Hugh Reynolds: One ring, eight hats

David Clegg speaks Sunday in Kingston. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

As new candidates enter the already crowded field for the Democratic congressional nomination next year, the odds for bottom-feeders can only improve.

Look at it this way. With eight announced candidates, next year’s primary winner might need only 15 or 20 percent from a shallow pool of voters. With nine or 10 competitors, the winner won’t need as many votes. That provides hope for candidates with little money and few friends.

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Thankfully for those of us who keep track of these no-names, the field should narrow considerably when federal campaign spending reports are made public later this month.

Money is even more the mother’s milk of politics these days than when California state treasurer Jesse Unruh coined that brutal truism decades ago. My prediction is that anybody who hasn’t raised at least six figures, probably closer to $200,000, by this first filing will soon be a footnote.

The real money, even for longtime incumbents, comes out of Washington, where congressional campaign managers on both sides are carefully watching developments in close districts.

Call it seed money. If a candidate can show early fundraising ability, he or Sue Sullivan, the only woman declared so far, can count on financial support in next year’s general election.

Emily’s List, a long-standing Washington lobbying group dedicated to electing liberal, pro-choice women to high office, says it best. I asked a spokeswoman what “Emily” stood for. It’s an acronym. “Early Money Is Like Yeast. It rises,” she said.

The ante borders on obscene. Last year, various campaign committees dumped some $20 million into the 19th District race. Republican John Faso of Columbia County prevailed over Democrat Zephyr Teachout of Dutchess by about 25,000 votes.

Twenty million might be only a down payment next time. The major parties spent more than twice that in a special election in Georgia last month.

I don’t think ideology matters much, what with Demo candidates all playing in the same band, which is to say dump Trump and Faso, too. Faso’s tactic of refusing town meetings plays into what is shaping up as an ugly negative mix.

 

Dave Clegg revival

Having nothing better to do than cruise around in my white convertible on a gorgeous mid-summer afternoon, I dropped by candidate Dave Clegg’s (second) announcement at the Senate House Garage in uptown Kingston on Sunday, July 9. Since Clegg, a Kingston lawyer and Woodstock resident, had announced to substantial coverage less than two weeks previous, I wasn’t much interested in a rehash before an adoring crowd of hand-picked supporters. But curiosity almost always gets the news cat, if only to count noses on who was there, or wasn’t.

In terms of big-name Democrats, not many. But Clegg drew a crowd of more than 250, whipped into near-righteous frenzy by a series of evangelical-like speakers. One zealot, apparently reaching for a hook, referred to Clegg as “habitually ethical.” I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded good.

County human rights director Evelyn Clarke’s foot-stomping, fist-shaking endorsement was so loud I could hear her out on the sidewalk. The crowd responded in kind. Clegg is a member of the county Human Rights Commission.

Retired surrogate judge Mary Work, now free to politic, hailed Clegg as “a good lawyer” — high praise, apparently, from the bench. For a minute, I thought he might declare for state Supreme Xourt.

Entering politics for the first time at 64, (born the same year as incumbent John Faso, but three months younger), Clegg brings an impressive record of caring and doing for the less fortunate. An ordained minister and a deacon at the St. James Methodist Church down the block from the Senate House, Clegg has been involved with feeding the poor and housing the homeless through churches and Family of Woodstock for most of his adult life. “You know who I am. I have been kind of practicing for this job my whole life,” he said to cheers.

Clegg is very much the hometown candidate, Democrats apparently having learned something from the last two congressional campaigns, where they fielded new arrivals against entrenched grassroots fixtures. Hailing from Ulster, the most populous county in the 11-county district, is an advantage. Ulster’s 180,000 residents represent about a quarter of the district’s population.

Five of the eight declared candidates are from Ulster County: Clegg, Sullivan from Plattekill, Patrick Ryan from Kingston, Jeff Beals from Woodstock, and Gareth Rhodes from Kerhonkson. It’s probably too early to declare any of them front-runners through the back stretch.

Clegg’s local launch was a happening, all right, but is anybody listening at this point? “I don’t think so, not really,” a Rosendale Democrat told me after the rally broke up. “A lot of us are suffering from battle fatigue after last year. And now this [meaning Trump]. It’s too early, and there’s just too many of them. There might be more, for God’s sake!”

 

Mountain high

Maybe because it sounded like most of the other court cases, few took notice of the Catskill Heritage Alliance losing again in state Supreme Court in its quest to delay or defeat plans to build a mega-resort at Belleayre.

On June 30, Judge Richard Mott ruled against CHA, which had argued in March that the Shandaken zoning board had acted illegally in defining 629 units of “transient housing” developers propose. Their notation that those units represented more housing than currently exists in Shandaken Kathy Nolan didn’t sway the court.

Alliance spokesperson, a Shandaken resident, decried the court’s finding, indicating yet another appeal in the works.

In the meantime, Nolan is running for county legislator against veteran incumbent John Parete, a pro-development type. They’ll face off in a Democratic primary on Sept. 12.

“It was quite a slapdown, actually,” said Parete of Mott’s decision. “I’m for the plan Congressman Maurice Hinchey and Governor Eliot Spitzer proposed,” he said, dropping two names, one iconic and the other an embarrassment.

In any event, district voters will finally have a direct voice on this project, launched in 1999. Which way will it go? Closer than some folks might think.

 

Here and there

The annual Saugerties car show sponsored by Sawyer Motors was bigger than ever. Parking was scarce. Almost every side street around the village center was festooned with temporary “no parking” signs. What’s with that, I asked a cop. You invite people to town and there’s no parking?

The explanation from the friendly officer was that numerous (resident) vehicles were sideswiped on those streets last year. Thus, no parking. Under the heading of noses and faces, there had to have been a better solution. Kingston did a fair to middlin’ job of shuttling people to and from Bob Dylan’s waterfront concerts last month. Perhaps Saugerties decision-makers could benefit from consultation with their Colonial City counterparts.

One of the questions retired CBS newsman Dan Rather used to ask subjects at the end of an interview was, “Is there anything else I should have asked you?” On occasion, he got some interesting replies.

The Ulster County Conservative Party might have used that tactic when its executive committee interviewed fellow Conservative Mike Wendell for its nomination for county comptroller last month. A few days later the committee learned that Wendell had been served with an order of protection for harassing incumbent Comptroller Elliott Auerbach. But nobody asked him that question. Nobody knew of the verdict in Ellenville court, apparently, and Wendell didn’t volunteer it. “It would have given us great pause if we had known,” red-faced party chairman Ed Gaddy said in a July 6 release.

Pause? More like lock and load. The Conservative nomination has been withdrawn, leaving unopposed Democrat Auerbach a clear path to a fourth term.

Ending on a positive note, reports of SUNY New Paltz’s Dr. Gerry Benjamin’s “retirement” from teaching were exaggerated (by me) in a recent column. Benjamin, “busy thinking great thoughts,” tells me he’s still teaches political science courses at SUNY New Paltz. He also runs a New Paltz-based regional think tank, lectures widely, and is always available to share great thoughts with media. May he long endure.

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