that is) and to raise the trillions necessary for major infrastructure reconstruction. Faso accuses her of planning to raise the gas tax, a sore subject in New Jersey these days. She says not so. And so it goes.
At this stage, these candidates’ nights are something like the last Rocky movie. It’s tough to find a different format, given the same cast of characters. Time Warner, with Liz Benjamin and Nick Reisman co-hosting, reached for wrinkles. Opening statements were limited to a minute, though it seemed longer. Thirty-second rebuttals followed. A lighting round of one-word answers was quaint, but hardly enforceable. These were, after all, politicians, and lawyers at that.
Given the location, the crowd had to be predominantly Democratic, though unlike some other raucous gatherings in the art colony, they were remarkably well-behaved.
I always look for fumbles, if only to demonstrate these carefully programmed robots be human.
I was sitting next to the towering political scholar Jerry Benjamin when his much-admired daughter pulled a faux pas that would have never gotten into his many tomes.
“It’s about democracy with a small ‘D,”” Liz Benjamin said in describing the goin’ to the candidates’ debate. Small “D” usually refers to democrat in the broad sense.
“Now, that’s mixing a metaphor,” I whispered to my old political science professor.
“Nobody criticizes my daughter to my face,” he whispered back with a smile and a nod.
Not to pick on Liz — she takes her job seriously and is quite good at it — but another gaffe produced the laugh of the 60-minute session.
They were wrapping up a segment on water pollution when Benjamin, moving to the next subject, directed a question to a “Ms. Faso.” Teachout laughed out loud, but Faso, after a Carson-like pause, got the audience with, “I’m not sure who’s more insulted!”
Teachout came across as more comfortable with abstracts, new ideas, different departures. Faso seemed annoyed with what he called “hypotheticals.”
“That’s a hypothetical wrapped in a hypothethetical,” he said in responding to one of Reisman’s hypotheticals.
As noted, there was little news, and I’m not sure the needle moved much. But Teachout did have a surprise announcement as the session neared its 8 p.m. deadline.
Former congressman Maurice Hinchey, who retired in 2011, has endorsed her candidacy, she said. Audience reaction was mixed. They love the liberal icon in Woodstock, a town Hinchey carried 59-1 in a 1992 Democratic primary, but people who know Hinchey personally understand he’s in poor health and seldom seen in public. In better days, Hinchey would have pounded the campaign trail with Teachout, his ideological clone. These days, a surprise announcement before a hometown crowd will have to suffice, for what it’s worth.
The candidates will face off at a Congregation Emanuel debate in Kingston this Thursday night at 7 p.m.
As it often pertains to money, the mother’s milk of politics, ethics reform is almost always personal. Ulster County took another step down that long winding road in scheduling a public hearing next month on an ethics reform bill currently under consideration by the legislature.
The resolution is based in part on recommendations County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach issued in a mid-summer report called “Ethical Ulster,” aimed squarely at his sometimes-rival on the sixth floor, County Executive Mike Hein.
The $75 yearly limit on meals for legislators was just window dressing, greeted as such by legislators with bemusement. Most would consider themselves fortunate to get a cup of coffee from a constituent or a vendor, given the legislature’s negligible influence in county government.
Auerbach cites an Orange County statute that limits donations from vendors, contractors and others who would do business with the county to $4,000 — no more than $1,000 a year over a four-year period. With an eye toward willing donors, Orange left a gaping loophole. Under current law, anybody can contribute pretty much all they want through an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).
Sticking a thorn under the executive’s tender paw, Auerbach advised banning “self-advertisement” by elected officials on county-owned property. Only the visually impaired would fail to notice that Hein has plastered his name on almost every building and county-related banner in the county.
Auerbach says he’s not suggesting these policies to pick on the county executive, who incidentally is recommending cutting close to $200,000 from his 2017 budget. “What happens after Mike leaves office?” he asks of the signage. Moot point. Right now there’s no indication Hein will ever leave office.
With picking and pruning, watered-down ethics reform may pass the legislature and secure the executive’s signature.
Pete and repeat
Speaking of self-aggrandizement, the large bronze plaque in honor of former legislature chairman Pete Savago, erected by statute in the lobby of the County Office Building in 1981 but stored for the last 10 years, has been placed in an alcove in the legislative chambers in Kingston.
