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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 8, 2007

Ousted: A Grimm night for reigning Guilderland Dems

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND - In an upset, the town's Democratic leader and the town's longest-serving councilman were ousted in Tuesday's election.

Making their first Republican runs for the board - Mark Grimm and Warren Redlich - won decisively over Guilderland Democratic chairman and Albany County co-chairman, Councilman David Bosworth, and three-term Democratic Councilman Michael Ricard.

Bosworth, who was credited with turning the previously all-Republican town board completely Democratic, received the fewest votes by an unofficial count.

Democrats had dominated in Guilderland since 2001, when they ended over a century of Republican rule. Tuesday, the incumbent Democratic supervisor, town clerk, and town judge ran unopposed, as did the long-time Republican highway superintendent, a holdout from the GOP era.

The Republicans fielded only three candidates in this election and all of them won.

Grimm and Redlich made campaign claims about unfair property assessments, targeting Ricard for having a "sweetheart deal," and about conflicts of interest, targeting Bosworth for his county-funded job.

Grimm and Redlich received 3,980 and 3,788 votes respectively to Ricard's 3,585 votes and Bosworth's 3,581. The board of elections sent out 272 absentee ballots and has received 201, which will be counted Thursday.

The town's highest vote-getter with 5,401 votes was incumbent Democratic Town Clerk Rosemary Centi. She cried as she made her acceptance speech, saying, "That's what you get when you're a master of communication," a reference to Grimm, who runs a communications consulting business. "A little bit of truth, wrapped around a lie."

Grimm called his win "an historic upset," saying, "A county chairman lost his hometown." He also said he was getting people to believe in politics again.

Tense times

The mood was dismal, and at times tense, at the Cabernet Café Tuesday night where dozens of Democrats met to tally results and support each other. Two large whiteboards were filled with blue and red markers as the tallies came in from the board of elections.

The applause was loud for the town's winning Democratic members.

Tax Receiver Jean Cataldo, the town's biggest vote-getter in the last election, and Chief Court Clerk Eileen Dean helped fill out the whiteboards after the polls closed. Lieutenant Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police was also on hand, in a civilian capacity, to help post the vote totals.

The mood in the room continued to become disheartened as the red column for the Republicans grew more quickly than the Democrats' blue column. Murmurs of "the assessments" could be heard in the crowd throughout the evening as a possible explanation for the strong Republican showing.

Current town board members, mingled with zoning board members, including Chairman Peter Barber, and local officials, including Altamont Mayor James Gaughan, Assemblyman John McEneny, and Independence Party Chairman Paul Caputo. Newly-elected county legislators Mary Lou Connolly, William Alyward, and Bryan Clenahan were also on hand along with defeated county legislator Dennis Feeney.

The town's development director, was there too.

Donald Csaposs was active in the Democrats' campaign, writing forceful letters to the Enterprise editor, and coming under attack by the GOP candidates. One Republican election flyer depicted the Town Hall sign with Donald Csaposs's name on top.

Several Democrats were critical in their speeches.

"This was a campaign of one lie after another," Connolly angrily said of the town board race.

Caputo said that the race was "an injustice to the rest of us"and to the town of Guilderland."

Democrats maintain that the loss is not a blow to their party.

Bosworth and Ricard did not officially concede the loss Tuesday night, waiting until all of the absentee ballots are counted, but both thanked their supporters and spoke of their accomplishments on the board.

"It's easily lost in one night all of the things that have happened"You have to put it in perspective," Bosworth told Democratic onlookers. "This was not a mandate for change like some have suggested"We've had three months of negatively"We need to put a positive look forward.

"This is only one inning of the ball game," Bosworth concluded of the town's Democratic Party. "We will remain in the majority."

Ricard said that he couldn't have accomplished anything without his supporters over the past decade. He thanked everyone involved in his campaign and those who voted for him.

Happy winners

Down the road on Western Avenue, at Dorato's Restaurant in Star Plaza, the mood was upbeat and jovial as a handful of supporters gathered to celebrate and congratulate the Republican winners.

Democrats say their challengers ran "a dirty campaign," mired in personal attacks, while Republicans say that they "simply stuck to the facts" and did not attack anyone.

"I want what happened here tonight to grow," Grimm said while watching results from the last of the polling districts in Guilderland broadcast on television. "I truly believe that this is a movement in politics"getting people to believe again."

He attributed his win to going to over 9,000 households in town and getting the word out that change was possible.

"Back in July and August, when everyone else was on the beach, I was out there biking house to house," said Grimm. "When they [Democrats] attacked me"people said, 'Wait a second. That's not the guy that I met and shook hands with.

"I'm not surprised by this," Grimm concluded, and then pointed to his running mate, Redlich, saying "We believed in each other and supported each other and made a perfect team."

