Damned media! Ulster County Executive Mike Hein served up an estimated 4,000 words on dozens of subjects at his ninth annual state of the county address last week in New Paltz. What did most of the media pick up? Only a passing gotcha, complete with fuzzy Muppets graphics of two tired old bad apples who had the gall to question several executive initiatives over the past few years.
Citing a “together” theme, Hein, the ostensibly mellowing disrupter of two years ago, was almost painfully positive in repeating the many wonderful things he and his administration have done for taxpayers since January 2009. Maybe it was the glazed eyes of a captive audience, but apparently Hein could not resist one parting shot at them bad apples.
Hein didn’t have to identify former legislature chairmen Dave Donaldsonof Kingston and John Parete of Olive. The big-screen graphics on either side of the podium of two elderly and grouchy Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, sufficed. Neither granny apple was on hand to hear the loud guffaws from the 300 handpicked or personally invited attendees at the BOCES center.
The derided duo offered an object lesson for those who dare speak against the administration. Firmly in control of the bully pulpit, Hein issued a not-so-subtle warning to would-be dissenters, channeling his message through, of all people, his grandmother.
I at first thought Hein’s quoting his unnamed forebear in the first paragraph of his 45-minute address a nice personal touch. He was, after all, standing on family ground. Born in Esopus a few miles north of the BOCES center and attending his grade school across Route 32 nearby, Hein was a star athlete at New Paltz High School in the mid-1980s.
His grandmother spoke to an 11-year-old, said Hein, about good people and bad people, those who build and those who destroy. “There will always be someone who comes along and tries to tear things down,” his grandma warned.
About half-way down the fifth page of his speech, Hein again quoted his “immigrant” grandmother (I sensed a theme). “No matter what,” Hein recalled her saying, “there will always be a couple of bad apples who try to tear things down.”
“You see,” he told his audience with a knowing nod, “my grandmother was very smart.” Thank God he didn’t add, “And the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree.”
Where does the truth fall?
Responses from the two ex-chairmen were swift and sharp. Donaldson challenged Hein’s contention that he and Parete had voted against (“virtually”) everything Hein proposed, which was not exactly what Hein had said. Like the rest of the legislature, Donaldson and Parete, while outspoken on some subjects, voted for virtually everything the executive proposed.
Their failed efforts to sidetrack Hein’s Family Court relocation serves to illustrate the futility of taking on the Big Guy. Hein beat them in the legislature (twice), beat them in court and buried them in a public referendum. Last week’s scorning was just overkill.
Parete, in a rare demonstration of plainspeak, repeatedly called Hein a liar. Pols typically use more polite euphemisms like “misspoke,” “misrepresented” or “alternate facts.” “Liar, liar,” was pretty strong, though he did not say “pants on fire.”
On balance, the two deplorables were closer to the truth than Hein. A lot closer.
Donaldson got in one memorable retort, however irrelevant. Digging through Hein campaign spending reports, which are public record, Donaldson revealed Friends of Mike Hein (the executive’s campaign fund-raising committee) accepted a $1,000 donation on Sept. 29, 2010 from one “Trump, Donald, 725 Fifth Ave. New York, NY, 10222.”
“Mike Hein not only accepted money from Donald Trump,” Donaldson emailed last week, “but they sound identical, too. Both men feel the urge to mock anyone who is not at their perceived level or disagree [sic] with them.”
Identical, Dave? I don’t think so. Similar, maybe. With better hair, Hein has been elected three times; two might be a challenge for The Donald.
Despite a standing ovation from people eager to get home for dinner, this was not Hein’s most memorable address, being more about the past and less about the future. Ironies abounded, like Hein citing the decline in unemployment from its peak of about 8 percent his first year in office to half that today. From that one might infer a booming Ulster County economy. It’s not.
Left unsaid in terms of employment is that Hein reduced the county government workforce by about 30 percent over the past five years, mostly via the sale of the infirmary in 2013. Donaldson and Parete were on the losing end of that one, too.
