Ulster town supervisor Jim Quigley takes down a framed picture in his office. Behind the glass is a copy of Kingston Times, one of the precursors to this newspaper. The headline reads: “It’ll be Quigley!”
“It was an inter-party spat,” recalls Quigley, chuckling. “I went to war with the chairman of the committee, the late Jimmy Maloney [the town assessor]. They tried to take me out in the Republican caucus, and it didn’t work. I got in in 2009, and I have been here uninterrupted ever since.”
Quigley is a large, busy man who wears glasses and keeps his hair orderly. He’s an easy communicator. His lines don’t sound rehearsed.
His office is a humble affair. No brass plaques or mahogany in the humble town hall in a parking lot just off Route 209 opposite iPark 87.
He sits at a long table, game to talk about whatever subject is fired at him.
“I’m not going to say everybody likes me, but everybody respects the job I do,” he says. “That’s the important thing. Because to me, this is about getting things done.”
A ticket to the dance
Quigley, a candidate who’s running for the top office in Ulster County government, lets out that his family came over from Ireland in 1863 and became very active in the Democratic Party in the early part of the 1900s.
“My great, great grandfather’s cousin was an alderman in the City of Kingston,” he says. “A member of the board of supervisors, chairman of the City of Kingston Democratic Committee — and at one point was chairman of the county Democratic Committee. I gave an interview back in the Eighties when I was in college and talked about supporting Ronald Reagan. My grandfather’s sister was 86 or 87 at the time, and I went to see her one day and she had read it in the paper. And she said to me, ‘All your relatives are turning in their graves.’ Right? Because they were a family where you would go into the living room and there were two pictures on the wall. One was John Kennedy. The other was the pope.”
Party identification is an unavoidable reality for Quigley. Though he describes himself as a conservative in his fiscal policies and a moderate-to-somewhat-liberal in his social policies, he says the first thing he did once he was elected to public office was to resign from all political offices.
“Because I represent all the voters,” says Quigley. “I am not involved in party politics.”
Wasn’t it a contradiction, then, for him to accept the Republican and Conservative endorsements?
Quigley had a ready answer. “How do you get a ticket to the dance? We have a two-party system, okay? The alternative? Trust me, It’s painful. I did it in 2015, when I was almost denied the Republican nomination, I walked doors and collected 1500 signatures from voters in the town to get on the ballot as an independent. In order to play the game, you have to be in the game.”
The game as Quigley plays it started in the 2000s. After coming off a nail-biting defeat for the office of Ulster County comptroller by mere hundreds out of tens of thousands of votes cast, Quigley turned his attention instead to town leadership. The internecine struggle in the town Republican Committee that he alluded to was the only challenge that has come along to test him. He doesn’t shy away from a fight.
Waste disposition choices
What’s his opinion on landfills?
“I led that effort for the towns, putting out the resolution saying no landfill in my town. Yes. As president of the Ulster County Association of Supervisors, this association of town supervisors and village mayors. Here’s the issue. Take a look at it from a practical point of view. You’re looking at the geography of Ulster County. Half the county is in the New York City watershed. Right. Do you think New York City’s gonna let a landfill go into the watershed?”
Quigley has considered the feasibility of moving waste by train as opposed to by truck, to places like Ohio or Pennsylvania. Would money be saved that way?
“Is that cost-effective? Is that the final solution? No. I happen to agree with deputy executive [Marc] Rider that a waste-to-energy facility is a leading-edge technology way of disposing of municipal solid waste. In Europe, they don’t have large areas for landfill, and their predominant means of disposal is waste-to-energy.”
Quigley often debates his own points, a Socratic method to arrive at the solutions he’s looking for.
“Now, does it pollute the air? Yes. If it’s not properly controlled with scrubbers and environmental equipment? Absolutely. But let’s face it, we have technology that has turned around the emissions industry. Does it get everything? No. Right. To me, the only thing that gets everything is if mankind wasn’t here. Now, that’s nuts. That’s not what we want.”
The Republican candidate really would like is to do away with UCRRA, the authority responsible for sifting through the waste stream for all things recyclable. Its mission is not what offends him as much as that it is outside the control of the county executive.
“I would do away with the agency and make it directly under the offices of the executive. Why? Well, very clearly comptroller [March] Gallagher would be happy because there’d be no question. She could audit it. Second of all, if anybody’s got any problems with any employees and performance issues, there’s one person that fires them. The county executive.”
