Hinchey addressed the Kingston Rotary Club last week, pitching what appeared to be skeptical Rotarians on the benefits of the federal health-care bill he voted for last summer.
Reports depicting the congressman as unsure of his subject, lacking details and answers to direct questions, were not accurate. I was there. Hinchey was well-prepared, focused though partisan, selective with the facts, and advocating his own position to the exclusion of any other.
If I were to fault Hinchey, it would be that his half-hour detailed address on the merits of the bill was overlong and tedious. Unquestionably a 2200-page bill negotiated largely in secret is “complex and complicated,” as Hinchey reminded his somewhat perplexed audience several times. But it wasn’t the after-the-fact bill most of the people I talked to afterwards were interested in. It was its financial and personal impact on them.
To hear the congressman’s version of this subject, this bill had to be the best thing for public health since mid-1960s Medicare. The health reform bill, referred to as Obamacare by misguided critics — for better or worse, this bill was congressional, not presidential in design — will apparently insure upwards of 95 percent of Americans against every known ailment from cradle to grave. And, Hinchey asserted, its preventive-care measures might even save money in the long run.
The latter claim was apparently too much for Rotarian “lucky” Bill Doughman to swallow. (He won $85 in the weekly Rotary luncheon 50-50 raffle; the other half goes to feed the hungry.)
Admitting he didn’t know what the frequently-cited trillion-dollar cost would mean, Doughman, a Democrat, asked Hinchey for details during the brief question-and-answer session following his prepared remarks. Hinchey has also been criticized in some circles for not taking questions. Again, such was not the case. It was solicitous Rotarians who pushed the “busy” congressman out the door after only three questions. Hinchey stayed to chat with attendees.
Hinchey’s response to Doughman’s inquiry was standard campaign-speak. The trillion-dollars (plus) number was “inaccurate,” advanced by unnamed “opponents” in an effort to derail the bill in Congress, Hinchey said. “Nobody knows for sure,” he replied when Doughman pressed him on how much he thought it might cost.
In fact, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office pegged the total pricetag at $1.2 trillion just prior to the 220-207 House vote on the bill last August. More than likely, our “what deficit?” congressman didn’t care. Federal spending and debt — except under Republican rule — has been the least of his concerns over an 18-year congressional career.
Another point Hinchey repeatedly advanced was that the bill had bipartisan support.
It did, but not the way this partisan congressman presented it. The record shows 32 Democrats joined 175 Republicans in voting against the bill. Three Republicans crossed over to vote for it. It would have been more accurate to say the bill had bipartisan opposition. Until January, when control changes hands, the Democrats hold a 256-178 majority in the People’s House.
Here I digress.
Matt McHugh of Tompkins County (Democratic congressman from 1975 to 1992), Hinchey’s predecessor, was known for straddling fences. At press conferences, McHugh would thoughly review all sides of a controversy — useful information, to be sure — but stop short of commitment. It was left for reporters to ask, “So, Matt, where do you stand?” Jolted from his reverie, he’d act surprised by the question and then come down on one side or the other.
With Hinchey, as demonstrated at the Rotary Club appearances — and countless others — one never has to wonder what side he’s on. In terms of educating his constituents on important topics, my take is that he does them a disservice by detailing only his own position.
Overall, I’d give the congressman a B+ on his Rotary appearance. He was sharp, engaged and for his own purposes informative. If he’d done more of that when the bill was being debated last summer, he might have won by more than four points.
Some intriguing sub-plots were playing out in this first public post-election appearance by the congressman. Daily Freeman correspondent Bill Kemble — the reporter Hinchey told to “shut up!” and allegedly tried to choke at a Saugerties meet-the-candidate night in October — was front and center, quietly doing his job. I would have thought the daily would have given these two some space, but then I don’t make those judgments any more. Kemble and Hinchey stood within a few feet of each other after the congressman’s remarks. Nobody reached for anybody’s jugular, though I gave my former colleague a friendly neck squeeze.
