At issue is which warring faction of a Brooklyn-based Hasidic sect called Satmar will operate four Jewish summer camps in Wawarsing this year. With some 3,800 children and Talmudic scholars (more than half the student population of the Kingston school district) and their parents involved, time is running out. Several closed-door meetings with Hein and representatives from both sides have been held at the county office building, the latest on Monday.
At least three Brooklyn politicians have traveled to Kingstonto meet with the executive, including assemblymen Vito Lopez and Joe Lentol and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, the latter locked in a tough primary in her new district, which includes mainly Hasidic Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, a former mayor of Ellenville, knows well the players, and the stakes. “These camps are the engine that drives the summer economy in Wawarsing,” he told me.
Hein’s decision, through the county health department, is to grant an operating permit to one or the other parties. The factions have already faced off in state Supreme Court in Kingston, where Judge Jim Gilpatric advised them to settle their differences. Assemblyman Lentol, who sides with the current operating faction, suggests issuing a permit and negotiating a settlement while the camps operate. “These people signed up in January. They have a lot invested in this summer,” he said from his Albany office.
Efforts at compromise have so far failed.
Hein, attempting to play Solomon through this heated confrontation, has been unavailable for comment. He is surely appreciates what a lost summer for these camps could mean to southern Ulster’s struggling economy.
New York Post reporters, who broke the story on Sunday, said Hein didn’t return “repeated” calls for comment. Maybe because they called him “Mark Hein?”
The exec issued quite a rosy report on his 2011 budget last week, showing spending under control and revenue rising. So fiscally efficient is the Hein administration, says the Hein administration, that some $12 million will be returned to surplus this year.
Across the river, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro — would the Post call him “Mike?” — has a different tale to tell. Starting his first term in January, Molinaro, a former assemblyman and mayor of Tivoli, said he faced a $40 million deficit for his 2013 budget. He says outgoing executive Bill Steinhaus and the legislature spent down the Dutchess fund balance to around $4 million in balancing the county’s $411 million budget last November. The state comptroller recommends a fund balance of 5 percent of the budget.
I found these juxtapositions curious. Steinhaus, over a 20-year career, demonstrated a level of fiscal parsimony to make Scrooge appear a spendthrift. Is his legacy to be that he left the county broke? I don’t think so.
“I think we’re talking apples and oranges, here,” Molinaro told me. “We’re talking about 2013, Mike about 2011.”
Molinaro, the youngest county executive in the state at 37, seems nonplussed at the prospect of a fiscal crisis that would have generated at least half a dozen press conferences inUlster. “I knew what we faced on November 8 [the day after his election]. It’s our job to deal with it,” he said.
The bottom line may well be that the bad news from Dutchess, a more prosperous county thanUlster, may ultimately mean bad news inUlster, glowing déjà vu notwithstanding.
More than a year ago it was discovered that persons unknown were doctoring test scores at Zena Elementary School in Woodstock. Erasures were detected and grades had been changed, some, inexplicably, downward. The Kingston school administration bunkered up, citing “administrative error” — which, of course, was obvious to the average kindergartner. The uproar wasn’t about “errors,” but rather the specter of conspiracy. If kids’ test scores aren’t valid, what’s the point of sending them to school?
The district attorney was asked to investigate, but after more than a year all the DA’s men (and women) and all his horses found nothing criminally indictable. This is not to indict DA Holley Carnright who, by the rule of law, must have credible evidence before presenting a case to the grand jury.
“We’re pretty good at what we do, but it just wasn’t there,” he said.
This did not mean that nobody did anything untoward, he added, only that the systems in place were not sufficient to determine responsibility. “There may be school administrative remedies,” Carnright suggested.
There will be. With a change in administration in Kingston this January, it may be unlikely heads will roll over the Zena testing scandal, but new Superintendent Paul Padalino has promised a continuing review. Padalino obviously appreciates the Zena case can be a learning tool whereby responsibility is defined for the protection of children and parents.
That this may not be an isolated instance, either in Kingston or elsewhere, has to give pause.
Here come the judges
Lawyers, politicians and supporters too humorous to mention showed up for state Supreme Court Appellate Judge Mike Kavanagh’s fundraiser last week at Hillside Manor inKingston. Actually, there were about 170 attendees, which at $150 a pop — top dollar for local fundraisers — netted the judge’s campaign about $20,000.
Featured image: State Appellate Judge Michael Kavanagh greets former Kingston mayor Jim Sottile and wife Mary Beth at Kavanagh’s fundraiser at Hillside Manor last week. (Photo by Hugh Reynolds)