Assembly candidate gained health care perk with side state job
April 16--ALBANY -- Chris Tague, the Republican nominee in next week's special election to replace former state Assemblyman Peter Lopez, has a seemingly demanding day job as general manager of Cobleskill Stone Products, a construction-services company that also produces sand and gravel.
In 2011, Tague also held a second job as a part-time aide in the office of former Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, whose district office was about an hour's drive from Tague's residence in Schoharie.
The part-time government job paid about $10,000 a year and Tague, who doesn't live in McLaughlin's former district, said he worked about 17.5 hours a week on a regular basis, which entitled him to the state's taxpayer-subsidized health care plan.
Tague said in a written response that he had taken the health care coverage.
As the Times Union reported last year, state legislators often give "community liaison" positions that carry the health care benefits to political allies. As long as they list working at least 17.5 hours a week "on a regular basis," staffers of any salary level can enjoy the benefits of New York's insurance coverage while still working in private-sector jobs.
The sand and gravel industry that has been a major backer of McLaughlin, who vacated his Assembly seat after he was elected Rensselaer County executive last November.
In a Republican-leaning Assembly district, Tague is the favorite to win the seat formerly held by Lopez, a Republican who left the Assembly in October to become a regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Tague, who is the Schoharie town supervisor, is running against Democrat Aidan O'Connor, a Greene County legislator, in the April 24 special election.
Tague lives in Schoharie, which like his company's office in Cobleskill is outside McLaughlin's former Assembly district. Tague worked for McLaughlin in 2011 as a "community relations director."
Tague's time sheets listing his work hours for 2011 -- obtained by the Times Union through a Freedom of Information Law request -- indicate that he often reported working two to three hours per day for McLaughlin. Tague never listed working on weekends.
Tague's Schoharie residence was destroyed by Hurricane Irene in late August 2011, which he said was one reason he left McLaughlin's staff that September.
"I was a part-time constituent liaison and assisted with constituent casework, administrative duties, community outreach events, and attended local events on behalf of Mr. McLaughlin," Tague said. "I stepped down from my position in September of 2011 because of new responsibilities at Cobleskill Stone. What also accelerated my decision was the emotional and physical toll of losing everything in the hurricane, which put into perspective that I needed to spend more time at home helping our community and my family rebuild."
Hurricane Irene's historic flooding devastated Schoharie and the surrounding area when it struck on Aug. 28, 2011.
Though the storm destroyed his home that week, Tague's time sheets show he maintained his Assembly duties: He listed working 4.5 hours on Aug. 29, five hours the next day, and two hours the day after that, bringing him to the minimum 17.5 hours.
"Yes, my home was destroyed but my jobs and bills didn't go away," Tague said. "I was fortunate that my mother's house was not harmed and I was able to live there. I simply could not afford to stop working and with everything in my home destroyed -- there was nothing to save. So I continued to work and joined friends, family, neighbors, and volunteers when I could to clear out the house."
Tague said that when he was vice president of the Schoharie County GOP, he had helped McLaughlin during his Assembly campaign. McLaughlin won election in 2010 and assumed office in January 2011.
"After the campaign, I was asked if I would be interested in a part-time job as a constituent liaison because of my small business, construction and agricultural experience, and I accepted," Tague said. "The valuable and positive experiences I gained helping constituents and understanding how state government works have helped prepare me to serve the residents of the 102nd Assembly District."
Beginning in August 2011, McLaughlin himself began signing off on Tague's time sheets. Employee hours are self-policed by Assembly members and their staff.
On a financial disclosure form for 2017, Tague listed making between $50,000 and $75,000 at Cobleskill Stone, as well as drawing between $1,000 and $5,000 as a consultant to Delaware County. In addition, he made $12,700 from Schoharie County and nearly $9,000 from the town of Schoharie, according to the Empire Center's SeeThroughNy.net website.
In January, the Times Union reported that Rich Crist, McLaughlin's campaign director during last year's county executive campaign, was added to McLaughlin's Assembly payroll last September in a part-time position that paid the equivalent of $67,000 a year. Crist, who never obtained a state ID, said at the time that the work included "interaction with state, county and local offices on various issues, response to correspondence, preparation and delivery of proclamations and commendations," among other tasks.
Most of Crist's hours listed on the Assembly payroll sheets indicate he worked between one and four hours per day, seven days per week. He also worked on state holidays, the records indicate -- including Thanksgiving.