By Matt Youngfrau
ROCK HILL September 10, 2002 On Thursday, September 5, the Sullivan County Democratic Committee held a meeting at Bernie's Holiday Restaurant in Rock Hill. The original purpose of the meeting was to unify the party and prepare everyone for the coming elections. However, the majority of the meeting was spent trying to decide how to handle the situation with Legislators Bob Kunis and Leni Binder.
In the last year, the Democratic Party has felt that Kunis and Binder betrayed them. Three incidents were cited as evidence. The first was when Binder and Kunis crossed party lines to vote with the three Republican legislators (Rodney Gaebel, Jodi Goodman, and Jim Carnell Jr.) to restore the pay of Republican District Attorney Stephen Lungen.
The second and third incidents are tied together. Binder and Kunis once again teamed with the Republicans to elect Binder as Legislature Chair and to appoint Sullivan County Republican Party Chair Greg Goldstein to the vacant District 3 seat. The Democratic Party called it a "dirty deal," while the six involved legislators denied any deal or wrongdoing.
Sullivan County Democratic Party Chair Bob Krutman started the meeting with some party notes. Krutman informed everyone that the annual Jeffersonian Dinner would be Sunday, October 6 at Kutsher's and would feature New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer as the keynote speaker. Krutman also implored everyone to get party members out to vote in today's primaries.
Then Krutman turned his full attention to the Binder/Kunis situation. Krutman started by saying that he had expressed all of his feelings on the subject in a letter that was printed in the Sullivan County Democrat on Friday, August 23. However, he said articles in a daily paper that day and the day prior contained several errors and untruths.
"A reporter that I did not know called me Tuesday afternoon and asked me if Kunis and Binder were invited to tonight's meeting," Krutman explained. "We had a lengthy discussion. I said it was not an executive committee meeting but a full county meeting. It is open to all county Democrats, and that includes Bob and Leni. That is not what was in yesterday's paper.
"After that, [Town of Thompson Democratic Party Chair] Bill Rosen contacted me and faxed me a letter inviting them. I lauded the letter," Krutman continued. "I called [the reporter] and gently chastised him for both articles. He admitted that he had changed what I said. He stated the article had more bite his way."
Krutman did fax Rosen's letter to the reporter. Krutman stated the reporter told him that he did not read the fax until after his article about the letter had already been printed. Krutman expressed his anger, but the reporter showed little concern, he said.
The floor was then opened to other speakers. Before anyone else spoke, Krutman said the Town of Liberty Democratic Committee passed a resolution calling for Kunis and Binder to resign from the party. The resolution was passed July 7, and Krutman had held onto it until that night.
"We requested the resignation of both Bob and Leni," commented Liberty Party Chair Ron Gozza. "We took this action due to Greg's appointment. It went against our core values. It was a disgusting display of politics. We can't allow that to happen. It would not happen with the Republicans. I ask that all town chairs get their committees to pass similar resolutions."
"The Republicans run a tighter ship," Krutman stated. "Leni being chair is wrong, but it is not a disaster. What is wrong is to appoint the Republican Party Chair to the Legislature. We have cancers in our party they are not the only ones. We have to eliminate them all."
Krutman announced his term as Chair expires on September 20, 2003. At that time, he would not seek re-election as Chair. He encouraged the next Chair to achieve party unity and said he would work toward that goal in his final year. Krutman also stated that it would be unconstitutional to terminate anyone's party membership.
Then Rosen addressed the crowd of about 50 Democrats.
"Bob [Kunis] is a decent guy on a personal level," Rosen said. "We have had some differences. We have an open party. Anyone is free to make deals. Just do not change the balance of power. You cannot appoint someone from the other party and change the structure."
Rosen encouraged the party try to move on and find some new candidates.
"I care about the process and the party," Rosen remarked. "None of us get paid for this. We have to keep the party viable. We let down our guard and we lose something. We are all responsible for the pickle we are in.
"I consider Greg a friend," Rosen continued. "However, I know he would not do the same thing if the circumstances were reversed."
"We need to be cohesive," Sullivan County District 2 Legislator Kathleen LaBuda implored. "We can overcome this. The people will make the decision. We will do what is right."
Rosen's letter to Binder and Kunis did upset some Thompson Party members. Rosen sent the letter out on Party stationery and did not consult with any party members. This was brought up at the meeting.
"I resent that you sent that letter out on Party stationery," commented Thompson Town Committee member Betty Friedland. "This will probably be my last term. I will not rejoin you."
"I think Ron said it well," noted Party member Jerry Orseck. "I want to pass a resolution calling for their resignations. We need to make a resolution. We ought to do it."
"If we do this, we will create more newspaper articles," stated former Sheriff Joseph Wasser. "Let's leave it this way. We need to keep the party together."
"I agree with Joe," said Fallsburg Party representative Steve Vegliante. "If we do this, we will put them in the victim role more. Binder's comment [in one of the newspaper articles] was disgusting that she compared herself to an abused wife. In the Town of Fallsburg, we will find candidates. We will have strong challengers."
"The press has painted them as the victims here," Krutman added. "They are not the victims. The victims are the majority of Democratic voters who gave them their votes. They are closet Republicans. We are the victims."
Krutman tried to shift the focus back to the impending elections. He encouraged all to have input and share ideas for the upcoming campaigns. Krutman again called for party unity and stated they would overcome this.
"Everyone has the right to do what you want to do. You vote your conscience," pointed out party member Jack Simons. "You don't campaign for the other party. You don't support the other candidate. You don't change the party or the structure.
"If Greg has any honor, he would resign as Party Chair," Simons continued. "Make it honest. This is very disturbing. There is honor among Democrats."
The meeting ended with further party notes from party member Colleen Cunningham. Cunningham stated that Gozza and Kevin Hopkins had donated space at their offices for campaign headquarters. It was also noted that Democratic gubernatorial candidate H. Carl McCall had promised to come to the headquarters grand opening.