By Matt Youngfrau
SULLIVAN COUNTY July 29, 2003 United States Senator Chuck Schumer took his yearly visit through the area on Friday, traveling from New Paltz to New Windsor to Fishkill to a Community Leaders Forum at the Thompson Town Hall in Kiamesha Lake.
Nearly 100 people visited with the senator while he was in Sullivan County. The meeting was hosted by Sullivan County Clerk George Cooke and Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jacquie Leventoff.
Chuck Schumer has spent more time in Sullivan County than any other senator, Cooke commented. He is no stranger to the area. He has been a friend to Sullivan County.
When it came time for him to speak, Schumer first acknowledged the recent death of New York State Assemblyman Jake Gunther III.
When I heard [it was] Jake, it was like a blow to my stomach, Schumer stated. Like many others, I did not know the extent [of his cancer]. He was a model politician and a straight talker. I offer my public condolences to his family.
Schumer talked about his 14-year-old daughter, who just completed a four-week tennis program at Kutshers Sports Academy in Monticello.
I love coming here, Schumer said. I used to come up here during the summers as a kid with my parents. Now, I try to come here at least once a year.
But he didnt drop by just to shoot the breeze. Schumer discussed having breakfast recently with the Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who feels that the economy is going to start turning around in the next 6-18 months.
Schumer said the evidence is already there, as area home prices have risen by 20 percent, indicating more interest in the region.
Schumer cited three reasons for the trend: the possibility of casino gaming, the growing amount of people moving into the area from New York City, and the fact that the economy is now more national than regional.
Things are turning around, remarked Schumer. You have to capitalize on that. You cant let taxes go too high. New York was the fourth highest state [for taxes in the country]. Now, we are 23rd.
Schumer reviewed key aspects of the regions future. One was the conversion of Route 17 to Interstate 86. Another was making Stewart Airport more international. Schumer also said that the local roads need to be improved.
Schumer then turned his attention to Medicaid.
Locally, it is a great burden, he said. New York is one of two states that Medicaid is paid for by the counties and not the state. We did manage to get, federally, $1.8 million in relief. Your county pays $14 million. We need to get the state to pay like its done in the other 48 states.
Education in New York is quite good, Schumer continued. We cannot cut there. We need to make education more affordable.
Of course, the big concern for most present was the casino gaming issue. Since his first official visit to the county a few years ago, Schumer has been a well-known casino supporter, trying to speed up the process on a federal level.
Schumer, while being cautiously optimistic, cited the lack of a permanent director of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
I was told it was going to happen, then it didnt happen, Schumer stated. I am told it is proceeding along. A timeline is worthless. There has not been an active head [of the BIA] for a year and a half. They need a head. We need an appointment now. Things keep changing. I am frustrated. [The BIA] is the Department of No Straight Answers.
They are not trying to be deceptive, Schumer continued. There is no permanent leader. They need someone with authority. It will happen. It is a question of when. It will not happen overnight.
Still, Schumer was positive.
We will push it, he said. There are good reasons to be optimistic. As the county grows, it is wise to begin planning in a friendly, good way.
During a subsequent question-and-answer period, the No Child Left Behind legislation was brought up. Schumer thought it was a good deal made between President George W. Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy. Higher educational standards were imposed, but the federal government was not footing the bill. Schumer stated that if Bush did not put the money in to fund it, Schumer would seek to pull the plug on the legislation.
He also addressed possible changes in the Head Start Program. There is a federal proposal to turn it into a block grant, which might endanger Head Start. Schumer said he would try to prevent that from happening.
The subject of peace and the war in Iraq was raised. Some felt that the Patriot Act should be repealed. Schumer disagreed and felt Americans had to protect themselves from terrorism. He went on to say that the reason the United States was attacked was because they did not retaliate for terrorist attacks in 1993, 1998, and 2000.
Schumer discussed improving healthcare, including making generic medication more available. Also, he would like to see more federal money go into the states EPIC Program. There are currently two bills on this subject, one in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives. Schumer will push for the Senate bill because he feels it provides better coverage.
Naturally, the conversation drifted back to casino matters. Schumer offered some advice.
They [casinos] have to fit in with the rest of the county, he said. You have to be smart about growth. You have to be vigilant.
After a few more questions, Schumer headed up to the original Woodstock site in Bethel for a meeting with developer Alan Gerry.
Gerry reviewed his plans for the Performing Arts Center with Schumer, illustrating visually where each part of the project would go. Then Gerry gave Schumer a tour of the site utilizing golf carts.
Schumer said he was very impressed and promised to come back when the center opens in 2005.
Afterwards, Schumer headed to Woodstone Development for a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser thrown for him by Woodstone Development owner Steve Dubrovsky.