People to Watch
(page 6 of 11)
Photograph courtesy of Greg Ball
By: Greg Ryan
If one of the marks of a successful politician is the ability to generate headlines, then consider Greg Ball a civic titan in training. The 32-year-old state assemblyman represents an eastern sliver of Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties, but in the three years the Republican legislator has held the seat, his name has reverberated far beyond the district’s borders, both for his eagerness to upset the applecart in Albany and his anything-goes style of campaigning. (In one particularly noteworthy gambit, Ball sent a person dressed in a chicken suit to pester an opponent who refused to debate him.)
Now, Ball is fixing his sights on the Congressional seat occupied by Democrat John Hall, who is up for reelection next November. Ball’s candidacy appears ascendant: His health care forums this year reaped considerable media coverage, and his campaign says it out-raised Hall in the second and third quarters of 2009. This summer, Republican leaders in Washington awarded Ball “On The Radar” status in the House GOP Young Guns program, an initiative that funds those candidates whom the party considers most likely to upend a Democratic incumbent.
Born and raised in the district he now represents, Ball grew up in Pawling, the son of a father who logged long hours as a union postal worker and a mother who worked the night shift at Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center. His parents also served as caretakers of the Pawling estate of Jean Kennedy Smith, the younger sister of John F. Kennedy. “Every now and then, when they weren’t around, we could use the pool,” he says with a laugh. Despite his present political affiliation, he grew up to respect the famous Democratic family, and even counts Robert Kennedy as a political idol. “They took care of those around them,” he says.
In fact, Ball admits his views do not always adhere neatly to the party line. “If I were a voter and not an elected official, I would probably cast myself as an unaffiliated voter,” he says. Even in high school, Ball gravitated toward politicians with an independent streak. In 1992, he volunteered for Ross Perot’s first run for the presidency, traveling to Dallas to meet the billionaire candidate. “It was a fascinating campaign — just a straight-talking, no-BS patriot taking on the political establishment,” Ball says. “It showed there was still capability in politics to be a representative of the people, say what needs to be said, take the hits, and still be successful.”