Two opponents, including the one who toppled current Ulster County Legislature Chairman David Donaldson in a razor thin upset in the Democratic primary election this past summer, will try to take away the veteran legislator’s seat in District 6, which covers portions of the city of Kingston.
Donaldson still has a line on the ballot, The Good Government Party, but will be looking up the chart at first timers Philip Erner, who snared the Democratic line in June; and at Suzanne Timbrouck, who will appear on the Republican and Safer Community lines.
Donaldson has served as Ulster County Legislature chairman (2006-09, 2020-21); vice-chairman (2014-15, 2019); chairman (2019) and deputy chairman (2016-18) of the Laws and Rules, and Governmental Services committees; chairman (2014-15, 2018) and deputy chairman (2010-13, 2016-17) of the Legislative Programs, Education and Community Services Committee; minority leader (2004-05, 2012-13); co-chair of the Labor Relations and Negotiations Committee (2008), and deputy chairman of the General Services Committee (2000-01).
Donaldson said he decided to run again after being upset in the primary by Erner because he had a lot of people calling him and telling him not to get out. He expressed confidence in prevailing over Erner and Timbrouck after what has been a heated campaign.
Donaldson said he feels he was caught off guard by a movement from the Democratic Party’s left flank in the form of the Democratic Socialists of America who have been using a large team of canvassers in New York City and Buffalo and have now moved into the Hudson Valley. He said he credits Erner’s primary victory in part to a very small turnout of just 500 voters.
“I don’t go that far left,” Donaldson said. “I was unanimously chosen by Democrats and Republicans to be chairman of the county legislature.”
He said he’s garnered endorsements by area unions including CSEA. He also accused the canvassers of changing the story on how long Erner’s lived in the area from anywhere from one to four years or even longer.
Donaldson said if he’s reelected he’ll focus on affordable housing and improving mental health services. He said he’s already worked on creating a joint housing task force with County Executive Pat Ryan and housing Limited Development Corporation that works to take property the county owns and uses it for housing, similar, he says, to a land bank.
He said such an arrangement paved the way for a proposed project to turn the site of the former Ulster County Jail on Golden Hill into a 160-unit affordable intergenerational housing complex.
Donaldson said he wants to incentivize housing at all income rates from low-income to market rate. He said 500 units will be breaking ground by spring. Donaldson added he’s also pushing for a program that would rehab single-family homes for working-class families
On criminal justice, Donaldson said he wants to work to continue the work of the county’s Criminal Justice Reform Task Force on enacting policies that seek to create more effective policing while protecting the rights of BIPOC people. The task force is comprised of Ulster County Human Rights Commissioner Tyrone Wilson and Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa among others.
One thing Donaldson said he won’t do is defund the police, which he believes will only hurt traditionally marginalized communities more.
He said he also wants to work to bring back inpatient mental-health beds to Ulster County. After they were removed at the onset of the pandemic in spring 2020 by HealthAlliance parent WMCHealth, which at the time stated the move was to be temporary in response to COVID-19. The services have yet to return and the move has drawn the ire of area elected officials across the aisle.
Donaldson said if re-elected he would push for using $3 million of the $34 million Ulster County received in the American Rescue Plan, Federal stimulus money, to put in a 24/7 mental health facility, using the funds to pay the upfront infrastructure costs. Once it’s open it could be self-sustainable through reimbursements avoiding putting an undue burden on taxpayers, he said.
The mental health beds could be located at either of the two hospitals or elsewhere. But no matter where these services are located, Donaldson does not want WMCHealth involved in running them.
“We’re going to bypass WMCHealth, they refuse to put our beds back,” he said. “WMC has created a healthcare desert. “They cut so many things that when you get hospitalized they just send you over there.”
Erner, 41, an herbal-medicine farmer at Four Folds Farm at the Hudson Valley Seed Company, said he’s running to help the working class prioritize housing and social justice, public transportation improvements, healthcare and education.
He said he hasn’t always dreamed of running for office, but “being involved in the community made him realize it was up to ordinary people to save democracy and the community from multiple vulnerabilities that are going unchecked.”
That means prioritizing healthcare, housing and tackling climate change which will make all these issues worse, Erner said. “Long-time Kingston activists I met through this organizing work encouraged me to run for office so that we can, as a group, raise marginalized people’s voices in the legislature — because if we don’t, our lives are endangered.”
But he said his biggest priority is ensuring affordability so working people and families are not priced out by an economic system with fluctuating prices that don’t account for working-class people’s needs. “We allow the market to make the rules as if real people aren’t affected by what happens; as if losing is an inevitable outcome for most in our socioeconomic Wheel of Fortune.”
