Friday, November 17, 2006

Talking Turkey

COUNTY GOVERNMENT. One of GreeneLand's November 7th voting results has been reversed. For the Durham district, following recounts and counts of provisional and absentee ballots, publican Sean Frey (Democrat; also Durham First Party) moved from a deficit of 7 votes to a majority, over Les Armstrong, Republican, of 11 votes (400 to 389). Jim Karkheck, who ran on the Conservative line, added 19 votes to his tally, for a total of 260, and Independence Party candidate Mark Darling added 4 to yield a total of 63. Essentially, Mr Frey owed his success to Mr Karkheck’s decision, after failure to win Republican committee endorsement, to run anyway. If he had stood aside, Mr Armstrong would have won by more than 100 votes. Meanwhile, final tallies of votes in other districts confirmed the election of Forest Cotten in the four-seat Catskill district and of Ken Dudley in Greenville. Mr Cotten will become one of the 14-seat governing body’s five Democrats. From absentee and provisional ballots he added 177 votes for a total of 1813, to keep him ahead of Republican newcomer Gary Kistinger, who picked up 108 paper ballots for a total of 1663. Mr Cotten will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Frank Strabile Jr., the long-serving chairman of the governing body. The other incumbents from Catskill--Keith Valentine, Dorothy Prest and Karen Deyo, all Republicans—won re-election by comfortable margins. In the Greenville district, paper ballots gave Mr Dudley, the Republican incumbent, an additional 43 votes, for a total of 736, while adding 49 votes to Democratic challenger Jim Mulligan’s tally, for a total of 706. IMPLICATIONS. In reporting the election returns in terms of the party affiliations of candidates, we may encourage a misapprehension. We may be prompting readers to believe that the Democrats and the Republicans constitute disciplined, like-minded, antagonistic blocs. It’s not so. It is likely, however, that in the unlikely event that the the nine Republican legislators do not agree among themselves on a candidate for chairman of the legislature, the five Democrats will try to unite behind a candidate of their own (Larry Gardiner, by seniority) or behind one of the Republican contenders. It also is likely that Democrats will be particularly insistent about discussing how to deal with the county’s coming big increase in sales tax revenue (a nice problem to face). From that discussion could come (i) a binding decision to reallocate a specified portion of the ‘windfall’ to municipal governments, according to a specified distribution formula; (ii) a binding decision of that sort, but with a stipulation as to how the money shall be spent; (iii) a decision to lock away most of the new money, so as to meet extraordinary future costs such as construction of a new jail; or, lamentably, (iv) stalling and side-tracking, so that no plan that limits the legislators’ budgetary discretion is adopted. . . ONWARD AND UPWARD. Another big step in the renovation of downtown Catskill has been taken. The building that formerly housed county offices on Main Street, just north of the Post Office, has undergone a complete makeover, in period style, and it was opened for public viewing on Wednesday, by way of a Business After Hours function sponsored by the GreeneLand and Catskill chambers of commerce. It now houses administrative offices of the burgeoning Bank of Greene County. And, in external appearance it is now two buildings, in keeping with the original look. RETIRED, after practicing dentistry in Catskill for 40 years: Dr Leonard I. Niad. He made the move rather abruptly after a successor came on the scene. A display advertisement in The Daily Mail of November 13 said “The office will [sic.] close on 11/10/06.” SUCCEEDING to the practice, after installing state-of-the-art equipment at the 332 Main Street office, will be Dr Theodore Belfor. Until the beginning of this year, Dr Belfor, a Catskill resident since 2001, had worked for 25 years in mid-Manhattan. In addition to regular dentistry, he will be pursuing his innovative work with oral appliances (not braces) that improve sleep and breathing, enhance facial features and, ahem, alleviate temporo-mandibular joint disorders. (He probably will NOT emulate the Hudson compeer who calls his practice Nothing But the Tooth). OPENING soon, on Route 32, just south of the Route 23A intersection, next to Charlie’s Carstar: a new business, run by Jim and Pauline Waldron, called Northeast Log Homes. We mention this bit of news so that we can publicize the publicity piece that appeared The Daily Mail of November 10. The story says “The Waldron’s [sic.]are authorized dealers for Lincoln Logs…” and “This is the Waldron’s [sic.] first joint business venture together” (which surely is easier than having a joint business adventure apart). BARBARISM. That’s the proper label for a word that appeared in big type in a recent display advertisement, for show of designer jewelry at the Columbia Memorial Hospital’s Hospitality Shop: “ALL THAT GLISTERS IS NOT GOLD.” We don’t need a hybrid of glistens and glitters. GOBBLING. A Thanksgiving feast, open to all, no charge, will be served at the Washington Irving Senior Center on Thursday, with sittings at noon and at 2 pm. As reported by Andrea Macko in The Daily Mail (11/16), it’s the brainchild of Elizabeth Izzo, who is deputy clerk for the Town of Catskill, and Anne Marie Moran of the Senior Center. CLOSING. On a morning in October 1863, in the depth of the Civil War, Secretary of State William H. Seward approached President Abraham Lincoln with a sheet of paper in his hand. “They say, Mister President,” said he, “that we are stealing away the rights of the States. So I have come to-day to advise you, that there is another State right I think we ought to steal.” “Well, Governor,” Mr Lincoln replied, “what do you want to steal now?” “The right to name Thanksgiving Day! At present, State governors proclaim Thanksgiving on different days. Why not make it a national holiday?” Mr Lincoln reckoned that a President had as good a right to thank God as a Governor. So he signed the proclamation drafted by Seward, making the last Thursday in November an official day to thank “our beneficent Father.” --Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (NY 2005), p. 577.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Redness of Greene

