Turnbull trades jabs with Neuhaus over county speech

A minor political skirmish broke out on Thursday when the Orange County Legislature’s Democratic leader lobbed a few public criticisms at County Executive Steve Neuhaus, accusing the Republican of taking credit for national or regional economic gains and short-changing Democrats in his upbeat State of the County address two days earlier.

Matt Turnbull, a Hamptonburgh resident who became leader of the Democratic minority in January, issued a press release contending that Neuhaus’ hour-long recitation of accomplishments and new plans had “glaring omissions.” He cited the past battle over the county nursing home, saying that Neuhaus tried to sell it to balance the budget and that Democrats fought instead to keep it in county hands and make financial reforms. As a result, he said, “Valley View is no longer a drain on the county budget.”

Turnbull also argued that Democrats deserve credit for saving taxpayers money by fighting to renovate, rather than replace, the county Government Center, and that Jeff Berkman – a Middletown legislator who preceded him as minority leader – had pushed with Middletown’s Democratic mayor, Joe DeStefano, to extend the county’s Heritage Trail through Middletown. Neuhaus had highlighted the impending trail extension and proposed another one – eastward into Harriman – during his address.

Turnbull said the rising job numbers and improved county finances that Neuhaus touted in his speech were really a reflection of broader economic improvements that Democrats had predicted would happen. “The County Executive is shamelessly taking credit for what is a regional and national economic trend,” Turnbull wrote.

Neuhaus responded sharply – and voluminously – to Turnbull’s critique. After marshaling statements of support from the Legislature’s Republican majority leader, Melissa Bonacic, two Republican town supervisors and DeStefano himself, he issued a press release lamenting that Turnbull had “gone negative” and claiming Turbull “has put forth no original ideas during his tenure as a Legislator that have helped the taxpayers of Orange County.”

“Taxpayers don’t care about who gets credit for ideas or accomplishments, we care about tangible results,” the statement read. “Everybody I speak to is disappointed with the divisive politics of Albany and Washington. We sure don’t need that in Orange County. I will continue to work tirelessly to get things done for our residents.”

Bonacic, quoted in the same release, chided Turnbull for being “so divisive” in his remarks. “We are moving in a positive direction and the Republican caucus intends to keep it that way, not build walls of division,” she said.

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