Besides the numerous city races to be decided next Thursday, Sept. 10, there’s also a Democratic primary for the party’s nod for District 7 county legislator. In the wake of the seat being vacated by longtime legislator Jeanette Provenzano, Jennifer Schwartz Berky and Brian Woltman are contending for the Democratic line this November.
Jennifer Schwartz Berky
Kingston Times: Tell us about yourself — Age, occupation, education?
Jennifer Schwartz Berky: Age: 51. Occupation: Urban planner with 30 years of related work experience and specialized training in economic development and historic preservation. Founder and principal of Hone Strategic, LLC, a consulting firm focusing on these areas of expertise. I work with local governments and nonprofit organizations on urban revitalization and adaptive reuse projects. I also serve on the boards of trustees for the New York State Hudson River Valley Greenway, Re>Think Local, and as a commissioner of the Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission. I am also a single mother of a young boy and also consider this to be my most important job. Education: BA in art history from SUNY Stony Brook (1984); MS in real estate development (1993) and an M.Phil. (also a masters’ degree) in urban planning (2004), both from Columbia University, both from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. I was also sent by the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to Rome, Italy, as the U.S. participant in UNESCO’s prestigious Integrated Territorial Urban Conservation Programme (1999) at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property.
KT: What inspired you to seek this office?
JSB: This is my first run for office, but I am very experienced in government. As a very engaged member of the Kingston community, I have served as a volunteer on many organizations’ boards and on several city and state commissions and at the request of the mayor and state leaders. The moment Jeanette Provenzano announced her retirement, many people contacted me immediately, noting my history of service to the community and my knowledge of Ulster County government. When I served as deputy director of planning there (2004-12), I worked with every municipality, all the legislators and many departments to move the county forward in economic development, housing, environmental and open space protection, recreation, transportation, cultural tourism, agriculture and Main Streets planning. While I was in that office, we generated all the plans for these issues that are now in effect and having a valuable impact for the county and Kingston. I love this work — it is my avocation — and I know I would do a very good job helping Kingston participate in making progress on all these fronts and more.
KT: What’s the top issue in your opinion facing the voters of District 7?
JSB: I have met hundreds of constituents since I announced my run for office and almost all are concerned about jobs and economic development. Many are sad that their grown or growing children may not be able to live near them to find professional success or find work here if they wish to return. Many struggle on fixed incomes with the tax burdens here. Lots of people are underemployed or unemployed. We need to change the way we practice economic development. Government must be much more proactive about the way it works with businesses that already exist here and those who are making efforts to start and grow here. These are, according to every economic expert, the real “job creators.” Large companies get huge tax breaks and incentives that actually cost taxpayers more than they give back. I will work with the county’s Industrial Development Agency to implement new reforms now becoming state law to make sure we require more evidence of quality job creation in exchange for incentives and require repayment when they do not follow through or leave the county. Good economic development requires a very professional approach to this work. Agreements and support for business should not be politically-driven; rather, we should support growth based on the best knowledge possible. We have incredible talent in our community. We can make more of it.
KT: How, in your opinion, can the county government best serve the city?
JSB: The county has enormous expertise that can help every municipality. It was very instrumental in helping Kingston move forward with all the new transportation and trails projects now underway because the Ulster County Planning Department put together a strong foundation for these projects to get funding from state and federal sources. The county has many areas of expertise that could be better coordinated with the city. The county’s public study to improve and coordinate the bus systems should be implemented to help the lives of those who depend on public transportation. When decisions are made that can cost the taxpayers millions, such as the poor stormwater management from the Twin Ponds development that led to flooding of the Tannery Brook and eventually the complications of the Washington Avenue sinkhole, the county can be asked for its expertise. This kind of support could help Kingston make the best long-term and economic decisions possible.
KT: What’s your take on the rail-trail issue?
JSB: I have heard a great deal of concern and confusion from constituents about the removal of the rails. This is not a “sound-bite” issue. Like all government decisions, we should base our conclusions on the best information we can get. I have read all the studies issues by proponents of every solution. While I believe that trails are extremely valuable for recreation and well-being, and are providing important economic and public health benefits to our community, I also want to know with more certainty how we might protect the rare and significant heritage of the Catskill Mountain Railroad wherever feasible. There are several legal issues to be sorted out regarding the shared use of portions of the [New York City Department of Environmental Protection] easement that deserve further analysis. Now that the legislature has taken the step of undertaking a study to understand the potential economic impacts of a extending the rail line, perhaps we can get an external expert analysis on the costs and benefits. This is the value of the “balance of powers” — a legislature should make decisions on the basis of credible, independent fact-finding. I have read the other reports on this issue to date and look forward to reading the results of their economic study and to the possibility of serving the public with respectful, independent decision-making.
KT: Why should someone vote for you and not the other person?
JSB: I truly respect his dedication to Kingston. We share that. However, I have the more extensive experience and track-record with writing legislation and policy, conducting thorough research, doing broad community outreach and making responsible, informed decisions on behalf of the public. I am very responsive, engaged with the public, hard-working, and will bring professionalism to my work in the legislature.
Kingston Times: Tell us about yourself — Age, occupation, education?
Brian Woltman: Age: 52. Occupation: purchasing agent for the City of Kingston, since 1995. Previously inventory control clerk at Dyno Nobel and department manager at Caldor. Education: Kingston High School Class of 1980; attended Ulster County Community College from 1980-82, studying business administration.