Changing of the guard

Changing of the guard

Ulster County will welcome seven new legislators and one retread come Jan. 1, more than a third of the 23-member body. Returning Democrat Brian Cahill of Ulster served two terms a decade ago before his defeat by Republican Jim Maloney. Malone died in June and was replaced by his wife, Brenda.

It will be a mixed bag of legislators returning to the private sector n New Year’s Day. Rich Gerentine, Republican of Marlboro, was elected 14 times, usually without opposition. Gerentine was chairman during the GOP’s darkest days, when the new jail came in $20 million over bid. Despite that debacle, Gerentine was reelected six more times and left on his own accord.

Five legislators, Republican Brian Waltman of Kingston and Democrats Lynn Eckert of Kingston, Kathy Nolan of Shandaken, Joe Maloney of Saugerties and Julius Collins of Ellenville, served only single two-year terms, barely time enough to smell the roses.

Eckert, Maloney and Collins left voluntarily. Waltman went down fighting in a heavily Democratic district he won by a fluke two years ago. Nolan had numbers on her side, but not voters, apparently.

Also heading for the door will be seven-term censured Democrat Hector Rodriguez of New Paltz. But haven’t we heard enough about him?

Nolan’s narrow defeat at the hands of former legislator John Parete remains a mystery in some quarters, like here. This is no knock on the Boiceville saloon keeper, but on paper, Nolan, the most visible and vocal of legislators, appeared a mortal lock after wiping up the bar with Parete in a Democratic primary in June. But, that’s why they hold elections.  

Collins was a major loss. A community leader of long-standing, Collins was only the second African-American legislator in some 40 years. Faced with a conflict of interest in holding two elected offices (school board and legislature), Collins chose not to seek reelection because he cared much more about serving kids. Reelected to another term as a school trustee in May, the only way Collins could have his name removed from the ballot was to run for another office. He ran for town justice in Shawangunk, polling more than 700 votes. And he doesn’t even live there.

Legislators like to talk about diversity in county government; the county will hire a diversity coordinator in the next year or so. They ought to look to their own house first.

Eckert, a professor at Marist College and a former Kingston alderwoman, had much to offer, but chose family priorities over politics. Hopefully, she’ll be back.

The colorful Maloney wasn’t called Rice Krispies for nothing: it seemed to take more energy to follow him than one got for the effort. That said, Maloney might have had more of an impact if he had been able to enlist at least a few allies for his various crusades.  For sure, he was unafraid to challenge entrenched power, unlike most of his soon-to-be former colleagues. Alas, legislature sessions will be considerably shorter once the combative Sawyer returns to his liquor store in Barclay Heights.

I don’t think any of the five freshmen legislators were around long enough to be missed or to have had much of an impact. Gerentine alone had more time in office than the entire quintet, as did Rodriguez. Still, their elections spoke to the kind of turnover the legislature itself found worthwhile in adopting terms limits this year. The hope is that this rather sudden and unprecedented turn of events does not discourage others from seeking office.

Trivia Test: They’re always looking for useless information at Keegan Ales’ weekly trivia contests in Kingston.

Here’s a tester, courtesy of the county legislative office: What legislator holds the record for longevity?

Ans: Alice Tipp, Republican of Saugerties, still active at 95. Tipp served 30 years in the legislature, from 1976 to 2005. Gerentine is second with 28 years, Jeanette Provenzano of Kingston (1986-2013) third.

Dave Donaldson, Democrat of Kingston, is now the senior legislator with 26 years.