Executive Snoozer

Democratic faithful were treated to this year’s version of “me-too” as three candidates for county executive took turns agreeing with each other at a meet the candidate session at Kingston City Hall on Sunday afternoon. For a minute there, I thought I was at another of those boring congressional primary face-offs from last year.

It’s not that Pat Ryan, Patrice Courtney Strong and Marc Rider were boring. Actually, they’re quite engaging in small gatherings or one on one. It’s just that they all stand for the same progressive Democratic principles, more jobs, more diversity, social justice, expansion of services, blah, blah and blah. I heard a lot of slogans, few solutions.

The Kingston City Committee sponsored the event, which drew a good crowd of around 150, mostly Democrats. Communication between candidates and audience was challenged as organizers couldn’t figure out the PA system. Here, the 6’3” Ryan, with towering presence and booming voice, had more of an advantage.

Candidates were clearly wary of stepping on the tender toes of departing executive Mike Hein, who had about nine hours left on his 10-year term as candidates took the floor just after 2 p.m. But it’s tricky talking about new programs that could have been instituted five years ago without raising questions about the outgoing administration.  Consolidating county bus service with the city and expanding the operation to far reaches of the county – the former under discussion for almost four years now – was but one example.

Rider, one of Hein’s deputies, was understandably his soon-to-be ex-boss’s more vigorous defenders, but Ryan and Strong weren’t far behind. Were there a Republican in the race, we might get some differences there, not so with an all-Democratic finale.

Speaking of potential competition, freshman legislator Heidi Haynes of Marbletown says she plans to run for a second term this fall and has no interest in executive. Veteran Republican legislator Jim Maloney of Ulster has been mentioned, or was it Joe Maloney of Saugerties? It is a very, very shallow pool, the GOP these days.

I thought one of the more interesting – and revealing – questions asked of the candidates was about regrets, specifically, “what past mistake challenges your current candidacy?”

Rider, 40, has never sought public office. Strong, 63, ran for the senate last year. Ryan, 37, ran for congress last year and was the first to respond.

Ryan spoke to anonymous accusations about the way he operated the computer business he and two others founded after he left the army, something about spying on liberals.  “The charges weren’t true,” he said. “I didn’t respond well. I went into defensive mode. I learned that I need to stand up and be transparent in situations like that.”

Rider stirred the audience when he admitted to being charged with DWI “back in ’06.” He blew an .08, he said, “after a few beers.” The charges were dropped, he said. The lesson: he “doesn’t drink in public.”

Strong, who tends to over-think, offered the audience a torturous tale of attempting to set up a business taxing district in Kingston to promote economic development but in failing learned much about communication and interaction.

Democrats will nominate a candidate for a special election – if there is one – at convention at the Best Western Plus in Kingston on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. Republicans, it appears, will still be beating the bushes for some somebody – anybody! – to run or they might just be waiting to see who Democrats put up before getting on with the November elections.

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