From what I see of polls in general, term limits are not exactly on people’s radar these days, except for those who would be directly affected. Ulster County Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk, now entering his 10th year in office, has dangled term limits — and paradoxically, term extensions — before the legislature for a few years now. He’s finally found a willing accomplice in independent Joe Maloney of Saugerties, now approaching his third month in office. They’re strange bedfellows, this pair, the young veteran leader and the outspoken freshman legislator.
Legislation presented last week by Maloney, an independent who caucuses with Republicans, sets a March 13 date for an unusual and inconvenient 6:05 p.m. public hearing at the County Office Building on doubling the two-year terms of legislators while limiting them to 12 years in office.
The proposal would also limit the county executive and comptroller to 12 years — three four-year terms. Fear not a wholesale house-cleaning. Grandfathering rules apply so that anybody currently in office would be allowed another 12 years should the public approve the changes at referendum. Four-year terms of sheriff and county clerk are set by state law.
The bedfellows have presented a mixed bag, a kind of carrot-and-stick package. Will the voters bite or will they duck?
As with most things in politics, there’s this and that. On one hand, the public might relish the idea of some fresh faces in office every dozen years or so. And most people are OK with four-year terms for countywide offices.
But legislative offices are a different matter. Legislators, representing districts of about 8,000, are closest to the people, or should be. And the people like the idea of getting at them every two years as much as legislators detest campaigning every other year.
And while only a minority of the 23 seats are actually competitive — a third of incumbents run without any opposition, while many others face only token opponents — there can be dramatic changes. Last year, eight new legislators were elected, including two returnees.
If presented as a package, I think that this thing goes down. As a separate issue, term limits have a chance, even against opposition from the political class.
Imagine my surprise after Chairman Ronk finished reading what may come to be known as his “paperless state of the county” speech last week, I was told there were no copies. “It’s online,” Ronk said, clutching his (one?) hard copy to his chest.
And that was just for openers. During his speech, Ronk announced that the legislature, like the executive branch, was going paperless in order to save, by his estimation, 37 trees every year. Every legislator will be issued tablet computers (at about $1,100 each) which will contain all the information previously compiled in 27 cases of paper per year, said the chairman. Glancing around chambers, I wondered how many legislators would be using those devices.
Truly it is said that columns are written by fools like me (over 4,800 to date and counting) but only God can make a tree. I love trees. We planted more than a dozen on our property. I understand that Ronk, still only 31, has a future in politics and that glomming onto the influential and affluent environmental movement can only further his career. But is paper really the culprit? What’s next, paperless toilets at the County Office Building?
He’ll be back
By a fluke of the calendar, the first African-American to be elected to the county legislature in almost 40 years, the Rev. Julius Collins, Democrat of Ellenville, was not in attendance when Black History Month was officially declared last week.
The legislature usually meets the third Tuesday of the month, but convenes a week earlier in February when the annual chairman’s message is scheduled. Collins, a 24-year member of Ellenville’s school board, attended a board meeting that night.
“I was kind of devastated” about missing the legislature meeting, he told me this week. “I told the committee when they approached me to run for legislature that the school board was super-important to me. They both are, actually, and that if it [the legislature] interfered with the school board I would not run.”
Collins, who attended the legislature’s organizational meeting with his family last month, doesn’t expect to miss any more meetings. “I intend to be there every time they open the door to give a strong voice to my community,” he said.
Collins, 70, has been pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church for 25 years. He succeeds Democrat T.J. Briggs, who chose to run for Wawarsing town board.
Tavern owner Larry Kithcart of Kingston was elected on the Democratic ticket in 1971, retiring in 1979.
Second banana rising
Nobody runs for lieutenant governor, they say. The gubernatorial nominee picks his or her running mate and off they go, though not always together. New York is unique in that both candidates are elected separately. Andrew Cuomo has endorsed the loyal and hard-working Kathy Hochul for another term as his Democratic running mate.
Jumaane (pronounced Ju-Main) Williams, a three-term Brooklyn city councilman, wants to change that scenario. Last week he declared for lieutenant governor against incumbent Hochul of Erie County.
The last time Hochul came to Kingston, she spoke to a packed house at a chamber of commerce breakfast. Williams settled for the intimate confines of Wall Street’s outdated café on Monday.
Williams, 41, a Brooklyn bachelor, took the plunge last Friday after several weeks of speculation. It was no coincidence that this self-styled “true progressive Democrat” started his formal campaign by touring upstate. The Cuomo-Hochul ticket lost almost every upstate county outside Erie and Albany four years ago.
The outspoken Williams, whom The New York Times described as “a proxy for liberal activists,” is nobody’s idea of a second banana. He’s differed with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio in such areas as funding for youth programs, housing issues and the like. He takes criticism from the Cuomo administration as something of a badge of honor.
A former Erie County clerk and congresswoman, Hochul was described as pro-gun and anti-immigrant in published political profiles during her 30 months in Congress. Funny how things change in only a couple of years.
Assuming he gets the necessary signatures on ballot petitions, Williams will face the incumbent in a Sept. 11 primary. Campaign spending reports, filed prior to the primary, will be revealing.
Williams may have a puncher’s chance, running for an obscure office in an off-season primary with about 15 percent of the vote in the mix. Under the heading of competition can be a good thing, at least he’s running.
Playing post office
It would appear would-be developers of the old post office site on Kingston’s central Broadway have cooled on plans to establish a Dunkin’ Donuts shop at a deserted wings outfit therein. City cops must be in mourning. Calls for updates to developer’s Laconia, N.H. headquarters have gone unanswered of late.
In terms of local history, the old post office didn’t last that long, only about 60 years from its opening in 1908. Its appeal was more about location, its iconic Jeffersonian design, the cupola, the memories that people treasured. The old post office was routinely featured on post cards of Kingston.
Having lost their post office to a Jack in the Box in the late ’60s, Kingstonians are very attentive about what might go in there. Suggestions range from a plaque honoring the post office set in a mini-park, to a statue of an androgynous mail carrier (my idea), to an on-site doughnut-shop replica of the original. In concession to commercial interests, the latter might include a revolving doughnut on the roof.
Ironically, it was commercial interests that brought the wrecking ball and bulldozers to the old post office in 1968. Then-mayor Ray Garraghan (born when the fortress-like post office was under construction) vowed to put the property back on the tax rolls. The building was demolished.
The city assessor values the small triangle at Garden Street that once housed La Loco Polo at $297,000. I don’t know if our nanny-like city officials can dictate building designs — they can tell property owners what color of exterior paint to use in historic districts — but they should make clear to all developers that this is hallowed ground.