Lackluster Town Board race
Because of uninspired campaigns, it may be easy to forget that there’s a Town Board race going on between incumbent Leeanne Thornton (I), endorsed by Democrats, and challenger Allyson Barbaria (R), endorsed by Republicans.
There are two Town Board seats on the November ballot.
One of the two seats will go to Fred Costello Jr. (I) because he has two major party nods. The fourth candidate in the race, Dan Ellsworth (C), only carries the Conservative line.
Longtime Democrat-endorsed Costello got the Republican nod when he put his name up at the GOP caucus and won when Joe Roberti Jr., who is the party’s chairman, dropped out of the race. Costello also has the Independence line.
Roberti hasn’t said why he suddenly decided not to allow his name to be nominated at the Republican caucus after actively running for the seat for weeks. A cause-and-effect may be that he declined nomination moments after Democrat-endorsed Greg Helsmoortel (I) won the Republican caucus nomination for supervisor by defeating Gaetana Ciarlante (C).
Ellsworth replaced Roberti on the Conservative line for one of two Town Board seats. Ellsworth may best be remembered for his previous foray into electoral politics, when he was defeated by Vernon Benjamin for supervisor 25 years ago. Ellsworth, the Conservative Party’s secretary-treasurer, is filling the vacated ballot spot and thereby taking one for the team.
That leaves Democratic and Independence candidate Leeanne Thornton up against Allyson Barbaria, who has the Republican and Conservative lines.
Unless something happens in the final two weeks of the campaign, this race won’t be decided on issues. It will come down to which candidate’s team can best get their supporters out to vote Nov. 3.
Since there are a couple of hundred more registered Democrats than Republicans in Saugerties, one might think Thornton has the advantage. Not the case. That’s because historically, Republicans come out to vote in higher numbers than Democrats in off-year (odd numbered) elections.
For example, in 2013, about 1,706 Democrats came out to vote in Saugerties (representing 47 percent of registered Democrats) but about 1,899 Republicans came out, representing 56 percent of registered Republicans.
There are Independence, Conservative, Green, and other voters, including non-enrolled voters, which have to be factored into the final results.
But it’s important for each party to get out its base on Election Day.
Whichever major party candidate loses in November, be that Thornton or Barbaria, the blame may be cast on their committees, which are entrusted to get out their vote.
Epidemic or not
At last week’s Town Board meeting, Police Chief Joseph Sinagra interjected himself into the town campaign, declaring “it’s that time of the year again and political propaganda is out there” and went on at length to criticize candidate Allyson Barbaria’s campaign brochure, which he said stated drugs were “rampant” in Saugerties and that police were turning a “blind eye” to it.
While acknowledging a drug problem exists in Saugerties similar to other communities, the chief took offense to the word “rampant” and what that connotes.
The chief went on to say he “doesn’t like to get involved in this stuff [political issues],” but “when there’s false information being disseminated in our community that can sway your vote, then I feel it’s important, as the police chief, to [set] the facts straight.”
Sinagra also said he felt he was being used as a pawn in this political season and said if Barbaria has statistics he’s unaware of, he’d like to see them.
In an op-ed last week, party chief Joe Roberti Jr. wrote that there was a “tidal wave of narcotics flooding Saugerties and the Hudson Valley.”
Perhaps as a response to community concerns on the issue, School Superintendent Seth Turner is expected to soon unveil a drug prevention program called “Know More.”
Leeanne Thornton at the LWV Q&A forum took exception to the wording of the drug situation in Saugerties as “out of control” and thought that was an “extreme description.”
Fred Costello, too, said labeling the drug situation as an “epidemic” was unfair, while acknowledging the community faces challenges when it comes to illegal drugs.
When I approached council candidate Barbaria after the chief’s criticism of her, I asked what evidence there was to support the claims of a severe drug situation in Saugerties and what people were basing their opinions on.
Barbaria said “opinions are being based on articles seen in the newspapers and arrest reports we’ve seen published in the Freeman.” She said that since she decided to run, she has received a large number of calls from parents with older children “that are alarmed who have a child involved or a friend of a child and they’re begging for somebody to take a stand and say something.”
