BETHLEHEM — Bethlehem’s two major political parties have announced their endorsements for the town board seat that will be up for election this coming November.
The Bethlehem Democratic Committee, which currently controls the majority vote, has endorsed candidate Giles Wagoner. The lifelong Bethlehem resident, 46-year member of the Selkirk volunteer fire department, and veteran of both the U.S. Army and the New York State National Guard, is running on a platform to prioritize town land conservation efforts. The Bethlehem Republican Committee, which hopes to expand its power this fall, has endorsed its vice-chairman, Kate Pope. The politically active mother of two young children who chose to make Bethlehem her home two years ago, has said she would prioritize opening the current political system to more public feedback.
The board is currently composed of five Democrats, including Supervisor John Clarkson, and a sixth seat that is currently occupied by the one independent member, Doris Davis, who replaced Democrat William Reinhardt when he took his place on the Albany County Legislature—and whose seat is up for election this fall. Calling the the board’s current make-up “detrimental to the residents of Bethlehem,” Pope said in a press release in early July that, “We need bipartisan representation so the town can reach its full potential.”
“A one-party system tends to lack accountability,” she explained during a subsequent phone interview with Spotlight. “By bringing a bipartisan representation to the board, I can hold them accountable, they can hold me accountable and we can all be accountable to the residents—which should be the primary concern.”
“I’d like to maintain the character of our town,” Wagoner stated in his candidate bio, “keep it affordable to live and raise a family here, and continue to address the concerns of large landowners and all residents around issues of conservation and open space.”
Telling Spotlight that he feels development in Bethlehem is happening at a rapid pace, Wagoner still commended the work that’s been done by the town’s planning board. “If you compare to the other areas around us,” he said, “Bethlehem isn’t built out yet, so we still have a chance to really monitor how things happen, and I have a big interest in conservation issues and open space issues and that kind of thing.”
“There is a lot of development happening right now,” said Pope. “I think we need to look at the [town’s “comprehensive plan”] again and see if that’s truly the direction that the town should be going in, if that’s what’s best for Bethlehem. I think bringing in businesses and giving existing businesses the opportunity to succeed should be a priority. I understand that sometimes development can be a part of that, I just want to make sure that we’re responsibly handling it.”
Declining to characterize her position as “more conservative,” she said, “Obviously, I’m a registered Republican, I have Republican ideals, however I think that a town board member should be representative of the entire town, which is made up all different enrolled parties. So, one of my priorities would be to make sure that the residents are heard. I’ve heard too often that their concerns were not addressed, that calls and emails were not returned or they felt that they weren’t listened to at a town board meeting. I want to ensure that people have the chance to be heard when they have concerns.”
Wagoner said that he believes the town’s comprehensive plan, which can be found on the town’s website, is a good reflection of the direction he would like to see Bethlehem go in. “The volunteers that put that plan together,” he said, “covered a lot and I think they did a good job.” While Pope said that some aspects of the comprehensive plan have been well-conceived and executed, others require some thought: “I think we should really look more at how our businesses are able to operate in the town,” she said. “I often hear business owners express frustration with some of the policies that are in place. I think we should take a look at that, we want them to feel welcome.”
Both candidates are familiar with sitting members of the board and said that they are confident that they would be able to work well with their potential colleagues.
“My intentions are to keep serving the town,” said Wagoner, who has a cattle farm in Selkirk. “I’ve been doing it for a number of years, and I could retire and move to Florida, which a lot of people do, but I’m attached to my land and I’m attached to this town.”
“Making sure that it continues to be what we fell in love with when we chose to move here,” said Pope, when asked why she chose to run, “and making sure that, for my kids and everyone else’s kids, the town has access to great services, a safe place to grow up, great schools—it has those things now, and I want to see it keep improving.”