Richard "Rick" Lander of Narrowsburg and Scott Samuelson of White Lake are squaring off for the Legislative District #1 seat.
The open seat
Samuelson: Eager to bring fresh ideas
By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE Scott Samuelson isn’t so sure being the District 1 Legislator is harder than actually campaigning to be the District 1 Legislator.
“It’s daunting!” he says of the constant schedule of door-to-door visits, media interviews and campaign functions.
But he’s hoping that visibility and drive will be rewarded by voters in November, who will choose either Samuelson, a Democrat, or his Republican challenger, Rick Lander, to replace retiring District 1 Legislator David Sager.
“I don’t have any trepidation about the job itself,” Samuelson assures.
In fact, he’s eager to introduce his non-partisan, team-member style to his potential future colleagues.
“My goal has always been to bring people together and look at the issues and figure out a way to get around them,” he explains.
Born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, Samuelson studied mechanical drafting before graduating from a technical high school, but he chose to pursue his love of the arts.
Moving to New York City at 19, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and found work in the summer stock and dinner theatre worlds.
In 1980 he met his husband Eddie Dudek, and the two purchased a small home in Sullivan County the following year.
Finding they were spending more and more time upstate, Samuelson and Dudek decided to open a bed-and-breakfast, settling on a dilapidated hotel in White Lake in 1984.
After renting out adjoining bungalows, the pair opened the Bradstan in 1991 and turned it into a beloved B&B and cabaret.
Meanwhile, Samuelson found himself ever more involved in the community: chairing the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce Board, founding the Sullivan County Business Association, coordinating the Sullivan County Community College Foundation’s annual fundraising gala and leading the college’s Dormitory Corporation, and serving as treasurer on the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP).
He also got involved with the county’s Casino Advisory Committee, the Red Cross, the March of Dimes, WJFF and the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance.
Now at 54, Samuelson is a sales associate for Chapin Sotheby’s International Realty, selling properties in the uber-luxurious Chapin Estate. He and Dudek continue to operate the Bradstan as a B&B and live there full-time.
Earlier this year, he was approached by local Democrats to run, and he’s already started attending Legislature meetings.
“I would like very much to take the experience I have and utilize it to make our community a better place to live,” he explains.
For one, he’d aim to build on the county’s existing opportunities.
“We’re always looking outside ourselves to find the answer,” he explains. “... I personally believe the county’s strengths lie in tourism, agriculture and healthcare. Those are the places we always seem to do well.”
Healthcare, he remarks, is a job producer, while tourism attracts people to the region, and ag keeps the county’s natural beauty intact.
At least two can sometimes be combined, he feels.
“In today’s market, agritourism has a place, and I don’t think we’ve explored that enough.”
He’s also interested in local downtowns.
“Our main streets obviously need help,” he affirms, specifically looking at Broadway in Monticello. “Why are all those stores that empty?”
Using his business and tourism experience, Samuelson would like to turn Monticello and other struggling downtowns into “quaint destinations” that serve both locals and visitors alike.
However, the territory he’ll represent if elected covers the towns of Bethel, Delaware, Cochecton and Tusten, and he admits he’s more familiar with Bethel than the rest.
“I’m learning more and more about the issues in Delaware, Cochecton and Tusten,” he explains.
Gas drilling is a dominant concern, but he recognizes that not everyone shares the same stance.
“I don’t know how it fits,” he admits, but adds that from what he now knows, he could not support it in good conscience, even with the promise of more jobs for locals. “I have grave concerns about the reality of what those jobs are.”
He’s particularly worried about the injection of chemicals into the ground and how drilling might affect the area’s rural character.
“We should hold the gas companies’ feet to the fire [and ask them], ‘How are you going to guarantee that we won’t suffer those negatives?’”
In the meantime, he recognizes the county’s fiscal difficulties especially when it comes to delivering county government services.
“We have a two percent tax cap,” he notes. “Yet all the departments have to be somewhat intact to do the jobs they have to do.”
He firmly believes the way to provide those services without further burdening taxpayers is to expand the tax base by attracting more year-round business, including a convention center.
He recalls the Bradstan’s business jumped when conventions used to come to the Concord in Kiamesha Lake even with all the rooms offered at the famous Borscht Belt hotel.
He knows Louis Cappelli’s plans for the Concord’s resurrection include a convention center, but he’d like to woo a developer committed just to that idea.
For year-rounders, he’s interested in creating affordable workforce housing.
He’s also in favor of casino gaming but believes the county must bring its constituents together including second homeowners and weekenders to discuss the future.
“I love the people who are involved in the economic development groups,” he says. “They’re good people ... but they’re operating without a goal, in my opinion. It’s ‘whatever we can get,’ whether it makes sense or not.”
Samuelson is running on the Democratic and Working Families lines, and he has no plans to trash his opponent.
“Rick Lander is a fine gentleman,” he says. “His community service is evident, as is mine. ... He’s a good guy we just have different ideas about certain things. I think mine are better.”
Samuelson, however, admits he hasn’t got all the answers, but he’s willing to work on the challenges.
