A first-time candidate and two incumbents are vying for two seats on the Town Board, triggering a Democratic primary this June, provided all acquire the requisite amount of petition signatures.
Planning Board member Conor Wenk and incumbent Reggie Earls announced they are running together during a kickoff party February 9. A few days later on February 11, incumbent Laura Ricci announced her re-election campaign.
If you’re thinking it’s a bit early, you’re right. Get used to it. New York now has a consolidated primary thanks to election reform legislation recently passed. Gone are the days of separate federal, state and local primaries with Democratic candidates for Town Board in a September primary. June 26 is the date this year, followed by the November 5 General Election.
That means ballot petitioning begins February 26 and they must be filed by April 4.
The Republicans hold a caucus instead, though they haven’t run any town candidates in the last couple elections. If they do this year, we’ll find out soon.
The Wenk tradition
Conor Wenk, 29, is the grandson of the late Councilman Jay Wenk. He was recently appointed to his second term on the Planning Board and finds the Town Board the “next logical step” in making sure all voices are heard.
“I would like to be the one to take the extra time outside of just the Tuesday meetings to go and hear from not only the various boards…but the people of Woodstock,” Wenk said.
“There’s a large, underserved community that exists here of young and working poor people who I am honored to call myself one of and we are trying to live our lives in the best possible way that we can.”
Wenk, who recently closed on his grandfather’s Mead Mountain Road home, said he is fortunate to be a new homeowner with his partner, Megan Ashley, but he knows that many live in uncertain times and can’t afford to stay in this town.
“Now that I’m happy to say that I’m a registered mortgage-carrying homeowner in Woodstock, I’d like to turn my attention back to the people who don’t have that certainty,” he said.
“Everyone’s talking about the STR (short-term rental) law coming down the pipeline and while there’s a lot of potential to bolster what I’ll affectionately call a bit of a suffocated economy of people trying to make some extra money, it also has the potential to uproot the lifestyles and security of the people who rent in this community.”
Wenk lived in Woodstock until age 6, then moved to Brooklyn where he spent his formative years through high school, but knew he’d be back. “I had a very strong yearning to be here and not to leave (Woodstock),” he said.
After high school, he studied political science at SUNY Purchase, but graduated with a degree in arts administration in 2011, then moved to the West Coast with his girlfriend.
Wenk worked a series of jobs including guitar repair, which ultimately led him to become a luthier, something he calls a semi-professional hobby and business, American Son Guitars. He regularly performs with his string band, Mead Mountain Resonators, who played February 9 as part of the campaign kickoff.
Wenk found himself back in Woodstock after spending the summer of 2013 when he realized his grandfather became less capable and needed help. “He would never, of course, admit that,” Wenk said of his grandfather. “He would’ve kept going.”
So Conor and Megan made the call in 2014 to move back.
“Ever since then, it’s just been a really wonderful experience nonstop. There were ups and downs especially as his health got worse, but I couldn’t be more grateful for the time that I got to spend with him and I couldn’t be more fortunate for the impact that he made on me,” he said.
With what he called some “very light arm-twisting” by the late Supervisor Jeremy Wilber, Wenk agreed to join the Planning Board, replacing Lorin Rose. He said Wilber was concerned about the younger people in town and wanted them to have a voice.
“While there is a really strong and committed population of volunteers in this town, his fear, his worry was that we would sort of let or destiny and our agency over legislation in the town sort of slip away, and before we knew it, we would essentially be picking up the pieces of people making decisions for us,” Wenk said.
Wenk’s idea to tackle affordable housing and keep young people from moving out involves a town-sponsored community of tiny homes, increasingly popular houses that have the amenities of a full home but are compact, sometimes movable and a fraction of the price. It’s an idea he’s floated with Planning Board members.
The homes could be rent-to-own and local contractors could build them. As people’s economic status changed, they could move the home to another part of town, perhaps, because they owned it.
“We should be able to provide a standard for what affordable housing is by offering it, facilitating it and while we’re at, why not make the wealth permanent.”
Earls in the race
Reggie Earls, 37, is running for his second elected term. He was appointed in 2018 to replace Jay Wenk, then elected in November for the one year remaining in his term. This year, he’s vying for the full four-year term.
Earls was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia and moved to Woodstock about 13 years ago. He is staff development specialist at the Omega Institute and has worked with many organizations including Mental Health Association of Ulster County, Angel Food East and Family of Woodstock. He is the organist at the Dutch Reformed Church.
Some have no doubt seen Earls perform at various local venues.
“I plan to continue to be an advocate for people in town who want to have their voices heard,” Earls said. “I would like to be a part of working to try and find a balance in town between growth and this also being a place people can call home and that regular, everyday working people can call home, that Woodstock be welcoming for everyone…I want to continue to inspire people to be involved in their local town government and hopefully be an example for them to get involved in public service.
“At the Town Board, we have the same handful of people unless it’s a big issue,” he said.
Affordable housing is a big issue and as the only renter on the board, Earls thinks year-round rentals need to be addressed.
“I believe the town is running out of available housing for people that want to stay here and want to contribute to the town. I also understand people want to be able to have additional income to be able to stay in their own homes and that short-term rentals are part of the interest in that.”
Ricci seeks second term
Laura Ricci, 63, is running for her second term. A former IBM project manager, she has two stepsons, David and Vic, a stepdaughter, Jenn and two step grandchildren, Xavier and Gabriella.
Ricci said she has spent her time on the board listening and learning. Ricci said her decades of project management and small business experience allowed her to focus on such important projects as Mill Hill Road, taking ownership of the Woodstock Cemetery, adopting a new noise ordinance, creation of a Human Rights Commission and the upcoming short-term rental law adoption.
She served on the Comprehensive Plan Committee, which worked with Behan Planning to create the first such document in 56 years.
“I worked actively in all phases of the plan creation and worked successfully for a grant to defray costs,” Ricci said.
She worked on making sure all aspects of the new Comprehensive Plan, which covers topics such as arts, technology, water protection, housing, zoning and land use, have people assigned to them to make sure recommendations are implemented.
“Our Woodstock Town Board has made a lot of positive progress. I am asking for your vote in the 2019 elections so that we can keep the momentum,” she said.
Supervisor Bill McKenna is also up for re-election, though he hasn’t made his intentions official yet.