COLONIE — There are six candidates running for three open seats on the Town Board this year and the balance of political power hangs in the balance.
Supervisor Paula Mahan, a Democrat, is technically a member of the board and with her vote the Democrats right now have a 4-3 advantage. She and the Republicans, though, have shown a willingness to work across party lines and the political acrimony so common in other towns has been near non-existent in Colonie over the last four years.
Right now there are three Republicans and three Democrats on the Town Board, but one, David Green, changed his enrollment from Republican to Democrat earlier this year and that will go into effect after Election Day, Nov. 5.
Mahan is also up for election this year and is being challenged by Republican George Scaringe.
Jennifer Whalen, a Republican, opted not to run for her seat and instead is running for the county Legislature.
Two incumbents are looking to hold onto their seats, Democrat Paul Rosano and Republican Chris Carey.
Greene will join two other incumbent Democrats, Melissa Jeffers-VonDolen and Linda Murphy as the three Democrats who will return next year.
Along with Rosano, Jill Penn and Brian Austin are running for the Democrats. On Carey’s Republican ticket are Rick Field and Danielle Futia.
Of the six candidates, four have not held office before and three are engaged in their first campaign, Penn, Futia and Field. One candidate, Austin, ran two years ago but narrowly lost after the absentee ballots were counted.
The issues are similar to the last election cycle and while some are the same in towns across upstate New York, like how to pay to maintain or replace aged infrastructure and keeping taxes in check, while others are unique to Colonie, like development concerns, traffic and congestion.
Town Board members serve a four-year term and make a $21,479 a year.
The candidates in alphabetical order are:
Brian Austin (D)
Brian Austin has been a music teacher at North Colonie Central School for some 29 years. He has been on the Planning or Zoning boards for some 10 years and his latest term expires at the end of this year.
He ran two years ago and finished fourth in a race for three seats, about 2 percentage points behind the third place finisher. Like two years ago he will only have the Democratic Party line.
“We came so close the last time and it was something I had a desire to do then and I still have that desire today,” he said. “I want to be more involved, not just on the Planning Board, but more involved in setting policy in the town and the broader aspects of town government.”
He was a volunteer firefighter for 13 years and has a passion for fire service, EMS and public safety in general and would like to be a liaison between the Town Board and those departments should he get elected.
Being on the Planning Board, he is on the front lines of one of the most contentious issues in town and that is the perception by a vocal sliver of the population that development is out of control.
“There is a lot re-development, or the development of sites that are abandoned or had buildings on them previously,” he said pointing to the Ayco headquarters at the old Starlite Theater as an example. “I think the process as we have it works well. We implemented a Town Designated Engineer to work as a middle man between the developer and the board and that has been a tremendous help. Our responsibility on the board is to not stop them from developing land but to guide them and make sure it is done properly and per guidelines set down in the Town Code.”
Traffic congestion, he said, is mostly due to the town’s centralize location and is the worst on roads the town doesn’t own like the Northway, Route 9 and Albany Shaker Road which are owned by the state or the county so the town has little if any control over what happens on them.
Financially, he said, he is pleased with where the town is right now and is happy with the improvements made to the infrastructure. He scoffs at the Republicans who say they would pave all town roads without raising taxes.
“We are no longer in debt and we are showing a plus in the coiffeurs and speaking with Paula and other people. The last increase in taxes that went a little above the tax cap was a very minimal jump in actual dollars,” he said. “Party lines in the town are very polarizing and I think that when you are talking about pot holes, it’s not a Democrat or Republican issue. A lot of people who were complaining should get more involved. Not at a party level but maybe they should put their hat in the ring and run for something.”
Chris Carey (R)
Chris Carey retired from the Colonie Police Department after 32 years and spent most of his career in investigations and forensics.
He is seeking his second four-year term on the Town Board and said, since he is a proponent of term limits, that if he wins it will be his last. He does, though, plan on running for Fire Commissioner in the Midway Fire District later this year.
He was a volunteer firefighter and EMS volunteer for some four decades and is still a social member of the Shaker Road Fire Department.
While it may have upset some in his party, he does work well with Mahan and the other Democrats on the board. His non-partisan nature, he said, is an attribute.
“I don’t play party lines. I have done what I think is in the best interest for the town and I will continue to do that. I will continue to work with the other members of the board to do what is in the best interest of the residents,” he said. “I have no problem working with Democrats or Republicans. You will not get anything accomplished if you put party interested in front of the town’s best interest.”
