National media and pollsters are justifiably under fire for getting the presidential election so wrong. Happens at the grass roots, too. Two cases in point — the local congressional race and the Ulster County proposition to move the Family Court facilities.
Close calls were widely predicted. Didn’t happen.
Walking past the pawn shop with those things on my mind, I was fortunate to run into Republican congressional candidate John Faso in Uptown Kingston the Friday before the election. An affable type, Faso asked how it was going. He wasn’t referring to my waistline or my son’s emerging goatee.
At that point, polls had Faso about six points ahead of his Democratic opponent, Zephyr Teachout. But Teachout was charging. Surely, she would close the gap by Election Day.
“To tell you the truth,” I said, “I think her negatives are working better than yours.”
That got his attention. “How so,” he asked.
“I don’t think the carpetbagger thing is working like it might have 10, 20 years ago,” I said. “A lot of new people are moving into this area. They’d probably resent the label. The oldtimers have either moved south or died.”
I went directly to what I thought was her most compelling negative. Since Faso values context, I referred to his former tenure as Assembly minority leader and chairman of its attack-dog campaign committee. “I know you guys in Albany are always banging each other with some obscure procedural vote or amendment nobody ever heard about, but how the hell do you vote against equal pay for women? Four times.”
One of Faso’s more appealing qualities is his ability and willingness to take a shot, be it from an opponent, a critic or in this case a newsy. Teachout called him everything but the Antichrist in debate, drawing hardly a flicker.
“The issue in our caucus wasn’t equal pay for equal work. Nobody’s against that,” he said in that measured tone of his. “What we opposed was the government coming in and defining equal work. We felt that was something for the private sector to determine in a free economy.” I didn’t exactly buy that argument, but at least I better understood his position.
Faso buried Teachout by some 25,000 votes.
Courthouse move easy winner
The strictly local case of the ballot proposition to move Family Court from Kingston to the Town of Ulster produced another wrong call.
Legislative critics, led by city legislators Dave Donaldson and Jennifer Schwartz Berky, and Olive’s John Parete, unsuccessfully fought the Mike Hein administration and the county legislature in court in protesting the wording on the ballot was propaganda and that it would be more cost-effective and convenient to purchase and rehabilitate the current facility. Their catchword, displayed on lawn signs around the county, was “devious,” verily the last bastion of the desperately overwhelmed.
The administration responded with a countywide, taxpayer-paid “informational” mailing extolling the virtues of the move. On Nov. 1, too little and too late, the Kingston Common Council unanimously voted against the proposition. In signing the legislation, Mayor Steve Noble deplored the relocation of Kingston institutions.
Given what I believed was widespread concern about the escalating costs of a move not yet approved and the administration’s undeniably shameless politicizing of the ballot process, the proposition, to me at least, seemed doomed.
It wasn’t. Proposition One, buried on the back of the ballot, was approved in heavy voting by almost 70 percent of voters.
The bottom line, of course is that at least for a while, we live with the results of elections.
A minority of voters preferred peppy Zephyr but we’ll have steady Faso for two years, maybe a lot longer. He’s not the retiring moderate Chris Gibson, but, as voters determined by substantial margins, he’s not Zephyr Teachout either.
I don’t expect leopards at the County Office Building to change their spots. Success, like an overwhelming victory at the polls, tends to embolden them. Going forward, let’s hope — and that’s all it is, hope — our toothless legislature will keep a close eye as this multi-million-dollar courthouse renovation progress as this major public works project unfolds.
Tale of two presidents
I don’t have any problem with people peacefully protesting anything. It’s a right under our Constitution. And if a lot of (mostly) young people took it to the streets after the election, so be it. There are worse ways to blow off stream.
Hereabouts, there were a couple of demonstrations that drew media attention, one at Bard College in Red Hook, the other at SUNY New Paltz.
Long-time Bard president Leon Botstein, decades ago the youngest college president in the country, promised the protection of students, even if it meant calling in law enforcement. Reportedly, a foreign student was verbally harassed by another, told to “go home.”
Campus lockdown? Not according to a quartet of Bard students at the historic diner in Red Hook Sunday morning,
Approaching the three young men and a woman at breakfast together, I said I’d read media reports that indicated Bard students were in fear of their safety.
“Not really. Maybe a few,” one of the men said. “You know, we live in a kind of bubble over there.” The protest at SUNY New Paltz was apparently ignited by some idiot marking a college bathroom with an ethnic slur.
New Paltz president Don Christian took a more sanguine view than Botstein, calling for “respectful discourse” by everyone.
I thought County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach summed this post-election angst quite eloquently in his closing remarks before the Kingston chamber of commerce breakfast on Tuesday. To whit: “With the events of last week and the coming Thanksgiving week, I leave you with the hope that we learn to appreciate and even celebrate our differences, then all of will truly have much to be thankful for.”
Something to chew on
Speaking of taking it to the streets, Auerbach brought his quest to save two staff positions in next year’s county budget to the local chamber’s monthly breakfast. But it’s not those people who count, it’s the 12 — or will it be 16? — county legislators he has to convince before next month.
County Exec Hein proposed cutting Auerbach’s “magnificent seven” staff of watchdogs by two positions in his 2017 budget, citing, however vaguely, a general decrease in county government staffing. If approved by the legislature, and Auerbach knows the odds are against him, Hein will have sliced four comptroller positions in the past four years. Some see a pattern here. Others see politics.
Meanwhile, according to Hein’s proposed budget filed with the legislature on Oct. 7, the executive overspent his 2016 departmental budget by about $27,000 and is requesting an additional $25,000 for 2017. Apparently, charity begins at home in this administration.
Auerbach has had his ups and down in recent Hein budgets. The office took a $33,000 cut in 2015, but got a $70,000 infusion this year. Hein proposes cutting its $870,000 budget to $695,000, a 20 percent reduction.
Auerbach seemed to get a positive reception from the 200-odd breakfasters at Best Western Hotel. During the brief question and answer session following his prepared remarks, Marianne Collins, a member of the 2006 charter commission that created this comptroller’s office, expressed concern for the comptroller’s current dilemma. “Our one regret is that we didn’t build a greater firewall to protect the office of county comptroller,” she said to applause.
Asked if there was an audit he regretted, Auerbach, tongue-in-cheek, cited his 2009 critique of legislative mileage vouchers. “Some of them are still mad about it and some of them weren’t even there,” he marveled.
Should a majority of legislators vote to restore Auerbach’s budget, something that wasn’t even attempted at the first round of Hein cuts to the comptroller’s office in 2013, a Hein line-item veto is almost certain. At that, 16 votes (two-thirds) would be required to override, almost certainly a bridge too far.
This legislature, with a Republican majority, has over the past 10 months since it took office developed as a kind of echo chamber for the executive branch. Here it has an opportunity to take a stand for balanced government.
Will it seize this opportunity in the face of executive ire, or just roll over?