With the Nov. 5 general election right around the corner and the campaign season heating up, the Wallkill Woman’s Club held its first-ever candidate forum at Shawangunk Town Hall on Oct. 3, as a dozen candidates laid out their cases in front of a packed audience of local voters.
Each prospective office holder had the opportunity to speak for three minutes to begin the night’s proceedings, and a short question and answer session with residents followed the opening statements.
In the race for the Ulster County Legislature’s District 13, which represents Shawangunk, Democratic challenger Andrew Domenech is squaring off with Republican Ulster County Legislator Ken Ronk. The incumbent has served in the Legislature for the last dozen years and is seeking his seventh two-year term in office. “It’s been the thrill of my life to represent the place I’ve lived my whole life,” Ronk told the residents. “I’ve lived here 34 years, every one of my 34 years spent within 200 yards of this building (Town Hall). In my 12 years in the Legislature, I spent three years as the chair of the Legislature, which was an eye-opening experience. It’s interesting to be chief among equals, because even though you’re supposed to lead the Legislature in a certain direction, you still only have one of 23 votes. That’s how I spent most of my time in the Legislature - trying to build bridges, trying to bring people together, rather than to drive them apart. In local government, even though we have to run on a party line, there’s very few instances in local government where you find a Republican or Democratic issue.”
Ronk said that his role in securing funding for the renovation of the Wallkill Bridge was one of his proudest achievements during his tenure in office and noted the Legislature’s efforts at reducing taxes. “People are being taxed out of our state and taxed out of our area,” he said. “They’re being taxed out of upstate New York. It’s important for us, especially at the local level, to be able to hold the line where we can.”
Domenech, who has lived in Shawangunk for 32 years, currently serves as the coordinator of the town’s Climate Smart Committee and volunteers with the Ulster County Office of the Aging. “I always feel as voters you should have a choice of candidates,” he told the locals. “It’s important, so that you have a chance to pick someone who you feel will do the best job for you. The other reason I’m running is because I believe in public service. I worked for 31-plus years with the Orange County Department of Social Services. At that time I worked in both public assistance, children’s services and Medicaid. During that time I met people from all walks of life, all situations.”
The challenger said that he wants to implement new plans for economic development that could specifically benefit the town.
Shawangunk Town Supervisor John Valk is seeking his 12th two-year term as supervisor, and the official has spent three decades on the town board. “Over the 30 years I’ve worked with many different people and we’ve accomplished many different things,” he told the crowd.
“One of the things our state government did in 2012 was to impose a tax cap. They did that when the economy was at its lowest. So in nine budgets now, this is the ninth coming up, our town board has made a commitment not to override the tax cap. We’ve stayed under the tax cap, and by doing so, the state will issue a check to our residents if the school board, the county and the town have not overrode the tax cap. They’ll get a refund of the difference in the increase in the taxes.”
The supervisor said that the municipality has worked diligently to not waste taxpayer money. “In our town I think we present a lot of good services on a tight budget,” Valk said. “We’re not a big town, we don’t have a lot of industry. We’re a bedroom community. Many years ago, people wanted industry, but where are you going to put it? Because nobody wants it in their backyard.”
Valk also mentioned that the municipality plans to release its draft comprehensive plan this month after the town gathered input from residents this spring about the future of the town. “That will inspire us to make some zoning changes to enhance business,” Valk said.
Joseph Frangione, who is challenging Valk in the supervisor’s race, is hoping to use his wealth of experience as a local business owner to attract new shops to the town. “I think the town is moving in a direction that needs a little pushing,” he told the voters. “I appreciate what the people from VOW (Vision of Wallkill) are doing. I believe that they took over for the Chamber of Commerce, of which I was a member when I had my business. VOW is doing a wonderful job. They have the energy and enthusiasm, and I think they’re making a nice effort to change to whole atmosphere.”
Frangione, the former owner of the Wallkill Stationery & Candy Store, is also focused on bringing more senior housing to the town. “I live in a senior complex, and there are people always approaching me and saying ‘Do you have any apartments?’” Frangione explained. “I always say ‘There’s nothing available. There’s a waiting list.’ So what I’d like to see is more senior housing. Whether it’s assisted living or it’s what I’m living in, we need it. Because we’re not getting younger, we’re getting older and there’s people who just can’t afford it.”
Town Clerk runs unopposed
Town Clerk Jane Rascoe is running unopposed for her fourth two-year term as clerk. Prior to her current position, Rascoe worked for 15 years in the Shawangunk Assessor’s Office. Rascoe noted that she handles a host of duties in her role as clerk, including collecting property taxes and serving as the custodian of records for the town. “I can tell you that the most enjoyable part of the job is helping people,” she told the voters. “I stand here tonight to tell you that I love the job and I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve as your town clerk.” Shawangunk Highway Superintendent Joseph LoCicero is also running unopposed for his second two-year term.
