Those were some of the nicer things assembly candidates Kevin Cahill and Peter Rooney (respectively) hurled at each other at an Ulster Publishing editorial board meeting in Kingston on Monday. Cahill, a six-term incumbent (including a single term in 1993-94) and Rooney, a first-time office-seeker, traded insults and discussed issues in what was probably the last time they will meet face-to-face before Tuesday’s election.
Months of bile rose to the surface as the candidates attacked each other on style and substance, and, in some cases, the lack of the latter.
Cahill, 54, was visibly angry with Rooney, 69, for what he termed “lying repeatedly about my record.”
“He’s had me voting against bills I sponsored,” Cahill said, holding up a Rooney flyer. “He’s spent $500,000 to perpetuate lies.”
Rooney, who is self-financed — “in nobody’s pocket,” he said — estimated he has spent between $325,000 and $350,000 of his own money, so far, which would make this the most expensive local Assembly campaign in history. Cahill said he’ll spend about $125,000. The job pays a base salary of $79,500. Cahill, as chairman of the Assembly Energy Committee, is paid another $12,500.
Rooney blamed Cahill and assembly Democrats for all of New York’s problems, for creating over the past two decades an over-regulated “tax hell.”
“Look out at Wall Street, look at the county,” Rooney said, pointing to empty stores on the street outside. “He’s responsible. There’s the guy [Cahill] who’s done the damage.”
To the contrary, Cahill said he has been a positive influence on the community, securing $48 million in state aid (through a federal grant) to effect the merger of Kingston and Benedictine hospitals, over $100 million for major reconstruction at SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Ulster, millions to promote solar energy development and for the Walkway Over the Hudson.
Rooney called Cahill a “clone” of Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver. Democrats hold 94 seats in the 150-member Assembly. The challenger said he hopes to “break Shelly’s supermajority, with Kevin Cahill as his sidekick.”
Rooney said that if elected he would serve no more than three two-year terms. Cahill took sharply different views on the state of the local economy than Rooney, a former Highland schoolteacher and of later a successful businessman. Cahill sees things improving with the influx of downstaters and artists and the hope of industrial redevelopment through solar power. Rooney, citing flat population over the last decade — “People are fleeing like fleas jumping off a dead dog,” he said — said the economy was stagnant or declining. The only answer he said was to drastically cut state spending and school taxes. Like Cahill, he favors a shift from property to income taxes to pay for schools.
“I have worked hard to try to stay in New York. I have been successful despite the laws Cahill put in,” Rooney declared.
Cahill, who has voted for every state budget since taking office, asked which laws he was referring to. Rooney did not have an answer.
Rooney’s persistent lack of details behind his proposals prompted Cahill to accuse him of “making ignorance some kind of virtue.”
“This [Rooney] is an example of educating yourself after you run,” Cahill said. “This angry, bitter man, dressed up like a rodeo clown, has decided to make the Assembly his playground. This is not a game. This is serious business.”
Cahill said his “Berger-like” commission (which closed hospitals around the state) to consolidate school districts is gaining support in the state legislature. Rooney said Cahill’s 14 years in office have produced no changes in the way education is funded.
The candidates also traded barbs on the fracking controversy, delayed development at the Belleayre project in Highmount, whether to increase funding for the Department of Environmental Conservation and whether increased MTA taxes hurt small businesses in Ulster.
Cahill, in closing, said he “shares the values of this district” and that “people deserve a lot more than a candidate who makes up stuff.”
Rooney urged voters to take a closer look at current conditions. “Go outside. Look at the plight and the blight of New York. I blame Kevin Cahill.”
The Assembly district, with about 125,000 people, includes all of Ulster County except Saugerties, Rochester, Denning and Hardenburgh. It also includes Rhinebeck in Dutchess County.