By Matt Youngfrau
SULLIVAN COUNTY October 21, 2003 Under the recently completed redistricting design, District 1 consists of the towns of Bethel, Cochecton, and Tusten, and the eastern half of the Town of Delaware.
The current Legislator is Democrat and Conservative Chris Cunningham. His opponent is Republican Businesswoman Margaret Hazen.
Cunningham is one of four incumbent legislators that were elected in 1995. (He was subsequently re-elected.) He is the current Minority Leader and serves as Chair for the Personnel and Veterans committees.
I feel like I have accomplished a lot and have a lot more to work on, commented Cunningham in explaining why he is seeking a third term. I think I have done an excellent job. I have enjoyed my time here. I have approached with common sense and reason. I try to see all sides of an issue.
During his tenure, Cunningham has been critical of casino gaming. In fact, he has been its most vocal opponent on the county level.
I have been critical, but it seems it is coming to fruition, Cunningham reflected. We have to take a hard look at the impacts. There was not enough attention in the beginning. We do not get something for nothing. We have to get the maximum benefits, and it has to work in the economy. It cannot be a detriment.
There are a lot of hard decisions to make and issues to look at, Cunningham continued. We have had healthy debates. The countys economy is moving in the right direction.
Cunningham pointed out that one of the big boons in the county is the Emerald Corporate Park in Rock Hill. Once Crystal Run Healthcare moves in next year, it will create more than 300 new jobs. Cunningham also pointed out the Visitors Association and the Route 97 Scenic Byway as steps in the right direction in the growth of the county.
Cunningham is also concerned with housing, school taxes, and infrastructure. He realizes that, as the population grows, housing is needed while taxes must remain stable and the infrastructure is maintained.
We cannot lose our quality of life, remarked Cunningham. Now we have people coming here. It has been good.
Cunningham is also a big supporter of the agriculture community in the county.
We have to maintain our open space, Cunningham stated.
He touched upon last years sales tax hike and this years proposed property tax increase.
I was not happy with the way the budget was presented last year, Cunningham said. My main issue last year was the process. State mandates are killing us. We have to take some hard looks. No one wants a tax hike or layoffs. We will have to minimize the loss. We all have to work together, no matter who gets elected. Politics go on out there. In here, we have to put that aside and do whats right.
Cunningham would like to see the Legislature become more accessible to the public. To that end, he wants night meetings in various parts of the county. He would also like to see the caucus system de-emphasized and more public discussions. Plus, agendas should be available ahead of time so the public is well aware what issues will be discussed, he explained.
[Caucus] is the way the system was set up, commented Cunningham. The last few months, there has been a little more of that. We need more healthy, open discussions. I have been uncomfortable with the system lately. Next year, we should de-emphasize caucuses and do things more in the open. We should make every effort to be sensitive to everybody.
A major issue is the county landfill. Quite a few residents, especially in Monticello, are against importation of garbage and the expansion of the landfill. Cunningham realizes it is not an easy matter.
I do not have all the answers on this, Cunningham said. In the past, I have supported importation and expansion. We have to look for other revenue. No one can bear a tax increase. We used the landfill to eliminate the deficit. That is not an excuse, it is fact. It was not ideal. No one here wants importation. We have to listen to what people say. We have to be sympathetic and do all we can. It is a tough issue.
During his tenure, he has been a strong proponent for veterans issues.
I am a veteran, stated Cunningham. We have a moral and ethical responsibility to take care of our veterans. We cannot overlook their needs. I will continue to advocate for them.
Cunningham summed up his tenure: I would say that I have been open, accessible, and listen to what people want and need. I also speak my mind. I put in my time. I do my homework. Most of us here have a good working relationship. I hope I will continue here.
Cunningham, a lifelong resident, is married and the father of two children. He lives in Swan Lake.
Margaret Hazen is a newcomer in the political world. However, she has a vast business and community background.
I have always been active in the community with many organizations, Hazen remarked. I want to serve the people of District 1 as their spokesperson and representative.
Hazen spent 30 years at and retired as Vice President of Dean Witter. She is the co-owner of Gaetanos Cafe in Mongaup Valley.
Over the years, she has served with the Sullivan County United Way, Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, the Sullivan County Visitors Association, the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, the Sullivan County chapter of Business and Professional Women, and the Bethel Business Association.
If elected, Hazen said she will take a hard look at the Route 17B corridor. She feels that, with all the growth that is coming, it is a top priority.
With growth, there will be added volume, Hazen remarked. Safety has to be the main concern. We also need maintenance, patrols, and signage. My vision would be to add a lane and make a three-lane highway. Of course, we need a traffic flow study.
Hazen is not afraid to speak her mind on the big issues facing the county.
I do not agree with the expansion of the landfill, Hazen said firmly. It is what it is now. We should not add to it. We have to hear the pros and cons. We have to study the environmental impact now and in the future. We have to have the facts from both sides. Then it should be a committee decision.
Hazen also tackled the issue of gaming.
My district is my first concern, commented Hazen. My town [Bethel] passed a resolution stating there will be no gaming in the town. I am pro-gaming. It will bring jobs. The VLTs [Video Lottery Terminals] are coming to Monticello Raceway. That will be a small-scale, dry run of what to expect with casinos.
While Hazen is all for economic development, she does advise caution.
It is up to the lawmakers to use intelligence and good judgment when new industry comes to us, Hazen said. We have to make sure all impacts are mitigated. The Partnership and the IDA have done a great job bringing in new business. It has to conform to the area.
Hazen also wants to see the agriculture industry grow. While shed like the farm areas preserved, she wants them to grow and new industries to come in.
We have to hold the line on taxes, remarked Hazen. We cannot tax the people until it is a burden. This ties in to us bringing in more business. I see the future of the county coming with more back-office jobs.
Hazen believes Sullivan County will become a leader in the medical profession. With new medical facilities arriving soon, the need will arise for hotels and housing. On top of that, Hazen believes schools will have to grow, as will the infrastructure.
We have to have controlled growth, Hazen said. We have been growing slowly. It cannot happen all at once. Nothing stays the same. Everything changes.
Election Day is November 4. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.