I submitted a FOIL request and received Saugerties police narcotic and UPM (unlawful possession of marijuana) arrest statistics last week. Those statistics show there’s not a significant variance in drug arrests since 2012.
Arrest statistics, by themselves, are not necessarily a good indicator to show whether there’s a trend in drug usage.
It should be noted that drug arrests may also be included in felony and misdemeanor arrest statistics, but drug arrest statics aren’t broken out in those categories. Additionally, the statistics don’t include Saugerties drug arrests by the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office and State Police.
The chief also challenged District 2 Legislature candidate Angie Minew, whom the chief said he was told claims “she and I are in constant and daily communication between one another.” The chief said that is “not true.”
What Sinagra may be hearing about is Minew’s claim at the LWV forum that “for the last three years [she’s] been in and out of Chief Sinagra’s office” about drug problem concerns.
Politics of illicit drugs
Ulster County taxpayers already pay to alleviate drug problems by supporting the Ulster County Drug Task Force that Saugerties participates in, a school resource officer, URGENT (Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team), UPC (Ulster Prevention Council), the Rx Drug Task Force, among others.
Challengers to incumbent office-holders will often exaggerate issues and problems during a campaign for their political advantage. That’s nothing new. Puffery is part of the game, whether when advertisers sell products or politicians sell themselves.
That being said, let’s not put our heads in the sand. Last month, Senator Charles Schumer issued a press release in which he “urged the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to designate Ulster County a federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which will help Ulster County address a recent and disturbing uptick in heroin usage and drug-related crime by improving coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as providing equipment, technology and additional resources that the county needs to tackle this challenge.”
For Saugerties residents, the question should be: How prevalent is the problem here and how much can a Town Board be reasonably expected to do to address a problem that perplexes county, state, and national experts and officials?
The answers may determine how much local taxpayer money gets funneled into programs that may do nothing more than give the appearance of attempting to tackle drug problems.
Many individuals and their families deal with drugs issues. They’ve experienced the awful consequences. The problems they’ve dealt with and deal with deserve a respectful and an honest dialog.
The middle of a political campaign may not be the best time to discuss the issue.
Vendettas affect legislation?
Last week’s Saugerties League of Women Voters (LWV) sponsored Q&A forum between District 2 Legislature candidates, incumbent Chris Allen and challenger Angie Minew, offered different perspectives to a question involving legislator interpersonal relationships and how those may affect legislation.
Allen: “There’s a lot of infighting that goes on between the two [political] parties. A lot of it has to do with deep-seated vendettas amongst the two major parties that date back to long before I was in the Legislature. As an individual legislator representing District 2, I have done my best to stay away from all of the drama. I have avoided playing games for the entire two years I have been in the Legislature… And the problem with the games that get played in the Legislature is that it doesn’t allow us to set policy.”
Minew: “The legislators are very hard-working people. They do their job. And they are certainly not playing games and having personal vendettas against anyone to make decisions.”
Local Conservatives and Republicans in chaos
The two registered Conservatives in the town races are certainly trying to ignite some interest in their campaigns. Their problem is, they may be hurting rather than helping their cause.
As I recollected in a previous column, 2013 Saugerties GOP ads claimed “Gaetana Ciarlante is too extreme for Saugerties.” It cited as evidence a reference that Ciarlante “called supporters of the Town Comprehensive Plan ‘communists.’”
The ads also said “Gaetana will not accept state or federal grants, although grants helped build the ice arena, the library, the Cantine Field complex, maintain our local roads and provide equipment for our police department and volunteer firefighters.”
Those 2013 ads were attributed to Joe Roberti Jr. Roberti feared Conservative Party candidate Ciarlante would siphon votes from Republican candidate Kelly Myers, thereby handing the election to Democrat-endorsed candidate Greg Helsmoortel. As it turned out, Roberti was right, as that’s exactly what happened on Election Day.
After the 2013 ads appeared, in an unusual if not awkward response, the two registered Republican and Republican Town Board candidates, James Bruno and William Schirmer, who had the Conservative Party cross-endorsement, publicly criticized the ads of their Republican chairman.
