Contributed Photo | Democrat Photo | D. Hust
RON HIATT, A Democrat, left, is being challenged by Bob Kunis for the Legislative District 8 seat, a position both men have served.
Four Years After Being Ousted by Hiatt, Kunis Challenges Incumbent
Incumbent Hiatt Seeks to Promote Policy Over Politics
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO October 26, 2007 Ron Hiatt’s life often reads like a film script.
Born in Michigan and raised in New York’s Mohawk Valley, Hiatt spent five years in the Air Force, flying jets as an executive officer in the Strategic Air Command “waiting for the Russians,” he said.
He left in 1975 at the rank of captain and set out across America, trying various jobs, but even with a bachelor’s in political science, nothing could hold his interest for very long.
He came back east and earned his attorney’s stripes at the New York Law School, working inside the now-gone World Trade Center in Manhattan.
It was then, however, that he found a job in Liberty with David Cohen, which soon led to a role as the first full-time assistant county attorney for Social Services.
There he started the Alternatives to Incarceration Program “still going strong,” he’s proud to say.
But after two years, he branched out on his own, setting up a private practice, raising two daughters, Halley and Jenna, along the way.
However, the rigors of that job especially when trying to settle matrimonial issues sent him back to the county, this time as managing attorney for the Division of Health and Family Services.
The lifelong Democrat found himself on the wrong side of the fence in 2002, losing his job when Republicans gained the upper hand in the County Legislature.
A year later, he was asked by local Democrats to run against then-District 8 Legislator Bob Kunis and he said “no.”
“Believe me, I declined several times,” he recalled with a laugh. “I never really had much to do with politics.”
But he did agree with other Democrats that the Legislature wasn’t headed in the right direction, so he eventually accepted the nomination and subsequently won the right to represent thousands of people living in the northern sections of the Town of Thompson and the Village of Monticello, along with a southern portion of the Town of Fallsburg.
That was in 2003. Four years later, District 8 Legislator Ron Hiatt has no qualms about asking voters to make the same choice twice.
“I have not been sitting on my hands,” the 59-year-old Monticello resident said.
Ironically, he’s facing Kunis all over again, though this time Hiatt’s the incumbent, running on the Democratic and Conservative lines and endorsed by the Sheriff’s PBA.
“Mr. Kunis, from what I can determine, thinks from the other side,” Hiatt remarked, referring to his impression that Kunis emphasizes the financial bottom line. “For me, the bottom line isn’t money, it’s people… What’s the government for, if not to help out the citizenry?”
So what has Hiatt done for his constituents? He lists the Human Rights Commission, the Discount Prescription Drug Program, and the Boys and Girls Club of Sullivan County as significant achievements he helped create.
He’s pushed for fiscal accountability, happy to see that the man he helped hire, County Manager David Fanslau, is implementing a performance-based budgeting system.
He’s also in favor of “greening” county facilities with solar panels and would like to see the leaders of the county get together more often and more openly to strategize for the future.
“There are no state secrets,” he said, though he admitted legislators sometimes get too political.
And what of the county landfill in Monticello, which has turned out to be the defining debate of this local election season?
“We stopped importation,” he pointed out, and odor complaints have dropped from about 100 a month to near zero. Plus, better monitoring and maintenance of the landfill have solved numerous other problems, he said.
But didn’t he campaign four years ago to shut it down?
“I thought we could,” he said but democracy got in the way. “The votes just aren’t there.”
Aware that many of his fellow legislators believe residents throughout the county don’t want the landfill closed, he’s become an advocate for recycling, urging companies to reduce the amount of packaging used with their products and for landfill users to properly sort their trash.
“I represent the whole county,” Hiatt remarked. “Taking the landfill away isn’t ultimately the answer it’s an enforcement issue.”
But he’s still hopeful landfill operations will end.
“You know what? They’re running out of space,” he explained. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t stop it, recycle what we can and ship the garbage out… But their best bet to shut it down is the lawsuit that’s pending.”
After all, he loves Sullivan County as much as anyone, especially when cruising with wife Coleen in his convertible along the sunlit hills or flying over them in his locally-based plane.
Indeed, Hiatt is known for a dapper sense of style acknowledging, however, that there must be substance behind it.
