Chatham village incumbent faces challenge from critic of changes
CHATHAM–The stakes are high in the village elections Tuesday, as voters decide on a mayor and the candidates to fill two seats on the Village Board left open after both Lael Locke and Joanne DelRossi chose not to seek reelection.
Mayor Tom Curran, who has lived in Chatham for 20 years and is owner of Monster Machines, is seeking reelection for a second two-year term, once again running as a member of the Chatham United Party. He was elected in 2011.
His opponent is Maria De Marco, a first-time candidate running on the Chatham Sustainability Party line. Ms. De Marco has lived in Chatham for 30 years and currently owns her own holistic care business, as well as providing care to victims of traumatic brain injury for the Millview T.B.I. program.
Two years ago Mr. Curran unseated longtime incumbent Paul Boehme with a convincing victory. Last March two more members of the Chatham United were elected, giving the that party a solid majority. This year the Chatham Sustainability Party organized to oppose the changes Chatham United brought to village government.
What follows are profiles of the positions of each of the mayoral candidates. A separate story profiles the candidates for seats on the Village Board.
Village election voting takes place at the Tracy Memorial, where the polls are open from noon to 9 p.m. and all registered voters who live in the village may cast ballots.
Mr. Curran stresses the importance of changing times, saying that village government needs to continue to “be brought up to New York state standards.”
In speaking of his accomplishments, Mr. Curran says he has worked closely with the Office of the State Comptroller to implement checks and balances within village government and to create a procurement policy and purchase order system.
One of the flashpoints of his tenure was his decision to reduce the hours worked by the village Police Department as a way to reduce costs.
“I think it’s worked out,” Mr. Curran said, though he acknowledged that he has heard mixed reactions to his policy and concerns that it has, at times, increased emergency response times. But he believes it was the right thing to do.
“I have a pretty clear mandate from the people who elected me to reduce the police force,” he said. “I don’t see a crime wave.”
Mr. Curran said he wants to continue to balance village services with cost efficiency. “We have to keep taxes in check,” he said. He believes raising taxes would not only increase tax delinquency, but force people to leave the village, resulting in little or no overall revenue gain.
Despite the rumors to the contrary, Mr. Curran said it is not his goal to dissolve village government and its services, although he could not rule out the possibility of discussing it down the road.
“I don’t think the financial pressure is hard enough yet,” Mr. Curran said, but said it could be looked into if the economy worsened.
Mr. Curran said the state pressures villages and towns to merge and share services, reducing the layers of local government. He pointed to the state cap on property tax rates as an example, saying the strain the cap places on municipalities to raise money can cause them “to go bust.”
If reelected, Mr. Curran said he wants to keep taxes down while also fixing aging infrastructure in the village, most notably the water and sewer systems and has begun working with an engineering firm to address such problems.
Maria De Marco
Ms. De Maco, who has been vocal at Village Board meetings in recent months, said she is running for office to “put my actions where my mouth is.”
The Chatham Sustainability Party formed partly in reaction to what its organizers see as the “decentralization” of Chatham’s village government and services, according to Ms. De Marco.
She says she is not necessarily set on keeping village services such as the Police Department at the levels they are now, but would rather hear from and work with the community to discuss what its needs are.
“We want to keep services where they need to be,” she said.
Ms. De Marco said what she sees as the current decentralized approach to village government does not work because “no one is listening to the other person,” making it harder to accomplish goals.
She also sees transparency as a focal point of her campaign, saying that it’s the job of the mayor and the Village Board to ask the public: “What do you want?” She believes such action wasn’t taken when Mr. Curran reduced the police presence in the village.
Ms. DeMarco said that at the beginning of the process, Mayor Curran was allowing and answering questions from the public about the move to slim down the Police Department, but in later meetings the public comment period was only for statements, and not a question-and-answer session.
She also wants a more publicly available budget. Though monthly year-to-date budget figures are now available at the village hall, Ms. De Marco said residents “don’t know where the money is going.”
She said she’d like to work more openly with the community to find cost-saving solutions, citing renovations to the village website as an example.
To get the word out about her campaign, Ms. De Marco says the party has gotten together, with little funding, to create literature and brochures to explain the group’s platform. She says the literature stresses not to “vote for us because we’re better,” but because the platform is appropriate.
Ms. De Marco says she won’t harbor any resentment if she loses, but will have to think about whether or not to stay in the village if it continues in the direction it is headed. “We’re all living here together,” she said.