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Plenty to work with: J. Christopher Callaghan vies for state comptroller seat.

Self‑Inflicted Wounds

Hevesi ‘foibles’ are fodder for challenger’s campaign

If Republican J. Christopher Callaghan is successful in his attempt to oust Democrat Alan Hevesi from the office of state comptroller Nov. 7, he may want to send Hevesi a note thanking the incumbent for helping him win.

Callaghan has been unloading a campaign arsenal stocked with what he calls the many “foibles” of the comptroller’s office under Hevesi’s watch. “Fortunately, Mr. Hevesi continues to provide material,” Callaghan said.

The most recent blow to Hevesi came last month with the widely reported “Driving Mrs. Hevesi” scandal, during which the comptroller admitted to spending more than $82,000 in taxpayer money for a state employee to chauffeur his wife.

Prior to the media buzz surrounding the chauffer affair, the comptroller race had received relatively little attention from the press as compared to other contests this election cycle. The lack of coverage can be explained by the cloud of unfamiliarity surrounding the comptroller’s job description, by the technical nature of the relevant issues or simply because Callaghan has, since the beginning, been considered the little‑known underdog. One month out from the election, it has yet to be seen whether the Hevesi scandal will mark the beginning of a reverse of tide.

“I feel the better informed the public is, the better for my candidacy,” Callaghan said. “I think I will do a better job than Mr. Hevesi has done, and so the taxpayers of the state of New York will benefit from my election.”

The comptroller, acting as chief financial officer of the state, makes decisions that ultimately can affect tax rates for local governments and individual residents.

“The position is an important one,” Callaghan said. “The comptroller can help set a tone in Albany that I think needs setting—a tone of frugal government, a tone of concern for the taxpayer, who has to foot the bill for all these ideas they cough up in Albany.”

More specifically, the comptroller is charged with overseeing and, when necessary, auditing state agencies, public benefit corporations and local government operations. The comptroller also serves as sole trustee of the state’s pension system, a multibillion‑dollar fund that pays retirement benefits for civil employees.

Under Hevesi’s watch, the state pension fund has increased by more than $10 billion. He’s also credited with exposing and correcting improper budgeting practices in several large and well‑known state organizations. Without discrediting these successes, Callaghan alleges that Hevesi has neglected the primary purpose of the office by misusing his power, prioritizing audits that will gain the most media attention and bringing partisanship into an office that should be nonpolitical.

“When you’re busy grabbing headlines and trying to make policy, the nuts and bolts of the office get neglected,” Callaghan said. “I think that’s what happened, and that’s what I want to change.”

He summed up his campaign in one word: professionalism, a characteristic he alleged the comptroller’s office has lacked under Hevesi’s guidance. To evidence this alleged absence, Callaghan has used campaign speeches, interviews and his Web site to call attention to what he defines as Hevesi’s mistakes. He has reminded the public of how Hevesi lost sensitive employee data four months ago. He’s criticized Hevesi for failing to make good on an arbitration settlement with the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. He alleges that Hevesi has invested state pension money in the companies of his supporters.

“He says that there’s a wall between his campaign contributions and pension investments,” Callaghan said. “I say that it’s more like a mirror.”

Repeated messages requesting an interview went unreturned by Hevesi’s press office.

Callaghan also called himself the more qualified candidate, holding a resume that details years of experience in the financial sector. He has practiced government accounting for 35 years. He served for nearly a decade as Saratoga County treasurer, and he currently holds the title of president for the New York State Association of County Treasurers and Finance Officers. 

Callaghan contends that his financial background better prepares him for the bean‑counting position than Hevesi, who he said has a primarily political resume. Hevesi, before serving two terms as comptroller for New York City, represented Queens in the New York State Assembly for 25 years. He’s also a former professor.

“I won’t comment on his term as city comptroller because I really didn’t pay too much attention,” Callaghan said. “But, during his term as [state] comptroller he’s run the office as a political scientist, not as an accountant.”

