BALLSTON SPA – If enough registered voters can be persuaded to participate in elections on Tuesday, March 21, a trio of Democrats think they have a decent chance to modernize government in this village.
Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano, however, is as content with the village’s political order as he is confident in the qualifications of the Republicans in the race.
On March 5, village residents Elizabeth Kormos and Sander Bonvell invited three aspiring Democrats into their home on Hyde Boulevard for a “meet the candidates” forum, offering snacks and refreshments and a cozy place to exchange ideas with about 20 voters.
Kormos explained that she is “really impressed” by Democrats Erika Tebbens, Noah Shaw and Shawn Raymond. “None of them are politicians,” she said.
According to Kormos, a real estate and health care consultant, most village meetings in Ballston Spa lack productive or interactive discussions, which she said could change if voters approved of all three Democrats.
“The village has got to move into this century,” Kormos said.
Shaw’s campaign literature boasts of his legal experience at the federal and state levels. He is general counsel for the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority. Shaw has teamed up with Raymond, a civil engineer, in the hopes of filling two village trustee seats.
Tebbens is a mother of one and a small business owner, whose main government experience involves testimony she gave last year to the U.S. Congress regarding nutritional assistance for military families. She moved to Ballston Spa from Seattle almost 10 years ago with her husband Chris, a U.S. Navy veteran.
Tebbens is vying to unseat incumbent Village Justice Michael Morrissey.
“We fell hard and fast in love with Ballston Spa,” Shaw told those gathered in Kormos’s living room, gesturing toward his wife and son in the dining area. Shaw said he wants to “bring some new energy and new perspectives” to village government.
Raymond, who ran for a village trustee position in 2015 but lost by roughly 60 votes, was active in the Smart Growth Ballston group that opposed construction of a local Wal-Mart. He told voters at the forum that his main goals are to preserve Ballston Spa’s historic character and advocate for improvements to village infrastructure.
Above all, Raymond said, village officials need to ensure more “transparency” in their proceedings and improve how “constituent voices” are heard.
Both Shaw and Raymond expressed appreciation for Mayor Romano’s proven commitment to public service. But they also claimed that officials need to upgrade the village website as a means to better inform residents.
Republicans have long controlled government in Ballston Spa, home to about 5,500 people. According to Romano, the village has approximately 4,200 registered voters, though less than one-third participated in the last election two years ago.
Romano first ran for mayor in 1995. The mayor and four trustees make up the Village Board, and each position has four-year terms.
In the course of knocking on doors to seek support from voters, all three Democrats said, residents appeared to be unaware that there was a village election on March 21.
Eleanor Dillon, chairwoman of the Town of Milton Democratic Committee, said she was “very disappointed” that there are no signs announcing the election at the Union or Eagle Matt Lee fire stations—historically, Ballston Spa’s only two polling locations.
“Our two firehouses are non-political,” responded Romano. He explained that the proper announcements have been published in the media, and that there are numerous signs in the village informing voters of the upcoming election.
Romano lamented how the media was not giving attention to Morrissey and the other two Republicans in the race: Bruce Couture, a former Milton councilman; and current trustee Ron Henry, who was previously appointed by Romano to fill a vacancy.
When asked about the concerns raised by the Democrats relating to transparency and technology, the mayor doubted the effectiveness of computers and smartphones to aid in the process of governing in Ballston Spa.
“In a small village, residents see their elected officials all over the place,” Romano said. “Most residents, honestly, prefer the personal contact.”
For more than 20 years, during the summer months, Romano has held official Village Board meetings in the backyards of Ballston Spa residents. He said that practice “brings you back to the roots of the democratic process.”
Moreover, Romano said, partisan politics should not cloud the judgment of any local leaders. He said municipal government is about “everybody working together in a spirit of cooperation, not confrontation.”