By David Doonan, Mayor of the Village of Greenwich, New York

Being a public elected official was never a recurring dream that haunted my sleep. While interested in politics and current affairs, in recent years the interest was more an intellectual exercise than an active pursuit. That began to change after listening to a talk in Glens Falls, New York by Ralph Nader in May 2007.

David Doonan with Ralph Nader

David Doonan with Ralph Nader

I sat in the audience as. Nader spoke at length about the need for citizen involvement at the local level. He talked about the example his parents set and told us to attend local government meetings to ensure our elected officials were acting responsibly. But when he said, “I’m going to tell you a Chinese proverb that you’ll never forget,” I rolled my eyes and silently said, “yeah, right.” Instead that proverb: “Those who know, and don’t do, don’t know,” struck home and continued to haunt me for weeks, until I finally decided to accept the challenge and run for office. 

The Village of Greenwich in Washington County is where I’ve lived for the past 17 years. Located about 50 miles north of the state capital Albany, it has a population of 1,900 and is located within the boundaries of two different towns; the more developed portion lies within the Town of Greenwich (population 5,000) and the less developed lies within the Town of Easton (population 2260) on the other side of the Battenkill River. Washington County has no four-lane roads, no enclosed shopping malls, no big box stores, no movie theatres and no television or radio stations, or even a daily newspaper. It wasn’t until the 1980 census that the human population surpassed the bovine population. In other words, the Village of Green wich, NY has nothing in common with Greenwich Village in New York City.

There were four positions I could have run for, Town Supervisor, Town Coun cilor, Village Mayor or Village Trustee. Ultimately my decision was made for me when the Village Mayor was quoted as saying that decisions are easier to make when the public isn’t present.

Village elections in Greenwich have been officially non-partisan for the past 20 years. But in New York State Village elections, non-partisan can be a misleading term. In essence, it means that one has the choice of running for office under the party to which you’re registered or one can run under the name of a non-existing party, pretending that the actual state recognized party system doesn’t exist. For instance, in the nearby town of White Creek, a local Democrat has been twice elected to office on the Woodpecker Party. When choosing a non-partisan party name, candidates must be careful that they don’t pick the same name as their opponents. That happened in this election when three candidates choose to run on the Greenwich Party; the public saw them as a slate, which they weren’t. Finally, to make matters even more confusing, if a candidate chooses to run non-partisan but does not write a party name on the petitions, then by State law, the village clerk has to assign a party name. 

I could have run as a Green. But instead I decided to run a non-partisan campaign. Most residents were upset at how the local government has been run and I knew they were looking for someone who would provide answers and a direction. For most voters, partisan politics was purely a secondary concern at best. My original intention was to run on a slate with one Demo crat and one Republican, but I ended up with two Democrats. Why did I choose to run on a slate? Quite simply, I was hoping to influence who would end up serving on the board with me. 

chose the name “Open Government” for our slate. However I did not hide my affiliation with the Green Party. At the initial volunteers meeting I made it very clear how committed to the Green Party I was (and still am). Every time I went door-to-door, my Green Party button was worn prominently and the local press repeatedly mentioned my membership in both the Green Party and the Industrial Work ers of the World. Many lifelong Re publicans who had probably never voted for a Democrat, told me that they were not only going to be voting for me, but that their entire families would be as well.

This was a very winnable race—one neighbor described the general attitude as “throw the bums out.” However, I decided not to run against the then current administration, but to put forward a positive message and attempt to provide realistic solutions for improving the community. 

Real estate was among the issues facing the community. Six years ago the Village Board secretly voted to purchase the largest piece of commercial property in the Village, the site of a former IGA food store. Today it still sits empty. Also our Village Hall is on the National Register of His toric Places by the United States Department of the Interior, but has been allowed to deteriorate since its purchase 40 years ago. The building lacks handicapped access and bricks are literally falling out of the buildings exterior walls. The Fire Depart ment is housed in the Village Hall, and is only allowed to operate because of very sympathetic inspectors.

