Montgomery County

Canajoharie town supervisor candidates have very different styles — and party affiliations

Candidates for Canjajohaire town supervisor Benny Goldstein (R), left, and Ronald Dievendorf (D) are shown.
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Candidates for Canjajohaire town supervisor Benny Goldstein (R), left, and Ronald Dievendorf (D) are shown.

One candidate is a former reality TV star with a bold personality who makes his money in real estate and has dabbled in numerous entrepreneurial ventures. The other candidate is running on a detailed platform and has a resume that leans into his previous experience as an elected leader.

No, it’s not the 2020 U.S. presidential race. It’s the 2021 campaign to be the supervisor of the town of Canajoharie. Despite both candidates maintaining that local issues are at the forefront of their campaigns, the supervisor race between Republican Benny Goldstein and Democrat Ronald Dievendorf may come down to how much national politics play into the local election.

“How can it not?” Dievendorf said, who also noted that his previous record of serving as a Democrat alongside Republicans in local leadership positions should prove his ability.

Goldstein very much wants national politics to play into the race. That’s why he says he highlighted his support for former President Donald Trump on yard signs.

“It’s a political strategy of mine,’ Goldstein said. “I’m a proud Republican Trumpist. A lot of people love it in our area. So it’s a little easier to get accepted.”

The town of Canajoharie has 2,419 registered Republicans compared to 1,493 registered Democrats, according to the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said he was not familiar with the specifics of the Canajoharie supervisor race and therefore couldn’t comment on how national party affiliation may affect the vote, but he did point to Siena polling last week showing that New York state Republicans give Trump a 78-to-20 favorability rating, while President Joe Biden’s favorability among state Democrats is 77 to 19.

Therefore, he said, in a lopsided town, leaning into national politics the way Goldstein is could be wise.

“If you were in a town that was 80-20 Republican, that would be a smart strategy politically,” Greenberg said.

Goldstein’s search for acceptance in Canajoharie comes, in part, because he is still new to the area — he and his family have only lived in Canajoharie for about a year, he said. He has an energetic and open personality, but he also has a colorful past that includes 10 days in an Israeli jail, reality TV fame, and experience in product development, including the Solocam, which is a selfie stick with a microphone that he says earned him half a million dollars.

Dievendorf, by contrast, says he moved to Canajoharie in 1971, working as a pharmacist, raising two boys, and twice serving as mayor of the village of Canajoharie. He also spent six years as a trustee.

Acting Town Supervisor Rodney Young, who said he is not endorsing either candidate, said he is familiar with Dievendorf’s experience and was not familiar with Goldstein’s background.

Goldstein, originally from Israel, admitted that he spent 10 days in “debtor’s jail” about 15 years ago because he refused to pay full child support payments to his ex-wife. Goldstein has three kids with his prior wife and three kids with his current wife, whom he says he met in Kingston, N.Y.

Goldstein called his short stint behind bars a “turning point” in his life, saying the experience inspired him to a life of service. He ran unsuccessfully for Israel’s Knesset 2013, which he said gave him a national platform that led to a spot on Israel’s Big Brother reality-TV program. He ran another unsuccessful Knesset bid in 2015.

Goldstein is forthright about his political ambition, openly discussing his desire to one day be a New York state assemblyman for the 111th District, calling the town supervisor role a “stepping stone.”

“I’m young, and I want to do more. I want to change society for the best,” he said. “My goal is once I move up the ladder, I’m going to take not just Canajoharie but that whole western side of Montgomery [County] with me. My eye is on other things down the line.”

Dievendorf’s focus is on specific issues facing the town. He said upgrading the town barn is one of his top priorities.

“It has outgrown the space because the town has a number of big trucks and snowplows and graders,” Dievendorf said, explaining plans for the new facility include a seven-bay garage and a salt shed. “The original barn is probably 80 years old, and the electricity on the building can’t meet today’s standards.”

Dievendorf also wants to implement a code of ethics law for the town, have the town’s 20-year-old zoning law reviewed, and get online a 90-megawatt solar facility, which the town has been developing with Mohawk Solar since 2017.

“I will help bring the solar farm to fruition in the interest of everyone in town,” he said.

When it comes to issues that have become part of the national political debate, Goldstein and Dievendorf take very different sides. For instance, Dievendorf says he would follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on masking in schools, while Goldstein says he would make masks in schools optional.

“Republican stands for whatever the team stands for. And I’m a team player, that’s it,” Goldstein said. “I know people are more open, willing to help, knowing that I am one of the group.”

However, on local issues, Goldstein and Deivendorf have more in common. For instance, both support plans for the E29 Labs cannabis cultivation and manufacturing project to move into the old Beech-Nut factory. Both candidates also noted the need for a strong community anchored by the already well-regarded public school system.

A primary difference between the two candidates is style and manner. While Dievendorf speaks deliberately and thoroughly, Goldstein speaks quickly and excitedly, bouncing between ideas. Dievendorf came to his interview with a reporter carrying a three-page platform broken into categories like recreation, infrastructure and tourism, while Goldstein arrived at the interview with one of his yard signs and a cardboard donation box.

The donation box represented one of Goldstein’s priorities: fundraising

“It comes down to money. The town makes money from taxes, but you need to be creative and bring money from outside sources,” he said.

One of those creative fundraising ideas is the “Benny Box.” (Goldstein said the name was still under development.) He said the boxes could be placed around town with people donating empty cans and bottles so the 5-cent deposits could benefit Canajoharie. Goldstein also noted an interest in pursuing more government and corporate grants.

Goldstein says he wants to use the money to fund projects ranging from a dog park to a new playground. He also wants to see more community events.

“People don’t socialize enough,” Goldstein says. “You need people to connect. Once they come out, they shop, they spend more money.”

His vision is for Canajoharie to blossom into a tourism destination with bustling streets anchored by businesses like a bakery, where visitors can smell cakes warming in ovens.

Dievendorf noted the importance of tourism, too, pointing to historical attractions like the Erie Canal and the need to support local cultural facilities such as the Canajoharie Library and Arkell Museum.

Dievendorf’s hope and vision for the town’s future, much like his resume, is very much reliant upon his own experience.

“Based on my own kid’s experience here, this is a great place to grow up,” he said.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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