Hugh Reynolds: Faso’s political sin

One of the cardinal rules of politics is do not, under any circumstances, allow your opposition to define you.

Congressman John Faso knows all the rules. Over a 30-year career, he may have invented some. But he has repeatedly defied and/or ignored the cardinal rule. Faso has allowed opponents to define him as a lily-livered wimp afraid to confront his constituents face to face.

Faso by now has probably met with thousands of his constituents on a broad host of issues, but only on his turf, usually privately and under controlled conditions. A master of inside baseball, Faso needs to bring his game to the people.

Advertisement

Faso has refused to attend so-called town hall sessions with constituents (Monday’s public session at the Kingston Library was a partial exception), citing in most instances previous commitments. That stance feels to an increasing number of his constituents like a bone in the throat. When pressed by media, where he is readily accessible, Faso makes no bones about what he considers highly partisan, well-organized gatherings aimed at vilifying him and his fellow Republicans counterproductive.

Obviously, I’d like to see Faso under live fire. I’ve covered him in several campaigns.  He ain’t no shrinking violet, even if he has assumed that persona in federal office. If anything, Faso’s testosterone can prove damaging. In the 1998 campaign for Assembly between comeback kid Kevin Cahill and Sean Mathews, a 26-year-old not-ready-for-prime-time alderman, Faso, as Assembly minority leader and director of the Republican campaign committee for his house, ran such an uber-negative race that the former assemblyman actually became a figure of pity. Thanks to Faso, Cahill became assemblyman again for the next two decades. (In truth, the Democratic campaign committee was only slightly less vicious.)

Back to the present, Faso’s no-shows were met first with surprise and then with extreme prejudice. And why not? People wanted to hear directly from their new representative.

“Grow a set, Johnny!” somebody yelled shortly after it was announced Faso would not appear at one of the early forums in Kingston, attended by over 700 people. (For the record, I’m pleased to inform Faso or anyone else interested, that they actually grow these things in Woodstock — or is it Rosendale? — and sometimes in New Paltz. Brass is extra.)

 

Reflect, reconsider and reload

Speaking of brass, how would retired congressman Maurice Hinchey have handled this situation? Hinchey, recall, was almost the deciding vote on Obamacare in 2010 and one of its staunchest advocates. I suspect how he would have reacted. Hinchey would have arrived a few minutes late for an anti-ACA forum, (no such event occurred), strode across the stage with that bantam rooster walk of his and told everyone to go to hell if they didn’t like the bill.

But enough of specious comparisons. These are serious times, and increasingly conflicted. If House Republicans had passed the original 2010 ACA bill word for word, protests would have broken out all over the country. To hard-shell Democrats anything Republicans do is anathema these days.

Upward of 500 people jammed the Senate Garage event space in Uptown Monday night to hear visiting Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney take Faso apart. I recognized a lot of Democratic faces. If any Republicans were in attendance, they were disguised as potted plants. The parking lots were full of Priuses. Local liquor stores and bars did, I imagine, a brisk business in Chardonnay.

Maloney did not disappoint, characterizing his congressional neighbor as ignorant of the nuts and bolts of the Republican healthcare bill, mean-spirited and gutless. (I paraphrase, but only in degree.) Preaching to an appreciative choir, Maloney was a huge hit.

Faso, reportedly scheduled for a fundraiser somewhere, was again a no-show. In separate interviews, he called Maloney’s foray into his district “sad,” but par for the course. One wonders what it takes to get this guy pissed.

I don’t get to sit in on those secret skull sessions where politicians make all the big decisions, but if so, I’d advise Faso to reflect, reconsider and reload.

Faso should be able to convey his views to even a hostile crowd, as he did at the library, without being tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. He should do so. I mean, what can possibly go wrong?

 

Calling out Maloney

From what I read in the papers and view on the tube, Maloney looks like a pretty good congressman. He’s active, engaged, outspoken and progressive. He seems to get things done in Washington, and seems to play well with the other children, which is to say his colleagues. I like his advocacy for veterans, for instance, though I think he takes more credit than necessary.

I really don’t like the idea of Maloney or any other congressman showing up in my congressional district to speak against the resident colleague, who some may recall was elected by a fairly decisive margin only last November. If Faso won’t face the music and enough people don’t dig his tune, well, we can vote him out.