James “Kim” Gannon, who wrote the words to the 1943 American classic “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” left a bequest together with his wife of $750,000 to be used for the youth of the Village. A commission of community members spent countless hours conducting surveys and interviews to determine the best way to go forward. A report was submitted to the Village Board, which said ‘thank you’ and promptly put it in a drawer. It was only during this past March 2008 that the community finally saw something tangible happen, half a decade since the Village received the bequest.

The costs for a new firehouse, rehabilitating Village Hall, and repairing or replacing the Village Water Tower, are expensive propositions, which is why none of the previous administrations dealt with them. Before beginning to actively campaign, I met with a local administrator of the Rural Communities Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get a handle on what types of grants and low interest loans might be available. I also attended a monthly meeting of the fire department, not just to put myself forward, but also to listen to them. 

In the 17 years we’ve lived in Greenwich, there have only been two contested elections for Trustee positions; the Mayor was never challenged. This year there were two of us running for Mayor and six candidates running for two open Trustee positions. 

While two weeklies and a bi-weekly serve our community, the daily papers in nearby Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls ignored the election. Because of the lack of daily coverage and the absence of a League of Women Voters willing to organize a de  bate, I decided to get the ball rolling on a candidate’s forum. I proposed a format to the high school principal and the rest of the candidates, which they all agreed to.

In essence, meeting with the USDA, an aide to our local congresswoman, the fire department and organizing a candidate’s forum, I was acting as if I were already in office.

For my campaign I held an open house to kick off the ballot petitioning and three supporters hosted “meet the candidate’ events. Greenwich requires 50 signatures to be listed on the ballot for village elections. The final weekend was spent going door-to-door. Money was donated by the state and national Green Party, as well as by the Greenwich Democrat Committee (my wife is vice president of the committee) and used to purchase advertisements in the local weeklies, lawn signs and palm & post cards. I also created a campaign web site from which I linked videos of the campaign forum.

Throughout the course of the month-long campaign, I tried to focus on three main issues: 1) Resolving the IGA property, determining the site of a new Fire House and repair of the Village Hall. 2) Seeking additional revenue streams to finance the above without burdening the taxpayers. 3) Opening up the government, allowing citizens a voice in shaping our community’s future.

On Election Day, March 18th, it was pretty strange walking into the voting booth and seeing my name on the ballot. When the votes were counted, our slate swept the results, with myself receiving 74 percent of the votes for Mayor.

To their credit, the outgoing administration received offers from two real estate brokers in January interested in purchasing the former IGA property, but decided to put off the matter until after the election. Unlike the secret decision to purchase the property six years ago, at the first Board Meeting I presided over, both brokers made presentations in public session. Rather than acting upon either offer, the Board decided to seek an independent appraisal of the property at my urging before proceeding. 

David Doonan holding office as Greenwich Mayor

David Doonan holding office as Greenwich Mayor

Three other items of note also happened at our first meeting. The meeting was videotaped for the first time, as will be all future board meetings, in anticipation of being uploaded to a future Village web site. Second, I submitted a written Mayor’s report of my activities. The Mayor is a public servant. Since the heads of the police, fire and public works departments are required to issue written reports, then so should the Mayor. It was a simple and effective way of demonstrating my desire to be held accountable for my actions. Thirdly, when the Trustees were given their committee assignments, I assigned them a list of tasks to accomplish. I wanted it clear to everyone that the new administration was not going to be a one-person show; that everyone had a voice.

Since the election, the number of people who have stepped forward to volunteer their time or offer constructive suggestions has been remarkable. While I have ultimate responsibility for the Village, I see my primary role as being that of a facilitator, finding a way to harness the energy of our citizens to improve the community. 

What I am attempting to do in this little corner of the world is to build an environment in which grassroots democracy can take root and flourish.

An interview with friction.tv can be found at: www.daviddoonan.com

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Dave Lussier Misses New York County Election by Only 11 Votes
Mark Dunlea, Green Party of New York State

Dave Lussier, the Green Party candidate for Albany County Legislature (7th District) in New York, narrowly missed an opportunity to become one of only three Greens in 2007 elected in a partisan election. (In many states, only state and federal offices are partisan i.e., where candidates ran with party affiliation on the ballot. However in New York State, municipal and county elections are also partisan, making such elections even more challenging for local Greens).

