Majority leader Heppner faces first challengers in county legislature race

Ulster County Legislature Majority Leader Jonathan Heppner, a Democrat, faces opposition for the first time since he began his career as a legislator. He’ll face off against two candidates, William McKnight on the Working Families party line, and Joan Paccione on the Republican and Air, Land and Water party lines in the District 23 race on election day, Tuesday, November 2. The district includes all of Woodstock and parts of West Hurley.

Jon Heppner (photo by Dion Ogust)

Jonathan Heppner 

Jonathan Heppner, a 33-year-old Woodstock resident, is the youngest Democratic majority leader in the history of the county Legislature. He was elected in 2015 to replace the retiring Don Gregorius. He faced primary challengers that year, but they all dropped out and he ran unopposed in the general election.

Heppner works as press secretary for the New York State Senate Democrats. Prior to that, he was communication director for State Senator Terry Gipson and was a Virginia staffer for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Before being elected to the Legislature, Heppner was a member of the Woodstock Environmental Commission.

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Heppner is a graduate of Onteora High School and Manhattanville College, where he received a BA in Communication. In the County Legislature, he serves on the Law Enforcement and Public Safety Committees, as well as the Laws, Rules and Government Services, Public Works and Capital Projects Committees.

Heppner said he is proud of a budget that included no tax increase from the county, protecting the environment and road safety among other accomplishments in which he has played a part. Most recently, Heppner helped get the speed limit reduced on part of Glasco Turnpike, making it safer for pedestrians and residents.

Heppner authored the second legislation outside New York City that banned gay conversion therapy. As a member of the Law Enforcement and Public Safety Committee, he has been a supporter of the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office ORACLE (Opioid Response As County Law Enforcement) program. He has recently fought against Westchester Medical Center’s decision to pull mental health services out of the HealthAlliance Broadway campus in Kingston.

This year, he worked with Woodstock town Supervisor Bill McKenna to negotiate an agreement between the town and the Christian Science Church to rent space to the Good Neighbor Food Pantry and even lent a hand building shelves.

Heppner is especially excited about a project to convert the old county jail on Golden Hill into affordable and senior housing. “We’re taking an old jail and turning it into 160 affordable units, half for seniors, half for low income,” he said.  “We have to continue to find opportunities like that.” Units will be available to those earning up to 130 percent of the median income in the county.

Heppner is also concerned about recent commercial development in the area, including a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts at Routes 28 and 375 in West Hurley and a proposed industrial plant near Onteora Lake in the town of Kingston.

Heppner said he questions the need for a chain drive-thru when local businesses are struggling. He also has concerns about safety. “There are serious siting issues in terms of traffic safety,” he said.

Regarding the industrial plant Heppner said the lake is a major issue.

“Onteora Lake is a shared resource and gem for all our communities,” he said.

Bill McKnight

Bill McKnight of West Hurley is running on the Working Families Party line. He is president and CEO of Energy Conservation Services, a firm that specializes in building science, insulation and air sealing for residential buildings. He is also president of the Good Neighbor Food Pantry in Woodstock. His wife, Melinda is on the Hurley Town Board and is running for town supervisor. He has lived in the area since 2007.

McKnight said a major issue is bad development. “I want good development. It can’t endanger the water, the environment,” he said. “It has to be something that’s good for the community.”

McKnight said the corner of Routes 28 and 375 is a bad location to open a Dunkin’ drive-thru and believes the proposed traffic mitigation is not sufficient.

He also has issues with the West Hurley Elementary School redevelopment into 46 condos and apartments. The water and sewer infrastructure was meant for a school and not for continuous use, he said.

Another concern is a private water company that serves 67 homes in West Hurley. The system has not been maintained and there is asbestos in the pipes, McKnight said. “This water is not potable,” he said, noting the operator is now trying to sell the system to the town for $1 million.

McKnight is concerned about affordable housing and blames part of the problem on short-term rentals that take away from the year-round housing stock and drive up rents and real estate prices.

McKnight credits Hurley for recently passing what he said is the most restrictive short-term rental law in the county. It does not allow non-owner-occupied rentals.

“What we need is workforce housing that people can afford and is long-term,” he said.

The buying of homes for the sole purpose of short-term rentals is not good for the community, he said.

Joan Paccione

Joan Paccione of West Hurley, a Republican, is a retired teacher and chairs the Hurley Conservation Advisory Committee. She is also working on Hurley’s update to its Comprehensive Plan. She has two grown children who attended Onteora High School.

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Paccione said she is running to bring jobs and services to Woodstock and West Hurley and preserve open spaces and natural resources.

Her son is an architect and her daughter is a behavioral specialist. She has five grandchildren.

Paccione said she sent out a survey and water and urbanization topped the concerns. Also high on the list was spending. “Taxes are an issue for everyone,” she said.

Paccione said people, including their own children, leave the area once they grow up because there are few opportunities for them. “We need to bring jobs to the community,” Paccione said. “We need to be responsible enough to bring good jobs.”

Paccione agrees something must be done about the lack of affordable housing in the community, but that involves striking a balance between protecting tenants and landlords. “There has to be a happy medium where you have to protect the tenant, but you cannot inflict a financial burden on the landlord,” she said. Paccione said she knows landlords in Brooklyn who have kept apartments empty for fear they won’t be able to throw out a bad tenant.

See elsewhere in this edition for information about early voting, which begins Saturday, October 23.