There are a couple of signs the 2017 political season is underway in Saugerties.
First is that at least one day has passed since Election Day 2015. Checkmark.
Another sign is that candidates have started jockeying for positions while not officially announcing their candidacies. Another checkmark.
You’ll know who some of the local candidates are for sure when you start seeing letters to the editor offering political politeness aimed at constituencies.
The political season will be in full swing when letters and campaign brochures from candidates talk about the need for economic development, which doesn’t seem to get the same focus of attention after they get sworn into office.
One of the exceptions to the political norms is two-term Republican councilman Jim Bruno, who has announced his candidacy for town supervisor. Incumbent Greg Helsmoortel has made it known he’s not running again for the job.
Running for the supervisor position, Bruno’s four-year term on the town board is up this year. The supervisor position is on the ballot every two years.
The soft-spoken Bruno fits the definition of a gentleman, both in public and in private, a seemingly rare combination in the rough-and-tumble world of politics. That should be a plus in a world where loudmouths, badmouths and foulmouths too often get unwarranted attention.
Bruno’s Achilles’ heel may be that playing politics with his votes on the town board hasn’t been his cup of tea.
Democrats have come up with a plausible candidate for the supervisor job in Paul Andreassen. The former building inspector and founding member of a local band is not a definite to run. Being in a band didn’t hurt John Hall in his successful runs for the county legislature, the school board, and then Congress. Andreassen probably won’t set his sights that high. Town government will suffice.
Sources tell me Democrat Andreassen went before town Republicans. He may run for supervisor, councilman, or not at all.
Building inspector for ten years, he built a reputation for integrity.
But this is Saugerties, where politics can get personal and cruel. There’s that letter he reportedly wrote anonymously against a colleague while he served as Woodstock building inspector, and a news account that had him initially denying he wrote the unsigned letter. That leaves him open to the type of campaign seeking to turn his positive into a negative.
Angie Minew is another name that pops up as a possible supervisor candidate. Minew lost a school board reelection bid in 2016. The year before that she lost in a race to become a county legislator. Having lost two races in a row, registered Conservative Minew apparently hopes a third try will be a charm.
The 2015 race for District 2 legislator is much remembered. Incumbent Democratic legislator and write-in candidate Chris Allen did the seemingly impossible, besting Minew in primaries for both the Republican and Independence lines. Allen’s name had to be written in by voters, a difficult method to win a primary contest.
With incumbent councilman Bruno running for supervisor and incumbent councilman Bill Schirmer reportedly not seeking another term this fall, there won’t be incumbents for two open seats for town board this year. Open seats present opportunities for people that would rather not run against someone that’s won before.
One name that keeps coming up for one of those seats is twice former Conservative supervisor candidate Gaetana Ciarlante. Ciarlante was a spoiler in the 2013 race for town supervisor, when she ran on the Conservative line against the incumbent Republican supervisor, handing the victory to her Democratic opponent.
In 2015, enough Republicans were upset with Ciarlante that they denied her their line and instead cross-endorsed Greg Helsmoortel, who also appeared on the Democratic and Independence lines on the November ballot.
Give Ciarlante credit in that 2015 race. Against all odds, she fought until the end, proclaiming, as Yankee legend Yogi Berra once did, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
Saugerties Republican chairman Joe Roberti is another name frequently mentioned as a likely candidate. Roberti had all intentions of being a town-board candidate in 2015, but pulled his name from consideration the night of the Republican caucus after party members cross-endorsed Helsmoortel for supervisor instead of his candidate, Gaetana Ciarlante.
Roberti’s kept up his personal web blog, which is not in the Republican Committee’s name. He’s the author. With twenty-six blog posts last year and two so far this year, the website may actually be more of a campaign tool than the good-government forum it purports to be.
Another name getting mention as a possible town-board candidate is that of former village trustee and former school board member Don Tucker. Tucker has had a close association with Conservative Party chairman George Heidcamp in a number of roles. He switched his enrollment from Conservative to Republican a few years back. There’s now speculation that a run for some kind of political position is in Tucker’s future. A run by Tucker is unlikely if Roberti and Ciarlante want the Republican council nominations. They may be a package deal, as in 2015.
With Democratic endorsed council incumbents Fred Costello and Leeanne Thornton’s terms up in two years, Tucker may have to patiently wait to run against them. Then again, there’s always the supervisor’ position in 2019.
Former county legislator Robert Aiello threw open the possibility of putting his hat into the ring for a town office in a recent letter. If he’s serious about running, he may upset the Republican applecart.
No Democratic names for the town board yet. A registered Democrat hasn’t won a councilperson position since Nancy Campbell did it in 2005.
At last week’s town board meeting, road boss Doug Myer presented the board with a 2016 year-end report. It was concise. The accomplishments were bulleted. Charts were nicely laid out. All the shared services provided by the department were listed. There were even pictures. Impressive. It looked like it could be a 2017 campaign brochure.
Four years ago, Myer won reelection on the Democratic line. That rare Conservative endorsement of a Democratic candidate put Myer over the top against his Republican opponent.
Two years ago, Republicans couldn’t find their own candidate, so they cross-endorsed Myer.
This time Republicans may have found a candidate in Ray Mendock.
A highway superintendent brings technical skills to the job. As it’s an elected position, political skills are needed too. That’s a rare combination for highway superintendents. Myer has those political skills, as his year-end document testified. He’s been on the hot seat during candidate debates and has the ability to rigorously defend himself when challenged.
Myer critics cite what they claim is a lack of employee morale in the highway department. Considering the dollars available in the budget, they question the condition of the roads,.
An opposing candidate stating the case and having the political skills to make the case are two completely different things.
Justice, tax collector, town clerk
Expected to seek reelection are town judge Dan Lamb, tax collector Julie Dunn and town clerk Lisa Stanley. If no opponents surface, expect all to be cross-endorsed.
County legislature, District 1
Since first being elected in 2011, Mary Wawro has been aided by her Democratic opponents not being able to gain the Independence line. Had they, those would have been races Democrats could have potentially won. Wawro didn’t have an opponent in 2015. 2017 may not see a contested race, either.
County legislature, District 2
Chris Allen shocked the political world, but not himself, by beating an up-to-then popular Republican votegetter in 2013. He won reelection in 2015, again shocking the local political establishment by expanding his ballot spots when he won the Republican and Independence lines as a write-in candidate in their primaries.
Talk this time is that Joe Maloney wants to run against Allen. He so impressed local Republicans with his knowledge of the issues that their convention endorsement is likely his for the asking.
Despite the competition, Allen’s not to be underestimated. Previous opponents made that mistake to their peril. He’s issue-oriented. He politicks every day. He tries to win over every voter, no matter their political persuasion.
That’s why Allen’s beat the political pros in two elections. But is his style, which won him election in the first place, beginning to wear on people? This may be the election that tells.
County legislature, District 3
Republican Dean Fabiano breezed to victory in the 2015 general election when he received the Democratic cross-endorsement. The worrisome part of 2015 for Fabiano was the Republican primary he was forced into against a Town of Ulster resident.
Fabiano’s legislative district is shared by Ulster and Saugerties voters, with the majority of the district voters residing in Ulster. A legislator coming out of Saugerties may be at an electoral disadvantage. That didn’t stop Fabiano from trouncing his primary opponent last time out.
This time around, Eric Kitchen, a three-term Ulster councilman, may be interested in challenging Fabiano. Fabiano is one of those likeable fellows. Likeability goes a long way with voters.