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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 5, 2009

Highway super chased out, Pine ousted, Dermody victorious

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — In a town known for its contentious politics, both major parties suffered losses and made gains Tuesday, as the Conservative Party got two candidates elected.

In a four-way race for two town board seats, a longtime Conservative and the Democratic chairman came out on top, ousting a Democratic incumbent. A Democrat will replace the current Republican supervisor, and a Conservative running on the GOP line will replace the longtime highway superintendent, a Democrat.

Democrats will continue to make up the town board majority in the coming year as Marie Dermody looks forward to becoming the town’s chief fiscal officer.

Republican Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg will step down after one term.

On Tuesday, Dermody, a Democrat, defeated former Supervisor Myra Dorman, a Republican.

At the same time, Conservative Gary Zeh trounced longtime Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase, ousting the Democratic incumbent by a wide margin, in a town where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 3 to 1.

All tallies are according to unofficial results from the Albany County Board of Elections, and absentee ballots have not yet been counted.

When the polls closed at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dermody was at the Rensselaerville firehouse, as was incumbent Clerk Kathleen Hallenbeck, also a Democrat. As the results came in, and election inspectors began counting, whispers in Dermody’s ear brought a smile to her face, foreshadowing her imminent victory over Dorman.

Dermody, who ran on the Democratic and Independence lines, garnered 458 votes — 56 percent — while Dorman received 356, or 44 percent.

Councilman Robert Lansing and Councilwoman Sherri Pine’s seats were up for election this year; Councilwoman Dermody’s seat will be left vacant as she assumes the role of town supervisor on Jan. 1, and will be filled by a temporary appointment before it goes up for election next year.

Filling the two open seats will be Conservative Marion Cooke and Democratic Committee Chairman John Kudlack Jr.

Cooke, who ran on the Republican, Independence, and Conservative lines, received 500 votes, or 28 percent, and Kudlack, who ran on the Democratic and Independence lines, got 449 votes, or 26 percent.

Pine, with 383, or 22 percent, was not re-elected, while Conservative Robert Bolte got 429, or 24 percent.

Kudlack said Tuesday night that, while he was “a little surprised” to be elected, and looked forward to serving the people of Rensselaerville, he wished that the Democratic highway superintendent, town councilwoman, and assessors had held onto their posts.

“It’s a 50-50 deal,” Kudlack said.

A registered nurse since 1993, Kudlack was a nurse administrator at the New York State Department of Correctional Services.

Before Kudlack was a nurse, he was a police officer in Greenville and Coxsackie. He also spent four years as a town judge in Greenville.

Winning the two open assessor seats were: incumbent Donna Kropp, who ran for her second term on the Republican and Conservative lines, and got 518 votes, or 30 percent; and challenger Michael Weber, who ran on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence lines, and got 445 votes, or 26 percent.

Incumbent Assessor Peter Hotaling Jr., also the sole assessor for the neighboring town of Westerlo, ran on the Democratic and Independence lines, and got 402 votes, or 23 percent, and challenger Dennis Pitts, who ran on the Democratic line, got 349 votes, or 20 percent.

Kathy Hallenbeck, who has been town clerk since the early 1970s, ran unopposed this year, as she has since she ran for her second term. Hallenbeck received 609 votes.

Dems maintain majority

Marie Dermody, 61, began her first term on the town board in January of 2008. She is retired from a 33-year teaching career at West Hurley Elementary School in Ulster County. Now, she vacates her post two years early to become supervisor.

After hearing the unofficial results Tuesday night, Dermody was joined by friends at the Shell Inn. Among them were fellow Democratic victor John Kudlack and County Legislator Alexander “Sandy” Gordon.

Currently, Supervisor Nickelsberg is one of two Republicans on the town board; Robert Lansing, a former supervisor himself, is the other Republican. Neither ran for re-election this year.

Joining Dermody on the board will be Kudlack and Conservative Marion Cooke, who will be the only non-Democrat on the board, at least until a replacement for Dermody is appointed.

One common hope of this year’s candidates was for more civility at town board meetings, which are fraught with bickering among council members and interruptions from the audience.

