The Democrats suffer no such restrictions as Ronald Reagan’s famous Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans.” Take Democrat assemblyperson Kevin Cahill’s unloading on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state-of-the-state message last week. Badda-bing!
Not that Cuomo gives a hoot. With $25 million in his war chest, millions more and no viable opponent, Cuomo can afford the slings and arrows of snarky Assembly members.
Bad blood between Cuomo and the Democratic-controlled Assembly has been a factor of Albany politics for most of the governor’s two terms. It manifests itself in curious ways.
Since time immemorial, governors have given their annual addresses to the full legislature in Assembly chambers at the capital. Cuomo went off campus, to the apparent chagrin of the Assembly.
“It is after all, the year’s agenda the governor asks us to consider,” Cahill said last week. “I did not attend, but I would have in chambers,” he added. Cahill said he worked in his office during Cuomo’s 92-minute address.
Cuomo visits the region to blow up a bridge in High Falls or hand out $10 million in Kingston. The snubbed resident assemblyman gets “invited” only hours — sometimes minutes — before an event. In turn, Assembly Democrats held up the naming of the old Malcolm Wilson Bridge in Tarrytown after the governor’s late father for a few days, just to show him who’s boss.
Money never sleeps, of course. Denied member items by the governor, legislators find other ways to buy votes for seemingly worthy causes. Cahill, for instance, without much fanfare, secured $3.5 million in state funding toward an $11 million auditorium for Red Hook High School last month. Cuomo might have ground a few molars after missing out on that handout.
Privately, Cahill has never expressed much admiration for Cuomo, even though Cahill’s middle name is Andrew. Perhaps Cahill harbors resentment from Mario Cuomo’s dismal showing in these parts that cost him his Assembly seat in 1994. Cahill bounced back in 1998 to begin the longest run in local Assembly history; Maurice Hinchey served nine consecutive terms; Cahill will run for his 13th this November. Like Cuomo, he has no visible opposition.
The theme to Cahill’s broad-brushed carpet-bombing of the governor was that it is the liberal Assembly majority that has set the progressive agenda to which Cuomo pays only lip service. For the proud if not arrogant governor, this is hitting where it hurts.
Though Assembly members rule in their fiefdoms, for a senior member like Cahill to publicly and pointedly speak out against a sitting governor from his own party suggests a difficult session for the man who would be president.
Speaking of potential division, that curious combination of Republicans and independents called the Ulster County Legislature majority started its year on Monday by re-electing Republican Ken Ronk of Wallkill along party lines. Ronk, who was re-elected without opposition last year, got the necessary 12 votes from the Republican caucus for a third one-year term. All 11 Democrat allegiants stood against him.
This year’s session features five legislators who are not members of a majority party. Tracey Bartels of Gardiner, as usual, will caucus with Democrats, as will Laura Petit from Esopus. Joe Maloney and Mary Wawro from Saugerties and Heidi Haynes from Marbletown will caucus with the Republicans.
Missing this year will be those promiscuous Paretes, willing to caucus with anybody. Democrat Rich Parete of Marbletown (he was elected town supervisor last year) was in fact the 12th Republican vote in last year’s legislature. Daddy John Parete of Olive voted with the GOP on most issues. They’re both gone, and for the first time in 16 years there will be no Paretes in the legislature. But there is parity.
Noses having been counted, and perhaps twisted, everyone knew the outcome going into Monday’s organizational meeting, but few outsiders expected the legislature’s junior member to move from the back row to the front. Jonathan Heppner, 29, of Woodstock, had been elected party whip at a Democratic caucus last month. All of a sudden, he emerged as the party’s candidate for chairman on Monday. Had just one of those three Republican “independents” (non-enrolled Republicans endorsed by the party) gone rogue, Heppner would have been the youngest chairman in history. In fact, Ronk, 31, still holds that distinction.
That said, uneasy lies the crown. The seeds of dissention are still there, bubbling just below the surface. In a 12-11 legislature, controversial votes will always be close. Except for bond issues and executive vetoes, which take a two-thirds majority, one vote can and will make a difference.
Out of the pack
With six congressional candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Congress this year, it takes something unusual, loud or just goofy to attract public attention.
Candidate Gareth Rhodes’ New Year’s Day launch on incumbent Republican Congressman John Faso for failing to call out Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin on staffer harassment allegations caught my eye. A former staffer had accused McLaughlin a former assemblyman, of improper conduct shortly before his election as county executive last November. McLaughlin issued the usual denials. Pending further developments, like an actual prosecution, that seemed the end of that. Not.
