Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The early bird

I mostly know Mike Hein from the golf course. We're both left-handed. He's an excellent player. I'm a terrible player. He's a nice young man. (When you're my age, even someone who's 42, like Mike, is a young man.) Whether I'm a nice old man is for others to decide.

We occasionally talk about county business and politics while hanging around outside the clubhouse. He's typically finished his early morning round -- having played with the better golfers -- while I'm nibbling on a bagel in anticipation of throwing away another four hours of my life hacking around the course.

I believe I sat in on one or two editorial board meetings at which Mike (the county administrator, for those who don't know him) discussed county fiscal matters. He appears to be serious, capable and sincere. But I don't pretend to have given much thought to sizing him up as a candidate. Now, however, to no one surprise, he's officially running for county executive.

I don't know how he'll do, mostly because I don't know what he'll stand for and who he'll be running against, both within his Democratic Party and in a general election if he emerges with the nomination. I do know that barely a week after one election, it's awfully early for Mike or anyone else to begin a campaign for the next one.

The public is worn out. We've been through the usual blitz of commercials, road signs, print ads and junk mail, as well as the debates and news stories, door-to-door visits and handshakes outside of the supermarkets.

Many of this year's contests were particularly heated -- Ulster County DA and the towns of Hurley, Rhinebeck and Red Hook immediately come to mind. The public (and the press) looks forward to post-Election Day through, say, the first week of January. It's historically a kind of no-fly zone. We clear the decks, enjoy the holidays, take a deep breath and eventually plunge ahead.

I suspect Mike and his advisers believe there's good reason to start so early. (I'm told he originally planned to announce two days after Election Day, then thought better of it.)

Maybe it's because he's still relatively unknown, despite his current high-level county position, and he believes he needs as much time as possible to get his name on the street and in the papers.

Maybe it's because he knows intramural competition is likely -- could be even from Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who has name recognition and several elective successes on his resume. Kevin hasn't said he's a candidate, but he hasn't said he isn't. Perhaps Mike and his political strategists think being the first one out of the starting gate will leave Kevin or anyone else of a mind to run left in the dust.

There's an argument to be made that the longer the race the better, since this will be a landmark election, as Ulster County switches its form of government and chooses a person who will hold extradorinary power. If you buy that rationale, Mike should be congratulated for starting the dialogue well ahead of the vote.

But this isn't the presidency. Ulster County may be large geographically, but Mike and all other comers will have plenty of time to cover ground. The process wouldn't have suffered had he waited until just after the first of the year -- which still would be early in the minds of many.

I'd like to think that with all this campaigning, Mike will have less time to work on his golf game and slip back to my skill level. But I can safely predict that won't happen. That says more about my game than it does about his.
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