Three candidates for the District 4 seat of the Orange County Legislature came together to debate the issues at a candidate forum held last week at the Board of Education Auditorium.
Democrat Kevindaryan Lujan, Independence candidate Anthony Tarsio and Omari Shakur spoke on topics such as taxes, water quality, jobs and economic growth.
A change of heart
Shakur, a longtime community activist, was running as a write-in candidate for the seat until Tuesday, following the debate, when he announced he had dropped out of the race to throw his support behind Lujan. “This will be a win for Mr. Lujan and a win for the city,” Shakur said that day.
Shakur said he also wanted to help Democratic candidate for county executive Pat Davis, who would stand to gain votes from his supporters. “It was a hard decision, but it was the right decision,” Shakur said. “We’re trying to encourage a large voter turnout. It’s time for our city to be recognized by the county.”
It is not the first time Shakur has dropped out well into a political race. In 2015, Shakur, then a candidate for city mayor, ended his mayoral bid and put his support behind Mayor Judy Kennedy. “I made the decision to back Judy Kennedy because I do what’s best for the City of Newburgh,” Shakur said at the forum.
The debate was held by the NAACP Newburgh-Highland Falls Branch, offering candidates a platform to explain how they would represent District 4, which covers Balmville and the East End of the City of Newburgh. The seat is being vacated by Curlie Dillard, who is stepping down due to health concerns.
The value of a dollar
“I’m not here because I’m looking to further my political career,” said Anthony Tarsio, a middle-school social studies teacher in the Wappingers Central School District. “I’m here because I want to do the right thing.”
Tarsio, born in Newburgh, said he “learned the value of a dollar” from working at his family’s business, Pat Tarsio Lanes. Both Tarsio and Lujan are political newcomers running to become a county legislator for the first time.
If elected, Lujan promised to fight for a fair share of funding from the county. “We want to make sure we send someone to Goshen who is willing to fight for our interests,” said Lujan, who claimed Republican leaders in the county “do not care about the City of Newburgh.”
“You address crime and safety by addressing poverty and addressing opportunity,” said Lujan, when asked how he would make the community safer. “I want to make sure we create green jobs, tech jobs and trade jobs,” he said, leading to a better quality of life for residents of the district.
Lujan said the city and county need to be “working hand and hand” to “build a city that is innovative and prosperous.” Tarsio said the county needs sales-tax revenue, which, he said is “a big part of keeping the budget fully functioning.”
Job creation and economic development requires flexibility and team work, Tarsio said. “You have to be willing to open up your thoughts and ideas to businesses coming here,” he said.
Taxes are “too high” in the state for many businesses to survive, Tarsio said. “He advocates for a $20 minimum wage,” Tarsio said, referring to Lujan. “Businesses are not going to buy into that.”
Lujan did not apologize. “He thinks $20 is too much,” Lujan said, adding “low-income jobs are so frequent in Orange County that businesses can’t even fill them.”
Lujan said that education and livable-wage jobs create the kind of opportunities needed to build a “strong and innovative” city. “We need to have someone who is not out of touch on the issues at hand,” said Lujan, who is also the Working Families Party candidate.
Parties and politics
“You’re going to have to talk to the other party,” retorted Tarsio, accusing Lujan of partisan politics. “You have another option,” Tarsio told the audience. “It’s not just about who is the Democrat,” he said, marking his experience in business, teaching and in the U.S. Air Force.
“I’m an Independence Party candidate,” said Tarsio, who is also running on the Republican and Conservative Party lines. “As an Independence Party candidate… I could be the 14th vote. You need 14 votes to pass legislation,” Tarsio said, speaking about “supermajority” votes required for certain measures.
The county legislature chairman, a Republican, is more likely to choose to work with someone who could provide the last vote needed to pass legislation, Tarsio said, talking strategy. “My opponent over here would be standing on the sidelines,” he said, again referring to Lujan.
“He openly supports Steve Brescia,” said Lujan, naming the Orange County Legislature chairman who, he said, “continues to be a sore in our sides.”
Lujan continued. “From day one, I intend to sit down with every member of the legislature,” said Lujan. “What I will not do is put my Democratic or progressive values at risk for Mr. Neuhaus and the Republican majority.”
“It doesn’t matter what party you’re in, it’s about the City of Newburgh,” Shakur interjected. “I’m about the City of Newburgh,” he said, to which the audience applauded.
Some shared goals
Shakur recalled working with former city Police Chief Dan Cameron following a spate of shootings last year. “I sat down with the police chief,” Shakur said, and talks with city youth followed. “That really brought down the shootings… we built bridges.”
Tarsio said training and support is needed to help police keep crime rates down. “Good law enforcement and techniques will be something (needed) to create safety,” he said.
The candidates agreed on several topics, including education. “If you give them education, they can take care of themselves and, at some point, others,“ Tarsio said, speaking on fostering opportunities for youth. “I want to expand a vocational-technical school program,” Tarsio said, at Orange-Ulster BOCES. “We can facilitate that through Orange County.”
Education leads to better salaries for people who can then afford to buy homes, he said. Homeowners pay taxes and contribute to the tax base, Tarsio said.
The district’s infrastructure is need of attention, Lujan said, and bridges need fixing. “We need to make sure our watershed is protected,” he said, from PFOS and other pollutants. “The community needs to understand the risks.”
“Unfortunately, our water source is not within our city limits,” said Lujan, speaking about Washington Lake, located in New Windsor. The county should play a role in ensuring that water supply is protected, he said.
“We need to make sure we’re taking a clear approach addressing the opioid epidemic,” Lujan said, through increased treatment services and professional trainings. And, tax-exempt entities in the city, such as St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, should provide in-kind services, he said. “If they’re not paying taxes, we need to make sure we are using their services,” he insisted.
“I owe everything I am to Newburgh. I want to give back and make my community proud,” Lujan said, in closing. “I believe I have the brain power and the work experience to get things done,” Tarsio told residents.
Legislature terms are four years. The general election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
By SHANTAL RILEY