Had enough of charming exchanges between County Executive Mike Hein and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill? Hold on. Wouldn’t it sell some newspapers if this very odd couple could face off in a Democratic primary later this year?
Hein and Cahill didn’t much like each other even before the Hein-described “Cahill sales tax crisis” blew up last June. Eight months of dueling press releases — each, in Cahill’s words, more vitriolic than the last — can lead to only one resolution: Cahill and Hein (or a stand-in) must meet in mortal political combat.
Hein has an advantage in that he’s not up for election until next year. Cahill must defend his seat this November.
A Cahill-Hein Democratic primary for state Assembly, either in June or September (the legislature has yet to decide), would draw the biggest crowds since Joaquin Phoenix took on Russell Crowe in the Gladiator movie.
But would Hein risk his political career just for spite? Losing to Cahill in a Democratic primary would place his Democratic nomination in jeopardy in 2015, especially if Cahill goes for a two-for.
Hein likes to operate behind surrogates. When things get sticky, somebody in his administration is designated to explain, attack, or, in rare instances, defend. Should the issue be of a completely favorable nature, only then does Hein come to the fore.
Hein hasn’t faced the electorate since 2008, winning an uncontested race in 2011. He doesn’t suffer criticism all that well. In a Democratic primary, Cahill would be in the executive’s face like a nasty case of halitosis.
And while many Democrats rallied behind Hein during the sales-tax controversy, many mainstreamers consider Hein a rather lukewarm “proud Democrat” (his phrase). Recall that Hein entered public service in 2003 as a Republican deputy treasurer under former Democratic treasurer Lew Kirschner. When the county legislature fell to the Democrats in 2005, Hein switched parties. The legislature appointed him county administrator the following year. A year later he declared for county executive under the new charter.
It’s my view that Hein has campaigned as a Democrat while governing as a Republican. In terms of political purity, old-school Cahill would be very much the favorite son. So I believe that a Hein-Cahill primary is highly unlikely. But that does not rule out anti-Cahill surrogates.
The usual primary suspects won’t be hard to find. Here are five, in no particular order:
New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet. No friend of Cahill’s, Zimet briefly expressed interest in running for county executive in 2011. Many Paltzians (and others) might punch her ticket to Kingston.
Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo. Another Democrat who hasn’t worn very well, Gallo is a staunch ally of the county executive (sometimes called “mini-Mike”). The combative mayor might be willing to take one for the team. Like Hein, he’s not up for election until next year.
Chris Allen of Saugerties. This freshman county legislator nominated himself for legislature chairman 10 minutes after he was sworn in. Did he aim too low?
Jeanette Provenzano of Kingston. Since the county legislature’s senior Democrat isn’t going anywhere in that body, why not? Provenzano ran for Assembly in 1996 against John Guerin, so she and Cahill at least have losing to Guerin in common.
Hector Rodriguez of New Paltz. After being lured into an unsuccessful run for legislature chairman, Rodriguez, with time on his hands, might just give a race against Cahill a try. For sure, he’d have the full force of the executive behind him. Which, come to think of it, didn’t mean squat when he ran for chairman last month.
Cahill, in the meantime, has been shoring up his Democratic bonafides. Muscling an agreement to tie Safety Net to sales tax resonated with loyalists. If the nine-term assemblyman needs state grants sprinkled in all the old familiar places, friends in the Assembly will be happy to supply the wherewithal.
“The record speaks for itself,” said Hein speaking to his version of events in a press release. “Kevin Cahill owes the people of Kingston, as well as all the people of Ulster County, an enormous apology for his disgraceful behavior, but unfortunately his ego and shameful history virtually ensures that he will not deliver.”