This Monday night’s organizational meeting of the Ulster County Legislature unanimously chose District 16 legislator Tracey Bartels as its chairperson for 2022. During the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions, Bartels served as vice-chair under long-serving legislator David B. Donaldson, who was unexpectedly defeated in the last election cycle. During the 2019 legislative session, Bartels had served as chair and Donaldson as vice-chair.
First winning election in 2003, Bartels began a career in public service that has spanned almost two decades. In 2009 Republican-Conservative Jack Hayes challenged Bartels and ousted her from her legislative seat. In the next election cycle, Bartels returned the favor, recapturing the seat in 2011.
While Bartels caucuses with the Democrats, she is officially unaffiliated, a rarity for a politician heading a legislature. Bartels describes herself as an anti-tax-increase fiscal conservative as well as a committed environmental advocate, a tightrope she walks among her electorate. She is often classified among her peers as a liberal or progressive.
Bartels has served in various leadership capacities in the Ways and Means, Laws and Rules, and Governmental Services committees. As an anti-tax fighter, she supported tax exemptions for seniors, veterans and the disabled, and was instrumental in creating a property-tax-bill insert that showed taxpayers how their money was being spent.
A proponent of open government, Bartels co-authored a resolution that brought an end to most closed-door county meetings. She sponsored legislation that required committee meetings to be audio-recorded and posted online for public review.
In June 2021, she sponsored a resolution establishing a ban-the-box policy wherein “any application for examination or employment with Ulster County shall not contain questions or checkboxes regarding criminal history.” Certain classes of crimes remain mandatory to disclose.
Most recently, at the December 21 legislative meeting Bartels continued her symbolic resistance against privatization of services in the county’s jails and prisons. The Gardiner legislator voted against a resolution approving payments to Missouri-based correctional food contractor Trinity Services Group, which she described as one of two companies nationally that provides this type of food. The other is Philadelphia-based Aramark, which the county used to have contracts with and which also serves food to schoolchildren.
“I have a long record of noes on these types of contracts,” said Bartels. “I can’t be supportive of a system that goes to the lowest bidder and serves food at the lowest price, but isn’t really thinking about the well-being and health of the people under our care.”
She favors local farms taking over the food service in local jails and prisons.
In her capacity as advocate for environmental causes, the legislator has in each of her terms served on the County Environmental Committee over its many iterations.
In 2012, when then County Executive Mike Hein passed an executive order banning the County’s purchase of any liquid waste product, or “fracking waste brine” from hydraulic fracturing operations, Bartels had this to say:
“Our environment is our most precious resource and it cannot be put up for sale to the lowest bidder. I commend County Executive Hein and all those weighing in on this issue for their commitment to our environment.”
“The scenic beauty of Ulster County,” says Bartels, “is what first brought me here, nearly 25 years ago. I started my family here and plan to raise my daughter right here. I can think of no place I would rather be.”