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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 4, 2008

GOP rebirth?

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — The town’s Republican Party has emerged from the deep.

Former town planning board member Jack Milner, a farmer in Westerlo, is running for town board. He had intended to run as an independent, but when that fell through, he switched over to a Republican platform. This resulted in the creation of the town’s new Republican Committee. The first Republican caucus will be held on Friday, Sept. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Hiawatha Grange.

The Democrats have been in power for a very long time, and are hardly caring for the people of Westerlo, said Bonnie Kohl-Laub, interim chair of the new Republican committee. “Putting Jack on the board will help change that,” she said.

By seeking the Republican nomination, Milner has one more chance to get on the November ballot.

One more chance

“Republicans and Democrats in Westerlo nominate people by caucus, and the caucus period is still alive,” said John A. Graziano. “It gives the Republicans an opportunity to nominate people, and all the Republicans out there want to nominate Milner, so I’ve heard.”

Graziano’s involvement in this election is two-fold. As Chair of Albany County’s Republican Committee, he oversees elections in towns throughout Albany County, and has endorsed Milner’s campaign. As the Republican commissioner of the Albany County Board of Elections, he took part in turning down Milner’s petition to run as an independent.

Milner said that he chose to run as an independent because, at the time, he thought it was his only option. “I didn’t think I could run as a Republican, and the Democrats already named their candidate. I was thinking about changing my politics from Democrat to Republican several years ago, but never got around to it,” he said.

“My wife and I put a petition together,” Milner said, “and we took it around and asked 150 people if they would sign it.” Of those 150 people, 148 signed. “We only needed 67 signatures,” he said. “Then, we filed it, and the Westerlo Town Board picked it apart and challenged it.”

In August, Milner brought his petition to the Albany County Board of Elections, but his paperwork was flawed in form.

“There’s a specific statute that says on each page of a petition, it must say the name of your party and what you’re running for,” Graziano said. “In his case, it only said it on the top of the first page; on all the other pages with signatures, it didn’t say it. In other words,” he said, “they could have just brought a blank page and had people sign it, and then just attached the top page to it. I’m not saying he did that, but that’s how the law got established, and that’s why it didn’t work.”

A reason to run

Milner decided to run for town board after resigning from the planning board, which was working on Westerlo’s first comprehensive land-use plan. He resigned from the planning board in early May in protest of the town board’s firing of planning board chairman Leonard Laub for refusing to fill out a Civil Service application.

Laub didn’t want pay or benefits for his work on the planning board, asking that the $4,500 he would normally receive go towards engineering, consulting, and legal fees for zoning revisions instead. The state comptroller’s office told The Enterprise that Laub’s only requirement, should he wish to serve on the board without receiving his intended pay, was to take the oath of office, which he did.

Still, the all-Democratic town board voted unanimously to fire Laub in April.

It’s an off-election year for Westerlo; only one seat on the town board is open.

Three years ago, the town board’s first Republican member in 70 years, Clifton Richardson, died in office. He was replaced with a Democrat.

Last November, there was no GOP chairperson in Westerlo and no Republican candidates ran for office. Six Democrats ran unopposed in a town where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 3 to 1.

Kristin Slaver, who ran unopposed, was elected to the town board; she was the only one who ran that wasn’t an incumbent.

The Hatch Act prevented her from serving on the board because of her job. Slaver was forced to step down.

The town board then appointed Susan Walter in April, who will run against Milner in November to keep her seat.

Looking for transparency

Leonard Laub’s wife, Bonnie Kohl-Laub, is acting as interim chair of the new Republican Committee. She couldn’t be happier to be at the forefront of Milner’s cause, she said.

“Nobody in town knows what the town board is doing. Jack saw the lack of transparency, he saw the private meetings, he saw that something needed to be done to protect this place, and he decided to run,” said Kohl-Laub. “I’m very pleased, because Leonard and I are so happy to be living here, and I’m so happy to be in a position to help Jack run for town board.”

Milner seems like a great candidate, Graziano said. “I’m the guy who is looking for the people up there to see him as a good choice, and from what everybody tells me, he’s just that,” he said. “This guy’s extremely well-liked and extremely competent.”

Kohl-Laub said that they are convening the caucus, in part, to find out just how much support Milner has. “The caucus is for anyone who wants to come, but the only people who are able to speak or vote will be registered Republicans,” she said. “We will nominate Jack, and place him in a position to run for the town board, representing the Republican Party.”

“We’d love to have him if the Republicans up there want to caucus for him and nominate him,” Graziano said.

“There’s no artifice in Jack Milner,” Kohl-Laub concluded. “I think that if he says something, he will die trying to make it happen. He’s an honorable man, and he will make all attempts to create transparent government, put forth sustainable agriculture, and save Westerlo.”

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