Hugh Reynolds: End of the Parete era

John Parete (photo by Dan Barton)

I don’t know why Bonnie Parker’s poem popped into my head after the counting of the absentee ballots last week relegated John Parete to the sidelines. “To a few it’ll be grief, to the law a relief,” wrote Bonnie a few weeks before their inevitable fate, “but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”

Talk about mixed feelings!

Unlike the late Midwestern marauders, the three Paretes will be alive and kicking, but completely gone from the Ulster County Legislature. Brothers Robert and Richard were first elected in 2003. Poppa John followed in 2011, two years before Robert retired to raise his young daughters. For all the talk about too many Paretes at the party, it was only a short while.

John lost his bid for re-election this year. He seems a bit bewildered about the circumstances that for all intents and purposes ended his political career. Richard will take office as Marbletown supervisor in January. Having never, by his own admission, attended a town board meeting, he might need directions to the executive suite.

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John Parete is an old-school, seat-of-the-pants politician. To him, whoever gets the most votes wins, plain and simple. In his race, Democrat Kathy Nolan got 1,149 votes (with absentees), or 37 percent. Incumbent Parete running on the Conservative and Independence lines got 1,089, 35 percent. Republican Cliff Faintych finished third with 808 votes, 26 percent. (Percentages are rounded.)
Two things seem clear to me. Faintych, who narrowly beat Parete in the Republican primary, was the spoiler in this race. Had Parete secured the Republican line, he would have easily exceeded Nolan’s 60-vote victory margin. Rationale: They endorsed him last time, and he won handily.

Secondly, absentee balloting in this race bears scrutiny. Nolan, down by 20 when the polls closed, picked up an astounding 54 percent of the mail-ins. Absentees usually go the way of machine votes, or fairly close. Even Faintych, hailing from the frontier town of Denning (population 551) beat Parete, 60-51, in the absentee count.

This can only mean that the “weekend vote,” as they call it in the hill country, cannot be ignored. These folks may not join the local fire department, and they probably don’t hang out at Parete’s Boiceville Inn, but they vote. And as Parete by now realizes, those votes have consequences.

The wrath of Ronk

Considering I’ve covered every Ulster legislature chairman since Chairman Mao, (and I don’t mean Mary Beth), I’ll give  current presiding officer Ken Ronk, Republican of Wallkill, good marks for moving the agenda, treating members of both sides fairly and respecting decorum. But even the mild-mannered Ronk almost lost it during the heated, emotional last hurrah of rail advocates last week.

About 50 speakers signed up for the public-comment period that precedes formal session, most in favor of the resolution to tear up some 11 miles of old rail tracks around the northern perimeter of the Ashokan Reservoir. Nobody changed anybody’s mind, but for some it was their last chance to vent.

There are strict rules for public comment sessions, which Ronk, a strict constructionist, usually enforces. Speakers are not allowed to engage legislators, or even mention their names as in, “Legislator so-and-so is a horse’s ass.” Neither can legislators respond. Signs are permitted, but under the Ronk rule only allowed to be displayed once. This isn’t exactly democracy in action or even a New England town meeting, but them’s the rules.

At the beginning of public comment, Ronk turned to a gallery festooned with yellow vote-for-the-trail signs and invited a one-time wave. After Ronk explained the rule on signs Richard Parete got in a parting gag with, “I wonder if there were any ‘No, No Nolan’ signs over there.”

Ronk let that slide, but it must have sparked a fuse. During regular session, Kingston’s Dave Donaldson, the patron saint of lost causes like the railroad, took the floor for a few last shots. At one point he referred to Gotham’s Department of Environmental Protection staff as “liars” in negotiations with the county. Trail advocates erupted from their seats as though electrically shocked, shouting and waving their signs.

Bam went the chairman’s gavel at this most grievous breach of decorum. Bam! Bam! “We listened to you, now you can listen to us!” Ronk said, his voice rising.

It got very quiet very fast. Final vote, which every legislator knew going in, was 14-7 in favor of trails. Trail people limited themselves to high-fives out in the hall.

Speculation season

Those who follow politics on a regular basis know the season is never over. They just stop once or twice a year to count.