While the old rules don’t seem to apply any more, there is long-standing protocol among legislators — call it professional courtesy — that says members hearken to their own districts, the better to deal with the issues facing their own constituents. That Maloney and Faso differ fundamentally on healthcare reform is something that will ultimately affect everyone in every district is beside the point.

Maloney and Faso debating national issues face to face on local cable is a good thing, useful and informative. Maloney invading Faso’s district to give one side of a highly controversial issue is not. Having both congressmen at a similar forum would be much more productive and informative.

 

Circling back

Of late, some of Faso’s critics have been attacking the freshman congressman for allegedly deceiving voters last November by posing as “a moderate.” I didn’t see it that way. Faso’s record as a conservative was long-established, just as Democratic opponent Zephyr Teachout’s was from the left. Both drifted toward the center, but not much.  Voters had a clear choice. They chose Faso.

Advertisement

Some say Faso has moved rightward in a Congress dominated by conservatives. I imagine he’s quite comfortable there, even if a bit out of step with the majority of his constituents. I liked, for instance, his recent statement that tax money belongs to the taxpayers, not the government. Millennials might find that quaint, which in fact it is.

 

Postscripts

I hate to correct a correction, but for the last time, former congressional candidate Julian Schreibman is running for the Democratic nomination for state Supreme Court judge, not for Congress. Also making the rounds are Kingston Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant and Family Court Judge Tony McGinty.

Meanwhile, Gareth Rhodes, 28, of Kerhonkson (Kingston High Class of ’06) has joined an expanding Democratic field to challenge John Faso next year.

There are 3 comments

  1. Kevin Cahill

    I enjoy reading Hugh Reynolds opinion column and have been known on occasion to call him with a “tip” or a different point of view. He is better informed than most, always interesting and often entertaining. His longevity speaks well of his unique approach to writing. I should also disclose that though it took several decades, Hugh and I have become friendly toward one and other. Every once in a while, we even have a beer together, always chaperoned.

    I do not make a habit of correcting comments, recollections or “facts” published in most news outlets and Hugh Reynold’s columns are no exception. When I do offer a correction, it is usually a phone call or a private note. This time, however, because I hold civility in politics as a highest of values, I must do so here.

    In a parenthetical statement following an analysis of the 1998 race for the Assembly, Hugh indicated that the campaign on my behalf “was only slightly less vicious”. Untrue. When I agreed to work with the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee in 1998, I made it a condition that our campaign be positive. I was as confident then as I am today that what I stood for as a candidate would resonate with voters and I did not wish to engage in the further deterioration of the discourse of running for office. Some might remember that here in New York at the time, we were victim of the basest of campaigns for the United States Senate between Alphonse D’Amato and Charles Schumer. It was ugly and unpleasant for all, but particularly for the voters.

    I had no interest in mud-slinging or personal attacks. Sean Mathews is and was then a respectable individual who had been a fine public servant and who’s views on many issues were very different from mine and, I believe the majority of voters in the then 101st Assembly District. Our politics were different, but I was friends with Sean and his family and remain so to this day. In fact, I count Sean’s Dad Rich as a close friend and often trusted advisor, particularly regarding health care in our community.

    The negative campaign conducted on behalf of Sean Mathews by the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee was in sharp contrast to the way Sean conducted himself in our community. While venom and bile were flooding our mailboxes from his Albany campaign, as much as could be expected, he was a gentleman when we met during that time and he was as prepared as I was to discuss the issues and our differences.

    The literature and ads coming out of Albany on his behalf were not civil. Many of the were mean-spirited, borderline bigoted and mostly untrue. They were intended to incite, not inform. They were purposed to create an image of me that was as inaccurate as could be, even when citing snippets of verifiable information. Most of all, however, the “RACC” campaign was intended to win the seat for Sean Mathews. Instead, perhaps because it was operating in a way that was inconsistent with the rest of the Mathews’ campaign, I agree with Hugh Reynolds that it may have actually helped me to win.

    Separate from the Albany-based Assembly campaign committees, Sean and I each enjoyed strong local support. However, even our neighbors and friends were not immune to attempts to poison the well. One day when I was leaving a church service during that campaign, the cars in the parking lot were littered with flyers that depicted abortion procedures in a horrific way and associating it with my position on family reproductive health. I later came to believe that it was an independent initiative, likely not authorized by Sean or even RACC.

