In Saugerties appearance, Sheriff VanBlarcum sticks up for himself

Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum, center, with, from left, former county Conservative chair Ed Gaddy, Saugerties Conservative Chair George Heidcamp, Town of Ulster Conservative Chaia Marie Crispell and former county Conservative second vice chair John Crispell. (Photo by Christina Coulter)

Incumbent Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum, in a contentious race for re-election, defended his record at a “town hall” meeting at the Frank Greco Senior Center in Saugerties on Oct. 17. VanBlarcum confronted a series of issues, including his appearance in a photograph with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office last year.

“I’ve had a tough road this year, and I don’t think it’s caused by anything other than the harsh political climate,” said VanBlarcum. The 62-year-old sheriff and registered Democrat lost his own part’s nomination in a landslide to challenger Juan Figueroa. VanBlarcum is running on the Republican line, seeking a fourth term.

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“We’re doing well day to day. I screwed myself, but I would go down to Washington again to honor Kerry Winters. Take it or leave it, win or lose, I sleep well at night. I feel good about it.”

Winters, a corrections officer who passed away during an underwater training exercise in September 2016, was recognized during the ceremony. In a previous interview with the Saugerties Times, opposing candidate Juan Figueroa said he would not have attended the ceremony in Trump’s office.

“They were acting like it was me and Trump in a huddle,” joked VanBlarcum.

VanBlarcum stood by his controversial decision to screen visitors of the Department of Social Services building for active warrants in October of 2014, citing pressure from the county legislature as the only reason that the practice ended. Security officers stopped enforcing the policy in under a month — VanBlarcum said that, before that point, 30 had been arrested.

VanBlarcum also addressed messages shared on his Facebook page, including a call to action directed at local handgun owners with concealed carry permits after a 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. In a post that ended up making national news, the sheriff, noting that several people who were licensed to carry their pistols but didn’t have them were at the Hudson Valley Mall when a man brandishing an assault rifle shot two people in 2005, encouraged those who were legally allowed and “comfortable” with having their weapons on them should have their weapons on them.

VanBlarcum stood by this decision as well, remarking that he hadn’t been encouraging additional people to procure guns or permits, saying that he “wasn’t asking everyone to go get a permit.”

“One of the things that Paul always forgets to mention is that he has the endorsement of all the employees who work with him,” said VanBlarcum’s administrative assistant Barbara O’Brien. “I’ve never worked with a fairer man in my life. Paul listens, listens to everybody, and there’s nothing political about him.”

Young volunteer members of the Centerville Fire Department in attendance thanked VanBlarcum for the response of his Critical Incident Stress Management Team in 2016 when Mount Marion firefighter Capt. Jack Rose died in the line of duty. VanBlarcum also spoke of other task forces he’s formed, including the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team.

“A trooper, a deputy, anyone who works for fire or EMS, ask who they’re voting for,” said VanBlarcum.

Besides the GOP line, VanBlarcum will run on the Conservative, Independence and Reform lines. Figueroa, a former Marine and retired state trooper who works as a security consultant, will appear on the Democratic, Working Families and Women’s Equality lines.