COLONIE — Voters can head to the polls as early as Saturday, Oct. 23, and up for grabs is a vacant supervisor’s spot, three seats on the Town Board, all three seats on the Town Court bench, the clerk’s position and the receiver of taxes.
It is the first time in seven election cycles Paula Mahan, a Democrat, will not be on the ticket. Fourteen years ago she beat incumbent Mary Brizzell, an entrenched Republican in what was the Republican’s major hub of strength in a very blue county. The Democrats have held onto power since that election, and since that election Republicans have been champing at the bit to retake Town Hall.
Peter Crummey, a town judge for more than two decades, is the Republican pick to replace the retiring Mahan and the democrats picked a newcomer to politics, Kelly Mateja. Crummey will run with the Conservative Party line while Mateja will have the Working Families Party and the Colonie First Party, a new line on the ballot created through the petition process.
Crummey was elected judge town judge in 1999 and every four years since. Prior to donning the robes, he was an Albany County legislator and worked in Town Hall as an assistant corporation council handling traffic tickets in the court he would eventually preside over. He also worked as an attorney for the Zoning Board of Appeals.
He has also served for a number of community and civic organizations including the boards of the Shaker Heritage Society, Colonie Youth Center and advisory board on the Colonie Youth Court. He first worked for the town as an Albany Law School intern in 1980.
Mateja currently works for the state Office of the Aging in the communications department. Prior to that she worked in the Town of Colonie Planning and Economic Development Department as a professional planner where she led public meetings, worked on the town’s first comprehensive plan and helped start the Crossings Farmers Market.
For the past decade she has been on the Parent Teachers Association of every level of South Colonie schools. She also serves on the Shaker Heritage Society Board of Directors and in 2011 began “Morning of Kindness” an annual Christmas Eve morning tradition that began as a way to keep her three children busy and has grown to attracting more than 1,000 volunteers getting together to help out local charities.
Crummey has outraised Mateja more than three to one — about $178,000 to about 56,000 — but Mateja does enjoy an enrollment advantage — 23,775 to 14,732 with about 20,000 not enrolled in any party.
Mahan, who narrowly beat George Scaringe two years ago, did not endorse her fellow Democrat and while not outwardly endorsing Crummey did speak kindly about the former judge. Other popular, elected Democrats, like County Executive Dan McCoy and Sheriff Craig Apple, have not issued endorsements as of this writing.
The issues facing the Capital District’s largest town are not unique, and the two candidates are not far apart on how they would address public safety, development, taxes, infrastructure and other quality of life issues controlled by Town Hall. The tone of the campaign, though, has been divisive at times, particularly on social media.
The two-year term pays $123,000 a year.
Early voting began on Oct. 23 and runs through Oct. 31. Any Albany County voter can cast a ballot at any of the following locations:
- Albany County Board of Elections: 260 South Pearl St. in Albany.
- Berne Volunteer Fire Company: 30 Canaday Hill Road in Berne
- Bethlehem Lutheran Church: 85 Elm Ave. in Delmar
- Boght Community Fire Department: 8 Preston Drive in Cohoes
- Guilderland Fire Department: 2303 Western Ave. in Guilderland.
- Pine Grove United Methodist Church: 1580 Central Ave. in Colonie.
Polls are open Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday and Wednesday noon to 8 p.m. and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Polls are open across town from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“After 21 years of serving as town judge and chief administrator of our court system, when I learned our current town supervisor, who was leading us for 14 years, was not seeking re-election I felt that at that juncture I could do more for the Town of Colonie as the chief executive officer than I could in my prior town positions,” Crummey said of why he is running for the town’s top spot. “Look at the serious nature of my decision. I left nearly three years of my judgeship to take this race on. I had to vacate the Colonie Town Court to do this.”
A Colonie town judge makes $69,777. Mateja makes $89,274 at the Office of Aging.
“All of my experiences from starting out in the Planning Department and going to Colonie seniors and working with our older population and my decade of advocating for children and families through the PTA and also my communications work at NYSOFA,” she said. “When I was asked if I would consider running, and hearing the issues that people care about in Colonie, development and redevelopment and infrastructure, that is my background and everything lined up right and it was time.”
The campaigns are not that far apart on a number of issues. Crummey and Mateja say they support the Police Department and public safety in general and that includes the volunteer fire department and the EMS department.
