Premature expectations?

More than 100 Democrats gathered in Kingston two weeks ago at what was sold as a party fundraising dinner and gave a rousing reception to guest speaker Letitia James, attorney general for the state of New York. Could a formal announcement for governor be in the near future?

James says she hasn’t decided to run for governor next year. So, what’s she doing in Ulster County on a Thursday night? Ans.: Running for governor.

Anybody who was anybody in state or local Democratic politics was at the James affair, I’m told, including senators Michelle Hinchey and Jim Skoufis and assemblyman Kevin Cahill. County executive Pat Ryan, who had released his proposed 2022 budget only a few hours earlier, lead the cheerleading as toastmaster.

But local Democrats might give pause before committing this soon to James as their favorite in the Democratic primary for governor next June. Fact is, Kathy Hochul will be governor until Dec. 31, 2022 regardless of how elections go, with all the powers vested in a governor. She doesn’t appear to be mean-spirited, vindictive and vengeful like Andrew Cuomo but politics is, after all, a contact sport and James is a clear and present threat.  

For now, Hochul is looking strong. A recent Marist College poll, taken around the first of the month among some 900 subjects, had Hochul at 49 percent with James trailing by a dozen points. A sub-50 rating for the personable woman who replaced the ogre isn’t anything to write home to Buffalo about, but then polls taken eight months before the candidates square off in a primary are little more than a benchmark. James has room to grow, Hochul, not so much.

What the Ulster visit signals is that James, for all her slippery evasions, is taking it to Hochul country (upstate) and it’s not only because she digs the foul fall foliage God gave us this year. James could probably win a primary in New York City alone, home to three out of five registered Democrats. Hochul’s appointment of a left-wing state senator to replace her as lieutenant governor was clearly aimed at securing a slice of that pie.  

Hochul, for her part, needs to begin securing up her base and that means showing up live in places like the Hudson Valley. She may find that James has already been there.

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NOTES – I doubt if anybody in what was a partisan audience asked the attorney general why her office hasn’t moved an investigation of the Monica Goods death on the Thruway last December. It’s not considered good form to ask an invited guest embarrassing questions on such occasions.

The fact that more than 100 people, maybe 150, attended a dinner that almost nobody outside the inner circle knew about reinforces the perception that politics really is an insider’s game. The problem is that those insiders have a great deal to say about who gets nominated and elected to make the laws that affect all of us.

The late Pete Savago, when he was county Republican chairman, had two brusque words for reporters who inquired into his political machinations and neither was “you.”  “Party business” he used to grunt. Somewhere in the hereafter Savago is smiling as Democrats carry on his ignoble tradition.  

Former county executive Mike Hein, looking to “contribute to my community” (in a belated Freeman interview) now that he’s no longer employed by the state, was not in attendance. Maybe nobody told him about the dinner. Things like that happen to unemployed actors. Trust me.

“At least he’s got more time to play golf,” one attendee told me.

This one comes under the heading of paper chase. Executive Ryan announced at his budget presentation that the county will no longer provide hard copies of its annual budgets. This one runs to some 800 pages, plus another 100 for the capital plan. It can be viewed only on line.

To me this is just another example of a self-proclaimed “transparent government” making it more difficult for taxpayers to see where their money is going. Bah.

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WHOOPS – A couple of corrections from recent posts. I wrote that former Democratic county legislator Chris Allen from Saugerties (village) was in a three-way race against incumbent Republican Al Bruno and former legislator Joe Maloney, a Democrat. Allen is on the ballot as an independent, even though he tried to withdraw a month or more ago and threw his support to Maloney. Once bitter political enemies, Maloney and Allen are now known in some Sawyer circles as the “odd couple.”

Cutting to the chase, the operative phrase is “on the ballot.” Allen withdrew beyond the board of elections deadline for removing his name. He’ll be listed as an independent on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The other is simpler. Transposing some county budget numbers, I reported Pat Ryan’s proposed 2022 budget at $551 million. It’s $351 million.  

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