Here and there

Like most people, I haven’t attended all (19) 9/11 memorial services, but recent events in Afghanistan made the 20th special.  Attendance had dwindled through time, but there was a crowd similar to the first few years at Kingston Firemen’s Memorial Park on Saturday.  

There were three speeches, the most memorable from county executive Pat Ryan. Ryan talked about “millions of Americans” answering the call after 9/11. A third classman (sophomore) at the military academy at West Point on 9/11, he was one of them. More to the occasion, Ryan, as an army officer, served tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. He lost men in combat. The man had skin in the game.

While we chatted amiably after his speech, I didn’t ask Ryan for comment on recent events in Afghanistan. However, if almost four out of five people polled deplored how the evacuation was handled, one can only imagine how retired military felt.

Mayor Steven Noble, dressed all in black (I thought I’d stumbled into a Johnny Cash concert), was respectful and on point, but I had the impression he’d delivered his speech a few other times during six years in office.

Kingston Fire chief Mark Brown, at what is always an emotional event for first responders, barely held it together. “Brownie,” as he was called coming up the ladder, will retire this year after 34 years with the paid department. He served a few years as a volunteer firefighter before joining the professional force.

Ever true to his department, Brown went out with his hand out. Next month the common council will vote on the chief’s request for a $500,000 bond issue to purchase a new fire truck.

We thank the chief for his service and wish him a long, healthy retirement.

COUNTING NOSES – The Freeman had the 9/11 crowd at 75. I estimated twice that. Let’s call it 125. Many parents and grandparents brought young children.

As to crowd estimates, allow me to share a professional secret. Crowd counts, which I feel necessary to any story, are something of an educated guess among reporters. Typically, reporters will confer after a meeting with one saying 50 and the other 30. They’ll both report 40. Collusion? Maybe, but close enough for government work.

That said, kudos to Freeman reporter Diane Pineiro-Zucker, an old colleague. She not only took excellent photos of the event, but brought back the story (I was there) the way it actually happened, something all too lacking in journalism these days.

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POWER COUPLES – I don’t get into the private lives of public officials, but when they’re both public officials, well. Think Billlary.

State senator Michelle Hinchey of Saugerties and county legislature majority leader Jonathan Heppner of Woodstock, two rising-star Democrats, have been a couple for a while now. Heppner was employed by the senate for years before he met Hinchey, elected to her first term just last year. Is Hinchey as senator now Heppner’s boss? “Not so,” says the future chairman of the legislature.” I don’t work for the senate, I work in the senate majority leader’s office.” Oh.

Democratic elections commissioner Ashley Dittus and assistant deputy executive Dan Torres have been an item since last year, there being nothing so exciting as a pandemic romance.  A year ago, they were being hailed on the web as Ulster’s “power couple.” In fact, other than in elections, the board of elections, a patronage pit for both parties, has limited power, which Dittus shares with her Republican counterpart, commissioner John Quigley.

As with all things in county government, department budgets, like the BOE, are subject to executive office perusal, approval and the occasional punitive whim.  Putting a positive spin on this, one might say the commissioner has a friend at court, one with ready access to the executive on most things.

Hinchey, whose legal address is her late father’s home in Saugerties, has been spending a good deal of her spare time in Woodstock these days. Just as a reminder, Saugerties’ “home town senator” had a large sign erected on the right outfield fence at Cantine Field, the town’s wonderful sports complex, reading “Michelle Hinchey New York State Senate.” Given her uber-progressive politics, I thought she would have placed it down the left field line.

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AND FINALLY – On a bright sunny morning when others were observing 9/11 ceremonies, the Cahill family bid farewell to their matriarch, Maryalice Cahill, age 93.

Maryalice was one of those people who went by their first name – everybody knew her – passed last week after a short illness. She had ten children (including a set of twins), nine of whom survive her.

It’s hard for younger people to believe, but Maryalice came to age during a period of Republican dominance in the county and city, not so much the latter. As with Republicans these days, it was a struggle to recruit Democratic candidates, much less elect one. Twice in the 60s and 70s, Republicans elected 28 of 33 county legislators with only Kingston and Rosendale sending Dems to the legislature.  

She held several positions at city hall, the last being secretary to former Mayor T.R. Gallo during his nine years in office. Maryalice wrote most if not all of Gallo’s annual state of the city Mayor’s Message. He delivered them well.

She was fiercely loyal to her diverse brood in good times and bad.

One of my favorite stories about Maryalice, who, despite my frequent jibes at Gallo, tolerated me, had to do with the Cahill name.

It seems a Republican named Richard (Dick) Cahill, running for alderman, was posting lawn signs that read “Vote for Cahill for Alderman.” At the time, her middle son, Kevin Cahill, was (and still is) in the state assembly. An indigent Maryalice wrote a letter to the editor criticizing Republican Cahill for using the family name. Now, that’s a loyal Democrat!

A political savant, Maryalice worried that loyal Democrats would vote for “Cahill” thinking it was her son. After several failed attempts, “the other Cahill” won a term in the council.

Maryalice was proud of all her children, but perhaps in a special way, given her political avocation, of sons Kevin and Brian, the latter a county legislator from the town of Ulster.

Kevin Cahill delivered a moving eulogy to his mother before about 150 mourners at St. Mary’s Church in Kingston. A talented wordsmith in his own right, however wordy, Cahill said his only regret was that Maryalice couldn’t be there to edit his remarks. “It would have been a lot shorter,” he said.

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