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Off to the races

Who will, might, or won’t be running for office in Woodstock this year?

by George Pattison
February 24, 2011 12:00 PM | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Clockwise from top left - Wilber: On the fence; Lewis: Out; Nicholson: On the fence; Moran: On the fence; Simonson: Out; Collins: On the fence
The biennial track meet known as an election will hit its 2011 finish line in Woodstock, and elsewhere across the country, on November 8, with the more or less sweaty winners receiving terms of varying length in the public offices they sought. While the local ballot remains largely blank at this early date, a number of potential candidates shed light on their intentions in a recent informal survey.

Before we handicap the events, let’s have a look at the track. In Woodstock the following local offices will be in play, with the length of term for each position given in parentheses: town supervisor (two years), two Town Board seats (four years each), one town justice (four years), town clerk (two years), and highway superintendent (two years). Throughout New York State, candidates may seek the nominations of six parties that will appear on the ballot: Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Working Families, Independence, and Green.

In Woodstock, where registered Democrats outnumber Republican counterparts by about four to one, those two major parties will confer their nominations in late summer. The GOP will make its picks by way of a traditional caucus, said Woodstock Republican Committee chairman Bill West in a recent interview, noting that no prospective candidates had yet stepped forward at this early stage of the game.

The Woodstock Democratic Committee, chaired by incumbent councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum, has yet to finalize its nomination process. The last time around, in 2009, the party conducted a field-winnowing September primary election following a successful petition drive by candidates who failed to secure a Democratic nod through a vote of the WDC. (Each local committee has 18 members; two representatives for each of nine election districts.)

Woodstock’s two-term incumbent supervisor, Jeff Moran, plans to announce in late April whether he will seek reelection. His decision will be pivotal. Depending on what Moran opts to do, various scenarios may unfold involving those who are currently weighing a run for the town’s only full-time legislative position. Meanwhile, all of the other local incumbents who are up for reelection — five-term town justice Frank Engel, the town’s longest-serving elected official; town clerk Jackie Earley, who has served four terms; and highway superintendent Mike Reynolds, who has three terms on the job — have announced that they are running again.

In the past Engel, Earley, and Reynolds have coasted to victory with little or no opposition. Let’s assume, then, that they’ll do the same in the upcoming contest, and focus our attention on the high-profile races for supervisor and Town Board. Here’s how the field shapes up at the end of February, with a couple of runners already in the starting blocks and others on the edge of the track, watching and waiting.

SUPERVISOR

Hat in the Ring

Nobody yet

On the Fence

Jeff Moran. A former WDC representative, Moran was elected without opposition to his first term, in 2007. Two years later, Liz Simonson captured the Democratic nomination by defeating Moran in a primary despite the WDC’s initial support of his candidacy. But Moran, armed with the endorsements of the Republican and Working Families parties, won election to a second term by narrowly vanquishing Simonson in the general election.

Terrie Rosenblum (also see Town Board candidates, below). The incumbent first-term councilwoman and current deputy town supervisor — who, like Moran, is a former member of the Planning Board — has announced that she will seek another stint on the Town Board. When asked recently if she would consider running for supervisor if Moran decided not to run, she answered yes. Might she challenge Moran if he did seek a third term? “I haven’t thought about that,” replied Rosenblum, who disavowed any interest in running for a seat in the county legislature.

Bill McKenna. Halfway though the first term of his second tour of duty on the Town Board — he previously served from 2004 to 2007 — the councilman is hedging his bets. “For now I would leave my options open,” he said. “I would be content if someone I respected stepped forward and ran for supervisor, but if here is a lack of good candidates I would throw my hat in the ring.”

Jeremy Wilber. The man who served four terms as town supervisor, from 2000 to 2007, deems it too early to decide whether to vie for his former position. “The snow is still on the ground,” said the longtime municipal leader, who is a writer. While Wilber rarely attended Town Board meetings since leaving office, he appeared at the council’s February 8 session and was widely credited with brokering a solution to a dilemma involving simultaneous plans to renovate Town Hall and the Community Center. “If the Town Hall project is accomplished, it will reflect very well on everyone on the Town Board,” he said in a recent interview.

John Mower. Woodstock’s supervisor from 1992 to 1995 would appear to be a long shot in 2011. “I haven’t thought about (a possible electoral bid) too greatly,” he said. “It’s too early to tell. I probably would be a most unlikely candidate.” Late last year, Mower castigated Moran and other council members over a proposed 2011 town budget whose general fund appropriations would prompt a steep increase in property taxes. The former supervisor threatened that he would run for office unless the board trimmed the tax hike to zero — a goal that it failed to accomplish.

