Running a town in Putnam County doesn’t seem to have the same allure it used to, as five of the six elections for supervisor in the county will be unopposed contests this year.
Besides in the Town of Kent, incumbent supervisors in Carmel, Patterson, Philipstown, Putnam Valley and Southeast will waltz into office barring anything unexpected. In what could easily be argued is the most influential elected position in any town, competition seems to be nonexistent for those offices as petitions to get on the ballot were due earlier than usual this year because of voting reforms passed in New York State.
Southeast Supervisor Tony Hay, a Republican, has never had a Democratic opponent, but did dethrone former supervisor and controversial Republican Michael Rights in a GOP primary for the position in 2011. When asked why there appears to be little interest in the position, Hay said as supervisor, when something in the town goes wrong, he is the first one to be blamed.
“Let someone sit in my seat for 24 hours and you’ll find many people won’t want it,” Hay said. “You’re a target for everything.”
Hay still campaigns during petition season as if he is going to face someone, collecting more than 200 Republican signatures to get on the ballot, which is a high number compared to other office holders. He stressed running for office, especially for first timers, takes a lot of work.
Putnam Valley Supervisor Sam Oliverio, a Democrat that ran against Republican Councilwoman Jackie Annabi the first time he went out for supervisor in 2015, said both the GOP and Democratic committees in Putnam Valley understand he’s always tried to be “apolitical” when it comes to making decisions in the town.
Even if the opposing political party doesn’t cross endorse an incumbent, Oliverio said not running someone is a tacit approval of the job they’re doing.
“If you’re doing a good job and you’re the incumbent, the wisdom of the (political) parties is it’s going to be really hard to unseat that individual,” Oliverio said. “They haven’t harmed the town, they’ve done positive things for the town and political machine says ‘we’re not going to waste money trying to get a candidate to unseat that person.’”
Patterson Supervisor Richard Williams, a Republican, ran four years ago and squeaked out a close victory over Democrat Andy Falk, but he’s looking forward to a less stressful night this Election Day. Williams also pointed out by not having to run a campaign, he can devote more time to town business rather than worrying about re-election.
Williams said the position is less of a draw than it used to be because it has become more complicated with more rules and regulations than 30 years ago when Williams started with town on the environmental commission.
“It’s very hard to do this job now,” Williams said. “And you need people with experience and there’s not a lot of people that want to take the time to learn this job.”
Most of the supervisors interviewed mentioned running the town is a full time job, even if the pay doesn’t equate to that.
Besides Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea, who runs a small business, and Kent Supervisor Maureen Fleming, who still practices law, the other supervisors are retired and this job is a second career for them. Hay was a former county legislator and small business owner, Oliverio was a former county legislator and assistant principal, Williams was the former Patterson town planner and Carmel Supervisor Kenny Schmitt was a former Carmel police officer.
Schmitt hasn’t had an opponent in almost a decade. Once he clinches reelection this year and serves out that new term, he will become the longest serving supervisor in town history with seven terms in office. Earning the endorsement of the local GOP committee, which Schmitt is appreciative of, is all he’s needed to run the largest town in the county.
Schmitt said being a town supervisor requires a lot of energy and focus and people in general don’t seem interested in politics during such polarizing times, Schmitt said. He also said he’s done a well enough job that there isn’t a clamoring for change.
“I don’t know too many people that want my job,” Schmitt said. “It’s a very difficult job, it’s challenging and it’s a lot of work.”