It will be a blue Christmas for one of Ulster’s district attorney candidates, but no less stressful for the other.
In the next few days, Republican Mike Kavanagh must decide to appeal a state supreme court judge’s official vote count which gave a four-year term to Democrat Dave Clegg. It will be tempting, what with Clegg leading by only 77 votes out of more than 52,000 cast in the election. It will also be expensive, perhaps thousands of dollars in legal fees the candidate and his campaign team would have to bear, but more important to Kavanagh, time-consuming.
As this piece hits my vast audience at 6 a.m. Monday morning, there are only eight days left before the term of the next district attorney begins on Jan. 1. Could a three-member appeals court produce a definitive decision on the validity of some 280 affidavits (from whence the 77-vote margin of victory was gleaned) before that deadline? And if not, what happens? Does incumbent district attorney Holley Carnright delay his departure by a week, or more? The wheels of justice sometimes grind slowly, but they must grind. Crime and mayhem await no one.
I can’t read Kavanagh’s mind (Clegg’s either) but I do know of his deep respect for the office he has served as chief assistant prosecutor for the past eight years. His choice between rolling the dice at the bar or standing down so that the work of the office can continue in an orderly manner is probably the most difficult he has faced in a 25-year career. Kavanagh’s decision-making is further complicated by two school-age daughters. Some thought Republican Bill Grady of Dutchess, recently reelected to his umpteenth term, could use a seasoned prosecutor like Kavanagh and it would be an easy commute from their Saugerties home. But Dutchess has a residency requirement and the Kavanaghs are not keen on taking their kids out of school.
Clegg’s challenge is of an entirely different sort. With limited experience as a prosecutor or an executive – Clegg served as a public defender and was a single practioner for most of his career – the apparent winner has to hit the ground running on Jan. 1. That means organizing a staff of some 20 lawyers, most of which he barely knows and some of whom may not leap at the chance to serve under a Democratic DA with progressive ideas.
Awaiting Kavanagh’s decision to appeal, Clegg isn’t hiring any brass bands.
Kavanagh, who had never run for public office before, has called this whole experience “like a roller coaster.” Clegg was leading by 41 votes on election night, then it was Kavanagh by three, then it switched back to Clegg. Will 77 be the last word?
We’ll know very soon.
NOTES – The salary spread between district attorney ($180,000) and his chief assistant ($104,000) may be the widest in county government between top and second bananas, not counting the health department where psychiatrists make more than most journalists. The county executive makes $133,000, for instance, his next-tier deputies come in at around $115,000.
“That’s not much,” I said to Kavanaugh when he told me his salary. “Sounds pretty good now,” he said.
Hindsight being 20-20 among pundits, some are wondering if judge Don Williams had run for a second term whether his coattails could have carried Kavanagh. Put another way, was Don Williams worth 78 votes to the Republican ticket? Williams wanted to finish his career on the bench, but at 67 could only serve three years (if reelected) before the mandatory three score-ten retirement age. The GOP, fearing a law and order jurist couldn’t win, prevailed on Williams to step down. And so, they left Kavanagh the only candidate they thought they had a chance of electing without cover.
The Freeman revealed in one of its numerous K-C stories that Clegg, if elected, would be the first Democrat to hold that office since 1857. Along with other hip local history buffs, I consulted Wikipedia to find that one David DeWitt, Democrat of Kingston, served two terms from 1863 to 1870. Twenty-six at the time of his first election, DeWitt went on to serve as assemblyman, congressman and county surrogate. He died at 75 in 1912, another big year for local Democrats.
And finally, some holiday cheer. Under the heading of silver linings, Kavanaugh’s daughter Regan, 11, a budding artist, won the prestigious Kristy Bishop Art School’s most popular painter in her age group at the school’s annual exposition at Lox and Bagels in Saugerties last weekend.