“You should look good, as well as be good,” he said.
Native Eager To Return to Legislature
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Bob Kunis is ready to make his return to the Sullivan County Legislature.
Losing his District 8 Legislator seat to current incumbent Ron Hiatt in 2003 simply gave him more motivation, especially now that there’s a four-year record to analyze.
“My opponent and [District 9 Legislator] Sam Wohl got elected on a one-issue campaign: to close the landfill,” Kunis said. “They’ve failed miserably.”
With a promise to succeed in that and other endeavors, Kunis, 65, is campaigning on the Republican and People’s Choice lines to serve the northern section of the Town of Thompson and a southern portion of the Town of Fallsburg.
In every sense of the word, that’s home. Born in Monticello and raised in South Fallsburg, Kunis was part of the second class to graduate from the then-new Monticello High School.
He’s lived in Monticello for the past 40 years, leaving only to earn a master’s in special education and work at Northern Westchester BOCES.
For 18 years, he rose through the ranks at Sullivan County BOCES, but in 1986 he decided to enter the world of for-profit businesses, owning and operating Catskill Beverage in Liberty until 1999.
He also began Smoker’s Choice with his two sons, Darin and Brent, expanding it to 17 stores in a 150-mile radius before selling it in 2001.
Today he owns three ice cream stores Frosty Rock Creamery in Monticello, Middletown and New Paltz, and he’s developing a wholesale ice cream cake business while also raising 17-year-old daughter Jordan with his wife, Judy, a speech pathologist at Monticello Central School.
But his professional duties are part-time only, and Kunis promised he’ll be available to meet voters’ needs for the next four years just like he was in the eight years (1995-2003) that he served as the very first District 8 Legislator.
“I like being involved, in facing the challenge of upgrading what we have now,” he said. “…I have an emotional tie to an area that was once the premier stop for everyone who wanted to vacation. Now it’s on its knees… and I really don’t want to remember it this way.”
To that end, he’s proposing a renewed focus on commercial development, pointing out his successful efforts in helping to attract companies like Kohl’s, Ideal Snacks and Formaggio Cheese to the county, not to mention the Emerald Corporate Park, which introduced Crystal Run Healthcare to many a local.
He also recalled forming JET the Joint Economic Team to work with various agencies in a collective effort to spur economic development.
“That’s my thing that’s what I do,” he explained, citing his own business experiences. “When you’re in business, you have to do anything you can to increase business.”
But to Kunis, the county landfill in Monticello is not good business.
“I think the landfill has to be closed, finished, done, over,” he remarked. “… The time has come for Sullivan County to seriously look for alternate means for dealing with waste management.”
Kunis said he’s been to other landfills where recycling reigns, and he’s advocating for the same here rather than “the colossal failure we have right now.”
He’s long been critical of county government and the related politics, even controversially switching from the Democratic to the Republican parties in his second term in office. That passion hasn’t cooled.
“Everything’s being decided in Democratic caucuses,” he complained.
Regarding his own district, he’s in favor of restoring Monticello to a position of respect and vitality.
“The heartbeat of the county should be the county seat,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anywhere near the potential it should be.”
That’s why he’s an advocate for consolidating the village into the Town of Thompson “another way to lessen the tax burden.”
Kunis, of course, supports casinos, but he feels the matter is out of locals’ hands right now. Still, he’s optimistic.
“It’s going to help revitalize the area,” he said. “You’re going to see spinoff businesses that… will employ people.
“You’ll see an influx of the middle-class that we haven’t had in a long time.”
Kunis is also keen on trimming county government.
“I’m not afraid of the word ‘layoffs.’ I think what you have to do is re-evaluate staffing… Don’t ever tell me, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it,’” he explained, though he admitted, “I haven’t looked at the entire picture, so I really don’t know.”
Still, his platform is “to make government more efficient,” and Kunis who is proud to be an ex-Rotarian, member of the NAACP and the Fallsburg Synagogue, and a self-avowed “gym rat” is very much aware of voters’ wishes and endorsements from organizations including the Pipe and Steamfitters Union.
“I think it’s important for legislators to be very proactive for the people they represent,” he pointed out. “…They’re not putting me there to vegetate.”