Hugh Reynolds: Shadow boxing

Vegas isn’t offering odds on this year’s unopposed Ulster County races, Republican Nina Postupack for county clerk and Democrat Elliott Auerbach for county comptroller. It’s no contest, of course, just bragging rights for who runs up the highest vote total.

To me, unopposed races represent a failure of our two-party system. At best, it rewards a stellar official with a free ride after long service. At worst, it’s a result of backdoor conniving between political leaders to deprive people of a choice.

Former congressman Maurice Hinchey wasn’t unopposed for reelection over 38 years. He liked nothing more than a good, old-fashioned political slugfest. Even a nobody with no money gets a third of the vote just for being on the ballot, he once told me. A third of a county voting pool is a lot of people who don’t get a chance to choose.

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Four years ago Postupack had no opposition and polled 32,000 votes, but only 14,324 on the Republican line. Auerbach, running against an over-matched Linda McDonough, got 24,000 votes. Her Republican total was almost the same as Postupack’s, suggesting both a floor and a ceiling.

Recent reports on enrollment from the board of elections should give Republicans pause. Democrats increased their ranks by almost 7000, compared to the GOP’s 1000 and change. A near 7-1 Democratic growth since 2015 over Republicans indicates the Grand Old Party might be near-extinct in a generation unless it goes on a massive — and successful — recruitment drive. Down the years, that’s never been in the GOP DNA.

Seven thousand new Democrats doesn’t mean people are flocking to the county, tales of “Brooklyn north” migration notwithstanding. Ulster’s overall population has been just about flat since 9/11, according to census officials. A mid-census projection indicated a slight decrease in population.

So where are these new Democrats coming from? Better-staffed think tanks might poll non-enrollees — NOPs (Not Of Party), as they’re called. NOPs totaled 33,485 this month, down a few hundred from pre-presidential 2015. It would appear people are shifting from neutral to Democrat.

Getting out the vote

By the numbers (or is it buy the numbers?), Democrats have significant enrollment advantages over Republicans almost everywhere except for Republican strongholds in Shawangunk and Plattekill and in Greene, Delaware, Columbia and Schoharie counties. And no, there are no plans that I am aware of to change the name of Columbia to Indigenous Peoples County.

The problem for the Democrats is that they don’t turn out for off-year elections, and nothing is more off-year than local elections. It’s a paradox. Voters don’t seem to care much about the elected official who controls their property taxes or rezoning for a rendering plant across the street, but they really care about who runs for president.

The effect is to level the field between the major parties. I’ve talked to half a dozen Democratic candidates who say (almost exactly), “If we can get out our vote, we can win.”

This year, that might be more likely than in most years, a confluence of storms, as it were. Widespread discontent with Washington, especially among Democrats, could launch some off the couch on Election Day, if only to shake a fist at the feds.

As most folks are more inclined to vote against something than in favor, disgruntled Republicans might prefer to take an off day. The gap narrows.

We’ll be watching carefully on election night the race for state supreme court between Democrat Julian Schreibman of Ulster and Republican Peter Crummey of Colonie.

Schreibman, with a strong showing in Ulster and with a huge enrollment advantage in the capital district, should cruise. But Crummey is that Supreme Court anomaly, a capital-district Republican with deep roots in the community. He tells me his grandfather, an Irish immigrant, operated the Crummey Bakery (for real) in downtown Albany for years. With a name like that, it had to be good. His grandson is a town of Colonie justice.

My guess is that Washington backlash could wash out more than a few marginal Republicans this year. We’ll see.

Con-con gone

Some people feel that if they voted for a losing candidate or proposition  they’ve “wasted their vote.” Not me. Votes count, and politicians count them carefully. Defeat may be an orphan, but defeat can influence public policy.

I’m for a constitutional convention (Con-Con), and I’m not overly worried that we’ll lose vital environmental protections or pensions for state workers who had honorably earned them. The people who killed this proposition will have just as much influence if a convention were to be held. Besides, voters get the last word.

On the perverse side, it amuses me to see so-called “reformers” twisting in the wind as they oppose or remain neutral on what could be the biggest reset in state government in almost 80 years. For some, that’s the main issue.

Buried in a deluge of special-interest money, the proposition to hold a constitutional convention will go down on November 7. But mitigating factors might give the establishment pause. Turnout and margin matter. If a representative number of voters cast ballots — something more than half those eligible — and maybe 40 percent of those vote yes, the needle might move.

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I’m not betting on it.