While Jeanine Pirro was being swamped by Andrew Cuomo in the contest for Attorney General of New York State, swamped by a margin of 17 percentage points, she was swamping Mr Cuomo, by 12 points, in the County of Greene. Among contestants for State-wide office—Governor and Senator on down—Ms Pirro was, in GreeneLand, the champion vote-getter. The case illustrates the scale of Republican proclivities in voting from the top to the bottom of the ballot. Thus, Democrat Eliot Spitzer beat Republican John Faso in the gubernatorial race by 40 percentage points; in GreeneLand he also beat Mr Faso--by one point. Democrat Alan Hevesi won his bid for re-election as Comptroller by a small margin in New York State; he lost to Republican challenger Chris Callaghan in GreeneLand by about 5 points. As for the U.S. Senate race, Hillary Clinton won overwhelmingly (67%-31%) State-wide; she also won in Greene County, but by a relatively small margin (about 7 percentage points). THE CONGRESSIONAL RACE Similarly, while Democratic challenger Kirsten Gillibrand scored one of the nation’s most startling victories in a Congressional race, toppling Republican Representative John Sweeney in the 20th District, she lost to him in GreeneLand. District-wide, she garnered 115,017 votes (53%) to Mr Sweeney's 101,989. In GreeneLand, she received 7220 votes (47.8%) to Mr Sweeney's 7895. (In Columbia County, meanwhile, she out-polled Mr Sweeney by a 7-to-5 margin and carried every municipality).

ASSEMBLY RACES Equally demonstrative of the Republican red-ness of GreeneLand are the results of the races for State Assembly seats. Two districts contain parts of Greene County, so that voters in different sections were confronted by different choices. And in neither case was the incumbent a candidate for re-election. In the District 108 race, with Pat Casale retiring, the majority of GreeneLander votes went to his would-be Republican successor, Martin Reid, over the Independence Party candidate, Timothy Gordon, by 1672 votes to 1368. But Mr Gordon, who was backed by the Democrats, beat Mr Reid in the district as a whole, by a margin of 24,766 to 21,426. His victory margin would have been even bigger if the third candidate who appeared on the ballot, Keith Hammond, had been allowed to withdraw from the race as he requested. He endorsed Gordon. In District 127, from which Assemblyman Dan Hooker chose to retire, eligible GreeneLand voters supported his would-be Republican successor, Peter Lopez, over the Democratic nominee, Scott Trees, by 6357 votes to 4341, or about 59.5 per cent. This outcome magnified the scale of the Republican’s margin in the district: 21,106 to 17,604, or about 55 per cent.

DEFECTIONS While those results show the scale of Republican proclivities in GreeneLand, relative to the State as a whole and even to neighboring counties, they also indicate that on November 7th, many GreeneLand voters who are registered as Republicans did not care for their party’s nominees. In terms of party registration, Republicans in GreeneLand out-number Democrats by a margin of almost two to one; and voters who are not registered with any party out-number registered Democrats. On the basis of those figures, it appears that the Democratic candidates scored well in GreeneLand.

