Veteran advocate seeks to challenge Serino for Dutchess County Executive

Tommy Zurhellen, on the Marist campus

POUGHKEEPSIE – The Dutchess County Democratic Committee is holding its convention on Thursday evening and plans to endorse Marist College professor Tommy Zurhellen to run against Republican Sue Serino for Dutchess County Executive in November.  Several committee members have told Mid-Hudson News that Zurhellen will secure the Democratic nomination during the convention being held at the Poughkeepsie Day School.

In addition to serving as a professor, Zurhellen, a 53-year-old Navy veteran, is an accomplished author who serves as an advisor on veterans issues to Democratic Congressman Pat Ryan (NY-18).

Mr. Zurhellen gained national attention in 2019 when he walked across the country, averaging 22 miles per day, to draw attention to the rate of veteran suicides, which is 22 per day in the United States.  Upon returning to Poughkeepsie after the walk, Zurhellen authors “The Low Road” which recounts his journey and experiences along his trek.

Tommy previously served as Commander of VFW Post 170 in Poughkeepsie and partnered with Hudson River Housing to develop VetZero.  The program has two offerings; the Heroes Driving Heroes program which provides free car rides for local veterans to useful destinations such as the Veteran Affairs County Office and Castle Point Medical Center and the Heroes program which addresses homelessness among veterans.  The Heroes program provides affordable housing, specialized housing, transportation, advocacy, and care management for the veteran community.

Following a communication issue, Zurhellen spoke with Mid-Hudson News to discuss his campaign and priorities as he seeks to become the next Dutchess County Executive.  Noting that he considers Serino to be a friend, he said the campaign will be “fun”.  Zurhellen’s platform includes several hot-button issues.  “This campaign is born out of the frustration from my walk in 2019,” the professor said.  “We’ve got a lot of problems in Dutchess County that need to be addressed.”  Zurhellen is on the Board of Directors of Hudson River Housing.  “We need to address food insecurity.  There is no reason that a child’s single nutritional meal should be the one they receive while at school.”  The Navy vet also plans to focus on housing issues.  “There is a widespread housing crisis that is affecting everyone, with the most affected being the seniors and veterans in the county.”

“This is an opportunity for me to help people which is what I enjoy doing,” he said, while noting that, like Congressman Ryan, he believes that “more veterans need to run for public office – at all levels.”  One non-partisan group that assists veterans that are considering a run for office is Veterans Campaign, which offers training and resources to veterans seeking to get elected.  With Honor is an organization that seeks to help veterans get elected to Congress.

Congressman Marc Molinaro (NY-19), a Republican who served as Dutchess County Executive for 11 years before being elected to Congress, is supporting Serino over Zurhellen in the race. “I have no doubt that Sue Serino is best prepared to manage county government and lead Dutchess County,” Molinaro said, adding “She knows the community and the community knows her.”  He also praised Serino’s character, saying “Sue can be trusted. She can be relied on. She listens and leads.”