A-3 Citizens' Council/Group of the Adirondacks (ceased
to exist after 1991)
Property Rights Council of America (ceased to exist after 1992)
(Latest update 2001)
Citizens Council formerly at Adirondack, N.Y.
Property Rights Council formerly at Chestertown, N.Y.
Key Personnel (no board of directors)
Donald H. Gerdts, Executive Director, both groups, Founder
of Citizens Council, Co-Founder of Property Rights Council
Carol LaGrasse, Co-founder Property Rights Council
Keith Van Buskirk, Queensbury, Co-Founder Property Rights Council
At one time, Gerdts had claimed 4,300 members for the Citizen's Council of the Adirondacks. He also had claimed membership of 20,000 to 30,000 for that organization, but no documentation exists to prove it.
These numbers were based, at most, on counts of signatures collected on a petition against the Twenty-first Century Commission recommendations. Actual membership in Gerdts' specific groups was far smaller. The larger "membership" was comprised of a coalition of groups that worked with Gerdts, most notably the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance and David Howard's Blue Line Confederation.
The Citizens' Council of the Adirondacks was formed in 1989, but also used the name of The Citizens' Group of the Adirondacks in 1990 to prevent being confused with the Adirondack Council, an organization that Gerdts's group diametrically opposed. Gerdts used the Citizens' "Group" name for only a short time before switching to the Property Rights Council name, when Keith Van Buskirk became involved. Gerdts's groups advocated home rule and self-determination in the Adirondacks and protection of private property rights.
The Citizens Council of the Adirondacks used protests and demonstrations to voice opposition to the report by Gov. Cuomo's Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-first Century, and claimed credit for organizing the mass road rallies down the Northway to Albany in May of 1990 when the report was finally released. However, although Gerdts inspired the activists and helped organize the rallies that brought traffic on the Interstate to nearly a standstill, he never joined them. The rallies were led by the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance while Gerdts safely listened to reports, monitored the action from the sidelines, and made himself available to the media.
The charismatic fire and public relations sophistication that Gerdts brought to the 1990 period of opposition to the recommendations of Governor Cuomo's Adirondack Commission played a very important part in the total defeat of the several related bills in the legislature over two years. In addition, Gerdts used his public relations skills and desire to be in the limelight to exploit a lawsuit against the 1990 environmental bond act that Carol and Peter LaGrasse created and which Robert Schulz was invited to join - and argued winningly - to put the Gerdts name in the forefront in the media while promoting the Adirondack cause.
Don Gerdts was seen by the environmental groups as a self-serving former Long Island developer in financial trouble whose use of strident rhetoric in the Adirondack debate only served to raise the rabble and cloud the issues. His implication that Adirondackers would take to arms to defend their land was seen as a threat by Governor Cuomo. Because their interests were diametrically opposite that of the local people, the environmental groups failed to see the desperation of the people that made this powerful spokesman the man of the hour.
Shortly after the great Adirondack victory when the Environmental
Quality Bond Act was defeated in 1990, LaGrasse, at Gerdts's urging,
organized a Unity Conference meeting in Warren County. The Adirondackers
were still concerned about passage of bills to implement the Twenty-first
Century Commission recommendations. The meeting was chaired by
Gerdts. The first meeting seemed auspicious, with nearly every
head of a pro-Adirondack organization present, but the Unity Conference
had built-in sources of conflict and fell apart at the second
meeting. With the exception of the most loyal grassroots activists,
the Adirondack leaders blamed Gerdts for the breakup, objecting
to his dictatorial, radical style.
After his initial importance to the Adirondack protest, Gerdts tried to work his way up from his visibility in the region as a spokesman the Adirondack cause to go on to bigger things. Without any plans to carry out the announcement, Gerdts declared his candidacy for the 45th Senatorial District to challenge Ronald Stafford in 1992, withdrew and threw his support, at various times, to fellow challenger Robert Schulz and then to Stafford himself, and then ultimately withdrew his support of Stafford.
Into 1993 Gerdts tried to exploit the growing national popularity of the property rights issue to position himself in Washington, D.C., but he failed at this endeavor within a year or two. He was also involved in the founding meetings of the "Fly-Ins for Freedom" of the property rights/wise use movement that became the Alliance for America, but he quickly lost interest in the Alliance.
Meanwhile, he moved each of the organizations as his residence moved from Adirondack to Chestertown to finally Hadley. Having dropped his Adirondack activism and his Adirondack support having dwindled, he left the North Country for the Richmond, Va., area in 1994, explaining that he and his wife were moving in with his daughter because they were destitute.
Ten years almost to the month from the date of release of the Adirondack Twenty-first Century Commission report, Don Gerdts died of cancer on April 12, 2000 at his daughter Katie's farm in Virginia. In a story in the Glens Falls Post-Star six days later, his daughter was quoted as saying that he died with his pocket Constitution on his heart.