LOCAL RACES By late evening last Tuesday it seemed likely that the party-political complexion of the Greene County legislature was destined to change a bit, with the ranks of Democrats doubling, to four seats out of 14. But the results in several races were too close to call, prior to the counting of provisional and absentee ballots. (That process started today and will likely take all week). In District 8, with two seats to fill, Republican incumbent Michael Camadine came in a distant third (with 812 votes on the regular ballot) behind non-incumbent Democrat Harry Lennon (1252 votes) and incumbent Republican Bill Lawrence (1218 votes). Elsewhere, at least three results that occurred in regular voting could be reversed after the counting of paper ballots. Arithmetically subject to post-Election Day change are contests for county legislature seats in Districts 1 (Catskill), 4 (Greenville) and 9 (Durham). In Catskill, still to be determined is whether Forest Cotten will hold onto his current 81-vote lead over Gary Kistinger. At present, Mr Cotten ranks fourth in total District 1 votes and thus would be entitled to occupy one of Catskill’s four seats in the legislature. Mr Kistinger, the new boy on the Republican Party line (incumbent Republicans Keith Valentine, Dorothy Prest and Karen Deyo were definitely re-elected). But 212 absentee ballots in District 1 remain to be counted, along with provisionals ballots. (Those are votes by people who turned up at a polling place, were told they were not enrolled, swore they were eligible, and filled out paper ballots whose inclusion in the final tally hinges on confirmation of their eligibility claims). Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Les Armstrong’s 7-vote victory on Election Day (358 votes, vs. 351 for Democrat Sean Frey, with Jim Karkheck and Mark Darling getting 241 and 59) will be sustained after the paper ballots are counted. There are about 85. Similarly, in Greenville (District 4) incumbent Ken Dudley’s current 36-vote lead over Democratic challenger Jim Mulligan could be reversed by results of Monday’s tally of the 70-80 paper ballots.

DIRTY TRICK? Mr Dudley’s grip on the District 4 seat could prove to be shaky, or abbreviated, for another reason. The Dudley camp distributed a mailer containing what appeared to be a facsimile of the actual ballot. It was an exact duplicate of the real thing, except for one thing: at the place where the actual ballot showed Mr Mulligan as a candidate, the pseudo-duplicate was blank. Questions about the legality of this dirty trick have been referred to the State Elections Board, which in turn can refer the matter to prosecutors and judges.

SHUFFLE AND SCUFFLE? LEGISLATIVE POWER Among inside dopesters, special significance may be ascribed to the fact that among candidates for the four Catskill seats in the county legislature, the top vote-getter was Mr Valentine. His support (2051 votes on Election Day), surpassed those of his longer-serving Republican colleagues, Ms Prest (1984 votes) and Ms Deyo (1753 votes). This could make Mr Valentine eligible for consideration for promotion to Majority Leader (Ms Prest at present) or even Chairman of the legislature. The presumptive candidate for the latter job, however, still is Bill Lawrence. He makes a strong claim on the basis of rapport with colleagues and length of service. CATSKILL GOVERNANCE. If Mr Cotten’s election to the county legislature is confirmed by the counting of paper ballots, he will likely resign from the Village of Catskill’s Board of Trustees. That would leave a vacancy.. Who would be his replacement? That question builds on an assumption that could be wrong, namely, that there will be a replacement. The other trustees, or a majority of them, may decide that they can get along just fine as a foursome. COXSACKIE GOVERNANCE. In Coxsackie, Village Trustee Thomas Hobart (Republican) beat Erin Kennedy-Smith (Democrat) for election to a Town council seat, by 1180 votes to 902. This result could be awkward for Town Supervisor Alex Betke, who had openly and earnestly endorsed Ms Kennedy-Smith.

NEW YORK’S BIGGEST SURPRISE Spectacular as it was, the victory of Kirsten Gillibrand in the 20th Congressional District was eclipsed, in terms of surprises, by John Hall’s upset win over Republican incumbent Sue Kelly, in the 19th District (Putnam, Orange, Dutchess, Rockland and Westchester counties, or parts thereof). That win, over a respected and politically moderate incumbent, served to underscore the point that Republicans are not secure in metropolitan suburbs and upper-income enclaves. Farther to the north, in lower-income and more rural districts, incumbent Republicans were seriously challenged but two of them survived. Mr Hall benefited from strong turnout by Democrats and independents, and from substantial cross-over votes by Republicans. Throughout the State, the incidence of Republican support for Democratic candidates in this election seems to have been strongest in relatively affluent districts.

OF PRESIDENTIAL PROSPECTS The visit here of Gen. Wesley Clark, in support of Ms Gillibrand’s Congressional campaign, was accompanied by whispers to the effect that he is the man who will be Senator Clinton’s first choice for running mate “when” she makes a run for the Presidency in 2008. Other locals who observed him in action voiced to Seeing Greene the opinion that the vice-presidency would not be good enough for General Clark.

THAT WOMAN Although Senator Clinton carried GreeneLand by a comfortable majority of votes, she evidently is still regarded by some locals with special animosity. That attitude was signaled by the abnormally high rate of vandalism aimed at pro-Clinton campaign signs. Some day, perhaps, we will learn what events, or what passages from what books or speeches, show that Hillary is a diabolical force.

