Republican candidates running in a town long seen as a Democratic stronghold expressed a need to even out representation.
The League of Women Voters of Schenectady County hosted a Niskayuna Candidates Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at Town Hall, and seats were filled as the public waited for the incumbent Democrats to state their case against Republican hopefuls. Candidates answered questions in a rotating order to even out the first and last answers. Candidates were able to give opening and closing statements too, but there were some hiccups throughout the night.
Democrat incumbent Supervisor Joe Landry started off the forum with Republican challenger Anthony Pennacchio as they both touched on the issue of safety services in the town.
“There needs to be things put in place that maintain and keep our sidewalks safe, our residents safe through having a good police force, a good EMS service and a good fire department and supporting those volunteer services and those services in our community,” Pennacchio said.
Landry said since he took office four years ago he has tried to strengthen police services in the town with new vehicles, technology and programs. Also, he said if someone calls the town concerned about cars speeding down a street the police department is able to monitor activity closely.
“We have increased [police] presence throughout town and we have quite a few new opportunities for our police force in those areas,” Landry.
On the issue of a supervisor being a “full-time job,” Landry said he is in Town Hall and around town in the morning and evening for five days a week.
Pennacchio rebutted the position used to be part-time and he said Landry works as counsel to the County Legislature and has his own law practice.
“I wish I could do three full-time jobs, but I can’t and yes, I believe this is a part-time position,” Pennacchio said.
Landry slipped in a remark after Pennacchio and said, “Some of us are more talented than others.”
With a mixture of laughter and groans in the crowd, Pennacchio responded and said, “I guess … and more time too.”
The town’s infrastructure came under fire too, after candidates were asked if the town needs an improved wastewater treatment plant.
Pennacchio said the town is going to have to manage with using the current system and only make improvements as necessary.
“We need to be responsible and fiscally responsible as well as environmentally responsible,” he said.
The WWTP was built in the 1970s, Landry said, adding it was “a little aging” and improvements could be made.
“We managed to prepare for [Tropical Storm Irene] by keeping the system low and treating it a little faster, so that when the rains did come we were able to handle the increased volume,” Landry said. “We do the best we can with the system we have.”
Pennacchio said his message is to be fiscally responsible, restore faith in government through leadership and overcoming party lines, ensure health and safety of the community and continue improving town-run programs.
“I want to live in a place where my children can grow up with a sense of community,” he said. “My wife and I want to grow old in a town with a sense of assurance. I want a better Niskayuna.”
Since being elected, Landry said he’s seen many changes in the town and looks forward to continuing to ensure progress is made.
“I will continue to work to develop future opportunities to enhance our community and to ensure its success,” Landry said. “I’m looking for a chance to implement these opportunities.”
Incumbent Democratic Town Board candidates Liz Orzel Kasper and Julie McDonnell picked up the message of continuing progress in the town if reelected.
“Yes, there is always improvement to be made, but I think we have done a lot in this community,” Kasper said. “My goodness, I’ve got four markets to shop in now. I’ve never had that.”
Getting parkland initiatives moving when she first joined town government was a point Kasper touted, along with the progression of senior services being offered.
McDonnell also touched on senior programming, which has been a touchy topic with seniors speaking out at board meetings about changes, after the candidates were asked how they would strengthen the senior citizen programs.
“I think just as we have made bold changes to our youth programming, it is time to reach out to community groups, volunteers and seniors to harness their energy and talents to improve our senior programs,” McDonnell said.
In her closing statement she said she has brought “new people and new ideas” into the town and has the ability to “get things done.”
“I’ve even been criticized for doing too much, but that is a hit I’m willing to take,” said McDonnell. “I believe that no matter how good things are, there is always a way to make them better.”
Republican candidate Linda Rizzo said it is important to listen to the seniors and what they want from their programming.
“The program is for the seniors and it is not for anyone else,” Rizzo said. “They should have the major say on what happens in their program.”
Fellow Republican candidate Richard Fisher echoed Rizzo and said, “If they have a person in place that they enjoy the company of then that’s the person that should stay.”
Kasper said she is basically running for reelection to support the seniors in the town and will continue to reach out to make sure all their voices are heard.
Rizzo said the main purpose for her running is to provide a choice for residents.
“A one-party system does not provide a healthy political environment for a community. Every legislative body, including our Town Council, needs checks and balances. It is an important part of democracy,” Rizzo said. “In my opinion we need less government at all levels.”
Fisher continued on the same note, but more directly blamed the current administration for mismanagement.
“I can’t stand by and watch as our community is lessened by our current town government,” Fisher said. “I believe that government should be limited to only that which is absolutely necessary. I also believe that we have too much government in terms of spending, regulation and intrusion into our lives and liberty.”
Kasper said the designation of the Town Board being a “one-party system” is unfair.
“We don’t always agree,” Kasper said. “I believe that each one of us needs to answer to ourselves and our constituents and sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t.”