In a bizarre turn of events, Jeremy Wilber, the once and, now, future town supervisor, spent Election Day hospitalized in Kingston for an acute illness while the November 8 balloting that enabled him to reclaim his old office transpired in Woodstock.
Wilber, the nominee of the Democratic and Working Families parties, on November 9 remained an inpatient at Kingston Hospital, where he was receiving treatment for pancreatitis. Speaking in a phone interview from his hospital bed, the supervisor-elect pronounced himself “satisfied” with the electoral outcome, in which he defeated his opponent, Lorin Rose, by a preliminary margin of 138 votes.
Wilber, 61, reported that his health was “on the mend; on a good trajectory,” adding that his hospital stay would continue until blood tests confirmed that his condition had stabilized and his strength returned. He offered praise for Rose, noting that his opponent had called to congratulate him and wish him well. “I talked with Lorin last night and complimented him on the positiveness of his campaign,” said Wilber. “I can’t say enough about how highly I respect him and the campaign he ran. It was a good campaign for Woodstock.”
Unofficial returns from the county Board of Elections showed Wilber, who previously served as supervisor from 2000 to 2007, defeating first-time candidate Rose, who was endorsed by the Republican and Common Sense parties, by a count of 961 votes to 823. Ken Panza and Jay Wenk, with respective tallies of 1,214 and 948 votes, prevailed in a race for two Town Board seats, as Peter Cross, with 861 votes, finished third. The supervisor serves a term of two years and council members a term of four years.
Panza, a newcomer to elective office, was the nominee of the Democratic and Republican parties, while Wenk, an incumbent, was endorsed by the Democratic and Working Families. Cross ran on the Republican party line. A fourth Town Board candidate, David Gross, garnered 212 votes as a Working Families party nominee despite abandoning his campaign after failing to gain a Democratic endorsement in that party’s primary.
Two incumbents who ran unopposed, town clerk Jackie Earley and highway superintendent Mike Reynolds, not only coasted to reelection, but saw their terms in office extended, as voters handily approved ballot propositions that increased each term to four years from a previous two. Both candidates had Republican and Democratic endorsements. Incumbent town justice Frank Engel, running without opposition and nominated by the Democratic, Republican, and Working Families parties, won a sixth four-year term.
In a race to represent Woodstock and West Hurley in the 23rd district of the newly reconfigured Ulster County Legislature, longtime incumbent legislator Don Gregorius, endorsed by the Democratic and Independence parties, trounced Republican nominee James Monserrate, 1,547 votes to 450. Gregorius, a former Woodstock councilman, anticipates working closely with Wilber during his upcoming two-year term.
“I’m very happy that I’m winning,” said Gregorius before the results were final but his landslide victory was assured. “There are a lot of important things to be done on the legislature, which will now (after reapportionment) have ten fewer members to do the work that 33 members previously did.”
Rose “had a blast”
Addressing a gathering of Democratic candidates and party officials at Joshua’s Café after the results were announced, McKenna, on behalf of the supervisor-elect, thanked Wilber’s supporters. The councilman disclosed in an interview that, earlier in the day, he had filed affidavits at the Board of Elections and obtained a required release from a state Supreme Court judge in order to secure absentee ballots for Wilber and his wife, Fran, so that the couple could cast their votes in the hospital’s emergency room.
Rose, in a phone interview, offered a no-regrets take on his bid to become the town supervisor. “We had a blast. I thank everybody who supported me,” he said, characterizing his experience on the campaign trail as “very cool.”
The candidate, whose folksy persona and down-home aphorisms contrasted with Wilber’s more businesslike demeanor, added that he would not rule out a future run for elective office, although he considered it unlikely. “I don’t see it happening, but I didn’t see it happening (this) time,” Rose said, adding that he planned to spend the winter in Arizona, playing golf and weighing the purchase of a second home as an investment.
Statistics furnished by Panza on November 9 indicated that voter turnout for the election had been relatively light. According to the preliminary results, the 1,784 votes tallied in the supervisor race amounted to 81 percent of the 2,204 total for the corresponding contest in 2009, when incumbent supervisor Jeff Moran defeated longtime councilwoman Liz Simonson.
