Six vie for two board seats in North Elba

Debates over short-term rentals, affordable housing motivate the contenders

(Cassidy photo by Elizabeth Izzo, Adirondack Daily Enterprise; all others provided)

Lake Placid’s affordable housing crunch and the ongoing debate over short-term rental regulations has inspired multiple candidates to run for public office in the town of North Elba.

Six candidates, all but two of them new to politics, are vying for two seats on the town council Nov. 5. Councilman Bob Miller is not seeking reelection, and the board seat currently held by Jay Rand will open as he runs for town supervisor.

Town board candidates include Richard “Rik” Cassidy, Richard Cummings, Doug Hoffman, Emily Kilburn-Politi, Jeremy Mihill and Bob Rafferty. Of those six, four directly cited the area’s lack of affordable housing, or what they saw as detrimental impacts to the community as a result of the rising popularity of short-term vacation rentals, as their inspiration for running.

The candidates range in age from 39 to 71. They come from vastly different career paths, but all have lived and worked in North Elba — whether in Lake Placid, Ray Brook or Saranac Lake — for decades.

Also, town Clerk Laurie Dudley, a Republican, is running for reelection unopposed. Deputy Highway Superintendent Kenneth Porter, also a Republican, is running unopposed to fill Larry Straight’s highway superintendent spot. Straight plans to step down after this year.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Lake Placid News will co-host a interview with the four candidates running for North Elba supervisor Thursday at 10 a.m., livestreamed on the Lake Placid News Facebook page. A story will follow in Friday’s Enterprise and next week’s News.

Less than two weeks remain until Election Day, and two days until New York’s first early voting period kicks off. Voters who want to cast ballots early can do so starting this Saturday at the Essex County Public Safety Building at 702 Stowersville Road in Lewis. Visit the Essex County Board of Elections website or see today’s editorial for polling hours. Early voting closes Nov. 3.

Richard “Rik” Cassidy

Cassidy, 71, is running on the Independence party line. He’s a Lake Placid native and currently lives on the North Elba side of Saranac Lake. He’s a married father of four sons and has nine grandchildren.

He is retired now, but throughout his life he has worked as a box office manager for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, as an owner of the Waterhole bar in Saranac Lake and as a broadcaster — he still dabbles in broadcasting at the Lake Placid Horse Shows every year, hosting the “Coffee at the Horse Shows” series. He has also worked at his father’s beer distribution business and at a radio station.

Cassidy is the only candidate who has held elected office before. He served six years on the Lake Placid village board.

He said he was “given a second life” more than three years ago, when he received a liver transplant, and thought now is the time to step back into the ring.

He cited short-term vacation rentals as a driving factor behind his decision.

When he was last in office, between 1991 and 1997, Cassidy said he called for short-term rentals to be regulated and taxed. He said regulations should’ve been put in place then.

Now, his plan for fighting the increasing popularity of short-term rentals includes a cap on the number of rentals authorized to operate within the town, putting a moratorium on all such rentals not owned locally, and finalizing regulations the town and village boards proposed earlier this year.

“Clearly these boards must see this is what people want,” he said. “If we want to continue to be a community, we can’t be overwhelmed the way we are.”

Cassidy added that people with a “vested interest” in short-term vacation rentals shouldn’t make decisions about how they’re regulated, although he didn’t specify whom he was talking about.

Cassidy also pointed to affordable housing for working-class families and the health of Mirror Lake, amid worries about road salt, as major concerns facing the town. He cited his desire to have voters weigh in on implementing term limits, and the speed limit on McKenzie Pond Road between Saranac Lake and Ray Brook — he lives there and says it’s plagued by accidents — as other issues he’d prioritize.

Richard Cummings

Republican and independent Integrity candidate Cummings, 62, is a Lake Placid transplant hailing from Cambridge, New York. He’s a married father of one daughter.

After attending school to become a pharmacist, Cummings lived in Rochester for a while and vacationed in Lake Placid. He ultimately moved here in 1985. He currently works as a pharmacist for Kinney Drugs.

“I want to give back to the community,” he said. “I very much love Lake Placid and North Elba, and the whole Tri-Lakes region.”

He pointed to a proliferation of short-term rentals and lack of affordable housing as the two key issues in the town right now.

