Mark Gillis makes a speech during the Jan. 31 Saranac Lake Republican Party caucus in the village offices at the Harrietstown Town Hall. He and incumbent Jeff Branch won nods to run for two open trustee seats in the March 20 election.
Unless Trustee John McEneaney files an independent petition, there will definitely be a new member of the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees in April, as Republicans Jan. 31 overwhelming chose a newcomer to represent their party in the spring election.
Mark Gillis, owner/operator of the brokerage firm Hudson Valley Capital Management, is a newcomer in more than one sense of the word, politically and geographically. If successful when voters head to the polls March 20, this would be his first time as an elected official, and he moved to Saranac Lake with his family only six months ago.
When Saranac Lake Republican Party Chair Ray Scollin read the results of the caucus vote in the village offices at the Harrietstown Town Hall, it was clear that members wanted a change. Gillis and incumbent Jeff Branch easily won the Republican nod, taking McEneaney off the ticket he represented four years ago to win re-election. Branch received 21 votes, while Gillis and McEneaney tallied 19 and five, respectively.
Each of the three candidates gave brief speeches before members voted by secret ballot.
McEneaney stressed his record over the last four years, which were difficult for him at times, especially during the first two years of his current four-year term.
“We built consensus when we could, but, to be honest with you, there wasn't a lot of consensus,” McEneaney said. “And the only people that really suffered … were the residents of the village of Saranac Lake.”
Things changed, however, when the current board formed two years ago.
“The board that sits right now is extremely committed to the village of Saranac Lake,” McEneaney said. “We disagree still on issues, but when the vote is taken and a decision is made … those who might have disagreed simply get on board and make whatever the decision is happen.”
Branch highlighted some of his accomplishments over the past four years as a village trustee, including his work with Trustee Elias "Allie" Pelletieri to move the village offices to the Harrietstown Town Hall earlier this year.
“We are in what I consider our rightful place,” Branch said. “We are together with Harrietstown. We're in the Town Hall. We are close to all the services. It's a good thing for us … That's one of the things I'm very proud of.”
Branch also said he was “eager to fight” the annexation of the American Management Association land into the village, not that he was against AMA annexation, but that the village would be spending thousands of dollars for the annexation with no guarantee that it would be approved by the town of St. Armand and there was no guarantee that AMA would not move away sometime in the future.
“My record is very clear, in the paper,” Branch said. “People know me. I speak my mind. That's the way I was brought up.”
Although Branch said he was committed to running again, he was having second thoughts recently “because my boys are at that age when they play a lot,” but his wife convinced him to seek re-election.
“She encouraged me to do this because she thinks I'm making a difference … That's what really convinced me,” Branch said. “God bless her. You know what she told me? Behind every good man is a good woman … So, I thank her.”
Gillis, a Massachusetts native who moved to the village this past fall from Westchester County, said he put himself through state college and now owns his own business on Academy Street.
“I am pro business, and I believe in as less regulation as possible to promote that business,” Gillis said. “I believe in fiscal responsibility. I believe a dollar saved is a dollar earned. It's a dollar more profits, and it's a dollar that you need for that rainy day, because that rainy day always comes.”
Republicans, and later Conservatives, asked Gillis why he chose Saranac Lake to relocate and possibly live the rest of his life.
“The first night I had to go up and get some wood when it was 25 below, I asked myself that same question. Why the heck am I here?” Gillis said. “I was trying to replicate and duplicate the small town I grew up in Massachusetts, and I think I found that in Saranac Lake.”
Saranac Lake Conservative Party members also chose Branch and Gillis to represent them for the two open four-year seats on the Village Board during their caucus, which was held in the same location after the Republican caucus Jan. 31.
Branch and Gillis will face off against Democrats Paul Van Cott and Barbara Rice, who earned their party nods during the Jan. 30 caucus. The winners will join trustees Tom Catillaz (D) and Pelletieri (C) at the board table with Mayor Clyde Rabideau (D).
Judge Ken McLaughlin will run unopposed on the Republican and Conservative tickets. During their caucus, Democrats crossed party lines to endorse McLaughlin, who will be filling Tom Glover's two-year unexpired term. In an effort to consolidate the justice system, the village will be abolishing McLaughlin's seat in April and Glover's seat in 2014, when the towns of Harrietstown, North Elba and St. Armand – all inside the village limits – take over the judicial duties. McLaughlin is also a judge for the town of Harrietstown.