Egg on their faces

Egg on their faces

Make that an omelet.

To absolute public consternation and surprise and no little rage, five Ulster County legislators voted – in effect – for sexual harassment at Tuesday’s night’s regular monthly meeting. Two were women. Detractors cited “process” as their reason for denying the legislature unanimous rejection.     

At issue was the unprecedented formal censure of a county legislator, Democrat Hector Rodriguez of New Paltz, who, following “credible accusations” of inappropriate behavior from at least half a dozen women, announced he would not seek an eighth term in February – but refused to resign. Twice that many women and half as many men condemned the accused legislator during the public comment period that proceeds legislature meetings.

In what seemed surreal to some observers, Rodriguez viewed the proceedings via Skype from an undisclosed location. He participated in every vote, except the 17-5 censure when Skype went dark.

The vote was an embarrassment, but it might have been worse. Republican Kevin Roberts of Wallkill said he had planned to vote no “coming up the stairs” until he heard the direct testimony at public session from some 20 speakers.  He actually apologized to Rodriguez for his vote.

Former chairman Dave Donaldson, after speaking to the workplace abuse he said his mother had endured when he was a child, was clearly conflicted. Calling it one of his most difficult (?) decisions – over a 24-year career, Donaldson, while disparaging such behavior, spoke in praise of Rodriguez, his dedication to public service and his love of the legislature. Apparently, the irony was lost on Donaldson, that Rodriguez had been “credibly accused” of using his position of power to harass and abuse women. I wasn’t sure which way this rambling monologue was going until he finally voted yes. Slumping in his chair, he sat there for a few moments, head in hands. Incredible.

And now, the five guilty parties – In my estimation:  Manna Jo Greene of Rosendale, Joe Maloney of Saugerties, Laura Petit of Esopus, Julius Collins of Ellenville and Rich Gerentine of Marlboro, four Democrats and one Republican. Of the unholy quintet, only Petit faced a serious challenge to reelection. Collins and Maloney will retire after one term, Republican Gerentine after 13. Greene ran unopposed.

There’s a saying among the legal fraternity that if you don’t have substance, argue process. They argued process. In fact, as sitting legislators, the process was almost entirely under their control. And they controlled it.

It was their contention, seemingly worked out in tandem, that the drawn out process leading from rumors of misconduct last December that effectively denied Rodriguez the chairmanship of the legislature, to the first wave of disclosures in February to formal censure, was flawed. This whole thing should have been settled last spring, several said. With straight faces.

Mentioned only once in passing in this room full of politicians was the real motive: politics. Doing the whole thing in the spring, which is to say fairly and expeditiously, could have jeopardized elections of at least five legislators. Fact is, the people who plot these things knew full well who was running and who wasn’t even six months ago.

At least the legislature agreed on some things, that Rodriguez’s behavior was contemptable and that safeguards and systems should be quickly established to prevent such outrages from recurring.

Bottom line for this legislature – which will welcome an almost unprecedented eight new members in January – the Hector Rodriguez affair was a shameful exercise in self-serving politics. I would not go so far as to suggest they all should have their names engraved in bronze in the lobby of the county office building, with that of Rodriguez, but maybe they should.

Footnote: In addition to the human suffering that triggered this censure – so painfully detailed by speaker after speaker on Tuesday – it was revealed that the investigation by an Albany law firm cost the county some $26,000. Should the “guilty party”, as determined by the 17-5 vote of the legislature, bear court courts? Just wondering.

Heere’s Johnny! Again- To the surprise of many, including me, former legislator John Parete of Olive turned the tables on Kathy Nolan of Shandaken who beat him two years ago. Obviously, the old bartender had a few rounds left in the holster, though his 21-vote margin was no shootout. I predict another gunfight in 2021.

In published reports, Nolan blamed public resistance to “change,” like rail trails, affordable housing, environmental protection. I think it was the change she so adamantly opposed for years – development of the Resort at Belleayre – now well into its second century – that changed things for her.

Here’s one to watch for: With the legislature almost evenly divided, it might be the former chairman’s  vote, the Parete so thoroughly screwed by Democrats, that will determine next year’s majority. Dee-licious.