Friday, November 4, 2011

TPW endorses: Ulster Countywide races

There are only two countywide races, and only one is contested.  Nevertheless, I've thought long and hard about who to vote for.

County Executive

Mike Hein is running for his first full term (the transition to the charter form of government gave him three years to start), and he has no opponents.  Considering the amount of money he's spending on billboards, though, I have to ask a simple question:
What office is Mike Hein running for?
If you feel the need to throw up a few lawn signs just to let people know there's an election, fine.  It seems paranoid to me, but I'm not a politician, so what do I know?

But Hein is spending money on this unopposed race, which tells me that he has set his eyes on an office that he is not running for.  Hinchey's Congressional seat, perhaps?

I take a dim view of people leaving an office they were elected to in order to do something else.  It doesn't matter if that something else is political or not, and it doesn't matter if you are leaving a day early or several years in advance.  I think it is a fundamental violation of the trust placed in you by the voters.

Obviously it doesn't matter who votes for Hein, but I want to be very clear that if he even sneezes at a higher office I will forevermore consider him just another scumbag politician.  I hope not, because I find him to be approachable and engaging.  Time will tell.

District Attorney

This has been a difficult decision for me.  It's a simple job:  prosecute crime.  Seems like the simply defined jobs are the toughest ones to evaluate candidates for.

I've gotten a lot of pressure to support each candidate in this race.  The political pressure I expected, and a good amount of emotional blackmail from supporters in one camp.  That's made me hesitate all the more, because if I feel manipulated I need to take a step back and make a decision for the right reasons.

So what factors are there to consider?  Both Sennett and Carnright have long track records as attorneys.  Each has worked extensively both prosecuting and defending the accused.  That's pretty much the minimum I would expect for anyone running for the DA position.

Carnright is proud of his conviction rate, but it's not a figure that impresses me.  The bulk of criminal defendants can't afford a private attorney, and public defenders often only look at case files when they're in the courtroom.  Even when the defendant is represented, a plea bargain counts towards the conviction rate.  A high conviction rate is to be expected in our present system.

The incumbent is big on "going after" gangs, and I appreciate aggressive prosecution of violent offenders.  His challenger says he wants to focus on crimes against youth and the elderly, which is another way to say the same thing:  I will be tough on crime.  Again, I expect nothing less.  To be fair, the police are the ones who "go after" the bad guys; the DA's critical job is to make sure that they go to jail, hence the loudly-touted conviction rate.

While the current officeholder talks about himself, so does his opponent.  Lots of attacks have come out about Carnright's being soft on public corruption and unable to distance himself when he needs to.  Should he have recused himself in the Tim Matthews case?  I think so.  Was it wrong for him to keep money in an "off books" account when the law specifically lets him?  I don't think so.  Do constant attacks say more about the attacker anyway?  I tend to believe that.

When a candidate is nothing but an empty suit, someone whose main claim to fame is "I'm not the other guy," it's always tough for me to support him.  I never voted for Rick Lazio, and it was only my intense hatred of George W. Bush that got me to hold my nose and vote for John Kerry.  This challenger has been aggressive enough that it's commented on by pundits, but I won't say that he is without substance.  The posturing makes me think he doesn't choose his campaign staff with the greatest of care, though, because he ran a better campaign when he talked entirely about his vision for the office.

Neither man would tell me that he would be willing to use his discretion as a DA to avoid prosecuting crimes that are immoral in his eyes.  If either had I would have wanted to know more about those morals, but frankly I wish I could vote for someone with that sort of character.  We've had many DAs prosecute because they found an action personally offensive, like marrying same-sex couples, so it would be nice to see the opposite for a change.

I've seen accusations that our fedora-wearing candidate was in The Bronx DA's office, he "went after" cops.  This really goes to the heart of the matter.  Do we want a DA who won't prosecute police?  I sure don't.  I think police protection is a delicate balance, because you want violent and dangerous people off the streets, but you still want to preserve freedom for the rest of us.  Cops are not a protected class, nor are they a convenient target.

Those accusations don't trouble me, but they do speak to the commitment against public corruption on all levels.  Either man will do a good job prosecuting violent criminals, swindlers and bad people of all stripes . . . except for those in government.  I have come to be convinced that the incumbent does soften the blow against police, public officials, and corruption from within, so I think we should give someone else a try.  I am supporting the challenger in this race for this reason.  I have come to like and respect both men, and I have been treated poorly by some of my so-called friends for struggling with this decision, which nearly caused me to change my mind.  I do not think either one is evil, and I am glad I don't have to do that job myself.  I've spent far more time thinking about this race than I should have, and I simply hope that my decision doesn't disappoint me as sorely as a vote I cast back in the spring has.


Martin McPhillips said...

Who are you endorsing for school board president, Terence?

Terence said...

In general I think it's best to spend a year as vice president first, and I believe there are more than one trustee with that qualification right now. I don't recall who they are, however.