    Another time, Senator Bill Larkin and then Senator Joe Holland of Rockland County teamed up to paint a campaign contribution by an Assembly colleague as “proof” that I opposed the building of the Northeast Center for Special Care (I supported it then and have advocated on behalf of the center, it’s patients, residents and staff many times since). Instead of crying foul — after all, campaign contributions are fair game — I simply pointed out some of Sean’s contributions and those of Senators Larkin and Holland that might have raised questions about motives for their support of certain recipients of Pataki-era economic development grants.

    My supporters were not immune from “dirty tricks”, though I personally intervened to prevent them from being part of our campaign or public in any way. A group of activists decided to take matters in their own hands and print a personal attack piece against Sean Mathews, not about his politics, but about his private life. The truth of the piece was irrelevant to me. The approach to be personal and negative was not part of how I wished to have my candidacy considered by the voters. The piece was organized, laid out and printed without my knowledge or consent and distribution was being readied, also without my consent. In making the rounds to different parts of the district, I stopped in a local town Democratic committee headquarters. It was there that I encountered a room full of volunteers affixing addresses to a flyer I had never seen. In fact, it’s even possible those volunteers were not entirely aware of what they were labeling! As soon as I saw the piece, I personally confiscated what I could and directed the folks in charge to get and destroy the rest. I was so adamant that it was a running joke for the next couple of years, long after the election and even after Sean Mathews relocated to his now home in Rockland County, that those flyers were in a friend’s garage in case I ever needed them. I made sure that everyone knew that I just wanted them gone.

    John Faso was part of a trio of people who were involved in the negative “RACC” campaign against me in 1998. I got to know the other two people and have actually had productive working relationships with them, as I have with John Faso. They were wrong to go for the jugular then and the voters let them know by defeating, I believe, that approach to campaigns as much as supporting our efforts.

    The current controversy over Faso’s support of the policies of the majority in Congress in which he serves is not about image or approach. It is not about how he is being portrayed. What has the people of the 19th Congressional District upset is that John Faso was not truthful with them and he has not demonstrated that his actions are in the best interest of the people he was elected to represent. They are doubly upset because he has publicly stated numerous times that he would act differently, that he understood the unique issues of our area and state and would be beholden to those values and not succumb to the party politics in Washington.

    Make no mistake about it, John Faso cast one of the deciding votes to destroy the Affordable Care Act. In the process, he also put at risk the health care of his neighbors here in the Hudson Valley and surrounding communities. His vote portends the end of Planned Parenthood, the bankrupting of the state budget, the closure of our hospitals and the loss of health insurance for 14 million Americans, one in eight of whom live here in New York and over 65,000 right in the 19th Congressional District.

    Yes, John Faso should be prepared to face his constituents, friendly or not. His is not an “image” problem though. It is much more important than that. It is a substantive and significant breach between John Faso and his constituents. No amount of spin can change that, though I agree that his refusal or failure to appear at most public forums isn’t helping him any.

    We here in this area thrive on serious, open and honest dialogue concerning common issues. It is indisputable that during his public career, Maurice Hinchey was feisty, articulate and had no corner for bullies. It is also true that he stood for and supported matters that were consistent with the interests and needs of his constituents. That, more than an image makeover, is what John Faso has to change.

    Ulster Publishing and Hugh Reynolds, thank you for continuing to be the primary source of news, information and connection for all of us in Kingston, New Paltz, Woodstock, Saugerties and the surrounding communities.

    Best,

    Kevin Cahill

  2. Papa Zit

    Just for the record, an actual Town Hall meeting would offer a neutral forum to weigh all sides of the issue equally, with members of the public from both aisles, timely notified and in discussion together. The Maloney event at Senate House Garage was not a Town Hall, it was a partisan pep rally. Zephyr Teachout was nowhere to be seen, along with Mr. Faso. Democrats seem to be gearing to campaign Mike Hein against John Faso for Congress in the 19th NY District in 2018. Also, why was Julian Schreibman at this thing, if he is running for judge, ethically not supposed to be there.

  3. Marie Beichert

    What a refreshing read. Can’t help but mention a vivid memory of 1998 wherein Kevin approached his local volunteers at Broadway headquarters to ask our opinion on whether to return RACC’s vitriol with the same attack mentality. There was no question that civil discourse was the high road, and the only road. Would that we could return to those bucolic times. Thank you, gentlemen. I hold out hope.

Comments are closed.