With things more or less quiet in Saugerties, speculation has arisen over whether popular police chief Joe Sinagra will run for sheriff against incumbent Democrat Paul VanBlarcum next year. I think Sinagra is smarter than that. VanBlarcum, while controversial at times, however refreshingly outspoken, has feet in both camps. Sinagra has legs, a good record in Sawyertown, and at 52 years old, time. Of passing interest is that the Saugerties chief has been lobbying for a $100,000 salary of late, comparable to what other law-enforcement leaders are paid. The chief pulls down $86,381, plus benefits. Van Blarcum’s salary is $101,706. Top cop in the Town of Ulster gets $113,000.

There’s little doubt Ronk will return as majority leader next year. He needs only seven votes in the 12-member Republican caucus. The other side of the aisle, as usual, will be in turmoil.

Minority Leader Hector Rodriguez failed to lead his party to the promised land, even with eight legislators leaving. Some believe Hector’s look outward, as opposed to internal affairs, failed to resonate with voters. Along with Rodriguez, Gardiner’s Tracey Bartels will again be a leading leadership contender, though her lack of party membership will not be an asset. Kingston’s Dave Donaldson, a former chairman, will have his hat in the ring, as usual. Calling himself “Kingston’s legislator” will not attract votes from the hinterlands. As a dark horse, I like Woodstock’s Jonathan Heppner. Just 29, Heppner could attract more millennials to the party, and he did rack up more votes for a second term than any other legislator. Besides, anything attached to Woodstock has cachet.

Wiltwyck update

I’m not getting any phone calls back on this, but multiple sources confirm that Wiltwyck Golf Club, perhaps in the spirit of the season, has embarked on a kind of John Alden strategy. (Ask Pricilla.)

Foiled in its attempt to have the county government pull its chestnuts out of the fire, club leaders are now soliciting members and others to pony up $200,000 each to create a $2 million pot in order to pay off the mortgage and “equity” loans from members. That would be enough to keep the foundering operation going for a while. No, I was not solicited, even with a ton of bottles and cans in the garage.

Fire-sale fundraising aside, methinks that if Wiltwyck is to have any future some hidebounds will have to let go of the past. The days of exclusive, limited, expensive country-club memberships are long over around here. Myopic Wiltwyck directors recognized that reality all too late.

Something like the Red Hook Country Club system of limited membership and public access could generate the traffic Wiltwyck needs to survive. Or it could just open up to the public at reasonable rates, It  might also consider senior forward tees on the excessively long course, so that players other than young boomers could more often reach the greens in regulation.

We got a lot more reaction from the story about the county refusing to take over Wiltwyck than we would have, say, about the average common council meeting. While some took righteous umbrage at the notion of public ownership, the point I was trying to make was that this secret discussion last summer, however brief, should have been put out there for public consideration. And now it is. Obviously, Wiltwyck has moved on.

Here and there

In Kingston, the silly season has produced a discussion over a Common Council minority party leader next year, albeit under unprecedented circumstances. Patrick O’Reilly was elected as a member of the Independence Party with Republican backing. Under council rules, leaders have to be members of a major party. In practice, a minority of one (among nine) amounts to one hand clapping. Or as former vice president John Nance Garner said of his office, “Not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

I’ve been thinking of the late judge Aaron Klein ever since Yankee Aaron Judge started hitting moonshots last spring. Klein was a former state Supreme Court judge whom friends called “Judge Aaron.” Before that, he was Kingston corporation counsel, a man of wisdom and common sense. Pithy, too.

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At one council session an alderman asked him “through the chair” if the council could amend a law it had recently adopted. “You passed it, didn’t you?” Klein replied.

I wonder how Judge Aaron would have ruled on this O’Reilly business.

Aaron’s son Lou is a former chairman of the county legislature.

Another former chairman may have gotten his last laugh in legislative session last week. As debate rolled on over ripping up the old U&D tracks around the reservoir to create a hiking-biking trail, John Parete was heard to stage-whisper, “Yeah. Some guy emigrates here from Bangladesh and the first place he heads for is the Ashokan hiking trail?”

Kathy Nolan, a non-practicing physician, didn’t mind the No, No Nolan signs festooned around the district during her campaign. But she took umbrage at the word “Doctor” being in quotes on others. “Doctor?” she said, “with a medical degree from Yale, with honors?” Boola, boola.

A Raleigh, N.C-based poll had Congressman John Faso with a bottom-feeding 31 percent popularity rating this month, only a year after he took 54 percent in the general election. A snapshot in time, such polls may give pause, but shouldn’t be taken too seriously a year before the election. Sources should be considered. The rater was Public Policy Polling, described in Wikipedia as “a Democratic polling firm.”

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