Hugh Reynolds: A grim diagnosis

Ulster County Executive Mike Hein beat his long-standing antagonist, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, to the punch by several hours in announcing the agreement in principle between BlueCross/BlueShield and Westchester Medical Center last week. The agreement means thousands of policy holders and patients stuck with higher bills. It doesn’t matter who announced what first.

Kingston-based HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley, now a subsidiary of Westchester Medical Center, got mentioned three times in Westchester Med’s brief press release, but there was no direct word from HealthAlliance executives. Calls to the usually receptive executive suite did not connect. Those walking around with blinders the last few years can now better appreciate where the decisions on local healthcare are being made.

The other shoe — call it a hobnailed boot — was left to dangle above the heads of ratepayers. What will be the financial impact of this agreement? Nobody’s talking, yet, but my best estimates range north of 30 percent, on top of 15 to 20 percent increases already in the mail.

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Cahill raises another issue. How about all those Kingston-area patients forced into other networks (Northern Dutchess, Poughkeepsie, Albany) during the 16 months the two sides were haggling over rates and terms? Was the grass greener? Will they return?

On that, the jury is out.

For Hein, the concerns are immediate. Hein has to put out a county budget for 2018 which includes the health premiums for some 2,800 county workers and retirees covered under BlueCross/BlueShield. The prognosis? Painful choices.

I won’t get into the back-and-forth between Hein and Cahill over who did more (or less) to bring the feuding parties to the bargaining table. From what I’ve seen documented, Cahill made the more persistent, broader effort behind the scenes. Hein did well-publicized occasional jawboning. Either ignorant or contemptuous of each other’s efforts, they were operating on parallel tracks. To paraphrase LBJ, they were both pissing into the tent, with the public ultimately getting soaked.
The complete lack of cooperation between these two leading Democrats comes, in my view, at considerable cost to the constituents they both represent.

 

Hein out, again

After his 2016 flirtation over running for Congress, I thought the local media got it just about right in burying Mike Hein’s latest announcement that he wasn’t running in 2018. Again.

Was he ever running? Let’s say at some point, it was a serious exploration. Two years ago, Hein might have been the big fish in a shallow pond of no-name Democrats. Does anybody remember Will Yandik? I didn’t think so.

This year’s offering of eight Democratic candidates (so far) looks like the Kentucky Derby, albeit with a few donkeys in the field hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

The fact that Hein is (or would have been) the only candidate with extensive experience in elected office was a bonus that cuts both ways.
Other than time and effort — Brian Flynn of Hunter is funding his campaign to the tune of $500,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings — the announced candidates have little to lose. Hein would not have to give up his seat to run next year, but a loss, either in the primary or the general election would have impacted his political future.

According to his July state filing, Hein had over $108,000 in his war chest. Congress being the big leagues, the exec could run through that stash (which doesn’t include receipts from his July 20 fundraiser) in a month.

The big fish will remain in familiar waters.

 

Andrew Cuomo’s heavy humor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a rare flight on gossamer wings, injected a little humor into another boring announcement of endless government grants last week. First prize, he told one gathering, was $10 million. Second prize, which he later said he made up, was five million dollars per applicant. Bottom of the prize list was a set of steak knives. Yuk, yuk.

The punch line comes from the 1992 cult movie Glengarry Glen Ross. Alec Baldwin’s character announces a contest between desperate swampland real-estate salespersons. First prize, he told the group, was a new Cadillac, second prize a set of steak knives. “Third prize, you’re fired.”

Good line, steak knives, Andrew. Father Mario was funnier. “Not bad, for a second-termer,” he quipped to a proud Andrew after Andrew’s first re-election in 2014. The elder Cuomo was elected three times, narrowly missing a fourth term in 1994. Mario died in January 2015.

 

Wiltwyck for sale

Can’t say I was stunned by the news that fabled Wiltwyck Golf Club was on the market, via the ubiquitous Murphy Realty Group. Golf in general has been in decline for the past decade, much like the area’s economy. Once boasting a well-heeled elite membership of 300, with a you-gotta-know-somebody waiting list, magnificent Wiltwyck has struggled to make ends meet with a membership of maybe a third that many these days. Probably half of those greybeards with fond memories are from the club’s IBM salad days.

“There’s just no jobs around here, no young people,” another club manager lamented of Wiltwyck’s situation. It might be worse than he thought. Town of Ulster supervisor Jim Quigley, the ultimate numbers guy, offered these figures from the state department of labor: median household income in the Town of Ulster dropped from $54,418 (adjusted for inflation) in 1990 to $46,734 in 2015. Overall county household income is up by about 15 percent (adjusted) to $58,918.

With an asking price of $3.5 million (including a 24,000-square-foot clubhouse) Wiltwyck’s 150 manicured acres would be a steal for a golf developer, if indeed, golf is in its future. Dr. Tony Bacchi, owner of the Lazy Swan golf course in Saugerties, recently purchased Wiltwyck’s $1.7 million mortgage, but the good doctor (he hasn’t returned calls) might not necessarily be about expanding his golf business. Imagine condos running down both sides of Wiltwyck’s manicured fairways?

I thought about putting a consortium of golf pals together to buy the place, but most of those people are cheaper than me. Eighty or so investors at $50,000 each could buy the place, but then, how do you pay the bills? Current management apparently wasn’t able to figure that out.

 

The future of the mall

And speaking of investors. I call them the “Georgia bulldogs” — Jim Hull and John Mulherin, two personable guys from the Peachtree State whose Hull Property Group purchased the dying Hudson Valley Mall in January. “Wizards of Oz” was a close second in the nickname contest, though for visiting businessmen they’ve been remarkably upfront about their plans.

While we wish them success, as we did with Westchester developer Alan Ginsberg when he bought IBM for a song a score of years ago, the bulldogs are bucking a rising tide of e-commerce against rapid brick-and-mortar decline. Owners of some 20-odd malls around the country, they know their stuff, confirmed by three meetings with our probacious (as in probing) editorial staff over the last six months. They seem absolutely committed to reviving the mall. That’s good news, because if that half-empty collection of concrete block, what they call “the behemoth on the hill,” goes dark, the domino effect on the county’s prime commercial district could be devastating.

That said, I wonder if the bulldogs might more carefully consider advice offered by former alderman Brad Will to really, really think outside the box. “The Hudson Valley Mall could become something completely new — and even exciting,” Will wrote in a letter to the editor. “But retail? No.”

Will is hardly an authority on these matters, but the mall owners might give his ideas some serious thought.

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