With the Nov. 2 general election right around the corner, the Wallkill Woman’s Club held a candidates’ forum on Oct. 12 at the Shawangunk Town Hall.
A total of 12 candidates laid out their platforms in front of a large crowd of local voters.
Each prospective office holder had three minutes to make their cases to the public. Following that part of the program, a question-and-answer session with residents continued for about a half hour.
Many candidates stayed around once the formal program concluded to answer more questions from potential voters.
Early voting will be held in Ulster County from Oct. 23 through Oct. 31 at six polling places. Check the Ulster County Board of Elections website for voting sites and the times they are open.
In the race for the seat in the Ulster County Legislature’s District 14, which includes the Town of Shawangunk and the Town of Wawarsing, Republican incumbent Craig Lopez is being challenged by Democrat Kelli Palinkas Greer.
Lopez, who is seeking his sixth two-year term in office, is the Minority Whip of the 23-member legislature. He also has been the chair of the Public Health and Social Services Committee since 2014.
“I’m a small business owner,” Lopez told the audience. “I’m a graphic artist. I have a small marketing business. We’ve had some really good times in the nine years I’ve been serving. We’ve balanced nine budgets. We’ve lowered the property tax levy nine consecutive times. And we’ve reduced government spending without sacrificing the vital services to our county. We’ve been moving in the right direction. When you have a winner, you stick with a winner. I’d like to see more of the same for the next two years if I’m lucky enough to be re-elected.”
Greer earned a master’s degree in English from SUNY New Paltz and currently tutors college English. Along with teaching, Greer is a caregiver for her husband, Greg, who is living with Parkinson’s disease. Because there is nothing closer, she drives two hours twice a week to take him to his specialized therapy.
“I’m not a career politician,” Greer said. “I decided to run because I saw a need in our community. Our community is hard working. Our community is strong. But nobody can do it alone. I think we need programs, services and opportunities for those who can’t get to them themselves. My mom can’t drive because she doesn’t see well enough anymore. My husband is in the same situation except that he has Parkinson’s disease. Without close family and friends, our most vulnerable people can’t get to the services that they need. What I hope to bring when I’m elected is more accessibility to the people who need it here.”
In the race for the seat in the Ulster County Legislature’s District 16, which includes Shawangunk and Gardiner, incumbent Tracey Bartels is being challenged by Republican Kim Calderone.
Bartels, who isn’t enrolled in any party but caucuses with Democrats in the county legislature, currently serves as the legislature’s Vice Chair. She chaired the legislature in 2019 and has represented her district for 14 years.
“My background is in film and television,” Bartels said, noting she graduated from New York University. “I’m known as a fiscal conservative. I take every line of the budget seriously. I’ve never voted for a tax increase. And your county property taxes today are lower than when I returned to office 12 years ago. We’ve invested in infrastructure. New roads. New bridges. Some of them have been in this district and you’ll see the work happening. Now we face new challenges. COVID-19 really presented a very different circumstance for all of us. If I’m re-elected, I’m going to focus heavily on the affordable housing crisis and helping municipalities to invest in affordable (housing) and workforce housing.”
Bartels also said she would continue to work to solve the opioid crisis in Ulster County.
“And I’m known as a champion for the environment,” she said. “My environmental record is pretty well-established.”
A retired firefighter, Calderone served as a firefighter at the U.S. Military Academy and said she was the first woman promoted to Lieutenant in 2004.
“When you retire, you look for where else you can be of service to the community,” she said. “That’s why I’m running and where I think I can be of value. I’ve been in public service most of my life. I’m in the business of making people feel safe. This is what I know. Now feeling safe means different things to different people. Knowing that the roads you drive on are well-maintained. The schools you send your children to have enough funding. The water and air you breathe is not full of chemicals. Making sure our vets and senior citizens have easy access to services. Police, fire and EMS when called are quick to help. And taxes are not out of control.”
Republican Ken Ronk Jr., who represents District 13 (Town of Shawangunk) in the Ulster County Legislature, is running unopposed. He is the current Minority Leader in the legislature and was the Chairman from 2016-18 when the Republican party held the majority.
“I’ve been honored to represent this area for the last 14 years in the county legislature,” Ronk said. “I’ve lived within 200 yards of where we stand right now my entire life. I love it here in the hamlet. I’ve been trying to do my best to make it a better place to live, to work and to raise a family. My biggest goal for the next couple of years is working with the ambulance corps around the county to help solve the EMS problem that we have. We have a problem with volunteers. Volunteerism has gone way, way down because nobody lives where they work anymore. So we need to as a community and a county look for new ideas, a new direction on how to deliver services like fire services and EMS service. I’m currently enrolled in an EMT class because I saw a need. Rather than just try to find a solution for it, I wanted to be a solution for it.”
Ronk had to leave early when his beeper went off.
“I apologize,” he said. “I’m on crew with the ambulance corps tonight. We just got a call so I’m going to have to leave.”
