As with any group of seven reasonably intelligent people, differences of opinion arose among the reapportionment commissioners. Last week, simmering resentment over political bias on the commission reared its ugly head when Democrat Vernon Benjamin all of a sudden unloaded on Republicans Mike Catalinotto and Bill West.
Benjamin, sitting only one seat removed from Catalinotto and directly across from West, accused the duo of tainting the work throughout the whole process. “Politics have infected this process from the start,” he said, as Catalinotto gazed at the ceiling, West at his fingertips.
Benjamin accused the duo of being partisans, “attempting to impose the will of the Republican majority on this commission.”
For evidence, he offered the applause of the Republican majority in the legislature the night before to West’s idea of weighted voting and Catalinotto’s proposal to hire an independent consultant to advise the commission. Benjamin called the latter bizarre, “a late eleventh-hour move.”
Catalinotto, without raising his voice or looking at Benjamin, said, with no apparent sense of irony, “I’m sick and tired of your platitudes. Leave the politics outside.” Later, when I asked him for a response, he rolled his eyes, as if to suggest that’s just Vernon.
While I don’t find Catalinotto and West knaves, I did wonder why they would submit last-minute proposals that if given serious consideration could only delay a final plan until well after the commission’s self-imposed deadline of late April.
“Our big enemy [at this point] is time,” said commissioner Dare Thompson.
What happens if the commission can’t come up with a plan in time to allow minimal opportunity for political parties to recruit and nominate candidates in the new 23-member legislature in order to circulate nominating petitions in June?
It is possible that the present 33-member at-large system will remain in place until new districts can be drawn for the 2013 elections. County attorney Bea Havranek advised the commission that such a delay would be against the express language of the charter, which calls for 23-member districts this year. But if you don’t have a plan, what then?
There is one fall-back. Supreme Court justice Kimberly O’Connor, who gave the legislature final authority on redistricting earlier this month, also held unto the court, at Havranek’s suggestion, the right to dictate a plan. In that case, the legislature could go fish.
While Benjamin’s evidence of chicanery on the part of the commission’s two Republicans is at best circumstantial, there’s no question that from here on out politics will prevail. In backing West/Catalanotto, the aforementioned GOP majority gives itself an excuse, however flimsy, for rejecting any commission plan submitted to it.
Blair’s project done
NYPIRG’s legislative director for some 30 years, Blair (don’t call me Jack) Horner, 57, will be departing on May 2 for one of the more prestigious PR jobs in the state, spokesman for the American Cancer Society.
The miracle is that after decades of attempting to promote good or at least better government in Albany Horner retains his sense of humor. “After beating my head against a brick wall for all those years, curing cancer will be a snap,” he said from his Albany office last week.
During a public advocacy career that goes back to Mario Cuomo — with a brief stop “to make some money” with then-attorney general Andrew Cuomo — Horner has seen government go from bad to worse. A nostalgic Mario Cuomo thinks things were better in his day, which is to say when my high-school sweetheart was really gorgeous.
“I think it’s more toxic now, much more blatant,” Horner said. “When I started, it was rare for a legislator to hold a fundraiser in Albany. Right under our noses, as it were. Now, it’s common. There’s a cozy togetherness between legislators and lobbyists that isn’t healthy.” He didn’t mention the cozy relationship between governors and lobbyists.
The state’s Swiss-cheese campaign laws allow up to $37,500 in individual donations.
Horner the skeptic takes a wait and see attitude on whether Andrew Cuomo’s performance in terms of ethics reform matches his rhetoric. “I’m much more focused on what they do than on what they say,” he said. He allows that Cuomo’s “shrewd use of power” in achieving spending cuts and a timely budget offers some hope.
Reporters will miss Horner. The gap-toothed redhead was one of those reliable go-to sources, always available to media, always up to speed on major issues and willing to share valuable background information. Rarely did he laugh at stupid questions. Too often, his was a voice in the wilderness.
The New York Public Interest Research Group, which traces its roots to SUNY-New Paltz, will soldier on, fighting the good fight against an entrenched, implacable foe.
