Nelsonville Mayoral Candidates: What I Will Do

Bill O’Neill, in his first term as mayor of Nelsonville, is being challenged by Trustee Chris Caccamise, who was appointed to the Village Board in August to fill a vacancy. Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong asked the candidates to answer five questions; their responses are below. The term for the position is two years. The polls at Nelsonville Village Hall at 258 Main St. will be open from noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19.

Caccamise and O’Neill

Why do you want to be mayor?

Caccamise: There are many things that I want to accomplish. First: I hope to improve communication, transparency and trust to encourage more participation by our constituents. I hope our residents will see the powerful skill set we represent in confronting challenges now facing our village. This includes the cellphone tower lawsuit. Second, we need better communication with Philipstown, and to work more closely with our partners there to find a solution to our cell tower ordeal. We need to also draw on the experience and knowledge of our Philipstown officials and residents, who have a memory of decision-making in local government and issues affecting our village. Third, we need to update our village’s comprehensive plan, the key to making many much-needed improvements. This includes working toward establishing a municipal sewer and addressing the snow parking situation. This plan will be key to deciding what we want Nelsonville to be.

O’Neill: I’m seeking re-election for the same reasons I’ve served the village for the past 30 years. Nelsonville is a great place to live. I want to preserve its character yet foster its ability to grow and adapt sensibly. As Planning Board head, I stopped a 150-plus unit condo project, allowing instead construction of 12 quality single-family homes. Some 15 years ago I also signed off on the zoning code that allowed the Zoning Board of Appeals to block the Rockledge cell tower. In my first days as mayor I focused on quality of life and traffic safety, the most important issue. Our streets are a mix of state, county, town and village roads. I immediately reached out to these government entities to assemble a team to address traffic safety. A state plan is underway to make changes that will stretch all the way to Route 9. At my request, the sheriff has increased patrols. We all love Nelsonville, whether born here or a “newcomer,” but there are monsters underground. Our dense housing relies on septic systems — many of them extremely old. A time bomb is ticking. Our water system is also a mess, put together haphazardly, another pending disaster. I addressed this issue, despite pushback from some in the village.

What strengths and experience do you bring?

Caccamise: Direct communication, openness, hard work, tenacity and patience. I have honed these skills throughout my professional life. I have taught grades from pre-K through college level and understand deeply the importance of active listening and learning to solve problems. I have run a successful small business and know how to manage people and budgets respectfully and responsibly. I worked many years as a carpenter and contractor, in contact with people who improve infrastructure on a daily basis, giving me an understanding of how a village works. My many experiences make me a deeply honest, open, and communicative leader who can listen to all perspectives and make measured decisions for our village.

O’Neill: I’m honest and straightforward. Relationships are based on trust. I have built productive relationships with many government entities and others like Central Hudson who work with me for the benefit of the village. With our small budget we need partners to share the work. My executive experience is also relevant. I’ve managed teams of men and women in five continents. My goal is to promote Nelsonville as a great place to live whatever your ethnicity. In the aftermath of the vile anti-Semitic crime, involving graffiti scrawled at a property, under my leadership Nelsonville had its first joint Christmas tree and menorah lighting ceremony.

What should be done with the village-owned, 4-acre lot on Secor Street?

Caccamise: It should be protected for the residents who live there and for the children who use these trails daily to walk to school. At the moment, this lot is vulnerable for future sale to development, which is a shortsighted vision of our village. Like many residents, I’d like to preserve the natural beauty of our village. I believe a partnership with the Open Space Institute is a good option. This would secure a conservation easement for the Secor parcel. The village has had a long and very beneficial relationship with OSI; our Nelsonville Woods and the very character of our village were preserved by a conservation easement with OSI. In a partnership with OSI, Nelsonville continues to be the rightful owner of the land while protecting the parcel from commercial development. It doesn’t just benefit residents on Secor; it benefits the entire character of our village.

O’Neill: First is to resolve, if possible, the constitutional issue vis-à-vis the easement so that we can consider options: (1) the easement if OSI is still interested; (2) doing nothing with the property but defining it as a village preserve; (3) creating a rural-style parking lot for residents and hikers with possible fees; (4) drilling wells to supply village water; (5) selling the property for single-family homes protected by covenants. Unfortunately, the sale option is becoming more important than ever because we may be facing huge legal bills and might need to use the proceeds.

The proposed conservation easement addition begins at the edge of Secor Street. (File photo by L.S. Armstrong)

Does Nelsonville need to improve relationships with Cold Spring and Philipstown? If so, what steps would you take?

Caccamise: Nelsonville is a village with a fiercely independent spirit. We are different from Cold Spring and Philipstown and we don’t want to sacrifice our independence to their governance, but we should be able to communicate with them in an open, measured and non-combative way.

