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In Rutland County Senate Race, Incumbent Republicans Face Challengers

Nina Keck
Political signs are displayed along Route 7 in Pittsford. In Rutland County, the race for state Senate has heated up.

In Rutland County, the race for state Senate has heated up. While the three incumbents are well-known Republicans, three democrats and an independent are vying to unseat them.

The challengers face an uphill battle, which could get even tougher if voters tune out because of disgust over the presidential race. 

Audio for this story will be posted.

Incumbent Republicans Kevin Mullin and Peg Flory are Statehouse veterans well known throughout the county.

Mullin, a 57-year old from Rutland Town, is a small business owner. He was elected to the House in 1999 and appointed to the Senate in 2003.

Peg Flory, a 68-year old attorney from Pittsford, also became a state representative in 1999. Ten years later, Gov. Jim Douglas appointed her to a seat in the senate when Republican Hull Maynard retired.

Sixty-five-year old Brian Collamore, also a Republican, is the relative newcomer, having won election to the Senate two years ago. But Collamore is well known in the region from his long career in local radio.

Credit PEG-TV
Rutland County Senators Peg Flory, Brian Callomore and Kevin Mullin appear together on PEG-TV. The three Republicans will face four challengers in November's election.

Democrat Korrine Rodrigue, the first challenger to enter the race, knows unseating any of them will be difficult.

“People just said, 'Oh, you know it’s just going to be impossible, you shouldn’t do it,'" she says.

But the 39-year-old public health researcher felt her experience helping communities across the country deal with substance abuse issues would be an asset in Montpelier.  

"Being a researcher since 2002, for the University of Miami, everything I've done in recent years is to go into a community, do a good needs assessment to determine what the problems are; meet the right stakeholders who can make changes, and look at strategies and solutions that have proven to work in other places and then adapt them throughout the community," she says.

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
Korrine Rodrigue, a 39-year old mother of three who works for the University of Miami as a public health researcher and who co-founded Project VISION in Rutland, is running for Senate as a Democrat.

Those are the skills Rodrigue put to use in 2012 when working with former Rutland City Police Chief Jim Baker, she helped create Project VISION. The grassroots effort has gained national attention for its effort to fight drugs and crime, rebuild troubled neighborhoods and restore a sense of community in Rutland.

Rodrigue says she's been incredibly impressed by the accomplishments and power of Project VISION. “And it made me look at the political process differently,” she says. “To say, 'Wow, I think people are really accessible,' and you can role up your sleeves and bring about change.”

After Rodrigue announced her candidacy in May, write-in campaigns have since added three more challengers to the ballot.

Credit Courtesy
Scott Garren, a 68-year old retired technology consultant from Shrewsbury, is running for one of three Rutland County Senate seats.

Among them is 68- year old Scott Garren, a retired technology consultant from Shrewsbury. 

Garren has been active in Democratic Party politics for years. He's also very involved with Rights and Democracy, a political action group focused on helping workers earn a livable wage, secure access to quality health care and education for all.

"We're trying to bring the Bernie Sanders revolution home to the local level," he says.

Garren says he'd like to fight for those issues in Montpelier. Republicans are vastly outnumbered in the Statehouse, says Garren, and Rutland may be getting short shrift.

“To have all three of our state senators in that position really ill serves the people of Rutland County,” says Garren. “They deserve an active voice who’s at the table where important legislative decisions are being made.”  

Garren and Cheryl Mazzariello Hooker agreed to be write-in candidates to help support Korrine Rodgrigue and to ensure a slate of three Democrats for the county Senate race.

Mazzariello Hooker, a 66-year-old retired teacher, is perhaps the best known of the challengers. She’s served in both the House and Senate, as well as on the Rutland City Board of Aldermen.

She says voters tell her their biggest worries are the economy, the loss of good paying jobs and the shortage of child care in Rutland County.

“Young families have to have both parents working, if there are both parents in the family to begin with. And they need affordable, accessible child care, and it isn’t here,” says Mazzareillo Hooker. “So that’s a really big issue that I think is at the root of many of our problems.”

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
Cheryl Mazzariello Hooker, a 65-year-old retired teacher from Rutland, is running as a Democrat for Rutland County Senate.

She says issues like the rising cost of health care, education and property taxes were issues she grappled with back in 1990, when she first served in the Statehouse. “It’s time,” she says. “I want to go back to see if there’s something I can do to bring these issues to some sort of conclusion.”

Richard Lenchus, of Benson, is the sole independent in the race.

The 76-year-old describes himself as a "Renaissance man" who studied medicine and law for a while before ending up in architecture. He says he served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, but achieved his biggest success as a martial arts master.

“I’m one of the recognized founding fathers of American martial arts," says Lenchus. "The guy that wrote The Karate Kid was my student Robert Kamen.”

Lenchus says before college, his martial arts skills got him work as a bodyguard protecting the rich and famous. 

Now, he says he wants to go to Montpelier to protect the little guy. But he admits he doesn’t fit traditional party labels.

“I’m not rich enough to be a Republican,” he laughs. “I’m not a libertarian or completely a Democrat. I’m a Bernie Sanders-type of guy,” explains Lenchus.

He continues: “I like Bernie. He never said ‘I’, he always said ‘We.’ He reached out ... Bernie’s from Brooklyn; I’m from Brooklyn. You know, we both came up here. Bernie was on the track team; I was on the track team. And I think I ran against him, and I think I beat him.”

Credit Courtesy
Richard Lenchus, 76, of Benson, is running for Rutland County Senate as an independent.

While voters will have seven choices for Rutland County’s three senate seats, some voters complain that their disgust with the presidential campaign has caused them to lose interest in politics altogether.

Tiffany Quesnel, a small business owner in Brandon, is one of them. She admits she’s not even sure she’ll vote next month.

“I’m up in the air,” she says, shaking her head. “I’m disappointed, unsure, scared. The economy has already proven that people are afraid of what’s going to happen. There’s just a lot of uncertainty.”

And Quesnel has been hearing many of her customers say the same thing about the upcoming election.

“And as it’s getting closer, I think there’s a lot more people that are just putting their hands up and just don’t even know what to do," she says.

Pittsford resident Ron Stadelman says he too is disgusted by the presidential race, but it won’t keep him from the polls.

“I’m going to vote. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it,” he says. But, he stresses, “I don’t vote by party, I vote by who I feel is right for who I think is best for the job.”

He says he’s looking forward to hearing more about the various Senate candidates, but at this point admits he’s leaning toward the incumbents. 

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