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Tough questions asked at Amenia’s Meet the Candidates forum night

AMENIA — When faced with this year’s candidates for Town Board and town supervisor, about 100 people from the community asked their future leaders thought-provoking questions at the Meet the Candidates forum on Wednesday, Oct. 6.

Sponsored by The Millerton News and moderated by the League of Women Voters of the Mid-Hudson region, the event was held in the Webutuck High School gymnasium. Attendees were given one card each to fill out to submit questions for the candidates, which were then asked by the League moderator Jolanda Jansen.

Following opening remarks by Millerton News Publisher Janet Manko, Dare Thompson of the League outlined the format for the evening and thanked everyone for their participation. Douglas Thompson from the League served as timekeeper.

The first 60 minutes of the event was given to the candidates for two Town Board seats, five of whom were there; Working Families candidate Stacy Mantel was absent due to personal reasons. The candidates introduced themselves, spoke of their experience in the community, their priorities and their hopes for the future.

Democrat Leo Blackman prioritized wastewater and affordable housing while Amenia Strong Republican candidate Brad Rebillard spoke about his Amenia roots and wanting to apply his experience in a new capacity.

Democrat Katherine Lee shared her goal to create a connected community while incumbent Republican Councilman James Morris said he wanted to use his experience and background as a lawyer to serve the town.

Amenia Strong candidate Jamie Vitiello said he wanted to bring compassion, competence and common sense to local government.

Once everyone had been introduced, Jansen proceeded with the first question.

“How will you improve communication between the Town Board and the people of Amenia?”

Each candidate shared their own frustration with the issue when they approached the mic; four of the five voiced their interest in making the Town Board more accessible while Morris said he felt communication has been “pretty good.”

They were then asked how they planned to address the wastewater issue. The answers  shed a light on their approaches to solving the long-standing issue, especially from the candidates who have made wastewater a key component in their campaign.

In a five-part question, candidates were asked if they were going to hold the luxury housing development, Silo Ridge Field Club, responsible to pay its fair share of property taxes and how they planned to address similar taxation issues in the future. This was a polarizing issue, with some candidates and audience members feeling strongly Silo Ridge residents are not paying their fair share, and that the lawsuits currently in the Dutchess County courts on this issue prove that. Amenia Strong candidates defended Silo Ridge’s approach and made the case for mutual cooperation.

Candidates were then asked how they will foster community collaboration. Vitiello stressed addressing the “isms” in the community and brought up a statement Blackman previously made that “the only crime in Amenia is incest,” sparking an outcry from the audience. After responding, Blackman explained the context of his “bad joke” and said he didn’t think he was “unworthy” to run for office based on that.

Borrowing the phrase “loose lips sink ships,” Rebillard said, “You can’t go into the community and say things like that… you can’t give you personal opinion as a member of this board.”

Following the closing remarks for the Town Board candidates, the two candidates running for town supervisor — incumbent Republican and Conservative  candidate Victoria Perotti and newcomer and Amenia Strong candidate Julie Doran — took to the stage.

Asked what she would do differently if elected, Doran said she’d bring transparency to the position and strong communication, while Perotti said the only thing to be done differently is the 2022 town budget. It would be under the tax cap, she said.

“We feel like we’re on a good path going forward in the town of Amenia,” Perotti said.

In what Doran later ascribed as “a vibrant exchange,” she and Perotti took turns answering questions, which asked how much money the Silo Ridge lawsuit has cost Amenia so far (about $100,00); how the town can start raising money and awareness for important causes; how they planned to solve current workforce housing issues; and how they plan to address the town’s wastewater needs.

There was a video taken of the event, which will air on Amenia TV, Channel 22 at various times daily up to the election. It is also available any time at youtube.com/ameniatv.

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