Here and there
Sometimes I wonder if the media isn’t as much the problem as the people it covers. Case in point. With maximum fanfare and TV drama to die for, Congress battled over a $38-billion “spending reduction” bill — passed overwhelmingly in both houses — only it turns out that according to the nonpartisan usually accurate Congressional Budget Office, the actual savings was more on the order of $352 million. Last Friday, The New York Times, with CBO figures in hand, repeated the certifiably bogus $38-billion figure in a front-page article. Blissful ignorance before the fact can be excused, not this.
Meanwhile, local members of Congress fight over what amounts to Ulster County’s annual budget.
Does anybody really take Donald Trump seriously for president?
Crooked comptroller Alan Hevesi will be a guest of the state at Napanoch prison in Ulster County following sentencing last week. Prosecutors say Hevesi stole $900,000 while comptroller. He could get a year in jail, while collecting his $100,000 annual state pension. Who says crime doesn’t pay?
The question in terms of Ulster County reapportionment is, will Hevesi be counted in Ulster or his native Queens? Answer: Ulster.
This year’s county auction of delinquent properties grossed $1.5 million in bids on 60 properties, according to the county department of finance, which conducts auctions.
After applying more than $633,000 to back taxes, the county realized $867,372 in revenues, almost $368,000 above budget estimates.
This year’s take showed a marked increase over 2010’s $865,000 in bids, a reflection, and officials said, of a declining economy beginning three years ago.
Under law, delinquent taxpayers are allowed three years to redeem their properties. This year’s auction was based on non-payments beginning in 2008, the beginning of the current recession.
Where eagles fly
Long-time Kingston White Eagle Society bartender John Sweeney, 92, was guest speaker at the organization’s annual Palm Sunday breakfast. Gagsters put Sweeney behind a portable bar so members would recognize him. Sweeney is the father of former Shandaken councilwoman Jane Todd, wife of former legislature chairman Ward Todd. Their union more than 25 years ago produced a memorable hyphen, one Jane never used: Sweeney-Todd.
The annual breakfast, under the able direction of MC for life Dan Reinhardt, is a must-go for local politicians on the prowl. It can produce some strange table fellows, like city Republican chairman Tony Sinagra sitting across from Democratic mayoral wanna-be Hayes Clement. In the interest of equal coverage and to avoid angry phone calls from at least 44 zealots, I did not see Shayne Gallo, Clement’s rival for the Democratic nomination. He has now been given equal space, however.
District attorney Holley Carnright, up for a second term, was accepting congratulations at the breakfast for the conviction of two gang members accused of murdering a would-be witness against one of them in midtown Kingston in February 2009.
As juries can be unpredictable, Carnright, a first-term Republican, took something of a risk in personally prosecuting what should have been a slam-dunk. This jury returned a verdict in about four hours.
The defendants now face sentencing from hanging judge Don (don’t call me Donnie) Williams. The toughest jurist to sit on the county bench since Frank Vogt, if Maximum Don runs true to form, these guys will never get out of jail. The maximum for a first-degree murder conviction is life without parole.
Carnright was modest in victory. The conviction, he said, rendered the city a little safer. Actually, the suspects have been locked up in county jail since being arrested the day after the crime. What he meant was gang members might think twice now about bumping off potential witnesses. Carnright, after putting on a court performance reminiscent of former DA Mike Kavanagh in his prime, gave most of the credit to cops and investigators.
Meanwhile, Carnight’s Democratic foe Jon Sennett again called on the DA to recuse himself from the Tim Matthews case because of a possible conflict of interest. Carnright rejects the notion, contending he can be fair and objective despite professional interaction with the accused cop.
There were two (political) problems with Sennett’s courthouse steps pronouncement, timing and location. As the fedora-wearing Sennett was demanding the DA pull out of the Matthews case, the district attorney, not 20 feet behind him, was wrapping up one of the most sensational murder trials in recent history.
Other than for formal announcements, courthouse and city-hall press conferences are hokey. Next time, Sennett should use Democratic headquarters right around the corner. ++
Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.