WINDHAM — Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, has withdrawn from the race for Greene County Legislature because she said the county has lost its ethical way.
Torgersen released a letter to her constituents Saturday thanking them for their support and explaining her decision not to seek a second term.
“I really have been leaning towards not running for quite some time,” Torgersen said, adding the efforts of Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, to get the jail vote postponed in July changed her mind about running.
“I thought, maybe this body is capable of doing better for the county,” she said. “I had two more months to really see if we could create a more responsible example of decision-making.”
Torgersen’s name will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot on the Democratic and Independence party lines. Candidate James Thorington is running for the District 6 legislature seat on the Republican and Conservative tickets.
If Torgersen wins the race but declines the seat, the legislature will appoint a successor who lives in District 6, according to a statement from the Greene County Board of Elections. To keep the seat, the appointee would need to run in a special election in November 2019 to fill the unexpired term.
Torgersen’s decision was unexpected, Thorington said Tuesday.
“I respect her decision and I’m looking forward to working for the people in the Windham-Ashland-Jewett community,” he said.
Torgersen hoped her initial decision to seek re-election would encourage new candidates to run for office and wanted legislators not to feel roped into the jail vote.
“I was fearful that if I didn’t run, it would cause others to feel that the writing was on the wall and they would look at the composition of the board and feel like they had no choice,” she said.
After the legislature approved the jail bond in a 10-4 vote Sept. 19, Torgersen was reminded of her hesitations to seek re-election. Torgersen was one of the lawmakers to vote against the bond resolution.
“When I said I was going to run, I was in it — I was committed,” she said. “I decided not to run in late September. Doing good work from the inside is not possible at this time.”
Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, was surprised Torgersen decided not to run.
“It’s a shame because she really put a lot of time into that position,” Bulich said.
Torgersen outlined her dismay with the current state of the county legislature in her letter.
“The biggest surprise and disappointment of my legislative tenure was the realization that our county is controlled by political insiders from both parties who are not motivated by public service, good governance or the best interest of Greene County residents,” Torgersen wrote. “Quite to the contrary, these establishment ‘politicians,’ in the worst sense of the word, are driven by self-interest, preserving their position in the establishment and, I believe, even more nefarious motives.
“These entrenched politicians lack the fundamental qualities of good leaders — they are not visionaries, they are unwilling to be innovative in decision-making and problem-solving, and they are wholly disinterested in being held accountable to the public. And, worst of all, they lack integrity in their roles as legislators. Greene County has lost its ethical way.”
Torgersen was also disappointed by the lack of new candidates, she said.
“Part of my decision was because there are not many new people running,” she said. “They’re mostly with the establishment and are running unopposed.”
Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, felt Torgersen’s letter was inaccurate, he said.
“I try to do my best for the town I represent, as do my colleagues for the town or towns they represent, and if it is felt that we are ‘entrenched and lacking the fundamental qualities of good leaders’ then you belittle the very people who elect us or re-elect us to our positions,” Lawrence said in a statement. “I have no say in nor the power to run unopposed when it comes to elections. I assumed that all of us who are running this year for re-election would have a candidate or candidates running for our seats.
“If that makes us ‘establishment legislators’ then that is the result of the representative government we have in the United States and not the intractable system profoundly broken that Lori tried in vain to fix, on her own, at least according to her letter.”
Torgersen plans to use her time and skills differently to achieve a better outcome in the county and community.
“I care about Greene County and the mountaintop community that is my home and I truly believe that I can use my time, energy, passion and skill set much more effectively over the next three years towards a positive end than would be possible in the county legislature at this time,” Torgersen wrote. “We can become involved and establish a watchdog organization that demands accountability, we can challenge behind closed doors decision-making and demand transparency, we can vigorously solicit and support new candidates.
“Together, we can dismantle the establishment and demand the good governance that taxpayers deserve.”
After the jail bond passed last month, Torgersen planned to continue to watch over the project, including creating a Criminal Justice Coordination Council.
“We clearly need it,” she said Sept. 19. “I will continue to act as a watchdog with this expenditure.”
Torgersen will not pursue the council outside of her legislative duties.
“I believe it should come from the legislature,” she said.
Lawrence feels in some respect, Torgensen has given up because of the jail bond moving forward, he said.
“All the Greene County legislators I have known in my career fight for the issues they believe in, and in the course of time, they win some and they lose some, but they don’t throw their hands in the air and quit,” Lawrence said. “The legislature is a job you cannot take personally just because you lost a vote on an issue where the majority of legislators had a different vision than you.
“Lori’s letter seemed to be a combination of sour grapes and a fear of losing... I am disappointed that Lori felt it necessary to quit three weeks before the election and I am saddened by the venom apparent in her letter. Her contempt of her legislative colleagues was clear, but her disdain for the many residents that she represented in her own district, as well as those in the other districts who might have a different opinion than she had, was disturbing.
“I became a Greene County legislator to promote the progress of Greene County ... I also want to fix broken systems and shed a brighter light on the future of this wonderful county and its people, all of which is a lot more than a jail or SRO program,” Lawrence added. “I and the other representatives on the legislature, past and present, are not lesser beings, either human or political, than Lori Torgersen and if she thinks we are, then maybe it is better that she quits.”
Torgersen plans to continue focusing on the decision-making on the jail project and offer her guidance and expertise.
“I’m most proud of awakening the electorate to what’s happening in Greene County and I want to keep empowering the public to stay involved in government,” Torgersen said. “I will continue working with them to demand accountability and evidence-based decision-making. I think we can do better.”
Torgersen also plans to focus on soliciting future candidates to run for the legislature, she said.
“People are not in the legislature and high-level positions for the right reasons,” she said.
The Windham lawmaker believes the outlook for the future of the legislature is grim.
“We have to be willing to put in the hard work in and deal with the significant issues and significant opportunities in our county,” she said. “We have opportunities to do good work. I am hopeful that newcomers are genuinely newcomers and are able to make headway. Some of my colleagues, I have the utmost respect for their integrity, but it’s a matter of math. It would be incredibly difficult and frankly impossible to overcome this without a turnover.”
To read Torgersen’s full letter, see page A4.