Contributed Photo | Democrat Photo| Dan Hust
DEMOCRAT SAM WOHL, left, is facing Alan Sorensen, a Republican, in the election for District 9 Legislator.
In District 9, Landfill Is One Major Issue
Wohl, a Lifelong Resident, is Ready to Work
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO October 23, 2007 Sixty-six years ago, Sam Wohl was born in Sullivan County.
He’s been here ever since.
Save for a short stint going to high school in Florida, Wohl hasn’t spent more than a few vacations outside the county’s borders.
“I love it. This will always be home,” he explains.
The first two decades of his life were spent in Fallsburg, while the past four have been in Monticello working for the family business originally Star Dairy, based in South Fallsburg, then Yasgur Farms in Rock Hill.
Earlier this year, the company was sold to Marcus Dairy in Connecticut, but don’t presume Wohl’s retired.
“I’m a workaholic,” he admits. “At one point in time, I worked three jobs.”
Nowadays, he focuses more on Automatic Merchandising, a vending company catering to Sullivan County’s businesses.
“It keeps me young, 143 pounds and vigorous,” he adds with a smile.
But Wohl’s main job is as Sullivan County Legislator for District 9 and campaigning to keep it. The district covers the southern and eastern portions of the Town of Thompson and the Village of Monticello, and Wohl’s four-year term as a Democrat is being challenged by Republican Alan Sorensen in one of the most closely-watched races of the season.
Despite that, Wohl isn’t interested in talking about his opponent.
“I’m running on my record,” he says. “…If you can’t run on merit, you shouldn’t be in it.”
That record includes chairing the Industrial Development Agency (IDA), where Wohl’s proud to say he had a hand in bringing in or expanding 31 new businesses and creating more than 2,500 jobs.
“I’m an economic development kind of guy,” he explains. “I just know what the area needs: jobs.”
He’s also a “major proponent” of the Boys and Girls Club of Sullivan County (sitting on the steering committee) and the green technology park slated for Sullivan County Community College.
He’s helped establish the Human Rights Commission and the Consumer Protection Program, increased services to veterans, and upped the fuel reimbursement rate for drivers in the Retired Seniors and Volunteers Program (RSVP).
And then there are really big issues, like casinos.
“I’ve been a proponent of casinos since the day they started and still am,” he adds.
A regular visitor to Atlantic City and Las Vegas (where daughter Robin lives), Wohl sees a need for not just casinos but lodging in Sullivan County.
“Every time I go to Vegas, there’s a new hotel,” he says. “We can’t be a resort destination with no place to stay.”
While he’s a fan of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (“I don’t miss a show”), Wohl sees the need for more year-round attractions.
“The key to the hotel business is the occupancy rate,” he points out. “What do you do here from October through May?”
Wohl’s been staying busy himself, though, working on a master’s after 13 years of part-time enrollment at SCCC.
He hopes to put that education to use to consolidate services and maybe even find a way to erase the sore spot that is the county landfill which sits in his district.
Then again, wasn’t he supposed to have done something about that by now?
“I never said I’d close the landfill,” he clarified of statements he made before his first election. “Citizens need a place to put their garbage.”
He added that “everyone can add, and two doesn’t beat seven” referencing his and District 8 Legislator Ron Hiatt’s votes as compared to seven other legislators whose constituencies aren’t as passionate about shutting down the landfill.
However, Wohl is quick to point out that “before I was in office six months, importation was gone.
“…I’ve voted against any resolution to fund the landfill, expand it or do anything for it,” he adds. “And I think the landfill is headed for closure. Forget what the Legislature wants; there’s no area that wants it.
“And they’re right,” he says of those opposed to the landfill. “It shouldn’t be the first thing you see when you enter the county seat.”
Wohl says he’s ready to “bite the bullet” on taxes if that will fix the problem.
“All we do is fix problems,” he explains of his role, “and if you fix problems, it’s gratifying.”
Wohl, however, has done a bit more than fix problems with wife of 19 years Honora, he’s raised a son, Scott, and daughters Robin and Susan, who have given the couple three grandchildren.
He’s volunteered with AYSO soccer and proudly serves on the board of Temple Sholom in Monticello, along with being a member of the Monticello Elks, Rotary and Sullivan Striders.
Running on the Democratic and Working Families lines, he hopes residents of District 9 will allow him to continue a job he feels he’s done well.
