Brenda Prevails

Note: The following updates  expand and correct Thursday night’s post. The final vote was 12-9, not 13-10 as I had reported and Hector Rodriguez of New Paltz did not for Brenda Maloney. My apologies.

With two Democrats breaking ranks and joining a solid Republican minority, Republican Brenda Maloney was appointed to fill her late husband Jim Maloney’s seat in the county legislature, by the barest of margins. Democrats Joe Maloney of Saugerties and Laura Petit of Esopus voted with ten Republicans to provide the winning margin. A minimum of 12 votes is needed to carry any resolution.

Following weeks of intrigue, plots and counter-plots, legislators met in special session Thursday night and appointed Maloney by a 12-9 vote to serve out her late husband’s term, which ends Dec. 31.

In a surprise move, the man majority Democrats had been lined up to appoint, former legislator Brian Cahill, a candidate for the office in November, withdrew his name from consideration. Cahill did not attend the special session, nor did his Republican opponent, Andi Turco Levin. In a break with legislative protocol, Cahill’s withdrawal announcement was read to the legislature by majority leader Jonathan Heppner of Woodstock during the public comment period preceding the legislative session. By rule,  legislators do not speak (or respond to speakers) during public comment.

It was a most unusual night, the first time in 16 years that the legislature voted on a vacancy caused by the death of a legislator (Dan Alfonso of Highland, succeeded by his wife Elizabeth). Cahill’s declaration that he never “intentionally” attempted to thwart Maloney’s “grieving wife” from replacing her late husband can best be seen as damage control. Cahill was in it to win it and when he couldn’t muster the votes, he bailed.  

Cahill’s last-minute decision apparently caught most of the 10 speakers, most of whom spoke glowingly of Brenda Mahoney and the late legislator, off guard.

“He just didn’t have the (Democratic) votes,” county Republican chairman Roger Rascoe said, trying not to gloat after the votes were in. He called Democratic machinations “despicable,” the word minority leader Ken Ronk of Wallkill used last week to describe the jockeying for votes leading to the special session. At session Rascoe called the appointment of Brenda Maloney “the decent thing, the caring thing, the good thing,” sentiments echoed by legislators and speakers. Nine Democrats thought otherwise. With the vote decided, the “decent thing” to have done would have been to make the election unanimous. But nobody made that motion. So, the record will show that nine Democrats voted against seating Jim Maloney’s widow when they didn’t have to. For shame.

In a curious twist, Saugerties legislator Joe Maloney nominated Laura Hartman for the vacancy, the candidate Mahoney narrowly defeated in his last election in 2017. That went down 3-18, with Hector Rodriguez of New Paltz joining Maloney and Petit. Hartman, who is running for town board in the town of Ulster this year, stepped aside so Cahill could run for legislature.

Ronk, who ram-rodded Maloney’s appointment, called her the most qualified for the position since she attended almost every meeting with her late husband and was his closest confidante. 

Former majority leader Mary Beth Maio of Highland said qualifications didn’t matter to her. “I’m voting for Brenda out of respect for Jim Maloney. She doesn’t have a husband to go home to tonight,” she said, glancing toward a tearful Maloney sitting in the gallery.

Dave Donaldson was counted as present on Skype at the beginning of the special meeting, but disappeared off the screen before the vote was taken. His vote would not have made a difference, though the presence of the bloviatious legislator might have extended the session.

With Maloney’s appointment, Democrats still hold what appears to be a tenuous 12-11 majority, as witnessed by the bungling of the Maloney appointment.