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EDITORIAL: Bricks, mortar and voter ire


YOU DON’T HAVE TO vote this November. Sure, the ballot offers a chance to choose among candidates for local offices, and it frequently happens that races hinge on one or two votes. But this year it seems like just the thought that you’ll vote has generated the seeds of change.

What else could explain the sudden about face of the county Board of Supervisors. Only a few months ago, the supervisors voted decisively to purchase the old Ockawamick School building in Claverack and then to move the headquarters of the county Department of Social Services to that site. Almost the only supervisors voting against the plan represent the City of Hudson, where the department is currently headquartered. Never mind the protesters and the outcry from city officials, this was a done deal.

Election Day lay more than half a year away back then, and supervisors didn’t see a political liability in voting for a plan that promised to save the county money, with only poor people getting hurt. Some folks chuckled that maybe it would do the people receiving assistance from the social services department some good if they couldn’t make it out to Claverack to collect their benefits.

Maybe the chucklers forgot that some of the people eligible for benefits once made buttons until the button factory closed, made furniture until the furniture factory closed, made humidifiers until the humidifier factory closed. Maybe they didn’t notice that unemployment in the county has hit a high not seen in these parts for a quarter century or more. Maybe they have a job to offer the people they chuckle about.

But lots of voters have noticed these dismal signs, and so have candidates for county office. A theme is emerging for the fall campaigns, as supervisor hopefuls across the political spectrum have latched on to public dissatisfaction with the plan to move the Department of Social Services (DSS) out of Hudson.

That became clear last week when Claverack Supervisor and former Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Keegan, a Republican, said he no longer supported moving the DSS out of Hudson. That amounted to a bombshell, because disagreements in the GOP seldom get aired in public and because Mr. Keegan, not somebody who goes around rocking boats, would seem to gain little from criticizing the current chairman, fellow Republican Art Baer (Hillsdale). Yet here he was contradicting the current chairman by reporting that DSS officials have told him they don’t think the move makes sense.

Mr. Keegan says that many of his constituents have told him they don’t like the DSS plan, something he voted for. In previous years his personal popularity and long record of service might have made the outcome of the town election a foregone conclusion. But he faces a challenge this year from Robin Andrews, a member of the Philmont Village Board, and just as few would have predicted a public split between Mr. Keegan and Mr. Baer, handicapping the outcome of local races has become a lot trickier.

The situation cuts across party lines. Kinderhook Supervisor Doug McGivney is a Democrat, and as minority leader of the county Board of Supervisors, he would likely become the chairman if the Democrats take control of the board in November. The party now holds a slim lead over the GOP in registration, so that goal is technically within reach. But Mr. McGivney faces a challenge from Republican Pat Grattan, a former mayor of Valatie, who has faulted Mr. McGivney for his support of the DSS move.

Now, all of a sudden, Mr. McGivney produces a plan that could yield welcome results: He has convinced his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to explore having the state Dormitory Authority review all the county’s current space needs and recommend the best way to solve them. Imagine that—looking at the whole picture instead of the parts.

It’s such a good idea that its fate shouldn’t depend on the answer from the Dormitory Authority. If that agency can’t do the job, the county should find another entity that can. Until then the county should put its optional plans, including the DSS move, on hold until the evaluation is complete. It makes you wonder, if this much change is possible before the election, what would happen if more people actually did go out and vote.

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