Hugh Reynolds: Sneakers, anyone?

Uptown Kingston wage slave that I am, I cringed at the prospect of paying almost $400 a year (discounted) for parking I’d been getting for free since arriving at the happening neighborhood some eight years ago. True, I had to hike about 100 yards up and down a steep hill, my main exercise for the week. But it was worth it to avoid the meters and their ubiquitous enforcers.

By the time this rolls off the press, the Common Council will have dutifully endorsed Mayor Steve Noble’s parking plan, so why bother complaining?

Well, things can change, as former city corporation counsel Aaron Klein once advised. (Asked by an alderman if the council could amend an ordinance, Klein replied, “You passed it, didn’t you?”) And the mayor says this is a work in progress. For the short term, he has a budget to balance, and what better way than through user fees paid presumably by visiting shoppers? Or so says the mayor.

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Seeking insight on what has been a hot topic under the Pike Plan canopies, I sat in briefly on a mayoral parking presentation to the business community at Frank Guido’s Little Italy in Midtown last week. Hizzoner seemed to have his ducks in order. I saw more curiosity and concern from the audience than anger, frustration or opposition.

I hear something quite different in my workaday neighborhood.

Noble told the group of about 60 that he was elected to deal with the city’s “serious” problems, and parking was one of them. He plans to double fees, meter lots that are now free, and invest the revenue back into parking-lot maintenance and improvement. That it will be easier to pay with credit cards and apps makes parking only more convenient, not less painful.

Noble said he was prepared to take the political consequences of an admittedly unpopular and controversial plan. “I didn’t run just to get re-elected,” he said to scattered applause. Fact is, he doesn’t face the voters for almost three more years, at which time he hopes parking lots will be filled with visiting shoppers, meters bulging with revenue. Or if it goes bad, they can fire cannons down Wall Street without hitting anything.

The mayor may have heard about the political consequences of metered parking from his uncle, the alderman-at-large. Jim Noble was in grade school during the famous election of 1961, when odds-on incumbent Democrat Ed Radel was run down by Republican retread retiree John Schwenk. Parking meters might have swung the election.

Ruling Democrats, in a quest for revenue, decided to increase meter fees and backed their policy up with vigorous enforcement. A woman named Doris (her last name is lost to memory) was issued a ticket book and a Cushman scooter. The “meter maid,” as she was known, proved most diligent to her duties. It was said Doris could write a ticket in the Stockade and ticket the same car a half-hour later in Rondout. Even with penny-nickel-dime meters and dollar fines, the money rolled in.

Republicans played on public outrage with a memorable ploy. They followed the meter maid around with “parking forgiveness tickets” redeemable for a dollar when presented at GOP headquarters. Radel, coming off a then-record 2,700-vote plurality in ’59, lost the election by fewer than 100 votes.

No such movement will rise up now. The Republican Party is dead, the meter maid long ago retired, if not deceased. But the mayor would be wise to factor resentment into his parking strategy.

For evidence, I need only stick my head out the door. My neighbor, lawyer-realtor Jon Hoyt is one of the more thoughtful denizens of Wall Street. A property owner, Hoyt keeps a close watch on the body politic, the real-estate market and taxes. He doesn’t like what he’s seeing.

“There is such a thing as elasticity of demand, which I’m not sure the mayor has properly considered,” he said to blank stares from a small gathering in front of his shop. “Remember OPEC. They thought they could raise oil prices forever. Turned out they couldn’t.”

Warming to a popular theme, Hoyt went on, “Businesses are already paying almost twice the property taxes as residences. Make no mistake, these parking fees are a tax. They’re killing the golden goose!”

Meanwhile, the goose seems to be laying one golden egg after another. Property values in the Stockade district have been driven skyward by cash-carrying newcomers. Buildings that used to go for a song — with a dance thrown in — now command million-dollar prices. How will the new parking schedules affect that nascent trend?

 

Parking paradox

I thought the city’s long-standing policy of free parking in December to promote business activity during the busiest time of the year something of a paradox. If it works in December, I argued to no avail, why not do it all year long? In other words, get rid of those meters altogether.

