By Frank Rizzo
SULLIVAN COUNTY It’s a measure of her popularity that Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (Democrat, Conservative) of Forestburgh has won her last three elections running unopposed.
This year will be different. Two Republicans have already announced their intent to challenge her, with another mulling a run.
And it won’t be the familiar 98th Assembly District she’ll be representing if reelected.
The NYS Legislature is finalizing redistricting of the legislative and congressional districts, as mandated by law in response to population changes reflected in the 2010 Census.
The proposed 100th assembly district takes the Town of Neversink away from Gunther. As of now all of Sullivan County is in the district. In Orange County she loses the City of Port Jervis and four townships and adds the Town of Wallkill. She retains the City of Middletown.
“They are still working on it,” Gunther said of the redistricting. “It's not a done deal. I’m fighting hard to keep Neversink. Losing it would be a heartbreaker. I enjoy that area, and know many people up there. I would love to keep Sullivan County intact.”
Having grown up in Orange County (she met husband Jacob Gunther III of Middletown at Orange County CC) Gunther is very familiar with the area she partly represents. After Jacob’s untimely death in 2003, she handily won a special election to succeed him and has breezed to reelections since.
To her mind, a constituent is a constituent, no matter where they’re from, and she takes her constituent services seriously.
Some people in the areas she might no longer represent have called, concerned. “I told them, ‘No matter what, give me a call if you need help,’” Gunther related.
Gunther said she was the 100th woman to serve in the Assembly, and is struck by the name change to the 100th district.
“The name’s okay,” said Gunther, but not the proposed makeup. “I love the area, have so many good friends. But I have to accept the reality.”
Though the state’s continuos financial and other enduring problems might make incumbents vulnerable, Gunther believes a look at her record and the legislation she has sponsored will refute that notion.
“I work very hard for my constituents,” she said. “I feel I am a mature and efficient legislator and representative. I know because I get feedback and accolades on that.”
In this election year, Gunther would rather talk less about her opponents than the close working relation she’s developed with Governor Cuomo. He’s asked her to serve on his transition team and, more recently, on the regional economic councils.
“My job is to help close a two billion dollar deficit in this year’s budget,” she said.
Then there are the needs of her district.
“The fact that I have experience [in Albany] helps me serve my constituency better. I’ve helped bring money to a district that desperately needs it.”
In addition to Town of Mamakating Supervisor Harold Baird, Bloomingburg’s Gary Linton, a retired Orange County Sheriff's Office investigator, announced his candidacy in December.
Christine Schiff of the Town of Liberty Republican Committee and wife of Sheriff Mike Schiff, is said to be mulling a run.