The race to become Ulster’s next county executive has begun to take shape with one — maybe two — Democratic candidates and an April 30 special election to fill the post through the remainder of 2019.
Pat Ryan holds the Democratic Party endorsement and will appear on the April ballot. Former Woodstock town supervisor and Democrat Jeff Moran said he is weighing a run against Ryan in a June 25 primary for the Democratic Party line on the November ballot. Republicans ended their Feb. 23 convention without a candidate for county executive.
The 2019 campaign season will feature an unusual double election to succeed former county executive Mike Hein, who resigned Feb. 10 to take a post in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. The first, scheduled for April 30, will determine who will be county executive for the remainder of Hein’s term, which ends Dec. 31. The second, on Nov. 5, will decide who will hold the seat for a full-four year term. Hein’s former chief of staff, Adele Reiter, is serving as acting county executive pending the special election.
On Tuesday, Feb. 26 three Republicans joined all 11 Democrats present at a special meeting of the County Legislature to schedule the special election as called for in the County Charter by a vote of 14-6. The vote turned aside an effort, endorsed by the Democratic and Republican county committee chairmen, to pre-empt the special election and choose a new county executive in November. The special election is expected to cost more than $300,000 and the winner will serve a term of just eight months. Proponents of skipping the special election also noted that the candidate selection process for it relies on party insiders rather than a primary open to rank-and-file members. (Party officials can place a candidate on the ballot via a “certificate of nomination”; the only other route onto the April ballot is via an independent run that will require the candidate to collect 1,500 valid signatures from Ulster County voters and submit them to election officials no later than March 11.)
As of Feb. 27, the only declared candidate in the race is 36 year-old Pat Ryan of Gardiner. At the county Dems’ Feb. 20 nominating convention, Ryan beat out Kingston businesswoman Pat Courtney Strong by a margin of 16,117 to 11,660 in weighted voting. (In a nominating convention, each committee member gets a vote that’s “weighted” based on how many people in their district cast ballots on the Democratic Party line in the last gubernatorial election). Last week, Strong, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate against incumbent Republican George Amedore last year, announced that she was dropping her bid for County Executive.
Ryan is a Kingston native, a West Point graduate and veteran of two tours in Iraq where he served as an infantry battalion intelligence officer. After leaving the military and earning a degree in security studies at Georgetown University, Ryan went to work at a series of companies developing intelligence gathering and analysis software for the military and law enforcement.
Last year, Ryan was runner up in a seven-way primary for the Democratic Party line in race for New York’s 19th Congressional District. Antonio Delgado, who won the primary and went on to defeat Republican incumbent Republican John Faso, endorsed Ryan’s county executive candidacy this week. Ryan has also received endorsements from Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa.
In a speech accepting the Democratic nomination, Ryan, who during his congressional campaign was viewed as a moderate, laid out a progressive agenda calling for environmental, social and economic justice.
“There are too many people in our county who still worry if they will be able to make their rent this month or save enough for their family’s healthcare,” Ryan told a crowd of about 300 party officials and observers at the Feb. 20 convention at the Best Western in Kingston. “We’ve got big corporations still seeking to come in and pollute our environment and build dirty energy projects in our towns. We’ve still got (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents coming in and arresting our neighbors at the foot of their driveway while they’re getting their kids ready for school. That is unacceptable in Ulster County and in 2019 it’s going to change.”
Quigley still won’t run
Ryan will walk into the county executive’s office on May 1 unopposed unless Republicans field an opponent. At the county GOP’s Feb. 23 nominating convention at Ulster Town Hall, nobody stepped forward to claim the spot. An early favorite, Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley III, told party leaders that he would not accept the nomination or run for the office. Quigley cited a “full plate” of issues in the town and Republicans’ dwindling prospects in a county where Democratic enrollment has surged in recent years.
“The issue is that the population in Ulster County doesn’t want Republicans,” said Quigley. “They won’t support them.”
But Ulster County Republican Committee Chairman Roger Rascoe expressed confidence that the party would field a nominee for both the April special election and the November general. Rascoe said that he had spoken to people interested leading the GOP slate and blamed the delay on a political calendar that was accelerated in January when state lawmakers voted to shift New York’s primary election from its traditional date in September to June 25.
“They sprang this early petition season on us,” said Rascoe. “You don’t turn around today and say you’re running for county executive tomorrow. People don’t just rush into spending all of that time and effort without a plan.”
Moran mulls challenge
While Republicans wait to announce their choice, Woodstock Democrat Jeff Moran said that he is considering taking on Ryan in a June 25th primary election. (Editors note: Moran is married to Ulster Publishing photographer Dion Ogust.) Moran, 66, has a background in software development and writing and producing for television. He served as Woodstock’s town supervisor from 2008 to 2011. He previously served on the Woodstock planning board and on the town’s Democratic Committee. Moran said he did not seek the Democratic nomination at the Feb. 20 convention because he believed he could not have won in a contest determined by 300 Democratic committee members. Ryan and Strong, he noted, were coming off of high-profile campaigns in 2018 that they had “rolled over” into their county executive runs.
“I’d be a spoiler,” said Moran. “I would have taken votes away from one or the other without accomplishing anything.”
Moran said without a Republican opponent, Ryan’s win at the convention was effectively the “coronation” of a candidate with no experience in elected office at any level. Moran said he planned to take a week to gauge support for his candidacy before deciding whether to undertake a petition campaign for a spot in the June 25 primary. If he does enter the race, he will have until April 4 to gather 750 petition signatures from registered Ulster County Democrats to earn a spot on the primary ballot.
“The county deserves an executive with deep experience in both the public and private sectors,” said Moran.