New mayor, officials for Watkins
WATKINS GLEN--Four years ago, Mark Swinnerton and Scott Gibson began their respective terms as mayor and trustee of the village of Watkins Glen. They, along with the board, addressed the the community issues they identified as important for the village. They set in motion a plan for a joint wastewater treatment plant with Montour Falls and also took a stance against the proposed liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage project in Reading. In January, the duo announced they would each run for the other's seat in the March election, with Gibson aiming to be mayor and Swinnerton running for trustee.
Last Wednesday, March 18, the voters had different ideas in the village election. Both incumbents were voted out of office. Gibson was defeated by Democratic challenger for mayor Samuel Schimizzi, with 231 votes to Gibson's 205. Richard Scuteri had a total of 34 votes.
Swinnerton, in turn, was edged out by a single vote in a five-way race for two open trustee seats. Democrats Gary Schmidt and Kevin Thornton were named the victors with 303 and 226 votes respectively. Swinnerton received 225 votes, while Robert Mahoney and Eric Johnston received 55 votes and 42 votes respectively.
Connie Fern Miller also became the new village justice with 260 votes, beating out Keith Caslin and Michael Nyre with 157 and 62 votes respectively.
"We had a complete team," Schimizzi said. "We ran on one ticket, with everybody on the same line, so it definitely helped. Everybody campaigned so everybody helped each other. [...] It was a team effort."
Schimizzi said while he wished more village residents voted in the election, he plans on addressing community infrastructure issues when he and the trustees officially take office April 6. He said one of the focuses of the new board will be to look at the regional wastewater treatment plant project with the village of Montour Falls to see if it is really the best option for village taxpayers going forward.
During a special meeting held Monday, March 23, the old board sat down with the new board to get them caught up on several projects and issues the village is facing. The board also appointed Rick Evans as trustee to replace Trustee Paul Clifford, who resigned his position earlier in the month due to the fact he is moving out of the village. Swinnerton said Evans was selected so the village could have a quorum, as he and Gibson will be out of town in the upcoming weeks. When the new board officially takes office April 6, they can choose to either keep Evans or select someone else to take his place.
While Gibson said the political side of him congratulates his opponents on their victory and wishes the new board good luck in their future, he describes the election as a "colossal disappointment."
"I was absolutely shocked," Gibson said. "Our board had a great run. [...] We bit off a lot in our four years."
Swinnerton added he was also "very disappointed," saying there were a lot of different projects he wanted to keep working on as part of the village board.
"The public voted to go in a different direction," Swinnerton said.
Both Gibson and Swinnerton expressed concerns about the regional wastewater treatment plant, which Swinnerton said was "less than a year away" from the groundbreaking. Swinnerton called it "the single biggest project to come to Schuyler County in the last 30 years," and said he was concerned about his opponents' stance on both the sewer plant and the accompanying rate increase it would bring. Gibson called the plant "a once in a lifetime opportunity," adding "why anyone wouldn't want [the existing plant] off the waterfront is a head-scratcher."
Gibson said if there was any flaw in their campaign, it was that he and Swinnerton "ran on [their] record," adding the challengers were able to drum up support by conducting a grassroots campaign going door-to- door. Both Swinnerton and Gibson also attributed the loss to a low voter turnout.
"Our base just didn't come out to the polls," Gibson said.
While Gibson said nothing is yet official, he mentioned he and Swinnerton have talked about potentially running for seats on the Watkins Glen school board in the future. However, Swinnerton added it is still too soon to tell, saying for now he plans to help ease the transition period and spend more time with his family.
In Odessa, Mayor Keith T. Pierce, Deputy Mayor Shawn Crane and Trustee Robin Thoman were all reelected. There were 21 total votes cast.