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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 5, 2009
Dems’ Rash and Zeh hold on to board seats,
By Zach Simeone
WESTERLO Incumbents held their ground on election night in Westerlo. Democratic councilmen R. Gregory Zeh and Edward Rash will each see another term, as will Judge Andrew Brick. In his third attempt at winning a seat on the bench, Kenneth Mackey won on the Republican line.
This is the second year in a row that the Republicans backed a successful campaign in this rural Helderberg Hilltown, though Mackey is enrolled as a Democrat, and Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 3 to 1 in Westerlo.
After years of dormancy, the GOP gained standing in town last year when it backed Jack Milner’s successful campaign for town board. Milner was also enrolled as a Democrat at the time.
Councilman Clifton Richardson, who died in office four years ago, was the town’s first Republican board member in 70 years, and its last before Milner changed his enrollment.
But the GOP’s attempt to expand its influence was less successful this year. Still, Republican Chairman Bonnie Kohl-Laub said this week that morale in the party remains high.
“We of the GOP are thrilled that, for the second year in a row, a non-establishment candidate has won over strong opposition from the establishment,” Kohl-Laub said, referring to Mackey’s victory.
“Ken Mackey Sr. had resounding success. Our two other novice candidates also had a strong showing, despite violent opposition and many dirty tactics by seasoned incumbents,” she said of Republican candidates John “Rick” Bylsma and Anderson Smith.
“Rick and Anderson will continue to let the town know who they are and what they stand for as they attend meetings and question what the town board is really doing,” Kohl-Laub went on. “There is another town board seat coming up next year, and we are confident that, by then, Westerlo will agree that it is time for effective, accessible, and impartial town government.”
Mackey told The Enterprise this week that the Republicans picked him because, despite his lack of a legal background, they thought he was the best man for the job.
“I didn’t seek their support,” Mackey said. “When I went for the appointment last year, the Republican Party thought I was the best candidate for the job, and, when the Democratic Party failed to nominate me, they chose me to be their candidate, and they accepted me knowing I was a Democrat going into it.”
Republican candidates received some negative attention in recent weeks in response to their comments on what has become a hot issue in town: motocross. While Rash and Zeh took a neutral stance, declining to comment either way on whether or not a commercial motocross track may or may not be appropriate for Westerlo, Bylsma made reference to the disturbance created by a drag strip in New Hampshire, by which he and his friends observed the windows rattling from five miles away.
“That’s just a drag strip,” Bylsma said last month. “If we have motocross in town, what’s it going to be in 20 years?”
Smith then said outright that Westerlo is the wrong place for commercial motocross.
“My primary thought there is that it would directly impact the quality of life on the residents that moved here expressly for the things that Westerlo’s known for, which is a rural atmosphere, a bucolic setting, a place where people can quietly go about their lives,” Smith said then. “I used to race motorcycles myself and, believe me, I know firsthand how noisy it is and how dusty it can be. And I don’t buy the argument about getting kids off the streets. If you’re talking about kids riding motocross bikes in the streets, that shouldn’t he happening anyways, and that’s a law-enforcement issue. Furthermore, if a kid wants to ride a motocross bike, he should be able to ride it safely, but that’s more of a parental control thing.”
On Tuesday night, Zeh and Rash defeated Bylsma and Smith by a landslide. All tallies are according to unofficial results from the Albany County Board of Elections, and absentee ballots have not yet been counted.
Zeh received 622 votes, or 32 percent, and Rash, his running mate, got 604 votes, or 31 percent.
Bylsma collected 378 votes, or 19 percent, and Smith garnered 356, or 18 percent.
Zeh, 37, is vice president of information systems at Golub Corporation, the company that owns Price Chopper supermarkets, and he devotes much of his time to the Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company, of which he has been a member for more than a decade, and was the chief last year.
He looks forward to another term, he said this week.
“It feels great,” Zeh said. “I think I heard the voice of the people last night loud and clear, and, in these uncertain times, they’re looking for experience and leadership.”
Zeh, who got the most votes out of any Westerlo election, sees his victory as evidence that the people in town like things the way they are.
“When I went door to door, I had people tell me they liked Westerlo the way it was,” he said. “I heard people say they enjoyed the leadership we show, I had people thanking me for the work I did on the water district, so, I heard people affirming that we’ve been doing a good job.”
Rash, 67, works as director of advertising and public relations at Hannay Reels. He told The Enterprise Wednesday that the people have an understanding of his and Zeh’s desire to maintain the rural and agricultural characteristics of the town.
“I think they want to make sure that, when change comes, which is inevitable, that it won’t be drastic, or take away from the lifestyle they’ve enjoyed,” Rash said of Westerlo residents.
He looks forward to finishing some of the work he started, he went on.
“It’s very important…our comprehensive plan, and changing our laws and zoning laws,” Rash said of the ongoing comprehensive plan review. “Also, with this tough economic time, I’m glad we were able to develop a budget that should suffice for everything and possibly lower the taxes a small amount.”
Rash went on to say that, while people used to vote along party lines, he thinks that people now vote for the individual they want to see in office.
“We’re all looking forward to working together, and that goes for constituents too,” Rash said.
In his third run for the town judge position, Kenneth Mackey, 55, won a seat on the bench.
He has been a member of Westerlo’s fire department and rescue squad for 30 years, along with his wife, Debbie Theiss-Mackey, and has been treasurer for the Albany Rural Fire Chiefs Association for 11 years. He works as a welder at Hannay Reels, where he has been employed for 21 years, and he has taught snowmobile safety for five years, he said.
Mackey spent his early childhood in Berne, but moved to Westerlo as a teenager.
“I wouldn’t say there was any real significant thing about my campaign,” Mackey said of why the voters chose him. “A lot of the people know me in Westerlo from the EMS side of things, and, for 30 years, I’ve done a good job there, and they think I can do a good job as town justice.”
Mackey, running on the Republican line, got 516 votes, close to 27 percent, while incumbent Andrew Brick, a Democrat, got 521, also roughly 27 percent.
Brick was appointed planning board chairman last year, but, when Judge Joseph Dean retired from the bench, Brick applied for the job, and was eventually appointed to fill the vacancy; he was chosen over Mackey by the town board.
Brick, too, is one of the town’s volunteer firefighters, and has been practicing law for 13 years, he said. Now, he works as an associate attorney at the Law Office of Donald Zee. This will be his first elected term.
“It’s the first time that I was chosen by the voters,” Brick said, “which is very satisfying.”
Heidi Stroh, a 34-year-old Democrat, is a general-practice attorney who finished law school in 2005, with degrees from Albany Law School and Smith College, as well as a master’s degree in education from The College of Saint Rose.
Stroh thought she would make a good judge due to her familiarity with the law, with the justice system, and with court procedures, she told The Enterprise last month.
Originally from Berkshire County, Mass., Stroh moved to Westerlo in 2003.
Stroh got 470 votes, or 24 percent.
Laura Palmer, who had planned to run for town justice on the Republican line but dropped out too late to be removed from the ballot, got 334 votes, or 17 percent, and Judge Alan Bauder, now retired, ended up on the ballot as well, and got 89 votes, or five percent.