Hugh Reynolds: Road warriors

It would appear that running for Congress is good for your health. After months and months of grueling campaigning, the Democratic candidates in the local congressional primary are in pretty good shape, however harried and weary at this point. 

Dave Clegg of Woodstock, the oldest of the bunch at 65, just finished a bike tour through the sprawling district, bigger than the state of Connecticut. Weird how the district has grown since most of these candidates started campaigning more than a year ago. It started out bigger than Rhode Island. Soon it could be Texas-size. 

No joke. With upstate residents fleeing ancient homelands, New York loses a couple of congressional districts every census, meaning the remaining districts get geographically larger. 

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Gareth Rhodes of Kerhonkson, the youngest candidate at 29, has been pounding the pavement in his ’99 Winnebago since the get-go. Rhodes (nobody calls him Dusty) announced last week he had reached the 163rd and last town in the district. That would be Hardenburgh, population 208. Hee-haw. 

Erin Collier, 34, of Cooperstown declared her candidacy in March with a videotape of her running in a marathon. A cool gig would have been for her to run the 150 miles from one end of the district (Cooperstown) to the other (Sullivan County) with a torch. 

Not to be outdone, former Army officer Pat Ryan, native of Kingston now residing in Gardiner, will lead a 30-mile march on Saturday morning from the FDR mansion in Hyde Park, across the Walkway Over the Hudson, through New Paltz to incumbent John Faso’s district office in Kingston. Ryan, 36, did lots of marching while a cadet at West Point. He’s hoping this ten-hour endurance challenge will carry him to Congress.

Former congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout is off on another bi-annual quest for office, this year for state attorney general. Teachout campaigned for governor in 2014. She won’t be running alone. Teachout and her husband, married in April 2016, have announced their first child will be due in mid-October, right around her 47th birthday. “I can feel the future moving inside me,” Teachout said at her official kickoff in New York City last week. The primary is Sept. 18. Here’s hoping that momma Zephyr, whom I like despite some of her politics, is still kickin’.

All this suggests that running for office means one has to stand out, something noticeably lacking in the local congressional race. With the Democratic field blessedly reduced to just one survivor after June 26, the race could get a whole lot more interesting.

Candidate debate

What was supposed to be the last congressional candidate debate in Ulster County but wasn’t was held at a packed house at Kingston’s Congregation Emanuel last week. Blessedly, I wasn’t there to cover it; Lord knows I’ve done due penance in that regard. I went to count the crowd, see who was there, who wasn’t, and plumb public opinion. For a Democratic debate in a Democratic town, there was a remarkable lack of elected officials. They know who they are. 

While these affairs tend to be regional, turnout for the temple event was comparable to last February’s Super Bowl Sunday faceoff in Woodstock, with something like 300-plus in attendance. 

Since I’ve heard just about every candidate’s position on just about every subject, what stuck me was the obvious lack of young people in the audience. I don’t know what “middle-aged” means any more, since so many people live into their nineties and beyond these days, but this crowd was decidedly long in the tooth. Calling it sixty-ish would have been a compliment. 

Where, I asked candidate Pat Ryan at a meet-the-candidate in a barn in Accord a few days later, were the young people? Remarking that it’s been pretty much the same at almost every candidate forum, Ryan offered the usual excuses for his generation: busy lives, kids, job demands, etc. He didn’t mention general indifference or disgust with the system. Fact is, they’re not here. As a Ryan aide later pointed out, this district has one of the oldest average populations in the country, something that has political consequences.

Hard-hat tour

I have to assume that the county’s conversion of the former Business Resource Center in the Town of Ulster into a family court courthouse is on time and under budget. Why? Because County Executive Mike Hein wouldn’t be conducting a hard-hat tour of the construction site if it weren’t. Hein led media, officials and invited guests on a tour this week, although it seems it wasn’t entirely his idea, at least not this soon. 

The new courthouse, adjacent to the county’s social services complex just over the city line, was budgeted to cost some $10 million, with a state-mandated hard deadline of Oct. 1 for occupancy. It will replace long-outmoded leased courthouse facilities on Lucas Avenue in Kingston.

Remember the legislative courthouse oversight committee appointed last summer and reappointed in January? I didn’t think so. Chairman Herb Litts of Highland tells us the committee has met at least three times to review progress since the first of the year.

While the executive promised complete cooperation with the oversight committee at the time it was appointed, this administration does not share information willingly.

Litts said the committee asked for monthly updates, “which we weren’t getting until [Bob] Sudlow left.” Sudlow, a deputy executive with responsibility for construction, retired last month after 42 years of county service. His successor, former purchasing officer Marc Rider, has been more forthcoming, Litts said.

‘We haven’t been in the place,” Litts said. “The purpose of the tour was for our committee to get updated.” Litts, a professional engineer, is a real nuts-and-bolts guy. As lead compliance engineer on the Mario Cuomo Bridge project at Tarrytown, he was asked what the bridge finally cost (over $4 billion and counting). He started talking about driving pilings 700 feet into the riverbed. 

About family court? “So, I called the exec to ask about the information we wanted, and he suggested the tour,” he said.

Does this mean the oversight committee should be more attentive to its duties? Maybe, but keep in mind, members of this committee rubber-stamped a more than 90 percent overrun between estimates and bids at the Restorative Justice Center on upper Broadway at special session last month. While grousing about “lack of communication” from the executive (sound familiar?) the legislature voted 19-0 to bond an additional $1.5 million for a project originally estimated at $1.6 million.

That the hard-hat tour of the family court project swiftly followed, signaling all was hunky-dory, may not have been only a coincidence.

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