Current collective judgment now assumes, albeit with no evidence I’m aware of, that getting rid of the meters didn’t work and won’t work. A show of hands at the mayor’s parking summit at Little Italy indicated that employees and business owners took advantage of the free parking by parking near their stores all day. Ergo, Mayor Noble, in this his first holiday in office, will not suspend parking fees for the holidays. Being no Grinch, however, the mayor says he will offer amnesty by waiving late fees for those folks with glove compartments full of late tickets. Bringing in a non-perishable food item for the needy when taking advantage of the amnesty is encouraged.

 

Here comes the judge

The writing is not yet on the wall, but it would appear that as the absentee count winds down Democrat Sara McGinty will be the next county surrogate judge.

As of Monday, McGinty held an almost 600-vote advantage over Republican Pete Matera, with some 3000 absentee and affidavits to be counted. To draw even, Matera, who trailed by about 135 votes on election night, would have to pull more than 60 percent of remaining ballots.

Were he trending upward, that might be possible. He isn’t.

Minor party candidate Sharon Graff pulled close to 8,000 votes on multiple lines, votes that probably would have produced a landslide for McGinty had Graff urged her supporters to vote Democratic. She didn’t.

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Matera, like Graff a newbie, need not issue any apologies. “Pete was an excellent candidate, pulling more than 30,000 votes,” said county GOP Chairman Roger Rascoe. “There’s still some strong [Republican] towns out there, so nobody’s crying uncle just yet.”

Uncle or not, McGinty can’t be blamed for scheduling a robe fitting. Husband Tony McGinty, a two-term family court judge, could recommend a reliable seamstress.

 

Of bricks and bats

To no great surprise, Ulster Comptroller Elliott Auerbach’s determined effort to stave off all cuts from his 2017 budget was derailed in the legislature. Adding bricks to bats, the Ways and Means Committee recommended defunding Dan Torres of New Paltz, at $52,000 and change one of the comptroller’s closest confidants. Another finger in the eye had the committee recommending additional funding for an auditor to audit the watchdog. In your face, sucka!

Auerbach, if he so chooses, already has ways to raise the ante. Under the charter, the comptroller has subpoena power, a powerful tool he has yet to employ. Might a closer look at the notoriously secretive executive branch produce grist, revelation or more? With enemies in the executive office and few friends in the legislature, as Donald Trump might say, what does he have to lose?

I know. It could get Washington-ugly, but some leveling of authority is in order after this latest executive hatchet job.

 

Knock, knock

County Democrats have abandoned their storefront headquarters at 32 John Street in Uptown Kingston for second-floor digs, says Chairman Frank Cardinale. Seems the rent’s too damn high on the ground floor in the burgeoning neighborhood. Left behind in the large plate glass window where Democrats once gathered were life-sized cardboard figures of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle, plus a stuffed donkey. Donkeys are a dime a dozen, every day we meet quite a few. But I’ll bet those souvenirs of the soon to be former ex-first-couple would draw big bucks at a party auction.

Republicans will remain at the former dental suite they rent in a medical building at 130 North Front St. near Washington Avenue. Said Rascoe, “I doubt if 1 percent of our party members ever visit the office. It’s not the office location, it’s what the people do in the office that counts.” For that, they could rent a phone booth.

 

He said hi

It took almost a year for feature writer Lynn Woods to win the 2016 Missing in Action Award, given to a reporter who tracks down an elusive subject. The only time I’ve seen former Kingston mayor Shayne Gallo since he left office in January was coming out of a polling place on primary day. Eye-to-eye from five feet away, he said hi and walked away. I don’t recall another ex-mayor who disappeared in plain sight like that.

Woods, who casts broad nets, was looking to include “the arts mayor” in a feature on the death of composer Pauline Oliveros. Problem was, nobody had heard from Gallo after his defeat last year. (Here, I’m not counting his Saturday morning call-in show on WKNY.)

Woods, through a mutual acquaintance, got Gallo’s phone number and rang him up. Turned out he had some things important to contribute to the Oliveros legend.

Nice job, Woods. Keep up the good work.