Bethel Dems to see a major change in leadership
By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE What amounts to a bloodless coup may dramatically shift the Town of Bethel’s political landscape.
Come September 16, the township’s Democratic Committee leadership will officially undergo an almost complete revamp, ironically thanks as much to the current leaders’ inactions as the future leaders’ actions.
Names that have long been at the forefront of politics in this heavily political town Colleen Cunningham, Vicky Vassmer-Simpson, Ted Yeomans will no longer be in charge.
Instead, a rising generation of residents Steve White, Jonathan Hyman, Denise Frangipane have succeeded in taking over a committee that just a year ago suffered division over Frangipane’s ultimately successful campaign for town council.
And they say they’re willing to work with anyone even the soon-to-be-deposed leaders.
“Our coalition worked hard in support of Ms. Frangipane in last year’s caucus,” recalled Hyman, a Smallwood resident and co-founder of the New Bethel Democrats group. “So we were all shocked and saddened by the current committee’s actions after she won the caucus. Not only did they not support Denise during the course of last year’s general election, but in effect, by supporting Ted Yeomans (himself a committee member and the person who Frangipane defeated in the caucus vote), they attempted to nullify the results of the caucus election.
“We never said members of the committee did not have the right to support Yeomans, who was running on an independent line. However, in order to do so, they were honor-bound to resign their seats on the committee, something they refused to do,” Hyman continued. “But Bethel’s Democrats were paying attention. Frangipane enjoyed an overwhelming victory last November. And now, this year, there has been an astounding turnover in the Democratic Committee.
“We are happy to have affected this change and look forward to working with a wide cross-section of Democrats in Bethel and the county, including those who we have been critical of regarding this issue.”
That last hope may be in vain Yeomans refused to comment when contacted for this article, while Cunningham and Vassmer-Simpson did not return calls.
In fact, the trio have not spoken to any media about their actions, save for an ad taken out in an Orange County-based daily paper.
“We will not be filing required signatures or running for our committee seats this year,” they jointly wrote. “We have chosen not to be the focus of petty personal attacks that detract from the real issues our community faces. Instead, we chose to take a stand.
“We are not going away. We are going to work hard as we always have; we understand what is important,” they continued. “We know that the decisions that impact the town the most are really made by the town board, not the Democratic Committee.”
Saying they represent a coalition of local voters “concerned about the direction our town board is taking with its newest member” (meaning Frangipane), they endorsed Republican Councilman Richard Crumley in his re-election bid, along with Democratic Town Board candidate Benji Friehling.
For that, they were criticized by both Frangipane and Sullivan County Democratic Committee Chair Steve Wilkinson.
“The disingenuous and factually inaccurate ad causes people, myself included, to pause and be suspect of ‘politics,’” Frangipane, who must run for re-election this November, wrote to her supporters. “I can only offer to you the thought that the signers of the ad ... have put enormous effort into undermining my role in the Town of Bethel since the beginning of my first campaign in 2007.
“As a seated board member, I am focused on serving the Town of Bethel during this very busy and challenging time,” she concluded. “Let me assure you that despite the fact that fellow Town Board member Mrs. Simpson lent her name to the ad, I will continue to make my best effort, as I have done all along, to work with her for the best interests of our town.”
In an ad published last week in the Democrat, Wilkinson said the trio’s statements were “out of line” and chastised them for supporting Yeomans in his independent campaign last year against Frangipane.
“The actions of these outgoing committee members is unfair, disloyal and sour grapes at its worst,” Wilkinson wrote. “Congratulations to the new Bethel Democratic Committee for their hard work and determination.”
In an interview with the Democrat, Wilkinson candidly remarked that the Bethel committee has been in need of “new blood, new ideas, new excitement and new energy.”
“In the long run, it’s a good thing,” he observed.
Steve White, a White Lake resident and co-founder of the New Bethel Democrats, hopes it will be, too, but he still wishes Wilkinson and the county party’s executive committee had reprimanded the trio last year when they put up Yeomans against Frangipane.
“To me, it was never about Denise Frangipane,” said White. “The wishes of the Democrats in Bethel were ignored, which the committee was obligated to follow.”
White actually didn’t vote in last year’s caucus that confirmed Frangipane as the preferred candidate, but when both the local and county committees declined to pursue the issue, he ended up taking his concerns to the state party level.
“I didn’t even get a response,” he lamented. “… But it just went against every sense of fairness. This time, I didn’t want to just accept it lying down.”
So he and Hyman gathered less than a dozen friends and supporters and launched an effort that eventually would include hundreds.
They solicited candidates to run for the committee seats this September 15, including White, but Hyman chose not to run himself so as to focus his efforts on getting those candidates elected.
“There was no litmus test,” said White. “We just wanted people of integrity who would put the work in and make the town a better place.”
Wrote Frangipane, “[The committee candidates] are unique individuals and independent thinkers who have come together, not for a personal agenda, but because they want to serve the Democratic Party in the Town of Bethel and Sullivan County, in an open and inclusive way. This is a critical shift away from the insular self-service that we have seen for many years.”
It’s an intentional shift, added Hyman.
“Our goal is not power, but we seek change,” he explained.
To that end, they’re open to the current committee members joining forces with them. After all, while Vassmer-Simpson may soon be off the committee, she’ll still be one of five town board members.
In Tuesday’s paper: How this all happened.
Wilkinson: Transition can begin
By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE Due to concerns that an easy transition may not come about on the Bethel Democratic Committee, Sullivan County Democratic Committee Chair Steve Wilkinson has authorized the to-be-seated committee members to begin their duties.
“The outgoing committee members’ terms will end ‘officially’ on September 15th,” Wilkinson wrote to New Bethel Democrats leader Jonathan Hyman earlier this week. “The eight weeks between accepting your designation and September 15th should have been the time to transition from the outgoing leadership to your new leadership. “Unfortunately, the outgoing committee members have indicated through their recent actions that engaging in a smooth transition will be difficult,” he wrote. “Therefore, the State Committee and the Sullivan County Democratic Committee recommend that you begin work as the Bethel Democratic Committee.”
That means the new leadership is authorized to write letters on official letterhead, conduct fundraisers for Democratic candidates, and otherwise represent themselves as the “incoming” committeepeople.
Wilkinson said the only paperwork that now needs to be completed by the outgoing committee is the responsibility of Treasurer Vicky Vassmer-Simpson, who must transfer the bank account, resign as treasurer and file a financial report to the state.
Should she not complete those duties, said Wilkinson (who dealt with a similar delay when he became treasurer of the county committee), “we’d have the NYS Board of Elections Campaign Finance people go after them.”