Larkin largely absent from public eye in re-election bid
Can state Sen. William Larkin continue to serve effectively as the representative of New York’s 39th Senate District?
That’s a fundamental question candidates normally seek to answer as they stand for election. But Larkin has avoided a halfdozen opportunities to appear with his challenger while also being shielded by his staff from direct contact with reporters and, in at least one recorded instance, even from polite but persistent questioning by a member of the public.
Democratic candidate Chris Eachus, an Orange County legislator who is making a second run for the Senate seat, says the 88-year-old Republican, who is seeking his 14th two-year term next week, has turned down six opportunities to debate, which Eachus says is part of a pattern of absences that began with missing Senate votes this year.
“One of the reasons why I am
so fervent about running and getting up there ... is that, in this last session, he missed so many, I think almost over a quarter, of session meetings, and he missed nine out of 10 budgetary meetings,” Eachus said. “That means that my district ... has lost millions of dollars.”
Information from State-Watch, a legislative information business serving lobbyists, reports Larkin ranked sixth among 63 senators for the most excused absences, missing 170 of the 1,822 votes taken during the 2016 session.
Eachus identified six events at which both candidates were invited to appear but which Larkin did not attend: a News12 meet-the-candidates segment; a Times Herald-Record debate; a Journal News endorsement interview; events held by police fraternal organizations Orange County Shields and Rockland County Shields; and an Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum.
Larkin’s aides have said the senator has been doing constituent work, which Eachus characterized as brief appearances under controlled conditions at public hearings.
“He is given the ability before anybody else ... to speak, he usually speaks for about three minutes, and then he leaves,” Eachus said.
“Since I declared to run,” Eachus said, “I’ve been in the same room with him only five times — two relative to the closing of the emergency room at Cornwall St. Luke’s Hospital and, then, three for the water issue in the city of Newburgh.”
Eachus declined to comment on whether Larkin appears to have a diminished mental or physical capacity that could
affect his ability to discuss issues.
“I don’t even get to see him, really,” he said. “I haven’t spoken to him, I haven’t talked to him, and that is not an evaluation that I would make at all.”
Larkin, who lives in Cornwall-on-Hudson, has been a state senator since January 1991 and was an assemblyman from January 1979 through December 1990.
Larkin spokesman Brian Maher said Larkin’s absence from the six events was, in part, because “some of those six were out of the district.” He said the senator still is scheduled to participate in a radio forum in Newburgh on Saturday, which is three days before the Nov. 8 election.
Larkin long had a reputation among reporters for being accessible and candid, quick to return a phone call and speak freely, but he grew notably less accessible even before the current campaign.
Larkin’s campaign was asked six times over the course of a week recently to return calls for a short interview for a Freeman election profile. Maher initially said there would be an effort to find time for an interview. However, one unsuccessful attempt included being told at 6:19 p.m. on a Friday that Larkin was “in for the night, and I believe his phone is off.”
The next day, Maher revised the statement to say Larkin had been visiting a general he has worked with over the years.
Asked if Larkin was avoiding the press, Maher responded: “I wouldn’t say that the senator is avoiding reporters. I think we’re doing a lot of communications.”
Maher ultimately withdrew the offer to find time for a phone interview and said a reporter’s communications with Larkin could be conducted only by email.
A YouTube video (bit.ly/2eXchBR) has surfaced that shows Larkin campaign staff directing a person to leave who was video recording an event at his election headquarters.
The recording, which lasts about a minute and a half, shows a woman holding Larkin’s hand and politely pressing Larkin to say whether he supports presidential candidate Donald Trump in light of the video in which Trump was recorded making vulgar comments about women and expressing a willingness to physically force himself on them. Larkin attempted twice to parry the question by saying he had not seen the video. A minute into the recorded encounter, a staffer, addressed as “Brian,” intervenes to make Larkin’s case for him.
Within seconds, a second voice is heard and a hand appears over the camera lens as the voice says, “Are you recording? You can’t be in here.”
Maher confirmed he was present during the incident, but said he did not know why the videographer was asked to leave.
Maher said neither Larkin’s age nor his mental capacity were preventing the senator from taking questions from the press.
“There’s no truth to that, there’s basis to that, and I think anyone who wants to claim that can find whatever reason they’d like to claim it,” he said. “You can see for yourself and hear for yourself at events that the senator will be campaigning at, and he is more than able, more than willing to campaign, win this election and serve two years.”
The 39th Senate District includes central and eastern Orange County, the northern tip of Rockland County, and the Ulster County towns of Plattekill and Marlborough.
Christopher Eachus, left, and state Sen. William Larkin