COLONIE — Three of the six Town Board candidates are up for grabs this year and so is the balance of power in the Capital District’s second largest municipality.
There are three incumbent board members who are two years into their respective four-year terms — Republicans Rick Field and Danielle Futia and Democrat Jill Penn. Democrat Linda Murphy, who serves as deputy supervisor, opted not to run for another term and Democrat David Green left the board to take a spot on the Colonie Town Court bench.
The supervisor casts a vote along with the Town Board and, with the retirement of Democratic Supervisor Paula Mahan, that seat is open this year as well. Former judge Republican Peter Crummey and newcomer Democrat Kelly Mateja are running for the town’s top spot.
Of the eight candidates who will set legislative policy and pass spending plans for the town, there is only one incumbent running, Melissa Jeffers, a Democrat. The other Democrats running for Town Board are newcomers Jessica Mahar and Alvin Gamble.
Those three candidates are running against three Republican newcomers, Tony Boncordo, Jeff Madden and Alexandra Velella.
All Town Board candidates run at-large, or town wide. It is a four-year term that currently pays $21,479 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.
The candidates and some of their thoughts in alphabetical order are:
TONY BONCORDO (R, C)
Boncordo, the son of Italian immigrants, is making his first foray into running for public office. He is a dentist, specializing in general dentistry, and maintains a practice on Albany Shaker in Colonie that services generational families.
His parents traveled to the US from Italy and the Shaker grad obtained his undergraduate degree at Siena College and his DMD from Boston University.
He said Colonie is a tale of two cities in that “people from downstate come up and think it is a treat to live here and there are those of us 35 years and older who remember what it was like.”
“When we moved to Colonie when I was 10, there was open space and it was beautiful. You didn’t have to leave your cars locked and the children could run around an play outside past sunset,” he said of how things have changed. “Now, there is too much density here. We are too crowded and we are a pass through with congestion and traffic and everything has changed so much for me.
“We need to slow it down a little.”
He said while many of the most travelled roads in town belong to the state or county and out of the town’s purview, one thing the town can control is density.
“I understand it is your land, and landowners have rights, but the town has to control how much goes in there. There has to be a way to keep some presence of what we had or we will look like downstate,” he said. “There is a pendulum between developers and the neighbors and I think it has to swing to the people not to the developers.”
One problem, he said, is the granting of Planned Development Districts, which allow for more density on less land, has become the norm rather than the exception. He also said more has to be done to buffer existing neighborhoods from the new developments.”
He is a staunch supporter of police and pointed to the recent spate of violence in surrounding cities in calling for more officers in Colonie because the town is often used as a cut through between the Troy, Schenectady and Albany.
Relatively speaking, Colonie taxes are low compared to other Capital District municipalities and he would like to see that continue. He also said property taxes are a small portion of a homeowners tax bill — with school taxes making up the majority — and does prefer to see fees increase rather than tax rates because at least then people have a choice.
“We have stayed within the 2 percent tax cap but we increase fees,” he said. “At least with the fees, the seniors on fixed incomes don’t have to pay the fees. They have a choice and I am always for giving people a choice.”
He also said, if elected, he would like to know why there is so much development in town but taxes do continue to go up, even though it they are within the tax cap.
As he is going door to door, he said, one issue that continuously comes up is infrastructure, and in particular roads and he would like to use COVID relief funds to improve the town’s aged infrastructure.
MELISSA JEFFERS (D,WFP)
Jeffers is looking for her second four-year term on the Colonie Town Board. When she was elected four years ago, she became one of the youngest members ever elected to the panel.
The Shaker High grad has an undergraduate degree from Elmira College and a master’s from UAlbany. She worked as a paralegal for the Albany County Office of Immigration Assistance and currently words as a secretary to a Supreme Court judge in Albany County.
“I am running for another term because I am eager to continue to the work I started in the first four years, she said. “I didn’t expect that in my first term I would be dealing with a pandemic or a foreign cyber attacker but I think those experiences helped me learn some leadership skills and to take an analytical look at everything so I am looking to put those skills to good use for whoever is part of the next administration.”
She served on the state mandated Police Review Committee and through that process got an inside look at the Police Department and how it functions in Colonie and she considers the department one of the best in the state.
Development, she said, and balancing the rights of landowners and developers with those of the longtime residents and established neighborhoods has been one of the most complicated and delicate issues she has had to deal with as an elected official. For two years she has been a liaison between the Planning and Economic Development Department and the Town Board.
