Rematch: 'Armstrong-Schiff II'
Incumbent touts initiative, team
By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff may be the one looking for votes, but he’s not looking for the only credit.
“Basically, I’m just the manager,” he said, lauding Undersheriff Eric Chaboty, Patrol Chief Art Hawker, Jail Supervisor Hal Smith and Civil Division leader Paul Trust. “... I don’t think there is a team around that can touch us. ... They are incredibly dedicated public servants.”
And Schiff is hoping the public agrees with him on Tuesday, when county residents will determine whether they want the Republican Schiff for another four years or switch to the Democratic candidate, Frank Armstrong.
This battle has played out before, with Schiff winning over Armstrong four years ago. He’s not resting on his laurels, though both he and Armstrong admit the ’09 race has been surprisingly low-key.
“We’re taking nothing for granted,” Schiff said. “... But it has been very quiet.”
A Liberty resident, husband and father of four, Schiff spent 27 years with the State Police before being elected to the Sheriff’s position in 2005.
Upon taking office, he made it a priority to reintroduce the DARE and K-9 programs (both of which he was personally involved in during his years with the state), and created a gang intelligence system, internal affairs bureau, crime tips and senior citizens hotlines, and a tactical response team.
That team, in fact, got outfitted with full gear thanks to a grant Schiff and crew applied for.
“We brought in the Los Angeles Police Department to do the initial training,” he recalled.
He’s worked on ensuring mutual aid from not only in-county agencies but neighboring counties’ police departments.
He’s beefed up the Sheriff’s Office’s Marine Unit, which patrols the numerous navigable waterways of the county (most often Swinging Bridge Reservoir). A useful but slow-moving pontoon boat, for example, has been supplemented by a speedboat and Jet Ski, with 75 percent of the funding being covered by New York State.
TRACS, the Traffic And Criminal Software computer program, was introduced to the Sheriff’s Office under Schiff’s watch, and a deputy’s cruiser was the first in the county to be outfitted with a plate reader, capable of instantly scanning license plates and checking them against a database of criminal activity.
Schiff would like to add more plate readers and other equipment to his force, but he’s cognizant of the costs and continues to seek grants and interagency cooperation.
“The county has no money for the programs we need,” he acknowledged.
That’s why he’s proud to point out that the Sheriff’s Office in the past four years has garnered more than $750,000 in grant funding.
While crime remains an ongoing battle, Schiff said his office has been successful in solving tough cases, thanking investigator Don Starner in particular for cracking cases many thought were unsolvable.
For example, Starner tracked down some gas station burglars men who had brandished a weapon against a clerk by noting their ski masks were the kind Wal-Mart sells. A review of Wal-Mart’s security tapes easily revealed the perpetrators.
“I’ve been very pleased with our closure rate,” Schiff affirmed.
The big challenge now, he said, is to get his deputies out of the 100-year-old jail and into better-paying jobs.
“It’s a hard place to work,” he noted, referring to a jail with no air-conditioning and a slew of criminals with nothing better to do than harass officers.
He doesn’t want to see taxes climb any more than other county residents, but he’s firm about the need for a new jail and a new patrol headquarters.
“We’ve already been involved, and we’ve already fought battles [for new buildings],” he remarked.
As for his opponent, Schiff dismisses some of his claims that the Sheriff’s Office needs new records management, but he also understands that “being a police officer is not a lifetime appointment.”
“You have to earn that every day,” said Schiff. “We want the people of the county to have confidence in the Sheriff’s Office not because we tell them to, but because we have transparency.”
Challenger feels he can do the best job
By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY When asked why he’s running for Sullivan County Sheriff, Frank Armstrong says the same thing he said four years ago:
“Because I can do the best job.”
Not enough voters agreed back in 2005, when Armstrong, a Democrat, lost to current incumbent Republican Sheriff Michael Schiff.
But Armstrong isn’t the kind of guy to be swayed by a loss. Indeed, he continues to promise that he’ll run for sheriff in 2013 even if he loses the race this year.
Raised in Briscoe and now living in Buck Brook, Armstrong attended Jeffersonville-Youngsville Central School.
He left the area for just four years, joining the Army in the midst of the Vietnam War. His final year in the service landed him in the South Pacific in the heart of battle. On the front lines, he earned a Silver Star, an Air Medal and other commendations before his honorable discharge.
Armstrong returned home in 1969, first taking a job as a carpenter and later a furniture maker in Hortonville.
He met and married the former Patty Golden of Monticello, and the couple began planning a family (they now have two grown children, Katie and Peter).
Armstrong’s decision to look for something more stable, coupled with the encouragement of his mother’s brother William, chief of police in Bayonne, NJ, sent him to join his brothers in blue.
His first job on the force was in Woodridge, where he spent a year as a patrolman before taking a position at the Monticello Police Department nearby.
In his 27 years in Monticello, Armstrong worked his way from patrolman to detective, eventually retiring as a sergeant.
While on the force, he started Operation Night Light, a grant-funded project that brought probation officers and the police together for after-hours visits to the homes of probationers.
It was a project that spread across the county for a time, an example Armstrong said speaks to his dedication to the concept of being proactive rather than reactive.
Probationers were made aware that they were subject to the same rules on Saturdays and Sundays as they were Monday through Friday, and the police got to know the residents in their area on probation.
He also ran seven times for public office, losing just once. As a former trustee in the Village of Jeffersonville and former mayor, he helped get rid of a court system that was a drag on the taxpayers. He helped bring in grant funding that took the burden of complying with the health department’s water regulations off of the taxpayers.
Armstrong served two years as a Town of Fremont justice. And he’s studied everything from nursing to liberal arts, even taken courses in grantwriting and journalism.
And with nearly three years under his belt as County Legislator for District 5 (Fremont, Callicoon and the western halves of the towns of Delaware and Liberty), Armstrong has never lost his zeal for hands-on community service particularly in law enforcement.
“What I want is an opportunity to do a job that I can do well,” he explained.
Already endorsed by the police chiefs in Monticello, Liberty and South Fallsburg (plus Teamsters Local 445), Armstrong is eager to create partnerships not just with his staff and area police departments, but with the diverse communities the Sheriff’s Office serves perhaps even creating a civilian police academy.
“The community is the big thing,” he affirmed, adding that he won’t take a raise until his first four years in office are complete so as to prove his fitness to the community.
As for his opponent, Armstrong didn’t sling mud instead, he simply reiterated that he’s the better choice.
“I believe I can provide the same level of services more efficiently and less expensively without losing personnel or interrupting services,” he explained.
For more information, visit www.electfrankarmstrong.com.
Reporter Jeanne Sager contributed to this article.