With the announcement Friday that Ulster County Executive Mike Hein will be stepping down to take a position in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration, a number of potential contenders are coming forward. Some campaigned for another office last year.
Hein, a Democrat, is the county’s first executive, and has been in the post since 2009, following a change in the county charter that created the position. His third term would have run through the end of this year. Cuomo nominated Hein to lead the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Now, a number of county residents say they are considering a run. And the runner-up among the seven Democratic candidates in last year’s 19th congressional district primary has declared he’s all in — Gardiner resident Pat Ryan.
“Well, I ‘m excited to be the first and, I think, only candidate to declare, and I think that’s exactly the kind of leadership that’s expected in this role,” says Ryan. “I have a clear vision to lead us forward. I’m confident in that, and that’s why in pretty short order I wanted to make that known and get to work to get our message out and to get out there and listen to folks. And the response has just been incredible. A lot of the great support I had during the congressional campaign is still there and my phone’s been ringing off the hook with folks excited to volunteer and to support us.”
Ryan, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served as an Army officer in Iraq, says he will not accept any corporate PAC or LLC money. Within a few hours of Hein’s Friday announcement, another 19th congressional district Democratic primary candidate who finished behind Ryan by just some 50 votes, says he is seriously considering making a bid — Gareth Rhodes.
Meantime, a Cuomo spokesman says Hein is currently going through the appointments process and his start date is to be determined, which affects elections for Hein’s post. When Hein does officially depart, his chief of staff Adele Reiter will be appointed interim county executive. Democratic county Comptroller Elliott Auerbach:
“As I’ve said publicly, I’m strongly considering the option of seeking the county executive’s position,” Auerbach says. “It comes with a lot of thought, though. It comes with a thought of who best can lead the county going into the next four years and can that person transition from the Hein years, which happens to be a decade, into the new term. And that plays a very important part in my decision as well.”
Auerbach, at times, has been at loggerheads with Hein. The county charter says that if the office is vacated 180 days or more before the general election, there will be a special election within 90 days of the vacancy.
Democrat Pat Courtney-Strong, who was defeated in November’s state Senate race by incumbent Republican George Amedore, is mulling the possibility. The Kingston resident is an environmentalist and small business owner.
“Mike Hein has set a high bar for the county executive’s office. And what many of us are particularly grateful to him for, and we absolutely must preserve and advance, is the great work that he has done, and his staff, on both environmental and social justice issues,” Courtney-Strong says. “And so, as a candidate, if I do decide to run, those would be my areas of focus.”
KT Tobin is considering a run. She’s associate director of the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at the State University of New York at New Paltz and deputy mayor of the Village of New Paltz.
“It’s definitely exciting to envision the possibilities of my leadership in the role of the office of county executive. I have lots of ideas,” Tobin says. “I would say, though, I feel strongly, whether it’s myself or another woman that, this moment in time, it’s very important that voters have a strong woman candidate to support for this seat. Women are breaking political glass ceilings across the nation, across the state. They’re creating much needed bold changes with their agendas, and I definitely want to be a part of that here in Ulster County.”
Pat Ryan has some ideas for the position.
“One, we’re going to accelerate economic growth that’s already happening and make sure it actually benefits everyone in the county. We’re going to implement a Green New Deal in Ulster County that will both create jobs and protect our environment,” Ryan says. “And then we’re going to ensure that the county remains a beacon, which, I think, it has been, of justice and equality increasingly turbulent times in the country.”
He credits Hein with laying a positive foundation environmentally. Auerbach also has an agenda.
“I believe there are several things we really need to look at. One is I would love to see public transportation become more effective in Ulster County,” says Auerbach. “I know that the Hein administration was working with a consolidation effort between the City of Kingston and the county. I would like to reach way beyond that and know that there is a void here for those folks who do not have a vehicle to really get in and around the county.”
He also wants to expand economic development beyond tourism and reduce property taxes. Several other names are being suggested.