As the son of a multi-decade Johnsburg town supervisor, Sterling Goodspeed's proud of his accomplishments in office, though he said he's not going to be entering the political arena again, as long as his lady has anything to say about it.
“I owe my wife some serious time,” the outgoing Johnsburg town supervisor said. “She’s assured me that if I run again, it will be with my second wife.”
Along with more time with his family, he'll be enjoying rounds at the golf course, where he said his game never seems to improve. But most of all, he'll be turning his focus to his private practice in his Main Street office.
“The best part of being a lawyer is practicing in a small community where you know a lot of people,” said Goodspeed.
Practicing in a small town means operating within small means. Goodspeed noted that more than 20 percent of the rural population is below the poverty line, and it's difficult to build a practice that's both professionally and financially rewarding.
“If you're in it for the money, you’ve come to the wrong place,” he said.
Goodspeed thinks he made it work, though. The people he knew as a child and teenager are now coming to him, and he can give them meaningful advice and assistance. The continuity of being part of a community through a lifetime makes his work rewarding, he said.
Especially rewarding is being an important member of the community Goodspeed grew up in. He was born in Glens Falls Hospital in 1962, and his parents brought him home to North Creek. He can trace his local lineage to his grandfather's grandfather, Gideon, who fought in the Civil War and was eventually buried at the Union Cemetery.
He got to tap into some early regional history as a youth in what he called the best job ever — a colonial tour guide at Fort William Henry in Lake George. For three summers in a row he fired guns, loaded cannon and wowed visitors at the historic fort.
His mother was from Fagan’s Flats in Indian Lake, and Goodspeed said her family was among the founders of that town. His father was a baker at Smith’s restaurant, still in operation on Main Street. His parents met during his father's bread deliveries.
After Goodspeed graduated Johnsburg Central in 1980, he moved on to St. Lawrence University, eventually earning his juris doctorate at Albany Law in 1987.
His wife, Susan, operated the News Enterprise for awhile, and Sterling was able to pursue an interest he’d held since he was an undergrad, working for the papers. She did a couple free issues on skiing, and he wrote historical articles for her.
“It was nice, relaxing work compared to the prosecuting work I was doing in Lake George,” he said.
After Goodspeed served as Warren County district attorney and later as a public defender, previous Town Supervisor Bill Thomas convinced him to enter a town council race. Thomas and Goodspeed shared visions of train service to North Creek and creating an interconnect from Ski Bowl to Gore Mountain.
The town has worked to build from its heritage and environmental resources instead of looking to chains and box stores to build business. Goodspeed said that's been key to the town's successes.
“I think we’re a shining star in the park; we’re an example to other communities,” he said.
That shining star status didn't come without challenges, ones the community is still contending with.
When Goodspeed first took office as a councilman, his education in law and experience as a supervisor's son helped ease him into the seat.
“I felt very oriented to the position, but there was one very massive surprise,” he said.
That was FrontStreet, which was in an early phase of taking ownership of the Ski Bowl. Goodspeed didn’t realize how embroiled the town board would be in the development. With dozens of revisions to a their complex plan, it was a trial for the council to ensure they were protecting the town's interests with every revision.
“There have been developers who say, ‘It’s Johnsburg, we’re gonna roll right over them,’” Goodspeed said.
But as a councilman and a supervisor, he feels he was in a good position to insulate the community from the impact of the large project.
FrontStreet was a unique opportunity to enhance the tax base. It was also one of the best places to play capture-the-flag when Goodspeed was a kid, so there’s a sense of something lost. But gaining the interconnect was a proud moment for Goodspeed and a great step for skiing in Johnsburg.
The other big moment for Goodspeed was signing Iowa-Pacific Holdings to bring their rail operations to town. The contract ushered the return of the snow train with what Goodspeed called a superior operator who’s investing in the region and has changed the face of Main Street.
“Some time in the future, people will look back at the impact of the rail and mark it as a starting point for revitalization in the area,” he said.
Part of that pride is rooted in the difficulties of getting the train running again.
“Two years ago, if you said train, it was the poster child of bad government. The Post-Star called it a train to nowhere; I was really offended,” Goodspeed said.
At the county center, when he’d walk down the hall, he’d hear people behind him say, “choo-choo.”
But that test of being beat up day in and day out for the things he believed in was formative, and he and others helping bring the train to town were able to survive what Goodspeed called an endurance contest to re-open the rails.
“It was pretty weird getting up in the morning and not being the supervisor,” after four years, Goodspeed said.
He'd like to think that people were generally satisfied, that they feel Sterling was the right person to deal with FrontStreet, to finish the interconnect, to help find a good operator for the train.
“It’s hard to know what expectations are until you’re confronted with what the challenges are,” he said.
He remembered the first year he lowered taxes, somebody came to his office and pounded on his desk insisting he should raise taxes. Now that he doesn't have to worry about town business, he'll be working on his career as an adjunct at Newcomb Central instructing criminal justice classes.
“I’m not sure of all the future holds, but I think it’s really good.”