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December 09, 2016
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Legal snarl possible for Bloomingburg election; Court challenges playing out

BLOOMINBURG, NY — In the last mayoral election in Bloomingburg, 24 people turned out to vote. This time around, the turn-out is likely to be quite a bit higher, but the outcome may not be known for some time because of challenges to petitions and voter registrations.

The current mayor, Mark Berentsen, who is a supporter of developer Shalom Lamm and who is the subject of a lawsuit to kick him out of office for the way he reportedly benefitted from Lamm’s 396-unit development, Villages at Chestnut Ridge, is on the ballot once again.

His opponent, Frank Gerardi, who has lived in the village for seven years and is opposed to the development, is running on the Rural Heritage Party (RHP) line.

Both candidates challenged the validity of the other’s petitions. According to Sullivan County Board of Elections Commissioner Ann Prusinski, she and the other commissioner decided to let the petitions stand, but their decision was challenged in court.

The challenge to Gerardi’s petition took place on February 28, and according to an account of the hearing by James Cracolici, who is running unopposed for the office of Bloominburg Village Justice on the RHP line, Lamm’s attorney produced very little evidence of wrongdoing. The challenge has now been dismissed.

The other matter that will likely be litigated is challenges to many new voters. Prusinki said that about 140 new voters have registered in the village of 400 in recent weeks. According to published reports, many of those voters have claimed addresses in buildings recently purchased by Lamm. Many of those registrations are being challenged, and that process will likely not be complete before the vote on March 18.

Prusinski said she and Commissioner Rodney Gaebel have been to the village to see some of the residences, and have sent letters to the challenged voters and are awaiting returns to questionnaires. She added that she expects more challenges to come.

After receiving and evaluating the questionnaires, the commissioners will make a determination, but she said whatever determination they make, their decision will surely be challenged again in court. The results of the village election, therefore, will likely not be known until well after Election Day.

All this legal maneuvering was sparked by a split in the community over the building of a 396-unit development that is being marketed to the Hasidic community.

Schick issued a preliminary injunction on January 31 to order that most work on the project be halted. One of the main complaints about the project, and one that interested Schick quite a bit, was that the annexation of the property in question from the Town of Mamakating into the Village of Bloomingburg required a vote of the people who lived on the property in question, and that did not happen.

The lawsuit was brought by the Rural Community Coalition (RCC). A post on the organization’s website said that, on February 18, an appellate court declined to throw out the preliminary injunction; however the court did modify its terms. “The modification allows interior work on the 12 constructed buildings as well as site work directly related to these building.” The preliminary injunction stands until the next court date, which has not yet been set.