Impeach

Impeach the governor? Been there, done that. Think 1913 and New York Gov. “Plain Bill” Sulzer against Tammany Hall. Could history repeat this year? I doubt it, but less so than just last week.

Former assemblyman Maurice Hinchey, a self-taught authority on state history in general and state government in particular, had clued me in on the life and times of nine-month governor Sulzer, the only chief executive impeached up to that time, and since. Hinchey was one of a handful of state legislators who filed bills to clear Sulzer’s name over the years. A special tribunal convicted the governor of fraud, misuse of campaign funds and perjury (all of which he denied). Removed from office by a near 3-1 vote by the Tammany-controlled assembly, he was reelected to his old East Side assembly seat in 1914, his last public office.

Sulzer (1863-1941), a Democratic lawyer, had a long and distinguished political career – four-term assemblyman (one as speaker) and eight-term congressman – before being elected governor (with the support of former President Teddy Roosevelt) in 1912.   

Sulzer, with the progressive bit in his teeth, turned on Tammany as governor, to swift and fatal consequences. Championing “the common man,” Sulzer launched a public attack on boss rule, which ironically, was the foundation for his political career. Tammany boss “Silent Charlie” Murphy (loved those old names) rallied the troops, including future Democratic icons, Al Smith and Robert Wagner. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sulzer might have been right on the issues, as Hinchey liked to say, but way short on support. Even Roosevelt turned against him.

What this history lesson means to our currently embattled governor in political terms is that allegations of malfeasance, workplace abuse and obstruction of justice aside, he had better cultivate a working majority of winks and nods in the assembly (which, as with Sulzer, would decide his fate) as a first priority.   

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IN PRAISE OF BESSIE MAIN – We missed so much in gladly-forgotten 2020, like the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote. For sure, there were prominent mentions here and there, grainy photos of Suffragettes on the march, but there should have been huge parades, marching bands, fireworks, rifle salutes. Alas, it was 2020.

Of course, we take such a basic freedom for granted, even if we shouldn’t take any right for granted, but it wasn’t always that way.

I had just returned to the Daily Freeman as the newly-anointed “political editor” of the paper. It meant I got paid twice what I’d earned at my own Ulster County Gazette for about a third of the work. Life was good.

One day about two weeks before the 1984 presidential election, a tall elderly woman strode purposely to the city desk, loudly announced herself as “retired school teacher Bessie Main of Main Street” and in no uncertain terms demanded “fair treatment” of her candidate, incumbent Ronald Reagan. Thoroughly cowed, the desk referred her to “the new political editor over there.” I knew that was coming.

We chatted for a bit, even as she seemed to view a man more than half her age with some bemusement. She had gone to “normal school” (teachers’ two-year state colleges) and taught in one-room country schoolhouses all her career. Never married. “I always voted Republican, always, like my father,” she said.

I sensed an opening.

“Let’s see,” I said, “you said you’re 89 so you must have been eligible to vote in your first presidential election in… 1916?”

With just a slight narrowing of the eyes, as if she were addressing an ignorant urchin, she reached across my desk, clutched my hand in her large, withered hands, and said softly, “You don’t seem to understand, dear, we didn’t get the vote until 1920.”

I never saw Bessie Main again even though we lived on the same street in Kingston. An intelligent educated citizen of responsibility, she had been denied what we properly revere as one of our most basic rights. And she never forgot it.

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BY GEORGE – I always considered the late comedian George Carlin more of a philosopher, albeit a brilliant comedian.

I caught one of his takes on politics the other night on YouTube. We shouldn’t demean people who don’t vote, he ranted in that imitable style. They’re the smart ones, for refusing to vote for these idiots. (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much.) It’s the people who vote for them, who put them in office, we should blame.

And what might the alternative be?