“I think this county is in pretty good shape,” he says. “We’ve kept taxes at a minimum, and we’ve maintained services. What else is there?”
Sorensen's Trump Card is Experience
By Dan Hust
ROCK HILL As a professional planner, Alan Sorensen is often called upon to chart the future of development in communities around the Hudson Valley.
Yet the natural, unspoiled beauty of the area is what drew him to Sullivan County in the first place.
“I feel very strongly about conservation and environmental protection,” he relates. “As a planner, I’m used to balancing those competing interests… I’m very pragmatic in my decision-making.”
And he hopes to bring that skill to the Sullivan County Legislature, as the 42-year-old former SC Planning Commissioner is the Republican, Independence and Conservative candidate for the District 9 seat currently held by Democrat Sam Wohl.
While a longtime Republican, Sorensen considers himself a moderate in all his decision-making.
“I’m not held to one philosophical belief,” he explains. “I’m absolutely not bound by the party leadership. I’m willing to think out of the box.
“The role of a legislator is as a public servant, not a politician.”
Sorensen’s been a public servant for quite some time. Born and raised in rural upstate Otsego County, he earned a bachelor’s in geography and anthropology from SUNY Oneonta before gaining a master’s in city and regional planning from Rutgers and another in public administration from Pace University, where he graduated at the top of his class.
Now a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), he’s spent his professional years working for the cities of Palm Bay, Florida and Yonkers, New York.
He also worked in the public and private sectors in Westchester County, where he came to the attention of Sullivan County officials. (Thanks to frequent trips to visit his grandfather in New Jersey, Sorensen already was familiar with the county, especially the routes 97 and 42 corridors.)
In March of 1997, Sorensen was chosen by legislators to be the county’s commissioner of planning and community development, and he spent the next seven years nurturing the Main Street Redevelopment Program (renovating over 150 facades), reviewing and commenting on development plans across the county, founding the Emerald Corporate Center, and assisting in the creation of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway and senior housing rehabilitation programs.
“It was an opportunity to come back to my roots in upstate New York,” he recalls. “The thing I love about Sullivan County is that it has a very beautiful natural environment, yet it’s close to the city… I felt it was a better environment in which to raise my children.”
Daughter Jaclynn, 10, was born to Sorensen and his wife of 18 years, Jane, two months after moving to Rock Hill. (The couple also are the proud parents of Christopher, 15, and Sara, 7.)
But for Sorensen, meeting a challenge head-on has always been what energizes him.
“I also felt it was a community that needed a planner who could make a difference,” he says. “…I was raised with a sense of community, that neighbors help neighbors.”
And that’s what eventually led to his bid for NYS Assembly to represent the area, losing to Aileen Gunther in 2003.
“So I decided I wanted to pursue private practice,” he relates, and thus his consulting business, Planit Main Street, was born.
But the public sector came calling again, and soon he was recruited to set up a statewide main street program similar to what he had founded in Sullivan County.
Governor George Pataki’s administration named Sorensen its Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, where he spent over a year plying his skills statewide, winning the State Historic Preservation Office’s Public Sector Achievement Award in the process.
But the time away from family caused him to reconsider the Albany post, and so he dived full-time into Planit Main Street, run out of his home in Rock Hill. Today, he’s got another office in Mountaindale and 10 main clients throughout the Hudson Valley, along with dozens of other projects for which he’s needed for specific advice.
Most work, however, continues to be of a municipal nature, and Sorensen hasn’t stopped feeling the call of public service.
“The decisions the county makes have a direct impact on our future,” he explains. “And I have every intention of retiring here.”
In view of such plans, Sorensen is firm: the landfill needs to be shut down, and the county needs to take the time to properly develop a solid waste management plan that enforces recycling.
“It’s easy to put off this problem to the next generation, but it will probably only grow and become worse,” he states. “It’s a matter of principle the government is established to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare… [and this] is in direct conflict with that public purpose.”
While Sorensen admits he doesn’t have all the answers to the county’s problems, he said he’s ready “to roll up my sleeves” not just on the landfill but on ensuring open government (even advocating for evening legislative meetings that are videotaped and broadcast on the Internet), fighting the expansion of Route 17’s Exit 110 (which he feels would damage communities like Emerald Green, where he’s the homeowners’ association president) and thoroughly assessing and mitigating the impacts of casinos (which he supports).
“I want to be the legislator that truly represents the people,” he says, calling incumbent Sam Wohl “a nice person” who’s a little too tied to special interest groups