Bail or jail, that is the question

Jail house rock – Actually, it’s the state legislature, with the governor’s signature, writing that tune.  With bail reform going into effect Jan. 1, and inmates heading for the parking lot, the new (2007) Ulster County Jail could soon look like its abandoned (1975) predecessor a mile away.

County sheriff Juan Figueroa says he’s not worried, yet, but the times they are a-changing.

Built to a capacity of about 300 inmates (420 with double-bunking) back in the can’t make bail? Hello, jail days, average daily lockup averaged about 250, according to officials. Last week’s count was 167, the sheriff said. It’s been as low as 148. Mostly gone are the once-lucrative $100 a day board-ins; Dutchess and Greene counties are building new jails. That easy revenue used to run well into six figures annually and made former sheriff Paul Van Blarcum seem a fiscal genius. Not only did the three-termer, whom Figueroa defeated in 2017, run a tight budget, he turned over bales of cash to the county every year.

The new sheriff seems less concerned about the fiscal side.  He does not, for instance, anticipate layoffs at the jail, even with far fewer visitors to supervise. “We’ve always operated at about 90 percent of full employment,” he said. “It’s a tough job, pays good with benefits, but hard to find the right people.” Bean-counters at the county executive’s office may be less sanguine come budget time next summer.

Figueroa, like most law enforcement professionals, expresses concern about new laws on incarceration that could put potentially dangerous people back on the street. He says he saw one walk just last month, a woman accused of criminally negligent homicide for selling fentanyl-laced drugs to an unfortunate victim. “There was nothing we could do,” he said.

In the meantime, a new judge and district attorney, both outspoken progressives, will be sitting atop the county criminal justice system. There will be conflict.  

It’s said the sheriff would be well-advised to avoid use of the jail’s front door. He could get run over by those orange jumpsuits.

She’s no tortoise – Michelle Hinchey’s chances for the Democratic nomination for state senate in the lame-duck 46th (Amedore) district took a decisive step forward last week with parts of Albany County hopping on the bandwagon.

Steamrolling north of home-base Ulster County, Hinchey picked up the endorsement of all seven towns in the Albany County portion of the district last week. Combined with Ulster, the largest county in the five-county district, Hinchey is now in hailing distance of the nomination.

While Albany County represents only about 20 percent of voter turnout, establishing a beachhead there goes to the candidate’s breadth and credibility. She’s not just an Ulster County “name” and the young daughter of former assemblyman and congressman Maurice Hinchey. And the field is narrow. Her only declared opposition for the Democratic nomination is Gary Greenberg, a child victim advocate from New Baltimore. With Hinchey’s mounting momentum, Greenberg should be getting the memo around Valentine’s Day to back off and seek office in one of the five assembly districts encompassing the sprawling 46th.

Republicans, apparently still sorting options after three-term senator George Amedore’s surprise retirement announcement, are yet to be heard from. While taking back the senate from surging Democrats is highly unlikely, Republicans need to retain what beachheads they have left. The 46th is one of them.

Which is to say, despite rising Hinchey fever in Democratic ranks, their candidate still faces serious challenges. Elections aren’t won on paper, but in the 46th the numbers are daunting for Democrats. Republicans hold a 35-27 advantage, but with a significant 27 percent of non-enrolled voters in a district Trump carried by four points in 2016.

Hinchey, off to a solid start, can run just so far and fast on daddy’s coattails. Albany district Democratic chairman Jack Flynn spoke to her “experience and dedication” in announcing her nomination last week. Dedication and determination can’t be argued. Experience can. We’ll hear much more of that as the process wears on.

Meanwhile, Tom Keefe, 68, a Saugerties native, an original Maurice Hinchey braintruster and retired Albany city judge, will hold a fundraiser for “the girl I’ve known since she was a baby” at his capital city home on Monday night. Clearly, Michelle Hinchey has feet in both camps and generationally. Did somebody say she could go all the way?