According to Otia Lee, a Wilber campaign aide, of 142 absentee ballots that were distributed, 98 had been returned by the deadline on Election Day. The odds that as-yet uncounted absentee ballots could alter the result of any of the local races, including Wenk’s 87-vote margin over Cross, are extremely remote.
The Town Board vacancies to be filled by Panza and Wenk were created by the expiration, at the end of the year, of Wenk’s current term — he previously served on the council from 1990 to 1993 — and the first term of Terrie Rosenblum, who failed to gain the Democratic endorsement for supervisor in the party’s primary, finishing a distant second to Wilber.
Wenk expressed elation at the outcome in an interview the day after the election. “I knew that Ken Panza would win in a walk, but that it would be close for me,” he said. “I was on tenterhooks for a while. I am very, very happy to continue working on the Town Board. I am really thrilled to have been given the opportunity to continue being the person I am and to do everything I can to serve the taxpayers of Woodstock. I have been elected twice and (now) reelected once. Getting reelected is a wonderful feeling.”
Panza, who divided his time on election night between a Republican gathering at the Little Bear restaurant and the Democratic encampment at Joshua’s, pronounced himself “pleased” when the votes had been counted. “Having a two-party endorsement made it a whole lot easier,” he said. “The new candidates in this election, including Lorin Rose and Peter Cross, really made an impressive showing. We had a real race, not a coronation, in Woodstock. The issues were discussed in debates and meet-the-candidates events. It was a very good election.”
Cross, deeming his first campaign an “interesting experience,” said, “It was all new for me. Just getting to talk to the electorate, hearing their ideas and concerns, was very interesting.” The candidate added that, in the immediate aftermath of the election, he had no plans to run again for office.
Said Earley, who will embark on her fifth term as town clerk, “I am absolutely thrilled to be reelected to a four-year term. I have 26 years of service with the town” — Earley was employed by the Dispatch Department for 17 years, including eight as its supervisor — “and four more years will make it 30 years.” Reynolds, a three-term incumbent, also
welcomed the voters’ decision to extend the term of his office. “I’m very happy,” he said. “I appreciate the support of both parties and of the people. It will be good not to go through these campaigns every two years.”
Engel said that he was thrilled with his latest reelection. “I love the work and am anxious to continue serving this community, which I love so much,” said the justice, who is Woodstock’s longest-tenured elected official.
The early agenda
The reshaped Woodstock Town Board that assumes office on January 1 will comprise Wilber, Panza, and Wenk, along with incumbent council members McKenna and Cathy Magarelli. McKenna and Magarelli formally endorsed Wilber in the recent campaign, while Panza, describing both Wilber and Rose as friends, remained neutral.
Animosity ensued between Wilber and Wenk, however, who both ran as nominees of the Democratic and Working Families parties. The supervisor-elect charged the councilman with reneging on an agreement to support him but nevertheless attending fund-raising events hosted by Wilber and partaking liberally of the fare that was served. In the campaign’s final week Wenk indeed announced his endorsement of Rose, the Republican standard-bearer, in a letter that was critical of Wilber. The last salvo of the fracas was fired by Wilber, who in an election eve e-mail urged supporters not to vote for him if they planned to cast a ballot for Wenk.
Wilber’s medical saga began on the evening of Thursday, November 3, when he spent the night at Kingston Hospital with a presumptive diagnosis of an obstructive gallstone. He returned home on Friday and, later that day, had an outpatient ultrasound exam. His discomfort persisted over the weekend, however, and Wilber was readmitted to the hospital on Monday, when he underwent a procedure to treat the gallstone. Feeling better, he was briefly discharged from the hospital, but was readmitted later in the day with significant pain related to pancreatitis.
In the November 9 interview, Wilber thanked Lee, McKenna, and Gordon Wemp for their support throughout the campaign. Upon taking office, he said, he would immerse himself in the town’s financial records and prepare to initiate a dialogue with residents about the relative costs and benefits of the services that the town provides. Also on his early agenda, said Wilber, is an analysis of a “scaled-down” plan to renovate Town Hall, at a cost below the $1.45 million in bonding that voters authorized in a 2007 referendum.
Historically, noted Wilber, the first Tuesday in November has often proved propitious for his electoral health, if not always for his physical well-being. “Exactly 20 years ago on local Election Day, I fell off the side of a roof and broke three ribs,” recalled the writer, onetime roofer, and expectant five-term town supervisor.++