Interviewing the three candidates, it was quickly clear: Three exceptional people – and exceptional in different ways – are running for Cooperstown Village Board.
Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns is a trained and organized pharmacist, a wife and mother, and someone with an inspiring personal story: enduring misdiagnosed Lyme disease and emerging victorious from a heart transplant.
Joe Membrino is a semi-retired D.C. lawyer with a specialty in Indian affairs, who is still working on behalf of the Oneida Nation. He’s experienced, steady and inspired by the sense of stewardship he’s found in village government. Great qualifications and temperament.
MacGuire “Mac” Benton, 22, is the youngest trustee in village history, already field-tested as a campaign organizer for a Congressional and a state Senate campaign. He’s smart, he wants the job and he’s endearing. His election is “the greatest honor of my young life.”
Cooperstown is lucky. Unfortunately, all three can’t be elected to the two vacant seats.
Robbins’ pledge to refocus on what her constituents want – hallelujah! – makes her election essential, given the repeated citizen outcries of the past year. It’s time for the Village Board to change course.
In only a year, Membrino – Mayor Tillapaugh quickly elevated him to Finance Committee chair – is playing a critical role as guardian of the village’s financial health. And it’s in extremely good health, he can show.
March 18, vote Robbins and Membrino. If defeated, be assured, Mac Benton will be – and should be – back.
COOPERSTOWN – Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh says she’s running for a second term in next March’s village election, adding that first-term Trustee MacGuire Benton is likely to as well.
And Joe Membrino, also in his first term, said he’s planning to run again, too.
But for the first time since the GOP debacle in 2011, the Republican Party may be running a slate as well, which would be the first challenge for Democrats who have control all trustee seats for almost a decade.
“Prior to the November election, we put the wheels I motion to start looking for candidates,” Republican County Chairman Vince Casale, who lives in Cooperstown, said Tuesday Nov. 12. “We’ve seen quite a bit of interest already.”
In the few years prior to 2011, Village Board election were highly contested, with Republicans and Democrats fielding full slates.
That year, however, Republican Mayor Joe Booan revealed in February he had opened conversations with county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr., about turning over in-village policing to Devlin’s deputies.
The reaction brought Democrats Ellen Tillapaugh and Walter Franck onto the board, and reelected incumbent trustee Jeff Katz.
Booan spent a year struggling with a new Democratic majority, then retired in 2012, when Katz was elevated to mayor.
Except for Trustee Lou Allstadt, who sought both Republican and Democratic nominations when he ran in 2013, the Village Board has remained in Democratic hands ever since.
Because of neighbors’ rancor in recent months – over a proposed apartment house backing up to Pine Boulevard, flying the Pride Flag on the community flagpole, the installation of blinking traffic signs, a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskins Robbins outlet and, most recently, provisions for dormitories in a revised zoning code – Republicans may see an opportunity.
In an interview, Mayor Tillapaugh said she’s running to see a range of downtown and infrastructure improvements come to fruition, ranging from the $5 million in Doubleday Field renovations to upgrades to the water-treatment plant.
A redo of Pioneer Park, which the mayor championed, is “going to look fabulous,” she said.
While there has been some citizen unrest, Tillapaugh said the Village Board has sought to be accommodating. For instance, the dormitory provision was removed after the public objected at an Oct. 28 public hearing, she said.
“We had a public hearing,” she said, “and the purpose of the public hearing was to listen to the public. It doesn’t mean you are always going to change things totally to make a group of people happy.”
However, she said, the trustees did adjust the proposed code in this case, and scheduled another public hearing for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, their next regular meeting.
“I didn’t close the public hearing until everyone had a chance to speak,” she added. The discussion went on for 45 minutes.
Asked if the other incumbents plan to run again, she said, “I assume Mac is,” a reference to Benton. “And hopefully, Joe too.”
For his part, Benton said, “I’m not prepared to make an announcement at this time.” Membrino, who was out of town, called to say he does intend to run, and would be interested in being interviewed further on his return.
Membrino was appointed to serve out Tillapaugh’s trustee term when she was elected mayor in March 2018, when Benton ran unopposed to serve the rest of Allstadt’s term after that trustee resigned.
While town elections are administered by the county Board of Elections, village elections are overseen by Village Administrator Teri Barown.
Each party must hold caucuses to nominate candidates between Jan. 21 and Jan. 28.
Independents may also run for mayor or trustee, and must submit petitions with a minimum of 50 signatures between Feb. 4 and Feb. 11.
Christian Shaefer of Richfield Springs, who mounted a surprise write-in campaign to win a county coroner post in the Nov. 6 election, takes the oath of office Tuesday, Jan 1, at Foothills in Oneonta
State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and two mayors, Cooperstown’s Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Oneonta’s Gary Herzig, were due to address the Otsego Chamber’s annual State of the State Breakfast at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, at SUNY Oneonta’s Morris Conference Center. Click for details.
►THE OTSEGO LAND TRUST announced the donation of a conservation easement on 133 acres of forests, hills, farmland and wetlands in the Town of Oneonta on Friday, Dec. 28..
►A FIRE DESTROYED the Fred A. Roos Jr. house at 264 Geywits Road, Town of Springfield on Friday, Dec. 28, according to Assistant Chief Dale Schulz of the Springfield Center Fire Department. No injuries were reported, but the fire remains under investigation.
►OUTGOING CONGRESSMAN John Faso wouldn’t rule out running for Congress again in 2020 – but wouldn’t rule it in either, he told WAMC President Alan Chartock.
►310 AIRBNB HOSTS in Otsego County each earned about $5,900 in supplementary income in 2018, the company announced at year’s end.
COOPERSTOWN – In uncontested elections like Tuesday’s in Cooperstown, perhaps the only way to cast a protest vote is to write in – for Donald Duck?
Mr. Duck – it seems he doesn’t even live here! – was written in for mayor of Cooperstown, as were Cathe Ellsworth, the newspaper columnist; Joan Clark, the venerable grande dame of Main Street; former Mayor Carol B. Waller, and a John Hockenbach; no one seemed sure who he might be.
Incumbent Jeff Katz’s was handily reelected.
Against trustee candidate Bruce Maxson, Ellsworth, Joan Clark and Hockenbach each received votes.
COOPERSTOWN – The first Republican challenger since 2011 fell short of claiming a seat on the Village Board in today’s elections, but John Sansevere brought increasingly absent local voters back to the polls.
Sansevere garnered 131 votes against the Democratic incumbents: Cindy Falk, who led the ticket with 198 votes, and Jim Dean, with 164 votes.
But 284 villagers went to the polls, compared to a dismal 94 last year. In 2011, the last time both parties fielded full slates, 650 voters cast ballots.
Single write-in votes were cast for Patti Ashley, Mike Trossett, Jeanette Weldon, Milo Stewart and John Lambert.