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Putnam County Legislator Carl Albano is vacating his District 5 seat after 12 years, opening the door for a new member on the nine-member board that currently has only one Democrat.
Vying for the position is former Kent Supervisor Maureen Fleming, who is running on the Democratic and Tax Watch Party lines, and Carmel resident and businessman Greg Ellner, who will appear on the Republican and Conservative lines.
Fleming ended her eight-year run in Kent last year when she was term limited.
“I decided to enter this race because the residents of this county deserve a legislator who will work for them and be responsive to their needs,” Fleming said. “A lot of people running for office make promises and when they get into office, they do whatever they please. As town supervisor of Kent, I kept my promises and intend to do the same as legislator.”
Ellner, who lost a close race when he ran for Carmel Town Board in 2009 in his only prior bid for elected office, is looking to bring a private sector approach to government.
“I’m not a politician. My opponent is a professional politician,” Ellner said. “I’m running on a positive note. What you see is what you get. We have to do better than what we’re doing. When you get elected you shouldn’t be voting party, you should be voting your conscience. You do what you feel is right.”
Fleming, an attorney and former teacher, has conceded she may be facing “a bit of an uphill battle” with registered Republicans far outpacing Democrats in the county and 70 percent of district voters living in Carmel. However, she believes the GOP-heavy legislature has limited discussions that “led to rancor and a lack of civility.”
But Fleming said what separates Republicans and Democrats on a national level narrow in local government.
“We need people on the legislature who are more interested in serving the people rather than a political party,” Fleming said. “For eight years as town supervisor in Kent, I worked with four board members who were members of a different party, and we got things done. I want to do the same in the legislature.”
Greater transparency in county government is critical, she said.
“We need to answer to the public, not our own personal agendas,” Fleming said.
If elected, her main priority would be to “put a lid on the out-of-control spending in this county and to fix the budget.”
“Taxes and uncontrolled spending are the issues driving people out of Putnam County,” Fleming said. “It is possible to cut fat from the budget without cutting services and improvements. We proved that in Kent during my eight years in office with 0 percent town tax increases and improvements in infrastructure, equipment, services and programs. I love living here and I want to be able to afford to live here.”
Fleming maintained county officials should be striving to freeze and lower taxes.
“We have to vote no on the hidden salary increases for cronies in the form of contingency funds and end the practice of creating jobs for staff members of the current administration while members of the community struggle to find work,” she said.
“We need to stop offering premier healthcare at a small fraction of the cost to part-time legislators. We have to stop throwing our money at pet projects like the Tilly Foster Farm and the Putnam County Golf Course and start directing those funds toward helping the residents of this county stay in this county.”
Ellner is an executive with a company that specializes in water and wastewater disinfection. He grew up in lower Westchester and has lived in Carmel for 20 years. With his twins now 12 years old, he decided it was time where “I could really make a difference.”
“You have to reach across the aisle. If it’s a good idea, you have to do what is right,” he said. “People need to be heard. It’s about common sense. You can’t look back. You have to move forward.”
Ellner said he is “cautiously optimistic” despite being in the majority party, noting the roughly 1,500 independent voters could make the difference on Election Day.
“They need to see the contrast between my skillset and her skillset,” Ellner said. “We have local issues and we have national issues. Often people focus on national issues. It’s the individual, not the party. It’s individual viewpoints. There’s a huge difference between government and private industry. A lawyer’s skillset is to advocate. Businesspeople get things done and find solutions.”
Ellner said the number one issue in Putnam is affordability.
“It has to be,” he said. “It’s a huge issue. We have to get better at what we’re doing. A way to minimize that is to be more efficient. We have to learn how to function better and do more with less.”
Another issue on the minds of residents is crime, which Ellner blames, in part, on the state’s cashless bail law. He said an 80-year-old woman was recently robbed walking to her car at a supermarket in Brewster and a car was stolen in his neighborhood.
“There are (criminals) here because if you get caught, you’re out in an hour or two,” Ellner said. “The pendulum swung to the extreme. We have to fix it. I feel you have to restore deterrents.”
Ellner said he has the knowledge and expertise to tackle infrastructure issues, such as sewers and water, that are significant in some parts of the county.
He also vowed to be accessible to his constituents, saying he will host monthly coffee chats at local establishments.
“County legislators have to be accessible. I’m available. I’m accessible,” Ellner said. “People need to be heard.”