GOP’s Verch to challenge Dems’ Bichteman for Westerlo super

William Bichteman

William Bichteman

WESTERLO — With over a year of planning, and with their platform established, Westerlo Republicans hope to finally overturn the Democratic majority on the town board. While Democrats have not yet held their caucus, incumbent candidates are running on their records.

At the town’s Republican caucus on March 16, Dorothy Verch was nominated for town supervisor; the town’s planning board chairwoman, Verch is making her first run for office.

Incumbent Amie Burnside garnered the most council votes in her first election four years ago. Matthew Kryzak, a newcomer to politics, was also nominated for town board.

Wendy Shelburne was nominated for town clerk, and Jody Ostrander was nominated for highway superintendent.

Party Chairwoman Lisa DeGroff said that 22 people unanimously voted for the candidates.

DeGroff said that town Republicans have been preparing for the 2019 election for the last year-and-a-half. She believes that there has been a shift to Republicans recently, not just in Westerlo, but in the state and the country.

“It’s time for a fresh start,” she said.

Out of 2,225 registered voters in Westerlo, 947 are Democrats and 494 are Republicans. Another 569 are not affiliated. Westerlo also has 144 Independence Party members, 78 Conservatives, and no more than a dozen in each of the other small parties.

DeGroff said that Westerlo Republican candidates will be running on a platform with several planks, including establishing a fiscally sustainable government and establishing an ethics committee.

“They’re focused on the residents but not the party,” said DeGroff, of the candidates.

All the candidates backed by the GOP are Republicans except for long-time highway superintendent Jody Ostrander, a Democrat. DeGroff said that Ostrander was endorsed regardless of his party affiliation because he has done his job well.

She said that the GOP had not endorsed any candidate for judge, including Democrat Robert Carl; DeGroff said the party was not focusing on the justice department at this time.

Democrats

The Westerlo Democratic Party has not yet held its caucus to select candidates, but a number of incumbents are expected to run on the party line, said Edwin Stevens, the party chairman. They include William Bichteman, currently the acting supervisor; Councilman Anthony Sherman; Town Clerk Kathleen Spinnato; and highway Superintendent Jody Ostrander, all of whom are Democrats.

Stevens said the party is still searching for another town-council candidate and has not yet verified if Robert Carl will be running for re-election as town justice.

Stevens, who has been the Democrats’ chairman since February, said that the candidates have been trying to run the town as efficiently as possible and have had a good track record in their roles.

Last month, Richard Rapp, who had been Westerlo’s supervisor for decades, resigned.

Sherman and Ostrander could not be reached for comment before press time. Although the Democratic caucus has not yet been held, they have been endorsed by the Albany County Independence Party; Ostrander has also been endorsed by the county’s conservative party.

GOP CANDIDATES

Dorothy Verch

Supervisor candidate Dorothy Verch has been the planning board chairwoman since 2012 after Anthony Sherman left the position to serve on the town board.

Verch said that she had not been involved in local government prior to her role on the planning board, but said that she had started attending meetings and asking questions that ultimately led to her appointment. She also helped to found and now chairs the town’s Broadband Research Committee.

Verch said many things led to her decision to run. She believes Westerlo could be made better and that, given her accomplishments while working with the town, she could be the one to do that.

Verch, 76, has lived in Westerlo for around 40 years and currently runs her own lighting company out of her home following a varied career path that took her from the medical field, to communications, and finally to working at a lighting store owned by her husband before starting her own.

“Each one of [these jobs] give me a different way of thinking and looking at things,” she said.

Verch was enrolled as a Republican until around 2009, when she left the party due to her disappointment in New York Republican politicians. She said that she enrolled in the party again in 2018 due to renewed interest in the party with the election of President Donald Trump.

Verch would like to have town officials take advantage of educational opportunities from groups like the Association of Towns. She also would like to have more openness in town government and a better budget procedure. She later added that the town needs to provide more services so that people are more apt to move there.

“I think the town has, … for at least 48 years, been in the control of the Democrats,” she said. “Maybe it’s time for someone else.”

Matthew Kryzak

A newcomer to politics, Matthew Kryzak said he first became involved in town government after he decided to attend a town meeting because he wanted to know where his tax dollars were going.

Originally from Altamont, Kryzak, who is 36, and his wife moved to Westerlo a little less than a decade ago.

“That side of the mountain got the most sun,” he said, of why he moved there. “And the views were beautiful.”

Kryzak’s field of expertise is business. He helped his wife start a housecall-style veterinary practice out of their home and now works for a construction company, Multi-Phase Contracting Corporation in Altamont, as an estimator and project manager primarily for projects put out to bid by government agencies.

Kryzak said he will be running on the GOP’s platform, including promoting fiscal responsibility.

“You owe that to the taxpayer,” he said. He would also like to find ways to establish more businesses in town in order to grow the town’s tax base.

Kryzak will also be running on the Conservative Party line.

