Voters will go to the polls Tuesday, April 30 to choose a county executive for the remainder of 2019.
Democrat and former 19th District congressional hopeful Patrick Ryan will face Ulster County Conservative Party Chairman Jack Hayes, running on the Republican line. The winner of the special election will fill the vacancy left when Mike Hein resigned in February to take a post in the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Another election in November will choose a county executive for a full four-year term.
Ryan has been a familiar face to Ulster County voters since 2017 when he became one of seven Democrats seeking the party’s nomination in the race for the 19th Congressional District. Ryan was runner-up in the race to Antonio Delgado. Delgado would go to defeat incumbent Republican John Faso in November 2018. Ryan was the first candidate to throw a hat in the ring following Hein’s surprise announcement that he would step down. Armed with name recognition and a campaign organization leftover from the primary, Ryan beat out Kingston businesswoman and former state Senate candidate Pat Courtney Strong at a Democratic Party nominating convention in February.
Ryan is a 37-year-old Kingston native and Gardiner resident. Following his graduation from the United States Military Academy, he served six years in the U.S. Army, reached the rank of captain and served and headed up an infantry battalion intelligence section during two tours in Iraq. After obtaining a master’s in security studies from Georgetown University, Ryan went on to help found a company that produces intelligence gathering software for use by the military and law enforcement.
Ryan has built his county exec campaign around the concept of a localized version of the “Green New Deal” pushed by some progressive Democrats in Congress. Ryan’s strategy calls for a halt to additional fossil-fuel based projects in the county and the implementation of 100 percent renewable energy in all county buildings and vehicles by 2030. The plan also calls for job training to give county residents the skills to participate in the green energy economy.
“Not only can we save money in the medium and long range, but at this point we have a moral responsibility to wean ourselves off of something that is killing the planet,” said Ryan.
Ryan said that his other priorities included carrying on Hein’s record of holding the line on county taxes and coming up with new resources and strategies to combat the county’s opioid epidemic. Ryan said that he also wanted to promote equitable economic development that would both expand the county’s economy and promote affordability for county residents at all socioeconomic levels.
In contrast to Ryan, Hayes was a last-minute entrant into the race. County GOP officials filed a nomination for the Conservative Party chairman earlier this month, just ahead of the deadline to place a candidate on the ballot. Hayes, a 76-year-old retired state trooper, said he plans to take on Ryan, twice if need be, for the county executive seat.
“Whether I win or lose next week, I will be in the general election in November,” said Hayes. “I want to give the people of Ulster County an opportunity to elect a qualified and experienced person to be their county executive.”
Hayes praised Hein’s record on taxes. Continuing to hold the line, he said, was critical to stopping the exodus of taxpayers from upstate New York to more affordable areas. Hayes, who served as Gardiner town supervisor from 2002-03, said he would also improve communication and cooperation between the county executive’s office and municipalities
“It seems like the only time the county goes to the towns is when they need something from them, and I think we can do better than that,” said Hayes. “That communication will change drastically if I’m elected county executive.”
Hayes added that he wanted to lower social services costs by implementing strategies “at the front end” to help struggling Ulster County families before they become clients. And, while Ryan has said that he would enthusiastically opt-in to legalized marijuana sales in Ulster County should state lawmakers pass a legalization bill, Hayes is more skeptical. Hayes said that he was worried about the impact of legal marijuana in the midst of an opioid crisis. He added that he was concerned that many politicians viewed legal marijuana primarily as a quick-fix for the state’s fiscal woes. Despite his misgivings, Hayes said that he remained open to legal marijuana sales in the county — after a public process of examination and deliberation.
“If ever there was a case for a public referendum, [legal marijuana sales] is it,” Hayes said.