Without our well-trained, well-equipped emergency teams lives would have been lost, officials said. Given the scope and ferocity of the storm the wonder is we escaped relatively unscathed. Greene County suffered three deaths. Cleanup and repair will take weeks, months — maybe years for some unfortunates.
“Leading the Way” county executive Mike Hein (his 2008 campaign slogan) actually led the way, declaring an emergency last Friday at a time when a lot of people figured Hurricane Irene would follow historic paths and swing out to sea. In fact, meteorologists and scare-monger TV talking heads got it almost exactly right this time.
According to sheriff Paul Ban Blarcum and county emergency manager Art Snyder, county officials met at least twice before the storm reached landfall to coordinate strategies. State agencies jumped in with valuable aid, and of course Central Hudson is used to these kinds of calamities. “Here we go again,” declared Ready Kilowatt president Jim Laurito at a Monday-morning press conference hosted by Hein in Kingston. He followed that up with an even worse if inadvertent pun: “We flooded the area with response crews.” Thanks, anyway.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, neither invited nor mentioned at Hein’s jailhouse press conference on Monday, issued a detailed statement later in the day listing various sources of aid and shelter locations. “I decided what we could do best was convey information,” he said the next day.
Hein and Cahill remain at odds over state budget manipulations in June that resulted in Ulster’s temporary $25-million sales tax being extended, over Cahill’s objections, in exchange for the county picking up some $600,000 in election expenses Hein had passed down to the towns a few years ago.
Presumably, other state legislators representing the area were as concerned about their constituents as the county executive, but they weren’t mentioned, either.
A few eyebrows must have been raised by Hein’s decision to give some 1200 county workers the day off after the storm, supposedly to hold down traffic on storm-ravished roads. Indications are most people in the private sector made it to work, however belatedly. County workers were back on the job on Tuesday.
There was no truth to the rumor that Hein declared martial law.
“Why is the DA here?” one reporter whispered to another at a press conference featuring emergency response leaders. “He’s running for reelection, fool,” whispered the other.
DA Holley Carnright offered not one word to the proceedings, but he looked seriously concerned. The event was eerily similar to March of 2008 when the district attorney called a press conference in the million-dollar lobby of the Law Enforcement Center. He announced at that time that a grand-jury report on the jail debacle had handed up but one minor misdemeanor, adding, sorry, its findings were sealed forever.
As General George Armstrong Custer liked to say, it’s good to get out in the field once in a while. So, off I went to the New Paltz Democratic caucus last week, the only one that counts in that one-party town. One horse or not, Huguenots, whether gnarly native or new arrival, love their New Paltz, and Democrats stand by their party’s values.
The marquee event of the evening was legislator Susan Zimet’s challenge to four-term supervisor Toni Hokanson. The contest, as it turned out, was more in the minds of pundits than the 223 Democrats who actually cast votes. Zimet scored a resounding and to some astounding 167-to-56 vote victory. The almost three-to-one margin over a seemingly solid incumbent gave pause to Zimet’s claim that she had decided to run only a week before the caucus. Nobody, especially a lightning rod like Zimet, wracks up a 74 percent landslide with only a week’s preparation.
Hokanson looked like a beaten candidate when Zimet accepted the nomination. People in small towns — in particular multiple term supervisors — know their people and these were not Hokanson people. Nonetheless, she put on a brave front, delivering a dead-woman-walking speech where she inexplicably failed to mention most of her numerous accomplishments over almost a decade in office.
There was only one oblique pass at her opponent, when Hokanson said she didn’t consider the job a stepping stone to higher office. Six years ago Zimet ran for state senate against the impregnable John Bonacic, narrowly carrying Ulster County to Bonacic’s considerable chagrin, but losing 60 percent of the vote in the rest of the mostly-Orange- County-based district. She made a stab at county executive in 2008 but quickly withdrew. That Zimet is an ambitious politician is evidenced by her run for supervisor. Whether she runs further remains to be seen.
For Hokanson, there could be one last long-shot hope for redemption. Lurking in the lobby of New Paltz High School where the Democratic caucus was held was town Republican chairman Butch Dener. Very much the man in brown shoes at a black-tie event, Dener was scheming to pick off any Democratic losers for his ticket — like Hokanson and a trio of highway superintendent candidates.
