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Eastern Dutchess Democrats gather on a historic site

DOVER PLAINS —  In a private home situated on Ten Mile River that was once the power station for the area, about 70 Democratic supporters gathered for a garden party and brunch on Saturday, Sept. 9,  with four Dutchess County and four Amenia and Dover candidates on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election.  

The Dover Democratic chair running for Dover Town Board, Jill Fieldstein, welcomed guests and introduced the candidates. “We want there to be alternative voices on local and county boards,” she said, referring to the fact that leadership tends to run Republican, and noting the recent significant victory of having stopped the Transco project slated for Dover, across from the Cricket Valley plant, which was found to be lacking in SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review Act) terms.

As a candidate for Amenia town supervisor, Leo Blackman, an Amenia Town Board member, noted that recent changes in demographics, particularly in young families who are able to work from home, present unique opportunities that the town must seize by doing more to attract them. Blackman also pointed out that deficiencies in the water system need to be addressed, and the waste system—that “we were promised in the ‘60s”—must move forward.

In a similar vein, Vicki Doyle, running for re-election to Amenia’s town board, stressed transparency and options serving local interests based on lived experience in the area. She cited Rosanna Hamm, another town board candidate, as someone with decades of connection. 

Hamm, from a multi-generational Amenia family, was an elementary teacher at Webutuck for 33 years and believes that more can be done to meet the needs of English language learners on individual, family and community levels. Listening, she said, is crucial.

Dutchess County executive candidate Tommy Zurhellen, a veteran of the first Gulf War and longtime writing teacher at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, echoed the need for equal access to local and regional benefits for everyone and promised that the eastern side of Dutchess “will be recognized from day one.”  He has pledged to donate his entire four years of salary as executive—$144,000 times four—to help fight food insecurity for children in the county.

Questioned as to the pending update of Dutchess’ Solid Waste Management Plan, with its continued dependence on the “waste-to-energy” incinerator in Poughkeepsie, Zurhellen admitted that “you can’t just shut it down [without having alternatives ready].”  But far more sustainable solutions need to be built into a new plan, he said, including robust composting programs and eventual siting of landfill areas, as is done in other places where burning has been outmoded because of concerns about toxics and warming.

Anthony Parisi, running for Dutchess County district attorney, who, for years, has overseen violent crime cases in the county, asked for activism in getting out the vote this November, pointing out that Democrats outnumber Republicans by 22,000. “Influence works,” he reminded listeners, explaining that his job was threatened when his boss, a Republican, learned that Parisi intended to run for office, while a Republican coworker running for office had no such restriction put on him. “The bullying has to stop,” Parisi said.

Jim Rodgers, candidate for Family Court judge, echoed the theme of political maneuvering with a story of a Republican and Conservative opponent who wanted to be on the Working Families line on the ballot. He also cited needs for changes in the Family Court system: Dutchess has among the state’s highest rates of removing children from their families into fostering with strangers rather than relatives; and “zero percent” of County children in lockups are white.  

As in his years of experience in the Bronx, Rodgers said, caseloads of lawyers for children can be as high as 300 and must be capped.

Last “but by no means least,” Fieldstein introduced Kenya Gadsen, president of the Dutchess Democratic Women’s Caucus, as candidate for Dutchess County clerk.  Gadsen, who has worked with adults with intellectual disabilities for 30 years and is a residential program coordinator in a nonprofit in New York City, began by asking for a show of hands of people “if you know what the county clerk’s office does.” Seeing but a smattering of hands, she explained that any and all kinds of licenses are under the aegis of the clerk, and that she wants to make those services more easily available to residents outside of Poughkeepsie by establishing mobile vehicles that would offer, for example, services of the Department of Motor Vehicles, as is currently done in Ulster County.  

Rounding out the talks and returning to the theme of service to, and encouragement of, locals including newcomers, Gadsen spoke of naturalization ceremonies. “Right now, they get a flag. I envision making them feel like a part of the community” right off the bat, by offering them a book’s worth of maps, coupons, FAQs and suggestions for meeting all their needs and connecting to their new home ground.

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