COOPERSTOWN – In light of Governor Cuomo’s decision to postpone Wednesday’s village elections statewide due , the Cooperstown candidates have said they are pulling up their lawn signs for the time being.
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch is unopposed. MacGuire Benton, Joe Membrino and Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns are competing for two Village Board seats.
The terms of Benton and Membrino, the two incumbents, expire April 1; but Tillapaugh said that, due to the governor’s State of Emergency, they will continue to serve until the next election.
Governor Cuomo early this evening delayed all village elections in New York State until April 28, the same day as the statewide Democratic Presidential Primary.
“Delaying village elections will help ensure poll workers and voters are not potentially exposed to the virus and at the same time maintain integrity in our election system,” Cuomo said.
Many such races are uncontested, but in the Village of Cooperstown, three candidates – MacGuire Benson, Joe Membrino and Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns – were vying to fill two seats this Wednesday, March 18.
On Wednesday, March 18, Cooperstown voters will elect our mayor and two trustees. Last year, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh appointed me to a vacancy on the Village Board and assigned me to chair the Finance Committee. I am now running for a three-year term as trustee for the following reasons.
First, I want to continue the successful management and conservation of our Village’s fiscal resources. Auditors recently met with the Finance Committee and reviewed the village’s financial performance. They advised us that Cooperstown’s fiscal status is “above and beyond” that of other local governments and school boards in their audit portfolio.
Specifically, the village fund balances are growing, and we are maintaining sustainable cash-on-hand balances. The auditors also expressed approval for the way trustees and the village treasurer and staff are implementing fiscal oversight practices that were recommended in our last audit.
Second, I want to continue to assist with oversight of the village’s ongoing major capital projects. Villagers and visitors are already enjoying the improvements to Pioneer and Main streets and the renovation of Pioneer Park. Doubleday Field renovations are well underway, and a major portion of that work is slated for completion in May.
Less visible, but of great importance to the health and welfare of Cooperstown residents and the ecology of the Susquehanna River, is the $8.7 million renovation and expansion of the Wastewater Treatment Facility. As a trustee and long-time member of the village’s Water & Sewer Board, I was asked by Mayor Tillapaugh to monitor the progress of construction, which I am doing in coordination with our village administrator, public works superintendent, wastewater treatment plant operator, and Water & Sewer Board chair, all of whom are providing exemplary service to the village.
Third, as an appointee to the Mayor’s Housing Committee, chaired by Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, I assisted in the review of the village’s zoning law and comprehensive plan to provide for, among other things, new housing and opportunities for village residents to age in place by authorizing criteria for multi-family residential uses that respect the historic character of our village. I look forward to implementing the zoning changes.
All of these initiatives have been undertaken without raising village property taxes. They require collaboration, long hours, and hard work among trustees, village boards and committees, and village staff. It has been a privilege to share in these efforts.
Finally, there is more to do.
To facilitate economic development and improve the quality of village life, street, sidewalk, water supply, and sewer repairs and replacements, as well as park improvements, are ongoing. Our paid parking revenues are a long-term source of funding for these projects as well as future capital projects that will be identified in collaboration with Village residents.
I thank readers for considering my candidacy, and urge all to exercise the right to vote noon-9 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, at the Cooperstown Fire Hall.
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 – It was the bluntest opinion of this evening, on what to do about the former CVS at 100 Main St., the downtown centerpiece now vacant for three years.
“They never should have allowed CVS to leave Main Street,” declared village trustee candidate Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns in response to a question from Jay Bosley, a Hartwick resident who owns property in the village.
The venue was a League of Women Voters’ issue-focused debate in the Village Board meeting room, where Republican challenger Robbins faced two incumbents, Democratic trustees MacGuire Benton and Joe Membrino. League co-president Liane Hirabayashi moderated.
Voting is noon-9 p.m Wednesday, March 18, at the fire hall.
COOPERSTOWN – In Washington D.C., getting appointed to a municipal board takes connections and a lot of lobbying.
So when Joe Membrino, who is running for a three-year term on the Village Board March 18, and wife Martha retired to Cooperstown in 2013 and he considered ways of getting involved in the community, public office didn’t come to mind.
That is, until his sister, Milford Town Board member Marsha Membrino, encouraged him. “All these little towns need volunteers,” she said.
