First impressions

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Let’s start with a joke.

Kingston mayor Steve Noble’s memorable gaff at last week’s chamber of commerce candidate breakfast may have confirmed the worst suspicions of the audience; to wit, that city workers really don’t work all that much.

Democrat Noble was issuing the obligatory tribute to city staff but somehow channeled Joe Biden in citing his “amazing staff which works extremely hard every other day.” Quickly blurting out “every day!” was drowned out by huge laughs.

My impression of incumbent Democrat Noble and minority party candidate Vince Rua, face-to-face for the first time before the largest crowd they’ll see this campaign, is the forceful Rua acted like a man who thinks he knows what he’s talking about while Noble should be better at telling people what he actually knows. Republican candidate Ellen DiFalco was a no-show, reportedly because she didn’t like the format. The Republican candidate’s name wasn’t mentioned and she apparently wasn’t missed.

Rua did what a challenger is supposed to do: he challenged. Noble, after almost four years on the job, came across as almost nonchalant. He could use a good kick in the pants or to put it another way, if Democrats, after winning every mayoral race since 1993, think this one a walkover, they might be in for some nasty surprises come Nov. 5.

“Steve’s a humble guy,” one of his supporters explained of his low-key but underwhelming candidate after the breakfast. “He’s laid-back. He doesn’t like to blow his own horn,” he explained. Memo to the mayor: Better hire a brass band.

The crowd of more than 200 could be forgiven for a notable lack of enthusiasm.  This isn’t your grandfather’s (Kingston) chamber anymore. Now self-identified as “regional,” it’s gone global in Ulster terms.  I dare say only about 20 percent of those in attendance at the Best Western Plus were Kingston voters, most of them Democrats.

Chamber breakfast rules enforce for decades, dictate polite exchanges between candidates, bordering on the boring, and God forbid! nothing personal. But the candidates did manage to get under each other skins. People like blood with their scrambled eggs. Noble repeatedly claimed that Rua knew nothing about government to which Rua complained that he didn’t like being told what he didn’t know. Rua visibly annoyed the mayor with charges of lack of leadership.

As such, the challenger missed a golden opportunity. At one point, Noble came out for both high-end housing (the proposed uptown Kingstonian) and RUPCO low-income projects in midtown. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Noble had not taken a stand on either project before, preferring to allow “the process” to play out. That’s not leadership, but Rua missed the opening.

Rua had his curious moments as well. At one point, he criticized the mayor for a near 20-percent increase in city assessments over the last four years to more than $1.6 billion. His claim that a rising tide was somehow a negative was counterintuitive and easily refuted by the mayor.

So, who won this “debate?” I favor challengers, generally, but the contender still has to knock down the champ. Edge to Rua on form, points to Noble on substance. (Did I just punt?)

ANOTHER LINCOLN SHOT – A few months ago the occasionally-published Lincoln Eagle ran a blog entry of mine about the time Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro found my wife’s wallet at a Kingston shopping plaza. I’m not a regular on the Eagle or any other paper – a piece in the Bluestone Press on a 97-year-old Rosendale American Legion bartender in August got nice reviews – but I can always use gas money.

Re: The Eagle, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the reaction from some more liberal fans, but I was. I mean, how can anybody get mad about a story on somebody finding a wallet and returning it? “They’ll probably tell you shouldn’t be writing for that right-wing rag,” publisher Mike Marnell told me before I agreed to let him run a piece already featured on my blog.

“How can you write for that right-wing rag?” friends complained. “You’re just adding credibility to it.” Thanks.

There being no common ground in politics (or journalism) these days, I didn’t bother to mention that I wrote for what some considered a left-wing rag (Ulster Publishing’s Times papers) for ten years.  A few people from Woodstock complained at the end of my tenure there.  

Taken together, I guess that makes me a moderate, that rare bird with no wings. The editor of Catskill Mountain News, publisher of my weekly column, leans a bit to the left in her personal views, but is straight down the middle with her paper. I subscribe to that kind of good old-fashioned, honest journalism.

Meanwhile, Marnell was on the horn last week asking if he could print recent blog posts on city historian Ed Ford and the passing of Sen. Bill Larkin. Let’s hope the check doesn’t bounce.