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Bethel Democrats rift healing? Party withholds backing of candidates

By Fritz Mayer
September 6, 2011

Three Democratic candidates for two seats on the town board will face off in a primary contest on September 13. Long-time incumbents Vicky Vassmer-Simpson and Bob Blais will be sharing the ballot with former highway superintendent Bernie Cohen.

The local Democratic Committee has decided not to back a candidate until after the primary, at which time it will presumably back the two winners. If Vassmer-Simpson wins and the committee supports her, it may signal the beginning of an end to a huge rift in the party that has defined it for the past couple of election cycles.

The story goes back January 2008 when the town board appointed Ted Yeomans to finish the term vacated by Dan Sturm, who had been elected to the position of supervisor in November 2007.

Some Bethel Democrats thought that Denise Frangipane should have gotten the nod. Later that year, Frangipane and her supporters packed the Democratic caucus, and she beat Yeomans by a vote of 91 to 81 and picked up the party’s nomination. The win did not sit well with some of the party’s old guard members.

A couple of them, such as Simpson and supervisor Dan Sturm’s wife Dina, carried petitions for Yeomans to enable him to run on the Let’s Keep Ted line. Frangipane won the special election and ran again for the nomination the following year.

In August 2009, Vassmer-Simpson, Yeomans and fellow party member Colleen Cunningham took out an ad in the Times-Herald Record, which endorsed Republican Dick Crumley and Democrat Benji Friehling for election for the council seats in November.
In the meantime, the entire membership of the Bethel Democratic Committee had been voted out of office except for one, and all new members swept in after the primary in September.

Frangipane won the party’s nomination.

For Frangipane, the 2009 election was marked with what many saw as a challenge to her candidacy from a group of seasonal residents who stay in camps and bungalow colonies in Bethel in the summer. About 150 of the seasonal residents registered to vote in the town. Sullivan County Legislator David Sager and others famously challenged the registrations through an organization called Voters for Election Integrity.

Ultimately, the registrations were ruled invalid and the number of votes recorded by the challenged voters was not sufficient to have defeated Frangipane.

Press release from Bethel Concerned Citizens

Town Board Candidates Unanimously Oppose Fracking

The three candidates vying for two open seats on Bethel’s town Board have each issued public statements in opposition to shale gas drilling. This comes in response to a request by the organization Bethel Concerned Citizens for the candidates’ positions, particularly Bethel’s effort to change its zoning ordinances, in anticipation of the town’s democratic primary on September 13th.

The statements – made by Bernard Cohen, Robert Blais, and Vicky Vassmer-Simpson – supported the latest findings on the dangerous impacts to public health and safety and reflect the candidates’ desires to effectively amend the town’s zoning ordinances.

Excerpts of the statements are below:

Vicky Vassmer Simpson: “We also rely on unfiltered aquifers for our water supply, as well as our beautiful lakes and streams.”

Bob Blais: “The natural gas has been there for a million years and can stay there for another million years.”

Bernie Cohen: “The contaminants from hydro-fracturing and the pollution from hundreds of daily truck trips would put at risk all Bethel has become.”

These positions also come in the wake of a recent statement expression of serious concern about hydraulic gas drilling by the supervisor of the town of Bethel at its meeting held on Saturday, August 27, attended by approximately 250 residents, most of whom oppose gas drilling in Bethel.


Statement by Robert Blais, Candidate for Town of Bethel Councilman. (Incumbent)

As the Councilman in Bethel for the last 16 years, I know my number one priority is to protect the safety and health for our residents. After the new DEC regulations came out on July 11, 2011 & after careful thought & analysis I do not want Hydrofracking in the Town of Bethel. The natural gas has been there for a million years and can stay there for another million years.

I completely support the effort currently underway by our Town of Bethel to add an amendment to our zoning similar to 3 neighboring towns. I will also work to move this process along as quickly as possible and make sure it is done well.

Statement by Bernie Cohen, Candidate for Town of Bethel Councilman.

I have taken a hard look at what the results would be of bringing heavy industry, especially hydraulic-fracturing, into the Town of Bethel. Over the last year, I have educated myself on the pros and cons of gas drilling.

I am convinced that hydro-fracturing would be a disaster for our Town. It threatens our health, air, water, economic well-being and property values. The contaminants from hydro-fracturing and the pollution from hundreds of daily truck trips would put at risk all Bethel has become.

The beauty of our Town has attracted second homeowners and increased tourism. This growth has created support for local businesses and farming and promises to expand our economy, creating jobs, outlets for local produce and increasing our tax base, which will lower local property taxes.

As I have already stated publicly, I will fight to amend our zoning ordinances to prohibit any heavy industrial activity in the Town of Bethel. This must be done immediately to protect our future.

Statement by Vicky Vassmer Simpson, Candidate for Town of Bethel Councilwoman (Incumbent)

Over the past couple of years, I have attended several meetings, spoken with many people, and read countless articles in order to educate myself about hydraulic fracturing. I have always had as my number one priority, the health, safety and quality of life for all Town of Bethel residents.

Nothing that I have learned has made me feel comfortable with the process of hydraulic fracturing. New York State now says that drilling can be permitted, but not in the NYC watershed, near Syracuse, or near several large unfiltered aquifers. If it is not safe for some, why would I trust it will be safe in Bethel. We also rely on unfiltered aquifers for our water supply, as well as our beautiful lakes and streams.

I support the efforts in the town to amend the zoning in order to prohibit heavy industrial industries, including gas extraction.

I will work to move the zoning process along to ensure the safety of all the residents of Bethel.


Bethel Concerned Citizens is composed of full-time and part-time residents of the Town of Bethel. We are working people and retirees, long-time residents and newcomers, and most of all we are neighbors who have serious concerns about the potential impacts of shale gas exploration and other heavy industrial activity within our town.

Currently, there are no heavy or high impact industrial uses situated in the Town of Bethel. Accordingly, we call upon the Bethel Town Board to preserve and ensure the Town’s future as a recreational and tourist destination, desirable second-home community, and clean, safe, and healthy place to live and raise all of our families.

We appeal to the Board, to act now to protect Bethel, and its character and quality of life, consistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, by strengthening the Town’s zoning ordinances to expressly prohibit high-impact industrial activity, including shale gas extraction.

We aim to collaborate with Lumberland Concerned Citizens, Tusten Concerned Citizens, and Highland Concerned Citizens to protect and enhance the rural and agricultural character, scenic beauty and tourism-oriented economy of our Sullivan County region.