Mario and Me

Remember those dumb “what did you do last summer?” papers English teachers used to make us write? All I can say about the summer I took off (beginning July 1) was it went too fast and it looks like nobody much missed me. Oh, well.

Toward the end of August my dentist and long-time pal, Mario Catalano, a former county legislator and Republican county committee chairman, came up with an intriguing idea. “You really need to floss better,” he told me.

It’s hard to respond with a mouth full of dental implements and latex fingers, so I was forced to listen to his next idea.

Specifically, Catalano, who still follows current events like he was GOP chairman (circa 2010), thought it might be interesting for the two of us to do a morning talk show on local WGHQ radio. Made sense. Good friends for almost 40 years, we talk over all manner of subjects during our daily three-mile walks around Kingston, Hillside Acres and rail trails in Woodstock and Hurley. We don’t always agree, but we respect each other’s views.

One thing we don’t disagree on is the dearth of independent public commentary in our community. The Freeman ceased editorial comment several years ago and Woodstock Times folded earlier this year. However, left-leaning, editorials were well-written and topical. What passes for commentary on local radio sounds more about yukking it up between hosts and their occasional callers. The web is the modern village square, unfiltered and often crazy.

I’d done radio periodically over the years, though never as a co-host, but had pretty much sworn off it after leaving Ulster Publishing last year. One more gaff and giggle early morning show about six months ago was one too much.

I can’t say it wasn’t exciting at times, like falling out of a tree. One example. I’m sitting across the table from the hostess in KNY’s broom closet studio on Broadway, when out of the blue she says, “Hugh, do you think there are too many Italians in the Ulster County legislature?” This is live radio! I stared at her for what seemed an eternity (probably about two seconds) before blurting out in annoyance, “I don’t think of people that way.”

Catalano and I walked about 26 miles chewing over the pros and cons of a call-in show on current events.  A persuasive guy, especially with a drill in his hand, the political guru who made the unknown John Guerin assemblyman over Kevin Cahill in 1994, convinced me to give it a try. He’d be Mr. Republican, I’d be the house Democrat (reluctantly enrolled for the first time in 2011 so as to vote in the only elections that count in Kingston, primaries). Collectively, we’d be open to all. We even came up with a purpose statement: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. That’s not an original idea, but it fits us.

Our first show on Aug. 28 went pretty well, we thought. We had Ulster Republican town supervisor Jim Quigley as our first guest and Democratic district attorney Dave Clegg for the last half hour. We intend to treat our guests with respect but to question them closely on subjects of local interest. Veteran pols, they danced a bit, but all in all, the exchanges were topical and informative. It was a good start.  

GHQ being tightly booked means we’ll get on when we can, first on the 28th, a couple of times in October and maybe the morning before election day.

Stay tuned.

What crisis? – Is it possible for the daily newspaper to publish an edition without a press release taken virtually verbatim from executive Pat Ryan on page 1? I think not.

Friday’s edition featured the exec announcing he was committing $670,000 in next year’s budget to combat opioid abuse, which he had previously declared “a public health crisis.”

Reading beyond the headlines, one discovers that the county had budgeted $1.3 million for such programs in the previous two years; the 2019 appropriation was recommended by former exec Mike Hein. I’m not much good at math, but $1.3 million over two years comes to $650,00 a year on average. Which is to say, Ryan is throwing just another $20,000 at this “public health crisis?”

This is not in any way to diminish the opioid crisis, only to question the county’s real commitment to effectively dealing with it.

Dems dishing Dems – It isn’t exactly news when local Democrats fight with each other; they’re such scamps.

This time it’s elections commissioner Ashley Dittus, the party’s defacto spokesperson and rising star.  Dittus, 34, was considered a lock for county chair when Dems convene later this month, but a funny thing happened on the way to her inauguration. Dittus supporters drew up a Nixonian-like enemies list with ugly sobriquets like crush, slam, maim (maim?) next to some names.  Worse, somebody got hold of the list and put it on the web.

Understandably, people are pissed. Too bad. The good a career politician does is often interred with her bones. Dittus has busted her butt for her party, but this enemies list – in writing! –  was just plain stupid.

According to reliable resources, Dittus will withdraw her candidacy perhaps to throw her considerable weight to Woodstock Chairman Jeff Beals. Forgot Beals? He ran in the Democratic primary for congress in 2018.