I have always had an attraction to law enforcement and keeping the order and peace. A skim through my biography shows what one might consider an infatuation, with stints with the Coast Guard Auxilary, The Volunteer Fire Service and even an attempt at the U.S. Army, before being swept into trading.
In 2012, I revisited my passion for law and order when Sheriff Donald B. Smith, 53rd Sheriff of Putnam County asked me to assist in his campaign for re-election. The retired U.S. Army Brigadier General had successfully held the position since 2001 and was aiming to not only defend his post in Putnam but rise to leadership in the New York State Sheriff’s Association. He needed a fresh outlook and brought me in as Chief Advisor, a position that quickly translated to Chief of Staff and Campaign Advisor. The role was campaign strategy and execution as well as fundraising.
The campaign was very intense. I hadn’t done any political campaigning of that nature until then and the learning curve was high. We did our best to run a positive campaign. The opposition, Kevin McConville’s campaign was rife with mudslinging and negative attacks. Our strategy was to keep it clean; we didn’t even mention his name. But despite it all we continued to strive to focus on our platform and the history of Sheriff Smith, a man who had made Putnam the safest county in New York three times over. Our message was Putnam Country is a great place to live and work as a family and we want to keep it that way, and our campaign model reflected that.
Though my experience with campaigns was minimal, it was clear that I brought to the table strategic prowess and digital saavy. Campaigns were changing. The methods his campaign team used four years prior in his previous run were not social media friendly and the staff not well versed. It relied heavily on door to door canvassing, fliers and palm cards. The sheriff didn’t even own a smart phone yet. I immediately built a huge FaceBook following to reach out to younger voters and built strategy on other social media platforms.
However, we also did things to reach out to baby boomers and seniors; large voter demographic. We campaigned in residential areas stressing crime prevention, self-protection and new crime trends especially cyber-crime and criminals that target seniors.
The campaign also put a target on my back. I was vehemently attacked by the then district attorney, who launched a criminal investigation into the sheriff and I. At the time he had a $5 million civil suit against the Sheriff and it struck me as a clear conflict of interest that he could also use public funds to launch an investigation. With the attack occurring during the campaign Kevin McConville and the District Attorney had a natural alliance and politically aligned themselves against the Sherriff. After all if they could shake his support and funding base it would very difficult for him to win. I was caught in the crossfire.
Why stay? For me it came down to what was just. I wanted to do what was right for the county I lived in. Mr. McConville, a former Metropolitan Transport Authority Police Chief who left the job under questionable circumstances, simply didn’t compare.
Apparently the people agreed. We won the seat by a large margin – nearly 3 to 1. And Sheriff Smith went on to also become President of the New York State Sheriff’s Association, serving for one year. We ran such a good campaign that other sheriffs asked what his secret weapon was.
Impressed by my drive, passion for serving Putnam County, and my ability to get a job done well, Sheriff Smith recommended I run for the Putnam County Traffic Safety Board, a body which decides pertinent issues and provides awareness and education to improve traffic safety.
I was already a volunteer firefighter and a member of the fire police at the time, so I was a first responder to many accidents. I saw the crashes, the things that go wrong. I know where signs are lacking or poles are too close to the street. I had a first-hand perspective on what Putnam County needed to make the roads safer. So ultimately it made sense to me to join the board and in May 2014 was appointed one of two members representing my town of Putnam Valley, a position I still hold. Together the two of us represent a population of 11,800 people.
Five times a year the entire board meets to vote on pertinent issues, plan community outreach and work with the department of transportation to improve traffic safety. In this time I’ve become known as a “get-it-done” Guy and took it upon myself to execute projects that the board had previously had trouble getting off the ground. Such as the pedestrian safety public service announcement I produced, long overdue: