GPL trustees: Dearth of candidates ends with burst of write-ins

 Corie Dugas, Ted Gup, Jo Ann Mulligan

Left to right: Corie Dugas, Ted Gup, Jo Ann Mulligan

GUILDERLAND —  The candidates who garnered enough write-in votes to serve as trustees on the Guilderland library board are committed to the mission of public libraries.

“Particularly with the country so politically polarized, a library can be a meeting place where people can understand other views,” said Ted Gup who garnered the most write-in votes with 472.

He is a journalist, book author, and teacher who has covered politics for decades — but the library race was his first run for public office.

“The mission of a public library is to serve all individuals, all information … Public libraries are information centers, not just for books and movies; they’re there for information as a whole,” said Jo Ann Mulligan, who came in second with 461 votes.

She graduated last week with a master’s degree in information science from the University at Albany and has spent seven years as an assistant in the Altamont Free Library.

“I’m just really invested in the public library space in my community. I think it’s really important that it is open and accessible to everybody,” said Corie Dugas, who came in third with 399 votes.

She works as the executive director of the NELLCO Law Library Consortium, based in Albany, which started serving New England but is now international, so she works with libraries around the world.

The Guilderland trustees’ election had suffered from a dearth of candidates. Only Elish Melchiade turned in a petition to appear on the ballot; she received 2,850 votes and was profiled by The Enterprise ahead of the election.

Before the May 17 vote, the library’s director, Timothy Wiles, told The Enterprise he was relieved that citizens who want to ban books hadn’t petitioned for a place on the ballot. “I’m hopeful that, as a community, we are going to choose freedom,” he said, citing it as a core value.

In the end, seven residents launched write-in campaigns to serve on the 11-member board, which has unpaid posts. As the top vote-getters, Melchiade and Gup will each serve a five-year term. Mulligan and Dugas will each serve a one-year term, filling out terms for trustees who resigned.

Jessica Montgomery came in fifth with 156 write-in votes; Brian Sheridan came in sixth with 121 votes; Marey Bailey came in seventh with 114 votes; and Mark Mitchell came in eighth with 106 write-in votes.


Ted Gup

Ted Gup says he has deep feelings about libraries going back to his childhood in Canton, Ohio when, as an elementary student, he would, on his own, ride two buses to get to the library.

“It felt like a kind of enchanted escape for me,” said Gup, remembering boyhood books he read on the Anglo-Saxon influence on England or on Hernán Cortés, the Spanish explorer. “It was kind of serendipitous,” he said, explaining he never went to the library for a particular book but rather enjoyed browsing.

He described himself, in his youth, as “pretty parochial,” and said the library was a place where he could expand his horizons.

“I’m a great believer in the First Amendment,” Gup said, noting he has a law degree and works as a journalist. “I don’t think people should ever be afraid of facts.”

The thing that most impressed him when he first visited the Guilderland library was seeing fishing poles could be checked out. This was not just because he is an angler but because it showed the library served diverse interests, he said.

As a trustee, Gup said, “I would like to do whatever I can to make people feel welcome.” He may even host some programs himself on memoir writing or on the role of the press in a democracy, he said.

He believes the library can be a place for public debates and forums about issues that currently divide us. “The best ideas,” said Gup, “begin with the community and find expression in public institutions.”

Currently, he said, “Libraries and schools are sort of the spear point of the culture wars.” While he is not bashful about presenting his values, Gup said, “I’m not an idealogue. I’m not close-minded. I’m not trying to convert anyone.”

He concluded, “I’m probably the only reporter in America that has simultaneously written for Mother Jones and the National Review.”


Jo Ann Mulligan

Jo Ann Mulligan said, “It was awesome to grow up in a huge family.” She has three sisters and two brothers and says her sisters are her best friends.

“We were always involved in community activities,” she said.

The Mulligan sisters, in their childhood, regularly sang patriotic songs at Cindy Pollard’s Home Front Café in the village, honoring veterans at a variety of events.

Her father, a mechanic, and her mother, a homemaker, always kept reading front and center for the family. “My parents read to us since we were born,” said Mulligan.

Her favorite book as a girl was Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth,” in which a once-bored Milo comes to love learning and thereby love his life. He and his dog are transported by a magic tollbooth and set out to find Rhyme and Reason, two exiled princesses.

“The story was so unique and funny,” said Mulligan, who was intrigued with all the word play. “I fell in love with it. It was the first book I read on my own — and I just never stopped.”

Her current favorite book is “Along for the Ride” by Sarah Dessen, which tells the story of a young woman who spends the summer before college with her father, his wife, and their baby. “It’s about learning who she is … It’s one of the first teen books I read,” said Mulligan.

She is excited because “Along for the Ride” has been made into a Netflix movie. Her sisters have read the book, too, and, equally as busy as she, they are waiting for a time when they can see the movie together.

Mulligan describes libraries as her passion and hopes to become a librarian.

As a Guilderland trustee, she said, “My goal is to learn as much as possible and bring as much information to people as I can.”

She said her candidacy was spread by word of mouth. “I know a lot of people in the Altamont and Guilderland area because I lived here my whole life,” she said. She also announced her candidacy on Facebook.

But the 461 votes she received were unexpected. “It really surprised me,” said Mulligan. “I was like, wow.”


Corie Dugas

Corie Dugas had thought about running on the ballot but came down with COVID-19 and so couldn’t canvas her neighborhood to get the 52 required signatures — 2 percent of the number of residents who voted last year.

Of course, she ended up with nearly four times that many write-in votes.

Four years ago, Dugas with her husband bought a house in Guilderland and loves the community, she said.

“We love the pace of everything here,” she said. “My neighborhood really has a nice sense of community and I think that everyone is remarkably friendly. Coming from the Midwest, I was just incredibly delighted to find that people up here are just as friendly.”

Dugas grew up in rural Kansas, in a small town called Concordia. “My parents were both big readers and big supporters of the library when I was a kid,” she said.

The first books that made an impression on her were in the Boxcar Children series — Gertrude Chandler Warner’s 1920s books are about four orphaned children who make a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar.

“I was very, very close to the train tracks and so it was a fun thing to imagine that was your life, that you were living on the train,” she said.

In real life, Dugas got her undergraduate degree in Kansas and then moved to St. Louis where she held a series of library jobs in academia before she got her master’s degree to become a librarian and worked at a law school library at Saint Louis University before taking her current job at NELLCO in Albany.

“I am a librarian by trade,” Dugas said, speaking to The Enterprise this week from  Mexico. “I run a nonprofit now but I worked as an academic law and law librarian for many years.”

As a Guilderland trustee, she said, “My biggest goal with the board is to make sure that the community is continuing to support and understand and value the staff of the library and all of the work that they do creating excellent programming, building up these awesome collections that we have access to, and just keep doing great things in the community.”

Dugas, an avid reader, posts book reviews on an online site she has run for many years.

“I get almost all of my books that I read and review from our public library,” she said. “I think the most delightful thing about it is being able to learn about other cultures and other people and other experiences.”


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