Grimm called it "the ultimate grassroots victory."

Redlich, a lawyer, said that Grimm inspired him to believe that change could be possible, and, of his own win, he said "It's almost shocking. This is my hometown"It is a tremendous honor and a privilege."

He added that the voters agreed the town's assessment process was broken and it needed to be fixed.

"First, we have to figure out how it is broken," Redlich said.

As for the accusations of personal attacks, Redlich said it was never personal and the Republicans didn't attack anyone.

"That's ridiculous. When you're running against a unanimous team"you're running on that their doing something wrong," he said to The Enterprise. "We dealt with things larger newspapers didn't care about, but local voters did."

Redlich said he focused on "at home" issues that voters identified with, not divisive issues.

"There's a reality about town politics. You don't run on the war in Iraq or abortion," said Redlich. "We don't decide national policy in a town office, we deal with budgets and taxes."

No stranger to politics both locally and nationally, Redlich, a former Democrat, ran on the Libertarian line in 2001 for Guilderland Town Board and ran against Congressmen Michael McNulty twice. He lost all of those races by wide margins. This will be the first time either Redlich or Grimm are elected to office.

The campaigns

Campaigning was intense on both sides during the run up to Tuesday's election. Enrolled Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in town, being roughly a third of Guilderland's nearly 35,000 residents, and the party was clearly more dominant prior to this election.

The town's Democratic Party is larger, better financed, and better organized than what has been a floundering town Republican Party. The town's GOP has had a different chair for the past three years and an almost non-existent committee member enrollment.

Now, with two Republican councilmen on the town board, that may change.

Barbara Davis, who was Grimm's original running mate and who declined her party's nomination for the council position, became the town's Republican chair in July. Davis could not be reached yesterday to comment on the Republican wins.

She became the chair after Albany County Legislator Lee Carman stepped down, citing a conflict of interest in his own race and being chairman. He chided Bosworth at the time to do the same.

Carman won re-election by about 100 votes on Tuesday against attorney Dennis Feeney who was also a former county legislator from District 30. Democrat Bryan Clenahan was appointed to fill in Feeney's old post in that district and subsequently ran on Tuesday unopposed. (See related story.)

Substituted for Davis after she dropped out in July, Redlich used the wrong forms for his petition and he was sued by Councilman Ricard when he first entered the race.

Redlich won the suit in the state's Supreme Court, but it was overturned in the Appellate Court Division when Ricard appealed.

However, Redlich filed a second substitution petition after his first one, which was not challenged by the Albany County Board of Elections, and he was allowed to remain on the ballot.

Ricard said he sued Redlich because Redlich had not followed the proper procedures or did not have the proper signatures.

Redlich fired back at the time, saying that Ricard was trying to knock him off the ballot and "deprive Guilderland voters of a choice." He worked the sentiment into a Dr. Suess-style rhyme, which he read during a town board meeting last month stating, "Mike Ricard, you tried to knock me off the ballot, but you didn't have the proper mallet."

Campaigning on assessments, Redlich accused Ricard and Bosworth of having their homes assessed lower than the town-wide average. Both of the incumbents responded by saying they owned older homes, with Ricard's not having municipal sewer or water hookups, and that there were "no deals."

They said Redlich's assessment was higher because he owned a brand new $300,000 home.

Grimm campaigned on a variety of hot-button issues, including increased town spending, the investigation of former police chief James Murley, a secretive Town Hall, personal pay hikes, and conflict-of-interests issues.

Letters to the Enterprise editor on various matters between Democrats and Republicans appeared weekly leading up to Tuesday's election.

Democrats described the campaign as "nasty" at times or referred to the charges as personal attacks. Bosworth said that the Republicans "were making up issues where there were none" because they had no issues of their own. He likened their campaign strategies to smear tactics.

Supervisor Runion touted the town's sound fiscal policies during his administration, getting the best financial rating from Moody, and an 8-percent tax rate decrease since 2001, when he wrote his first budget.

Grimm refuted the supervisor's statements by asking voters if they were paying "more or less taxes" than they were six years ago.

Aidala retires as GCSD superintendent, looks forward to reflection

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND - Dr. Gregory Aidala says he learned something every day during his seven years as superintendent of the Guilderland schools.

"A lot of my work has to do with problem-solving," said the former middle-school math teacher. "I've been able to help people work through some difficult areas"By the time it reaches me, it sometimes seems unfair to delegate back down," said Aidala of his hands-on approach to solving problems.

He has described his role as a non-voting member of the school board, putting himself at odds with some board members who see their role as governing the superintendent. Aidala said recently of board meetings this year, "I am more outspoken"I want to be sure we remain on course."

Looking back at his seven years as supervisor, Aidala said, "I've tried to be a visible leader"We pride ourselves that this is an excellent district. There is always a need to be better.

