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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 25, 2009

Crowded caucus puts GOP on Dem line

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — An apparently orchestrated Democratic caucus yielded a ticket with no surprises for this November’s election.

The usual handful of party insiders at a caucus swelled to hundreds as the town, divided over a proposal for a big-box mall, gears up for fall elections.

Incumbent Supervisor Thomas Dolin is at the top of the ticket with Daniel Mackay and Republican incumbent Councilman Douglas LaGrange running for the two seats on the town board.  Diane Deschenes will run for town clerk and Darrell Duncan will run for highway superintendent; both are incumbents.

Those were the first two titles to be filled with unanimous support for both candidates.  The crowd, estimated at between 250 and 300, applauded after each vote.

Following them was the nomination for supervisor, for which John Egan stood at the front of the Voorheesville high school auditorium and spoke on Dolin’s merits.  Egan works as commissioner of the state’s Office of General Services and served earlier as the chair of a residents’ committee appointed to advise the town on the Route 85 corridor.

“Two years ago we came together to nominate Tom Dolin,” he said, referring the two-year supervisor’s post, “and he’s never disappointed us.”

Egan noted the 16 contentious months until now that have been dominated by debate about development in town after Sphere Development presented plans to build a shopping center at the corner of routes 85 and 85A.  He praised Dolin for listening to the “groundswell” from residents on the issue and dismissed the notion of a silent majority in town that favors such development.  He concluded of Dolin, “he’s our champion.”

Although Dolin, a retired lawyer, has been largely at odds with the three-member Democratic majority on the town board, working closely instead with LaGrange since they share a similar vision for development in town, he appeared to get unanimous support with a voice vote and applause.

Councilwoman Peg Neri, one of the Democrats with whom he has been at odds, will not seek re-election this November when her term is up.  Initially, she had planned to defend her seat, but withdrew her name at the beginning of the month after realizing that she did not have the support of Dolin or the Democratic Party leaders, she said.  Neri did not attend Tuesday’s caucus.

The first nomination for the two town board seats came from New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development member Holly Cheever, who stood in front of the crowd and read from prepared notes about the virtues of Daniel Mackay, a founding member of NS4SED.  The group formed in opposition to Sphere’s proposal and has been a force in discussions surrounding the issue of development.  Mackay works for the Preservation League of New York and Cheever cited his ability to listen and work with people in NS4SED, concluding that those are qualities needed in town hall.

“We need responsive government,” she said.  “It will be a real breath of fresh air.”

Following Mackay’s nomination, Joseph Pofit, the husband of a former supervisor, stood to read a letter written by LaGrange.  His schedule as a farmer allows him a small window for travel, Pofit explained, that falls now.  LaGrange, a Republican, appealed to New Scotland Democrats by reminding them that he had worked with Dolin.  LaGrange’s letter touched on development, saying that it is important to prevent “big-box mega malls” from changing the character of the community.

Pofit finished reading to applause and Democratic Party Chair Michael Mackey, who had been elected as the chairman of the caucus earlier, took a voice vote on Mackay’s nomination.  The room bellowed with yea votes, followed by a smattering of nay votes.  The same followed for LaGrange, but Mackey said he wasn’t comfortable deciding the results and called for a standing vote.  Those in favor rose, with those in the front of the auditorium turning to see who behind them had stood.  When the majority of the room sat, those against his nomination stood in small pockets and Mackey declared that LaGrange had the nomination by a 10-to-1 margin.

Among those who stood against LaGrange were Democratic board members Deborah Baron and Richard Reilly.

“I’m disappointed with him as a board member,” Reilly said after the caucus of LaGrange.  Reilly didn’t offer another nomination, he said, because he was unaware of anyone else being willing to put his or her name in.  “I couldn’t, in good conscience, endorse his being on the Democratic line,” Reilly concluded.

Above all, Reilly said, “I believe in a two-party system.” LaGrange has also received endorsements from the town Republican Party and the county Conservative Party, although he will likely face a primary in September to get on the Republican line.

Roz Robinson, a member of the Republican committee, announced that she would run for a town board seat after her party endorsed LaGrange and Charles Voss, a sitting planning board member.  Since LaGrange, Voss, and Mackay share similar views on development and the two major parties had maneuvered to put candidates sympathetic to NS4SED on the ballot, Robinson said, she decided to run so that citizens will have a choice in November.

“He’s a Republican,” Baron said when asked about her opposition to LaGrange’s nomination.  There was a room full of Democrats, she said, and she would have voted for any one of them.  Her vote was “nothing personal about Mr. LaGrange,” Baron said.

“I was surprised,” she said of his nomination, although NS4SED had been driving for his nomination at the Democratic caucus for weeks, posting signs around town and writing letters to the Enterprise editor.  “I’m not in the inner circle,” she said.

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