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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 28, 2008

Dems divided
Suburban clerk seeks state seat

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — When Assemblyman John McEneny challenged the presumptive state Democratic committee representatives two years ago, he came out on top.  Kind of.

“I made a big issue and ran with Connie Burns,” McEneny said last night of his run in 2006.  “This is somewhat of a follow-up,” he said of this year’s race, which pairs him with Guilderland’s town clerk, Rosemary Centi.

“We’re really just trying to unify the urban and suburban split,” Centi said of the platform she shares with McEneny.  When asked what she saw as the cause of the split, Centi answered, “Oh, I’m not going to get into that.  I don’t know.”

Two years ago, Guilderland’s David Bosworth and Frank Commisso, manager of Albany’s port authority, battled for the chairmanship of the county’s Democratic party, and, after legal challenges, ended up compromising on being co-chairs.

Also two years ago, McEneny and Burns, of Voorheesville, challenged Albany Treasurer Betty Barnette and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings for the seats.  The district, which covers most of the city of Albany, and the towns of Guilderland, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, Westerlo, and Rensselaerville, including the villages of Altamont and Voorheesville, is represented by two people, one male and one female.

McEneny was the biggest vote-getter in the 2006 primary, with Barnette coming in second — making it a split ticket.  Shortly after the results were in, McEneny said, “I could foresee a long, tense, five-hour ride to Buffalo for a convention.” 

Since the pair hadn’t yet spoken with one another, Barnette responded through The Enterprise, “Our next meeting, quite honestly, is going to be in Long Island and we won’t be carpooling.”

At the handful of meetings that the committee has had, the two greet each other, McEneny said, adding, “There’s been no tension.”  Barnette could not be reached for comment this week.

In June, she sent postcards to party members saying, “Contrary to what the leadership of the Albany County Democratic Committee has lead [sic] many to believe, please know that I am, seeking your support to be re-elected as a member of the New York State Democratic Committee…

“Without consultation,” she writes, “Mr. Commisso and Bosworth have made a unilateral decision to place the name of Rosemary Centi in place of mine on the petition.”

Centi was among several people interviewed to run, said Bosworth.  He served on the Guilderland Town Board, where Centi has been clerk since 2000, until he was ousted by a Republican challenger in last fall’s elections.  He is still the chair of Guilderland’s Democratic committee.  Bosworth did not conduct Centi’s interview, he said, and doesn’t know much about her campaign.

Of why she chose to run for the committee seat, Centi said, “I was asked to run and I said, ‘OK.’”  She wouldn’t name who had asked her.

Political past

McEneny detailed some of Albany’s recent political history, fingering Jennings as a major player in what he sees as a division of the city verses the rural and suburban towns of Albany County that has widened over the last couple of years.  There has been some friction between the two politicians since McEneny lost a mayoral primary to Jennings about a decade ago.

“We think that’s a very dangerous thing, to divide Albany County into two factions,” McEneny said of the stance he and Centi have on the split.  “I think we need one Democratic headquarters.  We need to restore that powerhouse.”

Centi is a good agent to unite the party, said McEneny.  He cited her experience as a town clerk, saying, “She’s used to dealing with everyone.”

Since two Republicans joined what had been an all-Democratic town board in January, Centi has had some differences with them.  In March, Republican Councilman Mark Grimm raised concerns that the minutes she makes of the board meetings have a political bent. 

“Everything I do is open to the public,” she said at the March 4 meeting in defense of the way her office is run.  She addressed town residents by looking at the television camera that broadcasts the board meetings and said that in the eight years that she has been taking minutes, she had never received criticism.

“They’re probably more partisan than she is,” said McEneny of Republican Councilmen Grimm and Warren Redlich.

“I don’t like people who aren’t educated in the job,” Centi said, explaining her attitude towards the councilmen.  When asked if she could get along with people she disagrees with, Centi answered, “Of course.  My husband and I don’t always agree.”  She concluded, “That’s a non-issue.”

“I am in this to work with Democrats,” Barnette said after winning her seat in 2006.  “I am willing to work with anyone who is willing to work with me.”

Soon after the 2006 primaries, Barnette stepped down as chair of the county’s Democratic committee after serving for four years.  She had replaced the former county chairman, the late Michael Burns and her departure from the post led to the wrangle between now co-chairs Bosworth and Commisso.

