Philipstown Campaign 2011: Candidate Profiles

Barbara Scuccimarra is a Republican incumbent seeking re-election to the Town board after serving one four-year term in office

Community roots and background
Four decades ago, Barbara Scuccimarra found a house and a community in Philipstown. Four years ago, she won her first term as a member of the Philipstown Town Board. Now seeking re-election, the experienced horsewoman, wife, mother, florist, and South Mountain Pass resident says she wants to remain in office because she has so much more to give. “I like what I do,” she said in an interview last Tuesday, Oct. 18. “I like working for the town.” That said, she acknowledged, “it’s hard because you can’t make everybody happy. And I think you have to realize that before you go in. You have to go with your instincts.”

Originally from PutnamValley, Scuccimarra went to high school in Peekskill, met Thomas Scuccimarra there, married him and came to Philipstown a few years later. Caring for two young children while Thomas, now a judge for the New York State Court of Claims, got established, she put her own career and further education plans on hold. Eventually, an interest in horticulture prompted her to take classes at the New  Garden and that in turn led to a profession as a florist – while also acquiring horse and stable management skills. (Her menagerie consists of four Chihuahuas, a parrot, and a donkey – though she laughs that the latter is not a very Republican symbol.) For a dozen years, she put her botany and business talents to work at Carolyn’s Flower Shoppe on Main Street in Cold Spring, before diverging to wedding planning – and, in time, elective office.

Her first campaign, though, involved Thomas’ successful effort to win election as Philipstown justice, about 25 years ago. “That’s really how I got involved in politics, helping him,” she said. She herself ran for office in 1993 and lost. Fourteen years later, encouraged by Putnam County District 1 Legislator Vincent Tamagna, she ran again and won.

Zoning issues
As a novice councilor – or Town Board member – she soon got thrown into a complex subject, helping the Zoning Advisory Committee prepare the town’s first rezoning draft in May 2008. For 14 months, the issue didn’t draw much attention, but in summer 2009 a major controversy erupted over the second draft. After nearly two more years of controversy, meetings, and revisions, the Town Board passed a new zoning code this past May. “The zoning was a big accomplishment,” Scuccimarra said. However, she considers that work unfinished and has been involved in drafting provisions to add a historic-preservation overlay district.

“That’s definitely a goal” for her second term, she said. The historic overlay district itself has become controversial. Critics view it as a way to benefit the present owners of Castle Rock, the old Osborn “fairy tale” castle above Route 9D. The historic overlay “is not just about the castle,” Scuccimarra said. “It’s about all the historic properties in Philipstown.” Furthermore, “it all ties into tourism,” she added. “I think it [tourism] is an important resource we haven’t tapped.” Other hard work awaits the Town Board after the election as well, she pointed out.

Budgets and court consolidation
“The budget is always a challenge” but the task is harder than ever given the state cap of two percent on property tax increases and the need to deal with town employee pensions, health care and benefits, Scuccimarra said. “I want to take care of our employees,” who often have chosen to work for relatively modest salaries in return for benefits, she said. At the same time, she emphasized, the town must be a good financial steward.

She sees potential cost savings in government efficiency, including possible consolidation or better sharing of services. “I really want to consolidate the courts,” she said. At present, Philipstown, Cold Spring, and Nelsonville all operate their own justice courts. “If we don’t do it soon, it’s probably going to be a mandate” from New York State, she added. A proposed local government complex at Butterfield could house a combined court system and likewise would make a good place for an improved town hall, she said, listing inadequate office space, computer facilities, and public meeting rooms at the existing, 19th-century town headquarters.

Dirt road debate
To deal with dirt roads, Scuccimarra advocates a measured approach. “I live on a dirt road. I love the look of a dirt road, but parts of it wash out every rain storm,” she said. “I think paving should be done where the grade is more than 15 percent. It’s just not economical to keep it dirt. If we could do these critical spots, I think we could see significant savings in the highway department budget.” Contrary to some perceptions, a dirt road “is not really environmentally better,” she explained. With run-off from storms, “it fills up the wetlands and the wetlands cannot do their job.” However, she said she wants to see such roads as Old Albany Post Road and Indian Brook Road, which date back far into the past, kept intact as much as possible “because of their historic significance.”

She also expressed interest in furthering the town’s storm-water management program and conducting a town-wide bio-diversity study. Before joining the Town Board, she said, she undertook a bio-diversity study in North Highlands in conjunction with the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, Audubon Constitution Marsh Center, and Hudsonia, a non-profit, environmental education institute. “It’s fascinating,” she said. “We have a lot of endangered species in this area.”

Currently the lone Republican on the Town Board Scuccimarra said that while she sometimes disagrees with her colleagues, she considers it important to work together amicably. As an example of differences, she cited the way the town approached fire department and emergency services issues. “I think we should’ve brought all the parties together” first, to explain the reasons for looking into fire department questions, she said. Instead, acrimony ensued “and we’re still trying to fix it.”

Asked to cite her specific strengths, as an office-holder, Scuccimarra mentioned an “ability to communicate” and get everyone to calmly find solutions to problems. And in terms of a singular, individual accomplishment in the last four years, she said, “it’s hard to pick out. You work as a board. You work for the benefit of the town. Ninety percent of the time we’re on the same page.”

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