Congressman John Faso didn’t exactly wow ‘em at last week’s Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting, but he brought the Kingston breakfast crowd up to date on a host of issues, however unresolved.
Stealing a page from former congressman Chris Gibson’s Kumbaya playbook, Faso made it sound as though his 24-member bipartisan “Problem Solver” caucus members was leading the debate in Washington. How often do we associate problem-solving with Washington these days?
The wonder was half the breakfast crowd of 250 at Best Western on Washington Avenue didn’t laugh out loud. So starved are we for anything approaching cooperation and compromise in Washington that even a splinter group merits applause. For sure, it will play well on the campaign trail. As Faso’s problem-solvers represent less than 5 percent of the House, they might better call themselves the rump caucus.
Faso gets kudos, at least from this corner, for reserving two-thirds of his 45 minutes
at the podium for questions from the audience. Typically, Chamber speakers talk for half an hour and leave the rest for Q&A. Some speakers, like County Exec Mike Hein and a forgettable former lieutenant governor whose name I have forgotten, blew right through the Q&A. Either what they have to say is god-awful important, at least to them, or they’re just afraid to face the music.
With Chamber President Ward Todd calling on the usual suspects in the audience, Faso glibly fielded half a dozen subjects. Say what you will about our freshman congressman and former eight-term assemblyman, he is one smooth operator.
The Faso performance
Working without a net, no script, no notes, Faso glided from one subject to another, displaying remarkable command of facts, figures and dates but offering little in the way of solutions. He referred to Donald Trump just once, and then not by name, in response to a question on infrastructure. He advised the audience that “the president” will (probably) lay out his plans in his State of the Union address. It was as though Trump didn’t exist. Maybe for Faso he doesn’t.
The congressman spoke of federal debt going off the charts and Social Security in trouble as though this was news to the audience. “Social Security is projected to pay 79 percent of benefits in 2034, and I plan to be there,” he said. Faso will be 81 then, but by “being there” did he mean as congressman? Half a dozen Democratic candidates want something to say about that.
Nobody asked, but Faso reminded listeners that he had voted against the president’s tax reform bill because of its adverse impact on New Yorkers. At the same time, he predicted a stronger economy because of the bill. In basketball, they call that a guy who can go both ways.
I doubt whether Faso passes up any opportunity to take a shot at Andrew Cuomo, since Mario Cuomo made his life so miserable when he was in the Assembly minority. He accused the current Cuomo of “exaggeration and hyperbole” (pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?) for his strident attacks on the tax reform bill, even if Faso didn’t vote for it.
He goes left. He goes right. He scores!
In a way, it was all kind of surreal, as though the Chamber operated in some kind of bubble. Where were those angry protestors with Faso-must-go signs in front of his district offices every Friday? If they were in the audience — I didn’t see pickets out front — Todd didn’t call on them at the crowded breakfast.
Based solely on his Chamber speech and glib responses to questions, I’d call Faso a landslide winner in November. But elections are not decided at business breakfasts.
Sponsors of Sunday’s congressional forum in Woodstock vow candidates will be shut down promptly at 4 p.m. Something about a football game at 6:30. Kickoff for the six Democratic candidates at the forum will be around 1:15 (allowing for stragglers) at the community center on Rock City Road. I suggest they recruit popular Woodstock Town Justice Richard Husted, in full judicial regalia, to intone “all rise,” as the clock strikes four.
Salting Sunday’s forum, I pass on couple of campaign press releases that crossed my desk this week.
Candidate Antonio Delgado in a series of TV ads around the district accused Faso of at least bad faith in promising a distraught, chronically ill Greene County woman he would not vote to take away her (Obamacare) medical benefits. Then he voted for repeal. A Faso spokesperson lashed back, calling Delgado a “New Jersey lawyer,” which of course had nothing to do with the charges the candidate had levied. Delgado moved to Rhinebeck a year ago to run for Congress.
As nothing succeeds like success, bet on Faso pulling that weather-beaten carpetbag out of the closet for the fall campaign, the one with Z.T. (Zephyr Teachout) embossed next to the peace symbol. Actually, he already has.
Greene County’s Brian Flynn, once second tier in a well-heeled field, joined campaign fund-raising millionaires Delgado and Patrick Ryan at $1,255,000, according to a release this week. Flynn launched his campaign last year with a $500,000 personal loan from himself. A spokesperson wrapped up this happy news with charges of Faso “dark money” and cronyism. Dark money I get, cronyism less so. Like the rest of the Democratic field, Flynn has never run for public office. Some find that refreshing, others troubling.
I know, I know. Most people thought this rail trail business was settled, what with the county ripping up tracks at the Ashokan Reservoir for a walking-biking trail and the Catskill Mountain Railroad running a busy tourist train from Kingston to West Hurley. But there’s a third element in play. A little-known federal agency, the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which has jurisdiction over all things pertaining to railroads, apparently wants to know what’s going on with those tracks.
According to the U&D Revitalization Corp., a Phoenicia-based non-profit group of rail enthusiasts formed in mid-2016, the county may have broken the law in failing to notify the feds that it was removing railroad tracks and ties to make way for a walking trail.
County officials initially stonewalled the media — imagine that — but have since requested an extension from the STB until early March to plead its case. The county will probably argue that due to years of disuse the tracks had in effect been abandoned decades ago. Ex post facto abandonment may enter the legal lexicon.
The STB apparently has the authority to halt rail removal, at least until the legal issues are settled. It’s hard to accept that the county government’s coterie of lawyers was blind-sided, since railroad operators over the years repeatedly argued that laws governing railroads were unique. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Will the administration consider tying county attorney Bea Havranek to the tracks in protest to federal incursion, as in Perils of Pauline? Stay tuned.