Barnette wanted to be on the state committee because she wanted to have a say in the future of the party and, she said in 2006, “The best way to have your voice heard is to be at the table.”

Challenges for state committees are “fairly common,” said Matthew Clyne, the county’s Democratic election commissioner this week.  McEneny was the only male to file a petition for the seat, so, said Clyne, “by default, he’s on.”

Referring to his relationship with his current counterpart in the state committee, McEneny said, “It’s not a great symbol to be lone-wolfing it and say you’re for unity.”

Right on track: New use for old rail line

By Jo E. Prout

ALBANY COUNTY — The proposed rail trail for hiking and biking from downtown Albany to Voorheesville entered the last leg of its journey Tuesday, as the committee sponsoring the project moved it to the county legislature for a September vote.

“It’s going to be a go as soon as we get it by the legislature,” said Albany County Legislator Herbert Reilly Jr., who represents New Scotland.

“It’s a 9.1-mile trail from the Port of Albany to … Voorheesville,” said Albany County Legislator William Aylward, who represents Guilderland. Aylward and Reilly are members of the legislature’s conservation and improvement committee, which met Tuesday and agreed to send the contract for the project to the full county legislature.

The county cost will be $2.9 million, which will be used to refurbish the trail, said Aylward yesterday. Of that, $2.4 million will be federal funds and interested groups will raise the remaining $500,000, he said.

“I was the principal sponsor of the program four or five years ago,” Reilly said. “We thought it would be a tremendous asset to the county and the town [of New Scotland], and now for Bethlehem, too.”

Since 1995, when Reilly was supervisor for the town of New Scotland, the project has been negotiated and altered several times. Originally, he said, the proposal included the rail from Albany to its end in Delanson. Now, Canadian Pacific Railway, which owns the line, will keep the spur from Voorheesville to Delanson, Reilly said. The rail trail will run from Albany, partially through the town of Bethlehem, and end in New Scotland in Voorheesville.

The project had stalled in January as environmental liability for the parcel was disputed. Martin Daley, the project director for New York State Parks and Trails New York, said then that, under Canadian law, the liability would fall on the buyer. In the United States, he said, environmental liability falls on the seller.

This week, Kerri Battle, the director of communications for the county executive, said that, once the county signs the contract, it has between three and six months to investigate the parcel before the closing.

During that time, Reilly said, the county will hire an engineering firm to make an environmental assessment of the trail.

After this period of due diligence, Battle said, liability “will be assumed by the county.”

Trail sweet trail

“I think it’s a good deal,” said Aylward. “It’s a good deal for the county, as we’re getting financing for this project from other sources.”

The non-profit organization Scenic Hudson and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation  and Historic Preservation each contributed $350,000, meeting the sale price of $700,000. Reilly said that the legislature has money set aside to do improvements like adding guide rails where the rail had run over a creek. Highway crossings already have guide rails, he said. The county will put in a 10-foot-wide strip of leveled and graded crushed stone — a surface that would be good for a runner’s ankle, he said.

“I’ve always believed in lifetime sports,” Reilly said. “This is an ideal place for people to keep physically fit.”

Reilly said that there are practical reasons to preserve the trail; the right-of-way pathway may allow the county to bring infrastructure through Bethlehem to New Scotland. Sprint already has fiber-optic cables in the right-of-way, Reilly said.

The rail trail also has applications for neighboring Guilderland, according to Aylward.

“It reminds me of when the county put in $250,000 to demolish French’s Mill Bridge, and I asked them to keep it,” he said.

“This [rail trail] comes close to our Guilderland line. I see connections among all of these occurring over a period of time,” Aylward said.

Reilly said that he has ridden on the line.

“It’s a very scenic route. Oh, my goodness, it’s gorgeous,” he said. “You see a different perspective on the world. People will enjoy it.”

He said that the rail trail passes behind some homes, but that he has seen almost no opposition to the project.

“Some people like the quiet, but it was a railroad that was used, and it was obviously going to generate some noise,” Reilly said.

Battle said that people in this part of the county support the project.

“We have had a huge push,” she said. “We’ve received correspondence regularly to push the project going forward.”

“It’s going to belong to the county,” Reilly said. “If a need for a light rail, a commuter rail of some sort, [arises], it could be reactivated. It protects the rail for the future.”

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