O’Neill: I was elected to serve and defend the interests of the village. Sometimes that puts you in a conflict with other interests. I met with the Cold Spring Village Board on our sewer issue. They need to repair their infrastructure; we need a sewer (their treatment plant is at only 45 percent of capacity). Working together we get far larger grants than separately. Philipstown’s interests and Nelsonville’s rarely intersect. The cell tower issue was an exception. I’ve participated in their recent meetings for the Philipstown comprehensive plan. In addition, I passed a resolution, with my board, supporting their pursuit of a grant which rewards municipal cooperation. My relationship with the Philipstown Highway Department is excellent.

Why should voters pick you over your opponent?

Caccamise: My running for mayor reflects the hard work we have done as a team on the board of Nelsonville. We have a number of serious challenges and the leadership needs a reset on our relationship to constituents and neighbors. We need a responsive mayor who can answer the needs of residents who have been here for generations as well as those who have just joined us. I’m inspired by residents, old and new alike, who encouraged me to run. I am truly humbled and proud of our community and care about its future.

O’Neill: Voters should elect me based on my record. I have many critical projects underway and I’ll work full-time to complete them. I doubt my opponent can handle them. Chris is being used by Trustee Michael Bowman and the Secor candidates for trustee, Lisa Mechaley and Dove Pedlosky. If he loses to me and this coalition defeats Trustee Alan Potts, they still have the votes to enact the OSI easement.

2 Responses to "Nelsonville Mayoral Candidates: What I Will Do"

  1. Chris Caccamise   March 11, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    I am a standing Trustee of the Village of Nelsonville. I am running for mayor because in my time on the board I have witnessed conduct by the incumbent that is unbecoming a mayor or a civic leader of any sort. This problem is much larger than just the cell tower issue, where a lot of discussion has been centered in this election. In reality, the cell tower debate has provided a window onto the bigger dilemma of current mayoral leadership — and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m running because Nelsonville needs good governance all around, and I can provide it.

    I stepped forward to serve when former Trustee Robertson resigned. I felt compelled to do so because I love this village and my community, and I want to preserve and protect Nelsonville for all of us. What I’ve seen while serving compels me to run for mayor.

    The incumbent has been in office for one term, having run unopposed. In this short period of time, he has conducted himself in a dictatorial fashion, not as a first among equals. He has concentrated power, making unilateral decisions, limiting the flow of information among the trustees and restricting our access to the village attorney, on whose counsel the entire board relies. He has treated his colleagues and the public with disdain and disrespect. When it comes to leadership in a small community — and anywhere, really — temperament matters.

    I have spent my career in education and the arts. Much of my work required community organizing. So does village leadership. I know that leaders need to actively listen, allow information to flow readily, and build consensus. A leader must also be open to constructive criticism and have a thick skin. To do all that, a leader needs to start from the position that neighbors have good intentions and have value to add to discussions and problem solving. I will work from that position as your mayor, and I will conduct myself and board business calmly, professionally and methodically. I will welcome the smart, spirited participation that makes our village great.

    Much as has been made by the incumbent about the full-time nature of the job of mayor. There is no question that the job requires a great deal of time and dedication. But let’s consider the history of Nelsonville. It’s a small village. It has always been run by mayors and trustees who have jobs and families. There is no reason it can’t be still if managed properly. A responsible mayor doesn’t concentrate power — he builds a leadership team that is fully informed and engaged, empowered and prepared to take on governing responsibilities — to contribute to the steering of the ship from their own wells of expertise. Yes, the buck stops with the mayor. And I’m prepared to make the hard decisions that must be made, on every issue from budgeting to sewers to parking, as well as cell towers. But I will make them after public and trustee input and clear, rational consideration. I will be accountable to my constituents.

    I want to be a mayor Nelsonville can be proud of and confident in. Please vote for me on Tuesday, March 19. Polls are open from noon to 9 p.m. at Village Hall, 258 Main St.

  2. Bill O'Neill   March 11, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    I appointed Chris to the board six months ago because I wanted new neighbors represented, but he was a disappointment. Meeting after meeting he sat quietly, never offering any perspectives whatsoever. Perhaps my supposed dictatorial style intimidated him. If so, my apologies. I assigned him one task: recruit local artists to display their work in our Village office, a pet project of mine. His recommendation was that the village should pay the artists. Trustee Bowman and Chris believe I exist in some alternate reality. Perhaps so. In my world artists usually pay for display space, not the other way round.

    Chris mentioned in his comment that I wouldn’t let board members call our attorney. I asked Trustee Bowman to run the OSI easement by our attorney. He failed to do so, so I did it. At every step of the way I briefed the board about our lawsuits. At a board meeting, I stated that no settlement would be agreed to without unanimous board approval and public affirmation through public hearings.

    Chris says he doesn’t believe the mayor’s job is full-time. How much time is Chris willing and able to give to the village? I will defer to his superior management skills, which are undoubtedly better than mine, having only managed multi-ethnic teams in five continents.