Hugh Reynolds: Competing for steak knives

The traditional big check pic. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

All marching orders for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $10 million Kingston grant announcement last week came from headquarters in Albany. And that included the designation of invited guests.

Ulster Town Supervisor Jim Quigley (King James III) said he got the phone call from the governor’s scheduling office on Monday afternoon, two days before the big event. Quigley’s money meter twitched. A “personal” invitation from the governor’s office? Could there be goodies for the town in store?

Other town supervisors reacted in similar fashion, I am told.

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“We [the towns] face the same problems as the city, crumbling infrastructure, rising costs for healthcare and utilities. You name it, we got it. We’re invited, so there must be something,” Quigley said afterward. That something was window dressing.

Quigley and his fellow town supervisors met in regular monthly breakfast session in Kingston on Tuesday morning. The only way to keep a secret between three men, Ben Franklin famously said, is if two of them are dead. The embargoed intelligence was soon shared with ham and eggs. Most understood this unspecified “downtown” revitalization grant was for Kingston, “but we were hoping that maybe a few crumbs would fall off the table,” said Quigley. They got nothing.

Quigley said he buttonholed state Sen. George Amedore, an invited guest, as the crowd filed out. “I told him it was obvious the governor wasn’t giving us anything and that we’d like the opportunity to at least compete for a set of steak knives next time.”

To the uninitiated, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill might have been conspicuous by his absence. Few of the invited insiders expected him to attend a Cuomo event, even in the heart of his district, the heart of his hometown, even at one of his favorite watering holes, Keegan Ales. The relationship between Cuomo and the Democratic Assembly is close to toxic, as symbolized by the lower house of the legislature holding up the naming of the new Tappan Zee Bridge after Mario Cuomo last spring. That’s family, and Cuomo does not suffer such slurs slightly.

In the kind of petty tit-for-tat that rival politicians play against each other, Cahill said he got the governor’s invitation via a phone call from the governor’s office about 15 minutes before the event. Sadly, he said, his schedule was already filled for that afternoon, as if he ever had any intention of attending.

Contacted a day later, Cahill pooh-poohed the $10 million grant, in and of itself almost a quarter of the city’s operating budget. “We [the legislature] got over $150 million for SUNY New Paltz,” he said, rattling off a list of big-ticket legislative grants in the recent past.

Let us not be ungrateful

Ten million dollars, when it finally arrives, won’t go as far as it used to. The city’s five-year rehab of a sinkhole on Washington Avenue cost almost $10 million alone.

The “plan” for spending the grant, laid out in bits and pieces by city officials, is at this point more concept, an urban planner’s dream. Definitive planning, Mayor Steve Noble said, would take up to a year to complete, after which each piece will require approval by the state. As people in the military like to say, no plan survives contact with reality. We have only just begun.

For Cuomo and Noble, the timing is fortuitous. Cuomo will be running for a third term a year from now, even as million-dollar projects roll forward all over upstate. Noble will announce for a second term some six months later, right around the time shovels could be going into the ground.

But let us not be ungrateful. Ten million here, 10 million there and before you know it, we’re talking about real money.

Credit where credit is taken

I thought Ulster County Executive Mike Hein took an inordinate amount of credit for the grant, even for him, on what was, “county and regional impacts” notwithstanding, essentially a city operation. Hein’s contribution was to loan a senior county planner to the city for three months to help fill out the application for state funding. For that, he got to introduce the governor at Keegan Ales last week, sit on stage with the mayor and work his way into almost every photo op.

The big prize for the county will be a highly competitive regional $20 million state economic development grant. Last week’s city grant could be a portent. Or maybe the state figures Ulster got enough.

Behind the scenes, the Kingston Democratic Committee has launched a jihad to oppose the county exec, should he stand for a fourth term in 2019. Here, there’s little separation between dots. Joe Donaldson is city Democratic chairman and brother to longtime Hein critic and county Legislator Dave Donaldson. Joe might keep in mind that Hein has pretty much waxed brother Dave in their various confrontations. Just for context, Hein took 56 percent of the city vote in 2015.

I liked Noble’s line about “avoiding the boom and bust of Uptown Kingston over the last century.” He’s 34.

One can excuse the governor’s flacks for calling Uptown Kingston “downtown.” Kingston is strange that way. Down is up and up is down, and with apologies to Midtown, rarely do the twain meet. I wonder if they thought about playing Petula Clark’s “Downtown” when Cuomo strode to the stage.

