By Michael Seinberg
Altamont’s mayor, Jim Gaughan was recently re-elected for his third term and this time around he ran uncontested. Since there was nobody to oppose him or stir up some debate on the issues the village faces, I thought it was time to do so. As a columnist, that’s my job. I stir things up. Think of me as your friendly neighborhood political mixologist.
Over the roughly 21 years I’ve lived in Altamont, I’ve seen a few different folks hold the office of mayor. Some have had more success than others but most seemed at the very least, mildly competent. The village has continued to exist, some things have improved, some things haven’t, and taxes have continued to go up pretty steadily, but no worse than anyplace else in the region or the state. Of course, we are the most highly taxed state in the United States, so that’s not really saying much.
While I’ve been commenting on political and social issues here in The Enterprise for some years, I’ve never seriously considered actually holding office. I’ve had a number of people over the years suggest that I should run for mayor, though I’m not sure why. I have some ideas about changing some things about the village, but I have no real experience as a public servant. Still, I think it’s human nature to wonder about possibilities and so I did.
However, before setting off into fantasyland, I should say here and now that I would be utterly unsuitable as a mayor. I’m far too opinionated, liberal, and unable to sit through meetings that last longer than 15 minutes. So, in keeping with reality, I’ll stick to being a columnist and leave the governing to others.
But that means I still get to say what I might do, were I mayor in some alternative Altamont where being dressy involved clean jeans, and village meetings lasted 15 minutes. So off we go.
The mayor seems to spend a certain amount of time promoting the village and trying to attract money, new businesses, and grants to help improve things. I guess I could get behind some of that, but I kind of like things as they are. I’d be pretty cautious about turning the fairgrounds into condos or trying to get a Dunkin’ Donuts where the Penguin ice cream stand used to be across from SEFCU.
I believe strongly that change isn’t always good and that new isn’t always better. However, I wouldn’t say no to a couple of new stores or restaurants opening up in existing spaces. I just don’t like seeing open land bulldozed.
So, what else would I do? I’d hold a public referendum on the Altamont Police Department. While I have enormous respect for the men and women who serve the village, I’ve often wondered if we really need our own police force when the state, town, and county also have a police presence here already.
Could the money spent on the APD be better used elsewhere? I’d want to know what the public thinks and then I’d act accordingly. There have been any number of letters and stories over the years and recently that indicate there are opinions all over the spectrum on this one.
Next, I agree with Jim that we haven’t done enough for the teen population of the village and I’d immediately look into building a skateboard park at Bozenkill Park (I have suggested this directly to him in the past). I’d also have the walking trails at the park redone to make them more BMX/mountain-bike friendly and expand them, too.
I’d look into teen-friendly summer and winter programs run through either the village park or the Town Parks and Recreation Department. A teen tennis league? A 1-on-1 basketball league? Volleyball games? I’d ask teens what they want and act on it.
Third, I’d keep up the building of sidewalks throughout the village until we were fully covered. Jim has made great progress in this area and I applaud it as a walker, runner, and all-around pedestrian. Minnie (our Chihuahua) is also a great fan of the sidewalks, as are most other Altamont dogs, so we’d have to keep that moving forward.
Finally, I’d look to expand the Victorian event at Christmas and see if we couldn’t come up with other similar seasonal events to highlight Altamont as a unique destination. I guess that’s about it for the moment.
When you get right down to it, I like Jim and I think he’s done a solid job during his tenure. He’s a good guy and seems to always have the best interests of Altamont at heart. However, as someone from a younger generation, I have a different point of view.
So there you have it. Fantasy football for the political set, so to speak. As a columnist, it’s very easy to toss ideas out there. As the mayor, I imagine it’s a lot trickier to get things actually done. So Jim, good luck in your third term and please take these suggestions under advisement. Who knows; I might have a few you hadn’t thought of yet.
Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg has been a resident of Altamont since 1992. It’s the longest he’s ever lived in one place in his life, he says, and asks, how did that ever happen?