By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star
---- — Election Day for most of New York’s village governments arrives March 19 this year, and the overwhelming number of local candidates seeking to serve as mayors or trustees have no reason to campaign hard.
That’s because they have no opposition.
Local political leaders say it has become increasingly difficult to find people willing to run for village offices. Many citizens, they said, are focused on their careers, raising their families, caring for aged parents or pursuing other pastimes.
“As a trend, there are fewer citizens willing to run for public office, including village offices, because of time constraints — and because of the ugliness of it at times,” said Peter Baynes, executive director of the state Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials.
“It can get personal in a small community, and once something gets personal it hurts even more,” added Baynes, noting that in villages those on opposite sides of issues are often neighbors.
Getting involved in village government can require a significant investment of one’s time — for little pay.
Richmondville Mayor Kevin Neary, who is running unopposed on March 19 for the job he has held for 16 years, said he — serves to give back to the community where he was raised — not for the $92 a month he gets in take home pay for his service.
“We politicians would like to believe that we don’t have anyone running against us because we’re doing such a great job,” Neary said with a laugh. “Maybe it’s because it’s just too much work.”
Now working as a freelance consultant after retiring from a managerial job with the state Emergency Management Office, Neary reflected on his own reasons for becoming involved in his village government.
“You do it for the satisfaction that you get when you can do something good for your community,” he said. “It’s a way to become involved and help shape the policies and the future of your community.”
In the nine villages of Otsego County, only one has any contested races — the tiny community of Gilbertsville, located in the town of Butternuts. And it has two such matchups, one for mayor and one for a vacant village trustee position.
The current mayor, Diane Gallo, a writer and artist, had been a village trustee for about two years when, in November, her predecessor, Shirley Musson, died soon after being diagnosed with cancer, officials said. Gallo then became the mayor, leaving one of the trustee spots open.
Gallo is seeking to keep the mayor’s job, saying she wants to continue to promote the importance of home rule for her community.
“If you take local government out of local control, it becomes outsourced,” she said. “It is right at the heart of everything. If we have no control locally, we haven’t got it anywhere.”
She noted her civic involvement includes working on the comprehensive plan for the town of Butternuts. “Willing to serve is different than willing to run,” she said.
Said Nolan: “I think my greatest qualification is I have lived here all my life. I served the town and the village for 27 years. I know about all the problems here. I graduated from school here. I have always been able to confer with people. When you get elected, you are not elected to pursue your own opinion. When the majority of the people say they want something done, that’s what you do.”
Gallo is running as an independent, while Nolan has been endorsed by county Democrats. The two Gilbertsville candidates for the trustee seat that was vacated by Gallo are Kristina Strain, who is aligned with Gallo, and Barbara Prostak, who is aligned with Nolan.
Gilbertsville voters, as with voters in most upstate villages, will choose their candidates using paper ballots that will be counted by hand, not the optical scanning devices required in state and federal contests.
Voting will be conducted at the village hall on Lover’s Lane, from 2 to 7 p.m. March 19.
Polling times for most other villages runs from noon to 9 p.m.
Other villages with contested mayoral races include Delhi, Hancock and Stamford. In Delhi, Mayor Richard Maxey is facing a challenge by village Trustee Gerry Pilgrim. Their party affiliations were not immediately available. In Hancock, Mayor John Martin, a Republican will be tested by Eugene Morgan, who is running as an independent.
In Stamford, Mayor Michael Jacobs, a veteran lawyer, is being challenged by Vera Bell, the Stamford town clerk.
Cooperstown, the largest village in Otsego County, has no contested races, assuring that three candidates for three open village trustee seats will all be elected. They are: Lou Allstadt, a retired oil company executive who has been active in the anti-fracking movement; Bruce Maxson, a part-time public defender; and Joan Nicols, a medical technologist for Bassett Medical Center.
Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz said he was pleased that qualified candidates have signaled a willingness to roll up their sleeves and help the village address issues of importance to the citizens.
“Village government is a true democracy,” he said. “The distance between you and the crowd is about five feet. People approach you on the street with a concern, and they expect you to act on it. And we do. There are times when the proximity can lead to personal relationships getting strained. But that’s an OK price to pay for being so directly connected to your elected officials.”