Bichteman holds seat, but council flips red in Westerlo

Bill Bichteman

WESTERLO — The results are in: The Westerlo GOP’s campaign to take the town board for the first time in at least half-a-century was successful with Republican Amie Burnside re-elected and Democrat Anthony Sherman set to be replaced by Republican Matt Kryzak, a newcomer to politics.

Democrat Bill Bichteman, acting supervisor, won the supervisor’s race against Republican Dorothy Verch, but the voting power still lies with the Republicans who now hold three of the five seats on the council. Democractic Councilman Joseph Boone was not up for re-election nor was Republican incumbent Richard Filkins.

Bichteman, who has been receiving praise from both Democrats and Republicans for his first tentative budget, took approximately 62-percent of the vote while Verch took about 37-percent. One voter wrote in. In the supervisor’s race, 907 votes were cast, representing more than half of the town’s registered voters and just over a quarter of the town’s total population.

At the time the polls were closing Tuesday, workers were describing the long lines that formed by each machine and booth throughout the day. Lisa DeGroff, chairwoman of the Westerlo GOP, said poll workers told her they were “amazed” at the turnout.

Between 800 and 900 votes were cast for the town councilmembers, with GOP candidates earning 54-percent of the share and Democratic candidates earning just under 46-percent. One person wrote in.

Democrat Kathleen Spinnato was re-elected for town clerk over GOP challenger Wendy Shelburne with just over 64-percent of 914 votes. Unopposed highway superintendent Jody Ostrander, endorsed by both parties, took all votes cast but three, which were write-ins. Unopposed for town justice was Robert Carl, endorsed by the Democrats, who took all votes but two.

Matt Kryzak, Anthony Sherman, Amie Burnside, and Democratic town board candidate Jennifer Bungay could not be reached for comment before press time.

 

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“Just another day,” said Bichteman when The Enterprise asked him about his feelings after the election. 

Forty-one-percent of Westerlo’s registered voters are Democrats while 23-percent are Republican and 5-percent are independent as of Nov. 4, 2019. With more than 62-percent of the vote, totaling well over the share of his party endorsements, Bichteman holds support with a poly-partisan base.

“I don’t think we saw a lot of party tensions on my part,” Bichteman said. “I just kept trying to do the job I was appointed to do.”

After longtime Democratic supervisor, Dick Rapp, resigned in March, Bichteman, who had earlier been ousted as councilman, was appointed acting supervisor by because the two Democratic and two Republican councilmembers couldn’t agree on an appointment.

When asked about the board elections, Bichteman was magnanimous. 

“I certainly would have liked to see a majority of people from my party,” he said. “ … but I don’t see any major hurdles as far as personalities or interests go.” He described the board members, old and new, as “good people of Westerlo with good common sense” all acting in the best interest of the town.

In an email to The Enterprise, Verch wrote, “Mr. Bichteman has been selected by the residents to be the next supervisor. They decided to give him a shot and see what he can do, and I respect that choice. That is what our country is based on. The people come out and exercise their precious right to vote and choose the person that they want.”

Regarding the newly Republican-majority board, Verch said, “It should also be noted that, I think, for the first time, the composition of the Board will be majority Republican. A good check and balance to the governing of the Town.”

“I think the outcome of the elections represent the very fair balance of government for the residents,” said Lisa DeGroff, chairwoman of the Westerlo GOP.

On Verch’s loss beside the GOP’s town board victories, DeGroff said “I think what it boils down to … is residents of the town of Westerlo are clearly divided on solar,” and suggested that, as chairwoman of the town planning board, Verch was seen as leading the charge for solar development, even though Verch is the only Republican on the planning board.

“I have faith in the fact that, with our moratorium in place, we’ll be able to strike a healthy balance” between benefits of solar development and town charm, DeGroff said.

Referencing earlier elections, DeGroff said, “Eight-hundred-and-fifty-nine [voters] for a gubernatorial election is pretty good; 850 for an election like this is unheard of.

“I’m pleased because it’s important to get out and let their voices be heard,” she said on the number of voters, explaining that votes let elected officials know where residents fall on the issues, rather than relying on party lines.

“They’re there to serve all the residents of Westerlo,” DeGroffsaid. “Not just members of their party.”

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