GILLIBRAND’S NEW CHALLENGE Having achieved a stunning victory, can Representative-elect Gillibrand hold on? It will be a daunting task. Working to her disadvantage in 2008 as compared with 2006 will be at least two forces: the presence of a well-credentialed, ethically untainted post-Sweeney opponent, who is determined, along with the captains of his party, to retrieve what they regard as (thanks to history and gerrymandering) as Republican property; and the absence, from the top of the Republican ticket, of George W. Bush. On the other hand, Ms Gillibrand begins her Congressional career with substantially more than the average freshman’s assets. As TimesUnionist Tim O’Brien points out (11/9), she is more than superficially connected to both Clintons, to House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, and to her powerful neighbor and mentor, Rep. Mike McNulty. Those allies will try to help her to get good committee assignments (she has asked for Energy and Commerce) and to get approval for projects that bring tangible benefits to her district. To that end, last week’s elections brought particularly hefty gains in strength for New York State members of Congress, thanks to growth in the size of the members who belong to the majority party and to increments of power through seniority. And Ms Gillibrand will have one more thing in her favor: for the first time in 12 years, Democratic candidates for office in New York State will occupy row A on the ballot; Republicans will be relegated to Row B.

SUCCESS STORY A magazine was launched recently in Clifton Park. It is called Success. Its current edition salutes, by way of pictures and a six-page article, a putatively successful figure from the world of politics rather than of business. Promotional copies were mailed to every address within 25 miles of home base. They landed in mail boxes on Wednesday, November 8th. The cover story is devoted to John Sweeney.

Friday, November 10, 2006

But First, the Un-Political Stuff

Before we go to the post with news and blather about the elections, we’ll do some catching up. THE WEEKEND The gala that opens the Fortnightly Club’s annual Festival of Trees is slated for tonight (Friday, 11/10), from 7 pm., at the Catskill Elks Lodge. And the display or artfully decorated Christmas trees and wreaths will be open tomorrow and Sunday, from 10 am. Also of special interest tonight is a session of jazz at Gillie & Macs Waterfront Restaurant. The Jeff Siegel Trio plays and Woodstock’s Pamela Pentony (rich vocal range, plenty of power and feeling) sings. As for tomorrow, it’s Saturday Stroll time in downtown Catskill. This once-a-month street festival has been drawing good crowds in the afternoon and evening. Stores and galleries stay open. Live music. Food vendors. Holiday decorating class at Dream, the place for South Asian carvings. Wine tasting at the Bottle Shop. Three antique shops, seven art galleries, Kate Altman’s newBowerbird homewares shop, the new Catskill + Co sweets shop, and Hood & Co., where visitors can inspect the (house)wares while being serenaded by proprietor Derek Hood, accompanied by pianist David Spring. Alternatively, GreeneLanders and visitors could converge onWindham, where “Luminous Visions,” a show paintings by Paul Abrams and Kevin Cook opens at the Fine Arts gallery, from 5 pm. Also visit-worthy is “Holiday in the Mountains” crafts show at the Arts Council’s Mountaintop Gallery, 5348 Main Street, Windham. Pottery, quilts, toys, clothing, jewelry, ornaments and more, all available for purchase as holiday gifts. Hours: Friday-Sunday 10-5, Monday-Tuesday 1-5 until January. 518-734-3104, . The hot spot tomorrow night, we promise you, will be the Catskill Point bar and restaurant. Just booked for return date is brassy, bawdy, bodacious Lex Grey, with the Urban Pioneers. Lex did a show there last Saturday. billed aptly (by her, we understand) as “Wild on the Waterfront and Hot on the Hudson.” It followed recent gigs in Washington D.C.’s “most decadent establishment” (except for the White House?) and at the Down & Dirty Lounge in Manhattan (with burlesque queen Dirty Martin). If you’ve not seen (and heard!) Lex perform, think Janis Joplin + Tina Turner. Admission to the show, starting at 9 pm., is free. And in the previous hour, drinks will be dispensed at half price. Did I mention that Lex is a resident of Catskill? (She’s NOT connected, incidentally, to a business that has lately come, at least in the form of a headquarters office, to Coxsackie. It’s called, ahem, International Grooving and Grinding. As explained by president John Roberts, the name actually has to do with paving).

