At a Meet-the-Candidates Night event at the Rosendale Recreation Center last Thursday evening, sponsored by the Women’s Club of Rosendale, about 100 local residents turned out to hear a succession of three-minute “elevator speeches” about the candidacies of contenders for the posts of representatives for the 19th US Congressional District and New York State’s 103rd Assembly District, as well as judges for the Ulster County Supreme Court and Family Court. But for the hometown crowd, mostly it was their first “official” opportunity to check out two political newcomers who are vying for the Rosendale Town Board seat being vacated at the end of this year by veteran councilman Ken Hassett.
A clear sentimental favorite with the crowd — drawing far louder cheers and applause than the highest-ranked public official in attendance, incumbent assemblyman Kevin Cahill — was the youngest candidate to throw her hat into the ring, and the most nervous. Apologizing for her stage jitters, Breanna Liggan noted that this was her first big public appearance in “my first foray into politics.” But hers is a last name long-familiar to Rosendale residents, since Breanna’s father, Billy Liggan, is not only the chair of the town’s Planning Board, but also a longtime mainstay of the Rosendale Street Festival and more recently of the Rosendale Farmers’ Market.
The elder Liggan has a reputation as an easygoing character and coalition-builder who is well-liked on both sides of the political aisle in this sometimes-deeply-divided town. Billy’s gloss of popularity seems to have rubbed off on his daughter, who works with her Dad at the family business, John J. Liggan Insurance. Breanna noted that she was put to work backstage at the Street Festival and Rosendale’s International Pickle Festival from an early age (though whether one could call that “volunteering” when one’s father is running the show is a matter of debate). It seems inevitable that, with such a role model who, in her words, has “devoted a ridiculous amount of time” to the town, the younger Liggan would also pursue her “chance to be involved in shaping this community.”
As for her political platform, Breanna Liggan expressed enthusiasm for the recent approval of the Williams Lake Project and cited “sustainable development” as one of her top priorities. She said that she also wanted to “help make downtown businesses more accessible from the rail trail,” now that the trestle over the Rondout has been reopened. She has received the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party endorsements for the Town Board seat.
Challenging Liggan from the Democratic Party side is Bloomington-based carpenter/musician John Hughes, who can boast a high public profile of his own as the guitarist and bass-player for the wildly popular kid-rock band Dog on Fleas. Born in Dutchess County, Hughes earned a baccalaureate in geography at SUNY New Paltz and became a permanent Ulster County resident in his 20s, quickly falling in love with the “friendly environment” of Rosendale — a town whose genius, he said, is that it “lets you be yourself.”
According to the band’s website, “Dog on Fleas plans to take over the world,” but Hughes’s political mission is more modest: “community involvement that comes with a smile.” His priority as a candidate is to enable Rosendale to “take full economic advantage” of its cultural riches and natural beauty and fulfill its potential to become a “destination for ecotourism.” Among the strengths that he said he brings to the table are “enthusiasm,” a “friendly manner” that would doubtless be appreciated during the oft-fractious meetings of the Town Board and “problem-solving skills.”
Neither of the candidates for US Congress showed up in person at Meet-the-Candidates Night in Rosendale. Stephanie Valle, chief of staff for representative Chris Gibson (R/C/I), touted the incumbent’s military record (he reached the rank of colonel and won four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart), his Ph.D. from Cornell and his 2010 earthquake relief mission to Haiti. She cited job creation, infrastructure, small businesses, passage of the Farm Bill and a Lyme disease law among the highlights of his Congressional track record, saying, “We focus on local service…He has the temperament to bring people together and get things done.”
Representing Gibson’s Democratic challenger, Sean Eldridge’s campaign manager Gabrielle Quintana took issue with that latter claim, portraying the incumbent as part of the problem of a “Congress doing nothing…It works for them; it doesn’t work for us.” Priorities in Eldridge’s platform, according to Quintana, include “small business and economic development in the region,” sustainable jobs, reproductive freedom for women, getting the nation “prepared for climate change,” opposition to hydrofracking and campaign finance reform. “If we continue to have the same leadership in Washington, we’re going to have the same results,” she warned.
Though he arrived late from a prior campaign appearance in New Paltz, Assemblyman Cahill did show up, as relaxed a veteran as Breanna Liggan was a nervous neophyte. The long-serving Democrat cited his progressive voting record, including raising the minimum wage in New York State, and said, “I’m hoping for a more cooperative [State] Senate next year.” His particular agenda in Albany this time around, he said, is to “clean that place up,” noting that in current state legislative races, “There are four people running under indictment…There’s something wrong with that.”
Kevin Roberts, an Ulster County legislator representing Plattekill and Modena, is running against Cahill on the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines. Saying that “Rosendale is important to me,” he characterized himself as fiscally conservative and promised, “I will never vote for a tax increase…I will never vote to allow fracking.” He seemed to touch a nerve with the audience when he criticized the “pressure testing” mandated by the Common Core education standards, which he said that he would try to overturn.
Also appearing were both Family Court judge candidates, Republican Keri Savona and Democratic/Working Families nominee Gilda Riccardi. Both cited impressively long lists of credentials as attorneys working on behalf of abused and neglected children: Savona was a supervising attorney at the Ulster County Department of Social Services, while Riccardi worked in the Child Abuse Unit of the Manhattan Assistant District Attorney’s Office and later became an Administrative Law judge.