[Full Disclosure: The reporter for this article is an intern for Rachel Saunders’ campaign]
In Dutchess County, there is a wide array of legislative and judicial positions for the Nov. 2 election, as well as ballot proposals, that voters will soon determine. Elections in Dutchess County will take place for the comptroller, county and town-wide judicial positions, majority-Republican county legislature and more local seats. Locations and times for early voting are displayed on the county’s Board of Elections website. The ballot will also include new propositions on the back, which are “Yes or No” referendums on changes in local and state policy or law.
The following is a rundown of county-wide candidates from the two major political parties:
Comptroller (Term length: Four years)
A comptroller is a public official dealing with government accounting and finance.
Robin Lois (D) is the incumbent comptroller of Dutchess County. Lois is seeking another term in office with a collection of endorsements that includes 1199 SEIU, Vote Mama, the New York Working Families Party, NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation. During her tenure, she completed 22 audit reports with a focus on accountability and capital project spending, created a “Taxpayer Checkbook” on the comptroller’s website in an effort to increase transparency and strengthened oversight of government spending. Her campaign website says she pledges to continue delivering accountability, oversight and transparency. (‘Re-Elect Robin Lois Dutchess County Comptroller’ webpage). Lois stands alone as the sole Dutchess Democrat with a county-wide position.
Ola Hawatmeh (R) is challenging Lois’ seat. Hawatmeh is a businesswoman and entrepreneur whose campaign website emphasizes a 4-point action plan: a review of all major contracts Dutchess County has with outside vendors to ensure purchases are cost-effective, a partnership with the non-profit sector, training and assistance for businesses and individuals and five extra audits annually to reduce waste. The County Executive, Clerk, Republican Chair and Conservative Chair have endorsed her. She has never served in public office.
Family Court Justice (Term length: 10 years)
Family court judges hear cases such as domestic abuse, child neglect and divorce.
Rachel Saunders (D) is challenging the Republican incumbent for her judicial seat at the Dutchess Family Court. Saunders has been the Attorney in Charge at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley for the last five years and was a Mental Hygiene Legal Service senior attorney from 2011-2016. She has focused on lifting up veterans, senior citizens, the mentally ill and domestic violence victims (she also serves on the county’s Coordinating Committee for Domestic Violence). She spent two years in Kabul helping develop the government’s legal system as part of the Afghanistan Justice Sector Program with the State Department prior to her legal career (‘Rachel Saunders for Family Court Judge’ webpage). The Hudson Valley Stonewall Democrats, For the Many, Latino Democrats of Dutchess County, the Working Families Party and other organizations have endorsed her.
Denise Watson (R) is serving her 10th year as a Family Court justice. She was also appointed as one of Dutchess County’s Acting Supreme Court Justices in 2013. From 2011 to 2015, she presided over the Family Treatment Court and Youth Treatment Court and was the Lead Judge with the Child Welfare Improvement Project. Watson was a member of the Juvenile Justice Committee and Criminal Justice Council, as well as a Community Stakeholder Workgroup member of the Police Reform & Modernization Collaborative (Dutchess County Government, 2020). Watson has endorsements from the Town of Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison (R), State Senator Sue Serino (R), the NYS Supreme Court Officers Association and the Deputy Sheriff’s Police Benevolent Association (‘Committee to Re-elect Denise M. Watson’ webpage).
State Supreme Court Justice – 9th Judicial District (Term length: 14 years)
Dutchess County is one of five counties in New York State’s 9th Judicial District (of 12). State Supreme Court Justices hear cases outside the jurisdiction of lower courts within the state. Dutchess voters select up to five justices.
Christie D’Alessio, James Hyer and Thomas Quinones are running on the Democratic and Conservative political party lines. Mark Starkman and James Hendry III are running solely on the Republican lines. Thomas Davis is running on both the Democratic and Republican lines. Richard Guertin is running on the Republican and Conservative lines. Robert Berliner is running on all aforementioned party lines (VOTE411 Voter Guide).
The following lists candidates running for Town of Poughkeepsie positions:
Town Supervisor (Term length: Two years)
The town supervisor presides over town board meetings but holds no more legal weight than any other board member.
Barbara Pallazzo (D) is challenging the Republican incumbent. She promises lower taxes, more affordable housing, healthcare reform and environmental action. She worked for almost two decades as a deputy director for the American Federation of Teachers. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), the American Federation of Teachers, the Town of Poughkeepsie Democratic Party, the Working Families Party, Hudson Valley Stonewall Democrats and more have endorsed Pallazzo (‘Community for Barbara Pallazzo’ webpage).
Jon Jay Baisley (R) is the current town supervisor. He resided in Poughkeepsie for over 38 years and owned the Channingville Deli. According to his campaign website, Baisley joined the Hudson Seven to protect drinking water, founded the Hometown Heroes veterans project and signed a Climate Smart Communities pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions (‘Re-elect Jon Jay Baisley Town of Poughkeepsie Supervisor’ webpage).
Town Clerk (Term Length: Two years)
The town clerk presides over fund collection and distribution, records elapsed time at all Town Board meetings, and handles document filing and maintenance. Felicia Salvatore (R) currently holds the position for town clerk and she will run uncontested.
Receiver of Taxes (Term length: Four years)
The receiver of taxes collects all taxes the town levies. Incumbent Kelly Tremper (R) is running for re-election against challenger Rose Ann Valencia (D).
Superintendent of Highways (Term length: Four years)
The superintendent of highways is in charge of the care and maintenance of town roads and highways through the Town Highway Department authority. Incumbent Mark Pfeifer (R) is running against challenger Steven Engelhardt (D).
Dutchess County Legislature candidates will appear on the ballot. Since the Town of Poughkeepsie is located within six different county districts, the county legislator candidates will differ based on voter location. Elections for this position take place every two years. Wards 1 through 6 in the Town will each be having board member elections this November. Each ward’s race will take place between a Democrat and Republican, except for Ward 6 where the incumbent’s seat is uncontested. In the City of Poughkeepsie, the councilmember at-large position is the only city-wide position on the ballot and it is uncontested. The City also has its own set of wards, and 1 through 8 will be on the ballot with some incumbents contested and some not (Democrats hold all uncontested seats).
The following breaks down ballot propositions for all Dutchess County voters:
Ballot propositions numbered one through five put forward the following, respectively: a change in authority for state-wide redistricting and reapportionment, the enshrinement of environmental rights in the NYS constitution, a minimization of days required to register in advance of an election, the elimination of a necessary “excuse” for voting absentee, and a change in the jurisdiction of the NYC Civil Court (2WGRZ, 2021). The sixth ballot proposition is county-specific. It will reduce the number of Dutchess County districts from 25 to 21 and make changes to the Independent Redistricting Commission. The Town of Poughkeepsie will have three additional ballot propositions. Two of them propose doubling the town clerk’s and town supervisor’s term lengths, respectively, and another proposes changes to the Public Library District budget (Dutchess County Board of Elections, 2021).
If more voters answer “Yes” than “No” to any proposal, that proposal will go into effect. The proposals’ full texts can be found on the Dutchess County Board of Elections website.