2015-10-21 / Commentary

Meet Dini LoBue: Obstructionist & Cynic

She Delays Senior Center at Every Turn, Rails Against Tourism Spending
Cunningham’s Corner

The prospect of forfeiting the gift of $250,000 to outfit the senior center did not concern Dini LoBue at Monday night's meeting about a county lease for a Philipstown center. "Let’s table it for another month since the timing is terrible right in the midst of our budget negotiations." 
Eric Gross The prospect of forfeiting the gift of $250,000 to outfit the senior center did not concern Dini LoBue at Monday night's meeting about a county lease for a Philipstown center. "Let’s table it for another month since the timing is terrible right in the midst of our budget negotiations." Eric Gross ‘A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.’ –Oscar Wilde

I wonder sometimes, does Dini LoBue, the county legislator from Mahopac, check her brain at the door when she walks into those Legislature meetings?

Is she just trying to be obstructionist – as she often is – simply because County Executive MaryEllen Odell proposed something, like the budget for tourism promotion or moving ahead on a new senior center in Philipstown? MaryEllen is for it, I’m against it, never the twain shall meet?

Whatever it is, it’s bad for Putnam County. LoBue is never at a loss for targets. Monday night, it was a new senior center at the Butterfield site. The project’s been hanging fire for years, but LoBue’s latest is that the Legislature is too busy to think about it, what with the county budget and all. And last week, she focused her ire on county tourism spending. Frank Smith, the earnest acting director, outlined for lawmakers a budget for next year of $214,139. Among other horrors in that spending plan is money for advertising in NYC.

My goodness. The abandon. The recklessness. Radio commercials in NYC. The blood runs cold at the thought.

LoBue: “This is ludicrous. Funds are not being allocated properly. To spend $17,000 for radio commercials in New York City is crazy.”

LoBue’s tirade did get me to thinking. What are our neighboring counties doing? Where do they advertise? How much do they spend?

In more populous Orange County, just across the Hudson River, tourism generates an estimated $400 million annually, a figure that’s increasing. Susan Hawvermale, director of tourism there, said that the county, in fact, hopes to increase tourism spending next year from $685,000 now to $1 million. Referring to her county executive, the focused and get-it-done Steve Neuhaus, Hawvermale said “he believes tourism is economic development.”

Besides jobs, that $400 million industry also generates sales tax revenue to help defray the property tax burden, Hawvermale said.

How about this advertising question? “When you live next door to the largest demographic in the nation, that is easy picking for people coming up to the Hudson Valley,” she told me. “They can take the train up from Grand Central and get off in Garrison or Cold Spring.”

Hawvermale, who is familiar with Cold Spring and dines here occasionally, sometimes as part of joint Hudson Valley Tourism meetings, said Orange County has had good luck with 1010 WINS and News 88 radio stations in NYC.

The story is similar in Ulster County, across the Hudson River and just north of Orange. Ulster will spend $955,000 this year on tourism promotion, with about $575,000 of that amount dedicated to marketing and advertising. Ulster, with 180,000 people, is larger than Putnam, but not that much larger. Of the advertising spending, about $55,000 goes toward digital, about $60,000 to radio and another $60,000 to television – all in the NYC market – and another $40-$45,000 goes to print advertising.

“Obviously, we think it’s effective,” tourism director Richard Remsnyder told me Friday. “Tourism in Ulster County in 2014 was a $514 million industry. We’ve increased in the last five years. We feel very fortunate to have done that.” Why advertise in NYC? “Ulster County is 90 minutes from midtown Manhattan. We’re perfectly situated for that market.”

Here’s the rub: Putnam County is perfectly situated, too. But not to Dini LoBue. It would be one thing if LoBue was the only one among the lawmakers who wanted to do a slash and burn on the Putnam tourism budget, but she’s not. Some other lawmakers joined in, no doubt enabled by LoBue’s diatribe.

Meanwhile, if lawmakers actually wanted to scrutinize the tourism budget, surely there are valid questions. Here are some: Where do you advertise and why? How many contacts with visitors does your office have in a year? What happens? How many jobs in Putnam County are tied to tourism? What do the chambers and our restaurants and attractions think, and should any changes be made? How do we compare to other counties?

I spoke also with Libby Pataki, the director of Putnam’s tourism efforts, who’s currently on leave assisting her husband, George, who is running for president. She was less than amused. “It is patently absurd, in my opinion, to be nickel and diming the tourism budget for a few thousand dollars when the benefits we’ve had in great increases in tourism in the past few years so far outweigh that amount,” she said.

She noted that a portion of the budget is reimbursed via the state I Love New York program. She also said that day trippers – such as those who might come up the Harlem or Hudson Metro-North lines – are ideal customers given the county’s dearth of lodging.

At the end of the day, I predict that LoBue will manage, once again, to position herself as some kind of taxpayer advocate, sourly watching over every bit of spending. If she succeeds in this case, it will be Putnam County’s loss.

At the risk of being profligate, I’d like to propose one more addition to the county budget for 2016: A one-way bus ticket for LoBue. I checked the fares on Greyhound. NYC to LA can be had for $285. It’s a trip of 2 days, 17 hours and 15 minutes. It would be a worthwhile addition to county spending. I’ll drive her to the bus station.

Douglas Cunningham is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 845-265-2468, or doug@pcnr.com. Letters to the editor are always welcome, on this or other topics. Please limit to 500 words and send to editor@pcnr.com by noon Mondays. See also the related Butterfield story on page 1, this issue.

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