Passed unanimously by a Republican-dominated legislature, enabling legislation stipulated the plaque which honored Savago for 25 years in government — paid for by a Republican women’s organization — be placed in a “prominent” place in the county office building. Savago’s protégé, Tom Roach, was chairman at the time.
As per resolution, the four-by-two foot plaque was prominently featured in the lobby until Democrats took over in 2006. As one of his first acts in office, incoming Democratic chairman Dave Donaldson ordered the plaque taken down and stored in the basement. Savago went ballistic when he saw the plaque was missing, achieving orbit with (unfounded) rumors that Donaldson had it melted down.
“Pete’s space,” as it was called, was later filled with 20 or so photos of Mike Hein presenting awards to county workers. The plaque was moved from the basement to the New Paltz library and then in March back to the County Office Building.
The subject still raises Savago’s hackles.
“I could have taken it to court because by law that plaque could not be moved without a resolution by the legislature, not by that bonehead, but I’m a bigger man than him,” said Savago, 86, from his home in New Paltz. Current Republican legislature Chairman Ken Ronk split the baby, issuing a proclamation (executive order) in March that moved the plaque to the sixth-floor chambers.
“He called me bonehead? I guess I’ll have to buy a bigger hat,” said a dismissive Donaldson.
While they obviously don’t like each other, Savago and Donaldson have at least one thing in common, sort of. Savago was the last chairman of the board of supervisors when the present legislature was established in 1967. As such, he became the first chairman of the new body. Donaldson was the last so-called “executive chairman” of the legislature before Hein took office as county executive in 2009.
Our tree hugger
Nice piece in the Kingston daily on the commitment of Kingston Mayor Steve Noble and wife Julie to environmental living. Even five-year-old son Matthew has an electric car. His parents have two. It’s the right way to go and a good example for all us carbon-addicted old farts. I doubt, though, that my better half will be hanging laundry in the back yard like Julie does.
The city’s first family’s well-deserved reputation for environmental consciousness does have consequences.
Several weeks ago I was on Academy Green on a Sunday morning where two large trees had been blown down by a sudden storm the night before. Crews were busy clearing the debris when an elderly resident of the nearby Governor Clinton Apartments came up to me. Oldtimers can ID every squirrel in the small park.
“You can blame this on the mayor,” he said.
“You’re blaming the mayor for the weather?” I asked.
“See that hollow tree over there?” he said, pointing to one of the downed behemoths. “We told the mayor it was dangerous. He just nodded and walked away. Tree hugger.”
A few weeks later I asked the mayor about the incident. He just nodded and walked away, perhaps pondering the large tree that fell on his house last winter. In neither case was anybody hurt.
But I like the direction Steve Noble is taking. As far as I know there are no plans to install solar panels on the roof at city hall or hang out the Common Council’s dirty linen to dry in sunny weather.
A few new chairs have been added to that kitchen-table political organization called the Independence Party. That’s Independence, not independent, the latter being those 34,000 folks in this county who choose to enroll in no party at all. The confusion only starts with a misleading party name that by all things holy should be legally declared deliberately misleading.
Anyway, the latest news from the Indies (as they’re called) is that Joe DiFalco of Kingston ousted long-time party leader Len Bernardo of Accord as chairman earlier this month. The Indies elect leaders from the three state Senate districts in Ulster.
“I didn’t throw him under the bus or anything like that,” said the man insiders call Fight’n Joe. “I just disenfranchised him. I’m not saying anything bad about him.”
Fight’n Joe comes upon his moniker honestly. He’ll take on any issue and take issue with anybody who disagrees with him.
Last week at the Kingston mayor’s budget public hearing, Joe said it wasn’t fair to ask people to comment on a city budget issued only three days previous. I agree, but he ought to try being a member of a press corps that had to ask question on a budget they hadn’t even seen. This “transparent administration” needs to work on that process.
DiFalco got elected party chairman the old fashioned way. He rounded up more allies than Bernardo. Teaming with Cynthia Wadnola from the Town of Ulster, DiFalco had twice the (weighted) vote as the outgoing chairman.
But the party still has no open conventions and a handful of leaders will nominate local candidates. The state committee will continue to rule on state senate and assembly nominees, while verifying local recommendations.
With close to 6,000 members the Indies will be players in close elections. Only now Fightin’ Joe will be dealing the cards.