Hugh Reynolds: Lessons of the 2017 primaries

Last week’s primary results indicate that at least five of 23 incumbent Ulster County legislators won’t be back come next year, maybe more. It’s an unusually high turnover.

For the first time in more than a dozen years, there will be nobody named Parete sitting with either Democrats or Republicans. Once there were three.

With both remaining Paretes, John and Richard, headed for the legislative exit, the high-fives from the executive office could be heard from Olive to Stone Ridge. The celebration may be premature. The sixth floor might come to miss those troublesome thorns. Better the devil you know, as the saying goes.

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When Rich Parete, a seven-termer, was soundly defeated in a rematch with Doug Adams in the Democratic primary for legislature in the Marbletown-Hurley district, he already had a really solid backup plan. Through adroit political maneuvering, Parete managed to secure both the Democratic and Republican nominations for Marbletown town supervisor at party caucuses before anyone went to the primary polls.

Adams, who lost to Republican-endorsed Parete in the general election two years ago, will not now get a free ride. After Parete formally declined the Republican nomination he won at primary, the party committee on vacancies nominated Heidi Haynes of Accord as its candidate. Parete described Haynes, state Sen. George Amedore’s district representative, as “a very serious candidate.” With the Democrats divided and Parete free to push Haynes, this one could be close.

Poppa John Parete, facing major surgery on what he called “a wreck of a shoulder” and nursing a few grudges, took it on the chin big-time when citizen advocate Kathy Nolan decided it was time to join the dance. A close ally of County Executive Mike Hein — she mouths Heinian platitudes better than he does — Dr. Nolan trounced the incumbent, with about 20 percent of eligibles turning out. Parete expressed hope that the general election might produce different results if he ran on a minor-party line. Perhaps he might be better off to focus on his shoulder rehab. The Mets could use a few good arms next year.

Loyal wife Barbara put things in perspective the day after the primary. “Was I surprised by the outcome?” she asked rhetorically. “Not really. These things happen. I was more surprised to wake up on a Wednesday morning to find Donald Trump was president. That one really hurt.”

Meanwhile Dr. Nolan, a non-practicing physician, will make house calls come January. She shows up for every meeting, anyway. Soon she’ll get paid for it.

Contacted after the election, Nolan said she feels she can be more effective inside the tent — to paraphrase LBJ — than outside it. One of her first priorities, she said, will be to reverse a “self-imposed legislative gag rule on memorializing resolutions.”

She thinks her victory over Parete shows support for rightsizing the long-delayed Belleayre project in Shandaken. “Big, one-off developments don’t work,” she proclaimed. Some locals have been hoping for jobs at what project critics called a megaresort.

Methinks Nolan’s win might have been more about Parete fatigue.

Other legislature changes

It was neither a surprise nor a shock that freshman alderman Lynn Eckert trounced 20-year Kingston legislator Pete Loughran in what many saw as an old-Kingston-versus-new-Kingston matchup. The surprise was more about the margin — almost three to one.

Loughran could have stood in bed, as they used to say, and polled 100 votes in that district. Loughran, who hadn’t faced an opponent in the last two elections, might have gotten a little soft in office, which is to take nothing from the hard-driving, door-to-door campaign put on by his challenger. Mike Hein will lose a sure vote in Loughran but pick one up with Nolan. There can be no guarantees from the undependably-minded, progressive Eckert.

With John Parete and Loughran, the bottom line is that two challengers with a combined 21 months in public office trounced two legislators with more than 30 years on the job. There must be something in the water. Or maybe people are beginning to pay attention to the legislature.

Based on an admittedly small sample, it would appear the new legislature will tack more left than center when the new house convenes in January. But this isn’t necessarily bad news for Mike Hein, who will find new ways to retain if not enhance executive influence.

Elsewhere, legislators are headed for greener pastures closer to home. Republican Carl Belfiglio figures to be a favorite for Esopus town supervisor, where he faces Democratic newcomer Shannon Harris, former wife of judicial candidate Julian Schreibman.

