Kingston’s Donaldson ends up with the legislature chairmanship

Dave Donaldson, chairman of the Ulster County Legislature. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

A day after professing allegiance to county legislature chair Tracey Bartels in her run for re-election to the body’s top job, 13-term Kingston legislator Dave Donaldson ended up being elected chair himself. He beat Heidi Haynes (R-Hurley/Marbletown) by a 13-10 vote at the legislature’s reorganizational meeting on Jan. 8.

“I ended up being the compromise candidate,” said Donaldson the following day. “I wasn’t interested in it, but I was asked to do it at the last minute. So, in my sense of duty, I did it.”


Only Legislator John Parete (Denning, Hardenburgh, Olive and Shandaken), a registered Democrat who ran and won on the GOP line, deviated from the Republican caucus and voted for Donaldson. According to Donaldson, Parete was paying a 2014 debt when Donaldson was the deciding vote in Parete being elected legislative chair that year.

Donaldson, the longest-serving member of the current body, was chairman between 2006 and 2009. With the position of county executive yet to be established in the county charter at that time, the position was the most influential job in county government.

Bartels was one vote short of a majority to serve a second term as chair, said Donaldson. Legislator Laura Petit (D-Esopus) intended to run for the chair herself, and refused to cast a vote for Bartels, according to Donaldson. “Petit decided that she wanted to run, and she had the support of the Republicans, and apparently the Republicans did not want Tracey at all,” said Donaldson. “Like I said, she had a solid 11, she did ask me to run. She wanted me to run before that, Laura did, but I told her no. I had no interest in it.”

Legislator Jon Heppner of Woodstock, re-elected majority leader by a unanimous vote from his fellow Democrats, confirmed this account. Legislative newcomer Abe Uchitelle (D-Kingston) was elected majority whip.
On the Republican side, Ken Ronk was re-elected minority leader and legislator Craig Lopez will again serve as minority whip.

As for Petit, she declined to elaborate on why she wanted to be the chair or why she didn’t want to support Bartels. “I don’t understand why that’s newsworthy. That was internal,” said Petit on Jan. 13. “Dave is going to do very well and Tracey is a wonderful legislator.”

Heppner commended Bartels for nominating Donaldson for the position when she could not amass enough votes toward her own candidacy. “When Tracey realized that she was not going to get enough votes, she decided that, since Dave could get the support of John Parete, you know, she believed that it was important that the Democrats held the majority,” said Heppner. “She very selflessly wanted to see what support Dave [could garner.]”

“I am disappointed, but I’m fully supportive of Dave,” Bartels said in an interview this week, adding that she couldn’t get what she felt was a straight answer from Petit about why she pulled her support. “I tried to get clarity on that, [Petit] mentioned something about the housing crisis, she mentioned something about a caucus meeting, she generally avoided being very specific, and she generally did not return my phone calls.”

“I’m relying on experience of senior legislators who have been there before me,” said new GOP legislator Al Bruno of Saugerties when asked why the Republicans supported Petit. “Laura seemed to be more bipartisan and not beholden as tight to the party line as some of the others. She made that clear throughout the year throughout some of [her] votes.”

On Tuesday, January 14, Donaldson announced his appointments to committee chairs. Bartels will serve as vice-chair of the legislature and chair the Laws & Rules Committee. Legislator Lynn Archer (D-Rochester/Wawarsing) will head the powerful Ways & Means Committee; Ronk will serve as its vice chair. Brian Cahill (D-Town of Ulster) will chair the Economic Development Committee. Manna Jo Greene (D-Rosendale) will chair Energy and Environment; Eve Walter (D-New Paltz) will chair Law Enforcement; and Craig Lopez (R-Shawangunk/Wawarsing) will chair Public Works.