Dan Hust | Democrat
District Attorney candidate Glenn Kroll speaks at the Democratic Convention Wednesday night. In foreground is County Democratic Chairman Steve Wilkinson.
but still disagree
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Sullivan County’s Democratic leaders picked the people to represent them on the ballot line in November and, they hope, in key county positions next year.
Wednesday evening at Monticello Raceway, the Sullivan County Democratic Committee gathered for its annual convention and chose Glenn Kroll as the District Attorney candidate, Frank Armstrong as the Sheriff candidate and Ira Cohen as the Treasurer candidate.
Cohen was widely expected to land the nomination after Republicans, during their convention in April, chose not to mount a candidate to oppose him.
“Really, I’m very honored,” Cohen told the crowd. “The best thing about this is it gives me the opportunity to work for all the citizens of Sullivan County for another four years.”
Cohen, however, was the only candidate nominated Wednesday night who already sits in the seat he’s running for.
Armstrong is a county legislator and took on the current sheriff, Republican Michael Schiff, four years ago in an expensive campaign.
Now, he’s trying again, winning the nomination over Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Stephenson Wednesday evening.
Stephenson, who registered to be a Democrat earlier this year but will not officially become one until after November’s elections, tried to win support from the committeepeople, pointing out that Armstrong himself had encouraged him to run.
However, Stephenson also claimed that Armstrong had ultimately decided to make a run himself and subsequently promised to consider a role for Stephenson in his administration if the deputy didn’t run.
Stephenson promised “innovative change” in the Sheriff’s Office, but listeners were largely unswayed, and Armstrong won their support by a weighted vote of 7,686 to Stephenson’s 1,472.5.
Since he’s not yet a Democrat, Stephenson cannot force a primary, but he said he plans to continue his run on other lines, hoping to land the Conservative nomination in the coming weeks.
Armstrong, meanwhile, was gratified by the vote of confidence, hoping to score the same with voters countywide in November.
He also called for party unity, a thought echoed by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.
“What’s important in the Democratic Party is cohesion,” he said. “... If I’ve learned anything over the past four years, the strength of the candidate is the strength of the people behind him, and that is the party.”
However, DA candidate Glenn Kroll’s nomination was a bit tense, as Thompson Committeeman Sean Rieber called for an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing against Kroll.
Bolstered by vocal support from other committeepeople, Kroll took Wednesday’s meeting as an opportunity to answer his critics.
He’s been told he’s too young to run, though he’s actually three years older than current DA Steve Lungen was when he first became DA a quarter of a century ago.
But more serious charges have been leveled against him, pertaining to allegations of bribery and inmate solicitation.
Kroll, like Liberty Committeeman Kirk Orseck before him, called the attacks “swiftboating” (referencing the attacks on former presidential candidate John Kerry).
The allegations of bribery stemmed from the sordid case two years ago of Sullivan County resident James Stevens, who retained Kroll as counsel to defend him against charges that he repeatedly raped two young girls.
Stevens eventually made a plea deal but ended up being sentenced to 25 years in prison, rather than the 15 he had been hoping for.
According to court documents, Stevens blamed Kroll and an attorney who represented him before Kroll, complaining to the court that Kroll had not only been ineffective but had allegedly attempted to bribe the victims so they wouldn’t testify.
On Wednesday, Kroll called the claims “preposterous,” pointing out that criminal defense attorneys are often falsely accused of ineffectiveness by convicted felons who have nothing to do but serve hard time.
“He simply wants his sentence to be reduced,” Kroll said of his former client.
And the court denied Stevens’ motion to be resentenced, despite such allegations (though Stevens is appealing).
“All of you should recognize this for what it is,” Kroll told the crowd. “It’s a pathetic attempt to try to discredit me.”
He thought the same of another allegation that he tried to solicit inmates at the county jail to use his services, considered a violation of ethics-in-advertising guidelines enacted by the state Bar Association.
“This is nothing more than dirty politics,” he remarked, alleging that County Attorney Sam Yasgur, under pressure from Sheriff Michael Schiff, had disingenuously made a complaint about Kroll to the Bar Association.
Kroll admitted he mass-mailed postcards advertising his services to inmates last year, but when Yasgur warned him of the consequences of distributing those cards, Kroll reclaimed them before inmates received any.
Yasgur promised Kroll he would not pursue the matter further, but in October, Yasgur did indeed make a formal complaint to the Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Standards.
“They dismissed it,” Kroll related (though they did send him information on proper advertising methods). “No action was taken against me.”
When contacted yesterday, Yasgur confirmed his role in the matter except, he added, that Kroll did not mention a second solicitation, which Yasgur said was the basis of the complaint.
After the first solicitation, Yasgur contacted the Bar Association and was told Kroll could avoid the violation if he removed the mailings before delivery, which he did. (Though Schiff, said Yasgur, was highly concerned about how Kroll managed to discover the exact names of the inmates locked up that day which is distributed to very few people for security reasons.)
Yasgur alleged that later in October Kroll sent 21 plasticized business cards to an inmate he represented. Despite being labelled as a legal mailing (thus unopenable by anyone but the inmate), the sharp edges of the cards rendered them contraband, and the inmate was forced to open the envelope in front of jail officials, who confiscated the material.
Recognizing that one inmate didn’t need 21 business cards, Yasgur said he then had no choice but to make a complaint about the matter to the state.
He did acknowledge, however, that he was being courted by the Democrats at the time for a run for DA, but he decided against it. Not registered with either major party, Yasgur denied trying to sabotage Kroll’s campaign, saying he wasn’t even aware of it until the Democrat broke the news in January.
Regardless, on Wednesday the county Democratic Committee overwhelmingly approved Kroll as their candidate to challenge Republican Jim Farrell.
In return, Kroll promised to inform voters about the county’s high per-capita crime rate (equalling New York City’s) and his plans to be proactive not only in prosecuting but preventing that crime.
“The DA’s position, aside from being a tremendous honor, is also a tremendous responsibility,” Kroll said, admitting to some apprehension prior to the meeting. “... When I am elected, I’m going to work just as hard for you and the county as I have as a criminal defense attorney.”
In other business
Democrats also amended their bylaws to include a line about equal, non-discriminatory treatment towards all and another amendment recognizing and affirming the Black and Latino Democratic Committee and the Sullivan County Democratic Women’s Committee’s participation in the county committee.
Each of those two groups now has official representation on the county committee.