FURTHERMORE >Inside/Out, the elegant monthly mid-Hudson gay magazine, is now quartered in GreeneLand. Its transplantation from New Paltz, was celebrated last Saturday night at new publisher Owen Lipstein’s hostelry, Stewart House. Of the 120 participants, only one came in full drag. >Conversion of the former Orens warehouse into an elegant array of apartments and studios actually has begun. This ambitious project (under guidance of Jim Cunliffe), together with what the Bank of Queensland {{that should have been GreeneLand! DM, after the first posting}} has almost completed next to the Post Office and what is envisioned for the former Irving Elementary School (and it’s not just a pipedream) will effectively complete the restorative transformation of downtown Catskill. >Lowes Home Improvement will open before Christmas, unless it doesn’t. WalMart will open soon after. >Incoming: Catskill is about to acquire a new firefighters’rescue truck. And a third picture-framing shop. And its third dance/fitness studio. And a second non-surgical face-lifting operation. Plus a textile design and marketing business. Along with some incredible additions to artifacts at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. And, regrettably, its eighth Main Street café. The newest dance + exercise studio, Catskill Health & Art, housed upstairs in the Zwickel Building (Main & William Streets) will be run by Lisa Annice Baldwin. She and husband Joe Nusbaum are coming up here from West Hurley, says Lisa, “to where the action is.” Joe is a chiropractor—available, we trust, to fix people who don’t get in proper shape under Lisa’s tutelage. The eighth cafe will be a Muddy Cup, directly across from the County building, in the most beautifully restored of the Village’s many beautifully restored downtown buildings. Its incipient arrival is cause for regret only because it will join an already-overcrowded café population, causing pain & suffering to already-struggling competitors. >Catskill’s revived, reconstituted Community Center has become the beneficiary of promised support, $100,000 worth, by the Town and Village governing boards. That funding will cover some renovation costs and will enable the hard-working, unpaid directors to get some hired help. Also in the works is a private fund-raising bash, with the aforementioned Lex Grey doing the star turn. Gratis. It’s her special contribution to her new home town. >With Main Street restoration well under way, Catskill’s driving, driven Village President Vincent Seeley now has his sights set on the West Bridge Streeet corridor, from the Uncle Sam bridge up to the new Catskill Commons. Point of departure for that resurrection, so to speak, is the nearly-finished new headquarters of Rich Rappelyea’s Dimensions North construction company. It’s an appropriate start, since Rich and his crew have become specialists in restoration, and the new quarters will itself be a showplace of their craft. Meanwhile, close to the top end of the West Bridge Street corridor, the former Auto Parts Unlimited building will be getting a makeover, thanks to its acquisition by the Catskill Town Board for use as the ambulance service headquarters. By a 3-2 vote, the $425,000 deal was just approved.

CORRECTION We erroneously reported that the sales tax revenue-sharing plan championed by Forest Cotten, among others, was endorsed by all five Trustees of the Village of Catskill. In a signed comment on our “Share the Wealth” installment of Seeing Greene, Trustee Angelo Amato corrects the record and in doing so highlights an important distinction. Mr Amato welcomes the idea of having a portion of sales tax revenue redistributed by the county, but he opposes the idea of putting the 'refunds' in the hands of local governing boards, to be spent as they see fit. He (among others) would connect the ‘refund’ directly to proportional reductions in local property taxes.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Final Battle Report

The battle to decide who shall represent GreeneLanders and other District 20 residents in the United States House of Representatives is almost over. Among episodes in the final days of campaigning:

(DIS)ENDORSEMENT. On Wednesday the REPUBLICAN candidate for election to the House of Representatives from District 21 (Albany County and elsewhere) announced that, with regard to the contest next door in District 20, he recommends the DEMOCRATIC candidate. We mention this event first not because it is the most recent but because, although by conventional journalistic standard it is A-grade news, it has been ignored by the regular news purveyors. The text of Warren Redlich’s endorsement of Kirsten Gillibrand, including a rationale which imputes to the Republican candidate, John Sweeney, an intolerable scale of corruption, can be accessed at .

SWEENEY ENDORSED. Friday's Saratogian carried an endorsement of Mr Sweeney for re-election, with “effectiveness at securing federal funds” cited as the decisive consideration. At the same time, the editorial faults Mr Sweeney for (1) a “lame” excuse for refusing to debate his opponent, (2) improper “junkets” at taxpayer expense, (3) “unsettling” behavior with regard to that 911 domestic dispute report (discounting it, then promising to see that it is made public, then reneging), and (4) pitching imprudently into the “nastiest, dirtiest” of political campaigns.

Also endorsing Mr Sweeney, this morning, was The Troy Record. While saying "we are closer to Gillibrand's positions than Sweeney's" on most issues, the editorial recommended Mr Sweeney in light of his "track record of bringing home millions for the district and working on its behalf." Mr Sweeney "knows how to play the game." He is "in a position to ensure that New York state and his district get their fair share in federal funding." (About that line of reasoning, see Specious Argument, below).

