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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 5, 2009

In Knox
GOP’s Stevens edges out Dems’ Decker

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

KNOX — In an upset Tuesday, Republican Travis Stevens edged Democratic incumbent Dennis Decker out of his town board seat.

Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly two to one in this rural Helderberg Hilltown and have dominated the town board for decades.

Supervisor Michael Hammond, a Democrat, was unopposed this year and won his 18th consecutive two-year term, making him the longest serving supervisor in the county.

“We ran an aggressive campaign, notwithstanding being unopposed,” Hammond said on Election Night. He said he went door-to-door on weekends and evenings with the two incumbent councilmen.

“We listened to the issues people wanted to talk about,” said Hammond, “and we talked about our record…The cell tower was well received and the town-hall project was long overdue.”

In the three-way race for two town board seats, Democratic incumbent Nicholas Viscio was the top vote-getter with 529, or 36 percent of the vote. He was followed closely by Stevens with 510 votes — 34 percent. Decker came in third with 457 votes — 30 percent.

All of these tallies are unofficial results from the Albany County Board of Elections, based on the numbers from the voting machines. Absentee ballots have yet to be counted.

Members from both parties described the election season as civil and expressed pride that neither party had engaged in political backbiting.

Yesterday, Stevens congratulated Viscio and Decker on their campaign and commended each of them for “being a gentlemen.”

“This is a humbling experience,” he said of his win. “I look forward to working with the rest of the town board to make the best decisions we can.”

Asked about his goals as a town-board member, Stevens reiterated the “core points” of his campaign — protecting property values and landowner rights.

“Land is our resource on the Hill,” he said.

Decker, 49, who works as a supervisor for National Grid, was seeking a fourth four-year term.

“I think we’ve done a lot,” Decker said during his campaign. “It’s a team effort, and I feel like we work in a positive and productive manner, and I think I bring that to the board.”

Yesterday, he was gracious about his defeat. “That’s all part of it,” said Decker. “I’ve been there 12 years. I hope Travis does well and everyone stays working as a team.”

Decker said he might well run again in two years.

He concluded, “I thank everyone for their support.” He noted that, in a year without national or statewide elections, a thousand people voted in Knox. “I think it was a great turnout,” he said.

Viscio, 53, who will now serve a fourth term, works as the producer-director of media services at Guilderland High School. He said during his campaign that he was proud of bringing government-subsidized low-income housing program to Knox. He has also served as liaison to the highway department and the town’s master-planning committee.

“Dennis did a lot of work for the board,” Viscio said yesterday of Decker. He cited Decker’s work on planning the town-hall upgrade and said, “He was instrumental in saving money.”

Hammond echoed those sentiments yesterday, saying that he would miss Decker’s hands-on help. “I worked very closely with Dennis Decker on the cell tower project and the town-hall project and I’ll miss him when it comes to doing the hands-on work that goes into those kinds of things,” said Hammond.

Viscio also said, “Elections are not about deserving to be elected. They are not a statement of past work. Your participation is subject to a new choice.” He said that which candidate is elected could depend on anything from social trends to talk with neighbors.

Viscio named alternative energy as an important issue in his upcoming term. “I run my Beetle on vegetable oil,” he said. “I’m an alternative energy kind of guy.” He sees energy independence as part of a national goal as well, but wants to be sure that, whatever Knox does, it benefits the community and fits in with its rural character.

Asked if he would consider a run for supervisor if Hammond were to retire, Viscio said, “I’m interested in staying involved with town government. I’d be interested in doing more for the town if that came about. Right now, I’m not actively seeking to do anything different than I’m doing.

“I love the political process in Knox,” he said. Viscio compared it to a Norman Rockwell illustration of democracy, and described a walk he and his wife took on Election Day past the church in town where an Election Day supper has been held for more than 90 years; they talked about his campaign sign.

 At the corner of Knox Cave Road, not far from his home, Viscio had posted the same sign each time he ran. It’s a sign from his first run for office, when his children were young; they had painted the sign for him.