Judge ye

About the only suspense attendant to last week’s judicial conventions in Albany for state Supreme Court, which one Democratic attendee called “extremely boring,” was whether a Capital District Democrat would emerge to challenge Ulster’s Julian Schreibman. It didn’t happen, according to Ulster Democratic Chairman Frank Cardinale. Schreibman, a former party chairman, congressional candidate and Kingston corporate lawyer, will run against Republican nominee Peter Crummey, a town justice of Colonie, in November.

Crummey, 64, has waited a long time, almost 20 years as a Colonie justice, to step up. It doesn’t get easier for him going forward. While candidate Trump carried the district by almost 10 points last year, a lot of gray water (engineer-speak for sewage effluent) has roiled under the bridge since then.

Running on the Republican line ain’t what it used to be even a year ago. And then there’s that 5-4 Democratic enrollment in the district.

That said, Crummey’s judicial record will impress some voters. For sure, he’ll don the ermine in those soon-to-come TV ads. This is Schreibman’s first run for judge.

Fundraising in the sprawling seven-county Third Judicial District will be crucial. Even in sleepy Ulster it takes at least six figures to run a credible countywide campaign. Pockets are no doubt deeper in the more populous Democratic capital region, though whether they’ll dig in for a Republican candidate or an outlander from south of the border remains to be seen.

Tickets, please

Speaking of last year’s presidential campaign, Oblong Books in Rhinebeck tells us Hillary Clinton’s What Happened book-signing on Dec. 7 was sold out within seven hours of being posted on the store’s newsletter last month.

“We wanted to give our [local] newsletter readers first dibs before putting out any press releases,” said store manager Noelle Marzullo. Arrangements for the book signing were made through Clinton and her publisher, Marzullo said. She wouldn’t (or couldn’t) say how many copies of the $30 (plus tax) tome have been sold by Oblong or how many tickets were issued for the book signing.

Copies are available at Oblong. A waiting list has been established at Oblongbooks.com. No one will be admitted without a ticket.

“What Happened” depicts Clinton’s version of her campaign against Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The book is Number 1 on The New York Times best-seller list. In one of those Carlinesque (“jumbo shrimp”) hilarities, second place on the coveted Times list is occupied by a book called “Unbelievable,” wherein an NBC correspondent describes Trump’s “behavior” toward her in the last campaign. Hillary could have been a co-author.

Here and there

And the last shall be first. Coming off a dismal campaign fund-raising effort, Sue Sullivan of Plattekill this week became the first of eight announced Democrats for congress to drop out. At last July’s official filing, Sullivan had raised $50,000, compared to Rhinebeck frontrunner Antonio Delgado’s $600,000. I predict the field will shrink to no more than four by New Year’s. Who’s next to go?

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Hein may have to set his crew cut on fire to generate more interest in next year’s budget rollout. This year the exec adopted a tactic of feeding crumbs to the media before the formal announcement, due late next week. The bottom line in every budget is the tax levy and Hein dropped that shoe on Monday. To no great surprise, he says it will go down (best guess: a few tenths of a percent, as in recent budgets). So what’s left to announce, that he’s chairing Rich Parete’s campaign for town supervisor in Marbletown?

Just when we thought they’d settled their political hash in Marbletown, another glitch extends the saga. Recall (briefly) how county legislator Rich Parete wrested both major-party nominations from town supervisor Mike Warren, only to learn well after the fact that they had caucused in the wrong place. Both parties held nominating conventions at the new “town center” in the former Rosendale elementary school. Hard on the border of Marbletown, the building is about 100 feet inside Rosendale.

Boink! State law requires town caucuses to be held in their respective towns. Makes sense. Why would Saugerties caucus in Wawarsing? But then the Board of Elections said the statute of limitations for a formal BOE protest had run out.

State court? Maybe. Warren says he’s looking into it. I’m predicting, if it goes that far, the courts will award each party a case of Dumbass.

Meanwhile Olive Legislator John Parete, after losing both major-party nominations at caucus, says he’s still in it to win it. “All I need is 38 percent,” he told me. Thirty-four in a three-way race would do it. Kathy Nolan of Shandaken is the Democratic candidate, Cliff Faintych, the Republican nominee, is from Denning. Parete has the Conservative and Independence lines.

I’ll give Parete the incumbent and geographic advantages. In population, Olive outnumbers the rest of the towns in the district by about 1,300 residents. But as they say in Boiceville, his is still a steep hill to climb.

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