"My philosophy is hiring the best people - teachers, bus drivers, office staff - and providing the best support and encouragement we can," he said. "The district is known for its professional development."

Aidala is retiring this month at age 56 after 35 years in education. He has no immediate professional plans although he said he might do some short-term work as an interim middle-school principal. He enjoyed teaching math to eighth-graders and being a middle-school principal, he said.

"I liked the kids," he said. "The middle-school-aged child is enthusiastic and interested in all that's around him or her"It's a very misunderstood age group. They're not wild, they're full of energy," he said.

Of his immediate future, though, Aidala said, "I'll be a stay-at-home husband." The next couple of months he'll use as "a mini-sabbatical of reflection and planning," he said. After his wife, Judith, retires from teaching, the couple plans to travel extensively, he said.

Certainly, they'll visit their daughter, Katherine, a lawyer in Denver, and their son, Daniel, a sales representative for seniors' health insurance, living in Glens Falls, but, beyond that, Aidala said, "There are a lot of places to see in the U.S. and Europe."

"The importance of teamwork"

John McGuire will be Guilderland's next superintendent. Like Aidala, he is coming to Guilderland from a superintendency in rural Washington County. Aidala had been the superintendent in Salem for 12 years, overseeing two schools with about 800 students. With the move to suburban Guilderland, he oversaw over 5,600 students in seven schools. His annual salary at retirement is $150,000.

Asked if he had any advice for McGuire, Aidala said, "To be patient"Change doesn't happen overnight. I would emphasize the importance of teamwork. You can accomplish so much more working together to overcome obstacles."

Aidala said what he'll miss most at Guilderland are the people he works with. What he'll miss least are all the night meetings.

Aidala complimented "the district office team" - his three assistant superintendents: Neil Sanders for business, Nancy Andress for instruction, and Susan Tangorre for personnel. "I don't think you'd find a more dedicated, hard-working, and highly skilled group of administrators," said Aidala.

He also praised his secretary, Linda VanAuken. "She makes my job easier," he said.

"Over the seven years, we've had a lot of labor peace," he said, citing an example of what teamwork has accomplished. "We haven't had extended contracts which have expired"People could remain focused on our true mission - working with children.

"That doesn't happen by chance. I've worked closely with Chris Claus," Aidala said, referring to the president of the teachers' union. "I think we've been successful at building and maintaining trust."

Beyond bricks and mortar

When Aidala began at Guilderland, one of his first tasks was getting a bond issue passed for the renovation and expansion of the middle school. He is leaving just after the vote, on Nov. 13, for a $27 million project to renovate Guilderland's elementary schools, upgrade security and technology across the district, and relocate the administrative offices to the high school.

"Those projects improve our facilities and provide better opportunities for students," said Aidala. "Public buildings need attention."

He described the latest project as "Phase Three" of a 10-year effort, beginning with upgrades to the high school.

But leading a district is about more than bricks and mortar. "I think any school program is about people - the human dimension," said Aidala. A large part of his job has been communicating with parents, staff, and the community - "making sure people understand," he said.

Aidala said his job changed with the evolving technology. "Technology exists now that wasn't around seven years ago," said Aidala, citing the prevalence of e-mail and websites.

During an exit interview with The Enterprise, Aidala reflected back on the interviews he had had with district committees to get the supervisor's job in the first place.

"They asked what I knew about Guilderland," he recalled. "I said I could appreciate the effort the community made in the sixties with increased enrollment, when they built a new middle school," he said, setting an innovative model in Farnsworth Middle School. "Typically, districts in that situation made the old high school the middle school."

But Guilderland, he said, "developed a plan specifically geared for middle-level education, where the facility tied into the program with separate academic buildings and a round building for art and music" and other common activities. "It's such a well-planned facility," said Aidala, "we still have visitors from other school districts."

Asked what weaknesses he had found in the district, Aidala said, "Guilderland has always faced change head-on. Our challenges this year are the referendum, the ambitious technology plan, and the FLES [Foreign Language Early Start] program," he said, referring to the start of Spanish instruction in the early elementary grades.

"I wouldn't call them weaknesses, but there are areas we are looking at, said Aidala, naming two - maintaining taxes so there isn't a big increase, and making sure students achieve at their highest level.

"I don't think these issues go away," said Aidala. "You just keep working on them."

Aidala has made a point over his seven years at Guilderland of conducting an exit conference with each retiring teacher during which he asks, "If you had it to do over again, would you have been a teacher"" Asked that question himself, Aidala answered, "In a heartbeat."

He concluded. "I appreciated the support of the community. Being the superintendent at Guilderland has been the culmination of my career."

Board talks about village zoning, accepts Roemer's resignation

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT - Discussion will continue on what has become an evolving plan for zoning in the village.

