BETHLEHEM — Town residents will head to the polls next Tuesday, Nov. 5, to determine who sits on the board, and who controls the highway department.
Technically, Supervisor David VanLuven’s job is on the line, but he’s running uncontested this year, which all but puts him back in Town Hall for another two years. Also running uncontested is Nanci Moquin, the town clerk.
Republicans are pushing to add another representative on the board to join Jim Foster. Jim Carriero is the party’s lone representative vying for a seat on the Town Board. He runs against incumbents Joyce Becker and Daniel Coffey.
It’s essentially deja vu for voters who decided a Coffey-Carriero race last year, as both jockeyed for the 12 months remaining out of the four-year position left vacant once VanLuven transitioned from the board to supervisor.
Inside this week’s edition of The Spotlight, this year’s candidates share both their ideas and concerns for Bethlehem, and why they believe they have the answers to the questions the town will face in the coming years.
One town supervisor, one highway superintendent and two Town Board positions are up for grabs this year. Early voting began on Saturday, Oct. 26 and residents can continue on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
The town supervisor, highway superintendent and a Town Board member each serves a term of two years, two years and four years respectively. According to SeeThroughNY, an online resource for town positions’ payrolls, in 2019, the annual salaries for the town supervisor, highway superintendent and a Town Board member are $118,562, $104,476 and $15,643 respectively. These are estimated data though.
Of the six running candidates, four are incumbents seeking re-election: Democrats David VanLuven (Town Supervisor), Joyce Becker (Town Board member) and Daniel Coffey (Town Board member); and Republican John Anastasi (highway superintendent). The remaining two have not held office before: Democrat Marc Dorsey (highway superintendent candidate) and Republican James Carriero (Town Board member candidate).
David VanLuven first assumed this position in January 2018 and had been a Town Board member prior from 2016 to 2018.
VanLuven has a background in ecology, urban and environmental policy, biology, working with nonprofit and government organizations, and budget maintenance. Moving to Bethlehem in 2001, VanLuven said he grew up in Park City, Utah which was transitioning from a silver mining town to a ski resort and he recalled being concerned that “millions of acres of natural forests and private lands” around him would be redeveloped eventually.
He said this helped inspire him to commit much of his career to protecting the environment, something that has applied to his current position like seeing the creation of the Farms and Forests Fund, working with interested landowners and collaborating with organizations like the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy — to address rising development too.
“It takes time to get things done and we’ve got a lot to do in town,” VanLuven said, explaining why he’s seeking re-election. “We’ve started our comprehensive plan process but that’s going to take time to complete and looking to have it done by late 2020. But then, we need to implement it and that takes time too, and adapt our codes to keep the small town feel and hamlets’ characters.”
He brought up the importance of making each hamlet feel included in Town Board matters, like the comprehensive plan process where public forums were held at each hamlet in the past year for the Town Board to hear residents’ desires and concerns. “Selkirk and South Bethlehem often feel forgotten and we’ve been working very hard to improve communication lines and provide services they need,” he said. “The Town Board views it all as one Bethlehem but each has different needs and personalities, and we should celebrate, not homogenize, that.”
VanLuven said he wants to help the town continue to oversee major ongoing projects like continued investment in water infrastructure, the Elm Avenue Park Dive Pool renovations, the Clapper Road Water Treatment Plant works, the Glenmont roundabout and the Delaware Avenue Road Diet. Regarding the last project, he said, “It’s looking to be done by 2022 so we’ve got two years to lay down a communication strategy that we need to ensure our businesses are supported by residents during construction and that construction is designed in a way to minimize challenges for those businesses. We’re taking it very seriously, working with the Chamber of Commerce and a professional consultant soon.”
Connecting this with the importance of transparency with residents, VanLuven said, “People, not the town, deliver services. We need to appreciate, invest and celebrate such people for providing clean water and leaf pick-up.”
Looking ahead, he envisions Bethlehem to be a more walkable town with increased connectivity and community spirit-minded businesses. “I am incredibly fortunate to have this job,” he said. “I want us to continue doing well and find ways to do better. We still have a lot to do.”
John Anastasi first assumed the position in January 2018. He was raised in Delmar, graduated from Bethlehem Central High School and pursued construction technology at Hudson Valley Community College in 1979.
Anastasi’s background in construction predates his college days as he said he grew up helping his father, a local developer and general contractor, to buy land, establish roads, build houses and install infrastructure. “I helped with the layout and I was hands-on with blueprint readings, and at 15, I owned my first piece of equipment called backhoe which dug foundations,” he said. “I worked summers and weekends after school for my dad since even before I was 15. At 17, I ran a crew.”
After leaving college, Anastasi worked as a foreman with his father again from 1980 until he died in 1996. He said the company was called Stuyvesant Development Corporation and is now the Anastasi General Contractors, where he is still a consultant. Anastasi also volunteered at the Bethlehem Pop Warner Organization for over 15 years, eventually becoming its president, and then joined the Capital District counterpart.
He said all these experiences made him qualified for the Highway Superintendent position and regarding seeking re-election, he said, “My first two years were more of feeling the department out and seeing where it needs to go. Now, I want to put more effort into growing the department and make it more efficient.”
