Hébert Joseph announces campaign for 39th District, Smith diverges from Dems

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Hébert Joseph marches at a Black Lives Matter Rally in 2020 in Rensselaerville, where he is the town’s Democratic Party chairman.

HILLTOWNS — Hébert Joseph has come out swinging. 

In announcing his campaign to represent Albany County’s 39th District — which, in the newly approved districts map, comprises Berne, Rensselaerville, and Westerlo, plus a small portion of New Scotland — the Rensselaerville Democratic chairman said he would donate his entire legislator salary to various organizations within the district over the four-year term. 

Specifically, Joseph told The Enterprise this week, he will donate $2,500 to each library in the district, and $10,000 a year to the Hilltowns Community Resource Center over the four years.

“You can take that to the bank,” he said, reiterating that he will not use “one dime” of the roughly $25,000 salary for personal expenses, except for what’s taxed on top of his salary as senior engineer for the New York State Department of Public Service. 


Political history

Joseph will be challenging Chris Smith, a Conservative, who told The Enterprise this week he will not seek Democratic endorsement although he has won twice on the Democratic line. He said that the values of the Democratic Party don’t match up with his own. 

Smith first won in 2015, ousting Republican incumbent Deborah Busch.

Busch had four party lines on the ballot — Republican, Conservative, Independence Party, and Reform Party — but Smith’s 1,197 votes on the Democratic line alone tallied almost 200 more than the total for Busch.

Four years later, in 2019, Smith ran unopposed. He received 1,036 Democratic votes, 616 Conservative votes, and 161 Independence Party votes. 

Joseph took a swipe at Smith, who owns Berne’s popular restaurant and community hub, Maple on the Lake, saying that Smith is inactive in his position. 

“Ask anyone in the community — Rensselaerville, Westerlo, Berne, or Knox. No one has heard of our current legislator,” Joseph said. 

Smith bristled at the characterization. 

“I disagree with that 100 percent,” he told The Enterprise. “I would assume I see 300 people a day in my restaurant alone. I don’t see [Joseph]. So, as far as my ‘low profile,’ I’m very in the public. I see my constituents every day.”

However, despite the high Democratic enrollment numbers, the Hilltowns have become increasingly represented by non-Democrats at the town level since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. 



Joseph, 55, is from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and came to the United States around the turn of the century, serving in the United States Army for seven years until just after Sept. 11, 2001. He said he moved to Rensselaerville around 2010, falling in love with its rural charm.

“A lot of people don’t understand the beauty of it,” he said this week, explaining that the physical beauty is what first attracted him to Rensselaerville, adding, “And when I moved in, I introduced myself to people, they welcomed me with an open heart.”

In 2017, Joseph ran unsuccessfully to be an assessor in Rensselaerville after several residents approached him to suggest he should, he told The Enterprise at that time. Although he never made it into public office, he’s currently chairman of the town’s Democratic Party. 

Joseph is also a member of various committees in the county, as well as on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of the Capital Region, he said this week. 

“All of these experiences have prepared me to serve effectively in the community,” he said. 

Joseph said his focus would be on fighting poverty and opioid addiction in the rural district, while enhancing opportunities for students and farmers, and keeping taxes low. 


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