Will the 72-year old not-as-happy warrior serve out the two-year term? Hinchey, veteran politician that he is, was coy when questioned at his suite at the Holiday Inn election night.
Having lost something like 70,000 votes since 2008 — a presidential year, but 70,000? — Hinchey turned back two-time Republican challenger George Phillips with 53 percent of the vote. Two years ago his margin approached two-thirds. To be fair, that kind of shift happened in a lot of races this tumultuous political year.
Did Phillips suddenly get better? No. He got almost exactly as many votes in Ulster County this time as last. I think it was Hinchey’s slip that showed. And when politicians start to slip, would-be rivals take notice. Sharks circle.
There’s something else in the water, something esoteric to laymen but absolutely vital to politicians. Congressional districts are supposed to be reapportioned before May of next year. There is the always the chance that Hinchey’s Democratic-dominated 22nd District could be wiped out.
New York will lose one, maybe two of its 29-member congressional delegation. New York City, with its rising population and surrounding ‘burbs should retain members. Coming up the Hudson Valley, mapmakers may be looking for bodies, though it is the western end of the state that has been losing population.
Anybody remember Ben Gilman? The veteran Orange County Republican fixture, then 79, saw his Westchester-Orange district changed drastically by reapportionment in 2001, its parts distributed among contiguous districts, including Hinchey’s.
If Mo goes, and there could be a definitive answer some time before May Day next year, the list of would-be successors is a short one.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, secure in a safe seat that comprises perhaps a fifth of a congressional district, would come to mind immediately except these days Cahill and the man who handed him his assembly seat in 1992 are not always simpatico any more. But then, one could say that about a host of Hinchey’s former friends.
Will Cahill, an emerging influence in the assembly, consider doubling his pay to serve in the congressional minority in far off Washington?
Rising star Mike Hein, as of now a shoo-in for reelection as county executive next year, will either need definitive advance word or be forced to make a very quick decision next spring. At 45 and elected only once, Hein may require more seasoning. But then, we live in fast times.
There’s also this, vis a vis Cahill and Hein. Among politicians, there are legislators and there are administrators. Think of the old IBM dual promotion tracks between techies and managers. Hein has never been a legislator. Indeed, he appears to have a congenital aversion to legislators. Neither is Cahill an administrator, unless one counts his four-year gig (95-98) as a bureau chief for a now-failed HMO. In terms of legislative experience, Cahill is a better fit for Congress.
There will be others competitors. It’s hard to tell how much influence Hinchey might have in selecting a successor. I had a conversation on succession with Hinchey, back in the day when he remembered my name and returned phone calls. Since I couldn’t handicap the talent in the western end of the district, we waxed local. I told him I thought Cahill seemed the likely heir apparent. He nodded, but added to my surprise, “I think John Bonacic would be a very good man.” A Democratic congressman hyping a Republican state senator? My, my.
That was a long time ago, but Bonacic, now the seven-term senator from Orange County, would be somewhere in the mix, you think? Hinchey used to.
Here, I’d like to throw in New Paltz county legislator Susan Zimet. A candidate for all seasons, I think she has her eye on town supervisor next year. It appears the Democratic incumbent, Toni Hokanson, seems bent on self-destruction. Clue: Hokanson put herself in for a pay raise in next year’s town budget. In this economy, among these voters? Yikes.
At some point, former legislature chairman Dave Donaldson of Kingston will announce he’s running for Congress and then drop out.
There is semi-serious speculation about Peter Rooney, the drug-store cowboy Cahill unhorsed two weeks ago, as congressional timber. I have it on reliable evidence that Rooney avidly solicited the Republican nomination for Congress this year, but surfaced only after county chairmen in the district had committed to Phillips.
And what about Phillips, the man who almost, almost, caught Hinchey at the wire? Prime time, I’d say.
Unofficial returns showed Hinchey carrying the county by just under 4900 votes, winning 15 towns and the city, but carrying his old hometown of Saugerties, by a mere 39 votes. So-called ticket leader Carl Paladino, ran almost 4000 votes behind the Republican congressional candidate.
Phillips carried Broome County in the last election and didn’t embarrass himself in Ulster. His refusal to concede in the face of an 8000-vote defeat (there are about 12,000 absentees to be counted) is less about being petty and/or foolish (he’d have to take more than 80 percent of absentees, a statistical impossibility since absentee tend to go the way of machine votes) than about keeping his name out there. Phillips, more than anybody, heard the speculation about Hinchey during the campaign. Election-night results may have established him as a congressman in waiting.
Or Hinchey could take a few weeks off after Congress meets this month to decide on Bush tax cuts, book a junket to some sunny clime, and come back tanned, refreshed and recharged for another 18 years.
Off the results of the latest campaign, I don’t think so.
Here and there
Phillips with his “Had enough?” campaign just about over, stopped by the paper to schmooze after a radio appearance on what Democrats call “WGOP” (WGHQ) on election day. Upbeat but obviously toasted, Phillips quipped, “Even I’ve had enough.”
With two polling places in Shawangunk reporting in late, former assemblyman Tom Kirwan of Newburgh forged to a 38-vote lead over incumbent Frank Skartados of Milton for assembly. Shawangunk reported 342-160 for the former assemblyman, days after Skartados declared victory. There are still several thousand absentee ballots to be counted.
But, there is life in the 77-year-old boy. “They haven’t put the toe-tag on me yet,” Kirwan said on election night. With one-liners like that, we almost have to send this guy back to the Assembly.
Off remarks at another candidates’ night, I’m guessing Skartados, a nightclub owner, has to be one of those land-poor rich guys. The Milton man told the audience he spends his entire assembly salary (about $54,000 net) on property taxes.
Cahill cruised county-wide but lost the Town of Ulster by over 570 votes. Rooney managed a win in his hometown of Esopus, 1777 to 1617. Cahill prevailed in Kingston by 886 votes, in New Paltz by almost 1000 votes.
Rooney might have done better if the dog hadn’t eaten his homework. At a Mental Health Association candidate night session in mid-October and later at a meeting with our editors, Rooney seemed to know almost nothing about the issues raised by the audience and newshounds. In his closing remarks at the mental-health forum, he apologized for his woeful lack of specifics and asked to be invited back in a year (if elected) when he said he’d be up to speed. That, folks, is simply unacceptable.
Off a comfortable 5000-vote win over Republican Fawn Tantillo, comptroller Elliott Auerbach seems to have a bright future. With that kind of plurality, and a three-year term commencing in January, he can afford to be truly “independent” of county exec Hein. Should Hein move, the now officially “popular” comptroller would be the logical successor.
A former mayor of Ellenville, Auerbach probably shouldn’t run for Wawarsing supervisor. He eked out an embarrassing 33-vote win over Tantillo in his home town. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Wawarsing by some 400 votes. Conversely, Tantillo, a former five-term county legislator, looked lame in New Paltz where Auerbach prevailed 2436 to 1248. Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Paltz by about 500 enrollees
There is some speculation that long-time Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver might be challenged by Andrew Cuomo supporters when Democrats caucus on leadership positions next month. I doubt it. Silver is far more popular with his caucus than with the general public, which is all that really matters. And Cuomo is untested as governor. Look for Cahill, reappointed as Energy Committee chairman, to lead the applause for Silver.++
Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.