Ulster County Legislators
Good Pay, at least $14,000 to start. Benefits to die for. Mileage.
Hours: Five hours a month, more or less.
Job security: Virtually guaranteed.
Two-year commitment or less.
Aptitude test: Optional, minimal IQ suggested.
Social Skills: Back slapping, baby kissing, BS in schmoozing.
Media Skills: See “Social.”
Say what you will about county legislator Brian Cahill, D-Ulster, he’s a born leader. Cahill, 64, younger brother of former assemblyman Kevin Cahill, officially announced his intention not to seek reelection to a fifth (non-consecutive) term two weeks ago. ‘Lo and behold, seven more legislators followed him out the door. Or was it just coincidental, like so many things in politics? Actually, they’re not scheduled to leave until Dec. 31. But eight legislators, including their recently-reelected leader, almost one-third of the 23-member body, departing in one year makes this the lame-duck legislature of all time.
So why the premature withdrawals? Some, like former chairman Ken Ronk, R-Wallkill, were edging toward the elevator after their last election. Ronk will run for town supervisor in Wallkill. Dean Fabiano, R-Saugerties, also has his sights set on town office. More pressing: Unofficial party nominating conventions are scheduled for the end of February and you can’t put on a party without knowing who’s coming to the ball.
Reapportionment, which carved up almost every town except for Gardiner, could have been a factor.
With less than a month’s notice, party leaders, forever bemoaning the dearth of candidates, will be hard-pressed to fill these many slots all at once. Fortunately, their forefathers and mothers anticipated this dilemma. Party committees on absentees will have a few more weeks to beat the bushes in search of willing suckers, er, candidates.
I would not be surprised to see some of these soon-to-be “formers” depart by early summer, all the better to give their legislatively-appointed successors, and in some cases, designated heirs apparent, the title of “incumbent legislators” on their general election brochures.
How this lame-duck legislature will operate remains in question. When I was in the service, “short-timers” came in two types, those who ran to the finish line and those who caught up on sack time. How will this gang of eight spend its last 11 months in office?
For reference, a listing of the eight is as follows: Legislative chair Tracey Bartels, non-enrolled from Gardiner; Laura Petit, a 10-year legislator, D-Esopus; Eve Walter, D-New Paltz; Phil Erner, D-Kingston; Jonathan Heppner, D-Woodstock, along with Ronk, Petit and Fabiano.
These decisions are not taken lightly, but as in most things political, deliberations were in deepest secret shared only by family and closest political associates. Ergo, these departures probably came as surprises to most of their constituents. Me, too.
I thought Tracey Bartels, after securing another term, was good for several more. She had her buddies Jen Metzger as county executive, Michelle Hinchey as state senator, Sarahana Shrestha in the assembly and a veto-proof 17-6 majority to work with. Moreover, she had won the reapportionment battle to keep Gardiner whole, and her career on automatic, for the next ten years. She had a busy agenda that would require careful tending. And now this?
Phil Erner was more of an enigma. Having established a Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) beachhead in Kingston, after defeating sitting chairman Dave Donaldson in ‘21, Erner is quitting after one term? Was it something somebody said? With Erner, a virtual unknown, and a solid ground game, DSA demonstrated they could elect almost anyone. Can they do it again?
Overall, because there are so many of them, Democrats took the biggest hit, 6-2. Seats in New Paltz, Woodstock, Gardiner and Kingston are almost automatic. With 17 going in, they can cover any losses. Fabiano’s seat, which he held as an almost personal fiefdom – nobody didn’t like The Dean – could swing purple.
SIZE MATTERS – As in most things, timing in politics is critical. For the last few years leading up to the census, legislators have been grousing about downsizing the legislature. Twenty-three representing 180,000 people is a bit much, some suggest. The bugaboo has been that, ideally, legislatures should comprise odd numbers divisible by three (for two-thirds veto purposes). Twenty-three doesn’t meet that test, but that’s beside the point. The next number down would be 21; hardly worth the effort. After that, it plunges to 15. Now, we’re talking reduction. Eight legislators leaving at the end of the year would have reduced resistance. But then downsizing to 15 would impact Democrats the most and they’re in control. I don’t have to draw my readers any pictures.
Problem is, that ship has sailed. Membership on the legislature is dictated by the county charter and in order to seriously address that issue, it had to be on the ballot last year.
Coulda been, shoulda been. Woulda been a good time to downsize, except for the timing.
DISCOVERY CHANNEL – For county executive Jen Metzger, these must be the most exciting days of her life, other than birthing her two sons. Something of a band on the run, she has to acquaint herself with a county government PDQ while at the same time running it.
It’s a full plate, all right. For openers, like any new boss, she’s meeting with the county’s 26 department heads and 23 legislators. Next on tap, a “listening tour” of the county’s 20 towns, three villages and city. If this is all starting to sound like former executive Patrick Ryan’s first 100 days in office, let’s just say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
That boat brimming over with cash was handed to her by Ryan, now a congressman. She will never criticize anything he did, of course. She will build on his record. The full-court announcement of an almost $70 million development at the old TechCity, the highlight of Ryan’s term as executive, was but one example.
If anything, she has the opportunity to improve on Ryan’s record. Recall when Ryan ballyhooed the acquisition of the county’s first all-electric bus. Just two more have followed, out of a fleet of 33. Metzger, with the eager assistance of Ryan, figures to considerably add to that total.
That Metzger had little trouble in disposing Republican challenger Jim Quigley last November’s executive office special election seems to have ushered in a certain level of hubris in the all-powerful Democratic Party which holds 21 of 28 county offices. Some think she might not even draw an opponent this year.
Others see Metzger, an idealistic progressive, as “a little flighty,” which is not to say, Pollyannish. She’s a visionary who believes she can meet every need, right every wrong, cure any evil. She’s in a position now to act on some of those things but must recognize that one’s reach does not always exceed one’s grasp.
AROUND TOWN – Keegan Ales in midtown seems to be a favorite Friday night watering hole for local Democrats. Relaxed with drinks in hand, away from the office, they’re rather engaging. One pol was bragging to another about his precocious daughter, just out of college and pulling down close to six figures. Her future’s so bright, dad implied, she has to wear shades. The proud dad went on and on. Who could blame him?
Finally, the other guy jibbed, “Say (blank,) have you found out yet who her father was?”
Yuks all around.
Metzger the alarmist. Being just a third of the way through her first 100 days, I’m not going to pick on the new executive. Except to challenge her statement that this generation is the last to be able to fix the environment. Really? This generation may be the first one to aggressively address climate change, though I don’t agree with that either, but it will take generations, many generations, to mitigate and repair the damage caused by generations dating to the industrial revolution.
I thought Comptroller March Gallagher was misplaced in that Democratic cattle call Metzger summoned for her i87 development photo-op last week. I was wrong.
Upon inquiry, Gallagher advised that her office keeps a close eye on any developments that involve either county participation or more important, tax breaks.
In other words, the comptroller doesn’t do the deals but could have the last word on how they get done.