Hugh Reynolds: Firefight

In terms of public impact, what plays better? A front-page color photo or a story about legislators returning a resolution to committee? What politician in his or her right mind wants to take on the county’s volunteer fire establishment?

At issue are plans drawn up by County Executive Mike Hein and a three-member fire advisory committee to build a fire training center on county-owned property on Cottekill Road near the community college. Two years in the making — Hein promised the volunteers the long-awaited facility after a meeting with them in mid-summer of 2015 — the proposal sailed through committee. But it stalled on the floor of the legislature.

For some legislators, like frequent Hein critic Dave Donaldson of Kingston, it was Hein being Hein, drawing up projects in executive session and dropping bombs on an unsuspecting public. “There was no input from the neighbors, there was no input from the college, and there was no input from the legislature,” Donaldson charged in moving the referral to the Public Works Committee for further study. His motion passed, 12 to 10.

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Secrecy, I think is a relative thing, and Donaldson is no stranger to hyperbole. Hein has mentioned the fire-training facility in his last two states-of-the-county speeches. The project has been vetted in committee. Proponents like Marlboro’s Richard Gerentine (“a slight to firemen”) and Wallkill’s Ken Ronk (“a shame”) contended there had been sufficient study (if not sufficient public disclosure). They said the referral would only delay the project another month. That said, the project has evolved from passing mention in an executive message to a near fait accompli in only a few months.

Firefighters and residents spoke in equal if opposite measure at last week’s legislature meeting. Neighbors worried over to the environmental impact of a four-story facility over an aquifer and about its impact on a residential neighborhood and water supply. Volunteer fire officers spoke to the necessity of properly trained forces and the inconvenience and inefficiency of traveling to training facilities in Dutchess and Orange counties. For the men and women who answer the call, these were literally life-and-death issues.

Perhaps the legislature, too often a rubber stamp for the executive, was merely asserting its independence in an election year. The thought cannot be dismissed, even if only three or four of 23 seats are actually in play.

Hein posed for photos with firefighters and their trucks the day the legislature met — the better to apply pressure. Questionable tactics notwithstanding, the result is entirely predictable. Whether the facility gets sited in residential Cottekill remains to be seen.

 

Rah rah!

In many state governments the lieutenant governor is the designated cheerleader, a potential heir apparent doomed to an endless road trip hyping the governor and his or her programs. Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo, with higher office in mind, was bored in the job. It didn’t help that he and his boss, Gov. Hugh Carey, almost came to blows. Cuomo carried on, sustained by a unique sense of humor and self-defined destiny.

Lt. Gov. Stan (“Don’t call me Stanley”) Lundine, a former congressman from western New York, was so colorless as to be almost invisible. He had wonderful teeth, though.

Lundine happened to arrive in town at a watershed in local history, the day after IBM, after years of denial, officially announced it was closing its Lake Katrine plant. Predictably, Lundine predicted full recovery, adding, “But it will take time.” Indeed.

Former state senator Mary Ann Krupsak is an all-but-forgotten second banana. One of her claims to fame was announcing that she was governor seconds after Carey’s plane left the tarmac at JFK for a trip to Ireland. She was a one-termer.

Betsy McCaughey Ross literally upstaged George Pataki by standing behind him in a bright pink suit during his state of the state. Gone.

Current Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul has played the role better than most. What better forum for pom-poms than at a chamber of commerce breakfast where announcements of members’ birthdays and door prizes oftentimes generate more buzz than the speakers.?

Hochul arrived almost precisely on time for her speech last week, not deigning to dine, only to wait for 15 minutes while breakfast sponsor Tony Marmo regaled the crowd with one-liners about his Kingston employment agency, Normann Temps.

Once upon the stage, she proved personable, knowledgeable, funny (“I’m the black sheep of my family. I went into politics”), familiar in the practiced way of politicians, but oh so servient to the party line. I stopped counting variants of “the governor” after about a dozen.

I expected no less. She talked right through the scheduled 15-minute Q&A — Thanks a lot, Marmo! — and received a warm sendoff as she sped off to her next stop.

