Nonpartisan forum: Amenia’s candidates

AMENIA — On Wednesday, Oct. 6, voters in the town of Amenia will have the opportunity to be introduced to those running for the two Town Board seats and the town supervisor position come Election Day, Nov. 2, at the nonpartisan Meet the Candidates forum sponsored by The Millerton News and moderated the League of Women Voters (LWV).

“The Millerton News, and its sister newspaper The Lakeville Journal in Connecticut, have been sponsoring Candidate Forums in the region for years, and are proud to do that with the League of Women Voters,” Janet Manko, publisher and editor in chief of the publications, said. “This kind of civic engagement, helping our communities understand their town government and those who serve as their representatives at every level, is core to our mission as a local community news source.”

According to Dare Thompson, recent president of the New York State LWV, the League, which is widely known for getting people to register to vote and become active in the political process, has sponsored and moderated debates and political forums for much of its 101-year history. 

“It grew out of suffrage… its goal is to educate voters… we started with the presidential debate,” said Thompson, who has belonged to the League since her 20s, and for nearly half of the New York chapter’s existence. “I always mention how old we are and this is what we’ve been doing all this time. That is our public value. If people don’t trust us, we really are worthless. All of us have opinions, we just put them aside. Our positions are fairly progressive; we believe in clean air and water, immigration reform, etc., and anybody who looks at that believes we’re all Democrats, and many of us are, but our behavior… we speak to each other in a fair way and we’re trying to protect that as best as we can.”

She said the LWV’s biggest goal is to remain transparent at all times.

“If the rules are laid out, and are all transparent, that’s the way people know it’s fair,” said Thompson. “I don’t know what else I can say… We’re almost boring in our effort to be fair.”

This year, in particular, Thompson said she’s been called to facilitate an incredible number of political forums in many more communities than normal — from Dutchess County to Ulster County to Sullivan County to Orange County. 

“I’m doing five nights in Orange County, I’m not doing all of them myself, but they’re coming of out the woodwork,” she said. “It’s odd, because Amenia we’ve never done, Stanfordville we’ve never done, Pine Plains — all of you in that corner — maybe it’s spreading because you talk to one another. We have a relationship with Pawling. But really, it makes no sense.”

The LWV gets a nominal $75 typically, as a token fee, to cover travel costs for its volunteers. It’s “not a good business model,” Thompson acknowledged, but the organization believes it serves a larger purpose: To provide a fair and open forum for candidates to present their platforms to voters. 

Thompson explained that when people first enter the auditorium on Oct. 6, they will be given index cards and pencils to write down their questions. None of the candidates are given questions ahead of the forum. 

“It is the responsibility of the LWV to review all questions, combine duplicate questions and eliminate questions that seem personal or mean spirited before the moderator begins,” explained Amenia forum volunteer organizer Kevin Gardiner. “I have attended several of these events and they are cordial and fair.”

“We take questions from the audience. I rarely insert a question,” Thompson said. “It’s very controlled, unpleasantly controlled.”

In the case of the Amenia event, it is not a debate, the candidates will not be arguing points against one another. With eight candidates in total, there won’t be time, said Thompson.

“It’s a timed event, usually a little over an hour, I think an hour-and-a-half,” she said. “Every once in while I feel things are petering out and then I end early. Everybody gets an opening and closing statement; when there are a lot of candidates there’s no time for questions. I know the development question is big. There’s no pretending I don’t know. Everybody knows it. I might allow a little extra time for that.”

The candidates running for the two open Town Board seats, currently held by Councilmembers James Morris and Michele Somogyi (who lost in the June 22 Amenia Republican Primary), are: Morris, who is seeking his second term; Brad Rebillard, who is running on the newly-created independent party line, Amenia Strong, as well as on the Republican ticket; Jamie Vitiello, who is running on the Amenia Strong Party line; Leo Blackman, who is running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines; Katherine Lee, who is running on the Democratic Party line; and former Democrat Stacy Mantel, who is running on the Working Families Party line. 

Incumbent Republican town Supervisor Victoria Perotti, also running on the Conservative line, is seeking her fifth term in office. Perotti is being challenged by political newcomer Julie Doran, who is running on the Amenia Strong ticket; Doran lost to Perotti in the town’s Republican Primary. 

The 7 p.m. Meet the Candidates night is being held in the auditorium at Webutuck High School on Haight Road in Amenia, which can seat between 300 to 500 people. 

There are COVID safety restrictions for all school buildings that will need to be followed, including social distancing of 3 feet within the room. Face masks are also required by all who attend the forum.

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