T.J. Briggs will leave to run for town board in Wawarsing, clearing the way for something historic. Ellenville clergyman Julius Collins, all but elected on the Democratic line, will become only the second African-American to serve in the county legislature since the present system was created 50 years ago. Larry Kithcart, a Kingston Democrat, elected in 1971, served four terms before retiring for a job as director of the county Community Action.

The legislative majority, currently 12-11 Republican, could flip in November, what with five open seats. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Turnout turnoff

Participation in last week’s primaries was mixed, ranging from barely single digits (average is around 15 percent) to a more respectable 20 percent in Olive and 17 percent in New Paltz. The lowest turnout was in the one-hand-clapping race for the Reform Party nomination for county comptroller. Mike Wendel forced a Reform Party primary, but as a registered Conservative couldn’t even vote for himself. And nobody else did, even though upwards of 33,000 independent voters were eligible to write in a name. Unofficially, Democratic nominee Elliott Auerbach got 18 votes, John Parete got six. The board received 56 write-ins for a dozen candidates.

Board of election officials say the primary wasn’t a total waste of an estimated $40,000 in taxpayer funds. Only three towns, Rosendale, Woodstock and Ulster, did not have primaries, so staffing for the other 17 towns and the city was necessary with or without Wendel. Still, with all the publicity accompanying Wendel’s challenge, one might think somebody might have voted for him.

Gresham’s revenge

Under the heading of Gresham’s Law (“bad money tends to force out good money”), barely attended party primaries tend to force out other news stories that people might really care about.

For instance, the local Kingston daily breathlessly reported this week that Ulster County was not in the running as a location for a for a huge Amazon plant. And not much else, either, given the economic doldrums around here these days. Amazon had previously announced it was inviting proposals from New York City, Rochester and Buffalo.

We can now assume that Ulster is also not a candidate for the Giants to relocate to Gardiner, the U.N. to Esopus (though a riverfront location was seriously considered in the late 1940s before the Rockefellers donated the land in New York City) or the Yankees settling in Saugerties. I’d be happy with IBM coming back to Lake Katrine.

More to the pocketbook, Central Hudson announced its request to increase residential and commercial rates by around 12 percent next year. Are these people insane? The economy has been flat for years; people are fleeing New York to low-tax states, and they want to raise rates by six times the rate of inflation? And they’ll get most of it from a toothless, curiously named state Public Service Commission.

On Lake Hill

Being a regular at all-you-can-eat seven-dollars-a-head firehouse breakfasts around the county, I get to talk to a lot of nice folks. We met a couple at last Sunday’s Lake Hill Fire Company breakfast. “Bet you never met Bill and Hillary,” a stout fellow with a full beard said, pointing to his blond wife. Actually, I hadn’t. It was Woodstock Town Supervisor Bill McKenna and his wife Hillary. Democrats, the McKennas are sure to make Hillary Clinton’s book signing in Rhinebeck on Dec. 7. Good thing McKenna didn’t marry somebody named Monica.

I missed early-bird Town Justice Richard Husted at the breakfast, but he left behind a stack of Hershey’s candy bars with an “Elect Judge Richard Husted” sticker pasted over the label. Firehouse wags suggested the popular judge has been handing out the same candy bars since his first election back in the 20th century.

Also wolfing down eggs, sausage and pancakes were the father-son duo of Richard (for town board) and Jonathan Heppner (for legislature). The younger Heppner has no opposition in heavily Democratic Woodstock — Republicans didn’t even caucus this year — while the father faces a write-in challenger in a three-candidates-for-two-town board-seats bout, but both are making the rounds. Rail-thin, the Heppners never seem to gain an ounce despite the hearty firehouse fare.

There is one comment

  1. Cliff Faintych

    Upland voters are independent minded, and they have rejected the cynical rancor of county partisan politics to embrace a new future of improved fiscal oversight with greater responsiveness to our mountain communities.
    After being lavished with the Republican party nomination, John Parete was denied at the polls. Apparently, Hugh has yet to learn any lessons from this primary: Failing to seek commentary from the wining candidate while quoting the wife of a losing candidate musing her sentiments about Trump? Now that’s fake news.

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