Community leadership in the Highland supervisor’s race

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 10/27/21

HIGHLAND, NY — The Town of Highland supervisor’s race pits Jeffery Haas, incumbent and candidate on the Republican and Conservative lines, against John Pizzolato, a challenger candidate …

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Community leadership in the Highland supervisor’s race

Posted

HIGHLAND, NY — The Town of Highland supervisor’s race pits Jeffery Haas, incumbent and candidate on the Republican and Conservative lines, against John Pizzolato, a challenger candidate running on the Democratic line and on the newly founded Lifting Neighbors Party line.

Haas has served as Highland’s supervisor since 2015, and on the town’s council before that; Pizzolato serves currently as the chair of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway and as the co-founder and president of the Barryville Farmers’ Market.

While the candidates differ in their backgrounds and in their political stances, they share a commitment to community service and to the well-being of the Town of Highland.

The challenger

Pizzolato was instilled with a call to community service from a very young age, he says. His mother worked at the United Way, and involved him and his siblings with a number of non-profit service organizations through that role.

The ideals of community service inform the work Pizzolato does as chairman of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. In working with the scenic byway, Pizzolato says, he can identify in what ways the needs of the river communities are the same and how they can collaboratively look after their residents, second-home owners and visitors alike.

Collaboration between communities is something he hopes to bring to Highland’s town government. Currently, he says, other towns and hamlets within Sullivan County see themselves as part of a cohesive whole and take a county approach when dealing with shared issues, in ways that Highland does not.

“I definitely don’t want to do anything to disrupt the character of Highland,” says Pizzolato. “But I do think that we can get better.”

The town can offer more services to residents, vets and senior citizens, says Pizzolato, services that could make it a better place to retire to or in which to raise a family. The town could also provide incentives to bring small businesses to the area, he adds, revitalizing unused buildings and engaging the town’s workforce.

The business perspective is one Pizzolato fully understands, with the Stickett Inn as the latest of a number of businesses he has run. “When you build something yourself, you’re a lot more empathetic to other people’s needs,” says Pizzolato. “I just feel uniquely qualified to understand what it takes to sort of be on your own and educate yourself in the world.”

But Pizzolato isn’t running to represent the town’s newcomers or business interests, he says, but to find a way for everyone to talk to each other more, to consider the town as a big-tent community where everyone can get involved. “I want to be there for everybody.”

The incumbent

Haas, Highland’s current supervisor and Pizzolato’s competition in the race, approaches service to the town from a different angle. He has lived in Highland his whole life, and he’s the third generation of his family to run the Yulan Service Station, the oldest family-run operation in town.

But Haas has a similar focus on the importance of community. “I try to keep myself abreast of all the issues in the community,” he says. “I’ll go anywhere and do anything.”

Part of Haas’ community involvement comes through service with Highland’s emergency services. He’s been the president of the fire department for 20 years, he says, and has a pulse on how all the town’s emergency services function.

Haas cites that that kind of experience together with the incident-command training received through the fire department as having helped him guide the town through emergency situations as they arise.

In 2018, Haas says, there were storms in March that knocked out the town’s power for nine days, and closed all of Highland’s roads. He ran the town’s Emergency Operations Center with town board member and daughter-in-law Kaitlin Haas for the duration, declaring a state of emergency that kept the town’s residents safe until the National Guard could show up.

Three months later, Haas declared another state of emergency when sheer winds blew through and closed the roads again. “We were another island, again,” he recalls. But the town made it through.

Throughout it all, Haas says, he has tried to keep in touch with the different members of his community, and with the different service branches that keep the Town of Highland running.

“You gotta remember you’re elected by the people, for the people, and that’s who you’re supposed to serve,” says Haas.

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