Campaign 2013 has produced two potentially interesting Ulster County rematches. After a five-year hiatus, county comptroller foes Elliott Auerbach and Jim Quigley will tee it up, this time in an off year. In Saugerties, former town supervisor Greg Helsmoortel will likely face off again against Kelly Myers, the village board trustee who trounced him in the 2011 town elections. Myers has not officially announced yet, and if she does decide to re-up, she faces a potential primary challenge from Gaetana Ciarlante, known in the community for leading the effort to assemble care packages for troops overseas.
Much has changed since 2008 when a pair of newcomers faced off in a race for the newly created office of county comptroller. Auerbach had been the mayor and village manager of chronically depressed Ellenville. Quigley had never before sought public office. With a strong tailwind from the national ticket and after weeks of recount, Auerbach emerged a 174-vote winner. He was re-elected in 2010 by about 6,000 votes.
Some things, like the lousy economy, haven’t changed much in the past five years. Others have changed a bit. According to the county board of elections, the Democrats increased their membership by just 962 enrollees since 2008, while Republican enrollment declined by 2,080. Non-enrolled voters declined by 679 voters.
Countywide, the Democrats have increased their plurality over the Republicans to 10,131 enrollees. That’s good news for their candidates.
Quigley has taken a different political route, handily trouncing incumbent Ulster town supervisor Nick Woerner in 2009 and going unchallenged for re-election two years ago. Quigley has also taken an active interest in county and state affairs. He was frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for the Republican nomination for state Senate in the new Ulster-Montgomery Senate district last year. But that deal was sealed in Albany.
Auerbach has been running for re-election since his 174-vote margin was certified five years ago. A seasoned gladhander since his days in his father’s hardware store in Ellenville, Auerbach seems to pop up whenever six or more people gather.
Quigley, a bottom-line CPA, schmoozes less easily. He suffers fools only grudgingly and has little patience with the give-and-take of politics.
Both men will run on their records, Quigley on bringing fiscal stability to his town and promoting economic development, Auerbach on setting up a new office and making it function as a charter designated watchdog of county government.
Five years ago, Quigley’s credentials as a CPA and successful businessman carried much weight. Quigley’s challenge this year will be to demonstrate that as an independent Republican he can be a watchdog with real teeth.
Auerbach, for his part, will bring to the fore his numerous reports on county governmental operations. Some have been highly critical. And while not much came of most of these probes, nobody can deny that the watchdog was at least watching.
Money is an important variable. Quigley has deep pockets and spends lavishly on things he cares about, like a new roof for Coleman Catholic High School some years ago and his 2008 campaign. Will he devote another $200,000 to this one?
“My wife says no,” he said, “but I say, if you’re going to go, go big.”
He may have to go big. When Quigley takes his polls, I’m guessing he’ll find half about 30 percent favoring the ubiquitous incumbent Democrat. Perhaps half the electorate will be undecided and Quigley will have to take the lion’s share of these. Judiciously targeted, large sums of money will do much to close that gap.
In Saugerties, Myers versus Helsmoortel is an old-fashioned gunfight revisited. In some ways, I pity the Sawyers. While one side will say white, the other will say black. Both will call each other liars. Zealous partisans of each will only add zest to the confusion.
Helsmoortel was elected six times, several times with either no opposition or against sacrificial lambs. He now seems to think Myers didn’t win the election by 698 votes (58 percent), but that he lost it. “I don’t think I defended myself well enough,” he said the day after officially announcing. Translation: He took Myers much too lightly.
The difference in the election was the 400 votes Myers secured on the Independence Party line. Had Helsmoortel, endorsed by the Democrats, gotten that line, he would have been a winner. The former supervisor said he’s been petitioning Independence Party chairman Len Bernardo, an ardent Myers supporter two years ago, to reconsider his candidacy.
Myers has been an outspoken, sometimes confrontational town supervisor. It should be a hot time in Saugerties this fall.
Free rides galore
Based on nominations from both major parties, almost half the 23 county legislative seats will go uncontested this fall unless party committees on vacancies can find some warm bodies before mid-July.
Republican Dean Fabiano, given a free ride in Saugerties’ District 2 for the second time, expressed concern about a democratic process that fails to field candidates (in both parties). But he’ll gladly take the pass. Party leaders say they just can’t seem to find candidates these days. At the moment, six Democrats and five Republicans will be unchallenged in the November elections.
New Paltz political science professor Gerry Benjamin, chairman of the charter commission in 2005-06 that created this single-member district system, blames not the charter but the “seemingly moribund” political parties. “The excuse that somebody is entrenched is insufficient,” the professor said. A stickler for balanced objectivity, he suggests that comparisons with the former at-large, multi-district system should be made before passing judgment on this system, in effect only since 2011.