Village Hall Solidly One-Party Since 2012;
Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns May End That
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns, whose years-long battle against Lyme Disease, culminating in a heart transplant last summer, inspired the community, is contending to be the first Republican elected to the Village Board since 2010.
With two open seats in the Wednesday, March 18, election, she will be contending against two incumbent Democrats, Joe Membrino and MacGuire Benton, both of whom are facing their first contested election.
“It’s time to give back to the community that’s given me so much in terms of support,” said Robbins, accompanied to the Saturday, Jan. 25, caucus by husband, Matt, a Morgan Stanley senior vice president and financial adviser with a local office at 21 Railroad Ave., and their daughter, Maggie, 9.
Three days before at a caucus in Village Hall, Democrats, by acclamation, nominated Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh for another term as well as Membrino and Benton. Lacking a write-in challenge, Tillapaugh would be unopposed on March 18.
In nominating Tillapaugh, former mayor Jeff Katz said, “It’s not a given that productive government continues.”
For her part, Tillapaugh said she is running to complete construction projects now underway, many of which were begun in Katz’s six-year administration that ended in 2018: the $8.6 million sewage-treatment plant reconstruction to the $5 million Doubleday Field renovations. The impetus continues with the Pioneer Park redo and “a lot of infrastructure projects,” she said.
Membrino, a retired U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs lawyer whom the mayor appointed in April 2019 to serve out Lou Allstadt’s term, thanked the 40-some attendees for their confidence in him. Asked later about the Robbins entry, he said, “I think it is an inspired decision on her part, and a generous one.”
Benton, the county’s Democratic deputy elections commissioner, who was elected in 2019 for a one-year term to fill a vacancy, called his first year in office “a huge education.”
Tuesday, Jan. 27, he announced under campaign letterhead that the Village Board the night before had approved his proposal to buy equipment to video and audio record meeting, “to enhance the public’s ability to know what their representatives are working on.”
Questioned after Robbins’ entry, he called her undertaking “courageous” and the impetus to serve the community in elective office “honorable.” He said the also supports the entry of “strong women of either party” into politics, and hopes to sit down with her over a cup of coffee in the next week.
All seven Village Board members are Democrats, and have been since 2012, when Republican then-Mayor Joe Booan and Trustee Willis Monie completed their terms.
The year before, 2011, four trustee positions had gone to the Democrats, with the election of newcomers Jim Dean, Walter Franck and Tillapaugh, and Katz’s reelection. The next year, Katz was elected mayor in an uncontested race.
For the previous several years, village elections had been contested, but that ended. “In short order,” said Katz, “people realized we were making progress and things were changing,” and support solidified.
Since, Republicans fielded only one candidate, Landmark Inn proprietor Fred Schneider in 2018, when Democrats Dean and Cindy Falk were reelected.
Katz and the Democrats had championed paid parking, which began to generate $400,000 annually, and in the year the followed, funding and grantsmanship underwrote investment in streets, sidewalks and sewerage, not just downtown but throughout the village.
The past year, however has been punctuated with controversy, from diagonal parking on lower Pioneer Street, a proposed apartment complex between Chestnut Street and Pine Boulevard, the addition of blinking lights at crosswalks and a zoning revision that would allow larger homes to be broken up into apartments.
A native of Delhi, Robbins said she was first asked to run for village office some 22 years ago by the late Stu Taugher, the longtime trustee, mayor and community leader, when she had recently moved to the village as a young pharmacist. She was intrigued, but wasn’t able to follow through at the time.
“I think it’s time we work together,” she said. “I’m hoping to represent the people of the community.”
While the Republican nominee, Robbins recalled her grandmother advising her when she first registered to vote. “You never vote along party lines,” the older women told the younger one. “You always vote for the best candidate.”
GOP Village Chairman Vince Casale his hope is “to get more voices on the Village Board.”