The Young Turks
Benton On Cooperstown Board;
Oliver, Wells Aiming For County
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal
ONEONTA – Community engagement doesn’t have a minimum age requirement.
MacGuire Benton, 21, of Cooperstown, and two Oneontans, Clark Oliver, 21, and Wilson Wells, 23, have all thrown their hats into the ring of local politics.
“Our age group is horrible about voting,” said Oliver. “And I think part of that is that we don’t have people who look like us running for office.”
Benton is already in: Tuesday, March 19, he was elected to an uncontested, one-year seat on the Cooperstown Village Board. “I never thought I’d be a politician,” he said. “But my engagement in the community has led me to public service.”
Oliver and Wells are both running for seats on the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
Wells, an independent, also ran for the District 14 seat in 2017. This time he’s facing Democrat Jennifer Basile for a seat now held by Democrat Liz Shannon, who’s stepping down at the end of her term.
Oliver is running in District 11 to succeed the board’s vice chairman, Gary Koutnik, who is also retiring.
Petitions do not have to be filed until April 1-4, so more candidates may surface for both seats.
While they’re young, the three candidates have experience working for political campaigns.
Benton, the former chair of the Otsego County Young Democrats, worked last year for both Bryan Flynn’s 19th Congressional primary campaign and on the campaign of state Sen. Jen Metzger, whose 14th District runs from south of Poughkeepsie to across southern Delaware County.
Oliver, current chair of the county’s Young Democrats (a job Benton held before him) was the campaign staff for Joyce St. George’s Senate campaign against state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.
Wells, a SUNY Oneonta graduate with a double major in Political Science and Criminal Justice, worked the reelection campaign of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
For Wells, his campaign’s key issue is transparency. “I’m not focused on party politics,” he said. “I have a vision of the government for the people, by the people.”
He has pledged weekly town halls with not just his constituents, but anyone who wants to meet with him. “And I plan to explain every vote and why I voted the way I did,” he said. “I don’t want there to be any questions. I want it all on the table.”
Oliver, meanwhile, is focused on putting the County Administrator/Manager debate to rest. “The manager (system) works in other counties,” he said. “So much of what the County Board does in their meetings could be done by a manager, so that we can empower the legislature to spend more time innovating instead.”
“My biggest concern is that an unelected manager wouldn’t be accountable to the people,” Wells countered. “We need some sort of administrator, but I think it needs to be an elected position.”
Oliver said that, if elected, he will push for a conclusion on the administrator/manager discussion. “It’s time we deliver,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we’re being left behind.”
All three agreed that climate change and sustainability is a key focus of their campaigns. “It’s reflective of the younger generation, regardless of party,” said Oliver. “If we don’t act now, we won’t be able to move forward.”
Both Oliver and Wells agreed redevelopment of the D&H railyards is necessary if Oneonta is to grow in the future, and agreed that environmental sustainability must work hand-in-hand with economic sustainability.
“I’d like to see, for every $1 spent in the railyards on fossil fuels, another dollar spent for green energy,” said Clark. “I really want to bring economic and environmental stakeholders together.”
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting a ton of money in fossil fuels in the railyards,” agreed Wells. “But sustainability is most efficient at the local level, rather than the federal.”
For his part, Benton wants to keep sustainability at the front of his mind on the Village Board.
“In a county where we rely so much on agriculture and tourism, we have to keep our county clean and beautiful,” he said. “A lot has been accomplished, and I want to continue that good management. For example, could we look into a community buy-in for solar? Sustainability is a passion of mine.”
While Benton get acclimated in his new role, Oliver and wells will be campaigning until Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 5.
“I want to get a record-breaking turnout,” said Oliver. “I plan on knocking on every door in my district. This isn’t about being partisan. It’s about bettering our community.”