If any Somers incumbents thought that re-election would come this year without any effort, they were in for a bit of a surprise last week.
Councilman Harry Bolton and business owner Bob Raffo Jr. had gathered enough signatures by the July 14 deadline to file petitions with the Westchester County Board of Elections to trigger a Republican primary in September.
Bolton is challenging Somers Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy, who was previously running unopposed. Raffo will now compete against the cross-endorsed incumbent councilmen Tom Garrity, a Republican, and Richard Clinchy, a Democrat.
“We had asked if we could run but the party committee chairs, Jim Chisholm and Christine Robbins, cut a deal so no one would have to run opposed,” Bolton said. “I think people should have a choice. I am a veteran. I don’t care for the Communist kind of thinking with one party and you have to vote for one guy and one guy alone.”
“We both tried to do the right thing by the party,” he added. “Then we said, ‘You know what, that is just not the right thing to do.’ So we opted to go out and go get the signatures. We did it and we are now giving people a choice on the ballot.”
Raffo, a Republican district leader, said the only direct feedback he has received from the party was from Chisholm, who was displeased. However, he said that the reaction from the public has been positive.
“The reaction we got from residents was that they would be able to go to the polls and make a choice,” said Raffo. “We provide a great alternative to the candidates endorsed.”
Bolton and Raffo are experienced businessmen who want to incorporate better business practices into the way the town operates. Bolton worked for Verizon where he was in management and used to handle the construction contracts for in the Northeast region. Raffo owns Pro2Tec a full-service business technology company in Lincolndale.
“I am a little more conservative than Mary Beth,” said Bolton. “I am in this because I think that the process is flawed and the ways things are being done are not in the best interest of the taxpayer and I am a taxpayer. That is the bottom line. I am looking to bring some common sense business practices to the Town of Somers. Everyone likes to think we are a sleepy little hamlet, but we are beyond that.”
“We need good sound business practices and I think I can provide that,” Raffo said. “Having the business management experience I have brings value to the town and it is needed right now. Although running my business is a lot of work I like to contribute back to the community and this is a good way to do that.”
The two intend on running a campaign based on issues.
“We are not accusing anybody of any wrongdoing,” said Raffo. ”We just think we can do it better.”
The two challengers would like to put out a request for bids for professional services and prioritizing where and how the town’s money can be spent most efficiently.
“This is a really bad economy right now,” said Bolton “Why should we keep rolling along when we could pay less and put the money towards other things you want done in the future?”
Meanwhile, Murphy said she welcomed the challenge.
“I have always had a contested election so it is not really something different for me,” she said. “It is certainly an opportunity to get out and talk to people and talk to them about what we have accomplished in town. We have kept our tax base very strong, we recently went out to bond for some road work and we had our Aa2 Moody’s bond rating reaffirmed. We have saved the town money on its insurance by about 35 percent over the past five years.”
One of her first campaign stops was in Somers District No. 9 in Heritage Hills where Bolton lives with his fiancée Victoria Roach.
Clinchy said that the cross-endorsement strategy was a political experiment to see if the political ideologies can be put aside for good government. “I certainly hope that the recent turn of events by a few people does not cause this good experiment in bipartisanship to sour,” he stated.
“Beginning in 2007 both Tom Garrity and I agreed to operate on the town board guided by a principle of “discussion, not discord.” Certainly there would be different ideas about various issues, but we believed that the future of the town would be well served by a spirit of bipartisanship,” said Clinchy. “As I like to say — leaky roofs, potholed roads, environmental protection, smart planning, and aging buildings are not Democratic or Republican issues. They are problems looking for solutions to help our town become even better.”
Clinchy added, “Certainly, public opinion polls across the country reflect the desire by voters that the two parties operate cooperatively for the common good. Just take a look at the current spectacle in Washington for a prime example!”
Petitions had to be turned in to the Westchester Board of Elections by July 14. Bolton and Raffo handed in over 400 signatures that they only started collecting the Sunday before. They expect the Republican Party to challenge their petitions but are not concerned about being denied a spot on the Primary Day ballot.
They are going to challenge ours and we are going to challenge theirs, that is the way it goes,” said Bolton.
Raffo lives in Lincolndale with his wife, Leslie, and his daughter Rebecca. Bolton has a 20-year-old son, Harry Jr., from his previous marriage.
Chisholm and Robbins were unavailable for comment.