EDITORIAL: Looking Ahead to 2023
Updated: Jan 1
Happy New Year to all.
As we close out 2022, The SullivanTimes would like to highlight some important stories to keep an eye on in 2023.
-In November 2023, all County Legislators will be up for re-election. One looming question will be if Democrats put up a challenger to County Legislature Chair Rob Doherty in District 1. His reign has been messy to say the least and he is likely the most divisive chair of any Sullivan Legislature in history.
Doherty has enjoyed a significant majority that has allowed him and his fellow Republicans to ram through resolutions with little or no Democratic support. We're not yet aware of any residents who might challenge Doherty, Vice Chair Michael Brooks, Nicholas Salamone Jr. or George Conklin III.
But Salamone has been a real weak spot as chair of the Health and Family Services Committee since Doherty removed Nadia Rajsz, who works full-time in healthcare, as chair. Salamone almost never asks questions of those appearing before the committee and offers few ideas to improve health and family services in the County. This, while Nancy McGraw, the County's Public Health Director was placed on 30-day administrative (paid) leave in early December. (McGraw is expected to appear for an upcoming County hearing on why she was removed and is being represented by Goshen attorney Michael Sussman).
It's also unclear if Republican Legislator Alan Sorensen will run for re-election as he has faced mounting criticism that his job as an Orange County planner puts him in direct conflict with his role as a Sullivan legislator. Sources have told The SullivanTimes that its Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, in particular, who has pressured Sorensen not to run again to avoid that conflict. Seems that George Nikolados, the Democratic mayor of Monticello, would have a great shot at winning the seat in any rematch with Sorensen since their last race was very close. Nikolados is said to be unhappy as mayor since Gordon Jenkins won election as a trustee, which gave the trio of Jenkins-Carmen Rue-Rochelle Massey a 3-2 majority vote in the Village.
-Republican Peter Oberacker will be Sullivan's new State Senate rep in Albany beginning in January as Sullivan was redrawn out of the old 42nd Senatorial District and into the expanded 51st Senatorial District. That forced Republican Mike Martucci, Sullivan's representative in the State Senate for a few more days, to exit his re-election campaign. It's unclear what the long term future holds for Martucci. But he has built solid political relationships in Sullivan/Orange. And, at age 37, he is young enough to have many more opportunities to enter other state/federal races over the next three decades if he chooses to do so.
-Democrat Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther begins what might be her last term in the Legislature in the 100th Assembly District that has now been redrawn to include more Republican areas. We hope that Gunther focuses much more attention on helping the County and state deal with rising mental health issues, as the chair of the State Assembly committee. With violent crime rising in parts of the state and attributed to mental health, she needs to do much more than she has in the past two years on the issue of mental health issues that are tied to criminal behavior. Gunther is also the chair of the Subcommittee on Women's Health but there's no public information on her website on what she's done in that area. And, she was notoriously silent in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion. Keep an eye out for potential candidates to emerge from the Sullivan County Democratic Committee later this year as well as who the Republicans put forward. Certainly, Lisa LaBue was a formidable Election Day opponent who did surprisingly well against Gunther and could run again, with or without Gunther as an opponent. In the meantime, it would serve her well to increase her knowledge of critical issues required to serve effectively in Albany.
-Marc Molinaro, the former Dutchess County executive, goes to Washington as Sullivan's new representative in the newly-redrawn 19th Congressional District. Of course, the House flipped from Democratic to Republican control and it will be interesting to see what kind of influence Molinaro has in his freshman term. The key might be if Kevin McCarthy becomes majority leader. McCarthy showed up for a major fundraiser for Molinaro just before Election Day that gave him a much-needed boost in his victory over Dem Josh Riley.
-Word is out that the Village of Monticello is facing massive dysfunction since James Snowden became Village Manager. Council members Carmen Rue, Gordon Jenkins and Rochelle Massey have formed a 3-2 voting block that often overpowers Mayor George Nickolados and Deputy Mayor Michael Banks. Village Hall has been the seen of violence and threats of violence. And, there is no one with adequate experience handling building code violations.
-The Town of Forestburgh is facing a federal civil rights lawsuit from a company led by Orthodox Jews, who allege that anti-Semitism is behind the town's blockage of permits to allow Lost Lake Holdings LLC to build a massive housing community.
-Livingston Manor Central School District is the subject of a serious lawsuit alleging that it allowed a teenage boy, who had a known history of behavioral problems, to escort a 6-year-old girl to her speech therapy class. The boy allegedly sexually abused the girl in the classroom multiple times while a speech therapist was a few feet away. More allegations emerged in the suit, according to court records reviewed by The SullivanTimes earlier this month.
--Edward Jacob Lang, the Narrowsburg native arrested and charged with multiple felony counts for his participation in the January 6, 2021 riots at the U.S. Capitol, goes on trial in May. Meanwhile, Lang's attorneys are fighting an appeal by the government after District of Columbia Judge Carl Nichols tossed the most serious charge against Lang.
--Sherry Li, the so-called developer who pitched "China City of America" (AKA Thompson Education Center) in Sullivan, remains incarcerated with her partner, Lianbo Wang, for their alleged financial fraud scheme that bilked investors out of millions of dollars. Their trial is scheduled for 2023.