“It is something the department is doing a very good job of balancing,” she said. “They are being more critical of the environmental reviews and the aesthetic review of projects so I think we are turning a corner.”
Being on the Town Board at least through the end of this year, she will cast a vote on the proposed 2022 spending plan that increases spending but about 5.4 percent but she said she is happy with the proposal as it remains within the tax cap and, historically, revenue projections have been conservative.
She also said many of the raises are contractual and some were put on hold because of the pandemic so while the numbers look large, they are for two years rather than one.
“They are public servants and many had to work through the pandemic and other municipalities are giving their employees well deserved raises too,” she said. “I am a strong supporter of our workforce and we need to keep up with the cost of living we need have competitive salaries in town.”
In closing, she said: “I hope if I am elected that whoever is there on the Town Board is willing to be a team player and we can all work together and we can accomplish things for the residents because that is why we are there.”
ALVIN GAMBLE (D, WFP)
Gamble’s family moved to Colonie when he was a boy and the Colonie High and Brockport grad has worked at National Grid Power Company for nearly 40 years. As a teen he worked for the town Parks and Recreation Department and is making his first run at public office this year.
“I believe I can make a change. I believe now is the time for a change, I believe I can make changes and my personal situation is also right for me to run,” he said. “I have been at National Grid for 39 years and it’s been a good run but at some point you have to call it a career. I have a great situation and I always wanted to do be a public servant and now is the time.”
He described himself as “street savvy” and that he knows that the growth the town has experienced in recent years is a double edged sword — it helps keep taxes in check but also contributes to traffic and strains an already burdened infrastructure system.
“I live on Maria Drive near the Crossings and every Saturday I see the traffic. I know the crunch and I know how people feel. I don’t want to wait in long lines of traffic either,” he said. “But, those are the same people who complain if taxes go up. There has to be a balance between the two. I can’t give you a magic formula but we have to keep the tax base where it is and the high level of services people are accustomed to.”
One approach that would help, he said, is a targeted approach and focus new development in parts of town that is not already congested and can handle the traffic. Also, he said, environmental factors should be paramount when considering development.
As for public safety, he said he was at the academy to become a state trooper when an opportunity at National Grid came about so he took that instead.
“I can say, with no hesitation, I am pro police,” he said. “They are needed in Colonie and they are needed in society. And the Colonie police force in particular is doing a tremendous job. Look at to the east of us, in Schenectady, and west of us, in Albany. It seems they have things going on constantly and we are never in the newspaper so I take my hat off and I applaud our Police Department for doing a very difficult job and doing it well.”
In closing he said: “I am excited to be a part of this group running for our town. I love this town and I want to see it keep growing and be a safe place for people to raise their families.”
He and his wife have two children and he is also an ordained deacon at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
JEFF MADDEN (R, C)
Madden started his first Colonie business at age 23, Clean-All, a residential and commercial cleaning company. He also owned and operated the Colonie eateries All Sports Café and Madden’s.
The Colonie High grad and father of three has been heavily involved in a number of youth sports and organizations including Colonie High football and lacrosse, Colonie Little League and Colonie Pop Warner.
“I grew up in Colonie and I want to make sure Colonie remains an affordable, safe place to live, work and raise a family. That basically the driving force behind my campaign,” he said. “I’ve always been a political junky of sorts but I never had the time to run for office or to serve in office, I’ve always worked too hard, but now I am able to time to devote to the town and that is what I would like to do.”
He said every issue needs to be looked at through the lens of public safety.
“The Police Department report showed violent crimes is up. We have less patrolmen, less detectives and less dispatchers than we did in 2019 and I don’t know if that makes sense,” he said. “But safety goes beyond that. If you are talking about the Planning Board and how will a new development impact the safety of our roads? How is the Highway Department making our streets safer?”
Development, he said, should be focused on the individual neighborhoods and not a cookie cutter, town wide approach. He said a focus should be on redevelopment rather than new development.
“What is happening in West Albany is not the same as in Boght Corners,” he said. “Development has to be looked at in a microcosm of how it will impact that particular part of the town.”
As far as infrastructure, he said the town should think outside the box.
“I’ve looked at the last several campaigns and I keep seeing one politician saying he is going to pave six more feet than the last guy but nobody is looking at alternatives to the problem. We need 21st century solutions to 21st century problems.”
