Fenoff challenges long-standing Hammond

KNOX — Two candidates are laying claim to the values of the Independence Party line and what 40 years in the position of supervisor means for Knox.

Pamela Fenoff, 49, a member of the Independence Party, will run against Supervisor Michael Hammond, 70, a Democrat who has been in office since 1973.

“I think 40 years is too long for anybody in office,” said Fenoff who has been endorsed by the Conservative Party. Patricia Gage, Republican Committee Chairwoman and a former Knox councilwoman, said Fenoff will have the Republican endorsement as well, but it won’t be official until the caucus in August.

“The general thread that runs through most elections is keeping your property taxes relatively low, providing the services people have an expectation of receiving. I think those two things are key to being a good elected official,” said Hammond. Of his long tenure leading to complacency, Hammond said, “I don’t think that shoe fits for me.”
Fenoff said she had a desire to run for a council seat in the past year and eyed the supervisor’s position when she found out in March that Hammond has occupied it for so many consecutive years.

In recent elections, Hammond has had the Independence line, for which he received the committee’s endorsement this year. But Hammond is a Democrat, and Fenoff is enrolled in the Independence Party, according to records from the Albany County Board of Elections. In order to face off in a September primary to decide who will be the Independence Party candidate, both Fenoff and Hammond have had to collect signatures from 5 percent of enrolled members of the Independence Party in the town for their petitions.

According to 2012 enrollment numbers, there are 109 registered Independence Party members in Knox, 71 Conservatives, 421 Republicans, 738 Democrats, and 15 in other parties. More than 500 registered voters in the town are unaffiliated.

Current town board members are all Democrats, and Hammond has run uncontested for the past several elections; Knox supervisor elections are held every two years. Councilman Nicholas Viscio, the Knox Democratic Committee chairman and current deputy supervisor for Knox, said he and incumbent Amy Pokorny would be running for town council on the Democratic line in November. Viscio will seek another four-year term, and Pokorny, was elected to fill the unfinished term of Republican Travis Stevens after he was elected to the county legislature, will run for her first full term.

Viscio said Pokorny is a “pivotal example” of someone who meets the criteria of community involvement and volunteerism that the Democratic Committee looks for in a candidate.

“It’s an off election year, so it’s bound to be a low-turnout election, I’m guessing,” Viscio said. “There are no major issues, in my mind, that I can see that are playing in the election.”

Others on the Democratic line, Viscio said, will be Jean Gagnon for re-election as town justice, Diane Champion for re-election as tax collector, and Tara Murphy for town clerk. Noone expressed interest in the position of highway superintendent, said Viscio, so there will be no Democratic opponent to Gary Salisbury, the current Republican heading the highway department.

Gage declined to list other Republican candidates before the caucus. Currently, the only other elected Republican office holder besides Salisbury is the town clerk, Kim Swain.

The Independence Party will endorse Pokorny and Viscio for council seats, Salisbury for highway superintendent, Murphy for town clerk, Gagnon for town justice, and Champion for tax collector, according to party chairman for the county, Paul Caputo.

“We did interview her,” Caputo said of Fenoff. “Our committee felt very strongly that Mike Hammond has had our endorsement every time he’s run, and he’s doing a great job. Our committee was particularly impressed with the town hall that he did in Knox.”

Richard Stack, Conservative Party chairman for Albany County, told The Enterprise that the Conservative Party endorsed Robert Alteri for town council, Salisbury for reelection as the highway superintendent, and Gagnon for re-election as town justice.

“We’ve had approaches in the past, but there are times when you’re successful and times when you’re not successful, and I want to concentrate my efforts on the parties that I feel represent the majority of the people in the town,” Hammond said of why he didn’t interview with the Conservative Party, which he said hasn’t endorsed him for the last two election cycles.

Altieri and Fenoff were both outspoken when a group filled the gallery during an April town board meeting seeking town action in a resolution on the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act passed by the state legislature earlier this year.

Fenoff said the gun-control legislation isn’t a major factor in her bid for supervisor, but instead she wants to see the town run more like a business, especially in terms of customer service. She told of being discouraged from using the town hall meeting room.

Originally from New Hampshire, Fenoff has studied and worked with computers and in clerical positions in her career. She works currently as a part-time office manager for Alan Krieger Solutions, a leadership coach and training consultant. She was formerly an advertising representative for The Altamont Enterprise.

Fenoff also works part-time as the town’s planning board secretary, through which, she said, she has learned about the town’s efforts and needs to develop commercial space.

Fenoff said she has helped for the past two years to found a local not-for-profit, Helderberg Valley Football Inc., to raise funds for a Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School football team.

Business districts should have been created with more area and more speed, said Fenoff, ultimately to support a larger tax base for the town.

 “I don’t think that would have any impact,” Hammond said when asked of his campaigning in a contest. “Quite frankly, I don’t know how I’m going to campaign. It’s midsummer right now.”

Hammond gave three points he would be speaking with voters about in his campaign: the current revision to the town’s comprehensive plan, developing business districts, and updating the zoning ordinance, which has recent and expected changes that are not currently in the copy available on the town’s website.

The Knox post office has been closed since November 2012, when it was found to be have unsafe conditions, with rats, mold, and exposed wires in a back room. Hammond said it needs an owner before the post office can have a tenant, and the business district headed for a town board vote would increase the likelihood that someone buys the vacant property for a business.

Hammond first came to Knox in 1963, from where he grew up in the Champlain Valley. He has retired from his career as a high school technology teacher. He owns Mountain Woodshop, a carpentry business on his property since 1969, before the zoning ordinance was put in place.

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