Dan Hust (left) Jeanne Sager (right)| Democrat
Callicoon Supervisor candidate Bruce Ferguson, left, and Incumbent Supervisor Tom Bose, are gearing up for the election.
Two reluctant politicians tangle
Bruce Ferguson hopes for new era in town
By Dan Hust
CALLICOON CENTER Like many a local, running for political office wasn’t always on Bruce Ferguson’s mind.
“It was not something I particularly intended to do,” he acknowledged.
Even as a participant in County Legislator David Sager’s bid for the State Senate and other local campaigns, Ferguson didn’t aspire to public office himself.
But as deadlines to announce candidacies neared, he saw a need for someone to run for the seat currently held by Callicoon Supervisor Tom Bose.
“So I stepped forward,” he recalled.
Unanticipated as it may be, that’s in line with his roles as both a noted volunteer and passionate activist in several efforts.
Born and raised in a similar nature-rich section of New York State, Ferguson grew up loving the outdoors but eventually found work in Manhattan.
There he became an Emmy-nominated TV news editor, but upon retiring circa 2006, he “made a beeline” for Sullivan County, where he’d had a home for two decades.
Since then, he’s gotten involved in volunteer efforts, including founding Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and Farmhearts, and serving on the board of the Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development.
He’s also inched ever closer to self-sufficiency, now raising fruits, vegetables, chickens, pigs and bees on his 56 acres above Callicoon Center.
“I’m always on the go,” the 63-year-old admitted. “I’m a workaholic.”
But why take on the challenge of leading the Town of Callicoon?
“I think our town board should be seeking public involvement,” he explained. “I would like to see meetings where ideas are vigorously debated.”
Instead, he said, Callicoon Town Board meetings have too often shut the public out at least those who might question the board majority.
“There’s a perception rightly or wrongly that politics in our town is a tough game,” explained Ferguson, who says potential businesses have been reluctant to move into the township because of its “petty politics.”
Ferguson, too, is unhappy with decisions (or the lack thereof) made by town leaders.
He listed several examples:
• Youngsville resident Linda Babicz, who’s now running for a spot on the town board and will chair a flooding response committee if Ferguson is elected, was Callicoon’s supervisor from 2008 to 2010.
During that tumultuous time, the rest of the board, recalled Ferguson, “were pretty mean-spirited and divisive. I felt she was being treated with great disrespect.”
• Also during that time, over $300,000 in state funds for a solar array to power the town hall and barn were rejected for reasons Ferguson said he still doesn’t understand. (Some board members at the time claimed it was due to the project’s costs, though Babicz remained in favor of proceeding.)
“The defeat of the solar system,” said Ferguson, “made the town look very backward and silly.”
• Under the current administration, the Hessinger Building in Callicoon Center was torn down, despite Ferguson’s attempts to save portions of the historic structure.
“Before they opened the bid on the demolition, I said I’d disassemble the building at no cost to the town,” he recalled. “But they insisted on spending $20,000 of taxpayers’ money and putting it into the Dumpster.”
• Getting the board to agree to a town website and to accept a state reimbursement to shore up a floodwall in Youngsville ideas other towns would eagerly embrace “was like pulling teeth,” said Ferguson.
• Some part-time board members collect health benefits costing the town over $8,000 a year, despite these members having full-time employment elsewhere.
• An April 2010 survey of town inhabitants did not include renters or residents of the Village of Jeffersonville, he remarked, accusing the board of holding a secret meeting on it.
“I would begin with a new survey and would make damn sure it reflected the wishes of residents,” he promised.
In particular, he’d rewrite a vague question asking people about their thoughts on gas drilling in the town.
Ferguson doesn’t think drilling is imminent in Callicoon, but he said he wants the town’s rules and regulations including its comprehensive plan and zoning to reflect the wishes of the residents.
The 2010 survey indicated that many residents would prefer drilling never come to the township, at least in its present fracking form. Indeed, only one landowner has so far signed a drilling lease in the township.
“I don’t think one percent of the people in this town will sign leases,” he predicted, adding that fracking “would have a devastating effect on our economy.”
Ferguson himself has spent much of his time over the last three years researching the issue, as he’s one of the founders of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy a non-profit that has advocated against fracking at the local, county, state and even federal levels.
And with the public’s support, he’s willing to explore methods to ensure the drilling industry does no harm in Callicoon.
