District 21 county legislator race: the candidate interviews - BlueStone Press
December 3, 2021

District 21 county legislator race: the candidate interviews

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County legislative District 21 encompasses the Town of Rochester and a corner of the Town of Wawarsing. Ron Lapp (Republican) and Chris Hewitt (Democrat) are running to replace Lynn Archer, who currently holds the office of county legislator for the district and is not running for reelection. The following interviews with both candidates reflect what each man believes he can bring to the job.

 

Ron Lapp (R)

 

Lapp served as county legislator from the district in 2016-2017, losing to Archer in 2018. Talking about his professional experience and community service, he said, “I’m a lifelong area resident of Ulster County. I retired as a police sergeant from the Town of New Paltz police department with over 29 years of service, 20 years as a supervisor. I researched and wrote the department's first highway safety grants, securing over $100,000 in funds. I supervised 30 police and civilian personnel. I was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the department for my shift. My responsibilities as a police sergeant included working closely with the New Paltz Town Board ... I coached Legion Post 1219 baseball. I'm a member of the Kingston Elks and the Hudson Valley Police Emerald Society.”

To the question, What are the most important issues facing the voters of the 21st District? Lapp replied, “I feel monitoring the county budget, keeping taxes down without jeopardizing jobs, and keeping our county infrastructure in place is vitally important. I support alternative energy. My focus is our community. I will continue to work hard for the residents in District 21. My priority is to make Rochester/Wawarsing and Ulster County a better place to live.”

During his term as county legislator, Lapp said, he was a member of a number of legislative committees, including Law Enforcement and Public Safety; Energy and Environment; Economic Development and Tourism; the Fire Advisory Board; and Rail and Trail. “All the committees were really beneficial and fulfilling,” he said. “The one that’s near and dear to me is the Law Enforcement and Public Safety. I still think that’s a vitally important aspect of our community, and without that kind of backing, we’re behind the eight ball …. In this age of police reform, I think the agencies have been doing a great job with it. And it’s not just the police, we still need our first responders, the fire, the EMS – it’s everybody involved. It’s just a vitally important function of our community."

Lapp's take on the current county leadership? “I like [County Executive] Pat Ryan, I think he’s doing a good job … he’s got the right focus, on the infrastructure of the county. Definitely getting our roads fixed and our bridges. A lot of that comes from grants, but at least it’s getting done.”

Fielding a question about how the proliferation of short-term rentals is affecting the housing market, Lapp said, “If you remember back to 9/11, a lot of people came to Ulster County and bought houses. And that repeated itself with this pandemic. The pandemic had more to do with [lack of housing] than the Airbnb … just my opinion. I encourage people to come into Ulster County; obviously they’re going to spend money and create tax revenue for us." Airbnb regulation? He believes it should be the responsibility of the state and/or the towns. “It would be for the local communities to regulate that. I don’t know as a county legislator if we’re going to be successful in regulating something like that.”

 

Chris Hewitt (D)

 

Chris Hewitt lived formerly in Rosendale. “I moved to Kerhonkson from Rosendale in 2004, when my kids were babies. I quickly joined the Town of Rochester Environmental Conservation Commission and have been a member ever since. As chair of the Environmental Conservation Commission, I helped the town to create a Natural Resource Inventory, Open Space Inventory and Natural Heritage Plan. I was elected to the Rochester Town Board in 2018, where I work to ensure that budgets are balanced with the environment, businesses, and future generations in mind. Most of my volunteering in town is related to making pizza, typically at the wood-fired pizza oven behind the Accord Community Center, for a variety of fundraisers.”

Hewitt decided to run for county office, he said, because “after representing over 7,500 people over these last four years – keeping taxes down with a strong, balanced budget – I believe I’m ready to bring my knowledge of finance and fair representation to the county level ... One of my biggest realizations has been that elected officials should represent all of their constituents, not just the people affiliated with their party.”

Asked what he would like to achieve as legislator, Hewitt replied, “As a business owner in Kingston, I spend a great deal of time there. I want to make sure that the county legislature remembers how important the Rondout Valley is to the success and vibrancy of the City of Kingston and the whole region ... in addition to helping Ulster County become more of a local economic force, by adopting a Best Value Procurement policy that prioritizes local business contracts, there are other topics that I'd like to pursue on the county level. … I will strive to work with land-based organizations to create legislation that protects our precious waterways from being polluted further. The Rondout, Wallkill and Esopus creeks need our help, and I'd like to make sure we provide the assistance our rivers need to make them swimmable again." 

He went on, “My new focus is the creation and protection of parks in our region. We are just starting to move forward with a 34-acre Watershed Nature Trail in Kerhonkson, which will have educational signage about flora, fauna and historical uses of that land. My goal is to create more parks like this so our neighbors and visitors alike can enjoy pocket parks that have similar education about our watersheds and how we can protect them. 

“Another issue that I'm passionate about at the county level is the strengthening of our infrastructure. Yes, we do need some work on our roads and bridges, but my focus is pedestrian and bicycle safety. The last two sections of the rail trail from Ellenville to Kingston that need completion are both in Kerhonkson. I plan to work with county officials and the Open Space Institute to ensure these sections are completed – for the safety of our bikers and walkers, and to help fix the broken walkable connections between our towns."  

Reflecting on how times have changed in the last four years, Hewitt said, "The issues that I ran on in 2017 – tourism, economic development, and the increased use of clean energy – are even more relevant today. We have seen a huge increase in visitors, which has created a strain on the cost of housing. I worked with the Rochester Town Board for almost four years to create a short-term rental law. It took that long because this is a complicated issue that required a great deal of community feedback. How do we embrace the visitors to our beautiful area while not driving locals out?”

He added, “We couldn’t have known back in 2017 about the economic devastation that Covid-19 would cause ... It's more important than ever to keep our money local, to support each other with our dollars in a way that creates a multiplier effect, which means the same money keeps circulating in our towns instead of having to constantly attract new money to our region. Yes, shop local. It makes our towns vibrant.

“Finally, clean energy has become a big part of life in the Rondout Valley. Solar farms are powering many of our neighbors' homes, and the revenues created from the lease agreements with the solar companies are stabilizing town budgets.”  

When asked if they had any message for the voters, Lapp and Hewitt were in emphatic agreement. Hewitt wanted to tell people, "Your local vote really counts. We may talk about national issues, but it's the local town boards and county legislatures that actually affect your life on a weekly basis. Your input, your voice, is crucial.” Lapp said, Please vote. A third of the people don’t vote in the Town of Rochester. I don’t know what to say about that. It is what it is. It’s important to me to send the message: Get out and vote on Election Day.” He also stressed the availability of absentee ballots and early voting.

Early voting will be from Oct. 23-31. Election Day falls on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

For information on applying for an absentee ballot, go to: elections.ulstercountyny.gov.

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