Three candidates are vying for a seat in the Ulster County legislature from District 22, which includes the towns of Shandaken, Olive, Denning, and Hardenburgh. Kathy Nolan, who received the most votes in the September primary, has the endorsement of the Democrats and is also running on the Working Families, Women’s Equality, and Green Party lines. Cliff Faintych is the Republican candidate. Incumbent John Parete failed to obtain major party endorsement but is on the ballot with the backing of the Independence and Conservative parties.
“I have a combination of professional skills, public service experience, and community organization involvement,” said Cliff Faintych, a resident of the town of Denning in southwestern Ulster County. “I am the most highly credentialed independent certified financial planner in Ulster County.” With a masters of business administration in finance and accounting from Fordham University and postgraduate work at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Faintych works out of an office in Kingston. He feels his financial skills will benefit the budget and improve fiscal oversight on the county’s capital projects.
Faintych foresees pressure on the county budget coming from Washington, due to repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which will reduce Medicaid funding for states such as New York that previously increased Medicaid payments. With 36 percent of the county budget going to social services, said Faintych, “We have to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. The next largest portion of budget is public works — roofs, roads, and bridges. When we have poor fiscal oversight on capital projects, they run late and over budget. After construction of the Law Enforcement Center, taxes went up 37 percent in one year.” He is confident he can keep costs in line on the recently approved project to move the family court to Ulster Avenue. “When you mess up,” he explained, “it leaves less money for social services, and the sick, poor, and elderly suffer.”
Such cost overruns also reduce the availability of funds for smaller capital projects. “Roads and bridges in the less populated western mountain towns get shortchanged. Meanwhile, we’re waiting for the next flood to hit our area. Repairs to damage resulting from Hurricane Irene have not yet been completed after six years. To change that dynamic, elect someone with the skills to understand the budgeting process. If we start with facts and figures, and get everyone to agree to the facts, it helps build consensus.”
When elected to Denning’s town board, Faintych served for four years and was appointed to the town’s planning board and master plan committee. He introduced a local law for ethics that led to resignation of the supervisor and town clerk, followed by special elections to reform the town government. During his service on the board, “It was a long, hard road to build consensus,” said Faintych. “We had issues with development, particularly with property tax exemptions for the Frost Valley YMCA, which owns 70 percent of the town. I worked on negotiations that did not end in litigation. My Democratic opponent has not been elected to any government body and has a checkered history of initiating litigation against developers in the Town of Shandaken. You don’t built consensus by immediately litigating.”
Faintych’s community involvement includes serving as president of the Hudson Valley Society of Financial Service Professionals, being an active member of the Hudson Valley Estate Planning Council, and joining the board of directors of the Arts Society of Kingston. He is also on the resource development committee of RUPCO, which attempts to bring affordable housing to local communities. As treasurer of the Neversink Association, he supports efforts to preserve the environment locally, and he drives a hybrid electric car.
“I am deeply engaged in the community here,” said Phoenicia resident Kathy Nolan, “having worked to try to improve our community for decades.” She was involved in the challenging, years-long process of bringing the Maurice D. Hinchey Interpretive Center to completion, “as a way of highlighting the beauty and history of the Catskills, drawing people to the area for the economy, and enriching the life of residents.” Nolan opposed fracking in New York State, as well as associated issues such as pipeline compressor stations and the use of fracking fluid on roads. She has also worked to encourage the transition to renewable energy, such as installation of electric car charging stations, and feels that further development toward sustainability would help create local jobs.
“I have worked closely with the Ulster County government for many years,” Nolan said, “first as a volunteer to projects like Ulster Tomorrow, looking at ways to envision the future. I was appointed to the Tourism Advisory Board, the Trails Committee, and Healthy Ulster County.” These positions enabled her to help obtain a film tax credit for the county and to work to keep pharmaceuticals out of our waste streams. With a background as a physician and researcher, she expects to continue to use her training and experience to promote innovative ways to improve public health. She regularly attends meetings of the county legislature “in an effort to educate myself and bring information back to local communities about what’s happening at the county level.”
Nolan was motivated to run for office by the legislature’s vote to eliminate memorializing resolutions, a decision she opposed. “Those resolutions are a way of sending a united message to other levels of government. I feel it’s important that we have those kinds of mechanisms. When the legislature can reach consensus on controversial issues, we can speak with a powerful voice.”
With only five women among the 23 county legislators, and very little racial diversity, she hopes voters will encourage diversity in the legislature. “Having more diversity is a strength,” she said. “I have worked in multi-disciplinary arenas such as the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and political agendas, finding a way to work towards a common end. I try to create structures in which people of different backgrounds can come together and work through problems at a practical level.”
Regarding fiscal responsibility, she remarked, “We have a county executive who has been decreasing or keeping taxes level for years. We have a well-staffed comptroller’s office, and measures have been developed to monitor expenditures since the jail fiasco. I think the legislature should continue to monitor budgets, develop policies that can be funded well, and look for streams of funding that keep our expenses low while providing services. But I don’t see it as a weakness in the current administration.”
Other concerns include campaign finance reform, transparency in government, and maintaining the legislature’s ability to cooperate across party lines. “We have an opportunity to help make Ulster County a model for a transition to a carbon-free future, to enhance public health, and make the region attractive for people to live here and visit.”
“I’ve had a business in Boiceville since 1970,” said John Parete, who owns the Boiceville Inn and has served on the county legislature for six years. “I made an investment in the town, I’ve lived in Ulster County all those years, and I’ve created jobs.” He chaired the Ulster County Democratic Committee for ten years, served on the board of directors of the Resource Recovery Agency, and was a board of elections commissioner. In the 1980s, Parete worked for the county as auditor and as purchasing director and insurance officer.
“The most important issue to me is jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said. “All four of my children have fortunately chosen to live here and were able to get jobs. But the Onteora school district has lost 60 percent of its students since I opened my business. That’s jobs we’ve lost — teaching and custodial jobs, bus drivers and aides. Nobody out there on the horizon is that concerned about creating middle-class jobs.” He is in favor of the Belleayre Project proposed for western Shandaken, expecting it will create local jobs.
Parete considers investment in Ulster County Community College to be an engine for economic development in the county, producing qualified workers. Hand in hand with job creation is the need for affordable housing. “We need housing for the guy or gal who graduates Onteora or the community college and wants to stay in area but can’t afford a house. If you’re elderly, and you can no longer afford your house, where do you go to live?”
He considers himself adept at reaching across the political aisle to accomplish goals. While serving as chairman of the legislature, Parete created a bipartisan committee to address the opioid crisis. “In my job, I’m seeing people dying,” he remarked. “My opponents don’t seem to understand we’re got a public health crisis. We need education programs throughout our communities. The legislature was able to work with the county executive and get an advocate who can help guide people through the maze of insurance problems and treatment facilities,” in the effort to obtain drug treatment for their loved ones.
He disagreed with Faintych’s assessment of the county as in need of more fiscal responsibility. “I’ve been able to keep a business open since 1970. In the county, we haven’t raised taxes in five or six years. That’s pretty responsible. Cliff was elected to the town council in Denning, and in the next election, he was thrown out because he almost destroyed the Frost Valley YMCA’s relationship with the community. And in a town meeting, he said, ‘John Parete is too old to be an effective legislator.’ I think that’s an insult to the senior citizens in our community.”
Parete’s environmental record includes helping defeat a proposal years ago to install a pump storage facility in Olive that would have raised water temperatures and caused turbidity in the Esopus Creek. “I support the city of New York working with the community to protect the environment to get the water system it needs. As a legislator, I helped develop a green fleet policy, and the executive is following through on that, working on energy efficiency.”