Cuomo brought his act to New Paltz last month. With seven-term incumbent Kevin Cahill of Kingston sitting in the front row not ten feet away, the legislature took a hellacious pounding from Cuomo and county executive Mike Hein.
Chortled one unidentified observer. “Cahill kept getting smaller and smaller, the incredibly shrinking assemblyman.” Cahill was not asked to speak, probably shortening the event by at least half an hour.
Cahill seemed non-plussed when I caught up with him a few weeks later. “Much of that criticism is well-founded,” he said. Cuomo was sharply critical, yes, Cahill said. “He has raised some legitimate issues that need to be addressed.”
In this year of what Republican state senator John Bonacic has angrily called “anti-incumbent crap,” Cahill has cleverly perched himself on the fence between them and us.
To be sure, he’s a 14-year incumbent, with ready access to power and spoils. But he is also positioning himself as a reformer, committed to changing a system designed to perpetually reelect incumbents. So we should return the inmates to the asylum?
Cahill’s Republican opponent, businessman Peter Rooney of Ulster Park, doesn’t think so, but doesn’t quite say so, either. “Obviously, he [Cahill] has had some kind of input into it and where we are in New York State,” Rooney said.
Some kind of input? Cahill couldn’t have said it better. Cheek and jowl with speaker Sheldon Silver since he returned to the legislature in ’99, Cahill has voted down the line with his party. Silver gave him a major committee chairmanship (Energy) and Rooney thinks he has only “some kind of input?”
It is clear that while Cahill may (publicly) accept some criticism of the legislature — for God’s sake, don’t use the word “lickspittle” to his face — this man of the legislature is not prepared to accept it from some sources, like for instance former New York mayor Ed Koch.
Give Koch, a vigorous 85, the quote of the campaign: “There are good people [in the legislature] and bad people,” he said. “The trouble is, the good people aren’t good enough and the bad people are evil.”
Retorted Cahill, 54, “Mayor Koch had a wonderful day in the sun when he was mayor so many years ago [1978-89]. He had a reputation for ready, shoot and aim. This is more of the same. This reminds me of the time he criticized people for being from upstate New York.”
“You mean that line about pickup trucks, gingham dresses and adultery?” I asked.
“Exactly,” he said.
I don’t know much about pickup trucks (more on that shortly), but Koch’s riposte about good and evil sure rings true to me.
For his part, it appears that Rooney — called “boom-boom” or “bada-boom” by Democrats for the window-rattling fireworks blast at his warehouse in Ulster Park in June — will not be the reincarnation of flame-throwing dragon slayer John Guerin, the man who took down Cahill in 1994. (Cahill returned in ’98.)
Rooney, 68, who might have been the Marlboro Man in a different life — he has that lean, hungry, rangy cowboy look — will run his own campaign. Apparently it does not include mixing it up with the incumbent.
Rather, Rooney, a man of considerable means — just don’t call him Daddy Warbucks — has purchased a new Ford 150 with his photo and Americana plastered all over it. Supporters are being asked to “sign the truck,” and it appears that quite a few have done so.
Were Cahill, very much his own man, to mimic this effort, he might rent a van with the “Porky’s” neon sign from the 1982 movie, pork being the mother’s milk of politics these days.
In some sense, Cuomo and Cahill are running on parallel tracks, career politicians attacking the status quo. The difference is, Cuomo seems a mortal lock.
To no particular surprise, Ulster County Republican chairman Mario (The Cat) Catalano has announced he’ll step down at the end of his term next month. Catalano, 68, took over from Pete Savago in 2007 and was instrumental in electing a county judge, district attorney and taking back the legislature. Catalano also advanced reforms in the GOP committee bylaws such as weighted voting aimed at mitigating some of the more dictatorial practices of his predecessor.
A Catskill dentist and Town of Ulster resident, Catalano cited pressing business and family obligations for stepping down. Some suspect political reasons — The Cat scratched a few butts during his brief tenure. But I think it was more the pettiness of politics that taxed his patience. As Freud observed, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes people quit for stated reasons.
Vice chair Robin Yess of Esopus and former legislator Phil Sinagra of Hurley head a short list of wanna-bes. Yess, who ran for assembly in 2008, was Catalano’s right hand and office manager, and has his blessings. Sinagra was Savago’s major domo.
“The choice is up to the committee,” the outgoing chairman said, sounding relieved.
On the other side, Democratic chairman Julian Schreibman says he’ll seek a third term, despite grumbles in the ranks.
Party nominating conventions will be scheduled shortly after the September 7 primary.
Forming a circular firing squad, Republicans failed to execute when two of their presumably brighter young bucks tried to one-up executive Mike Hein by eliminating the position of consumer-affairs director last week. Hein, with far more time and staff to plot and counteract political intrigue, had attempted to merge consumer affairs and the youth bureau, only to be thwarted by the legislature, which has confirmation authority. Hein’s (first) choice, Janet Caffo, was then brevetted to her old job at consumer affairs. Attempting to turn the screws, legislators Ken Ronk and Kevin Roberts moved by resolution to have the office eliminated entirely. On paper, it made sense, since Hein had said Caffo could handle the duties of full-time youth director (35 hours) and part-time consumer affairs director (five hours) at the same time. The bottom line, they deduced, was that the county didn’t need a consumer-affairs office.
Alas, Ronk and Roberts, aka Rock and Roll, ignored the cardinal rule of politics, the one about lining up ducks. They assumed their Republican colleagues would leap at the opportunity to further embarrass the executive, and that Hein and Caffo would simply roll over and play dead. Assume nothing is the second cardinal rule of politics.
Hein and Caffo, among others in the apparently less than overworked executive wing, hit the phones, tapping anybody and everybody who had ever been served by the consumer-affairs office. If one is to believe deputy executive Bob Sudlow’s recent endorsements of Caffo (he said she handled 250 complaints in July), that pool could contain at least a few thousand people.
One grateful client told me he remembered the office had been very helpful when he had an identity theft problem a few years ago. He remembered it even more clearly after the office reminded him with a polite phone call last week.
Striking back, the empire also placed calls to Republican legislators (by then getting phone calls from worried constituents) and others of influence, all behind the scenes, of course. The perceived threat of an executive veto could not be ignored.
The upshot was R&R slunk out of the Republican caucus last week with hats and just two votes in hand. (Guess whose?) Shortly after flushing the resolution, a red-faced Ronk spoke to a “perceived” lack of support. ‘Tis said the sounds of high-fives from the executive wing could be heard in Saugerties.
The lessons are clear here. If the Republican legislature is going to challenge the Democratic executive, it had better pick its fights, do its homework and come prepared. Half-baked schemes will not work.
The salaries of county executive, elected department heads and part-time legislators will be the subject of a public hearing by the county committee for reviewing compensation at 7 p.m. on August 24 in legislative chambers at the county office building in Kingston.
Hein has frozen the salaries of appointed department heads for the second year (including his own). Legislature chairman Fred Wadnola said there are no plans to increase salaries of legislators, last adjusted in 1998.
The county executive is currently paid $133,572, clerk and county comptroller $101,709, the sheriff $101,706. The legislature chairman is paid $19,500, majority and minority leaders $12,000 and 31 members $10,000 each. All positions come with benefits that can add more than 30 percent to full-time salaries.
The salaries of district attorney and county judge are set by state law.
The review committee will file its recommendations with the county executive and the legislature.++
Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.