“There’s been too much divisiveness on both sides of the table, and what I’m trying to do is bring some collegiality, and working together for the common good,” Dermody said Wednesday. “I’d like to think we have more even-tempered people, willing to listen to both sides of the argument, and make rational decisions, and we haven’t had that with our current supervisor.”

She added that the board has been “treading water” on a number of issues — “a records room is one of them,” she said.

“What I’ve been saying I’d like to do is set at least one sizeable annual goal for the town board to work together as a group to reach some sort of conclusion.”

Asked if the addition of a records room should be the first annual goal, Dermody said, “That’s the one that sticks out in my mind, but I don’t think it can be my goal alone; it’s got to be something that I get agreement from other members of the town board. I think everyone, or at least most people on the board, need to sign on to it for it to move forward.”

Dermody is unsure of why Sherri Pine was not re-elected, in a town where Democrats so vastly outnumber the other parties, but thinks that negative campaigning may have played a role.

Dermody hopes that Cooke, a Conservative, will be able to work together with the Democratic majority on the board.

“I don’t think she’s been any happier with the way certain things have gone,” Dermody said of Cooke. “I think that she’s got the right attitude, and outlook, and the right view of what her responsibilities will be. But, time will tell.”

Cooke, 56, made her first run for town board this year. She is a lifelong resident of Rensselaerville, and is currently on the town’s budget advisory committee. She has worked at G & H Lumber in Greenville for nearly 10 years, and used to own the Westwinds diner.

Cooke told The Enterprise this week that she looks forward to working with the mostly Democratic board, and that she is open to their views.

“I just talked to Marie, called her up to congratulate her,” Cooke said Wednesday afternoon. “And we both agree: There’s always going to be differences, but, hopefully, you can state your point, and you can state some of your side, and maybe they can convince me of their side.”

Cooke went on to say that she is excited to have been elected in a town where Democrats control the better part of government.

“I’m very proud of the fact that the Conservative Party got two people elected,” she said. “And the highway superintendent race was a great effort on Gary Zeh’s part. I think that spoke volumes.”

Rules of the road

The race for Rensselaerville Highway Superintendent was one of the most hotly contested Hilltown elections this year. The town has 43 miles of road for every 1,000 residents — by far the greatest differential in the county.

Zeh, who ran on the Republican, Independence, and Conservative lines, collected the most votes of all Rensselaerville races — 530 votes, or 59 percent — while incumbent Democrat G. Jon Chase got 367, or 41 percent.

“I want to thank the voters yesterday that supported me,” Zeh told The Enterprise Wednesday. “I’m very excited about going to work for them. Ultimately, they’re the taxpayers, and they’ll be my boss.”

Zeh will maintain an “open-door policy” during his term as superintendent, he went on.

“As I said in my campaign, anyone can come in and talk to me anytime,” he said.

Zeh, 45, has lived in Rensselaerville for 17 years. He is a self-employed contractor with JAG Construction Incorporated, his excavation and site-development company, which started as a part-time business in 1994, and went full-time in 2000.

His previous work includes about 13 years at Callanan Industries Inc., a company that provides paving materials and construction services, where he was an assistant project superintendent and, later, a project manager.

He said this week that he was pleasantly surprised by Tuesday night’s results.

“It feels good,” he said. “I was just hoping for a victory; I never expected it to be so large.”

Chase, Rensselaerville’s highway superintendent since 1998, is frequently absent from town board meetings, and has been at the center of a number of controversies in recent years.

William Ryan, a former town attorney, said during his tenure that Chase broke state law by loading salt and sand from the town’s supply into a private citizen’s truck.

Other complaints, from residents, centered on the poor condition of shale and clay roads in town, and an allegation by former superintendent candidate Steve Wood that highway workers went on a golf outing and falsified time cards to be paid for the day, which Chase flatly denied.

Nickelsberg brought in engineers who critiqued Chase’s work on several roads; Chase responded that he wasn’t finished with those roads yet.

“I’ll definitely concentrate on the roads that are deteriorating and not paved,” Zeh said, “so we can stop spending money on the same roads every year.”

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