In the race for District 14 of the Legislature, Republican Ulster County Legislator Craig Lopez, who represents Shawangunk and the Town of Wawarsing, is being challenged by Adriana Magana. The local farmer is running for public office for the first time. The Democratic candidate said she wanted to bridge the divides fostered by politics, and Magana, who runs an ecological design business, wants to protect the sanctity of the local environment. “This is one of the reasons why we live here - we want to keep this area beautiful,” she told the residents. “We don’t want rampant overdevelopment, nothing like that. How do we keep this area beautiful and healthy, and how do we keep our children here if they want to stay here? A lot of times there aren’t jobs, and people over the hill where I am (Warwarsing) sometimes just can’t afford to stay. There’s no more manufacturing jobs, things like that. So when I think about these issues, I think about the jobs of the future. I’m not necessarily thinking about manufacturing coming back to our towns, because I think that if you all are engaged in watching the news, that is something that is a very common theme.” Magana added that the district needs investment in the green jobs of the future to revitalize the local economy.
Lopez, who is vying for his fifth term in the Legislature, pointed towards his fiscal accomplishments in his time in office. “During my tenure in the Legislature, I think we’ve gotten some really good things done,” he said. “Working under the leadership of my friend and colleague Ken Ronk, we’ve been able to consistently lower the property tax levy for seven years. We’ve been able to balance seven consecutive budgets, which is really unprecedented. We’ve been able to shrink the size of government without sacrificing the vital services needed.”
Democratic Ulster County Legislator Tracey Bartels, who represents Shawangunk and Gardiner in District 16, was not in attendance at last Wednesday’s forum, and Republican challenger Jordan Manley took the opportunity to make his case for the residents’ votes. The Southern California native bought a farm house in the area 18 months ago and said he wants to help develop the region. “I had seen in visiting Kerhonkson and Kingston that industry has been totally gutted, and you have a lot of people who don’t have sufficient work,” Manley said. “Some of them are not people that are able to create their own jobs or their own business. They need business owners to come in and either expand businesses they have or open new businesses in our county. With that in mind, I decided to run against Tracey Bartels.”
The computer programmer says he has fresh ideas to grow the local economy. “We can grow tourism,” Manley told the voters. “Fifteen percent of the county economy is tourism. We can easily push that to 22 or 23 percent. These are actual actionable ideas that can pave the way for businesses to come in here or making it easier for people to expand their existing businesses.”
Town council seats
Three candidates are on the ballot in November for a pair of seats on the Shawangunk Town Board, as challenger Charles Beach and incumbent councilmen Robert Miller and Brian Amthor are all running this fall. Amthor, who owns businesses locally and in Virginia, and whose family has deep roots in the area, is hoping to secure his fourth full term on the board. “In this position we have as town councilmen, it’s not a Republican or Democratic position, it’s just to do what’s right for the citizens and residents of our town,” Amthor told the residents. “As a town board, we’re a cohesive unit and we work very hard for the town. It’s an honor to serve everybody in this town and to listen to people. I’m finishing up my third full term, but it’s actually been my 17th year and it’s been a truly humbling experience to meet so many people over the years and to be involved in so many different projects. I serve on the Police Committee, and we’ve worked with the school district on getting police officers in the schools. That’s very important. They’re called School Resource Officers, and they help with the safety of our children. We’ve also done the sidewalks here in the hamlet a couple of years ago through a major grant that we worked on for several years.”
Councilman Miller is seeking his fifth four-year term on the council. Miller serves on the board’s Parks Committee, and is passionate about the issue. “We talk about how to get people to come into the area and we have two really great assets in our area,” he said. “We have the Wallkill River that runs right through town. How many of you have ever been to another town that has a river running through that doesn’t have something where people can go to? There’s either a fishing dock or a boardwalk or they have a trail. The VOW group in town, a really dedicated group of people, is working to get a rail trail along the river and I support that 100 percent. I’ve been trying for 10 years to get DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) to help us put a handicapped dock in at Popp’s Park.” Miller added that the town’s ridge is another huge asset for the area.
Miller also serves on the board’s Public Safety Committee. “We just hired a new police chief (Gerald Marlatt) and I think we made the correct decision,” he told the crowd. “He’s a real gung-ho guy and the guys seem to like him. He’s hired a lot of young guys. We need young guys on our force, and to be honest with you, we don’t pay police officers an awful lot. They go out and do a really tough job for a little amount of money.”
Beach, an educator who taught for 27 years at Nyack College, grew up in the Albany area and moved to the town seven years ago. “One of the first things I did when I got here was to ride my bike around and try not to get hit on Route 52,” he told the voters. “I walked in the area and found that there were some really good resources in our town that a lot of people don’t really even know about. The parks we have with walking trails that, with a little help, could become something much more attractive and much more usable. The Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, which now has walking trails that would be really good and most people don’t know about it. We have a nice rail trail going into Walden, but why not connect it to the one that goes to Gardiner, New Paltz and all the way to Kingston?”
Beach, who lives in Walker Valley, said that he was running to serve the community. “I’m running to be available, to be involved and to serve you all,” Beach told the residents.
Town Justice Michael Voss is running for his third four-year term on the bench. “I was with the New York State Police for 22 years, 14 of which I was assigned to the Pine Bush satellite station,” Voss told the crowd. “We covered the towns of Shawangunk and Crawford. I’m very familiar with the area, very familiar with the people. In the last eight years as town justice, I’ve become even more familiar with the people and the job of course. We’ve experienced some very positive changes in the equipment that we have to work with in our court over the last eight years. We’ve been able to obtain some grants for buying furniture and equipment and equipping the courtroom so it’s much more efficient.” Challenger Julius Collins was not in attendance at the forum.