No, that’s not the first robin of spring county Democrats may be hearing, but rather the footsteps of federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, hot on the heels of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. In 2015, de Blasio’s Campaign for New York, since disbanded, was called to task for funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars through upstate Democratic committees in a failed attempt to elect a Democratic state senate. One of those county committees, to the tune of some $350,000, was Ulster County. Some locals dared call the activity money-laundering, charges denied by county Chairman Frank Cardinale, who said his committee acted entirely within the law.
For awhile, it looked like the whole thing, like so many political brouhahas, might blow over. The toothless state elections board, which has direct jurisdiction over campaign finance procedures, did nothing.
Then came reports last October that the federal prosecutor had subpoenaed “thousands of emails and documents” from the committee. DeBlasio was called in for a discussion in December. The Manhattan district attorney was also said to be curious. Questioned at a press conference late last month, the mayor admitted he had been interviewed by the feds. More such conversations are in the works, he said.
Cardinale tells us he has not been contacted by federal authorities, then or lately. He continue to insist his committee violated no campaign-funding laws, even if transferring some $350,000 from de Blasio’s committee in October 2014 to former Democratic state senator Cecilia Tkaczyk the next day might seem just a bit curious.
With the feds poring over thousands of emails and other de Blasio records attendant to those transactions, it’s possible more than a few may have zip code 12401 (party headquarters in Kingston) on the return envelopes.
Local Democrats could take comfort in that Bharara, after high-profile trophy convictions of ex-Assembly speaker Shelly Silver and ex-state Senate majority leader Dean Skelos, seems to have little taste for small potatoes.
Plans are in the works for Ulster County to take over Kingston’s flagging bus service. For the city, it can’t come too soon, though some city union leaders are not in agreement. City union leaders worry that jobs under county control could be sacrificed on the altar of efficiency.
Initial studies by the county planning department depict transit systems headed in opposite directions. Under former transit director Bob “Bus-Stop” DiBella, county bus ridership more than doubled in the last decade. City ridership declined by some 100,000 riders. Had the city bus system been privately operated, it would have gone out of business years ago. Rarely one to point fingers, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble did not mention that this precipitous decline took place mostly in the four years before he took office in January 2016.
Ever the team player, Noble says he’s proud of his staff for making the best of a difficult situation. Negotiations are expected to include whether existing city staff will be picked up by the county.
It’s no fun
Home for the weekend, rookie congressman John Faso unexpectedly wound up discussing issues with a large group of protestors on his front lawn. The group first attempted to engage Faso at his Kinderhook district office Saturday afternoon, only to find it closed. Fortunately, for them, Faso’s home was an easy march away. So, apparently, was Faso. After a phone call from his wife, Faso hurried home to meet with a crowd reported at over 1,000.
Apparently, some were mollified by a face-to-face with their congressman, though perhaps not those carrying placards that read “Repeal Faso.” Video taken at the scene shows Faso calmly talking with some protestors while others loudly sang their version of the old folk rally song, “Which side are you on, John Faso? Which side are you on?”
Good question. Faso will fine-tune his act going forward, but right now his pro-and-con lawyerly explanations of issues sometimes come across as ambivalence — leading to confusion, antagonism, and people on his front lawn.
Memories of the band Genesis’ 1983 ditty “(It’s No Fun Being an) Illegal Alien” — updated to “It’s No Fun Being a Freshman Congressman” — came to mind. But before anybody heaps pity on the congressman, let us not forget that Faso ran a primary and endured a bitter general election to get this job.
There’s an old saying in our business about screwing up on slow news days. In those days, legislators with nothing to legislate and reporters with little to write about sometimes turn to non-news subjects, like memorializing resolutions.
Memorializing resolutions, where the legislature as a body takes a stand for or against something outside its immediate jurisdiction, tend to be ignored by their upper-level recipients. Now the Ulster County Legislature is wasting away January arguing about whether to ban memorializing resolutions altogether.
I sense a trend. A year ago, the legislature passed a resolution banning debate on memorializers, 16 of which were filed last year. They debated anyway. Some legislators feel so strong about pipelines, oil barges or repeal of the Affordable Care Act that they felt they had to address such topics.
I asked legislature Chairman Ken Ronk about the speaking ban. He gave me one of those what-can-you-do? shrugs. There is the reality that the 23-member legislature collectively represents the voices of 180,000 people, even if many probably could not name their own representative. Truly, there are many topical issues that can affect constituents other than, say, the 2017 budget or a bond issue to build a bridge or a new Family Court house.
I think the legislature has it about right. Let them file memorializing resolutions on subjects of broad interest and vote as a matter of conscience with no debate.
Now hear this
County Exec Mike Hein, after delivering his first state-of-the-county address in 2009 in chambers before the legislature, seems to be getting further away from the county capital. For a few years SUNY Ulster was the site. This year Hein was to speak at BOCES in New Paltz. (It was scheduled for February 2.)
Legislature chairman Ronk, for one, doesn’t care. “It’s his speech,” Ronk said. “He can deliver it anywhere he wants,” Ronk said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in town last week to preside over the dramatic dynamiting of an aged bridge over the Rondout Creek in High Falls. Attuned or tipped off to the local political vibe, Cuomo invited Hein but not Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, Hein’s frequent foe. Had Cahill been in attendance, the governor might have invited him to stand on the 86-year-old bridge just before hitting the plunger.
Cahill might have had the last words, however. “Did you notice in the photo of the bridge blowing up that everybody else was looking at the bridge and Cuomo and Hein were looking at the cameras?” Cahill asked. As a matter of fact, I had.
I’m for the birds
Anticipating a flood of irate readers, with humble apologies I stand corrected on citing the 19th-century extinction of the Catskill golden eagle in last week’s column. Said report of the magnificent bird’s demise was in fact grossly exaggerated. The Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society reports an estimated 160 golden eagles, classified as endangered in New York State, regularly visit the Catskills. The species summers in Canada.
Two years ago, the Audubon Society reported that for the first time an eagle (named Max) was trapped, fitted with a tracking device, and released. An article published in the Watershed Post shortly thereafter produced many first-hand reports of sightings of golden eagles.
Given the eagle’s apparent proximity, might not the Onteora school district, which recently adopted the bald eagle as its school mascot, reconsider the status in the district of its golden cousin?