According to Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, it took something like 60 seconds for him to reject out of hand a proposal last summer that the county assume ownership of the failing Wiltwyck Golf Club in the Town of Ulster. The price was right, maybe $2 million to pay off the mortgage and finance upgrades neglected during hard times. But the optics were awful, and nobody monitors public opinion more closely than the county executive.
Imagine the headlines: Exec recommends purchase of Wiltwyck, his home course, as an all-season county recreational facility. “Heinwyck?” Forsooth!
For the club, transitioning from upper-crust exclusivity to public ownership was a sea change forced by declining membership and mounting expenses. Even five years ago, club directors would not have contemplated allowing non-member golfers access to their cherished private facility. Oh, the horror!
Desperate times sometimes require desperate measures. Backed into a financial corner, with significant debt payments looming, club directors pitched the idea of the county taking ownership of the region’s premier golf facility, with its swimming pool and tennis courts, and expanding its 150 acres of fairways to accommodate winter sports, hiking and bike trails.
Converting the 14,000-square-foot clubhouse and bar to a health club might have been just the ticket for the indoor grunt-and-groan set. Or maybe a county conference center. The county exec, himself a buff dude, has championed these kinds of physical activities in his quest to make Ulster the healthiest county in the state.
The county would be competing, at considerable advantage, with other struggling tax-paying golf facilities. Public ownership would take a $1.6 million property off the tax rolls. But hard-pressed taxpayers might balk at bailing out country-club swells no longer able or willing to afford their former lifestyles. None of this reached the level of public discussion or even public knowledge before this month. Pity. It would have made for lively discussion on several levels.
One can only wonder whether other initiatives, for better or worse, have been summarily rejected behind closed doors by this county executive. Voters opted for a strong executive form of government back in 2006, though not necessarily a strongman.
Grapes of wrath
I’m not calling my Republican alderwoman, Deb Brown, a sore loser, but she was hurting on election night after losing to newcomer Democrat Andrea Shaut in Kingston’s Ninth Ward. Brown, a ward activist for years before stepping up to run for Common Council, worries that Shaut lacks the experience to be an effective representative. Voters thought otherwise, giving the Hasbrouck Avenue professional pianist a comfortable 60-vote margin on November 7.
“She’s lived in the ward for what, two weeks [actually, two years], and has never been to a council meeting,” griped Brown. “I attended council meetings for two years before I ran for office, and I took notes.”
Lifelong Democrat Brown lost her first contest on her own ticket (to Democrat Hayes Clement) before accepting a Republican offer and switching parties to run four years ago. Even ward Democrats acknowledge Brown’s constituent work. Her regular emails to her constituents were must-reads. But that only got her to 45 percent in a heavily Democratic ward, noted a soon-to-be-former constituent just before the election. Unofficial returns showed Brown with 44 percent.
For her part, Shaut displayed the energy and enthusiasm she projected in the campaign. “I know there’s a learning curve. I think I’ll pick up on things pretty soon,” said Shaut just prior to attending her first Democratic council caucus.
Brown will bounce back, though she can never top bitterly defeated former mayor Shayne Gallo’s exit line: “God has turned his back on Kingston.” Republicans, harkening to the city’s so-called glory days, might consider that for a T-shirt.
Here and there
Saugerties legislator-elect Joe Maloney, after beating two-term incumbent Democrat Chris Allen on the Republican line, called to remind us he’s a registered member of the Independence Party, not a Republican, as widely reported. “I’ve been an independent voter all my life and I’ll vote that way in the legislature,” he said.
Maloney, who secured his Republican endorsement via primary over Allen, says he’ll caucus with Republicans next year.
Saugerties councilman-elect John Schoonmaker, at 26, stakes claim to being the youngest councilman elected to a town board in recent memory. Dan Torres of New Paltz, reelected last week, was 23 when first elected a council member in 2013. In Shandaken, Democrat Kevin VanBlarcum, 27, won a seat on the town board. Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum gave his boy full credit. “I had nothing to do with it. He did it all on his own,” said the proud father.
Schoonmaker’s mother offered similar sentiments. “He’s a good boy,” she said on election night.
Republicans, take heed. There’s a youth movement among Democrats, and that’s not a bad thing.
Having passed muster with the legislature’s financial consultants last week — the informational meeting was held the day after the election — the county executive’s proposed 2018 budget should sail through with near-unanimous approval in mid-December.
There is one element rubber-stamp legislators might ponder, however briefly. The executive proposes a decrease of some $190,000 (0.024 percent) in the $76,893,016 tax levy for next year, which for most taxpayers might finance a burger, or some chicken nuggets.
The administration likes to tout the fact that the tax levy is the lowest since 2010, when it was $76,944,960. It would be more accurate to state that property taxes have been flat through the executive’s nine budgets.
Speaking of taxes, state legislators will face some grim choices when they return to Albany in January (if not called to special session). State revenues are falling short of projections, according to the business-friendly state Business Council. Democrats don’t disagree that the figure could reach $1.5 billion, manageable on a $160 billion budget but worrisome. And that’s before Washington does anything. To New York, not for New York.
Typically, this trickles down. If Albany doesn’t have money, it costs the localities.
That thought brings me full circle to the unsinkable Deb Brown. “We’re living on borrowed money [state grants],” she said of the mayor’s proposed 2018 budget. “What happens if and when that dries up?”
Ready, aim, fired?
To varying degrees, the six remaining Democrats seeking to unseat Congressman John Faso reacted with glee over news that Beltway handicappers consider Faso one of the three “most vulnerable” congressional Republicans in 2018. In fact, Faso had that target on his back in 2016, but still managed a 25,000-vote victory. Obviously (read, Donald Trump) things have changed. He had only two Democrats fighting each other for their party’s nomination two years ago.
A press release from Democratic front-runner Antonio Delgado of Rhinebeck is representative. “John Faso has repeatedly proven that he’s in Congress to help his corporate backers, not working families,” he wrote. “The values I learned growing up in Schenectady, hard work, responsibility, integrity, are the same values I’m bringing to this campaign.”
Delgado, a recent arrival in Northern Dutchess, might want to play down that Schenectady connection. Voters in this congressional district demonstrated in the previous two elections that they prefer home-grown talent, or at least candidates living in the district for at least two years. Candidate Pat Ryan, born and raised in Kingston and now living in Gardiner after a long sojourn, would be an exception to that characterization. Kingston lawyer David Clegg has lived in Woodstock for almost 35 years.
Meanwhile, one of Faso’s so-called corporate backers, except they’re not, took out a full-page ad in the daily this week thanking Faso for opposing legislation that they called “anti-homeowner.” A Faso spokesman said the congressman had “no connection” with The New York State Association of Realtors, but assumed they were referring to proposals advanced by the Republican majority in Congress to eliminate or limit deductions on mortgage interest and property taxes on federal returns. Efforts to reach NYSAR ran afoul of the association’s labyrinthine voicemail system.