KATHY LABUDA, A Democrat, is being challenged by Charlie Penna, a Republican, for the District 2 Legislator position in Sullivan County.
Penna, Seeking Higher Office, Challenges LaBuda For District 2 Seat
For Incumbent, It's All About the People
By Dan Hust
WURTSBORO October 23, 2007 In sheer size and geography, District 2 County Legislator Kathleen LaBuda has one of the largest areas to cover and one of the toughest to get around in.
The district she’s represented for two four-year terms on the Sullivan County Legislature includes only the southwestern third of her home Town of Mamakating, while encompassing all of the townships of Forestburgh, Lumberland and Highland.
It used to cover Tusten, too, until redistricting took that away from her.
Still, the Wurtsboro resident has to climb hill and dale to visit her constituency, and there’s not a single route that allows her to stay in her district while doing so.
“My district is 50 miles door-to-door,” she said, then added proudly, “I cannot tell you how many constituents, especially senior citizens in Highland, say they’ve never seen a county legislator around more.”
But forget about geography what about representing people so spread out from one another?
“I look at the whole picture what’s best for the entire county,” said LaBuda.
So, for example, she supports two casinos, but not in her district, where residents have clearly expressed no desire for them.
“People in my district don’t want factories or casinos,” she pointed out.
Such a balancing act has become part and parcel of LaBuda’s political life, yet she makes no bones about where she stands on key issues.
“The landfill does not belong in the Town of Thompson,” she acknowledged, “but I didn’t put it there.”
And she’s not in favor of shutting it down.
“Where are you going to go with your trash if we close this facility?” she asked, referencing landfill-dependent programs like Litterpluck, Tire Amnesty and Hazardous Waste Day. “We have the best staff down there… and we’re going to manage it to the best of our ability.”
Those are more than just words from the woman who chairs the Legislature’s Public Works Committee, which oversees the Division of Public Works (DPW), including the landfill.
“I was the first woman appointed to chair the DPW committee,” she explained.
Believing DPW issues had long been mismanaged before she became involved, LaBuda said she’s “happy we cleaned up corruption” referring to the DPW scandal last year that resulted in the firings, resignations and even imprisonment of top DPW officials.
LaBuda herself was a target of blackmail during that time but emerged unscathed.
“I want young people to look and say that there are politicians who are doing their jobs,” she remarked.
To that end, she’s now overseeing the beginning stages of siting and building a new county jail and is proud to say that she helped retain DPW employees by not taking a raise due her nor letting vacant positions be filled.
“Now we’re running smoothly with less,” she stated without layoffs.
The Democratic majority leader since her re-election in 2003, LaBuda also takes credit for helping dedicate $100,000 to stopping the NYRI powerlines, pushing through legislation allowing county vans to transport seniors to medical appointments in Orange County, permitting local volunteer fire departments to purchase fuel at the DPW’s bulk rate, bringing a Boys and Girls Club to Sullivan County, and increasing the sales tax so as to give more funding to the Sheriff’s Road Patrol and gang response.
She’s also proud to be a lifelong Democrat, chairing Mamakating’s Democratic Committee for the past six years and running on that and the Working Families line in her third bid for office.
LaBuda is also president of the local American Legion’s ladies auxiliary, is a member of the Catskill Mountain chapter of Business and Professional Women, serves on the board of the Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless, and has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Hudson Valley Building and Construction Trades Council and the Laborers Local 17.
“I have to work hard,” she remarked. “I’m a Democrat in a Republican district.”
And she doesn’t have the kindest words for her Republican challenger, Mamakating Supervisor Charlie Penna.
“What has Mr. Penna done in his four years as supervisor? He’s divided our community,” she said. “It’s a disgrace because we’re supposed to be working together … and I don’t want him to be dividing the whole county.”
Born and initially raised on Long Island, LaBuda came to Forestburgh at age 13, graduated from Monticello High School and spent two years in Orange County Community College’s nursing program.
She worked at the old Hamilton Avenue Hospital in Monticello for a time but as a switchboard operator, in between stints as a waitress at the Concord and Kutsher’s.
Then she met her husband, current County Court Judge Frank LaBuda, and they’ve spent the past two decades raising son Marc, daughter Erika and stepsons Adam and Kurt.
