Tricia Bowen was appointed by the Ulster County Legislature last week to finish out the year representing District 20, after that chair was left vacant with the departure of Eve Walter. The appointment followed accusations of secrecy in the selection process by New Paltz residents and some legislators, as well as some concerns that a former legislator who was censured might also be nominated.
The appointment took place during a special meeting of the Legislature held on Tuesday, May 9 and was passed by a 15-2 margin split along party lines. While Democrats ultimately voted in favor of the appointment, some in the party criticized the process, claiming there was no notice that Bowen was the favored candidate until shortly before the meeting began.
“We’ve done it again and we’ve turned what could have been a pretty positive moment into this disaster with so much negativity,” said Joseph Maloney (D-Saugerties). “So little communication, a handful of people deciding everything, like always…This all could have been done so much better, but that wouldn’t have been good for the handful of people, the cabal that control everything up here on the sixth floor.”
Maloney’s motion to postpone the vote “so this is a real act of the body and not a coronation of the powerful inside this legislature” was unsuccessful.
Fellow Democrat Chris Hewitt (Rochester and Wawarsing) felt that the process wasn’t clearly detailed enough, particularly as it relates to timelines and transparency.
“Maybe it’s more like an ability or desire to move quickly and not tell everybody everything all the time, which I know is not feasible,” Hewitt said.“But I am in favor of a process and a charter revision possibly that can make this more effective and not have me in a position where I don’t even know who was being proposed until two days beforehand.”
Phil Erner (D-City of Kingston) said that while he would support Bowen’s nomination, it was a “difficult and fraught process” that was both “un-Democratic and un-Republican.”
A few members of the public also criticized how the nomination was handled, including Jane Schanberg, former president of the Ulster County Democratic Women and a New Paltz resident.
“As a voter, I had no representation in this process,” Schanberg said.
Majority Leader Jonathan Heppner (D-Woodstock) disputed the claims of secrecy, noting that Bowen’s name had been discussed in caucus after Walter announced her plans to step down, adding that it was important to move quickly to leave the district unrepresented for as short a period as possible. The latter was confirmed by chair Tracey Bartels (Gardiner and Shawangunk).
“The Legislature has moved quickly to ensure a continuity of representation for District 20,” said Bartels in a press release following the May 9 meeting. “The town and village of New Paltz have had continuous representation at all legislative sessions and votes since Legislator Walter stepped down. I look forward to working with Legislator Bowen for the remainder of the 2023 term. Her expertise and strong team leadership skills will be an asset to the legislature,”
Walter left the Legislature in mid-April after previously announcing she wouldn’t seek reelection to a third two-year term.
“My three-and-a-half years as county legislator representing the Village of New Paltz have been an incredible experience,” wrote Walter in an e-mail statement.
Walter said she was stepping down due to increased demands from her role as director of research and evaluation at AllianceChicago, a Chicago-based company which states its mission is to “improve personal, community and public health through innovative collaboration,” focusing on healthcare collaboration; health information technology; and health research and education.
Bowen, who will fill out the remainder of is a cyber security expert specializing in Identity and Access Management (IAM) and currently serves as the IAM assistant director at the University of Rochester. She will serve on the Ulster County Law Enforcement & Public Safety Committee and the Committee of the Whole.
At the May 9 meeting, Bowen said she had no plans to stay in the Legislature after her term expires at the end of the year.
“This is an interim position for me,” she said.“I’m not looking for a role in politics, I’m happy with the job that I have right now. This is an interim position so that New Paltz can conduct an election and select a candidate for this position coming up in January.”
Prior to Bowen’s appointment, the Legislature also dealt with rumors that former Democratic Legislator Hector Rodriguez might be nominated to fill the District 20 seat, with Bartels reading a letter from Rodriguez that he had no interest in the position and would refuse if nominated. Rodriguez was censured by a 17-5 in 2019 for inappropriate behavior toward numerous women.
Members of the public and legislators alike spoke out against the possibility that Rodriguez would be considered for any reason. Among them was Legislator Megan Sperry (D-Towns of Esopus and New Paltz), who said that it had come to her attention that two legislators — one Democrat, one Republican — had planned on nominating Rodriguez as a protest against the selection process. Sperry did not name the two legislators alleged to have made that consideration.
“I can only imagine how nice it is to be a cisgendered white man who has never been at the receiving end of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Sperry said.“But I cannot sit here quietly letting my colleagues who have little, if any, respect for assault victims be the loudest voices in this room or conveniently outside of it…It is appalling to me that my colleagues in this body would wait until just days before this meeting to put up a nominee with such a marred history, just because the process was not to their liking…The mere mention of nominating this individual to this body is traumatizing and re-triggering to not only his victims, but to women everywhere who have been at the receiving end of harassment and assault. And I am one of those women. And to the other women who have been triggered. I apologize for how this misfortune has made you feel you deserve better.”
Democrats Limina Grace Harmon and William Wheeler Murray will face off in a June 27 primary election for the Democratic nod on the November 7 ballot. Harmon is also on the Working Families line.