Catskill Village voters who turn out for the local election on Tuesday (3/30/10) will confront a happy hardship: filling two seats on the Village Board by choosing between three good candidates.
(In case you did not notice, that sentence mixes exposition, prognostication and evaluation. The evaluation—“happy hardship,” “good candidates”—operates rhetorically, in context, as advocacy: prodding you to feel that the choice is indeed between good candidates and thus is indeed a happy choice).
Best known of the three is Vincent Seeley, who is seeking a third two-year term on the Board, who has been elected by his peers for the last six years as President of the Board, and who brings to his leadership an insomnia-fueled dedication.
Also seeking re-election is Angelo Amato, a local businessman (Candyman Chocolates) and native Catskillian whose six years of Board tenure have been marked by a distinctive touch of independent-mindedness.
The third candidate, Brian Kehoe, a new Catskillian, brings to his candidacy an extraordinarily appealing background: a professional career in community and land use planning.
Mr Seeley, a registered Republican, has been endorsed by the local Democratic Party committee as well as by the Republican committee. Mr Amato has been endorsed by (and is a leader of) the Republican committee. Mr Kehoe has been endorsed by the local Democratic committee.
(We supply that information because it is customary to do so, and because the ballot identifies the candidates by party backing. In adhering to custom, however, we run the risk of sustaining the delusion that information about party affiliation is richly informative, if not definitive, about the merits--character, principles, policy leanings--of candidates for elective office).
The three candidates were invited to provide statements for posting on Seeing Greene. On reflection, however, we decided, with his concurrence, to dispense with a statement from Mr Seeley. The veteran Village President is well known to GreeneLanders. His return to office seems to be assured and, in the judgment of the Seeing Greene gang, richly deserved. Mr Seeley can be impulsive and stubborn, but he works resolutely for the good of Catskill. As for the other two candidates:
For the last six years, I have worked alongside the other Trustees to make the Village of Catskill a better place. Brian Kehoe has even been quoted as saying he “…praised the Board for all they have accomplished in revitalizing the Village and improving the recreational opportunities.” Moreover, Village Board President Vincent Seeley has said “The current Village Board has worked very well together, to get a massive amount of work done over the past 6 years in order to make Catskill a better place to live. Each of us brings a different perspective to the table; Angelo…helps us see things from a small business point of view. Having grown up in Catskill, Angelo and I have seen Catskill at its best and worst and that experience is vital to help our board continue to bring the Village of Catskill forward. Angelo has demonstrated he has the skill-set I am looking for to bring much needed checks and balance to our board.”
One example of improved Village recreational opportunities is the new ice skating rink…. I am proud to say that I secured part of the funding to make that happen. At the same time, I have worked tirelessly to keep tax increases to a minimum. I have never voted for more than a 4 percent tax increase and have rejected the idea of raising taxes for special projects, like sidewalks, without an urgent need and a study supporting such need.
During my tenure on the board we have successfully worked to create over 500 new jobs with the creation of Walmart, Lowes, Walgreens, Urgent Care etc. Presently being proposed are new projects that would add to that total. Also, I am working on a grant proposal for an elevator in our Village Hall building. If we are awarded the grant we will bring a historic building into ADA compliance, making it handicap accessible at no cost to our taxpayers.
As a local business owner and lifetime resident, I know first-hand the tribulations of running a business in Catskill and have witnessed the Village’s ups and downs over more than three decades. As a member of the Downtown and Waterfront Revitali-zation team, I know the challenges of attracting and retaining new businesses. Making Catskill a destination for visitors, while providing goods and services to our local population, are essential elements of revitalization.
Since the current Trustees are working well together and are on track in revitalizing the Village, why disrupt an effective, pro-active, team that has a proven track record?
I am hopeful that my professional skills would be of significant practical use to the work of the Board of Trustees. The next State budget will result in reduced revenues flowing to the Village, just at a time when the Village is suffering a net loss of businesses and sales and when big infrastructure repairs and investments must be made soon.
My contribution will consist of assisting the Board and staff to prioritize and add efficiency to all operations. I have direct experience with managing large municipal budgets, completing infrastructure projects and economic development. Provision of municipal services in an efficient and effective manner will be a key attribute of municipalities in difficult times. Responding proactively to the State Comptroller’s report, which called out a set of lapses in budgetary procedures, we must put our fiduciary house is in order. We also must maintain existing facilities better. Sidewalks are a real issue.
We must celebrate the urban character of the Village and the reality that we are Greene County’s cosmopolitan center. We also must continue to support revitalization of historic structures as well as enhancement of Main Street with unifying amenities such as period lighting, raised crosswalks with brick pavers, and a pocket park with benches.
We must actively court businesses that would thrive here – even take trips to lure folks out of Brooklyn, Beacon, and other places where rents are high. Never give up on Main Street, even when it seems easy to do so.
We must tap into the great wealth of skills existing in our population. Catskillians care. They want their village to thrive and they are willing to work for free to make it happen, as is evident in the community garden, the community center, the farmers’ and artisans’ market, the volunteer firefighters, Beattie-Powers Place, Little League, the arts council, the Thomas Cole House….
