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Assemblyman Jake Gunther

Too Soon to Ponder,
Say Local Leaders

By Matt Youngfrau
SULLIVAN COUNTY — July 18, 2003 – Last week, longtime New York State Assemblyman Jacob Gunther III died after a brief battle with cancer. The news shook both Sullivan and Orange counties and sent reverberations throughout the state.
While people dealt with the pain, the last thing many wanted to think about was who would fill Gunther’s 98th Assembly District seat.
After Gunther’s funeral on Sunday, some began to think about who would fill that seat. The district includes all of Sullivan County and the cities of Middletown and Port Jervis, along with the towns of Deerpark, Minisink, Greenville, and Wawayanda in Orange County.
While no official word came from the governor’s office on what would happen, Gunther’s offices in Monticello and Albany were kept open to help his constituents. It is still unclear whether the seat will be up for election on Election Day on November 4 or if Governor George Pataki will call for a special election.
Many names have surfaced from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Those mentioned from the Democrats include Gunther’s aide Sean Hanofee, Gunther’s widow Aileen, Sullivan County Clerk George Cooke, Sullivan County District 1 Legislator Chris Cunningham, Town of Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, and Town of Liberty Democratic Party Chair Ron Gozza.
For the Republicans, names mentioned include former New York State Assemblyman Richard Coombe, Sullivan County Republican Party Chair and District 3 Legislator Greg Goldstein, Village of Monticello Mayor Gary Sommers, Orange County Legislator Melissa Bonacic, Town of Thompson Board Member Sharon Jankiewicz, Sullivan County Manager Dan Briggs, and the man Gunther beat in the last two elections, William Brenner.
Cunningham, Goldstein, Briggs and Jankiewicz have all denied interest. Sommers has expressed interest in the seat; however, most seem to be be waiting until Aileen Gunther decides if she wishes to pursue it. There has been no comment from Gunther on this.
Part of the decision on how this will be handled will come from the Democratic and Republican party chairs. For the Democrats, in Sullivan it is Bob Krutman and Jonathan Jacobson in Orange County. For the Republicans, it is Goldstein in Sullivan and John Hicks in Orange. However, the Sullivan chairs both feel it is too soon to think about Gunther’s seat.
“It is too early to make any decisions,” Goldstein remarked. “There are some people interested, but we will deal with that when the appropriate time comes. We want to give everyone time to deal with Jake’s loss.”
“There are people showing interest,” Krutman commented. “However, it is too soon to even think about it. If Aileen is interested, it will be her. If not, we’ll see.”
Both chairs agreed they would consider the vacancy next week. It is also expected that clear direction will come from the governor’s office by next week.

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