I Am a Hudson Valley Parent: Tracey Bartels

Advocating for the next generation

Having her and seeing her grow suddenly made the ‘next generation’ a lot more than an abstraction. 

Tracey Bartels was a filmmaker and screenwriter before she stumbled into politics more than a decade ago.

“I came to politics through a friend in Gardiner who asked me to be a place-holder because they couldn't find a candidate to run in Gardiner,” she says. “The Legislature was a multi-member district at that time. I didn't even know what a place-holder was. Needless to say, I kept my name in and ran alone against a full ticket. My win was a big upset.”

That is an understatement.

Bartels won her first seat in 2003 running against three incumbent candidates and was the first non-Republican to win the district. She served from 2004 to 2007 before taking a break for a few years to travel and start a family. She successfully returned in 2012 and is currently serving her fourth term as Ulster County legislator.

Bartels’ most favorite constituents are her longtime partner Bill Richards and their 3-year-old daughter, Polly. All of this, now, is for Polly and her future, Bartels explains.

“She was 9 months old when I decided to run for the third term, which seems counter-intuitive, but she is actually what inspired me to get involved again,” Bartels says. “Having her and seeing her grow suddenly made the ‘next generation’ a lot more than an abstraction. I wanted to help make sure she inherited a world that I was comfortable raising her in – and having her raise her children in!”

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Of course, the business of making the world a better place involves a lot more than feel-good photo ops and glad-handing at local diners.

“During my campaign, Polly was a trouper,” Ms. Bartels beams. “I braced myself for chaos, but she just went with the flow when I took her along knocking on doors and introducing myself on the campaign trail. And since then, she has helped focus me. I know I can’t plop her down in front of the TV — nor would I want to — while I get stuff done, so I have to manage my time and prioritize very carefully. And she has been with me in Albany at the legislature several times for last-minute meetings and debates. I wasn’t expecting that, but hey, we do what we have to do to make it work!”

With a concentration on fiscal conservancy and environmental activism, some of Bartels’ most vociferous opponents have become her biggest boosters. During her time in office, she has recommended millions of dollars in cuts and has fought tax increases consistently.

Last year, county property taxes were actually lowered for the first time in more than 10 years. More than $27 million in spending has been cut county-wide.

The cuts are impressive, but Ms. Bartels notes that the accomplishment that her constituents most frequently point to is her investigation of cost overruns at the county jail. The bipartisan commission that she chaired ended up flagging cost overruns of more than $100 million.

This term, she has a number of projects in the works, including increasing energy efficiency and requiring new county cars to be hybrids.

“This term I hope to continue to work toward a new approach to the way that we manage waste,” she says. “It's not financially or fiscally sustainable to truck our garbage hundreds of miles away. All over the valley, communities face the same problem. Together we might reach a solution.”

Not bad for an accidental politician. So, what’s next for Ms. Bartels? She says she hasn’t completely ruled out running for a larger office.

“I’m taking it one term at a time.”

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