Hugh Reynolds: Looking forward to 2018

The showcase contest in 2018 will be the Congress race, with incumbent Republican John Faso looking like Custer at Little Big Horn.

I hate to say this, but I think we’re facing our third straight Donald Trump year in 2018. Personally, I went down with Trump fatigue sometime last May.

This is not to say Trump didn’t earn or deserve most of the constant bashing he’s gotten, though I thought a comedienne holding a (mock) severed head of the president a bit much.

Advertisement

The way forward for Trump opponents, in my judgment, is not over his desecrated body but through well-considered alternatives plans that speak to the real concerns of most people. Let’s just hope Trump doesn’t tweet us into a war with Mexico in the meantime.

The showcase local contest in 2018 will be the congressional race, with first-term incumbent Republican John Faso looking like Custer at Little Big Horn in this winter of discontent.

Fat-cat Republicans, those “who write the checks,” looked askance at Faso’s voting against the Trump tax package. What choice did he have? A clever, savvy politician, Faso knows he has to create at least the appearance of distance from a president whose approval rate is wallowing in the 30s, while also holding fingers to winds from the left. Sponsoring the naming of the post office in Saugerties after the late Maurice Hinchey — in truth, they really didn’t get along all that well in the Assembly — was a clever move. If the tax bill does what sponsors claim or fervently hope for in quickly goosing the economy, Faso could be an incumbent with a nice tailwind.

Democratic challengers — there are six progressives running now and maybe another head or two to pop up before the May conventions — had better begin to weed out the chaff or risk a Faso resurgence combined with an economic bump. I don’t think people paid much attention to this traveling road show last summer and fall. Time, however, has a way of catching up with events.

Not to disparage any contenders, but from my perch I see homeboy Pat Ryan, formerly of Kingston, now of Gardiner, and Antonio Delgado, recently of Rhinebeck, as front-runners when winter turns to spring. County Democratic committee endorsements among the eleven counties contained in the sprawling congressional district will carry considerable weight. The last thing Democrats want is an ugly, summer-long divisive primary leading into a general election against a seemingly vulnerable incumbent.

Glass menagerie

Ulster’s county legislature, which a majority of voters don’t seem to much care about (check out dismal voting in almost all 23 legislative districts last month), had an unusually high turnover this year. Eight legislators with an average of close to a decade in office, won’t be back when the legislature convenes in annual session on January. 8. Five were defeated for re-election, three left for greener pastures.

Ground zero could be Saugerties, where Democrat Chris Allen was denied a third term and Republican Mary Wawro squeaked through by six votes. Two former legislators, Democrat Lynn Archer of Accord and former Republican Laura Petit of Esopus, will be returning after brief sojourns in the private sector. Should this gang of eight coalesce into some kind of voting bloc — think Independent Democratic Coalition in the State Senate — they could exert considerable influence. Experience suggests they won’t.

One of the departing legislators, Democrat Jennifer Schwartz Berky, lost to Republican Brian Woltman in Kingston’s downtown district. Her controversial speeding ticket was adjudicated in Ulster Town Court on Dec. 18.

Charged in May, Berky, who appeared in town court for the first time after several adjournments, was offered, according to court records, a plea of parking on the pavement, a considerable reduction from the original charge but not unusual in a town court with a reputation for leniency for first-offenders. The fact of the video of her stop and her subsequent public apology afterwards both went viral, probably helping her more in town court than in the court of public opinion.

Case closed? I sincerely, fervently hope so.

Six towns will have new supervisors next year, an unusually high turnover. Fortunately for these newbies and their constituents, they’ll have veteran town boards and staff to consult.

God must have loved Ulster County. He (or She) gave us eight state legislators, four state senators and four assemblymen. The only real suspense among these legislators-for-life in next year’s elections is whether Republican Bill Larkin, 90 years old in February, will stand for another two-year term. With the governor leading a pack of fired-up Democrats, my guess is that the ageless one will finally step down. But I’m not betting on it.

It will be interesting how the politics surrounding the rump Independent Democratic Coalition plays out. My guess is that even more mainstream Democratic senators will turn their coats. Why not? They’ll have more influence wagging the tail of the Republican majority. Power goes to power.

Put on a happy face

Back in its salad days a generation ago, the Hudson Valley Mall used to host an annual Halloween costume party called “Ball in the Mall.” It was packed. Over the holidays just past, alas, one could roll a bowling ball down any of its lengthy corridors and hit hardly a shopper.
Being old-school, I view this development with some concern, if not alarm. Georgia-based Hull Group, owners of the mall, are about to celebrate their first anniversary as local businessmen. They take a more optimistic view.

Keenly aware of the painfully obvious lack of activity at the once-thriving mall, Jim Hull, principal partner in the Hull Group, offers a Southern homily. “We’re like ducks in the water,” he offered with that soft Georgia drawl. “You can’t see us paddling.”

