The candidates for Orange County executive debated last night in Middletown. Incumbent Republican Steve Neuhaus and Democratic challenger Patrick Davis delivered their views on a number of topics before an audience of hundreds. Neuhaus is seeking a second four-year term while Davis is a political newcomer.
Neuhaus and Davis each had their sections of supporters at the debate at the Twin Towers Middle School. The two agreed on little except that voters have a clear choice. Neuhaus, in his closing statements, repeated a phrase used by Ronald Reagan.
“When I go by my record of now almost four years of service, I say, are you better off than you were four years ago,” Neuhaus says. “When we were… four years ago when I ran, the government center was closed, with no end in sight. When I ran four years ago, the budget was not balanced and the revenues were overinflated. The budget is balanced now.”
Plus, he says, economic development projects and new businesses have sprouted under his leadership, including with his help landing Norwegian Air at Stewart International Airport. West Point graduate Patrick Davis’ closing statement had a different focus.
“I hear a lot of things that Steve’s taking credit for which is, things are fine, why change what we’re doing,” says Davis. “I’m about leading this county into the future, and I’ll leave you guys with a final thought. When I get to work refining my vision and strategy for Orange County, and roll up my sleeves and sit down with the leaders who are going to help me do this, I hope that the table in the executive office is large because in my boardroom everyone gets a seat at the table.”
Goshen resident Kathy Piergiorgi attended.
“I came with an open mind tonight. I’ve been very happy with the job that Steve Neuhaus has done,” Piergiorgi says. “I came to listen to the opponent, who I thought was extremely educated, extremely opinionated on his feelings, and it has not changed my mind on who I’m going to vote for but I got more information than I had before I got here.”
She came with her friend Diane Blanton.
“I didn’t vote for Neuhaus the first go-round but I didn’t really know what I felt was enough about Davis,” says Blanton. “And, I’m going to do some more research, but I do like him.”
And Blanton speaks about county-owned Camp La Guardia, a former homeless shelter that sits partially where Neuhaus lives — Chester.
“Enough with the same-old, same-old. He talked about Camp La Guardia,” Blanton says. “Well, he was the town supervisor in Chester when this all came about and he did nothing to meet with the developers, and it sat. And it’s still sitting for years.”
Davis has a proposal for the property to help address the opioid crisis.
“Consider the use of Camp La Guardia as an opioid treatment and rehabilitation facility which I think would be a great use of what is now a county resource,” says Davis. “Steve campaigned back in 2013 on doing something about Camp La Guardia, and all it’s done since then is cost us more money when a sale contract had to be broken.”
Neuhuas does not like the idea.
“It’s not the fit for the property. It’s zoned for commercial development. The two towns need those ratables. And we have a treatment facility now being established in Port Jervis. We’re working on the final design for it right now with one of our health-care providers, and that’s where we see the biggest need,” says Neuhaus. “I have 111 people getting bussed from Port Jervis to Newburgh every week. To have a facility out there handling the western part of the county will be a big benefit for the county.”
Neuhaus says the county has taken a multi-faceted approach to battling the opioid crisis while Davis says more needs to be done.
“When you talk about putting people on buses, yeah, we need to get them transportation but, do you really think someone struggling with this is going to hop on a bus to get to Newburgh for treatment? The answer’s no, they’re not going to do that,” says Davis.
“They’re doing it today, 111 of them. You should meet ‘em. And then you can know, be educated about it,” Neuhaus says.
“Then there’s probably more out there that are suffering that are not seeking the treatment because they are scared to do it,” says Davis.
Democrat Joe DeStefano is Middletown mayor.
“I think Pat is a very credible candidate with a vision for the county. I’m not disparaging Steve’s work but I am saying, I’m a Democrat, I think he has a great message, Pat Davis has a great message for moving the county forward, and his leadership skills, I think, are something special,” DeStefano says. “But it was an inspiring debate by both. I think they made their points and now it’s up to the people to decide.”
Republican Ed Diana, a former Orange County executive who is running unopposed for Wallkill Town supervisor and supports Neuhuas, was in the audience. Neuhaus’ immediate predecessor had an answer to the “are you better off than you were four years ago” question.
“I think we were as well off four years ago as we are today,” Diana says. “I don’t think there’s a lot of increase on things that, that some of the things, that’s all.”
Each felt he advanced his case well. Here’s Neuhaus.
“Look, the questions were good. I think they could’ve asked more about the budget and emergency management, which are key jobs, the two biggest jobs in the constitution for the county executive but, I thought it was great,” Neuhaus says. “Look, we told our different opinions and our different visions for the county and now we’re ready, the final stretch, less than two weeks left. So, it was a good night.”
And here’s Davis.
“I thought it went well, it went really well, actually,” Davis says. “I got up there and showed that I’m prepared to be the next county executive of Orange County.”
The evening faceoff was presented by the Orange County Citizens Foundation in cooperation with the Orange County Arts Council, Orange County Chamber of Commerce, Orange County Land Trust, Leadership Orange, and Orange County Partnership. It followed a morning debate with the Times Herald-Record editorial board.