The race for Second Ward Supervisor pits heavily endorsed Jeffrey Stark against incumbent Barbara Johnson.
Stark, a representative for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 9 of New York, has been endorsed by major political leaders on the state and national levels, including state Sen. Neil Breslin, Assemblyman Bob Riley, Rep. Paul Tonko and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Stark said he has known Gillibrand since before she ran for Congress in 2006.
Stark said his relationships with various politicians and the connections he has made through his work could be beneficial in getting powerful people to pay attention to Montgomery County.
“If people want someone who can advocate for the county then obviously I think I’m a better candidate than my opponent,” Stark said.
Stark’s opponent, incumbent Barbara Johnson, who is finishing her second term on the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, said she isn’t worried about the major endorsements Stark has received. Johnson has been endorsed by CSEA Local 829, which represents the local civil service employees in the county.
“We’re here for Montgomery County, this is who we’re representing, those are our constituents, that’s who we’re working for,” Johnson said.
Bethany Schumann-McGhee, chairman of the county Democratic Committee, said she thinks Stark’s endorsements show that he has been an advocate for a number of issues statewide and shows how his work goes beyond the bounds of Montgomery County.
Schumann-McGhee said it is not easy for local candidates to be endorsed by politicians, especially the higher up they are, “as evidenced by the fact that no one else in the county got Kirsten Gillibrand’s endorsement.
“Elected officials want to know and be able to provide their own thoughts on the strengths of the candidate,” Schumann-McGhee said. “I think it shows that Jeff has a long-standing relationship with the people who have endorsed him. What can that bring to our county to see someone who has a good working relationship with our New York state senator.”
This will be the second time Stark and Johnson have faced each other in an election. Stark beat Johnson in September for the Democratic line. Johnson has secured the Conservative and Independent lines.
Stark isn’t new to campaigning. In 2006, he ran on the Working Families line for state Senator, but lost to current Sen. Hugh T. Farley. “I may have set my goals a little too high,” he said.
After the race, Stark said he became more involved with county government.
Stark also serves on the Workforce Investment Board and helped found the Youth In Construction Program in the county, which creates opportunities for teenagers to learn skills to work in the trades.
Stark said he could also be useful in bringing economic development to the county through his contacts in construction, which he has been doing since 1977.
“I could bring a lot to this county as far as creating jobs and expanding our tax base,” he said.
Johnson is currently the vice-president of the county Board of Supervisors and co-chairwoman of the county’s shared services committee with Alderwoman Kim Brumley, C-3rd Ward. She served for three years as the county economic development committee.
Johnson said all her accomplishment are available through public record. “I’m an open book,” she said.
Johnson said her major accomplishments include keeping taxes low — the county hasn’t raised taxes since 2005 — helping to get the joint county-city demolition team off the ground after more than a decade of planning, which demolished eight homes in the city so far, and keeping Beech Nut in the county.
Johnson said she would like to continue to keep taxes low while not laying off any county workers.
“If you cut too many employees, you won’t reap the benefits of good county services,” she said.
Stark said he thinks some of the challenges facing the county are high taxes and a lack of good paying jobs, which is driving people away from the county.
Stark said he thinks the county should consider raising its mortgage recording tax as a way to generate enough revenue to bring the Capital District Transportation Authority into the county. He said connecting people in Montgomery County to Schenectady, Albany and Saratoga would allow them better job opportunities and eliminate the need for the county’s $600,000 bus service and the city’s $400,000 bus service.
“If we have to raise a fee, at least raise it to eliminate costs on the other end,” Stark said. “This would take people off lower paying jobs and off public assistance and give them better opportunities.”
Also, Stark said he thinks the county should look at a legislative form of government instead of the current weighted vote system. Stark said the current system creates cliques and pits the towns against the city.