Philipstown Campaign 2011: Candidate Profiles

November 5, 2011

Richard Shea, an incumbent Democrat, is seeking reelection to a second term as Town Supervisor

(Editor’s note: Lee Erickson was offered a similar opportunity and never responded.)

By Kevin E. Foley

When it is suggested that when you compare his bio to his opponent’s –father, small-business owner, life-long roots in the community — and further that if you ran their photos side by side they could be related, Richard Shea laughs and readily concedes the point. But he doesn’t let the impression of rough biographical equivalence settle for too long over a conversation about his qualifications and record as Philipstown Town Supervisor and the justification for his re-election.

Shea sees a “stark contrast” between himself and his Republican challenger Lee Erickson and wastes no time in getting to what he sees as the fundamental differences in their approach to governance. “First, he said in the [Putnam County News and Recorder-PCNR] debate that we need to work more with the county and that we don’t work enough with the county. I had been at a meeting with the county that morning. I spent pretty much 10 days straight with the county executive after Hurricane Irene. We have never worked closer with the county than we have this year. We are also working right now to try and get them to partner with us on the Butterfield site,” said Shea.

Zeroing in on the county theme, Shea references Erickson’s contention that the town government should work more closely with Mary Ellen Odell, whom Shea quickly points out is only a candidate for county executive. “She came up with this idea for bringing in [to Philipstown] a pharmaceutical company with 1,400 employees. Now that statement [in support] alone should disqualify you to be town supervisor,” he said. Shea ran through a quick community calculation scenario estimating that with half the employees living in the town at even less than one child per family it could mean over 560 children for the school system. “We’d have to build a new school, what would that do to taxes? Where would we put a building that could house that many employees to work?” Shea asked rhetorically, before going on to ask where the housing for so many new families would be constructed and what the traffic and environmental impact would be. “This is exactly what the [new] zoning is intended to avoid. He said he [Erickson] would support the zoning plan but in order to have a plan for so many new jobs you would have to make a colossal change in the zoning,” said Shea.

Shea also takes umbrage at Erickson labeling him a “career politician.” Spreading his arms and pausing, then laughing derisively, he asked, “this is a career? It’s not a career.” Shea contends his opponent uses buzzwords about jobs and freedom and career politicians as if he were running a campaign for a national office and as a distraction from the issues affecting the town. “He’s completely unqualified to be supervisor, he could not step into the job. Who is going to train him? There are a lot of things I learned under Bill Mazzuca during my eight years on the Town Board that led me to become supervisor,” he said. [CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO OF SHEA ON HIS CAMPAIGN]

Budget Work Key to Job
Shea is insistent about the centrality of detailed budget knowledge to the job of supervisor and he is proud of his mastery of the arcane state rules and budget categories. He describes the supervisor as the chief financial officer of the town. “He is saying I [Erickson] am going to step in and take charge of an $8.8 million budget, having no real knowledge of how the budget functions, having only attended two or three budget workshops. It took a long time for me to get up to speed on how the budget operates. It’s complicated. You make a mistake on the budget, you pay dearly and ultimately the taxpayers have to pay,” said Shea. Much has already been said and written about the issues of the town’s dirt roads and the controversy over the efficacy of the volunteer and tax-base supported emergency services. Here are some of Shea’s observations from a budget perspective.

He wants over the long-term to leverage the town’s bonding capacity to fund the out-sourcing of town road building projects, such as possible paving and other construction work, to contractors, while having the highway department focus on neglected routine maintenance of the roads. He said for the next year there are obvious projects involving continuing efforts to repair damage from both Irene and the recent snowstorm. And he is confident of recovering much of the town’s hurricane damage expense from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “You can only do so much in a year,“ Shea said. “I think we have good plans in place.” But he insisted that his opponents were wrong to badmouth the idea of having a citizen-based committee to study the road issue in greater detail. “It’s always better to have people inside the tent than outside. Otherwise you set the stage for lawsuits and adversarial relationships.”

Always effusive in his praise of the people who volunteer in the emergency services, Shea stresses that $2.1 million the town spends on the services is 25 percent of the budget. “The firefighters are annoyed because they thought the Town Board came into an area where we didn’t belong. But if we’re all having an honest discussion, we’re looking at this from a fundamental standpoint; there’s money being spent and there are safety concerns. We want to make sure everybody’s safe. Does anybody honestly think I am out to ruin the emergency services or that I don’t want everyone to be safe? Because if you think that, you’re wrong,” Shea said.

Tourism Key to Economy
“I am not doing the job because I am on a power trip and certainly not for the money.” (Shea pointed out that he is paid $25,000 while, according to him, the next lowest supervisor salary in the county is in Putnam Valley at $80,000.) “I am doing this job because I love this town. There’s a legacy here, a whole history in this town of good managers, good stewards and when you take on the job you take on all the responsibility of the work that’s been done up until your tenure. And you want to leave the town in as good or better condition as when you came into office. So far I have been able to that. We’re not going to let the people down; we’re not going to watch the town become something it shouldn’t be. When you look around at what’s happening in other towns you realize we have to protect the environment. The environment is the reason people come here; tourists come because it is a nice place. If you suddenly do things that jeopardize that or make it undesirable to be here, your No. 1 business is going to disappear. Most of the money that gets spent here, for construction, real estate, retail, comes from tourists visiting and some of them wanting to live here or have weekend homes here,” he said.

“I think the new zoning plan also creates new opportunity for small businesses by giving business people confidence in our plans and intent to protect the environment,” he added.

Shea also spoke of special projects important to him, among them creating a Hudson Fjord Trail that would ultimately connect points from Cold Spring all the way to Beacon. For now he wants to get started on a walking trail from Dockside to the Breakneck Ridge area along the riverside of the Metro-North railway. “Breakneck is the No. 1 day-hike in America and there’s no facilities for bathrooms, drinking water, eating or walking to the hiking trails. People walk along [Route] 9D and I know the state Department of Transportation realizes that’s a dangerous situation,” he said. Shea envisions working with state agencies and Metro-North cooperatively to get a flat, paved, fenced-in trail for walking, biking, fishing and just contemplating the river. He also hopes to see some simple amenities situated at Dockside for refreshment and maybe entertainment. “It’s completely doable and I want to work on it in the coming year,” he said.

The other initiative on Shea’s 2012 agenda is working with senior citizens. They should benefit, he said, from plans to establish a handicap-accessible community center at the old Butterfield Hospital with kitchen facilities to provide hot lunches and other programs. “I really want to see what we can do on this in the next year.”
Photo and video by K.E.Foley

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