Water system choices
While he would dismantle one authority, he is similarly intent on building up another.
“I’d like to have a study to put together a regional water authority,” he says. “And the City of Kingston and Cooper Lake would be the key to that. And what that would do is give you the bulk to be able to make the interconnection permanent with the Ashokan Reservoir, which has 122 billion gallons of water storage capacity. And New York City DEP has an obligation to sell water to communities in the watershed. I’m particularly keen on that because I have seven water districts [in the Town of Ulster]. And I have four sewer districts, and I have a contract with the City of Kingston to buy water. I know how to run this.”
The connection with the Ashokan is currently not considered permanent, says Quigley, because there are two independent water companies, New York City’s and Kingston’s.
“Saugerties is challenged for finding new sources of water. Did you know I could connect the Town of Ulster water system to the Town of Saugerties water system? We’ve talked about it. But there’s no interest in Saugerties. They can’t get their head around it because it’s easier for them to go talk about Winston Farm.”
There’s s a natural aquifer underneath Winston Farm. The land and the water rights with it are owned by developers who have expressed interest in, among other ideas, developing an indoor water-park hotel.
Conflict is inevitable
Quigley’s anecdotes frequently carry an abrasive edge, perhaps because he has resigned himself to a philosophy that posits to get things done, conflict is inevitable.
“My opponent wants renewable energy,” says Quigley, referring to Democrat Jen Metzger. “There’s a six-megawatt solar farm on the south side of the town. I got crucified for it because we were cutting trees and neighbors didn’t want it. We faced that in the planning board.
“I faced the neighbors I talked them all through their concerns. When they objected to what it was going to look like we hired a consultant to fly-balloon tests. And then we made presentations. I’ve done the implementation of the policy that my opponent’s whole platform is designed around. Okay?
“There’s two ways to get things done. You make the policy and then you’ll fight over it for 13 years, or you give it to someone who gets the job done.”
How do I pay for it?
Getting things done is the name of the game for Quigley, and he returns to the topic as a sort of lodestone to his compass needle. It reaches into the heart of his pragmatic outlook.
He sees extending broadband as essential, and finds a solution for coming up with the money to pay for it wanting in the fine details. “There is a five percent franchise fee on all the cable [run already],” says Quigley. “Originally, when that franchise fee was put in place, it was supposed to fund capital improvement reserves for the buildout of the system.”
This is a version of the leaky-bucket theory espoused by people involved in government who have come to understand it’s the only kind of bucket used for carrying surplus cash around the municipal landscape.
His energy in searching for extra revenue comes from his dread of tax increases.
“Case in point, labor contracts,” says Quigley. “They settled labor contracts at the county level, and that establishes a precedent in raises for the other unions that are negotiating at the town level. If they give away the farm at the county [level] they have resources to pay for it through sales tax, through government aid, federal and state, whatever. Turn it around, the unions come to the bargaining table in the towns and say, We want the county deal. Right. Which absolutely. Love to give it to you. How do I pay for it? It’s a tax increase. That’s the only answer.”
“I stepped up”
At this point it seems only fair to the Democratic Committee, which faced strong headwinds because of its candidate selection process during its special-election nominating process, to examine the Republican Committee methods with the same attention.
“We have a two-party system of government,” notes Quigley. “And we had a coronation coming.” Without a Republican contender in the race, whoever the 280 voting members of the Democratic Committee chose late Saturday afternoon would have waltzed to the throne of county government. “Somebody had to do something,” said Quigley. “Sure. And as the supervisor of one of the larger towns, with a long track record, a long history of delivering and a desire to continue to serve, I stepped up.”
According to Quigley, there was a meeting of the executive committee of the Ulster County Republicans on Saturday night at six o’clock in their offices, where the Republican chairmen met to select their candidate. According to Quigley, there were no other interested parties.
“Had I not stepped forward, those 280 people would have picked the next county executive,” said Quigley. “Because I stepped forward, the process is now truly a matter for the people to describe. I gave them an option.”
Quigley saw no irony in the fact that the executive committee of the Republican Party has only 23 members who decided on their candidate. Confronted with the obvious disadvantage his candidacy faces by the simple virtue of him running as a Republican in a county outnumbered by Democratic voters, he remains unfazed.
“It’s not always the left on the other side of the fence,” said Quigley. “Remember, the Democrats have a big tent! They keep telling me. They have a full spectrum. I don’t need to pull their left. I just need to pull their center.”