As many across the nation are getting revved up for the presidential election, and in New York preparing for the congressional petitions, in the Village of Owego, Tioga County, residents are focused on the elections for Trustees and Mayor. The 2 parties involved at this local level are not the traditional national parties but the Taxpayers First (formerly A Positive Change) and Rebuild Owego (started in 2012). On February 24, 2016 we were able to speak with several of the Rebuild Owego candidates at a public meet and greet event held at the Parkview Hotel.
The event at the Parkview Hotel was structured to be a casual opportunity, as opposed to the formal and sometimes stiff formats often found at these events. Though the evening was marred by a strong rainstorm, roughly 2 dozen residents of the Village of Owego ventured out to speak with candidates and share their concerns for the community. In between the discussions with constituents, we were able to speak with several of the candidates (incumbent Mayor Kevin Millar, Patrick Cartwright, and Theresa Gossart – as well as incumbent Trustee Phoebe Morris).
In our discussions a consistent theme was mentioned – the Owego Police Department specifically and other public services more generally. This issue has been a focal point of Village elections going back some 30 years. It was a major issue for the Taxpayer First Party in 2015, when they were called the A Positive Change Party. Taxpayer First opposes maintaining the Police Department, and were instrumental in the decrease in the size of the police that at one point felt residents with only 12 hours of protection per day. Additionally, Taxpayer First (under their prior name) were involved in a scandalous controversy in March 2015 on providing potentially bias documents to voters just days before the election – a story we covered at the time.
We spoke with Owego Mayor Millar (who is up for re-election) about that scandal, as well as the recent lawsuit surrounding another survey promoted by Taxpayer First. In issues that more directly affect the residents of the Village, Mayor Millar discussed the challenges in dealing with the less than 1% cap on the budget. He highlighted several of the cost savings initiatives underway, including moving to solar energy for power generation, and LED lighting for Village streets. [See video Part 1]
“My primary objective is delivering critical services at a reasonable price. By critical services I mean Police Department, Fire Department primarily although DPW is also obviously critical.
… and a lot of the people in the Village want an intact Village.”
In speaking with candidate Patrick Cartwright, a first-time candidate for elected office, we covered what experience he had. The former member of law enforcement and fireman, noted his dedication to being a representative of the public. In addition he emphasized his belief in being involved in the process of civic governance, and the need to ensure the safety and security of the Village where he and his family have their home. [See video Part 1]
“I take an active role, I love my community, and you only live once. So you’ve got to be out there, got to do what’s needed, and move forward in life.
I think that anybody that’s in political office, especially when it’s a local election like the Village of Owego, needs to look at a long-term solution, not a short-term ‘what’s going to get me re-elected in 2 years’… if we keep looking at just the short-term, then we’re not going to have a long-term.”
Another first-time candidate is Theresa Gossart. A mother who first became involved in politics after seeing the concerns of her and her husband, like those of parents across New York and the nation, were being ignored with regard to Common Core. Her efforts, combined with families and teachers statewide, have led to changes being enacted by the Cuomo Administration. That on-going success, and concerns for the community, brought her to the Rebuild Owego Party and now her chance to be elected as Village of Owego Trustee. [See video Part 2]
“…According to the feasibility studies that I have read, it’s cheaper to keep the OP [Owego Police] than to consolidate services with the Sheriff’s Department…
I want to say thank you to the community for making it home for us.”
The last member of the Rebuild Owego Party that we were able to speak with was incumbent Trustee Phoebe Morris (who co-created the Party along with Mayor Millar in 2012). Though not up for re-election this year, she spent the night speaking with constituents and Party supporters. She shared with us some of the other initiatives she has been involved with. From the savings of the new LED streetlamps, to creation of housing for seniors, to efforts with the Fire Department, she shared with us the vision for the future of the Village of Owego that had many at the event excited. [See video Part 2]
“People this time around have asked me ‘why do you still have rebuild in the name?’ And I said, because we are not done… there’s rebuilding of our infrastructure that needs to be done. Rebuilding of our economy , there’s the rebuilding of our neighborhoods…”
Voters won’t have long to wait to make their choices. On March 15, 2016, the election of Trustees and the Mayor will take place. With just over 100 voters making the decision with their votes, the Village of Owego is a prime example of the old adage that all politics are local.