In anticipation of the Tuesday (Nov. 2) election, we interviewed the two candidates seeking to represent District 1, which includes Philipstown and parts of Putnam Valley, in the Putnam County Legislature. The term is three years.
Nancy Montgomery, the first-term incumbent, is the only Democrat on the nine-member Legislature. She is being challenged by Barbara Scuccimarra, a two-term Republican legislator whom she defeated in 2018. The candidates were interviewed separately at The Current offices in Cold Spring on Friday (Oct. 22). Their responses have been edited for brevity. The candidates are presented in alphabetical order.
Why do you want to continue serving in the Putnam County Legislature?
I’ve been asked to serve and I’ve stepped up to honor the people who I represent. Their wishes are for me to run again and that’s why I’m running. I love what I do. I wake up every day and I’m grateful that I get to do this job and that the people put me here. I want to finish the work that I started, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. From the day I arrived on the Legislature — and this is why I want to continue — I’ve been asking the hard questions: Where is our money going? Why are our public services deficient? And are we including the towns and villages in the process?
What do you wish you’d done differently during your term, if anything?
Really, nothing. I started out in good faith with communicating and in following the guidelines of the Legislature and Robert’s Rules of Order [the parliamentary procedures source]. And it wasn’t long before I realized I was getting shut down and stifled and told to shut up and told that my comments or questions were stupid. So, you know, I dug my feet in and stood my ground. I wouldn’t do any of that differently. There were moments certainly where I had my back up against the wall for way too long. And I may have reacted — and I probably wish I hadn’t. But I think the public appreciates the firm ground that I stand on.
What should the relationship be between the Legislature and county executive?
We should be checking everything the county executive does: any expenditure, any initiative, any new program. The Legislature should have a hand in approving any hires. We should do our due diligence to make sure that that person is qualified and has the credentials. We know from experience that hasn’t always been the case. In our Planning Department we should have a certified planner. Our health commissioner is not qualified and doesn’t have the credentials to be health commissioner. He’s been given a variance; he’s been given an extension on acquiring the credentials. I think the deadline has come and gone. I continue to ask for that information from the county executive; it continues to be ignored. So I think the Legislature should not just rubber-stamp everything the county executive puts forward. In my experience that is, overall, what seems to happen.
I think the Legislature, in order to be fair to the people that it represents, needs to ask more hard questions of the county executive. Why during an austerity budget did they approve a 20 percent raise for the transportation manager [Vinny Tamagna]? And why is he getting another raise this year? The rationale was that he was working on an MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] study. Well, that’s a one-time stipend; it should not have been rolled into a salary and the county executive allowed that to happen and the Legislature approved it.
The Legislature needs to be more persistent about knowing what’s going on. The horses [at Tilly Foster farm] were taken away from us and we didn’t even hear about it. We read about it in the newspaper. I just discovered yesterday that there are two new horses. What happened to the [first] horses? Where’s the vet bill? What’s the transportation bill for taking the horses to where they went? We’ve never received a report. The Legislature is not being persistent about checking that out with the county executive’s office. I’ve asked the county executive and those responsible for the horses to appear at a Physical Services Committee meeting. That’s gone ignored. That’s just one example of many. I’ve asked for the ethics committee report, I’ve asked for the IDA [Industrial Development Agency board member] resumes and conflict statements — I would think that the rest of the Legislature would want to know that information before approving those.
We need some checks and balances. That’s what democracy is about; that’s what our government’s about.
Should the Legislature do more in initiating laws and policies?
I don’t know necessarily that we should be initiating those laws. But we should certainly be doing more about checking them out and not just rubber-stamping, for example, all of the county charter revisions. A clear example of how democracy is getting chipped away is the change in the date for the approval for the legislative clerk [from Jan. 1 to December]. That’s a great example of how they’re chipping away at representation [because with the new date, a lame-duck member could vote on the appointment].
What would be your three priorities starting in January?
If I had more of a voice on the various committees, that could make a lot of difference for the people I represent. I’m on the Economic Development Committee. And every year, I request — and justify my request with a resume of why I’m qualified — to serve on more committees. I have EMT training, I have emergency response and preparedness training directly from FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]. I’ve served as the liaison to the [Philipstown] Planning Board and been trained at Pace [University] Land Use Law Center. As the minority [party] leader, I should have a seat on every committee. The people I serve are fed up with the Legislature and the administration taking District 1 for granted and treating our critical issues with disdain. This is demonstrated in the way I’m treated by my colleagues. If you look at the requests I’ve made of the county executive and how they’re mostly ignored, it’s evident there’s a bias against the western side of Putnam. So it makes it even more important to pursue the work of equal representation. That’s what we jeopardize if I don’t get reelected. My competitor is giving me unsolicited advice about how I should stay quiet and go along to get along. I think the voters see my role differently. I voice their concerns and they know I’m a voice for them and the voice of reason.
