It wasn’t the huge scene of a month ago, but when Olive Republicans came out to the town meeting hall in Shokan to caucus last week, they also pulled a larger crowd than they’d gathered for any political event in years.
Unlike the Democratic Caucus, however, there was little if any suspense throughout the evening; everyone was able to fit into the room despite its SRO levels of participation, and there were no major challenges to the slate the Olive GOP came up with to face off against the Democrats, who will have dominated town politics for 30-some years come November.
Candidates given the nod on Monday night, July 29 included current councilman Pete Friedel for town supervisor, Craig Grazier and Scott Kelder for town council, Herb Dixon for highway superintendent, and Sharon Wood for town clerk.
Friedel, who was the biggest vote-getter by a large margin during his 2007 and 2011 runs, would vacate his seat, to be filled by appointment or special election should he win. The supervisor candidate will be facing current town clerk Sylvia Rozzelle, who has been in office for 31 years, and who gained the Democratic nod for the supervisor’s race after drawing a large crowd of backers to her side.
Longstanding supervisor Bert Leifeld, a Democrat who served on the town board for several terms before becoming supervisor in the late 1980s, announced earlier this year that he was stepping back from his many years of service
Grazier, who came in third after a spirited run for the same seat four years ago, is well-liked by all in town, seen as a hard worker. Kelder has been a manager at Pro Build for over 20 years and is an Olive native whose family has been active in Olive for centuries. They will be facing off against the Democrats’ new board candidates Jim Sofranko and Drew Boggess, the town’s planning board chairman, for positions currently held by Democrats Bruce LaMonda, who is retiring, and Linda Burkhardt, who was not renominated by her party last month.
Dixon is a contractor who has worked local construction jobs for years; his highway superintendent run will be against incumbent Jimmy Fugel, seeking his third term.
Wood works at the Bennett School after working for the county for years. She will be running against long-term court clerk Dawn Giuditta, hand-picked by Rozzelle as her successor.
Olive Matters activist
“I’ve actually been contemplating running for supervisor for a full two years now,” Friedel said this week. “They told me in 2011 that Bert would have been difficult to beat, but looking back now I think I should have run.”
Two years ago, Leifeld beat his Republican challenger, Cindy Johansen, 776 to 737, while Friedel won reelection with a total of 920 votes.
Friedel is an Onteora graduate who received a degree in managerial sciences at SUNY Cortland and worked for Standard Register for years before being downsized just before retirement, starting his own business, then beginning work this last year for Advanced Auto. His wife, Michelle, was an Onteora School Board trustee and the couple has two boys, age 17 and 19. He has been a member of the Olive Fire Department, for which he still serves as a volunteer, since he was 16, and was a major force in local scouting, Little League and flag football for many years. He first came to political attention as a key activist in Olive Matters, the local group that came together to protest “large parcel” tax changes activated by the local school district for a year.
“I remember setting up at Olive Day with my dad and hearing one of our elected town officials telling me how, if you want to be involved, you have to tell people what they want to hear and then do what you have to do,” he recalled. “I decided to run right then, for judge my first time, and am still running now for the reasons I had then — right now we definitely need new in the town. There are many things that need to be done.”
Friedel talked about how Rozzelle, who he characterized as Leifeld’s “puppet master for the past 31 years,” still isn’t computer-literate and insisting on microfilming all town records.
“We’ve had no transparency…and look at how the town board acted during Irene. We had a plan for everyone to go to the firehouse and no one showed up. And they haven’t completed their training in such things since,” he continued. “I like home rule…there’s too much grant writing without realizing that for everything you get there are strings attached. We have to get this town back on track and all these Democrats want is bigger government and bigger control by the government.”
Friedel said he and his fellow GOP slate look forward to campaigning in the coming months, including any Meet The candidate events that might arise.