News of Otsego County

Joe Membrino

Camera Policy on Hold for Now

Camera Policy on Hold for Now

COOPERSTOWN – At the November meeting of the Cooperstown Village Board of Trustees, a public hearing was held on a proposed policy for the installation and operation of cameras to monitor activity occurring in public places within the village. The policy was discussed at length and, following public comments, the board took a vote which failed to pass. A committee comprised of Trustees Cindy Falk, Richard Sternberg and Joe Membrino has been tasked to rework the policy, which will then be presented again at public hearing in two months, on January 23.

Greetings, Friends (with apologies to The New Yorker)

Greetings, Friends (with apologies to The New Yorker)

Greetings, Friends! The time is nigh
To bid this Covid Year good-bye.
We’ve had enough, we’ve played our parts
Stayed home alone filling Amazon carts.
And cleaning our closets and working online
Making do with our WiFi that’s not always fine.

We’ve said goodbye to some friends, to some relatives too
Our families we’ve not seen, travel’s been so taboo.
Goodbye ’21, au revoir, off you go 
Adios and kwaheri, arrivederci, adjo. 
Go away ’21! But wait! Not before
TFJ has its way with some thank-yous galore.

Mayor, 2 Trustees Sworn In After Long-Delayed Election

Mayor, 2 Trustees Sworn In

After Long-Delayed Election

Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Trustees Joe Membrino and, right, MacGuire Benton were sworn in for new terms this evening at the Cooperstown Village Board’s organization meeting. Village Administrator Teri Barown administered the oaths. Usually, village organizational meetings occur April 1, but the mid-March election was delayed until Sept. 15 due to the COVID-19 threat. The mayor was unopposed in that election, and Membrino led the three-way trustee race. But Democrat Benton and the Republican candidate, Mary-Margaret Robbins, tied at 272 each, requiring a runoff election Sept. 29. In that runoff, Benton garnered 343 votes to Robbins’ 308. Unless delayed, the next village election will be next March. Also at tonight’s organizational meeting, The Freeman’s Journal was designated an official newspaper of the Village of Cooperstown. (Jim Kevlin/

No Cooperstown Halloween Parade, ‘Safety’ Encouraged In Trick-Or-Treating

Trustee Calls Tradition ‘Frivolous’ 

No Halloween Parade,

Trick-or-Treat ‘Safely’

COOPERSTOWN – With the COVID-19 pandemic still a threat, it’s all tricks, minimal treats this Halloween.

The Cooperstown Chamber has indicated to the Village Board during their meeting this evening that they would not be hosting a Halloween parade, citing COVID-19 concerns.

“I did speak to Tara (Burke) and she said the chamber would not be seeking a permit request for the parade,” said Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh. “But many businesses are going to continue giving out candy, as they have for the last decade.”

Benton, Membrino, Robbins Vie For 2 Trustee Vacancies

Benton, Membrino, Robbins

Vie For 2 Trustee Vacancies

COOPERSTOWN – Polls will be open noon-9 pm. today in the fire hall on Chestnut Street for Cooperstown Village Board elections, where three candidates are competing for two seats.

Two Democratic incumbents, MacGuire Benton and Joe Membrino, and Republican candidate Mary Margaret Sohns are on the ballot.

So is Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, who is running unopposed.

‘Affordable Housing’ Is Her Priority For Village, Tillapaugh Tells League


‘Affordable Housing’ Is

Her Priority For Village,

Tillapaugh Tells League

Mayor Tillapaugh

COOPERTOWN – “Affordable housing” will be the priority of Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, who is running unopposed in the Sept. 15 Village Board primary, according to questionnaires posted today by the League of Women Voters, Cooperstown chapter, on the LWV’s “Vote 411” web site.

“The village’s largest employer, Bassett Healthcare, employs 2700 people on the Cooperstown campus alone,” wrote Tillapaugh in response to the League’s questionnaire.  “The majority of those employees commute from long distances. It is to Cooperstown’s advantage to increase our housing stock and population.”

In addition to the mayor, three candidates are competing for two trustee positions: MacGuire Benton and Joe Membrino, incumbents and Democrats, and Mary Margaret Robbins, Republican challenger.

Campaign Signs To Go; Polling Issues Remain


Campaign Signs To Go;

Polling Issues Remain

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

CDC images of coronavurus

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 Delays Village Elections


Governor Delays

Village Elections

New Vote April 28, Same Day

As Demo Presidential Primary

Governor Cuomo

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.

MEMBRINO: More Needs Doing, Help Me Contribute

More Needs Doing,

Help Me Contribute

To the Editor:

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.


Membrino Adeptly Fills Key Role: Finance Chair


Membrino Adeptly Fills

Key Role: Finance Chair



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.

Debate Keeps Turning Back To Main Street

Debate Keeps

Turning Back

To Main Street

2 Democrats, GOP Challenger

Joust As 3/18 Elections Near

After a debate that included two questions on coronavirus, the three Village Board candidates this evening collaborated in a PSA, demonstrating an alternative to shaking hands in an era of COVID-19. From left are Mary Margaret Robbins Sohns, Joe Membrino and MacGuire Benton. (Jim Kevln/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

What about CVS? asks Jay Bosley, a Hartwick resident with property in the village. At left are LWV timekeeper Maryann Dietz and Trustee Jim Dean. Behind Bosley are Cindy Hubbell and Anne Blabey.

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.

Joe Membrino Impressed By Village Stewardship

Joe Membrino Impressed

By Village ‘Stewardship’

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Joe Membrino

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.”

Candidate Robbins Can Attend Thursday Debate

Candidate Robbins Can

Attend Thursday Debate

League Event 7 p.m. In Village Hall


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.

3 Democratic Candidates Seek Separate Independent Lines
Village Board Races Shaping Up

3 Democratic Candidates Seek

Separate Independent Lines

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.”

Democrats Nominate Board’s Incumbents

Democrats Nominate

Board’s Incumbents

Mayor, 2 Trustees Seek Full Terms

Former mayor Jeff Katz, right, nominates his successor, Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, seated at left, for another term. In the front row are Gene Berman, John Stewart, Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, and Kai Mebust.  (Jim Kevlin/

Incumbent Joe Membrino is seeking a full three-year term, as it Benton.

Incumbent McGuire Benton noted his service on the Doubleday Field and Parks committees.

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.

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