He said the most pressing issue facing the town is the infrastructure and would shift money around in the budget to make more improvements and also make more of an effort to get grant money.
He did, though, said in the recent past the town has made positive strides.
“Our Police Department is at highest manpower level in history. I’m a past police union president and when I retired the manpower numbers were not what they should have been and now, thanks to the Town Board, I think they are. We have also increase manpower in the EMS Department and that was also something the Town Board approved.”
He said he is comfortable with how development is going in town so long as town code and other laws are followed because developers have rights too.
“People seem to forget that property owners can develop their land if they are within zoning laws. I understand it’s a fine line between what the developer wants and what the neighbors may want but I don’t want to put the town in jeopardy by inviting lawsuit either.”
Traffic, he said, comes with Colonie’s central location and because it is a “great place to live.”
Financially, he said he is happy with the how things are going in town and did vote to override the tax cap last year and that may have cost him the Conservative Party line this time around.
“It may sound like a big hit percentage wise but the dollar amount it’s not that much money,” he said. “I’m not afraid to speak up if I don’t like something or something isn’t right. But I won’t go along with something I don’t’ agree with just because of politics. I really don‘t consider myself a politician.”
Rick Field (R, I)
Rick Field has been owned and operated his own real estate business since 1975. The father of four and grandfather of 16 said he has always had an interest in running for office but now that his family is older he has the time to dedicate to the Town Board.
“I kept hearing a quote: ‘In order for evil to flourish the only thing needed to happen is for good men to do nothing,’” he said as to why he is running. “It took a long time to get my business to run on auto pilot, so to speak, and now I have the time to dedicate to the campaign and to serving. Plus, George (Scaringe) asked me to run and I was never asked before.”
Taxes and spending, he said, are the biggest issue facing the town and, being in the real estate business, he sees what an increase in both can do to property values.
“Niskayuna, Bethlehem, Guilderland … they are all seeing their property values stagnate and in some cases decrease because taxes have become unreasonable,” he said. “Right now, we are not too bad in Colonie but when you increase taxes a little bit every year, after 10 years those small amounts turn into a large amount and we just can’t afford it.”
He said development goes hand in hand with real estate so he can’t knock the fact people want to build in Colonie, but, he said, everything should be done according to the book.
“The Maxwell Road project was and is still a boondoggle. We can’t allow anything like that to happen again,” he said. “It’s a town people want to be in and I understand that. I lived here my whole life. But we have to watch out for greenspace and density and all the things that make it such a great place to live.”
He said more should be spent on infrastructure such as paving roads and would try some simple solutions to traffic congestion like putting a traffic cop at intersections when the traffic is at its worst. He would also like to initiate programs to help seniors stay in their homes longer.
He is too in favor of term limits.”
“All we hear about is how bad it was 10, 12 years ago. People have a certain tenure and they accomplish certain things and after a while you get apathetic so it’s time for some new blood. It’s been 12 years now. It’s time to move on and let some people with new ideas and new energy have a turn,” he said. “I have a lot of skin in this game. I am hoping to keep the town a great place to live so my grandchildren will grow up here and buy a house here and raise their families here.”
His father, Fred Field, was a long time Colonie supervisor.
Danielle Futia (R, C, I)
Danielle Futia is making her first run at public office and at 31 is young compared to what most people think of as a politician.
The director of the Carondelet Hospitality Center located at the St. Joseph’s Provincial House and her husband are also expecting their first child in February.
“It is something I always considered doing,” she said of her decision to run for office. “I was born and raised in Colonie and I have had a very fortunate life growing up there. We are welcoming out first child and I want to provide the same life that was provided to me when I was growing up. Colonie is my hometown and I want to be a part of its past, present and future.”
While she is running against a Democratic majority currently in office, she said she would not bash the town because she just bought her first home and that would be hypocritical. But, she said, there are somethings that need work.
“I think the roads are an important topic now. That and development seems to be on the minds of the people I am talking to,” she said. “I think we need to find a way to put more money in the budget to fix the roads and that goes along with the other infrastructure too.”
She said she is not opposed to development but that there is a “bit of overdevelopment” going on in town right now.
“I am in favor of smart growth. I’m not opposed to certain development but I think we need to take into consideration what the residents are saying too and get more feedback about what they would like to see,” she said.
