Countywide, we’re looking at two eagerly anticipated elections, district attorney and county executive. The county legislature is on the ballot in a sharply downsized 23-member, one-per-district configuration. There, reapportionment will be critical.
Every town supervisor will be on the ballot, along with scores of council members. Several local politicos will want an upgrade to the county legislature.
Let’s take it from the top.
The legislature, though stripped of administrative powers by the county executive system inaugurated in 2009, is still the “co-equal” legislative branch. Republicans, currently holding an 18-15 majority, are itching to display their muscle.
In a 2006 good-government initiative some legislators may rue, the legislature will be downsized by 30 percent this year into single-member districts. Any incumbent legislator living within a mile of another had better plan on a primary or the prospect of running one-on-one against another incumbent. No more will there be safety in multi-member districts.
Many have cause for worry. Three District 1 Democrats, for instance, are from Ellenville (population: 4,130, half the size of a new legislative district). Two legislators from Saugerties live on the same street. Two Kingston legislators live within 200 yards of each other (as the crow flies).
There will be blood, but lots of new faces.
A seven-member reapportionment committee will redraw the district lines, hopefully by April. Whether its recommendations will, in fact, become law is at this late date still an issue being reviewed by our best legal minds.
The race for county executive comes down to Mike Hein against his record — the usual case with incumbents. Thanks to a depleted, too-often complacent media, Hein himself has largely defined his first term. With a relentless public-relations campaign dating back verily to when he announced in November 2007, Hein has projected himself as a tight-fisted reformer and a fiscal conservative. He has reduced the county workforce by about 170 positions, most though attrition and early retirements. Some call it Hein’s “50-50 club.” If you’re 50 years old and making at least $50,000 a year (with benefits), you are “targeted” and, in truth, not long for the county workforce.
The insatiable PR machine has already shifted into another gear for this campaign. Witness: On December 29 the machine announced that Hein had helped secure a $75,000 state grant to allow an Ellenville knife manufacturer to expand its workforce by eight people. That’s eight people at an entry-level annual pay average of $9,375. The release mentioned the executive’s name — glowingly — no fewer than six times. Imagine if he’d secured $100,000!
None of this means anything unless Republicans can find a viable candidate with deep pockets over the next six months or so. As political calendars go, it may already be too late.
The countywide offices
Republican district attorney Holley Carnright of Saugerties came into office three years ago under a cloud, inheriting the too-long-delayed and underfunded grand-jury investigation on the jail from Don Williams. Under those conditions, that Carnright produced virtually nothing was surely no surprise. But, Republicans, after activist DAs like Williams (now a county judge) and appellate judge Mike Kavanagh, probably expected more than a nine-to-five low-profile chief prosecutor who shunned so-called “political cases.”
Both sides believe this office in play. Politicians, like generals, tend to fight the last battle. It is not lost on anyone that Carnright polled 46 percent of the vote in the 2007 three-way race with Democrat Jonathan Sennett of New Paltz and Conservative Vince Bradley Jr. of Kingston.
Unspectacular, steady Carnright, the minority DA, is the GOP’s best hope. And that speaks volumes.
Sennett, assiduously courting Democratic support for the last three years, should be his party’s standard-bearer. The only real “outsider” three years ago, he could, with some tweaking of out-of-step leftish tendencies, be a formidable candidate in a one-on-one race this time.
The towns, of course, are pockets of political intrigue in their own right, stubbornly separate and unequal, their boundaries steeped in history. Therein, all politics are truly local. Keep an eye on Jim Quigley in Ulster, Jeff Moran in Woodstock and Toni Hokanson in New Paltz. Shandaken and Rochester are never dull. But don’t expect anybody to be talking about consolidation.
A year ago, I came up with what I thought was the brilliant original idea of combining Denning (516 people) and Hardenburgh (208) and grafting the package onto Olive, Shandaken or Woodstock. No takers.
Not to leave the city of Kingston out, but reapportionment will be very much an issue for the common council this year. Owing to the inflated egos of aldermen — re: mayoral politics — it is doubtful nine incumbents will be running for re-election in November. Even so, how the lines are drawn and by whom will be of vital interest.
However, the once-in-a-decade reapportionment can be something more than screwing the minority. (Democrats hold a 7-2 edge. Demographically, it should be 6-3.) Why not reduce the number of aldermen to, say, seven, since at least two incumbents should be off the ballot come November? As with town consolidation, I throw this out with every expectation of being ignored.
Major county issues
Two issues, Golden Hill and the Resource Recovery Agency, should dominate county debate, though resolution in this election year is by no means certain. Expect the Republican majority to also make a stab at what it may call “charter revision,” to resistance from the executive and Democrats.
The garbage-collecting RRA is emerging as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of an enigma, which is what Churchill used to say about the Soviet Union under Stalin.
How else to explain this curious contradiction: The legislature, in its wisdom, replaced the majority of RRA board members who (belatedly) investigated their agency and fired (last October) its executive director. Replacement was not unwarranted, but the RRA board, good and decent people, sat around for too long while Rome burned under its noses.
But while unfailing faith in consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, chairman Fred Wadnola compounded confusion by reversing his decision to assign bloodhound Terry Bernardo of Kerhonkson to oversee the RRA, giving it back (within a few days) to the toothless Kevin (Mosque-co Mosque-co Man) Roberts of Wallkill, who had oversight responsibilities the last two years. If the RRA board missed all that smoke, so did its legislative committee, as comptroller Elliott Auerbach intimated last summer. If so, doesn’t one new broom demand another?
One can only conclude that there are some serious politics and/or special interests at work here.
Golden Hill has been vexing county government for 25 years. Another ten months of hand wringing, posturing and avoidance probably won’t make much difference, except to increase the anxiety levels of infirmary workers and patients. As an indicator, the special county legislative committee that met for more than eight months last year, but failed to make any recommendations, is charged with taking its non-plan around the county for public review for the next few months. What’s that they say about the blind leading the blind?
There will be new direction at Golden Hill, but later rather than sooner, after some people are safely reelected.
The year ended with some intriguing legislative intrigue. These days, nobody’s entirely happy with leadership, but it would seem legislative Chairman Fred Wadnola has more than his share of detractors as he sought a second one-year term. A handful of dissident Republicans want their leaders to at least confront the Democratic executive, if not challenge him. That didn’t happen under Wadnola’s easy-going administration. Democrats, down 15-18, could have made mischief, if approached. At least four Republicans, I am told, were holding their noses, three Democrats sniffing.
There is precedent for these kinds of bi-partisan coups. In 1999, Phil Sinagra came out of the Republican conference with 14 votes against Dan Alfonso for chairman. Seventeen are needed to elect a chairman. During the brief period between the party vote and the official election, Alfonso and his backers cut a deal with Democrats to reelect Alfonso. A year later, Alfonso was history.
For Wadnola, a former school administrator, history should be a teacher.
On Tuesday, Wadnola was reelected by a surprising 30-0 margin, with not a single word uttered about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that produced the result. With that kind of pervasive secrecy, we can only wonder what else these politicians are hiding.
In closing, I wish everyone a happy new year, even though it isn’t looking much different than the one just past.++
Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly