State senate, U.S. House, governor seats also in play
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
As spring sets in (weather permitting), the political season revs up too.
In Putnam County, Maureen Fleming, the supervisor for the Town of Kent, earlier this month launched a campaign to become the next county executive. She hopes to replace MaryEllen Odell, who seeks a new three-year term in the Nov. 6 general election.
A Democrat who describes herself as “a pragmatic fiscal conservative,” Fleming announced her candidacy on March 9. Formerly an attorney for the City of New York, she has been Kent’s full-time supervisor since 2014. She said that her two terms in office there showed that when people of all political backgrounds unite, “we get the job done. I want to bring that kind of cooperation and respect back to county government.”
Odell said on March 10 that “I welcome Maureen to the race and look forward to a substantive campaign on the issues.”
According to Fleming’s campaign, in Kent she has improved services while adding more than $1 million to the general fund without a tax increase.
In her State of the County address on March 15, Odell cited her own fiscal record. Among other points, she said that Putnam County has the lowest county tax charge — 9 percent of property tax bills — of New York’s 62 counties and that her budgets have remained under the state tax-increase cap.
“We continue to move Putnam County in the right direction, with smart growth and key investments all while maintaining a solid financial operation,” she said.
A former county legislator who was elected county executive in 2011, Odell serves as president of the New York State Association of Counties, which represents county governments in Albany and Washington.
Fleming responded to Odell’s State of the County address by saying it “lacked professionalism and a vision” and “rehashed and repackaged” old, “stalled” ideas.
“Putnam deserves better than we’re getting from the Odell administration,” she said. “Putnam County has the highest sales-tax rate in the region, forcing consumers away” from local businesses to those in nearby counties and Connecticut. “And yet, our property taxes rise every year, making it more expensive to live here.”
Fleming promised to provide “professional management of our tax dollars” if elected as Putnam’s executive.
As of the January filing deadline, Odell had $3,448 in her campaign account, according to the New York State Board of Elections. There are no records so far on Fleming’s finances.
In the race to represent the 41st State Senate district, which includes the Highlands, Joel Tyner, a Dutchess County legislator, suspended his campaign, clearing the way for Karen Smythe to challenge Republican incumbent Sue Serino. Dutchess County Democratic Party officials endorsed Smythe on March 1, two days after she entered the race.
A Vassar College graduate and Vassar trustee, Smythe has an MBA from the University of Virginia. She oversaw her family’s construction firm, C.B. Strain & Son, before becoming executive director of the Beatrix Farrand Garden Association in Hyde Park. She lives in Red Hook.
Smythe said she wants Serino’s seat because “Hudson Valley families and businesses, especially the small businesses that are the backbone of our community, are being underserved in Albany. We deserve better. We need economic development support, increased school aid, tax relief, and greater protections for our natural resources.”
The state Board of Elections lists Smythe as a candidate but had no campaign financial information as of March 22.
Terry Gipson, who represented the Highlands in the state Senate before losing to Serino in 2014, on Wednesday (March 21) abandoned his campaign to become the Democratic gubernatorial candidate by ousting incumbent Andrew Cuomo.
After withdrawing, Gipson endorsed actor Cynthia Nixon, best known for her role on Sex and the City, who launched her own Democratic campaign on Monday. Nixon said she is running because “it can’t just be business as usual anymore” in Albany. “If we’re going to get at the root problem of inequity, we have to turn the system upside down.” Growing up, she said, “I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today. Our leaders are letting us down.”
Nixon has never held elected office but is known for her advocacy on education and involvement in LGBTQ causes.
Another activist in those causes, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat who lives in Philipstown, on March 8 criticized Nixon’s plan to challenge Cuomo.
Maloney, who in 2014 married his partner, Randy Florke, in Cold Spring, recalled that Cuomo “took on the marriage equality issue when few politicians dared,” providing “unabashed efforts, often to his political detriment. That’s called leadership.” Maloney urged the LGBTQ community to support Cuomo, “the leader and friend who supported us. It doesn’t work any other way.”
On the Republican side, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is expected to announce his candidacy for governor on April 2. A former mayor of Tivoli and county legislator, he was elected county executive in 2011 and re-elected in 2015. John DeFrancisco, the deputy state Senate majority leader from DeWitt (near Syracuse), also wants to be the Republican candidate.
A Siena College poll released Monday found DeFrancisco led Molinaro by 4 points but that at least half of Republicans asked remain undecided and 13 percent said they would not vote for either man.
As of January, Cuomo had raised $30.4 million for his campaign, compared to $792,290 for DeFrancisco and $100 for Molinaro.
In February, Republican officials endorsed Orange County Legislator James O’Donnell, a Goshen resident, to challenge Maloney, who hopes to win his fourth two-year term in Congress.
At a meeting of the Republican nominating committee, Jarred Buchanan, a Lakeland High School graduate and New York City police officer, withdrew from the race and endorsed O’Donnell.
“I’m looking forward to taking my message of good government and my record of results to the front doorsteps of the people of the Hudson Valley,” said O’Donnell, a retired state police commander and former chief of the MTA police.
Maloney had $3 million in campaign funds as of Dec. 31, according to the Federal Election Commission. FEC records did not include any data on O’Donnell’s finances as of Thursday.
Barbara Scuccimarra, a Republican who represents Philipstown in the Putnam County Legislature, did not return a phone call asking if she intends to run for re-election for what would be her third, three-year term. Nor have Philipstown Democrats endorsed a candidate.
No opponent has filed to challenge Sandy Galef, who represents Philipstown in the state Assembly. Her campaign had $75,505 on hand as of January, according to the state Board of Elections. Nor has any candidate filed to oppose Assemblyman Frank Skartados, who represents Beacon. He had $19,308 as of January. Both are Democrats.