He said he would call for Ulster County to invest directly in affordable housing and support protections against homelessness such as “Good Cause Eviction” while calling for an end of tax breaks to wealthy developers.
He said he strongly supports the county having its own mental-health facilities. “Not coincidentally, making such investments in public well-being would address root causes of crime, yielding a corresponding improvement to public safety, without requiring a massive outlay into policing and the criminal justice system,” Erner said.
As for creating jobs, Erner said he’d prioritize bringing in good, preferably union, jobs in green technologies. He added he’d prioritize investing in jobs like nursing, teaching, along with other care workers and domestic workers.
He said he’d also work to improve conditions for farmworkers including introducing basic labor protections offered to other workers.
Timbrouck, 54, a high school math teacher at Kingston High School who educates students in calculus, statistics and ENL algebra, said she decided to run after talking with a lot of people who told her they wanted to see an average person working to raise their family and pay their bills bring a real-world perspective to the legislature.
Bilingual in English and Spanish, Timbrouck said she will place a heavy emphasis on public safety after one of her sons who was back home from the Army was robbed at gunpoint, pistol-whipped, and locked in the trunk of his own car in front of the house the family has called home for the past 25 years.
“This was obviously an intensely traumatic incident for our family, and it was then I decided that I was ‘somebody’ and instead of complaining that ‘somebody should get involved,’ I did.”
She said no kids should be in danger and no parent should have to worry about their children’s safety when they leave home.
Timbrouck said she wants to prioritize rebuilding the relationships between the community and law enforcement and she strongly supports the continued use of resource officers in area schools.
On economic matters, she said wants to seek out bipartisan solutions unique to the community that allows families to thrive in Ulster County while avoiding senior citizens getting priced out.
Timbrouck said she’d also prioritize mental health services.
“In short, I’m not a politician, and I’m not enrolled in any political party,” she said. “I’m a mom, a wife, and a teacher with long deep roots in this community. “I live here, work here, and have raised my family here.”
The race for District 7 which covers of the city of Kingston, will feature a rematch with two familiar faces: Incumbent Peter Criswell on the Democratic and Working Family lines seeking a second consecutive term facing Brian Woltman who held the seat from 2017-2019 before he was ousted by Criswell.
Criswell, Executive Director of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ+ Community Center, said on his website that if re-elected he’ll continue to make sure tax dollars are being used wisely to develop programs that build the area’s economy, protect the environment and defend human rights.
On the economy, he’d prioritize the creation of local living wage jobs, develop workforce training, especially in emerging industries, while ensuring American Rescue Plan funds are spent equitably.
According to his website, Criswell said he’ll also push for strengthened mental health services. He said this includes fighting for the return of in-patient mental health beds, advocating for the development of a mental health crisis stabilization center and respite houses and supporting the county’s opioid rapid response team and mobile mental health programs.
On housing, he said he’d prioritize developing affordable and workforce housing, support tenant’s rights, especially the neediest and establish a county land bank.
Criswell said on environment protection he’d work to create local solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage waste reduction, composting and recycling efforts.
Criswell said he’d also fight for funding food programs that emphasize healthy active lives for all, expand community access to a local network of parks and trails and emphasize arts and education as a key aspect of the county’s economy and community wellness
Brian Woltman, 59, is the director of purchasing for the city of Kingston. He said he wants to build on what he accomplished in his prior term in the Ulster County Legislature such as the merger of the city-operated Citibus system into the county-run Ulster County Area Transit bus system.
He said he also chose to run again to ensure there was not an uncontested race in this district, which he asserted is not healthy for democracy. He said he’s endorsed by the Republican and Conservative parties and has garnered the endorsement of CSEA which represents Ulster County employees.
He said he’s born and raised in Kingston and has lived in his home on Abbey Street for 34 years.
On public transit, Woltman said he feels there is room for adjustment to routes and the frequency of the service especially to public housing complexes where residents are riding public transit more often.
He said he’d also like to eliminate the county sales tax on clothing and footwear items valued at $110 or less, matching Dutchess County.
“I believe this sales tax is one of the most regressive taxes on our citizenry,” he said. “This will be a tax break for low-income people and will help keep our retailers competitive with neighboring counties. “New York State does not charge sales tax on these items.”
He said he feels it will not hurt the county’s budget as the county finished 2020 with higher sales tax revenues than 2019 despite dire warnings of a budget crisis.