Two years ago, plus a few months, Ulster County executive Mike Hein delayed a decision on whether to run for Congress until almost the eleventh hour, only to bow out of a race he never officially entered around the December holidays. With Hein the party-supported front-runner, other Democrats held fire on Hein’s announcement. That delay cost eventual Democratic candidates time and money.
At least on the Democratic side, nobody’s waiting for anybody this time around.
On the Republican side, nary a disparaging word has been heard, much less a challenger to incumbent John Faso, viewed as virtually invulnerable in his northern stronghold to a challenge from the right.
Hein doesn’t often ask me for political advice, but if he did I would strongly suggest he consider very carefully what he might wish for. While Hein didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard against a weak, underfunded opponent in 2015, he remains the man to beat for county executive. At 52 next month, he could conceivably hold the office for another generation, unless a strong Democrat or a Republican with really deep pockets emerges or he stumbles badly in reaching for the next rung on the ladder.
Memo to the upwardly ambitious: Faso may be a one-termer, but he will not fold. An old-fashioned brawler at heart, despite an easygoing public demeanor, he will defend his seat with fire and brimstone.
Hein, a big fish in a really small pond, has never run for state office, much less Congress. Nor have any of Faso’s eight other Democratic challengers. They play hardball up there. Not to say that Hein has anything to hide, but Faso and his fact-checkers will dredge the swamp for hints of contradiction, misstatements or failed initiatives. And Hein, whom one departing top staffer called “not as thin-skinned as he used to be,” does not suffer criticism gladly. That said, who does?
In late May, Hein announced a plan for campaign finance reform for county offices, something that’s been on the legislature’s agenda and an unspecified staple of recent executive state-of-the-county addresses.
Hein included, along with campaign spending limits and restrictions on vendors’ donations a controversial matching-grant proviso for those running for legislature. Voters north of the city — which already has matching grant laws — may look askance at the notion of paying to help people get elected.
But “campaign finance reform” looks good on the resume, even if it couldn’t begin to happen until after the November elections.
Of late, Hein has been touting his accomplishments in convincing the state legislature to pass laws that would require major pharmacies to take back opiod drugs. So he’s on top of the drug war, even if Ulster’s main strategy has been limited to encouraging drug drop boxes at police headquarters around the county.
Coincident or not to proposed campaign finance reform, Hein will hold his annual “birthday” fundraiser on July 20 at 5 p.m. at The Chateau in Kingston. It could be the last chance for donors to attempt to influence government under Ulster’s present non-existent campaign-finance laws.
Under the heading of sometimes-politicians-keep-their-word, the three Democratic candidates for state Supreme Court judge stood by an agreement to abide by the party’s county executive committee recommendations. Vying for the nomination were family court judge Tony McGinty of Rosendale, Kingston city corporation counsel Kevin Bryant, a former candidate for family court, and Julian Schreibman, a former candidate for Congress, late of Marbletown. Meeting in secret session in May, the executive committee, to no great surprise in these quarters, endorsed Schreibman. The others dropped out, however reluctantly.
While each candidate had boosters, all parties appreciated that Ulster would need a united front in order to have any chance at the seven-county district nomination in Albany come September. We’ll keep an ear to the ground, but lately there’s been stirrings from Capitol District Democrats that this seat, being vacated on January 1 after 34 years by Woodstock’s Karen Peters, may not necessarily be Ulster’s by divine right.
By contrast, Republican hopeful, Peter Crummey of Colonie, endorsed by every county committee, seems to have clear sailing.
As a footnote, Peters’ distinguished judicial career — she’ll retire as chief judge of the district appellate court — got off to a curious start. In 1983, Peters, then a little-known New Paltz attorney, called a press conference at Democratic headquarters Kingston to announce her candidacy for family court judge. A reporter from one of the dailies asked about her age.
Peters whispered for a moment with her campaign manager, the late Kathy Frazier, sitting next to her at the head table. Looking up, Peters, an outspoken feminist, then and now, said firmly, “I consider that a sexist question. Would you ask that question of a male candidate?”