Just prior to Hinchey’s appearance before the Rotarians, frequent critic John Dittus, the sage of West Hurley, wrote one of his pithy letters to the editor, whacking “Obamacare” in general and Hinchey in particular, and refusing to pay the $11 “entrance fee” (his figure) at Hillside Manor to hear the congressman. (There was no fee; the $12 charge was only for those who ate lunch.)
Hincheyites, righteously wrathful when their hero is challenged, called Dittus, among other things, an uninformed idiot. Such is the level of political discourse these days.
Dittus, a former Republican candidate for county legislature, would not attend the luncheon even for free, but his sister-in-law, Kingston attorney Kathy Dittus, did.
(Full disclosure: I have been friends with the Dittus family for decades. Among the clan, Kathy, a Democrat, is left-wing, John, far-right. The twain is rarely met.)
In any event, one of the questions after Hinchey’s speech had to do with Medicare eligibility. Hinchey confessed ignorance to details of that nature, so Kathy Dittus, a counselor to the county office for the aging and a loyal Democrat, took the floor to succinctly explain the rules to the audience.
“I guess the Dittus family is on both sides of this controversy,” I kidded her afterward.
“I had to show up,” she responded, “to prove we’re not all crazy.”
Despite extensive spadework by Saugerties Times editor Will Dendis, it still isn’t clear just how much water is available in the Village of Saugerties water system. Is it 1.8 million gallons a day as the department asserts — more than adequate for present use and future planned development — or is it 1.2 million gallons, as an independent hydrologist claims?
Water officials measure capacity from intake pipes at the waterworks, itself a figure taken from one paragraph in a 1958 court ruling. Hydrologist Paul Rubin surveyed Plattekill Creek conditions as the more seminal source and came up a third short. Big difference.
Here, history could be a teacher. Does anybody wonder how IBM came to locate at a former airport in the Town of Ulster in the mid-1950s? The answer in large part was because of a certifiable water source.
As former Kingston water superintendent Ed Cloonan told me many years ago, IBM was not the first major industry to inquire about local water resources. Cloonan said Allied Chemical or Allied Aluminum (I don’t recall which, and Cloonan is long gone) inquired as to water availability the year before IBM showed up. The department spent a goodly sum on engineering studies that conclusively demonstrated a more-than-adequate supply from the department’s Cooper Lake reservoir. For reasons not explained, the Allied people did not follow though.
A year later, an IBM advance team showed up.
What’s the water story? they asked.
Glad you asked, said the superintendent, reaching for the extensive engineering report, only a year old.
The Beemers had to be impressed. The rest, as they say, is history, some of the most prosperous in county annals.
What I’m hearing from Saugerties is, in effect, “By gum. Thar’s plenty of wata when the crick rises.” Seat-of-the-pants stuff.
It would appear that Saugerties, village and town, is in a pro-development phase. If so, it is absolutely essential that professional confirmation of water capacity — preferably on a regular basis — be made available.
Here and there
This one got spiked during the rush of elections. Officials have quietly dropped an alleged animal abuse case in Kingston for lack of evidence after a man accused his Midtown neighbor of killing his cat in September. May Paris Hilton (the cat) rest in peace.
Mayor Jim Sottile says the city doesn’t have the money to fix busted bluestone sidewalks in front of city hall on Broadway. He’ll look for a grant. What ever happened to local initiative? Why not rally citizenry to deal with this disgraceful situation?
Surely there are residents who will volunteer time, money and muscle, and stone masons who will supervise. There are 2000 high school kids across the street from city hall, several hundred hospital workers right next door, and a local chapter of can-do Seabee veterans who can build or fix anything.
And finally, condolences to the family of former legislature clerk and county personnel director Randall Roth, 57, who died in Pompano Beach, Fla. on November 14 after a brief illness. He also retained a residence in Connolly. Roth, well-liked and respected over a county career of more than 30 years, retired in 2007. Funeral arrangements were private. ++
Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.