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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, November 6, 2008

GOP victory in Westerlo: Milner wins in landslide

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — Though Democrats swept elections across the country, this rural Hilltown’s new Republican Party had its first win on Tuesday. Clinton “Jack” Milner defeated his Conservative opponent Susan Walter in a landslide victory.

Milner garnered 798 votes, nearly doubling Walter’s 445, according to unofficial results yesterday from Westerlo Town Hall. Come January, Milner, a local farmer, will become the town’s only Republican councilman, the first in three years, and one of two Republican board members in the past 70 years.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Westerlo by nearly 3 to 1, and have had a tight hold on town government for decades.

After attempting to run as an independent and getting his petition turned down by the county board of elections, Milner was nominated by the town’s resurrected GOP in September.

“I think it’s going to be great, because this way we’ll have different points of view responding to what the public wants,” Milner said, looking forward to assuming his role as board member. “Going around campaigning, I’ve come across a lot of residents who feel like they’re stuck in a one-party deal.”

There are many disgruntled residents in the town, Milner said, and he thinks the town board hasn’t been looking out for the people of Westerlo. “I know I’m going to be one against four on the board, but if we want to accomplish things, I think we’ve got to work together,” he said.

Milner, who had been a Democrat all his life, is in the process of changing his enrollment to Republican. Walter, who had always been a Republican, is changing her enrollment to Democrat. In April, she was appointed to the town board to fill a vacancy.

Walter, an office manager in Delmar, tried to secure a Democratic line, but did not file required paperwork on time. The Republicans challenged her tardiness in court and won. Walter then ran on the Conservative line instead.

Though she gives up her seat in January, Walter says she has business to finish before she leaves the board.

“I’m on till the end of the year, and I’ve already started a couple of things that I want to finish before I’m done,” said Walter. In addition, she is going to keep an eye out for other openings in town positions, she said.

“I really have an interest in being part of the town and knowing what’s going on,” Walter said. “I’m just going to keep my ears open and see what comes along. But I’m happy for Jack, because I know he wanted it, and I hope he enjoys it as much as I did. I don’t regret running for election — I would do it all over again. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

GOP plans

Milner plans on making sure his voice is heard.

“I’m going to have to ease into it at the start, to find out what my limits are and so forth,” said Milner, “but I’m not just going to sit still, and, if something comes up, I’m going to voice my opinion,” he said.

“Until recently, a lot of people thought it was a waste of time to come to town board meetings,” Milner said, “because none of the things they were talking about were being addressed.” This, he says, will change.

His first order of business will be to hold a public forum, he said, at which town residents can express any concern they may have with the way the town is being run. The purpose, he said, is to keep things transparent, and to get a handle on what is going through the heads of those he will be representing.

“I don’t know if that’s ever happened here,” Milner said. “The people need to tell the town board what’s on their minds.”

Bonnie Kohl-Laub, chair of the town’s newly reinstated Republican Party, is not planning on working in politics much longer. Rather, she said, she would like to hand the job of furthering the town’s political diversity over to Albany County’s GOP chairman and Republican commissioner of the Albany County Board of Elections, John Graziano.

“John is from the Hilltowns too,” Kohl-Laub said. “One thing we both want to discuss is how to support development, while protecting the area and maintaining how lovely it is out here.”

Kohl-Laub’s husband, Leonard Laub, is a former planning board chairman who was ousted after refusing to sign a civil service agreement. It was his ousting that inspired Milner to resign from the planning board and run for Walter’s town board seat.

“It feels damn good,” Laub said of Milner’s election to the town board. “When I was asked to make myself available for the planning board position, I initially thought, ‘Here’s a chance to add some zip to the situation.’ What I found is that there is an agenda, which was to grow slow, or not at all,” he said.

Laub looks forward to Milner’s proposed public forum. “There’s a debate to be had, and having it in public is going to give everyone a better idea of what the town can and should be doing,” Laub said.

“We’ll see where things go,” Kohl-Laub said. “What’s important from here is transparency of government, so we can know what’s going on and plan accordingly.”

“I’m really thrilled,” Milner said, “that I got such a great response from the people who voted me in, and I’ll do my best to help our public out, because I got into this to look out for the people.”

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