Although the bulk of Callaghan’s campaign strategy thus far has been to focus on Hevesi’s mistakes, he also is armed with policy proposals. Callaghan already has released several ideas: a five‑part proposal for improving and speeding up the contracting process for entities that wish to do business with the state, as well as a plan to reform the state pension system in a manner that Callaghan said ultimately would save money for the state, local governments and individual taxpayers.

Callaghan plans to introduce additional policy proposals during the coming weeks. Once announced, the proposals will be detailed on his campaign Web site, CallaghanForNewYork.com.

Callaghan, a longtime resident of Waterford, has been active in Republican politics since 1969, but this race marks the first time Callaghan has run for an office at the state level.

He said he first became worried about how Hevesi was running the comptroller’s office in 2004. As his mistrust with Hevesi’s leadership continued to grow, Callaghan announced he would run against the incumbent in March.

“It was not something that I planned to do,” Callaghan said. “But, I thought there was a need, and nobody else seemed ready to fill that need, so I decided somebody had to and that I would be he.”

Even after the driving scandal, Hevesi continues to lead Callaghan in the polls. He led 57 to 27 percent in a poll released Sept. 29 by Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. The poll also found that only 39 percent of voters had heard or read something about the misuse of staff time. Of those who had heard of the scandal, only 36 percent said that they were bothered by it.

As Callaghan continues fighting an uphill battle for comptroller, Hevesi has been notably invisible in his reelection bid. Unlike Callaghan, Hevesi has not spent the last few months making public appearances and stuffing his campaign Web site with news releases. Callaghan offers a link to Hevesi’s Web site, AlanHevesi.com, on his site. The Web page, which was used during Hevesi’s initial campaign in 2002, makes no mention of the reelection and refers Internet users to the official New York Comptroller site.

Hevesi also has refused to honor his challenger’s multiple requests for a debate, according to Callaghan.

“It is a very important race,” Callaghan said, “and I think the voters, those who are concerned enough to tune in, are entitled to see the issues discussed and fully explored.”

—Nicole Klaas

nklaas@metroland.net


What a Week

Fox Exclusive: Foley a Democrat

Fox News has a nasty habit of confusing facts, especially when it shields Republicans from the accused pedophile in their ranks. In a segment from the Oct. 3 episode of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, accused sexual predator/ex‑Congressman Mark Foley (R‑Fla.) was labeled a Democrat. That’s right. Three times during the segment, the Republican, who is at the center of a scandal that could derail Republican hopes for the Nov. 7 election, was mislabeled

. And, as was reported on Bradblog.com, the misinformation was scrubbed, without explanation, from the late‑night reruns of the show.

Proof of Insurance Required

Massachusetts has become the first state to mandate its adult residents to purchase health insurance coverage. By July 1, 2007, all residents must enroll in an insurance plan or face income‑tax penalties. The measure was signed into law in April and received approval from the federal government this summer. Residents with income below the federal poverty level will be eligible for premium‑free policies through a state plan, which began signing up qualified individuals this week. Those with household incomes above this threshold but less than three times the federal poverty level will be eligible for plans with sliding‑scale premiums ranging from $18 to $106 per month. The sliding‑fee program will begin in January.

A Preemptive Strike

Lawyers for 25 men currently being held by the U.S. in Afghanistan are hoping to undo a controversial antiterrorism bill even before the legislation has been signed into law. The bill would allow the military to detain indefinitely individuals determined to be “enemy combatants.” If officials chose to bring charges, the case would be heard before a military commission instead of a civilian jury. Although Bush has yet to sign the bill, he is expected to do so soon. The attorneys, who filed a case in federal court on behalf of the 25 men, demanded the captives be released or charged. This filing, known as a habeas corpus petition, would be prohibited under the new legislation. The case is the first of what is expected to be many lawsuits challenging the legislation’s constitutionality.

 



Where’s My Line?

Castleton considers shutting down a portion of its water system, leaving  six homes dry

A major water‑line break last winter took days to find, cost thousands of dollars to repair, and, according to the mayor and the village board of Castleton‑on‑Hudson, practically caused the entire village system to fail due to the amount of lost water.