Conservative Party Chairman George Heidcamp put pressure on Bruno and Schirmer to publicly issue a statement denouncing the ads, which helped his supervisor candidate (Ciarlante) and caused dissension within Republican ranks.
Bruno and Schirmer, among other Republican candidates, said: “We absolutely don’t approve of them [the ads]” and apologized for any “problems that these ads may have caused.”
Heidcamp looked like the winner, giving his party’s supervisor candidate a boost to the detriment of Myers, and making Republicans look dysfunctional.
Now, two years later, Ciarlante is again the Conservative Party standard-bearer. How does she repay Republicans Bruno and Schirmer who put their necks on the line by defending her two years ago against their own Republican Party chairman? She now criticizes them in a campaign brochure!
Ciarlante and Ellsworth, in a brochure being distributed around town, say “our local government, under both major parties” (which Bruno and Schirmer are part of) “is wasteful and shows incompetence and a lack of transparency.”
And there’s more. The brochure, in which Ciarlante and Ellsworth proclaim “Vote Row C – Conservative,” never mentions Allyson Barbaria, their running mate on the Conservative line. Why, because she’s a registered Republican?
Heidcamp was upset two years ago when the Republican chairman criticized his supervisor candidate running on the Conservative line (without the Republican endorsement), since Conservatives gave their cross-endorsements to other Republican candidates.
Shouldn’t Republicans and their chairman be just as upset this time around when the Conservative supervisor candidate (Ciarlante) and Town Board candidate (Ellsworth) criticize those same Republican candidates on the Town Board that won with Conservative Party endorsement the last time?
And shouldn’t Roberti issue a complaint since his Republican Town Board candidate Barbaria is being ignored on a Conservative Party campaign flyer?
Saugerties mirrors national politics
What’s going on in Republican politics when it comes to Conservatives in Washington, D.C. may be similar to what’s going on in Saugerties.
In Washington, certain Conservatives and those representatives supported by the Tea Party drove Speaker of the House John Boehner into a retirement announcement.
There’s evidence that polarization exists within both major political parties. That polarization manifests itself more in Republican circles, which is one reason Boehner is leaving the fray.
A group of Washington House Conservatives want action now.
“Change comes slowly, and obviously too slowly for some.” I didn’t say that; Boehner did last month on CBS’s Face the Nation.
Now let’s look at Saugerties and the Conservative Party relationship with the Republican Party.
Two years ago the Conservative leadership was willing to deny the incumbent Republican supervisor candidate the Conservative line by running their own candidate, thereby helping elect Democrat endorsed Greg Helsmoortel in his re-run bid.
This year the Conservative leadership tried to force Republicans to nominate their registered Conservative Party candidate, by holding their caucus ahead of the Republican caucus. That backfired on the Conservative Party leadership when Republican caucus attendees didn’t go along with the Conservative Party’s pick.
Of the three County Legislature seats Saugerties has, District 1 is held by a registered Conservative, Mary Wawro.
For District 2, the Conservative Party chairman has been making a push to get Angie Minew elected. Minew recently announced she just registered at the Board of Elections as a Conservative Party member. Minew claimed in a recent letter-to-the-editor that only “after examining all the parties” and waiting until she was “educated, versed, and had a personal stake in the issues” did she decide to register Conservative.
Minew’s letter may have tried to dupe the public into believing that sitting next to Conservative Party Chairman George Heidcamp at the School Board meeting dais and his influence had nothing to do with her recent registration decision. (They’re both trustees.)
Two-time supervisor candidate Gaetana Ciarlante, up until a few years ago, was a registered Republican. Now she is not only a registered Conservative, but the party’s vice-chairwoman.
Two years ago, the Saugerties Republican Chairman was critical of the Conservative supervisor candidate and took a lot of heat for it. This year there were words indicating a truce, although since the Republican caucus Republican Chairman Joe Roberti Jr. has been noticeably quiet.
That hasn’t stopped Ciarlante from being publicly critical of prominent Republicans.
Just like on the national level, local Conservatives are taking aim at Republicans.
And just like on the national level, Democrats in leadership positions are sitting back, letting them, and loving it.
Klaus Gaebel’s column appears monthly, with additional special dispatches during the election season.