Amie Burnside

Amie Burnside, a Republican, will be running on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence Party lines for town council.

Burnside, 47, grew up in East Berne and moved to Westerlo after marrying her husband, who grew up in the town. She worked as a licensed insurance broker for 17 years and is now an underwriter for Eastern Mutual Insurance Company in Westerlo. She also worked briefly at Albany Medical Center as an administrative support assistant in the hospital’s surgical department.

This will be Burnside’s first time running for re-election. She was elected to town council four years ago, and was the only woman and initially the only Republican on the board.

“It was nerve-wracking,” she said.

Prior to that, she served on the town’s zoning board of appeals for about a year-and-a-half. It was a position she said she enjoyed immensely as she was able to work with people and learn about town laws.

“I’d like to continue some of the good things we’ve been establishing and building up to,” she said, of her time on the town board. This includes issues such as a more open government and accessible budget process. She would also like to continue the Hometown Heroes program, which was formed last year under a committee she chairs.

Burnside said she would like the town to create an ethics committee to spawn a better, more transparent government in which residents are confident. She also said that Westerlo’s budget needs to be looked into and structured differently for the town to continue to be more open.

Burnside said that she does believe, however, that the town government has been much more transparent over the last two years with two Republicans on the board.

Wendy Shelburne

Wendy Shelburne said that she is running for town clerk because she wants to become more involved in her community, saying that, following the death of her father, she has recently been involved with the Westerlo Rural Cemetery.

Shelburne, 49, grew up in Westerlo but left when she was 18. She returned in 2009 to be with her father, who had developed Alzheimer’s disease. She teaches piano and also works as an office manager at the Early Childhood Education Center, a preschool for children with disabilities in Schenectady.

She is also part of the American Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary in Greenville, a member of the “praise team” in the Westerlo First Baptist Church where she plays keyboard, and she volunteers as a chaperone in the robotics club of the Greenville Central School District that two of her five children are a part of.

Shelburne believes that there is a need for more computer literacy and organization in the town clerk’s office, which she can bring to the office as she has experience updating websites at her previous job at the East Glenville Community Church.

She also said she would like to have the office open for one Saturday a month so that clerk services can be available to those who work during the week.

DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES

William Bichteman

William Bichteman said he is running for supervisor on the Independence Party and Conservative Party lines as well as having the Democrats’ backing. He has several goals and visions for the town should he be elected.

Bichteman had previously worked for several engineering firms and contractors before starting his own business, Trinity Construction, which he ran for almost 30 years. At 72, he is now retired, which he said is a benefit because it gives him more time to prepare and research town board business.

Bichteman was appointed, along with Anthony Sherman, to the Westerlo Town Board in 2012 after Gregory Zeh and Edward Rash stepped down shortly after town elections. Bichteman ran for election twice, winning the first time, in 2013, and losing the second time, in 2017.

In 2019, former supervisor Richard Rapp appointed him as his deputy supervisor despite Bichteman not being in office. Bichteman became acting supervisor upon Rapp’s resignation in March. Because he is not a town board member, Bichteman currently does not have voting power on the board but otherwise has most of the powers of a supervisor.

Bichteman said that he currently is working on better explaining the budget process to residents and pursuing grants for the town. He said that he also wants to oversee the development of the town’s next comprehensive plan, in the hopes that it will help shape town zoning and help development in Westerlo such as possibly forming a business corridor on Route 32.

Bichteman also has additional short-term goals such as purchasing a new phone system for the town hall.

Kathleen Spinnato

Kathleen Spinnato, 60, has lived in the town of Westerlo for 36 years. Before that, she grew up in Medusa six miles away in Rensselaerville.

“I really enjoy the opportunity to serve the community,” she said.

As well as hoping to receive the Democratic nomination, Spinnato has received the Conservative Party’s nomination and the Independence Party’s nomination.

Spinnato has worked in the clerk’s office for the last 18 years, first serving as the deputy town clerk under Gertrude Smith, who now serves as her deputy clerk. In 2011, Spinnato ran successfully for town clerk.

Her other roles include serving as tax collector, notary public, records manager, and registrar of vital statistics, she said. Spinatto also said that she has attended training and received certifications as a clerk over the years, and intends to continue her education on this.

“We’re the first contact for the local government,” she said.

Prior to working for the town, Spinnato worked in the state comptroller’s office for 13 years as a senior account and senior audit clerk for the Municipal Affairs Unit, she said. She went on to work for the Farm Service Agency before working in the clerk’s office.

Spinnato is the secretary to the New York State Town Clerks Association of Albany-Schenectady Counties, and formerly served as the secretary for the Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company Ladies’ Auxiliary.

She hopes to receive a grant from the Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund that the town has applied for to move the town’s records to town hall; if she does, she intends to do more to improve record-keeping and make it more efficient. She said she has other items in mind but that it would depend on the town’s budget.

“I’ve always liked the town; I’ve always like the people of the town,” she said of her decision to work in the clerk’s office. “It just seemed natural.”

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