As campaign season gets underway, the Bethlehem Republican Committee is looking to reach out to younger voters and regain a seat on the Town Board.
The party plans to holds endorsement interviews on Saturday, April 11, and is willing to except resumes for possible candidates until that time. Official endorsement announcements will be made that same week, but the committee already has a good idea who they will be backing in the coming election.
“As of right now, all of the candidates are pretty young,” said Bethlehem GOP Chairwoman Melissa Kermani. “No one is older than 45 or 50. We think a younger ticket could be of more appeal.”
Kermani, 42, became chairwoman last September, after former Chairman Fred DiMaggio decided to step down from the position. A lifelong Bethlehem resident, she’s been active on the committee for about six years, formally acting as treasurer.
“Having grown up here, I want to be able to give the residents a voice who feel they have been shut-out of the process because of a one-party rule,” said Kermani.
The last Republican to serve on the Town Board was George Lenhardt from 1994 to 2005. He later served by appointment for one year in 2012 as an Independent. Former Highway Superintendent Gregg Sagendorph and former Receiver of Taxes Nancy Mendick, both of who have retired within the last two years, were also Republicans.
DiMaggio opted to step down from the position of GOP chairman last fall, following a failed bid for Supervisor in 2013.
“Having served twice as chairman and two runs for office, I thought it was time for someone else to step-up and work to attract younger voters,” said DiMaggio. “I’m still on the candidate’s selection committee and very interested in having a two-party system in the town.”
Kermani said the goals for the coming year was to get younger Republicans involved in the party, promote a younger ticket and entice younger residents out to vote. The positions of supervisor, town board, highway superintendent, town clerk, receiver of taxes and five county legislature seats are up for election this fall.
“I think there’s a distorted impression of what the party is about, and we want to fix that,” said Kermani. “Although all the candidates will have their own issues to run on, there’s been issues with large tax increases, a reduction in services and public safety.”
Some residents have become active in the party following last year’s reassessment project, which resulted in tax increases for some large landowners and businesses. Others are concerned about gaps in services for leaf pick-up and plowing, while some have taken issue with modifications recently made in the Police Department by Supervisor John Clarkson that limits scheduling changes.
Keith Wiggand is one of those people who became active in the party once again last year and spoke on behalf of landowners. Wiggand is another former party chairman, who resigned in 2004 from the position and his job with the state after an investigation found he used state property for political gain.
“I kind of laid back on politics for a few years, but I got reinvigorated again last year,” said Wiggand. “There are several thousand voters who haven’t come out because they weren’t excited about the elections. We have to motivate them again. We also have to properly staff the police, and maintain serves like leaf pick-up and plowing. If you’re going to take those things away, then lower the budget and lower our taxes. Bottom line.”
Wiggand said he plans to play an active part in the upcoming campaigns, but does not plan to run himself. However, he said enthusiasm is high with more people coming forward as potential candidates than in recent memory.
“Our goal is to get someone on the Board so that we have a voice,” said Kermani. “But we also want to re-build the committee and start raising money.”
The next Bethlehem Republican Committee fundraiser is a happy hour at Swifty’s on June 1. Tickets are $20 per person. Endorsement announcements are tentatively set for April 13.