He had never met then-Mayor Jeff Katz, so he sent him an e-mail expressing interest, expecting to go through hoops. How about the Water Board? came a quick reply.
“Yes, thank you,” replied Membrino. So much for glad-handing: “I didn’t even make eye-contact with Jeff Katz for a year.”
Soon, Membrino was elevated to the Planning Board, and he praises the level-headed chairmanship of Gene Berman.
When Village Trustee Lou Allstadt retired early in 2019, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, over a cup of coffee at the Doubleday Café, asked Membrino to succeed him. He accepted.
All the people in village government he’s worked with so far have demonstrated “a seriousness of purpose. Thoughtfulness. A commitment to stewardship,” he said. “Everybody I’ve run into is in it for service – not power, not position.”
Membrino was raised in rural Prospect, Conn., and went to Sacred Heart High School in nearby Waterbury. He graduated from Georgetown in 1968 (learning since moving here that Jeff Woeppel, the Bassett Hospital administrator, was there at the same time), and Boston College’s law school in 1971.
He did legal work for the Native American Rights Fund, (portending his life’s work), then spent a year “hitch-hiking around the world” – Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and Australia.
Back home, he joined the U.S. Interior Department’s land-claims office, then spent 13 years in Interior’s Solicitor General’s Office; he served in the Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations. In 1989, he went into private practice with Ross Swimmer, former Cherokee chief and BIA assistant director.
Mostly, he worked on water rights, concluding that, in the U.S. West, “water runs uphill, toward money.” He still does volunteer work for the Oneidas.
With “stewardship” as his byword, Membrino sees helping Bassett Hospital thrive here as critical. “This has to be the heart and soul of the community,” he said. “Some people say we should move the hospital out of the village. I don’t see it.”
Some of his focus came out of work on the village’s ad hoc Housing Committee, which led to easing zoning provisions to allow more apartments.
He has two particular interests if elected March 18. One is to develop the “appropriate” hydroelectric potential of the Susquehanna River at Mill Street. Bassett is interested, too, he said.
Two: He toured the sewage-treatment plant with Superintendent John Canker, who said, “Watch that smokestack.” Said Membrino, “All of a sudden, there’s 7 feet of flames, burning off the methane.”
Tapping that methane for some purpose, “that would be pretty cool,” he said.
As Finance Committee chair, Membrino cites how Cwynar & Co., the Norwich accountants, found Cooperstown “above and beyond other entities they audit … I think that’s a feather in Cooperstown’s hat. Not my hat, but Cooperstown’s hat.”
COOPERSTOWN – Village trustee candidate Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns today said she will be able to attend the League of Women Voters’ debate at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Village Board’s meeting room at 22 Main.
A Republican, she will join the two Democratic candidates, Joe Membrino and MacGuire Benton, sitting trustees who are running for their first full three-year terms.
Robbins, whose first anniversary of a heart transplant was March 3, thought a first-year surgical procedure might prevent her from attending, but she’s been able to work her schedule to allow her to debate.
COOPERSTOWN – Joining Republican Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns, the three Democratic incumbents for Village Board filed for independent lines on the March 18 ballot by the 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday evening.
In addition to having her name on the Democratic ballot line, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch will appear on the “Village United” line. Trustee Joe Membrino’s line is “Liberty Party,” and Trustee MacGuire Benton’s, “Many Voices, One Village.”
COOPERSTOWN – By acclamation, the Democrats caucused a few minutes ago and nominated the three incumbents – Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Trustees Joe Membrino and MacGuire Benton — to run for reelection in the March 18 village elections.
“It’s not a given that productive government continues,” former mayor Jeff Katz said in nominating his successor for her second term. Patty MacLeish seconded the nomination.
Lynn Mebust chaired the caucus, with Ann Brown as secretary.
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.
COOPERSTOWN – A month after voting unanimously to fly the Pride Flag on the flagpole next June, village trustees once again debated and, in the end, affirmed their decision.
“I gave every member of this board every opportunity to table this motion,” said Trustee MacGuire Benton, who introduced the resolution at the board’s July meeting. “For any vote you can have a discussion. We don’t need a unique, complex way to vote on flags.”
The debates started when the board’s “Adhoc Committee on Vexillology,” chaired by Benton, introduced a policy intended to give the Board guidance and clarity when taking up future proposals to fly flags. But the committee’s resolution on “the Display of Flags at Village Facilities” had the opposite effect.