GILLIBRAND ENDORSED. Yesterday’s Register-Star and Daily Mail carried a joint endorsement of Ms Gillibrand. While acknowledging that Mr Sweeney “certainly has brought home funding for any number of projects” the editorial credits Ms Gillibrand with superiority of wit and “platform.” (The editorial also said “Residents of Columbia and Greene counties have had ringside seats for the heavyweight bout” between the Congressional candidates. That characterization is warranted by the volume and terms of the contestants’ television advertisements, but is not warranted by Daily Mail coverage of the campaign. Until yesterday, and in contrast to all other District 20 dailies, there hadn’t been any. Readers of New York City’s Daily News were told more about the race than were readers of GreeneLand’s Daily Mail).

SWEENEY DISENDORSED. Last Sunday the Post-Star of Glenns Falls NY recommended returning the incumbent to office. Its endorsing editorial argued that although he has exhibited serious character flaws, Mr Sweeney's record in securing Federal funds for his district and voting in Republican interests overrides the concerns about his unofficial conduct. On Friday, that recommendation was repudiated. The new Post-Star editorial said “we can no longer stand behind our earlier endorsement of [Sweeney’s] candidacy.”

THE DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE. The Post-Star reversal stemmed from events that received lavish publicity (across the country) on Wednesday and Thursday. Three newspapers published the reputed text of a State police report about a 911/domestic disturbance call back in December, from Mr Sweeney’s wife. News organizations had tried for months to obtain the report. In spite of their appeals to the Freedom of Information Act, they had been thwarted. Finally, they did obtain a copy. They published it along with accounts of their struggle and of how Mr Sweeney, his wife, and his spokespeople responded to invitations to comment. The respondents initially were silent or denied the authenticity of the well authenticated report, and they claimed to be victims of a mendacious attack from the Gillibrand camp. The Sweeneys said they wanted the ‘real’ report released, but they did not take the necessary steps to make that happen. The TimesUnion editorial board, the New York Daily News (!) and the Associated Press offered to expedite the paper work, but “the Congressman angrily refused.” He also denounced the media for puffing up a “non-issue.” His “curt dismissal of the domestic violence incident as a ‘non-issue’,” says The Post-Star, “demonstrates that [Sweeney] either doesn’t understand the seriousness of this matter as it relates to his role as a member of Congress, or that he simply hopes to divert attention from it so he can win the election.” His conduct “reflects disturbingly not only on his character, but on his credibility to serve effectively as a representative of all the people.”

RALLY. Dominating news about the Sweeney-Gillibrand race on Thursday night and Friday morning were accounts of the star-studded rally in Clifton Park, in which Mr Sweeney’s re-election was urged by Governor George Pataki, by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and by State Senate minority leader Joe Bruno. Governor Pataki hailed Mr Sweeney as a “good man” who has brought benefits aplenty to his district. Mr Giuliani urged the re-election of Mr Sweeney for the sake of maintaining a sound Republican-led national security posture. Senator Bruno depicted Mr Sweeney as the victim of an extraordinarily “vicious, slanderous, libelous” campaign waged by a candidate who merely wants a job. (He did not identify the slanders. And if she does get the job, Ms Gillibrand will be taking a pay cut). According to Maury Thompson of the Post-Star, the visitors and Mr Sweeney refused to take questions after the rally; Mr Giuliani’s version of Mr Sweeney’s position on the Patriot Act was counter-factual.

