Hugh Reynolds: The mother’s milk of politics

If money be the mother’s milk of politics, there must be herds of cash cows roaming the local congressional district. Recent campaign spending reports are but one indicator. The really big outside money hasn’t been heard from yet.

It would appear that a field of once-totally-unknown Democrats has in less than a year raised several million dollars collectively for a campaign that doesn’t start in earnest for another six months. There is no officially designated Democratic nominee for the congressional seat occupied by first-term Republican John Faso of Kinderhook.

The $400,000 raised by Antonio Delgado of Rhinebeck during the last reporting period puts him over the million-dollar mark. After loaning his campaign $500,000, Brian Flynn of Elka Park is on a similar plateau as Delgado.

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Steven Brisee, 26, of Wallkill didn’t report, but may be raising a defense fund after being charged with grand larceny in Newburgh. The young man’s tortured explanations of what happened or didn’t suggest he may have a future in politics, but not this year.

Trailing the pack is David Clegg of Woodstock, with a mere $220,000. Sue Sullivan of Plattekill dropped out of the race last month after raising only $50,000. That leaves a field of seven, assuming Brisee stays in.

Despite all this fundraising, there’s not much political distance among these generally progressive candidates. No matter who wins, some form of Bernie Lite is to be expected.

Faso, who has been spending every other waking hour raising money like his predecessor Chris Gibson once did has about $590,000 as of Sept. 30, according to federal reports.

There’s a stealthiness about Faso, unseen by the general public. He gets around. Fifty people here, a hundred there, and before you know it you’re talking grass-roots. I think he might make better use of his time holding a few more high-profile town meetings around the district.

Some sources, perhaps wishfully, are suggesting that Faso, a former eight-term assemblyman, might want, with all the grief he’s getting as a congressman, to seek the open state Assembly seat vacated by Pete Lopez of Schoharie. Faso’s old district and Lopez’s adjoin each other in the Republican heartland of the Catskills.

No way. Faso’s been there, done that. For all the flak he gets as a congressman, at 65 he finally has a seat at the table and a vote that counts.

 

Courthouse surprise

As I waited in county legislative chambers Oct. 5 for sealed bids to be opened on the family courthouse project in the Town of Ulster, my mind drifted back to the taking of bids on the county jail some dozen years ago. Given the massive overruns and long delays the jail debacle produced, few will remember that bids for building what became a $92 million runaway project were almost on the money.

“I told you guys! I told you guys,” project manager Harvey Sleight had crowed to reporters at the eagerly-awaited bid opening. Who could argue? Sleight and his numbers-crunchers had figured low bids at around $52 million, and that’s almost exactly what they got. Another $20 million in pre-bid “soft costs” (land acquisition, legal and architectural fees, etc) drove the bid total to some $72 million.

The rest is history.

It was a far different story at last week’s bid opening for the Family Court house project. There, the county had authorized some $12.4 million in bonding authority to finance the renovation of the former Business Resource Center (BRC) adjacent to the county’s sprawling social-services complex. With stiff competition, the combination of low bids came in at just under $7 million.

Was this cause for rejoicing or concern? County officials and their professional advisors arrived at the bonding number after careful study of estimated construction costs. Being a few percentage points off one way or the other is the norm in most competitive bidding. Getting $7 million bids to complete a $12.4 million project is almost unheard of.

We should hold off the huzzahs a while. The same people who missed the mark — admittedly a “pretty good” result, according to courthouse critic Dave Donaldson — will be managing this project for the next 18 months.
It is never a good thing to give the government too much money to play with. With some $5.5 million in bonding authority still sitting on the table specifically for the courthouse project, might bells and whistles be in the offing?

Have no fear. The historically tight-fisted Mike Hein administration does not abide overruns on building projects or delays. That should take care of the $7 million in bids. Now, about that excess bonding authority…

 

Footnotes

Donaldson, on the losing end of this courthouse controversy, reminded me that renovation costs for the current courthouse on Lucas Avenue were estimated at $6.5 million, close to low bids on the BRC renovation. There will be no slapping of foreheads in the county office building, however. By an overwhelming margin, the legislature chose to renovate the county-owned BRC.

This operation is being run out of the county purchasing office, as was the jail construction project. Purchasing is good at counting beans. How it handles a complicated building project, one being fast-tracked to boot, remains to be seen.

None of the five-member special legislative oversight committee attended the bid opening. Chairman Herb Litts, who works on the Mario Cuomo Bridge in Rockland County, said the administration had notified him of the bid opening the day before. County officials said notice of the opening was published on Sept. 11. The no-show gives pause to just how much oversight this committee will provide.

 

Here and there

Kingston Citizens, a local advocacy group, is calling for more transparency from the UCIDA (Industrial Development Agency). I think that the legislatively appointed IDA could begin by holding its regular meetings at some more publicly convenient time for than 8 in the morning.

Heidi Haynes, Republican candidate for legislature in Marbletown-Hurley District 18, does not live in Accord, as I reported. She’s been a resident of Marcott Road in Marbletown for some 20 years. Haynes, Ulster County district manager for state Sen. George Amedore, will face Democratic Marbletown councilman Doug Adams in the general election.

Widespread rumors to the contrary, Ulster Town Supervisor Jim Quigley says he’s not asking for a $25,000 raise (from $45,000) in his proposed budget for 2018. Town voters will decide whether to give the supervisor a four-year term, however. Quigley, a Republican, has no opposition, but town Democrats are opposing the term extension.

Here’s an interesting new name: Andrea (you make me wanna) Shaut is a Democratic candidate in Kingston Ward 9 against three-term Alderwoman Deb Brown, the council’s lone Republican. Should Shaut, who lives in a converted brick church across the street from Brown, get a shout-out from the ward’s voters, Democrats will hold every seat on the Common Council, assuming no other Republican aldermanic candidate breaks through. Fortunately, Democrats are divided on most issues, so there’s a healthy exchange of ideas anyway.

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