The obscure party with a misleading name — the Independence Party — has a primary Tuesday, and it features one of the more interesting contests in local political history.
The Independence Party has 190 registered members in Queensbury’s Ward 4, although we wonder how many of those thought they were registering as “independents.” Being an independent means you are affiliated with no political party and cannot vote in a primary.
The party name is confusing, but the contest on Tuesday is not. It pits Jennifer Switzer, a politically experienced candidate who has shown she can work well with politicians from various parties who hold various views, against Travis Whitehead, an effective citizen activist trying to move from his position outside politics to a spot on the Queensbury Town Board.
Whitehead’s only ballot line is with the Independence Party, so if he loses the primary, he’s out. Switzer also has the Democratic line, so she will be on the November ballot regardless.
Jennifer Switzer takes a practical and, in her words, “solutions-based” approach to issues. Talking about the doling out of occupancy tax funds, she suggested the Queensbury Town Board devise a scoring matrix, assigning values to criteria such as “bringing new people to the community to spend money” and come up with scores for each project seeking funds.
For now, she was part of the board’s recent move to reduce funding requested by already successful for-profit businesses, such as Great Escape — a move we support.
Switzer, an accountant, has long experience in public financing, having worked as the town’s budget officer/controller and as director of finance for the Warren County Economic Development Corp. She has been the Ward 4 representative on the Town Board for the last two years, a period in which the board has been productive, passing a septic inspections law for waterfront property, putting various green initiatives into place, beginning work on a digital sign law and a short-term rental law and re-examining distribution of occupancy tax funds, all while keeping taxes reasonable.
Reasonable is a good word for Switzer and for this board in general. It cannot reasonably be used to describe Travis Whitehead, however, which is why the editorial board cannot justify endorsing him.
Whitehead has an engineering background and has showed himself capable of making sense of complicated paperwork, such as long contracts or reams of data. In more than one instance — the Warren County contract with Siemens for the cogen plant, the county contract with Siemens for the geothermal project at the Municipal Center, the investigation into David Decker’s work and the investigation into the Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board — Whitehead has shown a genius for getting at the truth, even when it has been intentionally obscured.
Whitehead’s smarts and doggedness have saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars, and taxpayers should be grateful. But valuable persistence, taken too far, becomes time-wasting stubbornness. At times, Whitehead’s drive for vindication has reached such extremes — such as taking disagreements over Town Board decisions to the police — it has seemed vindictive. His confrontational approach to Queensbury Supervisor John Strough, with whom he has engaged in more than one public shouting match, makes us question whether he could function as a constructive member of the board.
Whitehead does not appear to be temperamentally capable of compromise, a fatal flaw for a Town Board candidate. Even in his meeting with The Post-Star editorial board, he demonstrated his intransigence, and when challenged, lashed back in a personal way.
We’d like to see more urgency from Switzer. When she was running two years ago, she advocated for a capital projects plan so the town could prioritize large projects and set aside money to fund them. She’s still talking about the plan — we would like to see it actually happen.
But Switzer has a record of achievement in office and a stable and respectful temperament that suits the job. Whitehead has been singularly effective as a citizen gadfly. We hope he continues to show up to meetings and raise tough questions. But he hasn’t demonstrated he can cooperate and collaborate on a Town Board. Switzer has, and the editorial board urges a vote for her in the Independence Party primary.