One Man's Mission Against Albany's Tax-and-Spend Machine
“Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life,” wrote Confucius, circa 500 B.C. Greg Ball, the 32-year-old Tea-Partying state senate candidate from quiet Putnam County, must have been sick the week they taught early East Asian philosophy in high school. For reasons only he can explain, Ball has decided to stay in a field he despises, with people he cannot stand. Politics will never be fun for him; it will always be, well, just work. “I genuinely hate politics,” Ball proudly declared. “I would be happy to get out of politics yesterday.”
The powers that be in Albany would like to see Ball, a 2001 Air Force Academy grad, make good on that statement and fly as far away from New York as possible. Since crushing longstanding incumbent Assemblyman Willis Stephens with 71 percent of the vote in the 2006 Republican Primary (the Stephens family held the seat for 67 of the past 80 years), Ball has been a thorn in the side of Democrats and Republicans alike. “As a State Senator, I will represent the greatest threat to the status quo that Albany has ever seen,” he said. “A lot of these assemblymen and senators are comatose. You need somebody, on either side of the aisle, energizing the debate.”
Coming in as a new assemblyman in February 2007, Ball wasted little time making his presence known to the establishment. “This is the most dysfunctional legislature in the United States of America,” Ball announced to the New York State Assembly during his first floor speech. “It may not make me many friends. But it’s the truth.”
Boos instantly rang down on Ball as if he was Michael Jordan and the rest of the Assembly was Knicks fans. “I just got elected,” he said. “Literally, they had never heard from me until I got up and gave that speech.”
The harsh reaction may have been worth the risk from a political standpoint. “As a freshman assemblyman, [Speaker of the Assembly] Sheldon Silver knew my name,” Ball said. “It usually takes 15 years for him to even know who you are. I created a name for myself and built up from there.”
Albany might have expected Ball to recant and start acting a little more prudently, but he refuses to pull any punches. “That speech I gave, I didn’t just give once, I give it every day,” he said. “I was raised to stand up for what I believe in no matter what … I know I’ve always done the right thing, as dictated by my heart and my head.”
In May 2009, Ball announced he was going to be running for Congress against Democratic incumbent John Hall. However, much to the surprise of Putnam politicians, he changed his mind, and decided to run for the 40th district senate seat that is being vacated after 14 years by Vincent Leibell. In recent years, Ball has been Leibell’s most outspoken Republican critic, saying that he has used Putnam County as his “personal piggy bank.”
“Had I been elected to the Congressional seat, we would have had a Democratic state senator redrawing district lines; not only for this seat, but throughout the state,” Ball explained. “That would have forced New York into Democratic control for the next thousand years.”
Ball acknowledges that he is paying a price for his “in your face” style of politics, and it makes campaign season even more stressful. “I have a huge target on my back for stepping on the toes of some very powerful people.” Ball’s personal life and behavior are often called into question, as unflattering anonymous mailers and usually fleeting accusations of inappropriate conduct toward women make headlines.
Ball’s campaign has accused the camp of his Republican primary opponent, Somers Town Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy, of working with “Albany insiders” (which she has denied) to orchestrate a smear campaign and distract people from the issues. Ball refuses to take what he calls “garbage attacks” lying down. “When all is said and done, I am certainly going to level a defamation suit, against those who have been pushing this most recent smear campaign … It will make their heads spin.”
“As a candidate who has taken on the power brokers, you assume that they are going to come after you,” Ball said. “But it never makes it easy to watch your family or your supporters weather those disgusting attacks. It has grown old for me … Every two years, like it’s Groundhog Day, they try to recreate the same garbage.”
Ball’s outspoken nature has obviously made him an unpopular man in Albany, but he has become a hero among grassroots conservatives in the Hudson Valley. The “silent majority” is not as silent as it used to be, as annoyed conservatives, concerned about their tax dollars, flock to Tea Party rallies all over the country. Ball’s April 15 rally at the Carmel Courthouse virtually shut down Gleneida Avenue, and his July 24 rally in Patterson was highly attended.
“I would jump at the opportunity to be a national spokesperson for what I see as the silent majority finally taking America back,” Ball said. “I feel that I really tapped into this, not only anger, but fear that we are losing America, before it was even in vogue,” Ball said, referring to his 2008 protest of a property tax hike.
“We have to make sure that America does not become France and that New York does not become Detroit or California,” Ball warned. “Sadly I think both parties are full of career politicians who have been tainted by special and corporate interests.”
“[America should] look more like a Norman Rockwell painting than the ‘Jersey Shore’ … [There should be] a secure border, and a strong pro immigrant policy where we embrace hardworking people from all over the world,” Ball said. “We need an education system that will challenge every kid from the inner city to the rural districts, to do the best they can and compete in the global marketplace.”
His critics say that he hasn’t accomplished enough legislatively, asserting that he is all talk. Murphy has said, “He has done nothing but run for the next office the moment he steps into the office that he’s in.”
“It must be understood,” Ball responds, “That minority members in the New York State legislature are not allowed to introduce substantive pieces of legislation. I sponsored over 300 pieces of legislation. I had dozens of pieces that I co-sponsored that became law … Some of my biggest proposals like the property tax cap and freezing school taxes for seniors were once ridiculed, and are now major pieces of legislation that are being pushed by other members.”
“It’s an absolute miracle that I’ve been able to accomplish what I have,” he said.
One of Ball’s biggest accomplishments was the introduction of a bill that eventually became the Combat Veteran’s Reimbursement Program. Under this program, all combat vets in New York can go to SUNY or CUNY schools for free.
“The final indicator is that my job pays $79,000 a year, and my own party has spent $2,000,000 to destroy me,” he said. “Is that because I am ineffective?”
If anyone is going to take down Ball, they better put on an extra pot of coffee and be ready to burn the midnight oil. “Nobody will outwork me,” Ball said. “I work an insane amount of hours. I’m going seven days a week … I simply could have become part of the club and sent out mailers with pictures of me with seniors, puppy dogs and rainbows, but I decided to stick true to my platform and my heart and fight vehemently.”
“There needs to be a property tax cap, the freezing of school taxes for seniors, the Village of Brewster redeveloped and revitalized, and the slum housing knocked down and rebuilt into something beautiful,” Ball said, listing the main things he wants to accomplish in the state senate. If all of these goals are achieved, Ball says he will be able to walk away from politics, and move into the private sector.
Until that day, Ball says, expect him to tell everyone in Albany exactly what they don’t want to hear.
For a profile on Greg Ball’s primary opponent Mary Beth Murphy, see the Aug. 19, 2010, issue of the Courier. The winner of the September 14 Republican primary will face Democratic Westchester County legislator Mike Kaplowtiz in the general election November 2.