Here and there

What’s in a name? Plenty, for two Republicans named Maloney running in adjoining legislative districts in Ulster and Saugerties. Ulster’s Jim Maloney, a five-termer and town assessor, is the better known. Joe Maloney (sometimes called Jim in the papers) is a first-time challenger in a central Saugerties district currently represented by Democrat Chris Allen. Jim Maloney, facing hard-charging Democrat Laura Hartmann after several walkovers, has been forced onto the defensive. I haven’t seen such huge Maloney signs since he ran the first time. Allen usually tries to capture every line available, but was out-maneuvered when the other Maloney secured the GOP nomination at primary. As name recognition counts for much in politics, confusion over the two Maloneys can’t hurt either one.

Rich Parete, Republican-Democratic candidate for supervisor in Marbletown, says he never went to town-board meetings during 14 years as a county legislator. He said he couldn’t sit through boring stuff “like zoning and appointments.”

But town boards can be good theater, even for the occasional drop-ins.

At last week’s Ulster town-board meeting, disgruntled taxpayer Richard Graff of Stickles Terrace, complained about spending in the proposed 2018 budget. “I talk to my wife all the time, but she doesn’t listen,” he told the board as husbands in the audience exchanged knowing glances. The board listened, but could only offer sympathy.

Another member of the audience asked if “the cat law is dead,” referring to feral cat legislation. Helpless to resist an awful pun (as am I), supervisor Jim Quigley pooh-poohed the inquiry. “Let’s just say it’s been put in the litter box,” he said.

The West Point class of 1915 is called “the class the stars fell on,” owing to its extraordinary number of future generals: Ike, Van Fleet, Bradley, 59 among its 164 graduates.

Kingston High Class of 2000 also featured a few future luminaries. Graduates include Kingston mayor Steve Noble, congressional candidate Pat Ryan and aldermanic candidate Andrea Shaut. A correction on Shaut’s name: it’s not pronounced like “out,” it’s “taut,” as in a taut race with the unsinkable Deb Brown in Kingston’s Ninth Ward.

And finally. The Ulster town board’s decision to release the police dash cam on Kingston Legislator Jennifer Schwartz Berky’s traffic stop for speeding last May came too late for inclusion herein.

Having lived with behind-the-scenes maneuvering, gossip and innuendo for the better part of four months, I can offer only this for now: It was just a routine traffic stop. And Watergate was just a burglary. Details next week.

There are 4 comments

  1. Steven L Fornal

    “He tells me his grandfather, an Irish immigrant, operated the Crummey Bakery (for real) in downtown Albany for years. With a name like that, it had to be good…”

    Thus, why I read Hugh every single time.

  2. Jane

    First: starting this opinion piece with the Vegas reference is in poor taste. Second: races are unopposed because people aren’t attempting to become candidates, and that has nothing to do with “a failure of our two-party system.” Nor does it represent a reward for “a stellar official with a free ride after long service..” Nor, is it “a result of backdoor conniving between political leaders to deprive people of a choice.” The people are depriving themselves of a choice by not attempting to get on the ballot. Third: maybe Hugh Reynolds should stop living behind the scenes, (hyphenation unnecessary), and stop the “gossip and innuendo.” The only correct point here is that voters treat local elections as meaningless, even as they know better – or should. Maybe if they were offered cake, they’d come to the polls. Or, given the ignorant focus on presidential elections, because they are “sexier” to the general public, strippers.

  3. Steven L Fornal

    Hey, now…Cake and strippers? That just might do it. Maybe add TVs with reality shows to play throughout the day at all polling places.

    I think you’ve hit on something, Jane.

  4. Steven L Fornal

    Speaking of elections and candidates, here in the Town of Rochester we have a very important election coming up. Here’s just a sampling of what’s at play:

    The Town of Rochester Republicans leave an awful lot to be desired. Town Supervisor candidate, Len Bernardo promised 51 full time jobs over ten years in return for a PILOT program (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) which meant he avoided paying sales tax and property and school taxes for ten years while we taxpayers picked up his tab. He produced 15 mostly part time in the first year then reportedly 6 then only three for the duration, three, him, his wife, and another.

    Mr. Bernardo was quoted as stating that he paid the construction cost of his business building (Skate Time 209) out of pocket which came to $1.2 million. Once the tax break ended ten years later, he put the place up for sale for $2.49 million which means if he gets his asking price he’ll get back all the money he invested for building the business plus a million dollars profit (not counting the profit he’s taken from the business for the years it has been operating). So, while he stands to make a million we taxpayers have paid his taxes for a decade. Oh, yeah, he hired an attorney so he wouldn’t have to pay back that tax money.