We are pushing through a $167 million budget. In that budget is an increase in spending of 2.3 percent. Since 2020, Putnam County’s revenue has exceeded its expenses by more than $38 million. That’s revenue. Some of it is sales tax, property tax; it’s different revenue streams that we didn’t spend. The county is raising taxes by $1.1 million this year. Why are we raising taxes during this time when people have lost their jobs, businesses are struggling and no other surrounding county is raising taxes? Dutchess County is lowering taxes. We need to get that spending under control. I see a budget of increasing salaries for highly paid officials. I’d like to see the county be a leader for creating upward mobility paths for young employees who can learn and be interested in public service. The gap between salaries of elected and appointed officials and those of frontline employees is astounding. We cannot argue that higher salaries are necessary to attract talent and then hand off jobs to underqualified friends and family.
So it’s a budget of increasing salaries and decreasing services. We’ve cut public safety. That’s a big concern. If you listen to the last committee meeting for the budget [on Oct. 19] you’ll hear me making a last-ditch plea for reinstating the sergeant’s position to the [sheriff’s] civil unit and reinstating the marine unit and advocating funds for the Philipstown [Behavioral Health] Hub. We’re in desperate need on this side of the county of mental health services. I asked again to put money back into the budget for the [Cold Spring tourism-related] trash collection. Our local dispatchers are overworked, which I think puts residents at risk. We entered the pandemic without an epidemiologist. We cut that. You don’t need to be a Republican or a Conservative to be alarmed by how your tax money is spent. Salaries go up, services go down.
In good faith with the Climate Smart Initiative that I created in the town and on the county level, I wanted to bring the Complete Streets Policy to the county. I invited the transportation manager to that [session]. And I presented a wonderful policy that just mirrored the Dutchess County policy. Instead of adopting that and getting [New York State] credit for Climate Smart so we can become certified, the transportation manager and the county executive threw it in the garbage and drew up some resolution that was filled with empty promises.
We need to work on a renewed commitment from the county to the towns and villages. The county controls the purse strings for the funds we need for infrastructure, emergency services, public safety, senior and youth programs, arts and culture, tourism management and community health. You can’t keep taking our sales tax revenue and our property tax revenue and not giving us anything in return. You can’t keep grabbing that.
Any related concerns?
Open government. I’m a big fan of transparency and accountability. We’ve just touched the surface of pulling back the curtain on county government. There’s this trend of meeting behind closed doors [when the Republicans hold a party caucus before a public meeting]. I know it’s legal, but it’s not a good idea. And it’s keeping the public out of the governmental process and me, their representative, out of it. It’s so obvious that [legislative action] is rehearsed. It’s ready to go before they come out of that [caucus] room. I’ve been astounded at the response I’ve received from individual voters as well as civic associations. In every town, people are so thankful to finally have a representative asking questions and standing for what’s right. The more people learn, the more they question. I’m trying to make the legislative chambers feel like a place the public can ask questions and feel comfortable advocating for themselves. And the public only sees what comes out of the county executive’s office because she holds the communication strings. I’m not allowed to put anything on the [county] website. So what the public sees is press releases that are filled with smoke and mirrors.
Why do you want to serve again?
I loved my job — going out and knocking on doors, which I’ve been doing since the end of July, and connecting with people again, has been wonderful. Tiring, but a wonderful experience. It reminds me why I got into politics to begin with, because I love the people.
You’ve already had experience as a legislator. What do you wish, if anything, you’d done differently on the job?
There are a few things I would have liked to have passed, like the plastic bag ban that I tried so hard to get adopted and dealing with plastic waste in our environment. Then again, the state came through on plastic bags. But I always felt that bringing initiatives to the county Legislature, even though there is talk of the state doing it, puts our voice out there. That’s why I did it with Tobacco 21 [to prohibit the purchase of tobacco products by anyone younger than 21]. We all thought the state would eventually pass this, but we didn’t know when. I felt it was important that Putnam County show the state that we have a voice. Another thing I would have liked to have accomplished while I was in office was targeting vaping. I passed T-21 and the synthetic drug law, but I wanted to concentrate on the vaping epidemic in Putnam schools — educating teenagers on the dangers of vaping, the health and addiction risks. Also, there’s the money for [collecting tourism-related Cold Spring] garbage. I was able to secure $7,500 every year but was unable to convince the Legislature to raise it to $10,000.
It’s a process. It took me six years to get the Philipstown senior center through. I started when I first got into the Legislature, and it is a process. But it’s a good process. And we have checks and balances. We want to make sure everything that comes through comes through right, so there’s no regrets. So that was important. But I feel like I had a very successful six years. I can’t say specifically what I would have done differently. It’s a learning curve. When you first get in you sit and listen, you gather information and then you start to work.
And it’s not just a monthly meeting. Legislators also attend all committee meetings.
Exactly, exactly. And there’s going to Town Board meetings in Putnam Valley and Philipstown. I prided myself on going to just about every one. Then you have the phone calls from constituents, which is, surprisingly, my favorite thing: getting a call from somebody who needs advice, or needs help getting something done, or has a complaint about a neighbor, or says, “I need help with this.” That’s when you connect, as I did, going door to door. It connects to people and you hear their voice. That was important to me.