On election night, Lussier held a 5-vote lead, 531 to 526, against the Dem o cratic challenger, Brian Scavo. But Scavo eventually won by eleven votes when paper and absentee ballots were counted. However, several ballots showed clear evidence of election fraud by Scavo (his handwriting showed he personally filled out ballots and misspelled the word “vacation” on two). But it wasn’t sufficient to overturn the election results.

Lussier, 31, is getting his Masters in Urban Studies. “One of the reasons for our success was that people are starting to grasp the importance of environmental issues. Global warming is part of it but they responded to issues like recycling, more bike paths and green energy. We gave them concrete examples of how green values could translate into beneficial action for their community,” Lussier said.

The 7th District spanned four different neighborhoods. Lussier won 3 of them, carrying the working class, student, and middle-class African-American areas. Scavo won the fourth, older white homeowners who voted against the city schools and property taxes, even though that isn’t the responsibility of the County Legislature.

Two years ago, Lussier pulled more than 30% of the vote, finishing second in a four-way partisan race for Albany City Council, District 11. This high vote is significant as Albany is the home of the most successful Democratic machine in the US, with a record of electoral success outstripping that of Chicago.

A former vice-chair of his local neighborhood association, Lussier works in construction. He handed out tulips to voters as part of his neighborhood beautification efforts. “Dealing with the problem of abandoned buildings in Albany has always been a top priority,” said Lussier. “I want them fixed up and put back into the hands of local residents who are invested in building a better community. The county also needs to do more to promote health care for all as a way to control Medicaid costs, and ensure a living wage to all county workers.” He added, “This campaign highlights that every vote does indeed count. I want to thank every voter in this election who made time to participate.”

Scavo’s track record of harassment of local residents, particularly young women, became a big issue during his campaign; many neighborhood leaders and even some Democratic party officials decided to back the Greens. The local alternative newspaper the Metroland ran exposs on Scavo and endorsed Lussier, stating “Lussier might be a little bright-eyed but there is no doubt that Lussier is the best man for the job. Lussier wants to ensure people have a reason to live in Albany County, and deal with the county’s abandoned-buildings problem. Plus, Lussier shines when compared to his Democratic opponent Brian Scavo. Two years ago when running for Albany Common Council, Scavo invited our then-news editor, Miriam Axel-Lute, on a date during an interview. But besides his questionable behavior, Scavo has campaigned on issues such as fixing Albany schools and reducing crime that he would have no control over as a county legislator. Lussier is quite simply the only choice on election day in the 7th District.”

Peter LaVenia, co-chair of the Green Party of New York State, remarked Lussier’s campaign was one the best organized in New York. They had a strong doorknocking campaign to do voter identification, and spent a lot of time making sure the information was kept up to date in a computer database. They had a target goal of 500 votes and managed to bring in a few more, as the turnout was unusually high. Throughout the afternoon and evening volunteers were checking the voting lists at the polling places and going door to door to make sure Lussier’s voters got out. Neighborhood residents were running out of their houses at 8 p.m. to ask the Green volunteers, “Hey, do you know if my neighbor has voted yet? Otherwise, I’ll go get him for you.”

“The door-to-door work was key. The machine takes too many voters for granted. We fell just short, but we showed that it is possible to beat the Democrats in Albany. Their air of invincibility is gone and it means that progressives can’t get away any longer arguing they agree with the Greens on the issues but can’t support us because we can’t win,” added Lussier.

Lussier had also been one of the founding members of the Green House movement in Albany, where young people lived together in a house and took on neighborhood projects such as distributing food, cleaning up vacant lots and opposing large corporate developments that would evict existing residents. Lussier’s new project is building snow people protestors throughout the neighborhood. “Snowmen and women have rights too,” he noted. “They have been out protesting global warming and no wars for oil. Snow people are a fun way to get people’s attention.”

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