If the Hein administration were a movie, critics would give it a pretty good start, with an acceptable (second-term) sequel. Of late, material, for the most part rehashed campaign fodder, would be judged rather thin.
Sometimes snubs can be delivered by omission, as was the case of extending film tax credits to Hudson Valley counties. Hein took credit, of course, and was effusive in praise of “wonderful state partners,” like “good friend” Sullivan County Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and “our very own Frank Skartados.” Very own Frank, seldom seen in these parts, represents but two towns in Ulster County, Lloyd and Marlborough. Also profusely thanked were state senators George Amedore and Bill Larkin. “Personal thanks” went to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had sent a representative to the state-of-the-county address.
Conspicuously absent from the praise parade mention was the name of Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who as Hein well knows was a critically engaged player on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee in the complicated years-long process that culminated in Cuomo’s not-so-automatic signature.
Cahill, of course, is no less guilty of snubbery. And the beat goes on.
Under the Nixonian “I think you think you understand what I said, but I don’t think you understand what I meant,” Hein gave the impression that he had convinced Cuomo to connect his proposed east bank statewide rail-trail system to trails in the west. Doesn’t the Walkway Over the Hudson already do that?
Isaac Newton told us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, which is why, I guess, Ulster Town Supervisor Jim Quigley has announced a firm commitment to seek a fifth term some four months ahead of town nominating conventions. Two years ago he played the reluctant maiden.
In 2015, Republican Quigley was in and then out, then in again with both the Democratic and Republicans nominations. With time running down, former town supervisor Fred Wadnola sought out the Independence nomination and ran against Quigley in the November elections. The outcome was entirely predictable.
Given that history, Quigley keeps a wary eye on the town Republican committee, collectively referred to by some insiders as “Freddie and the Dreamers.” An early announcement was meant to mitigate mischief.
Town Republican chairman Wadnola now swears allegiance. “I only ran last time because he hadn’t made up his mind, already. By the time he did, it was too late to get off the ballot,” he told me. “Jim has made a commitment to run as a Republican. He is our Republican candidate.”
Quigley has promised that if endorsed by the Republicans he will not accept a Democratic nomination. Will the Democrats mount a challenge to this four-term colossus? It’s too early to tell.
Strangers in the night
Birthday wishes to the ageless state Sen. Larkin, who turned 89 on Sunday. A state legislator for more than 38 years — with 15 terms in the Senate — Larkin told the Mid-Hudson News Service he’d let God decide whether he runs for reelection in 2018. Recall, Larkin announced his “final term” in 2012.
Running on a reputation for bringing home mountains of bacon last year — he appeared almost nowhere during the campaign — Larkin was reelected by more than 25,000 votes. Somebody up there must like him.
It wasn’t the Almighty who decided New Paltz town Councilman Dan Torres, 26, born after Larkin was first elected to the Senate, was excess baggage. Torres, whose title was assistant to the county comptroller, lost his job last December after a targeted cutback by the executive, backed by the ever-willing legislature. Comptroller Elliott Auerbach is fighting that decision in court.
Shortly after the first of the first of the year, Torres was hired as an assistant to Bob Dandrew, director of the Local Economies (Farm Hub) Project on land formerly owned by the Gill family in Hurley.
I was not alone in finding Torres a bit too much the political operative during his brief time in county government, but wish him well in the private sector. He will have many future opportunities to serve in the public domain.
How about them Pats?
Not to compare sports with politics, but I perceive parallels between Sunday’s Super Bowl and the presidential election.
Viewers who dozed off around 11 p.m. on election night would have been as shocked by its results a few hours later as those who gave up on the Patriots after the first half of Sunday’s big game. Like, what the hell happened? Lady Gaga played a lot better than the Falcons.
Let’s hope disgruntled losers don’t take to the streets of Atlanta in protest.
Columnist Hugh Reynolds writes about Ulster County politics.