EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was updated at 3:30 PM EDT to reflect the results of Tuesday's Democratic primary.
In the Hudson Valley, a distinctly Trump-like Democrat is facing an unexpected primary challenge in a key local race—one that’s mostly flown under the national radar.
At a candidates’ forum in Woodstock last week, Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum, who is seeking his fourth term in office, raised eyebrows when he told the crowd, “It’s out there that I’m a racist, and that the sheriff’s office is racist. Am I getting sued by four black officers? Yes. But let me tell you this: They’re suing me for not getting promoted. Two out of the four never even took a promotional exam. The third one took the exam and failed. The fourth person took the exam, and passed, but unfortunately, he was arrested for stealing from the sheriff’s office. So that makes me a racist and I don’t understand it.”
He added: “As far as the other lawsuits against me, we’ve won every one of them.” (A female corrections officer who sued the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office in federal court for on-the-job harassment was awarded a large settlement in 2014.)
Norman James, who retired from the sheriff’s office in April after 30 years working at the Ulster County jail, is one of the plaintiffs in the case Van Blarcum mentioned in Woodstock (there are five in total, and two are no longer with the department). He said he and the others are suing the sheriff’s office in federal court for systemic discrimination against the department’s small number of black corrections officers.
“The white officers get a lot better treatment than the black officers do,” said James. “If you’re a black officer and you commit some sort of infraction, you’re dealt with much more harshly by the administration than if you’re white. If you’re white, you may get a 30-day suspension, but it’s easily forgiven and forgotten and you’re still able to advance. You also get easier job assignments.”
“There’s an old-boy network,” he said, “and it’s all white.”
Van Blarcum didn’t respond to an interview request.
James told me about a white officer who threw a glass at a woman in a bar, causing a facial injury that required 150 stitches. He faced a 30-day suspension and then went on with his career. The black cop who was “arrested for stealing from the sheriff’s office” was a veteran with a clean record who ran out of gas one night and filled up his personal vehicle with the department’s gas. He offered to pay restitution. According to James, that incident occurred 15 years ago, and that officer has been repeatedly passed over for promotions ever since. “Twenty-two years on the job, and he’s still working on the housing units like a rookie,” he said.