COLONIE — The past 12 months have been busy ones, despite the ongoing, persistent pandemic still rearing its masked head. There is a new supervisor for the first time in 14 years, and Republicans, by the narrowest of margins, will have a majority on the Town Board when new office holders are sworn in on Jan. 1, 2022.
In November, Republican Peter Crummey handily defeated Kelly Mateja, a newcomer to politics who works for the state Department of Aging, for the town’s top spot and will be sworn in on Saturday to a two-year term. The former, longtime judge will act as supervisor, in that the town’s day to day operations do go across his desk, but he is also a voting member of the Town Board, which has six independently elected representatives now split between three Democrats and three Republicans.
Democrats have had the majority on the local law making body since Supervisor Paula Mahan beat incumbent Mary Brizzell 14 years ago and the Town Board swept aside the GOP. For decades Colonie was one of the Republicans last, and certainly largest, strongholds in a very blue Albany County. It always has been, and still remains more a shade of purple, though, and the 2021 campaigns on both sides hit similar themes: maintain and enhance a strong public safety network, keep taxes in check and continue investing in infrastructure.
Crummey, though, with far superior name recognition, won by a 10 point margin, or more than 2,400 votes out of 23,800 votes cast for supervisor.
Despite a big win at the top of the ticket, the Town Board races were much closer and Democrat Melissa Jeffers, an incumbent, was the top vote getter with 11,445 votes. Jeff Madden, a Republican, had received the most votes on Election Day, but the absentee ballots and mail in ballots cast by Democrats far outnumbered those cast by Republicans and Madden finished second.
Republican Alexandra Velella led by more than 900 votes for the third spot on Election Day but ended up dropping to fourth place after paper ballots were counted and Democrat Alvin Gamble won by 58 votes.
Incumbent Democrat Jill Penn will have to run for another four-year term in 2023 as will Republicans Rick Field and Danielle Futia.
For the next two years, the board is split 3-3 with Crummey being the fourth vote for the Republicans should any issues be decided along party lines.
Other top stories of 2021, in no particular order, are as follows.
When Gamble was declared the victor nearly two weeks after the polls closed, he became the first Black to hold elected office in the Town of Colonie. He didn’t downplay the significance of being elected in the Capital District’s largest town, but he said to get the job done is beyond the color of his skin and that, he said, is the message he took to voters.
“We never ran my campaign on my race. We ran my campaign on our knowledge and experience and our ability to get the job done,” said the longtime National Grid employee. “That said. I never ignored the elephant in the room. It is great for African Americans, but it is also great for women and Indians and other minorities. When we are able to get to a point where we look at any position or person and not look at race or gender, it’s going to lead to a better world.”
A huge sports fan and former athlete used a professional football analogy to describe the significance of his win. In 1998, everyone had to mention the fact Doug Williams was Black when he led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl win. He was the first one to do it, so it was news. Now, Gamble said, there are a host of Black quarterbacks in the NFL so race isn’t even mentioned when commentators and fans talk. Rather, he said, they focus on what the QB can or can’t do on the field.
“It’s great [being the first Black elected.] Don’t get me wrong. I like it. But I wanted it because I am the best person for the job and I want people to see me as the best person for the job and I think they did. The Town of Colonie is 6 percent minority so I must have done a good job of convincing people I am the best person for the job. If we get to know people, and not judge people based on race or gender or religion we will find we have more similarities than differences.”
Gamble, along with Jeffers and Madden, will be sworn in on Jan. 1, 2022, to a four-year term.
In 2006, Paual Mahan was still teaching special education in the North Colonie School District. She finished up right before Christmas, said goodbye to her students and was sworn in on Jan. 1, 2007, starting a second career that would last 14 years. Early in 2021, Mahan announced she would not seek an eighth term in office and would instead retire.
Sometime before 2007, Mahan surprised the Republican Party by changing her enrollment to Democrat and deciding to take on longtime, entrenched Supervisor Mary Brizzell, a Republican. With the help of her husband, a former police officer and member of the Town Board, she and the Democrats swept Town Hall and hung onto the majority for 14 years.
She fought off some heavy-duty opponents too including former County Executive Mike Hoblock, former state DEC Commissioner Denise Sheehan, the Albany County Legislature Minority Leader Frank Mauriello and former Albany County Republican Chairman George Scaringe.
Mahan, narrowly beat Scaringe two years ago and opted to retire rather than run for another two-year term.
Instead of dealing with budgets and COVID and unions and aged infrastructure and a thousand other things a supervisor must handle on a near daily basis, she plans to spend time with her grandchildren and do some traveling with her husband.