“There’s my sign by the big old maple tree,” he said, describing the scene this year. “Around it are all the fancy, commercially done signs,” he said, a vivid illustration of the transition of politics in Knox.

Viscio went on to note the high voter turnout in Knox — about half of all eligible voters this year — and said he liked the “vitality.” He works to promote harmony on the board, Viscio said, and thinks he will work well with Stevens who grew up with his daughter.

Shortly before the election, Viscio said, Stevens stopped by to tell him, however things worked out, they were still friends.

“We have to work together to make decisions,” said Viscio. “It takes collaboration and creativity of the board to come up with good responses.”

He concluded, “I think the people of Knox should be proud …We have the ability to get through elections in a civil and constructive way; that should be celebrated by the town.”

Stevens, 35, who works for the state as an energy conservation technical specialist, made his first run for political office two years ago, when he lost the race for county legislature to longtime incumbent Democrat Alexander “Sandy” Gordon.

During his campaign for town board, Stevens advocated open discussion on issues such as property revaluation and eliminating the one-cut rule. He also said he wants to preserve the rural character of the town where he grew up.

Stevens stressed yesterday that the results are unofficial until absentee ballots are counted but said he was grateful to Knox voters. He especially thanked his wife, Tara, and son, Marshall, for their support during the campaign. He also thanked “friends, neighbors, and voters of Knox” for their support and trust in him to represent them on the town board.

Asked about his political goals for the future, Stevens said, “Right now, I’d like to find out the official count. I really look forward to serving my community. I’m focused on that…And I just want to thank people. I really want to do what’s best for the town.”

“We have high hopes for Travis,” Steve Brown, who chairs the Republican Party in Knox, said after results were tallied in Town Hall on Tuesday night.  “We really wanted to run a positive campaign. We did no negative campaigning,” he said.

 The Republicans got a foothold in Knox six years ago when Democrats failed to file the proper election paperwork and, after a court challenge from the GOP, did not appear on the ballot. Republican Pat Gage has retained her seat on the five-member board; Stevens will now join her.

GOP keeps clerk and highway super

In that same election six years ago, Gary Salisbury was elected highway superintendent. His was the largest margin of victory in Knox on Election Day this year and he received more votes than any other candidate. Salisbury got over 70 percent of the vote, with 659, while his Democratic challenger, Dennis Barber, garnered 277 votes, just under 30 percent.

Barber, 54, making his first run for the post, works for the state’s Department of Transportation.

Salisbury, 45, said during the campaign, “I first ran because I knew I could make some big changes, and do things better and different. So far, it’s been going very well, and I feel I have accomplished everything I said I would. There’s more work to be done, of course, but I think I’ve improved things.”

“I’m very happy with Gary’s win and with Kim,” said Brown, referring to the town clerk, Kimberly Swain.

Swain, 31, is a Republican who also had the Democratic, Independence, and Conservative lines.  She has been clerk for four years and was elected to another two-year term with 655 votes.

Deborah Liddle, a Democrat who had previously been the Knox town clerk, launched a write-in campaign and received 53 votes in District 1 and 100 in District 2.

Dems keep judge and tax receiver

Brown expressed disappointment in Bonnie Donati’s loss for town judge to Democratic incumbent Jean Gagnon. Gagnon garnered 475 votes, or 54 percent, to Donati’s 405 votes for 46 percent.

Gagnon, 53, who manages a travel agency, won a second four-year term. Although not formally trained in the law, Gagnon said during her campaign that she sees herself as “an effective and compassionate judge.”

Donati, 64, who has an extensive legal background, ran for town justice in 2007 but lost to the Democratic incumbent, Linda Quay

Democrat Delia Palombo, 87, was unopposed for tax collector and received 610 votes.  She said she ran again because she enjoys her job and likes meeting people.

Palombo and her late husband, Harry, owned and ran the township Tavern in Knox, which she sold in 1987.  She has been tax collector for three decades, nearly as long as Hammond has been supervisor.

Hammond, 67, a retired teacher, runs a carpentry business.

Asked on election night what has kept him at his job as supervisor for 36 years, Hammond said, “Every day brings a new challenge. The only constant is change.”

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