As for Zimet’s future as a supervisor, the past may be prologue. Town supervisor from 1996 to 1999, she was soundly defeated for a third term. Hokanson, who won a fourth, can take some solace in that.
As for her legislature colleagues, after eight years only a few hummed that old country tune, “Thank God and Greyhound She’s Gone” when word of her change of careers got around.
New Paltz caucus capers
The spate of Democratic candidates for highway superintendent, including former road boss Phil Johnson, sounded well qualified. Chris Marx won the nomination with 41 percent of the vote among four contenders (In multiple-candidate contests voting usually continues until one gets a majority). Johnson was second. In the battle of newcomers, Steve Takacs bested Joe Lecesse 54 to six. Takacs, a 19-year resident with four daughters in the school system, apparently impressed delegates by taking state-sponsored DPW management courses that officially designate him a “roadmaster.” He can use some of that book learning to plow his driveway next winter.
A three-member Democratic county committee on vacancies was expected to name 20-something school-board member Dan Torres to fill Zimet’s spot on the ballot for legislature.
Caucus presiding officer Josh Honig did a good job of keeping an occasionally unruly crowd in order. I mean, they argued over the color of chalk for the blackboard listing candidates. Honig listened patiently and even reversed himself several times when audience parliamentarians proved him wrong on procedure.
New Paltz Democratic DA candidate Jonathan Sennett made hay among his homies with a nice variety of campaign handouts in the lobby of the high school. My favorite was the Sennett Sponge, which puffed up nicely with water and cleaned efficiently. I guess you could say Sennett is sponge-worthy.
Flailing around for something that might stick, GOP Republican candidate Andi Turco-Levin might have finally scored with a call for the long-delayed appointment of a city ethics board. I know ethics is not a major issue with taxpayers struggling to keep their homes and avoid potholes, but this one bordered on the ludicrous.
Under the 1994 city charter, the mayor was supposed to appoint an ethics board. Seventeen years later, we’re still waiting. The mayor’s response: we never had a complaint. In 17 years? Does anybody count sexual harassment at the DPW or indictments of allegedly crooked cops? Kingston has to be the most corruption-free town in the state.
GOP alderman-at-large candidate Joe Marchetti returned from a 25th-wedding-anniversary cruise on Monday to a leaking roof, no power and downed trees around his property. A few press releases should make everything right.
Just in time for some post-primary peacemaking, the Sottile-Noble campaign committee will honor retiring Kingston mayor Jim Sottile for “30 years of dedicated service to the people of New York and the city of Kingston” at Hillside Manor Restaurant on September 16 at 6 p.m. Sottile worked in accounting for the state taxation and finance department before being elected alderman-at-large in 1993. Tickets are $50, and are available at PO Box 2467, Kingston. Deadline for reservations is September 5.
For those who relish teary-eyed platitudes, this event is likely to be just the ticket. It will not — repeat, not! — be a roast. Rumor has it a surprise guest in red satin may sing, “I did it my way.”
The self-professed hardest-working man in Ulster County government, county executive Hein says he puts in 80 hours a week. But he is not all work and no play. He and his partners won a best-ball team golf tourney at Wiltwyck Country Club last week. Thanks to hapless Republicans giving him a free ride, incidentally denying voters a choice, workaholic Hein had time to hone an already impressive golf game this summer. Congrats to all.
For those city residents worried that scandals now staining the Kingston police department will spread, officials say: not to worry. Two retired officers, a detective lieutenant and a detective, have been indicted, which is all she wrote, says the DA.
A station-house wag had even better news. “There are no more crooked cops in Kingston,” he said. “They’re all living in Florida.” Both former officers have homes in the Sunshine State.
Not that anybody outside the legal profession has noticed, but there are no county candidates for state Supreme Court this November. Owing to retirement, two seats are open, but political operatives tell us it’s the Capital District’s turn. Horse-trading among counties — actually, county chairmen — was supposedly ruled unconstitutional a few years ago.++
Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.