Shawangunk Journal: County Executive Race Heats Up / by Melissa Herreria

County Executive Race Heats Up

By Paula Sirc

NEW YORK – In the wake of Ulster County Executive Michael Hein’s recent announcement to resign the elected post he’s held for ten years and assume the position of commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in the Cuomo administration — where he’ll oversee a $5.5 billion budget and 2,000 employees — several potential candidates have thrown their respective hats in the ring to run in a special election for the vacancy he’ll leave.
 
Hein, Ulster’s first county executive under the 2008 charter form of governance, has left a lasting impact on the county he served. In his final state of the county address, he said, “From the very beginning, I was hired by the extraordinary people of Ulster County to fix a severely broken government and I’m proud to say that we’ve done exactly that.”
 
Ulster County Democratic Chair Frank Cardinale said Hein leaves “huge shoes to fill,” and warned that the position is “an extremely difficult job” that requires an executive to be “on” seven days a week. “(Hein) gave his all and accomplished a lot,” Cardinale said. “The county’s loss will be the state’s gain… He’s an achiever and will be successful in his new position.”

Cardinale expects the Senate to confirm Hein’s position in the next few weeks. From there, the Charter demands a special election be held within 90 days of his leaving the post, if the vacancy occurs more than 180 days before the next scheduled election, and that the person must take office no later than 30 days after the election is certified. 
 
Hein’s current term expires at the end of this year. 
 
The Dem chair said he’d support whichever candidate the 300 local Democratic committee members put forward. 
 
Ulster County Republican Chair Roger Rascoe couldn’t be reached for comment regarding his party’s plans regarding the election, though local news sources report Ken Ronk’s interest in running for the post. 
 
Ronk served as Legislature Chair in 2016, 2017 and 2018. He was denied a fourth year, when he was defeated by Legislator Tracey Bartels, who is not enrolled in a political party, but caucuses with the Democrats. 
 
The Democratic candidates expressing interest in running in this election include last year’s candidate for state Senate seat in New York’s 46th District Patrice Courtney Strong, former congressional candidate Pat Ryan, and Ulster County Deputy Executive Marc Rider.
 
In announcing his decision to run, Deputy Ulster County Executive Marc Rider said he feels he’s in the best position to seamlessly continue the course Hein has laid out. His goals, to begin, include completing the Ashokan Rail Trail and fulfilling the goals of the Restorative Justice Center. 
 
The Restorative Justice Center, part of Hein’s larger Brighter Futures Initiative, opened on December 27, with the aim of helping prevent the county’s at-risk youth from entering the criminal justice system by providing guidance and specialized programs targeted to reducing recidivism and helping the county’s youth overcome generational poverty. 
 
Rider says the initiative is designed to remove barriers for at-risk youth, working in concert with the community to help move toward a more diversified workforce. “People of color are disproportionally represented in the workforce and I’d like to see that changed through workforce training,” he said. 
 
On economic development, Rider wants to start by focusing on training the workforce to support the existing companies that can’t find skilled labor.
 
“Trailways, UCAT, and Citibus are all seeking trained mechanics — jobs paying upwards of $80,000 a year, but they’re hard-pressed to find skilled employees,” he said. “There are tech entrepreneurs who are desperate for a well-trained workforce.” 
 
He plans to work with BOCES, the Office of Employment and Training, and the Office of Economic Development to implement classes specifically designed to train the workforce and to readily disseminate information about the programs to these communities in a way they can access.
 
Candidate Patrice Courtney Strong, joined by Kingston mayor Steve Noble and County Legislature Lynn Eckert, announced her “Ulster STRONG” campaign, seeking the candidacy for the executive position amid 100 supporters at ARTBAR in Kingston on January 12. 
 
Strong cites her experience as a longtime small business owner and years of volunteerism as qualities that differentiate her from the other candidates. Strong owns Courtney Strong Inc., and works as an environmental consultant helping businesses, institutions, and homeowners save energy and money by navigating and applying for the myriad programs available and seeing them to completion. She co-founded the Business Alliance of Kingston in 2009, as well as the arts event Made In Kingston in 2008. In the early 1990s, Strong worked as a district coordinator for state Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston. “As someone who has raised a family and run a small business here, employing more than two dozen people, I’d be honored to follow Mike as County Executive,” Strong said in a press release announcing her intent. “My emphasis will be on creating good paying jobs, training our workforce, and caring for our youth and our most vulnerable citizens.”
 
If elected, Strong wants to build on Hein’s efforts to make the county “even more of a standout among New York State counties for its environmental and social justice initiatives,” she said. 
 
Soon after news of Hein’s resignation on January 4, Patrick Ryan, a U.S. Army veteran who made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nod for the 19th Congressional District seat, announced he’d seek the nomination for the position, as well. Ryan could not be reached for comment. 
 
Elliott Auerbach, who many speculated would run, said that while he’s been moved on “a personal and professional level by the outpouring of people calling on me to run, I love my job as county comptroller.”
 
He noted that the Charter form of government allowed him to essentially “build a house from a pile of bricks” when he took office in January 2009, and, after mentoring with the Nassau County Comptroller on how to effectively accomplish that, he now regularly works in unison with surrounding county comptrollers, a partnership he’s proud to have helped develop. 
 
While he didn’t commit to running in the election, he doesn’t seem to be actively seeking the Democratic nomination; committee meetings begin as early as this week.
 
However, he did weigh in on what he hopes to see in the next executive. “I’d like an executive who can seamlessly transition and lead us into the next decade of Charter governance.” Auerbach said he would like an executive who is inclusive of every aspect of government, including the legislature, county clerk, sheriff, DA, mayor, local supervisors, and county employees, and one who can do so with courtesy, respect, and compassion. “We need someone who will turn a ‘Me’ government into a ‘We’ government.”

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