-Earlier this year, Rock Hill entrepreneur Daniel "Butch" Resnick was in settlement talks with the federal government after facing federal charges related to an alleged pump and dump stock scheme.
We know that the drug epidemic in recent years has destroyed more lives and families in Sullivan than any county in the state.
The County needs more than just one treatment center to meet the needs of too many residents struggling with addiction. And, with new monies from global pharmaceutical /drug store settlements coming to Sullivan County coffers, it's hoped that the County actually uses those dollars for additional centers. The monies might also be used for many more educational commercials, social media ads, etc. about the dangers of drug addiction.
Meanwhile, despite the efforts of County officials and Senator Chuck Schumer, Sullivan County has still not been designated as a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which would deliver vital resources to fight the epidemic.
The New York State Police regularly reports on the arrests of drug dealers. Here's one local example. But it's unclear what happens to defendants once in the justice system. We need more information made publicly available by the DA's Office and local courts beyond the arrest to learn if suspected drug dealers obtained plea deals and/or were released due to gaps in the controversial bail reform laws.
With Brian Conaty taking over the District Attorney's office, he has a tall order to remake the office that is short-staffed, overworked and that lacks diversity. Aside from a significant backlog of criminal cases, the DA's office under Meagan Galligan (and her predecessor Jim Farrell) has also done little -if anything - in the area of white collar crime/corruption and prosecuting hate crimes, which are on the rise in New York State. We urge the office under Conaty to allocate resources to investigate and prosecute both white collar crime and hate crimes.
There also continues to be no person of color among current Assistant District Attorneys. That needs to change to reflect the changing population of Sullivan, as reflected in the 2020 census.
Affordable housing continues to be a problem in Sullivan as part of a nationwide challenge. How about if County and local officials got together to create an Affordable Housing Task Force to seriously tackle the problem? That task force has a head start, now that the County has a roadmap for improvement based on a recent study by an outside firm that makes some sensible recommendations. What's clear, though, is that there is a lack of affordable and decent rental units available, especially for those making between $20,000 and $50,000. And the dream of owning a new home -or one in good condition- is increasingly elusive in Sullivan for anyone making below $100,000 as we enter 2023.
Sullivan is still at the bottom of the rankings of New York State counties when it comes to the health of its residents. The coming year poses many challenges, including the continual shifting of resources from Garnet Health/Harris to Garnet / Middletown and rumors that the Catskills facility could ultimately close. This past year, Garnet shuttered both the coronary care unit and its Skilled Nursing Facility. (Update: Garnet's Board of Directors just terminated the three-year contract of Alfred Pilong after one year as Garnet's CEO).
And, with Infinite Care now operating The Care Center at Sunset Lake, allegations are emerging that residents are getting inadequate care, in part due to poor management and a severe shortage of medical staff. Sadly, the County Legislature - which gives $80,000 per month to Infinite Care, has not yet seen how those monies are being spent. And it's unacceptable that Doherty, who engineered the plan to bring in Infinite Care in 2020, does not hold their feet to the fire about finances and care issues.
Sadly, the County Legislature's Health and Family Services Committee has weak leadership under Salamone, who should take his job much more seriously or step aside.
Resorts World Catskills, the scene of a horrible wall collapse a few weeks ago, continues to face challenges nearly four years since it opened. Even without the impact of COVID-19, the facility has not fully lived up to its expectations as THE destination for Sullivan tourists and locals. And, with the opening this week of Resorts World Hudson Valley in Newburgh, one can't help but wonder how many gamblers will stop going to Monticello and instead head to Newburgh.
But the biggest impact for RW Catskills will be when New York City opens any of three downstate casinos in New York City, Westchester and Long Island. RW Catskills' parent - Genting -which this year pumped more money into the struggling casino - is bidding for one of those full casino licenses. The NYS Gaming Commission is expected to announce site locations for the downstate licenses by the end of 2023.
RW Catskills also needs to a better job of transparency in a crisis to protect its reputation. When a wall collapse incident injured several people a few weeks ago, including one with serious injuries, the company failed to reassure the public that it was safe to return and that it was thoroughly investigating what caused it. It also ignored repeated requests from this media outlet for more information days after the accident.
For more than a decade, there has been talk of improving Route 17 and adding a third lane in Orange and Sullivan Counties. In 2023, the rubber will start hitting the road. Governor Kathy Hochul announced two months ago that work began on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement "for the upgrade of the roadway to interstate standards, with public outreach and involvement efforts expected to begin in early 2023. The launch of the environmental review process follows the inclusion of up to $1 billion in the recently adopted State Capital plan to accelerate the conversion of the highway, which is a vital artery for the flow of people and commerce to and from the Mid-Hudson, Catskills and Southern Tier regions, to interstate standards and add a third lane" A coalition of business groups from Orange and Sullivan County had been lobbying heavily in recent years in favor of a third lane but Catskill Mountainkeeper opposes the plan.
Meanwhile, Move Sullivan - a free bus service offered by the County - has helped certain segments of the population get around the county who were previously unable to do so.
Public transportation has long been a challenge in Sullivan. The continued use of and expansion of this service is an example of good government. Aside from making it easier for those on limited income to get around, it helps those who are either too young to drive or for those whose age and/or health prevents them from getting behind the wheel. And, with climate change worsening, less cars on the roads just makes sense.