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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 11, 2011
New county voting districts spawn new rivalries
By Zach Simeone
HILLTOWNS The new district lines for the Albany County Legislature have bred new opposition for incumbents in the fall elections.
Republican Knox Councilman Travis Stevens, who had run against longtime Democratic incumbent Alexander “Sandy” Gordon before, is no longer in that district. He will, instead, run against another longtime incumbent, Democratic Legislator William Aylward of Altamont. Gordon will be challenged by Deborah Busch, making her third consecutive run for office.
Although the redistricting is being challenged in court (see related story), the new lines put part of rural Berne and Knox with Suburban Altamont, and put the rest of Knox in another district with Hilltowns Westerlo and Rensselaerville.
“My slogan for this campaign is ‘Hilltowns First,’” Busch told The Enterprise. “I’m running to restore some economic common sense to our local government, to hopefully decrease the size of government, and decrease the burden this government has had for our local constituents.” Busch had run for county coroner against a longtime Democratic incumbent in 2009. Last year, she challenged another Democratic stalwart, John McEneny, for State Assembly.
Busch went on to say that her entry in the race for county legislature was largely due to the outcome of the redistricting process.
Knox Councilman Stevens had run against Gordon in 2007 and lost, and had planned to run against Gordon again this year. But the new district maps have placed Stevens’s Knox home in the 31st District, which is represented by Aylward.
“When they redistricted,” Busch said, “Travis was out of the 39th District, and I saw I was in the area, and I thought, ‘I’ve tried politics for two years, and I’m determined to make a change.’ I looked at this as an opportunity to run and implement some of the things I saw as necessary for New York State.”
In addition to securing the Republican and Conservative lines, as she did in last year’s race for State Assembly, Busch also has the Independence line, which McEneny had gotten last year.
Paul Caputo, the county’s Independence chairman, says the party always thought of Busch as a good candidate, which is why the party backed her in 2009 when she ran for county coroner.
“I think the world of Deb,” Caputo said of Busch. “I think she has some great ideas, and she is an advocate for the people, and that’s what they need in the Hilltowns, and that’s what we need in the county.”
“My focus running in this race? Decrease in taxes,” Busch said this week. “I know it sounds like the same old mantra, but it’s taxes that are driving our community to low-population numbers. The reason we’re redistricting is the new distribution of population. Either it has decreased, or the size of it has migrated to other areas, where it’s easier to find work, or taxes are cheaper.”
Busch, a nurse, maintains that the level of taxation makes it nearly impossible to sustain farms in Albany County.
“Our Hilltown area, at one time, enjoyed 500 farms; we’re down to five operational dairies in the 39th Legislative District,” she said. “And, we’re seeing the impact in schools with the low kindergarten enrollment.”
Busch went on to say that one of the problems is the size of the legislature itself.
“We have 39 legislators; it’s burdensome,” Busch said. “One thing I’d like to see is decreasing the size of the Albany County Legislature. We simply cannot afford this many people.”
Stevens stands alongside Busch in her desire to lower taxes.
“Obviously, taxes and tax reform have to be priority one, because it’s absolutely killing us in this county,” Stevens said. “I’d like to see us work on a comprehensive plan for senior housing, and just protecting the rights of all property owners here in the county, as I’ve done on the town board.”
Stevens has the Republican and Conservative lines, “And I’ve had a lot of support from Independence Party members,” he said, adding that he is hoping to secure the Independence line as well.
“I don’t think District 31 is being served to its full potential,” Stevens said. “The taxes we pay now need to stay in our community and not be sent to Albany.”
He added, “We need governing bodies to lead by example, and, if you want to reduce spending, let’s start with our pay.”
Stevens, an energy conservation technical specialist for the New York State Office of General Services, is finishing up his second year on the Knox Town Board; he said he is willing to resign from the board if he defeats Aylward this fall.
Of his platform, Stevens concluded, “A lot of the details will come out further as the campaign gets further on.”
Incumbents Gordon and Aylward both defend their positions as the right men for the job.
“I think I’ve been a strong advocate for my community for a number of different issues,” said Gordon who has been in the legislature since 1996, “things that are the nuts and bolts of making sure we keep our infrastructure in place as far as county department of public works, and nursing home, and Social Service programs, and I pay attention to the needs of the communities.”
And he thinks he contributed positively to the county’s budgeting process last year.
“The county executive had removed 17 positions from the department of public works,” said Gordon, who works as a grass-fed-beef farmer. “Without those positions, we wouldn’t have been able to keep up with snow control throughout the winter season last year, and we were able to address that in the budget and keep those folks employed. And, again, we’re going to have a tough budgetary cycle, and go through an exercise of how to maintain delivering these services and the level of personnel we need to do that.”
Aylward, a retired Guilderland social studies teacher and former Guilderland supervisor, is currently an Altamont trustee, and is finishing up his 12th year as a legislator, but, he said, “I don’t think the years holding the position matter as much as the values that you have in holding that position.”
He used the Albany County Nursing Home as an example of how he thinks he has served Albany County.
“We saved that from imminent closure,” he said. “On December 21, there was a debate about the budget, and the home was destined for closure on January 1, 2011, which I thought would be a threat to the safety of all those residents, seniors and disabled folks who live there. So, the debate went on about what and wherefore, and it occurred to me the real question was, ‘When?’”
Now, he said, the legislature is considering the construction of a new, larger nursing home that would also include a day-care center and other services.
Neither Gordon nor Aylward is concerned that they might lose votes as a result of the recent redistricting process.
“Well, I’ll have some folks that I haven’t worked with before, as far as the residents of Westerlo,” said Gordon. “I’ve been speaking to people and getting a nice reception from them, and I think that many of them are aware of my long-term commitment to the Hilltowns.”
Said Aylward, “I think, when people understand who I am, they will support me because we share the same values: We are concerned about people in Albany County, and the importance of Albany County government to their safety.”