Incumbent Town Justice Kevin Hunt, a Republican, is being challenged by attorney and Democratic nominee Rebecca Mantello. Hunt has been on the bench for 18 years.
“Town judges are the judges closest to the people,” Hunt said. “We do everything from felony arraignments to dangerous dogs. And everything in between.
Misdemeanors, violations, trials, vehicle traffic, civil and small claims. I’ve worked with the New York State Department of Correctional Services for 30 years and I was Town Supervisor and a county legislator for 14 years, so I know the area well. I’m educated, experienced and ready to do the job.”
Hunt said out of 692 towns in the state, Shawangunk is ranked as the 13th safest town.
“Most of the people appearing in town court are everyday people who’ve made a mistake,” Hunt said. “A justice must treat all these people with dignity and respect. They’re average people. Good people from all walks of life.”
Mantello admitted she was a “newbie” to the area, moving to the town during the pandemic. She said her first introduction to the court system was as a 14-year-old defendant in Family Court.
“As so many young kids do, I got myself in trouble,” she said. “The judge there saw through the rebellious teenager and recognized I had potential and I could do better than what I had done. At that moment I didn’t realize it because I was 14, but later it really set me on my path to who I wanted to be. I wanted to help people and have an impact on people’s lives and so I went to law school.”
Mantello said she decided the time was right to run for Town Justice.
“I’m a practicing attorney and have been working a long time with the court system,” she said. “I’ve been with litigants who have been at each other’s throats and helped them find a resolution.”
Richard Blazeski is running unopposed to replace Joseph LoCicero, the current Town Highway Superintendent who chose to not seek re-election. Instead LoCicero was unsuccessful in his bid to unseat longtime Supervisor John Valk in the Republican caucus.
Blazeski, a Republican, is a retired New York City fireman. He and wife, Allison, own Watswyck Farm, a 50-animal cow and calf operation and a hay and corn business. Blazeski was appointed Deputy Highway Superintendent in August.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” Blazeski said. “I’m looking to serve the people and get the roads squared away and take care of a lot of things. I’ve been out with Joe (LoCicero) quite a bit lately looking at some bridge projects. I’m looking to get myself involved as soon as I possibly can and keep the roads in good shape.”
Valk has served 24 years as Town Supervisor and is unopposed.
“I’m the chief fiscal officer for the town,” Valk said. “That entails doing the budget and keeping track of the funds, but I’m only one of five people on the Town Board who makes the decisions. We’ve stayed below the tax cap since it was enacted in 2012. People move here because they see the difference in the tax rates from Orange County and such. With that, though, we got to provide services. We do our best. We have a part-time police department with full-time officers, but they don’t do 24-7. We have our parks we maintain to maintain the quality of life in this town. We don’t have an interstate road going through here, so we don’t have a lot of industry. We are a bedroom community. So we want to make it the best bedroom community we can be.”
Valk said the biggest challenge right now is the proposed highway budget for 2022. Last week, the tentative budget showed a 41 percent increase in highway department spending for 2022.
Republican Jane Rascoe, who has served as Town Clerk for the past eight years, is running unopposed.
“My position is responsible for many functions,” Rascoe said. “It includes everything from issuing and maintaining vital records – birth certificates, death certificates and marriage licenses. We issue handicap parking permits, hunting and fishing licenses, bingo licenses, dog licenses and transfer station permits. I also handle FOIL requests and we provide notary public services. And the least favorite, I collect your property taxes.”
Rascoe said one of the most enjoyable parts of her job is welcoming new residents to the town. She said the first thing she does is show them how to pronounce Shawangunk. She drew a big laugh from the crowd when she held up a sign that read: Shon-gum.
Republican Alex Danon is running unopposed for one of two seats on the Shawangunk Town Board. He works for the Wallkill School District as the data coordinator and is also Wallkill’s varsity lacrosse coach. Danon is also a licensed real estate agent. He served on the town’s Assessment Board of Review for three years and has been a member of the Planning Board for five years.
“All those positions really helped me gain invaluable experience that I think will serve myself and the town well if I’m lucky enough to be elected to the Town Board,” Danon said. “One of the main things that I hear from residents of the town is that we don’t have enough businesses and a lot of the businesses have closed. It’s hard to attract new businesses if we can’t show them that the businesses that are here are already successful. That’s one of the things I want to focus on.”
Republican Adrian DeWitt is running unopposed for another term on the board. He has served on the board for the last 20 years.
DeWitt, who goes by the childhood nickname of Binker, has spent the past 30 years with the Orange County Highway Department where he works as a District Supervisor. He also serves as Shawangunk’s Deputy Supervisor.
“I have extensive knowledge of highway,” DeWitt said, “which is why I originally ran for the Town Board. I thought I could help the Highway Department out and I’ve been instrumental in a lot of equipment purchases and a lot of different ideas because I do it every day on a bigger scale. I head up the parks maintenance program. And recreation where we put on a camp every year at a very low cost. The town has just expanded. We need to get some more parks people. And the same thing with the Highway Department.”