To accomplish that, she said, more of an effort must be made to keep residents informed of what is going on in Town Hall and to do so in a timely manner.
“People are busy and they can’t get to the meetings all time,” she said. “We need to get information posted in a timely manner and I think we can accomplish that by using social media. Everyone is on social media and it is a way to stay connected with the resident of the town.”
She acknowledges there will be a learning curve if she is elected but said her age would bring a new perspective to town government.
“I am not a politician and that is not a cliché. I am from a new generation so that sets me apart. I bring a new vision. A new set of eyes and I want to bring all of our voices to town hall,” she said. “There may be somethings we don’t agree on I will always have my door open, my email open and my social media open. I will be open and make sure we both understand where we are both coming from.”
Jill Penn (D, C, I)
Jill Penn has worked in the South Colonie School District for 30 years and is now the Forrest Park Elementary School principal. She is making her first run at public office.
“When my daughter went to college, and after that first year, I realized I was not good at sitting around,” she said. “My husband is involved in the party and when I heard Jennifer (Whalen) wasn’t going to run we talking about it jokingly and maybe I should be involved too. The more I thought about it the more I thought I would like to give back to the community on a different level so I decided to give it a try and see how it goes.”
Her husband, George, is the town’s Democratic Party chair.
A balance between development and greenspace is difficult but a necessity, she said.
“The rural/suburban feel to Colonie is one of the things that drew us to this town, she said of growing up in Albany. “We are close to things and at the same time we liked having nature around us and we realized what a great area this is. We want to keep the taxes low and make the area more appealing but not take any more of the greenspace.”
To accomplish that, she said, incentives to landowners and developers to keep the land open space rather than develop it should be explored.
“But, if we are going to offer incentives, we have to make sure the developers follow through on the parameters we set up,” she said. Greenspace is valuable to us too so if they do not follow through on the promises we have to hold them accountable.”
She said Mahan and the Town Board have done a “great job” in turning finances around and while the tax cap was exceeded last year, it does not equate to an extraordinary dollar amount.
“Going over the tax cap was necessary to maintain our the relationship and partnership with the employees,” she said of the increase that was largely attributed to contractual obligations. “We should continue to plan our budget accordingly and set money aside to look at infrastructure and be preventative rather than reactionary. It’s better to maintain our pipes than fix them after they break.”
The new exit on the Northway, she said, should alleviate some traffic congestion in town, but some of it is unavoidable.
“One of the things that makes this desirable place to live is that we are in the middle of everything,” she said. “I am someone who has been in the community and served our families as a teacher and principal. I have been forward thinking and I have a unique perspective I would like to bring to the town board.”
Paul Rosano (D)
Paul Rosano is looking for his third term on the Town Board. He has a long list of organizations he was involved in including Little League, CYO basketball and pop warner.
If elected, he said, there are a number of initiatives he would like to finish such as bringing more manpower to the Police Department and the EMS and work on infrastructure.
“We are making progress on the roads and we are making progress on the underground infrastructure that has to come before we pave the roads. That is what people fail to see,” he said. “Of course, we have work to do but we are making progress.”
One issue he has focused on for the better part of this year is improving cell service throughout town.
“I’m told eight out of 10 emergency calls into EMS are from cell phones and we can’t afford to have them not be completed like they are now,” he said. “I have been working with Sheriff Apple and we are looking at small cell technology so we won’t have these big towers but little transistors that can fit on a street light poles once we get the LED lights set up.”
He has been the liaison between the Planning Board and Town Board for years and is on the front line of criticisms about over development.
“My focus has always been on redeveloping existing sites, especially on the commercial side,” he said. When I hear the complaints I always say ‘give me an example and nobody comes back with anything specific on the commercial side.”
He said in the last 10 years some 3,000 people have moved into town, which is not an unmanageable number, but still bucks the trend going on across the rest of the state.
“If people want to live here, and want to move here when they are moving out of the rest of the state by the truck load we must be doing something right. People really need to explain to me where all this bad stuff is coming from.”
One example he said, is that people want affordable senior housing but one way to make it affordable is to allow a Planned Development District, or higher density than the current zoning laws allow.
“Affordable senior housing is a big problem and everyone wants to see more affordable senior housing but nobody want so see Planned Development Districts,” he said. It’s the same old story, they don’t want something, but they do want something.
“We follow all the rules. People have a right in America to develop their property and we follow the rules. Which we do. Unlike before when anyone could do anything if they had the right connections.”