The Niskayuna Democratic Committee announced Wednesday two Town Board members will be seeking re-election and an SUNY Albany professor will seek the supervisor’s seat.
Jaime Lynn Puccioni, an associate professor of literacy teaching and learning in SUNY Albany’s School of Education and vice chairwoman of Niskayuna’s Racial Equity Task Force, is campaigning to replace Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed. Syed has received the Republican Committee endorsement but has yet to announce she is running for re-election.
Denise Murphy McGraw will seek re-election for her fourth term and John Della Ratta will look to hold onto his seat for a third term.
Puccioni has lived in Niskayuna since 2013. Prior to that she lived for seven to eight years in Michigan where she graduated from Michigan State with a doctoral degree in educational policy and curriculum instruction and teacher education. Before that she lived in California and taught sixth grade in Los Angeles.
She said that she loves participating in the community in a number of ways, including coaching her son’s baseball team and serving on the Racial Equity Task Force. She said her task force work is what really pushed her to run for supervisor.
“I just really saw an opportunity to bring a new lens, new eyes, a different leadership style to the role,” she said. “I think a lot of my strengths are bringing the best minds together and leveraging their strengths to solve a common problem and work toward a common goal. I see that as something I’d like to bring to the town supervisor position.”
Puccioni said one of the biggest issues the town faces is budgetary, especially with the ongoing pandemic. She said she would work closely with departments to develop the best budget possible for the town, while finding ways to maximize revenue.
Puccioni said one skill that would help the town is her experience writing, winning and managing grants.
“I see myself using those skills to apply for grants to enhance our quality of life here in Niskayuna,” she said.
She said issues of working and leading with integrity are also a big concern of hers, especially when it comes to racial issues. She said CNA, a company the town hired to perform a racial equity report on the Police Department, found disparities in arrests of Black people.
There was also the issue of the now-former comptroller being suspended for appearing in social media posts wearing blackface as part of a Halloween costume at a 2014 party.
“I don’t have to go out and seek external sources for diversity and inclusion trainings,” she said. “I know how to do that, I do that.”
Murphy McGraw said she’s hoping to continue serving her constituents and making sure that what people may think of as small problems still get solved.
“I came to this job awhile ago, 12 years ago now, because I have seen things in the town that I thought could be better,” she said.
She gave the example of leaves not being picked up one year before winter hit or a diving board at the town pools not being replaced after it broke one summer.
“They were little things but they were big to me and they were big to my neighbors,” she said.
She agreed that fiscal management is a top issue for the town.
“When I first got elected the previous administration had really depleted our fund balance– our rainy day fund,” she said.
That depletion affected the town’s bond rating.
“When you don’t have that triple A bond rating in a community it costs you more money and that impacts the taxpayers,” she said.
She said the town has to find creative ways to generate revenue to ensure the fund doesn’t get depleted and taxes don’t go up. One action the town can take is writing grants. She said Puccioni’s background with grants will definitely come in handy.
“So we’re not paying for everything on the back of our Niskayuna taxpayers,” she said.
Murphy McGraw also said keeping up on the town’s aging infrastructure is important. She said the town has to find ways to fund infrastructure improvements without breaking the bank.
Fiscal management tops Della Ratta’s list of items to watch.
“I have been kind of like a fiscal watchdog, so to speak, on calling out wasteful spending, making sure we weren’t raiding our contingency fund balance more than we had to and creating a policy so that doesn’t get abused,” he said.
He said the town needs to find ways to generate revenue as well, including using the waste water treatment plant, which can take in waste water from other municipalities or businesses and convert the waste water to energy.
But Della Rata said he also enjoys watching economic development happen in the town as well and will continue to look for projects to improve the parks and river fronts.
Diane Percy is running for receiver of taxes and Peter Scagnelli is running for town justice.