    Karl Baker running for Highway Superintendent has no idea of how to run the Highway Department. He currently is spreading misinformation about the town’s sand mine being used for a community solar array by stating that sand through state bid could cost up to $15 a ton so the money the town stands to collect won’t be enough. His implication is that the Town Board doesn’t know what it is doing and is engaging in a foolish act. FACT: The town stands to gain $120,000 per year for leasing the two town locations for the solar arrays. The community, especially those unable to do solar on their own property, can participate in the production of energy and get a credit towards their electric bills. The cost of sand (most recent state bid) was $6.18 a ton. Seeing as the town used 4,000 tons of sand last Winter, the cost benefit for the town’s tax payers is obvious. Over the span of 25 years the town stands to gain $2.25 million dollars that would otherwise have to come from taxes. Karl Baker also forgets to add that the cost of mining and processing the sand came to approximately $10,000 every time the town needed sand.

    Karl Baker also built an addition to his home without getting a building permit. He is utilizing that addition without a Certificate of Occupancy which means it hasn’t gone through proper channels and therefore its value added to the property hasn’t been assessed. So, we taxpayers that abide by the codes and laws of the town are subsidizing him also.

    Mike Sommers running for Council person, has been the assessor for Wawarsing for many years. Wawarsing hadn’t done a revaluation of the town for more than 50 years; some say dating back to the early part of the 20 century. I read the papers religiously yet never once read of Mr. Sommers demanding a revaluation so that newer people wouldn’t be subsidizing old timers by virtue of paying on full value of their new properties while those with great value gains during the decades pay nowhere near what they should be paying. He never stood up for the people that were being unfairly taxed.

    Randy Wynkoop running for Town Council has lately been complaining about the town park; how it’s in bad shape and should be cleaned up. That clean up is part of his promise to the townspeople that vote for him. Yet, this past weekend, a group of volunteers went to the park and actually cleaned it up. Mr. Wynkoop didn’t show up. Mr. Bernardo also griping about the park signed up to be there but, never showed.

    Vinny Nigro running for Town Justice would be a great joke if only it was a joke and not really happening.

    Town of Rochester voters should begin to understand what the Republican line is offering this election year.

    In comparison, Mike Baden running for Town Supervisor has attended just about every single Town Board meeting over the past fourteen years. He knows the issues and the laws by which the board must abide. He has chaired the town’s Planning Board for seven years and has brought that entity to a state of professionalism that stands head and shoulders above other towns in Ulster County. He’s likewise been Ulster County Planning Board chairman. He is on the School Board as trustee. He has served on numerous code committees. He is the single most knowledgeable man in town regarding the operation of town government.

    Bea Haugen Depuy has served on the Zoning Board of Appeals for 25 years. She was voted into the council person seat vacated by Tony Spano when he was voted into office as Highway Superintendent when former Superintendent Wayne Kelder retired. Ms. Depuy is fiscally conservative and very knowledgeable as regards governmental finances having served in the capacity of keeping the books in the town of Wawarsing. She is a treasure that deserves a full term. She doesn’t filter herself so be prepared to hear the unvarnished truth when she speaks.

    Chris Hewitt has expended a great deal of time and energy on introducing the Current (alternative monetary medium that keeps money in the locality) and publishing the Country Wisdom newspaper. He’d make a good addition to the Town Board.

    Running for Highway Superintendent is Tony Spano, a decorated police officer having risen to the rank of Deputy Chief. He assisted in development and helped implement a $4 million dollar budget even as he managed 100 employees. In his time as interim Highway Superintendent he has brought the department into compliance with the most recent NYS Comptroller’s report that alerted the town to a number of problems both financial and operational. The town gave Mr. Spano the responsibility for straightening out the problems. Long time Highway Superintendent, Mr. Wayne Kelder, realizing a whole new, high-tech approach for data records as well as new procedures had to be established, chose to retire. Tony Spano has revamped data collection and accountability. He has introduced various ways to increase efficiency. He has procured a more reliable and cheaper communication system. He has proved that he can not only do the job but do it well.

    Running for Town Justice is Paul Shaheen, an actual attorney with legal experience. He is a compassionate man that shows itself in how he deals with the people appearing before his bench. He has done a great job and deserves another term.

    At the county level we have Lynn Archer. Former councilwoman and Ulster county legislator, Lynn is an amazingly intelligent person that can get things done. In her first term as county legislator she single-handedly brought the issue of high speed internet access to the fore. We need her back in so she can bring that fight to the floor. She is a champion’s champion. She was never shy about confronting County Executive Mike Hein when she felt he was wrong. Having Lynn Archer fighting on our behalf we can rest assured that we are well represented.

    Election 2017: The difference is stark. Either we progress into the future with people that have the brains, stamina and moral substance to do the job needed. Or we opt for going back in time when residential rights meant nothing; when regulations were wantonly disregarded; when commercial mines and sawmills and a race track came into this town destroying property values of hundreds of residents even as it took away residential user rights to the quiet enjoyment of their properties.

    This November 7th cast a vote against returning to the past. Vote for continued progress. This November, vote Line A all the way.

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