What should the relationship be between the Legislature and the county executive?
It’s two different branches of government but people don’t realize that they’re equal. And there’s nine legislators. So it’s checks and balances. But you need good relationships to get anything accomplished. You need five votes in the Legislature. And it always helps to have the county executive; you don’t always have her nod, but it’s good to discuss it with all, get a consensus and move forward.
What would be your three priorities starting in January?
Let’s see. Butterfield, the senior center: There’s so many possibilities for that space. And now that it’s been there for a few years and we realize parking is not that big of an issue anymore, I would like to bring over some county services: social services, DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] on a rotating basis for simple stuff. We can handle that. A women’s resource center. People who are being abused or have family problems don’t want to drive 20 miles [to Carmel]. They want to make a call and go in the side door and get counseling. If it’s in the village, they can walk in discreetly. Veterans’ services. I know we have a veterans’ club on Cedar Street. But I think Karl Rohde from the county [Veterans Service Agency] could send somebody over to help seniors with problems with the VA [federal Department of Veterans Affairs], with this, with that. That would be excellent.
The other thing I’m dying to work on is a light between the Butterfield Senior Center and Chestnut Ridge [senior housing across the street]. I have seen, firsthand, an accident almost happen. I was driving south. There was an aide pushing someone in a wheelchair, trying to get across before the crosswalk, which is dangerous. Even if it was in the crosswalk, it would have been problematic. So I stopped. He started to go forward. Someone came around me to pass. It was like, really? I would advocate that it be one of the lights that you push and it turns red only when someone is on the sidewalk [at the crosswalk]. People have wheelchairs, people have walkers. Yes, the county would pick them up and bring them over [in a vehicle]. But they don’t want to bother with that. They don’t want to make a call. Route 9D is a state road, so it’s a battle, but I’m ready for it. Like I said, you need five votes. I would do a resolution the second day I was there, and I know I would get support from my colleagues.
Then there’s the [three-face traffic] light over on Fishkill Road at Route 9. There’s one side that doesn’t have a light. Come on: it’s only common sense [to add one]. New York State can configure it a little better.
Have you filed your campaign spending statement with the state, after an apparent delay?
Yes! I would have brought my material here. My son is my treasurer. He’s nice enough to do it for me. I made a quick call and said: “What are you doing?” He said: “Oh, sorry.” So he got on it. It’s only sloppy bookkeeping on my part. It’s nothing.
My record speaks for itself. I had six successful years on the Legislature. I had four successful years on the Philipstown Town Board. I’ve lived in this community for — I hate to say this — 50 years. I came from Putnam Valley, not that far away. Tom [a retired judge] and I will be married 50 years this year. But Putnam Valley means a lot to me, too. And my family is still there. I lost my brother two years ago; his wife and children still live in Putnam Valley. It’s just over the mountain, but I feel like it’s home. So being able to represent even a small part of Putnam Valley is really super for me.
There’s so much work to be done. I can do the work and I can get it accomplished because I know how to negotiate. I know how to sit down and not compromise with everyone, but get my feelings across. And I have a relationship with that Legislature. Like I said, it takes five votes.
The world is so upside down. Now everybody is at each other — red and blue, red and blue. I’m tired of hearing that. Let’s work together as a community and get things done — work together as a county. One of my visions before was to get the villages, the town, the Legislature, the county executive, all at a table at a regular basis. It hasn’t happened in a long time. There’s been frictions between the Town Board and the village, the county and the village, trying to convince them to sit and talk. Let’s go around and talk to all of the towns in the county. We need to. That’s my vision. I would really like to see that.
The election is only a week away. I intend to keep knocking on doors right up till the end, even with early voting, to get my message out that I’m ready to work for my community and work together with everyone to get things done, like I have in the past. [After the 2018 election] I had a couple of years to think. It’s funny: The first year, I took it hard, losing. No one wants to lose. But I said: “OK, Tom’s retired from the bench — at age 70 they kick you off, which is right — so that’s OK. I have two granddaughters. I’m ready.” But then, you know, Nancy has not been able to get things done. And maybe it’s her personality or the way she approaches things. But I want to get things done for my community — work hard and get it done.
Do you think if there were a Republican in the seat, things would be different?
I’ve heard that argument a lot. Sam Oliverio, a Democrat, was on the Legislature for 18 years and had no trouble. It’s how you approach things and how you treat people. But on Election Day, whatever happens, you know, it’s the will of the people.
Questions for Candidates: Cold Spring Village Board (2-year terms)
Questions for Candidates: Cold Spring Village Board (1-year term)
Questions for Candidates: Cold Spring Mayor
Questions for Candidates: Philipstown Town Board
Questions for Candidates: Putnam County Legislature (District 1)
Questions for Candidates: Putnam County Sheriff
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