With another winter approaching and the line still in bad shape, the village now is faced with the tough decision of whether or not to shut it down permanently, leaving six families waterless around Nov. 1.

“I know that at first blush this looks like the makings of a big bad village picking on a few residents,” said village Mayor Nancy Perry. “I need to protect my village. If I brought down that water system ’cause I was afraid to make the right decision, I don’t deserve to be in office. We certainly would never say, ‘Let’s shut off the line—good luck.’ ”

However, that is exactly what the families feel the mayor and village are saying.

“It was like, ‘We’re going to throw it in your face and there’s nothing you can do about it ’cause we’re a village,’ ” said one of the affected residents, James Glavin. He said village officials didn’t do their homework before making the decision. “What they’re saying they did and what they actually did is not the same thing. They’re making it hard on us. They’re just waiting for the time to come and then they’re just going to shut it off; it’s just not right.”

Louis Salvo agreed, claiming the town made a hasty decision without informing or considering all those involved. “I have an agreement with the town, from 1995, revised from an earlier agreement. I pay for my water, but the agreement says that the only reason to shut it down was for repair.”

“I have a well, but it’s not a good well,” he continued. “For one, it’s on top of a septic system. It’s poor quality and poor volume. The water in the whole area has high sulfur. It’s not drinkable. I would have to install a new well on the property and hopefully find decent water.”

“Wells or injunction,” Sara Ayers, another resident, argued. “At this point, we are waiting to generate some publicity. If nothing else happens, than I guess we’re just going to go ahead with filing an injunction.”

The last comprehensive engineering report on the line was conducted by Crawford & Associates of Hudson in 1997. When asked about the history and earlier condition of the waterl ine, David Crawford said, “I vaguely remember something about that line . . . I can’t remember the specifics. I know we knew that the water line was bad; there was no question about that. They had problems with the water tank, problems with the wells.”

“If anyone goes and looks at that line, you don’t have to be an engineer to realize it’s in tough shape, it’s bad,” Mayor Perry said. When the break occurred in 2005, “We were lucky we found it, it happened in a creek. The Department of Environmental Conservation came to us and said you can’t fix a line like that in the creek, there are fish that live in that creek. We had to change the path of the creek to fix it.”

Crawford agreed that the placement of the line poses unusual problems.

“They basically laid the water line in a stream bank,” he said, “and that’s kind of unusual, you don’t do that any more. You wouldn’t be able to do that today. The obvious reason now is that it’s so inaccessible to get in there and do work.”

But, he said, there are potential solutions.

“If you could run a line from some other part of the water system to these six houses that would be a solution. Relocate that line out of the stream bank, that’s a possibility. Bring it on the banks instead to the stream bank itself. I suppose another long shot would be: Can they drill a well for them?”

The mayor explained that the village is trying to come up with other solutions as well. “In fact, as recent as [Sept. 18], we sat down with our attorney and water superintendent to discuss possible solutions to this problem. It’s not as if we relish having to turn them off, that is absolutely not the case. The town engineer is working with water superintendent. . . . They are walking the line from village to the water plant to see the conditions and what would be involved to supply them with water. We have been spending a lot of time on this.”

The village, Ayers said, failed to follow procedure in dealing with this case, claiming that neither she nor affected property owners have been able to talk to the village board or mayor. And when asked for records concerning the line and its condition, she was denied.

The mayor disagreed. “I thought that would be first: ‘Can you help us drill wells?’ ” Perry said. “I’ve never heard that from them, the first reaction I got from them was, ‘I’m going to sue you.’ ”

She said she has repeatedly attempted to contact the families and set up meetings in order to come up with solutions to this problem.

“Basically, there’s a water line on my property,” Ayers said. “If I can’t tap the water line, there’s no point in allowing the line on my property. If we no longer have access to the line, it should be taken out and off our properties. That’s slightly facetious, but it may come to that.”

Salvo agreed. “Once they shut this water line off, that’s going to be an empty pipe, what are they doing with this pipe? You just can’t leave an empty pipe in the ground.”

—Sara Tully





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