Hugh Reynolds: Video drama

For all the speculation over who zoomed whom at the now-infamous Jennifer Schwartz Berky traffic stop in the Town of Ulster in May, the dash cam released last week was anticlimactic.

Given the concerted efforts by county Legislator Berky and her lawyers to suppress the tape until well after Election Day, I expected something confrontational between the accused and the arresting officer. I was half right. It was Berky who totally lost her composure, repeatedly crying, whining, begging and attempting to influence the officer: “I’m a county legislator.” “You singled me out.” She was the victim writ large.

It was just a traffic stop for hardly excessive speeding on a busy suburban road. Her fate in a town court known for leniency to first-timers would probably have been something light, like a seatbelt violation.


But Berky took it to another level, ultimately involving the town board, the sheriff, the town police chief, a pair of lawyers, the state freedom of information office, various and sundry politicians and a few curious journalists.

The only hints we got after months of probing was from high-ranking police officers who had seen the tape.

Like the cops, we’re paid to be skeptical, so I wasn’t about to embrace pre-release police assessments that arresting officer Gary Short acted in an exemplary manner. Cops, pols, journalists and other tribes of every sort tend to cloister in crisis, after all.

“Professional” was the word town Police Chief Kyle Berardi and County Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum separately used to describe Short’s behavior at the scene. The tape, released to the public last week, indicated that Short, who may have thought he had pulled over Tonya Harding, should be nominated for sainthood, if not promoted to sergeant.

Even Berky recognized Short’s remarkable restraint under duress in a written apology three days after the town board voted unanimously to release the tape. “I know my interaction with police officer Gary Short was unacceptable,” she wrote,” I want to apologize to Officer Short and thank him for his patience and professionalism with me during a very difficult time.” Lacking in this mea culpa was that it was Berky who had made things so difficult.

Stupid came about halfway through the 26-minute encounter when an apparently exasperated Short offered to write Berky a non-moving violation seatbelt violation instead of a 13-mph-over-the-limit speeding ticket. Ninety-nine out of a hundred drivers would have grabbed that pass, wished the officer a safe patrol and fled the scene. Not Berky. She had been wearing her seatbelt, she told the cop. Short went back to his patrol car and wrote her up for 43 in a 30.

The voters will decide 

The voters will decide what effect this escapade will have on her election next Tuesday. Before the tape went viral, even unto national media, Berky was a shoo-in. She’s been an active legislator, well-prepared, diligent in her duties. She is well-spoken and articulate, even though some fellow legislators find her a bit rigid, argumentative.

Berky in her first term has become a fixture at almost every public gathering. A former deputy county planner and a practitioner of urban planning, she is well-suited to represent Kingston in a period of profound change.

She’ll face Brian Woltman, Democrat turned Republican in a heavily Democratic district that covers most of the downtown area of the city. Having buried Woltman in a Democratic primary two years ago and attracted 1,330 votes running unopposed in the general, Berky would have breezed.

That was then. The tape was more than just a picture, much, much more than a thousand words. Democratic efforts to suppress the tape speak to that. The images will linger in the minds of some voters.

We are a forgiving people, especially for first-time offenders. Other than harkening to sunnier Kingston days, Woltman has done little to present himself as a credible alternative, a plethora of lawn signs notwithstanding. What might have been a Berky landslide and perhaps a leadership role in the 2018 legislature could come down to a single-digit affair, maybe even a nail-biter.

Berky has learned a bitter truth about public service. Lionized in the press, as she was, she must now fully realize that public officials face special scrutiny, even for minor offenses. How they respond can be telling.


Airbrushed out of the happy news last week that Ulster County had settled on a choice between two sites for a fire training center was the announcement that the original site on county-owned property near the college had been dropped on residents of Cottekill last April like a bomb. Following shock and uproar and months of protest — residents collected some 1,200 signatures in opposition — the county announced sites on public land in Shawangunk and the Town of Ulster, eliminating potential sites in New Paltz, Marbletown and most importantly Cottekill.

The administration will take credit, again and again, for providing a much-needed and long-delayed facility for volunteer firefighters. The process left much to be desired.

Checks in the mail

Olive Town Supervisor Sylvia Rozzelle recently noted that promised state grants, six years after a hurricane and a tropical storm devastated her town, have finally begun to arrive. Six years! After a natural disaster. To fix the roof on the town hall.

Rozzelle, she of country savvy, is (wisely) not complaining. Looking this vindictive gift horse in the mouth could produce some nasty bites, a kick in the pants, or further bureaucratic delay.


Along those lines, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble shouldn’t start spending that $10 million revitalization grant the state promised last month any time soon. I’m predicting the first bucks won’t arrive until around mid-October of next year, just in time for the governor to take credit all over again. By Olive standards, that would be warp speed.

Marc his words

Asked why he referred to himself in the third person, former senator Bob Dole used to say, “Bob Dole says you can’t get your name out there enough.” And so, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has stuck his toe in gubernatorial waters with two announcements. First, he’s formed an exploratory committee to run for governor. Secondly, he’s advising New Yorkers to vote yes on a constitutional amendment next week regarding land swaps in the Catskills.