“We have to take it one step at a time.”
Lander feels: 'I can help'
By Dan Hust
NARROWSBURG If you’ve heard of or taken Lander’s River Trips, you’ve seen the work of businessman Richard “Rick” Lander.
The Narrowsburg High School and Fairfield University accounting graduate has been involved in the family business his entire 55 years and now owns its various components: Ten Mile River Enterprises, Lander’s River Trips, and Lander’s RiverMart and Café in Callicoon, comprising four campgrounds and nine riverside locations.
Due to weather and the recession, his businesses which rely heavily on tourists have struggled.
“April and May and September and October are no longer what they used to be,” he laments. “Our tourism has been very flat for the past 10 years. ... We’re all hoping it will increase, but it hasn’t.”
It’s a plight many business owners and farmers in Sullivan County have endured as well.
“I think it’s very tough on farmers,” Lander observes. “They’re working their butts off and don’t seem to be getting ahead.”
And he worries what that will do to their progeny.
“In this economy, I question whether the viability of coming back and taking over a family business is there,” he wonders. “Government keeps beating down the small business.”
All this has prompted him to mount a run for District 1 Legislator. Running on the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines, he’s hoping to replace retiring Legislator David Sager in representing the townships of Tusten, Cochecton, Delaware and Bethel.
Indeed, he and Democratic opponent Scott Samuelson have been at several recent legislative meetings to jumpstart the learning process.
“I honestly feel we’re in bad shape in the county, and I think I can help,” Lander explains. “I know a lot of the players, and I think one of the biggest problems with the county now is they need to get together and work together.”
Lander, in fact, would eagerly embrace the resurrection of the Board of Supervisors, which was the Legislature’s predecessor until 1995.
As Tusten’s supervisor from 1985-1991, he sat on that board.
“I would be happy to see the Legislature allow it to get back on the ballot,” he affirms. “I think people were a lot closer to their representatives then.”
But he’s running for the Legislature as it exists now, so Lander plans to foster cooperation and communication.
“I think we need to figure out what the future of the county is,” he says.
That includes economic development, he adds: a Target or Bon-Ton in Monticello or Liberty, the proposed Yukiguni mushroom factory in Wurtsboro, more health care facilities, and a focus on aiding existing small businesses.
“We tend to hold them back through our planning boards and so forth,” Lander assesses.
He supports the efforts of the county’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) and Partnership for Economic Development although he disagrees with the IDA’s granting of tax abatements to the Millennium Pipeline several years ago and wants to hold the agency more accountable on job creation.
Though it’s a hot topic in District 1, Lander is also in favor of gas drilling.
“As long as it is done safely, I think it’s an opportunity for the county to get ahead,” he says. “We’re talking thousands of jobs.”
Others, however, worry it could bring environmental consequences.
“My business is related around clean air, clean water,” Lander replies. “If the water gets polluted, I’m out of here.
“On the same token,” he adds, “if something doesn’t come to Sullivan County, I’m out of here, because the taxes are getting excessive.”
Drilling, he feels, promises to put some tax-exempt properties back on the tax rolls, without harming open spaces or the rural character.
“They only use trucks in the drilling process,” he points out. “I tell you one thing: there are less trucks on the roads today than there were here 30 years ago.”
He doesn’t believe there’s much the county or the townships have authority to do about drilling, and he’s not in favor of risking the lawsuits that may come with the zoning bans some townships are now exploring.
“I don’t think it’s legal what they are doing,” he says.
Lander acknowledges there may not be enough viable gas here to interest the industry, “but I’m just looking for avenues on how to survive in Sullivan County.”
He considers gambling even more unlikely with the current state of the economy, though he does support its legalization as a better alternative than tax-exempt Native American casinos.
Lander questions whether the county should be running a solid waste system or a nursing home, open to exploring whether the private sector can do a better job.
He doesn’t want to see the Adult Care Center disappear but is adamant that the occupancy rate must increase and improvements must be made.
As for county workers, “the morale of labor unions in Sullivan County is probably at the lowest level we’ve ever seen.”
He’d like to address that, in part, by shifting employees from garbage duties to other areas in the Division of Public Works.
That could be part of a five-year plan Lander espouses.
“There needs to be direction,” he affirms, eager to work with unions to achieve such. “We all want to save jobs and do a better job in what we do.”
Lander has been a collaborator for much of his life, from serving on the Narrowsburg and Sullivan West school boards for 14 years to his active membership in the Tusten Ambulance Corps, Narrowsburg Fire Dept., Sullivan County Visitors Association, Beaver Brook Rod and Gun Club and the National Rifle Association.
He’s currently the Town of Tusten’s Republican Party chairman, a member of the Catskill Regional Medical Center Board, and is on the Narrowsburg, Callicoon and Sullivan County chambers of commerce.
And there’s the teamwork involved in raising a family: he and wife Lisa have four children, two of whom are in medical school, while one is pursuing an engineering degree and one more remains in Sullivan West.
Yet he’s not overconfident about his abilities.
“Am I the smartest person to do this? No,” he admits. “I’m there because I think I can work with people.”