And the winner is….

And the winner is…

It was a three-horse race at the top of the stretch where an old nag called Reluctant Dave nosed out Why Not Me Again? and One Trick Pony for chairman of the Ulster County legislature for this year.

In an almost straight 13-10 party vote, former chairman Dave Donaldson, Democrat of Kingston, was the surprise winner in a derby that featured incumbent chairwoman Tracey Bartels of Gardiner and Laura Petit of Port Ewen.

Never shy about self-promotion, Donaldson, who served two terms some 15 years ago, may now compare himself to Grover Cleveland, who served split terms as president in the late 19th century. Grover Donaldson has a nice ring to it, but Grover will have to bend over backwards to keep an already divided 12-11 Democratic majority in step for the coming year.

Petit, first elected as a Republican years ago but then switched parties for a successful comeback, got this circus rolling shortly before the New Year by advancing her candidacy for chair. By best guestimate, Petit had one, maybe two votes. Bartels had the rest, 11 at best. Donaldson didn’t enter the picture until a few days before Wednesday’s formal vote at the legislature’s annual organizational meeting. It must have been a wild weekend.

At one point, Petit hinted – broadly – about hooking up with the minority party for the 12th vote required for election. Angry Democrats, loath to allow Republicans to elect a chairman, made their deal with Petit and settled on old-hand Dave. The final vote was 13-10, with John Parete of Boiceville, a former chairman elected on the Republican line last November, and Donaldson’s boon companion, joining with the majority.

And what did Petit achieve for stirring the pot? Pols hide these things from press and public, but I’m betting she’ll be named to a new special committee on housing and transportation she proposed be created at Wednesday’s meeting. It went down 21-2 with Petit and Parete the lone supporters.  Legislators had their reasons – committees are usually formed after much discussion over time – but obviously, there was lingering resentment among Democrats at Petit’s kicking up the traces. Republicans don’t much care; the more dissent on the other side, the more leverage for them.

I caught up with majority leader Jonathan Heppner of Woodstock after the meeting.

“Everything old is new again,” I said, referring to the new chairman.

“You know, we gotta do what we gotta do,” he said. Maybe some eggs with that sausage?

CHAMBER MUSIC – Republicans, with all noses counted before the meeting, nonetheless offered up sophomore Heidi Haynes of Marbletown as their choice for chair. Only one guy beat her.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill was walking around the chamber where he served in the 90s, like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary. It wasn’t all about pride in seeing his younger brother Brian returned to the legislature. Somewhere the elder Cahill had his finger in that chairman pie.

Bartels, as always, was gracious in defeat. She nominated Donaldson and praised his 26 years of office. It had to sting, though. The former chairwoman brought her nine-year old daughter Polly to what could have been a second inaugural.

Seating arrangements, controlled by majority and minority leaders, can be revealing. Freshman Abe Uchitelle of Kingston was elected party whip (No. 2) and sat in the front row. Cahill, a former majority leader, sat in the rear.

The night wasn’t a total lost for Petit, one of several legislators recognized for their birthdays in January. Petit’s is on the 28th; she probably won’t invite Donaldson or Bartles.

Democratic leaders Heppner and Uchitelle are both 31 and not even half Donaldson’s 68 years. “Eighty-eight must have been a pretty good year,” Uchitelle said. “I mean, 1988,” he added, in reference to my added years. Funny guy, that Abe.

Minority leader Ken Ronk of Wallkill offered his annual ode to legislature clerk Vicki Fabella. Vicki is a “gem,” he said, built a “very professional staff” and treats everyone equally, including media. (I added that.)

Correction: I had the date wrong on Rep. Antonio Delgado’s appearance at the Ulster Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast at Best Western in Kingston. It’s the 23rd.

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