Before Mahan retired she appointed Michael Woods as the town’s police chief to replace Chief Jonathan Teale, who officially retired in July, 2021.
Teale was a Colonie cop for 32 years and in 2015, with Mahan’s appointment, became the town’s sixth chief of police.
Woods, a 30-year veteran, had been acting chief, and was officially sworn in as the seventh chief in August. Mahan picked him from a pool of three others who took the chief’s civil service exam — Deputy Chiefs Robert Winn and James Gerace and Lt. Todd Weiss.
Woods is a graduate of Shaker High School and UAlbany. He has received numerous awards for exemplary service including 12 Command Recognitions, two Life Saving Awards, the Special Service Award and the Distinguished Service Award.
Following in Teale’s footsteps, he is also a big proponent of officer training and providing his troops the appropriate tools and resources to do the job. And, he said, he is not going to change things for the sake changing them.
“There are some things we are looking at to make us better and better trained but I’m a firm believer in if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” he said following his formal swearing in ceremony on Aug. 26. “We have good people up and down the ranks. We have well trained people. And when you have that, the day-to-day stuff takes care of itself. I’m not going to change anything just to change it, but if we have to change something, operationally, we will.”
In 2021, Mahan was also able to increase the number of sworn police officers to 111 during 2021 thanks, in part, to the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
On Feb. 8, Sgt. Joseph Iachetta was travelling east on Central Avenue with his K-9 when a tractor trailer tried to make a right hand turn into the Price Chopper driveway.
The tractor trailer cut off the SUV driven by Iachetta, a seven-year veteran of the force. He had to be extricated and transported to Albany Medical Center Hospital for extensive surgery to treat injuries that included brain hemorrhages, a detached retina, facial fractures, fractured ribs and a fractured jaw. He was then was moved to rehab.
In April, he walked out of Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital under his own power.
The driver of the tractor trailer was not injured and neither was Iachetta’s K-9 partner. A GoFundMe page set up to help Iachetta and his wife, who was expecting their second child, raised more than $133,000.
• A plan introduced in June by Colonie Senior Services Center to demolish the Elks Lodge off Watervliet Shaker Road to make way for a new 127,500-square-foot, three-story building for affordable senior housing was approved by the Planning Board in December.
Members of the Elks Lodge 2192 voted to sell the land to CSSC and has merged with the Watervliet Elks, which will be known as the Watervliet-Colonie Elks Lodge 1500. The lodge is located on Fourth Avenue in Watervliet.
The new building will be built alongside the 96-unit King Theil, which opened in 2017, and it will allow CSSC to offer programming to tenants of both buildings.
The new building will have 75 two-bedroom apartments and 24 one-bedroom apartments. CSSC has two other facilities: The Beltrone Living Center on Winners Circle off Wolf Road with 250 units and Sheehy Manor on Cardondelet Drive with 50 units. Beltrone is geared towards “middle income” seniors and houses the CSSC administrative office and the town’s Senior Resources Department.
All 396 apartments in the CSSC system are rented, said Executive Director Diane Conroy-LaCivita previously, and there are hundreds on the waiting list and it could take years for a person to get a place.
The new facility will carry the same price range as that offered at King Thiel, which is no more than 20 percent of a person’s income. It is restricted to those 55 and older and residents cannot make more than about $60,000.
Zoning was changed to a Planned Development District to allow more density than current zoning allows and with that comes a payment of $176,700. That number was determined by charging $1,860 per unit.
• In, November, 2021, the Planning Board unanimously granted final site plan approval for a three-story, 114-unit senior housing apartment building on Everett Road.
The developer, Crisafulli Associates, will pay the town $357,500 in return for allowing a Planned Development District in the Neighborhood Commercial Office Residential zone.
A portion of that money will be used to study and possibly mitigate flooding issues in the neighborhood, make infrastructure improvements in the West Albany neighborhood and fund projects supported by the town’s Local Development Corporation.
Three lots will be combined — 11 and 12 Duffy Street and 28 Everett Road Exchange — to form one 10-acre lot.
There will be 49 garage spots and 136 open air parking spaces, which is less than what the town requires but enough to accommodate a senior housing project where the tenants generally have fewer cars than the projected two per unit.
It will share a driveway with the Joseph Zaloga American Legion Post on Everett Road and there will also be access onto Duffy Lane to Exchange Street so people can take advantage of the traffic signal to take a left onto the heavily trafficked Everett Road.
