Rhinebeck village elections get tangled

Trustee resigns but remains on ballot, new contender enters the ring

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Rhinebeck’s village elections became a little more complicated last week with the resignation of one trustee and the entrance of a last-minute candidate.

Incumbent trustee Brant Neuneker, a Democrat, is on the ballot on the Democrat line in the March 18 election, but in a statement Feb. 21, he announced “with great regret” that he will resign when his second term is up March 31.

The village Democrats then circulated a petition and, in a last-minute, three-day campaign for signatures, Gary Kenton, a Democrat, got on the ballot on the Independent line.

The election involves only two village board seats, and the Republicans have put forth no candidates.

Interim mayor Heath Tortarella is also on the ballot for election to the trustee seat he had held before being appointed to run the village board.

So the outcome promises to be a chess game of sorts.

Neuneker was nominated to run for his third two-year term by Democrats at their Jan. 25 caucus, along with Tortarella, who was an incumbent trustee serving out the last year of another trustee’s term. He was appointed interim mayor by the board after Jim Reardon resigned.

Because Neuneker’s decision came too late to remove his name from the ballot, both will appear on the Democratic line, though Tortarella is not registered with a party.
The issue gets more tangled: Tortarella’s term as interim mayor runs only until March 31.

After April 1, a new interim mayor must be appointed by the board to fill the last year of Reardon’s term. If Tortarella is re-appointed to the position, that will leave two trustee seats — his and Neuneker’s — open. The mayor has the power of appointment to fill the open spots.

Rhinebeck Democrats, in a Feb. 21 statement, said that after Neuneker told them of his plans to resign, “Democrats then circulated independent petitions to put Gary Kenton on the ballot to replace Neuneker. Mr. Kenton, also a registered Democrat, will appear on the ‘Rhinebeck United’ line.”

Kenton, 63, has lived on Arnett Road in the village for six years and is an adjunct instructor in communications at Marist College and Western Connecticut University. He told the Observer he has spent his career as an educator “from Head Start to college and everything in between.” He is married to Laura Linder, a professor at Marist, and has one son and a step-son, two granddaughters and two Bassett hounds.

Kenton has served on the town’s Conservation Advisory Board for four years and has also served on planning boards elsewhere. He said he hoped his communications and public relations background would be an asset to the village board as well as his interest in the environment and zoning code enforcement. “Zoning matters a lot to me,” he said.

In his resignation statement, Neuneker said, “I take great pride in the success we Village Board members and staff have achieved during the last four years. It has been a great pleasure to work with all village employees and volunteer board members.”

Noting that he intends to focus on his business and family interests, Neuneker thanked many colleagues he had worked with during his four years as a trustee. “Thanks most of all to the voters of Rhinebeck who gave an outsider from Chicago victory in two contested elections,” he said.

Tortarella told the Observer he hopes voters will turn out at Town Hall on March 18, despite the confusion.

“Although the process seems more complicated now, it remains about service to the community. We have one trustee completing a period of service, one wishing to continue serving the community, and one seeking to start serving our residents,” he said.

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