Sitting It Out

Liz Simonson. The three-term councilwoman (1998 to 2009) has been happily retired from politics since her attempt to unseat Moran came up short. Simonson, a landscape gardener, community volunteer, and collaborator on her husband’s documentary film projects, pronounces herself “not interested” in a return to the electoral fray. “People ask me to run, but once you get out of it you have a whole different perspective,” she said. “I’ve moved on and life is good.” Simonson’s volunteer activities include service as a member of the Woodstock Farm Festival’s board of directors and work on projects of the Woodstock Land Conservancy. Only occasionally has she revisited the realm of local government, as when she did an analysis of the current town budget at the request of some fellow citizens. “I have no formal involvement. It’s just time to let it go and allow people who were elected do their job,” she said.

Michael Stock Sr. The former Woodstock councilman (1998 to 2001) and county legislator, who is the retired owner of an excavation and construction company, has no plans to seek public office again. If his own hat will remain outside the ring, does anyone else strike him as a compelling potential candidate? “No one in particular,” said Stock, who currently does consulting work in real estate and other fields, “but I would like to see someone from Woodstock’s younger generation, a ‘fresh head,’ making decisions for the town.” Like Mower, Stock voiced concern at Town Board meetings over the proposed budget’s effect on taxes. “We’re hurting here,” he said. “It’s hard to afford to live in Woodstock.”

TOWN BOARD

Hat in the Ring

Terrie Rosenblum (see above)

Jay Wenk. Like his colleague McKenna, Wenk had a previous stint on the board, from 1990 to 1993. In 2011 he is emphatically seeking a renewal of his current term, vowing to pursue any party nominations that are available. “I am assembling a group of advisers, a campaign committee,” said Wenk, who won election as a Democrat in 2007. “Whatever is held by the WDC, I’ll certainly apply, and if there is a primary, of course I will go there. I will speak with any group of Woodstockers about my intent to serve again.” Beyond seeking the Democratic Party endorsement, the carpenter, World War II veteran, and longtime liberal activist plans to approach most or all of the other parties on the ballot about possible endorsements. “I will be happy if anyone wants to vote for me (regardless of party affiliation),” said Wenk.

On the Fence

Chris Collins. “It’s too early to speculate,” said the former councilman (2006 to 2009) in a recent e-mail, adding that he might have something more definitive to say in late summer or early fall. Collins, who teaches at SUNY Ulster, in 2009 lost a write-in bid for a second term on the Town Board after failing to gain the support of the WDC, which endorsed McKenna and current councilwoman Cathy Magarelli.

Janine Fallon Mower. The longtime Woodstock resident ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the council in 2007. “I have no plans at the moment” to run again, she said recently, noting that she is “hip deep” pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing while operating with her husband, former town supervisor John Mower, the popular flea market that they own. A local historian and inveterate community volunteer, Fallon Mower is a member of the town’s Economic Development Task Force. The task force plans to issue a report, based on a survey of some 50 business owners, to the Town Board in April.

Joe Nicholson. “I have no plans to run for office, but I have not closed the door on that possibility if no other candidates emerge,” said Nicholson, a lawyer, who has lived in Woodstock full-time only since January 2010, but has visited the town regularly for about 25 years. “I have no burning desire to be either a Town Board member or supervisor, but I certainly don’t want the current occupants to continue in their jobs,” he said, alluding to Moran and Rosenblum, of whom Nicholson has been a frequent critic.

Sitting It Out

David Lewis. A former candidate for supervisor and, in 2009, a council seat, Lewis reported in a recent e-mail that he is currently living in Ecuador, where he and his Ecuadorean wife are the parents of a son, David Jr. The family plans to remain there for a couple of years, he wrote, adding, “As for the next election, only God knows.”

Ken Panza. “Not really,” said Panza when asked if he planned to seek a Town Board position, following an unsuccessful showing in the 2009 local Democratic primary. Now, as then, the inveterate community activist and political observer objects to the WDC’s process for choosing its nominees, which in the last election entailed private interviews with prospective candidates. “Terrie Rosenblum is now the (WDC) chair,” he said. “I doubt that she has any intention of opening up the process.”

Jay Cohen. A vigorous advocate for causes such as the Comeau easement and, like Panza and Nicholson, a frequent thorn in the side of the Moran administration, Cohen has no designs on public office. Apart from Wenk, whom he generally supports, and Rosenblum, whom he does not, Cohen was unaware of other likely candidates for Town Board seats. “I don’t know of anyone who would subject themselves to that toxic environment,” he said. In a reference to Moran and Rosenblum, he added, “I’m sure they’re nice people, but they lack the necessary business and other skills to run the town.”

Question Mark

Richard Heppner. According to McKenna, Heppner, who is Woodstock’s longtime town historian and a college teacher and administrator, may be interested in seeking local electoral office. An attempt to reach Heppner for comment on February 23 was unsuccessful.++

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