The roaring twenties

The roaring twenties

So, here we are at the advent of a new year, not just a new year, but a new decade, the roaring twenties, lots of new people with different ideas on how to deal with, let’s face it, old problems.

But first, a look back. Last year, in terms of local politics, can be summed up in a word, or two: Pat Ryan. The former soldier who would be congressman, just missed that brass ring in 2018, only to be handed another prominent office when Mike Hein surprised almost everyone by resigning for a state job in mid-winter. Hein had barely reached Saugerties on the Thruway when Ryan declared for the Democratic nomination. There would be no serious challengers.

Elected with almost 70 percent of the vote over hapless Jack Ryan – who reprised his role as punching bag in November – Ryan embarks on a full, four-year term on Jan. 1.

His five top priorities have been well-documented and endlessly publicized since the April special election. What began as slogans and campaign fodder has been with the unanimous approval of Ryan’s 2020 bloated county budget (up some $12 million from Hein’s last budget) liberally larded with a phalanx of rather well-paid staff in critical areas. The executive wing has more staff officers than did Eisenhower. 

It’s all been rather breathless, and exciting. Now, Ryan has to produce substance.

A look at some other areas:

County legislature – As this is written, the 12-11 Democratic majority county legislature elected in November should be in the final stages of horse-trading for the prominent post of chairperson. Tracey Bartels, a non-enrolled veteran from Gardiner (Ryan’s domicile), currently presides, but uneasy lies the crown. Anything can happen when 23 self-interested politicians get to brewing.

On paper, Democrats should control, if they remain united. Eleven Republicans will march in step, so all they need to elect their chairman is just one defector.

Why does this matter, some might ask? For one thing, the legislature is again seeking to define itself in what is now the 11th year of the executive form of government. It would not be unfair to speculate that there are (or have been) a lot of slow learners in the legislature.

There will be six new legislators and two returnees taking office on Jan. 1 to whom Ryan is something of an unknown quality, massive self-promotion notwithstanding.  How this “co-equal” branch of government interacts with the executive will in large measure determine its course in the coming year.

County comptroller – The wide-eyed days of discovery for the comptroller, the naive notion that this independently- elected office would be “the watchdog,” are over. Elliott Auerbach, the first comptroller, did his level best, but alienated the executive and the legislature, leaving him with no allies. Auerbach wisely followed Hein to Albany, though in separate cars and to separate jobs.

Which brings us to March (don’t call me Marge!) Gallagher. Handsomely elected in November, this lawyer/executive may be over-qualified, but is notably progressive. By that, I mean you can exchange ideas with her.

Whether watchdog Gallagher comes on as ferocious or friendly – please, no lapdogs – remains to be seen. For sure, she will have far more influence than the virtually invisible caretaker Adele Reiter who filled in as interim comptroller after Auerbach departed.

County judge – Democrat Brian Rounds, through some brilliant maneuvering, was able to secure a free ride for the county’s highest judicial office. But true to his surname, Rounds made the rounds and in doing so interacted with thousands of residents. The new judge will preside over a much different landscape as new rules of criminal justice kick in this week. Rounds will not only be the first Democrat elected county judge since before the Civil War, but more importantly, the first to come from the ranks of defense lawyers. I think he’ll do just fine.

District attorney – I save the toughest job for last. Owing to a hairbreadth race that has yet to be officially decided, the new district attorney will not take office on Jan. 1 with everyone else. The board of elections, which probably should have started the mandated recount of some 55,000 votes much sooner, is predicting it could take another week or two. Legal action could follow.  

In the meantime, trailing Republican (by some 75 votes) Mike Kavanagh, as first assistant and chief administrator, will preside until the smoke clears. At least he’s getting paid. Leading Democrat Dave Clegg can only pray and pore over resumes from middle-aged lawyers seeking pension plans.

State legislature -There will be plenty of time to mull races for state senate and assembly and attention spans are limited these days. Let’s savor that for next time.

Congress: If the election were held this month, Democrat Antonio Delgado might be less a lock after voting for impeachment in a district Trump carried in 2016. Again, voter memories are short, as is the time necessary for a credible opponent to mount a viable challenge.

Watch your step –An item in the Freeman last week detailed two jaywalkers being hit by a truck in Saugerties village. Relatively unharmed, both were given appearance tickets by cops. Talk about adding insult to injury.

As is often the case, Saugerties police got tough on jay-walking only after a pedestrian was killed a few years ago.

But there’s another connection. Remember former Tonight Show Jay Leno’s popular feature “Jay Walking?” Leno’s successor, Jimmy Fallon, grew up in Saugerties. Memo to Fallon: Next time you step off the curb in your old hometown, make sure it’s in the crosswalk.  Hey, hey, hey hey.