By Rebecca Martin
In early March of 2020, we sought out Ashley Dittus, Democratic Commissioner at Ulster County Board of Elections and Roger Rascoe, Chair of the Ulster County Republican Committee, to ask a series of questions regarding the process of running for chair of the Ulster County Democratic and Republican parties.
This was of particular interest after learning back then that Ashley planned to run for the Democratic county chair seat while holding the position of Commissioner for the Board of Elections. It struck me as being potentially riddled with conflicts.
Now in September and with the upcoming county party leadership organizational meetings, a conflict emerged between the old and the new. Larissa Shaughnessy, chair of the Ulster County Young Democrats, put out a public statement, “…a spreadsheet document owned by Ashley (Dittus) was shared with our sitting Congressmember’s campaign staff and labels several Young Democrat members whom she suspects of not supporting her candidacy for Chair with the comments “kill” and “maim”.
Following the discovery, Ashley was asked by many influential party members to step down from her bid to lead the Ulster County Democratic party and instead, to continue to focus her efforts as Commissioner for the Board of Elections.
In a letter written by Pat Courtney Strong, a member of the County Democratic Committee who has run for both State Senate (2018) and Ulster County Executive (2019), she outlined many shared concerns.
“When I ran for the State Senate in 2018, I had the opportunity to meet many terrific, hard-working Democrats from the five-county area that comprises the 46th Senate District…In one of the counties, the Democratic Elections Commissioner was also the Democratic Party chairperson….it was not a good situation—both in “optics” and reality. It makes the party leadership appear to be a small, insular group that doesn’t welcome new voices. And it was plain to see that there is an inherent conflict in one person holding the two positions. It means that this individual has the responsibility of recruiting candidates—encouraging people she/he believes can win—as well as disseminating information to all candidates in a fair manner. It means that, as a county employee, the commissioner presents a budget to the county legislature—and then holds influence over those same people as party chair when they are candidates. These are just two of many conflicts that can arise…”
On Thursday of last week, Ashley withdrew from the race.