The chair of the Ulster County Legislature, Dave Donaldson, simply can’t understand why any of his constituents would want to elect someone else after 27 years. Like most longtime incumbents, Dave cannot accept defeat because longtime incumbents believe the public office belongs to them, not the public. That people still believe in democracy and work to enact change is an improbability to the likes of Donaldson, which is why his only explanation for Phil Erner’s primary win is that it was some kind of conspiracy against him. Besides, the county already showed its preference for term limits when it passed a law in 2019 that says no newly elected county legislator can serve for more than six full terms.

Donaldson is clueless about what happens on the ground, part of which might have to do with him being at his Florida residence for half the time. At first, he falsely claimed on Facebook that Peter Buffet was funding Erner’s campaign. He seems to have quietly dropped this claim when it took him six long months to figure out the campaign is largely run by Mid-Hudson Valley Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), one of the 243 volunteer-run chapters of an activist group that fights for a society that meets our needs instead of making profits for a few; a goal Donaldson alludes to in his mailer as “glittering generalities.” Aspiration for a dignified life is just a catchphrase to career politicians like Dave.

Members in Ulster, Dutchess, and Orange counties fund our organization with monthly fees that range anywhere from $5 to $25 per month. That our chapter, which has 53 members in Kingston, openly ran a coordinated campaign with Erner should have been obvious to anybody paying attention. We wear our logos on our t-shirts when we canvas, and we prominently place our logo in the palm cards we produce. The day after the primary election, Kingston Wire also published our statement in which we took credit for our role in Erner’s win. Evidently, Dave did not read it.

Now that he has finally caught on, Donaldson has sent out a non-union-made negative mailer riddled with typos and lies. In it, he connects Erner’s campaign to DSA as if he’s made a breakthrough discovery. He seems to be unaware that DSA members already serve as electeds in New York: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman in Congress, Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport in New York State Senate, and Zohran Mamdani, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Marcela Mitaynes, and Emily Gallagher in New York State Assembly, among many others at city and town levels. Just last month, Governor Hochul ceremoniously signed into law a criminal justice bill introduced by DSA elected Phara Souffrant Forrest.

Erner wasn’t the only DSA member who won a New York primary in June. We had winners statewide. In Buffalo, India Walton won the primary for Mayor. Similar to Donaldson, a baffled and narcissistic incumbent, Byron Brown, is attempting all kinds of undemocratic tricks there to hold onto power. The difference, however, is that Erner is endorsed by the Ulster County Democratic Committee and the Kingston Democratic Committee, which means that when Dave held a fundraiser under the guise of a “celebration” shortly after the primary, he duped his colleagues into attending an event that violates committee ethics rules. He knowingly endangered Democrats who are running for re-election. Later, he also used unauthorized photos of County Executive Pat Ryan, County Sheriff Juan Figueroa, and Human Rights Commissioner Tyrone Wilson on a mailer, also non-union-made.

If Donaldson had been on the streets, he would have noticed DSA members, holding up a banner that identifies our organization, protesting alongside nurses outside the Kingston hospital for several weeks in a row. Instead, he is stuck in the McCarthy era, in a time capsule where he thinks he has the right to be the county legislator for District 6 for as long as he wants. Evidently, 27 years in the same office is not enough to make Dave recognize the challenges of our time, challenges exacerbated by his own housing and economic policies of the last three decades, under which his constituents are struggling.

Donaldson claims in his mailer that we don’t have answers to questions on local issues. How about this for an answer: in Kingston, the majority of housing is either unaffordable or severely unaffordable, and almost 50% of renters pay more than 35% of their income on rent. A recent study of midtown Kingston showed that over 50% of 481 examined properties are owned by nonlocal owners and almost 1/5th are owned by LLCs. We are in the middle of a housing crisis created by a speculative housing market and yet, Donaldson seems to think giving tax breaks to real estate developers is the solution. Lifelong Kingston resident he may be, but he doesn’t seem to understand what kinds of policies push longtime residents out. Phil Erner does.

Lastly, Dave boasts of knowing how the county government works as if it’s an impressive feat that someone would know how the county government works after being in it for 27 years. What the 27 years have made him forget, however, is what it means to be a public servant.

It’s time to elect a new voice for Kingston.