After Ulster County Executive Mike Hein’s surprise announcement last month that he will be taking a position in the Cuomo administration, three Democrats have stepped forward who are seeking to fill Hein’s shoes – Marc Rider, Pat Courtney Strong and Patrick Ryan.
The Ulster County Democratic party will hold their Nominating Convention on February 20 at the Best Western in Kingston, selecting their choice for County Executive, District Attorney, Ulster County Court Judge and the full Legislature. At this point it is not clear whether a Republican will also be running for County Executive.
Hein’s appointment is subject to approval by the New York State Senate and no date has yet been announced for that vote. If Hein were to leave in the spring, a special election is expected to be held within 90 days and whoever wins would also have to run again in November. Special county-wide elections cost approximately $375,000, about the same amount as the General Election in the fall.
Marc Rider is the current Deputy Ulster County Executive, having previously served as an Assistant County Attorney, followed with a stint as the Ulster County Director of Purchasing.
“I feel like I have the vision for the county and the leadership traits that it takes to succeed as County Executive,” he said.
Rider acknowledged that Hein has taken Ulster County from, “the brink of bankruptcy to what it is today, which is unrecognizable both in county government and the country as a whole.”
As Deputy County Executive Rider directly oversees 10 departments with about 500 employees.
“I work with them on their budgets. I work with them on policy that we put forth to the legislature and overall half of the day to day operations of county government,” he said.
Rider’s special focus is on public safety and infrastructure - the Departments of Public Works and Emergency Management.
“Basically, when most people are going home to take care of their families, I’m making sure that the county is continuing to be maintained and run safely,” he said.
Rider said the current county budget is $329 million and residents have seen their county tax bill go down for the last seven years, which he attributes to better management of the overall budget.
Rider said that as he has moved up in county government, Hein has given him more responsibilities coupled with higher expectations.
“I believe I have a bold vision of where I want to take the county and I think now we need to focus on affordability and bringing in some higher paid skilled jobs and retraining people so when those jobs get here we have the skilled workforce in place,” he said.
Rider stressed that more affordable housing must be built in the county. He would start by demolishing the old jail facility and building new market rate housing there but would ensure that up to 30% of the units be set aside for low and moderate income families.
Rider said he is the only Democratic candidate for County Executive who has county government experience.
“I believe I’m uniquely qualified, I’m ready to go and I’m excited for the opportunity. If I am so lucky to be chosen by the voters, I believe that I will make Ulster County proud,” he said.
Pat Courtney Strong is President of Courtney-Strong Inc, “a full service marketing communication firm serving the government, not-for-profit and the corporate sectors. CSI specializes in providing outreach and education on behalf of clients who are leading the transition to a clean energy economy.” Their principal client is the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority [NYSERDA].
Strong presently is helping local cities, towns and villages convert to LED street lights in the Mid-Hudson region, “which produces about 65% in energy savings for a municipality.”
Strong said if elected County Executive she will bring her unique perspective as a long time, local business owner and her understanding of the challenges that other business owners face, especially in their tough first few years. She founded the Business Alliance of Kingston in 2009 and served as its President from 2010 to 2017.
Strong also has worked with a cross section of people in local and county government, “to bring people information and resources and move them to action. That is very similar to what the County Executive must do; he or she must engage with the business community, find out what their needs are and how they are contributing to the economy and what they need to make more and stronger contributions and help them get there.”
Strong said the most pressing problem in the county is that 4 out of 10 people are living paycheck to paycheck.
“This speaks to the mismatch of the available jobs that are here and the workforce that we have,” she said. “Many of us have children who have grown up and moved away because they don’t see this as an economy that they can fit into and yet we have wonderful employers here saying I have jobs I just can’t find the people.” Strong said this problem goes right to the need for job training, “and absolutely fighting poverty because we do have 11% of our county below the poverty line.”
Strong cited the United Way’s Alice Report [Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed] that pointed out that the lack of affordable housing is the major factor that contributes to the number of people living at or below the poverty line. She favors expanding the state chartered land bank program that is able to clear title on properties that are derelict or abandoned and help municipalities get them back on the tax rolls through rehabilitation.
“That kind of housing can be targeted for first time home buyers, for low and moderate income buyers and we can begin to open up the tight housing market,” she said. “We absolutely have to do better.”
Patrick Ryan is a fifth generation Ulster County resident, a graduate of West Point and served two combat tours in Iraq as an Army Intelligence Officer. Upon returning home he co-founded Praescient Analytics, a small tech company that eventually employed 150 people with annual budgets of $25 million.
“We delivered better software technology to U.S. soldiers, mostly overseas,” he said.
In the company Ryan initiated a progressive paid family leave program and created a jobs training program for Veterans without college degrees to give them the skills needed to secure high paying jobs.
Ryan met his future wife Rebecca while working outside Washington D.C. and after they married the couple moved back to New York and settled in Gardiner.
Ryan ran for the House of Representatives but lost in the Democratic Primary to Antonio Delgado, who went on to defeat the incumbent John Faso in the General Election. He said he learned the importance of getting out to meet and speak with as many constituents as possible to see what was important to them and to share his vision of what he would like to accomplish if elected.
Ryan said he is running for County Executive primarily to give back to the community that he loves and has done so much for him and his family. He wants to implement a new Green Deal in Ulster County, aimed at creating jobs and protecting the environment, in light of the destruction of the EPA by the Trump administration. He promises to continue reforming the criminal justice system, noting that the recently opened Restorative Justice Center is a step in the right direction. He wants to promote economic development that benefits all county residents, starting with building more Affordable Housing units, raising wages and creating job training programs.
“To me it’s a leadership job at the end of the day and that’s really what I’ve been doing my whole professional career,” he said. “I got into the race because I am highly qualified to do the job and to be that next leader to bring us forward.”