Former Woodstock Supervisor Jeff Moran announced his candidacy for Ulster County Executive, becoming the fourth in the race seeking to replace Michael Hein.
The person in the top administrative position should be someone with experience in both the public and private sector and who has negotiated with unions and balanced budgets, said Moran. “Those suddenly catapulted into the position generally don’t do well.”
Moran joins Deputy County Executive Marc Rider, former state Senate candidate Pat Courtney Strong and former 19th Congressional District candidate Pat Ryan in vying for the top county job, all Democrats. No Republicans have officially announced their candidacy. Hein is leaving to become commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
Party leaders will choose candidates for a special election to fill the seat for the remainder of the year. That date has not been set. Candidates will then run in a June 26 primary and the November 5 election for the full four-year term, which expires this year.
In the meantime, Hein’s Chief of Staff Adele Reiter will serve as acting county executive to fill the gap between Hein’s upcoming departure and either a special election or the general election in November.
Building consensus and assembling a strong volunteer workforce are among strategies that are key to improving county government, Moran said.
“I’m good with numbers. I refinanced our municipal debt,” said the former two-term supervisor. “In the long run it saved the town money. The goal is to keep services high and your taxes low.”
Added Moran, “We may be heading toward another recession. Having steered a municipality through a recession, I want somebody who’s done that.”
Moran remembers a time in the not-too-distant past when Woodstock had 15 empty storefronts. He doesn’t want to see that on the county level.
Moran gave praise to Hein, saying he has kept taxes low and made the job what it is now, essentially working with a blank slate, but it may be time for someone with a different philosophy. “Some say he operates a bit autocratically. That may have worked well. But now it’s time we build more consensus,” Moran said, lamenting Hein’s feud with County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach and his spat with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill.
Moran’s announcement marks the end of a seven-year hiatus from municipal circles, which started with his departure from the supervisor’s office in December 2011. Moran had served a stint on the Planning Board, but his foray into elected office began in 2007, when Jeremy Wilber said he wasn’t going to run for another term and asked Moran if he was interested in running. Wilber would later return to the office in 2012 and serve until his death in 2017.
In his bid for a second term as supervisor, Moran lost the Democratic primary in 2009 to Liz Simonson, only to win that November after running on the Republican and Working Families Party lines.
During his tenure, cable service was expanded to Upper Mink Hollow Road and other far-reaching areas; T-Mobile became an additional cell provider and computer systems were upgraded in town offices.
Moran cited the creation of “about a dozen” task forces while he was at the helm as the successful harnessing of local enthusiasm and talent, something he believes can be put to use at the county level. “You can really encourage citizens to become involved in the government the way they want to be. We got a lot done.”
He noted the repair of the bluestone sidewalk in front of the cemetery was an accomplishment made possible by a volunteer task force with the help of Highway Department labor, as was the pocket park on Tannery Brook Road.
Despite these accomplishments, things weren’t always rosy in the Moran administration.
In late 2011, Moran’s 2012 spending plan was to come in under the state-mandated 2 percent cap on levy increases, even rolling over a healthy sum into the rainy-day fund. But the town’s accounting firm discovered the year-end fund balance was inflated and put the fund balance well below recommended levels.
To close the gap and avoid insolvency, Moran suggested eliminating the police dispatch operations and allowing it to be handled by the county. He blamed the accounting error on antiquated software that has since been upgraded. His proposal failed to gain support.
Some will remember the fateful night of November 17, 2011, when, faced with a state deadline, the Town Board voted the budget down 4-1, only to pass it moments later, along with a steep overall levy increase of 6.5 percent. Heaping on the previous bad news of the accounting mistake, the board had also learned of a 30 percent increase in health insurance costs for retirees.
The mounting costs and mistakes prompted some to suggest budget talks start earlier so the board can react to surprises.
“This budget process has been an absolute mess,” said then-Councilman Bill McKenna.
Experience in the private sector
Moran, who came to Woodstock almost 30 years ago and settled in with his wife, photographer Dion Ogust (who is an employee for this newspaper), has a variety of experiences under his belt. With humble beginnings as a mens’ clothing salesman for Sears, he later picked up silversmithing, eventually making that into a business. He later became an HVAC draftsman, learned welding and fabrication and became an estimator for a mechanical contractor.
He eventually moved from the Chicago area to New York and tried to get into the film business. After working as a production assistant, line producer and executive producer on commercials and other productions, Moran grew tired of the feast-or-famine work schedule and the waste. He was disgusted by seeing entire sets end up in the garbage once a production was done.
Moran took a liking to building rehabilitation, since it was saving something instead of discarding it.
Eventually, circumstances brought Moran to Woodstock and he became involved in creating interactive computer software on CD-ROMs when that was the hot technology.
One source of pride for Moran is his different take on the Periodic Table of the Elements in the form of a spiral. Another project, which can be viewed at historyatlas.com, an online world history dating from the beginning of human history to the present.
Uphill battle for nomination
Though Moran has both municipal and private-sector experience, time is not on his side if he wants the Democratic Party endorsement.
The county Democratic convention, if a special election is to take place, is fast approaching on February 20 and family matters make him unable to meet town committees in-person until February 15. Moran said he expects to phone people over the next several days in hopes of getting invited to the convention, where he can stand for nomination.
Moran said he will not run as an independent because he believes party support is key.