Following the village's second public hearing on the draft, the board decided to keep the public-comment period open until its next meeting, on Dec. 11.

Village residents spoke en masse at the Oct. 2 board meeting against the historic overlay district, a new addition to village zoning that would put restrictions on what some homeowners could change on their houses. The board then held a special meeting, on Oct. 16, to discuss the criticisms. Trustee Dean Whalen, an architect who chairs the committee that wrote the proposed law, read from a synopsis of the board's findings from that meeting at Tuesday night's board meeting.

"The section, as written is inappropriate as too restrictive given the public and board comments," the summary statement says. "The board is leaning towards softening the section to be perhaps only a guideline or only having requirements for new construction, not maintenance. However, there is still a feeling that removing the section in its entirety should be taken."

The board took no action on Tuesday night, but heard praise from residents who had been critical of the historic overlay district section earlier. Some residents also expressed concern over a possible change in the zoning designation in one area, following a remark during the first public-comment session.

The board is leaning towards eliminating the M designation - for multi-family use - from the plan's originally proposed change to an R-20M and R-10M designation in three areas, its report said. Steven Simmons spoke at the Oct. 2 meeting on the issue since he owns property in an area to be designated M. He said that the property is some of the only green space left in the village and wondered why it would be zoned for multi-family use.

At the time, Whalen answered that the committee was conforming to a desire expressed by village residents for diversity of housing options in the village. The M designation would encourage clustering if it is to be developed, he said.

At Tuesday night's meeting, though, another property owner whose land had been slated to be changed to an M designation asked the board to keep the proposed change. Carl Schilling is concerned that he won't be able to develop the land as he'd like to, that taking away the M designation would limit him to building single-family houses.

"It's a real pretty spot," he said. "It seems ideal" for a cross-section of citizens instead of one or two families."

If the board does decide to take away the possibility for multi-family use, apartments couldn't be built on that land, Whalen said.

Resident Jeff Perlee, who supported Schilling, asked the board to "lean back to the good work that the committee did."

Lawyer leaves

Altamont's village attorney, Guy Roemer, handed in his letter of resignation this week.

The village board accepted the resignation following an executive session after Tuesday night's village board meeting.

Roemer has taken a job providing counsel to judges in the Fourth Judicial District of the State Supreme Court, he said. And, he said, the job "does not allow me to have a private practice."

After serving as counsel to the village's planning and zoning boards from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, Roemer returned to the village as its attorney about three years ago, just before Mayor James Gaughan took office.

"There were a number of balls in the air when I was retained," Roemer said when asked what he was most proud of in the time he spent as the village attorney. "Those issues have been smoothed out," he said.

"I think Mayor Gaughan and I melded very well," he said.

He's enjoyed his time with the village, he said, but wants to take the opportunity for the new job while it's available.

The village doesn't have anybody in mind to replace Roemer yet, said Village Clerk Jean LaCrosse, but, she said, the board authorized the mayor to spend up to $175 per hour for legal services should the village need them.

Other business

In other business, the board:

- Voted unanimously to begin sending out a village newsletter at an estimated annual cost of $1,200. Trustee William Aylward expressed some concern over the village government's bias in favor of itself, asking, "Would we be able to give an objective view of ourselves to the village""

When asked yesterday about the content of the newsletter, LaCrosse said that it would provide residents with contact information for village officials, list hours of operation for places like the museum, and alert people of upcoming village events. Basically, she said, it will be a one-page flier sent out about three times a year. According to Tuesday night's meeting agenda, the newsletter will be sent "at strategic times";

- Voted unanimously to accept a bid from Richard Grant of $1,050 for a 1993 Toro Grounds Master 325-D Riding Mower with blower attachment;

- Voted unanimously to accept the resignation of part-time police officer Scott Mannarino, effective Oct. 5. In his letter of resignation, Mannarino cited his "personal work schedule" as the reason for his resignation;

- Voted unanimously to appoint Robert W. Bennett Jr. as a part-time police officer starting on Nov. 6. He will be paid $15 per hour;

- Voted unanimously to accept the Altamont Fire Department's members' vote to appoint Paul Miller as chief, Mark Wertman as first assistant chief, and Robert White as second assistant chief;

- Voted unanimously to approve the Library Lights Holiday fund-raiser that will benefit the building fund for the library's renovation of the train station, its new home. The event will be held in the gazebo in Orsini Park;

- Voted unanimously to grant the Altamont Community Tradition's request to hold its annual Victorian Holiday event on the weekend of Nov. 30;

- Voted unanimously to approve change orders related to the new wells on Brandle Road;

- Voted unanimously to pay $7,825 for a replacement generator in the waste water treatment plant; and

- Voted unanimously to hire a structural engineer to assess damage to the floor and drains in the firehouse at a cost not to exceed $1,500.

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