Democratic sheriff to run as Republican after stunning upset by progressive challenger in primary

Juan Figueroa will face incumbent Paul Van Blarcum again in November in a race centered on immigration, racial discrimination, guns, and the NFL.

Juan Figueroa celebrates his sheriff primary win in Kingston, NY. (CREDIT:  Oriana Mayorga)
Juan Figueroa celebrates his sheriff primary win in Kingston, NY. (CREDIT: Oriana Mayorga)

New York State’s primary election news may be dominated by names like Cuomo, Nixon, Teachout, and the IDC, but the results of a little-known county sheriff’s race carry echoes of issues debated hotly at the national level.

Ulster County Democrats resoundingly voted to nominate former state trooper Juan Figueroa for sheriff, dealing a political setback to incumbent Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum and setting the two men up for a final rematch in the November general election.

With 100 percent of the county reporting in, Figueroa received 13,119 votes, or 81.9 percent of the vote, to Van Blarcum’s 2,885. Van Blarcum, a Democrat, waged a strong campaign to keep his party’s nomination despite having been endorsed by the Republican, Independence, and Conservative parties as well.

Figueroa, a retired Marine and state trooper, challenged his own sheriff due to what he called Van Blarcum’s “divisive rhetoric” on immigration, guns, Trump, and criticizing NFL players for protesting before games.


Speaking to supporters at a watch party in Kingston after the results came in, Figueroa reflected on how he got to this point, having waged a successful primary challenge with no experience in elected office.

“I was told by some party leaders — obviously not this party — that I was an opportunist,” Figueroa said. “I was told, ‘don’t get involved, you’re not going to beat an incumbent.’ I was told there are other things I should be doing to help.”

But Figueroa shocked many, including Van Blarcum, when he won the county party committee’s convention in May by a similar margin to Thursday’s electoral victory.

“What’s unique about us is we know how to right a ship when it’s going the wrong way, and that’s what we’re doing tonight,” he told his supporters. “Every generation has its defining moment. This is ours.”

After Figueroa’s victory became obvious, campaign spokeswoman Christine Dinsmore told ThinkProgress that while the nominee’s small campaign team needed to catch their breath before bracing for the general election, they were nevertheless optimistic.


“Ulster County has more registered Democrats and a lot of independents were for Juan but couldn’t vote in the primary,” she said. New York limits primary voting to party members only.

As primary day approached, Van Blarcum criticized Figueroa for having been “out of law enforcement for five years” and for lacking managerial experience in law enforcement. Figueroa’s supporters criticized Van Blarcum for a mailer they said omitted the fact Van Blarcum did not receive the endorsement of the county party this year, while saying “I am proud to have had the Ulster County Democratic committee endorsement.”

“To my opponent,” Figueroa said as he wrapped up his victory speech, “I do believe that 42 years is a long time, and he deserves credit for doing 42 years.”

He said Van Blarcum had his respect, and the rest of the campaign would be civil in tone because people are tired of negative politics.

“With that said, it’s time for a change at the sheriff’s office,” he said. “To the men and women at the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, I want to let you know that I respect everything that you do. I know because I put the uniform on and did it for 25 years myself. I know the dangerous job that you have. I respect the job that you do. Every organization has room for improvement, and we’re going to do that together, as a team.”