Both too are concerned with development, which is a double edged sword in that it keeps the tax base healthy but also strains infrastructure and leads to increases in traffic and overall congestion. Stakeholders, the landowners and developers and the nearby residents and neighborhoods, also have rights and expectations that are often at odds.
“I believe in sustainability and the bedrock of sustainability is a vibrant economy. As we move forward with development in the town my primary focus is to have investors help us repurpose structures we already have,” Crummey said. “My program is based on I don’t want ‘red Xs’ in Colonie. As we have certain commercial strips that aren’t rebounding as well as other areas I need help in getting those repurposed first and foremost. We have to keep in mind the rights of landowners with the needs of the future development. Any new development should keep an eye on thoroughfares that can provide opportunities for a variety of modalities of transportation.”
Mateja said different neighborhoods in a town the size of Colonie require and desire different things so she would start planning initiatives at that level rather than a town wide approach.
“Development happens through your land use regulations and your zoning laws so in order to get development that is aligned with your community’s vision and values you need to make sure zoning and land use are aligned with those vision and values,” Mateja said. “When I canvass in West Albany the issues are different than in the Boght which are different than what I hear in Loudonville or East Latham. One of the challenges in Colonie is that we treat it as a monolith, and our zoning regulations are town wide specific and that is not going to work for everyone.”
Crummey said he would also foster walkable neighborhoods and connectivity between different neighborhoods. At the same time, he would encourage the planning process to make new development fit in, architecturally, with the existing neighborhoods.
Mateja said there is a difference between over development and having the right development and if in fact the town is overdeveloped then there has to be a conservation plan in place. For example, paying a landowner to keep the land open rather than selling it to a developer.
INFRASTRUCTURE and FINANCES
Both would focus on infrastructure needs. Crummey said he would pave more roads per year and reorganize the budget to find the money to pay for it. Mateja would set medium length goals such as road maintenance and make it more of a transparent process.
Mahan released her 2022 budget that increases spending by 5 percent but does stay within the tax cap. Both candidates say finances are a concern.
Crummey said the uncertainty of the national economy and a recent poll that found consumers are tightening their belts which will impact Colonie because it relies heavily on sales tax as a source of revenue every year.
“I know my job is to focus on Colonie but as oil and gas prices are going up and as I move to pave more roads next year it will cost more so I will need to reconfigure the budget to find money to do that if the optimistic projections do not come through,” he said.
Mateja pointed to the state Comptroller’s report that found Colonie is still susceptible to financial stress.
“We have been digging ourselves out of a really big financial hole,” Mateja said. “When Paula took over we had a junk bond rating. The Republicans put us in dire financial strait so certainly so much work has been done to take us out of that hole but I don’t think we are in the clear yet.”
The campaign, at least on social media, has gotten somewhat nasty though the negative campaigns have not hit mainstream media. The Colonie Democratic Facebook page has criticized Crummey and Mateja said more than 100 Democratic campaign signs have been stolen or destroyed and has been the subject of an untrue whisper campaign.
Crummey said has focused his campaign on his record of working for and with everyone in town and of both political parties.
“We have developed our campaign based on our accomplishments not only in the court system but in the county legislature and the community as a whole and we will maintain a positive campaign,” he said. “I have learned that often times desperate people do desperate things.”
Mateja said she has run a forward focused campaign but said some of the things being released are based on Crummey’s record.
“I would question what is nasty. What is nastier, to have a whisper campaign or ‘here is documentation,’” she said. “We are all answerable to our past decisions because that is the only way Colonie voters can make a decision on who the next best leader is for the town.”
“I’m asking what we have actually done. Anyone can say anything,” Mateja said. “They can say they want to conserve property in the town or build 40 pickle balls courts in the town. But can they do it. As the planning candidate, I have done conservation. I have brought more than $500,000 into this town for conservation and pedestrian upgrades to help kids walk safely to school. I have experience leading a large staff and doing budgeting. Which candidate has a background and unmatched experience in regional transportation and regional planning organizations? That is why we make decisions, on people’s past actions.”
“I believe a successful CEO, or town supervisor, is leader who will listen, collaborate and care and I have already demonstrated I do all three of those things, whether it was in the court house or the ZBA or the county Legislature I have an established record of someone who listens collaborates and cares,” Crummey said. “You don’t learn this job out of a college text book. Leadership comes from demonstrated experience and competency. It doesn’t mean I have all the answers, but I know where to find them. If you want to ‘Save Colonie’ you can vote for Peter Crummey.”