When the Kingston Common Council convenes for its New Year’s Day reorganization meeting, there will not be a single registered Republican on the city’s legislative body. Now, elected officials are debating whether the GOP, or any party should hold the post of minority leader.
Republicans argue that Ward 7 Alderman-elect Patrick O’Reilly should take the post, which comes with a $500 stipend, a vote on all council committees and the right to make an annual state of the city speech since he ran under the auspices of the Kingston Republican Committee. Democrats, meanwhile, contend that O’Reilly, who is not registered in any party and ran on both the Republican and Democratic Party lines should not be awarded minority leader status.
“Personally, I don’t think they earned it,” said Kingston Democratic Committee Chairman Joe Donaldson. “[O’Reilly] is not a registered Republican and he got more votes on the Democratic line than the Republican.”
The minority leader post is typically awarded to a member of the party with the second-most members on the council. The post, along with that of majority leader, is traditionally put up for a vote among members of the party’s caucus. In the event of a tie, or if there are just one or two caucus members, the city’s party chairman makes the choice. For the past six years, Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9) has served as a one-woman Republican caucus and minority leader, but on Election Day, she lost to Democratic newcomer Andrea Shaut. That leaves O’Reilly, a schoolteacher who ran on a purportedly non-partisan “Restore Kingston Pride” slate, as the closest thing the GOP will have to representation. O’Reilly seized the Democratic Party line from Bryant Andrews in a write-in campaign during September’s primary contest and ran on both major party lines as well as those of the Independence and Conservative parties.
But, says Common Council President James Noble, council rules bar O’Reilly from assuming the minority leader seat because he is not a member of any party. Noble also said the rules could be amended to allow O’Reilly to take the post. Like Donaldson, Noble noted that O’Reilly, like his fellow RKP hopefuls, had run an assiduously non-partisan campaign touting the slate’s diverse political backgrounds and his own non-enrolled status.
“It wasn’t like there was some overwhelming Republican turnout to get him elected,” said Noble. “He’s as much a Democrat as he is anything. He could join our caucus. Heck, he could be majority leader.”
But former city GOP committeeman Vince Rua said that it was clear from the dynamics of the race that the voters of the Seventh Ward had elected O’Reilly to serve as a check on Mayor Steve Noble’s progressive “One Kingston” agenda. Rua, who announced this week that he was resigning from the Kingston Republican Committee, pointed out that O’Reilly had won by large margins in both the Democratic primary and the general election while running against a candidate — Bryant “Drew” Andrews — who had the support of Noble and the Democratic Committee. Democratic Party officials, Rua noted, continued backing Andrews even after he lost the party line.
“The only reason they could be doing this is to silence the minority,” said Rua, who added that he was taking up the issue as a “concerned citizen” and not a party official. “People in Kingston, no matter how they voted should look at this and say ‘this is wrong.”
Rich Cahill Jr., an attorney and onetime Common Council Republican minority leader, said that he believed Noble’s interpretation of the council rules was incorrect and O’Reilly was entitled to the post. Cahill added that he was willing, as Conservative Party chairman, to appoint O’Reilly minority leader of a (currently nonexistent) Conservative caucus on the council.
“If he wants to play their game, as city chair I extend the invitation to run our caucus, no strings attached,” said Cahill. “He doesn’t have to join our party; he doesn’t have to do anything. There should be a minority leader and I’m willing to do anything in my power to make that happen.”
O’Reilly did not respond to an email seeking comment on the issue. Jim Noble, meanwhile, said he wasn’t even sure if the alderman-elect had any desire to take on the minority leader role. So far, he said, the only ones advocating for him to take the post were party officials.
“Let me talk to [O’Reilly] first and see how he feels,” said Noble. “I don’t want to be told what to do by the Ricky Cahills and Vince Ruas — those are political appointees.”