Bethel Dems get complete makeover
By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE What remains unclear is why Colleen Cunningham, Vicky Vassmer-Simpson and Ted Yeomans initially tried and failed to gain enough signatures on the petitions required to put them on the September 15 ballot, an election in which the registered Democrats of Bethel choose who will serve on the Bethel Democratic Committee.
Yeomans, running with Debra Gabriel, collected just six of the needed 15 signatures. Cunningham and Vassmer-Simpson got the minimum 19 required, but four names were invalidated for either listing an inaccurate address or living in a district other than the one served by Cunningham and Vassmer-Simpson.
Had they not faced any opposition from the New Bethel Democrats group, an insufficient amount of signatures would not have been an obstacle to remaining on the committee.
But not only did the New Bethel Democrats challenge the trio’s petitions, they mounted their own committee candidates.
And since Steve White, Barry Kula, Gail Rubenfeld, Bernie Cohen, Brendan Ference and Dawn Ryder submitted petitions that had more than enough signatures, Cunningham, Vassmer-Simpson, Gabriel and Yeomans found themselves past the petition-submission deadline without the needed signatures and thus soon to be off the committee.
“No one has ever come in and cleaned house like that,” observed Sullivan County Democratic Elections Commissioner Faith Kaplan.
The only incumbent Bethel committeeperson to get enough petition signatures was Larysa Dyrszka, who has aligned herself with the goals of the New Bethel Democrats.
“I think they have innovative ideas,” she said last week, lauding the group in particular for its transparency and inclusiveness. “I found them to be exactly what they say, and they are very intelligent people.”
Dyrszka, who has served as a Bethel Democratic committeeperson since being appointed by Cunningham in 2007, felt her current committee colleagues are largely intelligent, as well, but she was continually disappointed in their approach to the job.
“The organization of the committee was lacking,” she explained. “Meetings would be called on occasion, and more than were called were cancelled.”
She also saw little direct communication with the township’s Democratic faithful.
“It was a disjointed group,” she said of the committee.
On the other hand, she’s excited about the direction the New Bethel Democrats will take.
“It does represent a cross-section of different people… [and] we’re hoping we will be able to work together with inclusiveness,” Dyrszka related. “I think we’re going to move forward as a new committee.”
With that in mind, at least three Democrats are aiming to bridge the gap between “old” and “new.”
Benji Friehling, a young White Lake resident and businessman, has been endorsed by the outgoing committee leadership and feels he’s on good terms with the incoming leadership.
“I seem to have support on all ends,” he remarked last week.
How’d he manage that feat?
“I’m a new body, a new candidate,” the town board aspirant explained. “I don’t have a history with any of these people. I’m just trying to get on the board.”
Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm, who is running for re-election in the fall, is also seeking to straddle that fence.
“I’m hoping the Democrats will all unify behind good Democratic candidates,” he remarked.
But he gingerly stepped around specific questions on the division in the party, only noting that he himself resigned from the committee in June in order to focus on his campaign.
Like Yeomans, Cunningham and Vassmer-Simpson, Tax Collector Debra Gabriel did not collect enough signatures to place her on the September 15 ballot.
However, she’s been asked to remain on the committee by the New Bethel Democrats, who plan to appoint her to a committee post after the election. Gabriel, who agreed to the appointment just last week, is also running for re-election as tax collector this November.
Highway Superintendent Lynden Lilley, another Democrat up for re-election, also resigned as a committeeman earlier this year, but he did not return a call for comment.