Moving smoothly from one subject to another, Hochul touted a plethora of stats, always suspicious from politicians. Speaking to economic activity, she said there were 3,700 millionaires in the mid-Hudson Valley (including Westchester). But how many before the crash? She didn’t say, nor did she mention the governor had just extended the millionaires’ tax. That certainly will attract a few more, won’t it? She gave the governor credit for establishing the highly popular Walkway Over the Hudson at Highland, to perplexed response. Most of the 220 people at the Best Western breakfast knew the lion’s share of the credit belonged to Gov. David Paterson, Cuomo’s immediate predecessor. Hats off to you, Dave, for taking a bold leap in troubled times.

In hindsight, the governor could have given his loyal lieutenant something more than his record and a bright smile to present to the chamber. A few days after she left town he announced some $3 million in previously known economic development grants for Ulster County. Might Hochul, displaying one of those giant Bozo checks, have announced the happy news to a live audience herself, had the governor’s hyper-active Albany public-relations machine been on its toes? But as Hochul amply demonstrated, this was all about the governor.

A word on state economic development, seemingly more about handing out checks and running expensive TV ads than creating well-paying jobs. These announcements have a multiplier all their own. The merry-go-round begins with grant applications from the various economic development districts. In time, the governor announces grants. The recipients praise the governor. If anything gets built with the grant, or if a few people get jobs, everybody takes credit. It’s a beautiful thing.

The position of lieutenant governor isn’t always a dead end. Three, dating to Malcolm Wilson in the mid-1970s, have become governor. Three have been dumped.

Hochul is in a unique position, what with Cuomo eying a run for the presidency in 2020. First, he has to win handsomely next year. A 50-something-point margin would not do the trick. Assuming Cuomo can’t find anybody more popular or loyal than Hochul, and by some miracle we send two guys from New York to the White House in successive elections, Hochul, in the prime of a noteworthy career at only 57, gets a two-year lead on everybody else.

But I’m getting ahead of the curve. For now, the former Erie County clerk rates as the best lieutenant governor, as a spokesperson, that any governor in recent memory has had. That should be worth something.

 

Here come the judges

Family Court Judge Tony McGinty has joined a lengthening parade of would-be Democratic nominees for a seat on the state supreme court in the Third Judicial District this November.

Reelected without opposition to a third term in 2015, McGinty would be the only Democratic candidate so far with judicial experience. If he needs advice on some of the civil matters that come before state Supreme Court, he can always consult with Surrogate Court judge and wife, Sara McGinty. Surrogate McGinty was elected to a first term last year, so it’s possible we could have three straight years of McGintys on the ballot. Some might term that a blessing, others an embarrassment of riches.

Former congressional candidate Julian Schreibman has been mentioned, but he gets mentioned a lot. Kingston city Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant says he’s serious about Supreme Court after a failed attempt at Family Court three years ago.

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Meanwhile, Republican Peter Crummey, long-time town justice of Colonie, the all-but-official GOP candidate, has been working local hustings. By now, Crummey and his brain trust probably appreciate the decks are stacked in Woodstock, New Paltz, Kingston and Rosendale, but that there’s a fighting chance in Saugerties.

Local Democrats worry about Crummey’s five-month lead in campaigning. Candidates are officially nominated at judicial nominating conventions in early September. Meanwhile, their side is choosing among several credible choices.

 

Here and there

The county legislature will hold a public hearing on May 9 on naming the bridge over the Esopus in Hurley after Jack Gill, the late corn king. As a teenage Marine, Gill survived the sands of Iwo Jima only to have his hand severed in a thresher at the family farm.

The county rebuilt the bridge a few years ago, after which an exuberant county executive arbitrarily attempted to name it after Woodstock troubadour Levon Helm. Angry pushback from Hurley-ites forced an executive withdrawal, with apology. Route 375 had already been named for Helm.

The first meeting of the state-mandated Intermunicipal Cooperation Council drew but a handful of town supervisors last week, but not the county executive charged with its leadership. “It was really a non-event,” groused Supervisors Association President Carl Chipman after a round trip to Kingston from Rochester. Hein dispatched smooth-talking deputy Ken Crannell, who advised the gathering, according to Chipman, that a written directive would be forthcoming from the executive by mid-May. The state wants a plan in place by late August.

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