Harris seeks Woodstock council seat

Howard Harris (photo by Dion Ogust)

Howard Harris (photo by Dion Ogust)

The race to fill two upcoming vacancies on the Woodstock Town Board gained a fourth entrant this week when Howard Harris, a former longtime member and chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, announced his candidacy for a seat on the council.

Harris formally declared his intention to seek office in an August 5 interview at his home in Bearsville. The retired NYPD detective, who has resided in Woodstock for more than 20 years, presented a campaign statement (or agenda, as he called it) detailing his positions on issues including the municipal budget, the local economy, cellular service, the zoning law, and the environment.

The candidate has been a vocal critic of the current administration since a majority of the Town Board voted last December not to reappoint him to the ZBA. Harris had been a member of the volunteer zoning panel for approximately 15 years, serving as its chair for the last eight years. The ZBA’s four remaining members resigned soon after the board cut ties with Harris, replacing him with a newcomer when his most recent five-year term expired. The zoning agency has since been reconstituted.


Unlike his three rivals — incumbent Town Board members Cathy Magarelli and Bill McKenna and challenger Gary Kutcher, all enrolled Democrats who will participate in their party’s primary on September 10 — Harris, an enrolled Republican, will seek the GOP nomination for the November 5 general election. The Woodstock Republican Committee will choose its local candidates at a fall caucus, whose date has yet to be announced. Among enrolled voters in Woodstock, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than four to one.

The Democratic primary will yield two nominees to fill the Town Board seats currently held by Magarelli and McKenna, whose terms expire at the end of the year; both are seeking election to a new four-year term. Kutcher, a first-time candidate for local office, resided in Oregon for three decades before returning to Woodstock, where he grew up, in 2011.

Democratic primary voters will also select the party’s candidate for town supervisor. Vying for the party’s nod are Jeremy Wilber, the incumbent, who previously served as supervisor from 2000 to 2007; Lorin Rose, a member of the Planning Board; and former Town Board member Terrie Rosenblum. Wilber reclaimed his old office in the 2011 election by swamping Rosenblum in the Democratic primary and then defeating Rose in the general contest.

In the final race in the upcoming fall election, incumbent town justice Richard Husted, a Democrat, is running unopposed for a new four-year term. Husted has served on the local bench since 1998.


Unfinished business

Harris’s agenda, titled “Get It Done,” reflects the candidate’s belief that the town government has been generally unproductive. “There are too many projects which have yet to be started, issues which have been placed on the back burner, and projects which have not been completed that, with the right people in place, can be accomplished,” he said.

Harris, 71, proposed a deployment of the town website, woodstockny.org, as both a bulletin board that would inform residents of the status of municipal projects (either under consideration or under way) and a kind of Yellow Pages that would direct viewers to useful services offered by local businesses or individuals.

On the fiscal front, the town’s rising expenses are projected to outstrip its revenue, prompting some residents on fixed incomes to consider moving elsewhere while pinching the household budgets of others, according to Harris, who stressed the importance of keeping property tax increases below the statewide cap of 2 percent. [Note: The 2013 town budget raised taxes by less than 1 percent.] The town’s adoption of zero-based budgeting, whereby departments would be required to justify all of their expenses annually, would reduce wasteful spending, he maintained.

“There are thousands of dollars available to subsidize many of the needs of Woodstock,” said Harris in his statement. He recommended that the town enlist grant writers to locate and apply for funding that would benefit the local community, although he acknowledged that the idea has been discussed for years. As compensation, a grant writer could receive either a salary or a percentage of any funding that the employee secured for the town.

In addition, said Harris, a grant writer or similar employee could keep Woodstock officials abreast of wider economic developments, such as forecasts that the robust stock market might fatten municipal coffers and thus reduce spending for mandates like pension benefits.


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