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Poughkeepsie voters weigh public safety, affordability while picking candidates at the polls

Jesse King

Voters in Poughkeepsie are hitting the polls to decide a number of key races today. Those who spoke with WAMC listed public safety and the current economic and political climates amid their top concerns.

Among the biggest races for Dutchess County voters this year is the contest for county executive. Former Republican State Senator Sue Serino and Democrat Tommy Zurhellen are vying to replace County Executive William O’Neil. Serino has spent eight years representing Dutchess County in Albany and owns Serino Realty in Hyde Park, while Zurhellen is a Navy veteran and longtime Marist College professor who notably walked across the country to raise awareness of veterans’ issues in 2019.

Deborah Shon, a librarian at Poughkeepsie’s Adriance Memorial Library, says she plans to get out and vote – but neither candidate has her rushing to the polls. If she could, she’d vote again for former County Executive Marc Molinaro, but now that the Republican is representing New York’s 19th district in Congress, she says Serino is a decent choice.

"I think she'll do a good job for the people and the workers of the county," notes Shon. "We miss a pretty strong figure that led and directed the county."

Outside the polls on what has been a blustery but warm Election Day, resident Tom O’Neil is a little more enthusiastic. He feels Serino is great for the job, and a continued "conservative approach" is what the county needs.

"Everyone knows Sue. She's been doing a great job where, everything she's been involved with in politics, she's just been a person who puts her heart out there," says O'Neil. "I think people recognize the difference between people who are just the fakers and the true people. Sue’s a true person."

Residents of the city of Poughkeepsie are not just selecting a county executive, but their third mayor in two years. Democratic Common Councilor Yvonne Flowers is facing Republican high school teacher Anthony LaRocca after defeating incumbent Mayor Marc Nelson in June’s primary. Nelson is filling out the rest of the term left by former GOP Mayor Rob Rolison, now a state Senator.

Outside Interfaith Towers on Washington Street, Art Scott, a sixth-generation resident of Poughkeepsie, is happy to note that he voted for Flowers. While he admits he doesn’t know much about her, he recalls a conversation he had with Rolison a few years ago, wherein Rolison was optimistic about the city’s trajectory over the next decade. Scott he feels Flowers can do a good job continuing what Rolison started.

"Poughkeepsie is definitely on the rise," says Scott. "I have a lot of faith about where Poughkeepsie's going right now."

Both Flowers and LaRocca have listed public safety as their top priority. Voters today also mentioned affordability, housing, education, and taxes among their top concerns. While a new budget proposal from County Executive O’Neil would decrease property taxes by 10.6 percent, sales and hotel taxes in the county would increase to 4 and 5 percent, respectively. In Poughkeepsie, Mayor Nelson has proposed a budget that would increase property taxes by 6.3 percent.

Keeping their mandated distance from the polling site at Adriance Memorial Library, the candidates for common councilor in the city’s Second Ward were hitting the pavement with voters. Incumbent Democrat Evan Menist says he doesn’t support Nelson’s budget proposal as is, believing the city can do more to tighten its spending rather than increase taxes to fund what he refers to as “pet projects” for the mayor.

"He's taken the opportunity to unilaterally dole out additional raises to various employees throughout the city without any approval from the common council," Menist explains. "He's put funding up to work on some projects that he's been pushing for, some capital projects that he's been pushing for a long time. And it just really doesn't make sense to make those decisions right now."

Vic Feit, the Republican candidate, says Poughkeepsie desperately needs a Republican voice to challenge its current Democratic majority. He’s particularly concerned about the council’s failure to vote on an updated memorandum of agreement to boost spending for the retention and recruitment of police officers. Nelson’s office negotiated the agreement with the Poughkeepsie PBA earlier this year, and even as the city faces a tough budget, Feit feels the city can’t afford to lose more officers.

"There are not enough officers for patrol. They are mandating officers to do double shifts," Feit claims. "How would you like to work a 15-16 hour shift as a police officer? That's one of the big problems."

Common councilors, including Menist, have said they were largely kept in the dark on the deal. Menist wants to consider how the agreement would impact the city’s budget and whether more can be done to ensure officers do, in fact, stay in Poughkeepsie, before voting on it.

Caught in the candidates’ crosshairs on Market Steet, resident Michelle Muir says she voted for Menist, but she appreciates Feit’s dedication to their ward. She also listed Flowers and Zurhellen as her picks of the day.

"I think that there's a lot of opportunity for businesses to open up in the city of Poughkeepsie," says Muir. "There's open spaces now, such as the ice house...I'm really hoping that that moves ahead."

Polls close at 9 p.m.

Jesse King is the host of WAMC's national program on women's issues, "51%," and the station's bureau chief in the Hudson Valley. She has also produced episodes of the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."