Voters will decide on top Dutchess County offices and several local posts on Tuesday. There are races for county executive along with two mayoral contests. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief takes a look at who’s on the ballot.
There are races for Dutchess County executive, district attorney and clerk. Republican incumbent Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is running for a third and final term. Democrat Joseph Ruggiero, a former Wappinger town supervisor who left his post as executive director of the New York State Thruway Authority to run, is returning to the ballot box after a narrow loss against then-County Executive William Steinhaus 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, easily won his first two terms as county executive. The former state assemblyman says he is approaching this year’s race the same way.
“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.”
Meantime, Ruggiero, who once served as state assistant comptroller, says a number of issues in the county need a new approach. He wants to transition all of Dutchess County government’s energy production to renewable sources. And he wants to modernize what he calls one of the largest polluters in the nation — the county’s incinerator.
“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,” says Ruggiero. “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.”
“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.”
He underscores the importance of continuing to address the crisis of opioid and heroin addiction. The crisis is one for the district attorney to tackle as well. That race pits Republican Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady against Democrat Richard Berube. Grady has been in the post for 36 years.
“I enjoy the challenge of the job,” Grady says. “I feel that I and my staff have done an outstanding job in terms of addressing all the criminal justice issues that have confronted our community for the past several years from violent crime to domestic violence to child sex abuse and now the most recent issue being the unrealistic bail laws that are going to come into effect after January the 1st.”
Berube, once a county senior assistant district attorney employed by Grady, and now in the private sector, agrees with bail reform.
“I think that, I think someone’s who’s sitting in jail with a constitutional presumption of innocence attached to them but is yet to be convicted and cannot get out of jail because they are in poverty or don’t have the funds to do so is, it’s egregious to the Constitution,” Berube says. “So I do agree with the bail reform, and it’s coming, and I think that it’s time we just implement it.”
Longtime Dutchess County Clerk Bradford Kendall, a Republican, faces a challenge from Democrat Kenya Gadsden. And Sheriff Adrian “Butch” Anderson runs unopposed. Meantime, Republican City of Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison wants to stay for a second term while Democrat Joash Ward aims to unseat him. Here’s Rolison:
“The city is in much better fiscal straits than it was in 2016 when I first took office. You can see the change in direction of the city. You can feel it. You can hear it,” Rolison says. “I think a lot of people feel that way as well. And that’s not just me saying it as candidate Rolison; it’s Rob Rolison, city resident that these are different times here in the city. It’s a much different place than what it was prior to me coming into office.”
Rolison often uses the phrase “the buzz is back.” Ward, a political newcomer, paints Poughkeepsie as a tale of two cities, north and south, with middle-class and above on the south side. Ward grew up in public housing on the north side.
“The message of the campaign has been that we are a city of neighbors. Though we are living two different experiences and different socio-economic and racial experiences here, we are concerned about the same things,” Ward says. “Our genetic backgrounds have been through some of the same challenges, be you black, white or Latino. For the story of how we got here, we are so much more alike than we are unalike. And the fact of the matter is that this choice is about not just the next four years, but the next four generations of what we want our city to be.”
Rolison takes exception to Ward’s tale of two cities allegation.
“The purpose of someone wanting to be an elected official is to help unite, not divide, and that’s what I’ve always done,” says Rolison.
Ward says he wants to focus on public/private partnerships to help improve Poughkeepsie High School graduation rates, and lower a high youth unemployment rate. The school district has a new superintendent with whom Rolison just announced a child development program. Poughkeepsie’s last Democratic mayor was Nancy Cozean in 2008. Here’s Ward:
“This, beyond a shadow of a doubt, goes down to who shows up at the polls because we have 4-to-1 Democrat v. Republican,” says Ward. “And what it is is people have to know the choice is theirs.”
The two put forth different depictions of such issues as police/community relations, and economic growth. Further south in the county, Republican Beacon Mayor Randy Casale is running for his third term against Democrat Lee Kyriacou, a city council member. Dutchess County offices are closed Tuesday.