Woodstock voters will choose two among three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Town Board in the June 22 Primary.
Running for two seats with four-year terms are Maria-Elena Conte, Howard Harris and Bennet Radcliff. The Woodstock Democratic Committee has endorsed Conte and Ratcliff.
Maria-Elena Conte is the deputy supervisor, a position that is non-voting but participates in Town Board discussions, sits on committees and conducts town business. The deputy supervisor also chairs meetings in the supervisor’s absence. It is considered a stepping stone for those who aspire to run for elected office. Councilman Reggie Earls held the position before he was first appointed, then elected to the Town Board.
Conte is co-founder and organizer of the Woodstock Women’s March.
During the pandemic, she started Woodstock S.O.S., or Senior Outreach Services, a program where volunteers check in with seniors and help them get meal and grocery deliveries.
She is the Town Board liaison to the Housing Committee, where she is working on the planning of a home stare program to keep seniors in their houses by having someone look after them in exchange for a reduced rent.
She has a Master’s in Music Therapy from Montclair University and has performed jazz at Lincoln Center. Conte has used her music therapy experience to help infants who are behind in their developmental milestones. Her passion for music motivated her to join Secret City, a nonprofit arts organization where she produces the annual Art Revival Festival.
Conte moved to Woodstock in 2015 along with her three cats, Xena, Gabby and Bowie.
Howard Harris is a retired NYPD detective and has lived in Woodstock for 30 years.
He was a member and chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“Transparency, facts and truth to me are not just words but rather requirements,” said Harris, who often writes letters to the editor in this publication that are critical of Supervisor Bill McKenna’s administration.
Harris’ issues of concern include housing, local employment and the environment, but a big hit-button topic for him is a $2.5 million renovation of the Comeau offices.
He has criticized McKenna for skipping the bidding process for an architect and awarding a $160,000 contract to Walker Architecture, a Woodstock firm that has designed many town projects. McKenna has said no one else had expressed interest.
Harris touts his time on the ZBA, which made decisions leading to construction of a town-owned tower allowing cell service which was non-existent, construction of a new town highway garage, the KTD monastery additions and the start of the farmers’ market.
Harris’ tenure on the ZBA abruptly ended in January 2014, when the Town Board voted 4-1 against granting him a new term. That action prompted a mass exodus when four members and an alternate resigned in protest, leaving the ZBA with one member, Dustin Wilber, who had been appointed to replace Harris. At the time, supervisor Jeremy Wilber (no relation to Dustin) said recent challenges to ZBA decisions forced the town to hire attorneys at great expense.
Harris and other ZBA members at the time accused the Town Board of engaging in political intrusion into its cases.
Bennet Ratcliff, who is finishing a stint on the Onteora Board of Education, said he is running to “help create a community in Woodstock that values the environment, the arts, social and economic justice.”
Ratcliff, a former political consultant, moved to Woodstock in 2014.
He wants every voice to be heard whether it be longtime residents or newcomers. He wants to encourage Woodstock to reduce carbon emissions and become a model for other towns.
Radcliff wants to create a community that supports artists’ contributions and writers and find ways for them to live affordably.
He wants to work with the town to take down racial, gender and economic barriers.
Ratcliff said he can use his experience from the school board and as chairman of the Woodstock Democratic Committee to affect change. He said he understands multimillion-dollar budgets and how competing interests can work together.
“Our town should celebrate the historic contributions of indigenous people, Down Rent activists, emancipation advocates, suffragists, environmentalists and utopian artists who have contributed generously to Woodstock’s history,’ Ratcliff said.
Ratcliff lives in Bearsville with his partner, Jackie Kellachan, co-owner of the Golden Notebook bookstore along with his “blended family” of three boys, three girls, two dogs and a cat. In addition to chairing the Democratic Committee, he is secretary of the Secret City arts organization. He enjoys hiking and fishing in Mink Hollow.
Supervisor Bill McKenna is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination for another term. Scott Bonestell, who was recently appointed interim highway superintendent, is running unopposed for his first elected term.
The Republicans hold a caucus at a later date instead of a primary, but have had to skip it in recent years due to a lack of candidates.
Woodstock Town Board candidate forum June 11
The Woodstock Democratic Committee will hold a Town Board candidate forum on June 11 from 5 to 7 p.m. Bennet Ratcliff, Maria-Elena Conte and Howard Harris will answer questions that have been sent in from the registrants. To register for the Zoom link, go to the Woodstock Democratic Committee Facebook page and sign up on the Forum Event page.