Shawangunk Journal: Special Election For Ulster County Exec Decided

by Paula Sirc

NEW YORK – Patrick Ryan has been racking up the bonafides in his bid to run in a special election, and again in the November election, for an opportunity to become Ulster County’s second county executive since the Charter form of government was adopted in 2008.

Ryan had already picked up endorsements from several towns’ Democratic committees, organized labor (AFL-CIO) and the Ulster County Comptroller, well in advance of the Wednesday night, February 20 convention, when more than 300 Democratic committee and party members braved an ice storm to overwhelmingly endorse him for the post. He bested contender Patrice Courtney-Strong, taking 58 percent of the weighted vote, for a final tally of 16,117 to 11,616.

Since last week’s convention, New York State Assemblyman Kevin A. Cahill (D-Ulster/Dutchess) also threw his support behind Ryan, citing the candidate’s "vigorous progressive agenda for local governance."

Ryan, a U.S. Army veteran, who attended West Point and served two combat tours in Iraq as an Army Intelligence officer, has never held public office, but cites his military and business experience as credentials for his ability to handle the position.

Now 36-yrs-old, he said he learned leadership at a young age "at West Point, one of the finest academies in the world" and has consistently exhibited it during his military career, and now post-military, after he helped cofound two companies, one now a $25 million software company, Praescient Analytics, which currently employs 150 people.

Ulster County employs 1,300 people and has an annual budget of $330 million.

During the convention and at an earlier event in Kingston City Hall, Ryan spoke to the power of diversity, noting that he brings the experience of uniting people of all walks of life behind a shared sense of purpose and of his plan for the future of the county.

Specifically, he cited the need to create workforce development camps that target the needs of specific companies and train the workforce necessary. Noting that 70 percent of the county constituency lack a college degree, he believes the county needs to focus on other avenues for skills training. He also talked about his personal success in his company with a concept called Tech Boot Camp, where employees undergo intensive training specific to the needs of the business and in so doing, increase their own marketability.

In a phone interview, Ryan spoke of his 10-year vision, including the ability to keep families together in Ulster County. He said he believes programs like PTECH through BOCES are effective and need to be scaled up. He also spoke to the need for Ulster to invest in green technology jobs and be ready to jump on the marijuana market, coming to our area soon.

Since the convention, Strong has suspended her campaign but Ryan will likely still face a primary challenge in June from Jeff Moran, who served as Woodstock supervisor from 2008 to 2011.
The County Executive vacancy was created when Mike Hein stepped down earlier this month to accept a position in the Cuomo administration as acting commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Per the terms of the Charter government, Acting County Executive, Adele Reiter, will serve in the position until an elected official takes office. The Charter unequivocally states that a special election for the county executive position occur no longer than 90 days from the date the vacancy occurs.

Where the chronicles fall silent, however, is whose responsibility it is to call for the special election. The Charter states that the special election "called hereunder shall be set forth in election law for notice of a general election," but fails to define who actually calls the election.

Some legislators are using this perceived flaw as a means to forestall the election until November. They contend that since the Republicans put no candidate up for the post during their convention, the county should save the estimated $200,000-300,000 costs to hold a special election and wait until November. Legislature attorneys say the charter includes a provision that "empowers," but does not demand that the Legislature act.

Legislature Chair Tracey Bartels held a special meeting on Tuesday, February 26, where members debated the resolution before putting it to vote.

Two speakers addressed the chambers with concerns about the resolution.

Lee Kalish, of Kingston, called the process flawed and said the time frame is too tight and that people won’t show up for a special election.

The second speaker was Jeff Moran, who has declared himself a candidate to primary Ryan in June. "If we spend $220,000 [on this election], we will be pissing it away for no real reason," he said.
Republican Minority Leader Ken Ronk urged lawmakers to "exercise common sense" instead of spending taxpayer money for an "unopposed vanity election."

Majority Leader Jonathan Heppner shot back, saying, "Vanity is certainly in politics, but not when it comes to protecting democracy."

Lynn Archer, D-Rochester, said, "As legislators, we swear duty to the Charter. It’s not incumbent on us to choose which parts of it to follow."

When the vote was called, the body voted 16-4 in favor of Resolution 81, setting the date for a special election on April 30, 2019.

Lawmakers from across the aisle called on the body to act immediately to revise the language in the Charter to clarify what entity is responsible for calling for a special election.

Following the vote, Pat Ryan’s campaign released a statement saying that voters will be able to select their next county executive in nine weeks and that he’ll spend the next two months "talking with voters and laying out a policy vision that will improve the lives of working families in our county."

Ryan announced his campaign’s formal kickoff will be on Saturday, March 1, in New Paltz at 11:30 a.m.

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