SPECIOUS ARGUMENT. When not engaged in damning his opponent, Congressman Sweeney pins his case for re-election on his record of service--tangible service; Federal dollars--to constituents. That approach to evaluation also is the one that has been invoked regularly by Mr Sweeney’s supporters, from Governor Pataki on down. It is the basis of the Saratogian and Troy Record endorsements of Mr Sweeney, despite misgivings. It is an attractive line of argument. It seems to be as legitimate and rational as other approaches to assessing candidates, such as reputed ideology or values, policy stands, looks, political bedfellows, voting records or personal character. And in Mr Sweeney’s case, the Services Rendered theme serves the dual purpose of diverting attention from those other tests of merit and of highlighting the fact that Mr Sweeney has indeed been extraordinarily effective at steering Federal dollars (or rather, taxpayers’ dollars) to local projects. For that work, Mr Sweeney surely deserves credit. But a high score on Services Rendered does not yield a strong case for retaining the service provider. It is does not suffice to support the expectation that the candidate, if re-elected, would continue to be an effective service provider. The key question here is whether Mr Sweeney would (as The Troy Record so glibly assumes) continue to be "in a position" to bring home the bacon. And the answer is No. Mr Sweeney’s success as service provider has derived, in no small measure, from being a member, and a particularly staunch member, of the House of Representatives’ ruling party. His potential future success as a service provider depends on continuing to be a member of the ruling party. But on Tuesday, that vital condition will be extinguished. Events of the past year make it certain that on November 7th the Republicans will lose their grip on the House of Representatives. That transformation is anticipated confidently by the recognized impartial experts (Cook, Rothenberg, Congressional Quarterly, Sabato) but also by avidly “conservative” notables (Buckley, Buchanan, Brooks, Carlson, Coulter, Keene, Morris, Novak, Will…). The only uncertainty they express is over whether the Democrats will win a majority of House seats or a huge majority. In either case, the Democrats will gain control of the Speakership, committee assignments, the order of business, and appropriations of money for home-district projects. If Mr Sweeney were to buck the national trend sufficiently to be re-elected, he would become, for the first time, a member of the Republican minority. What is more, he would be remembered by the new House leaders as an exceptionally brutal Republican--a capo in the gang led by Tom "the Hammer" Delay. His ability to steer Federal money our way would be greatly diminished.

FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS. In the few hours since this blog first was posted, several battle-shaping events have transpired:

---Gillibrand Endorsed. Sunday’s TimesUnion contained a Gillibrand-endorsing editorial. While conceding that Mr Sweeney “has worked hard on behalf of his district” and “has boosted efforts to bring high-tech jobs” here, the editorial laments his “prominent and unapologetic support of deleterious Bush administration policies” and of the “ethically challenged House GOP leadership.” Praise for Ms Gillibrand’s positions and qualifications is coupled with affirmation that “It’s time for change in the 20th congressional district and across much of the country.”

---GreeneLand Rally. Ms Gillibrand appeared along with Gen.Wesley Clark at a photogenic, well attended rally this morning at county Democratic headquarters (the former Orens Furniture store on Catskill). Pictures of the cheering throng, and bits of the general’s and the candidate’s speeches, appeared this evening’s local newscasts, inter-cut with accounts of the new polling data.

---Bill Clinton Returning. A second pro-Gillibrand appearance by the former President of the United States has been announced for Monday morning at Warren County airport.

---Poll Reversal. In the space of 19 days, the electoral prospects of the 20th District’s contestants evidently have undergone a huge change. When polled during October 17-18 by Siena College interviewers, likely voters preferred Mr Sweeney by a big margin, 53 per cent to 39 per cent. But when polled last Wednesday and Thursday, likely voters preferred Ms Gillibrand, by 49% to 46%. In both of these sample surveys, conducted by telephone, professed Republicans outnumbered Democrats by about 11 percentage points (as they do in the whole district). In the southern part of the district, the apparent swing was especially pronounced, with Ms Gillibrand now leading Mr Sweeney by 9 percentage points. Respondents in the survey also were asked to which candidate would do a better job on each of seven “issues” (such as crime, education, environment). Ms Gillibrand out-scored Mr Sweeney on five “issues.” For further details, check .(Not asked in either survey, and rarely asked in voter opinion surveys, was which candidate would do a better job of winning Federal financial support for worthwhile local projects).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Share the Wealth?

This year’s contests for election to the GreeneLand legislature have been marked by an unusual feature: On an issue of substance, a line of division exists—not a clear line, but a line—between the Republican and the Democratic candidates. This one issue is how the county government should handle coming gains, big gains, in revenue collected from sales tax payments. Democratic candidates generally support a particular scheme for managing this ‘surplus’ while the Republicans either oppose that scheme or avoid the subject.

Lines of inter-party cleavage on matters of policy, at the county level, are rare in GreeneLand. The people who are identified on the ballot as Republican and Democratic (and/or Conservative, Working Families, or Independence) nominees for election from the county’s nine legislative districts do not belong to cohesive teams. They did not get on the ballot by being endorsed at county-wide conventions after pledging allegiance to platforms adopted by party regulars. Their paths to candidacy were localized process and personal. Candidates who share a party label do not necessarily agree on their principles or priorities or programs. On this occasion, however, on the subject of sales tax revenue disbursement, we do have a substantial inter-party contrast in views.