The exploratory committee commits Molinaro to nothing more than raising some money and traveling around the state to talk about the state of state affairs. Environmentalists worry that the land exchange they support could go down with the ConCon proposition they vehemently oppose.

Also being mentioned for governor next year are Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and former congressman Chris Gibson. Gibson floated trial balloons a few years ago, but eventually decided to retire from Congress and rejoin academia. As for Kolb, Assembly minority leaders are always running for governor. See also: John Faso.

Hopefuls are hoping Andrew Cuomo wears out his welcome, like his father did in’94, and that some obscurity claims the crown. Consensus — whoever that is — suggests the current Cuomo still has legs, and some $30 million in his war chest.

Here and there

“The report of my death was an exaggeration,” wrote Mark Twain from London in 1897, following reports of his demise in New York City newspapers. He died in 1910. Rochester Town Supervisor Carl Chipman might have had similar feelings after reading of his demise — swiftly corrected — in the Middletown paper last week. Chipman, 57, is retiring after five terms and plans to join the ministry. I’ll miss Chipman, an outspoken straight-shooter.

It was a dark and stormy afternoon, but upwards of 200 people turned out to memorialize the late Rabbi Jonathan Eichhorn at Kingston’s Congregation Emanuel on Sunday afternoon, testimony to the esteem in which he was held in the community. With Eichhorn’s family in attendance, Cantor Bob Cohen emceed a joyous celebration.

This just in. County Exec Mike Hein and Comptroller Elliott Auerbach have finally agreed on something. Both are supporting Democrat Laura Hartmann against incumbent Republican Jim (not Joe) Maloney in the Town of Ulster-Town of Kingston county legislature race. Hein, who claims solidarity with the legislature — some of them dislike Auerbach —rarely issues public endorsements of candidates. Auerbach picks and chooses. Do they smell upset?

I erred last week in listing Alderwoman Deb Brown as the Eighth Ward representative. She’s finishing her sixth year as the Ninth Ward rep. As she pointed out, I should know better. I live there.

To Tuesday. I’m not sure if these figures are exact, but recent reports on voter turnout indicate 80 percent vote in presidential elections, 60 percent in state races in off years, and 40 percent in local elections.

Apathy is the usual excuse, but some of these non-votes are seriously considered. Consider this possibility: More than a few elections will be decided by less than a percentage point this year.

There is one comment

  1. Steven L Fornal

    Hugh, if you’re gonna miss Carl Chipman because of his being an “outspoken straight shooter” then you should be horrified with the potential candidate for Town Supervisor in the Town of Rochester, Len Bernardo who relies on gossip and rumor for information and speaks with a forked tongue.

    In fact, all the Town of Rochester Republicans leave an awful lot to be desired. Town Supervisor candidate, Len Bernardo– rarely having attended meetings of any board, let alone the Town Board –continually displays his ignorance of proper procedures and has showed time and time again that he doesn’t even understand what the various boards (Town, Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals) do or what their duties are.

    But, even more disturbing than not understanding the job he’s running for is Len Bernardo’s scam pulled on us all when he built his Skate Time 209 business. Mr. Bernardo in his UCIDA (Ulster County Industrial Development Agency) application promised 51 full time jobs (26 the first year and 25 the second year) to be maintained over ten years in return for a PILOT program (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) which meant he avoided paying sales tax and a good amount of property and school taxes for ten years while we taxpayers picked up his tab. He produced 15 mostly part time jobs in the first year, then reportedly 6 the next, then only three for the duration. Three: one for him, one for his wife, and one other.

    Mr. Bernardo was quoted as stating that he paid the construction cost of his business building 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 over a million dollars profit, 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 for not producing the jobs.

    Karl Baker running for Highway Superintendent has no idea of how to run the Highway Department. He’s plowed driveways and calls that experience. 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 is yet another candidate that wants a position yet has rarely if ever attended Town Board meetings so that he knows what is involved with being a councilperson. Mr. Wynkoop 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, a couple of weekends ago, a group of volunteers went to the park and ACTUALLY cleaned it up. Mr. Wynkoop didn’t show. Mr. Bernardo, also griping about the park signed up to be there but, never showed. While Mr. Wynkoop seems a serious person and one that has the best interest of the community at heart, he is filled with gossip-laden horror stories generated by people that don’t know what they’re talking about, have never attended meetings and have let their hatred of government manufacture outright lies about what is happening in our town. Not a very good basis for forming a view of what issues need to be addressed and how best to go about it. I mean, doesn’t it make sense that if he was really concerned he would’ve attended meetings so he could speak with authority about what ACTUALLY was going on rather than listen to people’s gossip and rumors?

    Vinny Nigro running for Town Justice would be a great joke if only it was a joke and not really happening. Seeing as he stole pumpkins from Jack Schoonmaker, one has to wonder about his character.

    Town of Rochester voters should begin to understand what the Republican party 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 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.

    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 so that residential users had no right 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 Row A all the way.

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