Going, Going….?

I’m beginning to wonder how much more county legislator Hector Rodriguez, credibly accused of “inappropriate behavior” toward a number of women over several years, can take. More to the point, how much more can the Democratic majority in the legislature take of Hector?

Four months ago, Rodriguez, an eight-term senior Democratic legislator from New Paltz, was on the cusp of becoming the chairman for 2019, or at the least, majority leader. Disturbing, verifiable reports of inapppriate behavior toward several women, which Rodriguez acknowledged and for which he apologized in caucus to colleagues and in public, led Democrats to elect Tracey Bartels to the chair and Jonathan Heppner of Woodstock as majority leader. Bartels, who says she doesn’t make deals for votes, then named Rodriguez chairman of the potentially critical economic development committee of the legislature. The elevation of a legislator accused of inappropriate behavior toward women raised more than eyebrows. An incensed freshman Republican legislator Heidi Haynes of Marbletown called for a legislative investigation. Minority leader Ken Ronk of Wallkill followed with a less than vigorous call for an investigation, by Democrats.

Pressed, Bartels said that after due diligence, she could find no mechanism in the charter to discipline legislators accused of Rodriguez-like behavior. She submitted proposed legislation at the March 19th regular meeting with the goal of establishing guidelines to deal with such situations. But not before another woman came forward with familiar sounding allegations against Rodriguez. Late last week, Bartels announced she had asked for and Rodriguez had submitted his resignation as economic development chairman. He will remain a member of that committee where he has served for more than a decade and will keep his other committee assignments. As slaps on the wrist go, this one barely stung.

Democrats have to hope that this puts the matter to rest. But does it? How many more credible allegations have to be lodged before Rodriguez, who announced he will not seek a ninth term in November, either resigns “for the good of the party” or is removed from office? The latter is a long-shot since the legislature, unlike most legislatures, does not have the authority, apparently, to discipline members, up to and including dismissal.  Whether Rodriguez wishes to finish his last nine months in office under a gathering storm remains to be seen.

A key political component to all this is that Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities, 12-11. If Rodriguez leaves, there would be no majority for either side to appoint a replacement. That is, unless an opportunist legislator switched, as Joe Maloney of Saugerties did in casting the deciding vote to elect Ronk chairman in 2018. Maloney didn’t stay bought; he joined Democrats to elect Bartels this year.

As pols have proven incapable of self-discipline, why not consider a thorough investigation with witnesses under oath by an independent citizen panel? In some counties they call that a grand jury. This is far too important an issue to leave in the hands of self-serving politicians.