In Guilderland, the two small parties endorse the incumbents

GUILDERLAND — The incumbent Democratic slate in Guilderland — Peter Barber for supervisor and Patricia Slavick and Paul Pastore for town board — has been endorsed by the town’s largest small parties, the Conservative and Independence parties.

The Conservative Party has endorsed the Democrats even though two of the challengers — Michele Coons and Kathy Burbank — are enrolled Conservatives. Real-estate salesperson Coons ran for the board unsuccessfully in 2011 and again in 2015. Burbank was executive director of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce for six years before leaving to head the not-for-profit Community Caregivers.

The other challenger, for supervisor, is enrolled Republican Brian Forte. Forte lost narrowly to Barber in 2015 when both made their first run for that office after longtime Democratic supervisor Kenneth Runion announced his retirement.

The challengers have all done opportunity-to-ballot petitions, and voters will have the opportunity to write in their names on these parties’ ballots.

One exception to this is the Conservative ballot, where, since Coons and Burbank are registered Conservatives, their names will appear on the ballot, along with the slate of Democrats. Conservative primary voters wishing to support Forte for supervisor would need to write in his name on the ballot.

Conservative Party

The Conservative Party stands for “family first and government last,” said Albany County Chairman Richard Stack this week. “Everything’s done to support the family. We look for good government; we look for openness; we look for fiscal responsibility; and we look for the transparency has to approach their elected officials and be heard, on all levels, whether it’s planning, or zoning, or regular board meetings.”

Asked why his party was supporting the incumbents over the challengers for town board from within his own party, Stack said, “We look at the people’s record over the long run. If you’ve been a long-term incumbent, we look at what you’ve done for the community.

“In this case,” he continued, “we look at the actions they’ve taken on certain projects like the buying of the golf course at no expense to the taxpayers, building the sidewalks from the Albany line right out to [Route] 155 at no expense to the taxpayers, improvements at Tawasentha Park, the fact that the taxes have only risen one cent in 20 years — those are compelling factors in our decision-making.”

Stack said that in Guilderland, and in New Scotland as well, it’s been a long time since Republicans have been in power, and it’s been a long time since there has been any misgovernance either. “I mean there’s no chief of police under an ethics investigation; there’s no contractor collusion. The list goes on all over the place, and it’s not happening there,” he said.

Stack is the chairman, and there are 10 others on the executive board; the entire board votes on who to endorse. The seats on the board are balanced in proportion to the enrollment in the community, he said. There are two people from Guilderland on the board, Stack said: Debra Murley and Walter Pacholczak.

Pacholczak is secretary and assistant treasurer of Guilderland’s Industrial Development Agency.

The candidates each submit a one-page biography, Stack said, and fill out a questionnaire before coming in for a 10-minute interview with the entire executive board. This time, Barber, Slavick, and Pastore were interviewed together. Coons and Burbank were interviewed together, too, and Forte came in by himself, Stack said.

The names of the Democratic incumbents as well as those of challengers Burbank and Coons will appear on the Conservative ballot, Stack said. Forte will be an opportunity-to-ballot candidate.

Independence Party

Albany County Independence Party Chairman Paul Caputo said that the party was organized in 1995 by Thomas Golisano, who was running for governor. Its primary mission, originally, was political reform. Political reform remains part of its core ideals now, along with good government and community, Caputo said.

Caputo, who lives in Guilderland, said that an executive committee of seven — elected by the county committee’s 300 members — met with all of those wishing to be considered as Independence Party candidates in contested races in Guilderland.

The committee — which included Guilderland Conservative Party Chairman Henry Klein — met, not with individual candidates, but with each slate. The committee asked questions about issues related to the community and issues that are important to the committee, like fiscal responsibility and the budget process, Caputo said.

Barber, Slavick, and Pastore were interviewed together, as were Forte, Coons, and Burbank, Caputo said.

The committee asked the incumbents to describe their accomplishments as well as anything they consider failures, Caputo said. With the challengers, he said, they asked for specific information about things that they would have done differently than the incumbents have done.