For example, he said there are innovative ways to pave roads that use plastics. The benefit, he said, is twofold: it keeps plastic out of the landfill and the roads are stronger and they last longer.
“We can’t keep doing the same thing we have been doing forever and expect different results,” he said.
He said in looking at the budget as you see it on paper doesn’t give a full picture but the Moody’s rating of A3 is below the median rating of AA3 so that is concerning.
In closing he said: “One of the reasons people want to live in Colonie is because we have low taxes but expenses for everyone, including the town, keep going up so we need to continue to increase our revenue in other ways besides raising taxes.”
JESSICA MAHAR (D,WFP, CFP)
“It sounds innocent and naïve, but I am running because I think I can make a difference and use my skills and experience to benefit the people of Colonie,” she said about making her first run at public office. “I have extensive experience in environmental policy making and protecting natural resources as well as securing government funding for things like water infrastructure and making a community safer.”
She is a New York policy and strategy director at the Nature Conservancy and has worked with all stakeholders — local and state governments, business and construction entities, academia and the non-profit sector — to protect clean water, clean air and create jobs. In 2016, the Town Board appointed her to serve on the Comprehensive Plan Committee.
She said Colonie is full of diverse neighborhoods and as such there should not be a cookie cutter approach to development.
“Boght looks very different than West Albany and they look different than Latham and it looks different over by Watervliet,” she said. These places are very unique, and there should be neighborhood level discussions and meetings to follow up on the last comprehensive plan process to see what they can share across the board and also see what their unique needs are. Going forward we need to take into account what people need at the hyper-local level.”
She too said public safety is of paramount importance and applauds the Colonie Police Department for the job it does.
“As a mom this is very important to me, making sure my kid and her friends can take off and ride their bikes in the neighborhoods and know they are safe,” she said. “I watched the review process mandated by the state last year and I am looking forward to learning more from the inside about what their needs are and how, as a member of the Town board, what I can do to support them.”
She said she is pleased that Colonie continues to increase its financial stability, as per a report by the state Comptroller’s Office, but said there is more work to do.
“As a working person and a mom we have to keep living in Colonie affordable and still provide a decent amount of services and good quality of life,” she said.
In closing, she called this the “biggest most important election the town has had in many years.
“Going door to door I can tell people are paying attention to it and I am thankful for the voters who are asking questions,” she said. “I am excited to bring my skills to the table and am ready to work hard for the people of Colonie.”
Mahar is a member of the Albany Pine Bush Commission Board and serves on the Capital Region Board of the New York League of Conservation Voters and the New York Advisory Board of the Land Trust Alliance.
Velella grew up in Colonie and graduated from the Albany Academy for Girls before getting a bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College, a master’s from Pace University and a law degree from the Brooklyn Law School.
Her law practice focuses on worker’s compensation, public sector labor law and municipal employee benefits as well as workplace accidents, deaths and occupational diseases. She moved back to her hometown of Colonie about two years ago.
“After law school and some time in New York City and a lot of things that made me want to leave the city, the rise in crime, the crumbling infrastructure and the way things have devolved under progressive rule were surfacing in the Town of Colonie and it wasn’t the same town I grew up in,” she said. “There is an increase in crime and businesses are shuttering left and right and there are people who will blame COVID but it was happening before COVID.”
She said she is concerned with the spending proposed in the 2022 budget and would work to secure federal and state funding to help keep the tax rate low.
She said the Town Board should improve the crime issues and what she called the “schizophrenic development” in town.
“I would like to raise a family the way I was raised in this community and not have to worry about overdevelopment turning a picturesque town into a nightmare of traffic and potholes and 82 Mariotts on Wolf Road while other areas of town are left by the wayside,” she said. “There are parts of Central Avenue that are just scary. We need to drive up incentivizing businesses into the blighted areas of our town.”
As for development in general, she said the town should do a better job of informing the residents of the projects in front of the Planning Board.
“In my travels, as I have been knocking on doors, I have heard of people’s inability to get answers when they voice their concerns or they have problems or have issues that need to be addressed,” she said. “Communication is key. Allowing people the opportunity to be heard in an meaningful way is incredibly important and right now I just don’t see how that happening.”
She said there are not enough police officers on the force to deal with the amount of traffic that cut through the centrally located town.
Also, she said, the pocket parks scattered throughout the town need to be maintained properly.
“When there are not police there and no people there they are areas ripe for crimes to be committed,” she said. “We need to make sure our streets are safe and we need safe places for people to go and things for people to do.”
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