Pro & Con

County executive special election candidates Pat Ryan and Jack Hayes will face off for the first and only time in public at a chamber of commerce breakfast in Saugerties on Wednesday.

While the candidates agree in some areas – everybody wants life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, lower taxes and clean underwear – they differ in some significant ways. Call it pro and con. Hayes describes himself as a “moderate conservative,” though he’s closer to the right than the center. Ryan is a progressive moderate, but again more fringe than middle.

Both are playing to their respective bases, the modern way of politics. In days of yore, candidates sought consensus, remember ethnically balanced state tickets? Now it’s left or right. The problem for Hayes, among others, is that Ryan’s base is broad, deep, hot to trot and for Democrats, reasonably united. Hayes, county Conservative chairman, has the Republican endorsement. So did General Custer.

That Hayes came late to the chase in what will be a sprint to the election on April 30 looms as another serious disadvantage. Like a soldier doing an about face, Ryan pivoted neatly from last year’s losing congressional primary candidate to this year’s front-runner for county executive, launching his campaign within hours after Mike Hein announced in January that he would not seek a fourth term. Hayes was lured to battle by Republican operatives after a series of foul-ups that left them with no candidate of their own with less than two months to go for the special election.

Not that it should matter, but the gap in age between these two could be one for the ages. Ryan turned 37 in late March. Hayes hit 76 a few weeks later.

The candidates took shots at each other through surrogates and at a distance. In that sense, it has been a gentleman’s contest, however surreptitious. 

Hayes, for instance, doesn’t directly raise questions about Ryan’s residency, other than to say, “I’ve lived in Gardiner since 1976 and I’ve never seen him around.” No surprise there. Board of election records indicate Ryan moved from New York City to Gardiner in early 2017, in time to run for congress. Ryan’s family roots run a good deal deeper in Ulster County than those of Hayes, for those who care about such things.

Hayes, a retired state trooper sergeant, is a former one-term Gardiner supervisor and a county legislator. It seems he isn’t very good at getting reelected. Ryan, a retired army officer, has never held public office but built a $100 million intel consulting business in the city.

Ryan, something of a fund raising machine, has gathered in excess of $150,000 since launching his campaign last January. Put in perspective, which I like to do, the boodle he’s raised so far in just a few months is way more than the $110,000 a year Mike Hein averaged yearly during his decade in office. Ryan really doesn’t have a good rejoinder for why most of that money comes out of New York City, other than that’s where the money is. (My characterization.) He does swear not to accept donations from people doing business with the county, if elected, something Hein practiced for most of his tenure.

Hayes says he has raised “zero” since announcing but that “support is building.” That was two weeks before the election.

Channeling Huey Lewis and the News (my alter-ego) I offer this gratuitous advice to the game but badly overmatched Hayes:

You don’t have money.

You don’t have fame.

It will take lots of credit cards to drive this train.

In fact, the sprightly septuagenarian has only one chance: the power of love. But thanks anyway for giving us a choice.