Democrat File Photo by Nathan Mayberg
To Apply Experience
By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO Sullivan County Legislator and former chairwoman Leni Binder is hoping to make the jump from ten years of overseeing the laws of the county to overseeing its books.
If elected, the Republican would be forced to give up that legislative seat, to be replaced by the Democratically-controlled Legislature.
The lifelong county resident, native of Mountaindale and owner of Binder Oil believes she has the qualifications necessary to take over the office of retiring Treasurer Olga Parlow.
Running on the Republican and Independent line, the former Democrat cited her contributions to a long list of community and political groups, as well as her professional experience, as reasons why she should be elected over Democrat Ira Cohen.
She was recently elected as President of the Kiwanis Club of the Woodridge area, is the Vice Chairwoman of New Hope Community and calls herself a founding member of Sullivan First.
Since winning a seat on the original Sullivan County Legislature ten years ago, Binder has chaired the Public Safety Committee and taken part in the New York State Office of Real Property Alliance.
She graduated from Ellenville High School, then Syracuse University with an A.B. A few years ago, she completed her Masters Degree in Public Administration at Marist.
Binder said she ran for the office after being asked by several top Republican officials who trusted her for the position and believe she is a watchdog.
The candidate could not help but attack Cohen, who she once defended against the Democrats who ousted him as County Attorney nearly two years ago.
She said at least one of the issues he is running with, he does not deserve credit for. Cohen said he worked on creating an amnesty tax program, but Binder said the idea was former county legislator Steve Kurlanders. Binder said that Cohen only wrote the local law for the new program.
She said the treasurer should hold no other job. She pledged to step down from her duties with the company. And she called into question Cohens ability to work full-time while possibly continuing in his various positions as counsel to local municipal boards.
Cohen currently works for the firm of Jacobowitz and Gubits full-time but has said he would treat the treasurers position as a full-time job.
Binder did not stop there, calling Cohens representation of Brookside Homes owner David Goodstein a conflict of interest.
As for her own ideas, Binder wants to create a new independent financial office which would review the countys policies and their impacts on bonding and reserve. While that is part of what the financial management office does, Binder said the new office should also investigate seasonal businesses and whether they are paying sales tax in this county. Binder said some of the businesses are paying sales tax in the county in which they have their other year-round business by keeping the same tax number for both businesses.
The treasurer-hopeful said she would make her monthly reports to the Legislature more user-friendly.
Like Cohen, Binder pledged to work more closely with municipal tax collectors in the county.
She also pledged to keep the treasurers office open later as the deadlines for tax collection approached.
For Binder, her work ethic began when she was ten years old taking orders for her father Harry Cohens dairy business. By age 12, she took over his books. The legislady, as her license plate reads, eventually learned how to keep double-entry ledgers by hand, through the teaching of Ralph Rappaport.
Upon graduating from Syracuse, she began teaching high school geography at Rondout Valley for one year. Eventually, Cohen sold the business, and Binder went into the oil business with her husband. She then teamed with her husband on a joint oil business venture which she has stayed with until now.
As for her approach to government, Binder referred to her 10 years on the Legislature as a time where we were always looking at government to make sure we werent top-heavy.
Democrat Photo by Nathan Mayberg
Former Co. Attorney
Eager to Be Treasurer
By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO October 25, 2005 After two decades of offering legal advice for politicians and defending them in court, Ira Cohen will vie November 8 for a political position of his own Sullivan County Treasurer.
In one of his characteristically in-depth answers, Cohen explained why he was the best qualified candidate for the coveted position in a recent interview.
He cited his 12 years in the county attorneys office, including eight years as head full-time county attorney and four years as assistant attorney. During that time, much of Cohens work pertained to enforcing real property tax issues and coordinating efforts with the treasurers office.
Nearly two years after being replaced as county attorney by the new Democratic majority in the Sullivan County Legislature, Cohen said he relished the chance to get back into politics. He is still proud of the work he did there.
I took a very pro-active approach in the county attorneys office, he said.
And hes running as a Democrat.
When asked what made him decide to run, the 36-year lawyer replied, The opportunity to get back into public service, which is the thing I enjoy the most. Particularly the county treasurers office, because in the 12 years I was with the county attorneys office, my main concentration was with issues involving the county treasurer. . . . There is nothing I enjoy more than public service and helping people.
During the mid-1990s, he worked with then-County Treasurer Dan Briggs and Deputy County Treasurer Olga Parlow to help people save their properties from foreclosure. An amnesty program, deferment system, commercial tax incentive program and installment plan to help those having trouble with paying taxes were all within his purview.
As a result, he said, the county collected over $50 million in additional taxes from the time the deferment program began in 1995.
In 1992, when he first came on board with the county, approximately 600 properties had their titles taken by the county. Last year, only about 100 parcels fell victim to the same fate, said Cohen.
The candidate for treasurer considers himself to be an expert in real property tax enforcement. He has served as chairman of the New York State Tax Enforcement Advisory Committee since 1997. He formed a special task force last month to write and rewrite a state law to protect counties from a new federal law which could inhibit their ability to enforce tax liens.
He still gets calls from county attorneys throughout the state seeking advice on real property tax enforcement issues and cases.
His knowledge of the field has led him to teach at St. Johns Law School, an invitation to instruct classes at the American Bar Association, and most recently to a job teaching business law at Marist College next month. The class will only be once a week during the evenings, so as not to interfere with his work for the county, if elected. In addition, Cohen instructs real property tax directors about tax lien enforcement through the New York State Office of Real Property Services.
Cohen considers his endorsement by New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi to be important. He said Hevesi normally doesnt endorse local candidates but did so because of Cohens reputation.
Like his Republican opponent, Leni Binder, Cohen is a lifelong resident of the county. He graduated from Monticello High School in 1962 and attended the University of Buffalo. At Buffalo, he received his bachelors degree in Political Science. In 1969, he completed his Juris Doctor from Albany Law School and began practicing law at the firm of Levine and Newman. In 2003, he earned his masters degree in public administration from Marist College.
In between, he won a National Science Foundation Fellowship and taught legal sociology at Denver Law School.
The firm of Levine and Newman broke up in 1973. He went out on his own and eventually operated a law firm with his brother Robert, along with Gary Greenwald for a while.
From 1985 to 1992, he was the town attorney for the Town of Mamakating. Since his ouster from county government, he has served as the counsel to a number of boards in the county, including the Town of Mamakating planning and zoning boards, Village of Bloomingburg Planning Board, Town of Cochecton Planning Board, and the Town of Fremont Board and Planning Board. In addition, he works with the law firm of Jacobowitz and Gubits handling a variety of cases, including legal assistance to other municipalities in the region.
If elected, Cohen said he would treat the county treasurers office as a full-time job.
He said he doesnt know how it will affect his positions with the townships.
Other ideas include expanding the installment program for taxpayers. He would also propose that the treasurers office spearhead the effort to identify and clean up contaminated properties delinquent in taxes. Cohen said there are state funds available to aid in the process of putting those properties back on the tax rolls and developing them or selling them. The county recently approved allocating $40,000 for that purpose.
In addition, he pledged to release the treasurers annual report and the State Comptrollers report on the county to the public.
Cohen added that he would work with town tax collectors more closely on issues such as balancing their books. He stressed that the treasurers role is not one of a bookkeeper, but of an administrator.
You have to be able to deal with people, he explained. That is something I am good at.