Currents

Strengthening the left arm of Sullivan County

A mission to inspire the county’s young, most inactive demographic

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 1/22/20

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Dayna Halprin does not want to hear young people in Sullivan County calling themselves “apolitical.”

“You know, that’s a luxury: to be …

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Currents

Strengthening the left arm of Sullivan County

A mission to inspire the county’s young, most inactive demographic

Posted

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Dayna Halprin does not want to hear young people in Sullivan County calling themselves “apolitical.”

“You know, that’s a luxury: to be apolitical,” said Halprin, the newly appointed chair of the Sullivan County Young Democratic Committee. “I’m queer, I’m Jewish—I don’t have that luxury to be like, ‘Oh you know what? I don’t really care who’s [in office] because it doesn’t affect me.’”

A Sullivan County native, Halprin grew up in Fallsburg and went to college in Vermont for a degree in sustainable agriculture. Since graduating, Halprin has come back to New York State, gotten a culinary degree and is now the chef at Early Bird Cookery in Callicoon. About to enter their 30s, getting engaged in politics and spending time motivating other young people in the area feels like a calling and an obligation to Halprin.

“I’m super grateful for the community of Fallsburg and the greater Sullivan County community at large,” they said. “I feel like I owe something to the community that raised me.”

After getting involved with the Democratic committees of the Town of Fallsburg and Sullivan County, Halprin discovered that the bylaws technically called for a committee for Democrats between the ages of 16 and 35. With no one at the helm of the dormant committee, however, no such thing really existed. Halprin campaigned with Gene Benson—who ran for District 7 legislator in 2019—and, disturbed by the low voter turnout, decided to take the reins and turn the Sullivan County Young Democratic Committee, or the “Young Dems,” into a real, active group.

Low voter-turnout in local elections is not unique to Sullivan County. About 27 percent of registered voters nationwide participate in a typical municipal election. While voter turnout—especially in non-presidential election years—is low overall, the 18- to 29-year-old demographic is consistently least represented at the polls. Just 36 percent of young voters turned out for the 2018 elections, compared to 66 percent of voters 65 and over.

Those kinds of statistics can lead to an interesting contradiction for rural communities in New York State, Halprin said. While NYS is typically blue in national elections, Sullivan County consistently votes red. This does not necessarily mean that there are more conservatives than liberals in the county, according to Halprin, but that conservatives vote in far stronger numbers in each election. One of Halprin’s key goals as the Young Dems chair is to instill greater political efficacy among young Sullivan County residents, showing them that their votes really do matter, especially locally.

“In 2019, because voter turnout was so low, it was pretty much a Republican sweep across the board. There’s [only two] Democrats sitting on the Sullivan County Legislature,” Halprin said. “Everybody else lost, and [Miranda Behan] lost by nine votes… these are changeable numbers.”

For Halprin, bringing about that kind of change means taking a sober look at the area’s Democratic committees and considering how its members can do more to support Democratic candidates. The Town of Fallsburg, with 18 members, has one of the larger committees in the county; that should have translated into a lot of visibility, Halprin said, canvassing and campaigning during 2019, “but they’re not showing up.”

“Instead, they’re showing up for the appointment of the legislature and the appointment of the interim DA, which is just for aesthetics… I’m not interested in going to these fundraising dinners and appointment of officers, those things don’t do actual work.” Halprin named interfacing with working voters, utilizing social media and canvassing technology, along with reaching out to the local high schools to educate students about elections, as some of things the Young Dems will try to accomplish instead.

Examining the county as a whole against recent election results, Halprin said that there are clearly some members who are on the Democratic committee solely for political reasons and aren’t interested in grinding out the work. Halprin is calling for a more diverse committee, one that better represents the demographics of Sullivan County residents.

“It’s people who are black, and Latinx, and queer and young: This is what the community looks like now; times have changed,” Halprin said, also noting that they aren’t looking to stage any kind of “young takeover” and push out the older generation, but instead to become unified into a larger, more impactful committee.

Achieving unification with fellow residents has become harder and harder for committee members since the 2016 election, as things have gotten “more divisive than ever.” For Halprin, it can be scary to approach some people and try to talk politics. Their approach is to overcome superficial and ideological differences, and make a connection as neighbors.

“I want to talk to Republican voters, I want to talk to everybody,” Halprin said. “Before I’m a Democrat, I’m a resident of Sullivan County, first and foremost. I have the interest of the county at hand.”

Democratic residents of Sullivan County aged 16 to 35 can get involved with the Sullivan County Young Democrats by going on its Facebook page or emailing scyoungdem@gmail.com

Editors note: This article has been updated to reflect that there are two Democrats on the Sullivan County Legislature.

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