Ulster County voter’s guide to all 23 legislator races

Six of the 23 Ulster County legislators declined to run for re-election this year, and a seventh, legislature chairman Dave Donaldson of Kingston, is running as an independent candidate after losing in the Democratic primary. 

The retirement of an incumbent legislator of a major party often presents a political opportunity for the opposing party to pick up an open seat. How frequently is that outcome likely in next Tuesday’s election? 

The stakes on November 2 are high. The present legislature is closely divided, consisting of ten Democrats along with one no party (Tracey Bartels) and one independence party legislator (Laura Petit), both of whom caucus with the Democrats, for a total of 12; and eight Republicans along with one Conservative (Mary Wawro) and one Independence Party member (Heidi Haynes), both of whom caucus with the Republicans for a total of 10. John Parete, a registered Democrat, sits independently.

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With Democratic enrollment surging and GOP enrollment slowly declining, most prognosticators see long-term advantage to the Democrats. Will 2021 prove to be an important year in that political sea change?

Three Republicans aren’t running again: Mary Wawro in western Saugerties, Mary Beth Maio in the Lloyd-Marlboro district, and Heidi Haynes, the Independence party member who caucuses with Republicans, representing western Marbletown and most of Hurley. The independent John Parete in the mountain-town district consisting of Denning, Hardenburgh, Shandaken and Olive, has also declined to seek reelection

For the Democrats, Lynn Archer is the retiring legislator for Rochester and small part of Wawarsing. Jim Delaune, also calling it quits, has been county legislator for most of New Paltz outside the village plus the southwestern portion of Esopus.

And then there’s Donaldson, beaten in a light primary by fellow Democrat Phil Erner and running again without Democratic endorsement on the Good Government line. On Republican line in that Kingston legislative district is Suzanne Timbrouck, an independent candidate.

Running for the open seats

Democrat Aaron Levine, who lost to Wawro by only ten votes last time out, has the edge in this increasingly Democratic-leaning Saugerties district over Gregory Roque. 

Parete, former Democratic county leader who leans Republican and still independent-minded, has bowed out after going back and forth, winning and losing and winning again, with opponent Democrat Kathy Nolan in the last three elections. This time out, Olive Republican Peter Friedel will do best in his home town, Nolan in the other mountain towns.

In the Lloyd-Marlboro district, Gina Hansut, heiress to a distinguished local political name, is favored over Democrat Gary Pregno. 

Former four-term GOP legislator Carl Belfiglio will face Marbletown councilman Democrat Eric Stewart for Heidi Haynes’ seat. It may be close. Haynes prevailed by 108 votes two years ago.

In Jim Delaune’s New Paltz-Esopus district, Democrat Megan Sperry, a professor of digital media at SUNY New Paltz, faces opposition only from Theresa Paras on the Working Families line.

Rochester legislator Lynn Archer’s seat will be contested between councilman Christopher Hewitt and Rochester GOP chair and former officeholder Ronald Lapp, who lost to Archer two years ago.

The other legislative races

Another six of the 23 legislative seats are uncontested, about the usual proportion. Republicans Thomas Corcoran and Herb Litts are assured of winning next Tuesday. So are Democrats John Gavaris, Eve Walter, Manna Jo Greene and Abe Uchitelle. 

That leaves ten single-member seats involving incumbents up for grabs. In some of the election districts, the incumbents face only token opposition. Other races are likely to be closely contested.  But hey, in politics you never know.

Majority leader Jonathan Heppner is favored in the Woodstock-Glenford district against two opponents, Bill McKnight on the Working Families line and Joan Paccione as a Republican and on an independent environmentalist line. 

In Kingston, there’s a rematch between Democrat Peter Criswell and Republican Brian Woltman. 

Former legislature chair and Gardiner resident Tracey Bartels has an opponent in Kimberley Calderone.

And Laura Petit, who prevailed comfortably two years ago in her Esopus district, faces Jarad Keplinger, a systems and management expert who grew up in Woodstock, this time around.

Several GOP legislators from what their party used to term “the solid south” are favored in their now- contested districts. Minority leader Ken Ronk is opposed by Andrew Domenech. Veteran legislator Kevin Roberts is facing a Democratic opponent, Marisa McClinton. And Craig Lopez faces off against Kelly Palinkas in a race where both candidates are on independent as well as major-party lines. 

In the Saugerties-Ulster district, GOP stalwart Dean Fabiano faces 20-year-old Arick Manocha, his first opponent in many years. 

Two years ago, Republican Al Bruno narrowly won a three-way race in the heart of Saugerties against Democrats John Schoonmaker and Chris Allen. This year he’s facing ex-legislator and now-Democrat Joe Maloney and Allen. It’ll be interesting to see whether Allen, still on the ballot, remains the spoiler despite more recently having thrown his support to Maloney.

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In the Ulster-Town of Kingston district, ex-IBMer Democrat Brian Cahill — brother of Assemblyman Kevin Cahill — just squeaked by political neophyte Andi Turco-Levin by 52 votes in 2019. This time, he’s opposed by Vincent Nelson, a councilman in the Town of Kingston, a concessionaire who owns eight stands.

Countywide matters

The Ulster County charter adopted in 2006 established the position of elected county executive. There have been so far only two elected executives, Mike Hein and Pat Ryan. In ending the fusion of powers where the chairman of the legislature was also the chief executive of the county, the charter brought about profound and continuing change. Ulster County government no longer consists of an assemblage of local home-rule interests but is a power unto itself. The county legislature is still adjusting to that changed role.

Ironically, none of the three countywide offices to be voted on November 2 are being contested. Perennial county clerk Nina Postupack had been endorsed by both major parties. County comptroller March Gallagher has no opponent. Neither does Sarah Rakov, Democratic candidate for judge of Family Court.