Hugh Reynolds: Strange bedfellows and signs of the times

The Democrats didn’t seem to care much when the Ulster County Republicans cross-endorsed sheriff Paul VanBlarcum four years ago. Some may have seen it as an endorsement of an unbeatable candidate.

My, how things have changed. VanBlarcum has the Republican endorsement again, but he’ll have to fight for the Democratic nod. At their convention last month, Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed former state trooper Juan Figueroa. He and VanBlarcum will compete for the Democratic nomination at primary on Sept. 18. 

Given convention results, Vegas may make VanBlarcum a long shot. However, the votes of 200-odd committee members do not necessarily represent the 6,500 Democrats (the usual 15 percent turnout) that will probably vote at primary. 

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This new reality presents challenges and opportunities. Congressman John Faso, facing a difficult campaign against the opponent who emerges from the seven-way Democratic primary, has embraced VanBlarcum like a long-lost brother. Thrice he praised the sheriff at his acceptance speech at last week’s GOP convention.  

I don’t recall the words hump, dump or trump passing his lips even once. For the canny Faso, VanBlarcum, who will remain on the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines regardless of primary outcomes, is a lifeline into a Democratic constituency he had little hope of accessing before. 

Having Faso as a vocal backer, however, does little for the sheriff’s primary chances. Democrats who might have been neutral about the sheriff’s controversial social pronouncements might now see him as part of the problem, and vote accordingly.

VanBlarcum’s zealous, insistent supporters seem to believe their idol can beat anybody put in front of him. Perhaps the famously “non-political” sheriff now knows better.  

No-negatives goes south

It didn’t take long for the Democratic no-negatives pledge to fall apart. Six of seven congressional hopefuls took the pledge last month, along with a host of Democratic organizations. Only Jeff Beals of Woodstock demurred, claiming that most of the so-called negative money for ads would be coming from corporate and/or political action committees, whose support he wasn’t accepting. Beals is running on an anti-corporation platform.   

Within days, a PAC called the With Honor fund which endorses veterans from both sides, including former Army officer Pat Ryan, was revealed to have funded anti-Antonio Delgado “push poll.” 

The Delgado campaign immediately put out a press release calling on Ryan to “denounce this and future negative spending by With Honor or any group and reaffirm his commitment to running a positive campaign.”

Saving investigating reporters the trouble, the Delgado campaign provided Federal Election Commission reports that showed With Honor spent $14,000 in May on a poll that showed Ryan as the most electable Democrat in the field. The expenditure was described in the document as “opposing” Delgado, ergo, “negative.” On such straws, campaign structures are sometimes built.

The problem is that Ryan didn’t break any “no negative” pledges. Nor has any other candidate to date. “With Honor” didn’t take any such pledge.

Ryan critics are hoping that as the June 26 primary approaches we’re left with the impression that Ryan is not a man of his word, that he can’t be trusted. Or so goes the spin.

There’s a further nuance. Thanks to a misguided Supreme Court ruling, PACs like With Honor, along with corporations and individuals, can support or oppose any candidate they choose with few restrictions or limitations. With names like Koch and Soros attached, “dark money” is the source of most of the negative ads voters abhor.

The ruling forbids candidates to coordinate messaging with these so-called independents, so it’s entirely possible that Ryan learned about With Honor activity on his behalf when everybody else did. 

The Ryan people didn’t exactly fly off the roost over this particular ploy. “It’s just Antonio trying to create some drama,” said one dismissively. 

Alas, we will be seeing much, much more of this kind of “drama” as dark money kicks in with a vengeance for the general election in this swing district.

As a footnote, Faso has taken no such pledge and probably won’t. Previewing the upcoming general election, Faso reminded delegates at the Republican county convention that only two of the Democratic congressional candidates were eligible to vote in the 19th Congressional District in the last election.  Anybody else, in Faso’s view, would be a carpetbagger, to be terminated with extreme prejudice. 

Signs of the times

Despite thundering exhortations to “turn that blue wave into a trickle,” it’s shaping up like one of those tough years for Republicans. Signs abound.  

Case in point. Long-time Ulster GOP Republican Elections Commissioner Tom Turco of Saugerties didn’t make it to last week’s annual nominating convention in Kingston. Party Chairman Roger Rascoe explained that Turco, on vacation in the Poconos during the week of the Republican convention, was on his way home to the meeting when his car broke down. Turco called for assistance and the tow truck broke down! Uh-oh. Creatures of habit, Republicans nominated Turco in absentia for a tenth term.

Unless Andrew Cuomo gets indicted and convicted on corruption charges, as have some of his closer associates, Republicans have no path to the executive mansion. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is credible, convincing and more likeable than the two-term incumbent (who isn’t?), but his main mission will be holding upstate state Senate seats for his fellow Republicans.  

Two of those seats include part of Ulster County, even if the elections will be largely contested in Orange. John Bonacic is retiring after 20 years in the House of Lords. Bill Larkin, frail and wheelchair-bound at 90, is finishing up his 28th year there. Bonacic gave what amounted to his swan song last week, which sounded almost like his first chirps two decades ago: anti-New York City (this from a guy born in Hell’s Kitchen), anti-Democrat, anti-big government, yadda yadda. 

Bonacic did manage a more topical Republican spin on things: “Blue wave is a red storm [communist or basketball team?],” he declared. “It’s a lot of crap, with fake news promoting it.” GOP delegates ate it up, even the Ulster town delegation with its trademark “make America great again” red shirts.

Bonacic, 75, revealed at convention that he had planned to stay only five years in the upper house after eight years in the Assembly, but found the place “seductive” because he “loved helping people.”

Bonacic motored down from Albany to nominate Orange County Clerk Annie Rabbitt as his successor. Hopping to the podium, the energetic Rabbitt warned delegates that “you’ll be sick and tired of seeing me, I’ll be here so much.” 

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Not so much two-term Republican Sen. George Amedore. The seldom-seen sharp-dressed man was said to be “in session” in Albany. Apparently, Bonacic and Jim Seward don’t work overtime. They were there.

Former county legislator and Lloyd Town Supervisor Paul Hansut offered a memorable nomination of Amedore. “We had that little speed bump, Cece [Tkaczyk, a one-term Democrat], then we got George,” he said. Dem nominee Pat Courtney Strong of Kingston plans to provide a bumpy ride for the incumbent.

It’s interesting how Democrats and Republicans look at the same phenomena. Ulster County, the dumping ground for redistricting in 2012, has eight state representatives, four Assembly members and four state senators. Republicans, who now hold all four state Senate seats, consider this something of a blessing. To Democrats, it’s an annoyance. “That’s why our conventions take so long,” lamented Dem Party Chairman Frank Cardinale. Democrats hold half the seats, including a vacancy due to the recent death of Milton-based Assemblyman Frank Skartados. 

Republicans claim this four-flush of senators gives Ulster more clout, than say, one or two. History suggests a house divided has little influence.

In terms of attendance, there wasn’t a lot of there, there at the GOP convention. I gave them 140, which didn’t take long to count. Democrats hosted more than twice that, including over 200 sitting committee members. Held in the same dull gray dimly-lit convention hall at Best Western in Kingston where Democrats had met a week earlier, only about 90 GOP committee members showed up. Most sat at tables for ten with friends from back home. Others grazed the buffet at the rear of the hall.

There is one comment

  1. Ian Surance

    Interesting that Kevin Cahill doesn’t seek to move up in office…County Executive…State Senate…Congress……there must be a reason and it certainly is not to hold down the Assembly for Silver and the Dems……

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