BETHLEHEM — The Republican Committee lost one of its loudest voices when he stepped down as its vice chairperson last week.
Steve Peterson resigned as vice chairperson at the committee’s last meeting on Saturday, July 25. In a letter to the executive committee, he said he “underperformed” at the position. However, he chose to remain on as a committee person.
“Perhaps there’s someone else that could do better,” stated Peterson.
Peterson was appointed vice chairperson in January, as represented one half of a leadership overhaul that included the party’s selection of Stephanie Dwyer as its chairperson. Dwyer appointed Peterson for the vice chair position. In January, she told The Spotlight, “he has committed to attending town board meetings, to publicly demanding answers from our elected officials and to actively support our candidates.”
Despite once residing in the shadow of Albany’s notorious Democrat political machine, Bethlehem had stood as a predominately Republican town for more than a century. That changed in 2003 when the late Sheila Fuller sat in the supervisor’s office with the party well represented on the town board. After Fuller decided to end her 10-year run as supervisor, Democrat Theresa Egan earned the seat.
The party has since struggled to regain power in town politics. At times it has appeared to suffer with an identity crisis while, more than once, it crossed party lines to endorse candidates. In 2009, the party chose Independent — and former Democrat — Sam Messina to run on its line for town supervisor. The party crossed lines again in the next election cycle, opting to endorse Democrat Kyle Kotary in 2011. That prompted Messina to drop out of the race. Kotary was later defeated by John Clarkson, another Democrat.
The latest move is further indicative of apparent turmoil brewing from within the party. Melissa Kermani stepped down as chairperson last November, leading former chair Keith Wiggand to temporarily step in.
When Wiggand was last chairperson, the Republican Party was more conservative than while Fuller was town supervisor from 1993 to 2003. When Republicans voted Dwyer to lead the party in January, there appeared to be another shift in ideology that only became more visible last month.
When Wiggand organized a Back the Blue rally for July 4, Dwyer publicly spoke against it. Prior to the weekend rally, she expressed support for local police, but stated on social media that she refused “to be a part of something that is based on hate, negativity and threats of violence.” Wiggand, however, said he had planned the demonstration outside of party politics, and expressed he only had a desire to support local police agencies.
Though Dwyer distanced herself from Wiggand’s rally, Peterson was in attendance. He later said he was “not in agreement” with Dwyer’s stance.
“I am not in agreement with recent social media posts and newspaper article quotes made by the chairperson,” Peterson told The Spotlight. “Those remarks made were not done in consult with me as vice chair or anyone on the executive board. … Those social media posts she had with members of the agitators group were inappropriate. I needed to distance myself from that.”
Peterson has been visible with several endeavors in recent months, suggesting a possible run for office. He orchestrated the First Responders Honor Garden, distributed masks for the public and aligned himself with the Together We Are One Bethlehem campaign. “Everything doesn’t have to be viewed as political,” he said. “I try to contribute when possible.”