Adjunct lecturer in English and languages and literatures Wes Kennison ’79 announced his candidacy for Geneseo Town Supervisor through a write-in campaign on Thursday Oct. 22. Kennison is running against incumbent Supervisor William S. Wadsworth of the Wadsworth Homestead, who is running on the Republican ticket.
According to Kennison, his decision to run was inspired by a sense of civic duty. “There’s a bit of a mess to be cleaned up right now,” he said. “I know what the mess is, I know how to fix it, nobody else stepped up; it’s—by definition—my responsibility.”
Kennison has brought in student volunteers to help in his campaign with senior Aidan Coffey leading the charge. Coffey has volunteered on several other campaigns in the past, including President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
“[Kennison] is a very astute observer of politics in this country and across the world,” Coffey said. “I started talking to him after class and I had some experience working in local politics too back in Orlando and we were discussing it, and that’s when the idea for him to run for town supervisor came up.”
Kennison has won the town supervisor race twice before: in 1999 and 2003. Wadsworth defeated him in a four-way race in 2007. Kennison launched a similar campaign in 2011 as a write-in candidate running against Wadsworth and received 19.7 percent of the vote.
“This pattern has happened before where at the last turn, [Kennison] starts a write-in campaign,” Wadsworth said in a phone interview. “He did the same thing four years ago, so I expected it.”
Now, Kennison said that he has “a lot of confidence that the people in our community can take a pen in their hand and write my name in.” “The reason I’m in the campaign is because of [Wadsworth’s] policies and his processes and his priorities in the government,” Kennison added.
As a whole, Kennison said the campaign is “great, it’s wonderful.” “When you’re a former town supervisor, you live in a public opinion survey,” he said. “I can’t leave my basement without bumping into somebody who wants to talk about the town—and I really like that … I liked that because the conversations you would have—whether you agreed with the person or didn’t agree with the person—the conversations always made you smarter and always gave you new insight into what needs to be done.”
According to Coffey, the community has responded well to Kennison’s candidacy. “Students are showing a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of excitement about this, which is really good—it’s refreshing to see,” he said. “It helps, I think, that this is in a presidential year—the debates have just drawn a lot of attention to politics and gotten people interested in politics who may otherwise not have been interested.”
Coffey and Kennison cited Wadsworth’s “Save the Wall” project as a problem in his administration. “The wall is [Wadsworth’s] personal property. The wall is not an accomplishment of the town supervisor; however successful he may be at garnering community resources to fix it up,” Kennison said. “If the owner of the wall were not the chief fiscal officer and principle policy maker of the town, then the wall project is really sort of neighbors helping neighbors.”
According to Wadsworth, however, this notion is far from the truth. “The town has nothing to do with the ‘Save the Wall’ initiative; that’s a private group of volunteers that decided that [they felt that landmark] was an important aspect of the scenery in Geneseo,” he said. “I would never propose to try and assert the town’s authority within the village unless the village asked us to assist them in something … To try and attribute that to me as a political issue is hilarious.”
Another issue Coffey and Kennison raised as problematic is the polling location for Geneseo students. Kennison explained that in anticipation of the 2008 presidential election, he lobbied for the establishment of a polling place at the Interfaith Center on Franklin Street in addition to the preexisting polling place at the Geneseo United Methodist Church on Route 63.
“When Mr. Wadsworth took office, he eliminated [the IFC] polling place. The given reason was ‘cost-cutting measure,’” Kennison said. “I’m not here to question anyone’s motives, but the practical effect of that cost-cutting measure is to create a dangerous situation and it has the effect of suppressing student vote … the access to the vote is sacrosanct in a democracy.”
“Students could very easily just walk to Franklin Street and cast their vote,” Coffey added. “Now it’s at the bottom of the hill across Route 63, which is not only a pain in the butt—and whenever you make voting difficult, they’re much less likely to vote, so it’s kind of an indirect form of voter suppression—but it’s also dangerous. That’s a heavily travelled road and not just by passenger cars; there are 16 wheelers going down that road.” Former Geneseo student Lindsay Matthews died after being struck by a tractor-trailer while walking along Route 63 in November 2008.
Although Wadsworth recognized the danger involved with Route 63, he said that the situation is more complex than Kennison and Coffey made it out to be. “Those polling places are purely at the discretion of the Board of Elections,” he said. “The town would never seek to eliminate a polling place … There have been people crossing 63—which we all agree is dangerous—but again, the polling places are determined and approved by the Board of Elections at the county level. The town had nothing to do with the elimination of that polling place.”
As a whole, Wadsworth characterized Kennison’s accusations as “empty of any substance.”
Geneseo College Republicans president senior Cole Battaglini said that he supports Wadsworth because of his economic policies. “It comes down to their plans for development—specifically fiscal and economic development—of Geneseo,” he said. “What Kennison has been saying is that the way to spur development is an activist role for the town supervisor. In other words, going out and seeking businesses and people to settle in the community, build a bigger tax base, which is all fine and good except—as Wadsworth has pointed out—why spend thousands of dollars traveling here and there when there’s no guarantee that those people you’re traveling to meet are actually going to sit down and invest in this town?”
According to Battaglini, Wadsworth’s economic plan includes keeping taxes low, restructuring “archaic” zoning laws and investing in existing infrastructure.
Despite positivity from Kennison and Coffey, Geneseo College Democrats president sophomore Eitan Sirkovich expressed his concerns regarding Kennison’s chances to win. “I think that his campaign probably has a rather poor chance,” he said. “It’s hard enough to get people to come out to the polls. It’s even harder to get them to remember a name to write down on their ballot.”
Election Day in Geneseo is Tuesday Nov. 3.