SARANAC LAKE — Voters will pick between two veterans of the Harrietstown board in the upcoming town supervisor election — Jordanna Mallach, a current councilwoman who is running for the town’s highest office while deployed with the Army overseas, and Bob Bevilaqua, who was Harrietstown’s supervisor from January 2013 to May 2014, when he resigned citing a family health issue.
Bevilaqua has served on the Saranac Lake school board, and was on the town board for seven years, with a little over a year as supervisor.
“It’s funny, because a lot of the things that they’re talking about now are the same stuff I was dealing with back then,” Bevilaqua said. “It goes, pretty much, in circles.”
Also, he said, “I enjoyed having some say in what goes on in the town.”
He’s running to expand the services the town offers.
Mallach, a current Harrietstown council member, is running for town supervisor while she’s 4,400 miles away in Kosovo deployed with the Army as part of NATO’s Task Force Mansfield.
If elected, she would take office in January and return to town in March. She’d be away for three months of her term.
Mallach had to get approval from the Pentagon to attend town board meetings while overseas. She’ll continue using Zoom, extending online attendance of board meetings that started during the pandemic.
While she’s able to be involved in town business while stationed overseas, the military does not allow her to campaign while on active duty. Mallach left behind a document with answers to several questions about herself and her platform before she deployed.
Mallach said she hadn’t known she’d be deployed when she announced her candidacy, but after she got her orders, she talked it over with other town board members and decided to continue her race.
Not being able to campaign is “driving her crazy,” Mallach’s husband Joe Gladd said. She talks with him about the campaign all the time.
Gladd said she’d still be very invested in working here while she wraps up her deployment. She could also appoint a deputy supervisor, who would need approval by the full council.
Mallach said she’d like to start weekly office hours, so the public can speak with her about their thoughts on town government on a regular basis. While she’s deployed, Gladd said she’d do this over Zoom or have her deputy supervisor listen to the public.
Gladd said she is “hugely passionate” about the job.
“I mean, who in their right mind, if they can’t be here, would take on that task?” Gladd said of her running for office.
“I have worked in government at the state and federal level and in both of those situations I felt very removed from the people which my work was impacting,” Mallach wrote. “I like that as a town council we can vote to implement something at the local level with far less bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ than at other levels of government.”
At a candidate event, Mallach’s daughter Piper pointed out that her mom served on the board for a year-and-a-half — from November 2019 to December 2020 — while deployed.
Mallach did not write about housing in the document she left before deploying.
Bevilaqua sees a lack of housing and a lot of open town-owned land at the same time.
“Harrietstown has a lot of vacant property,” he said.
He wants get this land back on the tax roll and increase the housing stock. One place he’s looking at is the Harrietstown Business Park. The government built business parks all over the country in the 1980s. Some worked well, like in Plattsburgh, he said, but Harrietstown’s never took off.
With permission from the federal government and Paul Smith’s College, which gave the town the land, he said he’d like to change the land’s use to put housing there.
Bevilaqua said the family home where he grew up is now an Airbnb. He’s not happy about this. There’s also a couple vacation rentals on the street where he lives now. But he doesn’t see them being a problem here like people say they are in Lake Placid. He said he’s not seeing “loud parties and decimated neighborhoods,” so he wouldn’t want the town to regulate them.
Both candidates said the town-owned Adirondack Regional Airport is a big asset for the town and they both want to support it. They had near-identical statements about the airport bringing in business, money and work into the area, referring to it as a “ripple effect.”
But the airport faces trouble, as it was designated as a Superfund Site because of the harmful chemicals which have been sprayed there. Mallach estimated that the cleanup will take 7-10 years to resolve.
“We must ensure that the costs involved are not a burden to the taxpayers of this community,” she wrote.
Bevilaqua said he wants the town to offer more to its village residents.
“If you live in the Harrietstown part of the village, the only thing you get from Harrietstown is a tax bill,” Bevilaqua said.
He said he’d like to open the town hall to more events — exhibitions, weddings and fundraisers.
Part of doing that, he said, would be to allow alcohol to be served there again. When he was on the board the town allowed it, while making the event planners jump through some hoops to get approval.
He said he wants to see something going on at the town hall every weekend.
Several members of the community have approached the Enterprise with concerns about posts Bevilaqua shares on his personal Facebook page, saying they promote racist ideas and deny the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I post things on Facebook that I think are funny,” Bevilaqua said when asked about the posts. “When I see something I think is kind of funny, I share it. … I’m not really concerned, because it’s Facebook.”
He said he does not create these images but shares them to provoke conversation.
“It’s all just in jest,” he said.
One image refers to Vice President Kamala Harris as a “high priced call girl.”
“I don’t think she’s a call girl,” Bevilaqua said. “Is everything on Facebook true? Is everything on Facebook real? No. But there’s some funny stuff on there, there’s some stuff that’s provocative.”
Several memes on his Facebook page say the coronavirus pandemic is about fear and paranoia. Bevilaqua said if elected he would take pandemic advice from town Health Officer George Cook.
“I personally have a different opinion,” Bevilaqua said. “But it’s not a dictatorship. You have to go with what the board decides.”
One of his posts references the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police, including former officer Derek Chauvin, who is serving 22 years in prison after being convicted of murder. Outrage over Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests last year.
“(Derek) Chauvin immediately stood and calmly placed his hands behind his back,” the image says. “Imagine where we’d be had George done the same.”
Bevilaqua said he does not agree that Chauvin stayed calm.
“If cooler heads on both sides had prevailed, there would not have been a story,” he said. “Chauvin got hot, Floyd got upset. It was a terrible tragedy to happen. No one deserves to die just because they got arrested.”
Another image declares that “White slaves were sold for centuries. … All our ancestors took slaves, sold slaves or were slaves. … You’re not special.”
“It’s nothing but history,” Bevilaqua said.
He is Italian and admits that his ancestors were never enslaved.
He said if a kid comes to Saranac Lake and they’re the only Black student in their class, he understands that they might feel uneasy. Asked if these sorts of posts contribute to that uneasiness, he said he wasn’t sure.
Bevilaqua said he sees these posts in a different view than others might.
“It’s just saying that the people who are offended by everything that happened 200 years ago … 20 years ago, this wasn’t a huge issue,” he said.
He feels race relations have gone downhill in the past 8-10 years.
Bevilaqua feels Facebook is different than real life. He can disagree with people on there and get along with them in person. He said he hasn’t had anybody talk to him about what he shares on Facebook recently and feels that people bringing it up now is an “ambush” before the election.
If elected, Bevilaqua would be working with several family members in the town hall — including the town clerk, building code officer and bookkeeper, but this wouldn’t be the first time.
When he was supervisor before, his brother “Beef” was the town justice and his daughter was the court clerk.
Bevilaqua said he’ll spend more time at his business, Carcuzzi Car Care Center, than the office, because he’s one of three people working on the cars there. Everyone does their own job independently, he said, adding that it’s not up to him if his family members work for the town.
“Anyone could have applied for those positions,” he said, adding that anyone could run for supervisor, too.