County Judge Don Williams probably made up his mind not to run for re-election in November at least a month ago, but the devil in him, so well-concealed beneath those black robes, just had to give Democrats angina for just a little while longer.
For the 66-year-old jurist and former district attorney, Thursday (Valentine’s Day) and Friday were perhaps the most wrenching in a 40-year career. On Thursday Williams, “Maximum Don” to lawyers who practice in his court, showed rare true compassion. In one of the more curious, but topical cases to come before Williams during his nine-plus years on the bench, a Saugerties father stood before him for sentencing after attempting to help his gun-happy teenage son avoid punishment. Williams heard what he believed to be a sincere, contrite plea for mercy from the father and instead of sentencing him to up to five years in state prison, ordered six months in the county jail. A thankful family hugged the judge; tears flowed like Manischewitz.
Cynical me thought, ah hah! He’s running after all; trying to soften that tough, law and order, hardass image Democrats have been attacking since last year’s elections. They’re into “restorative justice,” whatever that means. A day later, Williams, a Republican, announced he would not run in November.
As such, Williams went out a winner, undefeated, unbowed. Had he not pulled the plug, he would have faced a grueling campaign against long odds. With Williams and Republican DA Holley Carnright exiting stage right, first assistant Mike Kavanagh, the younger, now represents the GOP’s last hope to elect somebody – anybody! –on the county level in November.
Leaving the top spots empty of candidates carries serious consequences for Republicans, for as the top goes, so goes the rest of the ticket. There are local races in every town and in the city. Twenty-three legislative seats are on the ballot, with Democrats holding a tenuous 12-11 majority. County executive will be decided in a Democratic primary, if there is one.
So, as we approach the way too early nominating conventions next week, it would seem the stage has been set. War will be waged for district attorney, the county’s chief law enforcement officer. Kavanagh announced late Saturday. There rest of the ticket and voters can take off the election.
Special election, what?
The county legislature in its newly-realized spirit of independence and influence under chairwoman Tracey Bartels, has the chance of a generation to prove it’s not all just rubber stamps for the executive.
I’m talking about the rapidly ticking timeclock for a special election this spring for county executive. Gov. Cuomo, who some assumed would automatically call an election, probably in mid- to late April, kicked that can south, claiming it was the legislature’s job.
Knee-jerk subservient and with nobody in the executive wing to tell them what to do, the legislature hid behind a county charter which curiously, is silent on the subject of special elections for executive. Credit, or blame political science guru Professor Gerry Benjamin, the brains behind the 2006 charter, for that glaring lapse.
But then, vacuums sometimes present opportunity. On Tuesday night, the legislature at its first official meeting of the new year and only 48 hours removed from the Democratic nominating convention, could and should, on its own, set a date for a special election. They have the power.
I really don’t want to make a living over the troubles troubled legislator Hector Rodriguez is having regarding his alleged relationships with women. However, there is news on that front and that’s my job. Freshman legislator Heidi Haynes of Marbletown, a Republican, has called on the county board of ethics to immediately investigate allegations against Rodriguez. Executive office candidate Pat Ryan says, me, too. “We need to settle this matter as soon as possible. It is very, very troubling,” he said after a campaign meeting with senior staff at the Dietz Stadium Diner on Saturday.
I attempted to contact the ethics board for comment, to no avail.