“Everybody kicks it around, but the important factor is bringing the community back more,” he said.

Asked how he would do that, Cummings said he didn’t have all the answers.

“They’re something that’s here to stay. We need to regulate them, and we need to control (the growth),” he said. “I think by controlling or regulating short-term rentals, we’ll also contribute to affordable housing.

“I think some owners of short-term rentals would become disheartened with running them and may convert them to long-term rentals, thus bringing more people into the community.”

He pointed to the working relationship between the town and ORDA as something that needs to focus on. Asked if he believed there was a problem with the existing relationship, Cummings said there isn’t, but he said it’s something that should be maintained in the future.

“There’s a wide array of issues,” he said. “Every town board meeting isn’t going to be about short-term rentals.

“I truly want to be elected, I want to serve the community, and I want to deal with every issue that comes before the board equally.”

Doug Hoffman

Hoffman, 69, is a certified public accountant and local businessman running on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines.

He grew up on the North Elba side of Saranac Lake and currently resides in Lake Placid. He’s a married father of three children and has six grandchildren, all of whom live in North Elba.

“I’m very familiar with the housing issue because of that,” he said, noting the difficulties his family has had with finding housing in the area. “Over the years, they (found housing). We’ve been fortunate that they’ve been able to stay in Lake Placid. We know the struggle of finding it and being able to afford it.”

Hoffman started his career at Price Waterhouse. He was the chief financial officer for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid. He is a senior partner at the Hoffman Eells Group, an accounting firm with offices in Lake Placid, Malone, Canton and Plattsburgh.

He has served on the board of directors for the Lake Placid Visitors Bureau, the North Country Community College Foundation, Adirondack Health and the Adirondack Health Foundation, the regional Boy Scouts of America and the Eastern Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Foundation. He has also volunteered for ORDA and the local fire department, and has been a member of the local Lions Club for nearly 40 years.

Most prominently, Hoffman ran for Congress in 2009 as a candidate for the then-23rd Congressional District, drawing support from both the state Conservative Party and Tea Party groups. That election received national attention after Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava abruptly withdrew from the race days before the election and endorsed Democratic candidate Bill Owens for the historically Republican seat. Scozzafava’s name still appeared on the ballot, garnering 8,582 votes and paving the way for Owens’ win. Of 151,272 ballots cast, 69,553 people voted for Hoffman, 73,137 for Owens.

Hoffman ran again for the seat in 2010 but lost the Republican primary and ultimately withdrew from the race. In 2014, Hoffman threw his support behind Elise Stefanik, then a freshman candidate and GOP rising star.

Hoffman said he sees a lack of affordable and workforce housing as the most important issue facing North Elba. He also said maintaining the town’s fiscal health is crucial.

“My priority, if elected, would be to maintain our fiscal responsibility, maintain the budget guidelines and make good decisions going forward for all of us in the town of North Elba,” he said. “I think as they’re casting their votes, they should look at the experience of the people they’re voting for and understand they’re going to be making multi-million-dollar choices for them. I have 45 years of experience making difficult business decisions.”

Emily Kilburn-Politi

At 39 years old, Lake Placid native Emily Kilburn-Politi is both the youngest candidate on the ballot and the only woman running for town board. She is running on the Democratic and LP Local party lines.

She is married and the mother of two children, a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. She is the daughter-in-law of current town Supervisor Roby Politi.

She is a stay-at-home mom with degrees in political science, economics and public administration. She has served as the vice chairman of the Lake Placid-North Elba Joint Review Board since 2011; on the board of HAPEC, or Housing Assistance of Essex County, since 2010; as an employee of the Adirondack Housing Trust coordinating a first-time homebuyers program; and as a member of the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission’s Housing Committee and the Lake Placid Hall of Fame Committee.

Kilburn-Politi has intimate knowledge of zoning and land use codes — both as a result of years of serving on boards with a housing focus, and through her involvement with Merrill L. Thomas, the real estate company co-owned by her husband Nicholas Politi and his father Roby Politi.

Under then-village Mayor Jim Rogers, Kilburn-Politi said she submitted the first draft of a proposed short-term rental law in 2006. While on the LPNECDC’s Housing Committee, she helped draft another proposed set of short-term rental regulations in 2014.