The apartments will be marketed to middle income seniors with studio apartments costing about $1,300 a month, one-bedroom apartments going for between $1,300 and $1,500 a month and two-bedroom apartments costing about $1,900, Michael Crisafulli told the board during a previous meeting.
• In October, the Planning Board approved a 140-unit senior housing project and a 90-unit assisted living facility on more than 36 acres off Route 2.
The plan for the independent living portion, first proposed by developer Stewart Hoffman more than 10 years ago, was recently scaled back from 170 units to 140 market rate units.
The building would front Alice Avenue but the main access point would be by an easement through the Highland Club apartment complex. There would be an emergency entrance off Alice Avenue.
As the public benefit, associated with granting any PDD, Hoffman would give the town $75,000 for the construction of sidewalks along Route 2.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 percent of Colonie’s nearly 84,000 people are over the age of 65. Two of the three buildings operated by CSSC offer apartments to those over 55 and while that demographic is not exact, it could represent as much as 25 percent of the town’s population.
A plan to construct a wildly popular restaurant along Route 7 near the entrance to Latham Farms was given a lukewarm reception in September.
Traffic along the busy stretch of road was of paramount concern to the Planning Board and that was not eased by a proposal to demolish the Carpet One store across Route 7 to make way for a Speedway gas station and convenience store.
The plan would demolish the existing The Brick House to construct a 5,000-square-foot Chick-fil-A restaurant on the 2.5-acre site.
Chick-fil-A would hire between 120 and 140 people to run the restaurant in three daily shifts of 15 employees. A local operator will be elected to run the day-to-day operations and it would be open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
There will be 92 parking spaces, down from 115, and a waiver would be needed to allow a drive thru with stacking lanes and a canopy in the front yard.
Introduced at the same September Planning Board meeting was a plan to demolish the former Carpet One store at 600 Troy-Schenectady Road and build a 2,900-square-foot Speedway gas station and mini-mart.
The developers commissioned a traffic study to determine how bad the two new projects would impact traffic at the busy stretch of road. Both projects will need to come back before the Planning Board at least twice more before construction can start.
In September, Colonie High School named the football field Ambrosio Field in honor of Mike Ambrosio, a longtime coach and gym teacher who died at the age of 64 in 2019.
“If he were here now, he would say ‘no, this is not for me. This should be for the kids.’ But there is nobody more deserving of this than Mike Ambrosio,” said Kevin Halburian, the longtime Colonie baseball coach, recently retired, and golf coach and former physical education teacher, who knew Ambrosio from his first days at Colonie High as the freshman football coach in 1988.
Ambrosio was a physical education teacher at South Colonie from 1985 to 2017 and he coached wrestling, track and lacrosse in addition to what he is best known and remembered for, football. For 33 years he coached at all levels and from 1997 to 2011 he was the Colonie High head varsity football coach where he led his team to three Super Bowl finals and won 12 of the 14 Colonie Cups as a head coach.
In May, a 15-year-old Shaker High sophomore was shot and killed in downtown Albany.
The shooting came during one of the most violent summers ever in the states Capital City. Over three days leading up to the shooting of Destiny Greene on Wilbur Street, about a block from the Governor’s Mansion, six people were shot in Albany and three died by gunfire.
In June, Shaker High held an emotional, heart-warming, heart-wrenching candlelight vigil to honor Greene’s memory. Family members, classmates and school and governmental officials spoke of an intelligent, kind, fun-loving young woman with goals and plans and tried together to make sense of the incomprehensible.
“This evening we will light candles to shine brightly in the early evening. We light candles for different reasons. Some seek to shine a light through darkness. Others use it to reflect, pray, reaffirm promises and commitments, remember the loved one or express gratitude for the blessing of a life,” said Superintendent Joseph Corr. “It is possible and more than OK to feel more than one of these emotions, or all of them at once. You may laugh and cry, be joyful and sad and fell angry at loss and grateful for the all to brief gift of a beautiful life. The important moment is that our candles and the light they create will connect us as a community in celebration and remembrance of our Destiny.”
The biggest story that turned into a non-story was the non-sale of the Stony Creek Reservoir in Clifton Park. The town did send out a Request for Proposals in April with a minimum bid of $5.1 million for the 1,000-acre site.
It was initially returnable on June 4 but extended to Aug. 6 and then withdrawn totally while the town worked on removing, or amending, state regulations that currently restrict all activity on the site to just a source of drinking water.
Changing the allowable uses to passive recreation like canoeing, hiking and fishing is a lengthy process and Clifton Park has expressed an interest should the permitted uses change for the 600 acres of land and 365 acres of water.
