An interview with Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro
Dutchess County’s long-time Executive Marc Molinaro is just getting started. The 44-year-old Republican is hoping Dutchess residents will elevate him to a third term on Tuesday, as Democratic challenger Joe Ruggiero, the former head of the New York State Bridge Authority, seeks to force him into early retirement.
Molinaro, the 2018 Republican nominee for New York Governor, is widely seen as a moderate and is quick to tout his record of bipartisan governance. Fitting for the executive of a county that voted for Donald Trump by a mere 1.1 points in 2016.
We interviewed Molinaro to find out why Dutchess County voters should give him a third term.
Vassar Political Review: Can you give us a brief overview of your background and what qualifies you to be County Executive?
Marc Molinaro: I began my public service in 1994, winning a seat on the Village of Tivoli Board of Trustees as an 18-year-old. I became the youngest mayor in the country by winning that seat a year later. I was re-elected mayor five times before representing my district for four terms in the Dutchess County Legislature where I served as chair of the Budget Committee and Co-Chaired the Commission on Child Protection. As a legislator, I wrote and had adopted the Clean Indoor Air Act, our Open Space and Farmland Protection Plan and reformed our response to child abuse, neglect, and domestic violence.
In 2006, I was elected to represent the 103rd District in the New York State Assembly. Endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club, I led efforts to protect the Hudson Valley Greenway, adopt the Red Hook Conservation Fund, clean up the Hudson River and mandate health insurance for those living on the Autism Spectrum. I was re-elected twice before becoming Dutchess County Executive in 2011.
VPR: What makes you the right candidate for Vassar students and for students and young people in Dutchess County in general?
MM: Like many students at Vassar and other local schools, my passion for public service began at an early age. I interned for my Assemblymember, Eileen Hickey — though we came from different political parties, she taught me that good ideas transcend partisan politics. I’ve taken that philosophy with me over the last 25 years, as well as Eileen’s willingness to take a young, eager student under her wing. Every year since, in every office I’ve held, I’ve been sure to offer internship opportunities to students interested in improving their community and themselves.
I am also committed to providing students and young people alike the opportunity to live, work, and prosper right here in Dutchess County. For this reason, among others, we have committed to growing an innovation ecosystem right here in Dutchess to attract and retain young professionals with the skills needed for the 21st century. Further, we are actively pushing Dutchess County away from the dated and prohibitive suburban sprawl housing model by supporting and encouraging local efforts to build mixed-use housing, to develop town and city centers, and to create pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.
Additionally, we have been focused over the last eight years on creating pipelines to work by investing in Dutchess Community College (lowest Community College tuition in New York), supporting apprenticeships, and identifying local employers’ needs.
VPR: How would you pitch yourself, as a Republican, to liberal Vassar students?
MM: I believe in public service and civic engagement. I opt not to use labels like “liberal” or “conservative.” I’m more interested in focusing on the commonalities that bind us and bring us together. If you’re a Democrat and have a great idea that will help the people of Dutchess County, I want to hear it. If you consider yourself a “liberal” and want to serve our community, I’ll work with you. The only label I’m concerned with is “Dutchess County resident.” If you’re a resident of this great county, I want to collaborate and address your concerns to make our county even greater. That is how I have spent my time as County Executive — encouraging inclusion, listening to all parties, and using evidence — not an ideology — to solve our problems.
VPR: What are a few of your big new ideas for the county?
MM: I’m all about making Dutchess County Government more efficient, delivering the high-quality programs and services our residents deserve in the most cost-efficient manner. My 2020 budget, for example, gives our residents the largest tax cut in Dutchess County in 20 years — the latest embodiment of my idea for providing the best service to our residents at the best price. Our “Think DIFFERENTLY” initiative, which encourages communities to welcome those living with disabilities, has been adopted in more than 100 municipalities throughout New York and beyond.
We’re enhancing residents’ lives with the largest expansion of our County parks in history; and we continue to fight the opioid crisis with our innovative programs, including our Stabilization Center, the first facility of its kind in the state. We are addressing climate change and working to protect our environment by reducing our carbon footprint, encouraging recycling, and supporting farmland and open-space preservation. Our efforts were recently rewarded as we became one of only nine counties in New York State certified as a Bronze Level Climate Smart Community. These are just some of the many ways we’re working to keep our county vibrant and robust for our residents.
VPR: What most differentiates you from your opponent? What do you think voters should know about them?
MM: I am in our community every day, listening to the concerns of our residents, and I work hard each day to address those concerns and improve the lives of every County resident. Whether I’m grocery shopping with my wife and children at Hannaford’s in Red Hook, attending an Office for the Aging Senior Picnic in one of a dozen communities during the summer, or meeting with residents at a County park or one of the more than 100 community meetings we’ve hosted in the last eight years, I’m always eager to meet my Dutchess County neighbors and listen to them — hear what they have to say and take an interest in their lives.
Literally 365 days a year, I am in our community, talking to and listening to the people who have honored me by electing me to serve them. My time in office has been defined by drive to work with people of all backgrounds and beliefs to address complex problems and make our county a better place to live, work, and grow. Serving the residents of Dutchess County has been my passion for more than a quarter-century, and it’s an honor and responsibility I take gravely seriously.
VPR: What is your strategy to win? How confident are you that you will win?
MM: My record of public service and responding to our residents’ needs since 1994 speaks for itself. I’m proud to stand by my record of service over the past 25 years, as well as the relationships I’ve built over that time. I’m confident the great people of Dutchess County recognize the hard work I’ve put in over the years to bring our county from the depths of the Great Recession into the prosperity we enjoy today, and I’d be honored to continue to serve as County Executive and build on the great successes we’ve amassed.
VPR: In no more than two sentences, what would you like voters to know about you when they walk into the voting booth?
MM: I am an honest husband, father, and son who has dedicated his life to the people of Dutchess County, and together we’ve enjoyed unparalleled success since taking office in 2012. I have the best job in the world; I cherish the privilege of serving Dutchess County residents; and I humbly ask for your support to continue the great work and unmatched results we’ve achieved over the past eight years.
Ruggiero’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.