On February 9, the Gardiner Democratic Committee met to choose its candidates to back for local and regional seats in the November 2023 election. Only half of the endorsements were for incumbents, and there was a surprise name or two on the list.
Several public servants representing Gardiner have chosen not to run again this year, so a change of profile was in store, regardless of who prevails on Election Day. After 28 years of service as Town clerk, Michelle Mosher decided to retire at the end of 2022 with three years left to complete in her current term of office. Mosher’s assistant, Julia Hansen, was appointed to serve as acting Town clerk through 2023, and the Gardiner Dems endorsed her to run for that office this fall.
The Gardiner Democratic Committee (GDC) also gave nods for continuation to incumbent Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic and councilman Franco Carucci. But the other expiring Town Board term belongs to Laura Walls, who opted out of running for reelection. According to GDC chair Tom Kruglinski, two potential candidates came forward to make their cases: Tuthilltown Spirits founder Ralph Erenzo, who has served on several Town committees over the years, and Michael Hartner, who recently stepped down as chair of the Environmental Conservation Commission.
In his announcement of the endorsements, Kruglinski expressed the GDC’s appreciation for Erenzo’s “longtime citizen engagement with our town,” adding, “Under different circumstances, Ralph would have been our endorsee.” But ultimately the choice for the second Town Board slot landed on Hartner, who has a growing reputation as a gadfly on environmental and development topics in the community. It was largely Hartner who spurred municipal inquiry into the new construction at the Awosting Club site over the past several years, for example.
This endorsement, coupled with the GDC’s eyebrow-raising decision to endorse longtime Open Space Commission member Laura Wong-Pan to replace veteran Bruce Blatchly for Town justice, suggests that environmental issues are currently at the top of the radar for Gardiner Dems this year, perhaps along with a perceived need to bring in some new blood. “Bruce Blatchly has been Town justice for 28 years and asked for our endorsement for another term. However, the Committee felt that it was time for more diversity of perspective on that bench,” Kruglinski later told HV1.
“We all like and respect Bruce – no complaints whatsoever about his service or anything else about him. It is just time for someone like Laura Wong-Pan on this bench. Though she has had no judicial experience, she has very strong legal credentials and courtroom experience, training in mediation and conflict resolution, as well as experience as a neutral in administrative law cases. She will be great in the job.”
While Blatchly had the option to primary Wong-Pan, on Tuesday, February 14, Kruglinski told HV1, “I just received an e-mail from Bruce Blatchly indicating that he will not challenge Laura Wong-Pan for the Democratic nomination for Gardiner Town justice.”
Less of a surprise was the GDC’s decision to endorse the bid by Debra Clinton, principal of Marlboro Middle School and founder of Move Forward New York, to represent Gardiner in the Ulster County Legislature. Clinton has already received the blessing of the current holder of the District 16 seat, Tracey Bartels (https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2023/02/06/gardiner-educator-and-political-activist-debra-clinton-announces-run-for-county-legislature). After 16 years in the County Legislature, most recently as its chair, Bartels has decided to step down.
In the race to replace David Clegg as Ulster County District attorney, the GDC interviewed both Democratic hopefuls, Manny Nneji and Jarrid Blades, but decided not to endorse either, punting that choice to the Ulster County Democratic Committee. The countywide nominating convention will be held on February 22.