By Kate Bunster
NISKAYUNA — Open government and the new casino were among the hot topics when the town’s candidates for the Schenectady County Legislature gathered — and sparred — at a political forum Oct. 15.
The League of Women Voters of Schenectady County and the American Association of University Women hosted the forum at Niskayuna Town Hall for District 3 county Legislature, Niskayuna Town Board, town clerk and town justice candidates.
Running for re-election are James R. Buhrmaster and Thomas Constantine, who was not present at the forum. New candidates for Legislature seats are Elmer Bertsch, Alexander Browstein, William Levering and Jill Dunster. Bertsch and Browstein are both members of the Green Party.
“I am running for the Legislature to raise the questions that aren’t being raised,” said Bertsch. Some of those questions include concern over Schenectady County giving $8 million a year to Metroplex without any public review, and the meeting of the Legislature as a caucus.
“That’s the public’s business being conducted in a private setting,” said Bertsch.
Buhrmaster noted the need for diversity in government, saying the system works best when there is a convergence of ideas. In the current Legislature there are 10 Democrats, two Republicans and three Conservatives. “I’m running again because I think I can make a difference,” he said. “I’m very concerned about the taxes here. There wasn’t an issue 12 years ago. Taxes are an issue for everyone in this county.”
Jill Dunster, the lone woman running for one of the Legislature seats, is a resident of Glenville, where she lives with her six children. Dunster has no political experience and has been a New York state dispatcher for 29 years.
With that experience, she was able to offer firsthand advice when the topic of county dispatching came up. “I know that the county dispatch is a lot harder. It’s not just a matter of calling somebody. There’s so many things in one incident that can go wrong. When you get one group together it runs very well.”
The building of the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor was also discussed. Both Levering and Dunster were clear supporters of it, saying it will bring in revenue to the community.
In opposition were Browstein and Bertsch, who don’t believe there is a demand for a casino, nor that it is a fit for county residents. Levering and Buhrmaster pointed out that if the casino does fail, there will be an opportunity for something else to replace it.
“It’s a false hope for economic development,” said Bertsch.
Running for Niskayuna Town Board are Andrew Bigness, William McParlon, Lisa Weber and Nick Gerace (who was unable to attend the forum). The terms of current board members Liz Orzel Kasper and Julie M. McDonnell expire this year and they are not seeking re-election.
Bigness said he is running as an independent voice for the Niskayuna community and expressed his concerns about the board’s Democratic-controlled makeup. “If you look back in history, I can hardly think of a time where one party controlled and it had gone well,” said Bigness.
Bigness, who is about to become a father, said he was motivated to run to ensure that his child and all children can grow up in a town that has voices from both sides.
McParlon and Weber both have children in the Niskayuna school district, which they both said gives them a better insight into knowing the needs of the community.
“Just because the town has Democrats on the board doesn’t make it a board that doesn’t operate well,” said McParlon.
That wasn’t where their disagreements ended. When asked about the creation of an administrative assistant for Supervisor Joe Landry, Bigness said he doesn’t understand why a part-time position needed a full-time secretary. Bigness did, however, say that the role of supervisor should be made into a full-time job. McParlon said the position was “working to the town’s benefit” in getting projects done that have “saved the town quite a lot of money.”
“I don’t see how it could be a part-time position to run a town like this,” Weber added.
One thing all the candidates agreed on was the presence of a drug problem in Niskayuna, and the necessity for a heightened awareness and cooperation among the Police Department, parents and schools.
“Living in a suburb, we think we’re isolated and we’re not,” said Bigness.
Running again for town clerk is Michele Martinelli and for town justice is Stephen Swinton, who have no opposition.
By Kate Bunster