CLIFTON PARK — Town Board member James Whalen says that he, and others, recognize that there’s a “good thing going” in Clifton Park; for that reason, deciding to run for re-election was a no-brainer for him.
Whalen, 41, is seeking his third term. Incumbent Republican Amy Standaert and Democrat Kerensa Rybak also are running; the top two vote-getters will win.
Whalen is from New York City, but has lived in Clifton Park since 2004, drawn by the low cost of living compared with other nearby municipalities, as well as the high-performing school district, Shenendehowa. Whalen now has two young children.
“I can honestly say not once have we ever regretted it,” he said about the move.
Whalen essentially hit the ground running upon moving to Clifton Park. He started out with a seat on the town’s Environmental Conservation Committee, and then jumped to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
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He then went on to make an unsuccessful bid for the New York State Assembly, and then ran for a seat on the Town Board for the first time in 2011, which he won.
Since he was elected in 2011, and then re-elected for a second term, Whalen has decided that he is sticking by the Town Board for the long run. He has no plans to run for statewide office, and believes that the biggest impact he can have will happen at home.
“Every once in a while, people sort of assume you want to move on to something else,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t. If you really want to make an impact on your community, what better way to do that than serving on the town board?”
Whalen has sat on the board as it has tackled a number of large-scale issues, including a massive rezoning initiative that ultimately led to creation of the town center plan, which aims to create a walkable downtown section near Exit 9.
Whalen also served on the board while the town sought to obtain 37 acres of undeveloped land that previously belonged to Shenendehowa; ultimately, it will become a public park.
Those are two things, Whalen said, that he is the most proud of accomplishing during his time on the board because they were what he called “fundamental transformations” in town.
“It’s a long term change. Certainly I think they’ll have lasting positive impacts for Clifton Park,” he said. “One hundred years from now, people in Clifton Park will be glad for it.”
Whalen also acknowledged that good governing in a town such as Clifton Park is a constant balancing act.
The school district is highly rated, the town is low-crime, people feel safe, and more and more people are moving in, he said. That growth necessitates more development, but residents also value open space, Whalen said, and he believes that the board over the last decade has done well in determining a way to have the best of both worlds in Clifton Park.
“I think people are happy in Clifton Park. But the challenge is to maintain that. To maintain the high quality of life we have here,” he said.
Whalen also acknowledged that contested elections are crucial in maintaining democracy. He doesn’t, however, believe that the Town Board, and town government, has a no questions asked policy simply because they all happen to be members of the same political party.
Clifton Park is a diverse town, he said, and each board member brings different experiences to the table. At the same time, he said, sharing similar views helps to facilitate conversations and come to a consensus.
“I think we have similar philosophies,” he said about the current Town Board. “We get along. We’re friendly. We respect each other. Are we all the same political party? Yeah, we are. We work collectively to arrive at a common consensus.”
Whalen pointed out that a large number of resolutions that the board address are business-related issues, such as making the decision to hire employees or allocated funding to a necessary repair, are not necessarily controversial and don’t require in-depth discussions.
“The vast majority of resolutions that we adopt are business-making decisions,” he said.
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He cited the recent repairs to the town’s ice arena as an example of the board acknowledging, without the need for a debate, that the facility needed to be fixed. The town was able to pay for that repair in cash, he said, due to the board’s experience in consistently working together to balance budgets and plan ahead.
“The board is honest, has integrity and cares deeply about what we do in town,” Whalen said. “At the end of the day I think we all want to look back and say, ‘you know what, we left the town a better pace than we found it.’ I really enjoy what I do and I consider myself very, very fortunate.”
Whalen has been endorsed by the Clifton Park Republican Committee and will appear on the Republican, Conservative and Independence party lines.