Monday, June 7, 2010

Maurice Hinchey and the Sugar Plum Ferry

Recent news stories surrounding Rep. Maurice Hinchey’s (D NY) involvement in a local real estate venture highlighted the congressman’s penchant for pork. While the articles in the May 18th, 21st and 30th, 2010 Daily Freeman of Kingston, New York, detail Hinchey’s acknowledged mastery in securing federal dollars, they also call into question the whole federal pork barrel process. However, these stories did not go far enough. If one were to dig a little deeper, one could see how corrosive this pork barrel process has become and how unconstrained spending on the federal level plays out on Main Street, or in this case, Partition Street. Today, for a number of reasons, I urge voters to help retire Congressman Hinchey from office. The country is in desperate need of new thinking and politicians that understand the gravity of the burden of debt that Washington is creating.
News releases detailing Rep. Hinchey’s involvement in a hotel and conference center development (The Partition Street Project), while welcome, are somewhat belated. It is odd that up to now, relatively few local media outlets have even questioned Hinchey’s role and participation in a real estate venture in his hometown. This is a testament to the power Hinchey wields and the fear that his power instills. This limited scrutiny, coming now after approvals for his project have been secured, reveal what can only be regarded as conflicts of interest of a sitting United States Congressman benefiting either directly or indirectly from taxpayer funds. While he stresses his limited role in this project, and lack of knowledge about other items of local interest, the congressman is involved more than he lets on.
The focus of the recent articles concern an $800,000 federal grant for certain sewer line improvements. Both Rep. Hinchey and local officials now strenuously deny that the grant is to improve the sewer lines around Hinchey’s proposed Partition Street project. At the time the grant was awarded, however, the impression in the community was that it was to improve the sewer lines in the vicinity of the project. Neither the congressman nor local officials did anything to dispel that impression. That is why this minor controversy now exists. Apparently, we have to take the word of the congressman that this grant was secured because of the deep concern he has over certain obscure and antiquated sewer lines in another part of his old hometown.

Alright, that is fair enough, but call me cynical when I try to square that with this news item that appeared in the Saugerties Times on May 9, 2009:

Saugerties-Tivoli ferry approved. Councilwoman Leanne Thornton announced that federal funding for a ferry service between Saugerties and Tivoli has been approved. The new service could increase tourism to the village and town she said. The funding, part of the recently approved stimulus package, provides 4 million dollars for the project. “The federal stimulus package provides 4 million for passenger ferry projects. “ Believe it or not no one applied except the village of Saugerties and the Village of Tivoli. The majority of the funding will go to the village of Tivoli because they have to go over the railroad tracts because they have to access to the river.” Saugerties will receive a ferry dock just below the Partition Street Project site and it will enable passengers to access the village and probably the town beyond it. The project will take about two years, Thornton estimated.

Apparently, old obscure sewer lines are not the only thing weighing on the congressman’s mind. Reanimating a ferry service that has not been in operation for over seventy years must constitute part of the necessary “public infrastructure” that Rep. Hinchey recently wrote about in the Daily Freeman (May 29, 2010). It is interesting that Hinchey makes no mention of the ferry boat service but defends his pork barrel spending. The ferry boat must have slipped down the memory hole because it has now become inconvenient to talk about. There has been no mention of it in the local media for months and the recent articles about the Partition Street project, referenced above, made no mention of the ferry service. Could this be another example of the power Rep. Hinchey wields?

In this instance we have the fact of a U.S. Congressman steering four million dollars of stimulus funds to a project that would directly or indirectly benefit a development he has a vested interest in. Though he now denies it, he steered an $800,000 grant for sewer line work that may have benefited his project. In addition, the Partition Street project has received another $800,000 in state funds. There is also the involvement in the Partition Street project of a prominent, if not notorious, local law firm with a long history with the congressman. This firm is well known in local circles to be Democrat ‘fixers’. There is far more than meets the eye with this firms involvement in the real estate project. Then, there is the separate case of one of Rep. Hinchey’s business partners selling his land to the federal government for a new Army Reserve Center. Hinchey claims to have no knowledge of this. Hinchey cannot, however, claim to have no knowledge of the ferry boat service as he was the sponsor of the grant. That is probably why the local media dropped the subject like a hot potato. The trail ends, literally, at his doorstep. However, the pretense of Hinchey claiming to have no knowledge about a whole variety of politically charged issues in his district is somewhat hard to believe. Being the shrewd politician that he is, Rep. Hinchey keeps tabs on everything of importance in his district.

While none of this may be illegal, it does have a certain odor to it. It is a typical, in your face type chutzpah, from a politician who has been around a long time. Rep. Hinchey has long cultivated an image of himself as being a man of the people. It is, frankly, sad to see a politician in the twilight of his career grasping after the proverbial dollar. Politics, it has been said, is the art of the plausible. In the heady days following the victory of President Obama and his party, a great many things must have seemed plausible. Now, in the cold light of dawn, what once seemed plausible is now ridiculous. While the amounts concerned might seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, they cannot be viewed in isolation. If you multiple these political schemes throughout the country it is easy to see why the United States is hemorrhaging red ink to the tune of 1.6 trillion dollars this year alone. These debt levels are simply unsustainable and portend a bleak future.

In his day, Franklin Roosevelt lifted the spirits of the nation by reminding us that we had a rendezvous with destiny. President Obama, and the Democrat leadership, on the other hand, are promising us an appointment with catastrophe. That day is coming faster with politicians in power like Congressman Maurice Hinchey and those who think like him.