As sure as robins pluck worms from my front lawn, warmer weather brings on the darker side of politics. Six Democratic candidates for Congress pretty much ignored each other through much of last year, but now with petitioning starting this coming Tuesday, elbows are starting to fly.
Despite public revulsion, negatives work, if only to bring front-runners to heel. There is the old Albany saying that if you’re defending, you’re losing. Or at least losing ground.
A few weeks ago we learned that Greene County businessman Brian Flynn, after touting his job-building experience with local hires, may have shipped hundreds of jobs offshore. Or not. Flynn says only a handful left the country. and that most went to southern states. Still, those jobs are far from the local congressional district.
Candidate Pat Ryan of Gardiner, sailing along as one of the top-tier fund-raisers, dealt with some back and forth last week over whether he had conspired to spy on protest groups while employed with a high-tech computer surveillance firm several years ago. Not so, says Ryan. “I’ve never been party to anything like that anywhere I’ve been,” he said. Ryan did allow that his former employer had explored the possibility of mining Internet exchanges between protest groups and others, though it never went beyond the talking stages.
Gareth Rhodes of Esopus finds his brief tour as a press aide to governor Andrew Cuomo, not necessarily a good thing in the local district, more discussed as the candidates head for the clubhouse turn. He stands by his campaign cornerstone of being the only candidate with government experience.
Much of this stuff appears on the web, anonymously posted. I suggest interested parties consider the sources, if they can be identified.
And then there’s the endlessly fascinating self-declared “independent” candidate Diane Neal of Hurley. Within 48 hours after Neal declared at the February 4 candidate forum at Woodstock, about a dozen local Democrats invited her to a sit-down at Starbucks in the Town of Ulster to explore her positions and intentions. Democrats from Woodstock, New Paltz and Ulster grilled Neal on such hot-button topics as fracking, pipelines, universal health care, corporate welfare and the like, things the Democratic hopefuls have been talking about for over a year. Neal’s responses, ranging in the ears of her listeners from naïve to uninformed to just plain loopy, did not sit well with them.
Keep in mind that some of those inquisitors were already committed to one of the six announced candidates. Dan Torres, a New Paltz councilman, for instance, has been on the Pat Ryan bandwagon for months now.
At this late stage, Democrats worry that Neal as a non-party candidate will attract votes that would more than likely have gone to their party. This new defensive mode suggests it’s beginning to sink in that incumbent Republican John Faso will be no pushover.
Meanwhile, Neal, after a blast of free publicity, seems to be ducking mainstream media. Calls for comment go unanswered. It looks like she’s running a campaign on social media. I’m told by reliable sources that Neal has been tending to family issues back home in Indiana and that her mother has become involved in her campaign.
Is her candidacy genuine, Democrats and not a few Republicans are asking. Is Neal for real? We’ll know soon enough.
I’ll admit to having had some concern about useful material coming out of county exec Mike Hein’s annual mid-winter address to the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce last week. After all, this would have been the third time in four months that Hein had publicly addressed the state of the county. His budget rollout in early October was essentially his blueprint for the coming year. His formal state of the county address in New Paltz in January fleshed out dry budget stats in a 43-minute speech. So what was left?
Not to worry. The afternoon before the local daily’s website lit up with revelations (with comments from Hein) that TD Bank had been accused of discriminating against African-American and Hispanic homebuyers. Hein led off his 45-minute chamber speech with that conveniently timed news. Quite properly, the exec, a former banker, expressed outrage at a predatory practice most thought long-designated to the dustbin of history. Hein informed his audience he had ordered $10 million in county funds deposited at TD Bank to a local branch of the Bank of Greene County. TD bank has denied the allegations.
While some may have pondered how substantial county sums were being deposited in an out-of-county bank, Hein explained that state law did not allow the county to invest in savings banks. He offered no explanations on how a county executive could move millions in public monies from one bank to another without legislature approval. State law gives county executives, mayors and town supervisors broad leeway in managing municipal finances. Whether that should remain the case is a topic for another discussion.
As a matter of what is now routine for him, Hein didn’t have to explain anything he said to an audience of some 250. He does not leave time for questions, as per long-standing chamber practice, after his talks. The chamber does not insist.
Not to throw bouquets, but contrast Hein’s talk-and-walk approach to congressman John Faso’s of giving up almost all his speaking time at January’s breakfast to field questions from the audience. That from a congressman widely accused (by Democrats) of resisting public input.
Here and there
One of the questions Liz Benjamin is asking congressional candidates on her Albany TV show is whether they’ll vote for House minority leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker should Democrats take a majority in November. While somewhat premature, the answers from some have been revealing. Candidate Dave Clegg just said no, even though the San Francisco congresswoman generally represents the liberal wing of their party. Gareth Rhodes was more specific. We need to elect new, younger leadership, he said. Rhodes is new and he’s 29. Pelosi is 77.
For better or worse, candidate endorsements are starting to come in. I’m not sure endorsements carry much weight in any case. In one of his last public pronouncements, former congressman Maurice Hinchey endorsed Shayne Gallo for Kingston mayor in 2015. Gallo lost. Legislature minority leader Hector Rodriguez endorsed fellow legislator Jennifer Schwartz Berky for reelection last year. She lost. And now H-Rod is throwing his weight behind Rhodes. He’s due for a winner.
A Brian Flynn endorsement caught my eye, if only for egregious abuse of alliteration. “Columbia Coroner Cricket Coleman endorses Brian Flynn for Congress,” read the suggested headline on the press release. Formally, the coroner is Dr. Andrea Coleman, Democrat elected in Columbia County last year who goes by the endearing nickname, Cricket. (Think zip-a-dee-doo-dah.) Fortunately for coroner and candidate, it’s not Maggot.)
Meanwhile, Rosendale councilwoman Jen Metzger says she’ll formally announce next month for state senate against ten-term Republican John Bonacic of Orange County.
Metzger, 53, is the mother of twin boys, 14, and another son, 18. For the Metzgers that’s a milestone: Son Gideon can vote for the first time this year. His vote had better be for Mom.
Bonacic, 75, usually allows speculation to percolate into the spring before announcing formally. As Metzger well appreciates from her political activity, Bonacic will be a bear, and he’s about to come out of hibernation. Ulster Country towns comprise only about 30 percent of the senate district.
No Stop Signs
Railroad forces attempting to halt the county from tearing up old U&D tracks around the Ashokan Reservoir suffered a setback last week when supreme court judge Chris Cahill sitting in Kingston refused to grant a stop order. No surprise, there. Judges typically require “administrative remedies” be exhausted before ruling on such cases. In this case, the federal Surface Transportation Board has just begun reviewing submissions from the county and the Phoenicia-based railroad revitalization group. The STB had no comment on whether it would halt rail removal along the 11 miles of right of way, even as it enters its final stages. Plans call for the establishment of an walking/biking trail.
Condolences to the Dan Lamb family and the Saugerties community on the passing of their long-time town judge last month. Judge Lamb, 65, who began the practice of law with his father, knew well and loved his hometown. Many a local youth was directed to a better path by a judge who balanced compassion, common sense and the law. They sang “Danny Boy” at his funeral, attended by more than 200 mourners, this week.