Saugerties volunteer activist Stan O’Dell is challenging two-term incumbent town justice Claudia Andreassen for the Democratic line in the June 23 primary. Although this is O’Dell’s first time running for elected office, he cites his 30-plus years of experience with the New York State Police coupled and his extensive involvement in the community. Both candidates have campaigned since January for the four-year position during the challenges imposed by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has complicated typical door-knocking and fundraising strategies.
As did many elected officials and hopefuls across the country, Andreassen and O’Dell stood on the corner of Main and Market streets last week to mourn the death of George Floyd and others who have lost their lives as a result of police misconduct, and to raise awareness of flaws in our institutions that propagate systemic racism.
“I brought candles for a vigil … in memory of the young people that were killed,” said Andreassen. “Peacefully. I was not screaming and whooping it up. My sign said ‘RIP Brianna and George’”
She thinks that Saugerties has a good police department. “I don’t think anything like that would happen here,” she said. “[Saugerties police Chief] Joe Sinagra is very careful about that sort of thing.”
Stan O’Dell said that, in all his years working in law enforcement, he had “never witnessed that lack of respect for another person” that he saw watching footage of George Floyd asphyxiated under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. “We have to respect everybody’s rights, everybody is equal,” he said. “That includes the police officer, that includes the prosecutor, up until the judge. Everyone is tasked to protect that person’s rights so that they are fair and fairly judged .…There’s no reason for anyone [to be treated as George Floyd was.] We have a constitution that we have to abide by. For anyone to violate that and violate the law, that’s wrong. That includes police officers and judges. We have guidelines for a reason.”
Varieties of experience
O’Dell’s mother spearheaded the Dutchess County Task Force for Child Protection, one of the first such bodies to combat child abuse in the early Seventies. He said he was always raised to “do things for others that you would want done for yourself.” Giving back, he said, is an intrinsic element of his personhood.
“I’m doing this for a deep sense of community that I can give back to Saugerties,” said O’Dell. “I’ve been very, very fortunate through all of my time with the state police, I had a great career, I have vast knowledge, vast contacts, and I think for me it’s certainly an opportunity to use what’s in my toolbox in a positive way to help people here. I don’t want to be the guy that rolls up, I retired, I’m done. I’m not ready to do that yet. The tail end of all of this, I can certainly .… I’m looking to bring equality to the court if I’m fortunate enough to be elected. My court will certainly be equal to all. There will not be any inequality allowed or tolerated. It’s not who I am.”
Similarly, the concept of justice was woven into Andreassen’s childhood.
“My father was superintendent of a small school in Missouri. When I was five, he tried to integrate the schools. He got repaid by [the community] burning a cross in our yard — that was a time, he tried to fight it, and he figured that you fought it one-on-one. My dad, integrating the schools, and my mother always making us forgive other people or making us see the other side of things… I’m trying to do what I was told as a child.”
Before her first term as town justice and after earning bachelor’s degrees in criminology and abnormal psychology from Marietta College, Andreassen worked in another facet of the justice system as an officer with the county Probation Department for 26 years, visiting all 26 courts in the county, writing reports for judges, keeping in close contact with public defenders and making sentencing recommendations.
“I basically wanted to do the job because I felt that [the other] people that were applying did not have the compassion for people or the respect for the defendants, and I wanted to be able to show that to people. Be respectful; treat them as human beings instead of dehumanizing them .… I love the energy of the court and I love being able to hopefully bring what I understand about human nature to the bench and try to be as understanding as I can be.”
Also a Mark Twain scholar, Andreassen has a quote from the quintessential American humorist for most situations; in her current line of work, she said, she often remembers “a clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory.”
During his tenure with the state police, O’Dell rose through the ranks, first serving as a state trooper before serving as an investigator and later a senior investigator. O’Dell characterizes himself as a “very busy person” — along with his role in the Saugerties Fire Department, O’Dell is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars men’s auxillary, the Sons of the American Revolution, Shriners International, the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and the village’s Waterfront Advisory Board.
“I’ve been involved in every aspect of law enforcement, not only enforcing it, but troopers used to prosecute their own traffic cases,” explained O’Dell. “I’ve worked with the district attorney’s offices, who prepared the cases and testimony throughout. Later, as a supervisor, a senior investigator, I supervised the people under me for preparation of cases.” There aren’t many aspects of the local court system with which he hasn’t been involved.
Helping others, being respectful
After the passing of his close friend, former town justice Dan Lamb, in 2018, O’Dell considered running for the position. In 2019, he changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat.
“I’ve been asked by a number of people who seem to think it’s a bad thing, or those that have tried to use it against me as a bad thing,” said O’Dell of his shift. “I come from a family where my mother was a staunch Democrat and my father was a moderate Republican. Both were people that helped others and supported those politically who were the right people for the position .… I’ve never been involved politically before .… I chose the Democratic Party because, throughout my life and adult years the people that I knew that were within politics that I’ve worked with worked for after I retired [were Democrats].”
O’Dell said he did a lot of soul-searching, looking for and talking to people he respected, including justices, judges, “I had to make a decision,” he said. “If I were to run for office, where was I going to feel most comfortable? With the people that I knew the longest that I trusted. I felt that the Democratic Party was an open or welcoming party. I certainly made my mother proud.”
Andreassen, she said, has been registered with the Democratic Party since 1968.
“My father was a prisoner of war for two years, and when he came out he had lost his scholarship to Northeastern,” Andreassen recounted. “There was a Truman motorcade, and my mother ran up to Truman and asked what he would do [about my father’s situation]. Truman bent down from the train, wrote the name of this guy at Southern Missouri State University. I grew up on veterans’ campus housing, and later my father went to Yale. I had no choice to be a Democrat. If Truman was a Republican, I’d be a Republican.”
Both competitors for the Democratic nomination stress the apolitical nature of the position of town justice. Both candidates are seeking the Working Families Party line, the Green Party line and the Libertarian Party line. O’Dell has been endorsed by the Independence Party.
Among others, Andreassen has been endorsed by the Ulster County Democratic Women, county comptroller March Gallagher, former town supervisor Tim Griffith, former town board member Mike MacIsaac, county legislator Mary Wawro, former county legislator Joe Maloney and former county corrections director Paul Noble.
Saugertiesians registered with the Democratic Party can visit the polls on June 23, moved from its original date on April 28 due to Covid 19, or submit an absentee ballot, which can be mailed between June 13 and June 23. The location of polling places can be found at the county election site.