The reservoir has served as Colonie backup source of water since the damn was constructed in 1953. But, even before the town completed an interconnect with the City of Albany in 2019, it had not tapped into Stony Creek since 2004 and it costs $224,000 a year to maintain the facility.
The idea of selling the reservoir was widely criticized as shortsighted and some made leaps to questioning on social media why it was being sold to developers when there were no such plans on the books or even proposed.
Supervisor Mahan withdrew the RFP and both major party candidates stated they would not sell the reservoir without further study that focused on holding onto the water rights. Right now, the town is waiting for the state Department of Health to review its request to change use at the site and that could take well into 2022 or beyond.
After decades of sitting vacant, the town’s largest blight is finally coming down.
Richbell President and CEO Bill Hoblock said about half is down, the easy half, where the offices were. The hard half, where the actual meat packing plant once employees worked, is like a large cooler with concrete walls more than a foot thick. Still, Jackson Demolition has been meticulously bringing it down and grinding up the concrete to use again when the new construction takes place on the 32-acre site either in 2022 or 2023.
Before COVID hit, the plan was to build a mix of residential, retail and entertainment/hospitality at the site but the since the pandemic is still taking its toll on things, Hoblock said they will likely start with residential and then see how the market stands as time marches forward.
While the demolition to this point has been done using large machines picking away at the 500,000-square-foot building, how the smokestack comes down has yet to be decided as of this writing.
The pandemic was still a daily presence in 2021 though things were not as bad as 2020. Unlike a year ago, there was a vaccine readily available and few things were shut down. For the majority of the year, there were few mandates requiring masks or other protocols and officials across the board encouraged people to get vaccinated against the worst public health crisis in more than 100 years.
At the beginning of 2021, it appeared things were getting back to normal. High schools across the state participated in abbreviated winter seasons and most had a Fall 2 season, including football, soccer and volleyball, in the spring of 2021 to make up for seasons cancelled the fall before.
As of this writing, the COVID numbers are again going through the roof and Gov. Kathy Hochul implemented a statewide mask mandate for any and all indoor public spaces unless there is a vaccine requirement at the location. There is no enforcement mechanisms in place, however, and the individual counties are not providing any teeth to back up the governor’s directive.
The latest variant, Omicron, does not present illnesses as serious as the prior strains and the percentage of people who are vaccinated are nearing the 80 percent mark in this state.
Whereas 2020 saw the popularity of Gov. Andrew Cuomo skyrocket thanks, in part, to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 saw the rocket crash.
The national and global audience who sat riveted during his 2020 COVID-19 press briefings now watched as woman after woman came out in 2021 and accused Cuomo of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior including a married, young staffer who said on national TV Cuomo groped her in the governor’s mansion.
The trickle of accusations culminated in an explosive report by Attorney General Letitia James released in August. Days after its release, Cuomo resigned in disgrace. Since the report’s release, Cuomo’s brother, Chris Cuomo, was fired by CNN, the man he appointed as chancellor of the State University of New York system, Jim Malatras, resigned and a state watchdog panel said the former governor has to repay the $5.1 million advance he got for writing a book about leadership through the pandemic.
Safe to say 2021 was not kind to Andrew Cuomo and there are still pending criminal charges for his allegedly groping Brittany Commisso.
His lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochol, was sworn in after Cuomo’s resignation was official and she has announced she will run for a four year-term in 2022. James, who had announced she was running for governor has since said she would not and instead focus on a number of ongoing investigations as AG.
In February, Albany County still would not allow any sports to take place based on the numbers the state was using at the time. Parents rallied outside the 112 State St. while county officials were determining what direction athletics should take.
Oddly, the percent positive is much higher now than the 4 percent threshold regions had to meet in order to allow sports to proceed at the beginning of 2021 and yet high school sports are still continuing unabated.
Here are some Colonie highlights from 2021:
•The Colonie 12U Little League team rolled through the state championship and made it to the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Bristol Connecticut.
The squad that calls Cook Park in the Village of Colonie its home field was just two wins away from making it to the Mecca of Little League — Williamsport Pennsylvania.
• Christian Brothers Academy win its first Class AA Super Bowl since 2013 by getting by Shenendehowa 28-14 at Shaker High School.
The Brothers were playing for the first time under Head Coach Bobby Burns, who came to the school after a six-year stint at Troy High School. They lost in the first round of the state tournament to Carmel, of Section I, by a score of 54-7.
• CBA also beat Shaker 7-4 in June to win its first Class AA baseball title since 1987. Because of COVID, there were no state or regional competitions so the season ended.