Grassroots democracy in Highland

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 7/1/21

ELDRED, NY — A red coffee canister passed from hand to hand. Shouts and interruptions rang from the crowd. Grassroots democracy was in full vigor at the Town of Highland Democratic caucus.

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Grassroots democracy in Highland

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ELDRED, NY — A red coffee canister passed from hand to hand. Shouts and interruptions rang from the crowd. Grassroots democracy was in full vigor at the Town of Highland Democratic caucus.

The caucus, held to nominate Democratic candidates to run in November’s general election, happened in a ballroom at the Eldred Preserve on the evening of June 23. Over 100 people attended, with Jim Gutekunst and Andy Boyar arranging and leading the meeting as chairman and secretary respectively.

It was an “outrageous turnout,” Gutekunst said. “It’s good for democracy.”

The caucus began with uncontested nominations. Sue Hoffman, the now-appointed town clerk, was nominated to run for town clerk. Kathryn Sweeny and Thomas Ebers, current town justice and highway superintendent, were nominated to run again for their positions. All three nominations were uncontested, and Boyar cast a single vote for each, confirming their candidacies.

With preliminary business settled, the caucus came to its two contested positions: the candidacies for town council member and town supervisor.

Three people were nominated for the two open candidacies for the town council. Kaitlin Haas, a current council member, was nominated together with Chris Tambini and Laura Burrell.

Complaints were heard from the crowd at the nominations of Tambini and Kaitlin Haas, neither of whom were registered Democrats. But Boyar reminded attendees of caucus rules, rules governed by state election laws, which allow any citizen of Highland to be nominated regardless of party affiliation.

“This is not unusual with an open caucus,” said Boyar. “We do have cross-endorsement.”

Voting happened in two rounds—one for the council members, one for the supervisor. Ballots were handed out to participating attendees—118 for the first round, a few less for the second—and an emptied coffee canister was passed around for their collection.

Burrell and Kaitlin Haas won the candidacies for town council. Pizzolato won the candidacy for town supervisor.

“Just know that I’m an open door at all times,” said Pizzolato. “Anything you guys want to see done... come to me at any time.”

For a more detailed account of the caucus is available online at www.riverreporter.com/news.

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