“Of course,” said the reporter. “It’s just routine bio info. We ask everybody.”
Peters and Frazier huddled again.
“I’m 36,” the candidate said.
“Thank you,” said the reporter as we all jotted down “36” in notebooks.
In hindsight the question might have been an inadvertently loaded one. In those days, Peters well knew, first-time candidates for judicial office were usually married men in their forties or fifties.
In any event, Peters, a fresh new face now turning 70, easily defeated Republican stalwart John Lynch. The rest as they say is history, and a proud one it is.
At the county legislature
Primaries are rare in county legislative races, but this year we’ll have at least two. Kingston alderwoman Lynn Eckert will challenge ten-term legislator Pete Loughran in the city’s midtown ward, while Shandaken activist Kathy Nolan will take on veteran Olive legislator John Parete. Given district demographics, winners of the September 19 Democratic primaries are likely to be the next legislators.
One-termer Eckert insists hers is not a new-Kingston-versus-old-Kingston challenge, but a near four-to-one margin for her at the unofficial convention should give the incumbent pause. For a change, county issues rather than popularity and longevity will be in play. Loughran’s vote to move the county family courthouse from the city to Ulster will be a factor.
Upland, Nolan has been a faithful and frequently effective spear carrier for the Hein administration, John Parete more a pain to it. So, call this one a Hein mini-referendum. As Parete well knows after a long losing streak, the county executive is very tough in the clutch. Few are more privy to the administration’s inner sanctum than the ubiquitous Dr. Nolan, but Boiceville Inn owner Parete is hardly an underdog. Adding belts to suspenders to his Ted Nugent shirts, perhaps the former legislature chairman could recruit a few black bears for the campaign. I thought I saw one sipping Mountain Dew at the end of the bar at the inn last week. But nobody dared ask his name. (Cheers?)
While control of the legislature doesn’t seem to matter very much under a strong executive, it could depend on results in Esopus and Rochester. Both parties have recruited familiar faces. Democratic nominee Laura Petit, a former two-term Republican legislator, will face off against Republican Ira Weiner, a former town GOP chairman currently enrolled in the Independence Party. Republican incumbent Carl Belfiglio will exit stage right to run for town supervisor as one-term supervisor as former clerk Diane McCord departs for a well-earned retirement after a single term as supervisor. Shannon Harris, former wife of Julian Schreibman, has moved from Marbletown for a run at the top of the Democratic ticket in Esopus.
Down south in Rochester, the rematch between former Democratic legislator Lynn Archer and incumbent Republican Ron Lapp could be consequential.
Should Petit and Archer prevail, those seats could swing a 13-10 Republican legislature (Parete votes with the GOP) back to the Democrats.
Depending on who’s talking, the state legislature last month either concluded one of its best sessions or one of its worst. Left hanging, among other items, was a huge bargaining chip, renewal of sales-tax extension legislation in most New York counties, including one worth some $30 million to Ulster. The Assembly passed the extender, but not so the State Senate, reportedly willing to trade for charter-school expansion and perhaps continuation of mayoral control over New York City public schools. Exhausted after all the end-of-session wheeling and dealing, the legislators were called back into special session by the governor this week. Counties, so dependent on sales-tax revenues, will be lobbying heavily.
I’m not a big Andrew Cuomo fan — his father Mario was more tolerable — but the Assembly’s refusing to rename the new Tappan Zee Bridge after the late governor was something more than a slap in the face, especially after a Republican Senate approved the measure.
These things are largely ceremonial, like when’s the last time anybody called the bridge Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge “Clinton,” or the one at Poughkeepsie “Roosevelt”? Ditto for the “Fish” at Newburgh (I’ll concede on the Rip Van Winkle at Catskill).
The familial snub, which the proud Andrew must have taken as very personal (and he will get even), speaks more to the tenor of politics in the state capital these days. In homage to the great Dylan, dare we ask, when will it ever end?