Working our way back

TAKING CHARGE – Amid cries for the heads of New York’s top public health doctors, city and state, lies the dilemma of how to deal with obvious incompetents. Problem is, the people (or person) that did the hiring, do the firing. And this can have repercussions.

These highest-level executive appointments are recruited, vetted and supervised by their appointees. Their successes accrue to the executive, their failures are, of course, entirely their own.

But to admit, or even recognize the failure of an appointee – short of indictable fraud – is to cast doubt on the judgment of the executive. And that can never be allowed to happen.

So, the choices come down to risking public ire – and one’s reputation- by firing these two incompetents, and hiring an eminence who can set things right, or hunkering down and hoping for the next news cycle. It is already apparent which way this will go.

CONTROL ROOMS LAUNCHED – He’s back! Or is he?

Last week, Gov. Cuomo announced the establishment of so-called “control rooms” around the state with the stated purpose of safely guiding various regions back to normalcy. To the surprise of some, former Ulster County executive Mike Hein, who left 15 months ago for a high-paying job in the Cuomo administration, was named to head our six-county region. The control rooms are actually overlays of long-standing state economic development regions. A ”captain” (as they’re called) from Westchester, at the southern end of the region and by far the largest most populous county, would seem a more logical choice.  But Hein brings experience and absolute loyalty and there it is.

As designed by the governor, a rather unwieldy consortium of county executives and managers will pass information from their constituents to Albany. The governor, who had already dictated the half dozen specific areas to measure progress, will be the last word, as usual. At last count, the Ulster to Westchester “Hudson Valley Region” had met five of seven criteria. Alas, nothing less than a perfect score will leave the area on lockdown.

For just over a decade Hein ruled Ulster from the sixth floor of the county office building in Kingston like some latter-day potentate. Barely heard from since taking that career-capping gravy train to Albany, this appointment affords him perhaps one last dance in the spotlight.

For everyone’s sake, we wish Hein and his committee well – I hate to use the word “powerless,” but there it is, but let us be under no illusions as to what the word “control” really means in this operation. Which is to ask, haven’t we had enough autocratic rule now been disguised as something resembling grassroots democracy?

IN MEMORY OF MR. MOLINARO – The last time I called Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro it was about his finding my wife’s wallet in a shopping cart at Lowe’s in Kingston. He actually called her to deliver the welcome news. We drove over to the Molinari’s house in Red Hook to pick it up the next day.

This was a different story. About five weeks ago, Molinaro’s father, Anthony Jr., 67, was admitted to Westchester Medical Center with coronavirus.

“I couldn’t visit him, of course,” Molinaro told me last week after I offered condolences, “but I called the hospital at least once a day.’

According to Molinaro, his father “seemed healthy, working two jobs, as usual,” before the virus struck.

“I got a call from the hospital on a Friday afternoon (April 17)” he said. “They said he had gone into a coma. I asked if I could speak to him. He didn’t respond, but I think he heard me.”

The man who likes to call himself “the former boy wonder” (mayor of Tivoli at 19, some 25 years ago) said he was grateful for the outpouring of sympathy after his father’s death was announced. He even heard from a former foe, a fellow by the name of Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo, a two-term incumbent Democrat, faced Molinaro, the Republican candidate in one of the nastiest, negative gubernatorial elections in recent memory. Both accused each other for “pay to play” politics, taking money from donors who later wound up with large state or county contracts, none of it provable or followed up by any agency (including media) with the power to do so.

“I was taken aback and humbled by the governor’s paying his respects,” Molinaro said. “I know from my side I may have said some things I that maybe I shouldn’t have said.”

They didn’t talk politics during a 20-minute conversation. “We talked about our fathers. You know that dads are just proud of their sons,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the governor’s call.”

I had to close with one question. “Would you have felt the same way if your father had died in a nursing home rather than Westchester Medical?” I asked him.

“I think it was bad policy,” he said, addressing the subject but not the question. “It wasn’t smart, ok?”

“Let me put it this way,” he said. “When I was a (teenage) volunteer firefighter in Tivoli, we ran into some buildings, into danger. But when the fires were put out, we got together to talk about what we did right and what we did wrong. We didn’t talk about it while the fire was raging.”

Fair enough. But there has to be an independent accounting, which for now the governor is resisting.    

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