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Democrats regain Legislature in changing of the guard

Chairman Doherty ousted, five new legislators to take office

By Derek Kirk and Alex Kielar
Posted 11/10/23

SULLIVAN COUNTY – In a massive changing of the guard, five new legislators were elected for Sullivan County on Tuesday night.

  Four of them ran on the Democratic ticket with the sole …

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Democrats regain Legislature in changing of the guard

Chairman Doherty ousted, five new legislators to take office


SULLIVAN COUNTY – In a massive changing of the guard, five new legislators were elected for Sullivan County on Tuesday night.

 Four of them ran on the Democratic ticket with the sole intent of changing the make-up and power base of the Republican-led legislature. 

Nearly 40 Democratic Party faithful waited with anticipation at Santorini Mix Grill in Kauneonga Lake on Tuesday night as results began to file in after the polls closed at 9 p.m. 

Meanwhile, at Sorella’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, just two blocks from the Democratic election watch, Republican Party leaders were eagerly waiting for the same results. 

However, the mood at this headquarters was more solemn as early results reflected a Democratic win in several key legislative races.

The most anticipated result was the race for District 1, between political newcomer Matt McPhillips and the heavily-scrutinized current chairman, Robert Doherty. 

In recent months, the Republican Party repudiated Doherty’s behavior on the board and within the party, going so far as to not endorse him.

McPhillips, a 28-year-old Bethel resident, works as a legislative aide for Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and worked the campaign trail tirelessly throughout the last three months.

As Vanessa McPhillips, Matt’s wife, watched the results come in, celebrations and congratulations started. With Matt McPhillips taking a lead in the polls, the atmosphere in Santorini started to buzz. But with not all election districts reporting, McPhillips said he wasn’t ready to call victory too soon. 

But then, shortly after 10 p.m., it was time to really celebrate as the lead grew well out of reach for even Doherty to catch up. 

The unofficial result of the race was McPhillips’ 1,504 votes to Doherty’s 942 votes. With more fist pumps and hugs, Matt McPhillips took a stand on the stairs of the restaurant to give a speech on his victory. 

“We showed that, even in today’s day and age, you could run a campaign on the issues,” Matt McPhillips said. “[We stayed] focused on solving problems in a way that doesn’t negatively attack the other person involved, and still be victorious at the end of the day. 

“That’s something we showed here in our small, little county and our small, little towns,” he said. “It’s something I think people can really learn from and take from. I’m really proud to do that and I can’t wait to work with my fellow legislators.” 

Sullivan County Republican Committee Chairman Greg Goldstein said that even with the expected Democratic majority within county government, a large majority of the GOP are looking to move forward and have a fresh group of individuals.

“I think this [the new legislature] is a group of folks that can work together, I am glad to see some young faces,” Goldstein said. “I honestly think that it will be a board of nine people that can move forward, and that’s what I’m looking for out of this whole election that we just had.”

Goldstein noted that he believed the incumbent Chairman Doherty’s presence in the election swayed voters “without a doubt.” He said that some legislators steadfast allegiance to the Chairman also affected the outcomes of Republican incumbents Michael Brooks and George Conklin, who were beat out by their Democratic challengers, Brian McPhillips and Cat Scott, respectively.

Other Legislature races 

Brian McPhillips, who is on the Board of the Town of Liberty, beat out incumbent Michael Brooks for the District 3 seat, 1,036-851. 

In District 4, incumbent Nicholas Salomone Jr. successfully held onto his seat against challenger Maryallison Farley, 639-549.

Districts 6 and 7 saw the unopposed return of Legislators Luis Alvarez, 608, and Joseph Perrello Sr., 939, respectively.

Then in District 5, political newcomer Cat Scott convincingly won over incumbent George Conklin, 1,337-1,057. 

Scott said that the Town of Fremont, which is where she and Conklin reside, and the Town of Callicoon, were the two towns she was most concerned about. 

She said that when she saw the results come in for the Town of Fremont and that she was leading there, she had a good feeling she was going to be successful. 