Having worked with a variety of municipal boards in my career, I understand how much effort is required to be useful as a Trustee. I will attend all Board meetings and will work with my colleagues as a team player.
The three candidates appeared on March 19th at a 90-minute forum in the Catskill Community Center. At the invitation of moderator Fawn Potash of the Mid-Hudson League of Women Voters, they made brief opening statements, responded more or less to written questions, and made brief closing statements. Noteworthy about the audience of about 30 was the presence of long-active local Democrats and the comparative dearth of local Republicans.
Among matters raised by auditors and responses given and not given:
TAXES. In response to several questions from auditors, the candidates acknowledged the heavy weight of local taxation. Aside from the general idea of attracting more taxpayers and thereby spreading the load, none named a specific target for cost reduction. None advocated a systematic comparison of Catskill outlays per capita, and per budget category, with other Villages’ outlays. Mr Kehoe emphasized the need “to manage our money better” and cited his experience as a professional municipal planner as a source of for likely success in finding economies. He also alluded to expanses of under-utilized creek-side properties. The utility of outside grants as a local expense reducer was affirmed but, as Mr Amato pointed out, many grants require recipients to raise matching funds. Mr Seeley suggested that Catskill’s heavy taxes are due in some measure to “bearing the weight” of being the county seat.
All three candidates voiced support for the idea of economizing by sharing facilities or operations with the Town of Catskill. No target for sharing was nominated. In the context of that discussion, Mr Seeley addressed the subject of consolidating Town and Village governments. He voiced unqualified opposition (“The Town is the Town, the Village is the Village”). No candidate said that the subject of consolidation deserves methodical, objective study.
FIREWORKS. About the vexed question of whether to move the traditional July 4th fireworks show from Dutchmans Landing to downtown Catskill, Mr Amato said he believes the event “should remain down there” but if out-voted, he will show solidarity with fellow Trustees. Mr Kehoe passed on the chance to voice an opinion. So did Mr Seeley, but he indicated preference for the change of site. He did not put the case, as he has done before, in terms of boosting downtown business. Instead, he alluded to traffic and security problems arising from heavy traffic into and out of the Dutchman site, and to the desirability of “trying new tricks.”
(The business-boosting case for the transfer is hard to sustain in view of the facts that the fireworks show would take place on a Sunday night, the one Trustee who runs a downtown business does not favor the transfer, and the directors of the local Chamber of Commerce also oppose the shift, unanimously).
PROMOTION. In the context of discussing ways of bringing more people and commerce (and taxpayers) to Catskill, Mr Seeley said “Our best sales force is the five thousand people who live here.” From those people, in large part, must come persuasive invitations to prospective new enterprisers. Meanwhile, much would be gained here if members of different local groups inter-mingled more than they do. Thus, firefighter families ought to take a greater interest in Village’s art heritage, and art trail devotees ought to be exposed to the firefighters’ sub-culture.
In response to a question from the floor, the candidates acknowledged that community participation by non-white Catskillians is particularly meager. Mr Seeley said he has tried hard to alleviate that problem, but has found that local non-whites generally “do not feel comfortable participating in community functions.”
TRANSPARENCY. The value of making the doings of Village governors (boards, commissions, departments) readily visible to the citizens received assent (would you believe?) but no ideas about how to do it were voiced.
The subject was brought up by a Seeing Greene minion. It was prompted by discovering recently that the “Minutes and Documents” section of the Catskill Village web site contained no minutes or documents (or anything else), that until last Friday no print-out of minutes of Village Board meetings had been made since last September, and that the minutes themselves are abnormally cryptic. Those minutes, such as they are, already exist in computer text files. So do reports from committees and departments, including Police Department action and incident reports. So does the Village budget—the plan of expenditures and revenues. To copy those files onto the Village web site would involve little more than the flick of a switch. The payoff in terms of access to public records and hence transparency would be substantial.
Published in The Daily Mail yesterday (3/25/10) was a letter in which three elected officials (a county legislator; two Town Council members) urged support for “the Seeley-Kehoe team.” That language gave a boost of sorts to observers who noticed that the paper previously contained a picture of Mr Seeley and Mr Kehoe, smiling together after appearing at an unidentified “gathering.” No similar picture of Mr Seeley with Mr Amato has appeared. At the same time, however, many campaign signs depicting Mr Amato and Mr Seeley (and Village Justice Charles Adsit) as a slate of candidates are visible around the Village, and no signs coupling Mr Seeley with Mr Kehoe (as a team) have appeared. Moreover, the signatories of the letter praising the Seeley-Kehoe “team,” though not identified by party in their letter, are Democrats.
Polling place for this election is the firehouse at 1 Central Avenue, Catskill, and the voting booth will be open from 9am to 9pm.
On the ballot, in addition to the three Village Board candidates, is Mr Adsit, who is unopposed in his bid for re-election as Village Justice.