By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO October 15, 2002 After months of speculation, Sullivan County Legislature Chair Leni Binder and District 8 Legislator Robert Kunis submitted their change-of-party registration cards to the Sullivan County Board of Elections Friday afternoon.
Both have switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, and the change becomes official after the elections on November 5.
October 11 was the last day to switch this year. Any change after that date does not take effect until after the next election in November 2003.
The leadership of Fallsburg Mr. Vegliante, Mr. Hill, and Mr. Krutman asked me to leave the party, so I accommodated them, Binder joked before turning serious. No one should have to put up with the insults, verbal abuse, and demeaning remarks directed at me publicly. No one sat down with me privately to discuss it.
This was a positive move for me, Kunis commented. It was a tough decision only because I was with the party so long. When I took into consideration what has been going on recently, it was easy to do.
This now gives the county the best chance to move ahead, Kunis continued. Politically, these may ease some tensions, but the relationships wont change. We are a bipartisan group, and we will continue to serve that way.
Tensions between Kunis/Binder and the Democrats date back more than a year. For one, both Kunis and Binder crossed party lines to vote with the Republicans and allow Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen to get his pay restored.
But the source of much of the hostilities occurred in June. That was when Binder was appointed Chair of the Legislature, and she and Kunis voted to appoint Sullivan County Republican Party Chair Greg Goldstein to the vacant District 3 seat.
Since that time, both Binder and Kunis have been ostracized from the party. Currently, Binder is still a member of the Town of Fallsburg Democratic Committee, but her resignation is expected shortly.
Republicans, naturally, are overjoyed at Kunis and Binders defection, as it creates a clear 6-3 Republican majority on the Legislature. However, they couched that happiness in more bipartisan terms.
I have worked with both over the years, and they have always put the people ahead of party politics, remarked New York State Senator John Bonacic. I welcome them to the party. They have been good partners to serve Sullivan County and will continue to do so.
How you are registered has nothing to do with doing what is right for Sullivan County, noted Legislature Minority (soon to be Majority) Leader Rodney Gaebel. Bob and Leni have always been front-and-center for the people. They do what is right in their hearts. We work well now and will in the future.
We welcome them with open arms, Goldstein said. We will move the county forward in a positive way.
Nothing has changed we are still here for our constituents, Binder stated. I will still be at the Government Center all the time. Now Im focused on seeing headlines about progress in Sullivan County.
Legislature Majority Chair Chris Cunningham, Democratic Party Chair Bob Krutman, and New York State Assemblyman Jake Gunther were all contacted for comment. Due to the Columbus Day holiday, none were available at press time.
More on Binders and Kunis change is expected at the Republican fundraiser on Wednesday night at the Club at the Villa Roma. New York State Governor George Pataki is the special guest and is expected to publicly welcome both into the party.