“I know the details. I know the complications. I know the solutions,” she said. “I know I have something valuable to add to this discussion.”

The Housing Committee has commissioned a three-month study that will focus on defining what would be considered “affordable housing” in Lake Placid, what housing stock is currently available to people that fall within that income range, potential gaps in the housing market and how short-term rentals may — or may not — be impacting the local housing market.

Kilburn-Politi said that data, specifically the latter point, should be used to shape public policy.

She believes the first step in addressing the impacts of short-term rentals should be clearly defining what’s considered a short-term rental in the land-use code.

The second step is registering those rentals, she said. After those things are done, the third step should be moving forward with implementing regulations — and that may mean different things for the village of Lake Placid and the town.

Beyond short-term rentals, Kilburn-Politi said she sees the lack of workforce and affordable housing as “a huge issue” and pointed to the Housing Committee’s study as a step forward in finding solutions. But she said developing housing solutions in the long run will require public-private partnerships.

Kilburn-Politi also underscored her desire to help encourage the development of non-service-industry jobs and the importance of taking local steps to help combat global climate change. She cited the need to find a road salt alternative that works for Lake Placid.

Jeremy Mihill

Independent Integrity party candidate Jeremy Mihill, 43, is a married father of two children and the owner of Boyer Septic Service. He initially filed to also run on the Republican ballot line but was defeated in the primary.

Mihill has never held public office before but has worked for the village of Lake Placid as a police officer and as a member of the Highway Department, and for the town of North Elba as an animal control officer.

He’s running for town board because he wants to get more involved.

“I’d like to be a part of the changing that’s happening, be a part of some of the solutions,” he said. “I’d like to work with the other board members and keep North Elba a thriving community.”

Mihill pointed to short-term rentals as the primary issue facing the town and said they are “a necessary evil.”

“I think without them, our tourism would drop significantly,” he said. “That being said, I think they need to be monitored and controlled better. Zoning laws need to be enforced. The (town and village) boards are making great steps, but it’s far from done.

“I’d also like to see affordable housing. There are some locations where I think affordable housing would be viable. I’d like to work with developers to make these locations into affordable housing, with stipulations.”

Mihill said if elected he’d focus on strengthening existing ties between the town and the Lake Placid village board, the fire district, the North Elba Park District and ORDA.

“I don’t have any set priorities,” he said. “I want to go in there and learn a job, for lack of a better term, and work with the other board members. I’d like to hear what the other issues are. I’m only one person on the board, and I’d like to be a team player and come up with some solutions.”

Bob Rafferty

Adirondac Rafting Company owner Bob Rafferty, 63, is running for town board on the Democratic and independent ADK Residents lines.

He is married and has two children. He first ventured to the Adirondacks in 1975 to attend Paul Smith’s College for forestry. He left for three years to work for the U.S. Forest Service in Montana and came back in time for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. He has served as the president of the Hudson River Professional Outfitters Association but has not held public office.

Rafferty said he decided to run for town board because he’s concerned about the community.

“It hasn’t been my life goal to get involved in politics,” he said. But he was inspired to run after seeing the changes in the local housing market and noticing how difficult it is for young families to find a place to live here.

“We built our home in 1982 and had the opportunity with modest means to raise a family,” he said. “I realize we can’t turn back the clock to the 1980s, but I’d like to see young families maintain that same opportunity in our community.”

He said he believes the affordability of housing in the Lake Placid area is directly affected by the popularity of short-term vacation rentals, and characterized those resulting changes to the housing market as a “developing crisis.”

“I think our zoning policies need to be configured to accommodate short-term rentals in business districts while restricting them in residential areas,” he said, noting that he felt owners who occupy their short-term rentals should have the option to get a permissive-use permit.

If elected, Rafferty said he would also prioritize keeping tax increases below the state tax cap, and he highlighted road salt impact on Mirror Lake as a major concern of his.

Rafferty was the only candidate to mention hiker overcrowding at trailheads as one of the top issues facing the town of North Elba.

“The town needs to take some responsibility with the overcrowding at trailheads,” he said.

Asked what specifically the town could do to help address that issue, Rafferty said the town may not be able to help with problems on state Forest Preserve lands but can make changes along town roads.

“There are many different government agencies involved, but the town needs to be a bigger player,” he said.