Robert Aiello has served in the Ulster County Legislature for 16 years. As a result of redistricting, he was placed in the 2nd Legislative District, and faced fellow GOP legislator Walter Frey in the primary elections, winning the Republican line. However, Frey won the Conservative line, and will face Aiello and Democrat Virginia Luppino in the fall election. Aiello is a retired hairdresser, and has been active in community causes. He holds an associate degree from Ulster County Community College and a bachelor of science in human services from Empire State College, as well as training required for his hairdresser’s license. He has one daughter, Kara, who lives in Boston.
What do you believe should be done with Golden Hill infirmary, the county-owned health facility?
I have supported from day one and continue to support Golden Hill. I’ve been a caregiver there, as well as at other facilities. A caregiver is the person who contacts doctors and nurses about treatment. The care at Golden Hill is excellent, and the employees are wonderful. That’s based on feedback from residents. I can tell you Golden Hill has caused the most interest in county government, more than jail, on par with [the proposed county dump in Saugerties] when I first entered the Legislature. If we had a job-producing, vibrant and stable economy we would not be having this conversation. Imagine if we still had an IBM: would anyone be having a conversation about closing this nursing facility? I’m not saying some of the questions people raise about Golden Hill’s costs are not valid, but I think if they had had a relative in the home, they would be supporting Golden Hill. It’s up to the legislature, not up to the executive.
The town of Saugerties is working with the county to share snow-removal services. Do you think more services should be shared between the town and the county? If so, which?
I fail to see how having the town plow county roads can achieve great benefits. I would like to see the numbers that would show me what the savings would be, and how you are spending less money. I don’t really see much savings in that example. We almost share services with police agencies. I see State Police road patrols, and Sheriff’s road patrols. We could look at how the town can help the county or state with these services. Am I for saving money by sharing? Of course. Do I think the road services sharing is working? I don’t know. It is something that could be worked out, but at this point, I would need to see more evidence.
If [re]elected, what would be your top priority?
My top priority for the last 16 years has been job creation. My research university idea was the way to go in 1999. Where would we have been if we had done this in 1994? We have budgets that rise because of demands, and we haven’t got the tax base to support them. In Dutchess County, two high-tech Chinese solar manufacturing companies located a facility near Fishkill. They are supposed to start with 300 employees, and say they are likely to hire more.
The reason was that the Chinese are fascinated by IBM Corp. As you know, IBM left Ulster County, and we continue to sink. They kept the Fishkill facility, and added another 1,000 workers.
What I said in 1999, private companies want to be near research. The Chinese delegation told UCDC they want to be near IBM. There are some highly sophisticated components in the solar technology that require the services of highly trained engineers.
How does your experience make you a good candidate?
My life experiences, including and excluding the legislature and homogenizing these experiences, gives me a different way of thinking. Woodstock 1994: I went to the first meeting. People were screaming, yelling, against them. I was thinking thousands of people coming, recording companies involved. I thought it could be quite a marketing campaign. I said we should send Bill Gates a ticket at least. The legislature chairman, Dan Alfonso, was asking why, with 33 legislators, this haircutter comes up with these ideas – I wasn’t a legislator at the time. Politicians see things in black and white. I see shades of gray. I come from a music background. I come from an artistic background. I ask people, how many people do you know who work as hairdressers, and are members of a legislature? When I look at resources I look at broadband, Internet, technology. What I talked about 10 years ago is happening now. I’m fiercely independent. I create ideas in my thoughts, and it is frustrating when things that I see don’t come to fruition because nobody took the time to listen. Where would we be if that facility (proposed in 1999) were located here?
Describe the role of a county legislator. What effect does county government have on residents?
A legislator is responsible for overseeing the various county departments, budgets – meshing with other departments. We were responsible for putting together a budget as does the executive. The executive took over a lot of the functions of the legislature. We approve the budget. We used to oversee operations to some degree, but the executive branch has people who do this. The legislature is more than a figurehead, but less than having a controlling interest. I deal with my constituents; I have calls at my house. I’m proud of the fact that I return every phone call I get. Some legislators don’t do this. I sometimes get calls from people outside of my district. I don’t feel that my district is the limit of what I do. We are go-betweens between people with problems and the government. I really feel good if I can help somebody with anything.
What specific policies will you advocate? How will these policies serve the interests of Saugerties residents?
I prefer the word vision. It’s not just a policy. We should be helping people in the field of economic development, we should be sitting down with people who have ideas they are advocating. As hard as their ideas may be to comprehend, shouldn’t that person be included in the discussion of the policies? Shouldn’t we include people with a vision in discussions of the future of the county?
My vision is to have a major research facility in this county. Can we share visions that would help move us forward, and include the visionary? Can we be more inclusive of people with new ideas? We need a policy of inclusion, where the idea man, who is not necessarily able to implement the ideas, is encouraged. We should develop a policy of deciding where we want to be and how to get there.
How would you rate the job performance of County Executive Mike Hein?
I would say he’s done a good job. He turned in a budget last year with no increase, and this year it’s less than two [percent]. I would say he’s done a good job. I think the legislature should get more involved in some things, such as setting policy. The legislature takes the heat for making the decisions. We have enough of an impact, we do a lot of work. I kind of liked the old way better, it was homier, you didn’t have the executive and staff. We were doing the same job as the executive. He has made some good decisions. He makes decisions and sticks with them, and I respect that in any individual. I’ve called Mike if I have a question or a problem, and he’s always willing to talk. The only thing we disagree on is Golden Hill.
Do you think the balance of power between the executive and legislature is as it should be?
It is what it is.