With Election Day less than two months away, Patch is providing lots of information on candidates at every level—local, state and national.
We recently touched base with the five candidates running for a seat (either District 6—which covers the northern and eastern sections of the Town of Southeast, as well as a portion of the western area—or District 7—which covers the Village of Brewster, the remainder of Southeast, and an eastern bit of the Town of Carmel and the Hamlet of Mahopac) on the Putnam County Legislature. We asked each the same set of questions.
Legislators serve for three years and are limited to four terms. The annual salary is $35,136.
Here are responses from Joseph Castellano, 43, a candidate for the District 7 seat. He's been endorsed by the Conservative, Independence and Republican parties. Castellano is running for the Independence and Republican lines in Thursday's Primary.
Patch: Talk a little about your family, community activities (past and/or present) and occupation, please.
JC: My wife and I moved up here in '98. I have twin daughters, they were born in 2000, and as soon as I started getting some free time, I became more involved in local government issues. In 2004, when my kids were almost old enough, I would say, I got on the [Town of Southeast] Zoning Board; I'm still a member there. I got involved with the GOP, probably the same year.
To tell you more about myself, I guess I should start with my job. I am a program coordinator for the Legal Division of the Westchester County Clerk's Office. We handle all civil filings for the state Supreme Court. I'm the person in charge of a staff of 25 people. I've been working in the Westchester County Clerk's Office since 1996 and my background is government and legal issues, and I think that's what I bring to my candidacy as a county legislator. I have a working knowledge of how government works, and how it should work, and I've been involved with that my whole life.
It was definitely my interest as a kid, politics and government, law. I wound up on this path, and to be honest, I knew a lot of the people in the local government from working at the county clerk's office. When my kids were rather young they [local political leaders] would ask me to do stuff and I'd be like, 'I can't do it yet, but I will.' And I certainly got involved because of that. I deal with attorneys all day long. The biggest project probably of my life, and what I'm working on now, is that we do New York State E-Filing. We've actually completely changed the way people file documents in New York State Supreme Court, and Westchester County is one of the leaders in that.
P: Would this be the first time you've held public office?
JC: It'd be the first real elected office. I've been a GOP committee member [Southeast Republican Committee], it's an elected position. I've actually survived two primaries ... It's obviously not the same type of elected position this is. I was actually surprised to hear that Dan Birmingham, who I've known for many years, . The timing's not perfect, my girls are 12 ... They're going into seventh grade at . I really haven't discussed much of this with them because they're a little confused by it, I think. They do well in school, they're great kids. They've done dance since they were in kindergarten. We've tried soccer over the years, they did it for about 3 or 4 years, then said, 'OK, we've had enough of this.' They're into ice skating, swimming and Girl Scouts ... I try to attend [functions] as much as possible.
P: Why are you running?
JC: The local people have asked me about the [Southeast] town board a couple of times, and I never thought the timing was right. I wasn't ready to do it. In my mind, I assumed that when my kids got a little older, I'd run for town board, and I never thought this opportunity would present itself. I've supported Dan [Birmingham] over the years, and unbeknownst to me, he stepped down, and I thought, you know what? I'd be perfect for this. I bring a lot to the position because of my knowledge and my regular job, and that's why I'm looking forward to it.
I've got to tell you, I really do love my current job. I like going to work. It's government and law, and we help a lot of people. We've got to deal with divorces, people with judgments against them; certainly, part of my job, my staff's job, is to help people file documents, help attorneys file documents, and the thing I enjoy most right now is this whole E-Filing system that the state is running, and it's running through Westchester County ... We're the pilot program. We went mandatory two years ago. We average 30,000 civil cases a year, and we've already taken about 70,000 electronically-filed cases. And my job right now, is, I spend a lot of time on the phone talking to law offices, getting them to file papers correctly. It's a fascinating program, it's going to save millions of dollars in storage fees.
P: If elected, which major issues are you looking to tackle?
JC: I'm a true believer in keeping taxes down. I believe in smart growth. We do need good, solid businesses here and in Putnam County. I think Putnam County has developed incredibly well with what I saw here in '98. The reason I moved up here is it reminded me of my hometown as a kid, Mount Pleasant. It was just like Mount Pleasant when I was a kid. Since '98, they've had some smart growth, especially in the Town of Southeast, which is what I've been more involved in. There's good businesses that are coming to the area, Home Depot didn't exist in the past. Good, smart use of land and property, and that's what I'd like to see happen. Keep the taxes low by bringing in some big corporations that will do the right thing.
P: Are you in favor of the 2-percent property tax cap?
JC: Absolutely. Anything that would keep taxes down and look at the ways we're spending money, I'm all for. I don't believe that there should be 2-percent tax growth every year, but at least we have a cap, and that's a good starting point.
P: What's your take on the Crossroads 312 proposal? Do you support it, as laid out by the applicant?
JC: I'd say I'm forming an opinion on it ... It should have been a zoning issue but it went before the town board, so I haven't been involved in it at all at this point ... I think if it's smart growth, I'm for it. I know it's going to be a traffic pattern, but it's in a great location. It's right off the highway. So as long as they build smart, I'm for it, but I haven't seen the details yet.
P: What's your stance on term limits for Putnam legislators?
JC: I'm a believer in term limits. I think 12 years is an appropriate amount of time. I do think after 12 years, if you go from county legislator to county exec or whatever, I think that's appropriate. It's a long period of time to have one person in public office. I understand congressmen can be there forever, but I would be interested in seeing them change that. We do have term limits I think just by having an election every three years, but I hate to see one person just continue to get re-elected just because they're already in.
P: What's your take on sharing county sales tax revenue with towns and villages?
JC: I haven't really decided completely. I know what my town's opinion is ... but there's got to be a reason that, maybe I'm not aware of at the moment, as to why the county holds onto it. Being a government employee, I think I'm in a strange scenario, and being a conservative Republican, also. But I do believe that consolidation of services is huge, and certainly the future. I understand why the county wants to hold onto it, and I understand the town's [position], and I've got to make a decision as to where I stand.
P: What's your take on the emergency response efforts by local municipalities (namely Brewster and Southeast, as well as the County) over the past year (Irene, the October storm, etc). Did it suffice? If not, what needs to change?
JC: I live on a dead-end road, and for both storms, the town and NYSEG (New York State Electric and Gas) did a tremendous job of getting power back. The hurricane, I think we had no power for about 12 hours, which was phenomenal, I thought, that they could turn it on that quickly. The snow storm, that was an absolutely freak storm. I don't think you could prepare for that. I just think it was such an oddity to have snowfall when all the trees are still filled with leaves, and all these branches are snapping left and right. I actually think the town did a great job of opening up our roads. As I said, I live on a dead-end road, so I thought we'd be stuck forever.
... There are going to be times when we're going to struggle ... I think there are disaster plans in place that sometimes we don't even know about. As people, you have to take control of your own situation. You know you have a big storm coming in, you prepare yourself. If you have an absolute need to have electricity in your house, you have to get a generator. You have to do what you have to do in order to survive.
P: What's your take on the possibility of a veterans cemetery in Southeast? , and although there has not been much news on it since, it was a controversial topic. Are you in support of it?
JC: I'm a law-and-order guy. I'm all for veterans and the military. It's definitely something I'd have to look into.
Editor's note: Patch asked each candidate the same questions. Some chose to respond via email, while others opted for in-person interviews. None of the responses were restricted by format or word count.
Stay with Patch today and tomorrow for profiles on the rest of the legislature candidates. And be sure to for more information on all the races that affect folks in Brewster and Southeast.