Hull, with at least $10 million invested in what he calls “a failed mall,” preaches patience. “The mall didn’t get this way in a day, it won’t get fixed in a day,” he said.

It’s been a year, and boarding up empty storefronts with nicely finished plywood does not seem the way forward.

“Retail is evolving and changing,” Hull said with no apparent irony. Preliminary holiday shopping reports, which Hull can probably cite chapter and verse, indicate just a few ticks to the positive in brick-and-mortar shopping against continuing double-digit increases in on-line.

Advertisement

Hull doesn’t give away much, but just from asides it’s obvious this mall will either fail (finally) or evolve into something quite different. He’s been talking about an upgraded “luxury theater” as a major draw for close to a year now, lately, maybe a bowling alley, arcades and bars, even a supermarket. “For sure, you’re not going to see a flea market there. That’s not how we operate,” he said.

Talks with HealthQuest to fill the vacant space left by Macy’s are progressing, but still more concept than contract. Hull looks to a stand-alone operation, part of but separate from the mall. “We’re not going to just glob on something,” he said. I assumed “glob” is a Southern derivative of “glue.”

I retain faith in Hull’s game plan because over a long period of time his outfit has rescued more than a score of ailing malls around the country, returning them to productive, profitable properties.
But that was then. Some suggest Hull and company are bucking a rising tide. Optimists would see the glass as half-full, much like the current condition of the mall. Personally, I’m rooting for any responsible party willing to invest $10 million of their own money in our community. The millions in tax breaks from the school district, town and county seem the way they do business these days.

There is, however, for every action a reaction, as Sir Isaac discovered.  As big-box malls decline, business seems to be returning to the small shops in Kingston and other urban centers, with buildings being sold at prices no one could have imagined even five years ago.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, to paraphrase Hull. Alternately, if HVM doesn’t show some real progress by say, June, we could be staring at that dreaded “hulk on a hill,” the Georgia peach’s worst nightmare.

Footnote: An avid golfer, Hull takes only passing interest in stories regarding the hoped-for resuscitation of troubled Wiltwyck Golf Club. It was not on his investment list. “The smartest thing to do is not to join a golf club, but to be friends with a member,” he said via phone last week. This from a guy with a membership to the über-exclusive Augusta National, a stone’s throw from company headquarters in Georgia.

More on Wiltwyck

Despite emptying every cookie jar and secret stash in the house my wife hasn’t yet discovered, I was unable to come up with the $200,000 investor fee to join the eleven-member consortium to save Wiltwyck from extinction. Fact is, most members of what we duffers used to call “the palace” wouldn’t want a slob like me or most of my golfing buddies hacking up their sacred fairways. As Groucho Marx once said, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

Conducted in deep secrecy in the rarified circles these folks travel, only two investor  names have publicly surfaced so far, Heidi Kirschner, executive director of the YMCA, and Bill Collins of those prominent Collins folks from down under (Accord). Before anybody cries, “Whoa! They must be paying pretty nice wages at the Y!” Heidi is not only well-liked but well-connected. She’s the wife of Kingston City Judge Phil Kirschner, son of retired county treasurer Lew Kirschner and his wife Amy. Lew’s house backs into one of Wiltwyck’s manicured fairways.

The other nine members of this exclusive club (my spies missed one) go by the names of Alan, Rich, Frank, Joe, Ed, Rich (the low handicapper) Luke and John (we’re not talking apostles here, though they often pray over putts) and maybe even Curley, Larry and Mo. Last names have been omitted to protect the innocent (or foolish) of what is uniquely a private enterprise, but they know who they are. All are painfully familiar with the facility’s precarious situation and its considerable challenges going forward.

Some of that history bears review. A few years ago, Ulster Town Assessor Jim Maloney, who doubles as a Republican county legislator from the town, granted the perennially struggling Wiltwyck a near-50 percent reduction in its assessment. Fortunately, for Maloney, that fact was not well circulated during his recent, unusually difficult re-election. Million-dollar write-offs for exclusive golf clubs would not have worn well among the overtaxed electorate. The possibility of the club seeking further reductions as a semi-public facility before a town assessment review board in May cannot be discounted.

In moving forward, spokespersons for the new Wiltwyck say they want to shed the club’s elitist image by opening it to the public on a limited basis (as was tried last summer) while preserving some member privileges. Most now appreciate, I’m told, that stubborn elitism in the face of an eroding economy was what got them to this sorry pass.

I thought a golfer-lawyer friend of mine who could have easily afforded the six-figure investment, put things in perspective. “They were elitists until they ran out of money,” he said over dinner at the Bowery Dugout last week.

In that spirit of revival and renewal, and maybe some enlightened attitudes, I wish everyone all best for the New Year.