Hugh Reynolds: Retire the corruption card?

The historic year gone by can be summarized in one name: Trump. The year ahead offers promise and peril through the cold, dark days of winter, the hope of renewal only weeks away. Alas, we’ll have to do it with pretty much the same cast of characters at this level, which is to say that different results are unlikely.

It appears that Andrew Cuomo has appointed himself chief Trump thumper. That may be good for the governor’s presidential aspirations, but not so good, perhaps, for New York. As Cuomo well appreciates, it is not wise to challenge the chief executive, much less continually to harangue him. As a practical matter, Cuomo may have to worry more about federal prosecutors than pushback from the White House.

The more things change, it seems, the more they remain the same. No state legislator who stood for re-election in the Hudson Valley lost. Sexy though the issue might appear, it may be time to downgrade “Albany corruption” as a general-election theme.

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At the federal level, we replaced one Republican congressman with another, more conservative, one. Our new congressman, like a first baby, arrived sooner than expected. what with Chris Gibson retiring a term earlier than promised in 2010. Good neighbor John Faso of Kinderhook, who made his mark in the rough-and-tumble 1980s, will find being part of a House majority more congenial than being part of the Assembly minority. As the wolves tend to circle first-termers in swing districts, he’ll need to establish himself quickly, even with a comfortable 27,000-vote mandate.

The coming year will feature local elections, a biennial event sure to generate more heat than light. I predict at least 20 of the 23 county legislators will run for re-election, and maybe the whole bunch. Even if termed mere waterboys (and watergirls) to the executive by one of their colleagues, the pay is good for the work put in. Opposition tends to rare and flaccid, and constituents don’t pay much attention.

Not to date myself, but in days of yore, city and town officials used to call the board of supervisors (1683-1967) a “retirement plan” for town officials and aldermen. Under a different name, it still is.

 

The local municipal races

Kingston Mayor Steve Noble, entering his second year in office, may need to tweak the liberal base that elected him in 2015. The logistics of Broadway bike paths and rail trails through Midtown can be worked out, but “sanctuary city,” for all its humanitarian dressing, is causing serious foment. Kingstonians may vote Democratic, but they bleed conservative, a fact of political life the young tree-hugger may soon come to appreciate.

Out in the towns, the bears may be hibernating but the bulls browse all year. In New Paltz, a year of post-Susan Zimet peace and quiet should provide attention to backburner issues like a new town hall and discussions of zoning changes. And let’s not forget, the college really needs new dorms.

Woodstockers are itching for some kind of fight. It keeps them in touch with each other. Library policy may provide opportunities among well-meaning but generally disagreeable folk.

In Shandaken, they’ll be singing “Oh, give me a home where the cellar don’t flood” (to “Home on the Range”) as plans move forward on a new town hall. Let’s hope things work out. Remember, these are the folks who turned down a free sewer system for the main hamlet of Phoenicia.

Saugerties will be a hotbed of intrigue what with long-time man-of-all-parties town supervisor Greg Helsmoortel planning to retire. Look for efforts to talk him into just one more term.

All eyes will be on the Town of Ulster, the county’s commercial hub, as the Hudson Valley Mall changes hands and bulldozers continue to level buildings at never-ready-for-prime-time TechCity.

In Esopus, protestors will be standing knee-deep in water chestnuts to ward off fuel tankers, even as bomb trains roar down tracks to the west.

 

The sales tax again?

The tiresome biannual battle of sales-tax renewal between Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and County Executive Mike Hein will be joined in late January, just as interest in the Super Bowl begins to peak. The familiar stakes — upwards of $30 million in revenue and the clash of massive adolescent egos — will again be in play. Efforts to institutionalize this contentious business will fail. State legislators cherish the opportunity to manipulate local affairs.

I think it’s time the county government got its economic development act together after all these years. That’s not going to happen if key players don’t begin sharing information. Feel-good pseudo-statistics like unemployment going down a few tenths of a point and the occasional ballyhooed startup with a handful of employees only mask the hardscrabble life too many residents endure.

A state Supreme Court judge wisely rejected Comptroller Elliott Auerbach’s attempt to shut down county government over a $100,000 budget cut to his department. But bigger issues are still in play. Auerbach is challenging the executive’s authority to arbitrarily reduce the budget of a constitutionally elected official, beyond, say, the rate of inflation. Hein, claiming Auerbach had less work to do since he (Hein) dramatically reduced county government and that Auerbach wasn’t very good at his job anyway, slashed the comptroller’s 2017 budget by some 20 percent. The legislature restored about half.

In principle, Auerbach’s case has broad implications. The district attorney, county clerk and sheriff, no doubt paying close attention, as are also other officeholders beholden to the executive’s good will.

The biggest county construction project since the ill-fated jail disappeared under the radar after being overwhelmingly approved by voters in November. Cost estimates for renovating the former Business Resource Center, just over the city-Town of Ulster line, for a new Family Court facility range upwards from $12 million, and counting. Privately, county officials grouse that the state, with no skin in the game, could run the tab toward $20 million. This is one area where the legislature could begin to exercise some oversight, like in appointing a special watchdog committee. Maybe Auerbach could take the task upon his department, if he has any staff left.

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Drugs, elections and conventions

There seems to be a disconnect on almost every level between talking about the war on drugs and actually fighting it with well-considered plans and adequate resources. Enough with the hand-wringing about “the problem.” We read the obits.

Here, local state Sen. George Amedore, chairman of a special Senate committee on drug abuse, can play a crucial role. Handsomely re-elected to a second term and with political capital to spare, aggressive leadership on his part could save lives.

County clerk and county comptroller will be on the ballot this coming November. Almost nobody doesn’t like personable incumbent Republican Nina Postupack of Kingston. But three-term incumbent Auerbach of Ellenville, unlike Postupack a Democrat but like Postupack a year-round campaigner, gets regularly challenged in general elections. If Auerbach’s political enemies — it rhymes with Hein –— are really serious about taking him down, they’ll need to recruit a credible Democratic opponent for a primary run by March. Verily, it is said, Auerbach’s political future runs through the (aforementioned) courts.

On the state level, voters will be given the opportunity in November to authorize a constitutional convention in 2018. The last one, held in 1967, broke down in bitter acrimony between upstate and downstate interests, conservatives and liberals. Proponents argue that since state government won’t reform itself, the only other way is via an independently elected convention. Critics claim the same players or their surrogates will dominate any such effort and warn that special interests could take away some basic rights, like guaranteed public pensions, or institute term limits, and that the whole thing could cost a ton of money — upwards of $40 million — to no great end.

There may be much debate over this issue later in the year. Coming from a long line of Bolsheviks, I prefer revolution. But it’s going to take more than a few press releases from good-government types to pry power loose from the incumbents.