The candidates for Glenville town supervisor brought fireworks to what would have otherwise been a fairly humdrum candidate forum Wednesday night.
Glenville residents had a chance to hear from candidates running for elected office at both the county and town level, including six candidates running for three open spots in District 3 of the Schenectady County Legislature, four candidates running for two open spots on the Glenville Town Board and an incumbent-predecessor face-off for the town highway superintendent spot.
Dozens of residents packed Glenville Town Hall for the event, hosted by the Schenectady County League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women. The forum was designed to be informative for undecided voters, with a question-and-answer segment for each contest.
Town supervisor candidates Cathryn Bern-Smith and Chris Koetzle wasted no time in trading barbs. The two disagreed on everything from spending and taxes to economic development and how to balance a day job with the duties of a town official.
“My desire to serve as your town supervisor stems from my belief that Glenville is a great place to live, work, raise a family and retire,” said Bern-Smith, a policy director for the state Senate who is running on the Democratic and Working Families line. “Unfortunately, I don’t believe we’re headed in the right direction with increased spending, higher taxes and an economic development plan that is sorely lacking.”
Koetzle, a Republican who is seeking a second term as town supervisor, said that both Moody’s Investors Service and the state comptroller’s office would disagree with her assessment that the town is headed in the wrong direction.
Last year, Moody’s upgraded the town’s credit rating from “good” to “strong,” allowing the town to refinance outstanding bonds and save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just this year, the comptroller’s office awarded Glenville one of the strongest fiscal stress scores in the state and the lowest in the county.
Koetzle also took issue with figures cited by Bern-Smith that spending has increased 12 percent and taxes have increased 18 percent since he took office. Not only is she factoring in budgets from before his term as supervisor (she pointed out that he voted on them as a Town Board member), but the actual average tax levy increase under his administration has been 2.65 percent a year, he said.
Things got heated when Bern-Smith accused Koetzle of increasing town costs by eliminating the in-house town attorney position and hiring “his political pal” Michael Cuevas. When he muttered “wrong again” and accused her of being unable to read a budget, an audience member yelled out, “Chris, you’re out of line!”
The moderator had to repeatedly ask the audience not to chime in and the candidates not to interrupt each other. By the end of their debate, the moderator had to restart the clock two separate times for Koetzle’s closing statement after Bern-Smith repeatedly interrupted him.
The candidates for County Legislature District 3 were more laid-back, though Republican candidates appeared visibly frustrated throughout the evening at what they called the “county’s Democratic machine.”
Candidates were split along party lines on the topic of the county-run nursing home. The moderator wanted to know how each candidate would make it more cost-efficient so that county money would not have to be used to make up its deficits.
Democratic candidates Martin Finn, Rory Fluman and Cathy Gatta all agreed that they would eventually have to find a way to reduce the county’s bill for the nursing home. Republican candidates Nicholas Gerace, Grant Socha and Alan Boulant all agreed that the Glendale Home should undergo privatization immediately.
The four candidates running for two open seats on the Town Board — Republicans James Martin and Sid Ramotar and Democrats Ronald Draves and Joseph Rizzo — kept their debate low-key. Issues focused on maintaining town services, opportunities for consolidation, goals for economic development and grant opportunities for attracting small businesses to town.
The candidates for town highway superintendent were no strangers. Incumbent Republican Thomas Coppola faced off with Democrat Richard LeClair, who was highway superintendent from 2006 to 2009. Their debate was fairly mundane, addressing issues such as the town’s need for a sewer system upgrade.
The only point of contention came when LeClair insinuated that a FEMA grant he obtained during his run as superintendent had been misused by Coppola to purchase highway equipment with cash. Loud murmuring broke out among the audience for just a few moments before the moderator quieted the room. Coppola denied the allegation, and the debate then turned to the topic of infrastructure repair.