In the decade and a half since the position of county executive was created in Ulster County, no Republican candidate has come close to mustering enough support to win the job. Seven-term Ulster town supervisor Jim Quigley III hopes to be the first.
Having secured the promise of endorsements from the Republican and Conservative parties, Quigley held off announcing his candidacy until the morning after the county Democratic Committee nominated its candidate, former state senator Jen Metzger. The day after Metzger had won the nomination, Quigley expressed his intentions in soaring copy.
“For too long the office of county executive has been viewed as a birthright and used as a stepping stone for higher office,” said Quigley. “With the support of Ulster County voters, those days will end under my watch. I’m asking voters to help me usher in an era where our next county executive is qualified for the job, understands the day-to-day needs and challenges of the office, and has a proven track record of solving the complex problems of running local government.”
The GOP standard-bearer emphasized the importance of the executive’s position, which he described as providing and sustaining county infrastructure and core services.
“That means clean drinking water,” said Quigley, “roads and bridges, sewer and sanitation, broadband coverage and cellular service. It also means the critical emergency services that protect our lives and our property — fire service, law enforcement, ambulance and EMS, and public health services.”
Quigley singled out bail reform as a driver of crime, criticized Democratic dysfunction in Albany and Washington for contributing to inflation, and characterized the use of the position as a stepping stone to higher office as corruption.
The candidate reserved special ire for tax-related issues.
“As citizens, we have an obligation to pay our fair share in taxes, but that doesn’t mean elected leaders have the right to waste our tax dollars through mismanagement, incompetence or political reward.”
Quigley also gave attention to the environment and to mental health.
“For energy supply to meet the continuing increases in demand,” he said, “we must implement realistic options to advance our environmental goals without undermining our existing economy.”
Quigley was more specific when addressing health care. He singled out the millions of dollars in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act spent on addressing mental-health issues.
“He charged that the previous county executive, Pat Ryan, made no meaningful commitment of funds to address mental-health issues in Ulster County.”
Quigley’s use of the word meaningful is the qualifier.
According to the office of the county executive, 15% of all ARPA funds received by the county have so far been directed towards mental health solutions: $3 Million for a Crisis Stabilization Center in Kinston, $1.5 million for 7-10-day Respite Houses geographically spread out across the county and $750,000 for Mental Health in Schools.
Successful in a GOP town
Bringing the Republican vote out in meaningful numbers this year promises to be a major challenge for the candidate. The job of county executive was first advertised in 2008, a year that saw the highest turnout of Ulster County voters of every political stripe over the past decade and a half. The first election for the newly created position was the same day as the presidential election. Some 78,040 votes were cast in the county comptroller’s race, a staggeringly large number for a traditionally drowsy contest between politicking accountants.
Quigley, a certified public accountant, was the Republican candidate in that contest. He came within just 174 votes of winning, drawing 38,933 votes.
The Republican turnout for county executive in the years since has been modest. In 2019, Republican challenger to Pat Ryan Gardiner resident Jack Hayes drew 18,962 votes, 37 percent of the vote. In 2017 Republican candidate Terry Bernardo had pulled 15,598 and also was trounced, receiving 42 percent of the vote
Quigley has been able to maintain his top town job over the last 13 years. He’s never been the subject of a serious challenge. The Town of Ulster has maintained a strong Republican voter base. Some 16 to 20 percent of the population turns out at every election
In the last seven election cycles, Quigley has only faced a Democratic opponent once. When he first ran for the job, Quigley beat out Nick Woerner by 1222 votes out of 3924 cast. In 2015 former GOP stalwart Fred Wadnola waged a maverick fight ran against him as an independent. Quigley won with 66 percent of the vote.
He’ll give it a try
The pendulum has swung wide from the days of riding high in 2007 when the Republicans still had a supermajority in the county legislature and could write bonds without considering whether the Democrats would oppose them.
Not just party morale but also candidate charisma plays a part in voter turnout. Quigley has a strong personality. Might the ever-articulate Quigley be able to put forth the right recipe for capturing the attention of the electorate sufficiently to gain the support of most independent voters and a few Democrats as well? If he doesn’t, the odds against a Republican county executive in Ulster County are very long indeed.