2011-11-09 / Front Page / Civics and Politics

Election Day 2011

Democratic sweep in Philipstown
Douglas Cunningham

Note: Full, county-wide election results can be seen here: http://www.putnamcountyny.com/boe/vote/results.htm

As the end of months of campaigning wound down to the final few hours, Republican Lee Erickson and Democrat Richard Shea stood on the same train platform Tuesday night in Cold Spring and courted votes. The 4:45 p.m. out of Grand Central was due at 5:56.

Councilwoman Nancy Montgomery and Supervisor Richard Shea discuss the Philipstown results Tuesday night. Both were handily reelected.Councilwoman Nancy Montgomery and Supervisor Richard Shea discuss the Philipstown results Tuesday night. Both were handily reelected.The train stopped at the Cold Spring platform six minutes late, and the exhortations of “still time to vote” followed commuters as they hustled off. Philipstown has not seen town races this contested in years, in many, many years. Shea and Erickson were scrapping for every vote; at 6 p.m., two dozen commuters really could make a difference.

But when it ended Tuesday, when the polls closed at 9 p.m. and the Democrats gathered at a private home in Nelsonville and the Republicans gathered at the Depot Restaurant, the election was in fact a runaway train for the Democrats:

Shea beat Erickson, 1,732 votes to 1,214, or 58.8 percent of the vote to 41.2 percent for Erickson. Nancy Montgomery and Dave Merandy, both on the Democratic line for Town Council, won handily; 1,735 votes for Montgomery, an incumbent, and 1,561 for Merandy, a newcomer. Barbara Scuccimarra, a Republican incumbent, had 1,203 votes, and Katie Giachinta DeMarco, a newcomer and Republican, had 1,204 votes.

It was fitting that Shea and Erickson actually spent parts of the day together, including at the Lions Club Election Day luncheon, at Chalet on the Hudson. “We both wished each other good luck,” Erickson said as he waited for the 5:56. “It was very cordial and nice. I appreciated that.”

But if the race ended on niceties, in between wasn’t as pretty. The contests in Philipstown turned out to be far more vigorous than most expected just two or three months ago. Republicans, while unsuccessful at the end, staged a strong campaign in a town that in recent years has tilted liberal.Candidate Katie Giachinta DeMarco and Councilwoman Barbara Scuccimarra discuss their loss after results came in Tuesday evening.Candidate Katie Giachinta DeMarco and Councilwoman Barbara Scuccimarra discuss their loss after results came in Tuesday evening.

All agreed that issue number one was the Town Board’s approval of the new zoning plan, consummated in the spring after years of debate. The rezoning, which generally made it more difficult to develop one’s property and imposed greater restrictions on doing so, was at once the Democrats’ signature achievement and their Achilles’ heel. It ensured that Philipstown’s character would remain largely intact, and that development would be slow and small in scale when it does occur.

But Erickson drew considerable support from business people who believed the town had gone too far and was tending toward anti-business, especially along the more business-centric Route 9 corridor.

A key aspect of the zoning debate – especially its early months – was that Shea came to have a reputation for overreaching and even occasional arrogance, especially as he sought rapid approval of the initial draft of the zoning law. Today, all agree that subsequent debate and public input improved it on its way to final adoption this spring. During the PCN&R Candidates Forum last month, Shea hailed the extensive public input and discussion that went into the final document, input he listened to. But Erickson said that he, not Shea, was in fact responsible for a good bit of that input, as a leader of the Citizens of Philipstown group that mobilized around the zoning.

Finally, the fire and EMS report, commissioned by the town and prepared by consultant Ron Graner, deeply worried first responders across the town. They feared it would lead to consolidation, a loss of local control, ultimately higher costs, and even the loss of their local fire departments and EMS squads. While rezoning may have been ephemeral to those who had no near-term plans to develop their property, the fire report touched first responders in a visceral, immediate way. They weren’t happy, and they mobilized.

Those issues aside, Shea and the Democrats had clear successes in facing recent challenges. Hurricane Irene in August destroyed roads, caused extensive power outages and sent water churning across the town. Shea drew considerable energy from the town’s effective, coordinated response to the disaster, though he was certainly aided by crackerjack first responders and a smoothly functioning highway department. And in October, the pre-Halloween snowstorm again caused widespread outages and tested citizens; it was perhaps the one overarching event that could shove politics aside for a few days.

There also was a late accident, when Merandy was injured in a fall on Friday. Merandy, a contractor, had been working on a garage at a house in the North Highlands. The fall injured vertebrae in his neck; he had surgery on Sunday and is expected to recover fully. He kept up on election results via messages from Montgomery Tuesday evening.

Democrats gathered in a private home in Nelsonville to await returns and, then, celebrate the victory. “I think the voters in this town are smart enough to look at people’s qualifications, and their accomplishments and make a decision on that,” Shea said after the results were clear. “I was surprised at the negativity they brought into it,” he said of Republicans. “ I was also surprised at the circus atmosphere they brought into the village today … I want to thank all the people of Philipstown, and I look forward to working with all the people of Philipstown.”

 At the Depot Restaurant, the traditional gathering place for Republicans and Conservatives, some 100 well-wishers analyzed returns. The mood was by turns somber and determined. “It was a worthwhile effort, and we’re not going to stop the fight here,” Erickson told the gathering. “We’re going to keep going with this.”

Said Scuccimarra: “I wish the Democrats well in governing Philipstown.” She expanded her thoughts on Wednesday, the day after: "It was tough," she said Wednesday morning. "I just want to say I truly enjoyed being a councilwoman for the last four years. I will miss it terribly. It's hard ... It was a wonderful experience and I'm thankful for it."

Scuccimarra was also the lone Republican on the board: "I thought I did a good job on the board. I thought I brought balance." She said that despite the results, the town has an active, two-party system of politics, as evidenced by the vigorous campaign.

DeMarco recounted that the team had done everything they could: “We put up a good fight, a really good fight, and guess what? We’re really rolling up our sleeves for the next time.”

On the bright side for Republicans in Philipstown, Town Clerk Tina Merando, Highway Superintendent Roger Chirico, and Town Justice Stephen Tomann coasted to victory in unopposed races.





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