District 7 county legislator and Kingston’s only Republican elected official, Brian Woltman, is seeking a second term in office. He faces a challenge from first-time candidate, Democrat Peter Criswell.
Woltman is a 57-year-old Kingston native. For the past 24 years, he has worked as the City of Kingston’s purchasing agent where he’s in charge of contracts with all outside vendors. A longtime Democrat, Woltman became a Republican after losing a primary to former District 7 legislator Jennifer Schwartz Berky in 2015. Two years later, running on the GOP line, Woltman defeated Berky for the seat.
In office, Woltman negotiated with former County executive Mike Hein to end a decade-old arrangement which required the city to pay $75,000 a year to the county for fire dispatching services. (Under the terms of the phased-in deal, the county will assume full financial responsibility for all dispatch services). Woltman was also a strong supporter of the county’s move to raise the age for tobacco sales to 21 and helped negotiate the merger of Ulster County Area Transit (UCAT) with Citibus. Woltman describes himself as a “centrist” and noted that he had broken with fellow Republicans last year when he voted to fully fund one of Hein’s signature initiatives, the Ulster County Restorative Justice and Community Empowerment center in Midtown Kingston.
“I represent the people,” said Woltman. “I listen to their concerns and I bring their voices to the county.”
Woltman said he wanted to build on the success of the UCAT/Citibus merger by introducing a budget amendment that would make a six-month suspension of fare collection on the new combined bus system permanent. Woltman said fares make up a small percentage of the transit system’s revenue stream — the bulk of the funding comes through federal grants — and estimated that a third of it is spent on processing and accounting. Those handling fees, he said, would only increase with the planned introduction of automated features, which will require long-term software contracts.
“It’s time to de-link fares from public transportation,” said Woltman, who plans to introduce that proposal this month as lawmakers weigh County Executive Pat Ryan’s proposed 2020 budget. “I think it will be a winning proposition for everyone.”
Woltman said he also wanted to see a “candid and frank discussion” of land use in the county. Specifically, he said, he wanted to develop a policy that would identify tracts of land in the county suitable for industrial development. “We have a beautiful county and we need to preserve that,” said Woltman. “But we have to find a way for industry to coexist with that.”
Criswell, 55, is a first-time candidate with extensive experience in the nonprofit sector. Criswell is a native of Bethlehem, Pa. who first came to the Hudson Valley as a student at Bard in the 1980s. He moved to Kingston five years ago after a career as a nonprofit director in New York City. Currently, he is executive director of the Dharmakaya Center for Wellbeing, a retreat center in Cragsmoor. Criswell has extensive experience in arts administration and currently serves on the Kingston Arts Commission. He holds a bachelor’s in theater from Bard and a master’s in business leadership from Manhattanville College. Over the course of his career, Criswell has served as executive director of five nonprofit organizations.
“I kind of felt I had the right set of skills and I saw the need,” said Criswell of his decision to run. “This is a time when ordinary citizens are stepping up.”
Criswell said that he said Ulster County as ripe for an economic growth and job development, but added that the county needed to do more to diversify its economy.
“You have to have a lot of really good things cooking at the same time,” said Criswell of his economic development philosophy. “That way if one thing doesn’t pop the way you hoped it would, there are other things to shore up the economy.”
Criswell said that he also supports efforts to strengthen the county’s Human Rights Commission and community empowerment initiatives to bring marginalized communities into the county’s decision-making process.
“Being an executive director you have to deal with a lot of different stakeholders, you’re hearing a lot of different voices,” said Criswell. “The question is, how do I take what I’m hearing and find a place where everybody feels they’ve been heard and we can move this thing forward.”