“Then we pick the candidate that we feel best meets the interests and the beliefs of our membership, and that’s how a candidate is chosen to represent our party,” Caputo said.

“We feel that the town is in good hands and has been fiscally responsible and these individuals have done a very good job, and that’s why our committee decided to endorse them,” he explained.

A lot people prefer not to cast their votes on the Democratic or Republican lines, Caputo said. They vote on the Independence Party line “because they believe in the ideals of the party,” Caputo said, and in order to send a message about wanting a multi-partisan approach to government.

“We stay out of the social issues,” Caputo said. “We believe that that’s an individual’s decision. We believe in good government that works for the people.”

Acting Democratic chair did not pursue objection  

Jacob Crawford, who stepped in as acting chairman of the Democratic Committee in Guilderland after the death of longtime chairman David Bosworth in April, said that he had not pursued the objection he filed to the challengers’ petitions to be allowed on the Conservative and Independence parties’ primary ballots as write-ins. He filed the objections in July, telling The Enterprise at the time that he had found a handful of questionable signatures on the petitions, and wanted more time to review them further.

“We didn’t find anything more, so we didn’t pursue it,” he said this week of the objections.

Asked why Conservative voters should choose the slate of sitting Democrats, he said that the town board under Peter Barber’s leadership has continued its 17-year record of keeping overall taxes among the lowest in Albany County. It has continued to reduce the town tax levy and is working to provide more opportunities for businesses to develop and grow in Guilderland, he said.

In the past year, the board reduced the number of onerous zoning regulations, he said, to make it easier for businesses to go through the process of developing new properties or rehabbing old ones.

Crawford, who is a member of Guilderland’s zoning board of appeals, said he likes to think that those accomplishments would appeal to all voters, but he felt that they might in particular hold an appeal for Conservatives.

As for Independence Party voters, he said that he hoped those voters are proud, as he is, of the work that the town has done, especially expanding the services for seniors and improving the parks throughout the town. There is going to be more opportunity for hiking and fishing, Crawford said, and open spaces in town, going forward. The town board has worked to expand sidewalks, connecting the local elementary schools and libraries to the surrounding neighborhoods, he said, adding that those are going to be “huge improvements to make the town even more walkable than it is now.”

Crawford said it is especially impressive to consider the many improvements that have been made in Barber’s first two years in office.

Republican chair’s view

Guilderland Republican Committee Chairman Douglas Breakell said that he was surprised that the Conservative Party — with an ideology that aligns with the Republican Party but not with the Democratic Party — chose to endorse the sitting Democrats. He suggested that it was time for a change, and that Slavick and Pastore had both been on the board for over a decade.

“Having fresh ideas, new faces, even younger faces in some cases, brings a different outlook to town, and brings different ideas,” Breakell said.

He said that the idea of term limits was an important principle of the Conservative Party, and that this was another reason he found their choice hard to understand.

He said of Coons and Burbank that they are people who understand business and understand the community. He was not saying that the sitting town board members lack this understanding, he said, but fresh new ideas would reinvigorate the town.

Brian Forte, said Breakell, during his time on the board, tried to redevelop Tommy Polito’s property at the corner of routes 20 and 146. He was part of the effort to address the blight in town and hold owners of zombie properties accountable, which has not been followed through by the local government since, Breakell said. “It’s one thing to pass a law, but there’s no enforcement,” he said.

Breakell asked that voters look at the candidates, and “see who’s registered Conservative and who’s registered Democrat.”

Statistics on Guilderland party enrollment

According to figures current as of Aug. 29, sent by the Democratic Commissioner of the Board of Elections Matthew Clyne, Democrats account for 40 percent of Guilderland’s registered voters, and Republicans 25 percent. There are 9,220 Democrats to the town’s 5,792 Republicans.

In terms of the smaller parties, the Independence Party is more than twice the size of the Conservative Party, with 5 percent of residents, or 1,314, while the  Conservative Party has 2 percent, or 512.

Other parties such as the Green Party, with 60 voters, or the Working Families Party, with 39, are too small to be statistically significant. The Women’s Equality Party has just five registered voters.

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