Woodstock Dem candidates seek recognition at Community Center meeting

Jeff Collins and Reggie Earls.

Woodstockers filled the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center September 4 to learn more about local, county and state candidates at a Q&A session hosted by the Woodstock Democratic Committee. Democratic candidates for Town Board and Town Justice fielded questions while those running for sheriff, state Supreme Court, state Assembly and Senate introduced themselves and explained their platforms.

Jeff Collins is running against Reggie Earls for Town Board in a September 13 primary. Jason Lesko, who was appointed in December to replace retired Judge Frank Engel, is the Democratic nominee, as he is unopposed in his party. 

Woodstock Republicans may hold a caucus to choose candidates to oppose the town board primary winner, and Lesko in the November general election. 

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The primary election is noon-9 p.m. Thursday — not Tuesday, when elections are generally held — but Thursday, September 13. All regular polling sites will be open. 

Town Board candidates

Jeff Collins, founder of the Hudson Valley Sudbury School, said he can use his experience as a leader in an institution that relies on democracy. Everyone from 5 to 57 has the same vote in the school, he said. “I learned how to communicate,” he said. “It’s not just about me talking. It’s about listening.”

Reggie Earls was appointed as deputy supervisor in January and to fill the late Councilman Jay Wenk’s seat in June. Earls is running for his first elected term to fill the remaining year of Wenk’s term. The seat will be up for election again in November 2019 for a full four-year term.

Earls said he believes in not only listening but empathy, something he practices in his human resources position at the Omega Institute. Earls has held many volunteer positions at Family of Woodstock, Mental Health Association and area soup kitchens. He is choir director and organist at the Dutch Reformed Church. 

He is a strong believer that more young people need to become involved in local government. “It’s been an honor being able to learn about the inner workings of this town,” he said.

Access to affordable housing?

“It really affects me because I’m a renter,” Earls said. “It would be great to find ways to incentivize people to provide affordable housing.”

“It’s a tough, but important question,” Collins said, adding the town needs more supply. He said the town should continue its work on short-term rental regulations, which could help make more long-term rentals available. Collins said he is doing his part as a landlord to keep his rent down as much as possible for his tenant.

Thoughts on a municipal ID in Woodstock?

With the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants in obtaining identification necessary to obtain services, Collins and Earls were asked if they support municipal identification cards. A local city, town or village can issue identification to anyone regardless of immigration status.

“It makes sense,” Collins said. “Immigrants are the backbone of this country.”

Earls agreed. “People come here for an opportunity,” he said, adding identification is a “bare minimum” to be able to carry on with our daily lives.

Should the library be run by the town?

Given the upcoming referendum in November to dissolve the library district, the two candidates were asked if the town should run the library or should it keep the current form of governance through a district-wide board of directors.

“It’s sad to see the divisiveness,” Earls said. “I think there is some kind of middle ground. We’re at this juncture because there’s a breakdown in trust,” Earls said. “People feel like they haven’t been heard.”

Collins said eliminating the district will mean people will no longer have a say in the budget or other library issues. “Democracy works when people join together and talk,” he said. “You have the option of voting them off,” Collins said, referring to the Board of Trustees. He stressed that the library building is a separate issue.

Should the town promote expansion of cell service?

“The town has a lot of telecommuters,” Collins said. “Cell service is necessary, but we need non-radiating forms of communication.” The town should promote forms of high-speed internet service such as fiberoptic lines.

Earls, who lives in Shady, where cell service is practically nonexistent, agreed it is necessary, but it needs to be done in a way that is not detrimental to people’s health.

Thoughts on Big Deep

Earls suggested limiting Big Deep to residents only. He said the situation has improved through people spreading the word on social media, but is still needs careful attention.

“Big Deep is a resource for the town,” Collins said. “If people can’t keep something clean… they need to be able to not use it until it is fixed.”

Jason Lesko, Town Justice

“I respect Frank (Engel) very much and I hope to fill his shoes,” Lesko said, acknowledging Engel in the audience. “I don’t think you ever stop learning in this position.”

Lesko said he served “in the trenches” for many years, representing children who work their way through the family court system and also working as a public defender.

“This job is bigger than the person filling it,” he said. “Decisions are made in this court that have a huge impact on people’s lives. Someone convicted of a misdemeanor at the town level can be sent to jail for up to a year. “

Juan Figueroa, candidate for sheriff

“I think it’s time for a change,” said the Marine combat veteran, retired state trooper and 40-year Ulster County resident.

Figueroa said if elected, he plans to tackle the opioid epidemic by teaching people how to detect the signs of addiction.

He said it costs $6,000 per year to help someone recover from addiction compared to $33,000 per year at the county jail.

He proposes getting people out of the cycles that bring inmates into addiction and criminal be by convincing businesses to train them and take a chance on them when they get out of jail.

Paul VanBlarcum

VanBlarcum, who is in his 12th year as sheriff, touted his roots in Woodstock as a patrolman and dispatcher. He said the sheriff has to stay out of politics.

“We enforce the law. We try to come up with ways to do the right thing,” he said.

VanBlarcum addressed being sued by four black officers for not being promoted, saying there was nothing racist about it.

He said one officer failed the civil service test necessary for the promotion, two didn’t take the test and another was arrested for stealing from the department.

Strong, Cahill

Other candidates who introduced themselves briefly were state Supreme Court candidates Peter Lynch and Margaret Walsh, state Senate candidate Pat Courtney Strong and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. They stressed how important it was to vote Democrats into office.

“I’ve grown tired of those headlines about how messed up Albany is,” said Strong, who noted reform bills have already passed in the Assembly but are stalled in the Senate.

Cahill said the so-called Blue Wave is needed desperately. The most recent polling shows the 19th congressional district race between incumbent John Faso and Democrat Antonio Delgado is a tossup, but Faso is trailing by 10-14 points in Ulster County. Cahill said in this area, the Blue Wave can be a “blue push” to elect Democrats on both the national and state level.

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