Besides, he’s certain there’s opportunities for job growth in other industries.
“It’s not like there’s no alternative to fracking,” he said.
He hopes to attract more “green” jobs and grant funding to the area and to promote farming as a profession that sustains both the home and the community. A creamery and an increased focus on providing food to the New York City area are part of that vision.
He also plans to have an open-door policy that permeates Callicoon.
“I want an inclusive, vibrant town government that invites people in,” he says. “... We should be trying to attract people to this town.”
To that end, he promises to hold monthly stakeholder meetings in addition to the town board gatherings, in order to gain dialogue with and solutions from constituents. He also wants to expand the website and regularly send a newsletter and e-mail updates to all residents.
Ferguson is running on both the Democratic and Rural Heritage lines, the latter a new line meant to signify his and his running mates’ commitment to agriculture and Callicoon’s rural character.
And he’s ready to fight for what he believes.
“I’m not someone to be bullied or shut up,” he remarks. “... Frankly, I’m very thick-skinned. If you need to be liked, you’re really pretty powerless.”
Lest some think otherwise, he’s not about keeping Callicoon as it is from broadband to agritourism to nonpartisan communication, Ferguson is eager to embrace positive change.
“Our town has not had a real change, it’s safe to say, in decades,” he assessed. “It’s high time we had one.”
Bose hates politics, loves his community
By Jeanne Sager
YOUNGSVILLE Ask Tom Bose why he wanted to get into politics, and the Town of Callicoon supervisor’s answer might surprise you.
“I didn’t,” he says with a rueful smile. “I hate politics.”
So why is the incumbent running for the supervisor seat yet again? Why has he spent 14-some years in town government? It’s not to be a politician, Bose says. It’s to help his community.
“I want to do this because I live here,” he says simply. “I initially wanted to get involved because no one in our town government had any experience with agriculture.”
That meant accepting a role on the town’s planning board back in the 1990s, followed by a decade-long stint on the town board as a councilman. It turned into a successful run for supervisor two years ago, the Youngsville farmer says, because, “I enjoyed a challenge, and I enjoy helping people with their problems.”
Although he’s running on the Republican ticket, Bose says his tenure has been marked by a time spent working with a bipartisan board that has worked together to “make the best informed decisions for the whole town.
“Our town is like many others facing difficult times, tumultuous times,” he continues. “But I like the way we’re going as a board. We’ve approached this very hands on. People think of a councilperson as coming to a board meeting once a month, and that’s not the way it works here. I like to think the board has approached this as a business: hard work, smart business, common sense.”
That sense of teamwork at the offices in Jeffersonville is what keeps Bose coming back to town government. “I run and preside over meetings, but I’m 20 percent of the board. I’m one vote,” he explains.
Teamwork is how he stays out of politics and focuses instead on bringing what his personal strengths to the town. A lifelong resident of the township, Bose was raised in Youngsville and graduated from Jeff-Youngsville Central School. He left the area for college but felt the pull of home drawing him back. Here he married with Debbie and the couple raised two children while Tom threw himself into the community working his way through the ranks of the Youngsville Fire Department over a 32-year span as volunteer. Bose ran his own trucking business before deciding to take over his family farm from dad Sonny in 1986.
That business sense is one he believes is crucial for the supervisor of the Town of Callicoon.
“Nobody wants taxes to go up, including myself, but you can’t get blood from a stone,” he notes. “You have to have good planning and management. I approach this the same way I have always in my business.”
One of his chief examples is the board working in tandem with Town Highway Superintendent Kris Scullion to keep one of the largest and most visible areas of town expenses running smoothly and efficiently. The board has been able to keep up a program that trades out old equipment for new in order to maintain efficiency without having to borrow money because of smart planning, Bose says.
Planning similar to that his office has employed in the entire town budget process. Although the public sees the budget workshops and approval over just a few months, for Bose it’s a 12-month-process, always keeping revenues and expenses in check.
Running for re-election, for Bose, isn’t about politics. It’s a way to continue what he’s started, because, as he says, he lives here. And when he’s asked what he would like to change about the Town of Callicoon, his answer is almost as simple as his reason for getting involved: he wants to keep people living here.
“I’d like to make it so our kids, our grandkids can afford to live here,” he says. “I’d like one day to be able to say, ‘Look! Our kids are graduating and they’re coming back to the Town of Callicoon.’”
Spoken like a true member of the community.