— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD
Meet the two women running for Malone town supervisor. Andrea Stewart and Mary Scharf differ in personality and professional background, while both present formidable credentials for the job of leading this community. I interviewed them, separately, for this article, and here is my take on each.
Andrea (Andy) Stewart
First and foremost, you need to know that Andy can fix a carburetor. (This is what she’s doing in the photo, above.) It all started the day this 16-year-old kid marched into a Malone service station and announced to the dumbfounded owner, “Your business needs me!” No, not as a mechanic but to pump gas. (Young Andy had noticed that the mechanics had to interrupt their work whenever a motorist drove in for gas. She figured she could save the owner money by taking over gas pumping duties.) When he pointed out that a 16-year-old girl was not a top priority for hiring, she had her answer ready. “Let me work for a weekend without pay. If you’re not convinced by the end of the weekend, then, fine, I’ll concede you don’t need me.”
You can guess the outcome. (All you have to do is look at the above photo!) There was a significant uptick in business, especially from males. She pumped gas for the rest of her high school career.
The moral to the story is not that a 16-year-old girl learned how to fix a carburetor; it’s that she was bold and courageous and resourceful, and if she learned how to repair cars along the way, this was a bonus.
Born in New Jersey (she’s 63 years old), her family moved to Suffern NY to get away from the Garden State’s air pollution, which was choking her mom with asthma. Andy fondly remembers summer-camping for weeks at a stretch in the Adirondacks with her mom, dad, and 3 younger brothers, where mom’s asthma vastly improved. Andy’s dad worked for the telephone company, and he requested a transfer to the Adirondacks or someplace nearby where the air quality would let his wife breathe. In 1969 his bosses assigned him to Malone, and young Andy entered Franklin Academy midway through her freshman year.
Malone cured mom’s asthma, and Andy blossomed into a self-confident, take-charge adolescent. You already know the story about the gas station. Andy soon joined a statewide program called Ten Towns, aimed at encouraging youth participation in music and other arts. The program was a big success at FA, in part because of Andy’s leadership skills. By age 17 she was prominent in Ten Towns, was earning enough money pumping gas to buy her own rock ‘n’ roll records and other stuff essential to an adolescent, and was announcing political ads at WICY.
At the radio station she befriended the DJ. He quickly discovered that this cool, hip kid from downstate had an awesome record collection. From there on out, WICY featured Andy Stewart’s rock collection on its airwaves — the stuff we now call Oldies but Goodies.
Rock ‘n’ roll was a big part of Andy’s life. Together with a group of other teens, Andy organized rock dances at St. Joe’s, booking bands from as far away as Ottawa. The weekend dances were hugely popular, pounding and throbbing into the evening hours. Teens, not adults, ran the whole shebang. After the dance, Andy and her crew, along with the band, would repair to Andy’s home for a midnight dinner (prepared by mom) and more music and dancing into the wee hours.
The cherry on top was the “mysterious go-go dancer” for the upcoming Saturday dance. The question, “Who would it be?” flashed around the community. (More often than not, it was — you guessed it.)
(Shhh. Don’t breathe a word to her grandkids. They’d be scandalized! “Grandma did that?!”)
I want to loop back to her radio announcements for political candidates. A seed was planted. At 18, when she registered to vote, she became the first woman committee person and secretary of the Malone Republican committee. Public service beckoned, and she said “Yes!”
The dancer and organizer had a dream. She dreamed of the heavens. She wanted to be an astronomer. But love intervened in the form of a handsome young telephone lineman named Brent, who had recently transferred from Plattsburgh to Malone. Astronomy would have to wait for another lifetime; Andy chose to be a mom and wife. Still, she worked part-time and volunteered at the Golden Age Club, driving the “seniors” van, and was much involved in Republican committee work and, believe it or not, being a volunteer fireman.
Andy was one of the first two women firemen in Franklin County — at age 24 driving an old Army fire-truck tanker for the Duane fire company, ’cause Malone refused to hire a woman. (Too distracting for the Malone fellas?) Talk about demolishing a gender barrier!
Life changed in 1985 when the town clerk resigned over a political uproar. Reluctantly, Andy agreed to be appointed to replace her as clerk & tax receiver — and promptly walked into a hornet’s nest. The first day on the job, the town supervisor made a point of informing her that he didn’t want her! Yikes!
As it happened, Andy could fix not only a stubborn carburetor; she could win over a cranky boss. She got along fine with him for the remainder of his tenure, and went on to hold the job for 30 years under 5 different supervisors — 2 Republicans, 3 Democrats.
One could fairly say that for the past three decades Andy Stewart has been at the helm of Malone township, variously carrying the titles Budget Officer & Bookkeeper for the Supervisor & Deputy Supervisor. I’ve lived here for the last 20 of those years, and I must say that from my perspective she has done a superb job. It’s worth noting that the current supervisor, Howard Maneely, agrees, as does Jack Sullivan, another Democrat on the town board and a man I greatly admire.
When she retired, the board was moved to issue this proclamation.
