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Dutchess County Executive Candidates Bring Differing Views To A Forum

WAMC, Allison Dunne
Dutchess County Executive Democratic Candidate Joseph Ruggiero and Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (seated)

The candidates for Dutchess County executive agreed on little during a League of Women Voters forum this week. The two have different ideas about what has been happening in the county and how the county should move forward.

Republican incumbent Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is seeking a third and final term while Democrat Joseph Ruggiero is trying for his first term, though it’s not his first race for the position. Ruggiero, a former Wappinger town supervisor who left his post as executive director of the New York State Thruway Authority to wage his campaign, made a go of it against then County Executive William Steinhaus.

“I ran for the seat once before and I narrowly lost in 2007. Back then, we only had, we had 5,000 fewer Democratic voters than the Republicans. Now we have almost 67,000 Democrats compared to the Republicans’ 52,000,” Ruggiero says. “But, having said that, we can’t just be comfortable with our numbers. We needed to go out there and talk the message to folks. And that’s what we’ve been doing for these many months, going out there and reaching out to people.”

Molinaro, who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year, has handily won his first two terms as county executive. The former state assemblyman says he is approaching this year’s race no differently than in the past.

“We’re living in a much more partisan environment from the national level and Albany. But I think we’ve been successful in cutting through that. I think I have a clear record of working with people regardless of party,” says Molinaro. "So, for me, the challenge remains the same. I work for nearly 300,000 people who deserve to hear from me what I’ve done and what I hope to accomplish over these next four years.”

During the forum, Ruggiero brought up a lawsuit against the county regarding hiring practices.

“It’s a class action federal lawsuit. It’s a 1983 action, which is a federal action. It is a class-action lawsuit,” Ruggiero says. “It’s been brought to my attention that due to the inappropriate hiring practices or the lack of promotion practices within county government, based on the census of the population of the county, Dutchess County is underrepresented in its minority hiring practices.”

Molinaro took offense.

“I can’t speak about it. There’s an individual who felt that he should have hired for a position that he wasn’t hired for. We follow civil service law. Dutchess County follows civil service law, and he issued litigation, a lawsuit. There really isn’t much more to it,” says Molinaro. “But Dutchess County’s hiring practices comply with civil service, and our Human Rights Commission, along with our equal opportunity officer, who is stellar, she does a remarkable job, does a great deal of work to reach out into minority communities and, by the way, try to get new faces into the civil service process. That was, it was inaccurate and it was cheap.”

He also called Ruggiero’s assertions about the lawsuit inappropriate and says that one disgruntled person is not emblematic of the county’s hiring practices. Molinaro says he wants to make clear that the suit, filed in federal court, is not the federal government going after the county. Meantime, Ruggiero, who once served as state assistant comptroller, says a number of issues in the county need a new approach.

“We have issues that are facing us that have not been dealt with. As I mentioned in there, the Dutchess County incinerator, one of the largest polluters in the nation right here in Dutchess County, polluting the air we breathe, releasing 16 pounds of mercury into our atmosphere. There is no clean standard for mercury. We need to tackle that,” Ruggiero says. “We need jobs for our young people, and we want to build out a fiber optic network connecting our county, it’d be the first county in the country to be so positioned to do so, and would bring on a new level of economic opportunity. There’s parts of our county that don’t have cell service. There’s parts of our county that don’t have cable TV. So we need to bring Dutchess County to the 21st century and create those jobs.”

Molinaro outlines issues he says loom large.

“Without question, affordability remains the biggest challenge in New York. We continue to drive down taxes in Dutchess, five consecutive years of property tax cuts. We will provide the largest property tax cut in 20 years in the next budget. So affordability is a challenge,” Molinaro says. “Jobs and the creation of jobs. Now we’ve created 2,000 jobs in a year, 23 months of consecutive private-sector job growth, but there are still too many that are underemployed and unemployed even though we have the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years. So continuing to diversify our economy, support really innovation, small manufacturers, trades and others to create new job opportunities and, by the way, support a pipeline to jobs through training and community college investment, which we’ve done. And then the last of the issues that I think we still really have to confront is the issue of addiction. Opioid and heroin addiction is the public health crisis of our lifetime, and we are losing far too many people to it. It is an illness not a crime.”

As for the incinerator Ruggiero mentioned:

“The incinerator has a capacity and, right now, there are other methodologies that are being used. There are only 73 incinerators left in the United States, and they’re being closed. And, right now, the operator of our incinerator, Wheelabrator, just recently had their incinerator in Maryland closed.” Ruggiero says. “So you need to relocate where the garbage goes, and there’s no law requiring that it has to be burned.”

County Executive Molinaro:

“He asserts that I brought Dutchess County an incinerator. It was built in the 1980s. When I came into office in 2012, the campaign that they ran against me was, the county needs to make the waste-to-energy facility self-sufficient, that it shouldn’t rely on taxpayer subsidy. I came into office, we were paying $6 million to subsidize it. Now, it turns a profit, and what we’ve done with that solid-waste plan is really implemented an aggressive recycling plan,” Molinaro says. “He has no way to shut off that thing in the next 20 years. There will be no way you can shut down the waste-to-energy facility within 20 years. The way that you, in essence, close it down is to drive up recycling rates.”

He refers to the Dutchess County Resource Recovery Agency waste-to-energy facility operated by Wheelabrator Technologies.

The two candidates each for county district attorney and county clerk, including the Republican incumbents, also answered questions at the forum. Coverage of the DA race is at wamc.org.

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