Ulster County legislator Don Gregorius, a five termer who has seen the local governance structure change from sole control by the legislature to one where a county executive shares power with the body, has announced he will not seek reelection in this year’s elections.
“There comes a time when it’s appropriate and right (to step away.) That’s where I’m at,” said Gregorius, who also served on the Woodstock Town Board in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “I’m a term limits person. Twelve was my magic number.” But now he’s leaving after ten. “It’s not any one thing,” he said, when asked why. “There’s never a right time. There’s always things on the burner. But I wanted to give plenty of notice to people who may be available so they can move forward. Hopefully I’ve done that.”
Gregorius can point to numerous items of which he is proud. During his early days on the legislature, he chaired a labor relations negotiation committee that was able to secure a contract. “County management was having trouble getting a contract. A couple of weeks, we got it done,” he said. He points to the county’s Host Liability Law, enacted after a tragic drinking/driving death, as a measure that has helped, and he touts his role in the Rise program, helping single mothers get college educations. “This one really mattered to me. It breaks the cycle of dependency on social services. People flowed through. The state loved it and endorsed it. It was a game changer for people.”
He also cites an arts fund that he promoted along with Susan Zimet, when she was on the legislature, dedicated to maintaining artistic and cultural life. “We set aside $50,000 for Arts Mid-Hudson to administer with a blind jury. Seven to ten groups get money, based on what they’ve offered in the competition. It brings a lot of people in, WAAM, The Byrdcliffe Guild, CPW, School of Art, Shadowland, it’s all over the county, a puppeteer in Saugerties. It’s very popular…and still going strong. Hopefully it will continue.
Charter, succession, regrets…
But it’s clear that Gregorius, as Democratic majority leader, is not enamored with a county legislature that has more members of his own party seated (13-10), yet is controlled by Republicans in league with a small Democratic breakaway faction that, together elected Democrat John Parete as its chair.
“I don’t see vast changes in the legislature in the near term anyway. A couple of people here, there. When you start to get numbers like we have now 10-13, one to two either way, at that point we’d go back to being in the majority. What I think about is all the people that work for their party and go out and get signatures — that’s taken away from them. I don’t care which side of the aisle is, people work hard for what they believe in. The last thing we need is for people not to be involved. We try to get the people to come out and make their voices heard. The last thing we need is to reduce that.”
Gregorius thinks that the Charter implementation that installed a county executive has been beneficial. “If you take the body of work from the legislative branch, I think it’s pretty good. But you’d never have had a jail situation like you had. There’s more accountability to the public with the new system, not just to the district. That’s a better deal. The exec gets money coming into the county, makes things happen. That’s hard to do with just the legislature running things. I think the charter has worked. It may need nips and tucks along the way, but the public has to be involved.”
Any thoughts on who might succeed you?
“Hopefully we’ll find out shortly. Committee meetings are held through May and June. Hopefully my announcement will spark some people who will consider it….A good mix is important. You need people coming in and going out.”
“There are some votes on things, generally, that I was disappointed with. But you don’t dwell on it. I feel good about a couple of things we stopped…you also vote for things not to happen.”
Gregorius was outspoken about the warrant checks that Sheriff’s deputies were performing on everyone who entered the county’s Social Services offices. “I’m totally against what was going on, I consider it a violation of the 4th amendment and the Civil Rights act of 1964.” The legislature voted against prohibiting the checks, though the Sheriff had stopped the practice. “I vote the way I believe is the right way to vote. I stand by my choices. The bottom line is it has to pass a test that says it doesn’t violate rights and it doesn’t do that.”
And what’s next for Gregorius? “I’ll be trying to do more things that I haven’t been able to do, for family and business. But I’m not going to close up shop. I will play a part in some things, in some fashion…”