Newly minted U.S. Rep. John Faso of Kinderhook works the chamber-of-commerce breakfast crowd like a campaigning politician. Which of course, he is.
Woodstock Councilwoman Laura Ricci, a Democrat, buttonholes Faso on his way to the podium. “I asked him about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act,” she tells me later. “We want to make absolutely sure there will be no gaps in coverage. He gave a long, windy answer and then a shorter, windy answer.”
Comfortable with familiar faces and strangers alike and an intent listener, Faso, over a 30-year political career, is that political rarity — a policy wonk with the easy banter of the seasoned pro. Faso doesn’t stray far from his Republican/conservative political roots after 16 years in the Assembly and two campaigns for comptroller and governor.
He’s all for infrastructure repair, the mother’s milk of grassroots politics, but says the feds should funnel those billions through existing state agencies. “Why reinvent the wheel?” he asks. He favors a modern form of revenue-sharing. I’m not sure most New Yorkers share his faith in state government.
He’s 64 now but looks 45, fit and energetic, taking on a new job where others of similar age might be considering Florida condos.
He seems mildly surprised at the Kingston turnout (officially, about 280 in a room with a capacity for 310) in a county he lost by about 9,200 votes last November. What he might not have appreciated, having never run in Ulster to any extent, was that a trained-seal act would draw at least 220 to this local chamber breakfast.
Faso works without a net, speaking extemporaneously, at times to numbing detail. A constitutional scholar but no Gerry Benjamin, he says things ranging from “The Senate is the sauce that cools the temper of the times” and “there really is no such thing as shovel-ready.”
An engaging fellow, he leaves plenty of time for questions and answers. “Only a few people fell asleep during my presentation,” he jokes.
Toward the end of a more-or-less friendly Q&A, Faso nods after an audience member thanks him for personally returning her phone call and then launches into an extended, convoluted quasi-question, quasi-statement that had chamber president and emcee Ward Todd reaching for the gavel.
“Madam,” Todd says in dulcet tones, “we really only have time for one speaker. Please get to the question.” She wanders on for a few more sentences, finally asking a question (which I forgot) as guests head for the door.
“Now I remember your voice,” Faso says to titters from the audience.
He’ll need that connection as he deals with the conflicts of a divided district and bitter partisanship in Washington. All in all, the chamber speech represented a good start.
Next: County Executive Mike Hein’s annual chamber address on Feb. 23 at Best Western.
On the march
Years from now grandmothers yet unborn will tell their grandchildren about how they marched in ’17 to Washington, New York, Albany, Woodstock, the Walkway Over the Hudson, around the country or around the world. It was more than a women’s march, of course; men participated, many with their young daughters. It was about maintaining hard-won human rights for us and our progeny.
Maybe we should march after every inaugural, just to remind our leaders who they’re supposed to be representing. The few negative incidents in this almost entirely peaceful event were hardly worth mentioning or repeating, so I won’t. Call it one small step for media.
I’m sorry I missed it, but then I missed the original Woodstock Festival of ’69, which I regret to this day.
I didn’t see this participation as necessarily anti-Donald Trump, though Trump has said some egregious things about women which many worry might be a portent of policy going forward. I’m hoping the separation of powers will mitigate any such misguided maneuvers.
Changing of the guard
Years ago the most coveted appointment in Kingston city government was police commissioner; it came with a badge. Nowadays, the juiciest plums are membership on the Kingston Housing Authority, the only volunteer board that pays its members to attend meetings. Four of five board members get $200 a month for 10 months (they’re off in July and August). The chairman, currently former county legislator Jeanette Provenzano, gets an additional $50 a month. Members are appointed by the mayor and serve five-year terms.
Perhaps the most secretive governmental operation in Ulster County, the board only confirmed this week something it had to have known since late November. Agency Executive Director Dan Mills would be officially retiring next month. The tipoff that Mills was leaving came via a letter he sent to the city civil service commission of that intent shortly before Thanksgiving.
Those of us who try to connect cause and effect would err in assuming that the heating debacle in late December was the last straw for Mills. The record indicates that he had at least one foot out the door a month earlier. Mills, who was unavailable as tenants shivered through a bitter cold weekend, was as usual unavailable for comment on his future. Public relations would not be a good fit for his next gig.
Of late, tenants in agency-operated Rondout Gardens are protesting pervasive mold — typically the product of long-term neglect, and something that doesn’t happen all of a sudden, like burst pipes.
Recommended by former mayor Jim Sottile in 2005 and confirmed by the board, Mills came with an excellent Democratic political pedigree. His father was an alderman, as is his sister, Maryann Mills, though she was not in office at the time of his appointment. Roseann Noble, wife of alderman-at-large Jim Noble and the mayor’s aunt, is also a board member.
Founded after World War II to provide housing for returning veterans, the authority operates four large complexes in Rondout, Midtown and on Albany Avenue, plus a number of smaller units, altogether about 1,100 low-income tenants and seniors. And most people thought RUPCO, with 460 tenants county-wide, was the low-income-housing leader.
While RUPCO is continually expanding its tenant base, the Kingston Housing Authority hasn’t built a new complex since Rondout Gardens in the early ’70s. Unlike RUPCO, the authority is no advocate for housing for the working poor. It should be.
Progressive Mayor Steve Noble and his liberal base may take a different course. With an annual salary approaching $100,000 (the mayor makes $75,000), there should be no shortage of qualified individuals to fill the housing authority position. If tradition matters, it won’t hurt to be a city Democrat, either, though this is one agency that could really use some fresh blood.
Where eagles soar
After much divisive debate and at least one public referendum, the Onteora school district has replaced its 1960s Indian mascot with an American bald eagle, coincidentally the symbol of our nation. The irony is there was never any Onteora tribe, here or elsewhere, according to the late Woodstock historian Alf Evers. The name was made up by white settlers.
Some might have preferred the Catskill golden eagle, which went extinct some time in the 19th century. Fortunately, the majestic American eagle has made a remarkable comeback in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. Sightings, once rare, are now common.
Bald eagles are not universally loved, however, especially by country mice and some founding fathers. Ben Franklin considered the eagle something of a vicious, aggressive predator, the very symbol of the imperialism America was fighting against at the time. He preferred the American turkey. Oh well.
Some, perhaps around Woodstock, might have preferred the dove, peaceful but hardly a fighting symbol.
Me, I’d have opted for the ubiquitous black bear, native to the Catskills, a fierce defender of its young. The Onteora Bears: Grrr.