One of the more unusual contests in a rather tame election year is the race for District II of the County Legislature, which includes the village of Saugerties, Barclay Heights and Malden.
First-termer Chris Allen and opponent Angie Minew are both characters— Allen, mop-topped and intense, came out of nowhere two years ago to knock off long-time incumbent Bob Aiello, now ubiquitous, proud of his rhetorical skill and unshakably confident of electoral success, now laboring under pending assault charges for allegedly attacking a teacher who wouldn’t let him park near a Greene County swimming hole she and students were prettying up; Minew, an outspoken School Board member who urged teachers who supported opting out of standardized tests to find a new line of work and had her car keyed, she says, because of it, and, with her husband and his garage band, was at the center of a neighbor dispute that prompted the town to spend much of 2014 considering whether to institute a noise ordinance (it decided against it).
On paper the race shares some similarities with the supervisor contest. It’s the only other one-on-one race in town. Allen, like Helsmoortel, is an incumbent with the Democratic, Republican and Independence lines. Minew, like Ciarlante, has only the Conservative line. Allen snatched the GOP and Independence lines from Minew, the pick of both parties, by mounting a write-in primary campaign.
Allen is a Democrat and Minew is a Conservative, though she came late to the party, and her enrollment status won’t take effect until after the election.
Allen was riding high until the assault accusations emerged a couple weeks later. The matter won’t come to court until after the election. He says he’ll still win with 65 percent of the vote, possibly more.
“Before these false accusations were leveled against me I would have won by 2,000 votes,” he said.
That’s in a district where fewer than 2,500 voters turned out in 2013.
What happened at the swimming hole
Allen was arrested Sept. 25 in connection with a Sept. 18 incident at a Greene County swimming hole.
The victim, Ritamary Montano-Vining, a Greene County school teacher, says she was cleaning up the parking area with a fellow teacher and a group of students when Allen arrived in his vehicle. After she told him not park there because it would interfere with their clean-up, she said he became angry and, when she displayed her ID on a lanyard around her neck, he pulled on it hard enough to leave abrasions.
Allen says a verbal confrontation did take place but not a physical one. He said the injuries were self-inflicted and that the allegations were politically motivated.
“It’s a fabrication of lies that my accuser leveled against me, and I’m 100 percent confident I will be fully vindicated,” he said.
Would he step down if convicted?
“I’m not guilty of the accusations so I’m not even going to go there,” he said.
When asked if she felt voters should keep the pending charges in mind when deciding whom to vote for, Minew replied, “Absolutely.” She said there were numerous sworn statements from witnesses supporting the allegations. “That’s a lot evidence against one person and I don’t feel that it’s a he-said she-said thing. I think that a lot of things can be said about how you interact with people in the community. That would not have been my reaction; I would have gotten out of the car and helped them [beautify the swimming hole parking area]. I don’t know why that wasn’t his reaction.”
The first-term legislator cites economic development as a top priority, and said his greatest accomplishment was getting a Saugerties business owner onto the board of the county Industrial Development Agency. The business owner pointed out that there was a need for more natural gas hookups on Kings Highway and Central Hudson agreed to provide them as a result, said Allen.
He said he personally reaches out to companies to invite them to Saugerties. His latest target is pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, though he has yet to speak with any higher-ups in London. Allen also serves on the Legislature’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
He’s very proud of his membership on three committees, instead of the usual two, and said he’s the first legislator since Ward Todd to be named to the important Ways and Means Committee after one year in office. He also serves on the Health Care Committee and says he’s researching a book on the health care system, and looks forward to passing more resolutions pertaining to patients’ rights regarding medical records.
Like other county Republicans, Minew has adopted the cause of the Catskill Mountain Railroad. The executive has favored a rail trail.
“It’s a tourist attraction,” she said. “It brings in revenue for the county. Money comes in and does eventually trickle itself down to Saugerties.”
Minew offered a specific example of how a county policy has affected her. As a daycare operator, some of her clients are subsidized through the county. Payments are made by check, which she said can take up to two months. She and other daycare operators asked for the subsidies to be paid through direct deposit but their request was refused.
She said she supports a recent county law limiting the sale of cigarettes near schools and would be interested in advancing similar public health legislation.
She said she would have supported the county’s resolution earlier this year calling for the repeal of the SAFE Act, which Allen did not vote on, and she would have supported a resolution that would give the Legislature sole power to appoint an independent county auditor, which Allen supported initially, then changed his vote following the executive’s veto.
Allen explains those votes
The county’s SAFE Act resolution was riddled with spelling errors and redundancies that made the Legislature look like “a bunch of amateurs,” said Allen. He said he would have voted for it if edits were made per his request. Regarding the substance of the SAFE Act, he says the seven-round limit was “a big mistake and it turned law-abiding gun owners into criminals overnight.” He said “nobody wants crazy people to have guns” but background checks to prevent mentally ill and those with restraining orders or other “criminal proceedings” against them from owning guns have not succeeded, at least based on the feedback he’s received.
Regarding the audit vote, Allen says he initially supported the measure because he liked the idea of the issue coming to a public vote as a referendum in the fall, but he changed his mind after the opposition pointed out the dangers of having a small group of legislators in a committee, which could be stacked through political maneuvering, make such an important decision.
Why Minew is running
Angie Minew moved to Saugerties from Ellenville seven and half years ago. She said she’s been involved with local issues since day one, before she thought of running for office. She contrasts this with her opponent, whom she says nobody ever saw until he decided he wanted to be a legislator. She mentioned the food pantry, animal shelter, schools and a flag football league as examples.
She said she opted to run for legislator because she likes the “broader spectrum” county government offers.
Both candidates said they would be independent voices for Saugerties.
Allen mentioned his vote for the county to assist in collecting delinquent taxes for villages, a measure that went down in defeat. He said he’d like to see the Legislature assert great autonomy, particularly by writing more of its own resolutions rather than using drafts forwarded from the executive branch.
Minew agreed that the balance of power is off-kilter and cited the auditor vote as a missed opportunity to tip the scales back toward the Legislature. In her record as School Board trustee, she mentioned her vote against extending the superintendent’s contract several years before it was up — a vote in which she split with then-President George Heidcamp (who was then and is now the Conservative chair) — because it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible.
Though she raised questions about his behavior, Minew didn’t question Allen’s legislative qualifications. She said while it’s only Allen’s second run, he has “learn[ed] the game very well” while she is comparatively “green.” She said the odds are against her.
Allen says while his opponent is qualified according to “the Constitution” she is not knowledgeable about the issues. Less knowledgeable than he was before he entered office?
“Absolutely,” he said. “Not even close.”
Allen said Minew told Republicans she would pass a resolution to ban security cameras in the village and was unaware that wasn’t within the Legislature’s authority to do. He also said she attacked him for supporting an affordable housing project which was actually a market-rate development and not located in District 2.
“Some people just don’t have the proclivities to understand these processes and based on the numerous statements she’s made, I’m not sure if she has these type of proclivities to grasp basic concepts of government operation,” he said.
Minew said regardless of the result of the election, she’s in it for the long haul.
“I know what we’re doing here and we’re good people and we’re doing good by the community. I know that regardless of win, lose or draw, on [Nov. 3] I don’t go away. We’ve been a force in this community since we moved here, so we don’t go away after the election.”