2012-02-09 / Politics

Libby Pataki Likely to Direct Putnam Tourism Efforts

Would replace Valerie Hickman in tourism promotion
Eric Gross

Putnam's Director of Tourism Valerie Hickman is stepping down and is expected to be replaced by former First Lady Libby Pataki of Garrison.

Hickman, 76, and a resident of Mahopac, is suffering from lung cancer and undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments. On Thursday evening, the Legislature's Economic Development Committee held a special meeting to accept Hickman's resignation.

Committee chairman Dan Birmingham called the evening a “sad one.”

The shift in tourism is one of a number of changes new County Executive MaryEllen Odell is making in county leadership and organization. She also is reviewing the county organization chart and county office space, with an eye toward consolidation where possible.

Odell was not at the meeting, but Deputy County Executive Bruce Walker issued a statement for his boss: “MaryEllen Odell wishes Mrs. Hickman well in her retirement and would like to acknowledge and thank her for the excellent work and tireless dedication she has contributed to drive tourism in Putnam County and the I Love New York campaign.”

Continuing, he said that Odell said her administration looked forward to working with Kevin Bailey, President of the Putnam County Economic Development Corporation, to “discuss the future of tourism in our county. This is a significant opportunity to align Putnam’s tourism initiatives with the administration's primary focus of stimulating economic development and job creation.”

On Friday, Libby Pataki said of the shift: “Our county is off to an incredibly great start. MaryEllen loves Putnam as do George and I. We have no doubt that she will be making the best decisions on what she feels is right for Putnam County.”

Pataki also hailed Hickman’s work: “She has served this county with dedication and great respect for public service. George and I have a high regard for Val and good wishes as well.”

At Thursday night’s meeting, however, Hickman clearly was unhappy to be moving on  With some two dozen in attendance including friends, political leaders and elected officials, Hickman described her years as tourism director as being “wonderful. I have mixed feelings. I'm moving on but I don't want to move on.”

Hickman said she believed her many years in the tourism industry both in the U.S. as well as abroad would have been a “great help to the new administration. I believed that MaryEllen (Odell) and I had a great relationship. I was showered with beautiful cards but unfortunately, I wasn't told the truth.”

Hickman charged, in her public comments, that Pataki’s expected appointment was in essence a trade-off by Odell for the backing of the former governor and first lady during the campaign.

Hickman told the audience that “Executive Odell owes a campaign promise to her constituents in Garrison since the former governor campaigned extensively for her in last year's campaign. When she first told me I believed that MaryEllen wanted me to open an office in Philipstown. I didn’t mind. However, she was telling others that Libby would be my replacement. I’ve done nothing wrong but I can’t carry on in this fashion. I gave the people of Putnam County the best job possible. She apparently has a new vision and wants her people.”

Neither Mrs. Pataki nor Walker would engage in discussion along those lines, and both of them said that Hickman had done much good work. Said Mrs. Pataki, speaking from her Garrison home: “If MaryEllen wants me to assist her in any way to promote Putnam, I’d be honored to do that. I admire her courage, intelligence and work ethic. I leave the hard decisions up to her good judgment.”

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