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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 10, 2011

First in 20 years
Conklin breaks barrier

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — In this rural Hilltown where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 3 to 1, Republican Bonnie Conklin, making her first run for office, got the most votes in a four-way race for two town board seats.

She garnered 30.74 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the county’s board of elections. Democrat Karen Schimmer, also making her first run for office, won the second seat with 24.77 percent of the vote.

Conklin is the first Republican to win a seat on the board in more than 20 years.

“I’m feeling very grateful for the opportunity,” Conklin said yesterday. “I’ll work hard. My goal is to help the youth, the families, and the seniors in the community,” she said re-iterating her campaign message.

She credits that and going door-to-door for her win. She also said, “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and friends.”

As Conklin waited with her husband on Election Night to hear the results at the Berne firehouse from that district, she said, “I’m feeling positive but anxious.” Conklin, 41, a lifelong Berne resident works at Berne-Knox-Westerlo as a prevention coordinator for St. Catherine’s Center for Children. She worked at her job until 8 p.m., she said, to keep her mind focused.

As the four election inspectors went through the steps needed to determine the results on the new electronic voting machine, one of them called to Conklin, “Bonnie, don’t you miss this?”

She joined in their friendly banter, reminiscing over the sessions they’d been through to learn about the new system.

After May White read the results, which showed Conklin in the lead, she and her husband headed out to gather more information.

“It’s a good start,” said Conklin.

Conklin received a total of 327 votes on the GOP line, and 111 on the Conservative line for a total of 438 votes, putting her well ahead of Schimmer with 353 votes, all Democratic.

During her campaign, Conklin said she was inspired to run because of her work with children. “I just see a great need up here for more services for children and families,” she said, adding that she wants to start a community center in the Hilltowns.

She opposed hydraulic fracturing in town and supported wind power on a residential scale.

Conklin is the first Republican to win a seat on the board since Willard Osterhout was elected in 1989. Osterhout said at the time what he learned on the campaign trail: “I heard that people wanted to return to the two-party system in Berne,” he said.

Peg Warner, who chairs Berne’s Republican Party, said on Election Night, after results from two of three districts were in and Conklin was ahead, “This means people want a change and to be represented by real people…They want somebody representing them that’s not controlled by Albany.”

Asked yesterday how she felt about being the only Republican on the town board, Conklin said, “I’m a little anxious about it but I think we’ll work together as a team. I think we have the same goals in mind, which is positive.”

Democrat Dawn Jordan, also making her first run, came in third with 322 votes or 22.6 percent. Jordan, 50, and her husband formed Helderberg Community Watch to keep Hilltown residents informed on the potential threats posed by large-scale wind development.

Republican Kenneth Crawford, 76, a retired farmer who has run for office before, came in last with 10 fewer votes than Jordan — 312 for 21.89 percent of the vote.

Schimmer, 64, was inspired to run because of the work she did as a member of the committee that revised Berne’s comprehensive plan. “It gave me deep insight into the community,” Schimmer said during her campaign. “I’ve always loved the area, and respected and loved the people here. When I started working on the committee, I really gained greater insight into who and what they are, and what they value about Berne. And, as it turned out, it was exactly what I valued about Berne.”

A former elementary teacher, Schimmer is now a librarian at the Albany Academy where she has worked for 23 years. Originally from Little Falls, she has lived in Berne for 29 years.

She opposed hydraulic fracturing in Berne and agreed with the comprehensive plan on wind power — allowing residential wind turbines with proper placement and prohibiting industrial turbines. And, like Conklin, she supports the town’s sewer project.

“First and foremost,” Schimmer said yesterday, “I’m very appreciative of all my friends and neighbors who encouraged me to run and of all those who placed their trust in me by voting for me.”

Schimmer said she enjoyed campaigning and listening to residents. “They had deep thoughts on what they’d like to see happen,” she said. “I feel I’ve been given an opportunity to help achieve those goals.”

She thinks the three years she spent on the comprehensive plan committee helped in her election. “I spent three years listening to a cross-section of people,” she said. And she plans to continue listening. “People can stop me on the street or contact me,” Schimmer said, concluding, “I’m looking forward to working with the other board members.”

No incumbents ran for town board in Berne. James Hamilton and Peter Vance both decided not to seek re-election. Vance was appointed acting supervisor this fall, following George Gebe’s announcement that he was retiring half-way through his first four-year term as supervisor. Gebe’s announcement came too late for the fall elections so a committee will search for a replacement to serve as supervisor through 2012. A special election will be held next November to fill the post.

The other race in Berne was for town assessor. Two of the three assessor posts were up for election and the incumbent Democrats — both lifelong Berne residents — kept their posts in a landslide win.

Brian Crawford garnered 43.43 percent of the vote; he has been a Berne assessor for 20 years and worked for 25 years in the Albany County Department of Public Works.

Christine Polukort Valachovic garnered 41.96 percent of the vote. She was appointed last year to fill a vacancy left by Carol Crounse, who retired. Valachovic is a licensed land surveyor and works as a drafting technician for the county’s department of public works.

Republican challenger William Keal got 14.53 percent of the vote.

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