Anastasi said he is looking to address certain challenges the department is facing recently. “Our labor staff is aging out and since I’ve come into this job, we have a growing population,” he said. “Today’s society is not always geared towards blue collar workers as people went to learn to be lawyers and doctors or work with computers. In reality, kids that go to trade school are going to be the doctors and lawyers of tomorrow because there’s not many of them.” While he said that he’s interested in working with Capital Region BOCES and the town to encourage local trade schools, he added that some of his younger employees have come from the Glenmont Job Corps Center.
Anastasi said his department — around 60 employees — continues to address potholes, add sidewalks and pave roads throughout town. “When we have a budget and the community grows, we could only do so much and my guys have been great,” he said. “Our paving crew is second to none. Other municipalities have asked to come and train with my guys and they often subcontract their paving out while we pave in-house. We’re setting the bar high.”
Anastasi concluded that people should care more about what his department does as it always strives to ensure safety for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists by picking up brush and debris; plowing roads in winter; mowing the town parks and handling stormwater infrastructure. “All my life, I’ve ran crews, done layouts and budgets and been responsible,” he said. “I want to continue that for this community.”
Marc Dorsey has lived in Bethlehem for almost 50 years now. He attended Bethlehem Central High School, Hudson Valley Community College and Empire State College. At HVCC, he participated in the International Union of Operating Engineers and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters apprenticeship programs.
Dorsey later became a state-certified law enforcement officer and was a policeman in Altamont and Coeymans. He has also been in the U.S. Army for around 10 years as a sniper team leader in Afghanistan and in the Air Force for six years where he teaches infantry tactics. He also became a staff sergeant in the Air National Guard in 2008, a former sergeant in the Army National Guard since 2014 and a logistics specialist for the state Department of Homeland Security Emergency Services since 2006.
While he has not taken office in Bethlehem yet, Dorsey said his extensive background in the military, law enforcement, carpentry and construction make him feel qualified to run for Highway Superintendent. “I have a ton of leadership experience and while I’ve had horrible bosses in the past, I’m fair,” he said. “To see how their leadership transfers to productivity, it really can hamper any kind of morale and that’s just bad. But if you do one thing right, it can become contagious and if you keep moving that forward, things pick up and get done.”
Dorsey said he believes there is a stigma associated with the Highway Department. “People think of the highway guys as standing on the side of the road with shovels and that has to change. The department’s culture has to change,” he said. “People think they just stand around all day and don’t get enough work done. People may also see those guys as being of a different social class. That’s got to change.”
If elected, he said he wants to seek a balance between working sidewalks and paving roads, identify and rate roads’ conditions before prioritizing which to fix first, lead the workers more efficiently, and address how the department’s staff may not be enough for the growing town.
Dorsey also brought up how social media can be a great way to maintain communication between the department and residents in terms of identifying what roads, potholes or sidewalks in town need addressing. “If we can identify and track them, we can address them much faster,” he said. “With social media, you can ask the public and do maybe a survey of who needs what and where. It can also address complaints like with leaf pickup. Let the people drive that necessity in a sense.”
Looking ahead, Dorsey said, “The highway guys need to have a good leader, someone to fight for them, push on and treat them fairly. … It’s not just about me, I want to make sure the next leader who comes along can have an outline of my plan and see that I had a plan that was working. And if something is not working, I need to know why it’s not.”
Joyce Becker assumed her position originally in January 2016 and has lived in Bethlehem for 42 years now. Originally from Lexington, Kentucky where she graduated from University of Kentucky in move to Bethlehem because of its small-town feel and attractive school district to raise their family.
She said she started working in the town in 1986 answering switchboards and she helped then-Parks and Recreation colleague Karen Pelletier to develop the Senior Services department. Tasked with recruiting volunteers then with a vision for Senior Services to help people age and still live in town, Becker has since branched off to be Bethlehem Senior Projects’ assistant treasurer; a Bethlehem Community Fund trustee; a member of Bethlehem Business Women, Delmar Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary and Bethlehem Historical Association; and the former president of Salvation Army Auxiliary Services. Most recently, she was a Bethlehem Public Library trustee from 2009 to June this year.
Regarding the Town Board, Becker said she wanted to run again because “while my fellow members have different backgrounds, I feel like I’m the voice of the community because I’ve been in the community and provided services for so many years and I’ve maintained that contact with people. I still feel I have something to offer for the people.”
If re-elected, she wants to help establish the new comprehensive plan and ensure it considers all hamlets; and take steps towards historic preservation not only in Slingerlands but in Selkirk and South Bethlehem. “I want to look harder into the background and original documents of the Delaware Avenue Road Diet again from 2017 and see if the municipality have any authority to change the markings on the roadway if it ends up not being successful,” she said. “I need to know the answer to that and it’s complicated because it’s a state road. I personally want to do more research and get answers for that.”
She added it’s important, though, for residents to patronize the to-be-affected businesses along Delaware Avenue and encourage the owners during and after construction. The construction, she said, also enables the town to look into the underlying aging water and sewer infrastructure, much of which were installed after World War II.
