Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus faces Democrat Pat Davis in a bid to serve a second term as the county’s chief executive officer. The two men spoke with the Mid Hudson Times this week about their visions for the future of the county.
Davis, 35, is an Iraq War veteran and a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He works as a management consultant specializing in regulatory compliance in the financial services industry.
It is the first time he has run for political office. “In May, when the party didn’t have a candidate to run, I saw it as an opportunity to step up and exercise some leadership,” Davis said.
Sustainable economic growth
“The county is doing fairly well,” said Davis, speaking about the economy. “But, we need to approach economic development in a more sustainable way. We need to be more careful about the types of jobs we’re bringing in.”
For example, he said, Legoland in Goshen will produce mostly seasonal and part-time jobs, as well as many low-wage jobs. “In the Newburgh area, we have thousands of square feet of warehouse space that sustain a handful of jobs,” Davis said. “We have a huge proportion of people who aren’t earning enough to support themselves and their families.”
A long-term plan is in order, he said. “There is no over-arching economic strategy or vision for the county. As a result, we’re left to take whatever comes our way.”
“We need to make sure our workforce is properly trained for jobs of the future,” Davis said, such as jobs in healthcare and technology fields that pay higher salaries. “It will give the kids graduating from high school and college a reason to come back home.”
“We need to make sure we’re removing politics from how economic decisions are made,” he said, referring to reports of alleged “pay-to-play” contracts between the county and companies that have contributed to Neuhaus’ political campaigns.
Davis also wants to increase transparency and accountability in government. He asserts one way to do this is through “zero-based budgeting.”
“Zero-based budgeting forces departments and agencies to build their budgets from scratch each year, which, in turn, gives the county executive and the legislature more detailed information on how money is being spent,” he said.
If elected, Davis pledges to protect the environment. “Orange County needs to continue to be known for its open spaces, its rural nature and quality of life,” he said, assets that also support families, businesses and tourism.
“We can’t be so development-friendly that we’re clear cutting everything,” he said. “If it’s valuable (land) now, imagine how valuable it will be in 100 years?”
The county needs to assume a more active role in addressing contamination of City of Newburgh drinking water by perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) from the Stewart Air National Guard Base, Davis said.
“It’s not a county-level issue,” Davis conceded, referring to the state and U.S. Department of Defense, “but the county executive should be an active advocate in making sure that the DoD, federal government and the state are doing whatever they can to remediate the problem.”
“If this was happening in another area of the county, there would be tremendous outcry,” Davis maintained. “It’s another symptom of the inequality in our society.”
Davis is running on Democratic, Reform Party, Working Families and Women’s Equality Party lines.
A business focus
Neuhaus, now 43, was the youngest person to serve as Orange County executive when he took office in 2014. He is a lieutenant commander serving in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
“Over the last four years, I’ve been able to turn Orange County around and make it a better place for families and a more attractive place for businesses to expand and locate,” said Neuhaus on Monday. “The county budget is spending $10 million less than when I took office. The tax rate is lower than when I took office.”
“A lot of politicians don’t keep their promises,” Neuhaus pointed out. “I promised to reduce the size of county government and reduce the tax rate. I’ve made that promise a reality.”
If reelected, his goals for the coming term include controlling spending and continuing to draw new businesses to the county. Answering his opponent’s criticism, Neuhaus did not apologize for his pro-business agenda.
“Orange County is located in New York, one of the most difficult places to do business,” said the Republican. “I’ve made it a point to roll out the red carpet for businesses that want to move here.”
“Getting people to work is one of the centerpieces of my administration,” Neuhaus said. “I have a record of fighting to get jobs for people in the county,” he said, pointing to new businesses such as AmerisourceBergen, a pharmaceuticals-distribution company located off Route 17K, expected to generate more than 100 jobs.
On the topic of Newburgh drinking water, Davis is “grasping at straws,” Neuhaus quipped. “Our Department of Health is working together with the state,” he said, to ensure the region’s water quality. “He has no idea how much involvement we’ve had, from day one. He’s coming from outer space. He has no clue.”
“One, the priority is getting clean drinking water,” Neuhaus said, outlining a plan to tackle the water crisis. “Two, Newburgh needs a permanent source of drinking water. Three, any resulting damage needs to be remediated.”
In a March press release, Neuhaus went further to state, “The Department of Defense needs to take responsibility in remediating the hazardous conditions that were created in Newburgh. It’s absurd for the federal government to hope the issue will just go away if they stone wall, or hide behind legal maneuvers.”
Neuhaus is running on Republican, Conservative and Independence lines. The general election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
By SHANTAL RILEY