That Faso appeared at McLaughlin’s inaugural along with a host of other officials and didn’t say anything about the cloud hanging over the new county executive raised the ire of one of his would-be successors. Rhodes called on Faso to demand a criminal investigation, a serious stretch Faso summarily rejected.
“Obviously, I don’t like what I read in the newspapers,” Faso said, code for “fake news.” “This is an attack from a floundering and unknown candidate trying to create an issue and get attention.” Faso’s avoiding mention of Rhodes, McLaughlin or “the issue” should be entered in the PR Hall of Fame.
Rhodes will not be going away anytime soon. Last week he announced $150,000 in late-year contributions (for a total of $450,00), most from small donors. Deadline for filing is Jan. 15.
Faso will address the Ulster Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Best Western in Kingston on Jan. 25.
Shooting around turkeys
It’s ironic that Sears, the inventor of mail-order shopping in the late 19th century, is being driven out of business — or at least out of the Town of Ulster and lots of other places — in large part by mail order’s modern web-based version.
Sears announcement last week that it will be closing its Hudson Valley Mall store in April probably came as no surprise to the mall’s Georgia-based owners. Old pros in this mall-rescue business, they no doubt had a vacant Sears baked in to overall plans, but perhaps not this soon. Following the departure of other anchors, Macy’s and Penney’s, the Hull Group might rather see moving vans rolling up the hill overlooking Route 9W than down it.
As with many communities, Sears has been a commercial fixture around here for generations. Old-timers remember a catalog store in Uptown Kingston. Later arrivals recall its considerable presence in Kingston Plaza during the 1960s. Sears followed the herd to the Town of Ulster in the early 1980s.
Hull Group managing partner Jim Hull tells us his company will either renovate the Sears space or demolish it. Well, duh. The mall already looks like an airport terminal at mid-night. I hear the sound of bulldozers.
Speaking of bull, the Sears closing reminded me of the time, long, ago, when the legendary Minnesota Fats shot a pool exhibition in the Sears store in Kingston Plaza.
There was some controversy over whether a pool hustler named Rudolph Wanderone (1913-1996), known as New York Fats before the 1961 book, had ever been to Minnesota. The fictional character in The Hustler was called Minnesota Fats. In any event, that’s how he was billed for the Kingston exhibition in 1967.
Fats was a legitimate pool hustler, probably one of the top five in the country at the time. Why Sears would hire a seemingly disreputable character like him remains a mystery. Maybe they just wanted to sell pool tables. And they did, by the thousands, thanks to Fats and the 1961 movie starring Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman.
The routine didn’t vary from town to town. Like some kind of traveling circus, Fats, with heavy advance publicity, would challenge the town’s top player to a thousand-dollar 125-ball match on a Sears pool table.
As rookie reporter, I was assigned the story. Editors said the sports staff was covering something more important, like UCCC basketball, a junior college powerhouse at the time.
I didn’t know Minnesota Fats from radioman Jimmy Thompson (a local heavyset wonder better known for bravo performances in Kiwanis Kapers), but he was something to behold. In his mid-50s at the time, Fats looked a little like TV’s Archie Bunker, light on his feet, nothing like Gleason in the movie.
A small crowd of maybe 50 people, most of them pool players, gathered in two or three rows around a pool table in one of Sears’ wide aisles for the big match. I don’t remember who Fats played, probably either Buster Ferraro or Billy Costello, the boxer’s father. They were among the best in town.
Fats, with that obvious “New Yawk” accent, talked through every shot, seemingly indifferent to the balls on the table. Pop. Plunk. Yak. Yak. Bank shots. Two- or three-ball combinations. Ooohs and aaahs from the crowd. He could draw a ball from one end of the table to the other.
When his opponent got a rare turn, Fats told stories to the crowd, his back to the table. He never shut up. And he was funny.
“One time I’m shootin’ for a t’ousand dollars [that’s how he pronounced it],” he said. “I always shoot for a t’ousand dollars. [A considerable sum in those days]. I got the run in front of me, game over, when a guy drops a live toikee right in the middle of the table.”
Fats pauses, waiting for some fool to ask the obvious question. That be me, the intrepid reporter.
“So, Fats, what did you do?”
Pause. “I shot around the toikee. What else could I do?”
Howls of laugher from the crowd. I felt like hiding under the pool table.
I’ve been shooting around turkeys ever since.