November 2, 2008
—Carol Thompson, Chateaugay
Forget Barack Obama and John McCain. Next door Albert Johnson and Jim Otis are battling for Burke Town Supervisor. It’s a hot contest. Signs, newspaper ads, flyers, door-to-door, speeches–and bitterness.
The bitterness? Wind turbines. Lots of them. On Tuesday Burke voters go to the polls and vote yes or no on 400-foot-high, thumping, flashing, strobing, property-devaluing windmills. That’s the downside. The upside: leaseholders get a nice chunk of money annually, the town gets a PILOT, the school board gets a chunk of change, and taxes–keep your fingers crossed–go down.
Wind energy of course isn’t the only issue before Burke voters, but nobody would deny it’s the elephant in the room. Like all large, thunderous objects, there’s no avoiding this elephant–and Albert is campaigning against it.
In September a group of Burke anti-turbine activists approached him, asking him to run for supervisor. Although Johnson’s a registered Republican, both the Democratic and Republican caucuses endorsed him. (The Democratic vote was a cliff-hanger and, in the end, a squeaker.)
Then came trouble. Because the local Republican chair failed to advertise the caucus according to election rules, the caucus results were voided by the election commissioners. To this, Johnson cheerfully responds, “If you’re a Republican and feel you can’t vote for me on the Democratic ticket, simply write in my name in the Republican line.” (Instructions will be available at the polls.)
Then things got more interesting. After the caucuses a local cadre, whooping it up for windmills, drafted Jim Otis as write-in candidate opposing Johnson.
Then things got hot as well as interesting, which is where they stand as of this writing.
Johnson makes no bones about the fact he agreed to run chiefly because of the turbine issue, which, he says with understatement, has deeply divided the community. “While I’m in favor of alternative energy, we need to look at currently available, more efficient technologies such as solar and geothermal, rather than depend on industrial wind energy, which is not as efficient or effective.”
He notes with dismay that the turbine controversy has eclipsed other local concerns, such as plans to renovate the town hall, create opportunities for youth activities, and further develop proven town assets like the Adult Center, the Volunteer Fire Department, and Wilder Farm.
While acknowledging the need to overhaul the town hall, Johnson feels it’s essential to get public input on the matter–and avoid adding more debt burden to local taxpayers until the current national economic crisis resolves. (Who knows when that will be?)
Once it’s economically feasible, he says he’d love to see Burke build a modest outdoor skating rink like the one the community enjoyed in the 1970s and 80s.
“I’m for the people of the town,” he says quietly, with conviction. “I love this town, and I want to work with all the people to make Burke a better place for everyone. If I’m elected I vow to defend and protect the wishes of the people with all my physical and intellectual abilities.”
Albert Johnson, 65, was born right in Burke. It became his lifetime home. He’s a versatile man, whose career has taken him from computer programming to banking and finance, from professional drummer to dairy farmer.
A graduate of Franklin Academy, Johnson was the first FA student to receive a NYS top scientific regent’s diploma. He would later attend Humboldt Institute in Minneapolis, MN, graduating with honors with a degree in computer programming. In the 1960s he worked for Marine Midland Bank in Malone (now HSBC)–yet still operated the farm.
Dairy farming’s in his blood, it seems, and he left banking to focus exclusively on the farm.
The model of a multi-tasking man, Johnson started a band in 1958, back when Elvis was King (and honest-to-God alive). The group played gigs for decades and even made recordings. But the Beatles and Elvis were tough competition for a start-up band of farmers out of Burke, NY and, well, you can guess the rest.
Still, Albert ran the farm.
Albert and wife Shirley have been happily married 44 years. God gave them three children, now all college-educated and living, respectively, in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Their pride and joy, of course, is the five grandchildren God gave them as a bonus.
All girls, he chuckles.