Looking ahead, Becker said she’d want the town to encourage affordable housing for freshly-graduated university students who probably would be in much debt and for seniors to age in place in Selkirk or South Bethlehem. She also wants to see more responsible development planning in the future that do not interfere with landowners’ rights.
“I consider Bethlehem as my home and where my heart is,” she concluded. “I also want to encourage women to apply for town positions, even non-clerical ones, if interested and back in the day, there weren’t as many. Women are great leaders and we need to empower each other.”
James Carriero has lived in Bethlehem for almost 30 years now and was originally from a small Italian-American community in Stamford, Connecticut; he graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a degree in secondary education in 1976.
Growing up poor in a government-housing project until he was 10, Carriero said he learned to appreciate what poverty taught him about handling money, how generous the government can be during hard times and not judging people because of their socioeconomic status. Adding that as he received professional opportunities later, he said it was important for him to give back to the community.
Carriero began working at KeyBank in 1978 to support schools and nonprofit organizations, and is still a member of the board of directors at St. Peter’s Hospital Foundation, Senior Hope Counseling and the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany. He said his extensive background in education and banking help make him feel qualified to run for Town Board.
“I’m a solution-based person and I don’t criticize people for their political affiliations,” he said. “It’s important to find a balance in government and bring people together. In banking, I’ve learned to recognize who your customers are and how to treat them. That also applies in government.”
He also said he feels the current Town Board is “rather passive because I don’t see a lot of debate.” He said debate is a healthy form of government but since most of the Town Board are of one political party, he feels that there is not much checks and balances.
If elected, Carriero said he wants to address numerous town issues including looking into aging underground infrastructure; minimizing water main breaks and ensuring residents have quality water; and wanting stricter environmental regulations as he is concerned the upcoming Port of Albany’s expansion project around Beacon Island could lead to a coal ash spill. He also wants to improve communication between town government and the public.
Carriero brought up how the Delaware Avenue Road Diet would negatively affect businesses and he said most businesses owners were not happy about it after meeting with them this past summer. “Before you go into major reconstruction, you need to visit your customers and let them know of the potential impact,” he said. “After I went out to meet with business owners six or seven times this summer, only then did the town supervisor, Chamber of Commerce and economic planning staff come out of their offices and listen to them.” While he added that construction on Delaware Avenue in 2017 had hurt businesses there and are still recovering from it, he said this all showed the importance of town government being transparent with residents.
Looking ahead, he said, “I also envision us struggling to maintain the balance between nature, development and traffic congestion. These issues may always be around although we have many blessings like beautiful parks, access to the highway, the school system and more. But the challenge is finding that balance.”
Daniel Coffey assumed his position this past January and has lived in Bethlehem since 1999. Born and raised in Plattsburgh, he majored in political science from Schenectady’s Union College in 1984, earned a master’s in public administration from Columbia University and attained a Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University.
He said he and his wife, Eileen, moved to Delmar because of its small-town feel and school district as well as easy access to downtown Albany. Prior to moving, he had been a Capitol Hill intern at Washington, D.C. and worked in the federal Congressional Budget and General Accounting offices, and in several law firms. Among the local positions he has held include joining Bethlehem’s Planning Board in 2009; being the former Zoning Board Chair; the former president of the Albany County Bar Association; and a former Bethlehem Democratic Committee officer. He also co-founded an Albany law firm, Bowitch & Coffey, in June 2012 where he is a trial attorney.
Coffey said he wanted to run again for Town Board because “it’s a learning curve and I feel I’m just getting up to speed and getting warmed up. A full four-year term can let me take some of the progress we’ve made so far this year and continue it on.” He added that his law background helps him as the Town Board often reviews contracts, goes into executive session and oversees public hearings.
If re-elected, Coffey said he wants to continue addressing development and open space in town; helping with the new comprehensive plan update which he said is a “massive undertaking;” seeing the town dive more into a regional Community Choice Aggregation program to give residents more choices for their energy providers and support renewable energy; looking into installing more electric vehicle charge stations in town; and seeing more bike lanes and sidewalks to make Bethlehem a more connected community.
Coffey added that the town is undergoing projects like the Glenmont roundabout, Delaware Avenue Road Diet and Clapper Road Water Treatment Plant as well as noting concerns like aging water and sewer infrastructure, and outdated law enforcement facilities. “There’s a lot to learn and absorb and I’ve made it a point to meet each department head when I first came into office and a couple times a month, I stop over at Town Hall to sit down with someone and learn what they do because it’s complicated,” he said. “Town Hall has a wealth of talented people and a lot of what they do goes unappreciated most of the time. So, it’s important to thank them for what they do.”
This past year, he expressed pride in how the Town Board has enacted a six-month moratorium on vape shops, started the Farms and Forests Fund, updated the Parkland Set Aside fees and more.
“I think of Bethlehem as a friendly community that has the nearby resources of Albany but has open space, great parks and schools and so on,” Coffey concluded. “But Bethlehem isn’t just one, there’s multiple hamlets with different characters and that’s so important.”