Though the August primaries are behind us now and Ulster County executive Pat Ryan will soon be ascending to the United States Congress before his term as county executive runs out, rank-and-file Democratic Party voters need not inconvenience themselves by deciding on a party candidate to replace him. The Ulster County Democratic Committee will do that for them. A nominating convention on September 17 will decide.
In the council chambers of Kingston’s city hall, 280 committee members representing Ulster County’s 164 voting districts will winnow down the field of three hopefuls to a single candidate in anticipation of a special election to fill the remainder of the outgoing executive’s term.
The Ulster County Republican Committee hasn’t yet fielded a candidate for the contest.
Provided registered Democrats come out to vote, there probably won’t be enough of an opposition to resist the Democratic voter registration advantage in Ulster County to make a difference.
According to New York State, there were 23,068 more actively registered Democratic voters in Ulster County in February than Republicans.
Even if most of the 34,170 voters registered as independent of any party affiliation were to oppose a Democratic Party candidacy, it probably wouldn’t make a whit of difference.
Unless another candidate appears on the ballot, and so far none has, Democratic Party voters will have the option to second the choice of the Democratic Committee, or like the Republican voters to go kick rocks.
The county charter blamed
That 280 people will be deciding amongst themselves the next candidate for Ulster County’s top job. That will make some voters uncomfortable.
That thought may have occurred to the Democratic Committee leadership. On Labor Day, committee chair Kelleigh McKenzie posted an open letter to registered Democrats, taking pains to explain the situation and pointing to a too-brief window of time allowed by the county charter to allow for a primary.
“The good news is that we have at least three well-qualified Democratic candidates seeking the nomination,” McKenzie said in the posted letter. “The bad news is that we cannot choose the nominee via primary because of rules set by the Ulster County Charter and NY State Election Law.”
The candidates at present are ex-New York state senator Jen Metzger, county deputy executive Marc Rider and county comptroller March Gallagher
The county executive position will not actually be vacant. Deputy county executive Joanna Contreras will become acting county executive when Ryan is sworn in to Congress.
It appeared for a time that the special election wouldn’t be held until December, but word among Ulster County politicos has it that the special election will be added to the coming general election on November 8, vastly simplifying the logistics for Ulster County’s elections board, and avoiding the costs of holding a third election in 2022.
Filling Ulster County executive’s seat via special election should bring with it a heavy sense of déjà vu. It’s the way outgoing county executive Pat Ryan originally got the job in 2019. The Ulster County Democratic Committee played kingmaker then, too, that time handpicking its nominee at a nominating convention held in a Best Western.
Democratic Party voters had their Republican affiliated opponents outgunned by sheer numbers back then, too, though their numerical advantage was not quite as pronounced
In the special election before us, a Democratic victory is highly likely. Ulster County’s 182,951 residents will raise to the top county office a candidate decided on by 280 people. Only a very small portion of the population will be deciding for the whole, a process which appears uncomfortably undemocratic.
To her credit McKenzie’s open letter expresses the committee’s desire to provide “a little more clarity and transparency to this complicated and consequential nominating process.”
That the Republicans should be so outnumbered in Ulster County is of course their own fault and could speak to lethargy in their messaging.
Mention is made of the Charter Revision Commission, which will “soon be convened” and could address the county executive vacancy process in Ulster County, providing the opportunity for voters “to participate more fully in their party’s selection of a nominee for this countywide office.”
That would seem a necessity.