One day, LaBuda may fulfill her nursing dream, but for now, she’s set on continuing in the one job she never thought she would undertake: county legislator.
“My constituents have made it worth it,” she observed. “I’m doing this because I know I’m making a difference for their future.
“It’s about the people,” she continued, adding a promise not just to the people of her district but all the inhabitants of Sullivan County:
“I always listen.”
Penna Wants Bigger Stage for 'Fighting Style' of Politics
By Dan Hust
WURTSBORO Perhaps there’s no more controversial figure in local politics today than Charlie Penna.
His outspoken style has gained him fame both good and bad beyond the borders of his home township of Mamakating, although the town hall in Wurtsboro continues to be the scene of most of his battles.
Now the 64-year-old supervisor is looking to take that fighting spirit to the Sullivan County Legislature, as Penna’s the Republican and Independence candidate running against District 2 incumbent Democrat Kathleen LaBuda.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Penna is a 30-year resident of the Town of Mamakating, moving to Sullivan County “for a more peaceful way of life and a better place to raise kids.”
His oldest son Robert, a West Point graduate, is now employed as a civilian in Washington, D.C., while his younger son, Edward, works for BMW. Daughter Alice is an environmental attorney working on the new Giants Stadium. All graduated from John S. Burke Catholic High School in Orange County.
Penna’s also a two-time grandfather, but he has few expectations that any of his descendants will return to the area.
“Our young people have no future,” he said of local job prospects. “It’s kind of rough, but no one wants to hear the truth about it.”
His concerns about unemployment, drug abuse and taxes led him to leave the relatively quiet confines of the town highway department where he spent 29 years climbing the ranks from mechanic to foreman to run for office.
At first, he ran for highway superintendent but lost. About a decade later, however, he was successful in his bid for town supervisor.
“It was a chance to try to give something back,” he recalled.
But after four years at Mamakating’s helm, Penna feels ready to tackle the same issues on a larger, countywide scale, representing a district that encompasses all of the towns of Highland, Lumberland, Forestburgh and just the southwestern third of Mamakating.
“I feel I represent the husband and wife who both have to go to work to pay these high taxes,” he explained.
And why should they (or anyone else) vote for him? Penna ticked off a list that included creating the first soccer and basketball leagues in Mamakating along with other youth activities, helping form the second-generation town disaster plan, garnering a cell tower that sits on town property and has generated $75,000 for the Parks and Recreation Department, raising money to pave Sullivan Street in Wurtsboro and fixing Westbrookville’s flooding problems all with the invaluable help of the town board, he added.
He’s proudest of his commitment to youth, arguing that government needs to be more focused on retaining and attracting younger residents.
But to do that, Penna said, “we have to become more business-friendly.
“Everyone wants clean, environmentally-friendly businesses,” he acknowledged. “We all breathe the same air but we have to become more competitive.
“…Many of our problems can be solved by bringing in business.”
To do so, however, he advocates for getting the state and county out of local politics. Instead of assessing a burdensome amount of taxes on companies and homeowners, Penna hopes to effect a change towards a “how can we help you succeed?” attitude.
“We have to do something,” he said, pointing out the 16 empty storefronts in Wurtsboro. “Property taxes are killing them in these towns.”
But he insists he’s not desirous of destroying the local landscape just to situate industry in the area. As a matter of fact, he’s for the closure of the landfill in Monticello, planning to seek that very thing within a year of taking office.
“Those men could be better utilized in recycling programs,” Penna stated.
Still, there’s no question about his priorities.
“Right now our children are the endangered species, not our environment,” he related. “…Nature is our strongest strength.”
That stance has often pitted him against those who believe Mamakating’s natural resources are in grave danger of damage from commercial and residential development.
Penna considers many of his detractors to be “extremists” who represent groups with narrow-minded agendas.
And that’s where his fighting spirit comes into play.
“It’s my home,” he stated. “They ain’t going to run me out of town.”
Endorsed by the Sullivan County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) and Teamsters Local 445, Penna feels he can bring to the County Legislature a renewed focus on taxpayers’ concerns.
“Kathy [LaBuda] is backed by these special interest groups,” he claimed, though he acknowledged that “she’s a good person.”
“I just feel I’m more capable, and I think both our records speak for themselves,” he added. “Everything I said I’d do four years ago I’ve accomplished. I’ve kept my promises.”