Scott brings a lot of experience in different avenues that will help her as she begins her four-year term on the legislature. That includes beginning her career working in addiction prevention and treatment, which she said will be very helpful while addressing the opioid epidemic. 

Scott’s mother is also a resident of the Adult Care Center in Liberty, which has been a major discussion point for the last several months. 

“I understand the importance and the impact that good services have on people who are disabled and elderly,” Scott said. “It helps people age in place.”

She also said that her management experience in her professional life will be very helpful. She believes this experience will help her know how to work with people and get the best out of them.

Incumbent District 2 Legislator Nadia Rajsz, a Democrat, was returned to office with a 676-385 victory over Joanne Jasper. 

Rajsz had told the Democrat that there is no time for a learning curve for the incoming legislature when speaking of understanding the issues and being able to address them. However, she doesn’t feel that there will be a learning curve with the five new legislators this term. 

“These guys that are coming on have some experience in government,” Rajsz said. “Matt [McPhillips] has experience in Aileen [Gunther’s] office and Brian [McPhillips] has experience as a Liberty councilman. Cat [Scott] has always been coming to the meetings. So I believe we have well prepared people that are ready to hit the ground running.”

Scott backed up this testament from Rajsz, referencing the experiences that the two McPhillips, who are first cousins, have as well as her experiences coming to legislature meetings the last three years and seeing how things are done.

“Brian McPhillips has sat on the Liberty Town Board for many years,” District 5 winner Cat Scott said. “He brings with him a wealth of knowledge….”

With the changing of the guard, the thoughts of many of the elected legislators was that this will be a breath of fresh air for Sullivan County. 

“After suffering the demeaning, bullying and harassing behavior of the prior chair, anything is better than that,” said Rajsz.

“I feel resolved to bring in civility, transparency and good civic process,” Scott said. “That’s what I feel that has been missing from Sullivan County government the last three-plus years and it’s time for it to come back.”

Republican Committee Chairman Goldstein agreed, and said, “It’s a new day. We’re moving forward and starting to rebuild from here.”

Close Calls

Two Legislative races remain neck and neck in Districts 8 and 9.

Legislator Ira Steingart of District 8 decided to seek re-election. Two candidates vied for the open the seat, with early results Tuesday night showing Republican candidate Amanda Ward just ahead of Democrat Justin Picciotti, 682-613.

District 9’s seat was held by Alan Sorensen who also declined to run again, leaving the closest contest of this year’s election between Democrat George Nikolados and Republican Terry Blosser-Bernardo, which remains to be decided by absentee ballots, which will be counted next week.

County positions kept

Acting District Attorney (DA) Brian Conaty ran unopposed and was officially elected to the position Tuesday night with 12,419 votes. He was endorsed across party lines by the Democrats, Republicans and Conservatives.

Incumbent County Clerk Russell Reeves also ran unopposed and was triple endorsed, earning a total of 12,238 votes.

Additionally, County Coroner Alan Kesten also ran unopposed and was reelected with 9,021 votes.

Town races

In the Town of Highland, incumbent Town Supervisor Donald Jeff Haas was defeated by second-time challenger John Pizzolato, 430-382.

In Fallsburg, incumbent Supervisor Kathleen Rappaport was unseated  after her first term by challenger Michael Bensimon, 1,347-559.

State Supreme Court 

Three candidates out of four were elected to the three open seats in the State Supreme Court’s Third Judicial District, which spans Ulster, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, and Albany counties.

Taking the three seats are Democrat Daniel Lynch with 108,724 votes, Democrat Sherri Brooks-Morton with 105,950, and Richard Rivera, Democrat, with 96,828 votes. Republican Dana Salazar garnered 87,448, but fell short to secure a seat.


Two state-wide proposals were green-lit. In Sullivan County, Proposal One received 6,738 votes yes to 5,231 votes no, and Proposal Two received 6,724 votes yes to 5,132 votes no.


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • .

    Ding, ****, the witch is dead, the wicked witch is dead.

    Friday, November 10 Report this

  • lhfc1563

    They say change is good, lets see how good. It has to be better than what we just put up with for years.

    Friday, November 10 Report this