The issue is timely. With the recent arrival and rapid growth of a Home Depot branch, and with the imminent openings of a Lowes home improvement center and a giant WalMart, GreeneLand will soon generate a boom in retail sales and, consequently, in sales tax payments. Those payments will go into county government coffers. In relation to anticipated costs of current county operations, they will provide a kind of surplus. So: what should be done with the increased revenue? One answer has found favor with current Democratic candidates for seats in the county legislature. It is that some of the windfall be passed along to town and village councils. The main author and promoter of this proposal is Forest Cotten, who is a Catskill Village trustee and is one of the Democratic candidates for election to the county legislature. Supported unanimously by his fellow Village trustees, Mr Cotten not only has touted the general idea of sales tax revenue-sharing (or STRS), but also has championed a specific application formula. The idea and the formula have found much favor with towns and village council members—Republicans as well as Democrats—all over GreeneLand. That consensus is remarkable. Governors of municipalities might readily agree on the merit of being entitled to get new money from the county, while disagreeing about how the bounty ought to be apportioned. Instead, substantial municipal support has been given to an STRS scheme whose key terms are as follows:

(1) Entitlement. Re-allocation of some sales tax revenue shall come into play when a given year’s revenue exceeds the previous year’s take by more than 5 per cent. Of any ‘surplus’ above that figure, 20 per cent remains in county coffers, with the remainder being apportioned to town and village treasuries. Thus, if county revenues from sales tax come to $10 million in Year I and rise by 10 per cent in Year II, then half of the gain ($1 million) stays in the county treasury (that’s $500,000) and so does 20% of the remainder (another $100,000). That leaves $400,000 to be allocated to municipalities. By the same token, if year III’s revenue exceeds year II’s by 10%, the new total is $12,100,000, and the gain is $1.1 million. Of that additional revenue, the county keeps half ($550,000) plus 20% of the remainder (another $110,000, and the municipalities get what’s left (80% of $550,000, or $410,000). (2) Apportionment. For deciding the respective shares of municipalities, 75 per cent would be allocated according to populations, and 25 per cent according to equalized assessment value. The towns’ shares would be calculated exclusive of their villages (in Catskill, Hunter, Cox, Athens).

RECOMMENDATION Now, we at Seeing Greene have not made up our collective mind about the merit of that STRS scheme. We do feel sure that the proposal deserves an earnest, thorough hearing by the county’s legislators. It deserves a solid hearing because it would provide the right occasion for careful thought about alternative uses of the coming windfall and about what lies ahead for the county. (In the latter respect, it is difficult to over-state the importance of the looming, unavoidable obligation to build, at immense expense, a new jail. Meeting that unavoidable budget-busting obligation in Ulster County proved to be, in short, ruinous). But a proper hearing by GreeneLand’s legislators is just what STRS has not received. Sponsors of the scheme tried to make a presentation, only to be told that they needed to get endorsements from a majority of local councils. They did so, only to be stonewalled again. Generally favored by incumbent county legislators has been a “wait and see” outlook—with no hint about what event or information awaits sighting.. Experience indicates, then, that the county legislature will give serious consideration to sharing its coming windfall with local councils only if it undergoes a change of composition. Some members need to be replaced. Which brings us to this Tuesday’s election. We are not in position to recommend candidates all over the county. There are too many issues, too many questions of character and experience. Nevertheless, we venture to voice the following suggestions: (1) Catskillians should vote for Mr Cotten. Adding him to the legislature is the single most important assurance that the STRS scheme will be studied. He is one of seven candidates for four seats. His two Democratic running mates, Ron Dombrowski and Robin Depuy, also support STRS. Voters do not need to stay with one party ‘line’ or another. (2) In Athens, candidate Andrea Smallwood has endorsed STRS, while the incumbent, Ray Brooks, has joined in the stonewalling. And Ms Smallwood is in other respects richly qualified for the office of county legislator. (3) In Cairo, with two seats to filled, voters could wisely retain one of the incumbents—veteran Bill Lawrence, who is likely to become the legislature’s chairman—while ridding themselves of the other one. By virtue of a manifest addiction to fatuous remarks, Michael Camadine seems to be well qualified for retirement. He has been “standing up for principle,” he tells the news media on behalf of his bid for re-election, without naming the principle. The notion that a big boost in sales tax revenue lies ahead, says he, is illusory; “until no one is paying real property taxes, there is no extra money.” Anyhow, the Democrats are touting sales tax revenue-sharing because they don’t have any other issues—as if his people are knee deep in issues and policies (and, surely, principles). Ah yes, those devilish GreeneLand Democrats. Do they have only two seats in the county legislature, few seats in local councils, few candidates, few members, bare cupboards, minimal co-ordination? Don’t be fooled, says this avid hallucinatory: “We have seen [here in the Greene County Democratic Party] the rise of the strong party boss, who speaks for the his party, tells them their positions, and models his organization on the successful Albany machine.”

P.S. “A tax cut is really one of the anecdotes to coming out of an economic illness.” --George W. Bush, 9/18/2000