HONORING Andrea Stewart, Budget Officer/Confidential Secretary and Bookkeeper to the Supervisor for the Town of Malone
WHEREAS, Andrea Stewart, after thirty years of service to the Town of Malone has retired on April 7, 2016, and
WHEREAS, during her career, Andrea served as Budget Officer, Bookkeeper, Confidential Secretary to the Supervisor, Deputy Supervisor, Town Clerk, Receiver of Taxes, Registrar, Records Management Officer, Fixed Assets Clerk, and
WHEREAS, over the years Andrea has established a formidable reputation and a distinguished career which shall not soon be matched: including working with FEMA during the 1998 ice storm securing thousands of dollars for the Town of Malone and working tirelessly when the Town closed the Village landfill, justifying the cost of closing the landfill and helping the Town receive monies which are still being used to this day for landfill monitoring, and
WHEREAS, while serving for the Town of Malone, Andrea was the conscience of many Town Boards for policies and procedures, and
WHEREAS, Andrea’s conviction, dedication and leadership serve to inspire, and instill in all of us a sense of pride in our community, and serve as a reminder to us of the personal gratification of having a commitment to service above self:
NOW, therefore, be it
RESOLVED: That the Town Board of the Town of Malone hereby expresses its appreciation for the many years of dedicated service that Andrea Stewart provided to the Town of Malone, going above and beyond on a daily basis with her service, care and concerns for the community, and be it further
RESOLVED: That the Town Board of the Town of Malone does hereby extend its heartfelt good wishes to Andrea Stewart upon her retirement, in appreciation of the positive impact she has had on the greater Malone community.
Supervisor Howard Maneely and the Malone Town Board April 30, 2016
One day a North Country farm girl went off to college and was pleased as punch. Notice the stack of books. And the smile. This was one determined kid. The kind who earned awards like this (mind you, the task of merely getting to school was often a challenge in those frigid winters on the farm).
The kind who was valedictorian of her class and who walked away with nearly all the class honors.
You get the picture. Girl with big dreams, big heart, big smile. And, it happens, lots of self-discipline and a formidable mind.
First stop was here, on a full four-year scholarship.
Earned a B.A. in Spanish and History. She would come back four years after graduating and earn a M.A. in Education. (By this point she had been teaching Spanish language & culture at Malone’s Franklin Academy for three years.) She would come back yet again and earn a second M.A. This one in School Administration.
To read more about Mary’s background, click here for an article I wrote in 2009 when she first ran for town council. The text, above, is taken from that article.
Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I asked Mary what mischief she has been getting into since her retirement from teaching. “Working for the community,” she replied with a grin. She noted that she’s the treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce, in which capacity she has managed to turn around their finances. All bills are paid. They’re getting new members, and she was in charge of the Summerfest (bands in the park, merchant booths up and down Main Street). The chamber is working closely with member businesses and running classes on marketing, social media, and accounting (they ran a QuickBooks program), and they are holding social gatherings for networking among businesspeople. Besides this, the Chamber created the Legacy Business award for businesses that have been here for over 50 years.
As supervisor, Mary says she would focus on neighborhoods, the downtown, and in particular the historic downtown district. Last spring she attended a New York State conference on restoring main streets in old communities like ours. The conference was an eye-opener, and she learned about numerous grant opportunities. The upshot is that she has been instrumental in applying for three grants:
1. Micro Enterprises: $200,000 for businesses with fewer than six employees. Half the recipients can be new businesses and half, existing businesses.
2. Housing Rehabilitation: $400,000 for low income people to rehabilitate their homes and properties.
3. Historic District: This grant is through the Malone Revitalization Foundation, of which she is president. She referred to a triangle of properties in the village, that includes Clay Street to Pearl St., Elm Street over to Constable St, and down Park St. If they are successful in securing this Historic District designation, property owners will be eligible for a 20% reduction in state and federal taxes. (Or, if their income is under $60,000 a year, property owners can get a check for this amount from the state and feds.) The grant seems to be administered by the Preservation League of New York. So far, Mary has obtained money to do a historic summary of the homes within the triangle.
Mary is also much involved with another grant application involving the Salmon River — the problem being that it floods lower Park Street. Years ago Niagara Mohawk (NiMo) dumped a huge amount of silt into the river, which is now clogging up the Salmon along lower Park. When Lake Lamica floods, it backs up to the sewer treatment plant and threatens to shut it down, with dire consequences. Clearly, the silt needs to be dredged out. For many years the Army Corps of Engineers sat on the issue and did nothing. Mary tells me that she’s been successful in getting the NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to pay up to $50,000 for a study on how to deal with the silt. She also discovered that the $90,000 NiMo fine has been held in escrow by NYS, and it looks as if we qualify for receiving this to pay for a proper silt study.
During our conversation, I kept getting the impression that she single-handedly intended to shape the future of the village, leaving me wondering if she is still committed to the principle of the village dissolving and being absorbed by the town. (No, she didn’t say this explicitly; I was reading between the lines.) If this is so, she would have a fight on her hands, just as she did some years back when she was vociferous in the “village dissolution” movement. (Just as I was back them, I would oppose her efforts.)
I also wondered if Mary has much grasp of the jurisdiction and prerogatives of the village mayor and trustees. Maybe I misread her, but I didn’t detect much if any role for the village board amid her ambitious plans for the historic downtown and residential historic district, described above. If she’s elected, I fear there may be fireworks between city hall (i.e., the village govt.) and Madam Supervisor.
My conversation with Mary was very different from my conversation with Andrea. Andrea listens and is thoughtful. I’m not sure Mary listened to any thoughts or opinions I volunteered, and I found her alarmingly cock-sure. The irony is that she has the same leadership flaws I have. I, too, am overly self-confident and controlling, for which reasons I would never run for public office. (My wife refers to me as a sheep-dog: always trying to herd people, including her.)
I suspect Mary and I are cut from the same cloth. In a position of leadership, she and I are quite capable of alienating loads of people — not a good formula for leading a community.
My personal view is that Mary is extraordinarily talented and successful with the community projects she’s involved with. I suggest she should stick with them. I don’t think her talents lend themselves to being supervisor.